Links to Notes on Bioethics, Risk, and Regulation.
- John Ziman's advice on scientific ethics and process.
- Balanced essay in readable English on the pros and cons of GM foods from Tufts daily
- The Full Monty on animal feeding tests of GM foods.
- Nuffield Bioethics.
- Africa Harvest
- US National Academy of Sciences
- Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator
- Food and Chemical Toxicology
- Poisonous Plant Websites
- AFAA The Ethical Dimension
- CDC Report on Starlink
- Council for Biotechnology Information on Substantial Equivalence Concept
- OECD on LMOs
- Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
- Food Standards Australia and New Zealand FSANZ
- European Food Safety Organisation
- The Plant Journal on Food Safety and Golden Rice
- University of Florida on Risk Assessment
- Selected Links to GMO Pundit Posts
- International Journal of Biotechnology (IJBT) special issue
- Environmental Health Perspectives Journal
- Public Library of Science Biology
- Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture
- ITSSD on the Precautionary Principle
- Rob Wager, Department of Biology, Malaspina University-College BC
- EFSA EU Food SAfety, Opinion on horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic markers (lateral transfer)
- ISB Database of the benefits and safety of biotechnology
- European Policy Forum - Code of Conduct for NGOs.
- SciDev.Net. Diverse opinions.
- Transgenic Research Risks with Herbicide Tolerant Wheat
- Unintended Consequences of delaying and frustrating health improvements for the poor in the name of Precaution.
- The Unintended Costs of Saying No.
- Regulatory Slowdown in US Agencies.
- The Truth About Bt crops in India and Africa. Jul 2006.
- Survival of crops in nature.
- Agricultural Legal Liability and the Law. Oct 2006
- Swiss study on ecological risks of crops. November 2006.
- IFT Report on organic foods and their safety and nutrition. November 2006
General Format for List:
Two heads good, three heads better
Roger Sandall, December 2005
Progress in science
Progress in science is difficult, mistakes are made, careers go up and down and some are ruined. Pioneers like Wegener with his theory of continental drift may face stiff opposition that takes decades to overcome. Yet the edifice of science is something far grander and nobler than any New Cynic will ever understand. It is also of central importance for a humane and reasonable civilization. Science is one of those areas of human activity where disagreement does not lead to bomb-throwing or blowing other people up. But since the late John Ziman (who died in January 2005), a notable physicist in his day and a Fellow of the Royal Society, has already expressed these matters more eloquently and with rather more authority than myself, I shall close by quoting from the chapter “Dissent and Selection” in his  book :
Experienced scientists know that real progress in research is slow and painful, and that many experimental observations and plausible arguments will not stand up for long under expert questioning. If science is to evolve, it must continually purge itself of misconceptions, follies, and practical errors: there must be preserved a central store of absolutely reliable knowledge, from which to draw in evaluating novel ideas and on which, very slowly and carefully, to build. In order that science may retain its reliability and credibility, each scientist is expected to exercise critical vigilance over his own work and the claims of his contemporaries…
The facts demonstrate that a healthy scientific community can accommodate intellectual controversy without breaking down. Consider, for example, the history of Wegener’s hypothesis of continental drift. Here was an immense revolution of thought, grossly overdue despite the almost pathological conservatism that had to be overcome by its advocates. Yet by the standards of most human institutions, academic as well as overtly political, it was a very gentlemanly affair, in which the evolution of scientific knowledge was not disgraced by silenced voices or broken heads.
Although the majority of the leading geologists of the time were unconvinced by Wegener’s theory, and no doubt cautioned their students against it, it was not suppressed and forbidden as ‘heresy’. There were several set-piece public debates and conferences on the subject, and books and papers supporting Wegener’s interpretation continued to be published. It is likely that some of the protagonists did not fare quite so well in their academic careers as hindsight would now consider deserving; but when, eventually, new evidence from rock magnetism vindicated Wegener’s bold and imaginative hypothesis, the ‘old gang’ were not swept into scholarly oblivion by the ‘revolutionary’ supporters of the new orthodoxy of plate tectonics.
This truly remarkable and civilized behavior amongst scientists we take for granted: these are the standards against which occasional pathologies are judged. And if those who rule society—aristocrats or democrats, capitalists or socialists, conservatives or radicals—want scientific knowledge on which they can rely, they must not allow the inner tension of science to slacken, break, or overbalance.
According to the narrow logic of bureaucratic planning, it is a wasteful, irrational system that ought to be made efficient and economical. But by encouraging innovation, yet conserving past achievement, by calling the gambling competitive spirit from each of us, yet making us also the guardians of truth and the judges of quality, it is remarkably successful as the source of many wonders.
......# A 'modified' debate over GMOs
Is it safe to eat genetically modified foods (GMOs)? Will they be destructive to the environment? Are GMOs the answer to world hunger? These questions remain largely unanswered as the debate over genetically modified organisms continues to rage.
People all along the political spectrum alternatively champion their potential and castigate their pitfalls. It's an important debate, but before jumping into the turbulent, scientific waters, you'll need to learn the basics...
A GMO is any living organism - plant or animal - that has genetically altered genes, resulting from the combination of DNA molecules from more than one species. This process is called genetic engineering, and is an example of biotechnology.
Although it sounds like science-fiction, we regularly come into contact with products of biotechnology in our daily lives. It is used to brew beer, produce antibiotics, and improve food crops and livestock through breeding.
But with the technology in its relative infancy and the long-term consequences still unclear, some experts want developers of GMO technology to wait until more research is conducted before unleashing a potential hazard into the world.
Others stress that the technology is safe and that the path should be cleared immediately as they believe GMOs are an important humanitarian tool and could bring life-saving benefits to the developing world.
Despite opposition, many food crops have already been genetically modified. Currently, the majority of genetically modified food crops are grown in the United States (note that many European countries refuse to import GMOs as they feel their safety has not been fully verified).
According to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, in 2004, 45 percent of corn, 85 percent of soybeans and 76 percent of cotton being grown in the United States were GMOs.
GMO technology is used to increase shelf life of crops and provide resistance to drought, disease, pesticides and herbicides. By increasing resistance to insects and drought, supporters of GMOs believe that adoption of the technology by developing countries could lead to increased crop yields. Such an increase in food availability, they argue, could potentially combat hunger... continues at link.
Africa Harvest has a new Biofortification Programme, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here a snapshot on the Africa Harvest activities taken from their website: http://www.ahbfi.org/. Inside you will find more information about the SuperSorghum project, which makes good progress in its first year. See in the websites for contact addresses.
......# Africa Harvest: A Snapshot
Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) is incorporated in the United States as a non-profit organization that is dedicated to using technology as a tool to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa. The foundation’s headquarters is located in Nairobi, Kenya and there are operational offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington D.C., United States.
Africa Harvest’s plan is to implement needs-driven programs and provide practical solutions to challenges facing resource-poor smallholder farmers in rural communities. The Foundation believes in undertaking projects that focus on the Whole Value Chain (WVC) Strategy, which it has developed and refined, over the years. The uniqueness of the WVC Strategy is that it looks at agricultural products and projects through an inverted pyramid; this means that an end user or customer is identified before focusing on issues such as agricultural production (inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and water), product distribution and marketing. This way, project beneficiaries are able to make money from the sales of whatever is produced in excess of home consumption requirements.
Africa Harvest’s strength is derived primarily from the expertise of its core staff in consortium building; capacity building; planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects; and includes the implementation of socio-economic impact studies. Its institutional expertise is best utilized through on-the-job training and mentoring of others to implement the projects together.
Moreover, owing to its Pan-African focus, the Foundation has indigenous knowledge, cultural understanding and a trusted relationship with African leaders, farmers and international organizations. As a result, Africa Harvest is seen as a sincere and honest partner in the cause of poverty and hunger alleviation.
......# Super Sorghum.
......# Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects, Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, National Research Council (2004)
......# Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation (2000) Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR)
......# Ecological Monitoring of Genetically Modified Crops: A Workshop Summary (2001)
......# Field Testing Genetically Modified Organisms: Framework for Decisions (1989)
......# Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms (2004) Committee on the Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms, National Research Council
Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator
......# Comments from CS Prakash, Agbioview Newsletter 22 March 2006:
One of the myths perpetuated by activists opposed to GM crops in tricking the gullible public and media is this bogus assertion that 'biotech crops do not reduce pesticide use'.Various studies show significant reduction in pesticide usage due to biotech crop adoption. See reports by USDA ( http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer810/aer810fm.pdf ) and also the National Center for Food and Ag Policy which says that "biotechnology-derived crops planted in 2004 reduced the use of pesticides in crop production by 62.0 million pounds. This represents a further 34% decrease in pesticide usage compared with 2003.
Much of the confusion and distortion arises because of the diverse types of pesticides and herbicides with varying levels of toxicity being used. Farmers are now switching to safer, less-toxic herbicides because of the herbicide-tolerant GM crops. See USDA's document "Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced Pesticide Use?" from year 2000:
Further, in countries such as China farmers planting Bt cotton have reported 80% reduction in pesticide usage and fewer hospital visits due to pesticide poisonings.
Society of Toxicology
September 25th, 2002
The Society of Toxicology (SOT) is committed to protecting and enhancing human, animal and environmental health through the sound application of the fundamental principles of the science of toxicology. It is with this goal in mind that the SOT defines here its position on the safety of foods produced through biotechnology (genetic engineering). These products are commonly termed genetically-modified foods, but this is misleading since conventional methods of microbial, crop and animal improvement also produce genetic modifications and these are not addressed here.
1. There is no reason to suppose that the process of food production through biotechnology leads to risks of a different nature than those already familiar to toxicologists or that cannot also be created by conventional breeding practices for plant, animal or microbial improvement. It is therefore important to recognize that it is the food product itself, rather than the process through which it is made, that should be the focus of attention in assessing safety.
2. We support the use of the substantial equivalence concept as part of the safety assessment of biotechnology-derived foods. This seeks to establish whether the new food is significantly different from existing foods that are generally considered to be safe for consumers, and it provides critical guidance as to the nature of any increased health hazards in the new food. To establish substantial equivalence, it is necessary to conduct extensive comparative studies of the chemical composition, nutritional quality, and levels of potentially toxic components in both the engineered and conventional crop or animal. Any notable differences between the existing and new organism would require further evaluation to determine whether there is a likely to be a higher level of risk from the consumption of the foods derived from the engineered form. Through this approach, the safety of current biotechnology-derived foods compared to their conventional counterparts can be assessed with reasonable certainty using established and accepted methods of analytical, nutritional and toxicological research.
3. Extensive studies of this type have established that the level of safety to consumers of current genetically engineered foods is likely to be equivalent to that of traditional foods. Verified records of adverse health effects are absent, although the current passive reporting system probably would not detect minor or rare adverse effects.
4. The changes in composition of existing foods produced through biotechnology are slight. Assessing safety may be more difficult in the future if genetic engineering projects cause more substantial and complex changes in a foodstuff. Toxicologists are currently limited in their ability to assess the risks presented by complex mixtures, and they have not yet developed methods by which whole foods (as compared to single chemical components) can be fully evaluated for safety. Progress also needs to be made in developing definitive methods for the identification and characterization of proteins that are potential allergens and this is currently a major focus of research. A continuing evolution of toxicological methodologies and regulatory strategies will be necessary to ensure that the present level of safety of biotechnology-derived foods is maintained in the future.
1. The responsibility of toxicologists is to assess whether foods derived through biotechnology are at least as safe as their conventional counterparts and to ascertain that any levels of additional risk are clearly defined. In achieving this, it is important to recognize that it is the food product itself, rather than the process through which it is made that should be the focus of attention. In assessing safety, the use of the substantial equivalency concept provides guidance as to the nature of any new hazards.
2. There is no reason to suppose that the process of BD food production leads to hazards of a different nature than those already familiar to toxicologists. The safety of current BD foods compared to their conventional counterparts can be assessed with reasonable certainty using established and accepted methods of analytical, nutritional and toxicological research.
3. A significant limitation may occur in the future if transgenic technology results in more substantial and complex changes in a foodstuff. Toxicologists are currently limited in their ability to assess the hazard presented by complex mixtures, and have not yet developed methods by which whole foods (as compared to single chemical components) can be fully evaluated for safety. Progress also needs to be made in developing definitive methods for the identification and characterization of protein allergens and this is currently a major focus of research.
4. The level of safety of current BD foods to consumers appears to be equivalent to that of traditional foods. Verified records of adverse health effects are absent although the current passive reporting system would probably not detect minor or rare adverse effects . However, this is no guarantee that all future genetic modifications will have such apparently benign and predictable results. A continuing evolution of toxicological methodologies and regulatory strategies will be necessary to ensure that this level of safety is maintained.
Food and Chemical Toxicology
Volume 42, Issue 7 , July 2004, Pages 1047-1088
Safety Assessment, Detection and Traceability, and Societal Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods European Network on Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Food Crops (ENTRANSFOOD)
Assessment of the safety of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops
A. König, A. Cockburnb, R. W. R. Crevelc, E. Debruyned, R. Grafstroeme, U. Hammerlingf, I. Kimberg, I. Knudsenh, H. A. Kuiperi, A. A. C. M. Peijnenburgi, A. H. Penninksj, M. Poulsenh, M. Schauzuk and J. M. Wall
This paper provides guidance on how to assess the safety of foods derived from genetically modified crops (GM crops); it summarises conclusions and recommendations of Working Group 1 of the ENTRANSFOOD project. The paper provides an approach for adapting the test strategy to the characteristics of the modified crop and the introduced trait, and assessing potential unintended effects from the genetic modification. The proposed approach to safety assessment starts with the comparison of the new GM crop with a traditional counterpart that is generally accepted as safe based on a history of human food use (the concept of substantial equivalence). This case-focused approach ensures that foods derived from GM crops that have passed this extensive test-regime are as safe and nutritious as currently consumed plant-derived foods. The approach is suitable for current and future GM crops with more complex modifications. First, the paper reviews test methods developed for the risk assessment of chemicals, including food additives and pesticides, discussing which of these methods are suitable for the assessment of recombinant proteins and whole foods. Second, the paper presents a systematic approach to combine test methods for the safety assessment of foods derived from a specific GM crop. Third, the paper provides an overview on developments in this area that may prove of use in the safety assessment of GM crops, and recommendations for research priorities. It is concluded that the combination of existing test methods provides a sound test-regime to assess the safety of GM crops. Advances in our understanding of molecular biology, biochemistry, and nutrition may in future allow further improvement of test methods that will over time render the safety assessment of foods even more effective and informative.
POISONOUS PLANTS SITES:
This is a growing reference that includes plant images, pictures of affected animals and presentations concerning the botany, chemistry, toxicology, diagnosis and prevention of poisoning of animals by plants and other natural flora (fungi, etc.).
......# Indiana Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Pets
Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University
......# Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System
Derek B. Munro
Biological Informatics Specialist
......# FDA Poisonous Plant Database
......# Agbiotech: The Ethical Dimension
Investigation of Human Health Effects Associated with Potential Exposure to Genetically Modified Corn
On October 25, 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in investigating adverse event reports (AERs) of human illnesses that were potentially associated with consumption of genetically modified corn products. Prior to these reports, a protein named Cry9c had been inserted into genetically modified StarLink corn; it subsequently and inadvertently was introduced into the human food supply. CDC conducted an epidemiological investigation that included (1) reviewing the AERs, (2) administering questionnaires to all people who experienced adverse health effects and manifested signs and symptoms consistent with allergic reaction, (3) obtaining relevant medical records, and (4) collecting serum samples for temporary banking. The investigation concluded that 28 people had experienced apparent allergic reactions. These people had also reported eating corn products that may have contained Cry9c protein. With the endorsement of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency s Scientific Advisory Panel which convened on November 28, 2000, CDC recommended that the banked serum samples be evaluated to see if they contained evidence of an allergic response to the Cry9c protein.
An FDA laboratory developed an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method to detect antibodies to the Cry9c protein. CDC sent coded serum samples to FDA for analysis, including serum samples from the affected people and historically banked serum samples collected before Cry9c entered the food supply. CDC also sent serum samples from people identified as being highly sensitive to a variety of allergens. The ELISA method found that none of the CDC-submitted samples reacted in a manner consistent with an allergic response to the Cry9c protein.
These findings do not provide any evidence that the reactions that the affected people experienced were associated with hypersensitivity to the Cry9c protein. The difficulties of this investigation highlight the importance of evaluating the allergic potential of genetically modified foods before they become available for human consumption
Council for Biotechnology Information
Substantial equivalence," or SE, is an internationally recognized standard that measures whether a biotech food or crop shares similar health and nutritional characteristics with its conventional counterpart. Biotech foods that are substantially equivalent have been determined to be as safe as their conventional counterparts. Products that are not substantially equivalent may still be safe, but must undergo a broader range of tests before they can be marketed.
FAO/WHO. 2000. Safety Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods of Plant Origin. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation, WHO. Geneva, Switzerland.
......# LMOs and the Environment: An International Conference, Raleigh-Durham, the United States, 27-30 November 2001
......# Consensus Documents for the work on the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds
......# Consensus Documents for the Work on Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology
.......# Safety Evaluation of Foods Derived by Modern Biotechnology: Concepts & Principles.
......# GM Food Safety - Facts, Uncertainties, and Assessment (pdf,English)
01-Jan-2000 Reports from the OECD Edinburgh Conference on the Scientific and Health Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods and the OECD Consultation with Non-governmental Organisations on Biotechnology and Other Aspects of Food Safety.
......# Modern Biotechnology and the OECD (pdf,English)
07-Jun-1999 Scientific understanding of how living things are put together and how they grow and develop based on instructions coded in their DNA is advancing rapidly. The knowledge already acquired and being accumulated.
University of Florida
......# Biotechnology Risk Assessment Data: Facts and Conclusions
GMO Pundit Links (Partial)
......# Natural Genetic Engineering is commonplace in conventional food crops and important for their vigour.
......# Cancer Distraction.
......# Direct evidence for high genetic variability of conventional food crops.
......# Tryptophan safety.
......# David Schubert and allegations of Biotech Fraud.
......# Fedoroff discusses Pusztai claims.
......# CSIRO Pea project risk discussions.
......# Collected scare stories (JIGMOD) with rebuttals.
......# Does farming harm health?
......# Are non-GM potatoes Bad for You too?
......# Farm Productivity Improvements important for Developing Countries
......# Harm from Delays.
......# Challenges of Future Rice Demand.
......# Strict Liability as a Tool to Stop Innovation.
......# Water Wars but Plenty of Food?
......# Gene Theft.
......# Benefits of Herbicide Tolerant Maize in Africa.
......# Improved Farm Efficiency Saves Land and Water.
......# Breaking the Cone of Silence on Genetic Risks.
......# What is JIGMOD and what is its Scientific Basis?
......# Genetic Roulette, Jeffrey Smith.
......# Ban Terminator is ultimate insult to farmer' s intelligence.
......# GURTS, Terminators and crop coexistence.
......# Terminator Technology Unused.
......# Farming Utopia.
......# Unethical Public Debate by The Independent UK about Bjorn Lomborg. The Ends Justifying the Means.
......# Seed donation by Monsanto to Malawi farmers.
......# Concept to engineer male sterility in conifers-risk assessment from ISB.
......# Don't trust Mother Nature.
......# Risks of cisgenic (GM-lite) plants part1.
......# Risks of cisgenic (GM-lite) plants part2.
......# Issue of the "Precautionary Principle" Volume 4 - Issue 1 - 2002
Table of Contents
Pages Title and authors
1-3 Biotechnology and the precautionary principle
Calestous Juma, Derya Honca
18-33 Assessing the precautionary principle in the regulation of genetically modified organisms
34-45 Biotechnology and the precautionary principle: right question, wrong answer
Gary E. Marchant
4-17 From principle to action: applying the precautionary principle to agricultural biotechnology
Katherine Barrett, Carolyn Raffensperger
46-60 The precautionary principle and biotechnology
61-80 Negotiating the precautionary principle: regulatory and institutional roots of divergent US and EU positions
81-95 An ethical analysis of the precautionary principle
Marc A. Saner
96-114 A European innovation system in pharmaceuticals?
Environmental Health Perspectives Journal
Public Library of Science Biology.
......# Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology
Americans have long been ambivalent about science. Conflicting attitudes toward science are not uncommon among industrialized countries—Canadians, Europeans, and Japanese, for example, also appreciate the benefits of science but worry about potential impacts on society. What sets Americans apart is that their reservations center primarily around religion. And now, as the United States struggles to maintain its undisputed position as world leader in science and technology, religious ideology has spilled over into the public sphere to a degree unmatched in other industrialized societies. Religious groups are turning scientific matters like stem cells and evolution into political issues.
Though some see the growing influence of ideology over scientific issues as a threat to America's standing as global science leader, a leading analyst of public attitudes toward science sees it as an opportunity for increasing scientific literacy. “Even though the scientific community can feel besieged by this anti-science sentiment,” says Jon D. Miller, who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School, “most people really haven't made up their mind about this issue and, in fact, really haven't even thought about it.” Rather than fretting about the cultural divide—or worse, doing nothing—Miller urges scientists to do their part to bridge the gap.
Since 1979, the proportion of scientifically literate adults has doubled—to a paltry 17%.
Miller has devoted his 30-year career to studying public understanding of science and technology and its implications for a healthy democracy. To possess what Miller calls civic scientific literacy, one must have the capacity to make sense of competing arguments in a scientific debate. Over the year leading up to the 2004 US election, Miller polled a national panel of adults to track their grasp of the ongoing debate about stem-cell research. A year before the election, over a third of adult respondents had never heard the term, even though the issue had dominated the headlines. By the eve of the election, only a few more respondents said they had heard about stem cells. How could so many people manage to remain oblivious to one of the most contentious issues of the election?
Most people don't have a cognitive framework for understanding stem cells, Miller explains. “Science happens so fast now that most adults couldn't possibly have learned about stem cells when they were in school.” And without this underlying schema, most people aren't going to pay attention to stem cells or any other unfamiliar scientific term. “People tune out things that they think are scientific or complicated,” he says. “If you are science averse and think you couldn't possibly know any science, the minute you hear ‘cell,’ ‘stem cell,’ ‘nanotechnology,’ ‘atomic,’ ‘nuclear,’ you turn the off switch.”
Jon D. Miller hopes that scientists will become politically engaged and oppose candidates who attack scientific research
As time went on, more people said they had a good understanding of stem cells—21% in 2004, up from 9% in 2003—but only 9% of respondents could define the term when asked, compared with 8% in 2003. And, surprisingly, the number of voters with strong opinions dropped significantly. A year before the election, 17% were opposed—“likely reflecting the influence of religious groups”—and 15% were in favor. As discussions raised distinctions between adult and embryonic stem cells and between morality and scientific benefits, most people realized the issue was more complex than they had originally thought. “At the end of the election, only 2% were strongly opposed and only 2% were strongly in favor,” Miller says. “It shows that a little bit of scientific literacy won't solve the problem when you have a debate.”
To gauge the extent of fundamentalism's reach into American life, Miller evaluated adults' responses to three statements: the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally; there is a personal God who hears the prayers of individual men and women; and human beings were created by God as whole persons and did not evolve from earlier forms of life. In 2005, 43% of American adults agreed with all three statements.
“The age of nonpartisan science is gone.”
The era of nonpartisan science is gone, says Miller, who urges scientists and science educators to learn the rules of this new game and get behind moderate Republicans as well as Democrats to protect the practice and teaching of sound science. Given the partisan attack on evolution and stem-cell research, he thinks scientists need to learn more about how the political process works. They need to be willing to run for the school board, write $500 or even $5,000 checks to support moderate candidates, and defeat Christian right-wing candidates. “Scientists need to become involved in partisan politics and to oppose candidates who reject evolution or attack scientific research,” he says. “It takes time, money, and paying attention to the issues.”
Liza Gross is Science Writer for the Public Library of Science. E-mail: email@example.com
Funding. The author received no specific funding for this article.
Published: April 18, 2006
Copyright: © 2006 Liza Gross. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Citation: Gross L (2006) Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology. PLoS Biol 4(5): e167
Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture - Edited by Jon Entine, AEI Press, 2006, $25"
......# How many children in the developing world have to die?
......# How politics in undermining agricultural research
Rob Wager Department of Biology
900 Fifth Street
Nanaimo, B.C., V9R 5S5
......# Food Biotechnology: GM/GE/LMO
Food biotechnology is also known as genetically modified (gm) food or genetically engineered (ge) food or living modified organisms (lmo). Regardless of which term one uses it is food products that have been modified with recombinant DNA technologies. Modifying plant DNA is not new. Man has been modifying plant DNA for thousands of years. This group of techniques is far more precise than any method of plant breeding used in history. Critics have claimed products of these technologies are very dangerous. But the research says something completely different.
Twenty plus years of research has shown these products offer tremendous environmental benefits (tens of millions of pounds of insecticides not used each year). Greater yield on less land is a well-documented benefit of these crops. Every food biotechnology product is extensively evaluated for safety BEFORE it is allowed to be commercialized. Not a single case of harm has been documented after over two trillion (million million) meals.
Food biotechnology is not a panacea. It will not solve the worlds’ agricultural problems by itself. Nor is it the evil creation some would have the public believe. However, food biotechnology will become one of the main tools to combat the upcoming global water shortage, salinization of soil and pressures from the increasing human population.
A great deal of the web-based information on this subject is inaccurate, misleading or blatantly false. This site provides links to world experts in agriculture, health and science to allow the public easy access to accurate information.
The debate on this issue will not go away anytime soon. It is important for the public to learn what is real and what is pseudo-science as public policy based on pseudo-science is bad public policy.
Education is Power
......# Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms on the use of antibiotic resistance genes as marker genes in genetically modified plants. (Question N° EFSA-Q-2003-109)
Opinion adopted by the GMO Panel on 2 April 2004, Last updated: 19 April 2004
Summary, Full opinion in pdf form is downloadable.
Directive 2001/18/EC (EC, 2001) states that Member States and the Commission shall ensure that GMOs which contain genes expressing resistance to antibiotics in use for medical or veterinary treatment are taken into particular consideration when carrying out an environmental risk assessment. This is with a view to identify and phase out antibiotic resistance marker genes (ARMGs) in GMOs which may have adverse effects on human health and the environment.
The Scientific Panel on genetically modified organisms (GMO Panel) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has evaluated the potential risks associated with specific ARMGs taking into account their current usage in clinical and veterinary medicine, the likely occurrence of horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified (GM) plants to microbes and the potential impact of horizontal gene transfer where naturally occurring resistance to the relevant antibiotics exists in the microbial gene pool. These factors will impact on the likelihood of any adverse effects on humans or the environment of ARMGs used in GM plants.
The GMO Panel considers the frequency of horizontal gene transfer from GM plants to other organisms as very low for all ARMGs considered. This, in itself, is an important consideration with regard to any risk posed by the use of ARMGs. However, with respect to clinical importance the Panel has categorised ARMGs into three groups with different potentials for compromising human health and the environment. ARMGs in the first group include genes conferring resistance to kanamycin and hygromycin. In this group the nptII gene, which confers kanamycin resistance, has a 13-year history of safe use in food crops and resistance to this group of antibiotics is widespread in naturally occurring microbes in humans and the environment. The Panel is of the opinion that with regard to safety there is no rationale for inhibiting or restricting the use of genes in this category, either for field experimentation or for the purpose of placing on the market. The second group of ARMGs, which includes resistance to chloramphenicol, ampicillin, streptomycin and spectinomycin, should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market. Given their current importance in clinical usage, the GMO Panel recommends that ARMGs placed in the third group, which includes those conferring resistance to amikacin and tetracyclines, are not present in GM plants to be placed on the market or in plants used for experimental field trials.
Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report
......# Database of the benefits and safety of biotechnology
May 16, 2006
CropLife International is making publicly available a database of published papers and reviews demonstrating the benefits and safety implications associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products.
Agricultural biotechnology today is realizing economic, environmental, health, and social benefits for farmers and society in both industrial and developing countries. In 2004, 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries planted biotech crops – 90 per cent in developing countries. While studies recording, demonstrating, and quantifying these benefits exist, they can be difficult to locate and access.
The purpose of this database is to enable you quickly and easily to locate and access credible scientific information about the demonstrated benefits associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products, and about their safety.
The database provides access to a selection of quality studies that highlight the global benefits of these products. The full list of papers is accessible for download.
European Policy Forum
......# INTERNATIONAL NGOs: AN INTERNATIONAL CODE OF CONDUCT. pdf
AN APPROACH PAPER.
By Frank Vibert
Over the last three years EPF has worked with various partners to discuss issues for democratic societies and for international governance raised by the role played by NGOs. In themselves, NGOs are neither good nor bad for democratic standards of governance – it all depends on how they play their role. What the discussions have aimed to illuminate is whether there are standards emerging from within the NGO movement itself, or from other sources, that can help define how that role should be played.
There are four main reasons for focussing on the questions of standards of behaviour. The first reason is to clarify how the norms of NGO behaviour fit within the norms of rule-based democratic systems of government. At the most general level the norms are those of free speech and right of peaceful association and assembly. The diverse, spontaneous and voluntary nature of the NGO movement exemplifies this aspect of democratic systems of government. However, more difficult questions are raised by the deep involvement of NGOs in both policy formation and policy delivery in modern systems of governance. Here the issue is not the general one about freedom of expression and association but the more precise one about how norms relating to regulatory governance impact NGOs.
Secondly, the related standards of governance – both in the private sector and in government have been changing quite rapidly and this presents a challenge to the NGO of the future. Currently, many of the large international NGOs ‘blend’ the roles they perform. They are both advocates and doers. They both argue for a cause and they deliver practical services. They act both as ‘outsiders’ mobilising grass roots support against government and business and as ‘insiders’ acting in close conjunction with government departments, international organisations and multinational business.2 The question is whether there are standards that will enable these different roles to continue to be combined or whether NGOs will increasingly be forced to choose between roles.
The third reason to look at standards is that there seems to be a gap in the development of standards at the international level. In a national context relevant standards often exist – for example those that govern not-for-profit organisations. At an international level, standards are much less clear. In relating to NGOs, each international organisation has tended to go its own way. Similarly, multinational corporations, often the target of NGO activity, have also tended to try to strike their own bargains with NGO interlocuters. NGOs themselves that operate across borders are beginning to develop their own standards, but it is not clear how well they tie into related norms of behaviour – either corporate or governmental.
Finally, the emergence of internationally agreed standards could help all the actors involved – governments and international organisations, businesses and NGOs themselves – to develop more predictable and reliable relationships. NGOs operate in a more questioning environment and are very much aware that reputational risk applies to all actors including themselves. International organisations and governments offer a variety of practices from the funding of NGOs, to accreditation, to exclusion. A variety of treatments may well be desirable but it also reflects great uncertainty about what is or is not appropriate... continues at link.
......# Opinions about Agriculture. 28 April 2006
Arnoldo Ventura, science advisor to the prime minister of Jamaica, recently argued that a UN agreement intended to protect biodiversity from the potential threats posed by genetically modified (GM) organisms is wasteful and unnecessary (see Do we still need the Cartagena Protocol?).
Here, SciDev.Net readers from around the world respond to Ventura's criticism of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the individuals' institutions.
Hubert Zandstra, emeritus director general, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru
Too often, the environmental benefits of GM crops are ignored. Farmers growing them can substantially reduce their use of farm chemicals, whose threats to human health and the environment are increasingly well documented. Using conventional breeding approaches instead of GM technology to develop pest-resistant crops is not easy.
One area of continued concern is the impact of gene flow from GM crops to traditional varieties and wild relatives in regions where our major food crops originated. These dangers can be managed with practical protocols and constant vigilance.
Martin Livermore, consultant, Cambridge, United Kingdom
We have to get our priorities right: why continue to spend more time and effort on an issue when earlier concerns about GM have been shown to be unjustified, and when developing countries could be concentrating on using their genetic resources for the benefit of their citizens? International agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol foster bureaucracy and processes that are hard to stop. There are better ways to use our energies and resources than waste them pursuing the sterile path of the biosafety protocol.
Kavitha Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad, India
While it is true that farmers and consumers in developing countries are yet to get involved in an informed debate on this matter, it is wrong to conclude that people are indifferent to it given that most countries have rejected GM technology.
Any new agricultural technology applied on a large scale in a developing country could have massive implications for poor farmers. Case-by-case assessments of GM technologies should therefore be broad, independent and scientifically robust, so that any negative effects are detected before it is too late. Research should include post-release monitoring when GM crops are first grown commercially. Such monitoring is almost non-existent and where it exists, it is extremely unscientific.
This is why there is a need to talk about strengthening biosafety regimes and why, more than ever, an international convention that regulates the movement of GM products across international borders is so relevant.
Merete Albrechtsen, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Denmark
Far too many resources are spent on fruitless discussions and meaningless experiments regarding GM safety. These resources should be used to implement biotechnology for the benefit of everyone.
Josias Corrêa de Faria, National Rice and Beans Research Center, Brazil
GM technology has been treated with the same kind of suspicion as nuclear weapons. While safety is important, there is no need for panic. After ten years of intensive research and growing GM crops, there is now strong evidence that genetic engineering is as safe as any genetic manipulation achieved through traditional crop breeding in the past. In Brazil, a lack of public understanding of GM technology is the main barrier to its acceptance.
Maria Scurrah, president, Grupo Yanapai, Peru
Saying that 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grow GM crops hides the fact that most of these farmers are in Argentina, Canada and the United States. The really interesting country to watch is China, whose GM varieties are better suited to local conditions than are those of multinational corporations in other poor nations.
GM crops may make farming easier by reducing the impacts of weeds and insect pests, but this does not necessarily make farming better or more sustainable. Herbicides used with GM crops are poisonous to animals such as frogs that play a key role in agricultural ecosystems, so it is still important to monitor the technology's ecological impacts.
Gabriel Melchias, head of the Department of Biotechnology, St Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, India
Argentina and the United States, both leading exporters of GM products, deny the Cartagena Protocol legitimacy by refusing to ratify it. But this does not undermine the agreement's validity or relevance. The lack of evidence of harm caused by GM crops does not imply that they are totally safe. If multinational companies are so sure there is no safety issue, why are they reluctant to label GM products as such?
Symon Mandala, senior science and technology officer, Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology, Malawi
The Cartagena Protocol is both irrelevant and obsolete. Instead, resources must be channelled into building scientific capacity in developing countries. This would help them to make informed decisions on GM technology and to harness and safely manage modern biotechnology to meet the challenges of development.
We need a better, more harmonised approach with a clear direction and timeframe to resolve concerns about modern biotechnology. Policymakers should base their decisions based on scientific data. Unfortunately, the debate seems to be dominated by politicians and other groups who choose to ignore scientific evidence.
Jaroslav Drobník, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
The 'biodiversity' rhetoric surrounding the Cartagena Protocol is just a populist cover for efforts to protect agricultural markets. Many non-GM crops developed using other methods pose even greater risks to biodiversity but we tolerate them because their benefits outweigh these risks. Salt tolerant rice varieties have been introduced in Asia, the centre of rice diversity. Mutant genes could spread to other varieties or wild relatives, potentially creating invasive, salt-tolerant weeds. There are clear risks to biodiversity but nobody is concerned because politicians take no interest in it.
David Garrido, biologist, Mexico
If the Cartagena Protocol is the only tool we have to stop multinational companies from controlling the world's crops, it is still useful, even if it is dominated by politics and emotion.
There are alternatives to using GM crops to make poor nations less dependent on rich nations. Here in Mexico we grow many organic crops that need no chemical inputs and can be sold for good profits.
......# A comparative risk assessment of genetically engineered, mutagenic, and conventional wheat production systems
Robert K.D. Peterson* & Leslie M. Shama
Agricultural and Biological Risk Assessment, Montana State University, 334 Leon Johnson Hall, Bozeman, MT,59717-3120, USA
Key words: biotechnology, genetically engineered crops, GMO, herbicide exposure, herbicide toxicity,protein risk
Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) varieties produced using modern biotechnologies, such as genetic engineering and mutagenic techniques, have lagged behind other crop species, but are now being developed and, in the case of mutagenic wheat, commercially grown around the world. Because these wheat varieties have emerged recently, there is a unique opportunity to assess comparatively the potential environmental risks (human health, ecological, and livestock risks) associated with genetically engineered, mutagenic, and conventional wheat production systems. Replacement of traditional herbicides with glyphosate in a glyphosate-tolerant (genetically engineered) wheat system or imazamox in an imidazolinone-tolerant (mutagenic) wheat system may alter environmental risks associated with weed management. Additionally, because both systems rely on plants that express novel proteins, the proteins and plants themselves mayMisuse of the "Precautionary Principle" often omits giving proper weight to the harm of stopping innovation. Scaremongering is not Harm Free.
impose risks. The purpose of our study was to examine comparatively the multiple aspects of risk associated with different wheat production systems in the US and Canada using the risk assessment paradigm.
Specifically, we used tier 1 quantitative and qualitative risk assessment methods to compare specific environmental risks associated with the different wheat production systems. Both glyphosate and imazamox present lower human health and ecological risks than many other herbicides associated with conventional wheat production systems evaluated in this study. The differences in risks were most pronounced when comparing glyphosate and imazamox to herbicides currently with substantial market share. Current weight-of-evidence suggests that the transgenic CP4 EPSPS protein present in glyphosate-tolerant wheat poses negligible risk to humans, livestock, and wildlife. Risk for mutated AHAS protein in imidazolinonetolerant
wheat most likely would be low, but there are not sufficient effect and exposure data to adequately characterize risk. Environmental risks for herbicides were more amenable to quantitative assessments than for the transgenic CP4 EPSPS protein and the mutated AHAS protein. Email: bpeterson-AT-montana.edu
The following links bring together some examples of this effect.
The Unintended Costs of Saying No were realised by William Blake in 1790.
Regulatory slowdown on GM crop decisions
Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 24 No. 7, 748 July 2006
To the editor: The speed of regulatory decision-making is an important constraint on the ability of industry to innovate and bring new products to market.
To determine whether the US federal government’s regulation of biotech crops has become more or less efficient and effective over time, I have analyzed eleven years of information from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture about genetically modified (GM) crops that have passed the mandatory or voluntary regulatory hurdles required before a crop can be commercialized in the United States.
The analysis shows that the time it took each agency to reach a regulatory decision more than doubled in the past five years for no explainable reason (see Table 1). That trend should worry those who believe that genetic engineering can be used safely and can benefit farmers, consumers and the environment in the United States, other developed countries and developing countries. Public discourse is needed to understand what factors account for the trends and whether and how they can be reversed.
Three federal agencies--APHIS, FDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)--regulate GM crops using existing statutes that govern health, safety and environmental impacts of similar products produced by traditional methods1. I do not consider the EPA registration process here because that regulatory process only covers a small percentage of GM crops, whereas all GM crops go through APHIS and FDA...
...Data from submissions to APHIS involving cotton engineered with a phenotype to be herbicide tolerant also supports the conclusion that the increased length of the review time is not due solely to the potential risks of the product. Three petitions for nonregulated status for herbicide-tolerant cotton were submitted in the 1990s and the APHIS’s granting of those petitions took seven months (Calgene (Davis, CA, USA; now part of Monsanto) no.
93-196-01), five months (Monsanto no. 95-045-01) and four months
(DuPont (Wilmington, DE, USA) 95-256-01), for an average review time of 5.3 months. For the two petitions for similar products after 2000, the APHIS review time was 13 months (Aventis no. 02-042-01) and 9 months (Monsanto no. 04-086-01) for an average review time of 11 months.
Thus, although the US government tells the American public and the rest of the world that its biosafety regulatory system is fair, efficient and science based, in reality that system has become surprisingly slow at making decisions. One would expect that the regulatory pathway for biotech crops in the 21st century would be quicker and easier than in the 1990s for four reasons: first, regulators have become more experienced with products of this new technology; second, there has been no evidence of risks from any of the existing products; third, with fewer products to review between 2001 and 2005 (75% of all GM crops submitted to FDA and APHIS were concluded by 2000)2,3, there should be more agency resources for each product; and fourth, many of the recent products have similar risk profiles to products reviewed in the 1990s.
Even so, the time needed to make a regulatory decision has more than doubled at both APHIS and FDA in the past five years. In fact, this slower approach at APHIS has occurred during a time when APHIS consolidated its resources to regulate GM crops more efficiently and effectively4. APHIS announced almost two years ago that it might be revising its regulatory system for GM crops, but APHIS has not released the proposal to the public5.
Revising APHIS’s regulatory process to make its case-by-case assessment of individual crops a more risk-based system with different regulatory pathways for different potential products would be a start toward making the US biosafety regulatory system more efficient and effective. Both FDA and APHIS need to ensure that all future products receive an efficient review that is proportionate to the potential risks posed by a particular application. GM crops that are not novel and have been engineered with genes already used in previous applications should receive streamlined reviews commensurate with their lower risk so that scarce agency resources could be targeted to novel applications.
On the basis of the analysis in this paper, the US government needs to explain to the public why its ‘science-based’ regulatory system is taking longer to come to decisions about the safety of GM crops. The public wants assurances that federal regulators are ensuring the safety of products and are not considering nonscientific issues in regulatory decisions, which potentially could result in consumers losing confidence in the regulatory process. Similarly, unnecessary regulatory delay hurts developers by increasing uncertainty about the regulatory decision-making process and by increasing the cost of getting a product to market.
It has been 11 years since the first commercialized GM crops, and yet only a small fraction of the potential benefits from this powerful technology have been realized. The trends outlined here need to be analyzed and addressed if future benefits are to be realized. Only with a regulatory system that is efficient, transparent and protective of human health and the environment will the US public garner the benefits (and be protected from the risks) of GM crops.
Note: Supplementary information is available on the Nature Biotechnology website.
Gregory Jaffe, Biotechnology Project, Center for Science in the= Public Interest, 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW #300, Washington, DC
20009, USA. e-mail: gjaffe.at.cspinet.org=
Table 1 Average number of months for US government review and
decision on GM crops Time period- Average number of months USDA
took to approve GM crop petitions for nonregulated status - Average
number of months FDA took to complete voluntary consultations for
1994–2005 8.6 8.55
1994–2000 6.1 6.5
2001–2005 15.4 15.2
1. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Coordinated framework for regulation of biotechnology products. Fed Register 51, 23302 (1986). 2. http://www.isb.vt.edu/cfdocs/biopetitions1.cfm
3. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~Ird/biocon.html 4. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Statement: USDA Creates New Biotechnology Unit (http://www.aphis.USDA.gov/lpa/news/2002/08/ bioreorg. html) August 2, 2002. 5. United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA). Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Fed Register 69, 3271–3272 (2004).
The Truth about Bt Crops in India and Africa.
......# CropLife Article.
Transgenic crops in natural habitats
......# Nature M. J. Crawley, S. L. Brown, R. S. Hails, D. D. Kohn, M. Rees, NATURE | VOL 409, page 682 | 8 FEBRUARY 2001
Although improved crop yields can be engineered by genetically modifying plants, there is ecological concern over whether these plants are likely to persist in the wild in the event of dispersal from their cultivated habitat. Here we present the results of a long-term study of the performance of transgenic crops in natural habitats.
Four different crops (oilseed rape, potato, maize and sugar beet) were grown in 12 different habitats and monitored over a period of 10 years. In no case were the genetically modified plants found to be more invasive or more persistent than their conventional counterparts.
In the late 1980s, there were three conjectural risks associated with genetically modified (GM) crops: that they would become weeds of agriculture or invasive of natural habitats; that the introduced genes would be transferred by pollen to wild relatives, whose hybrid offspring would then become more weedy or invasive; or that GM plants would be a direct hazard to humans, domestic livestock or beneficial wild organisms, for example by being toxic or allergenic. Our study assesses the grounds for the first two of these fears.
Population sizes of all crops declined after the first year as a result of increased competition from native perennial plants. In no case did the GM lines persist for significantly
longer than their conventional counterparts. For oilseed rape, seedling establishment was significantly lower for GM plants compared with conventional lines in six out of 12 cases, and were not significantly greater in any case.
These experiments involved GM traits (resistance to herbicides or insects) that were not expected to increase plant fitness in natural habitats. Our results do not mean that other genetic modifications could not increase weediness or invasiveness of crop plants, but they do indicate that arable crops are unlikely to survive for long outside cultivation.
New Article on Agricultural Biotechnology and Legal Liability
Authors: Stuart J. Smyth & Drew L. Kershen
Title: Agricultural Biotechnology: Legal Liability Regimes from Comparative and International Perspectives
As agricultural biotechnology has become an agronomic alternative, discussion has emerged about what legal liabilities, if any, exists for those who create, distribute, and produce transgenic seeds and crops. Many governments have debated legal liability as related to agricultural biotechnology. In this article, the authors offer fresh insights on legal liability from comparative law and international law perspectives. The article begins by comparing Canadian and American legal liability regimes in agricultural biotechnology. Using this North American comparison as background, the article then discusses liability issues by contrasting the statutory regimes from Denmark and Germany. Once the comparisons and contrasts between Canadian, American, Danish, and German law have been presented, the article focuses on the on-going discussion of legal liability and agricultural biotechnology at the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (BSP). The authors posit that understanding the comparisons and contrasts between Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Germany assists greatly in understanding the issues and debates about legal liability and agricultural biotechnology at the international level in the BSP negotiations.
Citation: Stuart J. Smyth and Drew L. Kershen (2006) “Agricultural Biotechnology: Legal Liability Regimes from Comparative and International Perspectives,” GLOBAL JURIST ADVANCES, Vol. 6, No. 2, Article 3 available at http://www.bepress.com/gj/advances/vol6/iss2/art3
Persons interested in reading or having a full copy of the article should follow the link to the BePress GLOBAL JURIST ADVANCES webpage. On that page, persons can download a “.pdf” version of the article on the right hand side by clicking “View the article.” GLOBAL JURIST ADVANCES is a peer-reviewed on-line electronic journal.
A report out of Switzerland which looks at the environmental impact of GM crops over a 10 year period.
......# According to the site "GM cropping systems must be compared with the
existing alternative: conventional farming. In a large literature study by
Swiss Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station (ART), covering ten
years of research, the conclusion was made that GM crops are at least
similarly safe for the environment."
......# The full report can be accessed at:
The Inst. of Food Technologists
FT Scientific Status Summary - Organic Foods
- Carl K. Winter and Sarah F. Davis, Journal of Food Science Online
Conclusions: The popularity of organic foods continues to grow dramatically: organic foods now constitute more than 2% of all food sales, and sales of organic foods in the United States surpassed $13.8 billion in 2005 (Organic Trade Assn. 2006). Consumers purchasing organic foods may do so for a number of reasons, including perceived benefits to the environment, animal welfare, and worker safety, and the perception that organic foods are safer and more nutritious.
This review discusses the differences between organic foods and conventional foods with respect to food safety and nutritional composition and makes clear that several qualitative differences exist. Organic fruits and vegetables possess fewer pesticide residues and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits and vegetables. In some cases, organic foods may have higher levels of plant secondary metabolites; this may be beneficial with respect to suspected antioxidants such as polyphenolic compounds, but also may be of potential health concern when considering naturally occurring toxins. Some studies have suggested potential increased microbiological hazards from organic produce or animal products due to the prohibition of antimicrobial use, yet other studies have not reached the same conclusion. Bacterial isolates from food animals raised organically appear to show less resistance to antimicrobial agents than those from food animals raised conventionally (IFT 2006).
While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.
This review illustrates that tradeoffs exist between organic and conventional food production. Organic fruits and vegetables rely upon far fewer pesticides than do conventional fruits and vegetables, which results in fewer pesticide residues, but may also stimulate the production of naturally occurring toxins if organic crops are subject to increased pest pressures from insects, weeds, or plant diseases. Because organic fruits and vegetables do not use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, they have more biochemical energy to synthesize beneficial secondary plant metabolites such as polyphenolic antioxidants as well as naturally occurring toxins. In some cases, food animals produced organically have the potential to possess higher rates of bacterial contamination than those produced conventionally since organic production generally prohibits antibiotic use.
The prohibition of antimicrobial agents also explains the apparent lower incidence of antimicrobial resistance in bacterial isolates of organic food animals, as some studies have shown a correlation between increased rates of antibiotic use and increased antimicrobial resistance.