Liability, Mycotoxins and Ethics
I have followed the debate about mycotoxins with interest. I am a toxic
tort and liability prevention lawyer who has seen many arguments in favor
of cancer causation from mycotoxins in litigation; Red Porphyry's
assertion that mycotoxins are not a health issue in the U.S. is not
consistent with my experience and understanding. Lawsuits have been filed
asserting that aflatoxin concentrates in milk and causes cancer in milk
industry workers; many of my large food clients take a number of
aggressive steps to reduce the incidence of these compounds. I can
reasonably infer, as Mr. Nill has noted, that those food sources which
feature less aggressive risk management may often deliver doses of
mycotoxins that some people (particularly anyone who shops organic in fear
of pesticide residue) could have cause for concern, particularly for
children or persons at high risk of cancer (e.g. Hepatitis C).
Indeed, the lack of adequate research into the effects of aflatoxin, in
particular those injuries occurring in developing countries, merely proves
the folly of modern policies that require that we pursue remote manmade
risks (chemicals, non-ionizing radiation) while letting children die from
largely undetected natural risks that could have been prevented. This is
a hypothesis that regrettably has received far too little regulatory or
research attention. See Edith Efron, THE APOCALYPTICS (Touchstone, 1984).
The common feature of the ongoing failure to manage mycotoxins (outside
the major food corporation risk management programs) is always the
activists need to focus on the perceived evils of the modern corporation.
Involuntary manmade risks make for better public appeals. The same
principle seems to apply in the context of agricultural biotechnology ---
the risks that are given attention are those created by the corporations,
while risks that are reduced (like mycotoxins) are deemed unimportant.
Ironically, a regulatory decision to direct a "precautionary approach" to
rDNA actually bars my clients from making use of the very tools they need
to reduce aflatoxin.
The risk of toxic tort liability, much more than regulatory guesswork, is
what keeps corporations operating at an astronomically high level of food
safety. These liability risks make my clients go beyond regulatory
requirements in reducing aflatoxins. Overseas, and in smaller operations,
there are not the same protections. The end result of activists opposing
B.t. is to increase the liability risks that my clients were trying to
manage. We have reached that remarkable stage in human evolution when the
fear of technology drives us to ban the safer innovations coming down the
pipeline, tying the hands of those who would improve food safety.
I am not aware of any case where an intentionally fraudulent activist
campaign was directly linked to the deaths of thousands of children. I
am carefully following the representations and the mycotoxin data
overseas, where the failure to endorse rapid deployment of Bt corn in
mycotoxin heavy regions only serves to increase the largely unmanaged
public health risks of mycotoxins in developing countries. I hope one day
to see claims filed on behalf of children overseas that were victimized by
the fraudulent campaigns of anti-biotechnology activists. Even if the
claim is denied, the ethical implications might help the activist
community exercise the same level of care that my corporate clients
exercise when it comes to putting children at risk.
There are examples outside the human context where Greenpeace and friends
sped the slaughter of those they would protect. Some environmental groups
are admitting they made a mistake in driving the San Diego tuna fleet into
bankruptcy in the name of dolphin safe tuna (as predicted, the South
Americans moved in and killed many dolphins than Americans) --- perhaps
one day they will see the light on B.t. crops and aflatoxin. It is so
easy to stand in an ivory tower casting broad generalities into the
noosphere. It is much harder to feed the world safely. It takes science
and hard facts, not fancy, if you really want to manage the real risks.
Tom Redick firstname.lastname@example.org
Biotechnology is a weapon loaded with future
TONY BLAIR, Great Britain’s Prime Minister
Copyright Clarín and La Repubblica, 2001
(Every time science overcomes a barrier, part of society feels threatened.
Given the fears triggered by biotechnology, it is convenient to present
some arguments that prove its massive benefits.)
Biotechnology is science’s new frontier. Science and moral judgment
together lead human progress. Scientific innovation has been the motor.
Ethics, the guide. Science gave us the wheel, the steam engine,
electricity, the computer. It also gave us nuclear weapons. But it is up
to us to decide how to use these discoveries, and how to apply them.
What has history taught us? That science can be used for good and for
evil. And that judgment can be harmful as well as moderate. Science
without judgment can be dangerous. Progress without science will probably
On the edge of each new scientific discovery, usually one part of the
public opinion perceives it as a threat. Now we are facing a frontier of
this kind. The science of biotechnology will probably be, to the first
half of the 21st century, what the computer was to the second half of the
20th century. Its implications are profound; its benefits, potential and
massive. And, as always, some consider that certain aspects of a
scientific research are innately undesirable and should be interrupted.
The answer should be to go back to general principles and say: let science
discover the facts; then, let us give our opinion. But let us not judge
before we have the facts. This should be valid, even in areas so difficult
as GM agricultural products. I’m open-minded on this type of products.
There are legitimate concerns. But turning people who prevent key
scientific research taking place into heroes is a mistake. It is using
aggression instead of arguments.
We get the facts and then judge their moral consequences. There is a
danger, without realizing it or even without intending to, that we turn
against science. The distinction lies in the following: our conviction
about what is natural or correct should not restrain the role of science
in the discovery of truth; rather, information on the consequences of the
truth discovered by science should be available. The mapping of the human
genome showed a revolutionary future for genetic medicine, which can
transform our health prospects. Given population growth, and people’s
higher expectations of their health, the world will always need the type
of solutions biotechnology can provide. Biotechnology can make medicine
better and more effective. It can improve food production, even in the
developing world. It can help clean up the environment. Biotechnology
offers the possibility of an essential change in medicine. From diagnosis
and therapy to discovery and prevention.
Thanks to biotechnology, we are closer to finding a vaccine against AIDS.
In the next ten or twenty years, biotechnology will allow us to eradicate
the main killers of society: cancer, heart diseases, and diabetes.
Biotechnology is also a very strong weapon against degenerative diseases
such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. People cannot only expect to live
longer but also to lead a better life. Biotechnology is an industry, whose
market, in Europe alone, is expected to exceed US$ 100.000 million in
2005. The number of people involved in biotechnology and related
activities, together with those whose work will depend on biotechnology
applications, could reach three million, as part of a challenge to catch
up with the American industry, currently eight times bigger than that of
Europe. We won’t give in
Biotechnology would be impossible without research. Sometimes it is
controversial, as with GM products or animal testing. This activity is
regulated with strict measures. But my government will not tolerate
extortion or physical assault by those who oppose it. To accept this would
mean to give in to intimidations. Reaping the commercial benefits of
British scientific research also means supporting entrepreneurs who use
new technology to be in the market.
The British Department of Trade and Industry also developed measures to
promote biotechnology specifically and to deal better with industry
planning. Biotechnology, like the rest of the knowledge economy, is
European biotechnology will be able to compete against that of the United
States only if it can operate in a real single market. That is why we are
elaborating joint proposals with Switzerland to take advantage of its
presidency this year to include biotechnology in the agenda on the
economic reform agreed with Lisbon last March. If biotechnology must be
developed, people should trust protective measures. They must be sure that
potential benefits largely outnumber risks. That is why we strengthen the
legal and regulatory framework. Some months ago, we reviewed the current
regulations and we set up the Human Genetics Commission and the
Environmental Biotechnology Commission, to allow society express its
points of view. In 1999 we decided to strengthen -through legislation- the
ban on reproductive cloning. But the implications for the public policy do
not end here. The human genome is now freely available for everybody on
the Internet. Great Britain has the opportunity to guide Europe as the
pioneer in this new technology, setting up the standards that govern it.
It also has the possibility of being the core of science in Europe and the
bridge between the European and the American sanitary market.
The prize of success in this field is not just commercial. We can stop
continental epidemics like AIDS. We can tackle genetic diseases that
reduce the lives of so many children. We can tackle the mass killers of
our society-cancer, heart diseases- and offer future generations the
prospect of an active old age. How to keep Great Britain at the forefront
of biotechnology research is currently a debate among scientists. We have
to value scientists and their work. They will describe to us the future
scenario. Then we will be able to apply them for the sake of the progress
of our people. This is the way science and society should work, and our
Government is committed to it.
Copyright Clarín and La Repubblica, 2001. Translated by Claudia Martínez.
Forwarded by Roy Fuchs.
THE POLITICS OF FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE IN EUROPE Knight-Ridder Tribune
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--Dennis T. Avery, based in Churchville, Va., and director
of global food issues for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis writes that
plagued by fears of mad cow disease and gene-altered crops, Europe is now
suffering a plague of foot-and-mouth disease among British livestock.
T he European answer to all such problems is, says Avery, always the same:
organic farming. True to form, "industrial farming" is being blamed for
the new outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe. The facts show quite
a different story. First, the affluent countries with intensive
agricultures are the ones free of foot-and-mouth disease, while the
disease is running rampant among the world's peasant farms. (Caused by a
highly contagious virus that affects nearly all cloven- hoofed animals,
the disease is harmless to humans and often spread by wild animals such as
deer and boar) Second, foot-and-mouth disease has been known in Europe for
centuries in the past, when all farming was "organic." Avery says that the
English government commanded in 1450 that no butcher sell meat from
animals that died of "murren"--what they called foot-and-mouth back then.
The British outbreak of foot-and-mouth, the first in that country since
1967, is the virulent new Pan-Asian strain. It came from outside Europe,
probably on the shoes of some tourist who visited peasant farms in some
Asian backwater and didn't declare the fact on his re-entry form. Finally,
the first farm to which British authorities traced this outbreak of
foot-and-mouth is the sort of small family-type farm beloved by the
eco-zealots. The small pig farm, run on a shoestring by two rubber- booted
brothers in Northumberland, was recycling uneaten food from the local
school cafeteria. If there is a simple remedy to be found here, it is to
quit feeding table scraps to pigs. However, this would make livestock
production even more "industrialized."
Jim Hoagland, a city guy who writes for The Washington Post, pontificated,
"The building of agro-industrial empires that centralize food production,
buying, processing, and distribution has overwhelmed protections that
local farming and consumption once offered nations." Hogwash! The suspect
pigs were trucked 300 miles to a slaughterhouse in Essex. But in the 19th
century, live cattle used to be herded on foot from the Scottish Highlands
to London, spreading tuberculosis and undulant fever along the way. Avery
says that Britain had a dozen foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks between
1839 and 1902, when there was neither "industrial farming" nor truck rides
for pigs. Hoagland fearlessly predicts, "This type of anecdote will bring
grimmer views about the impact of "globalization" and market expansion to
Europeans. The new political battlegrounds of Europe will be the
slaughterhouse and the supermarket. Food safety, not tax cuts and missile
defenses, will make and break political careers there."
But "mad cow disease," for example, is a new and fully natural phenomenon
linked to less than 100 deaths. Governments were as helpless to predict it
as to predict the AIDS virus. Realistically, protecting the public from a
food-borne threat that never causes a human epidemic or a death will bring
no political approval at all. Government bureaucrats undoubtedly warned
the new Pan-Asian version of foot-and-mouth disease would try to attack
Europe's shores. But had they tried to ban travel to Asia and the Middle
East--or even make every traveler walk through a foot bath--business
travelers and tourists would quickly have revolted.
No one can guarantee absolute food safety. The planet is filled with
zillions of bacteria, viruses, insects and predators determined to
appropriate the human food supply. Most of them are constantly mutating,
like the food-and-mouth virus. We can keep them mostly in check with
modern technology, but we cannot eliminate them. When the inevitable
crisis occurs, guess who gets the ax? The nearest government official, as
when the Belgian government recently had to resign because very small
amounts of dioxin were found in some formulated poultry feed. The
ministers had nothing to do with the accidental contamination. Dioxin
traces are not even much of a threat to humans. The Economist
editorialized recently, "Like it or not, the preferences of modern
consumers for cheap, varied, all-year-round food mean that farming is
going to remain intensive."
The magazine notes that where farming is most intensive, in the United
States and Australia, "The incidence of disease is lower than in Europe,
perhaps because the very scale of operations makes it more necessary for
farmers to maintain tight veterinary controls, and to innovate with new
drugs and pesticides." Food scares will continue to reward mostly the
scaremongers who misuse them to advance pre-set agendas like organic
farming. Politicians need to delegate food safety to a powerful
professional science agency and step as far away from the firing line as
We should all keep in mind, as well, that our few victories to date
against viruses (annual flu vaccines, virus-resistant crops) have come
with the aid of biotechnology.
GM Foods Affect Your Life!
From: "Foods from Genetically Modified Crops" http://www.sdcma.org/
Here are some things you should know...
* If you worry about food safety..you should know that GM foods are as
safe as other foods and that GM crops are grown with fewer pesticide
applications than traditional crops.
* If you treasure butterflies.. you need to know that pesticides used in
conventional farming are far worse than GM crops for butterflies.
* If you have allergies.. you need to know that GM technology can
eliminate food allergens and that all GM crops are extensively tested to
make sure that no new allergens are introduced. In addition, GM crops are
being created in which the major allergens have been eliminated.
* If you are worried about cancer.. you should take note of the fact that
99.99 percent of the carcinogens in your food supply are natural chemicals
that humans have been eating for thousands of years. However, GM
technology provides the means of increasing levels of phytoestrogens,
isoflavones, carotenoids, and other antioxidants known to prevent cancer.
* If you are a woman and worried about getting sufficient iron ..you
should know that genetic modification can increase the iron content of
cereals and has eliminated chemicals (phytic acid) that prevent iron
* If you have doubts about the government’s approval of GM crops.. you
need to know that extensive testing and a long approval process accompany
every GM crop introduction. In the United States, three agencies regulate
* If you care about the environment.. you may want to know that GM foods
can make a significant contribution to alleviating the negative impact
that agriculture has on our environment.
* If you are worried about eating genes.. you should know that a GM-free
meal that has ten ingredients (wheat, potato, broccoli, meat, etc.) has
billions of copies of 250,000 different genes. * If five of those
ingredients are GM crops you will eat an additional ten to fifteen genes.
All those genes are quite readily digested by your stomach juices.
* If you have religious beliefs.. you should be aware that ethicists and
religious leaders do not object to genetic engineering of crops on ethical
or religious grounds.
* If you care about developing countries.. you should take note of the
fact that the most eminent plant breeders in those countries want to have
access to GM technology to breed more productive and more nutritious crops.
* If you don’t trust industry spokespersons.. then listen to independent
university scientists. The overwhelming majority agree that GM technology
is safe for the consumer and the environment and that it is needed to
raise crop productivity. They also support scientific testing and
regulation of such crops.
What’s the Bottom Line on GM Crops and GM Foods?
1. SAFETY: To the best of our knowledge, GM foods and crops are as safe as
conventional ones. Nutritionists and other scientists do not know of any
unresolved safety issues.
2. REGULATION: GM crops and foods are highly regulated by the United
States and other governments. The approval process requires many tests and
takes many years. Scientists and agricultural biotech companies support
3. ENVIRONMENT: There is no evidence that GM crops harm the environment or
have the potential to harm the environment any more than traditional
4. ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS: Certain GM crops have environmental benefits
because they require less pesticide to be used and less tilling of the
land (and therefore less danger of erosion). GM crops can play an
important role in making agriculture more sustainable and more productive.
5. BETTER NUTRITION: In the near future, GM crops and foods derived from
them will have higher levels of vitamins, minerals, biologically active
phytochemicals, and other nutrients. Many allergens will be eliminated.
6. FARMERS: Most farmers want GM crops because they make crop production
cheaper. For their own safety, they especially like crops that require
7. OPPONENTS OF GM CROPS: Groups that oppose GM crops on ideological,
philosophical, or economic grounds (such as Greenpeace and the Sierra
Club) have not brought forth scientific evidence to back up their claims
of negative health consequences or environmental impact.
8. DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: Plant breeders and farmers want access to GM
technology to improve their crops. Everyone knows that this will not solve
world hunger. It is simply another tool to increase productivity and reach
The Universe, the Evolution of the Perverse, and a Rice Problem
Visit http://www.cgiar.org/irri/Perverse.htm to download an interesting
commentary dealing with science, history and society "The universe, the
evolution of the perverse, and a rice problem" by John E. Sheehy of IRRI,
I reproduce the introductory paragraph and the finale here:
"This publication is rather unusual. I want to discuss science, the
scientist as part of an organization, and, finally, using some of my own
work, illustrate some of the challenges and uncertainties faced by a
scientist working in international agricultural research. I believe that a
change in perspective is an important aide to understanding and problem
solving and I hope to convince you of its value. "
"Science is the collective and cumulative attempt to understand the
natural universe. History is a creative art, best produced with an
imagination disciplined by knowledge and respect for the sources."
"Finale: It is curious to reflect on the fact that much of our science is
based on trying to explain in a rational way what we see or sense around
us, yet our evolution seems to be rooted firmly in chance. Furthermore,
scientific progress has been intermittent and society can lose interest in
technical progress. Nonetheless, the pace of change has increased and,
because of that, we live in an uncomfortable world, using value sets
derived before the era of biotechnology. Moral dilemmas abound. To
prosper, we have to make sure that our science is always relevant,
explicable, and appealing to ordinary people if funding, one measure of
acceptability, is to continue. We should be confident that the pursuit of
higher yields, through environmentally sustainable methods, by
multidisciplinary teams is both a valid and noble goal. I would like to
end by quoting a few lines concerning the 21st century from the book
Millennium by Felipe Fernandez Armesto : "Our descendents will see
population increase level off to a point where it can be handled by
advances in agronomy which under the pressure of population growth and the
need to exploit new and previously under-used environments will replace
medicine in the next century as the life-saving wonder science of the
- Follow up Comments from Prakash:
Karl Popper, the noted science philosopher, is quoted above: "The
scientist is a professional doubter who attempts to falsify the theories
of others...they should doubt everything and accept nothing at face
value." . Karl Popper comment on scientists being doubters is the
fundamental tenet of science; but unfortunately this is also the root of
incongruity between the natural science and social science. A book by
Robert Poole "Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology" addresses
this chasm. This 'positivism' - insistence of verification - of science
is often at odds with 'social construction' or 'interpretation' groups
and both represent diametrically opposite views of knowledge. When
scientific knowledge and social knowledge see common ground, society would
advance in a sensible manner. Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions" attempts to bridge this gap somewhat.
Recently, I participated in a public debate on GM crop issue at the
Genethics network, part of Australian Conservation Foundation in
Melbourne, Australia. I walked into a 'den of wolves' as the organizer Bob
Phelps jokingly warned me as the audience were all anti-biotech greens and
organic supporters. One person who was recording the discussion remarked
"When I sit here watching Prakash talk, it reminds me of what happened
thirty years ago when we had similar discussions on nuclear issue.
Scientists who were talking then were very intelligent and sincere but
just did not 'get it'. Prakash does not get it now either!". However, I
was glad to see Bob Phelps (a die-hard opponent of biotech on health,
ecological and moral grounds but also because of the monetary support he
gets from the organic industry) acknowledging that golden rice will be a
good application of biotechnology. Another person in the audience
remarked to me privately that "You have no sanctity for life and that you
rape these plants!". I smiled and asked her if she would be saying that
if she found a cockroach or a scorpion in her child's bed when she goes
after it with a fly swatter by instinct; I also asked her if the human
lives saved by biotechnology advancement have any sanctity in her opinion.
We represent two extremes of a polarized world. It appears that we all
seem to be "not getting it!". I am sure many of the scientists and
proponents of biotech including me are 'not getting it' but we must make
an attempt to understand societal perspectives of new technologies that we
introduce. I am also hoping that critics of biotech also would one day
Bt Cotton Results in Reduced Pesticide Residues in Farmland Runoff to
Streams and Rivers
According to a March 7 USDA Agricultural Research Service News Release
<http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2001/010307.htm>http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2001/010307.htm which noted that: " ... The team found only insignificant
amounts of organophosphate insecticides used to control boll weevils in
runoff from either the Bt or non-Bt cotton sites. The scientists concluded
that there are no detrimental environmental effects from either pyrethroid
or organophosphate insecticides in runoff from any of the watershed sites
sampled during this study." - Questions may be directed to Robert Cullum
with the USDA ARS Water Quality and Ecological Processes Research Unit,
ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory in Oxford, Mississippi at 601 232
2976; e-mail: email@example.com
- From: Karen Edwards
LAUNCH OF BIOTECH E-MAIL CONFERENCE 6 (IPR)
From: Biotech-Admin (via Agnet)
Dear Forum Members, We wish to announce that the sixth e-mail conference
(Conference 6) of the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture will begin on Tuesday 20th March and finish on Monday 30th
April 2000. The theme of the conference is: "The impact of intellectual
property rights (IPRs) on food and agriculture in developing countries". -
I. TO SUBSCRIBE TO CONFERENCE 6: To subscribe, please send an e-mail
message to firstname.lastname@example.org leaving the subject blank and
entering the one-line text message as follows: subscribe biotech-room2 No
other text should be added to the message (e.g., mail signature) otherwise
FAO's mailserv facility will reject the subscription request. Note, you
must first be a member of the Forum to subscribe to the conference. - III.
TO SEND A MESSAGE TO CONFERENCE 6: Messages may be sent at any time but
will only be posted from 20 March onwards. To contribute to the
conference, send your message to email@example.com Before
doing this, remember to carefully read the Rules of the Forum as well as
the Guidelines for Participation in e-mail Conferences, which you got by
e-mail in the Welcome Text when you first joined the Forum (also available
on the Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.htm )
- If you have questions or comments about this e-mail conference you may
contact the conference moderator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Best regards,
The Forum Administrator
From: "Izquierdo, Juan (FAORLC)"
Subject: informacion sobre REDBIO 2OO1
IV LATIN-AMERICAN MEETING ON PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY: GOIANIA, GOIAS, BRASIL 4
- 8 JUNIO 200 http://www.funape.ufg.br/redbio2002
- Juan Izquierdo
From: Javier Verastegui
Subject: News Story on Transgenic Tobacco in Argentina
This news should interest everybody as the illegal penetration of
transgenic plants in Latin America is growing each day due in part to the
weak biosafety frameworks, even in Argentina. It also shows the fierce
defense of big tobacco producers' interests to oppose or delay the
commercialization of nicotine-free transgenic tobacco, which does not
Javier Verastegui, CamBioTec-Canada
From: C Kameswara Rao (by way of C. S. Prakash) Subject:
For over a couple of decades, Agricultural scientists and nutritionists in
India, have tried very hard to make people use soybean and its products.
Indian delicacies Iddli and dosa made of soybean, instsead of black gram,
did not go with people. Soybean nuggets were marketed unsuccessfully. Now
soybean is hardly known.
The lesson of these sincere efforts is that people would not take to a
thing if they do not like it or do not want it, irrespective of the force
of the campaign. All the anti-biotech campaigners should target the user
groups like the farmers and the consumers to dissuade them from going for
biotech products instead of indulging in vitriolic and scientifically
unsound propaganda and criminal acts. Governments of different countries
are not providing adequate protection to the physical and intellectual
property of biotech scientists and organisations. This apathy borders
cowerdice. Biotech scientists and organisations should demand protection,
which is their legal right. Actually we should take a united stand in
demanding the Governments the world over to live upto their responsibility
- C Kameswara Rao
(I am sorry about forwarding a 'thank you' message from Dr. Rao
inadvertently to every one in the list, - Prakash)
From: "Dr. T. V. Ramana Rao" Subject: seeking
I introduce myself as T. V. Ramana Rao, working as a Reader in Biosciences
department of Sardar Patel University, Gujarat, India. My area of research
is morphogenesis and plant anatomy. Mainly I have been working on the
morphogenesis of fruits and so far I have worked out the developmental
details of either medicinally or economically important fruits of about 20
species and published about 15 papers in this area and communicated 5 more
papers.. Two of my Ph. D. students have also worked in the same area.20
So keeping this information as a base line, now I am planning to widen my
area of research to encompass the molecular aspects of fruit development
also. I am, therefore, interested to undergo the training in area of
Molecular Biology. In this connection I would like to request you to
kindly let me know the names and addresses of those scientists who are
working on the molecular aspects of fruit morphogenesis and who can
support a visiting scientist and impart training on techniques of
Yours Sincerely, Ramana Rao