ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 March 2002

FAULTY ENGINEERING and other items from Agnet March 20/02

AGNET MARCH 20, 2002:
Faulty engineering
Genetically engineered wheat threatens organic farming
UK: pupils call for ethics debate in science
Interview: China's GMO ban hurts investment: Monsanto
Monsanto's 'pledge' to put farmers first
Hasty decision on Bt cotton will do more harm - NGOs
Determining allergenicity in GM foods

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March 20, 2002
National Post

Paul Bigioni, of Pickering, Ont. writes that Douglas Powell and Justin Kastner contend (Engineered for Success, March 14. ) that genetically engineered crops are used by farmers because they work.

Bigioni suggests farmers use GE crops because they are forced to by the circumstances of the marketplace. It does not follow that GE crops are safe for human consumption or the environment.

Bigioni says that the entire GE food industry is based upon genetic theories from the 1950s and, specifically, the one-to-one correspondence of the total number of genes and the total number of proteins in a particular organism. According to Barry Commoner, director of the Critical Genetics Project at the City University of New York, the largely ignored conclusions of the Human Genome Project as well as research into alternative gene splicing demonstrate that genetic reality is considerably more complex than prevailing genetic theory.

For example, one gene in the cells of the inner ear of a chick was previously thought to encode one protein. It has now been found to result in 576 proteins, each with different amino acid sequences. This suggests that we simply do not have a grasp of all the variables which are at play when, for example, a gene from one organism is inserted into another.

When Messrs. Powell and Kastner say that "farmers know how to best run their own farms," are they really suggesting that farmers know all about genetic engineering? What a farmer knows about genetic engineering is likely what he has been told by a sales representative of a seed producer. The government cannot neglect its duty to responsibly regulate GE foods just because it has read the sales brochure.

March 20, 2002
The Northerner
Brenda Birley

As consumer concerns regarding health and the environment increase, the demand for food to be produced with out the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, preservatives and genetic engineering, according to this story, increases. While the organic
agriculture industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global food system, it is also one of the most threatened.

Marc Loiselle, Co-Chair of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD) Research Committee, was quoted as saying, "The organic market depends on being able to supply food that is produced without toxic pesticides and genetic engineering. If we can not grow crops free of unintended genetic contamination we are not able to service those markets resulting in the loss of our ability to be financially sustainable and resulting in loss of choice for consumers."
Arnold Taylor, SOD President, was quoted as saying, "Organic farmers operate under a set of Organic Certification Standards that prohibit transgenic material. There is a zero tolerance for GE material. The introduction of these crops into the environment has therefore seriously harmed us through genetic drift of pollen, seed spread by wind, water, animals and farming practices."

The use of crop rotations to control weeds and build fertility is vital to organic production. The looming introduction of Genetically Engineered Wheat could have a much larger impact on organic producers. "We are particularly vulnerable to and threatened by the proposed introduction of GE wheat," said Taylor. Because of its relative drought resistance, competitiveness with weeds, and its marketability, wheat is one of the most important crops to organic production in Canada.

March 19, 2002
BBC Online

An online survey of 2,000 UK students aged between 16 and 19 found, according to this story, that 68% wanted their lessons to take in topical ethical matters such as genetically-modified foods. Over half thought such topics would also be worth introducing into the science curriculum for the under-16s. Over half thought GCSE tested memory more than understanding And 60% of the students questioned through the Science Year and Science Museum websites felt smaller classes at GCSE level would improve grades in science.

"These new findings into the science curriculum are dramatic and fascinating and show those in the education community that students have clear, informed and valuable opinions," said acting head of the Science Museum Roland Jackson.

"At a time when the government is trying to improve the take-up of science courses and the recruitment of science teachers it makes sense to listen carefully to these views," he said. The Schools Minister, Catherine Ashton, said: "This review has come at an appropriate time as we are exploring an innovative and flexible structure for GCSE science that will engage pupils in contemporary scientific issues. "This effort reflects our commitment to meeting the needs and aspirations of all young people and raising levels of achievement." Science Year ­ which runs until August - was set up to highlight the impact science has on our everyday lives and the opportunities available for young people with a science qualification.

March 20, 2002
Dow Jones Newswires
Phelim Kyne
BEIJING -- John L. Killmer, Monsanto’s greater China director, was cited as saying late Tuesday that China has within the past nine months imposed the world’s most restrictive regulations on the production, research and imports of genetically modified organism crops, and that the new restrictions imposed on foreign investment in China on GMO seed development have delayed Monsanto's expansion plans and contradict the spirit of China’s World Trade Organization-entry to open its markets to foreign competition, adding, "I've said before that within 10 years Monsanto will be licensing (GMO) technology from China. The bottom line is this is just a bump in the road because regulations are changing all the time." Killmer was further cited as saying that its joint venture GMO cotton production facility, approved by local authorities in Henan province, has yet to receive approval from the Ministry of Agriculture due to anticipation of the new prohibition. Monsanto's three year attempt to gain approval for a proposed GMO corn joint venture production facility in northeastern Jilin province also fell through in 2000. Nevertheless, the story goes on to say that Killmer`s cautious optimism stemmed from China's recent decision to prioritize the development of its domestic biotechnology sector.

March 17, 2002
Champaign-Urbana News Gazette
Anne Cook
ST. LOUIS - Jim Zimmer, marketing director for St. Louis agribusiness giant Monsanto Inc., was cited as saying he wants farmers to know they are Monsanto's first priority, adding, "We're working very hard to provide value to farmers, and we have processes in place to conduct ourselves in a proactive way to meet their needs." The story says that approach, in part, is an effort to address fallout from backlash against genetically altered crops. The backlash was focused on Monsanto because the company is a leader in biotechnology, with products such as Roundup Ready soybeans and YieldGard corn that kills corn borers that eat it. Zimmer was further cited as saying that another biotech product, YieldGard corn that kills rootwoms, should  be fully approved by the United States and Japan later this year.

Lee Quarles, a spokesman for the company, was quoted as saying, "When we first commercialized this technology and introduced it to the market, we felt at the time that everyone would understand it and see the benefits. But some people were almost  hesitant, and we realized that we need to step back, help people understand it  and start a dialogue." Zimmer, a native of Neoga, (Il.), was quoted as saying, "The U.S. is a science-based society. If a product is safe, it gets approved. Japan is very similar. But when you look at Western Europe, you're not always looking at science-based processes. We didn't always understand that, and now we make our information transparent. We respect their opinions and beliefs."

He said YieldGard corn for rootworms will go through the European Union process, when its reopened re-opened later this year, but he predicts that approval won't come as quickly there as in the United States and Japan.

March 18, 2002
Press Trust of India
New Delhi -- Activists Monday were cited as accusing a section of scientific and political community of "pre-empting" results of the evaluation of Bt cotton trials and said any hasty decision on the controversial issue would do more harm than helping the farmers. Dr Suman Sahai, president of an NGO, Gene Campaign, was quoted as claiming at a press conference here that, "The manner in which the controversial GM technology is being pushed in this country, at the behest of powerful companies, is alarming. Before the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has met and given its decision, senior scientists, government officials and political leaders are saying that Bt cotton will be introduced shortly. The scientific process is being increasingly seen as a cover up." Stating that it was important to uphold the credibility of the scientific process, she said the point was not for or against GM but whether Bt cotton would provide Indian farmers an efficient and sustainable resistance mechanism against cotton pests.

March 2002
Environmental Health Perspectives
Volume 110, Number 3
Mary Eubanks
Three criteria are, according to this story, currently used to determine if a transgenic protein is safe for human consumption. First, a sequence comparison to food proteins known to elicit allergic reactions is conducted to see whether the novel protein has a linear sequence of amino acids similar to known allergens. Scientists then test the reaction of antibodies to known food antigens in the new food. Finally, they run test tube assays to determine how well a protein withstands digestion. These same criteria can be useful for crops produced by more conventional agricultural cross-breeding as well. But, the story says, questions remain as to the effectiveness of these methods for assessing the safety of foods with novel proteins.

The bioinformatic tools and databases available to compare sequence homology were developed to look at evolutionary relationships between different organisms. In predicting allergenicity, the critical questions involve much more subtle differences within organisms that are not necessarily revealed by available computer programs and search engines. One issue is that there is no standardization of how many amino acids should be looked for in a sequence. The fewer the number of amino acids in the sequence search, the more possible matches, and many of those matches may not be valid indicators of allergenicity. On the other hand, the greater the number of amino acids in the sequence search, the higher the likelihood of missing a sequence that may cause a problem. The question is determining the optimal number of search sequences.

Robert Hamilton, director of the Johns Hopkins Dermatology, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology Reference Laboratory, pointed out that another problem with the comparison of the primary amino acid structure to proteins already in databases is that allergic reactions often arise while or after proteins are metabolized. In such cases, this technique could not reveal allergenic potential.

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