Biotech crops are less likely than others to cause allergic reactions
The National Post (Canada)
January 3, 2001
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
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 the Ottawa Citizen's "Taco Hell: Frankenfood Fears Prompt
Huge Product Recall."
The fear that StarLink corn would cause terrible allergic reactions led to
a major recall, involving Kraft Foods and several of the largest U.S. food
Worse yet, it interrupted our vital supply line of Cheetos, as the maker
carefully inspects its corn meal to ensure it hasn't the least hint of
StarLink about it.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has said some taco shells and nacho
chips served in restaurants in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec
contained some of the corn, but it was quickly yanked.
But it's all a tempest in a taco shell, says physician Peter Vadas, the
head of allergy and clinical immunology at St. Michael's Hospital at the
University of Toronto.
To begin, there was never reason to think the shells and the corn meal
that went into them were allergenic or harmful in any way.
The entire fuss is because, unlike the rest of the biotech corn that North
Americans have 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
Aventis also demonstrated the sequence of amino acids in the protein added
to its corn resembles no known allergens, so it is not likely to be one
Moreover, Vadas said in a recent interview, "You have to ask if there was
sufficient protein [in the food] so that even if it were allergenic it
could cause a reaction, and the answer is there was not."
He explains that in the products in which StarLink was found, less than 1%
of the corn meal had DNA indicating the presence of the StarLink corn. Yet
the protein itself would be just a fraction of even that.
"The major food allergen is peanuts," Vadas explains. "In peanuts, the
protein content is about 20% to 40%. By contrast, the amount of protein in
StarLink corn is well under 1%."
So we're talking about exposure to the "suspect" protein of less than 1%
in the StarLink, which would be less than 1% of the food product.
Therefore, even assuming StarLink is an allergen, "Given that limited and
exposures of very low level, I have no concern over individuals becoming
sensitized," Vadas says.
Yet Vadas's reference to peanuts brings up an interesting issue, that of
non-biotech food allergens.
When I checked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (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 allergen contamination.
Indeed, each year in the United States alone, food allergies cause 2,500
emergency room visits and 135 deaths. Peanuts are so common an allergen
that many school cafeterias have banned peanut butter.
But don't expect to read of Greenpeace hijacking any peanut-carrying
freighters any time soon, as they have with ships carrying U.S. and
Canadian biotech crops. Health Canada, and the FDA both forbid the
introduction of any new biotech food containing allergens, with paperwork
demands that practically necessitate the cutting down of whole forests.
Yet when Kiwi fruit was introduced into North America in 1986, it had
already been documented as a cause of allergies as serious as anaphylactic
shock. That's one reason biotech crops are inherently less likely to cause
allergic reactions than non-biotech. Another is that biotech researchers
are rapidly developing systems to de-allergenize non-biotech foods.
"There are several approaches," Roy Fuchs, regulatory science specialist
at Monsanto Co. outside of St.
Louis, told me.
"One is antisense technology, in which the production of the offending
protein produced from a gene is either greatly reduced or shut off.
Antisense technology can be applied to rice, peanuts, soybeans and other
foods," he said.
"A second process is to modify the amino acid sequences in allergenic
proteins. Changing these so that they can no longer bind to antibodies
could greatly or completely de-allergenize a food. This can
even be used for non-food allergy, like pollen allergens.
"Finally," he said, "You can engineer into plants genes such as
thioredoxin, which increases the digestibility of food allergens. This
approach is being tested at UC Davis with new wheat and barley
varieties." Anybody worried about food allergies should not fear
biotechnology ; they should embrace it.
If that little dog were still here, he'd be yelping, "Yo quiero biotech!"
Monsanto Welcomes Brazil Govt Bid To OK Biotech Seeds
January 2, 2001
SAO PAULO -(Dow Jones)- U.S. agribusiness Monsanto Co. (MON) hopes it will
be able to sell genetically modified seeds to Brazilian soybean farmers in
time for the next planting season.
Monsanto communications director Belmiro Ribeiro da Silva Neto said a new
law published Dec. 28 will likely put an end to a two-year-old legal
battle that has kept the company from selling its genetically modified
Roundup Ready soybean seeds in Brazil, which is second only to the U.S. in
The law, signed by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, takes effect
immediately but requires future congressional approval.
The law redefines the role of CTNBio, Brazil's National Commission for Bio
Safety, making it clear that the agency has the exclusive authority to
analyze and authorize the production and sale of genetically modified
products. CTNBio in 1998 authorized Monsanto to sell Roundup Ready
"The decree clarifies the regulatory issue, and the legal battle, in my
view, was just a consequence of the lack of clear rules," Silva Neto said.
" Monsanto will take all measures necessary to be able to sell Roundup
Ready (seeds) in time for the next planting season" which starts in
September, he said. He added that the company is in contact with the
government's general attorney, who's handling the case.
Consumer protection group IDEC filed lawsuits challenging CTNBio's powers,
obtaining two favorable court decisions that have blocked Monsanto from
selling genetically modified seeds.
IDEC argued that more testing of genetically modified products is needed,
adding that environment protection agency Ibama must also give its
go-ahead to Monsanto 's project. The federal government is appealing the
ruling but no decision has been issued yet.
Silva Neto said Monsanto is applying for authorization to also sell
genetically modified corn and cotton seeds.
He said the company has completed test plantings of both seeds, called Bt
corn and Bt cotton, but is still waiting for CTNBio's authorization to
produce and sell them.
Monsanto is also investing $550 million in an industrial plant located in
the northeastern state of Bahia to make inputs used in the Roundup
herbicide. The company currently imports these inputs from the U.S. and
processes them in a plant in Sao Jose dos Campos in the southern state of
The new plant is scheduled to start operations in mid- 2001 and will be
Monsanto 's largest industrial plant outside of the U.S., Silva Neto said.
Part of the production will be exported to Latin American countries.
Monsanto is also investing $60 million in a research center in Uberlandia,
in the southern state of Minas Gerais. Silva Neto said the company plans
to turn this facility into a large biotech research center in the future
if the current legal problems facing genetically modified products come to
Organic food seasoned with fear
January 2, 2001
Organic foods now are an official, "USDA-approved" scam. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture just issued regulations defining what foods may
be labeled "organic."
The regulations provide that fruits, vegetables and meat and dairy
products may not be labeled as "organic" if they are produced with the use
of pesticides, irradiation, genetic engineering, growth hormones, or
Foods that meet the USDA criteria may carry the "USDA Organic" seal as
early as next summer.
"Let me be clear about one other thing. The organic label is a marketing
tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is 'organic' a value
judgment about nutrition or quality," said Agriculture Secretary Dan
Glickman, in announcing the new rules.
Mr. Glickman's disclaimer is amply supported by scientific evidence and
our experience with non-organic or "conventional" foods.
No data indicate legally applied pesticides have caused even one health
problem despite more than 50 years of use on agricultural crops - a fact
that has even been acknowledged by leading pesticide critic Dr. Phil
Landrigan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
By killing dangerous foodborne pathogens such as E.coli and listeria,
irradiation reduces the risk of food poisoning. Biotech foods approved for
human consumption are evaluated for safety before they are allowed to be
marketed. Meat and dairy products produced from cows supplemented with
growth hormones are physically indistinguishable from meat and dairy
products from unsupplemented cows.
Foods grown with treated sewage sludge may seem unsavory, but is organic
food grown with cow manure any more appealing? In any event, food grown in
treated sewage sludge isn't a safety problem.
Despite Mr. Glickman's disclaimer, the rule is intended to do just what he
says it isn't. About one-half of the public already believes that organic
foods are healthier, safer and better for the environment, according to
opinion surveys. The USDA label only serves to validate and encourage
these beliefs. The label doesn't carry Mr. Glickman's disclaimer.
That's why the organic foods industry and its henchmen are so pleased
about the new U.S.-government-sanctioned myth. Many activists make livings
promoting fear campaigns around safe food while at the same time having
personal financial interests in alternative, organic products that benefit
from those fear campaigns:
Mr. Glickman announced the new rules at a recently opened Fresh Fields
supermarket in D.C. Fresh Fields is owned by Whole Foods Market Inc., an
organic foods business that pushed for the labeling requirement and
markets itself by scaring the public about conventional foods.
Greenpeace just entered the organic foods business, announcing it will
license a line of 12 organic products in Brazil.
After years of spreading fear about biotechnology, Lord Peter Melchett
quit as head of Greenpeace U.K. to join Iceland Foods, a major U.K.
organic grocer that supports Greenpeace. The U.K. Advertising Standards
Authority censured Iceland Foods in May for a supermarket brochure that
spread fear about biotech foods, even alleging that biotech foods were
linked with deaths.
The Greenpeace-organic foods industry cabal operates in the U.S., too.
Greenpeace's U.S. and U.K. operations share the same public relations
outfit, Fenton Communications - the firm credited with starting the 1989
hysteria over alar in apples. Fenton represents organic foods businesses,
such as ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., working to
scare consumers about dairy products from cows treated with recombinant
bovine growth hormone.
Mark Ritchie, a key organizers of anti-biotech and anti-conventional
agriculture activist campaigns through the Institute for Agriculture Trade
Policy, Genetically Engineered Food Alert, Crop Choice Coalition and
biotech activist Listserv, also runs a for-profit organic coffee company
whose sales increase with each new food scare.
Craig Winters, an activist demanding labels on biotechnology-produced
foods, also is a lobbyist and marketing consultant to the organic food
industry. Mr. Winters has publicly stated his goal is to achieve a ban on
biotechnology crops through labels. His list of organic and natural
products financial ties is easily found at his web site, yet few challenge
The president and members of the board of directors of Genetic-ID, the
firm now famous for helping Friends of the Earth discover that some taco
shells contained unapproved - but safe - biotech corn, also run a wide
range of organic and natural products and services companies.
They belong to a quasi-religious cult that promotes organic agriculture
and a political movement, the Natural Law Party. The NLP platform promotes
organic methods and attacks biotechnology. Each food scare they help
promote with clients such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace increases
the cash flow into their various other interests.
Where does this cash come from? Consumers who are suckered into buying
Organic foods cost an average of 57 percent more than conventional foods,
according to Consumer Reports. These higher costs could amount to $4,000
annually for a family of four, according to the USDA.
Organic foods should be labeled. "Ripoff."
Steven Milloy is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and publisher