Food safety: Haskins blasts organics lobby
The Grocer (UK)
February 24, 2001
One of Tony Blair's closest advisors has slammed the organics movement and
expressed strong support for GM food.
Lord Haskins, chairman of the government's Better Regulation Task Force
and non executive chairman of Northern Foods, launched his withering
attack at the Provision Trade Federation annual dinner.
He said: "The Organic Movement seeks to ban most scientific innovation and
appears to have replaced the Church of England as a place where
aristocrats take refuge from the real world."
He warned: "A wholly organic world agricultural system would quickly lead
to mass starvation." And he added: "A wholly organic European farm system
would put British and European farmers out of business unless they were
given much larger subsidies than currently apply."
Lord Haskins said that the BSE crisis and often spurious newspaper scare
stories had created a climate "where scientific progress, notably with GM
food, is being denied by affluent, educated middle class pressure groups.
"The GM saga highlighted the headless chicken syndrome which has
bedevilled the food trade since BSE."
He also turned his fire on retailers and manufacturers, who "in a kneejerk
response banned the use of GM ingredients in their products. These bans
will be unsustainable as GM technology becomes the order of the day in the
Americas, China, Australasia and Africa."
Consumers should be given freedom to decide on issues such as GM food,
said Lord Haskins, and he concluded: "Let the heir to the throne enjoy his
excellent if somewhat risky organic food.
"Let those who are healthy enough and foolish enough to want to drink
unpasteurised milk be allowed to do so.
"Let my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya.
"Let the poor, starving people of the world have access to safe,
affordable food which GM food will probably offer them."
Date: 1 Mar 2001 14:17:15 -0000
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Nutritional enhancement
Although it probably doesn't count as a nutritional enhancement in the
sense that Gale West meant, Bt corn has definite consumer advantages
beyond reduced pesticide application. There is a fairly convincing body
of literature supporting the claim that mycotoxin content of Bt corn is
lower than in conventional or organic corn. Given the well-known adverse
health effects of these mycotoxins (eg cancer, liver damage, etc.), I
would think that a discerning consumer would favour _guaranteed_ Bt corn.
Unfortunately, the current marketing system hasn't seen fit to do the
segregation and market stream tracking necessary to make such a guarantee.
Date: Feb 28 2001 15:58:40 EST
From: Andrew Apel
The Third Annual AgBiotech World Business Forum
The Venetian, Las Vegas, April 2-3, 2001
Sponsored by AgBiotech Reporter, Seed&Crops Digest and AgraEurope
Coverage: new ag biotech regulations, both domestic and international;
legal liability issues; the fallout from the StarLink fiasco;
international trade in GM products; tracking GM/non-GM products with
identity preservation systems; value-added GM crops and future
opportunities; and, of course, opportunities to network with executives
throughout the industry.
This is a business conference, aimed primarily at executives in the ag
biotech industry and related industries including food, chemicals,
pharmaceuticals, contract research, venture capital and education. Our
first two conferences were hailed as the “best ag biotech business
conference of the year,” and this year’s offering continues our focus on
dealing with emerging business, legal and technical
issues in the current climate. Why Las Vegas? Food and lodging there cost
about half as much as in many convention cities.
Registration fee: $795 -- Government/Non-profit fee: $395 -- 15% Total
discount for two or more from same organization. Online registration is
available at http://www.agbusiness.com or by phone at 319-277-3599 ext. 9.
Inquiries: email firstname.lastname@example.org, fax 319-277-3783.
Some sponsorships and booth spaces are still available. Interested parties
should contact Allison Bolick, email email@example.com
Date: Feb 28 2001 17:40:58 EST
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Query about transgenic pig
In 1999, the Ontario Pork Producers announced that they had
developed a transgenic pig, named Wayne the Enviropig, that had a gene
which allowed the pig to process the phosophorous in corn and soybean
feeds. The OPP stated that they would need several more years of maturity
of the pig and testing of feeds to determine precisely the impact of this
phytase gene but the "hope" was that the pig would excrete approximately
50% less phosphorous in its urine and manure than non-transgenic pigs. If
true, the transgenic pig would be less costly to raise because costly
phytase supplements would not be needed in the feed and the transgenic pig
would produce a more environmentally-friendly manure because the manure
would be lower in phosphorous.
Does anyone on this list have more recent information on this transgenic
pig? Has the "hope" been achieved with maturity and testing?
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Genetically modified animal feed: Replacing myth with fact.
Siglinde Fischer (BioLinX). Feb 8, 2001 BioLines Volume 8 February
Some 200 participants attended the conference on "Genetically Modified
Animal Feed: Replacing Myth with Fact" at the Institute for Animal
Nutrition of the ETH Zürich on 8 Feb. 2001. The conference was organised
by the Institute in collaboration with Internutrition, the Swiss Task
Force on Research and Nutrition. Nine experts gave presentations on
different facets of the theme. The specific topics were:
… public opinion regarding genetic engineering in Switzerland,
… the current situation in the Swiss feed industry, methods of detecting
the new genes,
… the current state of genetic technology relating to crop plants,
… ideas on the ecology of transgenic plants,
… what happens to DNA in the intestinal tract,
… the recurring issue of "food allergies" and
… the legal and political situation in Switzerland.
Listeners learned that the Swiss population can be divided into
"pessimists, pragmatists and optimists" and that these three groups form
their opinions on genetic engineering in very different ways. A multi-year
study covering the period 1996 - 1999 showed that the % of those who
neither accept genetic engineering wholeheartedly nor reject it
categorically has risen from 13% to 25%. During the same period, the
proportion of those surveyed who generally accept genetic engineering
increased slightly from 25% to 29%, while the % of people who expressed
disapproval diminished over the three-year period from 62% to 46%.
Speaker Claude Longchamp, GfS Research Institute Bern, sees a potential
future for GM goods in a niche market for specialised products. Peter
Tesdorpf, President of the Association of Swiss Grain Importers, estimates
that Switzerland will continue to procure most of its vegetable protein
feed (about 90%) on the world market, noting, for example, that 43% of the
soybean products available on that market this year are transgenic. In
addition, feeds comprising transgenic varieties of corn and rapeseed are
also to be found in European feed troughs. Presently, the only source of
gene-tech-free soy seems to be Brazil. However, it is possible to trace
the origins of such goods in Switzerland, since samples are taken at a
number of different points in the distribution chain, e.g. at ports of
entry. It remains to be seen whether this will actually guarantee
gene-tech-free protein feed.
Ulrich Hübscher, Director, Inst. for Veterinary Biochemistry, Univ. of
Zurich, presented the DNA-based PCR method for detecting the presence of
genetically altered organisms. Beat Keller, Director, Inst. for Plant
Biology, Univ. of Zurich, provided an overview of the current state and
the future of genetic engineering in the field of plant breeding. The
primary focus in the commercial sector today is on the enhancement of
quality in crop plants: more aromatic and less perishable fruits are
currently under development, as are plants potentially capable of
supplying basic substances for a variety of industries.
Klaus Ammann, Director, Botanical Garden, Univ. of Berne, emphasised that
the question of ecology must not only be addressed for transgenic plants
but for every other species and variety of crops as well. All of our crop
plants are products of breeding and thus genetically modified; many of
them are not native to our region, and many are grown in eco-logically
dubious monocultures. Ammann appealed directly to advocates and opponents
of transgenic crop plants to work together in developing sustainable and
ecologically sounder agricultural production methods.
The question of what happens to DNA in animals' bodies was the focus of
the presentation by Caspar Wenk, Director, Inst. for Farm Animal Research,
ETH Zürich. Scientists now know that genetic material is digested almost
entirely in the stomach and the small intestine. It is possible, however,
that fragments of DNA comprising tens to hundreds of genes are absorbed at
least temporarily by cells (primarily immune cells), where they are broken
down in a prolonged process. As this is a completely natural process,
which applies to all DNA ingested with food, there is no extraordinary
risk associated with the digestion of transgenic crop plants. In addition
to the roughly 5 to 10 g of DNA consumed by a dairy cow in the course of
one day, the animal also digests as much as 200 g of bacterial DNA from
the rumen and intestines along with several grams of its own DNA contained
in abraded cells.
Karen Aulrich, Inst. for Animal Nutrition, Federal Inst. for Agricultural
Research, Braunschweig presented numerous feeding studies involving
cattle, hogs and poultry. According to the findings of this research,
transgenic crop plant varieties and their conventional parent varieties
show fully comparable nutritional-physiological properties - a clear
indication that the introduction of new genes has produced no undesirable
changes in the metabolism of these transgenic varieties. Transgenic
varieties of corn earned significantly higher marks with respect to
contamination with mycotoxins, with levels as much as 90% lower than those
of non-transgenic varieties. Absence of tunnels bored by feeding
caterpillars left little opportunity for fungal growth.
The issue of food allergies was addressed by Beda Stadler, Inst. for
Immunology and Allerology, Inselspital, Bern. He showed that food
allergies are actually quite rare, and that the plant proteins which
trigger them, are comprised within a small group of thoroughly researched
proteins. In his opinion, the GM foods currently available on the market
do not cause new allergic responses, as humans have been in contact with
all of the proteins introduced to these plants for a long time. The
proteins come from bacteria we routinely consume every time we eat lettuce
or radishes. None of these proteins exhibits such typical allergenic
features as high concentration in raw matter (e.g. Milk, eggs, soy beans)
and strong resistance to digestive action in the intestinal tract.
Jacques Morel, Vice-Director, Federal Agency for Agriculture, reported on
the current legal and political situation with regard to "GM feeds" in
Switzerland. The law requires that raw materials and single-component
feeds containing more than 3% of transgenic material and mixed feeds
containing more than 2% of such material must be labelled accord-ingly.
Seed produced abroad, e.g. for corn and soy-beans, may contain no more
than 0.5% of transgenic material. Negotiations on ways to close the
remain-ing regulatory gaps are to begin shortly. The concluding panel
discussion was devoted to a several remaining unresolved questions, such
as why a Swiss farmer should plant transgenic varieties. It became clear
that only a few aspects of currently available varieties are of interest
under the conditions pre-vailing in Switzerland, one of these being
reduced mycotoxin contamination. Participants generally agreed that future
varieties, including plants capable of producing precursors for the
pharmaceutical, cosmetics and paint industries, could be of interest.
Klaus Amman repeated his warning against the "continued ideological trench
warfare" between the advocates and opponents of genetic engineering.
At the end of this well-organised conference, participants were give an
opportunity to sample genetic variety in the form of colourful corn cobs
and to pursue further discussion during an evening snack.
In Europe, the Ordinary Takes a Frightening Turn
Health Scares Confound Continent
By T.R. Reid
March 1, 2001
LONDON -- A bowl of cornflakes can kill you -- not to mention a ham
sandwich or a T-bone steak. Getting vaccinated can kill you. Flying
economy class can kill you, and business class isn't much better. The
rubber duckie in your bathtub can kill you (and your children). And put
down that cell phone, before it kills you!
Such is the woeful catalogue of warnings that confront Europeans these
days as the continent veers almost weekly from one health panic to the
next. From Belfast to Belgrade, wealthy, well-educated Europe is regularly
swept by frightening reports of new dangers said to be inherent to
contemporary life. The lack of scientific basis for many of the worries
doesn't stanch the flood.
Americans have health concerns, too, but not on this scale. The year 2001
is barely eight weeks old and already public opinion and public officials
here have been rattled by alarms over risks -- proven and not -- from
genetically modified corn, hormone-fed beef and pork, "mad cow" disease, a
widely used measles vaccine, narrow airline seats said to cause blood
clots and cellular phones said to cause brain damage.
"If these stories were true, we should all be dead by now," quipped Mart
Saarma, a biologist at the Helsinki Institute of Biotechnology.
Saarma attributes the "culture of fear" to carry-over from genuine health
problems, trends in environmentalism, anti-Americanism and a pessimistic
strain in the European psyche. "It is a matter of emotion here," he said.
"Americans seem to be pragmatic about new ideas and inventions. Europeans
tend to worry. That leads to this concept of being always on the safe side
-- being against anything new until it is absolutely proven."
It seems strange that this aversion to the new should break out in Europe,
which gave the world the industrial revolution, quantum physics and modern
genetics. Europe is the home of the Nobel Prize, the million-dollar award
that celebrates scientific advances. Europeans cloned Dolly the sheep.
They invented Viagra.
The continent remains a formidable force in global technology. The world's
fastest (the Concorde) and biggest (the forthcoming 550-seat Airbus A380)
commercial jetliners are European products. Finland's Nokia and Sweden's
Ericsson dominate global cellular phone markets, having passed the U.S.
leader, Motorola, two years ago.
And yet a pervasive technophobia throbs like background music beneath the
rhythms of everyday life here, fueled by skeptical media, the political
success of environmentally minded Green parties and a growing regulatory
apparatus at European Union headquarters in Brussels.
The fear stems in large part from Europe's experience with a genuine
health risk, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as
"mad cow" disease. The epidemic began in Britain in the 1980s and has
recently been detected among beef cattle in France, Germany and Italy. A
variant of the disease is believed to have killed about 84 people over the
past decade and has forced the slaughter of millions of head of cattle.
In the case of mad cow, Europe's staple entree is being potentially
contaminated by a poorly understood disease. Even worse, governments hit
by the crisis tended to insist at first that everything was fine -- and
then backtracked. Eventually, Europeans decided that official assurances
were close to worthless.
"There is no question that BSE influenced people's trust in the whole
public safety regime," said Michael Meacher, Britain's environment
minister. "We live with this now when other perceived risks come along.
People are less willing to listen to experts who say, 'There's nothing to
worry about.' "
In recent weeks, Britain has embarked on a campaign against another animal
ailment, foot-and-mouth disease, after it appeared among a dozen pigs last
week. Although humans seldom contract the disease, 15,000 animals have
been killed or will be killed to prevent its spread, British authorities
Fear has spread to other foods and products, especially those that result
from new technologies. Most intense has been the reaction against
genetically modified crops, known here by the shorthand term GMO, for
genetically modified organism. Americans and Canadians consume genetic
hybrids of corn, soybeans and other foods every day. A National Academy of
Sciences study concluded that new varieties are no different from
But GMOs are restricted across Europe; the media treat the crops as if
they were lethal. Last spring, when it was reported that minute quantities
-- well below 1 percent -- of GMO seeds had inadvertently been mixed into
bags of Canadian seed sold to European farmers in 1998 and 1999,
newspapers warned of "contamination" and "poisoning." Frightened consumers
returned boxes of cornflakes to grocery stores demanding refunds.
This month the European Parliament mandated a rigorous approval process
before any new genetic hybrid could be planted in European soil. The
sponsor of the plan proudly labeled it "the toughest in the world."
Similar scares surround pork and beef raised with growth hormones; rubber
duckies and other plastic toys made with softeners called phthalates; and
the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
Cellular phones are much more widely used in Europe than in the United
States, but they, too, often evoke a confused state of dread. A British
consumer group last year suggested that cell phone owners use earphones to
reduce the risk of brain damage from transmission signals. Just as
consumers were digesting that idea, another report concluded that
earphones might actually increase the risk. A British government study
last year found no link between cell phones and brain damage.
The European media have been full of reports this year on the alleged
dangers of depleted uranium, a metal used in munitions during the Persian
Gulf War and in Kosovo. Several European governments have launched
high-profile emergency tests of the material. Many studies in the United
States have found it safe.
This winter's major health scare in Britain has been "economy-class
syndrome" -- the fear that long hours spent in a cramped airplane seat
will lead to "deep vein thrombosis," causing blood clots to travel to the
lungs. There has been one confirmed death this year -- a young woman
flying from Sydney to London -- but newspapers have suggested that the
toll may reach 2,000 annually.
Why is Europe so hung up on health problems? One theory ties the
phenomenon to the decline of religious faith. "Churchgoers now amount to
less than 15 percent of the population," said Philip Lader, the U.S.
ambassador to Britain, and this might prompt "a human need for some other
larger-than-life issues. Perhaps that has something to do with the
religious-like fervor of the opposition to [genetically modified] foods."
Since many of the technological breakthroughs that lead to phobias are
identified with big American or multinational companies, the negative
response may tie in with the aversion to globalization among the working
class and the anti-Americanism that is never far from the surface among
"One of our big problems with GMO crops," said Des D'Souza of the European
seed company AgrEvo, "is that people think they all come from the U.S.,
and right there you start to generate resentment."
Europe's wariness of the new also reflects the feeling of anomie, of
systemic breakdown, that is central to much of modern European philosophy.
The German novelist Gunter Grass has written that the proper European
response to the "lusty appeals of progress" is melancholy. In contrast to
the "American conception of happiness embodied in the say-cheese smile,"
Grass argues, the European is more comfortable with "knowledge that
Prime Minister Tony Blair has cautioned Britons about a "loss of faith in
science," which he says is particularly problematic now because Europe
depends on technology to maintain its place in global markets. Some health
concerns may be "reasonable," Blair said last month, "but it is possible
to overdo that very greatly."
Finally, there is a sense in Europe that genetic manipulation, wireless
communication, global transportation and other wonders of modernity hinder
the appreciation of more traditional aspects of human life. That view is
often set forth by one of the continent's most admired thinkers, Pope John
In a recent sermon, the pope recalled the biblical admonition to "consider
the lilies of the field . . . they toil not, neither do they spin." The
contemporary lesson to draw from the lilies, he said, is, "In the era of
technology, our life risks becoming always more anonymous and . . . man
becomes incapable of enjoying the beauties of the creator."
Biotech Predicted to Reduce Pesticide Use
IPMnet News #85
Reprinted from IPMnet NEWS #85, Jan. 01, with permission of the sponsor,
the Consortium for International Crop Protection
A U.S. consulting firm predicts that within a decade biotechnology-based
row crops will cause massive reductions in application of herbicides and
insecticides (assumed to refer to usage in the U.S.). By the year 2009,
biotech crops will be responsible for a 20 million kg. (45 million lb.)
reduction in herbicide use, and a 6 million kg. (13 million lb.) annual
decrease in insecticides according to projections by Kline & Company, Inc.
The largest decrease, predicts the Kline group in an October 2000 press
release, is expected to be for insecticide applied to maize. After
resistance to _Diabrotica_ spp. (corn rootworm) is incorporated into seeds
that already resist _Ostrinia nubilalis_ (European corn-borers), Kline
estimates that the insecticide market will drop by 70 percent.
Insect-resistant cotton will also curtail insecticide use.