Today in AgBioView: July 24, 2002:
* U.S. Urges Zimbabwe to Accept Corn
* WFP grapples with GMO dilemma in southern African food crisis
* Re: Media Silence
* Scientists zero in on 'green revolution' gene
* Schmeiser's top ten tall tales
U.S. Urges Zimbabwe to Accept Corn
July 24, 2002
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - An American food relief expert urged the
Zimbabwean government Tuesday to drop restrictions on the import of corn
that could not be certified free of genetically modified material, saying
the food was the only way to avert starvation in the country.
The U.S. corn is safe, said Roger Winter, a senior USAID official who
visited food relief distribution centers in northeastern Zimbabwe.
"It is the same food that Americans eat every day. It is the same food
that has been approved by our Environmental Protection Agency," he said.
"We want to help in this food emergency but we don't have a substitute
(for the corn) and the volumes are not available anywhere else."
Aid agencies have warned that almost half the country faces starvation, in
part because of President Robert Mugabe's land redistribution program to
transfer the country's white-owned farms to landless blacks. The violence
and chaos accompanying the seizures has brought commercial agriculture to
Erratic rainfall has also contributed to the food shortage.
The U.S. government has been outspoken in its criticism of the land
On Tuesday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe accused Western nations of
using aid to try to pressure the government to change its policies.
"We certainly abhor sinister interests, which seek surreptitiously to
advance themselves under cover of humanitarian assistance," Mugabe said.
Winter declined to respond, saying the United States was only interested
in preventing famine.
"If there is inadequate action to prevent famine, people will die because
there is nobody to make up for the role the U.S. is prepared to carry," he
said. "President Bush ... has told us he does not want famine on his
There was no immediate government response to Winter's appeal.
In May the government rejected a 10,000 ton donation of corn from the
United States because it could not be certified that it was not
WFP grapples with GMO dilemma in southern African food crisis
Agence France Presse
July 24, 2002
The World Food Programme (WFP) warned Wednesday that genetically modified
food aid, mainly from the US, for famine-stricken southern Africa was
becoming a dilemma because of developing countries' concerns about its
"It has become a very real issue for us," Judith Lewis, director of WFP's
regional office for eastern and southern Africa said outlining problems
the UN agency faced in grappling with the crisis.
The WFP has appealed for 507 million dollars to buy one million tonnes of
food to avert the food crisis in the six badly hit countries, but has so
far received just one fifth of the amount. But Lewis said developing
countries were hesitating to accept genetically modified (GM) yellow maize
from the United States, which traditionally provides about half of what
WFP needs in an emergency.
"There's still a lot of misinformation, disinformation and lack of
information surrounding the GM discussion," Lewis said at a press
"It is an issue for developing countries in terms of receiving genetically
modified organisms because they are very worried about the infecting of
the meat products," she added.
As well as concerns about cattle or chickens eating GM foods, developing
countries are worried that the planting of GM seeds could infect the seed
genetic line for future crop generations.
Lewis said the United States did not separate GM from non-GM maize and
testing for the percentage of GM was difficult, but she stressed that the
issue had to be resolved between donor and recipient countries.
"It's a moral dilemma in terms of, yes we have this food available, you
make a decision not to receive it, people die," she said.
Six million people are currently affected by the famine, half of them in
Zimbabwe, brought on by dry weather and erratic rainfall over the last two
years in the region, according to WFP.
But Lewis warned that the numbers were set to increase, projecting that
about nine million people would be affected by September, growing again to
nearly 11 million by December.
The affected region comprises Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland,
Zambia and Zimbabwe.
From: "ezequiel monteagudo"
Subject: Re: Media Silence
Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2002 18:00:49 +0800
Here in Argentina media are just starting to talk about GM foods, and they
only have spoken about risks, none talks about benefits, i guess it could
be a solution to southamerica, with more poor people every day.
About the labeling there•s no legislation, but to me here it•s different
than developed countries, we cannot waste time complaining about a label
while thousands of people haven•t eaten for days.
Ezequiel Monteagudo - Farmacia
Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires (http://www.hospitalitaliano.org.ar)
Scientists zero in on 'green revolution' gene
CSIRO Media Release
23 July 2002
A team of CSIRO Plant Industry scientists has isolated the gene that
produces the shorter, more productive, varieties of rice that led the
'green revolution' in the 1960s.
With funding from Graingene and using information from the publicly
available rice genome sequence, the team was able to isolate the
'semi-dwarfing' (sd-1) gene, and develop 'perfect' markers to identify it.
Team leader, Dr Wolfgang Spielmeyer, says isolating the gene will speed up
the process of breeding new rice varieties and help to identify
semi-dwarfing genes in other cereal crops like wheat.
"In terms of yield, the 'green revolution' gene is probably the single
most important gene in modern rice breeding," he says.
"Today it is still the main semi-dwarfing gene present in most rice
varieties but, until now, it has never been isolated."
The 'green revolution' saw new varieties of rice with shorter stems
producing record crop yields throughout Asia. The semi-dwarf varieties
were less likely to fall over and responded better to nitrogen
"Because we were able to use the publicly available rice genome sequence,
we were able to isolate this gene significantly faster than by
conventional methods," Dr Spielmeyer says.
"Previous research had identified a region within the rice genome where
the sd-1 gene was located.
"We also knew that semi-dwarf plants were deficient in an important plant
hormone called gibberellins, which determines plant height.
"We focused our search for sd-1 on the genes involved in gibberellins
production that were located within the previously identified region.
"That's when we found that the sd-1gene was defective, restricting the
synthesis of gibberellins, creating a semi-dwarf rice plant.
"It's a great example of how information from the publicly available rice
genome sequence can be used to isolate genes that are important to
Once the semi-dwarfing gene had been isolated, Dr Spielmeyer's team
developed a perfect marker directly from the gene sequence, which will
enable rice breeders to produce new varieties of semi-dwarf rice more
"A perfect marker is like a molecular flag. It is an easily detectable
piece of DNA that identifies a gene, or group of genes. In this case it
marks the location of the sd-1 gene for semi-dwarfing."
Breeding a new variety of rice can take many years, as successive
generations must be grown to near-maturity before it is known if the
dwarfing gene is present.
The perfect marker developed by Dr Spielmeyer and his team will fast-track
breeding of new rice varieties by enabling breeders to screen for the
semi-dwarfing gene at a much earlier stage of plant development, saving
valuable time and resources.
Knowledge gained by isolating the sd-1 gene will assist further research
into cereal crops.
"We will be able to use our knowledge of the sd-1 gene to study and
isolate related gene sequences that are responsible for semi-dwarfing in
other cereal crops such as wheat and barley.
"We hope this will lead to further advances in improving these important
A detailed description of the work by Dr Spielmeyer and his colleagues, Dr
Marc Ellis and Dr Peter Chandler, is published in the prestigious US
scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and is
available online at: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/99/13/9043
* Graingene is a strategic alliance involving three of Australia's leading
agricultural organisations - AWB Limited, CSIRO and the Grains Research
and Development Corporation (GRDC).
[THE TEXT BELOW WAS POSTED TO AN ACTIVIST LISTSERV AND FORWARDED TO
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2002 19:32:26 +0930
From: "Rick Roush"
Subject: Schmeiser's top ten tall tales
Many readers will be familiar with Percy Schmeiser's claim that he was the
innocent victim of contamination from Monsanto's GM canola. During
Schmeiser's recent visit to Australia, I made a study of his claims. Here
are my favorites, with relevant facts from other sources that test his
claims. I'll appreciate any comments, editorial or otherwise.
What can we learn from this about Schmeiser's credibility generally?
1. Schmeiser was the innocent victim of Monsanto
PERCY SCHEMEISER: "I lost it all to a contamination because a judge ruled
in my case it doesn't matter how Monsanto's genetically modified canola
gets on my land or any farmers land. You violate the pattern and you
infringe on the pattern and your seed becomes Monsanto's property."
(Source: ABC 7.30 Report TV Transcript, 4 July 2002, from
FACTS: The Canadian court's record indicates that the judge found that
Schmeiser deliberately selected for and multiplied GM seed. In 1997 (for
example) Mr. Schmeiser sprayed Roundup herbicide over "a good three acres"
from which approximately 60% of the plants survived and continued to grow.
At harvest, Schmeiser saved surviving canola seed from these plants and
then used them in planting his 1998 canola crop ( see especially
paragraphs 39, 40, 102, 103, 104, 119, and 125 of the judge's decision is
at decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2001/2001fct256.html ). Schmeiser could have
saved seed from any part of his farm, but he took the unusual steps of
spraying just part of the crop with Roundup (a very unusual step because
this should have killed three acres of crop, so Schmeiser must have
suspected it would do otherwise) and then saved seed from the survivors,
which any reasonable person would expect to have a high frequency of GM
(I am aware of a newspaper report from The Globe and Mailnewspaper in
Canada, written by Stephen Strauss (June 7, 2002) that Schmeiser's lawyer
is arguing in his appeal that the GM seed was saved but that Schmeiser was
entitled to replant it as an "ancient right of a farmer." I am not
counting this at present because there is no independent corroboration.)
2. Canada's export markets have been damaged
PERCY SCHEMEISER, CANADIAN CANOLA FARMER: "That means 30 per cent of our
exports have been lost just to Europe alone." (Source: ABC 7.30 Report TV
Transcript, 4 July 2002) Mr Schmeiser said the fact that Canada could no
longer ship canola to the EU had left Canada "sitting on a mountain of GM
canola that nobody wants" (source: The Land, 11 July 2002, p. 28).
FACTS: Canadian exports have increased during the adoption of GM canola
over the last 5 years. In the most recent year, 2000-2001, exports were
25% higher than ever (according to the Canadian canola website
(www.canola-council.org/markets/seedexports), mainly to Japan, Mexico and
China. Europe is also a net canola exporter anyway, and never purchased
more than about 10% of Canada's crop in recent history. I note that
Monsanto has a website that also addresses market share issues
(www.monsanto.com.au/canola/marketing.htm, which ironically was first
brought to my attention by Wytze!).
3. GM will cause financial losses to conventional growers
PERCY SCHEMEISER: Schmeiser warned that conventional growers could be
fined for an infestation of GM canola on their property, which could also
cost them premiums from export destinations that demanded GM-free produce.
(source: The Stock Journal 11 July 2002, page 3, reporting on a meeting
held in Clare, South Australia)
RESPONSE AND FACTS: Who would issue these fines? On the subject of
premiums, neither the Victorian government review of GM free zones nor
ABARE has found any premiums. "GrainCorp oilseeeds trader Cameron Pratt
said that Australia had not been able to identify a consistent premium for
GM-free canola, despite it being mandatory for the EU market and desirable
for Japan." (4 July issue of "The Land", page 27). Japan takes our canola
and mixes it with GM Canadian canola. "There was no evidence to support
the hypothesis that adoption of transgenic varieties had a negative impact
on canola prices or producer returns" (Source:
Peter Toole, Parkes was cited in the The Land as noting that prices for
non-GM Australian canola are in fact slightly below the Winnipeg quoted
Canadian price - the world price yardstick. He was supported by Ian
Donges, recently retired National Farmers Federation president and a local
grain grower, who said that the EU was largely self-sufficient in canola
and only "occasionally" had to import. " I don't know of any other markets
that pay a premium for GM-free canola", he said, "Japan certainly doesn't"
(source: The Land, 11 July 2002, p. 28, from a meeting at Cowra, NSW)
4. 1800 other (Canadian?) farmers are also being sued.
PERCY SCHEMEISER: (When asked about the host about whether he was the only
farmer sued): "We estimated that there is (sic) at least 1800 lawsuits".
(Source: ABC TV's Landline on 14 July 2002)
FACTS: Landline noted on air in the same program that they could find no
support for this claim. I then wrote to 5 Canadian weed and agricultural
scientists from across Canada, and they replied that they didn't know of
any. I then wrote to Monsanto, who said there were 2 in Canada and 14 in
the US, and that was all worldwide.
5. The GM "contamination" came from Schmeiser's neighbor
PERCY SCHEMEISER: "my neighbor was growing it (Roundup Ready canola) right
next to me" (Source: ABC TV's Landline on 14 July 2002)
PERCY SCHEMEISER: "My fields were contaminated because my neighbor chose
to grow GMOs. He's taken my choice away" (Adelaide Advertiser 10 July
2002, page 14).
FACTS: According to the court record, the closest field to Schmeiser's
field was approximately five miles (8 km) (paragraph 33 of
decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2001/2001fct256.html ). Also see #1 above.
6. Schmeiser denied the crops improved profits. (source: The Stock Journal
11 July 2002, page 3, reporting on a meeting held in Clare, South
FACTS: "In summary, the total economic impact of transgenic canola
production systems has been estimated to be up to $464.0 million over the
period 1997 to 2000, inclusive of direct and indirect impacts."
"Transgenic canola yields higher than conventional varieties. Survey
results showed that transgenic canola yielded approximately three bushels
per acre (>10%) more than conventional canola in 2000. ... The yield
advantage for transgenic systems resulted from the varieties and a slight
increased use of fertilizer, but less summer fallow. Dockage was
significantly lower in the transgenic system, largely attributed to more
effective weed control..... Transgenic canola growers reported having made
fewer tillage passes over their fields than growers of conventional
varieties. The majority of the transgenic sample in both the survey and
the case studies indicated they practice minimum or zero till on their
operations." (Source: www.canola-council.org/production/gmo_toc.html).
Other reports I have estimate benefits between $10-26 per ha.
7. GM canola had become a "superweed"
Schmeiser said that GM canola had become a "superweed" that was virtually
impossible to eradicate. (source: The Stock Journal 11 July 2002, page 3,
reporting on a meeting held in Clare, South Australia)
.....canola itself had developed into a "superweed" that no chemical would
control and was becoming a menace to farmers and municipal authorities
alike (source: The Land, 11 July 2002, p. 28)
FACTS: "Canola volunteers are not generally found to be harder to manage
in Canada. For example, a recent study prepared for the Canola Council of
Canada (Winnipeg) surveyed 650 western Canadian canola growers on numerous
issues, one of which was management of volunteer canola. Half of the
producers surveyed grew transgenic herbicide-tolerant canola and half grew
non-GM canola. Of the producers planting transgenic herbicide-tolerant
canola in 2000, 61% said that the difficulty of managing volunteer
transgenic herbicide-tolerant canola was about the same as that of
volunteer conventional canola. Interestingly, 16% said that managing
volunteer transgenic herbicide-tolerant canola was easier than managing
conventional canola varieties. The remaining 23% said that it was more
difficult to manage volunteer transgenic herbicide-tolerant canola.... for
example, spraying with 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) controls
this problem. This chemical application means an additional cost to the
producer of 1.50-2.00 Canadian dollars (C$) per acre" (source: Stuart
Smyth, George G. Khachatourians & Peter W.B. Phillips, Liabilities and
economics of transgenic crops. Nature Bio/Technology (June) 2002 Volume 20
(Number 6) pp 537 - 541)
8. Monsanto covertly dropped herbicide bombs to test a crop it suspected
illegally contained its genetically-modified canola
"Percy Schmeiser made the claim in Perth yesterday during a
Greenpeace-sponsored speaking tour" (source: The West Australian, 11 July
2002, p. 33). This claim was also madeby Schmeiser at the Wagga meeting
(S. Sutherland, unsolicited email, 24 July 2002).
RESPONSE: This is so crazy that it doesn't really justify a response, but
just what would a Roundup bomb look like, and wouldn't be easier, cheaper
(and more stealthy) just to collect some plants from the road to take them
back to the lab for a test, or even just spray some with a hand sprayer?
9. "(Schmeiser) said yesterday that a reign of terror had followed the
release of GM canola in Canada" (source: The West Australian, 11 July
2002, p. 33)
RESPONSE: No "terror" is evident in any reports I have seen or replies
from Canadian weed scientists. To the contrary, "Social concerns expressed
by case study participants centered around the lack of knowledge about
transgenic production by those outside industry.... In summary, the
transgenic canola systems had a positive economic and agronomic impact
when compared to the conventional canola systems in western Canada for the
four year period, 1997 to 2000." Concerns yes, but not "terror"
10. "(Schmeiser) said GM canola in Canada was already cross-pollinating
into other Brassica species such as cabbages and cauliflower, as well as
wild mustard" (source: The Land, 11 July 2002, p. 28)
Response: This was flatly denied by Canadian weed scientists.