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February 11, 2001


Attack on Humanitarian Rice Continues; Oops! We Are Full of


The following note posted to the newsgroup 'GM-act' (majordomo@foe.co.uk)
shows that, despite some encouraging reports, Greenpeace continues to
vehemently oppose 'Golden Rice' and reaffirms its intent to pursue
'action' over rice trials.

See below also for their continued use of wrong math (or inability to
read?) as they refer to Agbioview posting although Dr. Ingo Potrykus
clearly said "We want to provide rice, which has enough provitamin A,
........we are, possibly, already in the 20-40% range of the daily
allowance. (Using the Greenpeace argument for 100% would mean people would
have to eat between 5-2.5 times 300 g of rice, which is 0.75 to 1.5 kg,
not 9. Of course, our goal is to have an effect with 300 g). "
From: Emma Gibson
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2001 1:02 PM

Dear all

You will/may have read some disturbing reports in this Saturday's papers
(the Times, Telegraph & Indy) to the extent that Greenpeace either
approves of the "moral goals of GM rice" or that Greenpeace will not take
part in any action or protest over GM rice trials (which are happening in
the Phillipines).

These reports are based on a press conference in France where a Greenpeace
spokesperson was extensively quoted. There is, however, no truth in these
statements! Greenpeace policy has not changed. Neither the moral nor the
environmental issues have changed. Greenpeace is against any release of GM
into the environment because of the potential risks; and Greenpeace
reserves its right to take action to prevent any such release.

Genetically engineered rice containing provitamin A will not solve the
problem of malnutrition in developing countries. The GE industry is
cynically making false promises about 'Golden Rice' in a desperate attempt
to find a new market for its unwanted products. Greenpeace calculations
show that an adult would have to eat at least 3.7 kilos of dry weight rice
ie around 9 kilos of cooked rice, to satisfy his/her daily need of vitamin
A from 'Golden rice'. This is 12 times the normal intake.

Even Ingo Potrykus, creator of 'Golden Rice' has expressed concerns about
some of the claims made about it:

"...I share Greenpeace's disgrace about the heavy PR campaign of some
agbiotech companies using results from our experiments, which were
exclusively done within public research institutions, and using
exclusively public funding." (1)

For more information and an excellent briefing entitled 'Reality vs
Fiction' visit this website

(1)Statement from Ingo Potrykus taken from AgBioView website

How we were 'genetically modified' by bacteria

Roger Highfield, Electronic Telegraph (from www.checkbiotech.org)

The claim that it is "unnatural" to create genetically modified creatures
by moving genes between different species received a knock yesterday with
the discovery that hundreds of our genes probably originated from bacteria.

The remarkable revelation that we are all a bit microbial, that dozens of
our genes have been created by parasites called transposable elements, or
"transposons", underlines how nature is stranger than we can conceive.

These alien influences on our genetic make-up are reported in the journal
Nature by the publicly-funded International Human Genome Sequencing
Consortium, including Sir John Sulston of the Sanger Centre near
Cambridge, and Dr Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute, near Boston.

The consortium found 223 genes that are the codes for proteins very
similar to those made by bacteria, including one that plays a role in
depression. These genes have no similarity to those of the yeast, worm,
fly and mustard seed, the other organisms whose genetic secrets are now
laid bare. The team rules out contamination as a possible explanation -
despite claims to the contrary by its commercial rivals - and suspects
that the genes were transferred to humans from bacteria, given that
bacteria often exchange genes in their equivalent of sex.

Bacteria are not the only parasites that seem to have been tampering with
our DNA. There are also genetic parasites, "duplicate me" instructions
that have been passed down over the generations. With names such as Lines,
Sines, Ltr retrotransposons and DNA transposons, these parasites are a
significant fraction of our genetic code, representing 13, 20, eight and
three per cent respectively. The consortium has focused on the most common
Sine parasite, called an "Alu", and found that it likes to lurk in
gene-rich regions. There is evidence that there has been a 13-fold
enrichment in these regions over the past 30 million years and these
"selfish" elements "may benefit us in some way". One scientist has
suggested that, under stress, the parasites may go into action to enable a
richer repertoire of proteins to be made to help us to cope. In other
words, these particular parasites "earn their keep in the genome".

Although transposons have only one aim in life: to copy themselves, the
consortium points out that these selfish pieces of DNA have been
responsible for important innovations in our genetic recipe. Before
yesterday's announcements, it was known that at least 20 human genes had
been created by transposons. Now the figure is 47. Many more genes have
been shaped by the parasites: few hundred genes use genetic instructions
donated by LTR transposons.

The papers in Nature and Science also reveal vast stretches of desert-like
regions, about one quarter of the genome, where the sequence of genetic
letters does not spell out any genes at all. "You find regions of the
chromosomes that are very dense with genes," said Dr Craig Venter. "And
then regions of the chromosomes that we call deserts that are virtually
void of genes." The "best reads" in the human genome are chromosomes 17,
19 and 22, which are gene rich. In contrast, four, 18, 13 and the sex
chromosomes - the X and Y - are comparatively barren. Dr Venter said women
will appreciate the discovery that the Y chromosome carried by men "is
absolutely pathetic. There is just not much there. It is very sparse in


Seeds of Godlike Power
Times of India. February 11, 2001

Inspired by one of Emerson's essays, Mathew Arnold, the English poet,
wrote in the 19th century about the ``seeds of godlike power''. He was
referring to a human being's great potential for progress, but his happy
phrase fits the new miracle seeds that will help India create a "second
Green Revolution".

The seeds are a product of biotechnology. They are resistant to pests, and
the crop doesn't have to be sprayed with costly pesticides. Farmers love
them because they don't have to spend on costly pesticides and they raise
yields and income by 30 to 50 per cent. Consumers like them because the
food is less toxic and more nutritious. Many seeds are also
nutritionally-enhanced. For example, you won't feel guilty eating the new
potatoes because you will get protein in addition to starch in your diet.

No wonder, the seeds cover 44.2 million hectares in 13 countries on six
continents. Eight of these countries are industrialised and five are
developing. In the past five years, genetically -improved crops have grown
25 fold in acreage -- a dramatic rate of adoption for any new technology.
Tragically, India's farmers have not been allowed to experience this
miracle. China, our rival, has beaten us in this race as well.

The new cottonseed, called Bt cotton, is especially popular because it is
resistant to the dreaded bollworm, which attacks 70 per cent of India's
cotton crop and destroys 35 to 50 per cent of it every year. Hence, 36 per
cent of the US and 10 per cent of Chinese cotton crop is planted with Bt
cotton seed. If our Andhra farmers had used it, their crop would have
survived and we might have prevented suicides. Bt cotton is not available
to Indian farmers because our regulators have not approved it despite six
years of successful trials by Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Corporation (Mayco),
the seed company. Similarly, Proagro's mustard seeds have been tested to
death for seven years and they have not been yet been approved.

Chinese bureaucrats, in contrast, take a more practical approach. They saw
that Bt cotton was being extensively used in America and a dozen
countries, and it had cleared the rigorous requirements of the US FDA. So,
they decided not to re-invent the wheel, but to merely check Bt cotton's
bio-safety in their soil and climates. Hence, 18 months after trials,
Chinese farmers had begun to enjoy its fruits while Indian farmers were
committing suicides. Our two largest cotton-growing competitors, the US
and China have, thus, taken a lead over us. When global agricultural
markets open up -- and the day is not far -- our rivals will be better
positioned because their costs will be lower and their yields higher.

As with any breakthrough, genetically -improved seeds have plenty of
critics, especially in Europe, including Prince Charles. They are creating
a scare in people's mind without a shred of scientific evidence. Since
most seeds are the discoveries of international companies, there is also
the usual anti-MNC prejudice. European NGOs have funded Indian NGOs in
order to stop transgenic seeds here and they are spreading plenty of
disinformation. They have even taken the Indian government to court for
approving the Bt cotton trials. Meanwhile, Professor Nanjundaswamy
instigated 3,000 farmers in Karnataka on January 3, 2001 and they uprooted
Mayco's trials in two locations. According to scientists, the European
stand is emotional and based on unknown future risks and not on data. But
these vocal critics have slowed our bureaucrats and made them timid.

Fortunately, our bio-safety regulations are in place and our trials are
well-advanced. If they are not stopped either by obstructive bureaucrats,
or eco-terrorists or the courts, the Indian farmer will be able to plant
the miracle cotton in the next season, mustard in 2002, potato, tomato,
cauliflower and brinjal in 2003. Transgenic wheat is ahead of rice but the
farmer won't see it before 2005.

Remember, India has only two per cent of the world's arable land, one per
cent of the world's rainfall but 16 per cent of world's people. Indian
farm yields are only half or one-third of our competitors. The hybrids of
the first Green Revolution have stopped giving productivity gains.
Remember, also, that our first Green Revolution in the sixties was not an
accident. Bold individuals created it -- they flew in the new dwarf wheat
from Mexico and distributed it to Punjab's farmers. Had they waited for
endless trials, our first Green Revolution would not have happened. In
comparison, our second Green Revolution so far is a sordid tale of
apathetic, timid bureaucrats, misguided NGOs and eco-terrorists who are
robbing our farmers' future.


Letters: Food for thought
National Post, Page C15 February 12, 2001

Re: GM Food Fight (Jan. 15).
The letter penned by well-known critics of genetically engineered foods
(four members of the anti-GE group, GE Alert, and a retired philosopher)
is yet another example of scientific cherry-picking coupled with what can
only be described as a quasi-religious objection to GE food based on

The authors of the letter object to Dr. Henry Miller's original piece
because Dr. Miller, they say, argued from a position of advocacy and has
therefore "voluntarily surrendered his scientific credibility." The
authors then proceed to offer a rant based primarily on their own
particular brand of advocacy.

For example, the authors state that "a large and growing body of
scientists (worldwide) assuredly do not agree" with the position of
advocacy towards GE food held by Dr. Miller. Such a suggestion is
contradicted by both published research and general evidence. A recent
paper in the British Food Journal showed 79% of academic, non-GE industry
funded, life scientists in Ireland disagreed with the idea of banning GE
food. Results also show a collapse in trust among these scientists in
information from concern/pressure groups. Also, anecdotal evidence such as
the 3,000-plus scientists who have signed a petition in support of
agricultural biotechnology
(http://www.agbioworld.org/PHP/index.phtml) suggests that the authors may
be ignoring the facts to promote their cause.

The statement that a "lie" is being told in suggesting that GE technology
is more precise and predictable than other methods of crop production is,
at best, being economical with the truth. While genetic insertions are
random, GE technology is more precise than conventional breeding and can
help prevent conventional breeding mishaps. One such example is the case
of a potato variety called Lenape (developed by traditional breeding)
which was withdrawn from the U.S. market in the 1960s when it was found to
contain dangerously high levels of potato toxins called solanidine
glycosides. A second example occurred in the mid-1980s, when U.S. growers
abandoned a variety of celery (developed by traditional methods) because
it contained high levels of psoralens, which become irritants when
activated by sunlight: As a result, workers picking the celery developed
skin rashes.

The authors proceed to describe the refugia measures taken by farmers to
prevent insect resistance to GE Bt crops as "wishful thinking." However,
research published by Shelton et al. last March in Nature Biotechnology
shows the relative success of the refugia measures in farm scale trials.
The so-called "triply resistant canola" is actually quite destructible and
the reductions in chemical use on certain GE crops are real and
increasingly well-documented

Genetic engineering is a powerful technology warranting scepticism and
continual vigilance. While all new technologies are oversold, assertions
of impending doom should equally be taken with a large grain of pure,
naturally occurring, non-GE salt.

- Shane Morris, research associate, Centre for Safe Food, Department of
Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph
One has to wonder who is, in fact, guilty of a diatribe. Certainly the
letter authored by Alfred et al. qualifies as a fulminating verbal attack
which, according to my dictionary, defines a diatribe. Unfortunately, such
intemperance appears increasingly characteristic of those who oppose
biotechnology. Emotion tends to overrule logic. Alfred et al. also charge
that, by taking a pro-GMO position, Dr. Miller necessarily surrenders his
scientific credibility. Are we then left with the supposition that Mr.
Alfred and his colleagues, by taking a stance against "these transgenic
abominations," necessarily enhance their own credibility? Having read
their letter, I think not!

The truth is that the science of genetically modified corn is well
established. It has been clearly shown, for example, that corn plants
containing the genes for Cry1A or Cry9C protein exhibit reduced attack by
the European corn borer and higher yields. It has been further
demonstrated that these plants, because of decreased insect damage, also
suffer reduced infection by fungi. The levels of fungal toxins in the
grain are thus lower as well. And contrary to the position taken by Alfred
et al., practical experience in the field has demonstrated that the
likelihood of resistant populations of corn borer is significantly reduced
by planting refuge strips of non-modified corn. All of this means that
corn yields can be maintained without chemical sprays which, because of
overspray and winddrift, also kill non-target (and perhaps beneficial)
insects in the surrounding environment.

It is true that StarLink did slip through a monitoring system that was set
up to protect the public. That should not have happened. On the other
hand, there is no evidence that Cry9C protein is allergenic, any more so
than its Cry1A counterpart which has been approved for several years, and
all the preliminary evidence suggests that it is not likely to be.

I don't think Dr. Miller or anyone else has suggested that genetically
modified organisms will solve all the world's problems. Even farmers who
use the technology are finding that it does not necessarily work to their
advantage in all situations. But the technology is a new and useful tool
which has significant potential for solving some food-related problems,
now and in the future.

- William G. Hopkins, professor emeritus, Department of Plant Sciences,
University of Western Ontario


Which Way Is The Wind Blowing?

Greenpeace issued a press release on Friday blasting genetically improved
rice that could save thousands of children from blindness and death,
a.k.a. "Golden Rice." In response, the creator of the rice took Greenpeace
to task for its opposition
(http://agbioview.listbot.com/cgi-bin/subscriber?Act=view_message&list_id=agbioview&msg_num=979&start_num=) . By Saturday, Greenpeace sensed a public
backlash and begrudgingly backed down. It's just another example of how
supposedly dedicated activists are really only interested in an issue if
they can use it to garner public support for fundraising. Take away the
money and see how fast their position changes.


Kernels of Truth

By Karl A. Thiel , FORBES ASAP February 19, 2001

Call it the new colonialism. Europe has a new power over farmers in
distant lands, controlling what they grow and what they don't, demanding
that they use certain farming methods even if it means ignoring
technologies that could improve yields, feed more people, and save lives.

Despite the proven benefits of genetically modified (GM) foods and the
promise of better things to come, continuing controversy has led to
European Union policies and regulations that limit growing and selling GM
foods (sometimes called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs). These
policies have had a sweeping impact worldwide, confusing researchers,
scaring off investors, and hurting farmers.

European outcry over GM foods, spurred by organized anti-biotech
activists, has caused regulators to declare that foods with any amount of
genetically modified ingredients must be labeled as such. That creates
problems for exporters and grocery chains, which are reluctant to stock
so-called Frankenfoods. GM critics got a boost in September when
genetically modified StarLink corn, approved in the United States for use
as animal feed but not for human consumption, was found in Taco Bell brand
taco shells, prompting a national recall. "We didn't need the taco shell
problem," sighs Steven Burrill of Burrill & Co., which manages an $86
million agricultural biotechnology investment fund in San Francisco. "It
has had a dramatic impact on the public capital markets, on the
regulators, and on the public companies. Every company that's in
ag-biotech is trying to say that what they are doing doesn't create or
augment GMOs." Tellingly, Burrill's fund has not invested in companies
that create GMOs. Rather, he has favored companies with information and
genomics technologies that could help in identifying important genetic

But there's more at stake than the fluctuations of the stock market. If
the chilling effect of public opposition halts new research, we could lose
a host of new technologies that read like a progressive activist's fondest
wish list: Clean-burning fuels such as combustible alcohols and canola
oils could be efficiently produced with plants that have had their
metabolic pathways engineered by researchers. Such fuels would be
renewable, requiring no drilling and little refining. (Some vehicles in
Europe already run on fuels derived from canola, but making the technology
commercially feasible is still a distant hope.) Genetically engineered
pulp trees might soon require fewer chemical pollutants for the production
of paper. One day, trees may grow faster and stronger as plantation crops
and relieve the pressure to log old-growth forests.

Crops engineered to require less fertilizer would result in less nitrogen
spread on the ground, reducing greenhouse gases and groundwater

Starvation could be eased. In fact, agricultural biotechnology is already
having an impact. Golden rice, engineered to produce high levels of beta
carotene, is being distributed free in Third World countries, where
Vitamin A deficiencies result in hundreds of thousands of cases of
blindness and other preventable illnesses every year. But it is a
transgenic crop, meaning it has genes from another species, the very
definition of what critics deride as Frankenfood.

With golden rice as the model, companies are racing to develop foods they
hope will taste better, last longer, and be more nutritious. Researchers
also seek to expand the food supply by making crops drought-resistant and
salt-tolerant, able to thrive on land currently unsuitable for farming. In
China and elsewhere, efforts are under way to create strains of rice that
would resist rice blast fungus, a devastating crop disease responsible for
famines in Asia.

DO AMERICANS CARE? What are the chances that this important work will be
stopped in the United States, home to some of the world's leading
ag-biotech companies? Europe may be unique for a number of reasons. Cases
of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom and now continental Europe,
dioxin in Belgian food, HIV in the French blood supply, and other recent
government debacles have shaken the faith of the public in their
regulatory agencies. Consequently, many European consumers are unwilling
to accept the government's word that GM foods are safe.

But most surveys show that American consumers are relatively unconcerned
about GM foods, says Thomas J. Hoban, a sociology and food science
professor at North Carolina State University who has monitored public
perception of the foods for more than a decade. Even after the StarLink
incident, biotechnology was near the bottom of the list of things that
worry consumers at the supermarket.

But unlike Europe, in this country, regulatory agencies-the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the
Environmental Protection Agency-oppose mandatory labeling of foods
containing GMOs. An American Medical Association committee recently
concluded that GM foods don't pose serious health risks and don't require
special labeling. The U.S. philosophy, in essence, is that food should be
labeled if these products differ significantly from their conventional
counterparts. In the eyes of the government, the genetic modifications of
current crops don't cross that line because the alterations are tiny
compared with many things that already go unnoted on food labels. "There
are 200 genetically different corn hybrids used to produce the yellow dent
corn for the commodity markets in the U.S., and they're all quite
different," notes Wallace Beversdorf, head of R&D at Novartis Seeds. "They
differ in protein content, oil, in many attributes, including
susceptibility to fungi....We don't label all that. It's still No. 2 dent
corn." Adding a single gene with a single protein product is, for
consumers, irrelevant, he maintains.

David Schmidt, senior vice president for food safety at the International
Food Information Council, argues that labeling would make insignificant
differences look important, and that the scientific language needed to
explain it might in effect become a skull and crossbones in the eyes of

Still, others in the industry are beginning to wonder if labeling might
offer more benefit than burden. "If we had labeling, we probably wouldn't
have had half the chaos we've had," says Burrill. Even Beversdorf concedes
that some form of labeling may be inevitable, particularly if U.S.
consumers, stirred up by the StarLink recall and European outcry, begin to
demand it. Labeling here would also ease efforts toward harmonization of
international trade laws, he acknowledges.

Some go even further. Dave Summa, president and CEO of Mendel
Biotechnologies in Hayward, California, suggests that industry could turn
a perceived liability into a benefit by creating a new category of "green
foods" and communicating the message that they are "grown in a better
way," he says. "What we're doing is growing more food on the same land,
destroying less land by having better growing practices, using fewer
chemicals," Summa says. "We in the industry could get together and say
we're going to create a 'green' mark that would meet certain standards,"
such as 50% lower use of pesticides and fertilizers. "Then people would
feel good about what these technologies are doing." The gulf between the
biotech industry and activist groups may be too broad to span, but
industry still hopes to win over consumers. "Education is important, but
it's not going to be enough," says Keith Walker, president of the Plant
and Industrial Products Division at ValiGen, a San Diego, California,
company researching ways to make drought-resistant and saline-tolerant
crops. Indeed, educating people about biotechnology has become a political
process, with anti-biotech activists on one side, industry on the other,
and the media in the middle. In Europe, Walker suggests, consumers will
need to regain faith in regulators if GM crops are ever going to have a

SEEKING HARMONY For now, the fact that GM foods must be labeled in Europe,
making supermarkets reluctant to touch them, has had ripple effects. One
instance occurred in Canada, where researchers at the Crop Development
Centre at the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) developed a
transgenic strain of flax seed resistant to sulfonylurea herbicides
already in the ground. The herbicides used on cereal grains in western
Canada's alkaline soil do not break down well, making it difficult to grow
broadleaf plants like flax. This new strain could thrive where
conventional varieties withered.

But Europe is a major market for flax, so exporters who ship there would
have to guarantee that their product contains no GM seed, which would be
impossible if the crops were grown anywhere in western Canada. That
requirement meant 10 years of research went down the drain, says Gordon
Rowland, a flax breeder and former director of the Crop Development
Centre. The seeds, which were never planted, are being destroyed and the
product is being deregistered. The hard lesson is that in food-exporting
countries like the United States and Canada, farmers must consider the
demands of Europe as well as domestic regulations, a tricky balancing act.
"If there were tolerances for transgenics in shipments, I'm sure that the
[GM] variety could have gone ahead," says Rowland. "You could have
guaranteed that there would be, at worst, a very low level of any
transgenics in a shipment." But that's not the way it works. "There is
zero tolerance, and that's impossible," he notes. "If you've got a [GM]
variety out there, you cannot absolutely guarantee there won't be some
mixing or contamination at some point in the process." The added irony is
that flax is largely used for its oil, which contains no protein or DNA,
transgenic or otherwise. (Most objections to GM foods have to do with the
fear of consuming novel genes or allowing their "escape" into the
environment, neither of which would be possible after the DNA and proteins
are removed.) In any case, the oil is used largely for industrial
applications such as paints, inks, and linoleum rather than food.

European resistance to GM foods also hurts U.S. sugar beet farmers, who
are struggling against foreign competition. Roundup Ready sugar
beets-already approved for commercial use-would save farmers $90 to $100
per acre in weed control costs, according to Hoban of North Carolina
State. "But they're afraid to implement the technology because of the
downstream processing companies," he says. Major food processing companies
wouldn't want to risk buying the product because the sugar would be
rejected by European grocery stores. This is despite the fact that refined
sugar contains no protein or DNA and would be indistinguishable from
products with a conventional origin.

So far, these kinds of problems are more a matter of economics than
survival. Industry insiders point to the enthusiasm for biotechnology in
countries like China and India, where the focus is less on profit and more
on feeding large populations and averting famine. But as researchers
develop more crops like golden rice, the discontinuity between Europe and
the rest of the world could trigger bigger problems. For example, if an
engineered rice strain resistant to blast fungus were not planted because
of European concerns, an epidemic might cause widespread famine.
"Harmonization [of labeling requirements] is key, but I don't see anything
happening for the next couple years," says Beversdorf, who works in Basel,
Switzerland. "I hope I'm wrong." Meanwhile, the battle for the hearts and
minds of the American public continues. While most consumers remain
sanguine about (or oblivious to) genetically modified foods, researchers
are becoming increasingly discouraged about what they see as a cynical
campaign by activist groups to turn the public against technology that
could help bring relief to a needy world. "Almost 30,000 children die of
nutritionally related diseases in this world every day," says ValiGen's

But arguing in support of the environmental benefits of GMOs may be an
uphill battle. Some of the biotech industry's best potential allies have
already staked out positions in opposition. Greenpeace calls for "no
genetic manipulation of nature," a rallying cry that if taken literally
would outlaw farming practices extending back to the Neolithic Age. In
May, the Sierra Club called for "a moratorium on the planting of all
genetically engineered crops...including those now approved." In the end,
it may be economics that brings us together again. Europe is in essence
demanding its own supply chain of food, and consumers will ultimately pay
for it. For important crops such as soybeans that come from outside
Europe, the onus of assuring GM-free cargo will fall to importers. Such
specialty crops are nothing new; Japanese importers regularly commission
farmers to grow special varieties of soybeans and keep them separate from
other crops. Farmers are happy to oblige-for a price. European shoppers,
who already pay more for food than Americans, may one day become
frustrated with food costs in much the way they balked at high gas prices
last year. At that point, European grocers may have the courage to stock
GM foods, duly labeled, on their shelves.

Karl Thiel is the editor in chief of DailyTwist, an online magazine on the
biotechnology industry published by DoubleTwist.



The Economist, February 8, 2001

The debate about the long-term ecological risks associated with
genetically modified (GM) crops, according to this story, took an unusual
turn this week because amid the acrimony, somebody actually published some
data. The story says that Mick Crawley and his colleagues at Imperial
College London have written up in Nature the results of their decade-long
investigation into the competitive abilities of a number of strains of GM
plant. They found that, far from marching like weeds over the countryside
around their planting sites, the crops in question tended to curl up and
die in the face of competition from wild species. The team's study began
in 1990. At that time only four crop species-rape, maize, sugar beet and
potatoes-had been subjected to genetic modification with a view to
commercial planting. The rape, maize and beet had been modified with genes
intended to promote immunity to herbicides. The potatoes were modified to
resist the attentions of plant-eating insects.

The tests showed that, when untended by people, all four species of crop
did badly. Of the 48 plots planted, 47 went extinct within four years. The
exception, a plot of potatoes, lasted the whole decade. But, more
significantly, the genetically modified varieties tended to do worse than
those produced by traditional methods of plant breeding. The surviving
potatoes, for example, were all of the traditional sort.

The story says that natural selection is very demanding. It will embarrass
genes that are even slightly malign. And traditionally bred varieties have
undergone a process more akin to natural selection than those which have
merely had genes from other species inserted into them. In these cases,
selection is probably acting on the cost in materials and energy of making
the products of the introduced genes (in other words, the protein that
bypasses the herbicide, or the poison that protects against the insect).
Obviously, herbicide resistance is something that is useful only when
there are herbicides around to resist. Otherwise, it is just a cost that
has to be borne.

Insect resistance, however, might be expected to be as much of an
advantage in the rough and tumble of the wild as in the cosseted
environment of the farmer's field. Not necessarily, says Dr Crawley.
Previous studies of wild-plant ecology have shown that the main threat to
a plant's existence comes not from insect predators but from competition
with other plants. Needless to say, according to the story, Dr Crawley's
result does not imply that genetic modification of crops is
environmentally safe in all circumstances. The varieties he was planting
were the first, tentative products of commercial genetic engineering.
Today's gene technologists are much more ambitious. They hope, for
example, to produce drought-resistant and cold-resistant plants, in order
to extend the range over which they can be planted. But even these species
will still be crops, and thus designed both to be tended by humans and to
serve human ends.

Any crop, no matter how robust, is necessarily symbiotic with people. Take
away its human symbiont and it is unlikely to do well by itself.


Prosecutor seeks three-month jail term for militant farmer Bove

JEAN-MARC AUBERT, Associated Press Writer February 12, 2001

MONTPELLIER, France (AP) _ A prosecutor on Friday asked a court to hand
down a three-month prison sentence for Jose Bove, the anti-globalization
activist on trial here for leading a raid at a research center and
destroying more than 1,000 genetically altered plants.

Describing the destruction and burning of the genetically modified rice
plants as ``intolerable,'' Prosecutor Olivier Decout also sought a
three-month sentence for a second defendant, Rene Riesel who, like Bove,
has been previously convicted in a separate case.

The prosecutor asked for a three-month suspended sentence for the third
defendant, Dominique Soullier, because he has no prior record. The court
is expected to issue a verdict March 15. Decout denounced the
``premeditated, deliberate'' commando operation, the use of hammers and
crowbars and the destruction of doors, computers and plants _
``unacceptable methods in a state of law.'' Bove, 47, a militant sheep
farmer, gained fame after dismantling a McDonald's restaurant as part of
his battle against globalization. He went to court Thursday for a raid he
led in June 1999, on a greenhouse belonging to CIRAD, an international
center for agronomic research in Montpellier, where experiments on rice
plants were underway.

CIRAD, a civil party in the case, was seeking 12 million francs (dlrs 1.7
million) in damages. ``Farmers and other citizens will not accept
genetically modified organisms, and unfortunately, legislation is always
too late when it comes to citizens' will,'' Bove told reporters. In the
past, Bove received an eight-month suspended sentence for plowing up a
field planted in genetically modified corn. In September, he was sentenced
to three months in prison for vandalizing the McDonald's in Millau, in
southern France, where he lives. An appeal of that verdict is to be heard
next week.

Bove is also under investigation for allegedly destroying genetically
altered corn in two other regions in France. Thursday's testimony in the
current case turned into a debate between scientists defending their
research and militant farmers contending that such experiments are
dangerous and harmful to traditional agriculture. Bove is a leader of the
Farmers Confederation, a militant group of farmers fighting against what
they see as the encroachment of multinationals producing standardized,
unhealthy food.


From: Michael Goodin Subject: 'Could End All Life'

Found this in an old copy of the Ethiopia Times
February 8, 2.6 million B.C.

Olduvai Gorge: A primate species that prefers to walk upright started a
migration out of the Olduvai gorge today on a quest to travel around the
world. Lucy, as this primate is called, says she just has a bad case of
the travel bug. However, critics of Lucy disagree, claiming that she is in
pursuit of world domination. "I've seen her use stones as tools", said a
source that shares 98% DNA homology with Lucy, "what's she gonna do next,
genetically engineer plants?"

Cheers, MG


Designer jeans from designer genes
Henry Miller National Post February 12, 2001

Environmentalists are virtually unanimous in their opposition to
biotechnology and gene-splicing because of their potential to harm human
health and the environment

Self-styled environmentalists have been virtually unanimous in opposing
biotechnology, or gene-splicing, in agricultural and environmental
applications. To obstruct the technology, they've demanded a ban of
product testing and commercialization; some have even vandalized field
But they are willing to settle for stultifying overregulation. Consumers
International has lobbied for regulation that would make gene-splicing too
expensive and uncertain (as to profitability) to be used widely.
Greenpeace said in its 1999 federal tax filings that it seeks not the
prudent, safe use of gene-spliced foods or even their labeling; rather it
demands nothing less than these products' "complete elimination [from] the
food supply and the environment."

Environmentalists' relentless antagonism belies the fact that
gene-splicing is both extremely versatile and friendly to the environment.
Consider the two-part example of the use of designer genes to make
designer jeans. The two principal components of blue jeans are cotton
fabric and indigo dye. Both can now be produced with environment-sparing

Gene-spliced cotton differs from other commercial varieties by the
presence of a single protein from a bacterium called Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt). The protein, made by a gene transferred to the cotton
plant by gene-splicing techniques, is toxic to certain insects but not to
humans or other mammals. Preparations of live Bt bacteria have for decades
been sprayed on to plants by home gardeners and commercial farmers, with
an admirable record of both safety and effectiveness.

The Bt cotton controls several major pests, the cotton and pink bollworm
and the tobacco budworm, which account for a quarter of all pest
infestation losses. In 1999, the U.S. states favouring Bt cotton
significantly reduced their chemical use, from an average of three
treatments per acre to about one and a half. Bt cotton has eliminated the
need for more than two million pounds of chemical pesticides since it was
introduced in 1996.
In purely economic terms, Bt cotton benefits farmers both by reducing
chemical pesticide costs and by increasing the cotton yields. Bt cotton
provides the highest per acre monetary benefits to farmers of all the
Bt-containing crops, which include corn and soybeans. The aggregate
advantage to cotton farmers nationally -- the net value of crops not lost
to pests, savings in pesticides and so on -- is in the range of
US$100-million to US$150-million per year.

But the economic benefits pale beside the environmental advantages.
Aquatic wildlife is threatened by three of the chemicals that must be used
in much greater amounts on conventional, non-Bt cotton: endosulfan, methyl
parathion and profenos. Environmental regulators have expressed concerns
about these chemicals' effects on birds, fish and other aquatic organisms.
Bt cotton's lessened need for chemical pesticides also reduces
occupational exposures to the toxic chemicals by workers who mix, load and
apply the pesticides, and who perform other activities that require their
presence in the field. Moreover, the less pesticide applied, the less
runoff into waterways, a significant problem in many of the nation's
agricultural regions.

Cotton is only half the blue jeans story, however. Without the right dye,
you'll die in the marketplace. And the standard process for producing the
indigo dye is an ecological and occupational monstrosity. Synthetic indigo
production involves eight discrete operations involving highly toxic
chemicals. The process requires special precautions and physical
facilities to protect workers and the environment. By contrast, making
indigo with a gene-spliced bacterium involves only three operations, uses
water instead of toxic organic solvents, employs corn syrup (which is safe
and cheap) as the primary starting material, and yields byproducts
(biomass and carbon dioxide) instead of waste products.

Biotech is, thus, a green way to produce blue jeans -- an example that is
only a microcosm of what the technology could offer if only it weren't so
beleaguered by excessive government regulation and the attacks of
activists. Environmentalists acting in good faith should be demanding --
not obstructing -- biotech in agricultural and industrial applications.