Today in AgBioView: June 3, 2002
* Cancer boost fuels GM row
* Zimbabwe turns away U.S. food consignment
* Madder et. al. From a farmers point of view
* Forbidden Pesticide Found on Ecological Farms in Germany
* GERMAN OPPOSITION BLAMES AGRICULTURE MINISTER FOR CANCER ROW
* Only organic farms in feed crisis - German minister
* RE: BBC GM Drama
* Organic-farming crops smaller, study says
* Icrisat To Develop Disease-resistant Crops As Part Of Research Studies
* GMO Conference in Brussels
* EASING FEARS OVER GM
* Biotech activities weighed down by misconceptions
Cancer boost fuels GM row
June 01, 2002
By ALASTAIR DALTON
A NEW row over genetically modified food erupted last night after
scientists discovered unexpectedly high levels of an anti-cancer chemical
in GM tomatoes.
The fruit was genetically manipulated by researchers at the Beltsville
Agricultural Research Centre in Maryland to delay ripening and extend its
The process was also found to produce four times the normal levels of an
antioxidant that can protect against breast and prostate cancer and reduce
hardening of the arteries, the journal Nature Biotechnology reported.
But anti-GM protesters said the discovery underlined the need for caution.
Dr Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: This clearly
illustrates what we have been saying about the unpredictable effects of
Zimbabwe turns away U.S. food consignment
May 31, 2002
HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe, facing severe food shortages, turned away a
U.S. donation of 10,000 tons of corn because it was not certified as free
from genetic modification, U.S. officials said Friday.
The food was diverted instead to neighboring Zambia, Mozambique and
Malawi, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
"Zimbabwe did not waive its requirement that entering commodities must be
certified as entirely non-GMO," or not of genetically modified origin, the
Another 8,500 tons of food valued at nearly dlrs 5 million was being
delivered in response to the southern African country's growing food
crisis, the embassy said. About 34,400 tons of U.S. food aid has already
been provided, the statement said.
"Zimbabwe will need to implement economic reforms if it is to address the
larger food crisis," it said.
The U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning System Network estimates nearly one
fourth of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people are currently facing hunger.
The World Food Program estimates half the population will need food aid to
avert starvation this year.
The agriculture-based economy is facing its worst crisis since
Severe food shortages have been caused by erratic rains and farm
disruptions in a government program to nationalize 95 percent of
Harvests of the corn are forecast at less than half of last year's crop
and the country will need to import at least 1.5 million tons of cereals.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has accused the government
of using emergency food as a political weapon by denying aid to the hungry
in opposition strongholds.
U.S. officials said American-supplied food was being distributed through
the World Food Program and independent charities led by World Vision
"These programs are conducted on a nonpartisan basis. Attempts to use U.S.
food aid for partisan political purposes would jeopardize the food relief
effort," the embassy said.
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Madder et. al. From a farmers point of view
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2002 01:07:51 -0500
From a farmer's point of view the paper by Madder et. al. does not give
enough information to really tell what they are doing. Since they measure
the tonnage of the grass clover fields I assume they were harvesting it in
some manner. I wonder where the manure comes from and the grass goes since
there is no credit to livestock for the operation.
The biggest problem I have with the study is using identical rotations for
the organic and conventional trials. I have been actively involved with
farming since 1957 and the only farm I have ever seen with crop land in
perennial grass was one that ran a 500 head feed lot and had 40 acres in
blue panic grass for summer pasture to background calves near the feed lot
that it tried for 3 or 4 years before it went back to using hybrid sorghum
Sudan grass. It was not part of a crop rotation but part of a cattle
If the conventional farm had been run as most farms are, cropping the 40%
of the land Madder et. al. had in grass the wheat yields on the organic
farm would have been 48% of conventional farm and potato yields on the
organic farm would have been 24% of conventional farm. The organic farm
would only use about a third as much energy as a conventional farm with
100% of its land in production but it is not yielding over 40% or 45% of a
conventional farm if you look at the farm as a complete unit. Admittedly
the conventional farm has 16 MT of good grass hay per HA on the 40% of the
ground in grass but I could sell a few tons of the extra potatoes buy all
the hay or rent the pasture I needed. The price of four of five tons of
potatoes would buy sixteen tons of grass hay around here. The price of
eight tons of potatoes would buy sixteen tons of good alfalfa hay here.
With potatoes making close to 60 MT/Ha and grass making 16Mt/Ha I don't
think I need any grass that conventional farm.
Another thing I find very troubling is the weed problem in the wheat.
Madder et. al. claim that 9 to 11 weed species in organic wheat compared
to 1 in conventional wheat is an indication of biodiversity. My experience
raising wheat tells wheat that is that weedy is sure to have serious
problems sooner or later. It is likely to be a total loss to weeds if the
weather is uncooperative.
The final problem I have with the paper is the methods they call
conventional are no longer modern farming methods, at least in my part of
(Sent by a German AgBioViewer)
A Forbidden Pesticide Found on Ecological Farms in Germany
On an ecological farm in Lower Saxony, Germany the pesticide Nitrofen has
been found in wheat used for the feeding of poultry according to different
media reports published recently.
The application of the pesticide Nitrofen is not allowed within the
European Union. In Germany the product was already banned in 1990. The
reason: the strong toxicity and its accumulation potential combined with a
slow degradation of the molecule in the environment.
In animal test with high doses the substance was carcinogenic. The
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a sub-organisation of
the WHO, has categorised Nitrofen as carcinogenic and teratogenic.
The wheat itself came from an other ecological farm in Brandenburg,
Germany. Several hundred tons of it had been sold in 2001. Therefore most
of the wheat is already fed to poultry and it can be legitimately assumed
that eggs and the poultry meet is sold to the final consumer.
Governmental authorities did already had information on the contamination
since March this year not informing the public. Also under pressure are
now the ecological control authorities which knew about the contamination
At least 120 farms are affected in different regions of Germany but it is
expected that the number will grow.
Interesting enough: Neither on the Greenpeace web page, nor on the web
page from BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) nor on the page from
Pestizid Aktions-Netzwerk (PAN) (a usually very critical organisation on
pesticides applications and on plant biotechnology) the case is mentioned.
You will not find one word on "Nitrofen" on these pages ...... (27.5.02 at
Whether this would be also the case if Nitrofen could be related to the
application of genetic engineering I keep to the evaluation of the reader
GERMAN OPPOSITION BLAMES AGRICULTURE MINISTER FOR CANCER ROW
Agence France Presse (via Agnet)
June 1, 2002
BERLIN - The leader of the German opposition, Edmund Stoiber was cited as
blaming the agriculture minister, Renate Kuenast in an interview in Welt
am Sonntag newspaper due to be published on Sunday, for a cancer scare
caused by organically-reared chickens being fed herbicide contaminated
grain, adding that, "If organic farms are discredited, she is entirely
responsible." Referring to speculation that the minister, a member of the
Green Party, had been told of the herbicide traces in March but had done
nothing, Stoiber was quoted as saying, "If this is the case then it is a
very serious scandal." Kuenast was appointed agriculture minister in
January 2001 after Germany was hit by its first case of so-called Mad Cow
Disease, and promised to encourage organic agriculture.
Only organic farms in feed crisis - German minister
June 3, 2002
HAMBURG - Only organic poultry farms in Germany, not conventional ones,
are thought so far to have received feed contaminated with a dangerous
herbicide, the country's agriculture minister Renate Kuenast said last
Kuenast, who is also in charge of consumer protection, said on German
television station ZDF that there were no signs that conventional farms
had received contaminated feed. Tens of thousands of chickens on German
organic farms are being readied for slaughter after it was confirmed they
had consumed a consignment of feed contaminated with the chemical
nitrofen, which can cause cancer in people eating meat and eggs.
A conventional farm in the state of Lower Saxony where poultry tested
positive for nitrofen on Thursday had been in the process of converting to
organic operations, Kuenast said.
There were no signs that organic cattle or pig farms are involved.
Kuenast said authorities still had no idea of the source of contamination.
A joint task force of federal and state agencies starts work last week to
trace the source and assess the size of the problem, which is still
Wheat contaminated with nitrofen was used by a company in Lower Saxony to
make 550 tonnes of feed and delivered to over 100 farms throughout Germany
producing chickens, eggs and other poultry using ecological farming
About 98,000 chickens on farms in the eastern state of
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern which received tainted feed will now be slaughtered
as farmers have been ordered not to sell them.
In Lower Saxony, the state Agriculture Ministry said 59 organic farms
received tainted feed. They have been ordered to stop commercial sales
while tests start and some 357,000 animals, mainly chickens, are impounded
while tests go on.
The European Union Commission asked Germany to tell it how many animals
were involved in the problem and whether tainted meat had been exported to
From: "Shunnosuke Abe"
Subject: RE: BBC GM Drama
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2002 09:19:04 +0900
Thanks a lot for the very interesting story by BBC. The BBC story is a
very nice theoretical story.
Yes, I agree with them, it is POSSIBLE. But they might want to make other
dramas as well, such as:
1. Spreading organic farming makes people suffer from starvation, disease,
and poisoning, while people have to work all day long on organic farms and
to cut down forests while being watched by organic leaders with baseball
bats. They CAN also make this. Some animal or plant disease becomes a new
disease (like BSE) and infects people. FMD will also provide an
interesting story, because in a few cases it infects people and therefore
there's a chance to become a human disease as AIDS. (In organic farming
people (farmers) will be closer to and spend more time with cattles). 20
years ago, nobody expected recycling of animal debris (which was thought a
good thing for the environment and for helping to conserve cereals for
human food) would cause recycling BSE, for instance. And now we have to
share foods with them. Also, nobody would expect plant defending materials
to kill people. Consumers even think vegetables eaten by pests are safe
because living things CAN eat.
2. Continuing unregulated traditional breeding makes vast numbers of weeds
and toxic plants, and creates new species of organisms which ruin the
environment and our health. In that world, cross-pollination of those
toxic plants make crops toxic as well, since barriers of species can
easily be broken by traditional breeding, such as ploidity or chemicals
(natural and synthetic) to cause mutations. Also unknown genes and
unintended introduction of thousands of genes without knowledge by
traditional breeding methods CAN cause various biohazards. Also 100 years
ago, nobody thought many plant varieties would escape from breeding
places, farms, conventional testing farms, and gardens to start screwing
up native species. Also nobody would have guessed these crossings would
pose the threat of expression of unusual proteins and also increase of
allergens and carcinogens. 100 years ago nobody would think oil and its
debris from traditional varieties of rape contained toxic levels of
goitrins and indeed animals fed with it had been poisoned and the same
scare for human as well.
The story made by BBC against GM is possible but unlikely, that they say.
My stories proposed here are also POSSIBLE but likely, or even already
If anyone can prove those stories IMPOSSIBLE I will appreciate it.
It's a lot of fun to argue with anti-GM people.
All the best,
Organic-farming crops smaller, study says
The Globe and Mail
By STEPHEN STRAUSS
May 31, 2002
A Swiss study has reaffirmed a classic productivity/ecology split that has
long bedeviled organic agriculture. Evidence collected over 21 years and
reported in today's edition of the journal Science shows that organically
grown potatoes, wheat and forage crops create richer and more diverse
ecosystems. They also seem to be more efficient at recycling nutrients.
The same study shows that when compared with conventional agriculture,
organic-potato production was 33 per cent to 42 per cent less, wheat about
10 to 20 per cent lower and forage crops minimally less. The lower
productivity was offset by prices of organic produce, which were anywhere
from 15 to 60 per cent higher than conventional agriculture.
Icrisat To Develop Disease-resistant Crops As Part Of Research Studies
Asia Intelligence Wire
June 02, 2002
As part of its research activities to develop genetically-modified crops,
the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat)
is working on relatively disease-resistant varieties in groundnut, pigeon
pea, chickpea, jowar and sorghum. Using biotechnology as a tool, we are
into research activities for developing genetically-modified crops which
are expected to be disease resistant varieties. The process is still in
the experimental stage. With the approval of the government, field trials
may be conducted in the next three years, Icrisat sources stated. Abiding
by the bio-safety regulation, the experiments are being conducted in
specially-made glass houses and not planted in pots or sown in openfields,
they confirmed. These facilities will help the researches to have right
evaluation right from the culture level, the sources said. Meanwhile,
Icrisat has developed about 10-15 chick pea varieties which can be grown
in shorter duration as compared to other varieties. These varieties are
supposed to be resistant to two major epidemic diseases affecting the crop
- grey mould and wilt. According to statistics, nearly in 2.6 million
hectare of rice is grown in Andhra Pradesh. And in 0.3 million hectare,
rice is grown during the rainy season. Once the rice is harvested, the
cultivated area is left fallow. During this period, lentils, red gram,
chickpea are some of the varieties which can be grown during the fallow
period. The roots of this legume are so tough that they can penetrate into
rock hard soils. The chickpea production in Andhra Pradesh has increased
from 300 kg/ha during 1986 to 1,000 kg/ha and the total acreage quintupled
to 300,000 hectare from 60,000 hectare in the state.
Are GMO's really a solution for world hunger? What other solutions are
there? Do GMO's contribute towards healthier food and how can consumers
benefit from it? These and other questions will be discussed at a
14:00 -18:30 in Charlemagne Room S1
Rue de la Loi, 170
VERY IMPORTANT! THE CONFERENCE IS FREE OF CHARGE - BUT YOU NEED TO
REGISTER AT firstname.lastname@example.org IN ORDER TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE
See schedule at
EASING FEARS OVER GM
Irish Times (Via Agnet)
May 30, 2002
By Dick Ahlstrom
According to this story, there has been something of a public groundswell
against biotech, against modified foods and genetically altered anything.
And yet for a subject that exercises so much concern, a survey done by
Forfas suggests very few people understand what biotech is all about. In a
poll last year it found seven in 10 people had no knowledge of the term
biotechnology. And of the three in 10 who did know the term, six in 10
said they didn't understand what it means.
Biotech researcher, Prof Fergal O'Gara, has had to contend with this
public mistrust, but believes things are gradually changing. He also says
scientists involved in biotech research have greatly altered the way they
work because of public worries. The story says that Prof O'Gara is
director of the BIOMERIT Research Centre at University College Cork, which
is part of the Department of Microbiology. The centre has 25 full-time
researchers specialising in the development of innovative biotechnology
and in time will link with the new Bioscience Institute. This development
will include three research groups co-funded by the Higher Education
Authority and Science Foundation Ireland.
The public had no difficulty with medically linked biotechnology, O'Gara
says. "You can clearly point to the benefits of that, but when you came to
something like food, it became very emotive. Was it necessary to change
the genetic make up of food?" he says. "As scientists we had difficulty in
explaining this to people." Early products such as engineered
herbicide-resistant beets were promoted as beneficial because less
chemical spray might be used, but people didn't accept it. O'Gara was
quoted as saying, "This wasn't a perceived advantage. Clearly the new
direction is very, very much defined by past lessons. It has to be seen
clearly to have benefits, health benefits and nutritional benefits."
It is a process called "reverse engineering", he says. "It is not being
driven by what science can achieve." Rather, the researchers find a
beneficial use for the technology and then work backwards into the science
to see if it can be done. "Now you sit down with all the vested interests"
including the regulators of the technology, he says. "That never happened
before." For example, concerns over engineered organisms carrying
antibiotic resistance genes into the wild caused researchers to find a
better way. "New techniques are now available so you don't have to use
those marker genes," he says. This new approach is seen in the projects
underway at BIOMERIT, he believes.
The use of the science is much more considered and any potential impact on
the environment is examined. One area involves studying the interaction
between microbes and plant hosts. The object is to come up with natural
microbial protectants that can keep insects and fungal infections at bay
without having to use chemical sprays. The process involves biological
control of pests by using engineered microbes that can respond to the
plant's distress signals when under attack.
Biotech activities weighed down by misconceptions
Asia Intelligence Wire
June 03, 2002
By Debra Moreira
BIOTECHNOLOGY offers a way to make produce taste better, last longer,
resist diseases and consequently revolutionise the multi-billion ringgit
food industry but also causes widespread safety concerns.
Many environmental, health and religious groups are up in arms against
Frankenfood, not least for fear that nature itself could be irreversibly
And religious groups and vegetarians will not risk consuming genetically
modified (GM) food because such products can involve gene transfers from
For example, pig genes can be transferred to a vegetable or halal animal,
and fish genes to a fruit.
As such, Dr Koh Chong Lek from Universiti Malaya's Institute of Biological
Sciences believes the biggest hurdle for full commercialisation of
superfood is still ahead.
This is despite the fact that food has in fact been modified by people for
thousands of years.
Fermentation, for example, is a form of biotechnology and it has been used
to produce wine, beer, cheese and bread. Likewise, selective cultivation
of rice and corn have created multiple strands and varieties with improved
It's just that today we can do it faster, he said. Through genetic
manipulation techniques, we can now alter the DNA of a cell directly.
This means the very building blocks of plants can be reconstituted,
allowing for only selected genetic traits to be transferred, as opposed to
wholesale adoption by target organisms in the conventional method.
Using genetic manipulation, we can improve crops, produce novel products,
make fruits and vegetables better flavoured and have longer shelf life...
with delayed ripening, for example, Koh said.
It will help feed the world as arable land becomes ever scarcer.
According to See Yee Ai, executive director of the Malaysian Biotechnology
Information Centre (Mabic), food technology is in fact key to maintaining
security in the world.
Natural renewable resources currently used in agriculture have come under
pressure... you can improve food quality and output by conventional
methods only so far, she said.
The answer is biotechnology, but most consumers are not aware that there
is a strict code involved, especially in respect of the use of animal
genetic material in plants to produce food.
In Malaysia, before any genetic engineering is allowed to be
commercialised, it has to undergo stringent tests to ensure the products'
appropriateness for human consumption, both healthwise and culturally,
Developers are required to reveal the source of all genes used in GM food,
and none currently in the market contains animal genes, let alone human
ones, she added.
But biotechnology also has social implications, for example its impact on
the farming community where small farms could possibly be replaced by
operations run by big corporations. This, however, fails to recognise the
potential of, say, tissue-cultured planting material in helping farmers to
increase yield and hence income.
They can plant, care and harvest crops like they have always done, only
their produce will have additional traits, for example resistance to
disease and pests, See said.
Dr K. Harikrishna, associate professor at the Institute of Bioscience,
University Putra Malaysia, agreed. Breakthroughs in biotechnology have
already seen higher palm oil yields, and also extended shelf life for
certain vegetables, he said.
More than any single agricultural technique, biotechnology can help small
farms to become more competitive and play a role in rehabilitating rural
communities, he added.
It is unfortunate that the bad publicity about GM products have persisted
despite scientific advances which have led to many food products on the
one hand now containing vaccines and antibodies that fight diseases like
cholera and hepatitis, and on the other with common allergens eliminated.
A case in point is the enrichment of rice with beta carotene - which the
body converts to vitamin A - by inserting genes from a daffodil and a
bacterium, thus promising to save millions of lives in Third World