ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

18 August 2002


1. Terminator Seed - 6 minute US video
2. more on acrylamide


1. Terminator Seed

Terminator Seed is a 6 minute US video that provides a succinct, enjoyable and attention grabbing intro to the issue of genetically engineered food, with particular reference to terminator and Monsanto.

"Hang out with the police, protesters, and biotechnology activists at  The National Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and find out what's in those potato chips you've been eating.

You'll also learn about the terminator seed, an infertile seed developed by Monsanto and the United States Department of Agriculture that requires farmers to buy new seed year after year after year."

Among those filmed speaking at teach-ins on GE arranged during the 2000 Democratic Convention are Peter Rosset and Anuradha Mittal of Food First:

The film's director, Nina Rota, is distributing it for free on CD Rom. Click on the link below for more details and to e-mail Nina for a free copy.

Total Running Time: 6 minutes
Completion date: December 2000
Director/Producer: Nina Rota


2. More on acrylamide from Craig Sams


Polyacrylamide (PAM) is in water and sewage sludge, as well as being directly applied to soil and in herbicide spray [eg Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, the most widely-used pesticide in the world].  The sewage sludge debate resurfaced when the US organic draft regulations were published.  After 350,000 letters of protest, the use of sewage sludge was subsequently written out of the text (along with GM crops and routine antibiotic use). Whew!

Rodrick D. Lentz and Robert E Sojka seem to be the pioneers of polyacrylamide (PAM) use. Idaho is potato country.    A later article by Sojka implies at least a million US acres are PAM irrigated, with greater potential outside the US.  It certainly caught on in Australia.

The use of PAM in agriculture is still less than 1% of its use in water treatment, so it is likely that the main source of PAM in food is from herbicides and from irrigated crops where PAM has been used as a water treatment.  The use of sewage sludge would also introduce PAM into fields. It would be interesting to test sludge for PAM content.  For safety reasons Sweden and Japan both stopped the use of PAM in water treatment years ago- it only degrades at the rate of 10% per annum in soil, so it can  quickly build up to unsafe levels, through irrigation and sludge application. Once it breaks down to acrylamide it biodegrades, but as polyacrylamide it presumably can enter a food plant or animal, then be broken down to acrylamide at temperatures above 120° C, i.e. Baking, frying etc.  I don't know of any research that discusses what happens when you eat PAM.  Does it break down in the digestive process to acrylamide or does it pass through without being degraded by bacteria, acids, enzymes?  Fingers crossed!  On the basis that PAM is in all water at tiny concentrations, there will be acrylamide in organic food that is grown with irrigation.  However, as organic farmers don't use sewage sludge and don't apply PAM as a soil binding agent the acrylamide levels should be much lower.

PAM use is also concentrated when it is used as a moisture retainer for emerging seeds, where it is drilled with the seed.  Inevitably it is part of the young plant's earliest 'nutrient' uptake.

The AgBusiness Examiner article below shows that Polyacrylamide is also used to sediment out the waste from chicken production, with up to 50% of chicken feed being this acrylamide 'sludge.' This might explain the acrylamide the Swedish researchers found in fried chicken.  It would be interesting to see figures for American fried chicken. I presume this also happens in the UK, Thailand, Brazil?

The USDA Polyacrylamide page tells the whole story

USDA-Agricultural Research Service Award Winners  For Outstanding Efforts in Developing and Transferring Polyacrylamide (PAM) Technology to Reduce Furrow-Irrigation Erosion and Save Agricultural Soils

1997 Award Winners:
Rodrick D. Lentz and Robert E. Sojka USDA/ARS-Northwest Irrigation and
Soils Research Laboratory

From 1991 to the present, Dr. R.E. Sojka and Dr. R.D. Lentz, working as a team at the USDA-ARS, Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory (NWISRL) of Kimberly, Idaho, systematically developed a novel furrow-irrigation erosion control technology from idea to reality. The team researched and developed a method to virtually halt furrow Irrigation-induced erosion by small additions of water soluble polyacrylamide (PAM) to irrigation water. On freshly cultivated furrows, when using about I lb./acre of PAM applied at 10 parts-per-million in the initial irrigation water inflow, field sediment loss in runoff is reduced an average 95%. The team worked with a CRADA partner (Cytec Industries), helped secure product registration, provided critical data to agencies which manage soil resources and helped write the practice standard, helped gain the backing of environmental agencies in several states, and traveled extensively giving lectures and field demonstrations to promote PAM-use in irrigation. As a result of their efforts and those of the companies which are selling PAM, in 1995 farmers used PAM to halt erosion on an estimated 50,000 acres of furrow irrigated land saving an estimated I million tons of soil in this first full year of commercialization of the technology. Dr. Sojka's and Dr. Lentz' work was selected by the editors of Top Producer magazine, Philadelphia, PA, one of the top 13 agriculture "highlights of 1995."
Better soil and water management on sandy soils in South Australia.
Shea Watt, Project Officer - Potatoes, PIRSA Rural Solutions, Mt Gambier

Robert Peake Senior Consultant (Potatoes) PIRSA Rural Solutions, Mt Gambier

Good prospects for water use efficiency
A Polyacrylamide (PAM) and a soil wetter were trialed to combat the effects of surface sealing and low water retention. The Polyacrylamide used was a liquid designed to be applied through pivot irrigation systems and to be effective on low-clay soils. It is recommended for use in pivot-irrigation pulse-applications and is claimed to improve drainage, aeration, water absorption and retention. The soil wetter was a liquid detergent commonly used to combat surface sealing. Both liquids were applied at recommended rates, PAM at 45l/ha and wetter at 50l/ha.

The soil conditioner results have been very encouraging, showing a 25% increase in soil moisture from the wetter treatment and a 151% increase in soil water with the use of PAM. Ripping after planting with the Batswing®. was also tested, and an increase in soil moisture of 103% was measured. The soil wetter has not increased soil water content significantly above that of the control, but both the use of ripping and the PAM have increased the volume of water in the soil to exceed the measured ‘field capacity1. Treatment of soil with this PAM could allow growers to decrease their consumption of water by 18% and still keep the soil at field capacity, or by 40% before reaching the level of the control. The cost of the PAM used in this trial is currently on a par with clay incorporation in terms of $/ha. However, the product used in this trial is fast becoming redundant for use on sands with a new generation of very viscous liquid PAMs now being imported from the US. While the cost of these new products is similar, the volumes used are substantially lower, and achieve much higher results with a different mode of action.
The AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER                            Issue # 48      September 28, 1999

Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective

A.V. Krebs

Despite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified one of its ingredients ---  acrylamide --- as a probable human carcinogen and despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved it, U.S. poultry producers continue to use a chemical called  polyacrylamide to rescue nutrients from the hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste water they expel each day to be used to fortify animal feed.

Yet, in spite of such uncertainty the poultry industry, including Tyson Foods Inc., of Springdale, Arkansas, the country's largest chicken processor, which uses polyacrylamide to recycle material for use in animal feed, has been using the process  for  the better part of the decade. The FDA, aware of the widespread use of the chemical, says it isn't going to enforce its ban.

"Current information suggests we don't have a safety issue with this," Daniel McChesney, the FDA's deputy director of surveillance and compliance and leader of the agency's animal feed safety team, recently told the Dow Jones Newswire's Chip Cummins and Daniel Rosenberg.

That stance, the journalists report, has confounded some scientists, consumer advocacy groups and even industry consultants who say the FDA is causing confusion by not  holding poultry processors accountable for violating U.S. regulations. "At  the very least, the blind eye the FDA has turned exposes companies that use the chemical to what could blow up into legal and public-relations  fiascoes."

"It's been very fuzzy and very gray, and in the 20 years I've been looking at it I haven't had a straight answer from anyone," recounts Roy Carawan, an independent consultant to the food-processing industry, who studied polyacrylamide earlier in the decade as a professor in the food science department at North Carolina State University.

Carawan told Dow Jones that he raised questions about use of the chemical with the FDA years ago and suggested tests be conducted to ensure carcinogenic residue from the process doesn't end up in animal feed, the chickens that eat the feed and eventually the humans that eat the chickens. So far, no one has conducted such tests, although one of the chemical's manufacturers concluded from a series of scientific studies it commissioned that "theoretical" levels of carcinogenic concentration would be too small to present a health risk to humans.

"The FDA says it is satisfied with that assessment. But that isn't good enough for Carawan and others who maintain the only way to ascertain whether the carcinogen can end up in humans is through actually testing livestock which have eaten feed made with polyacrylamide."

Because of tightening environmental laws, the waste water used by plants can't just be discarded. Using polyacrylamide as a so-called "flocculent," proteins, fats and other nutrients can be extracted  from the water and reduced to a mealy sludge which can then be added to animal feed, sometimes making up as much as 50% of the resulting feed.

Ironically, the question concerning polyacrylamide come as the Europeans also struggle with a series of revelations about protein-rich "sludge" recovered from factory waste water that was being used in animal feed in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

In the U.S., besides Tysons, American Protein Inc., of Cumming, Georgia, one of the many renderers in  the U.S. southeast, said it adds material recycled with polyacrylamide to other material destined for inclusion in animal feed. "We do that with the FDA's knowledge," said a spokesman.

Without approval, companies that use polyacrylamide could be exposing themselves to legal risks, Wayne Bough, an independent industry consultant and former researcher at the University of Georgia told Dow Jones. "There's too much risk," Bough tells clients who frequently ask him whether they can use polyacrylamide. "Somebody might say, `I'm going to sue these turkeys'."

Bough agrees animal testing is the only way to make sure carcinogenic residue isn't being passed onto humans, but he doesn't blame the FDA for its ambiguous stance and wouldn't encourage chemical companies to spend money and time lobbying for new legislation. "It's very, very expensive research for a product that's going to sell for ten cents a pound," he said.

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