To my mind, There is no "natural' conflict between GM and organic
Those attempting to drive a wedge between GM technology and organic
are doing a disservice to all. Both GM and organic systems are not
just functionally compatible but probably necessary for the long term
sustainability (including environmental, agronomic and economic) of
Consider the objectives of organic production: safe and nutritious
food produced with a high degree of environmental stewardship, which
means minimizing chemical inputs and soil degradation.
GM is a group of technologies, a set of tools used by breeders to
build plant, animal and microbial strains with desired attributes.
Those attributes can, and often do, provide safe and nutritious food
produced with a high degree of environmental stewardship, including
the reduction of chemical inputs and reduced soil destruction.
Organic farmers consist of several groups with different motives. The
majority are individuals deeply concerned for the environmental
sustainability of farming. A smaller group has jumped on the organic
bandwagon not because they are necessarily concerned for the
environment, but because they see an opportunity to make money from
the high markup prices. This group includes a number of individual
farmers as well as corporate interests. Another group is the
'naturists', people who eschew modern technology in favor what they
see as traditional, agrarian farming. The final group includes the
ideologues, those opposed to the political and economic power of
Organic production is a goal; genetic modification technology provides
the only feasible means to achieve that goal. There is no scientific
basis for fundamental contradiction. When I hear people asserting
incompatibility, I question their ideological motives.
Craig Sams responded to Bob Goldberg's essay. Here I respond to Mr Sams:
> 1. Hypocrisy. Organic businesses 'are quite hypocritical'. I first
>became interested in sustainable farming as a 12 year old in my
> native Nebraska > when I saw the land scarred by soil erosion.
Indeed, soil erosion, primarily from tillage, is the major
environmental problem (chemicals are a distant second) from
conventional agriculture. Organic farmers currently use tillage to
control weeds. GM technology can allow farmers to reduce tillage as
well as reduce diesel fuel and tractor usage.
> 2, Health. Organic foods do not routinely contain pesticide residues,
Incorrect. Studies show organic foods do carry pesticide residues,
both synthetic and naturally occurring. The real question is 'How
much?'. As noted by Prof. Goldberg, residue limits are strictly
regulated, for both organic and conventional produce.
> 3. Pathogens. There are no known cases of E.coli O157:H7 poisoning
> arising > from organic production practices?. There are no facts to
>support Prof. Goldberg's > 'no-brainer.' Perhaps his description is
>more apt than he realises.
There are plenty of supporting facts. Even if you dispute the E. coli
data from Avery (many don't), there are many documented cases of
pathogen contamination in organic food, including Salmonella, as
indicated by Prof. Goldberg, but which you've conveniently omitted.
Just the other day I read in my local paper about a recall of organic
beans due to botulism. Organic food, like any food, is subject to
pathogen contamination. To imply otherwise is disingenuous.
> 5. Land - There is enough land for the world to feed itself sustainably.
This assertion is in dispute, but even if correct, it's only if
everyone voluntarily becomes vegetarian and voluntarily maintains a
subsistence diet. And only if the farmers who now grow the majority of
crops continue to do so and deliver it, free of charge, to those who
currently don't have enough to eat. When is this likely to occur?
> 6. 'GM food is tested'. Dr. Arpad Puztai's research has been
criticised, but nobody has sought to repeat it.
Dr Puztai's research was repeated using two different GM foods and a
lot more rats by Prof. Zhangliang Chen et al., and published in the
Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on the Biosafety of
Genetically Modified Organisms (2000). They conclude "The results
showed no meaningful difference between rats fed with GM products and
those with normal diets in terms of growth, accumulated body weight
gain and food consumption, nor in hematology, blood biochemical
indexes, organ coefficiency and histopathological evaluation."
GM crops are more highly tested and regulated than any new crops in
the history of agriculture. Compare the regulatory testing, scrutiny
and process for putting a GM variety on the market with that for a
conventional new variety.
> 9 & 10 Pollen. Organic farmers livelihoods are threatened by
Cross pollination occurs based on the nature of the species, not by
whether or not the donating male was GM. The organic leadership makes
an arbitrary and ideological distinction in setting a zero tolerance
for GM pollen (for which there is no indication of real harm) but up
to 5% tolerance for other, potentially far more hazardous, contaminants.
> 11. Nutrition. Good nutrition comes from eating a balanced diet, not
from choosing only organic food .
Amen. Let's see more of this sentiment in food advertisements,
including organic ads, which are often highly misleading.
> 12. There are hybrids and there are F1 hybrids. Farmers can plant
> hybrid > seed and get good results. F1 hybrids quickly lose their
> characteristics. > Organic farmers and gardeners understand this and
> decide accordingly.
Are you suggesting that 'hybrid seed' is stable, but F1 hybrid seed
isn't? If not, I miss the point of your argument.
> 13. 'We live in a market system.' Would that we did! If the market
for > food had not been nationalised by the US and EU governments in
>the 1950s > then genetic engineering would probably not exist and a
>much higher > proportion of the land would be organic.
...with a concomitant increase in poverty, starvation and
malnutrition, along with less land devoted to wilderness, forests and
> Agribusiness (which includes agri-corporations, agrichemical
manufacturers > and biotechnology companies) is an ungrateful
dependent on free market > societies.
Agri-business also includes organic producers, distributors and
marketers, such as Iceland and Whole Earth Foods, does it not? And
none of these have ever accepted public financial support? I'm not
saying public financial support for organic is wrong, necessarily, but
to invoke a conspiracy theory when you're at the same public trough is
a bit hard to swallow.
> 16.and finally. Teosinte and wheat were not 'genetically engineered'
by > man. This deliberate blurring of the language to make a point is
> intellectually disingenuous. Gene splicing is not the same as breeding.
How is it different, in any meaningful way? How is a GM tomato with
another tomato gene spliced in different from the same product
produced through non-GM crossing? What is different is that we know a
lot more about the genetic makeup of the GM variety. What is truly
disingenuous is refusing GM varieties because "not enough is known"
about the genetic changes, yet embracing varieties produced by (among
other conventional breeding methods) ionizing radiation, where genes
may be scrambled beyond all recognition.
I support the honest organic producer wanting to make a living by
producing healthy nutritious foods while maintaining a sense of
stewardship for the land. GM technology is the best tool to provide
organic farmers with crops requiring fewer herbicide, pesticide and
tillage operations while providing safer, more nutritious, higher
value foods. I've seen no scientific evidence for incompatibility
between organic and GM technology. Those rejecting GM technology are
denying the benefits to farmers and consumers both in technologically
advanced and in developing nations.
Subject: Request For WHY Responses to '10 Reasons Why "Organic
Gardening" Opposes Genetic Engineering' Omitted Items
TO: ALL WHO SENT EMAILS to Mr. Grogan, RE THE PLANNED "ORGANIC
GARDENING" MAGAZINE ARTICLE Please help me to understand why you
didn't utilize the following (for each false assertion, in turn):
1. How introduction of biotech crops containing DIFFERENT Bt proteins
(e.g., Cry___ and Cry___ and Cry___) would help to prevent the arising
of the supposedly feared insect-resistance, via different modes of
'Cry' interaction (i.e., 50,000 different Cry proteins known)... but
government over-regulation (e.g., resulting from inaccurate diatribes
such as the planned Organic Gardening article)... would hinder such
timely new Bt crop introductions and thereby INCREASE the likelihood
of the supposedly-reared insect resistance arising.
2. How one of the proponents of "HERBICIDE-RESISTANT SUPERWEED" theory
(i.e., Dr. Joy Bergelson, who alleged that her mid-1990's experiments
with bioengineered Arabidopsis thaliana proved that biotech crops are
far more likely to outcross & cause the arising of "superweeds")...
later admitted (in October, 1998 issue of NEW SCIENTIST) that "the
hybrid-weed plant's production of the herbicide-tolerance protein
meant the plant (i.e., the hybrid weed) had to expend more energy
which, in the absence of herbicide use... resuted in the hybrid-weed
disappearing after five generations". NOTE: Dr. Malcolm Devine
(University of Saskatchewan) conducted similar research re canola
outcrossing-to-weeds (wild mustard), which showed the same thing (the
hybrid weed is less hardy and dies-out in fields where the herbicide
is not used).
4. That the annual Monarch butterfly census in 1999 (i.e., the year of
the highest-ever fraction of U.S. corn acres planted to Bt varieties)
revealed the North American Monarch butterfly population to be UP
SHARPLY. That was almost certainly due to the reduction in U.S.
spraying of synthetic chemical insecticides that has resulted from Bt
crops (corn and cotton).
5. That biotech herbicide-resistant crops have facilitated/fostered an
INCREASE IN THE TOTAL U.S. ACRES OF "NO TILL" PRODUCTION (e.g., record
total number of U.S. soybeans grown via "no till" every year since the
herbicide-resistant soybeans were introduced in 1996). That the
populations of the natural weed-killing soil bacteria known as
deleterious rhizobacteria... are greatly increased in the soil of "no
till" fields (i.e., mechanical cultivation reduces their populations).
The same is true of earthworm populations in "no till" fields.
That "no till" crops have a net 88% REDUCTION IN TOTAL EMISSION OF
GREENHOUSE GASES (i.e., including the tractor fuel used, etc.) versus
conventional crop production methods... and an even greater reduction
versus "organic" crop production methods growing the same crops (e.g.,
organic soybeans often must be mechanically tilled up to a dozen times
per year). Disturbance of the soil via mechanical tillage breaks up
the glomalin (i.e., the carbon-sequestering material in the soil) and
thereby causes release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere in
the form of carbon dioxide. This research, by Michigan State
University researchers, was published in the September 15, 2000 issue
8. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration... like its counterpart in the
UK did, is implementing measures to try to halt the TRUE/PRIMARY CAUSE
OF ARISING OF COMMERCIAL-ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT HUMAN-PATHOGENIC
BACTERIA (i.e., irresponsible over-prescription by the medical doctors
in their respective countries). Government research in both countries
has revealed that the relevant antibiotic-resistant bacteria are far
more prevalent in wealthy neighborhoods than in low-income
neighborhoods. That is primarily because wealthy matrons DEMAND THAT
ANTIBIOTICS BE PRESCRIBED, THE MINUTE THEIR CHILDREN GET SICK. After
feebly trying to point-out that "ANTIBIOTICS WON'T HELP FOR YOUR
CHILD'S EARACHE/SNIFFLE, MADAM, BECAUSE IT IS VIRAL", the doctors
routinely give-in to the matron' demands.. and prescribe the
antibiotics.. for a malady (that antibiotics are useless for). NOTE: Poor
mothers can't afford the "luxury" of foolishly buying antibiotics for
VIRAL diseases, so the prevalence of antibiotic- resistant bacteria is
far lower in poor neighborhoods of the UK and the U.S.
While the UK government could, and DID do it by ORDERING ITS DOCTORS
TO STOP OVER-PRESCRIPTION OF ANTIBIOTICS, due to the UK's socialized
healthcare system, the U.S. FDA is actually IMPLEMENTING CHANGES TO
THE FORMAL LABELS ON CONTAINERS OF COMMERCIAL ANTIBIOTICS (i.e., since
U.S. doctors' behavior is legally regulated via those formal
labels).In a stunning revelation of its desperation, the FDA is
currently in the process of actually changing the labels on
antibiotics to STATE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE PRESCRIBED FOR VIRAL
INFECTIONS (as if medicaldoctors hadn't learned that fact in their
first high school biology class).
It is, of course, not very pleasant for doctors to stand-up to
demanding matrons..., so (surprise!) the above
UK-government-order-re-antibiotics was followed by the UK Medical
(doctors) Association issuing a public proclamation... that its
government (i.e., which was at that time very
supportive-of-agbiotechnology) should institute a moratorium on
biotech crops containing antibiotic resistance "marker genes", etc.
(what a convenient way to strike-back at the Blair UK government...
that was "tormenting" those UK doctors by forcing them to say "no" to
demanding matrons wanting antibiotics).
Even in the unlikely event that such biotech crops EVER did cause
"transfer of some antibiotic resistance" (sic), it would be a very
tiny droplet... added to the 'ocean' of antibioitc resistance
resulting from the over-prescription detailed above.
Kim Nill, St. Louis, Missouri
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Response to Goldberg
Some thoughts on the recent posting by Craig Sams:
Sams wrote: >3. Pathogens. There are no known cases of E.coli O157:H7
> poisoning arising from organic production practices. Alex Avery
admitted his allegations were statistically unsupportable on this
website a few months ago.
--Pure Bunk! Organic products have been the source of a number of E.
coli O157:H7 outbreaks and the well-documented permanant kidney damage
of one little girl. Statistics aside (we've argued this point to
death!), Mr. Sams simply cannot deny the inherent risk associated with
using pathogen-laden cattle manure as a primary fertilizer
source--composted or uncomposted. For this I'm backed by the published
comments (in JAMA, no less) of the CDC's Chief of Foodborne Illness
and Diseases Branch, Dr. Robert V. Tauxe.
>The FAO has stated that the risk of E. coli O157:H7 in organic cattle
is less than 1% of the risk in conventional feedlot raised animals,
due to the high proportion of forage (60% by dry weight minimum) in
--More bunk! USDA research has found E.coli O157:H7 in EVERY CATTLE
HERD EVER TESTED--including low-density cattle herds kept on open
range with very high forage percentages. The myth that E. coli is a
consequence of grain-feeding cattle has been disproven by a number of
research projects recently. (See numerous excellent articles written
on this topic by Rena Orr, available at
.html) The FAO is simply using flawed and disproven assumptions to
arrive at flawed conclusions. Not the first time for the FAO, nor
likely the last.
>4. Pesticides: One recent study showed that 3 pesticides consumed
together produced harmful side effects equal to 100 times those of any
of single pesticide consumed on its own.
--Is this the Duke University "synergy" research that was
embarrasingly retracted after even they could not replicate it? If
not, how many hundreds/thousands/millions of times above food residue
exposure were these effects seen?
>5. Land - you recently reported on Jules Pretty's conference at St.
James Palace, which I attended. The evidence that yields truly do go
up on small scale sustainable farms is overwhelming.
--First, Mr. Pretty supports No-till agriculture (which in its most
widely used form uses herbicides to conserve soil); Second, I'm sure
most on this list--myself included--enthusiastically support the
various techniques Mr. Pretty highlights that fall under the amorphous
definition of "sustainable agriculture." Things like efficient use of
organic matter, water conservation, crop rotations, contour plowing,
etc. All of these things can help raise crop yields and improve the
profitability of small-holder agriculture. But none of these
techniques negate the benefits and improvements that have and will
come from biotechnology. You argue that because we can increase yields
without biotechnology that we therefore must NOT use biotech. This is
a quintessential Hobson's choice. We can have both.
>7 & 8 Bt insecticide and resistance. Organic farmers have been using
Bt for 30 years or so and some resistance has developed. They use it
as an occasional treatment, not as a routine spray. When Bt is
engineered into crops it is likely that insect resistance will develop
--What arrogance! Who gave organic farmers exclusive rights to Bt
sprays and technology? If organic farmers want exclusive rights to use
Bt technology, then they'll have to buy those rights from all the rest
of the farmers in the world. Barring that, get over it. Sharing and
living with others was something the rest of us learned in kindergarten.
>9 & 10 Pollen. Organic farmers livelihoods are threatened by
Again, the trade-mark arrogance. Who gave organic farmers sole and
exclusive rights to the planet and it's air column? If
cross-pollination threatens the livelyhood of organic farmers, then
perhaps organic standards are a tad unrealistic. Just like other
"stuff" in the real world--POLLEN HAPPENS! It's high time that organic
farmers grow up and learn to live in the real world, where pollen
drifts (God designed it to do that, you know!), pests attack, crop
diseases strike, bacteria proliferate, and Mother Nature isn't the
Tooth Fairy, but simply a Toothed Fairy. If this objection is valid,
then I think non-organic farmers should be able to sue organic farmers
for all of the pests and disease that take safe harbor on organic
farms. Either that, or organic farmers should have to pay non-organic
farmers for the benefit they get from all of the pests and diseases
that are held in check regionally by the use of pesticides on the vast
majority of non-organic farms.
>11. Nutrition. I find these arguments wearying, whatever their
source. Good nutrition comes from eating a balanced diet, not from
choosing only organic food
Finally--something Mr. Sams and I can agree on. On that note, I'll
Subject: Precaution and Responsabilty
Hi, I'd like to comment on Andrew's Apel argument.
>Apel:"If the precautionary principle does not have an instrumental
dimension, then all it does, at best, is remind us that
consequentialist moral theory doesn't work perfectly. Abraham writes:
While we lack scientific certainty in the matter of the GM plants, we
do know enough in genetic science that if some alterations would
occur, these would be irreversible. Alarming as it sounds, it is, of
course, true. However, it will always be true, just as it is true of
every choice made by a moral agent who is less than omniscient"
As moral agent, we are "less than omniscient" that is true. We are,
nonetheless, "responsible" moral agents.
What I'd like to point out here is the fact that this statement I made
calls for the following question: are we willing to take the
responsibility of causing irreversible alterations (as they would
occur on the genetic level) to our environment? I do think that this
is what "precaution" is calling for: our sense of responsibility
toward our actions before they take place. And this, unlike
"prevention" which via its instrumental dimension can rely on
technological or scientific means to prevent (or correct?) the
situation which is likely to occur.
>Apel: "Abraham says that world hunger is a challenge we have to face
actively. According to the best evidence available, genetic
engineering improves agricultural output while reducing its impact on
the environment. Given these facts, the right choice is obvious, and
the precautionary principle seems to offer no help in reaching it.
Here I would ask: Is genetic engeneering the ultimate choice? what
about our ways of managing global food distribution?
From: Frederic Abraham
I'd like to correct some language mistakes:
1) The word "repartition" doesn't exist in english: here I meant
2) and by "association" (in "misunderstanding the association of the
precautionary principle...") I meant "application".
I'm sorry, my English is not perfect as I usually speak french...
From:"Indur M. Goklany"
Subject: Comment on Apel's "Ethics of PP"
I read with great interest the exchanges between Comstock, Abraham,
and Apel on the PP.
I quite disagree with Mr. Apel's statement that "the PP offers no help
in reaching the right choice.
I have attempted previously to use the PP as a decision-making tool
with respect to GM crops in a policy study published by the Center for
the Study of American Business, Washington University in St. Louis.
This paper can be downloaded from the Social Science Research
Electronic Network at
As I note in that, most formulations of the precautionary principle
provide no guidance for evaluating a policy if it results
simultaneously in uncertain benefits and uncertain harm, as is the
case for GM crops (as Comstock has noted, and is clear from the
Abraham and Apel exchange). This lack of guidance has allowed some to
fudge their application of the PP by letting them take credit for
reducing potential public health and environmental risks that might
result from their favorite policy option while ignoring any risks that
those policies might generate. Such one-sided accounting besides being
intellectually dishonest (because one has only looked at one side of
the ledger), could, in turn, result in a policy cure that is worse
than the disease.
To guard against such perverse outcomes, I have developed a framework
to evaluate just such policies, where the net result might be
ambiguous because their effects ? both beneficial and harmful ? are
uncertain. This framework attempts to sort out competing claims on
both sides of the ledger by considering, among other things, the
nature, magnitude, and the certainty of the positive and negative
effects of a ban, and the likelihood that the policy under
consideration would reduce or aggravate those effects.
My application of the PP to a potential ban on GM crops leads me to
conclude that the PP, in fact, requires further R&D, and
commercialization of GM crops, provided due caution is exercised.
Regarding "irreversible" consequences (raised by Abraham) which seem
not to be considered generally, consider the following: if we eschew
GM crops which might result in increased habitat conversion with the
possible consequence of one or two species becoming extinct, then that
would be just as irreversible as say "gene flow." Similarly, if
because of the lack of GM crops, mortality rates in developing
countries does not drop as rapidly as it otherwise would, then the
deaths resulting from that (and the lost life-years) wouuld also be
Incidentally, I have also applied the PP as a policy analysis tool for
global warming (also available from the Social Science Resreach
), and DDT (available from Save Children from Malaria Campaign at
Indur M. Goklany
From: Mary Ellen Jones
Subject: Whitehouse on biotech
Re: the "disposal" of White House records by Bush Admin. This is not a
devious right wing conspiracy, but a common practice, not only at
changes in White House Administrations, but also in Congressional
offices. I had a difficult time locating (discarded) documents from
the Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations for my dissertation. Sadly,
NARA is not particularly helpful in locating documents from past
administrations, being so "forward looking" as they like to see
themselves! Although this is distressing news to an historian like me,
I do understand the necessity for the practice, having been a
For example, the House office spaces are so tiny compared to the
enormous volume of paper that flows through each day, it would be
impossible to function were most of it not thrown out. (I learned that
a full tractor trailer of compacted paper is sent to the recycling
center every week from the House of Rep side of the Congress alone.)
One would think that electronically stored info would be less
susceptible to discard, but perhaps vestiges of old practices die slowly.
Mary Ellen Jones, Ph.D.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universit
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Euro Food
It's happened again... when will the Europeans learn that their food
production system is inherently corrupt and drop their hypocritical
bans against US food exports? No wonder they don't trust their regulators.
Austria Hit With Food Fiascoes
January 23, 2001 The credibility of food regulation in Austria has
suffered a double blow, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Authorities testing so-called ?beef free? sausages being offered to
consumers worried about mad cow disease have found many samples
mislabeled. A government health official said that of 82 samples
tested, more than 30 contained what appears to be beef.
While no cases of mad cow disease have been reported in Austrian
cattle, the country?s pork producers are under attack. Authorities
over the past week have closed down 15 farms after suspicions that
thousands of pigs have been fed hormones and antibiotics to increase
their weight. Criminal investigations have begun against 65 suspects.
Investigations are continuing into whether veterinarians in Bavaria,
Germany?s southernmost state, illegally supplied the drugs.
While the European Union bans imports of meat from the US produced
with the aid of hormones and antibiotics, it is widely known that the
EU has had a thriving black market among meat producers for these aids
ever since their use was banned.
Media attacked over GM food's negative publicity
The media has been criticised for harming the level of agricultural
investment by creating a wave of negative publicity on the issue of
genetically modified (GM) food. A panel of international and
Australian scientists in Adelaide says agricultural research is
suffering because funding towards bio-technical research has decreased
in the past few years.
The scientists fear the stigma attached to GM foods and research is
preventing finding solutions to poverty and starvation in the
developing world. Dr Richard Jefferson of Australia's Centre for the
Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture says
sensational media reporting such as glib newspaper headlines carries
much of the blame.
"They won't read your text - they read your headline and they see that
and they tar all of science with the brush of bio-tech and there's a
lot of ways to do this kind of work that are transgenical or not," he
said. "But the point is much of it is important to good science but
almost of all of that is being threatened by the hysteria, the
Foes' efforts spur PR push for genetically altered food
In the last year, vandals have destroyed research crops in Woodland
and Davis as part of a nationwide effort to uproot the biotechnology
industry's effort to produce genetically modified food.
Hoping to nip the trouble in the bud before it grows into widespread
public fear, local companies are stepping up public education and
public relations campaigns. Meanwhile, leaders at the University of
California at Davis are working to figure out what their role should
be in the debate over genetically engineered crops. University
biotechnology program directors are reaching out to schools and the
public, to educate students and other people concerned about
"We've said all along, we're not stopping what we're doing," says
Judith Kjelstrom, associate director of the UC Davis biotechnology
program. "Scientists are not buying into the fears." Growth in local
biotechnology companies may be dwarfed by expansion in high technology
in general, but biotech has quietly become a significant presence in
the economy of Greater Sacramento. Area employment in companies
dealing with such things as altered genetics, crop improvements and
the typing of DNA stood at 700 early last spring, up from 600 in
Genetically modified crops had been grown on the UC Davis campus for a
decade without any incidents. But in the last year and a half, vandals
have struck several times and destroyed crops at UC Davis and at
agribusiness companies in Woodland.
A group calling itself Future Farmers claimed responsibility for an
attack on crops at Seminis Vegetable Seeds Inc. in Woodland, and
another group, Reclaim the Seeds, took responsibility for five attacks
on UC Davis and an attempt to break into the greenhouses at Calgene
LLC in Davis, a research and development subsidiary of Monsanto Co.
But the attacks aren't limited to the Davis region. They've taken
place all over the country, and other groups have raised concerns,
too. Environmental activist group Greenpeace advised commodity boards
to tell farmers not to use genetically engineered crops, saying that
those crops, because they're opposed by people in other nations, could
hurt California agricultural exports.
Hoping to quell public fear, leaders of Monsanto, based in St. Louis,
began meeting with people from outside the company about a year ago,
including scientists, activists, government regulators, farmers, food
manufacturers and processors, academics and the news media. We
realized that we needed to hear directly from people about what they
thought, what their concerns were and what they thought we ought to
do," CEO Hendrik Verfaillie said in an address at a Farm Journal forum
in Washington, D.C., in November. "The company ... had focused so much
attention on getting the technology right for our customer, (the
grower)," Verfaillie stated. "that we didn't fully take into account
the issues and concerns it raised for other people."
During the address, Verfaillie unveiled a five-point company pledge to
the public, including promises to create open communication with the
public and customers; respect religious, cultural and ethical concerns
of people throughout the world; share technology with developing
countries; make published scientific data on product safety and
benefits available to the public; and develop technology that benefits
farmers as well as the environment.
The company is creating an advisory committee that represents a range
of views on biotechnology. Bryan Hurley, a company spokesman, said one
of the group's first charges will be to better define its role. Eight
life-science companies, including Monsanto, and two trade groups
formed the Council for Biotechnology Information last year to share
information about the benefits of genetically modified crops and food.
The council has a Web site and works to open communication with food
industry leaders, health professionals, academia, and scientists.
The Council for Biotechnology Information has a 2001 budget of $52
million to pay for its Web site, advertising, brochures and the like.
Individual companies are developing public education tools as well.
Syngenta Seeds, a recent spin-off from Novartis Seeds, which has
sponsored test plots in Woodland, is working with leading farm
commodity groups and food industry associations to get out information
about biotechnology and answer questions. It also developed an
educational CD-ROM and gave out some 40,000 copies in the last year.
The challenge, says Tony Minnichsoffer, Syngenta Seeds communications
manager, is to promote products and the company while having to react
to spot news in the industry, such as last fall's recall of taco
shells, corn chips and other products. The recall happened after a
laboratory testing company found genetically engineered corn in Taco
Bell taco shells. The corn, sold by Aventis CropScience under the
brand name Starlink, was approved for hog feed, but not human consumption.
Even if the company isn't involved in an incident, those types of
events, along with outbreaks of activism, require a response,
Minnichsoffer says. In the last couple of years, he says, the debate
over genetically modified food has grown more emotional. Seminis
spokesman Gary Koppenjan says the public reactions to the attacks on
that company's research crops in Woodland were mostly sympathetic.
Although less than 1 percent of the seeds the company markets are
genetically modified, he says, Seminis believes genetically modified
products are the wave of the future.
It supports industry groups, such as the Council for Biotechnology
Information, and gears most of its own education efforts toward
growers and produce retailers. It gives them information about the
benefits of biotechnology and copies of survey results showing U.S.
consumers' generally positive attitude toward genetically modified
food. According to a May 2000 survey of U.S. consumers by the
International Food Information Council, 69 percent say they are likely
to buy foods that have been modified for insect protection to require
less pesticide spray. Despite the attacks on the industry, opposition
to genetically modified foods hasn't become a groundswell here as it
has in Europe, says Ken Drucker, who leads the consumer products group
for Standard & Poor's.
"Companies have tremendous investments in those engineered seeds.
They're trying to not let what happened in Europe happen here," he
says. "In the U.S., they're not starting at the same point as in
Europe where (genetically engineered food) is like Satan." Europeans
are especially cautious, given the history with mad cow disease.
European consumers were assured by the government that their food
supply was safe only to learn later of deaths possibly linked to
eating beef infected with proteins that cause the fatal disease.
People here, though, have more faith in regulatory agencies, and big
companies, such as Kellogg Co. and PepsiCo, have said they will
continue to use engineered foods, Drucker says.UC Davis officials,
meanwhile, are doing what they can to increase communication and
public education."After our crops were vandalized, I decided we needed
to do something in a proactive way," says Neal Van Alfen, dean of the
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis.
"Obviously we had a real education challenge."
After getting signatures from every public university agriculture dean
in the country, Van Alfen sent a letter to federal regulatory
agencies, expressing concern about the tenor of debate on
biotechnologies and offering to help create a joint public education
campaign.Afterward, Van Alfen and a handful of other deans met with
officials to open discussions, and this week UC Davis hosted a meeting
with agriculture officials from other universities to talk about what
role universities should play in the debate about biotechnology.
"Our top concern in all of this is to protect our credibility," he
said. "Our role is looking at the broad spectrum of what are the
benefits and what are the risks."Kjelstrom and Martina McCloughlin,
director of the university's biotechnology program, have worked to
develop curriculum for science elementary and secondary teachers and
workshops for community college instructors. They also meet frequently
with any groups interested in learning about the field.
"We still have a large number of teachers who were educated in the
'60s who are fearful of this," Kjelstrom says. "One of the outreach
things we can do is go out and demystify this."
Sticker Shock: Why label food?
The New Republic JANUARY 22, 2001
"Americans have consistently demanded the right to know what's in
their food," Senator Barbara Boxer righteously informed participants
in a hearing on the labeling of genetically modified (GM) food last
September. " W hy not tell Americans whether the ingredients in their
food are natural or genetically engineered?" It's a popular plea.
During the presidential campaign, both Al Gore and Ralph Nader
promised mandatory labels on GM food. According to a recent Harris
poll, 86 percent of Americans support the idea. " It's the very least
that food producers can do," explains Craig Culp of Greenpeace.
"People should be able to make informed decisions about what they
eat." The argument is simple, commonsensical--and wrong. What
consumers have " the right to know" is that mandatory labels for GM
food would, in all likelihood, add to shoppers' confusion, as well as
to their grocery bills.
When people talk about labeling GM food, they're generally thinking of
the vegetable aisle of the supermarket. And if labeling simply meant
putting a sticker on the genetically modified tomatoes of the future,
it would make sense. But pumped-up fruits and vegetables are just the
tip of the GM iceberg. Genetically engineered components--oil from GM
soybeans, sugar from GM beets, flour from GM corn--also show up in
lots of processed food. In fact, according to Greenpeace, they're
present in more than 60 percent of the items on grocery-store shelves.
(And, needless to say, they've caused no known health problems at
all.) So do you slap labels on these products too? Keep in mind that
while the oils, sugars, and flours in question come from genetically
modified plants, the ingredients themselves usually are chemically
indistinguishable from their non-GM equivalents. Complicating the
issue still further are foods--such as beer, yogurt, bread, and
cheese--that contain no GM ingredients at all but may be processed by
genetically customized enzymes and microorganisms. Should we label
these as well?
Given the quiet ubiquity of GM ingredients and processing in the food
we already eat, a catchall GM label would be too broad to provide
consumers with much guidance. In England, where food manufacturers
began voluntarily labeling products containing GM ingredients in 1997,
Jackie Dowthwaite of Britain's Food and Drink Federation says that
"roughly half of the products in the supermarkets had the labels."
And, just to be safe, many manufacturers labeled products as GM even
if they weren't sure whether the sugar or flour or oil in them came
from GM plants--thus making it impossible for consumers to make
Alternatively, you could label only products that contain GM
substances in reasonably large doses--say, 1 percent of the combined
ingredients. (This is, in fact, the standard that the 15 European
Union countries--including Britain- -adopted last January.) But this
compromise doesn't really address the concerns that prompted the
labeling movement in the first place. For activists morally opposed to
"meddling" with nature, a 1 percent meddling threshold is still
unacceptable. And for those truly concerned about the safety of GM
food, it's not much of a safeguard. "We worry about toxic substances
in foods that appear at a level of 0.00001 percent," says Joseph
Hotchkiss, a professor of food science and toxicology at Cornell
What's more, even if labeling were required only for food modified
beyond some arbitrary threshold, you'd still have the problem of
manufacturers who have no idea how much GM food--if any--their
products contain. As in Britain, an American manufacturer of breakfast
cereal, for example, may not know where the sugars and oils in its
granola come from. Commercial crops such as corn and soybeans are sold
in vast quantities, with GM and non-GM plants often inadvertently
mixed together. When these crops are processed into oil and other
products, things become more confusing still. By the time those
products reach the granola manufacturer, there's no telling whether
they contain some GM substances or not. After all, soybean and corn
oils extracted from GM plants are chemically identical to those from
The only way to ensure that a given ingredient comes from non-GM
sources would be to create separate production lines from field to
factory to grocery store. This wouldn't just require additional
paperwork and regulatory bureaucracy to keep the GM and non-GM streams
segregated. It would require entirely new grain bins, trucks, and
cleaning procedures to ensure that non- GM crops and products were not
"contaminated" by GM varieties as they were harvested, stored,
shipped, and processed. Joe Parcell, an economist at the University of
Missouri, estimates that segregating GM and non-GM soybeans could add
"up to a dollar of segregation costs" to a $5 to $6 bushel of
soybeans. A study for the Canadian market by kpmg Consulting projects
that such segregation would force a retail-price markup of as much as
10 percent for food containing corn, canola, and soy-based products.
For crops such as corn, whose GM varieties can transmit their genes to
plants in adjacent fields via pollen, the costs of segregation could
be even higher. The Chicago Federal Reserve warned this year that, in
addition to raising prices at the supermarket, the burden of
segregating GM and non-GM crops could make " smaller and higher-cost
agriculture firms less viable." And this burden will only grow as the
food industry uses greater and greater varieties of GM ingredients.
Anti-GM activists claim that in the 1990s the food industry used a
similar cost "myth" to try to avoid the standardized "Nutrition Facts"
labels now on foods. But Cornell's Hotchkiss argues that GM labeling
will cost "a lot more." Moreover, the cost will be borne by consumers
generally, whether or not they want to avoid GM-labeled food. "The
major expense is not putting the label on, " says University of
Saskatchewan research scientist Alan McHughen, "it's keeping it off."
All of which points to a solution that would help consumers make
informed choices, limit the confusion caused by ubiquitous labels, and
raise prices only for those consumers who consider GM food a problem:
voluntary, standardized labeling of food without GM ingredients. Only
companies that wanted to label their products "GM-free" would have to
pay for the attendant segregation, quality control, and
verification--and they would pass those costs along to their
customers. Toward this end, the Food and Drug Administration, which
rejected mandatory labeling last May, is already drafting guidelines
that define when manufacturers can use a "non-GM" label. And the U.S.
Department of Agriculture recently announced that food labeled "
organic" would not contain GM ingredients, giving consumers an
additional way to choose.
A "non-GM" label has the virtue of recognizing that GM-free products
are now the exception at your local supermarket, rather than the rule.
Consumers willing to pay the extra cost for such specialty products
would be able to do so--just as millions of Americans already buy food
certified kosher or organic. Those unconcerned about genetic tinkering
wouldn't have to fund an extensive labeling regime. And the market
would take it from there. If, as anti-GM activists argue, a majority
of shoppers would pay extra to avoid GM food, we'd find out. Fueled by
consumer demand, the GM-free niche would expand until it began pushing
GM food off the shelves. On the other hand, if Americans generally
prefer the cost, taste, or whatever of the bioengineered food they've
been eating unknowingly (and without ill effect) for years, they'd
have that option as well. And evidence suggests that many would take
it. Even in the midst of Britain's political firestorm over GM food,
tomato paste clearly labeled produced from genetically modified
tomatoes sold better than its non-GM competitor in Sainsbury's
supermarkets, a British chain. Why? The GM variety, says a company
representative, was cheaper.
Subject: re Pusztai Responds
I have forwarded Roger Morton's response to Arpad Pusztai but given
it's tone I do not anticipate Dr Pusztai will wish to engage further
in "debate" with Dr Morton. For myself, I can only note that in his
last two posts Dr Morton, as well as abandoning any attempt at
civility, has wisely abandoned any attempt at a defence of a
bibliography that Dr Pusztai has repeatedly shown is simply indefensible.