Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





March 17, 2001


RICO, Peanut butter, 60 Minutes, Monarchs, Conferences,


To respond to Mr. Apel's question on RICO liability for groups
spreading misinformation, I would be reluctant to offer any opinions about
the applicability of the NOW v Scheidler case (text of decision at
http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-780.ZS.html -- some
intrepid law student should write a law review note on RICO). Activists
engaged in the public debate of policy issues relating to relative food
safety risks should have First Amendment protection. The NOW case
involved conduct --- blocking access to abortion clinics, threats, even
murder --- not speech.

If conduct were involved in the claim Mr. Apel discussed, such as
threatening researchers, uprooting GM crops and supplying mycotoxin
tainted replacements to unsuspecting consumers, perhaps RICO could apply.
It is tailored to allow suit against fraudulent or threatening practices,
and the court decisions vary widely in the lower courts. Having defended
clients from bogus civil RICO claims, I am a skeptic about the broad use
of RICO; my only experience with them is bouncing them out of court. In
preventing RICO liability, however, everyone involved in the biotech food
debate should take care that they are not intentionally defrauding
consumers to their detriment, particularly in mailers that travel in
interstate commerce.

Since RICO has its limits, I see basic consumer fraud as a thriving
area of future litigation, if non GMO/organic producers do not exercise
due diligence to ensure that products are marketed truthfully (e.g. re GM
content, mycotoxin, etc.). Making non GMO claims in the US will be, in my
considered opinion, a risky proposition even without an aflatoxin outbreak.

Tom Redick

Date: 15 Mar 2001 03:16:10 -0000
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Aflatoxins from "organic" peanuts/peanut butter

Regards the message from Mr. Craig Sams, a businessman who heads Whole
Earth Foods:

Mr. Sams writes, "I have refrained from responding to... ...and the
speculation about mycotoxins in non-GM food (as a peanut butter
manufacturer I regularly test peanuts and the organic ones
are consistently lower in mycotoxins because the plants are that much

Out of curiosity, I did some Medline and Agricola searches of
((aflatoxin or mycotoxin) and peanut and organic) and a few other
variations which yielded only a few references. The most relevant
references were the following:

Mislivec PB, Bruce VR, Andrews WH
Mycological survey of selected health foods.
Appl Environ Microbiol (United States), Mar 1979, 37(3) p567-71

These authors found that "health foods" including "organic" peanuts
contain similar fungi to normal foodstuff and the toxigenic potential of
those fungi was similar to those of normal foodstuffs. Of course, this
research was reported in 1979, when the chief criterion for "organic" was
to be free of synthetic pesticides and transgenic crops were just a hope
for the future.

Two other studies (from Britain) found that specialty peanut butters
from health food stores were significantly higher in aflatoxins than
peanut butters from conventional sources:

Gilbert J, Shepherd MJ
A survey of aflatoxins in peanut butters, nuts and nut confectionery
products by HPLC with fluorescence detection.

Food Addit Contam (England), Jul-Sep 1985, 2(3) p171-83 and
Mortimer DN, Shepherd MJ, Gilbert J, et al.
A survey of the occurrence of aflatoxin B1 in peanut butters by
enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Food Addit Contam (England), Apr-Jun 1988, 5(2) p127-32

If Mr. Sams has some actual analytical test results for mycotoxins in
"organic" versus normal peanuts or for the claimed superior health of
"organic" peanut plants to refute the test results cited above, perhaps he
will back that up by submitting it for peer review.


John Cross

Mycological survey of selected health foods.
Appl Environ Microbiol 1979 Mar;37(3):567-71 (ISSN: 0099-2240)
Mislivec PB; Bruce VR; Andrews WH

"A survey was conducted to compare the total viable fungal content and the
number of different mold species encountered in 10 types of health foods
labeled organically grown and in the same foods without such a label. The
foods were wheat flour, corn meal, brown rice, figs, split peas, pinto
beans, soybeans, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. Results showed no
consistent difference in either the total viable fungal content or the
number of different mold species encountered between the labeled and
unlabeled foods.

Two genera of yeasts (Rhodotorula and Saccharomyces) and 22 gener of
molds, including more than 65 species, were encountered. The mold flora
was dominated by Aspergillus glaucus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus
flavus, Aspergillus candidus, Penicillium cyclopium, and Penicillium

Isolates of the genera Alternaria, Cladosporium, Fusarium, and
Helminthosporium also occurred in certain foods. At least 10
toxicogenic species of Aspergillus and Penicillium were encountered. A
total of 87 cultures of these species, all isolated from health foods,
were screened for laboratory production of their respective toxins. Toxin
production potential of these 87 cultures did not differ from that of
cultures of the same species isolated from conventional foods."

Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001 19:57:56 -0600
From: Greg Pence
Subject: 60 Minutes II

I just saw a supposedly professional piece on GM food on "60
Minutes II" that infuriated me. The media just cannot judge good
science from bad science, so as usual they give equal time to every
kook. They gave equal time to Rifkin's sidekick, Andrew Kimbrell, as
they did to Jim M. the chief scientist at the FDA.

Kimbrell has been scare-mongering for 20 years, making a living by
going on the lecture circuit and writing books doing the same, just
like Rifkin.

They also did an extensive interview with Puztai and cited
his publication in THE LANCET as proof of his credentials (WOW! was
that a great example of the unforeseen consequences of lowering
medical standards).

They also equated the fact that (1) Starlink corn
inadvertently entering the human food chain with the claim that (II)
the FDA cannot insure food safety. (Because the government did not
prevent one precautionary thing from happening, nothing it has done
is trustworthy.)

One of the problems here is that journalism is committed to
airing "both sides" of an issue and in the process, always
legitimates the existing two sides. As I've argued elsewhere, that's
a big problem, e.g., in the abortion debate, where "pro-choice" and
"pro-life" are presented as the two sides (and presumably, reasonable
compromise is in the middle). But the reality of the abortion
situation on the planet is "pro-life", "forced-pregnancy" (in Romania
under its dictato)r and "forced abortion" (e.g.,in China). Seen under
these sides, personal choice is the reasonable compromise, not a
"side" in the debate.

So what the GM food movement needs is a few radicals calling
for FORCING farmers to plant GM seed, FORCING groceries to stock GM
foods, and FORCING schools to serve GM foods in their cafeterias. As
Martin Luther once said, late in his life, "They didn't talk to me
until after the Black Panthers started shooting things up. Then it
was 'Mister King, PLEASE talk to us.'"

Greg Pence
professor, philosophy & school of medicine
u of alabama at b'ham (UAB)

Date: 14 Mar 2001 20:28:43 -0000
From: "Indur M. Goklany"
Subject: Monarch massacred by the elements (not pesticides)

The Monarchs apparently succumbed to a freeze. As I have asked before,
"Oh, global warming, where art thou?" See atttached.

This of course leads to an important question, namely, why did such a
story (that Mexican loggers poisoned the butterflies with pesticides)
get picked up by various news stories and gain credence? Precisely
because it is plausible. There is tension between various land uses,
and making any one of them more efficient reduces those tensions. Which is
a major argument for GM crop (and forestry) technologies, in general.

Date: 15 Mar 2001 04:16:18 -0000
From: "Patrick Moore"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: 60 Minutes, RICO, E-coli, Monarchs, Labels, NZ,

I am disappointed to see the propagandist article on monarch
butterflies published in AgBioView.
All the statements about "loggers" using pesticides are conjecture at
best. I am sure there is a serious land use issue in the region but it is
ridiculous to give credibility to these conspiracy theories when
absolutely no evidence is provided. Monarchs have been subject to cold
snaps in their winter range as long as we have known about them. All
insects that explode into huge populations also undergo extreme mortality

Patrick Moore, Greenspirit
Please visit: www.greenspirit.com

Date: Mar 14 2001
From: David Lineback
Subject: Current Issues in Food Biotechnology

Attached is information on a two-day meeting on Current Issues in Food
Biotechnology being held here at the University of Maryland, July 11-13,

Second Joint CSL/JIFSAN Symposium on Food Safety and Nutrition:
Current Issues in Food Biotechnology

July 11-13, 2001
Inn and Conference Center
University of Maryland University College
Adelphi, MD 20783

Wednesday, July 11

11:30 a.m. Buffet lunch

12:30 p.m. Opening Session

Welcome: David Lineback (JIFSAN)
Michael Roberts (CSL)

Plenary address:
"Starlink" - A case study - Stanley Abramson (Arent Fox)

Session II: International Perspectives

Tony Hardy (UK/EC; CSL, MAFF)
Susan Harlander (US; Biorational Consultants)
Zhangliang Chen (China)
John Wafula (Kenya)

Thursday, July 12

Session III: Safety Considerations

Allergens - Steve Taylor (FARRP, University of Nebraska)
Gene transfer - John Heritage (University of Leeds)
Current studies on safety - James Astwood (Monsanto)
Consumer view - Carol Tucker Foreman (Consumers Federation of America)

Session IV: Detection and analysis

Methods of detection, validation, sampling and reference materials - Guy
van den Eede (EC, JRC)
CSL AOAC ring trial and FAPAS proficiency testing - Sarah Oehlschlager
View of governmental agency responsible for validating methods and
detection - Steve Tanner (GIPS, USDA)
Opinions to Manage AgBiotech in Food Processing and Marketing - Ann
Bridges (Medallion Labs, US)

Friday, July 13

Session V: Future Prospects

Phil Mullineaux (John Innes Centre, UK)
New technologies - to be designated
Consumer view - Michael Jacobson (Center for Science in the Public
Industry view - Mike Phillips (BIO)

Registration Information

Industry: US$325.00
Academic/Government: US$175.00

Registration information is available on the JIFSAN website at

Date: Mar 14 2001 17:56:14 EST
From: "David J. Heaf" <101622.2773@compuserve.com>
Subject: Diary date re Ifgene workshop in Switzerland in May

This is the final announcement for a workshop on the intrinsic value and
integrity of plants in the context of genetic engineering which Ifgene
(International Forum for Genetic Engineering) will be holding at Dornach,
near Basel, Switzerland from 9 to 11 May 2001.

Against a backgound of the Swiss constitution and draft 'Gen-Lex' making
explicit the concept of the intrinsic value of living things, we shall
look at the meaning and implications of this for our dealings with plants.
Contributions will be made by molecular biologists, a bioethicist, a
philosopher, a lawyer, a food processor, a food retailer, a plant breeder,
an ecologist, a plant geneticist and an overseas aid NGO representative.
The workshop will include guided observation of plants as well as ample
time for discussion.

More information including an invitation and booking form can be found on
the Swiss page of the Ifgene web site at
http://www.anth.org/ifgene/switzer.htm including contact details in Europe
and USA for further enquiries.

Please address any correspondence about this message to the sender,
David Heaf, Ifgene UK, Email: 101622.2773@compuserve.com.
More about Ifgene can be found at http://www.anth.org/ifgene/

Date: 14 Mar 2001 20:00:40 -0000
From: Barry Palevitz
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: 60 Minutes, RICO, E-coli, Monarchs, Labels, NZ,

Was the incident a few years ago in which people were sickened by
E.coli after drinking organic apple juice not from a certified organic

Date: Mar 14 2001 18:47:33 EST
From: Natural Law Party Wessex"
Subject: Multi-dimensional genome and quantum mechanics


There is much discussion (often tedious) about the safety of genetically
engineered organisms on a 'case-by-case' basis. There is much less
discussion, however, about the validity or otherwise of the basic
scientific and intellectual models on which recombinant DNA technology as
a whole is based and on which risk assessments are ultimately dependent.

Below is an interesting piece taken from: "Does science have enough
knowledge about DNA to be able to predict and master the effects of gene
transfer?" published by PSRAST

See http://www.psrast.org/defknthe.htm for full article.

Date: 15 Mar 2001 07:11:50 -0000
From: willy.degreef@syngenta.com
Subject: RE: AGBIOVIEW: 60 Minutes, RICO, E-coli, Monarchs, Labels, NZ,

Dear editor,

Below is the copy of my submission to your mailing list. In reproducing it
for your readers, you have left out the actual website of the anti-biotech
campaign I refer to. Without that reference the message becomes
meaningless. Here is the web reference again.


Would you be kind enough to post an erratum?

Many thanks,


Harvesting the Genome

Times of India
March 15, 2001

MUMBAI: Villoo Morawalla Patell is a pioneering plant molecular biologist.
She has set up her own biotech company in Bangalore, offering worldwide
genomic and bioinformatics services. She has a PhD from University Louis
Pasteur in France and has a post-doctorate from the University of Ghent at
Strasbourg. Vithal C Nadkarni met the elegant entrepreneur who is eager to
harvest the cornucopia of riches opened up by the genomic revolution
without sacrificing the ethics:

How is India placed to exploit the research and business opportunities in
the post-genomic era?

There's a great deal of work going on in academia. But there is little
accountability towards product development. Indian academics just don't
seem to think it's kosher. On the other hand, most entrepreneurs think of
bio-tech as a fashionable word which can be attached to their corporate
sidewing. But they don't seem to have thought deeply about what it entails
to be in the bio-technology field.

What's happening in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad?

They have the potential to be the bio-tech cities of India. Bangalore will
be a more knowledge-based, `discovery' kind of city, maybe more of a
contract-based research organisation city; whereas Hyderabad will come up
with single or individual recombinant DNA products, basically production
lines of vaccines, as, for instance, has been done at Shanta Biotech and
Bharat Biotech. But Hyderabad also tends to display a copycat mentality.

What do you mean by `copycat' mindset?

I mean there are so many recombinant products people can make instead of
just sticking to a single, tried-and-tested product. Erethropoetin for
instance, or human growth factor; interferons, or even insulin. We don't
manufacture it locally and are completely dependent on multinationals and
their exorbitantly priced products. This has had such a disastrous impact
on the over 2.5 million insulin-dependent people in the country.

So what's stopping us?

To some extent, it's a `nobody-is-willing-to-bell-the-cat' kind of
problem. People seem to be shying away from that initial bit of hard work
which is needed to get there. They prefer to basically copy the person
who's done it. I've seen the same kind of mentality even in the venture
capital community. Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the
plunge. There is no risk that they want to take.

What are Indian venture capitalists looking for?

I have faced all kinds of VCs: some have told me the founder cannot be a
CEO or they've said that my business model was good and everything was
fine except my revenue had to start flowing in from day one. ``Have you
got even one contract, to immediately earn your revenue?'' they would ask,
without realising that in the biotech industry nobody talks of revenues
for at least three to five years.
And these people want your revenues to begin even before they've funded
your venture!

Ultimately, where did you get your funding from?

Actually from friends who've known me, worldwide. If you look at my share
capital structure, there are all kinds of people in there. At the moment
we are 40-people-one-million-dollar-invested company and we're just
raising two million dollars in venture capital which is closing soon.

So why are you doing your project in India?

Because I believe in it. That's the way I am, the way I am structured. I
know that India has great potential. So I came back.
Has it been a double handicap, being a biotechnologist and a woman?
I think it was. I got round it by being extremely aggressive. It entailed
sticking by what you stand for. For example, I stood for contract research
(CR) and IP (intellectual property) development. Many of the VCs I was
dealing with wanted me to do away with the intellectual property concept.
``Just become a pure CRO,'' they would advise. I said, ``There's no such
thing as a contract research organisation without the research backing
it.'' And the fuel for the research has to come from within the company:
You have to have an intellectual property folio going on in tandem to
power and drive you to do better contracts. You don't want to be a
body-shopping contractor. You want to be high-skill, upscale contract
research organisation.

We want to build a credible and robust platform in India through the
promotion of strategies that are ecologically viable and alliances which
support our competencies and beliefs.

What do you make?

We make prototype plants for abiotic stress tolerance. This means creating
genetically modified plants which are drought-tolerant, salinity-tolerant,
which have high vitamins or better food value and other quality
environmental traits at the end of three years of work. Besides, there'll
be a whole plethora of genes which we will be cloning in-house. This will
be our intellectual property portfolio to be licensed to other
organisations and companies.

As for revenue, we do contract services. We're doing this for the Indian
seed industries and international companies, providing them tools to
shorten their term to the field. Normally, it takes eight years to breed a
variety but by molecular breeding, the time-span can be considerably
shortened. We're also licensing genes from already cloned sources -
because one does not want to reinvent the wheel; you take what's
available, license it and make it available.

What are you doing with the rice genome?

We're working on Basmati rice genomics, which no one in the world is
looking at. We are focusing on quality traits and environmental traits. We
have made a library of basmati genes, which is the first step of the
genomics game.

Incidentally, the whole world is concentrating on decoding the japonica
version of the rice sequence., The Syngenta sequence is japonica, so is
Monsanto's as well as that being studied by the international sequencing
effort (we are part of this venture). The only people sequencing the
indica variety of rice are the Chinese. But they're working on their own
strain. We don't have the kind of money to do the whole sequence of
basmati - please remember that the rice genome is expected to contain
nearly 50,000 genes expressed in different parts of the plant in response
to different stimuli. We are only concentrating on regions of chromosome
number 8 in the Basmati and Swarna varieties of indica rice, which codes
for genes involved in resistance to gall midge and drought and also the
heavenly aroma which makes the long-grained variety world famous.

What's your advice to India's young biotech aspirants?

Jump in if you're really convinced. I think young people in India are
still very naive. I was 40 before I realised this was the way I was
headed. We come from very protected backgrounds and we really have to grow
into our position and place.


Greenpeace renews its opposition to GM rice

Daily Telegraph
By Roger Highfield
12 March 2001

GREENPEACE has renewed its opposition to field trials of "golden rice", a
GM crop being developed to combat blindness and malnutrition in the Third

Greenpeace International said last month that it would not attack trials
planned in the Far East following claims that 50,000 people would go blind
for each month that the rice, enriched with vitamin A, was delayed.

Greenpeace, whose representatives will visit the International Rice
Research Institute in the Philippines next week, has now said it will
treat the rice like any other GM organism.

Benedikt Haerlin, Greenpeace international co-ordinator, based in Berlin
said: "Although we do not have any immediate plans to take direct action
against 'golden rice' field trials, we reserve the right to take direct,
non-violent actions against any releases of GMOs into the environment.

"The fundamental environmental safety issues remain unresolved for golden
rice just as for any other genetically modified organisms," he said,
adding that he was not convinced that the rice would be effective.

Attacks on trials "are something I would neither confirm nor deny", added
Von Hernandez, campaigns director of Greenpeace South-East Asia.
"Greenpeace is against any open releases of GMOs into the environment.
This applies to golden rice as well and, as always, we reserve the right
to take direct, non-violent action on any threats to the environment."

Activists including Lord Melchett, a former Greenpeace chief, have
sabotaged GM crop trials because they fear that the crops could lead to
"genetic pollution".

The rice institute is concerned at such acts, but there has not been
similar action in the Philippines. Only one set of trials of a GM corn
have been held in the Philippines to date and, while there were protests,
the trials themselves were not damaged.

Vitamin A deficiency affects up to 800 million children, or 14 per cent of
the world population. Prof Ingo Potrykus, of ETH, Zurich, developed GM
rice, with provitamin A, to counter this.