An Educational Flyer on Biotech Foods!
A beautifully illustrated brochure "Foods from Genetically Modified
Crops" aimed at the general public by the San Diego Center for Molecular
Agriculture can be downloaded at:
I reproduce parts of its first page below which includes a note from
the editor Maarten Chrispeels and the table of contents. This is an
excellent flyer that can be distributed during your lecture and also
public outreach efforts because of its simple language and a very
balanced approach to the issue. Although a large document (1.2 MB)
because of many photos, it is definitely worth the download!
"Foods from Genetically Modified Crops"
The agricultural scientists and farmers all over the world who
improve our crops are the true heroes of our time. They have kept
food production ahead of massive population increases. These advances
were made possible by the continued genetic modification of our
crops. In addition, our food is safer now than it has ever been in
human history. Most of us know very little about the way our food
plants are grown and are far removed from the factories where they
are processed. All we care about is that our food be wholesome,
nutritious, and tasty. Critics of crop biotechnology are of the
opinion that potential ecological and food safety disasters are
looming on the horizon because genetically modified (GM) crops have
entered the food chain. Alarmists have introduced emotionally charged
terms into the debate and speak of "frankenfoods" and "genetic
pollution." The debate that rages in Europe has reached the shores of
the United States; it is a high-stakes game with powerful economic
and political forces on both sides. As plant scientists associated
with public research institutions, we believe that the issues of food
safety and food sufficiency are extremely important. The debate
cannot be left entirely to the well-funded efforts of either the big
multinational agricultural biotech companies or to the opponents of
GM foods funded by the organic food industry and radical "consumer"
groups. We take our responsibilities seriously and this brochure is
our own small contribution to this debate.
As scientists, we always demand and rely on evidence. It has been
claimed that the risks of genetic engineering of crops will be
"superweeds" and "superbacteria," the appearance of unknown toxins
and allergens in our food, paralyzing crop losses, and extensive
ecological damage. We have not seen any evidence for these scenarios.
We believe that agriculture could be less ecologically damaging and
be made more sustainable, and that GM crops can play a positive role
in this development. We also believe that GM crops will make food
cheaper to produce and more nutritious. We hope that you will read
this brochure and we hope that its contents will help you think
through the issues raised by the GM food debate. Scientists and
professional scientific societies support the introduction of GM
crops in the human food chain. As consumers you have the last word.
If the food is good, whether GM or not, you will buy it; if it's not,
Maarten J. Chrispeels
Director, San Diego Center for Molecular Agriculture firstname.lastname@example.org
TABLE OF CONTENTS: Feeding the world 3; GM foods affect your life 4
Genetics 101 5; GM through the ages 6; Genetic engineering 7
Organic farming 8; Safety 10; Environmental concerns 12; Genes on my plate
13; Labeling 14; Regulation 15; The bottom line 16
By the year 2050 there are likely to be 9 billion people on this
Earth, an increase of 50 percent over the present day. Most of this
increase will occur in the cities of developing countries, primarily
in Asia. If present economic development continues, this population
increase will require a doubling in food production. Only a fraction
of the food that all these people will need can be produced in the
breadbaskets of the world. Most of this food has to be grown locally.
The problem of feeding all the people is worsened by the uneven
distribution of cropland. For example, China has a quarter of the
human population but only 7 percent of the world's farmland. During
the last doubling of the human population from 3 billion in 1960 to 6
billion in 2000, food production increases kept up with population
growth because we created and adopted multiple new technologies.
Better techniques to cultivate the soil, new irrigation technologies,
more advanced pesticides that are biodegradable, better genetic
strains, machinery that harvests more of the crop, synthetic
fertilizers, and green manures that restore the nutrients to the soil
all have helped raise food production.
GM Crops Are Only Part of the Answer
GM crops are not the magic bullet that will feed the world. But they
can certainly help because they are an integral part of our
continuing quest for the genetic improvement of crops. We can't
afford to reject this technology as some are advocating. Progress
must be made in other technologies as well. We need more durable,
longer-lasting disease and insect resistance, irrigation systems that
waste less water, agronomic systems with multiple crops that limit
erosion on sloping land. We need to find out which types of soil
tilling, fertilizer application, and crop rotation produce the
healthiest soils with the most beneficial microbial activity. We need
to learn so many things, and yet financial support for agricultural
research has been slowly eroding for twenty years.
GM crops cannot eliminate poverty and hunger because these problems
are rooted in the socio-political realm. People need jobs to purchase
food and with economic demand food production usually picks up.
Although the world does indeed produce enough food to eliminate
hunger, we have not yet devised an economic system that permits the
distribution of that food in an equitable way.
Technologies are not an unmitigated blessing, especially when they
are first introduced. Cars pollute the air and people are killed in
accidents, but few people want to be without an automobile.
Agricultural technologies also have negative effects. To make them
better requires our human ingenuity. President Jimmy Carter said it
so well: "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is."
From: Abigail Salyers
Others have objected on the basis of scientific fact to Red Porphyry's
comment to the effect that mycotoxins are not something people in the US
and Europe need to worry about. Am I the only person who was stunned by
the moral implications of this statement? The high mycotoxin foods
rejected by the developed world are not destroyed. They are sold in the
developing world. What makes this situation even more distressing is that
because people in the developing world do not have access to vaccines
against hepatitis viruses A and B, the level of viral hepatitis is far
higher in the developing world than in the developed world. Why is this an
issue in connection with mycotoxins? Because people with liver damage due
to viral hepatitis are more sensitive to mycotoxins that can cause liver
cancer than people with healthy livers.
If it is true that mycotoxin levels in Bt crops are significantly lower
than in conventionally grown crops, shouldn't people who care about human
health worldwide - not just in the US and Europe - be pushing for broader
distribution of Bt crops? Can the level of cynicism on the part of the
anti-biotech activists get any higher? I am not sure I want to know the
answer to this question.
From: "Robert Vint"
Subject: Re: Vint on Agriculture problems
Roger Morton Asks:
Q1. How the increased food demand resulting from population growth could
have been met without the Green Revolution.
A. This question confuses cause and effect. There was minimal population
growth in the pre-colonial societies of Africa, South Asia and the
Americas. People with land (i.e. everyone) tended to have an appropriate
number of children for that land. In a stable society the population
density probably levels off at the sustainable carrying capacity of the
land - and so Morton's question would never arise. The large families and
unsustainable population growth of recent times is a response to the
insecurity of landlessness and unemployment - a means of guaranteeing
family support in old age. Overpopulation is a symptom of social breakdown
and is only exacerbated by short-term technical fixes.
Q2. How is agricultural monoculture the cause of starvation?
A. Because people who once had land to grow all their own food now have no
land or job and so have no access to surplus crops that are instead
destined for export. Many development projects have ignored this simple
point and so have failed to have any impact on poverty and malnutrition.
'Modern' agriculture, in any case, tends to increase yield per dollar
invested or per labourer rather than yield per acre. Labour-intensive
organic mixed-crop systems have impressive yields that often exceed
'modern' techniques on a per acre basis - but yield less profit for
Q3. What are these famous leafy green vegetables?
A. Here are a few Indian 'weeds' traditionally grown amongst other crops
(so using no land) and used as vegetables - with betacarotene content
(microgram/100g). They not very well-known in the world of corporate
agribusiness I admit, but they may be tastier than stale white rice:
(Amaranth leaves) Chauli saag=266-1,166
(Coriander leaves) - Dhania=1,166-1,333
(Cabbage) Bandh gobi=217
(Curry leaves)-Curry patta=1,333
(Drumstick leaves)-Saijan patta1=283
for comparison: [Golden Rice =33 - long-term goal]
Q4. How do you propose to tackle the problems of poor diet - landlessness
A. That's for the poor and landless to decide in response to their
particular situation - but obviously land redistribution (which the market
can achieve peacefully through land use taxes etc) would often be a good
These are my own views - but why not ask a few landless farmers or
shanty-town dwellers. We hear from them much less than we hear from
western economists and agriculture experts. I can put you in touch with
Reply From: Roger Morton
Subject: Re: Vint on Agriculture problems
>children for that land. In a stable society the population density
>probably levels off at the sustainable carrying capacity of the land
What is this level? And how do people know when it is reached? What makes
them stop reproducing when this level is reached? Is their a government
>old age. Overpopulation is a symptom of social breakdown and is only
>exacerbated by short-term technical fixes.
Such as the technical fix of contraception perhaps? Does this exacerbate
>have failed to have any impact on poverty and malnutrition.
>'Modern' agriculture, in any case, tends to increase yield per dollar
>invested labourer rather than yield per acre.
Care to back this statement up with any facts? My data shows a 5 fold
increase in corn yield per unit land 1928 to 1998
> Labour-intensive organic mixed-crop
>systems have impressive yields that often exceed 'modern' techniques
>on a per acre basis - but yield less profit for landowners.
Care to back this up? I previously posted about 10 studies showing the
exact reverse of this.
>using no land) and used as vegetables
>- with betacarotene content (microgram/100g).
How do you get these vegetable to the urban poor?
Is it the subsistance farmer that is suffering from vitA deficiency or the
millions of urban poor? I think it is the urban poor. The farmer may be
able to grow these vegetable and prevent himself and his own family from
developing vitA deficiency. But how do you get these vegetables to the
urban poor before they rot in the absence of refrigeration and decent
roads? Can the urban poor afford to pay the price of the transport of
these perishable items?
>.That's for the poor and landless to decide in response to their
>particular situation - but obviously land redistribution (which the
>market can achieve peacefully through land use taxes etc) would often
> be a start.
Surely if you leave it to the landless and the poor then they will stay
landless and poor. Truth is you don't have a solution. The poor and
landless don't have solution - and even if they did how would they
implement it? No-one has a solution except perhaps world revolution.
>These are my own views - but why not ask a few landless farmers or
>shanty-town dwellers. We hear from them much less than we hear from
> western >economists and agriculture experts. I can put you in touch >
Yes please. I want to hear from these people that have the solution to
world poverty. Land redistribution is your solution. Can you calculate
what sized plot would be obtained for each person if the agriculturally
productive land of India was distibuted evenly amoungst its 1 billion
population? Is it feasible to work land plots of this size? Land
redistribution sounds to me like deurbanisation of the population. I know
someone who tried this solution in Cambodia. I believe his name was Pol
Pot. Nice guy but missunderstood apparently.
"Robert Vint" wrote:
>This is why we now have unprecedented millions of
>landless, jobless, undernourished people in urban slums eating nothing
>but stale white rice.
Yes we have this problem because of the green revolution. Without the
green revolution we would not have this problem because all these people
would have starved to death or killed each other in a war fighting over
what food was available in the absence of the green revoultion. I
personally think this means the green revolution was a good thing. Better
to be eating stale white rice than be dead I say. But Robert Vint might
disagree. He might say that we should have left the popultation problem to
sort it self out "naturally" by appying the starvation method to the poor
of the world.
I personally think that now that the green revolution has saved these
peoples lives it is time for a new revolution to make their lives better.
But Robert Vint's solution is to kill some fraction of the popultation so
the land that that was previously feeding these people can be given over
to the production of the famous "green leafy vegetables" (BTW anyone care
to name these vegetables).
>These technological fixes, like those of the first
>'green revolution', only encourage us to postpone, for yet more
> decades, tackling the real causes of poor diet - landlessness,
> inequality and agricultural monoculture.
How is agriculture monoculture the cause of starvation. Agriculture
monoculture is really the green revolution which everyone knows has
increased food yields several fold over the last 50 years (eg average corn
yield USA increased 5 fold since 1928).
How do you propose to tackle the problems of poor diet - landlessness and
Roger L Morton
Opinons expressed in this posting are personal and do not reflect the
position of my employer
From: Red Porphyry
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Pollan's NY Times article
In Agbioview archive msg#1005, Roger Morton wrote the following:
>Well according to data I have (Agbioview 13-2-01 from C Kameswara Rao
>) purified beta-carotene costs US$ 185 / 25 mg and one
>requires to take 5 mg/day. So the answer to the question ( if you
>have 150 million to spend at $37 per child per day) is that you could
>suplement 11 thousand children for one year on the amount that Pollan
C Kameswara Rao's numbers can't possibly be right, Roger. This morning, I
went to my neighborhood drugstore on the way to work and checked out the
price of both beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements. Here's what I found:
Beta-carotene (100 capsules, 25,000 IU/capsule = 500% adult RDA) = US$7.49
Vitamin A (100 capsules, 8000 IU/capsule = 160% adult RDA) = US$3.49
This is 7.5 cents/capsule for beta-carotene (not US$37/capsule), and 3.5
cents per capsule for vitamin A. And that's retail.
So, by buying these capsules at US retail prices, if you have US$150
million to spend on beta-carotene capsules at 7.5 cents per child per day,
that comes out to 2 billion "kid doses" per year, which means you could
supplement almost 5.5 million kids/yr on on the amount that Pollan says is
spent on golden rice. For vitamin A capsules at 3.5 cents per child per
year, the corresponding figures are 4.3 billion "kid doses" per year,
which allows you to supplement 11.7 million kids/yr. By buying these
capsules wholesale and in bulk, the cost per capsule would drop
considerably, thereby allowing the supplementation of a lot more children.
If these capsules were produced locally in "generic" pharmaceutical plants
instead of imported, the cost per capsule would likely fall even lower,
due to very, very cheap labor costs.
I'm very curious to know who C Kameswara Rao is buying beta-carotene
capsules from. He or she is *really* getting ripped off.
(Note from CSP: Kameshwar Rao is "he" and lives in Bangalore, India)
From: Red Porphyry
>From: Alex Avery
>Dan Solomon wrote:
>>If Greenpeace (or the Rockerfeller Foundation) decides to throw
>>millions of dollars at VAD, why should it be aimed at Golden Rice?......
>These issues have been addressed. Already the varieties are producing
>20-40% of the RDA for vitamin A.
Or an average of roughly 30%. This figure assumes, though, that Asians
will be eating about 300 gm (dry weight) of golden rice per day, which
would be their entire daily rice consumption. Hmmm. That level of
consumption seems highly optimistic, given that Asians already turn their
noses up at brown rice, even though they know brown rice is nutritionally
much better for them than white rice. My hunch is that the upper limit of
daily consumption for Asians is going to end up being more like 100 gm
(dry weight), which would provide an upper limit of about 10% of the RDA
for vitamin A. A major cultural revolution in Asia will be required to
achieve even this level of golden rice consumption, in my opinion. You do
realize that that is likely going to take decades, and also assumes that
"colorful" political groups like the Taliban don't suddenly decide to ban
golden rice because it has a yellow color, and since yellow is the color
of urine, feeding people food that looks like urine is an affront to
Islam? (Careful Alex. Arguing too strongly in favor of golden rice could
result in the Taliban issuing a fatwa against you. P.S. Can I have your
stereo? :-) ).
From a purely technical standpoint, though, this means that the average
amount of beta-carotene in 1 gm (dry weight) of golden rice is now roughly
3.2 micrograms, or double that of the best strain (Z11b) reported in the
original January 2000 Science paper. That's an impressive achievement in
12-18 months. Have these results appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific
journal yet, and if so, which one?
(Note from CSP: While some Asian people may be finicky about the color of
rice, it is not true that colored rice is not widely preferred. In
Indonesia I have seen some really colorful rice varieties they prefer.
Further, in India although we use white rice, we enrich it with many
beautiful colorful spices such as yellow from turmeric, red from chilly
pepper, brown with tamarind etc. An educational campaign aimed at the
therapeutic values of Golden Rice will be necessary to ensure public
understanding of its value. And if I am told of its value in preventing
blindness and disease, I would value this rice in whatever color it comes
in just like I would not care about the color of the medicine I take. In
sixties, when U.S. sent massive wheat aid to India during our famine,
this wheat WAS different from the type (in both color and texture) we
consumed it readily; beyond initial reluctance, it was accepted, made into
'rotis' and eaten for we had not much choice otherwise.)
From: Marcel KUNTZ
ubject: French GMO web site
A new French web site looking independently at the main issues related to
genetically modified plants.
The authors are all from publicly funded laboratories in Grenoble (France)
and all volunteered for this task, realizing the necessity for discussion
with the general public concerning issues such as basic research,
commercial application and risk assessment. Only a French version is
currently available. Although the authors realize its limitation in terms
of general dissemination of the information, they feel this French version
allows a more direct dialogue with francophone citizens. The authors do
not systematically support nor oppose the use of genetic modification for
commercial purposes, but advocate the importance of a science-based
And a Spanish One Too.....
From: Javier Verastegui Subject: Porquebiotecnología
For your information, the Argentinean Seed Producers Association (ASA) has
launched this website called "Why Biotechnology?" (Porque Biotecnologia?)
to promote public awareness about transgenic crops and food. The site,
which is in Spanish language, is also a good source of information on
Argentinean agri-biotech news:
From: Gerald Graham
Subject: A Call for a World Biotech Commission
A global conversation on biotechnology
Dr. Gerald Graham, International Environmental Consultant, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada posted at Center for International Development at Harvard
The global biotechnology sector appears to be in a state of gridlock.
Evidence of this is all around us: transatlantic trade rows over
genetically-modified (GM) crops; US refusal to adhere to the Convention on
Biological Diversity; negotiations for a Biosafety Protocol seemingly
stalled; not to mention public disenchantment in Europe with GM foods. All
of this has arisen in just the past few years; in fact, few if any of
these terms were even in the public lexicon a mere decade ago.
What is the latest response of our political leaders to this crisis of
confidence in a once-burgeoning sector? At the recent G8 summit in
Cologne, the problem of regulatory harmonisation and food safety was
fobbed off to the OECD for further study. This compromise initiative is
flawed in that the public is excluded from the process. What is needed
instead to break the logjam is a massive infusion of cross-sectoral and
cross-cultural dialogue before moving forward.
These are issues which effect everybody: from the farmers of North America
worried about the costs of 'terminator' technology, to the chrysanthemum
growers of Kenya concerned that a GM version of pyrethrum, a natural
insecticide (Colwell, 1996 ), might some day leave them high and dry; from
the medicine men of Africa anxious their secrets will be 'stolen' by
unscrupulous bioprospectors, to the vegan in Reading, England wondering
whether the tomatoes she buys for her family contain the genes of flounder.
Western governments remain committed to the expansion of the biotech
industry, which they see as a creator of high-technology jobs as well as
an engine of growth in the 'new economy'. They extol the virtues of free
and open trade. Trade agreements appear to have taken precedence over
environmental ones in international fora. The public, meanwhile, is
becoming increasingly sceptical of biotechnology; trust in the regulators,
particularly in Europe, is crumbling.
Even the conservative Economist views meaningful consultation as a way of
restoring the balance: "Public confidence would? be boosted by giving
consumers a clearer sense of participation in the regulatory process, so
that they do not feel that such products are being foisted on them by
authorities who are cosier with the industry than with shoppers." (June
19th, 1999, p. 15) Mandatory labelling is another obvious option, and one
which is gradually gaining international support.
Another, more global approach to this muddle would be to create a new
Brundtland-style commission to engage in a global dialogue on the
environmental, ethical and social issues and themes related to
biotechnology which should concern us all. These might usefully include
risk assessment and the long-term impacts of biotechnology. As others have
pointed out before me, consumers are currently the industry's guinea pigs
for long-term effects.
Numerous commentators have pointed out that unless urgent measures are
taken to instil public confidence, the biotech industry risks going the
way of the nuclear industry. Half a century of exaggerated and unfulfilled
promises from the nuclear lobby, as well as lax environmental enforcement,
have left that sector in a state of paralysis and decline. The public was
told nuclear power was safe and it was let down. Similarly, people know
that there is no permanent solution to dispose of high-level nuclear
waste; underground disposal just sloughs the problem off to future
At the end of the day, it is people who decide whether an industry rises
or falls. The so-called 'world trade agenda' should not be allowed to
crowd out legitimate biotech concerns. Biotechnology, a global issue if
ever there was one, no doubt has a brilliant future ahead of it, but for
this to happen, people from around the world need to be consulted before
the hard choices are made.
GOLDEN RICE'S PROMISE
March 8, 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Reproduced from Agnet)
Bruce M. Chassy writes regarding the March 4 article, "Golden rice
loses glow as vitamin A source," to say it's time to put golden rice
It is not a flash in the pan, nor is it a panacea. Golden rice is a
product concept that is still in development. Ingo Potrykus and Peter
Beyer have shown that they can make rice yield iron and
beta-carotene, something that never would have been possible without
biotechnology. The current prototype produces only modest levels of
the desired nutrients, but new varieties with higher levels will be
available in the near future. Chassy says that like any potential new
product, golden rice may or may not pass all of the dozens of tests
that could prevent it from reaching the marketplace.
If it is developed into a product, golden rice would add essential
nutrients to the diets of millions of people. But it will not be a
cure for all the world's nutritional ills, so let's not tout it as
such. And if for some reason it does not clear all hurdles, it would
be a humanitarian setback, but it would not mean that biotechnology
No matter how the golden rice story ends, the truth is that golden
rice is already a success if we see it for what it really is -- an
amazing scientific achievement that shows us the possibilities that
biotechnology places within our reach.
EPA RELEASES DRAFT REPORT ON STARLINK CORN March 7, 2001 EPA Press Release
Dave Deegan 202 564-7839; Martha Casey 202564-7842
Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is announcing two
actions related to StarLink corn. First, EPA is assuring the public
that the type of split pesticide registration, which approved
StarLink to be used solely for animal feed, will no longer be
considered a regulatory option for products of biotechnology.
Secondly, EPA is releasing for public and scientific peer review a
draft paper examining how food processing affects levels of the
StarLink protein in finished food.
Release of this paper follows up on last fall's meeting of EPA's
Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to evaluate the available scientific
information on how the wet-milling process affects levels of the
StarLink (known also as Cry9C) protein in food products. The draft
document, which is undergoing scientific and public review before
being finalized, explains that StarLink corn which undergoes the
wet-milling process contains essentially no residues of StarLink
protein in finished human food. In contrast, food products from the
dry milling process do contain protein.
After public and scientific review, EPA will evaluate the impact that
this new information has on assessing potential exposure to StarLink
corn from eating food manufactured through the wet milling process.
The common food products from wet milling include: corn oil, corn
syrup, alcohol, and corn starch, which account for approximately 80
percent of the food products manufactured from corn.
Copies of the draft paper and the Federal Register notice announcing
availability of the paper are available at:
http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/. The comment period will
be open for 30 days.