Today in AgBioView: January 31, 2003:
* Enough is Enough
* Sowing the Seeds of Modified Crops - Gordon Conway
* Transgenic Crop Trial's Gene Flow Turns Weeds Into Wimps
* Doctors Review GM Crop Evidence: BBC on BMA
* British Med Assoc (BMA) on GM Crops: Clarification
* Lancet '99: British Medical Association Enters GM-crop Affray
* Alex Avery Writes to The New Scientist: Zambia's Food Fears
* Blame Game Continues - Apel and Conko Respond
* EU Ag Chief Sees Promise In Biotech - 'U.S. Should Bury The Hatchet'
* Washington Should Soon Decide Whether or Not to Attack European Embargo
* Official Denies EU Warning Africa Against U.S. Food Aid
* Adapt or Starve - GM Fiction Must Not Obscure the Benefits
* Seven Years of Economic Comparisons of Bollgard Cotton
* GM Dust As Risky As Gene Therapy - Ho Utters, Morton Counters
* China: Hard to Swallow
* India's President Endorses Biotech Crops for the Poor and the Wildlife
* Plant Biotechnology - A Developing Country Perspective
* Lord Melchett v/s Meredith Evans on 'Gene Flow'
Enough is Enough
- Dean Kleckner, Agweb, Jan 30, 2003 http://www.agweb.com
Sometime in the next few weeks, the United States is probably going to
file a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against the
European Union for its anti-biotech trade policies.
It's the right thing to do--and it's about time. More than four years ago,
the EU enacted a moratorium on new approvals of biotech crops. For more
than four years, Americans have been patient, understanding that European
consumers have fears about gene-altered food because they've experienced
frightening brushes with food maladies, such as mad cow disease. For more
than four years, we've hoped that the continent's political leaders would
address these concerns, explain that there's no reason to dread
biotechnology, and reopen their markets to perfectly safe products.
And for more than four years, the Europeans have dragged their feet Even
now, they're telling us to wait just a little bit longer. But then we've
been hearing that for more than four years, too.
American farmers are virtually united on the need to involve the WTO. In a
recent letter to U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick, 26
agricultural organizations stated, "The EU's ongoing and illegal
moratorium has resulted in lost export markets for U.S. producers and
exporters, a slowdown in the adoption of new technologies in the United
States and other countries, and increased production and testing costs for
U.S. agricultural interests."
The situation may even grow worse if Europe moves ahead with proposed
rules on the labeling and tracing of biotech products. "As currently
drafted, the regulations would impose standards that are scientifically
unjustified, infeasible, and costly," said the farm groups in their
On January 9, Zoellick said he agreed with farmers and favored filing a
WTO complaint. The trade representative also used unusually strong
language in condemning the European position, calling it "immoral" and
comparing it to the views of 19th-century Luddites who smashed machines to
protect their jobs during the Industrial Revolution.
That's because the EU's illegal moratorium is not based upon sound
science. There isn't a single scrap of evidence anywhere showing that
genetically modified crops are harmful to people. We've been eating the
stuff for years without problems. So have Europeans. And yet our friends
across the Atlantic continue to furrow their brows in faux concern and
insist that "more testing" is needed.
They're wrong. Biotech crops have been tested and retested, and the
testing will continue as long as they're eaten. At long last, the
Europeans should give these foods a passing grade. Every honest scientist
knows they're safe to eat.
Zoellick's support is welcome, but perhaps even more important is his
acknowledgement that this trade dispute involves the whole world, not just
Americans and Europeans. "I don't see things getting improved," he said.
"Instead I see something extremely disturbing: the European
anti-scientific view spreading to other parts of the world--not letting
Africans eat food you and I eat, and instead letting people starve."
He was referring to the situation in southern Africa, where more than 14
million people now face starvation--and where the government of Zambia,
with 3 million people at risk, won't distribute some 50,000 tons of
donated maize because a portion of it has been genetically modified.
Zambia's president says accepting the food will threaten his country's
non-existent export market, because the EU might ban future imports. The
logic behind this decision is bizarre--people are dying and even more are
malnourished--but it does illustrate the global impact of the EU's
intransigence. (I recommend my friend Norman Borlaug's recent Wall Street
Journal (January 22,
2003) op-ed on this subject.)
Our decision to move forward with a WTO complaint may not affect what
Zambia does, but it will send a clear signal to the rest of the world that
we're serious about biotech crops--and that we won't accept trade
restrictions that fly in the face of accepted science.
High government officials in the EU don't want us to file the complaint.
They threaten to quit talking to us if we do. There's been 4 years of talk
and no resolution. It's time to engage in fair competition, not
discrimination. File the complaint.
Truth About Trade and Technology ( www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in agricultural biotechnology.
Sowing the Seeds of Modified Crops
- Gordon Conway, Nature, Jan 30, 2003; Nature 421, 478 - 479 ;
http://www.nature.com/ (Sent by Edlin Duncan )
'Genes for Africa: Genetically Modified Crops in the Developing World by
Jennifer A. Thomson University of Cape Town Press: 2002. 192 pp. R120'
This is a gem of a book. It is clear and concise, it makes the complex
seem simple without losing the essential truths, and, as far as I can
tell, it is accurate, with no innuendo, no half-truth and no wild
Jennifer Thomson is professor of microbiology at the University of Cape
Town in South Africa and has been working in biotechnology for more than
20 years. She is unashamedly in favour of genetically modified (GM) crops
and takes delight in demolishing the wilder scaremongering of the anti-GM
activists. As she points out, we need to maintain the distinction between
a hazard and the probability of a hazard occurring. It is easy to dream up
potential hazards - the question is, how likely are they? And, as she
effectively argues, in most instances the chance is very remote indeed.
In just 190 pages Thomson covers a wide range of topics: the biological
basis of genetic engineering, the current status of GM crops, food safety,
biodiversity, patenting, labelling and so on. Two appendices cover the
testing of GM foods for allergies and the likelihood of horizontal gene
transfer. She defines every technical term as it is introduced, and uses
diagrams, boxes and colour illustrations to make her points.
I agree with Thomson that all the evidence suggests that GM crops are as
healthy for humans as are conventional or organic crops - and, in some
respects, are even healthier. The remaining concerns centre on the
probability of gene flow, providing wild relatives with competitive
advantages that could significantly change natural ecosystems. I think the
jury is still out on this, and I feel that she could have expanded further
on the topic (but then I am an ecologist).
The book should be read by anyone interested in crop biotechnology, but
its special significance is in relation to Africa and that continent's
desperate effort to achieve food security. In Africa there would not be
enough food to go round even if it were evenly distributed. Average cereal
yields are a pitiful one tonne per hectare, compared with nearly three in
the developing countries of Asia. Yields have to rise to two tonnes at
least - in bad years as well as good - for African farmers, who typically
farm a hectare or less, to be able to feed their families and to grow
crops for cash with which to educate their children and buy medicines.
As Thomson readily acknowledges, GM crops do not constitute a magic
bullet. Food security will only come from a combination of better input
and output markets, access to cheap fertilizers, better water and soil
management, and improved crops. Crops can be improved by conventional
breeding, by tissue culture and by marker-aided selection. But for many
improvements - such as drought and salinity tolerance, enhanced phosphorus
and nitrogen uptake, resistance to the parasitic weed Striga, resistance
to viruses and bacteria, delayed ripening of fruit and vegetables, and
improved amino-acid content of forage crops - GM technology is going to be
The terrible famine now affecting southern Africa and Ethiopia makes this
a timely book. This is not to argue that GM technology will make famine a
phenomenon of the past. But it is Thomson's contention that in the long
run, by using genes from indigenous African plants, such as the
resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa, we may eventually end up with crops
that can withstand Africa's devastating droughts.
During these past few months, pressure from northern anti-GM activists has
compelled several African countries to reject food aid for fear that the
grain might contain some GM seed that might then be planted. Zambia even
rejected food aid when the maize was offered as milled grain. The European
Union pronounced the grain safe and the US government could not see why it
should not provide grain that is eaten by Americans virtually every day of
As Thomson argues, Africans must be free to choose whether to develop and
grow GM crops, without such strong-arm tactics from either side. They need
the kind of clear, authoritative information that she provides so that
they can make up their own minds in a logical and dispassionate manner.
I recently had a long conversation with President Museveni of Uganda. He
asked many thoughtful and penetrating questions about GM technologies.
After our talk I sent him a copy of Genes for Africa. I know it will have
given him many of the answers he is seeking.
Gordon Conway is president of the Rockefeller Foundation, 420 Fifth
Avenue, New York, New York 10018-2702, USA.
Transgenic Crop Trial's Gene Flow Turns Weeds Into Wimps
- David Adam, Nature, January 30, 2003 Nature 421, 462
http://www.nature.com/ (Sent by Edlin Duncan )
Early trial results suggest that gene flow from transgenic crops puts
weeds at a disadvantage. Could 'superweeds' carrying genes from
genetically modified crops behave less like Superman and more like Clark
Kent, his puny alter ego? The first results from a pioneering field trial
in the United States suggest as much - and that the effects of gene flow
from transgenic crops may be less aggressive than some environmentalists
The experiment, run by Neal Stewart and his colleagues at the University
of Tennessee, Knoxville, would have struggled to win regulatory approval
in Europe. In it the team used an oilseed rape crop that had been given a
gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), enabling it to
produce a toxin that repels insects. They crossed the genetically modified
variety with a wild relative, Brassica rapa, then backcrossed the
resulting hybrid with the wild plant again, and released the resulting
'superweed' into the environment.
The resistant weed's ability to compete as a pest - and therefore the
likelihood of the rogue gene sweeping through wild plant populations - was
assessed by its effect on fields of wheat. In other fields, the
researchers introduced naturally occurring weeds.
The team found that the transgenic weed was far from dominant, having 20%
less effect on wheat yield than the unmodified B. rapa weeds. Stewart
presented his team's results, from the first year of trials in North
Carolina and Georgia, at a conference on gene flow between plants held in
Amsterdam on 21˝24 January.
Stewart, who believes that genetically modified crops are currently
"over-regulated", suggests that the modified weeds lose potency because
they are disrupted by the genetic load of crop genes being carried over
with the Bt transgene. "Weeds have undergone years of selection that make
them very good at what they do," he says.
Other plant researchers welcomed the results as an important advance. "We
need to move on from asking whether gene flow takes place, to
investigating what happens when and where it does," says Brian Johnson,
biotechnology adviser to the conservation group English Nature and an
expert on transgenic-crop issues.
But some cautioned that the preliminary results are not a green light for
the use of such crops in Europe, where their commercial planting is under
a de facto moratorium. In a separate study announced last year, plant
ecologist Allison Snow at Ohio State University in Columbus found that
similar Bt transgenes can make wild sunflowers produce more seeds - a sign
that modified wild populations could prosper and spread in the environment
(see Nature 419, 655; 2002).
Doctors Review GM Crop Evidence
- BBC, Jan 31, 2003 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2711801.stm
'GM crop trials have aroused strong passion'
The British Medical Association (BMA) is looking again at research into
genetically modified food four years after it raised safety doubts. In
1999 it examined whether GM foods were safe to eat and published an
interim report which raised concerns about their long-term effects on
human health. The BMA is now set to revisit the issue with a meeting
planned later this year involving experts in GM science. A second report
could then be released if sufficient new evidence is found.
BMA member Sir Peter Lachman said it was time for a review, adding: "I
don't think there's really any reason to think that GM foods as a class
are dangerous to human health."
Anti-GM lobby. Since the report was published the main piece of research
that first raised the BMA's concerns has been discredited. BMA has called
for GM trials to be halted But its report has continued to be used by the
anti-GM lobby to back their campaign.
It was cited as one the reasons that the Zambian government decided not to
accept flour milled from GM wheat to feed their starving population. The
BBC's science correspondent Pallab Ghosh has discovered that one
scientific group, called Sense about Science, has been urging the BMA to
review the report. The group say they expect any updated version to "be
less prone to be misinterpreted by pressure groups".
'Precautionary measure'. But those pressure groups would see any review as
part of an orchestrated pro-GM campaign ahead of a decision on commercial
growing of GM crops later this year. In November last year, the BMA
called for the trials of GM crops to be halted as a "precautionary
measure" to safeguard public health. The professional medical body
represents more than 80% of British doctors. In a submission to the
Scottish parliament, the BMA said: "The concerns doctors have about the
impact genetically modified foodstuffs may have on our long-term health
are serious enough to warrant a precautionary approach."
'More science'. Sir Peter Lachman, a professor immunology at Cambridge
University, said there had been "a lot more science" since the report was
published and a review was needed. He said there was no case, as some
people have suggested, to test GM foods in a similar way to new medicines.
"I think that food, whether it's brought about by conventional plant
breeding or by the insertion of genes is really very much the same," he
added. He said the same case against change could have been made in the
past, when hybrid varieties of crops were created.
BMA on GM Crops: Clarification
BMA London, Press release, Jan 31 2003
Following reports on BBC Online and Radio 4 News today about the reasons
behind the BMA's forthcoming review of the science of genetically modified
(GM) crops and foods, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of BMA Science and
Ethics, made the following statement:
"Today's BBC reports stating why the BMA would be undertaking a future
report of GM crops and food are wrong. "The BMA's report from 1999 was an
interim report reflecting the early stage of scientific evidence reviewed.
A round table meeting with scientists with knowledge of the developments
in research and other parts of the evidence base is planned for later this
"That meeting might lead to a new report from the BMA - a second Interim
statement - if the Board agrees there is sufficient new evidence to merit
such a report. Obviously we cannot predict what any such report would say.
To do so would make the concept of gathering and considering the evidence
"The claim that we have been persuaded by the organisation 'Sense about
Science' to review our policy is simply wrong. We have informed Sense
about Science about our plans to review the science about this subject.
"The BBC also states that our planned review on GM crops is happening
because we have a new director of science ˝ this is also totally
AgBioView: Blast from the Past: Lancet Back Issue - (Note: The following
article is from 1999, the year the BMA report was published. I've added
CAPS to the quote for emphasis...CS Prakash).
'British Medical Association Enters GM-crop Affray'
- Peter Mitchell, Jane Bradbury, Lancet, May 22, 1999 Vol 353, No. 9166
p1769 - 1776
In a report released on May 18, the British Medical Association (BMA)
urged that genetically modified (GM) crops should not be grown
commercially in the UK until proven safe. A UK Select Committee on Science
and Technology report released the same day stressed that there was
already a "de facto moratorium on commercial planting in place" but that
the Committee had "seen no evidence to suggest that the risks associated
with growing GM crops or eating GM crops are high enough to justify calls
that have been made for a moratorium".
In its report, The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and
Health, the BMA said that too little is known about the risks posed by GM
crops. There are potential health risks associated with human consumption
of GM foods and with the release of modified genes into the environment
and there should be no releases of GM organisms "until the level of
scientific uncertainty is sufficient to make the risk acceptable", said
the BMA, who also called for an end to the use of antibiotic resistance
marker genes in GM crops, because of the risk of spreading antibiotic
resistance to pathogens.
BMA HEAD OF RESEARCH VIVIENNE NATHANSON CITED EVIDENCE SHOWING THAT SOME
GM FOODS CAUSE UNEXPECTED ALLERGIES IN PEOPLE AND SAID THAT SOME ANIMAL
EXPERIMENTS HAVE SUGGESTED THAT GM FOODS CAN BE TOXIC [CAPS added for
emphasis]. US safety data are not necessarily applicable to the UK, she
added, because of geographical and agricultural differences. "We are not
saying that toxicity is proven, only that there are suggestive results and
more research is needed before there is any question of wider distribution
of GM foodstuffs."
Data on toxicity of GM potatoes slated. Also on May 18, the Royal
Society--the UK's independent scientific academy--released its review of
data pertaining to the toxicity of GM potatoes, an issue first raised by a
scientist on television. Based on six independent, anonymous reviews of
the available data, the Society concluded that the reported work "is
flawed . . . and that no conclusions should be drawn from it". It also
stressed how the "whole episode underlines how important it is that
research scientists should expose new research results to others able to
offer informed criticism before releasing them into the public arena".
However, members of the media present at the review's launch expressed
concerns about the Royal Society's refusal to release the names of its
reviewers. "How can you convince the public about your conclusions if you
won't release the names?", asked one reporter.
The BMA also wants the government to insist that foods containing imported
GM ingredients should be labelled. "We do not want doctors to be suddenly
faced with a new worldwide epidemic, and to be unable to say whether it is
caused by GM foods because patients have no idea whether they have been
exposed to them", said Nathanson.
This is the first time opposition to GM foods has been declared by any
national medical association, and the report has attracted a angry
response from the government. The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Jack
Cunningham, called the BMA's position "outrageous and totally
unacceptable" and "even more extreme than the environmental lobbyists".
Zambia's Food Fears
- Alex Avery to the Editor of New Scientistaavery@rica.net
In your article on the link between starving Zambians rejecting
genetically-modified food aid and a 1999 British Medical Association
report (1 February, p.4), the BMA's Vivienne Nathanson "denies the
association has said that GM crops are harmful."
However, according to an article published in the Lancet (Lancet 1999;
353: 1769 - 1776) "BMA head of research Vivienne Nathanson cited evidence
showing that some GM foods cause unexpected allergies in people and said
that some animal experiments have suggested that GM foods can be toxic."
Why the sudden forgetfulness on Ms. Nathanson's part? Is it because no
evidence for what she claimed in 1999 has ever existed? Might it have
something to do with GM crops being endorsed by seven national academies
of science, including those of the U.S. Brazil, China, India and Mexico,
the Royal Society of London and the Third World Academy of Sciences?
Millions of people in southern Africa currently face the threat of
starvation; many are being forced to live on toxic wild roots. Meanwhile,
tonnes of safe, edible corn - the same nutritious corn Americans have been
eating for years - are locked up in warehouses and watched by armed
guards. Just this week, a desperate mob of 6,000 Zambians took their
futures into their own hands and 'liberated' 230 tons US corn from locked
warehouses in southern Zambia.
It is clear now that the citizenry of Zambia does not agree with their
leaders or the BMA. European policy makers who have allowed themselves to
be persuaded by doomsday activists rather than their own scientists are
more than partially to blame for the African situation.
Blame Game Continues
- Comments From Andrew Apel
All of a sudden, folks are putting some effort into blaming something
other than the European Union for the humanitarian crisis in Africa and
the probable complaint with the World Trade Organization over EU GMO
policy. With respect to the WTO action, the European Commission and US
Trade Representative Zoellick have both indicated that the fault may
actually lie with the minority group of EU states responsible for the de
facto moratorium on new approvals.
With respect to the humanitarian crisis, thus far, the British Medical
Association, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save the Children (the latter three
supported with EU funds) have been blamed in the press.
For all involved, that is to say, the US, the EU, the minority group of EU
states and Africa, it may eventually become evident that it is most
convenient to blame the activists for their problems. As the blame game
continues, we may see whether this proves to be true. For the EU,
activists proved to be an excellent foil for protectionist trade policies.
If the activists prove to be a problem instead, Europe could easily drop
the hammer on them. The same is true of Africa. A grand consensus over
activist responsibility could form the foundation of a lot of agreements
More From Greg Conko
Andrew, That's a fair assessment of how we got into this mess in the first
place - a combination of malfeasance first by anti-biotech activists, then
by protectionist interests, then by the six countries enforcing the
The BMA's waffling report in 1999 certainly added fuel to the fire as
well. But let's not let the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments off the
hook. Europeans provided the proximate cause, but it is Mwanawasa and
Mugabe who actually made the decisions that could lead to the starvation
of millions of their own people.
And while we're spreading the blame, consider the fact that both Zambia
and Zimbabwe have periodically taken US food aid since the 1996
introduction of bioengineered corn in North America - most recently in
the winter and spring 2001-2002. (So, I am not convinced that Mwanawasa
really believes bioengineered corn to be poison.) But why stop taking US
I maintain that the impending implementation of the EU's labeling and
traceability rule (approved by the European Parliament in July) is a
likely reason. After all, Zambia is not known to be a major exporter of
corn, but it does export some corn-fed livestock which don't have to be
labeled currently, but will have to be labeled under the pending EU rule.
So, maybe it is the European Union writ large, or the European Commission,
who should bear most of the blame after all?
EU Agriculture Chief Sees Promise In Biotech
'Fischler Says Brussels, U.S. Should Bury The Hatchet Over Genetic
- Scott Miller & Matthew Newman, The Wall Street Journal - Europe, Jan
31, 2003 (From Agnet)
Brussels -- Franz Fischler, the European commissioner for agriculture, was
cited as calling for a truce in the war of words with the U.S. over
agriculture and held out an olive branch saying that, like many in the
U.S., he is optimistic about the future of genetically modified crops, and
that with negotiations on agriculture at the World Trade Organization
entering a critical phase, now was time for the world's two trade
behemoths to bury the hatchet, adding, "On the international scene, we are
seen as the two elephants, and everybody is looking at what we are doing.
So it's much better that we find common ground in Geneva [at the WTO]
before we start a show and shout at each other, with the outside world
laughing. It's not good for the U.S. or us to play the blame game because
[the U.S.] gives subsidies and a lot of subsidies. And we give subsidies
for a lot of reasons. The question isn't do we give subsidies, but how we
Ben Ngubane, South Africa's minister for science and technology, was cited
as saying the main reason most African countries are hesitant about
embracing biotechnology is that unlike Western nations, they "don't have
the capacity" in scientists and regulators to decide whether to grow
African scientists meeting in Brussels this week backed U.S. charges that
the EU, at least indirectly, pressures African governments to reject food
aid containing genetically modified organisms. While acknowledging that no
proof exists that EU officials have directly intervened, the scientists
complained, charging that humanitarian groups such as Oxfam, Christian Aid
and Save the Children, all three of which are supported with EU funds,
have frightened African governments.
Washington Should Soon Decide Whether or Not to Attack European Embargo
- Agence Europe, January 31, 2003
Brussels/Washington - After years of growing pressure, punctuated this
month by Robert Zoellick himself upping the stakes, the United States is
preparing to decide whether or not to initiate its attack in Geneva
against the European policy of boycotting genetically modified organisms
(GMOs). "We shall soon have an Administration stance" the Secretary of
State for Agriculture Ann Veneman told Reuters.
The ministerial meeting, initially scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed to
next week, probably Monday or Tuesday, a well-informed American source
tells us. Nevertheless, the intentions of the different governmental
agencies still seem very divided, and, according to indications coming
from Washington (qualified as "rumours" by the person herself), Ms.
Veneman is said not to be convinced as to whether or not to lodge a
complaint at the WTO against the European embargo., likewise for other
officials, including her counterpart for trade Don Evans and Secretary of
State Colin Powell.
"My opinion would be: go slowly in this affair", Commissioner David Byrne
said earlier this week, warning Washington against a likely boomerang
effect: "If consumers see that something is being done to impose a
situation on them they want nothing to do with, I believe that it would
have an adverse effect", he warned.
Official Denies EU Warning Africa Against U.S. Food Aid
- Jerry Hagstrom, CongressDaily, National Journal Group Inc. Jan 30, 2003
Albuquerque, N.M. - Gerard Kiely, the European Union agriculture counselor
in Washington, told CongressDaily here Wednesday that Trade Representative
Zoellick, Commerce Secretary Evans and Agriculture Secretary Veneman are
trying to use the issue of African food aid to force the European Union to
make changes in its policy on genetically modified food.
In an interview before a wheat industry conference, Kiely said statements
by Zoellick, Evans and Veneman that African countries are reluctant to
accept U.S. food aid that contains genetically modified organisms because
the food might be used as seed and Europe might not accept their exports
are "a deliberate tactic to move the debate away from U.S. interests
toward developing countries." Kiely added: "They are trying to turn what
is an EU-U.S. trade issue into a moral issue and trying to suggest that
people are going hungry in Africa because of the EU position on GMOs. They
are trying to use this hunger as a lever to try to get the European Union
to move on GMOs."
In an interview, Kiely noted the European Union had given the African
countries scientific evidence to show them there was no risk in the GMO
foods the United States was offering as aid. Kiely also noted that many
GMO products such as soybeans are already sold in Europe and that if the
Africans were to produce foods containing GMOs that have been approved in
Europe, they could export them to Europe.
"We have asked them time and time [again] for evidence of who these
Europeans are who are telling them they shouldn't import" these foods, but
Kiely said U.S. officials have not come up with any evidence. Kiely
continued, "To call people Luddites and uninformed and to say they are
responsible for starving children gives the GMO debate a profile in the EU
media that doesn't help the European Commission to solve the problem."
Allen Johnson, the chief U.S. agricultural trade negotiator, said at a
news conference here that "the policies of Europe directly or indirectly
are influencing the countries around the world" against GMOs and that
"Europe really has a responsibility" for the countries' decision not to
accept GMOs. Johnson said he expects a decision soon on filing a lawsuit
against the European Union in the World Trade Organization over the
European moratorium on biotech approvals. Kiely said U.S. officials should
be cautious about bringing the case because the European Union may have
replaced the moratorium with a labeling scheme by the time the case moves
Adapt or Starve - GM Fiction Must Not Obscure the Benefits
- Hans Lombard, Business Reports, Jan 1, 2003 http://www.busrep.co.za/
Concerns raised by Dulcie Krige and Delaine Cools over health risks posed
by genetically modified (GM) food resulting in consumer rejection
(Business Report, January 21 and January 23) are the most shocking
ignorances imaginable concerning the rapid development and overwhelming
worldwide embrace of agriculture biotechnology - GM - adapt or starve. It
is clear that neither has the faintest knowledge what GM, a proven
technology to guarantee food security, is all about.
Their wild, sweeping and unsubstantiated claims that GM crop yields are
frequently lower than conventional crops, about health concerns resulting
in consumer rejection, and that no insurance company will cover biotech
crops, are ludicrous and untrue.
Figures released by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy
in Washington DC showed that in 2001 the eight biotech crops grown in the
US increased crop yields by 2 billion tons, saved farmers R15 billion and
reduced pesticide use by 23 million tons. Nearer home, TJ Butelezi, a
small-scale cotton farmer on the Makhatini Flats in KwaZulu-Natal and the
chairman of the Hloko Hloko Cotton Farmers Association, which has 5 000
members, claims that the farmers who switched to GM cotton increased their
average yield by 33 percent and average income by 27 percent. As a result,
85 percent of the small farmers have now opted for GM cotton.
According to the Annual Global Review of Commercial, GM crops in the area
under cultivation in 2002 grew to 58.7 million hectares involving 6
million farmers in 16 countries on all six continents. Six million farmers
are not so stupid as to carry on growing GM crops in the face of "consumer
rejection". Since 1996 the GM crop industry has achieved a sustained
annual growth rate of more than 10 percent. The assertion that no
insurance company will cover biotech crops is a blatant lie.
According to Louis de Wet, the manager of business development at Agri
Risk Specialists, South Africa's largest crop insurers, it provides
insurance for all crops in South Africa and does not differentiate between
GM and non-GM crops. Assessment procedures are exactly the same.
I challenge Krige and Cools to provide the names of insurance companies
who have refused to insure GM crops. Finally, there is no scientific
evidence whatsoever recorded anywhere in the world that GM food is unsafe
for man or beast.
Seven Years of Economic Comparisons of Bollgard Cotton
- Deville S. F.; Mullins J. W.; Mills J. M. 2002. . Proceedings of the
Beltwide Cotton Production Conference Part 3A: 45+, 6 pages (Jan. 8-12,
Monsanto Company sponsored a series of field trials to evaluate the
economic benefits of growing Bollgard transgenic cotton from 1995-2001.
The company required participating growers to plant on or near the same
dates in close proximity to one another and use similar agronomic
practices. State cotton entomologists surveyed the fields and determined
end of season damage due to bollworms, budworms, armyworms, stink bugs,
and plant bugs.
Bollgard fields required an average of 0.8 applications of insecticide,
1.9 applications less than did conventional cotton fields. Bollgard
varieties yielded an average of 32 pounds of lint per acre more than did
conventional varieties, which amounted to an average cost advantage of $13
GM Dust As Risky As Gene Therapy
- Roger Morton
Here is the latest news from ISIS - Science in Society magazine issue 17
>>"Among the hazards of transgenic DNA is cancer resulting from the random
insertion of transgenic DNA into the cellÝs genome. This prediction has
unfortunately become reality. Gene therapy has claimed its first cancer
victim. But the scientific establishment has yet to acknowledge that other
exposures to transgenic DNA, as in GM food, GM dust and pollen, all carry
the same risks."
Wow - "GM dust" is as risky as gene therapy. What a scientist you are Dr
China: Hard to Swallow
- Business China, Economist Intelligence Unit, February 3, 2003
'China's GM food programme is causing indigestion in Beijing'
Since China threatened to implement strict safety and labelling
restrictions on some genetically modified (GM) agricultural imports in
2001, exporters to China have questioned the country's motives. While
Chinese officials claim the requirements are aimed at protecting
consumers, foreign traders denounce the measures as protectionist (see
"Genetically confused," BC, Jul 30th 2001, pp 4-5). Indeed, the move
appears to counter government efforts -- begun by Deng Xiaoping in 1985 --
to develop a domestic biotech sector, including the engineering of GM
But while China has an obvious interest in developing agricultural
products more cheaply and efficiently, it also has legitimate concerns
regarding the viability of its agriculture sector (which supports some
900m rural residents). Scepticism in several of China's major export
markets and reported detrimental effects of one transgenic crop, Bt
cotton, lend credence to the claims behind China's strict GM policy.
Regardless of sincerity, however, the policy is putting pressure on
China's extremely productive biotech industry. As long as uncertainty
remains over the GM question, even government-funded research will lead to
little commercialisation of modified crops.
Schizophrenic state. China's largely state-funded research into plant
biotechnology grew from US$17m in 1986 to US$112m in 1999, according to a
study published last year in Science magazine by US and Chinese
researchers. And investment continues to accelerate. Last year the
government announced plans to raise its investment in agricultural
biotechnology research to US$500m annually -- comparable to US government
spending on equivalent research. In fact, China accounts for more than
half of the developing world's spending on plant biotechnology and at
least 10% of all publicly funded research worldwide, according to the
The results of this programme have been impressive. In 1996-2000 local
scientists tested and developed hundreds of GM plants, animals and
recombined micro-organisms. Early in 2002 a Chinese laboratory beat out
top foreign research houses to complete the mapping of the rice genome, a
project it completed in just months. China research has also filled a
useful niche. Unlike research in developed countries, which has focused on
herbicide tolerance and improved quality, China's has concentrated on
developing crops that feature better yields and greater resistance to
disease or pests.
China's first major commercialisation of a GM crop took place in 1997.
After the devastation of local cotton production by bollworm infestations,
the government agreed to commercialise strains that incorporated a gene
adapted from a soil bacterium poisonous to the bollworm. The subsequent
large-scale adoption by Chinese farmers (with and without official
approval) of two versions of this Bt cotton -- one developed by the
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the other by a joint venture
with US biotech giant Monsanto -- led to an 80% reduction in pesticide use
and generated considerable savings and health benefits for local cotton
Bt cotton is thought to be planted now on as much as 2.2m hectares in
China -- over half of the nation's total cotton production acreage (see
"Reaping what they sow," BC, Jan 20th, pp 8-9). If these early results
could be replicated across China's entire agricultural sector, researchers
calculate that the economic advantages -- from both lower growing costs
and profits from export of the technology -- would stretch to billions of
Ironically, however, it is the very success of China's transgenic cotton
crop that has revealed the technology's shortcomings. According to a
controversial report published last June by environmental group Greenpeace
in conjunction with a research institute funded by China's State
Environmental Protection Agency, widespread adoption of Bt cotton in China
has resulted in the evolution of toxin-resistant bollworms or the
emergence of secondary pests that cause equivalent damage. The report
warns that Bt cotton "will be ineffective in controlling pests after eight
to ten years of continuous production." If true, this would have serious
repercussions for the viability of GM crops.
Even unproven, such claims are enough to retard the acceptance and
development of GM crops in China. The Ministry of Agriculture points to
the unknown effects of GM products to limit imports, and to the ambivalent
attitudes of many foreign markets towards GM imports -- especially Europe
and Japan -- to forestall domestic commercialisation of the crops.
Beijing is considering banning GM crops in certain areas, and nominating
these GM-free "islands" as export zones. And authorities have begun
tightening regulations that govern the use and development of GM products.
In April 2002 foreign companies were barred from investing in domestic GM
seed-development projects. In addition, the government has stalled
commercialisation of new varieties of GM crops (in particular rice and
corn) that have long-since completed field-testing in China -- much to the
chagrin of domestic and foreign biotech researchers, including Monsanto.
Bt cotton remains the only major GM crop species to have been adopted
widely in China (see table, "The changed").
With continued high levels of state funding destined for agricultural
biotech research, however, Beijing's attempt to limit the spread of GM in
China appear half-hearted at best. They may be temporarily effective --
and, by blocking trade, may alleviate some of the pain brought on by
China's market-opening commitments under the World Trade Organisation. But
the enthusiastic adoption of GM crop strains by farmers regardless of
official approval suggests that China will become a GM nation sooner or
later, and whether the government approves it or not.
The changed Major GM plants in China, commercialised (*) and in trials
(Source: Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy)
Cotton - Insect resistance* Disease resistance
Rice - Insect resistance Disease resistance Herbicide resistance Salt
Wheat - BYDV resistance Quality improvement
Maize- Insect resistance Quality improvement
Soybean - Herbicide resistance
Potato - Disease resistance Quality improvement
Rapeseed - Disease resistance
Peanut - Virus resistance
Tobacco - Insect resistance
Cabbage - Virus resistance Tomato Virus resistance* Shelf life prolonged*
Melon - Virus resistance Sweet pepper Virus resistance* Chilli Virus
resistance Petunia Altered colour*
Papaya - Virus resistance
India's President Endorses Biotech Crops for the Poor and the Wildlife
- Dennis Avery, Center for Global Food Issues January 30, 2003
India, set to become the world's most populous nation, just fired a major
broadside at the First World activists opposing genetic engineering in
India's President A. P. J. Kalam publicly endorsed genetically engineered
crops in a January 26 speech commemorating the 54th anniversary of India's
independence. Dr. Kalam urgently recommended biotechnology for agriculture
to launch "a second Green Revolution."
The first Green Revolution boosted India's grain production from only 60
million tons per year in the late 1950s to 240 million tons in 2002.
However, President Kalam says that 400 million Indians still lack adequate
nutrition, and that further population growth is likely to drive the
country's grain needs to 320 million tons by 2020. Simply putting more
fertilizer and pesticides on today's fields is unlikely to produce the
needed food production increase.
India also must reforest millions of hectares of marginal land and protect
the existing wildlands that harbor its tigers, barking deer and other
unique wild species, said Dr. Kalam. He warns that these urgent needs
could cut India's available farmland from the current 170 million hectares
to less than 100 million.
"All our agricultural scientists and technologists have to work for
doubling the productivity of the available land . . . While doing so,
utmost care should be taken for various environmental and people-related
aspects leading to sustainable development."
India's population surge has slowed remarkably, as urbanization and rising
affluence have helped cut the birth rate from nearly 6 births per woman in
1960 to only about 2.7 today. However, India's current population of about
1 billion is likely to pass China's 1.3 billion before leveling off around
the year 2030.
India debated the biotech crop issue for more than four years, while
continuing biotech research but allowing no farmer plantings. Farmers
demonstrated both for and against the biotech crops. The president of the
Karnataka Farmers Association led a demonstration to burn test plots of
genetically modified cotton, in a "direct action campaign that will not
stop until all the corporate killers leave the country." Many small
farmers, however, said they were optimistic that biotech seeds would need
less pesticide, produce more cotton and yield more profit. (Small Chinese
cotton farmers reported doubling their incomes with Bt cotton.)
The impasse was broken last year, after Indian fields planted with Bt
cotton -- without government approval -- came through a major infestation
of pink bollworms virtually unscathed. The conventional cotton plantings
were devastated, leading to many farmer suicides and a major supply
problem for the cotton industry -- India's largest single employer after
farming. India ultimately approved Bt cotton (cotton genetically
engineered to contain a natural pesticide) as its first genetically
modified crop release.
"India is the largest democracy in the world," says Dr. Kalam, "and it
must consider those 400 million people who are struggling to come out of
poverty. . . . Technology is the only tool we have. It is the only
unifying force that will keep us together, lift the level of our
prosperity and well being, and give our people a better quality of life.
Technology is a group activity, inherently social, and interacting the
intelligence of many people."
Dr. Kalam, a scientist by training, has thus aligned himself with two
Nobel Peace Prize winners (Dr. Norman Borlaug and Former Costa Rican
President Oscar Arias) a Greenpeace co-founder (Patrick Moore) and the
head of the World Conservation Trust (Eugene LaPoint) who endorsed a
"Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature With High-Yield Farming
Forestry" at the National Press Club in D.C. last April 30th.
Next year, more than 6 million Third World farmers in at least 16
countries are expected to plant more than 60 million hectares of biotech
crops. Most of these farmers will plant cotton in China, in India, or in
the resource-poor province of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Many other
small farmers around the world will also plant biotech soybeans, corn,
canola and limited acreages of virus-resistant squash and papaya.
In the coming years, expect the well fed of the First World to continue
trying to deny prosperity through technology to the poor of the Third
World. But also expect them to fail as Third World leaders respond to the
unmet needs of their people
Plant Biotechnology - A Developing Country Perspective
- http://www.europabio.org, Brussels, January 29, 2003;
Ten representatives of developing countries have come to Brussels to give
their views on the opportunities and challenges of plant biotechnology in
their home countries. "We are here to tell our part of the story. In
Europe biotechnology seems to be more about ideology than about rational
choice. For us biotech is an important tool to fight hunger and
malnutrition," says Prof. James Ochanda - Coordinator Biotechnology
Laboratory, University of Nairobi, Kenya and Chairman African
Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum. "We do not want to be a pawn in the
transatlantic trade squabble. We have our own voice and want to make our
own decisions on how to use this new technology."
Current figures show that one-quarter of the global biotech acreage is
grown in developing countries by resource poor farmers who make up
three-quarters of the almost 6 million farmers who grew GM crops in 2002.
The biotech crops that they are growing significantly improve the quality
of life of these farming families. "We can attend to other things instead
of having to spend all of our time in our fields," says T.J. Buthelezi, a
cotton farmer from the Makhatini Flats of South Africa. "Our standard of
living is very much improved and from the increased profits we have money
to send our children to school."
According to the ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications) in 2002, Chinese farmers growing Bt cotton
increased their incomes by an additional $500 (─500) per hectare, or $750
(─750) million nationally. Similar gains are recorded from South Africa,
where half of farmers are women.
European governments should reflect on this growing demand for
biotechnology crops in third world countries, and how that technology can
offer developing world farmers another important tool in increasing
domestic food production. There are strong links between EU legislation
and the choices that developing countries make. "Europe seems to be
inward looking when producing biotech legislation. But any rules set in
Brussels will affect the small scale farmer in Africa or India," says
Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio.
Plant biotechnology has not been developed only for rich countries.
Europe has immensely advanced research on plant biotechnology to improve
yields for the benefit of small-scale farmers in the third world. Yet,
this is a story that is rarely told.
Among the aims of the delegates to Brussels is to call on the EU to help
set up a technology transfer and capacity building programme to the
highest standards for developing countries. The Delegation will also be
urging the EU and Members States to ensure that legislation on GMOs takes
account of farmers in developing countries and does not become a trade
barrier that would impede the adoption of biotech crops in developing
(1) Representatives. 1 Prof. James Ochanda - Coordinator Biotechnology
Laboratory, University of Nairobi, Kenya and Chairman African
Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum; 2. Prof. Diran Makinde -Professor of
veterinary physiology, University of Venda for Science and Technology,
South Africa; 3. Prof. Jocelyn Webster, Executive Director of AfricaBio,
the Biotechnology Stakeholders Association which includes industry and
farmers, South Africa.; 4. Mr. S Jaipal Reddy - Federation of Farmers
Associations. (FFAAP), Andhra Pradesh, India. 5. Hon. Bintony Kutsaira -
Member of Parliament, Malawi 6. Prof. L. E. Mumba, Dean of the School of
Natural Sciences, University of Zambia 7. Mr. T.J Buthelezi - Cotton
farmer from Makhathini Flats, South Africa 8. Dr. Margarita Escaler,
Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).www.isaaa.org; 9. Dr
Lucas Sese - Intellectual Property Management consultant, Kenya 10.
Margaret Karembu - Senior Program Officer with ISAAA, Kenya
From: Meredith Lloyd Evans - BioBridge
I have written to the New Scientist - not yet sure if will be published or
put onto their web-site. For context, here follows the text of the letter
from Lord Melchett to which my letter below refers:
>> Gene Flow Matters - Peter Melchett, New Scientist 25 January 2003 page
>26 (The Soil Association, UK)
>> "David Concar says that "green groups in Britain have succeeded in
>making the question of gene flow symbolic of the whole notion of
>consumers and organic growers being forced to accept a technology that
>they do not trust" (14 December 2002, p 27).
>> Recent research shows that green groups have tended to reflect public
>concerns about GMOs, rather than create them. Nor is what the organic
>sector in Britain is or is not prepared to accept particularly relevant.
>In the European Union, organic food and farming is defined by EU
>Regulation 2092/91. Article 6.1 (d) of the regulation states that for a
>product to be described as organic in the EU, "genetically modified
>organisms and/or any product derived from such organisms must not be
>used, with the exception of veterinary medicinal products". No thresholds
>for accidental contamination by GMOs, nor any other exceptions, are
>permitted in European law. So for the organic food sector, gene flow is a
>far more crucial issue than Concar realises."
Response from Mr. Evans:
Other comments that I could make, in addition to those in the response
below, might be What is the "research" that is mentioned, in the context
of consumer concerns?
Is 'reflect consumer concerns' double-speak for 'magnify, take advantage
of and whip up consumer concerns'?
Is the EU Regulation actually unacceptable prejudice? Replace the concept
of GM organism by the thought 'Catholic' or 'Protestant' or 'Muslim' or
even 'person created by in vitro fertilisation', not being allowed to be
defined also as 'EU citizen', and you will instantly see that indeed, this
is a very reprehensible piece of racial discrimination. It should be
fought on that basis, perhaps.
----- Original Message -----
From: Meredith Lloyd-Evans to The Editor New Scientist; Subject: Gene
Sir, In response to Lord Melchett's appeal to EC regulations as the fount
of all wisdom on whether gene flow really matters, I believe it is worth
pointing out that the EC has never had a sensible approach to the
realities of the risks and the nature of genetic modifications. The entire
basis of the precautionary approach to GM is based on total hogwash - what
their regulation means is that a gene for herbicide resistance produced in
a plant by embryo rescue, protoplast fusion or irradiation, as well as by
inbreeding from weedy relatives, can be distributed anywhere and
everywhere with no problems. Our entire environment, including organic
food, is loaded with bacteria and other organisms that carry many of the
marker sequences, antibiotic resistance genes and pesticide-metabolising
genes that anti-GM nuts complain of, and have forced governments to
legislate against. Any surveys of plants, crops and foods looking for such
'foreign DNA' sequences are predestined to come to the conclusion that GM
has irrevocably spread and that 'big business' has 'contaminated' 'organic
purity'. This is not a sensible way to walk forward in the world.
- Sincerely, Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans, BioBridge Associates, UK