Today in AgBioView: June 6, 2003
* Let the Starving Africans Have Bioengineered Food
* Frankenfoods v Luddites
* U.S. Seen Losing to EU in International Biotech Struggle
* Conko vs. Kristensen: On EU Members States Approval of Biotech Products
* If you are not for us, you are against us-Bush Adage Taken Over Science!
* Is Heart of the Opposition the 'Concentration of the Control?'
* Tolerance for Rat Hairs and Insect Parts in Foods
* You Could Lead A Horse to Water, But You Couldn't Make It Drink
* Is Bush is Africa's New Best Friend or Just Another Diplomatic Flake?
* Bush Suggests Introducing GM Foods to Africa May End Growing Famine
* Not In My Backyard: House Prices and GM Crops - Debate
* Eco-warriors Ready for GM Crops Battle
* Modified Discussion
* French Senate Calls for Adoption of GM Framework
* Biotech Symposium to Open World-Class Research Facility
* Natural' Isn't Better
Let the Starving Africans Have Bioengineered Food
- Cal Thomas, Tulsa World, May 31, 2003 Newspaper Enterprise Association
If Americans need another reason to intensely dislike certain European
governments that undermined American policy to liberate Iraq from the mass
murderer Saddam Hussein, here is one. Those same governments are not only
opposing the sending of donated American bioengineered food to starving
African nations, they are spreading disinformation and lies so that
African governments will not accept any.
In a May 21 speech to graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New
London, Conn., President George W. Bush "outed" the Europeans when he
accused them of perpetuating starvation in Africa by lying about biotech
food and subsidizing their agricultural exports, thus preventing poor
nations from developing their own crops. The United States has filed a
lawsuit with the World Trade Organization, complaining about the European
moratorium on bioengineered crops.
Former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), who now serves as the U.S. ambassador to
the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome,
tells me, "Any leader who denies food to their people and they die
deserves to be brought up on charges of crimes against humanity in the
world's highest court."
Hall, who championed the cause of the hungry in Congress with mixed
results (his Congressional Hunger Commission was eliminated a decade ago,
and Hall went on a 22-day hunger strike to get it reauthorized), says that
the European media are helping to spread fear and lies to African nations
so that they refuse our food aid.
Among the myths being spread are that Americans won't eat the
bioengineered food they want Africans to eat. Not true. Hall says 80
percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 38 percent of the corn crop are now
biologically engineered. "Whether it's corn-on-the-cob, soy sauce, canola
cooking oil or Fritos, we have been consuming bioengineered foods
regularly since 1996 ... all with no ill effects," says Hall.
Another myth perpetuated by Europeans and their media is that biotech
foods have not been adequately tested for safety. Hall says, in fact,
foods that come from commercially produced bioengineered crops in the
United States "have met rigorous safety standards - the most rigorous in
What about the charge from Europeans and their media that this isn't
really about the hungry but about enriching multinational companies and
the biotech industry? Hall says food research has been a collaborative
effort of land grant colleges, private foundations and some corporations,
much of which is directed at helping poor nations with starving people
feed themselves. Why would other countries oppose such a magnanimous
humanitarian effort unless their own greed got in the way?
While the United States is preoccupied with terrorism and the relatively
few who have died from it (compared to the toll taken by starvation around
the world where many live on $2 a day and one of three children is
affected by malnutrition), a different kind of terrorism stalks the poor
nations of Africa. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has raised
our awareness with some profound and timely columns from poor African
In a May 23 column, Kristof wrote, "In the best of circumstances, about
100,000 boys and girls ... will die of malnutrition-related ailments this
year in Ethiopia. If the drought continues and the West doesn't provide
more assistance, the number of deaths will rise to several hundred
There may not be much that can be done about the drought, but there is
plenty that can be done about starvation if the Europeans will stop lying
about biotech and their media will report the truth.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick wrote in the May 21 Wall
Street Journal that European food policy in Africa is having a "dangerous
effect." He said, "some famine-stricken African countries refused U.S.
food because of fabricated fears - stoked by irresponsible rhetoric -
about food safety."
President Bush should continue to shame the Europeans and force them and
their media to confront the consequences of what they are doing in Africa.
As Hall suggests, this is nothing less than genocide, and there are laws
against such things and consequences for breaking them, aren't there?
Frankenfoods v Luddites
- The Economist, June 5, 2003
'Greens may squawk, but bio-engineered crops are coming'
"GM NATION?" No, thanks. Few people have a kind word for the
government-sponsored debate on genetically modified crops that kicked off
in Birmingham on June 3rd. Scientists complain that it gives a platform to
Luddites, paranoiacs and assorted fuzzy thinkers. Green pressure groups
argue, loudly, that the whole thing is a smokescreen. They reckon the
offending seeds will soon be planted, and no arguments--or evidence of
popular disquiet--can do anything about it.
Both sides are right. The debate is an unholy mess--hardly surprising,
since the government cannot decide what it thinks. Michael Meacher, the
environment minister and an isolated GM sceptic, appears to be using the
green lobby to leverage his own position. He has insisted that the public
must be consulted on such technical issues as whether GM technology poses
a threat to the organic food industry. Yet Mr Meacher and his friends are
doomed. Like it or not, Frankenfoods are coming.
Under European regulations, the government can object to the planting of
GM crops only if it can prove they pose a threat to human health or the
environment. Its verdict, expected later this year, will be based mostly
on farm trials. Vague concerns about jumping genes, unknown unknowns and
the ethics of 'playing God'--traditional arguments against genetic
Anti-GM activists are still planning to make a lot of noise at the
debates, though. Their stock went up in mid-May, when the United States,
cloth-eared as ever to the niceties of European sentiments, filed a
restriction-of-trade lawsuit with the WTO. They are now worrying away at
the issue of labelling, with some success. The European Parliament has
backed a proposal to require the tracing of all transgenetic ingredients.
And organic farmers are insistent that their products must be protected
from the slightest whiff of GM pollen.
The danger of modified crops (particularly oilseed rape) seeding in nearby
fields has been overstated. At the moment, two types of rape are
grown--the normal stuff, which goes into cooking oil, and a high erucic
acid variety, which is useful to heavy industry but poisonous to people.
Producers seem to be able to keep the nasty stuff out of the food chain,
so it seems reasonable to suppose they can separate GM from organic
Indeed, perhaps the greens' biggest problem is that the new crops do not
seem as scary as they did four years ago, when tabloid newspapers fomented
a public-health panic. JRA Research, a polling group, found last year that
41% of people agreed that "I am not bothered about genetically modified or
GM-free"--up from 29% in 2000. In the interim, stem-cell research has
familiarised Britons with the notion of tweaking nature, and the good it
can do. And GM technology has moved on, to encompass more genuinely
worrying stuff like glow-in-the-dark fish and salmon that grow at five
times the normal speed.
For three heady years, between 1996 and 1999, customers at Sainsbury's
were able to buy purée emblazoned with the label "made with genetically
modified tomatoes". Given government approval, such products will reappear
on the shelves next year. They should be cheaper than their
competitors--though with food so cheap already, customers will not break
down the doors to get at them. They may carry boasts of reduced herbicide
use (but environmentally conscious consumers are likely to reject them out
of hand, anyway).
In time, though, apathy and parsimony are likely to prevail. Monsanto will
GM Foods - Backgrounder
- Economist.com Jun 5th 2003
Genetically modified (GM) crops were first commercially cultivated in the
early 1990s. The theory was that by conferring resistance to pests and
weed-killers, genetic modification would increase yields, cut prices and,
eventually, enhance the nutritional value of crops. However, outside
America (and especially in Britain and the rest of Europe), GM foods have
met shrill opposition from consumers who worry that they are unsafe,
unnecessary and bad for the environment. These fears are largely
groundless, a result of governments' failures to keep the public
Biotechnology firms have been hurt by the backlash, which helps explain
why America challenged the European Union's ban on GM foods in May 2003.
It also argues that the ban wrongly prevents famine-gripped countries such
as Zambia from accepting GM food aid. It seems inevitable that
bio-engineered crops will become commonplace in Britain.
U.S. Seen Losing to EU in International Biotech Struggle
- Stephen Clapp, Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News, May 12, 2003; Vol.31;
In the looming confrontation between the United States and the European
Union over biotech food trade regulations, the political and commercial
influence of the EU is likely to exceed that of the United States, a U.S.
political scientist warned last month.
Writing in the spring issue of the National Academy of Sciences' Issues In
Science & Technology, Rob Paarlberg, Wellesley College political science
professor, predicted a continued spread into the developing world of
highly precautionary EU-style regulations on bioengineered foods and
"The big losers, if the EU wins this fight, will not be commercial farmers
in the United States," he said. "The big losers will be poor farmers in
developing countries, who will be denied new GM options to overcome
serious farm productivity constraints." Paarlberg said Europe is currently
triumphing in four international areas: intergovernmental organizations,
development assistance, non-governmental organizations, and international
food and commodity markets.
"It is unsurprising that European influence dominates within most of the
intergovernmental organizations that currently deal with GM foods and
crops," Paarlberg said. "European governments work hard to maintain and
develop their influence within IGOs, while the U.S. government too often
ignores or disrespects IGOs--by failing to ratify conventions, failing to
send high-ranking delegations to IGO meetings, or failing to pay dues on
time. Intergovernmental organizations that should be promoting biotech
crops are not doing so, and the IGOs that are regulating biotech crops are
doing so in the manner Europeans prefer."
International agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) and the World Bank should be promoting biotech crops,
because these organizations are production-oriented, pro-technology, and
also traditionally pro-U.S., Paarlberg argued. However, because U.S.
financial support and diplomatic attention to these organizations has
weakened in the past decade, they have all backed away from promoting GM
FAO mostly provides advice now on how to regulate biotechnologies, not how
to shape their development or promote their use, Paarlberg said. Nor is
the CGIAR system, which integrates the activities of 16 agricultural
research centers around the world, promoting biotech crops, he added.
"It is true that the International Rice Research Institute in the
Philippines is supposed to be developing 'golden rice,'" Paarlberg
acknowledged. "But that will be difficult, since they have decided not to
conduct any GM-crop field trials in the Philippines, lest they stir up the
anger of local anti-GM NGOs. Only two out of IRRI's 800 scientists are
working on 'golden rice' at the moment."
Fear of diminished European financial support, and fear of criticism from
European NGOs, has now also paralyzed the World Bank when it comes to
biotech crops, Paarlberg said. Three years ago, the World Bank attempted
to draft a strategy document on biotech crops, but because of political
opposition at the top this strategy paper, as bland as it was, never
gained official approval. Now the World Bank's strategy on biotech crops
is not to promote them, but to study them, he said.
Development assistance declines. Development assistance is another channel
through which Europeans are extending influence over biotech crop
regulations, Paarlberg said. While U.S. support for development aid has
withered since the end of the Cold War, European donors remained very much
on the scene, ready to advise African governments on how to regulate
biotech crops, he said.
"The Dutch, Danes, and the Germans remained active, consistently
advocating ratification of the new Cartagena Protocol and formal adoption
of a Europe-style precautionary principle," Paarlberg said. "Developing
countries were warned not to plant GM-crops until precautionary biosafety
screening procedures are fully in place."
The result has been an export of European-style regulatory systems into
these developing countries, even though the need for agricultural
productivity growth is higher than in Europe and even though the capacity
to implement complex biosafety screening procedures is much lower,
"The practical result has been regulatory paralysis," he continued. "Once
demanding biosafety screening requirements are written into the laws of
poor countries, cautious politicians and bureaucrats discover that the
safest thing, politically, is to give no GM crop approvals at all.
Approving nothing is the best way to conceal a weak technical capacity to
screen GM technologies on a case-by-case basis, and also a good way to
avoid criticism from NGOs and avoid difficult questions from the media."
Paarlberg recommended restoring the level of U.S. assistance to
international agricultural research and development organizations.
"Governments in the developing world will pay more attention to the U.S.
position on GM crops if this position is presented in the context of a
more generous overall development assistance posture," he said.
In addition, U.S. officials need to become more adept in representing the
expressed needs and desires of farmers, scientists, and officials in the
developing world, Paarlberg said. "If presented from a U.S. perspective
only, the international case for GM crops is inherently hard to make," he
said. "If instead the views and positions of struggling developing world
farmers are presented, the case becomes difficult to deny. Testimony is
already emerging of the great benefits, to occupational and environmental
safety as well as to farm income, from small farmers growing GM cotton in
China, India, and South Africa. This testimony needs to be heard."
Conko vs. Kristensen: On EU Members States Approval of Biotech Products
Reply From: Anders Buch Kristensen
Dear Mr Conko:
No, You have still not understood the system for approving GMOs in EU. In
the final stage in the Council, only a qualified majority of member states
(about 2/3 of the votes) can stop a proposal. There is no decision on a
moratorium, but some member states, which do not have a qualified majority
of the votes, have declared that they will vote against any new GMO
approval as long as the procedure is not following the new rules, which
will be finally adopted very soon.
So the facto moratorium only exist as long as the Commission accepted not
to put forward any proposals; and this is no longer the case; the
Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are processing
the applications sent in and they will be put to a vote when they are
ready. The Commission could have been taken to a WTO panel and would have
lost ( as it has admitted publicly) if it had been before they restarted
the procedure; by now there is no moratorium and no basis for any WTO
case. NB: the new rules are simpler as an application goes directly to
EFSA and then via the Commission to the standing committee.
By the way if you think 5 years is long to wait for an approval I can
inform you that Denmark has waited 25 years for US approval of a plant in
growing media, for which the plant and the growing media have been
approved. -- Kind regards, Anders Buch Kristensen PhD.
>>Dear Dr. Kristensen, Regarding your comment that all 15 member states do
not have to approve a new GMO: This point may be technically correct, but
Response from Greg Conko:
Dear Dr. Kristensen,
I think our disagreement on this matter is more one of semantics than of
genuine principle. My point is simply that no individual EU member nation
can commercialize a GM variety without having to go through an EU-wide
approval process if any one other EU member nation objects. Is this not
correct? If not, then the EC's description of the process at the reference
I cited is in error and should be corrected.
That said, we could continue to quibble about whether or not there still
currently exists a moratorium. You say no, but the fact that several GM
variety applications have been issued a favorable opinion by the relevant
EC scientific committee and have not been approved at the community level
suggests otherwise. Yes, new applications may be going through a second
review under the new regulations. But since these regulations are not yet
fully implemented at the member level (as of April 2003, 12 of the 15
member states had not implemented them) no final permission can yet be
granted. Whether you call this a continuation of the moratorium or
something else is irrelevant. If the applications cannot be approved yet,
the end result is the same. Yours - Gregory Conko
From: Anders Buch Kristensen
Dear Mr Conko: Your lack of knowledge is so deep and I do not have spare
time to educate you, therefore there is no point is further discussing.
Can a state in US commercialize a GMO on its own?
We have regulations in force and some GMOs have recently been approved.
No, if an application have had a favourable scientific opinion, no new is
needed. and so on...
- Kind regards, Anders Buch Kristensen PhD
Final Response from Conko:
Thank you so much Dr. Kristensen for giving up this futile battle of
yours. It is fitting, then, that you close with a note conceding my
You ask, "Can a state in US commercialize a GMO on its own?" No, it
cannot. Similarly, a state in the EU can not commercialize a GMO on its
own. Indeed, my point is made.
Thank you, -Gregory Conko
If you are not for us, you are against us!
- More From: Julian Kinderlerer
In relation to Anders comments and Gregory's response. I was taken aback
at the tone of Gregory Conko's reply. The Committee, formerly known as the
Article 21 committee to which he refers as the Regulatory committee has to
decide by a qualified majority vote. A number of countries have to vote
against for the proposal to be defeated (26 votes have to be cast againt).
Under the old system, it was up to the Chair (the commission normally) to
call the Article 21 committee to meet without undue delay. This has not
been done, as it was understood that enough votes against would be cast to
make the procedure futile. The new system requires that this committee
meet within a specified time.
What I particularly don't like is the tone of may of the arguments I read.
It is as if the adage coined by Bush - "If you are not for us, you are
against us" - has taken over science. I do believe, fervently that we
not enter into polemic but use sound argument as the base of discussion
and respect one another.
- Prof. Julian Kinderlerer, Sheffield Inst of Biotech Law & Ethics, Univ
of Sheffield, UK
Dear Professor Kindlerer,
I appreciate your concern that these debates be conducted with a
professional tone, but please do remember that it was Anders Buch
Kristensen who first claimed that I "do not know what [I am] talking
about." His was not a professional tone. Further, I take such an
allegation as a personal affront, and I doubt there are many others who
would argue that I should not. Therefore, I believe that it was entirely
appropriate for me to reply in kind.
As for the matter at hand, for nearly five years the EU has had an
effective moratorium on the approval of new GM plant varieties. (For the
record, the committee to which I referred is identified by the EC
reference I cited as the "Regulatory Committee." I repeat, if this
information is incorrect, you should bring it to the attention of the
European Commission.) It doesn't matter what the new system requires,
because the new system is not yet fully implemented. Moreover, that book
chapter to which Dr. Kristensen referred was published in September 2002,
when there was no dispute whatever that neither the new rules were in
place nor that the de facto moratorium had not been lifted.
Therefore, so long as a single EU member state had objected to the
proposal by another EU member state to approve a new GM plant variety,
then the variety could not be approved unilaterally by the second EU
member state. This is what Dr. Prakash and I wrote in the book, and it has
not been demonstrated to be incorrect. I acknowledge that the precise
wording may have led others, including Dr. Kristensen, to believe that we
meant something different, but a check of the reference we cited would be
enough to clarify any misunderstanding.
Thank you for your own professional tone, and for your interest in
maintaining decorum in this dialogue.
-- Yours, Gregory Conko
Is Heart of the Opposition to Biotech is Concentration of the Control?
- Fran Smith
While Jerry Cayford's posting today contains some good information, his
perception that the GM debate revolves around the patent and concentration
issues does not equate with the facts. In the EU the opposition by policy
makers to GM crops is based on the precautionary principle and the view
that unless GM crops can be shown to present no harm to human or
environmental health, they should not be allowed. That also is the
position of the vast majority of anti-biotech opponents, including the
ones that have been most successful in fear-mongering.
Those supposed "safety" concerns have led to the de facto moratorium on GM
approvals in the EU and thence to developing countries' concerns about
being shut out of the EU markets for their exports if they themselves
allow GM crops.
While the patent and concentration issues may be real issues, at this
stage in the GM debate they are still mainly theoretical ones, that is,
they are not driving the policy positions of countries' approaches to GM
crops and food, whether those countries represent the developed or the
developing world. They do need to be addressed, but simultaneously with
the much broader and infinitely more harmful use of safety and
environmental concerns under the rubric of the precautionary principle.
The expansion of the use of the PP in the biotech area - and in numerous
other areas - can do the most harm to future generations in both the
developed and developing worlds.
-- Frances B. Smith, Executive Director, Consumer Alert. Washington, DC
Re: Heart of the Opposition to Biotech
- More from Andrew Apel
This is in response to an article by Jerry Cayford posted here on June 5,
2003 titled "Heart of the Opposition to Biotechnology: Concentration of
the Control." There are a few misperceptions here that need to be
It's nearly axiomatic that the more valuable germplasm is, the greater the
efforts will be to control it. Germplasm has three values: it can be a
source of domestic food security, it can be used to produce a medium of
international trade, and it can be used as a means to replicate that value
elsewhere--i.e., as seed. In the past, where some kinds of germplasm were
deemed valuable enough, governments simply imposed export bans on seed and
enforced the bans at the point of a sword. Things are no longer entirely
so crude, and science has since found ways to increase the value of
With such an increase in the value of germplasm, arguments over who should
control it have become increasingly acute. Government control of germplasm
passed largely to seed developers, who gained control of the fruits of
their labors through plant variety protection, then through plant patents,
then through utility patents.
There are some who do not like this. They want governments, not seed
developers, to have control of germplasm. Some don't even want governments
to control germplasm, preferring instead that ownership rest with giant
multinational treaty organizations. Still others want control to rest
solely with farmers, while others would prefer Soviet-style control where
germplasm is "collectively owned" by the proletariat, which in practice
means government control.
Naturally, whoever gets control of germplasm gets control of its
three-fold value. Whoever has control will exercise that control
differently. A farmer will exercise control one way, a seed developer
another way, and a government still another way. There are many ways to
apportion control, and different patterns of control can be found all
around the globe, with different consequences. The big problems arise when
people try to change the pattern of control.
Most groups opposed to biotechnology prefer a neo-Soviet model of
ownership. They want germplasm "collectively owned" by the proletariat,
while the actual control of it is vested in a giant multinational treaty
organization that works to prevent any other entity from exercising
control over it. While this looks like the ultimate in "public" ownership,
it is also the opposite of public ownership, because no member of the
public would have any control.
That would also be the ultimate in "concentration in the seed industry."
Paradoxically, those who object most to the perceived "concentration" are
the staunchest advocates of concentration. They just want the
There is no reason to believe that biotechnology introduces a new variable
into this situation. It is merely that biotechnology has greatly increased
the value of germplasm. That value is now controlled by those who have
created that value--biotech corporations, only the largest of which can
afford to invest in the research it takes. Some people want to take that
away and give it to someone else. That's all.
Re: Zero tolerance Please..
- Bob MacGregor
Given the common tolerance for rodent hairs and insect parts in processed
foods, I would not be surprised to find that these foods end up with more
rodent genes than Bt or RR genes, when all is said and done.
Accepting complexes of foreign genes and proteins as food contaminants
(without expensive genetic testing!) while rejecting carefully-selected
and tested individual genes/proteins is the height of foolishness and
Sudan: Ban on GM Food Imports Will Hit Supplies for Refugees - US Official
- BBC, From: Al-Khartoum, Khartoum, June 4, 2003 (sent by Andrew Apel)
United States Agency for International Development has warned the
government of the results of its decision to deny the entry of genetically
modified products as aid for the needy in relief camps.
The US charge d'affaires, Mr Jeff Millington, said the decision will bring
harm to around 97 per cent of children living in relief camps because of
their need for these products. He pointing out that US ships were in Port
Sudan carrying these products, waiting for the government to allow them to
unload their cargoes.
In a press conference yesterday in which the representative of USAID,
Roger Winter, participated, Millington said that should the government
decide not to withdraw its decision, the USAID would take the shipments to
Ethiopia. Millington said there were ongoing discussions between the US
embassy and the government on lifting this decision to reject the entry of
Meanwhile Roger Winter pointed out the improvement in humanitarian work in
facilitating the movement of relief supplies to needy areas. He hoped that
humanitarian requirements would increase in destitute areas after the
signing of peace agreements, which was the wish of emigrants so that they
might return to their regions. Winter said that USAID had began preparing
for this stage after it was convinced that peace was coming.
You Could Lead A Horse To Water, But You Couldn't Make It Drink....
They said you could lead a horse to water, but you couldn't make it drink.
Then someone invented the World Trade Organization. Now the US is suing
the European Union into eating genetically-modified foods!
This Saturday at 9AM Pacific, the Food Chain with Michael Olson hosts Alex
Avery from the Hudson Institute and Kristen Dawkins from the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy, for a conversation about the United States
effort to force the European Union to eat genetically-modified foods.
Listen here: http://www.metrofarm.com/index.asp?cat=40088
Topics will include why the EU refuses to import genetically-modified
foods from the US; why the US is suing the EU over its refusal to import
these foods; and whether this food fight can be resolved by the World
Trade Organization (WTO). Listeners are invited to call the program on
with questions and comments at 800-624-2665.
A Bill of Goods?
Lester Munson, senior counselor for legislative and public affairs at the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Gawain
Kripke, senior policy advisor at Oxfam, on whether Bush is Africa's new
best friend or just another diplomatic flake.
You can listen to this NPR debate at
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/06052003 (scroll down to select this
President Bush Suggests Introducing Genetically Modified Foods to Africa
May End Growing Famine There
- Marketplace, Minnesota Public Radio, June 4, 2003
DAVID BRANCACCIO, anchor: But there's another major matter involving
Africa which divides the US and Europe. In the run-up to this year's G8
gathering, President Bush pressed his claim that genetically modified
foods, most of which are developed here in the US, could end a growing
African famine. Many Europeans, wary of so-called GM foods, are bristling
at those comments. MARKETPLACE's Stephen Beard reports.
STEPHEN BEARD reporting: The president is piling on the pressure, not only
hauling Europe before the World Trade Organization for banning GM crops;
he's also accusing the Europeans of practically fostering famine in
President GEORGE W. BUSH: By widening the use of new high-yield biocrops
and unleashing the power of markets we can dramatically increase
agricultural productivity and feed more people across the continent, yet
our partners in Europe are impeding this effort.
BEARD: A leading British gene researcher says the president is right.
Professor Mike Gale argues that any crop breeder concerned about hunger in
the developing world cannot afford to ignore GM technology.
Professor MIKE GALE: For a breeder to go into this century, where we're
expecting the population to rise from 6.3 billion to eight billion by
2030, it would be like a fighter going to a ring with his hand tied behind
his back if he didn't have GM technology.
BEARD: He says scientists have already identified a gene that combats
fungus in bananas. That breakthrough alone, he says, could have a big
impact on food supply in certain African countries.
Prof. GALE: In Uganda, for example, 85 percent of the diet is bananas, and
yet the banana there is susceptible to a fungal disease called black
sigatoka, which cuts down yields to as low as 20 percent.
BEARD: But others say it is ludicrous to accuse Europe of promoting famine
by resisting the spread of GM technology. Brian Johnson, a scientific
adviser to the British government, says genetically modified crops are not
going to prevent starvation in Africa.
Mr. BRIAN JOHNSON (Scientific Adviser, British Government): The main
factors that stop people from getting food are war, corruption, lack of
water and most important of all lack of money. They simply can't afford
either to buy the seeds or use the methods to grow them or buy the food
itself. Those are the key factors that need to be solved.
BEARD: And Johnson is skeptical that America's biotech industry is really
dedicated to the goal of feeding the world's poor.
Mr. JOHNSON: Industry has no interest, really, in developing sustainable
systems that are capable of feeding poor people.
BEARD: Critics of GM say its only beneficiaries will be the biotech
companies that peddle the technology. They fear that Third World farmers
could wind up paying more for genetically modified seeds. Alex Wijeratna,
of the aid agency ActionAid, says the US president is simply promoting
Mr. ALEX WIJERATNA (ActionAid): We think it's nonsense what George Bush
has been saying, using Africa as an excuse and sort of moral blackmail to
get these crops into Africa, which at the moment we can't see where the
benefits are coming from.
BEARD: The debate continues, not only about GM crops but also George Bush.
Is he Africa's best new friend, an emerging global statesman, or a cynical
ambassador for big business? In London, this is Stephen Beard for
Not In My Backyard
'The Royal Institute Of Chartered Surveyors Says That GM Crops May Blight
House Prices. Should We Be Worried? - Debate'
The Times (UK) June 06, 2003
WHAT on earth should I worry about?
The stuff is totally innocuous: how much more "proof" of safety do we need
when there is not a glimmer of a reason to suppose otherwise? The idea
that those crops might affect the value of my house--or anybody else's --
is the latest nonsense from opponents desperate not to lose face, come
what may, and willing to do anything to frighten people so they can claim
that "the British public reject GM".
I am a lot more worried about what rising local council tax levels, a
surcharge for the Olympic Games and the threat of extending the congestion
charge zone will do to the resale value of my house. -- Vivian Moses,
MOTHER Nature always fires a warning shot when she is not happy. Along my
60-year journey from country boy to agricultural market townie, the single
most alarming environmental change has been the dreadful stench of
farmyard manure, or slurry as it is now called.
As a lad on the West Wales family farm, spreading the compost heap of
sweetly-smelling manure was no big deal. Today, even the farmers complain.
The obnoxious, overpowering smell permeates everything. And it kills all
known worms and insects.
What has caused this? The past 60 years have seen the proliferation of
pesticides and chemicals, DDT being the most infamous; next came man-made
fertilisers which replaced natural phosphate, slag and lime; and now we
have GM crops.
Transplanting the genes of a fish into a tomato is putting a gun to the
head of Mother Nature. Of course she will roll over and comply --until we
have turned our backs. Is there one single person out there who seriously
believes that a few generations down the line she will not be lying in
I have smelt the future--and it stinks. -- Huw Beynon, Llandeilo,
The way ahead
THE main hazard that GM crops present is that they attract crop-destroying
attention-seeking bio-terrorists. There is no food that we eat that has
not been genetically modified as compared to its wild forerunner, and
genetic engineering, at last, offers the chance of making these changes in
an intended way rather than relying on mutation and selective breeding as
in the past.. Ian Sinclair, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Location, location, location
MRS THATCHER once said that you can’t buck the market and she was right,
as John Major found to his and our cost. So the price of houses next to
GM crops may fall, just as many of the crops themselves trade at a
slightly lower price than "conventionally" -bred ones do. Should we worry?
I don’t think so.
A couple of thousand years ago it was thought that by sacrificing a virgin
it was possible to ward off the wrath of the gods, and in the Dark Ages
people thought that if they drowned the witch in the village pond they
If those who live near GM crops want to sell their houses cheaply, then I
may be delighted to buy one on the basis that I will have acquired a good
investment once the reality dawns that there is not a problem. Indeed,
they may be better off by living in an ecologically sounder environment.
-- Jonathon Harrington, Brecon, Powys
AS A biological scientist, I say absolutely not. The views of the
well-organised anti-GM lobby are selective and exaggerated and the nation
is being duped.
I would like to be given one good scientific reason why my house should
not back on to a field of a well-tested, GMhybrid rather than a
conventional crop which has been genetically modified on innumerable
occasions by other methods. GM "superweeds" ? I would be more worried by a
neighbour’s couch grass or Japanese knotweed.
Loss of insect diversity? It is very doubtful if GM will make the
situation worse, but in any case, we are not going to cover the whole of
country with insecticidal genetically-modified organisms — insect refuges
All of the potential problems which are being unjustifiably heaped on this
highly important, nascent industry are solvable.
Unfortunately, the existing paranoia may affect property prices -- Jack
Pridham, Egham, Surrey
Eco-warriors Ready for GM Crops Battle
- The Citizen, 4 June 4, 2003
Environment Minister Michael Meacher yesterday launched a national debate
to establish whether GM crops should be legalised in Britain. But if this
happens, militant anti-GM activists, some from the Stroud area, could take
to country lanes and destroy crops, even if this means causing massive
financial damage to the farming industry.
Trevor Searby - organiser of the first anti-GM march through Stroud three
years ago - said many activists would have no problem with trespassing on
to farms and causing damage to stop GM crops being developed. While
making clear he would not undertake acts of vandalism himself, he said: "I
am very supportive of them (the eco-warriors).
"I, and a number of other people, are absolutely opposed to the
introduction of GM crops. "You have to question the responsibility of
farmers who do experiments like this. "I don't commit acts like this
myself but I can understand why people do. "If GM crops become
widespread, I would say it is a good cause for people to do what they have
to do to save the planet." On the other side of the fence are people like
"Adam Lancer" - a Gloucestershire farmer who is too afraid to be
He and his family received death threats after he took part in GM crop
trials on behalf of a private company. Adam says the trials, in 2000,
were successful - and the crops he was producing were no more dangerous
than those grown by conventional methods - but eco-warriors' reign of
terror stopped him.
Within three months of Adam beginning the trial of a genetically modified
oil seed rape, eco-activists had broken into his farm, ripped up his crops
and thrown them into the brook near his house. The following spring, more
broke into his potato cold stores and effectively destroyed them, causing
But the worst was yet to come. "At the same time I received a letter to
say that my wife and children were legitimate targets. "That was when I
could take no more," he said. Despite quitting the trials, he maintains
that growing GM crops is safe and environmental campaigners are guilty of
a campaign of misinformation.
"The idiots who trashed the site have never stopped to listen to the
debates. They didn't even know what these experiments were all about," he
said. Sandra Nichols, South West regional policy adviser for the National
Farmers' Union (NFU), said disputes like those between environmentalists
and farmers were not uncommon and could potentially worsen if GM crops
were introduced into the mainstream.
"That did happen with the trials and is certainly true," she said. "It is
not fair or proper to target farmers taking part in these tests, because
the scientific results of the tests are for the benefit of everyone.
"We want to see the results of this scientific research. If people don't
allow this research to be carried out properly, how can anyone make an
informed decision on this issue?" Today, there are 16 GM crop trials being
conducted in locations stretched throughout Britain - but none is in
- Paul Reeves, Sp!ked Online, June 3, 2003
I woke to the sound of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and vaguely absorbed
the fact that the NEC, Birmingham, had been mentioned.
Sad person that I am, my ears always prick up at the mention of the
letters N..E..C (one particularly atrocious Depeche Mode concert, circa
1990 - together with countless machine tool trade exhibitions from a
previous life). This Today piece was something about a debate on
genetically modified (GM) foods. First of a series…consulting the
public…your chance to speak. As I live in Coventry, the NEC is only 10
minutes away by train; and since I'm now a (rather mature) student, why
I should perhaps lay my cards on the table at this point. I'm actually
neither 'pro' or 'anti' GM - just as I'm neither 'anti' hand-driven
machine tools or 'pro' computer controlled ones. All of these technologies
make sense at a given time and place. My level of interest as to whether
GM material exists in the environment or in my stomach comes somewhere
between the questions of who is seventeenth in line for the British throne
and how long the Great Wall of China actually is.
I do, however, have a strong interest as to why people should so strongly
oppose GM, or other new technologies; so I was attracted by the notion of
a lively public debate. First one practical problem: how to find the
details of this debate? I recalled the term GM Nation being mentioned, and
low and behold, Google returns www.gmnation.org. The 'Get Involved'
section says: 'The public debate is being launched with meetings in
Birmingham, Swansea, Taunton, Belfast, Glasgow and Harrogate.' But when?
GeneWatch (www.genewatch.org) informed me that the Birmingham debate will
happen at 3:00pm. Genewatch is a 'public interest group which aims to
ensure that genetic technologies are developed and used in the public
interest'. (It then helpfully defines what the 'public interest' is: 'Such
technologies must therefore only be used in a way which promotes human
health, protects the environment and respects human rights and the
interests of animals'.)
I arrived at 2:30pm, to find about 20 people milling around in the meeting
room. Immediately I was accosted by a pleasant middle-aged lady, who gave
me some information on public water fluoridation and asked me to sign her
petition against it. Not ever having really considered the pros and cons
of fluoridation, but believing it to be probably a pretty good idea, I
refused. I've not had that kind of a look directed at me from a person of
that age since I was caught nicking the teacher's sweets at the age of
Attempting to find someone who looked like they may be organising the
event, I asked one of the NEC 'hostesses' (if that's the right word), who
appeared to be guarding a door. She asked if I had booked as a delegate.
When I told her that I only heard about it that morning, she said that I
could sit at the back, but that if the event filled up with 'delegates' I
might have to give up my place.
I was expecting some kind of lecture theatre; but this was a large room
arranged as if an award ceremony was going to take place, with circular
tables covered by white table-cloths. On a projection screen at the front,
a video introduction showed a woman express her concerns about 'not
knowing enough facts about GM' and her fears about 'pumping this stuff
into our kids'. (Oh, the images!)
This was followed by a representative of the Soil Association (1) worrying
about GM ('look at what happened with DDT…'), and being responded to by
two sheepishly defensive 'experts'. I was rather hoping that they would
spell out the enormous benefits of DDT (2), but they simply rehashed the
arguments about feeding the third world.
The room gradually filled to about two-thirds capacity, and a man called
Adrian addressed us from the front of the room. It became clear that the
debate was going to consist of a series of workshops based around the
groups of people on each table. We were given a set of statements such as
'Is altering genetic makeup safe?', together with a set of 'views for' and
Adrian told us that, up until now, the debate has been polarised - so for
this debate there would be no 'experts' up front, and we were to discuss
the statements ourselves. He also told us that 'The results will be fed
into a report to the Secretary of State (she will respond!)', and 'the
idea is to raise awareness, and exchange views, and to overcome the view
of apathy that exists'. This was followed by some simple one-line answers
to questions like: 'What is GM?' (answer: moving genetic material from one
organism to another); and 'Does GM work?' (tricky one that, since some
opponents say that we don't look at the wider - presumably social -
On my table, we introduced ourselves. Apart from myself, there were three
people from what can loosely be called biotech companies, one PhD student
studying the 'process' of how the government is handling the 'genetics'
debate, a journalist from a farming magazine and, saving the day, a sweet
old lady whose name escapes me but was something like Millicent. Millicent
was anti pretty much everything that modern science and engineering had
conjured up (GM, 'Western' medicine, nuclear power and - yes -
Millicent explained how you cannot tell what is in food nowadays, and that
she had been feeling ill for ages because of it. Expecting to hear a story
of how homeopathic medicine had come to the rescue after having tried
several diets suggested by her (Western) doctor, she stunned us all in to
explaining that she started to feel a lot better after she gave up
smoking. Our main source of debating material lost, the discussion
degenerated into the finer points of Bt-corn.
At the end of the day, after two hours of 'debate', it emerged that what
people wanted was that nebulous old chestnut, 'freedom of choice'. GM
foods will reduce choice, apparently, and organic farmers must have the
right not to be 'contaminated' by GM crops. The 'antis' seemed far more
vocal, and the occasional 'pros' hesitant in their arguments (or should I
say 'in their opinions and the expression of their values', to stay in
keeping with the event).
A show of hands indicated that at least 40 percent of the attendants
admitted to being representatives of some 'body' or other (and no doubt
some members of campaign groups were travelling incognito). The corporate
representatives only seemed to be there to listen or agree with each
other, not to give a strong promotion of GM technologies.
The final two discussions focused on the question of whether GM food
should be labelled as such, and attempted to distil the reasons why we
should allow GM crops to be grown (while giving a handy list of arguments
as to why labelling should occur and how GM reduces choice). This whiffed
of a government searching for policy arguments from supposed members of
the public, instead of putting forward its own arguments.
The only small ray of sunshine was the fact that most people attending did
actually want to hear experts from 'both sides' speak, and allow a proper
debate to occur. Maybe the government should let others organise the
debates in future, and just come long when (and if) it is invited.
French Senate Calls for Adoption of GM Framework
- From Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
The French Senate's commission for economic affairs has unanimously
adopted a report detailing the steps necessary to bring about a viable
research and regulatory framework for the development of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs). The report entitled "Which biotechnology policy
for France?" notes that biotechnology research has significantly declined
in recent years in the country and hence, the need for greater political
will and moral support to scientists.
In addition, the report encourages more public-private partnerships,
re-establishment of public budgetary allocations, and increased funding
for private companies for GMO research.
The report in French can be viewed online at
Biotechnology Symposium to Open World-Class Research Facility
An October dedication of the University of Tennessee's state-of-the-art
plant biotechnology research building will feature a symposium related to
tree biotechnology and genomics. Session topics will range from pine
genomics to plant pathology and gene regulation and expression in woody
Planned for Friday, October 17, 2003, the keynote speaker for the
symposium will be Tuskegee University's C. S. Prakash, director of
Tuskegee's Center for Plant Biotechnology Research. Prakash is
internationally known for his research on food crops and for his opinions
and outreach efforts regarding the impact of biotechnology on society and
the world's food supply. He has given presentations in more than 30
countries and is the recipient of many prestigious awards. Prakash
moderates a popular Internet forum, AgBioView (
http://www.agbioworld.org)to promote discussion on technical, societal and
ethical issues related to agricultural biotechnology.
The building dedication, which includes a tour and faculty and graduate
poster presentations, is scheduled for Thursday, October 16. Registration
for the symposium is free of charge, but limited to the first 120 that
apply. All presentations will feature invited speakers; however,
scientists, post-doctoral students, graduate students and advanced
undergraduates are invited to submit posters for consideration.
The new UT facility is being built in the heart of the Institute of
Agriculture campus in Knoxville. It will house research programs that
focus on agricultural and environmental resources, plant breeding and
genetics, plant and plant-stress physiology, pest management, molecular
biology, and renewable energy. Labs equipped with the latest instruments
will serve more than 40 faculty members and their graduate and
postdoctoral students, said Dr. Jack Britt, UT vice president of
agriculture and acting dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and
Natural Resources and Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station.
Scientists from various disciplines will share specialized equipment,
central service laboratories and plant growth chambers to discover
solutions to benefit agriculture, our natural resources, and society,‚Äù
Britt said. Undergraduate and graduate students will learn new techniques
in some of the nation's most advanced laboratories and attend classes in
classrooms equipped with the latest instructional technology.
For more information about the symposium or submitting a poster, contact
Dr. Neal Stewart, UT professor and Racheff Chair of Excellence in Plant
Molecular Genetics, 865-974-7324, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,or Dr. Robert
Trigiano, UT professor of plant pathology, 865-974-7135, e-mail
email@example.com. You may also visit the symposium Web site:
Natural' Isn't Better
- Geoffrey Hollis, Sp!ked Online,
The Emperor was much admired by his courtiers when he paraded in his new
clothes. They had all been taken in by the scheming tailors who claimed
that their clothes were of such fine quality that only those with the most
refined taste could appreciate them. Like all good fairy tales, this one
tells us much about the frailty of human nature, particularly our
readiness to believe the most fantastic claims if the marketing is good
A modern example - which also happens to involve a Royal - is organic
food, sales of which are expanding rapidly despite being much more
expensive than conventionally produced food. Its success must be partly
down to Prince Charles, who is a strong and vocal supporter. Yet organic
food appears no different from ordinary food, and tastes no different when
put through properly controlled blind trials.
Of course, there is a strident lobby trying to persuade us that organic
food must be better for us because it is produced without artificial
chemicals. But this common claim is completely untrue. Organic farmers can
and do use manmade chemicals to fertilise their crops and protect them
from pests and diseases. And although the organic lobby makes much of the
tiny residues of pesticides found in some conventional food, a government
test of baby foods found organic brands to contain residues while
conventional ones did not. In any case, the real risks from food lie not
in chemical but in biological contaminants that can lead to food poisoning
- and these affect all types of food equally. When challenged about their
spurious claims of superior safety, the organic lobby has fallen back to
claiming that their products are more friendly to the environment.
But there is very little convincing evidence that organic rules guarantee
a better environment at farm level. There is plenty of evidence, though,
that organic yields are much lower, which means that more land is needed
to provide the same amount of food - an environmental loss. It has been
calculated that if we went fully organic in this country then an area
equivalent to Wales would have to be ploughed up to give the same level of
production. This won't happen, of course, because most of the organic food
we consume is imported, requiring excess food miles in the process.
And domestic organic food is often produced in damaging ways: for example,
all organic sugar produced in this country comes from one plant to avoid
'contamination', which means that lorries have to waste fuel bringing
supplies from all over the country instead of just taking them to their
The success of organic food is entirely down to heavy marketing using
unscrupulous methods. Myself and others have complained successfully to
the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a string of untruthful
campaigns run by the Soil Association and supermarkets promoting organic
food. The ASA has been forced to issue a code of guidance for organic
food, which prohibits all the main claims made on its behalf: that is uses
no chemicals, tastes better, is welfare friendly or environmentally
The Emperor's folly was finally revealed by a small boy, who pointed out
that he had no clothes on at all. The role of the small boy in the case of
organic food has been played by Sir John Krebs, head of the Foods
Standards Agency (FSA). Much to the fury of the organic lobby, the Agency
has issued statements that it knows of no evidence to support claims that
organic food is safer or more nutritious. The FSA's motive was honourable
- it did not like the effect on ordinary people of the lies spread by the
The Department of Health is trying to get us to eat more fruit and
vegetables, but this message is surely being undermined by the claims that
conventional produce is less safe than organic food. The FSA's stance has
infuriated one courtier in particular - environment minister Michael
Meacher. He is getting crosser and crosser with Sir John for failing to
recant (1). This is an amazing state of affairs. Here we see a Labour
minister pressing a supposedly independent agency to support an expensive
class of foods that is bought chiefly by well-heeled middle class
'You don't see the Emperor has beautiful clothes - then you must look
harder!', says Meacher. We should all hope that Sir John does not give in
to this ill-advised bullying.
And let us also hope that Tony Blair's next ministerial reshuffle sees Mr
Meacher replaced, so that he can no longer undermine the public's
confidence in its food. Geoffrey Hollis is a commentator on environmental
issues, and non-executive director of a Primary Care Trust. He was
formerly under-secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture.