Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





September 25, 2000


EPA, Kraft, Bt question, India, General Mills, UK


Note that the biotech regulation referred to in the article below
--published in the current issue of The Scientist
14[18]:39,Sep. 18, 2000 -- that will regulate recombinant plants
manipulated inorder to enhance their pest- or disease-resistance has gone
to USDA for a final round of comment. This unscientific, completely
wrong-headedregulation will soon be released -- unless the scientific
communitymobilizes again to oppose it; recall the heroic efforts of the
"elevensocieties' report" and CAST in years past.--

Henry Miller


Environmental Protection, in Name Only
By Henry I. Miller

A proposal to create a senior scientist position at the U.S Environmental
Protection Agency is winning support from Congress. In June, a National
Academy of Sciences panel recommended creating the position to bolster
EPA's use of science, and at a House subcommittee hearing this summer,
U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) announced that he was preparing
legislation to create the deputy-level (agency head) science position.
"Scientists need more clout," he said.

But EPA needs more than Ehlers' remedies, which are like trying to stop a
charging rhino with a pea shooter. In fact, a similar strategem failed
miserably earlier in the tenure of EPA chief Carol Browner. What has never
been addressed is the fundamental problem that adherence to scientific
principles in the formulation of policy has long been alien to EPA's
"corporate culture."

An expert panel commissioned by then-EPA administrator William Reilly
reported in 1992 that:

* "The science advice function--that is, the process of ensuring
thatpolicy decisions are informed by a clear understanding of the relevant
science--is not well defined or coherently organized within EPA."

* "In many cases, appropriate science advice and information are
notconsidered early or often enough in the decision making process."

* While "EPA should be a source of unbiased scientific information,EPA has
not always ensured that contrasting, reputable scientific views are
well-explored and well-documented." And most damning of all, that

* "EPA science is perceived by many people, both inside and outsidethe
Agency, to be adjusted to fit policy. Such 'adjustments' could be made
consciously or unconsciously by the scientist or the decision-maker."

EPA and Science

In an effort to elevate EPA's scientific profile, in 1989 the agencyhad
brought on board former National Institutes of Health deputy director
William Raub as the senior science advisor. Raub was known to be a smart,
savvy, and collegial scientific administrator. Nonetheless, the EPA staff
proceeded to make his life miserable. From the beginning, they ignored him
when they could. When they couldn't, they sent him drafts of important
documents too late for a meaningful review--often just days before a
court-ordered deadline for an agency action. Instead of disciplining those
responsible, EPA administrator Browner excluded Raub from her inner circle
and finally replaced him in 1995 with a less-threatening lower-level EPA

The tradition continues. Under mounting pressure from environmentalgroups
to ignore the recommendation of the agency's own scientists, Browner last
December scrapped a science-based standard for chloroformin drinking
water. In 1998, EPA had proposed raising the MaximumContaminant Level Goal
for chloroform in drinking water from zero to 300 parts per billion. This
recommendation had resulted from a thorough review by EPA scientists of
toxicological data on human exposure tochloroform going back 20 years, and
took into account the principle contained in the agency's draft cancer
guidelines that there are thresholds below which toxins are essentially
harmless. But the recommendation was to become the victim of political
sabotage, and the agency instead retained a "zero tolerance" rule. In
April of this year, however, a federal court rejected EPA's proposed
standard, saying that the proposal was contradicted by the agency's own
review of the "best available science."

The courts often have had to restrain or educate EPA officials. In
May1999, for example, a federal court ruled that EPA's draconian new air
quality standards were arbitrary and capricious and had to be revised. In
May of this year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on EPA's
deliberately disregarding the cost of its regulations as required by the
Clean Air Act. As argued in an amicus brief filed July 21 by a public
policy research institution and 40 prominent economists, the EPA should
"consider explicitly the full consequences" of regulatory decisions,
including costs, benefits, and any other pertinent facts.

Superfund, the program directed at clean-up of toxic wastes, is
acontinuing disaster. After he left EPA, agency chief William Reilly
admitted as much, saying that unscientific assumptions about risk "have
driven clean-up costs to stratospheric levels and, together with
liabilities associated with Superfund sites, have resulted in inner-city
sites suitable for redevelopment remaining derelict and unproductive." The
result has been "to impose a drag on urban redevelopment in the inner
city, and to push new industry to locate inpristine, outlying sites."

EPA and Biotechnology

Finally, the EPA has attacked biotechnology on several fronts.
Consistently adopting unscientific approaches, agency oversight focuses on
the most precise and predictable techniques of biotechnology while
ignoring genuinely hazardous products. These policies have been a drag on
innovation. A regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act focused
only on the most precise techniques of the new biotechnology, for example,
has halted most research into gene-spliced microorganisms that might be
used to clean up oil spills and toxic wastes.

And the agency is expected any day to issue a final regulation
thatrequires the testing as pesticides of gene-spliced crop and garden
plants such as corn, cotton, wheat, and marigolds that have been modified
for enhanced pest or disease resistance. The policy fails to recognize
that there is a difference between spraying synthetic, toxic chemicals and
genetic approaches to enhancing plants' natural pest and disease

EPA's policy is so potentially damaging and outside scientific normsthat
it has galvanized the scientific community: Eleven major scientific
societies representing more than 80,000 biologists and foodprofessionals
published a report warning that the EPA policy woulddiscourage the
development of new pest-resistant crops and prolong and increase the use
of synthetic chemical pesticides; increase theregulatory burden for
developers of pest-resistant crops; limit theuse of biotechnology to
larger developers who can pay the inflated regulatory costs; and handicap
the United States in competition for international markets.

"Science at EPA," a voluminous book published last year by Resourcesfor
the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, carefully dissects eight
major regulatory programs of the past two decades. It makesthe case that
the science behind the policy often gets distorted orignored: "EPA for a
variety of reasons is unwilling, unable, and unequipped to address and
acknowledge the uncertainties in the underlying science."

Why this sellout of citizens' interests? It is an example of
the"bootleggers and Baptists" parable of regulation, first described by
economist Bruce Yandle. In the South, Sunday closing laws make it illegal
to sell alcohol on Sunday. These laws are maintained by an inadvertent
coalition of bootleggers and Baptists.

The Baptists (and other religious denominations) provide the publicoutcry
against liquor on Sunday, while the bootleggers (who actually sell liquor
illegally on Sunday at inflated prices) quietly persuade legislatures and
town councils to maintain the closing laws that make their exorbitant
profits possible.

Environmental regulation is similar. The "Baptists" are the coalitionof
government regulators and radical environmental groups that promote
unnecessary regulation, allegedly on grounds of safety concerns; the
"bootleggers" are the big agribusiness companies that profit whentheir
competition is stifled by excessive regulation. The environmental groups
have long been closely allied with EPA, particularly during Carol
Browner's tenure, and have been the recipients of generous grants from the
agency. Some of the big agribusiness companies have benefited from EPA's
excesses that can create market entry barriers to smaller competitors.
This arrangement reeks of conflicts of interest.

Many of EPA's regulatory programs are unscientific and illogical andafford
little or no protection to human health or the environment. They have
unacceptably huge costs and divert resources from other legitimatepublic
and private sector endeavors. They breed well-deserved cynicismabout
government's motives. Often, the only environment that benefits is that of
the bureaucrats themselves.

Fixing EPA will require much more sweeping and fundamental changesthan are
currently being discussed. These could range from the creation of an
ombudsman panel with the power to impose sanctions on EPAofficials who
collaborate on unscientific policies, to dismantling EPA and
redistributing its few essential functions to less scientifically
challenged agencies.

Henry Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an adjunctscholar at
the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is the author of To America's
Health: A Proposal to Reform the FDA, Stanford, Calif., Hoover Institute
Press, 2000. From 1979-94, he was an official at the Food and Drug
Administration. The Scientist 14[18]:39, Sep. 18, 2000

Subj: Kraft recalls taco shells
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 5:03:29 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: David Hildebrand

Taco Bell Home Originals Taco Shells RecallAs widely reported in the news
media on September 22, 2000, Kraft voluntarily recalled all Taco Bell Home
Originals taco shell products sold nationwide in supermarkets and other
retail grocery outlets. This is due to evidence of the presence of
Starlink corn containing the cry9c Bt gene. As already reported on
AgBioview this Bt event is currently only approved for feed use not for
food use. Kraft has issued a Special Report concerning the recall that can
be viewed at: http://www.kraftfoods.com/special_report/index.html

A reference is made on the Kraft web site to a statement by Steve Taylor,
Professor and Head of Food Science and Technology at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, indicating no danger of the taco shells to consumers.
See: http://www.kraftfoods.com/special_report/special_letter_0922.html

Kraft issued four recommendations including "Discontinuing partial
approvals of advances in plant biotechnology, and not allowing crops
approved for animal use to enter the market unless they have also been
approved for use in food."


If the presence of the Starlink corn is confirmed in the taco shells it
indicates that the precautions that were in place to prevent feed corn
from entering the food supply chain were not sufficiently stringent. This
sort of situation represents a dilemna both to the producers of food
products to consumers not just Kraft and developers of improved crop
plants not justthe developer of the Starlink corn, Aventis SA. No food
company will want to have any increased risk to consumers of their
products unless the value to consumers clearly outweighs any possibly
increased risks. Then of course specific labeling [that should cover any
compositional changes and why the consumer should pay more] and product
segregation is needed and asufficient price increase to cover the all the
associated added costs. Can developments such as the StarLink corn that
mainly benefit producers meet these criteria? Would consumers accept the
small possibility of developing an allergy in the future and pay the costs
for identity preservation for lower pesticides on the corn and the
associated environmental benefits plus the possibility for lower fungal
toxins or carcinogens? Its seems they might in health food stores if
marketed properly but probably not with main line low cost food products.

David Hildebrand, Professor
Dept. Agronomy
Univ. Kentucky
Lexington, KY 40546-0091
Fax: 859/257-7874
HomePage: http://www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Agronomy/PLBC/

Subj: Toxin resistance and inducible promoters.
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 3:21:52 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Alexandre de Kochko
To: AgBioView-owner@listbot.com

Dear Colleagues,
I am a little bite dubious by all the information and discussiongoing on
about Bt, but not necessarily the monarchs which looks like a false
problem per se. Few years ago, when the first Bt plant werereleased, many
scientists, including myself, were claiming that thoseplants were from the
first generation, that many improvement werestill necessary. Firstly, the
major criticism in those times was theovercoming of the toxin effect by
insects populations, I'll be verygrateful to get some data on this point
if available, and among manyanswers, one alleged solution was to introduce
two different geneseach acting differently on larvae development. In all
the mailsreceived I only read about one and only one Bt gene
introduced.Agricultural practices, strength of gene expression and so on
werealso evoked. An other important path to explore was supposed to bethe
use of tissue specific and inducible promoters. Using those Bttoxin should
be accumulated only when the insect "attacks" and onlyin some tissue,
mainly vascular but generally excluding pollen. Ifsuch promoters were
used, the monarch polemic should be even withmore reason inadequate.
Research is going on in the laboratories butI do not know what is the
situation concerning the plants released inthe fields in relation with
these aspects, it seems it did notevolved much.

Thank you for any information.

A. de Kochko
Alex de Kochko Ph.D.
Research Director
IRD Center
BP 5045=46-34032
Montpellier C=E9dex=46rance
Tel: 33 (0)4 67 41 62 24
=46ax: 33 (0)4 67 41 62 22

Subj: Indian farmers urge 10-year moratorium on GM agriculture
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 8:07:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Barry Hearn"

Monday, September 25 9:53 PM SGT
Indian farmers urge 10-year moratorium on GM agriculture
BANGALORE, India, Sept 25 (AFP) -
A tribunal formed by more than 25 farmers groups in India called Monday
for a 10-year national moratorium on the commercial use of genetic
engineering in agriculture.
The tribunal came out with 13 recommendations after listening to farmers
from across India who spelt our their woes arising from the
industrialisation of agriculture and patents on seeds.
The five-member tribunal, consisting of retired judges and representatives
of farm bodies, said the role of foreign companies in seed production and
distribution must be "balanced with liabilities and responsibilities."
"The public seed sector which is being dismantled needs to be strengthened
with a focus on research and development and farmers' participation," they
Farmers told the tribunal that sales of genetically modified seeds by
private and multinational companies had resulted in crop failures, leading
some debt-ridden farmers to commit suicide.
"Strict punishment should be awarded to persons who are involved in the
trade and distribution of spurious agri-chemicals," the tribunal said,
after farmers testified that large-scale pesticide use had resulted in
poisoned drinking water and deaths.
The farmers' associations slammed corporate control over agriculture and
said they were against genetically modified seeds being sold to farmers by
foreign companies such as US-based Kargill Seeds and Monsanto.
"A moratorium should be imposed for a period of 10 years on the
commercialistaion of gentic engineering in food and farming in India," the
tribunal said.
Vandana Shiva, an Indian ecologist, said the seeds had ruined India's
traditional seed varieties and reduced yields.
"Traditional rights of the farmers to freely conserve, develop, use, share
and exchange their seeds are fundemental rights which cannot be alienated
by any intellectual property law," the tribunal said, referring to the
patents awarded to private firms to make seeds.
Monsanto has been in the thick of controversy in India after the
government cleared a plan for trials of genetically engineered cotton
seeds despite opposition from non-governmental forums.
French anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove who addressed foreign and
Indian delegates before the tribunal's verdict said it was important for
farmers all over the world to fight the multinational seed companies.
"This is for the first time probably, I see farmers from all over the
world coming together and discussing together to defend their own seeds,"
Bove said.
Bove, who achieved notoriety in August after his verbal and physical
attacks on a McDonalds restaurant in his hometown of Millau, said he had
met the director of Monstanto in France and told him to leave the country.
"We told him we do not need you anymore. You can take the next plane back.
Our struggle has been a non-violent one. If there are any (genetic) tests
conducted by any company we will destroy their seeds," Bove said.
"It is very important in our fight to be together. Farmers from the US,
India, Africa must all come together. I believe only then can we win
against big corporations," he added.
September 25, 2000
Associated Press
General Mills shareholders reject ban on GM ingredients
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ General Mills shareholders on Monday showed strong
support for the company's decision to use genetically modified ingredients
in Big G cereals and other products because U.S. regulators say they are
A proposal asking the cereal and snacks maker not to use gene-altered
ingredients until long-term testing shows they are not harmful to humans,
animals and the environment was defeated by shareholders at the company's
annual meeting by a margin of more than 21-1.
The proposal also had asked that General Mills, in the interim, label and
identify products that may contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Sister Zoa Braunworth, a Franciscan nun from Rochester, Minn., who
introduced the resolution, said the use of genetically engineered
ingredients could open General Mills to consumer boycotts and lawsuits and
hurt its stock price.
Sister Dorothy Olinger, a nun with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, told
shareholders there is no reason for General Mills to use genetically
engineered products until long-term testing has been done.
``There is no reason for General Mills customers to be the guinea pigs,''
Olinger said.
In response, chairman and CEO Steve Sanger said biotechnology is a safe
way to develop improved seeds for farmers and can be used to produce foods
to keep people healthier.
Few shareholder concerns were expressed at the meeting about the company's
planned acquisition of Pillsbury for a combined $10.1 billion US in stock
and debt even though General Mills stock has dropped $2.50, to around $34
per share, since the merger was announced.
The stock peaked 11 months ago at a little less than $44.
General Mills announced in July that it will buy Pillsbury, owner of the
Green Giant vegetable and Haagen-Dazs ice cream brands, from London-based
food and drinks conglomerate Diageo PLC for $5 billion in stock. It will
also assume $5.1 billion in Pillsbury debt.
The deal, expected to be completed by year's end, will create the world's
fifth-largest food company.
September 25, 2000

OPINION: Greenpeace's British Court Victory May Help Modified Food
David Walker

Norwich, England--The British jury verdict last week that 28 members of
the environmental group Greenpeace were not guilty of criminal damage to a
genetically modified maize crop may have wide implications for activists'
direct action.
It is, however, unlikely to have much of an impact on the environmental
trials that were being targeted. The activists did not deny they trashed
the crop in 1999, but rather claimed "lawful excuse." The jury accepted
that the Greenpeace 28 genuinely and reasonably believed their direct
action would prevent pollution of the local environment.
Whether this belief was well-founded was not at issue. The major question
on which the jury was persuaded was that Greenpeace did it for perceived
direct environmental reasons rather than publicity.
In the narrow context of the field trials, which are, of course, opposed
by Greenpeace and other activist environmental groups, the jury verdict is
generally seen as a setback.
It's anticipated the activists will regard next summer as "open season"
for these trials. The activists' strategy has been to discourage farmers
from hosting these trials through intimidation and physical destruction of
those trials that are held.
To date this strategy has received a great deal of publicity, but has not
been overly successful. The thinking is that, without the implicit
protection of the law, farmers will be less inclined to host these field
This seems reasonable. Some would even suggest every crop sprayer and
fertilizer spreader in Britain is now a legitimate target for direct
action by anybody who "genuinely" believes in the environmental benefits
for organic food production.
The majority of farmers, however, almost certainly support genetic
engineering technology and are waiting quietly on the sidelines for the
green light of environmental approval.
The prospect this green light may be postponed or even canceled as an
indirect result of the jury verdict, which these farmers will almost
certainly view as unjust, is likely to attract more potential hosts for
the trials than it deters.
To date the activists have been regarded as a nuisance. The not-guilty
verdict raises their status to a threat. Many farmers will now feel the
need to be more actively involved.
Those promoting the trials, both within government and from the industry,
have indicated they plan to continue, and the police intend to continue
prosecuting. It is, therefore, possible there will be lots of action next
summer. However, there's no certainty that the activists will be able to
organize enough support to have a material impact on the trials.
If the background of the Greenpeace 28 is anything to go by, it would seem
Greenpeace will have difficulty in sustaining any sort of volunteer direct
action campaign. Nearly half were employees, and there was no meaningful
local participation.
This summer, while Greenpeace was sidelined by the pending trial, other
activist organizations were not able to muster many eco-warriors. Some of
the activists are well-financed and could possibly hire demonstrators, but
eco-mercenaries could hardly claim "lawful excuse."
More important, the activists need not only to halt the trials, but also
to convince government to pass legislation banning the growing of
genetically modified crops.
If they are successful in the former and not the latter, paradoxically
they may hasten the commercialization of this technology. It is currently
perfectly legal for farmers to grow, harvest and sell genetically modified
crops. The reason they have not done so to date is an agreement between
the industry and government for a three-year moratorium to allow further
environmental tests.
This is an arrangement supported by all parties, including mainline
environment groups but not the activists. The dilemma for the activists
here is that the more successful they are, the more they will alienate the
mainstream environmental groups genuinely interested in getting answers to
environmental questions.
In reality, the best hope for those opposing genetically modified crops
are unfavorable reports from the field trials. Their motivation for
attacking the trials is, therefore, ambiguous.
Their next best hope is to persuade the British government to abandon its
science-based policy and hence the environmental trials. Their chance here
may be seen as improving.
The British government is approaching an election and its opinion poll
ratings are slipping. Recently the government's popularity suffered
dramatically from being on the wrong side of public opinion recently on
the fuel taxation issue. It will surely want to avoid a repeat.
But this issue is unlikely to have a broad enough interest base to worry
the government. Conspicuously, the government's environmental argument for
high fuel taxation did not hold much sway with the British public.
Further, if the activists do pursue their apparent advantage the jury
verdict seems to provide them, they are likely to antagonize the public in
short order.
Some activists may appreciate this, but discipline is not a long suit for
others. The jury decision may prove to provide them with enough rope for
them to hang them with.
DAVID WALKER, an agricultural economist, lives on his family's farm
outside Norwich, England. He recently served as senior economist in London
for the Home-Grown Cereals Authority and previously was executive director
of the Alberta Grain Commission in Canada. He also maintains a Web site at
www.openi.co.uk. His views are not necessarily those of BridgeNews, whose
ventures include the Internet site www.bridge.com.