INTERVIEW: JEREMY RIFKIN:
 

1.What first brought you to this issue?

 


President of The Foundation on Economic Trends, he is a longtime opponent of biotechnology. Rifkin outlines why GM food is radically different from classical breeding and discusses how there are better ways to apply bioengineering to agricultural products. He also counters the argument that GM food is a solution in helping to feed a hungry world and talks about the threat of life science companies like Monsanto employing antitrust tactics in their patenting of gene technology. (Interview conducted August 2000.)


2. Before this, you had GMOs in labs, but this was the first time they would be released. Why was this a bigger deal?

 

 

4. Were GMOs properly regulated?

 

5. What about the issues of liability? . . .



6. Why did this take off in Europe recently?



7. This was an attempt to keep US products out, like McDonald's . .
But even in Europe, you didn't have the support of the scientific community saying this was a safety issue.

 


8. How far do you think it's going to go in Europe?

 


9. So countries will violate the World Trade Organization if they have to?



10. What makes you think the public debate over GM foods is going to travel to here?


 


11. Obviously, voluntary labeling is one of things that will come.
 

 


12. . . . An example would be a company like Gerber, whose products would say "This does not contain GMOs." . . .

 



13. Obviously, humans have been modifying nature genetically for 10,000 years with selection, breeding, mutagenesis. Why is this qualitatively different? . . .

 



14. But we're taking very small bits of it.

 


15.  I visited a farmer in the Midwest, and they just used two applications of Roundup Ready, one at the beginning of the season and one halfway through. It was much less than they've ever used before. . . .



16. Regarding the issue of resistance, Monsanto and the EPA requires that farmers plant a refuge. . . .


 


17. The issue is not whether insects move across the refuge. The issue is the buildup of resistance, isn't it?
 


18. But these are empirical questions. We don't know whether a refuge works or not. . . .


 


19. There obviously have been tests, like in Arizona.



20. There are a couple of potential technical fixes. Take genetically modified salmon, for example. You make your salmon sterile. With plants, you make the so-called terminator gene. . . . If that was done, wouldn't this be reassuring to you?



21. Is food safety an issue here, as you see it?



22. But everyone's aware of allergenicity as an issue, aren't they? This is not a secret. . . .
 


23. Of course, you can remove allergenicity genes, can't you? . . .
 


24. But you just said there was no way, in practice, that we could know.

 


25. With food, we don't have an absolute standard of safety, obviously. The food supply that we have is not safe. So the question is about balancing risks and benefits. . . . One example is the papaya story, where a viral pathogen on the Hawaiian Islands was destroying all of the crops. The only solution anybody can think of is a transgenic crop. Is that a good risk-benefit calculation? . . . That's a risk-benefit where the benefits are immediate. . . .



26. But your aim, then, isn't to stop it? . . .



27. I haven't spoken to the chemical companies yet. I have spoken to scientists at Cornell, UC-Davis, mainstream academic agricultural scientists. . . . Some of the mainstream agricultural scientists are not that concerned about the production of GMOs.



28. You think they're compromised, in other words?

.

29. There's a lot of GM stuff out there--not just soybeans and corn-- but if you include genetically engineered enzymes, there's also cheese, beer, bread, sodas. This revolution has happened. What makes you think it's stoppable?


30. But there is a huge constituency of agricultural scientists who see this as enormous potential for the developing world, for the hungry, for feeding the burgeoning population of the world. They fear that the reckless action of activist groups may kill this.



31. That argument's a little bogus, isn't it?



32. Do you want to say anything last on patent issues? . . .



33. Does that raise antitrust issues?



34. So it's a bit like Microsoft.


35. The difference is that the government was bringing the case against Microsoft.


 

   
 
 
INTERVIEW:   GERALD TUMBLESON
 

1. How long has your family been farming this part of Minnesota?



2. What challenges do farmers face?

 

3. What are the differences between the corn and soil you first planted, and what you currently plant?



4. What is hybrid corn, and what is its advantage?

I

5.Explain BT corn.

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6. How does crop rotation work?


7. How long have you been using BT corn? What are the noticeable advantages?



8. Has it been beneficial financially?



9. Biotech is under fire because of health risks. What is your take on those fears?



10. How well are regulatory agencies monitoring this technology?



11. How do you feel about the activist campaigns?



12. What about the fear of BT corn pollen affecting the monarch butterfly? How much milkweed is actually found within a cornfield?



13. Are you concerned over too much power shifting to the biotech companies?



14. Opponents of this technology say it's a disservice to the farmer because the power and money go to the seed companies, away from the farmers. Is this technology really a financial advantage to the farmers?



15. Has community size in rural America been shrinking?



16. So a bonus of this technology is a tool to privatize rural America?



17. How much easier has BT corn made farming, if it has made farming easier?

 


18. Have you noticed a benefit with BT corn?
 


19. What about your use of the standard chemical type of fertilizer?



20. On this farm specifically, do you use manures as fertilizer?

 


21. What's your opinion of creating organic farms on a large scale?



22. So it has merit, but it's in the wrong direction?


 

     
   
INTERVIEW:  JOE HOTCHKISS

 

1. Does the controversy over genetic modification strike you as ironic?


 


2. Some people say that traditional crossbreeding is natural, and therefore, is inherently safer.

 


A professor of food science and toxicology at Cornell University, Hotchkiss compares genetic engineering to traditional crossbreeding of plants, explains how science evaluates risk and how toxicity is tested. He also discusses why allergenicity is the most difficult risk issue with foods, why the current U.S. regulatory framework is adequate, and the problems that would arise if mandatory labelling is introduced. (Interview conducted September 2000.)
 
 


3. The way the FDA regulates food, people haven't had to do all the research in advance and prove that it's safe before they release it.



4. They require pre-market approval?



5. What does "food safety" mean?



6. What kinds of things might go wrong with a tomato?



7. No matter how that tomato was made?



8. Can you test food for toxicity?



9. An early rat study with potatoes ran into some of these problems.

 


10. What about allergenicity?



11. There was a case that was picked up like that, wasn't there?



12. From a regulatory standpoint, how safe is the U.S. food supply?



13. From a regulatory standpoint, compare crops produced by traditional crossbreeding versus recombinant methods. What's the same, and what's different?



14. What about using transgenes?


15. Some things are new with this technology. But our regulatory agencies have argued that we can handle them within the existing framework.



16. Critics say the agencies have been either asleep at the wheel or cheerleaders for this technology, and have rushed ahead too quickly. What do you feel?



17. What does that mean in relation to this? Is FDA doing all that it can? Because of the law, they can't do more?


18. You don't think they're giving this technology an easy ride?
 


19. Why can't genetically modified food be labeled?

 


20. What would be the difference between voluntary and mandatory labeling?

 


21. Can you show us the kind of labeling?


22. Would labeling cost a lot of money?

 


23. The FDA is a medically based agency. If this technology moves from input traits to output traits--for example, oils beneficial to the heart--does the FDA have responsibility to promote that? Or is its duty just to ensure that claims are honest?

 


24. There are three agencies. Do you want to say a couple of words about the others?
 


25. Do you think people have a good idea about what these agencies do? What's your judgment of the level of trust?



26. You used to work for the FDA? .
 


27. Are you currently on the payroll of any major biotech company?
 


28. Your primary interest is food safety. Do you think this is perennial?



29. European public opinion has removed these products from the shelf. If that happened here, what would the problems be with mandatory labeling?

 



30. Are genetically engineered enzymes pretty widely used?


31. So what if you were a purist?


32. Would an animal that has consumed a genetically modified crop be a GMO?


33. What would be the effect of labeling?


34. What is BST?


35. What happened in that case?

 


36. Is that your guess, if we went that way?

 


37. What would be your prediction if some of these things came to pass? Take the worst-case scenario.



38. In polls, why do 80 percent of people want the information?

 

 

 
 
INTERVIEW:   JIM MARYANSKI
 

1. Has food always been genetically modified?



2. From the early 1980s, these methods were applied in medicine?

 


Biotechnology coordinator at FDA, he discusses the risk of allergenicity with GM technology and the challenges facing regulatory agencies if mandatory labeling is implemented. Maryanski also points out the complexity of the U.S. food supply, which makes it difficult to segregate GM food from non-GM food. (Interview conducted October 2000.)
 



3. We've used genetic engineering in enzymes in foods without public fuss.



4. That was just the first of many enzymes?



5. So before this current phase, what products have genetically engineered enzymes?



6. Those products have created very little public comment. The second wave is crops transformed to make more traditional foods.



7. But would you let those crops in, and then recall them if they're dangerous?


8. What makes you think these new genetically modified varieties will be different?

 


9. Explain the concept of "GRAS."



10. Could this apply to genetically engineered enzymes, for example?



11 So a potato is a potato is a potato, if it's not checked.


12  Is a variety of BT corn of interest to the FDA?
 


13 If it was "substantially equivalent," would you allow it?

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14. How similar is BT corn or Roundup Ready soy to other varieties?



15. Given that there was little public comment on enzymes, were you surprised when this issue recently became of greater public interest?



16  In terms of allergenicity, is there anything new because of the process by which these products are made?

.

17  Would you say there's more risk of allergenicity with this technology?



18  Would you say that was the biggest of the issues? What about toxicity?



19  What about the neutrality of the agency as to whether this technology has succeeded or failed?

.

20  You're not interested in the process by which a food is made, but in its safety?

. . .

21  As a regulator, does the term "genetically modified food" give you any definitional problems?

 


22 If we were labeling something as genetically modified, we'd have to label a lot of things.

 


23  Clearly, that's not what people are talking about. . . . Europeans are talking about food made with recombinant DNA techniques.

 


24 Mandatory labeling is very complex. What kinds of problems would you have to wrestle with?
 


25  What about labeling food derived from animals that have eaten GM foods as feed?


26 Would you like to be faced with mandatory labeling?
 


27. Does that mean that the companies can't make claims about good or bad aspects?

. . .

28. What about the taco shells that Taco Bell used? How could something like this happen, given our regulatory structure?
 


29. How widespread was this?

 


30. Was a potential allergen released into the food supply?

 


31. How would you reassure an anxious consumer? How could you make this less likely to happen?



32.  It's not terribly reassuring to hear that.



33.  The mandatory system exists under existing law? Or would you need new laws?



34. So if I'm a company producing a product with new genes, what do I have to do to comply with mandatory notification?



35  Why should we trust a system like that?
 


36. What do you say to those people who say we've rushed headlong into this technology?



But you don't think this has been rushed?
 

   
 
 
INTERVIEW: HUGH GRANT
 

1. Given the roots of the company, what was the attraction of biotechnology? Why was this an area that the company chose to go into?

 .

2. You're not selling the seed; you're selling something in addition to a seed, aren't you?



3. How does the transaction work for a farmer?

 

4. And that's the intellectual property that you own, so to speak?


5. What about the first few products?



6. Now we've got this storm of activity in Europe.


7. But things went very, very rapidly, and they got very far. They affected the ability to grow and import without labels, didn't they? Did the extent of what happened surprise you? It wasn't just a few protests in the field. It's actually had consequences, hasn't it?

 


8. You have this very sort of exciting vision of agricultural biotech. You see people like Jeremy Rifkin talking about a "second genesis," or people using the phrase "Frankenfood," or Greenpeace says that there's a massive experiment going on. . . .


 


9. Why do you think that more hasn't been made of those successes in the public relations war? Why, for instance, do we hear about monarch butterflies, but not about the ability of BT corn to resist infection by fungal infections?
 


10. One concern that is potentially always on people's minds--food safety--doesn't seem to be a feature of this so far.


 


11. How would you test for allergenicity and toxicity?


 


12. On the environmental issues that are raised, which go to the planting of crops and so forth, there are two issues that anti-GM groups touch on. One is gene migration, and the other is resistance. . . . How do you address a concern like gene migration?
Is that because there's now sort of a moratorium in effect in many countries in Europe?

 


13. The other issue, which some groups, and organic farmers in particular get upset about is the idea of resistance. Because you're using BT, which is something they feel they own, and they're worried about increased capacity for resistance.

 


14. The refuge strategy depends on sort of compliance. Does the EPA require you to make sure the farmers grow the refuge? . . .

 


15. What about the issue of labeling?

 


16. You're saying mandatory labeling doesn't really make any difference. So why not have mandatory labeling?

 


17. What is channeling--keeping things separate?

 


18. Didn't this reveal issues of farmer compliance? In practice, it's turned out to be quite a nightmare, hasn't it? They had rules that weren't necessarily being followed. Is it simply very, very difficult to make rules of that complexity stick?


 


19. Why are you giving away your intellectual property, or allowing the use of your intellectual property on the "golden rice," for instance?


 


20. Are you doing it because of the bad publicity? Or do you see this as a new model of the price of doing business in the twenty-first century? . . .