Aug 31 2000 10:41:36 EDT
AGBIOVIEW: Response to Biotech Papaya; Decaf Coffee by biotech; Myths of Biotech Acceptance
From: Roger Morton
Subject: Articles on GM food (in Gourmet Magazine)
I saw your fantastic article in Gourmet Magazine on GM food via a mailing
list. Since this is a continuing series I thought perhaps you could ask
some hard questions of any purported environmentalists that you will
inevitably come across. Many of these activists will claim that they are
working against this technology in order to protect the environment. They
will state that we should be using organic farming principles which are to
minimize external inputs and thus reduce the environmental costs
associated with farming. Well as a scientist working to produce GM crops,
I too want to develop agriculture that minimizes external inputs and thus
reduce the environmental costs associated with farming. And because of
this I can not understand why people that claim to be for the environment
can have a blanket opposition to GM crops. I could understand opposition
to certain types of GM crops but not a total blanket opposition. No two GM
crops are the same. They each have potential risks and potential
advantages for the environment. So if you come across someone claiming to
be totally against this technology in order to protect the environment ask
them these two questions about specific GM crops.
1. Which chemical would you rather find as a residue on your food?
Chemical A a substance that the The Environmental Defence fund rates as
"More hazardous than most chemicals in 7 out of 9 ranking systems." or
chemical B which they rate as "Less hazardous than most chemicals in 6
Chemical A is copper, an organic fungicide that is allowed as a residue on
organic foods up to but excluding levels that are visible. In the Organic
Materials Review Institute's GenericList for materials used in organic
crop production it states: "Regulated--Copper products--These include
copper compounds that are exempt from tolerance by the EPA: Bordeaux mix,
copper hydroxide, copper sulfates, copper-zinc chromate, copper
oxychloride and copper oxides. These may be used as algicides,
bactericides, or fungicides. Shall be used in a manner that prevents
excessive copper accumulation in the soil. Build up of copper in soil may
prohibit future use. Use with caution. *****No visible residue is allowed
on harvested crop."***
Chemical B is glyphosate a herbicide that activists against GM foods have
railed against and misquoted scientific literature in an attempt to
convince people of its dangers.
2. Which form of insecticide would you rather the farmers that produce
your food to use? Insecticide version C which is produced in a factory
using non-renewable energy (producing greenhouse gases in the process) and
delivered in a bacteria practically identical to the causative agent of
anthrax. Or insecticide version D which is produced naturally in the
leaves of the plant using solar energy and CONSUMING greenhouse gasses.
Insecticide version C is Bt spray used and approved by organic farming
while insecticide version D is Bt crops banned from organic farms.
Opinons expressed in this posting are personal and do not reflect the
position of my employer
From: "Carol V. Gonsalves"
Subject: Replies to Drew Kershen, re:virus-resistant transgenic papaya
With Dennis' permission, I am "pasting in" the reply that he emailed to
you earlier today since others might be interested in his response. Also,
for those who have not heard about the transgenic virus-resistant papaya,
I recommend reading "Control of Papaya Ringspot Virus in Papaya: A Case
Study," by Dennis Gonsalves (Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 1998. 36:415-37).
Papaya ('Rainbow' and 'SunUp' varieties) is the first virus-resistant
fruit crop to be commercialized (May 1, 1998) in the United States. You
might be interested to know that the transgenic papaya seeds are currently
distributed to Hawaii papaya farmers by the Papaya Administrative
Committee (PAC), group of farmers and handlers (shippers) that are under a
U.S.D.A. Marketing Order. The PAC was responsible for obtaining the
necessary licenses to commercialize the transgenic papaya in Hawaii. You
might also be interested to know that although the PAC helped to fund the
production of transgenic seeds, the farmers did not have to pay
additionally for any of the seeds that they received for planting their
After Dennis Gonsalves' response, I will quote directly from Emerson
Llantero, Manager of the Papaya Administrative Committee in Hawaii, who
responded to me directly about your two questions.
Response Dennis Gonsalves
Subject: Transgenic papaya Cc: email@example.com
Dear Dr. Drew [Kershen]:
I read your comment on Agbioview.
The transgenic papaya is doing well in Hawaii. The production is very good
and that is the only way that papaya can be grown in the Puna district
where the virus has devastated susceptible nontransgenic papaya. A
scientific article should be appearing in Plant Disease in the next four
months or so (it has been accepted for publication) that documents a
longterm field trial of the transgenic papaya in the Puna district. Thus,
you will get a chance to evaluate the scientific data.
The price of papaya is down because of a glut of papaya in Hawaii which is
caused by the expanded plantings of the transgenic papaya.
Yes, the situation with Japan is a concern because Hawaii ships about 35%
of its papaya to Japan. We are working on the Japan application to get the
papaya cleared for Japan. In the mean time, as one would expect, the price
for nontransgenic papaya is high due to its difficulty in being produced
(the effect of the virus) and its high demand by the Japan market. Hawaii
is now trying to determine how it can raise nontransgenic papaya in Puna
to satisfy the Japan market.
I too have read the things that come over the internet. They are biased
and misleading to say the least.
You can contact Mr. Emerson Llantero the Manager of the Papaya
Adminstrative Committee (phone number 1 (808) 969-1160 ) if you want to
verify what I have said or want more direct information on the transgenic
papaya and the papaya situation in Hawaii in general. I am sending him a
copy of my email reponse to you.
Department of Plant Pathology, Cornell University New York State
Agricultural Experiment Station Geneva, New York 14456, USA Phone:
1-315-787-2334 Fax: 1-315-787-2389 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
From: "Emerson F. Llantero" Reply-To: email@example.com
To: Carol Gonsalves
Response from Emerson Llantero:
1) Concerning your first question about possible lower production of fruit
per transgenic tree, I quote Emerson directly:
"THIS IS NOT TRUE. THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS THAT THE YIELD OF RAINBOW IS
AT LEAST TWICE THE REGULAR YIELD OF KAPOHO SOLO, I SAY, AT LEAST, BECAUSE
THERE ARE GROWERS WHO HAVE TOLD ME THAT THE YIELD COULD GO UP TO ABOUT 3.5
X THE REGULAR YIELD OF KAPOHO SOLO. IF INDEED, THE STATEMENT THAT LOWER
PRODUCTION OF FRUIT PER TREE IS TRUE, WHY DON'T I RECEIVE COMPLAINTS FROM
THOSE WHO ARE GROWING GMO PAPAYAS? (OF COURSE, PRODUCTION & YIELD ARE
AFFECTED BY A LOT OF FACTORS,TOO)
AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE ENTHUSIASM TO PLANT TRANSGENIC PAPAYAS HAS NOT
DIED DOWN. A LOT OF GROWERS ARE STILL WANTING TO PLANT TRANSGENIC PAPAYAS,
BUT WE HAVE ONLY VERY LIMITED SEEDS AVAILABLE. BECAUSE OF LIMITED SEEDS,
GROWERS WHO HAVE ALREADY PLANTED TRANSGENIC PAPAYAS IN THE PAST AND WANT
TO EXPAND THEIR PLANTINGS (FIELD) CANNOT DO IT RIGHT NOW. MORE SEEDS WILL
BE AVAILABLE BY THE END OF THE YEAR. THE LIMITED SEED AVAILABILTY MAY HAVE
BEEN A FACTOR IN THE STATEMENT THAT HAWAIIAN PAPAYA GROWERS HAVE SHUNNED
THE TRANSGENIC PAPAYAS."
2) Concerning your second question about less profitability primarily
because of the Japanese market (i.e. the Japanese labeling laws, and
Japanese consumer concerns about genetically improved foods), I quote
Emerson directly: "JAPAN GOVERNMENT IS STILL PROCESSING OUR APPLICATION TO
EXPORT GMO PAPAYA, HENCE, NO GMO PAPAYA HAS BEEN SHIPPED TO JAPAN.
THEREFORE, THERE IS NO WAY TO SAY THAT THE JAPANESE MARKET HAS AFFECTED
PROFITABILITY. LIKEWISE, SINCE GMO HAWAII PAPAYA HAS NOT BEEN MARKET
TESTED IN JAPAN, THERE IS NO WAY TO CONCLUDE THAT THE JAPANESE MARKET HAS
REJECTED GMO PAPAYAS.
NOTE THAT MY RESPONSE HERE IS 'LIMITED' BECAUSE THE STATEMENT IS VAGUE -"
>From: "Kershen, Drew L" Subject: Virus-Resistant
transgenic papaya I read the post of Carol Gonsalves who opposed a
moratorium on the biotechnology debate. I agree with Ms. Gonsalves' post
about the moratorium.
Subj: Monarchs and Bt
From: "Bob MacGregor"
The "compared to what" argument is certainly a valid one. I seem to recall
that milkweed is considered a "noxious weed" in some jurisdictions. That
is, it is supposed to be controlled wherever it crops up; what do you
suppose the impact of this is on monarchs _compared_ to wind-blown corn
If Bt corn pollen were a real risk to monarch butterflies, I would expect
to see an inverse relationship between the population of monarch
butterflie s and the expansion of Bt corn acreage across their range. This
hasn't happened, so what conclusion can be reached? Either the hypothesis
is refuted or there is some other factor that is promoting monarch
populations adequately to compensate for the impact of Bt corn pollen.
I saw a note about a couple of outbreaks of anthrax in Agnet recently. I
wonder if any live Bt had been sprayed in the area this summer-- it would
not be an entirely farfetched suspicion, given recent evidence that Bt,
B.cereus and B. anthracis are actually a single species.
From: Tom Hoban
COUNTERING THE MYTHS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY'S ACCEPTANCE
Thomas Jefferson Hoban, Ph.D.
Grand Forks Herald on August 8, 2000
Many observers have referred to the new century as the age of biology.
People are being asked to understand and evaluate a host of scientific
developments, from the human genome project to new foods produced through
biotechnology. Public perceptions in this growing area are dynamic and
complex. I have conducted my own research on this topic for over a decade
and have reviewed all the other research that has been done in the United
States and internationally. I will summarize the latest research in order
to bring some reality to the current debate.
Protest groups claim to speak for consumers, but they really only promote
self- serving myths about what consumers know and think about these
important developments. These groups try to shape public opinion for their
own benefit, rather than reflect true consumer interests. They are trying
to convey the impression that the public is rejecting foods produced
through biotechnology. However, they only have support from a small group
of elite consumers who have the time or money to spend on organic foods.
In fact, this anti- biotechnology campaign is a key marketing strategy for
the organic industry.
One myth from the protest groups is that the more people learn about
biotechnology, the less accepting they will be. This is the opposite of
what the research shows. Studies clearly demonstrate that the people who
have the greatest levels of knowledge and awareness of the subject are
also the most positive about biotechnology. In fact, the majority of U.S.
consumers are unconcerned and even optimistic about the use of modern
biotechnology in agriculture and health care. Food biotechnology has not
become an issue for most consumers despite the protesters' theatrical
Another myth is that the current agricultural biotechnology products do
not provide any benefits for consumers. However, about three-quarters of
U.S. consumers consistently say they will appreciate and accept the
current use of biotechnology to reduce the amount of chemical pesticides
that farmers use. This represents real food safety and environmental
benefits for us today.
Another myth is that somehow the U.S. public does not trust the government
agencies and scientists who are responsible for testing and regulating
biotechnology. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Studies
consistently show that U.S. citizens have the most trust in third party
scientific experts (such as the National Academy of Sciences, which has
come out twice recently in support of biotechnology). They also look with
confidence to federal environmental and other agencies to protect public
health and the environment. The irony is that the biotechnology protest
groups are the ones with the lowest credibility among the U.S. public. In
fact, their recent terrorist attacks on research facilities is further
alienating the vast majority of Americans.
There is a related myth that the food industry is rejecting biotechnology.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We recently interviewed over 150
food industry leaders and learned that they support and welcome the
developments brought by biotechnology. In fact, they have no trust in the
protest groups who are threatening them with boycotts (that never
materialize). The few companies who have publicly given in to activist
pressure hope to deflect some of the heat, but have no intention or even
the ability to eliminate all biotechnology ingredients from their food
It turns out that food manufacturers and retailers have received very few
calls about biotechnology from real consumers. The protest groups use the
Internet to encourage their supporters to flood targeted companies' phone
lines, fax machines, and e-mails with boycott threats. The companies and
the industry associations realize that these are not a spontaneous
movement of real consumers. Food company executives (especially those in
marketing and public relations) need to pay more attention to the
government regulators, the scientific community, and their own industry
associations, who stand behind the safety and benefits of biotechnology.
Thomas J. Hoban IV (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professor of Sociology
N.C. State University -- Box 8107
Researchers Identify Caffeine Gene
August 31, 2000
By MATTHEW FORDAHL AP Science Writer
Genetic engineering may hold the key to making decaffeinated coffee that
doesn't taste like dishwater.
Scientists have identified a gene in the coffee plant that is key to the
synthesis of caffeine. They hope eventually to produce a genetically
engineered coffee plant in which the gene has been shut down.
The research was conducted by Alan Crozier, a professor of plant products
and human nutrition at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues in Japan.
It was published Thursday in the journal Nature.
Today's decaf often suffers because of the caffeine extraction process,
which involves steaming the beans, washing them in organic solvents or
subjecting them to other procedures after the coffee cherry has been
picked from the tree.
``The decaffeination processes, particularly with organic solvents, do not
just take out most of the caffeine, they also take out some of the aroma
and flavor,'' Crozier said. ``So to an espresso addict like myself, decaf
tastes like dishwater.''
The genetic change would not alter the flavor. That's good news for people
who love coffee but can't stand the taste of decaf or the effects of
caffeine, which include heart palpitations, anxiety, high blood pressure
But is the world ready for genetically altered java?
``We've got to get past this scare-mongering that's going on about the
growth of genetically modified produce,'' Crozier said.
The Glasgow researcher and his colleagues are waiting for additional money
to create caffeine-free plants. So far, no coffee or tea companies have
jumped at the opportunity.
``We're looking for some commercial support, and I anticipate it would
take us five years for us to produce the plants and get them grown on any
scale,'' he said.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii and Integrated Coffee Technologies
Inc. also are developing genetically engineered coffee plants, but their
process involves a different gene and earlier stages of caffeine
Integrated Coffee hopes to be selling plants in 2003, with the first
commercial harvest in 2006.
On the Net: University of Glasgow: http://www.gla.ac.uk/
From: "Barry Hearn"
With apologies for the long posting, this piece is a current news item
along with archival background.
According to the Boston Globe, Prince Edward Island finds itself in the
front line of the ongoing pesticide battle. Plagued by increased fish
kills over the past couple of years, there is increasing hostility between
potato growers and a loose coalition of anglers, pseudo-environmentalists
(read total protectionist conservation fraternity) and itinerant
urbanites. PEI is a major supplier of potatoes to the processed food
industry and McCain's perhaps the major purchaser of island produce. Note
the background item from last November, where McCain imposed a purchase
ban on genetically modified potatoes.
Granted, bioengineered potatoes were then a small portion of the crop,
however, had there been greater acceptance of the enhanced produce, might
there not have been a greater uptake with subsequent reduction in
pesticide application and its inherent runoff difficulties? If so, are not
then anti-biotech activists at least partially culpable in the unfortunate
fish kills due to pesticide runoff?
It is very difficult to envision just how activists imagine they are
acting in environmental best interest when they are actively increasing
chemical application requirement, along with the associated environmental
Farmers appear willing to embrace environmental best practice, why aren't
Potatoes, pesticides divide island
By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff, 8/30/2000
ENSINGTON, Prince Edward Island - On this bucolic island, the potato is
king - lord of the field and dominator of the economy, thanks largely to
the insatiable North American appetite for french fries.
But a hard-charging coalition of environmental activists, anglers,
wildlife scientists, organic farmers, and summer visitors is seeking to
topple the tuber from the throne, charging that pesticides used to
cultivate potatoes are contaminating rivers and streams.
In the end, the sound and fury echoing over tiny Prince Edward Island's
big potato fields is really about changes coming to the island's farms,
and about a widening gulf between farmers and a new generation of
neighbors who live in the country but do not take their livelihoods from
The attack on a crop that is a staple of the economy and even an integral
part of the island's identity has gained surprising momentum, mainly as
the result of a shocking series of ''fish kills'' by insecticides and
fungicides washed from potato fields during intense rainbursts over the
past two summers.
Owing to a combination of freak weather - with torrents of rain falling in
mere minutes - but also to drastically expanded acreage planted in
potatoes, roughly a dozen such kills have occurred since July 1999, with
tens of thousands of trout and other fish dying within hours of the
The waterways seem to rebound, but dead fish floating down tainted streams
is not a happy image. ''It's a pretty jarring note in our pastoral
symphony,'' said Wayne MacKinnon, spokesman for the provincial Department
of Agriculture. ''PEI's reputation as a pristine place is taking some
In terms of economic might, tourism ranks a close second to potatoes. So
letters to newspapers from off-island visitors upset by dead fish resonate
at least as loudly as local complaints. As a result, businessfolk and
tourist officials are also leaning on potato growers to clean up their
The island's more strident critics of modern agriculture, meanwhile,
accuse farmers of nothing less than poisoning paradise, wiping out aquatic
species and introducing chemicals that may even pose a threat to human
health in this picture-postcard realm of red-dirt fields, quaint fishing
villages, and sandstone cliffs rising from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
''The fish deaths are just an outward sign of deeper contamination by
industrial-corporate agriculture,'' said activist Sharon Labchuk, who
gained notoriety last year by posing naked, save a gas mask, for a
photographer in a potato field. ''Beneath the outward beauty lies poison
and death. Our island is becoming a toxic vacationland.''
Such rhetoric infuriates farmers, who say pesticides are crucial to
healthy crops, and causes wincing among more moderate campaigners against
pesticides. ''The real issue is soil erosion,'' said Daryl Guignion,
professor of wildlife biology at the University of Prince Edward Island
and president of the PEI Wildlife Federation.
''Farming has changed so dramatically on the island over the past decade
or so,'' he said. ''The farms are bigger, the fields are bigger, the
hedgerows have been bulldozed to make room for even more potatoes. Bigger
fields mean more runoff, and that washed-off soil is carrying the poisons
to the water.''
He added: ''I don't think we have an environmental catastrophe here, yet.
But the fish kills should certainly be taken as an alarm, ringing loud.''
Most potato farmers have come to agree, with varying degrees of
reluctance. Still, they are stunned by the anger and invective hurled
their way by the more vociferous activists. Pesticide use on the island is
at least as tightly regulated as anywhere else in Canada, and, because of
environmental critics, probably more closely monitored.
''No one likes pesticides, but the reality is that we need them to grow
the quantity and quality of potatoes that consumers demand,'' said Robert
MacDonald, whose family has been farming in Belle River for more than four
''Fish kills are not acceptable. We're making changes and there are
perhaps more to come,'' he said. ''But we're also being dehumanized with
terms like `corporate agriculture' and `industrial farming' - as if we
lived in distant boardrooms. We live on our farms, and our families eat
the crops we grow. Modern farming takes more than sweat and a pitchfork.
It takes brains, it takes technology, and yes, it takes chemicals.''
The controversy is the bitterest since the mid-1990s, when opponents
railed against construction of the Confederation Bridge, which anchored
Prince Edward Island for the first time to the mainland.
Although the fish kills are real and frightening, much of the debate seems
to be about changes occurring as island farms expand to compete in world
A sense of changelessness is part of the charm of Canada's smallest
province - 2,184 square miles, population 135,000 - whose natural beauty
was celebrated in Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel ''Anne of Green Gables.''
But economic necessity means that small farms that once typified island
agriculture have given way to larger, more intensive operations. North
America's voracious appetite for fries has created a potato boom for the
island, resulting in the building of two mammoth potato processing plants
by Canadian food companies.
A decade ago, Prince Edward Island produced an annual 1.5 billion pounds
of potatoes, most of which were sold as seed stock or in grocery bags.
Today, 600 farms grow 2.5 billion pounds of potatoes a year, about half of
which are processed into fast-food chains' french fries.
At the same time, the amount of land dedicated to potato cultivation has
doubled, from 55,000 acres in 1980 to 110,000 acres today. Farmers have
had to employ an arsenal of chemicals to fight pests - most notoriously
the Colorado potato beetle and late blight, the fungus that caused the
famines that devastated 19th-century Ireland. The use of poisons to battle
the beetle has declined a bit in recent years, but spraying of fungicide
to fight blight has risen 85 percent.
''The over-intensive potato practices are very destructive,'' said Tony
Reddin of the Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island. ''But
farmers are as much the victims as the wildlife. ... Provincial and
federal governments, as well as agribusiness, have sold them on industrial
Farmers roll their eyes at ecologists' suggestion that they give up modern
methods to raise organic crops on small holdings. But most concede that
new rules setting buffer zones of 10 to 30 yards between potato fields and
waterways are necessary and overdue.
At the same time, however, they feel frustrated by environmental activists
who blast pesticide use but have prevented farms from switching to
genetically modified potato resistant to beetles and blight.
''We spray our crops not because we want to kill fish or hurt rivers, but
because that's what it takes to raise healthy crops,'' said MacDonald.
''Our only realistic choice is use these sprays or watch fields wither and
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 8/30/2000. © Copyright
2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
Island potato official dislikes McCain ban CHARLOTTETOWN (CP) - The
manager of the Prince Edward Island potato board is disappointed that
McCain Foods has decided to stop processing genetically modified potatoes
in the new year.
Ivan Noonan said Monday it's unfortunate that the views of a few can have
such an impact. McCain has waded into the explosive debate over so-called
"Frankenstein foods" by refusing to accept genetically engineered potatoes
Starting next year, the Florenceville, N.B.,-based company will no longer
buy genetically altered potatoes grown by farmers in New Brunswick and the
rest of the country.
McCain chairman Harrison McCain said the decision was made after months of
pressure from consumers who fear genetic tampering could damage the
environment and human health.
Noonan called the move fear-mongering by opponents of such technology,
adding that the amount of genetically modified potatoes on the Island was
limited this year.
But with viruses and other pests like the Colorado potato beetle attacking
the crop, he said growers could have used the technology to protect
Said McCain: "We think genetically modified material is very good science
(but) at the moment, very bad public relations.
"We've got too many people worried about eating the product and we're in
the business of giving our customers what they want, not what we think
they should have.
"We're going to drop that until the smoke clears away and until most
people are at least reasonably satisfied that that's the right thing to
The move has also angered some New Brunswick potato farmers, who have been
growing potatoes genetically altered to produce a protein that acts as a
natural insecticide to the Colorado potato beetle, but does not harm
animals or humans.
"It's not like we have something that has a disease," said Patton
MacDonald, executive director of the New Brunswick Potato Agency.
"There's nothing wrong with it."
MacDonald said most farmers have put their trust in the biotechnology
Less than one per cent of the crops produced for consumption in New
Brunswick in 1999 were genetically modified, according to the provincial
Agriculture Department. © The Canadian Press, 1999
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