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November 25, 2001


Peanuts, Organics, Canada, Jose Bove, S. Africa


- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -

* Peanut variety released
* When natural is not necessarily best
* Organic farming
* BBC's Seeds of Contention
* Health Canada attacks criticisms of expert panel
* French militant farmer Jose Bove back in court

Date: 24 Nov 2001 13:55:42 -0000
From: "Sheshagiri Raghavendrachar Gubbi"
Subject: Peanut variety released


It is interesting that the disease resistant new cultiver C-99R gained
popularity, so quickly. However, I was disappointed as the information
on how the cultivar was bred is not given. How the resistance was
developed ?

I am always happy to go through your agbioworld information.

thanking you,

Sheshagiri R.

When natural is not necessarily best

The Dominion
Bob Brockie's World of Science
26 November 2001

With all the hype, you’d think that organic farming was a Kiwi invention.

But no, the Europeans are at it, too, and have attracted the attention of a lot of scientists. They are not impressed.

It’s hard to quarrel with maintaining soil fertility, avoiding pollution and rotating crops, but leading researchers say there is very little science in organic farming, few of its claims can be substantiated, while illogicality and confusion abound.

Edinburgh biologist Anthony Trewavas recently reviewed scientific research on organic farming in Nature Magazine.

He reported that hundreds of rigorous tests have failed to reveal better-tasting foods or improved nutritional value in organic food. Indeed, because organic crops are so low in protein, children do better on conventional food (though rats do better on organic food). There is so little protein in organically grown plants that it’s hardly worth aphids sucking on their feeble sap.

Mr Trewavas points out that despite their rejection of industrial chemicals, most organic farmers still use copper sulphate and derris dust.

He then states that copper sulphate causes liver damage in vineyard workers and kills worms, so will be banned by the European Commission in 2002, and derris dust has recently been shown to induce Parkinson’s disease.

Surveys show that the cancer-causing poisons fumonisin and patulin are both higher in organic food than conventional food and that many British farmers are unhappy about organic farms because they are repositories of disease, particularly potato blight.

The irony is that British organic farmers may be protected from the full effects of disease outbreaks because they are surrounded by conventional farmers using proper fungicides.

Britain’s House of Lords also reported on organic farming in Europe recently. It concluded that it was a wasteful use of land with low yield per hectare, and customers paid high prices for inferior quality produce.

It found that well-run conventional British farms can match the yields of organic farms using 30 to 50 per cent less land.

In Holland, a showpiece farm promoting organic land management and biodiversity has, after many years, been found to harbour the same wildlife as surrounding conventional farms.

Science and “organics’ will always be at loggerheads. This is because organic farming is underpinned not by science but by a chemophobic anti-science ideology.

God forbid that Mr Trewavas or their lordships should ever set foot in New Zealand.

Organic zealots would lynch them at the airport.

Organic farming

(Letter to the editor of The Times, London)

Sir, Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, is reported (November 20) as saying that many organic farmers were unsure whether they could stay in business. Whilst sympathising with individual farmers, I suggest that their adoption of a less extreme approach to agriculture would be in our national interest.
The Soil Association is largely res- ponsible for a polarisation of views on farming methods, identifying conventional farming as greedy and bad and organic farming as ecologically saintly and good. Sensible farming, drawing on techniques from both poles, surely offers the greatest chance of success. A balanced approach offers flexibility and a greater chance of being sustainable into the future.

“Certification”, which seeks a separate identity for organic farming, is seriously limiting and appears designed to ensure a questionable price advantage and, of course, benefits to those who issue the certificates.

Yours faithfully,
11 Compton Way,
Farnham, Surrey GU10 1QY.
November 20.

BBC's Seeds of Contention


In our Global Business slot, there's another chance to hear the second part of Seeds of Contention - a series looking at the controversial issues surrounding genetically engineered crops.

This week's programme examines the environmental arguments. Many activists argue that the introduced genes in the new crops will escape into wild plants and cause untold trouble in natural ecosystems. Supporters of GM technology, on the other hand, claim that genetic engineering in agriculture will allow farming to be more environmentally friendly.

Andrew Luck-Baker looks at the evidence in Seeds of Contention.

Listen to the program:
file://C:Documents and Settingsvf013Local SettingsTemporary Internet FilesContent.IE56ZQWXP1Cglobalbusiness[1].ram


Nov. 21/01
Health Canada

Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are pleased to provide this action plan in response to the Expert Scientific Panel of the Royal Society of Canada report entitled: Elements of
Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada. The report from the Royal Society (the report) was publicly released on February 5, 2001 (www.rsc.ca). We recognize the need to continually enhance our regulatory processes and protocols. The recommendations in the report form the basis for this action plan, which we intend to re-visit on a regular basis. We will report on key milestones as they are achieved, communicate the results of work upon completion, and add new activities as they are initiated. We will also re-visit the action plan after we receive further advice from the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC). Their final report on genetically-modified foods (GM-foods) is expected to be released in early 2002. This document is composed of three parts: this introduction which provides background information on the Royal Society of Canada's Expert Panel Report; an action plan summary; and, the detailed action plan we have developed to address the report of th

Biotech food study refuted by Ottawa

Health Canada attacks criticisms of expert panel

The Toronto Star
By Peter Calamai
November 24, 2001

OTTAWA — The federal government yesterday struck back at an independent study that concluded Canadians weren't adequately protected from the risks of genetically modified foods.

The government's response claims that the study, released this year, "does not raise concerns about the safety of GM-foods currently in the marketplace."

Canada is the third-largest producer of genetically modified crops in the world. About two-thirds of the processed food sold in the country contains some genetically modified component, usually the oils.

The expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada in fact did raise concerns about the safety of these products, warning that the basis of existing federal regulation of biotech agricultural products was "scientifically unjustifiable.''

The experts also said Health Canada approved GM-foods for public consumption on a "case-by-case, ad hoc" basis with no formal criteria.

These criticisms were immediately attacked by senior officials of Health Canada when the report was released in February. The top scientists on the expert panel simply didn't grasp how the regulatory system works, health officials said.

A similar defence is made in the government's formal response to the report, which was posted on departmental Web sites around 5 p.m. after a perfunctory announcement 20 minutes earlier. The response can be viewed at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca.

The scientist in charge of expert panels for the Royal Society, biochemist Geoff Flynn of Queen's University, said he was not informed the government would be responding. The panel gave its report to health officials before public release.

The late timing and minimal notice also run counter to the government's pledge of more openness in GM matters, said Flynn. "It's not only disappointing but also a bit unfair."

The expert panel report was commissioned by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada after they came under attack from public interest groups for promoting biotechnology rather than controlling it.

Health officials and the scientists have been feuding ever since the highly critical study was released Feb. 5.

The key controversy centres on the approach, which the panel says federal regulators have used so far to approve most biotech crops, known as "substantial equivalence."

The experts concluded that transgenic plants are being approved without a full-risk assessment simply if they appear the same as plants produced by conventional breeding techniques.

This lax approach exposes Canadians who consume GM foods to potential health risks, including allergic reactions and toxicity, the experts said.

In its response yesterday, the government once again claimed that "substantial equivalence" is not the basis for regulatory approval but only a guide.

However, the government concedes that the official regulatory documentation is sloppy in its use of "substantial equivalence."

The government also promises to "clarify" with individual departments the application of the precautionary principle, which the expert panel strongly endorsed. The principle says that it is better to be safe than sorry if there is scientific uncertainty about the risk of some new material or procedure.

Most of the 30-plus items in the government's action plan focus on internal mechanisms and regulatory details.

But eight promised actions are devoted to the need to be more open and increase public confidence. None of these would have precluded the end-of-week unheralded release of the official response.

In fact, the government's response is dated Nov. 21. One senior official predicted earlier this week that the report would be deliberately issued at the last possible moment.

Conrad Brunch, a philosophy professor at the University of Waterloo and Brian Ellis, a plant scientist from the University of British Columbia, chaired the Royal Society's expert panel.

French militant farmer Jose Bove back in court

Associated Press
November 22, 2001

MONTPELLIER, France (AP) _ Militant farmer Jose Bove returned to court in southern France on Thursday to
appeal a conviction for destroying a genetically modified rice field at a test laboratory.

The French anti-globalization activist, who arrived at the Montpellier courthouse surrounded by 800
supporters, admitted to destroying the crops in 1999 because farmers, the people, and politicians all
oppose genetically modified foods.

Bove, who shot to fame in 1999 after leading the ransacking of a French McDonald's restaurant that was
under construction, told the court that he had done nothing wrong and would continue to destroy GM test

In March, Bove and two others were convicted for destroying more than 1,000 rice plants in a greenhouse
operated by Cirad, an agricultural research group, near Montpellier.

The three were handed suspended sentences and ordered to pay a fine of 600,000 francs (dlrs 83,232) to the

Rene Riesel, one of the three defendants, unexpectedly rose up in his seat during the hearing and told the
judge he was leaving the courtroom.

Riesel, who is now a local official in the Lozere region of southern France, said he was tired of
hearing the same speech by Bove and disagreed with the actions of anti-GM activists.

The trial was expected to last through Friday.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Virginia Baldwin Gilbert and Thomas Lee
November 26, 2001

Monsanto's seeds provide biotech industry's top argument that engineered plants could bolster the economies of developing countries: "We can attend to other things besides staying in the field. Our standard of living is very much improved," the chairman of a farm cooperative says.

T.J. Buthelezi, a cotton farmer from South Africa, has become a spokesman in the worldwide debate over the wisdom of developing genetically engineered plants.

He's one of 100 small landholders who participated in a study by university agronomists and scientists that examined the use of insect-resistant cotton in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Buthelezi planted Bt cotton developed by the Monsanto Co., based in Creve Coeur, and sold by the Delta and Pine Land Co. "We are working very good with the Monsanto people," said Buthelezi, the chairman of a 350-member farm cooperative. "But even if they weren't good to us, Bt cotton has proved to be the best thing to put money in our pockets.

"I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself."

Monsanto paid Buthelezi's way to a recent conference in Philadelphia that brought together African leaders and American business people. Buthelezi represented farmers at the meeting.

Then, after the conference, Monsanto flew Buthelezi to St. Louis for the grand opening of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, near the Monsanto campus, Nov. 2.

Why is one obscure farmer worth the plane fare from South Africa to America?

For one thing, Bt cotton offers one of the biotechnology industry's ace arguments that genetically engineered plants could bolster the economies of developing countries. Monsanto is eager for farmers like Buthelezi to speak about the benefits of the product, said Shannon Troughton, a spokeswoman.

Bt cotton was engineered to contain a gene that kills bollworms. To cotton farmers, that means spending less money and time on spraying crops with pesticides.

Cotton plants thrive in hot, dry areas where other cash crops often don't fare so well. And cotton is a cash crop that's important to the haves and the have-nots of the world.

Developing countries accounted for 76 percent of cotton-mill use in 1999 and 43 percent of end-use cotton consumption, according to statistics from the International Cotton Advisory Committee. Industrial countries accounted for 20 percent of cotton-mill use and 50 percent of end-use cotton consumption.

Becoming toxin-resistant

But environmental groups, led by Greenpeace, worry that Bt cotton could pave the way for altering other crops. The organization opposes genetic engineering, saying it threatens the agricultural diversity of plants throughout the world.

Genetically altered crops could harm species other than the insects that feed on the plant, said Craig Culp, a Greenpeace spokesman.

"We don't believe there is enough testing that can be done to determine the health effects and environmental impact of releasing these (crops) into the ecosystem," he said.

If something goes wrong, "There is no remediation," he said. "There is no recall. You just don't stop production."

The opposition to such crops has become heated. Researchers in the S outh African cotton study thanked Monsanto and other agribusiness groups for providing information and "for trusting us, despite their well-founded fears that strangers asking questions about (genetically modified) crops are most likely to be Luddites."

Activists have raised concerns -- shared by agronomists -- that insects will develop resistance to the toxin in Bt cotton.

Insects that develop resistance would pass on the traits to the next generation, creating a super bug that would have overall resistance to the crop, Culp said. Then, farmers would have to find a new pesticide or Bt product to defend their crops.

Proponents argue that recommendations for planting a buffer zone of conventional cotton around plots of genetically engineered plants will reduce the risk of insect resistance.

For example, in the United States, the National Science Foundation recommends that farmers plant 5-acre buffer zones for every 95 acres of Bt cotton.

Seven nations have approved Bt cotton for planting: the United States, China, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Indonesia.

India, Brazil and Zimbabwe are considering approval of genetically modified cotton. The farmers in these nations will listen to proponents like Buthelezi.

But they also will heed studies like the one in South Africa. It warned that the "very clear gains at the farm level" could be lost "if seed suppliers decide to appropriate a greater share of the benefit by raising their prices."

Rob Horsch, vice president of Product and Technology Cooperation for Monsanto, said farmers can choose to buy conventional seed or seed that is genetically enhanced. He said Monsanto has "an interdependent partnership with farmers, where our success is linked to their success."

Benefiting from technology

The study from South Africa, done by researchers from the University of Reading in Britain and the University of Pretoria in South Africa, was presented in June 2000 to the Fifth International Conference on Biotechnology, Science and Modern Agriculture in Ravello, Italy. It was financed independently of the producers.

The study compared fields planted in conventional cotton with fields planted with Bt seed.

After analyzing yield, gross margins, the costs of seed and pesticides, the amount of labor required to bring the crop to market and other efficiency data, the study concluded, "The farmers who adopted the Bt cotton variety benefited from the new technology according to all the measures used."

The second year of the trial, 1999, was a particularly wet year. Usually, that would mean insects would be a bigger problem for cotton farmers. But, the study found: "The yield gain of 40 percent and the lower chemical cost easily offset the extra seed cost so that the gross margins are, on average, 58 percent higher. This is a huge gain by any standards, and it does seem that the Bt cotton survived the unfavorably wet growing season far better than the non-Bt varieties."

Buthelezi said he increased his yield by 170 percent using Bt cotton. With conventional seed, he had harvested five bales of cotton, or about 892 pounds of unginned cotton, an acre. But last growing season, his Bt cotton fields produced 2,409 pounds an acre.

Plant, flower, harvest

To be sure, Buthelezi isn't a Third World subsistence farmer. In 1984, he was a minister for an evangelical church in Johannesberg when the nation erupted in violence over government-enforced discrimination against black Africans and people of mixed race.

Buthelezi fled the violence, returning to his home in KwaZulu-Natal to build houses. Sometimes he received his pay in cattle rather than cash.

By 1994, South Africa had abolished separatist policies. Nelson Mandela had been elected as the nation's first leader who was democratically chosen by citizens of all races.

And by then, Buthelezi had become a cotton farmer.

The rural provinces of South Africa started encouraging cotton farming about 20 years ago, Buthelezi said.

"We had no factories, no way to work to make money, except by going away from our children" to work in faraway cities, he said. But when a gin was built near his home, Buthelezi said, "That made it easy for us to sell our cotton."

The land is parceled out by a tribal chief. Farmers have many of the rights of ownership: They may work the land as they choose, and it can't be taken from them or their descendants. But they can't sell it or borrow money against it.

Buthelezi began small, with about 4 acres. Now, he farms nearly 30 acres. He's one of the larger landholders in the KwaZulu-Natal province, he said. Sindisiwe, one of his two wives, farms more than 7 acres.

Large or small, the cotton-farming operations in the region are based on hand labor, Buthelezi said.

To understand the implications, consider the process of spraying the fields for insects.

Pesticides are expensive and require special storage and handling. That's why the farmers typically wait until the insects appear before buy ing the pesticide they need.

The farmers don't own vehicles -- no family cars, no pickups, not even tractors, Buthelezi said. They rent the tractors used for plowing and planting.

So, when they must buy insecticide, Buthelezi said, farmers go by bus to a town about 30 miles away.

After returning home, the farmer puts the insecticide in a backpack with a pump by his side and a nozzle that sprays out the back. Buthelezi estimates that every time he sprays a few acres of cotton, he walks more than 12 miles back and forth between the rows.

Like farmers everywhere, Buthelezi and his fellow South African farmers are affected by available cash, water, land and labor. The need to spray against insect pests drastically had limited the amount of cotton they could plant, he said.

With conventional cotton, Buthelezi often sprayed for pests 10 times during a growing season. By contrast, with Bt cotton, he sprays twice a year.

Monsanto scientists are working on a new Bollgard 2 variety of seed to knock out other insects that are not susceptible to the original variety. The new variety could eliminate spraying.

"With Bt, you plant the cotton; it flowers; you harvest," Buthelezi said.

Bt cotton has changed life dramatically for him, his wives and his 13 children, he said.

"We can attend to other things besides staying in the field," Buthelezi said. "Our standard of living is very much improved, when we have money to send our children to school.

"Now, after harvesting, we sit down and budget and say, 'Let's go buy some things.' That didn't used to happen."


The Scotsman
November 24, 2001
By Vic Robertson

ORGANIC food may be the current flavour of the month but functional foods could take over in the future and genetic modification could play a key role, say industry analysts.

Much will depend on how hard food firms and retailers push these new foods and how positive farmers and growers are at pushing for adoption of these technologies.

Against a 33 per cent rise in organic food sales to 800 million pounds in the past year, Sean Rickard of Cranfield University predicts there will be a lot of unhappy organic producers in the next few years as supply catches up with demand and premiums disappear. Against unproven claims that food produced in this way is better for consumers, buyers will increasingly opt for the new range of functional or nutraceutical foods where the benefits have been scientifically analysed and proven.

Echoing dismissive findings by both the Food Standards Agency and the British Nutrition Foundation, he said there was not a great deal of scientific evidence that organic food was better for consumers.

On the other hand, there was a great deal of evidence to show that bio -technology had the potential to provide benefits to consumers and the environment, offering lower prices, greater choice and quality as the technology moved into the "second generation" of GM crops.

Speaking at a conference on agri business recovery at Cranfield, he said increasing adoption of this technology had significant implications not only for consumers but for the whole of the food chain if only suppliers of the technology made more effort to communicate the advantages.

Jeff Cox, northern European manager for Monsanto - one of the key players in this area - initially took a more conciliatory approach. All sectors of the food production industry had a role to play. It was up to the consumer to make his or her choice, he said.

Against that, there was now sufficient data to draw a line under consumer concerns. Some US$ 64 million had been spent on research over 15 years examining the impact of GM crops and no risk had been detected. It was time that NGOs got up to date on this, he said.

Latest market research had also shown that just under half of UK consumers said they would eat GM food, while internationally GM ranked well down the league table of food safety fears, well behind pesticides, chemicals and diseases.

Genetic modification of crops also had the ability to produce added value food and non food products. "Biotechnology is a key tool we must be free to use," he said.