Today in AgBioView: February 21, 2003
* EU Biotech Ban Harming the Hungry, Goodlatte Tells Lamy
* He Said, She Said: Conflicting Words Over the US-EU WTO Conflict
* Words Stir Confusion in Trade Fight: US Comments Differ
* Development of Biotech Crops Is Booming in Asia
* China to Continue Emphasis On Bio-tech Research
* Greenpeacer Charged with Assault and Battery
* I Don't Care What the Scientists Say - GM is too Risky!
* Going for Golden Rice
* Schmeiser v. Chapman Debate: Listen to it Online
* Genetically Engineered Plants that Recognize Bio Attack
* Shanthu and the Indian Bt Cotton Comment
* Re: "Bishop's Gambit on GMOs"
* Response to Avery Question on 'Genetic Contamination' of the Organic
* A Half Century of Denial: Watson, Commoner and DNA
* From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution
* Options for Accessing Technologies
* Just How Far are Bananas from Extinction?
* French Activist Bove Seeks Jail Pardon from Chirac
* Science for African Food Security
EU Biotech Ban Harming The Hungry, Goodlatte Tells Lamy
- Progressive Farmer, Agriculture Online, http://www.agriculture.com/
This week in Brussels, House Ag Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte met with EU
Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, to press the EU to drop the moratorium on
imports of genetically modified foods it has had in place for over four
years. In his plea, he cited recent news the moratorium may have
influenced some developing countries to reject US food aid.
"The EU's policy is not based on sound science, and it is harmful not only
to American agriculture but to those people throughout the world who are
in the grip of starvation," he said.
He cautioned though, that the moratorium should not be replaced with new
regulations on traceability and labeling, which he said are "unworkable,
costly and do not improve food safety." "The politicizing of agricultural
biotechnology must end, so that we can return to providing food aid to the
hungry as soon as possible," Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte joined the Speaker of the House along with several other members
of Congress last month in writing a letter to President Bush in support of
the US government taking a case against the EU to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) to protest the restrictions. Goodlatte also met
recently with EU Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, and raised
He Said, She Said: Conflicting Words Over the US-EU WTO Conflict
- Deb Carstoiu, BIO Food & Ag Weekly, email@example.com; www.bio.org;
News reports from Europe on Thursday indicated that the US is ending its
pursuit of a WTO complaint against the EU on its moratorium on biotech
foods. Both the BBC and Agence France Presse report that the US embassy's
official for agricultural affairs in London, Peter Kurz, has told
reporters that the decision was made "at a high level of government" and
that the US would try to identify an alternative to resolving the
However, on this side of the pond, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, in a
speech made at the Agricultural Outlook Forum in Virginia yesterday, gave
the impression that the US is still moving forward with plans for a trade
BIO's contacts indicate that it is highly unlikely the USTR has dropped a
potential WTO case, and that Kurz's comments were misinterpreted by the
BBC. The bottom line is, without an official confirmation from the USTR,
ignore the European rumors. For more information from BIO, contact Val
Giddings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words Stir Confusion in Trade Fight: US Officials' Comments on Biotech
- Justin Gillis, Washington Post, Feb 21, 2003
The government sent conflicting signals yesterday about its plans for
suing Europe in the World Trade Organization over gene-altered food,
sowing doubt about just what policy the administration intends to pursue
in one of the world's most contentious trade issues.
In remarks during a conference in Crystal City, Agriculture Secretary Ann
M. Veneman gave the impression the administration is moving forward with
plans for a trade suit, saying "very strong action" is warranted to
counter European resistance to genetically engineered crops, which
American farmers have planted on millions of acres.
But in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., an agricultural
officer at the U.S. Embassy in London, Peter O. Kurz, declared that a
decision had been "made at a high level of government" to drop plans for a
The conflicting remarks left American farm interests and the biotechnology
industry scrambling yesterday to figure out whether there had been a
change in the government's plans. The Bush administration has been saying
for weeks it is likely to file suit against governments of the European
Union, and while a final decision by the White House was delayed just
after the space shuttle disaster, most groups following the issue had
assumed the holdup would be temporary and a case would be filed soon.
U.S. trade officials declined to comment further, saying they were
awaiting direction from the White House. Several agricultural groups also
declined to comment.
Representatives for two producer groups, speaking on the condition of
anonymity, said they would wait briefly for the administration to clarify
its intentions before making any critical remarks. But they made it clear
that if the government backs off plans for a suit, or wavers further, a
vigorous reaction can be expected from American farmers, who feel they are
losing hundreds of millions a year in exports because of European
resistance to gene-altered crops.
Farm groups have been pressing for months for a biotech trade case. At the
same time, agriculture ministers in Europe and some trade strategists in
Washington have argued that it makes no sense to introduce a new
irritation into U.S.-European relations when the nation is seeking
European support in its confrontation with Iraq.
The issue appeared to be near resolution several weeks ago, when Robert B.
Zoellick, the nation's top trade ambassador, called the European stance on
gene-altered food a "Luddite" reluctance to embrace new technology.
Zoellick said then he intended to file a trade suit.
In response to a question yesterday at the Agricultural Outlook Forum, in
Crystal City, Veneman said that "our patience is growing very thin on this
issue." She continued: "So I have had many discussions with Ambassador
Zoellick. We are both of the position that we need to take very strong
action, and we are working in the interagency process to determine what
action that will be and what the timing will be."
But Kurz, the agricultural attach╚, speaking to the BBC in London, said
the plan for a trade case had been dropped. "I suppose the idea was we
don't need further trade irritants," he said.
Most analysts have said the government would be in a strong legal position
if it filed a case, since trade restrictions that purport to be based on
health concerns, like a European moratorium on biotech crops, must be
backed up by scientific evidence. There is little such evidence to suggest
that gene-altered foods pose any kind of health threat.
Even if the United States won a trade suit, the World Trade Organization
would have no means to force Europe to accept biotech food. Instead, it
would probably grant the United States the right to impose punitive
tariffs on European agricultural products.
Development of Biotech Crops Is Booming in Asia
- David Barboza , New York Times, Feb 21, 2003
Hiang Rai, Thailand, -- Worried about falling behind its global
competition, much of Asia is rushing forward with the development and
cultivation of genetically modified crops.
The three most populous countries in Asia -- China, India and Indonesia --
are already planting millions of acres of genetically modified cotton.
Several other large Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, the
Philippines and Malaysia, are earmarking billions of dollars for private
and government-sponsored research on biotech crops.
Given that there are already 145 million acres planted with genetically
modified crops worldwide, mostly in North and South America, these
developments in Asia could pave the way for bioengineered crops to
dominate the world's food production. "This is a significant development
in the acceptance of genetically modified crops," said Nicholas
Kalaitzandonakes, a professor of agribusiness at the University of
Missouri at Columbia. "This is not only a region where most of the
population growth is, it's a region where most of the food growth is."
Aware of food safety concerns, especially among Europeans, most
governments in Asia plan to move cautiously before approving the use of
genetically modified food crops, which are much more controversial than
nonfood crops like cotton and flowers. China for now is holding off on
letting farmers plant biotech food crops, though tests are continuing.
But spending on biotech research and development is booming throughout
Asia, according to delegates at a biotech policy conference sponsored here
by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group. Malaysia is creating a
biotech hub outside Kuala Lumpur that it calls "biovalley." Indonesia is
setting up its own industrial park, called "bioisland." Even in Japan and
South Korea -- where some consumers have been unnerved by the prospect of
genetically modified foods -- there are investors and others spending
heavily to develop biotech products.
Experts at the conference said most of these countries must embrace
biotechnology or risk seeing their crops lose value in a rapidly changing
marketplace that promises a new breed of super crops. "If they don't
employ biotechnology, they're going to be left behind," said Dr. Cho Kyun
Rha, a professor of biomaterial sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and a conference participant. "They would end up buying the
seed from others, and that would be biotech colonization."
China -- which after the United States has the most advanced biotechnology
programs -- could come to dominate agricultural production in the region,
because it is so far ahead in its research on genetically modified crops.
Already, a majority of the cotton grown in China, the world's leading
producer, is genetically engineered to resist pests. Besides rice and
tomatoes, China has developed genetically modified corn, tobacco, sweet
peppers, petunias and poplar trees.
Other Asian countries, meanwhile, are beginning to release their first
biotechnology products. India and Indonesia recently approved the planting
of a variety of insect-resistant biotech cotton that drastically reduces
the need for pesticides. Indeed, biotech cotton is so popular with
farmers that a black market has emerged in several Asian countries that
have not yet approved the products.
"There's piracy going on," said Clive James, head of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an
industry-sponsored organization that tracks global plantings of biotech
crops. "These farmers think so much of this technology, they will steal
it." The enthusiasm extends beyond cotton. The Philippines has allowed the
marketing of foods made with biotech corn, a first for Asia. The
Philippines is also the site of the International Rice Research Institute,
which is working to use biotechnology to develop "golden rice," a variety
fortified with vitamin A.
Critics of genetically modified crops say these moves in Asia could leave
consumers around the world with little choice but to accept them. "It's
troublesome, because these countries don't have the regulatory
infrastructure to assess the risks," said Dr. Jane Rissler of the Union of
Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that has been critical of biotech
But in the absence of any solid evidence that genetically modified crops
are harmful to humans, scientists in Asia are experimenting on everything
from genetically modified corn, potatoes and papaya to biotech mustard and
Biotechnology advocates in Asia believe that genetically modified crops
will increase food production, significantly reduce the use of pesticides
and insecticides and even create drought-resistant crops that can grow on
land now regarded as non-arable. Farmers' incomes will rise, they claim,
with the greatest benefits in the the poorest regions. China has over
20,000 people employed in government-led research at about 200 labs.
Government spending on biotech research has tripled in recent years and
could top $1.5 billion for the five years ending in 2005, making China
second only to the United States in this area.
The rest of Asia is now playing catch up. India is conducting biotech
research at most of its major universities. Japan and South Korea expect
to spend over $300 million a year on biotech research. Malaysia wants to
engineer palm oil trees genetically to serve as factories of specialized
plastics for medical devices. Vietnam and Singapore, too, are exploring
the development of portfolios of biotech crops. China's enthusiasm is
dictated from the top. But both there and in India -- places where small
farmers work under the harshest conditions, often suffering from the
effects of their own pesticide spraying -- biotech crops have mainly been
seen as beneficial.
However, Japan, a major food importer, has been reluctant to accept
genetically modified crops, because of concerns about food safety.
Opposition in Europe has prompted China to place a moratorium on biotech
food crops that had already been approved for commercialization.
Some experts say the world's largest seed and biotechnolgy companies are
lobbying in Asia to promote genetically modified crops and to sway
regulators and public opinion. "They fear if they don't succeed there, the
future could be a rocky one," said Neil Harl, a professor of agricultural
economics at Iowa State University. "So there's this enormous effort under
There is a push -- articulated by several delegates at the conference here
-- to coordinate regulatory, food labeling and trade policies to ensure
the success of genetically modified foods. "With today's globalization,
you can't have some do it and some don't," said Dr. Chen Zhangliang, a
professor at Beijing University and one of the leaders of China's
biotechnology program, who delivered a fierce attack on biotech critics.
"You need to have these issues harmonized."
Some policy makers also worry that cross-border seed piracy could create
legal trade and regulatory disputes. Biotech cotton leaked into India long
before the country approved its planting. And pirated seeds are believed
to be in wide use today in Thailand and Pakistan. For many governments in
Asia, though, biotechnology appears to be seen as a potential silver
bullet for a host of food and agriculture ills, and a means to create new
products that could sell for higher prices.
"We are trying to develop the blue orchid," said Sotat Sriwattanapong, who
works at Biotec, a government agency in Bangkok. "It doesn't exist in
nature. But this may attract the people or the market."
China to Continue Emphasis On Bio-tech Research
- Xinhua News Agency, February 20, 2003
The Chinese government will continue to support bio-technology as one of
its top priorities for national economic and social progress, said
Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Li Xueyong on Thursday.
Li said during the tenth Five-Year Plan period (2001-2005), the central
government would invest 6 billion yuan (726 million US dollars) in basic
and application research in the life sciences, as well as in some
high-tech research and development. Meanwhile, local governments, new and
high-tech enterprises, venture investment and various funds would also
contribute in this regard, noted Li.
He listed the three principles for China's bio-technology development as
strengthening technological research and product development, promoting
the industrialization of bio-technology, and ensuring bio-safety. He said
the life sciences, bio-technology and the biological industry played a
crucial role in China's economic and social progress.
So far, Chinese scientists had made major achievements in developing
"super rice" and genetically-modified pest-resistant cotton. Statistics
from the Ministry of Science and Technology show that in the past five
years, China has developed a total of 600 new crop varieties and 1,000 new
products, and built nearly 2,000 test bases and 5,000 pilot sites.
Bio-technology breakthroughs have been playing an increasingly decisive
role in medicine, health, clean energy, pollution treatment and chemical
Greenpeacer Charged with Assault and Battery: Sent by Andrew Apel
Greenpeace Steps Up Its Campaign Against Shaw's on GMOs
- Barbara Murray, Supermarket News, February 21, 2003
Methuen, Mass. - Activists from Greenpeace USA tried to stop the
distribution of genetically engineered food by blocking the gates of
Shaw's Supermarkets' main distribution center here on Wednesday, the most
dramatic in a series of protests the group has directed at Shaw's own
brands in the past two years.
Also yesterday, three people entered the lobby of Shaw's corporate
headquarters in West Bridgewater with a video camera, apparently trying to
film interviews with Shaw's employees about genetically modified
organisms, police said.
One man was charged with assault and battery after he pushed a Shaw's
receptionist who tried to stop him, according to West Bridgewater Police
Lt. Ray Rogers. The receptionist was not injured, he said. Shaw's issued a
statement yesterday defending its sale of GM foods and stating that it
follows the guidelines established by the FDA and the policies of the
Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Marketing Institute on
biotech food. The company also pledged to protect the safety of its
workers, customers and vendors.
I Don't Care What the Scientists Say - Biotech Crops are too Risky: Risk
- Robert K. D. Peterson, AgBioSafety Education Center, Univ of Nebraska,
(sent by J. R. Murti ). Full article at
http://agbiosafety.unl.edu/perception.shtml Excerpts below......
Perceptions of Risk. Before defining and discussing biotech crops and the
risk analysis process, we need to define "risk." There are two major
categories of risk: risk as perception and risk as science. In this
article, we will concentrate on risk as perception.
Although the risks associated with driving an automobile are more serious,
the public typically perceives products made from agricultural
biotechnology as being riskier. Why is this so? Research conducted during
the past 20 years consistently has established that public assessments of
risk from modern technologies and activities are different than expert
assessments. Whereas experts primarily evaluate risk in terms of narrowly
defined deleterious events, the public considers broader factors such as
control, catastrophic potential, dread (possible delayed and/or disturbing
effects), level of knowledge, equity, clarity of benefits, trust, effects
on future generations, and effects on children. In general, public
perceptions of risk are the product of intuitive biases and economic
interests that often reflect cultural values.
Agricultural Biotechnology. More empirical research on public perceptions
of agricultural biotechnology is needed before substantive generalizations
can be made. To date, studies seem to indicate that although acceptance of
biotechnology is moderate to high, there is less support for agricultural
biotechnology than for medical biotechnology. Knowledge of biotechnology
is limited, especially with regard to potential benefits. Consequently,
this poor understanding is likely to affect initial acceptance of the
Perhaps most important is the perception that agricultural biotechnology,
indeed biotechnology in general, represents a large unknown risk. This is
reflected in both perceptions of human health and ecological risk and
seems to be the dominant perception factor (Hallman 1996, McDaniels et al.
1995, Slovic 1987, Zechendorf 1994). As an unknown risk, biotechnology
most likely is seen as a risk that is unknown to science, unknown to those
exposed, delayed, and not observable easily. Additionally, biotechnology
is perceived as a dread risk. As a dread risk, biotechnology most likely
is viewed as a risk that is uncontrollable, globally catastrophic, not
equitable, not easily reduced, and increasing.
Agricultural biotechnology and pesticides are perceived as unknown and
dread risks. However, perceptions of biotechnology seem to differ greatly
from pesticides with regard to ethics, morals, and values. The ethics and
morality of the use pesticides are not nearly as disconcerting among the
public as they are with the use of biotechnology. Public concerns about
the ethics and morality of biotechnology most likely reflect factors such
as recent introduction of the technology, ability of the technology to
dramatically change the genetics of an organism, lack of societal and
scientific knowledge about the consequences of deploying the technology,
seemingly unnatural methods used, and fear of humans "playing God"
Hopefully, you have seen that, in one sense, risk is a function of
perception. Therefore, risk is not absolute, but rather it is a value
judgment varying from person to person. Like all activities and
technologies, people perceive risks from agricultural biotechnology
differently. Further, science-based assessments of risk from biotechnology
differ from perception-based perceptions of risk.
Dr. Robert K. D. Peterson, AgBioSafety Education Center, Univ of Nebraska,
Agricultural & Biological Risk Assessment , Montana State University ;
Going for Golden Rice
- Jan Bowman, Spiked Online, February 19, 2003
Around the world, the amount of land planted to genetically modified crops
keeps on growing. Sixteen countries worldwide now grow GM, and three
quarters of GM farmers are in the world's poorest regions. In 2002, India,
Colombia and Honduras all approved the commercial growing of GM crops for
the first time (1).
But the environmentalist critics of GM food and technology argue that GM
will be catastrophic for the developing world. They accuse the USA of
'dumping' GM grain on Africa, and claim that the spread of GM will tighten
multinationals' grip on poor economies while contaminating indigenous
The decision by famine-stricken African countries in July 2002 to refuse
food aid from the USA because it contained GM seed brought these issues to
a head. Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have since
accepted America's offer, on the condition that the food is milled
beforehand - which will cut its storage life from 10 months to three, up
the cost by millions of dollars, and delay shipments (2). Zambia still
rejects the aid outright.
At first glance, it seems outrageous that leaders would allow their people
to go hungry rather than letting them eat GM food. But in the context of
the negative image of GM technology promoted by those who oppose it, such
reactions become more understandable (3).
The European Union is the developing world's largest market for
agricultural exports (4) - and European food retailers increasingly turn
down GM products in favour of non-GM foods, to satisfy what they think is
consumer demand. As a result, African states are concerned that they will
be unable to sell produce to Europe once they let GM into their country.
Developing countries also suspect that using GM technology will make them
dependent on restrictive seed licences. Under TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects
of Individual Property Rights), the World Trade Organisation's agreement
on patents, farmers who grow GM crops have to buy them anew each year.
This hasn't stopped farmers worldwide from going over to GM, since it is
cheaper, and safer, for them to pay the licence fee than to remain reliant
on pesticides and herbicides to protect their crops.
But poor nations lack both the finances and the resources to adapt GM
technology to their own needs, let alone to negotiate and pay for the
patent rights. Various studies have pointed to the potential benefits of
GM for developing nations (5), but almost every aspect of the new
technology has already been patented by one of the big seed companies.
Maybe one solution, if the developing world is to make the most of GM, is
to make the technology more readily available. This is already the case
with Golden Rice - a rice variety bred to help combat vitamin A
deficiency. This deficiency blinds 500,000 children in over 70 countries
every year. Even mild vitamin A deficiency weakens the immune system,
making children more susceptible to measles and other infections which, in
the developing world, can be fatal.
Yet Golden Rice is attacked because it is funded by big food companies;
because it only contains one essential vitamin instead of all of them;
because it will contain only 20% of the adult recommended daily allowance,
or alternatively so much that children could suffer overdoses; and because
it provides an alternative source of vitamin A instead of traditional
plant sources, which apparently threatens biodiversity (6).
Golden Rice is being bred to contain enough beta-carotene to provide a
useful vitamin A supplement for malnourished children - just as milk,
butter, margarine and breakfast cereals, all fortified with vitamins A and
D, have done for children in wealthy countries for decades (7).
Critics of Golden Rice recommend that instead, third world families should
grow and eat more green vegetables, and use vitamin supplements as a cheap
source of vitamin A. But dark green vegetables supply beta-carotene, the
precursor of vitamin A, in a form which is poorly metabolised by the body.
And while vitamin supplementation programs are relatively easy and cheap
to initiate, in practice they often fail to reach children in the
developing world after the first year of life.
When Golden Rice finally gets a commercial release in 2007, it will come
free to all those in the developing countries who earn less than $10,000 a
year. 'We are aiming the benefits of Golden Rice at the poorest of the
poor who cannot get anything other than rice, green chillies and salt, if
at all', says Dr CK Rao, of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education in Bangalore. The seed cost $2.6million to develop, and it will
cost a further $10million to adapt it to local conditions (8), which, in
the grand scheme of things, is not a huge amount of money.
Golden Rice is the best known of the 'second generation' of GM crops.
Unlike FlavrSavr tomatoes and other early attempts to recoup the cost of
development by targeting wealthy consumers, several laboratories are now
concentrating on improved subsistence crops that will grow in soil that is
too parched, salty, high in aluminium or otherwise infertile to grow very
much. And as the technology develops, more possibilities are discovered.
The banana, which scientists recently claimed could become extinct within
10 years because it is 'genetically decrepit', could be saved by producing
a new GM variety.
There are other possibilities in the pipeline: a gene with tolerance to
the aluminium toxicity that can increase yields by over 30 percent; a GM
rice variety resistant to the tungro virus; blight-resistant potato
varieties bred in Peru; virus-resistant sweet potatoes in Kenya, and so on
(9). Now, stung by criticism and concerned for their image, some companies
are offering to relax restrictions on patents to those who most need them
(10). This could be good news for poor countries. Those who want to see
the developing world actually develop should demand more of this, and more
public funding for biotechnology.
Too often, GM is caricatured as a useless gimmick dreamed up to increase
market share for corporations. Yet considering the untapped possibilities
of this new science, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that critics of GM
are missing the point.
(1) World planting of biotech crops up 12 pct in 2002, Reuters, 17 January
(2) Southern Africa Food Crisis Update, Oxfam America, 30 September 2002
(3) British fears guide African food policies, Washington Times, 13
(4) THE DEAD HAND, TechCentral Station, 11 November 2002
(5) UN Human Development Report 2001
(6) GE Vitamin 'A' Rice: A Blind Approach to Blindness Prevention, Vandana
Shiva 14 Feb 2000; Grains of delusion: Golden rice seen from the ground
(7) Vitamin A Deficiency Disorders: Origins of the Problem and Approaches
to Its Control by Alfred Sommer, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School
of Public Health
(8) Centre for Development Research, University of Bonn
(9) Nuffield Council on Bioethics; Public-private partnerships in modern
biotechnology, SciDevNet (10) Seven Scientific Academies Support GM Crops
[reproduced on AgBioWorld], The Times (London) 12 July 2000; GM rice
patents given away
Listen to the Schmeiser v. Chapman Debate Online
Steve Zind's guests debate the issues surrounding the science of
biotechnology. Ontario farmer and activist Percy Schmeiser and Ben
Chapman, a researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, exchange
viewpoints on the benefits and dangers of genetically modified food.
Genetically Engineered Plants that Recognize Bio Attack
- Marcel Falk, Checkbiotech.org, February 21, 2003
Fort Collins - Plants that lose their color, when sensing chemical signals
is what biologists from the Colorado State University are developing for
multiple future uses.
Dr. Reddy and Dr. June Medford, both professors of biology at Colorado
State University, have teamed up to investigate the possibility of
producing plants that would lose their green color, when they come into
contact with specific chemical signals. The main element in plants that
is responsible for their green color is chlorophyll. As seasons change,
plants can regulate the production of chlorophyll. In the fall, many
plants will stop producing chlorophyll in preparation for the loss of
As a model plant for their investigation, Professors Medford and Reddy
will use Arabidopsis, or Thale cress, because the genome of Arabidopsis
has already been entirely sequenced. Thus, using the Arabidopsis will
allow the professors to have access to a wealth of genetic information,
which will decrease the time it takes to finish the project.
In Arabidopsis, there are two main genes that are responsible for the
break down of chlorophyll, which in turn cause the plant to lose its green
color. The research groups of Dr. Medford and Reddy will seek to
overproduce these enzymes in Arabidopsis plants, with the hopes of
speeding up the time it takes the plant to degrade chlorophyll. In
addition, the groups will introduce a gene that will have an end effect of
blocking the production of new chlorophyll. Commenting on the goal of
using this three gene approach Dr. Reddy said, "In this way we hope that
the plant loses its color in hours ˝ instead of days like in the natural
The third part of the project involves the triggering mechanism for the
system. The plan is to couple the three decolorizing genes to receptors
that can sense either a plant or animal hormone and act as the systems
trigger. After all these components are introduced into Arabidopsis, Dr.
Reddy noted, "When we spray the plant (Arabidopsis) with a plant hormone
or estrogen, it will hopefully loose its green color."
The team has set the goal of developing the plant defense cascade in
Arabadopsis within the next 18 months. For this period, the researchers
have recently received a grant of nearly 500,000 dollars from Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency. To make use of the plants sentinels in
our daily life, the researchers also plan to create new receptor
triggering systems that will recognize hazardous chemicals such as,
toxins, gases and environmental pollutants. Commenting on some future
options Dr. Reddy said, "The Toll-like receptor, a receptor that
recognizes flagellar protein from Salmonella, is similar to the one for
brassinosteroids, like estrogen."
He wants to take the outer part of the Toll-like receptor, and fuse it to
parts of receptors involved in triggering the plant defence cascade, so
that the system can recognize the flagellar protein from Salmonella.
Dr. Reddy also believes receptors recognizing other biological and
chemical hazards could be used as soon as they have established a working
model in Adabidopsis. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, these early
warning plants offer an inexpensive alternative to existing devices. Such
plants could be kept in offices, mass-transit stations and shopping
centers, for example, to help alert individuals of a bioterrorist attack.
Other possibilities with this innovative technology include using algae
and plants to monitor water pollution -- be it through bioterrorist means
or through hazardous wastes from industries and cities. Dr. Reddy also
noted that outdoor evergreen plants, with similar artificial circuits,
could be monitored by satellite as early detection systems and as
Although the project has a time frame of 18 months, Dr Reddy cautions
that, "An inexpensive warning system may be 10 to 15 years off. Right now,
we are doing the proof-of-principle studies."
Shanthu and Bt Cotton Comment
- Alex Avery
>> Shanthu Shantharam wrote: "considering the fact the Mahyco Bt cotton
>varieties were just commercialized last April and only one or two
>pickings have taken place, the authors and the company should have waited
>for another two more years (the duration of current commercialisation
>authorization) and collect statistically meaningful data and carry out
>rigorous analysis to stake out a claim on the performance of Bt cotton."
Great, I'm assuming that if Shanthu feels one can't make any POSITIVE
conclusions from the field trials from 157 locations or "only" one or two
years of actual farmer experience, then he is of the opinion that one
can't make any NEGATIVE conclusions yet either.
So, I'm expecting that Shanthu will publically denounce the BS claims of
Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology that Bt
cotton has shown worse yields and more pests than conventional varieties.
The bottom line is that the results are consistent with farmer experiences
all over the world, over many years of real-world use. Bt cotton is
incredibly effective and is well worth the investment in higher seed costs
in areas where pest pressures are high and pesticide resistance is a
problem. It's even cost effective in areas where pest pressures are only
modest. Moreover, it is a scale-neutral technology which offers particular
benefits to small-holder farmers (not to mention the benefits to farmers
trapped in regions notorious for sales of bogus, adulterated,
non-effective pesticide formulations, such as India.)
- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues
Re: "Bishop's Gambit on GMOs"
- Fred Mathisen
Dear Sir, In AgBioView: February 18, 2003, in the article "Bishop's
Gambit on GMOs", it states:
>> "...from the experience of South African cotton farmers. Between the
>adopters and the non-adopters, the latter's yield was 40 percent more
>than the former's; the seed requirement was 19 percent lower, the yield
>per kg of seed planted was 91 percent higher, the pesticide cost was 36
>percent lower. True, seed costs were 68 percent higher, but the bottom
>line shows a gross margin that was 58 percent higher."
Surely "former" and "latter" have been accidentally transposed, otherwise
South African farmers who used conventional rather than GM cotton
benefited from higher yields, lower seed requirements, and lower pesticide
costs, although non-GM seed costs were 68% higher.
Am I missing something?
- Best regards, Fred Mathisen, Head of Crop Protection Research, Wood
Mackenzie, Edinburgh UK
Question on 'Genetic Contamination' of the Organic Farms
>>Question from Alex Avery: Question for the legal beagles out there:
>> How the organic farmers can sue for so-called "genetic contamination,"
>> which is essentially based on a zero-tolerance standard for DNA
>> "contamination" -- a standard that is far, far below 1% -- when in all
- Stan Benda
While I can't comment specifically on the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate
v Monsanto case, for some limited insight I draw your attention to the
Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee Report 2002 on Higher Life
Forms, in particular p. 17, Liability for damages: http://cbac-cccb.ca
- Robert Derham
In Response to Alex Avery's legal question - Being a researcher, and
having a step-father that has his own law firm, we have often talked about
this issue. What really sparked our conversations was the advent of the
"anti-freeze" tomato. Upon this development, he asked me several question
about the intrinsic nature of a genome and how it is acted upon by other
cellular elements. His first question was if a gene from a fish is any way
unique from other genes in a tomato. I explained how genes have conserved
regions that can be found through many different live forms, so that all
though some genes where unique, it doesn't mean that another organism
doesn't have that same sequence.
I related these conserved regions to a suffix or prefix, such as -tion,
pre, etc. He quickly grasped the suffix and prefix analogy, but what
interested him most was that the sequence that coded for the "anti-freeze"
capability of the fish, could possibly be found somewhere already on the
tomato genome, or for that matter in another organism.
This then led to a discussion (that took a good portion of the night)
regarding start and stop signals, histone placement, and other factors
that determine whether or not a sequence of DNA can even be used. So in
the end, he came to understand that just because a sequence of DNA exist,
does not constitue that it will actually be used. At times I wished the
freshmen level biology students that I used to teach could have grasped
the concepts as well as he did.
His next question was if it was possible that a tomato could at some time
acquire that same gene from the fish, or similar enough, so that it
produced the same protein. I explain how transposons work, genetic
mutations, a little about recombination events, and how the environment
can help influence a selection towards a tomato that has the ability to
better withstand frost or very cold temperatures--and yes, possibly the
So based on: one, that the tomato may already have an identical, or
similar enough sequence to produce the same protein somewhere on its
genome, and two, that plants continue to lose and acquire new genes due to
transpositions event, genetic mutations, and recombination, along with
other events, he was confident that any good law firm would win the case,
if not have it dismissed.
--Robert Derham, Checkbiotech; email@example.com
A Half Century of Denial: Watson, Commoner and DNA
Thomas DeGregori, , AgBioView, FEb 20, 2003;
In recognizing 2003 as the year of the 50th anniversary of the
Watson/Crick articles in Nature (April 25th and May 30th) in which they
"suggested" a structure for DNA, it is also the year of the 50th
anniversary of Watson's 1st presentation of the double helix to an
American audience at Cold Springs Harbor in June of 1953.
In the various histories of molecular biology and the discovery of the
structure of DNA, one looks almost in vain for the name of Barry Commoner,
DNA guru-in-chief of the anti-biotech forces. One says "almost in vain"
since various accounts do mention his being at Cold Springs Harbor in
terms of his stated opposition to the Watson/Crick thesis. The latest such
reference can be found in Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution
by Victor K. McElheny, (Cambridge, MA.: Perseus Publishing, 2003), pages
"The biologist Barry Commoner, who had also been working on DNA, came up
to Jim to question the double-helix idea. A lifelong mutual dislike began
when Jim told Commoner that his recent DNA studies were `hopelessly wide
of the mark.' Maurice Wilkins had told Jim that Commoner was a `fool [who]
didn't understand anything he was saying' and so 'I told him that.' Jim
recalled Commoner as 'the only one who didn't like it'."
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor, University of Houston
From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution
- Bologna, Italy, May 28 to 31, 2003;
Fifty years after the discovery of the structure of DNA, our progress in
manipulating genes and unravelling their functions has been enormous and
the consequences, for better or for worse, far-reaching. In the past
decades, the application of sound genetic principles coupled with modern
agronomic practices have fuelled the green revolution, which brought food
to millions of people in many developing countries.
Yet, famine, malnutrition and poverty are far from being eradicated.
Additionally, the application of the intensive agronomic practices which
have made possible the green revolution are often incompatible with the
long-term sustainability of the agricultural systems. Agro-biotechnology
and the knowledge generated by basic research can provide innovative
solutions for these problems.
This Conference will bring together the architects of the green revolution
and a number of pioneers of modern plant biotechnology who have laid the
foundations for the gene revolution and have mastered the tools to harness
its potential. Cutting-edge technologies will be critically assessed for
their value in identifying valuable alleles and in manipulating such
alleles with indirect (e.g. marker-assisted selection) and/or direct (e.g.
genetic engineering) approaches.
The controversy surrounding transgenic crops is unprecedented, and the
debate on the benefits and risks of GM crops remains unsettled. Wrong
information and misunderstanding have sparked, particularly in Europe,
deep concerns and irrational fears towards GMOs, with negative
repercussions on the public's confidence toward the scientific community
as well as on the advancement of research in this area. Speakers from
different countries will illustrate the present status, opportunities and
future perspectives of public and private research in plant biotechnology.
A number of panel discussions will provide ample opportunities for
confronting different views and for debating to what extent in the future
it may be possible to benefit from the merits of biotechnology while
avoiding the shortcomings.
From Plant Breeding News: (To subscribe to PBN-L: Send a blank e-mail
message to )
Options for Accessing Technologies
Designing policies and procedures to ensure that public science has
sufficient freedom to operate is a major concern of developing and
developed countries. Freedom to operate will be crucial for public and
nonprofit agencies' intent on developing improved seed varieties and other
technologies destined for commercial release. So say Carol Nottenburg,
Philip Pardey, and Brian Wright in a brief (January 2003) entitled
"Accessing other people's technology," published by the International Food
Policy Research Institute. Nottenburg and colleagues enumerate several
options for nonprofit institutes seeking patent protection like the 16
centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR). These include:
Cross-licensing. Through a material trust agreement, recipients of
in-trust material distributed by research centers like those of the CGIAR
agree not to seek intellectual property (IP) protection on the material. A
possible model is where a center offers a material to another institution
at no cost in exchange for access to information about subsequent
discoveries and zero-cost non-exclusive research licenses.
Research-Only Licenses. This license does not permit commercialization. If
the project succeeds, then the bargaining for permission to commercialize
commences. Despite refusal to allow commercialization, the intellectual
property rights holder gains valuable information about the technology and
its downstream applications.
Market Segmentation Strategies. Developing countries can get the new
technology for free, and proprietary claims are enforced in developed
countries. Markets for IP can also be segregated based on fields of use,
certain claims of a patent, limitations to specific uses of the
technology, research use versus commercialization, or restrictions on
third-party services. Mergers of Joint Ventures. Mergers and
privatizations of previously public research agencies minimize the private
costs of transactions in intellectual property. Joint ventures are a more
flexible alternative where private sector companies get into joint
ventures with public sector for specific activities.
Other options include direct programmatic research support from the
private sector; patent pools; clearinghouse mechanisms; independent
development of research tools; and pressure for sharing of technology.
The Brief ends with a note that "guiding changes in intellectual property
regimes and responding creatively to the new environment are pressing
challenges for those interested in the future of scientific research,
including agricultural biotechnology." The full paper is available at
From Crop Biotech Net: http://www.isaaa.org/kc/
Just How Far are Bananas from Extinction?
INIBAP, Montpellier, 21 January 2003 The world's most popular fruit and a
basic staple food for hundreds of millions of people in the developing
world the banana is under severe threat from virulent pests and diseases.
An article in the 16 January edition of the New Scientist magazine has
warned of the risk of shoppers finding the shelves empty when they go to
buy their weekly bunch. Articles and broadcasts from around the world have
followed with alarming and sometimes exaggerated stories of extinction.
While this helps to raise awareness of the importance of bananas in the
world and the threats faced by banana farmers, it is important not to lose
sight of the facts and to point to the positive progress that researchers
are making to address these challenges.
The New Scientist article focussed on concerns over the spread of a new
form of Panama disease (Fusarium wilt) - known as race 4 - which is
threatening the Cavendish variety, the world's major export banana. The
disease has spread through plantations in Australia, South Africa and
parts of Asia. It is only a matter of time before race 4 reaches the hub
of commercial production in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Cavendish took over as the No. 1 dessert banana in the 1960s from the
Gros Michel, a variety that had dominated world markets until it fell prey
to an earlier form of Panama disease. So fears are justified.
Cavendish bananas are already under attack from another fungal disease,
black Sigatoka, but are protected commercially by as many as 40 sprayings
a year of fungicide. The sprayings are not only expensive, making up a
quarter of production costs, but present a serious risk to workers and a
threat to the environment.
Unlike black Sigatoka, which attacks leaves, race 4 is a soil-borne fungus
that attacks roots and cannot be controlled by fungicides. If race 4
reaches the commercial plantations, it is likely to wipe out Cavendish
just as the earlier disease eradicated Gros Michel. The only option is to
find another variety that resists race 4.
While the loss of the Cavendish would hurt consumers in developed
countries, diseases have an even more severe impact on other types of
banana, of which there are more than 500 varieties. Banana exports make up
just 13% of world production. The other 87% represents bananas that never
leave the country where they are produced. In the developing world banana
is the most important food in terms of production value after rice, wheat
and maize. Most banana farmers subsist on very limited margins and cannot
afford the expensive chemicals to keep diseases in check. Epidemic
diseases that attack these bananas undermine the very roots of food and
income security for millions of people in the developing world. New
resistant varieties are needed urgently.
What makes it difficult to breed new, improved varieties is that
cultivated bananas are sterile and do not have seeds. They are propagated
as suckers, or shoots, which arise from the base of the plant underground.
There is no easy way to cross one variety with another. It is only in the
past 10 years, after more than 80 years of research, that improved
varieties acceptable for large-scale production have been made available.
Only five scientists, globally, are presently working to breed improved
bananas. Such a meagre research effort is decidedly out of proportion to
the scale and importance of the problem. But currently there is alarmingly
little investment in banana research compared to the global significance
of the crop. This must be reversed if the world's most popular fruit, an
important survival food for families in the tropics, is not to decline
With the progress already made, if we can mobilise new and significant
investment, there is every reason to believe that the banana will provide
food and income security for those families for many years to come
French Activist Bove Seeks Jail Pardon from Chirac
- Sybille de La Hamaide , Reuters France, Feb 21, 2003
Paris - French radical farmer Jose Bove, who became a worldwide celebrity
for his fight against junk food and globalisation, is at the centre of a
new battle - for a presidential pardon to save him spending over a year in
In a letter sent this week to President Jacques Chirac, eight French
unions, including Bove's Confederation Paysanne, begged the French leader
to pardon Bove for ransacking fields of genetically modified crops in a
protest several years ago.
The unions say Bove's attacks on test fields of GM maize and rice in 1998
and 1999, which earned the activist a 14-month jail sentence, should not
be considered vandalism but a union attempt to express farmers' opposition
to GM crops. "This action had a global impact because it echoed legitimate
worries among citizens over the globalisation of our economies. The world
saw France and the French as the defender of a certain idea of mankind, of
environment," they wrote.
The walrus-moustachioed, pipe-smoking Bove, sometimes dubbed France's
Robin Hood, spent six weeks in jail last year for smashing up a McDonald's
restaurant in protest at tariffs imposed by the United States in
retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of North American
hormone-treated beef. In their letter to Chirac, unions said jailing Bove
for his GM crop protest would soil his image as a concerned citizen
voicing worries that were shared by people across the world.
Although France's highest court threw out Bove's appeal in November, a
court in the southern city of Montpellier is due to decide at the end of
February when he must serve his 14-month sentence. Only a presidential
pardon can stop him going to jail.
While GM crops are common in the United States, France and other European
nations remain highly suspicious of them. Opinion polls show widespread
public resistance to the technology. Supporters say it could lead to hardy
strains to help feed the world's poor. Opponents say they could harm
humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified
Bove's mercy plea is backed by many. In January, a group of French actors,
scientists and politicians destroyed a test field of GM rapeseed near
Paris in support of the activist. Bove told Reuters more than half a
million people from France and abroad had written letters to Chirac on his
behalf. "I myself have never asked the president for anything but some
600,000 people have sent letters on my behalf. The debate is now
political. It's up to the president to decide," he said.
Science for African Food Security
- Gordon Conway and Gary Toenniessen, Science, Vol. 299, No. 5610, Feb 21,
003, pp.1187-1188. Excepts below.. Full paper and references at
In Sub-Saharan Africa (hereafter, Africa) agriculture provides about 70%
of employment, 40% of exports, and one-third of GNP. Two-thirds of the
region's 615 million people live on small-scale, low-productivity farms.
Often, the food a family can produce plus the food they can afford to
purchase is insufficient. As a result, 194 million Africans, most of them
children, are undernourished.
These people lack "food security"; they do not have access at all times to
enough food to lead active, healthy lives. Their numbers will increase as
food production per capita in most African countries continues a
decade-long decline, reflecting rapid population growth (averaging nearly
3% annually) and low yields. The latter results from depletion rates for
soil nutrients that far exceed replenishment and crop losses caused by
pests, diseases, and abiotic stresses .
Africa does not produce enough food to feed itself even with equitable
distribution. Food aid to Africa--currently running at 3.23 million tons
annually--helps prevent starvation but can create dependency.
Hunger is, to be sure, largely a consequence of poverty, but income gains
depend on improving farm productivity. Agricultural development is
necessary for economic and social development, here as elsewhere. The
question is: what kind of agricultural production? Most African farmers
have land assets adequate to provide food security and to rise above
subsistence. To do so they need to intensify production with genetic and
agro-ecological technologies that require only small amounts of additional
labor and capital. This has to be sustainable in both economic and
We call the development and extension of this type of agriculture a
"Doubly Green Revolution". It combines elements of ecological agriculture
with crop varieties designed to perform well under low-input conditions
and uses inorganic inputs very judiciously. "Farmer-participatory methods"
enable farmers themselves to analyze and define their needs and to adapt
the resulting varieties and agronomic practices to their own conditions in
the great diversity of local microenvironments that prevail in Africa (7).
Low soil fertility and minimal use of fertilizer limited her potential
harvest to only about 2 tons. African farmers pay the highest fertilizer
prices in the world--whether in U.S. dollars or grain equivalents . Prices
in Western Kenya are $400/ton of urea versus $90/ton in Europe. On
average--and many use none at all--African farmers use fertilizer at only
10 kg/ha, whereas European farmers use over 200 kg/ha.
There are three principal lessons from this story. First, farmers need
access to affordable inputs, including seeds and fertilizers, and to
output markets for their products. This applies to food and cash crops,
including those for export. Fair trade, with the industrialized countries
providing market access for farm products of developing countries, is
essential if African farmers are to rise above subsistence levels.
Second, science and technology can make a difference in African
agriculture. Indigenous knowledge is important, as is the accumulated
knowledge of expert breeders, soil scientists, and extension workers. Even
problems that are new or were long thought intractable can be solved using
Third, the costs of developing these technologies are low. The annual
budget of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
that supports 16 research centers (including CIAT, ICRAF, CIMMYT, and
IITA) is about $350 million. Their work, conducted in partnership with
national scientists, advanced laboratories, local NGOs, seed companies,
and farmers themselves, is having real impact.
With such partnerships in place, there is reason for optimism. Still, much
more needs to be done. African leaders need to re-establish their strong
commitment to agricultural research and development. The donor community,
including the World Bank and wealthy countries, needs to make a
decade-long commitment of sustained support. And, advanced research
institutes and private corporations need to be more proactive in sharing
knowledge, skills, and research materials with African colleagues. Only
then can we be reasonably confident that the food security now attained by
Mrs. Namurunda's family will be achieved by small-scale farming families
all across Africa.