To whom it may concern:
As past Chair of an international panel of scientists formed to develop a
model approach to assessing the safety of genetically modified foods, I am
concerned that the recent incident with taco shells and unapproved corn
may not have been fully understood by the public or the food industry.
First, I must say that I was dismayed that a product was allowed on the
market for animal feed use when it had not been approved for human food
use. I believe that was a mistake, however I do not believe there has been
any risk to the public. The corn in question, StarLink Bt corn developed
by Aventis, is the only product among about 40 genetically modified crops
on the market that has not been approved for use in human foods. All
biotech crops on the market today have been assessed by the Food and Drug
Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of
Agriculture. The protocols followed by those agencies ensure that any
product approved for food use has passed all tests for substantial
equivalence and for the safety of the newly introduced gene(s) and
proteins and should therefore be considered as safe as its conventional
StarLink, which contains a protein from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
bacterium, was not approved for food use because the product did not pass
all screens for allergenicity. The Bt protein in StarLink, Cry9C, does not
resemble known allergens, so in fact it may not be an allergen. However,
Cry9C was not immediately broken down in digestion tests. Because most
food allergens are not readily digested, EPA wanted more data before
concluding that the protein would not become an allergen. On this basis,
the agency was correct in denying the food use. Other Bt products on the
market contain a Cry1 protein, which is digested in a matter of seconds
and has passed other screens for allergenicity. Furthermore, Cry1 proteins
have been present in foods via Bt sprays used by organic farmers for many
Kraft Foods, which did the right thing in recalling its taco shells when
StarLink DNA was discovered, has specifically recommended to regulators
that no future products be allowed on the market with a feed-only
restriction. Biotech companies will almost certainly comply voluntarily to
avoid further incidents, so this should be the last time this happens.
But was the public at risk because of this incident? I believe not. In
order for people to become allergic to a protein they must be exposed to
it multiple times over an extended period until they become sensitized.
The protein must also be present as a relatively high percentage of total
protein content. Most allergenic proteins are present at levels of 1 to 40
percent. Aventis indicates that the Cry9C protein is present in corn
kernels at 0.3 percent, but the taco shells would contain far less due to
the presence of other varieties of corn and the use of other ingredients.
It is highly unlikely that Cry9C protein would be present in any corn
products at a level of concern.
It is important to understand that only a very small amount of StarLink
corn was planted, about 300,000 acres among the nearly 80 million corn
acres in the United States (0.3 of a percent). That small amount could
conceivably be produced by only 100 large farms. Because of the feed-only
restriction, nearly all would have been properly channeled to feed
operations, but even if the production from one or two farms was
improperly channeled, there would be only a few thousand acres to be
co-mingled with other grain. This clearly would not produce protein
levels of any health concern.
It is unfortunate that this incident has sent a negative message to
consumers because I believe that U.S. regulatory procedures ensure that
any genetically modified crop approved for food use is as safe as its
conventional counterpart. StarLink is the only product not approved for
food use, and we can almost certainly expect that it will be the last.
Steve L. Taylor, Ph.D.
University of Nebraska
Dept. of Food Science & Technology
143 Food Industry Bldg.
Lincoln, NE 68583-0919
Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: UK
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 2:55:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Matthew Metz
A point from David Walker's 25 September opinion piece (below) brings to
mind a question: As instigator of and even employer of (some) of the field
trial vandals, shouldn't Greenpeace be liable for damages? What say those
in the UK? In the US, hate groups have been held liable for activities of
the individuals they have indoctrinated.
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.
Five Arrested in Indian Transgenic Seeds Protest
By Frederick Noronha
BANGALORE, India, September 26, 2000 (ENS) - Five people were arrested
today for a protest against the promotion and introduction of genetically
engineered seeds in India, in the southern city of Bangalore.
The five Greenpeace members were arrested while staging a protest at the
inaugural session of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA) annual
conference. The protest was mounted despite heavy security to protect the
more than 550 delegates from around the world.
Greenpeace activists dressed in vegetable suits of tomatoes, eggplants and
corn, demonstrated against the promotion and introduction of genetically
Greenpeace activist dressed as an eggplant is arrested by Indian police in
Bangalore in front of the APSA conference hall. (Photo courtesy
Greenpeace)Shailendra Yashwant, a Greenpeace spokesperson, told ENS the
five arrested are Indian nationals, and identified them as Michelle
Chawla, Samir Nazareth, Humphrey Pauro, Nirmala Karunan, and a man who
goes by the single name of Raj. Greenpeace charged that the "main agenda"
of the Asia and Pacific Seed Associationís conference was to penetrate the
region with transgenic crops. "The conference was seen as an instrument to
promote the seed and biotech industryís plan of introducing genetically
modified crops into the region," said Yashwant.
Membership in the Asia and Pacific Seed Association is composed of
national seed associations, government and intergovernmental agencies,
public and private seed companies. Members hail from around the Pacific
Rim, the United States, Europe and South Africa.
Some companies deal only in natural seeds, others such as Dow AgroSciences
in the Philippines and Shriram Bioseed Genetics India Ltd. handle
genetically modified seeds.
Some members are intergovernmental agencies such as the International
Plant Genetic Resources Institute of Malaysia, part of the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which is cosponsored
by the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United
Nations and the United Nations Development Programme. CGIAR associates
investigate the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops.
Greenpeace demonstrations are well known in Europe and America, but they
are a recent phenomenon in India where the group has become active only in
Critics of genetically modified crops say that in addition to the serious
environmental risks they pose, the corporate control over seeds is
dangerous. Farmers must buy genetically modified seeds anew for each
year's crop. They cannot harvest seeds from the current crop to use the
One of the Greenpeacers arrested, Michelle Chawla from New Delhi, said she
is worried about corporate ownership of life itself. "Of serious concern
is the fact that the very basis of life - the seed - will be owned and
controlled by commercial interests. Corporate controlled vested interests
are developing gene altered seeds and utilising the patent regime,
claiming exclusive ownership of seeds to gain control over agriculture,"
Greenpeace argues that India is a predominantly agrarian economy, and in
such a context, a monopolistic hold over the farmers' seed systems so that
seeds would only be available on payment of annual royalties could have a
"devastating impact" on small farmers.
The lack of corporate liability or responsibility in the case of
contamination of seeds by genetically manipulated varieties is another
issue of serious concern as it would intensify the risk of genetic
pollution of India's agro-ecosystems, critics say.
At a time when mounting concern over the ethics and environmental risk of
genetically engineered crops and food has led to their rejection in many
European countries, Greenpeace is suspicious of claims that genetically
modified crops can feed the world.
Instead of being particularly beneficial for small scale farmers,
Greenpeace says that dreams of enough food for all are being used to
promote biotechnology in agricultural economies of Asia for the benefit of
multinational companies' bottom lines.