Genetically Manipulated Food News

28 January 99

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Table of Contents

UK: Comments on the Lords report
Organics Under Fire: The U.S. Debate Continues
Food Safety Crisis in the USA
The EPA Pesticide Brochure: Killing Us Softly
The Hard Kill: "Organic Food is Dangerous"
Consumers Smack the USDA Once Again On Organic Standards
Biotech Risks: Nobel laureate [Kornberg] forewarns
Website Pictures of the cows that suffer from effects of rBGH

Date: 26 Jan 1999 06:24:00 -0600
From: akb@akb.a2000.nl

UK: Comments on the Lords report

This is a comment from the European continent on the second report of the commitee of lords on GE. We are amazed about the superficial way that this commitee has dealt with the issue. In the risk and benefit analysis there are so many wrong statements and interpretations that it becomes void of any meaning. The whole report looks more like a propaganda report, rather than a real investigation. To mention a few of the mistakes:

  1. higher yield was never the focus of the first modifications and it is still completely questionable whether they are indeed achieved.

  2. "broad-spectrum herbicides used with GMO's are arguably less damaging than cocktails of selective herbicides, though the actual impact of broad-spectrum herbicides is currently under study". This quote speaks for itself.

  3. Not a word is mentioned about the possibility of horizontal genetransfer from GE plants to fungi or other soil micro-organisms. Nothing is said either about the possibility of virusrecombinations. However, these are real issues and the fact that they are being ignored says more about the way the Lords investigated.

  4. " Scots research demonstrated that a lectin known to affect the immune system retained this characteristic when transferred into a potato, or mixed with potato. It was not and is not suggested that this lectin would ever be used in a food, and, were it to be, it is more than unlikely that ACNFP would approve it"

The truth: The mentioned research was done with a lectin that was thought NOT to affect the immune system (GNA lectin from snowdrop). The findings showed that this lectin DOES become harmful when it is transferred into potato but NOT harmful when mixed with normal potato. This indicates that the MODIFICATION ITSELF is the problem.

Prof James and Dr. Chesson from the Rowett Research Institute are very often being quoted in the report of the Lords. These two "scientists" are deeply involved in the attempt to cover up the truth about this highly important research. Prof. James has been actively spreading lies about the nature of the research and has suspended the project coordinator. The fact that the Lords give such great weight to the opinion of Prof. James and Dr. Chesson makes the whole report even more meaningless.

It is exactly this prof. James who should be suspended and thrown out of the scientific community for actively spreading lies and covering up of highly important research! It is unacceptable that this professor remains a member of important scientific committees like the EU scientific steering cie and the UN commitee on future food needs.


Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:28:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

FOOD BYTES #16 Jan. 25, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net         http://www.purefood.org

http//:www.organicconsumers.org (coming soon)

Affiliated with the Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.) http://www.icta.org

___________________________________________________________

Organics Under Fire: The U.S. Debate Continues

Quote of the Month:

"Within five years--and certainly within 10--some 90-95% of plant-derived food material in the United States will come from genetically engineered techniques. It'll take a little bit longer for these technologies to penetrate into the organic market, but it will. As the benefits become clearer, you'll see that opposition will be replaced by understanding, and adoption will follow." Val Giddings, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Quoted by Kathy Koch in the Sept. 4,1998 issue of the Congressional Quarterly Researcher.


Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:28:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

FOOD BYTES #16 Jan. 25, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net         http://www.purefood.org

Food Safety Crisis in the USA

As a continuing stream of media reports indicate, large-scale factory-style farming is breaking down at its most vulnerable point--the safety of its products. But instead of acknowledging this, and taking a step back to address its core problems--animal over-crowding, filthy slaughterhouses, overuse of pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones--American agribusiness is pushing yet another dangerous technology, genetic engineering. At the same time industrial agriculture is coordinating a slander campaign against their number one threat--organic agriculture.

As detailed in previous Food Bytes, U.S. consumers are increasingly alarmed about food safety and the damage inflicted by industrial agriculture on public health, the environment, and family farms. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture likes to brag that American-style factory farms produce "the safest food in the world," government statistics reveal just the opposite. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) admit that up to 81 million Americans suffer from food poisoning every year--a literal Guiness Book of Records for filthy meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, contaminated produce, and fast-food.

A top official at the CDC, Dr. Morris Potter, indicated in 1994 in the Harvard Health Letter that 81 million annual victims may be a low figure-- that there may be in fact 266 million cases of food poisoning a year in the United States.

A nationwide survey released in November 1998 by the agribusiness-affiliated International Foods Safety Council found that 89% of U.S. consumers think food safety is a "very important" national issue--more important than crime prevention. A full 77% said that concerns about food safety were affecting their eating habits. Only 34% felt that government agencies (and 29% of industry) were doing an "excellent" job in regard to food safety.

And increasingly the public is concerned, not only with pesticide and drug residues, allergens, fecal contamination, polluted drinking water, and other food-borne pathogens, but also with genetic contamination--given that 37 different genetically engineered foods and crops have entered the marketplace since 1994, with absolutely no special pre-market safety-testing or labeling required. (see Food Bytes #13).

A Time magazine poll in its January 13, 1999 issue found that 81% of American consumers believe genetically engineered food should be labeled. Even more troubling to the gene engineers, a full 58% of consumers said if genetically engineered foods were labeled they would avoid purchasing them.

So it's no surprise that consumers are looking for ways to relieve their fears of contaminated and genetically engineered foods by turning to organic and eco-labeled natural foods.

In 1998 over five billion dollars worth of organic food were purchased in the U.S., with sales increasing over 25% annually. And expanding lines of organic food are showing up in major supermarkets across the country. Perhaps most alarming to the Food Giants and supermarket chains are the long-range trends revealed in a 1997 poll by the biotech giant Novartis Corporation which found that 54% of Americans would prefer for "organic" to become the dominant form of agricultural production.


Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:28:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

FOOD BYTES #16 Jan. 25, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net         http://www.purefood.org

The EPA Pesticide Brochure: Killing Us Softly

Growing consumer concerns about food safety have put the agri-toxics and biotech crowd on the defensive. To counter these concerns, they have organized themselves into a united front, repeating their mantra: "organic is not safer, organic is not healthier, conventional agribusiness food is just as safe or even safer than organic." As Regina Hildwine of the National Food Processors Association told the press during the debate over organic standards in 1998 "Organic does not mean safer. Organic does not mean healthier."

This mantra proved to be such a hit with the USDA that the agency attempted to include industrial farming practices, i.e. genetic engineering, irradiation, increased use of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and use of sewage sludge, in its first set of proposed national organic standards last year. Fortunately consumers and the organic community roundly rejected these proposals, with a record number of 280,000 official comments submitted to the USDA telling them to back off.

Powerful agribusiness trade associations were the only ones that vocally supported the USDA's first organic proposal. These trade associations represent hundreds of billions of dollars in capital assets, annual sales, and advertising revenue (not to mention millions of dollars in annual political contributions to both major political parties): the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), the American Farm Bureau, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). When they and other allies (such as the so-called American Crop Improvement Association) lobby together, it's no exaggeration to say that they always get their way--whether there's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House.

The power of the agribusiness special interests was revealed once again in a recent bitter controversy surrounding a brochure for consumers on pesticides and food safety, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Forcing the EPA to buckle under, the anti-organic special interests (the Farm Bureau, the pesticide lobby, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Food Processors Association, the biotech lobby) proved once again that they have the upper hand in Washington.

Pesticide residues in food and drinking water have become a "hot button" issue for millions of parents and consumers. National surveys indicate that 80% of consumers worry about pesticide residues--especially on the food they feed to their children. A panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 reported that federal allowances for pesticide residues were too lenient, and that infants and children could be harmed by current pesticide residue levels that the government considers "legal." A highly-publicized Jan. 1998 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that millions of American children under five years old are at risk every year from ingesting dangerous levels of at least 13 different neurotoxic organophosphate (OP) pesticide residues in their apples, apple sauce, apple juice, peaches, popcorn, corn chips, and other foods.

According to the EWG report:

"One out of every four times a child age five or under eats a peach, he or she is exposed to an unsafe level of OP insecticides. Thirteen percent of apples, 7.5% of pears, and 5% of grapes in the U.S. food supply expose the average young child eating these fruits to unsafe levels... Many of these exposures... exceed the federal safety standard by a factor of 10 or more." In another study of eight different non-organic baby foods produced by Gerber, Heinz, and Beech-Nut, the EWG found residues of 16 different pesticides--including probable human carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disrupters, and oral toxicity #1 chemicals, the most toxic designation.

Feeling the heat of consumer concern, the Clinton/Gore administration announced in February of 1998 that the EPA would soon be releasing a brochure for supermarket shoppers that would outline precautions regarding "Pesticides on Food." Besides advice on peeling, washing, scrubbing, and cooking fruits and vegetables the EPA brochure would advise consumers concerned about pesticides to consider purchasing organically grown fruits, vegetables, and other foods. This advice to "buy organic" was immediately attacked by agribusiness lobbyists. Dennis Stolte of the American Farm Bureau told the New York Times, "Our biggest concern is that there is an implication that organic foods are somehow safer than conventional foods, which is absolutely false."

In late-December of 1998 the EPA quietly announced that they had amended their brochure on pesticides and foods, deemphasizing health risks, avoiding the use of the word "organic," and barely mentioning foods "grown using fewer or no pesticides" as an alternative to foods produced using toxic chemicals. In a Dec. 30 article written by John Cushman of the New York Times, it was revealed that in August, 1998 "seven food, farm and pesticide industry groups called on the Clinton Administration to eliminate any references to organic foods and to make other changes."

Cushman then went on to quote a representative of the U.S. Consumers Union, Jeanine Kenney: "Fundamentally, EPA. took what could have been a really good brochure and turned it into a propaganda piece for the food industry, which has always denied that there is a problem with pesticides on food."

But even this watered-down version of the EPA brochure, Cushman points out, was not enough for Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America (a powerful industry trade association representing large food processors and supermarket chains): "Even with the change in the language, it still promotes organic foods in a brochure that was supposed to be about pesticides," Grabowski said.


Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:28:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

FOOD BYTES #16 Jan. 25, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net         http://www.purefood.org

The Hard Kill: "Organic Food is Dangerous"

Increasingly in 1998 and continuing in 1999 these anti-organic special interests--enraged by the mass consumer rejection of the USDA's proposed organic rules and fearful of long-term market trends--have hired PR firms and right-wing think tanks to go on the offensive. Placing numerous articles and opinion pieces in the mass media and influencing others (Knight-Ridder Newspapers, PBS, Farm newspapers, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today online, etc.) they have hardened their propaganda message: not only do they claim that organic is not safer than conventional--now they're saying, through mouthpieces such as Dennis Avery of the corporate funded Hudson Institute, that organic food is actually dangerous. The Hudson Institute's Board includes James H. Dowling from the multinational PR firm Burson-Marsteller, Craig Fuller (who led the PR firm Hill & Knowlton's Gulf War front group Citizens for a Free Kuwait), and Kenneth Duberstein (who runs a top DC lobby firm with a host of corporate clients). Hudson's generous funders include the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation.

"Mad dog" Avery has picked up the industrial agriculture mantle, claiming that "Organic foods have clearly become the deadliest food choice." Avery argues that selfish organic consumers and farmers would rather watch millions of poor people in the Third World starve, or else sit by while desperate peasants destroy the remaining rainforests, rather than admit that genetic engineering and pesticide and chemical use in agriculture are necessary and safe.

Avery is a former government official during the Reagan era and author of the book Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic. An economist by trade, Avery has touted the virtues of global warming (it's better for farmers), staunchly defended factory-style hog farms (they're good for the environment because they save space), and pushed for food irradiation (it preserves the freshness of food while killing bacteria).

What makes Avery confounding (and dangerous) in his often widely-reprinted newspaper articles and opinion pieces is his skill at manipulating statistics and his bold willingness to not only fudge facts, but to literally make them up. Here are a few of the gems from Avery's pen:

"People who eat organic foods are eight times more likely to be attacked by the deadly new E. coli bacteria... Organic consumers are at increased risk from natural toxins produced by fungi, some of which cause cancer. Organic foods carry far more of the dangerous bacteria (salmonella, campylobacter, and Listeria) that kill thousands of people every year." (Syndicated article in Knight-Ridder newspapers Aug. 3, 1998)

Avery likes to claim his statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA. But spokespersons from both agencies told a reporter last fall from the respected Congressional Quarterly Researcher (a research publication in Washington) that this was not true. As Larry Slutsker of the CDC told the CQR, "I cannot confirm [Avery's] numbers. We don't have routine data collection on whether things are organic or not." In a similar vein Robert Lake, director of policy planning at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told CQR "I'm not aware that there's a particular problem with organics and aflotoxins [a type of fungi]."

As organic farmer and National Organic Standards Board member Fred Kirschemann of North Dakota pointed out to CQR, Avery's claims are "outrageous and undocumented. I don't know of a single case to date where food coming from a certified organic farm has been contaminated by a food-borne illness. All of the cases have been traced to either imported foods or food from large industrial operations."

(All quotes are taken from the CQ Researcher September 4, 1998).

Other bits of wisdom from Avery include the following :

"Organic farming deserves to remain small. Organic farms get only about half the agricultural yield of mainstream farms... America's good farmland will need to generate higher yields... to meet the demand of rising populations... If we accept this 'environmental approach' [i.e. organic] and fail to protect our crops with either pesticides or biotechnology, how many million square miles of extra cropland will the world need to take from wildlife?" (Syndicated article in Knight-Ridder newspapers Sept. 16, 1998)

"factory farms... are a humane, effective alternative to clearing another 10 million square miles of forest for hog and chicken pasture." (The Country Today, 8/26/98)

Of course organic foods are safer than conventional foods, both for human health and the environment, not to mention farmers and farmworkers--which is the major reason that millions of consumers are switching to organic. Under current organic certification rules enforced by over 40 state and private organic certifiers across the U.S., it is illegal to use toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, rendered animal protein (waste and diseased animal parts), genetically engineered ingredients, sewage sludge, or nuclear irradiation--all of which routinely contaminate conventional food. A number of studies also confirm that organic farms are just as economically efficient as chemical-intensive farms.

In a major sampling of supermarket produce, Consumer Reports found that conventional produce was more than three times as likely to contain residues of toxic pesticides than organic produce (pesticide residues on organic produce most often result from chemical sprays drifting from nearby conventional farms). In its Jan. 1998 issue Consumer Reports points out "tests of organic, green-labeled, and conventional unlabeled produce found that organic foods had consistently minimal or non-existent pesticide residue... Buying organic food promotes farming practices that really are more sustainable and better for the environment--less likely to degrade soil, impair ecosystems, foul drinking water, or poison farmworkers."


Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:28:45 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

FOOD BYTES #16 Jan. 25, 1999
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering, Factory Farming, & Organics
by: Ronnie Cummins & Ben Lilliston
Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association
alliance@mr.net         http://www.purefood.org

Consumers Smack the USDA Once Again On Organic Standards

After last year's resounding rejection by consumers of the USDA's first proposed federal regulations (see Food Bytes #14) on organic standards, the agency promised to behave themselves. Apparently they forgot their promise, because on October 28, 1998, the USDA reopened the second round of the organic standards debate by publishing three highly controversial Issue Papers, giving citizens 30 days to submit comments. The Issue Papers covered only a small portion of the larger second proposed federal regulations on organic standards, but contained a sufficient number of unacceptable recommendations to outrage the organic community once again. The Oct. 28 Issue Papers dealt specifically with recommendations on (1) animal confinement, (2) animal antibiotics and other drugs, and (3) procedures for terminating or decertifying organic producers who were breaking organic certification rules.

At least 7,000 consumers, retailers, and farmers wrote in to the USDA criticizing serious problems in the Issue Papers:

  1. Livestock Confinement - This Issue Paper indicated that the USDA is still considering allowing loopholes for factory farm-style producers to keep animals from having access to outdoors, or defining "outdoor access" in such a way that dairy cows or beef cattle on dirt feedlots would still be considered "organic."

  2. Antibiotics and animal drugs - This Issue Paper revealed that the USDA is still considering allowing loopholes for the use of antibiotics on organic animals, contrary to the practices currently used by organic meat, dairy, and poultry producers and contrary to the "no antibiotics" recommendations of the National Organics Standards Board.

  3. Termination of Certification by Private Certifiers - This Issue Paper proved once again that the USDA is intending to set up an organic system with total federal control over organic certification, eliminating any role whatsoever for the several dozen non-governmental certifiers who, in large part, have built up the credibility of the entire organic system over the past 30 years. This Issue Paper suggested eliminating the ability of organic certifiers to "decertify" producers, to swiftly prevent the sale of mishandled or fraudulent organic products. This could threaten the integrity of the entire organic food system.

A major problem, once again evident in all three of these Issue Papers, is the USDA's stubborn refusal to accept the recommendations made by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)--a federally-mandated and approved advisory board set up to work with the USDA to develop national organic standards. Under the 1990 Organic Food Production Act, the USDA is required to accept detailed recommendations from the NOSB (essentially what the organic community is using today), and turn those recommendations into federal rules for organic food. The NOSB is currently composed of organic producers, consumers, farmers, and wholesalers. Instead, in the first proposed rule (and again in these most recent Issue Papers), the USDA virtually ignored the NOSB's recommendations.

Despite doing little to publicize the Issue Papers, and offering a short comment period, the USDA received an estimated 7,000 comments. The number of comments, and their resolute tone in support of strong organic standards, once again took the agency by surprise. Currently, about 1,500 of those comments can be viewed at the USDA's National Organic Program website: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop

No doubt as a result of the response to the Oct. 28 Issue Papers, USDA officials have indicated that they will not release any more Issue Papers for public input. Instead, the USDA will continue to work on a second set of proposed federal regulations on organic standards to be published later this year. Sources inside the agency say the new proposed rule is about two-thirds complete. Many believe it will be submitted for public comment sometime this summer. Only this time, the comment period will likely be much shorter than the 135 days permitted for the first proposed rule-- possibly as short as 45 days.

Stay tuned to Food Bytes for details on an innovative two-track strategy that organic certifiers, the Organic Consumers Association, the Center for Food Safety, and others in the organic community are undertaking to ensure strong organic standards no matter what the USDA does.

### End of Food Bytes #16 ###

---------------------------------------------------
Ronnie Cummins
Campaign for Food Safety/Organic Consumers Association
860 Hwy 61, Little Marais, Mn. 55614
Tel. 218-226-4164, Fax 218-226-4157, email alliance@mr.net, http://www.purefood.org

Affiliated with the Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.) http://www.icta.org To subscribe to the free electronic newsletter, Food Bytes, send an email to: majordomo@mr.net with the simple message: subscribe pure-food-action

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Date: Mon, 25 Jan 1999 09:40:36 -0600 (CST)
From: Ronnie Cummins alliance@MR.Net
Subject: Food Bytes #16 Organics Under Fire 1/25/99

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Date: 26 Jan 1999 13:54:02 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

From: jeaton@fox.nstn.ca (Janet M. Eaton)
Date: 30 Dec 1998

Dr. Kornberg who provided the inaugural address at the recent International Congress on Biotechnology in Vienna said in an interview with the HINDU:

"As scientists our obligation is to refuse secrets, to provide new knowledge."

"It is up to our society, whether it is in India, Austria, or U.S. to have citizens informed to make best use of that knowledge!!"

With thanks to Dr. Lynette Dumble for forwarding this article!! This is one to read and save!!

Janet

***********************************

Biotech Risks: Nobel laureate [Kornberg] forewarns

From THE HINDU, Thursday, December 31, 1998
SECTION: Science & Tech, Pg: 26

IN his inaugural address to an international congress on biotechnology held recently by the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) at Vienna, renowned Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Kornberg (discoverer of basic mechanisms of DNA replication) issued a serious warning on possible biotech abuses in society.

He extolled the brilliant achievements and invaluable merits of genetic engineering (GE) having worldwide impact on science, industry and society. Qualms on societal immaturity to absorb this ominously fast-growing technology was voiced by the Greenpeace International.

Seldom has world focus zeroed-in on a technology long before it has set a foot on market. Biotech is not new. Down the centuries man had "selectively" bred plants and animals for his own ordered survival. Microbial enzymes had been used, obeying traditional prescriptions, to produce beer, bread, cheese and wine. Vinegar, yoghurt, pickles, soya sauce, sauerkraut; fermentation by-products such as enzymes, flavours and additives, and dietary supplements like amino acids and vitamins, all followed through ingenuous use of biotech methods.

What sets apart uniquely the "modern" biotech in the portentous grave "engineering" dimension it potentialises, that can, if willed, perilously and irreversibly manipulate the heart of biological life - the cell nucleus, methods inducing radical changes in the nature-sheltered genetic material, applying recombinant DNA (RDNA) and cell fusion know-how drawn from basic science discoveries of 1959 (Kornberg and Ochoa) and early Seventies, fleeting into the next millennium with the entire human genome awaiting to be decoded. Mankind faces the ormidable dilemma of a bio-paradise or a virtual tortuous hell on Earth.

Humans can now create new life forms in addition to sustaining or destroying the old. The new GE language is, plants, animals and humans can be "cloned", as mechanically one might clone a PC. Taken to extreme consequential applications, the in vitro replication of geneotype combined with phenotype could set in trail a gene-tech induced eugenic racism or spawn science-fiction type floral and faunal monsters, debilitating irreversibly the species homo sapiens into a paedomorphised bio-prisoner of his own making. On the positive side, an ethically guided proper exploitation of science-based GE, and not a commercially abused one, can help man colossally to develop the right medicines to vanquish dreaded diseases like cancer or HIV and other loathsome viruses of future, in addition to producing cheaper and richer food for the starving poor of developing countries. Rich and poor alike, it can enhance beauty and quality of man and nature.

To cleanse and enlighten the public, bio-experts met in Vienna. The themes chosen were provocative. Among the panellists and key speakers were Dr. A. Kornberg (Stanford), Dr. Alan Colman (Scotland, who cloned the world's first sheep 'Dolly', on making pharmaceuticals in animals), Dr. Dieter Soell (Yale, on genomics, an end user's perspective), Dr. Gurdev Khush (IRRI, Phillippines on gene or green revolution), Mr. Benny Haerlin (Greenpeace, on science vs. democracy), Ms. Margaret Liu (Chiron Corp., U.S.) on genes as vaccines), Dr. Charles Arntzen (Cornell, on bananas as vaccines), Julian Crampton (Liverpool, on mosquitoes to prevent malaria), Tapio Palva (Helsinki, on engineering crops for the desert), Mr. Carlos Joly (Monsanto Co, Belgium, on biotech dilemmas) and Dr. Klaus Amman (Bern, on organic farmers and biotech).

Although Kornberg and Severo Ochoa identified the polymerase 1 enzyme catalysing the DNA synthesis in 1959, earning them the Nobel Prize, a more fabulous feat was Kornberg's successful synthesis in 1967 of the biologically active Phi X1 74 virus, the first active virus produced artificially in a biochemistry lab in the world.

Looking back, he remarked in his address that the future is 'invented' and not 'predicted'. Neither he, Paul Berg and Dale Kaiser who invented the recombinant DNA (RDNA) in Stanford in 1972 ever anticipated "that it would quickly ignite explosive developments in GE," nor foresaw ingenious biotechnologies would develop around GE in few years. Biotech's foundation, Kornberg traced back to several antecedents.

  1. Miescher's isolation of DNA in 1869.
  2. Contributions of organic and physical chemistry.
  3. Development of microbiology and genetics.
  4. Avery's 1942 demonstration of DNA as the genetic substance.
  5. Watson & Crick's 1953 proposal of DNA's double helix structure.
  6. Plasmidology of Boyer & Cohen 20 years later. But what really gave birth to biochemistry to him, was, J.J. Thompson's discovery of the electron in 1897.

Dozen discrete enzymatic reactions were discovered following Eduard Buechner's accidental observation in 1897 that the yeast cell juice could convert sugar into alcohol. The conversion of glycogen into lactic acid via a muscle extract later proved identical to the yeast pathway. Today numerous bioenergetic and biosynthetic pathways of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals have been charted and the universality of biochemistry established: as corroborated by replication, transcription and translation studies of DNA. Although molecular biology and recent biotechnologies have stolen the show, it was enzymology that solved chemical and biological problems making available polymerases, ligases, nucleases, the reagents needed for the RDNA invention and crucial to GE practice, reminded Kornberg.

He recalled, the first two decades of this century's biomedical science were characterised by 'microbe hunters' who identified the microbes causing, TB, cholera and diphtheria. But, scurvy, pellagra and beri-beri remained unsolved due to lack of trace substances in diet called vitamins. Although by the 1940s the 'vitamin hunters' discovered most vitamins, the obscure biochemical functions of these were left for the 'enzyme hunters' to unravel, how vitamins helped perform the vital metabolic functions of growth and reproduction. The enzyme hunters have now been replaced by 'gene hunters,' who now using RDNA can identify, clone genes and introduce them into bacteria, plants and animals, precipitating mass-production factories for hormones, medical vaccines and better breeds of agro-crops to emerge, whisking biotech into a multi-billion dollar industry. Soon, Kornberg conjectured, 'head hunters' will take over, meaning neurobiologists and neuro chemists, who might want to apply the enzyme and gene hunting techniques to the brain. Science today, he noted, "can understand and examine genetics in simple chemical terms as DNA. DNA in the chromosomes and genes is easily analysed, synthesised and rearranged. Species are modified at will. It is no longer a question of whether we can determine the sequence of the 3 billion base pairs of the human genome, but rather who will do it first."

Kornberg pointed out that recent advances in Stanford in the area of functional genomics, that is, the technique of DNA micro arrays, has much in store to help man understand gene action patterns in different cells and cancer aberrations, degenerative diseases and infections that would enhance radically diagnosis, treatment and prevention. One can determine from the 6200 genes of an yeast genome which genes are switched on and of responding to a metabolic need, like sporulation genes, in a yeast cell (hibernation phase) or in a wounded cell, hours following wound. Genes used by a cancer cell can be compared with that of a normal cell, that of human brain cell with those of skin cells. Even if the 3-billion letter sequence of an average human genome is spelt out, said Kornberg, "we still need to identify the 0.1 per cent of the differences among us in nudeotides, the 4-letter language of genes, the 3 million differences that uniquely identify each of us. We will need to know whether these differences are benign or associated with a disease or a predisposition to a disease in some cases, we may even identify differences among us in the genes that improve a function: sharper vision, an ear for music, a sunny disposition." So marvellous these advances of genomic science are in helping us avoid devastating diseases through prior knowledge of their human genetic basis, hence of immense biomedical value, the dangerous potential they hold for abuse are sombre too, Kornberg listed few of them.

Even though DNA tests get wide publicity in legal issues like the O.J. Simpson trial and more lately of Thomas Jefferson's sex life, personal genomic information can become a serious societal predicament. Kornberg warned, "we do need to be concerned about their abuse in matters of employment, insurance, personal affairs. These issues do deserve the most serious consideration."

Vested interests delude the world advocating the need for large federal and industrial funds to complete the human genome project. Kornberg pinpointed, it's an illusion to believe that knowing the genome's sequence will give us all the information to understand the structure and function of an organism. "That simply is not true. With all the insights from genomics, we will s till be miles away from our goal of understanding the enormous variety of life processes at the basic level of proteins and other molecular details."

Commercialisation abuses; Biotech enterprises, governmental or private, being human, are susceptible to mismanagements. Venture capitalists who back them want quick buck returns, making biotech ventures prone to "misrepresentation, litigousness and even fraud." Investors, having neither the mandate nor the tradition to advance scholarship for its own sake, but with focus on profitability, have forced litigations in biotech burgeon into an industry of its own employing thousands of lawyers. Secondly, profit ventures want secrecy, thus 'subvert' academic units with patent agreements demanding exclusive access to discoveries, delay publications and divert scientists' attention from basic untargetted research to early profitability-tailored research agenda. This corrupts science culture. Kornberg bemoaned that basic science research, so vital it is for all technological take-offs, has now been beaten to the back rows.

An unprecedented new type of technology culture is emerging, bringing on the one hand deep impact on biotech-on heredity, disease and human behaviour, on the other, overloading us with avalanche of genetic, chemical and physical data, regimentalising the pervasive influence of computers, transistors and lasers on all communication, business and personal life aspects. We ought to be deeply concerned on how to cope with it, warned Kornberg. His major philosophic tenet is, the culture of science, meaning the discipline of science - science per se, must be kept up, no matter what the practitioners of science and technology might do in daily life.

However, Greenpeace International took a radical line that society in which science operates should put brakes on when translation of fruits of scientific research affect society. Mr. Benedikt Haerlin in a hard-hitting expose' of biotech ills listed actual problems.

The vested interest of genetic engineers (GEs) to promote their own products. Most GEs have hardly botanical experience or expertise, sit between computer screens in labs or in glasshouse, engrossed in acquiring scientific fame and patents, have no time for critical reflection over their very engagement, worsened by sponsoring companies pitched in desperate competitive battle for success.

No proper risk assessment on GMO's (genetically modified organisms) released. Transgenic products are introduced into the global market by decisions made by few and follows the market blindness axiom: Get sold or get lost, with no public acceptance or compliance sought from world consumers. The International Biosafety Protocol of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), to which States are Parties, but not the U.S. once established in February 1999, will put the burden of proof (bad effects on environment or human health) on the consumer or buyer nation saying 'no', who may not have the 'sound science' capability of proof against the developed countries where GMOs were developed.

Science has not described and understood the complexity of ecosystematic structures into which GMOs are released. There is no recipe on how to deal with the unknown and unexpected. GEs have to regulate themselves in the spirit of Asilomar Conference of 1974 when GE scientists agreed on a short moratorium on all experiments, when transfer dangers of genetic material from one species to another were recognised.

No democratically arrived definitions of social, politicaland e nvironmental goals (with regard to GE). Scientists while providing the required information cannot substitute political decision making. Industries' intervention serves neither their interests nor those of society.

In an interview with The Hindu, Kornberg faced the question: If science could discover the atom and manipulate the laws and derive benefits through fission or fusion, then why not manipulation with genes, why these moral and ethical reservations? His answer, "Let me point out, we never know what's good for man, that there is a dependence on what society you are in, what society can decide that something is good and other bad. As scientists our obligation is to refuse secrets, to provide new knowledge.

It is up to our society, whether it is in India, Austria or U.S. to have citizens informed to make best use of that knowledge. Now the knowledge of atomic fission, (there is) the quick basic value, but it can be abused, so can the internal combustion engine or fire or anything else. Whether the value of the biotech debate will finally lie in the way man uses science for the good, Kornberg's response: "But I think people ought to be informed. There are people, who make their living from phantasies. We have to replace the phantasies with facts. So it's our obligation to communicate with society. It is so exciting to know where we came from, I mean the genes. This is what I would hope will come from discussions." Whether he would exclude the possibility that there will be a code (of conduct) for (biotech) scientists in the future in the application, that they don't give their patents (for licensing) or even register their patents if they think there is a possible misuse, Kornberg reacted, "Oh, scientists are human beings, and there will be a whole spectrum of scientific behaviour (related to that). What I say is, science itself should be trusted."

George Chakko

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Reply-To: Margaret_Weston@capmac.org (Margaret Weston) Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1999 19:14:52 -0600 Subject: Biotech Risks: Nobel laureate [Kornberg] forewarns

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Date: 27 Jan 1999 19:52:04 -0600
From: Judy_Kew@greenbuilder.com (Judy Kew)

Website Pictures of the cows that suffer from effects of rBGH

The website http://ens.lycos.com/ens/jan99/1999L-01-25g.html has pictures of the poor cows that suffer from effects of rBGH.

Reply-To: Margaret_Weston@capmac.org (Margaret Weston)
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 18:34:39 -0600

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