- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* GERMAN GOVERNMENT CALLS NEW TALKS ON GM CROPS
* Re: Indian GE cotton
* One hundred percent safe? CropGen launches report into safety of approved GM foods
* Science and society divide European culture
* GM crops reduce pesticide use
* CODEX ALIMENTARIUS: CCFL - CODEX COMMITTEE ON FOOD LABELLING UPDATED
* Monsanto bids to put GM food back on shelves; Vice-president flies to Britain for debate this week
* Laidlaw Sunday Radio show features GM discussion
* New book casts biotech debate in realistic tones
GERMAN GOVERNMENT CALLS NEW TALKS ON GM CROPS
December 5, 2001
HAMBURG -- A ministerial spokesman was cited as saying on Wednesday that German farm minister Renate Kuenast has called a new round of talks for December 12 on the possible commercial use of genetically-modified (GM) crops in the country. The story says that among those invited are representatives of the GM seeds industry and, for the first time, representatives of churches, trade unions, general farming associations, scientists and groups interested in environmental and consumer protection. At present GM crops can be grown for research in Germany but commercial production is banned. A previous round, involving the GM seed industry alone, had started in December 2000.
The government halted it in January because of an upsurge in public concern about food safety following the discovery of mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in Germany. In those talks Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had offered state funding to industry for safety research into GM crops in return for a voluntary three-year ban on commercial production. A spokesman for Kuenast's Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ministry was quoted as saying, "This standpoint is not being repeated and we will go into the talks ready to hear suggestions. There is no significance to the timing of these talks, it is simply a question of free time in our scheduling. In the previous round of talks there was the impression among some that they were industry-friendly because they involved the industry only. This time the minister has decided to widen the participation to reflect the great concern among the public about the GM issue."
India may soon allow sale of gene-altered seeds
December 5, 2001
``The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which is scheduled to meet later this month, may allow commercial use of a GM cotton seed in the country,'' she said.
The government is also considering permitting commercial production of other GM crops, such as potato, tomato, and mustard, Sharma said.
Approval of the GEAC, set up by the federal environment ministry, is mandatory for field trials and commercial production of GM crops in the country.
India has so far only allowed a few firms and research bodies to undertake field trials of gene-altered crops.
The GM cotton is currently being field-tested by India's Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, in which U.S. biotechnology giant, Monsanto, owns a stake.
The company started limited field trials of its BT or bacillus thuringiensis cotton seed in 1996/97, but has faced intermittent opposition from environmentalists and farmers on bio-safety and transparency of the trial data.
The BT cotton contains the 'Cry 1 Ac' gene and is resistant to the cotton bollworm, which causes heavy damage to the Indian cotton crop.
In October, the federal government ordered the destruction of illegally-grown GM cotton in the western state of Gujarat to prevent resowing of the seed. The local authorities have so far bought about 120 tonnes of BT cotton from farmers for this purpose.
India has the world's largest cotton growing area but its yield is only about 300 kg per hectare, below half of the global average of about 650 kg, traders say.
Cotton production in the current crop year ending September is forecast at 15.6 million bales of 170 kg each, up from 14.0 million a year earlier.
Date: 6 Dec 2001 14:22:34 -0000
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Indian GE cotton
I would expect that there is a strong incentive for cotton-producing countries NOT to encourage Indian to approve planting of Bt cotton.
With its huge area planted to cotton, India could very seriously disrupt world cotton markets if it suddenly began to get 50% to 100% higher yields.
This could cause (in my opinion, WILL cause) a world market price collapse to the detriment of all cotton producers. It is hard to say for
certain whether Indian cotton producers are better off with their low-yield output and current market prices than they would be with higher yield but much lower prices -- some ag. economist with a better understanding of cotton market elasticities is probably figuring out likely price movement from
higher Indian output right now. This is a straightforward example of the "technology treadmill"-- the early adopters benefit the most, but in
the end, the whole industry will suffer the consequences of higher market supply, ie, lower prices. I wonder whether GMO-related price collapse
might be a black mark on the technology -- it would be ironic to have something condemned for reducing inputs and improving yield.
One hundred percent safe? CropGen launches report into safety of approved GM foods
December 7, 2001
London – A new report, to be released Friday by CropGen, points to evidence from over one hundred publicly available sources showing that approved GM foods are in practical terms at least as safe as other supermarket foods.
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SAFE? GM foods in the UK was written by Professor Vivian Moses (Chairman, CropGen Panel) in response to polarised attitudes to the use of biotechnology in food and agriculture. The report reviews the regulatory procedures for evaluating the health aspects of novel foods, particularly GM foods, notes in detail what the regulators have said and concludes to what extent approved such products can be declared safe. The report acts as a guide to the substantial data that has been amassed on those GM foods approved for consumption in the UK – three varieties of maize, three varieties of oilseed rape, one of soybeans and one of tomatoes.
“As biochemists, our reading of the publicly available information on GM food safety has offered us not one indication of hazard to human health from any of the GM crop foods so far approved for use in the UK”, emphasises author Professor Moses.
Having reviewed the evidence and how it can be accessed, he concludes that the people concerned with developing, promoting and approving GM foods for public consumption have been thorough: “This report has been commissioned to help achieve a greater measure of realism and better balance in the UK public debate about crop biotechnology. Details of the regulatory processes for the approval of GM foods are very similar for the different countries and sufficiently open for individuals to make up their own minds from publicly available sources of information. Critics can no longer claim that GM technology is not independently tested. Regulations are in place – and our report shows you where to find them.”
The report also defines what is meant by the term safe and to what extent 100% safety of a food product can be achieved. “In our view, it is essential to retain a sense of proportion. Inasmuch as GM crops and foods have value, we favour them being available for those who want them. Present GM technology offers us a more environmentally responsible system of farming and the potential for many consumer benefits including a GM apple which might help prevent tooth decay. In time, we may all become so used to these novel foods that none of us any longer goes in fear and trembling, demanding testing, testing, testing without limit. Although products have been on the market for several years, this remains a fairly new technology. In practical terms, approved GM foods are at least as safe as other foods in the shops”, explains Professor Moses.
The report is available from the CropGen website at http://www.cropgen.org
CropGen is an information initiative designed to make the case for crop biotechnology. It is funded by industry but operates independently of it. For further information on CropGen, please visit our website at http://www.cropgen.org
For an advance copy of the report and/or interview with its author, Professor Vivian Moses, please contact the CropGen’s press office on 020 7853 2393 or 07720 277143.
Science and society divide European culture
by Bea Perks
December 5, 2001
The wound between science and society in Europe shows no sign of healing up, according to the results of a Europe-wide survey to be unveiled tomorrow. Two thirds of Europeans say they are not well informed about scientific issues, and almost half the population doesn't even want to be informed.
Scientific literacy levels have remained static since the last European survey in 1992, although at least the proportion of Europeans that think early humans co- habited with dinosaurs is down by 10%.
The data don't shock US expert in science communication, Bruce Lewenstein, editor of the journal Public Understanding of Science.
"The lack of change since 1992 is not surprising," said Lewenstein, associate professor of science communication at Cornell University. "There has been essentially no change [in] science literacy levels in the US, based on similar surveys that began in the late 1970s."
Europeans consider themselves well informed on scientific topics that have hit the headlines. Over 70% say they understand topical issues such as "mad cow disease" and the greenhouse effect. It is the less well publicised technologies, notably nanotechnology, that are poorly appreciated.
The survey, for the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research, interviewed 16,000 people from the European Union's 15 member states between May and June this year. Populations of "candidate countries," which are preparing to join the EU, will be interviewed next year.
The proportion of the European population with no interest in science (45%) does seem higher than that in the US, says Lewenstein. Similar US data, from 1999, suggest that between 10% and 20% of the population are uninterested, depending on the scientific topic (medical discoveries being the most interesting; nuclear power, the least).
The European survey also reports a notable lack of interest in scientific studies and careers among young people.
Around 60% of young people say science lessons lack appeal, while 55% say they are too difficult. More than 40% of interviewees cited poor career prospects as a turn-off.
Most Europeans recognize the problem, however, with 60% saying they would like "the authorities to try to remedy this situation."
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who is due to present the survey in Brussels tomorrow, has come up with a complementary action plan to improve the relationship between science and society. The plan aims to promote scientific education and culture and to develop a "responsible" science.
Overall, says Lewenstein, the value of these data, fascinating though they are, is questionable. "Surveys...are not really getting at what citizens do with scientific information, how they integrate it into their daily lives or their policy decisions."
New ways of thinking about the public understanding of science must be found, he says. New ways of making meaningful measurements and comparisons between topics.
"[It] isn't really about ability to regurgitate specific answers, but rather how to integrate science-based data and scientific ways of analysis into daily life and policy decisions," said Lewenstein.
GM crops reduce pesticide use
Abstract: GM crops reduce pesticide use
The authors of this literature study collected and processed available data on pesticide use comparisons in conventional and genetically modified crops to provide easy to communicate arguments showing that these crops overall help to reduce the use of pesticides. They created the unit "acre-treatment" (= one pesticide treatment per acre) to evaluate and explain changes in pesticide use easier, and focuss on herbicide and insect tolerant varieties in their report.
GM crops reduce pesticide use.
One of the selling features of genetically modified (GM) crops has been the promise of a reduction in pesticide use. This is a very desirable consequence for pesticide applicators and other field workers concerned about their personal safety, environmentalists, anyone who enjoys the great outdoors and wants to see a reduction of the impact of agricultural practises on the environment, health-conscious consumers who may not like the idea of their food being exposed to pesticides, and farmers who are concerned about all of the above but who are also trying to run a profitable operation. But where were the data to support these claims? Reliable data did not and could not exist until these varieties had been grown on a large enough scale to collect it! Recently, we have seen the release of some research results that do provide solid support for this theory. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop varieties, several of which are also transgenic (GM), were introduced to Canada in 1995 with a limited acreage of Liberty Link
The Canola Council of Canada (CCC) is an industry organization with membership comprised of crushers, refiners and processors; exporters and shippers; canola grower organizations and commissions; and governments. Their mandate is to encourage the improvement, development, and expanded production and use of Canadian canola seeds and products. The Council published a study this spring that concludes that less herbicide is used to grow transgenic canola than is used to produce conventional varieties. The total herbicide reduction is estimated to range from 1,500 tonnes in 1997 to 6,000 tonnes in both 1999 and 2000, which translates into a reduction in herbicide cost of about 40 percent. Additionally, fuel savings due to fewer field operations ranged from 9.5 million litres in 1997 to 31.2 litres in 2000. Reduced dockage and higher yield contributed further to the farmer's revenue to give a net gain of $5.80 per acre.
Data from Ontario indicate that growers there have chosen GM crops in record numbers this year. Preliminary estimates from commodity organizations show that 25-30 percent of soybeans, more than 80 percent of canola, and about 40 percent of corn grown in Ontario this season are modified to be herbicide tolerant or insect resistant.
Similar data were just released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), indicating that 26 percent of corn, 68 percent of soybean, and 69 percent of cotton grown in the US were transgenic. This represents an increase of 18 percent over figures for the 2000 crop season. AGCare is a coalition of farm groups representing 45,000 field and horticulture crop growers. A July 11 news release from their office states - "Farmers choose to grow crops enhanced through biotechnology because of the benefits they offer: increased crop quality and food safety, higher yields, reduced production costs and the ability to grow the high quality, affordable food that consumers demand, while reducing the use of pesticides or using safer pesticides than previously possible to protect against pest devastation."
Bt corn, approved in August 1995 for growth in the US, represented only 1 percent of the acreage planted to corn in 1996. This rose to 19 percent of the corn in 1998. CAST, a nonprofit organization composed of scientific societies and many individual, student, company, nonprofit, and associate society members, summarized reports of the US Environmental Protection Agency and concluded: "Since Bt corn (was introduced) into the marketplace, there is a reduction in use for those pesticides recommended for European corn borer control from 6 million to slightly over 4 million acre treatments in 1999, a reduction of about one-third."
HT soybean was available in limited quantities in 1996, made up 17 percent soybean acreage in 1997, and by 1998 greater than 40 percent. Increases in adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans led to small but significant decreases in overall herbicide use. This derived from a significant decline in use of herbicides other than glyphosate and acetamides, coupled with a significant increase in glyphosate. The overall rate of herbicide use in soybeans declined by nearly 10 percent between 1996 and 1998. Bt cotton, first planted in 1995, expanded to 15 percent of total cotton acres planted in the US in 1996 and 17 percent in 1998. The Environmental Protection Agency calculated a national benefit of $47 million on 2.1 million acres of Bt cotton in 1997. In terms of pesticide reduction, about 21 percent less pesticide was applied over all cotton acres in the US. Herbicide-tolerant cotton increased from10 percent of surveyed acres in 1997 to 26 percent in 1998. Adoption of HT cotton led to significant increases in y
Pesticide reduction due to GM crops
HT Canola (Canada) 29%
Bt corn (USA) 33%
HT soybean (USA) 10%
Bt cotton (USA) 21%
HT cotton (USA) 0
All pesticides (USA) 0.5-3.4%
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS: CCFL - CODEX COMMITTEE ON FOOD LABELLING UPDATED
December 5, 2001
European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection
The complete document files can be downloaded from: http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/whatsnew/index_en.html
"Draft Amendment to the General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods/Draft Recommendations for the Labelling of Foods Obtained through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification/Genetic Engineering: Definitions " The European Community appreciates the considerable efforts that have been undertaken so far towards reaching international agreement on this difficult and complex issue. The European Community supports the use of the term ³genetically modified² throughout the whole of the text. The European Community notes, however, that this terminology is not consistent with the terminology currently used in the work of the Codex Ad Hoc Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology. At its Second Session, the Task Force maintained its preference for the use of the terms ³foods derived from modern biotechnology² as it was of the opinion that consistency with other internationally agreed instruments (notably the Cartagena Biosafety
Protocol) was critically important in this case. The Task Force recommended that the CCFL should give consideration to using the same definition in its work (ALINORM 01/34A, para 23). Recalling the extended discussion at the last Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) in Ottawa, May 1 4, 2001, it is obvious that the CCFL will have certain difficulties to achieve consensus on this issue. In general, The European Community is of the opinion that the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its subsidiary bodies should avoid using different terminology as a matter of principle. The CCFL shall however have full discretion for specifying and defining the terms to be used in the actual labelling of foods and to recommend the terms and definitions most appropriate from a labelling perspective. For labelling purposes, it is pertinent to use terms and definitions that are easier for consumers to understand.
Laidlaw Sunday Radio show features GM discussion
This week's Sunday Morning with Chris Laidlaw on National Radio will feature a discussion on GM issues involving Francis Wevers (Executive Director LSN), The Hon David Llewellyn (Minister of Primary Production, Environment etc, Tasmanian State Government) and Dr Hugh Campbell (Otago University).
The discussion airs between 11 a.m. and noon and covers the Tasmanian moratorium, economic aspects of GM, consumer perceptions, precaution, trade aspects, farmer and consumer choice etc.
Monsanto bids to put GM food back on shelves; Vice-president flies to Britain for debate this week
December 02, 2001
Monsanto, the US biotechnology giant, is launching a new bid to put genetically modified foods on supermarket shelves in Britain, despite massive opposition from a public alarmed at the risks.
The company's move, backed by other GM multinationals, comes amid mounting controversy surrounding the trials of GM crops at farms in Scotland and England. There are also renewed fears about environmental risks following the discovery that maize in Mexico has been genetically contaminated.
Hugh Grant, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of Monsanto, said it was time to put GM foods back on the shelves. He is flying from Monsanto's headquarters in St Louis, Missouri to lead a major debate in London this week.
He is backed by Aventis, the French company behind GM crop trials in Britain. There are no good reasons why GM foods should not be on the shelves, said Aventis spokesman Julian Little. The food has been passed as safe to eat and the crops that produce the food are safe to grow. So the food should go back on the shelves.
But the suggestion has appalled environmental groups such as the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic food. They are launching a charm offensive and waging a war of attrition, said Soil Association director Patrick Holden. But I think the power of the public in Europe is far more powerful than the power of Monsanto. We needn't fear. Public opposition to GM agriculture is not going to fail.
Holden is to oppose Grant at a public debate organised by The Grocer magazine this Tuesday. Monsanto declined to comment in advance on exactly what Grant would be saying, but an advert for the company in The Grocer makes the agenda very clear. Environmentalists, it claims, want us to believe that GM foods are a chilling step by sinister corporations into a potential Doomwatch scenario. Yet it says there is still no hard evidence that GMs pose any risk to human health whatsoever.
The advert continues: Highly respected voices have been heard to describe [GMs] as bringing many advantages to food supply, not least the possible elimination of world hunger. So is it time for a calmer, more rational assessment of GM foods and, in fact, time to put them back on the shelves?
A study published in the scientific journal Nature last week revealed that maize in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca region of Mexico had been contaminated with genetically engineered segments of DNA from plants grown 60 miles away three years ago. Scientists at the University of California in Berkeley were concerned that the contamination posed a threat to the natural genetic diversity of maize, which originally came from Mexico. This is a catastrophe, said the Soil Association's Patrick Holden. The prospect is irreversible contamination of a genetic seed bank which we have had in that country for generations.
The events in Mexico prompted the SNP to lodge a motion in the Scottish parliament calling on Ross Finnie, the environment minister, to ban GM crops. The SNP also congratulated the Highland Council for giving planning permission for protesters to occupy a site next to a GM trial crop in Munlochy, Ross-shire.
Green MSP Robin Harper claimed that the Aventis GM oilseed rape crop at Munlochy was severely stunted. This strange phenomenon certainly calls the trial into question, and possibly all the other trials in Britain, he said. Either the genetic modification has affected plant growth in some strange and unpredictable way, or the trial is not properly designed.
GM trials in England have come under fire for alleged law-breaking. Friends of the Earth has urged the government to prosecute Aventis, claiming a field of GM weeds was growing illegally in Lincolnshire.
The biotech industry has gone too far too fast, and is now out of control. GM organisms have already contaminated wild plants in Mexico, said Pete Riley, GM campaigner for the environmental group. Now Aventis has allowed uncontrolled GM oilseed plants to flower in the UK. It's time the government called an immediate halt to this dangerous experiment.
Aventis's Julian Little said that company scientists and the department of the environment had launched an investigation into the Lincolnshire trials.
New book casts biotech debate in realistic tones
by Dan Murphy
At last, a much-needed book that explores the controversy over biotechnology with a hard-edged, yet realistic, take on the merits and liabilities of the new scientific frontier on which agriculture is basing its progress in the next century.
Called "Lords of the Harvest," by Don Charles, the recently released title breathes some fresh air into the biotech battle. Far from being yet another rage against the machine-type condemnation of "Frankenfoods" and the corporate monster that spawned it, Charles' book explores the PR gaffes and ag-sector arrogance that sabotaged early efforts to sell the public on the merits of the biotech revolution.
Then, there was the high-profile opposition to genetically modified food products that surfaced worldwide, particularly in Europe.
In one notable passage, the author quotes Britain's Prince Charles as saying that, "I would never feed [genetically modified foods] to my family. The development of such foods takes us into a realm that is God's and God's alone."
Prince Charles' comments came in the summer of 1998, right after Monsanto had embarked on an ad campaign in England to convince farmers there to accept its new, genetically modified soybeans, with the hook that the seeds were genetically engineered not to sprout the following season, forcing many farmers who planted stored seed to lose their crops the next season.
Monsanto's power play roused fears of corporate domination of the seed business, of monopoly control over life itself, Charles said in an interview with National Public Radio.
"This is the type of issue that gets people inflamed," he said. "The corporations involved in biotechnology need to be open about their products and communicate the benefits to consumers."
Charles also noted that the monarch butterfly controversy helped tarnish biotechnology's potential. In May 1999, an experiment published in the scientific journal Nature showed that when monarch butterflies ate the pollen from genetically engineered corn, they died.
"This was a story that was just too juicy to ignore," Don Charles told NPR. "Here was a new technological development that seems to endanger one of our most beloved insect species. It provoked a huge outcry in the United States and put biotechnology in a bad light."
Eventually, he said, further research showed no risk to the survival of the butterfly from GMO corn.
That fact, however, continues to be buried beneath the continuing coverage of biotechnology's risks, and although Charles said his research leads him to consider the changes wrought by "traditional" agricultural experimentation to be equally -- if not more - suspect, he said he doesn't want the government's safety standards lowered.
"Right now, GMO [products] are subject to tougher tests and greater scrutiny that the products of traditional plant breeding," he said. There is a reason for that. I don't want to see the standards lowered for [proving] biotech materials safe. I want to see them applied equally across all of agriculture."