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July 26, 2000


Superfish, Sucanat, GM Cornflakes


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

Date: Jul 25 2000 19:13:41 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Transgenic Superfish

This thing about the "superfish" is goofy. Everyone knows that the
survival/reproduction/survival cycle is key to the success of an organism
which can find a niche. If these critters can't reproduce successfully,
they die out, ditto for their genes.

If they can't find an ecological niche that favors failures in
reproduction (which on all current theories is perverse), there's another,
similar problem.

As I recall, the study on "superfish" who couldn't reproduce well and
therefore survived to doom an entire species because of their inability to
reproduce was based on a computer model, a computer model which appears to
defy the elementary basics of ecology and evolution.

I would suggest there's a glitch in the computer program; there was
significant weight placed on the notion of larger male fish being "more
attractive sexual partners" when the study came out. Either the modeling
is faulty, or we have to re-think everything since Darwin.

As I recall, though, the female fish lays her eggs when her time comes,
and male fish do what they can, releasing their sperm in the vicinity.
Unlike mammals, fish don't choose partners (with several exceptions of
course, and salmon is not that kind of an exception).

So, until we determine that salmon exhibit mammalian partner-selection
behaviors, it would be best to put this study on the "let's put a grad
student on it" pile.

We've Got A Bridge To Sell You

Organic marketers are taking advantage of anti-choice activists' scare
tactics to make all sorts of claims about the "benefits of eating
organic." One of the most deceptive involves the selling of the "organic
sugar substitute" Sucanat. Sucanat, at over $3.50 a pound, is sugar with
some molasses added, just like the Domino's brown sugar you can buy for
less than a dollar a pound. There is almost no difference.


Speaking of the anti-choice crowd, activists cut down over 3,000 small
trees over the weekend in the (mistaken) belief that the trees were
genetically improved. A spokesman for the tree farm said, "We're
puzzled. There is no gene splicing and no gene manipulation here." It
was just last week in a similar stunt that anti-choice lunatics from the
Earth Liberation Front destroyed corn that was not genetically improved,
but rather was the result of natural plant breeding.

Today's daily headlines and our Site of the Week are a click away at

July 26, 2000

Sydney Morning Herald
Tried And Tested: Why The Consumer Should Trust GM Cornflakes

David Tribe
Never before have so many foods been subjected to so much scrutiny.
IT IS an ill wind that blows no good, the adage goes. In the case of
genetically modified foods, the intense criticism of the technology by
lobby groups has meant GM crops are the most scrutinized breeds of crops
ever offered to the marketplace.
This sometimes clamorous public debate has been very beneficial to the
consumer. Political pressure gets the attention of government so GM foods
have been put through a very public government-sponsored scrutiny and
pronounced safe by regulatory agencies.
Most GM foods in Australia are imported processed foods soybeans, corn,
canola oil, sugar and potato; cottonseed oil is the only GM food currently
produced in Australia, and there are no whole fruits and vegetables of the
GM variety sold here.
Before dealing with the circumstances under which the consumer might feel
confident that these and other GM foods are safe, it is worth asking what
exactly GM food is.
GM started out life as an abbreviation for the method ``genetic
modification by modern DNA-based techniques'' used in breeding new
varieties of food crop.
It does not refer to any distinguishing characteristic of the food or
crop, but only to the method used to breed it.
Since it is the properties and composition of the crop, not the techniques
used in breeding it, that primarily influence its nutritional and safety
properties, the logical connection of the GM tag with food safety can be
For example, if GM methods are used to create a crop that is identical to
a conventionally bred crop, the GM label is no indication of degree of
hazard, as both crops would pose the same hazards.
Conventionally bred ``non-GM'' herbicide-tolerant crops are an example of
this point and they are not subject to special regulations as they are
regarded as ``natural''.
No food, GM or not, is ever completely risk-free. Celery, for instance,
contains the chemical psoralen that can cause skin cancer, and green
potatoes can be quite toxic.
We live quite well taking these risks.
What the GM tag does mean is that the food has been subject to special
government safety assessments not required of conventional foods.
This is why consumers should feel reassured. The GM tag means that the
product has been officially scrutinized by a State and Federal Government
agency, the Australia New Zealand Food Authority.
The ANZFA is an independent food regulation body with the job of ensuring
GM foods are safe for consumption.
It comprises a team of scientists and specialists who have scrutinized
thousands of pages of detailed scientific reports on each of the
registered GM foods being sold in this country.
The ANZFA describes in detail how it goes about this in a new booklet, GM
Foods and the Consumer, available on the Internet on www.anzfa.gov.au. GM
foods passing through the ANZFA's scrutiny have undergone much more
intense safety and nutritional testing than any conventional food.
However, despite all this careful assessment of safety, some consumers may
not be adequately assured and it is important that these people have the
right to avoid such foods.
That is why the expected labelling regulations being considered by the
Commonwealth Government are such a sound idea, provided they don't impose
unnecessary costs on the consumer.
It is expected that the Government will mandate labelling of any products
that contain significant amounts of components from GM crops with rules
that are consistent with those developed by the European Union.
It is still not widely known that some GM foods have recently been shown
to offer safety improvements over conventional foods. GM corn contains
less cancer-causing natural toxin from mold fungi than conventional corn.
Quite clearly, consumers will eventually prefer cornflakes with a GM logo
when they fully understand the lower toxicity hazards of this product.
The corn in question, Bt corn, is a type of GM cereal grown widely in the
United States which is protected against insect attack by the Bt protein.
Bt is a natural insecticide present in several GM crops. Bt corn has also
been found to have less insect damage in the field than conventional
Fungi tend to attack grain at the parts nibbled by insects, and moldy
grain is bad for you because of natural fungal toxins, known as
mycotoxins, which are proven cancer-causing agents.
Another safety advantage in many GM foods is that levels of synthetic
pesticide chemicals will be lower because of the adoption of GM technology
by crop growers. Herbicide-tolerant crops, for example, allow greater
flexibility to farmers in the way they manage weeds, and this flexibility
translates into more environmentally responsible use of herbicide.
Reports by the US Department of Agriculture last week confirm earlier
assessments that GM crops are associated with reductions of synthetic
pesticide treatments over wide areas of the US.
For consumers, there are two other important advantages of GM foods still
to come lower prices, and decreased demand for farmland. Without GM, we
will see rises in food costs, which will disadvantage less affluent
people, and with population increases we will also see much expansion of
farmed area, putting extra pressure on national park and wilderness areas.
To my mind it is important to get the safety issue behind us, so that
these crucial other matters connected to the GM debate can be better
understood by the public.