Today in AgBioView: August 2, 2002:
* Mugabe 'agrees to' US maize for the starving despite GM protest
* US says Zimbabwe prepared for possible GM maize
* Hungry Zambia Debates Genetic Food
* GE farming advantages will outweigh disadvantages
* Genes cotton on to worm
* Ontario use of biotech crops on the increase again
* Earlier Safety Reviews Proposed for Gene-Altered Crops
Mugabe 'agrees to' US maize for the starving despite GM protest
The Daily Telegraph
By Roger Highfield
August 02, 2002
ZIMBABWE was said yesterday to have accepted a large consignment of maize
to help feed six million people who face famine, after previously
rejecting the American aid because some of the maize is genetically
Despite the apparent decision to accept the shipment, the image of a
nation on the brink of starvation rejecting food because it has been
genetically engineered has reignited controversy over GM food, which has
been eaten by Americans for years with no apparent ill-effects.
An editorial in the Herald, regarded as a mouthpiece of President Robert
Mugabe's government, said last week: "Vegetables . . could be contaminated
with genes from such grain." Experts have said this is a scientific
impossibility. Yesterday's issue of New Scientist reported on how the
Zimbabwe High Commission in London had said no GM foods were allowed in
the country because "scientifically, they haven't been proven to be safe."
The same day an American official said: "The government of Zimbabwe has
communicated its willingness to receive the maize."
He added that Harare had in the past accepted milled maize from America,
which cannot certify whether the grain in the 20,000 ton consignment has
or has not been genetically modified.
Only a little non-engineered corn is segregated from GM varieties during
the US harvest. It sells at a premium to organic food processors and
Biotech proponents have attacked the Zimbabwean government for initially
refusing aid, saying Mr Mugabe seems to care more about demonstrating his
independence than saving the lives of 6 million said to be facing famine.
Others accuse Washington of using the food crisis to get US gene-altered
products established in a part of the world that has resisted them.
The US Agency for International Development rejected the suggestion that
America was strong-arming Zimbabwe or had any agenda other than feeding
US says Zimbabwe prepared for possible GM maize
By Stella Mapenzauswa
August 2, 2002
HARARE - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government will accept 20,000
tonnes of United States food aid, which might include genetically modified
maize, to feed hungry Zimbabweans, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said
In June, Zimbabwe, stricken by a food shortage, rejected a U.S. maize
consignment because it was not certified GM free, fearing farmers would
use it as planting seed and undermine the country's grain seed variety
development programme through cross-pollination.
It also said consumption of GM maize by livestock could jeopardise
Zimbabwe's beef exports to Europe. Government officials were not available
for comment yesterday.
"Yes, we do have an indication of preparedness on the part of the Zimbabwe
government to accept 20,000 metric tonnes of food. Of that, 17,500 is
whole kernel maize and that is where the GM issue comes in," said U.S.
spokeswoman Heather Lippitt.
"Any given shipment of maize could contain GM food. When the maize is
delivered, will depend on when an agreement on outstanding issues with the
government of Zimbabwe can be reached," Lippitt told Reuters.
She could not say what the outstanding issues were.
Last week U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official Roger
Winter said Zimbabwe had agreed to take 20,000 tonnes of maize that
included GMO foods after USAID gave the country an August 1 deadline to
take it or lose it.
But he said there was no word on future maize donations and therefore he
did not take this to mean a policy about-turn.
Zimbabwe, facing its worst political and economic crisis in 22 years of
independence, is at the centre of a devastating food shortage in southern
African countries, including Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and
In June, the U.S. gave Zimbabwe 8,500 tonnes of maize but another 10,000
tonnes was rejected because it did not have a certificate saying it had
not been genetically modified.
USAID, through the U.N. World Food Programme, has to date distributed
42,930 tonnes of food aid in Zimbabwe.
Once the bread basket of the southern African region, Zimbabwe now needs
food aid after drought and the invasion of white-owned farms since
February 2000 slashed staple maize output.
Zimbabwe - where aid agencies say four to six million people need food aid
this year - and Malawi have been worst hit by the shortages. Winter said
Malawi was willing to take whatever food aid it got because the only
concern was to save people.
Agriculture Minister Aleke Banda said yesterday donor countries and
agencies had pledged 120,000 metric tonnes of maize, which would arrive in
monthly 20,000-tonne consignments.
"This, if it keeps coming, should be enough to feed those desperately in
need of relief food," he said.
Some of the food coming into Malawi would be genetically modified, said
Ellard Malindi, the chief technical advisor in Malawi's Ministry of
"We are importing GM maize from America because we did not produce enough
and we can't source traditional maize in the region since most countries
are also facing an acute food shortage," he said yesterday.
Hungry Zambia Debates Genetic Food
Associated Press Online
August 2, 2002
BY MILDRED MULENGA
Zambia is debating whether to reject thousands of tons of genetically
modified corn donated by the United States because of fears about its
safety, while 2.3 million of its people are threatened with starvation,
officials said Thursday.
Zimbabwe, which faces an even more dire situation, has also expressed
concerns over accepting food that some critics have called a threat to
human health and the environment.
Though the United States has repeatedly defended the safety of the grain -
modified to produce higher yields and protect against pests - 19 countries
require it to be labeled and the European Union bans the sale of any new
As 39,000 tons of U.S. food aid was being unloaded Thursday in South
Africa, Zambian Vice President Enock Kavindele told The Associated Press
his government would hold a meeting next week with experts and local
groups to determine whether it would accept its portion of that grain.
President Levy Mwanawasa also expressed reservations.
"It is necessary to examine the maize before we can give it to our people,
and I'm certain if it is found to be safe then we will give it. But if it
is not, then we would rather starve than get something toxic," he told Sky
The controversy comes amid the World Food Program's $507 million
international appeal for aid for the region, where an estimated 12.8
million people in six southern African countries are threatened with
starvation. The U.S. government has pledged $98 million worth of grain, by
far the largest donation.
WFP spokesman Luis Clemens appealed to the local governments to accept the
food, which the U.N. has found to be safe.
"I think people have to consider the moral consequences if there are
people starving," Clemens said. "We need to deliver food. Is that food
safe? Yes. Can we get it to them? Yes. Let's distribute it."
U.S. officials said the use of genetically modified corn was so widespread
on American farms it would be impossible for the government to separate it
from other corn in its aid shipments.
"This is the grain we have. We don't have anything else," said Judy Moon,
spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in South Africa. "We're feeding them
exactly what we ourselves eat."
Those reassurances did little to assuage the reservations of Zambian
"As extremely serious as is the food shortage today, it could be even more
serious tomorrow if we blindly accept (genetically modified crops) that
have the potential to undermine Zambia's sustainable agricultural
infrastructure," said Peter Henriot, director of the Jesuit Center for
The Jesuit center and the Kasisi Agricultural Training Center said in a
joint statement Thursday the country would not only be putting its people
at risk, but would damage its agricultural infrastructure for years to
A study by the two groups said the modified corn, if planted instead of
eaten, could contaminate other corn with its genes, reducing crop yields
and making it difficult for Zambia to export agricultural products to
Zambia has taken U.S. grain before. In May, it shared a shipment of nearly
44,000 tons of corn with Mozambique and Malawi.
In the past, the government had no policy on food aid, but according to
aid officials, pressure from local groups has pushed the government to
consider not accepting the aid.
Zimbabwe, where an estimated 6 million people face hunger, refused to take
its portion of that grain, but instead received a shipment of U.S. corn
meal, allaying Zimbabwean concerns the modified corn kernels could be
Malawi, one of the worst affect countries in the region, said Thursday it
had confidence in U.S. assurances the grain was safe and would gladly
GE farming advantages will outweigh disadvantages
The many advantages of genetic engineering outweigh the disadvantages,
Crop and Food Research scientist Colin Eady says.
Dr Eady envisaged a future with better and easier to harvest crops, better
and more environmentally sound disease and pest control, and improvement
in nutritional value, colour, and flavour of crops.
GE would lead to the production of industrial raw materials like high
value oils, modified starch, and biodegradable plastics, research
chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
Dr Eady is a researcher on genetic modification of onions. "We are
currently leading the world on onion genetic engineering," he told the
delegates at the Horticulture Industry Conference in Christchurch.
"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
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 soya beans.
"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.
"People opposed the use of penicillin, but if we hadn't used it, we
wouldn't have had 50 years of antibiotics. I believe there are risks, but
if we don't take the risks we won't get the benefits. "
He said the reality was the people involved in GE research were "just
"We are aware of pesticide over-use, and we are environmental
sympathisers. Like organic growers, genetic engineers want sustainable,
efficient crop production."
Genes cotton on to worm
XINHUA NEWS AGENCY
August 2, 2002
Eleven boll worm-resistant varieties of genetically modified cotton have
been registered and marketed in 12 cotton-producing provinces, the Chinese
Academy of Agricultural Sciences announced.
Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that the new strains
had been grown over 400,000 hectares, significantly reducing the use of
pesticides to ward off the cotton boll worm. Scientists said that the
genetically modified cotton produces good-quality fiber as well as having
a high yield and good resistance to the worm.
The cotton varieties were developed as part of Chinas so-called 863
Project, which has already yielded more than 2,000 patents in high-tech
research and development since it was initiated in March 1986.
Pest-resistant cotton is the only genetically modified plant that has
received permission to be commercially produced in China.
China has made remarkable achievements in the development and application
of genetic technology since the early 1980s, when it first began
agricultural gene research, experts said.
So far, the country has successfully cloned more than 100 different genes
and bred more than 180 species of genetically modified plant in
Ontario use of biotech crops on the increase again
August 1, 2002
Commodity organizations are reporting that Ontario growers are again
choosing to plant biotechnology-enhanced crops in great abundance for the
Estimates for 2002 plantings from sales figures and commodity groups, show
that 40-50% of the soybean (2001 figures; 25-30%), 45-50% of the corn
(2001; 40%) and 90-95 % of the canola (2001; 80%) are from seed stock that
has been genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant or resistant to
Biotechnology benefits farmers and consumers alike with increased crop
quality and food safety, reduction in the use of pesticides, higher
yields, minimized production costs while still providing the high quality,
affordable food that consumers demand.
The use of crops enhanced by biotechnology has assisted Ontario farmers in
minimizing pesticide use and its associated risks. Surveys have shown that
agricultural pesticide use (as measured by active ingredient) declined by
over 40% between 1983 and 1998 and continues to drop.(1) Associated risks
to farm workers, consumers and the environment have dropped by the same
40%, while crop yields have increased.(2)
Crop biotechnology, pesticide usage and other related environmental issues
are part of the mandate of AGCare, a coalition of farm organizations
representing over 45,000 of Ontario's growers of field and horticultural
crops. To find out more about AGCare please visit www.agcare.org .
(1) Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Survey of
Pesticide Use in Ontario, 1998.
(2) Gallivan, G.J. and Kovach, J., Evaluating Pesticide Risk Reduction on
Agricultural Crops in the Province of Ontario from 1983 to 1998. Research
Project SR-9008, Food Systems 2002, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food
and Rural Affairs.
VIEW ADDITIONAL COMPANY-SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
CONTACT: contact: Mary Lou Garr, Chair, AGCare, (905) 945-4165, email
mgarr(at)sympatico.ca or Diana Macdonald, Executive Director, AGCare,
(519) 837-1326, email agcare(at)agcare.org
Earlier Safety Reviews Proposed for Gene-Altered Crops
New York Times
August 2, 2002
By ANDREW POLLACK
Worried that unapproved genetically modified crops will leak into the food
supply, the White House is proposing new safety reviews to better protect
consumers and to avoid the need for disruptive recalls.
The proposed new rules, which are being published today in the Federal
Register, are based on the premise that there are so many field trials of
experimental genetically engineered crops that some of the crops will
almost inevitably find their way into food, either by cross-pollination or
because some of the modified seeds become mixed with other seeds.
Because the crops that are being tested have not been approved for
commercial growing or human consumption, even low levels of contamination
could prompt health concerns or food recalls.
So the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is suggesting
that the crops undergo a preliminary safety assessment by the Food and
Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency before field
trials grow so large that such contamination would be likely. The
assessment, which would not be required, would look at whether the new
protein introduced into the crop by gene splicing was toxic or would cause
If the crop was deemed not to be harmful, then low levels that
inadvertently leaked into the food supply would not be cause for alarm or
recalls. The government also hopes that importers of American crops or
food would not reject shipments because of a low-level presence of
unapproved genetically modified crops. The proposal does not spell out how
much contamination might be permissible.
Field trials are now subject to the approval of the Agriculture
Department, which looks mainly at environmental effects. The F.D.A. or the
E.P.A. look at the health aspects but usually not until the crop moves
closer to commercialization. Those assessments would still be made.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents biotechnology
crop developers, welcomed the new proposals. "For consumers, this
enhancement adds yet another layer of assurance to the existing regulatory
review of agricultural crops," it said in a statement.
But Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington
group opposed to genetically engineered foods, said the proposal, while a
step in the right direction, was "too little too late."
"They are recognizing that there is a likely or future problem with
contamination of conventional crops with genetically engineered varieties
creating potential health risks," he said. But, he added, the proposed new
policy does not address the trials that are already under way, so his
group will seek a moratorium on field trials until the new regulations are
He also said his group wanted to make sure the regulations were "not
simply a disguise to bail out companies" if their experimental crops end
up in food.
Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said
food companies would have preferred the safety assessment be made
mandatory to send a stronger signal to consumers.
The biotechnology and food industries have already been stung by some
incidents of contamination. Most notable was the case when genetically
modified StarLink corn, which had been approved only for animal feed, was
found in taco shells and other foods, causing large recalls and severely
hurting American corn exports.
In April, Monsanto and Aventis CropScience, two developers of genetically
modified crops, said some genetically modified canola seeds not approved
in the United States might have found their way into farmers' fields.
The proposed new policies would go through a period of public comment and
might take months to become effective.