ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

10 January 2002


So at last we know where the Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John Krebs gets his ideas. He writes (5th item), "as far as food is concerned, Collman covers similar ground to that in Julian Morris and Roger Bate's Fearing Food (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999) and Douglas Powell and William Leiss's Mad Cows and Mother's Milk (McGill-Queens University Press, 1997). Perhaps one of the most telling arguments against the 'natural equals safe, man-made equals dangerous' view of foods is the one put forward by Bruce Ames and colleagues."

With a reading list like that, it could almost be TT himself at work. For more on Krebs:



*Reuters survey: US bio-corn plantings to soar in 2002
*Anti-GM sabotage destroys potatoes
*Ottawa assailed over biotech monitoring: contaminated food shows regulations flawed: Greenpeace
*Saudi biotech regs not enforced
*Nature book review: naturally dangerous: surprising facts about food, health, and the environment
*SOD launches class action lawsuit

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January 9, 2002
Christopher Doering
RENO - A Reuters survey of more than 300 growers, conducted at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting, was cited as finding that American farmers will shrug off European and Asian concerns about genetically modified food and boost U.S. biotech corn plantings by more than 13 percent this year, with a smaller increase planned for soybeans. The story says that the biggest increase will come in bio-corn plantings, with a leap of 13.8 to 19.3 percent depending on the variety, according to the survey results. Plantings for the main variety of gene-spliced soybeans will climb by a smaller 8.3 percent.

However, plantings of genetically engineered cotton will fall by 2 to 8 percent in 2002, reflecting an overall decline in cotton expected this year, the survey showed. The story goes on to say that farmers surveyed by Reuters said they would sharply increase plantings of Roundup Ready corn by 19.3 percent in 2002.

Plantings of Bt corn will rise by 13.8 percent. The increase appeared to be due mostly to the end of a year-long controversy over a variety of bio-corn, known as StarLink, which was not approved for human food but contaminated some 430 million bushels of the U.S. corn supply. Bob Stallman, president of the Farm Bureau, was quoted as saying, "We've learned a lot from StarLink, and producers have learned to ask a lot more questions. There's a greater degree of comfort with biotech products and the marketing of them."

According to data from the USDA, nearly 68 percent of U.S. soybeans, or about 51 million acres, were genetically modified during 2001. That compares to 54 percent in the prior year. Randy Krotz, a spokesman for biotech giant Monsanto, was quoted as saying, "When you look at corn, soybean and cotton, and you're on a significant amount of those acres already, I can see where you'd take a step back and say that growth has stalled. But has the excitement and acceptance slowed in agriculture? Not at all. It's simply finding the next market." However, gene-altered cotton plantings will shrink this year, the farmers said. Bt cotton plantings will fall 8.4 percent and Roundup Ready cotton will decline by 2.1 percent, according to the survey. The decline is blamed mostly on a global glut of cotton.



January 10, 2002
The New Zealand Herald
Saboteurs have, according to this story, destroyed genetically modified potatoes in the Crop and Food Research complex near Christchurch. The story says that the cost of the attack is expected to be more than $100,000, with research set back by months. One of the projects worst hit was looking into better ways of non-GM potato improvement.

The crown research institute's "contained laboratory" for GM experiments at the Lincoln Agriculture and Science Centre, a big glasshouse, was broken into early today. The green tops were cut from plants and pots were emptied into rubbish bags. Crop and Food chief executive Paul Tocker was cited as saying 1334 plants from three research projects were damaged, with the cost exceeding $100,000, adding, "These are not field trials. It is breaking and entering a science laboratory with the intent to disrupt the progress of science."

Crop and Food's GM potato work was attacked in 1999 in one of the first high-profile protests in New Zealand. Last year, after the Government decided not to extend a moratorium on GM field trials, the Wild Greens group said protesters were focusing on 10 areas where trials might occur. It said more than 3000 people had put their names to a pledge to take direct protest action.

Mr Tocker said the latest raid had severely affected work by Dr Margy Gilpin, whose project was trying to identify genetic sequences linked to specific traits so conventional selective breeding of the plants could be improved. Dr Gilpin was cited as saying she was devastated by the damage, adding, "Ironically, our programme is studying genetic techniques to help us find better ways of non-GM potato improvement. Because the plants have now been either destroyed or cannot be accurately identified, we will be unable to do the tests to verify all the science progress we have made over the last three years."



January 10, 2002
National Post
Sarah Schmidt
An analysis of Canadian government documents, obtained by Greenpeace, shows that Canada is ill-prepared for environmental and health-related fallout if banned genetically engineered food products enter the country. The story says that StarLink, a genetically modified corn made in the United States, was detected in food products in the United States and Canada last year. It was also sold as animal feed in Canada, even though the product has not been approved for environmental release or for feed or food use here. In the United States, StarLink is only authorized to be used as animal feed because of concerns it may trigger allergic reactions in humans.

The story says that the documents show Ottawa took six months after the contamination to send a notice to seed importers about a requirement for adequate documents indicating imported corn had been tested for StarLink contamination.

Environment Canada did not establish a program to monitor the potential ecosystem introduction of StarLink or any other genetically engineered crop derived through biotechnology. The government has "made a commitment to address ecosystem-related" concerns pertaining to genetically modified organisms, the documents note. The documents also state the government did not conduct a study to examine the health effects of StarLink, even though it admits to four recalls of corn-based food products imported from the United States. Health Canada argued the presence of Starlink corn protein in food products constituted a "level of health concern which has a remote probability of adverse health consequences," while acknowledging "it was not possible to prove" the protein in Starlink was "unlikely to be an allergen," the documents state.

The story also notes that the StarLink contamination cost the government at least $900,000, a "conservative" estimate of costs for which it did not seek to recover from Aventis, which manufactured the banned product. Eric Darier, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace, who analyzed the documents obtained under the Auditor-General Act, was cited as saying the StarLink case illustrates how ill-prepared Canada is for this kind of contamination, adding that the documents show government officials "don't really have control over it. There's no evidence they can't prevent it. The missing word is prevention. They're trying to manage contamination rather than prevent it."

Bart Bilmer, director of the Office of Biotechnology at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was cited as saying the government is prepared to deal with genetically modified products at the border and that the government handled the StarLink contamination "effectively," adding, "I think we serviced the Canadian public well and we will continue to do so."

Dr. Mark Winston, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, was cited as saying the six-month lag between the contamination alert and notification to seed importers was inadequate, adding, "One thing we should learn from this, whether a genetically modified product is a health risk or not, [is] the level of public concern is high enough [that] we need to expect rapid regulatory oversight. We just don't have the resources to do the tests for the volume of products that are coming our way, and will continue to come our way."

Dr. Brian Ellis, biotechnology professor at the University of British Columbia, was cited as saying the response of the various agencies to the StarLink contamination reflected a reasonable perception within government, adding, "I don't think there was a strong sense of urgency. There was no evidence that this posed an immediate health risk."

However, Dr. Ellis said the government learned an important lesson. "It's a huge job just to get everybody on the same page. I think the government has had the heads-up on the complexity in dealing with such a situation. Are they prepared for next time? It's just like terrorist attacks. You don't know where it will come from next."



January 9, 2002
Julianne Johnston
Saudi Arabia will be operating under new regulations regarding importation of commodities resulting from biotechnology as 2002 gets underway. However, industry sources say the regulations - which require import certification and labeling for products derived from biotechnology - are not being enforced  yet. (ref.2343)

The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) is working to minimize the impact of these new regulations. Although they are not currently being enforced, it is not business as usual. Saudi Senior Ministry of Commerce officials have stated that the government intends to begin collecting random samples of imported foodstuffs at ports of entry for testing. USGC staff are currently traveling to Saudi Arabia to meet with industry and government officials to assess the situation, and to determine what additional actions the Council can take to keep enforcement from occurring.



January 10, 2002
Nature 415, 117
Naturally Dangerous: Surprising Facts about Food, Health, and the Environment
by James P. Collman
University Science Books: 2001. 280 pp. $29, £19.99
John Krebs, chairman of the UK Food Standards Agency and in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK, writes in this review that many believe that the natural toxins in their food are safer than synthetic ones. If you ask people what they fear about their food, typically the top half-dozen concerns are food poisoning, BSE, growth hormones used in animals, animal feed, pesticides and genetically modified (GM) food
But how do these perceived risks stack up with the estimates of deaths caused by food? Acknowledging that these are only approximate, and that great uncertainties surround some of the numbers, two food risks tower above the rest: the dietary contributions to cardiovascular disease and to cancer. These risks, taking a fairly conservative estimate, probably account for more than 100,000 deaths per year in Britain. Food poisoning probably accounts for between 50 and 300  (similar in range of magnitude to the risk of choking to death on food or suffering a fatal accident while getting into or out of bed). As far as we know, growth hormones (banned in Europe) and pesticides in food, as well as GM food, are not responsible for any deaths.

Krebs says that a generally accepted psychological explanation for the discrepancy between perceived and actual risk is the one based on Paul Slovic's identification of the range of factors that make risks seem more frightening. Thus, for example, risks that are under someone else's control, potentially catastrophic and unfamiliar are perceived as greater than those with the opposite features. That is why most of us view riding our bicycle in a busy street as a more acceptable risk than living near a nuclear power station, although rational analysis says that you should stay off your bike.

James Collman writes about another important dimension of risk perception ­ naturalness: "Many Americans are under the mistaken impression that if something is 'natural' it is safe." Krebs says that as far as food is concerned, Collman covers similar ground to that in Julian Morris and Roger Bate's Fearing Food (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999) and Douglas Powell and William Leiss's Mad Cows and Mother's Milk (McGill-Queens University Press,

Perhaps one of the most telling arguments against the 'natural equals safe, man-made equals dangerous' view of foods is the one put forward by Bruce Ames and colleagues. Fundamental to the safety assessment of any potentially toxic substance is the maxim attributed to Paracelsus, that the effects on the body of any substance, good or bad, depend on the dose. Ames pointed out that if the same precautionary criteria that are used to set pesticide safety levels toxicological data, including tests on rodents for carcinogenicity were applied to the natural toxins in plants that have evolved to deter predators, many foods would be deemed unsafe. For example, potatoes, grilled food and peanuts would be banned if they underwent the same kind of scrutiny as pesticide residues.

According to Ames, half of the natural toxins that have been tested (most have not) are rodent carcinogens, and each year the average American consumes about 10,000 times more of these natural pesticides than of synthetic residues. A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal at least to a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic residues in the diet. The organic sector has claimed that its produce is lower in synthetic residues (fewer pesticides are used) but higher in natural toxins. From Ames's line of argument, consumers of organic produce may well be trading a minute amount of synthetic residue for equally - if not more ­ dangerous natural pesticides. This should, of course, be kept in perspective: any potentially detrimental effect of natural pesticides or synthetic pesticide residues is far outweighed by the health benefits of consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Krebs says that Collman's quirky and erratic account, more a series of vignettes than a narrative, makes an effective case for not accepting the simple equation 'natural = safe'. In addition to food, he covers herbal medicines, environmental pollution, global warming, electromagnetic radiation and radioactivity. Krebs says he would have liked a slightly less triumphalist tone, in recognition that there are still many uncertainties in our understanding of both environmental and diet-related impacts on human health. For instance, the toxicological consequences of exposure to cocktails of residues and the potential effects of long-term exposure are not well documented. As new data emerge, the experts, quite correctly, sometimes change their minds about safety limits. This recently happened for dioxins, for which the safety level has been reduced by a factor of five. When viewed from the perspective of scientific uncertainty, some of the fears about unknown consequences may seem less irrational. A challenge for those responsible for translating science into regulatory policy is to find an effective way of taking people's concerns into account without straying from the bedrock of scientific evidence. There are no easy answers, but a start may be for scientists both to explain the uncertainties more fully, and to emphasize that evidence is dynamic and evolving rather than a set of ineluctable facts.



January 10, 2002
Biological Control, pp. 1-7
Mark G. Wright, Thomas P. Kuhar, Michael P. Hoffmann, Sylvie A. Chenus
Abstract: European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) is one of the most injurious pests of sweet and field corn in the United States. We report here on controlled experiments in which an egg parasitoid (Trichogramma ostriniae) was released inoculatively (75,000 females ha-1) early in the growing season (when corn plants were at the early to mid-whorl stage) to test its efficacy as a biological control agent of O. nubilalis. Releases were made in fields of sweet corn and field corn. Numbers of eggs laid in experimental plots, larval tunnels, and larvae and proportion of damaged ears were determined. (ref.2340) Mass of ears was determined for field corn plots. In sweet corn, despite greater oviposition by O. nubilalis in T. ostriniae release plots, the number of borer larvae, stalk tunnels, and damaged ears was reduced by ~50% compared with those in nonrelease plots. This reduction in damage was consistent for early and late-planted sweet corn. In the field corn plots, larger numbers of O. nubilalis eggs were again laid in some release plots than in control plots. However, O. nubilalis damage appeared to be suppressed in T. ostriniae release plots, although no significant differences were found in most. These results were promising, but further work is required in field corn. The results for sweet corn demonstrated that inoculative releases of T. ostriniae provide suppression of O. nubilalis populations adequate to reduce damage significantly.



January 10, 2002
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
C1 / Front
The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD) will, according to this story, launch a class action lawsuit against Monsanto and Aventis today in Saskatoon. SOD, on behalf of certified organic farmers in Saskatchewan, was cited as saying it will seek compensation for damages caused by genetically modified (GM) canola. It will also try to get an injunction preventing Monsanto from introducing GM wheat in Saskatchewan.

SOD announced its intention to file the suit in October 2001 and launched a fund-raising drive to pay for the action. When the group announced the fund's launch, it contained only $1,000 and SOD said it would take at least $50,000 to get it to court. The organization said it hoped consumers and organic producers would support the SOD Organic Agriculture Protection Fund.

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