Today in AgBioView: June 8, 2003
* New Zealand Science - TRAGEDY STRIKES
* Creepy Biotech Contaminating the Food Supply?
* Africans to Europeans: Let Tolerance Prevail!
* Trade in GM Food - A Survey of Empirical Studies
* Intra-state Commerce in the US
* Pusztai's New Article on Human Health Risks of GM Crops
* UK: GM Nation? The Public Debate
* UK's Public Debate.... Crazy Dang Brits
* BBC's Biased Biotech Questionnaire
* Nuffield Council Report - Use of GM Crops in Developing Countries
* Biotechnology, the Media, and Public Policy - Washington Seminar
* California: State Farms Key in Fight Over Biotech
* Genetically-altered Foods Now a Staple
* Biotech Agri Products and 'Basis for US' Review Request
* Update at Foundation on Biotech Awareness and Education
* Indian Bio-tech Sector Set for a Gold Run: Study
* Genetically Modified Crops? Not in My Backfield
New Zealand Science - TRAGEDY STRIKES
- Life Sciences Network, June 7, 2003 http://www.lifesciencesnetwork.com
Seven senior Crop & Food Research Institute staff have been killed and two
seriously injured in a plane crash in Canterbury Friday night. The
chartered Piper Chieftain aircraft went down 6 kilometers short of the
Christchurch Airport runway in dense fog about 7.15 p.m. The plane wreck
was found in a gravel quarry on McLean's Island two hours later after
searchers heard cries for help from survivors.
While the dead have not yet been named by Police it is clear all three
senior women managers on the plane, science manager Desma Hogg, strategy
manager Katherine Carman and HR manager Magaret Viles, perished as well as
the company's Communications Manager, Howard Bezar. The pilot was also
killed in the crash.
One of the survivors has undergone emergency surgery and is now stable in
There's no indication of how the crash happened and transport accident
investigators have been on the scene since last night. The managers had
chartered the plane to fly to Palmerston North for a national senior
management team meeting, one of three face to face meetings held each
year. The accident happened on the return flight. CEO Paul Tocker was not
on the plane and is in Christchurch with grieving staff and families.
Creepy Biotech Contaminating the Food Supply?
>> TESTS FIND TRACES OF GM CROPS IN US WHEAT SUPPLY
>> June 3, 2003, Reuters (from Agnet)
>> KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Grain industry sources were cited as saying that
>> have revealed that traces of genetically modified grains are repeatedly
>> creeping into U.S. wheat supplies, even as the debate rages over whether
>> the world's first biotech wheat variety should be released in North
So what if a truck load of wheat has a couple of approved biotech corn
kernels? Is it different from finding an adventitious presence of
non-biotech corn? The media and the activists treat these reports as if
our food has been invaded by creepy creatures from the cosmos
"contaminating" our food supply.
We must consider two dimensions here: purity vs. contamination and safety
vs. hazard. Every one of us wants pure and safe food. Treating biotech
food with kid gloves and constant allegations that biotech-dervied food is
"contamination" and "hazardous" reinforce consumer fears and seek to
establish that biotech foods are unacceptable.
Ideally a campaign would target both of these dimensions.
First safety - It is an established fact now that biotech foods are as
safe as other foods. Corn, soy, and
cotton ingredients derived from biotech crops have been scrutinized by
regulatory authorities and are acceptable in our food supply. These
biotech crops move freely through the food supply in much of the world.
The track record over the past eight years speaks for this.
Now purity - no food is 100% pure. Even pharmaceutical products produced
under stringent conditions indoor are not pure! Not even Ivory soap is
pure! It is promoted as 99.4% pure (or something like that). Absent fears
about safety, consumers consider 99+% purity as good and acceptable. Our
grain handling and food production seeks to maximize purity but we all
accept that 100% purity is unachievable at commercial scales.
"Corn is corn" and "wheat is wheat" and that this is ultimately the
message that people need to hear. In the process, consumers must also need
to be assured that there is NO SAFETY ISSUE and that PURITY IS A
GOAL, NOT AN OUTCOME.
Another theme to consider is that we have a system in place to accomodate
the presence of pesticide residues in organically produced foods. The fact
is that it is commonplace for organic foods to contain residues of
pesticides or other "non-organic" chemicals and this is acceptable. WHY?
Because the organic standards allow for these residues to be present so
long as the chemicals are not intentionally applied. What is the
difference between recognizing and accomodating pesticide residues and
biotech traits in organic food? Both are not intended to be present but in
the case of pesticides there is an understanding that through no fault of
the organic producer there may be small amounts of residues present.
The same should be true for biotech. The organic standard allows for up to
5% non-organic material in organic food, including biotech traits. The
issue is not the organic standard but the unwillingness of the "die-hards"
in the organic community to start applying the standards to adventitious
presence of biotech traits in organic foods?
I do not want to go into the road of pointing out again that our food
standards do allow for rodent hairs and insect body parts as Bob McGregor
and Alan McHughen point out....
Let reason prevail.
African Scientists to Europeans: Let Tolerance Prevail!
- 'A Statement from ABSF In Response to the Draft European Legislation on
the Tolerance Levels for the Unintended Presence of GM Material In Non-GM
Agricultural and Food Products '
Sent by Prof. James Ochanda, Executive Director, ABSF, Kenya
Members of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) after
thorough consultation on the above EU proposed legislation made the
following observations: -
Considering the recent EU conference and scientific seminars (Feb/March
2003) the conclusion of the meeting was evident that GM crop/biotech had a
lot to contribute to sustainable development especially in developing
countries. This is supported by evidence that tends to show that more
developed countries USA, Canada, Australia and developing countries India,
Argentina are now embracing biotech and especially GMO crop and that the
level of investment has been increasing in most of these countries.
Adoption rate has also been on the increase (Clive James, ISAAA)
demonstrating that there are obvious benefits. Africa's biotech agenda is
to reduce poverty and improve food security status.
There are evident agricultural challenges in Africa. Agriculture requires
a never-ending struggle against the destructive forces of nature: pests,
diseases, weather, poor soils, etc, which are rampant in Africa because of
her predominant tropical climate. Despite the steadily growing use of
insecticide, herbicides, and fungicides, as much as 40% of crop
productivity in Africa is lost to insect pests, weeds, and plant diseases
e.g. yield losses due to insect pest damage range from 25-40% reaching 80%
in serious infestations and 40-80% in stored products. The yield losses
caused by stem borers to maize vary widely in different regions and range
from 20-40% depending on the pest population density. Maize is a staple
food in sub-Saharan Africa both for human and livestock.
In July 2000 the Commission of the European Communities, that is
regulating the most important Kenya export market, main importers of tea,
vegetables, and flowers from East Africa, released new regulations on
products‚ pesticide residues levels. To reduce the toxic pesticide
residues, a well-reflected new plan was developed by the Cyberbiotech Team
in Hamburg, Germany i.e. establishment of a biopesticide production
factory and trade organization to make Kenyan export agribusiness a
sustainable success. It is our conviction that the Bt technology already
employed in maize and cotton could be extended to the horticultural
products i.e. vegetables, flowers and fruits as Bt is already used as a
Without any means for controlling these pests, crop losses would climb to
as much as 70%. Biotechnology however will help farmers combat pests and
pathogens more effectively while also reducing humanity‚s dependence upon
agricultural chemicals, which most farmers in Africa do not adequately
afford. Biotechnology-enhanced crops could also save millions of acres of
sensitive wildlife habitat from being converted into farmland. Although
improved agricultural productivity might seem like a luxury that
industrialized countries can do without, it is an absolute necessity for
less developed nations. In a report published in July 2000, the UK's Royal
Society, the National Academies of Science from Brazil, China, India,
Mexico and the US, and the Third World Academy of Science, embraced
agricultural biotechnology, arguing that it can be used to advance food
security while promoting sustainable agriculture. "It is critical,"
declared the science academies, "that the potential benefits of
biotechnology become available to developing countries."
Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa never realised the same productivity gains
that countries in Asia and South America enjoyed from the Green
Revolution. The primary focus of Green Revolution plant breeders was on
improving such crops as rice, wheat, and corn, which are not widely grown
in Africa. Plus, much of the African dry lands have little rainfall and no
potential for irrigation, which play an
essential role in productivity success stories of crops such as Asian
And the remoteness of many African villages and poor transportation
infrastructure in landlocked African countries make it difficult for
African farmers to obtain agricultural chemical inputs such as
fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides, even if they had the money to
purchase them. Thus, by packaging technological inputs within seeds,
biotechnology can provide the same, or better, productivity advantage as
chemical or mechanical inputs, but in much more user-friendly manner.
Farmers could be able to control insect pests, viral or bacterial
pathogens, extremes of heat or drought, and poor soil quality, just by
planting their crops.
The appetite for biotechnology among both farmers and the general public
in Africa is rising steadily. With a rapid population increase of 3.5%,
which by far outweighs that of food production of 2.5%, biotechnology is
being recognized as one among the promising tools of increasing
agricultural productivity within a sustainable environment.
Several success stories have started emerging where biotechnological
approaches have contributed to the solution of specific problems of small
farmers who produce 80% of all the food consumed. They include: the
widespread adoption of the tissue culture technology to propagate
disease-free banana plantlets in Kenya, where small-scale farmers have
increased their household incomes by up to 38%, the use of marker assisted
selection to understand the mechanisms of maize streak virus resistance to
select for breeding; and, the adoption of Bt cotton by small scale farmers
in Makhatini, South Africa where rural families growing Bt cotton have
begun investing their extra income to improve social welfare and reaped
environmental benefits by reduced pesticide use.
As in China, these experiences have shown that smallholders stand to
benefit just as much if not more than large-scale commercial farmers.
Based on what is happening on the continent, it is a foregone conclusion
that biotechnology is causing a silent revolution in Africa. Farmers have
embraced the new technology because it makes them more efficient and
protects ˆ or increases - yields and reduces their reliance on chemicals.
Unfortunately, the EU debate on biotechnology has been equated to genetic
engineering while there are non-transgenic technologies such as tissue
culture and molecular markers, which Africa has not yet fully been able to
exploit. This misconception amounts to reduction of investments in Africa
by EU and other friends of Africa for developing non-biotech programs.
Example is of a recent proposal rejection by EU member state having been
perceived to be GM while in real sense it was non-transgenic biotechnology
project (tissue culture banana project). Non-transgenic GM practices have
enabled farmers to realize environmental and economical gains.
Even as Africa adopts biotech to feed its people its export market will be
affected by the zero tolerance intended legislation because it's not
possible to attain it. If developed industrial countries cannot achieve
perfection, how much less can developing countries meet such requirements?
As African stakeholders we recommend that the EU ask for tolerance levels
that are practical especially to the developing countries. In a globalised
market all citizens both from developed and developing countries should be
subjected to regulations they can modestly implement.
While we acknowledge that labeling is essential in providing consumer
choice, application of such regulations in Africa is not practical. In
Europe and other developed countries, where agricultural production is
done by about 2% of the population, it is easy to trace the food chain
from farm to market making labeling applicable. However, in Africa, about
80% of the population are farmers meaning that food is consumed by the
same people who produce it and most of the farmers are loosely organized
on roadsides open-air markets, etc. This kind of a marketing system makes
labeling of food products impractical. In addition 'labeling and
traceability' of biotech products is very expensive. Ultimately, labeling
requirements like those enforced in the European Union represenserious
obstacles that could all but destroy the affordability of biotechnology
products and impede their adoption in the poorer regions of the world that
need it most. In Africa, this can almost be seen as a barrier towards
tackling the challenges on agriculture. There is need to balance.
The EU legislation on trans-boundary movements strives to bring it in line
with biosafety protocol. It is noted that one of the key areas affecting
the 3rd world countries is where Europe labs have to provide materials for
labs in developing countries. To date a number of development projects in
Africa have been supported by EU, that has involved not only human
resources but also materials resulting in products that have helped
developing countries meet some agricultural challenges e.g. Rinderpest
vaccine, foot and mouth vaccine etc. While these are animal based, there
is little distinction between livestock farmers and crop farmers in
Africa. It is important to appreciate that food chains pathways in Africa
As biotech stakeholders we feel that the EU legislation on trans-boundary
movements is inhibiting development and in a truly globalised system all
views should be considered. We are therefore urging the EU to consider the
impact the legislation would have on development especially agricultural
The EU is sending mixed signals to Africa with regard to support for
enhanced agricultural productivity geared towards poverty and hunger
alleviation. During the last Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa
(FARA) meeting in Dakar, Senegal (17th- 23rd May 2003), the EU supported
the FARA program to use biotechnology for Africa‚s agricultural
productivity enhancement. The legislation against biotechnology therefore
sends a misleading signal about EU support for Africa's development
As much as we acknowledge the EU concern, the concern should be global
putting into consideration all the residents of the earth.
African farmers should be given a chance of choice on the technologies
Trade in Genetically Modified Food - A Survey of Empirical Studies
- Nielsen, C., Robinson, S., Thierfelder, K. 2002. IFPRI. Trade and
Macroeconomics Division TMD No. 106:1-39.
http://www.ifpri.org/divs/tmd/dp/tmdp106.htm 01-Jun-2002 .
New advances in biotechnology have enhanced production of maize, soybeans,
and cotton. Consumer reactions to the new technology have been mixed. Both
the supply shock, from an increase in productivity or a reduction in input
use, and the demand shock, which is determined by the consumer response to
consuming GM foods, affect production, trade, and prices of GM foods. In
this paper, we survey models that analyze the market effects of GM
The results depend on a number of important issues such as the cost of
market segmentation and labeling, the nature of the productivity shock to
producers of GM products, and the extent of any adverse reaction to GM
products by consumers. The results from global trade models indicate that,
if costs of labelling and market segmentation are not large, world markets
can adjust to the various scenarios without generating extreme price
differentials between GM and non-GM commodities or extreme changes in the
pattern of world production and trade.
Through market linkages, the benefits of the new technology tend to be
spread widely, with adopters generally gaining more than non-adopters. In
particular, developing countries will benefit if they can adopt the new
technologies, and get mixed results if they are non-adopter.
- John W. Cross
Unless I am mistaken, each US state still has the right to regulate
products within its boundaries that are not sold in interstate commerce.
For example, California or Iowa could approve a seed for sale within the
state only. An example of an agricultural product that is regulated this
way is meat from animals slaughtered in state-inspected facilities and
sold only in-state.
Certain of the United States have opted to implement state regulation of
various industries. For example, California has state regulation of
radioactive materials and of pesticides.
>> Final Response from Conko:
>> Thank you so much Dr. Kristensen for giving up this futile battle of
>> It is fitting, then, that you close with a note conceding my point.
>> 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.
Pusztai's New Article on Human Health Risks of GM Crops
- Denis Murphy, Biotechnology Unit, Univ Glamorgan, UK
Here is a link to a new article on human health risks of GM crops by
Pusztai et al which claims that "no opinions unless supported by
experimental results will be discussed".
I am sure that the chapter will be of interest to Agbioworld readers. I
was unable to print the article so any hints on this would be welcome.
Also, it would be nice to get a critique of the scientific content of the
article from any nutritionists out there. As a biochemist & molecular
biologist I feel a bit nervous about tackling such technicalities myself.
UK: GM Nation? The Public Debate
- Jim Thornton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear iGreens, As you will have seen in the press this oddly titled debate
has been launched. There is a danger that it will be hi-jacked by GM
I suggest that we write individual letters to the organisers explaining
that we would like the EU moratorium lifted so that we can decide for
ourselves about GM food. For the reasons why we believe this click here.
You may also wish to attend one of the public forums. Email
email@example.com to express your views or get further details.
UK's Public Debate.... Crazy dang Brits
- Andrew Apel, t
Crazy dang Brits. They've had a "public debate" over GM for years now, so
intense that it's paralyzed government policy and led to countless attacks
on field trials. After all of that, the government says that it's finally
time, after all these years, to begin a "public debate." What's a
whacktivist do with that? Well, since it's a government operation, you
debate against the debate. Say it's underfunded, poorly advertised, the
public doesn't know there's a debate going on, etc. But it's also a
whacktivist PR opportunity to scare the public.
But this also leaves the whacktivists with both ends covered. On one hand,
the government-sponsored "public debate" gives them a new vehicle for the
anti-GM campaign. On the other hand, if the government effort shows that
the public just wants cheap, safe food, then the whacktivists can say, "it
was underfunded and poorly advertised, making the results inaccurate."
The British government should have at least taken a clue from the New
Zealand Royal Commission. After its unprecedented efforts, the
whacktivists in NZ are still running amok. The Brits are throwing money at
a pointless program that's being subverted by the whacktivists.
Biotech corporations can't do anything about this because they're too busy
fighting amongst themselves and hiding trade secrets to pay attention to
consumers--which is a market they don't sell to, and don't understand
anyhow. They just sell to farmers, and that's all they want to do. And all
they've done for the food industry is create problems, and the food
industry is slowly crushing them.
Corporations contain within them massive inertia. Once a corporation has
chosen a direction, only an emergency of epic proportions can make it
change tack. (Oddly reminiscent of one of Newton's Laws.) It doesn't have
to be that way--the whacktivists are multinational business groups, but
they're always prepared, always have a trick up the sleeve, can turn
policy on a dime, and consistently return more income on investment. The
corporations may be more guilty of idiocy than the whacktivists.
BBC's Biased Biotech Questionnaire
- Frances Smith
There's a terribly biased questionnaire (GM Compass) on GM food on the BBC
website -- it's so poorly designed that it's impossible to answer some
with accuracy. (E.g., One question asks about the "fat cats" from biotech
firms.) It supposedly is designed to show where you are vis-à-vis biotech.
Obviously the perpetrators of the questionnaire know little about survey
design -- or maybe they do.
Your readers may be interested in reviewing the 37 mostly misleading
The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries
- Nuffield Council Press Conference, London, Tuesday 10 June 2003, 10.30am
- Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 28 Bedford Square
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics invites you to the launch of the use of
genetically modified crops in developing countries, published as a draft
In 1999, the Nuffield Council recommended that there was a moral
imperative to make GM crops readily and economically available to people
in developing countries who want them. Now, three years on, the Council
has re-assessed the conclusions and recommendations of its Report in the
light of recent developments. Recently other organisations, such as Action
Aid and Friends of the Earth International, have also produced provocative
reports on the topic.
A press conference will be held at 10.30am, Tuesday 10 June 2003 at 28
Bedford Square, London WC1. Members of the Working Group, including
Professor Derek Burke, Professor Michael Lipton and Professor Albert
Weale, will be available for comment. The draft paper aims to contribute
to 'GM Nation?' the public debate organised by the UK Government which
will take place over the next six weeks. During this time, the Council is
inviting comments from members of the public, stakeholders and experts on
Biotechnology, the Media, and Public Policy
- The American Enterprise Institute; Thursday, June 12, 2003, 8:30
a.m.-5:00 p.m. Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI 1150
Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. http://www.aei.org/events/
For more than two decades, scientists have been working to develop a range
of animal, agricultural, and industrial products (such as foods and
pharmaceuticals) made with the help of genetic modification. As has often
been the case with the introduction of new scientific methods, gene
manipulation has stirred intense and contentious debates. This
sometimes-confrontational atmosphere has limited the use of this new
technology by negatively shaping public attitudes and government policies
toward bioengineering around the world.
This conference will focus on the origins of this debate; how the dialogue
on genetic modification has shaped public policy around the world; how it
impacts the commercial realities of companies developing new products; how
it might alter the course of future research; and what strategies might be
formulated to develop a more rational public policy that would foster more
constructive discussion over the costs and benefits of genetic
9:00 Introduction: JON ENTINE, AEI
9:05 LESTER CRAWFORD, Food and Drug Administration
9:45 Panel I: Biodiplomacy and Public Perception; Moderator: TIM FRIEND,
USA Today; Panelists: VIVIAN MOSES, King's College, London; ROBERT
PAARLBERG, Wellesley College; C. S. PRAKASH, Tuskegee University; JAVIER
VERASTEGUI, CamBio Tec-Canada
12:20 p.m. Keynote Speaker: ALLEN JOHNSON, Office of the U.S. Trade
1:30 Panel II: Emerging Challenges for Commercializing Biotechnology;
Moderator: JUSTIN GILLIS, Washington Post; Panelists: ROB HORSCH,
Monsanto, JOSEPH MCGONIGLE, Aqua Bounty Farms, PATRICK MOORE, Greenspirit,
MARTINA NEWELL-MCGLOUGHLIN, University of California
3:15 Panel III: GMOs and Communications Issues, Moderator: JON ENTINE,
AEI; Panelists: JAY BYRNE, v-Fluence, Inc., CAROL TUCKER FOREMAN, Consumer
Federation of America's Food Policy Institute, TONY GILLAND, British
Institute of Ideas THOMAS HOBAN, North Carolina State University DOUG
POWELL, University of Guelph, Ontario
Register online at http://www.aei.org/event326, or fax this form to
202.862.7171, or mail this form to: Conferences, American Enterprise
Institute, 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. For
additional information, please contact Ryan Stowers at 202.862.5806 or
California: State Farms Key in Fight Over Biotech
- Mike Lee, Sacramento Bee, June 8, 2003
Chowchilla -- Since Roger Schuh first planted electric-blue, genetically
engineered cotton seeds three years ago, he's spent less fuel, less time
and less money controlling weeds on his ranches.
Like many in California's $870 million cotton industry, the 39-year-old
farmer loves his high-tech crop. Now, rather than using expensive hand
labor and specialized herbicides to kill the range of weeds on his land,
he can just blast the whole area with two applications of Roundup and not
worry about harming his crop.
"GMO cotton is like cotton-growing for dummies," said Schuh, who eagerly
awaits other herbicide-resistant crops such as alfalfa. "It's less stress
and less money."
The seed technology embraced on more than 200,000 acres of cotton in the
Central Valley is about to get a bigger -- and more controversial -- test:
major California food crops. As soon as next year, California farmers may
have the chance to grow herbicide-resistant rice. After that, wheat,
lettuce, grapes and strawberries are likely targets for the crops, known
by the acronym GMO, genetically modified organisms.
As such, California -- the nation's largest agricultural producer -- is
poised to take center stage in the ongoing debate over use of biotech
crops. With $28 billion annually in farm products, the state is being
looked to as a bellwether for the future of genetically engineered fruits
The hotly contested topic will take shape in Sacramento on June 23-25,
when agriculture ministers from more than 100 countries gather for a
U.S.-sponsored conference on using agricultural technologies to reduce
Despite their prevalence in the Midwest, where the majority of the soy
grown is now genetically altered, the safety of biotech foods is
questioned around the world. That's a major consideration for California's
export-dependent farmers, who send more than $6 billion a year in farm
products overseas, including a large chunk to biotech-wary Europe.
Common consumer worries center on the safety of genetically altered foods:
the unintentional spread of allergens, genetic contamination of
conventional crops, the potential spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases
and the plain old fear of manipulating food at the genetic level. There's
also widespread concern about giving companies control over the food
supply through patents on basic products.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration is pushing genetically engineered
crops as a way to increase farm productivity in developing countries. It
argues biotechnology can improve the quality, quantity and reliability of
food supplies in poor nations.
One of the main groups fighting the spread of altered foods has keyed on
California's emerging significance in the debate. Greenpeace, in
conjunction with several other organizations, plans to unroll a campaign
this summer to convince the state's growers not to take another bite of
"The question around genetic engineering moving into other crop sectors in
California very much becomes a question of the role of genetic engineering
in the entire nation," said Renata Brillinger, coordinator of Californians
for GE-Free Agriculture.
California was the birthplace of genetically engineered foods and remains
a major hub of research, hosting more than 1,500 field tests of biotech
crops since the early 1990s. But the state remains virtually free of
commercially produced food crops that have been genetically altered.
Cotton is by far the largest biotech crop in the state, followed by corn
(mostly used for animal feed) and a tiny amount of squash.
Genetic engineering occurs when scientists insert genes with desirable
traits into plants in ways they could not with traditional plant breeding.
Common applications are aimed at increasing resistance to insects,
herbicides and viruses.
A more controversial aspect involves boosting the nutritional value of
food crops, for instance by inserting vitamins or cancer-preventing
compounds. Controversy has not stopped the spread of biotechnology. In
2002, global plantings of genetically engineered crops increased by more
than 10 percent for the sixth year in a row, said a report issued by the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications in
Ithaca, N.Y. Biotech crops topped 145 million acres in 16 countries last
year, with the United States accounting for about two-thirds of the global
total. The largest biotech crop worldwide is soybeans, followed by corn
and cotton. Herbicide resistance is the most common trait.
In 2002, for the first time, more acres worldwide were planted with
genetically altered soybeans than conventional soybeans, the report said.
About 20 percent of the world's cotton also is genetically engineered.
While Californians haven't widely adopted biotech crops, the issue
sprouted here in 1994 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the
Flavr Savr tomato developed by Davis-based Calgene the first biotech food
crop to get agency approval. Despite being engineered to spoil less
quickly after harvest, Flavr Savr tomatoes lasted only about three years
on the market, and Monsanto bought out the struggling Calgene.
Biotech tomatoes no longer are grown commercially, and major companies
such as Campbell Soup Co. don't see an immediate need. Campbell, a
one-time Calgene collaborator, contracts with 65 growers in California as
well as seed researchers in Davis who are doing fine the old-fashioned
way, according to Campbell spokesman John Faulkner. "We can cross-breed
using traditional methods to develop the kind of tomatoes we need,"
Faulkner said from company headquarters in New Jersey.
Despite the demise of its tomato, Calgene remains an important player as
it develops the next generation of biotech crops: those purported to
benefit consumers instead of farmers. The company is a research hub for
Monsanto's efforts to develop oil seeds high in omega-3 fatty acids,
commonly called fish oils. Within the decade, Monsanto envisions
augmenting common cooking oils with plant-derived heart-healthy omega-3s
-- that come without the fishy taste.
California's significance in the future of biotech is evident at the
University of California, Davis, where about 50 tenure-ranked faculty are
working on multiple aspects of biotech crops. Their efforts include
helping tomatoes tolerate saline soil and modifying milk to reduce its fat
While commercialization has been slow, genetic engineering remains the
kind of technology some say California can't afford to pass up if the
state's giant agricultural sector is to decrease pollution and remain
competitive globally. California is the state with the most to gain from
widespread adoption of the 32 biotech crop varieties under development and
eight that already have been introduced, according to a study last year by
the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.
Introduction of those biotech crops -- including apples, broccoli and
lettuce -- would reduce California's pesticide use by 66 million pounds a
year, according to the study, which was paid for partly by the biotech
industry. Between lower bills for agricultural chemicals and higher
yields, economic benefits for California were pegged at $207 million
But there are plenty of reasons farmers here are wary of biotechnology.
Most pointedly, they are leery of consumer opinion in a state known for
its environmental sensitivities. Most growers just want to wait and watch
consumer trends. For instance, herbicide-tolerant sugar beets were
commercialized in 1999, but no one will grow them.
"You have great technology sitting on the shelf," said Leonard Gianessi,
co-author of the agricultural policy study. "It's just not being used
because they are afraid of the backlash." Such is the case among
California wheat growers, who fear rejection by mills if they pioneer
plantings of biotech wheat.
"We haven't had in our industry any question of the technology. The
question has been the loss of market share," said Bonnie Fernandez,
executive director of the California Wheat Commission. "No one wants to be
first." California's wheat industry -- which planted 742,000 acres this
year -- keyed on the Canadian Wheat Board's recent rejection of Monsanto's
Roundup Ready wheat as a sign that the era of biotech wheat remains
somewhere in the future. Undeterred, Monsanto is moving ahead with
commercialization plans for the product in Canada and the United States.
Even Schuh, who loves the bottom-line benefit of his Roundup Ready cotton,
hesitates when asked whether he'd plant a biotech food crop. "I would have
to make certain the public was ready for that," he said. Biotech cotton
largely falls under the radar screen. Schuh felt no heat from activists
when he planted it, nor did he have trouble finding a mill for his lint or
a dairy for his seeds, which are used as high-protein cow feed.
Except for the seeds, which are colored blue to distinguish them, Schuh's
800 acres of Roundup Ready cotton don't look different from conventional
cotton. Neither does the Roundup Ready feed corn he planted last year -- a
few stalks of which still tower over his young cotton plants because his
all-purpose herbicide won't kill either crop.
Schuh worries that herbicide-resistant weeds will develop but he figures
solutions will emerge if that becomes a problem. For now, he's just
enjoying the cost savings from spending less time tending cotton and the
environmental benefits of reducing his use of air-polluting heavy
Genetically-altered Foods Now a Staple
- Lee Bergquist, June 5, 2003 MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL via
Once a tiny kink in the food chain, genetically modified foods have become
a staple in America's diet. Almost one-third of all corn planted in
Wisconsin this spring will come from genetically-altered varieties. Among
soybeans, nearly 80 percent of the crop will be genetically modified.
Nationwide, some 40 different crops are approved for commercial use,
according to the Council for Biotechnology Information. These crops are
increasingly becoming ingredients in everything from soups to pizzas to
soft drinks. "We eat genetically modified foods every day," said C. Neal
Stewart, a plant geneticist at the University of Tennessee. "If you have
any romantic notions about natural foods, lose them."
Fifty years ago, it was unlikely that scientists James Watson and Francis
Crick were thinking about bio-engineered food when they discovered the
structure of DNA, and in so doing, unleashed generations of scientific
discovery. By helping to unravel the mysteries of DNA, Watson's and
Crick's work has wended its way through science. In agriculture, it
allowed scientists to alter genes -- adding a trait here, eliminating a
trait there -- so the raw product in some foods was suddenly different.
With their ability to fight pests and weeds, biotech advocates say, the
new genetically altered crops have helped farmers increase productivity
and cut the use of farm chemicals. As an alternative to laboratories,
newer generations of genetically engineered crops are being used in
outdoor experiments to harness the powers of Mother Nature to mass-produce
But as much as the technology creates a ray of sunshine for its advocates,
clouds continue to hang over it. Some opponents are dead-set against it on
principle and believe that dickering with genes is wrong. Others say that
the technology is another way of exacerbating a trend toward large-scale
farming. Others worry about food safety and the long-term effects. What
happens to both animals and humans over a lifetime of eating gene-tweaked
food? Will insects become resistant to these brave new crops?
Another issue is how the integrity of organic food can be protected as
wind-blown seeds move from one field to another. "My own personal feeling
is that if scientists can create miracle drugs, that is one thing, we
can't pooh-pooh that," said Theresa Marquez, chief of marketing and sales
at Organic Valley, a co-op in La Farge in western Wisconsin. "But to focus
on food, it's not necessary. We're producing a glut of food. Farmers are
going out of business."
Advocates are quick to note that three federal agencies are required to
approve the sale of genetically engineered crops. They point to reports by
both the American Medical Association and the National Academy of
Sciences, which concluded that the differences between genetically
modified foods and conventional foods are negligible.
But those two scientific groups also raised questions about the long-term
effects of the technology. The National Academy panel said regulators
should more closely scrutinize the environmental impact of genetically
altered plants and should monitor fields after approval for unforeseen
"Is it safe?" asked Brent McCown, a horticulturist at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison who uses the technology. "I believe it is. This is an
incredibly powerful science, and it is so powerful that we will never put
it back in the box. We have to accept that it is here to stay."
Stewart, author of "Living on a Genetically Modified Planet," said that
genetic engineering only allows plant breeders to do more quickly what
they have always done: breed crops for desired characteristics. "You are
under much more risk from food-borne pathogens," such as salmonella and E.
coli, than from genetically modified organisms, Stewart said.
Others worry about inadequate controls. In February, a Kraft Foods
executive said the company would like to see the practice of using food
crops to make pharmaceuticals stopped for fear they will get into the food
supply. That happened last year in Nebraska when the U.S. Department of
Agriculture pulled 500,000 bushels of soybeans off the market.
The soybeans had been engineered to produce an enzyme used in laboratories
to speed the production of insulin. The company, ProdiGene of College
Station, Texas, was involved in another case in Iowa, and last month
agreed to pay $250,000 and cleanup costs that could total more than $3
million in the two states.
Kraft supports the use of genetically modified crops approved by
regulators. "Right now public acceptance of biotechnology in America is
relatively high," Betsy Holden, Kraft's co-chief executive officer, told
an agriculture group in suburban Washington, D.C. "But how many more times
can we test the public's trust before we begin to lose it?"
While an outright ban on the technology seems unlikely in the U.S.,
consumer unease is evident. Labeling measures have surfaced in Congress
since 1999, and several state legislatures are now mulling mandatory
A poll conducted in 2001 for the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
found that 75 percent of people wanted to know whether their food
contained products that were genetically altered. "I think a lot of our
customers want a better connection with their food," said Lisa
Malmarowski, marketing manager for Outpost Natural Foods, which operates
stores in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, Wis.
"We are not anti-tech, we are not a lot of Luddites here. We just want to
know more about where our food comes from." A worldwide poll commissioned
by the Discovery Channel for a program titled "DNA: The Promise and the
Price," which aired last month, showed that 62 percent of people in eight
countries think that rules and regulations are not keeping pace with
genetic research. In the United States, 70 percent held that sentiment.
This wariness shows up in the marketplace as well. Organic farming and
organic foods have been a hit with consumers. While still a tiny
percentage of overall farmland, crops planted on certified organic land
rose 74 percent to 2.3 million acres between 1995 and 2001, according to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By law, organic crops can't use
genetically modified organisms.
Sales at Organic Valley in La Farge have jumped from $99.5 million in 2001
to a projected $155 million this year. Organic Valley cannot attribute the
growth directly to concerns about genetically modified food, but customer
surveys regularly point to worries over the "Big Three," said Marquez.
They are: antibiotics, pesticides and bovine growth hormones -- a
genetically engineered product injected into dairy cattle for higher milk
"Three years ago, we were 75 percent in small stores and whole foods
stores, and 25 percent in some of the select upscale stores," Marquez
said. "Today we sell to Wal-Mart, and 70 percent of dairy is in the
grocery mass market channel."
Biotech Agri Products and 'Basis for US' Review Request
- Richard D. Haynes, The Hindu Business Line (India) June 6, 2003; (The
author is the US Consul General in Chennai.).
India has a growing biotechnology sector, which many hope will be a new
engine for economic expansion. The country is also blessed with a large
cadre of world-class research scientists, positioning India to play a
leading role in the further development of this promising new technology,
not only for India but for the entire world. Consequently, India has a
keen interest in the outcome of the ongoing dispute with the European
Union regarding biotechnology.
On May 13, the United States, Argentina, Canada, and Egypt announced a
request for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) consultations with the EU
over its moratorium on approving agricultural biotechnology products. The
overwhelming preponderance of legal and scientific evidence supports their
decision to challenge the EU over its stance on agricultural
Over the last five years, the EU has consistently violated WTO rules that
require measures regulating imports to be based on sufficient scientific
evidence, and regulatory approval procedures to be operated without undue
EU member-states have blocked regulatory approval of new agricultural
biotechnology products since 1998, and have done so without presenting any
scientific evidence demonstrating a danger to human health, as required
under the WTO Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary (SPS) Agreement. The US and
others, in bringing this case, are simply seeking to ensure that the EU
applies a scientific, rule-based review and approval process for
agricultural biotechnology products.
Simply put, the EU moratorium has no scientific basis. Bio-engineered
foods currently on the market have been shown to be as safe as
conventional varieties. As noted by the French Academy of Sciences, more
than 300 million Americans have been eating bio-engineered corn and
soybeans for years. No adverse consequences have ever been reported. The
EU itself acknowledges that biotech foods on the market pose no threat to
Unfortunately, the EU moratorium on agricultural biotechnology approvals
has ramifications far beyond Europe. The EU's refusal to meet its WTO
obligations is slowing down the adoption of a beneficial technology, and
developing countries have suffered negative consequences.
In the fall of 2002, some famine-stricken southern African countries
balked at the US food aid because of ill-informed health and environmental
concerns, as well as fears that the countries' exports to Europe would be
jeopardised by contamination of local crops. Those who stand to benefit
the most from agricultural biotechnology - the poor and undernourished in
developing countries - do not have time on their side.
The spillover effects of the EU moratorium threaten to negate the benefits
of biotechnology, which can help stimulate agricultural productivity and
raise living standards in developed and developing countries alike.
Farmers worldwide have recognised the economic, agricultural, and
environmental benefits of biotech crops.
These plants yield more from the land and can thrive in poor soil. Up to
80 per cent of some crops in Africa are at present lost to drought.
Biotech drought-resistant crops can help produce food in developing
countries struggling to feed their populations.
Increased use of agricultural biotechnology can also yield substantial
environmental benefits. Farmers utilising biotech crops can reduce soil
erosion and pesticide use. Biotech crops create more hospitable
environments for wildlife, including streams and rivers spared from
chemical pesticides. Farmers who are able to increase crop yields on
existing land will be less tempted to encroach upon tropical rainforests
and other fragile natural habitats.
Finally, those who claim that the US is trying to force biotech foods on
consumers have actually got the argument backwards. It is the EU's
unilateral, illegal, and unjustified actions, taken without any
scientific, health, or environmental basis, which constrain choice and
opportunity worldwide. The US and others seek regulations that maximise
consumer choice while protecting consumer health and safety.
Biotechnology's great potential to improve the lives of farmers throughout
the world and to help preserve our global environment from increasing
pressures of population growth depend largely on a science and rule-based
system to approve bio-engineered products. To do otherwise would deny a
better life for the millions of Indian families whose fortunes are tied to
tilling the soil.
Foundation on Biotechnology Awareness and Education
Our website fbae.org has been updated recently. New sections on
Agricultural Biotechnology (BT Crops), Tools of Biotechnology,
Bioinformatics, etc have been introduced. Following are the links..
Send in your comments/suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
- Looking forward for your support & participation. Dr. C.Kameswara Rao,
Executive Secretary, FBAE
Indian Bio-tech Sector Set for a Gold Run: Study
Sify.com, June 8, 2003
The Indian bio-technology sector, currently at a nascent stage with a mere
one per cent share of the global biotech market, is poised for an
exponential growth over the next five years with an expected global market
share of 10 per cent, according to a study by CII and Rabo India, the
Indian subsidiary of Rabobank, Netherland.
The consumption for biotech products in India is estimated to grow ten
fold to 1.5 billion US dollars by 2007 and 4.5 billion US dollars by 2010,
the study said. The market for the modern bio-technology products and
services in India was estimated to be about 150 million US dollars for
2002, it said adding that about 40 per cent or 60 million US dollars were
estimated to be the export revenues.
The key markets for the Indian biotech sector included industrial biotech
products like enzymes, vaccines, diagnostics like immunology kits,
veterinary products, agri-biotech products like genetically modified seed
India has developed adequate infrastructure with low cost technology,
network of research labs and trained manpower the prime requirements for
growth of the sector, according to the study. The advantages included low
operational cost and technology, skilled human resources, network of
research labs, abundance of raw materials like plants, animal and human
Moreover, to provide increased thrust in the sector, the government has
set up the Department of Bio-technology, which had established 200
government labs, private research institutions with state-of-the-art
equipment. The budgetary allocation for the sector was also hiked to 500
million US dollars in 2002-03 as compared to 300 million US dollars in
1997-98. The country employed 100,000 in the biotech sector in 2001 as
against 79,000 in 1992.
Genetically Modified Crops? Not in My Backfield
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The Observer (UK), June 8, 2003
'The GM debate: Americans are already free to sit down to a complete GM
dinner, but should we have the same choice in Britain? As the Government
prepares to publish the results of its crop trials, Hugh
Fearnley-Whittingstall comes out fighting for nature '
Of course we should be opposed to GM. It is about some of the biggest,
richest, most powerful companies on the planet seeking to own and control
global agriculture, and who would want to support that? It represents the
final theft of the means of food production, away from local, regional and
even national communities, into the hands of a few international corporate
giants, based in America, who will quickly come to dictate, without
opposition or discussion, what kind of seeds and what kind of chemicals
will be spread over every cultivatable inch of the world's land surface.
And if I overstate fractionally the reach of their capability I fear I
exaggerate not one iota the extent of their ambition.
It is utterly, inescapably obvious that we don't need GM in the UK and in
Europe. Our agriculture is already over industrialised and over
productive. We have millions of acres 'set aside' for non-production. What
possible benefits could accrue from another step down the road of
'efficiency'? The good news is that most of us are already persuaded by
this argument - and by fear of GM safety, of which more in a moment. In
Europe at least, democracy has said no to GM.
The only conceivably acceptable pro-GM argument, that it might help us
feed the starving in the poorer parts of the world, turns out to be the
most cynical and reckless of all. Far from offering hope and independence
to Third World farmers and growers, GM represents the new economic
enslavement of the Third World - neo-colonialism by proxy. Everybody who
works at the hard end of the aid business will tell you that it is
politics, war, poverty and drought, and most often pernicious combinations
of these factors, that conspire to create famine. Which of them precisely
can be cured by a genetically modified seed? I believe they don't yet have
one that grows without water, or produces fruits that pacify dictators.
The fact is that if you want to feed the starving, you must dodge bullets,
negotiate with warlords, and rebuild infrastructure. If you want to help
the starving feed themselves, you must give them ploughshares and
irrigation. If you want to help them compete effectively in the global
food marketplace, then give them access to markets and a fair price for
the products of their labour.
If, on the other hand, you want to own them and control them and make them
mere pawns in your industrial empire, then sell them a strain of
genetically modified seed and a patented production system that means the
seed cannot germinate without your additives, cannot grow without your
fertilisers, cannot prosper without your weedkillers, and cannot even
produce a viable seed for the following year's harvest. You will
effectively then own these farmers, and their crops, even to the extent
that you will be able to tell them who to sell to and how much for.
Not that GM companies wouldn't go to extreme lengths to convince us of
their benign intentions. In one of the most cynical public relations
exercises of all time, Monsanto are currently flying around the world a
group of cotton growers from Africa, who have for several seasons now been
participating in a pilot project growing cotton using Monsanto's GM seed.
They are giving interviews to the world's media, telling them that GM
cotton has increased their productivity, their wealth, and boosted the
prosperity and facilities of their community. Yet all this on a pilot
project whose success was guaranteed from the outset. Of course Monsanto
has the power and wealth to transform a small agricultural community and
ensure its short term prosperity, just as it has the power to give them a
fabulous all- expenses paid trip to charm the world's press. It tells us
nothing about their ability to improve the lot of the subsistence farmer
and everything about their lack of corporate integrity and cynical
So, GM to feed the world? Pull the other one. In fact, the exact reverse
is far more likely. A GM dominant agribusiness in the third world will
create the classic preconditions for hunger and famine: firstly ownership
of resources will be concentrated in too few hands (this is inherent in
farming based on patented products), and secondly the emerging food supply
will be based on too few varieties of crops too widely planted. These are
the worst possible options for Third World food security. No wonder there
is not a single aid agency or famine relief charity that thinks GM holds
significant answers to Third World hunger problems.
But of course, given an almost inexhaustible supply of Western apathy
about the plight of the Third World, the above arguments are perhaps less
likely to engage the man in the street than the other Big Question about
GM. Its safety. So it's worth knowing that here too, large lies are being
told by men with remarkably straight faces.
Perhaps the biggest lie is that 'science' has 'proved' GM to be safe. In
fact science has done no such thing. The astonishing truth is that science
has shown a marked reluctance to undertake any worthwhile investigation of
GM safety at all. And as Craig Sams, the chairman of the Soil Association
says, the few studies involving safety testing - by feeding GM foods to
animals - has produced disturbing results.
Here are a few examples:
Tests on GM Flavr Savr tomatoes resulted in lesions in rats. Scientists at
the US Food and Drug Authority even asked for it not to be approved.
Dr Arpad Pusztai's notorious experiments with GM potatoes and rats showed
severe gut problems in the test animals compared to those fed non-GM
potatoes. Despite the largely successful attempt to discredit him
publicly, Pusztai's paper had been peer reviewed six times prior to
publication. Compared to most GM research sponsored by GM companies it
remains a model of experimental propriety and credibility.
In GM chicken-feed experiments, twice as many chickens fed GM maize died
as those fed the conventional crop. Despite this, the GM maize was
approved by the Government but later withdrawn following public pressure.
All of the above should make us worry. But the bottom line, of course, is
that not nearly enough time has elapsed for us to be in the least
confident of GM safety. Meanwhile, what's the best comparable example that
the kind of transgenic tampering that is the essence of GM might
eventually lead to some pretty grizzly consequences? Well, for about 30
years there was 'hard scientific evidence' that feeding high levels of
animal proteins to grazing ruminants (ie dead sheep to live cows) was
'safe', in that no significant health problems seemed to have arisen. Then
suddenly, Bingo! We had BSE.
The production of GM foods is in many ways comparable. It involves
combining strands of DNA, often animal derived, that could never naturally
come together, then introducing these mutant strains to both the animal
and human food chain. Such unprecedented and unnatural steps are producing
entirely new materials for both the biosphere to contend with on the macro
scale, and the human gut to deal with on the micro scale. Why should we be
in the least surprised if at some point, something very nasty happens?
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