AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Biotech Food Fears Unfounded
* StarLink Tests Didn't Yield Enough Data For Opinion on Safety, EPA Panel
* No Problems Found In Pigs Raised On StarLink Feed
* EPA Releases Bt Risks and Benefits Amid Controversy
* New Data Could Benefit Small-Scale Banana Farmers Worldwide
And Reduce Reliance on Chemicals in Commercial Production
* BETRAYAL OF INDIAN FARMERS
* Field Trials Continue As Opposition To GM Subsides
* Playing God In The Shadows
Biotech Food Fears Unfounded
Dayton Daily News
July 18, 2001
By Dennis T. Avery
FDA tests show genetically altered corn hasn't triggered allergies
OPPONENTS OF BIOTECH FOOD have come up with another false alarm. The Food
and Drug Administration says the people who claimed they suffered
allergenic reactions to genetically engineered StarLink corn were wrong.
None of their blood samples revealed antibodies to the Cry9c protein
engineered into StarLink. It's yet another blow to the credibility of the
anti-biotech activists, whose most effective biotech `fear factor' has
been the possibility of allergies triggered by new crops or foods.
The activists are not giving up, of course. Rebecca Goldburg of
Environmental Defense said the FDA's `sample was too small,' but she
apparently misunderstands the meaning of sampling. The FDA tested 100
percent of the 17 blood samples submitted by people who claimed they had
suffered allergenic reactions to the corn.
Test results from such a small sample could easily have missed allergic
reactions,' said Bill Freese of Friends of the Earth, who started the
StarLink scare by submitting samples of taco shells to an Iowa laboratory.
Is Freese recommending that the FDA blood-test large numbers of people who
haven't reported allergenic reactions - after finding no allergenic
antibodies in people who did?
More than 75 million consumers suffer food-borne illnesses each year, the
vast majority from bacteria, so the FDA demands solid evidence before
declaring new food threats.
The allergy argument against biotech foods was never very strong. It was
based on the idea that biotech researchers would fail to watch out for
allergens. However, the only allergen ever associated with biotech foods -
from the Brazil nut - was spotted by the researchers and dropped from the
development program. The allergy argument was particularly weak in
StarLink, since the Cry9c protein makes up only thirteen-hundredths of 1
percent of the protein in the corn. That guarantees that StarLink is at
least 500 times safer than peanut butter. Beyond that, Cry9c is not
derived from any known allergens, and its protein sequence does not
resemble known allergens.
The Environmental Protection Agency nevertheless approved StarLink only
for feed use, on the grounds that it took the Cry9c protein several
minutes to dissolve in human digestive fluids rather than seconds. The
EPA's regulatory mistake became clear when the feed- only corn leaked into
the food system.
The Genetically Engineered Food Alert issued a nationwide call for any
consumers who suffered a reaction to corn products to come forward. A
total of 28 people said they'd suffered reactions, and 17 of them
submitted blood samples to the government.
Field tests this year also found that the activists' other biotech threat
- that Monarch butterfly caterpillars would be killed by genetically
engineered corn pollen - is likewise a false alarm.
The pollen from Bt corn (which carries its own natural pesticide) can kill
Monarch caterpillars. But corn mostly pollinates early in the summer, well
before Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed.
Corn pollen is heavy, seldom falling more than a yard to two outside the
cornfields. The pollen usually doesn't stick to the glossy milkweed
leaves, and it takes lots of the pollen to kill the Monarchs. There's not
even much Bt danger in the cornfields, where farmers have always hoed or
sprayed any yield-robbing weeds, including milkweeds.
One Monarch expert says we could do more good for the Monarchs by skipping
one mowing per summer of the nation's roadsides than by banning biotech
Don't expect any let-up in the activist campaign against biotech foods,
however. The activists need scares to keep themselves in the headlines and
the contributions coming in, and there aren't many lurking dangers left in
the modern world. People have been more willing to fear their food than
their cars and cigarettes.
Nor have farmers yet learned to defend effectively modern farming systems,
which have saved 16 million square miles of the world's wildlands from
being plowed to get today's food supply with traditional, low-yield
farming. The world's current forest area, coincidentally, is about 16
million square miles.
Expect the activists to continue assailing biotechnology, pesticides,
fertilizers, confinement feeding and all the other elements of high-yield
conservation. It's ironic that they call themselves environmentalists.
* Dennis T. Avery is a former Department of Agriculture official who
serves as director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute, a
public-policy think tank. Address: Hudson Institute/ Washington, 1015 18th
St. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036.
StarLink Tests Didn't Yield Enough Data For Opinion on Safety, EPA Panel
Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2001
ARLINGTON, Va. -- A panel of outside experts told the Environmental
Protection Agency at a hearing here that there was no way to know from
tests conducted last month what level of genetically modified corn, called
StarLink, could trigger an allergy, or if it causes reactions at all.
StarLink corn, engineered by French pharmaceuticals company Aventis SA to
produce its own pesticides, was approved for industrial and animal uses,
but not for human consumption due to allergy concerns. Nevertheless,
because of processing mixups, StarLink began appearing in a variety of
corn products last year, prompting wide recalls. It also appeared in corn
and corn seed that was supposed to be StarLink-free. That prompted
lawsuits from grain-elevator operators and others whose products were
contaminated. Aventis has stopped licensing StarLink seed, but
officials say it will take four or five years for
the corn to work its way out of the food supply. To avoid recalls and
lawsuits, Aventis wants the EPA to approve a small amount of StarLink in
food until it is gone.
An Aventis official told EPA officials at the hearing that the company was
doing all it could to help get the corn out of the food supply. He also
said processing StarLink into food significantly reduces its presence. If
the EPA approved a tolerance level for StarLink it would help insulate the
company from further lawsuits as well as help grain handlers and others
with products contaminated with the corn.
But members of the advisory panel said the tests didn't provide enough
data for them to give an opinion on the safety of the level of StarLink
that Aventis wants the EPA to approve, 20 parts per billion -- equivalent
to one kernel of StarLink to 800 kernels of nonmodified corn.
Last month, government tests on 17 blood samples from people who claimed
StarLink made them sick showed no evidence that StarLink caused allergic
reactions. Separate tests on food samples that people claimed made them
sick didn't show evidence of containing the Cry9C protein in StarLink
which may cause allergies. But some panel members said they were concerned
the results may not be representative because the Cry9C used in the tests
wasn't derived directly from the corn and such a small number of blood and
food samples were studied.
"It reduces our concern, but can not eliminate our concern about these
individuals reacting to Cry9C protein," said Dean Metcalfe, a panel member.
The panel will issue a formal report on StarLink for the EPA in about a
No Problems Found In Pigs Raised On StarLink Feed
July 19, 2001
NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Test results showed no genetic problems in the meat
of pigs raised on feed containing a genetically modified corn known as
StarLink, the farm ministry said Thursday, Kyodo news agency reported.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has been conducting
safety tests on animal feed containing StarLink, which has a gene to
create a germ-killing substance said to cause allergic reactions in some
humans. Under the tests, ministry researchers fed 20 pigs, each weighing
some 30 kilograms, with feed composed of 70% StarLink for 11 to 13 weeks
until their weight increased to 110 kilograms, and examined their meat,
organs and blood, Kyodo reported.
There was no evidence that a gene and protein specific to StarLink were
carried over to the pig samples, the ministry said. Also, the growth of
the samples showed no difference from that of pigs raised on StarLink-free
StarLink is approved for use as animal feed in the U.S., the sole
producer, but is currently banned in Japan, Kyodo reported.
Farm ministry researchers are examining the safety of StarLink as animal
feed. They have already conducted similar tests on chickens and milk cows
and found no problems.
EPA Releases Bt Risks and Benefits Amid Controversy
July 18, 2001
The Environmental Protection Agency has released a revised assessment of
risks and benefits of a class of genetically-modified products, which
include Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, cotton and potato
plant-incorporated protectants, for public review. EPA is inviting public
comment on whether changes are needed in the regulatory terms and
conditions for these products based on the revised assessment.
Potential benefits and risks these products may pose to human health are
assessed as are non-target species such as the Monarch butterfly, and the
environment. It also reviews the available information concerning
resistance management in insect pest populations.
EPA will present the report in a July 24 technical briefing for the public
from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel, 1800
Jefferson Davis Hwy., Arlington, VA. EPA also plans to make available
prior to the meeting a discussion paper which identifies a range of
potential regulatory options for these products.
During the past year, EPA has been conducting a scientific assessment of
registered Bt products as part of a larger process on behalf of the
federal government to ensure that the use of biotechnology does not pose
unreasonable risks to public health or to the environment.
This revised assessment will have direct bearing on how the agency
proceeds regarding the conditional Bt corn and cotton registrations,
scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. There is a 45-day comment period
beginning July 17 on both the revised assessment and regulatory options
EPA is considering regarding the expiring registrations.
To obtain related documents and learn more about the technical briefing,
or to find out how to provide comments see:
In a related development, a coalition of consumer, public health and
environmental groups, as well as scientists and private citizens requested
that EPA refrain from approving StarLink genetically engineered corn for
human consumption until a "proper investigation" of StarLink is completed.
The groups said EPA should take no action on StarLink until the proper
data is provided and urged the panel not to recommend an approval of
"We are urging the EPA not to make a decision on StarLink until it gets
the evidence originally requested by its scientific advisors," said Bill
Freese, senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, a member group of
the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition. "With the investigation
of white corn contamination incomplete and new reports of allergic
reactions, we believe the EPA cannot legally approve StarLink corn for
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS reported that in a report to a panel of scientific
advisers who met Tuesday and today, EPA said testing by corn processors
and seed companies have helped to dramatically reduce the amount of
StarLink corn that could be in food. "We are in a very different place to
where we were in November and December," Janet Anderson, a senior EPA
official, told the scientists Tuesday.
EPA's scientific advisers are deciding whether the agency should grant a
request by Aventis to set a maximum level for the biotech grain of 20
parts per billion of the food likely to be consumed by a particular
individual. That's the equivalent of one StarLink kernel in every 50
million kernels of corn.
In its report, EPA says the actual levels of StarLink in U.S. corn
supplies range from 0.34 to 8 parts per billion, depending on the method
used to make the estimate. EPA says the corn ``will essentially be gone''
from grain supplies in two to three years.
New Data Could Benefit Small-Scale Banana Farmers Worldwide
And Reduce Reliance on Chemicals in Commercial Production
19 July 2001--Scientists from 11 countries today announced the founding of
an international consortium to sequence the banana genome within five
years. Researchers will use the new genetic data to enable developing
country farmers to grow bananas that are able to resist the fungus *Black
Sigatoka,* which typically reduces yields by 30 to 50 percent, as well as
other diseases and pests.
Bananas and plantains are staple foods for nearly half a billion people
worldwide, but their crops are increasingly lost to disease. Bananas and
plantains together are the developing world's fourth most important food
crop, following rice, wheat, and corn. In parts of Africa, bananas
provide more than one-quarter of all food calories.
For the full news release in English, French, and Spanish, visit the
Future Harvest website at:
BETRAYAL OF INDIAN FARMERS
- P CHENGAL REDDY
Federation of Farmers Associations,
- Dr. J.R. MURTHY
Administrative Staff College of India
Public Memory is short, regretfully. Henceforth, 19th June must be
declared "Farmers' Betrayal Day". On this day, the Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) of Government of India withheld approval for
freely providing the first transgenic agri-technology (the Bt cotton seed)
to farmers. Mysteriously, neither has this august body clarified its
summary decisions logically, nor provided its report for public scrutiny &
debate. Thousands of progressive and small-holdings cotton farmers were
eagerly looking forward to study its economic and scientific benefits, on
their own. Their awareness of the new biotech modified seed appears to be
greater than the shipping, trade and customs officials charged with
handling the new-age biomaterials at the port of entry. These officials
have presumably been authorized to implement policy directives designed to
restrict public choice on the emerging agri-biotechnologies. Such
"learned" officials, and many others, remain blissfully unaware of
frontier developments and policy issues. They have even used official
machinery to distribute Genetically Modified (GM) food products to the
general public through the ICDS program of the Women & Child Development
Too often, and despite public protests, the Government of India has once
again belittled the hopes and expectations of our farmers. Bt cotton
technology in India would have opened a new chapter of Indian farmer
quickly responding to global competition in terms of adopting new
technologies, reducing input costs and increased quality production. The
opportunity cost of the delay in freely introducing frontier technology
even in the year 2001 must be seriously drummed into our policy makers,
economists, industry and of course the farmers.
The Food & Agricultural Organization, eminent scientists all over the
world, including Dr. Norman Borlaug have categorically stated that
Biotechnology is necessary for developing countries to meet its food and
nutritional needs. However this seems to have little impact on the policy
framers of India.
The USA, admittedly the world leader in Biotechnology is already well
ahead of others in introducing new agri-transgenics, so also China the
emerging superpower. Interestingly in US the legal, ethical, social &
policy issues have also been open to public debate and academic
deliberations in a very transparent and rational manner. India, the
contender (pretender), for world superpower recognition, has once again
failed to even take a simple decision of allowing Bt cotton cultivation,
despite 5 years of study by Indian Agricultural Research Institute and its
army of scientists.
Ever since liberalization farmers in India eagerly sought reforms that
will reduce Government controls and restrictions, provide access to best
technologies, mechanization, change in the Tenancy Act, establishing
modern processing units, etc. But instead of choice, they were forced
into unplanned international competitive situations, diminishing
subsidies, faulty financial schemes, legacy technologies, and of course,
the same Government controls restrictions and apathy under the guise of
enlightened policy making.
The tragedy for Indian farmers is that none of the national leaders, MPs
from farming commission and of course the successive Finance Ministers
(including Dr. Manmohan Singh, Mr Yashwanth Sinha who are
techno-bureaucrats-cum-politicians and Mr Chidambaram, a
businessman-advocate-cum-politician could comprehend the complexities of
India's Agriculture. They remain clueless on an acceptable definition of
an Indian farmer and list measures required to make him compete
internationally. Perhaps they were thinking of affluent politicians and
parliamentarians who claimed to be representatives of the agriculturists
as farmers? In reality these politically inclined farmer-leaders are
professional politicians who never depended on agriculture for their
livelihood. Since 1990, farmers were given negative subsidy of 38% as is
revealed in the recent WTO documents. Even though the F.M.s are aware of
this fact, none openly admitted it. None made efforts to correct the
mistake and explain why the Indian farmer is subsidizing the agricultural
economy and forced to indirectly prop up a myopic food and agricultural
In the true spirit of myopic policy making, the all F.M.s successively
reduced subsidies on agriculture. During 1990-2000, the investments in
agricultural sector were constantly reduced, which effected production and
consumption. The per capita grain availability increase of 1980's was
reduced from 1.2% to 0.28%(1990-2000). The credit availability from
organized sector was reduced from 18% to 12%. The agriculture research
budget stagnated at 0.5% as against the demand for 1% in IX Plan. The
negative subsidy for farmers during this period was as high as 38.5%
(Gulati 2001). Leading economists Mr Ashok Gulati and Ch. Hanumantha Rao
have pleaded for increased allocation, in vain.
During the same period, developing nations continued to steadily increase
support to the agriculture through direct and indirect subsidies, often
with great benefits to all stakeholders. None of these facts could bring
about any change in the Government of India policies towards farmers and
In the Planning Commission's midterm evaluation of IX Plan, it was
pointed out that there is urgent need for revitalizing the agricultural
economy and included suggestions for improving the productivity by
providing more public funding access to quality inputs, mechanization and
increased value addition and agro-processing.
Amongst the important requirements of farmers is the absolute imperative
for quality seed, which accounts for almost 60% of input costs. Indians
are well aware of the benefits of the Mexican Hybrid Wheat variety, the
vegetables and other modern agri-inputs. However the 21st century
agriculture scenario has to be viewed as a High Tech agriculture in which
GMOs, green houses, drip irrigation systems, weather forecasting,
information technology, forward trading, value addition play key roles. In
other words, free market forces proved their benefits through rapid
information access, just-in-time technology transfers and fair returns for
agri-products, thus benefiting everyone in the agri-value chain. The
farmers in developed nations have comparative advantages in quick access
to all modern technologies provided by the private sector, excellent
backward, forward linkage, highly efficient infrastructure, access to IT
and also support of the Governments through direct and indirect subsidies.
On the contrary, India's Agriculture Productivity is one of the lowest in
the world; 70% of small and marginal farmers remain without credit,
extension facility and access to technologies. How can they compete
internationally? They have to be trained and provided with all these
modern technologies specially BT before they are permitted to face the
consequences of globalization.
Agri-biotechnology is useful to Indian farmers to increase yields,
controlling pests, insects, weeds, fight droughts, floods, submersion,
cultivation in saline soils, alkaline lands and to provide nutrition to
women and children. Biotechnology, and its agricultural applications,
have already become the new economic engines in the developed countries,
and have been the new incubators for national investments, job
opportunities and financial market inter-linkages. In the USA, the
involvement of scientists, farmers and policy-makers have evolved a strong
public interest and involvement more than 20 years ago. The financial
markets and the US Government helped develop venture capital financing
mechanisms, allied with bigger seed companies.
American farmers have achieved among the highest levels of land usage and
labor productivity in the world. A mere 1.5% of the US population provides
enough food for domestic and export markets. Recent reports from the US
Census of Agriculture reveal a pattern of consolidation, improving
technology, rapid and nation-wide adoption of new technology-driven
practices and sharp farmer know-how. The estimated economic benefit from
growing genetically improved crops in the US and Canada was nearly $500
million in 1998, and is expected to reach $6 BILLION by 2005. In 1950,
every US farmer was producing food for 27 people, whereas by 1999 it went
up to 129 people.
Our neighbor China, similar to us in all aspects of population, poverty,
small holdings, drought and floods, limited resources has achieved
remarkable results with the help of technology and robust decision-making
in just 10 years. In 1998 alone, Chinese Government have received 75
Transgenic Seed development applications and they permitted 53 for small
scale field testing, environment release and for commercial production. In
1994, China entered into agreement with Monsanto and introduced number of
transgenic cotton seeds varieties, including Bollgard. In 1998-99, 3
million farmers in 9 provinces of China have used Bollgard cotton-seed in
1.5 million acres. The farmers reaped additional profits of 30% - 40% over
conventional practices (Report on Impact of Bt Cotton in China Jikun Huang
and Fangbin Qiao, Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy
of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China). So much so they were able to
increase their cotton exports to India by 27% in the subsequent year.
China started Biotech research along with India 1986 is experimenting with
hundreds of new varieties. The Chinese have targeted a 60% food increase
to meet the demand from a population of 160 crores, by 2030. They are
making efforts to join the WTO community as they are confident of
withstanding international competition. What are the reasons? The simplest
answer is that the Chinese Government has a vision- strong political will
and simplified procedures.
On the contrary, a cursory look at the Indian agricultural development
policies and Government effectiveness shows a distressing trend. Public
sector research is in a pathetic stage wherein not one B.T. could be
developed indigenously and disseminated. The permit system that is choking
private B.T. initiatives is a typical bureaucratic mess which has no
relevance to the problem and solution. The permission raj starts with a
District Level Committee (DLC) headed by the Collector, State
Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) headed by the Chief Secretary,
Monitoring Evaluation Committee (MEC) headed by a Agricultural scientist,
Institutional Bio Safety Committee (IBSE) headed by DBT, Review Committee
on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) headed by a Secretary and Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) headed by another Secretary have to
clear this proposal before it is sent to the concerned Ministers. It is
very difficult to comprehend what has the Collector, Chief Secretary or a
Minister got to do with Biotechnology! Biotech research takes 5-7 years
for basic concept-to-prototype development and the field trails take
another 5-6 years. There are 800 parameters to be tested and approved.
Each parameter costs as much as 40,000 dollars which means as much of
Rs.200 crores has to be invested to know whether a specific Gene Transfer
is proved worthy enough for an average Indian's consumption! Even after
all the experiments this Gene Transfer could be rejected outright on very
flimsy grounds which may not even be remotely related to the technology
itself! B.T. research is a highly complex and time consuming precision
research wherein it ought to have been left to experts of national stature
to monitor, evaluate and decide. B.T.s sold by MNCs have successfully
completed all the tests as per international standards. They have
successfully met the US Department of Agriculture approval, easily amongst
the fairest and most stringent in the world. India which does not have
even basic Transgenic research facilities leave alone the testing facility
has evolved a typical committee system wherein MNCs are expected to go
round the committee's, the Babu's and the politicians to get approval. It
is as if Indian Government is reinventing the wheel. Perhaps it is for
this reason that the multinationals are not forthcoming in their
investments in domestic agri-biotechnology. An interesting situation could
arise if Indian scientists were to ever commercially offer transgenic
variations of tea, coffee, silk, or even sandalwood, and meet
international GM safety standards. Myopic policy making does not even
begin to factorize these opportunity costs for future benefits, especially
those technologies relating to academia-to-industry technology transfers.
The defects of decision making in India has been clearly pointed out by Dr
Robert L.Paarlberg of International Food Policy Research Institute on
Governing GM Crop Revolution in India. This analysis must be seriously
internalized by Government of India.
"One important finding from this study is that Kenya, Brazil and India
have each recently adopted national policies that are slowing the spread
of GM crops within their borders. In some respects these policies are
actually more cautious than those adopted in Europe. Farmers in most
European countries may legally plant at least some GM crops if they wish
to do so, and imports of some GM crops are still permitted. Yet, as of
late 2000, authorities in Kenya, Brazil and India had not yet approved
commercial planting of any GM crops or the routine commercial importation
of Gm commodities. This degree of caution is surprising, given the
conspicuous unmet food production needs in some of these countries. The
extreme caution is also surprising given the prevalence in some of these
countries of precisely the crop-pest and crop-disease problems that GM
crops have been designated to address. Also puzzling is the fact that all
three of these countries have slowed the planting of GM crops primarily in
the name of biological safety, which has not otherwise been a high policy
Of the developing countries examined in this study, only China had
approved any kind of commercial GM crop production by 2000. China began
commercial production of GM crops in 1997, partly on the strength of a
strong national GM crop research program. Yet what sets China apart is
not its research program, since Brazil and India have both invested
substantial amounts in GM crop research as well. Nor has China granted
stronger IPR guarantees to the private companies that are now the leading
purveyors of this new technology. To the contrary, China has at times
antagonized the international private sector with its failure to control
IPR piracy in the area of crop biotechnology. What sets China most
clearly apart from Kenya, Brazil and India so far is its decision to
implement a biosafety policy toward GM crops that focuses solely on
demonstrated risks, rather than on scientific uncertainties and
hypothetical or undemonstrated risks. A major challenge for this study is
therefore to explain the emergence of highly precautionary biosafety
policies toward GM crops in some developing countries but not in others".
Farmers in India must have the right to decide which seed to use. For too
long those who know little about farming have claimed to know what is best
for "peasants". It is time now to give Indian farmers choice to speak up
for themselves. Communications technologies like satellite TV, mobile
telephony and the Internet have already opened up the world for them.
They see the urban India and the organized sectors enjoying the benefits
of new technologies in every area of their lives. But new technologies in
agriculture are sought to be denied to them on ground of "environment",
"MNC domination" and "Food Security".
Farmers in rural India already have much wider choices in several areas of
their lives today. A marketing revolution in rural areas, again
spearheaded by global companies like Hindustan Lever, is making available
to them choice in articles of daily use that would have been inconceivable
a decade ago. Why is no one raising objections to these choice of
Colgate, Coca Cola, Cadburys, Star TV being made available to farmers?
After all, there are huge profits to be made there too? Why is there
apposition only to the tools that will raise farm income and liberate
farmers from spraying some of the harmful pesticides, that he must
perforce use to save atleast a part of his crop from pests or give him
more options in terms of crop management? Why should the right of choice
of farmers be limited, by denying them only the benefits of agriculture
technology? What kind of level playing field is this?
Governments at the Central and the State must also go in for policies that
foster an environment that enables farmers to try out new technologies of
their choice, as happened in the 60's and 70's. The beneficiaries will be
not just the farmers of India but the rural population of 600 million
which depends on them and the industry which needs quality raw material.
Increased productivity will give small and marginal farmers the means to
buy the 40 million tons of food stock lying in FCI godowns and improve
their own nutrition.
Lets' face it. India can never be an industrial superpower and has missed
the genetic revolution, but it can certainly become an agricultural
superpower with the right policies and the right tools in the hands of
farmers, especially through the new genomics revolution. Indian farmers
have proved through the Green Revolution, White Revolution and Blue
Revolution that given them the proper tools. They can deliver the food for
India's nutritional and calorific needs.
What shall we do with the Biotechnology paradox so peculiar to India? The
cotton area under transgenic crops in China, America and other countries
will further grow up during the year 2001-2002. Their farmers will get an
additional income of 40%, the productivity will go up and quality will
also go up. On the contrary, the Indian farmers will be confronted with
the same Bollworm problem even this year also. If another few thousand
cotton farmers commit suicide, the country need not be surprised. All that
will happen is it will be reported in the press and there will be usual
enquiries and compensations by the Government. Whom should we blame for
this situation? Is it the poor and illiterate and ignorant farmers who are
not united and express their demands or the politicians majority of them
claiming from the agricultural families, not understanding the importance
technologies for development of agriculture and not able to take timely
decision or should we blame the environmentalists who want the Indian
farmers should live in isolation and be away from global competition or
the intellectuals including the journalists who are only acting as
reporters not as conscious keepers of the people? Perhaps a rural revolt
is necessary to bring about change of heart in the policy makers
As a last warning, we, the farmers should try something different. Let us
demand that our Government initiate an inquiry into the reasons for delay
to distribute the Transgenic Cotton Seed (for starters). The points that
this investigation could cover, include:
1. Is the Transgenic Technology of MAHYCO obtained from MONSANTO a proven
technology as per the international standards ?
2. Have the Chinese, Australians and Canadians accepted international
protocols in adopting Bt Cotton technology by MNCs in order to save time
and provide benefit to their farmers? If so why has Indian Government
failed to adopt this method?
3. Have the farmers, consumers, scientists and Government in America and
China have raised any objections about the usage of Bollgard Cotton or
Seed or Cotton Cake or Cotton Oil?
4. Are the scientists of the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC),
Institutional Bio Safety Committee (IBSC), Review Committee on Genetic
Manipulation (RCGM) and Scientists of Agricultural Universities or
qualified to conduct trials on B.T. cotton? If so, why was the report
5. Have any product-claimed defects been pointed out by the scientists who
have conducted the studies?
6. If not, are there any scientific reasons for Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) to defer to postpone approval?
7. Are any inter-departmental turf battles responsible for postponement of
8. Is the Government of India adopting international protocol in the
interest of people in introducing pharmaceuticals, food products,
chemicals, consumables, electronics etc. for usage by people in order to
save time and avoid duplication of research? If so why is the same
procedure not adopted in agricultural products? (seed, pesticides,
9. How could ICAR, a research Institute working on Transgenic research
impartially evaluate / field test, another Transgenic organisation's
capabilities in private sector ?
10. Is it desirable to have 6 Government Committees to give approval to
B.T. studies or should Government constitute an independent Committee
under the Chairmanship of a Non-Government Scientist with representatives
from Research Institute, Concerned Departments, Private Industry and
Farmers to give approval, so that an impartial view can be taken.
I appeal to all my farmers friends in the country to write to their
respective Parliament Members, Legislators and Political Parties to
institute an enquiry and initiate such measures so that the Indian farmers
have access to best technologies at the shortest possible time.
If you are convinced about the contents, please circulate it to other
farmers or if you have any doubts please write for clarification :
P CHENGAL REDDY, President Dr. J.R. MURTHY, Sr. Faculty
Federation of Farmers Associations Administrative Staff College of India
Flat No. 208, Vijaya Towers Bella Vista, HYDERABAD - 500 082
Shantinagar, HYDERABAD - 500 028 Tel : 3310952, Fax : 3312954
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Field Trials Continue As Opposition To GM Subsides
July 18, 2001
BIOTECHNOLOGY industry leaders remain confident the programme of field
trials of genetically modified crops in Britain will continue to flourish
this year in spite of attacks by anti-GM activists.
These campaigners were said to be celebrating the results of their latest
attack on a test site in Wales at the weekend, but Roger Turner, chief
executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), was intent on
playing down the impact on Monday. "I have not yet had a full report on
the damage they caused but, in any case, we started with over one hundred
test sites this year of which only half a dozen have been attacked. We
still have plenty of material on test."
The latest attack comes against a background of declining opposition to GM
technology, including last month's report from the Flanders
Interuniversity for Biotechnology, which concluded that the GM crops
currently on the market are as safe as their conventional equivalents.
The Belgian Farm Minister, Jaak Gabriels, has promised to promote the
issue during his country's presidency of the European Council of Ministers
and an informal ministerial meeting on biotechnology is planned for
September with the aim of kick-starting the GM authorisation process.
This will be broadly welcomed by Britain's seed and animal feed sectors,
which have been looking for more meaningful guidance from the authorities,
most notably on purity tolerances of the seed.
This follows the debacle last year in which large amounts of money had to
be paid out in compensation by the seed company Advanta to oil seed rape
growers in Scotland and the north of England who were forced to destroy
crops planted with GM-contaminated seed.
"We are still waiting for the government to advise on GM testing
requirements," said Mike Ruthven of the BSPB. "The question is whether we
will have to test for genetically modified material in imported seed and
what the tolerances are."
Plant breeders remain confident they will be able to plead due diligence
in the case of home-produced seed stocks contaminated by current trial
sites in view of the buffer zones agreed and policed.
However, in the case of imported stock, the BSPB is calling for a
threshold for GM presence in seeds of one per cent. The EU Scientific
Committee on Plants has however pointed out that: "The limit of analytical
sensitivity is currently around 0.1 per cent for routine analysis."
In reply, the plant breeders say they need urgent guidance on the
definition of the test, standardised testing methods and laboratory
The issue is also worrying animal feed manufacturers faced with increasing
down-the-line pressure from supermarkets who say they will refuse to
handle farm products which have been exposed to GM feed.
Playing God In The Shadows
South China Monring Post
July 19, 2001
NO SOONER HAD the urbane English lord chairing an international conference
about tinkering with genes in food brought an end to the meeting in
Bangkok last week, than environmentalists began holding court with
journalists at the back of the hall.
"It's just a show," said Jan van Aken, a cell biologist with Greenpeace
International. "Is the world safer because we discussed biotechnology
here? I don't think so." Rich countries and their chemical companies
wanted to appear concerned about safety, he argued, but did not really
want anything to hamper the rapidly increasing use of genetically modified
(GM) crops and food.
Mr van Aken complained that Lord Selborne's summing up hardly reflected
the concern voiced in the conference that scientists playing God might
unleash an unexpectedly malevolent organism on the world. "Once these
things are loose, you can't claw them back," he said. "You can't just talk
about monitoring these powerful things. You need to focus on prevention."
Greenpeace found a ready audience to recycle fears that unaccountable and
money-hungry companies might be peddling dangerous products of hi-tech
research. "People feel alienated," admitted Lord Selborne, chairman of the
UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum, an advisory body on chemicals and the
environment. "It's very clear that people don't like the idea there might
be shadowy people - accountable only to themselves - playing God."
Early official attempts to downplay what turned out to be savage outbreaks
of mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease in animals in Britain had served to
increase distrust, at least in the West, in the authorities' ability to
make subtle scientific judgments, several observers said.
"The industry's in trouble," said Philip Regal, a professor of ecology,
evolution and behaviour at the University of Minnesota. "United States
manufacturers and scientists have boomed `we can feed the world' for years
without bothering to show how the benefits and costs really stack up.
"Genetic science is screaming ahead - we are only months away from the
creation of an entirely artificial virus - without any really deep
reflection on the big issues involved."
Yet amid the suspicious are many people, such as Mukoni Ratshitanga of
South Africa's National Consumer Forum, who dare to hope that this
"extreme science" will prove a boon to the developing world.
"Europeans can afford to shun GM food, but there are people in my country
dying because they do not have food at all. Excuse me if I don't adopt the
extreme positions of groups like Greenpeace."
Already, chronic hunger killed 24,000 people every day; half a million
children went blind annually because of vitamin-A deficiency; two billion
people - a third of the world's population - were deficient in iron,
damaging their health and their minds, said Gurdev Khush of the
International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.
But within 25 years, the world's population will have climbed to eight
billion people from 6.1 billion during a period when demand for meat, eggs
and milk will push up demand for grain.
"The stark reality is that we've got to increase world food production by
50 per cent by 2025," said Mr Khush. "And we'll have to do it with less
land, less water, less labour and fewer chemicals. I think genetic
engineering will be a vital tool."
So he praises, for example, such innovations as introducing two genes from
the daffodil flower and one from the Erwinia uredovora bacteria into rice
to make it produce the vitamin-A precursor beta-carotene. "If the food is
safe, why should we care how it's made? Why don't we get more excited
about the 50-fold increase in pesticide use over the past half century,
which has caused tremendous health and environment problems?"
So far, genetic engineers have worked on such crops as canola, cotton,
maize, potatoes and soybeans to improve their resistance to insects,
herbicides or viruses. There is also a widely used synthetic growth
hormone to stimulate milk production in cows.
Only a small fraction of commercially available foods and products are
themselves genetically engineered. That is changing. So, for example, food
will be more nutritious, cotton will be "naturally" coloured so that it
does not need to be dyed, and certain medicines will be "grown to order".
"Sounds great doesn't it," said Nares Damrogchai, a policy researcher at
the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Thailand.
"Which agricultural country could not be interested? But if someone hands
me a magic bullet, I want to be very, very careful with something so
Several participants in the three-day Bangkok conference, organised by the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the British
Government, were concerned the Americans were trying, subtly, to stifle
the emerging biotechnology debate.
"The US has poured a huge effort into making sure it is the world's
biotechnology leader," said Professor Regal. "A lot of people have a lot
at stake in this industry. I think there is a deep, deep reluctance to see
the industry rigorously questioned."
The use of GM crops is also spreading with little discussion in the
world's second-most-vigorous biotechnology user, China, where more than
100,000 scientists are engaged in boosting farm yields by, for example,
adding a gene from soil bacteria that is toxic to insect pests.
Yet mainland authorities are strongly aware this is a sensitive topic. "We
know many countries are suspicious of GM food, that's why we stopped
farmers using GM tobacco," said Huang Jikun, the director of the Centre
for Chinese Agricultural Policy. "We would strongly support any moves to
reassure. This is a massive issue for us because food production is so
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will take his report - recommending much
greater access to the latest science and much more help to enable the
developing world to understand and make its own judgments on biotechnology
- to this weekend's meeting in Genoa, Italy, of the Group of Eight
Lord Selborne said one thing shining like a sharp, bright light through
some very complicated arguments was the desire of the developing world for
biotechnology to be used in a transparent way. "No one's going to be able
to get away with spoon-feeding biotechnology to the developing world. The
debate has started."