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November 1, 2001


Help!; Mexico to OK Corn Soon; Eco-Scare Tactics; Red Tape


Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* How You Can Help Us
* Mexico Ready to OK Genetically-Modified Corn
* Africa: GM Maize and Potato Types are Developed
* Un-Happy Halloween! Eco-Scare Tactics Are Designed to Poison Minds
* Enemies Here Threaten Food
* NZ Government Strangles GM With Red Tape
* Apples That Put The Bite On Decay
* Cottoning On: Bt Fiasco Highlights Systemic Failure
* India: GM Cotton - To Kill or Not To Kill
* India: Textile Ministry Favours Bt cotton
* Andrew Apel: Indian illegal Cotton
* Terry Hopkin: Newspapers and Advertisements
* Uselessknowledge.com: 'Spud'
* Malaysia: Starts Toward a Biosafety Law
* Hepatitis Hot Potato
* The Complexity of Bioethics

How You Can Help AgBioView to Continue

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Thank you,

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Agbioworld Foundation; prakash@agbioworld.org


Mexico Ready to OK Genetically-Modified Corn

- http://www.efe.es, November 01, 2001

Mexico City, Nov 01, 2001 (EFE via COMTEX) -- Mexico's 11-month-old conservative administration headed by Vicente Fox intends to legalize the planting of genetically-modified corn in Mexico, Environmental watchdog Greenpeace said Thursday.

According to Greenpeace, "the contamination of certain varieties of Mexican corn by the genes of genetically-modified varieties (proves) that the Mexican government does not have the ability to ensure their responsible use." Hector Magallon, coordinator of Greenpeace's consumer campaign, told the press that despite restrictions inherent in the government initiative, no mechanisms exist to monitor the new crops.

Mexico imposed a moratorium on experiments with genetically-modified corn three years ago, but the nation's obligations to the North American Free Trade Agreement compelled it to adhere to norms regulating trade of such products. Greenpeace also accused the Agricultural Secretariat of disregarding the fact that many scientists believe corn was first developed and grown in Mexico thousands of years ago.


Africa: GM Maize and Potato Types are Developed

- Mike Mwaniki, The Nation/All Africa Global Media, Oct 31, 2001 (Source: Katie Thrasher http://library.northernlight.com/FD20011031300000155.html?cb=0&dx=1006&sc=0#doc

(COMTEX) - New varieties of genetically modified potato and maize which will give a higher yield and are disease-resistant have been developed. The varieties have been developed by scientists at the Kenya Agriculture and Research Institute (Kari). Agriculture Minister Bonaya Godana yesterday said the potato and maize were undergoing trials and biosafety measures at various Kari stations. Dr Godana said the two crops were among the major staple foods widely consumed in Kenya.

He added: "They, therefore, hold significant potential in increasing food security, alleviating poverty and improving the socio-economic welfare of resource-poor farmers in the country." Kenya, the minister observed, was among the few countries in Africa which had embraced genetic engineering - the most advanced generation of biotechnology. "The initiative is a collaborative partnership between the government, donors, private technology companies and international agricultural agencies," he said.

Dr Godana was opening the national workshop on "Kenya and the Global Genetic Revolution: Towards a Systemic Biosafety Regime" at a Nairobi hotel. The one-day workshop, co-organised by the African Centre for Technology Studies and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, assembled researchers from various local and international research institutions and universities.

JKUAT Vice-Chancellor Prof Ratemo Michieka said his university was recently awarded a Unesco chair in biotechnology for its success in establishing a banana tissue culture pilot commercial laboratory. "Through this chair, the institute will get support for the establishment of a molecular biology laboratory which will assist in the establishment of genetic engineering," he said. An economist, Dr De Groote Hugo, described the stem borer insect as one of the most serious problems facing maize farmers. The pest destroys about 14 per cent of the maize crop under plantation resulting in a $85 million loss annually.

Dr Godana said the area under genetically modified crops globally had increased from 2 million hectares in 1996 to 44.2 million hectares in 2001. He added: "This attests to the increasing popularity and massive adoption of the technology. However, it should be noted that this development has also generated a lot of debate and controversy especially on genetically modified organisms." He added: "This attests to the increasing popularity and massive adoption of the technology. However, it should be noted that this development has also generated a lot of debate and controversy especially on genetically modified organisms."


Un-Happy Halloween! Eco-Scare Tactics Are Designed to Poison Minds

- Duane D. Freese, Tech Central Station, Oct 31, 2001 http://www.techcentralstation.com/NewsDesk.asp?FormMode=PolicyTracksArticles&ID=138

As if America hasn't had enough real threats of bioterrorism, a few fear-mongering pseudo-ecologists have decided to use Halloween to spread public angst about the safety of their food. NERage, a group opposed to genetic modifications (GM) designed to improve crop resistance to disease and pests or improve its nutrition or other qualities, plan to go into groceries around New England to slap labels on the foods that may contain them.

They have almost as succinct a message for their mission as the anthrax mailers had for their ugly mission: 'You know you don't want to eat genetically engineered foods... You know that over 70% of processed foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients... You know that in North America these genetically engineered foods are not even labeled, let alone safety tested or publicly approved..'. So goes the warning on their web site. But much like the Taliban's tales of U.S. activities in Afghanistan - including possibly trying to blame America for poisoning food this nation has dropped to starving Afghans in humanitarian missions - the GM ecoscarists are liars.

Now, it's true that genetically engineered ingredients make up a large portion of processed food. And it's impossible to distinguish GM ingredients from so-called 'natural' ingredients. But it just really doesn't matter. And this is where NERage disregards the facts. After all, genetically modified crops -- unlike organic or conventional varieties -- are the only ones safety tested. They've gone through a bevy of studies and tests in the United States - by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration - and abroad. And GM foods are labeled if the modification affects genes to which people might be allergic.

Indeed, in Europe, where nations foolishly imposed a moratorium on GM foods two years ago, a report by the European Commission - the executive branch of the Brussels-based European Union - found that 81 European research projects over 15 years have not found 'any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding.' Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.'

While scientific research has clearly found GM foods generally safe when regulated as they are in the United States, their critics have attempted to exploit ignorance of genetics to spook the public. The Starlink episode last year, in which GM corn for cattle feed got mixed into human foodstuffs, provides one such example. If Starlink corn had involved conventional breeding technologies, which can result in massive genetic changes in plants, no one would have cared. But because the corn was genetically modified, the government tracked down every potential allergy case involving anyone who might have ingested a kernel of Starlink.

That the results of these studies found nothing didn't surprise scientists, but it did set anti-GM groups, including Friends of the Earth, atwitter. Two weeks ago, Friends of the Earth announced plans to conduct their own studies. No doubt, like the Taliban investigating collateral damage from U.S. bombing, they'll find whatever they want, just as they did when such groups fomented the Alar scare more than a decade ago. Facts and scientific studies just don't matter to these organizations any more, unless it is something they can twist to frighten people and encourage donations to them.

And that's the danger. In Europe, Green groups and their conventional and organic farming partners have succeeded in their biotechnology terrorism to an alarming degree. Playing on fears raised by Europe's mad-cow epidemic - which had nothing to do with biotechnology and everything with conventional animal feeding practices in Europe - they've dubbed any GM foods 'Frankenfoods,' with dangerous effect. People have become so sold on unproven dangers of GM crops that last year Greenpeace hooligans got a jury to acquit them for illegally destroying test stands of GM crops - thus undermining efforts to assure their safety.

This criminal behavior is actually egged on by some European politicians. Among the most prominent of them is French agricultural minister, Jean Glavany, who co-directs much of the research. His bias was readily displayed in quotes attacking American food 'as the worst in the world.' He recently told Reuters: 'Just look at the obesity level in a certain country and you'll understand why I want to spare Europeans this.' But all he spares Europeans from is their safety. Attempts to impose food labeling on GM foods as a condition of loosening current restrictions, for example, will raise the price of GM foods so that costlier and likely less safe conventional and organic foods will garner a larger portion of the markets. While people already have the choice of organic food that is labeled as such as an alternative, why impose a bigger tab on consumers for phony protection?

At least one European leader seems to understand this: Tony Blair of Britain. He favors easing restrictions on GM foods but opposes labeling them, saying such a move is economically costly, possibly unworkable and totally unscientific. If that sensible viewpoint prevails, maybe the benefits that GM promises can come to fruition. And they are enormous. As the World Health Organization's Gro Harlem Bruntland noted in newspaper articles in early October: 'GM foods have the potential to bring with them the largest change in food production, since the green revolution of the 1960s. We may see vitamin A and iron deficiencies being drastically reduced through GM crops that are rich in such substances. Iron deficiency might affect four to five billion people worldwide, constituting a public health condition of epidemic proportions. Vitamin A deficiency affects between 100 and 400 million children in the world, leaving 250,000 to 500,000 blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.'

And beyond adding nutrition to existing foods, he says, GM crops might serve as vehicles for key medicines now lacking in poor countries - bio-pharmaceuticals vaccinating populations against many deadly diseases. Sensible regulation can provide those benefits with safety for all. But if NERage and other anti-GM groups are successful in poisoning people's minds with lies about GM products, that hope will die for billions and cost millions in future generations their lives. By comparison, the anthrax bioterrorists have so far poisoned a few dozen people, and, fortunately, killed not even a handful. Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban are pikers compared to today's Green groups.


Enemies Here Threaten Food

- Richard Berman, Opinion, USA Today, Nov 1, 2001; http://www.usatoday.com/news/comment/2001-11-01-ncguest1.htm

On the same day America was directly attacked for the first time in 6 decades, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) were taking credit for the burning of a McDonald's in Tucson. "Make no mistake about it," FBI special agent David Szady told 60 Minutes this year, "by any sense or any definition, (ELF) is a true domestic-terrorism group."

These homegrown terrorists have not let up since September. Federal agents are investigating a fire and unexploded incendiary devices found Oct. 15 at a government holding pen for wild horses and burros in Nevada — a site where animal-rights extremists committed arson in 1991. And ALF claims to have set fire to the Coulston Foundation primate-research facility 9 days after the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson now has warned that the nation's food supply could be the target of a terrorist attack. The people we need to worry about, though, may not be international terrorists. They could be the middle-class kids down the street. The growing wave of domestic terrorism by animal-rights, anti-corporate and anti-biotech extremists has gone beyond vandalism. Property has been destroyed, and lives have been put at risk. And Americans are the perpetrators.

Even the incendiary devices are nothing new. ALF says it was the group that used such devices last March to set fire to two meat trucks in New York. ALF also took credit for setting devices beneath trucks in Canada on Christmas Day 2000. ALF or ELF — or both — have claimed responsibility for vandalism at New York banks, arsons and firebombings at meat companies, the destruction of homes in several states, and the burning of a feed mill in Wisconsin, among many other acts.

On New Year's Eve 1999, ELF says it set fire to Michigan State University's Agriculture Hall, causing about $1 million in damages. Its reason: Researcher Catherine Ives' work would "force" developing nations to switch to genetically engineered crops. "I lost basically my entire professional life," Ives told 60 Minutes. She said she was working on disease-resistant crops that would help feed Africans. What will it take for the United States to recognize the clear and present danger that such groups present? The death of a McDonald's employee in a bombing, as occurred in France last year?

Perhaps it will require an American Graham Hall. Hall, a British journalist, was kidnapped at gunpoint in October 1999. The letters "ALF," 4 inches high, were burned into his back with a branding iron. An ALF spokesperson's comment: "People who make a living in this way have to expect from time to time to take the consequences of their actions." Hall's "crime": He made a video documentary critical of ALF.

Complacency is no option; it will happen here. Just this summer, Bruce Friedrich, vegan campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told an animal-rights convention in Virginia, "It would be a great thing if, you know, all of these fast-food outlets and these slaughterhouses and these laboratories and these banks that fund them exploded tomorrow." After the audience's applause died down, he added, according to a tape of his comments, "I think it's perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows. ... Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it."

An attack could be more insidious than a brick. In April, PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk expressed hope that foot-and-mouth disease, so devastating in Great Britain, would infect the United States. "If that hideousness came here, it wouldn't be any more hideous for the animals. ... I openly hope that it comes here," the anti-meat activist proclaimed. "It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks." In 1997, former senator George McGovern wrote prophetically about a "new age in this country" with a fragmentation of society "based on paternalism — what we believe is best for each other." He asked: "Where do we draw the line on dictating to each other? How many of these battles can we stand? Whose values should prevail?"

Or, in the words of Walt Kelly's Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Are they terrorists?
"This guide is dedicated to the brave men and women of the Animal Liberation Front. In this age of insanity, you may be branded a terrorist, but you will one day be remembered as a selfless warrior who dared to fight for what is right." — The ALF Primer, www.animalliberationfront.com

"The ELF is not an ecoterrorist organization or any sort of terrorist organization, but rather one that is working to protect all life on planet Earth. It is amazingly hypocritical for mainstream media and the federal government to label the ELF as a terrorist group, yet at the same time (ignore) the U.S. government and U.S.-based corporations which every day exploit, torture and murder people around the world." — Frequently Asked Questions About the Earth Liberation Front, posted on the ELF Web site

(PETA's response to the question, "Don't animal rights activists commit 'terrorist' acts?") "The animal rights movement is nonviolent. One of the central beliefs shared by most animal rights people is rejection of harm to any animal, human or otherwise. However, any large movement is going to have factions that believe in the use of force." — Frequently Asked Questions, PETA-online.org
Richard Berman is executive director of The Guest Choice Network, a coalition of restaurant and tavern operators.


NZ Government Strangles GM With Red Tape

- Graeme Hunt and Christine Nikiel, National Business Review, 02 Nov 2001

Huge compliance costs and mind-numbing bureaucracy threaten to all but kill the country's genetic modification research and development industry. Despite the government's guarded go-ahead for GM field trials, a new tier of regulation and scientific vetting will make commercial GM projects uneconomic, if not impossible. Foresters and scientists yesterday warned the go-ahead for GM field trials - with an accompanying ban on comme rcial releases for a further two years - was little more than a Clayton's approval for GM.

"It's overly cautious," AgResearch chief executive Keith Steele said. "The government has not addressed the already slow regulation process with the Environmental Risk Management Authority [Erma], which is out of step with the rest of the world and a barrier to foreign trade." Ag Research had lost a billion-dollar opportunity to research and manufacture a human protein in milk, Mr Steele said, because the interested US company could not live with the timeframe of Erma's regulations.

Erma's compliance costs and applications to import, produce or field trial genetically modified organisms are already high and will probably increase. Expensive government strategies to guide GM development will strangle research in red tape. In line with the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, the government plans to appoint a parliamentary commissioner for biotechnology and a bioethics council.

The Law Commission has been asked to consider liability issues as part of its work programme. Research into the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, conditional-release frameworks, and an economic analysis of risks and opportunities are also planned. But GM proponents say this prescriptive approach will smother R&D and hold back good science in New Zealand.

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said the government would require Erma to impose strict safety standards on applications for contained research rather than allow the authority discretionary powers. The country already had the strictest controls in the world for contained research, she said, and the decision made them even stronger.


Apples That Put The Bite On Decay

- James Chapman, Daily Mail, October 31, 2001

An apple a day could keep the dentist away - but only if it has been genetically modified, say British experts. Fruit which has been engineered to contain an edible vaccine against tooth decay is being developed by horticultural scientists. It could save future generations of children from ever having a filling and allow adults to throw away their toothbrushes.

A team from Guy's Hospital, in central London, and the Apple and Pear Research Council have been working on the apple. Council chairman Professor Ian Swingland said: "We put it in an apple in an amusing thought that an apple a day could keep the dentist away." Experts are trying to insert a gene that will produce a protein that prevents the bacteria responsible for tooth decay from taking hold. Professor Swingland said he realised that public resistance to genetically modified foods could hold up the project.

But he said he could envisage doctors prescribing the GM apples to patients who had problems with tooth decay and said it could represent a major breakthrough for public health. It would be of particular benefit to people who could not afford to go to the dentist. Scientists could also use GM fruit as a means of delivering other medicines. "If you want an apple that has penicillin inside it, it's easy," Professor Swingland told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme. "If you want an apple that will provide hits of B12, or any other vitamin that you want, it can be done." In tests, where the anti-tooth decay protein was painted on to volunteers' teeth, it was found to prevent bacteria attacking them for up to 80 days.


Cottoning On: Bt Fiasco Highlights Systemic Failure

- Financial Express (India), Nov 2, 2001; http://www.financialexpress.com/fe20011102/ed1.html

The Bt cotton issue has resurrected standard myths over genetically modified food. While concerns about safety are legitimate, myth should be separated from reality. Bt cotton is created by inserting a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium, into cotton seed. There is no evidence Monarch caterpillars were killed by Bt cotton. Brazil nut genes were never inserted into soyabean and didn't lead to any allergy-related deaths.

In India, however, the Bt cotton issue also illustrates continuous systemic failure. In 1990, Monsanto was refused permission to cross Bollgard with indigenous varieties to obtain Bt cotton. The reasons for refusal were never in the public domain. In 1996, Mahyco, which became a Monsanto subsidiary in 1998, was granted permission to import and cross Bollgard to obtain Bt cotton. The reasons for this permission, and counter-arguments to the 1990 refusal, were never made public either. Mahyco obtained permission for field trials in 1998. Bt cotton has obtained approval in the US, China, Argentina, Australia and Mexico, with 57 per cent of cotton acreage in the US estimated to be under transgenic cotton.

However, field trials have apparently led to permission being refused in Indonesia. Experience, data and guidelines from these countries ought to have been available with the department of biotechnology‚s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. Yet, in June 2001, GEAC had to ask Mahyco to conduct fresh trials, because initial trials were on one acre plots (these are too small for extrapolation) and crops were sown too late, after major pest attacks were over. Had guidelines been clear, the approval process would have been faster. Trial data on yield, early maturity and pest resistance have not been made public.

Navbharat 151 has been registered with the Gujarat agriculture department since 1998 and the seed has apparently been sold since then, not only in Gujarat, but also in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. How did the Gujarat agriculture department register a seed that was identical to Bt cotton even though Bt cotton had not received approval? If news reports are to be believed, GEAC didn‚t know about sales of this seed until Mahyco informed the department of biotechnology. Rather perversely, had the Plant Variety Protection Bill become law, the patent on Bt cotton would have been vested with Monsanto and Mahyco, and Navbharat wouldn‚t have been able to sell the seed without violating proprietary intellectual property. The systemic failure is incredible.


India: GM Cotton - To Kill or Not To Kill

- Vinod Mathew , Business Line 01-Nov-2001

The cotton growers of Gujarat may be excused if they feel caught in the freeze frame of a surrealistic movie that has suddenly taken a sinister turn. As the events that unfolded for them the last fortnight had all the makings of a bizarre script, many of them who have already sent their suspect cotton for ginning feel they are in the Theatre of the Absurd.

For three seasons now, they had been urged by all and sundry to try out the costly Navbharat 151 cotton seed and it was the first year that the veracity of the company's claim on being bollworm- resistant could be checked out. Then, the whole pack of cards came tumbling down as some new ingredients called genetically modified (GM), transgenic and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) began to get mixed with what they thought was their own crop. Now, the harvest may become too hot for them to handle. Not quite, if the current thinking in the State Government is anything to go by. The State Agriculture Minister, Mr Purshottam Rupala, has already set the tone and tenor of action to follow by saying that a "thorough" survey would be done before the Central Government's directive to destroy the transgenic crop would be complied with.

In fact, he went one step further and said there was nothing wrong with using the GM cotton seed and that the entire issue was the handiwork of a pesticide manufacturer's lobby. He found an ardent supporter in the Union Textile Minister, Mr Kashiram Rana, who after consulting the State government, ruled out the possibility of destroying the cotton grown from transgenic seeds.

Clearly, the cotton growers of the State cannot be blamed if they feel slightly confused on the official line of the State and Central Government on the controversial harvest. With a couple of pickings of the early maturing GM cotton crop already over and the rest slated to be completed by mid-November, much of the debated cotton may no longer be physically present by the time the authorities take any decision. The pace at which the State government is going about researching the whereabouts of GM cultivation, nothing substantial in the nature of cotton either to uproot or destroy may be available by the time an actual order to destroy the crop comes through. It naturally follows that nobody needs to overly worry about any compensation to the farmers.

This year's cotton cultivation began around June 15 that means the entire GM cotton harvest is expected to be through in 150 days, by November 15. The GM cotton crop of Gujarat, conservatively estimated by various State government bodies such as the Gujarat State Co- operative Cotton Federation and the Krushi Bhavan, at a minimum of 10,000 acres and valued at anything over Rs 150 crore, may suddenly become hard to find. In fact, farm sector analysts say it would become as hard to find as the proverbial needle in the haystack as the second and third generation GM crop gets mixed with the traditional Shankar 6 as also a clutch of home-grown hybrid varieties.

It took an epidemic of bollworm to affect Gujarat's cotton crop this season for the whistle to be blown on an open transgression of the country's genetic engineering law. The practice may still have continued but for a favourable monsoon that set the hopes of the cotton cultivators soaring only to be shattered by the bollworm infestation.

The State Agriculture Directorate, which had initially estimated this year's cotton crop at 45 lakh bales, has since the onset of the bollworm infestation settled for 33 lakh bales. Only marginally higher than 27 lakh bales in a drought-hit season last year, the was the one crucial issue that segregated the users of regular seeds from those using the Bt variety. Pertinently, questions are being raised in the State's farm lobby why the use of the genetically modified (GM) cotton crop has come to light only three years after the transgenic seed first became available. The State's cotton growers - right from the arid expanses of the Kutch district to the fertile Narmada valley basin of Bharuch - are a confused lot today as Navbharat 151, the seed found to contain the Bt. strain, was registered with the State Agriculture Department as early as 1998.

Nobody in the State - the cotton growers, the authorities or the myriad hybrid seed manufacturers - is willing to buy the argument that an MNC such as Monsanto, the sole supplier of the Bt cotton seed worldover, could have been fooled by the Ahmedabad-based Navbharat Seeds Pvt Ltd for two full seasons - 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

The Gujarat State Seeds Producers Association (GSSPA) members first brought the issue to the notice of the Central Agriculture Minister and 33 other officers across the country on October 5. Ironically, the Navbharat Seeds Pvt Ltd managing director, Mr D. B. Desai, is the chairman of the 22-member GSSPA whose other 21 members were signatories to the complaint on the use of transgenic cotton seed in Gujarat, the sole direct source having been the company floated by the association chairman.

The memorandum had pointed out that up to 10,000 packets of Navbharat 151 seeds being sold this season (one packet of 450 gm can cultivate 1-1.5 acres). Further, it was brought to the notice of the authorities that large tracts were used for open pollination of the GM seeds collected by farmers from the previous crop with an eye on using it as seeds for the ensuing season. It is now anybody's guess as to how much land in Gujarat has actually come under GM cotton cultivation, if the second and third generation usage were to be accounted.

"The published literature by the various distributors of Navbharat 151 for the past couple of years was too blatant to have had the MNC caught napping, especially when they had an Indian partner in Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco). Apparently, it did not suit the MNC to have too much attention focussed on Bt cotton at a time when it was hoping for a favourable legislation allowing it legal entry into India. With the wide range of Bt variants under their umbrella, somebody like Navbharat could only have been a minor irritant," says Dr Manish Patel, a seed technologist and consultant to Incotec of the Netherlands.

What is published by the distributors of Navbharat 151 in various parts of Gujarat are a number of performance indicators. These include: - revolutionary hybrid seed from Navbharat Seeds Pvt Ltd that ensures immunity from bollworm; - yield potential of 22 quintals/acre; - short maturity period of 140-150 days, thus allowing farmer to go in for another winter crop and also escape the white fly attack; - Successful in both irrigated and rainfed areas.

According to Mr A. M. Patel, a director of GSSPA and an original signatories to the October 5 complaint that led to the avalanche of events on the GM cotton front, "We had suspicions the last couple of years about the claims made by Navbharat 151. This year, when as much as 70 per cent of cotton cultivation from regular hybrid seeds were hit, the Navbharat strain alone stood strong against the bollworm attack."

"Also, as was pointed out in our October 5 plaint, the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Coimbatore, carried out tests on 49 hybrid seeds at 35 locations, six of these in Gujarat. While all other entrants were highly damaged by bollworm, only hybrid (code 223) was found to be bollworm resistant. Navbharat Seeds had made one entry (NBHH-3016) and it appears that the bollworm resistant entry morphologically resembles Navbharat-151," Mr Patel adds.

Earlier, the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr T. R. Baalu, had said in the Rajya Sabha on August 10 that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) observed the data generated on large-scale field trials on Bt cotton undertaken by Mahyco could not reflect the true values because of late sowing. The trials were to be repeated this year with the ICAR directly supervising the proceeding under the Advanced Varietal Trials of the All-India Co-ordinated Cotton Improvement project.

Mahyco is conducting further field trials on about 100 hectares this season but the unsavoury developments in Gujarat may further put the clock back it is feared. Dr Manju Sharma, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, apparently told the media recently that things were moving fast and a decision on Bt cotton could be expected in March 2002. The Gujarat episode may not make things too easy for the proponents of Bt cotton as the green lobby is already up in arms citing Navbharat-like instances as reason enough for India to tread warily in the transgenic zone.


India: Textile Ministry Favours Bt cotton

- M.R. Subramani, Hindu Business Line (Inda), November 02, 2001

The Textile Ministry favours acceleration of commercial production of bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in the country in order to help the mills get the required variety and reduce imports. If the Textile Ministry has its way, then development of Bt cotton would be taken up in the mini-mission I of the Technology Mission on Cotton (TCM).

Official sources told Business Line that the Cotton Advisory Board, which comprises representatives of growers, industry, traders and the Government, had at its recent meeting passed a resolution to speed up introduction of Bt cotton in the country. Bt cotton is a variety that is known to fight the boll worm, a scourge that has hit the crop in North India this season. The cotton derives its name from the gene that is inserted to repel the pests. This genetically modified (GM) cotton has had its registration renewed recently by the Environment Protection Agency of the US for five years.

The developments come hand-in-hand with the controversy over the raising of genetically modified (GM) cotton in Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra. Seeds of this variety had reportedly been sold in Andhra Pradesh also. GM cotton had reportedly been grown without the approval of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. On Wednesday, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which functions under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, asked the Gujarat Government to destroy the GM cotton and compensate the growers. Earlier in June this year, GEAC had ordered that the trial on Bt cotton be done again in view of various issues raised at various fora.

Cotton traders have also voiced their views on Bt cotton. They have said the country should adopt the latest science of agricultural bio-technology to reap benefits of higher yield and reduction in crop losses. According to the sources, the general reaction to Bt cotton in the country has been rather emotional, mainly due to the aversion towards multinational companies and foreign investment.

Regretting that development of Bt cotton has been slow in view of fears expressed in various quarters, the sources said China took only 18 months to complete the procedure of field trial and commercial exploitation of Bt cotton in a big way. In India, this process has already taken six years and it is still incomplete. Nearly 40 per cent of the area under cotton in the US and Australia has been covered by Bt variety, they said. The textiles industry, on the other hand, is keen on Bt cotton in view of the fast-changing technology. Cotton quality has to keep pace with this and this is one of the reasons for the mills to resort to imports, industry sources said.


From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Indian illegal cotton saga

What would RAFI (now ETC) say about the GM cotton growing in India? Did the Indian seed company commit 'biopiracy' by appropriating Monsanto's Bt gene construct? By some reports, the original Bt germplasm was smuggled from the US. Is this 'biopiracy' against native American breeders? Or is this a shining example of the 'free flow of germplasm' coupled with 'painstaking native Indian breeding efforts' and the 'native wisdom of indigenous Indian farmers?' Or is this a valiant Indian seed company 'standing up against the might of powerful multinational corporations and their life patents?'


From: Terry Hopkin
Subject: Newspapers and Advertisements

We, who are truly concerned with food safety, bio-diversity and the environment, should each time we read a rubbish report from one of the green movements, printed in a newspaper as though it was the truth, complain to the press council or directly to the newspaper. When we read one of those organic advertisements, that claim the whole world for their products, should complain to the respective advertising control authority, we have but one world and it's time we stopped one small group from doing irreparable harm to it, simply because they believe they are right. Let them prove it, make them prove it. We have nothing to lose but our world and our health


'Spud' Again: From uselessknowledge.com

This explanation makes sense, especially as "spud" is a cognate of "spade." But apparently there really was a 'Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome Diet' - Richard.


Spud : This word for potato comes from the digging implement used to uproot them. The word is of unknown origin and was originally (c. 1440) used as a term for a short knife or dagger. It subsequently transferred over to a variety of digging tools. Around 1845 it transferred over to the tuber itself. The original origin is unknown. An avid reader emailed me with a supposed acronymic origin of spud. The reader rightly was skeptical, but had found the reference in Mario Pei's 1949 The Story of Language. Pei writes, "the potato, for its part, was in disrepute some centuries ago. Some Englishmen who did not fancy potatoes formed a Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome Diet. The initials of the main words in this title gave rise to spud." Like all other pre-20th century acronymic origins, this one is false. This just goes to show you, that even professionals can get taken in sometimes.


Malaysia: An Ambitious Start Toward the Formulation of a Biosafety Law

- See Yee Ai, , Executive Director, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (http://www.bic.org.my); CropBiotechNet, http://isaaa.org/kc/. Excerpts Below....

Malaysia is taking its first steps toward the formulation of a Biosafety Law. The proposed bill needs a lot more work before it can be a piece of legislation that protects the environment and human health while encouraging biotech development in the country.

If you were a policymaker, would you allow the large-scale planting of genetically modified (GM) crops? And if you were a consumer, would you eat such food? These were the two questions Science, Technology and Environment Ministry deputy secretary-general (policy) Nasaruddin Che Abu posed to participants of the public consultation on the Biosafety Bill held in Kuala Lumpur recently. More than 150 ministry officials, researchers and representatives from industry and civil society groups converged to air their views and offer suggestions on the proposed Biosafety Bill, promulgated by the ministry. The proposed bill is a broad piece of legislation that attempts to regulate all activities involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products made from them. In practice, this means that the bill will eventually cover virtually all biotech research and development and perhaps most food imports, production and processing in Malaysia. .....

'A biosafety law is a necessary prerequisite to promote biotechnology development and use in a safe and responsible manner. But a law that is too ambitious may end up not meeting its goals of encouraging research while protecting the environment and human health. Instead it may well do the reverse: bona fide researchers and investors may turn to more enabling environments while a lack of enforcement may allow the indiscriminate release of GMOs into the environment, something no one would want.'

'The biosafety law should create an environment where both questions are answered with a conditional "yes" - yes, provided all the safety requirements have been met. It shouldn't end up saying "no."' Read the complete document at http://isaaa.org/kc/


Hepatitis Hot Potato

- Nature Biotechnology, Nov 2001, Vol 19 No 11 p1027

Cheaper alternatives to recombinant hepatitis B vaccines might be plant-based vaccines, but these are often degraded in the gut. To address this problem, Yasmin Thanavala and fellow researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (Buffalo, NY) and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Ithaca, NY) have developed a transgenic potato expressing an effective hepatitis vaccine that is protected from digestion (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 98, 11539–11544, 2001).

The potato plants were transformed using a hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) linked to the plasmid vector, pHB114, previously shown to optimally stabilize the messenger RNA (Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 1167–1171, 2000). Mice fed raw potato expressing HBsAg mounted a strong immune response against hepatitis B, and generated a secondary response to a booster shot. Electron micrographs of transgenic potato cells suggest the basis for the vaccine's efficacy: the HBsAg accumulates in high concentrations as viruslike particles within membrane-bound vesicles in tuber cells. The authors speculate that this "bioencapsulation" protects the antigen from digestion in the gut, and may offer the slow release of antigen needed for long-term immune protection


The Complexity of Bioethics

Richard C. Strohman, Nature Biotechnology, Nov 2001 Vol 19 No 11 p 1007; Dept of Cell and Molecular Biology, 229 Stanley Hall #3206, Berkeley, CA 94720-3206

Like it or not, the biological sciences of today are embedded as never before in a world of fractured social, economic, and political concerns. In this world, it becomes increasingly difficult to discuss all the relationships between the deployment of science-based technology and the many relationships and impacts that deployment might have outside of science/technology, which is usually defined (as it must be) in the confined terms of laboratory experiments. The narrow focus on separated aspects of science in society makes difficult any coherent discussion of ethical principles that might serve to guide us in the use of new and potentially dangerous technologies. However, a way of bridging these separations may be found using the ethical principles found in science itself.

Scientists in the laboratory, corporate researchers and managers who bring the technology/product to the marketplace, individuals who ultimately apply the technology/product in the real world (farmers or physicians), and end users (consumers, patients, or their representatives) all have responsibilities that are shaped by very different concerns and motives. Public discourse on science is mostly fractured, broken into pieces, where each aspect is discussed separately; the whole picture is made to appear usually as just one part, perhaps more, but never all the parts. Thus, the assumptions of each of the above groups tend to be hidden from all the others. The separation of assumptions is inherently dangerous, especially the scientific assumptions. Scientists' lack of exposure to criticism and rigorous testing in the larger world of application, whether in cornfields or medical centers, exacerbates their incomprehension of public resistance and debate.

One solution may come from the ethical component built into the structure of science itself—one that is often ignored by governmental and corporate structures as funders of research. This component includes the imperative for individual scientists to seek evidence for disproving their hypotheses (e.g., Popper1), and to consider all, and not just selective evidence (see Whitehead2). It includes also the historical record showing the capability of "normal science" to uncover the flaws (anomalies) and misconceptions of a prevailing scientific paradigm (see Kuhn3). In Kuhn's view, normal science takes Popper's imperative to another level: the scientific community as a whole. In addition, although the above ethical constraints were written with fundamental or basic science in mind, we must also inquire into the ethical constraint that has historically been applied to define the social responsibility of science: the anticipation and control of nature.

Our problem is that the ethical imperatives and demonstrated long-run capacities of normal science may often be seen to be inconsistent with the social responsibilities of science. For example, the need to anticipate and control nature is often acute, or may appear to be acute, as in the case of the present debate around the cause of shortages of food and starvation in the developing world. GMOs are defended as necessary to prevent food shortages, and corporate biotechnology rushes in to provide the answers. However, the fundamental science that provides deep understanding of genetic engineering remains incomplete: long-term research is needed, but this need is in conflict with ideas of perceived urgency.

In addition, there is a demonstrated failure between subdivisions in biology to communicate findings that, if diligently shared, would have prevented the rapid biological evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, drug-resistant viruses, and herbicide- and/or pesticide-resistant organisms4. Such a failure within the scientific community is an example of a breach of ethics: scientists, regulatory agencies, and the journals working and reporting on GMOs (until quite recently) have often thought (and behaved) in nonscientifically and nonhumanly relevant ways. Quite simply, they are transgressing the code under which they are supposed to be operating.

Thus, given the present reality of science in society, we find a good deal of tension between the social responsibilities of science and the responsibilities of modern corporate technology based on need to produce marketable results in a cost- and time-effective manner. I give another, broader example demonstrating the complexity inherent in any attempt to bridge the separated elements defining scientific effort. Government (public) and private support of "basic" research is all too often heavy-handed in insisting that all efforts be "sold" under the heading of being able to solve key societal problems, to find a specific mechanism for a complex function, or to address other issues reflected... "in the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion"2.

Science is mostly a long-range affair, whereas applied technology, relatively speaking, is not. In biomedicine or bioagriculture, the belief is that the organism is a machine directed by genetic parts. When defective or sub standard—indeed, when not perfect—genetic parts can be replaced with perfected parts manufactured in factory-like laboratory settings. In that mechanistic belief, too many disciplines within modern biology fail to ask broader questions having to do the responses made by the organism as a whole to any particular bit of genetic engineering.

We are then left, once again, with the question: "In today's biology dominated by the ethos of mechanism, who will pay for the long-term need to know?" A researcher interested in questioning the role of wholes over parts stands a very poor chance of obtaining support for that kind of question (see refs 5 and 6 for discussion of the impact of metaphor and myth on scientific world-view).

Finally, it is also clear that fundamental discoveries often depend on the freedom of scientists to explore new views of the material world independently of the immediate perceived needs of society. Supporting science to deliver such needs—usually reflecting political, economic, and social concerns—may thus lead to a deterioration of fundamental science and thus to defective applied technologies.

In modern biology, we are now in the midst of a science crisis driven, in part, by the intersection of multiple forces and by a near absence in the body politic of understanding the nature of science, its history, and its relation to philosophy (epistemology). One way to move this fractious debate forward would be to pay independent researchers to do the necessary long-term research, to question the current hypotheses, to deepen our understanding of fundamentals of GMOs and their behaviors over time, and under the varying conditions of nature. But we must also try to broaden the basis of the debate itself, as outlined above.

1. Popper, K. The logic of scientific discovery. (Routledge, Hutchinson, New York,1959).
2. Whitehead, A.N. Science and the modern world. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; 1925).
3. Kuhn, T. The structure of scientific revolutions. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago; 1996)
4. Palumbi, S.R. Science 293, 1786-1790 (2001).
5. Lewontin, R. The triple helix. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; 2000).
6. Rajan, T.V. The Scientist 15, 6 (2001).