Today in AgBioView:
* The expensive roots of organic food
* SA starts growing genetically modified white maize
* Bt cotton trials extended
* SURVEY SHOWS MISLEADING GM FREE CLAIM ON FOOD LABELS
* Watchdog in warning on misleading GM food labels
* GM organisms in one-third of maize, soya products analyzed in France
* Europe and US still in dispute over GM foods
* GM labelling debate expected during winter session
* Researchers target drought-tolerant winter wheat
The expensive roots of organic food
By Matthew Fort
Friday January 4, 2002
Shoppers have started to think organic food is a rip-off but, while there
is money to be made, the supermarkets will continue to stock it, writes
Should we be surprised? So people are beginning to believe that organic
food is a bit of a con, that it is not all that it is cracked up to be and
they resent having to pay a premium for it. Well, there is not much new
about that. The British have always preferred price to quality when it
comes to food, and with no new scandal to focus our fears and minds, we
have reverted to type.
Government policies, or rather non-policies, have not helped matters much.
The last Conservative government did not exactly embrace the organic
movement, and the present Labour one has really only offered promises and
The organic movement itself has not helped matters much, either. There is
such an absurd proliferation of bodies licensed to declare products as
organic, each with differing criteria for what constitutes organic. This problem is all the greater because the organic farming sector in this
country cannot supply the ?90m-odd worth of produce the market is currently
worth, and so we have to rely on other countries to make up our shortfall.
They all have their own organic certification systems, with no real
consistency of standards. Not surprisingly there is confusion as to what
organic really means.
There will always be a very small sector of the market which will buy
organic products on an ethical basis, and another which remains convinced
by the health arguments, but these remain tiny in relation to the food
market as a whole. The conversion of the mass market to the organic way
depended on either a) continuing food scares; or b) strongly perceived
benefits in terms of quality and flavour if it was to ride over the
traditional British obsession with price.
Well, we have run out of food scares for the time being, and the trouble is
that the qualitative differences between organic and non-organic foods are
not readily obvious. Having been a judge at several organic awards, it was
impossible not to conclude that ecological purity too often is an excuse
for manufacturing incompetence. There were, are, some splendid products,
but far too many were badly conceived, badly made or simply dreary. The
differential in price is not matched by a discernible improvement in
In the end, however, whether or not the organic sector flourishes or fades
will not depend on public demand or public scepticism. It will depend on
what the supermarkets decide to sell us.
And, pace Tesco's promise to sell ?1bn a year worth of organic produce by
2007, while they still see that there is money to be made out of organic
food, they will continue to stock it and market it.
SA starts growing genetically modified white maize
January 03 2002
Johannesburg - South African farmers are planting genetically modified (GM) white maize, marking the first time this has been been done commercially anywhere in the world.
White maize is a staple food in many parts of the continent, and South Africa exports it to southern African countries.
It is also used for human consumption in Egypt and Mexico.
Mexico banned the growing of GM maize in 1998, but even so researchers recently discovered that GM corn of unknown origin had contaminated wild Mexican maize.
GM white maize has not yet been approved by the government's Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms, the body that reviews the country's applications for approval of GM products.
Late last year, South Africa's farmers completed planting 7 000ha of herbicide-tolerant soybeans, a crop approved last year by the council. Soybean derivatives are used in a wide variety of processed foods.
Other approved crops include insect-protected yellow maize (used for animal feed), herbicide-tolerant cotton and insect-protected cotton.
Willie Maree, the South African director of business relations for multinational Monsanto, said: "GM white maize seed for about 600ha will have been sold by Monsanto by the end of [this] planting season."
If Maree's figures are right, GM white maize will comprise a tiny percentage of the South African crop.
According to the latest report of the government's Crop Estimates Committee, dated November 20, 1 596 005ha of white maize would be planted in 2001/02.
He said the GM white maize from Monsanto was being planted on farms in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.
Lloyd le Page, the operations manager of Pioneer, confirmed that his company was selling GM white maize seed, but said the company would not reveal sales volumes.
Pannar Seeds is developing GM white maize. Its GM white maize hybrids were registered this year and would be in demonstration trials during the 2002/03 season, said Rikus Kloppers, the technical services manager of Pannar.
"The first Pannar GM white maize hybrids should therefore be only commercially available for the 2003/04 season," Kloppers said.
Jocelyn Webster, the executive director of AfricaBio, a biotechnology association, confirmed these were the only three companies involved in GM white maize at this stage.
Kit le Clus, the head of research and development for Grain SA, said: "I reckon less than 1 percent of white maize planted will be GM white maize. Genetically modified yellow maize has been grown for the past four years in South Africa and now comprises about 7 percent of the crop."
Maree said: "The modification to the white maize is an implanted gene that has been used in both genetically modified yellow maize and cotton to combat insects. In yellow maize, the implanted gene is known as Yield Gard or Mon610, and is used to combat the stalk borer.
"The same variant that is used in yellow maize has now been implanted into the white maize genetic code to combat the same pest."
The South African authorities approved the gene four years ago for use in yellow maize. "To combat insects, organic groups use this same gene in spray form over plants. It is this gene they have now taken and implanted into the white maize genetic code," Maree said.
Three weeks ago, the European Union released a report regarding its research into the possible effects of GM foods. It found that none of the GM foods caused any harmful side effects, Maree said.
Bt cotton trials extended
Hindu Business Line
January 04, 2002 10:53 PM
By L.N. Revathy
COIMBATORE, Jan. 3. BT cotton trials have been extended to 11 locations in central and southern zones of the country during the current cotton season from 6 locations last year.
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), which has accorded the approval for conducting the trials, has set up a monitoring committee for the two zones, headed by the Director of CICR, Nagpur, for the central zone and the Project Coordinator and Head of CICR, Coimbatore, Dr K. Venugopal, for the southern zone.
Dr Venugopal told Business Line that the final yield data would be available by mid-January for the central zone and a month later for the southern zone states. Detailed economics will be worked out on the efficacy of Bt cotton before the end of February, he added.
He said there were reports of initial damage to the crop in Nandyal district in Andhra Pradesh due to excess rain and flooding, but the crop was revived thereafter. In all the other 10 locations, the crop is good, he added.
He said the approval for conducting the trials was received in June only and once again it was late for the Northern growing areas of Punjab, Haryana and Ganganagar tracts in Rajasthan, since the sowing season commenced from April 15 and was completed by May 15. The Bt trials were conducted as per the protocol during the current cotton year, he added.
He said the trails were taken up in greater detail this year, encompassing various aspects such as agronomy, entomology and pathology.
The Bt seeds have been made available by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company)-Monsanto and they include Mech 162, Mech 184 and Mech 12.
Stating that the trials had been taken up on time, when the incidence of the bollworm infestation was significant in a majority of the locations, he said there were clear indications that Bt cotton helped in controlling the bollworm effectively, although a couple of more sprays was needed wherever the bollworm infestation had crossed the economic threshold levels.
To a query on yield, he said there was not much difference in yields between the Bt and non-Bt cottons, though there was a marginal increase for all Bt cotton hybrids. However, the Bt Cotton hybrids meant to control the bollworm would take care of bollworm only. For sucking pests, appropriate control measures such as seed treatment, would help in limiting the number of sprays. The Mech 12 hybrid was susceptible to sucking pest, he added.
Further, the Bt hybrids showed early maturity in all locations, ranging from 15 days to a month. Since the early formed bolls are retained, the crop did not become vegetative as in checks. Savitha, NHH 144 and DHH 11 have been raised as local and national checks, he added.
Referring to reduced sprays for Bt cotton, he explained that the central and southern zones experienced wet spell in certain years during boll formation. Heavy rainfall caused serious damage to the crop, and the pesticide and chemicals became ineffective. Under these circumstances, Bt is the efficient tool, as the in-built toxin helps in sustaining the yield, he said.
He expressed the hope that the Centre would push the Bt cotton technology forward, especially because China had taken the lead in cotton production while India had not got over the trial phase yet.
SURVEY SHOWS MISLEADING GM FREE CLAIM ON FOOD LABELS
Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)
3rd January 2002
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today announced details of a survey that highlights misleading GM free claims on food labels. The Survey of Foodstuffs for the Presence of Genetically Modified (GM) Soy was undertaken by the FSAI to determine the level of GM content in dried soy products, soy substitutes for dairy products and soy infant formulae to ensure that industry is adhering to Food Labelling Regulations.
The results of this survey reveal that though 18 of the 37 samples tested were found to have GM ingredients, all were under the threshold of 1% that triggers mandatory GM labelling and those identified were derived from an EU authorised GM soybean. EU Labelling Regulations relating to GM foods require that food containing genetically modified ingredients above the 1% threshold, must have clear labelling to indicate that it contains GM ingredients.
Six of the 18 samples that tested positive for GM ingredients were mislabelled; 5 indicated they contained no GM ingredients and 1 was labelled as organic. Under current European legislation, for a food to be labelled as organic or GM free it must not contain any GM ingredients. According to Dr Patrick O'Mahony, Chief Specialist, Biotechnology, FSAI there are no known health implications arising from the presence of the GM ingredients identified in these products. This is more an issue of enabling consumers to be informed before they make a purchase should they chose not to buy GM foods.
Speaking at the announcement today, Dr O'Mahony said, "EU legislation governing the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs is clear in its stipulation that food labels must not mislead the public on the composition or production methods of a food, or make false claims as to the properties of a food. Due to the proliferation of GMOs worldwide, and the increasingly global nature of our food supply, it is becoming more difficult for industry to guarantee that certain foods are not made from GM soy or GM maize. If industry wants to benefit from any marketing advantages derived from labelling their produce as GM free or organic, then it is obliged to ensure that these foods are indeed free of GM ingredients. The implications are that either industry spends more on expensive GM analysis or it desists from making claims on its products that it is unable to justify."
"By carrying out regular surveys of the food supply for GM ingredients, we assess the level of compliance with the Labelling Regulations within the industry and take action if necessary. In order for consumers to make an informed choice about the food they buy, they must be provided with the appropriate information. We have addressed our concern with the manufacturers found to have misleading labelling and they are correcting their labelling as appropriate for optimum consumer information," says Dr O'Mahony.
The FSAI has contacted the retailers, suppliers and manufacturers whose products were included in the survey to inform them of the test results and to ensure their future compliance with labelling regulations. This is the second in a series of surveys by the FSAI and the products were all bought 'off the shelf' by the FSAI in a number of health food shops and supermarkets. This survey and others planned for the future constitute part of the FSAI's duty to ensure that only EU licensed GM foods are available in Ireland and that such foods display the appropriate labelling information.
See results of the survey at http://www.fsai.ie/press_releases/SoySurveyJan02.htm.
Watchdog in warning on misleading GM food labels
January 4, 2001
THE Food Safety Authority has discovered that some manufacturers are labelling as 'GM-free' or 'organic' foods which had trace elements of a genetically modified content.
Apart from misleading consumers, it is also "opportunistic" because of the marketing advantage to be gained by describing food as GM (genetically modified) free, or organic, the authority's Dr Patrick O'Mahony said yesterday.
A snapshot survey published yesterday by the FSA discovered that 18 of 37 examples of food bought in supermarkets and health shops had GM material. All were under the 1pc which triggers mandatory GM labelling.
But in five of the 18 cases, the labels actually claimed the food was GM-free and some even said they had been tested. In addition, a sixth product, soya flour, was described as organic when it too had GM trace elements.
The survey concentrated on the level of GM content in dried soya products, soya dairy substitutes and soya infant formula food.
Dr O'Mahony, chief specialist in biotechnology for the authority, said contact had been made with most of the manufacturers involved and they were co-operating in correcting their label information.
"Consumers are buying the foods on the basis of health and we are trying to instil in manufacturers that they need to go the extra mile and ensure that a product is GM-free if they make that claim," he said.
"We want to correct this misinformation as a consumer watchdog. We're not going to prosecute, but manufacturers need to be made aware of it."
However, he accepted that makers had problems in some cases where GM and non-GM food grown in the US was shipped to the same silo and accidental contamination occurred.
"Where it's under 1pc of the whole, it's inadvertent."
GM organisms in one-third of maize, soya products analyzed in France
Agence France Presse
January 4, 2002
Genetically modified (GM) organisms were found in 36 out of 103 foods containing maize (corn) and soya in France, according to analyses by the National Consumers' Institute (INC) released Friday.
But the makers were not breaking the French regulations on labelling, which state that the presence of GM organisms must be mentioned only for foodstuffs containing more than one percent, the INC monthly 60 Million Consumers said in its January edition. Of the 36 samples testing positive, only one contained over one percent of GM material. Twenty-five held less than 0.1 percent and it was impossible to be more precise with the other 10, the monthly said.
However it described the results of the analyses as worrying since they showed that "products one might believe to be free of GM organisms, as they are not labelled, nevertheless contain them."
Europe and US still in dispute over GM foods
The Herald (Glasgow)
January 4, 2002
Protectionism remains the key stumbling block to an understanding between the European Union and the United States that could lead to agreement on food and agriculture in the current round of trade liberalisation talks under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The opening day of the annual Oxford Farming Conference yesterday heard government speakers demonstrate the clearest acceptance yet of the need for fundamental reform of farm policies on both sides of the ocean to boost trade and help kickstart the global economy. However, they remain at variance over the EU's "precautionary principle" concept. This concept, which effectively bans the import of genetically-modified (GM) foodstuffs to the EU, was not based on good science or any other measurable criteria, said US farm secretary Ann Veneman.
It militated against new technology and stymied developments that could benefit farmers and consumers world-wide.
Calling for greater co-operative efforts in this field, she reminded delegates that much of the first Oxford conference in 1936 had been devoted to the question of how to deal with the advent of combine harvesters.
She also reminded them that a great deal of progress had been made at the WTO's Doha meeting last autumn.
"No progress is not an option. Increasing trade is the best way of stimulating the global economy, and agriculture and food feature on that agenda," she said. "We need to take the long view and recognise the global context, become more market orientated, take account of developing countries and of the new technology."
However, while Matthias Berninger, the Green parliamentary state secretary for consumer protection, food and agriculture in the German government, went along with Veneman's other theme of phasing out export subsidies, he remained unimpressed with her arguments on new technology.
European consumers had a right to both food security and food safety, he said. This implied a right to be informed, which meant clear labelling, to be able to choose and to be heard.
These rights were enshrined in the "precautionary principle". The people had made it clear they did not want genetically- modified foodstuffs.
They had also made it clear they wanted more organic food, which was why Germany had set a target of 20% of food production by this method by 2010 against the current 3% to 4%. The debate would then be how much co-operation there would be between these two sectors and how much they could learn from each other, for example in terms of animal welfare.
European authorities had learned their lessons from salmonella, BSE and pesticides in food. They had to tell consumers not only whether the product was safe but also whether it was genetically modified.
Veneman said this flew in the face of current agreements on food trade. US consumers had much more faith in their national regulatory systems and accepted GM foods.
The two keynote speakers also found themselves deadlocked on the question of special access to EU and US markets for produce from developing countries.
Berninger said there was enough money in these, and the Japanese, markets to afford opportunities to help the poorest countries. But Veneman was against the creation of more "boxes" controlling international trade.
GM labelling debate expected during winter session
The Western Producer
By Barry Wilson, Ottawa bureau
January 3, 2002
The issue of labelling products containing genetically modified material will be front and centre on the political agenda when Parliament resumes Jan. 28 after the Christmas break. In mid-December, MPs from agricultural ridings tried to ensure the farm voice is well heard when the debate resumes. (ref.2312)
Members of the Commons agriculture committee decided to hold hearings next winter on "the potential cost increases that would occur in the agriculture and agri-food sector ... if mandatory labelling of foods containing the products of genetic technology were imposed by law."
It was an act of defiance against a government decision to refer the issue of GM labelling to the health committee, rather than agriculture, for hearings.
"I think the (agriculture) committee wants to get its oar in the water because they want to be sure the agenda is not taken and defined strictly by the health committee and consumer issues," said rural Ontario MP Bob Speller, chair of the Liberal task force on agriculture.
Murray Calder, chair of the Liberal rural caucus and a Holstein, Ont., chicken producer, said it is important that the debate be informed by the practical implications of labelling, including a definition of genetic modification and a realistic content level needed to trigger a label.
"The public mood, including in my riding, is that they want labelling and they can't see the reason why it can't be mandatory," he said.
"But let's make sure all the facts are looked at."
Most farm lobby groups and most agriculture MPs prefer voluntary labelling rules, now being considered by the Canadian General Standards Board with a report expected in the winter.
The agriculture committee motion proposed by Canadian Alliance MP Howard Hilstrom said the report on agricultural implications would be sent to the health committee, as well as to the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, Liberal House leader Don Boudria said the government priorities this winter will be species-at-risk and cruelty-to-animals legislation.
The species-at-risk bill has been studied by the environment committee and is back before the Commons with proposed amendments.
However, a Canadian Alliance motion that farmers and landowners be compensated 100 percent for costs if they are forced to reduce land use because of the presence of endangered species was defeated in committee by Liberals. The Liberal bill offers partial compensation only.
The cruelty-to-animals bill under debate also has angered some rural MPs and farm groups because they argue it will leave farmers open to legal harassment by animal rights groups.
Justice minister Anne McLellan made some changes and insists the legislation will target willful acts of animal cruelty, not normal agricultural animal husbandry practices.
Still, opposition Alliance MPs and even some rural Liberals remain nervous that the new legislation, which moves animal cruelty out of the property section of the criminal code and into its own section, could leave farmers vulnerable and give animals more rights.
Some opposition sources say they think the government would like to allow the bill to disappear without approval, but Boudria said Dec. 12 it remains a government priority.
Researchers target drought-tolerant winter wheat
January 3, 2002
A new, major western Canadian study aims to improve winter wheat drought tolerance as the crop marches into more areas of the Prairies, including the drought-prone semiarid regions.
The University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre (CDC) winter wheat breeding program is searching for the right combination of traits for broadly adapted winter wheat varieties that will yield well, even in drought conditions. The research is part of a cereal crops environmental stress project that is partially supported by farmers through the Wheat Check-off Fund, administered by Western Grains Research Foundation.
“Higher water-use efficiency helps give winter wheat a yield advantage over spring-seeded crops,” says Dr. Brian Fowler, University of Saskatchewan CDC winter wheat breeder. “However, like its spring-sown cousins, winter wheat experiences large yield losses because of droughts in the semiarid regions of Western Canada.”
As winter wheat moves out of its traditional growing area in southern Alberta, due in part to its ability to escape Fusarium Head Blight and wheat midge infestations, tolerance to moisture stress must be addressed by crop improvement programs that target semiarid climates, says Fowler. “In order to capitalize on these strengths, it is important that we understand the significance of the regional adaptation of genotypes.”
Every year and every area is different in the level of drought stress that can occur, he says. “That is why new, widely adapted cultivars and flexible management systems are needed to overcome variable patterns of water availability.”
Fowler and his research partners in the project are now focusing on the factors that affect grain yield, such as number of tillers and kernel arrangement, to establish breeding guidelines for the production of varieties with high-yield potential and kernel uniformity.
The high-yield potential of many of the new, semi-dwarf winter wheat cultivars released over the past decade, is partly due to their ability to generate a large number of tillers in the spring, which in turn generates a high number of kernels, Fowler explains. “High tillering capacity is an adaptation to low-stress conditions, but this early potential can be lost due to extensive tiller die-off under drought conditions.”
Tiller die-back reduces the number of seeds that high-yield genotypes can produce, and limits the plant’s ability to respond to subsequent growing season weather conditions. “We think that for improved drought resistance, vigorous tillers with numerous large kernels is the way to go.”
In essence, the project is zeroing in on the architectural arrangement of yield components and how their arrangement can allow winter wheat varieties to adjust yield potential to variable water availability during the growing season, he says. “This means grain yield can be maximized and the level of dockage due to variable kernel size can be minimized.”
Fowler is also involved with cold hardiness research that is one component of a large Genome Canada crop environmental stress project. Both the drought resistance and cold hardiness projects, as they relate to winter wheat, are supported by the Wheat Check-off Fund.
“Winter wheat offers many advantages, such as increased yield potential, soil conservation benefits, lower herbicide inputs, reduced disturbance to waterfowl habitat and planting flexibility,” says Fowler. “Hopefully, this research will help more Prairie farmers benefit from those advantages.”
The Wheat Check-off Fund, administered by Western Grains Foundation, contributes $3 million annually to western Canadian wheat breeding programs. Other funders of the drought resistance project include Ducks Unlimited Canada and SeCan.
University of Saskatchewan
Crop Development Centre
Phone: (306) 966-4973
Lorence Peterson, Executive Director
Western Grains Research Foundation
Phone: (306) 975-0060
Fax: (306) 975-0316