Fifth Nobel Laureate to Endorse the Agbioworld Declaration: Paul Berg -
Architect of Genetic Engineering
Professor Paul Berg, the 'father' of genetic engineering and the recipient
of 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his fundamental studies on
recombinant-DNA is the fifth Nobel laureate to endorse Agbioworld
declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology. Four other Nobel
laureates - James Watson, Norman Borlaug, John Boyer and Peter Doherty
have earlier endorsed this petition.
Prof. Berg according the Nobel site (http://www.nobel.se) " was the first
investigator to construct a recombinant-DNA molecule" and adds that "The
investigations of Berg, Gilbert and Sanger have given us a detailed
insight into the chemical basis of the genetic machinery in living
organisms. They have already formed the foundation for important technical
According to Access Excellence
(http://www.accessexcellence.org/AB/BC/Paul_Berg.html), "Paul Berg
witnessed firsthand the history of recombinant DNA research and
regulation, having been in the forefront of both movements since he was a
young man. He became a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University
School of Medicine in 1959, when he was 33. He was elected to the National
Academy of Sciences before he was 40, and he gained early recognition and
influence when he delineated the key steps in which DNA produces proteins.
Berg was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1980 for his work with
"In the mid-1970s, the National Academy of Sciences asked Berg to explore
the safety of recombinant DNA technology. He responded with the historic
"Berg letter," calling for a moratorium on recombinant DNA research until
safety issues could be addressed. He was one of the key organizers of the
international forum on recombinant DNA technology, the Asilomar
Conference, which took place in February of 1975. One hundred leading
scientists met at the conference to discuss the potential risks of
gene-splicing experiments. The ensuing dialogue resulted in the National
Institutes of Health guidelines published a year later, a milestone of
responsible self-regulation in science."
At Stanford, his current research has implications in gene therapy and
I thank Professor Berg for his support to this effort and deeply
appreciate his endorsement.
- C. S. Prakash
From: Julian Morris
Sub: Hypocrisy of Greenpeace
Greenpeace promises not to halt trials of GM vitamin rice
By Steve Connor in Lyon The Independent (London) 10 February 2001
Greenpeace has promised not to sabotage a forthcoming trial on genetically
modified (GM) rice, because of the strong moral arguments in favour of
producing a staple crop that could alleviate childhood blindness.
It is believed to be the first time that the environmental activists, who
have spearheaded attempts to sabotage and disrupt GM crop trials in
Britain, have accepted the questionable morality of destroying something
aimed at preventing children from going blind. Benedikt Haerlin, a senior
figure in Greenpeace International, said that although he opposes the
release of all GM crops into the environment, he believes that "golden
rice" enriched with vitamin A, is an exception to the Greenpeace rule of
search and destroy.
"The trials of GM 'golden rice' will not be the target of Greenpeace
action, I'm quite sure about that," Mr Haerlin told the World Life Science
Forum in Lyon. "I feel that 'golden rice' is a moral challenge to our
position. It is true there is a different moral context, whether you have
an insecticidal or pesticide-resistant GM, or whether you have a GM
product that serves a good purpose."
"Golden rice" is being developed at the Rice Research Institute in the
Philippines, with charitable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in
the US. Laboratory research will be followed by the first field trials,
according to Ingo Potrykus, the former head of the project. Rice is the
staple crop for more than half the world's population, but it lacks
vitamin A in high enough levels to prevent blindness in an estimated
50,000 children a month.
"Golden rice" has extra genes inserted, which artificially boost vitamin-A
production in the plant. Scientists also hope to engineer the plant still
further to boost levels of iron, another vital element largely missing
However, Greenpeace claimed yesterday that children would have to eat a
9kg bucketful of the rice each day, to satisfy all their daily dietary
requirements. "It is a fool's gold", it claimed. "It is inconceivable that
a single technological fix could solve this problem," Mr Haerlin said. "If
we made a concerted effort to use the anti-vitamin A deficiency measures
we have at the moment, we could be in the position of finding that vitamin
A deficiency is under control by the time this 'golden rice' is ready," he
Claims by the biotechnology industry that "golden rice" will save the
sight of 50,000 children a month, and that attempts to oppose the GM rice
are tantamount to condemning these children to a life of blindness is
reprehensible, Mr Haerlin said. "It is important not to poison an
important debate about environmental impact, by using the misery of
millions of people of this world. This is deplorable. It will not lead us
to an educated and unbiased discussion about this rice," he said.
Dr Potrykus said that the efficiency of the GM technique could improve
with further research. "What matters is that we have something extra to
prevent vitamin deficiency," he said.
"My motivation is to help those 50,000 children blinded every month, and
to help those mothers who die because of iron deficiency. That was the
reason that I did the work."
Greenpeace backs down on GM rice protests By Roger Highfield, Telegraph,
Science Editor, in Lyons
GREENPEACE backed down from its stand against GM crops yesterday by
admitting that it would not oppose field trials of "golden" rice, being
developed to combat blindness in the Third World.
The environmental group has been stung by claims that 50,000 people go
blind for each month that the rice, enriched with vitamin A, is delayed.
In Britain, the group has campaigned vigorously against GM crops.
Activists including Lord Melchett, a former Greenpeace chief, have
sabotaged field trials because they fear that the crops could lead to
However, the group's opposition has been criticised because its fears of
ill-defined risks could hinder attempts to combat Third World hunger. A
spokesman for Greenpeace International said yesterday that it would not
attack field trials of the GM rice in the Philippines. Benedikt Haerlin,
of Greenpeace International, said it was unfortunate that the group had
been told that any delay to the programme would result in millions of
deaths and thousands of children going blind. Such claims were an "abuse
of the misery of millions of people", he said. But he admitted that
"golden" rice posed a moral challenge to Greenpeace.
Mr Haerlin maintained that the rice had not been proven to be safe. But,
even though he thought large-scale use of the rice would be dangerous, the
trials would not be a Greenpeace target. He said the "golden" rice posed a
tough question for Greenpeace. Experimental GM crops with insecticide and
herbicide were fair game to trample. But the rice was in a different moral
context because it served a good purpose, he said.
However, he cast doubt on whether the crop could treat malnutrition. He
claimed that a vast amount of the rice, 3.7 kilograms, would have to be
eaten each day to obtain enough vitamin A. Mr Haerlin claimed that if the
same effort and propaganda investigated in "golden" rice were invested in
traditional approaches to improve Third World diets, "vitamin A deficiency
would be under control by the time this rice is marketed".
The creator of the rice is Prof Ingo Potrykus, of the ETH in Zurich. His
basic motivation was to help children in the developing world. But he
admitted that he was uncomfortable with how his work was being used by the
biotechnology industry to justify genetic modification.
Vitamin A deficiency affects up to 800 million children, or 14 per cent of
the world population. The deficiencies are especially severe in developing
countries where the major staple food is rice. To help overcome this type
of malnutrition, polished kernels of "golden" rice contain provitamin A.
From: "Indur M. Goklany"
Subject:Letter to BMJ: Eating GM rice or going blind from VAD
The following letter lays out some of the competing options with respect
to Vitamin A enhanced GM rice.
Will children eat GM rice, or risk blindness from vitamin A deficiency?
Indur M. Goklany, Roger Bate, Kendra Okonski, Manager, Science and
Engineering; Office of Policy Analysis, US Department of the Interior
We were struck by the photograph -- provocatively captioned, "Will these
children be eating genetically modified rice in the future?" -- which
accompanied Mr. Mudur's article on an Indian proposal to grow
bioengineered crops to help reduce vitamin A deficiency. (1) However, it
only raises half the issue. The other half of the issue is summed up by a
parallel question: "Or will these children go blind from vitamin A
We have taken the liberty of putting the two halves together, with
Caption: Will these children be eating genetically modified rice in the
future? (BMJ 2001; 322:126. Photo credit: Jean Sprague/Panos Pictures)
Caption: Or will they risk going blind from vitamin A deficiency? Photo:
"A girl blind from corneal scarring, probably due to vitamin A deficiency
precipitated by measles infection." Courtesy: Sight and Life (Quarter 1,
1998), a newsletter of the Sight and Life Task Force (PO Box 2116, 4002
Basel, Switzerland. Editor: Martin Frigg,
By providing only half the picture (literally), the otherwise balanced
news report risks creating for your readers the same trap as seems to have
snared many advocates of a ban on GM crops. Such a ban has been justified
on the basis of the precautionary principle, the environmentalists'
version of the Hippocratic oath. But unfortunately while this
justification takes credit for reducing risks that might result from a ban
on GM crops (as hinted in photograph 1), it does not account for any risks
generated (or prolonged) by the ban (depicted in photograph 2). Death and
disease associated with vitamin A deficiency (VAD) are merely one class of
malnutrition-related risks that such a ban might prolong. According to the
World Health Organisation, each year vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is
responsible for at least 350,000 pre-school children going totally or
partially blind, about 60% of whom die within a few months of going blind
(2). It also contributes to 1.1 million childhood deaths annually because
of synergism between VAD and measles infection (2).
Most formulations of the precautionary principle provide no guidance for
evaluating a policy if it results simultaneously in uncertain benefits and
uncertain harm. This contributes to one-sided accounting which, in turn,
could result in a cure that is worse than the disease. In a recent policy
study titled, "Applying the Precautionary Principle to Genetically
Modified Crops", one of us has developed a framework to evaluate just such
policies, where the net result might be ambiguous because their effects --
both beneficial and harmful -- are uncertain (3). 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 a ban
would reduce or aggravate those effects. Based on this, that study
concludes that such a ban would more likely than not do more harm to
public health (partly because it would make it harder to reduce vitamin A
deficiency) as well as to the environment (because it would increase the
amount of land and water devoted to agriculture, further intensifying the
major threats to global biodiversity).
Indur M. Goklany (4) Manager, Science and Engineering Office of Policy
Analysis, United States Department of the Interior, Washington, DC 20240
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Roger Bate (Fellow) and Kendra Okonski
(Research Assistant) Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut
Avenue, NW, Suite 1250, Washington, DC 20036 E-mail: email@example.com and
1. Mudur, G. India's plans to grow GM crops draw flak. BMJ 2001; 322: 126.
(20 January.) 2. World Health Organisation. Vitamin A deficiency.
Available athttp://www.who.int/vaccines-diseases/diseases/vitamin_a.htm 3.
Goklany, Indur M. Applying the precautionary principle to genetically
modified crops. St. Louis, Missouri: Center for the Study of American
Business, Washington University, 2000. Available from the Social Science
Research Electronic Network at
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?cfid=76796&cftoken=89182273&abstract_id=246530 4. Views expressed here are the author's and not necessarily
those of the Department of the Interior or any other unit of the U.S.
From: "Bob Orskov"
The article by Robert Tripp is a very sober and accurate assessment of the
biotech,world- hunger, resource-poor farmer issues are concerned. As I
have mentioned in my previous contribution I am not against the
introduction of well researched GM technologies but what bothers me is the
arrogance and ignorance displayed by some GM enthusiasts in their apparent
belief that they have the solutions to the problems of world hunger. As I
wrote before, there are other and more appropriate means of increasing
food availability than by using GM crops. No doubt Golden rice will find
its place if it can be introduced without too much profit being skimmed
off on the way.
For many years I have been involved in Project and constraint
identification in rural areas in about 30 developing countries in Africa
and Asia so I can claim to have some experience! This in no way means that
I consider myself as an expert in these matters as each situation is
extremely complex and one is continuously learning. . In my experience,
which I think is shared by Robert Tripp, it is important that constraints
for resource- poor farmers and rural development in general are identified
in the correct order. There is little point in providing solutions for the
2nd, 3rd,or 4th constraints and blaming the farmers for being ignorant in
not using the solution! I have to admit that I have not yet found a single
situation where the 1st constraint could be solved by using existing GM
technologies. That does not mean they will not exist but only I have not
as yet found any. All too often, inappropriate technologies have been
pushed into countries by aggressive salesmen with the net result that some
already rich people may have benefited further distorting wealth
distribution and contributing more to the exacerbation of poverty rather
than its alleviation
Vatican Concern at Gene Transplant into Crops
By Roger Highfield, Daily Telegraph, UK, 9 February 2001
THE transplant of human genes into crops is the latest scientific issue to
trigger debate in the Catholic Church, it emerged at the conference. In
London, Ontario, trials have been conducted of tobacco plants that contain
a human gene for interleukin 10 to mass-produce the protein which Dr
Anthony Jevnikar and his colleagues believe could help treat bowel
Within the Catholic Church, this kind of research has triggered a debate
about whether such a crop marked the creation of a "chimeric new being",
said one of the delegates, Prof Alain Lejeune of the Catholic University
of Louvain, Belgium. Prof Lejeune is one of the 50 members of the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences which organises meetings of 500 experts
each year to assess the current state of science for the Pope - what is
good, not good, and what is dangerous. The introduction of human genes
into plants will be debated at the end of this month, he said. "The
academy is very interested in all developments in biotechnology for human
life, pharmaceuticals and food."
The Vatican is not against blood and organ donation or the culture of
cells to make skin for medical treatments, or the implant of human genes
in a bacterium to make a drug. But it is concerned that the use of plants
to make human proteins could mark the start of turning human beings into
commodities. Prof Lejeune said: "We are discussing this problem. If it
allows one to fight Aids, it is a good use. But if it is used to make
people sterile, it is not."
Monsanto pledges dialogue on biotechnology
The St. Louis Post Dispatch Thursday, February 8, 2001
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR :
The Feb. 1 editorial, "USDA needs a new attitude," made a valid point that
the ability to pursue the benefits of agricultural biotechnology will be
directly related to a willingness to discuss and address people's interest
and concerns with the technology.
The editorial also made the point that the U.S. Department of Agriculture
would need to take a prominent role in leading an informed, open
discussion on biotechnology.
I believe very strongly that the biotechnology industry, and my company,
Monsanto, specifically, have an equally important role in furthering the
open discussion about this technology. In November, I made a series of
public commitments on behalf of Monsanto called the New Monsanto Pledge.
The pledge embodies our commitment to everyone who cares about agriculture
throughout the world, and includes most prominently a commitment to
dialogue, pledging: "We will work with all parties, including customers,
to understand the concerns about agricultural biotechnology."
We are already making substantial progress in forming an external advisory
panel including a panel of people with diverse perspectives on the issue.
We fully intend to have this advisory panel help us further an open
dialogue about biotechnology.
Agricultural biotechnology has tremendous promise to deliver benefits
today and in the future. Already, biotech crops are reducing farmers'
reliance on synthetic chemical pesticides by millions of gallons a year.
And, going forward, biotechnology will help us develop food that is
healthier and may even save people's lives.
These are benefits that are real and far too profound to lose. At
Monsanto, we recognize the importance of addressing the concerns about
biotechnology and believe the commitments we've made in the New Monsanto
Pledge can inspire a continuing dialogue that will allow us all to realize
the promise biotechnology holds.
Hendrik A. Verfaillie
President and Chief Executive, Monsanto Co.
Subject: Conway agrees with Shiva/New Scientists supports more research on
alternatives to GM
These 2 items would seem to bear heavily on recent discussions.
The New Scientist editorial was prompted by the recent Pretty study and
concludes: "For some, talk of "sustainable agriculture" sounds like a
luxury the poor can ill afford. But in truth it is good science,
addressing real needs and delivering real results. For too long it has
been the preserve of environmentalists and a few aid charities. It is time
for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to
join the revolution."
The Guardian article deals with the much discussed concerns about the
promotion of golden rice and contains the following quote from Gordon
Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation: "I agree with Dr Shiva that the
public relations uses of golden rice have gone too far. "
rice promoters 'have gone too far'
Paul Brown, Saturday February 10, 2001 The Guardian
Claims by the biotech industry and some US politicians that genetically
engineered "golden rice" would save the sight of 500,000 children a year
are exaggerated, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, which is funding
the rice's development.
The project, which has been used worldwide by supporters of genetically
modified crops as a justification for the technology, appears likely to
generate only a fraction of the additional vitamin A intake it once
promised. Vitamin A helps prevent eye disease. If consumers were on a diet
of 300g (11oz) of the GM rice a day - the average consumption of an Asian
adult - it would provide only 8% of the required daily intake of the
vitamin, according to independent scientists.
An adult would, in effect, have to eat 9kg of cooked rice (the equivalent
of 3.75kg of uncooked rice) a day to satisfy the required intake and a
pregnant woman would need twice that amount. The Rockefeller Foundation
says that the public relations campaign based on golden rice has "gone too
Syngenta, the agribusiness company which owns many of the patents on the
rice, has in the past claimed that a single month of marketing delay would
cause 50,000 children to go blind. The main deficiency problem is found in
India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines where
the lack of vitamin A in a rice diet causes childhood blindness and up to
1m deaths a year. Adding beta-carotene to rice, which the body turns into
vitamin A, turns it yellow, hence the name golden rice.
The rice's development has provided a powerful propaganda tool for the GM
industry. The then US president Bill Clinton said last year: "If we could
get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of
rice especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could
save 4,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying." A number
of bio-tech firms, including Syngenta and Monsanto, were credited with
licensing patents on golden rice which would allow the technology to "be
made available free of charge for humanitarian uses in any developing
Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said: "It is clear that the GM industry has
been making false claims about golden rice. It is nonsense to think anyone
would or could eat this much rice, and there is still no proof that it can
provide any significant vitamin benefits anyway.
"Our view is that the billions of pounds that has been spent developing
this rice and the false hopes it has raised has diverted valuable
resources away from more sensible ways of tackling VAD deficiency. "Far
from saving children's sight, 'golden rice' is preventing other more
certain methods being developed."
In response to a report by Vandana Shiva, an Indian campaigner against GM
foods, Rockefeller Foundation spokesman Gordon Conway said: "First it
should be stated that we do not consider golden rice to be the solution to
the vitamin A deficiency problem. Rather it provides an excellent
complement to fruits, vegetables and animal products in diets, and to
various fortified foods and vitamin supplements."
He said that for poor families lacking, for example, 10%, 20% or 50% of
the required daily intake of vitamin A, golden rice could be useful,
although even the best lines of rice produced by the bio-tech companies,
reported in the journal Science, could contribute only 15% to 20% of the
daily requirement. He added: "I agree with Dr Shiva that the public
relations uses of golden rice have gone too far. "The industry's
advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a
research product that needs considerable further development before it
will be available to farmers and consumers."
Mr Conway added, however, that he still thought that golden rice has the
potential to make an important contribution to reducing vitamin A
THE GREENER REVOLUTION
February 3, 2001 Editorial, New Scientist
IT SOUNDS like an environmentalist's dream. Low-tech "sustainable
agriculture", shunning chemicals in favour of natural pest control and
fertiliser, is pushing up crop yields on poor farms across the world,
often by 70 per cent or more. But it's no dream. That's the claim being
made in the biggest ever survey of green-minded farming (see p 16). The
findings will make sobering reading for people convinced that only
genetically modified crops can feed the planet's hungry in the 21st
The gains are greatest among poor farmers. This is not surprising. The
high-tech green revolution that has doubled global food production in
little more than a generation was always designed for big mechanised farms
on the best land, using capital to buy pesticides and fertilisers the new
high-yielding plant varieties need. It was never a blueprint for working
the poorer land, or helping illiterate farmers with plenty of labour and
ingenuity but little capital.
Yet over the past 30 years, these farmers have been pushed into
half-heartedly adopting this revolution. While some have gained, this
hand-me-down technology has not served them well.
The survey shows there is a better way. A new science-based revolution is
gaining strength built on real research into what works best on the small
farms where a billion or more of the world's hungry live and work.
For some, talk of "sustainable agriculture" sounds like a luxury the poor
can ill afford. But in truth it is good science, addressing real needs and
delivering real results. For too long it has been the preserve of
environmentalists and a few aid charities. It is time for the major
agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the
Ecology of Transgenic Crops
Michelle Marvier The American Scientist Mar-Apr 2001 (see
http://americanscientist.org/articles/01articles/Marvier.html for full
Genetically engineered plants might generate weed problems and affect
nontarget organisms, but measuring the risk is difficult
Abstract: Concerns about risks posed by transgenic agricultural crops
generally focus on direct risks to human health. There is, however, a set
of potential ecological risks that bears equal scrutiny. Transgenic crops
designed to resist or kill herbivores, for example, may spread their genes
to non-crop species, producing virulent weed species. Likewise, these
crops may negatively affect populations of beneficial insects, as was the
case in the recent controversial finding that transgenic corn may increase
mortality in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Assessing such risks is
inherently difficult, but the impact of ignoring them could be