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May 24, 2001


Firebomb Bigots; EPA Authority; No Risk for Monarchs;


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Firebombs Do Not Contribute To The Legitimate Debate

By Toby Bradshaw, Research Professor Friday, May 25, 2001
(Forwarded by  Rick Meilan )

I am the University of Washington professor whose office and laboratory
were firebombed by terrorists on Monday. Merrill Hall, at the UW Center
for Urban Horticulture, has been destroyed, along with many irreplaceable
books, historical documents and photographs belonging to the faculty,
staff, students and volunteers who worked here for the past 20 years.

But, as any real environmentalist knows, fire is a powerful but ephemeral
disturbance, and vigorous new growth often springs forth even before the
ashes have cooled. And so it is here at the CUH, where our resilient
little group has begun the laborious and sometimes emotional task of
rebuilding a Seattle landmark, with help pouring in from friends,
colleagues and many of the philanthropists who built Merrill Hall.

Although I was the target of the firebomb, presumably because of my basic
research into the genetics of fast-growing hybrid poplars, the "collateral
damage" to the CUH is nauseating. Research efforts aimed at conserving
endangered plant species, ecological restoration of wetlands, creating
environmentally sound urban landscapes and gardens, and discovering the
patterns of plant regeneration after the eruption of Mount St. Helens were
severely affected by the fire, smoke and water.

Facilities for public outreach programs housed at CUH, including vegetable
gardening classes for low-income families, are now in danger of
collapsing. Fortunately, most of the Miller Library collection was saved
through the heroic efforts of the library staff, volunteers and the
Seattle Fire Department.

The anonymous cowards who perpetrated this mindless act of arson should
receive the following messages in no uncertain terms:

* Terrorism is never the solution to any complex problem, including the
problem of environmental degradation. Burning crosses didn't work for the
KKK, burning books didn't work for the SS, burning buildings won't work
for the Earth Liberation Front. Mainstream environmental groups should
step forward and strongly repudiate terror tactics and terrorist groups at
every opportunity, including this one. Fire bombers should be treated as
pariahs and criminals.

* The University of Washington and its administration, faculty, staff,
students and volunteers will not be intimidated by anti-intellectual
bigots incapable of making a reasoned argument in a public forum, but
capable only of throwing a firebomb in the dead of night.

The UW is fully committed to the freedom of scientific inquiry and to the
open exchange of people, information and ideas that is the lifeblood of
any great university. Research will go forward without delay, and we will
not relinquish our openness even if it makes us vulnerable.

* Like all living things on Earth, human beings extract resources from
their environment and thereby alter it. Earth Liberation Front's slogan,
"You cannot control what is wild," is a lie, the product of willful

All organisms control their environment to some degree: Beavers build dams
that change streams into ponds, bacteria excrete powerful acids that eat
through solid rock, and the evolution of green plants millions of years
ago caused a mass extinction of life forms unable to tolerate the
increased abundance of a toxic gas -- oxygen. Unless ELF members are
subsisting on cattail tubers and wiping their posteriors with dried
leaves, they too benefit from the control that humans exert over nature in
the form of agriculture and (gasp!) forestry. Terrorists certainly seem
to be using fossil fuels (another product of human industry), judging from
the odor of gasoline in my cremated office.

The appropriate role of humans in the environment is the legitimate
subject of debate, research and non-violent political action. Firebombing
will never contribute to finding answers and solutions, and in this case
has threatened many of the people and institutions most committed to
protecting the Earth.

--Toby Bradshaw is research associate professor in the College of Forest
Resources at the University of Washington


EPA Regulation Of Transgenic Plants

-From: "Kershen, Drew L"

On AgBioView Mr.Gurian-Sherman posted the following message:

>Henry Miller asserts that EPA has no business regulating
>genetically engineered herbicide resistant rice. It is unclear what
>regulatory process he is referring to, but this issue needs some
>clarification. While EPA did regulate GE herbicide
>resistant plants ..it generally no longer
>does so, since the plants ..do not produce a pesticidal trait.
>The latter property is
>the regulatory hook used by EPA for genetically engineered plants.

My response: Mr.Gurian-Sherman is correct that the EPA does not regulate
genetically engineered HERBICIDE resistant plants. EPA only regulates that
herbicide used on those plants. Due to lack of information on my part I
cannot comment on the EPA and Aventis Liberty-Link rice discussion that
AgBioView has carried the past several days. I hope someone is able to
clarify, just as Mr.Gurian-Sherman also asked for clarification.

However, Mr.Gurian-Sherman's correct comment should not accidentally
mislead the readers of this listserv to think that the EPA does not
regulate transgenic plants. The EPA does regulate genetically engineered
plants that express INSECT RESISTANCE such as Bt crops (e.g. StarLink
corn). You may read the proposed regulation as follows: EPA, Proposed
Policy; Plant-Pesticides Subject to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide,
and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 59
Federal Register 60496 (Nov. 23, 1994). (The language of the proposed rule
is printed in the same Federal Register but for general information you
learn more by reading the policy than the precise proposed regulatory

Due to outcry from scientific associations about the regulation and,
particularly, the name "plant pesticides," the EPA did change the name of
the regulated transgenic plants to "plant-incorporated protectant" crops
(PIPs, as the regulatory abbreviation). On Jan. 19, 2001, the EPA issued
the proposed 1994 regulations as final regulations. On Jan. 20, 2001, the
Bush Administration withdrew the final regulation from official
publication in the Federal Register, thus leaving the EPA regulation of
PIPs under the proposed 1994 regulation. The Bush administration is
studying the EPA 1994 regulation. As of today (May 25,2001), the Bush
administration continues to study the EPA 1994 regulation. However, the
EPA continues to use the 1994 proposed regulation to regulate. From what I
can tell the EPA used this authority most recently to grant a tolerance
relating to Bt Cry3Bb1 and Bt Cry2Ab2 on May 11, 2001. For this tolerance
regulation, please read 66 Federal Register 24061-02 (May 11, 2001).

Best regards, Drew
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Prof of Law, Univ of Oklahoma


Butterflies Fox Scientists Out In The Field Of Corn

Irish Times; May 24, 2001

*A Comprehensive Canadian Study Has Shown Once And For All That Monarch
Butterflies Are Not Put At Risk By Genetically Engineered Maize*

Research suggesting that butterflies could be poisoned by eating
genetically engineered maize pollen caused quite a stir when released two
years ago. It was seized upon by environmentalists and the media as an
example of science gone dangerously out of control.

It now seems that the original research was wrong. The laboratory
conditions as applied were too far removed from what happens in the
natural environment to be an accurate indication of what to expect in the
field. It wasn't the first time, and won't be the last, that new research
has overturned an earlier study. It is part of what science is all about,
the pursuit of truth and knowledge with new information overtaking old and
new discoveries invalidating earlier theories. The research involving the
Monarch butterflies was special, however, because it involved genetic
engineering, a particular flash point between those for and against the
use of the advanced genetic technologies. The original conclusion, that
the Monarchs were at serious risk from a transgenic product, also carried
much popular emotive power.

It is difficult to find people indifferent to something as beautiful as a
Monarch and any threat to it is tantamount to an assault on nature. The
apparent risk to the butterflies indicated by the early work from
entomologists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, struck a chord
with people. It also provided significant ammunition for those opposed to
the use of the genetic technologies.

The initial Nature report was followed by a string of research projects
attempting to move away from the laboratory approach and look at the
reality of what actually happens in the fields. This new study by
researchers in the Department of Environmental Biology at the University
of Guelph in Canada should really bring the debate to an end. Engineered
corn is in widespread use in the US and Canada. It carries a gene
originally taken from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. The gene
produces a substance that is toxic to the dreaded European corn borer, a
significant threat to maize. Those promoting the new BT corn heralded it
as an environmental breakthrough. Borers eating the corn would be killed
off by an insecticide inside the plant which supposedly meant that there
would be much less need for chemical crop spraying.

The Cornell team decided to see whether unexpected 'collateral damage'
might be caused to other non-harmful insect species who encountered either
the corn plant or its pollen. The BT toxin is released inside the plant
but also in the pollen. They looked at the Monarch butterfly, Danaus
plexippus, more particularly its early larval or caterpillar form.
Monarchs are migratory, wintering in central Mexico but then travelling
beyond the US/Canadian border during the summer. The US mid-west corn belt
is home to about half the total US population of the insect each summer.

The caterpillars dine exclusively on the leaves of the milkweed plant, a
weed which, conveniently for the bugs, grows in profusion along the
roadsides and around the edges of cultivated fields. In these mid-western
fields maize is the principal crop. The Cornell report when released
caused consternation. The researchers dusted milkweed leaves with BT corn
pollen and fed them to larvae in the lab. It killed 44 per cent of the
caterpillars that fed on it and those that survived grew less than a
control group.

The researchers noted that corn pollen could be carried on the wind and
spread for more than 50 metres from the maize fields, extending the danger
zone for the Monarchs. The Cornell group, led by Prof John E Losey, urged
more research so that the preliminary results could be assessed. In fact,
later work showed that the risks were much less when larval activity,
pollen dispersal and other 'real world' factors were taken into account.
The Guelph study by Dr M K Sears, Dr D E Stanley-Horn and Dr H R Mattila
was prepared for the state-funded Canadian Food Inspection Agency and
Environment Canada.

The team assessed the level of pollen necessary to kill or sicken the
larvae. It also established methods to predict the level of BT toxin
exposure to Monarch larvae, work carried out at a test area in southern
Ontario. The researchers found that 90 per cent of the pollen fell within
five metres of the maize fields and beyond this range, pollen levels fell
to almost zero. The pollen levels detected on milkweed leaves had, on
average, less than the amount found to be toxic to the larvae, although
the leaves with the highest levels came close to this limit.

Most milkweed plants available to the insects were growing along the road
or in conservation areas and not adjacent to cultivated fields, the
researchers said. The Guelph team also found that there was no evidence
for a strong overlap between the critical period when Monarch larvae were
most active and the eight to 10 day period when most of the maize pollen
was shed.

The team did not find conclusive evidence for a delay in larval
development if BT pollen was on their menu. Exposure to low levels did,
however, result in decreased weight gain and if BT pollen was present the
larvae ate less leaf material than if there was no pollen.

This episode is not an example of science going wrong, it is an example of
science going right. Scientists are continually reassessing what has gone
before, trying to find exceptions to what appear to be invariable rules.
They like nothing better than to disprove an existing theory or research
claim. For this reason they take nothing for granted and keep existing
science under constant scrutiny. The Guelph researchers do not say their
results are absolute, describing their results as 'extremely preliminary'
and saying they 'should be interpreted with caution'.

This level of self-scrutiny means that there are no absolutes in science.
You never know when a long-standing theory might suddenly and unexpectedly
fall. It also means that science becomes a consensus-driven undertaking.

Eventually enough research is done to allow scientists to accept that a
theory is correct. And so it has gone for the Monarchs who, despite the
introduction of BT corn, are likely to continue bringing beauty and grace
to the countryside they populate.


Biotechnology Fears Overstated In Column

The Capital Times, May 23, 2001

Dear Editor: Michelle Gerise Godwin (May 9, "U.S. should take a cue from
Brits on food labeling") seemed to be an unusual tourist in England,
spending all her time reading food labels. Perhaps that's why she didn't
seem to have time to check her facts.

Instead, Godwin raises fears about foods produced through biotechnology by
quoting not a scientific or regulatory body but an activist group
campaigning against this technology. Contrary to Godwin's assertions,
there is no scientific evidence that food products produced through modern
biotechnology present greater risks than conventionally produced foods.
Neither is it true that foods produced through biotechnology aren't
tested. In fact, those foods are the most reviewed and tested in history.
Not one but three federal agencies - the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration
- evaluate the food, animal feed and environmental safety of agricultural
biotechnology products.

The FDA, which regulates food labeling, does not require new foods to be
labeled if they are substantially equivalent to existing foods. However,
label information is required if a new substance or an allergen is
introduced, if nutrients are increased or decreased, or if toxins are
introduced or increased. That approach rightly looks at the safety of the
product. It is interesting to note that when consumers have been polled
about labeling of foods produced through biotechnology and were told the
FDA's policy guidelines on labeling, most consumers thought that those
guidelines applied to foods produced through biotechnology made sense.

Yet, under the mantra of "consumer choice," Godwin advocates mandatory
labeling of those foods. However, it is more a case of taste and values
rather than safety, and those types of preferences are amply taken care of
in private markets, as Godwin's numerous labeling examples indicate. Those
who want to buy "organic" are able to do so, without imposing their values
and increased costs on everyone else. A study by KPMG Australia in late
1999 found that mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods would
result in cost increases of processed food between 5 and 12 percent across
the board. A substantial part of those costs - if not all - would be
passed on to consumers, who would be forced to pay higher prices for no

If Godwin can and wants to pay those costs, that's fine. However, if she
wants to impose her values on other people, they will bear the cost.


Monsanto's case

I feel some clarification is necessary to Steve Denton's letter, in which
he seems to believe that Monsanto will "demand compensation from farmers
whose land has been contaminated with GM crops from a neighbouring farm"
(5 May, p 48).

Readers should be aware that Monsanto has never demanded compensation from
farmers in cases of accidental appearance of Roundup-tolerant crops.
Indeed, the highly publicised case of Percy Schmeiser versus Monsanto
Canada had nothing to do with GM crops showing up on a farmer's field by
accident and a farmer being prosecuted as a result (7 April, p 13).

In the Canadian legal case, Justice MacKay ruled
(http://www.fct-cf.gc.ca/bulletins/whatsnew/T1593-98.pdf) that the amount
of Roundup-tolerant canola (oilseed rape) present in Schmeiser's 1030
acres was of commercial quantity (95 to 98 per cent Roundup-tolerant) and
that when Schmeiser saved and then replanted this Roundup- tolerant seed,
he knew or ought to have known that he was infringing Monsanto's patent.
In addition, Monsanto Canada has a well-established stewardship programme
for responding to farmers' calls in the very limited number of situations
where Roundup-tolerant crops appear unexpectedly in a farmer's field.
Since 1996, when Roundup Ready canola was first commercialised in Canada,
Monsanto has responded to fewer than 30 such calls.

Those who have taken advantage of our stewardship programme, two of whom
testified at Schmeiser's trial, found the situation addressed
professionally and to their satisfaction. The unwanted plants were
removed, usually by hand or through tillage. - Tony Combes, Monsanto


Implications of Codex Standards for the Regulation of Genetically Modified

- Judson O. Berkey http://www.asil.org/insights/insigh51.htm

The Codex Alimentarius (Codex) is a commission jointly sponsored by the
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization
(WHO). Codex adopts standards that may be used by its 162 participating
governments to develop national regulations. Codex is currently developing
a variety of international standards for the trade of genetically modified
food (GMF).1 Codex has three committees that are considering various
issues related to GMFs. These committees are the following: 1) Codex
Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL); 2) Codex Committee on General
Principles (CCGP); and 3) Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods
Derived from Biotechnology (Task Force). (See website for complete


The Regulation of Genetically Modified Foods
- Judson O. Berkey  http://www.asil.org/insights/insigh37.htm

The latest trade battle between the U.S. and the EU concerns genetically
modified food (GMF), specifically plants and foods made from plants which
have been genetically modified by the addition of genes from unrelated
organisms. Plants used for food production have long been genetically
modified in some manner. First through genetic evolution and later through
selective breeding, both nature and man have altered the plants used in
the food supply so that they have favorable growing and nutritional

The introduction of genes from unrelated organisms into the plants used
for food production is a more recent phenomena which has been made
possible by advances in biotechnology. Genes may be introduced into plants
for many reasons including the following: (1) to delay ripening to allow
time to move produce through food distribution channels, (2) to delay
rotting after ripening to prolong retail shelf-life, (3) to add color to
natural fibers before harvesting, (4) to reduce the need for fertilizers,
(5) to confer resistance to pests and fungi, and (6) to facilitate the use
of herbicides on harmful weeds. 

The U.S. and the EU have approached the use of GMFs from very different
perspectives. The U.S. agricultural community has embraced the use of GMFs
while the U.S. public has largely been silent on the issue. The American
Soybean Association estimated in 1998 that 30% of U.S. soy and 25% of U.S.
maize production consisted of genetically modified plants. The EU on the
other hand has been more resistant to the use of GMFs largely because of
public skepticism regarding their safety. EU farmers have yet to plant GMF
crops to any large extent and a 1998 Eurobarometer survey found that 86%
of EU consumers felt that GMFs should at least be labeled. 

The difference in sentiment between the U.S. and the EU has led to direct
conflicts on two specific issues: (1) the approval of GMFs by food safety
regulatory bodies and (2) the labeling of GMFs. These disputes have led
government officials to seek an international regulatory framework which
will resolve the differences without major disruptions in agricultural
trade. Section II below explores these developments. As GMFs are largely
produced and marketed by international food companies, industry has a
large role to play in this issue. Section III will highlight some of the
industry responses to these two conflicts. With as complex an issue as
GMFs, it is difficult to comprehensively cover all the relevant concerns.
Thus, this Insight is intended as an introductory primer to the regulatory
aspects of GMFs that may help one understand future developments (See
website for complete document)


*Seeds of Opportunity: Select Abstracts from the Upcoming London Meeting*


The Unfinished Green Revolution-The Future Role of Science and Technology
in Feeding the Developing World
- Dr. Norman E. Borlaug

The term "Green Revolution, " was coined more than 30 years ago in South
Asia. It signified a new era in agricultural research and development, one
in which modern principles of agricultural science were extensively
applied to develop technologies appropriate to conditions of local
farmers. Over the past four decades, sweeping changes have occurred in
food production in the Third World. In Developing Asia alone, the adoption
by farmers of modern varieties and improved crop management practices has
allowed rice and wheat production to increase from 127 million to 762
million tonnes from 1961 to 2000, a period in which population grew from
1.6 to 3.5 billion people.

Despite the successes of the Green Revolution, the battle to ensure food
security for hundreds of millions of miserably poor people is far from
won. Mushrooming populations, changing demographics, inadequate
poverty-reduction programs, and environmental abuses have all taken their
toll on world agriculture. Indeed, enormous challenges lie ahead to ensure
that the projected world population of the 8.3 billion people in 2025 is
adequately and equitably fed, and in environmentally sustainable ways.

Over the last 20 years, biotechnology based upon recombinant DNA has
developed invaluable new scientific methodologies and products for food
and agriculture. Recombinant DNA methods have enabled breeders to select
and transfer single genes, not only reducing the time needed in
conventional breeding to eliminate undesirable genes but also allowing
breeders access to useful genes from other distant species. So far,
agricultural biotechnology has mainly conferred producer-oriented
benefits, such as resistance to pests, diseases, and herbicides. But many
consumer-oriented benefits, such as improved nutritional and other
health-related characteristics, are likely to be realized over the next 10
to 20 years.

The majority of agricultural scientists-myself included-anticipate great
potential benefits from biotechnology in the coming decades. The more
pertinent question today is whether scientists will be allowed to harness
the power of recombinant DNA and whether the world's farmers and ranchers
will be permitted access to the new agricultural biotechnologies so that
they can be brought to fruition in future food, feed, fiber, and livestock
production systems.


Securing Global Supplies of Safe and Nutritious Foods through
Biotechnology and Breeding

- PROFESSOR MICHAEL WILSON, Chief Executive of Horticultural Research
International, UK

Over the next 50 years, the Malthusian nightmare will have a severe impact
upon all peoples of the World, and upon what remains of our limited
renewable or non-renewable natural resources, wildlife and wilderness
areas. Although environmental activists and media-driven propaganda in the
affluent North may choose to ignore these facts and to revel briefly in
nostalgic nonsense about times past, when extensive, low-yield farming
practices created an alleged "harmony" with Mother Nature (not to mention
famines, diseases and a brief life of grinding poverty for most people);
consumers should realize that our cheap, safe and abundant food supply has
been won through more than a century of sophisticated scientific and
technological progress, and crop genetic improvements that could in no way
be defined as "natural". Food surpluses and famines remain a constant
feature, but 6 billion mouths (plus 150 extra per minute) can only be fed
through improved intensive agriculture.

For over 60 years, high-yielding Northern Hemisphere agriculture has
relied on successively more efficient targeted inputs of fertilizers and
pesticides. Whether or not this is sustainable is an open question:
however what is certain over the last 20 years, is that biotechnology has
provided new opportunities to breed safer, more pest- or pathogen ?
resistant, more nutritionally efficient, higher yielding crops for all
parts of the World. These crops will diminish local pressures to further
"tame" and cultivate virgin forests or natural ecosystems, and can reduce
the economic and social costs of labour as well as eliminating or reducing
inputs of fossil fuel-dependent agrichemicals.

Unless we sanction even more "food miles" and their attendant fuel
consumption, large-scale global redistribution of food is not a realistic
option to overcome chronic malnutrition and disease in the almost 1
billion cases today. Moreover, it would totally destroy any remaining
agricultural infrastructure within the recipient LDCs. What is
sustainable, and a long-term solution, is to improve local crop varieties
through enhanced breeding and biotechnology, deploying the whole gamut of
approaches from the so-called "traditional " random (unpredictable)
methods of radiation or chemical mutagenesis, to the more precise, rapid
and modern techniques of marker-assisted breeding and genetic
modification. These technologies are becoming routine, transferable and of
widespread proven utility. Technical training and capacity building in the
LDCs through public sector research and development organizations, aid
charities and private sector initiatives which release IP for humanitarian
purposes will facilitate and accelerate this process. Such an approach can
deliver both food security and help to eliminate wider poverty when
subsistence farmers have surplus crops to sell to purchase other goods and
services. Moreover, families (usually women and children) can be freed
from the back-breaking labour of weed and pest control, to produce goods
to be better educated.

Producing more wholesome, safer, varied and more abundant crops either for
local consumption or for global trade can become a reality through the
rapid transfer and uptake of our new knowledge about crop genetics,
physiology, biochemistry and food safety. Biotechnology can eliminate the
many natural anti-nutritional components, toxins or allergens which render
some crops unsafe for human consumption, while introducing novel or
increased levels of desirable micro-nutrients (vitamins etc), or even
create cheap sources of biodegradable, renewable energy, safer medicines
etc. Technically, the opportunities are limited only by our imagination
and investment: practically they are controlled by extensive (and often
over-zealous) regulations; and, in reality, are restricted or denied by
pressure groups, the media and alleged public opinion.


Developments in Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa: Current and Future

The productivity level of agricultural crops in Africa is considerably
below global averages, and continues to decline. More than 5,000 Africans
die daily from chronic malnutrition. The World Bank estimates that one out
of two Africans, equivalent to 250 million people, barely survive on less
than a dollar a day, while 54% of child mortality in the developing world
is closely related to malnutrition. In the next decade, only less than 5%
of increased food production can co me from area expansion, while about
10% must come from additional irrigation. The overwhelming balance of
approximately 80% will have to come from increased productivity per unit
of land. This will require increased use of science-based agricultural
systems, including biotechnology, which must be achieved without adverse
effects to the environment and within sustainable agricultural

Unfortunately, majority of countries in Africa suffer from low
investments in Science and Technology R & D and weak institutional,
political and infrastructural capacities to acquire and responsibly deploy
biotechnology. Furthermore, the private sector corporations in industrial
countries account for over 75% of the global investment in biotechnology
R&D where the basic needs. In this regard, a new kind of approach,
multidisciplinary in nature, involving public-private, north-south and
south-south-south partnerships is considered necessary to enable
developing countries acquire the necessary capacity to benefit from these
developments. Of course, biotechnology is not a panacea for increasing
agricultural productivity but has potential to solve this highly complex
issue. Within this context, several African countries have embraced
biotechnology and have systematically developed biosafety regulatory
structures to enable systematic testing and risk assessment of need-based,
culturally acceptable technologies, some of which have demonstrated
considerable success within the predominant small-scale agriculture.

This paper highlights some of these developments and presents one case
study titled "Biotechnology to Benefit Small-scale Banana Producers in
Kenya" out of several projects that the International Service for
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter has
facilitated in Africa over the last five years. These model projects have
demonstrated that with appropriate institutional and networking
partnerships, deployment of biotechnology could benefit Africa's
resource-poor farmers who constitute close to ninety percent (90 %) of the
farming communities fully depend on agriculture. Some of these include
existence of local private tissue culture laboratories for vegetatively
propagated GM-crops, biotransformation laboratories for integration of
local germplasm and biodiversity, seed delivery & distribution systems,
micro-credit and grassroots organisations to disseminate accurate
information to build understanding and guide informed decision-making.


Will crop biotechnology aggravate or alleviate the impact of agriculture
on the environment?
- DR PHIL DALE, John Innes Centre, UK

Crop production will always have a significant impact on the environment.
In the UK about three quarters of the land area is in some form of
agricultural production, so practices adopted in agriculture will
inevitably affect the wider environment. During the past 20 years it has
become possible to isolate genes (DNA ) from any class of organism
(microbes, plants & animals) and insert them into crop plants. This gives
the potential to create novel kinds of transgenic or genetically modified
(GM) crops for a range of purposes. As a result, there is international
agreement that transgenic crops should pass through a more extensive
assessment of environmental impact than crops produced by conventional
plant breeding. To underpin these assessments, various research programmes
have been directed to ensuring the environmental impact assessments are
more scientifically informed. These programmes have included measurements
of gene flow by pollen, effects of insect resistance on friendly organisms
and the possible influence of GM crops on wildlife within the agricultural

Recent studies have also identified some significant questions including:
What " yardstick" do we use to determine the acceptability of the
environmental impact of GM crops, when there have been few comparable
environmental impact studies with specific conventionally bred crops? Is
it appropriate to carry out a detailed environmental impact assessment of
GM herbicide tolerant crops and largely ignore the possible impacts of
herbicide tolerant crops from conventional breeding? Some environmental
impacts will be scale dependent (one hectare compared with 100 thousand
hectares), so what environmental monitoring should be carried out in the
early phases of commercialisation?

GM crops have the potential to aggravate or alleviate the impact of
agriculture on the environment. They are likely to aggravate it if they
drive agriculture yet further towards monoculture and the clinical control
of the agricultural environment. They have the potential to alleviate it
by the targeted genetic control of pests and diseases and by reducing
dependence on certain chemical inputs. As with all technologies, the
impact of agricultural biotechnology will ultimately depend on how we
manage it.


"Ushering the New Green Revolution: How Can Biotechnology Contribute to
Food Security?"
-C. S. PRAKASH, Tuskegee University, USA

The ?Green Revolution? anchored by the development of high-yielding
varieties of grains improved the lives of most people on this planet
through enhanced and affordable food supply, boosted incomes for millions
of farmers, and reduced the incidence of famine and starvation despite
massive population increases in the past few decades. Nevertheless, food
insecurity and malnutrition still persist in parts of the developing
world. The causes for poverty and hunger are varied and complex, but
experts concur that sustainable agricultural development will be critical
in meeting future world food needs, reducing poverty and protecting the
environment. To further increase agricultural productivity equitably?in an
environmentally sustainable manner in the face of diminishing land and
water resources?is a highly challenging task ahead. Knowledge-based
approaches including transgenic crops and genomics can provide powerful
solutions to enhance food security: by improving local agricultural
productivity, minimizing the use of chemical inputs such as pesticides and
fertilizers, insulating crops against losses from diseases and pests,
curtailing post-harvest losses including food spoilage, improving food
quality and nutrition, increasing crop tolerance to stress factors such as
drought and problem soils, and through the production of ?value-added?

Biotechnology can expedite the development of new varieties and also
enhance marginal crops like millets, plantain, grain legumes, cassava and
sweetpotato that are important but ignored staples in the developing
world. Unlike the? green revolution? approach, which entailed the use of
high capital inputs, biotechnology delivers the added value primarily
through the seed. Thus, it is conceptually a ?scale neutral? technology:
small farmers can benefit from it as much as rich farmers, if the improved
plant material is accessible and affordable. Judicious application of
biotechnology can boost rural incomes and thus improve the purchasing
power of a marginalized section of the developing societies.

The integration of biotechnology into agricultural research in the
developing world is fraught with many hurdles that must be creatively
addressed including financial, technical, political,
environmental-activist, intellectual-property, biosafety and trade-related
issues. Considering the constraints, it is prudent to focus the
application of biotechnology to a few strategically chosen high-priority
areas where the technology provides the most gains. Public sector
institutions and international organizations such as CGIAR have major
responsibilities in facilitating the integration of biotechnology into
agricultural research in developing countries. Adequate biosafety
regulations must be first developed to ensure development, testing and
release of new crops.

Private sector can facilitate biotechnology development and public
acceptance by making their core technologies available on a ?royalty-free?
basis for use on staple crops by public institutions as this would also
pave way for subsequent introduction of their commercial crops in these
countries. To ensure that developing countries can harness the benefit of
this technology with minimal problems, concerted efforts must be pursued
to create an awareness of its potential benefits and to address the
concerns related to its use through dialog among the various stakeholders:
policy makers, scientists, trade groups, food industry, consumer
organizations, producer groups, media and NGOs.


Transgenic Maize in Mexico - A Moratorium to Maintain Biodiversity or to
Maintain Underdevelopment?

In 1993 Mexico issued the first permit to conduct a field release of
transgenic maize for experimental purposes. However, in 1999, the
government decided to implement a "de facto" moratorium on this crop
indicating that more information was needed on the possible impacts of
these materials on biodiversity, and on teosinte and the maize landacres.
Was that the reason behind this decision? In Mexico NGOs were very active
on their campaign against transgenic crops, especially maize. There were
public demonstrations on the streets and in front of the offices of the
Secretary of Agriculture, as well as many notes in national newspapers
condemning the use of these materials and stating that these were leading
the country to the loss of traditional maize agriculture and thus of
cultural and social values.

At that time Mexico was in the middle of a fierce political battle for the
presidency, and for some politicians to be related to what was being
portrayed as "frankenfood" or something coming out of the "X" files, was
not something to be desired. The "moratorium" solved the immediate
problem. The decision was taken without consulting the scientific
consultative subcommittee of the General Directorate for Plant Health,
which had been involved in the organization of two symposia, 1995 and
1997, to consult with experts about the potential risks involved with the
release of transgenic maize in Mexico. The results from these events led
to guidelines to test transgenic maize, and the identification of
risk-free and intermediate-risk areas where transgenic maize could be
released depending on the phenotype and other elements related to
biosafety as well as high risk areas where no tests could take place. At
the present time, the Government is trying to set up the "Terms of
Reference" which should orient in terms of the research needed biological,
social, environmental, food safety, economy ? to provide data to properly
assess the risks involved with the release of transgenic maize in Mexico.
because there is a lack of knowledge in many of these areas. Nevertheless,
there are many questions that need to be answered and lessons to be
learned: Why is that no research was done before? Who should have done it?
Who will pay for the research needed? How long will it take until we have
the information required? These issues will be discussed in detail.