Today in AgBioView: August 5, 2002:
* Starving choke on GM corn
* GE provides opportunity to enhance sustainability
* Bush proposes system to approve biotech crops
* Malawi accepts genetically modified maize from US
* Biotech enriches iron content in rice
* How Biotech Can Avoid Frankenfood Syndrome
Starving choke on GM corn
August 3, 2002
LUSAKA -- Zambia says it might reject thousands of tonnes of genetically
modified corn from the United States despite 2.3 million of its people
"We would rather starve than get something toxic," President Levy
Mwanawasa said. Zimbabwe, which faces an even more dire situation, has
also expressed concerns over accepting food that some critics have called
a threat to health and the environment.
Though the US has repeatedly defended the safety of the grain -- modified
to produce higher yields and protect against pests -- 19 countries require
it to be labelled and the European Union bans the sale of any new
Zambian Vice-President Enock Kavindele said the Government would meet next
week to determine whether it would accept the grain.
An estimated 12.8 million people in six southern African countries are
threatened with starvation.
US officials said the use of GM corn was so widespread on US farms it
would be impossible to separate it from other corn.
"This is the grain we have. We don't have anything else," said Judy Moon,
spokeswoman for the US embassy in South Africa. "We're feeding them
exactly what we ourselves eat."
GE provides opportunity to enhance sustainability
The ability to commercialise new gene technology products when the
moratorium on GM commercialisation expires next year will provide many
opportunities for New Zealand to increase its commitment to sustainable
development, the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William
Rolleston said today.
ýEarly adoption of crops which have been modified to use less herbicides
and pesticides will improve water quality and reduce exposure of workers
to chemicals; early development of genetically engineered carrots to
reduce possum populations will have huge positive impacts on the
sustainability of our native forests and our dairy industry; early
development of reduced lignin pine trees will mean major reductions in the
use of harsh chemicals in the word processing industry.
ýThese, and many other developments currently under examination in
laboratories in New Zealand and overseas, will give real meaning to the
desire for sustainable development.
ýGene technology will also give real meaning to the ýclean and greenţ
label we are all so proud of but which currently lacks real substance. We
will also be able to be much cleaner and greener if we use gene technology
selectively to gain environmental, health and economic benefits.
ýWe must also remember sustainability is not only about the environment.
It is also about economic sustainability and sustainability of our way of
life,ţ concluded Dr Rolleston.
For further information, contact:
Dr William Rolleston 021 916110
Bush proposes system to approve biotech crops
By By PHILIP BRASHER
The new policy would let companies get clearances from the FDA while crops
are still being tested.
Washington, D.C. - The Bush administration is proposing a new early
approval process for biotech crops that are still in the testing stages.
The new system would eliminate the need for food recalls if trace amounts
of the gene-altered crops were found in conventional products.
Under the new policy, which was to be published in the Federal Register
today, biotech companies could get clearances from the Food and Drug
Administration for their genetically engineered crops while field trials
are still ongoing, rather than waiting until the products are ready for
The FDA would have to evaluate the companies" scientific data on the
potential of the crops to be toxic or cause allergic reactions in humans.
Crops that have not been determined to be safe would be subject to
"rigorous" restrictions to prevent contamination, the policy said.
The policy "adds yet another layer of assurance to the existing regulatory
review of agricultural crops intended for both food and feed," said
Michael Phillips, executive director of food and agriculture for the
Biotechnology Industry Organization.
But Larry Bohlen, a critic of biotechnology with the advocacy group
Friends of the Earth, said the policy could lead to crops that haven't
been proven safe getting into the food supply.
"The federal government should commission independent studies, not rely on
corporations to provide credible data on the health and safety of their
inventions," Bohlen said.
The biotech industry was embarrassed two years ago when StarLink corn, a
variety that had not been approved for human consumption, was found in
taco shells and other products, forcing nationwide recalls.
Much of the StarLink problem was due to poor grain-handling practices, but
it is believed that contamination also resulted from cross-pollination
between fields of StarLink and fields of other varieties of corn.
Now, there are concerns about corn and other crops that are being
genetically engineered for pharmaceutical uses, including the production
Such crops are not intended for food and are supposed to be grown
separately from conventional plants. The administration is working on a
special policy designed to ensure that those crops are kept out of the
food supply. This spring, the USDA said it was tightening planting
restrictions for pharmaceutical crops.
Malawi accepts genetically modified maize from US
Asia Intelligence Wire
August 03, 2002
Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - Malawi government officials confirmed Thursday
that some of the food aid coming into the country were genetically
modified type from the US.
Malawi neighbours Mozambique and Zimbabwe have shunned the American food
citing safety reasons.
Ellard Malindi, Chief Technical Adviser in the Malawi Agriculture
Ministry, told journalists government decided to accept the GMO maize from
the US because they were purely for consumption.
He dispelled the widely-held belief that GMO food could make consumers
impotent, saying scientists have proved the food do not have hazardous
We are importing genetically modified 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, Malindi
The official, who heads an ad-hoc humanitarian response task-force
comprising government officials, donors and NGOs, said America is a world
leader in science and has carried out rigorous tests to certify the maize
fit for human consumption.
Meanwhile, Mozambique has warned the World Food Programme to properly
secure GMO maize meant for Malawi passing through its territory to avoid
spillage in transit, according to a WFP official.
Some 14 million people in seven southern African countries are facing
starvation due to a combination of drought-induced crop failure, bad
policies and political upheavals.
In a related development, donor countries and agencies have so far pledged
at least 120,000 tonnes maize to Malawi, according to Agriculture Minister
He told PANA Thursday the maize would arrive in batches of 20,000 tonnes
This, if it keeps coming, should be enough to feed those desperately in
need of relief food, he said.
Banda, however, said Malawi still needed more food aid because of the
short-fall of some 700,000 tonnes of maize this year.
The country needs at least two million tonnes of maize to feed its 11
Biotech enriches iron content in rice
2 August 2002
Around 30% of the world's population is estimated to be deficient in iron,
making it the most widespread nutrient deficiency. Iron supplements may
rapidly improve an anemic person's condition but it is expensive.
Fortifying food is thought to be the best long-term strategy but iron
compounds of relatively high iron availability cause color and flavor
changes in food while the compounds which do not react organically are
usually poorly absorbed by the body.
An alternative and more sustainable approach would be enriching the food
staples either by plant breeding or genetic engineering.
Dr. Paola Lucca of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Switzerland,
with Drs. Richard Hurrell and Ingo Potrykus, conducted experiments that
aimed to increase the iron content in rice endosperm and improve its
absorption in the human intestine by using genetic engineering.
They introduced a ferritin gene from the Phaseolus vulgaris into rice
grains to increase their iron content. A thermo-tolerant phytase from
Aspergillus fumigatus was also introduced to increase bioavailability.
Endogenous cysteine-rich metallothionein-like proteins were also
over-expressed since they are considered as enhancers of iron absorption.
Transgenic rice grains were produced that could potentially increase both
iron intake and bioavailability.
However, more work remains to be done to evaluate the bioavailability of
the iron to humans.
The paper "Fighting Iron Deficiency Anemia with Iron-Rich Rice" was
published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition Vol. 21, No.
3. It is also available online at
How Biotech Can Avoid Frankenfood Syndrome
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
August 5, 2002
By STEVE MAYES and GIB HEDSTROM
We've all heard bullish predictions about a biotech revolution in the 21st
century to rival the commercial success of the IT revolution of the late
20th century. But we know how that ended, and it wasn't pretty. Make no
mistake: Genomics and related biotech advances have the potential to
transform the way medicine is practiced. But they'll need help. Without
the right regulatory environment and a concerted effort to work with
skeptics and fear_mongers, biotech will fall short of its potential.
Two recent speeches by Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair have
highlighted governmental concerns over whether the ambitious expectations
for the industry will be met. Creating wealth from new medical
biotechnologies __ such as human genetics, stem cells, cloning, gene
therapy and animal_to_human organ transplantation __ is a priority for the
U.K. government, its partners in Europe and North America, and the
pharmaceutical and biotech industries themselves. So what can be done to
make commercialization a success?
Biotech's advocates can begin by learning valuable lessons from other
industries. Nuclear physics, for example, generated analogous concerns,
and despite the promise of cheap and unlimited energy, stakeholder worries
over this energy source won the day. More recently, the public backlash
against genetically modified food has had a similarly profound influence
on the agrochemical industry, derailing ambitious plans in this area.
However, GM food is merely the tip of the biotechnology_ethics iceberg __
medical technologies have huge moral and ethical implications, not just
for us but for future generations. How then can the business avoid the
risk of a similar controversy derailing commercialization of new medical
Mr. Blair correctly highlighted the difficulty of the task. Last month,
the U.K. government addressed half the equation by launching its strategy
for promoting Britain as a base for biotech research. But equally
important, the industry needs a license to operate from the general
public. To accomplish this, governments and industry need to bear in mind
four guiding principles.
´ First, include the broader stakeholders. Initial GM_seed products
offered compelling financial benefits to customers (farmers) but not to
consumers, and suffered the consequences. Similarly, animal_organ
transplants for terminally ill patients are life_saving. Yet regulators
and society balk; the patient benefit is seen as being outweighed by the
risk of transferring harmful animal viruses to the human population. To
avoid the GM pitfall, all those involved in medical technologies __ from
government to individual companies __ and the increasingly powerful
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), must build and sustain a dialogue
and share decision_making.
One route is to adopt some of the experimental governance models that are
emerging in other industries to encourage buy_in from outside
stakeholders. The Sustainable Forestry Board, a board of 15 directors
comprised of five NGOs, five CEOs from industry and five "others," now
sets standards for sustainable practices within the American forestry
But dialogue, even once opened, is not easy. Stakeholder views are driven
as much by perception and emotion as rationale. Consider the two
technologies of food preservation by irradiation, and mobile phones. Both
technologies have benefits; both have been subject to media scares about
associated health risks. However, while few European countries have
legalized irradiated foods, over 70% of EU citizens choose to have a
mobile phone. Perceptions, rather than expert opinion, are driving the
current U.K. debate over safety of the measles_mumps_rubella vaccine. Most
medical experts are skeptical of the vaccine's alleged link to autism, but
the dangers from infant measles are clear. Even so, local outbreaks of
measles are increasing in the U.K. as fewer parents agree to MMR (measles,
mumps and rubella) vaccinations.
´ Second, governments must work closely with industry and NGOs __ early on
in commercial development __ to articulate the societal challenges that
biotech can help solve and establish broadly agreed perceptions of
cost_benefit and risk_reward. Privacy concerns about genetic population
screening is one issue that would benefit from this kind of cooperation.
To some, increased and earlier government or NGO involvement may smack of
unnecessary intervention. But if government does not take the lead, it
risks being seen as unresponsive. In addition, a failure by government to
address public perceptions could force their hand at a later date,
resulting in regulatory decisions that are less than optimal.
Signs of cooperation are emerging. In 1998 the Single Nucleotide
Polymorphism Consortium began to advance medicine through publicly
providing a map of human genetic variations. The consortium was backed by
corporate members, the U.S. National Institute of Health and was
coordinated by the Wellcome Trust. Such collective activity must extend
into the commercial arena.
´ Third, industry must balance the need to compete through innovative use
of technology with the need to collaborate in an unprecedented manner in
areas that are initially noncompetitive, such as product names. For
example, the "genetically modified" tag helped conjure the "Frankenfood"
connotations that so scared consumers with GM food. Now the medical
industry is in danger of making a similar mistake. Is the best name for a
test that optimizes medicine choice to the individual really
"pharmacogenetic test" or "theragnostic"? A better label, say,
"best_medicine test" __ would convey the benefits, instead of scaring
consumers with more science they don't understand.
´ Finally, companies must not overcommit to a predicted future. They need
to recognize that new technologies are often profoundly disruptive.
Disruption breeds uncertainty, and who knows what animal cloning will be
used for 10 or 20 years from now __ for food, or organ transplants or
drugs? In those areas that remain competitive, companies will need to
manage the uncertainties that medical technologies bring. Shell's use of
scenario planning, for example, has helped the Anglo_Dutch firm to rise
steadily in the ranking of world oil majors over several decades.
Companies using medical biotechnology will need to organize against the
major extremes of future uncertainty, with one current extreme being the
degree of public acceptance. As illustration, one might expect companies
developing pharmacogenetic tests to follow where possible the recent
example of DakoCytomation's Herceptest. Although based on underlying
genetics, Herceptest actually uses a protein test to judge the suitability
of Herceptin therapy for breast cancer. In this way the potential emotive
objections surrounding genetic testing are avoided.
Did Sciona consider public acceptance sufficiently when last year it
became the first British company to sell genetic tests directly to the
public? Perhaps not. After a campaign led by the pressure Group Genewatch,
Sciona recently made a commercial decision to stop direct sales, using
doctors and professional dieticians instead.
GM foods showed us that the failure of key stakeholders to accept new
technology can remove a sector's license to operate, swiftly and
drastically affecting even blue_chip firms. Five of the top seven
companies involved in commercializing GM_Food technology in 1998 have
since divested their agrochemical and seed interests or merged. The
possibility of similar scenarios with medical biotechnology should not be
underestimated. However, with the right framework in place, although the
road to commercialization may still be rocky, we will be far more likely
to deliver the tremendous potential benefits of these technologies __
drastically improved health care.
Mr. Mayes is a consultant with PA Consulting. Mr. Hedstrom is a member of
PA's management group. Stephen Black, a PA consultant, also contributed to
From: "ezequiel monteagudo"
Subject: Re: Zimbabwe accepts maize, Zambia debates, GM advantages, Bt in
China, Ontario, Earlier reviews
Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2002 13:43:27 +0800
Couldnąt U.S. help Zimbawe teaching how to develop or use GM crops instead
of exporting it?
GM crops are the solution but thatąs not the way, i think investing in
scientist development at this kind of countries by developed ones could
lead them to other succeses than eliminate starving, although itąs
This is why you can suspect from the intentions behind the GM exported
Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires (http://www.hospitalitaliano.org.ar)