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





December 19, 2000


New USDA Chief Supports Biotech; NZ Royal Comission; Mad


The new U. S. Secretary of Agriculture is a strong supporter of
Biotech. (From Agnet)


U.S. President-elect George Bush was, according to this story,
expected to announce Wednesday his choice of Ann Veneman,
51, as agriculture secretary in his administration taking office
next month, The Associated Press has learned. The story says
that Veneman, an attorney who is the daughter of peach farmers,
emphasized foreign trade, food safety and education during her
tenure as California's agriculture director. Bill Pauli, president of
the 90,000-member California Farm Bureau Federation, was
quoted as saying Tuesday that, "We have a very high regard for
secretary Veneman. What we're really encouraged by is not only
does she understand California agriculture, which is really
important to us, but she understands national agriculture."

Appointed by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, the story says
that Veneman was California's agriculture secretary from 1995
until January 1999. She is the only woman to have held that
Cabinet post, the governor's top farm adviser. Since Wilson left
office, Veneman has practiced law in Sacramento, but she
maintained farm connections as a specialist in food, agriculture,
environment, technology and trade issues.

The story says that Veneman is a strong advocate of high tech's
role in farming, from e-commerce over the Internet to genetic
engineering. She told an agricultural biotechnology conference
this year: "We simply will not be able to feed the world without

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of
America's Food Policy Institute, was quoted as saying that
picking Veneman "was a really good start" for the Bush
administration as far as food and agriculture policy, and that
Veneman understands the Agriculture Department, which
regulates meat processing and operates the government's food
aid programs, deals with more than farming. She "will bring a
modern view of the Department of Agriculture into that job."


Report from Francis Wevers on
the New Zealand Royal Comission Hearings so far:

Defining the line - observations on the first seven weeks of the
New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification

By Francis Wevers, Executive Director, NZ Life Sciences Network
December 20, 2000

What’s the defining moment? After seven weeks of formal
hearings since 16 October I’m trying to find the moment in a
thousand characterising the Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification. Maybe it’s when the parent of a child with a rare
disease tells the Royal Commissioners “I wouldn’t want to tell
my child he has to die because we couldn’t get our act
together”? Is it when the first Zespri witness starts his
presentation with his back to the people he’s trying to convince?

Or, is it when we all see the high profile academic struggle for a
logical and consistent answer after being confronted with the fact
his conclusions about the papaya industry in Hawaii are totally
unsupported by the facts, leading to questions about his
independence? I conclude that; rather than a single defining
moment there’s probably a series highlights and moments. Like
the time the lights went on because one of the scientists from
Landcare Research described how her use of GM technologies
allowed her to identify a rare and threatened species of native
fish. The green cross-examiner tried to establish she could have
achieved the same result just by looking at the fish – but
somehow she found it difficult to comprehend being able to
make such subtle distinctions with eye-sight alone.

Or the time Gary Comstock described how you could apply the
Precautionary Principle to the same set of facts (global warming)
and end up with entirely opposite outcomes. And his conclusion
that it wasn’t much of a principle if you can get that sort of result.
Or the times that Martina McGloughlin, Klaus Ammann and
others captivated the Royal Commissioners with their passion
for their subject and their ability to balance the benefits with an
understanding of risks. There are so many highlights and
moments to treasure it’s almost misleading to try too hard to find
one to characterize the totality of the seven weeks so far. It’s
probably more instructive to concentrate on some of the issues
we have distilled out of this institutionalised approach to
problem solving.

The first that comes to mind is that the gulf separating the
protagonists is nowhere near as wide as the rhetoric would have
us believe. The demand for absolute certainty of no negative
outcome before any application of genetic engineering in “the
environment” proceeds is about as wide as the gulf gets. But,
when this zero risk option (and its wildling flag carrier, the
Precautionary Principle) is subjected to critical scrutiny the many
holes in the argument become readily apparent.

Then, in having given away the notion of a GE Free New Zealand
and conceding that GM technology can be used in the laboratory
and in containment, the Green grouping has created its own
Achilles heel. Once again the bright light of logical scrutiny
exposes weaknesses in the notion of trying to establish impacts
on the environment without research through field trials.Which
leads to the second weakness of the arguments advanced by
the opponents. The organic grouping has drawn a line in the
sand about the presence of GM “anywhere in New Zealand”. 

To them any concession which will allow GM enhanced crops
into New Zealand inevitably leads to “contamination” and the
loss of markets overseas for their products. They advance the
argument that organic agriculture is “the only future” and this
industry, which currently produces less than 1% of all exports, is
set to take over by 2020. There appears to be little question
about the claimed benefits made for modern agricultural use of
GM. But, in a country dependent for its economic survival on
growing grass for forage, the possibility of unintended
inter-mingling of GM crops with others poses serious questions
and risks. Hence the constant interest in horizontal gene transfer
and gene flow and the extent to which it will impact on finding a
way for organic agriculture to co-exist with GM crops. But here the
green and organic groupings have set up an us and them
scenario; and in it all other farmers have to change their farming
choices to guarantee the purity of the organic farming process. 

It’s not within their frame of reference to concede that organic
farmers may have to move their expectations, just a little, for their
neighbours. This is “co-existence on our terms” between organic
and GM farmers and rejects any case by case assessment of
particular GM and organic crop types to establish what the
operational ground rules might be.

Denying the use of buffer zones and separation distances is
hard for everyone but the organic zealots to swallow. 
And in their desire to make the strongest case they can the
green grouping, and the organics zealots, fall into the quicksand
“true believers” oft create for themselves – the embellishment or
misrepresentation of facts which tell a quite different story.
Therefore they build hypothesis on hypothesis; they explode a
hypothetical possibility into total and inevitable disaster for life on
the planet as we know it; and they take 48 year old science about
a different postulate to try to “prove” organic food is more

Most of all they fail to hear what others are saying. They screen
out the absence of negative impacts; the lack of research
showing any harm to health or environment. They dismiss these
facts with claims that “we haven’t done the long term clinical
trails to show the harm which is absent now but inevitable at
some point in the future”.

The anti-GM people would accuse us of being blind and deaf to
their “facts” about markets closing to GM and the lack of full
certainty. But it’s very difficult to argue factually against
assertions based on hypotheses and not scientifically
established fact. It’s easier when the facts have been
constructed with an agenda in mind – as was the case with the
loudly trumpeted survey of farmer opinion about GM. In the end
all it showed was farmers willingness to consider anything and
to make decisions to change when more information was at

Then there is the clash of the economic models. On the face of it
the significantly differing results from the models used seems to
show economists can give you any result you want. But the
startling difference is the way in which the scenarios reflect the
issues the Royal Commission is asked to decide upon; or not, if
you are trying to prove that the way forward is to reject GM and go
with organics. 

So out of this comes the second truth. The Royal Commission
process does not bring greater understanding to participants
unless they listen to what is being said by other participants. And
that hurdle will be our burden throughout this trial of genetic
modification. Because in a sense, which is more than just
passing, this Royal Commission is the “Trial of GM”. 

True, it’s not a real Court and none of the evidence is on oath,
but we do have a Judge and Jury and the process of
cross-examination soon sorts out the credible from the not so.
The fairly relaxed style does nothing to diminish the importance
of what is being said. In addition to being the “Trial of GM” this
has also been a trial of how we perceive ourselves. So the
approach of Maori to GM and the Royal Commission has always
been fundamental. 

There’s a growing sense of disquiet among some of us about
the very separate path being taken by the Maori activists. Only
once has any Maori interest been present for cross-examination
– and then it was of the alternative Maori view. The provision of
separate forums through consultation at Hui appears to have
“ghettoised” the debate about Maori perspectives. The result has
been neither they nor the rest of the community are reaching any
common understanding about those Maori values. It’s to be
hoped that during the period when Maori interests participate in
the formal hearings we will get a full airing of the results of the
Hui process of consultation.

Despite the fact so much of the discussion has been about
values it’s still a surprise how little the science has been at
issue. There appears to be virtually no debate about medical
uses or research in containment in the laboratory. The powerful
images evoked by the patients groups support the existing
conventional wisdom. So once again there’s a surprising level of
agreement and, just maybe, this is the defining experience of
this Royal Commission. 

As Jeanette Fitzsimons of the Green Party said to Dr William
Rolleston of the Life Sciences Network as she closed her cross
examination “I think a good place to stop might be that we have
full agreement on two things: that all the science should be
taken into account properly and it's a question of where you draw
the line, and at that point I think I'll sit down. Thank you.”


Mad Cow Reality Confronts Phony Biotech Scare

By: Duane D. Freese, Columnist
Monday, December 18, 2000

Have Greenpeace protesters finally thrown up one barricade too
many against biotechnology and the benefits it offers?

In what at first looks like nothing unusual from an organization
noted for its catchy name-calling and confrontational theatrics,
Italian Greenpeace activists last week held up a ship carrying
genetically modified (GM) soybeans headed for Venice to feed
Europe's livestock. The same day in Montpelier, France, outside
an international conference, drawing up rules for biotechnology
trade, another set of protestors dumped tons of GM soy meal
onto a U.S. flag.

The purpose of these escapades supposedly was to awaken
European officials to the dangers, as seen by Greenpeace, of
feeding even livestock genetically modified food. "Farmers don't
know what they are feeding their animals," explained Lorenz
Petersen, head of Greenpeace's global anti-GM campaign.

Instead of GM's dangers, though, these activities offer a wake-up
call about Greenpeace as a threat to health. For the day after
Greenpeace spread its phony fears about imports of GM
soybeans, the British science weekly Nature warned of
something truly frightening. The report, by epidemiologist Christi
Donnelly of London's Imperial College School of Medicine, found
that as many as 9,800 French cattle had become infected with
bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as
mad-cow disease. Worse, still, some of their meat has entered
the human food chain.

In the 1990s, Britain suffered an epidemic of mad-cow disease,
which led to at least 77 people who ate the meat dying of a
human variant, the brain-eating Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Last
month, the shockwave hit the continent when France reported
two of its citizens had died from that affliction, while Germany
found cattle there infected with mad-cow disease, as well. How
many people now are infected is unknown, as the disease is
impossible to diagnose until symptoms of dementia emerge,
and that can take up to 25 years. The numbers could climb into
the hundreds, possibly even thousands.

Little wonder then that people in Europe are panicked, afraid to
eat their own beef. Meat sales have fallen by half in the last
month. And governments for nations where herds have yet to be
found infected have thrown up barriers to meat and livestock
imports from their neighbors.

Smart Europeans now may start asking why they have a problem
with their beef while the United States does not. The reason is
simple. European farmers followed a "natural" way of adding
protein to the diets of their cows, feeding them bone meal and
meat byproducts. And that's how the disease appears to have
spread. Britain's cattle, scientists there believe, picked up
mad-cow disease from the bone meal and meat from
slaughtered sheep infected with a related disease, scrapie.

American cattle, meanwhile, feed on grain supplemented by
protein from soy meal. That's no surprise, as the United States
is the source of nearly half the soybean production in the world.
And since the1996 introduction of Monsanto's Roundup Ready
soy beans - genetically modified to make it tolerant to a more
environmentally friendly herbicide - crossbreeding and additional
genetic modification has led to more than half the soy crop
having some genetic modification.

Those GM crops are demonstrably as safe or even safer than
conventional crops. As the U.S. House subcommittee on Basic
Research noted in a report last April: "No product of conventional
plant breeding … could meet the data requirements imposed on
biotechnology products by U.S. regulatory agencies."

Until now, that fact has been lost on Europeans, who've instead
bought Greenpeace's scientifically unsubstantiated line that
so-called natural breeding and feeding is best for the
environment and health.

Greenpeace was helped in spreading that propaganda by both
Europe's politically powerful, heavily subsidized farmers and
politicians, who wanted to shift the cost of those subsidies off
government budgets onto European consumers. Last year, the
European Parliament ordered food producers to label GM
products as if they posed some added risk to consumers, which
they don't. European food processors succumbed, vowing not to
use any GM ingredients on products for human consumption,
with American competitors following suit. The French
government went so far as to ban planting GM soybeans there

This GM backlash by supposedly advanced nations has
undercut investment in biotechnology, to the particular detriment
of people in poorer countries. Developing lands stand to benefit
most from crops genetically modified to resist drought or
increase protein and vitamin potency. One GM crop alone,
vitamin-A enhanced golden rice holds the promise of preventing
blindness for up to 3 million malnourished poor children.

Now, it's Europe's health and economic well-being that is
threatened by Greenpeace's anti-technology agenda. France's
$20 billion beef industry faces a mad-cow meltdown. European
farmers need 3 million tons of high-protein soy meal to replace
that provided by potentially deadly meat by-products -- but most
of the soybean supply is likely to have been genetically modified.
And both Europeans and people elsewhere in the world need
tools that only biotechnology can provide to screen meat and
blood for safety.

Indeed, Americans face a threat to their blood supply if Europe
fails to get a handle on its mad-cow epidemic. People needing
transfusions might pick up Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease from
tainted blood donated by travelers infected on trips to Europe.
The Food and Drug Administration is weighing a blood ban for
donations from people who have spent more than six months in
Britain, a costly measure with blood in short supply.

Fortunately, biotechnology may provide an answer here, as well.
Last month, the biotech firm Prion Developmental Laboratories,
Inc., of Maryland began development of an effective and
inexpensive screening test to detect mad-cow disease and its
human variant. Heading the research is Dr. Robert Gallo,
professor of virology at the University of Maryland and director of
the Institute of Human Virology. Working with him in this
substantially privately funded effort are noted scientific
researchers at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, and
from the Institute for Basic Research and Developmental
Disabilities in Staten Island, N.Y.

It's time Europeans wake up to the benefits that biotechnology
has to offer. Following Greenpeace's lead of dumping on the
American flag and biotechnology will only lead them down the
same path as the 4.5 million cattle that the mad-cow epidemic
has thus far forced them to slaughter.


From: Andura Smetacek
Subject: Greenpeace goes into organic business...

What next! First, Greenpeace director Peter Melchett resigns to
become a consultant to organic retail giant Iceland Foods and to
sell his (soon to be) organic farm products. Now, Greenpeace
enters organic industry for-profit business (see article below) in
Brazil selling certified organic foods?

At which point will the media (who represent these groups as
somehow representing public or consumer interests) and
government officials (which convey "charity" and "non-profit"
status to Greenpeace and others in many countries) reflect this
in their coverage and relationships?

What about Mark Ritchie's anti-biotech/pro-organic non-profit
Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy (IATP)'s "for profit" organic
coffee subsidiary Headwaters International (aka Peace Coffee)?
Or Mr. Ritchie's ties to the for-profit environmental consulting firm
Global Environment and Trade Corporation?

Am I the only person who thinks raising and using tax-deductible
donations for a non-profit front group for activities that benefit
both the contributors (organic industry interests) as well as
supporting his own for-profit interests is wrong?

How about Mark Winter's "The Campaign to Label GM Food"
non-profit which is lobbying to label and ban biotechnology
derived food products? Mr. Winter is a lobbyist for the organic
and natural products industry. He runs a for-profit organic and
natural product marketing firm. Yet, he is allowed to represent
his interests (and write legislation for such brain surgeons as
Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich) without any disclosure (or
for that matter legally required lobbying disclosure statements)
as to his financial interests and ties?

My kudos to Canada for taking Greenpeace Canada's
non-profit/charitable organization status away. At least they have
the good sense to realize Greenpeace and similar groups offer
little public good and now clearly shows they are simply a
tax-deductible marketing tool of the special interest for profits.

Does anyone on this list know of appropriate Government
officials in the U.S. and Europe who might investigate whether or
not they should follow Canada's lead and stop Greenpeace and
related organizations from benefiting from charitable and tax-free
status to engage in these activities?

Greenpeace to license organic products in Brazil
SAO PAULO, Dec 12 Agence France Presse

The environmental group Greenpeace announced Tuesday that
it will license a line of 12 organic products in Brazil. Greenpeace
charged in a press release that traditional Brazilian agricultural
methods devour energy and money and use chemical fertilizers
that severely degrade the area's natural resources.

"In this context," it reasoned, "organic farming provides a healthy
alternative for food production." The organization's "Ecolinea"
products, certified by Brazil's organic certification institute, will
include sugar, coffee, vinegar, oil, candy, jam, rice and flour.

From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: E.U. & U.S. Biotechnolongy Consultative Group

From the information that Prof. Dr. Klauss Ammann provided, it
appears that the Consultative Group is calling for a Technology
Assessment approach to agricultural biotechnology. Concerning
Technologly Assessments, I would recommend

G. Van Steendam, Director, ifb International Forum for
Biophilosophy, Leuven, Belgium, "The Evaluation of Technology
as an Interactive Commitment-Building Process -- The Failure of
Technology Assessment," Ch. 1 pp. 5-38 in Volume 12,
BIOTECHNOLOGY (2nd, Rev. Ed. 1995, VCH).


Drew L. Kershen Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law

From: Samantha.Chalmers@cropgen.org
Subject: Growing global demand for GM crops

London 20th December 2000 - CropGen welcomes a report
published this week that demonstrates the increasing demand
for GM crops around the world. The International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications report estimated that
44.2 million hectares of GM crops were planted in 2000, nearly
twice the land area of the United Kingdom, up 11% on 1999.

Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of the CropGen panel,
comments: "Contrary to the claims of anti-GM campaigners, this
report shows there is a demand for GM. There is little doubt that,
for all the hesitation of some (mainly European) countries, GM
crops are here to stay and over the next decades may be
expected to comprise an ever-increasing share of agricultural
production. Particularly in countries such as China, farmers are
making independent decisions and recognising the benefits of
reduced chemicals and improved yields."

Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2000
reveals that the area planted with GM crops has increased
25-fold since 1996. From six countries cultivating them in 1996,
13 did so in 2000. While up to 85 per cent of the total was grown
in industrial countries (mainly the US and Canada), the
proportion in developing areas (predominantly Argentina and
China) has risen steadily from one-seventh in 1997 to
one-quarter in 2000.

As well as South Africa, Australia, Uruguay and Mexico,
European countries growing GM crops in 1999-2000 included
Romania (soybean, potatoes), Bulgaria (maize), Ukraine
(potatoes), Spain, Germany and France (maize); Portugal grew
Bt-maize in 1999.

Soybean remains the GM crop occupying the largest area,
followed by maize,cotton and canola (rape-seed), roughly in the
proportion 10:4:2:1, with smaller acreages of potato, squash and
Preview of report available at http://www.isaaa.org

For media enquiries please contact Penny Hawley at
Countrywide Porter Novelli on 020 7853 2393. Website:
www.cropgen.orgCropGen is an information initiative designed
to make the case for crop biotechnology. It is funded by industry
but operates independently of it.

From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: Golden Rice

To prevent blindness and the worst symptoms of vitamin A
deficiency it is not necessary to even come close to the US
recommended daily allowance for it. Biotech is not going to take
the starving of the world and bring the up to the same standard
as the first world nutritionally. It can help a large number of them
to have a great deal healthier lives by their standards not
necessarily by ours.