Today in AgBioView: August 8, 2002:
* Zambia calls for emergency meeting on genetically-modified foods
* We Need More Reasoned Public Debate Over GM Food
* Mozambique to mill donated maize before delivery: PM
* Organic produce is expensive to grow
* A closer look at the organic debate
* Organic farming will not solve the crisis in food production
* Industry must help to fill the world's rice bowl
* Malaysia Studying GM Food's Acceptability Under Islam
* Genetically modified corn to fight poultry disease in Brazil
* SILENCE ON PESTICIDES IS CURIOUS
* HEALTH FOODS OUT OF FAVOUR IN GERMANY AFTER SCANDALS
* BIOTECH EYED FOR PAPAYA, OTHER RP PLANTS
Zambia calls for emergency meeting on genetically-modified foods
Agence France Presse
August 8, 2002
Zambia has called for an emergency crisis meeting to discuss whether to
accept genetically modified foods in view of the worsening hunger
situation in the country, an official said Thursday.
"There has been too much debate on the issue and government wants to
consult and come up with a final position," a spokesman in the disaster
management department told AFP. The crisis meeting set for Monday will
bring together scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens.
Several Zambian lobby groups and the Roman Catholic church are opposed to
accepting relief food which is genetically modified, saying its safety
needs to be thoroughly ascertained.
More than two million Zambians are starving as a result of the drought
that swept through most southern African countries.
The US government said it was ready to donate genetically modified food to
Zambia but some health and environmental lobbyists have rejected the
We Need More Reasoned Public Debate Over GM Food
Mail and Guardian
By Jason Lott
August 07, 2002
Aug 08, 2002 (Mail & Guardian/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --
President Robert Mugabe and his cronies have decided that genetically
modified (GM) corn is a bad thing for Zimbabwe, even if the country is in
the middle of a two-year famine. Instead of allowing the United States and
the World Food Programme to donate thousands of tons of corn to the nearly
three million people starving to death under his watch, Mugabe has
outlawed all GM food imports. His actions have effectively sealed the fate
for more than half his countrymen, many of whom will be dead by late
December if aid doesn't arrive.
It's easy to chalk this up as another classic Mugabe manoeuvre. Most
people expect nothing less from the head of a repressive regime so fearful
of losing power it must rig elections and imprison foreign journalists.
Just last May, for example, Mugabe rejected a 10000-ton relief package
from the US because it couldn't be certified as non-GM. Meanwhile, Mugabe,
inspired by his Marxist leanings, continued to confiscate white-owned
farmlands and dismantle Zimbabwe's agricultural infrastructure. His land
reform policies left thousands of blacks (and whites) unemployed and
unfed, while a prolonged drought guaranteed few crops would survive
elsewhere in the country.
Though most analysts have written off Mugabe's latest refusal to accept
aid as yet another ploy to consolidate power and disparage the US (they
are probably correct), it also reveals a growing suspicion of GM food
among Southern African nations. Fearing GM corn will contaminate meat
products or change the genetic make-up of future crops, leaders of
Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia have sided with Mugabe,
despite facing the worst food crisis their nations have seen in more than
a decade and assurances from the US that the corn is safe for consumption.
The result? Needless deaths of millions of Africans who simply wish to
eat, not to debate the morality of altering the plant genome.
Mugabe's attitude of better to starve than eat GM corn reflects a luxury
until now reserved for picky Europeans and radical US academics. An
obvious problem is that neither Mugabe nor the others will suffer much for
their highfalutin idealism (none of them will likely go to bed hungry
tonight, for example) while the rest of Southern Africa must face the
harsh aftermath of regional policies more concerned with lofty principles
than practical reality.
The real problem, however, has more to do with the conduct of the
biotechnology debate than any of Africa's misguided statesmen.
Critics of GM food have long enjoyed the safety of pointing fingers from
afar, removed from the pragmatic consequences of their rhetoric. They've
summarily dismissed claims that GM food will help feed the world one day,
and have relied on disinformation and scare tactics to instill fear and
mistrust among the general public. Instead of promoting cautious policies
that recognise concerns and benefits, they have painted a bleak picture of
society ruined by Frankenstein science gone awry.
But now these same critics must confront the monster they've created, a
swarm of Southern African despots ready to sacrifice the innocent in the
name of the safe -- safe seeds, safe crops and a safe environment.
But what safety, beyond reinforcing Mugabe's corrupt influence, lies in
widespread famine bred by ignorance and pseudo-science?
None. And that is the tragedy of Zimbabwe and the rest. Echoing claims of
knee-jerk environmentalists more concerned with ideology than biology,
Mugabe has legitimised his own Stalin-esque version of state-sponsored
famine and may convince his neighbours to do the same. All while anti-GM
Americans and Europeans sip their organically grown coffee and ponder the
nature of political strife, oceans away from the product of their
We should push for more reasoned public debate over GM food if only to
prevent future tyrants from exploiting the unfounded claims of
marginalised intellectuals and fanatics. It's hard enough to wrestle power
away from corrupt governments like that of Mugabe's. It is even harder to
do on an empty stomach. Better to keep Southern Africa's peoples informed
with the real science of GM food than with science fiction horror stories.
They'll undoubtedly find the corn easier to swallow.
Jason Lott is a Marshall Scholar and analyst in the division of bioethics
at the University of the Witwatersrand
Mozambique to mill donated maize before delivery: PM
August 07, 2002
MAPUTO, Aug 7, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Mozambican Prime Minister
Pascoal Mocumbi said here Wednesday that any genetically modified maize
sent to the country as food aid must be milled before delivery to the
beneficiaries for the fear that farmers would mistakenly use such maize
Speaking at a press briefing, Mocumbi said that, under current
legislation, the Mozambican authorities could accept or reject genetically
modified grain depending on the type of modification.
We want those who supply these goods to tell us what sort of modification
they have undergone, he said, and we want it processed before it is
consumed so that peasant farmers do not mistakenly use such maize for
It would be better for the maize to be milled before it was sent to
Mozambique, added Mocumbi.
Any genetically modified maize that arrived unmilled would have to go from
the port straight to the processing plants, he said. The country could not
risk the unpredictable results that would ensure from the sowing of such
We don't want to create a habit of using genetically modified maize that
the country cannot maintain, said Mocumbi.
Once you start using modified crops you have to continue with them. This
would defraud the peasants and effectively be a means of impoverishment,
Genetically modified crops are a high technology input that the Mozambican
economy simply could not cope with at its current stage of development
when the country is not even able to produce basic agricultural
implements, Mocumbi said.
Organic produce is expensive to grow
August 6, 2002
By Scott McCredie
In 2000, Americans consumed $2.2 billion worth of organic fruits and
vegetables, according to New Hope Natural Media, a natural-products
That may sound like a whole bunch of produce, but not when you consider
it's less than 3 percent of the $82 billion spent on all fresh produce
that year. Obviously, most consumers walk right by a grocery store's
organic-produce section. And as you might suspect, one of the main
drawbacks is price. Many consumers just don't think organic produce is
worth the estimated 25 percent to 100 percent increase in cost over
conventionally grown fare.
A marketing study done in 2000 by the Hartman Group, a Bellevue-based
marketing company, found that most consumers believe organic produce is
"no more beneficial than conventional items, yet much more expensive."
So why does organic produce cost so much?
Here are some of the reasons:
-According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost to control
weeds, by using cover crops and other labor-intensive methods, can be
around $1,000 an acre for an organic farmer. Conventional farmers, who
rely on herbicides, spend about $50 an acre.
-Soil-building practices, such as gathering, composting and spreading
manure, are more costly than conventional methods, which mostly involve
the use of chemical fertilizers.
-Organic farmers don't get federal farm subsidies, nor do they benefit
from federally funded research as conventional farmers do.
-Greater costs are incurred because of the need to conform to state (and,
starting in the fall, federal) organic certification standards.
-Organic advocates argue that organic produce would cost about the same as
conventional fruits and vegetables if indirect environmental and health
costs were factored in to the price of conventional produce.
A closer look at the organic debate
August 6, 2002
By Scott McCredie
SEATTLE _ Americans are munching organic cherries, crunching organic kale
and noshing on organic kiwis and other produce at a record pace. And
Seattleites, living in one of the top markets in the country for organic
food, are at the head of a worldwide boom in the popularity of organics.
But some underlying questions nettle at the ankles. Does anything more
than intuition tell us that organic produce is really healthier for us? Is
it actually grown without synthetic pesticides, as most organic growers
advertise? Do the pesticide residues found on conventionally grown fruits
and vegetables, and lodged in our bodies, pose a health risk? And what's
fueling this 8 percent to 20 percent per year growth in organic-produce
Like most subjects that involve food, money and government regulation,
this one is complicated, highly political and full of ambiguity. But with
the aid of a handful of food experts, a couple of national consumer
groups, and a sprig of common sense, you can wade through the rhetoric and
choose a path best suited to your income, philosophy and affinity for
risk. After 1940, most American farmers replaced their "organic" methods _
crop rotation and cultivation to control weeds, and using animal manure as
fertilizer _ with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The new products
worked as promised, lowering production costs and increasing crop yields.
But as chemical agriculture grew, so did the opposition. The loudest early
opponent was magazine publisher J.I. Rodale. In 1940 he bought a 60-acre
experimental farm in Pennsylvania, where he applied what he called
"organiculture" methods, which was then modified to organic agriculture.
Inspired by critics of chemical agriculture in Germany and England, he
wrote several books that railed against the use of synthetic pesticides
and fertilizers, claiming they robbed the soil of organic material and the
microbiological action that promote healthy plants. His detractors called
him an "apostle of dung" and a "humus huckster."
But it wasn't until publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's seminal book
"Silent Spring," in which she warned of the danger of pesticides such as
DDT, that the organic movement began to gain significant ground. Her book
set the stage for the environmental movement and made consumers look at
their food supply in a more critical light.
The organic-food business remained small but vital through the '70s and
'80s. Even as late as 1990, it scratched out sales of just $1 billion
(about 1 percent of total U.S. grocery sales). But a decade later, organic
food had reached nearly $8 billion in sales and had become the fastest
growing segment of the retail food industry. Last year, the industry
nearly reached the $10 billion mark, of which produce makes up about half
To put things in perspective, though, it helps to look at the size of the
organic agricultural movement within the context of the entire
agricultural industry. Certified organic cropland represents just 0.3
percent of the total, and 1.5 to 2 percent of American farmers.
Who's driving this small but rapidly growing market? It appears that most
of the buyers are baby boomers and people between 18 and 34 years old.
Only about a quarter of organic consumers say they buy organic to help
reduce agriculture's impact on the environment. The largest majority,
nearly two-thirds of organic consumers, cite health and nutrition as their
main reasons for buying organic food.
IS IT MORE HEALTHFUL?
And that's where things get a little sticky. Goldie Caughlan, the
nutrition education manager for Puget Consumers Co-op Natural Markets and
a consumer adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National
Organic Standards Board, says it's illegal to make health claims for
organic food. That provision was written into the legislation that created
the federal organic program in order to secure votes from Congress members
who represented big agricultural states. Caughlan said it's up to
consumers to decide for themselves whether organic produce is healthier,
at least until more studies are done.
"The jury is still out on whether organic produce is better from a vitamin
or fiber viewpoint than conventionally grown produce," said John Reganold,
a Washington State University soil scientist who has extensively studied
organic-farming techniques. Recent studies have found a 30 percent higher
vitamin C content in organic oranges, and significantly more amounts of
iron, magnesium and phosphorus.
Gene Kahn is a Chicago native who 30 years ago founded Cascadian Farms,
one of the first modern organic farms in Washington. Cascadian Farms is
now part of Sedro Woolley's Small Planet Foods, one of the largest
producers of organic food in the world and owned by General Mills. Kahn,
the president of Small Planet Foods and a General Mills vice president,
thinks "poor science" is behind most of the studies that have come out for
or against the higher nutritional content of organic produce. He argues
that most organic-industry claims about nutrition are "pure hype and
propaganda, and self-serving." There's anecdotal evidence, he says, but
As for health benefits, organics are preferred by many consumers because
they have fewer chemical-pesticide residues. That's fewer, not none.
"Some people are surprised there are any residues in organic produce at
all," said Edward Groth, a senior scientist with Consumer Union, the
parent organization of Consumer Reports magazine.
RESIDUAL PESTICIDE LEVELS
Groth led a study published earlier this year that looked at the residual
pesticide levels of a broad sample of American produce, both organically
and conventionally grown. Nearly three-quarters of conventionally grown
crops had residues, while about a quarter of organic produce samples
harbored residues. Conventional produce was six times more likely than
organics to have more than one pesticide present.
Groth was quick to add that residues on organic produce "are pretty well
explained as leftover contamination from pesticide use from long ago, like
DDT, and drift from other nearby conventional farms." By excluding these
environmentally persistent chlorinated insecticides from the results, the
number of organic samples with residues dropped from 23 percent to 13
percent. The reduction in conventional produce was much less, from 73
percent to 71 percent.
"While the risks to health associated with dietary pesticide residues are
still uncertain and subject to debate, risk is relative, and lower
exposure undoubtedly translates in lower risk," the report stated.
"Consumers who wish to minimize their dietary pesticide exposure can do so
with confidence by buying organically grown foods."
But to opponents of organic agriculture (and they are legion, led by
chemical companies and conventional farmers), the report said something
else. "Consumer Reports said, 'organics had fewer pesticides,"' said Kahn.
"But the chemical industry turns it around and said, 'pesticides found in
WASH ALL PRODUCE
Consumer advocates like Groth and Caroline Smith De Waal, director of food
safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the co-author
of a new book, "Is Our Food Safe?" say the best way to protect yourself
from pesticide residue on any produce, organic or conventional, is to
carefully wash and/or peel it. Bacteria from improperly composted manure
used as organic fertilizer also can be removed by washing.
For those who can't afford a diet of organic produce, which can cost 25
percent to 100 percent more than conventional fare, because of higher
production costs, there is a way to limit your exposure to pesticides.
Certain conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, like strawberries,
apples, pears, lettuce, spinach, and celery, have consistently more
pesticide residues on them than others. Some, like apples, can harbor as
many as 10 different residues, according to a 1999 Consumers Union study
called "Do You Know what You're Eating?"
So consumer advocates say people can minimize their exposure to pesticides
by buying organic versions of these foods. A thorough scrubbing and
perhaps peeling of conventional produce should remove most of its
FUDGED FACTS ON SYNTHETIC PESTICIDES
First-time buyers of organic produce, and even some veterans, believe that
organics aren't grown with synthetic pesticides. That's not hard to
understand, because many organic farmers advertise their wares this way.
It makes consumers feel good about buying organic. On the Cascadian Farm
Web site, for instance, promotional copy states in several places that
crops are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. Yet this isn't
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a list of more than 40
synthetic substances approved for use in organic crop production. Although
they are not known to have adverse effects on the environment or to human
health, they are used by a number of organic farmers.
One such synthetic is a petroleum-based horticultural oil that in late
winter and spring is applied to the bare wood of fruit trees to suffocate
insects and their eggs. Miles McEvoy, manager of the Organic Food Program
at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said that this kind of
pesticide, along with things like insect mating disruption devices (also a
synthetic), allows farmers not to use broad-based organophosphate
pesticides that end up forming residues on produce.
Kahn admits that the claim on Cascadian Farm's Web site about not using
synthetic pesticides is "not literally true. But it is largely true. In
terms of anything significant that would affect the environment or
consumer health, it's fully true."
He said the Web site is "five years obsolete" and needs updating. Now that
he works for General Mills, the $13 billion-a-year company that bought
Small Planet Foods in 2000, he said he hopes to use his influence to steer
the organic industry into more "fact-based marketing."
GUT FEELINGS VS. SCIENCE
Facts are, in some ways, a scarce commodity in the marketing of organic
foods. Instead, marketers seem to rely more on their customer's belief
that organic food "doesn't necessarily deliver a measurable health
improvement or benefit, but it simply makes them feel better," according
to the Hartman Group's Organic Consumer Profile.
Yet one fact stands out: Study after study has proved that eating lots of
fruit and vegetables, organic or not, fresh, canned, or frozen, can
improve your health.
Smith De Waal wrote in "Is Our Food Safe?": "It would be worse for your
overall health to stop eating fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticide
residues than to keep eating them, pesticides and all."
In the meantime, science has a ways to go before it can add factual heft
to the gut-level feeling many organic buyers have that organic food is
good for the body and good for the planet.
The future on a plate: Organic farming will not solve the crisis in food
By Henry Gee
August 08, 2002
Tomorrow's farmers will need to adopt a variety of strategies. The crop at
this fruit and vegetable farm in Thatchem is cultivated in the French way,
with glass bell-shaped cloches to ensure an early harvest PHOTOGRAPH:
Pick up any recent newspaper and check the headlines. Britons get fatter,
while famine looms over Africa - but should Zimbabweans accept genetically
modified (GM) crops as aid? British fishermen face quotas as North Sea cod
has its chips - while organic farmers chafe under what they perceive to be
unfair competition. And the smoke from the pyre of the livestock industry
devastated by foot and mouth hangs balefully over all. You don't have to
look far to realise that food is news.
But there's nothing new. Food has been news since the first farmers
harvested wild wheat in the Middle East 10,000 years ago, turning mankind
into a diseased, overcrowded domestic animal.
As Jared Diamond, of the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in
today's Nature - in one of a selection of articles about the future of
food - if our hunter-gatherer ancestors knew what they were getting into,
they would not have started.
We like to think we've learned the lessons of history. This would be just
as well, given that the decisions we make now - as a nation and as a
planet - will affect our descendants for millennia to come. When the fluff
of headlines is swept away, two big themes emerge - sustainability and
population. The global population is likely to top 10 billion in the next
century. Our task is to feed these mouths, as well as the ones already
here, while coping with the fact that we have nowhere left to grow things.
We must squeeze greater yield out of the same patch of ground while trying
to leave the plot in a reasonable state for descendants. We've been here
before. After the second world war, doom-mongers threatened that we'd all
starve by the 1970s. Instead, scientists averted the crisis by creating
new breeds of high-yield cereal crops.
This "Green Revolution" has been swamped by its success - by leaving an
ever larger population with greater aspirations towards consumption and
wealth. We need to continually pull the rabbit out of the hat. GM
technology is just one of many strategies in a diverse palette of
techniques that New Macdonald will adopt on his small, but efficient,
patch. Others include growing several varieties of grain at once (proven
to reduce pests); micro-management of irrigation (thus conserving scarce
water) and sowing seed without ploughing up the field first (conserving
biodiversity and minimising soil run-off). New Macdonald will grow trees
as a carbon sink, perhaps have a fishpond and will have to grow a few
houses to meet increasing demand.
But it is GM that grabs the headlines. Why? According to Rosie Hails, of
the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxford, it is a function of
land use and how we perceive our environment.
In crowded Europe, where people live "inside their national parks", GM
crops and their perceived environmental risks have become an obsession. It
is of less concern in America, where more space means a more demarcated
kind of land use. In the developing world, in contrast, GM crops are
According to Scott Rozelle, of the University of California at Davis, and
his colleagues, Chinese scientists have 15 GM crops either commercialised
or in trials, ranging from wheat and maize to papaya, peanuts and
petunias. Cotton that carries a bacterial gene for a poison that kills
cotton bollworm - a major pest - means that a subsistence farmer working a
hectare of ground can boost his income by a quarter, cut costs by a third
and slash pesticide use by three quarters. Such statistics tend to show up
protests against GM crops as indulgences affordable only by those who
already have more than enough to eat.
Sustainability issues are illustrated most starkly in two kinds of food
production which, at first sight, seem poles apart - fishing and organic
farming. As Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
and colleagues show, fishing represents the last hunter- gatherer
industry. Hunting deer and bison by clear cutting forests and then
blasting them out with heavy artillery is a patently ridiculous idea, but
modern industrial fishing does much the same to the sea. Not surprisingly,
world fisheries are in decline. Aquaculture - fish farming - has been
proposed as a remedy, but farmed fish tend to consume more fish protein
than they yield, so the exercise is inherently unsustainable. Farmed
smoked salmon is a luxury only available in a diversified system of
agriculture in which well-fed people are happy to pay high prices for
Organic farming is much the same kind of exercise. In the quest for
sustainability, organic farming will lose, because it cannot be relied on
to match the yields from intensive agriculture if practised on a large
scale - whatever the perceived benefits. Organic farming only works if it
is subsidised or marketed as a boutique product.
Some may promote organic farming as a panacea - but they would have
history against them. Mankind stumbled across agriculture more or less
simultaneously in several parts of the world, but most successfully in the
"Fertile Crescent", the home of what are still the world's most valuable
domestic plant and animal species, including sheep, cattle, barley and
wheat. The Fertile Crescent is a strip of land stretching from the Jordan
Valley, across Syria and parts of Turkey and Iran, into the
Tigris-Euphrates drainage, and Iraq. It doesn't look fertile any more, and
the reason is simple - agriculture.
After 10 millennia of tillage, says Diamond, "human societies of the
Fertile Crescent inadvertently committed slow ecological suicide in a zone
of low rainfall prone to deforestation, soil erosion and salinisation".
Before artificial pesticides and fertilisers, organic farming was the only
game in town. When practised on a scale sufficient to feed the world's
first empires, the effort could not be sustained and the result was a
Henry Gee is a senior editor with Nature
Industry must help to fill the world's rice bowl
The Canberra Times
By Ronald P Cantrell
8 August, 2002
Rice has been steamed, boiled, fried and puffed, but never before served
up like this. The journal Science made headlines in April when it
published the rice genome, the genetic makeup of the world's most
important food crop.
Science published two research results: the Beijing Genomics Institute's
sequence of one subspecies, and the Swiss company Syngenta's sequence of
Significantly, one of the projects is public, the other private.
Private research into the genomes of food crops draws unrelenting fire
from those who abhor ''patents on life''.
Rice in particular is a lightning rod, because it is the staple food of
most of the world's poor, especially in Asia, which produces and consumes
92 per cent of the world's rice.
Cultivating rice is the mainstay of hundreds of millions of poor farm
households, who on average eat half of the rice they grow and often not
much else. Only 6 per cent of the harvest is traded internationally.
While rice production is the foundation of food security, economic growth,
and social and political stability in rural communities across Asia, it
hardly registers in commerce.
At least not yet. The sequencing of the rice genome, and then discovering
the functions of individual genes and combining them to accelerate crop
improvement, is revolutionising rice science.
How this genomics revolution plays out will determine whether poor rice
farmers and consumers win or lose.
Critics fear that private ownership of portions of the rice genome will
commercialise the crop in a way that subverts the right of farmers to grow
the myriad traditional varieties their ancestors developed over millennia,
as well as the improved varieties that publicly funded research
institutions have bred and distributed as public goods over the past few
decades. Insisting that rice must remain wholly within the public domain,
they roundly condemn both private research and public-private research
But they are silent on the question of how cash-strapped public research
can maintain momentum without private-sector participation and the patents
that corporations need to protect their investments.
Wholly public ownership of the fruits of rice research would require
steadfast commitment to public support for that research.
Sadly, funding trends tell a different story.
In 2000, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, a
global association of 16 Future Harvest centres and their donor
governments, agencies and foundations, spent $610 million, or 10 per cent
less than the $680 million it spent when funding peaked in 1990 (constant
Core funding for International Rice Research Institute, which is part of
CGIAR, will fall from $22.3 million in 1999 to $14.7 million in 2003, when
the full force of a recent halving of one key donor's support for the
CGIAR takes effect.
Meanwhile, private-sector investment in agricultural research is rising
rapidly. And, as Syngenta illustrates, privately funded research is a
prime mover in the genomics revolution, in rice as in other areas.
The best response from IRRI and its public-sector partners is to augment
their own research by bending private-sector achievements to the advantage
of poor rice farmers and consumers.
This requires partnerships with corporations.
One precedent for public-private partnership is Golden Rice. IRRI's right
to develop tropical versions of the beta carotene-rich grain, which
promises to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency and the widespread
suffering it causes, hinges on the decision of 32 holders of 70 patents to
donate their intellectual property rights to make Golden Rice freely
available to people making less than US$10,000 a year.
Forging such mutually beneficial partnerships beneficial to poor rice
farmers and consumers, as well as to corporate shareholders takes
ingenuity, persistence and careful dedication to principles.
It also requires something like parity in what public and private partners
bring to the table.
Meeting this challenge ideally with the help of more funding for public
research will both protect the intellectual property rights that
facilitate advances in rice science and deliver to poor rice farmers and
consumers the improved livelihoods and nutrition that are their
Dr Cantrell is director general of the International Rice Research
Institute which is based in the Philippines and has offices in 11 other
IRRI will put its views at a conference at Parliament House today which
will discuss opportunities for conventional and GM plant breeding to
bridge the gap between the future food supply and demand.
Malaysia Studying GM Food's Acceptability Under Islam
August 08, 2002
Dow Jones Newswire
Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 8 (Dow Jones) - Malaysia's National Fatwa Committee and
the Islamic Affairs Department, or Jakim, are studying the development of
genetically modified foods to determine their acceptability under Islamic
law, an official of Jakim said Thursday.
The study would examine the scientific process of producing transgenic
foods, particularly at the gene manipulating stage that creates a new type
of plant or animal.
But the general view so far is that if the genes are derived from halal
sources, the resultant product is also halal, he said.
Similar views were expressed by the Institute of Islamic Understanding, or
Ikim, as well.
GM food is halal as long as it is from halal sources using the halal
method of slaughter. Non-animal sources are all halal, an Ikim official
said when contacted. The official, however, didn't want to be identified.
Under Islamic law halal means permissible.
According to sources close the government, the Ministry of Health has
prepared draft guidelines on the acceptance of GM foods under Islam, but
the guidelines are expected to be released only by next year after it gets
approval from relevant government ministries and departments.
Malaysia's Star newspaper recently quoted Jakim Director General Mohd
Shahir Abdullah as saying that genes taken from plant species to create
genetically modified foods are accepted in Islam.
However, further discussion is needed on the production of GM animals or
animal byproducts, including the transfer of genes from plants to animals
and vice-versa, he told reporters at a recent briefing at the Malaysian
Agricultural Research and Development Institute, or Mardi, Star reported.
Genetically modified corn to fight poultry disease in Brazil
Japan Economic Newswire
August 7, 2002
Brazilian researchers will use genetically modified corn grains to attack
and destroy microbes responsible for a virulent disease lethal to poultry,
a local university said Wednesday.
The scientists of Campinas State University in Sao Paulo have identified a
virus that can destroy the eimeria protozoa responsible for the
coccodiosis, a sickness often fatal to poultry. Proteins extracted from
this virus will make the genetically modified corn effective against the
disease, according to the scientists.
Some species of the coccodiosis parasite cause highly virulent infections
that may kill poultry in a short period of time by invading the animal's
The disease causes $20 million in annual losses to Brazilian poultry
farmers, according to the scientists.
The discovery of coccodiosis-killing genetically modified corn brings
fresh hope to the poultry industry because the known species of the
parasite are becoming increasingly resistant to the existing medicines
used to fight the disease.
'Corn represents 70% of poultry diet and we intend to use it to fight the
infection caused by the protozoa,' research coordinator Adilson Leite of
the university's Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering Center told the
daily Folha de Sao Paulo.
Leite said preliminary tests have indicated the new technique causes no
harm to poultry or mammals.
The Campinas scientists have filed a patent for the technique in the
United States and Brazil.
SILENCE ON PESTICIDES IS CURIOUS
August 8, 2002
The Calgary Herald (Via Agnet)
Calgary columnist Will Verboven writes that unbeknownst to most consumers,
pesticide use in North America has been reduced by 21 million kilograms.
It would be safe to assume most citizens consider this a good and
progressive development. Verboven says that one would expect such a
drastic reduction would be applauded by environmental lobby groups that
have been waging a holy war against the use of pesticides. However, that
is not quite the case. Curiously, lobby groups have remained silent about
this very positive environmental development. Their silence should be of
concern to anyone who has any faith in the many causes pursued by these
self-appointed protectors of the environment.
In an ironic twist of events, it appears that those who protest the use of
pesticides have found themselves victims of that classic expression: "Be
careful what you wish for. You may get it." As they wished, pesticide use
has decreased significantly on crops such as corn, canola, cotton, squash
and soybeans. However, to their chagrin, those massive reductions were not
due to any effort on the part of environmental lobby groups. The dilemma
for those lobby groups has been that this massive reduction has occurred
due to new plant genetics developed by their other enemy -- biotechnology.
The unwelcome reality for them is that the expanding use of crops that
have been genetically modified (GM) to reduce herbicide and insecticide
use is the reason for the drastic reduction in pesticide tonnage. The
capability to further reduce pesticide use looks even better. The 32 GM
plants being developed have the potential to decrease pesticide use by
another 74 million kilograms. No doubt that possibility is driving lobby
groups into fits of exasperation as they see the issue spinning out of
So, how did environmental groups get themselves into this quandary of
conflicting causes? Verboven says it's a combination of trying to be
politically correct and the relentless pursuit of any cause that might
keep donations flowing into their coffers. In their never-ending quest to
find fundraising crusades, environmental groups latched onto GM crop
development as another possible cause with the potential to literally
"scare up" donations from naive citizens. However, it has not quite worked
out that way, particularly in North America, where, over the past seven
years, the use of food ingredients derived from GM plants has become
commonplace. The result for professional environmental activists has been
something of an issue-management nightmare. For example, every day they
wake up has become another bad hair day for the anti-GM cause. That's
because it's another day that no one anywhere in the world has gotten sick
or died from consuming food products that contain GM plant ingredients.
In comparison, if the rhetoric of environmental groups is to be believed,
every day children are being poisoned, breast milk is being contaminated
and people are developing cancer from pesticide use.
So, what gives -- isn't the reduced use of pesticides going to help
decrease these threats to human health? Verboven says environmental groups
want to see reduced use of pesticides, but no they do not want that use
reduced by GM plants. If that logic were pursued, an additional 21 million
kilograms of pesticides would have been used last year causing the alleged
health problems claimed by environmental groups. It's the same attitude
that sees some of these groups campaign against the use of DDT in tropical
countries. That usage could have saved millions of lives from the ravages
Like the corporations they try to demonize, the groups themselves have
become more corporate and more globalized. Causes, be they pesticides, GM
plants, irradiation or G-8, are now products to be marketed by the
fundraising departments of these groups. A befuddled citizen might well
wonder if these environmental lobby groups can ever be satisfied.
HEALTH FOODS OUT OF FAVOUR IN GERMANY AFTER SCANDALS
Agence France Presse
August 7, 2002
BERLIN - Pesticide and hormone contamination scandals in Germany have,
according to a study published on Wednesday and cited in this story,
tarnished the image of health foods and organic farming. According to the
Allensbach Institute survey, 56 percent of those asked said that "organic
products are no different from other products," compared to 35 percent
last year. It said that one in two people believed consumers were often
simply tricked by organic foods, up 16 percent from 2001, and that only 36
percent believed they were produced without chemical additives -- 20
percent fewer than last year. The survey asked 2,131 people aged over 16,
from June 13 to 25.
BIOTECH EYED FOR PAPAYA, OTHER RP PLANTS
August 8, 2002
The Philippine Star (Via Agnet)
Pierriden Perez, a leading Filipino molecular biologist, is, according to
this story, developing a papaya variety that has a high level of
resistance to a deadly pest and increasing the prospect of increased
supply of the vitamin A-rich fruit at cheaper prices in the local market.
Perez recently concluded experiments at Malaysiažs MARDI Biotechnology
Center to develop special papayas that are resistance to the ringspot
virus, the worst scourge of the fruit in the Philippines and other
tropical countries. Perez has returned to the country with some 200
plantlets of the biotech papaya variety, which are now ready for testing
in a local greenhouse. The greenhouse is a special facility jointly set up
by the UP Los BaŌos, the DOST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry
and Natural Resour-ces Research Development (DOST-PCCARD) and the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
Perez said his experiments on biotech papaya is a response to the current
sad state of the fruit crop in the country today. He said the fruit used
to be plentiful in major papaya farms in Cavite, Batangas and Laguna
before they were decimated by the deadly papaya ringspot virus. The story
says that Mindanao is relatively safe from the dreaded virus, but studies
showed that Mindanaožs most important commercial papaya variety, the Davao
solo, is susceptible to the plague. Perez was reportedly inspired by the
success of Hawaii, which earlier developed a virus-resistance papaya
variety. The variety, however, is resistance only to the Hawaiian strain.
Due to this limitation, he said Southeast Asian biotech scientists have
collaborated in the use of biotech for their own respective papayas, which
shall be tested for resistance against local virus strains. At present,
the Philippine government is looking at the application of modern
biotechnology to other major crops. Among these is a corn variety that is
naturally resistant to the dreaded Asiatic corn borer.