Throwing Biotech Lies at Tomatoes

By Jeffrey Smith
Institute For Responsible Technology
Saturday, Jan 1, 2011

Part 1: Killer Tomatoes

Remember the pictures of the fish tomatoes? For years they were an unofficial emblem of the anti-GMO movement. They depicted how anti-freeze genes from an Arctic fish were forced into tomato DNA, allowing the plants to survive frost. Scientists really did create those Frankentomatoes, but they were never put on the market. (Breyers low-fat ice cream, however, does contain anti-freeze proteins from Arctic fish genes, but that’s another story.)

The tomato that did make it to market was called the Flavr Savr, engineered for longer shelf life. Fortunately, it was removed from the shelves soon after it was introduced.

Although there are no longer any genetically modified (GM) tomatoes being sold today, the FDA’s shady approval process of the Flavr Savr provides a lesson in food safety—or rather, the lack of it—as far as gene-spliced foods are concerned. We know what really went on during the FDA’s voluntary review process of the Flavr Savr in 1993, because a lawsuit forced the release of 44,000 agency memos.

(Those same memos, by the way, also showed that FDA scientists had repeatedly warned their superiors about the serious health risks of genetically modified organisms [GMOs]. They were ignored by the political appointees in charge, who allow GMOs onto the market without any required safety studies.)

Bleeding stomachs

Calgene, the tomatoes’ creator-in-chief (now a part of Monsanto), voluntarily conducted three 28-day rat feeding studies. Before I share the gory details, I must commend the Calgene scientists who were committed to transparency and full disclosure with the FDA. Unlike all other subsequent voluntary submissions from biotech firms to the agency, Calgene provided detailed feeding study data and full reports. Dr. Belinda Martineau, one of Calgene’s tomato makers, writes in First Fruit about their commitment to an open process while they attempted to introduce the world’s first GM food crop.

Calgene tested two separate Flavr Savr tomato lines. Both had the same gene inserted into the same type of tomato. The process of insertion and the subsequent cloning of the cells into GM plants can cause lots of unique and unpredicted consequences. The two lines, therefore, were not considered identical.

The rats that ate one of these Flavr Savr varieties probably wished they were in a different test group. Out of 20 female rats, 7 developed stomach lesions—bleeding stomachs. The rats eating the other Flavr Savr, or the natural tomatoes, or no tomatoes at all, had no lesions.

If we humans had such effects in our stomachs, according to Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a top GMO safety and animal feeding expert, it “could lead to life-endangering hemorrhage, particularly in the elderly who use aspirin to prevent thrombosis.”

The lab that performed the study for Calgene acknowledged that the results “did suggest a possible treatment related” problem. FDA scientists repeatedly asked Calgene to provide additional data in order to resolve what they regarded as outstanding safety questions. The director of FDA’s Office of Special Research Skills wrote that the tomatoes did not demonstrate a “reasonable certainty of no harm,” which is the normal standard of safety. The Additives Evaluation Branch agreed that “unresolved questions still remain,” and the staff pathologist stated, “In the absence of adequate explanations by Calgene, the issues raised by the Pathology Branch … remain and leave doubts as to the validity of any scientific conclusion(s) which may be drawn from the studies’ findings.”

Oh yeah, some rats died

The team that had obtained the formerly secret FDA documents sent the full Flavr Savr studies to Dr. Pusztai for review and comment. While reading them, he happened across an endnote that apparently the FDA scientists either did not see or chose to ignore. The text nonchalantly indicated that 7 of the 40 rats fed the Flavr Savr tomato died within two weeks. The dead rats had eaten the same tomato line as those that developed lesions. In the other groups, fed the other Flavr Savr line, a natural tomato control, or a water control, only one rat had died.

But the endnote summarily dismissed the cause of death as husbandry error, and no additional data or explanation was provided. The dead rats were simply replaced with new ones.

When I discussed this finding with Dr. Pusztai over the phone, he was beside himself. He told me emphatically that in proper studies, you never just dismiss the cause of death with an unsupported footnote. He said that the details of the post mortem analysis must be included in order to rule out possible causes or to raise questions for additional research. Furthermore, you simply never replace test animals once the research begins.

Questionable follow-up study

Calgene repeated the rat study. This time, one male rat from the non-GM group of 20, and two females from the GM-fed group of 15, showed stomach lesions. Calgene claimed success. They said that the necrosis (dead tissue) and erosions (inflammation and bleeding) were “incidental” and not tomato-related. The FDA staff pathologist, however, was not convinced. He responded that “the criteria for qualifying a lesion as incidental were not provided.” Further, he said that the disparity between the studies “has not been adequately addressed or explained.”

In reality, the new study was not actually a “repeat.” They used tomatoes from a different batch and used a freeze-dried concentrate rather then the frozen concentrate used in the previous trial. Dr. Martineau explained to me that by freeze-drying, it allowed them to put more of the concentrated tomato into each rat. But Dr. Pusztai said that altering the preparation of the food can lead to different results. He also pointed out that humans were more likely to consume frozen concentrate compared with freeze-dried.

In spite of the outstanding issues, the political appointees at the FDA concluded that the lesions were not related to the GM tomatoes. To be on the safe side, however, Calgene on its own chose not to commercialize the tomato line that was associated with the high rate of stomach lesions and deaths. The other line went onto supermarket shelves in 1994.

Faulty science rules the day

This was the very first GM food crop to be consumed in the US. It was arguably the most radical change in our food in all of human history. It was the product of an infant science that was prone to side-effects. Yet it was placed on the market without required labels, warnings, or post-marketing surveillance. One hopes that the FDA would have been exhaustive in their approval process, holding back approvals until all doubts were extinguished. But the agency was officially mandated with promoting biotechnology and bent over backwards to push GMOs onto the market. As a result, their evaluation was woefully inadequate.

Having discovered problems in the stomach, for example, Dr. Pusztai said they should have looked further down the digestive system at the intestines as well, but they didn’t. They should have increased the number of animals in the experiment to strengthen the findings, but they didn’t. And they should have used young (e.g. month-old) and pregnant animals as is done with pharmaceutical studies, but they didn’t.

They did, however, use rats with vast differences in starting weights. This invalidates any conclusions that there were no significant differences in weight gain, feed intake, or organ weights between GM- and non-GM-fed groups. The starting weights in the Flavr Savr experiment ranged from 130 to 258 grams for males, and 114 to 175 grams for females. Contrast that with the hundreds of rat feeding trials conducted by Dr. Pusztai, where the starting weights were within a range of 1 or 2 grams.

Dr. Pusztai also pointed out that the experimental tomatoes were grown at different locations and harvested at different times, which further increases the variability of results.

The FDA’s defense that the bleeding stomachs did not come from the Flavr Savr diet was also an exercise in faulty science. They blamed the lesions on mucolytic agents in the tomato (i.e. components that dissolves thick mucus); but according to Dr. Pusztai, tomatoes are not known to contain mucolytic agents. The FDA also claimed that it might be the food restriction in the rats’ diet—but the rats ate as much as they wanted. Or maybe it was the animal restraint—but the rats were not restrained.

The explanation that stuck to the wall was that the process of force-feeding the tomatoes through tubes was the reason for the stomach lesions. But as Dr. Pusztai and FDA scientists both observed, there was no adequate explanation as to why the rats fed GM tomatoes in the earlier study had the higher rate of lesions.

Dr. Pusztai said the “study was poorly designed and executed and, most importantly, led to flawed conclusions.” He warned, “the claim that these GM tomatoes were as safe as conventional ones is at best premature and, at worst, faulty.”

Fortunately, the Flavr Savr tomatoes lacked flavor. They also got mushy (unless they were handled in such a way that the company spent more money getting them to market than it could sell them for). They were taken off the market by the time Monsanto bought Calgene in 1997.

After the Flavr Savr’s superficial review and controversial approval, no subsequent GMO producer has ever presented such detailed safety test data to the FDA.

Part 2: The Liars

I write about the Flavr Savr in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. Two biotech advocates, Drs. Chassy and Tribe, created a GMO disinformation site that allegedly discredits all 65 health risks highlighted in the work. I have already shown that their attack on the first risk, Dr. Pusztai’s potatoes, was based on pure PR spin and scientific sleight of hand. Below I respond to their accusations regarding the Flavr Savr.

1. (Chassy and Tribe) FDA records clearly show that experts stated that the process of introducing stomach tubes can damage the rats’ stomachs and/or end up placing test material in the lungs. . . The reader is not told that regulators approved the tomato because their concerns had been fully satisfied that the GM tomato was not toxic.

As indicated in Part 1, the actual scientists at the FDA wrote memo after memo declaring that the higher rates of lesions in the GM-fed group could not be explained away, and that they were not fully satisfied by the explanations. The discrepancy between what the political appointees at the agency stated publicly, and the concerns expressed in private memos by the scientific staff, has been clearly documented.

In fact, one memo reveals that during their Flavr Savr review, the FDA was making blatant and possibly illegal exceptions. One person wrote, “It has been made clear to us that this present submission [Flavr Savr] is not a food additive petition and the safety standard is not the food additive safety standard. It is less than that but I am not sure how much less.” According to attorney Steven Druker, who is an expert in US food safety law, the FDA’s own regulations clearly state that a lower standard should not have been applied in this instance.

As for the stomach lesions, without repeating the study with the same tomatoes, in the same concentration, with larger sample sizes, we can’t be confident that the GM line was the cause. But likewise, we can’t be confident that they were not. It’s another example of too few data.

2. No real differences were seen between groups of animals in the study. Contrary to Smith’s claims, expert pathologists stated that mild gastric erosions were seen at similar levels in both GM and non-GM fed rats.

This is quite a bizarre statement, given that seven female rats had stomach lesions in the first study, compared to none in the other feeding groups. Even the experimenters said that the results suggest a treatment-related effect. I guess if you completely ignore the main rat study in question, which apparently Chassy and Tribe would like us all to do, then you will not see significant differences. But putting blinders on to ignore inconvenient evidence does not prove safety or demonstrate good science.

3a. Rats might have been injured . . . by accidental administration of test material into the lung instead of the stomach.

3b. Gastric lesions can be caused by acidosis brought on by fasting.

Neither of these arguments address why 7 of 20 females fed GM tomatoes had lesions while the controls, reared under the same conditions, did not. Furthermore, since the rats did not fast but ate as much as they wanted, why would they throw in this irrelevant point (if not to obscure the truth)?

4. Smith is actually asking the reader to believe that the FDA would approve a lethal product.

Believe it! The FDA approves lethal products all the time. According to a report by the United States General Accounting Office, more than half of the drugs approved by the FDA between 1976 and 1985 had severe or fatal side-effects that had not been detected during the agency’s review and testing. In other words, after drug companies spent an estimated 12 years and $231 million dollars to research, test, and secure new drug approval through a very hands-on FDA approach, most of the drugs had to be taken off the market or required major label changes due to missed safety issues.

With GMOs, the situation is far more dangerous. The FDA doesn’t require a single study, the complex biology of GM crops may produce far more side-effects than drugs, GM foods are fed to the entire population, and they are not labeled or monitored, so symptoms are difficult or impossible to track.

5. There is no evidence of animal deaths. . . . Smith may have confused the words necrosis and dead cells with animal deaths. Careful reading reveals that the regulatory record does not mention any animal deaths which surely would have been of concern had they occurred. . . . This claim (in Pusztai and others 2003) appears to be blatantly untrue.

They would hope it was untrue. But just because they didn’t have access to the 44,000 documents made public from the lawsuit does not mean that the deaths did not occur. I can assure you they did, and that Dr. Pusztai, widely recognized as the world’s leading expert in his field and author of more than 300 studies, would not mistake dead cells for animal deaths.
In fact, on page 18 of the IRDC Report, it refers to “necroscopy data” on each animal. Necroscopy is an examination of a dead body, not dead cells.

The reason why the FDA scientists did not raise this issue is that they apparently either did not read the endnote, or simply accepted the unsupported conclusion on face value, which said that the necroscopy suggested that the deaths were due to a husbandry error and not test-article related. Even the Calgene scientists didn’t raise eyebrows at the finding. It wasn’t until a highly experienced animal feeding study expert like Dr. Pusztai reviewed the original papers that this oversight became apparent.

6. Interestingly, eating too many tomatoes can kill rats.

It is odd that Chassy and Tribe first claim that no rats died and then try to argue that if rats did die, tomato overdose could be the culprit. Since all the rats were fed under similar conditions, their killer-tomato argument fails to explain why 7 of 40 GM-fed animals died, compared to only 1 in the other groups.

7. These products are assessed carefully for safety before they are marketed, and—more importantly—there is no scientific reason to believe they pose and (sic) new or different risks.

To claim that there are no new potential health hazards from GMOs is absurd. Fran Sharples, the Director of the Board on Life Sciences at the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), told me, “The academies have issued numerous reports on assessing the risks of transgenic plants. If the academy believed there were no such potential risks, why would we have delved into these matters in these reports?” One of those NAS reports even acknowledged that the current system of regulating GMOs might not detect “unintended changes in the composition of the food.”

The Royal Society of Canada stated that it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to presume that GM foods are safe and that the “default presumption” is that unintended, potentially hazardous side-effects are present. A WHO spokesperson said that current regulations are not adequate to determine the health effects; the Indian Council of Medical Research called for a complete overhaul of existing regulations; and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium of GM foods altogether.

Since Chassy and Tribe are fond of using the FDA policy as support for their position, I am happy to quote Linda Kahl, an FDA compliance officer, who directly contradicts their ridiculous assertion. In a memo that summarized the position of FDA scientists about GMOs, she stated, “the processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different, and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks.”

What’s Chassy and Tribe’s real motive?

Many of the arguments presented by Chassy and Tribe are easily and completely countered by the evidence. If one were feeling especially generous, one might guess that they simply weren’t aware of the strong concerns voiced in quotes by FDA scientists, the incidence of stomach lesions in the first study, or the fact that the rats didn’t fast. But these points were contained within the very passage of Genetic Roulette that they were supposedly critiquing. If they actually read the book, which we must assume they did, then they absolutely knew that their counter-arguments were directly contradicted by FDA memos and study reports, and thus were utterly false.

Why then did they construct their website in the first place? It appears that they are not really motivated to make cogent scientific counter-arguments, but instead are hoping that the readers blindly accept their baseless condemnation of Genetic Roulette and never actually read the book.

This tactic is similar to other techniques used by the biotech industry that I describe in Genetic Roulette. GMO advocates, for example, often write up lengthy studies or reports that hardly anyone ever reads in detail. Instead, people generally look at the abstract and/or conclusion and accept the authors’ declaration that the findings demonstrate GMO safety. But when an expert actually takes the time to go through the details, he or she discovers that the conclusions are entirely unsupported and unjustified. In some cases, they are in direct opposition to the data.

It took the biotech industry three years to create their so-called academic review of Genetic Roulette. The mere fact that after all that time they could not put together even the most basic scientific arguments is a tribute to the authenticity of the book. If they could have used science to counter it, they would have. But they didn’t. They used spin.

It will continue to be my delight to go through each of their pages to expose their “scientific” sleight-of-hand. But I am much more motivated to spend my time taking steps that will end the genetic engineering of the food supply, rather than trying to convince the handful of people who accidentally wander onto Chassy and Tribe’s disinformation site. So have patience.

The new PCB: Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer turning up in air, rain and rivers

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, Natural News staff writer

(NaturalNews) Last month, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released a report showing that air, rainwater and rivers across the Midwest US agricultural belt are routinely contaminated with high levels of glyphosate, a pervasive herbicide produced by biotechnology giant Monsanto. And according to some, Monsanto has likely known about this for some time, but chosen to hide it from the public.

After two years of gathering and analyzing environmental samples, USGS scientists determined that the more than 180 million pounds of glyphosate spread on conventional and genetically-modified (GM) crops every year is causing “significant” environmental contamination.

Certain that Monsanto is hiding its own critical information about Roundup, Ken Cook, president of the consumer advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), has written an open letter to Hugh Grant, chairman and president of Monsanto, petitioning him to immediately release any and all studies the company is hiding about the herbicide.

“Monsanto notoriously hid PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) contamination in Alabama for decades,” said Cook, referring to the infamous Monsanto PCB scandal where a plant producing the chemical from 1929 to 1972 ended up turning the entire town of Anniston, Ala., into a type of toxic waste zone — and PCB is still showing up around the area to this day (

“We are asking that in this case, [Monsanto] tell the public what it knew about glyphosate contamination, and when it knew. It is inconceivable that a company with Monsanto’s scientific capacity did not predict, and examine, the possibility of air and water contamination by glyphosate.”

Back in the summer, it was revealed that Monsanto knew glyphosate caused birth defects, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer. This was discovered in many of its own scientific studies. But according to reports, the company knowingly withheld this crucial information from the public, and from government officials, in order to keep the product on the market (

So is it unreasonable, then, to assume that Monsanto is aware of, but withholding, critical data proving that glyphosate permeates into the deepest corners of the natural environment upon extensive use, contaminating everything in its path? Cook appears to think so, and we tend to agree with him.

You can read Cook’s full letter to Monsanto’s Grant here:…

GMO Trilogy

This explosive exposé reveals what the biotech industry doesn’t want you to know – how industry manipulation and political collusion, not sound science, allow dangerous genetically engineered food into your daily diet. Company research is rigged, alarming evidence of health dangers is covered up, and intense political pressure applied. Chapters read like adventure stories and are hard to put down:

  • Scientists were offered bribes or threatened. Evidence was stolen. Data was omitted or distorted.
  • Government employees who complained were harassed, stripped of responsibilities, or fired.
  • Laboratory rats fed a GM crop developed stomach lesions and seven of the forty died within two weeks. The crop was approved without further tests.
  • The only independent in-depth feeding study ever conducted showed evidence of alarming health dangers. When the scientist tried to alert the public, he lost his job and was silenced with threats of a lawsuit.

Read the actual internal memos by FDA scientists, warning of toxins, allergies, and new diseases – all ignored by their superiors, including a former attorney for Monsanto. Learn why the FDA withheld information from Congress after a genetically modified supplement killed nearly a hundred people and disabled thousands. The GMO Trilogy’s was released in April 2006 in conjunction with Earth Day (April 22) and International GMO opposition Day (April 8)—a coordinated 30-nation campaign to raise awareness about genetically modified (GM) food.

Unnatural Selection (parts 1 – 5)

Hidden Dangers in Kids’ Meals: Genetically Engineered Foods (parts 1-3)

You’re Eating WHAT?


Response to “Some truth about GMO” by Mr. Wilmot Simmons

— 04 November 2011 — by Naud Brouwer

Dear Editor,

The use of BT in organic farming is a fact; the thing is that organic farmers have used BT as a pesticide, sprayed on their crops so the UV light from the sun can break it down, and the rain could wash the BT off before any product would be harvested.

Another interesting thing is that the BT used by organic farmers for over 50 years is a weakened or almost dead bacteria. This is only sprayed in case of high insect infestation and only onto the affected area. The bacterium inside the spray contains the pro-form of the so- called BT toxin.

This is not an active component; it needs to be tailored (cut to size) to produce the active BT toxin, which is effective as a pesticide.

When the insect eats the dead bacterium, the toxin is partially digested in the insect gut by proteolytic (cutting) enzymes and converted to active BT toxin. This is actually a lectin which binds to the gut wall of the insects and this interferes with the digestion/absorption of food, thereby preventing growth, maturation, reproduction.

The actual bacterium, which is not eaten by any insects, degrades in the light/sun/rain pretty fast (less than a day). The chances of pests developing resistance to it are very low indeed, since all the pests which are exposed to the toxin are affected by it.

NOTE! The ACTIVE TOXIN can only be found IN THE GUT OF THE INSECT. (Susan Pusztai Bt in organic
farming and GM crops – the difference)

The BT produced by BT corn however, does contain high doses of the active toxin, in the whole plant. The toxin cannot be washed off, or broken down by the sunlight. It stays in the plant after harvesting. The rest material of the plant breaks down, and the BT toxin gets into the ground, and the groundwater. Because of the constant exposure to BT toxin the pests that the farmers want to control develop a resistance to the BT itself, and this means that farmers will have to start spraying even more pesticides than they had to do before with their conventional Hybrid seed.

Is BT corn safe to eat? There has not been any long term testing on humans, so we simply do not know. We do know that:

• BT is extremely similar (so much so it is difficult to distinguish without sophisticated testing) to two other bacteria: B. cereus, which causes food poisoning, and B. anthracis, which causes anthrax.

• BT secretes many of the same toxins B. cereus does when it is growing. There is mounting evidence that spores germinate in humans and can live for extended periods of time in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. The effect of these low level infections is unknown, but there have been isolated reports of disease caused by BT. One of the reasons BT may not be seen as a common cause of sickness is that it is very hard to test for its presence – many cases diagnosed as B. cereus gastroenteritis (a fairly common form of food poisoning) may in fact be caused by BT.

• People with sensitive immune systems could be affected in ways we do not yet know, but immune responses are seen when BT infections establish in humans.
• DDT was used for thirty years and was claimed to be extremely safe for humans. The same sort of testing done to arrive at that conclusion has been
done with BT. (Quick Bt Facts)

“Lower crop production”

I am not aware of anyone saying that there will be a lower crop production. But I do know from scientific research that the promised higher yields are not as promising as the big companies tell us.

I would like you to read “failure to yield” written by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicate that the average corn production per acre nationwide over the past five years (2004–2008) was about 28 percent higher than for the five-year period 1991–1995, an interval that preceded the introduction of BT varieties.

But our analysis of specific yield studies concludes that only 3–4 percent of that increase is attributable to BT, meaning an increase of about 24–25 percent must be due to other factors such as conventional breeding.”

Failure to yield

Another interesting research on higher yields is a study performed over 30 years.

“Organic farming is far superior to conventional systems when it comes to
building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil. For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional.

When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage, and human health, it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not.”

FST 30 Years

Since I am writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper and not a book, I have to leave it at this for now. I do want to challenge Mr. Simmons to come up with some unbiased (not paid for by any of the big GMO companies) research about all the issues there are about GMO corn. And I want him to convince me that there is nothing to worry about.

Naud Brouwer
San Miguel, Toledo


Biotechnology Issues for Developing Countries

GMOs and Development

Edgar J. DaSilva
Director, Section of Life Sciences
Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences
UNESCO, Paris, France

Important issues such as the conservation of the environment, the energy crisis, expansion and migration of populations, use of agro-residual resources, ocean agriculture, global warming, water security, biowarfare, and emerging diseases have somehow made it to the top of the agenda of international co-operation. The perennial problems of widespread starvation linked to poverty are now back again in the limelight as a result of globalization, biotechnology and summit meetings. Novel agriculture, genetic modified organisms (GMOs), GM crops and products, and bio-based economies have been spotlighted by governmental attention and public action in recent international forums.

The UN Human Development Report 2001 (HDR) “Making New Technologies Work for Development” identified biotechnology as a key avenue for the socio-economic advancement of the developing countries. Considered as the latest frontier of the corporate world, biotechnology enriching the way we do and teach science is full of entrepreneurial opportunities for networking the technological transformation of the developing world. Such opportunities result from simple yet spectacular research in microbiology and molecular biology that closely intertwine with information technology and nanotechnology—i.e. bionanomatics.

The enzymatic machinery of the invisible microbe and genetic tailoring are being harnessed to design solutions to enhance soil fertility, increase crop yield, and engage in molecular farming for the production of new bio-products and novel crops. Use of GMOs will increase in the future to obtain a variety of bioproducts ranging from biofuels, bioplastics, biodiesel, biodetergents, biolubricants, and biopharmaceuticals to bio-ornamentals reflecting new plant and floral architecture (Box 1).

Growth of the gene-based pharmaceutical market, assessed at US$2.2 billion in 1999, for treatment of diseases not possible in the past, is now projected at $8.2 billion in 2004. Edible vaccines administered through GM-foods, and possibly in the future through breakfast cereals, will conserve more human resources at a fraction of current costs. Simply eating a banana or a potato chip with tomato paste could result in a patient receiving a hepatitis B needle-free vaccine for two cents instead of the usual US$15 for an injectable dose. In fact, GMO technology has spurred economic progress in the technically-advance societies.

Traditional chemical, metallurgy, and pharmaceutical industries already are undergoing rapid assessment and adaptation to accommodate the green component into daily production processes. Starch-based polymers have been used for water-retention in calcareous loamy soils for cultivation of mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) in Saudi Arabia; sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) in India, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) in Egypt, and ornamental plants – Rosa cavina, Lotonis bainesii, Indigoferata schimperi, and Hibiscus rosa var. chinensis in Singapore, South Africa and Thailand.

Generally-speaking genetic engineering techniques have been applied to crops of the industrialized world rather than to those on which the world’s hungry depend on. Corporate research activities in agricultural biotechnology, seemingly profit-oriented, should involve resource-poor farmers from least developed countries without adding costs to their meagre household incomes, to better use new knowledge in producing higher yields of pest resistant crops, and in improving local gender and socio-economic conditions. Hunger in these countries, results from a complex situation of interconnected factors –lack of adequate purchasing power, poverty, non-availability of back-up financial facilities, low crop yields, and a deteriorating environment. Some 80 developing countries possess neither the ability to produce sufficient food to feed their own populations nor the foreign-exchange reserves to import food supplies to cover the deficits. President Jimmy Carter said: “Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is. Without adequate food supplies at affordable prices, we cannot expect world health or peace”. Several of these low-income food-deficit countries are poverty-prone or poverty-stricken (Box 2). Poverty in urban areas in coming decades will overtake rural numbers.

The face of agriculture is expected to change in the next two decades. GMOs are widely used in the European Union (EU). At least 27 distinct plant species have been tested in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK with about 70 field tests per country. Other EU countries conducting field trials were Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Two years ago, a global review by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications of commercialized transgenic crops showed an increase of 21,1 million hectares between 1998 and 1999. Today, almost 45 million hectares of GMO crops are grown worldwide involving especially Argentina, Canada, China and the USA. In China, 13 gene-altered crops (i.e. rice, wheat, beet, potato, tomato, corn, peanut, rapeseed, sweet pepper and cotton) have been released in the agricultural sector, over a 10-year period, since 1986. Currently, some 50 per cent of all crops are engineered genetically.

Introduction of high-yielding, drought tolerant, and early ripening varieties have led to impressive gains in maize production in Central and West Africa. In turn there is development of supplementary and increased food markets in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Zaire. Such gains result from local collaboration in the semi-arid food grain research and development project sponsored by the scientific commission of the Organization of African Unity and the US Agency for International Development. Genetically-modified trees, have several important uses, inclusive of landscape development, and are of value in forest ecosystems and plantation use. A potential new tree crop for cultivation in saline soils, naturally occurring in Morocco, is the argan tree-Argania spinosa.

In developing countries there is widespread use of GMOs. Approximately 150 releases of GMOs have been conducted in these countries. Ten countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru) were engaged in field trials with 7 transgenic crops (cotton, maize, potato, soyabean, tomato, banana and sugarcane); and countries expected to follow with such trials are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Three countries in Africa and the Arab States (Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe), and five countries in Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) are engaged with 5 transgenic crops (cotton, corn, potato, soyabean and tomato). And, in Africa, field trials are expected to get underway in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

The beneficial aspects of GMO crops and foods for developing countries are: improved nutritional quality and health benefits; an improvement in the quantity and quality of meat, milk and livestock production; enhanced market possibilities and agronomic traits; clean and safe methods for production of edible vaccines and drugs; wider environmental impact through development of clean technologies; reduction in dependence on costly fertilizers and herbicides resulting in valuable savings for poor-resource farmers; and no evidence that commercial transgenic crops contain new allergens other than those in normal foods nor have a negative impact on human health.

Allied to such advancement are the issues of biosafety and biosecurity. GMOs have actually been one of the first beneficiaries of biosafety assessment. Guidelines and directives issued by several international and UN agencies, inclusive of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission the universally accepted authority that sets the necessary standards, have been of great help. Nevertheless, the negative rather than the positive aspects have been retained, as is typical of human wont, in the public mind. Loss, of plant biodiversity resulting from economic reliance on a GM species for production of fruit juice; and of landscape diversity arising from demands for more land for public housing and transportation, have little to do with GMO ill effects on human health. As President Carter said: “By increasing crop yields, genetically modified organisms reduce the constant need to clear more land for growing food”.

A World Bank report on Bioengineering of Crops, in 1998, indicated the value of bioengineering in an improvement of 25% in food crop yields in developing countries. A year later the Bank, through a report on Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor, drew attention to biosafety and ethical issues. In July 2000, a report on Transgenic Plants and Agriculture prepared by the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and the Third World Academy of Sciences also emphasized the importance of GMO technology enhancing agricultural benefits in developing countries.

On the other hand, genetically-produced cocoa and vanilla flavours developed elsewhere are eroding export markets in Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar, and adding to unemployment levels. Sugar biosubstitutes are affecting the export earnings of Mauritius, Cuba, Grenada, and the Windward Islands. Also, the indiscriminate appropriation of the indigenous peoples’ knowledge, and the exploitation of native intellectual property resources without adequate compensation are other negative aspects of the globalizing use of GMOs which are obtained from parent animals, plants and microorganisms. Focus of attention has been primarily with the latter two groups of organisms. In summary, the negative features of use of GMOs are: loss of crop genetic diversity; economic loss of evaluated biodiversity and crop genetic diversity; threat to use of generic medicinal products, inadequate compensation costs, alteration in nutritional quality of foods; prevalence of religious, cultural, ethical issues (i.e. with vaccines and single-cell protein (SCP); and concerns of monopolistic ownership of the 15 major food and non-food crops.

The case of fermented foods in relation to GMOs is of interest. A wide category and range of fermented foods which may contain whole or parts of natural organisms, are prepared and conserved in near-to-safe hygienic conditions. Yet, they are widely ingested world-wide without fear or reluctance in contrast to the doubts and prejudices experienced with release of GM foods into public markets.

Significant promotional, permissive, precautionary and preventive choices; and, policy stances in the areas of biosafety, food safety, consumer choice, public research and trade have been featured for developing countries in the HDR. Public concern and debate in industrialized societies on environmental uncertainties and health risks of use of GMO technology should not discourage the developing world from reaping benefits from using GM crops and GMOs to solve their pressing problems of hunger and malnutrition. Much needed public education and understanding of GM food science through appropriate popularization programmes could help do away with vocabulary like “Frankenstein foods”, monster bugs and genetic pollution which only fuel fear and adverse reaction to GMOs. After all, humankind, unwittingly, has been eating genetically-modified foods since the dawn of agriculture as exemplified in wheat, which from the early days of wild wheat, then through einkorn and emmer wheat, and then through spaghetti wheat and bread wheat has finally resulted in biotech wheat. Controversial or not, GMOs could be the breakthrough technology for economic progress in developing countries.