[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[SANET-MG] Resistance is futile "Prepare to be assimilated"
The article below shows a public relations strategy seemingly based on
the Star Trek "prepare to assimilate resistance is futile" series on the
Borg. Only in USA is resistance to GM pollution of food crops futile and
that only because USDA wished to provide retroactive approval for the
polluting rice and presumably any other major polluter including USDA as
in the case of papaya..
Along with that the suggestion that GM pharmaceutical crops be limited
to non-food crops such as tobacco fails to mention that powerful immune
suppressing proteins such as interleukin 10 will be spread in plant
debris and pollute surface and groundwater near the production
facilities. The rational solution is to keep the production of
pharmaceuticals limited to cell culture plant, animal or microbe.
The public is being ground down by regulators who put the needs and
wishes of the public subjugated while they identify with the genetic
polluters. Instead of a token contribution of those objecting to GM
pollution a clean sweep of the current regulators is in order.
Nature 445, 132-133 (11 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/445132a; Published
online 10 January 2007
Out of bounds
Top of pageAbstractWith the use of transgenic crops expanding around the
globe, we need to decide what level of unapproved plants we are willing
to accept in our diets. Zero is not an option, says Heidi Ledford.
Escape route: genetically modified corn can mix with other crops if not
Steve Linscombe still isn't quite sure how it happened. The director of
the Louisiana State University AgCenter for Rice Research knows that he
grew a few lines of transgenic rice in field trials between 2001 and
2003. He also knows that one of those lines, LLRICE601, was grown on
less than one acre. What he is not clear on is how the line then wended
its way into the food supply. That little mystery is now the subject of
an official investigation and a class-action lawsuit.
When the escape was announced in August last year, LLRICE601 had not
been approved for human consumption. The US Department of Agriculture
(USDA) rushed to deregulate the crop, granting permission on 24 November
for LLRICE601 to be grown without a permit. By then, Japan had already
declared a month-long ban on all imports of US long-grain rice, and the
European Union had started to require all US long-grain rice imports to
be tested and certified at the expense of the exporters. Meanwhile,
Bayer CropScience, the company that created the rice strain, put the
blame squarely on farmers and an "act of God".
By that logic, this would not be the first time that a deity has aided
and abetted the escape of a genetically engineered crop. On 21 December,
Syngenta was fined $1.5 million for allowing its unapproved
pest-resistant Bt10 corn (maize) to mix into seed distributed for food.
The past decade is smattered with examples of unapproved crops sneaking
through containment barriers (see 'Some past escapes'). When they make
it into the food supply — as with LLRICE601 and Bt10 — public outcry and
financial losses follow. But amid the calls for tighter regulations,
experts say one truth is being drowned out: no amount of regulation can
guarantee that these crops will not escape and multiply.
Meanwhile, the stakes are getting higher. Since 1991, the USDA has
approved nearly 400 field tests of crops that produce pharmaceutical and
industrial compounds, leaving many concerned that future escapes could
have severe consequences for human health. A close call came in 2002,
when stalks of corn designed to produce a pig vaccine were found mixed
with $2.7-million worth of Nebraska soya beans destined for human
consumption. Prodigene, the corn's maker, was fined $250,000 and forced
to buy and destroy the soya beans.
Although the use of transgenic crops is spreading around the globe,
production is still concentrated in the United States, which grows more
than half of the world's genetically engineered crops. There, they are
monitored by three regulatory agencies: the USDA regulates field tests,
the Environmental Protection Agency monitors crops genetically
engineered to produce pesticides, and the Food and Drug Administration
provides a voluntary 'consultation' on the safety of crops for human
consumption. That voluntary consultation sets the United States apart
from many other countries, including China and many European countries,
which require crops to be evaluated for toxicity and allergenicity
before being approved.
In the 20 years since the USDA started to regulate field tests, it has
approved nearly 50,000 field sites. But an internal audit commissioned
by the USDA inspector-general and released on 22 December 2005 was
severely critical. The report admonished the agency for lacking basic
information about test sites, failing to inspect field tests
sufficiently, and neglecting the fate of the crops after testing. USDA
regulator Rebecca Besch says that a year on, many of the report's
recommendations have been enacted. The agency now asks for detailed
coordinates of field test sites, she says, and is revising its
Jeffrey Wolt, an agronomist at Iowa State University in Ames, commends
the USDA for its efforts, but says that tougher regulations are no
guarantee of confinement. "There has been this strong effort by
regulators and industry to tighten this stuff up," he says. "But no
matter how much you ratchet it down, the risk is not going to be
absolute zero because that's a scientific impossibility."
Other scientists agree. Transgenic plants have many ways to escape. For
plants pollinated by wind and insects, such as canola, pollen transfer
is a constant threat. And although seed harvesting and processing
equipment is designed to keep different varieties apart, there is no
guarantee of success. "Just like anything, it is not 100%," says
Linscombe. "You could have a seed that gets caught somewhere in a
planter and later jars itself loose." And of course even if only a few
seeds make their way into breeding stock, their numbers can then multiply.
Meanwhile, says Michelle Marvier, an ecologist at Santa Clara University
in California, the focus on designing effective biological containment
has kept attention away from an even more slippery culprit: human error.
"The reality is that humans are involved, and we inevitably make
mistakes." She warns that any risk evaluation of a genetically
engineered crop should consider that crop likely to escape.
Several countries have opted not to take that risk. After the news of
LLRICE601 contamination, major exporters in Vietnam announced that they
would not be growing any transgenic rice. And even some countries that
grow genetically modified crops are cautious about the ones they will
accept. Argentina, for example, the world's second largest producer,
refuses to grow any genetically engineered crop that has not been
approved for consumption in its major export markets, including the
European Union. That policy is intended to prevent unintended mixing of
crops from hurting Argentina's robust agricultural export sector
(although it hasn't protected neighbouring Brazil — which did not allow
genetically engineered crops until last year — from repeated
contamination from Argentina's transgenic stocks).
In the United States, the idea is that escape can be prevented if
producers know that they will be punished if unapproved plant material
is detected in the food supply. If a company is responsible for
contamination, it typically has to remove the unapproved material at its
own expense, and as an additional deterrent, deal with the flurry of
negative press that undoubtedly follows. "It is really bad for the
reputation of these firms and the technology itself," says Guillaume
Gruere, an agricultural economist at the International Food Policy
Research Institute in Washington DC. But he says that the regulatory
agencies' zero-tolerance policy clashes with the inevitability of
escape. "The problem is the threshold. If you want zero percent, it's
going to be pretty much impossible."
And despite the negative press, US public opinion of genetically
modified crops seems to have been changed little by the escapes so far,
judging from the results of a survey done by the Pew Initiative on Food
and Biotechnology last year. The number of Americans who approve of
genetically modified food has hovered unchanged at around 26% for the
past five years, whereas the number that explicitly disapproves has
shrunk from 58% to 46%.
What about crops that produce pharmaceuticals and industrial compounds?
In 2003, the USDA issued stricter guidelines for containment of these
plants. Isolation distances from food crops were increased, and field
test sites were to be inspected more frequently. And so far, no such
strains have been deregulated, meaning that they must always be
contained no matter how well they are tested.
But Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food
and Environment programme, doubts that those regulations will be enough.
Her organization has called for a ban on the outdoor production of
pharmaceuticals in food crops, arguing that the amount of regulation
needed to guarantee containment would be prohibitively expensive both to
the government and to researchers. The union has gone through the USDA
regulations and analysed points at which transgenic crops could still
escape, such as machine cleaning and seed transport. "Regulations that
are sufficiently stringent to plug all of those holes really are not
feasible," says Mellon. "We see how much trouble the agency is having
even with the current ones." Instead, she argues, production of
pharmaceuticals or industrial compounds should take place only in
non-food crops such as tobacco.
The problem is that such a ban would have a chilling effect on research,
because the technology for creating and processing transgenic food crops
is well understood and therefore much cheaper. At this stage, a US ban
seems unlikely, and no other country has an official ban on
pharmaceutical-producing crops. In 2005, the Oregon Department of
Agriculture convened a panel to evaluate the risks and potential
economic benefits of growing animals and plants that produce
pharmaceuticals in the state. The panel concluded last October that the
benefits outweigh the risks.
Back in Louisiana, Linscombe plans to enact a few new regulations of his
own. After his experience with LLRICE601, he says that he will be taking
drastic measures to separate any experimental crops from his breeding
stock, to at least minimize the chance of contamination. He is
considering buying separate processing equipment for genetically
modified crops. And he plans to greatly exceed the typical three-metre
distance that is required between strains. "We have two farms that are
located five miles apart," he says. "Any transgenic work in the future
is going to be on one farm, and the breeding work on the other."
To unsubscribe from SANET-MG:
1- Visit http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html to unsubscribe or;
2- Send a message to <email@example.com> from the address subscribed to the list. Type "unsubscribe sanet-mg" in the body of the message.
Visit the SANET-MG archives at: http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html.
Questions? Visit http://www.sare.org/about/sanetFAQ.htm.
For more information on grants and other resources available through the SARE program, please visit http://www.sare.org.