AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* First open debate on GMOs in The Netherlands
* Could Biotech Help The Environment?
* Study Claims Gene Modified Crops Save US Farms Billions
* Official: Seed Patents Needed to Boost Research
* Consumer Awareness of Genetically Modified Foods May Be Taking Root
* Bio-technology Is Vital For Bio-Pakistan
* Zambia Prepares Genetically Modified Organisms Policy
Date: Jun 27 2001 08:43:44 EDT
From: Ferdinand Engelbeen
Subject: First open debate on GMOs in The Netherlands
Here follows my impressions about the first open debate about "food and
genes" in The Netherlands, 25 June, Bussum, organised by the Parliamentary
Commission on Biotechnology and Food.
At the entrance, hughe slogans against biotech from Greenpeace and other
organisations. The public was mixed between pro-biotech people from
industry, anti-biotech from NGO's and a large group of concerned citizens.
All together around 800 participants (but I may be wrong about that
number, I did not count them!). Also much participation from the press.
150 participants were invited as volunteer, randomly choosen as
representatives of the Dutch population, in different categories of age,
education, gender and residence. These will go on with the discussions,
until the end of the year.
Before going into the debate, it should be said that the Dutch Government
in their note about biotechnology of September 2000 has given clearance to
biotechnology, be with several reservations. App. $ 50 million subsidy is
already going to biotech industries and another $ 75 million will go to
investments in biotech research. This lead to a letter from Greenpeace
that the debate was already after the facts, as the application of biotech
itself is not questioned anymore, only the conditions are debated. And
that the governmental debate was more a pro-acceptance information
campaign than an invitation for a fair debate... For those who understand
The chairman of the Commission, Jan Terlouw, opened the session with the
aim of the Commission: to be informed of what the Dutch population thinks
about biotech, to act and answer on questions of the general public and to
give an advise to the government on this topic.
He also announced the results of the latest enquete in The Netherlands:
- 70% thinks that to have a debate on biotech is important.
- 70% do worry about safety.
- 70% finds that there is insufficient information.
- 65% finds that biotech has a high risk.
- 45% thinks that biotech is useful.
- 53% thinks that biotech can help to feed the third world (was 30% in the
- 30% thinks that biotech will improve life quality, 40% thinks the
After the introduction, a film was shown giving different cases where
gentechnology can help to improve food. Both pro's and cons were given,
but - to be honest - the pro's were more emphasised than the cons. That
led afterwards to protest fo the NGO's and the Chairman promised that the
film would be adjusted to be more in balance...
One remarkable proposition in the film: why not combine the good points of
biotech and organic growing (e.g. by using phythophtera resistent
potatoes). As organic grower in my own garden for over 25 years (member of
an organic growers association since that time), and a moderate supporter
for biotech, that would please me very much. But it seems to be rather
utopic to have this accepted by the organic growers associations...
After the film, several questions were asked to the audience. Before the
debate of the panel members, all participants in the conference room might
give their opinion: for, against or neutral by coloured cards. Then
followed a short pledge (2 minutes each) for, against and more neutral
towards the proposed question. Thereafter, a short reaction followed from
the speakers on what was said by the opponent(s) (total 5 minutes). After
this (much too short) debate, the audience was asked who had changed
his/her mind after the debate. In general that only were very few (maximum
The questions and votings were:
- The risks of genetically modified food are unmanageable.
Voting: very mixed (app. 1/3 for each pro, con, neutral)
Debaters: Greenpeace, RIKILT (organisation which tests GMO's) and a member
of the Commission.
Greenpeace: too much uncertainty
RIKILT: very high security, no difference with similar non-GMO
plants/fruits, no problems when rats were fed enormous quantities of GMO
Commission: mostly safe, but needs more tests for the last uncertainties.
- Gentechnology has important (negative) consequences for the third world.
Voting: first very great majority yes, but the question was questioned, as
the consequences could be negative or positive... So the question was
adjusted to "negative" consequences. Then a large majority was no, a
smaller part was neutral and only a very small part was yes.
Debaters: Wageningen University, In Natura (agricultural organisation),
Agromisa (?), NOVIB (Dutch part of Oxfam - support of third world small
farmers by Fair Trade shops).
Wageningen University: Positive, with regards to aid of poor people by
e.g. golden rice.
In Natura: Wants only to introduce GMO's if there are guarantees for
safety and that the general public is confident.
Agromisa: Todays gentech only by a few multinationals, which do that in
the first place for their own profit. The consumer has little benefit of
it. Biotechnology will have little contribution to third world countries
food problems, as these mainly depend of small farmers.
NOVIB: a very hard oppostion against biotech, unnecessary for third world
countries, including Golden Rice, which will have less yield and therefore
more expensive and thus only for the wealthy. All GMO's should be banned
as that will poison the traditional foods in the third world (said that
litterally!). Btw. this is contrary to the viewpoint of Oxfam, which is
more modest and is willing to accept biotech if that is in the interest of
small farmers in the Third World.
- One did not take into account the freedom of choice by the consumer at
the introduction of biotech in food.
Voting: large majority yes, but here too, one can have opposite views and
say yes together (at this moment, in The Netherlands, there is nearly no
biotech food that can be bought)...
Debaters: Consumentenbond (Consumers organisation), CBL (distribution
Consumentenbond: Demagogic, telling the audience that over 60% of the
foods on the shelves was already GMO. Be it that it was untraceable, due
to the lack of good detections (e.g. soy oil made of GMO soy, where the
remaining proteins are too low to be traced).
CBL: Their own brands are guaranteed GMO free, as they trace the whole
chain. Pleads for clear labeling, governmental rules and solid guarantees,
when GMO will be introduced. Waits for acceptance by the general public.
Unilever: Same as CBL.
- With biotechnology, our food is remarkably improved .
Voting: Majority negative.
Debaters: DSM Food Specialities, Advanta, Platform Biologica (organic
DSM: A few examples from their specialities (which is more in GMO bacteria
and yeasts), like the introduction of GMO yeast in bread, which makes it
far longer fresh and bacteria to make cheese. Not really impressive...
Advanta: Biotechnology has the potency to give the solution for many
problems which are impossible to solute now.
Platform: For organic growers, biotech is no solution. Fears
cross-contamination, which can lead to loss of biodiversity. Pleads for
guarantees that damage will be paid if cross-pollination occurs.
In a reaction on this latter question, Advanta replied that it is
impossible to guarantee that zero cross-pollination will occur, as that
also occurs amongst natural variaties.
In the afternoon, a market from all parties could be visited, and the
public could ask questions to industry, NGO and university
representatives. Sometimes severe discussions were held. Also lots of
tests were shown, from both sides. One could taste the difference between
(kind of) Flavor Saver tomato juice and "normal" tomato juice and give
his/her opinion. Another stand showed that rabbits prefere non-GMO food
(this story is also told about cows and Bt corn, do animals smell a
difference?)... Also a film about how Golden Rice was invented, with Dr.
Peter Beyer of the university of Freiburg, was continuously presented.
Most important was that the 150 invited persons were going around,
questioning everything and everybody. After that, they had workshops under
alikes (same age, background,...) to discuss what they had seen and heard.
One of them was representing the group in the final panel. As these
represent the average Dutch population, their opinion is very important.
All groups were convinced that the evolution in biotech can not be
stopped. All groups were between moderately negative and moderately
positive about biotech. They all found that there must be thight controls.
They all have a very high need of good, reliable information. Neither the
information of the industry nor from the NGO's (!) were reliable in their
view. This lead to a furious intervention of a member of one of the NGO's,
that they don't have financial interests to be against GMO's. The
moderator (TV presentator Pia Dijkstra) directly stopped that remark, by
saying that this was another discussion and not relevant for this debate.
My overall impression (including personal biases and errors and holes in
my memory...) is moderately positive, seen the fact that the general
public doesn't take the NGO point of view as the only truth (quite
remarkable, if you know that The Netherlands has the highest percentage of
Greenpeace supporters of the world: 800,000 on 16 million inhabitants).
Greenpeace in this debate was rather moderate (better than their campaign:
"do you know that your salad stays fresh for days, thanks to the insertion
of rat genes"). The representative of NOVIB (already mentioned two days
ago in a message about NGO's in the Phillipines) was extremely anti. The
representatives of the distrubution, agriculture and food industry were
simply fearful to be the first target. They wait for the government and
consumer acceptance to go on. The representatives of the biotech industry
could have used better examples, especially toward third world countries.
A few speakers and myself think that the main error of the industry was
that they first introduced large scale GMO's where the major benefits were
going to industry (and farmers) were the consumers did not see any (or
little) benefit. With more examples like the Flavor Saver tomatoes, Golden
Rice and others, that would have made the public acceptance of GMO's far
(as interested outsider)
Oude Ertbrandstraat 12
Could Biotech Help The Environment?
Genetically Engineered Corn And Tomatoes May Reduce Both Pollution And
Cost - But Some Are Still Wary
Christian Science Monitor
By Laurent Belsie
June 27, 2001
Protesters call biotechnology a ticking time bomb for the environment. In
fact, researchers are finding the technology may help the environment if
it's judiciously used.
Already, it's saving energy in factories, reducing pesticide use in some
crops, and replacing petroleum-based products, such as polyester, with
renewable ones, like so-called "green plastics." Whether such benefits
outweigh the potential risks remains a question. But after more than a
year of missteps and mounting investor skepticism, the fledgling industry
is beginning to put forward solid evidence that biotechnology can reduce
By itself, such evidence looks unlikely to convince companies or farmers
to use the new technology. Coupled with projected savings, however,
lagging interest in biotechnology could be revived.
"It's a more environmental-friendly process," says Michael Griffiths,
author of a coming report for the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD) on biotechnology. "It's also resulted in cheaper
"The question is not whether we should embrace biotechnology or global
sustainability, but whether we can afford not to," adds Eric Mathur,
senior director of molecular diversity at Diversa Corp., speaking here in
San Diego at the annual convention of the Biotechnology Industry
Take genetically modified food, one of biotech's most controversial uses.
Critics have long contended that bioengineering crops to tolerate
pesticides would increase pesticide use. In fact, there's some evidence
the opposite is true, according to preliminary results of a 30-crop study
funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto, and various industry
Crops that protect themselves
For example, researchers have field-tested an herbicide-tolerant tomato
that lets farmers use one general-purpose herbicide, rather than a
cocktail of several chemicals, to control weeds. If California farmers
adopt the bioengineered tomato, they could cut pesticide use by 4.2
million pounds a year, estimates the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy, which wrote the report.
Increasingly, researchers can engineer crops so they carry the pesticide,
dramatically reducing or even eliminating the need for spraying. Less
spraying means less unintended destruction of noninvasive insects - a net
plus for the environment, researchers say.
If crop protection represents a $10 billion opportunity for
bioengineering, replacing raw materials for industry offers a market at
least 10 times as large, says Tom Tillett, president of RHeoGene Inc. in
Charlottesville, Va. And it makes increasing economic sense. "Anyone who
looks at the long-term cost of a bushel cost of corn versus the long-term
cost of a barrel of oil can see they are going in opposite directions,"
he says. "Clearly, for the chemical industry, sustainable development is
DuPont, for example, is using a genetically engineered process to create a
polyester-like material called Sorona. Compared to polyester, it's far
more resilient to stretching and, more importantly, it's not 100-percent
petroleum-based. Part of it comes from corn. DuPont hopes to
commercialize the technology by 2003.
Typically, companies adopt biotechnology because it cuts costs or improves
quality, says Dr. Griffiths of the OECD. In six case studies, he found
that the companies saved up to 54 percent of their operating costs by
making the switch. The environment benefited too: Water-borne wastes
fell, sometimes considerably, in all six cases. Airborne wastes were cut
in four cases.
One German company in the mid-1990s came up with a bioengineered method
of refining vegetable oils that reduced its wastewater stream and sludge
to 1/8th the original levels. The real selling point, however, was a cost
reduction of better than 40 percent. Only when companies are threatened
with government legislation do they adopt biotechnology for purely
environmental reasons, Griffiths argues.
But protests have slowed biotechnology's adoption.
"They definitely have an impact," says Robin Karol, director of innovation
and technology at the World Business Council on Sustainable Development.
"It makes companies afraid to go into areas like GMOs [genetically
modified organisms].... Publicly traded companies are very hesitant. They
may not stop what's going on, but they are slowing it down."
Many farmers are also uneasy about adopting the technology. For example,
researchers have developed an insect-resistant sweet corn that would save
Florida farmers an estimated $1.3 million and cut pesticide use by 80
percent. But since the corn is for people rather than cattle, and other
such foods have come under attack, the farmers have proved skeptical.
Many environmentalists don't oppose the technology itself. But they argue
the public ought to choose what foods it eats rather than having it
dictated by profit-motivated corporations. And the foods should be more
thoroughly tested by more truly independent scientists, they say.
Use first, research later?
Early research suggesting genetically modified corn was harming monarch
butterflies now appears overstated. More recent work suggests most of the
current varieties pose virtually no threat, says Rick Hellmich, a
genetics researcher at Iowa State University in Ames. But the biotech
industry went about the research backwards, environmentalists argue.
Companies rushed their products to market and into the environment long
before researchers could definitely say there was no harm.
"For us to be having it decided for us, as a society, that ... all our
food is going to be genetically engineered, that our animals are going to
be genetically engineered, and that within 20 years people are going to
be genetically engineered - I think that's not only unwise but
dangerous," says Luke Anderson, author of a book on genetic engineering
and a speaker at the antibiotech protest here.
The first day of the convention on Sunday generated a smaller-
than-expected crowd of demonstrators - fewer than 1,000. By Monday, that
had dwindled to about three dozen who sat and listened to speakers under a
tent. The protesters were vastly outnumbered by police officers in a
determined show of force by the city.
Study Claims Gene Modified Crops Save US Farms Billions
The Financial Times
By Clive Cookson
June 27, 2001
The first comprehensive estimate of the benefits of genetically modified
crops claims that they are already saving US farmers billions of dollars a
year through a combination of lower inputs and increased yields - and they
could save billions of dollars more if growers were not held back by fears
of consumer resistance.
The study, carried out by the National Centre for Food and Agricultural
Policy in Washington with support from the biotechnology industry and the
Rockefeller Foundation, was presented at the Bio 2001 conference in San
Diego. It looked at 30 crops that have been genetically engineered for
pest resistance, including a wide range of fruit and vegetables as well as
cereals and cotton. It assessed the economic benefits to farmers and the
environmental gains through reduced applications of pesticides and
weed-killers but did not include the negative factors emphasised by
anti-GM campaigners: the impact on wildlife and possible health hazards.
Leonard Gianessi, the study director, presented the first eight crop
assessments to the conference. The full study would be completed in
September, he said, "but I can tell you already that we will see several
billion dollars worth of additional production and savings to growers as a
result of GM crops".
The largest benefit seen for any one crop was in soya beans, where 63 per
cent of the US crop planted this year - on 49m acres - is genetically
engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Growers have to apply
Roundup only once to kill all weeds, whereas non-GM soya requires three or
four herbicide applications; the average saving in weed control is $15 per
acre, according to the NCFAP study.
"If US growers no longer planted the GM herbicide-tolerant soybean
cultivars, they would likely substitute alternative herbicides which would
increase soybean production costs by $735m a year," Mr Gianessi concluded.
For Bt cotton, which kills the crop's main insect pests, the study found
that pesticide use in the US had been cut by more than 1m kg per year,
production had increased by 100m kg per year and growers were making $99m
a year more in net revenues.
But some GM crops, incl-uding sugar beet, potatoes and sweetcorn (maize),
are not being grown commercially, although they have received regulatory
approval. That is because farmers do not want to risk losing sales through
consumers' reluctance to buy. The study concluded that Florida growers
could produce 10m kg more sweetcorn and cut insecticide use by 80 per cent
(50,000 kg per year) by switching to a Bt variety marketed by Syngenta.
"Despite the potential benefits, Florida sweetcorn growers are not
planting the (GM) cultivars due to concerns regarding potential lost
Official: Seed Patents Needed to Boost Research
By David Brough
June 26, 2001
ROME (Reuters) - Seed patents, which some critics attack as harmful to
poor farmers, are a vital incentive for research and a means of
encouraging plant diversity, a life sciences industry official said on
``We are strongly in favor of an intellectual property regime for the food
and seed industry, because if you don't have strong intellectual property
rights, you won't have incentives for research,'' said Patrick Heffer,
scientific coordinator of the International Association of Plant Breeders
``We consider both plant breeders' rights and patent laws necessary to
have sufficient incentives to create new varieties of plants and promote
food security,'' he told Reuters.
Heffer, based in Nyon, Switzerland, was a leading industry representative
at a meeting in Rome this week of the Commission for Genetic Resources for
Food and Agriculture, part of the United Nations Food and Agriculture
ASSINSEL represents plant breeders in 31 nations, as well as life sciences
multinationals such as Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta.
The meeting, which brings together representatives of 161 countries
seeking to conserve the world's genetic resources, aims to establish a
comprehensive system for the management and sharing of inherited
biodiversity. The event ends on Saturday.
Heffer's remarks conflicted with the views of several environmentalist
groups, including Greenpeace, who argue that patenting of food and seeds
by multinational companies threatens food security and access by farmers
to genetic resources.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS URGE OPEN ACCESS
The environmentalists have urged the meeting to agree on an international
undertaking that incorporates open access by farmers and plant breeders to
``We would prefer to have no agreement than a bad one,'' Heffer said,
declining to predict the outcome of the meeting.
The talks at FAO will seek agreement on access to public seed banks, which
could affect the ability of scientists to develop new crops to feed the
A main focus of the event will be to reach agreement on how life science
companies and plant breeders should pay for resources kept at the world's
public seeds banks.
Public seed banks lend out crop seeds at no charge to enable plant
breeders and geneticists to develop new crop varieties, which could
improve yields and increase resistance to disease and global warming.
Heffer rejected arguments that poor farmers would be held to ransom by
multinationals charging for patented seeds.
He said that countries could introduce exemptions into their intellectual
property laws to protect farmers.
``You could have provisions exempting farmers from paying intellectual
property rights,'' he said.
It was not the role of the Rome meeting, however, to incorporate an
exemptions system into an international agreement, he added.
A document circulated at the conference said agricultural biodiversity was
being lost at an alarmingly increased rate.
``It is estimated that some 10,000 species have been used for human food
and agriculture,'' said the paper authored by Jose Esquinas-Alcazar,
secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and
``Currently no more than 120 cultivated species provide 90 percent of
human food supplied by plants, and 12 plant species and five animal
species alone provide more than 70 percent of all human food,'' it added.
Consumer Awareness of Genetically Modified Foods May Be Taking Root
Poll Finds Public Confidence in Government Regulators Mixed
San Diego and Washington, D.C. - Americans are more aware of genetically
modified food than they were six months ago, but confidence in the ability
of government regulators to manage these products is mixed, according to a
Zogby International poll released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and
More than half of poll respondents (55 percent) reported they had heard a
?great deal? or ?some? about genetically modified foods sold in grocery
stores, with those in the West polling highest (61 percent). The national
level of awareness is a notable increase (of 11 percent) from an earlier
study conducted for the Initiative by the Mellman Group/Public Opinion
Strategies 6 months earlier, when less than half (44 percent) of
respondents reported hearing a ?great deal? or ?some? about genetically
The Zogby poll also revealed that consumers have mixed confidence in the
government?s ability to manage genetically modified foods, following last
fall?s recall of products contaminated with Starlink corn -- a type of
genetically modified corn approved only for use in animal feed that
accidentally made its way into the human food supply. More than half of
respondents (52 percent) said they were very or somewhat confident that
government regulators can manage genetically modified foods and ensure
consumer safety, while 45 percent said they were not too confident or not
at all confident in the government.
The most recent poll also suggested that consumers may be more likely to
hear about product recalls and generally negative information about
genetically modified food than supportive studies. The January poll found
that 57 percent of people surveyed had heard about the Starlink recall. In
contrast, only a little more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents
had heard about the recent Centers for Disease Control report finding no
evidence that Starlink corn caused allergic reactions in the 28 cases they
?Given the U.S. experience with Starlink product recalls, it is not
surprising that some consumers are questioning the government?s ability to
handle these products even in the absence of any demonstrated harm,? said
Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology. ?We must try to learn from Europe, where governments lost
credibility in their ability to handle food safety, and work to ensure
that our own government agencies are up to the task of appropriately
regulating this new, promising technology.?
The poll, released at the Biotechnology Industry Organization 2001
convention during a panel discussion titled ?Accepting New Technologies:
Media and Public Perceptions of Risks and Benefits,? was part of a
nationwide omnibus survey of 1,231 adults nationwide conducted by Zogby
International from June 21-23, 2001. The margin of error is +/-3.0
Bio-technology Is Vital For Bio-Pakistan
By Ijaz Ahmad Rao
June 27, 2001
Bio refers to life or living systems. Technology is the method to achieve
a practical purpose. Biotechnology is an umbrella term covering a vast
variety of processes for using living organisms (such as plants, animals
and microbes) or any part of these organisms to create new products or
substances. It includes the newer forms of genetic engineering; also
called bioengineering or genetic modification (GM); which offer a faster
and more precise means to manipulate genes than traditional breeding and
The science has been applied to plants, animals, foods and non-food
products such as medicines. In the arena of food, the goals are to provide
a more abundant, less expensive and more nutritious food supply.
Background of Bio-technology
In the 1860s, the scientist Gregor Mendel discovered the genetic
principles of selective and cross-breeding. Agronomists used Mendelian
genetics to breed hybrid corn, wheat and many other crops, selecting
traits that made them more resilient and otherwise desirable. Since the
discovery of DNA, the most important advance in Genetics has been the
discovery of the restriction enzymes in 1972, which allowed DNA to be cut
at specific sites and then put back together. Next came the discovery of
polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which allowed fragments of DNA to
multiply. The identification of specific DNA genes for desirable traits
and the transfer of those genes into another organism became known as
recombinant DNA technology or genetic engineering. The gene transference
involves the use of a vector carrier, which can be a plasmid or a virus.
The full potential of genetic engineering is still unknown and the results
so far achieved are only the beginning. Such breeding methods largely
accounted for the phenomenal gains in productivity during the 20th century.
Market scenario and growth of GM
Although the first GM plant, an antibiotic resistant tobacco, was
developed in 1983, but the growth of crops derived through agricultural
biotechnology has exploded since introduction of the first major
genetically modified crop in 1996. Monsanto, which launched the first
major genetically modified crop in 1996 with Roundup Ready soybeans
(glyphosate-tolerant). Since than the global market for GM/transgenic crop
products grew rapidly from 1995 to 1999. Global sales estimated at $75
million in 1995, reached $1.6 billion in 1998 and increased to an
estimated $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion in 1999, according to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA). The global market for the GM crops is projected to reach
approximately $8 billion in 2005 and $25 billion in 2010.
There have been more than 50 genetically altered plant varieties approved
in the United States including soya, maize, cotton and flax. Currently GM
products sold by Monsanto include Roundup Ready Soybeans, Cotton and Corn;
YieldGard Insect-Protected Corn (Bt) Bacillus thuringiensis; stacked
cotton with Roundup Ready and Bt traits; Bollgard Insect-Protected Cotton
(Bt); Roundup Ready Canola; and NewLeaf Insect-Protected Potato (Bt) etc.
Between 1996 and 1999, 12 countries contributed to more than a twenty-fold
increase in the global area of the GM crops, according to ISAAA. In 1999,
the global area of GM crops increased by 44 percent or 12.1 million
hectares from 27.8 million hectares in 1998 to 39.9 million hectares,
according to ISAAA.
The US leads the world in production of GM crops representing 72 percent
of the global area, followed by Argentina at 17 percent and Canada at 10
percent. Soybean and corn continued to be ranked first and second in 1999,
accounting for 54 percent and 28 percent of global GM crops, respectively.
Cotton and canola, each at 9 percent, shared the third-ranking position in
Accounting for 71 percent of the crops in 1998 and 1999,
herbicide-tolerant crops are by far the most common, while
insect-resistant crops have decreased slightly, from 28 percent in 1998 to
22 percent in 1999. Stacked genes for insect resistance and herbicide
tolerance increased significantly in the US in both corn and cotton from 1
percent in 1998 to 7 percent in 1999.
Adoption rates of GM crops in the US, estimated by the United States
Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service shows
that Bt corn increased from 26 percent of total corn acres in 1998 to 30
percent in 1999. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans increased from 42 percent in
1998 to 57 percent in 1999 of total acres. Bt cotton increased from 23
percent to 27 percent, and herbicide-tolerant cotton increased from 33
percent to 38 percent of total acreage for those crops.
GM crops - prospects for Pakistan: The world population has topped 6
billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring
an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major
challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a
number of ways:
Pest resistance: crop losses from insect pests can be staggering,
resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in
developing countries. Farmers typically use many tonnes of chemical
pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been
treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off
of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers
can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing GM
foods such as Bt Cotton and Bt Corn can help eliminate the application of
chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.
Pakistani farmers spend billions of rupees on pesticides and fertilisers
each year. But by saving costs of fertilisers and pesticides this
technology can improve the quality of our farmer life style and the
Herbicide tolerance: For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove
weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large
quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a
time-consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the
herbicide doesn't harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants
genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide
could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of
herbicides needed. For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans
genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product
Roundup. A farmer grows these soybeans which then only require one
application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing
production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off.
Disease resistance: There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause
plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with
genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.
Cold tolerance: Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An
antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such
as tobacco, potato and strawberries. With this antifreeze gene, these
plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill
Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and
more land is utilised for housing instead of food production, farmers will
need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation.
Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt
content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly
inhospitable places. Hence GM is one method to address our current drought
situation, which has declined growth rate of our agriculture sector from
(6%) to (-2%) year 2000-2001, while it has rigorously impact on our GDP,
by bring it to level 2.5 this year.
Nutrition malnutrition is common in Third World countries like Pakistan
where impoverished people rely on a single crop such as rice, wheat for
the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate
amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could
be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals,
nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to
vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries.
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for
Plant Sciences have created a strain of "golden" rice containing an
unusually high content of betacarotene (vitamin A). Since this rice was
funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, a non-profit organisation, the
Institute hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any Third World
country that requests it. Plans were underway to develop a golden rice
that also has increased iron content.
Pharmaceuticals Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and
sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in
third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines
like "Hepatitis B" in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much
cheaper, easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable
Phytoremediation: Not all GM plants are grown as crops. Soil and
groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in all parts of the world.
Plants such as popular trees have been genetically engineered to clean up
heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil.
GM livestock: Transgenic animals are designed to help diagnose and treat
human diseases. Several companies have designed and are testing transgenic
mammals that produce important pharmaceuticals in the animal's milk.
Products such as insulin, growth hormone, and tissue plasminogen activator
that are currently produced by fermentation of transgenic bacteria may
soon be obtained from the milk of transgenic cows, sheep, or goats.
Pakistan has large number of cattle therefore can be advantages over its
neighbouring countries if it adopt GM technology and conduct research in
Conclusion: Researchers use many tools to deliver the miracles of science.
One of those tools, biotechnology, is today making it possible for
researchers and developers to deliver products that help farmers protect
their crops, improve the economy and environment while grow grains that
improve the quality of the foods we eat. Biotechnology will enhance
quality of life in many ways, while helping the environment by reducing
our dependence on non-renewable resources. But that's just the beginning.
We have to understand the importance GM and its role and influence on our
future growth, health and environment. Hoping one day Bio-technology be
privileged to originate semblance of our country as "Bio Pakistan."
Zambia Prepares Genetically Modified Organisms Policy
Pan-African News Agency
By Lewis Mwananyombe
June 25, 2001
Lusaka, Zambia (PANA) - Zambian research scientists are working on a
policy framework to regulate and monitor the importation, manufacture, use
and release of Genetically Modified Organisms so as to minimise risks to
The scientists are currently finalising a bio-safety policy document that
would enable the Zambian government to sign the Cartagena Protocol, which
is the world treaty related to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
According to Dorothy Mulenga, a scientific researcher at the National
Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research in Lusaka, once the
policy framework is approved, a 'National Biosafety Competent Authority'
would be created as a supervisory body.
Preparation of the 'National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Policy' took off
with the constitution of a national task force in 1999, headed by Gershum
Chilukusha of the ministry of environment and natural resources.
The task force has evaluated reports on agricultural biotechnology,
environmental biotechnology, industrial and microbial biotechnology as
well as medical biotechnology.
The reports were examined during the first national consultative meeting
on biotechnology and bio-safety in 1999 and the second national
consultative meeting in August 2000. The third meeting was held earlier
this year in the midlands town of Kabwe.
In Kabwe, an agreement was reached on the need to Formulate a national
policy on biotechnology and biosafety and that in the interim the ministry
of science, technology.
Vocational training was identified as the lead ministry to spearhead this
endeavour as its promotion of science and technology cuts across Zambian
A drafting committee was appointed in Kabwe to amalgamate reports from the
working groups as well as minutes of the meeting.
Zambian scientists are also working on new laws covering the new field of
genetic engineering so as to minimise the danger genetically modified
foods could cause on human beings and other animal life in the country.
Mulenga, who has been instrumental in the formulation of the national
policy, notes that the team may move to the second phase of the project
once the government adopts the task force's report.
"There is need to secure funds for the second phase of the project. The
objective of the second phase is to build the necessary capacity to
implement the bio-safety framework developed in the first phase," she
The Global Environment Programme (GEF) is supporting Zambian scientists in
the preparatory work through the United Nations Environment Programme.