Today in AgBioView: June 3, 2003
* Philippines - Bt Corn, GMOs safe, Nobel Laureates Assure President
* CropGen and the GM National Debate in UK
* The EU's Anti-Biotech Protectionist Weapon
* Brazil Postpones GM Regulation
* Scientists Increase Vitamin C In Crops - May Lead To Healthier Food
* Risk of Allergy from Genetically Engineered Products
* Grain of Truth: Biotech Won't Soon Replace "Conventional" Breeding
* No Zero Tolerance, Please! - We're Developing Countries
* Bush Does Aid His Way - US is the World's Stingiest Donor
* ... Bush, Hero or Hypocrite?
* Double Helix World
* Making 'Safety First' a Reality for Biotechnology Products
Philippines - Bt Corn, GMOs safe, Nobel Laureates Assure GMA
- Philippine Star, June 02, 2003 http://www.philstar.com
A total of 178 scientists attesting to the safety of biotechnology-derived
crops including Bt corn, recently assured President Arroyo through a
declaration that plants and food derived from biotechnology are safe both
to humans and the environment even as they warned her against an
"organized scare campaign" by anti-biotechnology groups.
In a letter to the President, Dr. C.S Prakash of the United States-based
Tuskegee Institute said "there is overwhelming scientific evidence that
this (biotechnology) is a safe and useful approach in improving
agricultural production and environmental sustainability, and contributes
significantly to better health."
This is further strengthened in an earlier broader petition vouching for
the safety of bioengineered crops that have been endorsed by over 3,500
scientists from across 60 countries including 20 Nobel laureates.
Food and plant products processed through biotechnology, such as Bt corn,
have built in resistance to specific pests such as the deadly Asiatic corn
borer. They therefore require little or no application of toxic chemical
The international scientists wrote the President in the wake of recent
protest actions in the country concerning the commercialization of Bt
corn. Several nongovernmental organizations backed by Greenpeace had
demanded that the government stop farmers from planting the high-yielding
Among the Nobel winners who assured the safety of biotech products are
Norman Borlaug (Nobel Peace Prize, 1970), Oscar Arias Sanchez (Nobel Peace
Prize, 1987), Paul Boyer (Nobel Prize in chemistry, 1997), Eric Wieschaus
(Physiology, 1995), Christian de Duve (Medicine, 1974), George Olah
(Chemistry, 1994) and Donald A. Glaser (Physics, 1960).
The scientists pointed out that "the responsible genetic modification of
plants is neither new nor dangerous." They said this was being done before
through traditional methods such as cell culture. Biotechnology, however,
offers greater flexibility and precision in the modification of crop
plants, they said.
Biotechnology can also address environmental degradation, hunger, and
poverty in the developing world through improved agricultural productivity
and greater nutritional security, they added.
"We have concluded that commercial biotechnology-derived crops and
foodstuffs are as safe as conventional crops and foodstuffs, and deliver
important economic and environmental benefits to farmers and society at
large," they told the President.
The assurance made by the international scientific community had earlier
been expressed by local researchers led by professors from the University
of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB) and various science organizations.
Among these are the Women Association of Scientists in the Philippines,
the Women Inventors Association of the Philippines, the Philippine
Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the Crop
Science Society of the Philippines, the Biochemical Society of the
Philippines, the Women in Science and Technology Development Foundation,
Inc.,and the Pest Management Council of the Philippines.
Leading Filipino scientists based in the University of the Philippines
also joined the fight against the black propaganda efforts against
biotechnology. Among them are Professors Nelle Lopez of the UP Diliman
Institute of Biology, Emerica Cao of the UP Diliman Natural Science
Research Institute, Nina Barzaga of the UP Manila Institute of Molecular
Biology and Biotechnology, Mario Festin of the UP Manila National
Institute of Health, Dr. Violeta Villegas of the UP Los Banos Institute of
Plant Breeding and Dr. Benigno Peczon of the Biotechnology Coalition of
CropGen and the GM National Debate
- Professor Vivian Moses , CropGen, UK
Having a "national debate" is a rare event - CropGen cannot remember the
last time we had one with all the trimmings of meetings, websites and the
world and his wife telling us what it means or how it is no more than a
façade to cover up dirty doings in Downing Street and Westminster.
Tomorrow (June 3rd) the GM Nation debate formally begins. The idea is to
involve the British public in decision-making on an important issue.
Nominally it is about whether we should allow the cultivation of GM crops
in the UK. Actually it comes down to whether or not this country, the
pioneer of the industrial revolution and countless scientific advances and
technological innovations which have put us at the forefront of modern
development, is to be held to ransom by a small coterie of people imbued
with a hopelessly romantic view of life as it used to be but never was,
and how they can stop the future coming here come what may. Some of them
also have commercial interests as they see their high-priced market share
threatened by a better and lower-cost alternative.
All these actors have lighted upon the GM crop issue for two very obvious
reasons. The first is that technically it is beyond most people's
experience and so easy as a vehicle with which to sow confusion and fear,
especially in the wake of BSE (with which, of course, it has nothing at
all to do). Secondly, it offers an outlet for the campaigning community
who, having lost so many idealistic objectives through sheer disillusion
and exhaustion, are always in the market for a new one.
The facts of GM technology are clear enough in outline. Twenty or thirty
years ago, advances in the biological sciences opened up new and better
ways for breeding improved crop plants. New breeds produced
"conventionally" are put on the market every year, breeds intended to
increase yield, cope with crop diseases, improve quality and solve various
environmental difficulties. But our collective ability to keep doing so by
conventional methods is slowing down just as problems of increasing human
populations, exhausted land, climate change and water shortages are
gathering pace. If we don't do something soon, something significant
enough to overcome these many problems, mankind is going to be in big
We know already (although the campaigners refuse to admit it) that GM
foods approved for human consumption have revealed no medical problems for
anyone, anywhere in the world, for the seven or eight years they have been
on sale. We know, furthermore, that such environmental problems as have
arisen where these crops have been grown intensively are of the sort that
show up all the time in farming; nothing dreadful there. Moreover, we know
- or, rather, farmers know - how beneficial these new crops can be. Even
though their seeds are more expensive, a technology fee has to be paid and
new seed must be purchased each year from the breeders, farmers the world
over have taken up the new technology with enthusiasm. There are now six
million of them, three quarters in developing countries, and rising by
more than a tenth each year in spite of the campaigners telling them they
are losing money. Farmers are clearly more stupid than they themselves
The biotech companies are accused of doing well out of the new technology.
Are they expected to spend hundreds of millions of pounds seeing each new
product through development and over regulatory hurdles in order to do
badly? Those companies can do well only if their customers (the farmers)
buy their seeds. And there is nothing to stop governments funding such
developments in the public sector, as some of them are indeed doing in
India, China and elsewhere. Do we in Britain want to help those poorer
countries, or hinder them by our own refusal to become involved? There is
nothing to stop our government (or others of like mind) funding the
production of new GM varieties specifically to meet agricultural problems
in the Third World: British scientists would be delighted at the
opportunity to help as would their colleagues in other western countries.
The British people, it is said, have firmly rejected GM foods and GM
crops. Have they? The polls are all over the place. It depends on the
question asked and the phase of the moon; over the years the numbers
generally or specifically in favour of some aspect or other of GM
technology have hovered around fifty/fifty, sometimes a bit up and other
times a bit down. Over the past few years it has tended to creep up
towards favourability but every now and again one comes up the other way.
Last November's Eurobarometer survey on that point showed that Britain was
the least rejecting (at about 31%) of all the EU countries; Greeks are
more than twice as sceptical.
The debate offers us all the opportunity of going more deeply into the
many issues surrounding the technology, economics, ethics and politics of
GM plants, and to make our voices heard if we want to. There are meetings,
websites, letters, arguments - everything under the sun. How much the
public will actually wish to be involved, however, is another matter.
People frequently say they would like to know more but seem unwilling to
spend much time and effort doing so. Those of us, like CropGen, deeply
engaged in the matter are perhaps reluctant to acknowledge that most
people are simply not all that interested.
As a manifestation of democracy, a national debate is just what is needed.
It really is worth taking an interest, not just for the arguments about
GM, but because the whole question of agriculture, our food, and where it
is to come from when we have 50% more people in the world by mid-century
are matters which cannot be avoided. Governments have ultimately to take
the decisions but they should do so knowing that their constituents have
bothered to familiarise themselves with the issues and have some ideas
about what should be done.
The GM issue is one of today's big questions. There are others (the Euro,
for example) and there will be more in the future. Perhaps we will be able
to look back to 2003 and remember that it was genetic modification that
inaugurated a new era of public debate in the British body politic.
The EU's Anti-Biotech Protectionist Weapon
- Henry Miller & Greg Conko, Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2003
America's challenge to EU policies toward agricultural and food
biotechnology is far more complex and subtle than is conveyed by U.S.
Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick ("United States v. European
Union," editorial page, May 21). A WTO judgment that the EU's five-year
ban on new approvals of biotech crops is illegal would not be sufficient
to remedy what ails international trade in gene-spliced crops and food.
Even the EU's lifting of its moratorium on approvals would be of only
marginal benefit, because it would leave in place an array of
unscientific, unnecessary and excessive regulatory requirements. The EU
will not relinquish these discriminatory regulations on gene-splicing;
they are too effective a protectionist weapon. They discourage plant
breeders and farmers in exporting countries, including the U.S., from
planting new gene-spliced plant varieties not approved in Europe, because
of the possibility that these varieties could "contaminate" exports. In
other words, we will continue to permit the most risk-averse and
protectionist player in the game to set the rules on international trade.
The most likely outcome of the U.S. filing is the EU will simply ignore a
WTO ruling that the EU's moratorium on new gene-spliced product approvals
is illegal. The WTO has no real enforcement power, but relies on member
nations to accept its decisions voluntarily. The WTO could, however,
authorize the U.S. and the other complainants to establish countervailing
import tariffs on goods from the transgressor nations in an amount equal
to the potential sales revenue lost by the exporters. No outcome that
permits continued trade restrictions is desirable, but a ruling in favor
of the U.S. and its allies would at least send a message to the world that
the EU's arbitrary, scientifically indefensible and protectionist policies
are an unacceptable barrier to trade.
Brazil Postpones GM Regulation
- Andrew Apel, AgBiotech Reporter, June 2003 http://www.bioreporter.com
Brazil has postponed the application of new rules requiring that labels
identify GM goods, after neighboring Argentina expressed alarm over the
requirements. Brazil is Argentinas main trading partner and some 13
percent of the $11.4 billion of food Argentina exported last year went to
Brazil, according to the Organization of American States' agricultural
Argentine producers say the rules were stricter than those in Europe.
"They've gone too far in including animal products... Argentine dairy
products would have to carry a label saying this product comes from
animals fed on GMOs", said Roberto Domenech, undersecretary of food at
the agriculture department. "This hasn't been seen anywhere in the
First we have to see how Brazil deals with this domestically and then how
it deals with Argentina, because in Brazil there is also a high percentage
of GM soy, said Victor Castro of the Argentine Association of Seed
In Brazil, there was no reaction to the rules. Over one month after the
government decreed that all GM soy must carry consumer warning labels,
Brazil's producers, cooperatives and traders were buying and selling
without any GM labels or any increase in GM-free certificates. For now,
the measure has not altered anything in the commercial process of the
cooperatives, said Rui Polidoro, president of the Rio Grande do Sul
Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Fecoagro), which has seen no
labeling or increase in segregation of soybeans in the No. 3 soy producer
Cooperatives said there was no apparent increase in interest in certifying
soy as GM-free, either. Antonio Sartori, owner of the Rio Grande do Sul
brokerage Brasoja, said nobody was certifying crops as non-transgenic
because there was no financial compensation. The buyer doesnt want to
know, so the producer prefers to deliver the soy as transgenic and ready,
Brazil's agriculture ministry and grower associations were quick to point
out deficiencies in the regulations. Agriculture minister Roberto
Rodrigues said, It is difficult to discriminate between GM and non-GM
beans. We don't have enough laboratories to inspect all of the lots and
are even less prepared to certify producers. Federation of Cooperatives
of Grande do Sul President Rui Polidoro said, "We have only three or four
[test] kits, and with that number we have no hope of segregating the
The regulations do not specify who is responsible to shoulder the cost of
inspection and certification. The price of tests for detecting transgenic
content ranges from $127 for the simplest to $330 for sophisticated test
kits. Brazil's National Agriculture Federation estimated the cost of
testing this years soybean crop at $276.8 million. According to one
estimate, passing that cost on to consumers would make it impossible for
Brazil to remain competitive in the global soybean market.
Grower associations estimate that the majority of soybeans harvested in
Brazil this year would have been labeled as having transgenic content in
order to eliminate the risk of fines. This might have eventually ended in
requiring that all those soybeans be exported, as a measure pending in the
legislature would ban selling any biotech soybeans within Brazil.
Legalizing commercialization of GM crops may be the only viable way out of
Brazil's biotech soybean dilemma, because grower associations in Rio
Grande do Sul have already stated their intent to plant Roundup Ready
soybeans again this fall, with or without government approval. Compiled
from reports by Reuters and Food Chemical News.
Scientists Increase Vitamin C In Crops - Genetic Discovery May One Day
Lead To Healthier Food
- Robert Cooke, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 1,2003
Through genetic tinkering, scientists find they can dramatically boost the
amount of vitamin C in the leaves and seeds of crop plants. By taking a
special gene from wheat plants and inserting it into tobacco and corn
plants, Daniel Gallie and four colleagues at the University of California,
Riverside, doubled and quadrupled the amounts of vitamin C found in their
The research could be significant since humans are unable to make vitamin
C and meet their need for it through diet. Their report appeared recently
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Instead of actually increasing the amount of vitamin C made by each plant
cell, Gallie's team found a way to salvage, or recycle, vitamin C that had
already been made and used. They boosted the action of an enzyme that
restores "used" vitamin C to its active form so it can be used again.
This increased "recycling" of oxidized vitamin C was accomplished by
boosting production of the natural enzyme DHAR. The gene that makes DHAR,
dehydroascorbate reductase, was isolated from wheat cells and was altered
to become extra-active. The engineered gene was then inserted into the
experimental plants, tobacco and corn, to see how well it works in these
well-studied laboratory plants.
As a result of the tinkering, the tobacco plants made 32 times more of the
enzyme than usual, and the corn plants were making 100 times more. The
result was plants containing two to four times more vitamin C than
ordinary tobacco and corn.
Charles Arntzen, at Arizona State University, said Gallie's achievement
"certainly sounds like it will be very useful. It's a surprising and novel
discovery, that they can so dramatically increase the level of vitamin C
in plant tissues. It will be very interesting to see what impact that has
on both human and animal physiology when it's put into food and feed."
Arntzen, founding director of the university's Arizona Biodesign
Institute, does similar research, trying to engineer plants so they make
pharmaceutical proteins, such as vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. His
group is creating a huge structure, which Arntzen described as "the only,
and the largest, genetic containment facility for growing plants that have
been genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical proteins."
One vision he has pursued for years is to alter banana trees so they
incorporate important vaccines into their fruit. The goal is to vaccinate
children against dangerous diseases without the need to visit clinics for
repeated injections. Such vaccination would also be cheap. One reason for
growing engineered plants in the huge containment facility in Arizona is
to see whether they pose any environmental or health hazards. There is
widespread fear that genetically altered plants might somehow become
super-weeds or contaminate natural plants with engineered genes via
To reduce fears about genetically engineered foods, Gallie said, making
plants produce more DHAR, and thus more vitamin C, can probably be done
without true genetic manipulation. Instead of swapping new genes into crop
plants, enzyme-making genes within the crop species that are especially
active probably can be found and transferred into commercial crop plants
via conventional crossbreeding.
Boosting the amounts of vitamin C in crops could be an important
development, in addition to health benefits, Gallie noted, because vitamin
C "is the major antioxidant in plants," and it is a chemical that "is
essential for photosynthesis." Also, as part of their research, Gallie
and his colleagues tried to see whether changing the vitamin C content
harms the plants. So far, there are no signs of damage or reduced
production of seeds and leaves.
Gallie tasted plant tissues to see if the extra vitamin C caused any
flavor differences. He found none. "There's no change that is visible at
all in how they grow," he added. Still, "much more work needs to be done"
to be sure the tinkering hasn't altered the plants' ability to withstand
stress, such as the increased temperatures expected to come from global
It has long been known that people who get too little vitamin C in their
diets become ill because, after several months without the vitamin, the
body begins deteriorating. This eventually leads to a debilitating
condition called scurvy, once a major health problem for the world's
Fortunately, the cure for scurvy is simple: eat fresh fruits and
vegetables. In fact, the discovery that citrus fruits can prevent scurvy
is what led to British sailors being called "limeys"; fresh limes were
grown in the Caribbean just for the British navy.
It was a Scottish doctor, James Lind, who discovered in 1753 that
consumption of oranges and lemons cures scurvy. But it took almost another
half-century before the British navy took heed and began serving sailors
regular rations of citrus juice. The name limey has hung on ever since.
At present, the recommended daily amount, or RDA of vitamin C is 75
milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men. For many years the RDA was
set at 60 milligrams, and at the time it was estimated that 30 percent of
Americans were not even getting that much daily. The amount needed to
avoid scurvy is far smaller, just 10 milligrams per day, Gallie said.
Risk of Allergy from Genetically Engineered Products
- C Kameswara Rao, , AgBioView, June 2, 2003.
(Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education Bangalore, India)
Fears of risk of allergy, from products of Genetic Engineering (GE), have
become a major issue in biosecurity considerations.
Many proteins are immunogens and antigens, which elicit the production of
different types of immunoglobulin (Ig) antibodies in mammalian systems. In
response to the presence of immunogens and antigens, immunoglobulin M
(IgM) antibodies form first but the quantity of the subsequently formed
immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies is the highest of all. IgA are involved
in the defence of the oral cavity. The function of IgD antibodies, which
occur in small quantities, is not well understood. These antibodies fight
infection in our body system.
For some unknown reasons, our immunological system reacts to certain
proteins in an entirely different way, to produce another class of
antibodies, the IgE. These are the allergens.
IgE molecules bind to mast cells in the internal and external linings of
the body. The mast cells have large membrane bound organelles containing
histamine. The binding of IgE to the mast cells causes the release of
histamine triggering an inflammatory reaction, in the tissue layers
containing mast cells. Externally, this manifests in the skin as rashes or
weals, and internally the gastric lining becomes inflamed, often
associated with stomach cramps. Bronchial allergies are caused mostly by
While most allergens are proteins, secondary metabolites (haptens), such
as penicillin or parthenin, also can cause severe reactions. Haptens need
to bind to a carrier protein to be allergenic. Usually this is an
endogenous protein, already present in our body.
The best way to avoid allergy is to avoid contact with the allergen,
basing on each individual’s experience. Immunological treatment of allergy
involves identifying the allergen through dermal tests and introducing it
into the body system in small doses over a period of time. Slowly, the
body system responds into producing more and more of IgG antibodies, which
bind to and neutralise the allergen before large quantities of IgE are
produced. Most of us are protected from an innumerable number of allergens
by a similar natural process.
Immunological treatment of allergy is not always successful and is not
feasible when an endogenous protein is involved, because the body does not
produce antibodies to its own protein (except in the case of autoimmune
diseases). Proteins in conventional food items such as fish, eggs, milk,
peanuts, Brazil nuts, certain varieties of rice, cucumbers, mushrooms and
many others cause allergy in different people and so do certain drugs.
Most products of GE are not potentially more allergenic than their
conventional counterparts. The risk of allergy needs to be considered only
when a GE food or drug contains one or more new proteins, not present in
the isogenic variety, coded by the introduced genes. For example, Bt
potato tuber contains the Bt protein, which was found to be safe. When
there are no new proteins in a GE product, the question of allergy has no
relevance. If some one is allergic to conventional peanuts, the same will
happen with GE peanuts as well.
Extensive tests are being conducted to check for allergenicity of GE
products. The following considerations need to be kept in mind in this
regard: a) tests use only models of known allergenic proteins and do not
involve all proteins or probable non-protein allergens, b) it is near
impossible to test for all the proteins and non-proteins in a product for
the potential of allergy, c) there is no single allergen that can cause
allergy in all the people even in a single household, and d) people tend
to be allergic to certain substances only during a period of their life
and not all through.
Allergy is neither a new nor a universal issue. It is a problem for some
individuals and it is not equivalent to an infection. Any chemical
substance in the environment or that is ingested into our body system, can
be allergenic. Most allergies disappear as mysteriously as they developed.
We have not stopped the production of fish, eggs, milk, peanuts, etc., for
the reason they cause allergy in some people. What is needed is a rational
attitude with concern for larger benefits.
Grain of Truth: Biotech Won't Soon Replace "Conventional" Breeding
- David J. Mackill, IRRI Plant Breeder, Rice Today, April 2003. vol.2.
no1, p34 http://www.irri.org/publications/today/index.asp
'A basic fact of applied genetic engineering is that all transgenic
manipulation involves conventionally bred varieties'
A defining moment in the history of biology was the elucidation of the
laws of genetics by Gregor Mendel, whose work was rediscovered and became
widely known in 1900. Ranking in the same category a century later must be
the announcement of complete genome sequences, notably of humans and the
plant Arabidopsis. Rice has now joined this exalted company with the
announcement on 18 December 2002 of the completion of a high-quality draft
sequence of the rice genome.
Rice geneticists labored for most of the 20th century to identify and map
rice genes. The work hastened immensely with the advent of molecular
markers in the 1990s. However, these painstaking efforts resulted in a map
location for perhaps a few hundred major genes and a similar number of
genetic loci controlling quantitative traits, only a handful o which were
characterized at the DNA level. Suddenly, we now possess detailed
sequences of an estimated 50,000 genes that regulate the rice plant‚s
Parallel to this stunning progress in molecular biology are similar
advances in our ability to introduce genes into plants directly as DNA.
The area planted to transgenic crops rose from nil in 1995 to over 50
million ha in 2001, mostly in North America. Transgenic rice is under
evaluation in several countries, and we should expect commercial products
to become available within a few years.
One question these trends frequently raise is, "What is the future of
conventional plant breeding?" First, let me point out that "conventional
plant breeding" is a misnomer. Plant breeders continually reevaluate
their approaches and have adopted a wide range of tools to make their
breeding efforts more efficient. For the sake of discussion, we will
define conventional plant breeding as hybridization without inserting
transgenes, followed by field selection. It is true that in the early days
of the biotechnology revolution one heard such comments as, "In the
future, we‚ll produce new plant varieties in the lab, with no need for
However, even the staunchest advocates of the new biology would now
dispute this misguided idea. A basic fact of applied genetic engineering
is that all transgenic manipulation involves conventionally bred
varieties. A transgenic plant is nothing more than a conventionally bred
one with a novel gene inserted into it. While the inserted gene may add a
very important feature, it remains a small part of the genetic makeup that
determines the overall attributes of the plant.
We expect that the complete genome sequence of rice will greatly improve
our ability to breed new rice varieties. Our ultimate goal is to identify
the function of each gene and subsequently the most favorable alleles
(versions) of those genes, which we can then combine into superior rice
varieties. In the future, this technology will allow us to trace all genes
in our rice breeding populations. As it becomes cheaper and more widely
available, it should allow us to select the best plants from the breeding
populations without extensive field tests. Breeders will be able to
produce elite breeding lines by directly selecting for specific
combinations of alleles at the molecular level. However, these elite lines
will still require thorough evaluation by breeders, other agricultural
scientists and, finally, farmers.
The challenges for rice breeders are immense. We have a long way to go
before solving the problem of abiotic stress tolerance, for drought in
particular. In the future, rice consumers will want varieties that are not
only tastier but also more nutritious. Also assuming a more important role
will be such environmental concerns as durable pest resistance, more
efficient nutrient uptake, and the cultivars‚ response to global climate
change and pollution. Genetic engineering and genomic tools will
complement these rice breeding efforts. While we may not anticipate
breakthroughs on a par with the yield gains of the Green Revolution
semidwarfs of the 1960s, we can certainly expect incremental progress on
One could argue that at some point we will be able to create optimum
genotypes entirely in the laboratory. This is an intriguing possibility,
but I expect to see demand for several more generations of scientists
versed in the classical methods of plant breeding. These breeders will
have a range of new tools to facilitate their work, but they should not
forget how to make crosses and grow field nurseries.
'No Zero Tolerance, Please!'
A Statement on Draft European Legislation on the Tolerance Levels for the
Unintended Presence of GM Material In Non-GM Agricultural and Food
- Africabio, Biotechnology Stakeholders Association, May 24, 2003
Members of the South African agricultural industry have been closely
following the regulatory developments on GM food in Europe and have
serious concerns about the latest proposals regarding labeling and
It is generally accepted that products from GM technologies have come to
stay, as is clearly evident from global acceptance -- without trade
impediments -- of GM derived products used in human and animal health,
food processing, industrial bio-processing and environmental conservation.
Likewise, GM crop plants have come to stay - their socio-economic
benefits are well documented and scientifically proven, especially for
developing countries. The substantial benefits of GM derived products and
GM crops have never been challenged on scientific grounds.
Foods derived from GM crops presently being produced in various countries
around the world have been declared as safe as conventional foods. This
fact is underwritten by biosafety assessments evaluated on a scientific
basis, supported by scientific associations and academies, 20 Nobel
laureates, the FAO, WHO and OECD, as well as the 15-year EU study.
While we respect the right of individual countries to make national
decisions, the right of consumers to choose the foods they prefer, and the
farmers right to decide what crops to grow, we are concerned that the
present EU proposals will constrain such decision-making, especially in
The EU, like many other countries, accepts that organic, conventional and
GM food crops will co-exist. It is also common knowledge that commodity
grain crops will be co-mingled to a greater or lesser extent. The world
also accepts, in terms of metrology guidelines and regulations, that
practical considerations demand tolerance levels on weights, measures,
ingredients, contents, composition, seed qualities, etc. It is interesting
that EU certified organic foods allow wide tolerances on many parameters.
In the light of the foregoing, the zero tolerance for genetic events not
yet approved in the EU, is not considered to be science-based.
The diagnostic techniques present a specific practical problem. What do
laboratories test for? The unique protein, the unique gene, the promoter
element or the marker gene? Such techniques require the exact identical
DNA probe, and immaculate hygiene in laboratory equipment to prevent the
unintentional contamination with other DNA.
Detection of GM food components and ingredients becomes costly, difficult
and unreliable when GM-DNA or protein occurs at very low levels, and
impossible in ingredients that do not contain such DNA or protein.
Reliance on a traceable audit trail is not only expensive but also opens
the floodgates to fraudulent labeling. Developing countries cannot afford
cost increases in either domestic food production or in export food
products, especially in the light of negligible premiums being paid for
We wish to refer to the recent ISTA (International Seed Testing
Association) ring test experiment where only 30 out of 43 participating
laboratories correctly identified GM status in samples, whereas the
remaining laboratories reported false positive and/or false negative
results. The probability of finding a sample acceptable as non-GM depends
upon the sampling regime used.
Clearly a zero tolerance would require extensive sampling according to
international protocols.[Refer ISTA News Bulletin 124, Dec.2002]. As yet
there is no global consensus on standardized testing regimes. The debate
around the "contamination" of Mexican maize by GM was put in the right
perspective when scientists found that Chapela & Guzman used the wrong
probe that also picked up DNA that occurs naturally in maize. If
professional laboratories cannot achieve perfection, who will be liable
for false test results and the trade implications of a zero tolerance
requirement? This will be a legal minefield.
Even if a country takes every precaution - on the farm, during storage and
transport - adventitious material may still appear. In practice, the
holds of cargo ships can never be cleaned to perfection. Co-mingling may
also occur at the harbour of the importing country or during subsequent
transport, storage or processing. How will liability be apportioned if a
zero tolerance is not achieved?
It seems that not all parties have given the same degree of consideration
to the practical and legal complexities of the proposed EU tolerances.
This is evident from the recent endorsement of the proposals by the
European Parliament Environment Committee in contrast to the position
taken by the Scientific Committee.
If developed industrial countries cannot achieve perfection, how much less
can developing countries meet such requirements? Billions of dollars are
being invested in modern biotechnology in developing countries, a sizeable
percentage of which goes into crop biotechnology. The EU directly, as a
union of states or through individual national development agencies,
provides substantial funding to developing countries for R&D,
field-testing, training and capacity building in GM technology. We find
it inexplicable that the EU actively supports a technology against which a
regulatory regime is being developed that will make it effectively
impossible for developing countries to export agricultural products to the
The EU has not yet approved a GM white maize (even though the specific
genetic event has been approved in white and yellow maize elsewhere). Yet,
in conventional maize national standards permit thresholds for the
presence of yellow grain in white maize and vice versa. These tolerances
are standard practice in countries that grow both white and yellow maize.
A EU zero-tolerance for GM maize will make it almost impossible to export
either white or yellow maize, or their products, to the EU. White maize
is a staple food in most of Africa and the risk of GM adventitious
material will scare away adoption of a technology that can help Africa
overcome the 40% plus crop losses caused by weeds, pests and disease.
The Zambian stance on not accepting food aid that may contain GM is driven
by fear that its exports to EU will be jeopardized, also by the market
requirement that animals must not be fed on GM grain -- a requirement that
has no scientific basis.
The real loss in the trade dispute between North America and the EU will
be the resource-poor, small-scale farmers in developing countries. Most
of these developing countries have agriculture-based economies and any
impediment to export opportunities will impact negatively on national
economies as a whole.
We sincerely urge the political decision makers in the EU to consider the
impact on developing countries when voting on a labeling and traceability
regulatory regime that will be practically impossible to implement for
meeting a zero tolerance requirement for non-approved GM events and a more
strict level than the present 1% for approved events. If the draft
proposals are intended to meet the demands of organic farm production, it
should be realized that organic food constitutes less than 2% of EU
This position statement is being submitted by AfricaBio Biotechnology
Stakeholders Association, a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-political
association with over 100 members representing interests from academics
through the whole food chain to food retailers. The principles contained
in this document also has the encouragement of a wide range of
stakeholders who attended a workshop on GM Crops and Trade held in
Johannesburg on May 22, 2003. Tel. +27-12-667-2689 Fax +27-12-667-1920;
Bush Does Aid His Way - But the US is the World's Stingiest Donor
- The Guardian (UK), May 31, 2003
George Bush's trip to the G8 summit in Evian, the Alpine spa town ringed
by surface-to-air missile batteries and armed police, is likely to be
remembered more for the briefness of his visit - just a day - than what
the American president will say. The shortness of his stay is inversely
proportional to Mr Bush's anger at the stance of France, the summit's
host, over the Iraq war. Germany, another member of the G8, has also been
singled out by the Bush White House for its anti-war stance.
Things have got so bad that the president accused Europe last week of
perpetuating starvation in Africa by blocking US food aid with anti-GM
crop policies. These words and actions threaten to widen the gulf between
America and the rest of the world at a time when it needs to be bridged.
While the rich squabble, the poor are getting poorer. More than a billion
people still live on less than $1 a day in the world. Many are in Africa,
where Aids and poverty stalk the land.
Despite a decade of global prosperity, many African nations are poorer now
than in 1990.
Part of Mr Bush's mission is to sell American power, both economic and
military, as a force for good. The president has been touting his $15bn
pledge to combat Aids and loses no time in blasting Europe over
agricultural export subsidies. Some have been impressed with Mr Bush's
no-nonsense approach to development. Bob Geldof, who has led a long fight
against famine in Africa, told the Guardian this week that "the Bush
administration is the most radical - in a positive sense - in its approach
to Africa since Kennedy".
But in testing the truth of Mr Geldof's opinion, America is found lacking
in ambition and effort. The world's biggest economy is also the world's
stingiest aid donor. Washington still only devotes 0.12% of its national
in come to overseas aid. Europe provides twice as much as America in
development cash. Washington's aid programmes are still not driven by
humanitarian imperatives. Rather they are sometimes used to break open new
markets for US corporations. How else to explain why Ethiopia, where 15
million are threatened by famine, receives about the same level of food
aid as Peru, where American agribusiness dumps dairy surpluses.
The Centre for Global Development recently put America second from bottom
in its ranking of how effectively developed nation's policies help the
poor. More American cash for Aids should be welcomed. Yet the US
contribution, measured as a percentage of its GDP, is smaller than
Uganda's. A little more than $2bn a year of new money has been promised -
but half of it will bypass the UN global fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis
That Mr Bush prefers to reward friends than go through the multilateral
route of the UN fund is bad news. The world's prosperity relies on global
institutions, where nations work together for the common good. But Mr Bush
has used global trade talks to push America's interests ahead of the
welfare of the poor. By raising agricultural subsidies sharply and
blocking a deal on cheap drugs for the developing world, the Bush
administration cannot easily occupy the moral high ground in Evian.
This is not to say that Europe has much of a better track record. The EU's
common agricultural policy needs to be reformed and France's proposal to
stop dumping cheap American and European cotton, sugar and milk on African
markets is a good start. Mr Bush, so fond of coalitions of the willing,
has called for a "great mission of rescue" to save Africa. He should begin
by launching one with Europe at Evian.
American Foreign Aid: Bush, Hero or Hypocrite?
- The Economist, May 31 2003
'George Bush is blasting Europe's aid policies, while touting America's'
America is the world's stingiest donor of foreign aid, in relation to the
size of its economy. Yet George Bush has left no doubt that he will use
this weekend's G8 summit in Evian, France, to show American leadership in
development policy˜and to dare the Europeans to do better.
On May 21st, Mr Bush threw down the gauntlet. America, he argued, was at
war with enemies of "plague and starvation and hopeless poverty", just as
it was at war with terrorists and tyrants. He pointed to a new $15 billion
American pledge to combat AIDS, the biggest-ever single government
commitment to fight a specific disease. And he touted the "Millennium
Challenge Accounts", a new mechanism for giving money to well-governed
poor countries that he dubbed "an entirely new approach to development
aid". Right on cue, Bob Geldof, popsinger-turned-activist, this week
shocked readers of Britain's Guardian newspaper by saying that the Bush
administration had the most positive approach to Africa since the Kennedy
administration in the 1960s.
Mr Bush lambasted the Europeans for their "unfounded, unscientific fears"
of genetically modified (GM) crops, which were hindering the battle
against hunger, and for their profligate use of export subsidies. But in
their approach to foreign aid, too, they needed to move "beyond the broken
development policies of the past", he said. Can the tough military-minded
Bush team truly claim leadership on such a soggy issue as development
On trade, at least, many of Mr Bush's accusations ring true. The European
Union (EU) moratorium on approving GM crops has certainly had tangible
consequences in poor countries. Witness the sub-Saharan countries that
rejected American food aid, despite widespread hunger, for fear that they
would jeopardise their exports to Europe. However, Mr Bush overstates his
case. Research into GM technology is a long way from producing miracle
crops to ease global hunger. Nor is it clear that such strident American
criticism will prod Europe into changing its policies: the backlash could
actually make it harder for the EU to lift the GM moratorium.
Yet on export subsidies Mr Bush has a point. The EU is the world's most
profligate wielder of such subsidies. They are a particularly pernicious
form of agricultural support, as even the French now acknowledge. As part
of his Evian agenda, Jacques Chirac, the French president, has proposed a
moratorium on export subsidies to Africa. Why just Africa?, asks
Washington. Why not eliminate export subsidies outright, which is
ostensibly the goal of current Doha development round of global trade
America clearly trounces Europe in the ambition it holds for this trade
round. The administration's proposals are bold, not just on export
subsidies, but on domestic farm support and agricultural-tariff cuts.
Unfortunately, when it comes to action, America is not so squeaky clean
itself. Not only did its farm bill last year dramatically increase support
for farmers; its pampering of certain groups (such as cotton farmers)
specifically hurts poor countries. Much of its largesse has a self-serving
side: according to the Europeans, America's huge food-aid programme is
itself a thinly disguised export subsidy. Big on AIDS
On aid, Mr Bush's harrying of the Europeans smacks of hubris. Not only is
America relatively stingy with foreign aid; the quality of its assistance
is also poor. A lot of the aid is "tied" to the purchase of American goods
and services. And much aid is disbursed for strategic rather than
developmental ends--helping Egypt and Israel, in particular. Even by the
low standards of aid bureaucracies, America's main one, USAID, is
inefficient and ineffective.
From this low starting-point, however, Mr Bush is spearheading what could
be a big rethink in American aid policy. His is the first administration
in decades to propose big increases in foreign assistance. He has pushed
bold initiatives remarkably quickly. And his team seems determined to make
aid more effective.
Yet his attitude is surely good for the world's poor. They should be the
beneficiaries of competition among rich countries to show who does most on
aid and trade. If it prods the Europeans and others into action, a bit of
Texan swagger at Evian will be no bad thing.
Double Helix World
An amazing collection of products, posters, music and paraphrenelia
related to DNA
Wine, water, perfume, garbage can, t-shirt, stair case, brooch, scarf,
rug, stamp, coin......all with some connection to the DNA or Double Helix
Making 'Safety First' a Reality for Biotechnology Products
- Nature Biotechnology, June 2003,Vol. 21,No. 6 pp599-601. Reprinted with
the permission of the editor. Authors: Anne R Kapuscinski, Robert M
Goodman, Stuart D Hann, Lawrence R Jacobs, Emily E Pullins, Charles S
Johnson, Jean D Kinsey, Ronald L Krall, Antonio GM La Viña, Margaret G
Mellon & Vernon W Ruttan; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A critical challenge facing the advocates of biotechnology is to fortify
the biosafety of genetically engineered organisms. Readers of this journal
have seen competing notions on how to achieve biosafety. For some,
scientists carry the burden of designing better biosafety through 'backup
safety precautions' and 'molecular gene-containment strategies'.
Some have advocated that industry should take the lead in adopting more
stringent safety criteria. Others have argued that biosafety science
requires significant public investment in order to assess the potential
risks of biotechnological products. All seem to agree that 'some form of
control mechanism is needed' to minimize genetically modified (GM) product
risks and maximize product and environmental safety. Prospective and
preventative approaches to strengthening biosafety science and policy,
however, have been lacking.
Over the past three years, our colleagues and we have developed a new
'Safety First Initiative,' a public-private partnership for transparent
development of proactive safety standards that anticipate and resolve
safety issues as far upstream of commercialization as possible. The
Initiative's purpose is to establish cross-industry (agriculture,
biotechnology, food processing, food marketing and retail) and socially
robust safety standards for designing, producing and monitoring the safety
of agricultural biotechnology products from laboratory bench to the
consumer's dinner plate, with safety a primary criterion from the outset.
The genetic engineering industry, operating in different social and
ecological contexts around the world, has yet to take the lead in
establishing comprehensive and proactive cross-industry safety standards.
Instead, biosafety governance has largely involved a reactive approach
that places the burden on government or consumers to demonstrate safety or
risk just before or after commercialization; that is, ten or more years
after a firm has committed to developing a product.
In the United States, for instance, the government's focus on assessing
risks (where government regulation of commercial products exists) occurs
long after completion of multiple steps of design and development of a GM
organism. Waiting until this late stage to thoroughly address safety
issues increases vulnerability to regulatory disapproval, consumer jitters
and flawed decisions. Furthermore, scientific and governmental groups are
only beginning to devise scientifically informed standards for acceptable
risks, validation of scientific information related to risks and training
for safe management of biotechnologies. Meanwhile, products that are
arriving from the 'next stage' of genetic engineering efforts, such as
growth-enhanced fish and pharmaceutical-producing crops, are presenting
daunting new challenges to food and environmental safety regulatory
regimes for both industry and government.
Concerns about the environmental and human health safety, and related
regulatory complexity, of these two classes of GM products have been an
increasing focus of discussion for scientists, policy makers, developers
and consumers. These products clearly promise benefits to a large number
of consumers, while posing new and complex safety management issues--a
situation that highlights the urgency for addressing the formulation of
safety standards in these two cases.
On the basis of lessons learned in the formation of successful
industry-wide safety programs, these working groups will negotiate and
draft four elements of cross-industry safety standards necessary to
establish credible safety planning and management for these two cases6:
Safety criteria setting. Designing safety criteria requires systematic
analysis of possible harm, which involves the rigorous identification of
hazards, the assessment of risk and planning to reduce and control risk.
Establishing a complete and scientifically reliable set of safety design
criteria for a product rests on two requirements: establishing rigorous
criteria at the outset of development of a new product and independently
validating these criteria before they are used. Both of these tasks become
at once doable and highly credible when developers have an agreed-upon set
of safety standards to start from. Safety criteria developed for a product
from such safety standards might address such factors as the effects that
release of the GM product would have on the abundance of wild relatives
and nontarget organisms, and the allergenicity of foods derived from the
Safety verification. Rigorous tests need to be designed that will fully
challenge the product and credibly demonstrate that the product meets the
pre-set and government-approved safety criteria established in this
process. Designing these tests requires the application of the best
available scientific methodologies and information, from all relevant
fields. Standards might address, for example, acceptable means of
verification of the fitness of GM plants and fish compared with unmodified
Follow-up. The processes of setting criteria and conducting tests to
verify that the product meets safety criteria cannot anticipate all
problems. Open-minded and scrupulous monitoring of the product in all its
uses is also required; the discovery of problems needs to be followed up
with meaningful and timely corrective action. Standards might address
risk-relevant monitoring and appropriate sampling of products in use.
Safety leadership. A well-designed set of safety criteria, verification
processes and follow-up procedures will only be meaningful if they are
implemented consistently and properly. This requires responsive and
responsible safety leadership in three areas. The first area is the
establishment of rigorously trained and independently certified safety
engineers who would be valued employees of firms and government agencies.
The second area is the encouragement of a company management style that
fosters broad thinking, application of the best scientific methodologies
and information, self-imposed responsibility to make safe products,
responsiveness to evidence of real hazards and problems, and independent
review of all aspects of the product safety program. The third area is the
creation of a framework for managing the application of cross-industry
safety standards, including an independent audit function.
The above four elements offer a means for galvanizing national and
international participants from biotechnology firms, agriculture and
aquaculture, food processing and retail firms, consumer and other public
interest groups, academia, and government to organize and build on their
existing knowledge and practices to establish scientifically reliable and
publicly credible safety standards that would be applied throughout the
research, development and commercialization processes for these two cases
of GM products.
Shared benefits, shared responsibilities The Safety First Initiative can
offer benefits to many groups simultaneously. Safety principles, applied
early in the design process, can benefit multiple stakeholders concerned
with environmental safety, food safety and the security of their
investments. For an example of building safety into early stages of design
and development, consider Davison's proposals to enhance biosafety of
recombinant microorganisms through the removal of unwanted genes, by
increasing the stability of gene constructs, through inducing suicide in
transgene hosts and in the use of "environmentally friendly genetic
markers" in GM organisms. Consensual safety standards, developed by
integrating ideas such as these, would work to improve biosafety
management, and they would have other benefits, such as enhanced market
competitiveness, higher investment ratings and an improvement in inter-
and intra-industry relations.
The Safety First initiative also involves the kind of representative,
independent and verifiable process that would be credible with consumers
and other groups, a credibility that has eluded those biotechnology
companies, despite the extensive efforts of some to ensure safety.
Involvement of scientists and safety experts from multiple disciplines in
the working groups that will draft the safety standards will ensure that
industry safety programs are also scientifically reliable. Existing
lessons suggest that the development of such effective, responsive and
responsible safety standards can improve the trust of the public and
affected industries (e.g., food retail businesses) in genetic engineering
and other biotechnologies.
In addition, the initiative also offers a process for national and
international government units to make constructive progress toward
addressing the gaps in the patchy nature of biosafety governance globally.
New, government-certified, biotechnology-safety engineer training programs
aimed at building a recognized safety professional career path would
provide additional reassurance.
In proposing cross-industry safety standards for genetic engineering
through the Safety First Initiative, we are well aware that safety
failures in particular applications of GM organisms will still occur due
to complex interactions among people's behavior, the technology, human
social institutions and environmental factors. GM organisms are themselves
complex, their potential interactions with and effects on the environment
and human health are diverse and complex, and their present-day
management--from the idea stage to final use--involves diffuse leadership
and responsibility. Safety standards will necessarily be applied in a
global economic context, and it will be a challenge to design their
content and operation to be effective in different social and ecological
settings without exacerbating existing disparities between nations in
their capacities to govern genetic engineering.
Acknowledging these complexities while focusing on making safety the first
priority will require integrity, pragmatism and wide participation. The
first step is replacing the current retrospective risk-based paradigm for
governing biotechnology with a proactive safety paradigm.