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July 24, 2000


Public meeting 24-7-2000


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

Dear list members,
Last night I attended an activist meeting in Melbourne, Australia. There
were about 45 people there, including myself. Sadly, as far as I know, I
was the only person there that supported agricultural biotechnology.
Everyone else was against the application of this technology in crops and
food. What made the experience worse was the amount of miss-information
that was supplied to those attending. I have no doubt that some members of
the audience came looking for information, but all they received was a
political stance. By the end of the night I was furious.

I believe that all three speakers came from academic institutions and you
would hope that they would address the issues in a balanced manner. This
was not the case. I have no qualms with what Julie presented, I didn't
agree with it all, however she based it on a consumer point of view. The
other two speakers did not address the issues fully or place them in context
of current agriculture. However, as the only one present that supported
ag-biotech, I could not hold the floor and put holes in all the arguments so
basically biotechnology came out looking bad.

What does this mean? Well it means that unless we attend these meetings we
might as well back up our bags and go home. I am serious. Both public and
private research was viciously attacked. For all the discussions we are
having with stakeholders, investment groups, governments, the general public
is getting miss-information from groups of people who either mean well but
don't fully understand the issues or the real risks of the science or have a
strong political agenda. Remember, governments will go to where they
believe the most votes will come from. If we continue on the current
course, the biotech industry is going to get such a kick in the backside
that our nose will bleed and the technology will either suffer for a number
of years or die completely. Once green-biotech is gone, red-biotech will be
attacked. Don't doubt it.

What has to happen is that:
1. We go to these meetings. Talk to the people there, especially after the
meeting. Otherwise the only news the public will hear is the bad news.
2. We approach the local councils, either as individuals, groups,
organisations, companies or whatever. If this is not done they will put
bans on GM foods from being served in the Council area from Meals on Wheels
to schools etc. This may or may not be possible, however the flow on effect
is that local newspapers take up the story and more people become concerned
without knowing the facts.
3. We try to understand the real concerns of the public. We hear the
rhetoric from the anti-groups with their political agenda, but we will not
know how the public really feels.
4. Regulations will become so complicated that no company will want to take
on the responsibility.

The direct result of the meeting is that 44 people, with an average of 4-5
members per family are now opposed (if they were not before) to biotech.
That means that in that area it is possible that 160-200 plus people are now
opposed. Each of those people only needs to convince 1 other person and it
shoots to 400 plus anti-biotech people and it goes on. The antibiotech
movement understands this, as do we, but they are doing something about it.
Most of us in the science or the industry are either sitting on or hands or
wailing about how bad it is getting. But as yet, few people are really
helping to provide information to the public.

If we don't spend the time now to educate and allow the development of the
technology, a lot of us are going to have a lot more time on our hands.

If anyone attends such a meeting I am more then happy to circulate any notes

Now for some notes from the meeting.


Bentleigh-Bayside gene alert campaign for safe food.

Genetically modified food - The promise, the perils, who will benefit the

Chair (didn't get name, one of the activists) suggested that transformed
salmon would have both herbicide tolerance and antibiotic markers in the

3 speakers - in order of appearance.

Peter McMahon - Plant Physiologist (do not know what institution)
Not a very good speaker. Discussed gene flow from GE crops to other plants
(said it was the major problem).
Break down of modified crops 70% herbicide tolerant, 28% Bt, 2% other.
Types of gene transfer - outcrossing to weedy relatives, eg canola readily
crosses with hoary mustard Hirschfeldia incana (incorrect). Eg Mt Gambier
where Hirschfeldia incana was found to be growing within 15 meters of the
trial. This incident has been raised in parliament.
Other problem is the movement of antibiotic markers from transferred plants
Horizontal gene transfer
* Conjugation, transduction and transformation (other then by genetic
* Transformation
* Used an example of the transfer of a herbicide tolerance (HT) gene
to microbes (including yeast) in the gut of young bees.
* Experimental design - bees kept under tents with HT canola, pollen
collected and fed to bee larvae. Larvae sacrificed and microbes cultured
and screened for HT gene.
* HT gene was found, therefore gene transfer is possible.
* Dr Gyorgy Scrinis (Melbourne University, lecturer of sociology,
acceptance of technology)
* Another bad speaker.
* Presentation points
* New problems, risks, unpredictable
* Old problems, exacerbated/ intensified
* Adapting crops/animals to chemical - industrial systems, short term
band-aid solutions
* Extension/ intensification chemical-industrial agriculture
* Integration of, corporate control
* Feeding on the world
* Lots of comments on the negative effect of biotechnology and the
companies. Most was typical propaganda. Will lead to further reliance of
farmers on the companies.
* Exacerbation of old problems, adaptation of crops and animals to
industrial cycle eg development of HT crops.
* Industrial agriculture leads to soil degradation, salinity, loss of
biodiversity of crop seeds.
* Patenting and biopiracy of indigenous crops. Developing countries
produce cash crops rather then food crops. Companies are not interested in
developing foods other then ones that increase chemical sales or
* Hybrid crops, high yield, high chemical input, high sterility.
* Julie Woods (nutritionist and lecturer at Monash University)
* Very good speaker.
* Member of the Public Health Association, professional association
including environmental safety officers, women health groups, rural groups
and maybe the AMA. 2,000 members.
* Food is not just about nutrients, it is a holistic experience. We
eat what is culturally acceptable, have a long history of eating. GE foods
could introduce new allergens into the environment.
* Reference to the Age poll (Monday, July 24) where over 90% of people
indicated that they want GE foods labelled.
* Reference to the ANZFA booklet and statement "We cannot assess the
foods at present". ANZFA status is that they are cautious on gene
technology and they assess all information that is provided to them.
However, data is supplied by the multinationals. One peer reviewed journal
article on nutrients in Roundup Ready soybeans had a statement that the
data could only be considered to be an advertisement as it was produced by
the compant. ANZFA needs to have it own testing facilities.
* Toxicity testing is not possible as it is hard to induce a high
enough level of the GE food to the test organism. Eg getting the rat, dog
or whatever to eat enough of the food without causing physiological damage.
Need long term studies on humans and the environment.
* Foods need to be labelled as they will allow nutritional
epidemiologists to determine if any disease occurrence is linked to GE food.
* Increasing the level of one nutrient in food (via GE) could affect
the level of another, or the bioavailability of the nutrient (eg iron and
calcium ions are absorbed through the same process, so increasing the
bioavailability of one may decrease the bioavailability of the other).
* Scientists still don't know all the nutritional or anti-nutritional
factors in food and are constantly discovering new ones. During assessment
by companies, they only assess the major (known) nutrients and GE
modification could affect the unknown ones.
* Want 1 single agency for GMO's (environmental, food safety).
* In discussions after the presentation, Dr Gyorgy Scrinis promoted
the destruction of trials and stated that it was "A great idea and we (FOE)
encourage it". He also stated that he thought it was a good idea from a
personal point of view. The person who raised the question asked if this
was a good course of action even though the field trials produced the data
that is required to show that they are safe? Dr Scrinis implied that
because they are not proven safe, they shouldn't be conducted.
* Further discussions with Dr Scrinis and asking this questions
received the following statement "Do you have a problem with the science or
is it political?"
* The basics of the reply was that it not about the science, it is
political. It is about whom is controlling the technology.
* Basically from FOE point of view, it is not about health, not about
safety, not about the environment or the earth (despite their name), or
about the science it is about politics (similar to the Greenpeace stance it
* Contact details - I have them if any one is interested.
* Calendar dates
* Thursday 24th, 7:45 pm Next planning meeting (have phone number to
* Monday 9 October, Celebration of natural and organic foods. George's
Greek Tavern, 5-7 Waverly Road Malvern East (Melbourne). Guest speakers
displays and tastings.
* August 11, Mt Eliza, Talk-GE in our food and environment. (Have
contact phone number if interested).
* World Economic Forum 11-13 September, info www.S11.org protests
* B-B Gene Alert - Campaigned outside 2 Coles supermarkets last
weekend (22,23 July). Planned action at Sandringham (I assume Coles).

The following Melbourne Shires/Councils have been approached, or are going
to be approached on the issue of gene technology: Yarra Ranges, Glen Eira,
Bayside and Kingston. If you live in these Shires, I encourage you to
approach your council and provide information for a balanced discussion. We
can also try and organise speakers to help discuss this issue.
I can provide the contact details for these Shires/Councils.