Today in AgBioView: August 1, 2002:
* Organic blasphemy
* Re: Starving Africans
* International Conference on GM Foods in Singapore
* Peter Beyer and Golden Rice
* Safety of Gmos
* THE SOUTH ASIA INITIATIVE (SAI)
* California would see most savings from biotech, study says
* Zambia to Accept U.S. Transgenic Food Aid
* Zimbabwe to accept US maize consignment, despite fears
* Supporters of French anti-globalisation activist stage junk food protest
* A food labeling fiasco
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2002 15:19:17 -0400
From: "Alex Avery"
Subject: Organic blasphemy
>> Klaus Ammann wrote:
>> Thanks Chuck for this balanced statement. Anyway, there are elements in
>organic and high tech farming which could go together - blasphemic for
>some on both sides - I know
I'm glad to see that Chuck is still active and participating in this list.
Actually, Klaus, it's only blasphemous on one side of the debate -- the
organic side. So many non-organic believers, including myself, have said
repeatedly that many aspects of organic farming are desireable and prudent
farming practices, although not always practical or economic at the
extremes the organic standards require. Most farmers DO use elements of
organic, if you consider crop rotations, attention to soil quality/carbon
content, IPM methods, etc. Non-organic farmers do not demonize their
organic neighbors or call for bans of the technologies used by organic
farmers like the organic activists do.
It is NOT blasphemous to acknowledge on the pro-biotech side that many
aspects of organic farming are sound agronomic principles. However, it IS
blasphemous on the organic side to consider the use of GM/biotech or
acknowledge that biotech may offer advantages -- just look at the vehement
and hugely negative response when the USDA attempted to allow biotech in
the upcoming U.S. Federal Organic Standard. They got more comments against
that than they've ever gotten for any federal regulation in history!
It is the organic side that can't tolerate a co-existence with ag biotech.
How else to explian the zero tolerance for "genetic contamination", yet no
tolerance (or 5%) for synthetic pesticide residues? The zero tolerance
policy makes no sense in the context of the fact that "organic" defines
the process not the product. Organic farmers could easily require use of
non-biotech seeds (just as they require the use of only natural
insecticides and fungicides) and accept the tiny traces of "genetic
contamination" just as they accept the traces of synthetic pesticides
residues. (Note Chuck's well-written paper in the Journal of Food
Additives and Contaminants indicating that 24% of organic produce samples
had detectable traces of synthetic pesticides, one third of which were
higher than the non-organic average.)
They know that with biotech, the benefits will soon enough go way beyond
what organic currently claims to offer to consumers, let alone what
consumers actually get for the $$. When biotech offers consumers the
low-to-zero residues of pesticides, super-increased vitamin/nutritional
content, with greater flavor and freshness all at a lower price, what do
the organic's have to offer? When biotech offers to farmers lower
production costs, greater environmental sensitivity, much greater
sustainability (think salt-tolerant, desalinating crops), and much more
effective and less-stressful farming systems, what do the organics have to
It's easy to see why they see biotech as a threat.
Center for Global Food Issues
Date: Thu, 01 Aug 2002 10:04:36 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Starving Africans
The story said milling the corn before sending it to Zimbabwe would cost
about $25/t. Would it be any cheaper to irradiate it to prevent the
possibility of it being planted, rather than eaten?
From: "YEOH GUAN HUAH"
Subject: International Conference on GM Foods in Singapore on Feb 27 - Mar
Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2002 00:10:42 +0800
CALL FOR PAPERS
Singapore Institute of Food Science & Technology, supported by the
Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, Chemistry Department of
National University of Singapore (NUS), School of Chemical & Life Sciences
of Singapore Polytechnic, and the Federation of Institutes of Food Science
& Technology in ASEAN, is organising an international conference on "GM
Foods - Prospects, Challenges & Safety" in Singapore on February 27 -
March 1, 2003.
The Technical Programmes include:
a. A Plenary Lecture on an overview of current issues of GMOs
b. Research findings on new functional transgenes in foods and crops with
c. Recent development of analytical techniques on GMO testing
d. Biolaw, legislations and patent aspects of GM foods
e. Safety assessment methodologies for monitoring biosafety to consumers
f. Long term environmental/ecological impacts of GMOs
Special Presentations: ASEAN country papers on their respective current
status regarding the regulations and labeling requirements.
Half-day Workshop on "Understanding Genetic Modification and Bio-safety"
for non-specialist participants, to be conducted by the NUS Department of
A Public Forum with an invited panel of speakers on "The Current Concerns
and Issues of GM Foods"
Interested please indicate interest to Conference Secretariat at
email@example.com with presentation title and its abstract. Do visit
the Institute's website at www.sifst.org.sg More details of the
conference will be posted in near future.
Subject: Peter Beyer
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2002 10:47:50 +0200
I enclosed you a press release relative to the press conference held on
3th July in Seville (Spain) on the occasion of the National Conference
on Biotechnology that was held from 2 to 5th July in Seville.
I hope you¥ll find it interesting.
Thank you and kind regards.
MarÌa Isabel CartÛn ¡lvarez
Communication Department- FundaciÛn ANTAMA
CURRENT REGULATIONS DELAY THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF GOLDEN RICE
Peter Beyer, research worker at the German University of Friburg and
co-discoverer of Golden Rise, maintains that this cereal, which produces
betacarotene (a precursor of A vitamin), will not be produced until such
time as ìthree or four yearsî on account of problems in commercialization.
(Seville, 3th July 2002) Peter beyer made these statements at a press
conference organized by Fundacion ANTAMA [ANTAMA Foundation] the 3th July
on the occasion of the National Conference on Biotechnology that was held
from 2 to 5th July in Seville. Beyer is one of founding fathers of the
Golden Rice, a rice genetically modified to contain betacarotene, a
precursor of A vitamin.
ìOne of the things that have to be done in collaboration with developing
countries is to transfer the golden characteristic (which is only on an
experimental basis) to the varieties of rice typical of these countries
and in collaboration with their own research bodiesî, he said.
Golden Rice is free of patents towards the poorer countries, in such a way
that farmers will have the chance to buy the genetically modified variety
only once and to maintain it on their own, as the German scientific
explained. Beyer himself, along with Ingo Potrykus (the other discoverer
of the Golden Rice), grants the commercial license to those who apply for
it. Presently there are already six countries that have the technology at
their disposal, among them India, Philipines, Vietnam, China and South
Beyer detracted from the credibility the criticism of those who maintain
that it will be necessary to eat up to 7 kilograms of Golden Rice per day
to satisfy the needs of A vitamin. He settled the controversy by assuring
that with the help of Golden Rice, millions of people could reach the
sufficient levels of this vitamin. According to data taken from FAO, about
180 million people have an A vitamin deficiency, and every year two
millions of these people die.
The Biotechnology in Spain, an up-and-coming industry
This press conference also had the participation of Jose Ignacio Cubero,
professor of Genetics at the University of Cordoba and President of the
Sociedad EspaÒola de Genetica [Spanish Society of Genetics]. Cubero stated
that ìthe Biotechnology is an up-and-coming industry in Spain, and that
there are 250,000 jobs related to modern Biotechnologyî. He emphasized the
contribution of Andalucia to the sector as a whole in Spain.
This scientific considers that ìwhat the man in the street thinks is that
Biotechnology is somethins absolutely strange in our lives and which can
put our lives at risk, but this is an errorî.
In his opinion, this error is a problem of education and he criticized the
authorities because ìthey are not playing the proper role and are doing
the opposite of educating peopleî. As an example of the societyís lack of
information about Biotechnology, Cubero stressed that some foods as common
as wine, cheese, yoghurt or bread, as well as of products of regular
comsumption such as detergents, ìall are products from Biotechnologyî.
Jose Ignacio Cubero listed some of the researh projects that are currently
being carried out in Spain and in Andaluciaís particular case, for
example ìa variety of cotton resistant to the worm of the capsuleî, which
will prevent from the intensive use of insecticides. Cubero pointed out
that ìit is a variety of cotton prepared to improve the environment, the
farmerís life and the fauna surrounding its cultivationî.
In the Presidentís opinion, among the applications of Biotechnology, the
ones for the environment are specially important. In this sense he
underlined the ìBio-Remedialî or decontamination of the environment from
genetically modified plants. In his opinion, this technology could apply
to such situations as the spilling of toxical waste that took place in
DoÒana nature reserve.
For more information please contact:
Elena Fernandez Guiral
Telephone: +34 91 571 46 46
Safety of Gmos
Comtex Global News
By Dr. Luke Mumba
July 31, 2002
Jul 31, 2002 (The Post/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- THE debate
about biotechnology and the food derived from it, known as genetically
modified food (GMF), has gained momentum. More so with the famine which is
threatening the lives of more than 10 million people in sub-region.
The issue at the moment is whether or not the Zambian government should
accept GM relief maize from the US. A number of people; scientists and
non-scientists alike have rendered their voices to this immortive debate.
I would like to observe that recent sentiments issued in both the print
and electronic media on the subject, have been sensational and to some
extent alarming to the consumer.
Pronouncements on the subject have dampened the hopes of many Zambians
(especially those in rural areas) who have been anxiously waiting to
receive relief maize, which would rescue them from the impending
All of us who consider ourselves to be experts in biotechnology must
accept that we have not done enough to guide our policy makers on the
subject. Each time we are afforded a forum we are invariably issuing
contradictory statements on GM maize and biotechnology in general. Little
wonder that our government is to date undecided on whether or not to
accept maize aid from the US (The Post edition of 26th July).
It is with this background that I have been compelled to contribute on the
subject, specifically to address three pertinent issues on the current
debate. Firstly to advise on the question of the safety of genetically
modified foods. Secondly, to deal with some common misperceptions that
have clouded the debate and thirdly, to make specific suggestions on the
way forward as regards GM maize which has been offered by donors.
It is important from the onset to distinguish between scientific
methodology on the one hand and myths on the other. Science relies on
deductive empirical evidence and is dynamic whereas myths are purely
perceptions which cannot be substantiated with empirical data.
Myths have become popularly known as smoke screens and are largely being
peddled by the anti-GMO activists. As regards food safety, the public need
to know that all foods derived from biotechnology are thoroughly assessed
to ensure that they are safe to eat.
They all undergo an extensive regulatory food safety review in the
countries of origin prior to being made available for sale to the public.
Countries around the world have developed National Biosafety laws and
regulations that assure the safety of these foods. In Africa; Kenya, South
Africa, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Namibia and Cameroon have guidelines in
place while several other countries including Zambia are in the process of
formulating policies on the issue.
GM foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are evaluated according
to processes endorsed by FAO and WHO. They are subject to the same food
standards as non-biotech foods and must be substantially equivalent with
regards to their composition, nutrition, toxicity, allergenicity,
mutagenecity and digestibility before they can be released for
Professional expert reviews attest to the safety of biotech foods: the
American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, Food Advisory
Council (UK) and the FAO have all endorsed biotechnology as a responsible
tool. The influential British think-tank, the Nuffield Council of
Biotechs, concluded that all GM crops so far released are safe for human
consumption. Biotechnology companies are under obligation to ensure that
all the genetically improved crops they produce comply with all national
and international guidelines.
Their survival as companies is dependent on complying with regulations and
consumer expectations. The debate in Zambia like in many other countries,
has focused attention on the food safety and environmental concerns
associated with biotechnology.
Some of these concerns are real, others imagined. Let us take food safety
concerns first. So far there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that
eating GM food will be bad for anyone's health. To be more specific there
is no experimental data so far to prove that GM foods cause allergies,
anti-biotic resistance or suppression of immune systems in human bodies.
These are but some of the common myths which I referred to earlier.
For instance, findings of a Royal Commission which was set up to
investigate the validity of the claims that GM foods suppress the immune
system concluded that 'the evidence by Dr Pusztai to indicate that rats
had depressed immune system was not the result of standard immune response
tests'. The report further states that 'within the scientific community
there is general agreement that the results of Dr. Pusztai's experiment
are inclusive insofar as there were flaws in the process, and the project
Extensive testing carried out by Chinese researchers, similar to that
described by Drs. Pusztai has not replicated the results as claimed by the
latter. It is therefore a misrepresentation of facts to suggest that GM
foods depress immunity in humans as no such evidence has been documented.
Millions of people around the world have been eating biotechnology crops
(maize included) for a number of years and no ill health effects have been
attributed to them. In a 6-year study of 65 000 GM Irish potatoes, no
negative features caused by GM were found.
The reasons why we may be confident that GM foods are safe is that food
safety depends on what a food contains, not how it was produced.
Consequently, anti-nutritional elements, toxic micro-organisms, substances
that cause allergies and other undesirable attributes are no more likely
to be present in genetically modified than in conventional foods.
GM foods may even turn out to be better for people since, if resistance to
pests in the original crop has been genetically induced, the food derived
from it may contain fewer traces of pesticides. Biotechnology is no
different in principle from breeding techniques that have been used for
We can be assured of the long-term safety of food derived through
biotechnology for several reasons. First, proteins available in
biotechnology products have a history of safe use.
For instance, Bt proteins have been safely used as a 'harmless-to-people'
insecticide for over 35 years. In medicine, the hormone known as insulin,
which is given to diabetic patients, has been produced through this new
technology for decades and has proved to be safe. Secondly, predictive
tools are used, including animal feeding trails, to assess the long-term
health and safety of these products. Now to the environmental concerns.
One of the most powerful myths surrounding genetic modification is that it
is 'unnatural' because it allows genes to 'cross the species barrier'.
Activists tune to this myth whenever they use emotive expressions such as
'Frankenstein foods', 'Superweeds' or portray biotechnology as a plot
perpetrated by mad scientists playing God.
The truth is that genes already move between species in nature. DNA from
viruses is an example: It moves from grasses into the gut of insects, then
into cultivated crops. Similarly, some of the DNA in humans (known as
Mitochondrial DNA) is thought to originate from bacteria that entered the
human genetic make up (genome) at an early stage of evolution.
In addition, conventional plant breeders have long moved genes between
species in crops such as wheat and rice. Genetic modification is simply
one more instrument enabling them to do so, albeit a powerful one since it
broadens the genepool that can be accessed.
The designation of GM food as unorganic has its origins in the same
concern not to transgress the species boundaries somehow (divinely?)
ordained for human intervention. This designation is also mistaken, since
nothing could be more organic than a gene.
The false dichotomy between organic foods and non-organic GM foods has
been willed into being as a marketing ploy by companies and environmental
groups with interests in 'organic' food and agriculture. In contrast, the
concerns with 'gene escape' into the environment are real, if exaggerated.
It is true that genes introduced to GM crop varieties could, as the crop
is growing, be transferred to other organisms through pollination by
insects, wind dispersal or other means. However, the chances of their
actually doing so are low.
Transgenes are no more likely to be dislodged from a plant than are
thousands of other genes. As a UK scientist has put it, 'the transgene is
not a wobbly tooth in an otherwise sound row'. Firstly, it must be
understood that cross-pollination is a basic biology; it is not specific
to or created by GM crops. Plant breeders have developed practices and
standards to account for outcrossing and to assure the purity of seeds
planted and harvested. Secondly, it is predictable.
Outcrossing will only occur between closely related relatives growing in
close proximity and flowering at the same time. The compatibility between
plant species and geographic ranges of relatives are well understood;
hence, the potential magnitude of outcrossing is predictable. Therefore,
outcrossing by itself does not constitute a hazard. All biotech crops are
thoroughly evaluated to assess the potential of a trait's outcrossing and
conferring a selective advantage on a related species, or otherwise to
cause harm to non-target organisms.
If safety cannot be demonstrated, the product is not approved. The 'great
escape' - the one that everyone is most afraid of - is that of the gene
for herbicide tolerance, which has been introduced into such crops as
maize, cotton and soybean. In theory, this gene could, if it entered the
local weed population, lead to the development of new, GM 'superweeds'.
I stress the word 'could', since no case of this has yet been reported,
nor is it ever likely to be, however much press coverage is given to the
monstrous triffid-like creatures conjured up by this technology's more
imaginative detractors. Owing to the low probability that transgenes will
escape, the traditional threat to ecosystems posed by the introduction of
GM crops tolerant to herbicides appears marginal.
That does not mean we should ignore the risk, but simply that it should be
kept in perspective. Another concern associated with herbicide-tolerant GM
crops is that, by reducing weed infestation, they will lead to the decline
of bees, birds and insects, which will be deprived of essential feed
resources and breeding grounds. This is a real concern, especially in
countries such as Zambia, where these forms of wildlife are still very
We have something precious here that we must not lose, as Europeans and
North Americans have largely done. The evidence regarding the effects of
herbicide tolerance packages on wildlife is mixed: some studies show that
bird and insect populations can increase when these crops are grown, but
others show the reverse. My belief is that, given this uncertainty, we
need to view the introduction of herbicide-tolerant crops cautiously and
to proceed slowly, taking into account the lessons learned elsewhere.
Being late adopters of this technology we have the opportunity not to
repeat the mistakes made by others. Whether justified or not, concerns
over herbicide tolerance should not be used as a blunt instrument with
which to attack all biotechnology research and development, as some
activists have done.
Rather than a blanket declaration of Zambia as a GMO free zone, it is
advisable for government to constitute a team of experts who will carry
out risk assessment reviews on a product-by-product basis. This team will
consider among other things the impact of the GM product(s) on human and
animal health, environment and the socio-economic impact. Based on this
team's recommendations, government would then make an informed decision as
to whether or not to introduce a given GMO or its product.
The last but not least concern that I wish to address is that use of
biotechnology in agriculture will lead to a loss of biodiversity and other
negative effects on global ecology. In fact, one of the biggest threats to
biodiversity and the ecology of our planet is the projected doubling of
population expected over the next 50 years, and the attendant increase in
This, of course, can be linked to continued destruction of tropical
forests, grasslands and other terrain for purpose of food production.
Future increase in plant productivity must be achieved without the
continued loss of soil due to erosion and the loss of tropical forests,
grasslands and other sources of biodiversity.
When properly assessed for safety and approved by the appropriate
regulatory authorities, genetically modified crops can be a significant
part of the answer to the conservation of our biodiversity. Despite recent
Western European resistance, plant biotechnology has been well received
and successfully adopted by millions of farmers and consumers around the
From 5 million acres grown in 1996, the total planting were 120 million
acres in 2001, making biotechnology the most successfully adopted
agricultural innovation ever. Countries around the world are either
growing biotechnology crops, testing them in the field trials, or
conducting research on them with a view to introducing them.
That said, we are aware of the adverse reaction in parts of Europe. As
with many new scientific innovations, biotechnology generates plenty of
debate. This can be a healthy process where society has an opportunity to
be informed and determine the value of a technology and introduce any
Most people recognise that any technology has its attendant benefits and
risks and that what is called for is impartial evaluation and sober
discussion. Unfortunately, the biotechnology debate has been anything but
that sensational media hype, playing on unfounded fears, has caused
concern amongst consumers and eroded their confidence in their regulatory
This, against a backdrop of the mad cow disease scandal and other European
food scares, has generated a lot of anxiety about the safety of food.
Further, environmental activist movements have launched an anti-biotech,
anti-multinational and anti-intensive agriculture campaign in a very vocal
and dramatic way.
In many instances, environmental realism has been cast aside in favour of
environmental fanaticism. Some contend that trade tensions between Europe
and the USA have an impact, while others mention cultural differences and
attitudes to science and food. The lack of harmony between the various
European regulatory authorities are also said to play a role. Current
biotechnology crops mainly benefit farmers, who constitute only 2 to 3 per
cent of their population.
Shortly, when foods that improve health and nutrition are common on the
shelves (e.g. lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve eyesight,
etc.) European consumer resistance is expected to diminish. Whereas Europe
has abundant food, with virtually everyone receiving an adequate diet,
many in Africa suffer from hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Europe can
afford the luxury of debate and delay of this technology whereas Africa
Europeans see no need to increase their food output, whereas Africans can
see every reason to do so. In the light of the need for increased farming
productivity, Africa must make up its own mind and speak for itself.
Scientific data, regulatory frameworks and present benefits must be
weighed against perceived risks and a balanced and pragmatic approach
Let me at this point address myself to the crucial question as to whether
or not the government of the Republic of Zambia should accept GM maize
from the US. The genuine concern raised about importing GM maize is that
our farmers (especially subsistence farmers) are likely to keep some of
this seed for planting. If this happened there is risk that the GM maize
will outcross with non-GM maize fields. The farmers may also mix their
seed stock with GM seed. The two events may lead to contamination of local
maize and loss of biodiversity.
Taking into account the gravity of the food crisis in the country, my
personal views are that government should positively consider accepting GM
maize but should put in place appropriate risk management measures. These
measures are meant to reduce or eliminate the possibilities of GM seed
from reaching out to farmers and the consumers. The two options in order
of preference are:
The first option is that government should issue a directive to all
millers that all GM maize be processed into maize meal as soon as it
arrives into the country. This will entail strict monitoring to ensure
that seed does not leave the maize depots. The second option would be to
request the donors to give us GM maize meal as opposed to maize seed.
However, this option has cost implications both on the donors and on the
consumer, if some of the maize meal is to be sold.
Besides the food safety and environmental issues, biotechnology raises
plenty of other issues such as the equitable sharing of the benefits
arising from biodiversity, intellectual property rights and ownership of
food production and distribution systems. I will be glad to address these
issues in my future articles. Lest I am misunderstood, I would like to end
by underscoring the fact that biotechnology is not a panacea for all
As a purely 'technological fix', it can do nothing to create the
institutional and political conditions that are also necessary if
agricultural productivity is to increase. Nevertheless, it is a powerful
weapon in Zambia's war on poverty and hunger and can also do much to
alleviate environmental degradation.
Far from being a luxury add-on to the conventional research scene, it is a
vital new set of tools that offers us real hope for a better future.
New at IFPRI:
THE SOUTH ASIA INITIATIVE (SAI)
A global and regional research and outreach program that brings together
policymakers and researchers to reduce poverty and malnutrition in South
Asia. The Program promotes dialogue, facilitates policy research, and
strengthens the capacity of local institutions to conduct research.
California would see most savings from biotech, study says
By DON THOMPSON
July 30, 2002
California could see the most benefit from pest resistant biotech plants
currently under development, a new study says, though every state could
see pest-control improvements.
In part because it grows such a broad range of products, California could
see both the greatest cost savings and, correspondingly, the biggest
reduction in the use of pesticides, concluded the study last month by the
biotech industry-backed National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.
Pesticide runoff into the state's waterways is a growing concern,
particularly its effect on salmon and other endangered or threatened
However, genetically engineering crops is also controversial, even more so
overseas where many crops are marketed. That is sharply cutting both their
current and potential use as consumers weigh in and influence growers'
decisions. Many biotechnology critics fear genetically engineered crops
will ultimately do more harm than good. They fear the engineered crops
will destroy naturally growing crops through unintentional
cross-pollination. They also complain that the human health effects of
engineered crops are still unknown.
The critics said there is no question biotech crops are cutting pesticide
use, but the center is overselling both the current savings and potential
future use - particularly in California.
The study estimates that eight biotech crops already grown in the United
States trimmed pesticide use by 41 million pounds last year.
If 32 other genetically engineered pest resistant crops currently under
development are eventually widely used, they could cut pesticide use
another 117 million pounds nationwide, the study estimated.
The study funded by the biotech industry analyzed the impact of 40 crops
on 47 states except Alaska, Nevada and Rhode Island. Each state would see
some savings, but pesticide use actually could increase in several states
including Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and
Wyoming, researchers estimated.
California and North Dakota could see the greatest potential economic
Because it could use so many of the biotech plants, California alone could
account for 42 percent of the total potential impact of reduced pesticide
use, with a reduction of 66 million pounds, the researchers projected.
That could save California growers $206 million a year, the study
estimated, followed by North Dakota's $185 million and Iowa's $184
million, the study estimated.
North Dakota could see the greatest production gain because of fungus
resistant barley and herbicide tolerant wheat, the study found. Florida
would see the second largest production gain because of bacteria resistant
citrus and insect resistant sweet corn.
Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon would also see substantial
reductions in pesticide use if farmers there planted more biotech altered
crops, the report projects.
It is difficult to estimate even current savings, let alone project into
the future, countered Charles Benbrook, an expert on science and
agriculture for Consumer Reports.
For instance, biotech-altered cotton has clearly reduced pesticide use,
but probably not as much as the center reports, Benbrook said. That's
because farmers have simultaneously begun using more efficient pesticides
that have reduced the amount that must be applied.
Cotton growers have had to switch pesticides about every 20 years as pests
develop new tolerance, added Daniel Charles, author of "Lords of The
Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food." He suggested pests
may develop a similar tolerance to biotech cotton over time.
The projected benefits, particularly for California, may be overblown if
only because many of the products under development may never make it to
market, cautioned Michael Fernandez, science director at the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
Much of that will be consumer driven - both here and abroad.
For instance, researchers are working on a bioengineered grape vine,
potentially including genes from silkworm pupae, that might prove
resistant to Pierce's disease spread by the glassy-winged sharpshooter
"Forget it. Just forget it. It's not going to happen," advised Benbrook.
"Wine is one of those foods that's got a mystique about it. Companies that
make their living from it aren't going to risk introducing the first
genetically modified grape."
Echoed Pew Initiative spokeswoman DJ Nordquist, "Some of the wine growers
are saying, 'Please don't introduce these grapes to California,' because
they don't feel there's consumer support for it."
That applies to rice, too, Benbrook said, because Japanese rice consumers
would shun "genetically engineered rice."
Charles said sweet corn is another crop that gets large doses of pesticide
that could be limited, but consumer resistance to gene-altered corn "has
kept it off the market."
It would help if consumers were satisfied there was adequate government
review and regulation to make sure new genetically engineered products
were safe, suggested Fernandez.
St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. is a top developer and provider of
genetically engineered crops, and a sponsor of the center's study.
Harvey Glick, the company's director of global product stewardship,
predicted that researchers will soon develop new generations of drought
"I don't think it's a matter of if, I think it's a matter of when," Glick
said. "That's one I think would have particular appeal here in
Zambia to Accept U.S. Transgenic Food Aid
By Singy Hanyona
LUSAKA, Zambia, July 29, 2002 (ENS) - Zambia is expected to import
genetically modified maize (corn) from the United States to feed its 2.3
million starving citizens, according to the Biotechnology Trust of Africa,
a regional charitable trust. Zambia has decided not to follow in the
footsteps of hungry Zimbabwe, which two months ago rejected 10,000 metric
tons of genetically modified maize from the U.S. Agency for International
But scientists fear that the lack of a National Biosafety Framework in
Zambia, could create difficulties in monitoring transboundary genetically
Zambia is facing a lack of capacity and legal requirements to handle
genetically modified food at the height of food shortages and hunger that
is sweeping the entire Southern African Development Community.
The governments of several countries in Southern Africa have declared
national disasters due to the food security crisis - Malawi in February,
Lesotho and Zimbabwe in April, and Zambia on May 29.
The Zambian government is assuring the people that there is no need for
alarm over genetically modified (GM) foods. Agriculture and Co-operatives
Minister Mundia Sikatana says the public should not misunderstand
governmentís current stand on GM food.
He said, for now, Zambia is not accepting the technology of genetically
modified foods. The minister said the country has vast resources to meet
the food requirements of its people, without depending solely on
genetically modified foods.
The ministerís assurances came in response to a statement by USAID that it
would have difficulty in meeting targeted food supply requirements in an
event that Zambia refuses to accept genetically modified relief foods.
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios told a Congressional committee in June
"it will be difficult, if not impossible," for the U.S. government to
respond to the extensive food requirements that have been identified if
Zimbabwe would not accept genetically modified foods. Zimbabwe has not
accepted the GM food aid.
The USAID Vulnerability Assessment Technical Committee in Zambia has
identified 38 districts as requiring food relief assistance during the
2002-2003 consumption season. On July 10, the U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees reported that an estimated 250,000 refugees in Zambia would
continue to receive half rations because of the food shortage.
The Zambia National Farmers Union said Thursday that Zambia's current food
crisis is a result of failure by the government to address the country's
entire agriculture value chain. Speaking at the union's annual congress,
outgoing union president Ajay Vashee said the major cause of rural poverty
in Zambia is corruption and bad practices which have contributed to poor
performance of the agriculture sector. Agriculture and trade in farm
products makes up 40 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Zambia has decided to eat first and worry about the possible negative
effects of genetically modified foods later. These include possible
allergenic reactions and resistance to antibiotics. Critics say that
genetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never been part
of the human food supply to change the fundamental nature of foods, and
they call for long term safety testing of transgenic foods.
USAID Adminstrator for Democracy Roger Winter, during a recent visit to
Zambia, maintained that there is no scientific proof to cause concern
about the dangers of genetically modified foods.
In defense of its GM food aid, the USAID Food for Peace office explains
that, "The transgenic soybean and corn varieties commercially produced in
the United States have been reviewed under the U.S. regulatory process for
determining the safety of new agricultural biotechnology products."
"Soybeans and corn varieties, including transgenic varieties, used for
domestic consumption are the same as those used for export, including food
aid, USAID says. "In the United States, biotechnology products are not
commonly differentiated or segregated either for domestic consumption or
On July 11, USAID said it will provide an additional 160,000 metric tons
of food commodities to southern Africa. The contribution of corn,
vegetable oil, and beans will sustain approximately 10 million people for
one month and is valued at US$82 million.
There is a growing interest among African countries about biotechnology
and genetic engineering.
The Biotechnology Trust of Africa, which promotes biotechnology research
development in agriculture, health, industry, environmental management in
Africa, recently organized a second eastern and southern Africa workshop
on Intellectual Property Rights in Lusaka. It attracted 40 participants
from Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Swaziland, Namibia,
Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa.
The industrialized world and big companies have been warned not to make a
profit out of the biodiversity and the lack of local knowledge in poor
Lovemore Simwanda, chair of the Environmental Conservation Association of
Zambia, says issues of biotechnology should not be a preserve of
laboratory scientists and patent offices. ìWe need to explore the needs
and priorities of intellectual property rights and biotechnology in
ìThe rights and benefits of poor communities especially farmers and
herbalists in using their traditional knowledge in poor countries must be
discussed,î Simwanda said at the workshop.
Zambia is among the seven African countries to benefit from the Southern
Africa Regional Biosafety Program. SARB, which is funded by USAID is
coordinated by the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa and will
run up to July 2003.
USAID's Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program has established a
partnership with the seven countries - Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique,
Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - to provide technical
training in biosafety regulatory implementation. It will strengthen
science based regulation of biotechnology in the region, and promote
conformity with the science based standards of the WTO Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Agreement and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, USAID
The regional based training focuses on scientific risk assessment, access
to information, risk management strategies, and genetic techniques.
Many African countries lack comprehensive policies on biotechnology and
intellectual property. Though Botswana is a major importer of goods,
services and technology, there is a general lack of public awareness on
biotechnology issues, and it was not until 1998 that the Botswana
Parliament approved a Science and Technology Policy.
In Swaziland, a small Southern African country without a local seed
industry, there is no modern biotechnology application presently being
run, according to research by the Registrarís Office and the University of
In Malawi, there is a policy gap between activities in biotechnology and
the legal framework for the protection of intellectual property rights.
According to an overview of the status of intellectual property rights in
Malawi, presented at the Biotechnology Trust regional workshop, almost all
the seed companies currently marketing seed varieties in Malawi do not
have their own research and innovation centers. ìThere is need for
political will and financial commitment,î the study says.
Zimbabwe to accept US maize consignment, despite fears
Agence France Presse
August 1 , 2002
Zimbabwe has said it will accept a large consignment of maize from the
United States which may or may not be genetically modified, as six million
people face famine in the country, a US embassy official said Thursday.
"The government of Zimbabwe has communicated its willingness to receive
the maize," said the official, who preferred not to be named. She said the
consignment, measuring 20,000 tonnes, was a US contribution to the World
Food Programme's efforts to distribute emergency food aid to famished
villagers in rural Zimbabwe.
The official said Harare had in the past accepted milled maize from the
US, which cannot certify whether or not its grain has been genetically
The bulk of the latest consignment is unmilled, the official said, adding
that the details of the deal were still being worked out.
Recent reports have said a compromise seemed likely, with the maize being
milled before distribution so it could be planted.
Supporters of French anti-globalisation activist stage junk food protest
Agence France Press
July 31, 2002
A small group of supporters of anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove
burst into a McDonald's restaurant in this southern French town Wednesday
to denounce junk food and exploitative labour practices, an AFP journalist
The demonstration, by about 20 young militants, came the day before Bove
was due to be released after serving six weeks in prison for having
demolished a McDonald's outlet under construction in another town in 1999.
The militants distributed flyers accusing the US hamburger chain of
freezing out unions and low pay, while others hanged an effigy of Ronald
McDonald, the company's clown-like mascot. "We want to denounce this
industrial agriculture that exploits workers, nature and the credulity of
those who eat its products," said a member of Bove's farmers union, Guy
Bove earlier Wednesday signed papers that cut 28 days off his sentence --
two weeks for good behaviour and two weeks as part of a national pardon
decreed by President Jacques Chirac -- his lawyer, Francois Roux, said.
Another 20 days spent in police custody have already been deducted from
the three-month sentence.
The leader of a farmers' union was ordered to jail in Montpellier on June
19 for having used his tractor to destroy the McDonald's fast-food
restaurant in Millau, southern France, with several fellow farmers.
Successive courts rejected his argument that he was making a legitimate
protest against junk food and punitive US tariffs on French goat cheese.
Bove still faces another 14 months behind bars for a separate incident in
which he and other campaigners destroyed a field of genetically modified
The moustachioed, laconic activist has proved a real thorn in the side of
French authorities fearful of his widespread popularity at home and his
growing profile abroad.
His incarceration was put off until the end of presidential and
parliamentary elections between April and June this year. The polls
resulted in Chirac being re-elected and the appointment of a centre-right
government that has made "zero tolerance" for criminals its main priority.
Bove started his sentence after driving to the prison on his tractor -- a
seven-hour journey made at a snail's pace that ballooned into a parade of
around 1,000 supporters, journalists and cameramen.
Once in his cell, he went on a hunger strike to July 14 -- the day France
celebrates Bastille Day, when a revolutionary crowd stormed the
historically famous prison holding political detainees.
Throughout, he maintained that it was not just him that was in prison, but
France's entire union movement.
His lawyer said that on his release, Bove would be greeted by a crowd of
union members who would throw a liberation party. They would also hold a
rally to protest genetically modified food and denounce what they saw as
curbs on unionism.
A food labeling fiasco
Scripps Howard News Service
By HENRY I. MILLER
July 31, 2002
If you were designing a label to inform consumers that, for safety
reasons, certain foods need to be cooked or handled in a certain way, what
would it say? How about "Made in Brussels?"
No way, you say. Ridiculous and irrelevant, you say. Right on all counts.
But that's essentially what the European Commission and parliament have
decided to require for foods derived from organisms that have been
genetically improved with the most precise and sophisticated gene-splicing
techniques. This is public policy that puts politics and groundless fears
ahead of science and common sense, and into conflict with more rational
U.S. regulations. Product labeling that conveys essential information is
important, to be sure, but compulsory labeling of gene-spliced foods is a
bad idea for several reasons.
First, it implies risks for which there is no evidence.
Second, it flies in the face of worldwide scientific consensus about the
appropriate basis of regulation - that it should focus on palpable risks,
not the use of certain techniques.
Third, it will push the costs of product development into the
And fourth, the requirement constitutes, in effect, a punitive tax on a
The European Union is implementing various procedures and requirements for
biotechnology that are more appropriate to potentially dangerous
prescription drugs or explosives than to long-shelf-life tomatoes and
disease-resistant potatoes. In addition to the requirement for labels to
identify even exquisitely small amounts of gene-spliced ingredients, for
example, is "traceability," an imposing array of technical, labeling and
record-keeping mechanisms to keep track of a plant from dirt to dinner
This enables consumers to know whom to sue if they experience a bad tummy
from too many gene-spliced prunes, and providing, in the words of an EU
official, "a tool governments can use to remove products from the market."
Many activists and politicians who advocate mandatory labeling for
genetically altered foods invoke consumers' "right to know." Just let them
know what's in their breakfast cereal and let them make their own choices,
goes the argument. That sounds good, but experience argues otherwise: The
UK's mandatory-labeling law, touted by a senior regulator at its inception
several years ago as "a question of choice" has had the opposite effect.
It sparked a stampede by food producers, retailers and restaurant chains
to rid their products of all gene-spliced ingredients so they wouldn't
have to introduce new "warning" labels and risk losing sales.
A broad scientific consensus holds that modern techniques of genetic
modification are essentially a refinement - actually, an improvement - of
the kinds of genetic modification that have long been used to enhance
plants, microorganisms and animals for food. Because of the precision and
predictability of the technology, the products of the newest techniques
are even more predictable than - and at least as safe as - the genetically
improved foods that have long enriched our diets, such as seedless grapes,
sweet corn and high-yield grains. (Except for wild berries, virtually all
the fruits, vegetables and grains that we eat have been improved by
various genetic techniques that are less precise and predictable than
Following long-standing precedents in food regulation, the FDA requires
labeling if any new food raises questions of safety, nutrition or proper
usage. However, there is no requirement for disclosure of the use of
particular techniques to make food or food ingredients.
The European-mandated need to segregate gene-spliced foods, especially the
thousands of processed foods that contain small amounts of derivatives of
corn or soybeans, will raise production costs and pose a particular
disadvantage to products in this competitive market with low
profit-margins. To maintain the accuracy of labels, gene-spliced fruits,
vegetables and grains will have to be segregated through all phases of
production - planting, harvesting, processing and distribution - adding
costs and compromising economies of scale. A 1994 analysis by the
California Department of Consumer Affairs, a state watchdog agency,
predicted that "while the American food processing industry is large, it
is doubtful that it would be either willing or able to absorb most of the
additional costs associated with labeling biotech foods."
If enough people really want to avoid gene-spliced food, niche markets
will arise, as they have for organic and kosher products - assuming that
consumers are willing to pay a premium for foods certified to be free of
gene-spliced ingredients. No government mandate is needed.
For the present, the EU's new regulations on labeling deserve a label of
their own: unscientific and anti-consumer.
(Henry I. Miller, M.D., is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. From
1989-1993 he was director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. His e-mail
address is miller@hoover.Stanford.edu.)