National Academy of Sciences looks at Frankenfoods

Recently, the taxpayer supported National Academy of Science came out with a book looking at biotechnology in the food supply. The book:

Mendel in the Kitchen: Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food
by Nina V. Federoff and Nancy Marie Brown
352 pages, 6 x 9, 2004
The book can be found at

This book is worth checking out for its clear descriptions of how cross-genetic foods are created. Overall, my layman's feeling is that the author is dismissive of safety concerns even in the absence of testing, but the book is still interesting. Putting salmon genes in tomatoes to prevent freezing still seems like a bad idea to me. On the other hand, there are legitimate uses for genetic engineering, like greater drought resistance.

Like all books in NAS cataloged may be read on-line,or ordered in print or a regular PDF file. For someone looking for relatively balanced views of science issues, the NAS web site is a good place to start. That web site is


Daniel - I'm no molecular biologist but my wife is. In fact she does this work for a living.

There have been no, I repeat no, scientific/medicinal studies showing that gmo's are dangerous for human consumption. Nada. Much of this "Frankenfood" nonsense is underwritten by the organic food industry. You may not know it but you've been eating gmo's for over 8 years. Pure propaganda Daniel. GMO's go through a trial process much like drugs do with the FDA.

In fact, Greenpeace's founding father Patrick Moore, is a gmo advocate. Less pesticide, higher yield, less acreage used, less fossil fuel burning tractors, ... There is also the aspect of stacking gene traits to allow crops like corn grow in where it is not indigenous i.e. Africa.

A couple of books I recommend: "Dinner at the New Gene Cafe" by Bill Lambrecht and "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg.

Tomeboy,All the information that you sent my way will take awhile to digest, but since I've posted a new journal entry I didn't want you to think I was ignoring your reply.Let's take Cato first. While I am happy and proud to stand with them on issues of personal liberty and sound defense policy, I part company with them in their belief that unregulated markets will solve all problems. Even Adam Smith's writings presupposed an equal relationship between buyers and sellers. That doesn't exist in an age of large multinational corporations with profits larger than the GDP of many countries. My economic views are probably closer to (but not identical with) the Catholic Worker.I really do appreciate you bringing up Percy Schmeiser before I did. I hadn't realized that the case had gone all the way to the Canadian supreme court. That's one of the things I need to check out but don't have time to do now before I can answer you properly. (*I* don't have an agricultural specialist in the house.)In general, I am uncomfortable with ANY patents on genetic materials. I believe that life was created by God even though the exact means are a mystery. So in my mind anything that scientists do with it is infringing on prior art and therefore not patentable. :-)There's also the slippery-slope argument that now that we've allowed patents for plants, mice, and other creatures, patenting embryos and finally grown humans can't be far behind. In a materialistic culture where EVERYTHING, including the stuff of life, is a commodity, such a future seems inevitable.

Daniel- I just noticed after posting my reply that your DOS report is 6 years old. Hopefully the lack of new government information re the "terminator" corroborates and supports my explanation that this story is more of a tale than truth.

Daniel - the patent you are referring to was created by Delta Pine Land, a cotton seed company later purchased, then later sold by Monsanto back several years ago.

First, the "terminator" was only a paper patent. It was never marketed or used in the field. The concept behind the terminator was to prevent farmers from passing on unlicensed cotton seed. Keep in mind, it was designed, and could only be used, for a single generation of gmo seed. Why? (sorry for the boldface but this is critical to understand) Because sterile seed cannot by definition reproduce or cross pollinate. If it could reproduce, it wouldn't be sterile.

Sterile plants, by definition, cannot leave offspring and so are incapable of "spreading sterility." Furthermore, no "terminator" plants have ever been marketed. They remain an abstract concept described in a patent application. But if some day in the future they are ever produced, or if other genetic use restriction technologies are developed and deployed, they are likely to be an excellent, safe, and robust method of mitigating potential gene flow in those rare instances where such gene flow might be undesirable.(AgBioWorld)

Rest assured. Monsanto nor any other seed company has, is or is planning to use a "terminator" gene.

As for safety, I'll let you read a few studies.Ironically while I'm sitting here my wife is reading resumes of folks that will be working with her making Frankenfoods ; ) . I've just asked her to tell me in one sentence or less why GMO's are safe. I lost her after ..."all new vectors must have an etox sequence to test against any possible allergenicity. For example the proteins expressed in bt resistant soybean must be meaured against digestion models for risk assessment.... She continued on but it was getting a bit to scientific for me.

Now to your last concern about monopolistic power. First, much gmo seed is stolen. Argentina and China most noteworthy. Enforcing international laws and patents is nearly impossible. Even for Monsatan as some like to call it. But a bigger issue. Why should crop sciences be exempt from intellectual property protection? Farmers are under no obligation to by gmo seed. Consider Liz' organic farm. They certainly have made a choice to stay gmo-free. Cross pollinization or as my wife has just told me "outcrossing" of gmo seed with other seed is extremely rare. Now you may read about Percy Schmeiser being a victim of crosspollinization but this wasn't true . He, like most other farmers, was found by all Canadian Federal Courts including the Canadian Supreme Court to have illegally planted unpurchased gmo seed. Why? Because it's higher yielding and requires less herbicides and pesticides.

But back to you Daniel. Frankly your trepidation as a libertarian over crop science monopolies surprises me. Certainly a market comprised of as many players as Bayer, Dow, DuPont, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta, Monsanto, ... should be less of a concern than say oil, computer os systems, pharmaceuticals, athletic shoes, colas, potato chips, beer, ....

Are you sure you are still a Cato Institute guy Daniel???

On the contrary, the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies published a study in 2002 entitled “The Looming Trade War Over Plant Biotechnology� in which it strongly supports GMO crops as a way to increase production in poor areas while increasing the nutritional value of crops already native to certain areas.

Hi Tomeboy,I will try to make time to visit the AgBioWorld web site in the near future. Your inclusion of their funding statement makes me more likely to do so. Thanks!However, I believe that you were incorrect when you said:

There is, nor has there ever been, a terminator gene Daniel. Trust me, I have a very good source. In fact, this business of a "terminator gene" is a myth created by freconuts.

Quoting from US Patent 5,723,765 [Do a patent number search at if link doesn't work]:

allowing the regenerated whole plant to produce a first generation seed;exposing the first generation seed to a stimulus that blocks the function of the repressor, such that the repressor element no longer inhibits expression of the specific recombinase gene, thereby allowing expression of the specific recombinase and excision of the blocking sequence of the first DNA sequence at the specific excision sequences, resulting in the direct functional linkage of the late embryogenesis promotor with the lethal gene;germinating the first generation seed to produce a first generation plant expressing the late embryogenesis promotor/lethal gene sequence;allowing the plant to produce second generation seed, whereby in the course of embryogenesis, the late embryogenesis promotor becomes active, permitting expression of the lethal gene in the second generation seed, thereby rendering the second generation seed incapable of germination.

That sounds like a terminator gene to me. Maybe it can't be transferred, but it does exist. If a gene did get transferred through natural pollenization, it wouldn't neccesarily express itself in the next generation. Depending on the interactions of the terminator gene and the new plant, it might not even produce full sterility, just cut down on the plant's future productivity. Even this much could threaten the food chain.I ran across a Department of State article on biotechnology that I think sums up my concerns fairly well:

Private monopolistic power is a concern. Seed companies have long sought to control their product by limiting farmers from saving seeds for future planting. Enforcing such prohibitions has been difficult. A new invention can make enforcement easier. On March 3, 1998, a U.S. patent was granted to the Delta and Pine Land Company and the Agricultural Research Service of USDA for a method of genetically engineering plants to produce sterile seed. 54 This technology, called the "technology protection system," was subsequently dubbed the "terminator" gene technology by opponents. It has since received wide publicity. The terminator gene is likely to be bred into many GMO seeds by 2005. Some question whether the future availability of seed genetically modified to contain "terminator genes" could interfere with agricultural practices of many farmers from developing countries who save seed from one year to the next. Critics, however, see these new products as the means by which developing country farmers will become dependent on multinational corporations and be driven further into poverty without resources to purchase new seed each year. 55 Supporters of bioengineered seed point out that hybrid seeds, used since the 1960s "green revolution," also require farmers to purchase new seeds each year. In addition, supporters claim that the production of sterile-seed products lessens the opportunity for outcrossing of engineered pollen into wild relatives and prevents "super weeds." Others doubt that newly developed technologies such as the "terminator gene" will significantly affect agricultural practices in developing countries, since most of those economies cannot support an investment in those seeds anyway. 56There also appears to be concern about how much control companies wield over research in food and agricultural biotechnology. Companies hold patents and own specific germplasm 57 and research techniques needed for plant research. Some companies claim partial ownership of a food product created using their patented technologies. Biotechnology researchers have raised concerns that some private company scientists are not permitted to share innovations in research.

So much to say, so little time to say it ; )

What happens if the terminator gene spreads into staple crops?

There is, nor has there ever been, a terminator gene Daniel. Trust me, I have a very good source. In fact, this business of a "terminator gene" is a myth created by freconuts. Sterile plants cannot leave offspring or spread infertility.

But rather than have me rebuff the same old propaganda let me recommend a helpful page at, AgBioWorld

About AbBioWorld:

As an organization that has emerged from academic roots and values, we have chosen to go well beyond IRS charitable fundraising limitations by restricting our sources of income so as to not create any perceptions of bias or conflicts of interest. For that reason, the AgBioWorld Foundation does not accept contributions from corporations that have direct commercial interests involving agricultural biotechnology. Additionally, we do not accept program- or research-specific contributions from agricultural or biotechnology related trade associations or their philanthropic arms; contributions from such sources are limited to support for general operating and administrative purposes only. At all times, the AgBioWorld Foundation will rigorously adhere to both the requirements and principles behind fundraising and disclosure for charitable organizations.

Using the word "Frankenfood" in my post was just a cheap yet effective way to get the journal read. I thought using "Academy of Sciences Report on GMOs" might put people to sleep. The main purpose of this entry wasn't so much to comment on GMOs as to highlight the collection at using a topic sure to generate interest.I think this time, both you and Liz may be missing a point - i.e. while some GMO applications are positive, not all are. Even my original post stated that some GM, like increasing drought resistance, is a good thing.My comment on the author dismissing safety concerns centered on my perceptions that while there are few to no studies saying GMO foods are dangerous, I am not aware of any rigorous studies concluding that they are. So there is an absence of evidence, but is that evidence of absence? Time may tell. GMO that uses closely related species probably isn't a problem, but crossing genes from different kingdoms (salmon into tomatoes, peanut genes into beef, etc.) COULD be. Or could not.Actually, what problems I do have with GMOs surround the use of genes to enforce intellectual property at the expense of individual farmers and possibly endangering the food chain. Monsanto's famous "terminator gene" which does away with the centuries old practice of seed-saving comes to mind. Not only does it force farmers into dependence by making them buy seeds each and every year, contrary to economic conditions and centuries of agriculture, but runs the risk of migrating into other crops. What happens if the terminator gene spreads into staple crops?

'd like to know what my food contains, thanks.

Liz - there are no ingredients as your website incorrectly states with gmo's. These are crops, not cake mixes. This is part of the misinformation. Gene stacking is done on the molecular level e.g. corn is still corn, soy still soy.

Organic foods are certainly a choice that I have no problem with notwithstanding that many still use more pesticide and herbicide than gmo's. But do understand there is no scientific evidence supporting "organic" foods as inherently healthier or gmo's as dangerous. Please also understand that gmo's represent hope for many of the poor throughout the world e.g. golden rice. Hopes of banning them like your website suggests is truly a shortsided and self-serving ideal for mainly wealthy westerners.

"You may not know it but you've been eating gmo's for over 8 years."That's precisely my problem with GMOs, the lack of information given to consumers. I'd like to know what my food contains, thanks.For now I rely on lists like these and the produce from the organic farm where I volunteer:

Fair enough Daniel.
We'll call a close on this one for now.

As always, good discussion!

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