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3-Food: U.S. study on RR-soybeans under heavy critic

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TITLE:  Experts take biotech critic to task over soybean study
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA, by Robert Steyer
DATE:   June 25, 1999

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Food experts said Thursday that gene-altered soybeans and
standard beans have the same nutritional value, disputing a new
study that suggests biotech beans contain less of an important
nutrient. The experts say the study is flawed because it tested
only two varieties out of 3,000 that are commercially available
in the United States. Monsanto, the only commercial producer of
biotech beans, has used its Roundup herbicide-tolerant technology
on about 1,100 varieties. Food and crop scientists say the study
inaccurately makes conclusions based on the data, and they say
the authors made statistical errors. "If this had been submitted
to me, I wouldn't have sent it out for (peer) review," said Don
Bullock, associate professor of crop sciences at the University
of Illinois. Bullock, also an associate editor for three academic
agriculture journals, is a specialist in statistics. "The paper
is flawed from an experimental design and statistical analysis,"
Bullock told the Post-Dispatch.

The experts are reacting to a study - prepared by longtime
biotechnology critic Marc Lappe and three others - that hasn't
been officially published, even though Bullock and other
scientists have read it. The article is due for release next week
in the Journal of Medicinal Foods.

But a few days ago, Lappe unveiled an abstract of the article
early - on the Internet Web site of the Center for Ethics and
Toxics, in Gualala, Calif., an organization he founded and
directs. A spokeswoman for the publisher of the year-old,
quarterly Journal of Medicinal Foods said Lappe should not have
jumped the gun.

Meanwhile, the American Soybean Association, which noticed
Lappe's abstract, has launched a pre-emptive strike. The St.
Louis-based group has assembled on its Web site research articles
that say the nutritional contents of biotech beans and
conventional beans are the same. Differences in nutrient levels
can vary widely among the same varieties because of different
environmental conditions, says the research compiled by the
association. The differences claimed in Lappe's article are well
within the ranges reported in other studies, the association
says. "We wanted to make sure the facts got out," said Stephen
Censky, chief executive of the soybean group. "We didn't want to
play catch-up. We were concerned that people would overinterpret
the results."

Lappe's study says that in biotech beans there is a 12 percent to
14 percent drop in isoflavones, an estrogen-like substance in
plants. Some research has linked soybean isoflavones to reduced
rates of certain cancers, improved heart health and increased
protection against osteoporosis. (The Food and Drug
Administration is deciding whether soy protein can carry a label
saying it can improve a person's health.) "These data suggest
genetically modified soybeans may be less potent sources of
clinically relevant (nutrients) than their conventional
precursors," says the summary on Lappe's Web site. Lappe is a
former professor of health policy at the University of Illinois
College of Medicine.

"This is a pilot study, a preliminary study," said E. Britt
Bailey, a co-author and research associate of Lappe. "This should
encourage further independent testing of genetically modified
products. I would want more varieties to be tested." Another co
author, Kenneth Setchell, defended his measurements comparing
nutrition levels in biotech beans vs. standard beans. "The
numbers are statistically signficant, but nutritionally I don't
believe that has much relevance," said Setchell, a professor of
pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Setchell, who doesn't belong to Lappe's organization, objected to
Lappe posting a summary of the study before the publication date.
Food and crop experts sharply criticized Lappe's conclusions.
"Alluding that this amount of reduction (in isoflavones) is
damaging to health is absurd," said Clare Hasler, executive
director of the functional foods health program at the University
of Illinois. "A 12 percent to 14 percent reduction in any legume
is going to be insignficant," Hasler said. "You can get anywhere
from a 200 percent to 800 percent variation depending on
environmental conditions." These include weather, soil quality
and even the slope of the field where the beans are grown, says
the American Soybean Association. Hasler also is a member of the
editorial board of the Journal of Medicinal Foods. She read
Lappe's article, but only after it had been approved for

If she had seen the article earlier, "I would have recommended
that it probably should not have been published, or at least that
it should have been qualified in its context," Hasler added.
"Comparing two varieties is an incredibly small number."

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