Today in AgBioView: April 14, 2003:
* Deploying the Full Arsenal: Fighting Hunger with Biotechnology
* Response to Mae-Wan Ho on Horizontal Gene transfer
* Letter: GM not on pests' menu
* Urban Britain disconnected from food roots - survey
* EU sees marked decrease in GM crop field trials
* Re: Crop improvement: a dying breed
* New Challenges, New Failures The U.N.
* Brazil tests GM orange tree against "sudden death"
* House tries to halt local food labeling
* Lobby wants science, not consumers to decide
Deploying the Full Arsenal: Fighting Hunger with Biotechnology
The full text of the paper "Deploying the Full Arsenal: Fighting Hunger
with Biotechnology" by Peter Lacy, (AIS Review - Volume 23, Number 1,
Winter-Spring 2003 http:/muse.jhu.edu) can now be downloaded on our site
ica and elsewhere in the developing world face famine.
Opponents of biotechnology argue that if foreign aid has failed to end
hunger, then ODA budgets must be increased and refocused on grassroots
development; if trade liberalization has not solved the problem, then more
is required, or it must go hand in hand with better governance; where
investment has come up short, then it must be replaced by
better-structured investment projects; and if multilateral cooperation has
failed, then these efforts must be redoubled. If governments around the
world addressed distribution bottlenecks, corruption, bad domestic
policies, and internal strife, etc. vigorously and creatively, then hunger
would be a thing of the past.
All of this may be true. But can we afford to wait for such ideal results,
which have yet to, and may never, be realized? If current methods have
failed to feed six billion, we must use all available tools -- deploy the
full arsenal -- if we are somehow to feed almost twice that number.
Developing countries need many things: improvements in infrastructure,
credit for small farmers, development that targets women, stable societies
and economic policies, anti-corruption policies, medical assistance,
technology transfers, and greater and better aid, trade, investment, and
cooperation from developed countries. Eradicating hunger will require
fighting on all of these fronts simultaneously.
Agricultural biotechnology is an essential tool with immense potential to
help developing countries improve crop yields and productivity, safely
provide a broader array of more nutritious foods at lower costs, reduce
harvest losses, and create higher and more stable rural incomes. And it
can do this while also using less land and less water in production,
improving pest control methods, reducing dependence on chemical
fertilizers, and providing other environmental benefits. With such a
powerful array of proven and potential benefits, biotechnology, if
deployed, could lead to an agricultural revolution more dramatic than the
Green Revolution, and potentially make the difference in waging a
successful war on hunger.
The paper by Peter G. Lacy, "Deploying the Full Arsenal: Fighting Hunger
with Biotechnology," reviews modern efforts to fight hunger and the
projected future of the problem. What does biotechnology have to offer in
response to this situation and what are the major obstacles to its
deployment? The paper explores ways to overcome these obstacles, arguing
that while traditional efforts should be continued, biotechnology's
potential to make a safe, meaningful contribution to fighting hunger is
too significant to be overlooked .....
FULL TEXT AT
Response to Mae-Wan Ho on Horizontal Gene transfer
By Roger Morton, molecular biologist
Dr Ho seizes on any research that shows that horizontal gene transfer
happens and then asserts that the dangers of this occurring are greater
with GM plants than with conventionally bred plants. She bases this
assertion on her belief that transgenic DNA exhibits behaviors inherently
different from non-transgenic DNA. As I will show - at no time does she
ever present any credible evidence to support this belief .......
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT
Letter: GM not on pests' menu
Independent on Sunday
April 13, 2003 4:23pm
Your "Pests that grew faster eating GM cabbage" (30 March) omitted one
fact: at no point was any GM plant part of the study referred to. In fact,
the study has more relevance to organic farming. Perhaps that's why the
scientist leading the work (Professor Denis Wright at Imperial College)
was not asked to give his interpretation of the results.
Over the next few months the Government is promoting a debate to assess
the possible risks and benefits of GM crops. This wide-ranging review
relies on accurate information.
All farming systems carry risks which need to be communicated
appropriately and in context, otherwise benefits may never become part of
the equation. GM cotton, for example, has offered farmers in Australia and
China tremendous benefits both environmental and economic; Australia's
cotton industry would not have survived without it.
New technology often causes difficulties for some people: if we had not
persevered with pasteurisation processes we would today be facing much
greater risks than those to which we are exposed when we enjoy dairy
products. And had we been influenced by the riots when vaccination for
smallpox was introduced, vast numbers would have died a horrible death.
Dr Guy Poppy
School of Biological Sciences
University of Southampton
Urban Britain disconnected from food roots - survey
14 Apr 2003
LONDON, April 14 (Reuters) - Urban Britain has never been more
disconnected from its rural roots, with most Britons having lost touch
with where their food comes from, a survey published on Monday showed.
The study, which comes at the start of a new campaign to reconnect people
with the countryside, showed that nearly 90 percent of people do not know
that beer is made from barley, one fifth did not know that yoghurt comes
from milk, while more than one in 10 people think that rice is grown in
Some two thirds of people don't know sugar is grown from beet in the UK,
more than a third don't realise cherries are grown in Britain and nearly
one in 10 were unaware that tomatoes and onions were grown there, the
survey of 1,000 people found.
The study also found that less than one in 10 people know that British
farmers grow most of the food eaten in the UK.
The campaign "Care of British Farming," launched by a several groups,
including farm lobby the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Country
Land and Business Association, will invite city dwellers to visit the
countryside and make better-informed choices about food.
Farming issues have also slipped down the agenda of popular British radio
and television programmes such as "The Archers" and "Emmerdale," which are
nowadays more focused on soap opera fare such as human relationships.
Speaking on behalf of the campaign, NFU Director-General Richard Macdonald
said he hoped the campaign would help people connect with their rural
"In today's world, the basic facts on food production and the countryside
are no longer handed down from generation to generation," he said.
"This campaign is about helping people to reconnect with their rural roots
and develop a greater appreciation of things that were once instinctive to
us," he added.
Reconnecting farmers with their markets was a central theme in Britain's
sustainable food and farming plan, launched late last year to help
agriculture back to profitability in the wake of plummeting incomes in a
string of livestock disasters, including foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.
Monday's survey was carried out in March by Taylor Nelson Sofres research
EU sees marked decrease in GM crop field trials
The number of field-based trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in the
EU has fallen by around 80 per cent since 1998, a new Commission study has
The survey, carried out by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute in
Karlsruhe, the Institute for prospective technological studies in Seville,
and Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, concluded that the main cause for
the sharp decline was the unclear legal situation surrounding GM products
Around 22 per cent of respondents cited legal uncertainties as the main
reason for having cancelled GM crop research projects. Much of this
uncertainty was due to the EU wide moratorium on new authorisations of GM
products that is currently still in place, said the authors of the study.
Other reasons given by companies and public research bodies for shelving
projects were a generally low acceptance of GM products among the
population of Europe, and an uncertain future commercial market for such
The survey results also show that large and financially secure
multinational companies are most active in this area, and are behind 65
per cent of all field trials. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)
only account for 6 per cent of total field trial activity, with the
remaining portion being carried out by public research bodies,
universities and other institutions.
Despite the greatly reduced levels of GM crop research in the last five
years, the study's authors noted that a large number of GM products are
currently in the pipeline and awaiting trials. With the recent
introduction of new EU laws on the labelling and traceability of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the researchers are expecting to
see a surge in EU field trials.
On the subject of a separate EU GMO regulation, one covering their
deliberate release into the environment, the European Commission warned 12
Member States on 10 April that they had missed the deadline for
transposing the directive into national law.
France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland,
Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Finland all failed to meet an agreed
deadline of 17 October 2002 for adopting the new measures, which include
guidelines on environmental risk assessment and requirements to
communicate information to the public.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrφm said: 'I urge Member States to
quickly bring their national legislation into line with the new agreed EU
framework for regulating the release of GMOs into the environment.'
For details of the GM crop field trial study, please consult the following
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: Crop improvement: a dying breed
It is not just crop breeding that is declining. China appears to be the
only country that is increasing it's investment in agricultural research.
While I haven't checked the numbers, from observation I would make a
substantial wager that in terms of 1960 dollars we are spending a great
deal less public money on ag research today than we did then. A
researchers worth is measured in the dollars he can bring in and more and
more is coming from industry. It appears to me to be more like consulting
work than research in many cases. I also see a lot of people using their
research at the university to build a businesses for themselves and not
contributing much to body of knowledge. Once they find a cow they just
milk it instead of breeding better cows. At the rate we are going the
private sector are the only ones that are going to be left breeding crops
unless there is a turnaround in funding. While farming only represents a
little over 1% of the population it is the point of the pyramid that one
of the biggest industries in the country rests on. Unfortunately people
have lost touch with agriculture and think food comes from the grocery
store. I hate to think what would happen to at third grade teacher that
took a class on a tour of a slaughter house in operation today as mine did
The US has the best Ag research system in the world but at the time
agriculture is facing it greatest challenges we are making big cut backs
on research. It's a good thing that private industry is there to pick up
the slack. I can understand their motivations and they are efficient at
what they do. We just need to be sure there are enough of them that they
can't corner the market because I don't think we will reverse the trend in
reducing funds to agricultural research.
I know none of the farmers that farm my land are buying anything but GM
cotton seed because I get the bill for my share of the tech fee on the BT
gene. When Round Up Ready wheat becomes available I expect they will
quickly go to that as well to control cheat and wild oats. I don't know
what they would pay for RR alfalfa but it would be a lot because it would
increase the life of a hay meadow several years.
Rather than bemoan the commercial breeder we better be thankful they are
there to do the work the public no longer funds.
Gordon Couger www.couger.com/gcouger
New Challenges, New Failures The U.N.
National Review Online
April 11, 2003
By Henry I. Miller & Gregory Conko
The way in which scientific endeavors are pursued globally is marked by
clear inequalities, said United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a
recent editorial. Noting that developing countries spend much less on
scientific research and produce fewer scientists, Annan warned that this
unbalanced distribution creates problems for both the scientific community
in developing countries and for development itself. He further urged
scientists and scientific institutions around the world to resolve this
inequity and bring the benefits of science to all.
How humanitarian. How enlightened. How hypocritical.
In fact, for a large portion of the world's population, the U.N.'s wanton
sacrifice of science and technology in the name of its own bureaucratic
self-interest creates significant obstacles to innovation in
less-developed countries. In particular, the U.N.'s involvement in
excessive, unscientific biotechnology regulation will slow agricultural
research and development, promote environmental damage, and bring famine
and water shortages to millions in developing countries.
The secretary general has proved again that talk is cheap.
Three years ago in Montreal, delegates to the U.N.-sponsored Convention on
Biological Diversity negotiated a "biosafety protocol" for the regulation
of the international movement of gene-spliced organisms. It was based on
the bogus "precautionary principle," which dictates that every new
technology including, in the case of gene-splicing, an improvement over
less precise technologies must be proven safe before it can be used. An
ounce of prevention is certainly desirable, but because nothing can be
proved totally safe at least, not to the standard demanded by many
regulators the precautionary principle sets up enormous obstacles to the
development of new products.
Precautionary regulation shifts the burden of proof from the regulator
(who once had to demonstrate that a new technology was likely to cause
some harm) to the innovator (who now must demonstrate that it won't).
Under this new standard of evidence, regulatory bodies are free to
arbitrarily require whatever amount and kind of testing they wish.
Thus, rather than creating a uniform, predictable, and scientifically
sound framework for effectively managing legitimate risks, the biosafety
protocol in fact establishes an ill-defined, global regulatory process
that permits overly risk-averse, incompetent, and corrupt regulators to
hide behind the precautionary principle in delaying or deferring
approvals. Examples include a several-year-long moratorium on approvals of
gene-spliced plants throughout Europe, and the rejection of badly needed
food aid by several African countries only because it contains the same
gene-spliced varieties of grain consumed routinely in North America.
Another ongoing example of the U.N.'s malign influence is a task force of
the 165-member Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food-standards
program of the United Nations World Health Organization and Food and
Agriculture Organization, which is moving relentlessly toward limiting
food products made with gene-splicing with various Draconian and even
bizarre regulatory procedures and requirements.
The Europeans want to stop gene-spliced products because the technology
was developed in U.S. labs, commercialized by U.S. companies, and financed
by American capital. They are aided by radical environmental
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are permitted to participate
in Codex meetings and which are ideologically opposed to new technology.
The Codex task force is on its way to codifying various procedures and
requirements more appropriate to potentially dangerous prescription drugs
or pesticides than to gene-spliced tomatoes, potatoes, and strawberries.
These include long-term monitoring for adverse health effects, and
batteries of tests for genetic stability, toxins, allergens, and so on.
This pernicious process will likely be completed in July making still
less available the kind of technology that is essential to less-developed
The prospect of unscientific, overly burdensome Codex standards for
gene-spliced foods is ominous, because members of the World Trade
Organization will, in principle, be required to follow them and because
they will provide cover for unfair trade practices. Jean Halloran, of the
anti-biotech group Consumers International, characterized Codex standards
as a legal defense against WTO challenges to countries that arbitrarily
interfere with trade in biotech foods. "The Codex is important because of
the WTO. If there is a Codex standard, one country cannot file a challenge
[for unfair trade practices] against another country which is following
the Codex standard. But when there is no Codex standard, countries can
challenge each other on anything."
These unscientific regulations and standards actually harm the environment
and public health, stifling the development of environmentally friendly
innovations that could increase agricultural productivity, help clean up
toxic wastes, conserve water, and supplant agricultural chemicals. U.N.
experts themselves have warned that the greatest single threat to the
planet's environment comes from the world's burgeoning population and the
need for ever more land to be brought into food production.
Yet an important solution to these problems developing more productive
plant varieties will inevitably be blocked by the disincentive of
unnecessary regulations on gene-splicing. Morally, this is no different
from permitting the building of an unsafe dam or knowingly administering a
contaminated vaccine. The U.N. and the secretary-general should be
Henry Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was an FDA official
from 1979 to 1994 and is an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the Codex
Alimentarius Commission task force on biotech foods. Gregory Conko is
director of food-safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in
Brazil tests GM orange tree against "sudden death"
April 14, 2003
SAO PAULO, Brazil - A Brazilian genome scientist says his firm is close to
marketing genetically modified orange trees that could save the world's
largest orange crop from destruction by "sudden death" disease.
The disease, now believed to be a human-caused, virulent mutation of an
older plague that wiped out Brazil's orchards in the 1950s, has surfaced
across an area holding about 22 million trees in Brazil's main orange
state of Sao Paulo.
"The idea is to create a tree that is immune to the citrus tristeza virus
(CTV) and sudden death, as if we were creating a human into which the cold
virus could not enter and mutate," Fernando Reinach, the chief executive
officer of Allelyx, told Reuters in a phone interview.
Allelyx, launched in 2001 with $11 million from venture capital fund
Votorantim Ventures, develops biotech solutions for Brazil's orange
"We've created the first round of genetically modified test trees that
should resist the disease," said Reinach, also a former researcher in
Brazil's orange genome project that mapped the genetic code of the CTV
virus and another called Xyllela. "We expect to market them in a year and
Brazil's government says it will uphold a ban on GM but "a disease like
this may soften its position," said Reinach.
Brazil's orange groves account for about one out of two glasses of orange
juice drunk in the world and may see its current groves of 185 million
plus trees wiped out if the sudden death virus is more widespread than
The latest outbreak turned up last week outside the government's
containment area in prime orange country in Sao Paulo, despite attempts to
quarantine infected areas.
VIRUS SOUP RECIPE
After inoculating orange trees with live CTV virus in the past 40 years,
Brazil accidentally bred a new virulent strain of the disease called
"sudden death", Reinach said.
"When you use live virus as a vaccine you create a trap for yourself.
Inevitably you will create virulent mutations," said Reinach. "CTV is like
HIV: it mutates very quickly."
Examinations of orange trees turn up "a soup of viruses - all kinds of
different mutations of the CTV disease," he said.
But, Brazil is not alone in this dilemma.
"In some areas of Florida, growers have encountered a virulent strain of
CTV very similar to sudden death," he said.
In the 1950s, CTV wiped out 90 percent of Brazil's orange crop. It also
spread to other countries such as the United States. The industry-wide
response was to inject a mild, live form of the virus into young trees to
beef up resistance.
CTV and sudden death spread and strangle tree's roots in the same way.
Sudden death, however, kills quickly within a month of the first symptoms,
hence the name. The fruit is fine while the tree is alive and poses no
threat for humans.
"Allelyx compared the genetic code of CTV used as vaccine and sudden death
and found that the latter is a variant of the other," said Reinach.
Sudden death first appeared in 2001 in Brazil but has spread to 14
municipalities, half of which are in Sao Paulo's main orange region. The
rest are to the north in Minas Gerais.
The government announced measures to halt the transport of trees within
the infected region but this may not be enough, as the disease is also
transmitted by little aphid bugs that feed on orange leaves.
"The sudden death incubation period is about two years, so many more trees
may be infected that we don't know about," said Reinach.
House tries to halt local food labeling
If the Senate OKs the bill, cities could not have stricter laws than the
The Associated Press
By PETER PRENGAMAN
April 12, 2003
Hoping to squash any future attempts by local governments to impose their
own food labeling laws, the House on Friday passed a bill to prohibit
labeling requirements more stringent than federal standards.
Backers say the proposal aims to pre-empt efforts like last year's Ballot
Measure 27, which sought to require labeling of genetically modified foods
sold in Oregon.
"Local governments have gone forward with many ideas that go beyond
federal laws," said Rep. Jeff Kropf, a Sublimity Republican who sponsored
the bill. "This pre-emption avoids the crazy quilt and patchwork laws"
that could result if cities came up with their own requirements.
The bill, approved 43-8, now moves to the Senate.
More than a dozen states have adopted their own labeling standards on
certain foods to make up for perceived gaps in the policies of the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration.
Oregon's own open date labeling law, which informs customers how long a
perishable food can be sold as fresh, is tougher than federal standards.
The House bill passed Friday wouldn't ban efforts by the Oregon
Legislature or statewide initiatives to raise standards. It would only
prevent local governments from doing so on their own.
Before the vote, opponents of the bill, all Democrats, argued that the
proposal was a solution looking for a problem.
"What cities are currently doing this?" asked Rep. Floyd Prozanski,
Kropf answered that he wasn't aware of any.
"Then there is no reason to address something that hasn't occurred,"
The food industry spent more than $5 million to defeat Measure 27 last
November, possibly the most ever spent on an Oregon ballot measure.
Groups such as the Oregon Grocery Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau
argued that any added requirements would put state producers at a
Lobby wants science, not consumers to decide
The Western Producer
April 10, 2003
By Barry Wilson
A national lobby group for grain and oilseeds farmers is warning the
federal government against using a market acceptance test or cost-benefit
analysis before genetically modified wheat can be approved for the
Grain Growers of Canada warned the House of Commons agriculture committee
April 3 that any move away from a science-based criterion for new plant
variety approvals could drive biotechnology investment away from Canada
and deprive farmers of the best in variety development.
"Governments must be careful not to take actions today that restrict
farmers' access to these advances," Grain Growers vice-president Don Kenny
Director Don McCabe said any government decision on the approval system
for GM wheat will have to apply to all other varieties as well.
"This fact cannot be forgotten when this issue is discussed," he said.
"GGC members are extremely concerned with the direction proposed by those
calling for changes to Canada's regulatory system."
The grain growers' lobby was taking a stand against a powerful coalition
of growers, marketers and customers that is calling on Ottawa to keep GM
wheat off the market until it is more widely accepted.
The Canadian Wheat Board, bakers and millers and many farm groups have
joined the call for a cost-benefit analysis on GM wheat, arguing its
unrestricted introduction could drive customers away and close markets for
The Ontario Wheat Board, although a Grain Growers' member, supports the
CWB call for an economic analysis, in addition to science-based
acceptance, before a variety can be approved.
The grain growers' lobby, representing Ontario corn producers, Canadian
canola growers, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and western
barley growers, acknowledged there are legitimate industry concerns that
GM wheat could damage markets.
However, rather than a regulatory change toward politics and economics and
away from science, they suggested an "advanced stakeholder review process"
that would allow the variety developer, farmers, consumers, governments,
processors and others with a stake in the debate to decide how a variety
that meets the traditional regulatory tests should be introduced and
"These concerns should be dealt with on a voluntary basis by industry and
not through government regulations or legislation," said McCabe.
The group suggested developers of the varieties, including Monsanto and GM
wheat, would be willing to sign an agreement that the variety would not be
marketed until a committee evaluation had been done and a market impact
Critics suggested this voluntary proposal leaves wary customers with
nothing more than a promise that industry will agree not to market an
unpopular product. The system must offer more guarantees that Canada's
wheat supply is guaranteed free of genetically modified varieties, they
Gordon Harrison, president of the Canadian National Millers' Association,
said his members and the Baking Association of Canada want a stronger
guarantee than an industry promise that GM wheat or other varieties with
market-disrupting potential will not be introduced.
He said many customers of millers demand a written guarantee there is no
GM material. The existing grain handling system cannot guarantee
And developers of new varieties that have been approved through the
traditional variety approval process will want a return on their
He said the protection against unwanted marketing of GM varieties must be
guaranteed by regulation and not left up to the industry.