Today in AgBioView: April 16, 2003:
* Much Mud-slinging Over Bt Cotton
* GM gains ready to be made
* Southern Indian state favors genetically modified food crops
* Two GM reports to be released tomorrow
* Success of Europe's biotech industry depends on cooperation
* Genes & Society Festival
* Activists want to Make City Gm-Free
* ENGINEERED VS. ORGANIC: WHY THE DEBATE?
Much Mud-slinging Over Bt Cotton
Farmers who benefited turn their ire on Gene Campaign chief
By Ravi Shanker Kapoor
April 16, 2003
The presentation of “first ever data” on India’s very first genetically
modified (GM) crop, Bt cotton, was expected to be a usual affair with a
champion of farmers lambasting a usual suspect — a multinational
corporation. Instead, it turned out to be a mud-slinging match between
farmers and their supposed well-wisher, Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a
non-governmental organisation (NGO).
At a presentation organised by Gene Campaign in New Delhi on Tuesday, a
video film was shown. In a slide show, Dr Sahai said there was no
monitoring of Mahyco-Monsanto’s Bt cotton. Nor was there any recording of
data for environmental impact assessment. “What steps has the genetic
engineering approval committee (GEAC) taken to ensure compensation to
farmers for failed Bt cotton?”
She also charged that the GEAC consistently refused to make field data
public. Her analysis of first harvest of Bt cotton was based on a survey
of 100 farmers, three-fourths of whom were from Andhra Pradesh and the
rest from Maharashtra. The survey does admit that this was a drought year
and cotton areas surveyed were largely in rainfed regions.
The profits of farmers, too, have come down for all farmers, Dr Sahai
said. She hastened to add that she is “not for or against GM crops.” She
was just presenting the facts. She did not criticise GM crops
unequivocally, though she did use the adjective “disastrous” in her
comments on GM crops. Criticism was often implied and alluded to.
Her presentation was disputed by more than 20 farmers from Andhra Pradesh.
FE spoke to a number of them. All of them supported Bt cotton, saying it
has increased the yield and their profitability. K Rayap Reddy from Medhak
district said the yield doubled with Bt cotton. Now, the requirement of
pesticides has come down drastically, whereas in non-Bt cotton huge
amounts of pesticides were used.
K Anjeya of Warangal district echoed similar sentiments, as did all
An associate of Dr Sahai alleged that these farmers were sent by Monsanto.
“They are sponsored by Monsanto. It is a conspiracy to malign us.” One of
the farmers vehemently denied the charge, adding that it is Gene Campaign
which has been sponsored by the rival companies of Monsanto.
Others were amused by the trading of charges and counter-charges. Former
finance minister Manmohan Singh, who attended the meeting, was as succinct
as he was guarded in his comment. But he did say that the size of the
sample Gene Campaign took was “small, from which generalisations could not
One of the speakers, S K Raina, a professor in the department of
biotechnology, said that people like Gene Campaign provide checks and
balances in society, which is not a bad thing. Issues pertaining to
environmental degradation and biosafety ought to be brought to the notice
of government, which has an important role to play, he said.
Dr Raina pointed out that Bt cotton is extremely popular in China, with 45
per cent of area under it. In other parts, too, GM crops are very popular.
Although the meeting generated a great deal of heat, and some dirt, it
ended peacefully. The aftermath was a curious spectacle — humble farmers
loitering in the rarefied environs of the India International Centre,
which is normally the habitat of the highbrow and the cognoscenti.
GM gains ready to be made
Weekly Times (Australia)
April 16, 2003
By TREVOR JOHNSTON
DESPITE its resounding success, biotechnology is strongly opposed by
articulate environmentalists such as Greenpeace.
Currently, genetically engineered canola is the attractant.
Overseas "experts" are being ferried around Australia, and meetings
stacked with biased points of view.
Defenders of the technology have been forced to do likewise.
Greenpeace is also conducting a relentless campaign, including postcards
at retail and accommodation outlets, condemning GM canola on the grounds
that "as living organisms, GM crops such as canola can multiply and
contaminate the environment indefinitely."
Greenpeace says GM food "has still not been proven to be safe -- for our
health or for the environment" and is "unnatural, unnecessary and
unwanted," which is contrary to ABARE studies.
ABARE describes genetic modification as the process of transferring the
genetic code for new and useful characteristics from one organism to
another, by methods other than classical breeding, in such a way that it
functions in the receiving species, and is passed on from one generation
to the next.
This process can improve food security by raising crop tolerance to
adverse weather and soil conditions, enhance the adaptability of crops to
different climates, and improve yields, pest resistance and nutrition,
particularly of staple food crops, while concurrently yielding significant
ABARE admits biotechnology has risks, but differs from Greenpeace in
suggesting that the framework for determining benefits and risks must
involve objective analysis, using established scientific and economic
techniques on a case by case basis.
Ironically, productivity gains from transgenic crops have been harvested
almost exclusively by developed countries, yet are of greatest benefit to
rapidly increasing populations in developing countries.
Biotechnology is already used in the production of beer and cheese, yet
few have banned these commodities. In medicine, it also has potential to
enable treatment of previously untreatable diseases, and improve existing
therapies and vaccines.
Components of milk have been patented and produced separately to counter
tooth decay (Recaldent), and research is under way to determine if the
yield, lactation and milk composition of the tammar wallaby can be
reproduced using biotechnology in dairy cows.
Carol Bate, chief executive of the Gardiner Foundation, in Melbourne, says
this could make cow milk even more nutritionally beneficial to humans, or
allow milk to be customised for pharmaceutical purposes. That's enough to
turn Greenpeace white.
Southern Indian state favors genetically modified food crops
April 15, 2003
By S. SRINIVASAN; Associated Press Writer
India should cultivate genetically modified food crops to overcome hunger
and disease despite concerns that they may harm the environment, officials
"It is true that some rich nations in Europe do not like GM food crops.
But then, they are rich and they have the luxury of choice. Poor countries
like us, fighting hard to feed our people, do not have that choice," said
Vivek Kulkarni, the secretary for biotechnology and information technology
in the southern state of Karnataka.
Kulkarni was speaking at the Bangalore Bio 2003 trade show, which is being
hosted by the government of Karnataka, the center of India's biotechnology
His comments come amid debate in India over whether to allow cultivation
of gene-modified crops. A public discussion of the issue is scheduled for
Indian biotech firms are lobbying for permission to grow genetically
engineered food crops that can better resist pests. They say doing so
would increase yields and alleviate hunger in a country where one in four
people goes to bed hungry and as many as 61 of 1,000 newborns die before
their first birthday from disease or malnutrition.
Environmental groups, however, say gene-modified crops are unhealthy, harm
the soil and haven't improved yields.
They also say that India already produces more food than it needs and must
instead improve its distribution infrastructure so that grain can reach
Earlier, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, head of an expert group that advises
Karnataka state on biotechnology, said the demand for genetically modified
products in India to fight disease, improve nutrition and boost crop
yields "is only going to accelerate."
India's biotech industry is focused on developing new vaccines, or improve
existing ones, for more than 20 diseases prevalent in this country of more
than 1 billion people, including tuberculosis, cholera, plague and
Scientists, business leaders and representatives from 20 countries are
attending the three-day trade show.
India consumes nearly US$2 billion in biotech products each year. Demand
is expected to exceed US$4 billion by 2010.
Two GM reports to be released tomorrow
16 April 2003
Green Party Co-Leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, says the Government is
releasing GM reports at Easter to avoid widespread publicity.
But the Government says it is releasing the reports tomorrow as
Environment Minister Marian Hobbs has been away on a Pacific visit.
The Government's decision to release two key Genetic Modification reports
just before Easter is under fire from the Greens.
The reports, to be released on Thursday, look at the economic impacts of
New Zealand releasing GM organisms and the potential for co-existence of
GM and non GM crops.
Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says the Government is ducking for
cover by releasing the reports just before a public holiday.
She says she can only assume that the results of the reports are
embarrassing for the government and that they want as little media
coverage as possible.
Success of Europe's biotech industry depends on cooperation, says Liikanen
April 16, 2003
Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society Erkki Liikanen has
admitted that the Commission is 'anxious' about the state of the European
biotechnology industry, and has called for further cooperation between
policy makers and the private sector to solve the problem.
In a speech to the Biovision world life sciences forum in Lyon on 10
April, the Commissioner outlined the potential impact of biotechnology in
the EU's pursuit of sustainability, arguing that it could directly
contribute to each pillar of sustainable development: economic, social and
However, Mr Liikanen warned that the Commission is '[...] anxious that in
the area of life sciences and biotechnology we might run the risk in the
EU of not [sufficiently] raising our competitiveness and dynamism.'
In an attempt to meet this challenge, Mr Liikanen identified several key
issues which he said require 'decisive actions'. Important progress has
already been made in two of the areas, the fragmentation of research and
the need for increased protection for intellectual property rights, with
the adoption of the Sixth Framework Programme and the political agreement
on a Community Patent respectively, he said.
But the Commissioner called for further action on intellectual property
rights in order to encourage research and investment in the field. He
reminded delegates that so far only six Member States - Denmark, Finland,
the UK, Ireland, Spain and Greece - have transposed the directive on the
legal protection of biotechnological inventions into national law.
'[T]he failure of the others to do so leaves companies engaged in
innovative biotechnology research uncertain about whether they are fully
entitled to the commercial fruits of their work,' warned Mr Liikanen. He
similarly called on EU countries to quickly implement new legislation
governing the authorised release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
into the environment.
Another issue highlighted by Mr Liikanen was the lack of financial capital
within the industry, which raises the risk of losing elements of Europe's
knowledge base overseas. The Commissioner said that a concerted effort
involving both public authorities and private investors is needed to
bridge the financing gap.
Finally, the Commissioner called on the private sector to play its part in
improving the health of the biotechnology industry. Key tasks for
business, said Mr Liikanen, include demonstrating positive examples to the
public of the contribution of biotechnology to sustainable development,
and providing assessments to national and European governments on biotech
policies and their future needs in terms of education and training.
Mr Liikanen promised that the Commission is determined to 'keep up the
general momentum and play a facilitating role' in the pursuit of its
biotech strategy, but stressed that its success now depends on the
cooperative effort of policy makers and the private sector at all levels.
For further information, please consult the following web address:
Genes & Society Festival
Does genetics throw up uniquely new and difficult ethical dilemmas? Are we
overreacting to the unfamiliar?
When: 26-27 April 2003
Where: Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
More info at:
Make City Gm-Free
Environmentalists are protesting today to demand that Bristol be declared
a GM-free zone.
Bristol Evening Post
April 13, 2003
Campaigners from Bristol Friends of the Earth will stage a demonstration
calling for genetically-modified food and crops to be banned from the
The protest is part of a national day of action by environmental
campaigners urging a UK-wide ban on GM materials.
Campaigners in Bristol want the city council to adopt a GM-free policy,
including measures to ensure that no GM crops are grown on council-owned
Councillors in South Gloucestershire voted last month to declare the area
a GM-free zone The authority also called on the Government to suspend all
further GM crop trials across the country. Campaigners plan to build a
collage of petition postcards urging the city council to adopt a GM-free
Jane Stevenson, of Bristol Friends of the Earth, said: "We are building
this giant GM-free collage to show the city council that people in Bristol
do not want their food, farming and wildlife threatened by GM pollution.
"Other councils have taken a stand against GM crops and food by voting to
go GM-free. We want the city council to make the same commitment." Bristol
City Council introduced a policy in 1999 banning GM foods from school
The same rule applies to companies supplying food for other council
outlets, including old people's homes and children's homes.
Councillor Jenny Smith, executive member for sustainable development, said
the council may review its GM policy.
She said: "The council acknowledges concerns raised by local people and
the Friends of the Earth about genetically modified food and has had a
clear policy since 1999 which has stopped GM foods being served in
schools, staff canteens and also within Bristol's residential care homes.
"We are putting together a report looking at the latest scientific
evidence available on GM food which will be discussed in the autumn before
a decision on whether to introduce a more extensive policy is put before
ENGINEERED VS. ORGANIC: WHY THE DEBATE?
The Edmonton Journal
By Judy Schultz
April 16, 2003
MONTREAL - R.W. Apple Jr., associate editor of the New York Times, was
cited as moderating a panel on the politics of food for 1300 members of
the International Association of Culinary Professionals met last week in
Montreal, stating, "No matter how far apart these movements are, we'd
better get used to it because they're both here to stay." Peter Hoffman,
chef/owner of New York's Savoy Grill and a strong supporter of sustainable
agriculture, was quoted as saying, "If it was just about nutrition, we
already have the technology to put (a daily food ration) into a one-a-day
pill, no eating required," and that although there's big money in
value-added food products, he wants that value redefined. Hoffman was
further cited as saying that current production systems, including genetic
engineering, are threatening the diversity of our food systems and pushing
us toward a cheap monoculture, adding, "We need to lighten our footprints
on this planet, and work toward a sustainable, flavourful food supply."
Iowa farmer Dean Kleckner, chairman of the US-based Truth about Trade and
Technology, was cited as saying that food is food, whether it's GE or
organic, adding, "Only the wealthy can afford to pay for the (food)
process of their choice." He said that 70 per cent of products in U.S.
supermarkets already contain GE ingredients, and he doesn't believe they
hurt anyone. But Americans want happy eggs from happy hens, and they don't
seem to care that using GE seed can dramatically reduce the need for
fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and that, too, is harmful to the
environment. Dr. Greg Pence, a bioethics professor and author of several
books on the subject, was cited as saying that a small and shrinking
number of huge corporations are making food decisions, adding, "The debate
is about more than food safety. The whole debate has become a cultural
symbol of American economic arrogance. People who say they're against GE
are really against capitalism."