Today in AgBioView: December 4, 2002:
* `INDIA NEEDS TRANSGENIC CROPS'
* SOUTHERN AFRICA: Solution for food crisis political
* GM crops get good press? Surely not
* Panel to decide this week on genetically modified corn
* Research center to develop GM crops for commercialization in RP
* New US-EU trade war looms
* 2002 marks biotech's 20th anniversary
* Zambia and NAS report
* Re: survey
`INDIA NEEDS TRANSGENIC CROPS'
India's increasing demand for food needs use of all available tools to
increase food production
India Business Insight
December 03, 2002
Dr RP Sharma, Scientist Emeritus, National Research Centre on Plant
Biotechnology, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi,
is of the opinion that adoption of transgenic crops must not be delayed
once their biosafety issues have been proven. The demand for food in India
is rising and therefore all the tools available must be used to produce
Over 5.5 million farmers are growing over 15 different transgenic crops on
52.6 million hectares all over the world. Despite this, the Government of
India had conducted all tests on transgenic crops to ensure safety. Dr
Sharma said that human consumption of animal protein is more through milk
than through genetically modified vegetables.
He also said to that pesticides kill more species than transgenic crops
do. Besides, the government has a regulatory framework and enough
safeguards in place to protect farmers' rights and give them best economic
benefits at lowest cost.
SOUTHERN AFRICA: Solution for food crisis political
JOHANNESBURG, 4 Dec 2002 (IRIN) - Hunger in Africa today is a creation of
politics and demands political solutions, the World Food Programme's (WFP)
Executive Director James T Morris told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
Some 38 million Africans are at risk from an unprecedented food crisis,
but "mass starvation in Africa is not inevitable," Morris said in an open
briefing to the council. "Political decisions by some African governments
- and by the governments of the developed world - have made it hard for
the continent to feed itself."
In the short term, an infusion of funds was urgently needed, while
long-term goals must include greater investment in agriculture and changes
in international trade regimes.
Examining the causes for the "explosion in food emergencies," Morris cited
collapsing economic systems, political and ethnic violence, HIV/AIDS and
weather conditions. All of those factors have combined to exacerbate
Africa's critical situation, while in Southern Africa WFP has received
pledges of only 56 percent of the US $511 million needed to help meet
The WFP chief urged major changes, including a shift from reliance on the
United States for food aid. "Last year, the US provided 62 percent of all
food aid worldwide," he said. "This is simply not sustainable."
He added that the recent controversy over genetically modified (GM) food
in Southern Africa demonstrated the dangers of relying too heavily on a
single donor. "Requirements by some of the Southern African [countries]
that GM maize from the US be milled have created a logistical nightmare
and we have been left scrambling, trying to raise more cash contributions
from other donors while confronting the complexities of milling the maize
to ensure there is no break in the food pipeline."
At the same time, Morris urged the creation of a new global trade
environment, stressing that developing countries "simply cannot compete
with developed country subsidies that now amount to US $1 billion a day
and allow food to flow into poorer countries, making investments in
"People are hungry because their governments have made the wrong political
decisions," he said. "In the end, hunger is a political creation and we
must use political means to end it."
According to a paper by researcher Alex de Waal, currently with the UN
Children's Fund (UNICEF), a new and unfamiliar type of famine was in the
making in Southern Africa, linked to HIV/AIDS.
The implications for humanitarian assistance, de Waal suggested, were
far-reaching. These included the need for the humanitarian response to
match the scale of the crisis, long-term welfarism, and strategies for
rehabilitation, recovery and development carefully designed in the context
of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its adverse impact on labour supply, adult
life expectancy and capacity of national institutions.
The school drop-out rate, especially for girl children from poor
households, was another indication of the long-term development costs of
the current crisis.
Data from a UNICEF-supported survey in primary schools in six provinces in
Zambia has shown dramatic declines in school attendance for both boys and
girls. A community school in Siavonga district - an area badly affected by
the drought - recorded a drop in girls' school attendance from 75 percent
in April 2002 to 17 percent in September; for boys the decline was from 71
percent to 24 percent, UNICEF said.
Speaking to a meeting of African education ministers on Tuesday, UNICEF
Executive Director Carol Bellamy announced a campaign to eliminate gender
disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. The campaign,
which includes 15 countries in Africa, focuses on countries where girls
are furthest behind - and where progress would make a real impact.
"UNICEF advocates investment in girls' education as an entryway for all
children to fulfil their right to a quality basic education. A singular
focus on getting girls into school works to bring down the barriers that
keep all children out of school. Moreover, when girls are educated they
are more likely to ensure the education and health of their own children -
a cyclical effect of enormous importance," a UNICEF statement explained.
WFP has launched a campaign, Africa Hunger Alert at:
GM crops get good press? Surely not
The Japan Times
December 5, 2002
By ROWAN HOOPER
Everyone from religious scholars to British lords seems to have an opinion
on genetically modified foods -- whether it is that they are
"Frankensteinian" or that they are creations revealing the promise of
biotechnology in the service of humanity.
With the recent publication of a technique to genetically engineer rice
and other crops to improve their yields, while also making them more
tolerant to drought and temperature stresses, the fortunes of genetic
technology would seem to be ever rising.
Moreover, the new technique is apparently safe. The biologists
responsible, Ajay Garg and Ray Wu from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.,
emphasized that their method involves adding genes to plants that allow
them to synthesize a naturally occurring sugar called trehalose. Critics
of GM foods should be satisfied because the chemical composition of the
edible parts of plants, such as rice grains, remains unchanged.
Add to that the news that rather than seeking profit from their discovery,
Garg and Wu are putting the information in the public domain, and it would
seem that GM foods have had their best PR in years.
The biologists described their new strategy to help plants overcome three
of the main causes of crop failure in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences. "We have demonstrated the feasibility of engineering
rice for increased tolerance of major environmental stresses and for
enhanced productivity," said Wu, a professor of molecular biology and
He and Garg improved stress-tolerance by introducing the genes for
trehalose synthesis into Indica rice varieties, which constitute 80
percent of the global rice crop (including basmati). But the same strategy
should also work for the rounder, stickier Japonica rice varieties eaten
in Japan, as well as with a range of other crops, including corn, wheat,
millet, soybeans and sugar cane.
Why use genes for trehalose? It is a simple sugar, derived from glucose,
that is found in a wide range of organisms, where it is used to stabilize
proteins, enzymes and lipids. But it is not common in plants, said Garg,
except in those adapted to survive desert conditions: so-called
"Drought-stressed resurrection plants look like they are dead and gone
forever; then they pop back to life when moisture is available," Garg
said. "That's the power of trehalose in combating stress, and it gave us
an idea to help important crop plants survive stress."
Garg and Wu fused two different genes for trehalose synthesis from the
bacterium E. coli, then added custom-designed "promoter" sequences to the
fused pair. Promotors control where and when genes are expressed. This
means that the trehalose genes can be turned on in the transgenic plants
when stresses occur, and can be regulated to make trehalose only in
particular parts of the plant, such as in the leaf -- but not in the
Although the scientists are seeking patent protection of their technology,
they wish to ensure that the technologies can be offered in the public
domain. "Anything we can do to help crop plants cope with environmental
stresses will also raise the quality and quantity of food for those who
need it most," said Wu.
The decision drew praise from Ronald Cole-Turner, professor of theology
and ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. "Critics of agricultural
biotechnology have often said that the results are impractical, dangerous,
or only beneficial to seed companies. From now on, the critics will have
to think again," he said.
However, Cole-Turner also foresaw one disturbing consequence of improved
nutrition. "If this work is as promising as it appears, then we will need
to worry even more about population growth. We need to have the good sense
-- as well as strong encouragement from the world's religious communities
-- to limit population while we have the chance."
No one expects the controversy over GM foods to simply blow away, least of
all Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society. He has called for
an open public debate about how GM crops would affect other plant and
animal species. He also cautioned against "fundamentalist" lobby groups
that "know, by dogma, instinct or political ideology that GM crops are
Although GM crops had been labeled "Frankensteinian" by lobbyists, Lord
May said, the same label could easily be applied to non-GM crops.
"Pollen from 'conventional' crops, many of which have been produced by
very high-tech methods in recent years, and which could easily be seen as
Frankensteinian if you so chose, blows around, and does create hybrids.
But, far from being superweeds, these are typically wimps."
Lord May highlighted the need for the British government's decision about
the commercialization of GM crops to be based on "a real debate about
values and beliefs which we should be having, against a realistic
background of the possibilities that tomorrow's agricultural biotechnology
"I think it likely that the general public, very sensibly, will engage
more fully in this debate once, as it were, GM offers a golden apple, the
eating of which will make you thin and witty," he said.
GM technology could help us "grow food more efficiently, but in ways which
work with the grain of nature rather than wrenching the environment to our
crops with fossil-fuel-subsidized fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides."
The Cornell trehalose work could be just the golden apple he had in mind.
Panel to decide this week on genetically modified corn
By Leilani M. Gallardo
The interagency Science and Technology Review Panel (STRP) is expected to
decide this week whether it will recommend the approval of the
commercialization of genetically modified (GM) corn in the country,
commonly known as bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.
Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) director Blo Umpar Adiong told reporters
yesterday the three-man technical panel is about to clear the application
of multinational seed company Monsanto Philippines for the
commercialization of its Bt corn product called Yieldguard.
The STRP has three issues to consider. The health aspect, the food safety
aspect, and the environmental aspect. Bt corn has already been cleared on
the first two issues, while STRP is awaiting Monsanto's reply (due this
week) on minor questions raised under the environmental consideration, he
Bt corn is a corn variety developed through genetics modification to
resist asiatic corn borers, a major cause of declining yield in local corn
A GM crop or a transgenic crop is a plant that contains a gene or genes
that have been artificially inserted to create a desired trait. GM crops,
such as corn, wheat and canola, are widely used in the United States but
will still have to be pioneered in the Philippines.
US-based Monsanto is the first company to apply for the commercialization
of a GM crop in the country. But its field tests have drawn flak from
environmentalists, who said that genetically engineered corn variety may
trigger environmental problems.
Mr. Adiong said that after STRP, which is under his bureau, makes its
decision this week, the bureau has 30 days to submit its recommendation to
the secretary of Agriculture for final approval, after which Monsanto can
market its GM corn product.
He said Monsanto's reply will be the last remaining requirement for the
assessment of the viability of Bt corn commercialization since other
government agencies required to study the application have already given
their go signal. These are the Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of
Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards, and Fertilizer Pesticide
Monsanto claims that field tests conducted all over the country since last
year showed that Bt corn seeds improve the yield of food-grade white corn
to five metric tons from the current national production average of 1.82
metric tons per hectare.
Bt corn is also expected to increase the yield of yellow feed corn to
6.14-6.80 metric tons per hectare from the current 2.83 metric tons.
Research center to develop GM crops for commercialization in RP
By Leilani M. Gallardo
December 03, 2002 08:40 AM
A research center that will develop new varieties of genetically modified
(GM) crops for commercialization is expected to be set up in the
Philippines next year under the auspices of New York-based Cornell
University and the United States Agency for International Development
Dubbed the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II), the
program will focus on the safe and effective development and
commercialization of GM crops as a complement to traditional and organic
agricultural approaches in developing countries.
We hope to work on the project within five years and then have the crops
commercialized after that. We hope that we could build up on existing
resources and help in getting these products to the end consumer, said
Peter Gregory, ABSP II director and head of Cornell University's College
of Agriculture and Life Sciences' International Programs.
The project aims to boost food security, economic growth, nutrition and
environmental quality in hosts such as East and West Africa, Indonesia,
India, Bangladesh and the Philippines through the adoption of GM crops.
A GM, or transgenic, crop is a plant that contains a gene, or genes, that
has been artificially inserted to create a desired trait.
Funded by a $15-million grant from USAID and led by Cornell University,
ABSP II will be implemented by a consortium of public and private sector
institutions. The consortium, which will vary from each host country, is
expected to develop new biotech products which will eventually be
To ensure the successful commercialization of the new GM crops, ABSP II
aims to conduct highly participatory priority setting to ensure that the
new biotechnology products developed by the centers will focus on the real
needs of the host country.
It will also produce Product Commercialization Packages for each new GM
crop to make sure that the product gets to the market after it is
developed. The package will include policy considerations, technology
development, outreach and communication as well as marketing and
By doing this, all issue surrounding the commercialization of a GM crop
will be addressed.
Aside from this, ABSP II also aims to help create an enabling regulatory
environment in the host country so that the GM products can be
We don't want to move too fast before regulatory functions are in place,
Mr. Gregory said.
Mr. Gregory said ABSP II officials are still in the process of choosing
which counterpart agencies in the Philippines they will choose for the
consortium that will oversee the center.
Among those that are being considered include the University of the
Philippines in Los Banos and the Philippine-based International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
New US-EU trade war looms
Zambia has refused GM crops despite famine
By Steve Schifferes
2 December, 2002
The United States is considering a fresh trade war with Europe over the
issue of genetically modified (GM) foods.
The move would increase tension with Europe at a delicate time for the
world trade talks, which were launched one year ago.
US has more GM crops than any other country
US trade officials are urging the Bush administration to begin proceedings
against the EU in the World Trade Organisation for blocking imports of GM
The EU has maintained a ban for the last four years on approving any US
biotech foods, which it says is based on the "precautionary principle" but
which the US says has no scientific basis.
Already, the US and the EU are at loggerheads over several trade issues.
The EU objects to new US "anti-dumping" tariffs on its steel products and
US tax breaks for foreign sales of its big multinationals, while the US
has taken the EU to task for its ban on imports of bananas and beef.
Previously, the US has refrained from any formal complaint on GM foods,
mindful of the strength of anti-biotech feeling in Europe, and concerned
that the EU could argue for compulsory labelling of US grain exports -
which would force US farmers to implement separate storage facilities for
GM and non-GM crops.
The EU has banned US hormone-treated beef
But now US officials fear that other parts of the world, and especially
Africa, are rejecting US agricultural exports because of fears that they
may contain genetically modified crops.
In October, Zambia rejected 26,000 tonnes of US food aid, despite its
famine, on the grounds that it contained GM crops which would pollute its
seed stock and hurt exports.
US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who visited Africa with rock star Bono
in the autumn, is believed to back tough action against Europe.
But US state department officials have reportedly warned that it would be
unwise to alienate European public opinion while trying to gain support
for a possible war in Iraq.
The EU has long maintained that GM foods are unsafe until proven
In 2000, the US and the EU signed an agreement, the Montreal bio-safety
protocol, which agreed that this "precautionary principle" should apply to
the export of GM foods.
It also agreed to the voluntary labelling of GM foods in order to give
consumers a choice.
However, talks over how to implement a voluntary labelling agreement have
stalled, despite a deadline of 31 December 2002.
Even in the UK, the government has been under pressure to stop field
trials of GM crops from environmentalists.
The politics of trade
The US would be likely to win any case it took to the World Trade
Several years ago, the US fought and won a similar action when EU
officials banned US beef exports on the grounds that they contained unsafe
However, it will take several years before the US obtains a final ruling
under the laborious WTO disputes settlement procedure. And that would not
necessarily be the end of the matter.
In the beef hormone dispute, the EU has chosen to pay a $100m fine each
year rather than admit US beef products.
Even environmentalists believe that it would be unlikely that European
consumers would be persuaded to buy GM foods as a result of a WTO ruling
that says they are safe.
But US farmers - who export 30% of their crops - would be pleased.
They are a key constituency for the Bush administration, which recently
passed a farm bill giving them an additional $180bn in aid.
However, this aid package could be under threat if the world trade talks
reach agreement on limiting agricultural subsidies - something they are
scheduled to do by 31 March 2003.
And those same trade talks could hold a trump card for the EU.
That is because in principle, trade ministers have agreed that in future,
environmental agreements like the Montreal protocol should have equal
legal weight in trade law treaties.
2002 marks biotech's 20th anniversary
Soutwest Farmer Press
December 3, 2002
By Ron Smith
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. ñ Hard to believe, looking at the yards-long list of
just soybean, cotton and corn varieties containing genetic modifications,
that the precursors to transgenic crops included tobacco plants and
Equally mind-boggling is the realization that biotechnology has been an
important part of agricultural research for 20 years.
In the last two decades, a process that seemed as far-fetched as celestial
travel to folks on the nub of the 20th Century, moved from theory to
ìBut, if you think the last 20 years was something, wait until you see the
next 20,î says Fred Perlak, a research scientist at Monsantoís
Chesterfield, Mo., facility.
ìWeíre still learning how genes interact and that will have a tremendous
effect on agriculture. Iím an optimist and believe we are in the golden
age of agricultural research. Itís tough on the farm now, but the future
is bright for patient, persistent people.î
The process began with less than a certain outcome. Perlak began working
with bacillus thuringensies (Bt) in the University of Massachusetts
graduate school and took that knowledge to Monsanto in 1981.
ìRecombinant DNA studies were just coming on,î he says, ìand our task was
to discover ways to use this new technology to solve problems in
agriculture. We were especially interested in insecticides.î
Perlak recalls several catalysts that encouraged genetic research for
crops. Pesticide registration was a lumbering, time-consuming process.
Environmental pressures to eliminate or limit crop protection chemical use
increased. And some of farmersí most trusted insecticides suddenly fell to
the inevitable: resistance.
Those were the spurs prodding scientists like Perlak to charge ahead to
develop plants with built-in toxins.
ìIt took us a while to figure out the issues,î Perlak says, ìWe had an
idea of what we wanted but we were feeling our way through the process for
years. We learned how to genetically engineer plants, and as scientists we
could see how to get there. We did not anticipate the obstacles.î
The primary challenge was getting Bt genes into a plant. Bt was a
particularly beneficial, naturally occurring insecticide. ìIt offers a
potent toxin to a narrow range of insect pests. Itís innocuous and
non-harmful for non-target species,î he says. ìWe considered it ëthe
perfect insecticide.í But pulling it into plants was difficult.î
For one thing, plants didnít particularly appreciate their genetic
material being manipulated. ìPlants did not like it,î Perlak says. ìThe
material was a poor insecticide inside the plant.î
He explains that plants had a hidden signal inside that limited efficacy
of the foreign genetic material.
ìWe had to rewrite the codes,î Perlak says. ìWe had to simplify the new
genetics to be understandable by the plant.î
That simplification process took six or seven years.
Enter petunia and tobacco. ìPetunias are easy to regenerate, so we could
make a lot of transfers and get results quickly,î Perlak said.
ìTobacco plants are similar. They grow well in greenhouses, produce many
seed and are easy to regenerate.î
Tobacco plants also host some of agricultureís most devastating insect
pests, Perlak says. ìWe could test for tobacco budworm, bollworms and
other pests on tobacco.î
Transferring what they learned from petunias and tobacco into cotton and
soybeans, however, took a bit more patience. ìIt became a painstaking,
slow process,î Perlak says. ìWe need a year to get a cotton plant back
after we start the process. With tobacco or tomato plants, we can turn the
process around in 10 weeks or less.î
Other problems also arose.
ìWe did not know how the concept would work in the field. Would it be
better or worse than in the greenhouse? Would the insect resistance
express itself throughout the season? Would it work different under
different growing conditions and with different backgrounds?
ìWe wondered if results would vary by farm. And we wondered if the
agricultural industry would embrace the technology or shun it. We knew we
had to provide value to the farmer or the research was worthless.î
Perlak says the environmental repercussions also caught scientists by
surprise. ìUsually, environmental objections to pesticides are based on
emotional reactions, misperceptions, and fear of the unknown. We always
assume the scientific process will win. And it does, in the end, but it
Perlak says Bollgard cotton has been available to farmers now for seven
years. ìFarmers understand the value and the limitations. They use it as a
tool, as we intended. Itís not a panacea but something farmers can use
with their other tools.
ìItís the same with Roundup Ready technology. Roundup Ready soybeans came
out in 1996 and Roundup Ready cotton in 1997. The technology provides new
tools for growers, offering timesavings, convenience and a simplified weed
control program. It has limitations, as we always knew it would. But
Roundup Ready technology has had a tremendous effect across the Cotton
Perlak says he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly farmers adopted the
Those tools may be just the beginning of a box full of biotech gear.
ìWe see tremendous potential for the future,î Perlak says. ìWe hope to
improve the quality of foods. That offers our next big challenge.î
Enhanced nutrition, manipulating amino acids to make foods more healthy
and providing pharmaceutical plants loom on the horizon.
ìWe can speed new variety development and get these products to
consumers,î Perlak says.
From: "Hector Quemada"
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2002 23:49:53 -0500
Subject: (Fwd) RE: Zambia and NAS report
Rick, thanks for the information. I agree that as you say, "there was a
lot going on with the Zambian delegation". I was simply curious about
whether they had really studied the report and discussed it with the
appropriate people, or whether they were using a superficial reading of it
to conclude that the US regulatory system was "far short of what should be
done". I am not implying any blame, and I know that the article I quoted
could not have provided all the reasoning behind the Zambian decision, but
it appeared from the article that they were using the NAS report to negate
any evidence for safety. I don't think that the report meant to say that
the conclusions of safety for crops reviewed under the present system
wereinvalid. That's what I found mystifying about the Zambian statement.
Thanks for helping me understand the situation better.
Date: Wed, 04 Dec 2002 07:03:17 +0200
From: "David Simpson"
Subject: Re: African Stance, Better Rice, False Dairy Products, US-EU, SA
Moratorium, New Maize
Im a bit suspicious of statistical data of the type shown below (from yr 3
Recent consumer surveys in New York and New Jersey showed that more than
50 percent of consumers at first believed the dairy products with the "no
labels were somehow better than the conventional dairy products. Then,
after they got information on the issues, 42 percent thought the "no
labels were misleading.
How many of the 42 per cent were among the original 50 per cent? If they
are entirely different groups of people then there cd be 42 per cent who
think they are misleading while the percentage who were misled cd now be
as high as 58 per cent (assuming no "dont knows") !