Today in AgBioView: May 1, 2003:
* Greenpeace Guide designed to alarm rather than inform
* “Advocates renew fight to limit hand weeding”
* Environmentalists: False prophets of doom
* Will we reap what biopharming sows?
* Scientists work on drought-proof rice
* Farmers support GMA on biotech
* Devinder Sharma gets it wrong on Golden Rice
* GM BOOSTER
* Searching for the "real" story on biotech wheat
Greenpeace Guide designed to alarm rather than inform
TORONTO, April 30 /CNW/ - According to the Food Safety Network at the
University of Guelph, today's efforts by Greenpeace to once again raise
concerns about the safety of federally approved food products are designed
to alarm rather than inform consumers. While agreeing that a voluntary
labelling system, based on clear and consistent standards, for foods
developed through genetic engineering (GE) would provide greater choices
in the marketplace, FSN officials were adamant that GE food labelling
would contribute nothing to food safety.
"All new foods, including those developed through genetic engineering, are
fully assessed for food and environmental safety before they can be grown
or sold in Canada," said Dr. Douglas Powell, associate professor at the
University of Guelph and FSN's scientific director. "Only those that can
be demonstrated to be safe ever reach the market."
Dr. Milly Ryan-Harshman, former public health nutritionist and specialist
in infant feeding, described today's efforts to create fear about the
safety of infant foods containing GE ingredients as irresponsible and
unconscionable: "The manufacture of infant formula is held to the highest
standards in Canada, and the products of biotechnology have passed
rigorous safety assessments. Formula and infant foods that contain
genetically engineered ingredients pose no health risk to infants."
Farmers in Canada and most other countries with diversified agricultural
industries produce food using a number of different production systems,
including genetic engineering. Developing regulatory and management
protocols that can ensure the coexistence of the different systems,
including GE, organic and conventional, has been the focus of several
international studies released in the last month.
Increased adoption rates of GE crops over the last several years have
resulted in no documented health or food safety issues related to the
genetic engineering process. A recent review of international research has
also concluded that such crops provide no unique ecological risks and may
contribute to ecological benefits such as increased biodiversity.
Special labelling is required in Canada in cases where new GE foods are
not substantially equivalent to their traditional counterparts: to date,
no such foods have been approved. Although Greenpeace and other groups
have long advocated for the mandatory labelling of all GE foods,
international experience demonstrates that such labels are more likely to
alert than to inform, and fall far short of answering consumers'
"In every country where GE food labelling is required, regulators have
also been forced to provide a vast range of exemptions and loopholes in
order to make the system practical and affordable," Powell continued. "As
a result, the information provided by GE labels in every mandatory system
that has been developed provides little assurance to people who want to
choose foods based on how they're produced."
In recognition of the shortcomings of mandatory GE food labelling, the
government of New Zealand has recently proposed a voluntary "GE-Free"
labelling system that will augment the mandatory labelling already in
place. This proposal results from a recommendation made in 2001 by New
Zealand's Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
"Choice is a fundamental value, and people should absolutely have the
right to choose what they are eating," Powell concluded. "The challenge is
in finding effective ways of providing that choice without imposing its
additional costs on the public as a whole."
The Food Safety Network (FSN) at the University of Guelph provides
research, commentary, policy evaluation and public information on food
safety issues from farm-to-fork. Food safety information can be obtained
by contacting FSN at 1-866-503-7638 or email@example.com, or through the
FSN websites at www.foodsafetynetwork.ca and www.eatwelleatsafe.ca
For further information:
Anthony J. Connor, Travis R. Glare and Jan-Peter Nap. The release of
genetically modified crops into the environment. Part II. Overview of
ecological risk assessment. The Plant Journal (2003), 33, 19-46.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Labelling of genetically engineered foods
in Canada (2002).
Ministry of Consumer Affairs. New Zealand. Discussion Paper on Voluntary
Managing the Coexistence of GE and non-GE Crops: the European Perspective.
Food Safety Network Backgrounder. April 30, 2003.
New Zealand Prepares for GE Technology Use. Food Safety Network
Backgrounder. April 30, 2003. http://www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/gmo/gmnz.htm
“Advocates renew fight to limit hand weeding”
The Sacramento Bee
By Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday, April 30, 2003
WINTERS -- Misael Balcazar bends over the grasslike shoots of young green
leeks, his calloused hands moving quickly to pluck invaders like pigweed.
Balcazar's back will burn at the end of the workday at Terra Firma, Paul
Underhill's organic farm nestled in the Coastal Range foothills. Hand
weeding, Balcazar said, is the worst job on the 100-acre farm even though
it's done sparingly.
This type of weeding would be banned if farm worker advocates are
successful in their campaign to convince the California Division of
Occupational Safety and Health that it's so harmful to workers' backs that
it should be eliminated from most fields.
California would be the first state in the nation to restrict the hand
weeding of crops, according to those familiar with the issue.
Growers, including many organic farmers, argue there are no reasonable
alternatives to hand weeding in many cases because long-handled tools are
too imprecise and would damage the crop. They say hand weeding reduces the
use of often-criticized herbicides.
"This isn't something we are doing to circumvent the law," said Vanessa
Bogenholm, chairwoman of the board of California Certified Organic Farmers
and owner of V.B. Farms in Watsonville. "It is something we have to do to
harvest a marketable crop."
Hand weeding is widely used on several major crops, such as strawberries,
lettuce, nursery plants and broccoli. Nearly all the state's 228,000 acres
of lettuce, for example, are hand weeded at some point each growing
season, as are the state's 26,000 acres of strawberries.
After failed attempts to persuade the Legislature to restrict hand weeding
in 1995 and 2002, farm worker advocates are pressing the safety board to
impose stiff restrictions.
The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, United Farm Workers of
America and the California Labor Federation filed a petition to close what
they say is a loophole in the state's 1975 ban on the short-handled hoe.
They insist the short hoe is used commonly in a wide variety of crops
until regulators show up. Then, they say, farmers take away the hoes and
tell workers to hand weed.
The petition says crop weeding should be done with tools with handles
longer than 4 feet to protect field workers from irreparable spinal
damage. Violators would be subject to a minimum fine of $500 per employee
for each violation.
The farm worker groups recognize hand weeding might be necessary in
limited circumstances -- for instance, in strawberry fields that are
covered with a plastic mulch -- but they say it's currently an overused
excuse to get around the ban on short hoes.
"We are trying to get at what fundamentally is a human-rights abuse," said
Mark Schacht, deputy director of the Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.
"The human-rights abuse is when there is an alternative tool (long-handled
hoe) that is safe and available, and workers are not permitted to use it."
The legal foundation's sister organization, California Rural Legal
Assistance Inc., persuaded the state Supreme Court to ban the
short-handled tool, known as el cortito, in 1975. That same year, the
administration of then-Gov. Jerry Brown issued an administrative ruling
against the short hoe.
If the farm worker advocates fail in their quest for an administrative ban
on hand weeding, Schacht said he had a commitment by one legislator to
introduce another hand weeding bill. The legal foundation, he said, also
would consider a lawsuit.
At the UFW in Sacramento, spokesman Marc Grossman said hand weeding is the
kind of health issue that has defined the union's mission for decades.
"It's hard to believe that 28 years after (UFW founder) Cesar Chavez and
others convinced then-Governor Jerry Brown to outlaw the infamous
short-handled hoe, we are still fighting this battle," he said.
Farm worker advocates have a 1993 memorandum by the Medical Unit of the
Division of Occupational Safety and Health to support their claims that
hand weeding "constitutes a continuing threat to the health and
well-being" of the state's farm workers.
"Workers are still subject to (the) same unsafe conditions that the
short-hoe legislation attempted to rectify," says the medical report,
adding that hand weeding means having to bend down 6 to 12 inches farther
than weeding with a short hoe.
"The work is clearly extremely stressful to the back," states the medical
The medical unit said hand weeding should be stopped, but division
spokesman Dean Fryer said it wasn't given the petition seeking to end the
practice until 2002. Last fall its safety board agreed that hand weeding
was more likely to cause back injuries than using a long-handled tool, and
it created an advisory committee to investigate the issue.
California Farm Bureau Federation lawyer Carl Borden questioned the
significance of the medical report, which lacks specifics about the
frequency or duration of hand weeding that poses health risks. "We just
think the medical data isn't there," he said.
Resorting to a long-handled hoe in modern high-density plantings would
substantially increase crop damage and decrease production, said Michael
Webb, lawyer for the Western Growers Association, which represents 3,500
members in the California and Arizona produce industry.
"When you come up with a regulation like this, it's going to make it even
more expensive, and we are not going to be able to sell as much product,"
Webb said. "One of the things that sustains us now is our yield, and if we
cut into that, it compromises our ability to compete with other states and
other countries that do not have this type of law."
Growers say they also fear that hand weeding restrictions are a Trojan
horse for a ban on hand harvesting, which requires stooped labor similar
to hand weeding.
"One of the things that is really disturbing about this whole (proposed
rule) is they are banning something that is essentially the same task as
hand harvest," said organic farmer Underhill. "If what you are really
trying to do is say that this form of motion is damaging to the human
body, it seems like a slippery slope."
The Farm Bureau and others are pushing hard to prevent the loss of hand
weeding as growers prepare for the end of the widely used fumigant methyl
bromide, one of the most effective chemical tools against weeds in
strawberries and lettuce.
"(A hand weeding ban) would be an incredible disaster, simply because we
don't have an effective herbicide to replace this hand weeding effort,"
said Steve Fennimore, extension weed scientist for the University of
California, Davis, in the Salinas Valley.
No study quantifies annual hand weeding hours in California or estimated
costs or benefits of the proposed ban.
In June, a subcommittee of labor, grower, academic and agency
representatives will assess the weeding petition for the Division of
Occupational Health and Safety. If hand weeding restrictions are developed
into a regulatory proposal, it would go through the state's formal
rule-making process that would include public hearings.
"I can see where both sides are coming from," said Tom Lanini, a weed
ecologist at UC Davis and likely member of the subcommittee. "Hopefully, a
happy medium can be reached."
Environmentalists: False prophets of doom
Since the very first Earth Day, scare stories have been exaggerated
By CHRISTOPHER BURGER
April 22, 2003
WASHINGTON -"Between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65
million Americans, will perish from starvation ... civilization will end
within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems
These are actual predictions by environmentalists celebrating the first
Earth Day -- April 22, 1970.
They were wrong. Sixty-five million Americans haven't starved to death.
Food production has handily outpaced population growth. And food today is
cheaper and more abundant than ever before.
Civilization has not ended.
Undaunted, the environmental left continues to sound the alarm. The
supposed threat now is dirty air, the extinction of plants and animals
and, to put it bluntly, President Bush, who is vilified for opposing
ratification of the Kyoto global warming treaty, among other supposed
Like the aforementioned environmentalist claims of 1970, many modern-day
environmental scare stories are flawed.
Sierra Club officials, for instance, claim millions of Americans breathe
dirty air and that smog causes 6 million asthma attacks each summer.
Incidences of asthma have risen, but air pollution levels have gone down.
Scientists have found that asthma is largely related to genetics.
Since 1970, the six principal air pollutants tracked nationally have been
cut by 25 percent. During that time, our gross domestic product has
increased 161 percent while energy consumption increased 42 percent.
Energy consumption per dollar of GDP has declined at an average rate of
1.7 percent during the last 25 years.
This means that America's success in combating air pollution since the
first Earth Day is far, far greater than it seems at first glance.
Environmentalists tout the necessity of protecting plants and animals
through vigorous enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. Preserving
species is a noble goal, but this act isn't doing the job.
Of the 1,254 species listed as endangered since the act was enacted in
1973, only 33 have been taken off the list. Twelve of the 33 were removed
due to erroneous population counts or data entry errors, so less than 1
percent were recovered over the last 30 years.
Meanwhile, it's estimated that enforcement costs consumers and taxpayers
more than $1 billion a year in litigation, lost profits, lost jobs and
rising business and governmental operational costs.
The environmental left fervently supports the Kyoto treaty, an
international agreement designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions to slow
the global warming most environmentalists say is taking place.
If the environmentalists are right about the existence and cause of global
warming, they have much to answer for, as there is more air than substance
to be found in Kyoto. The treaty would have little real impact on climate
change. If it is implemented and works exactly as the environmentalists
predict, it would avert only 0.06 degrees Celsius of global warming by
Kyoto would, however, have a devastating effect on the American economy.
The federal Energy Information Administration has estimated that, if
implemented, the Kyoto Protocol would raise gas prices 14 to 66 cents a
gallon by 2010, electricity prices by 20 to 86 percent and cost the U.S.
economy $400 billion per year.
Independent studies say it also would force many into unemployment, with
minorities being particularly hard-hit: 864,000 blacks and 511,000
Hispanics would lose their jobs.
As in 1970, today's environmental movement relies on wild-eyed
doom-and-gloom predictions to shock people into supporting what too often
is a radical agenda unsupported by sound science. The movement fails to
recognize accomplishments that have been made and supports programs that
cost billions -- yet don't perform as advertised in solving environmental
Those of us who truly believe the environment is important owe it to the
cause to review the hard science behind environmentalist claims and to
consider if the environmentalists' proposed solutions would actually work.
We also owe it to our countrymen -- particularly those who are
economically disadvantaged -- to take into the account the often
multibillion dollar price tags of environmental programs, and make certain
that the poorest among us are not bearing a disproportionate share of the
We do neither our environment nor our country a service if we celebrate
Earth Day by believing every outrageous claim we hear.
Will we reap what biopharming sows?
May 2003 Volume 21 Number 5 pp 480 - 481
By Henry I. Miller
Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA. From
1989 to 1993, he was director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology e-mail:
Common crop plants such as corn and tobacco increasingly are being
programmed with recombinant DNA techniques to produce high-value-added
pharmaceuticals, a process dubbed 'biopharming.' The plants are harvested
and the drug is then extracted and purified.
The concept is not new, but biopharming's great promise lies in the
ability of recombinant DNA techniques to make old plants do new things,
and in the potential economy of the process. The energy for the
manufacturing process comes from the sun, and its primary raw materials
are water and carbon dioxide; moreover, doubling the acreage of a crop
requires far less capital than doubling the capacity of a factory, making
biopharmed drugs potentially less expensive than ones produced in a
There are storm clouds on the horizon, however. The food industry fears
that gene transfer or 'volunteer' biopharmed plants in the field could
contaminate the food supply with vaccines, drugs, and other products,
triggering costly recalls and presenting thorny liability issues.
It is understandable that the food industry should wish to protect our
varied, efficient, and safe systems of food production and distribution,
but their anxiety is excessive and misplaced. Their fears do not take into
account the realities of contemporary agriculture.
Gene flow is ubiquitous. All crop plants have relatives somewhere on the
earth, and some gene flow commonly occurs if the two populations are grown
close together. Thus, genes could be transferred from a crop that has been
modified to synthesize a pharmaceutical, but that is likely to occur only
if a certain gene(s) that has moved confers a selective advantage on the
recipient—an occurrence that should be uncommon with biopharming, where
most often the added gene (which directs the synthesis of large amounts of
substances intended for nonagricultural purposes) will place the recipient
at a selective disadvantage. In other words, plants that acquire the
ability to produce the pharmaceutical are unlikely to compete successfully
Canola, the general term for the genetically improved rapeseed developed a
half-century ago, is a good example of a critical need to segregate crops.
The original rapeseed oil, used as a lubricant, was harmful when ingested
because of high levels of a chemical called erucic acid. Conventional
plant breeding led to the development of genetic varieties of rapeseed
with low concentrations of erucic acid, and canola oil is now widely
consumed. High-erucic acid rapeseed oil still is used as a lubricant and
plasticizer, however, so the high- and low-erucic acid varieties of
rapeseed plants must be carefully segregated in the field and thereafter.
This is accomplished routinely and without difficulty by farmers and
Some of the demands of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (Washington,
DC) and other food trade associations have been reasonable—but not their
call for food plants to be off-limits for biopharming, "unless the company
developing the drug product clearly demonstrates that it is not feasible
to use nonfood crops"; for "land, labor and equipment [to be] dedicated
solely to growing" biopharmed crops; and for "containment of plant-based
drugs [to] be 100% effective." At the same time that these conditions
would offer minimal incremental safety, they would severely stigmatize the
technology and push the development costs of biopharmed products into the
stratosphere. This would limit development only to very high-value-added
substances and inflate the ultimate costs to the consumer of the
biopharmed drugs that reach the marketplace.
Of course, this represents nothing more than the efforts of trade
association lobbyists to further the narrow self-interest of their
constituents, whether or not that self-interest benefits society at large.
But one might well ask, who has conferred on the food manufacturers the
imperium to decide where, when and how new plant varieties should be
tested and cultivated? Conversely, why shouldn't pharmaceutical companies
decide that their cultivation of crops that produce potentially
inexpensive, life-saving drugs should take precedence, and that lest gene
transfer from food crops cause contamination, it is the food crops that
should be segregated and stringently regulated?
But alas, regulators are always alert for new opportunities to increase
their regulatory responsibilities, budgets, and empires—"dogs bark, cows
moo, and regulators regulate," quoth former FDA commissioner Frank E.
Young—and in March, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA; Washington,
DC) announced onerous new rules for biopharmed crops. For the most part,
they followed the demands of the food industry, which, interestingly, were
indistinguishable from those of the radical environmental lobby.
Typical of federal agencies' approach to the regulation of recombinant DNA
plant varieties in general, USDA's new rules impose classical, highly
prescriptive 'design' standards that do not take into account the actual
risks of a given situation, but mindlessly dictate one-size-fits-all
requirements. The new rules:
O Double the buffer zones, from a half_mile to a mile, that
biotechnology companies must maintain between their specialty corn and
ordinary corn. This requirement may rule out many opportunities for
biopharmed varieties in the midwestern corn belt, where large plots of
land with no corn growing on them are rare.
O Mandate that land used to grow biopharmed corn must lie fallow for a
year, a requirement whose expense will likely discourage many midwestern
farmers from biopharming. This is a flagrantly anti_environmental
requirement, and one that conflicts with USDA's own attempts to eliminate
fallow as a farming practice, because the absence of plant cover promotes
O Require that separate planting, storage, and harvesting equipment be
set aside for biopharmed crops, another huge and unnecessary expense,
given the factors (discussed below) that mitigate the effects of small
amounts of transfer ('contamination') that might occur.
USDA also announced that it plans to send inspectors to examine every
biopharmed plot at least five times a growing season, compared with once
under the old rules.
The sophistication of modern agriculture enables us to safely cultivate
crops for food and for new pharmaceuticals, and to ensure that ne'er the
twain shall meet—at least in a way likely to cause injury. Having said
that, one must admit that human error is inevitable. That lesson was
reinforced, as though we needed it, by the Challenger and Columbia space
shuttle disasters, and in a more apposite way, by the failure of
Texas-based ProdiGene (College Station, TX) to adequately monitor the test
plots of biopharmed corn (modified to produce a vaccine to prevent
diarrhea in pigs caused by Escherichia coli) being raised under contract
by local growers in the midwest. The result was that a few of the
biopharmed corn plants sprouted as 'volunteers' during the following
growing season—when soybeans were planted on the field—and were harvested
along with the soybeans.
But as in agbiotech's StarLink corn debacle—in which what ran amok was not
a recombinant DNA-modified plant, but egregiously flawed regulatory policy
and decision-making—it is reasonable to ask, what is the likelihood of
consumers sustaining injury, even in a worst-case scenario?
All of the data necessary for a detailed analysis of the ProdiGene
situation, in which some 500,000 bushels of (non-recombinant) soybeans
allegedly came into contact with a tiny amount of biopharmed corn stalks
and leaves, are not publicly available, but in order for personal injury
to occur, several highly improbable events would have to occur.
First, the active drug substance would have to be present in the final
food product—say, tofu or salad dressing made with soybean oil—at
sufficient levels to exert an adverse effect, the result of either direct
toxicity or allergy. But there would have been a huge dilutional effect,
as the small amounts of biopharmed corn stalks and leaves were pooled into
the massive soybean harvest; with only few exceptions (for example,
peanuts), even an allergic reaction requires the presence of more than a
minuscule exposure. Second, the active agent would need to survive milling
and other processing, and cooking. And third, it would need to be orally
The probability that all of these events would occur is extremely low.
Moreover, the 'drug' produced by ProdiGene's corn is not pharmacologically
active, except in the sense that it is intended to elicit antibodies (that
are intended to confer immunity to E. coli). And yet, although not a
single person was exposed to the 'contaminated' soybeans, and it is not at
all likely that anyone could have been injured by consuming them, USDA
fined ProdiGene an unprecedented $250,000 and required that the company
reimburse the government for the costs of destroying the soybeans, which
could be in the millions of dollars.
Recombinant DNA-modified plants for food and fiber have for several years
been grown worldwide on more than 100 million acres annually, and more
than 60% of processed foods in the United States contain ingredients
derived from recombinant DNA organisms. There has not been a single mishap
that resulted in injury to a single person or ecosystem. Building on the
admirable safety record of traditional agriculture—including the
production of medicines—both theory and experience confirm the
predictability and safety of recombinant DNA technology and its products.
Scientists work on drought-proof rice
Australian Associated Press
April 29, 2003
LOCAL scientists are trying to develop drought-resistant rice for farmers
in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
The University of Queensland (UQ) received a $1 million grant for the
research, which attempts to identify the physiological characteristics
that provide drought tolerance for the rain-fed rice systems in the Mekong
region of Asia.
"Once the genes for drought tolerance are identified, researchers can use
molecular tools to improve the efficiency of developing rice plants by
identifying the particular genes that make certain plants more resistant,"
UQ's School of Land and Food Sciences professor Shu Fukai said.
"Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are countries that don't have irrigation
water to grow rice so about 70 per cent of their rice fields simply rely
"We are aiming to find rice plants and varieties that will cope with
Prof Fukai said part of the research would be conducted through
partnership with UQ and the National Agricultural Research Systems in the
He said rice was the most important food source in the world with over two
billion people relying on rice for their daily food supply.
Farmers support GMA on biotech
The Philippine Star
April 30, 2003
Influential members of the Philippine agricultural sector today issued a
manifesto of support on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s approval to
adopt modern biotechnology as an anchor of the government’s food security
In a biotech forum held today at the Department of Agriculture, the group
also expressed support on Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, Jr.’s call
enjoining the local agricultural community "to participate in democratic
discussion on GMOs, particularly, Bt corn".
Among those who signed the manifesto of support signaling the government’s
stand on the commercialization of biotechnology-processed crops are Mr.
Felix Cordero and Mr. Rod Bioco representing the Nursery Farmers
Irrigators Association, Matatag Farmers Irrigators Association and San
Isidro Integrated Agro-Industrial Multipurpose Cooperative (SINAG-MPC),
and Philippine Maize Federation.
Earlier, two of the biggest agricultural groups in Mindanao, the
Agricultural and Fisheries Council of General Santos City (AFC) and the
Provincial Farmers Action Council in South Cotabato (PFAC), represented by
Mr. Edwin Paraluman also expressed their support.
Bioco told the President that GMOs, particularly corn and soybean, have
been declared safe by international agencies such as the Food and
Agriculture Organization, the European Commission, the Third World Academy
of Sciences and the National Academies of Science of several countries.
He added that "all commercially released plants and plant products have
undergone and passed rigid food and safety tests, and are as safe as any
conventionally bred crop and pose no additional threat to humans and the
Bioco also said ‘’the only way we can benefit from science is by welcoming
with enlightened courage the opportunities that we find at every new
frontier of knowledge".
"Agricultural biotechnology is one tool that holds great promise for
alleviating hunger and poverty", he added.
Bioco also blasted an apparent well-funded campaign launched by foreign
interest groups "to create a scare campaign against genetically modified
He warned that this move is "meant to sow fear among the public".
The Department of Agriculture has earlier approved the commercial release
for propagation of Bt corn-MON810 in December 2002.
These biotechnology-processed corn plants produce proteins that kill the
Asiatic corn borer, a major insect pest of corn. These are planted in
Ilocos, Pangasinan, Isabela and Camarines Sur.
Expected harvest date is April-May of this year.
Recent results show farmers who have planted the Bt corn have reported the
effective response of the plants in controlling the corn borers.
Other Asian countries, including China, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia have
taken steps ahead of the Philippines in the application of biotechnology
to their respective agricultural sectors.
Devinder Sharma gets it wrong on Golden Rice
The technology transfer on Golden Rice is free of all costs to developing
countries. The Government of India and the Governments of the States
have to bear the costs of developing the varieties needed in different
rice growing localities, since no single variety can be grown in the whole
any state, let alone the whole of India. The Governments will certainly
bear these costs, since there is political mileage in it. It looks that
there is a clause in the agreement on technology transfer that if ever the
cost of Golden Rice is higher than that of a comparable variety of rice in
the market, the Government of India will have to pay technology costs.
Hence, the costs of Golden Rice will be kept at affordable levels,
reaching at least those who are now able to buy some kind and quantity of
That a number of people cannot afford to buy a commodity, is not an
argument to prevent its production, particularly when that commodity has a
potential to help a very large number of others. Mixing economic and
political issues with science and development is neither positive nor
progressive thinking. Poverty is the root cause of people not getting
what they essentially need, but the solution for this is elsewhere.
Devinder Sharma, with his deep insight into these issues, should
concentrate on poverty alleviation rather than technology trashing.
Since no single person can possibly read everything and understand
everything he/she reads, we help each other in this process. Just as we
learn a think or two from Devinder Sharma, he may try to reciprocate,
avoiding, in his own words, " meaningless discussions and cheap diatribe",
repeated ad nauseam.
C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
Daily Post (Liverpool)
April 30, 2003
FARMERS in favour of growing genetically modified crops are hoping that
two new reports discussed at European level will boost prospects for
managing GM and non-GM crops at the practical farm level.
A survey of farmers involved in the government's farm-scale evaluation
trials has revealed few practical difficulties in managing GM and non-GM
crops,according to co-existenceguidelines. The survey,carried out by
Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, found 94pc cent of
farmers regarded the guidelines as being very or fairly straightforward to
The second report,based on an independent audit of growers conducted by
ADAS Consulting,confirmed very high levels of compliance. Overall, shows
that the guidelines are based on procedures farmers are familiar with,and
do not represent a major departure from current best practice within the
Searching for the "real" story on biotech wheat
by Bill Horan
May 1, 2003
It isn't often that the Washington Post reports on political doings in
Manning, North Dakota--a little town of about two-dozen people. But that's
what happened last week, when Manning made the front-page of a mighty
Writer Justin Gillis described a meeting at the Long Knife Saloon, where
wheat farmers gathered to discuss a new kind of crop that will help them
cut down on weeds and boost their yields. "The wheat was created in a St.
Louis biology laboratory, through genetic engineering. It is meant to
benefit farmers, but a lot of people in the room fretted that it would put
them out of business," wrote Gillis.
He went on to say that many wheat farmers are worried about adopting this
new technology because they don't know if anyone will want to buy it.
And that's why the real story behind biotech wheat isn't taking place in
the village of Manning--but across the ocean. The only reason we're even
discussing a "controversy" in North Dakota and other wheat-growing states
is because a small group of Europeans have decided to make it one, but at
the cost of ignoring both scientific evidence and common sense.
Biotechnology already has revolutionized agriculture, even though we've
only seen the beginnings of what it will accomplish. I've been able to
take full advantage of it in my corn and soybean fields. I'm producing
more food on the same amount of land, all while using less spray and
cutting down on soil erosion to protect our environment.
Now the miracle of biotechnology is finally going to help wheat farmers,
with a genetically modified plant that resists herbicide. It will enable
farmers to kill more weeds with less spray.
This is an especially beneficial development for wheat farmers, because
weed killing is so important to what they do. Wheat grows in semi-arid
climates where every drop of water matters. Weeds in wheat fields are
parasites that suck up resources that otherwise nourish one of America's
It's a wonder that any wheat farmer would think twice about adopting this
new technology. And yet there's plenty of concern in the heartland. "In
the states that grow the fabled amber waves of grain that symbolize
America's heritage of plenty, the most plentiful commodity these days is
in trouble," says the Post.
That's because so much of the wheat grown in the United States is sold
overseas. Europe is a major market, and yet the Europeans have balked at
Some of them profess to wonder whether genetically modified crops are
truly safe to eat. The truth is that biotech food has never hurt a human,
anytime or anyplace. In fact, it enhances food safety, because it helps
eliminate the insects that chew open seedcoats and admit pathogens.
At bottom, the Europeans are trying to protect special interest groups at
home. Their opposition to biotechnology has nothing to do with public
health, and everything to do with raw politics. Some of their leading
scientific organizations, such as the French Academy of Sciences and the
French Academy of Medicine and Pharmacy, have endorsed biotech foods. It's
the politicians who continue to oppose it.
They will lose eventually. It remains an open question of how long the
European Union will continue to cry wolf before it approves this
technology, however. The United States and the rest of the world must
press the Europeans until they come to their senses.
In the meantime, their shortsighted and parochial concerns are damaging
family farmers whose livelihoods depend upon open markets. This is doubly
true in developing countries, where the adoption of biotechnology has an
immediate opportunity to improve living conditions and fend off
European intransigence is hurting consumers, too, because denying them
biotech food denies them choices. And, finally, the enemies of
biotechnology are not friends of the environment, because few things in
agriculture are as favorable to conservation as products that require
fewer chemical applications and protect the soil.
I hope that American wheat farmers will embrace biotech, and that European
regulators pull down their roadblocks. We all know they'll do it
eventually. The sooner they do, the sooner we'll all benefit.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.