Urban Myths of Organic Farming :
Organic agriculture began as an ideology, but can it meet today's needs?
Nature, March 22, 2001
Anthony Trewavas is at the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology,
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JH, UK.
There is a widespread belief that low-yielding organic agricultural
systems are more friendly to the environment and more sustainable than
high-yielding farming systems. The current aims of organic systems ˜
maintenance of soil fertility, avoidance of pollution, use of crop
rotation, animal-welfare concerns and wider environmental aspects ˜ would
be hard to quarrel with. But the rules and regulations that have to be
followed to achieve these ends caused one leading organic researcher to
admit that that in organic farming "there is very little science" and
"this gives rise to a great deal of illogicality and confusion
particularly in some areas of production"(1).
Only two principles really distinguish organic farming from other farming
methods. Soluble mineral inputs are prohibited (Box 1) and synthetic
herbicides and pesticides are rejected in favour of natural pesticides
(Box 2). But agriculture based on these principles results in a more
costly product, mainly because of lower yields and inefficient use of land.
Organic agriculture developed from the philosophical views of Rudolf
Steiner and later Lady Eve Balfour, who in the 1940s founded the Soil
Association. In the United Kingdom this association licenses about 70% of
organic production and sends inspectors to check that its regulations are
being followed. Although its supporters assert that organic agriculture is
superior to other farming methods, the lack of scientific studies means
that this claim cannot be substantiated.
Conventional agriculture is a diverse set of technologies using the best
available knowledge, whose ultimate goal is the safe, efficient provision
of foods in abundance and at lowest price. As with all technologies,
problems often arise in the practices of conventional agriculture ˜ but
rejection of a technology because of problems also means losing potential
There is a widely held belief that organic farming is environmentally
superior. But although reduction in pesticide use (Box 2) leads to higher
reported levels of some insects and reported sightings of birds on organic
farms (pages 121ˆ138 of ref. (1), current synthetic pesticides are very
unstable; only transient declines of most field insects are reported even
at full pesticide dosage(2). Similarly, the lower levels of aphids
observed on organic farms could well reflect lower nitrogen and protein
content of organic crops, and lower yield. Expressed as a ratio of crop
yield/aphid population, the difference is negligible(2). It is also often
overlooked that some conventional mixed farming can maintain species
diversity. For example, conventional mixed farming in smaller plots
(providing more field margins) or farming based on the traditional ley
system (for example undersowing wheat with legumes) maintains conventional
yields and low costs(1). The benefits for wildlife equal those provided by
organic farming but at far lower cost to the consumer(1).
Nor do organic farming practices necessarily conserve the environment.
Competitive organic farmers keep their fields clear of weeds through
frequent mechanical weeding ˜ a method that damages nesting birds, worms
and invertebrates ˜ and high use of fossil fuels, which greatly increases
pollution from nitrogen oxides(3). A single treatment with innocuous
herbicide, coupled with no-till conventional farming, avoids this damage
and retains organic material in the soil surface. Similarly, although use
of manure means higher, beneficial levels of earthworms in organic fields,
there are numerous problems with the use of manure (Box 3), including
possible effects on human health(4).
Use of soluble mineral salts prohibited by organic regulations is another
contentious issue. The minerals taken out of farmland as food produce must
balance those put back by some other means. Organic farmers typically rely
on legume nitrogen fixation, rain water or mineral recycling in the farm.
The few detailed accountings suggest slow but accumulating mineral
deficits, particularly of potassium and phosphate(5, 6), in organic
farmlands. Organic farms are required to try to balance manure and straw
production with use on the farm itself. Excess organic manure or straw is
thus usually not available to provide for inevitable deficits with
year-to-year climate and agriculture variation. Ultimately, many organic
farms can become dependent on products that are conventionally produced
with inorganic minerals(7).
Developments in the past 25 years have shown how conventional agriculture
can be much more sustainable and environmentally friendly than organic
farming(8). A conventional farm can match organic yields using only 50ˆ70%
of the farmland. Excess food is being produced in Europe, so farmers are
being encouraged by governments to set aside up to half of their land for
fast-growing willow plantations which are then frequently coppiced and the
wood used as fuel. With this novel conventional approach, now in
commercial operation throughout Europe, total fossil-fuel use and carbon
dioxide production are much lower than in organic farming(9), and because
of carbon recycling it is much more sustainable(10). The plantation of
willow trees, with its undercover of weeds, bird-nesting sites and mammal
(including deer) and insect refuge, outperforms organic farms on any
biological measure of environmental diversity(8). But this practice
crucially depends on the most efficient use of land for food production.
Application of any ecological approach to agriculture is fraught with
uncertainty. Ecosystems are thought to maintain stability as a result of
diverse species composition. Modern agriculture, with its single-crop
monoculture system, is claimed by organic proponents to be inherently
unstable and unsustainable. It is true that crops rapidly disappear from
fallow fields as they cannot compete with weeds, but wild, stable
monocultures of species such as phragmites, wild wheat, (genetically
uniform) spartina and mangroves indicate that ecological stability is not
understood(11). Furthermore, although mixed cropping (supposedly mimicking
ecological diversity) can reduce disease, other crop combinations
accelerate disease spread(12, 13). Farms are land-management systems
maintained to produce food, in which farmer activity replaces normal
ecosystem feedback controls.
In the search for a more environmentally sensitive way forward, integrated
farm management combines the best of traditional farming with responsible
use of modern technology(14). This system integrates care and concern for
the environment with safe, efficient methods of production. Detailed
information on farm soil structure and field fertility is used to target
minerals, and integrated pest management to control pesticides and avoid
waste. But flexibility is emphasized, to take account of site-specific
factors within a framework of conservation of wildlife habitat and
landscape. Integrated farm management is a prime example of how to retain
the benefits of technology while minimizing the problems. In contrast to
organic farmers, who receive money for conversion, no financial supplement
is given by the UK government for good environmental behaviour and there
is no government support to enable farmers to learn integrated farm
A common argument is that organic farming is 'holistic' and thus superior
to reductionist 'chemical' agriculture on conventional farms. The
dichotomy drawn between reductionist and holist views is, however, false
and neither is superior to the other(15). The organic system is really
only an aggregate of regulations ensuring efficient use of resources, and
as such no different from integrated farm management(14). The organic
community resists dissection of its system, claiming, for example, that
direct comparisons of organic and conventional land are inappropriate and
only the whole system can be compared(2). But resistance to comparison and
examination invites suspicion. Any proper system can be subjected to a
sensitivity analysis to identify constraints(15). A genuine holistic
approach emphasizes the importance of the context of the system. The
flexible site-specific approach of integrated farm management uses a
contextual attitude that is denied the organic farmer working under
Organic agriculture was originally formulated as an ideology, but today's
global problems ˜ such as climate change and population growth ˜ need
agricultural pragmatism and flexibility, not ideology.
rties or improved nutritional value, but have
consistently shown that organic produce has lower nitrate and protein
content. Conventionally farmed food seems to be better for children,
although rodents apparently favour organic food. Overall cancer rates have
dropped 15% during the era of synthetic pesticide use. Stomach cancer
rates have dropped 50ˆ60%, probably an effect of plentiful, cheap
conventional fruit and vegetables. But this may not be the whole story,
because food mycotoxins from contaminating fungi (which can be controlled
by specific fungicides) definitely contribute to European cancer rates ˜
fumonisin and patulin are both reported to be higher in organic products,
and failure to use effective fungicides on organic farms has led to these
farms acting as repositories of disease. Organic farms may be protected
from the full effects of disease outbreak because they are surrounded by
conventional farms using proper fungicides.
Box 2 Problems with pesticides and chemicals
Organic pesticides, it is asserted, work with nature and are
environmentally unstable, unlike synthetic pesticides. About 60% of
natural and synthetic chemicals are known rodent carcinogens, and around
20 different chemicals are used to maintain the safety of processed
Approved pesticides for organic farmers include * copper sulphate, which
has caused liver damage in vineyard workers, kills worms and is persistent
in soil and produce (to be banned by the European Commission after 2002) *
rotenone, recently shown to induce Parkinson's disease * Bacillus
thuringiensis spores, causing fatal lung infections in mice.
Organic pesticides may be used more sparingly, yet more frequent
treatments of crops with copper sulphate than good conventional practice
have been reported on organic farms. Natural pyrethroids have to be used
at much higher doses than some of the prohibited, equally unstable and
much more effective synthetic pyrethroids, such as bioresmethrin.
Box 3 Uses and misuses of manure
Soluble minerals are not used on organic farms. Although crude rock
phosphate may be allowed, potassium chloride is banned; sylvanite, another
form of potassium chloride, may be permitted. The main alternative mineral
source for crop nutrients is animal or green manure. Manure treatment used
on any mixed farm improves soil quality, but conventional crop rotation
seems equally effective. Manure breakdown cannot be synchronized with crop
canopy growth, as is desirable, but continues throughout the growing
season. Ploughing in of legume crops (a necessary part of the organic
method to build soil fertility) and continued manure breakdown leads to
nitrate leaching into aquifers and waterways at identical rates to
conventional farms. Degradation of organic material from manure in the
soil produces significant amounts of nitrous oxide and methane, the most
potent greenhouse gases. Manure is variable in composition, yielding
unpredictable nutrition for crop growth: there is only a poor relationship
between available nitrogen for crop growth and organic content of soil.
Organic regulations recommend hay for animal feeding, but hay-fed animals
infected with Escherichia coli O157 incubate this dangerous organism
longer than 'conventional' animals fed with grain.
1. House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities. "16th Report:
Organic Farming and the European Union" (HMSO, London, 1999).
2. MacKerron, D. K. I. et al.
http://www.scri.sari.ac.uk/document/AnnReps/AnRp989.pdf (pp. 60-72).
3. Warne, J. Farmers Weekly 130, No. 12, 91-92 (1999).
4. Tschape, H. et al. Epidemiol. Infect. 114, 441-450 (1995).
5. Nolte, C. & Werner, W. Biol. Agric. Horticult. 10, 235-254 (1994).
6. Kaffka, S.& Koepf, H. H. Biol. Agric. Horticult. 6, 89-106 (1989).
7. Fowler, S. M. et al. J. Agric. Sci. 120, 353-360 (1993).
9. Bertilsson, G. Environmental consequences of different farming systems
using good agricultural practices. Proceedings of the Fertiliser Society
10. Addiscott, T. M. Eur. J. Soil Sci. 46, 161-168 (1995).
11. Wood, D. Food Policy 23, 371-381 (1998).
12. Matson, P. A. et al. Science 277, 504-508 (1997).
13. Zhu, Y. et al. Nature 406, 718-722 (2000).
15. Kline, S. J. Conceptual Foundations for Multi-disciplinary Thinking
(Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA, 1995).
16. Woese, K. et al. J. Sci. Food Agric. 74, 281-293 (1997).
17. Schupan, W. Qual. Plant. Plant Foods Human Nutr. 23, 333-358 (1974).
18. Coggon, D. & Inskip, H. Br. Med. J. 308, 705-708 (1994).
19. Kirchmann, H. & Thorvaldsson, G. Eur. J. Agron. 12, 145-161 (2000).
20. Lovejoy, S. B. Are organic foods safer?
21. Zwankhusien, M. J. et al. Phytopath. 88, 754-763 (1999).
22. Eltun, R. Norwegian J. Agric. 10, 7-21 (1996).
23. Ames, B. M. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 87, 7777-7781 (1990).
24. Betaarbet, R. et al.
25. Mackenzie, D. New Scientist 162, No. 2188, 4 (1999).
26. Hovde, C. J. et al. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 65, 3233-3235 (1999).
From: "Frances B. Smith"
Subject: Patagonia's Stance on Biotechnology
I read your response to Prakash on his listserv. It is somewhat surprising
that, according to your statement, Patagonia has done "research" on
biotechnology for many years but appears to have neglected to contact any
scientists supportive of this technology before now. From the issues you
raise, it sounds as if Greenpeace and Vandana Shiva have been consulted
I would urge your company to consider setting up some meetings and
seminars with some of the prominent scientists on Prakash's list to review
your "research" and put it into perspective.
As a consumer group that supports the great potential of biotechnology in
helping to alleviate hunger and starvation among poor countries of the
world and contributing to a "sustainable" environment, our organization
would be interested in whether such meetings would result in your changing
A further note: As you may know, the process of biotechnology has been
used to create many of the "wonder drugs" we may take for granted today --
such as many of the anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants.
Responsible companies should think about the implications of needlessly
attacking this technology, which could cause research funds not only in
agricultural biotechnology but also in pharmaceuticals to be restricted in
There are indeed risks from resticting advances in biotechnology.
Frances B. Smith
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 19:39:26 +0100
From: Klaus Ammann
Subject: Debate 2001'0321 a: Response of Ingo Potrykus to original text of
Marion Nestle about Vit.A deficiency
Thanks go to Marion Nestle for the swift beaming of the original text, it
is less provocative than press releases. Thanks go also to Ingo Potrykus
for his answer on such short notice.
On the strict nutritional questions Ingo Potrykus agrees basically with
the letter to of Marion Nestle, the need of more research is evident and
not contested by both scientists. Ingo Potrykus remains firm in views on
environmental matters and broader socio-economic viewpoints: There are no
obvious environmental risks anticipated, although tests will be done
thoroughly. It is also certainly not fair to expect the solution for all
nutritional problems in Asia from this rice.
I have a lot of understanding for both developers urging all debaters to
let them work in peace, and an important piece of work has to be organized
on the nutritional side. But without plenty of golden grains this is
impossible - so the inventors face another 'catch 22', which they will
But as it seems for now the 9kg statements of Greenpeace remain a polemic
exaggeration in order to fulfill the purpose of their campaign. But if the
Nestle-scenario holds true, Greenpeace might avoid a second Brent Spar.
And: To stop all field releases for at least 5 years, as requested by
Greenpeace will cause a lacune in clarifications and urgently needed risk
Text of letter published in the Journal of the American Dietetic
Association,. 2001;101 (March):289-290. GENETICALLY ENGINEERED "GOLDEN"
RICE IS UNLIKELY TO OVERCOME VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH,
Professor and Chair, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, New York
Answer of Ingo Potrykus:
I can fully agree with Professor Nestle's statement, that Golden Rice
"deserves critical scrutiny from nutritional professionals". We have been
working towards that since long. The tests which have to be done require
substantially more material, than can be produced in the glasshouse.
Therefore, production of Golden Rice in test fields is so important. To be
able to do so, we had to solve the IPR/TPR and MTA problems. This took
until February 2001. Now the material is at IRRI and PhilRice, and
hopefully soon in India, China, and Latin America. But because Greenpeace
et al. are determined to prevent field releases, it may take some more
years until material can be produced for the bioavailability and
nutritional studies. We are gratefull to offers from nutritional
specialists all over the world to help with the tests, but what can they
do, if we can not provide the necessary material.
I do not agree, however, that there are conceivable environmental risks (I
am still waiting for Greenpeace or anybody else proposing a concrete
environmental hazard from Golden Rice) and I can not agree with the cost
argument. Golden Rice will not cost a cent more than other rice, and the
farmers can use their own seeds. I also do not consider it fair, that Dr.
Nestle expects Golden Rice to solve all nutritional, health, and social
problems. The inventors, which take responsibility for the humanitarian
project (and who should not be blamed for PR campaigns from industry)
consider Golden Rice as a promising, cost-free, and sustainable
complementation for the traditional interventions, not for a "technical
fix of all problems". The inventors (and some biotech industries) are well
aware of the complexity of the problem, and work towards further
contributions by adding a "high iron"-trait (P.Lucca et al., TAF 102:
392-396-2001), and a "high-quality protein" trait (under development) to
the Golden Rice prototype. Both will, hopefully contribute to a relieve
from the network of problems Dr. Nestle rightly points to.
I am a bit surprised about the notion that bioavailability of pro-vitamin
A may even be only in the range of 10%.This would bring the calculation in
"How much Golden Rice has a child to eat ...." to a) 900, b) 450, c) 300
g/day. Of course, I could argue, that I have calculated on a modest
assumption of only 3 fold putative increase in concentration, and could
continue, that there are scientific arguments which speak for, say, 6
fold, and consequently a) 450, b) 225, c) 150 g/day. All this
demonstrates, how important it is to get material produced for "critical
scrutiny from nutrition professionals."
What "60 Minutes" Didn't Tell You about Biotech Food
From: Michael Fumento
March 22, 2001 Copyright 2001 by Michael Fumento
Granted, 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II have done far worse hatchet jobs
than its "What You Donít Know about Biotech Food," which aired on the
latter show. The problem is, it didnít give us what we should know.
Instead, it took a wonderful opportunity to explore the biotech bounty
that awaits us, then threw it away by highlighting a few doomsayers who
did their best to shiver our timbers ñ even if it meant fabricating
Case in point: Andrew Kimbrell, head of the ambiguously-named
International Center for Technology Assessment, in Washington, D.C. "It is
ever more urgent that we become heretics to the religion of science and
that we reinvent and devolve our technology," Kimbrell wrote in The
Ecologist a few years ago. Ignoring these decidedly extreme views, CBS
repeated Kimbrellís claim that of the laws used to regulate biotech crops,
"none were passed with biotechnology in mind." It added, "These laws are
30, 40 and even 50 years old when biotechnology wasnít invented yet."
Makers of biotech food products are regulated by the FDA, the EPA, and the
USDA. The original laws giving them jurisdiction over biotech foods came
in 1992, 1994, and 1984, respectively. Conversely, introduce a new
non-biotech food in the U.S. (either from cross-breeding or from another
country) and nobody bats a regulatory eyelash. But makers of biotech food
products are regulated by the FDA, the EPA, and the USDA.
The part about the regulations being pre-biotech is also utterly false.
The original laws giving the FDA, EPA, and USDA jurisdiction to regulate
biotech foods came in 1992, 1994, and 1984, respectively. In Canada, the
first regulations regarding biotech food were published in 1994, while the
European Union also specifically regulates biotech food, as does Japan and
many other individual countries.
"Genetic engineering is a powerful technology, thatís why it goes through
such extensive regulatory review, and much more so than conventional
crops," observes Professor Douglas Powell, Director of the Agri-Food Risk
Management and Communication Project of the University of Guelph in
Does Kimbrell not know this? Does CBS not employ fact checkers? CBS also
relied on Arpad Pustzai, a scientist formerly employed in a Scottish lab
who hit the lecture circuit after publicizing a highly controversial test
in which he fed a small number of rats potatoes containing a gene spliced
into them from a poisonous flower. "Pustzai says the rats that ate the
genetically engineered potatoes suffered unusual thickening of the lining
of the stomach and intestine and a weakening of the immune system," said
the CBS narrator. "Part of his work was published by [highly-respected
medical journal] The Lancet."
Indeed, it was ñ over the vociferous objections of two of The Lancetís
reviewers. The Lancet also published a critique declaring Pustzaiís study
was "incomplete," that the results are difficult to interpret and do not
allow the conclusion that the genetic modification of potatoes accounts
for adverse effects in animals."
Even Pustzai hasnít been consistent on interpreting his data. On a British
TV program in 1998 he claimed that "the effect [of feeding the transgenic
potatoes to rats] was slight growth retardation and an effect on the
immune system." Yet he told a committee of Britainís Parliament that "no
differences between parent and GM potatoes could be found."
Will the real Arpad Pustzai study please stand up? To its credit, 60
Minutes I did say that Pustzaiís work had been heavily criticized by
scientists and that other researchers "have done experiments indicating
biotech food is safe." But in a 17-minute segment, what useful purpose did
Here's what CBS could have said in less time: Virtually everything we eat
has been genetically altered through cross-breeding and making use of
natural and artificial mutations. This process began about 10,000 years
ago. Even nature crosses species lines. The human genome shows evidence of
more than 200 bacteria that have now become part of us. Biotech
engineering is much more specific and hence potentially safer, since it
involves transferring at most a few genes rather than mixing entire sets
Foodborne illness is estimated to cause 76 million illnesses, over 300,000
hospitalizations, and 5,200 deaths in the United States each year,
according to the CDC. Nobody has ever suffered so much as a tummy ache
from biotech food. Biotech food is already reducing pesticide needs and
giving cropland back to nature. Itís giving plants genes to resist heat,
cold, drought, and flooding, to grow faster, and to produce more nutrients
and higher yields. Soon countless millions of people will be removed from
the list of those endangered by famine even as the world population grows.
Letís be fair; it is hard to describe the current and future wonders of
biotech food in less than 20 minutes. Too bad 60 Minutes II didnít even
Read Michael Fumento's additional work on biotechnology and on media.
By Michael Fumento
American Outlook, 2001 Copyright 2001 by the Hudson Institute
In September, the media reported ad nauseam about the dangers of Taco Bell
taco shells and other products that had accidentally been made with tiny
amounts of StarLink corn. This led to a major recall, involving Kraft
Foods, Safeway, Kroger, Albertson's, and Food Lion. Frito-Lay greatly
slowed operations to check its products for errant corn meal, thereby
threatening an interruption of the nation's vital supply line of Cheetos.
The brouhaha was essentially based on the misconception that StarLink was
allergenic, when actually it merely hadn't been tested for allergenicity
and thus its maker had never sought to have it approved for human
consumption. Yet, the hysteria remains that there's some link, if not
StarLink, between biotech food and allergenicity. This is actually
backwards; not only is only biotech food screened for allergenicity but
biotechnology can be used to make an allergenic food non-allergenic.
Michael Fumento, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, who is a
completing a book on advances in biotechnology, interviewed Roy Fuchs on
these issues. Fuchs is a regulatory science specialist at Monsanto Co., in
Chesterfield, Missouri. His job is to ensure no allergens are present in
the transgenic foods the company seeks to market. This interview will
appear in a forthcoming issue of the Hudson Institute magazine American
AO: What does Monsanto do to ensure that the new food crops it produces
with biotechnology (in this case introducing a new gene or genes) do not
Fuchs: Unlike [a] pollen allergy that you can go to the doctor and get an
allergy shot for, the only way to manage food allergy is by avoidance.
Thus, it is a primary risk we seek to avoid when we evaluate new food
To this end, we use a comprehensive approach that begins with assessment
of the gene of interest prior to even introducing the gene into a plant.
The first step is to consider the source: Are we taking this gene from a
plant known to cause food allergies? As a matter of policy, Monsanto does
not obtain genes from the major food groups that cause allergies. That
said, even foods that cause allergies contain tens of thousands of
proteins, of which only a few ñ perhaps two to seven ñ are actually
responsible. So, it's certainly possible to take a gene from a food that
causes allergy and show that it's safe. This is done using the same
methods clinicians use on individuals to see what they may be allergic to,
which means first using the skin-prick method and later, if everything is
clear to this point, allowing the food to be eaten by volunteers who are
You'd have to be nuts to sell food with allergy-causing proteins from the
Brazil nut spliced into them. That's why it's never been done, nor ever
will be. Another approach we employ uses a relatively new technique
called "bioinformatics," in which we compare the amino acid sequences of
the expressed protein [proteins are made up of twenty different amino
acids, each encoded by its own distinctive DNA sequence] to the amino acid
sequences of known allergens, both for food and inhalant allergens. This
tells us if the protein of interest is in any way structurally related to
a known allergen.
We also look at the digestibility of a protein. Proteins that break down
very quickly in the gut have less chance to elicit an allergic reaction.
We can mimic this digestion in the laboratory.
AO: Okay, let's say you've done all this, isolated a protein, and
determined that a newly-created genetically modified plant is
non-allergenic? Now what?
Fuchs: Then we repeat the process during our formal risk assessment and
submit the information to the appropriate regulatory agencies. We also
conduct additional studies to estimate the amount of the protein in food
from the genetically modified plant and estimate the amount of the protein
which would be consumed by people.
AO: Are there any laboratory animals that can be helpful in this
evaluation process? Scientists in other areas have had success in using
mice for safety testing.
Fuchs: Currently, there are no animal models that have been able to
predict allergy in humans.
AO: Some groups claim that since the developers do the testing, it is not
reliable. But you've alluded to regulators. Who are they?
Fuchs: The specific regulatory authority that assesses food allergy
depends on the type of trait introduced. For a non-pesticidal product,
like herbicide tolerant crops, we provide our allergy assessments to the
FDA in the United States, to Health Canada in that country, to Health and
Welfare in Japan, and to the Novel Foods Process for countries of the
European Union, as well as to the appropriate regulatory agency in other
countries around the world.
In the United States, if the trait is a pesticidal product such as Bt corn
[that has had a gene inserted into it from a soil bacterium that kills
insects], then the EPA reviews food allergy tests for the newly expressed
protein. So if the product we were submitting were a Bt potato, the EPA
would evaluate the pesticidal protein, in this case the Bt. The FDA is
responsible for the food safety of the potato itself. Both agencies
interact and there are clear delineations of accountability.
AO: Monsanto still does a lot of crop development that has nothing to do
with genetically modified plants, such as old-fashioned cross-breeding of
corn. What are the regulatory requirements regarding those?
Fuchs: From a safety perspective, biotech crops are in a class of their
own. For any other newly-created plant variety, there is no formal
regulatory process in the United States other than the FDA's traditional
food standard that the food must be safe. The developer does not have to
generate anywhere near the level of information you would need with
genetically modified crops.
AO: And there have been allergenicity problems with newly introduced
non-biotech foods, have there not?
Fuchs: Yes. Probably the best example is Kiwi fruit, which has been only
introduced into Europe and the United States only in recent years. It has
now become a significant source of food allergy both here and in Europe.
The globalization of the food supply has introduced several new food
allergens into our diet, none of which have been from biotech food.
AO: What are the greatest culprits?
Fuchs: There are eight food groups that account for greater than 90
percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, tree nuts, shellfish, soybeans,
peanuts, wheat, and fish. Many schools have outlawed peanut butter because
of the severe reaction some children have to peanuts.
AO: Can biotechnology help render these foods safer?
Fuchs: Definitely. There are a couple of main technologies being developed
to reduce the allergy impact of various foods. One is antisense
technology, in which the production of the offending protein directed by a
gene is either greatly reduced or shut off. Antisense technology can be
applied to rice, peanuts, soybeans, and other foods.
What's the main difference between the transgenic soybeans on the left and
the non-transgenic ones on the right? The transgenic ones are heavily
regulated, both by industry and government.A second process is to modify
the amino acid sequences in allergenic proteins. Amino acid sequences that
bind to what's called the "IgE antibody" are responsible for eliciting the
allergenic response in humans. [IgE antibodies are a family of defensive
proteins (immunoglobulins) made by one's immune system when encountering
foreign proteins]. Changing these so that they can no longer bind to these
antibodies could greatly or completely de-allergenize a food. This can
even be used for non-food allergy, like pollen allergens. Finally, you can
engineer genes such as thioredoxin into plants, which increases the
digestibility of food allergens. This approach is being tested at UC-Davis
with new wheat and barley varieties.
AO: So you can de-allergenize ragweed pollen, then add other genes to make
the new ragweed superior in survivability and drive out the allergenic
ragweed like kudzu does with other plants?
Fuchs: (Laughter). Removing the allergen is a positive thing, but
increasing the survivability of ragweed would not be well accepted,
especially by my family, who are cotton farmers in Texas.
AO: Hmmpf! But what about the alleged "near-catastrophe" we always hear
about, in which a company inserted a gene from a Brazil nut into soybeans
and it carried over the allergenicity from the nuts to the beans? People
around the world depend on U.S. soybeans. Anti-biotech groups tell us we
came "this close" to disaster.
Fuchs: It's actually the other way around. First, this soybean product was
never even intended for human consumption; rather it was for animal feed.
More than that, this shows the current safety assessment system works.
This is an ideal example of appropriate stewardship. Those who oppose
biotech use this as an example of what could have happened, while I use it
an example of what didn't happen because a company acted responsibly and
because we have a sound risk assessment process in place.
Hoof-and-mouth crisis shows how far we've come
By THOMAS R. DeGREGORI
Houston Chronicle March 20, 2001, 7:34PM
THE 20th century was characterized by economic and technological change of
unprecedented rapidity as shown by all economic indicators. The
noneconomic indicators are just as spectacular -- life expectancy, health
and increases in per-capita food supply, which more than accommodated
population growth that virtually all "experts" believed could not be fed.
Both the developed and developing worlds added nearly 30 years in average
life expectancy, and strange as it may seem, the longer we live, the lower
percentage of our lives we spend with disabilities.
Agriculture had the additional challenge of putting nutrients into soil to
feed plants so crops could be grown to feed the growing population.
Paradoxically, these gains are largely denied, if only by implication, and
the science and technology that allowed them to happen have been under
attack for almost the entire century. The alleged dangers of modern life
have become conventional wisdom to large segments of the population, and
nowhere is that more true than in agriculture and food supply. This is
clearly evident in a multitude of responses to the hoof-and-mouth disease
crisis, as it is being attributed to some fault of modern agriculture,
which could allegedly be cured by a return to a more benign, eco-friendly
First, it has to be stated that prior to the 20th century, humans never
had consistent access to clean water and clean, adequate, nutritious food.
Drinking water in the wild, now (or by our hunter-gatherer ancestors) can
cause "beaver belly" (giardiasis) or be a source of microorganisms derived
from moose, ducks and geese. Diseases caught from wild animals include
tularemia (a disease related to bubonic plague) by populations who
regularly handled game and fur-bearing animals. Wild animals or their
remains can be infected with diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis,
hemorrhagic fevers, leptospirosis, brucellosis, anthrax, salmonellosis and
lethal anaerobic bacteria -- gangrene, botulism and tetanus -- which can
be transmitted to humans.
The history of agriculture is a history of plant and animal diseases that
were a regular and largely inseparable part of our food supply. The
aflatoxins that infect grains such as maize and rye have brought misery to
countless millions of our ancestors and still plague the world's poorest
populations. The best estimates today are that 40 percent of the loss of
healthy life years in the world result from food-borne mycotoxins. It was
the Industrial Revolution and modern chemistry that brought us clean
water, and it was modern agronomy and science and technology that brought
us consistent, adequate, clean, healthy food year-round.
Prior to the 1920s, hoof-and-mouth disease was almost an annually
recurring threat to livestock everywhere. Modern animal husbandry has
allowed for the creation of relatively disease-free herds that are highly
productive of meat and milk and greatly contribute to human health in
developed and developing countries. The United States has not had an
outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease since 1929, while the disease remains
endemic in poor areas in Central Asia, Africa and South America. It was
more prevalent before modern high-density husbandry and remains endemic
only in areas of less-developed, low-density husbandry. Thus, it is
ridiculous for critics of modern agriculture to blame modern practice for
The irony is that hoof-and-mouth disease creates a crisis precisely
because of the high level of health of our herds. Since the threat to
human health is virtually non-existent, we could have chosen to simply
contain the disease and accept vastly less productive herds and less meat
and milk to consume, as is the case in many poor countries today. I have
been involved in the herculean effort to keep plants disease-free using
chemical pesticides in order to simply have a crop that still may be laden
Modern agriculture and husbandry, as any human endeavor, merits
constructive criticism and can be further improved, but using any crisis
as a basis for attacking it is wrong. I invite all such critics to join me
in my next foray into regions that are struggling to survive and that
would be happy to reach a level of development to deal with the problems
of modern food production as we are privileged to know it.
DeGregori is a professor of economics at the University of Houston and is
author of the forthcoming book Agriculture and Modern Technology: A
INTRODUCTION TO RISK ANALYSIS
From: Daniel Byrd (Via Agnet)
Daniel M. Byrd III and C. Richard Cothern recently published Introduction
Risk Analysis: A Systematic Approach to Science-Based Decision Making.
[ISBN: 0-86587-696-7, Hardcover, 433 pages, 2000, Government Institutes,
Rockville, MD, $99.00 (US)
Introduction to Risk Analysis examine risk and the structure of analysis.
It is a self contained text, suitable for self-study or for classroom use.
Emphasizing prediction, the authors cover the quantitative nature of risk
and explore quantitative topics, including graphing data, logarithmic
thinking, and risk estimation. The book focuses on fundamental aspects of
risk, using environmental and health risks as its primary examples. The
chapters include a discussion of functions, models, and uncertainties; the
regulatory process; risk assessment (exposure, dosimetry, epidemiology,
toxicology, and risk characterization); comparative risk assessment;
ecological risk assessment; risk management; and risk communication. Case
studies, references to additional literature, addresses to internet sites,
and over 50 figures are also included.
Introduction to Risk Analysis provides readers with a comprehensive,
integrated guide to environmental risk analysis for regulated substances
and processes. Providing a practical look at risk from a consistent
perspective, the book features the policies of regulatory agencies
concerned with health, safety, and environmental risks, including CPSC,
OSHA, EPA, USDA, DOT, FDA, NRC, and state environmental agencies. It
enables professionals in agencies and regulated industries to understand
and initiate regulatory risk analyses independently. The chapter on
regulation uses food safety as a detailed example. Additional information
about the book is available at www.ctraps.com.
From: "Karl J. Kramer"
Subject: Fwd: Shame on Starbucks for Surrendering to Anti-technology
From: Junkscience.com - www.junkscience.com
Shame on Starbucks for Surrendering to Anti-technology Extremists
March 22, 2001
Coffee maker Starbucks caved in to the demands of anti-technology
extremists by agreeing to remove from its store products produced with
modern biotechnology, including milk from dairy cows
supplemented with growth hormones.
The action is unfounded, and harms consumers and the environment.
Visit http://www.junkscience.com/letter-starbucks.htm to e-mail your
complaint to the CEO of Starbucks.
More information is available at
From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: Starbucks and The Profitability Of rBST On U.S. Dairy Farms
The Profitability Of rBST On U.S. Dairy Farms
L. J. Butler, University of California - Davis - 1999
".....Since the profitability of rBST is still uncertain and, in any case,
not startlingly spectacular, and since the adoption of this new technology
has been slow to moderate, and appears to have reached a plateau for the
time being, then we must conclude that it has probably had very little
impact on the competitive position of adopters vis-ý-vis non-adopters".
One important element which also needs to be considered in any economic
assessment of the use of rBST is any impact the technology has on the
productive lifespan of cows. Greater intensity of production per cow tends
to lead to higher herd replacement rates with negative impact on
depreciation costs and background resource requirements (more land,
labour, and variable inputs required to service the provision of
It is not sufficient simply to look at milk output per cow to establish
the net economic and physical resource performance of such a technology.
NATURAL LAW PARTY WESSEX firstname.lastname@example.org