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October 1, 2000


New Zealand, Organic food safety


I thought someone on this list could provide Mr. Maddison with some
information to allay (disprove?) his concerns about what he calls the
"likely (negative) effects" of GM crops on New Zealand's flora
and fauna.

From: "Peter Maddison"

I am an Executive Member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society -
New Zealand's leading conservation organisation. There is a Royal
Commission on genetic engineering in New Zealand. I am charged
with convening the submission from Forest & Bird to this Royal Commission.

Our particular concerns are to put in the submission opposition to GE/GM
because of the likely effects on NZ's local and rather unique flora and
fauna. I am looking for information in the form of reports or references
to such work in other countries, but am unaware of any studies other than
those on Monarch butterfly.

Peter Maddison
Field Studies,
14, Waikumete Road,
Glen Eden,
Waitakere City,
New Zealand
Ph. 00649 8186803 Fax 00649 8186894

-----Original Message-----
> From: John Mottley [mailto:J.Mottley@uel.ac.uk]
> Sent: 27 September 2000 19:00
> To: AgBioView
> Subject: AGBIOVIEW: organic food vs GM food - TV program
> AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org; Archived at
> http://agbioview.listbot.com
> Hi all,
> I have been asked by a researcher for a well-known and generally
> respected UK TV program to answer the following questions. I
> would like any contributions anyone can make to help me answer
> them using supporting evidence, preferably published, as soon as
> possible.
> How safe is organic food?

Date: Oct 02 2000 13:14:35 EDT
From: "Tammisola Jussi"
Subject: Organic products

As a response to the query of J. Mottley and others I propose a few points
for consideration.

"Organic" movement is a loose collection of various anti-technology
beliefs, from e.g. old vitalistic views, antroposophism, oriental
religions, sowing according to moon stages (biodynamics), homeopathy,
veganism and "living food" concept, to "ecological" misanthrophy. In
addition, some people envisage benefits in conservation. Therefore, when
you point to any drawback, there will always be a choir affirming that it
is not a problem in their "genuine" movement. Anyway, on the background
there are amply of odd ambitions and
requirements not based on science. Many of these notions were not set
formally as requirements, though not banned either, when EU agreed on its
regulations on organic agriculture. However, such "more pure" hopes are
still alive within organic movement and the consequent practices may well
be in general use somewhere in the community.

1) One of the worst ones may be the idea of non-pasteurization. In USA,
numerous cases of EHEC-coli poisoning have occurred due to not
pasteurizing apple juices. We in Finland made our immemorial acquintance
with organic production methods in 1990 (21st Oct.), when the European
turnee of our world-famous youth chamber orchester Helsinki Junior Strings
was changed to a week with intravenous drips in a hospital. In the midst
of "green" Germany, i.e. Sauerland, the youth were offered (without any
warning label) a dessert prepared from non-pasteurized milk, seasoned with
sincere salmonella. (Though
the youngsters convalesced moderately within a few weeks, some of the
elderly guardians went near demise.).

Thanks to the brave and permanent resistance by responsible medical
doctors, the pernicious idea of non-pasteurization could be to some extent
countered during the preparation of the organic regulations in EU.

2) In USA the use of antibiotics is forbidden in organic animal
production. Similar requirement was proposed by the most "pure" organics
also in EU. Thanks to veterinary doctors, our organic regulation still
permits us to cure the animals two times in their lifetime with
antibiotics. However, in spite of strong veterinary opposition, organic
farmers were recommended to give their
sick animals "nursing" with homeopathy (i.e. with "preparations" diluted
to the point that no molecules but only their "memory in the water
molecules" is left...). Doctors think that keeping the animals sick is
neither humane for the animals nor safe for the consumers. Even though two
cures of antibiotics are permitted, there remains a risk that animals are
kept sick without functional cure in order to not lose organic business

The use of antbiotics as feed additives is turning more strictly
controlled in EU. However, we can read in newspaper interviews that
certain organic pig growers are feeding their animals with turf, because
it "contains so good antibiotics". It is possible that certain soil types
may indeed contain antibiotic actinomycetes, in addition to harmful
constituents.Thus, as usual in "organics", the use of unknown, untested
and probably noxious "natural preparations" is permitted, whereas more
safe and pure products thoroughly
studied scientifically are forbidden.

3) Regarding human health, the soil contains too little selenium in
Finland. In conventional crops the deficit is compensated by adding
selenium in fertilizers, but organic grains are poor with selenium. That
is actually the only clear analytical difference consistently observed
between organic and conventional products in Finland. Though, organic pigs
kept grazing outdoors produce meat with somewhat higher content of heavy
metal cadmium than conventional ones.
Furthermore, such pigs reared outdoors according to organic rules in EU
are more exposed to hazardous parasites, e.g. trichinas, and diseases such
as classical swine fever (as being lately suspected with swine feber cases
in UK). Similarly with turkeys reared outdoors, an incurable disease (its
english name may be something like "blackhead") occurs due to eating earth
worms in rainy
days. Hen battalions reared "free" on the floor are also more prone to
certain important diseases, including salmonella. Please consult a
competent veterinarian. Additionally, they carry out in full the pecking
order characteristic to the species, with the consequence of faint
individuals being tormented to death - something that I would not quite
call "happy hens".

4) "Living food", especially sprouts, may often contain listeria,
salmonella and other severe human pathogens. In addition, it is known that
a diet based on raw or undercooked items may increase the number of
bacteria resistant for antibiotics 1000-fold in the intestines (Scientific
American, March 1998). Not to forget the point that due to e.g.
antinutrients and imperfect digestion of raw plants, cooked ones are often
much more nutritious - even to the degree that ability to cook plant
products has been regarded as a foundation for the
rise of humankind in the prehistoric era.

5) In organic production plants cannot often be efficiently protected from
pests and diseases. Therefore the harvest will usually contain more toxins
injurious for human.

a) As a consequence of an assault the plant will produce many native
toxins to protect itself against microbes and predating animals. More than
80 000 (maybe even 180 000) so-called secondary metabolites are known from
higher plants, and many of these compounds have importance for the
self-defence of plants. In addition, a great proportion of these compounds
have proven mutagenic or carcinogenic, at least in high doses. Therefore,
a healthy plant properly protected against injuries will be more healthful
for food. Acceptable control
sprays will not cause significant residues in the product provided
appropriate quarantine periods before harvest will be obeyed.

b) Many plant diseases, especially fungi, produce compounds toxic,
carcinogenic or mutagenic for man. Examples are ear blight in cereals and
aflatoxins produced e.g. in peanuts. These can be controlled by proper
fungicide sprays (usually forbidden in organic production) or by breeding
resistant plant varieties. Some bacterial diseases are devastating e.g.
for fruit trees and rice. Antibacterial products have been necessary for
their control until now, but resistant varieties can now often be bred
with the help of modern biotechnology. Viral diseases can only be
controlled to certain degree by recurrent sprayings of insecticides to
prevent their spread from plant to plant via insects. Gene technology have
offered a clear-cut way to breed virus-resistant varieties. Needless to
say that a virotic plant usually cannot produce but much less and lower
quality yield.

c) One should notice that with the rules laid down for organic production,
plant varieties resistant to important diseases or pests can only rarely
be found or bred with old methods. On the contrary, remarkable success has
already been attained with the new genetic methods (forbidden in organic
agriculture). That will be one of the most important factors favouring new
genetic know-how in the future in comparison with organics.
Virus-resistant papayas, potatoes,
melons, rice and many other plant genera; pest-resistant corn, potato,
cotton, cabbage, rice etc.; potato, apple and rice resistant to bacterial
blight diseases; potato resistant to late blight and cereals resistant to
carcinogenic Fusarium or Aspergillus pathogens may serve as examples.
Great numbers of similar cases of health and quality are coming - but not
in organic production.

6) Aluminium is toxic for plants, and for human beings as well, and causes
problems in 40% of our planet's cultivated soils. Breeding with the help
of modern biotechnology has already proved successful in producing plants
which can keep aluminium out of the roots. Plants stay in better health,
and the amount of aluminium accumulating in the crop to be used for feed
or food may also be reduced. Hypoallergic rice has already been bred with
gene technology,
and similar developments for the reduction of allergenicity are under
study in other plants, e.g. in rye-grass which contains two allergenic
glycoproteins in its pollen. No such developments are to be awaited based
on the less potent methodology used in organic production.

Jussi Tammisola, DrSc(Agr&For)
Helsinki, Finland
Fax: +358 9 160 2443, Phone: +358 9 160 88 656
Email: jussi.tammisola@mmm.fi