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Date:

December 15, 2000

Subject:

Pusztai Rebuttal to 'GM Myths'; Italian Scientists Blast

 

I sent a copy of "Response to 'GM myths'" to Dr Arpad Pusztai as it
contained comment on two of his studies as well as on the wider issue of
the number of peer-reviewed papers on the testing of GM foods. I forward
Dr Pusztai's comments.
---
Dear Jonathan,

Obviously Dr Morton regards himself an authority on everything concerning
GM crops and food. Unfortunately, I have no recollections of major
contributions by him to nutrition but perhaps he may enlighten me on his
track record one day. Meanwhile, I shall limit myself only to dealing with
the part of his long contribution that I have some competence in.

First, let us get this GM pea study out of the way. I am very grateful
that somebody has eventually discovered this paper of ours in Journal of
Nutrition. I was beginning to think that although we have done this work
at the request of his fellow Australian scientists such as T.J. Higgins,
they and everybody else may have forgotten about this paper. I am very
grateful to Morton to bring it to people's attention. He even took the
trouble to give the abstract of the paper (though leaving some bits out),
although he was somewhat coy about the authors and not mentioned that
three of them were Australians. Perhaps, it would have been embarrassing
for them to be associated with a "disgraced scientist" such as myself.
Just as a matter of completeness I want to make three comments about this
paper of relatively early work from our laboratory of which, as a matter
of record, I am quite proud of:

1. This was a straightforward nutritional study without any histology
or immunology. As such this was published in The Journal of Nutrition
(USA), one of the top nutritional journals of the world. Not bad, is it?
By the way, had we been allowed to continue with our research at the next
stage we would have extended these nutritional studies to include gut
histology (the main target tissue of any food) and measurements on gut and
humoral immune responsiveness. A very important point to make here is that
the design of the GM pea study was exactly the same as that of our GM
potato work which according to the Royal Society was flawed in design,
execution etc. Perhaps what may have had something to do with the
difference in the proper appreciation of our work by the two bodies was
that the peer-review of our paper at the Journal of Nutrition was done by
proper nutritional experts while none of the six members of the RS Working
Group had firsthand experience in nutrition.

2. Any proper nutritionist or gastroenterologist reading our GM pea
paper would have picked out one of the main glaring reasons for the
similarity in the nutritional value of conventional and GM peas included
in the rat diet at 30% (but not at 65% inclusion level). We have shown and
described in the paper that because the product of the alpha-amylase
inhibitor gene transferred from kidney bean (one of the main and stable
antinutrients in beans), became unstable in the gastrointestinal tract and
rapidly broke down, the main reason for the difference between the GM and
non-GM peas disappeared. This shows the importance of case-by-case animal
testing because, as it so happened, in this case the experiments showed
that in exceptional cases one hits the jackpot even with some GM crops.
Quite in contrast, GNA (the snowdrop bulb lectin) in GM potatoes did not
break down in the gut which shows that the gene product MUST be isolated
from the GM plant (and not as an E. coli recombinant) and this must be
tested in vivo and not in spurious in vitro simulated assays. Moreover,
there is a general message here too: the scientist must report his
findings as he finds them and not what he/she thinks that he/she ought to
have found. We reported the problems with our GM potatoes because there
were problems with them and not for ideological reasons and the same
happened with our findings with GM peas; we reported our results as they
were found.

3. Finally, I want to quote the last two sentences from our paper,
without any further comment, that somehow escaped Morton's attention:
"However, this nutritional study with transgenic peas expressing
alpha-amylase inhibitor cannot at this stage be taken as proof that
transgenic peas are fit for human consumption. This may be established
only with the use of further and more specific risk assessment testing
procedures, which must be designed and developed with human consumers in
mind".

There is one more comment that relates to our GM potato work. Morton says
that these potatoes were not in the process of commercialization and have
not been continued with. I am afraid, he is wrong. The potatoes which we
used as a model of GM food in our studies had been developed by an English
biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis
Genetics. They had been field-grown at Rothamstead and were very much to
be commercialized. In fact, the Rowett and Axis Genetics had already drawn
up a profit-sharing agreement for this commercialization. True, this was
not continued with. Perhaps the main reason for this was our work.
Incidentally, the company has since gone bankrupt and, according to people
in the know, the GNA patent has been bought up by Novartis.

The second thing I am going to comment on (again because of my particular
expertise in this field) is the very "impressive" list of references in
support of Morton's claim that GM "food has been tested and it is a lie to
suggest it has not". Just look at the bibliography! Morton further claimed
that the recent article in Science by Domingo is IN FACT WRONG. This
Spanish scientist could only find 7 papers on GM food in peer-reviewed
literature after going through practically all the scientific data bases
in a computer-aided search and therefore he at the end commented that
there were "many opinions but few data". However, Morton did not give his
opinion why this scientist was wrong, whether he was incompetent or just
lied. Rather interestingly, Domingo never said that GM was good, bad or
indifferent, he just pleaded with the companies and scientists to publish
their papers on this so important topic in peer-reviewed journals.

Coming to Morton's list of 56 papers referred to in his bibliography I
very much hope that his science is better and more precise than his list.
This is the breakdown of peer-reviewed articles:

1. Nutritional studies: 2 papers. Nos. 2 and 10 in his list. However,
paper no. 10 must be so good that he quotes it three times, in his list:
nos. 10, 19 and 33.

2. Toxicology: 1 paper; again it must be good because it is quoted twice:
nos. 18 and 34. Incidentally, as in the paper they tested an E. coli
recombinant form of the gene product, the results cannot be accepted for
the lack of toxicity for the gene product as expressed in the GM crop.

3. Allergenicity: 1 paper; no. 22 in his list 4. Compositional studies,
not strictly relevant to nutritional studies but at least they were
peer-reviewed: 6 papers; nos. 11, 15, 16, 17, 29 and 39. Again Morton must
have regarded the Monsanto study very highly because he referred to it
three times: nos. 11, 20 and 43.

This makes a total of FOUR PEER-REVIEWED animal study papers. It is
somewhat different from the 56 claimed. Even when one considers the 6 not
truly relevant compositional papers the grand total comes to 10. I am
afraid, if Morton is a true scientist he should know that the other 46
so-called papers making up the rest and the bulk of his "bibliography"
would not be considered by anyone as proper peer-reviewed scientific
papers. I am afraid, Morton should have consulted Domingo's Science paper
more thoroughly because he, rather interestingly, not referred to some of
the papers in Domingo's bibliography. One has the suspicion that the ones
which were omitted might not have been supportive of his claim, i.e. that
GM foods are safe. Also, funnily, Morton referred to the Royal Society
Report on our GM potato work (no. 52) but somehow our paper in the Lancet
was left out of the list. Clearly, he is following the example of the
Royal Society's conduct (what was called by the Lancet editor as
"breathtaking impertinence") that one criticizes and condemns data not to
his liking but not disclosing to anyone else these data or work.

All in all, if this is the best that an enthusiastic proponent of GM foods
can come up with in support of their safety we are really in trouble.

Best regards

Arpad Pusztai

Ps. I have no objections to your putting this on your circulation list.
The more people know the objective truth about this lamentable affair of
GM publications the better it is. Hopefully, soon there will be a proper
scientific review of this whole field of health effects of GM food but
till then this will have to do.
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From: "Dario Panzeri"
Subject: Italian situation

I'm an Italian biotechnology student, I'd like to show my country's
situation about research involving GMOs.
---

PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY: Italian Scientists Blast GMO Restrictions
Lone Frank* COPENHAGEN-- From "Science", Volume 290, Number 5499, Issue of
15 Dec 2000, p. 2046.

While plant scientists around the world celebrate the complete sequence of
the genome of the mustardlike plant Arabidopsis thaliana (see p. 2054),
embattled colleagues in Italy are protesting new rules that bar all field
trials involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The researchers
hope to turn the prevailing tide by bringing their plight to the attention
of colleagues around the world and exerting pressure on their government
through a petition drive.

"It makes no sense to do research related to agriculture if field tests
are forbidden," says molecular biologist Angelo Spena of the University of
Verona. Biotech critics have had a field day in Europe, where resistance
to transgenic crops has influenced policy and crimped research funding
(Science, 4 February, p. 790). But "only in Italy [are individual
scientists] being penalized as a consequence of public concerns," says
biologist Roberto Defez of the National Research Council in Naples. Plant
researchers aren't the only ones crying foul. "The issue reaches far
beyond biotechnology," claims physicist Giorgio Benedek of the University
of Milan-Bicocca, who cites "a general concern in Italy about this
antiscience attitude within the government."

At the center of the controversy is Agriculture Minister Alfonso Pecoraro
Scanio, a Green Party member who took office last April. A longtime critic
of transgenic crops, Pecoraro Scanio claims that GMOs pose a threat to
human health and the environment. His first strike at research came in
July, when he informed the ministry's chief research coordinator,
Francesco Salamini, that funding for projects at 23 institutes under the
ministry--which carry out the bulk of the country's ag-biotech
research--would only flow after a written declaration from researchers
pledging that they would not conduct field trials of GMOs.

The next blow came in September, when Pecoraro Scanio issued a new
requirement for long-term projects approved since 1996, many involving
ongoing or planned field trials of GMOs. According to Defez, the minister
"asked individual scientists to modify their original research proposal to
remove every aspect concerning use of GMOs." Only those who complied had
their funding renewed. One victim, the first-ever field trial on grapes
engineered to taste better, has been halted in Sicily. Such a policy
appears to conflict with European Union law, which permits field trials of
genetically modified crops that meet restrictions such as adequate
safeguards against the spread of transgenes to wild relatives and
unaltered crops.

The ministry has also put the kibosh on new research involving GMOs,
having declined to approve any proposals since July. According to Defez, a
commission composed of representatives from several ministries, including
Agriculture, that is responsible for approving field trials "simply
postpones applications until it's too late for planting." Many plant
biotech lab studies are in vain if not followed up with fieldwork, claims
Spena, who says it would be ridiculous to spend years and considerable
funds on creating transgenic plant varieties, only to abandon them because
of a flawed policy.

Defez and two colleagues have drafted a petition highlighting their
plight. Published on 5 November in the financial journal Il Sole 24 Ore,
the petition has garnered more than 1000 signatures so far, including all
major Italian scientific societies and notables such as Nobel Prize winner
Renato Dulbecco of the Institute for Biomedical Technologies in Milan.
Late last month, the American Phytopathological Society became the first
international society to sign on. The Agriculture Ministry insists that
scientists are blowing the situation out of proportion. "GMO research is
supported in Italy, except in open field trials," says ministry
spokesperson Triantafillos Loukarelis.

Scientists, however, assert that Pecoraro Scanio is using the Greens'
political leverage to force other government ministers to back his
anti-GMO policies. "As a Green fundamentalist, he is blackmailing the rest
of the government who depend on the Green vote," contends Spena, who says
any politicians who cross Pecoraro Scanio risk bringing down the
government if the Greens were to pull out. "An open society cannot allow
science to become subject to the whims of individual ministers," Spena
says. The fight could continue until the next Italian election, expected
in summer 2001. "If the minister retains his position," predicts Defez,
"we would see a regular exodus of scientists in biotechnology to other
countries or other fields of research."

Lone Frank is a freelance writer in Copenhagen, Denmark. Copyright 2000
by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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SCIENTISTS PUBLISH EVALUATION OF BIOTECH CROPS, UNDERSCORING SAFETY AND
BENEFITS

December 15, 2000 from a press release (From Agnet)

ST. LOUIS -- A comprehensive evaluation of plants protected against insect
pests through biotechnology appears in the peer-reviewed scientific
journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.

The scientific report reviews scientific research on crops protected
against insect pests with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a
common soil microbe, including studies which demonstrate that Bt crops are
as safe as conventional plant varieties and these products provide
significant economic, environmental and agricultural benefits. "Bt crops
have been commercially available since 1996," said Dr. Roy Fuchs, director
of regulatory science at Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON), a coauthor of the
paper. The evaluation reviewed data on three major Bt crops -- corn,
cotton and potatoes -- that have been commercialized in several countries,
rapidly adopted by farmers, and studied extensively by scientists around
the world. "The combined safety and performance studies combined with
years of experience have shown that Bt crops are providing important
benefits on many different levels," said Dr. Fuchs.

The most significant benefits of Bt crops include: Reduced use of
synthetic chemical insecticides. Bt crops contain a gene that produces a
naturally occurring protein that protects plants from specific insect
pests and provides a level of insect protection generally superior to
conventional chemical insecticides. As a result, Bt crops require fewer
applications of chemical insecticides, thereby significantly reducing the
overall amount of chemical used on food, feed and fiber crops. The
National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) estimated that,
in 1998, 2 million less pounds of chemical insecticides were used to
control cotton bollworms and budworms in six key cotton-producing states,
compared to the insecticide levels used prior to the introduction of Bt
cotton. Improved crop yields. Bt crop protection against insect damage
translates to significant yield increases. In 1997, a heavy year for the
infestation of the European corn borer in the United States, NCFAP
reported that Bt corn provided a yield premium of almost 12 bushels per
acres over conventional corn varieties. The same researchers estimated
that the use of Bt cotton in the United States in 1998 resulted in an
increased fiber yield of 85 million pounds.

Economic benefits to the farmers. In the United States, where commodity
prices are at the lowest levels in decades, Bt crops reduce the total
amount of input costs for farming, which translates to direct economic
benefits to farmers. NCFAP estimated that in 1998 alone Bt cotton created
approximately $92 million in value for U.S. cotton growers. Reduction in
naturally occurring mycotoxin levels. Researchers at Iowa State University
have shown that planting Bt corn results in significant reductions in a
naturally occurring mycotoxin, fumonisin, in corn grain. This reduction is
directly due to the improved protection of the corn kernels from insect
damage. Environmental benefits including the preservation of beneficial
insects. By targeting specific insects through the naturally occurring
protein in the plant, Bt crops reduce the need for and used of
non-selective chemical insecticides. By eliminating these sprays, the
beneficial insects that naturally inhabit agricultural fields are
maintained and can even provide a secondary level of pest control. "The
rapid adoption of these products clearly demonstrates that Bt crops are
providing very real benefits to farmers in the United States and around
the world," said Dr. Fuchs.

"However, we often lose sight of the benefits that these products bring
beyond the farm. In just five years, biotechnology has helped
substantially reduce the amount of pesticides used in farming. This
results in less pesticides on our land and reduces the potential for
pesticides in our water as well as reducing the potential for pesticide
residues on the food we eat." The review in Regulatory Toxicology and
Pharmacology (Volume 32, Pages 156-173) also summarized the safety studies
conducted on Bt crops and which have been submitted to regulatory
authorities around the world. Where regulatory processes have been
completed, regulatory authorities have consistently concluded that Bt
products are as safe as conventional varieties and are fully suitable for
introduction into commercial agriculture.

"Bt crops are among the most widely tested and scrutinized products in the
history of agriculture and food production," said Dr. Fuchs. "Because this
is a new technology, there is extensive testing and regulatory oversight
to ensure that the products coming to market are safe to eat. A review
such as this provides people who are interested an understanding of the
extensive testing and regulatory oversight involved in the development of
these products," he said. Principal author of the paper is Dr. Fred Betz,
a biologist who was associated with the Washington, D.C. consulting firm
of Jellinek, Schwartz and Connolly. After the paper was submitted, Dr.
Betz became director of regulatory affairs at Eden Bioscience, a firm
based in Bothell, Washington. Coauthors are Dr. Bruce Hammond and Dr.
Fuchs, both of Monsanto. Monsanto produces a number of Bt crops, including
Bollgard cotton, YieldGard corn and NewLeaf potatoes. Web site:
http://www.monsanto.com /

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Biotech Is Answer to, Not Cause of, Food Allergies

By Michael Fumento http://www.fumento.com/ December 13, 2000 Copyright
2000 by Michael Fumento

Where's that talking Chihuahua when you need him?

If he hadn't been sent to the old dogs home with Benji and Spuds
Mackenzie, he'd be shaking his head at the furor over Aventis' StarLink
corn and saying, "Drop the baloney!" It began back in September when it
became known that the corn, for which Aventis had only sought permission
to sell as livestock feed, had managed to sneak its way into Taco Bell
taco shells and some other products.

But the media and biotech bashers have managed to keep it in the
headlines, such as: "Allergy-Causing Taco Bell Taco Shells Found in
Groceries" and "Alarm at 'Harmful' GM Corn in Snacks." The fear that
StarLink corn would cause terrible allergic reactions led to a major
recall, involving Kraft Foods, Safeway, Kroger, Albertson's, Food Lion and
others. Worse yet, it's interrupting our vital supply line of Cheetos, as
the Frito-Lay company carefully inspects its corn meal to ensure it hasn't
the least hint of StarLink about it.

But it's all a tempest in a taco shell.

There was never reason to think the shells and the corn meal that went
into them were allergenic or harmful in any way.

Rather, unlike the rest of the biotech corn that blankets America's
heartland and that we've all been eating for five years now, the added
gene in StarLink produces a protein not rapidly digested in the human gut.
A protein that does rapidly break down has little chance of causing harm
even if it is an allergen. Speed of digestion is only important because a
protein that breaks down slowly could cause harm if it's an allergen. But
the StarLink sequence of amino acids, the main component of proteins,
resembles no known allergens, so it isn't likely to be one.

Further, below a certain threshold, no allergen causes reactions. In the
taco shells they were discovered in, only about 1% of the sample contained
the StarLink corn. The theoretically harmful protein contained in that 1%
would be far tinier still, almost certainly below any level that would
trigger an allergic reaction. Furthermore, Aventis has submitted to the
EPA data showing the protein does not affect people that are allergic to
other substances. Meanwhile, when I checked the FDA voluntary recall web
page listing the recall of Taco Bell shells, I found no fewer than 15
other food recalls in the previous 60 days, including four expressly
recalled because of possible real allergen contamination.

You almost certainly heard about none of those, because none involved
biotech.

But if you're really concerned with food allergies, you should welcome
biotech crop technology. For one, companies that submit biotech foods for
approval for human food have to show proof of non-allergenicity. Other
crops need no such proof, and sometimes they do provoke allergies.

For example, Kiwi fruit, when introduced into the U.S. in 1986, had
already been documented as a cause of allergies as serious as anaphylactic
shock. Indeed, each year in the U.S., food allergies cause 2,500 emergency
room visits and 135 deaths.

Peanuts are such a common allergen that many school cafeterias have banned
peanut butter. But biotech can even be used to make allergenic foods
non-allergenic, or less allergenic, by "switching off" certain genes or by
other means.

This isn't theory; it's being researched now.

"There are several approaches," Roy Fuchs, regulatory science specialist
at Monsanto Co. told me. "There's work on rice and on peanuts and soybeans
using antisense - turning off the gene that produces the allergenic
protein - that can reduce but probably not eliminate the source of
allergenicity."

Scientists are trying to remove allergy-producing proteins from foods
without changing the texture and flavor. Fuchs cites ongoing experiments
to disable the offensive gene in potatoes without making fundamental
changes. If it still rolls like a spud and tastes like a spud - it's a
spud.

Bioengineering is also tackling food intolerances, which can cause very
nasty illnesses. The protein gluten - found in wheat, rye and barley -
causes celiac disease, associated with chronic diarrhea. It strikes as
many as 1 in 250 Americans and Europeans, wreaking havoc in their
intestines. But British researchers are working on a process to leave
intact most of the gluten while removing the small portion that causes the
illness.

Lactose intolerance affects about 90% of Asians, 75% of all blacks and
many whites who lack the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose
protein in milk. A French medical team is trying to fix the problem by
injecting cows with a gene to make their own lactase that would be
expressed in their milk - and passed on to people.

If that little dog were still here, he'd be yelping, "Yo quiero biotech!"

Michael Fumento is the author of the numerous books, including Science
Under Siege.
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AMERICAN SEED TRADE ASSOCIATION: EUROPEAN PERCEPTION OF BIOTECH FOODS
SKEWED BY 15 YEARS OF FOOD AND MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY SCARES Dec. 15/00 (From
Agnet)

Washington -- There's a new French paradox when it comes to dining today,
but it is not related to wine consumption. Though a product of
biotechnology, wine pales by comparison to the products of modern
biotechnology in terms of paradoxical views on behalf of French and other
European consumers. Wine is also unequivocally accepted. Pierre Deloffre,
general manager of Bonduelle, a french fruit and vegetable product
manufacturer, discussed what he called "a confused and irrational story"
about biotech foods in Europe at the American Seed Trade Association's
(ASTA's) corn & sorghum seed research conference in Chicago on Dec. 8.

Deloffre's story began in 1986 with the Chernobyl accident, which first
made Europeans recognize that modern technology -- generally considered
until then to be fully under control -- could, in fact, be dangerous
(nuclear energy provides 80 percent of the electricity used in France).
Scientists and politicians, in their effort to allay the public's fears,
underestimated the consequences of the accident, making Europeans realize
that their countries' borders are of little significance in terms of
technological risks and the environment can suffer severe long-term
damage.

The Chernobyl accident was compounded in the early 1990s, when the
European public discovered that blood used in several transfusions had
been contaminated by the human immunodeficiency virus. Though members of
the medical and scientific communities, as well as certain politicians,
were fully aware of the situation, no action was taken, Deloffre said.
"This scandal (had) a profound impact on public opinion," he noted. "The
public perception was that the scientific community, including the medical
profession, were gambling with our lives; politicians were no better; and
the supervisory bodies in place were ineffective."
This perception was compounded by the "mad cow disease" outbreak in
Britain in 1996, the announcement of the first cloned mammal in February
1997, and in 1999, by the Belgium dioxin crisis and recall of Coca-Cola
products thought to contain a fungicide, Deloffre said. It was a time
"characterized by widespread media coverage, confusion, and the revelation
of scandal after scandal in the food industry." Given this climate, it was
no surprise that the first biotech food, a tomato paste, introduced in
Europe in 1996 was removed from grocery store shelves in 1999.
"In the environment that prevails today, biotechnology can be used -- and
is used -- to develop ideas that extend far beyond the bounds of logic,"
Deloffre continued. "Consumers place GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
second only to mad cow disease when questioned on the risks associated
with food products. (For example,) in response to the statement 'ordinary
tomatoes do not contain genes but genetically modified ones do,' 35
percent of European respondents said 'true' and 30 percent said 'don't
know.'"

Herein lies the first European paradox related to biotech foods. Another
paradox, according to Deloffre, is viewing biotech crops as potential
threats to the environment while they reduce reliance on agricultural
inputs, such as pesticides and herbicides. Believing that farmers have
lost their freedom of choice in seed, when in fact, their options have
expanded is also a misperception. Similarly, intellectual property rights
are often viewed as merely as a tool to reward big business when they
exist to protect new plant varieties and make inventions publicly
accessible. Other paradoxes, Deloffre noted, are allowing man to "play god
with nature" with pharmaceuticals, but not with food, and perceiving GMOs
as a greater threat to the community than to the consumer.

"There is no scientific evidence that GMOs constitute a health risk,"
Deloffre noted. "But in the prevailing climate of mistrust regarding food,
consumers (ignore this fact). The public's fears are now so deeply
anchored that a reversal of the trend will require much time and effort.
(But) Europe cannot reject the trend towards genetically modified food
forever."
In order to reverse the trend, Deloffre believes that the European
Commission needs to re-establish its credibility as a decision-making
organization; the food safety control authority, to be set up in 2002,
will have to ensure its independence and gain the trust of European
consumers; and consumers will have to be able to perceive that there are
real benefits to be gained from the next generation of GMOs (and) given
guarantees that all possible risks will be reduced to a minimum or kept
fully under control.

According to Deloffre, the countries least accepting of modern
biotechnology are Greece and Austria, followed by France and England.
Germany occupies a median position and Spain, although it is not clearly
in favor of GMOs, has had a greater level of acceptance than the rest of
Europe.