Up With Weeds
February 24, 2001
Individuals who believe that the movie, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" is
a documentary for what will happen if genetically modified foods are ever
allowed to run wild, in well, the wild, should be relieved by the findings
of a study recently published in the prestigious scientific journal
Nature, which convincingly demonstrates exactly the opposite.
In what some have called the "longest-term ever" study of its sort,
researchers examined the ability of genetically modified foods to spread
out from their agrarian habitat and persist in the wild, while controlling
for the ability of non- genetically modified foods to do the same thing.
They studied crops of potatoes, maize, sugar beet and rape seed which had
been modified to be resistant to insects and/or herbicides in 12 disparate
habitats for a full decade.
Their conclusion? "In no case were the genetically modified plants found
to be more invasive or more persistent than their conventional
counterparts." In other words, no super weeds, no killer tomatoes, no
little shop of horrors.
Moreover, "increased competition from native perennial plants" (read
"crabgrass") caused decreases in the numbers of genetically modified
plants. In some cases, the genetically modified strains were actually
This study is simply the latest study in an unremitting stream of evidence
that has all demonstrated the same thing: Genetically engineered foods are
almost certainly not harmful, and they are almost certainly beneficial.
Unfortunately, the seeds of evidence contained in the study appear to have
little potential for growth in the hard heads of environmental extremists
who made up their minds long ago. Julie Miles, "co-coordinator" of the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert, suggested that despite this new
evidence, her organization would be unlikely to change its stance on such
foods. This shouldn't come as a surprise, since the organization proclaims
" Genetically engineered food ingredients or crops should not be allowed
on the market unless: Independent safety testing demonstrates they have no
harmful effects on human health or the environment." Of course, evidence
from this latest study suggests that the opposite might be true, that the
environment might be harmful to genetically modified foods, but no matter.
In the end, a 10-year, a 20-year, or even a 1,000-year safety study of
every genetically modified food under all possible conditions seems
unlikely to quash the qualms of such matrons of the nanny state, who
insist that everything be safe, or at least not sound frightening or icky.
Golden Rice to be Launched in India
A special technology transfer agreement has been drawn up to facilitate
the transfer of the genetically modified rice rich in vitamin A, known as
"Golden Rice," from the inventors to India. Under the agreement, the
technological know-how would be made available to India's Department of
Biotechnology and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), on
the condition that the technology be used for "humanitarian" purposes.
Date: 26 Feb 2001 15:44:28 -0000
From: Tony Jackson
Subject: Re: Dr Antonoiu's Patents
Dr Antoniou's letter raises some legitimate issues about how and
whether traditional patent laws need changing in light of the developing
biotechnology industry. Speaking personally for example, I think
attempting to patent anonymous ESTs is pretty silly. But the point of my
original email was rather different and more narrowly focused: The i-sis
letter that Dr Antoniou signed clearly and explicitly objected to all
recombinant DNA and gene patents on principle. It condemned patents on
living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes. Nowhere does the
letter say, but artificially constructed episomal plasmid expression
vectors are all right and can be patented=8A." The constructs patented by
Dr Antoniou contain genes from distantly related organisms that have been
artificially joined together so as to function in mammalian cells. If his
patents don'tinvolve "living processes, genes and cell lines", then what
do they involve?
Public 'Misled' on GE Risk
The Press (New Zealand)
24 FEBRUARY 2001
By SETH ROBSON
Ngai Tahu and organic farmers are against genetically modified organisms,
but a long-time environmentalist says they may have been misled over the
Ngai Tahu spokesman Edward Ellison, who appeared before the Royal
Commission on Genetically Modified Organisms in Christchurch yesterday,
said genetic engineering posed a risk to tribal food gathering grounds.
"We have given a great deal of consideration to this issue and oppose the
granting of any applications for GMO development until we have the
opportunity to determine the impact such developments would have on our
values and social and cultural well-being," he said.
The Ngai Tahu tribe was also concerned that there were not strong enough
references to the Treaty of Waitangi in the Hazardous Substances and New
Organisms Act and that Maoris did not have process.
The Canterbury Organic Producers Group, which also appeared before the
Commission, supported Ngai Tahu's stance.
Leeston organic farmer Tim Chamberlain said organic farming could not
co-exist with genetic engineering because of cross pollination between
New Zealand had much to gain from declaring itself free of GMOs, he said.
"Over two billion people eat out of supermarkets," he said. "I have never
seen any research to say those people, who we want to sell to, want
genetically engineered food. The only research I have seen suggests people
don't want to eat it."
However, former Greenpeace director Patrick Moore, who also appeared
before the commission, said the public had been misled over the risks of
"I find my former organisation has adopted policies in a number of areas I
believe to be very off track, wrong-headed, and illogical," said Dr Moore,
who helped found Greenpeace in 1971 but left the organisation 15 years
An example was Greenpeace's zero tolerance policy towards genetic
modification. "They say even if you have a genetically modified plant such
as the golden rice that has the potential of reducing the number of
children going blind through vitamin A deficiency by half a million, they
won't accept it.
"They say they care more about the environment than people but our
communities and farms are part of the environment," Dr Moore said.
Greenpeace had yet to produce any evidence that genetic engineering was
bad for the environment, instead relying on catch phrases derived from
In fact, genetic engineering was a good way to reduce humans' impact on
the environment by increasing yields of key food crops, thus reducing the
amount of land required and freeing it up for forests.
Genetic engineering could make crops resistant to pests, reducing the need
"Genetic modification is a form of organic farming," Dr Moore said. "It is
using organic material, the genes of organisms, rather than chemicals."
Genetic engineering would produce crops that required less soil
disturbance, protecting the soil from erosion and loss of nutrients. There
was also the possibility to grow medicines in foods, something that would
benefit Third World people who could not afford drugs for many devastating
diseases such as malaria, Dr Moore said.
In New Zealand, genetic engineering could help produce fast-growing
varieties of native trees that could be used to reforest barren land.
"Most crop plants can be bred yearly," he said.
"Trees take years to produce viable seed so breeding them takes longer.
"Genetic engineering allows you to circumvent that long breeding process."
Feelings About Biotech Depend On How The Tale Is Told
Your feelings about genetically modified foods depend, in good measure, on
how their benefits and potential risks are explained to you. The words
used, and the way they're used, color your perceptions.
That seems obvious enough, says Dr. Steven B. Katz, associate professor of
English at North Carolina State University.
So how come so many scientists and policymakers don't get it?
"The important role that language plays in the public's perception and
reception of scientific data and risk assessment is often neglected by
scientists and program administrators," said Katz, who has reviewed many
case studies, both in the U.S. and abroad, of controversial subjects
--such as biotechnology -- that have been slowed or completely halted by
"In many of these cases, public resistance, at least in part, has been
traced to communication problems -- flawed rhetorical choices and faulty
assumptions by scientists about the role of language, emotion and values
in communicating with the media and public," he said.
Katz presented "Language and Persuasion: The Communication of
Biotechnology with the Public," on Sunday at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. He
also offered some positive recommendations for facilitating biotechnology
communication with the public.
Katz's examination of the role language plays in the biotechnology debate
touches on a number of crucial issues: the effect words may have on the
public; the way experts accommodate information for non-expert audiences;
communication models for risk-assessment communication and the importance
of public participation in the process.
Syntax, diction and the arrangement of ideas in communication all seem to
play significant roles in determining its effect, Katz has found. "Even
when a paper is 'clearly written,' word choice, style and order of
presentation can have an effect on the public's reception, understanding
and acceptance of communication concerning biotechnology," he said.
Sacrificing accuracy for general comprehension -- though necessary -- can
also complicate matters if the communication about the benefits and risks
of science, such as biotechnology, is not built on the concerns, knowledge
and values of the audience, Katz said. If scientists have an understanding
of their audience, "the information is transformed in that it becomes a
different message, one adapted to the specific needs of the audience," he
Certain communication models, such as the practice Katz calls "one-way
communication" -- in which the educator or expert does all the talking and
the public does all the listening -- can be detrimental to the
No consensus can be achieved when this occurs, because the public is given
little or no voice in the discussion.
"This form of communication will often devalue the listener or audience
because the listener or audience is given no opportunity to provide input,
ask questions or make decisions," Katz said.
"The values and knowledge of the public need to be respected, recognized
and utilized in communication," he said. "There are serious implications
for biotechnology research and industry if they are not."
(Reference: "Language and Persuasion: The Communication of Biotechnology
with the Public" By Steven B. Katz, NC State University Feb. 18, 2001, at
the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.)
[Contact: Lynne Wogan]
Europe's "Golden" Rice Arrives in Asia Amid Controversy
Agence France Press
February 25, 2001
LOS BANOS, Philippines, Feb 25 (AFP) - After nearly a decade of research
in Europe, the much-acclaimed "golden rice" has finally arrived in Asia,
its intended destination.
But even before the genetically engineered (GE) rice is transplanted from
the laboratory to the fields, it has created controversy. One green group
has labelled it "fool's gold."
The first research samples of golden rice were brought to the
Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in January
from Switzerland, where the strain was invented.
"The arrival of these initial samples at IRRI is a very significant step
and allows us to finally start on the required testing processes using
local rice varieties," said Ronald Cantrell, director of the institute
tucked away in Los Banos, a university town southeast of the capital
Golden rice has attracted much attention because it contains building
blocks for vitaman A. Deficiency in the vitamin causes blindness and other
The grain got its name because it glows with the golden colour of
beta-carotene, the yellow-orange compound that gives carrots their colour
and the world's most common source of vitamin A.
The prospect of offering daily doses of this key nutrient to millions of
Asians in their staple food has excited researchers and governments.
Ninety percent of the world's rice is grown and consumed in Asia, the
world's most populous continent.
Scientists at the IRRI, the world's leading rice research center, will
breed the golden rice samples, developed originally from the temperate
japonica variety, into tropical indica varieties.
"This would be done through the conventional breeding method of crossing
or via modern genetic modifications to enhance beta- carotene production,"
said IRRI plant biotechnologist Swapan Datta, a key researcher in the
closely watched project.
Golden rice currently contains about 10 to 20 percent beta- carotene but
"we want to bring that level up to at least 20 to 40 percent" to suit
Asian needs, Datta said.
"It will take us at least three years to send golden rice for field
testing in Asia and another two years before they are available to
farmers," he said.
A special humanitarian board has been established, comprising public and
private sector groups, to make golden rice freely available to those in
need, officials said.
The board is led by German professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, the
inventors of golden rice at Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology.
After months of negotiations, the two inventors, along with Swiss
agribusiness giant Syngenta AG which held the patent to golden rice,
agreed to hand over the first grains to IRRI for further development.
Once the research is completed, golden rice will be distributed free of
charge to poor farmers in the developing world, IRRI officials said.
But environmental watchdog Greenpeace said the GE industry was making
false promises about golden rice.
European markets have resoundingly rejected GE products, and glocal
consumers did not want them in their food, it said.
Greenpeace said figures provided by the developers of golden rice show an
adult would have to eat at least 12 times the average of 300 grams of rice
daily to get the daily recommended amount of vitamin A.
"It is clear from these calculations that the GE industry is making false
promises about golden rice," said Von Hernandez, a Manila-based Greenpeace
campaign director for Southeast Asia.
He said golden rice does not address the underlying causes of Vitamin A
deficiency, mainly poverty and lack of access to a diverse diet.
Greenpeace said pill supplements and food fortification were effective
short-term measures to help address vitamin A deficiency.
Red palm oil, naturally rich in vitamin A, should be promoted for example,
But IRRI spokesman Duncan Macintosh said the institute did not consider
golden rice a "quick fix or silver bullet" for vitamin A deficiency in the
"But surely any new idea that could allow us to better deal with such
difficult problems as vitamin deficiency among the poor deserves to be
fully investigated," he said.
Gordon Conway, the head of the US-based Rockefeller Foundation which
provided funding for golden rice technology, said it was an excellent
complement to fruits, vegetables and animal products.
"Complete balanced diets are the best solution, but the poorer families
are, the less likely is that their children will receive a balanced diet
and the more likely they will be dependent on cheap food staples such as
rice," he said.
But Conway agreed that perhaps golden rice had been too hyped.
"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," he said.
February 26, 2001
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been closely
following the continuing discussion and debate in the Philippine media
over the development of pro-Vitamin A enriched Golden Rice, and other
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.
Contrary to some reports in the media, IRRI does not seek to blindly
promote biotechnology. However, the Institute is keenly interested in
objectively evaluating any new technology that will be freely available to
help improve the lives of poor rice farmers and consumers in safe and
IRRI also welcomes recent efforts by different groups to "stick to the
facts" concerning Golden Rice.
For the record, IRRI does not consider Golden Rice a quick fix or silver
bullet for the problem of Vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.
But surely any new idea that could allow us to better deal with such
difficult problems as vitamin deficiency among the poor deserves to be
In its effort to find out the facts on Golden Rice, IRRI will be focusing
just a small portion of its financial and physical resources on the new
grain - two full-time scientists out of a staff of over 800 and one
million dollars ($1 million) in funding from USAID out of a total budget
of 30 million dollars ($30 million) plus.
In addition to this project, the Institute is working in a wide range of
other related biotechnology areas such as functional genomics, and the
development of useful traits such as improved drought and salinity
Although we have submitted requests to the Philippine government to do so,
IRRI is presently conducting no field trials of any GM rice anywhere in
the Philippines. It was for this reason, we noted a quote by the new
Secretary of Agriculture Leonardo Q. Montemayor under the headline
"Montemayor open to commercialization of GM crops" as saying: "...I am not
for an outright ban on these products" (BusinessWorld, Feb. 14, 2001, p.
If anyone has any questions or concerns about IRRI's work on GM rice they
should feel free to contact me at the Institute or my colleague Sylvia
Inciong. This is because IRRI is committed to a policy of openness and
transparency in its research and welcomes all those interested in rice and
Seeds of Opportunity:
The Future of Biotechnology in Agriculture
The U.S. Embassy, the University of London, School of African and Oriental
Studies (SOAS), Queen Mary, the University of London, and the Royal
Agricultural College are hosting a conference from May 31-June 1, 2001
entitled: "Seeds of Opportunity: The Role of Biotechnology in
Date: Feb 26 2001 05:01:10 EST
Subject: re: Overstating Golden Rice Benefits
REgarding the use of "golden rice" as a poster child for biotech, this
may be the collection of quotes to which Chuck Benbrook referred. They
are taken from 'Genetically Engineered Pro-vitamin A ‘Golden Rice’
Reality vs. Fiction'(available as a pdf file
*"GM food scientists have already developed a yellow rice, or "golden"
rice, that is rich in vitamin A and iron and helps prevent anemia and
blindness, especially in children."
-article published on CNN.com vii
*"This rice could save a million kids a year"
-headline on the cover of Time magazine viii
*" [...] 'golden rice', which has been modified to include certain
vitamins and is already saving the sight of thousands of children in the
poorest parts of Asia."
-Invitation from The United States Congress to a Special Congressional
Forum, "Can Biotechnology Solve World Hunger." ix
*"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 40,000 lives a day, people that are
malnourished and dying,"
-Former U.S. President Bill Clinton.x
*"The levels of expression of pro-vitamin A that the inventors were
aiming at, and have achieved, are sufficient to provide the minimum
level of pro-vita-min A to prevent the development of irreversible
blindness affecting 500.000 children annually, and to significantly
alleviate Vitamin A deficiency affecting 124.000.000 children in 26
"One month delay = 50,000 blind children month."
-Dr. Adrian Dubock, executive from Zeneca (now Syngenta), the company
which would market the rice -- and plans to commercialise it in rich
*"For populations that rely upon rice as their primary or sole food
source, this ['Golden Rice'] nutritional enhancement can deliver an
enormous improvement in public health."
-Dr. Stanley Wallach of the American College of Nutrition xvii
*"Nestle executive vice-president Michael Garrett told […] that the new
"golden" rice, genetically modified to be rich in vitamin A, would
address a common deficiency in developing countries that caused
blindness and death."
-article published in The Age (Australia)xviii
*"Should the opponents eventually succeed in preventing "Golden Rice"
to reach the poor in developing countries, it will be them who will have
to take responsibility for the foreseeable yet avoidable death or
blindness of millions of poor, underprivileged people, year after year
in the foreseeable future."
-Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, inventors of the 'Golden Rice' xix
vii "Are biotech crops sowing seeds of dispute?" January 24, 2001, By
Troy Goodman.CNN.com Health and Food Writer
viii TIME magazine, July 31, 2000, vol. 156 No 5
ix From The United States Congress, "Can Biotechnology Solve World
Hunger" invitation to the Senate Agriculture Committee/Congressional
Hunger Center, Special Congressional Forum, June 29, 2000.
x The Independent (London) "G8 meeting: Clinton attacks Europe for
moving too slowly over 'safe' GM food", July 24, 2000
xi Executive summary of a presentation by Dr. Adrian C. Dubock, of
Zeneca Plant Science (now Syngenta) at a conference on sustainable
agriculture organised by Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Dag Hammarskjöld
Foundation and supported by the European Commission on "Sustainable
Agriculture in the New Millenium: The Impact of Biotechnology on
Developing Countries," May 28-31, 2000, Brussels.
xvii The Daily Oklahoman, "Biotechnology: Fighting Disease &
Malnutrition," October 11, 2000
xviii "GM food the answer, says giant company", The Age (Australia) by
Claire Miller, Sep. 14, 2000
xix Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," We can save millions of lives", by
Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, 22 Jan 2001