Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* The Adoption and Economic Impacts of Bt Cotton in South Africa
* UK's GM Industry Showing Green Shoots of Recovery
* U.K. Food Industry Reps vote 'Yes' to GM Foods
* GM Foods Safe Say Supporters
* One Hundred Percent Safe? GM Foods in the UK
* Swiss Biotech: Government Shoots Down GM Plant Trials
* OECD Meeting Report on Living Modified Organisms (LMOs)
* Spanish Language Agbiotech Articles now on AgBioWorld
* Open Debate is Essential on Conservation Issues
* China: Frankenfood Finds Home
* ICABR Conference's Call for paper - Ravello, Italy
* Anti-Biotechnology Activist Groups Fail to Influence Consumer Behavior
* Mexican Congress to Fox: "Ban GM corn"
Biotechnology In Africa: The Adoption and Economic Impacts of Bt
Cotton in The Makhathini Flats, Republic Of South Africa
- Yousouf Ismael, Richard Bennett, Steven Morse; The University of
Reading, PO Box 237 Reading RG6 6AR.England; E-mail:
Paper presented for AfricaBio Conference: Biotechnology Conference
For Sub-saharan Africa
26 -27 September 2001 Johannesburg South Africa http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/topics/agbiotech/africa.pdf
Abstract: The research intends to shed some light on the polarised
debate about the use of agricultural biotechnology in the developing
world, especially in Africa. The research reported here charts the
pattern of smallholder adoption and the agronomic/economic impact in
the first two seasons of the release of a genetically-modified (GM)
crop - Bt cotton - in the Republic of South Africa. The paper
discusses a number of issues concerning the uptake of the technology.
The farmers who adopted the Bt cotton variety benefited from the
technology. The increased in yields and reduction in pesticide
outweighed the higher seed cost, so that the gross margins were also
considerably higher for adopters especially in the wet second
season.. The result gives considerable cause for cautious optimism
regarding the economic impact of Bt cotton. However, further years of
data are required before final judgement of the economic benefits of
the GM crop can be made.
Full paper at
UK's GM Industry Showing Green Shoots of Recovery
- John Mason, Financial Times, December 6 2001
Most of the British food industry now privately backs the return of
genetically modified foods to the shelves, a debate arranged by The
Grocer magazine has concluded. In a secret vote among more than 100
representatives of the food industry, from farmers to retailers, 64
per cent supported its re-introduction. The vote followed a debate
this week between Hugh Grant, executive vice-president of Monsanto,
the biotechnology company, and Patrick Holden, director of the Soil
However, food retailers including the leading supermarkets are
maintaining their policy of not selling GM products. A senior manager
from one supermarket said this was unlikely to alter unless there was
significant consumer demand. Pro-biotechnology scientists yesterday
said GM foods approved by British regulators were as safe as other
foods. A review of the bulk of published studies on GM crops revealed
no evidence of any specific health risk, said Cropgen, the biotech
Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of Cropgen and a molecular
biologist, said: "In practical terms, approved GM foods are at least
as safe as other foods in the shops." The report analysed studies of
all GM products authorised for consumption in the UK - three types of
maize, three of oilseed rape and one of tomatoes. It conceded there
were always theoretical risks when introducing new foods but
concluded these were minimal when balanced against potential
benefits. The possibility of a health problem emerging only over
decades was "a risk that has to be taken", it said.
"Nothing in life is or ever can be totally safe. One eliminates all
the possibilities for harm that can be imagined and reasonably tested
for, but beyond that things are always unpredictable and so one has
to weigh possible risk against perceived benefit," the report said.
The report rejects calls from GM critics for transgenic foods to be
subjected to similar exhaustive approval processes applied to new
drugs, including animal trials. These would be difficult, expensive
and unnecessary since, unlike many drugs, GM foods are overwhelmingly
similar to existing foods, it said.
U.K. Food Industry Reps vote 'Yes' to GM Foods
- Grocer Magazine News Release 6th December
Almost two-thirds of representatives from the UK food chain agree
that it is time to put GM products back on the shelves. As well as
retailers and manufacturers, farmers, scientists and pressure group
representatives all met for a debate chaired by The Grocer magazine
editor Clive Beddall on Tuesday 4th December 2001.
In a unique debate, the motion "Time to put GM foods back on the
shelves?" was proposed by Hugh Grant, Executive Vice President and
Chief Operating Officer of Monsanto. Opposing the motion was Patrick
Holden, Director of the Soil Association. The speakers debated the
pros and cons of issues such as consumer choice, improving UK
agriculture together with environmental and food safety issues. Both
speakers agreed that there was a need for increased public
information with more facts and fewer myths.
An anonymous electronic vote taken at the end of the debate showed
64% of the audience in favour of GM foods being put back on the
shelves. This marked an increase of 12 percentage points on the
initial vote that was taken before the speakers presented their case
(52:48). Following the positive results of the debate Hugh Grant
commented, "I am encouraged by this result which indicates that
choice should be given back to UK grocery shoppers."
GM Foods Safe Say Supporters
- Alex Kirby, BBC News,
The report says there is no doubt that GM crops are safe to eat.
Supporters of genetically modified (GM) crops say those approved for
sale in the UK are in practical terms as safe as most others. They
say the four approved GM foods are "as safe as other supermarket
The claim comes in a report published by CropGen, which describes
itself as "an information initiative designed to make the case for
crop biotechnology". CropGen aims to reduce the ignorance it believes
surrounds the subject. It concludes GM technology can no longer be
dismissed as not independently tested. CropGen is funded by the
industry but says it operates independently of it.
Reassuring doubters: The report, One Hundred Per Cent Safe? GM Foods
In The UK, was written by CropGen's chairman, Vivian Moses, visiting
professor of biotechnology at King's College, London, and Dr Michael
Brannan, a biochemist. Four GM crops are approved in the UK: It
offers a guide to the data collected on the four GM crops approved
for consumption in the UK - three varieties each of maize and oilseed
rape, and one each of soybeans and tomatoes.
It offers an overview of the regulatory procedures in the UK and the
European Union. Professor Moses said: "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. "Critics can no longer claim
that GM technology isn't independently tested. Regulations are in
place - and our report shows you where."
The authors also attempt a definition of safety and a judgement on
how far 100% safety of a food product is achievable. Professor Moses
said: "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. "GM technology offers us a more
environmentally friendly system of farming and the potential for many
Reasons for confidence: "In practical terms, approved GM foods are at
least as safe as other approved food in the shops." Professor Moses
told BBC News Online: "We're aiming the report at anyone who really
wants to know whether GM foods are safe.
The authors hope to dispel ignorance. "We feel there's a lot of
ignorance about them in people's minds. "When we began writing it, I
had a general impression they were safe, but I didn't know the
evidence in such detail. "Now I have the chapter-and-verse verdicts
of the regulators."
Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth told BBC News Online: "It would be
nice if all the GM safety data were made publicly available. "We've
been asking one company for data for weeks, and we're still waiting.
"I can't see how this report can possibly suggest that all approved
GM crops are safe. We've found clear and glaring gaps in the science
in some approvals." (Report at http://www.cropgen.org)
"One Hundred Percent Safe? GM Foods in the UK"
"Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The
saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have,
might have, and should have." - Louis E. Boone
In all sorts of contexts, and in lots of conversations, it has become
clear to us that many people, while often recognising the benefits of
genetic technology in agriculture, feel uncomfortable about the
safety of GM foods. Many are unaware of how much testing has actually
been undertaken and of the enormous efforts both by the developing
companies, and by the regulatory authorities, to ensure that these
foods are as safe as their "conventional" counterparts, if not
actually safer. It is primarily for them that this Report is written,
so that they may look up for themselves just what it is that has been
approved, why and by whom.
This Report therefore takes an overview of the regulatory procedures
for GM foods. It summarises their findings and offers an
interpretation of their significance to encourage people to make up
their own minds about the safety of transgenic foods. In The meaning
of "safe" we ask just what is meant when we say that something -
anything - is "safe". Safety appears always to be defined in terms of
an absence of harm, danger or damage; such a definition inevitably
limits an absolute assertion of safety for food or any other product
or activity because we cannot know the future. In practice we
extrapolate from past and present experience to make what we hope is
a reasonable forecast of the future but it can never be more than
that: forecasts may sometimes be wrong.
Some critics of GM food and its approval procedures argue that a more
elaborate regulatory scrutiny is called for, akin to that for
clinical drugs. We therefore take a look at Approval procedures for
clinical drugs and ask how relevant - and how close -they are to the
way in which novel foods are handled. In Testing novel foods we move
on to inquire more precisely what food testing generally entails and
what would be required for pharmaceutical testing. That leads to a
discussion of Substantial equivalence, a important concept employed
by all regulatory authorities as a basis for beginning an examination
of novel foods but not accepted as adequate by some shades of
opinion. However, substantial equivalence is not the whole story; the
authorities are always able to demand more information if and when
they think it appropriate, and to refuse approval until they have it.
Regulation and the regulators considers the underlying rules, actual
processes and competent authorities involved in novel foods
approvals. Chapter 11 and the appendices detail the individual food
properties and the approval decisions of the regulatory bodies for
the GM Foods approved for use in the UK.
When Evaluating the data, we note the role of the regulatory
authorities, compare the testing procedures for clinical drugs and
novel foods, review hazards and risks, comment on the views and
statements of the critics of transgenic food technology, and adopt a
view on the precautionary principle. This leads to our Conclusions:
that for all practical purposes, transgenic foods approved for UK use
do indeed appear to be safe but that nobody can know the future and
100% certainty is not possible for anything.
Swiss Biotech: Government Shoots Down GM Plant Trials
- Giselle Weiss, Science magazine, Vol 294, No 5549, pp. 2067-2069, Dec 7, 2001 http://www.sciencemag.org
Allschwil, Switzerland -- In a blow to Swiss biotechnology, the
government has rejected a high-profile application to conduct field
trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat. The decision, now being
appealed, has caused widespread consternation among Swiss scientists,
who argue that it amounts to a de facto moratorium on field tests of
any transgenic plant. Five members of the federal biosafety
commission have resigned in protest, including its president,
Riccardo Wittek. "If I were working in plants," Wittek says, "I would
leave the country."
In November 2000, Christof Sautter of the Institute for Plant
Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich
sought permission to sow, on a small outdoor plot, wheat seeds
engineered to resist the stinking smut fungus. Smuts and bunts--a
related pest--devastated European wheat in the 18th century and
continue to plague crops in many developing countries. The diseases
are hard to detect and are spread mainly through planting infected
Sautter modified two Swiss spring wheat lines to express a viral
gene, KP4 , that encodes a protein that inhibits fungal growth. In
greenhouse experiments, the transgenic plants proved 30% less
susceptible than controls to infection with stinking smut. In 1998,
Sautter was ready to take the next step: petition the Swiss Agency
for the Environment, Forests, and Landscape (BUWAL) to grow the
transgenic plants on a plot "twice the size of a double bed," he says.
But Sautter hesitated, worried about the outcome of a national
referendum that would ban transgenic research (Science, 12 June 1998,
p. 1685 ). The referendum was defeated, but the climate remained
uncertain as parliament launched a debate--which is still going
on--about how to legislate gene technology. According to Wilhelm
Gruissem, director of ETH's plant biotechnology laboratory, BUWAL
representatives requested an "informal" meeting at the Bern train
station in December 2000 to discourage him and Sautter from
submitting their field trial petition. BUWAL by then had already
rejected two applications from other teams and appeared to be tipping
its hand to the ETH duo: Gruissem claims they were told that their
experiment would be "politically inopportune." BUWAL spokesperson
Andreas Stuber confirms that the meeting took place but insists that
its purpose was constructive.
Sautter and Gruissem went ahead with their application on 19 January,
after which BUWAL requested additional greenhouse tests. They got a
boost on 5 September when the biosafety commission ruled that the
experiment posed no "appreciable" risk to people or the environment.
But at a press conference on 20 November, Philippe Roch, director of
BUWAL and former head of the Swiss World Wildlife Fund, announced
that the department had rejected the application. Roch argued that it
was impossible to assess the experiment's risks because too little is
known about the KP4 protein and because the transgenic wheat contains
a foreign antibiotic resistance gene. Although this gene is dormant
and not known to pose a risk, Swiss legislators are moving to outlaw
trials of plants that contain it anyway.
Gruissem rejects BUWAL's rationale, arguing that the field trial
would have been "the perfect risk-assessment experiment." The
proposal included such restrictive safety measures--wire mesh to keep
out field mice, for example, and a tent cover to prevent pollen from
escaping--that members of the biosafety commission, Wittek recalls,
joked whether it could still be called an open field trial.
ETH announced on 29 November that it will appeal the ruling to the
Department of Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications. In
the meantime, Sautter's continued funding from the Swiss National
Science Foundation stipulates that he must obtain approval by
February for field trials of his wheat. Failing that, he says, he
could pack up and go to the United States, although he says he would
prefer to remain in Switzerland to argue the case for GM field trials.
Beat Keller, a plant biologist at the University of Zürich who
coordinates the Swiss National Science Foundation program on wheat,
sees the decision as a culmination of nonscientific approaches to the
regulation of GM plants. "It is so obviously wrong," he says. And it
is not likely to be righted anytime soon: Wittek says there are no
other field-trial applications pending or in sight. - Giselle Weiss
is a writer in Allschwil.
OECD Meeting Report on Living Modified Organisms (LMOs)
Full report at http://www1.oecd.org/ehs/raleigh/report0412.htm
The draft Co-Rapporteuirs' report on the Raleigh conference produced
by the co-rapporteurs - Calestous Juma, Audia Barnett, and Iain
Gillespie. It represents their personal interpretation of the key
issues brought out in the conference. The objective of the Conference
was to bring together a diverse group of participants for a
constructive dialogue on the underlying science for assessing living
modified organisms (LMOs) in the environment. The emphasis was on
transgenic crops because these are the most common applications at
the current time. However, other applications were also considered,
such as the use of transgenic trees in forestry and fish in
aquaculture. The conference promoted a dialogue between developed and
developing countries in order to identify unique assessment needs and
experiences of different countries and regions. It was attended by
around 250 participants from some 20 OECD countries and around 25
non-OECD countries drawn from government, industry, academia and
The conference was chaired initially by Rita Colwell and in the later
stages by Calestous Juma and sought answers to four general questions:
1. What are the current trends and future prospects for applications
of LMOs and what are the potential benefits and risks. 2. What are
the current scientific data, information and hypotheses underlying
the assessment of LMOs in the environment. 3. What are the particular
issues with respect to the environmental assessment of transgenic
crops and what are the similarities or differences between
environmental assessments conducted on transgenic crops and other
types of LMOs. 4. What future work on scientific environmental
assessment is necessary.
In opening the conference, Dr Colwell emphasised the value of a
broad inclusive dialogue between countries. Science needs to refocus
from enabling remediation and amelioration and do more to support
prediction and prevention. Accurate, accessible and high quality
data and information could help create knowledge and development.
Notwithstanding recent concerns about misuse of biological data, the
clock must not be turned back on exchanging knowledge and
information. On the contrary, science can elucidate our times and
contribute to the further development of our world, but the
scientific community clearly needs to do more to bring this message
of promise to a wider public audience.
In his opening remarks, the OECD Secretary General, Donald Johnston,
also emphasized the need for public dialogue, not least to help
engender more confidence and less insecurity about biotechnology
especially in view of its rapid pace of development. There is a need
to communicate knowledge convincingly to the public and to continue
the debate on issues raised by biotechnology with all stakeholders.
The environmental impacts of the technology continue to need to be
considered. The key challenges are to achieve balance between
scientific opportunity and safety and to identify gaps in knowledge
and what more needs to be done to address these gaps.
Structure of this report: This report is divided into four parts. The
first section provides a status review of trends in the development
of LMOs, the practice of risk assessment, the scientific framework
for assessment and challenges and opportunities for environmental
assessment. It is, in effect, a précis of the proceedings of the
conference. The second section summarises the key areas of general
agreement among participants while the third section covers areas
where there is as yet no general agreement. The final section charts
the way forward focusing on measures which might help to improve ways
of assessing the impact of LMOs on the environment, areas requiring
further investigation and opportunities for international
harmonisation as well as co-operation.
Spanish Language Agbiotech Articles on AgBioWorld
Following are a few new Spanish language documents in agricultural
biotechnology translated from English that are now posted on
AgBioWorld at the above URL.
* Biotecnología Agrícola ¿Es Segura la Biotecnología? - Descripción
de los Mecanismos que Garantizan la Seguridad en los Estados Unidos
by Subhash Gupta
* La Inacabada Revolución Verde - El Futuro Rol de la Ciencia y la
Tecnología en la Alimentación del Mundo en Desarrollo by Norman
E.Borlaug and Christopher Dowswell
* Aplicaciones de la Biotecnología a los Cultivos: Beneficios y
Riesgos by Counsel on Agriculture and Science Technology
* Actitudes del Consumidor y Comunicaciones Sobre Biotecnologia
Alimenticia en Los Estados Unidos by Andy Benson
* Cultivos y Alimentos Genéticamente Modificados (Comité de
Referencia "E") - Resumen Ejecutivo
Open Debate is Essential on Conservation Issues
Anthony Trewavas, Nature 414, 581 - 582 (2001)
Sir - In their peevish review of Bjørn Lomborg's book The Skeptical
Environmentalist (Nature 414, 149-50; 2001) Stuart Pimm and Jeff
Harvey miss the main point just as they have in their comments in the
same review on Julian Simon's 1996 book The Ultimate Resource. The
main target of both books is the politicization of ecology that has
created a dogmatic environmentalism.
In their rush to rubbish Lomborg's book, the reviewers perhaps missed
the significance of Lomborg's title. What Lomborg, and Simon before
him, describe is the continued disparity between apocalyptic claims
for the future of mankind, with figures issued from large
organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization, which often or even usually show the opposite. Pimm and
Harvey state that there are ecological laws that ensure the
correctness of doom-laden predictions. Presumably one of these laws
enabled the environmentalist Paul Ehrlich to state in his 1968 book
The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In
the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to
Laws do not exist in biology, only generalizations; there are
exceptions to every biological principle. Extrapolating from the past
to predict a doom-and-gloom future has been an industry from Malthus
onwards. But the ultimate resource is the creativity and skill of the
human intellect; formulating the problem often generates solutions.
Democracy needs some people to shout loudly about the problems of the
world in which we live, but such claims must be treated critically.
That is Lomborg's thesis. Pimm and Harvey tell us that the main
extinction threat is to species nothing is known about, which
suggests these claims are hand-waving exercises. If nothing is known,
how can extinction - or even teetering on the brink - be predicted?
If wilderness and species are to be saved from extinction, farming
should be as efficient as possible. Excess agricultural land can then
be returned to its original condition. Conservation is important, of
course, but Pimm and Harvey's review suggests a common confusion with
preservation. Human survival is the priority. Like all species in
large numbers, our presence drives others to extinction. But new
species will evolve to take advantage of the new environments created.
Open democratic debate about conservation policy is essential because
there are many calls on public resources. The policies that are
decided have to be the best return for money, and the public should
vote on the outcome. In listing with glee the industry that will
attempt to rubbish, instead of debate, Lomborg's book, Pimm and
Harvey may have shot themselves in their feet. Such vehemence invites
the conclusion that Lomborg (and Simon) have indeed exposed basic
flaws in green political dogma.
- Anthony Trewavas, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, Mayfield
Road, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JH, Scotland
China: Frankenfood Finds Home
- South China Morning Post Dec 06, 2001
Environmental Protestors call it "Frankenfood", an affront to nature
and a threat to human health. Supporters say it has the potential to
help eradicate hunger and poverty. Genetically modified (GM) food has
aroused fierce controversy among consumers around the world. Except
Chinese consumers have been left almost untouched by the debate, yet
the country is the world's second-largest user of bio-engineering
technology after the United States and is poised to become Asia's
leader in the field. Consumption of GM food is expected to rise
dramatically after China joins the World Trade Organisation as, faced
with a flood of imports, it seeks to raise the efficiency and quality
of its agricultural output, analysts say.
China is already the first Asian nation to produce a GM crop on a
commercial scale, a transgenic variety of cotton. China has more than
2,000 scientists specialised in biotechnology and 100,000 engaged in
boosting farm yields, supported by huge government investments, said
Huang Jikun, director of the Centre for Chinese Agriculture Policy.
"It is the fastest-growing [area] of scientific research in China and
one of the major research priorities," Mr Huang said.
While Western consumers have long been suspicious of GM food
products, as a largely agrarian society, Chinese people have a
tendency to regard anything branded with "technology" as inherently
more advanced and desirable. Chinese media have always presented the
issue in a positive light, hailing such inventions as scientific
breakthroughs and saviours in the quest to feed the world's most
Hunan province, China's biggest producer of rice, is pursuing two key
initiatives involving genetic engineering techniques. The first is a
new generation of the legendary "hybrid rice", developed by a
agricultural scientist Yuan Longping. The hybrid rice - which does
not use GM techniques - yields 25 per cent more grain than normal
rice and now grows on half of China's 31 million hectares of paddy
China wants to produce a new strain, or "super rice", that can
overcome the quality shortcomings of hybrid rice. The present strain
lacks texture and fragrance compared with Thai rice and some species
from the north. "Yuan Longping is working on the super hybrid rice,"
said Pang Daolin, vice-governor of Hunan. "The super rice will yield
700-800 kilograms per mu [one fifth of a hectare] and taste better."
That is almost double the 450kg per mu that normal hybrid rice
produces. Hunan's second project is a genetically modified cod fish,
which will be larger and grow faster than ordinary cod.
The province has pinned high hopes on biotechnology. Hunan's
agriculture sector is the largest in the country, but its crops are
generally low in quality and cannot expect to compete well with
post-WTO imports. The super rice will be created by inserting a corn
gene into the hybrid rice. An extract of the wing bean gene will also
be used to improve the variety's stress resistance. The genetic
arrangement will then be adjusted to improve its texture, according
to the province.
China's GM initiative started in the mid-1980s, when Beijing made
genetic engineering a top national research priority, in a bid to
enhance the competitiveness of the nation's produce. Geopolitical
considerations also played a part: China was anxious to co-opt the
new science before it was dominated by the West. The country has
700,000 hectares of transgenic cotton under cultivation - its only
commercialised GM product. The strain has been genetically modified
to produce a toxin that deters pests, reducing the need for
Despite the popularity of the transgenic cotton, China has been
cautious about growing GM food. For example, it stopped farmers
producing GM tobacco. But it looks like such barriers will crumble
under the pressure to upgrade agriculture after WTO entry. Meanwhile,
biotechnology companies are competing to enter the Chinese market,
given favourable official policies, cheap production costs and the
prospect of a vast domestic market.
Advanced Genes, a Hong Kong-based company, recently set up a research
centre in Shenzhen to develop a growth-stimulant for pigs, the
Economic Daily reported last week. According to chief executive Tan
Qitang, two injections of the drug will accelerate the growth of
pigs. Such ventures could be hugely profitable. China consumed 500
million pigs last year.
"If on each pig we can make 10 yuan [about HK$9.37], we can make 500
million yuan a year even if we only get 10 per cent of the market,"
Mr Tan predicted. As a company that fits into the high-technology
category, Advanced Genes enjoys tax exemptions for the first two
years and a 7.5 per cent corporate income tax rate (half the standard
rate) for the next eight years.
Yet, despite its seemingly naive endorsement of biotechnology, China
faces a dilemma on the issue. "On the one hand, China is eager to use
biotechnology to upgrade its agriculture, on the other, it is
cautious about the potential danger it involves," said Greenpeace
campaigner Lo Sze-ping. "The government is not clear if it wants to
promote GM technology. The technology certainly has unforeseeable
dangers," admits a senior official at the Policy and Regulation
drafting department of the Ministry of Finance.
In a clear effort to strengthen controls, Beijing announced rules on
genetically modified organisms (GMO) on June 6. According to the new
regulations, all GMOs and GMO products must be labelled, while all
data used to determine product safety should be generated in China.
The previous guidelines accepted data gathered abroad. The problem,
so typical of regulations in China, is that the rules are vaguely
worded and too general to be implemented. "They need to define
things, such as how they will label and what kind of mechanism [will
be used]," said Mr Lo.
Clarifications expected to be released by the end of the year are
still not in place. An official from the Ministry of Agriculture has
said the implementation details would be released soon, but did not
elaborate. Until such details are specified and a resolution is
reached, Chinese consumers will continue to see millions of tonnes of
genetically modified soybeans and corn arriving at their harbours,
without being alerted to their genetic makeup.
According to Western agriculture experts in Beijing, 50 per cent to
70 per cent of US soybeans are genetically modified. An analyst at
the State Cereals Information Centre said China's port stocks of
foreign beans stood as high as a million tonnes. Another 500,000 to
600,000 tonnes arrived last month. Traders say they have not heard of
difficulties in discharging or moving US cargos that arrived in
November. Analysts say even with the detailed legislation put
forward, the next few years will see an increase in the presence of
For one, implementation of regulations in China has always been
arbitrary. Second, enforcement in the countryside is more difficult
than in the cities, as decision-making for agricultural issues
usually rests with local governments. These usually have a strong
vested interest in pet projects. Strict implementation of new laws on
GM food may also conflict with domestic interests. For example,
Hunan's super rice is regarded as a national project, having received
central government funding. The situation is similar for most
government-sponsored biotechnology projects.
However, while many may worry about the potential risk to human
health and the environment, there are those who believe concern over
GM food is unwarranted. "The whole GMO issue gets lost in
terminology. People can take a plant, kill it a million times with
chemicals and pesticides, and that is OK, while if you take the gene,
change it to make it pest-resistant, it is regarded as a problem,"
said Steve Burrill, chief executive of Burrill, a life science
merchant bank based in San Francisco. "There is little evidence so
far that GM food is harmful. If you allow farmers and consumers to
make their own choices, they will choose GM products."
Zhang Linxiu, deputy director of the Centre for Chinese Agriculture
Policy, said the mainland could not afford to be choosy. In the next
20 years, food production will need to increase by 40 per cent to
keep pace with population growth in China, according to research.
"You will be grateful that you have rice and fruit," Ms Zhang said.
ICABR Conference's Call for paper - Ravello, Italy
- Santaniello Vittorio
Call for Paper for the 6th International Conference convened by ICABR
(International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research) on:
" Agricultural Biotechnology: New Avenues for Production, Consumption
and Technology Transfer" that will take place in Ravello (Italy) on
July 11 - 14, 2002.
Additional info on the Conf: http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr/
Anti-Biotechnology Activist Groups Fail to Influence Consumer Behavior
- PR Newswire via COMTEX, December 06, 2001 (Source: Katie Thrasher
ST. LOUIS - Despite prolific and vocal campaigning by
anti-biotechnology activist groups against national food
manufacturers and retailers, research conducted this year by the
United Soybean Board (USB) demonstrates that a surprisingly low
number of U.S. consumers are aware of activism related to
biotechnology. These findings, part of USB's 2001-2002 Annual Report
on Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition indicate that while the voices
of the activist groups may be loud, few are accepting their message.
According to USB's survey, 48 percent of consumers responded that
they do not know enough about biotechnology to say how they view the
use of genetically modified ingredients in food products. Out of the
62 percent who were aware of the term "genetically modified," only 19
percent were aware of activist groups linked to the issue. Out of
that 19 percent, 80 percent say they have not taken any action such
as boycotting products or writing food companies, based on
information that activist groups have provided. "If you project this
back to the total population represented in our survey, less than
four percent of consumers have taken any action in regard to
genetically modified ood," stated Mississippi soybean farmer and USB
Board member Jerry locum.
Other industry studies have shown similar results. The International
Food Information Council (IFIC) released a study titled U.S. Consumer
Attitudes Toward Food Biotechnology in early 2001, which shows that
64 percent of Americans expect to benefit from biotechnology within
the next five years. Only two percent of the consumers polled named
genetically modified food as a food safety concern. Also, when asked
what if any information not currently included on food labels would
they like to see, only two percent cited "genetically modified" as a
preference. And contrary to activist claims that increasing numbers
of consumers do not want biotech products in their food, IFIC's study
found that 61 percent of Americans surveyed believe and can state how
biotechnology will benefit them or their families in the next five
"We have seen some high profile food companies and retailers come
under attack as anti-biotech activists claim that consumers are
demanding non-biotech ingredients. Some of these companies have made
concessions, only to be met with more demands from activist groups.
According to our research, these food companies may be spending
millions at a time when resources are becoming more scarce, to
address a concern that is held by a very small minority of the
population," Slocum stated.
The United Soybean Board is a farmer-led organization comprising 62
farmer-directors. USB oversees the investments of the soybean
checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. USB has conducted
research on consumer attitudes about nutrition for the past eight
Mexican Congress to Fox: "Ban GM corn"
- TheNewsMexico.com - December 6, 2001
The Mexican Congress unanimously demanded this week that President Vicente Fox ban the importation of genetically modified (GM) corn, and claimed
the new corn could affect the genetic integrity of Mexico's crops and
threaten the country's food supply.
GM corn has been a hot issue in Mexico since genes from U.S. GM corn
were found in wild corn in the southern state of Oaxaca several
months ago. The environmental organization Greenpeace has also
claimed the Agricultural Secretariat, which has publicly supported
introducing modified corn, is trying to open up the country's market
to GM crops before legislation is passed prohibiting it.
The Senate has also demanded access to the results of Agriculture's
Secretariat's study of the affected corn in Oaxaca as well as
advances in the creation of the federal commission for biosecurity.
Meanwhile, the Oaxaca state assembly is scrambling to get
agricultural officials to give out information on the status of corn
in their state which "could have health repercussions for Oaxacans
and damage the country's ability to feed itself," legislators said.