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from biotech to shopping basket


  • pg 1
									EMBO Science & Society meeting • Oslo 2002

                  from biotech to
                 shopping basket:

      genetic modification and
        global food production

14:20   Opening of the meeting by
        Kristin Clemet, Norwegian Minister
        of Science and Education

14:30   Introduction by Andrew Moore,
        Science & Society Programme
        Manager, EMBO

14:40   Ingo Potrykus: Golden Rice,
        Challenges of a Humanitarian

15:20   Aina Edelmann: The criticisms
        against GMOs; What are the public
        concerns? What are the alternati-

16:00   Coffee

16:30   Peter Aleström: Basic research in
        genetically modified fish, and possi-
        ble applications

17:10   Martin Frid: GM foods, farming and
        consumers; a European perspec-

17:50   Geoff Watts: GM foods in the media:
        reflections on the UK experience

18:30   Panel discussion

19:00   Close


From biotech to Shopping basket

This half-day science & society meeting is one
of an established series in the framework of
the EMBO Science & Society Programme (see
back cover for more details). Organised annu-
ally in different locations as part of the EMBO
Members Workshop, the associated meeting
focuses on a high profile topic that is of inter-
est to the public, media and scientists alike.
This year´s topic, genetically modified food, is
a „hot potato” throughout Europe, but hotter
in some places than others. In Norway, for
example, public concern at the possible far-
ming of genetically modified salmon recently
pushed the discussion of this particular gene-
tic modification technology off the menu.

   Raising questions on consumer choice, the
environment, and even the future of genetic
modification research, its applications and
their socio-economic consequences for
Europe, the meeting invites experts from
diverse fields and points of view to present
and discuss such controversial topics.

    Always conscious of the intimate connec-
tion between molecular biology (basic res-
earch) and biotechnology (it applications)
EMBO is concerned to promote a transparent
public dialogue on the applications of modern
biology. Genetic modification technology re-
presents an issue of particular concern be-
cause of the great wealth of, for example,
excellent plant science conducted in Europe.
EMBO’s aim is to promote bioscience in
Europe. It fulfils this goal not only by engaging
in an interactive dialogue with the public but
mainly by developing strong trans-national
contacts through research exchange pro-
grammes in the life sciences. EMBO provides
training for scientists in up-to-date methods
and techniques in this area. EMBO supports
scientists at all stages of their career, not
least by publishing first class scientific litera-
ture and making it available on-line. With
more than 1100 well-known members selec-
ted on the basis of their scientific excellence,
the organisation is best viewed as an interna-
tional academy of scientists that focuses on
the molecular life sciences.

    Ingo Potrykus
    Professor emeritus, ETH Zürich

    Born in 1933 in Hirschberg, Germany, Ingo
    Potrykus studied Zoology, Botany, Genetics,
    Biochemistry, Philosophy, and Physical Edu-
    cation at Universities in Cologne and Erlan-
    gen. He received his PhD in Plant Genetics
    1968 for research conducted at Max Planck
    Institute for Plant Breeding Research,
    Cologne, Germany, and became a professor in
    Botany in 1982 at University of Basel,            Prof Ingo Potrykus
    Switzerland. In the intervening years, he was     ETH Zentrum Zürich, Switzerland
    Assistant Professor, at the Institute of Plant    Institute of Plant Sciences
    Physiology, Stuttgart-Hohenheim, a Research       Zürich, Switzerland
    Group Leader, at the Max Planck Institute for     e-mail:
    Genetics, Ladenburg/Heidelberg, and at the
    Friedrich Miescher-Institute, Basel, Switzer-
    land. From 1986 to 1999 he held the position
    of Full Professor in Plant Sciences at the
    Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in
    Zürich, Switzerland.

       Ingo Potrykus’ research interests centre
    around contributions to food security in deve-
    loping countries by developing and applying
    genetic engineering technology to crop plants
    such as rice (Oryza sativa), wheat (Triticum
    aestivum), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), and
    cassava (Manihot esculenta). He is also inter-
    ested in problems that are difficult to solve
    with traditional techniques, such as improve-
    ments in the areas of disease and pest resi-
    stance, food quality, yield, exploitation of
    natural resources, and biosafety.

       As well as giving lectures and courses for
    students in the faculties of Biology, Agro-
    nomy, Pharmacy, Forestry, Environmental
    Sciences, and organising International Trai-
    ning Courses e.g. for EMBO, Ingo Potrykus has
    served on the editorial boards for several
    journals. He has published around 320 refe-
    reed scientific articles, and contributed to 30
    patents, is a member of Academia Europaea,
    and holds the Kumho Science International
    Award in Plant Molecular Biology and
    Biotechnology for the year 2000.

Golden Rice – Challenges of a
Humanitarian Project

Golden Rice is a genetic engineering appro-               A „Humanitarian Board” supervises the cho-
ach to reducing malnutrition in developing             ice of partners, supports further improve-
countries, an affliction that takes a toll of 24 000   ment, oversees needs, availability, biosafety,
lives per day. In rice-based diets, deficiencies       and socio-economic assessments, coordina-
in iron, vitamin A, and essential amino acids          tes the activities in the different countries,
are prone to occur.                                    supports fund raising from public resources,
                                                       supports deregulation, facilitates exchange of
   In rice, the low intrinsic iron content, the        information, and distributes public informa-
presence of an uptake inhibitor, and absence           tion and generates support for the humanita-
of uptake enhancers result in an effective             rian project.
shortage of dietary iron. We therefore produ-
ced genetically modified plants containing             The challenge of consumer acceptance
twice as much iron (so far), high inhibitor-           Radical GMO opponents dub Golden Rice a
degrading phytase activity, and seven times            „Trojan Horse”, and might prevent developing
as much absorption-enhancing cysteine.                 countries benefiting from it. They attempt to
                                                       bypass the moral dilemma, claiming that
   Normally, rice grains contains no provita-          Golden Rice is useless, since children would
min A (β-carotene). Introduction of foreign            have to eat 9 kg/day. Nutritionists consider
genes for several enzymes of the (β-carotene           200g/day effective, and further studies will
biochemical pathway led to the production of           clarify this point.
pro-vitamin A, resulting in yellow grains. This
may be sufficient to prevent deficiency in a           The challenge of regulations
200g/day diet.                                         Present GMO regulations prevent the techno-
                                                       logy effectively reducing malnutrition in deve-
   Finally, rice provides only 10% of the requi-       loping countries and are, together with GMO
red essential amino acids. Transfer of a syn-          opponents, jointly responsible for unnecessa-
thetic gene encoding a storage protein con-            rily perpetuating the daily 24 000 death toll.
taining the essential amino acids led to accu-
mulation of this resource in the endosperm.

The challenge of free donation
To make a real contribution, Golden Rice must
reach the poor free of charge and limitations.
The restrictions of international patent rights
were solved via a rights-transfer alliance with
the company Syngenta, which, in turn sup-
ports the humanitarian project. The techno-
logy is now available to public research insti-
tutions for breeding and variety development
via free licences, and has been transferred, to
date, to public institutions in Philippines,
China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Africa.

    Aina Edelmann, Advisor,
    Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders
    Union (NBS)

    Aina Edelmann was born in Oslo in 1959, and
    between 1979 and 1992 practised goat far-
    ming in northern Norway. From 1992 to 1996
    she was president of the Norwegian Farmers
    and Smallholders Union (NBS), and until 1998
    Head of Department for Sustainable Produc-
    tion and Consumption with Friends of the
    Earth Norway. Until 2001 Aina Edelmann chai-
    red the Foundation for Nature Research and         Mrs Aina Edelmann
    Cultural Heritage (NINANIKU), and she is cur-      Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag
    rently advisor to the NBS on international         Øvre Vollg. 9
    matters, advisor to the Norwegian Institute of     0158 Oslo, Norway
    Gene Ecology, and a member of the                  tel: +47-241 489 50
    Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.            e-mail:

       The Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders
    Union has around 12.000 members, and is
    politically independent. NBS pushes for the
    promotion of social and economic equaliza-
    tion among farmers, sustainable production
    of high quality food, preservation of cultivated
    land and countryside, respect for biological
    diversity, a stable economy for local societies
    and fiarness in trade.

       Genøk, the Norwegian Institute of Gene
    Ecology, is a private foundation with the follo-
    wing aims: 1. To perform research, distribute
    information and offer advice on GM risk and
    hazard research. 2. To develop risk assess-
    ment and management for GMOs and GMVs
    (genetically modified viruses).

       The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory
    Board is an independent body consisting of
    24 members appointed by the Norwegian
    government. It evaluates the social and ethi-
    cal consequences of modern biotechnology
    and its application in sustainable develop-
    ment. Members come from a variety of back-
    grounds. It organises regular public conferen-
    ces, publishes the free, quarterly journal
    „Genialt” in Norwegian, and information
    pamphlets on various topics regarding
    modern biotechnology.

The criticisms against genetically modi-
fied organisms (GMOs):
What are the public concerns? What are
the alternatives?

The challenge for future food security:

• to produce enough food for an
  increasing world population
• to produce all food within limits that
  are ecologically sustainable
• to achieve the just distribution of food
  and means of food production

   Present use of GMOs and their impact on
the issues above will be discussed. The use of
GMOs in food production has raised concerns
about potential impacts on environment and
health. The lack of scientific knowledge is the
reason why consumer organisations, environ-
mentalists and farmers world wide have joi-
ned the call for a moratorium on GMOs in
food production.

   In Norway more than 20 organisations
representing more than 400 000 inhabitants
have supported this call, among them the
Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders Union
(NBS). The call for a postponement is based
on the need for more exact knowledge, and
knowledge about long term impacts.

   GMOs will also be discussed with refer-
ence to their social and economic aspects:
• Who holds the power over food?
• Who ought to decide when benefits of
   GMOs outweigh the risks?
• How does society perceive the difference
   between self-elected risks (voluntary risks)
   and risks caused by external factors?
• Are there alternatives to GMOs in provi-
   ding enough food to an increasing world

    Peter Aleström
    Norwegian School of Veterinary Science,

    Peter Aleström obtained his PhD from the De-
    partment of Microbiology, Uppsala University,
    Sweden, in 1981, was a postdoctoral resear-
    cher at the Department of Medical Bioche-
    mistry, University of Oslo (1982–1987), and
    Professor in biochemistry at the Agricultural
    University of Norway (1987–1995). He then
    joined the Department of Biochemistry,
    Physiology and Nutrition of the Norwegian
    School of Veterinary Science as Professor of
    Biochemistry. Apart from conducting res-            Prof Peter Aleström
    earch he was also a member of the                   Norwegian College of Veterinary Science,
    Norwegian         UNESCO        Commission          Oslo, Norway
    (1988–1999), a member of the national and           tel: +47 22 96 45 71 / 64 / 81
    Nordic bioethics committees, and of the             mobile: 92 448 644
    Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS) in         e-mail:
    the Netherlands. He is also founder/board
    member of ChemTag AS, MicroTag AS, and
    GeNova AS.

       Peter Aleström’s research interest is the
    model of genetic modification in zebrafish.
    This includes:
    • DNA targeting and uptake mechanisms of
       zebrafish eggs/embryos and gene expres-
       sion after chromosomal integration, which
       is of direct relevance to the production of
       genetically modified fish.
    • DNA targeting and uptake mechanisms of
       zebrafish somatic cells with transient gene
       expression, which is of relevance for the
       development of DNA vaccines and gene

       The projects currently conducted in his
    laboratory are:
    • EU-project aimed at making transgenic
       sterile fish.
    • NFR and industry funded projects aimed
       at developing improved methods for DNA
       vaccines and gene therapy. DNA molecu-
       les (C-TAG’s) for tagging of subjects, liquids
       and organisms or as tracer in pollution
    • NFR and industry funded projects aimed
       at using DNA-tags for oil pollution control
       and oil reservoir studies.
    • Pilot projects using C-TAG’s as tracers in
       freshwater studies.

Basic research in genetically modified
fish, and possible applications

Around 1980 it was demonstrated that gene             The growth performance of Norwegian
transfer to animal egg cells could result in       farmed salmon has been almost doubled
stable uptake of foreign genes into the reci-      after six generations of classical selection
pient‘s chromosomes, after which they would        breeding, starting around 1980. This success
function in parallel with the rest of the reci-    in breeding together with a strong belief in
pient‘s genome. Since then protocols for ge-       keeping the farmed fish product as natural as
netic modification (GM) of animals have been       possible has led the aquaculture industry in
developed for a large number of species,           Norway to totally reject GM technology for
which can be divided into two principal            genetic improvements.
groups: test animals used in basic research
and production animals. Among test animals            Not all the genetic modifications lead to
both mammals (mouse, rat, rabbit) and fish         changes in the genomes, as in the case of the
(zebrafish, goldfish, medaka, tilapia, rainbow     GM fish discussed above. DNA vaccines repre-
trout) have been used to produce transgenic        sent a new kind of temporary GM that looks
models for the study of specific genes func-       promising from research results to date, and
tion and impact on various biological proces-      may have a significant impact in combating
ses. In medicine both transgenic mice and          disease problems in aquaculture.
zebrafish have become valuable models for
human disease and in the design of novel
pharmaceuticals. Today the usage of GM fish
in basic research is increasing with the avai-
lability of the completed genome sequences
of zebrafish and pufferfish, while GM proto-
cols for improvement of farmed fish have de-

   Super-mouse was one of the first GM, or
transgenic, mammals. It contained extra
copies of either rat or human growth hormo-
ne (GH) genes, resulting in growth to about
double the size of a wild type mouse. Since
Super-mouse, a number of laboratories have
succeeded in the transfer of growth hormone
genes to production animals, including fish
used in aquaculture. Most GH-GM fish repor-
ted have been genetically modified by using
genes from the same or related fish species
in order to add extra copies of an existing
gene, rather than adding novel genes to the
recipient genetically modified fish genomes.
The effect of GH-GM on fish ranges from zero
to ca 30 times acceleration in growth rate, al-
though the final size seems to level out to
normal levels in adults. So far two lines of GH-
GM fish, salmon and tilapia, have been produ-
ced, with the aim of using them in food pro-
duction. However, to date none is approved.
Other possible GM applications will be
discussed in this presentation.

     Martin Frid,
     Swedish Consumer Coalition, and
     Association of European Consumers

     Martin Frid has a B.Sc. in Psychology. He has
     worked for the consumer organisation in Swe-
     den as food and trade policy officer since
     1997 and participated in a number of public
     debates and workshops both in Sweden and
     internationally. Since 1999 he has also wor-
     ked for AEC – Association of European Consu-
     mers, based in Brussels. He has led delega-
     tions for Consumers International to several         Martin Frid
     FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius meetings, and             Sveriges Konsumenter i Samverkan
     attended Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue            Box 88577
     meetings as well as other international con-         22 Hultsfred Sweden
     ferences on food safety and consumer policy.         tel: +46 47 9 107 13
          The Swedish Consumer Coalition is an
     independent NGO consumer organisation. It
     aims to stimulate ecological awarenesss and
     to achieve sustainable development in socie-
     ty, locally and globally. The organisation strives
     to bring about greater economy in the utiliza-
     tion of resources. It’s goal is to assert and
     defend the rights of consumers as stated in
     the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection
     and to represent consumers and consumers’

Consumers take action on GMO foods:
lessons learnt?

Consumers International has played a very         ding the European countries and the US,
important role with regards to genetically        agreed on this document at the meeting in
modified foods. In its „Food Policy Beyond        Yokahama, Japan.
2000” from 1993, demands for mandatory
safety testing and labelling were put forward.        This is very important because in the case
In the EU member states, there has been litt-     of trade disputes, the World Trade Organi-
le room for national campaigns on legislation.    zation considers that, in terms of food safety,
Obviously Austria and to some degree              the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius are
Sweden – both joined the EU in 1995 – were        the global science-based standard and, thus,
more reluctant to flatly accept directives from   national legislation based on the Codex are
Brussels. Also the UK had political reasons to    not considered to be a “non-tariff trade bar-
be different due to the experiences of BSE. As    rier.” For example, genetically modified BT-
it is Brussels that decides, everyone in the      maize would not meet the complete safety
NGO consumer sector has had to focus on           assessment as laid out in this Codex docu-
improving the EU legislation.                     ment, as one of the endotoxins found in this
                                                  maize, Cry1Ac, has been found to have seq-
    GMOs were the focus of the global consu-      uence similarity to a known human allergen.
mer rights day on March 15, 2000. The GMO
issue got onto the agenda of consumer
groups at the European level in two stages:
first in 1996—1997, when the US shipments
of soya and maize started arriving (and
Austria decided to ban genetically modified
maize), then in 1998 when the UK campaig-
ners and other groups in France started pul-
ling up crops, and the media started to pay
attention. Around this time, in April 1998, the
moratorium became a political reality in the
entire EU. Another big issue that galvanised
resistance were the votes in the European
Parliament in 1995 and 1997 regarding pat-
ents on DNA.

     The annual assembly for European cons-
umer organisations was held in November
2000 in Brussels. The food safety working
group had an intense discussion about bio-
technology and GMO foods. There was strong
support for the current de facto moratorium
in Europe. The European Commission also
gave a strong signal that the forthcoming
GMO legislation would consider consumer
and environmental concerns, including safety
assessements that also takes the precautio-
nary principle into account. Other important
issues are mandatory labelling and traceab-
ility. Consumers have been able to participate
in the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Task
Force on foods derived from biotechnology. In
March 2002 this Task Force reached agree-
ment on a „Draft guideline for the conduct of
food safety assessment of foods derived from
recombinant-DNA plants.” 35 countries, inclu-

     Geoff Watts, BBC, UK

     Geoff Watts read zoology at King’s College,
     London, spent a year doing cancer research
     at St Mary’s Medical School, and then moved
     to the Institute of Ophthalmology to work on
     lasers. Having completed a doctoral thesis he
     left research for scientific and medical jour-

         For many years he was the deputy editor      Dr Geoff Watts
     of World Medicine Magazine. He went on to        Science Editor
     present BBC Radio 4’s “Medicine Now” pro-        BBC TV
     gram throughout its 17-year life, and was also   e-mail:
     an interviewer and presenter for BBC Radio
     4’s “Science Now”. As a writer and presenter
     for the BBC, he has contributed to countless
     features and series on scientific and medical
     topics on Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World

         Geoff Watts currently presents Radio 4’s
     science programme “Leading Edge”, and divi-
     des his time between writing, broadcasting,
     giving lectures and media consultancy work.
     He also chairs conferences and serves on
     several official bodies including the UK
     Government’s Human Genetics Commission.

GM foods in the media: reflections on the
UK experience

The views of the UK public and media on the
desirability and possible benefits of GM food
are now deeply entrenched and severely
polarised. Rational debate has become all but
impossible. How did this state of affairs arise?

   The UK Parliament’s upper chamber
(House of Lords) has commissioned detailed
research on how the debate unfolded. This
shows that until 1996, biotechnology enjoyed
positive media coverage in UK. Two events
prepared the ground for a change in attitude:
the BSE affair; and the import of soya and
maize in which GM and non-GM crops were
inseparably mixed.

   The report analyses the events of the sub-
sequent 1999 GM „media storm” as measu-
red by the frequency of articles on GM food in
UK national newspapers. It identifies a num-
ber of phases preceding and following the
peak of the debate. It notes that as the story
became more prominent, so it was moved
away from the science specialists and into
the hands of the political corespondents.

   Human genetics has so far been spared a
disaster of this kind – but it could easily hap-
pen. The best hope of avoiding this is for
scientists, industry and politicians to be open
and honest debate with the public. This
means better communication, and the
remainder of the presentation will consider
how to achieve this end. In essence: recogni-
sing that good communication is a dialogue,
not a monologue; that science is inherently
complex; that it has its own jargon; that it
generates findings that are usually provisional
rather than definitive; and that, taken toget-
her, these features render the task a tricky

   The agendas and priorities of scientists are
not necessarily those of the media. Compro-
mise is necessary, and may be difficult. But if
scientists with hard facts who can offer well
informed opinion choose to disregard the
media, others with fewer facts and less infor-
med opinions will rapidly take their place.

Selected references

Aleström P (2001) Genetically modified fish –   „The great GM food debate”
a health risk?                                  Report No.138, UK Parliamentary Office of
Tema Nord 532: 73—77                            Science and Technology.
Aleström P (1999) Genetically modified fish     report138.pdf
in future aquaculture: Technical, environ-
mental and management considerations.           Articles from the Swedish Consumer
Turning Priorities into Feasible Programs.      Coalition
ISNAR-IBS 4: 81—85                        english/indexeng.html
                                                Understanding the Codex Alimentarius
Aleström P (1998) Genmodifisering av fisk
som forskningsmetode og for anvendelse i        w9114e00.htm
Norsk fiskeoppdrett 8: 34-36                    Frid M (2002 in print)
                                                GMO Foods: Activities and strategies of con-
Burkhardt PK, Beyer P, Wünn J, Klöti A,         sumer organisations.
Armstrong G, Schledz M, von Lintig J,           Cahiers d’economie et sociologie Rurales,
Potrykus I (1997) Transgenic rice (Oryza        INRA
sativa) endosperm expressing daffodil
(Narcissus pseudonarcissus) phytoene syn-
thase accumulates phytoene, a key interme-
diate of provitamin A biosynthesis.
Plant J 11: 1071-1078

Edelmann A (2001) Food security through
food sovereignty.

Potrykus I (2001) Golden Rice and beyond.
Plant Physiol 125: 1157—1161

Ye X, Al-Babili S, Klöti A, Zhang J, Lucca P,
Beyer P, Potrykus I (2000) Engineering pro-
vitamin A (β-carotene) biosynthetic pathway
into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm.
Science 287: 303—305


               text & editing:
               Peter Aleström, Aina Edelann, Martin Frid,
               Andrew Moore, Ellen Peerenboom,
               Ingo Potrykus & Geoff Watts

               title photo:
               Maj Britt Hansen

               coordination of production:
               Ellen Peerenboom & Uta Mackensen

               Druckerei Reintjes, Kleve, Germany

               The meeting is supported by
               The Norwegian Radium Hospital,
               The University of Oslo and the
               Norwegian Research Council.

EMBO Science & Society Programme

annual events

teachers workshops
offering further education opportunities for
biology teachers in the latest results and
methods of molecular biology and related

multidisciplinary science and society con-
co-organized with the European Molecular
Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and open
to the public

media workshops
in conjunction with the EMBO fellows and
young investigator meetings; a chance for
young scientists to learn how the media
work, and to practise their communication

multidisciplinary associated meetings on
science and society
as part of the EMBO Members Meeting at
different European locations, open to the
public, and focusing on an issue of public

science communication prize
awarded to a practicing life scientist for
communication with the public

special initiatives and collaborations

science in the pub
a chance for the public and scientists to talk
in a relaxed atmosphere over a beer; EMBO
is pleased to give help and advice to others
wishing to start similar local initiatives.

a Europe-wide initiative to publicize science
on public transport

for more details, contact:                       European Molecular
Andrew Moore                                     Biology Organization
Science and Society                              Meyerhofstrasse 1
Programme Manager                                D-69117 Heidelberg
tel: +49-6221 8891 109                           Germany                  

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