Ethiopia goes organic to feed herself201112384919

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					Science in Society
  ISSUE 23 Autumn 2004 £3.50

                                     Ethiopia goes organic to feed herself
Rice Wars: high-yield low-input systems trump GM rice
     Delivering good health through good food - Selenium for AIDS

  Toxic pharm crops unregulated in US - Europe to grow plant vaccines in South Africa
New Age of Water from biochemistry to conciousness
In this issue
                                                                                                                     Investment Busy
                                                                                                                     Going Nowhere
                                                                                                                      - page 23

                                                                                                                     Is Water Special?
                                                                                                                     - page 47
                 One Bird - Ten
                      - page 17

                Without Caution
                      - page 40

                Contents                                                                                              Published by
                From the Editor                             3    Collusion and Corruption in GM Policy   30           The Institute of Science in Society
                Greening Ethiopia for Self-Sufficiency           Questions over Schmeiser's Ruling       32           PO Box 32097
                Greening Ethiopia                           4    DNA in GM Food & Feed                   34           London NW1 OXR
                The Tigray Project                          6                                               
                Organic Production for Ethiopia             8    GM Trees Alert                                       ISSN 1477-3430
                                                                 No to GM Trees                          37
                Rice Wars                                        Low Lignin GM Trees and Forage Crops    38           Editor & Art Director: Mae-Wan Ho
                Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?      9                                                         Assistant Editor: Lim Li Ching
                New Rice for Africa                        12    Technology Watch                                     Production Editor: Julian Haffegee
                Top Indian Rice Geneticist Rebuts SRI            Bio-remediation Without Caution         40           Production Assistant: Andrew Watton
                   Critics                                  13                                                        Marketing and PR: Sam Burcher
                Does SRI Work?                              14   ISP News
                One Bird - Ten Thousand Treasures           17   ISP to FAO: GM Crops Not the Answer     41           Associate Editors: Joe Cummins, Peter
                Corporate Patents vs People in GM Rice      19                                                        Saunders, Claire Robinson and Peter
                Promises & Perils of GM Rice               20    Rethinking Health                                    Bunyard
                Two Rice Better than One                   22    Selenium Conquers AIDS?                 42
                                                                                                                      Other Contributors to this Issue:
                                                                 Delivering Good Health Through Good
                                                                                                         44           Henry Becker, Sue Edwards, A.
                Freeing the World from GM                           Food
                Biotech Investment Busy Going
                   Nowhere                                 23    New Age of Water
                Superbug with Anthrax Genes                25    Is Water Special?                       47
                                                                                                                      Sam Burcher
                Approval of Bt11 Maize Endangers                 The 'Wholiness' of Water                48
                                                                                                                      tel: 44 20 7383 3376
                   Humans and Livestock                    26    Water Forms Massive Exclusion Zones     50
                Pharm Crop Products in US Market           28                                                         ISIS Director:
                Ban Plant-Based Transgenic                                                                            Mae-Wan Ho
                   Pharmaceuticals                         29                                                         tel: 44 20 7272 5636
                                                                                                                      Front cover illustration "Night garden"
                                                                                                                      by Li Poon; Back cover photo by Mae-
                 Full references and sources are available to ISIS members on the ISIS members website                Wan Ho

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From the Editor                                Corporations coveting our rice
                                               Rice, the staple food crop for more than half the world's population, among
                                               them the poorest, is the current target of genetic modification, an activity that
                                               has greatly intensified after the rice genome was announced two years ago
                                               (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15, 2002). Since then, all major biotech giants
                                               are investing in rice research, with the clear intent of exercising monopolistic
                                               rights through gene patenting and genetic modification.
                                                   At the same time, a low-input cultivation system that really benefits small
                                               farmers worldwide has been spreading, but is dismissed by the scientific
                                               establishment as "unscientific". This is one among several recent innovations
                                               that increase yields and ward off disease without costly and harmful inputs,
                                               all enthusiastically and widely adopted by farmers in Asia and Africa.
                                                   A war is building up between the corporations and the peoples of the
                                               world for the possession of rice. The food security of billions is at stake, as is
                                               their right to grow the varieties of rice they have created and continue to cre-
                                               ate, and in the manner they choose.
                                                   We bring you a comprehensive exposé of how the scientific establishment
                                               is serving the corporate agenda against peoples' interests.

Ethiopia goes organic                          New age of water
Famines and Ethiopia have become               Water has come of age. It is cool on everyone's lips. Decades of research on
irrevocably linked in the public mind          water is yielding remarkable insights into its dynamic collective structures,
since Bob Geldof's Live Aid Concert in         and changing our big picture of life and living process.
the 1980s. But big changes are afoot. We            Organisms are seventy to eighty percent water. Is this water necessary to
carried the first exclusive report (Science    life? What vital functions does it serve?
in Society 16, 2002) on how Ethiopia is             Entire biochemistry and cell biology textbooks are still being written with-
determined to feed herself. This success       out ever mentioning the role of water. It is simply treated as the inert medium
story is now told in full.                     in which all the specific biochemical reactions are being played out.
    A project with small beginnings,                Instead, recent findings are raising the possibility that it is water that's
based on introducing the traditional           stage-managing the biochemical drama of life. Water is life, it is the key to
Indian farming practice of pit composting,     every living activity. Some people will even say it is the seat of conscious-
has increased yields over and above            ness.
chemical fertilizers and turned barren              Nowhere else will you find such a feast for the discerning mind. And there
degraded land into productive greenery.        will be more in the coming issues.
The results are so impressive that the
Ethiopian government is ready to adopt
organic agriculture as one of its strate-      Ban pharm crops
gies for food security. Ethiopia is taking
the lead in delivering not just food secu-     As one after another biotech giant retreated from GM crops for food and feed
rity to the nation: but good quality, nutri-   in Europe amid massive losses and lack of investment, the desperate indus-
tious food free from agrochemicals and a       try is redoubling its efforts to use GM crops to produce transgenic pharma-
clean environment, which are crucial to        ceuticals in North America and elsewhere.
delivering good health. This is what every         These pharm crops pose a range of health hazards; as documented in
country in the world should be doing, rich     numerous reviews in past and present issues of SiS: allergies, immune-sup-
or poor.                                       pression, immune sensitization followed by anaphylaxis, oral tolerance lead-
    The composting package was first           ing to loss of immunity to pathogens. An AIDS vaccine produced in the maize
introduced in 1996 to the northern state       crop has been compared to the release of a "slow bioweapon". What have our
of Tigray by distinguished Ethiopian ecol-     governments been doing to protect the public?
ogist, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre                     Prof. Joe Cummins uncovered a major scandal: these pharm crops have
Egziabher, recipient of the Right              been produced and marketed in the United States for at least two years
Livelihood award. Tewolde (what his            behind our backs, via a gaping loophole in the regulatory process. This has
friends call him) is no stranger in interna-   galvanised public interest organisations to call for a moratorium on the
tional politics. As representative of the      release of transgenic pharm rice in California.
Ethiopian government and African Union,            Meanwhile, the European Union announced the award of 12 million euros
he has been championing the rights of          to a "Pharma-Planta" consortium, a network of laboratories in 11 European
the poorest countries at the FAO               countries plus South Africa to develop pharm crops for vaccines and treat-
Commission         on      Plant    Genetic    ments for AIDS, rabies, diabetes and TB. South Africa's role is to be the test-
Resources, and played a key role in the        ing ground for the first pharm crops.
successful negotiation of the Cartagena            The exploitation of Third World countries to produce transgenic pharma-
Biosafety Protocol for regulating geneti-      ceuticals unacceptable in Europe and the United States harks back to the
cally modified organisms.                      days of colonialism, and raises the spectre of unmonitored and unregulated
    We are privileged to have the inside       human exposures to the dangerous products without the informed consent of
story told by Sue Edwards, the Director        those directly affected. This will become worse as opposition grows in North
of the Institute for Sustainable               America and Europe.
Development in Addis Ababa, who                    We are calling for a global forum to alert people to the dangers as well as
shared responsibility of the Tigray project    the "benefits" (see p.29). Meanwhile, it is imperative to impose a global ban
with Tewolde.                                  on field test releases and biopharmaceutical production, especially in Third
                                               World countries.

    Greening Ethiopia for Self-Sufficiency

    Greening Ethiopia
    Sue Edwards reports on the challenges and opportunities facing Ethiopia
    as steps are taken to reverse the ecological and social damages that have
    locked the country in poverty

                                                                   Above: Pit composting training (photo by Solomon Hailemariam).
                                                                    Left: Sue Edwards and Tewolde Egziabher (photo by Mae-Wan Ho)

                                                                   country's         ranges from a high of 45°C (April-
                                                                   three mois-       September) in the Afar Depression
                                                                   ture-bearing      to 0°C or lower at night in the high-
                                                                   wind    sys-      lands (November-February).
                                                                   t e m s .             Ethiopia's population was 53.48
                                                                   Originating       million in 1994, of which 86.3 per-
                                                                   from     the      cent was rural. It grew at the rate of
                                                                   S o u t h         2.9 percent per annum between
    Challenges                                                     Atlantic, it      1984 and 1994; by 2003, it was
                                            brings the greatest amount of mois-      estimated to have exceeded 67 mil-
    Ethiopia is a land-locked country in    ture during the wet season (June-        lion and could reach 94.5 million by
    the 'Horn of Africa' to the northeast   August). The mean annual rainfall        2015. The population has an aver-
    of Africa. Its topography is very       is highest (above 2 700 mm) in the       age age of just 21.8 years, with
    diverse, encompassing mountains         southwestern highlands, gradually        44% under 15 years and the group
    over 4000 m above sea level, high       decreasing to below 200 mm in the        15 to 25 years making up more than
    plateaus, deep gorges cut by rivers     southeastern lowlands, and to 100        20%.     School     enrolment     has
    and arid lowlands including the Afar    mm or less in the northeastern low-      increased, but the literacy rate
    Depression 110 m below sea level.       lands. The mean temperature              remains about 35%. There is a high
       The South Westerly is one of the

dependency ratio and although offi-      opment and reducing poverty.                 The use of agrochemicals in
cial unemployment is around 3%, it                                                 smallholder agriculture is rapidly
                                         Problems of chemical inputs
exceeds 30% in the urban youth,                                                    increasing; and this is in addition to
while under-employment is wide-          The Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG-             the substantial amounts already
spread in the rural population.          2000) programme was started by            deployed on the few large-scale
    The country currently faces a        the Ministry of Agriculture in 1995       farms, particularly cotton farms.
number of environmental chal-            to boost food crop production             The misuse of pesticides and fertil-
lenges resulting directly or indirect-   through a focused campaign to get         izers is damaging human health
ly from human activities, exacerbat-     farmers to use chemical fertilizer        and polluting the surrounding envi-
ed by rapid population growth and        along with high yielding varieties        ronment.
the consequent increase in the           (HYVs) and pesticides. However, it
                                                                                   Greening Ethiopia
exploitation of natural resources.       promoted only the adoption of fertil-
The challenges range from land           izer through credit schemes and           The Environmental Policy of
degradation to environmental pollu-      subsidized prices. Prior to 1995,         Ethiopia has incorporated a basic
tion, due to the misguided applica-      Ethiopia had one of the lowest per        principle similar to one adopted in
tion of chemicals in agriculture, for    capita uses of fertilizer in the world.   organic agriculture: "Ensure that
domestic purposes or for the manu-       Under SG-2000, farmers were               essential ecological processes and
facture of industrial products.          allowed to select and use the best        life support systems are sustained,
Ethiopia has accumulated one of          of their own local varieties rather       biological diversity is preserved and
the largest stockpiles of obsolete       than buy seed of HYVs. Very little        renewable natural resources are
pesticides in the continent, estimat-    use of pesticides has developed           used in such a way that their regen-
ed to be around 3000 tonnes in           except for dealing with migratory         erative and productive capabilities
2003. The misuse of natural              pests, particularly armyworm, and         are maintained, and, where possi-
resources includes burning dung as       local swarms such as Pachnoda             ble, enhanced...; where this capac-
fuel, instead of using it as a soil      beetles on sorghum and the                ity is already impaired to seek
conditioner. Losses to crop produc-      endemic Wello Bush Cricket on             through appropriate interventions a
tion from burning dung and soil ero-     cereals.                                  restoration of that capability."
sion are estimated at over 600,000            Since 1998, the subsidy on fer-          Key elements of the policy cover
tonnes annually, or twice the aver-      tilizer has been withdrawn while the      soil husbandry and sustainable
age yearly requests for food aid.        price of fertilizer has risen. Despite    agriculture, and can support the
                                         that, by 2001, around 5% of the           development of more specific policy
                                         smallholder farmers of the country,       and regulations for organic agricul-
Ethiopia is one of the least devel-      particularly those growing maize,         ture. These include promoting the
oped countries in the world, and its     had become accustomed to using            use of appropriate organic matter
economy rests mainly on agricul-         fertilizer. But that year, the price      and nutrient management for
ture. It accounts for more than 75       dropped out of the bottom of the          improving soil structure, nutrient
percent of total exports, over 85        maize market and the farm gate            status and microbiology; maintain-
percent of employment; and about         price in some areas fell to the           ing traditional integration of crop
45 percent of the GDP (gross             equivalent of US$1.50 per 100 kg of       and animal husbandry in the high-
domestic product). Coffee alone          maize.                                    lands, and enhancing the role of
makes up more than 87 percent of              In 2002, many farmers were           pastoralists in the lowlands; pro-
the total agricultural exports. Hides    heavily in debt and withdrew from         moting water conservation; focus-
and skins are the next most impor-       the fertilizer schemes. Many parts        ing agricultural research and exten-
tant    export    items,   as    raw,    of the country were also hit by           sion on farming and land use sys-
processed or manufactured goods.         drought with the result that yields       tems as a whole, with attention to
   Several seasonal and perennial        declined, or crops failed completely      peculiarities of local conditions;
crops are grown. The main ones           and the government requested food         promoting           agroforestry/farm
are cereals (tef, barley, maize,         aid for more than 14 million people,      forestry; ensuring that potential
wheat, sorghum, oats and finger          nearly a quarter of the total popula-     costs of soil degradation through
millet), root crops (enset, Irish,       tion.                                     erosion, chemical degradation and
sweet and indigenous potatoes,                Expanding horticultural produc-      pollution are taken into account;
taro, yams), pulses (horse bean,         tion is making increasing use of          shifting the emphasis in crop breed-
fenugreek, field pea, haricot bean,      chemical inputs, often with little or     ing to composites and multi-lines to
chickpea, grass pea and lentil), oil     no understanding of either how to         increase adaptability to environ-
crops (niger seed, linseed, saf-         handle those chemicals safely, or         mental changes and to better resist
flower, rapeseed, groundnut, saf-        how to use them correctly. For            pests and diseases; using biologi-
flower and sesame), vegetables           example, a survey by the local Safe       cal and cultural methods, resistant
(cabbage, tomato, hot peppers,           Environment Association and PAN-          or tolerant varieties or breeds, and
pumpkin, onions and garlic) and          UK (Pesticide Action Network, UK)         integrated pest and disease man-
many herbs and spices. The major         found malathion being sprayed on          agement in preference to chemical
cash and industrial crops are cof-       the leaves of the local stimulant,        controls; and applying the precau-
fee, tea, citrus, papaya, banana,        chat (Catha edulis), in order to          tionary principle in making deci-
avocado, mango, oil seeds, pulses,       make them shiny and more attrac-          sions.
cotton, sisal, tobacco, fruits, veg-     tive to purchasers. Another group of          This enabling policy context
etables, spices, sugar cane and          farmers had been using DDT to             dovetails with a unique experiment
chat (also called mira).                 control insect pests on chat until        in sustainable development and
   Agriculture is one of the key         they associated increasing stomach        ecological land management con-
sectors in which to devote efforts in    problems with the use of the chem-        ducted with farmers in Tigray (see
accelerating socio-economic devel-       ical.                                     following article).                SiS


           The Tigray Project
             Sue Edwards reports on a project that could launch Ethiopia on her way to self-sufficiency
                                                                                     varieties, only the data that could be compared are presented. It
                                                                                     should be noted that 2002 was a drought year, and many crops
                                                                                     failed altogether. For example, only Adi Gua'edad and Adibo Mossa
                                                                                     had successful harvests of faba bean; field pea only in Adibo Mossa;
                                                                                     and finger millet only in Guroro and Adi Nifas. In years with better
                                                                                     rainfall, most communities would grow at least one pulse crop.
                                                                                     Comparing yields
                                                                                     An important feature of the Tigray Project is that it is to a large extent
                                                                                     led by the farmers. They choose which crops to treat with compost
                                                                                     and which with chemical fertilizer. Sampling was done with the farm-
                                                                                     ers. Fields were designated/chosen with the farmers and 3 one-
                                                                                     meter square plots were cut and threshed, and the straw and grain
                                                                                     weighed separately with the farmers.
                                                                                          Each figure presented in the tables is the average from several
                                                                                     fields of the same crop variety in the same area given the same
                                                                                     treatment. 'Check' means the field received no treatment in 2002,
                                                                                     although it may have received compost in one or more previous
                                                                                     years. 'Compost' is for fields treated with mature compost. The rates
                                                                                     of application range from around 50 q/ha (1 quintal = 100 kg, hence
                                                                                     50 q can be represented as 5000 kg) in poorly endowed areas, such
                                                                                     as the dry Eastern Zone of the Region (Zeban Sas and Gu'emse),
                                                                                     to around 150 q/ha in the moister Southern Zone (Adibo Mossa).
                                                                                     'Chemical fertilizer' is for fields treated with DAP (diammonium phos-
                                                                                     phate) and urea. The recommended rates are 100 kg/ha of DAP,
                                                                                     and 50 kg/ha of urea.
                                                                                          The original data were collected site by site, but here they have
Above: Adi-Nifas-1997 & 2003      "Is there sufficient biomass in Ethiopia to make
Right: Farmer with maize cobs     adequate quantities of compost?" This is the
grown with (L) and without
                                  question most often raised whenever there is
compost (R)
All photos by Solomon             any suggestion that Ethiopia could use organ-
Hailemariam                       ic principles to increase crop yields.
                                        In 1995, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre
           Egziabher, on behalf of the Institute for Sustainable Development
           (ISD), was asked by some government officials to design a project
           that could be promoted with farmers of poor and marginal areas in
           order to improve the productivity of their land and rehabilitate their
           environments. The project started in 1996 under the supervision of
           the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BoANR) of Tigray.
           The other partners in the project are Mekele University, the local
           communities and their local administration.
                Project activities in four communities were established in
           1996/97 and 1997/98. After 2000, the project was extended to 11
           other communities, with more than 634 people now participating.
           Much effort has been made to include households headed by
           women in the project because these are generally among the poor-
           est of the poor in their villages.
                Since 2002, the BoANR has been promoting the compost-mak-
           ing 'package' - trench bunding and planting multipurpose trees, par-
           ticularly Sesbania - in over 90 communities within 25 Woredas
           (administrative districts) in the more marginal areas of the Region.
                In November 2001, ISD had some preliminary yield data show-
           ing the positive effects of using compost (first reported in SiS 16).
                More data on yields were collected in 2002, and these were
           equally impressive. Compost generally gave the highest yields,
           often out-performing chemical fertilizers, in a variety of crops and
           over the entire range of ecosystems from the moister areas in
           Southern Tigray with fertile alluvial soil, to the deforested Central
           Zone with moderate rainfall, and the arid Eastern Zone with poor,
           thin sandy soil (see below).
                As each community grows a different mix of crops types and

            SCIENCE IN SOCIETY 23, AUTUMN 2004

                     Figure 1. Maize yields in 5 sites                                                    Figure 2. Tef yields in 8 sites.

                    Figure 3. Wheat yields in 6 sites.                                                     Figure 4. Barley yields in 6 sites.

been compiled by crop: figures 1-4 for maize, tef, wheat and barley,          following as the positive effects of using compost:
respectively. Table 1 gives the yields for faba bean, field pea and fin-           • Yields as good and often better than those from using chemi-
ger millet for 2002 with yields for 1998/99 for the Southern Zone             cal fertilizer
included for comparison.                                                           • Maintaining or increasing agro-biodiversity
                                                                                   • Reduced weed loads in composted fields
The farmers' experience
                                                                                   • Increased moisture retention capacity of soil
As the data show, yield increases whenever compost is applied. The                 • Plants grown with compost more resistant to pest and disease
yields from compost are comparable, and higher than those from than crops treated with chemical fertilizer.
chemical fertilizer. Farmers who have learnt how to make and use                   • Compost has a residual effect on soils; farmers do not need to
compost effectively are not interested in continuing to use chemical apply compost each year
fertilizer, i.e. they have willingly withdrawn the use of chemical fertil-         • Farmers have been able to get out of debt from buying chem-
izer without any loss in production. Some farmers are even making ical fertilizer
their own observations on comparing compost with animal dung                       • Foods made from composted grain have a better flavour than
and/or chemical fertilizer.                                                   foods made from crops treated with chemical fertilizer
      It is interesting that the yields of the check and composted crops           Some farmers diversified their production once the quality of
(maize, wheat, barley, field pea and faba bean) in Adibo Mossa in their land improved. For example, one farmer in Adi Nifas now reg-
the Southern Zone show little difference. The farmers here apply ularly plants vegetables, particularly tomato and chilli pepper in his
about 150 q/ha of compost to their fields, the highest rate of any of tef field. These do not interfere with the tef, maturing after the grain
the sites. It is possible that the soil is sufficiently rehabilitated (since is harvested and bringing the farmer additional income.
1998) to give good yields without compost being applied every year.                In Adi Nifas, where the main gullies and hillside were treated
      Farmers, development agents, and ISD staff have identified the with check dams at the start of the project, the stream from the hill-
                                                                                                       side now holds water all year round, and
                                                                                                       several farmers downstream have devel-
      Table 1: Yields (q/ha) for faba bean, field pea and finger millet in 4 sites;                    oped irrigated vegetable production after
       1998 compared with 2002.                                                                        they harvested their grain crops. They are
                                                                                                       able to regularly get two crops a year.
      Crop/Location/year                      Check        Compost          Chemical fertilizer             Many farmers have also started to plant
      Finger Millet/ Adi Nefas/02               4.2         16.8                                       fruit trees, both around their homesteads
      Finger Millet/ Guroro/02                  5.1         11.1                                       and in rehabilitated gullies.
    Faba Bean / Adibo Mossa/98               3.4         15.0
    Faba Bean / Adibo Mossa/02               25.7        26.3                                            The data from the Tigray project were
    Field Pea / Adibo Mossa/98               2.5         12.8                                       collected by Arefaine Asmelash and Hailu
    Field Pea / Adibo Mossa/02               26.4        27.7                                       Araya, and analysed and compiled by Hailu
    Faba Bean / Adi Gua'edad/02              23.8        34.0                   34.9                Araya,       Sustainable      Community
                                                                                                    Development Team Leader in ISD.         SiS


                              Organic Production for Ethiopia
                              The success of the Tigray Project will now be consolidated by government policy. Sue Edwards reports
                              Spurred by the successes of the Tigray           fruits and ornamental plants. It is totally       "mentors" in bringing about their new lives.
                              Project, the Ethiopian government has stat-      organic and sells certified products on the            Another exciting element is the involve-
                              ed its interest to increase the capacity of      export market. However, there is a fast           ment of the local justice system, the 'social
                              farmers to use organic methods of crop pro-      expanding local market and it is interesting      courts', to help uphold and enrich local by-
                              duction.                                         to note that none of the items sold by            laws, to back up improvements to land and
                                   The Rural Development Policy, mean-         Genesis are more expensive than other             its management.
                              while, emphasizes the need to improve            locally produced items, and several are                The experience with the farmers in
                              local marketing infrastructure, and also to      even cheaper. When I recently visited the         Tigray in producing and using compost
                              develop agricultural products to diversify the   farm, there were local workers buying their       shows that the aim for Ethiopia to have a
                              economic base of the country.                    vegetables from the farm shop.                    substantial number of farmers producing
                                   Last year, the government announced it           As a further development, the adminis-       organically can be realized. It also shows
                              will support the development of organic          tration of the Woreda (administrative district)   that the introduction of ecologically sound
                              agriculture, and a task force was estab-         with one of the best sites of the Tigray          organic principles can have very quick pos-
                              lished to draw up an Ethiopian Organic           Project, now wants to have the whole              itive impacts on the productivity and well-
                              Agriculture Regulation, which can become         Woreda involved in the project. This will         being of smallholder farmers so that they do
                              law, and a Regulation for Organic                include 2 100 farming families divided in 16      not necessarily have to face a conversion
                              Agriculture Products to describe how organ-      'parishes'. To start this ambitious up-scaling,   period of reduced yields as they change
                              ic products are defined, and what may or         9 parishes (4 from before and 5 new ones)         from chemical to organic production. Most
                              may not be used in their growing and pro-        have been chosen to be involved in the proj-      farmers, particularly those in marginal
                              cessing. The documents cover crop and            ect this year.                                    areas, are not able to afford external inputs,
                              animal production, as well as food process-           At the invitation of the local administra-   so for them an organic production manage-
                              ing and marketing, with the second docu-         tion, over 200 farmers and their local devel-     ment system offers a real and affordable
                              ment providing a basis for a local organic       opment agents and experts gathered for a          means to break out of poverty and obtain
                              certification scheme.                            4-day workshop in July 2004, including one        food security.
                                   The international trade in organic prod-    day of field visits, to hear testimonies and           It is important to bear in mind that
                              ucts is an expanding niche market that           discuss the challenge of extending real land      although it may be external market interests
                              Ethiopia is geographically well situated to      care and improved production techniques           that initially stimulate the development of a
                              exploit. Already, some communities in the        based on composting and water harvesting          policy environment for organic agriculture,
                              south and southwest have started to devel-       to over 1000 farming families.                    the benefits should be available to all mem-
                              op and export Arabica coffee with an organ-           Both men and women told how using            bers of the local society to build a healthy
                              ic and fair trade label.                         compost, harvesting water and rehabilitat-        and food-secure future for Ethiopia.
                                   There is also expanding awareness of        ing the land had turned their lives around
Adi-Nifas hill top photo by

                              the importance of producing healthy fruits       from near starvation to food security and              Sue Edwards is the Director of the
Solomon Hailemariam

                              and vegetables for the expanding educated        better living. The most remarkable feature        Institute for Sustainable Development,
                              middle-class and expatriate market in Addis      of this workshop was the complete confi-          Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and co-editor of the
                              Ababa. For example, Genesis Farm started         dence of the farmers in presenting their          seven-volume Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
                              three years ago and production now covers        cases after the local experts only made                ISD would like to acknowledge the
                              over 40 ha. The farm combines dairy and          some introductory remarks. The farmers            unfailing support of the Third World Network
                              poultry production with growing vegetables,      referred to the experts as their "parents" and    for the Tigray work.                      SiS
Rice Wars

Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?
A low-input rice cultivation system invented in Madagascar and spreading all over the world is apparently exposed as with-
out scientific basis. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho investigates
Rice feeds more than half the world's pop-        could practise SRI.                               cerned: the farm worker most of all, and the
ulation, but yields of the crop have been             Norman Uphoff, a political scientist and      consumer; and there is no pollution of the
levelling out, and 400 million are said to        director of the International Institute for       environment and ground water.
endure chronic hunger in rice-producing           Food, Agriculture and Development at                   Fourth, no mineral fertilizers are used,
areas of Asia, Africa and South America.          Cornell University in Ithaca, New York,           only liberal application of organic compost.
According to the United Nations, demand           stepped into the picture in 1993. He was          This financial saving is accompanied by an
for rice is expected to rise by a further 38%     part of a team trying to find alternatives to     improvement to the quality and fertility of
within 30 years. To call attention to the prob-   the damaging types of slash and burn agri-        soil, reducing runoff, and improving its
lem, 2004 has been declared the                   culture that were destroying Madagascar's         water-retaining properties.
International Year of Rice. "Rice is on the       rainforest. It was clear to Uphoff that if rice        Despite its early start in Madagascar,
front line in the fight against world hunger      yields in the area could be increased from        SRI has only begun in other countries since
and poverty", said Jacques Diouf, director-       about 2 tonnes per hectare, as it was then,       2000, and already, positive results are
general of the UN Food and Agriculture            a lot of forest could be saved. He came           pouring in (see "Does SRI work?" this
Organisation.                                     across de Laulanié's not-for-profit organisa-     series).
     Many farmers all over Asia have              tion, 'Tefy Saina' meaning "to improve the
                                                                                                    Critical scientists
already identified low-input, sustainable         mind".
solutions to the problem (see other articles          Uphoff was looking for a yield of 4           Major critics of SRI include John Sheehy,
in this series).                                  tonnes per hectare, and when he heard             an agronomist at the International Rice
     One simple method that boosts rice           them say they could get 5 or more, he did         Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, the
yields at much lower cost to farmers origi-       not believe them. But such doubts van-            Philippines. He said most SRI field studies
nated outside Asia. The System of Rice            ished once farmers in the rainforest regions      have appeared in conference proceedings
Intensification (SRI) developed in the late       started using SRI. The results were stun-         and other publications not subject to peer
1980s in Madagascar, has since been               ning. "By the end of the second growing           review.
spreading to other parts of Africa and to         season we were getting 8 tonnes per                    That is hardly surprising given the lack
Asia. In Madagascar itself, some 100 000          hectare". In 1997, Uphoff began promoting         of interest from mainstream scientists, and
farmers have converted to it. And more            SRI throughout Asia.                              its relatively recent uptake in countries other
than 20 other countries, from Bangladesh                                                            than Madagascar.
                                                  Why SRI benefits farmers, consumers
to Thailand, have either adopted SRI, or                                                                 In March 2004, Sheehy, together with
                                                  and the environment
field tested it, or expressed firm interest. In                                                     IRRI researcher Shaobing Peng, A.
Cambodia, SRI was unheard of in 2000,             SRI's benefits lie in important differences       Dobermann of the University of Nebraska,
but by 2003, nearly 10 000 farmers had            from conventional rice growing practice,          Lincoln in the United States, and other
converted to it, and that figure may reach        which, proponents believe, interact syner-        researchers from Sheffield University in the
50 000 this year.                                 gistically to give high yields.                   UK; from Yangzhou University, Jiangsu,
     Advocates of SRI routinely report yields          First, seedlings are transplanted at 8-12    Hunan Agricultural University, Changsha,
up to twice or more those achieved by con-        days instead of 15 to 30 days after germi-        and Guangdong Academy of Agricultural
ventional agriculture.                            nation, singly as opposed to 2-3 seedlings,       Science, Guangdong, China, published
     However, eminent agronomists are dis-        and spaced up to 6 times apart compared           their first trials of SRI under the telling title,
missing those claims as "poor record keep-        to traditional practice; for example, up to       "Fantastic yields in the system of rice inten-
ing and unscientific thinking"; and results of    50cm x 50cm instead of 20cm x 20cm. This          sification: fact or fallacy?"
new field trials, published in March 2004 in      represents a substantial saving on seeds,              This report was written up as a news
the journal Field Crop Research, appear to        up to ten-fold or more in some cases. The         feature in the top journal Nature, under the
support this view.                                increased spacing has the effect of encour-       yet more telling title, "Feast or famine?" ask-
                                                  aging tillers or side shoots to develop quick-    ing whether SRI was a diversion from
History of SRI
                                                  ly, giving many more rice-forming panicles        "more promising approaches" to increasing
SRI was developed nearly 20 years ago by          per plant.                                        yield such as genetic engineering.
Father Henri de Laulanié, a Jesuit priest              Second, the fields are kept moist during          Sheehy and coworkers planted a single
who worked with farming communities in            all or most of the growing season instead of      rice cultivar, shanyou 63, at three experi-
Madagascar from 1961 until his death in           being flooded continuously. This tremen-          mental stations in Hunan, Guangdong and
1995. In conventional rice growing, the           dous saving on water is particularly impor-       Jiangsu provinces of China, using SRI and
plants spend most of the season partially         tant in areas of water scarcity, and avoids       conventional best practice in living-room-
submerged in water. During a 1983                 the damages of salination that accompa-           sized (8 x 5m) plots in the same fields.
drought, many farmers could not flood their       nies over-irrigation. It also encourages vig-     Weeds were suppressed with herbicides
paddy fields, and de Laulanié noticed that        orous root development, which in turn gives       on the conventional plots but pulled by
the rice plants, in particular, their roots,      more vigorous growth of the rice plants.          hand in the SRI plots. SRI plots received
showed unusually vigorous growth.                      Third, no herbicides are used. Weeding       extra rapeseed cake fertilizer. Conventional
    From this and other observations, de          is done by hand or, preferably, a simple          plots were flooded as usual; SRI plots were
Laulanié developed the SRI practice: rice         rotary hoe, which returns the weeds to the        kept saturated and only flooded 2 weeks
seedlings are transplanted quickly when           soil as green manure. This financial saving       before maturity.
young, spaced widely apart, and most              is offset by increased labour, but labour              Overall, no significant differences were
importantly, the rice fields are kept moist but   shortage is seldom a problem for farmers in       found between the two cropping systems.
not flooded. In addition, he emphasized           the Third World, and weeding becomes              SRI yielded 8.5% higher in Jiangsu, but
using organic compost over chemical fertil-       less arduous in successive years. Giving          8.8% worse in Hunan.
izers, so that poor and rich farmers alike        up herbicides is a health bonus for all con-           Dobermann was reportedly "not sur-


     prised", as he said every component of SRI          still just 3 t/ha. Yet, concurrent SRI trials in    its parts. "The synergistic effect of all these
     had been studied before and found to have           the government's Agricultural Training              components is the crucial thing." He helped
     little effect. The results also fit Sheehy's the-   Centre in Mindanao, using three varieties           convince the Tamil Nadu state government
     oretical calculation of how much rice a field       (PSBRc18, 72H and 82) yielded an aver-              to spend US$50 000 to promote SRI to
     can produce, an upper limit set by the              age of 12 t/ha.                                     local farmers.
     amount of sunlight falling on it. Based on                When asked by IRRI staff why this dis-             In fact, the individual components have
     weather data for Madagascar, Sheehy cal-            crepancy occurred, Uphoff suggested that            been tested in Madagascar and other
     culated theoretical maximum outputs for             IRRI's on-station soils, after decades of           countries, and each component was found
     areas that have reported the most impres-           monocropping and application of fertilizers,        to increase yield. The one that appeared to
     sive yields of 21 tonnes/ha under SRI. By           insecticides, fungicides, herbicides etc.,          give the most increase was transplanting
     his estimates, the yields are as much as 10         might be "almost dead", and hence unable            younger seedlings. But this practice is
     tonnes more than is possible. "You can't get        to respond to SRI practices, which depend           more challenging for inexperienced farm-
     out more than gets put in," he reportedly           on increasing the abundance and diversity           ers used to handling sturdier older
     said.                                               of soil microorganisms to enhance plant             seedlings.
           They concluded that, "SRI has no              growth and health.
                                                                                                             New evidence
     major role in improving rice production gen-              The basis for dismissing the high yields
     erally".                                            obtained in some parts of Madagascar as             Norman Uphoff's weighty response drew
           That was a remarkable sweeping dis-           "fallacy" is highly questionable. It rests on a     attention to new evidence from scientists in
     missal of the extensive research and trials         'model' for predicting theoretical maximum          China (see "Does SRI work?" this series),
     done by both scientists and farmers on              yield using 'constants' derived solely from         Indonesia and India. SRI evaluations were
     numerous rice varieties in 19 countries over        empirical observations on conventionally            started in Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
     two or more growing seasons. Especially             grown crops, which have no independent              in India in 2001, and by 2003, it had
     so, when the conclusions are based on the           justification in terms of the plant's metabo-       demonstrated such improvements in yield
     results of limited trials of a single variety for   lism. For example, biomass accumulation             and profitability that the state government
     only one growing season.                            depends on the balance between photo-               provided $50 000 for spreading SRI prac-
                                                         synthesis (which builds up biomass) and             tice. About half the rice crop in the Cauvery
                                                         respiration (which decreases it), and that          Delta, the main rice-producing area of Tamil
     Chinese scientists have experimented with           can change under different conditions. A            Nadu, will be given over to SRI cultivation;
     SRI since 2000, and their experience had            healthy plant is also more efficient in using       the farmers are so impressed with the size
     indicated that not all varieties responded to       energy and accumulating biomass than an             of the harvest and cost savings, including
     SRI, and that responses improve in suc-             unhealthy one.                                      water, over the past two years.

                                                                                                                                                               Fantastic yields fact or fallacy; profusion of panicles; both courtesy of Dr. Zhu Defeng, China National Rice Research Institute, Zhejiang
     cessive seasons. Dobermann himself had                    An indication that yields more than 20             While Sheehy and coworkers reported
     referred to the possibility of confounding          tonnes/ha may not be "impossible" is that           that SRI crops took 2 weeks longer to
     effects when SRI was compared to tradi-             such yields have been recorded for rice             mature, that was most likely due to the soil
     tional systems that did not represent the           growing systems in China in historical              not being well drained and aerated. When
     current "best practice". Of course, what is         times.                                              properly managed, crops mature more
     best practice for corporate agriculture is not            Professor Yuan Longping, an expert in         quickly under SRI. In Andhra Pradesh SRI
     necessarily best practice for the farmer.           breeding high-yielding hybrid rice, who             crops matured 10 days earlier, while in
           Thus, Sheehy and workers could have           brought SRI to China, stated, "According to         Cambodia, they ripened about one week
     stressed the obvious benefits to small farm-        the estimates of most plant physiologists,          before the conventional crops.
     ers, consumers and the environment, even            rice can use about 5% of solar energy                    The claim that SRI gave no advantage
     from the results of their own trials. They          through photosynthesis. Even if this figure         compared with "best practice" or officially
     have obtained the same yields with less             is discounted by 50%, the yield potential of        recommended improved cultivation meth-
     than half the seeds in SRI, with no inputs of       rice would be as high as 22-23 t/ha in tem-         ods is also refuted. In Nepal, farmers com-
     herbicides, and substantial saving on               perate regions."                                    pared SRI with their own usual practices
     water.                                                    Uphoff maintained that the critics'           and 'improved' practice. In 2002, the aver-
           Norman Uphoff pointed out, in a               assumptions are too firmly rooted in con-           age SRI yield of 8.07 t/ha was 37% higher
     detailed rebuttal to appear in Field Crop           ventional practice. Models for estimating           than the average with improved practices,
     Research, that Sheehy and colleagues                maximum yields will not necessarily trans-          and 85% higher than the average with
     have simply not followed the SRI practice in        late to SRI. "The coefficients for the calcu-       farmers' practices.
     their trials. It did not include the measures       lations are based on plants with stunted                 A. Satyanarayana, rice geneticist
     recommended for water management and                root systems. SRI plants have extensive             responsible for introducing SRI in the
     weeding to ensure active soil aeration.             root systems," he said.                             Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since the
     Moreover, the high concentrations of                      Nor will single-season trials reveal the      summer season of 2003, responded to
     chemical fertilizers used with the putative         full potential of SRI, because over time, bet-      Nature's news feature by pointing out that,
     SRI plots (180-240 kg N/ha) would simply            ter oxygenation leads to the build-up of soil       "The experiences of farmers are quite dif-
     have inhibited the soil activity that               bacteria that interact with the roots and           ferent from what is reported by sceptical
     enhances plant nutrition and growth.                improve the condition of the soil. Even if          scientists."
           "The merits of SRI methods have been          SRI fails to increase yields when first intro-           More importantly, the costs of SRI are
     validated by scientists at leading institutions     duced, as was the case in Thailand, for             low and its potential productivity very high,
     in China, India and Indonesia, the largest          example, further seasons will see it come           which is "more important than ever now
     rice-producing countries in the world," he          into its own.                                       that the Green Revolution technologies are
     remarked.                                                 Proponents insist that SRI is popular         showing signs of fatigue."
           Why are scientists in research stations       because it really increases yields impres-               He gave further evidence that SRI def-
     failing to replicate the enormous yield gain        sively. T.H. Thiyagarajan, dean of the              initely works for Andhra Pradesh farmers
     with SRI methods obtained by farmers?               Agricultural College and Research Institute         and called on scientists to collaborate con-
     For example, IRRI started trials with SRI at        in Killikulam, India, rejects criticisms of indi-   structively with farmers (see "Top Indian
     Los Baños in 2002, and obtained a yield of          vidual aspects of SRI. In combination, he           rice geneticist rebuts SRI critics", this
     only 1.44 t/ha; and the next season, it was         says, the whole is greater than the sum of          series).                                   SiS


     New Rice for Africa
                                                                                    Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on a new rice
                                                                                    variety that is boosting rice yields for
                                                                                    farmers all over Africa

     African rice species proliferate like        either the Asian or African parents.
     weeds, but are low yielding. Asian rice      This is an instance of 'hybrid vigour' or
     species, brought to Africa 450 years         heterosis.
     ago, are high yielding, but cannot               Nerica is not just one variety; it is
     compete with weeds. Scientists at            a family of more than 3 000 lines.
     West Africa Rice Development                 Savitri Mohapatra, Communication
     Association (WARDA) succeeded in             and Information Officer of the Africa
     crossing the two to produce "new rice        Rice Center, said in reply to my
     for Africa", or "Nerica", that combines      enquiry, "Hundreds of Nerica lines
     the ruggedness of local African rice         have been developed and they are
     species with the high productivity of        true-breeding." In other words, farm-
     the Asian rice.                              ers can save and replant seeds, with-
          This has happened at a time when        out having to purchase seeds every
     demand for rice is growing faster in         year. Poor farmers are therefore get-
     West Africa than anywhere else in the        ting the benefit of hybrid rice without
     world. Rice imports have increased           having to pay for it
     eight-fold over the past three decades       every year.                                                         most rice growers in
     to more than 3 million tonnes a year,            Participatory                                                    Africa are women
     at a cost of almost US$1 billion.            research is the key to
                                                                                                                    d'Ivoire released
          The African species lodges, or          the Nerica success
                                                                                                                    the     first   two
     falls over, when grain heads fill. It also   story. Farmers grew
                                                                                                                    Nerica varieties in
     shatters easily, wasting more precious       several varieties and
                                                                                                                    2000, and Nigeria
     grain. The higher-yielding Asian             provided       valuable
                                                                                                                    released one in
     species has largely replaced its             feedback to the scien-
                                                                                                                    2003. Farmers in
     African cousin. But, West African            tists. The scientists
                                                                                                                    The        Gambia,
     farmers in rainfed (dryland) areas           were able to learn
                                                                                                                    Guinea,         and
     can't grow the semi-dwarf rice vari-         about the traits most
                                                                                                                    Sierra Leone are
     eties from Asia, because they don't          valued by farmers and
                                                                                                                    growing several
     compete well with weeds, nor do they         incorporate those into
                                                                                                                    Nerica varieties.
     tolerate drought and local pests. And        the breeding pro-
                                                                                                                    In Benin, Gabon,
     African farmers are too poor to buy          gramme. More than
                                                                                                                    Mali and Togo,
     herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.       1300 farmers took
                                                                                                                    several       Nerica
          Dr. Monty Jones, WARDA rice             part in the 1998 proj-
                                                                                                                    varieties        are
     breeder, initiated a biotechnology pro-      ect to start growing
                                                                                                                    under extension.
     gramme in 1991, making use of the            the new rice varieties
                                                                                              Uganda has released a Nerica variety
     1500 African rice varieties kept in          in Guinea. This was followed by a
                                                                                              as "Naric-3". Ethiopia, Madagascar,
     gene banks, which have faced extinc-         1999 project to increase seed supply
                                                                                              Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania
     tion as farmers abandoned them for           at national level and a farmer aware-
                                                                                              are evaluating several Nerica vari-
     higher-yielding Asian varieties. A           ness campaign.
     number of international agricultural             In Guinea, farmers increased yield
                                                                                                  "In trials, we're getting yields as
     research institutions were partners          by 50% without fertilizer and by more
                                                                                              high as 2.5 tonnes per hectare at low
     with WARDA in creating Nerica, plus          than 200% with fertilizer.
                                                                                              inputs - and 5 tonnes or more with just
     farmers and national agricultural                Building on the success in Guinea,
                                                                                              minimum increase in fertilizer use,"
     research programmes in 17 African            WARDA and its partners joined forces
                                                                                              says Dr. Monty Jones, who is to
     countries.                                   to scale up dissemination of Nerica
                                                                                              receive the 2004 World Food Prize
          The creation of "Nerica" involved       throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This
                                                                                              jointly with Chinese Rice Breeder, Dr.
     crossing the African with Asian              culminated in the launch of The
                                                                                              Yuan Longping, Director-General of
     species, and 'rescuing' the inter-spe-       African Rice Initiative (ARI) in March
                                                                                              the China National Hybrid Rice
     cific hybrid embryos in tissue culture.      2002.
                                                                                              Research and Development Centre in
     These hybrid embryos would other-                According to ARI's projections, by
                                                                                              Changsha, Hunan (see "Does SRI
     wise have died if left on the plants.        the end of the 5-year project (Phase
                                                                                              work?" this series).
          The panicles of Nerica hold up to       1), some 200 000 ha will be under
                                                                                                  "Barring unforeseen difficulties,"
     400 grains compared to the 75-100            Nerica cultivation with a production of
                                                                                              says Hans Binswanger, Sector
     grains of its African parents, and can       nearly 750 000 tonnes per year,
                                                                                              Director of Rural Development and
     potentially double the production of         achieving rice import savings worth
                                                                                              the Environment of the World Bank,
     rice. Nerica also matures 30-50 days         nearly US$90 million per year.
                                                                                              "we anticipate a rapid growth of rice
     earlier than traditional varieties, allow-       Nericas are spreading fast in Sub-
                                                                                              production, leading to self-sufficiency
     ing farmers to grow extra crops of           Saharan Africa. In 2002, Nerica 1, 2, 3
                                                                                              within three or four years. We expect
     vegetables or legumes. They are              and 4 were the top varieties selected
                                                                                              improved incomes and nutrition for
     taller and grow better on the fertile,       by farmers in trials in Benin, Burkina
                                                                                              the rural population and more afford-
     acid soils that comprise 70% of the          Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia,
                                                                                              able domestic rice for the urban popu-
     upland rice area in the region. In addi-     Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone and Togo.
                                                                                              lation."                                SiS
     tion, it has 2% more protein than                Within West Central Africa, Côte


                                                                               Dr. A Satyanarayana responds to
Top Indian Rice Geneticist                                                     criticisms of SRI as someone
                                                                               responsible for introducing the prac-
Rebuts SRI Critics                                                             tice to the Andhra Pradesh state of

I read the news feature "Rice culti-    the farmers themselves, were tried      the soil and incorporating the weed
vation: feast or famine" in Nature      in all 22 districts of the state,       biomass as it aerates the root
(25 March 2004) with great interest     under different soil and irrigation     zone. This encourages the soil
as I was responsible for introduc-      systems. The results achieved           microorganisms to proliferate and
ing     the    System      of    Rice   were highly satisfactory, giving an     makes the soil living and healthy.
Intensification (SRI) in the Indian     average yield advantage of over         All of these practices are known to
state of Andhra Pradesh since the       2.0 t/ha. About 40 farmers got          agronomists, and there is nothing
kharif (summer) season of 2003.         yields over 10 t/ha, and 5 districts    new or magical.
    I found the message conveyed        had average yields over 10 t/ha.            The productivity of SRI as a
by the article not quite balanced.      The highest recorded was 16.2           function of input is very high,
The experiences of farmers are          t/ha followed by 15.7 t/ha.             which is more important now as
very different from what is said by          The average over all the           the Green Revolution technologies
sceptical scientists. Instead of try-   demonstration plots was 8.36 t/ha       are showing fatigue. SRI has the
ing to understand how a rice plant      compared to 4.9 t/ha with conven-       potential to give higher yields at
can respond differently under an        tional practice and the state aver-     lower costs. Even when the farm-
SRI environment, they are con-          age of 3.89 t/ha. These yields are      ers were unable to practice all the
fused about the potential of SRI,       not theoretical. They were properly     aspects the first season, just plant-
giving information based on rice        recorded after thorough drying. On      ing young seedlings carefully at
cultivation under flooded condi-        seeing the performance of this          wider spacing with somewhat bet-
tions that are definitely not SRI       system, many farmers volunteered        ter water management resulted in
practice.                               to practice SRI during the current      over 2.0 t/ha extra yield compared
    Having worked as a plant            winter season on more than 5 000        to conventional methods using
geneticist for over 3 decades on        acres in the state.                     higher inputs. With more experi-
the genetic improvement of legu-             Many farmers used SRI on over      ence and mastering of skills, still
minous crops under rice-based           10 acres. One farmer (Mr. N. V. R.      higher yields are possible, as
cropping systems, I have released       K. Raju) practiced SRI on over 100      those obtained by the best farmers
34 varieties of various grain           acres (40 ha.), and an average          clearly suggest.
legumes that are widely adopted in      yield of more than 10 t/ha is               Rice yields all over the world
rice-pulse or rice-rice-pulse crop-     expected. I request sceptics to         have levelled out under the pres-
ping systems covering over one          visit Andhra Pradesh and see SRI        ent system of flooded cultivation.
million hectares in the state. I have   in practice before drawing conclu-      Genotype x environment interac-
been responsible, from 1995 to          sions.                                  tions are known to affect the
2000, for research in the Krishna            Under SRI, the rice crop is        plants' phenotype and perform-
and Godavari deltas, which, with        maturing 10 days earlier than with      ance. We need to be looking for
1.5 million ha of rice-growing area,    usual cultivation practices, irre-      alternatives to the present costly
are known as the rice bowl of           spective of the variety, which is       practices with an open mind. SRI
Andhra Pradesh. At present, I am        contrary to what was stated in the      is still evolving with the innova-
Director of Extension for the state     Nature news feature, that SRI           tions of the farmers making imple-
agricultural university (ANGRAU)        takes two weeks longer to mature.       ments and practices more labour-
and transfer of technology is my        Also, SRI required less water and       saving.
job. So, I do know about the rice       less chemical inputs. SRI gave              There is more than enough evi-
crop.                                   higher grain as well as straw yield.    dence accumulated here and else-
    In January 2003, I was able to      Moreover, the SRI rice crop has         where for scientists to take SRI
learn about SRI on a study tour to      withstood cyclonic gales and a          seriously. I hope that the scientific
Sri Lanka, and was amazed to see        cold spell.                             community will collaborate in fur-
the potential of this system. On             It is unfortunate to say in the    ther research. Possibly it can
returning to Andhra Pradesh, I          headlines of the news feature that      refine the technology and reveal
started educating farmers on the        proponents call SRI a "miracle".        the factors responsible for the
skills involved in SRI and motivat-     No one has ever said this because       higher productivity observed. That
ed them to take up this system on       SRI results are quite explainable.      would be more constructive and
a small scale in demonstration          Planting young seedlings carefully      more in the spirit of science than
plots. We planned to organise 50        and at wider spacing gives the          dismissing it with limited or faulty
demonstrations                through   plant more time and space for           data and preconceptions.
ANGRAU's extension service and          tillering and root growth. Careful
150 through the State Department        water management keeping the               The author is Director of
of Agriculture. But more than 300       field wet and not flooded gives bet-    Extension, Acharya N. G. Ranga
farmers took up SRI during the          ter yield because it supports           Agricultural University, Hyderabad-
summer season of 2003.                  healthy root growth. This practice      500030, Andhra Pradesh, India,
    On average, the size of the         should be encouraged everywhere         and this article is adapted from his
demonstration plot was 0.4 ha,          as the whole world is facing water      response to the Nature news fea-
with the largest at 1.6 ha. As many     shortages. Weeding rice fields with     ture mentioned.                   SiS

as 10 different varieties, chosen by    a rotary weeder helps by churning


Does SRI Work?
The first reality check of a low-input rice-growing
system took place two years ago and more successes
have been documented since.
                                 Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports
       The clearest sign that SRI works, if       agriculture academies or universities.           SRI has been "practice-led" thus
       not miracles, then certainly well              The conference was convened,             far, but participants at the conference
       enough, is the number of participants      not to assess whether SRI works - for        felt it was time for scientists to catch
       drawn to the first in-depth internation-   that was the experience of almost            up and research the knowledge-base,
       al assessment of it.                       everyone who presented papers at             so that a healthy dialectical relation-
           Nearly a hundred people from 18        the conference - but to assess across        ship between practice and knowledge
       countries were listed as participants      nations, "the opportunities and limita-      can be achieved to help advance this
       in the 192-page proceedings of the 4-      tions" of a practice that "can give          important project of delivering food
       day conference, which took place in        yields about twice the present world         security and health to more than half
       Sanya, China, in April 2002. More          average without reliance on new vari-        the world's population.
       than three-quarters were scientists,       eties or agrochemicals."                         Since then, more successes have
       with policy-makers, representatives of         The conference did bring together        been reported, leaving the scientific
       non-government organisations, inter-       a substantial body of evidence from          establishment even further behind
       national organisations, private com-       around the world that SRI can                (see "Fantastic rice yields fact or fal-
       panies and farmers making up the           increase yield in a variety of soils, cli-   lacy?" this series).
       rest. Participants from the host coun-     matic conditions, with various local
                                                                                               Super-yields in Madagascar
       try China made up more than half of        adaptations, and using both indige-
       the total, and all were scientists from    nous and commercial 'high yielding'          The province of Fianarantsoa, situat-
       prestigious rice research institutes,      rice varieties.                              ed in the south-central highlands of


                                                         Acceptance in China                         Yuan's preliminary evaluation of
                                                                                                SRI is enthusiastic: "SRI is a promis-
                                                          Professor Yuan Longping of
                                                                                                ing way to increase rice yield and to
                                                          China National Hybrid Rice
                                                                                                realize the yield potential of any vari-
                                                          Research and Development
                                                                                                ety…whether high-yielding variety
                                                          Centre played a key role in cre-
                                                                                                (HYV) or local variety." He confirmed
                                                          ating     high-yielding    super-
                                                                                                that the method can promote more
                                                          hybrids throughout the late
                                                                                                vigorous growth of rice plants, espe-
                                                          1990s and early 2000s by con-
                                                                                                cially tillers and roots, and noted in
                                                          ventional breeding methods.
                                                                                                addition, less insect and disease
                                                          This distinguished researcher,
                                                                                                problems during the vegetative
                                                          now in his 70s, has a long string
                                                                                                growth stage, and that there are defi-
                                                          of national and international
                                                                                                nite varietal differences in response to
                                                          awards behind him, and is joint
                                                                                                SRI practices: those with strong tiller-
                                                          recipient of this year's World
                                                                                                ing ability and 'good plant type' are
                                                          Food Prize. Yuan's Centre had
                                                                                                more favourable for SRI cultivation.
                                                          already broken all records in
                                                                                                "SRI gives higher output with less
                                                          boosting rice-hybrid yields when
                                                                                                input, but requires very laborious
                                                          he first heard about SRI from a
Above: Professor Yuan Longping and Dr. Monty                                                    manual work which makes it more
 Jones two rice breeders are joint recipients of   paper written by Norman Uphoff of
                                                                                                suitable for small farms in developing
            2004 World Food Prize                  Cornell International Institute for
                                                                                                countries" he said. Moreover, SRI
                                                   Food, Agriculture and Development
  Left: sparser spacing and Right; profusion of                                                 should be modified and adapted to
                                                   (see "Fantastic rice yields fact or falla-
 roots, both courtesy of Dr. Zhu Defeng, China                                                  suit local conditions, and as experi-
   National Rice Research Institute, Zhejiang.     cy?" this series).
                                                                                                ence teaches.
                                                       Yuan conducted the first trial of
                                                                                                     For China, he recommended a
                                                   SRI in his Centre's station in Sanya
Madagascar, now lays claim to the                                                               long list of modifications, including
                                                   from winter 2000 to spring 2001. Only
highest yielding rice-fields in the world                                                       using tray nurseries to raise the young
                                                   three varieties yielded above 10 t/ha,
since the introduction of SRI in the                                                            seedlings       instead    of    flooded
                                                   and SRI gave an average increase of
1990s.                                                                                          seedbeds, so as to reduce the trauma
                                                   around 10% over the conventional
    The highlands are subtropical,                                                              of transplanting; and controlling tiller-
                                                   practice. The following year, tests
with annual rainfall averaging                                                                  formation, for although increased
                                                   were conducted in the summer at the
1375mm. The rainy season occurs                                                                 tillering gives many more rice-forming
                                                   Centre's station in Changsha. Two
during the hot months in the year,                                                              panicles, the percentage of productive
                                                   varieties yielded 12 t/ha, and one 12.9
where the average temperature rises                                                             tillers falls off with the number of
                                                   t/ha, a record for the Centre so far.
above 20C. The Fianarantsoa region                                                              tillers, so there is an optimum maxi-
                                                   This encouraged more Chinese scien-
is often affected by cyclones during                                                            mum number.
                                                   tists to conduct SRI research. Of the 8
the rainy season.                                                                                    He definitely thinks there is scope
                                                   locations in which his Centre was
    Fianarantsoa attained rice yields                                                           for combining genetic improvement
                                                   involved, 5 locations got good results,
of more than 8 t/ha in the first year of                                                        with SRI methods. For example,
                                                   with yields over 12 t/ha.
applying SRI methods, up from the 2                                                             breeding plants with a strong ability to
                                                       Since then, trials by a private sec-
t/ha national average. SRI in this                                                              form tillers would be appropriate for
                                                   tor company, the Meishan Seed
region is increasingly linked with the                                                          improving the response to SRI.
                                                   Company in Sichuan Province, using
use of compost in rotational cropping                                                                Detailed analyses of the trials
                                                   a modified SRI method, achieved
with potatoes, beans or other vegeta-                                                           were presented in several multi-
                                                   yields of 15.67 t/ha and 16 t/ha in two
bles in the off-season. In the second                                                           author research papers. For example,
                                                   different plots, both new records in
and succeeding years, the residual                                                              the economic benefits of applying SRI
                                                   Sichuan Province (yield in the con-
and cumulative effects of soil organic                                                          methods were estimated for the
                                                   ventional field was 11.8 t/ha).
matter from composting increased
yields still further, to 16 t/ha. By the
sixth year, yields as high as 20 t/ha
were measured on farmers' fields in
Tsaramandroso, Talatamaty and
    Bruno Andrianaivo, senior agrono-
mist of FOFIFA (National Centre for
Applied      Research      on     Rurual
Development in Madagascar) empha-
sized that such high yields cannot be
achieved immediately, but requires
the cumulative effects of 6 years
under SRI.
    However, simply on the conserva-
tive figure of 8 t/ha yield from SRI
practice Andrianaivo estimated a net
return to the farmer of 5 million Fmg
(about US$770), compared with
around 250 000 Fmg (less than
US$40) for conventional practice.


     hybrid rice Liangyoupei 9, which            in The Gambia before they enrolled          such         as        Rathhel      and
     came both from savings and                  voluntarily in the research pro-            Pachdhaiperumal, usually much lower
     increased yield. The amount of hybrid       gramme.                                     yielding at ~2 t/ha, impressive yields
     seed needed in SRI methods was                   During the first year of experimen-    of 8 t/ha and 13 t/ha were obtained.
     only 3 - 4.5 kg, which represented a        tation, three different plant population        Dissanayake formed a small group
     seed saving of 8.3 - 10.5 kg and nurs-      densities were investigated with sev-       to inform farmers of SRI; and farmers
     ery saving of 90%, thereby reducing         eral varieties. Yields ranged from 5.4      who took up SRI from 18 districts
     the cost by 215 Yuan/ha. As only            to 8.3 t/ha. In 2001, plant population      have doubled their yields on average.
     compost was applied, the saving on          densities were investigated alongside           "These yields were obtained with
     the 10-12 t/ha fertilizer that would        fertilizer treatments, and on-farm tri-     less water, less seed, less chemical
     have been used was 1 200 Yuan/ha.           als involving 10 farmer households.         fertilizer, and less cost of production
     The saving on water, some 3 000             The on-station SRI trials were con-         per kilogram …among SRI users, we
     tonnes, was about 150 Yuan/ha. The          ducted under pump irrigation, and on-       find people of many different income
     total saving with SRI methods thus          farm trials under tidal irrigation.         and educational levels and different
     amounted to about 1 565 Yuan/ha.                 Plant population densities investi-    social standing, including many poor
     Add to that a 15% increase in yield         gated were 20cm x 20cm, 30cm x              farmers having only small plots of
     (1.5 tonnes/ha) and the farmer gets a       30cm and 40cm x 40cm. Two rice              land, farmers with moderate income,
     total additional profit of about 3 000      varieties were used, and instead of         some agricultural scientists, and a
     Yuan/ha (about US$ 360).                    compost, three fertilizer treatment         few administrators, businessmen and
         The      Sichuan      Academy      of   rates were assessed: NKP in the fol-        political leaders who practice it with
     Agricultural Sciences has done SRI          lowing proportions: 70-30-30 (national      their own convictions," Dissanayake
     trials for three years in succession. Its   recommended), 140-30-30 and 280-            said.
     2003, trials showed an average SRI          30-30. All trials took place in the low-        H. M. Premaratna, a farmer from
     yield of 13 t/ha. Another series of tri-    lands.                                      the Ecological Farming Centre,
     als in 7 regions of Zhejian Province             The on-station trials indicated that   Mellawalana, Sri Lanka, backed up
     using 8 varieties all resulted in           30cm x 30cm spacing did not                 the enthusiasm of his Member of
     increased yield under SRI; the aver-        decrease yield over the 20cm x 20cm,        Parliament, and has personally pro-
     age increase being 1.5 t/ha over            and was hence recommended to the            vided training on SRI to more than
     already high-yielding controls.             farmers for the on-farm trial. Fertilizer   3000 farmers by 2002. "From my
         The China National Hybrid Rice          treatments indicated that under SRI,        experience, I have observed that the
     Research and Development Centre             the nationally recommended lowest           rice plant becomes a healthier plant
     introduced hybrid varieties into Africa     rate was as effective as doubling the       once the basic SRI practices are
     and recommended that they be used           rate, while tripling the rate gave high-    adopted," he said.
     with SRI methods. In 2003, a 9.2 t/ha       er yields, but it was not economically          Reports from 17 countries in 2002
     yield was obtained with hybrid GY032        profitable.                                 showed that three-quarters of the
     in Guinea under SRI methods, which               The on-farm trials, conducted in a     cases gave a significant yield advan-
     was 4 times the national average            communal tidal irrigation scheme,           tage of at least 20 to 50% increase,
     yield.                                      gave "exciting" results, "a tripling of     and although the super-yields report-
                                                 yield" on average, 7.4 t/ha compared        ed from Madagascar have not been
     SRI in Gambia
                                                 with 2.5 t/ha obtained with farmers'        obtained elsewhere, some farmers in
     The Gambia, a small country                 current practices. Some farmers             Cambodia and Sri Lanka have come
     (11700km2) in West Africa, is a 50          experienced more than five-fold             close. Overall, the conventional sys-
     km-wide ribbon of land extending            increases, from 1.6 to 9.0 t/ha in one      tems yielded 3.9 t/ha, very close to
     eastward from the coast, bisected by        case, and 1.4 to 8.0 t/ha in another.       the world average for rice production.
     the River Gambia and surrounded on               But there are problems facing the      The average for all the SRI yields
     three sides by Senegal. Its annual          farmers in land preparation. Farmers        reported was 6.8 t/ha.
     rainfall is 900 to 1400 mm; the rainy       in The Gambia still do not have a well-         A report from the Philippines not
     season between late May and early           developed culture of water control.         only documented yield increases over
     October. Rice is the staple of the          Fields are simply kept flooded after        several successive growing seasons
     country and there are 5 very different      transplanting until the rice plants         since 1999, but also a reduction of
     production systems: upland, lowland         mature, and fertilizer application and      crop pests such as rats and brown
     rainfed, irrigated (pump and tidal),        weeding are done under submerged            and green leafhoppers, carriers of the
     freshwater swamps and seasonally            conditions. These practices will con-       dreaded rice tungro virus disease.
     saline mangrove swamp.                      flict with the adoption of SRI, but the     This was attributed to the increased
         Annual rice consumption averages        yield increases may be a sufficient         spacing of plants, allowing more sun-
     70 to 110 kg per capita; domestic pro-      incentive for farmers to overcome           light to penetrate even the base of the
     duction lags behind by 60%, and the         these problems.                             plant, exposing the hoppers, which
     balance is met by imports. The                                                          detest and avoid sunlight.
                                                 SRI in other countries
     national average yield of rice is only 2                                                    In Cambodia, SRI is spreading
     t/ha.                                       Many countries reported remarkable          very rapidly. Only 28 farmers were
         SRI was introduced to The               increases       in    yield.    Salinda     willing to try SRI in 2000, by 2003, this
     Gambia in the rainy season of 2000          Dissanayake, Member of Parliament           number had grown to almost 10 000
     as part of the Ph. D. thesis of             in Sri Lanka, personally tested SRI in      and in 2004, 50 000 farmers are
     Mustapha M. Ceesay in Crop and Soil         his own rice field of a little more than    expected to adopt it.
     Sciences at Cornell University in the       2 acres for four seasons, using seeds           Perhaps the greatest testament
     United States. Farmers were invited         of various varieties. He got the high-      that SRI works is the increasing num-
     to visit the first SRI trial site at the    est yield of 17 t/ha with BG358, a vari-    ber of farmers who have adopted the
     Sapu station of the National                ety developed by the Sri Lankan rice        practice.                              SiS

     Agricultural Research Institute (NARI)      researchers. Even with local varieties


Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on how
ducklings in the paddy fields turned
weeds to resources and increased
yield and leisure for farmers
During the last leg of a six-day lecture tour in Japan in 1999, I was for-
tunate enough to have visited an organic farmer not far from
Fukuoka, who was reputed to have done wonders introducing ducks
into the rice paddy field.
      The train ride from Tokyo lasted five and a half hours, speeding

                                                                                                                                                            Takao Furano by Mae-Wan Ho
through a most unusual landscape, which repeats itself in endless
variations for the entire duration. It consists of large and small clusters
of houses and the occasional single abode, all floating, it seems, on
a sea of paddy fields. Paddy fields fill every available inch of land that
is not built upon, and most of the plots are tiny. That was a real sur-
prise for me, who, like most people, imagine Japan to be a fully indus-
trialized developed nation.
       Our hosts from the Green Co-op in Fukuoka met us at the sta-

One Bird - Ten Thousand Treasures
tion, and after the usual polite exchange of bows, we were taken to           Rich - An Autobiography. Mr. Furuno must really be a great success
another platform for the local train to Keisen, where the famous              if a young man who dreams of becoming rich should be so eager to
organic farmer Mr. Takao Furuno had kindly invited all three of us:           learn from him. I made a mental note to tell my aunt, and maybe per-
Tony Boys, my interpreter for the occasion and Mr. Watanabe, a fel-           suade my rich uncle to go into the organic farming business.
low speaker, to stay the night with his family.                                    "Well, it has been called a 'one-bird revolution'", my host began,
      It was getting dark by the time we arrived in Keisen. Tony tele-        "the duck is the key to success." The secret is to release ducklings
phoned from a booth outside the station, and some minutes later, Mr.          into the paddy fields soon after the seedlings are planted. But won't
Furuno himself came to pick us up in his mini-van. We drove a short           the ducklings eat the rice seedlings? No. "It is in their nature not to eat
distance and stopped in front of a largish but modestly built and mod-        the rice seedlings." Mr. Furuno assured me, then added, "agrono-
estly furnished bungalow. Mrs. Furuno opened the door and gave us             mists in the university say it's because rice seedlings have too much
a warm traditional Japanese welcome. We were invited to sit down              silica."
around the dinner table where all the children came to greet us. Five              They have made a very good video, complete with English nar-
healthy, suntanned and smiling children, two boys and three girls             ration, which shows how the ducklings readily take to the paddy field
between the ages of 16 and 8, introduced themselves, then retreat-            when they are led there to be released. About 20 ducklings are
ed next-door to the kitchen where they were served supper. Grandma            released per tenth of a hectare. They genuinely seem to enjoy get-
and Grandpa were busy with food preparation, and appeared only                ting into the water, where they paddled contentedly between the rows
later to say hello.                                                           of rice seedlings, now ducking under the surface of the water, now
      The Furunos were a handsome couple in their forties. He, wiry           raising their heads to swallow something, but never harming the rice
and dark, with a winsome squint and sparkle to his eyes, had the              seedlings. In fact, the ducks are good for the rice plants in many ways,
appearance of being both amused and content with life, as he had              including the mechanical stimulation they provide, which makes the
every reason to be. He spoke in an even, unhurried manner, with a             plant stems thicker and stronger, as demonstrated by careful experi-
gentle tone. She was of medium build, lively, good-looking and more           mentation.
openly ebullient about their success. Of course, they did not mean                 Mr. Furuno did attend agricultural college, but he did not learn the
financial success, they meant success of the farming method, which,           Aigamo method there. Aigamo is the name for the ducks, which is a
since its introduction ten years ago, has been spreading all over             crossbreed between domestic and wild ducks. He simply worked out
Southeast Asia. In Japan, about 10 000 farmers had taken it up by             the method by a combination of "contemplation, inspiration and
1999; and it has also been adopted by farmers in South Korea,                 experimentation". Actually, ducks have been raised in paddy fields in
Vietnam, The Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.              China and probably other parts of South East Asia since a long time
Farmers have increased their yield 20 to 50 percent or more in the            ago. But the farmers never left the ducks in the fields, and were
first year. One farmer in Laos increased his income three-fold. It is         unaware of all the benefits that the ducks can bring.
obviously a boon to Third World farmers.                                           The benefits the ducks give to the rice plants are numerous;
      "We want to help", the Furunos declared, "financial success is          again, that was worked out by Mr. Furuno's scientific experiments
unimportant. We did not patent the method, we just want it to be wide-        carefully set up in the field. The ducks eat up insect pests and the
ly adopted." The method has been researched and perfected over                golden snail, which attack rice plants. They also eat the seeds and
the years in their own fields. At this point, Mr. Furuno introduced a         seedlings of weeds, using their feet to dig up the weed seedlings,
young visitor who was working with the family in order to learn the           thereby oxygenating the water and encouraging the roots of the rice
method. "There's always someone here who wants to learn, and                  plants to grow. You can actually see the difference between the plants
everyday, I get several phone calls from people needing advice," he           in the Aigamo plots and the control plots without Aigamo.
said as a matter of fact, without either false modesty or pride.                   In fact, the ducks are so good at weeding that farmers who have
      The young man's eyes widened when he learned that I was the             adopted the method now have time to sit and chat instead of spend-
niece of Kyu Ei Kan's wife. Kyu Ei Kan is a writer most renowned for          ing up to 240 person-hours per hectare in manual weeding every
his books on how to make money. And to demonstrate that what he               year. Besides, 'pests and weeds' have been miraculously trans-
writes is sound, he proceeded to make a lot of money himself. The             formed into resources for rearing ducks. The ducks are left in the
excited young man pushed the book he was reading in front of me. It           fields 24 hours a day, and do not need to be herded back to the shed.
had my uncle's photograph on the cover, and the title, How I Became           They are protected from dogs by an electric fence or some other bar-

rier around the field. There is a patch of dry land for the ducks to rest       nal input is the small amount of waste grain for the ducks. And the out-
and also for them to be fed waste grain from the rice-polishing facto-          put? A delicious, nutritious harvest of organic rice, duck and roach. It
ry, so they maintain a relationship with the farmer. But otherwise, the         is quite productive. The Furunos' farm is 2 hectares; 1.4 of which are
ducks are completely free-range until the rice plants form ears of grain        paddy fields, while the rest is devoted to growing organic vegetables.
in the field. At that point, the ducks have to be rounded up (otherwise         The organic vegetables fields were full of butterflies of all kinds when
they will eat the rice grains). They are then confined in a shed and            we visited them the next morning. This small farm yields annually 7
fed exclusively on waste grain. There, they mature, lay eggs, and get           tonnes of rice, 300 ducks, 4000 ducklings, and enough vegetables to
ready for the market.                                                           supply 100 people. At that rate, no more than 2 percent of the popu-
     It was too early in the year to plant the rice seedlings in Furuno's       lation needs to become farmers in order to feed a nation. Tony Boys
own paddies. Japanese farmers time their planting according to the              indeed believes that with proper management, Japan can become
length of the growing season quite precisely. So, as we came south              self-sufficient once more. So who needs GM crops? The choice is
on the train, we noticed more and more dry vacant fields. Furuno's in-          clear, not only for Japan, but also for all of South East Asia, and the
laws, who live some distance away, have already planted the                     world at large.
seedlings and flooded the fields, and we were to be taken there to see               This Aigamo method also explodes the myth that organic farm-
the ducklings being released the next morning. The father-in-law was            ing is necessarily labour intensive. "Organic farming need not be
once a rich businessman, but had decided to give up business for                labour intensive, it is fun!" said Mr. Furuno emphatically. The Furunos
organic farming. The in-laws, who look ten years younger than their             are not purists, and they use both mechanical harvesters and tractors.
age, live in a large house with a beautiful garden and a permaculture           Their method is so simple and enjoyable, that five years ago, the two
orchard where chickens roam freely to keep the ground free of weeds             eldest boys managed their own small plot and got a bumper harvest
- another labour-saving invention - and also provide chicken manure             from it. That was also documented on video. Mr. Furuno, however, will
to fertilize the trees.                                                         complain that they are very, very busy, and no wonder. They run their
     The ducks are not the only inhabitants of the paddy field. The             own vegetable business, process their own ducks and sell those as
aquatic fern, Azolla, or duckweed, which harbours a blue-green bac-             well. In addition, he writes books, papers, runs courses, and lectures
terium as symbiont, is also grown on the surface of the water. The              all over S.E. Asia.
azolla is very efficient in fixing nitrogen, attracting insects for the ducks        Later that evening, we were treated to a delicious meal of home
and is also food for the ducks. The plant is very prolific, doubling itself     grown organic rice, duck, chicken and vegetables, complete with
every three days, so it can be harvested for cattle-feed as well. In            unlimited bottles of Furuno's own brand of organic sake and fragrant
addition, the plants spread out to cover the surface of the water, pro-         pine wine, both bearing the label, One Bird, Ten Thousand Treasures.
viding hiding places for another inhabitant, the roach, and protecting          Mr. Furuno's one ambition in life is to share these boundless treas-
them from the ducks. In fact, the roach grows so well in the paddy that         ures, this unlimited harvest, with the world.
Mr. Furuno has not bothered to count them. What do the fish feed on?                 We bathed in the warm glow of this wonderful thought, and ate
They feed on duck faeces, on daphnia and other worms, which in turn             and drank deep into the night, becoming more convinced by the hour
feed on the plankton. The fish and ducks provide manure to fertilize            that the harvest is indeed limitless and free to all who work creatively
the rice plants all through the growing season. The rice plants, in             in partnership with nature.
return, provide shelter for the ducks.
     The paddy field with ducks and all is really a complex, well-bal-          This is an edited version of an article first circulated by ISIS in 1999.
anced, self-maintaining, self-propagating ecosystem. The only exter-                                                                                   SiS


Corporate Patents vs People in GM Rice
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Lim Li Ching get to the bottom of current attempts by cor-
porations to usurp rice varieties through genetic modification
Has the International Treaty sufficient        Gene-patenting and corporate rice              Movement is active in Bangladesh,
bite to protect Farmers' Rights?               research                                       where farmers typically use hundreds of
                                                                                              varieties of rice, and have little trouble
In 1998, masses of angry Indian and Thai       This fight will be critical as biotech com-
                                                                                              surpassing the productivity of the indus-
farmers took to the streets of their capi-     panies are increasingly muscling in on
                                                                                              trial model.
tals to denounce US company RiceTec            rice research. "The advent of biotechnol-
                                                                                                   Asia produces over 90 percent of
Inc's claim of monopoly rights over their      ogy has caused a spurt in patents on
                                                                                              world's rice supply, and an estimated
basmati and jasmine varieties of rice. US      gene products associated with rice," said
                                                                                              140000 different varieties of rice have
breeders had acquired samples from             Ronald Cantrell, director of IRRI. The
                                                                                              been created by small farmers in Asia.
Philippines-based IRRI (International          sequencing of the rice genome has not
                                                                                                   In the 1950s, the US put rice produc-
Rice Research Institute), which holds a        only opened up largely untapped com-
                                                                                              tion at the centre of a strategy to address
large seed bank of Asian farmers' vari-        mercial possibilities but has also set the
                                                                                              food insecurity and political unrest. The
eties. That was among the first warnings       pace for potential IPR disputes between
                                                                                              resulting campaign led by the Rockefeller
of a corporate agenda to usurp and con-        corporations and governments. "I'm real-
                                                                                              and Ford Foundations, known as the
trol rice varieties created and used by        ly concerned that we should have
                                                                                              Green Revolution, transformed rice pro-
local communities for thousands of             enough public sector research that would
                                                                                              duction dramatically. Traditional farming
years.                                         generate knowledge, putting it in the pub-
                                                                                              systems and varieties were replaced by a
    The International Treaty on Plant          lic arena, and we should make sure that
                                                                                              package of credit, chemicals and high
Genetic Resources for Food and                 the private sector is properly regulated,"
                                                                                              input varieties. By the early 1990s, just
Agriculture, which came into force on 29       he added.
                                                                                              five super-varieties accounted for 90 per
June 2004, facilitates "the free flow of            The Syngenta Foundation for
                                                                                              cent of the rice-growing area of Malaysia
genetic material to plant breeders" as         Sustainable Agriculture, despite its hon-
                                                                                              and Pakistan, and nearly half the rice
well as to farmers and research institu-       ourable name is part of the biotech multi-
                                                                                              lands of Thailand and Burma.
tions. This is achieved through a              national Syngenta, and is now a member
                                                                                                   Several major transnational seed cor-
Multilateral System for Access and             of the CGIAR. In one fell swoop, the pri-
                                                                                              porations - Aventis, Dupont, Monsanto,
Benefit Sharing, which covers a list of 35     vate sector has become part of the net-
                                                                                              Syngenta - now have rice programmes.
food crops and 29 forage crops, among          work of international agricultural research
                                                                                              Rice is self-pollinated, making hybrid rice
them rice.                                     centres, paving the way for it to partici-
                                                                                              seed production costly and difficult, and
    The Treaty clearly acknowledges the        pate in policy making and determining
                                                                                              nearly all rice in Asia is still grown with
contribution of farmers to agricultural bio-   the kind of research that gets funded.
                                                                                              farmer-saved seed. The seed industry
diversity and recognises Farmers' Rights       This, critics say, turns the once publicly
                                                                                              believes that the combination of genetic
to save, use, exchange and sell seeds.         funded research body into "an agricultur-
                                                                                              engineering and patents can overcome
This is an important milestone in interna-     al research outsource for the multination-
                                                                                              this hurdle.
tional law. However, it falls short of unam-   al corporations". Although the Syngenta
                                                                                                   "Through patents and contractual
biguously banning patents on plant             Foundation doesn't currently contribute to
                                                                                              agreements, seed companies will seek to
genetic resources, leaving farmers' vari-      IRRI, there's no doubting the interest of
                                                                                              prohibit farmers from sharing or saving
eties in international Gene Banks under        the corporation in rice research.
                                                                                              seed, control what pesticides are used
the CGIAR (Consultative Group on                     An article published in the New
                                                                                              and even assert ownership rights over
International Agricultural Research),          Internationalist in September 2002 com-
                                                                                              the harvest."
which come under the Treaty, just as vul-      mented: "The multinational biotechnolo-
                                                                                                   In October 2001, an ActionAid study
nerable as before. The text clearly states     gy industry has global rice production in
                                                                                              found that of the 250 patents on rice, 61
that no intellectual property rights (IPRs)    its gunsights. It is manoeuvring for control
                                                                                              percent are controlled by just 6 seed
may be taken out on the plant genetic          through intellectual property rights
                                                                                              companies, three of them also the world's
resources and their components that are        (IPRs), such as patents, and legislation is
                                                                                              largest pesticide corporations.
exchanged and as covered in the Treaty;        quickly being pushed into place in Asia
                                                                                                   After the rice genome sequence was
but this is qualified by limiting the condi-   and around the world to satisfy industry's
                                                                                              announced. Dr. Steven Briggs, head of
tion to resources "in the form received".      demands."
                                                                                              genomics for Syngenta, told the New
    In short, this could leave the door
                                               GM rice versus people's sustainable            York Times that while the companies
open for unscrupulous patenting of plant
                                               agriculture                                    would not seek to patent the entire
genetic resources that are not "in the
                                                                                              genome, they would patent individual
form received", for example, if, after they    All this is coming at a sensitive time, as
                                                                                              valuable genes. He indicated that
have been freely exchanged within the          farmer-led movements for sustainable
                                                                                              Syngenta and Myriad were well on their
Multilateral System, they are genetically      agriculture are also in ascendancy. For
                                                                                              way to finding many of those.
modified.                                      example, MASIPAG, the farmer-scientist
    As the Treaty has just entered into        network, is a farmer-led community-man-        China a major player
force, its continuing interpretation and       aged breeding and conservation effort on
                                                                                              Meanwhile, the Chinese government,
how it is implemented will need to be          rice and vegetables throughout the
                                                                                              which has invested considerable public
monitored closely, to prevent powerful         Philippines. It started in 1986 and now
                                                                                              money into the sequencing of the rice
countries (and their corporations) getting     involves 50 trial farms. Some 543 farmer-
                                                                                              genome, thereby breaking the 'knowl-
rights to extract and privatise genetic        bred lines and 75 varieties of rice are
                                                                                              edge monopoly' hitherto held by the
resources covered by the Treaty. It is also    grown and further improved by well over
                                                                                              developed countries in the West, is
crucial to strengthen the primacy of           10 000 farmers throughout the country.
                                                                                              reported to be ramping up efforts to com-
Farmers' Rights over IPRs.                     The Nayakrishi or 'New Agriculture'
                                                                                              mercialise GM rice.

          Chinese researchers have developed           Rice, the food crop for half the world's population is
     several GM rice varieties resistant to the
     country's major rice pests and diseases,          the current target of genetic modification. What are
     such as the lepidopteran insect stem
     borer, bacteria blight, rice blast fungus
                                                       the health and environmental consequences?
     and rice dwarf virus (see "Promises and           Prof. Joe Cummins reviews
     perils of GM rice", this series). "Significant
     progress" was also reported for drought-
     and salt-tolerance. Zhen Zhu, a leading
     rice scientist and deputy director of the
     Bureau       of    Life     Science       and
                                                       Promises & Perils of
     Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy
     of Sciences, told Nature Biotechnology
     that "China [is] technically mature
     [enough] to commercialise several vari-
                                                                GM Rice
                                                       Rice a target for corporate
                                                       Rice is the primary food for half the
     eties of its GM rice".
                                                       people in the world, providing more        cial release, and these are marketed
          China's biotech budget for 2001-2005
                                                       calories than any other single food. It    by Bayer as Liberty Link rice. In 2002,
     is $1.2 billion, a 400% increase com-
                                                       supplies an average of 889 calories        Aventis (later purchased by Bayer)
     pared with 1996-2000, and about $120
                                                       per day per person in China, as            destroyed 5 million pounds of Liberty
     million out of the current budget is devot-
                                                       opposed to only 82 calories in the         Link rice because they feared rejec-
     ed to GM rice programmes, Zhu esti-
                                                       United States. Rice is a nutritious        tion by the international market, but
     mates, and more will be allocated to field
                                                       food, providing about 90 percent of        efforts are continuing to promote and
     trials of GM rice. At least 10 new field tri-
                                                       calories from carbohydrates and as         disseminate the transgenic crop.
     als for GM rice are expected this year,
                                                       much as 13 percent of calories from        Bayer is currently seeking approval
     keeping the planting level comparable to
                                                       protein. Such a crop of immense            for the import of LLRICE62 for food,
     2003 of at least 53 hectares.
                                                       global importance is a certain target      feed and industrial uses into Europe.
          In the United States, USDA author-
                                                       for control by multinational corpora-          Synthetic analogues of the Bt Cry
     ized 10 GM rice field trials over 11
                                                       tions, especially since the rice           toxin genes have been used exten-
     hectares in 2003 and 12 trials over 45
                                                       genome was announced two years             sively to construct experimental rice
     hectares in the first quarter of 2004, 90%
                                                       ago (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15,    varieties. Indica Basmati rice was
     of which were done by Monsanto.
                                                       2002).                                     transformed by a synthetic Cry1Ab
          China will be closely watched by both
                                                            Only one GM rice trait - tolerance    gene in several different constructs.
     the developed and the developing world.
                                                       to the herbicide glufosinate - is cur-     These transgenic rice plants con-
     China's activities in GM rice have gone
                                                       rently available on the market. The        tained up to 0.15% of their total pro-
     on simultaneously with extensive trials in
                                                       rice varieties under development           tein as synthetic toxin. Such high lev-
     sustainable, low input rice-growing sys-
                                                       include resistance to insects, micro-      els of toxin are preferred because it
     tems that benefit small farmers (see
                                                       bial pests and tolerance to high salt      discourages insect resistance, but it
     "Fantastic rice yields fact or fallacy?" and
                                                       levels. Pharmaceutical products and        also means that the synthetic toxin
     "Does SRI work?" this series).
                                                       multiple transgenic traits are being       protein makes a significant contribu-
          Huanming Yang, Director of the
                                                       pyramided into a single strain of rice.    tion to people's diet and to the rice
     Beijing Genomics Institute in China, the
                                                       It is likely that the next GM rice to be   straw fed to animals.
     lead author of a paper on the rice
                                                       approved for commercial release will           Rice lines containing Cry1Ab and
     genome sequence published side by side
                                                       contain an insect toxin gene from the      Cry1Ab/Cry1Ac fusion protein genes
     with Syngenta's in the journal Science
                                                       bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt),    were reported to have no effect on
     two years ago, told ISIS recently that he
                                                       but that will be followed by a range of    the fitness of non-target insects.
     is "strongly opposed" to patenting the rice
                                                       modifications, including insect resist-        Rice with Cry1Ab toxin gene and
                                                       ance based on lectins and protease         resistance genes for the antibiotics
          "As one of the important sequencing
                                                       inhibitors. Because rice has a huge        hygromycin and neomycin was
     centres [of the rice genome], we think it
                                                       impact on the world's food supply, we      reported to be resistant to rice
     should be covered by Bermuda Rules
                                                       should at least make sure it is safe.      leafhopper insects. However, elite
     and should [be] made freely available.
     That is the reason that we have released          Herbicide tolerance and insect             Indica rice with a synthetic Cry1Ac
     the rice genome sequences," Yang said.            resistance                                 toxin gene, although resistant to the
          The 'Bermuda Rules' refers to guide-                                                    yellow stem borer insect, had high
     lines for releasing human sequence data           Two glufosinate-tolerant GM rice           toxin levels in all of the plant tissues.
     established in February 1996 at a                 events, LLRICE06 and LLRICE62,                 European rice cultivars were
     Bermuda meeting of heads of the biggest           have been approved for commercial          transformed with synthetic Cry1Aa or
     labs in the publicly funded human                 production. They have been inserted        synthetic Cry1B toxin genes under a
     genome project. The rules require the             into the rice varieties M202 and           constitutive ubiquitin promoter, which
     labs to share the results of sequencing           Bengal, consisting of the bar gene         turns on the gene in all the tissues all
     "as soon as possible", releasing all              encoding the phosphoinothricin-N-          of the time, or synthetic Cry1B gene
     stretches of DNA longer than 1 000 units,         acetyltransferase (PAT) enzyme.            under a wound inducible maize pro-
     and to submit the data within 24 hours to             Safety testing of the bar gene and     moter, which responds to stresses
     the public database known as GenBank.             PAT enzyme was done using the bac-         such as insect predation. The consti-
     The goal, as stated in a memo released            terial gene and protein, not the syn-      tutive promoter-driven toxin genes
     at the time, was to prevent the sequenc-          thetic gene and its product in the rice    produced high toxin levels that pre-
     ing centres from "establishing a privileged       crop. Despite this obvious flaw, the       vented striped stem borer predation
     position in the exploitation and control of       United     States     Department     of    but left toxin in all the rice tissues and
     human sequence information."                SiS
                                                       Agriculture determined that the GM         seeds, while the wound inducible
                                                       rice strains were suitable for commer-

strain produced toxin mainly at the         Cry1Ac, synthetic Cry2A and resist-        threats to the food supply. Recent
site of insect attack.                      ance to the antibiotic hygromycin. As      efforts to test and produce rice modi-
    Research has established that Bt        in the previous construction, care         fied to produce the human gene prod-
toxin was introduced into soil by root      must be taken to evaluate the toxicity     ucts lactoferrin and lysozyme have
exudates of transgenic rice. The toxin      of the toxin products and their inter-     been temporarily thwarted. However,
released into the soil affected the         action in the human diet and in the        rice producing human growth hor-
enzymes of soil microbes, increasing        environment.                               mone has been developed despite
soil acid phosphatase and decreasing            Elite Chinese rice cultivars were      the likelihood that the GM rice could
soil urease.                                transformed with a gene for bacterial      cause cancer in those consuming it.
    The benefit of insect protection        blight and a GNA gene. The trans-          Rice is not a suitable crop for produc-
from Bt rice is offset by the potential     formed rice was resistant to sap suck-     ing pharmaceutical products because
harmful effects of high levels of toxin     ing insects and to bacterial blight.       of the high likelihood that the prod-
protein in the rice grain. As rice is           Insect and bacterial disease           ucts will pollute the food supply.
such an important food crop, the            resistant lines have been pyramided
                                                                                       Environmental impacts
safety of Bt rice must be concretely        (pyramiding is combining transgenes
established. It has been found that         by genetic crosses). A strain with a       The genetic modifications being used
food irradiation improved the "quality"     fused Cry1Ab/Cry1Ac gene was com-          or promoted for rice pose a significant
of GM rice modified with the Cry1Ab         bined with a gene derived from a wild      threat to the environment if they con-
toxin, by selectively removing the          rice for resistance to bacterial blight,   taminate conventional rice fields or
toxin protein. However, study of the        in a male sterile restorer line of rice.   spread transgenes to weedy relatives
radiation products and adducts creat-       The pyramided line was resistant to        such as red rice. Pollen mediated
ed during destruction of the toxin is       bacterial blight and to stem borer         gene flow was substantial from
essential. Furthermore, it is clear that    insects. In the pyramided lines, regu-     Mediterranean GM rice bearing a
food irradiation may be used to dis-        lators must consider and evaluate the      gene for herbicide tolerance to con-
guise GM rice.                              toxicity of each transgenic toxin and      ventional rice and to the weed, red
    A number of projects have studied       the combination of toxins brought          rice. Gene flow from herbicide toler-
the use of snowdrop lectin, Galanthus       about by crossing.                         ant to cultivated rice was also sub-
nivalis agglutinin (GNA) alone or in            Resistance to the rice stem borer      stantial     in  another    study    of
conjunction with other genes to con-        was produced using a synthetic             Mediterranean rice. Rice pollen was
trol rice pests. Lectins are proteins       trypsin inhibitor that interferes with     spread from a test plot up to 110
that interact with human blood cells        insect food digestion. The synthetic       meters from the boundary of the test
(agglutinin) and also act as anti-pred-     gene was roughly based on a winged         plot. It is very clear that transgenic
ator chemicals in plants or microbes.       bean chymotrypsin inhibitor. A syn-        rice will pollute any nearby conven-
A GNA gene was driven by a phloem           thetic copy of a gene product that         tional rice.
specific promoter accompanied by a          interferes with digestion surely
                                                                                       Health impacts
hygromycin antibiotic resistance gene       requires extensive safety testing!
and was used to transform japonica                                                     GM rice may soon be approved for
                                            Salt tolerance & enhancement of
rice strains. The modified rice con-                                                   commercial production in a number of
trolled sap-sucking insects that                                                       countries. Safety testing of the cur-
spread rice viruses. However, Stanley       Increasing the transcription level of a    rently described products has not yet
Ewen and Arpad Pusztai showed that          rice sodium antiporter (a pump that        been published. GM rice cannot be
potatoes modified with GNA affected         moves sodium ion into a vacuole)           presumed to be substantially equiva-
different parts of the rat digestive sys-   gene, called OsNHX1, is reported to        lent to conventional rice, but that may
tem. Similar research on the in vivo        improve the salt tolerance of rice, with   not hamper approval in the United
effects of rice genetically engineered      the potential of opening large tracks      States of many such constructions.
with GNA has not been reported.             of land to rice cultivation. Over          For the most part, GM rice is formed
    Rice plants containing both the         expression of barley aquaporin gene        from synthetic genes that should
GNA gene and the unlinked Cry1Ac            in rice led to increased carbon dioxide    require much fuller safety testing than
gene were reported to be resistant to       conductance and assimilation. Such         has been done in the past.
the major rice insect pests, striped        modifications are potentially able to           In North America, regulators have
stem borer and brown leaf hopper            enhance biomass production in rice.        allowed substitution of genes and
(rice with only Cry1Ac resisted striped                                                proteins produced in bacterial surro-
                                            Nutritional enhancement
stem borer while rice with GNA resis-                                                  gates for the actual genes and pro-
ted brown leaf hopper). Rice trans-         Rice has also been the target of           teins produced in crop plants in toxic-
formed with a single vector containing      genetic modifications that nutritionally   ity tests of human and environmental
Cry1Ab along with GNA and the bar           enrich food crops. 'Golden Rice'           safety. The use of the bacterial surro-
gene for herbicide tolerance was            genetically engineered to produce          gates is allowed, to save corporations
intended to be resistant to yellow          pro-vitamin A has been discussed           the cost of preparing genes and pro-
stem borer and three sap sucking            extensively elsewhere. Although            teins from the crop plants, even
insects, and also tolerant to the herbi-    much touted as a cure for vitamin A        though the genes and proteins tested
cide glufosinate. This huge package         deficiency in developing countries, it     differ significantly from the genes and
of genes was integrated at a single         has yet to be commercialized and its       proteins produced in the crop plants.
chromosomal site. No account has            effectiveness in addressing vitamin A      The public should insist that the actu-
been taken of the interaction of the        deficiency has been called into ques-      al genes and proteins produced in the
various toxins in the human food sup-       tion.                                      crops be tested.
ply and in the environment.                                                                 The world's leading food crop
    Basmati rice was co-transformed         Pharm rice
                                                                                       should be treated with more care than
with three plasmids carrying four           Production of pharmaceutical pro-          has been done with maize, soy and
genes including GNA, synthetic              teins in rice crops poses potent           canola.                              SiS


     Two Rice Better than One
     Lim Li Ching reports on remarkable results from a simple experiment in China that combats
     rice disease and increases yields
     Planting a diversity of crops instead of    such that only one foliar fungicide            greater 'induced resistance' playing a
     monocultures can do wonders.                spray was applied. The study expand-           part in disease suppression. Induced
     Thousands of Chinese rice farmers           ed to 3 342 hectares in 1999, encom-           resistance occurs when non-virulent
     have increased yields and nearly elimi-     passing all the rice fields in 10 town-        pathogens induce a plant defence
     nated the most devastating disease -        ships of Jianshui and Shiping Counties.        response that is effective against other
     rice blast fungus - without using chem-     No fungicidal spray was needed that            pathogens that would normally be viru-
     ical fungicides or spending more            year. Farmers were so convinced of the         lent on the plant. Indeed, preliminary
     money.                                      benefits of the rice diversification pro-      analysis of the genetic composition of
         These farmers and extension work-       gram that the practice expanded to             pathogenic populations indicated that
     ers in Yunnan Province collaborated         more than 40 000 hectares in 2000.             mixed fields supported diverse
     with a team of scientists from Yunnan            The mixed rice fields were com-           pathogen populations with no single
     Agricultural University, the Plant          pared with control monoculture plots.          dominant strain. By contrast, pathogen
     Protection Stations of Honghe               The overall results showed that dis-           populations in monocultures were
     Prefecture, Jianshui County and             ease-susceptible rice varieties planted        dominated by one or a few strains.
     Shiping County in Yunnan Province,          in mixtures with resistant varieties had       Hence, the more diverse pathogen
     the International Rice Research             89% greater yield and blast was 94%            population of the mixed stands may
     Institute and Oregon State University in    less severe than when they were                have contributed to greater induced
     the United States to implement a sim-       grown in monoculture. Both glutinous           resistance in the plants, and in the
     ple change in cultivation practice in       and hybrid rice showed decreased               longer term this increased pathogen
     order to control rice blast, a disease      infection.                                     diversity may also slow down the adap-
     that destroys millions of tonnes of rice         Specifically, in 1998, panicle blast      tation of pathogens to the resistant
     and costs farmers several billion dol-      severity on the glutinous rice averaged        genes functioning within a given mixed
     lars in losses each year.                   20% in monocultures, but was reduced           plant population.
         The area is prone to rice blast epi-    to 1% when dispersed within the mixed               Grain production per hill of gluti-
     demics because of its cool, wet cli-        populations. Meanwhile, panicle blast          nous varieties in mixtures averaged
     mate. The fungus that causes blast dis-     severity on the hybrid varieties aver-         89% more than when planted in mono-
     ease, Magnaporthe grisea, spreads           aged 1.2% in monocultures, but was             culture. As a result, although glutinous
     through multiple cycles of asexual          reduced to varying degrees in the              rice in mixtures was planted at rates of
     spore production during the cropping        mixed plots. Results from 1999 were            only 9.2 and 9.7% that of monoculture
     season, causing necrotic spots on           very similar to the 1998 season for            in 1998 and 1999, respectively, it pro-
     leaves and necrosis (death) of the rice     panicle blast severity on susceptible          duced an average 18.2% of monocul-
     panicles.                                   glutinous varieties, showing that the          ture yield. The higher yields are cer-
         Instead of planting large stands of a   effect of mixed planting was very              tainly due to the reduced severity of
     single type of rice, as had been their      robust. Panicle blast severity on the          rice blast fungus, though other factors
     usual practice, the farmers planted a       less-susceptible hybrid varieties aver-        (for example, improved light intercep-
     mixture of two different kinds of rice: a   aged 2.3% in monoculture in 1999, and          tion) may also have contributed.
     standard hybrid rice that does not usu-     was reduced to 1.0% in mixed plant-            Hybrids planted in mixtures, despite
     ally succumb to rice blast, and a much      ings. This despite the fact that the           facing an increased overall plant densi-
     more valuable but lower-yielding gluti-     hybrids were planted at the same den-          ty, experienced grain yields per hectare
     nous or 'sticky' rice known to be very      sity in mixed and monoculture plots.           that were nearly equal to the hybrid
     susceptible to the disease. Before               The hypothesis for the reduced            monocultures. Thus, mixed popula-
     1998, 98% of rice fields in the area        severity of blast attack is fairly clear for   tions produced more total grain per
     were monocultures of the hybrid rice        the disease-susceptible glutinous rice.        hectare than their corresponding
     varieties Shanyuo22 and Shanyuo63.          If one variety of a crop is susceptible to     monocultures in all cases.
     The glutinous varieties, although highly    a disease, the more concentrated                    The mixed varieties of rice were
     valued, were planted in small amounts       those susceptible types, the more eas-         also more ecologically efficient. It was
     due to their low yields and vulnerability   ily the disease will spread. The disease       estimated that an average of 1.18
     to rice blast.                              is less likely to spread if susceptible        hectares of monoculture cropland
         The experiment with mixed vari-         plants are separated by other plants           would be needed to provide the same
     eties dispersed single rows of glutinous    that do not succumb to the disease and         amounts of hybrid and glutinous rice as
     rice between groups of four rows of         the distance between the susceptible           were produced in one hectare of a mix-
     hybrid rice, but at a rate sufficient to    plants increased (a dilution effect). In       ture. Additionally, after accounting for
     meet the local demand for glutinous         addition, the glutinous rice plants,           the different market values of the two
     rice. As rice is hand-harvested in          which are taller and rise above the            rice types, the gross value per hectare
     Yunnan, farmers can easily separate         shorter hybrid rice, enjoyed sunnier,          of the mixtures was 14% greater than
     the hybrid and glutinous grains, which      warmer and drier conditions that dis-          hybrid monocultures and 40% greater
     are used for different purposes.            couraged the growth of rice blast.             than glutinous monocultures.
         In 1998, the first year of the trial,        Disease reduction in the hybrid                The scientists concluded that intra-
     four different mixtures of varieties were   variety is more difficult to explain, but is   specific crop diversification is a simple,
     planted over 812 hectares, comprising       possibly due to the taller glutinous rice      ecological approach to disease control,
     all the rice fields in five townships of    physically blocking the airborne spores        which can be extremely effective over a
     Shiping County, Yunnan Province. The        of rice blast and/or altering wind pat-        large area and can contribute to sus-
     mixtures gave excellent blast control,      terns. It is also likely that there was        tainable crop production.              SiS

Freeing the World from GM                                                                                                      23

 Biotech Investment Busy Going Nowhere
   Claire Robinson exposes the financial woes of the biotech industry
 Biotechnology is the answer to prob-      in its falling bottom line. As the New     up of its products, selling stocks has
 lems ranging from hunger in Africa        Zealand Herald said, "Investment in        become a biotech industry lifeline. In
 and Asia to obesity in the West. This     genetically modified food is drying        2003, US biotech firms raised almost
 was the upbeat message from the           up in the world's biggest GM market,       $4 billion by selling new stock to
 industry's promotional showcase,          the United States, because con-            investors, according to Burrill & Co.
 the BIO 2004 conference, which            sumers in the rest of the world are        The same year, US biotechs as a
 took place in San Francisco in June.      not willing to buy its products."          group posted almost that much in
 In launching the conference, BIO               Roger Wyse of Burrill and             losses. Only 12 of the 50 largest
 (the     Biotechnology      Industry      Company, the biggest investment            biotechs turned a profit in 2003.
 Organisation)     trumpeted,     "the     firm focused on life sciences, said
                                                                                      Meltdown continues
 biotechnology industry is performing      the consumer backlash against
                                           GMOs had forced a lull in projects         In the UK, the biotech meltdown
                                           aimed at modifying food. "We are           continues apace. Earlier this year, it
                                           probably looking at three, four or five    emerged that two biotech firms
                                           years before the GMO issue sub-            linked to science minister and donor
                                           sides sufficiently that we will feel       to the Labour Party, Lord Sainsbury,
                                           comfortable investing in it," he said.     are facing serious financial difficul-
                                                Lack of investment has led to         ties. Diatech Ltd, which holds sever-
                                           massive losses. Back to Ewing:             al patents for techniques designed
                                           "Last year, this industry lost $5.4 bil-   for use in GM foods, has gone into
                                           lion, and has lost a staggering $57.7      liquidation, while biotechnology
                                           billion since BIO last held its annual     investment firm Innotech is making
                                           conference in San Francisco in             huge losses.
                                           1994, according to an Ernst and                At the end of June, the British
                                           Young study. Only a few companies          GM science lobby despaired at news
                                           have been consistently profitable in       that Anglo-Swiss biotech giant
                                           the 30 years since biotech was born        Syngenta was withdrawing from the
                                           - a few, such as Amgen and                 UK and transferring to North
                                           Genentech, fantastically so. Remove        Carolina in the US. Syngenta was
                                           them, and the losses and numbers           the last biotech company to retain a
                                           are far worse for the rest of the          significant GM research presence in
                                           industry."                                 the UK after decisions by Monsanto,
                                                An article in the usually biotech-    Dupont and Bayer Cropscience to
                                           bullish Wall Street Journal drove          withdraw.
                                           home the point. Entitled "Biotech's            Whether Syngenta will face a
                                           dismal bottom line: More than $40          more sustainable future in the US is
                                           billion in losses", the article said,      open to question. Almost one-sixth
 well across a variety of financial and    "Biotechnology… may yet turn into          of the more than 350 US biotechs
 product development measures."            an engine of economic growth and           that went public over the past two
      But not everyone was persuaded.      cure deadly diseases. But it's hard to     decades were bought out for pen-
 This year's media coverage of the         argue that it's a good investment.         nies on the dollar, dissolved them-
 annual event was decidedly cynical.       Not only has the biotech industry          selves or had filed for bankruptcy
 A report in the Asia Times comment-       yielded negative financial returns for     protection by the end of 2003.
 ed, "For many in the scientific com-      decades, it generally digs its hole        Examples include Escagenetics,
 munity, the smorgasbord of market-        deeper every year."                        Advanced         Tissue      Sciences,
 ing claims merely adds to the credi-           The Journal points out that this      ImmuLogic and Gliatech.
 bility problems that are piling up        truth becomes lost in the periodic             In May, San Diego-based Epicyte
 against genetic engineering, espe-        bursts of enthusiasm for biotech           Pharmaceutical, one of the last ves-
 cially as its base claims of boosting     stocks, one of which is under way          tiges of the city's attempt to become
 food output have not been realized."      right now. After a three-year slump,       an agricultural biotech stronghold,
      Another jaded reporter, David        biotech companies raised $1.5 bil-         closed. The demise of Epicyte was
 Ewing, wrote in the San Francisco         lion from new stock offerings in the       lamented as "the latest casualty for
 Chronicle, "As of yet, most of what       first quarter of 2004, almost three        the region's fledgling agricultural
 I'm looking for here is in the 'prom-     times the level of a year earlier.         biotechnology industry, which just
 ise' category - and has been each         Thus BIO was able to boast that            five years ago appeared to hold con-
 year I have come to this ever-larger      while major stock indexes have             siderable commercial promise." In
 industry fete."                           slipped this year, the Nasdaq              1999, Stephen Briggs, the head of
                                           Biotech Index had edged up about 6         San Diego's Novartis Agricultural
 Falling investment
                                           percent at close of markets on 2           Discovery Institute, which was build-
 Disappointment at the biotech indus-      June.                                      ing a major research campus, pre-
 try's unfulfilled promises is reflected        In the absence of consumer take-      dicted San Diego could become the

"Silicon Valley of agricultural           largely unprofitable industry is sell-    Like religions, it offers a comforting
biotech."                                 ing stocks. Another is public money.      message of salvation. Instead of
    Yet the industry didn't retain a      The BIO conference, reported              imagining a day of rapture when the
stronghold there: a consumer back-        Associated Press, was packed with         dead rise from their graves to begin
lash against GM food, along with          mayors and governors from across          eternal life, biotech enthusiasts
high-profile industry blunders such       the US desperate to lure biotech          imagine the era when medical tech-
as the StarLink contamination inci-       companies to their area with promis-      nologies provide a renewable, large-
dent, nipped investor enthusiasm in       es of tax breaks, government grants,      ly imperishable body. … Biotech is
the bud. In 2000, the Novartis            even help with parking. Yet biotech,      not just an assemblage of research
Agricultural Discovery Institute was      wrote the AP, "remains a money-los-       programs and techniques. In a sci-
folded into Syngenta. Then in 2002,       ing, niche industry firmly rooted in      entific and technological era, biotech
Syngenta closed the La Jolla, San         three small regions of the country:       also offers a surrogate religious
Diego unit. Other San Diego agricul-      'This notion that you lure biotech to     framework for many individuals."
tural biotechs also disappeared.          your community to save its economy            Within this framework, it is a
Mycogen was purchased by Dow              is laughable,' said Joseph Cortright,     small step to the type of language
Chemical, and Akkadix Corp. faded         a Portland, Ore. economist who co-        found in the Nuffield Council report
from the scene. Dow retains a             wrote a report on the subject. 'This      and repeated by biotech 'evangel-
research unit in San Diego, but           is a bad-idea virus that has swept        ists' such as Derek Burke, which
moved a second agbiotech unit out         through governors, mayors and eco-        insists on the "moral imperative for
of the state.                             nomic development officials.'”            investment into GM crop research in
                                               A case in point is Florida gover-    developing countries". And once that
Biotech medicines a refuge of
                                          nor Jeb Bush, brother of president        article of faith is swallowed, it is but
                                          George W. Bush. Jeb Bush spear-           another small step to appropriating
Biotech drugs have long provided a        headed an initiative to hand over         public money to promote and export
refuge of hope for investors wary         $510 million of Florida and Palm          biotech to the third world under the
about the prospects for agricultural      Beach County taxpayers' money to          guise of aid and development pro-
biotech. The promise of lucrative         build a new biotech centre for the        grammes.
magic bullets against intractable dis-    Scripps Research Institute, based in          As private finance for biotech
eases attracted those who kept faith      San Diego. Land, buildings, labs,         dries up, the industry is increasingly
in the genetic determinist model of       offices, equipment, even employees'       turning to government to provide
illness. Biotech pioneers stoked          salaries for seven years: Scripps got     investment to force the crops the
investor enthusiasm by arguing that       it all for free, putting in no money of   West doesn't want into Africa and
since biotech drugs are often ver-        its own. The company will eventually      Asia. The British government has
sions of human proteins, genetic          repay Florida up to $155 million, half    already quietly sunk over £13m of
engineering could cut short the long      of the state's investment. But the        public money into such projects via
safety trials that traditional drugs go   payback provision will not kick in        the Department for International
through. But that didn't turn out to be   until 2011. Bush and other Florida        Development during a period of
the case, and most genetically engi-      officials hope that Scripps will make     intense domestic disquiet over GM.
neered medications take 10 to 15          Florida a biotech hub - like San          It has also sunk further money,
years to win approval, much the           Diego.                                    along with USAID, into the Nairobi-
same as other drugs.                           The wisdom of using San Diego        based         African       Agricultural
    At the turn of the millennium,        as a model is questionable, given         Technology Foundation (AATF) proj-
hopes rose with the hype when the         the industry's record of failure there.   ect to push GM crops into Africa.
deciphering of the human genome           But Bush seems blind to the risks.            What is so insidious about this,
appeared to herald a new age of           "It's always good to have sceptics,       as Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre
treatments tailored for individual        but I like to be on the dreaming          Egziabher, the head of Ethiopia's
genetic differences. This sparked an      side," he told the press. "It's a lot     Environmental Protection Authority,
incredible 170% rise in biotech stock     more fun on the dreaming side of the      has noted, is that "the moral impera-
prices in just four months - followed     road."                                    tive is in fact the opposite. The poli-
by a steep crash over the next year.           According to a report prepared       cy of drawing funds away from low-
By 2002, disillusionment had set in.      for BIO and released at its annual        cost       sustainable       agriculture
Canadian       magazine      Maclean's    convention in San Francisco, at           research, towards hi-tech, exclusive,
reported, in an article called            least 29 states have formal plans to      expensive and unsafe technology is
"Biotech hope and hype: The genet-        woo the biotech industry. Many, like      itself ethically questionable. There is
ics revolution has failed to deliver",    Pennsylvania, are using money             a strong moral argument that the
"Federal and provincial governments       gained from the global tobacco set-       funding of GM technology in agricul-
have long had a love affair with          tlement to fund biotech development       ture is harming the long-term sus-
genetics, pumping billions into the       projects.                                 tainability of agriculture in the devel-
biotech biz… 20 years later and how            How does this "bad-idea virus"       oping world."
many breakthrough products has            gain such a hold over so many? In             Nobody should be in any doubt
biotech produced? Gene therapy            an article in Nature Biotechnology,       that the GM lobby's real aim has lit-
may actually have harmed more             medical bioethicist Leigh Turner of       tle to do with feeding the hungry. It is
people than it's helped. … The few        McGill University, Quebec, suggests       to shore up GM research in the UK
drugs derived from GE such as             that biotech fulfils many of the same     in the face of industry's current
insulin simply replace existing prod-     needs as religious fanaticism:            retreat, to associate the technology
ucts while creating new risks."           "Biotech, in a similar manner to          in the official mind with the public
                                          many religious movements, has its         interest, and to give GM's public
Bad-idea virus
                                          charismatic prophets, enthusiastic        relations campaigns a charitable
We've seen how one lifeline for a         evangelists and enrapt audiences.         face.                                 SiS

Superbug with Anthrax Genes
The Bacillus species causing anthrax and food poisoning are closely related to each other and to a
third, Bacillus thuringiensis, whose toxin genes are extensively exploited to create genetically modified
Bt crops. ISIS has warned of the potential for dangerous recombinants to emerge; such a recombinant
has now been identified. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins caution against growing Bt crops,
especially in the Third World.
The three Bacillus bacteria all live in the
soil and are so closely related that they
may as well be regarded as a single
species. B. anthracis causes anthrax, B.
cereus is linked to food poisoning, and
B. thuringiensis is extensively exploited
as biopesticides in genetically engi-
neered Bt crops, now widely cultivated
in the United States, and increasingly
being promoted in Third World coun-
tries. The three bacteria readily mate
with one another and exchange plas-
mids (circular pieces of DNA) carrying
specific toxin and virulence genes. They
share very similar viruses (phages) that
can integrate into the bacterial genome
as 'prophage', and can hence also

move toxin and virulence genes among
them, many of them reside in the bacte-
rial chromosome. Cummins has warned
that dangerous recombinants could
arise, from gene exchange between the         terium. Until a few years ago, B.                B. anthracis plasmid pXO2. It also car-
bacteria and between the Bt plant             anthracis was thought to be distinct             ries genes that, if functional, should pro-
debris and bacteria in the soil.              from B. cereus, because they look dif-           vide the strain with resistance to b-lac-
     Now, an international team of infec-     ferent and cause different diseases.             tam, chloramphenicol and macrolide
tious disease researchers led by Claire           The researchers sequenced the B.             antimicrobial agents.
M. Fraser of the Centers for Disease          cereus genome using draft genome                     When injected into mice, B. cereus
Control and Prevention (CDC) in               sequences obtained and assembled by              G9241 proved to be 100% lethal, as
Atlanta, Georgia, USA, has identified a       the company Celera, and the resulting            was B. anthracis, but it killed the mice
recombinant between B. anthracis and          sequence annotated through The                   almost twice as fast. All the mice inject-
B. cereus. They were alerted last year        Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR)            ed with an ordinary B. cereus strain sur-
when two hospital patients in Texas           bioinformatics pipeline, set up by Craig         vived the experiment.
died of severe pneumonia that                 Venter, the maverick scientist who                   As a result of these findings, the
appeared to be caused by inhalation           founded Celera to sequence the human             researchers concluded that, "it may not
anthrax, but neither patient was infected     genome, succeeded only too well, and             be appropriate to consider B. anthracis,
with B. anthracis. Instead, DNA tests         was sacked from the company in                   as currently defined, as the only species
showed that both patients were infected       January 2002, after he remarked on               capable of causing inhalation anthrax-
by a strain of B. cereus that normally        there being too few genes to support             like disease."
causes mild food poisoning, which has         the simplistic idea that organisms are               Another noteworthy feature is that at
somehow acquired the lethal anthrax           hardwired in their genes.                        least two isolates of B. cereus (ATCC
genes.                                            It turns out that the culprit strain of B.   14579) and M 1550) are extremely
     When the Texas cases came to             cereus G9241 had acquired a plasmid              closely related to, and cluster with, B.
light, the CDC scientists were sequenc-       very similar to the pXO1 of B. anthracis.        thuringiensis. A number of delta endo-
ing a strain of B. cereus isolated from a     In addition, analysis of seven other             toxins from B. thuringiensis strains are
man in Louisiana who, in 1994, showed         metabolic genes showed that the strain           implicated in allergies and other illness-
up with severe anthrax-like symptoms.         is closely related to, albeit distinct from,     es, or known to be immunogenic. What
The Texas and Lousiana patients were          B. anthracis.                                    sort of disease agent might emerge
all metal workers who seemed to have              The sequence of the B. cereus                from B. cereus if it acquired endotoxin
inhaled the bacteria.                         G9241 genome reveals a mosaic struc-             genes either from B. thuringiensis or
     Anthrax is an acute fatal disease        ture, which could be due to the pres-            from Bt crop debris in the soil? This
among mammals and B. anthracis                ence of a great number of what appears           question is especially pertinent in view
became widely known as a biological           to be known and novel mobile genetic             of the substantial changes in the genet-
weapon soon after September 11, 2001.         elements that can insert sequences               ically modified Bt genes that are com-
It has two plasmids: pXO1 carrying the        from other sources. It also has a                pletely untested and hence unknown in
lethal toxin complex (edema factor,           119110bp circular plasmid with high              toxicities.
lethal factor and protective antigen),        similarity to B. anthracis pXO1. There is,           Countries, especially those in the
and pXO2 carrying the glutamic acid           further, a cryptic phage of 29 886bp that        Third World, where farmers live next to
polymer that inhibits white blood cells       encodes phage-like proteins and a plas-          their fields, should be particularly wary
from engulfing and digesting the bac-         mid replicon (replicating unit) similar to       about growing Bt crops.                  SiS


             Approval of Bt11 Maize Endangers
                 Humans and Livestock
     Dr. Mae-Wan Ho explains why the European Commission's decision
      to approve Syngenta's GM maize is illegal and criminal based on
                       existing scientific evidence.
     The European Commission ended          sation, as required by Europe's        tion 618/97/EC", AFSSA said it
     6 years of de facto moratorium on      current Directive for deliberate       "maintains its previous opinion
     GM authorization by approving          release. These concerns were           which concluded that to rigorous-
     Syngenta's Bt11 sweet corn for         strongly reinforced by French and      ly evaluate the impact of regular
     food use in Europe on 19 May           Austrian scientists.                   consumption of a maize carrying
     2004 (see Box 1). That, despite           According to an article in Le       the Bt11 event, toxicity/tolerance
     the fact that voting by experts last   Monde published 24 April, two          experiments on rats must be car-
     December in the EU's Standing          scientific evaluation committees,      ried out… Such toxicity/tolerance
     Committee on Food Chain and            in France and Belgium, had             experiments are not required by
     Animal Health was an even 6-6          refused to give their approval for     the actual regulation, though they
     country split with three absten-       food use of Bt11 sweet corn. On        might be advisable … because
     tions. Finland, Sweden, Ireland,       22 April, AFSSA (French Agency         the sweet corn is the only one to
     UK, Netherlands, and Spain voted       of   Food     Sanitary    Security)    be consumed by humans."
     in favour; Greece, Denmark,            opposed the authorization of Bt11          The    Belgian    Council    for
     France, Austria, Luxembourg,           sweet corn for the third time, after   Biosafety had already refused to
     Portugal voted against; and            having refused it twice before, in     give its approval for the Bt11
     Belgium, Italy and Germany             2000 and 2003, on grounds that         maize on 1 April 2004.
     abstained. The same split hap-         the scientific results were insuffi-       Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe
     pened at the Council of Ministers      cient.                                 Cummins from ISIS and the ISP
     on 27 April, but this time Italy          In a brief note published 22        (Independent Science Panel)
     voted in favour, while Spain           April, implicitly replying to the      have objected strongly to the
     abstained.                             European Commission statement          approval of a range of GM crops;
        Belgium's      scientists   first   on 5 February that "the results        and called for the withdrawal of
     expressed concerns over the            supplied by Syngenta…are in            approval already granted, most
     safety of Bt11 when they subject-      accordance with the criteria and       probably for the same reasons as
     ed Bt11 to molecular characteri-       rules defined in the recommenda-       the Belgian and French scientists:
                                                                                   the GM inserts in all these crops
                                                                                   were found to have rearranged
     Box 1                                                                         since characterised by the com-
     History of Bt11 maize approval                                                pany. That is a sign that the GM
     An official dossier was submitted to the European Union in 1996 and           varieties are unstable, and hence
     approved under the old Directive for deliberate release into the envi-        contrary to requirement laid down
     ronment (90/220/EEC) for import and processing since 22 April 1998.           by the current European Directive
        Two notifications for cultivation were submitted in 1996 (to France)       for        deliberate       release

                                                                                                                          GM sweet corn anyone?
     and 1998 (to Spain). The Scientific Committee on Plants (SCP) gave a          (2001/18/EC). Furthermore, there
     favourable opinion for these two notifications, although Syngenta has         is evidence that some GM vari-
     since withdrawn the latter. The 1996 notification was updated in 1998         eties are non-uniform, also con-
     and 2002, and finally in 2003, additional information was supplied as         trary to the requirement of the
     required by the new Directive for deliberate release 2001/18/EC. The          current European Directive. Thus,
     French competent authority concluded that, in this respect, Bt11 "does        the European Commission is con-
     not present a greater risk to human health or the environment than any        travening its own laws in approv-
     other variety of maize". Approval of the application, which includes          ing Bt11.
     import, cultivation and all other uses, is still pending.                         Ho and Cummins have referred
        In February 1999, a request was submitted under Regulation (EC)            to this as both "illegal and crimi-
     258/97 for placing sweet corn from GM maize line Bt11 on the market           nal"; criminal because transgenic
     for food use (fresh or processed). On 17 April 2002, the Scientific           instability is a key safety issue,
     Committee on Food gave its opinion that Bt11 sweet corn is as safe for        and there is already evidence
     human food use as its conventional counterparts.                              suggesting that GM food and feed
        The vote in the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal                are far from safe, even though
     Health, December 2003, resulted in an even 6-6 country split with             very few feeding trials have been
     three abstentions. A similar split ratio in the Council of Ministers 27       carried out, and toxicological
     April 2004 led to a stalemate. The European Commission broke the              tests on natural Bt toxins are thor-
     deadlock by deciding in favour of approval.                                   oughly inadequate to predict the
                                                                                   much altered GM toxins incorpo-

Box 2
Molecular characterisations by Belgian Council for Biosafety
The plasmid used for making Bt11 contains a synthetic truncated crylAb sequence isolated from soil bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis kurstaki HDI, and a synthetic pat gene, isolated from Streptomyces viridochromogenes, another soil bacteri-
um. Both coding sequences are driven by a 35S promoter sequence derived from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S
promoter and the 3' untranslated region of the nopaline synthase (nos) gene from a third soil bacterium Agrobacterium
tumefaciens. In addition, the promoter sequences of the pat and cry1Ab gene were combined with respectively intron Int II
and Int VI derived from maize alcohol dehydrogenase adh1S gene to enhance expression.
   The company's dossier claimed a single copy insert with the structure:
         p35S-Int II-pat-tnos-p35S-Int VI-crylAb-tnos
    But analyses by the Belgian Council for Biosafety revealed "primary insert with rearrangements, truncations and unex-
pected insertions", and "it is not certain if only one copy of the insert is present". Furthermore, 1.1kbp of the plasmid
sequence was present at the 5' end of the insert, followed by plant DNA with homology to 180bp knob specific repeat
sequence. At the 3' end, the plasmid sequence is again present followed by plant DNA with homology to the 180bp knob
specific repeat sequence.
   Although not discussed by the study, knob specific sequences are present in many maize chromosomes, and are sus-
pected to be "megatransposons" involved in exchanges of whole chromosome segments in the genome. If so, the insert
has landed in a megatransposon, and has the potential to spread uncontrollably over the entire genome.
   Another worrying finding is that PCR primers for Bt176 amplify sequences from both Bt176 and Bt11, suggesting that
Bt11 may have been contaminated by Bt176. Bt176 has been linked to the death of 12 dairy cows in Hesse Germany
between 2001 and 2002; and approval for growing Bt 176 has just been withdrawn in Spain on grounds that it has an
antibiotic resistance marker gene that the European Food Safety Authority recommends should not be present in GM crops
placed on the market.
   The Belgian Council for Biosafety concluded: "There are still uncertainties concerning the molecular data provided in the
dossier C/F/96/05-10; rearrangements in the insert and truncations of parts of the insert might have occurred. Therefore,
the sequence of the insert should be further checked together with the number of inserts."

rated into GM crops. In short,           pected        "megatransposons"            sweet maize, an interview with
approval of Bt11 sweet corn is           involved in exchanging segments            Andre Goig, Director-General of
endangering livestock and human          between chromosomes, and that              Syngenta Seeds France and
beings.                                  further it is contaminated with            Europe, in the French newspaper
    Belgian scientists charac-           Bt176, a GM variety that has just          Les Echos quotes him as saying
terised the GM insert in Bt11 and        been withdrawn from cultivation in         that the product will not be com-
reported, that "rearrangements,          Spain.                                     mercialised in Europe, for now,
truncations and unexpected inser-           This is a damning indictment            due to strong consumer resist-
tions" have taken place (see Box         of the European Commission's               ance. However, Syngenta still
2), that further inserts may be          decision.                                  intends to press ahead with its
present, that the insert has land-          A few days after gaining                application to cultivate Bt11
ed in what turns out to be sus-          approval for food use of Bt11              maize in Europe.               SiS


       Prof. Joe Cummins discovers that
       dangerous GM pharmaceutical
       crops have been produced and
                                                        Pharm Crop
       marketed in the United States for
       at least two years, unbeknownst to
       the public, via a gaping loophole in
       the regulatory process.                          in US Market
     There has been a great deal of         proprietary interest in some of the     pharmaceutical proteins are usual-
     public opposition recently to the      biopharmaceuticals). The biophar-       ly designated confidential business
     testing of rice genetically modified   maceuticals have proceeded to the       information so that the nature of
     to produce the human proteins          market via the backdoor, thanks to      the products is hidden from the
     lysozyme and lactoferrin in the        a loophole in the regulation of field   public as well as the location of the
     United States. So far, plans to        tests.                                  test sites. APHIS does, however,
     commercialize this rice have been          According to the Pew Initiative     record the crop and the state in
     stalled (see SiS 22).                  on Food and Biotechnology, "cur-        which the modified crop is tested.
         But, Sigma-Aldrich, a US chem-     rent APHIS regulations do allow         Between       2003     and     2004,
     ical company, has been marketing       the commercialization of a GE           Prodigene had test plots in
     the biopharmaceutical products         [genetically engineered] crop with-     Nebraska,      Texas,    Iowa    and
     trypsin, avidin and beta-glu-          out a prior affirmative approval by     Missouri.
     curonidase (GUS) processed from        the agency and without public               Production of the commercial
     transgenic maize, for at least two     notice.     Developers     are    not   biopharmaceuticals was, for the
     years.    Meanwhile,      Prodigene    required to file a petition for non-    most part, achieved using maize,
     Corporation and Sigma-Aldrich are      regulated status before they pro-       even though it is a food crop of
     marketing aprotinin (AproliZean)       duce a plant commercially. It is        fundamental       importance     and
     from maize and from a transgenic       possible for developers to grow         should not have been used to pro-
     tobacco.                               plants at a commercial scale under      duce biopharmaceuticals, espe-
         Trypsin is a digestive enzyme      notification or field trial permits,    cially when the products are by no
     used extensively in research, to       even if the plants might pose some      means benign for humans and ani-
     treat disease and in food process-     identifiable    environmental      or   mals exposed to them.
     ing. The product TrypZean is mar-      human health risk".                         Trypsin is an enzyme produced
     keted as an animal free product,           Crop production facilities are      in the pancreas to digest proteins.
     and is produced jointly by Sigma-      permitted as "field tests", but loca-   It is extensively used in laboratory
     Aldrich and Prodigene (the compa-      tions of such facilities are desig-     applications, in wound treatment
     ny fined for contaminating food        nated "confidential business infor-     and to treat diabetes. It is also
     crops with biopharmaceuticals in       mation" and are not disclosed to        used in food processing and often
     the United States last year).          people living nearby, even though       put into infant formulations to aid
         The development of genetically     the genes and products of such          in digestion. The plant-produced
     modified (GM) food crops general-      sites can easily contaminate crops,     product is desirable because it is
     ly follows a certain pattern in the    ground water and surface water.         free of prions and animal viruses.
     United States: First, controlled       There seems to be no direct way to          According to the safety data
     field tests are undertaken for a       find out where the production facil-    sheets provided by trypsin manu-
     number of seasons. Then, the pro-      ities are, except via producers and     facturers, the product is capable of
     ponent applies for deregulation of     government regulators.                  causing allergy - it is a skin, eye
     the GM crop following reviews by           The US government seems             and respiratory irritant and may be
     the Animal Plant Health Service        committed to going ahead with a         a mutagen.
     (APHIS) of the Department of           procedure that bypasses public              Avidin is a protein found in
     Agriculture (USDA), the Food and       input and scrutiny, and which if,       birds' eggs. It functions to bind the
     Drug Administration (FDA) and by       when disclosed, will threaten the       vitamin biotin, which is required for
     the     Environmental     Protection   marketability of US food exports. In    many insect pests. The pests are
     Agency (EPA) if the GM crop            contrast, the Canadian Food             inactivated by the absence of the
     includes a plant incorporated bio-     Inspection Service maintains that       necessary vitamin. Transgenic
     pesticide. Upon completion of the      "plant products of test sites cannot    maize modified for avidin produc-
     process, the GM crop is deemed to      be marketed", even though numer-        tion is resistant to storage insect
     be deregulated and can be grown        ous plant biopharmaceutical prod-       pests.
     without monitoring.                    ucts have been tested.                      A case study done by the
         However, none of the biophar-          The regulation of plant-derived     Friends of the Earth turned up sub-
     maceutical-producing GM crops          biopharmaceuticals was reviewed         stantial evidence that the protein
     appears to have gone through the       by the FDA in 2000; and by the          avidin caused dangerous biotin
     usual regulatory process. Instead      Pew Initiative in 2004. Only the        deficiency in humans and animals,
     they appeared to have progressed       Pew report came to grips with the       leading to immune deficiency and
     from field-testing to marketing        practice of marketing virtually         growth retardation. Even marginal
     without the benefit of final regula-   untested products commercialized        biotin deficiency is linked to birth
     tory approval, with apparently full    without public input.                   defects in mice and in humans.
     cooperation of the FDA and USDA            As indicated earlier, test plot         Aprotinin is a protease inhibitor
     (the agriculture department has        permits for crops producing bio-        normally prepared from the pan-


creas     and    lung   of    cows.
Recombinant aprotinin produced
in plants is currently marketed.       Ban Plant-based Transgenic
Bill Freese of Friends of the Earth
reviewed the problem of allergy
and pancreatic disease associat-
ed with this product.                  Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho call for a global forum and a
    Aprotinin is also listed as a      ban on testing pharm crops, especially in Third World countries
reproductive hazard. There is
serious danger to those exposed        As one after another biotech giant           United States previously unbeknownst
to aprotinin after having had a        retreated from genetically modified (GM)     to the public, via a gaping loophole in
previous exposure. For example,        crops for food and feed in Europe (see       the US regulatory system (see "Pharm
a two-year old child suffered          "Biotech investment busy going               crop products in US market", this issue).
severe anaphylactic shock (a life-     nowhere", this issue), the industry is            A coalition of consumer and environ-
threatening allergic reaction char-    redoubling its efforts to develop plant-     mental organizations in the US issued a
acterized by swelling of body tis-     based transgenic pharmaceuticals in          call for a moratorium on genetically engi-
sues including the throat, difficul-   North America and elsewhere.                 neered pharm crops on 21 July. They
ty in breathing, and a sudden fall         In April 2004, California stalled a      want the California state agencies to
in blood pressure) after a test        major attempt to introduce GM rice pro-      conduct a rigorous investigation of the
dose of aprotinin. Fatal anaphy-       ducing human lactoferrin and lyzozyme        potential hazards posed by a biotech
laxis followed aprotinin exposure      into 10 counties, but efforts to use rice    company's plan to produce pharmaceu-
in a local application of fibrin       and other food crops to produce haz-         tical drugs from genetically engineered
glue. A similar application led to     ardous pharmaceuticals have continued        rice.
an immediate skin reaction follow-     unabated.                                         There is an urgent need for proper
ing re-exposure to fibrin sealant.         On 12 July, the European Union           international regulation on the testing
    Secret field testing of plant-     (EU) announced the award of 12 million       and production of plant-based pharma-
based     recombinant      aprotinin   euros to a network of laboratories in 11     ceuticals. The first step may be a wider
could result in severe or fatal ana-   European countries plus South Africa to      discussion of the drawbacks and dan-
phylaxis, either in a brief expo-      explore the possibilities of producing       gers of plant-based pharmaceuticals as
sure in the maize field of some-       pharmaceuticals grown in genetically         well as the "advantages" put forward by
one previously treated during sur-     modified plants. The consortium,             proponents in academe and corpora-
gery, or exposure of someone           "Pharma-Planta", will use plants to pro-     tions. The overlooked dangers of pharm
exposed to the maize field fol-        duce vaccines and treatments against         crops include pharmaceuticals that are
lowed by treatment during sur-         major diseases including AIDS, rabies,       toxic, that could produce immune sensi-
gery.                                  diabetes and TB. Human trials of the         tization followed by anaphylaxis, or oral
    The final commercial recombi-      drugs are to begin within the next five      tolerance leading to loss of immunity to
nant protein in maize is beta-glu-     years. The project is co-ordinated in the    pathogens; and general loss of confi-
curonidiase (GUS). The gene is         UK by Prof. Julian Ma of St. George's        dence in the food supply. These have
used in a wide range of experi-        Medical School London; and John Innes        been discussed in numerous reviews
mental situations but does not         Centre, UK's top GM crop research insti-     from the Institute of Science in Society.
appear to have therapeutic impor-      tute is also a member of the consortium.          The United Nations Food and
tance. It has been observed that           A day later, it was revealed that        Agriculture Organization (FAO) has run
formula milk for infants had a low     South Africa, the only member of the         a number of electronic conferences
content of GUS while mother's          consortium outside Europe, is to be the      around "Agricultural Biotechnology for
milk had elevated GUS.                 test site of the first pharm crops. South    Developing Countries - an Electronic
    Elevated GUS has been impli-       Africa's Council for Scientific and          Forum". These moderated discussions
cated in bilirubinaemia (jaundice)     Industrial Research is particularly inter-   have been quite productive. It is time to
of breast-fed infants and breast-      ested in potential vaccines against HIV.     have an electronic forum on "Plant-
fed infants of diabetic mothers.       Philip Dale, plant technologist at John      based Pharmaceuticals in Developing
GUS is used extensively as a           Innes Centre in Norwich and the pro-         Countries".
marker, believed to have little        ject's biosafety co-ordinator, reportedly         Do contact the administrator of the
effect on the phenotype of the test    said that the cost of 24-hour surveillance   FAO project Dr. John Ruane, at biotech-
organism. However, GUS was             of GM fields in the UK has made it  to call for such a forum
found to enhance the feeding           expensive to conduct similar trials in       as a matter of urgency. The FAO forums
activity in the peach aphid, sug-      Britain.                                     are described at the following URL:
gesting that the marker may not            The use of Third World countries for
be entirely without effect on the      testing and producing plant-based phar-      E/Y2729E00.HTM
organism.                              maceuticals unacceptable both in                  It is important that the testing and
    In conclusion, the secretive       Europe and the United States smacks of       production of plant-based pharmaceuti-
production of dangerous pharma-        colonialism. It also raises the spectre of   cals in the Third World are made public
ceuticals in food crops is a truly     unmonitored and unregulated human            before they are quietly and extensively
disturbing development. The sale       exposures to the dangerous products.         carried out without the informed consent
of such products without transpar-     This problem will be exacerbated as          of those directly affected.
ent public approval is adding          opposition to pharm crops is growing in           Meanwhile, it is imperative to impose
insult on injury, reinforcing the      the United States, and more Third World      a ban on field test releases and biophar-
public perception that the regula-     countries will be targeted for test sites    maceutical production by multinational
tory authorities are putting corpo-    and production facilities. ISIS has          corporations and foundations, especially
rate profit far above public safety.   played a key role in exposing the mar-       in Third World countries.               SiS
                                       keting of pharm crop products in the


     Collusion and Corruption in GM Policy
     Claire Robinson uncovers
     some uncomfortable
     truths about the machina-
     tions of the pro-GM estab-
     lishment in Britain
     In a recent debate on genetically mod-
     ified (GM) foods at the House of
     Commons, Dr. Ian Gibson, who chairs
     the all-party Parliamentary Science
     and Technology Committee, dis-
     missed concerns over GM food safety.
         As a scientist, he said, he could
     "decimate" the arguments of his
     opponents. Gibson, MP for Norwich
     North, said: "The epidemiology stud-
     ies carried out in every major centre,
     including in the universities in the
     States and elsewhere, into the effects
     of [GM] food ... have shown no effects
     whatever that correlate with the food -
     although I understand how difficult
     that is to prove."
         Unfortunately for Gibson, one of
                                                    Ian Gibson. Photo Mae-Wan Ho
     the few scientists to have done GM
     food safety tests, Dr. Arpad Pusztai,
     responded to his comments in an           USA such studies could not be car-          declare that everything is well in the
     open letter. Pusztai pointed out that     ried out! However, it is known from         USA and that none of these ill effects
     "there have been no epidemiology          official statistics that in less than ten   correlate with food, including GM
     studies, and certainly none published.    years food-related illnesses have           food.
     This is obvious from the fact that,       practically doubled in the USA since            Gibson went on to claim that "the
     apart from this generalisation, you       the introduction of GM food into the        evidence is piling up to say that the
     could not refer to a single such study.   American diet." He went on to add           [GM] food is, indeed safe." But when
     It is not surprising because in the       that while the reason for this is           Pusztai asked Gibson to elaborate on
     absence of labelling of GM food in the    unknown, it is blatant bluster to           this evidence, Gibson's reply was less

     Who is Derek Burke?
     Prof. Derek Burke was chair of the UK regulatory committee on GM foods (Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and
     Processes - ACNFP) for almost a decade (1988-97), during which time the first GM foods were approved for the UK. In the
     1980s he worked for a biotech company (Allelix Inc of Toronto) and until 1998 was a director of Genome Research Ltd.
         During much of his time at ACNFP, Burke was also Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1987-1995) and a
     member of the governing council of the John Innes Centre (JIC). Both institutions have benefited from investment in GM
     research, with the JIC subsequently enjoying multi-million pound investments from biotechnology corporations like
     Syngenta and DuPont. Burke participated in the UK government's "Technology Foresight" exercise to decide how science
     could best contribute to the UK's economic competitiveness. He was then charged with incorporating the Foresight pro-
     posal to build businesses from genetics into the corporate plan of the UK's public funding body, the Biotechnology and
     Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). As a result, BBSRC developed a strategy for integrating scientific oppor-
     tunity with the needs of industry, which left it heavily aligned with industry.
         Burke was a member of the Royal Society working group on GM foods whose report, "Genetically Modified Plants for
     Food Use", is said to have reassured ministers on the GM issue. He was also a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics
     group that produced the report "Genetically modified crops: the social and ethical issues". This pro-GM report emphasis-
     ing the "moral imperative" to push GM crops into the Third World was described by Guardian columnist George Monbiot
     as "perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written. The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent
     reputation will last for years." Burke was also a member of a small Nuffield working group who produced a follow-up report
     along the same lines in 2003.
         Burke has been revealed as having a hand in initiatives coordinated by the prominent industry-backed lobby group
     Sense About Science. In October 2003 he sent a letter together with 113 other scientists to Tony Blair complaining about
     the government's failure to intervene in the GM Public Debate in the UK. The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES)
     initially reported the letter as "written and coordinated by Professor Derek Burke". But a THES article of 7 November said,
     "The letter was coordinated by Sense About Science", while a THES Leader on the same topic did not even mention Burke,
     referring instead to, "The new organisation behind the letter, Sense About Science". Burke is on the Advisory Council of
     Sense About Science.


confident. He gave just three exam-       of new [GM food] crops and until it is     extend the same open invitation to
ples to support his case, including a     fully tested we should not be subject-     Ian Gibson.
Monsanto study. Pusztai commented,        ing people to risks, least of all young       Gibson also, at the behest of the
"I expect what constitutes a pile is a    children."                                 pro-GM lobby group Sense About
matter of definition. One can reverse          A clue to the source of Gibson's      Science, asked Tony Blair in the
this argument by saying that the evi-     apparent conversion lies in the intro-     House of Commons to respond to
dence is in fact piling up to show the    duction to his speech to the House of      Derek Burke's letter calling for more
health problems of GM foods reported      Commons: "The point has often been         government support for GM. It subse-
in the published science literature…      made here that genetically modified        quently emerged that this letter, too,
However, these you and other pro-         crops are being grown extensively in       was the work of the industry-funded
GM supporters conveniently ignore."       north and south America and in             group (see box).
    Indeed, Gibson has ignored other      China, although not in Europe. They
                                                                                     Why the Gibson-Burke collusion
recent evidence that further casts        have in a sense become part of the
doubt on the safety of GM foods.          normal diet in those places, if not in
These were raised at an Independent       Europe, where there is still con-          So Gibson plagiarised Burke and
Science Panel (ISP) briefing in           tention, despite the fact that 300 mil-    made false statements about the
Parliament organised by ISIS and          lion US citizens continue to eat GM        state of GM science. Does it matter?
Gibson's fellow MP, Alan Simpson.         soya without any ill effects in a very     Just why it does can be seen from
The evidence includes reported ill-       litigious     society,     and    many     what emerged following Gibson's
nesses in villagers living near Bt        Europeans, including people here,          exposure as "a parrot".
maize fields in the Philippines, recent   have eaten it while in the US, with no          Gibson's local newspaper picked
disclosure in Le Monde of kidney          adverse consequences."                     up the story and wrung an important
abnormalities and changes in blood             Compare Gibson's words to the         admission out of him about his
sugar and blood cell numbers in rats      following introduction to an article:      speech's similarity to the words of his
fed Bt maize resistant to corn root-      "Genetically modified (GM) crops are       former employer, Derek Burke: "When
worm, published scientific papers         now being grown extensively in North       pressed Dr. Gibson admitted: 'We are
documenting problems with Bt toxins       and South America and China,               working together to try and erode the
and transgenic instability in commer-     although not in Europe. Food pro-          anti-GM debate.'"
cial GM lines. Gibson had pointedly       duced from these crops has become               The whole point of the Select
declined the invitation to attend the     a part of the normal diet in North and     Committee        on     Science      and
briefing.                                 South America and in China, but not        Technology, which Gibson chairs, is
    The evidence should, at the very      in Europe, where contention contin-        to provide parliamentary scrutiny of
least, set alarm bells ringing and        ues despite the fact that millions of      science issues independent not only
prompt scientists and policy makers       US citizens eat GM soya without any        of government but of the vested inter-
to take appropriate action. Surely this   ill effects in a very litigious society,   ests that can impact on government
should mean not approving GM foods        and many Europeans have eaten GM           policies and public bodies. When the
unless they can be unequivocally          soya while in the US without any           UK Science Minister is a known
proven safe; and at the same time,        adverse consequences."                     enthusiast for GM crops and biotech
conducting serious, independent                Gibson's introduction is copied       entrepreneurship, independent scruti-
research into GM food safety. In          almost word for word from this article,    ny is vital.
ignoring all of the evidence, Gibson is   which, it turns out, was published in           The Select Committee has issued
adopting an extreme anti-precaution-      May as an EMBO Report - intended to        reports critical of Arpad Pusztai and,
ary approach, one that is totally unac-   provide short papers on molecular          more recently, supportive of the
ceptable and irresponsible, consider-     biology - by Nature Publishing. It was     BBSRC - the public body that Derek
ing that it is human health that is at    written by Derek Burke, a former Vice      Burke did so much to align with indus-
stake.                                    Chancellor of the University of East       try. Indeed, the only serious criticism
    In contrast, former environment       Anglia - where Gibson also worked.         the Gibson-led Committee made of
minister Michael Meacher had, at the      Burke is known among campaigners           this corporate-friendly body was that
briefing, demanded a new, full-scale      as the 'GM godfather' for his aggres-      it was not pro-active enough in pro-
expert GM enquiry in the UK, in light     sive protection of biotech interests       moting communication with the public
of the lack of good research into the     and his alleged tendency to influence      on issues like GM crops where public
long-term effects of GM foods on          so-called "independent" reports and        trust needed to be achieved.
human health and the rubbishing and       government policy.                              At a time when the biotech indus-
lack of follow-up on research that             Analysis by campaign group GM         try is retreating from the UK in despair
turns up evidence of potentially          WATCH of Gibson's speech revealed          at the GM-sceptical climate, Gibson
adverse impacts (see "Meacher calls       that whole sections were lifted from       appears to be stepping up his activi-
for enquiry into GM safety", SiS 22).     Burke's            article         (see    ties on its behalf. In collaboration with
                                        the industry-friendly lobby group The
Duplicity galore
                                          ?arcid=3822). It became clear from         Scientific Alliance, he arranged a
What forces could bring Gibson, a for-    this comparison that the politician        lobby assault on Parliament called
mer Dean of Biology at the University     who boasted he had the scientific          "GM Question Time" on 13 July. The
of East Anglia, who is proud of his       knowledge to "decimate" his adver-         panel was uncompromisingly pro-GM
independent-mindedness, to join the       saries is in reality nothing but a par-    (see a full rundown, with industry affil-
chorus of spin with which GM technol-     rot.                                       iations, at /
ogy is promoted? After all, this is the        For the record, ISIS has invited      archive2.asp?arcid =4004). Naturally,
same man who, just a few years ago,       the Royal Society to debate the sci-       the speakers' links with industry and
warned against the inclusion of GM        entific evidence in public more than       its associated lobby groups are undis-
ingredients in school meals: "There is    once; but it has never accepted the        closed in the press releases announc-
an awful lot unknown about hazards        invitation. The ISP is now happy to        ing the event.                         SiS


     Q u e s t i o n s o ve r S c h m e i s e r ' s R u l i n g
     Percy Schmeiser's battle with the GM giant Monsanto came to an end with the recent
     Supreme Court ruling, but what does it really mean? Lim Li Ching raises key questions
     Schmeiser vs Monsanto                            because his profits were "precisely what            plant, something that Monsanto cannot
                                                      they would have been had [he] planted and           actually patent. In so accepting this "expan-
     The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld
                                                      harvested ordinary canola". Nor did he gain         sive" conception of patents, the five judges
     the lower courts' rulings that Percy
                                                      any advantage from the herbicide resistant          seem to contradict their own 2002 decision,
     Schmeiser infringed Monsanto's patent on
                                                      nature of the crop, as he didn't spray              which saw the Supreme Court ruling that
     the transgene that confers resistance to
                                                      Roundup to reduce weeds.                            higher life forms cannot be patented in
     glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup.
                                                           Furthermore, the judges concluded that         Canada (see "Canada rejects patents on
     The judgement, by a narrow 5-4 margin in
                                                      he should not pay Monsanto's legal bills, a         higher life forms", SiS 19). Now, 18 months
     favour, was given on 21 May 2004. It
                                                      considerable sum accumulated over the               later, these judges ruled that higher life forms
     marked the end of an uphill legal battle for
                                                      years. The 'loser' of a case is usually obliged     containing a single patented gene are effec-
     the Saskatchewan farmer.
                                                      to absorb the legal costs of the 'winner'. In       tively the property of the owner of the single
          In 1998, Monsanto brought Schmeiser
                                                      this case, each party had to bear their own         patented gene. These two diametrically
     to court, alleging that he had planted and
                                                      costs.                                              opposed positions are difficult to reconcile.
     reproduced canola seeds and plants con-
                                                           These findings were a personal victory
     taining genes and cells claimed in its patent,                                                       Dissenting view
                                                      for Schmeiser and his wife, who had spent
     and had sold the harvest, without consent or
                                                      the last seven years and much of their own          In contrast, the four dissenting judges used
     licence (see "Schmeiser's battle for the
                                                      resources to fight their case.                      the Supreme Court decision that plants, as
     seed", SiS 19). Schmeiser, a seed develop-
                                                                                                          higher life forms, are not patentable, to
     er and seed saver, argued in his defence         'Expansive' patent
                                                                                                          argue that Monsanto's patent claims over
     that he had merely planted his fields with
                                                      Five of the nine judges said that Monsanto's        the transgene and cells, while valid, should
     seed saved from the previous year, and that
                                                      patent was valid irrespective of whether pro-       not "grant exclusive rights over the plant and
     his crops must have been contaminated by
                                                      tection for the gene and cells extends to           all of its offspring". In short, they argued that
     Roundup transgenes.
                                                      activities involving the plant. Although            Monsanto's valid claims should be solely for
          The judge ruled in Monsanto's favour in
                                                      Monsanto only claims protection for the             genetically modified (GM) genes and cells in
     March 2001, finding that Schmeiser had in
                                                      genes and cells, "a purposive construction          the laboratory prior to regeneration, and for
     1998, planted without licence, canola fields
                                                      of the patent claims recognizes that the            the attendant process for making the GM
     with seed saved from the 1997 crop, which
                                                      invention will be practised in plants regener-      plant.
     "he knew, or ought to have known", was
                                                      ated from the patented cells…"                           Moreover, the Canadian patent explicit-
     Roundup tolerant. The crop, when tested,
                                                            As the trial judge's findings that            ly limits protection to the transgene and the
     did contain the gene and cells claimed in
                                                      Schmeiser saved, planted, harvested and             cells containing it. By not including whole
     Monsanto's patent. But, "the source of the
                                                      sold the crop containing the patented gene          plants, seeds or crops, the dissenting judges
     Roundup resistant canola… is really not sig-
                                                      and cells were uncontested (although the            said that Monsanto had specifically dis-
     nificant for the resolution of… infringement".
                                                      original plants came onto his land without his      claimed plants in their patent, i.e. "what is not
     Thus, a farmer whose field contains seed or
                                                      intervention), the issue was whether this           claimed is considered disclaimed". As such,
     plants originating from seed spilled or blown
                                                      amounted to "use" of patented material.             one could not reasonably expect patent pro-
     into them, in swaths from a neighbour's land
                                                      According to the five judges who found              tection to be "extended to unpatentable
     or from germination by pollen carried by
                                                      Schmeiser guilty of infringing Monsanto's           plants and their offspring".
     insects, birds or wind, does not have the
                                                      patent, the acts of saving and planting the              In the opinion of the minority, the appro-
     right to use the patented gene, or the seed
                                                      seed, then harvesting and selling plants            priate test for determining "use" is whether
     or plant it is in, the judge said.
                                                      containing the patented cells and genes,            the patentee has been deprived of monop-
          Schmeiser was ordered to pay
                                                      constituted "utilization" of the patented mate-     oly over the use of the invention as con-
     Monsanto its court costs and the profit from
                                                      rial.                                               strued in the claims, rather than whether the
     his 1998 canola crop, amounting to approx-
                                                            Furthermore, by cultivating the canola        patentee was deprived of the commercial
     imately Canadian $175,000. Schmeiser
                                                      without license, Schmeiser was deemed to            benefits flowing from the invention. Applied
     appealed, but all three judges of the Federal
                                                      have "deprived [Monsanto] of the full enjoy-        here, the question is whether Schmeiser
     Court of Appeal ruled against him in May
                                                      ment of the monopoly".                              had used Monsanto's GM cells and genes
                                                            The five judges maintained that infringe-     as they existed in the laboratory prior to dif-
     Split decision                                   ment does not require use of the gene or cell       ferentiation and propagation, or the GM
                                                      in isolation. They also said that Schmeiser         process. Their answer was "no".
     This latest appeal, brought to the highest
                                                      had failed to rebut the presumption of use,              The dissenting judges said that the
     court in Canada, resulted in a split decision:
                                                      as he had actively cultivated Roundup               lower courts had erred not only in construing
     five to four. While the judges agreed that
                                                      Ready canola as part of his business oper-          the claims to extend to plants and seed, but
     higher life forms, including plants, cannot be
                                                      ations. They maintained that infringement           also in construing "use" to include the use of
     patented, the majority (by one) found
                                                      does not require the use of Roundup, to             the plant, which is explicitly disclaimed by
     Schmeiser guilty of patent infringement, but
                                                      account for the "stand-by" utility of the herbi-    Monsanto. Accordingly, they argued that
     the minority held that patented genes should
                                                      cide tolerant trait (i.e. whether or not a farmer   cultivation of plants containing the patented
     not grant exclusive rights over the plant in
                                                      sprays Roundup, cultivating Roundup                 gene and cell does not constitute infringe-
     which it occurs.
                                                      Ready canola means that the farmer may in           ment, neither do those plants have "stand-
         The judges unanimously set aside the
                                                      future spray and benefit).                          by" utility. To conclude otherwise would, in
     crop profits that Schmeiser had been earlier
                                                            The presence of one patented gene             effect, confer patent protection on the plant.
     ordered to pay Monsanto. This was
                                                      thus in effect confers control over the entire


Uncertain implications                              able to rebut the presumption of use arising        nies be held accountable for their technolo-
                                                    from possession by showing that they never          gy? The decision says nothing about these
The court, while confirming the validity of
                                                    intended to cultivate plants containing the         issues.
Monsanto's patent on the transgene and
                                                    patented material (e.g. quickly arranging for            Already the Saskatchewan Organic
modified cells, did not rule on the validity of
                                                    its removal). They could prove that the pres-       Directorate's Organic Agriculture Protection
patents on life forms, or whether it is right or
                                                    ence of patented genes was accidental, by           Fund has supported certified organic farmers
wise to genetically modify plants. Neither did
                                                    showing that its concentration is consistent        in taking legal action to impose responsibility
it answer the difficult questions about how
                                                    with that expected from unsolicited "blow-by"       and hold biotech companies liable, for their
GMOs can be controlled once released.
                                                    plants.                                             patented genes. They are seeking compen-
These issues will have to be addressed by
                                                          But, what concentrations are judged as        sation for damages caused by contamination
                                                    attributable to "blow-by" plants? The decision      of certified organic crops by Monsanto's and
      The 2002 Supreme Court decision that
                                                    is silent on this. Why does the burden of mon-      Bayer's herbicide tolerant canola, clean-up
higher life forms, such as plants, are
                                                    itoring and reporting fall on the farmer? The       costs, and an injunction to prevent commer-
unpatentable still stands. Monsanto did not
                                                    judgement forces everyone who does not              cialization of Roundup Ready wheat if
claim patent protection over a GM plant, only
                                                    sign a technology-use agreement to accept           Monsanto tries to reintroduce it. This case is
the modified genes and cells and the process
                                                    responsibility for identifying contaminants         pending.
for making them. However, the effect of this
                                                    and reporting them. Failure to do so incurs              It seems that the Schmeiser judgement
judgment is that Monsanto's rights on a
                                                    liability, as it did for Schmeiser. What about a    has raised more questions than it answers,
patented gene and cells extend to the
                                                    plant that has more than one inadvertent            and by not addressing the full implications of
(unpatentable) plant in which it is found, if the
                                                    patented gene? Such plants already exist.           the uncontainability of patented genes, the
alleged infringer is judged to have used the
                                                    Will farmers now have to report for every           judges have missed the point, and proliferat-
patent; in Schmeiser's case, by saving, plant-
                                                    crop, every company and every patented              ed more confusion.
ing, harvesting and selling in a commercial
context.                                                                                                Some positives
                                                          Furthermore, as the dissenting judges
      A Canadian farmer's right to save and
                                                    point out, it would be difficult for a farmer to    The fact that the court found that Monsanto
use seeds generally should not be inherently
                                                    rebut the presumption of use once they              was owed none of the value of Schmeiser's
jeopardised by the decision. Even plant vari-
                                                    become aware that a plant containing patent-        crop may, however, be an important counter
eties protected under the Plant Breeders'
                                                    ed genes was present - or likely to be pres-        to the finding of patent infringement. Growing
Rights Act have an exemption, in that a
                                                    ent - on their land and continued to practice       and re-growing contaminated seed may not
"farmers' privilege" applies, allowing farmers
                                                    traditional farming methods, such as saving         oblige a farmer to pay Monsanto anything,
to save and replant seeds from a protected
                                                    seed (as Schmeiser had done). They recom-           presuming that they are not benefiting from
variety, on their own farm. (However, it does
                                                    mended that the complexities and nuances            the herbicide tolerant gene by spraying
not allow farmers to exchange or sell seeds
                                                    of "innocent bystander protection" in the con-      Roundup. The company now has nothing to
of a protected variety.)
                                                    text of GM crops be urgently considered by          gain by taking such a farmer to court, so in
      But how the Plant Breeders' Rights Act
                                                    Parliament.                                         effect, Monsanto's 'expansive' patent may
interfaces with the Patent Act in the light of
                                                          If a single contamination event contami-      have lost some teeth against seed savers.
this decision is unclear. Canada has ratified
                                                    nates self-saved seed, does this make the                Monsanto had, in the past, threatened
the 1978 Act of the International Union for the
                                                    seed saver a permanent infringer? Prof. Ann         financial reprisals against farmers for alleged
Protection of New Varieties of Plants
                                                    Clark of Guelph University proposes that the        patent infringement. Knowing that contami-
(UPOV), which accepts that granting a plant
                                                    only way to resolve this liability may be to        nation is unavoidable, wary farmers might
breeders' right on a given variety implies that
                                                    destroy all the seed as one cannot distinguish      have been persuaded to buy Monsanto's
no patent can be granted to the same variety.
                                                    contaminated from uncontaminated seed               seed to avoid such charges. The present rul-
What happens when a patented gene inad-
                                                    without spraying Roundup (in the case of her-       ing that the company was owed nothing of
vertently lands in (or is present in) a variety
                                                    bicide tolerant genes), which itself kills uncon-   Schmeiser's crop might make Monsanto
protected under the Plant Breeders' Rights
                                                    taminated seed. But then, who should bear           think again before using such a strategy of
Act, which allows farmers to save seeds from
                                                    the costs?                                          intimidation to expand its market.
that protected variety?
                                                          What about contaminated certified                  Significantly, the case has exposed
      As canola pollen and seed are uncon-
                                                    seed? Companies already recognize that it is        Monsanto's unacceptable and unnecessary
tainable, Monsanto could accuse virtually
                                                    impossible to segregate GM from non-GM              behaviour toward Schmeiser and other farm-
any farmer of 'infringement', simply because
                                                    seed and contamination has been found in            ers. As Ann Clark points out, the other two
virtually every field is likely to inadvertently
                                                    certified seed stocks. Who is liable when GM        companies (Bayer and Pioneer) that market
have plants bearing its patented genes.
                                                    seed arrives in a bag of non-GM seed?               herbicide tolerant canola in Canada do not
However, contamination of plants by patent-
                                                          What about patented genes and marker          resort to the Patent Act to protect their intel-
ed genes, by itself, will not automatically be
                                                    genes that are not genetically modified?            lectual property nor prosecute farmers
patent infringement in Canada. For the issue
                                                    Marker-assisted breeding could identify             whose fields are inadvertently contaminated
in Schmeiser's case was not the adventitious
                                                    genes for various traits, for example, drought      with their patented genes. The dissenting
arrival of Monsanto's GM canola on his land.
                                                    or salt tolerance, which exist naturally in local   judges also noted that Monsanto in any case
(The majority emphasized they were not con-
                                                    varieties. And once identified, these markers       licenses the sale of seeds produced from the
sidering the innocent discovery by farmers of
                                                    could be patented. Does the Schmeiser               patented invention and imposes contractual
"blow-by" plants.) Rather, what were pivotal
                                                    judgement mean that local varieties, selected       obligations (e.g. prohibiting seed saving) on
were the acts of sowing and cultivation, so
                                                    through conventional plant breeding and             the licensee.
the conduct of farmers on discovering
                                                    including the work of generations of farmers             Schmeiser raised awareness globally on
unwanted GM crops in their fields will be cru-
                                                    and seed savers, would also come under the          many issues - GM crop contamination,
                                                    control of the patent holder of a gene, genet-      patents over living organisms, the need to
      Will saving and planting seed containing
                                                    ically modified or otherwise?                       protect farmers' rights, and corporate control
a patented gene without authorisation then
                                                          The flip side, Monsanto's responsibility      of our food and agriculture. He says, "This rul-
be illegal? Perhaps, yes, if a farmer saves
                                                    for its uncontainable technology, was not           ing is an injustice", and many agree with him.
and reuses seed they know to be contami-
                                                    considered. Is Monsanto liable for contami-         The struggle now moves from the courts to
nated by a patented gene, instead of inform-
                                                    nating the farmers' fields? Can the compa-          the political arena. The tide may yet turn. SiS
ing the company. Perhaps, no, if a farmer is

     DNA in GM Food & Feed
       The government's scientific advisory committees have repeatedly tried to
       reassure the public that there is nothing to fear from genetically modified (GM)
       DNA, but critics disagree.
       Dr. Mae-Wan Ho offers a quick guide for the perplexed
     Is GM DNA different from natural DNA?                 because each species comes onto the evo-            nation hotspots (such as the borders of the
                                                           lutionary stage in its own space and time,          inserts).
     "DNA is DNA is DNA," said a proponent of
                                                           and only those species that overlap in space             After years of denial, some European
     GM crops in a public debate in trying to con-
                                                           and time could ever exchange genes at all in        countries began to carry out 'event-specific'
     vince the audience that there is no difference
                                                           nature. With GM, however, there's no limit          molecular analyses of the GM inserts in com-
     between genetically modified (GM) DNA and
                                                           whatsoever: even DNA from organisms                 mercially approved GM varieties as required
     natural DNA, "DNA is taken up by cells
                                                           buried and extinct for hundreds of thousands        by the new European laws for deliberate
     because it is very nutritious!"
                                                           of years could be dug up, copied and recom-         release, novel foods and traceability and
          "GM can happen in nature," said anoth-
                                                           bined with DNA from organisms that exist            labelling. These analyses reveal that practi-
     er proponent. "Mother Nature got there first."
                                                           today.                                              cally all the GM inserts have fragmented and
          So, why worry about GM contamination?
                                                                                                               rearranged since characterised by the com-
     Why bother setting contamination thresholds           GM greatly increases the scope and
                                                                                                               pany. This makes all the GM varieties
     for food and feed? Why award patents for the          speed of horizontal gene transfer
                                                                                                               already commercialised illegal under the new
     GM DNA on grounds that it is an innovation?
                                                           Horizontal gene transfer happens when for-          regime, and also invalidates any safety
     Why don't biotech companies accept liabili-
                                                           eign genetic material jumps into genomes,           assessment that has been done on them
     ties if there's nothing to worry about?
                                                           creating new combinations (recombination)           (see "Transgenic lines proven unstable", SiS
          As for GM happening in nature, so does
                                                           of genes, or new genomes. Horizontal gene           20 and "Unstable transgenic lines illegal", SiS
     death, but that doesn't justify murder.
                                                           transfer and recombination go hand in hand.         21). As everyone knows, the properties of the
     Radioactive decay happens in nature too,
                                                           In nature, that's how, once in a while, new         GM variety, and hence its identity, depend
     but concentrated and speeded up, it
                                                           viruses and bacteria that cause disease epi-        absolutely on the precise form and position of
     becomes an atom bomb.
                                                           demics are generated, and how antibiotic            the GM insert(s). There is no sense in which
          GM DNA and natural DNA are indistin-
                                                           and drug resistance spreads to the disease          a GM variety is "substantially equivalent" to
     guishable according to the most mundane
                                                           agents, making infections much more difficult       non-GM varieties.
     chemistry, i.e., they have the same chemical
                                                           to treat.
     formula or atomic composition. Apart from                                                                 GM DNA in food & feed
                                                                Genetic modification is essentially hori-
     that, they are as different as night and day.
                                                           zontal gene transfer and recombination,             In view of the strict environmental safety
     Natural DNA is made in living organisms;
                                                           speeded up enormously, and totally unlimit-         assessment required for growing GM crops
     GM DNA is made in the laboratory. Natural
                                                           ed in the source of genetic material recom-         in Europe, biotech companies are bypassing
     DNA has the signature of the species to
                                                           bined to make the GM DNA that's inserted            that by applying to import GM produce for
     which it belongs; GM DNA contains bits
                                                           into the genomes of plants, animals and live-       food and processing only. Is GM food safe?
     copied from the DNA of a wide variety of
                                                           stock to create genetically modified organ-         There are both scientific and anecdotal evi-
     organisms, or simply synthesized in the lab-
                                                           isms (GMOs).                                        dence indicating it may not be: many species
     oratory. Natural DNA has billions of years of
                                                                By enhancing both the rate and scope of        of animals were adversely affected after
     evolution behind it; GM DNA contains genet-
                                                           horizontal gene transfer and recombination,         being fed different species of GM plants with
     ic material and combinations of genetic
                                                           GM has also increased the chance of gener-          a variety of GM inserts (see "GM food safe?"
     material that have never existed.
                                                           ating new disease-causing viruses and bac-          series, SiS 21), suggesting that the common
          Furthermore, GM DNA is designed -
                                                           teria. (It is like increasing the odds of getting   hazard may reside in the GM process itself,
     albeit crudely - to cross species barriers and
                                                           the right combination of numbers to win a lot-      or the GM DNA.
     to jump into genomes. Design features
                                                           tery by betting on many different combina-
     include changes in the genetic code and spe-                                                              How reliably can GM DNA be detected?
                                                           tions at the same time.) That's not all.
     cial ends that enhance recombination, i.e.,
                                                           Studies on the GM process have shown that           DNA can readily be isolated and quantified in
     breaking into genomes and rejoining. GM
                                                           the foreign gene inserts invariably damage          bulk. But the method routinely used for
     DNA often contains antibiotic resistance
                                                           the genome, scrambling and rearranging              detecting small or trace amounts of GM DNA
     marker genes needed in the process of mak-
                                                           DNA sequences, resulting in inappropriate           is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This
     ing GM organisms, but serve no useful func-
                                                           gene expression that can trigger cancer.            copies and amplifies a specific DNA
     tion in the GM organism.
                                                                The problem with the GM inserts is that        sequence based on short 'primers strings' of
          The GM process clearly isn't what nature
                                                           they could transfer again into other genomes        DNA that match the two ends of the
     does (see "Puncturing the GM myths", SiS
                                                           with all the attendant risks mentioned. There       sequence to be amplified, and can therefore
     22). It bypasses reproduction, short circuits
                                                           are reasons to believe that GM inserts are          bind to the ends to 'prime' the replication of
     and greatly accelerates evolution. Natural
                                                           more likely to undergo horizontal transfer and      the sequence through typically 30 or more
     evolution created new combinations of
                                                           recombination than natural DNA, chief               cycles, until it can be identified after staining
     genetic material at a predominantly slow and
                                                           among which is that the GM inserts (and the         with a fluorescent dye.
     steady pace over billions of years. There is a
                                                           GM varieties resulting from them) are struc-             There are many technical difficulties
     natural limit, not only to the rate but also to the
                                                           turally unstable, and often contain recombi-        associated with PCR amplification. Because
     scope of gene shuffling in evolution. That's


   of the small amount of the sample routinely        Agency, the limit of detection varied over a        gene for ampicillin resistance is also relevant
   used for analysis, it may not be representa-       thousand fold between samples, with some            here, because that's where resistance to
   tive of the sample, especially if the sample is    samples requiring more than 40 000 copies           cephalosporins has evolved.
   inhomogeneous, such as the intestinal con-         of the GM insert before a positive signal is             Another study found large DNA frag-
   tents of a large animal. The primers may fail      registered. Such studies are highly mislead-        ments in raw soymilk of about 2 000bp (base
   to hybridise to the correct sequence; the          ing if taken at face value, given all the other     pairs, unit of measurement for the length of
   PCR itself may fail because inhibitors are         limitations of the PCR technique.                   DNA), which degraded somewhat after boil-
   present. Usually, the sequence amplified is a           Despite that, however, we already have         ing, but large fragments were still present in
   small fraction of the length of the entire GM      answers to a number of key questions                tofu and highly processed soy protein.
   insert, and will therefore not detect any other    regarding the fate of DNA in food and feed.         Heating in water under acid conditions was
   GM fragment present. If the target sequence                                                            more effective in degrading DNA, but again,
                                                      1. Is DNA sufficiently broken down
   itself is fragmented or rearranged, the PCR                                                            the breakdown was incomplete (fragments
                                                      during food processing?
   will also fail. For all those reasons, PCR will                                                        larger than 900bp remaining).
   almost always underestimate the amount of          The answer is no, not for most commercial                It is generally assumed, incorrectly, that
   GM DNA present, and a negative finding             processing. DNA was found to survive intact         DNA fragments less than 200bp pose no
   cannot be taken as evidence that GM DNA            through grinding, milling or dry heating, and       risk, because they are well below the size of
   is absent.                                         incompletely degraded in silage. High tem-          genes. But that's a mistake, as these frag-
        A new review on monitoring GM food            peratures (above 95 deg. C) or steam under          ments may be promoters (signals needed by
   casts considerable doubt over the reliability of   pressure were required to degrade the DNA           genes to become expressed), and
   PCR methods. Mistakes can arise if the sam-        completely.                                         sequences of less than 10bp can be binding
   ple is not large enough to give a reliable              "The results imply that stringent condi-       sites for proteins that boost transcription. The
   measure, or if the batch of grain sampled is       tions are needed in the processing of GM            CaMV 35S promoter, for example, is known
   inhomogeneous, or the PCR reaction not             plant tissues for feedstuffs to eliminate the       to contain a recombination hotspot, and is
   sensitive enough, or the data presented to         possibility of transmission of transgenes," the     implicated in the instability of GM inserts.
   the regulatory authorities simply not good         researchers warned.
                                                                                                          2. Is DNA broken down sufficiently
   enough. Consequently, the level of contami-             They pointed out for example, that the
                                                                                                          rapidly in the gastrointestinal tract?
   nation is almost invariably underestimated.        gene aad, conferring resistance to the antibi-
        There is an urgent need to develop sen-       otics streptomycin and spectinomycin, is            Although free DNA breaks down rapidly in
   sitive, standardized and validated quantita-       present in GM cottonseed approved for               the mouth of sheep and humans, it was not
   tive PCR techniques to study the fate of GM        growth in the US and elsewhere (Monsanto's          sufficiently rapid to prevent gene-transfer to
   DNA in food and feed. Regulatory authorities       Bollgard (insect-protected) and Roundup             bacteria inhabiting the mouth. DNA in GM
   in Europe are already developing such tech-        Ready (herbicide tolerant) cotton).                 food and feed will survive far longer. The
   niques for determining GM contamination.           Streptomycin is mainly used as a second-line        researchers conclude: "DNA released from
   One such technique has brought the limit of        drug for tuberculosis. But it is in the treatment   feed material within the mouth has potential
   detection down to 10 copies of the transgene       of gonorrhoea that spectinomycin is most            to transform naturally competent oral bacte-
   (the GM insert or a specific fragment of it).      important. It is the drug of choice for treating    ria."
        In contrast, the limit of PCR detection in    strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae already                  Several studies have now documented
   investigations on the fate of GM DNA in food       resistant to penicillin and third generation        the survival of DNA in food throughout the
   and feed is extremely variable. In one study       cephalosporins, especially during pregnancy.        gastrointestinal tract in pigs and mice, in the
   commissioned by the UK Food Standards              The release of GM crops with the blaTEM             rumen of sheep and in the rumen and duo-

GM DNA in food and feed. Photo Mae-Wan Ho

     denum of cattle. The studies were variable in       seen with other microorganisms."                    since the mid 1990s. GM DNA and viral DNA
     quality, depending especially on the sensitiv-           Actually, GM DNA can already transfer to       fed to mice ended up in cells of several tis-
     ity of the PCR methodology used to amplify          bacteria during food processing and storage.        sues, and when fed to pregnant mice, the
     specific     sequences        for     detection.    A plasmid was able to transform Escherichia         DNA was able to cross the placenta, and
     Nevertheless they suggest that GM DNA               coli in all 12 foods tested under conditions        enter the cells of the foetus and the newborn.
     can transfer to bacteria within the rumen and       commonly found in processing and storage,           These results were confirmed in 2001, when
     in the small intestine. In neither sheep nor        with frequencies depending on the food and          soya DNA, too, was found taken into the tis-
     cattle was feed DNA detected in the faeces,         on temperature. Surprisingly, E. coli became        sue cells of a few animals.
     suggesting that DNA breakdown may be                transformed at temperatures below 5                       In general, abundant chloroplast
     complete by then.                                   degrees C, i.e. under conditions of storage of      sequences have been detected in the tis-
          The only feeding trial in human volun-         perishable foods. In soy drink this condition       sues of pig and chicken but not single gene
     teers was perhaps the most informative.             resulted in frequencies higher than those at        DNA nor GM DNA. But rare events are most
     After a single meal containing GM soya con-         37 degrees C.                                       likely to go undetected, on account of the lim-
     taining some 3x1012 copies of the soya                                                                  itations of the PCR technique.
                                                         4. Do cells lining the gastrointestinal
     genome, the complete 2 266 bp epsps trans-                                                                    Recently, "spontaneous transgenesis" -
                                                         tract take up DNA?
     gene was recovered from the colostomy bag                                                               the process of spontaneous uptake of foreign
     in six out of seven ileostomy subjects (who         The answer is yes. Food material can reach          DNA resulting in gene expression - has been
     had their lower bowel surgically removed).          lymphocytes (certain white blood cells) enter-      rediscovered by a team of researchers look-
     The levels were highly variable among indi-         ing the intestinal wall directly, through Peyer's   ing for new possibilities in gene therapy. They
     viduals as quantified by a small 180bp PCR          patches. And fragments of plant DNA were            documented the phenomenon in several
     product overlapping the end of the cauli-           indeed detected in cows' peripheral blood           human B lymphocyte cell lines as well as
     flower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter             lymphocytes.                                        peripheral blood B lymphocytes. The trans-
     and the beginning of the gene: ranging from               It is notable that in the human feeding       gene in a plasmid was readily taken up and
     1011 copies (3.7%) in one subject to only 105       trial, a human colon carcinoma cell line            was found in many cell compartments includ-
     copies in another. This is a strong indication      CaCo2 was directly transformed at a high fre-       ing the nucleus, where gene transcription
     that DNA in food is not sufficiently rapidly bro-   quency of 1 in 3 000 cells by an antibiotic         took place. The plasmid was not integrated
     ken down in transit through the gastrointesti-      resistance marker gene in a plasmid. This           into the genome, but the researchers say that
     nal tract, confirming the results of an earlier     shows how readily mammalian cells can               its eventual integration cannot be ruled out.
     experiment by the same research group.              take up foreign DNA, as we have pointed out
                                                                                                             8. Is GM DNA more likely to insert into
          No GM DNA was found in the faeces of           some years ago (see also below).
     any of 12 healthy volunteers tested, suggest-
                                                         5. Does DNA pass through the gastroin-
     ing that DNA has completely broken down,                                                                This is perhaps the most important question.
                                                         testinal tract into the bloodstream?
     or all detectable fragments have passed into                                                            There are reasons to believe GM DNA is
     the bloodstream (see later) by the time food        The answer is yes, as mentioned above,              more likely to insert into genomes after it is
     has passed through the body. This finding is        fragments of plant DNA were detected in             taken up into cells, chief among which, its
     in agreement with the results from ruminants.       cow's peripheral blood lymphocytes.                 sequence similarities (homologies) to a wide
          In general, the studies report that GM         However, attempts to amplify plant DNA frag-        variety of genomes, especially those of virus-
     DNA degrades to about the same extent and           ments from blood have failed, most likely on        es and bacteria. Such homologies are
     at about the same rate as natural plant DNA.        account of the presence of inhibitors of the        known to enhance horizontal gene transfer to
     However, no quantitative measurements               PCR amplification.                                  bacteria up to a billion fold.
     have been made, and GM DNA was often                                                                         More significantly, the integration of non-
     compared with the much more abundant                6. Does DNA pass into milk?
                                                                                                             homologous genetic material can occur at
     chloroplast DNA, which outnumbers the               The official answer from the UK Food                high frequencies when flanked by homolo-
     transgene by 10 000 to one.                         Standards Agency is no, based on a single           gous sequences. A recent report highlights
                                                         study it commissioned that was practically          the importance of this "homology-facilitated
     3. Is GM DNA taken up by bacteria and
                                                         worthless (see "Exposed: More shoddy sci-           illegitimate recombination", which increases
     other micro-organisms?
                                                         ence in GM maize approval", SiS 22). The            the integration of foreign (non-homologous)
     The answer is yes. The evidence was report-         researchers tested DNA from 333 microlitres         DNA at least 105 fold when it was flanked on
     ed in the human feeding trial mentioned. The        of milk - about 3 drops - using a PCR detec-        one side by a piece of DNA homologous to
     transgene was not detected in the contents          tion method that required the equivalent of         the recipient genome.
     of the colostomy bag from any subject before        4059 copies of the GM soya genome and                    No experiment has yet been done to
     the GM meal. But after culturing the bacteria,      905 copies of the maize genome to give a            assess whether GM DNA is more likely to
     low levels were detected in three subjects out      positive signal.                                    transfer horizontally than natural DNA.
     of seven: calculated to be between 1 and 3              Recently, Greenpeace in Germany pub-            However, in the human feeding trial, where
     copies of the transgene per million bacteria.       lished the results of a study from the              three ileostomy volunteers tested positive for
          According to the researchers, the three        Research Centre for Milk and Foodstuffs in          the soya transgene in the bacteria cultured
     subjects already had the transgene trans-           Weihenstephan, Bavaria, which was report-           from their colostomy bag, the soya lectin
     ferred from GM soya before the feeding trial,       edly "kept under lock and key for three             gene Le was not detected in the bacterial cul-
     probably by having eaten GM soya products           years". It contained the results of a farmer's      tures from any of the subjects.
     unknowingly. No further transfer of GM DNA          milk samples that tested positive for GM                 The researchers found it necessary to
     was detected from the single meal taken in          DNA from Roundup Ready soya and Bt176               remark, "Although the plant lectin gene was
     the trial.                                          maize. The researchers pointed out that the         not detected in the microbial population…it is
          The researchers were unable to isolate         GM DNA fragments might have found their             premature to conclude that the epsps trans-
     the specific strain(s) of bacteria that had         way into milk via GM feed given to the ani-         gene is more likely than endogenous plant
     taken up the transgene, which was not sur-          mals that produced the milk, or else via dust       genes to transfer into the microbial popula-
     prising, as "molecular evidence indicates that      from GM plants contaminating the milk.              tion."
     90% of microorganisms in the intestinal                                                                      But until this possibility has been ade-
     microflora remain uncultured. …they can             7. Is DNA taken up by tissue cells?                 quately addressed, it cannot be ruled out. SiS
     only grow in mixed culture, a phenomenon            The answer is yes, and this has been known

GM Trees Alert                                                                                                                                    37

No to GM Trees
Sam Burcher reports on a global movement to ban GM trees
Some 400 GM birch trees (Betula pendu-          the substance of the wood of trees, pro-        Environmental Groups, The Peoples
la) in a single GM field study situated in      viding strength and resistance to pests         Biosafety Association and the Union of
Punkaharju, Finland have been either            and disease. GM trees may contain up to         Ecoforestry. So far they have attracted
ripped up or cut down by unknown parties        50% less lignin than their conventional         support from many concerned groups: -
at an estimated cost of 1.21 million euros      counterparts, which reduces the ability of      The World Rainforest Movement, Friends
in June 2004.                                   the plant to reach optimum levels of fit-       of the Earth International, ISIS, The
     After the attack, the researchers at       ness in the environment. This reduced           Forest Action Network and Scottish
the Finnish Forest Research claimed that        capacity leads to decreased biomass and         Green Party.
their purpose was to examine the envi-          degraded biodiversity.                               At a side event in Geneva under the
ronmental risks of horizontal gene trans-            It is thought that reducing lignin in      banner "The People's Forest Forum"
fer. When they originally applied for per-      trees will make wood easier and cheaper         Anne Petermann, co-director of the Stop
mission for the field trial in 2000, howev-     to pulp and paper, especially soft woods,       GE Trees Campaign in the US presented
er, it was to study the carbon-nitrogen         as well as creating faster growing trees.       evidence about the hazards of GM trees
processes of GM trees.                          But a forest of slow decaying trees is a        and the risks of contamination across
     Protests against GM trees greeted          major carbon sink whereas fast decaying         state borders from even single field trials.
the 4th UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) in           forests will result in carbon dioxide being     She said: "Once the pollen from those
Geneva in May 2004 because of the               returned to the atmosphere too rapidly          trees escape there is no going back."
"Decision" to draft plans for GM tree proj-     (see "Low lignin GM trees and forage                 An open letter to Governments was
ects made at the UN Framework                   crops", ISIS report 5 June 2004                 circulated on the last day of the UNFF by
Convention on Climate Change (COP9)   ;              the Finnish Environmental Groups which
in Milan in December 2003.                      Science in Society 23).                         stated that there is no control system for
     GM trees have been included in the              The US Department of Agriculture           GM pollen flowing with the wind or seeds
Kyoto Protocol as a means of generating         has issued more that 300 permits for            transported by birds, and that this "breaks
carbon credits under the Clean                  open GM tree trials since 2000 and offi-        with the Cartagena Protocol on
Development Mechanism. C a r b o n              cials are expected to grant permission to       Biosafety", the first international law to
credits sold in this way are not subject to     grow GM trees commercially by 2005.             control the transportation of LMOs (Living
the traceability legislation that applies to    According to the World Wildlife Fund            Modified Organisms) across national bor-
all other GM imports into Europe and            (WWF) GM tree trials are also taking            ders.
therefore countries hosting GM trees will       place in China and Chile. In New Zealand             Mikko Vartiainen, a lawyer specialis-
have no way of knowing whether their            GM tree trials are underway by Aventis          ing in international law on natural
credits are GM free or not.                     and DuPont who have engineered pine             resources confirmed that the burden of
     The hopes pinned on GM trees               trees (Pinus radiata) and Norwegian             proof of safety should lie with the propo-
include slowing the progress of climate         Spruce (Picea abies) to be resistant to         nents of GM trees and that "We should
change and ameliorating the effects of          their herbicides "Buster" and "Escort". A       follow a very tight precautionary principle
mercury vapours in the atmosphere               second trial involves speeding up the           with such risks." The campaign delega-
caused by fossil fuels and medical waste        growth of these GM tree species.                tion at Geneva has facilitated dialogue
burning.                                             The introduction of "novel bio-engi-       between Government agents and NGOs
     The plan is to "phyto-remediate" plots     neered" trees into stocks of indigenous         and hopes to stimulate discussions
of land by planting GM trees that take up       trees that "out compete" the native popu-       between GM proponents and concerned
ionic mercury or organic mercury and            lations will have a disrupting effect on        scientists. But they argue that the
convert it to less toxic elemental mercury,     ecosystems and poses similar risks as           "Decision" made at COP9 regarding GM
which can then be expelled into the             GM crops, on an increased scale.                trees should have been preceded by
atmosphere where it is supposed to              Problems with GM trees in the environ-          such dialogue.
become less harmful. But what this will         ment are amplified because trees engi-               American Lands Alliance, WWF and
achieve is relocate soil mercury from con-      neered to contain pesticides have               Greenpeace have all called for a morato-
taminated soil sites in the south and           increased ability to harm non-target            rium on the release of GM trees. They
redistribute the mercury to the north.          insects and birds as well as distributing       suggest positive moves be made to
Also, the mercury expelled to the atmos-        pollen extensively. Tests have shown that       "reduce the need" for fast growing trees
phere will go back to the land through pre-     pollen from pine trees can travel up to 600     that increase global demands for virgin
cipitation, and convert to its original toxic   km. Furthermore, trees remain in the            wood and paper products along with fur-
state in the soil. This poses threats to ani-   environment for a lot longer than season-       ther research and more regulations in
mal and human health as well as prob-           al crops like maize.                            place before GM trees are manufactured
lems of cross-contamination of native                There is very little evidence as to what   in the forests.
plants. Prof. Joe Cummins, among oth-           GM trees may do to the soil, but there is            Hannu Hyvonen, the co-ordinator of
ers, has warned that populating expan-          every possibility that they may absorb          the Union of Ecoforestry and an organic
sive areas with mercury transgenic trees        more nutrients than traditional trees,          farmer said that planting GM trees was
could cause a global catastrophe (see           which further threatens biodiversity. And it    not the answer to Climate Change pre-
"GM trees alert", Science in Society 16,        is not yet know whether GM trees can            vention, "One cannot put out the fire with
2002       and    withstand strong winds, a condition of cli-     gasoline," he said.
GMtrees.php)                                    mate change.
     Trees are also genetically modified to            A campaign to ban GM trees was           Sign onto the petition: Global Ban on GM trees
reduce the amount of fibrous lignin that is     launched in January 2004 by Finnish             at        SiS

Prof. Joe Cummins explains why
genetically modifying trees and for-
age crops to reduce their lignin
content could make them more
susceptible to pests. Other issues
related to the GM construct, such
as genetic instability, the persist-
ence of antibiotic resistance mark-
er genes in the ecosystem and
biosafety in general, have also not
been sufficiently considered.

Low Lignin GM Trees
and Forage Crops
   The plant cell is protected by a cell     lignin, which are more readily               However, Arabidopsis plants
   wall that has a structure analogous       attacked by predators such as            modified in the metabolic pathway
   to reinforced concrete represented        insects, fungi and bacteria. Indeed,     leading to lignin formation pro-
   by lignin. Lignin determines the          increasing lignin content has been       duced abnormal lignin that was
   rigidity, strength and resistance of a    promoted as a defence against            associated with severe fungal
   plant structure.                          pests.                                   attacks. Tobacco plants modified to
       When wood fibre is processed to           The importance of lignin in dis-     limit production of lignin subunits
   make paper or composite products,         ease resistance has been known           were susceptible to virulent fungal
   lignin must be removed using pol-         for well over twenty years. For          pathogens, but it was suggested
   luting chemicals and a great deal of      example, lignification was crucial in    that the precursors of lignin and not
   energy. Also, the digestibility of ani-   reducing predation by spruce bark        lignin    protected    plants   from
   mal feed is influenced by lignin          beetles, and lignin in the roots of      pathogens. Genetic modifications
   content - the greater the lignin con-     the date palm played a key role in       for reduced lignin level neverthe-
   tent, the poorer the food source.         defence      against   the     fungus    less resulted in reduced fitness
   Genetic engineering is now being          Fusarium. It has been suggested          including increased winter mortality
   used to fundamentally modify the          that a guaiacyl (a type of lignin sub-   and decreased biomass.
   lignin of forest trees and animal         unit) rich lignin was produced as            It seems clear that plant genetic
   feed.                                     "defence" lignin when Eucalyptus is      modification leading to reduced
       Reducing lignin content of fibre      wounded by a predator. Lignin con-       lignin, as proposed for use in pulp
   and forage leads to greatly reduced       tent of larch species determined the     and paper or in livestock produc-
   costs of preparing fibre and              level of heartwood brown-rot decay.      tion, must be fully evaluated for fit-
   improved digestibility of fodder and      Genetic modification of plants to        ness in the environment.
   forage. However, the advantages of        enhance lignin production is cov-            The monomeric structure of
   reduced lignin are offset by the dis-     ered in United States Patent             lignin influences the properties of
   advantage of plants with reduced          5,728,570.                               the plant material. There are two


                                                                main types of lignin, guaiacyl lignin    developers of the poplar and abnor-         Furthermore, smooth brome
                                                                and guaiacyl-syringyl. Guaiacyl          mal pest damage was not found.          grass clones selected using con-
                                                                lignin is characteristic of soft-        However, the pest damage studies        ventional breeding showed that
                                                                woods, which are resistant to            were cursory and not compared           reduced lignin was associated with
                                                                chemical and biological degrada-         with experimental controls, but with    severe rust fungus disease. Alfalfa
                                                                tion. Guaiacyl-syringyl lignin is typ-   norms reported by government            selected for forage quality (includ-
                                                                ical of hardwoods such as poplar,        agencies.                               ing reduced lignin) had reduced
                                                                which are more readily degraded.             The antibiotic resistance mark-     vigour but was not expected to
                                                                    Modifying plants with a gene         ers from the leaves of transgenic       affect levels of disease resistance.
                                                                enhancing the proportion of guaia-       aspen have been studied for their       Sudan grass selected for brown-
                                                                cyl-syringyl lignin therefore pro-       persistence in the soil. The field      midrib trait (an indicator of reduced
                                                                vides a lignin more readily degrad-      study showed that the marker DNA        lignin) experienced severe yield
                                                                ed by chemicals or enzymes.              of the aspen leaves persisted for as    reductions and environmental sen-
                                                                Reducing lignin content also leads       much as four months in the soil.        sitivity, particularly during cooler
                                                                to plants more readily digested with     The persistence of antibiotic resist-   growing seasons.
                                                                enzymes or chemicals.                    ance genes in the forest ecosystem          Lignin modification of trees and
                                                                    Lignin reduction has been            is likely to impact not only soil       forage crops has been a focus of
                                                                achieved using anti-sense genes to       microbes, but human and animal          research in genetic engineering.
                                                                limit production of key enzymes on       inhabitants of the forest as well.      But lignin provides both fundamen-
                                                                the lignin biosynthesis pathway.             Lignin content increases as         tal structural features and resist-
                                                                Multiple genetic transformations of      crops age or are stressed. Animal       ance to animal and microbial pests.
                                                                forest trees have been used to           feed rich in lignin is poorly           Lignin enhancement that leads to
                                                                enhance production of guaiacyl-          digestible and considered to be of      greater forage or tree pulp quality
                                                                syringyl lignin and to limit total       low quality. Grass, alfalfa or maize    also leads to susceptibility to dis-
                                                                lignin       production.         Four    with reduced lignin or lignin with      ease, while lignin enhancement
Woody trees decompose slowly and are an important carbon sink

                                                                Agrobacterium T-DNA vectors,             increased guaiacyl-syringyl propor-     that leads to greater disease resist-
                                                                each with a cauliflower mosaic           tion (readily digested) may provide     ance makes forage less digestible
                                                                virus promoter, two of which includ-     a large economic benefit in animal      and tree pulp more expensive to
                                                                ed anti-sense to limit undesirable       production, provided that the           process.
                                                                enzymes and two with sense con-          genetic modifications do not result         The economic consequences of
                                                                structions to enhance desirable          in susceptibility to predatory          effective lignin modification could
                                                                enzymes, were used to simultane-         insects, fungi and bacteria and do      be tremendous, but producing
                                                                ously alter the genome of aspen          not compromise food or feed safety      forests and rangelands highly sus-
                                                                (Populus tremuloides). This result-      (for example, fungus food contami-      ceptible to insects, fungi and bacte-
                                                                ed in reduced lignin content of gua-     nation may lead to pollution of food    ria would lead to economic and
                                                                iacyl lignin and increased guiaicyl-     with toxins, causing liver damage       environmental disaster. The low
                                                                syringyl proportion in the remaining     and cancer).                            lignin trait is comparable to a loss
                                                                lignin.                                      The main technique used to pro-     in immune functions comparable to
                                                                    Even though a potentially desir-     duce lignin modifications is anti-      AIDS in mammals. The chemical
                                                                able end product is created, the         sense genes designed to reduce          corporations might well welcome a
                                                                multiple transformations (gene           one or another enzyme level on the      huge increase in pesticides to fight
                                                                stacking) are liable to create chro-     pathway to lignin production. Maize     disease in forests and pastures.
                                                                mosome instability leading to            with improved forage quality was        Nevertheless, the best strategy is
                                                                translocations, duplications and         produced by down-regulating the         to proceed prudently and honestly
                                                                deletions through homologous             enzyme O-methyl transferase to          evaluate the consequences of far
                                                                recombination during germ cell for-      limit lignin production. Tall fescue    reaching       genetic   engineering
                                                                mation and in somatic         tissues    pasture grass with improved forage      experiments.
                                                                (mitotic             recombination).     digestibility was produced using an
                                                                Independent studies of transgene         anti-sense gene for the lignin pre-     Note added by editor: Another
                                                                integration using T-DNA vectors in       cursor enzyme cinnamyl alcohol          consideration is ecological. Wood,
                                                                aspen showed extensive DNA               dehydrogenase. Alfalfa down-regu-       with its naturally high lignin con-
                                                                sequence scrambling at the inser-        lated for lignin enzyme caffeoyl        tent, generally takes a long time to
                                                                tion points. DNA sequence scram-         coenzyme A 3-O-methyl trans-            decay and recycle in the ecosys-
                                                                bling occurring in the cells during      ferase     produced     plants   with   tem, probably for good reasons. It
                                                                growth is a significant complication     increased guaiacyl-syringyl lignin      is a long-term energy store comple-
                                                                in long-lived trees.                     proportions leading to improved         menting the shorter-term energy
                                                                    Lignin genetic engineering is        rumen digestibility.                    storage depots, which enables the
                                                                promoted as a promising strategy             There is little question that the   ecosystem to function most effi-
                                                                to improve fibre production but the      forage and fodder with reduced          ciently and effectively (see "Why
                                                                drawbacks of anti-sense manipula-        lignin and lignin with improved         are organisms so complex? A les-
                                                                tion and transgene stability are not     composition are more desirable          son in sustainability", SiS 21).
                                                                seriously dealt with. Trees geneti-      food sources for grazing animals.       Slow-decaying wood is also a major
                                                                cally modified to produce low lignin     However, the downside of lignin         carbon sink. Reducing its lignin
                                                                are called "super" trees with little     manipulation - greater disease sus-     content to enhance degradation will
                                                                consideration of pest resistance         ceptibility - was not thoroughly con-   end up returning carbon dioxide too
                                                                and genetic stability. Field and         sidered by developers of crops with     rapidly to the atmosphere, thereby
                                                                pulping performance of transgenic        modified lignin. The developers         exacerbating climate change (see
                                                                poplars with altered lignin was          seem to ignore safety issues while      "Why Gaia needs rainforests" SiS
                                                                evaluated to be superior by the          they promote the modified crops.        20).                              SiS

40   Technology Watch

                                                                                                           human disease along with the benefits in
     Bio-remediation Without Caution                                                                       cleaning up chemical pollution and fighting
                                                                                                           some plant diseases. Unfortunately, there
     A bacterium living inside plants could be improved for cleaning up envi-                              has been no clear and simple way to differ-
     ronmental pollutants without genetic modification. Prof. Joe Cummins                                  entiate between the 'evil' and the beneficial
     and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reveal that this seemingly beneficial development                                  strains of B. cepacia, and no way of prevent-
     is beset with danger, as the bacterium concerned is a known pathogen.                                 ing the two from exchanging genes.
     Water soluble and highly volatile organic           the engineered bacterium reduced toluene               B. cepacia has an unusual genetic
     environmental pollutants, such as benzene,          evaporation into the atmosphere to about          makeup; it has a relatively large amount of
     toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene com-               50% of the control. This looks very promising,    DNA (about twice that of E. coli) and unlike
     pounds, chlorinated solvents and nitro-             and as the researchers point out, the experi-     most bacteria, which usually have a single
     toluene ammunition wastes, are being                ment could have been done without any             chromosome, B. cepacia strains have as
     cleaned up using plants in combination with         genetic modification. The plasmid containing      many as five large replicons (chromosomes)
     microorganisms that naturally live inside the       all the toluene degrading enzymes belonged        and the different chromosomes are rich in
     plants (endophytes).                                to a natural soil bacterium, and an endophyte     insertion sequences that allow for extensive
          Endophyte bacteria live within the tissue      host without the marker genes could easily        gene exchange between different strains,
     of the plant without harming it. They are           have been used to receive the plasmid by          and insertion of disease related genes from
     found in most plant species, and many can           conjugation.                                      other bacterial species. B. cepacia is a promi-
     colonize the vascular system. The highest                 A non-GM bacterial endophytic strain        nent cause of death among cystic fibrosis
     densities of bacteria are usually found in the      created in this way may well be the very first    patients, the bacterium frequently reaches
     roots, less in the stem, and least in the           really useful and beneficial product from the     epidemic proportions among such patients
     leaves. The plants take up the pollutants           industry. So what's wrong?                        and an epidemic related strain was identified
     through their roots, and the bacteria break               The research paper did not deal with        in soil samples in the USA. It is believed to be
     these down within the roots or in other parts       safety. What metabolites of toluene are gen-      a complex species made up of seven distinct
     of the plant.                                       erated in the plant, and will they be toxic?      genomic subspecies all of which are capable
          This natural process is inefficient            How will the plants be disposed of? There         of infecting humans; and all of the disease-
     because the compounds tend to get trans-            are three lupine species cultivated for fodder    related subspecies were isolated from maize
     ported up the plant faster than the bacteria        - blue, white and yellow - and there are also     rhizosphere (root zone). The disease is diffi-
     can break them down. Once transported up,           a number of wild species. The wild species        cult to contain because disease bacteria may
     the plants metabolize the contaminants, and         contain alkaloid chemicals that are very toxic    be replenished continually from the soil and
     some of the metabolites as well as the con-         to cattle and sheep while the cultivated          plant material.
     taminant can be toxic. For example,                 species are edible for farm animals, provided          Hospital acquired B. cepacia epidemics
     trichloroethane is metabolized into                 care is taken to treat the seeds in such a way    appeared among patients with diabetes,
     trichloroacetic acid, both of which are toxic.      as to remove the toxins. Lupines thrive on        malignancy, heart failure and chronic obstruc-
     Worse still, plants tend to release volatile pol-   poor soil and provide ground cover and            tive pulmonary disease. One such B. cepacia
     lutants and their metabolites into the atmos-       green manure as well as fodder for animals.       outbreak appeared in an intensive pediatric
     phere via evaporation from the leaves, which              More importantly, the research report       care unit, and B. cepacia infection was com-
     turns bio-remediation into bio-pollution.           failed to mention that B. cepacia has the abil-   mon among renal transplant patients.
          A recent article in Nature Biotechnology       ity to cause fatal disease in humans.             Different B. cepacia clones showed different
     reports how this clean up process could be                The groundwater of Wichita, Kansas          infectivity among cystic fibrosis patients and
     greatly improved by engineering an endo-            was found to be polluted with the chemical        patients with different complaints. Antibiotic
     phyte bacterium Burkholderia cepacia, a nat-        solvents dichloroethylene and trichloroethyl-     resistant B. cepacia infection was the most
     ural resident of the yellow lupine.                 ene, and was cleaned up using a natural           common cause of death among lung trans-
     Researchers from Linburgs University in             strain of B. cepacia. But no special public       plants for cystic fibrosis patients. B. cepacia
     Diepenbeek, Belgium and Brookhaven                  health measures or follow up seemed to            causes feared infections because the strains
     National Laboratory in New York, USA, cre-          have been implemented after the clean up.         tend to be antibiotic resistant. Bacteria isolat-
     ated a strain of B. cepacia that has enhanced             The United States Environmental             ed from different infections were found to be
     ability to degrade toluene within the plant,        Protection Agency (EPA) has considered the        resistant to all seven tested antibiotics but
     enabling the plant to tolerate high levels of       problems associated with approval of B.           were sensitive to treatment with honey.
     toluene, and also substantially reduced the         cepacia as a plant pesticide, for, not only is         Do lupines pose a threat to people with
     amount of toluene released into the atmos-          the bacterium used to fight plant pests but is    compromised immune systems or cystic
     phere.                                              itself a pest as it is a disease agent in         fibrosis? Yellow lupines, and perhaps the
          The engineered strain of the bacterium         humans. EPA, through a Scientific Advisory        other commercial species as well, contain
     carries marker genes for kanamycin resist-          Panel (SAP), reviewed B. cepacia as a plant       potentially disease-causing B. cepacia endo-
     ance and nickel resistance and is derived           pesticide and acknowledged that it is linked to   phytes, so their presence in hospitals and
     from the natural endophyte. By adding to this       human disease. The SAP risk assessment            homes of compromised people is unwise.
     endophyte strain a toluene-degrading plas-          peculiarly noted, "Bc [B. cepacia] has been       The bacteria may be transferred by direct
     mid from another strain of B. cepacia that nor-     referred to as an opportunistic human             contact with broken plant stems or petals
     mally lives in the soil through natural conju-      pathogen. However, as might be expected,          along with the dust and debris associated
     gation (bacterial reproduction) between the         the strains registered or proposed for use as     with the plant; a gift of lupines could be fatal.
     strains, a new endophyte strain is created          biopesticides were isolated from the soil or           There is clearly a large literature on the
     that can live in the plant and degrade toluene      plant roots, rather than from human patients".    threat of B. cepacia infection and its death toll
     taken up by the plant.                                    In reality, the SAP comment offered cold    among compromised patients. The existing
          Plants inoculated with the engineered          comfort because the B. cepacia strains iso-       evidence indicates that the bacterial infec-
     bacterium grew much better than plants that         lated from patients proved essentially undis-     tions may pass from the ecosystem to the
     were not inoculated; or else inoculated either      tinguishable from strains isolated from the       hospital ward and there seems no way of
     with the control strain lacking the plasmid, or     roots of crops such as corn. The American         ensuring that the B. cepacia strains used in
     with the strain that normally lives in the soil.    Phytopathological Society produced a useful       biotechnology are unable to infect compro-
     More impressively, the plants inoculated with       review of the risks from plant disease or         mised humans.                                 SiS

ISP News                                                                                                                              41

GM Crops Not the Answer
                                                  Lim Li Ching reports
The Independent Science Panel (ISP) ( has criticised the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the
United Nations for its qualified backing of genetically modified (GM) crops in the global fight against hunger.
    The FAO recently released its annual publication, The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-2004. This year, the theme
was on "Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the needs of the poor?" The report touches on the full range of agricultural
biotechnology tools and applications, but focuses largely on transgenic or GM crops and their impact on poor people in
poor countries.
    While acknowledging that biotechnology is not a panacea, the FAO maintains that it holds great promise as a new sci-
entific tool for generating applied agricultural technologies. The report claims that biotechnology is capable of benefiting
small, resource-poor farmers, yet also cautions, "Given that technologies that are on the shelf today (generated by con-
ventional research methods) have not yet reached the poorest farmers' fields, there is no guarantee that the new biotech-
nologies will fare any better."
    Thus, the FAO seems to ignore the implicit message of its own study: GM crops have thus far delivered negligible ben-
efits to the world's poor. And there is little indication that these trends will change in favour of the poor. As the report points
out, crops and agronomic traits of importance to developing countries and marginal production areas have been ignored.
    Instead, the focus has been on four crops (soybean, maize, cotton, canola) more suited for industrial agriculture and
unlikely to meet the food security needs of poor farmers, and two traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance) of lim-
ited relevance; herbicide resistance, in particular, is less relevant for developing countries where farm labour is abundant.
    These four crops and two traits have, however, been the mainstay of the GM industry, controlled largely by transna-
tional corporations that have reaped most of the benefits. This private sector-led investment in agricultural research and
development depends on strong protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs) over GM crops.
    The FAO is disingenuous when it calls on countries to develop stronger IPR regimes to promote GM crop research,
even as the independent Commission on Intellectual Property Rights has expressed reservations over patent protection
for plants and animals. Many developing countries that are World Trade Organisation (WTO) members, particularly the
Africa Group, have also expressed similar concerns, joining countless non-governmental and civil society organisations,
and some 700 scientists (including ISP members, see, to call for no patents on living
    Is the FAO ignoring these views, much as it seems to be selective in the evidence it draws on to justify the report's
conclusions? For example, in the section on public attitudes, the report relies heavily on a survey that asks imbalanced
questions. This section concludes that people in developing countries are generally likely to support agricultural biotech-
nology, which is not surprising, given that the risks are not mentioned in the questions asked, only the potential benefits.
    Yet the risks of GM crops are increasingly apparent. The FAO report is unacceptably silent on the transgenic contam-
ination of traditional varieties of maize in Mexico, a centre of origin and diversity of maize; it doesn't discuss biodiversity
and food security impacts, let alone the immense implications on cultural and indigenous practices.
    Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) and member of the ISP, points to further flaws:
"The FAO claims that scientists generally agree that current transgenic crops and the foods derived from them are safe to
eat. But there are many scientists - ISP members included - who have questioned this premise, and there is increasing
evidence that casts doubt on GM food safety."
    The ISP's report, The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, is an extensive review of the scientific and other evi-
dence on the problems and hazards of GM crops and the manifold benefits of all forms of sustainable agriculture.
    It is clear, from the evidence therein, that there are many unanswered questions on the safety of GM crops. Very few
studies have been conducted, particularly as to the effects of GM foods on human health. There is a dearth of published
scientific papers on which a reliable database of safety can be established, and the few independent studies that have
been carried out raise serious concerns. There is also increasing indication of the environmental and socio-economic
impacts of GM crops, particularly on smallholder farmers.
    The ISP has called for a global ban on environmental release of GM crops, to make way for agroecology, organic farm-
ing and other forms of sustainable agriculture. There is growing evidence that many smallholder farmers in developing
countries already have the knowledge, experience and innovative spirit that enable them to farm sustainably and produc-
tively, without depending on GM crops. These traditional farming practices best address agriculture that is complex,
diverse and risk-prone; GM crops would create many more risks for these farmers. The FAO should be calling for more
research into these sustainable practices, so as to better them and make them equitably accessible, rather than into GM
    If the world is to seriously address hunger, this means rethinking agriculture and associated policy making, and explor-
ing how traditional knowledge and science can work together, while learning from farmers themselves. World hunger today
is more a consequence of economic and political forces that hamper distribution, and less one of inadequate food supply.
These, and other issues including access to land, water, credit and markets, the loss of agricultural biodiversity and the
inequities in multilateral policies that affect agriculture and rural development, must be addressed.
    The FAO would do better to focus on these issues, rather than on GM crops, if it is really serious in "helping build a
world without hunger".                                                                                                          SiS

 Rethinking health

Selenium Conquers AIDS?
 Sam Burcher reports on a nutritional hypothesis with possible implications for prevention and treatment of the
 global pandemic

 During the last decade, research has         Côte D'Ivoire 10.06%, Tanzania 9.42%,       AIDS, Karposi Sarcoma and cancers
 indicated an important geographical          Ethiopia 9.31%, and Congo 4.31%.            are rife in regions of selenium depleted
 link between regions of selenium defi-           But Senegal in West Africa has the      soils and that this has further implica-
 cient soils and peak incidences of           lowest numbers of AIDS prevalence at        tions in the seemingly unstoppable
 HIV/AIDS infection. AIDS disease             1.77% in the general population, and        spread of AIDS incidence worldwide.
 appears to involve a slow and progres-       0.5% in antenatal clinic attendees
                                                                                          Depleted selenium in soil creates
 sive decline in levels of the trace ele-     along with the highest levels of seleni-
 ment selenium (Se) in the blood along        um-enriched soil. Geologically, Senegal
 with CD4 cells, which are both inde-         is situated in the desiccated or dried up   In China, selenium deficient regions are
 pendent predictors of mortality.             Cretaceous and early Eocene Sea, and        known as the Chinese "disease belt".
     AIDS infection in Africa has reached     the land is formed from sedimentary         Here, the daily average intake of sele-
 pandemic proportions with over a quar-       rocks from dissolved minerals in the        nium is less than 10 micrograms. This
 ter of the population said to be suffering   evaporating seawater. Consequently,         contrasts with parts of the US and
 from the disease in some areas,              calcium phosphates are one of the           Canada where daily selenium intake is
 although there is debate over how the        country's mined mineral products used       170 micrograms. Viral diseases such
 World Health Organization (WHO) has          for fertilizers, and are derived from the   as Coxsackie's B3, hepatitis B and C,
 extrapolated their statistics (see           selenium rich phosphorite. Senegal          and HIV/AIDS are all on the increase.
 "African Aids epidemic?" SiS 22).            can also claim the lowest level of can-     Coxsackie B3 is further complicated by
 Figures from Harvard in the United           cers on the African continent.              a heart condition known as "keshans",
 States put infection rates as follows:           Geographical disease pattern            which is endemic in "disease belt"
 Zimbabwe 25.84%, Botswana 25.10%,            analogies made by Prof E.W. Taylor,         areas. Since the introduction of seleni-
 Zambia 19.07%, South Africa 12.91%,          University of Georgia, suggest that         um-enriched fertilizers onto soils and


                                crops and into feedstocks and table
                                salt, there has been a decline in             Box 1
                                keshans.                                      For a healthy person a daily supplementary intake of 50-200mg of selenium (Se)
                                    A three year study of an entire town      is safe, but for someone with a compromised immune system an increase of
                                in Jiangsu Province where 20 847 resi-        100% may be necessary to improve selenium plasma levels. Where soil quality
                                dents were given table salt fortified with    is good and produce fresh, the four essential nutrients in preventing and fighting
                                selenium showed that hepatitis infec-         HIV/AIDS and other viral diseases are found in these foods:
                                tion decreased to 4.52 per 1 000 com-
                                pared to 10.48 per 1 000 in communi-            Selenium - Brazil nuts, garlic mushrooms, liver, round steak, lobster, shrimp,
                                ties using regular table salt. The same         cod, crab, herring, oysters, tuna, barley, whole wheat, egg noodles, Brewers'
                                researchers concluded that a 200-               yeast.
                                microgram daily dose of selenium-               Cysteine - Duck, turkey, pork, wheatgerm and yoghurt.
                                yeast supplement significantly reduced          Glutamine - Sausage meats, ham, bacon, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese,
                                primary liver cancer associated with            wheatgerm.
                                hepatitis B and C. It appears that death        Tryptophan - Ham and beef, eggs, almonds, salted anchovies, Parmesan
                                rates from viruses such as hepatitis,           and Swiss cheeses.
                                Coxsackie B3 and associated heart dis-
                                eases like keshans can be greatly
                                                                              as do the symptoms associated with             tathione and is beneficial in protecting
                                reduced by increasing dietary selenium
                                                                              AIDS. Patients have been able to return        lung tissue through its antioxidant activ-
                                intake and would be similarly effective
                                                                              to work within one month of receiving          ity as well as supporting nerve cells,
                                in slowing the progress of AIDS deaths.
                                                                              nutritional treatments. Treating primary       and is effective in treating liver failure
                                The selenium CD4 T cell 'tailspin'            nutritional deficiencies with selenium         where drug toxicity is indicated. NAC
                                                                              and essential amino acids costs                also counteracts apoptosis (cell death)
                                Prof Harold Foster of the University of
                                                                              approximately $10-$15. (See Box 1)             and helps maintain and replenish the
                                Victoria in Canada has named the link
                                                                                  As HIV/AIDS sufferers are often            HIV-damaged CD4 T lymphocytes, cru-
                                between the viral diseases of
                                                                              extremely deficient in all four nutrients      cial for dampening the progression of
                                HIV/AIDS, Coxsackie's and hepatitis B
                                                                              associated with glutathione peroxidase,        HIV to AIDS.
                                and C, "The selenium CD4 T cell tail-
                                                                              the "selenium CD4 T cell tailspin"                 NAC supplement is recommended
                                spin", as a way of describing the rela-
                                                                              hypothesis which describes HIV/AIDS            to HIV/AIDS sufferers who are receiv-
                                tionship between selenium and the
                                                                              as a disease of nutrient deficiency            ing anti-retroviral treatments as well as
                                human immune system. Adults and
                                                                              caused by a virus may explain how HIV          those who are not. There is growing
                                children with advanced AIDS syndrome
                                                                              progresses to AIDS.                            evidence that HIV/AIDS patients want
                                display both highly depleted selenium
                                                                                  The American AIDS expert Dr                alternative and non-toxic immune-
                                plasma stores and reduced CD4 cell
                                                                              Roberto Giraldo said at a recent semi-         boosting treatments, but would prefer
Circle dancing by Sam Burcher

                                counts. Foster argues that the fall of
                                                                              nar in South Africa that AIDS can              them to be prescribed by the doctors or
                                selenium levels triggers the reduction in
                                                                              presently be conquered and curtailed           health care professionals. Despite bil-
                                CD4 cells, which in turn causes further
                                                                              although not totally cured through the         lions of pounds spent on AIDS
                                decline in serum selenium.
                                                                              adequate ingestion of appropriate              research, very little funding or research
                                    Retroviruses like HIV depress sele-
                                                                              micro-nutrients in sufficiently large          is allocated for the provision of these
                                nium levels in their hosts by encoding
                                                                              doses, such as vitamins, amino acids           types of treatment on the National
                                the gene for the human selonenzyme
                                                                              and minerals.                                  Health Service (NHS).
                                glutathione peroxidase. This allows the
                                                                                  The cause of progression of HIV to             Raising glutathione levels encour-
                                virus to replicate indefinitely by continu-
                                                                              AIDS is still unknown, but the role of         ages the immune system to go into
                                ously depriving the host of glutathione
                                                                              nutrition and supplementation in the           anti-cancer and anti-viral mode by
                                (an inhibitor of reverse transcriptase)
                                                                              prevention and treatment of the dis-           replacing decreased levels of plasma
                                and the four basic components of glu-
                                                                              ease cannot be ignored. Prof Luc               cysteine, a major source of sulphur.
                                tathione peroxidase: selenium, cys-
                                                                              Montagnier (the co-discoverer of HIV)          Patients with advanced HIV infection
                                teine, glutamine and tryptophan. As
                                                                              states that AIDS is characterised by a         have tryptophan levels at less than
                                levels of selenium decline so do CD4
                                                                              persistent oxidative imbalance and a           50% of those in age and gender
                                cells which allow "opportunistic"
                                                                              decrease of glutathione. Changes in            matched controls and boosting levels of
                                pathogens to invade the immune sys-
                                                                              biochemical markers cause systemic             tryptophan can enable the body to syn-
                                tem and further deplete levels of seleni-
                                                                              oxidative stress and damage and                thesise serotonin and niacin which pro-
                                um and CD4 cells in a positive feed-
                                                                              Montagnier believes that antioxidants          tect against dementia. Improving gluta-
                                back loop whereby if one variable
                                                                              are useful in inhibiting viral replication     mine levels can alleviate depression
                                declines, it causes further depression in
                                                                              and associated apoptosis in HIV/AIDS           and improve digestion by increasing
                                the other. This downward spiral com-
                                                                              patients.                                      intestinal cell proliferation, and intestin-
                                promises the ability of the immune sys-
                                                                                                                             al fluid/electrolyte absorption, which
                                tem to defend the body from infection,        The role of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
                                                                                                                             can help combat diarrhoea.
                                which plays a significant role in AIDS        in boosting immunity
                                mortality.                                                                                   The cause of selenium depletion in
                                                                              Glutathione (GSH) is the ubiquitous
                                    Foster is currently treating dozens                                                      soil
                                                                              tripeptide essential for the function of all
                                of HIV/AIDS patients in Africa using a
                                                                              cells. Studies show that low GSH lev-          Three major factors have contributed to
                                protocol of the four nutrients - selenium,
                                                                              els increase HIV replication and impair        selenium depletion in the soil. Acid rain
                                cysteine, glutamine and tryptophan.
                                                                              T cell function that can lead to a pro-        is caused by large quantities of sulphur
                                He says that the treatment of HIV/AIDS
                                                                              gression of HIV disease. And oral              and nitrogen that convert into sulphuric
                                with nutrition is similar to "curing" type-
                                                                              administration of the GSH-producing            and nitric acids in the atmosphere and
                                1 diabetes with insulin. When high
                                                                              drug N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) improves          changes the capacity of soil to bind ele-
                                doses of all four nutrients are adminis-
                                                                              survival rates in HIV/AIDS patients.                                   continued on page 46
                                tered to patients, deficiencies dissolve,
                                                                              NAC helps the body to synthesise glu-

     Delivering Good Health Through Good Food
     Prof. Henry Becker on the critical changes needed to avert the national health crisis

     Like most Western coun-             Traditional meal of fasting food in Ethiopia; by Mae-Wan Ho                         ers of society and, as such,
     tries, and increasingly the                                                                                             are highly preventable.
     rest of the world, Canada                                                                                               These factors include faulty
     faces        a     staggering,                                                                                          food, dietary immoderation,
     swelling burden of medical                                                                                              abuse of harmful sub-
     costs that challenge its abil-                                                                                          stances, physical inactivity,
     ity to maintain the quality,                                                                                            disturbed biorhythms, envi-
     comprehensiveness and                                                                                                   ronmental deterioration,
     universality of health care                                                                                             social breakdown and
     services. In April 1991, the                                                                                            poverty.
     federal government set up                                                                                                    The most important
     a Commission on the                                                                                                     determinant of health is
     Future of Health Care in                                                                                                food. Just as good nutrition
     Canada, headed by Roy J.                                                                                                is vital for a healthy immune
     Romanow. Its mandate                                                                                                    system, faulty food is impli-
     was to review medicare,                                                                                                 cated in the infectious dis-
     engage Canadians in a                                                                                                   eases. In his book The
     national dialogue on its                                                                                                Wheel of Life, first pub-
     future, and deliver recom-                                                                                              lished in 1938, G. T.
     mendations for enhancing                                                                                                Wrench observed, "The
     the system's quality and                               world.                                                           inescapable conclusion is
     sustainability. The Final Report of the                                                               that in a very large number of diseases
     Commission, Building on Values: The The nature of the beast                                           faulty food is the primary cause. The suspi-
     Future of Health Care in Canada, was pub- During the past century, the common afflic-                 cion is that faulty food is the primary cause
     lished in November 2002 (http://www.hc- tions in Western societies have dramatically                  of such an overwhelming mass of disease shifted from infectious to degenerative dis-                         that it may prove to be simply the primary
     Unfortunately this otherwise laudable, pub- eases. Infectious diseases were subdued                   cause of disease [in general]."
     lic-spirited and thorough study falls far short largely by public health measures: improve-                Hippocrates taught, "Let thy food be thy
     of its stated goals.                                   ment in housing, provision of clean water      medicine". The corollary we must learn is,
          Not one title among the 40 discussion and air, sanitary waste disposal, quarantine               "Let not thy food be thy sickener!"
     papers commissioned from scholars, policy of the infected, etc. Rise in living standards
                                                                                                           Let's remember
     analysts and experts across Canada and and education also helped. Medical inter-
     internationally mentions prevention.                   ventions such as vaccinations and increas-     It's important to realise there were once
          Although Romanow acknowledges in ingly potent drugs came relatively late, but in                 whole populations - not just individuals here
     his preface to the report that, "it is common today's public imagination, they get the                and there - flourishing in states of robust
     sense for our health care system to place a major credit for ridding us of infectious dis-            good health and virtual absence of disease.
     greater emphasis on preventing disease eases.                                                         That is not a utopian myth, but well-estab-
     and on promoting healthy lifestyles", only 7                Infectious diseases typically strike in   lished fact. The evidence is compelling that
     out of 354 pages deal with prevention, and unpredictable waves, or epidemics.                         our hunter-gatherer paleolithic ancestors
     the greater part of that on the evils of tobac- Degenerative diseases, however, have typ-             who subsisted mainly on animals supple-
     co and on vaccinations.                                ically risen from small beginnings and grown   mented with such wild plant foods as were
          The report presents 47 recommenda- nearly exponentially to a level where much                    available - tender leaves and stems, roots,
     tions, of which only three relate to prevention of the population is chronically afflicted.           fruits and nuts, but virtually no grains - typi-
     - one on reducing tobacco use and obesity, Today these diseases are the major burden                  cally had fine physiques and enjoyed
     another on promoting physical activity, and on our health care system, and their prolifer-            remarkable freedom from degenerative dis-
     the third on a national immunisation strate- ation the main cause of spiralling costs.                orders. Seafood appeared to be particularly
     gy. This projects and encourages, in my                                                               valuable, and there is a growing school that
     view, a most unfortunate skewing of priori- We are what we eat                                        argues these were pivotal in the special
     ties that is not in the public interest.               While some degenerative diseases have          development of the human brain.
          The Canadian situation has much occurred in various societies throughout his-                         Since the Neolithic (agricultural) revolu-
     broader relevance, as the diseases of indus- tory, those which most vex us now, such as               tion 10 000 years ago, many agricultural
     trial civilisation have taken hold and health cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel              communities that maintained a sufficient
     care systems are bending under the load disease, type II diabetes, asthma and many                    animal component (fish, meat, milk, cheese)
     nearly everywhere. Significantly, a United cancers, were rare or virtually unknown a                  in their diets also achieved excellent health.
     Nations study in 1999 found the prevalence mere 80 years ago. Cases of myocardial                     Examples of healthy communities have
     of overweight and obesity - a strong predic- infarction (heart attack), for instance, began           extended into our own time, though in rapid-
     tor of chronic ill health and shortened lifes- to appear in the 1920s and grew decade by              ly diminishing numbers. They have been
     pan - to be increasing alarmingly in the decade to epidemic proportions. Most                         scientifically observed and documented,
     developing countries as well as the devel- degenerative diseases are not caused by                    most notably by Weston A. Price (Nutrition
     oped, and particularly among children. A disease vectors such as micro-organisms or                   and Physical Degeneration, first published
     worldwide epidemic of obesity has been viruses. They are primarily due to 'lifestyle'                 in 1939), Sir Robert McCarrison (Studies in
     recognized, spread by globalisation and factors of both the individual and various lay-               Deficiency Diseases, 1921; Nutrition and
     penetrating to the remotest corners of the                                                            national health, in J. Royal Soc. of Arts,


1936), and Viljhalmur Stefansson (The Fat         sugar (sugars, flour, potatoes, white        What to do
of the Land, 1956; Food and food habits in        rice, etc.).
                                                                                               I shall limit myself here to addressing nutri-
Alaska and Northern Canada, in Human              2. Excessive energy intake (too many
                                                                                               tion, the single biggest determinant of
Nutrition, Historic and Scientific, 1958).        calories), exacerbated by the trend to
     These lessons of the past demonstrate        super-sizing of portions of fast foods,
what's possible for human health, and what        snack foods, soft drinks, etc.               A paradigm change is needed in
can be achieved again. The foods eaten by         3. Consumption of partially hydrogenat-      medicine
healthy peoples of the past were perforce         ed fats and oils; consumption of over-
                                                                                               "Orthodox" physicians have too long based
"organic", as no others existed before mod-       heated and rancid fats and oils; exces-
                                                                                               their practice principally on knowing drugs.
ern industrialised agriculture. They were         sive intake of omega-6 fatty acids (a
                                                                                               To prevent or effectively treat the degenera-
whole, fresh and completely natural. The          major component of many common
                                                                                               tive diseases, they must know food and
genius of industrial civilisation has been to     vegetable oils, excepting flaxseed, olive
                                                                                               make it their primary instrument. These dis-
introduce a vast array of highly processed        and some nut oils).
                                                                                               eases are largely caused by faulty food, and
foodstuffs that are anything but whole, fresh     4. Consumption of most processed
                                                                                               cures-to the extent possible-depend largely
or natural. Attention is paid to packaging,       foods. The main ingredients of many
                                                                                               on the prescription of the right food. The
appearance, presentation, palatability, uni-      include white flour and sugars, partially
                                                                                               education of physicians has too long neg-
formity, convenience, transportability, shelf     hydrogenated oils or fats, which are fur-
                                                                                               lected nutrition. Physicians should, in fact,
life and - it must be said - addictiveness,       ther compromised by the absence, loss
                                                                                               be thoroughly acquainted with all the
while almost wholly ignoring the crucial          or damage of vital nutrients, impaired
                                                                                               lifestyle factors that promote health or pre-
issues of nutritional value. A gigantic mid-      digestibility, and incorporation of nutri-
                                                                                               cipitate disease. Although still a minority, a
dleman-the processed food industry- now           tionally questionable additives (fillers,
                                                                                               growing number of physicians are already
stands between the consumer and the pri-          extenders, thickeners, stabilisers,
                                                                                               committed to prevention and cure by
mary producer (the farmers, ranchers, fish-       preservatives, flavourings, dyes, etc.).
                                                                                               lifestyle modification. Currently, their practice
ers, etc.) and profits richly from economic       Most products offered by fast-food out-
                                                                                               is commonly referred to as "alternative", but
value added. The consumer buys these              lets rate in this category.
                                                                                               it is time for them to become the main-
products, which are typically heavily promot-     5. Inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty
ed, and pays the predictable price of nutri-      acids (major components of flaxseed
tional value subtracted, i.e., degenerative       oil and of marine fats and oils).            Major changes needed in the field of
diseases.                                         6. Inadequate total intake of high quali-    applied nutrition and nutritional goals
     The growth of degenerative disease is        ty fat. Contrary to recent prevailing wis-
an indubitable economic burden on society         dom, this includes natural animal fats.      There are many things very wrong today in
as a whole, but enterprising parties have         7. Inadequate intake of high quality pro-    applied nutrition and the nutritional goals set
skilfully exploited that as an opportunity for    tein. A high carbohydrate, low-fat diet      for citizens by authorities such as Health
profit. This gave birth to the pharmaceutical     easily becomes a low-protein diet.           Canada. Standards such as Canada's
industry, another mega enterprise of our          8. Inadequate intake of water.               Food Rules and the USDA Food Pyramid
times. The main effect of the industrialisation   9. Inadequate intakes of various miner-      are badly skewed and need drastic revision.
of medicine on degenerative diseases is           als, vitamins and other micronutrients.      The obsession with the alleged dangers of
palliative rather than curative, usually with     Many whole foods today are very defi-        dietary saturated fats and cholesterol is a
many adverse side effects. As with                cient relative to earlier examples, or       proven but persistent and egregious folly.
processed foods, the manufacturers' inter-        compared to good organic products.           There's nothing wrong with sound natural
est is overwhelmingly the pursuit of profit.      Diets high in processed foods are par-       fats. Nor is there anything wrong with beef
     Finally, the "health care" system has        ticularly likely to be inadequate.           and lamb, with all their fat, if the animals are
come to rest on acceptance of degenerative        10. Inadequate exposure to sunshine,         healthily raised and not dosed with antibi-
diseases as inevitable features of life and       leading, among other effects, to wide-       otics and hormones. There are, though, truly
the medical treatment of symptoms as the          spread vitamin D deficiency.                 bad fats that indeed do contribute to degen-
normal response to this grim reality. There       11. Inadequate levels of physical            erative diseases: synthetic fats; partially
is, to be sure, an ongoing quest for "cures",     activity.                                    hydrogenated fats; oxidised and rancid fats;
e.g., the "war on cancer", but what it mostly     12. Inadequate rest and disturbed cir-       and excesses of omega-6 fatty acids.
accomplishes is to produce ever more              cadian rhythms, due to shift work, long      Carbohydrates have been hugely over-pro-
drugs that fall well short of the ever-receding   work hours, too much noise, bad habits       moted; the healthiest amount of sugar is
goal of cure but succeed at return on invest-     such as late-night TV, etc.                  none, and white flour products aren't much
ment.                                             13. Pollution of soil, water, air and food   better. Processed foods should be revealed
     Physicians are indoctrinated in and co-      with agro-chemicals, industrial chemi-       for what they are: mainly junk, dangerous to
opted into this defeatist paradigm by their       cals and various other noxious sub-          health, and never a fit substitute for whole,
basic training, and reinforced by their contin-   stances.                                     natural foods. Synthetic foods, such as soft
uing education at the hands of the pharma-        14. Immoderate intake of alcohol, use        drinks, are typically slow poison. I can hard-
ceutical companies. Thus, the people we           of recreational drugs, etc.                  ly begin to list all the reforms desirable in
should expect to tackle the plague of degen-      15. Hugely excessive use of pharma-          nutritional teaching and consultation. It is
erative disease at its sources, instead act       ceuticals - both over-the-counter and        essential to get the story right according to
like firemen who have strategically decided       prescribed.                                  the best knowledge of the facts, and to stay
not much can be done to stop fires from           16. Poverty, particularly when associat-     open to correction by new findings. It is also
happening, so it's best to downplay preven-       ed with highly uneven distribution of        necessary to get the story out so the public
tion and concentrate on fire-fighting.            income, which is rapidly growing             is well informed, without kow-towing to
                                                  almost everywhere.                           industrial interests (processed foods,
Our 'lifestyle' failings                                                                       agribusiness).
                                                  17. Stress of unsatisfying work, or of
So how did we get here? These are some            unemployment.                                Optimum nutrition must be our aim
in the long list of our 'lifestyle' failings:     18. Breakdown of family and communi-
   1. Excessive intake of carbohydrates,          ty life.                                     Optimum nutrition is especially crucial for
   particularly those leading to high blood                                                    good outcomes during conception, preg-
                                                                                               nancy, infancy and childhood, the whole

     process in which new humans are moulded             Many, however, have admitted fast food out-       est with appropriate research in nutrition,
     for better or worse. Canada should be vig-          lets to their halls, with monetary benefit to     testing of foods and drugs, etc. Their pri-
     orous in providing parents with supportive          the institution but a great disbenefit for the    mary concern should be protecting and
     information, programmes, resources and              health and food habits of students and staff.     informing the public, rather than assisting
     assistance. Lifelong good nutrition is the          Utterly scandalous are the deals with cola        industry and promoting business. The gov-
     foundation of a healthy and happy old age.          companies.                                        ernment should also fund a number of uni-
     But even when many years have been lived                                                              versity research Chairs and/or Institutes
                                                         Huge reforms needed in agriculture and
     in poor nutrition, appropriate changes in diet                                                        specifically to work on questions of food and
                                                         animal husbandry
     can still ameliorate much of the damage                                                               nutrition that are of significant national or
     done and greatly diminish needs for medical         A return to wholly organic operation is need-     local importance.
     treatment. The nutritional quality and ade-         ed to put an end to the incidental poisoning
     quacy of food served in homes for the aged          of land, water, air, people and most other life
     should be a matter for public concern and           forms. Today's high-input "modern" agricul-       In order to deliver health, we must deliver
     government attention.                               ture is simply mining the land, sapping future    good food through implementing sweeping
                                                         productivity for the sake of temporary mon-       changes in medical education and goals,
     Optimum nutrition is not uniquely
                                                         etary gain. It's not sustainable. Further, the    food and agriculture and government poli-
     defined, diversity and individuality must
                                                         concentration of animal production on facto-      cies. We may still need as many physicians,
     be respected
                                                         ry farms should be stopped and production         if they indeed become guardians of our
     Canada has citizens with ancestry in all            redispersed over the land. Animals should         health rather than managers of disease.
     regions of the world: central African and           be raised humanely and in such a way that         Economies will result primarily from vastly
     south Asian, Mediterranean, North                   they are naturally healthy. Grazing animals       reduced demands for diagnostics, hospital
     European, and from recent hunter-gatherer           should be raised largely by grazing; it is part   care and other patient services, and medical
     to 10 000-year experience of agriculture.           of what gives their meat and milk high qual-      therapies (medications, radiotherapy, etc.).
     Thus there is a broad range of food toler-          ity. Much greater attention should be paid to     Sales of pharmaceuticals may plummet, but
     ances and intolerances that should be taken         raising the nutritional quality of farm, ranch    the sacrifice of this economic activity will be
     into account rather than prescribing a one-         and market garden products.                       happily endured as part of the price of better
     size-fits-all solution. The case of Canada's                                                          health. The same may be said of major sec-
                                                         Government must ensure quality in
     first nations is especially notable for suffering                                                     tors of the processed food industry.
                                                         food supply
     from the foods of industrial civilisation in high                                                          The many people who regard degener-
     rates of type II diabetes, cardiovascular dis-      Government should not hesitate to use its         ative disease as an inevitable feature of liv-
     ease, etc. Generally, everyone is an individ-       powers of regulation, inspection and stimu-       ing are wrong. We've seen these diseases
     ual with characteristics that may deviate           lation to ensure high quality in the food sup-    proliferating and appearing earlier and earli-
     substantially from the average and merit            ply. Programs to recognise and promote            er in life, so young children are now suc-
     special attention. One of the jobs of the           quality, such as is happening with Canadian       cumbing to obesity, Type II diabetes and
     enlightened physician will be to discover           wines and Québec cheeses, should be               even cardiovascular disease. However, if
     those individual vulnerabilities and needs          expanded to other products. Quality produc-       the needed reforms are made, onset of
     and help the patient make due adjustments.          tion should be encouraged. The nutritional        such diseases can be retarded and relegat-
                                                         implications of any food processing should        ed to extreme old age, and indeed most of
     Public institutions must set an example
                                                         be evaluated by competent agencies and            these diseases need not be commonly
     Publicly funded hospitals and institutions of       adjustments required to ensure acceptable         experienced at all. The choice is ours.
     education, and cafeterias and restaurants in        nutritional outcomes.
     government buildings, should lead by                                                                      The author is Professor Emeritus of
                                                         National and provincial laboratories
     behaving as models of excellence in the                                                               Chemical Engineering, Queen's University,
                                                         need to be reinvigorated
     foods offered on their premises. Currently, a                                                         Kingston, Canada. This paper is based on
     minority of schools, colleges and universities      They should be given a new mandate and            his submission to the Romanow
     offer their students healthy food and drink.        funding to effectively serve the public inter-    Commission and a forthcoming book. SiS

     continued from page 43      ments at pH neutral or slightly alkaline. The altered pH balance increases bioavailability of certain elements
                                 and decreases that of others including selenium. Heavy metals in rainfall also contain mercury, which can
     combine with selenium to produce the insoluble mercury selenide. Soil acidification therefore lowers the abundance of selenium in
     the global food chain, which may have contributed to the rapid increase of cancers and HIV/AIDS.
          Chlorofluorocarbons are unique to the latter half of the 20th Century and have contributed to the thinning of the ozone layer, which
     causes an excess of ultraviolet B radiation. Overexposure to ultraviolet light decreases helper T-lymphocytes and increases sup-
     pressor T-lymphocytes making the individual more susceptible to diseases.
          Chemical pollutants also play a role in altering the immune function and lowering host resistance to pathogens. The WHO esti-
     mates that there are 500 000 pesticide related illnesses and 20 000 deaths per year. Scientific studies on exposure to polychlorinat-
     ed biphenyls (PCBs) show that glutathione peroxidase activity is depressed and induces apoptosis of pre B-lymphocytes in the plas-
     ma of animals.
           Whey protein, a derivative of milk production routinely discarded by the diary industry, contains all the essential and non-essen-
     tial amino acids necessary to improve immunity by increasing glutathione levels in the blood. Oral supplementation of whey proteins
     can also help to combat wasting associated with AIDS.
          A wide variety of nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, herbs and minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium are clearly beneficial in
     slowing death rates in the HIV infected individual. And vitamins A, C and E can help to reduce the oxidative stress and viral load that
     characterises HIV/AIDS sufferers. This is especially important in areas where combination therapies are unavailable.
          Worryingly in Europe, moves are afoot to prohibit the sale of fourteen forms of selenium including organic forms, selenium yeast
     and selenomethionine if the EU Directive on Food Supplements comes into force in August 2005.
          A geographical perspective into the possible causes for the late 20th century phenomenon of AIDS is welcome adjuvant in the
     absence of a conventional vaccine or safe affordable treatments for all.                                                               SiS

New Age of Water                                                                                                       47

Water has a collective structure that's extremely flexible
and dynamic, which may explain some of its 'anomalies'.

        Is Water Special?
                                     Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports
Water is simple, isn't it?
There is nothing simpler than water as a molecule. Its chemical formula, H 2 O, is almost the first thing in
chemistry that one learns in school. However, its structure in the bulk is multifarious and changeable. There
are 13 known crystalline structures of ice that appear under different temperatures and pressures. As a liq-
uid, water forms dynamic 'flickering clusters' or networks of joined up molecules, with intermolecular bonds
that flicker on and off at random. The basis for all this complexity lies in the ability of a water molecule to join
up with its neighbours through a special kind of chemical bond, the hydrogen-bond.
The hydrogen-bond
To understand how the hydrogen-bond comes about, picture the water molecule consisting of an oxygen atom
bonded to two hydrogen atoms. The water molecule has a shape approximating a tetrahedron, a three-dimen-
sional triangle with four corners. The oxygen atom sits in the heart of the tetrahedron, the hydrogen atoms
point towards two of the four corners and two 'electron clouds' belonging to the oxygen molecule point
towards the remaining corners of the tetrahedron. The 'electron clouds' are negatively charged, and result
from the atomic structures of oxygen and hydrogen and how they combine in the water molecule.
    Oxygen has eight (negatively charged) electrons disposed around its positively charged nucleus, rather
like the layers of the onion, two in an inner shell and six in the outer shell. The inner shell can only accom-
modate two electrons, so its capacity is filled. The outer shell, however, can hold as many as eight electrons.
The hydrogen atom happens to have only one electron, so oxygen, by combining with two hydrogen atoms,
completes its outer shell, while the hydrogen atoms each completes its first electron shell with two electrons,
which it shares with the oxygen atom. That is how the usual 'covalent bond' of chemistry arises.
    The oxygen nucleus has more positive charge than the hydrogen, so the shared electrons are slightly
more attracted to the oxygen nucleus than to the hydrogen nucleus, which makes the water molecule polar,
with two 'electron clouds' of negative charge at the opposite poles to the two hydrogen atoms, which are each
left with a slight positive charge. (Though quantum mechanical calculations have shown that the two electron
clouds are not really separate from each other.)
    The positively charged hydrogen of one water molecule can thus attract the negatively charged oxygen of
a neighbouring water molecule to form a hydrogen-bond (H-bond) between them. Each molecule of water can
potentially form four H-bonds. Two in which it 'donates' its hydrogen atoms to the oxygen atoms of two other
water molecules, and two in which its oxygen atom 'accepts' one hydrogen atom from each of two other water
molecules. In other words, each molecule is capable of acting as hydrogen 'donors' and 'acceptors' for two
other water molecules, so it has four bonded neighbours, or a '4-coordination'.
Ice structures
Water molecules in ordinary hexagonal ice crystals are close to the ideal tetrahedral structure described
above. The hydrogen-bonded O-O distances are almost identical, varying between 2.759 Å and 2.761 Å (an
angstrom is 10 -10 m), while the O-O-O angles also vary only slightly between 109.36 o and 109.58 o , which is
close to the H-O-H angle of 104.52 o of the individual water molecule.
   However, there are many more forms of ice crystals (at least 12 others known) under different tempera-
tures and pressures, where the bond lengths and angles vary much more widely. For ice II, which forms under
moderate pressure of about 5 kbar (1 kbar is equivalent to a pressure of ~ 1 000 atmospheres), the basic
four-coordinated motif is maintained. But the bond length varies between 2.74 Å and 2.83 Å, while the bond
angle varies between 80 o and 129 o .
   In liquid water, there is much less constraint compared to a solid crystal lattice, and so the variations in
bond length and bond angles take on a much wider continuous range. Instead of the regular hexagonal (6-
member) ring structure of ordinary ice, a snapshot of the hydrogen-bonded network shows five, six and
seven-member rings, and even smaller or larger rings. Instead of the 4-coordination motif, 2-, 3- and even 5-
coordinations are possible, with the H of some water molecules in a 'bifurcated' schizophrenic state, seem-
ingly bonded to two different neighbours.
Why is water special?
Why is water so special that life cannot exist without it? According to John L Finney of University College,
London, the basic tetrahedral structure of the water molecule is central to the structural versatility of water
in the condensed state (solid and liquid). It enables water to form extended, flexible networks of H-bonded


     molecules in liquid, allowing rapid coordinated
     molecular motions to take place. This same
                                                             Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on how a
     extended network also supports proton conduc-           body of water appears to change as a
     tion, a flow of positive electricity that occurs
     much faster than the diffusion of ions.
                                                             whole and wonders if oceans do it too
         Other substances might have some of those
     special characteristics, says Finney, but only
                                                             Decades of bombarding water with X-rays and neutron
     water has them all, and that might be enough to
                                                             beams have convinced most scientists that there is no
     make water especially 'fit' for life.
                                                             long-range order in water. And although extended net-
     New insights into water structure                       works of hydrogen-bonded molecules are present, these
                                                             networks are thought to be simply the result of local
     The picture of the structure of water just
                                                             interactions between molecules at close range.
     described has been obtained with powerful
                                                                 However, other measurement techniques are begin-
     measurement techniques such as x-ray and neu-
                                                             ning to yield results suggesting that bodies of water
     tron diffraction, which involve firing x-rays or
                                                             behave as coherent wholes, in other words, their collec-
     neutron beams at water, and looking at the way
                                                             tive structure extends globally to all the molecules. One
     the beams are deflected or scattered to make a
                                                             such technique, NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance),
     diffraction pattern, which gives information about
                                                             measures chemical shifts of the nuclei of certain atoms
     the structure of the atoms. These experimental
                                                             by their response to radio waves when placed in a
     techniques are combined with computer simula-
                                                             strong magnetic field (see Box 1).
     tions (molecular dynamics) to give a consistent
                                                                 The atomic nucleus in a molecule is influenced by
     picture, which is supposed to form a firm molec-
                                                             other particles that are charged and in motion. NMR
     ular basis for all other investigations.
                                                             spectroscopy can therefore distinguish one nucleus
         But in April 2004, an international team of sci-
                                                             from another and reveal the chemical surroundings of a
     entists from universities and research institutes
                                                             nucleus. The NMR chemical shift is known to be very
     in the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden
                                                             sensitive to intra- and intermolecular factors, and hence
     and Germany, challenged this picture with the
                                                             is capable of giving information concerning collective
     next generation of an even more powerful meas-
                                                             phases of molecules.
     urement technique.
                                                                 Chemists S.R. Dillon and R.C. Dougherty in Florida
         They reported the behaviour of liquid water on
                                                             State University, Tallahassee, in the United States,
     a timescale of less than one femtosecond (one
                                                             looked at the changes in NMR chemical shifts of salts
     femtosecond is 10 -15 s) using a new x-ray absorp-      dissolved in water, and came up with some interesting
     tion spectroscopy technique. This involves firing       results, which led them to conclude that, "the entire
     x-rays of different frequencies at water, and from      solution is a single electronic whole".
     the spectrum of frequencies absorbed - which is             The NMR chemical shift of a salt goes up as its con-
     characteristic of each atom - making inferences         centration increases. However, when the chemical shift
     concerning the structure of the water molecules.        is plotted against the concentration, there is typically a
         They found that most molecules in bulk liquid       sharp change in the slope of the curve at certain critical
     water at room temperature are like those at the         concentrations. For a solution of KF (potassium fluo-
     ice surface, with only two strong hydrogen
                                                             ride), the chemical shifts for both 19 F and 39 K (the num-
     bonds. The proportion of molecules with 4-coor-
                                                             bers in superscript identify the particular isotope of the
     dination similar to bulk ice is very small. The
                                                             element) increased linearly from 1.9 to 2.4 mol per litre,
     contributions of the two different species - mole-
                                                             then changed abruptly to a different slope thereafter
     cules with two H-bonds and those with 4 H-bonds
                                                             (see Fig. 1).
     - are 80% and 20% at room temperature, and
                                                                 Similarly, the chemical shift of 39 K in KCL (potassium
     increase to 85% and 15% at 90C with uncertain-
     ties of +15% and +20% in both cases.
         As consistent with earlier results, the bond
     lengths and bond angles are found to vary wide-
     ly from those in tetrahedral ice, attesting to the
     flexibility of the water structure in liquid.
         They concluded: "Water is a dynamic liquid
     where H-bonds are continuously broken and
     reformed. The present result that water, probed
     subfemtosecond time scale, consists mainly of
     structure with two strong H-bonds, one donating
     and one accepting, nonetheless implies that
     most molecules are arranged in strongly H-bond-
     ed chains or rings embedded in a disordered
     cluster network connected mainly by weak H-
         So, in a sense, it doesn't really alter the pic-
     ture too much. But are these methods focussing
     too much on the individual molecules to reveal
     anything interesting? A growing number of water
     scientists are beginning to think so, and for good
                                                                      Figure 1. Change in chemical shift with concentration.


The 'Wholiness' of Water
chloride) solution showed a break in slope around 1.7
mol per litre, while the chemical shift of 7 Li in LiOH (lithi-                Box 1
um hydroxide) solution changed in slope at 3.0 mol per                         NMR and NMR chemical shift
litre.                                                                         Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is the absorption of
     These changes in the slope of chemical shifts with                        electromagnetic radiation of a specific (resonant) frequen-
concentration are correlated with corresponding                                cy by an atomic nucleus placed in a strong static magnet-
changes in the specific heat of the electrolyte (salt)                         ic field, used especially in spectroscopic studies of molec-
solutions. The specific heat of pure water changes with                        ular structure, and in medicine to measure rates of metab-
temperature, starting at high levels below 280K and                            olism.
drops to a minimum at around 305K before increasing                                Nearly all atomic nuclei can be detected with NMR. The
again at higher temperatures. When salts are dissolved                         most useful are 1H and 13C with spins of +1/2 and -1/2 in
in the water, the curve changes, and in particular, the                        the presence of a static magnetic field. When the sample
minimum appears at a different temperature, the posi-                          is exposed to electromagnetic radiation of a certain fre-
tion of the minimum depending on the concentration of                          quency corresponding to the difference in energy between
the salt in solution.                                                          these two orientations, the spins all become in phase with
     Dillon and Dougherty found that the concentration at                      each other, a process known as resonance. The resultant
which the temperature minimum of specific heat is 298K                         electromagnetic radiation from these in-phase spins is
- the temperature at which the NMR experiment was                              detected as an NMR peak.
carried out - closely matches that at which the change in                          The atomic nucleus in a molecule is influenced by other
slope of the chemical shifts occurred. This was 2.4 mol                        particles that are charged and in motion. The NMR chem-
per litre for KF (see Fig. 2), 1.6 mol per litre for KCL and                   ical shift, δ, is expressed in parts per million (ppm) with
2.95 mol per litre for LiOH.                                                   respect to a standard compound which is defined to be at
     The specific heat capacity of the solution is its                         0 ppm, as follows:
capacity to absorb heat energy, measured in energy
units per gram per degree K increase in temperature.
Plots of the specific heat capacity of electrolyte as a
function of temperature are similar to the corresponding
plot for pure water, but the perturbation of water struc-
ture by the electrolyte results in a shift in the location of                      NMR spectroscopy can distinguish one nucleus from
the minimum (compared with pure water) as well as sub-                         another and reveal the chemical surroundings of a nucle-
tle changes in the shape of the curve. A correlation of                        us. The NMR chemical shift is known to be very sensitive
the changes in slope of chemical shifts to minima in spe-                      to intra- and intermolecular factors, and hence capable of
cific heat capacity suggests that there is a weak contin-                      giving information concerning collective phases of mole-
uous phase transition (see Box 2) in the structure of the                      cules.
solution at the critical concentration corresponding to
the specific heat capacity minimum. A phase-transition
is a global phenomenon involving the entire solution.                         Box 2
     This global phase transition, involving the entire                       Phase transitions
solution, can be explained by changes in water structure                      Phase transitions refer to abrupt changes in the collective
occurring as a result of changes in the hydrogen bond                         properties of all the molecules (phases), with a small
                                                                              change in a variable such as temperature; for example,
                                                                              when ice changes into water or water changes into gas
                                                                              and vice versa.
                                                                                 Phase transitions are classified into two broad cate-
                                                                              gories. First order phase transitions are discontinuous,
                                                                              involving the absorption or release of a 'latent heat', a fixed
                                                                              amount of energy, as in the changes of water between the
                                                                              liquid and gas phases. Second order phase transitions are
                                                                              continuous phase transitions that have no associated
                                                                              latent heat. Examples are ferromagnetic transition and
                                                                              transition into superfluid state.

                                                                              strength, due to changes in electrolyte concentration,
                                                                              and "electron delocalisation throughout the liquid". In
                                                                              other words, dissolving salts in water changes the struc-
                                                                              ture of water globally as a whole.
                                                                                   Could that interpretation apply to entire lakes and
                                                                              oceans? That's enough to send shivers up and down my
                                                                                   These and other exciting results (see article follow-
                                                                              ing) are likely to fuel the wide-ranging debates on water,
                                                                              from its dynamic structure at one extreme to the scien-
Figure 2. Change in specific heat of KF solution at 2.4 mol/l with tempera-
                                                                              tific basis of homeopathy and consciousness at the
                     ture compared with pure water.                           other.                                                  SiS


     Water Forms Massive Exclusion Zones
     Water, the most abundant constituent of living organisms, is associated with an enormous amount of surfaces
     inside cells and in the extra-cellular matrix. Is all of this biological water different from water in bulk? The
     answer is definitely yes, if the incredible new findings are to be taken on board. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports

     What is biological water?                     more recently, neutron diffraction, no        a camera to follow what happens.
                                                   more than one or two layers can be                In the second experiment, the gel
     "Biological" water includes practically       detected to have altered properties,          was formed around a glass cylinder,
     all the water in living organisms, inside     which would imply that a substantial          which was withdrawn after the gel was
     the cell as well as in the extra-cellular     part of the water inside cells and in the     formed, leaving a channel, 1 mm in
     matrix, except, possibly, for large           extra-cellular matrix is still bulk water.    diameter, which is then filled with the
     reservoirs or conduits such as the                But other scientists, notably, Gilbert    suspension of microspheres and
     bladder, gut, stomach and vacuoles            Ling, who emigrated to the United             placed under the microscope.
     inside some cells. Biological water is        States on a Boxer Fellowship from                 To their amazement, they found
     rarely far from the surface of a mem-         China, have been insisting since the          that the microspheres were excluded
     brane or a macromolecule such as pro-         1960s that practically all the water in       from the gel surfaces in both experi-
     teins, nucleic acids and polysaccha-          the cell is in an 'altered' state different   ments over distances of tens of mm,
     rides like starch and glycogen.               from bulk water.                              and in extreme cases, up to 250µm or
          Inside the cell, the concentration of                                                  more. Such massive exclusion zones
     proteins in cytoplasm is between 170          Interfacial water as model of                 are totally unexpected, and have never
     to 300 mg/ml, which suggests that 7 to        biological water                              been reported before (see Fig. 1).
     9 shells of water (hydration shells) coat                                                       Microspheres were almost com-
     the available surfaces, corresponding         Water generally forms ordered layers
                                                   over solid surfaces, and this ordered         pletely absent from the exclusion zone,
     to a distance of 4 to 5nm (nanometre,                                                       and the boundary between exclusion
                                                   'interfacial water' can tell us a great
     10-9m) between the surfaces. A sub-                                                         and non-exclusion rather sharp, of the
                                                   deal about water in living organisms.
     stantial fraction of the water is quite                                                     order of 10% of the width of the exclu-
                                                        Interfacial water has different prop-
     closely associated (at a distance of                                                        sion zone. The zone forms rather
                                                   erties from bulk water; for example,
     less than 0.5nm) with the proteins,                                                         quickly, and appears 80% complete
                                                   certain solutes that dissolve in bulk
     nucleic acids, polysaccharides and                                                          after 60 seconds. Migration velocity
                                                   water are excluded from interfacial
     assemblies of smaller molecules that                                                        was about 1.5µm per second, and
                                                   water, or fail to dissolve in it.
     make up an organism, and is essential                                                       microspheres near the boundary
                                                        Interfacial water is generally
     for their functioning.                                                                      migrated at the same speed as those
                                                   thought to be no more than one or at
          The idea that cell water is distinct                                                   far away from it. Once formed, the
                                                   most several layers of water molecules
     from bulk liquid water goes back a long                                                     exclusion zones remained stable for
                                                   thick. But several reports published in
     way to pioneers like Gilbert Ling and                                                       days.
                                                   the 1990s suggested that hydrophilic
     Albert Szent-Györgyi in the 1960s and                                                           Could this be an artefact? For
                                                   (water-loving) surfaces could extend
     70s; to many physicists and chemists                                                        example, could there be some invisible
                                                   their influence over much larger dis-
     in the latter half of the 19th century fas-                                                 threads sticking out from the gel sur-
                                                   tances from the interface.
     cinated by the distinctive properties of
     'protoplasm' inside living cells.             Small experiments that tell a big
          Since the 1970s, many physical           tale
     and physiological techniques have
     demonstrated that cell water behaves          Gerald Pollack and Zheng Jian-ming in
     very differently from bulk water. It is       the Department of Bioengineering,
     dynamically ordered or oriented, and          University of Washington, Seattle in
     exhibits restricted motion compared to        the United States decided to do some
     water in the bulk.                            simple elegant experiments to find out
          More recently, ordered interfacial       exactly how far such hydrophilic sur-
     water has been found to be associated         faces can extend their influence; and
     with pure protein or DNA crystals             came up with some startling results.
     obtained at cryogenic (very low freez-            They used as solutes, micros-               Figure 1. Exclusion zone formed next to the
     ing) temperatures. These ordered              pheres 0.5 to 2 µm in diameter, which                  surface of polyacrylic acid gel.
     water molecules do not form the typical       can be seen with the ordinary light
     ice structure, but are involved in many       microscope. For the hydrophilic sur-
                                                                                                 face to push the microspheres away?
     different forms of hydrogen bonding           faces, they employed several common
                                                                                                 They tested this by using the atomic
     networks with the macromolecule and           hydrogels known to interact strongly
                                                                                                 force microscope and other sensitive
     with each other.                              with water.
                                                                                                 probes to detect such strands, but no
          A major uncertainty is what fraction         In the first experiment they put a
                                                                                                 protruding strands were detectable,
     of the water in living organisms and          small gel sample between two large
                                                                                                 not even after they fixed and cross-
     cells is distinct from bulk water, and to     glass cover slips, and filled the space
                                                                                                 linked the gel and washed it extensive-
     what extent water is essential for dif-       to either side with a suspension of the
                                                                                                 ly, so no loose strands could ever leak
     ferent living functions.                      microspheres, then sealed the cham-
          Using sophisticated techniques           ber. The whole assembly was placed
                                                                                                      Could it be that the gel was in fact
     with big machines, such as NMR and            on the stage of a microscope fitted with
                                                                                                 shrinking away from the surface and

                                          Water turns the world upside down; photo Mae-Wan Ho

extruding water, and therefore squirt-      chemicals of opposite charge never-
ing the microspheres away? But no           theless resulted in exclusion zones.
such shrinkage was detectable; the          Thus, exclusion zones are a general
boundary did not shift appreciably as       feature of hydrophilic surfaces. One
the microspheres migrated away from         gel that did not show exclusion was
it. Over a period of 120 minutes, the       when polyacrylamide was copoly-
diameter of the cylindrical hollow in       merised with a vinyl derivative of
the gel changed by less than 2µm.           malachite green.
Thus, in the 2 min period during which          Exclusion was most profound
the exclusion zone was formed,              when the microspheres were most
shrinkage was insignificant.                highly charged, so negatively charged
    Could it be that polymers were          microspheres gave maximum exclu-                      Figure 2. Exclusion zone next to surface of
                                                                                                                rabbit muscle.
leaking out into the exclusion zone,        sion at high pH, whereas positively
and pushing away the microspheres?          charged microspheres gave maximum                   time. That would seem consistent with
They added a polymer to the micros-         exclusion at low pH. The presence of                the observation that the speed of
phere suspension, but this only nar-        salt tended to decrease the size of the             migration of the microspheres is con-
rowed the exclusion zone.                   exclusion zone somewhat. The size of                stant regardless of distance from the
    Yet another test was to continu-        the exclusion zone also went up with                boundary. It is also consistent with the
ously infuse microsphere suspension         the diameter of the microsphere.                    finding that larger microspheres give
into the cylindrical hollow in the gel                                                          bigger exclusion zones.
under pressure at a speed of about          How could it be explained?                              The increase in exclusion zone
100mm/s, so that any suspended              What could be the explanation for this              with charge, too, is consistent with
invisible solutes ought to be washed        strange phenomenon that has never                   their water-structuring hypothesis, as
out. But the exclusion zones persist-       been observed; that apparently goes                 higher surface charge is known to be
ed, virtually unchanged even at the         against all expectations based on                   associated with larger extent of water
highest speeds.                             data from the latest big machines?                  structuring. But, as they remark,
    The exclusion zones were not a              After ruling out several trivial                "While these several observations fit
quirk due to the particular gel used.       explanations, Zheng and Pollack con-                the water-structure mechanism, no
Polyvinyl alcohol gel, polyacrylamide       sidered whether it could be due to lay-             reports we know of confirm any more
gels, polyacrylic acid gels, and even a     ers of water molecules growing in an                than several hundred layers of water
bundle of rabbit muscle all gave simi-      organized manner from the gel sur-                  structure at the extreme, and not the
lar results (Fig. 2); and microspheres      face and extending outwards, pushing                106 solvent layers implied here."     SiS

of different dimensions, coated with        the microspheres out at the same


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