Today in AgBioView: April 24, 2003
* Obituary: Jeff Schell
* What has Greenpeace done with the Plot?
* Word Games Played by Activists in Their War Against Biotech
* Re: Healthier Diets
* NZ Gives GM the Go-ahead
* Cooper's Comments About GE Challenged
* India ABLE to Develop Biotech Industry
* GM Tomatoes Could Help Keep Pesky Animals Down
* Leaders from 26 Countries to Address Global Agricultural Issues
* Biotech Timeline...
* Biotechnology, Food Labeling, Risk Assessment and International Trade
* GM Corn: Leaders Are Misinformed
* Impact of GMO Dissemination in Agro-Ecosystems
Obituary: Jeff Schell
I have just learnt that Prof. Jeff Schell of the Max Planck Institute in
Germany (http://www.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/ ) passed away last week.
Prof. Schell was the founding father of modern plant biotechnology. Along
with Marc van Montagu and Luis Herrea Estrella at the Ghent University in
Belgium, he was among the first to develop transgenic plants thus paving
the way for GM crop revolution subsequently. Prof. Schell was a prodigous
scientist who has contributed tremendously to plant molecular biology and
also trained many current leaders in this subject. He was ailing for some
time now. His death is a great loss to plant biotechnology.
We will miss him.
What has Greenpeace Done with the Plot?
- Chris Preston
Paul Sheehan's recent commentary (Greenpeace acts 'symbolic' only of a
distorted reality, AgBioView 18 April) questioned Greenpeace Australia's
activities in relation to the war on Iraq. One intriguing question that
Paul Sheehan did not raise in his commentary is: What is an environmental
organization doing directing a major campaign to stop a war in Iraq?
Surely this is not core business of an environmental organization in
Greenpeace Australia's website (http://www.greenpeace.org.au/) carries a
list of their campaigns: War on Iraq, End the Nuclear Threat, GE Food,
Ancient Forests, Climate Change, Toxics, Saving Oceans, Whaling and
Corporate Responsibility. Surely if Greenpeace Australia had a bona fide
interest in protecting the Australian environment they would focus on
issues of great importance to that environment. For example, the
Australian Government's Biodiversity Audit, soon to be released but
recently leaked in draft, painted a bleak picture for biodiversity in
Australia and firmly pointed the finger at land clearing, over grazing and
invasive plants and animals as major reasons for biodiversity loss.
Greenpeace Australia has no campaigns that address any of these threats.
My own recent interactions with Greenpeace have been over the issue of GE
crops. Greenpeace Australia has been highly active in the campaign to stop
GE crop introductions into Australia. This campaign has been notable for
the level of misinformation promulgated. Sometimes, it is just
misinformation by omission. For example, on Greenpeace Australia's web
site (http://www.greenpeace.org.au/canola/index.html) it is stated that:
"But it is known that GE crops reproduce and cross breed." However,
Greenpeace fails to tell us that all crops reproduce and many of them also
cross breed. The same site makes claims that "Canada once exported canola
to lucrative European markets…", when in fact European markets for canola
are better described as fickle as Europe is a net exporter of oilseed rape
Elsewhere on the web site
(http://www.greenpeace.org.au/canola/environment.html), we are told that
"Canola is a particularly promiscuous plant, which readily cross breeds
with related weed species". This statement is at best a tremendous stretch
of the facts. We know that canola can out cross with a few related weed
species at fairly low frequencies (1 in 26 million for wild radish for
example). However, Greenpeace would have us believe that canola was an
unreformed slut sleeping with all and sundry. Any analysis of the large
body of research available would conclude this is not an accurate
At other times we get "facts" from Greenpeace Australia that are simply
not true. What is worse is that a very small amount of time is often
sufficient to demonstrate these "facts" are wrong. Just last week
Greenpeace activist Rebecca Hubbard was quoted in a Greenpeace press
release "Non-GE soy is readily available on the international market, so
there is no excuse for food companies to buy soy that is contaminated with
However, a quick check of soy exporters showed 96% of world soy exports
come from just 4 countries: USA, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. In all of
these countries farmers grow GE soybeans (either legally or illegally in
the case of Brazil and Paraguay) and none segregate commodity soy. In
reality, it would be reasonably difficult to source genuine non-GE soy
(with no GE admixture) on the World market. A far cry from non-GE soy
being readily available.
A couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace activist Jeremy Tager wrote a letter to
the Australian asking the question "Does anyone really believe that
Monsanto and Bayer will give their technologies -- which even Australian
farmers cannot afford - to the starving of the world?" Again a quick few
minutes of research turned up the latest ISAAA report, which concluded
that about 5 million farmers were growing GE crops with over 75% of them
small resource-poor farmers growing Bt cotton in developing countries.
Are Greenpeace and their activists just careless with checking their
"facts" or is it simply a case that they do not care? Maybe my own
experience may shed some light. I responded to Jeremy Tager's letter to
the Australian with a letter of my own highly critical of Mr. Tager's
"facts". To date there has been no response either publicly or privately
from anyone at Greenpeace Australia. Perhaps they don't care.
This leads me back to the unasked question from Paul Sheehan's commentary:
What is Greenpeace Australia doing leading a campaign against a war in
Iraq? It might be that Greenpeace Australia cares less about the
environment than they once did. A look through Greenpeace Australia's
website suggests they are more interested in demonstrating to someone
(their supporters?) that they can influence political processes. What is
particularly disappointing for an Australian and someone who cares about
the local environment is that Greenpeace Australia directs remarkably
little effort at the major environmental problems facing Australia.
Dr. Christopher Preston, Senior Lecturer in Weed Management, University of
Word Games Played by Activists in Their War Against Biotechnology
- From: Alex Avery
Mr. Sharma, your recent op-ed in The Hindu Businessline stating
essentially that [Bt cotton doesn't increase yields, only limits losses]
is a perfect example of the retreat into word games played by
anti-corporate and anti-biotech activists in their war against ag
biotechnology. It is silly and I dare say a form of intellectual
masturbation. Only those attempting to win their own arguments would claim
that proponents of Bt technology promised a breaking of the "yield
Specifically, you wrote: "pesticides do not rise yields. They merely
reduce crop losses. But, then, for an industry under tremendous pressure
for public acceptance of its risky technology, playing the yield card was
a simple way to hoodwink the masses. In fact, the reality is that none of
the genetically modified crops has broken the yield barrier that was
established by the high-yielding varieties, which ushered in the famed
Hooray, Mr. Sharma, you've knocked down your own argument. First,
preventing yield losses from pests is critical to farmer success,
especially in pest-prone crops such as cotton. Your dismissive tone that
these technologies "merely reduce crop losses" trivializes the pest
realities faced by Indian farmers. To the Indian farmer selling a larger
harvested crop because of effective pest control technologies, the yield
gains are as real as they need to be.
I should also point out that biotechnology has, in fact, led to a
"breaking of the yield barriers" established by the green revolution:
Scientists at Cornell University achieved a ~17% yield increase in the
highest-yielding Chinese rice hybrids via the substitution of a single
natural gene allele from a wild rice relative, Oryza rufipogon. The allele
was identified via the biotechnology of QTL mapping and inserted using the
advanced backcross method, all of which is discussed at length by Steve
Tanksley and Susan McCouch in Science 277:1063-1066 (1997). This work has
been done in China and corroborated in Korea and Colombia. This would be a
type of genomics-guided transgenes (GGT) discussed recently in the
excellent policy forum discussion by Steve Strauss in Science 300:61
But I digress, back to Bt cotton in India. The issue is not whether Bt
cotton has delivered on all the promises that you claim have been made for
it -- especially the perposterous claim you make that Monsanto promised Bt
cotton would raise yield barriers (classic strawman). The important
decisions about Bt cotton will be those made by Indian farmers themselves.
If, after using Bt cotton or seeing neighbors use it, they aren't happy
with its performance or believe they haven't received their money's worth,
then they will decide to buy a non-Bt variety the next year from another
seed company. There is a healthy and highly competitive seed sector in
India offering non-Bt cotton varieties, correct? You seem to want to
discredit Bt cotton before the farmers have even had much chance to use
it. Let them have the choice and let them decide if it's all hype or the
technology offers them real benefits.
Farmers, by their very nature, are eminently sensible people. You'd have
Bt cotton bottled up in ICAR research plots for years attempting to prove
itself worthy to government scientists, regulators and politicians -- not
for any health or environmental safety reasons, as the safety of Bt cotton
has been amply demonstrated over the past 7 years, but for efficacy
Why not let the people who matter most -- the actual farmers -- make those
decisions? Let them decide whether Bt cotton is efficacious and worth the
investment. Or are you afraid that the reason why Bt cotton has proven
itself so wildly popular among farmers free to chose from the entire
spectrum of technologies available (i.e. farmers in the United States and
Australia, where Bt cotton varieties dominate) is because it produces a
higher return on overall invested inputs and/or makes farming cotton
simpler and more stable and/or gives the farmer more time to devote to
some other endeavor?
Please tell me why so many of these farmers have, when given the full
range of choices, consciously chosen Bt cotton if it is so useless to
them? I must point out that these farmers have not only chosen Bt cotton,
but that the vast majority have planted Bt cotton year after year and have
increased the acreage devoted to planting Bt cotton. They must see some
merit to it, no?
Why aren't you for empowering the farmers to make their own decisions
based on their own circumstances rather than empowering the bureaucrats to
block technologies with endless efficacy trials? You should be supporting
greater farmer choice and greater freedom of seed companies to offer
alternatives to farmers who have clearly been stuck with too few, often
agonizing, choices in the recent past. (failed crops, greater pesticide
use, greater pest resistance, more farmer suicides, etc.)
Sincerely, Alex Avery, Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues
>>'Bt cotton fiasco: a scientific fairytale' By Devinder Sharma
>> IN THE mid-1980s, a World Bank team was travelling ....
Re: Healthier Diets
- Bob MacGregor"
I was a little surprised that Dennis Avery failed to mention the
applicability of the infamous precautionary principle when he said, "The
new IFT report warns that science can't yet ensure the food-borne
pathogens often found in manure will be killed during composting. In other
words, organic food is not better - it's more dangerous. " After all, if
science can't prove this food is safe, shouldn't we keep it off the
market, just in case it isn't?
NZ Gives GM the Go-ahead
- Weekly Times, April 23, 2003
THE New Zealand government will lift a moratorium on the release of
genetically modified crops in October, claiming they could coexist with
Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said cabinet papers confirmed it would be
safe to lift the moratorium, with a "robust regulatory system" to ensure
that only GM foods deemed safe would be grown or sold. However, New
Zealand's growing organic foods industry has opposed the introduction of
GM crops, saying cross-contamination was inevitable.
The Green Party, which bitterly opposes genetic modification of foods and
other organisms, said New Zealanders would be forced to accept a level of
GM contamination of all crops. "It is an abuse of human and consumer
rights to expect consumers and organic and conventional farmers and
growers to accept GM contamination," said Green Party co-leader Jeanette
Environment Minister Marian Hobbs released another report by a group of
economists showing that the introduction of GM organisms would have a
limited impact on the economy, with only a small increase in gross
domestic product over 10 years, compared to a small decrease if they were
Cooper's Comments About GE Challenged
From: NZ Lifesciences Network
Scientific reaction has been swift to comments by Oxford University's
Professor Alan Cooper of about the implications of a study of ancient DNA
on the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.
Professor Cooper argued that the New Zealand Government should continue
its moratorium on the release of GE organisms for at least another five
years because a study reported in Science magazine showed persistence of
DNA in the soil for many thousands of years.
Scientists who spoke to the Life Sciences Network said Professor Cooper
appears to have made a very significant leap of judgement well beyond the
evidence reported in the study he co-authored.
"The best interpretation of his study is that it shows DNA has been around
for a very long time and that it hasn't done anything outside the realms
of what you'd expect in an evolutionary sense. Thereís no reason to expect
the future is going to be any different" says NZ Association of Scientists
President, Dr Mike Berridge. "He's done some good science on ancient DNA,
but that's as far as it goes. Anything else is mere speculation and is
not supported by any of the relevant knowledge we have from other
Dr Val Giddings believes Professor Cooper is "way beyond his expertise.
It's as if we're being warned about the evils of alcohol because we may be
drawn to a pub which may be hit by a meteor!"
"What he appears to be saying,"says Dr David Penny, Director of the Alan
Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, "is that there might be
some serious negative impact if we allow GE crops and animals into the
environment which will only become apparent in future years." "he problem
with that scenario is that his science shows we have had clumps of DNA in
the soil for thousands of years already, and these havenít had any
significant impacts that weíve been aware of so far, so its obviously not
a serious problem."
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that ancient DNA has only been
found in permafrost and in caves which have provided a very sheltered
environment. Dr Neal Stewart from University of Tennessee says it would be
relatively simple task to assay soils from various agronomic fields to
establish if there are any ancient DNA sequences of significant length
present and then determine what kinds of genes they are.
"But the issue is, so what? Dr Cooper' flagellations don't appear to be
commensurate with any of the risks I can imagine. Thereís no evidence that
any of the ancient DNA has caused any harm. The DNA used in gene
technology is exactly the same as DNA which has been around for thousands
"If he' right, should we be afraid of old pathogenic DNA that is no longer
in current living species?" asks Dr Paul Atkinson, rhetorically."Would it
mean old DNA ex-viruses could perhaps rise up and bite us on the bum?
Wouldn't you expect that to have happened already, and be evident for
science to see?"
"By the same logic this all pre-supposes that broken down DNA from
genetically modified organisms would somehow be different in genes,
regulators etc than those 'natural' DNA components currently found in huge
abundance in the environment in various stages of decomposition. It
doesnít really work out. You can't build active genes from repetitive
sequences, or even degraded ones (something Dr Cooper himself has pointed
out in his public talks in New Zealand)."
David Penny sums up the illogicality of Dr Cooperís comments with "If he's
right, cow pats should be banned! They are obviously a haven for soil and
intestinal bacteria to meet and mix and therefore this should be stopped
- From the LSN news team, Francis Wevers - Executive Director; Christine
Ross - Communications Assistant, Wellington E-Mail
India ABLE to Develop Biotech Industry
- www.Agbiotechnet.com, April 17, 2003
The Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) has been launched
as a representative organization for India. ABLE based in Bangalore, will
have BIOCON chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw as its
founder president., Shantha Biotech chairman Varaprasad Reddy as
vice-chairman, Strand Genomics chief executive officer (CEO) Vinay Chandru
as general secretary and AvasthaGen CEO Dr Villoo Patell as its treasurer.
ABLE intends to build close links between academia, industry and
government, and to provide information to the public and students
Launching ABLE, ASSOCHAM president K L Chugh said for India's gross
domestic product (GDP) growth to reach 8%, biotechnology must play a role
in agriculture. Chugh called for the government to establish a $1 billion
venture fund to promote biotechnology, as this would spur private
At a recent conference, The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry
of India (ASSOCHAM) finalised a 10-point charter to develop India as a
global biotechnology industry hub. Chugh who is Chairman of the ASSOCHAM
Knowledge Millennium Committee, called for an autonomous management
structure to develop the infrastructure and institutionalization of a
Biotechnology Regulatory Commission as the single window mechanism for
biotechnology policy and regulation.
Stressing the need for formulation of a National Biotechnology Policy, the
Summit further recommended adoption of biotechnology, biofertilizer,
biopesticides, etc. on emergency footing. "Since Indian agriculture is in
an emergency situation, doing more of yesterday, therefore, would not take
us forward," he said.
ASSOCHAM believes that "Rich scientists create Rich India". So it urges
the government to create an enabling environment for biotechnologists in
publicly funded institutions to graduate to `biotechnopreneurs' by
permitting them to hold "sweat equity" in private companies. Chugh says
there is a need for larger investment in the area of functional genomics
of agricultural crops and animals to identify important genes for genetic
ASSOCHAM also belives that starting new national institutions of
Biotechnology - IIBTs, on the same pattern as IIITs (Indian Institute of
Information Technology) or IITs would be very helpful. Alternatively,
re-engineering selected national laboratories to up-grade their status to
Indian Institutes of Biotechnology where industrial research and academic
work go hand in hand. This would help speedy action and link industry to
academic in a very short time and strong manner.
The Summit further said: * Enlarge, through appropriate mechanisms, the
human resource base in specialized areas of biotechnology and in
transdisciplinary areas of convergence between biology and IT, biology and
engineering. * As the livestock sector directly addresses the nutritional
security, poverty, rural development, women empowerment and health of the
majority of rural population who are marginal or landless farmers, direct
support to the use of biotechnological tools should receive top priority
in Indian agriculture. * To give the necessary support to biotechnology
IPRs around the country, the patent offices should be modernized urgently.
Apart from physical infrastructure at least 300 patent examiners;
specially trained in biotechnology and bioinformatics should be added. *
Permit biotech industry to utilize the facilities, infrastructure and
human resources of publicly funded institutions on attractive terms,
encourage joint R & D programmes.
GM Tomatoes Could Help Keep Pesky Animals Down
Early results from a study suggest that transgenic tomatoes carrying a
fusion protein could help control animal pests by providing a
contraceptive vaccine. Amanda Walmsley of Arizona State University and
collaborators there and at Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and
Queensland Agricultural Biotechnology Centre expressed a fusion protein
consisting of the B subunit of the Escherichia coli heat-labile
enterotoxin (LTB) and an immunocontraceptive epitope in tomatoes, and
showed that the antigen was present in both fresh and processed fruit. The
study appears in Plant Cell Reports
"The aim behind the entire project is to develop a vaccine that would
control the population of a specific species (our targets were mice as the
model, white tailed deer in the US and brushtail possums in New
Zealand),". says Walmsley. "These species are seen as "pests" in the areas
mentioned as they cause harmful impact to the envirnoment (eating crops,
causing road accidents, killing specific trees, eating eggs of endangered
bird species, harboring disease such as TB or lyme disease etc)."
"The purpose of the fusion protein was to target a species-specific,
immuncontraceptive epitope to the mucosal immunes system's effector sites,
i.e. target our epitope of interest to the mucosal immune system in order
to increase the chance of inducing an immune response against the sperm
docking protein on the egg, specifically in mice," she says.
Are tomatoes preferable to other plants for producing antigens? "It is
difficult to say whether tomato has advantages over other crops for
producing antigens since different antigens are stable under different
conditions and hence stable in different plants," she explains.
"Certainly, tomato was the better choice (over potato) for expressing LTB
or an LTB fusion protein since we saw no harmful effects to the transgenic
plants' morphology and we also saw good expression levels, says Walmsley."
Could fresh tomatoes be used to vaccinate? "Since tomato fruit are
perishable, it is more likely that vaccination will be with processed
materials (freeze-dried)," says Walmsley. "Freeze-drying also allows batch
processing which produces a large quantity of material with a consistent
antigen expression level/dose."
Walmsley and her team are now going to test the immunocontraceptive
ability of this vaccine in studies with mice studies.
The paper, "Expression of the B subunit of Escherichia coli heat-labile
enterotoxin as a fusion protein in transgenic tomato", by A. M. Walmsley,
M. L. Alvarez, Y. Jin, D. D. Kirk, S. M. Lee, J. Pinkhasov, M. M. Rigano,
C. J. Arntzen and H. S. Mason, appears in Plant Cell Reports.
International Leaders from 26 Countries Address Global Agricultural
Issues; Offer Solutions
World Agricultural Forum Announces Agenda for 2003 World Congress Meeting
in St. Louis on May 18-20
ST. LOUIS (March 17, 2003) -The World Agricultural Forum (WAF), a
non-profit organization that serves as the only neutral forum for global
dialogue on critical issues involving food, fuel, health and fiber,
announced today its agenda for the 2003 World Congress scheduled for May
18-20 in St. Louis, Mo., at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at Union Station.
“At this time of uncertainty and turmoil, the need and importance of the
World Agricultural Forum’s World Congress is clear,” said the Rt. Hon.
James Bolger, former prime minister of New Zealand and ambassador to the
United States and current chairman of the World Agricultural Forum
Advisory Board. "We as a world are faced with the challenge of supplying
food, fuel, fiber and water to the world’s population. Given the
complexities and challenges that face us to create a stable and peaceful
environment, we must sustain discussion, begun in earlier Congresses,
unconstrained by the agendas of governments, industries or academia."
From trade policy and technology transfer to sustainability and rural
development, the 2003 World Congress agenda covers both current and
emerging issues related to global agriculture trends, international trade
policies, environmental sustainability, food and water security,
technology, and infrastructure needs. The theme of the 2003 Congress, "
New Age in Agriculture: Working Together to Create the Future and
Dismantle the Barriers," cknowledges agriculture barriers which include
political agendas, trade inequalities, obsolete infrastructure and
transportation systems, and technology gaps.
"The 2003 World Congress agenda assembles key international agricultural
leaders who understand that global stability hinges on the creation of an
agricultural agenda that addresses nations’ specific political, economic
and social needs with proactive, long-term resolutions," said Dr. Leonard
Guarraia, chairman and president, World Agricultural Forum. "Providing
access to food and water does not merely call for disaster relief and food
aid, but identifying ways to support long-term practices that promote farm
profitability, environmental stewardship and quality of life. To ignore
the role of agriculture in our international economic and social agendas
could breed discontent and heighten tensions everywhere."
At the May Congress nearly 500 international leaders-including ministers
of agriculture, corporate CEOs, Nobel Prize recipients, university
presidents, directors of non-governmental organizations, and environmental
activists-will cover these hotly debated agricultural topics. The World
Congress is one of the only forums uniting leaders from disparate
organizations, such as biotechnology powerhouses and anti-biotechnology
activist groups, to ensure all participants have an equal voice to share
insights and address challenges facing the agriculture industry. The
agenda calls for a three-day meeting consisting of interactive sessions
and workshops designed to: 1) integrate all participants; 2) debate key
factors shaping the issues on the business, geopolitical and economic
agenda; 3) share knowledge on strategies and solutions; and 4)
propose/take collective action.
For a detailed agenda, registration, media credential forms and additional
information, please visit the World Agricultural Forum’s Web site at
From: Drew Kershen
Dear Ben: While I cannot remember whether the book I am about to recommend
has a timeline, I highly recommend it for your reading and understanding.
The book is a college level biology book:
Maarteen Chrispeels, PLANTS, GENES AND CROP BIOTECHNOLOGY (2003). The book
is a wonderfully clear and thorough introduction to basic plant biology,
agricultural breeding, and agricultural biotechnology. The book appeared
in print in early January of this year.
Prof. Chrispeels is a well-known biotechnologist at the University of
California-San Diego. This book is the 2nd edition (maybe 3rd ed) of a
widely used biology book for college level courses
Best of luck with your research project.
Plants, Genes and Crop Biotechnology
- Maarten J. Chrispeels & David E. Sadava
Second ed.ISBN: 0763715867 Price: $87.95 (U.S. List); Cloth; Pages: 576
Biotechnology, Food Labeling, Risk Assessment and International Trade
US Consumer Acceptance of Food made from Ag Biotech Crop ingredients would
be adversely affected if labeled as such, according to a report released
on April 22, by the USDA Economic Research Service, titled "The Effects of
Information on Consumer Demand for Biotech Foods: Evidence from
Experimental Auctions," by Abebayehu Tegene, Wally Huffman, Matthew Rousu,
and Jason Shogren, Technical Bulletin No. (TB1903), 32 pages -
In releasing the report, ERS notes that " ... Consumers' willingness to
pay for food products decreases when the food label indicates that a food
product is produced with the aid of modern biotechnology. This bulletin
presents empirical evidence on consumers' willingness to pay for biotech
foods based on the presence or absence of labels advising that the food
was prepared with the aid of biotechnology. The authors designed and
conducted an experimental auction to elicit consumers' willingness to pay
for 'genetically modified' (GM)-labeled and standard-labeled foods under
different information regimes.
The evidence gathered for vegetable oil, tortilla chips, and potatoes
shows that labels matter. In particular, under all information treatments,
consumers discounted food items labeled 'GM' by an average of 14 percent.
While gender, income, and other demographic characteristics appeared to
have only a slight impact on consumers' willingness to pay for biotech
foods, information from interested parties and third-party (independent)
sources was found to have a strong impact ..." -
The ERS April 22 announcement is posted at:
from which electronic access to the complete report is available at
The Effects of Information on Consumer Demand for Biotech Foods: Evidence
from Experimental Auctions
- Abebayehu Tegene, Wally Huffman, Matthew Rousu, and Jason Shogren ;
Technical Bulletin No. (TB1903) 32 pp, April 2003
Consumers' willingness to pay for food products decreases when the food
label indicates that a food product is produced with the aid of modern
biotechnology. This bulletin presents empirical evidence on consumers'
willingness to pay for biotech foods based on the presence or absence of
labels advising that the food was prepared with the aid of biotechnology.
The authors designed and conducted an experimental auction to elicit
consumers' willingness to pay for "genetically modified" (GM)-labeled and
standard-labeled foods under different information regimes. The evidence
gathered for vegetable oil, tortilla chips, and potatoes shows that labels
matter. In particular, under all information treatments, consumers
discounted food items labeled "GM" by an average of 14 percent. While
gender, income, and other demographic characteristics appeared to have
only a slight impact on consumers' willingness to pay for biotech foods,
information from interested parties and third-party (independent) sources
was found to have a strong impact.
GM Corn: Leaders Are Misinformed
Keith Hulse, Biosafety News (Kenya), No. 34, July/August 2002
'Considerable attention has been focused on GM grains imported into the
southern Africa region to feed the starving people. Our correspondent
Keith Hulse met renowned plant biotechnologist Prof. C. S. Prakash of the
College of Agriculture, Tuskegee University, U.s. and asked him his
opionion on the raging debate.' Excerpts..
Q. How responsible do you think is the recent decision by Zimbabwe, Zambia
and Malawi to ban grain imports from the US because they are genetically
modified? A. I think it's a very rather unfortunate decision. I personally
believe its kind of reckless and perhaps even irresponsible. I think one
must look at these grains as the same grains that we eat in the United
States everyday and perhaps millions of other people around the world.
These grains have been approved by Food and Drug Administration after
extensive testing. So in view of all these and considering that there are
millions of people facing starvation it‚s a life and death situation. I
think it's rather unfortunate for politicians to argue about their safety,
especially when you consider the severity of the situation.
Q. How much do these Presidents know when making decisions like that? A. I
really wish they would know more than they do. From what I hear, and in
terms of what I see in the press, I'm led to believe that they are much
more misinformed than informed on these issues, which is unfortunate. I do
believe that policy makers understand more about this technology and the
tremendous potential that it holds for enhancing food security; the very
problem that we are trying to address here that down the road can be
addressed using biotechnology. I believe that they would be more willing
not only to embrace it but to see how the technology can be harnessed in
addressing the problems of Africa in improving agricultural productivity,
producing more food, producing better quality food and also protecting
farmers against the vagaries of nature such as drought and floods.
Q. Isn‚t it true that perhaps this situation has actually been influenced
by propaganda from Europe and that this propaganda is coming from people
with full bellies; from people with a choice? A. Clearly, I think it is a
misinformation campaign. There is an orchestrated effort to discredit this
technology coming from certain quarters in Europe, some of the Green
groups. But what is ironic here, many of these groups in Europe have no
problem with food. At this moment there is no food crisis in Europe. So
they have the luxury of saying no to this particular technology at this
moment. But those countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially southern
Africa where there is food crisis, do not have that kind of luxury today.
And, secondly, all the facts and evidence show that this is a safe
technology, a technology that has not done any harm to anybody. In fact if
anything, it has benefited the environment. I do believe that one will
easily recognise that by using biotechnology Africa can benefit in
producing more and better quality food. The relevance of this technology
in Africa is much greater than in any other continent.
Q. Yeah, because Africa has got a disaster looming over it, hasn't it? A.
Q. By 2050 the population will have doubled. A. Today, 50 percent of the
people living in sub Saharan Africa are under nourished. By 2020 this
proportion will be 70 percent unless we do something about it. We already
have a major crisis of HIV/Aids that is all over Africa. And in addition
compounding that with food shortage and starvation, you are going to see a
severe impact on the quality of life, as we know it in Africa. And so we
must be proactive. We must look at what science and technology can offer.
It can help us in alleviating some of these problems that we face today in
Q. How can biotechnology feature in the solution of the problem? A.
Biotechnology is not going to help to eradicate all the problems that are
facing agriculture today here in Africa as we have seen. It can be an
important component of an overall strategy. A strategy that takes into
account the complexities of the situation and strategy that cover wise
policy, wise investment, building of an infrastructure and how we can
enhance our agricultural research and development in a way to address the
agricultural productivity problems. So biotechnology is going to be an
important tool in a toolbox but again it is going to be a component that
can only work when many other issues such as the policy, infrastructure
and the finance are also taken into account.
Q. There is already a very promising research going on actually here in
Africa in major food crops. Where would you see the most likely areas of
growth and benefit? A. Almost any food crop that we grow in Africa can be
improved by agriculture. But I think the major impact from the beginning
would come from perhaps corn. Corn is an important crop that feeds a lot
of Africans. Since South Africa and Eastern Africa are coming up with
varieties of corn that are resistant to insects, this will perhaps cut
down the losses, improve productivity and nutritive quality, with better
quality protein. But beyond that, I think that even other crops such as
cassava, sweet potato, coffee and even addressing the problem of striga, a
parasitic weed that is very debilitating to agricultural productivity in
the horn of Africa. Those are the problems that can be addressed using
biotechnology. And I think that if we were to harness the power of this
technology and use it to seek solution to some of these problems down the
road, clearly it will make a difference.
Q. Now you are talking about vitamin rich crops. You can actually
statistically say how many cases of blindness you could defeat? A. There
are about half a million children who go blind every year because of lack
of vitamin A in their diet. And even more horrific, 2 million children die
every year because of lack of vitamin A in their diet. And this is a
horrendous problem that the World Health Organisation and the Bill Gates'
foundation and many others are trying to address. We think by using
biotechnology if we can enrich such crops as rice and even maize and
millet to have an increased content of vitamin A which is already been
shown possible by research in Switzerland, then by distributing those
crops and making them available to the farmers then we can clearly do
something about it. It is just like fortifying our salt with iodine and
our water with fluoride. It is just another way of fortification, a
genetic fortification of our food if you like.
Q. Now there are even more exciting prospects, aren't there? Going beyond
vitamins and even introducing vaccines into crops that will create
immunity against disease. Putting the doctor into cooking pot. It's called
neutroceuticals. Explain it? A. Yes, this is another exciting area of
research. You know we‚ve always used plants as a source of medicine-herbal
medicine. But even in the modern world, one third of prescriptions come
from plants or plant derived pharmaceuticals. But a new area of
biotechnology helps us produce high value pharmaceuticals in food crops
such as corn, maize or tomato or even bananas. This production of vaccines
and antibodies in plants is very exciting because unlike conventional
vaccines that are produced in big laboratories in the West and are
transported to developing countries and must be kept under cold
conditions, there are all sorts of risks. If you can produce these
vaccines in bananas for instance the problem is a long way to be solved.
You have hundreds of thousands of children dying of diarrhoea in the East
Africa region and if you can develop a vaccine against diarrhoea, a
vaccine against malaria and even a vaccine against Aids and if we can
deliver this vaccine through your food and perhaps through a simple banana
in a baby food jar that could perhaps be fed to them babies, it's a very
exciting concept. It's still something being developed and tested. If it
becomes a reality, then it is going to make a tremendous impact on human
life quality, in this region especially.
Q. Because you don‚t do any distribution, the distribution is natural
through the crops themselves. No costly and difficult mass immunisation
programmes. A. It is naturally there. There are some technical issues
related to the dosage and how do we control it. But there is actually low
cost of production, and ease of production. Let me put it this way, 10
acres of banana farm right here in the fields of Kari would be able to
provide all the vaccines needed for all your children in whole of Kenya
and be produced at a cost of few shillings.
Q. And that is what Africa needs; cheap vaccines. A. Yes, Cheap affordable
vaccines, which would be compatible with your existing infrastructure and
logistics. You already have a fairly good health care system and it could
be distributed through that without having to bring in new equipment,
without having to bring in new knowledge, and of course this is something
Q. How can biotechnology improve cash crops? I know for instance Bt cotton
is making great strides, isn't it? A. Right. The most important cash crops
I think in developing world is cotton. We already have many farmers
growing Bt cotton that is insect resistant. They don‚t have to spray
insecticides on in countries such as South Africa, Mexico, China and
India. And so many cash crops you are going to see biotechnology being
used to control pests so they don't have to spray any pesticides, make
production more efficient and also perhaps coming up with new value added
traits such as we already have in coffee that is naturally decaffeinated
which has been developed in Hawaii. We have sugar that has zero calories.
So it's like having your cake and eating it. That is developed in the
Netherlands. And so if there is an increased acceptance of biotechnology
down the road, there will be lots of custom tailored products that are
going to hit the market.
Q. Is there other benefits of biotech crops? A. Definitely. The positive
environmental impact of biotech crops that are already out there today is
very apparent. Just to give you an example, in the US we have saved every
year 20 million kilogrammes of pesticides that we don't have to use. And
this means it is not only beneficial to the farmers because they save
money not just in pesticides but also like in diesel. They don't have to
use any more big sprays or automobiles to spray. Second, better water
quality and better soil, and this is clearly very beneficial. This is one
of the biggest environmental benefits. But another important environmental
benefit in addition to cutting down the use of chemicals in developing
countries is going to be, if we can produce food more to feed the
increasing population with the existing area of land today, then we don‚t
have to cut down more forests. This is going to be very important
especially in the tropics where the forests are very valuable and we are
cutting down everyday thousands of acres of forest land.
Q. What do you see the future of Africa's food availability if GM is
successfully applied and properly spread? What do you see that effect on
Africa in 10 years time in terms of the food situation? A. Biotechnology
along with all the other policy initiatives are needed including
infrastructure and finance. Along with technology development, including
biotechnology we can help eradicate poverty from Africa, improve food
security situation, make agriculture more environmentally sustainable on
the continent and make the overall quality of living better for all
Impact of GMO Dissemination in Agro-Ecosystems
- Mark Tepfer
Dear Prakash, I am writing to announce that the proceedings of a recently
held OECD symposium (see contents below) can now be downloaded free of
charge at: http://www.ifa-tulln.ac.at. It should be of interest to your
AgBioView readers. yours, Mark
Ecological Impact of GMO Dissemination in Agro-Ecosystems
This publication is based on presentations at an International OECD
Workshop held in Grossrussbach, Austria; September 27-28, 2002; Edited by
Tamás Lelley, Ervin Balázs, and Mark Tepfer
PREFACE. E. Balázs
Genetically modified microbes
DESIGNING IMPROVED GM BACTERIA FOR APPLICATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL
BIOTECHNOLOGY. G. L. Mark, J. P. Morrissey, and F. O'Gara
IMPACT OF MARKER AND FUNCTIONAL GENES ON SOILS AND PLANTS. J. M. Lynch
DISSEMINATION OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MICROORGANISMSIN TERRESTRIAL
ECOSYSTEMS - CASE STUDIES FOR IDENTIFYING RISK POTENTIALS Ch. C. Tebbe
WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM 24 FIELD RELEASES OF GMMS IN ITALY? M. Nuti, A.
Russo, A. Toffanin, S. Casella, V. Corich, A. Squartini, A. Giacomin, U.
Peruch, and M. Basaglia
Gene flow in genetically modified plants
GENE FLOW IN HERBICIDE-RESISTANT CANOLA (BRASSICA NAPUS):THE CANADIAN
EXPERIENCE L. Hall, A. Good, H. J. Beckie, and S. I. Warwick
GENE FLOW FROM OILSEED RAPE (BRASSICA NAPUS) AND BEET(BETA VULGARIS) TO
WILD RELATIVES: EFFECTS OF HERBICIDE TOLERANT CULTIVARS R. B. Jřrgensen,
T. P. Hauser, L. B. Hansen, H. R. Siegismund, and B. Andersen
TRANSGENIC HERBICIDE-RESISTANT CROPS: WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE? H.
Genetically modified virus-resistant plants
ECOLOGICAL RISKS OF TRANSGENIC VIRUS-RESISTANT CROPS A. Power
CHARACTERISATION OF TRANSGENIC FRUIT TREES AND ANALYSES OF DIRECT AND
INDIRECT BIOLOGICAL INTERACTIONS M. Laimer
ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF GENE FLOW FROM CULTIVARS TO WILD RELATIVES:
RHIZOMANIA RESISTANCE GENES IN THE GENUS BETA D. Bartsch, A. Hoffmann, M.
Lehnen, and U. Wehres
COMMERCIALIZATION TRANSGENIC PAPAYA: WEIGHING BENEFITS AND POTENTIAL RISKS
INSECT RESISTANCE TO BACILLUS THURINGIENSIS TOXINS J. Ferré
BT CORN: IMPACT ON NON-TARGETS AND ADJUSTING TO LOCAL IPM SYSTEMS J. Kiss,
F. Szentkirályi, F. Tóth, Á. Szénási, F. Kádár, K. Árpás, D. Szekeres, and
C. R. Edwards
EFFECTS OF A BACILLUS THURINGIENSIS (BT) TRANSGENE ON THE FECUNDITY AND
ABUNDANCE OF WEEDS: A CASE STUDY OF SUNFLOWER. D. Pilson, A. A. Snow, L.
H. Rieseberg, and H. M. Alexander
DATA REQUIREMENTS FOR ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENT OF TRANSGENIC PLANTS A.
Hilbeck, and D. Andow
CONCLUDING REMARKS ON , ECOLOGICAL IMPACT OF GMO DISSEMINATION IN
AGRO-ECOSYSTEMS M. Tepfer, E. Balázs and T. Lelley
Mark Tepfer, Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire, INRA-Versailles, 78026
Versailles cedex France
EC-funded research project, VRTP-IMPACT: http://www.inra.fr/vrtp-impact
Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Biosafety Research
EMBO Workshop "Genomic approaches in plant virology", 28-31 May, 2003: