Pathologist says more research needed on genetically modified corn
August 23, 2000
Despite recent research suggesting genetically modified corn can kill
monarch butterfly larvae, the tests merely indicate a need for more
research, a Kansas State University plant pathologist said.
Bob Bowden, a KSU Research and Extension specialist, spoke Tuesday on
genetically modified organisms to area farmers during the KSU Agricultural
Research Center's fall field day in Hays.
Iowa State University researchers published a report this month claiming
to be the first evidence that the pollen of Bt-modified corn deposited on
nearby milkweed plants increases the mortality rate of the larvae of
monarch butterflies, which feed on the milkweed.
The Iowa State report seems to support research published this spring by
Cornell University researchers conducted in a laboratory setting.
Bt corn is a hybrid spliced with genes from the bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis. The hybrid is toxic to the European corn borer but harmless
to humans and beneficial insects such as honeybees and ladybugs.
While the Cornell research suggests Bt corn pollen is deadly to
caterpillars within one meter of a corn field, the Iowa State study
suggests the distance could be up to three meters.
The Cornell research set off protests against genetically modified crops
in Europe, but Bowden said the findings are not cause for alarm.
He said the deadly affects to the monarch caterpillars are an unintended
side effect of the transgenic, or modified, corn but it is better than the
"It's not any worse, to put this in perspective, if you sprayed with
conventional insecticide. In fact it's better," he said. "If there are any
beneficial insects in that field, they would be killed by conventional
Although European countries require imported GMO crops to be separated
from non-GMO crops and labels of products made with them, the U.S. still
sells a large amount of genetically modified goods overseas through an
exemption for industrial use such as oil or chicken feed, Bowden said.
American markets, however, have yet to make such demands.
"What is the market telling you? Who is going to pay you a premium for
non-GMO corn or non-GMO soybeans in Kansas?," Bowden said.
"A lot of our grain is consumed right here in Kansas, in feedlots, and
they're not going to care," he said. "Until somebody is going to pay us to
worry about it, we shouldn't worry about it.
Hobbling the Biotech Revolution
Wall Street Journal
August 24, 2000
By Henry I. Miller
At their annual meeting last month the G8 leaders of the world's largest
industrialized nations agreed to a "science-based, rule-based" approach to
ensuring food safety, including the regulation of biotechnology. But as
one reads between the lines of their final communique's section about
gene-spliced, or genetically modified , crops, one finds only
contradictions and bad news.
There is, for example, the endorsement of "on-going work in international
fora to develop and refine" regulatory mechanisms. But the work of
international organizations -- most prominently various agencies of the
United Nations -- has been unscientific, overly risk-averse, and dominated
by the views of radical non-governmental organizations.
The "Cartagena Biosafety Protocol," finalized in January under the
auspices of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, established a
global scheme for regulation of biotechnology products that violates a
cardinal principal of regulation: namely, the degree of scrutiny should be
commensurate with risk. It subjects the most precisely crafted and
predictable organisms to the most regulation. At the same time, it
validates the bogus "precautionary principle," which holds that every new
technology should be proven absolutely safe before it can be used. This
erects an almost insurmountable barrier against new products because
nothing can be proved totally safe -- at least not to the standard
demanded by anti-technology extremists.
The protocol is already hobbling the work of academic researchers and
small, innovative companies, ultimately delaying or denying the benefits
of the new biotechnology to much of the world. It is noteworthy that
United States negotiators participated fully in crafting these
unscientific and illogical regulations, despite the U.S. Senate's explicit
unwillingness to ratify the CBD.
Similarly, with full U.S. support and collaboration, three panels of the
Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.N. agency concerned with
international food standards, is working toward crafting biotech-derived
food and food ingredients standards that are unscientific and far beyond
those that any other products can or should meet. As a result, only a
handful of these foods will have a fair chance of reaching consumers. The
prospect of unscientific, cumbersome Codex standards for biotech foods is
ominous because members of the World Trade Organization will, in
principle, be required to follow them, and they will provide cover for
unfair trade practices.
In these and other ways, international regulators treat older genetic
techniques and modern molecular methods very differently, imposing new
regulations and establishing gratuitous new bureaucracies for products
made with the newest, most precise and sophisticated techniques. These
policies ignore the scientific consensus about the continuum between
conventional and new biotechnology as well as the demonstrably greater
safety of the latter.
This consensus was described in an authoritative 1989 analysis by the U.S.
National Research Council. The council said: "With classical techniques of
gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number
depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number
or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot
always predict the [behavior] that will result. With organisms modified by
molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect, position to predict
The G8 communique goes on to endorse the work of the Paris-based
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in this area. But
there are several reasons why OECD is a poor choice to study these issues.
First, the OECD already reviewed these issues during the 1980s and early
1990s, when biotechnology was under the aegis of the organization's
scientific component, the Committee for Scientific and Technological
Policy. (Now, responsibility for biotechnology at the OECD lies with the
environmental group, well known for its anti-technology orientation.) The
OECD's now-defunct Group of National Experts on Safety in Biotechnology
(on which I served as a U.S. representative) concluded in a 1986 analysis,
"Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations," that "genetic changes from
[gene-splicing] techniques will often have inherently greater
predictability compared to traditional techniques, because of the greater
precision that [gene-splicing] affords." It went on to say that "risks
associated with applications of [gene-spliced] organisms may be assessed
in generally the same way as those associated with non-[gene-spliced]
The OECD's panel of experts subsequently took up food safety, concluding
in a 1993 study that the "evaluation of foods and food components obtained
from organisms developed by the application of the newer techniques does
not necessitate a fundamental change in established principles, nor does
it require a different standard of safety."
Indeed, notwithstanding opposition from anti-biotech activists, primarily
in Europe, during the past 15 years thousands of food products from
gene-spliced organisms have been widely marketed and consumed routinely
and safely. Three-quarters of the cheese produced in the United States is
made from a gene-spliced version of an enzyme called chymosin, for
example, and more than 60% of processed foods in American supermarkets now
contain gene-spliced ingredients.
Why the need, then, for OECD to reconsider these issues? There are
certainly no new data that raise uncertainties or questions about the
application of molecular techniques to produce food. The explanation is
simple: The G8 are simply shopping for the answer they want, not unlike a
lawyer hiring an expert who will offer an opinion that strains credulity
but is favorable to his client. And given G8 countries provide virtually
all the funding for OECD, they'll get exactly what they want.
The biotech game is also being "fixed" in the U.S. The State Department
announced in June a U.S.-EU "consultative forum," comprised of a
"carefully selected" group of participants, to discuss issues related to
biotechnology. The U.S. members are carefully selected, all right. They
include Gordon Conway, the green president of the Rockefeller Foundation;
Rebecca Goldburg, a doctrinaire, die-hard opponent of biotech for many
years; Terry Medley, a Dupont executive who crafted stultifying and
unscientific regulations while an official at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture; and LeRoy Walters, a bioethicist who has long been a champion
of excessive regulations for medical applications of biotechnology.
Finally, the G8 communique's commitment to "pay particular attention to
the needs, opportunities and constraints in developing countries" is
cynical and disingenuous. Overregulating technique-based regulatory
approaches will have the most detrimental effects on developing countries,
which could benefit most from improved crop varieties but can ill afford
to invest excessively regulated research and development. And the inflated
expense of biotech research and development everywhere makes it less
likely that big agribusiness will have the resources to expend on
low-return improvement of plants used in subsistence farming.
There has already been ample analysis of the scientific issues surrounding
biotechnology-derived foods. There are vast data documenting their safety,
usefulness and consumer acceptance. Existing regulatory mechanisms
adequately address new plant varieties and new foods, however they are
crafted. What is needed but sorely lacking is the political will to insist
upon policies that are scientifically defensible and genuinely in the
Mr. Miller is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute and
Washington, D.C.- based Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 1989-94, he
was director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food and Drug
Date: Aug 24 2000 08:55:07 EDT
From: "Frances B. Smith"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: pasteurization
The fact that organic retailers sell a wide variety of pasteurized foods,
especially dairy and juices, probably relates to the fact that federal
and/or state regulations in place may restrict the sale of certain
In the case of unpasteurized fruit juices, those are now under a federal
HACCP plan for managing potential problems, and unpasteurized juices must
now carry a warning label. Unpasteurized cheeses aged less than 60 days are
not allowed to be imported or sold. Milk pasteurization, as I understand
it, is governed by states and localities under model codes, with standards
set by the federal government. Most states ban the sale of raw milk.
Others on the list may have better information about the laws and regs, so
please correct me if I am in error.
Frances B. Smith
>Date: Aug 22 2000 12:36:03 EDT
>From: Red Porphyry
>Subject: The Role of Pasteurization in Organic-associated Lifestyles