Today in AgBioView - May 1, 2002:
* High Yield Heroes
* Farmer must pay court costs
* RABBI AVRAM I. REISNER: GRAPPLING WITH STICKY ISSUES
* Request for information -- Seedless Fruits
* GM safety tests 'flawed'
* Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology
* Health & Science: Organic vegetables may pose hidden dangers
* Ag Biotech needs to emphasize yield to maximize benefits for Developing
* Let Them Eat Canola
* Biotech crops make inroads as consumers watch
High Yield Heroes
Tech Central Station
By Dennis Avery
April 30, 2002
A remarkably broad coalition of international heroes -- including two
Nobel Peace Prize laureates - is calling for sustainably higher yields of
crops and forest products in the crucial 50 years just ahead.
The coalition kicked off their effort at a news conference in Washington,
D.C., on Tuesday. Its members say that we cannot save the forests and wild
species, let alone end global hunger, if we rely on low-yield production
of food and wood. They recommend no particular technologies, but note
world harvests of food and forest products must double by 2050
I call the coalition members heroes because they're willing to put their
enormous reputations behind politically incorrect strategies. They argue
for intensive farming and tree plantations. They are concerned about
traditional, low-yield farming systems, and letting trees burn instead of
becoming timber. Most of all, they agree that high yields are vital for
humanity and the planet.
The leader of the new coalition is Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Iowa plant
breeder who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Green
Revolution. He and his fellow researchers saved a billion people from
starving during the 1960s. But Borlaug was also the first to note (in
1986) that the higher crop yields saved billions of acres of wildlands
from being plowed down for low-yield food. Today, the total of wildlands
saved by high yield farming has risen to at least 12 million square miles
(not acres), equal to the total land area of the United States, Europe,
and South America. (Or 3,400 Yellowstone National Parks.)
The second Nobel Peace Prize laureate to join the conservation coalition
is former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who won in 1986 for his
Central American peace efforts. Today, he serves as an ambassador for the
FutureHarvest network of internationally funded Third World agricultural
research centers. He says 2 billion people live in or near the Third World
forests that are home to three-fourths of the world's wildlife species
--and the only way they can feed their families is to burn more forest and
hunt more wild animals for bushmeat. Higher-yield research in biology,
ecology, chemistry, and technology is the only way to give these poor
people better opportunities. Yet FutureHarvest's global research budget
last year was a paltry $340 million.
The other coalition leaders:
Former U.S. Senator George McGovern is currently an "ambassador to the
hungry" for the United Nations. He says the world for the first time has
the science and the financial power to finally end hunger -- and world
population growth is rapidly tapering off, so there's no longer any fear
that high-yield farming will produce an overcrowded planet. But without
higher yields, McGovern warns, we'll pit the food needs of malnourished
African kids against the preservation of Africa's unique wildlife. He also
fears more genocide (as in crowded Rwanda, where one million people hacked
each other to death in 1994) and more support among poor Moslem farmers
for suicide bombers.
Patrick Moore of Canada was a co-founder of Greenpeace, but now rejects
that group's anti-science confrontations. Moore reminds us that wood is
the most environmentally friendly building material, and the most
renewable. (He asks: "Where is the Green Steel and the Green Concrete?")
High-yield tree management can support economic growth and literacy for
all the peoples of the world -- and retain more biodiversity than a narrow
fixation on wild forests alone.
Eugene Lapointe is a former secretary-general of CITES, the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species, and now president of the World
Conservation Trust. He favors "wise use" harvests of wildlife -- where the
earnings will produce more of the wildlife. For example, he wants African
villagers to share in revenues from tourists and licensed elephant hunters
-- so the villagers will have a stake in stopping elephant poachers.
James Lovelock, the famous British chemist-philosopher who authored the
Gaia Hypothesis, believes the whole earth is a living organism -- rocks,
seas, atmosphere, and living organisms. He says we cannot manage the
planet because we can't manage what's really important -- the tiny stuff
like plankton and soil bacteria. However, we should avoid doing damage,
such as clearing the tropical forests to plant corn and cassava.
Dr. Per Pinstrup-Anderson won the 2001 World Food Prize for his long-term
projections of world food and cropland requirements. He's been documenting
the slowing surge of world population -- along with the soaring Third
World demand for resource-costly foods like meat, milk and fruit.
These high-yield heroes invite agriculturists, foresters, and true
conservationists all over the world to stand with them, by co-signing the
"Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature with High-yield Farming and
Forestry" by going to http://www.HighYieldConsesrvation.org.
Dennis Avery is director of the Center for Global Food Issues, which
hosted Tuesday's news conference with Borlaug, Moore and LaPointe.
Farmer must pay court costs
Regina Leader Post
May 1, 2002
SASKATOON -- The judge who ruled last year that Percy Schmeiser knowingly
violated Monsanto's patent on its Roundup Ready gene in 1998 has now ruled
the Bruno farmer should pay Monsanto court costs of $153,000.
That's in addition to the estimated $19,832 the two sides in the
long-running patent infringement case agreed was profit from Schmeiser's
1998 canola crop.
The nearly $175,000 in damages and court costs works out to about $175 per
In fact, the amount is likely between $200 and $300 an acre when
Schmeiser's legal bills are counted, points out Monsanto Canada
spokesperson Trish Jordan.
She compares this to the $15 an acre technology use agreement Monsanto
requires farmers to pay if they are using a canola variety that has the
Roundup Ready gene inserted.
However, Schmeiser has always maintained he never went to producer
meetings sponsored by Monsanto to find out the rules, because he grew
conventional varieties of canola and always saved seed from one crop to
plant his next crop.
In his judgment released a year ago, Federal Court of Canada Judge Andrew
MacKay ruled that the seed which Schmeiser had saved from his 1997 crop
and used to plant 1,000 acres of canola in 1998 was "known or ought to
have been known by Mr. Schmeiser to be tolerant to Roundup, a glyphosate
At trial, Schmeiser testified that herbicide resistant canola must have
blown into his field in 1997.
"In a court of law, his arguments were found to be implausible," Jordan
The Monsanto spokesperson says the amount of the damages decided upon by
the judge are less important to the company than the principle of
upholding the company's right to license its Roundup Ready gene for use by
seed companies and farmers.
She said Monsanto has committed itself not to use any court awards in
patent infringement cases for general company revenue. Instead, Jordan
says Monsanto will use such court awards to pay for special charitable
Justice MacKay, who tried the case in June of 2000, ruled April 17 that
Monsanto should get about two-thirds of the amount in legal fees and
disbursements that the company had submitted for costs.
Monsanto Canada Inc. and its American-based parent, Monsanto Company, had
sought costs in the area of $227,365. However, Toronto patent lawyer Roger
Hughes and associates submitted a bill in the amount of $726,000 to
Monsanto for costs relating to prosecuting the case.
Hughes and an associate will be in Saskatoon May 15 when three judges from
the Federal Court of Appeal hear arguments in the appeal of the original
That appeal was filed by Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski of Saskatoon.
It lists 17 points as the basis for the appeal.
It argues Judge MacKay erred in ruling a farmer whose field has canola
seed or plants that possess the genetic modification described in the
Monsanto patent has no right to grow, cultivate, harvest or sell any such
seeds or plants should those seeds have come onto his land in some
Schmeiser testified at trial that it might have been possible that
herbicide resistant canola got into his field from seed blown off passing
trucks or machinery, from pollen carried to his field by wind, birds or
insects or even swaths of canola that were blown onto his field from a
neighbouring farm. Those arguments again form a basis to his appeal.
At trial, Monsanto brought in a number of expert witnesses who cast doubt
on whether canola seed, for example, could fly off a truck a long way into
a field from the road allowance.
During the trial, Schmeiser submitted several dozen photos he had taken
showing "volunteer" canola plants growing randomly in ditches, beside
power poles and even in the village of Bruno. He also brought in other
Saskatchewan farmers to testify who said Roundup resistant volunteer
canola had been found growing on their fields.
Those farmers testified that Monsanto brought in people to manually pull
out such canola plants from their fields.
In the notice of appeal, Zakreski argues Judge MacKay erred by stating
Monsanto had not waived its patent rights by releasing an "invention" into
the environment that they cannot control.
On Monday, Zakreski says he and Schmeiser were disappointed with the
judge's ruling on court costs and are considering a separate appeal of the
Zakreski had argued the court costs in the case against his client should
be set as a lump sum of $10,000, partly because Monsanto pursued Schmeiser
as a test case "from among many farmers under investigation by Monsanto."
Since the decision by Judge MacKay upholding the validity of Monsanto's
patent, the company has pursued legal action against a number of farmers.
Yorkton area farmer Kelly Ryczak settled out of court with Monsanto last
month for an undisclosed amount after the company sued him for planting
canola in 1999, 2000, and 2001 without a technology use agreement.
In the 20 months since his trial, Schmeiser has made numerous trips around
the globe to speak out against genetically modified organisms and to argue
farmers have a traditional right to save the seed they plant from one crop
to the next.
RABBI AVRAM I. REISNER: GRAPPLING WITH STICKY ISSUES
April 30, 2002
Volume 2 Issue 4 Rabbi Avram Reisner has a natural appetite for thorny
issues. So when the question was raised of whether genetic modifications
to foods might make some kosher foods non-kosher, he tackled it.
"These are the sorts of things I take on-real sticky issues," he says.
"This is what I do." His favorite topics usually have to do with the
potential clashes of modern life and technologies with Conservative and
Orthodox Jewish law. That includes not only genetically modified (GM)
foods but also, for instance, partial birth abortions and whether prayer
quorums can be assembled via telecommunications. "There is a need for
Jewish law to adapt to features of modernity which are moving really
Reisner hadn't started his rabbinical career thinking he would become an
authority on applying Jewish law to science and technology. Long before
becoming an adjunct professor at Baltimore Hebrew University and getting
his Ph.D. in Rabbinical Jewish Law at the Jewish Theological Seminary in
New York, he had actually dropped out of the science and math track after
his freshman year in college. He was drawn to the humanities instead, he
says, and was detached from science for about a decade.
His basic affinity for science remains, however, and is serving him well
today-at the very least by helping him to ask the right questions. "As I
found myself drifting towards these issues I had to start learning again,"
he says. "Now I have been involved in bioethics for 20 years."
Reisner addressed the GM food issue in 1997 as part of a written
"responsum" of the Rabbinical Assembly Committee of Jewish Law and
Standards entitled "Curious and Curiouser: Genetic Engineering of Nonhuman
Life." One way of looking at the question is this: could a swine gene,
inserted into a tomato, make the whole tomato non-kosher? On at least one
level, no it can't, says Reisner. That's because an earlier Rabbinical
decision made in the 1890's states that the non-kosher part of a kosher
food must be visible to the naked eye.
This is known as the kashrut issue in Jewish law. A more relevant question
regards what's called kilayim, the biblical prohibition against mixing
species. According to strict kilayim rules, one cannot mix seeds of
different agricultural species and plant different species together in the
same field. It is also against the rule to crossbreed animals or graft
plants. It is even against the rule to yoke a donkey and ox to the same
plow. Among the reasons given later for the kilayim prohibitions are that
the intermixing of species could be seen as an affront to God's natural
creation of species.
Other parts of kilayim, however, are more liberal, allowing, for instance,
offspring of two different varieties of cattle to be considered kosher as
long as those two varieties of cattle are "pure" and kosher. There are
also cases where a Jew can encourage a Gentile (non-Jewish person) to
crossbreed species in his or her possession, and then use the Gentile's
In short, Reisner concludes that between kashrut and kilayim, there is
plenty of room for kosher GM foods. He's also confident that the Jewish
community will continue its traditional willingness to accept
technological changes like GM foods.
"The Jewish community has as a whole been pretty supportive of
forward-pushing science," says Reisner. "It kind of fits with the model of
how the Jewish religion deals with the relation of humankind and nature."
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Request for information -- Seedless Fruits
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 16:56:20 -0500
Today on AgBioView I read about the seedless eggplant that Italian
scientists have created using agricultural biotechnology. I have been
familiar with seedless fruits from many years. The posting today made me
ask questions that I have never before asked; I asked myself questions to
which I had no clue of an answer.
Recently I posted a response about Trait Protection Systems (V-GURT and
How do plant breeders create seedless fruits? Are seedless fruits
analogous to trait protection systems? How are seedless fruits propagated
in future years? If farmers plant a seedless variety one year, must
farmers purchase something (cuttings? seeds?) to grow the seedless
variety the following year (if it is an annual). As the seedless fruit is
seedless, am I correct in concluding that this year's crop of seedless
fruits is sterile?
May I ask someone to give me a citation to a simple and easily
understandable discussion of seedless fruit creation, propagatioin, etc?
As readers can tell from my posting, I need an explanation of seedless
I have often heard discussion of how trait protection systems in
agricultural biotechnology are functionally like hybrid crops. I recall
no discussions of seedless fruits as being equivalent to agricultural
biotechnology crops with trait protection systems.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
From Brian Rennison (Brenn97389@aol.com)
This news was announced on the BBC 8 00 a.m.
Details below are from BBC News|Scitech.
The tests were not good enough to base a student project on, let alone a
marketing consent for a GM product.
This is not of news to those of us who are trying to gainsay F.o.E's
current anti-trial, anti-GM mis-information campaign wanted to hear. It is
Dr Stephen Keston
GM safety tests 'flawed'
Saturday, 27 April, 2002
Safety tests on genetically modified maize currently growing in Britain
were flawed, it has emerged. The crop, T-25 GM maize, was tested in
laboratory experiments on chickens. During the tests, twice as many
chickens died when fed on T-25 GM maize, compared with those fed on
conventional maize. This research was apparently overlooked when the crop
was given marketing approval in 1996. Acre - the Advisory Committee on
Releases to the Environment - granted approval for the commercial use of
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Health & Science: Organic vegetables may pose hidden dangers
Scripps Howard News Service
By LANCE GAY
ATLANTA (March 3, 2002 9:29 a.m. EST) - Those leafy vegetables and fresh
carrots look so good and nutritious on the supermarket shelves. But
appearances are deceptive - produce grown on manure could be harboring
unseen pathogens that could make you very sick.
Scientists attending an Institute of Food Technologists meeting here say
the trends away from artificial fertilizers and back to organic farming
and using manure to grow fruits and vegetables pose a danger. Pathogens
such as E. coli, shigella and salmonella that grow in the stomachs of
animals can be transferred to leafy greens, strawberries and root
Michael Doyle, director of the center for food safety at the University of
Georgia, said tests found that from 1.2 percent to 4.4 percent of produce
tested positive for salmonella or shigella, which is picked up from the
soil, transferred from manure used to fertilize plants, or transferred to
the produce from water used in processing.
"We know that produce can contain harmful pathogens," he said.
Doyle and other scientists say they worry that the trend toward organic
farming and greater use of manure could result in more outbreaks of food
diseases. He said that consumers must take as much care in handling fresh
fruits and vegetables as they do with raw meats.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington food safety
interest group, said contaminated produce - including sprouts, lettuce,
berries and cantaloupe - was responsible for 148 outbreaks of food
poisoning in the United States between 1990 and 2001, with 10,504 people
One of the country's worst produce-related outbreaks of food poisoning was
in New England in 1996, when 61 people were made sick - 21 of them
hospitalized - with a particularly lethal strain of E. coli. The problem
was tracked to a California producer who grew salad greens in fields fed
by water from an adjacent beef cattle farm.
Paul Mead, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said
some food poisoning outbreaks caused by produce aren't being detected when
Mead said a computer analysis uncovered a previously undetected 1999
outbreak of salmonella poisoning that researchers were able to trace back
to mangoes imported from Brazil. Mead said the outbreak was only revealed
after investigators searched for the reasons for an unusual spike in
reported salmonella cases, and salmonella-contaminated toads were found
living in the water the Brazilian farm used to wash the mangoes.
The Centers for Disease Control earlier this year renewed its warning to
consumers to fully cook alfalfa sprouts, often served raw in salads and
sandwiches, after an outbreak in Arizona, California, Colorado and New
Mexico last year sickened 32 people. Researchers traced the problem to
sprouts grown in contaminated water.
Barbara Robinson, deputy administrator of the Department of Agriculture's
national organic program - the agency developing standards for foods
brought to supermarket shelves as "organic" - said organic farming
regulations aim to reduce the risk of transfers of pathogens from manure.
Farmers enrolling in the program are prohibited from using raw manure on
edible crops within 120 days of harvest, or are required to use manure
composted to kill pathogens. The National Organic Program was introduced
last year, and is to be fully implemented in October, when labels are to
appear on products declaring they are "100 percent organic" or "organic"
for products that contain 95 percent organic materials.
"There are very specific restrictions," Robinson said. Farmers have to
keep proper documentation of how they are using manure on the soil, and
when it was administered.
U.S. livestock produce 1.3 billion tons of manure a year.
Environmentalists have long sought to encourage a return to organic
gardening as a way of reducing the stockpile.
Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, a
group representing organic farmers and processors, said proper handling of
manure can reduce pathogens.
"Organic farming has addressed all those things in regulations," she said.
DiMatteo said modern organic farms actually use less manure than
traditional farms because they rely on crop rotation, the planting of
cover crops, and using composted material to replace artificial
Lee-Ann Jaykus, associate professor of food microbiology at North Carolina
State University, said the best prevention of food disease is to stop
pathogens on the farm.
"But stopping all pathogens at the production level is not possible at
this time," she said, urging consumers to use common sense in the kitchen.
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 17:55:10 EDT
Subject: Ag Biotech needs to emphasize yield to maximize benefits for
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org Ms. Mytelka,
1. Your statement may undervalue the importance of weed control and insect
control in food production in the developing world. I think that if one
were to review the statistics you would find that the losses from weed
competition and insect damage are relatively greater in the developing
world than the developed countries.
Biotech insect control has very significant benefits where people are
endangered by chemical applications because of inadequate training and
improper equipment, in addition to the environmental benefits of decreased
chemical usage. Where chemicals are not being used, improved insect
control increases yield or farmers would not choose to use it be they rich
While weed control solutions involving purchased herbicides are have some
economic associated economic difficulties, the potential benefits of
improved yields through better herbicide use, with or without biotech, is
substantial. Better weed control in the developing world is more likely to
increase production rather than mainly decrease cost, as recent biotech
associated changes in the West.
Direct improvement of yield through biotech is very complex and costly.
The scarcity of genes in test is not necessarily the result of lack of
research expenditure, public or private, but a function of the limited
success from those efforts. It is not necessarily irrational to focus
where achievement is easiest to achieve as in weed control or insect
tolerance. The developing world is not served by inefficient research
expenditures. Biotech yield improvement will come as the technology
develops. More expenditure is needed but there should be no slighting of
the importance of what has been done before.
2. You also have suggested that "governments must promote the education
system to build a multidisciplinary understanding of biotechnology and do
more to build up science and technology assessment capacities among civil
servants and civil society in general, to enable better risk assessment."
We are all for "better" risk assessment. Better does not necessarily
require a great deal of expenditure for biosafety. For the products of
biotechnology that are substantially equivalent to their normal
counterparts, there has been a great deal of waste in their evaluation to
this point. Food safety in general needs better risk evaluation.
Separating the evaluation of the safety of biotechnology from other food
safety issues has lead to a global miss allocation of food safety
This of course is not to diminish the importance of deciding what products
are substantially equivalent.
In conclusion, as with development of any other technology, it is
important to focus on where biotech improvement is possible, as well as
where it is needed. Discussion of both the risks and benefits of
biotechnology are frequently over generalized to include things that are
not going to happen in within the current planning timeframe.
I hope that you find this helpful in orienting the activities of the
Paul Christensen 2736 Greenwood Acres Dr. DeKalb, IL 60115
Tel. 1-815-756-6491 Mobil: 1-815-621-8549 Fax: 1-815-756-6491 Email:
Let Them Eat Canola
April 29, 2002
By Eric Peters
With China and India embracing biotechnology's hopeful promise of ending
hunger and malnutrition among their combined 2.3 billion citizens,
America's well-fed activists are showing signs of desperation. How else
can you explain why an obscure activist group is threatening to sue the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) if it approves a new genetically
engineered canola seed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already
says is perfectly safe for human consumption?
Joseph Mendelson, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS),
said his "public interest" group believes that the USDA's assessment of
the new seed's safety is flawed, and intends to sue the department if it
Anti-tech groups like the Center for Food Safety ˇ perhaps overcome by
their phobia of scientific progress ˇ fail to discern that canola itself
is a man-made crop created from traditional rapeseed in the 1970s by
Canadian plant breeders. The Canadians developed the canola plant to
produce an oil high in the mono-unsaturated fatty acids that medical
researchers believe decreases the amount of LDL cholesterol in the
bloodstream that puts humans at increased risk for heart attack and
hardening of the arteries. Canola, which is grown in Canada, Australia and
to a lesser extent in the United States, is widely recognized as the
healthiest salad and cooking oil available to consumers. It's also a key
ingredient in low-fat, low-cholesterol shortenings and margarines, and
variations of it are added to make numerous processed foods healthier ˇ
including potato chips and a wide variety of other snack products.
There was, in fact, nothing controversial about canola until research
scientists at Monsanto discovered a way to genetically engineer canola
seeds to make them resistant to specific herbicides ˇ thus significantly
reducing the amount of chemicals farmers use to control weeds. Canola,
like many other crops, requires treatment with various herbicides to kill
weeds that attempt to crowd it out during the growing cycle ˇ reducing
yields and often seed quality. The new herbicide-resistant strain of
canola means less spraying by farmers and less chemical run-off in
adjacent streams, lakes and aquifers ˇparticular so, if farmers are
engaged in no-till farming.
Other biotech researchers are working on ways to make canola even more
nutritious. For instance, nutritionists recently have become concerned
about the potential negative health impacts of trans-fatty acids, a group
produced when vegetable oils like canola, are hydrogenated ˇ or solidified
ˇ to make commercial frying oils. Biotechnologists have been able to
modify the fatty acid profile of canola to contain even higher levels on
monounsaturated fatty acids. This improved version of canola oil will be
available to consumers within the next few years ˇ reducing the levels of
harmful saturated fats even lower than canola oil's current 7-percent
The FDA says the new canola is nutritionally and environmentally safe. The
American Dietetic Association adds that biotechnology enhances the
quality, nutritional value and variety of food ˇ especially important on a
planet where some 2 billion people exist on subsistence diets.
Opposition to genetically engineered crops may be largely based on a
fundamental misunderstanding of what they are. "Biotechnology" is a broad
term that describes a wide spectrum of scientific methods that evolved
over the last three decades. In fact, the term biotechnology often is used
interchangeably with the term "genetic engineering," which scientists use
to insert "good" genes into seeds ˇ improving food production and lowering
their need for pesticides and herbicides. Anti-tech activists like the
CFS' Mr. Mendelson need to take a refresher course in Science 101. If they
successfully completed such a course, they might abandon their
Luddite-like resistance to modernity and progress.
Whatever such isolated eco-activists decide to do, the United States
cannot afford to wait for them to have a change of heart. China and India
ˇlikely to be our chief economic rivals in the century ahead ˇare moving
full-throttle on biotechnology ˇ massively increasing their spending on
research and development.
Given this new challenge and the tremendous potential of biotechnology to
create a healthier and more environmentally friendly world, the United
States must move swiftly just to keep pace.
Eric Peters is an editorial writer for The Washington Times and a
Biotech crops make inroads as consumers watch
By K.T. Arasu
Apr 28, 2002
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nebraska farmer Doug Boisen considers himself a "tough
sell" when it comes to new products to use on his cost-conscious, highly
competitive grain farm.
But he said he has gone from zero to 100 percent in about six years in the
planting of crops genetically altered to kill insect pests or withstand
potent weed killers.
This spring, he will plant 450 acres with a so-called "transgenic" type of
soybean he says saves him money through lower herbicide and energy use.
Planting biotech crops is "becoming more widely accepted," Boisen said.
"In 1995-96, I didn't plant any. Now all my soybeans are Roundup Ready,"
he said, referring to the variety patented by life sciences giant Monsanto
Co. to be resistant to its popular Roundup herbicide.
The conversion of U.S. farmers like Boisen to genetically modified crops
has been steady for the last five years. Many of them have embraced the
technology even though there is little evidence that consumers --
especially those in Europe and Asia who are vocal in opposing it -- have
become any less put off by food made with genetically modified
Consumer groups have raised questions about the long-term, unintended
health and environmental impact of growing crops from seeds with
While the grounds of such concerns are largely theoretical, the benefits
for farmers are tangible. The use of biotech crops help them cut herbicide
costs and reduce crop loss caused by pests.
For the developing world, particularly Africa, the arguments in favor of
planting genetically modified crops appear to be winning converts. The
ability of GMO technology to develop drought-resistant plants, food crops
for high-salt soils, or crops with missing nutrients -- like vitamin A for
rice -- has offered a beacon of hope for world regions, where hunger is
INDIA, BRAZIL -- EUROPE NEXT?
In the United States, 74 percent of the nearly 73 million acres to be
planted with soybeans this year will be transgenic, up 6 percent from last
year. Gene-altered corn will be sowed on 32 percent of the 79 million corn
acres, a 6-percent rise. GMO cotton will account for 71 percent of the
14.5 million acres planted, up 2 percent.
But like the Nebraska farmer who took his first tentative steps into
agricultural biotechnology in the mid-1990s, those who till the land for a
living in places such as India and Philippines may soon be following in
Indian authorities in March approved the first commercial production of
three genetically modified cotton hybrids after more than five years of
field trials. India is the world's top cotton producer and has the most
acres planted with the crop, totaling some nine million hectares (3.6
Last month, the Philippines approved the field testing of crops with
genetically modified organisms.
A report issued in January by researchers at the University of
California-Davis said China is developing the largest capacity outside the
United States to use biotechnology to genetically modify crops, and that
it was targeting crops including cotton, rice, wheat, potatoes and
The report said global sales of genetically modified foods grew from an
estimated $75 million in 1995, when the crops were first commercially
planted, to some $2.3 billion in 1999.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications, a not-for-profit international group said in January that
worldwide plantings of transgenic crops were about 50 million acres (123.6
million hectares) last year, a 30-fold increase from 1996.
Brazil, the world's second-largest producer of soybeans after the United
States, has also taken a long-awaited first step in approving use of
transgenic crops after years of making it illegal for farmers to produce
and sell such crops. That did not stop widespread smuggling of GMO soybean
seed into Brazil from neighboring Argentina -- where GMO soybeans are
Even the European Union (news - web sites) -- which froze new licenses and
field tests of GMO crops three years ago amid a wave of food scares from
mad cow disease to dioxin in animal feeds -- has said it will consider new
GMO approvals later this year.
THINGS LOOKING UP?
So are things looking up for transgenic crops? From the supply side of the
equation, they are. From the consumer demand side, though, there's still a
lot of caution and questions.
"The data we have relative to consumer acceptance hasn't changed that much
around the world," said Neil Harl, professor of economics at Iowa State
University. "The consumer is king here, and the consumers will ultimately
get what they want."
There are 32 countries that have or are about to implement mandatory
labeling for foods with GMO ingredients, signifying caution but leaving
choice in the hands of consumers.
Harl said consumer acceptance would ultimately depend on the supply of and
demand for GMO and conventional crops, as well as the cost of segregating
crops to ensure product purity.
The United States says GMO foods are safe and argues that the cost of
keeping GMO and conventional crops separated from farmgate through the
food chain adds costs needlessly and will raise food prices.
Greenpeace genetic engineering specialist Charles Margulis said many
consumers reject foods with gene-altered ingredients because they fear the
unknown, but also because they are not deriving any direct benefit from
"Why should they and their children take all the risks ... and they don't
see any benefit," he said.
Margulis said biotech backers have been touting the benefits to consumers
of the second and third generation of transgenic crops the last 10 years,
but they have yet to materialize.
In the latest controversy over genetically modified crops, Greenpeace said
last week that it had found food in Switzerland with traces of a type of
transgenic corn grown for research in Argentina, but where its sale is
Herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready corn, developed by Monsanto, is not
approved for sale in Argentina but the crop can be grown for testing
A Monsanto spokesman cast doubts on Greenpeace's claim.
"We don't know what methods were used to detect this corn and because
there are many times when non-transgenic elements test positive as
transgenic, we don't think it is the case" that there really was
transgenic material, he said.
The image of biotech foods took a hard knock in late 2000 when a variety
of corn not yet approved for human consumption on concerns it might cause
allergic reactions showed up in taco chips and other foods, sparking
massive food recalls, lower U.S. corn exports, and stiffer food testing.
The specter of StarLink corn, approved only for animal feed, has receded
but remains a point of reference for those who advocate caution against
such products. Several U.S. class action suits are still pending against
Aventis CropScience, the company that produced StarLink.
NEW BIOTECH CROPS TARGET CONSUMER BENEFITS
GMO backers say acceptance of such crops will rise steadily when consumers
understand the direct benefits to them.
Environmental benefits through the reduced herbicide and pesticide use are
evident but not really as tangible direct gains for consumers.
But work is under way to engineer rice, the staple diet in Asian
countries, to contain Vitamin A, which is important for vision and growth.
Research is being done to add Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant thought to aid in
cancer prevention, in vegetable oils.
The nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology said late last year
that GMO foods such as corn, lettuce, tomato, soybeans, cowpeas, potatoes
and even tobacco could also become an important way to vaccinate people
against certain diseases cheaply and safely.