Transgenic Crops


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Transgenic Crops

  1. 1. ATTRA Transgenic Crops A Publication of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Jeff Schahczenski Transgenic Crops describes the basics of genetic modification for agricultural purposes and a brief his-and Katherine Adam tory of the technology and the governing policies surrounding it. This publication offers a brief overviewNCAT Program of the main agricultural crops that have been genetically modified, the characteristics they express, andSpecialists the market roles they play. Unintended consequences, economic considerations, and safety concerns© 2006 NCAT surrounding the cultivation and dissemination of transgenic crops are also discussed. Biopharmaceuti- cal aspects of transgenic crops are also briefly addressed. Economic, legal, and management concerns associated with these types of crops are addressed, as well as political and regulatory aspects. Implica- tions of transgenic technologies for sustainable agriculture are briefly addressed along with concluding remarks. References and resources follow the narrative.ContentsIntroduction ..................... 1What Are TransgenicCrops? ................................. 3Unintended Effects........ 5Commercial TransgenicCrops and Their Traits ... 6Issues Facing Farmersand Ranchers ................... 9Crop Yield, Costs, andProfitability ........................13Organic Industry .......... 17Influence on PublicResearch .......................... 17Industry Concentration To increase the genetic diversity of U.S. corn, the Germplasm Enhancement for Maize (GEM) project seeks toand Farmers’ Right to combine exotic germplasm, such as this unusually colored and shaped maize from Latin America, with domesticSave Seed ........................ 18 corn lines. Photo by Keith Weller, USDA ARS.Regulation of TransgenicCrops and Apportion-ment of Liability ........... 19Conclusion ...................... 22 Introduction researchers, and certain nonprofit organi-References ...................... 23 zations. Particularly vocal are groups that The ability to transfer genetic materialAppendices .................... 26 represent the interests of civil society. between two unlike species for agricul- tural purposes and crop production is the The quantifiable facts surrounding geneti- subject of this publication. Development of cally modified foods seem less in dispute than the science and methods to produce trans- the growing number of implications. These genic crops began around 1983 as part of a often take form in ethical arguments, whichATTRA—National Sustainable broader technological movement to modify some supporters of transgenic crops write offAgriculture Information Serviceis managed by the National Cen- organisms for economic, medical, military, as a defense of cultural artifacts. Yet theter for Appropriate Technology(NCAT) and is funded under a and other general human ends. new capacities brought about by transgenicgrant from the United States foods in particular reveal a general lack of Implications surrounding the modificationDepartment of Agriculture’s research into these many implications.Rural Business-Cooperative Ser-vice. Visit the NCAT Web site of life carry significant and complex ethi-( cal issues. The capacity to produce trans- For instance, in 2001, the Experiment Sta-html) for more informa-tion on our sustainable genic crops causes great controversy among tion Committee on Organization and Policyagriculture projects. government agencies, business consortia, (ESCOP) and the Extension Committee on
  2. 2. Organization and Policy (ECOP) published of other U.S. crops. (USDA/NASS, 2005) a report on critical issues in agricultural (See Table 1.) biotechnology and recommended responses. Three types of transgenic produce have While calling for education of the public in been commercialized—sweet corn, win- regard to transgenic technologies, the report ter squash, and papaya. As of January 6, also called for land-grant research on trans- 2006, the following fruit and vegetable genic crops to address four substantive con- crops have been granted deregulated sta- cerns raised by the environmental commu- tus by the USDA Animal and Plant Health nity. (See Appendix 2.) To date, little of this Inspection Service (APHIS): papaya (two type of research has been conducted, since varieties), potato, squash, sugar beet, sweet it has never been adequately funded. corn, and tomato. Except for papaya and As of June 30, 2005, the U.S. Department a small amount of sweet corn, transgenic of Agriculture and the National Agriculture fresh produce is currently unavailable to Statistics Service (USDA/NASS) reported American consumers. Fruits and vegeta- that transgenic varieties comprised 87 per- bles for processing may be available very cent of all soybean acreage planted in the soon—perhaps by fall 2006—as seed has United States (up from 60 percent in 2001, been released to contract growers. (Hagen,Related ATTRA and 85 percent in 2004). As of the same 2006) The European Union is debating thePublications date, transgenic corn acreage planted was question of permitting transgenic crop pro-Seed Production and 52 percent (up from 47 percent in 2004). duction alongside its well-established organicVariety Development Transgenic upland cotton was 79 percent production in order to avoid World Tradefor Organic Systems (up from 76 percent in 2004). No acre- Organization (WTO) sanctions against tradeOrganic Crops age was reported for transgenic varieties barriers. India is conducting field trials ofWorkbookBiodiesel: Table 1.The Sustainability Acreage planted to transgenic varieties, as percentage of total corn, soybeans, cotton acreageDimensions by state. USDA/NASS, June 30, 2005. Corn Soybeans Cotton Arkansas 92 96 California 53 Georgia 95 Illinois 36 81 Indiana 26 89 Iowa 60 91 Kansas 63 90 Louisiana 95 Michigan 40 76 Minnesota 66 83 Mississippi 96 96 Missouri 55 89 Nebraska 60 91 North Carolina 95 Ohio 18 77 South Dakota 83 95 Texas 63 Wisconsin 46 84 Other states 52 84 91 US 52 87 79Page 2 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  3. 3. The Benbrook Report: Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: 1996–2004 The major genetically engineered (GE) tions of herbicides, or so-called “herbi- ket in 1972, by Monsanto. crop varieties commercialized since cide-tolerant” crops (HT), account for the largest share of GE acres. About Corn and cotton have been geneti- 1996 in the United States have been 487 million acres have been planted cally engineered to express the bac- designed to help control a damaging since 1996, or 73 percent of total GE terial toxin Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. class of insects and simplify herbicide- crop acres. Herbicide-tolerant soy- This transgenic trait allows plants to based weed management systems. beans are the most widely planted GE manufacture within their cells a crys- Over the first nine years of commercial crop technology and account for more talline protein that is toxic to most use, 670 million acres of crops express- than half the total acres planted to GE Lepidopteran insects (moths and ing GE traits have been planted, or varieties since 1996. The vast majority butterflies). Some 183 million acres about 23 percent of the total 2,970 mil- of HT crops are engineered to tolerate of Bt transgenic corn and cotton have lion acres of crops harvested across the glyphosate (trade name “Roundup,” been planted since 1996, represent- country during this period. or referred to as “Roundup Ready”), ing 27 percent of total GE crop acre- Crops engineered to tolerate applica- the herbicide introduced to the mar- age. (Benbrook, 2004)transgenic maize (corn), mustard (oilseed Under the broadest defi nition, the use ofcrop), sugarcane (ethanol production), sor- biological sciences to develop products—ghum (ethanol and animal feed), pigeon- conventional plant and animal breedingpea, chickpea, rice (staple food grain), techniques, conducted since the dawn oftomato, brinjal (eggplant or aubergine), civilization—fall under biotechnology. Inbanana, papaya, soybean, and medici- the popular press, biotechnology generallynal plants. China anticipates commercial- refers to newly-developed scientific meth-izing transgenic rice varieties by 2008. ods used to create products by altering the(Dansby, 2006) Table 2.The top five countries growing transgenic Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops. 2005.crops in 2005, according to The Interna- Rank Country Area (mil. Ha/A.) Croptional Service for the Acquisition of Agro- 49.8/723.0 Soybean, maize (corn), cotton, 1 USABiotech Applications (ISAAA) were the canola, squash, papayaUnited States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, 2 Argentina 17.1/42.2 soybean, maize, cottonand China. (See Table 2.) Fourteen coun- 3 Brazil 9.4/23.2 soybeantries were ranked in the fi rst tier as major 4 Canada 5.8/14.3 canola, maize, soybeanadopters of the technology. (ISAAA, 2006) 5 China 3.3/8.2 cottonA checklist to aid prospective U.S. growers 6 Paraguay 1.8/4.4 soybeanof transgenic crops in interpreting condi- 7 India 1.3/3.2 cottontions imposed by the agribusiness licensee, 8 So. Africa 0.5/1.2 maize, soybean, cottonincluding company technology agree- 9 Uruguay 0.3/.7 soybean, maize, cottonments, is published online by RAFI-USA 10 Australia 0.3/.7 cotton( (Moeller and Sligh, 11 Mexico 0.1/.2 cotton, soybeanFarmers’ Guide, 2004) 12 Romania 0.1/.2 soybean 13 Philippines 0.1/.2 maizeWhat Are Transgenic Crops? 14 Spain 0.1/.2 maizeNo uniformly accepted defi nition of bio- 15 Colombia <0.1/.2 cottontechnology exists, according to the National 16 Iran <0.1/.2 riceCenter for Agricultural Law Research and 17 Honduras <0.1/.2 maizeInformation (NCALRI ) (www.aglawcenter. 18 Portugal <0.1/.2 maizeorg). The center provides several defi ni- 1 ha = 2.47 a. (results rounded to .0)tions and ATTRA Page 3
  4. 4. genetic makeup of organisms and produc- genes from one species—an animal, plant, ing unique individuals or traits that are bacterium, or virus—and inserting them not easily obtained through conventional into another species, such as an agricul- breeding techniques. These products are tural crop plant. An intermediate organism often referred to as transgenic, bioengi- or virus can be used to “infect” the host neered, or genetically modified because DNA with the desired genetic material. they contain foreign genetic material. Agri- Microparticle bombardment technology culture is one of the fi rst industries radi- is also widely used to deliver exogenous cally affected by this new technology on nucleic acids (DNA from another spe- both a fundamental production level and a cies) into plant cells. The desired genetic legal level. (NCALRI, 2000) material is precipitated onto micron-sized metal particles and placed within one of The focus of this publication is on crop a variety of devices designed to acceler- varieties created through transgenic modi- ate these “microcarriers” to velocities fication, or genetic modification (GM). The required to penetrate the plant cell wall. products of transgenetic engineering are In this manner, transgenes can be deliv- often called genetically modified organ- ered into the cell’s genome. New DNA can isms, or GMOs. All these terms refer to also be inserted into a host cell using elec- methods by which biologists splice genes troporation, in which a jolt of electricity is from one or more species into the DNA of applied to cells to create openings in the crop plants in an attempt to transfer cho- plasma membrane that surrounds a cell. A sen genetic traits. The method is known as (typically antibiotic-resistant) marker gene recombinant DNA technology. is included in the package to verify degree Genes are segments of DNA that contain of effectiveness in introducing the foreign information that in part determines the end DNA. Gene stacking is becoming more function of a living organism. Genetic engi- common, adding a whole array of traits at neers manipulate DNA, typically by taking once into the host organism. (Stierle, 2006) Steps in electroporation and other methods of gene transfer Steps in electroporation and other method to amplify DNA and produce rary pores, the donor gene’s DNA methods of gene transfer: a workable amount of the gene. is injected. The DNA is injected in the form of transfer plasmids that 1) The DNA sequence for the gene 4) Once acquired, there are several migrate to the chromosome and that will be altered is identified and ways to transfer the donor gene into become incorporated in the plant’s obtained from a donor organism the cells of the target organism. In DNA. Shortly after the charge (bacterium). This can be done by rice, a somewhat advanced process is and injection, the cell membrane referring to known information per- utilized. This process is electropora- reforms. The cell wall also reforms taining to the sequence of the gene tion, wherein special wall-denatur- in a reverse process. which is to be selected, followed by ing enzymes remove the plant cell the removal of the gene from the wall. The cells become protoplasts, 5) The newly altered cells are then donor organism. which are plant cells stripped of the placed in a culture to reproduce cell wall but still encapsulated in the the unique cell types that compose 2) The desired gene is removed from cellular membrane. In the next step the organism. the donor organism through the use of electroporation, a very high volt- of site-specific enzymes known as age electric charge is sent through 6) The resulting cells are then restriction enzymes. the protoplast-containing solution. transferred to a regular growth envi- This charge causes the membrane ronment where the newly incor- 3) The desired gene is then subject to temporarily deteriorate, forming porated gene will be expressed. to polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a small pores. Through these tempo- (Bromley, no date)Page 4 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  5. 5. The whole process can be illustrated by from being able to precisely control theits application in the engineering of trans- traits the host plant will express and togenic rice, using electroporation. guarantee genetic stability in subsequent generations. (Ryan and Ho, 2001) ThisWith the advent of genetic engineering of potential for instability can lead to unpre-plants around 1983, it appeared that trans- dictable and undesirable effects, examplesgenic manipulation might benefit and even of which include plant infertility, produc-revolutionize agriculture. The transfer of tion of toxins and allergens, and reduc-desirable genetic traits across species bar- tions in yield and plant fitness. The trans-riers offered potential promises to solve genic seed industry consistently countersproblems in the management of agricultural that since genes from no known allergenscrops, provide new possibilities to improve are incorporated, adequate care has beenhuman and animal health, and provide a taken to guard against this revenue stream for farmers through (USDA/OIG, 2005)contract production of pharmaceutical andindustrial crops. (ESCOP/ECOP, 2000) Transgenetic engineers who rely on the sim- ple model of gene expression—the position PPotential environmental benefits included that one gene equals one effect—harbor otential forreduced toxic pesticide use, improved an outdated interpretation of genetic the-weed control resulting in less tillage and instability ory, and one that could have serious impli-soil erosion, and water conservation. Fur- can lead to cations. Pleiotrophy is the understandingthermore, the new technology promised unpredictable and that one gene may control multiple traitsincreased yields. in an organism. Pleiotrophy multiplies the undesirable effects.Transgenic crops were also patentable. uncertainty surrounding transgenic crops.Technology agreements or engineering A gene identified as controlling a desirablewould insure that seed could not be saved trait may in fact control multiple traits in aover for planting the next year. The develop- variety of ways. Pleitrophy is common, ander’s intellectual property rights were thereby the interactions of genes with each otherprotected, which offered the potential to and with the environment add complex-increase profits and theoretically garner a ity. To accurately predict the effects of newmonopoly over the transgenic seed supply. genetic combinations is nearly impossible. The introduction of a novel life form into anUnintended Effects ecology can trigger effects perhaps too great to be understood during our time. While itCurrent methods of gene transfer are not is true most mutations don’t survive, thoseprecise. While scientists can control with that do can profoundly affect human andrelative exactness the “trait gene” (or its other life forms.synthesized analog) to be inserted into ahost plant genome, they cannot entirely For instance, transgenic soy strains appearcontrol its location, nor the number of cop- to exhibit unintended effects. Field obser-ies that get inserted. Location of genetic vations reported to the University of Geor-material is important because it controls gia (New Scientist, 1999) and Universitythe expression of biological traits, just of Missouri (UM press release, 2001)as genes themselves do. Also, inserted noted physiological problems affectingDNA frequently contains multiple stacked yields. Research published by Univer-genes for different traits (eight in the New sity of Arkansas scientists in 2000 notedLeaf potato), increasing chances of unde- that glysophate disrupts the nitrogensirable interactions. fi xation process in Roundup Ready soy. (King et al., 2001)A common and unpredictable occurrenceis “silencing” of either the inserted genetic The current marker and promoter genes ofmaterial or adjacent native genes. Pres- choice also may create new hazards. Theent scientific knowledge is still a long way antibiotic-resistant marker genes carry ATTRA Page 5
  6. 6. potential to increase the variety of bacteria an acceptable level of possible collateral dam- resistant to antibiotics. (Sheldon, 1993) The age, as long as it is far enough down the road. viral promoter genes could combine with (USDA/OIG, 2005) other infecting viruses, or be scrambled by the plant, to create new viral proteins. Each piece of the inserted gene package described above carries with it the poten- The cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) is a tial to disrupt non-target portions of the very powerful promoter and is commonly host plant’s DNA, to create instability in used. The CaMV can potentially cause the the new genetic construct, or to result in inserted DNA package to be expressed out unpredictable combinations that can create of proportion with the rest of the genetic new substances, viruses, or bacteria. What code. When inserted with a particle gun, this adds up to is the possibility, again, of the CaMV promoter can jump out of the unintended effects—particularly in subse- DNA package and land somewhere else quent generations of the engineered plant. in the host genome, causing disruption. To date, no known replicated studies have The bacterial and viral vector genes could been conducted that confi rm or disprove recombine to form active pathogens—either potential long-term effects on human health. new ones, or old ones with renewed viru- No known mechanism was proposed or lence, or with broader host specificity. included to identify undesirable side effects (Stierle, 2006) of the engineering process. The ESCOP and ECOP report mentioned A December 2005 USDA assessment in the Introduction, while advocating and of APHIS protocols for monitoring GE offering specific advice for an extensive trial crops criticized oversight lapses. education campaign in support of biotech- APHIS countered that it was relying on nology, at the same time called for research an accepted risk/benefit assessment pro- studies to be carried out on several key cess, while USDA took the position that safety issues raised by the public. An 18- oversight should be strengthened, on the member Biotechnology Implementation assumption there is significant risk—until Task Force convened and issued an update the new technology has been proven safe in July 2001. However, nothing more has beyond doubt. been heard from this committee. (ESCOP/ ECOP, 2000) (See full text of the initial report at Commercial Transgenic Crops and Their Traits While increased yields and improved nutri- A ma i n reg u lat i ng tional value are among the promised ben- agency for transgenic efits of transgenic crops, most now planted technology in the U.S. worldwide are designed either 1) to survive is the Animal and Plant exposure to certain herbicides (called her- Health Inspection Ser- bicide-tolerant, or HT), or 2) to kill certain vice (APHIS), a division insect pests (called pesticidal or insecti- within the Department of cidal). The transgenic tomato was designed Agriculture. Rather than for long shelf life. It is unclear whether conduct safety studies, the increased beta-carotene in transgenic APHIS appears to accept “Golden Rice” (derived from the daffodil) risk-management tools is in a usable form for human nutrition, such as “performance- especially in the absence of dietary fats and based regulatory stan- proteins. (Grains of Delusion, 2001) dards” and “science-A retooled gene in Endless Summer tomatoes con- based risk assessment Transgenic herbicide-tolerant crops havetrols ripening to give better flavor and shelf-life. policies and procedures.” been altered to withstand being sprayedPhoto by Jack Dykinga, USDA ARS. This approach allows for with broad-spectrum herbicides, with thePage 6 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  7. 7. idea that one application will take care of One other large-acreage North Americanmost types of weeds without killing the crop. transgenic crop is canola (a low erucic acidInsecticidal crops contain genes of the soil form of European rapeseed). Canola isbacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These a major oilseed crop in Canada, but onlyBt genes cause the plants to produce a a minor crop in the U.S. However, untilchemical toxic to the European corn borer, recently, it was thought that acreage ofthe cotton bollworm, and other caterpillars. both canola and rapeseed would increase(Caterpillars are the larvae of insects in the in the near future in the Pacific Northwest.Lepidoptera order, which includes moths On May 9, 2006, a proposed large produc-and butterfl ies.) tion facility at Gray’s Harbor, Washington, announced that it would produce biodieselAs of 2005, about 87 percent of world trans- from Asian palm oil, thus bypassing thegenic acreage was in the U.S. (See Table “seed crushing hassles” of canola/rapeseed.2.) Herbicide-tolerant crops accounted for (Montana Department of Environmentalabout three quarters of the acreage planted, Quality, 2006)worldwide, to genetically engineered cropsin 2005. Pesticidal crops, or a combination Proposals to plant substantial acreages ofof pesticidal and herbicide-tolerant crops, canola and rapeseed (Brassica napus, B.accounted for most of the remaining acre- rapa)—much of it transgenic varieties—inage. Acreage devoted to crops with stacked Oregon’s Willamette Valley to produce rawgenes intended to express a variety of traits material for biodiesel production causedis increasing. (USDA/NASS, 2005) considerable concern among small-acre- age vegetable seed producers. A prelimi-With an overwhelming amount of U.S. com- nary 2006 Oregon State University Exten-modity program crop acreage devoted to sion study predicted a high potential fortransgenic versions, seed for conventional gene flow between B. napus canola andvarieties is becoming scarce for those who other B. napus crops (rutabaga and Sibe-choose not to plant transgenic crops. Tra- rian kale). Likewise, B. rapa rapeseedditional seed scarcity can affect farmers holds the potential for gene flow with itswho wish to return to non-transgenic corn, closely related vegetable crops (Chinesesoya, or cotton. (Holden, 2002) Cotton seed cabbage, pai-tsai, mizuna, Chinese mus-is controlled by two large suppliers work- tard, broccoli raab, and turnip). Potentialing with a large public research institution. for crossbreeding between the two oilseedDevelopment of the non-transgenic organic/ crop types was rated high, as well. Poten-specialty cotton sector, which accounts for tial of crossbreeding with wild (Raphanusthe 37 percent non-transgenic cotton acre- raphanistrum) and cultivated (R. sativum)age in Texas (Table 1), has been ham- forms of radish was considered low. Morepered by concerns about cross-pollination study was called for regarding outcrossingand boll-weevil control. Soybeans and corn of canola with B. oleracea vegetables (cab-(often planted in rotation in the Upper Mid- bage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohl-west) cover the most transgenic acres. There rabi, collards, and kale).may be some new evidence that field work-ers working with Bt cotton are developing Oregon Extension concluded that “genet-allergic reactions. (Bernstein et al., 1999) ically modified canola [and rapeseed] Table 3. Percentages of U.S. 2005 crop acreage planted to insecticidal, herbicidal, and stacked-gene varieties. Insect resistant Herbicide resistant Stacked-gene Soy 0 87 0 Corn 26 17 9 Cotton 18 27 ATTRA Page 7
  8. 8. present the greatest risk to vegetable cruci- Other traits engineered into commercial fer seed crops…. The presence of the gene transgenic varieties include disease resis- would make the seed crop unsuitable for tance, high pH tolerance, and several nutri- markets that have strict tolerance on GMO tional, taste, texture, and shelf-life charac- contamination”—i.e., organic, identity pre- teristics (BIO, 2000)—primarily through served (IP), and European exports. Fur- gene stacking. thermore, “transgenes are relatively easy to detect at very low levels, so it is likely that In the absence of transgenic labeling, the their presence could be detected even if average U.S. consumer may not realize that only a few interspecific hybrids were found ingredients derived from transgenic corn, in a vegetable seed lot.” (Myers, 2006) soya, and oilseed are in 70 percent of the foods found in U.S. retail food outlets. Most While acknowledging the risks to the pro- prevalent is high-fructose corn syrup, which ducers of the nation’s garden seed crops is replacing other sweeteners in a wide vari- located in the Willamette Valley, researchers ety of mass-produced food products. The suggested that the vegetable seed producers Biotech Industry Organization agrees that could pack up and move. (Myers, 2006) transgenic oils and ingredients derived from Most transgenic cotton is herbicide toler- corn and soya are pervasive in conventional ant, though some varieties have the Bt trait; processed foods. Now that transgenic horti- transgenic canola is herbicide-tolerant. The cultural crops are in the marketplace, no one first transgenic wheat, initially planned will know for sure—in the absence of label- for commercial introduction in 2003, is ing—whether fresh produce or processed Roundup-tolerant. On May 10, 2004, Mon- shelf products contain engineered crops. santo announced that it was discontinu- Five years ago introduction of transgenic ing all research and field trial activities on fresh produce appeared imminent. Winter Roundup-Ready wheat. After seven years of squash and a limited amount of sweet corn development, the release said, efforts to win are now being retailed. However, after the over farmers and the international wheat Flavr-Savr® tomato was withdrawn and market had failed. Starlink® feed corn caused a recall of taco A 2005 study published by the Western shells, the subsequent paths of crops such Resource Council showed that introduc- as tomatoes, potatoes, sunfl owers, pea- tion of genetically modified wheat would nuts, and sweet peppers diverged. Field lower income for wheat growers and the trials were conducted from 1993–2001 on wheat industry. The report projects costs transgenic peanuts, all in the U.S. Field per bushel and per acre for farmers adopt- trials were conducted from 1993–2002 on ing Roundup-Ready wheat and for non- sunflowers—in Australia, three European adopters under best-case and worst-case countries, and the U.S. Sweet bell peppers scenarios. Either way, farmers were pro- have been joined by rice, alfalfa, cabbage, jected to lose money from introduction carrots, cauliflower, sweet corn, cucumber, and use of the Roundup-Ready wheat. lettuce, mustard—and most recently, egg- (Benbrook, 2005) plant—on the list under development for Transgenic Potato in the U.S. More than 700 field trials of transgenic Bt potatoes were Large fast food chains, snack food manufacturers, and conducted in the U.S. from 1989–2002 by a single com- potato processing conglomerates eliminated transgenic pany. In 1996 Bt potatoes were made available to com- potatoes from their products. There are no other types of mercial growers, but after 2000 the Bt potato program transgenic potatoes currently approved for sale in the U.S. was abandoned due to lack of consumer acceptance. 8 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  9. 9. commercial release. Transgenic fruits forwhich field trials are currently underway(some in the U.S.) are apples, cherries, Unresolved Issues of Concerncranberries, grapefruit, kiwi, pears, per- Unresolved issues in transgenic agriculture:simmons, pineapple, plum, and strawber-ries. Transgenic papaya, raised in Hawaii, • Food safetyhas been commercialized for several • Farm managementyears, and plum has recently been dereg- • Crop yield, costs, and profitabilityulated by APHIS. (Plum is, of course, thesource of prunes.) • Marketing and tradeOne variety of transgenic f lax was • Organic industry impactsapproved in the U.S. in 1999, but trans- • Influence on public researchgenic fl ax is reportedly not being grown • Industry concentration and farmers’ right to save seedbecause of consumer resistance and mar-ket rejection. Flax seed oil and fl ax seed • Regulation of transgenic crops and apportionment of liabilityare popular nutraceutical products. ( rice trials in Missouri were halted commercial transgenic crops and theirby public protests. So far Iran is the only traits, see the APHIS list (Appendix 1).known country producing transgenic rice for Many disturbing unanswered questionshuman consumption. (See Table 2.) remain about transgenic crops and theirDespite indications in 2002 that lack of potential benefits, costs, and risks. Inpublic acceptance of transgenic food would fact, according to an independent sur-cause transgenic fi rms to change course, vey of research data on transgenic crops,it has turned out that transnational corpo- conducted by the Winrock Foundation’srations have changed tactics—conducting Henry A. Wallace Center for Agriculturaltrials overseas, keeping U.S. trials strictly and Environmental Policy, “The varietiessecret (perhaps even from regulatory over- and uses of genetically altered crops havesight by APHIS). The companies also grown much more rapidly than our abilitylobby industry groups, such as the wheat to understand them.” This study revealsboards, and seek to develop indirect mar- that only four percent of total federal agri-kets such as processing aids and minor cultural biotech funding is dedicated toingredients. Transgenic processing aids— environmental assessment. (Wallace Centerenzymes and ingredients used to improve Report, 2001)the color, fl avor, texture, and aroma of It should also be noted that there is evenmanufactured foods—and preservatives, less research dedicated to human and ani-stabilizers, vitamin additives, and a vast mal health impacts of the technology.number of minor ingredients are currentlybeing derived from transgenic corn or soy.(Non-GMO Source, 2002) Issues Facing Farmers and RanchersThe industry currently takes the position Since 2001 ecological risks of transgenicthat the public has been consuming highly crops have become evident.processed, transgenic foods for severalyears and that this large-scale experimentwith the American food supply has been a Flow to Neighboring Crops andsuccess. Corn, oilseeds, cotton, and wheat to Related Wild Speciesare the North American crops with the Gene flow from transgenic fields into con-most acreage and profit potential. For a ventional crops and related wild plantsmore complete list of current and future has occurred. This issue is of ATTRA Page 9
  10. 10. Pharmacrops After the year 2000, reorganizations crops engineered for biopharmaceuti- exact figure is not known because in the agrichemical/pharmaceuti- cal production include soybeans, rice, the USDA classifies these field trials cal industry led to a new emphasis barley, wheat, canola, and tobacco. as “confidential business informa- on development of bioengineered tion.” The December 2005 Office of products for enhancement of human Kentucky farmers report that trans- Inspector General (OIG) report criti- and animal health. Between 1999 genic tobacco has become the long- cized the regulatory agency charged and 2002, 315 trials of pharmaceuti- sought replacement crop after the with monitoring company field tri- cal crops were conducted in the U.S., tobacco buyout. Some was being tri- als for lax reporting and inadequate and such trials are ongoing. Corn is aled as a source of an AIDS medica- monitoring, especially of “high-risk by far the most popular pharmacrop, tion. As of 2001, biopharm field trials pharmaceutical and industrial crops” accounting for more than two-thirds had been conducted on at least 900 and called for “science-based risk of the biopharm plantings. Other acres, probably closer to 1,600. The assessment.” (USDA/OIG, 2005) concern to farmers because of the potential The Biotechnology Industry counters that to cause herbicide resistance. For example, resistant weeds can be controlled by “other in western Canada, three different herbi- herbicides.” Research done at Iowa State cide-resistant canola varieties have cross- University’s Leopold Center found that pollinated to create canola plants that are the increased cost negates any advantage resistant to all three types of herbicide. to the farmer of using transgenic seed. This new triple resistance has turned (Benbrook, 2001) volunteer canola into a significant weed Because of potential effects on pest man- problem. (Ellstrand, 2001) agement, crop marketability, and liability, Gene flow from transgenic crops to wild rel- more research needs to be done to deter- atives causes wild plants to acquire traits mine the conditions under which gene that improve their fitness, turning them flow from transgenic plants is likely to be into “super weeds.” For example, jointed significant. goatgrass—a weedy relative of wheat— can acquire the herbicide-tolerant trait of Pesticide Resistance in Roundup Ready wheat, and can therefore Insect Pests thrive in crop fields unless applications of Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, has been other herbicides are made. Frank Young widely used as a microbial spray because and his colleagues at Washington State it is toxic only to caterpillars. In fact, it is a University found that imidazolone-resistant pest management tool that organic farmers wheat (not a transgenic variety) outcrossed partially depend on—one of the few insec- to goatgrass in one season. (Stierle, 2006) ticides acceptable under organic rules. Other traits that wild plants could acquire Unlike the commercial insecticide spray, from transgenic plants that will increase the Bt engineered into transgenic crop their weediness are insect and virus resis- plants is reproduced in all, or nearly all, the tance. (Ervin et al., 2001) Alfalfa, a popu- cells of every plant, not just applied on the lar hay crop, can easily cross with black plant surface for a temporary toxic effect. medic, an invasive species prevalent in As a result, the possibility that transgenic the western U.S. The Federal Register of Bt crops will accelerate development of June 27, 2005, announced that genetically pest resistance to Bt is of serious concern. modified alfalfa was unrestricted and that Such resistance would remove this valuable seed has been released for sale to farmers. and environmentally benign tool from the (Moore, 2005; Non-GMO Source, 2005) pest control toolbox of farmers and forestPage 10 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  11. 11. managers. For more on Bt pest resistance, studies to be toxic to ladybird beetles,see Pest Management at the Crossroads, lacewings, and monarch butterf (Ervin et al., 2001) The extent to which these beneficials are affected in the fieldAntibiotic Resistance is a matter of further study. Second,As described in the earlier section on because the insecticidal properties ofhow gene transfer is accomplished, the Bt crops function even in the absence ofuse of antibiotic-resistant marker genes an economic threshold of pests, Bt cropsfor the delivery of a gene package into potentially can reduce pest populations toa recipient plant carries the danger of the point that predator species are nega-spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria. tively affected. ( implications for creation of antibi-otic-resistant diseases are disturbing. Reduced Crop Genetic DiversityResearch is needed on antibiotic resis- As fewer and larger fi rms dominate thetance management in transgenic crops. rapidly merging seed and biotechnology(ESCOP/ECOP, 2000) The European market, transgenic crops may continue the TCommission’s new rules governing trans- trend toward simplifi cation of cropping ransgenicgenic crops stipulated phasing out anti- systems by reducing the number and type crops maybiotic-resistant marker genes by the end of crops planted. In addition, seed-saving,of 2004. Because of potential effects on continue the which promotes genetic diversity, is dis-pest management, crop marketability, trend toward simpli- couraged. In Europe, seed-saving tradi-and liability, more research needs to be fication of croppingdone to determine the conditions under tionally practiced by a majority of farmers has been heavily restricted through reg- systems by reducingwhich gene fl ow from transgenic plantsis likely to be significant. By the end of istration requirements and subsidy pay- the number and type2005 no such research was underway and ments. To be certified, seed must exhibit of crops planted.implementation of the EU rule has been “distinctiveness, uniformity, and stabil-complicated by imminent publication of a ity,” called “DUS registration.” (Toledo,WTO ruling against EU trade restrictions 2002) A traditional landrace can be heldon transgenic crops. The ruling is certain uncertifi able (and effectively outlawed byto be appealed. (Kiplinger, 2006) billings for royalties and denial of subsidy payments) by being declared insufficientlyEffects on Beneficial Organisms distinct from a variety described in the EU Catalogue of Common Varieties. In anEvidence continues to increase that trans- interview, Nancy Arrowsmith, founder ofgenic crops—either directly or through Arche Noah, (Arrowsmith, 1987) notedpractices linked to production—are det- that traditional European landraces andrimental to beneficial organisms. New seed-saving practices are being squeezedstudies show that Bt crops exude Bt in out in Common Market countries.concentrations high enough to be toxicto some benefi cial soil organisms. Uni- Seed legislation is quite restrictive. In orderversity of Arkansas agronomists found to be distributed, seeds have to be regis-impaired “root development, nodulation, tered. There has to be extensive testing— up to seven years—and the registration feeand nitrogen fi xation” in Roundup-Ready is quite high. [Germany, Switzerland,] andsoy. (King et al., 2001) Disruption of ben- all of the countries that belong to the Com-efi cial soil organisms can interfere with mon Market have adopted what they call theplant uptake of phosphorus, an essential Common Catalogue. Only the vegetable vari-plant nutrient. (Massey, 2000) Benefi - eties listed in this Catalogue can be sold.cial insects that prey on insect pests can In Austria [Arrowsmith’s home] many vari-be affected by insecticidal crops in two eties are protected. … In the catalogue itways. First, the Bt in transgenic insecticidal will say that these cannot be reproduced incrops has been shown in some laboratory any ATTRA Page 11
  12. 12. Outlawing landraces by legislative fi at the need to apply pesticides for caterpillar (most recently in Iraq) was thwarted in pests like the European corn borer or the the U.S. by organizations like the Seed cotton bollworm, though they still have to Savers Exchange, which mobilized sup- contend with other crop pests. port for strong protection of the rights of While these crops offer simplified pest seed savers in Plant Variety Patent leg- control features, they may complicate islation passed in the late 1980s. Tradi- other areas of farm management. Farm- tional open-pollinated varieties are still ers who grow both transgenic and conven- vulnerable to genetic contamination by tional varieties of the same crop will need cross-pollination. to segregate the two during all produc- Following is a brief discussion of some of tion, harvesting, storage, and transporta- the remaining risk issues. tion phases if they sell into differentiated markets or plan to save their own seed Food Safety from the conventional crops. See the com- plete regulations for organic handling at Food safety issues, except as they impact domestic marketing and exports, are beyondT o minimize the scope of this publication. Five years ago To minimize the risk of gene flow from the risk of the major publicized concerns were environ- transgenic to adjacent conventional crop gene flow mental. Since then, the environmental com- fields, federal regulations require buf- munity has stalled some transgenic crops. fer strips of conventional varieties aroundfrom transgenic to Food safety concerns include: transgenic fields. Different transgenic cropsadjacent conven- require different buffer widths. Because the • Possibility of toxins in foodtional crop fields, buffer strips must be managed convention-federal regulations • Possibility of new pathogens ally, producers have to be willing to main-require buffer strips • Reduced nutritional value tain two different farming systems on their transgenic fields. Crops harvested from theof conventional vari- • Introduction of human allergens buffer strips must be handled and marketedeties around trans- • Transfer of antibiotic resistance as though they are transgenic.genic fields. to humans Planted refuges—where pest species can • Unexpected immune-system and live outside fields of insecticidal and her- genetic effects from the introduc- bicide-tolerant transgenic crops—are also tion of novel compounds required to slow the development of weed It is in part because of these concerns that and insect pest resistance to Bt and broad- domestic consumer demand for organically spectrum herbicides. These refuges allow grown crops continues to increase. There are some individuals in the pest population to other marketing problems that reflect reli- survive and carry on the traits of pesticide gious dietary and general religious (some- susceptibility. Requirements governing the times dismissed as “cultural”) sensibilities, size of refuges differ according to the type as well as ethical/philosophical concerns. of transgenic crop grown, but a 2006 report in AgBioForum, based on a survey of Indi- Farm Management Issues ana farmers, states the requirements are misunderstood by farmers and routinely The most widely planted transgenic crops ignored. For some crops they are unwork- on the market today can simplify short-term able. (Alexander and Van Melior, 2005) pest management for farmers and ranchers. In the case of herbicide-tolerant crops, ini- Farmers growing herbicide-tolerant crops tially farmers hoped to use a single broad- need to be aware that volunteer crop plants spectrum herbicide for all their crop weeds. the following year will be herbicide resistant. It has turned out that they need more than Such resistance makes no-till or direct-seed one application in most seasons. By planting systems difficult because volunteers can’t be insecticidal crops, farmers can eliminate controlled with the same herbicide used onPage 12 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  13. 13. the rest of the crop. In a no-till system that separate sections below. Liability isrelies on the same broad-spectrum herbi- discussed under regulation.cide that the volunteer plants are resistantto, these plants will contaminate the har- Crop Yield, Costs, and Profitabilityvest of a following conventional variety of Some farmers will get higher yields with athe same crop—a situation farmers tend particular transgenic crop variety than withto avoid for two reasons. First, the con- their conventional varieties, and some willtamination means a following conventional get lower yields. Yield variability is relatedcrop will have to be sold on the transgenic to many factors, including choice of the con-market. This leads to the second reason. ventional analog of the transgenic variety,If farmers grow and market a transgenic making it very difficult to analyze how anycrop for which they do not have a technol- one feature impacts yield. Costs of variousogy agreement and did not pay royalty fees, inputs are also constantly changing; andthey may face aggressive collection by the the ability of farmers to adjust to changingcompany that owns the transgenic variety. costs, particularly rapid changes, is limitedHundreds of U.S. farmers have already and affects profitability. Fbeen charged with “theft” of a company’s armerspatented seed as a result of contamination However, some yield, cost, and profit- ability trends do appear to be emerging growingin the field. (Altieri, 2000) from the growing body of research data for transgenicFarmers growing insecticidal crops need to transgenic crops. As noted in the Wallace crops need to com-recognize that insect pressure is difficult Center report, Roundup Ready soybeans municate with theirto predict and may not warrant the plant- were designed simply to resist a particularing of an insecticidal variety every year. neighbors to avoid chemical herbicide, not to increase yields.In a year when pest pressure is low, the contaminating In contrast, Bt corn and cotton, by resist-transgenic seed becomes expensive insur- ing insect pests, may result in higher yields neighboring fieldsance against the threat of insect damage. from reduced pest pressure. (Wallace and to ensure(Hillyer, 1999) Center, 2001) that buffers areFarmers growing transgenic crops need to adequate.communicate with their neighbors to avoid Yield: Herbicide Tolerant Crops—contaminating neighboring fields and to Soybeans, Cotton, Canolaensure that buffers are adequate. In Maine, Herbicide-tolerant soybeans appear tofarmers growing transgenic crops are now suffer what’s referred to as “yield drag.”required by law to be listed with the state Again, in some areas and on some farmsagriculture department, to help identify this tendency of Roundup Ready soybeanpossible sources of cross-contamination varieties to yield less than their compara-when it occurs. The law also “requires man- ble, conventional counterparts varies, butufacturers or seed dealers of genetically overall, they appear to average yields thatengineered plants, plant parts, or seeds to are five to ten percent lower per acre. Asprovide written instructions to all growers described earlier, impaired root develop-on how to plant, grow, and harvest the crops ment, nodulation, and nitrogen fi xationto minimize potential cross-contamination likely account for this yield drag. Droughtof non-genetically engineered crops or wild conditions worsen the effects. The bacte-plant populations.” (AgBioTech, 2001) rium that facilitates nodulation and nitro-Farm management issues common to gen fi xation in the root zone is apparentlyall transgenic crops include yield, cost, sensitive to both Roundup and drought.price, profitability, management flexibil- University of Missouri scientists reportedity, sustainability, market acceptance, and problems with germination of Roundupliability. Yield and profitability, as well Ready soybeans in the 2001 crop market acceptance, are discussed in (UM press release, 2001) ATTRA Page 13
  14. 14. Yields of herbicide-tolerant cotton are resulting from the buildup of resistance to reportedly not significantly different from heavily used herbicides is a long-term con- those of conventional cotton. (Benbrook, cern (Ervin et al., 2001) acknowledged by 2001; Wallace Center 2001, summarizing the transgenic crop industry. Pesticide use research by Klotz-Ingram et al., 1999) depends on the crop and its specific traits; weather, severity of pest infestations; farm Herbicide-resistant transgenic canola vari- management; geographic location of the eties yield less on average than conven- tional canola varieties. Transgenic canola farm; and other variables. As a result, con- costs less than conventional canola to pro- clusions drawn by various studies analyzing duce, but because of its higher yields, con- pesticide use on transgenic crops remain ventional canola returns more profit per controversial. According to the Wallace acre. (Fulton and Keyowski, 1999) Center report, in a review of the data avail- able up through 2000, crops engineered to contain Bt appear to have decreased the Yield: Insecticidal Crops— overall use of insecticides slightly, while the Corn, Cotton use of herbicide-resistant crops has resulted Insecticidal Bt corn and cotton gener- in variable changes in overall herbicide use, ally yield higher “in most years for some with increases in use of some herbicides regions” according to USDA Economic in some places and decreases in others. Research Service data from 1996 to 1998. (Wallace Center, 2001) Bt cotton, especially, outpaces yields of The crop for which studies are showing the conventional cotton by as much as 9 to 26 largest decrease in pesticide use is Bt cot- percent in some cases, though not at all in ton, with Bt corn resulting in only small others. Yield increases for Bt corn have not changes. Herbicide-tolerant cotton has also been as dramatic. (Fulton and Keyowski, resulted in little change in herbicide use. 1999) Time will tell whether farmers can (Ervin et al., 2001) expect yield increases or decreases in the long run with these and other transgenic The data for herbicide-tolerant soybeans crop varieties. seems harder to interpret. A recent study of herbicide use data on Roundup Ready soy- beans by Charles Benbrook, PhD, former Changes in Chemical Pesticide Use executive director of the National Academy One of the promises of transgenic tech- of Sciences Committee on Agriculture and nology is that it will now with the Northwest Science and Envi- reduce pesticide use ronmental Policy Center, concludes that the and thereby provide use of herbicides has actually increased environmental benefits because the weeds have become resis- while reducing farmers’ tant to Roundup. (Benbrook, 2004) While costs. The herbicide-tol- another recent study by scientists in The erant and insecticidal Netherlands shows a decrease in herbicide varieties are designed use on transgenic soybeans, it is clear that speci f ica l ly to meet weed resistance to Roundup may lead to these goals. increased herbicide use and to the need to Studies estimate a two to shift to more toxic compounds in the future three percent decrease (Ervin et al., 2001), and this is acknowl- in U.S. pesticide use, edged by the industry. American Soybean but the effects var y Association president Tony Anderson agrees widely by crop, region, that the developing resistance of weeds to and year. Increased herbicides such as Roundup is a problem. future pesticide use (Environmental News Service, 2001)Page 14 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  15. 15. The Wallace Center report emphasizes the Marketing and Tradeimportance of ongoing monitoring of pes- Buyer acceptance is a significant marketingticide use data. If farmers abandon inte- issue for farmers raising transgenic crops.grated pest management, which utilizes a Farmers need to know before they plantvariety of pesticide and cultural control what their particular markets will or won’tmethods, in favor of the simplified control accept. Since most grain handlers can-offered by herbicide-resistant and insec- not effectively segregate transgenic fromticidal transgenic crops, then early fi nd- non-transgenic crops in the same facility,ings of reduced pesticide quantities and many companies are channeling transgenictoxicity may not hold over the long run. crops into particular warehouses. FarmersRefer to chapter one of the Wallace Center need to know which ones and how far awayreport (Wallace Center, 2001) for USDA those are.pesticide use data comparisons betweent ransgenic and convent iona l crops, Many foreign markets have tended to bebroken down by crop. more leery of transgenic products than domestic markets, although this may change. World Trade Organization (WTO) BProfitability directives can force dropping of trade bar- razil,Farmers need to consider all the factors riers, but consumer acceptance cannot be Argentina,that determine profitability. No single fac- forced (when choice is possible). Africa is ator can tell the whole story. Transgenic crop and China special case, as authority to accept or rejectseeds tend to be more costly, and farm- rank among the transgenic products was retained by gov-ers have the added expense of a substan- ernments, and several have banned GMOs top five countriestial per-acre fee charged by the owners of in any form—even relief grain shipments. in acreage of trans-transgenic varieties. These costs have to be India has now developed its own transgenic genic soybeans.considered along with input cost changes— industry and is producing transgenic cotton,whether herbicide or insecticide use and while actively resisting attempts by others tocosts go down, go up, or stay the same. patent its indigenous crop genetics. Brazil,Market price is another factor. Prices for Argentina, and China rank among the topsome transgenic crops in some markets are five countries in acreage of transgenic soy-lower than prices for comparable conven- beans, maize, and cotton. Even two Euro-tional crops, though rarely they are higher. pean countries—Spain and Romania—areFarmers need to watch the markets. Some producing transgenic crops for animal feed.buyers will pay a premium for a non-trans- (See Table 2.)genic product, though as transgenic seedsfi nd their way into conventional transpor- Eighty-six countries and the Europeantation, storage, and processing steams, Union have agreed on implementation stepsthese premiums may disappear along with for the UN’s Cartagena Protocol on Bio-confidence that “GMO-free” products are safety, which came into force in Septemberin fact truly free of engineered genes. 2003. A rigorous system for handling, trans-Future availability of conventional seed porting, packing, and identifying transgenicis another issue. Once farmers try trans- crops was part of the agreement. All bulkgenic crops, they have reported becom- shipments of genetically engineered cropsing locked into the technology, as alternate intended for food, animal feed, or process-conventional seed supplies dry up. Also ing are to be labeled “May Contain LMOs,”the potential liability of transgenic plants (Living Modified Organisms) according to the UNEP. Major producers of transgeniccoming up in a conventional planting the crops, including Canada, Argentina, andnext year is important to farmers. Trans- the U.S., did not sign the protocol. (Agencegenic seed suppliers aggressively pursue France Presse, 2004)legal cases against any farmer usingtransgenic seed without having a signed Trade in transgenic livestock feed is moretechnology agreement. liberal than trade in transgenic human ATTRA Page 15
  16. 16. The rapid and widespread dissemination of conventional crop varieties, it is impossible the Cry9C Bt transgene (StarLink), which for them and the farmers that supply them is not approved for human consumption to serve these food markets. but was detected in tacos, shows how eas- Twenty percent of corn and 35 percent ily transgenic material can spread from of soybeans produced in the U.S. are animal feed to human food products. The exported (USDA/AMS, 2006), and more widespread publicity has resulted in even than 80 percent of these crops are used further resistance on the part of buyers to in animal feed. Few, if any, animal feed- purchasing transgenic products for human ing trials were carried out before trans- food. According to a report in Britain’s The genic crops were released. In 2005, grain Guardian, “No new transgenic crops have exports were down 5 percent overall from been approved by the European Union (EU) the previous year and 26 percent at Gulf since April 1998, and a defacto moratorium Coast ports (due to the hurricanes). on further approvals has been in place since June 1999.” (Osborn, 2001) However, trials In contrast, in a dramatic increase of food crops already approved continued, from 2001, 45 percent of U.S. wheat is and the European Union officially lifted exported. (USDA/AMS, 2006) Exports toI f approved, the its moratorium on the introduction of new countries that are resistant to buying trans- new regulations transgenic crops in 2004, although dur- genic food—particularly Japan and Euro- will complicate ing the debate over labeling and traceabil- pean nations—are dropping, but being ity regulations the moratorium remained in supplanted by increased demand fromthe export of U.S. effect. (Evans, 2001) Nigeria and Iraq. (USDA/AMS, 2006)farm products to Because wheat producers are so dependent Under the proposed new EU requirements,the EU because the on exports, they have vigorously resisted “all foods and animal feed derived fromU.S. does not require introduction of the fi rst transgenic wheat, GMOs have to be labeled and, in the casetraceability or label- originally slated for 2003, now on hold. of processed goods, records have to be kept The Japanese milling industry has made iting of transgenic throughout the production chain allowing clear that it does not want transgenic prod-crops. the GMO to be traced back to the farm.” ucts. As a result, Monsanto promised not (Evans, 2001) If approved, the new regula- to introduce Roundup Ready wheat until tions will complicate the export of U.S. farm Japan gave its approval. (Hord, 2001) products to the EU because the U.S. does North Dakota and Montana considered not require traceability or labeling of trans- legislation that would place a state mora- genic crops. Spain and Romania rank in torium on the introduction of transgenic the top 14 countries growing biotech crops. wheat. Recent federal regulation, under Both grow transgenic animal feed crops. the Homeland Security Act, would nullify Portugal, Germany, France, and the Czech any such local or state food laws. Republic grow small amounts of feed corn (maize)—less than 10,000 hectares (24,700 In addition to national and international acres), probably much less. policies on the use and importation of transgenic crops, processors and retail- While the U.S. does not require manda- ers in many countries have set their own tory labeling of processed food containing corporate policies. Major retail chains in transgenic ingredients, the EU, Russia, Europe and the U.S. have declared their Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, commitment to avoiding the purchase of New Zealand, and Ecuador do have such transgenic products, both feed and food. requirements, as of 2001. (Schrade and But, in the absence of labeling, most have Raabe, 2001) The degree to which the been willing to accept a pervasive pres- Cartagena protocol (Agence France Presse, ence of transgenic corn, soy, and canola in 2004) will be implemented by other signato- processed products. ries (see above) is unknown. Because many domestic merchandisers of agricultural com- Although European Union rules effectively modities do not segregate transgenic from barring U.S. corn imports have been recentlyPage 16 ATTRA Transgenic Crops
  17. 17. relaxed, since 1997 the European Union agricultural products fell below imports, forban has cost American farmers access to a the fi rst time in 20 years.$200 million annual market (Shadid, 2001)and the U.S. government billions in agricul- Influence on Public Researchtural price supports. While transgenic crop varieties are gener- ally the property of private corporations,Organic Industry those corporations often contract with pub-Organic farmers face even bigger marketing lic-sector agricultural research institutionsand trade risks, since their buyers expect for some of their development work. In fact,no transgenic contamination. Currently, private investment in agricultural research,organic production is process-oriented, not including germplasm development, has sur-testing oriented—except for exports. The passed public investment in recent industry has a system for segrega- (ESCOP/ECOP, 2000) With this shift intion, but recent tests for transgenic material funding priorities, the following ques-in organic products demonstrate that it is tions become important: Is the private sec-not immune to contamination from conven- tor unduly influencing the public researchtional systems. (Callahan, 2001) New tech- agenda? Are corporations directing publicnologies can reliably detect minute amounts research in socially questionable directionsof transgenic material. (See Seed testing, while research on, for instance, sustainablebelow.) Published reports from Europe and agriculture wanes? Are the outcomes of cor-the U.S. confi rm a high degree of accuracy porate-funded transgenic research and devel-for detection methods. (Non-GMO Source, opment by our public institutions equitable2004) European export markets organic across the food and agricultural sectors? Isfarmers might have enjoyed, and those that equity even a consideration of our publicproducers of non-GE conventional crops institutions when they accept this work?could have built upon, have proven unsta- When intellectual property rights (pat-ble in the presence of possible transgenic ents) apply to living organisms, mak-contamination. In 2005 U.S. exports of ing them private property, the free flow of Seed testing for genetically modified traits Selecting the appropriate test for seed will ultimately fulfill your needs. Five years ago, the Society of Commercial depend on the end use of the results. Are you looking for Seed Technologists (SCST) created an accreditation pro- the absence or presence of a trait, or do you need quanti- gram for technologists in these four areas. The program tative data? The best approach to testing for genetically ensures that the technologist is proficient in both the the- modified traits is to understand the ultimate use of the ory and practical application of the genetic purity tests tests and then to talk with the laboratory or technologist currently utilized by the seed industry. Using a laboratory that will be performing the test. The technologist will be with a certified or registered genetic technologist ensures able to describe the four types of tests commonly used that GM tests are conducted by an experienced person. The by the seed industry to test for traits: SCST Genetic Technology Committee and working groups are extremely active in providing training and education • Herbicide bioassay to keep members up-to-date in this rapidly evolving area • Immunoassay (ELISA, lateral flow strips) of seed testing. • Electrophoresis (PAGE, IEF, starch-gel) Hall, Anita, executive director, Society of Commercial Seed • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Technologists, Inc. powergrid/rfah=|cfap=/CFID/4091662/CFTOKEN/68435952/ The technologist can help you select the test that will best fuseaction/showArticle/articleID/ ATTRA Page 17