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February 7, 2002


Challenge to Greenpeace; New Dimension in Innovation; Seeds


Today in AgBioView - Feb 8, 2002

* A Challenge to Greenpeace on Their Anti-GM Policy - From the
Greenpeace Co-Founder!
* Biotechnology - A New Dimension to Agricultural Innovation
* Seeds of Prosperity: Let Agbiotech Go The Software Way
* China Cottons On
* Doubts About GM Food Labelling and Safety Unfounded
* French Activist Gets Jail for McDonald's Attack
* Crop Hopping
* Maize Superweeds in Canada?
* Labelling Will Increase the Price of GM Foods
* CGIAR Under Pressure To Support Seed Treaty
* More Tests Needed on Gene Crops - French Food Agency (Huh...?)
* Modern Biotech in Ag Development: A Latin American Perspective

A Challenge to Greenpeace on Their Anti-GM Policy

- Patrick Moore, Ph.D., AgBioView, Feb 8, 2002.

It was instructive to read the transcript of a recent BBC interview
with Greenpeace's Chief Scientist, Doug Parr (AgBioView, Feb 7). If
that's the best "science" Greenpeace can offer to defend their
"zero-tolerance" position on GM crops they should either give up
their anti-GM crusade or get some better arguments.

The Greenpeace position is clearly summed up by Mr. Parr's statement,
"These things simply shouldn't be released into the environment
because we don't know what the consequences are going to be." This is
not news. We don't know what the consequences of any event will be.
If Mr. Parr's logic were widely applied we would never allow a jumbo
jet to take off, never permit boats to carry people, and certainly
not walk under ladders or cross a black cat's path. The simple
analogy of crossing a road is sufficient to put Greenpeace's case to
rest. If we would not cross the road unless we were 100% certain
nothing would go wrong during the crossing we would never leave the
curb. That doesn't mean we should not stop and look both ways before
crossing. But cross we will. This same attitude of caution should be
applied to all endeavours, including the development of genetically
modified food crops.

Mr. Parr goes on to worry about pollen from GM maize "contaminating"
other strains of this important crop in Mexico. He says, "that this
will influence the evolution of these things and some of them will
die out, some will become more prevalent - you will lose that
bio-diversity which is so important for the protection of our
long-term well-being in respect of continued cultivation of maize."
Why is it then that the vast majority of plant breeders and
geneticists disagree with Greenpeace's position, including Nobel
Peace Prize recipient and lifetime breeder of Mexican crops, Dr.
Norman Borlaug? It is precisely because there is no evidence that GM
crops will cause a reduction in biodiversity. To the contrary, the
reduction in pesticide use resulting from GM crop cultivation will
greatly reduce the destruction of non-target insects and other
species, thus increasing biodiversity over conventional agriculture.

On one hand Mr. Parr accuses industry of using "PR spin" while on the
other he employs terms like "industrialised crop genes". This is not
a scientific term but whatever he means by it is certainly not meant
to be a good thing.

But it was Mr. Parr's final words that really caught my attention. He
states, "It has never been Greenpeace's contention that every GM crop
and every GM food is going to be dangerous - that isn't what we're
saying. We saying there are uncertainties and there are risks and
that means that just because one GM food has turned out to be safe,
doesn't mean the next one will be and the next and the next." Is it
possible that common ground may be found, after all? I believe most
scientists would agree with Mr. Parr on this point, that there are
uncertainties and that not "every GM crop and every GM food is going
to be dangerous." In other words there are some GM crops that are not
dangerous and there is no reason on Earth to ban them.

The example of the Golden Rice is all that's needed to prove this
point. By inserting a gene from daffodils into rice, two Swiss
scientists have developed a strain that contains carotene, the
precursor to Vitamin A. About half a million children, mainly in Asia
and Africa, go blind each year due to Vitamin A deficiency because
conventional rice has no carotene. Millions more suffer the
debilitating symptoms of this deficiency. The Golden Rice, now in
development at the International Rice Research Institute in the
Philippines, promises to help solve this problem. So what is
Greenpeace's response? They have done everything to discredit both
the scientists and the science because they have a policy of
"zero-tolerance" for GM crops. More like "zero-humanity". If
Greenpeace had a whit of compassion they would offer to help make the
Golden Rice work rather than trying to rubbish it.

I believe that Greenpeace has painted themselves in an untenable
corner on the subject of GM crops. Their problem is that if they
agree that there is even one beneficial GM crop they would have to
admit there might be others. Then they would be reduced to a rational
discussion of the subject like the rest of us. Here's hoping this
will eventually come to pass. I challenge Greenpeace to modify their
stance and to work with the scientific community in developing a
rational approach to the application and regulation of the exciting
advances in genetics and plant breeding.

Dr. Patrick Moore is a Co-founder and 15-year director of Greenpeace,
now President of Greenspirit, an environmental consultancy based in
Vancouver, Canada. Contact: patrickmoore@greenspirit.com;


Biotechnology - A New Dimension to Agricultural Innovation

- Martina Mcgloughlin (University Of California). Statement at the
Pew AgBiotech Forum "Environmental Savior or Saboteur? Debating the
Impacts of Genetic Engineering.", San Francisco, Feb 4, 2002.

Biotechnology is one of the areas receiving a great deal of attention
from environmental and consumer groups around the world. Most
scientists working in the field are in total agreement with the
stated mission of these groups that is we need to feed and clothe the
world's people while minimizing the impact of agriculture on the
environment. However, the human population continues to grow, while
arable land is a finite quantity (arable land shrinks by 20,000
hectares yearly. It is estimated that in the next 50 years it will
be reduced by half). Approximately 3,000 square meters of forest and
1,000 tons of topsoil is lost every second; Erosion has made
approximately one billion hectares of soil unusable for agriculture.
So we must make optimum use of all tools to improve productivity and
quality of food production in a sustainable manner.

The set of tools provided through biotechnology has introduced a new
dimension to agricultural innovation. Agricultural biotechnology
offers efficient and cost-effective means to produce a diverse array
of novel, value-added products and tools. Many scientists believe
biotech could raise overall crop productivity in developing countries
as much as 25% and help prevent the loss of those crops after they
are harvested. It has the potential to increase food production,
improve food quality and healthfulness, reduce the dependency of
agriculture on chemicals, alleviate biotic and abiotic stress and
lower the cost of raw materials, all in an environmentally friendly

From a scientific perspective neither the term "Genetically modified
organism" (GMO) nor living modified organism (LMO) is an accurate
descriptor of the products of modern biotechnology as virtually all
domesticated crops and animals have been subjected to varying degrees
of modification. During the last century plant and animal breeders
expanded the tools of genetic manipulation beyond conventional cross
breeding to use a variety of other breeding techniques. In the case
of plants these include aneuploidy, diploidy, embryo rescue,
protoplast fusion, somaclonal selection, and mutation breeding with
radiation or ethyl methanesulfonate. These techniques allow no
control at the genome level; rather they allow multiple genes to
transfer and require years of backcrossing to remove unwanted
effects. In addition, traditional breeding programs are time
consuming, labor intensive and limited to transfers of genes between
closely related species. Plants created by these conventional
phenotypic selection techniques undergo no formal food or
environmental safety evaluation prior to introduction into the
environment and marketplace.

Recombinant DNA technology permits the precise and predictable
manipulation of genes. Single traits can be modified much more
quickly than was possible using traditional selection and breeding
methods alone. These are controllable, testable, and predictable
changes, grounded on scientific principle, and crops so modified
undergo extensive testing of composition, safety, agronomic traits,
and environmental effects prior to introduction into the marketplace.

Biotechnology should be looked upon not only as a solution to
problems but also as a mechanism to improve the quality of life and
the quality of the environment. For example, by reducing dependency
on chemicals and tillage through the development of natural
fertilizers and of pest-resistant plants, biotechnology has the
potential to conserve natural resources, prevent soil erosion and
improve environmental quality. Strains of microorganisms could
increase the efficiency, capacity and variety of waste treatment.
Bioprocessing using engineered microbes offers new ways to use
renewable resources for the production of materials and fuel, and
also reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Biotechnology is, in
fact, the low-risk alternative to current practices.

Nearly 40 percent of the world's food crop is lost every year to
pests, diseases and spoilage that biotech could help prevent. The
most cost-effective and environmentally sound general method for
controlling pests and disease is the use of that totally organic
substance -- DNA. This approach already has led to a reduction in the
use of sprayed chemical insecticides. The Research Service of the
USDA reporting on same-year differences between average pesticide use
of adopters and nonadopters of the Bt technologies revealed that
adopters of modified corn, soybeans, and cotton combined used 17
million fewer acre-treatments than non-adopters in 1998. An
additional advantage is that through Bt protection, mycotoxin
contamination was down by 92%. These deadly toxins produced by fungi
have been found, among other things, to cause brain tumors in horses
and liver cancer in children.

The U.S. National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy study found
Roundup Ready soybeans offered several advantages to farmers,
including easier weed management, less injury to crops, no
restrictions on crop rotations, increase in no till and cheaper
costs. U.S. farmers using Roundup Ready soybeans saved an estimated
$220 million in 1999 due to lower herbicide costs. The broad spectrum
of weeds controlled by glyphosate means that soybean growers no
longer need to make as many multiple applications with combinations
of herbicides.

An estimated 3.5 million farmers from industrial and developing
countries grew 44.2 million hectares (109.2 million acres) of biotech
crops in 2000. In 2000, biotech acres grew by 11% or 4.3 million
hectares to 44.2 million hectares, from 39.9 million hectares in
1999. It is predicted that there is a greater than 10% growth in
biotech crop acreage in 2001 with the number of farmers growing
biotech crops in 2001 reaching over 5 million. For the first five
year period of planting biotech crops (1996-2000), the 25-fold
increase in adoption rate is unprecedented for agricultural
innovation. It reflects high grower satisfaction and significant
benefits. In total, farmers in 15 countries have planted 125 million
hectares (300 million acres) over the last five years. Rapid adoption
and planting of transgenic crops by millions of small and large
farmers around the world, growing global political, institutional and
country support for biotech crops and data from independent sources
confirm and support the benefits associated with biotech crops,
estimated to exceed $700 million for growers in the 1999 growing

There is no evidence that recombinant DNA techniques or rDNA-modified
organisms pose any unique or unforeseen environmental or health
hazards. In fact, a National Research Council study found that "as
the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will
be more certain about the traits they introduce into plants." Greater
certainty means greater precision and safety. The subtly altered
products on our plates have been put through more thorough testing
than any conventional food ever has been subjected to.

Many scientists who worked in the past on crop improvement using much
less precise methods of cross breeding, or mutation-induced breeding,
or wide species crosses did not undergo the same type of scrutiny or
inquiry. Ironically, many of our daily staples would be banned if
subjected to today's rigorous standards. Nevertheless, scientists
working on GMOs have used strict scientific principles and thorough
analyses to confirm that the genes and techniques used are safe for
the consumer and for the environment. Recent research papers have
proven that both concern about the impact of Bt protein on monarch
butterflies and its potential allergenicity are unfounded. In fact,
researchers found that larvae fared better inside Bt corn fields than
in wild areas or sprayed fields.

The most that we can ask is that all foods produced by whatever
method receive the same level of evaluation both with regard to
impact on the environment, and safety to the consumer. Millions of
people have already eaten the products of genetic engineering and no
adverse effects have been demonstrated. Scientists are confident in
the scientific validity of the systems that regulate and oversee the
American food supply. They are equally confident that if we abandon
the scientific process in judging environmental impact and the safety
of the food supply, we will slow or destroy the advances that will
reduce the use of unsafe chemicals and agricultural practices in this
country, and we will limit the wonderful potential of improved
nutrition and quality that promise to strengthen agricultural
sustainability in the U.S.A. and around the world.


Seeds of Prosperity: Let Agbiotech Go The Software Way

- Editorial, Financial Express (India), Feb 8, 2002

Remember Aesop's fable about the hare and the tortoise? The hare led
the latter for the better part of their race but the tortoise wound
up winning. Well, India's progress in agricultural biotechnology,
relative to China's, evokes memories of the very same tale, at least
partially. Both nations began agricultural biotech research in the
mid-eighties. Today, according to a study Plant Biotechnology in
China published in Science journal, China has genetically modified
141 plants, approved 45 for field trials and 31 for commercialisation.

India's score card remains less than spectacular - it has developed
16 GM plants, approved 10 for field trials and none for commercial
release. Clearly, the dragon has done a hare on the elephantine
tortoise! That said, recent developments bring with them a glimmer of
hope for India. Six years after the first transgenic crop entered the
regulatory stream, Bt cotton is likely to be approved for
commercialisation this month. Unlike China, India boasts of a
significant involvement of the private sector - in addition to the
public sector - in transgenic research and development. And our large
scientific talent base, plethora of research institutes and
universities, rich biodiversity, and sound regulatory framework augur
well for the future.

What's needed to translate this potential into reality is a renewed
official commitment to harnessing biotech for improved food and
economic security. No longer must politics, misinformed greens,
self-interested industry lobbies and ignorant babus be allowed to
delay the adoption of a technology which offers significant
productivity gains and cost savings to even marginal farmers.

Indeed, the recent incident in Gujarat - where farmers tempted by
prospects of higher economic returns accessed and sowed illegal Bt
seeds - offers a valuable lesson to our policymakers: the transfer of
a knowledge-intensive technology such as biotech is difficult, if not
impossible to control. Given the above, the government must begin to
act as a facilitator within the existing set-up - by making the
regulatory process more accountable, transparent and speedy, by
benchmarking the performance of agricultural research institutes
against standards prevailing internationally and lastly, by actively
promoting a closer private-public partnership. A happy ending to this
modern day fable will be possible when agbiotech is allowed to go the
software way.


China Cottons On

- Editorial, Times of India, Feb 07, 2002

Unmindful of relentless criticism from the global anti-GMO lobby,
China is forging ahead with biotechnology-enhanced agriculture,
reaping huge benefits in the process.
An article in Science magazine's recent issue claims that Chinese
farmers are the greatest beneficiaries from Bt cotton's reduced
pesticide need, vast reduction in costs and increased production
efficiency. A US-China joint scientific study report released last
year says ''It (Bt cotton) has resulted in substantial economic
benefits for (China's) small farms''.
The report also takes note of criticism which says that GM crops are
bad for consumer health, and could impoverish small farmers, fatten
the profits of MNCs like Monsanto and increase pesticide use and
reduce biodiversity. But, points out the report, agro-BT has the
power ''to help solve the problems of hunger and excessive pesticide
use'' and that this is abundantly evident in the Chinese example.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. China introduced GM
(genetically modified) cotton on a large scale in 1996, after
conducting a few field trials and relying heavily on US-generated
test-data. Bt cotton is engineered to thwart the cotton pest,
bollworm, that has for years decimated crops in the developing world,
particularly in India and China.
Bt cotton produces Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which repels the
bollworm pest. That China has stolen a march over us is evident even
in Kathmandu markets where Chinese cotton is fast edging out other
players. Is India missing the cotton bus? China could well become a
leading cotton growing country, going by the spectacular results
reportedly achieved in production volume, economic benefits and
export performance.

Sceptics point out that China has already invested hugely in the new
technology - Bt cotton in China is the world's most widespread
transgenic crop programme for small farmers, with over 700,000
hectares under cultivation - and so it cannot now afford to paint a
blurred picture. That's why, they say, China is trumpeting its
achievements - about how Bt cotton has worked wonders for the poor
farmer, boosting income levels and increasing productivity.
Even discounting such pessimism, the plain truth is that we're still
grappling with a strong anti-GMO activist lobby and frightened
farmers who view the new technology with suspicion. So how did China
take this great leap forward?

For one, China hasn't experienced the violent public opposition we've
sampled here: three years ago, the Mahyco-Monsanto cotton trial
fields in Karnataka were torched by irate mobs. Secondly, China
doesn't have to contend with official bottlenecks of the kind Indian
farmers face. Bt cotton grown in 11,000 hectares in Gujarat was
recently withdrawn from the market as the seed company had failed to
get clearance from the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee),
a Central government body set up to regulate the introduction of BT
in agriculture.

Government-sponsored field trials of GM cotton have been on for
nearly five years now; the results gleaned ought to have been made
public. Because, it is only after Bt cotton is cleared for commercial
cultivation that we can even hope to catch up with China. Moreover,
unlike GM food crops, cotton is not used for human consumption. We
really don't have much choice today, between pest-induced cotton crop
failure causing farmers' suicides and boosting cotton production
through using Bt cotton.


Doubts About GM Food Labelling and Safety Unfounded

-William Rolleston, The Australian - Letter to Editor


Rather than prove there are loopholes in the labelling of GM foods or
provide evidence that GM foods are unsafe, Deborah Hope ('GM food
slips through loopholes' 7/2), highlights the hysteria, ignorance and
misinformation currently dominating public debate about this issue.

The facts are as follows:

1. There is no "loophole" in the regulatory system for testing and
labelling of GM foods. Rather GM foods are the most stringently
tested and labelled of any food available for human consumption. In
fact the ANZFA process of GM food testing has been critically and
closely examined by the New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification "which heard no evidence to suggest that the standards
applied by ANZFA were below internationally recognised best practice.
Based on the evidence presented to [it], the Commission [was]
confident that the Authority's assessment [of food was] independent
and that by international standards its methodology [was] sound."

2. There is no evidence that genetically modified foods are unsafe.
Unfounded allegations made in the article by Dr Judy Carman, which
question the safety of GM foods, must be examined, and where found
fallacious, exposed. As ANZFA's acting Managing Director, Greg Roche,
said in Deborah Hope's article, on the basis of the available
evidence, food derived from the two GM crops in question, corn and
canola, was as safe for human consumption as conventional varieties.
Similarly, a report released this week by the independent Royal
Society in the UK concludes that there is no reason to doubt the
safety of foods made from GM ingredients that are currently
available, nor to believe that genetic modification makes foods
inherently less safe than their conventional counterparts.

The Australian public has a right to know that all new foods,
regardless of whether or not they contain GM ingredients, are
subjected to rigorous safety and nutritional checks, and that they
are appropriately labelled. In Australia and New Zealand the evidence
shows that this is certainly the case.
- Dr William Rolleston, Chairman, Life Sciences Network, NZ


French Activist Gets Jail for McDonald's Attack

- Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters, Feb 6, 2002


PARIS (Reuters) - France's highest court upheld Wednesday a
three-month jail term for Jose Bove, hero of the international
anti-globalization movement, over his ransacking of a site where a
McDonald's restaurant was under construction in a protest over U.S.
trade barriers.

The Cour de Cassation ruling means the sheep farmer has exhausted all
means of appeal in national courts against his conviction for the
1999 assault on the site of a planned new fast-food outlet in the
southern French town of Millau. McDonald's France declined to comment
on the ruling. Judges rejected his argument that the attack he led
with a group of other activists was "legal and necessary" resistance
in response to punitive U.S. taxes on Roquefort cheese, a specialty
of the Millau region, and other European farm goods.

The United States imposed punitive extra tariffs on a list of
European goods in retaliation for the 15-member bloc's ban on imports
of North American hormone-treated beef. Reacting to the ruling from
Millau, where he and 200 supporters had gathered on the steps of the
local courthouse, Bove said he was not surprised.

"I still don't consider myself guilty because we acted out of a
position of necessity," he told Reuters by telephone. "I'm not afraid
of anything, not even prison. ... We shall continue the struggle."
Separately, his lawyer told reporters in Paris he would take the case
to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg but that this
would not suspend an enforcement of the French sentence.

Can Bove Still Slip Prison Bars? Supporters of Bove, for many French
people a symbol of their proud food and farming traditions, slammed
the decision, saying he was being made a scapegoat before French
national elections, due in three months' time, where law and order is
a major issue. "We sense a political will to suppress
anti-establishment movements. It would help many politicians to see
him in jail during the election campaign," Bernard Moser of Bove's
Confederation Paysanne movement said outside the Paris court.

Bove, who already has served 19 days of the sentence, may get a
partial reprieve or even evade jail totally because a lower court
still must decide how the sentence is applied, legal experts said.
One possibility could be that he is allowed to spend his days outside
as long as his nights are behind bars. Some supporters have suggested
that Bove's popularity among some sections of French voters might yet
play in his favor, paving the way for leniency.

Aware that there are votes to be had in France by jumping on the
anti-globalization bandwagon, politicians have sought to play up
their credentials in this area, for example by visiting the Porto
Alegre World Social Forum in Brazil. Bove also is fighting a separate
six-month jail sentence handed down last December for destroying
genetically modified rice plants in a 1999 raid on a research center.
A decision on that is not expected before the end of the year.


Crop Hopping

- Brian Johnson, The Daily Telegraph, Letter Feb 7, 2002

SIR - English Nature's research on genetically modified crops has not
found the gene transfer from crops to weeds, (letter, Feb. 6) but
from one variety of GM crop to another. This can result in their
offspring having resistance to more than one type of herbicide, not
pesticide as Zac Goldsmith states. We disagree with him that these
technologies have not been properly tested for their environmental
effects. The research we have carried out, and the Government's field
scale trials, are both examples of information that will be used by
the regulatory system in Britain, in which we have full confidence,
to assess potential risks from GM crops before deciding whether to
grow them here commercially. The approach is entirely consistent with
the precautionary principle.

English Nature has an open mind on the future of these crops, and we
will judge their environmental safety on the basis of scientific

- Brian Johnson, Head of Biotechnology Advisory Unit English Nature,
Peterborough, Cambs.UK


Maize Superweeds in Canada?

From: "Stevens Brumbley"

Hi everyone,

In Australia, yesterday morning, on the ABC radio news there was an
interview with a Environmental activist from Canada who claimed that
there were new superweed maize plants that had come about by gene
stacking from the mixing of different GM crops. The story said the
farmers had been ignoring guidelines of the government and had
planted their different GM maize crops too close together resulting
in cross pollination. The seed that had escaped during harvesting has
now grown up as superweeds forcing the farmers to resort to older
more environmentally damaging herbicides.

I can't find any confirmation of this story and I would like to go
back to the ABC radio on this story. Does anyone know anything about

Cheers, Steve Brumbley


Subject: Labelling Will Increase the Price of GM Foods

Labelling of GM foods will certainly enhance the price of
biotech-enhanced products and would be an unnecessary burden in
developing countries especially when there is no scientifc reason for
doing so. Labeling is also an impossible task considering that much
of the food in the developing country such as India is not packaged
and is sold locally in the open markets.

The public preference for GM food may not be encouraging initially
over time, but I am confident that the consumers themselves would
prefer to buy these products if they recognize the superior safety of
these products and understand why they are better than the
traditional untested products. An educational campaign highlighting
the safety of biotech products and their superiority over
conventional products is thus badly needed.

For example, around here in India, the vegetables such as cabbage are
grown literally drenched in insecticides. When consumers understand
that a transgenic cabbage has less or no pesticide residues, they
would clearly prefer GM cabbage.

- P.H.Ramanjini Gowda, Associate Professor of Biotechnology, UAS,
GKVK, Bangalore, India.


CGIAR Under Pressure To Support Seed Treaty

- Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology, Feb 2002 Vol 20 No 2 pp 103 -

Source: CheckBiotech.org. Full text at Nature Biotechnology or

After seven years of negotiation, an International Treaty on Plant
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was adopted by the Food
and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in November
2001. Despite nominal support, the Consultative Group on
International Agriculture Research (CGIAR; Washington, DC), which
maintains up to 50% of the world's unduplicated seed samples, is
facing political pressure to participate actively in the treaty and
is set to discuss the implications at a high-level meeting on 18-20
February. The aim of the treaty is to provide effective legal rules
to free up the exchange of seeds between countries for breeding and
GM crop development, but the issue of plant genetic resources has
been heavily influenced by the nongovernmental organization (NGO)
campaign against biopiracy. Policy analysts say the result is an
ambiguous text that could actually jeopardize the equitable use of
germ plasm and, once ratified, could herald a significant loss of
autonomy for CGIAR centers and burden them with overwhelming

There has been a slump in growth of global seed collections and
access to them since the early 1990s, when many gene banks simply
thought that they had sufficient samples after 20 years of
collecting. The problem was exacerbated at the time by an NGO-fuelled
anti-biopiracy campaign, which resulted in national laws (based on
the Convention on Biological Diversity) restricting access to many
seed collections-a point the FAO has focused on in pushing for this

The new treaty establishes a communal collection of 35 food and 29
feed crops (called the Multilateral System), samples of which are to
be provided by the national gene banks of ratifying countries. The
CGIAR, which was set up to secure food and eradicate poverty in
developing countries, supports 16 International Agricultural Research
Centers (IARCs), and article 15 of the treaty explicitly calls upon
IARCs to place their samples (over 600,000) in the treasury.

To encourage gene-rich developing countries to participate, any
company that commercializes a new variety developed from a sample in
the Multilateral System will have to pay a royalty into a fund to
benefit members and preserve biodiversity. However, the details of
tax tariffs, benefit sharing, and how all of this will be policed are
not addressed in the treaty, and a Governing Body of representatives
of ratifying countries is to be set up (when the treaty comes into
force) to work out these and other issues.

Because such details are unclear, some developing countries have
refused to include their most valuable crops, such as soybean
(China), groundnut (Latin America), and tropical forage grasses
(Africa). Ironically, such countries have also called for restricted
intellectual property rights (IPR) on resources in the Multilateral
System. However, landraces are already considered to have limited
present value for commercial purposes because they require the
investment of a great deal of time and effort to find useful traits
for integration into improved varieties; and the private sector may
be even less interested unless the treaty's fuzzy reference to the
patenting of isolated genes is clarified. Specifically, article
12.3(d) says that recipients of communal plant genetic resources
shall not claim IPR on those resources or their genetic parts or
components "in the form received from the Multilateral System."
Victoria Henson-Apollonio, senior research officer for IPR at the
CGIAR Central Advisory Service, thinks that "it will be difficult for
the Governing Body to clarify the meaning of this article." But
unless this happens, "it is impossible to say if the treaty benefits
do overcome the risks," comments Bernard Le Buanec, secretary general
of Assinsel, which represents more than 1,000 breeding companies

Indeed, this article was the reason that the US and Japan-both major
CGIAR contributors-were the sole abstainers when the treaty was
adopted, and several other developed countries remain concerned about
the article. "Whatever the Governing Body does, many NGOs are
interpreting the treaty as no-patents-on-life; but there will always
be a loophole that nobody can block over national or repatriated
samples," says Dave Wood, an independent, genetic resource policy

This could be highly problematic for CGIAR, because IARCs have
massive responsibilities for tracking the use of their own specimens;
having to form different sets of rules for ratifying and
non-ratifying countries would complicate matters considerably. "There
will be a mounting pressure on the CGIAR to act as the policeman of
global germplasm, a job that it was not designated for," says Wood.
"The treaty is silent on terms of germplasm access for nonmembers,
and we don't know yet how many countries will ratify. What if other
key countries that are IARC partners around the world decide to stay
out?" Henson-Apollonio adds, "It would be ethically difficult, if not
impossible, for the centers to treat countries on a differential

There is also considerable uncertainty over what the IARCs are
expected to contribute to the Multilateral System. Since 1994, after
the anti-biopiracy campaign during which NGOs criticized the World
Bank's influence on CGIAR, samples from all IARC collections have
been under FAO auspices. It is not clear whether their more valuable
enhanced breeding lines that are not in FAO trust will be eligible,
and whether IARCs are required to contribute all their plant genetic
resources, not just those crops listed in the treaty. Despite these
potential problems and although it is not legally obliged to do so,
the CGIAR is under increasing political pressure from governments and
NGOs to comply with the treaty. "Developed countries want to keep the
IARCs in the multilateral system of the treaty [because of their
extensive collections]," says René Poismans, who represents Belgium
in treaty negotiations. Indeed, there are rumors that several
European countries will halt funding to centers that do not support
the treaty. (Poismans notes that because IARCs don't own their
collections, just manage them on behalf of the international
community, it is not clear what would happen to collections if the
centers were to refuse.)

Moreover, NGO influence on the proceedings is evident. The IPGRI, the
Rome-based plant genetic resource center that represented IARCs in
treaty negotiations, is insisting that the CGIAR comply. "The last
thing anybody wants is a return to the days of the '80s and early
'90s when the centers were being widely accused by many developing
countries and NGOs of biopiracy," says Geoffrey Hawtin, director
general of IPGRI. Notably, CGIAR's IPGRI-appointed representative
during treaty negotiations is Cary Fowler, a leading promoter of that
smear campaign when he was at the activist group Rural Advancement
Foundation International (RAFI; Canada). Fowler is eager for the
centers to join up, and RAFI (which recently changed its name to ETC
Group) says that IARCs "have little choice but to participate in the
treaty." It is even urging governments that "IARC gene banks must
become the legal property of the Governing Body" and that "funds to
maintain the collections that presently go to individual IARCs should
go instead to the Governing Body."

The treaty will come into force when it has been ratified by 40
governments-something that could take at least two years. But
FAO/IARC agreements are due for renewal this year, and the centers
have been asked to sign new agreements with the FAO commission on
plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, which will act as
the treaty's Interim Committee until the Governing Body is formed.
"Obviously a decision will have to be taken at the time of signing
the new agreements with FAO or the Governing Body whether or not they
are in the best interest of developing countries and the achievement
of CGIAR's scientific and humanitarian mission," says Hawtin. "The
hope is that, in the meantime, some of the political heat will go out
of debate and many of the outstanding issues for the centers will be
resolved in negotiating these new agreements." But Wood is not so
confident: "Viable and equitable alternatives to global control over
germplasm exist, but there is a growing problem of infiltration of
CGIAR genetic resource policy fora by NGO activists, and I doubt the
IARCs' ability to get their act together almost overnight after many
years of over-centralized policy-making on germplasm."


More Tests Needed On Gene Crops - French Food Agency

- Reuters January 30, http://biz.yahoo.com/rf/020130/l30476074_1.html

PARIS, Jan 30 (Reuters) - More tests are needed to determine the
possible health side-effects of genetically modified organisms,
France's food safety agency said on Wednesday in a report to the
government on the risks of such products. If adopted by the French
government, the agency's conclusion could further delay efforts aimed
at resuming European Union approvals of new genetically modified
organisms (GMOs).

The approval process has been on hold since 1998 when six EU
governments, led by France, said they would not allow any new GMOs
into the 15-nation bloc until tougher rules on testing, labelling and
tracing were adopted.

In its opinion, the AFSSA agency said current rules on GMOs did not
offer complete health guarantees for consumers and the agency raised
questions about the possible side-effects of long-term exposure to
such products. "It is essential that precautions be taken to limit
as much as possible any risks of allergies to transgenic products,''
AFSSA said in a statement. The agency noted that while GMOs were
tested to see if they caused immediate allergic reactions, it was
necessary to test laboratory animals to determine whether there were
any long-term effects from eating gene-spliced crops.

"Only such tests will show potential effects of prolonged exposure on
vital systems -- notably the immune, hormonal and reproductive
systems,'' the agency said. AFSSA also said it would back tests on
humans of any GMOs designed to improve health, but that such tests
regarding gene-spliced crops designed simply to boost farm yields
would pose "ethical problems''. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy
acknowledged last week in Washington that the EU's moratorium on
approvals was a source of frustration for the United States and other
EU trading partners.

Companies like Monsanto Co and Novartis AG have been waiting for
years to know whether their new strains of modified maize, soy and
cotton can be sold in the EU. EU governments are acutely aware of
strong public concerns in their countries over new varieties of
gene-spliced crops.


Modern Biotechnology in Agricultural Development: A Latin American

- Rodrigo Artunduaga-S., Ph.D .,
AgBioView, Feb 8, 2002. http://www.agbioworld.org/

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries are strategic for
global food security, both because they include three of the 12
global centers of origin of crops of mayor socioeconomic importance
and due to their enormous biodiversity . Although representing only
7% of the earth's surface, LAC contains a great amount of the
planet's biodiversity which is concentrated primarily in 18 countries

Recent studies of the World Bank estimate that more than 70% of the
nearly 500 million inhabitants of the region live in urban zones and
daily dispose over 250.000 tons of waste. Less than 55% of this
garbage is treated which in turn contaminates surrounding water
bodies. Almost one third of the population lives in levels of
absolute poverty and more than 40 million indigenous people are
excluded from the development process and don't have access to basic
public services such as education, health and social assistance.
Viewed under this light, the region has a significant challenge to
find an economical development plan which will lead to fostering a
social equilibrium as well as sustainable use of its biodiversity.

The agro industrial sector contributes slightly more than 25% of the
region's GDP, therefore, the effect of the agricultural advancements
derived from research and technological innovation is of utmost
importance for the region. It is a general consensus that
conventional technologies themselves will not provide a sufficient
increase in the quantity and quality of food production to satisfy a
population that is estimated to double in the next 50 years.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has projected that over
the next 25 years: LAC population is expected to increase from 490 to
nearly 680 million. It is possible that more than 30% of the cereal
consumption of LAC will be imported by 2020. The same FAO studies
predict that the arable land in the region, could be expanded by only
12% at acceptable economic and environmental costs (although such
expansion would inflict damage to the remaining biodiversity). The
increase in food demand that is expected to occur in the region
during the same period is 61%. In LAC the only lands potential to
cultivate are the Brazilian Cerrados and the Llanos of Colombia and
Venezuela .

The challenges and opportunities for LAC are large, given the high
participation of the agricultural sector in the region's Gross
Domestic Product. In addition, LAC possesses a rich base of flora,
fauna, and microorganisms essential to obtaining new products fort
the pharmaceutical and food industries.

The agricultural production scenarios of the region are not
homogeneous. Those in the temperate zones of the north and south
differ from the scenarios of the high mountain plains or those of the
wet and dry tropical lowlands and medium-elevation hillsides, such as
those in Central America, the Andean countries and some Caribbean

In the case of agriculture in temperate ecosystems, the situation of
technological engagement is better than in the tropical areas. This
is the case with soybean and wheat, where the results of other areas
have been used, including the recent import of transgenic such as "RR
soybean". In tropical areas, with the exception of rice, there is no
available technological counterpart for the Region. However; the
technological gap with the world's leading countries is widening with
respect to many crops. (Tables 1 and 2 not shown. Please contact the

As we can conclude from analyzing the data of the tables above, The
Latin American region urgently needs agricultural biotechnology, to
improve food production. LAC, progress in biotechnology research has
been particularly rapid in some of the most valuable crops of the
region. Scientists hope that the development of transgenic plants
will help to alleviate both the heavy use of pesticides and the
susceptibility of traditional cultivars to a number of biotic and
abiotic stresses.

The characteristics of modern biotechnology provide both
opportunities and challenges, if LAC countries are able to build
capacity in their national research systems, biotechnology has the
potential to support national efforts towards food security, increase
export potential and sustainable development in the region.

The new agro biotechnology issue is being highly debated mostly in
the rich industrial world. But it is in the developing world where
the promise of this new technology may lie. While people in the
industrial world can afford, if they wish, to take a highly
skeptical, view toward this new technology. A majority of farmers and
consumers in LAC countries, on the other hand, are not yet wealthy or
well fed. This implies they could have much more to gain from agro

* Poor farmers in LAC currently lose a large share of their crop
production (probably more than 30 percent) to diseases and pests.
Biotechnology makes possible the development of plants resistant to
pathogens and pests.

* Low average crop yields in part due to no biotic stress (such as
salt or drought) on plants may overcome this constrain by producing
material better adapted to such stresses.

The use of disease and insect pest protected crops offers potential
agricultural, economic and environmental benefits to LAC farmers.

The countries of the region require appropriate infrastructures that
permit them to acquire, absorb, develop, and efficiently manage
biotechnologies. The creation of enabling conditions must be
addressed in order to obtain the potential benefits of these new
technologies and to minimize any possible adverse effects on the
environment, on the human health or on the agricultural productive

The adoption and expansion of biotechnology in LAC has increased in
recent years. One indicator used to measure the progress in the
biotechnology agricultural sector is the number of field tests of
transgenic crops estimated to be near 870 in the region since 1997.
Nevertheless, with very few exceptions, transgenic crops tested in
agro ecosystems of LAC have been developed in northern industrialized

If we take into account that the cultivated area for the majority of
conventional crops is greater in the developing countries than in the
industrialized countries (14.5 times greater in rice, 3 times greater
in cotton, 2 times greater in corn and almost the totality of cassava
and sweet potato) we can assume that the demand for transgenic
cultivars will increase in developing countries.

LAC must take advantage of these technologies if they want to move
forward in agricultural development. However, the region must also
make an objective, technical evaluation of possible risks for human
health, the environment and the agricultural and cattle production
that could result from the introduction of these technologies into
tropical ecosystems. Every country in the region should analyze the
necessity to have systems in place to identify and monitor potential
adverse effects from Herbicide, disease and insect protected crops,
whether modified through modern biotechnology or through conventional
breeding practices.

While some countries in LAC have biosafety regulations, the majority
do not. What is even more critical is that many do not have the sort
of multiple- and inter-disciplinary personnel needed to carry out
risk analyses and risk management within a methodological framework
as stipulated by modern regulations. Hence their potential
advantages can not be utilized to guarantee necessary biosafety
requirements to protect the environment, human health, the
agricultural production, and the equitable distribution of the
benefits for the welfare of its inhabitants.

It is clear that LAC must continue to develop and perfect existing
regulatory instruments on a par with related international agreements
in order to prevent or minimize possible risks derived from the use
and handling of transgenic products. For this to occur competent
national institutions must also develop institutional capacities in
order to manage and evaluate field trials.

Only then will countries in the region be able to take full advantage
of transgenic crops capable of enhancing agricultural production and
improving food security.

Please contact the author for full text
including data tables and references and also the Spanish version of
this article, if you prefer.