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Date:

March 17, 2001

Subject:

Allergen, Mycotoxins, Your World, Organics, Borlaug, EU,

 

The media was profoundly uninterested in the latest shocking revelation:
The US EPA said that the StarLink Cry9C protein, which according to the
precautionary principle might be an allergen, could not be found in
products made from maize. (To date, all the food allergy "scares" have
been based solely on the detection of StarLink genes, which even the EPA
concedes are perfectly safe.)

In a White Paper On The Possible Presence Of Cry9C Protein In Processed
Human Foods Made From Corn Fractions Produced Through The Wet Milling Of
Corn, found at
http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/otherdocs/wetmill18.PDF, the
agency disclosed that Cry9C ELISA Well Tests produced by two different
companies did not detect the protein in any of 74 starch samples. The EPA
nonetheless went on to calculate an estimate of how much of the unfindable
protein US consumers might be eating.

The EPA estimated that the average American consumes 0.0004 micrograms of
the Cry9C protein per year. A microgram is one millionth of a gram. If
I've done my math right, that means one forty-billionth of a gram. Divide
that amount by 365 to get the daily exposure figure. The EPA also noted
that this extremely low amount is likely to overestimate exposure. From
this, the EPA cautiously concluded that there was no likely health
concern for the public.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: 13 Mar 2001 05:20:45 -0000
From: Red Porphyry
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Liability of Anti-Biotech;

I just would like to make a couple of comments here. First, I never
asserted that mycotoxins are not a health issue in the U.S. What I
wrote was that mycotoxins are not a concern for U.S. and Canadian
*consumers* (Agbioview archive msg #1005). Mycotoxins may very well
be a concern for U.S. and Canadian food industry workers and farmers.
from the consumer's perspective, however, any health problems that
food industry workers and farmers suffer due to high and ubiquitous
mycotoxin exposure "are on them", so to speak. Farming and
industrial labor is inherently dangerous work. People who freely
engage in such work are presumably aware of the risks involved. If
farmers and industrial workers are worried about such exposure,
farmers are free to plant only Bt-corn and food industry workers are
free to attempt to unionize in an effort to persuade their employers
to only process Bt-corn (free, at least, until the current Congress
repeals the Wagner Act). The overwhelming majority of U.S. and
Canadian consumers will happily eat any processed foods made from
Bt-corn, trust me. They won't do it out of any sympathy or solidarity
with farmers and food industry workers, though (a purely "altruistic"
reason). They'll eat them either because they're cheaper to buy than
organic processed foods (a purely "selfish" reason), or because when
all corn-based processed foods contain Bt-corn (which will be *very*
soon), they'll have no alternative.

Second, the current Congress will most assuredly pass major tort
reform legislation. Severe restriction on, or even elimination of,
such things as punitive damages and "working on contingency" are
going to make both your life and the lives of your large food clients
much easier. There will be a *lot* fewer mycotoxin lawsuits filed
when the law starts requiring plaintiffs to pay their lawyer fees on
a strict "pay as you go" basis! So relax. Help is on the way,
courtesy of W., the Republican leadership of the House and the
Senate, and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court.

It's a jungle out there, baby. :-)

Red
--
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Mar 13 2001 01:23:21 EST
From: ThomasRedick@netscape.net
Subject: Re: Bt corn

1. I am content to rely upon the US regulatory review process for health
and environmental effects of B.t. (no effects for health, manageable
insect and soil impacts for environment).

2. The truth is out there! Unfortunately, there is also plenty of
misinformation when it comes to relative risks. Read the papers I cited
and find the rest of Dowds work. Be equally skeptical of all unfounded
claims of safety. I prefer organic produce that has never been proven
safe and has in some cases been bred like Spiderman, using radiation
mutagenesis! I will end this loop (please, let's let it end...) with a
ancient doctrine from Roman law: Caveat emptor.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Pat Tigges

Dr. Prakash,

The following letter was sent to Jeff Davis regarding the issue of Your
World magazine focused on genetically modified food crops and touted by
you on AgBioView. I learned of it on the listserv and, as their science
advisor, I thought you might like to see what I had to say. The majority
of my educational effort deals with students and teachers.

--------
Dear Editor of 'Your World'

Re: Vol. 10, Issue 1, Genetically Modified Food Crops

The above named issue of Your World was touted on AgBioView by science
advisor Dr. C.S. Prakash. As a long-time reader of the list, I assumed his
name on the publication gave it a "good housekeeping seal." And, as a
teacher - specifically one who teaches environmental issues to both
students and teachers - I welcomed a new classroom aid in the fight
against misinformation about agriculture.

Make no mistake. I fully support genetically improved crops. But I support
them as part of a 'tool box' for high-yield agriculture that includes not
only GMO's but a host of other technological innovations that allow us to
grow more on less land, remain economically competitive, yet walk softly
on the land we do use. I have been fighting myth and lies about these
tools for more years than I care to count.

Sadly, a good share of that misinformation is spread by those within, and
surrounding, the food production industry itself - unscrupulous marketers
who build up their own product by tearing down the competitor. Organic
activists have been selling snake oil for years by creating fear of the
competition.

Unfortunately I found the same tactic used in your magazine. You attempt
to 'sell' biotech by using the public's unreasoned fear of pesticides. And
you do it by using broad generalized 'fear' statements backed up by
absolutely nothing.

For example, "The overuse of agricultural chemicals is polluting our land,
wildlife, and water" or "many herbicides harm animals and insects, and
they last a long time in the environment."

Nothing in the publication even attempts to qualify or quantify those
statements nor is a resource listed. Granted, the first statement might be
right somewhere, under some circumstance, but not here, not now, and
certainly not to the extent you imply. If you weren't going to explain,
why didn't you use a true statement like "GM can reduce the chemical load
in the environment"? Why include the broad, all-inclusive, fear language
at all?

The answer is simple. You used it for the same reason organic activists
use it - to instill fear. "Here, buy what I'm selling, it's safer than the
other guy's".

Shame on you. Biotech is wonderful. It can be sold on it's own merit. When
you stick to the facts you can sell it without slandering the competition.

Aside from the few 'fear' statements, the magazine is a great classroom
tool - colorful, informative and packed with good science on biotech. I do
not suggest you stop publication. I just ask that you "clean it up" for
those of us who base our teaching on fact rather than fear.

Pat Tigges, EAT First! (EAT is an acronym for
Environment-Agriculture-Technology)

------
Response by Prakash:

Dear Pat:

I thank you for your email and for your candid comments on the 'Your
World' issue, and I am sure its editor and writer are pleased to hear the
positive remarks you made.

First, let me say that we both are on the same track here in advancing the
cause of agricultural productivity and the support of high yield
agriculture, and completely agree with you that biotech is one tool box
along with all the other options we have to promote this. I have written
many popular articles on that subject and have emphasized that in many
places. Like you, I have also been fighting the 'chemophobia' in the
public, and the misinformation tactics of the activists opposed to
high-yield agriculture (In fact, in every public lectures I made during
last year I have used Bruce Ames classic work on coffee analysis to
illustrate the irrational fear of man-made and synthetic chemicals while
ignoring the heightened hazards of natural chemicals in our food). Most
critics who are now opposed to biotechnology in agriculture had already
made their career by opposing 'high-yield' agriculture, and have graduated
to opposing GM crops; it is their mantra now that "GM plants are a part of
the conspiracy to advance industrial agriculture."

I recognize that your major criticism of the magazine are its words "The
overuse of agricultural chemicals is polluting our land, wildlife, and
water" or "many herbicides harm animals and insects, and they last a long
time in the environment."

First Sentence: While editing the issue, I thought of this sentence
carefully and did not object to it primarily because the first sentence
does not necessarily imply that these chemicals are doing vast damages to
our environment but the fact is that the use of chemicals HAS impacted our
environment. In my other writings and lectures, I have argued that
intensive agricultural practices have brought vast benefits through
increased food security but also in its positive ecological impact by
ensuring that we do not encroach more wild-lands to farming. While the use
of agricultural chemicals in industrialized countries such as US is highly
regulated and monitored, I have personally witnessed the human misery and
environmental degradation caused by irresponsible use of chemicals in many
developing countries and also relatively higher residues of these
chemicals prevalent in food in the third world when compared to developed
countries ( I have also seen unhealthy practice of using raw human waste
in growing vegetables - which is far more damaging than the chemicals).

Second Sentence: Modern herbicides such as Roundup is clearly more benign
compared to other narrow spectrum herbicides but the sentence could have
been qualified. But we have still erred here when we talk about long term
effects and the impact on animals and insects. Herbicides in general are
more innocuous when compared to pesticides, and I get frustrated often
when even educated individuals use the term interchangeably (and I have
done this myself here!). But it is true though that some of the earlier
herbicides and even the current narrow-spectrum herbicides have negative
ecological impact when used indiscriminately.

Yours,

Prakash
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Food for thought

South China Morning Post
Dominic Biggs
March 12, 2001

In a report in The Independent, following a series of tests on organically
produced and non-organically produced food, the head of the country's Food
Standards Agency said people were unnecessarily paying a premium for
organic fare. Sir John Krebs, chairman of the government-appointed body,
said there was no evidence that organic food was healthier than
conventionally grown produce.

Organic food, which is becoming an increasingly common sight on Hong
Kong's supermarket shelves, has reportedly become so popular in Britain
that its farmers are struggling to keep up with a demand.
However, the debate over whether organic food is really safer or more
nutritious is unlikely to dent demand, according to food industry
specialists. This is even though new doubts were raised recently when the
British government's Agriculture Select Committee said many of the claims
for organic food could not be backed by fact and still needed to be
verified in independent tests. The committee said the attempt to meet
booming demand was threatening the industry's "traditional values".

The organic food industry suffered another blow late last year when
scientists at Emory University in Georgia revealed links between a common
organic pesticide and Parkinson's disease. In the study, rats exposed to
doses of Rotenone, a naturally occurring pesticide used by organic
farmers, gradually lost brain cell function and then developed symptoms of
Parkinson's. A spokesman for the organic farming umbrella group The Soil
Association was reported as saying Rotenone was a natural plant extract
and used mainly as a last resort.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Mar 12 2001 17:16:21 EST
From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: Australia: cotton pest control without Bt - 2001 Year of
Alternatives to GM

http://www.cottonworld.com.au/cworld/index.php3?insert=view.inc&title=Area+Report&type=area

Australia: cotton pest control without Bt - 2001 Year of Alternatives to GM

Enviro-friendly assassins pounce on cotton pests

Cotton Word, Mon 12 Mar 2001

"Experiments in cotton have demonstrated that during low to moderate pest
pressure years, a single release of these predators was enough to provide
season-long control resulting in equivalent yields to conventionally
managed cotton"

Date: Mar 12 2001 17:28:30 EST
From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: US data reveals UK GM trials unscientific

US data reveals UK GM trials unscientific

www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/gmtrialsscience.htm

"The results of this research indicate that cultivation or residual
herbicide combinations are essential for consistent season-long weed
control with glufosinate or glyphosate": Weed Science Society of America
Abstracts, 1999, Ref: 112
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/ed-house-200131019410.htm

Much ado about nothing

Washington Times
EDITORIAL
March 10, 2001

Recently, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has broken out in
Britain. It is caused by a perfectly natural virus which is extremely
contagious, and can be spread by practically any means, ranging from
direct contact with an infected animal to indirect contact with almost
anything that that animal has touched, including ground that it walked
across. While human lives are not directly threatened by the virus, it is
causing vast damage in many other ways.

Export controls and cattle quarantines of British livestock have
dropped into place across Europe and the rest of the world. Australia has
set up a special screening program for recent arrivals from Britain, and
Argentina has decided to spend $22 million on a vaccination program. In
Britain, meat shelves are empty, farmers are losing their livelihoods, and
all national parks, forests and wild bird reserves have been closed. The
government has even asked hikers, hunters and bird-watchers to avoid
traveling in the country, for fear that they might spread the disease.
Even horse races and traveling circuses are being canceled or postponed.

While this has been going on, importers in Britain and elsewhere have
told U.S. exporters that they will not accept genetically modified wheat
recently developed by Monsanto. Immune to a powerful pesticide produced by
the company, the strain is expected to raise crop yields $6 to $11 per
acre by allowing farmers better weed control.

Yet thanks to the public relations jihad being waged against such
foods by extremist environmental groups all across Europe, grocers rarely
dare to put such foods on their shelves. In Britain, test crops of
genetically modified foods have been publicly vandalized, and the vandals
acquitted. This week, the British government was excoriated by Friends of
the Earth and Greenpeace for being "reckless" in trials of genetically
modified crops.

"Reckless" is better applied to the protesters, because there is not
a shred of evidence that genetically modified foods pose a threat to
either humans or the environment. Nor do genetically modified foods kill
birds or hurt butterflies. They may not even harm cattle, a trait which
should seemingly make them the most desirable foods in Britain.

Genetically modified foods will not bring back cattle struck down by
natural diseases, but their use might help Britain's economy, and possibly
the diet of her citizens. The only question is whether Britain has the
stomach for it.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Growers Must Talk To Consumers More Effectively about Biotech, Expert Says

Omaha World Herald
Bill Hord
March 9, 2001

KEARNEY, Neb.--American farmers need a public relations effort to create a
new covenant of trust with consumers if they are going to reap all the
benefits that biotech crops have to offer, an international grain trade
expert said Tuesday.

"Communications is the big challenge to consumer acceptance of
biotechnology," said Carole Brookins, chief executive officer of World
Perspectives Inc. in Washington.

Brookins told 325 people attending the Governor's Agriculture Conference
that anti-biotech activists have used communications to create mistrust
about modern farming practices and food processing.
In doing so, she said, they have managed to leave the perception that
biotech grains offer the same food safety problems as animal diseases,
like mad cow disease, or harmful pathogens, such as E. coli.

"There has not been one example of a single biotech seed causing an
environmental or health problem," Brookins said. At the same time that the
public accepts genetic manipulation to create medicine, many have become
fearful of genetic changes in plants, she said.
"Agriculture has not told its story as effectively as the pharmaceutical
industry," Brookins said.

To counter these perceptions, she said, various sectors of the agriculture
industry need to work together to educate consumers and the news media.

"We need to do more to connect people back to how their food is produced,"
Brookins said. "Consumers need to know there are real people, just like
them, growing their food. People don't know where their food comes from
any more."

Farmers already use genetically altered crops to reduce chemicals needed
to kill weeds and to combat pests. But they also have the potential to
produce higher yields in adverse weather, add nutritional benefits and
grow pharmaceuticals.

She said some opponents of genetic manipulation of crops believe unnatural
farming practices put the environment at risk, others oppose the
globalization of agriculture and the involvement of big corporations whose
research develops the new genetics and still others are cynical about
scientific advancement or are anti-United States, where 72 percent of the
biotech acres are planted.
Much of the fear of biotech developments in farming comes from Europe,
where food safety fears spread as mad cow disease sweeps from one country
to another. "The European regulatory system doesn't work," Brookins said

"The Europeans are trying to demonize plant biotechnology to take
attention away from their mismanagement of their own food safety,"
Brookins said. "When you have a problem at home, make war to divert
attention."

As a result of negative perceptions about biotechnology, countries around
the world are scrambling to adopt regulations, Brookins said. To avoid
chaos, she said, the United States should work toward standard testing of
biotech products and standard regulations.
She said the most pressing agenda for U.S. agriculture is to build an
international consensus on the benefits of new technologies in the food
system.

"To succeed in this mission," she said, "we must build a new covenant of
trust between agricultural producers and consumers."
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.business-standard.com/today/commod1.asp?menu=6

The world cannot be fed with organic farming alone: Borlaug

Business Standard
Our Agriculture Editor in New Delhi
March 13, 2001

Nobel Laureate Norman E Borlaug, hailed as the father of the green
revolution, today said the attempts by various quarters to build public
opinion against biotechnology and genetically modified products in many
countries was misplaced and misconstrued.

It only reflected peoples apprehension about change without even knowing
the implications. Addressing a press conference here, the man behind the
evolution of high-yielding Mexican wheat varieties which triggered off the
green revolution in the 1960s said genetically altered maize, soya oil,
cotton, etc, were being grown and consumed in many countries for several
years without any adverse perceptible impact.

People were unnecessarily create a scare about them now. He said there was
opposition of even the new dwarf wheat varieties on the plea that they
would not be as nutritional and wholesome as the traditional varieties.

Many people sought to discourage their use saying that it would create
fodder shortage because of their short stem.

He, however, wanted the conventional methods of breeding to go on along
with the deployment of biotechnological tools.

The public sector should have a strong biotechnology programme to counter
that of the private sector.

Borlaug also took on the voluntary organisations campaigning against the
use of chemical fertilisers and said it was impossible to feed the growing
global population without using chemical nutrients.

Only those who do not know anything about agriculture can say that they
can feed the world with organic farming alone. It is nonsense, he
asserted even while advising maximum use of organic manure to sustain soil
health.

He said India would have to diversify its cropping pattern as its wheat
would not be able to compete with highlight subsidise wheat from other
countries in the global market.

Soyabean, pulses, notably gram, and new protein-rich maize should replace
part of the present wheat acreage.

The agricultural research organisations should find out other suitable
substitutes. In any case, new technologies were making it possible to
produce the same amount of grains from reduced area, he said.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

EU To Crack Down on Biotech Food

Associated Press
March 8, 2001

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The European Union's environment commissioner
said Thursday she will put forward proposals this month on the labeling
and tracing of genetically modified organisms in an effort to end a
moratorium on new GMO foodstuffs in Europe.

Margot Wallstroem cautioned the EU head office could face lawsuits from
biotech firms if the ban imposed three years ago on the marketing of new
genetically modified foods continued.

``We cannot afford to lose more years of not aiding the biotechnology
industry,'' Wallstroem told a news conference at a meeting of EU
environment ministers.

The EU ban was imposed by EU governments arguing genetically altered
foodstuffs could pose a risk to health and the environment.

Last month, the European Parliament approved new rules on labeling and
monitoring genetically modified food, preparing for their entry on the
market. But consumer groups, environmental organizations and,
significantly, several EU governments say they do not go far enough.

They are particularly concerned because the new rules do not include
provisions to hold makers of genetically altered food liable for any
damages they may cause to public health or the environment.

The dispute means the moratorium may well remain in effect, since EU
governments need to approve each new GM product individually and those who
remain opposed - France, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg and Greece -
have enough votes to block them.

Genetically altered foods are highly unpopular in Europe where they are
often referred to as ``Frankenfoods'' in media headlines. A survey cited
by the EU last year found most Europeans see them as a health hazard,
despite assurances from producers.

The moratorium has caused friction with the United States where biotech
companies are eager to enter the EU market. Companies producing modified
foods are awaiting regulatory approval for several products, including
genetically altered corn, tomatoes, potatoes and cotton.

Genetic engineering in agriculture involves splicing a gene from one
organism, such as a bacterium, into a plant or animal to confer certain
traits, such as drought tolerance or insect resistance in plants.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecological Impact of GM Crops

Los Angeles Times
March 13, 2001

[The Times calls for more public debate about genetically modified crops
(editorial, March 9)]

Allow me to examine your statements that GM crops are popular "because
they alter natural ecology" and that there are "distant risks" that they
will "alter ecosystems."
Agriculture is an ecologically destructive industry. On millions of acres,
natural ecosystems have been replaced by managed ones. Long before GM
crops came on the scene, natural plant and animal communities were
replaced by crops genetically quite different from their wild ancestors
and grown largely as monocultures. Wide hybridization between crops and
weeds produced some troublesome weeds. Human population growth and, by
extension, traditional agriculture (and that includes organic farming) are
responsible for the tremendous loss of biodiversity we have experienced in
the past 100 years.

Will GM crops lessen or heighten the environmental impact of agriculture?
They will almost certainly lessen the impact. Crops genetically engineered
with genes that make proteins to kill only specific insects require fewer
pesticide applications; as a result, fields of these crops have more
insects and a greater diversity of insect species, including beneficial
ones. Crops engineered with herbicide-tolerant genes require less tilling
of the land (hence there is less dust and soil compaction). These crops
are used in combination with the more biodegradable herbicides, rather
than the nastier ones that persist in our ecosystems. The biggest
advantage will come from raising crop productivity (whether through GM
crops or by other means), because it will mean that more wilderness can be
preserved when, in 50 years, there are 9 billion of us.

MAARTEN J. CHRISPEELS
Director, UC San Diego Center
for Molecular Agriculture
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

India: GM crops and biosafety concerns

Hindu Business Line
By S. K. Ghosh, C. K. Guhasarkar, R. Prathiba
March 13, 2001


"The optimist sees opportunity in every danger, the pessimist danger in
every opportunity."
-- Winston Churchill

IN SPITE of the Green Revolution, the agricultural technology of the 1940s
could not have met the food demand for today's population. Similarly, it
is difficult to assume that the food requirement of the people of 2020
will be sustained by the technology of today. Therefore, the advancement
in agriculture through biotechnology with the development of genetically
modified ( GM ) crops is expected to be a major player in farm production.

GM crops are used to tackle problems that are difficult to overcome by
traditional plant breeding techniques. Genetic engineering is the
technique of inserting foreign genes across incompatibility and species
barriers to create entirely new characteristics, and the outcome is the GM
product.

The governments of developing countries, including India, have already
identified biotechnology as the most promising and key research area with
widespread application in diverse fields of agriculture.

The overall global coverage of GM crops and this market is increasing
rapidly. The area from 1.7 million hectare to 39.9 million ha and market
from worth $75 million in 1996 to $2.1-2.3 billion in 1999.
The projections highlight that the world market for GM crop products may
reach $8 billion by 2005. GM crop is one of the agricultural technologies
where the adoption is high compared to other recently developed
technologies.

Though the global area under GM crop is increasing rapidly, in India, the
debate is still on whether to adopt it or not.

The yield of crops has risen manifold, but the productivity level in India
is below the global average in most crops. According to estimates, 93 per
cent of the increased food production has to come from increased
productivity in increasingly complex circumstances. To increase the yield
or keep the present rates of genetic gains achieved, new breeding
strategies need to be developed to increase the genetic base. GM crops may
be the answer, though economic, social and ethical concerns as well as
fears are expressed about the safety of GM foods.

As the GM crops expand, a shift will occur from the current generation of
'input' agronomic traits to the next generation of 'output' quality traits
to satisfy a high value-added market.
There is a need to have crop-specific sustainable research, and genetic
revolution must be harnessed to achieve the promise of science for the
poor and environment.

Effect on biodiversity

The hue and cry on the impact of GM crops on the biodiversity is mostly
theoretical. The GM crop may affect the stability and diversity of an
ecosystem but it is the trait or the acquired property, which interacts
with the environment and determines the potential impact, rather than the
transgenic plant per se.
The probable risks anticipated are the transgenic plant itself becoming a
weed as well, as the introduced gene may be sexually transmitted onto wild
relatives and traditional varieties.
The gene flow from a GM crop would depend on the mode of reproduction,
sexual compatibility, proximity with wild relatives and relative fitness
of crop-weed hybrid.

The fear that GM crops themselves will become weeds and lead wild
population to become 'superweeds' has been contradicted and experiments
have concluded that GM crops are less persistent than their conventional
counterparts and less invasive. Hence, the fear of loss of entire
biodiversity needs further critical examination.

Health hazards

The presence of 'Bt' gene in GM crops has not affected higher animals and
there were no major changes in the chemical composition of GM food. The
quality of produce from GM crops is similar to that of non- GM crops of
the same cultivar, and studies revealed that the 'Bt'-cotton is safe for
ruminants, birds, mammals, fish and even to beneficial insects.

The presence of an antibiotic resistance gene in GM crops, required as
selectable markers for selection of transgenics in laboratory, led to
biosafety concerns on the use of GM crops as food for human and animal.
The results of the experiments conducted on this aspect provided evidence
that the presence of the marker gene and gene products does not impose any
risk to human health or environment.
Monarch butterflies, the delicate orange-black winged 'flying jewellery'
was reportedly killed by the pollen of GM corn hybrid. Afterwards, the
study was conducted on these butterflies by feeding them exclusively
pollen grain of GM corn and the situation was totally different. In the
US, GM corn occupies majority of the corn areas and there were also
reports of the bumper 'crop' of monarch butterflies, which falsifies the
earlier information.

The effect of a diet containing GM potato on rat, published in a British
medical journal, got the media in a tizzy, causing worldwide public
concern. This GM potato, expressing snowdrop lectin that binds to specific
sugar moieties on body tissues and lectins, are as such found in most of
the food stuffs such as cereals, beans and potatoes. GM crops are expected
to be resistant to insects such as aphids, leaf and plant hoppers and
reported to cause allergic reactions to them.
The toxicity of GM crops to mammal systems was conducted by the team
headed by Pusztai, which reported that rat intestine was affected if fed
with GM potatoes continuously for 110 days. On the other hand, experiment
by Gatehouse (who developed the GM potato) reported that GM potatoes did
not have any effect on the growth and immune system of rats. An
investigation on the issue found that Pusztai made his opinion public
before recording complete and consistent data on his experiment. This
episode clearly represents the miscommunication of scientific facts to the
common public and the consequences are the concerns on the safety of GM
foods.

GM versus non- GM crops

In the case of non- GM crop, farmers have to spray chemicals to protect
the crop from dreaded insect pests and diseases. Chemical farming had a
romantic beginning and has the advantage of time and milieu, but in the
long run, it becomes disastrous to nature. The consequences of chemicals
on agriculture are toxic residues on human diet, destruction of ecological
harmony, environmental pollution and development of resistance among the
pests and pathogens. The major portion of residues in human diet consists
of DDT and BHC isomer residues.

>From the table, it is clear that Indians take around 40 times more
pesticides through food items than an average American's intake.
Generally, the tolerance limit for DDT is 12.5 mg/day/person, though it
varies according to the pesticide. Most of the pesticide and herbicide
residues affect the central nervous system, respiratory system and
gastro-intestinal system of human beings. These chemical residues also
cause depression, insomnia, oral automatism and hyper-reflexia of man.
Apart from cancer, a large number of pesticides have been reported to
reduce the ability of the immune system to deal with infectious agents.
This is important, especially in the developing countries, where at least
two billion people, living and working in farming areas, are exposed to
pesticides.

Continuous pesticide use results in pests developing resistance thereby
making it difficult to control than by other means. Currently, more than
500 species of insects show resistance to one or more chemicals and few
serious pests resist nearly all the poisonous pesticide chemicals.

Transgenic plants are engineered for the promise of pest resistance and
the major break through has come with the inclusion of 'Bt' toxin gene,
cowpea trypsin inhibitor or secondary metabolises.

Field experiments showed that the use of 'Bt' cotton varieties requires an
average of 70 per cent less chemical insecticide than conventional cotton
varieties. A study in the US showed that agribiotech can bring down
insecticide spraying by 80 per cent and herbicide use by 20 per cent. The
GM crops for pests and diseases not only increase the yield by protecting
them against pests but also lead to sustainable development of
agriculture.

Is organic food safe?

The hue and cry that GM food is not safe for consumption is creating a
furore, but the question that arises is: How far is organic food safe for
consumption? It is known that organic food is devoid of carcinogenic
compounds, but the fact is that the plants have natural toxins to protect
themselves and are highly carcinogenic in high doses. Toxicologists have
reported that higher levels of natural toxins are present when the crop is
raised by organic farming. Even crops grown in manure are highly
dangerous, as manure is a natural habitat for bacteria such as E. coil,
Salmonella which infect the plant tissue and imposes the risk of
contracting deadly diseases.
Now, Europe's demand for organic food and GM boycott is a cause of worry
for developing countries. It is not that organic farming should be
discouraged but, at the same time, the new technologies should also be
incorporated for agricultural development, as already developing countries
can barely feed their populations. However, it would be less destructive
in Europe, where over-production is common. Therefore, the consumers
should be well-informed of the risks associated with both the organic and
GM food products.

Are GM crops benefiting farmers? From the field experiments conducted in
India, it was found that there was an increase in the productivity ranging
from 26-60 per cent in 1998 and 29-88 per cent in 1999. Extensive field
trial data in the US have shown that the yield with 'Bt' maize hybrids is
10-15 per cent higher compared to that of corresponding conventional maize
hybrids. European corn borer would usually cause an annual loss of $1
billion, but by using borer resistant 'Bt' maize, the benefits were
estimated at $19 million in 1996 and $190 million in 1997. In the US
(1997), the total benefit was $190.1 million on planting 'Bt' cotton, of
which the farmer's share was 42 per cent, Monsanto received 35 per cent
and the rest of the world 23 per cent of the total economic benefits. A
study on the economic analysis of 'Bt' Cotton in the South-East and
Mid-South in the US over a period reported that an advantage of
approximately $96 and reduction in the usage of agro-chemicals.

This technology will encourage the private sector to motivate research on
the so-called 'forgotten crops' and traditional open pollinated varieties
and pure lines, as most farmers use these seed and save them for sowing
next season. It may lead to competition among the companies to invest more
in the research on these open pollinated and pure line varieties. It will
also stimulate a diverse and competitive market for improved varieties,
with farmers getting a better choice.

Within this century, numerous changes - positive and negative - have taken
place in the major components of agriculture. The agriculture of the
1940s, which was eco- friendly, has now become fully chemicalised, with
new farming technologies to cope with the demands of the growing human
needs and its commercialisation. The Green Revolution increased the
farmer's income and the yield of major crops but, on the other hand, it
made agriculture extensively dependent on chemicals. The indiscriminate
and over-usage of these chemicals is creating health hazards and
environmental pollution due to their residual toxicity.

Now, once again, farm production has become stagnant and is not able to
keep pace with the burgeoning population. Success story of the Green
Revolution lies on the genetic manipulation of the plants by plant
breeders, but further exploitation of variability has been limited due to
genetic incompatibility. However, further boost may be possible with the
help of molecular breeding, which makes possible the transfer genes across
genetic barriers. To meet the future challenges, we have to divert
ourselves towards new technologies to complement the traditional methods
of revolutionising agricultural productivity.

Biotechnology has the potentiality to help society solve serious problems
and it offers both challenges and opportunities for growth and development
of mankind. It is the alternative available to cope with the growing
demands of food for the burgeoning population, as there is no further
scope for horizontal expansion. The awareness regarding the benefits and
effects of GM crops and their products has to be created among the
scientific, farming and consumer communities. A misconception prevails
among the farmers regarding the transgenic and terminator technologies,
which they think to be synonymous and feel that the use of any GM crop
will lead to sterility in the crop.
The new products of biotechnology are already in the market, but we are
still in a dilemma whether to accept these products or not for fear of
misconceived risk and hazards. In such a critical situation, India must
avoid taking extreme decisions and integrate itself in the world economy.
For that, what is needed is the close co-ordination between the public and
private sector to use new technological inputs for the development of
agriculture to build an 'Evergreen
Revolution'.

It is obvious that unless the latest tools of science and technology are
applied for sustainable and equitable distribution of the natural
resources of the country, poverty and hunger will persist. Now, what we
require is the development of a symbiotic relationship between man and
nature for harmonising the ecological balance.

- S. K. Ghosh, C. K. Guhasarkar, R. Prathiba
(The authors are with the Nagarjuna Agricultural Research and Development
Institute, Hyderabad.)