Today in AgBioView: January 22, 2003:
* Science vs. Hysteria - Borlaug Speaks Out (Again!)
* Food Production, Distribution and the GMO Debate: Thoughts from Zimbabwe
* The Fear of Food: Newsweek Cover Story
* The Case for Caution: Interview with EU's Pascal Lamy
* Misinformation Stands In the Way of Progress
* Biotech Dilemma
* India Big Agribiotech Products Market: Exim Bank
* GM Around the World
* CNN Interview with Henry Miller: Transcript
* CNN Poll: Why Zambians are Rejecting GM Corn?
* Testing the Safety of 'Second Generation' GM Foods: NPR
* Biotech and IPM
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Informing the Dialogue
* New Magazine: Biotechnology Developments Africa
* International Congress of Genetics - Down Under
Note from the Moderator:
Please note that my office email address has been changed to
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request you to please make a change from the earlier in
software and when corresponding with me? Thanks.. Prakash
Science vs. Hysteria
- Norman E. Borlaug, Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2003
Mexico City -- In 2000, I served on a joint U.S.-European Union
Biotechnology Consultative Forum - appointed by President Clinton and
Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission - to look at the full
range of issues that have polarized thinking about biotechnology,
especially in food and agriculture, on both sides of the Atlantic.
While significant differences of opinion existed -- mainly related to the
regulatory structure on certifying agri-biotech products - most of the 20
U.S. and European experts on the panel agreed that agricultural
biotechnology holds great promise to make dramatic and useful advances
during the 21st century. The most prestigious national academies of
science in North America and Europe (including the Vatican), also have
come out in support of genetic engineering to improve the quantity,
quality, and availability of food supplies.
Unfortunately, the debate about the safety and utility of genetically
modified (GM) crops continues to grow, and now looks to be heating up
further. The U.S. is considering filing a challenge at the World Trade
Organization to break the European Union's four-year moratorium on
importing GM crops. Although the European Commission agrees that the ban
needs to be lifted, various member states refuse to do so until more
stringent GM labeling regulations are put in place.
The U.S. is contemplating a WTO suit because European resistance to GM
foods is increasingly influencing the trade policies of other nations, to
the point where some African governments recently have turned down
American GM grain intended for starving people. U.S. Trade Representative
Robert Zoellick says he has information that several European countries
are threatening to make economic aid to developing countries contingent on
whether they prohibit biotech crops. If this is true, it would be tragic
and grossly irresponsible.
Although there have always been those in society who resist change, the
intensity of the attacks against GM crops from some quarters is
unprecedented and, in certain cases, even surprising, given the potential
environmental benefits that such technology can bring by reducing the use
of pesticides. Genetic engineering of crops -- plant breeding at the
molecular level -- is not some kind of witchcraft, but rather the
progressive harnessing of the forces of nature to the benefit of feeding
the human race. The idea that a new technology should be barred until
proven conclusively that it can do no harm is unrealistic and unwise.
Scientific advance always involves some risk of unintended outcomes.
Indeed, "zero biological risk" is not even attainable.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa says he's been told by anti-biotechnology
groups that donated American corn is "poison" because it contains
genetically modified kernels. Based on such misinformation, he is willing
to risk thousands of additional starvation deaths rather than distribute
the same corn Americans have been eating for years with no ill effects.
Some other African leaders whose people also are facing hunger and
starvation say they're afraid to accept genetically modified corn because
its pollen will "contaminate" local corn varieties with dire environmental
consequences. Also, they say that they hope to export corn to Europe in
the future and fear that their products would be rejected if genetically
modified foods were allowed to enter their countries.
These concerns are unfounded. Temperate-zone corn (either GM or normal)
will not grow well in tropical African ecologies and, moreover, it has
yellow grain while Africans prefer white grain. Thus, even if a curious
farmer were to plant some GM grain received as food aid, its continued
presence in the field is unlikely. Certainly in the case of Zambia, a
land-locked country with poor transportation and low agricultural
productivity, the prospects for exporting corn to Europe in the
foreseeable future are almost zero.
If low-income, food-deficit nations -- which desperately need access to
the benefits of science and technology -- are being advised by governments
and pressure groups in privileged nations to reject biotechnology, based
on ideologically inspired pseudo-science, there is reason for serious
concern. Of course, proper safeguards need to be put in place in Africa
and elsewhere to regulate biotechnology research and the release of GM
products. But to attempt to deny such benefits would be unconscionable.
Current GM crop varieties that help to control insects and weeds are
lowering production costs and increasing harvests - a great potential
benefit to all Third World farmers. Future GM products are likely to carry
traits that will improve nutrition and health. All of these technologies
have more benefits to offer poor farmers and consumers than rich ones.
For example, Kenya is ready to field-test virus-resistant sweet potatoes
that should yield 30% to 50% more of this important food staple.
Virus-resistant bananas and potatoes have already been bred, but are being
barred in African countries where people urgently need their higher
yields. Indian researchers are developing a vaccine against the epidemic
livestock disease, rinderpest, which can be genetically engineered into
peanut plants. African farmers would be able to protect their draft
animals simply by feeding them the peanut plants - again if biotech is
The needless confrontation of consumers against the use of transgenic crop
technology in Europe and elsewhere might have been avoided had more people
received a better education in biological science. This educational gap --
which has resulted in a growing and worrisome ignorance about the
challenges and complexities of agricultural and food systems -- needs to
be addressed without delay.
Privileged societies have the luxury of adopting a very low-risk position
on the GM crops issue, even if this action later turns out to be
unnecessary. But the vast majority of humankind does not have such a
luxury, and certainly not the hungry victims of wars, natural disasters,
and economic crises.
Without adequate food supplies at affordable prices, we cannot expect
world health, prosperity, and peace.
Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is.
Mr. Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace laureate, is a professor of
international agriculture at Texas A&M University.
Food Production, Distribution and the GMO Debate: Thoughts of a Student
- Tawanda Zidenga, AgBioView, January 22, 2003.
Anti-GM activists have argued that the world produces enough food for
everyone. The major problem therefore, their argument goes, is one of
distribution. This line of thinking is true as long as it is not used to
discourage people from investing in technologies that are expected to lead
to increased production.
Indeed we still have to focus on the bigger picture as Gordon Conway spelt
out in his readable book, The Doubly Green Revolution; we need to produce
more food, in a sustainable manner and ensure that this food is accessible
to all. To claim that we should only concentrate on distribution and not
production is to choose deliberate ignorance over reason. For we will
still have to answer the question of who produces what we distribute.
The mere fact that proponents of chaos disguised as environmentalists and
anti-GM activists acknowledge that food should be distributed equally
means they accept that it is produced in one area more than in others. The
current situation is that the US produces more of the food we eat because,
among other things, they adopt winning technologies.
By their arguments, anti-GM activists are comfortable with the situation
of the US dishing out food aid to the poor countries. It takes nothing
more than a simple act of insight to see that those who have the capacity
to produce more will use this capacity to their advantage, politically and
economically. To perpetuate the status quo is to perpetuate global
imbalance. Our solution is to empower everyone. Period.
It has been suggested that instead of concentrating on production, the
"purchasing power" of the poor has to be enhanced. Being a poor third
world student myself, I'd be interested in how this can be done without
increasing their ability to produce more and sell more. Of course much
more than that needs to be done. We know we have problems of good
governance and democracy and we often have poor policy environments that
make food production almost impossible. While it is true that we
unnecessarily cook up conspiracy theories when we are responsible for much
of our mess, it is also true that we are victims of western double
standards. But to trivialise the obvious fact that we need to produce more
food is tragic dishonesty. I still think the "more food less hunger"
philosophy is OK. Of course it has to be followed by some social changes.
Back home in Africa we need to be a little more organised at the political
level, and our friends in the west need to be a little more honest. What
we are going through in Southern Africa can only be understood by those of
us who experience it. We do not need the so-called "Greens" to decide for
us. We are fed up with environmental activism taking the form of a cult.
We are saddened by the influence of lavish Europe on our leaders' position
concerning GMOs, which is ironic considering that the same leaders do not
miss an opportunity to attack Europeans about imperialism (real or
imagined). We are stunned by that dubious piece of legislation (or
whatever it is) called the "precautionary principle" , an obvious insult
not only to scientific intellect but also to common sense in general.
The decision by the Zambian president Levi Mwanawasa to outrightly reject
GM maize was both unfortunate and tragic. Unfortunate in the sense that it
was based on a misunderstanding not only of the science of biotechnology
and genetic modification, but of agriculture in general; Tragic because it
gives victory to activist cults and the precautionary principle at the
expense of a starving nation. It is of course a wonder why so many people
persist in the same strange delusion that there can ever be something
"natural" about agriculture.
Our scientifically illiterate politicians honestly need a primer on basic
biology and agriculture. They also need to tour labs in their own
countries at least to see what is being done and what can be done.
More common sense, more food, better hearts, less hunger. ##
"We Must Accept Finite Disappointment But We Must Never Lose Infinite
Hope" -Martin Lurther King
Mr. Zidenga is a Plant Biotechnology Research Student at the Crop Science
Department in the University of Zimbabwe, Harare.
The Fear of Food
- Fred Guterl, Newsweek International, Jan. 27, 2003 (Cover story: Latin
America and Asia Edition)
'One by one, countries are coming out against crops with engineered genes.
America is isolated'
Tony Hall's career has always depended on his command of certain facts
about corn. For instance, did you know that last year the United States
produced more than 9 billion bushels, 42 percent of the world's supply?
And that a year's worth of U.S. exports would fill a train of hopper cars
from Paris to Beijing, by way of Calcutta?
Back In 1984 - when Hall was a U.S. congressman from the corn-belt state
of Ohio - he went on a fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, which had been
suffering from famine, so he could better argue the case in Washington for
increasing U.S. food aid. Hall found more than facts. When he and his
entourage drove to the plateau north of the town of Alamata, "I walked
upon a scene of about 50,000 people just very peacefully lying around,
moaning - and dying," he recalls. "When I came home, I decided that
there's lots of things you can do in Congress that really don't amount to
much. But this was important."
Taking up world hunger as your own personal cause isn't the kind of
behavior you'd necessarily expect from an elected politician, but that's
what Hall did. He was instrumental in kick-starting several congressional
initiatives to combat hunger, and in 1993 he even fasted for 22 days to
make his point. Arguably his best shot at harnessing America's vast grain
harvest for the world's greater good came last fall, when he arrived in
Rome as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies. His timing,
however, couldn't be worse. Right now the last thing even the hungriest
parts of the world want is genetically modified American food, like Ohio's
golden corn. The Case for Caution
Europe has for years turned its nose up at American products like corn,
tomatoes and soy, which scientists have engineered to contain unnatural
genes. Now, in yet another permutation of a global anti-Americanism, the
rest of the world seems to be following suit. China, one of the world's
biggest agricultural producers, invested billions of dollars in GM crops
only to back off last year on imports and on new foreign investment in the
development of engineered seeds. Even the world's poor, it seems, don't
want America's grain, thank you very much. In November, India froze
food-aid shipments of corn and soy from the United States. And in October,
Zambia turned away 18,000 tons of U.S. corn, even though 3 million of its
citizens teeter on the brink of starvation. "I'd rather die than eat
something toxic," President Levy Mwanawasa told Sky News.
Zambia's rejection, Greenpeace exulted, was "a triumph of national
sovereignty." But to Hall, for one, it was almost a personal affront.
"Just when you think you've seen everything, you see food being shipped
out of a country where starving people are stoning public officials and
rioting," he says. "This is not an intellectual discussion, it's a moral
issue - a matter of life or death."
What has inspired such opposition to so-called Frankenfoods? The answer
has grown as complicated as the gene splicing needed to create them.
American officials, isolated and perhaps a bit paranoid, see Europe's
influence behind every hesitation over GM crops. U.S. Trade Representative
Robert Zoellick calls Europe's moratorium on new GM foods "immoral" and
"Luddite" and wants to appeal to the World Trade Organization. Europeans
deny arm-twisting other regions. "There is no European governmental
pressure to do this," says Alexander de Roo, a Green Party member of the
European Parliament. "It's the governments themselves who are rejecting GM
foods." Of course, the European Commission's Health and Consumer
Protection directorate general "did give documentation and research to
concerned countries," says spokeswoman Beate Gminder, "but we [do] not
make attempts to influence their decisions."
Americans are suspicious, in part, because engineered corn seems so safe.
After all, it doesn't glow in the dark and gives off no lethal radiation.
In fact, it looks and tastes just like plain old corn and, genetically,
it's almost identical - except for one added gene, which scientists in the
laboratory transplanted from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. The gene
confers upon the corn the ability to repel pests like the bollworm, a
pesky bug that has the nasty habit of devastating cornfields. The most
widely used GM crops - namely, cotton and corn - have this Bt gene.
As the U.S. agriculture industry is eager to point out, the technology has
been a big success: it has reduced the amount of pesticides farmers have
had to spray on their cornfields, with happy consequences for the
environment and human health. U.S. health regulators haven't been able to
find anything wrong with eating Bt corn. It is now found in roughly two
thirds of all corn products on American store shelves. GM foods already on
the market "are unlikely to present a problem to people's health," says
Jorgen Schlundt, director of the World Health Organization's Food Safety
Program. Even Europe's officials admit that health risks are minute. So
why won't the rest of the world just relax and bake some corn muffins?
"Because of doubts, ignorance, evil," says Hall.
Perhaps. But there may be more to the skepticism over GM crops. In India,
for instance, officials have always maintained European-style safety
concerns about genetically modified foods. Although the government
approved Bt cotton last March - after a bruising four-year battle - it has
never OK'd GM corn or other edible crops. And the controversy over cotton
has only stiffened resistance. Last November, authorities demanded a
written guarantee that aid shipments from the United States contained no
GM grains whatsoever. Relief workers at CARE and Catholic Relief Services
couldn't comply. After six months of stalemate, they had the sacks of
flour shipped off to Africa. In the meantime, India has allowed no new
shipments of U.S. corn-soya flour. Other products have similarly stalled:
in November, New Delhi also put off a decision on whether or not to accept
GM mustard plants, even though they've been testing them for years.
Regulatory officials are often as afraid of public opinion as of the crops
themselves. "We took a lot of flak over GM cotton," says former Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee chairman, Achyut Gokhale. "It was my job to
ensure we weren't accused of over-hastiness [over GM grains]." The Indian
public, like those in countries from France to Zimbabwe, seems to have
equated GM foods with U.S. agriculture - and trust neither. They are
afraid of foreign genes somehow contaminating their own crops and fields,
and they're afraid their farmers might grow dependent on U.S. companies
for GM seeds. "Genetic modification is just a weapon to bring Indian
agriculture under the dominance of American corporations," says Devinder
Sharma, chairman of the Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology and Food
Indian activists remember vividly the row a few years ago over StarLink, a
form of GM corn that had been approved for animal feed in the United
States, but which was found, to the great embarrassment of the U.S.
agricultural industry, to have made its way into Taco Bell burritos and
other products intended for human consumption. StarLink had been
engineered to contain a foreign protein suspected of causing allergic
reactions. Subsequent tests proved otherwise, but the damage was done.
Suddenly just about all U.S. grain, GM or otherwise, was suspected of
contamination - and loudly opposed.
China's recent about-face on GM foods also has as much to do with politics
as with science. The People's Republic was actually an early and
enthusiastic adopter of genetic farming. Chai Hongliang and his brother
Zhenbo, who farm cotton in Langfang, about 30 miles southeast of Beijing,
used to dump tons of pesticides on their crops to keep the bugs from
destroying their harvest. Five years ago they started using
government-approved Bt cotton, made by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto; the
brothers saved so much on pesticides they doubled their profits. They even
opened a tiny shop to sell the seeds for Bt cotton. Chinese cotton farmers
increased their productivity by 10 percent last year, by some estimates.
But overall, Chinese farmers still could not compete against cheaper U.S.
crops, now available after the country joined the WTO. In the spring,
officials began requiring labels on all imports of GM crops. Ships loaded
up with 1 million tons of soybeans slated for export to China sat in U.S.
ports for weeks. Beijing eventually granted a reprieve, but U.S. soy
exports to China slipped 20 percent for the year. Beijing has also
declared a moratorium on investment by foreign seed companies in the
development of several new strains of genetically modified plants.
What's interesting is that Beijing's moves are not simply a protectionist
ploy - reimposing de facto trade barriers forbidden under WTO regulations.
Backtracking on GM foods extends to China's own growing agricultural
industry. Since the late 1980s, Beijing has lavished money on research
into genetic farming techniques; it currently spends $100 million a year
by some estimates. The idea was to boost productivity and push exports
beyond the 5 percent of agricultural production China currently sells
abroad. More than 100 labs have sprung up, and researchers have invented
150 different strains of transgenic, or GM, crops. "We all believed this
was going to be very important technology," says Chen Zhangliang, a
researcher at Beijing University who developed virus-resistant tomatoes
and sweet peppers. But last year, just as labs were ready to commercialize
their new crops, the Chinese government stopped approving them.
Although officials cite the usual safety and environmental concerns, the
prospect of being shut out of export markets may be the more compelling
fear. Once GM crops are planted widely, it's difficult, if not impossible,
to remove them from the agricultural system. Keeping GM and non-GM grains
apart proved difficult in the case of StarLink. What's to keep GM corn
crops, with their powerful added gene, from overtaking weaker natural corn
strains - especially when Chinese peasants, mindful of their
pest-repelling qualities, plant them surreptitiously in their gardens?
China fears forever tarring its exports with the GM brush, which would put
the kabosh on markets in Europe, not to mention skittish Asian countries
like South Korea. It's not a theoretical threat. After China developed GM
strains of tobacco, Europe shut the door to Chinese imports in the 1990s.
"It significantly affected trade," said Huang Jikun, director of the
Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing. "The government
realized the [economic] impact biosafety concerns could have."
China's turnaround has underscored just how isolated Washington now is.
"We figured China was our buddy on biotech," says a U.S. official. "Most
of our resources were going to problem areas like Europe." That's now
changed. The U.S. government recently started training Chinese regulatory
officials on transgenic crops. Lobbyists for the U.S. soybean industry,
which supplies China with half of its soybeans, buttonhole Chinese
officials at conferences and send scientists information about GM soy.
Environmental groups sense Washington's desperation. Greenpeace set up
shop in Beijing last summer and began working through the Chinese press
and Communist Party-controlled neighborhood committees to "build public
awareness of genetically engineered food," says Zhou Yan, the group's
information officer. Greenpeace newsletters can now be found in the
waiting rooms of almost any governmental or scientific office that deals
with GM crops. In late 2001, Greenpeace teamed up with an environmental
group in southern China to produce a report warning of the dangers of
genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. (Another government organization
later pronounced the report unreliable and had it recalled.)
There are signs that the Chinese public is beginning to have doubts. When
Huang's agriculture policy center surveyed more than 1,000 Chinese
consumers, 3 percent said they would not eat GM food - not many, but more
than previous studies have shown. "A few years ago when I talked to
policymakers, no one was against GMOs," Huang said. "But in the past two
or three years, when I talk to some officials they say, "I'm not going to
eat biotech food'." Says the U.S. official: "One nightmare scenario is
that the [trade] protectionists work with the environmental
nongovernmental organizations, thinking it would be clever to encourage
antibiotech hysteria. That would be a disaster."
A change in the risk-reward ratio might give GM crops a fillip. So far,
genetic technologies haven't led to drastically lowered prices but, as
supplies increase, some experts think 30 percent drops are likely. In
2001, GM crops worldwide covered 53 million hectares, 15 percent more than
the year before, according to a recent study by the International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a research organization
in the Philippines. Brazil, the world's second-largest producer of soy,
has so far eschewed genetically engineered varieties. But Brazilian
scientists are developing several types of GM crops. If they come up with
tempting new seeds, Brazil may decide to take the plunge sooner rather
What ultimately happens in places like India, China and Brazil, though,
will depend a great deal on what happens in Europe. At the moment, GM
foods aren't terribly popular with European consumers, whose memories of
the fiasco over mad-cow disease are still fresh. Once better regulations
are in place, attitudes may soften. This year the EU is putting in place
labeling rules. If liability laws were also strengthened, so that
consumers felt they had better recourse against food-industry shenanigans,
European consumers might alter their resistance to GM crops. "I think GM
foods are going to be accepted by European consumers sometime in the next
five to 10 years," says Julia Moore of the Woodrow Wilson International
Center in Washington, D.C. "If the U.S. is smart" - if it doesn't further
alienate European consumers with lots of trade-war chest-thumping - "we're
talking about closer to five than 10." The question is, will it be too
late to change the minds of consumers in the rest of the world, who won't
have the benefit of such protections?
The Case for Caution
- Newsweek (International), Jan 27, 2003
'We believe that citizens should have the right to choose' When China,
India and Zambia decided to resist genetically modified food, they were
widely perceived as following Europe's lead. U.S. Trade Rep. Robert
Zoellick has threatened to drag Europe before the World Trade Organization
over its policy on such crops. Pascal Lamy, the European Union's trade
commissioner, tries to set the record straight.
Why Does Europe resist GM foods when scientists say they are safe?
Scientists everywhere in the world acknowledge that foods may be toxic,
provoke allergies or create environmental problems, be they GM or non-GM.
On the human-health front, the U.S. approach is to allow marketing without
prior testing of GM foods that are deemed to be "substantially equivalent"
to the non-GM variety. Many scientists question whether this is a
sufficient basis for regulatory approval. In Europe, we do more thorough
testing on every GM variety. Our objective is to rebuild consumer
confidence, which has been badly shaken by food scares in recent years.
Why do Europeans dislike GM foods?
Like Americans, Europeans have preferences concerning food which may
relate to nutrition, to taste, to the conditions in which food was
produced, to the political regime in the country of origin, to the organic
nature of the food and so on. Some Europeans dislike GM. So do some
Americans. We believe that citizens should be free to choose. The Fear of
Is Europe's stance on GM foods payback for other American policies?
This is not about the U.S.A. This is simply what Europe wants to do in
Europe's own interest. Consumers will be willing to buy GM foods if and
when they are convinced that these products are safe for human health and
for the environment - and if they see a benefit in the products. Public
authorities need adequate regulatory systems, and companies selling
biotech products need to show what's in it for the consumers, be it in
terms of quality or price of the products concerned.
To what extent is GM foods a trade issue?
This is not at all a trade issue. Once a GM food is considered safe, it
can be marketed freely. We already import a lot of GM soy from the U.S.,
as well as plenty of Argentinian GM corn. Europe's policy on GM food is
not about protectionism. It is about meeting the legitimate health and
environmental concerns of our consumers and about allowing consumers a
Do you expect the U.S. to raise GM foods with the WTO?
There is no issue the WTO needs to look at here. Europe has a rational and
thorough approval process. The U.S. would like our process to run more
quickly. A WTO case would provoke antagonism and would not be helpful in
creating the necessary consumer confidence.
What will labeling of GM foods in Europe accomplish?
Labeling is a means to ensure that consumers in Europe can make an
informed choice. Labeling will allow consumers to grow used to the choices
and to assess the relative prices and values of various offerings.
Were Zambian officials fools or heroes to reject U.S. corn?
Zambia is a sovereign country and makes its own decisions. Zambians do not
need to be heroic to assert their sovereignty. Nor is it foolish to say,
as Zambia does, that they are in favor of biotechnology, but want to look
closely at some health and environmental issues before approving the
import of some GM corn varieties. GM-free supplies are available in
surplus in southern Africa. Europe's policy is to provide food aid
procured in the region, rather than as a means of disposing of domestic
Did Europe have anything to do with Zambia's decision?
Nothing whatsoever. Europe has made it clear to Zambia that we have
already approved some U.S. corn varieties for import into Europe. We have
also made it clear to them that we have never rejected any GM food
application in Europe as being unsafe for human use. We have also made
available to them the scientific assessments at our disposal. I myself
conveyed this message to the Zambians during my recent trip to the region.
Has Europe lobbied China to hold off on GM foods?
We have lobbied no one to hold off on GM foods. We respect countries'
sovereign rights to decide on their policies towards GM foods. Active
lobbying on GM use around the world is more a U.S. habit.
Misinformation Stands In the Way of Progress
- Express and Echo (UK), Letter to the Editor, January 17, 2003
The letter from David Bailey, Points of view, January 9, could have been
written three or more years ago, as the statements made in it have not
changed since then. They were not true three years ago and are no less
These myths continue to be propagated despite rebuttals from experts in
the biotechnology industry, the experience of farmers across the world,
and from those, like myself, who look at the facts of the matter and do
not wish to see myth and misinformation stand in the way of progress.
The progress in this instance is the development of disease-resistant and
drought-resistant crops, crops with beneficial vitamins that in the Third
World could greatly reduce blindness, and crops that simply require less
pesticides. And, in passing, that allow farmland birds more of a chance of
flourishing than where herbicides are used four or five times before
These facts - and they are facts, not myths - have all been publicised
over the years.
The fact that biotechnologists do not create television-catching stunts or
trash the offices of Greenpeace may make them less visible to the public,
but does not make them less true.
The fact that GM pollen can travel to neighbouring fields has been known
for a long time: the same is true of hybridised crops, some of which have
been found to be quite dangerous (such as varieties of potato that are
In all, the two decades of GM experimentation and farm cropping, not a
single instance of harm to humans or wildlife has been authenticated.
Farmers in other countries are scrambling to get their hands on GM seeds,
even where they are banned such as in Brazil; in China they are so
widespread that the government there has had to declare a GM-free zone so
that produce can be exported to those countries with irrational fears of
the imagined effects of GM technology.
Opposition to GM technology rests on a whole range of scare stories that
have been promoted by those with a hidden agenda, whether anti-American,
anti-big-business or just anti-progress. It is these people who are
dangerous and irresponsible.
Would Mr Bailey go up to an African farmer and say "Don't grow those new
crops, we'd rather your children went blind instead"?
- Deryck Laming, Crabb Lane, Exeter.
- Business Line (The Hindu / India) January 17, 2003
The Chennai Declaration - the outcome of an inter-disciplinary dialogue
held on the occasion of the 50th year of the discovery of gene structure -
calling for a national food policy and agriculture biotechnology policy,
as proposed by the eminent farm scientist Dr M. S. Swaminathan, has been
announced not a day too soon. No doubt, thanks to Green Revolution, the
country has come a long way from the ship-to-mouth existence of the 1960s
to the unmanageable grain mountains of recent years.
However, notwithstanding the impressive growth in farm production over the
last four decades and feel good factor generated by record grains output
of 210 million tonnes in 2001-02, there is clear evidence that consumption
demand growth - propelled by overall economic growth - in the coming years
will outstrip production increases, leading to a widening demand-supply
mismatch and dependence on imports.
The National Agriculture Policy, the outcome of the recognition of this
seemingly inexorable trend, has stated that special attention will be
given to development of new crop varieties, particularly of food crops
with higher nutritional value by adopting bio-technology, particularly
genetic modification, while addressing bio-safety concerns. With food
security and nutrition security continuing to be our primary national
objective, expanding domestic production through sustainable methods is
However, as the debate over safety and long-term implications of producing
and consuming transgenic foods is still inconclusive and given the fragile
nature of our predominantly agrarian economy, India needs to exercise due
caution and "hurry-up slowly". While scientists and researchers, as is
their wont, are always excited about new technologies, policy-makers and
others must make objective assessment of the costs and benefits of
introducing them. The institutional framework for the regulation and
advancement of agricultural biotechnology must necessarily comprise all
stakeholders including farmers and the civil society; and, lest it goes
unsaid, its functioning must be transparent.
The country must also draw lessons from the experience of cultivating Bt
cotton last season - the country's first GM crop - in particular from the
conflicting reports about their efficacy. Genetically-modified seeds are
not "magic seeds" that grow out of nothing. The technology is sure to
deliver; but only with proper input management and appropriate agronomic
practices. Ironically, if such practices are in place, even without
transgenic seeds it should be possible to raise the yield of several
crops. This is the dilemma that policy-makers must first address.
Agriculture is crucial for this country as the livelihood of nearly 70 per
cent of the population is dependent on it and it is one economic activity
that ensures growth with equity. It is imperative that farm output keeps
pace with demand growth, but our record of efficiently managing the
factors of production is not exactly impressive. This could raise the
question whether introduction of a frontier technology without
strengthening attendant farming practices and rural infrastructure will
deliver real benefit to the intended beneficiaries.
India Big Agribiotech Products Market: Exim Bank
- Business Standard (India), January 20, 2003
A recent study by Exim Bank has revealed that India has the potential to
become an important global base for biotech research. India has largest
market for agribiotech products, agricultural infrastructure, rich
biodiversity and skilled manpower.
Agricultural biotechnology has made good progress in India with the
commencement of field evaluation of several transgenic crops, government
support for plant molecular biology and crop biotechnology, setting up of
seven centres of plant molecular biology and several other biotech
programmes. Forty Indian private seed companies and 382 organisations are
conducting commercial research on agriculture. Multinational companies are
setting up research and development centres in India.
GM Around the World
CropGen's six-part illustrated study "GM around the world" (15/01/2003)
can be downloaded from their website at
The study comprises: Australia: Kilmarnock - growing cotton in Australia
John Watson and his two sons run "Kilmarnock", a medium-sized farm close
to the small town of Boggabri, in New South Wales, Australia. Besides
cereal crops and cattle, this family farm also includes an area about the
size of 1000 football pitches of genetically modified (GM) cotton.
Romania: Choosing GM soya in Romania Cristofor Michelis is the manager of
S.C. Agromixta Ograda S.A., a large farm of some 8,400 hectares (nearly 33
square miles) situated in the Danubian plain about 100 miles east of
South Africa: Growing GM Cotton in South Africa - a small-hold farmer's
experience Mbongeni Nxumalo is a small-hold farmer on the Makhathini flats
in the province of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. The Makhathini flats are
situated in the north eastern interior of South Africa and can be
characterised as an exceedingly harsh agricultural environment.
South America: A South American approach to GM Farmers in Argentina have
embraced new agricultural technologies with enthusiasm while consumers
have readily accepted the new crops. The reasoning was explained by Ing.
Conrado Cimino, General Manager of Bellamar Estancias: "GM soya is much
easier and more cost effective to grow."
Spain: GM maize faces the wind - growing GM maize in Spain Nestling at the
foot of the Pyrenees between the Northern Spanish provinces of Huesca and
Lleida, is the area known as Monegros , a region characterised by its dry
landscapes, shaped by strong winds and low rainfall levels.
United Kingdom: Trialling the sunshine crop in Scotland Lying only two
degrees south of the artic circle, Aberdeenshire, in northern Scotland,
can seem a cold and bleak place. Not the sort of place to be growing
oilseed rape - sometimes called the sunshine crop because of its mass of
yellow petals during flowering.
CNN Interview with Henry Miller: Transcript
- CNN Money Line, Jan 21, 2003;
Turning to Africa now. The U.N.'s food agency today said that millions of
people in Africa are in danger of starvation. Ethiopia is one of the
hardest-hit countries. Poor rains have reduced the harvest in
grain-producing areas. Catherine Bond has the story from Ethiopia.
Catherine Bond, CNN Nairobi Bureau Chief (voice-over): Nothing to wash in,
nothing to drink. "And nothing to eat," says Rukia (ph), "except a little
The ponds now bowls of baked earth, trees tend to dry, the dust choking.
Many parts of Ethiopia are suffering drought.
In this area some 200 kilometers south of the capital the situation is
more severe than in 1984, when about 1 million Ethiopians died from
famine. The difference now -- mass starvation has been held at bay because
relief food is already being handed out though it's not much.
"If we're lucky, we eat bread once a week," says this man. "But mainly we
survive on cracked wheat." There may be hunger. There's also plenty of
grain on sale for those who have money to buy it. Even vegetables. Few
here can afford them.
Nafisa (ph) makes her way to market to sell firewood. To buy water for her
children to drink. Without fodder and water livestock numbers are
declining. Those cattle left are skeletal, fetching lower prices. (on
camera): In better times there would be about 6,000 cattle being traded
here at this major market in Southern Ethiopia. But times are hard, and
the numbers have dropped.
(voice-over): Farmers watch their cows being sold for the equivalent of a
few dollars each. "It's nowhere near enough," says this farmer. "In good
times they fetched ten times that. I'm just selling them instead of
watching them die."
These villagers are thankful for the lifeline of food aid, but they don't
want to depend forever on the outside world's goodwill to survive.
HOPKINS: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has accused Europe of
bullying African countries to refuse American food aid. The European Union
has denied the charge. But the argument reveals the huge differences over
genetically modified crops.
Joining us now is Dr. Henry Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at
Stanford. He was founding director of the Office of Biotechnology in the
Food and Drug Administration. Welcome, Dr. Miller.
Dr. Henry Miller, The Hoover Inst., Stanford Univ.: Thank You, Jan.
HOPKINS: The U.N. is saying that it wants food aid for Africa but it wants
to make sure that the food aid is safe. Now, does that mean that
bioengineered products from the United States would be rejected?
MILLER: Well, they have been rejected in Zambia and Zimbabwe already. And
it's ironic that one of the villains of the piece is the United Nations
itself along with the European Union. The U.N. has been instrumental in
creating excessive regulation that has been anti- innovative and that has
in fact demonized genetically engineered foods.
HOPKINS: Well, people want to make sure that the food is safe, but is
there any way to guarantee that bioengineered food is safe?
MILLER: Well, agriculture is traditionally one of the safest undertakings
in our society. Those of us who do home gardening know that. The new
biotechnology, or gene splicing, is an extension or an improvement, a
refinement really of the kind of genetic improvement that has gone on for
a very long time. There's almost nothing in our diets except wild game,
fish, and shellfish and wild berries that in fact is not genetically
improved in some way. The new biotechnology, gene splicing, really enables
us to do what we've done for a long time but much more precisely and in a
far more predictable way.
By analogy, the regulatory schemes that have been introduced are as though
when automobiles first introduced disc brakes, radial tires and seat
belts, as though we instituted a completely new and excessive regulatory
paradigm just because...
HOPKINS: But there's a lot of concern over whether the food is safe. Can
we really say for sure that bioengineered food is safe?
MILLER: Well, this is the food that you and I and 100 million -- hundreds
of millions of Americans eat every day. The genetically improved gene
spliced corn and soybeans and other products are in our supermarkets. More
than 60 percent of the processed foods in our supermarkets contain
genetically engineered ingredients. If that's not safe, I don't know how
much more proof you could want.
HOPKINS: Well, but there are a lot of other countries where they don't
want bioengineered food. But in the situation where you have famine in
Africa to reject food aid seems like an outrage, doesn't it?
MILLER: It's a moral outrage. It is. And it's partly concern about trade
issues and partly just power politics played by the E.U.
HOPKINS: So do you think it's mostly politics we're talking about and not
really health concerns?
MILLER: Oh, the health concerns are -- have been dealt with. Once again,
this is really an improvement over genetic modification with which we are
all familiar and all over products that we consume routinely. But there's
an addition to the politics, there are real trade concerns by some of
these African countries. The Europeans have made it very clear that if
farmers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world plant these
genetically engineered crops that they will in effect contaminate exports
to the E.U. And these countries will be shut out of exports to the
European Union. That is a great fear and a potent one.
CNN Poll: Why Zambians are Rejecting GM Corn?
http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/moneyline/ Jan 21 17:37:18 EST 2003
Why do you think some African nations are rejecting genetically modified
Health Concerns 42% 342 votes
Politics 58% 472 votes
Total: 814 votes
Testing the Safety of 'Second Generation' GM Foods: National Public Radio
- NPR.org, January 15, 2003 (Courtesy: Katie Thrasher)
Profile: Companies preparing second generation of genetically modified
foods while studies of health risks of their predecessors continue
Michele Norris, Host: From NPR News, This Is All Things Considered. I'm
The first wave of genetically modified foods was designed to benefit
farmers by allowing them to grow pest-resistant corn or worm-free cotton.
Now biotech companies are preparing the second generation of these foods.
They hope these foods will improve American diets and also feed hungry
nations. But before that happens, scientists will need more information
about their effects on human health. NPR's Eric Niiler has more.
ERIC NIILER reporting: Protein-packed potatoes, super low-fat cooking oil
and vitamin-enhanced rice; these are some of the genetically modified, or
GM, foods being cooked up right now in university and industry labs. So
far none are ready for market, and they won't be until researchers and
regulators agree they are safe. That won't be easy. Scientists like Bert
Garza say the genetic tinkering needed to create these foods leads to
bigger changes in the plant's biology than there are in the GM foods
already on store shelves.
Professor BERT GARZA (Cornell University): Therefore, it's likelier that
we're going to see unintended effects. What we don't know is then: How can
you take that probability and better assess whether those changes are
functionally relevant to people's health?
NIILER: Garza is a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell
University. He's one of the experts chosen by the National Academy of
Sciences to decide the best way to test these foods. Garza says that
inserting genes to create a broccoli plant with an extra boost of vitamin
C, for example, alters several of the plant's key chemical processes.
Scientists can't predict what other biological changes will result, as
Prof. GARZA: You may change the way proteins are assembled and, therefore,
could produce an allergen. Well, obviously, you'd want to know that
because you could produce a health hazard that was unintended for certain
NIILER: That's already happened. A few years ago, a US biotech firm stuck
a Brazil nut gene into the DNA of a soybean plant to increase its protein
levels. But when the company started testing the new plant, the bean
produced a reaction in blood samples from people allergic to nuts. The
company never sold the product. With these new GM foods, there's no easy
way to predict when an allergen might surface. Even worse: there's no
foolproof way in the laboratory to find out if that's happened.
Prof. GARZA: Trying to take a whole food and feeding it to a rat is very
difficult to do in the sense that you're not worried about the whole food
necessarily being a problem, but one or multiple components within the
food that may be present at low levels.
NIILER: One technique scientists are using to detect small quantities of
allergens is something called mass spectrometry, which provides a kind of
chemical fingerprint of unknown substances. Ian Munro is president of the
Toronto-based consulting firm Cantox.
Mr. IAN MUNRO (President, Cantox): With mass spectrometry, we can identify
the precise molecular weights of particular constituents of plants, their
detailed structures, their chemical structures. So this is a very powerful
NIILER: Right now it's still not clear which test should be used to
determine how a plant has been changed and whether it poses a human health
risk. Researchers also need to measure the new plant's exact nutritional
benefit. They need to know whether the extra vitamins or oils can be
absorbed by the person who eats it.
Prof. GARZA: You have to make sure that the product does, in fact, perform
as it's intended to perform.
NIILER: The National Academy of Sciences is putting together a report
evaluating these tests and the possible risks posed by this second
generation of GM foods. Its final recommendations will likely be used by
the Food and Drug Administration as a guide to determining which if any of
these should be allowed on the market.
The uncertainty over these new foods may also lead to changes in the FDA's
current screening process. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois
wants the agency to conduct its own independent safety tests. Now it
relies on tests done by biotech companies.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I don't want to draw a
conclusion about safety at this point, but I will draw a conclusion about
the adequacy of our process. I don't think the process is as good as it
NIILER: Durbin has introduced legislation to require mandatory rather than
voluntary testing. His bill would also allow the public to comment on the
testing results. Any changes in the current regulatory system are probably
several years away. But then so are these new GM foods. Eric Niiler, NPR
Biotech and IPM
- "Rick Roush"
Yes, Shuvas, farmers must still follow IPM if the farmers are to benefit
properly from transgenic crops, and even non-transgenic biotechnology such
as tissue culture production of virus-free plants. Contrary to a lot of
popular opinion, transgenic crops offer many new opportunities for IPM by
reducing the pesticide use and enhancing the use of natural enemies,
especially for minor pests not controlled directly by the transgenic crop
(eg., aphid control in Bt crops).
>> From: "shuvas bhattarai"
> I think the biotechnolgy is not complet if the farmere is not going to
>> follow the Intergrated pest management (IPM). If there is biotechnology
>> but there is no IPM many be its taste of the salt less curry. If anybody
>> wnats to protect the environment they have to follow the biotechnology
>> IPM get together. Am I right or wrong?
Agricultural Biotechnology: Informing the Dialogue. Cornell University
"The purpose of the publication is to help the public become more
knowledgeable about the issues surrounding biotechnology, and develop a
common understanding of its benefits and risks," according to Anthony
Shelton, Cornell professor of entomology, and chief architect of the
The publication covers 14 broad subject areas with text, photos and
illustrations. First, it provides background information on biotechnology,
and reviews some basic concepts in biology and agriculture, including what
a gene is, how life forms share genes, how agriculture developed over the
last 10,000 years, and what traditional plant breeding is. It identifies
some of the pioneers in the field, and then goes on to discuss ag biotech
as it relates to food safety, human health, the environment, and global
food systems, as well as the technology's development, control, and
regulation. One section discusses ethical and religious values,
agricultural sustainability, and the labeling of transgenic foods. Another
section reviews ag biotech issues in the media, including transgenic
papaya, the Monarch butterfly controversy, and StarLink corn. A two-page
glossary of terms and a list of references is in
http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/agbiotech (From: Plant Breeding News)
New Magazine: Biotechnology Developments Africa
Write to: for information on subscription
Picasso Headline is pleased to announce the launch of Biotechnology
Developments Africa, published in association with AfricaBio, the
organisation bringing Biotechnology to Africa. The World Summit for
Sustainable Development is taking place in Johannesburg South Africa in
late August early September 2002, and it is for this reason that we have
chosen to launch this exciting project in time for distribution to the
world's primary decision-makers, both in government and in business who
will be attending the event.
The focus of the Summit this year will be poverty in the developing world,
and the formulation of strategy to combat this global problem. The South
African government has recently initiated a program of biotechnology
development, as this technology is seen as a powerful tool in the fight
against starvation, and as a means to bring about sustainable development.
The growth of biotechnology in the developing world is understandably more
rapid than in the industrialised economies, and companies active in this
sector will be seeking entry into the burgeoning international
Biotechnology will be adopted not only as a means to feed the world's
growing population, but also clearly as the most sustainable healthcare
technology. Affordable treatment of disease is also a huge benefit of
biotechnology industry growth, and governments internationally are
currently seeking the most effective and most sustainable technologies
that will bring about healthy active and well-fed societies.
International Congress of Genetics
- Melbourne, Australia; July 6-11, 2003
The International Congress of Genetics is held just once every five years.
In July 2003 the XIX International Congress of Genetics will be held in
Melbourne, Australia. The Congress will also celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. James D. Watson will
be joined by several other luminaries who made seminal discoveries in
molecular genetics, including Seymour Benzer, Sydney Brenner, Robin
Holliday, H. Gobind Khorana and Charles Yanofsky.
The International Congress of Genetics has a proud history dating back to
the year 1899. Held once every five years under the auspices of the
International Genetics Federation, it serves to reflect on progress made
in Genetics, to celebrate the best of contemporary research and to
anticipate future developments in the discipline. The Congress has been
held in many major centres around the world, but never in the southern
hemisphere and, hence, never in Australia.