Today in AgBioView
* Mexican Corn - National Public Radio Transcript
* GM Maize Can Help Improve Drinking Water Quality
* African Scientists: Position Statement on AgBiotech in Africa
* Genetically Modified Comeback: Monsanto Turns A Corner
* Tommy Thompson Opposes Mandatory Labeling of Bioengineered Food
* Book Review: The Precautionary Principle
* Food Safety Publications from EU Health and Consumer Protection
* Tomato Worth Lots of Lettuce
* Why not let consumers decide on GMOs?
* Biotechnology and Human Development in Developing Countries
* GMOS POLLUTE THE St, LAURENCE; BT CORN TOXIN HAS CONTAMINATED RIVER
- National Public Radio, Morning Edition, December 18, 2001;
Copyright ©2001 National Public Radio®. Listen to this story at
; Scroll down
NPR's Dan Charles reports that genes from genetically engineered
varieties of corn have been found in a remote Mexican cornfield. This
discovery is causing concern that these genetically modified genes
may eventually destroy Mexico's genetic diversity.
BOB EDWARDS, host: Bits of DNA created through genetic engineering
have turned up in the cornfields of Mexico, the birthplace of corn.
That's provoking protests in Mexico and the United States. According
to one widely held theory, genes created through biotechnology amount
to genetic pollution and could destroy corn varieties unique to
Mexico. According to most experts, the real threat to Mexico's
storehouse of corn genes lies elsewhere. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES reporting: Major Goodman, a corn geneticist at North
Carolina State University, has spent a lifetime fishing through
corn's gene pool, sorting through all the genes that corn plants can
possess. He's looked for genes that might, for instance, protect corn
plants in the United States from disease. Most of that gene pool, he
says, lies in the fields of Mexico, where you can observe more
different kinds of corn than you ever imagined existed.
Mr. MAJOR GOODMAN (North Carolina State University): These things
vary from slightly over two feet high to well over 15 feet high. They
grow in everything from essentially desert conditions to areas where
the rainfall is heavier than anyone can imagine in the winter in
CHARLES: That diversity of corn, or maize as it's called in most of
the world, is not a product of nature, though. That's according to
Mauricio Bellon, a sociologist at the International Center for the
Improvement of Wheat and Maize.
Mr. MAURICIO BELLON (International Center for the Improvement of
Wheat and Maize): Maize is a crop, and as such is the result not of
natural selection but human selection.
CHARLES: Year after year, farmers in places like Oaxaca and Chiapas
use for seed the ears of corn they like the best. That creates
strains of corn that grow well where those farmers happen to live or
taste best in special dishes.
Mr. BELLON: For example, in the case of Oaxaca, you might find that
you want to have special hatole, which is a beverage, and also people
have a very refined taste for--they can distinguish all these maize
types, what they are good for. Is part of a very strong cultural
tradition that goes back for thousands of years.
CHARLES: A foreign intruder was sighted recently in this close-knit
community of plants and people. Tests detected a snippet of DNA
created in the laboratories of North American biotech companies to
protect North American corn against an insect pest. Somehow it
reached remote valleys of Oaxaca. No one knows how. It might have
arrived in shipments of corn intended for food, perhaps some Mexican
farmer decided to plant those kernels instead. The report has fast
become a prime exhibit of biotechnology's dangers. Opponents of
genetic engineering say that this gene, this genetic pollution, may
take over Mexico's cornfields, replacing the rich collection of
native varieties the way, in North America, imported species like
zebra mussels or kudzu invaded lakes and forests. Major Goodman
thinks that's ridiculous.
Mr. GOODMAN: I cannot see that it will do any harm, period.
CHARLES: A gene isn't a living creature that competes with other
species, he says. Through cross-pollination, the gene will shuffle
itself randomly into strains of corn that are already there. It will
keep turning up in future generations if it helps plants find favor
in the eyes of Mexican farmers. And if the gene does that, Goodman
says, it could even help native corn survive and prosper.
Mr. GOODMAN: If it's detrimental, it will be eliminated rather
quickly. If it's beneficial, it will stick around and multiply a bit,
and it might lend a little bit of protection to populations that are
currently rather endangered, as a number of these populations are.
CHARLES: The corn populations are endangered because their human
partners also are, says Mauricio Bellon, the Mexican sociologist.
Mr. BELLON: The most important consideration in the loss of diversity
has to do with the fact that farmers are simply abandoning farming.
CHARLES: `Don't get me wrong,' Bellon says, `there's still plenty of
corn all over Mexico. But villages in places like Oaxaca and Chiapas
are suffering. Young people particularly are leaving, so fields are
left untended, special dishes are forgotten, and with them perhaps
some strains of corn.'
Mr. BELLON: Human diversity is fundamental for the maintenance of the
biological diversity of maize.
CHARLES: When human communities can't maintain that biological
diversity anymore, it can vanish, or end up in so-called gene banks.
There, long-forgotten seeds are stored in jars, preserved in secure
vaults. Those collections also require human tending, and many say
they don't get nearly enough. In the gene banks, just as in the
fields of Mexico, the biggest threat to the genetic diversity of
agricultural crops appears not to be high-tech intervention, but
simple human neglect. Dan Charles, NPR News, Washington.
GM Maize Can Help Improve Drinking Water Quality
Predicted Impact Of Transgenic, Herbicide-Tolerant Corn On Drinking
Water Quality in Vulnerable Watersheds of the Midwestern United
States. USDA/ARS - Gustafson, D.I.; Estes, T.L.; Jones, R.; Baker,
J.L.; Hornsby, A.G.; Wauchope, Robert D. (Forwarded by "Andrew Apel"
Roundup Ready and Libery-Link corn are grown on perhaps 10% of the
corn acreage in the US, with the companies projecting that market
share should grow to 25%. These genetically-engineered crops are
resistant to glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides, respectfully,
allowing those herbicides to be used and reducing the amounts of
traditionally heavily-used herbicides such as alachlor and atrazine.
Because alachlor and atrazine have been detected in many of the
nations important drinking water resources, it appears that the use
of these GMO crops could be significant in reducing this widespread
contamination or perhaps replacing one set of contaminants with
In this study we used a computer simulation that the Environmental
Protection Agency's uses to estimate water contamination by
pesticides and compared the long-term contamination potential for the
different herbicide combinations in three corn-belt watersheds. The
model shows that the newer herbicides are both less contamination-
prone, and since they are also less toxic to humans they should be
much less important as drinking water contaminants. The results
indicate that these GMO crops could help solve the herbicide drinking
water contamination problem. Contact: GA Coastal Plain Expt. St
Rainwater Road, P.O. Box Tifton GA 31793
International Society of African Scientists: Position Statement On Agricultural Biotechnology Applications in Africa and the Caribbean
The International Society of African Scientists (ISAS) held a
technical conference on October 5, 2001, on the "Potential Benefits
of Biotechnology to Agriculture in Africa and the Caribbean." The
following position statement is based on the deliberations at this
# The International Society of African Scientists (ISAS) believes
that agricultural biotechnology represents a major opportunity to
enhance the production of food crops, cash crops, and other
agricultural commodities in Africa, the Caribbean and other
Application of modern biotechnology to agriculture in the advanced
countries has already made possible significant crop improvements
including insect-resistant corn and cotton, herbicide tolerant
soybean; virus-resistant potatoes; delayed ripening tomatoes; and
soybeans and corn with higher quality and content of oil and other
food components. Africa and the Caribbean cannot afford to be left
further behind in acquiring the uses and benefits of this new
# Developing nations, and the African continent in particular, face
acute needs to increase food production. These countries stand to
derive great benefits from increases in agricultural productivity.
Although most biotechnology research to date has focused on
agriculture in the advanced nations. ISAS strongly advocates that
future research and applications of agricultural biotechnology should
place particular emphasis on food production and agricultural needs
of developing nations.
# Governments and civil society in African and the Caribbean nations
must actively participate in the worldwide debate on the use of
agricultural biotechnology. African scientists need to be at the
forefront of this research and debate to help clarify the issues to
their communities. African governments must develop policies and
programs to foster rapid developments in agricultural biotechnology
as an adjunct to other agricultural techniques, in order to ensure a
safe and sufficient supply of food for their populations. In
addition, the production and marketability of important cash crops
must be promoted to enable African farmers raise their standards of
# As a matter of priority, African and Caribbean governments must
establish adequate regulatory oversight and appropriate scientific
protocols for agricultural biotechnology. Such regulatory protocols
are essential for the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in a
manner which does not pose unacceptable health and other
ISAS further recommends the following specific priority measures for
implementation of effective agricultural biotechnology policies and
programs in Africa and the Caribbean:
* Educate African and Caribbean policy-makers regarding the
opportunities, as well as the potential risks, associated with
* Increase biotechnology research on food crops important in Africa
and other tropical nations including cassava, cowpea, maize, millet,
sorghum and sweet potatoes.
* Focus research on technologies that offer the most immediate
potential for substantial crop and yield improvement in Africa and
the Caribbean. Among these technologies are insect resistance, viral
and fungal disease resistance and improved nutritional quality of
* Strengthen the capacity for agricultural biotechnology in
university and non-governmental research institutions in Africa and
the Caribbean. Improve availability of scholarships, fellowships,
and training grants to African and Caribbean students to learn the
new science in order to facilitate the transfer and application of
these new technologies to Africa and the Caribbean
* Increase support for agricultural biotechnology research from both
Multilateral Development Organizations and Foreign Aid Donors.
* Develop regulatory protocols suitable for Africa and the Caribbean
and provide appropriate training for regulatory personnel.
* Promote internationally accepted standards for trade involving
bioengineered foods, including considerations for potential
implications on export crops from Africa and the Caribbean such as
bananas, coffee, tea, cocoa, etc
* Develop mechanisms for the transfer of technology and intellectual
property rights from private biotechnology companies and advanced
nation research institutions to Africa and other developing regions.
* Promote entrepreneurship and local private sector participation in
biotechnology in Africa and the Caribbean.
"We cannot turn back the clock on agriculture and only use methods
that were developed to feed a much smaller population. It took some
10,000 years to expand food production to the current level of about
5 billion tons per year. By 2025, we will have to nearly double
current production again. This increase cannot be accomplished unless
farmers across the world have access to current high-yielding crop
production methods as well as new biotechnological breakthroughs that
can increase the yields, dependability, and nutritional quality of
our basic food crops. We need to bring common sense into the debate
on agricultural science and technology and the sooner the better!"
Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
ISAS: The International Society of African Scientists (ISAS) is a
tax-exempt, non-profit organization founded in 1982 to promote the
advancement of science and technology among peoples of African
descent. ISAS provides a medium through which scientists and
engineers can channel their skills to solve technical problems facing
Africa and the Caribbean.
For more information please see ISAS website: http://www.dca.net/isas
; Conference rapporteurs: Victor Atiemo-Obeng, Neil Belson, Kodzo
A Genetically Modified Comeback:
As Monsanto Turns A Corner, It Sees Independence Up Ahead
- Julie Forster, BusinessWeek, Dec 24, 2001
Two years ago, Monsanto Co. was a mess. Protests by activists froze
the company's, biotech operations in Europe and threatened its U. S.
business. The company was tottering under more than $6 billion in
debt from buying a slew of seed companies. Its unfocused portfolio
included the vaunted arthritis drug Celebrex -as well as an herbicide
sold to farmers. To top it off, Monsanto had a reputation as an
arrogant outfit with no time or inclination to address the public's
growing fears about biotech crops. "In the beginning, we said, `Go
away. These are good products. Just accept it,"' says President and
CEO Hendrik A. Verfaillie.
Today, St. Louis-based Monsanto has quietly turned a corner in its
effort to build a successful biotech business. Under the stewardship
of parent Pharmacia Corp., it has spruced up its balance sheet and
installed tighter financial controls. More important, the backlash
against genetically modified foods is fading as new studies ease
fears about the health and environmental effects of such crops,
though serious obstacles still retard their potential abroad. And
there's a growing appreciation of biotech's ability to feed the
world's hungry. Plantings are up, and protests are down. Roughly 90%
of biotech crops worldwide contain a Monsanto gene, so the company is
well-positioned to profit from this shift.
AUTONOMY AGAIN. And next year, the company will gain its freedom as
well. Pharmacia announced on Nov. 28 that it will spin off its 85%
share of Monsanto to shareholders in an $8 billion deal, proba-bly in
the second half of the year. That will allow Monsanto to concentrate
on agricultural biotechnology without having to win approvals from a
parent that is focused on drugs. "If I were [Monsanto] and I were to
go to the [Pharmacia] board and say, `I want to buy a $4 billion
company,' that's probably going to be a tough sell," says Ajay
Barisal, a partner in Mehta Partners, an asset manager that owns
Monsanto started getting its act together in March of last year after
it was forced into the arms of Pharmacia Corp. in a $30 billion deal.
Pharmacia integrated the company's pharmaceutical business into its
own operation, leaving a much leaner Monsanto that concentrated on
biotech and agriculture. Meanwhile, Verfaillie, a 56-year-old Belgian
who has run Monsanto since February, 2000, narrowed the company's
biotech focus to areas where the payoff promised to be biggest:
soybeans, cotton, wheat, and corn, while dropping potatoes,
vegetables, and other crops. And he's got the company reaching out to
Wall Street has warmed to Monsanto in a way that didn't seem possible
a year ago. Its shares have soared 75%, to roughly $35, since
Pharmacia listed 15% of the company in October, 2000. And the bottom
line is looking better. For 2001, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown Inc.
analyst John Moten expects income to jump 7.9%, to $475 million, on a
1.6% rise in revenue, to $5.58 billion. Next year, he expects 5%
higher income of $500 million on a 4.8% revenue increase, to $5.85
billion. Monsanto has "unlocked value, developed a much tougher
financial model, and put a sharper focus on cash flow," says
Pharmacia Chairman and CEO Fred Hassan. "Monsanto's profits are up,
and [management's] self-confidence is up."
Biotech critics still warn of the possible dangers of genetically
modified foods-they say they might cause illnesses and hurt the
environment, and that more tests should be done. But the tide seems
to be running against them these days, especially in the U.S. A
turning point came last year after StarLink, a corn seed approved
only for animal feed, found its way into taco shells and other U. S.
food. Critics expected the incident to become a rallying cry against
genetically engineered ingredients, but consumers just shrugged.
last summer, a United Nations report backed biotech crops, stressing
the benefits for the 800 million people worldwide who suffer from
malnutrition. The report received widespread publicity and answered
critics who argue that biotech helps only big farmers in the U.S. In
October, the. Environmental Protection Agency approved the sale of a
genetically modified corn for seven more years after finding that it
posed no risk to humans or animals. This past growing season, U. S.
farmers ignored protests by activists and planted 11% more
genetically modified seeds from Monsanto. Biotech soybean plantings
rose 16%. And 63% of this year's 75.4 million acre U. S. soybean crop
came from biotech seeds, up from 54% last year.
But the big payoff for Monsanto remains off in the distance. The
company still can't market its biotech soybean seeds in Brazil, the
world's second-largest soybean producer behind the U. S. And no new
biotech seeds or foods have been approved in Europe in three years.
"In terms of the biotech pipeline, there's a tremendous amount of
work going on there that isn't reflected in the valuation of the
company," says Michael Judd, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co.
"Eventually, that value will be recognized."
Monsanto can afford to be patient, thanks to the cash being thrown
off by a decidedly old-fashioned product. The company gets nearly
half of its revenue from its market-dominating Roundup herbicide. The
profits from Roundup, which outsells the next six best-selling
herbicides combined, fuel Monsanto's $600 million a year research and
development effort. Out of those labs come genetically modified seeds
for basic crops such as corn and soybeans that can stand up to
repeated dousings of Roundup, which kills everything else green in
its path. So far, there are seeds for Roundup Ready corn, cotton,
canola, and soybeans, and Roundup Ready wheat is on the way. Each of
these new products boosts demand for Roundup. But CEO Verfaillie
knows that high-margin biotech seeds rather than low-margin chemicals
will propel his company's growth. "It is clear that biotech
acceptance is going to be a determining factor in the success of this
company," he says.
FRESH PASTURES. Verfaillie sees Roundup Ready seeds as only the start
of a parade of biotech products. Monsanto already produces corn and
cotton seeds that resist insects in the U. S. and elsewhere. Now it's
testing an insect-fighting cotton seed for the huge India market that
could be ready in a year. There's also a corn seed going through
regulatory channels in the U. S. that resists rootworms. Roughly $1
billion is spent in the U.S. each year trying to control the pest,
making it the No. l insect problem for corn farmers. Dow AgroSciences
and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. are jointly working on a
similar product but are not as far along.
Verfaillie's biggest challenge now is to get Roundup Ready soybeans
approved in Brazil. Commercial planting of biotech seeds is banned
there, though thousands of acres are planted illegally. The issue is
tied up in the courts, and Brazilian environmentalists vow to keep it
there for years. But the country took a step toward approving biotech
crops last summer when it adopted a food-labeling law that laid out
rules for genetically modified ingredients. And more than 800
government-sponsored field tests on biotech crops are under way.
"Once Brazil goes," Verfaillie says, "then basically soybeans around
the world will be Roundup Ready" This is because Brazil is a major
exporter of soybeans to Europe, so Europe might have little choice
but to accept biotech soybeans.
That may not be as easy as it sounds. Nowhere has the resistance to
biotech foods been stronger than in Western Europe. As the intensity
surrounding the issue begins to ease, the European Union is weighing
a compromise that may lead member countries to lift their bans on new
biotech products. But Sue Dibb, a policy analyst at the National
Consumer Council in London, says her group's research shows that
consumers are still concerned about genetically modified food.
"Ultimately, if you don't have consumer confidence, the market isn't
going to work," she says.
Indeed, Monsanto still has a long row to hoe in converting overseas
consumers. But the prize-a bumper crop of biotech seeds promises to
make it worthwhile.
VERFAILLIE'S STRATEGY: BIO FOOD. Monsanto is working to gain
approvals in Brazil, India and the EU. And it's planning to introduce
herbicide-resistant wheat, rice, and alfalfa and rootworm-resistant
corn. Longer term, it wants to commercialize drought-tolerant corn
and high-oil soybeans. HERBICIDES: The company is developing brand
extensions for its flagship Roundup herbicide and cutting prices to
protect market share. COST CONTROL: t cut costs by $100 million this
year, in part by better inventory management and more focused
research and development efforts.
HHS Opposes Mandatory Labeling of Bioengineered Food, Secretary Says
- December 18, 2001 (From Agnet)
The head of the Department of Health and Human Services said the Bush
administration opposes mandatory labeling of foods engineered by
biotechnology. "Mandatory labeling would only frighten consumers and
play into the hands of those who exploit fear rather than deal in
fact," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of HHS.
"At HHS, we're mindful of the need for reasonable and appropriate
regulation," he said in Nov. 27 comments to the National Food
Processors Association. From the 30 years of U.S. research on food
biotechnology "have come the regulatory and labeling practices now in
place," Thompson said. In another food safety area, President Bush
has requested $61 million for fiscal year 2002 to improve inspections
of food imports and to modernize the "Oasis" system, a system to
detect imported food thought to be tainted, Thompson said. The
administration has also requested $46 million to provide for 410 new
FDA inspectors. Of these, 210 will be stationed at ports to inspect
imported food. Another 100 will be involved in laboratory testing and
100 will be active in domestic food inspection.
Greater FDA Authority Sought: Along with this additional money for
food safety activities, the Food and Drug Administration must have
expanded authority in some areas, Thompson said. The administration
has submitted legislation to Congress requesting that FDA have
authority to hold questionable imported food for distribution until
its safety can be determined. The legislation also requests FDA
authority to debar importers who have a history of repeated
violations of U.S. food safety laws. Finally, the legislation asks
that FDA have reasonable access to company records if the agency
suspects food is contaminated, Thompson said. "Such records could
identify the location of a product or the source of a contaminant, if
food was being used as a vehicle for bioterrorism," he said.
Book Review: The Precautionary Principle
by Indur M. Goklany; Review by W.J. Rayment, http://ConservativeBookstore.com
SEATTLE/ Conservative Monitor -- Indur Goklany is one of the nation's
foremost authorities on risk assessment. His book, "The Precautionary
Principle" applies risk assessment to three major environmental
issues, DDT, Genetic Engineering and Global Warming.
This slender volume is possibly the best exposition on any one of
these issues that has been published to date. The information is
presented concisely, clearly and readably. Mr. Goklany begins by
explaining the precautionary principle, (whatever we do, "First, we
should do no harm"). Mr. Goklany shows that a more balanced approach
to risk assessment makes more sense. He uses a series of
priority-ranked criteria for each issue to determine whether a course
of action to remedy a problem should be implemented.
All this could be rather dry and excessively academic, but Mr.
Goklany has a way of presenting facts that makes them accessible as
well as useful for the average reader. His initial case study
involves the use of DDT. Which many believe is pretty much a dead
issue. DDT has been banned by most developed countries. He points out
that DDT use is not dead by any means in developing countries where
it is found to be the only reasonably priced chemical that may be
used to fight the threat of malaria.
In the developed world, we think of Malaria as a disease of the past.
Yet today millions in Africa are affected by it every year. Although
DDT has proven detrimental effects to some aspects of the
environment, it can be shown that the beneficial effects of its
limited use, in certain areas of the world far outweighs the problems
it causes. Goklany goes to show that limited application within homes
and buildings could save untold numbers of lives, while minimizing
impact on the environment.
DDT is only the least controversial issue that Mr. Goklany deals with
in "The Precautionary Principle". His assessments of Genetically
Modified Crops and Global Warming are potentially explosive in their
political implications. Yet he approaches them with common sense and
an air of calm that brings rationality to the arguments. Using basic
principles of risk assessment he reveals the most intelligent,
cost-effective ways to handle each situation.
This book is vital to the debate on the environment, and should be
thoroughly read by any one interested in that debate. Not only is it
filled with facts affecting each issue, it provides a logical
framework for dealing with them. This is a book that should be put
into the hands of every policy maker before they make a decision on
any issue affecting the environment. Buy one for yourself and send
another to your congressman (or woman).
- Today DG Health and Consumer Protection publishes new pages giving an overview on genetically modified organisms
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically modified
micro-organisms (GMMs) can be defined as organisms (and
micro-organisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered
in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural
In its White Paper on Food Safety (150KB) the Directorate-General
Health and Consumer Protection announced various measures to tighten
and streamline the Community rules governing novel foods and foods
containing or derived from genetically modified organisms. http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/pub/pub06_en.pdf
Tomato Worth Lots of Lettuce
- Mary MacDonald, The Atlanta Journal And Constitution, Dec 18, 2001
All Ben Gross wanted was an "A" on his science assignment: to dream
up a food to help humanity. His idea --- a pollution-absorbing tomato
--- earned him a lot more than a good grade. He's the recipient of a
$10,000 college scholarship. The sixth-grader in the gifted program
at Dickerson Middle School in east Cobb County won the national Food
of the Future contest sponsored by an association of biotechnology
His entry consisted of a 98-word essay and a sketch of the plant. No
one was more surprised by his win than 11-year-old Ben. "I haven't
even won a raffle before." The idea jelled after he learned through
some Internet research how tomatoes breathe. In his mind, the
Pollution Absorbing Tomato pulls in harmful toxins through its
leaves. The toxins then travel down its stem to the root system,
leaving the fruit safe to eat.
Could this work? Ben isn't sure. "You have to change the respiratory
system of the tomato. You would have to teach it to take in certain
toxins." The Council for Biotechnology Information deemed the tomato
the most imaginative of 900 entries.
The judges included a teacher and a farmer. The council includes some
of the largest biotech companies in the nation, including Monsanto
and Dow AgroSciences. Ben's parents learned he had won when they
received a phone call from council officials. They didn't tell Ben
immediately. Instead, the family ate out that night and had the
waitress set before Ben a small tomato from the kitchen.
"I asked him, 'What do you think that tomato's worth?' " said his
mother, Laurel Gross. Ben took her literally, and suggested a
supermarket price. She produced a photocopy of his contest entry. "I
said, 'How much do you think this tomato's worth? How about $10,000?'
Laurel Gross remembered Ben's entering the contest, along with his
classmates, but she had only fleeting thoughts of his winning. Now
she wonders if the pollution-absorbing tomato will actually catch on.
The family signed over rights to the idea. "They liked it because it
wasn't chocolate-flavored broccoli," Laurel Gross said.
Why not let consumers decide on GMOs?
- Daryll E. Ray, Southwest Farm Press, Dec 6, 2001
At present the United States is locked into a battle with the
European Union over the marketing of GMO (Genetically Modified
Organism) crops. The Europeans want labeling and ingredient tracking
for all products containing GMO material. With all of the trouble
over mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease, the Europeans are
very wary when it comes to their food supply and public confidence in
the integrity of that system is at a low point.
As Tony Van der Haegen, minister-counselor for Agriculture, Fisheries
and Consumer Affairs of the European Commission said, "Unless we
restore EU consumer confidence in this new technology, genetic
modification of food is dead in Europe. The Commission's July
labeling and traceability proposal is intended to be a first step to
increase that confidence." From the U.S. perspective, the fear is
that the Europeans are using the GMO issue as a protectionist device
to lock the U.S. out of the European corn and soybean markets. The
USDA has stressed its belief that the U.S. government's food
regulation system is effective and assures public safety.
A similar battle has been raging over the import of soybeans into
China. Again the U.S. perspective is that the Chinese concern is a
strategem to give Chinese producers time to adjust before they are
admitted into the World Trade Organization. Given the intensity of
the positions on both sides, any attempt by the U.S. to force a
solution to the issue will leave lingering resentments that may come
back to haunt future agricultural trade negotiations.
One alternative to the head-to-head battle is for the producer, the
U.S. in this case, to remember the old dictum, "The customer is
king." Ultimately, in a market economy it is in the best interest of
the seller to provide the buyers with what they want. In the late
1940s Crosley wanted to supply the auto market with small, fuel
efficient cars. The public, on the other hand, wanted big, powerful,
comfortable gas hogs.
But as time went on, customer preferences began to change, and more
and more VW beetles began to appear on the road. The U.S.
manufacturers' response was not to quickly adjust their model lineup
to meet consumer needs, but one of contempt for foreign cars. The
Germans and the Japanese, on the other hand, listened to changing
consumer preferences and began to introduce smaller, more fuel
efficient cars that were still comfortable. By the time the U.S.
manufacturers figured out what was going on, the Germans and Japanese
had garnered a significant portion of the U.S. auto market - a share
they continue to hold today.
If U.S. corn and soybean producers are to take a lesson from that
experience, they might begin to ask their customers what they want to
buy. If the customer wants a GMO-free corn, then maybe that is what
they should try to produce. When it comes to customer preferences, it
is not a matter of science or right or wrong, or what might
ultimately be acceptable. It's also not a matter of U.S. testing and
It simply is a matter of what the customer wants to buy. Could it
cost the customer more to buy a grain that is grown to their
specifications, be it non-GMO, or high lysine, or whatever, and kept
segregated from commodity grade grain? Yes, of course it could. At
least at the beginning. But then, consumers regularly pay more for
certified organic food products than they would have to pay for
no-organic products. And despite the premium they have to pay, that
segment of the food trade is growing at a rapid rate.
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in
Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of
Tennessee, and is the director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis
Center: 865-974-7407; firstname.lastname@example.org;http://www.agpolicy.org.
Biotechnology and Human Development in Developing Countries
- Horst W. Doelle, Electronic Journal of Biotechnology
Deputy Director, MIRCEN-Biotechnology Brisbane and the Pacific
Regional Network Chairman, International Organization of
Biotechnology and Bioengineering
Throughout the past century, humankind has made a tremendous effort
to understand the biological intricacies of nature. It started with
the traditional fermentation of food to the commercial exploitation
of all types of biological cells. The most incredible advances
occurred since the mid 1940s with the discovery of the life saving
antibiotics, followed by the green revolution in agriculture in the
1950s to the present rapid progress in understanding the genetic
basis of living cells. The latter progress has given us the ability
to develop new products and processes useful in human and animal
health, food and agriculture, and the environment (ADB, 2001).
It appears, however, that at no stage have we been able to integrate
these enormous discoveries into the natural cycles of matter. As a
consequence, prevention is being replaced by curing continuously
occurring medical and agricultural ailments. This can easily be
visualized by the enormous over- and misuse of antibiotics causing a
lowering of the immune systems and an ever increasing resistance
against these drugs amongst microorganisms, which in turn requires
the never ending search for new antibiotics. The intensification of
agriculture during the green revolution with its the reliance on
antibiotics and hormones in feeding animals in so-called animal
factories (i.e. chicken, pigs) as well as on irrigation and chemical
inputs in crop fields has led to serious health and environmental
problems (ADB, 2001). Much of Asia, for example, faces problems of
severe salinity, pesticide misuse and degradation of natural
resources. It is therefore not surprising to see the ever increasing
development of opposition against any further biotechnological
applications, especially those arising from genetical modification of
microbial, plant and animal cells.
The reason for this unfortunate development must be sought in the
fact that research and development, personnel and finance are
concentrated in rich countries, led by global corporations and
following the global market demand dominated by high-income consumers
(UNDP Report, 2001). As a result, research has neglected
opportunities to develop technologies for poor people in developing
countries representing approximately 80% of the world population.
According to the UNDP report on Human Development, in 1998 global
spending on health research was US$ 70 billion, but just US$ 300
million was dedicated for vaccines for HIV/AIDs and about US$ 100
million to malaria research. Of special concern is the fact that new
drugs and vaccines are being developed to export for profit rather
than to sell cheaply to local people (Bloom and Duc Track, 2001).
Patent, license and royalty have become a tool to create wealth for
the developed countries. For example, the drug for HIV-infected
pregnant women is too expensive to save the children to be born in
Although people are the real wealth of nations, we have not been able
to create an environment in which people can develop their full
potential and lead productive lives in accordance with their needs
In order to establish the real need for what type of biotechnology is
required for developing countries, one has first to realize that
there exist three major climatic zones, namely: a. the temperate
zones of the developed world; b. the tropical zones of developing
c. the arid zones of developing countries. Moreover, there is no
escaping the fact that over 90% of biotechnological research and
development are occurring in the temperate zones of our world.
Secondly, the most serious problems in the developing countries
concern: 1. Health. It has been estimated by UNDP (UNDP, 2001) that
2.4 billion people are without access to basic sanitation and 11
million children under five are dying annually from preventable
causes. 2. Poverty. Approximately 1.2 billion people live on less
than US$ 1 a day and 2.8 billion on less that US$ 2 a day. 3 .
Starvation. The developing world has still 826 million undernourished
people, living predominantly in the arid zone areas of Africa and
Asia. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa has an infant mortality rate of
more than 100 and an under-five mortality rate of more than 170 per
1,000 live births.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that our present
biotechnological knowledge is able to abolish the health and poverty
problems, with the reduction or even eradication of starvation in
arid zones well on the way using modern genetically modified
agriculture. It should therefore be possible to create an environment
in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive
and creative lives in accordance with their needs and interests.
Since most of the biotechnology research and development is
concentrated in the temperate climatic zones, a closer cooperation
has to occur to facilitate an adaptation of the old and newly
developed technologies to the appropriate climatic zone, the
particular society and the local environment.
What are the most urgent biotechnological issues in developing
countries for the improvement of human development?
In considering all the available technologies together with those
under development, the first and basic priority thinking has to be
the fact that 'technologies in general do not transfer from developed
to developing countries. Rather they need to be built up in situ
using local knowledge and innovative ability after which, if
successful, they are being adopted' (Douthwaite and Ortiz, 2001).
Social aspects of psychology, religion and gender are of paramount
importance (Warner, 2000). <...cut...>
GMOS POLLUTE THE SAINT LAURENCE; BT CORN TOXIN HAS CONTAMINATED RIVER SEDIMENT
- Pauline Gravel, Le Devoir, pgs. A1-A8; Dece 18, 2001 (Via Agnet)
(this is a rough translation of an article originally in French)
A recent study conducted in Quebec was cited as revealing heavy
contamination of the sediment of the Saint Laurence by the Bt corn
toxin. The story says these troubling results were cited by
Jean-Francois Narbonne, professor of toxicology at l' Universite de
Bourdeaux, at an international symposium at the Pasteur Institute in
Paris which entitled: "OGM et alimentation: peut on evaluer des
benefices pour la sante?" (Translation = GMOs and food: Can we
evaluate the health benefits?) "Applied as a spray or integrated into
a GMO, the Bt insecticide is very interesting because it consists of
a protein that is rapidly degraded, which is contrary to chemical
pesticides that accumulate in the environment," explained
Jean-Francois Narbonne. The observations made by scientists at the
"Centre Saint-Laurent d'Environnement Canada" and the "Institute du
recherche en biotechnologie a Montreal" leaves them
perplexed/confused about the environmental innocuousness/harmlessness
of this variety of transgenic corn.
The scientists took samples of surface water and of sediment near
fields of Bt corn that were near the shore of the Richelieu river.
Most of the production of Bt corn (which represents 40% of the total
corn production in Quebec) is grown on the South shore of the
Saint-Laurence, along its 3 main affluents the Chateauguay, the
Richelieu and the Yamaska rivers. "The scientists observed that the
sediments drawn/taken from the Saint Laurence [at the mouth of the
Richelieu river] contained concentrations of the Bt-toxin that were 5
times higher than in drainage waters and sediments near agricultural
land, specified Jean-Francois Narbonne. Such an accumulation in the
Saint Laurence leads to the belief that "the roots of the Bt-corn
plants transfer the gene sequence to other soil bacteria that then
also secrete the Bt insecticide, "explained the professor. "Or maybe
the characteristics of the sediment from the Saint Laurence is better
at retaining the coding sequence."
He added that earthworms are harmed by this pollution, because this
Quebec study showed that this beneficial organism is particularly
vulnerable to the toxic effects of the Bt insecticide.
These results add tarnish to the heraldry of Bt corn whose reputation
has already been hurt by the results of a study that showed the
variety of corn poisoned not only the corn borer but also monarch
Wow, some study this one! I am not sure what to make of it (as it
does not say how this learned professor found in that river those
'five-times-more' Bt protein that supposedly degrade).
I am awed especially by the irresponsible extrapolations of this
Professor! When did the Bt toxin begin to hurt the earthworms?
Roots of corn plants transferred massive amounts of Bt genes to
bacteria which then happily start pumping up this protein (surely
this professor learnt his genetics from Mae-Wan) ? Soils of
St.Laurence are better in retaining the DNA coding sequences? And
invoking the dead 'Monarch butterfly' issue again?
I bet that Greenpeace and FOE would would love to hear this 'kind of
advances' in pushing the boundaries of our knowledge.