An open letter to the Soil Association, the organic standards organization
for the United Kingdom.
Your organization recently released a Soil Association Fact Sheet in which
you made the following statements:
"The uses of the pesticide Rotenone: Research in America  has linked
exposure to the pesticide Rotenone to Parkinson's disease. Rotenone is an
insecticide used to control aphids as well as the raspberry beetle and
sawflies. It breaks down easily in the environment and therefore the issue
is of exposure to the operator from applying the insecticide directly, not
of residues in food. . . . This research has opened up a more worrying
prospect as Rotenone works in a similar way to many other synthetic
pesticides used widely in food production but which do not break down as
easily. It acts by causing the mitochondria - which power the cell - to
produce free radicals, reactive chemicals that produce oxidative damage in
a variety of contexts and which have been implicated in many degenerative
We are not aware of any synthetic pesticide used widely in food production
that "works in a similar way” as Rotenone. Could you please supply the
names (both commercial trade names and active ingredient) of such
synthetic pesticides? Please include in your response any data (kilograms
of active ingredients used annually, acreage of cropland treated, etc. as
well as the source for this data) on the use of such pesticides supporting
your claim that such pesticides are used widely in food production.
If you cannot supply the names of any such synthetic pesticides, then we
publically request that the Soil Association publish a corrected Fact
Sheet to be sent to the recipients of the original Fact Sheet.
We await your prompt reply.
Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues
Dennis Avery, Director
Subj: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Rotenone, Green Revolution, Organics and
pesticides, "Needed Action"
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 1:35:49 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: "Robert M. Hollingworth"
Rick et al. -- Probably I missed the first part of this discussion re
rotenone-like synthetic pesticides since I've been out of town, but there
are several, primarily acaricides, such as pyridaben, fenpyroximate,
tebufenpyrad and fenazaquin that act, as far as one can tell, at the
rotenone-binding site in complex I of mitochondria e.g. for a review see
Hollingworth and Ahammadsahib in Rev. Pestic. Toxicol. 3:277-302 (1995).
This also includes some discussion of these compounds and rotenone in
relation to parkinsonism -- which is not a new topic.
A matter of life or starvation
To ignore modern biotechnology as a possible solution to pressing food
security challenges would be most unwise
November 26, 2000
Modern biotechnology is not a silver bullet for achieving food security,
but, used in conjunction with traditional or conventional agricultural
research methods, it may be a powerful tool that should be made available
to poor farmers and consumers in the fight against poverty.
Biotechnology is not, as some critics have charged, "a solution looking
for a problem". The problems that it addresses are genuine and momentous.
Poverty, food insecurity, child malnutrition, and micronutrient
deficiencies will persist in the Asia-Pacific region through 2020,
especially in South Asia. Region-wide, rapidly growing food demand will
outstrip domestic production, due to declining rates of yield growth, low
productivity among poor farmers, and competition from lower priced
industrialised country imports. Environmental degradation and declining
growth in public investment in agricultural research and infrastructure
pose additional obstacles.
As rural poverty persists in Asia, achieving equitable and sustainable
growth will be an important task in the 21st century. Agriculture will
play a prominent role. Even when rural people do not work directly in
agriculture as farmers or as farm workers, many rely on employment and
income related to agriculture. Moreover, where there are large numbers of
rural poor people, agricultural growth is a catalyst for broad-based
economic growth and development. Also, a healthy agricultural economy
encourages natural resource conservation and helps meet growing food needs
driven by rapid population growth and urbanisation.
Although there is tissue culture and other agricultural biotechnology
research underway in many developing countries, most transgenic crops are
planted in the developed world and for developed country markets. In 1999,
North America accounted for 82 percent of genetically modified (GM)
plantings, with the United States alone accounting for 72 percent.
In Asia, only China has a significant area planted to GM crops. The first
country in the world to approve commercialisation of GM crops, China has
authorised the environmental release of over 100 GM crops, including
insect resistant-cotton; virus-resistant tobacco, papayas, green peppers,
and potatoes; and slow ripening tomatoes. India has a major research
programme, but has not approved commercialisation of GM varieties. There
are modest research efforts in Thailand and the Philippines.
CONVENTIONAL BREEDING VS BIOTECHNOLOGY
First of all, current work in agricultural biotechnology involves the
transfer of a single or a few genes between species and even from
micro-organisms and animals to plants. While all plant breeding arguably
involves "genetic modification", conventional breeding crosses different
varieties within a single species. There is considerable debate about
whether gene transfers across species boundaries entail significant risks
to human health and the environment.
Secondly, the public sector's leading role in conventional crop research,
especially in developing countries, has made improved seeds freely
available although some are subjected to breeders' rights that may entail
an initial charge. In contrast, modern agricultural biotechnology research
is undertaken mostly by private sector companies that protect intellectual
property rights through patents beyond the first release.
To date, little private sector agricultural biotechnology research has
focused on developing country food crops other than maize. Moreover, there
is little adaptation of research to developing country crops and
conditions, through the "enlightened" (i.e., not-for-profit, public
goods-oriented) public and philanthropic channels prominent in
conventional breeding efforts in the developing countries. There is little
biotechnology research on the productivity and nutrition of poor people.
Thirdly, while conventional breeding technology lies in the public domain,
the processes used in modern agricultural biotechnology are increasingly
subjected to intellectual property protection, along with their resulting
BENEFITS AND RISKS
Modern agricultural biotechnology, including genetic engineering, can help
significantly in a comprehensive sustainable poverty alleviation strategy
focused on broad based agricultural growth. Depending on the relevance of
agricultural biotechnology research to the needs of the poor, the economic
and social policy environment, and the intellectual property rights
governing the technology, modern agricultural biotechnology can increase
productivity, lower unit costs and prices for food, encourage nature
conservation, reduce poverty and improve nutrition.
However, the introduction of modern biotechnology should be supported by
national biosafety regulations that require thorough assessment of
environmental risks, including the spread of desired traits from GM plants
to unmodified plants (including weeds) through cross-pollination; the
build-up of resistance in insect populations; unintended harm to other
species; and the potential threat to biodiversity due to widespread
monoculture of bio-engineered crops. These risks are particularly
significant in the centres of origin and diversity of major food crops,
including many parts of Asia.
Strong opposition to GM food in the European Union has resulted in severe
restrictions on modern agricultural biotechnology, including a three-year
moratorium on approval of commercial use of new GM agricultural products.
The opposition is driven in part by perceived lack of consumer benefits,
uncertainty about possible negative health and environmental effects, and
widespread perception that a few large corporations will be the primary
Failure to remove antibiotic-resistant marker genes used in research
before a GM food is commercialised presents a potential although unproven
health risk. China does not subject GM food to scrutiny beyond that
required for conventional food. Having gone the farthest in developing
agricultural biotechnology, among Asian countries, China should enhance
its biosafety and food safety regulations, ensuring that field testing and
even commercialisation gives systematic attention to potential
India, in contrast, has enacted regulations requiring special testing of
all GM seeds, plants, and plant parts for both toxicity and allergenicity.
A vigorous civil society and strong anti-GMO organisations are helping to
ensure that biosafety is based much more on precaution. So far, India has
not approved the commercial release of any GM crops, although large-scale
field trials of Bt cotton are underway. This research is the object of
some protest from anti-GM organisations.
In the Philippines, strict biosafety regulations are on the books, but the
lack of human and institutional resources hampers their effective
implementation. As in India, strong environmental and farmers
organisations have questioned the need for GM crops.
In Thailand, regulations are tighter than in China, more effective than in
the Philippines, and somewhat looser than in India. A potential problem is
that regulation is overseen by the National Centre for Genetic Engineering
and Biotechnology, which is also responsible for promoting research.
Nevertheless, appropriate laboratory and field test protocols have been
developed, and research capacity has been strengthened at national
institutions. A major issue in Thai research programmes is whether to rely
on imported GM seeds, or to look at biotechnology and conventional
breeding as tools to develop new crop varieties with desirable traits from
Thailand's own biodiversity.
A CAUTIOUS APPROACH
Unless developing countries have policies in place to assure that small
farmers have access to extension services, productive resources (such as
land, water, and credit), markets, and infrastructure, there is
considerable risk that the introduction of agricultural biotechnology
could lead to increased inequality of income and wealth, as larger farmers
capture most of the benefits through early adoption of the technology,
expanded production, and reduced unit costs. Where biotechnology may offer
substantial benefits for poor farmers in long-neglected less favoured
areas, the need for attention to equity and adequate levels of public
investment is particularly great.
Increased public sector research is essential for assuring that molecular
biology-based science serves the needs of poor farmers and consumers, as
in increased public-private cooperation. Poor people must be included in
debate and decision-making about technological change. It is also
essential to strengthen regulatory capacity in Asian countries. The
biggest risk is that technological development will bypass poor people in
a form of "scientific apartheid", focusing exclusively on industrialised
countries and large-scale farming.
If opposition in developed countries leads to moratoria or outright bans
on agricultural biotechnology research, developing countries will be
unlikely to receive scientific or financial support for their research.
This would likely preclude most such research in developing Asian
countries, except in large countries such as China and India, and
negatively affect opportunities to reduce poverty, food insecurity, child
malnutrition, and natural resource degradation.
- Dr Per Pinstrup-Andersen is Director-General of the International Food
Policy Research Institute based in Washington DC. This article is adapted
from his lecture at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) last week, in
honour of the late AIT faculty, Dr Gunner Kjer Hansen.
Unnecessary Setback for Biotech Corn
Dennis T. Avery
November 26, 2000
Why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offer any approval at all
for StarLink corn if it thought the genetically engineered corn might
trigger allergies? The potential for the corn to leak into human
consumption was too great. It was a regulatory bungle.
Aventis CorpScience should never have accepted feed-only approval for
StarLink, given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding biotech crops.
But the regulatory responsibility rests with EPA. Now, the public is
reading headlines about the nation's food supply being "contaminated."
Taco Bell recalled its taco shells, and dozens of other corn products may
contain traces of the unapproved DNA.
Biotech's opponents gleefully claim this as conclusive proof that
genetically modified foods should never be let out of the laboratory.
I can't say the feed-only approval was a deliberate trap for the biotech
companies, but neither do I believe the EPA is truly objective on
biotechnology in agriculture.
Too much of EPA's leadership has an "organic mindset." They are too
tightly focused on returning the world to some idealized natural state.
They're ignoring the urgent likelihood that a non-biotech world will clear
10 million square miles of forest to grow low-yield crops for a peak
population of 8.5 billion affluent people in 2050.
Nobody has gotten an allergic reaction from the corn. The evidence says
convincingly that no one will.
Independent laboratories have found nothing to confirm the EPA's original
suggestion that StarLink corn might be allergenic. But the EPA's blunder
has helped poison the well for biotech crops, one of the key strategies
for preserving wildlands in the 21st Century. Isn't the EPA supposed to
worry about wildlands?
Consider the reality of the charges against the Cry9c protein, the protein
added to the Starlink corn. Most allergenic food proteins are present at
fairly high levels--1 percent to 40 percent of the total protein in the
The Cry9C protein makes up little more than one-tenth of 1 percent (0.013
percent) of the StarLink proteins. A single serving of peanut butter doses
the consumer with 1.3 grams of peanut allergen. That's more than 50,000
times the Cry9C protein even the most ardent taco lover would ingest in a
Spreading fear about biotech foods is directly contrary to the EPA's major
responsibility--protecting the environment.
What about biotech escapes into nature? Let's make all the biotech crops
sterile. So what if farmers have to buy seeds every year? Most of them
already do, even in the Third World.
Hybrid seeds don't breed true, but their yields are so high that farmers
eagerly plunk down cash to get them. Besides, there are competing seed
companies to buy from.
EPA's StarLink bungle has materially damaged the potential for
biotechnology to help raise crop yields (and save the environment) in the
next 40 years.
Monsanto Chief Executive Outlines Commitments on New Agricultural
Technologies in the 'New Monsanto Pledge'
ST. LOUIS, November 27, 2000 — Monsanto Company President and Chief
Executive Officer Hendrik A. Verfaillie today outlined the "New Monsanto
Pledge" - principles in five key areas outlining Monsanto's policy for the
development, use and stewardship of products of new agricultural
Speaking before the fifth annual Farm Journal Forum in Washington, D.C.,
Verfaillie made new commitments unprecedented in the biotechnology
industry. The New Monsanto Pledge includes five areas of commitment -
dialogue, transparency, respect, sharing and delivering benefits.
"Through the New Monsanto Pledge, we commit to respecting and working with
all interested parties, developing technology with benefits that are
meaningful to farmers and consumers throughout the world, and only
developing products that we are confident are safe and will provide value
to our customers," said Verfaillie.
Monsanto has a history of taking a leadership position on matters of
public interest. In 1990, the Monsanto Pledge was a statement of
environmental responsibility. One principle of the original Pledge applies
directly to the issue of biotechnology: "We will work to achieve
sustainable agriculture through new technology and practices."
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