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Dear friends
I find this article most interesting, and a big help for our discussions.

All my best
Florianne Koechlin






The disappearance of science in public interest
Beatrix Tappeser, Institute for Applied Ecology, Freiburg, Germany

19. 10. 2002,  Vilm (D)

Over the last two decades there has been a silent shift in research
policies in biology and agriculture. Biotechnology percieved as one of the
key industrial technologies of the new century is the main field for
investment. The focus of research programmes is on those fields where
dominating commercial interests are found.
In addition scientist are more and more dependent on money by big
industrial players. Conflicts of interest are one consequence. Another
consequence is that certain research questions are no more addressed
because these questions are not in the interest of the commercial partners
and they are not willing to give money and material for such research
projects (e.g. biosafety research)

An international analysis of biosafety research, that is, research on
possible ecological and health impacts (Sukopp and Sukopp 1997) came to the
conclusion that less than 1% of the world-wide biotechnology development
budget has been used for research regarding safety effects. In other words,
before the first commercial plantings in 1996, ten years of field testing
had been performed without looking in depth into possible ecological
consequences.
A review published 2000 in Science came to the conclusion: "A review of
existing scientific literature reveals that key experiments on both the
environmental risks and benefits are lacking." (Wolfenbarger and Phifer
2000)

The  German government spends about  1o,2 Million Euro or 3 % of the
biotechnology budget each year for biosafety research. That seems quite a
lot at least in comparison with the EU-Budget (About 71 Mill. Euro in 15
Years or 4,7 Mill. _ per year = less than 1% of  the biotechnology budget)
or the US-budget (2,1 mill. US $ in the year 2001) but part of the money is
dedicated to the development of sterile plants, new marker genes or better
designed gene constructs. That is a help to develop biotechnology-products
to meet public concern, not a research design to look into the possible
outcome of such products in the environment.

On the other hand investment in agricultural research with direct benefit
for the farmer and the environment eg in the context of ecological farming
is even less than the investment into biosafety research. The german
minister for research and education does not fund a single project, even
though the ministry is spending about 250 Mill. _ for biotechnology
projects.
The German research community funds 12 projects out of 9267 projects. Only
the agricultural ministry is investing a bit more, 20 projects out of 4230.
But Renate Künast has installed a new research programme dedicated to
further develop ecological farming. About 9 Mill. _ will be spend in 2002
and 2003.

Science in public interest and a proper evaluation of emerging technologies
has to fight with additional difficulties. There are quite a number of data
indicating that aspects of earlier risk scenarios based on hypotheses
derived from biological and ecological knowledge may become reality but
there appears to be a lot of considerable disconnection between the
emerging data coming from biosafety research and the handling of these data
in the context of evaluation and decision making. There are strong hints
that double standards are used when evaluating the evidence submitted for
market approvals. To arrive at  the following summary I refer both to a
study performed by Les Levidow and Susan Carr commissioned by the European
Commission (Levidow and Carr 2000) and to an own study done for the German
Technology Assessment Bureau (Vogel and Tappeser 2000). The main outcome of
both studies is the  following: studies or statements which underline the
benefits of transgenic plants are readily accepted by regulators in the US
and the EU even if those studies are not peer-reviewed and rely only on
laboratory experiments. Studies indicating risks and possible negative
ecological or health impacts are heavily criticised no matter if they are
peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals. These studies are
strongly criticized when they rely only on laboratory experiments.


A central issue that has figured in the discussion on the cultivation of
transgenic plants since its very beginning is that of outcrossing of such
plants and the introgression of the recombinant genes into related weed and
wild plants. It was more or less agreed at least in the beginning of the
debate that pervasive spread of transgenes should be avoided as if at all
possible, as this may have problematic effects on species networks and on
biodiversity in general. A point now attracting increasing attention is the
implication of resistance development (herbicide and insect resistence)
through outcrossing and the consequences of that development for
agricultural land use systems. In Europe canola is at the center of
interest because several related species are prevalent there. All
experience and data gained in the course of the past years point to a high
probability of transgenic rape populations becoming established outside
cultivated areas and the subsequent possibility of gene flow into
non-transgenic populations and related wild herbs. Nowadays gene flow as
such is often judged as being of no special concern. It is said, gene flow
only constitutes a risk when the outcome, the possible impact in the
complex networks can be described and these impacts are judged as having
specific negative consequences.  Otherwise such gene flow is qualified as a
"so what" type of conclusion.

But the demand to describe the impacts of gene flow can only be met with a
broad longterm research programme because of the complexity, the multiple
knowledge gaps and uncertainties that exist. Given the current level of
investments in the field of biosafety and assessment of ecological impacts,
such a research programme would extend into the next twenty years at least.
Allison Snow, a professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and
Organismal Biology, Ohio State University describes in a commentary for
"Nature Biotechnology" the importance and the investment in research
dealing with gene flow with the following words: "Most government agencies
that regulate GM plants ask for information about gene flow and its
consequences, but it`s often difficult to find peer-reviewed publications
with relevant data. To some extent, the problem can be traced back to a
lack of funding (and interest) from government programs that sponsor
competitive agricultural research grants. Š To complicate matters further,
few biotechnology companies are willing to fund independent risk assessment
research or provide precommercial transgenic cultivars for study"
(Transgenic crops - Why gene flow matters, Nature Biotechnology, June 2002,
page 542)

Looking into the promised benefits of pesticide reduction the situation
does not  improve. The EU Directorate General for Agriculture published an
analysis on yields, pesticide use and financial return for the American
farmers. The overall conclusion reads as follows: "The studies reviewed do
not provide conclusive evidence on the farm-level profitability of
GM-crops." (DIRECTORATE-GENERAL FOR AGRICULTURE 2000, Executive Summary,
page 4).
Data publisded are quite diverse and often not comparable. 3 - 13 % less
yield, and growing pesticide use since 1998 after a short period of
reduction is the result of the EU analysis concerning Round Up Ready soy
beans. These data are confirmed by Benbrook, an independent agricultural
consultant specialist (BENBROOK, C. (2001) Do GM crops mean less pesticide
use? Pesticide Outlook, Oktober 2001, p.204-207.). Even a study published
by the Economic Research Center of USDA admits that soy farmers don`t see
any financial return (Adoption of Bioengineered Crops, ARS Report No. 810,
May 2002).
Planting of herbizide resistent maize did not allow for herbicide reduction
but led to a 30% higher consumption of herbicides on the field (Benbrook
2001)
Again the use of Bt-maize did not reduce pesticide use, yields were the
same or slightly more according to the EU Analysis.. (DIRECTORATE-GENERAL
FOR AGRICULTURE 2000)
Herbicide resistent canola yielded between 15% less to 15 % more. There are
no clear-cut data on herbicide use, but emerging data on double and triple
resistent canola plants becoming a severe weed.

Only Bt-cotton allowed for pesticide reduction. (BENBROOK 2001)
But resistence development and weed shift can be observed and produce new
problems. Because of emerging resistant weeds in herbicide resistent cotton
Monsanto recommends spraying with additional herbicides. New
herbicide-mixtures are on the market to fight resistent volunteers and less
sensitive weeds. (Farm Press online 15.8. 2002)

According to a study published by the Soil Association not only the claimed
ecological and economic benefits are missing. To the contrary the adoption
of GM soya, maize, and oilseed rape could have cost the US economy US $ 12
bn since 1999 in farm subsidies, lower crop prices, loss of major export
orders, and product recalls., the report estimates. The Soil Association
based its report on interviews with academics, advisers, and industry
analysts in North America, as well as organic and conventional farmers in
the US. (www.soilassociation. org)

What rests: We spent billions of Euro and Dollars in favour of 5 global
players: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont , Dow and Bayer. These are the winners
of a research agenda fitting into an industrial paradigma. Science in
public interest has been lost on that way.
References:
Agronomic Research Service (2002) Adoption of Bioengineered Crops,USDA-ARS
Report No. 810, May 2002
Benbrook, C. (2001) Do GM crops mean less pesticide use? Pesticide Outlook,
Oktober 2001, p.204-207.
Directorate General for Agriculture (2000) Economic Impacts of Genetically
Modified Crops on the Agri-Food Sector, A First Review
Levidow, L., Carr, S. & Wield, D. (1998). Market-stage precaution: managing
regulatory disharmonies for transgenic crops in Europe. Binas Online:
Biosafety Reviews. http://binas.unido.org/binas/Library/cabi/levidow1.shtml
Sukopp H, Sukopp U (1997) Ökologische Begleitforschung und Dauerbeobachtung
im Zusammenhang mit Freisetzung und Inverkehrbringen gentechnisch
veränderter Kulturpflanzen. In: Thüringer Ministerium für Landwirtschaft
NuU(TMLNU) (eds.), Erfurt,  Chancen und Risiken der Gentechnik im
Umweltschutz, 43 -51
Snow, A. (2002) Transgenic crops - Why gene flow matters, Nature
Biotechnology, June 2002, p. 542
Vogel B, Tappeser B (2000) Der Einfluss der Sicherheitsforschung und
Risikoabschätzung bei der Genehmigung von Inverkehrbringung und
Sortenzulassung transgener Pflanzen. Öko-Institut e.V.; Study commissioned
by the German Technology Assessment Bureau Auftrag,  Berlin, available as
pdf-file under www.oeko.de (only german)
Wolfenbarger L L, Phifer P R (2000) The Ecological Risks and Benefits of
Genetically Engineered Plants. Science 290: 2088-2093.


Florianne Koechlin
Blueridge-Institute
Blauenstrasse 15
CH 4142 Münchenstein

http://www.blauen-institut.ch
http://www.blueridge-institute.ch