Today in AgBioView: August 9, 2002:
* Mozambique will not allow GM maize to enter country's ports - premier
* GM trade war
* Rockefeller President: 'Doubly Green Revolution'
* Debate 'could crush biotech benefits'
* UAS researching drought-tolerant plant gene
* Whole Foods, Holier Than Thou
* Sunflower Study is Irrelevant
* Super crops lead to super weeds
Mozambique will not allow GM maize to enter country's ports - premier
Asia Intelligence Wire
August 08, 2002
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi says the government has not yet received
the report from the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat [STAE]
on the country's readiness to hold the local government elections.
Addressing correspondents in Maputo today, Pascoal Mocumbi said that once
it received the report, the government would make a decision on holding of
elections. Mocumbi, however, noted that the government felt that the dates
set for the elections should be adhered to...
Prime Minister Mocumbi also told the correspondents that the government
would not allow genetically modified maize, which has been rejected by
other countries, to be shipped through the country's ports. Zambia, Malawi
and Zimbabwe recently turned down a US government donation of genetically
modified maize, claiming that it was unsuitable.
Mocumbi said that as far as Mozambique was concerned, genetically modified
maize could only be accepted if it had been processed, preferably by the
[Mocumbi] If neither Zambia, Zimbabwe nor Malawi wants that maize, why
should it be ferried through Mozambique? We are a gateway for the
hinterland's imports and exports. So, there must be an interested party in
this matter. If there is no interested party, then we cannot allow the
merchandise to enter the country. That is obvious.
Mozambique's position on genetically modified maize depends on the nature
of the modification. We demand that those who donate maize to us tell us
what type of modification the maize has undergone. Based on that, we would
then decide whether to accept the maize or reject it. If we feel that we
can consume the maize, we would demand that it be processed maize.
Our peasants cannot see the difference between natural maize and other
types of maize. By planting genetically modified maize, they could be
creating a problem for the production of maize in our country. The moment
we start using this type of maize then we would have to use it
We may plant it once, and the next time the yield would not be the same.
That would be cheating our peasants. It would be tantamount to undermining
the efforts that the government and the Mozambican people have been making
in fighting poverty. That would be a way of impoverishing us even further.
GM trade war:
The European Union has banned imports of GM foods since the mid-1990s.
But it's clear the ban is not really a safety precaution -- it's a barrier
August 9, 2002
By Ronald Bailey
Millions of starving people in Zimbabwe have the European Union to thank
for their hunger. In early July, Zimbabwe rejected food aid from Canada
and the United States because the corn involved had been genetically
enhanced to protect it against insects. The threat of mass starvation is
the direct consequence of the trade war over genetically improved crops
that is brewing between North America and Europe.
Zimbabwe has refused biotech corn because its government fears Europe
would ban its agricultural exports once its farmers started growing
genetically improved corn. After all, since the mid-1990s, the EU has
banned imports of genetically enhanced crops from Canada and the United
States on the specious grounds that they aren't safe, which is nonsense.
One scientific panel after another has concluded that biotech foods are
safe to eat. Even an EU review issued last fall of 81 separate European
studies of genetically modified organisms found no evidence that
genetically modified foods posed any new risks to human health or the
It's clear that the EU ban is not a safety precaution, but a barrier to
trade. The EU is citing phony safety concerns to protect its farmers from
competition and to protect its system of bloated farm subsidies. For more
than a decade, the EU has banned the importation of beef treated with
growth hormones. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the EU's
ban was not based on scientific evidence, but was a trade barrier.
Fearing that the WTO would rule against their biotech crop ban, the
Europeans are now trying to execute an end run around the WTO. Currently,
under the trade organization, the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Measures (SPS) requires that regulations be "based on scientific
principles." The European strategy to circumvent the language of the
agreement is to get the "precautionary principle" accepted as an
international food and health safety standard. The precautionary principle
is an anti-science regulatory concept that allows regulators to ban new
products on the barest suspicion that they might pose some unknown threat.
In addition, the Europeans are trying to label all food products that
contain ingredients made from biotech crops.
The Europeans are trying to smuggle the precautionary principle in via
negotiations in two other international forums, the Codex Alimentarius
Commission and the new Biosafety Protocol. In 1995, the SPS agreement
conferred on the Codex the responsibility for setting international food
safety standards that would be recognized by the WTO. The EU has succeeded
in getting the Codex Commission to incorporate the precautionary principle
and traceability requirements into several draft documents on risk and
If the Codex adopts those rules, it would mean that the SPS must recognize
them. That, in turn, would mean that the WTO must accept them. And that
means if Canada and the United States ask the WTO to adjudicate their
dispute with the EU over the banning of biotech crop imports, Canada and
the United States would lose.
Meanwhile, the EU-backed Biosafety Protocol, which has incorporated the
precautionary principle, requires that all international shipments of
genetically modified crops be labelled "may contain living modified
organisms." To achieve that requirement, biotech crops must be segregated
from conventional crops. That means duplicating the entire shipping
infrastructure of grain silos, rail cars, ships and so forth at an
estimated cost of at least $6-billion, raising the price of grain by 12%.
The Biosafety Protocol, which becomes effective after ratification by 50
nations, has been ratified by 33 countries.
What can Canada and the United States do to win this trade war and foster
the spread of GM foods? Fortunately, North American negotiators can stop
the Codex process. All Codex standards must be agreed to by consensus of
all the parties. All Canada and the United States have to do is call a
halt to the precautionary principle, biotech labelling, and traceability
requirements, and they'll be taken out of Codex.
Countering the Biosafety Protocol's absurd regulation is a thornier
problem. Our trade officials need to make it clear that importing
countries that also grow biotech crops, such as China and India, cannot
set a double standard requiring traceability and labelling of North
American imports while exempting their own crops. Furthermore, Canada and
the United States must persuade all the chief food exporting countries,
like Argentina, Australia and Brazil, to create a united front against the
EU, leaving Europe with no sources for non-biotech feed grain imports.
To protect their farmers from competition, the Eurocrats seem willing to
wreck the WTO and incidentally starve millions in the developing world.
Canada and the United States must prevent that.
Rockefeller President: 'Doubly Green Revolution'
8 August 2002
With 800 million people chronically undernourished, renowned agricultural
ecologist sites urgent need for new and non-polluting technologies;
enhanced conservation; and greater participation of farmers in technology
"The original "Green Revolution" pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation
and others in the 1950s and '60s was a remarkable achievement in its
time," said Dr Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, one
of the world's oldest and largest philanthropies.
Dr Conway presented the keynote address to the international conference of
the ATSE Crawford Fund, "Food for the Future: Opportunities for a Crowded
Planet", in Canberra today, involving renowned speakers considering issues
related to world food security.
"Impressive advances have been diminished by rapid population growth, and
the environmental and monetary costs of fertilizers and pesticides," he
Dr Conway, who has been called "The Voice of Reason in the Global Food
Fight", is one of few public figures charting a middle course in the
bio-foods debate which ranges between PR backed multi-national seed
companies and anti-GMO zealots.
"Today, 800 million people go hungry in a world where food is plentiful.
Yet there is far more than food at stake - there is the very real issue of
worldwide political stability. With the increasing interconnectedness of
the world and the consequences of economic stagnation, population growth,
environmental degradation and civil war, there is already an unprecedented
movement of people across borders," said Dr Conway.
Dr Conway warned that the incidence of economic migration is only likely
to increase unless the international community takes seriously the need
for a "doubly green" revolution.
"To feed the world this century and avert increased economic and civil
dislocation, a second and more widespread transformation of agriculture is
required," he said.
He called for a multi-part approach:
* designing new and better plants and animals, using modern methods of
biotechnology and genetic engineering, particularly aimed at marginal
* developing (or rediscovering) non-polluting alternatives to inorganic
fertilizers and pesticides
* improving soil and water management
* enhancing earning opportunities for the rural poor, especially women
* forging genuine partnerships between researchers and farmers on the
ground, who can offer invaluable input into the creation and application
of new techniques.
In relation to biotechnology and community concern, Dr Conway noted that
much of what is being said in developed countries, like Australia, is
driven by passion, or simple anti-corporate sentiment.
"However, there is also genuine concern about the ethical consequences of
biotechnology, about fear for the environment and about the potential
impact on human health," he said.
"Unless there is more reasoned dialogue, there is a real danger that the
potential benefits of the technology will be lost in an increasingly
hostile consumer or legislative backlash," he said.
"Those faced with malnutrition or starvation may be less worried about the
ill-defined health risks cited by pressure groups. The poor have a right
to decide for themselves and they need the information and tools with
which to do so," he said.
"This technology will not be accepted unless consumers feel they have a
choice. If consumers wish to be informed whether they are eating GM foods,
they have a right to know," he said.
"There's room for consensus and win-win situations in the food debate," he
Debate 'could crush biotech benefits'
8 August 2002
There was a chance that the benefits from biotechnology could be lost
because of an increasingly hostile consumer backlash, philanthropist
Gordon Conway said.
Dr Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said must of the
debate about genetically-modified foods was being driven by passion or
"However, there is genuine concern about the ethical consequences of
biotechnology, about fear for the environment and about the potential
impact on human health," he said.
"(But) unless there is more reasoned dialogue, there is a real danger that
the potential benefits of the technology will be lost in an increasingly
hostile consumer or legislative backlash."
Dr Conway was keynote speaker at the Food for the Future conference in
Canberra, organised by the ATSE Crawford Fund.
The fund was set up to encourage investment in international agricultural
research by governments and the private sector.
Dr Conway said poorer nations had the right to decide whether they wanted
access to more modern methods of production.
"Those faced with starvation of malnutrition may be less worried about the
ill-defined health risks cited by pressure groups," he said.
Former National Party leader Tim Fischer, who is chairman of the ATSE
Crawford Fund, said lack of food was a life-threatening problem for around
800 million people each day.
"Perhaps we need to think more about biotechnology in food production in
this light," he said.
"We feel that when debating the area of GMOs (genetically modified
organisms), not enough consideration is given by people in wealthy nations
like Australia to the critical need to increase food production in poorer
UAS researching drought-tolerant plant gene
Asia Intelligence Wire
By SEETHALAKSHMI S
August 08, 2002
BANGALORE: With most of the taluks in Karnataka being given the `drought'
tag by the State Government, the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS)
here has begun unique research on finding the gene for drought tolerance.
Scientists feel this would help spare farmers in Karnataka from the
anxiety brought in by vagaries of monsoon.
The research, funded by MNC Monsanto, aims to identify genes responsible
for imparting drought tolerance in crop plants and clone them. Monsanto
has sanctioned $40,000 to UAS for the project.
With over 63 per cent of the land being arid in Karnataka, we are unable
to realise the crop potential, especially when the monsoon fails. There is
an urgent need to improve drought resistance, Prof M. Uday Kumar, who is
heading the research team at UAS, told The Times of India .
According to sources in the Agriculture department, Karnataka ranks next
only to Rajasthan in terms of total geographical area which is drought
prone. Of the 27 districts, 20 are drought prone with annual normal
rainfall of less than 750 mm. Irrigated area in the state constitutes only
24 per cent of the net sown area and the remaining 76 per cent of the
cultivable area is rain-fed, they added.
With drought accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the average reduction in
the potential production of agricultural crops, the research team will
search for a gene which is adaptive to drought, and introduce it in the
crops. The existing genetic variability is inadequate to achieve the
desirable drought tolerance by conventional methods, Kumar said.
The outcome of the research will help farmers not only in Karnataka, but
all over the country. The advantage can be global as the goal is to
increase productivity of crops, Director of Research and Development at
Monsanto T.M. Manjunath said.
Whole Foods, Holier Than Thou
American Council on Science and Health
August 7, 2002
In his 1869 Inaugural Addresses, Ulysses S. Grant said, "I know no method
to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their
To that end, the American Council on Science and Health is taking action
to illustrate the absurdity of California's Proposition 65. Prop. 65
requires that manufacturers put a warning label on products ˇ even ones
that pose no risk to human health ˇ simply because they contain tiny
amounts of a chemical that can cause cancer in lab animals if given to
them in massive doses the likes of which no human would consume.
! Read Responses
Under this absurd regulation, virtually any food can be labeled a
We filed the statutory sixty-day notice with California's Attorney General
and the defendant, Whole Foods Markets, for failing to warn the public
about the presence of acrylamide, a chemical "known by the state of
California" (as the dire Prop. 65 warning labels say) to cause cancer and
reproductive toxic effects. Acrylamide is present even in whole wheat,
organic bread made of unbleached flour, such as that baked and sold by the
Proposition 65 provides that anyone may bring what is known as a
"bounty-hunter" suit in the "public interest." But the public interest
being promoted by our suit is not the protection of consumers from a
cancer-causing agent ˇ because Whole Foods organic whole wheat bread is
not a health threat. Rather, the pubic interest we hope to promote is a
legal code based on sound science, instead of one driven by unfounded
fears. Suing organic bread underscores the absurdity of Prop. 65's broad,
label-everything-carcinogenic approach to chemicals. As noted by
University of California at Berkeley toxicologists Dr. Bruce Ames and Dr.
Lois Swirsky Gold, "No human diet can be free of naturally occurring
chemicals that are rodent carcinogens."
Let me be clear: We believe this lawsuit is sound ˇ it's the law itself
that is without merit.
We selected the Whole Foods Market as the defendant because that company
prides itself on providing the ultimate in healthful foods that contain no
synthetic chemicals. Yet their organic breads made from organic,
non-bromated, unbleached flour will also contain the naturally-occurring
rodent carcinogen, acrylamide. What most people don't realize is that
bread of any kind contains naturally occurring rodent carcinogens, such as
furfural. And most foods ˇ organic or not ˇ also contain compounds that
are carcinogenic when tested in rodents. But because the tests that
determine whether a chemical is a rodent carcinogen typically rely on very
high doses administered over a lifetime, they should not be directly
extrapolated to humans.
Note that Whole Foods Market, while guilty of promoting fears about
chemicals, was not intended to be the direct target of our suit. The state
of California is primarily responsible for foolish laws such as Prop. 65,
so we sought to hold the state itself accountable by suing it, since it
surely sells whole wheat organic breads at state-owned concessions. But,
alas, the law grants a unilateral exemption to the state. Apparently, its
citizens only benefit from warnings on non-state-sold products.
Why, you might ask, are we suing over bread and not french fries, which
have been shown to have higher levels of acrylamide than bread? Because
those who claim that there is no safe level of exposure to carcinogens ˇ
the kind of extreme environmental activists who inspired Prop. 65 ˇ would
want it that way. After all, the activists often say things like, "It
doesn't matter how much of the substance there is ˇ why would you want
carcinogens in your food at all?" It is an appealing argument. But it
isn't backed up by science. According to toxicologists, the amount of
exposure does matter. (This does not mean that activists should go attack
french fries, though. They levels of acrylamide in french fries are still
so low as to pose no hazard ˇ though activists will probably find it
easier to make people afraid of french fries than of bread, since we tend
to think of french fries as fattening and naughty to begin with.)
With any luck, we've helped make it crystal clear that even the most
wholesome food from the most wholesome retailer contains carcinogens ˇ
making the relentless anti-carcinogen crusade rididculous. We hope that
our lawsuit leaves citizens better informed about their food and better
informed about California's excessive regulations.
Jeff Stier, an attorney, is the Associate Director of the American Council
on Science and Health.
See ACSH.org for press releases and articles about the organic bread
Date: Thu, 08 Aug 2002 12:39:32 -0500
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Sunflower Study is Irrelevant
On August 8, Allison Snow revealed research she conducted with colleagues
at the University of Nebraska and Indiana University which showed for the
first time that transgenes from a crop can outcross to a wild, weedy
relative and make the weed fitter to survive in its natural environment. I
would strongly caution everyone about the use of this research.
While interesting, it is merely another unfortunate example of irrelevance
bias. Irrelevance bias occurs when an experiment makes an irrelevant
comparison (or no comparison at all), yielding results inherently biased
against the technology being tested.
The most widely-known example of irrelevance bias is John LoseyÝs
experiment involving force-feeding Bt pollen to monarch butterfly larvae
and comparing the result to monarchs consuming no Bt pollen. To be
relevant, the study would have included forcing a group of monarch larvae
to consume a chemical insecticide, but it didnÝt. The biased result, which
made it appear as though Bt maize was dangerous for butterflies, triggered
EuropeÝs de facto ban on new approvals of GM crops.
With respect to SnowÝs study, the relevant question is whether transgenes
confer greater benefits on weedy relatives than the genes from
conventional crops. This study made no attempt to answer that question,
inviting the conclusion that genetic engineering is inherently more of an
environmental concern than conventional breeding. That conclusion cannot
be reached on the basis of SnowÝs study, because the study, by design, is
Super crops lead to super weeds
Globe and Mail
By OLIVER MOORE
August 8, 2002
Scientists say they have confirmed what farmers have suspected for years,
that genes introduced into plants can migrate to nearby weeds, possibly
making them stronger and more resistant to chemicals.
In what is being billed as a ground-breaking discovery, U.S. scientists in
three states have shown that sunflowers modified with an artificial gene
designed to help ward off pests can spread that ability to wild
Scientists bred wild sunflowers with cultivated sunflowers containing the
transgene Bt ˇ taken from the soil-dwelling bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis, which produces chemicals poisonous to some insects.
The hybrid sunflower that resulted was found to have 50 per cent more
seeds and far less insect damage than the control group.
"This is the first example of what might happen if a beneficial transgene
accidentally spread to a wild population and then proliferated in
subsequent generations," said study co-author Allison Snow, a professor of
evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University. "We
were surprised that a single transgene (foreign gene) could have such a
big effect on seed production."
Saskatchewan farmer and anti-genetically modified organism (GMO)
campaigner Percy Schmeiser was frankly disbelieving that this was not
already known. He told globeandmail.com that Prairie farmers are all too
familiar with the ill effects of genetic modification.
"You cannot control it once it's released into the environment," he said
Thursday. "It will contaminate, and you will lose your pure seed."
The veteran of a lengthy patent battle with global chemical giant
Monsanto, Mr. Schmeiser says that a court ruling has left him unable to
plant canola ˇ a crop he developed and grew for more than 50 years ˇ
unless he can prove that it does not include Monsanto's altered canola
seeds. And that proof is impossible, he says angrily, because farmers have
found that all seed has been contaminated.
"We have reports even of canola that is resistant to even 2,4-D," he said,
referring to a powerful herbicide first sold in the late 1940s that would
normally "knock the hell out of canola."
"It's an issue of superweeds. They never realized that it could happen,
and it happened within two or three years."
Ms. Snow acknowledges the possible dangers of spreading GMOs, noting that
"weeds are already hardy plants; the addition of transgenes could just
make them tougher."
And a statement from the research team admits that "if a wild relative
grows near a crop plant, chances are good that the two will crossbreed."
Ms. Snow also acknowledged that adding genes to a plant's DNA could hamper
its ability to reproduce, while possibly also causing modified weeds to
The team, which included researchers from the University of Nebraska and
Indiana University, was scheduled to present its findings Thursday to the
annual Ecological Society of America in Tucson.
Ms. Snow says that further research will be needed to see whether wild
sunflowers that pick up foreign genes could become troublesome weeds.