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Date:

January 30, 2001

Subject:

Write to FDA! Let Your Voice Be Heard!; Human-Infecting

 

Dear Prakash,

Here's a chance for scientists' voices to be heard. Please read this and
spend a few moments to send your thoughts to the FDA.

In January 2001, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed
guidelines which would require pre-market notification of new biotech
foods. In addition, the FDA provided direction to companies on labeling
foods made with or without biotech ingredients.

The proposed rule and draft guidelines concerning biotech foods would
require food developers to notify the FDA of new biotech products four
months before they are to be put on the market, and the guidance on
labeling will aid manufacturers in ensuring that their labeling is
truthful and not misleading.

The FDA is taking comments, which you can send by going to:

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/oc/dockets/commentdocket.cfm


Simply click on OON-1396-Premarket Notice Concerning Bioengineered Foods

or

OOD-1598-Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have Been Developed
Using Bioengineering.

Then fill in the information and follow the directions to allow your voice
to be heard.

To speed up the process, here are some sample messages which you can send
as they are by copying them into the form. Feel free to alter the message
to your liking or send your own thoughts to the FDA.

Don't let a small but loud group of activists have the only word on this
important matter. Let the FDA know how scientists feel about the issue!!
------------------

Re: OON-1396-Premarket Notice Concerning Bioengineered Foods

Dockets Management Branch (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061,
Rockville MD 20852

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to show my support and confidence in the current United
States food regulatory system, especially pertaining to regulation of
foods developed through biotechnology.

I am aware that the FDAs current policy on foods derived through
biotechnology is based upon the considered opinion of the scientific
community that biotechnology is not an inherently risky process, and that
regulation should be based upon the characteristics of individual
products. Therefore, I support the new proposal to require food developers
to consult with the FDA at least 120 days in advance of their intent to
market a food or animal feed developed through biotechnology and to
provide information to demonstrate that the product is as safe as its
conventional counterpart. I believe that these measures are sufficient to
ensure the safety of the US food supply and that they will allow the
review process to be more transparent to the public.

Sincerely,

(NAME)
-----------------------

Re: Docket: 00D-1598 - Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have
Been Developed Using Bioengineering

Dockets Management Branch (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061,
Rockville MD 20852

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to let you know that I support the FDAs current policy on
labeling of foods derived from biotechnology, which requires affirmative
labeling only in cases where a material change has been made that affects
nutrition or health. Furthermore, I support FDAs new guidelines for
voluntary labeling of foods which have or have not been developed using
biotechnology.

As a consumer I have full confidence in the US regulatory agencies which
approve these products and see no reason to create unnecessary, unfair
rules for agricultural biotech products. I fear that mandatory labeling of
products, which have been deemed substantially equivalent to their
conventional counterparts, will give the false impression that they are
inferior to non-biotech products, and that the costs of separating,
testing and labeling these products will be an unnecessary burden on
consumers.

Voluntary labeling is the best policy to give consumers a choice of foods
without biotech ingredients, and will guide manufacturers in their efforts
to label them accordingly without passing on the cost to the vast majority
of consumers who see no need for such regulation.

Sincerely,

(NAME)

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From: David Tribe
Subject: So called "Unnatural cross kingdom gene movement" may actually
occur in nature!

Bacteria will mate with ANYTHING but have been keeping it a secret from
the public for years!
-----

Tumor-Causing Plant Bacteria May Infect Human Cells

Emma Patten-Hitt REUTERS Health News Wednesday, 31 January 2001.

NEW YORK - A soil bacterium that causes lumpy tumors on plants may be able
to 'jump kingdoms' and insert its tumor-causing DNA into human cells, new
research findings suggest. The bacterium, called Agrobacterium
tumefaciens, contains a small piece of DNA that can insert itself into the
DNA of a host cell and initiate a tumor. Agrobacterium is already known to
cause plant tumors, but researchers wanted to test whether the bacterium
could similarly insert its DNA into human cells.

Dr. Vitaly Citovsky from the State University of New York, Stony Brook,
and colleagues found that the plant bacterium was able to attach to human
cells and insert its DNA into human cells just as it does with plant
cells. Whether Agrobacterium is dangerous to humans is unclear, however.
"Here (insertion of DNA into) human cells has been observed in laboratory
conditions; whether it may be relevant biologically in nature remains
unknown,'' the researchers note in the current early edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our experiments were done under laboratory conditions,'' Citovsky told
Reuters Health. "In nature, I do not believe Agrobacterium represents a
danger. However, for people who work with large concentrations of this
bacterium, for example researchers or certain agricultural workers who
deal with heavily infected plants, it may be prudent to be careful or at
least aware,'' he said.

One implication of this study, said Citovsky, is the potential for genetic
flow between bacteria and animals. Another implication is that the basic
biochemical and cellular reactions involved in the Agrobacterium-plant
cell interaction probably exist in the animal kingdom as well.

"Presently, it appears that Agrobacterium is the only example of
trans-kingdom DNA transfer,'' Citovsky said. "I do not rule out other
possibilities but there are no data. Of course, what can be done once, can
almost always be done again,'' he added. SOURCE: Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences Early Edition
-End of Reuter Item
-------------

BUT also see earlier reports of trans-kingdom mating E.g: Nature 1989 Jul
20;340(6230):205- Bacterial conjugative plasmids bacteria and yeast.

Heinemann JA, Sprague GF Jr Conjugative plasmids of Escherichia coli can
mobilize DNA transmission from this bacterium to the yeast Saccharomyces
cerevisiae. The process shares some of the features of conjugation between
bacteria and could be evolutionarily significant in promoting
trans-kingdom genetic exchange. Comment in: Nature 1989 Jul
20;340(6230):190-1

Plasmid 1993 Nov;30(3):251-7, Movement of shuttle plasmids from
Escherichia coli into yeasts other than Saccharomyces cerevisiae using
trans-kingdom conjugation. Hayman GT, Bolen PL Cubby *******

- David Tribe Ph.D. Senior Lecturer,Department of Microbiology and
Immunology University of Melbourne Parkville, Australia 3010

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From: EEntis@aol.com
Subject: Re - "Response to Pusztai and apology"

In Dr. Pusztai's lengthy response to Dr. Morton, he makes the following
assertion" "Now there are two peer-reviewed papers, in addition to the
FDA's own FLAVR SAVR tomato study, in which gut lesions have been found
with GM foodstuffs in three different labs." In regards to the FLAVR SAVR
studies, this statement is an eggregious distortion of fact. The treatment
and control animals were both fed an exclusive diet of tomatoes, one set
genetically modified, and the other set unmodified. Both groups of animals
developed the same gut lesions - clearly as a direct result of overfeeding
of a fruit not well tolerated by the animals. In fact, there was no
difference whatsoever between the two sets of animals with regards to the
lesions. If this is an example of Dr. Pusztai's "objective" reporting of
fact regarding the safety of biotech modified foods, then there is little
to trust in his comments.

- Elliot Entis Aqua Bounty Farms
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From: Mary Murphy
Subject: Re: 'Alternative Davos' - no blacks and only one woman on the

I agree with Tom DeGregori that it is ironic that these self-appointed
spokespeople for the Developing World are usually either upper to
middle-class white kids in their twenties, or they're professional NGO
fund raisers.

Here's an article with a similar theme about their trip to Washington last
April:

http://www.earthfiends.org/international/white.html

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Some interesting responses to the NY Times Jan 25th article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/30/opinion/L30BIO.html

Biotech Food: To Be Wary or Not?
New York Times Tuesday -- January 30, 2001

To the Editor: Re ``Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle`` (front
page, Jan. 25):

I disagree with the view expressed in your article that ``food biotech is
dead.`` The ability to make specific changes and additions to crop genomes
presents an enormous opportunity for improving the quality and nutritional
value of the food we eat. For instance, ``golden rice,`` which expresses
the precursor of vitamin A, promises to reduce blindness in developing
countries.

Moreover, because plants are capable of performing diverse chemical
reactions, we anticipate that this technology will improve the production
and availability of pharmaceuticals and will prevent environmental damage
through cleaner, safer chemistry.

Genetic engineering has many advantages over traditional breeding: it is
faster, more precise and can introduce genes tailored to confer beneficial
properties.

PAUL BERG
Stanford, Calif., Jan. 26, 2001
The writer, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, is professor emeritus at
Stanford University.


To the Editor: Genetically engineered crops are just the first altered
foods that the biotech industry has pushed through the compromised United
States regulatory apparatus (front page, Jan. 25). The industry is
awaiting approval to bring genetically engineered salmon to our dinner
plates.

Marine scientists have warned that these fish could wreak ecological havoc
when they escape into open seas, yet United States regulations are wholly
inadequate to assess this risk. The Food and Drug Administration, the
federal agency with the least expertise in environmental protection, has
assumed oversight of these salmon, leaving more competent scientists out
of the loop. Consumers and environmentalists are right to question the
government`s approach, which seems to put political considerations ahead
of scientific precaution.

CHARLES MARGULIS Baltimore, Jan. 26, 2001 The writer is a specialist at
the Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaign.

Re ``Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle`` (front page, Jan.
25): The opposition to genetically modified food involves the same
mentality emotional and ill informed, antiscientific and anticorporate
as the opposition to nuclear power. Will we have to wait until people
begin to starve in the United States before the benefits of technology
will be recognized by the majority?

S. THOMAS BOND Jane Lew, W.Va., Jan. 26, 2001

You illustrate well why many citizens are deeply skeptical of the
oversight of biotech foods and ingredients (front page, Jan. 25). But the
controversy over genetically engineered food is not just a question of
good or poor strategy on the part of industry. It is a question of
substance: there are still no long-term studies of the environmental or
health effects, and without labeling, health studies will be difficult, if
not impossible.

MARGARET WEBER Adrian, Mich., Jan. 26, 2001

The writer is coordinator of corporate responsibility, portfolio advisory
board, Adrian Dominican Sisters.


Your Jan. 25 front-page article about biotech food confirmed my
experiences as a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee member
who was part of the deliberations on Calgene`s Flavr Savr tomato and
Monsanto`s bovine growth hormone.

As a consumer representative on both committees, I had to be convinced
that the sponsors had done their scientific homework, and considered it my
duty to express the concerns that the public would surely voice. The
Calgene team brought a respectful, scientific attitude, explaining what it
knew and how it knew it, and admitting what it didn`t know. Monsanto
greeted expressions of consumer concern about milk produced with its
product with disdain. The question is whether industry observers of
Monsanto`s fortunes in this context will learn the obvious lesson: the
concerns and questions of the public, even when not informed by the
highest level of scientific knowledge, deserve respect and response.

MARSHA N. COHEN San Francisco, Jan. 28, 2001 The writer is a professor at
Hastings College of the Law, University of California.
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Horn of plenty or 'Frankenfoods'? GM crops debate pits promise of science
vs. fear of unknown

Barry Shlachter; Fort Worth Star-Telegram January 28, 2001

COLLEGE STATION - Depending on who's doing the talking, genetic
engineering is either: A. The wave of the future, yielding bountiful
harvests and health benefits to an ever-demanding world, or B. The curse
of "Frankenfoods" bearing unknown threats to humankind and nature in
general.

Across the country, bioengineers are trying to produce eggs with low
cholesterol, genetically decaffeinated coffee, corn and peas that keep
their natural sweetness, soybeans for healthier cooking oil, red onions
that reduce cancerous tumors, raspberries and melons that won't spoil
quickly and plants that better withstand drought. "Some people don't want
scientists disturbing their food chain, yet they already are buying fruits
and vegetables that have been engineered with traits consumers like," says
Ellen Peffley, a Texas Tech University professor of plant and soil
sciences.

Already on the market - and consumed by most of us, unwittingly or not -
are genetically modified canola, soybeans, corn, cheese, papayas, peppers,
peanuts, potatoes, sugar beets, sunflowers and tomatoes. Soon apples,
lettuce, bananas, rice, strawberries, wheat, salmon, tilapia, trout and
flounder will join the list. If you sip Coke or a juice drink sweetened
with high-fructose corn syrup, chances are that it contains genetically
modified corn. An estimated 70 percent of the foods on supermarket shelves
have some genetically modified content, according to the Grocery
Manufacturers of America. The new crops are gaining wide acceptance among
producers. Less than 10 percent of soybeans and corn planted in the United
States during 1996 were genetically engineered varieties. Within two
years, a third of corn and 40 percent of soybeans were genetically
modified types, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The reason for the biotech surge is economic. A USDA study valued the
increased harvests and reduced spending on chemical pesticides genetically
modified crops made possible at $830 million in 1997. Monsanto says
farmers in areas where the European corn borer, a common corn pest, is a
problem can earn $16.46 more per acre in an average year using its
genetically modified seed. That translates to $5,000 on a 300-acre farm.
In a typical year, cotton farmers using genetically modified seed designed
to protect against the bollworm realize a net advantage of $33 per acre,
Monsanto spokesman Loren Wassell says. Biotech companies such as
ProdiGene, near Texas A&M University in College Station, foresee a
universe of genetically modified crops unimaginable only a few years ago.

How about edible vaccines?
ProdiGene researchers are hoping to genetically modify corn to produce a
human vaccine for hepatitis B, and then one for HIV. It has harnessed a
new variety to churn out a swine vaccine. Cornell University researchers
have manipulated bananas to "manufacture" a vaccine that may some day
protect people against cholera. Swiss scientists have developed a beta
carotene-producing rice that it says could improve lives for millions of
vitamin A- deficient children in the Third World. The easily delivered,
edible vaccines could mean health for families in remote areas of Africa
and Asia where neither refrigeration, needed to store drugs, nor trained
medical personnel exist.

But despite what supporters tout as the genetically modified foods'
benefits, critics contend that they could trigger allergies, create new
toxins, spread diseases, cause resistance to antibiotics and make weeds
unstoppable. Some warn of possible ecological consequences. They also
complain of genetically modified crops with a "terminator" gene, which
prevents farmers from growing their own seed, thereby keeping them
dependent on agribusiness giants.

Many cite the case of a soybean with an inserted Brazil nut gene, which
proved to be an allergen. But the biotech industry uses the same example
to demonstrate corporate responsibility, noting that the product was not
placed on the market by Du Pont-owned Pioneer Hi-Breed International after
the allergen was discovered. And experts such as Norman Borlaug, the 1970
Nobel Peace Prize winner known as the father of the Green Revolution and
now a Texas A&M professor, point out that traditional breeding techniques
also carry risks, including the creation of new allergens.

Daphne Preuss, a University of Chicago biologist, says critics often
overlook the fact that conventional breeding techniques mix 25,000 genes
at a go. "When you shuffle thousands of genes, we just don't have the
technology to follow them," she says. But genetic engineering means
working with just one gene at a time, she says. Tom Lovejoy, a biologist
with the Smithsonian Institution, acknowledges that genetically modified
plants could introduce unusual genes that might cause problems in the
wilderness, such as a herbicide-resistant kudzu or some other "superweed."

But he notes that unmodified organisms, such as introduced species of
fish, have also caused problems when they've escaped into the wild.
Lovejoy contends that much of the uproar against genetic engineering is
based on social issues rather than scientific grounds. Overall, the risks
from genetically modified plants pale in comparison with their potential
for turning green those wastelands that are too hot, too cold, too dry or
too wet, Lovejoy told a September seminar at the Carnegie Institution of
Washington. By designing crops for such marginal areas, forests and
wilderness areas could be conserved, he says. But critics say
biotechnology isn't a panacea for the world's ills.

"In America, we have this whole idea that 'science is the savior,' " says
Mark Helm, 38, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, a Washington-based
nonprofit environmental group founded in 1969. It has 20,000 members in
the United States and raises its money through donations and foundation
grants. "Groups like ours are putting heat on the biotech industry for
sloppy science," Helm says. "The facts are plain: Genetically engineered
foods have not been sufficiently safety-tested over the long term and have
not been adequately labeled on our grocery shelves. "There's not a
reputable doctor or scientist on the face of the earth who will absolutely
guarantee that no one will get sick or develop health problems from a
range of genetically engineered foods."

John Morrow, 62, a Texas Tech cell biology and biochemistry professor,
acknowledges, "I can't really guarantee 100 percent that some adverse
consequences won't come out of plant biotechnology. "But if we don't do
these things, don't improve crop production, 20 years from now, there will
be cataclysmic consequences around the world. We need a 2-3 percent gain
every year to improve people's life and keep up with population growth."
Despite such warnings, "biotechnology is at a crossroads in terms of
public acceptance," says Thomas Hoban, a professor of sociology and food
science at North Carolina State University.

Radical fringe saboteurs - calling themselves Bolt Weevils, the
Cropatistas, the Anarchist Golfing Association and the Earth Liberation
Front - have damaged laboratories and test fields in Britain, Germany,
India, South Korea, France, Australia, Canada, Belgium and the United
States. Opponents of genetically modified foods have had far greater
impact, however, by trumpeting the failure of U.S. regulatory agencies to
prevent StarLink, an altered corn not approved for human consumption, from
being commingled with conventional varieties and processed into taco
shells. Aware of the difficulty in segregating grain types after harvest,
Friends of the Earth official Larry Bohlen bought 23 corn products at a
suburban Washington supermarket last summer and had them tested for
StarLink. "The clerk's eyes popped when she saw I had a cart filled with
corn items at midnight," said Bohlen, 33, a NASA engineer-turned-
environmental activist. "She probably thought I needed therapy." Three of
the products were tainted with the genetically modified corn, Bohlen
announced at his group's most heavily attended news conferences. Bohlen's
findings prompted tens of millions of dollars in product recalls and
bolstered skeptics' doubts about biogenetics and government oversight. The
corn's maker, the U.S. subsidiary of the Franco-German firm Aventis,
concedes that it should not have applied for "split registration," which
allowed StarLink to be sold as animal feed while awaiting approval for
human consumption. It has announced that it will not plant the corn this
year and will spin off its bioagriculture subsidiary by the end of the
year.

The issue, a publicity bonanza for Bohlen's relatively small environmental
group and the anti-genetic engineering movement in general, was brought to
the kitchen table of millions in the form Taco Bell taco shells. Other
brands, like those produced by Irving- based Mission Foods, were also
affected. Scientists predict that nothing harmful to humans will be found
in StarLink. They says approval by the Environmental Protection Agency has
dragged because the new corn isn't digested as easily as other genetically
modified varieties.

But there's no denying that the incident has hurt consumer confidence and
given genetic engineering opponents new ammunition. "StarLink has really
been a tragedy," says Kent Bradford, 47, a Panhandle-reared plant
scientist at the University of California at Davis. "But it has pointed
out that we need procedures in place to segregate certain crops. "The key
problem is that we have never had to maintain crop varieties as pure as
it's being asked now." While such things as hairballs and even rat feces
are permitted at low levels, the government has set a zero tolerance
threshold for StarLink.

"Channeling systems [for grain] have not been designed to be so precise,"
says Bradford, director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center.
Analysts such as Sano Shimoda of BioScience Securities say StarLink has
had a global ripple effect, slowing down the introduction of new
transgenic products, undermining investor support and prompting new
regulations. Consumer concerns prompted the Food and Drug Administration
on Jan. 17 to propose that developers of genetically modified crops give
120 days' notice to the agency before putting an item on the market. The
new item, which must be as safe as its conventional counterpart, would
have its scientific description, including possible allergic reactions,
posted on the Internet while the FDA carried out its review.

Currently, genetically modified product developers consult the agency only
on a voluntary basis. In addition, the FDA proposed voluntary guidelines
for companies wishing to state whether their products were made with, or
without, ingredients developed through biotechnology. Not allowed would be
vague descriptions such as "modified" or "GM free," but "bioengineered"
would be acceptable, it said. In Europe, concern about genetically
modified foods is even higher, spurred by distrust of regulatory agencies
after dioxin contamination of food in Belgium and the failure to prevent
the spread of mad cow disease in Britain, Germany, France, Spain and
Portugal's Azores Islands. Italy and Austria reported its first two
suspected cases this month. Two German Cabinet members, including the
agriculture minister who had assured his nation that German beef was safe,
resigned Jan. 9, a day before mad cow disease was detected. A member of
the Green Party, which vehemently opposes genetic engineering, replaced
him.

In effect, Europeans ask, how can you trust authorities who approve
genetically modified foods when they've bungled mad cow disease? Their
apprehensions are fueled by news reports using emotional terms such as
"Frankenfoods" in headlines and repeating allegations from an "aggressive
fear campaign" even when scientific consensus rebuts them, says North
Carolina State's Hoban, who has compared U.S. and European attitudes
toward genetically modified crops.

The Church of Scotland has taken a stand, urging caution, and even
Britain's royal family has weighed in, fractiously, with Princess Anne
favoring genetically modified crops, and her organically inclined brother,
Prince Charles, opposing them. Protesters have formed strategic alliances
with organic food promoters, opponents of commercial globalization and a
range of environmentalists. In Mexico, Greenpeace protests what it calls
"genetic imperialism." Europe's campaign against genetic engineering has
several victories. Very few genetically modified crops are grown on the
Continent, and major supermarket chains in Britain and France refuse to
buy products made with imported - though approved - genetically modified
ingredients. American fast-food giants McDonald's, KFC and Burger King
buckled under public pressure and announced that genetically modified
ingredients would be stricken from their British menus. In December, a
joint U.S.-European Community group urged mandatory labeling of
genetically modified products, which many food processors oppose because
it might scare off consumers.

The president of St. Louis-based Monsanto, one of the leading developers
of genetically modified crops, promised in November not to market new
varieties until the United States and Japan have given full approval. "We
hope also to extend this intention to Europe as soon as it has established
a working regulatory system," according to the Nov. 27 "New Monsanto
Pledge" by CEO Hendrik Verfaillie.. Monsanto also promised not to harm
wildlife with genetically engineered products or produce "sterile" crops,
which force farmers to buy seed every year. (A reason for making them with
a terminator gene, aside from the profit motive, was to keep the inserted
trait from spreading to other plants.)

The self-imposed curbs so far have resulted in no withdrawal of products
or loss of sales, Monsanto spokesman Wassell said Jan. 8. With the problem
of commingling in mind, a chief competitor, Pioneer Hi-Breed
International, said it would not sell six of its corn varieties to
American farmers because they lack European approval and could wind up
mixed with other varieties, as in the StarLink case. Monsanto would follow
suit if Europe had a functioning, science- based regulatory system,
Wassell said. Verfaillie's pledge was praised by some environmentalists.
But not everyone was pleased.

"Monsanto was brought to its knees by the environmental lobby," says Texas
Tech's Morrow. "Its CEO was humiliated in Europe and didn't really stand
up for Monsanto." But Monsanto was responding to market realities. A
genetically modified tomato's 30-day shelf life might help the farmer, the
grocery distributor and the supermarket chain, but it means little to
consumers used to seeing bins stacked with ripe vegetables. The shopper
rarely sees any direct advantage from genetically modified foods, says
David Wheat, a biotech industry analyst with the Boston-based Bowditch
Group.

"There may be risks with no benefit" at the checkout counter, Wheat told a
science newsletter of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "So the
consumer says, 'Why should I put up with it?' " With the public seldom
grasping the benefits, opponents of genetic engineering, make inroads by
exploiting fear of the unknown, scientists say. One group, Genetically
Engineered Food Alert, warns on its Web site: "Every time you put that
spoonful of cereal in your mouth, you're taking a big gamble, one that
could adversely affect your health." Researchers such as Texas Tech's
Peffley respond by warning: "If the opponents of genetically engineered
foods want produce that is truly organic - grown with no pesticides or
engineering - they must be willing to accept worms in their apples and
corn, soft and rotting tomatoes and pitted cucumbers, and to pay higher
prices at the grocers." What has been lost in the debate is the irony that
many researchers seek the same ends as their critics, she says.

"A benefit of genetically engineered crops with resistance to insects is
exactly that - an organic product grown without extra pesticides," Peffley
says. "The public cannot have pristine food without the benefits of
science." And while the short-term outlook for genetically modified foods
might appear bleak, Shimoda predicts an eventual turnaround. "This is a
technology that will not be defined in the first or second quarter of the
Super Bowl," he says. "Rather, this a marathon race, 26.2 miles, and we've
just passed the 10th milepost."
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From: Suresh Naik
Sub: Indian Farmers in the Age of Globalization

I do agree to what Don Duvick said in his posting to agbiotech. This seems
to me the case, at least in Kerala in India where they are protesting now
against Coca Cola for the fear that local coconut drink is threatened.
Although it is not related to biotech, but with a wider view, one can see
the equation correct. As you said, the story has more similarity to what
Mr. Nanjunda Swamy is doing in Karnataka (who has recently burnt or
uprooted several Bt cotton trial plants in farmers fields). This is
different from what our Vandana Shiva is doing. She is more into air
conditioned offices and hobnobbing with high powers In Delhi. This may not
pose immediate problem. But what is happening in Kerala and Karnataka will
have immediate impact on public perception. This is more like a mass
movement than TV studio discussion. Although, this may not last longer. As
I heard students in the University cafeteria saying, "You are eliminating
the option, but only in the campus, what about outside?". Same would go
for coconut story. It is all about options. All may not agree to forced
elimination of options. These movements are more local than wide spread,
although their impact is immediate. Opposition, which comes from Delhi, is
more far fetched. There is a difference. I am waiting to see what happens
after the WTO regulations are implemented this April. Already, farmers in
North-India have got the taste of things to come. This problem was mainly
because of protective regime of Govt. for all these years. Now it is like
throwing a protected baby into turbulent waters and expect it to learn
swimming over-night (see another edit from Indian-Express below). There is
a relationship between all the stories of this kind and many more to come
in near future. Today you can't help but to empathize with the farmers'
plight, especially small farmers. Bigger once can still tide through the
inevitable turbulence to come.

There is much talk in policy circles of gearing up for globalisation, of
new marketing strategies, ``corporatisation'' of growers, exploiting
biotech opportunities. But the reality on the ground says something
different. Farmers' suicides, farmers struggling with a third successive
year of drought in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and farmers in Punjab
strewing the highways with their bumper potato crop all speak the language
of despair. Adverse weather conditions have taken too much blame for what
is wrong in the countryside and the minister of Agriculture too little.
Had Nitish Kumar been a full-time agriculture minister of India instead of
being a full-time politician, had he brought as much passion to
agriculture as he gives to Samata Party intrigues, there would be a better
chance of setting things right soon. The fact is Indian farmers are at a
crossroads. One road leads to a vast new world of opportunities but is as
yet full of unknown factors. The other road is the well-wornpath of
government intervention which increasing leads to distortions on the land
and in the market. Good leadership is essential for farmers to make the
right decision and a relatively trouble-free transition to the new world.

There is mounting pressure from farm lobbies and political allies for more
government intervention. This should be resisted and sound
counter-proposals presented instead. It is not government purchases of
farm products that political leaders should offer to farmers but efficient
markets, better market intelligence, risk coverage and access to
agribusiness opportunities. When there are better links to the market
every glut need not turn out a disaster: A global fall in sugar output
probably represents an excellent opportunity for Indian sugar growers who
are faced with the prospect of high output and falling prices at home. One
of the consequences of politically driven agricultural policies is being
seen right now in the sale of highly subsidised wheat at discounted prices
in East Asian markets. That is certainly better than letting excess stocks
rot in warehouses but makes absolutely no sense as a long term agriculture
strategy. When will agriculture feel the winds of change?

- Suresh, India

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From: : C Kameswara Rao

I am including a note on pollen, in response to the query on pollen drift
and the PTS. In discussions here, I found that pollen are little
understood.
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Pollen drift: Pollen of only some species are wind-borne and drift to
considerable distances. Pine pollen get carried to several kilometers.
But, then pine pollen have wings serving as floats. Pollen of anemophilous
(wind dispersed) species (rice, wheat, corn) are relatively smaller in
size, (usually <30 micrometers) have smooth outer surface (exine) and are
relatively dry and powdery single grains. A number of factors, such as
wind speed, humidity, down gradient, etc., are important in determining
the distance such pollen travel.. These pollen are produced by
structurally very simple and dry florets that do not secrete any nectar.
Bees and butterflies do not go near these species. Pollen of entomophilous
(dispersed by insects vectors) species (cotton) are larger in size (>30
micrometers), have extensive surface ornamentation, contain higher levels
of water, and also have copious surface protein depositions. They are
heavier also because they usually occur in clumps. They have less chance
of drifting in wind to any considerable distance; may be a kilometer.
There is considerable literature on this aspect.

Hybridisation in nature: Certainly there have been numerous instances of
natural hybridisation between varieties, species and even genera. But
considering the number of reproductive events in nature, these are too
meagre and only matters of scientific interest. Species identity is
protected in nature through reproductive isolation operating through
several reproductive barriers. Without this safeguard, the world would not
have had this many species today. In some species (Brassica crops) there
are mechanisms hindering self pollination. In orchids, that show an
enormous variation in floral structure, reproduction is closely linked to
pollen vectors, and in the absence of these insect vectors in the
environment, there is no reproduction. Though interspecific and
intergeneric hybridisation are not of normal occurrence in nature, it is
possible to artificially produce sexual hybrids, as exemplified by orchid
hybrids synthesised from five genera, the mules, tiglion, liger, etc.
There are intricate mechanisms, mediated by chemical compounds like
lectins, in the recognition of the appropriate pollen by a stigma. We need
to distinguish between pollen germinability (the ability to produce a
pollen tube) and viability (the ability to deliver functional gametes into
the embryo sac). This affects reproduction but not allergenic potential.

Pollen of several graminaceous crops such as rice, wheat, corn., etc.,
contain three nuclei at the time of dispersal. Such trinucleate pollen
have notoriously short viability, often less than an hour; some have a
life of only a few minutes. The mere landing of pollen on the stigma is no
guide to its participation in reproduction, just as the presence of a
pathogen in a host is not necessarily an evidence of pathogenesis. Even if
pollen of GM crops land on the stigmas of other species/varieties of crop
plants, there is no chance for any reproductive participation of these
pollen.

Pollen Transformation System: This is an interesting and much awaited
development. In the conventional transgenic systems the introduced gene is
in a single dose while the rest of the genome is in double (or multiple)
dose and is heterozygous for various genes. In GMOs produced through PTS
the introduced gene gets into a double dose on diploidisation and also the
product is totally homozygous.

PTS opens up a new chapter of pollen biotechnology and at the same time
may lead to new problems, as for example, material and intellectual
property right protection. It is far easier to pilfer and transport the
selected pollen.