AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Agreement reached on protecting plant genetic resources
* Column: Plant Biotech Takes A Pause, Plans To Sell New Transgenic Cotton
Varieties to Indian Farmers Are Put On Hold
* Govt attaches importance to bio-diversity
* Agribusiness and small farmers
* Noyes Foundation is on the warpath
* 'Genetic Engineering, A Useful Tool'
Agreement reached on protecting plant genetic resources
16 July 2001
A historic agreement to protect the world's plant genetic resources for
food and agriculture was reached early in July at the end of a week-long
extraordinary session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food
and Agriculture in Rome. The Commission comprises 160 countries and the
European Union. The accord was reached after a week of intense debate,
which culminated a seven-year process of negotiations.
The legally binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources
aims to protect the world's most important food and forage crops in an
effort to safeguard global food security. The Undertaking seeks to ensure
the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food
and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising
from their use. The treaty will be submitted for adoption by FAO member
states at the biennial FAO Conference meeting in November 2001. It will
enter into force after ratification by 40 countries.
"With modernization, fewer and fewer crops form the basis of the world's
food security," says José Esquinas-Alcázar, secretary of the FAO
Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. "A study carried
out by FAO shows that, over the years, about 7 000 plant species have been
cultivated or collected by humans for food. At present, however, only 30
crops provide 90 percent of the world's calorie intake. This agreement
will help protect global agricultural biodiversity."
Facilitating access and sharing benefits
The agreement establishes a system that facilitates broad access to a list
of crops crucial to food security. This includes both materials in gene
banks, farmers' fields and in the wild. The agreement also provides for
the exchange of information and technology between countries, particularly
to benefit developing countries and countries in transition.
It also ensures equitable sharing of the financial benefits resulting from
the use of the plant genetic resources covered by the system. Mandatory
payments will be required when commercial benefits are obtained from the
use of these resources. Payments will be voluntary, however, when a
commercial product derived from these resources is still available for
research and plant breeding. These payments will be used for priority
activities, particularly in developing countries and countries in
The presence of diverse varieties in a field can help prevent devastation
by pests or disease. But over the past century, the traditional
heterogeneous varieties that contain most of the world's agricultural
biodiversity have been displaced from farmers' fields by modern
homogeneous varieties. Most of these traditional varieties have been lost
and many of those that remain can now be found only in gene banks,
including those of the International Agricultural Research Centres. Away
from farmers' fields, these varieties are unable to evolve and adapt to
changing environmental conditions.
Spotlight on farmers' rights
The Undertaking highlights the contributions of farmers around the world
in conserving and improving plant genetic resources and making them
available. While acknowledging that the responsibility for realizing
farmers' rights rests with national governments, the treaty asks
governments to "take measures to protect and promote Farmers' Rights."
Such measures include protecting traditional knowledge relevant to plant
genetic resources, promoting farmers' rights to share equitably in the
benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and to participate in
national-level decision-making on matters related to their conservation
and sustainable use.
Discussion continues on some issues
A few issues related to the Undertaking are yet to be resolved and
countries will continue to seek consensus on these issues over the coming
months and during the FAO Conference in November. One of these issues is
the relationship of the International Undertaking to other environmental
and trade-related international agreements. Another is the precise wording
regarding intellectual property rights on plant genetic materials.
Finally, talks will continue on the possible expansion of the list of
crops to be covered by the system.
"Work remains to be done, but there is much cause for optimism," says Mr
Esquinas-Alcázar. "The International Undertaking is a milestone in
international cooperation. It will promote the use of genetic resources
for research and plant breeding, the equitable sharing of benefits derived
from this use and the conservation of genetic resources for future
Column: Plant Biotech Takes A Pause, Plans To Sell New Transgenic Cotton
Varieties to Indian Farmers Are Put On Hold
July 23, 2001
In an allusion to the potential of biotechnology (BT) to transform Indian
agriculture, it was the veteran politician Mohan Dharia who remarked that
while it reflected India Today, BT represented Bharat Tomorrow. But it is
not going to be smooth sailing. The Central Government has just postponed,
for at least another year, the commercial use of BT cotton, a genetically
that increases yields and pest-tolerance significantly.
BT stands for the micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis. The bacterium was
isolated by a German scientist from a dead moth in the Thuringia region of
Germany, hence the name. BT cotton is cotton into which a gene obtained
from this soil-based bacterium has been introduced. This gives the cotton
plant the capacity to produce its own protein which is toxic to specific
pests like bollworms. Some 70 per cent of all chemical pesticides used in
India is just on cotton. Over one-third of this is in Andhra Pradesh
alone. Another two-fifth is accounted for by Karnataka, Gujarat and
Punjab. Not coincidentally, the maximum number of farmer suicides have
been that of cotton cultivators in Andhra and Karnataka. India has the
maximum area under cotton in the world followed by the US and China.
However, our productivity is the lowest. Over half the cotton area in the
US is under transgenics, that is plants into which genes from
unrelated species have been introduced to give them desirable
China too has moved forward on its own. In India, field experiments with
BT cotton first started in 1996-97 and were continued in 1997-98 and
1998-99. Large-scale research field trials and seed production took place
in 2000-01. The Jalna-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (MAHYCO) is
responsible for the field trials in India. MAHYCO is a research-driven
company led by Dr B.R. Barwale, the 1998 recipient of the World Food
Prize, considered the Nobel Prize in agriculture. The US multinational
Monsanto has a 26 per cent stake in MAHYCO and it is Monsanto's BT gene
that has been introduced into MAHYCO's hybrid cotton and is under test.
Encouraged by the preliminary results of the experiments and the field
trials on about 12 hectares, the Department of Biotechnology moved the
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)under the Ministry of
Environment and Forests for permission to have BT cotton seeds sold
commercially to farmers.
The committee has denied this request and now wants further large-scale
field trials on another 100 hectares under the supervision of the Indian
Council of Agricultural Research before taking a final decision.
Proponents of BT cotton feel that the influential pesticide manufacturers
lobby is at work. Some progressive farmers' organisations are upset while
NGOs have welcomed the GEAC's move.
Undoubtedly, Monsanto's involvement has mobilised opposition to BT cotton.
It has been dubbed the Frankenstein of Foods out to destroy the world
through genetic manipulation. But Monsanto apart, five specific fears have
been raised about BT cotton. First, we could develop immunity to specific
antibiotics like streptomycin. Second, the bollworms themselves could soon
develop immunity to the toxin. Third, animals fed with BT cotton seed
could develop toxicity and
serious allergies and soil micro-organisms could be adversely affected.
Fourth, the BT cotton pollen might flow beyond a safe zone and begin to
impact on other crops. Fifth, the BT cotton seed might contain the
"terminator gene" which means that farmers will have to buy seeds year
after year from the market.
The Department of Biotechnology believes that these fears are unfounded
and that MAHYCO's experiments and trials yield robust data to substantiate
this position. Many scientists also agree but few others have raised
doubts-The Hindu has been carrying a debate on this.
The only way to inspire confidence is to make all results of the trials
under Indian conditions public and have them subjected to scientific peer
review. Even though highly complex scientific issues are involved, the
debate has to be conducted in easy-to-understand language without clouding
public concerns in some technical mumbo-jumbo. A bit of humility on all
sides-on the part of both gung-go scientists and self-righteous and
scare-mongering NGOs-will also help. India desperately needs to harness
the undoubted potential of transgenic plants.
At the same time, risks have to be managed through a transparent and
effective regulatory regime. We could also profit from innovative
public-private partnerships and a greater role for public-sector research,
of the type that triggered the earlier Green Revolution. And speaking of
the Green Revolution, it was the wildly enthusiastic acceptance by farmers
that turned the tide. It is this that will make or break plant biotech.
The author is with the Congress party. These are his personal views.
Govt attaches importance to bio-diversity
Times of India
July 17, 2001
NEW DELHI: Government lays great emphasis on conservation of the country's
bio-diversity so it can be used for economic benefit, department of
biotechnology secretary Manju Sharma said on Monday.
"There are eight bio-diversity hot spots in the world. Out of the eight,
two hot spots are in India. In the Indo-Burma region there are billions of
plants," she said, addressing a workshop on 'biotechnology applications:
opportunities for the industry', organised by the PHD chamber of commerce
and industry (PHDCCI).
The spectre of different diseases are looming large. People living in
Delhi are more prone to respiratory disorders and medical waste has become
a challenge to tackle, she said.
In India, there are 800 companies in all sectors of biotechnology.
However, only about 25 companies are working in modern biotech research in
Indian market that could be considered as unique, introduced for the first
time in the world, PHDCCI president Sushil Ansal said. (PTI)
Agribusiness and small farmers
Well managed contract farming contributes to both increased income for
producers and higher profits for investors, and reduces risk and
uncertainty for both parties
For some critics, "contract farming" in developing countries is just
another of the ills associated with economic globalization. On one side,
they see a mass of unorganized small-scale farmers, with little bargaining
power and few of the resources needed to raise productivity and compete
commercially. On the other stands powerful agribusiness, offering
production and supply contracts which - in exchange for inputs and
technical advice - allows it to exploit cheap labour and transfer most
risks to the primary producers. Contract farming, the critics say, is
essentially an agreement between unequal parties, and more likely to
generate debt than development for the small farmer.
But it isn't always like that. A new FAO guide argues that well managed
contract farming has proven effective in linking the small farm sector to
sources of extension advice, mechanization, seeds, fertilizer and credit,
and to guaranteed and profitable markets for produce. "It is an approach
that can contribute to both increased income for farmers and higher
profitability for sponsors," says Contract farming: Partnerships for
growth. "When efficiently organized and managed, contract farming reduces
risk and uncertainty for both parties. The approach would appear to have
considerable potential in countries where small-scale agriculture
continues to be widespread. In many cases small-scale farmers can no
longer be competitive without access to the services provided by contract
In northern India, for example, a multinational corporation issued
contracts to 400 farmers to grow hybrid tomatoes for processing into
paste. A study of the programme confirmed that yields and farmers' incomes
were on average almost 50% higher than those of other farmers growing
tomatoes for the open market. In Sri Lanka, a flourishing export trade in
gherkins has been built on contracts between companies and more than
15,000 growers with plots of around 0.5 ha each. On a much larger scale,
more than 200,000 farmers in Thailand grow sugar cane for the country's 46
mills under a government-sponsored system which assigns growers 70% and
millers 30% of total net revenue.
Read Full Article: http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0107sp.htm
Date: 16 Jul 2001 23:18:09 -0000
From: Stevens Brumbley
Subject: RE: AGBIOVIEW: Modern ag benefits, Bt Cotton,Pressure groups, Lim
its of growth, Starlink
I just got this notice from sciencewise allerts service. It looks like
the Noyes Foundation is on the warpath against multinational corporations
and, by the sounds of this, conventional farming as well. It might be
nice if someone states side investigated who and what these folks are
Topic: Noyes Foundation's Toxic and Sustainable Agriculture Program
Primary Sponsor: The Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation
Please Note: As of February 1, 2001, the guidelines for the Noyes
Foundation's Toxic and Sustainable Agriculture Programs have been revised
to reflect a deepening concern about the growing power and global reach of
corporations and their impact on the environment, communities and society
in general. The guidelines for the
Reproductive Rights, New York Metropolitan Environment and Sustainable
Communities Programs have not been changed. Requests for funding in
these program areas that address corporate power and globalization issues
should be made under the existing guidelines...
Noyes Foundation's Toxic and Sustainable Agriculture Program
'Genetic Engineering, A Useful Tool'
July 12, 2001
BANGKOK, JULY 11. "Genetic engineering and genomic techniques offer new
opportunities to develop new crop varieties with higher yield potential,
dense micro-nutrients and yield stability. We have to use all the tools at
our disposal to develop more productive varieties and genetic engineering
is a modern tool in our tool box," said Dr. Gurdev S. Khush, a renowned
rice breeder from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI),
A distinguished rice scientist and World Food Prize winner, Dr. Khush said
to feed a world population of eight billion by 2025, food production must
increase by 50 per cent and it will have to be achieved using less land,
less water, less labour and less chemicals. Hence, agricultural scientists
should explore all possibilities to achieve the goal. Speaking at the
international conference on "New Biotechnology Food and Crops: Science,
Safety and Society" organised by the U.K. and OECD in co-operation with
FAO, WHO, UNEP and the
Government of Thailand here, Dr. Khush pointed out that GM (genetically
modified) foods and food products did not inherently present any
unintended toxic properties than those already presented by conventional
breeding practices, which had an impressive food safety record. He cited
the conclusion of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a
29,000-member, non- profit society for food science and technology which
conducted a comprehensive review
"Much has been said and written about the safety of GM food. The main
concerns are about the introduction of allergens, toxins and anti-feedants
resulting from the presence of foreign proteins. However, biosafety
protocols in place ensure that GM foods are thoroughly evaluated for any
such adverse human health aspects before introduction into commercial
production," he said.
Discussing the environmental sustainability of GM crops, he said the main
concerns were about the possibility of transfer of transgenes to wild
relatives leading to the emergence of super weeds, consequences for
biodiversity and the impact on non-target organisms. "Numerous disease and
insect-resistant crop varieties have been developed during the last 100
years and there is no evidence of escape of resistance genes to wild
relatives or development of super weeds. GM crops, in reality, help
protect the bio-diversity through increased food production from
favourable lands and thus reduce the need to
open up fragile ecosystems such as wetlands and forests for agriculture.
GM crops also enhance biodiversity and environmental sustainability
through a reduction in pesticide use," he explained.
Dr. Jan van Aken, a German cell biologist representing Greenpeace
International, said there was still no scientifically sound basic concept
to assess the risks of living modified rganisms. "Traditional risk
assessment procedures are not applicable to the release of
self-reproducible organisms into the environment. This has been
acknowledged for years by most scientists in the field. However, even
after more than a decade of research and discussion, no alternative and
scientifically sound basic methodology is available to assess the specific
risks of a specific crop with a specific trait in a particular
environment," he said.
There is no development without taking risks but the risks posed by new
technologies must be manageable. Likely negative effects must be
reversible to guarantee a sustainable, environmentally- friendly and
socially just development. "As long as GM crops are grown anywhere in the
world, measures are urgently needed to guarantee traceability and to
prevent contamination of food and especially of seeds, to protect
consumers, non-GM crop growers and the environment from an uncontrolled
spread of GM crops," he said. The OECD and the
G-8 should fully endorse and express their unambiguous support for the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and call on all nations to ratify it as
soon as possible, according to him.
Dr. Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, an NGO from India, said the private
sector controlling biotechnology should be forced, at least to some
extent, to contribute to the creation of public good. After all, they were
using the genetic material which is a public resource to create private
wealth. "All monitoring of GM crops should include independent experts,
NGOs and farmers' organisations along with the regulatory authorities.
Besides, there should be international standards for monitoring and they
should be transparent," she said.