Today in AgBioView: August 6, 2002:
* SCIENTIST PROMOTES ADVANTAGES TO GE
* Even hungry Africa wary of gene-modified food
* RE: Zambia
* Agricultural Biotechnology Quality of food improved for both developed,
* Tomato holds the key to heart disease
* Fighting off the myths - yet again
SCIENTIST PROMOTES ADVANTAGES TO GE
August 2, 2002
Christchurch Press (Via Agnet)
Crop and Food Research scientist Colin Eady was cited as telling delegates
at the horticulture industry conference that the many advantages of
genetic engineering outweigh the disadvantages, and that GE would lead to
the production of industrial raw materials like high value oils, modified
starch, and biodegradable plastics, research chemicals, and
Dr Eady is a researcher on genetic modification of onions. "We are
currently leading the world on onion genetic engineering. We've developed
herbicide- resistant onions. Why? Because I believe the current herbicide
regime on onions is excessive. We could save over 50,000 litres of
herbicide in New Zealand over a season." He raised the possibility of
growing GE crops organically.
"Crops with their own defence against pests and diseases can be grown
organically more easily than crops without such a defence. He said there
was a certified organic Australian farm that grows a GE crop alongside
organic soyabeans. "My vision is not that it's a magic bullet, but that we
work together in co-existence with organics," he said. "I think we should
get together and take the best bits of all forms of agriculture, and look
at crops on a case by case basis, adopting the best sustainable agronomic
practice." Of the risks, Dr Eady said he believed pests and diseases may
eventually develop resistance to particular genes.
Even hungry Africa wary of gene-modified food
The Christian Science Monitor
August 6, 2002
By Nicole Itano
A shipment of grain sits in South Africa as 12 million people in the
region face shortages.
Under a grass-thatched shelter just off the main road that heads east from
Lusaka, Josephine Musopelo waits with neighbors for the return of her
husband. Two days ago, he left for Zambia's capital city, some 35 miles
away, in search of food for his hungry village.
People here remember the yellow corn distributed seven years ago during
the area's last major drought, and Mrs. Musopelo's husband has gone to
find its source. In Southern Africa, where most people eat white corn, the
yellow variety is considered animal feed, not fit for human consumption.
But Musopelo is desperate.
"If we eat this pitiful stuff," she says, gesturing at a bag of small
fruits the family has been pounding into mash for the children, "we will
But will they eat genetically modified (GM) corn? That's the question her
country's leaders are hotly debating as a shipment, partially filled with
GM corn, sits 1,000 miles away in a South African port.
Until now, the scientific debate over the risks, and benefits, of GM foods
was something fought over largely in the streets of Paris and the dinner
tables of Iowa. Suddenly, it is a life and death decision for ordinary
Zambians, and it threatens to derail international efforts to avert a
famine in South- ern Africa. The governments of countries like Zambia find
themselves in the difficult position of either accepting a technology into
their country before they have determined if it's safe, or turning away
grain that could save lives now.
The US has offered to provide half of what Zambia needs to feed those who
are hungry , and one-third of what is needed regionally. At least some of
that is corn that has been genetically modified.
Although none of the seven African countries targeted for emergency food
aid has officially said they will reject American aid, at least one
shipment of food has already been diverted from Zimbabwe, in part due to
GM concerns. Several other countries are seriously considering turning
away the food. Zambia's president, Levy Manawasa, said last week that
despite its need, his country would not accept American food aid if it
cannot be proven safe.
People have been selectively breeding crops for thousands of years to
improve yields or adapt plants to new environments. New technology now
allows the genes from one organism to be inserted into another.
But the technology is controversial. Some scientists, particularly in
Europe, worry that GM food could cause allergic reactions in humans or
that it could pollute the environment by cross pollinating with natural
varieties. Others say it could provide the solution to feeding the world's
hungry by making plants that are drought and pest resistant.
On the streets of Lusaka, where much of the debate is fueled by
misinformation and public hysteria, people are primarily concerned about
whether the food will make them sick.
In a poor rural settlement on the outskirts of Lusaka, George Chilumbo is
skeptical of the help pouring in for the estimated 2.3 million people in
Zambia, and more than 12 million regionally, tottering on the edge of
starvation. Mr. Chilumbo doesn't understand the details of genetic
modification. All he knows is that some people think the food could be
"We think that if we eat that food, bad things could happen to us, like
cancers could grow in our stomachs," he says, to the nods of his friends.
"I would rather starve than eat that food."
Since there is thus far no evidence that GM foods have a harmful effect on
people, and Americans have been eating it for some time, those fears are
likely to be superceded by the immediate need for food.
"What I personally find so disturbing about this whole GM debate is the
fact that we've been eating it for the past five years," says Allan Reed,
director of the United States Agency for International Development in
Zambia. "For someone to say that this food is being dumped, or that it has
been rejected by the United States, is simply not true."
Even before the aid debate put genetic modification in the headlines,
farmers here have been bitterly divided over the issue. Some, like those
in the cotton industry, say its introduction is necessary to keep them
competitive in the international market. Others in the country's growing
organic export market worry that allowing GM crops into the country could
close the European Union (EU) market to them. They fear that GM crops will
either mix with their own or, at the very least, hurt their image among
anti-GM European consumers.
"You can understand the Zambian officials' concern because on one hand
donors and others are telling them, 'Look, you've got to improve your
agriculture by going for niche markets like the organic market,'" says Rob
Tripp, a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute. "On the other
hand there's a real fear that they could get cut out of these markets in
places like the EU, which are creating increasingly strict GM
Lovemore Simwanda, who is leading the investigations into GM food for the
Zambian National Farmers Union, worries the food shortage is forcing the
country to make a decision on GM too quickly and without the proper
"The American government wants to push us into accepting this," he says.
"They think we've got hunger and that we're going to be forced into
accepting their food and ultimately GM."
One potential short-term solution is to mill the corn before distribution,
since one of the main concerns in Zambia is that seed intended as food aid
will be hoarded and planted next year, potentially affecting local maize
crops with GM strains.
Namibia has milled grain for several years due to GM concerns. But such a
solution is expensive - as much as $ 25 per metric ton - and could cause
delays in getting the food to people already living on the edge.
Additionally, some United Nations officials privately say such a move is
opposed by the United States which fears such a compromise implicitly
acknowledges a problem with the food.
Even if it is not milled, the American aid poses little threat to Zambia's
crops, say experts. American corn is specifically bred for the conditions
in the Midwest and is unlikely to thrive in Zambia. Many experts say GM
corn is likely already present in Zambia since South Africa is one of the
largest producers of GM food in the world and a major trade partner with
The GM debate hasn't yet filtered down the road towards Malawi where Mrs.
Musopelo and her neighbors are waiting for help. They don't understand
what a gene is or how parts of one plant can be inserted into another.
There are no words in their language for such technologies. All they knows
is that their families are hungry.
"Our survival depends on help from outside," says Mrs. Musopelo's
neighbor, Michael Simwinga. "If you don't assist us, our children and
ourselves will die."
From: "de Kathen A."
Subject: RE: Zambia
Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2002 13:43:12 +0200
Hence another piece on Z and Z and GM corn. It might be interesting to add
press releases 'from within' and not only 'about'. It is, perhaps, easier
to recognise that the question is not only (or even not at all) safety but
Focusing on all the promises and ignoring concerns in such a sensitive
situation is just missing the point. As Ezequiel Monteagudo rightly put
why not spending much more effort in transferring the technology instead
of transferring the products?
Agricultural Biotechnology Quality of food improved for both developed,
Genomics & Genetics Weekly
August 05, 2002
Plant biotechnology is an important tool to help address nutrition needs
in the developing world, as well as chronic lifestyle- and diet-related
diseases in the developed world, Monsanto's chief scientist said at the
10th Annual International Association for Plant Tissue Culture and
Biotechnology (IAPTC & B) Congress.
"Clearly we need new technologies as a tool to provide the basic staples
so desperately needed in the developing world, and we also need to
continue research that will make it possible to provide a variety of
nutritious and wholesome foods so consumers around the world can optimize
their health," said Robb Fraley, PhD, chief technology officer of
Monsanto, in a speech to the conference in Orlando.
"Over the next 20 years, the global demand for food will increase
approximately 75%. This is a daunting technological challenge," he said.
"Plant biotech holds promise to address diseases and nutritional
imbalances that exist around the world today."
In the developing world, Fraley said, staple crops like rice and mustard
are being enhanced through biotechnology to contain increased levels of
beta-carotene. These hold promise to significantly reduce vitamin A
deficiency among the poor in India and China, he said.
"Biotech crops are a cost-effective and convenient tool to ensure
increased access to the nutrients people need to improve their health and
quality of life," said Fraley.
"The best sources of nutrients are unavailable or too expensive for many
people in developing countries. We must continue to find ways to share
this powerful technology in these regions to encourage self-reliance and
Fraley said biotechnology also has the potential to address chronic health
problems in the developed world through enhanced oils and modified
"There are not enough fish in the ocean to ensure that all humans get
enough 'good' fatty acids. We need to develop a land-based source of this
valuable nutrient to fortify the diets of all consumers," he said.
"Researchers are currently looking at ways to use biotechnology to enhance
crops and food products so that they are more nutritious and, in turn, can
reduce risks like obesity and cardiovascular disease."
During his speech, Fraley addressed the current benefits of biotechnology,
including increased yields, reduced reliance on pesticides, and the
adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices.
In the future, Fraley said new biotech products will contain enhanced
nutritional qualities and traits that help crops withstand environmental
stress, including drought.
"The pipeline of potential new products emerging across the ag-biotech
industry is astonishingly broad and innovative," Fraley said. "We must
continue developing products that benefit growers, and ensure new products
deliver tangible benefits to consumers, including enhanced nutrition and
taste." This article was prepared by Genomics & Genetics Weekly editors
from staff and other reports.
Tomato holds the key to heart disease
August 05, 2002
A SUPER supplement extracted from tomatoes to help prevent heart disease
is set to earn a team of Scottish scientists millions.
The substance, which is contained in the clear pulpy juice of the humble
fruit, has been found to have "extraordinary" health benefits.
Scientists at the Rowett Research Institute, in Aberdeen, have set up a
commercial arm to market the extract, which they have called CardioFlow.
Dr Steve Franklin and his team have spent years researching the medicinal
qualities of the tomato, which is also known to be useful in preventing
certain forms of cancer.
Nutrition Enhancement Limited (NEL) is in talks with health food
manufacturers and is confident it will be commercially available as a
"heart healthy" additive within a year.
Earlier this year, American scientists revealed they accidentally created
a genetically modified tomato that could help prevent cancer.
Fighting off the myths - yet again
Food Safety Network Director Doug Powell, recently in New Zealand, penned
this letter to the Editor of the Timaru Herald in response to a missive
from Robert Anderson of PSRG fame (infamy?).
The debate about genetically engineered foods, in New Zealand, Canada and
elsewhere, continues to be characterized by unsubstantiated assertions,
mythologies, and urban -- or in this case rural -- legends. But claims
about food safety can actually put individuals at risk. It's dangerous.
Robert Anderson (31 July) says that the incidence of foodborne illness has
increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the past decade and insinuates that
genetic engineering may have a role. Yet this increased reporting is
almost all due to increased awareness, and better reporting using the
tools of DNA fingerprinting.
Despite the claims of people like Anderson, Canadian farmers continue to
increase their use of genetically engineered crops such as corn, soya and
canola. Why? Part of the reason is a 46 million pound reduction in
pesticide use documented in the U.S. in 2001 because of genetically
engineered crops such as cotton, canola, soy and field corn. Such crops
helped American farmers reap an additional 14 billion pounds of food and
improve farm income by $2.5 billion.
The most recent study from the Washington-based National Center for Food
and Agricultural also predicted that if the 32 other biotech crop
varieties still under development were planted, they would reduce
pesticide use by 117 million pounds per year, bringing total pesticide
reduction for all biotech crops to 163 million pounds annually. Field corn
resistant to rootworm, for example, could replace 14 million pounds of
insecticides used on this crop each year (the complete report,
commissioned with a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, and later
expanded with industry funding, was reviewed by nearly 70 plant
biotechnology scientists from 20 academic and government institutions and
is available at www.ncfap.org).
In short, certain genetically engineered crops, on certain farms, can help
farmers produce safe, affordable food while minimizing the environmental
impact. But that isn't what Percy Schmeiser or the anti-GE campaign will
have you believe.
People like Anderson are quick to hypothesize links between foodborne
illness and genetic engineering, yet always seem to miss the obvious ñ
like the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 last week linked to a petting zoo in
the Bay of Plenty. Three children had to receive kidney dialysis. Such
outbreaks are real, tragic, and have nothing to do with genetic
engineering. Nature is not benign.
The social magnification of theoretical risks, practiced by Anderson and
others, may trivialise significant and well-characterised risks in food,
such as microbial contamination, and belittles attempts by producers,
processors, retailers and regulators, to provide safe, inexpensive and
nutritious foods. Perhaps, beyond the shrill soundbites, there is a way to
extract whatever benefits genetic engineering can bring to food production
and minimise the unknowns that come along with any new technology, while
at the same time establishing trust. After all, most food purchasing
decisions are overwhelmingly based on trust.