- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* Protesters Don't Grasp Africa's Need
* ERS Agricultural Economics Report No. 805
* GMO field test support
* Comments On Strohman's 'The complexity of Bioethics'
* REVIEW: A TICKING BOMB IN YOUR CORN FLAKES? (via Agnet)
* The Road Ahead
* FARMERS FACE THREATS OVER BRITAIN'S GM CROP TRIALS
* Biotech groups despair at EU attitudes
* Gujarat: Seeds Of Pique
* Perfeee ction
Protesters Don't Grasp Africa's Need
Los Angeles Times
By FLORENCE WAMBUGU
November 11 2001
NAIROBI, Kenya -- They can buy their food in supermarkets. They can eat fast food, home-cooked food, restaurant food. They can choose the more expensive organic foods, or even imported foods. They can eat fresh, frozen or canned produce. Then, from their world of plenty, they tell us what we can and cannot feed our children.
The "they" I refer to are a variety of anti-biotechnology protesters who would deny developing countries like my home, Kenya, the resources to develop a technology that can help alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Genetic engineering of plants has sparked a revolution in agriculture, one that can play an important role in feeding the world's hungry. As an African, I know that biotech is not a panacea. It cannot solve problems of inept or corrupt governments, underfunded research, unsound agricultural policy or a lack of capital. But as a scientist, I also know that biotech is a powerful new tool that can help address some of the agricultural problems that plague Africa.
The protesters have fanned the flames of mistrust of genetically modified foods through a campaign of misinformation. These people and organizations have become adept at playing on the media's appetite for controversy to draw attention to their cause. But the real victim in this controversy is the truth, and African farmers and consumers are not far behind. I know of what I speak, because I grew up barefoot and hungry in Nyeri, Kenya, searching for solutions that would rid our crops of the pests that ravaged them year after year. We tried to smother the bugs by using ashes from burned wood and crafted various concoctions to spray the plants with. Most of the time our attempts failed, and so I learned early in life that to grow enough food we must somehow find a way to control the plant pests and viruses that routinely destroyed our crops and shrank our harvests.
Long before there were protesters, I was working on biotech solutions to the vexing local problems facing African farmers. Today, after years of research, we are well on our way to finding some of the answers. At home, I am engaged in field trials of sweet potatoes, an important staple in the African diet. These sweet potatoes have been modified to resist a plant virus that can decimate up to 80% of a farmer's crops. We have completed only the first of four trials, but thus far the results are encouraging. Potential benefits from this research include increasing sweet-potato yields enough to feed an additional 10 million hungry people and giving farmers bigger harvests without increasing their production costs, for a potential gain of $500 million per year in crop yields.
American protesters talk about how the new methods will wipe out traditional varieties. But let me tell you how it worked with sweet potatoes in Kenya. Researchers worked closely with farmers, allowing them to select the local variety they thought had the best taste, color and texture. That was the sweet potato into which we inserted the virus-resistant gene.
But, even as the science moves forward, the protesters try to push us back. I do believe they care, but they do not understand the hunger that grips millions of Africans and deprives malnourished children of the opportunity to grow up healthy and to achieve their full potential. For people in affluent countries, hunger is an abstract concept. For me, it is the affliction of a person I know. When I grew up, it was my brother and sister, my neighbor--in bad times, my entire village. It is still the face of the child at my feet.
There are those who say there is more than enough food in the world, and that the solution to ending hunger lies in redistributing surpluses to the people who need them. However well-meaning their intentions, they are wrong. Food aid is a temporary solution at best--and hardly a solution at all to the underlying causes of hunger and poverty. We have learned through many difficult years that if we can develop the means to maximize our agricultural productivity, we can both combat malnutrition and ignite an engine of economic growth. Biotechnology is one of the keys.
Biotechnology is also a solution for Africa because, unlike some other technologies, it is packaged in the seed. Even small-scale farmers can learn how to handle it and can share in its benefits. Such farmers lack the resources for the machinery and chemicals that revolutionized agriculture in the West years ago. This time we must not miss out.
And biotechnology can help Africans conserve our beautiful natural resources and protect our biodiversity. Instead of local varieties being lost to disease, they are being protected and conserved both in the field and in the laboratory. This same opportunity can extend to other African crops. And by using biotechnology to make lands low in nutrients, affected by drought or hampered by other conditions more productive, we can help slow the pressure to put remaining wilderness under cultivation, thereby protecting the plants and animals they house.
I'm not alone in my belief that biotechnology offers a solution to agricultural and food problems. In Western Europe, birthplace of the biotech protest movement, after an analysis of the scientific evidence from 81 research projects, the European Commission concluded that, "The use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make [biotech crops] even safer than conventional plants and foods."
And the United Nations Human Development Report 2001 unequivocally states that biotechnology offers "the hope of crops with higher yields, pest-and drought-resistant properties and superior nutritional characteristics--especially for farmers in ecological zones left behind by the green revolution." As a scientist working in biotechnology, and as an African, I know this to be true.
So, I say to the protesters: Be careful what you attack because you might be harming that which you profess to care about. As researchers, we are taught to ask many questions. I say to the protesters, ask many questions. But let the science and the data provide the answers. The farmers and hungry people of Africa need this technology.
Florence Wambugu is a plant pathologist and regional director for International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. In January, she will become executive director of A Harvest Bi.
Private Investments in Agricultural Research and International Technology Transfer in Asia
By Carl E. Pray and Keith O. Fuglie
ERS Agricultural Economics Report No. 805. 162 pp, November 2001
This report provides original estimates of private sector agricultural research and development efforts in Asia during the 1990s. The report examines seven Asia countries (India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China). The examination provides an assessment of the trends in private sector R&D developments in the agricultural inputs industries in each country.
Full report at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer805/
GMO field test support
November 12, 2001
STO. NINO, South Cotabato - Tampakan mayor Claudius Barroso has backed moves to field-test genetically modified plant organisms as a means to boost food production. We need modern technology to develop our food production capacity, he said in reaction to the uprooting of the experimental Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, one of the genetically modified corn varieties that are being developed by seed companies here in Mindanao. We need to stop them (protesters) from destroying the project. This is for the common good, said Mr. Barroso, in response to the argument of those opposing the continued testings concerned the field experiments might endanger the people and destroy the environment.
Subject: Comments On Strohman's 'The complexity of Bioethics'
Recently Prof. Richard C. Strohman of University of California,
Berkeley published a commentary in Nature Biotechnology titled "The
Complexity of Bioethics" (Nov 2001 Vol 19 No 11 p 1007). The essay
was posted on AgBioView on November 2, 2001 and was also circulated
I asked a friend to comment on that essay. Her remarks appear
I found Strohman's commentary so illogical and disconnected that I
don't think it merits a robust reply. What's the moral imperative for
individual scientists to seek evidence for disproving their
hypotheses? Is he really saying that scientists should spend time
demonstrating something then spend more time disproving it? If the
demonstration (evidence) doesn't hold water, isn't it in the
scientist's own interest to discover that himself? Those who hold
different views are seldom shy about providing evidence for their
version of things. And if the original hypothesis does not withstand
additional testing it falls by the wayside. That's the basic process
of scientific inquiry. Where's the problem? Seldom in biology is the
evidence so clear cut that it becomes established and accepted
without plenty of discordant views and evidence. The cholesterol
hypothesis related to heart disease is a perfect example. After
decades of vigorous efforts to indict (dietary) cholesterol as a root
cause of heart disease, proponents have had to soften their approach
as the flaws in their case became too great to ignore and additional
relevant evidence asserted itself.
I have yet to see much agreement about social responsibilities and
ethics, either. Even in the extreme. Isn't capital punishment an
example? What about the moral imperative to ensure that our fellow
human being doesn't starve? Has shelter etc. It is precisely because
there is no agreement about these things or there is tacit agreement
that their place on the agenda is flexible, that they continue to be
debated, that views shift as circumstances require (exactly what's
happening now since 9/11).
We can all agree that the path to knowledge and responsible
application thereof is unpaved and inherently uncertain. But those
who fail to take risks and weigh alternatives thoughtfully, or who
hesitate completely because of hypothetical "what-ifs" belong on the
periphery spreading fear and doubt. The problem with acceptance of
genetic engineering is not lack of complete understanding of the
fundamental science, which will remain for the foreseeable future as
frontiers continue to be extended, but of willful propagation of
misinformation, distortion of the understanding that has been
accomplished, the substitution of hypothetical risk for careful
assessment of evidence, and the application of a double standard to
existing and new technologies.
There may be some good thinking in Strohman's piece but it seems to
me that he has landed in the quicksand of assuming that the
drug/herbicide resistant organisms wouldn't have developed if
information had been shared or this evil GMO technology not foisted
upon Adam and Eve in the organic garden. Who thinks there is a
problem with information sharing? Have I missed something? Is he
another naif seduced by the romantic notion that Nature is benign and
uncompetitive? One could argue that the social responsibilities of
science, at least the work of many scientists, are driven in no small
measure by societal need and social conscience, rather than the usual
tiresome reasons we hear of profit and corporate efficiency. In fact,
who says that ag biotechnology was driven by the need to feed the
world? Seems to me there are perfectly reasonable and practical
reasons why insect and pest resistant varieties were first out the
gate. The advantages of those achievements have been completely
misrepresented, in my view. One could certainly argue that it is
because science and society are so tightly meshed and so mutually
well adapted that we have achieved what we have all across the
scientific spectrum. We take it for granted. The dangers are the
rogues, who sometimes may be corporations, environmentalists or
Wasn't the ethical imperative of nuclear weapons, a development whose
value one can debate still, driven by a societal imperative? Strohman
just shows that the divide between social scientists and other
scientists continues to have few bridges and those that exist wobble
in the wind.
>The Complexity of Bioethics
>Richard C. Strohman, Nature Biotechnology, Nov 2001 Vol 19 No 11 p
> Like it or not, the biological sciences of today are embedded as
> before in a world of fractured social, economic, and political
>In this world, it becomes increasingly difficult to discuss all the
>between the deployment of science-based technology and the many
>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
>in society makes difficult any coherent discussion of ethical
>might serve to guide us in the use of new and potentially dangerous
>However, a way of bridging these separations may be found using the
>ethical principles found in science itself.
REVIEW: A TICKING BOMB IN YOUR CORN FLAKES? (via Agnet)
November 10, 2001
By Michael Steel
Lords of the Harvest By Daniel Charles, Perseus Publishing, 348 pages, $27.00
Do you remember hearing that genetically altered corn kills butterflies? Newspapers and magazines published nearly a thousand articles in 1999 about a study showing pollen from a type of bioengineered corn was fatal to the monarch butterflies that ate it. The New York Times put a picture of the monarch on its front page and called it the "Bambi of the insect world." National Public Radio described it as the "Elvis of insects." But few people ever heard that the study, which first appeared in the British journal Nature, didn't really prove much of anything. Later, and better, studies came up with mixed results, but the story of the lethal pollen never went away. It was too perfect as a cautionary fable about the dangers of biotech crops.
According to this review, "Killer corn" and similar tales are highlights of Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, a book by science reporter Daniel Charles. The book, which examines the history of "frankenfood," is not for everyone. Overcoming the technical challenges involved in identifying and inserting new genes into plants is important, but a description of the process makes for dull reading, as do sagas of 20-year-old corporate maneuvering and backstabbing.
Still, Lords of the Harvest is a good and serious book for people interested in getting beyond the shouted slogans and the corporate flackery, and actually acquiring some understanding of the risks and rewards of bioengineered foods. The review says that Charles, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, has an unusually clear-eyed view of agriculture. He notes that humans have been continually improving the crops used for food since the dawn of time. Soybeans originally came from China, corn from Central America, and wheat from Southwest Asia. For centuries, we have been intentionally breeding plants to make them sturdier and tastier. The biotechnology developed during the past two decades that allows us to alter plants' genes, is just a new tool in an old game. "So, if all of agriculture is shaped by human hands in such profound ways, where does nature end, and intolerable human manipulation begin?" he asks.
In the end, Lords of the Harvest makes it clear that for all the uproar over genetically engineered crops, they are neither the absolute blessing nor the utter evil they are made out to be. "The combatants in this street battle over genetically engineered foods, in fact, often seem caught up in their own romantic visions," he writes. In real life, biotech companies have found that the road from the lab to commercially successful products is long and hard. As Charles recounts, the strange rules and patterns of the agriculture industry could ruin even the best idea.
Witness the story of a California-based biotech boutique company, called Calgene, which eventually destroyed itself trying to turn genetically engineered, and improved, tomatoes into a successful business. The review goes on to say that Charles tries hard to rationally present and analyze biotech opponents' reasoning, but their arguments are so simplistic or unrealistic that his effort is a waste. When asked for an alternative plan for feeding the modern world, they offer ideas rooted in an idealized and impractical view of agriculture.
"Herbicide-tolerant crops also drove biotechnology straight into the middle of older, larger arguments about the consequences of industrial agriculture," Charles writes. "Chemicals replaced hoes, enormous machines replaced 'hired hands' and neighborhood threshing bees, rural communities shrank and even disappeared, as farms became ever larger and ever less dependent on hand labor. And topsoil, the paper-thin, irreplaceable layer on which all life depends, continued to wash down the Mississippi faster than it could be replaced, as it had since plows first ripped open the Midwestern prairie. Many mourned the social and environmental effects of this century-old phenomenon, but none had figured out a way to reverse it." Michael Steel is a National Journal News Service correspondent.
The Road Ahead
- Alan McHughen, University of Saskatchewan
Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on 'The Biosafety of
Genetically Modified Organisms.'
View all papers at
Society historically has not paid much attention to research
scientists. More recently, the public has become much more concerned
with what we're doing. This is not only out of genuine curiosity, but
also out of anxiety that the products of our work might be harmful to
the health of people, animals or the environment, or that the mere
practice of technology might be unethical, unnatural or otherwise
fearsome. This interest is not exclusive to genetic technologies, in
that people are increasingly questioning many aspects of technology
in modern society. Unlike many scientists, I welcome the increased
public scrutiny. Whether we work for a private company, an
educational institute or the government, our ultimate boss is the
consumer, the public and the taxpayer. It is in our best interest to
work in their best interest. The current worldwide attention gives us
a unique opportunity to educate _ not dictate to _ the public to
allow an informed, scientifically sound public debate on both the
hazards and the potential of biotechnology. I encourage their
interest and critical questioning. I'm confident that, given the
salient facts and a true informed choice, the public will support,
with some appropriate cautious reservations, the continued
development of many GMOs.
The OECD recently held a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, inviting
400 delegates from around the word to discuss the health implications
of GM food. Prominent and leading representatives from industry,
government, environmental groups, academia, opposition activists and
consumers met, likely for the first time, under one roof to discuss
the effect of GM food on health. Sir John Krebs, the Chair, in the
closing session asked the collected assembly if anyone from any group
had any scientific data indicating any harmful health effect from GM
foodstuffs. After all, humans have been consuming GM food since 1994.
With almost 50 approved GM foods in the marketplaces in several
countries, with GM crops grown on a hundred million acres in 1999,
and with 300 million humans consuming GM food in North America alone,
if there were any inherent danger with GM as a technology, it should
be apparent by now. In spite of years of experience and searching for
problems, no one could provide any verifiable data implicating GM
technology as a food or health hazard. It seems that, while
individual GM food products might prove hazardous, the technology or
process itself is not inherently harmful.
The environmental consequences of GMO release are not as clear. The
2s storage protein of Brazil nut is allergenic, whether naturally
occurring in the Brazil nut or, using GM, when introduced into
soybeans. Humans allergic to Brazil nut respond to the allergen
whether they live in Brazil, the U.K. or India. Human
immunophysiology is essentially similar across race and location.
However, environments vary considerable. A GMO deemed environmentally
innocuous in one country or region might be devastating when released
in another. We have identified potential environmental hazards with
certain GMOs. We know using the Bt gene to control insects in crops
will eventually lead to resistance within insect populations.
However, this is true whether the Bt is presented inside a GM crop,
or applied from an airplane by an organic farmer. Management in both
cases is required to minimize the risk and delay as long as possible
the appearance of the resistant insect pests. Are there potentially
hazardous situations unique to, or more likely from, GM technology?
What has become clear in the quarter century of GMOs is that,
although certain GMOs might present various risks, the process itself
_ recombinant DNA _ is not inherently hazardous. That is, the
technical process used to develop insulin-producing GM bacteria is
essentially the same as that used to develop GM herbicide-resistant
soybeans, or beta-carotene producing GM rice, or GM salmon with
enhanced production of growth hormones. If recombinant DNA were
inherently hazardous, each of these examples would present similar
risks. But, obviously, they do not. They each may carry specific
risks, but no common danger. It is time to shift the focus of our
concerns from the general process to the specific product. Surely GM
rice needs appropriate scrutiny to ensure it is no greater risk to
health or environment than conventionally bred rice. Growth-enhanced
GM salmon also demands judicious and prudent scrutiny. However, the
appropriate questions asked of each are different and based on the
nature of the new product. Appropriate questions are not based on the
vagaries of the marketplace or the whims of speculation.
This symposium is one forum for debate on the scientific basis of
biosafety concern with GMOs. Clearly, there are issues of import and
there is a continuing need for critical scientific assessment. New
GMOs being developed will have to be assessed for biosafety
implications, not because they were produced using GM techniques, but
because they present a new product. We need to continue to identify
and evaluate new products posing potential hazards to the
environment, regardless of the method of derivation.
Only through unswerving dedication to scientific principles can we
provide credible reassurance of our scientific analyses. Scientists
were at one time held in high esteem by a public content to accept
our advice on the relative safety or threat of an unfamiliar
technology or product. Society no longer accepts our assurances, and
I support their more critical assessment of our deliberations. It
means the public is becoming more interested in all aspects of life,
more willing to acquire sufficient information to ask probing
questions. When we evaluate GMOs, knowing full well an interested
public is anxiously observing over our shoulders, sound science will
provide the solid foundation on which we can stake our reputation and
rebuild public confidence. The only reason to reject a more critical
public is fear that we're doing something wrong. Conducting
well-designed experiments to acquire or enhance confidence in
biosafety information on a new product is not wrong. Unfortunately,
we are under pressure from various sources to conduct questionable,
even irrelevant, experiments.
If we attempt to appease or mollify (misguided) public sentiment by
conducting what we know are meaningless experiments or analyses, we
expose ourselves, quite rightly, to charges of incompetence and are
almost certain to be revealed, sooner or later, as scientific
charlatans, further degrading public confidence in the scientific
process. The ultimate result will see our sponsors _ the public _
reject the legitimacy of scientific analyses in evaluating risk. What
will replace it? Non-science, or nonsense. Witchcraft. It may be
easier to conduct the spurious assays, but reject the impulse to
pander to paranoia. Not only will acceding to requests to conduct
meaningless experiments jeopardize our credibility, it also wastes
our limited resources and diverts attention from what might be real
issues of concern. Our responsibility is to protect the public from
real threats. Scientific truth will eventually prevail.
We scientists must rebuild public confidence in science. We cannot
assume people believe us; clearly, they currently do not (if ever
they did). We must not ask for their trust; people who have to
request trust are, in my experience, inherently untrustworthy. I
never ask anyone to take my word, I prefer earning his or her trust
instead. We will earn public trust by not betraying it. We must
conduct only those experiments we know to be meaningful and rejecting
those we know aren't. If an experiment is unlikely to contribute data
increasing our understanding of a GMO, then it is not worth doing.
Once we've acquired enough data to reach a reasonable conclusion,
repetitions to provide a slight increase in degrees of freedom is not
worth doing. An experiment simply designed to add another tiny amount
of data to a mountain already accrued is a waste of our time,
expertise and resources. Once we've acquired reasonable confidence in
a conclusion, additional experiments are unwarranted in the absence
of a particular rationale.
Similarly, we must refuse to conduct irrelevant experiments without a
scientific rationale. Routine animal feeding trials with a GMO is
irrelevant in the absence of information indicating concern. If the
underlying genotype is a food crop, and the inserted gene (and
protein) originated from a common food, a complete battery of feeding
studies only gives apparent credibility that GM causes alterations
beyond the new inserted gene. In the absence of expectation or
evidence, why do we expend considerable time and money on outcrossing
studies of an almost completely self-pollinating GM plant? The public
sees this, and says, "They wouldn't do it if they didn't have reason
to think there was something wrong." No wonder the public is confused
and incredulous. Fight bad science! An experiment unjustified by data
or valid hypothesis is bad science. An experiment with little
likelihood of helping answer a meaningful question, even if
technically well executed, is bad science. Conducting such
experiments simply to appease critics is a waste of your skill, and
our resources, and is disrespectful, if not downright deceptive, to
As we continue to properly assess new GMOs and other new genotypes,
howsoever created, let's keep in mind the real hazards and continue,
in spite of criticism, to focus on the real threats to health and
environment. Let's continue to acquire data probing legitimate
questions of biosafety, risk assessment, risk management. The only
way for scientists to regain our collective integrity, and ultimately
public confidence, is to be as honest, open and trustworthy as we
can. I look forward to seeing you all in Beijing when this symposium
meets once again to deposit meaningful scientific data into the
public domain and continue the crucial debate on the biosafety of
FARMERS FACE THREATS OVER BRITAIN'S GM CROP TRIALS
November 12, 2001
LONDON - A leaked report, several heated telephone calls and then, according to this story, David Rose's countryside neighbours turned nasty, putting paid to his dream of dragging what he calls outdated farming techniques into the 21st century. Farmer Rose was cited as saying he was shocked at how quickly the quiet village he has lived in for most of his life turned against him and his plans to take part in the British government's controversial trials of genetically modified (GM) crops.
The rapeseed, spliced with a foreign gene to ward off pests, could have been grown with reduced amounts of the chemicals Rose is forced to spray on conventional crops, helping the environment and cutting back costs, he says. But, like many farmers across Britain, Rose decided against finding out and pulled out of the trials under the pressure, stating, "The situation I found myself in was that we said we would look into doing a farm scale trial and before we had time to discuss it with the local villagers and local farmers, it was leaked to the papers. It caused such a fuss all over the place so we decided it was not the most constructive way of going about it...We faced such hostility."
It's a story many farmers across Britain will tell. The story says that many who have tried to sign up to trials launched to see whether GM crops affect the balance of animal and plant life have given up after facing protests, threats, vandalism and sometimes physical abuse. The story explains that Jeremy Courtney, who had agreed that about three hectares (7.4 acres) of his land could be used as a test site for oilseed rape, gave up after suffering damage to machinery, graffiti and threatening behaviour to himself and his family. A farm manager said from southern England that Courtney had no plans to restart the trials, which the government hopes will lead to the crops' commercial growth.
It's a stand-off which Rose blames on a lack of communication between biotech companies, the government and the public. The story goes on to say that even the government's advisers have cautioned officials over the trials, saying the public was not ready for the technology and experiments alone would not make a case for GM crops. Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the advisory body, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, was quoted as saying, "We don't want the government to assume that the data they get from these trials are going to be the only piece of evidence that they need to go ahead and give consent to commercialization." Grant, and deputy chairwoman Julie Hill, said the "secretive" way the government started the trials and how it starved the public of any debate about GM had set back its campaign.
Biotech groups despair at EU attitudes: GMOs are not popular among EU governments despite Brussels marking the technology as an area for growth. Michael Mann reports
By MICHAEL MANN
November 10, 2001
When, if ever, will the European Union finally start approving genetically modified crops again?
That is the question European biotechnology companies are asking after EU environment ministers last month spurned the European Commission's latest effort to get the long-stalled authorisation process moving again.
No new genetically modified crops have been approved in the EU for more than three years. Last month, ministers made it plain that proposed new rules on labelling and tracing modified ingredients will have to be in place before they will consider lifting the block. This could take as long as three years. While delighting the environmentalists, who have run a highly effective campaign against such genetically modified foods, the impasse has angered the biotech industry, set Europe on a collision course with the US, and presented the Commission with a serious dilemma.
The Commission has earmarked biotechnology as a key area for growth in the EU's oft-stated quest to become the world's leading knowledge-based economy by 2010.
Yet a hard core of EU governments has declared a voluntary moratorium on new modified crop approvals, fearing a consumer backlash from the perception that foods derived from such crops pose potential health risks. European attitudes to food safety have hardened following a number of scares, most notably mad cow disease crisis.
Evidence of danger to human health is scant. Opponents of modified foods most often point to the US case of the corn StarLink, developed by Aventis, which was linked to several complaints alleging serious allergic reactions. However, StarLink was approved only for animal feed and found its way accidentally into some food products.
Commission officials insist that genetically modified products face much more stringent pre-release testing than conventional crops. They point out that consumers happily swallow pills developed using biotechnology, while spurning foods derived from modified crops.
Simon Barber of Europabio, which speaks for biotechnology companies in Europe, claims there are double standards in Europe. "We hear a number of positive statements about the importance of biotechnology, but the regulatory machinery is stuck."
There is much at stake. In a recent report, the Commission highlighted the dangers of a brain-drain to countries, such as the US, where the business environment is far more favourable to the biotechnology industry and where R&D expenditure dwarfs the amount of money spent in the EU.
Biotech companies claim farmers are being deprived of new products that could give them a vital competitive edge and also point to the environmental benefits of modified crops, which reduce pesticide and herbicide use.
Meanwhile, the US administration is coming under growing pressure from industry to act against the EU, on the grounds that its moratorium is illegal and prevents US farmers shipping to Europe varieties of corn and soya that have not been approved for EU use.
The US claims to be losing Dollars 200m (Pounds 137m) in corn exports a year and some estimates put the additional cost to the US of applying new EU standards to bulk commodity exports at as much as Dollars 4bn a year.
The Commission also believes that the moratorium is illegal, as EU governments are refusing even to vote on approving 13 genetically modified crop varieties already cleared by the EU's own scientific advisers. Under the EU's regulatory system, the Commission is supposed to authorise any products once they are passed as safe if governments fail to take any decision.
But while it fears legal action from disgruntled biotech groups if it fails to act, it is also acutely aware of the public relations disaster if it chose to override the wishes of elected EU governments, particularly on an issue as sensitive as food safety.
The hard core of countries behind the moratorium - France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Greece and Luxembourg - originally called for new rules on tracing and labelling modified foods a condition for ending their opposition.
Margot Wallstrom, EU environment commissioner, hoped the Commission's adoption in late July of proposals to meet these demands would end the logjam. She has described the response she received as "very disturbing".
A number of ministers stressed there could be no end to the moratorium before the labelling rules were on the statute book, a process which could take three years. France went further, suggesting there was a need for specific new laws on companies' liability for environmental damage caused by their products.
All this leaves the system in limbo and the Commission facing the reality that EU governments are stifling an industry it has singled out for favoured status.
"It's about time the member states actually stood up and said whether or not they really want GMOs," says one frustrated official. "They've got to stop using a science-based safety system for political ends."
Gujarat: Seeds Of Pique
By Uday Mahurkar
November 12, 2001
Genetically modified cotton sparks a row between the state Government and the farmers
With the war against terrorism in full swing, the threat of a counter-biological and genetic warfare is becoming more and more real. In the farmlands of Gujarat, there is a full-fledged genetic battle raging. At its core is India's first genetically modified seed, infamously called BT Cotton. Ushering in a revolution of sorts, the magic seed is eliminating the menace of the bollworm, besides increasing yield. But it is illegal to grow this crop as the Centre has not cleared it. All genetically modified crops need a safety clearance from regulatory bodies involving several ministries. The Government's objection was that it needed further tests to ascertain the safety of the environment in all seasons and all land-types, since BT gene is coded for pest-resistance. The controversy took an ugly turn last fortnight when the Centre directed the Gujarat Government to destroy BT Cotton crop worth over Rs 100 crore in the central, north and southern parts of the state. It led to serious charges from the farmers that
That BT Cotton had boiled down to a clash of interests was no secret. Even the Gujarat Government's volte-face was a result of vocal protests by the farmers. Led by veterans like Sharad Joshi and Bipin Desai, farmers threatened the Government with dire consequences if it went ahead with its plans to destroy their crop. Even Union Textiles Minister and MP from Surat Kashiram Rana threw his weight behind their cause. "Clearly, it is the clout of the strong pesticides lobby which is responsible for the campaign against the seed," says Desai. Farmers who have used BT Cotton swear by its virtues and are willing to prove their point even in court. A group of 25 farmers have filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court against the Centre's move. Vinodbhai Patel, a 55-year-old cotton farmer of Nandol village in Gandhinagar district, tried the seed on three of the 20 acres of land he owns. The yield was 10 quintals of high quality cotton per acre, as against 1.20 quintals on the remaining land where other hybrid seeds
The farmers allege the Centre's decision was largely the result of the pressure mounted by influential pesticide manufacturers. Currently, 40 per cent of the Rs 2,700 crore worth of pesticides produced in the country goes into protecting cotton crop. Naturally, the widespread use of BT Cotton, they point out, would be detrimental to the growth of pesticide companies. The pesticide manufacturers, on their part, say "the charges are not only unfounded but ridiculous".
It is now for the Union Government to convince the farmers about the risks. Despite the raging controversy, it is yet to withdraw its directive on the destruction of the BT crop. But unless it scientifically validates its arguments against the seed, the matter could get out of hand. Gujarat's cotton farmers are waiting.-Uday Mahurkar
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 16:58:43 +0100 (Vest-Europa (normaltid))
Subject: Perfeee ction
I get an e-mail," why don't we hear from you any longer," and another" why am I getting mail from you?" Quick check into the various lists, and behold one name has vanished and another crept in. Nothing is perfect, well that is except some of our green friends judgements;-there man can not question of what is the truth in all it's perfection. They are so certain in everything they say.The rest of us wonder if we have understood the question, and perhaps with years of; thinking, research,or/and reading get an answer that is "maybe right".
Perhaps that is their strength, they tell you, you don't need to think about it, whilst the opposition wants you think about the environment, food safety, hunger, etc, by looking at the pros and cons, they tell you, this is dangerous, this is bad, this is good for "Mother Earth"
I believe that things are not perfect, not our solutions to problems or the way we present the problem in the first place. About as flawed as this and the last sentence.
One little thing that has been in the news recently; charities, seem that until recently there has been very little control of various charities, but now because of the events of the 11th of September, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are looking at charities much more closely than before. This may have repercussions for salaries, administrative costs, aims etc.
Terry S. Hopkin