Today in AgBioView: June 10, 2003
* GM Crops Show Promise for Developing World - Nuffield Report
* New Genetics, Food & Ag: Scientific Discoveries - Societal Dilemmas
- ICSU Report
* Fear of Frankenplants?
* Farmers Will Decide Future of GM Crops
* Answers to Concerns - Agricultural Biotechnology Council
* Consortium for Biosafety in Developing Countries Awarded $15 Million
* Organic Bed Getting Uncomfortable
* Life Lines or Land Mines: Intellectual Asset Strategies in AgBiotech
* AfricaBio Wins the Prestigious Science Award
* Peeling Back The Layers: Survey Doesn't Soft Pedal Investigation Into GM
* Philippine Scientists Allay Fears on Bt Corn
* Prophetic Paper on Distortions of Trade by European Ban
* U.N. Should Move to Paris and Get into Chirac's Bed
* Wake-up Call for the U.S: The European Problem
* The Free Trade Charade
* Let's Do A Monsanto
GM Crops Show Promise for Developing World
- Nuffield Council on Bioethics (UK), June 10, 2003
Genetically modified crops could help small-scale farmers in
developing countries according to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics
in The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries, a
Discussion Paper published today. The Nuffield Council is inviting
comments on the draft paper which aims to contribute to 'GM Nation?',
the public debate organised by the government in the UK during the
next six weeks.
In 1999, the Nuffield Council recommended that there was a moral
imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to
people in developing countries who want them. "We have reviewed the
scientific developments since our last report as well as recent
trends in poverty and hunger in developing countries. In the light of
this evidence, we have no hesitation in affirming - and expanding -
our previous conclusions," said Dr Sandy Thomas, Director of the
"We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger
picture," continued Dr Thomas. Food security and the reduction of
poverty in developing countries are extremely complex issues. "We do
not claim that GM crops will eliminate the need for economic,
political or social change, or that they will feed the world.
However, we do believe that GM technology could make a useful
contribution, in appropriate circumstances, to improving agriculture
and the livelihood of poor farmers in developing countries."
The impact of European Union policy:
The draft considers developments in regulation and trade and
concludes that European agricultural policy is likely to restrict
severely the freedom of choice of farmers in developing countries.
Many developing countries do not have the necessary infrastructure to
meet strict EU requirements for labelling and traceability of GM
crops. Additionally, there is concern that even planting GM crops
only for domestic use might jeopardise an export market for non-GM
crops. "We believe EU regulators have not paid enough attention to
the impact of EU regulations on agriculture in developing countries
and we recommend that the UK government and non-governmental
organisations [NGOs] should monitor this closely," said Dr Thomas.
European scepticism may also deter people in developing countries
from adopting GM crops, particularly when the risks of GM crops are
exaggerated. "The current evidence from safety assessments of GM
crops does not suggest any significant risk to people who eat them,
and we believe it is unhelpful to suggest otherwise," said Professor
Derek Burke, a member of the Working Group.
Last year, two million people in Zambia were threatened with
starvation. However, the Zambian government refused food aid
donations from the US because the maize was genetically modified. The
Nuffield Council discusses issues behind this controversy and
recommends that developing countries must be given a genuine choice
between GM and non-GM food aid. When developing countries prefer to
receive non-GM food aid, the World Food Programme and other food aid
organisations should purchase such grain, wherever possible.
Scientists claim that Golden Rice, modified to produce beta-carotene,
could help prevent vitamin A deficiency in Asia, but opponents
question whether it would actually achieve this aim. The Nuffield
Council recommends that it is essential to continue research to
establish how effective the approach might be. Golden Rice could make
a valuable contribution where other sources of vitamin A are not
easily available, but it should be compared with alternative methods
of improving micronutrients in the diet, for example providing
vitamin supplements through public health programmes.
Case by case assessment:
The possible costs, benefits and risks associated with particular GM
crops can only be assessed on a case by case basis. "It is important
not to generalise," said Professor Michael Lipton, a member of the
Working Group. "However GM crops do, in some cases, have considerable
potential to increase crop yields. There is an ethical obligation to
explore these benefits responsibly."
Small-scale farmers in China and South Africa are already benefiting
from GM cotton, modified to resist the cotton bollworm. Another
example cited is research to genetically modify bananas to resist the
Black Sigatoka fungus. Untreated, this fungus can reduce banana
yields by as much as 70%. Currently, farmers spend one quarter of the
production costs on fungicides, and farm workers may risk their
health by applying the spray, up to 40 times per year. A GM banana,
resistant to the fungus, could eliminate these problems, reducing the
amount of fungicide required and, at the same time, increasing yields.
Genetic modification could also be used to address specific
agricultural problems, such as drought and salty soils, where other
methods of plant breeding have not proved successful. However, much
GM research currently serves the interests of large-scale farmers in
developed countries. There is also concern that only a few commercial
companies control most of the seeds, chemicals and research
technology. The Nuffield Council recommends that additional resources
should be committed by governments and the EC to fund a major
expansion of GM-related research relevant to the needs of small-scale
farmers in developing countries.
The Council is inviting views on the draft version of the Discussion
Paper, by 8 August 2003. "We look forward to hearing comments from
members of the public, stakeholders and experts. We would
particularly welcome comments from people in developing countries,"
concluded Dr Thomas.
Copies of the Discussion Paper can be downloaded from the Council's
Members of the Working Group: Dr Sandy Thomas [Chair],
Professor Derek Burke CBE, Professor Mike Gale FRS,
Professor Michael Lipton, Professor Albert Weale FBA
The Report, Genetically modified food: ethical and social issues, was
published in May 1999 and is available to download from the Council's
website at: http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/gmfoods
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body which
examines the ethical issues raised by developments in medicine and
biology. Established in 1991, it is funded by The Nuffield
Foundation, the Medical Research Council and The Wellcome Trust.
New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries - Societal Dilemmas
The International Council for Science (ICSU) today (June 10, 2003)
announced the release of a new report entitled "New Genetics, Food
and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries - Societal Dilemmas."
A synthesis of more than 50 science based reviews, the report
assesses the risks and benefits of applying new genetic discoveries
to food and agriculture.The report was commissioned by ICSU's
Advisory Committee on Genetic Experimentation and Biotechnology
(ACOGEB). It was written by G. J. Persley of The Doyle Foundation.
This report is based on a thorough examination of reviews prepared by
national academies of sciences, international organisations, and
private agencies over the past three years (1999-2002), says author
Dr. Gabrielle Persley of the Doyle Foundation. "We've analysed key
issues, identified areas of scientific convergence and divergence,
and highlighted gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed through
In relation to societal concerns about genetically modfied foods and
other genetically modified organisms, the report addresses five key
* Who needs GM foods?
* Are GM foods safe to eat?
* Will GMOs affect the environment?
* Are the regulations adequate?
* Will GMOs affect trade?
Complete report at http://www.icsu.org/
>From Prakash: The ICSU report states. 1) Biotech food is safe 2)
Environmental risk assessment needs to be case-by-case but there is
already good evidence of environmental benefits 3) Regulations need
to be transparent...
Fear of Frankenplants?
- Time Magazine, Letters, June 16, 2003
In "Cures On The Cob" [SCIENCE, MAY 26], you reported on how
genetically altered crops could yield powerful new drugs and how
critics fear that unnaturally combined genes might contaminate the
Despite their fears, we must not let manageable concerns derail the
potential benefits of these new proteins. We are on the threshold of
cures for such conditions as AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis,
cancer, cystic fibrosis and other devastating illnesses. But we need
to be able to produce affordable quantities of therapeutic agents
sufficient to meet demand, at present a costly undertaking. The
result is that drug manufacturers will probably invest only in
products with broad appeal. Drugs for less frequently appearing
diseases may never be produced, or their cost will keep many from
acquiring them. This ethical dilemma could be addressed by
mass-producing pharmaceutical proteins in crops that provide lots of
We must not overemphasize risks at the expense of substantial benefits.
- DAVID A. FLEMING, M.D., DIRECTOR CENTER FOR HEALTH ETHICS SCHOOL OF
MEDICINE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI--COLUMBIA Columbia, Mo.
Genetic engineering of plants can make food crops hardier, more
resistant to molds and drought as well as to insect pests--without
the use of herbicides and pesticides. Food can arrive on our tables
looking and tasting better, costing less and being relatively free of
unwanted chemicals. Future generations will look back at our fear of
genetic engineering in the same way that we regard the superstitions
that people once held about eclipses.
-- TERRY BOYD Skokie, Ill.
Farmers Will Decide Future of GM Crops
- Hindu Business Line (India), June 10, 2003
BANGALORE, June 9. THE International Seed Federation (ISF) believes
that farmers across the world would decide the future of
Addressing a press conference here on Monday, the Secretary General
of the ISF, Dr Bernard le Buanec, said farmers across the world,
after seeing the benefits of transgenic crops were in favour of the
technology and were demanding introduction of genetically-modified
crops. "Farmers are not against GM crops, they are demanding
it...whether it is in Brazil, where they have six million hectares of
GM soyabean despite being banned or in Europe... Biotechnology and
genetic modification is a tool to improve plant varieties and it is
being accepted," Dr Le Buanec said.
He called upon the media and anti-GM activists not to make "a
mountain of the issue." "GM is not a technology that could solve the
problems of the world. It is not a tool that will solve the
world...if the farmer finds it good and not endangering the
environment, he will favour," he said. According to Mr Le Buanec the
"mad cow disease" scare in Europe and the episode of contaminated
blood in France had "aggravated opposition to GM crops."
Dr Christopher Ahrens, President, ISF, said though there were initial
outcries of Bt cotton in the US, the situation had changed now with
nearly 80 per cent of the produce being the GM crop. Mr Ahrens said
India had immense potential to emerge as a major seed producer. The
base was being set up for India to play a major role in the world
market, by enacting a legislation for plant variety protection and
quality testing seed laboratories accredited to the International
Seed Testing Agency, he said.
Mr Deepak Mullick, Managing Director, Advanta India, and member of
Indian Seeds Federation, said advance booking for Bt cotton seeds in
the country this year had gone up by nearly 10 times. Bt cotton was
being planted this year in one lakh acres, nearly 10 times more than
last year, Mr Mullick said adding, "We cannot say the technology is
not good. It is for the farmer to decide"
Mr Mullick said Indian seed exports would grow ten- fold to touch $
200 million by 2005 from the current level of $ 20 million. Two more
testing laboratories would be accredited to the international agency,
besides the one already functioning in the city, he said.
Answers to Concerns Raised At UK's GM Nation's Public Debates -
Agricultural Biotechnology Council
- Monsanto UK News Update, June 9, 2003 (From Agnet)
Regional meetings so far have shown concern about alleged corporate
control of the food chain, who benefits most from GM, product
liability, and crop co-existence. The answers to these, and many more
issues, are available from the UK biotech industry:
Consortium to Support Biosafety in Developing Countries
'Group Awarded $15 Million for Work on Strategies and Policies'
- ISNAR (Amsterdam), June 9, 2003; email@example.com
WASHINGTON-The United States Agency for International Development
(USAID) has awarded the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) $14.8
million to assist developing countries to enhance biosafety policy,
research, and capacity. PBS will be run by a consortium of
professionals and institutions with an unmatched level of knowledge
in biosafety program and policy development in poor countries.
The program will work initially with Bangladesh, India, Indonesia,
the Philippines, East and West Africa, and is likely to expand to
other countries and regions in the future. "Modern biotechnology has
significant potential for improving agriculture in developing
countries, but any nation wishing to benefit from biotechnology needs
a functional biosafety system" said Dr. Joel Cohen, Project Manager
of New Technologies for Agricultural Research at the International
Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) in the
Netherlands, who leads the consortium. "Through this project, we hope
to assist our partners in determining how to best create such a
system, making sound decisions based on scientific evidence."
The program's unique approach addresses biosafety as part of a
sustainable development strategy, anchored by agriculture-led
economic growth, trade, and environment objectives. It will assist
national governments in studying the policies and procedures
necessary to evaluate and manage the potential harmful effects of
modern biotechnology on the environment and human health. Among the
consortium's goals are:
* To improve regional cooperation on issues related to genetically
modified organisms and expand management skills in the area of
* To assist governments in making science-based decisions about the
effects on biodiversity of introducing genetically engineered
organisms into the environment;
* To build collaboration between agricultural research and
environmental conservation communities in the United States and
* To assist partner countries in regulating and safely conducting
experimental field trials.
"Building biosafety systems are a key to helping countries make
effective decisions about biotechnology, decisions that span
development strategies across economic, environmental, trade, and
social sectors," said Emmy Simmons, Assistant Administrator at USAID,
which administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing
economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries
worldwide. For participating countries and regions, the group looks
to build a firm foundation for policy development and biosafety
decision-making in the future. The program, which will last for five
years, began in May, with collaborators from all levels gathering for
a participatory planning meeting in July.
"There are many components to a solid biosafety strategy" notes Dr.
Reynaldo Ebora, of the University of the Philippines Los Baņos.
"Biosafety considerations need to be examined with a scientific focus
to determine how products of biotechnology will affect the
environment" adds Ebora. "Farmers also need to see for themselves the
risks and benefits that GM crops may bring. Policy recommendations
need to take all perspectives into account, and we feel PBS will help
bring these perspectives together."
ISNAR is one of the 16 Future Harvest Centers supported by the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Organic Bed Getting Uncomfortable
- Alex Avery"
The story below describes the plight of organic farmers who are
having to lie in the bed they made themselves -- zero tolerance for
Having created an untenable "zero tolerance" expectation among their
activist consumer base in a cynical "we can't possibly live with our
neighbor, so kill the neighbor" effort to have GM crops banned, the
organic farmers are now having to actually live with the unreasonable
standard they helped to create. Now they're complaining when that
unreasonable standard costs them money?
Too bad. The whole idea of organic is about what they don't like, but
in the past they've always set realistic tolerances, knowing that
traces of prohibited stuff, like DDT, were just part of the
environment and to demand zero tolerance would doom their farmers and
their movement. Why don't they demand that every load of "organic"
grain be tested and shown to be completely and totally free of
prohibited substances, like banned pesticides?
Every other standard in organic the world over has reasonable
tolerance limits, such as the 1-5% tolerance for traces of prohibited
synthetic pesticides. Now they want to pretend that crop pollen isn't
part of the natural farm environment. And they also apparently want
the public's sympathy for the consequences of their unprecedented,
"contradictory to all historical organic standards" zero tolerance
policy for "genetic contamination" of corn with corn -- a policy set
up purposefully to block the competition from producing low-residue,
environmentally friendly crops biotech crops. A policy deliberately
and consciously designed to instill fear in consumers.
The AP reporter acts as if all of this food paranoia and demands for
purity is something new to the organic food industry. It's the HEART
of the organic industry, you ninny.
My favorite line is the following: "Meanwhile, the $10 billion-a-year
U.S. organic food industry faces increasingly skeptical European
customers who won't tolerate any percentage of genetically engineered
crops. "There's a lot of mental anguish," said Erica Walz of the
Organic Farming Research Foundation."
Well, that's what happens when you carefully cultivate a fickle and
irrational consumer and propagate irrational fears. You make your
bed, so lie in it.
Biotech revolution costing organic farmers
- PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO - Fig Newmans cost more today than a year ago. That's
because the organic cookie maker Newman's Own now buys its corn syrup
from Austria, since it no longer trusts domestic corn syrup to be
free of genetically modified organisms. The corn syrup from Austria,
which bans the planting of genetically modified crops, costs the
Santa Cruz company more and has forced it to hike its prices. It's
The biotechnology revolution has always given organic farmers and
their customers pause for concern. Now, it's actually costing them
money. The Organic Farming Research Foundation said about 11 percent
of the farmers responding to a recent survey said they have been
DNA-testing crops for the presence of genetically modified organisms.
Others said they've undertaken more costly planting processes or have
lost sales over concerns their organic crops were corrupted by
genetically modified organisms.
t's all adding up to cost increases for organic foods, which command
premium prices because of their promise to be free of biotechnology,
pesticides and other unnatural tinkering. Worse, some U.S. farmers
are losing sales to European competitors who can better ensure their
crops are free of genetically engineered organisms. "It's the bane of
the organic industry," said Nell Newman of Newman's Own. A tiny
fraction of farmers, including the Rosmann Family Farm in Harlan,
Iowa, said they've discovered trace amounts of genetically modified
organisms cross-pollinated or otherwise mingled in with their
organically grown crops.
Those are potentially devastating discoveries, because organic
consumers generally demand that the higher-priced food they buy be
grown free of any biotechnological influence. "We will be in trouble
if we can't differentiate our product from the rest of the market,"
said Ron Rosmann. "It's a major concern." Rosmann said an organic
tortilla maker complained last year that about 1 percent of the
farm's corn shipment was genetically modified. The tortilla maker
used the corn, but wants the farm to do a better job this year of
ensuring biotech-free shipments.
So Rosmann will harvest his corn later this year in hopes of avoiding
cross-pollination with biotech varieties, which are being planted in
increasing amounts in the United States. Last year, U.S. farmers
planted genetically modified crops - mostly soy and corn - on 92
million acres. In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops
were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under
biotechnology cultivation worldwide.
Most crops are engineered to be resistant to weed-killing chemicals
like Roundup. Farmers who plant genetically engineered plants argue
that their crops help reduce the amount of herbicides used in their
fields, saving them money and better protecting the environment.
Organic farmers and their consumers argue the long-term health and
environmental risks of biotechnology haven't been properly studied.
As more biotech crops get planted, more consumers are turning to
But Mother Nature and the way food gets to market are creating
fundamental problems for organic farmers.
Nearly half the organic farmers polled by the Organic Farming
Research Foundation said they fear the seeds they are buying are
tainted with genetically modified organisms. Another 42 percent of
responding farmers said they fear "pollen drift" from genetically
modified crops will contaminate their harvests.
Rosmann's corn contamination highlights a growing and little
publicized problem for organic farmers. Some of their crops have
indeed been contaminated with genetically modified organisms,
something only the most savvy consumer knows.
That's because new federal rules on food labeling allow products to
contain up to 2 percent of genetically modified ingredients
unintentionally mixed in with organic crops. Without genetic tests
that cost more than $300 each, consumers can't be completely assured
their organic products are 100 percent GMO free. Meanwhile, the $10
billion-a-year U.S. organic food industry faces increasingly
skeptical European customers who won't tolerate any percentage of
genetically engineered crops.
Life Lines or Land Mines: Intellectual Asset Strategies in
Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era), a research and advisory
firm, has organized a teleconference entitled, "Life Lines or Land
Mines: Intellectual Asset Strategies in Agricultural Biotechnology."
The event will be held June 12, 2003, at 12:00 pm EDT.
The teleconference will explore the commercial, strategic, and policy
implications of the interdependencies among three key intellectual
property (IP) components: transformation methods, trait genes, and
elite germplasm; and examine factors that could change the IP
landscape and alternative IP strategies to protect and capture
value." There is no fee to participate, but participation is limited.
To learn more and apply to participate, visit
AfricaBio Wins the Prestigious Science Award
AfricaBio was awarded the 2002 National Science and Technology Forum
Award in the category "Not-For-Profit Organisation over the last
three years" - an exciting achievement considering that the
organisation was registered as a non-profit Section 21 company only
in February 2000.
In its citation the NSTF says AfricaBio was voted the winner because
of the following:
* It has provided a forum for informed debate on biotechnology issues
and the promotion of its safe, responsible and ethical use, with
significant contributions in the areas of education and PUSET (Public
Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology);
* Small-scale farmers have been empowered through training and advice;
* The growth of the sector has been facilitated through start-up
companies and involvement in the coordination of Biotechnology
Regional Innovation Centres (BRICs);
* Participation in the development of state policy and the Biosafety
Protocol has been effected; and
* The development of the all-important National Biotechnology
Strategy and its subsequent roll-out, contributing greatly towards
the realisation of the potential offered to the national economic
growth by this sector.
Peeling Back The Layers: Survey Doesn't Soft Pedal Investigation Into
Genetically Modified Foods
- Sharyn Wizda Vane, Austin American-Statesman, June 8, 2003
Perhaps you've worshipped at the altar of science, marveled at the
pest-resistant, super-colorful hybrids in the supermarket as examples
of technology's ability to serve consumers. Or maybe you've recoiled
at the idea of so-called Frankenfoods, worried after media reports of
taco shells tainted with genetically modified corn approved only for
Either way, you should read "Food, Inc." Peter Pringle, a journalist
who's written for the Washington Post, the New York Times and the New
Republic, aims to navigate the tricky middle ground between devotion
to the corporate thirst for more and hardier food products and the
outcry from environmentalists and others that splicing genes from one
plant into another sets a dangerous precedent.
"I am persuaded that the biotech harvest has considerable perils, if
done too fast or without proper regulation," Pringle writes in a
cogent introduction, "but I can also see that it has considerable
promise to relieve pain and hunger for millions of people -- if
governments, industry, and overzealous sentries don't stand in the
Such a shades-of-gray conclusion could easily have resulted in a
mealy-mouthed book that doesn't help consumers decode the conflicting
messages from both sides of the debate. Yet Pringle has steered clear
of this pitfall to produce a thoughtful, if at times a bit academic,
survey of the recent explosion in genetically modified foods and
where research has gone wrong.
"Food" takes the reader through a series of case studies that
illustrate how both sides have stumbled in dealing with GM foods.
There was the Flavr Savr tomato, an effort to create a tomato that
would ripen on the vine yet remain hardy enough for shipping -- a
breed which showed promise but was eventually derailed after federal
regulators decided to take a hands-off approach. (Today a riper
tomato, tomorrow a tomato bred with fish, watchdogs warned, and Flavr
Savr withered on the vine in the cross-fire.)
There was "golden rice," a vitamin-rich variety of rice cross- bred
with daffodils that was trumpeted as the savior of millions of poor
Third World children but was eventually demonized as a gateway drug
to more pernicious examples of genetic tinkering. In truth, Pringle
reports, both sides were partially right: The rice showed some
promise in battling malnutrition, but was hardly a magic bullet, and
also had some problems, but not as dangerous as its opponents claimed.
And then there was the flap over Texmati rice, available on grocery
store shelves throughout Austin. Long-grain basmati rice is a staple
crop of India, where it is prized for its distinctive aroma and
texture. So when Alvin-based RiceTec announced it planned to market
basmati-style rice under the brand name Texmati -- and secured a U.S.
patent for its breeding system, which took advantage of rice grown
traditionally in Pakistan -- Indian and Pakistani farmers railed. The
Indian government labeled RiceTec "biopirates" and challenged its
patent application, eventually succeeding in overturning 15 of 20
"characteristic claims" of RiceTec's patent, Pringle tells us. Though
RiceTec is a relatively small company, the myriad patent fights
triggered by genetically modified foods illustrate a growing rift
between multinational corporations and more traditional farming, he
What all this means for the average grocery-store buyer may not be as
immediately gripping as the arguments made by someone like Eric
Schlosser, who turned the McDonald's meal significantly unsavory in
his "Fast Food Nation." Yet in many ways, it's even more important:
It's much easier to just drive by the golden arches than to know
precisely whether genetically engineered corn is in those
Texas-shaped chips surrounding a bowl of salsa.
Pringle is a clear and concise writer, and he does a good job of
avoiding alarmist statements What you learn from "Food, Inc." is that
there is a much more layered story behind the products on your
shelves than even careful label-reading can reveal -- a lesson that
will serve readers well in separating fact from hype as more of these
products make their way to market.
Philippine Scientists Allay Fears on Bt Corn
- Tessa R. Salazar, Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 6, 2003
AN EMOTIONAL blackmail. This was how a scientist described the
recently concluded hunger strike of activists who wanted government
to suspend the release of BT corn crops in the country.
BT corn MON810, a corn variety engineered and patented by the US
biotech firm Monsanto, has potential adverse effects on human health
and the environment, the activists said.
Not so, counters Dr. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, research director of
Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines. Barzaga said the hunger
strike was "an emotional blackmail" that fed on the fears of the
"The safety issue appeals to the public. They use the term 'poison'
because the protein (in BT corn) is called 'toxin.' If we have to use
the term poison, we could use it only to say it is a poison to corn
borers but not to humans. We have no receptors for the toxin," she
said. "Many of the food we eat also have so-called toxins, but they
do not harm us because we have no receptors for them or they are
inactive in our digestive tract."
Barzaga said anti-biotech groups kept claiming that genetically
modified organisms cause cancer but have not provided scientific
Rational debate. Former Science Secretary William Padolina, now
deputy director general for partnerships of the International Rice
Research Institute, told the Inquirer that an issue needing
scientific resolution could only be resolved through rational debate,
not through a hunger strike.
Padolina said he noted some inconsistencies in the protesters'
claims. "I think there is some inconsistency in that Bt corn
opponents find it acceptable to use biopesticides, like microbially
based Bt pesticides, that have been in use in the Philippines since
1986 and have the same active ingredient as Bt corn," Padolina said.
He said these pesticides were being used by vegetable farmers in
Benguet and are accepted globally as part of organic farming
technologies. "Opponents of Bt corn fail to realize that many of our
food crops today have been bred using less-precise technologies like
conventional breeding and chemical and radiation mutation but whose
products have not been subject to the same level of scrutiny as GM
(genetically modified) crops, even if some of the food crops contain
natural toxins," stressed Padolina.
'Unfounded' Benigno D. Peczon, president of Biotechnology Coalition
of the Philippines, said claims made by anti-biotechnology groups
calling for a moratorium on the release of biotech crops were
"unfounded and completely unsupported by facts."
Among fears raised by the groups were the risk of stomach and colon
cancers, allergies, poisoning of the soil, the possible appearance
and spread of new or more virulent strains of infectious agents and
the killing of nontargeted organisms.
Peczon said crops developed through plant biotechnology are among the
most-tested and most-regulated food and fiber products. He said this
was the overwhelming consensus of the international scientific
community, including the Royal Society, the National Academy of
Sciences, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture
Organization, the European Commission, the French Academy of Medicine
and the American Medical Association.
"Bt proteins in Bt crops have a history of safe use, are specific for
the targeted crop pests, and pose little or no threat to other
related insects, pest species, animals or humans," Peczon stressed.
"In eight years of commercial planting in hundreds of millions of
acres worldwide, where biotech crops and foods have been consumed
ubiquitously, there have been no documented adverse effects," he
Peczon said numerous studies showed that Bt proteins from Bt crops
were rapidly degraded in the soil environment and did not negatively
impact on soil organisms. He added that given the millions of
hectares of land planted with Bt corn, there was no indication that
new and virulent strains of infectious agents could be produced by Bt
Other scientists. But antibiotechnology groups remain firm in their
arguments, and are backed up by 18 Filipino scientists and physicians
who described Bt corn as a "biological time bomb" that could spread
Biotechnology proponents counter that Bt corn, particularly the
Philippine-approved MON810, was developed without the use of
antibiotic-resistant market genes. They say there is "absolutely zero
possibility" that the said genes will spread because these are not
present in the first place.
"Without casting aspersion on the capability of the 18 Filipino
scientists, we point to the fact that the greater majority of
scientists in the country, including those in UP Manila, believe in
the safety of GM crops currently in the market," said Peczon.
Prophetic Paper on Distortions of Trade Caused by European Bans on GM
- From Andrew Apel:
I just came across a very insightful and prophetic paper on
distortions of trade caused by European bans on GM. The link is
below. The authors concluded back in 2000 that European bans would
hurt developing nations, and that a WTO action over the bans was
U.N. Should Move to Paris and Get into Chirac's Bed
- David Keene, The Hill, June 10, 2003. Full story at
President Bush is trying his best to let the French know that he
leads a magnanimous nation -- one that's willing, to an extent at
least, to let bygones be bygones. After all, we managed to win the
war in Iraq even without Jacques Chirac's assistance and are used to
the fact that the French are prone to act as they do.
But it's tough. Bush might have to be nice to the man, but the rest
of us don't. The French president didn't just oppose the United
States on Iraq in the United Nations; he was an accessory before,
during and after the fact in Iraq. France had good reason to oppose
our policies out of pure self-interest. The billions of dollars in
lucrative contracts held before the war by French concerns were
directly traceable to the goodwill of Saddam Hussein. Chirac had no
incentive to try to be part of the solution to the crisis in Iraq for
the very simple reason that he and his buddies were part of the
His concern for peace, justice and the European Union's (EU) way has
been demonstrated time and time again over the last few years. As if
defending Saddam Hussein were not enough, in the midst of all this,
he welcomed Robert Mugabe, the dictator-cum-thug who rules or tries
to rule Zimbabwe, to France in a desperate attempt to curry favor
with the man by legitimizing him when most world leaders were
suggesting that he is no longer fit company for anyone who claims to
be civilized. Zimbabwe, once an exporter of food to the rest of
Africa is today a nation whose people are starving and dying thanks
to the policies and tender mercies of this "friend" of Chirac's.
Mugabe may be a racist and he may send thugs out to beat up his
opposition while denying Zimbabweans who aren't able to prove their
loyalty to him and his party access to the humanitarian aid we send
to his country, but he is also a friend of France and the political
correctness for which Chirac is fighting.
Thus, Mugabe has turned down more than 10,000 tons of American grain
in the past year to show solidarity with France and the EU's
"moratorium" on importing genetically modified food products. Other
nations have also banned importation of grains from the United States
because they fear that if they accept or purchase such products from
us, the EU will retaliate by banning their products from Europe.
Mugabe doesn't have to worry about being shut out of Europe, of
course, because his nation can no longer feed itself, but he does
crave the prestige of being counted a buddy of Chirac.
I dug my old "get the U.S. out of the U.N." bumper strips out of a
box in the garage some time ago and I'm ready to put one on my car.
This is an organization that should meet in Paris, where its friends
reside and where the heads of member states not welcome here can go
to sip chardonnay with Chirac while their people starve.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a
managing associate with the Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental
A Wake-up Call for the U.S: The European Problem
- Martin Walker, National Review Online, June 10, 2003 Full story
Just 40 years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy at the
Paulskirche in Frankfurt suggested that the ties between the United
States and Europe were so close and so essential that they should
consider not only an economic union, but possibly even a political
union between these two pillars of the West.
How times change.
White House officials now say the new U.S. policy toward the
ever-larger European Union is "disaggregation," to distinguish
between the friendly Europeans and the less reliable, or even the
potentially hostile. Or as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has put
it, between "Old Europe;" and the new.
And yet the striking characteristic of the Bush administration on
Europe, as France and Germany explore an openly anti-American policy,
is that outside the Pentagon there is no policy. Congress holds no
hearings. Other than finally threatening legal action against the
EU's scientifically unjustified barriers against genetically modified
U.S. food exports, the U.S. Trade Representative explores no other
options. When the Estonians are ordered by Brussels to start raising
their tariffs on American goods as a condition of joining the EU,
Washington is silent.
The Bush administration began to realize over the last 12 months that
the EU is becoming a problem, rather than the bright opportunity that
JFK identified in Frankfurt 40 years ago. It's about time that they
did something about it.
Martin Walker is chief international correspondent for United Press
The Free Trade Charade
- Marco Garrido, Asia Times Online, June 11, 2003
Full Story at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/EF11Dj01.html
The Group of Eight (G8) summit in Evian was not the only gathering of
global importance this month. At the same time as the heads of state
of eight of the world's richest countries convened in Evian, France,
trade ministers from 39 of the world's poorest nations met in Dhaka,
While the Evian summit concerned itself with global economic
recovery, the conference in Dhaka appealed to developed-country
governments to remember their commitments to development,
particularly when it came to trade. The delegates issued a statement
to be presented at the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial in
Cancun. The Dhaka declaration calls on developed countries to remove
restrictions on products from poor countries and import more from
them on a regular basis.
G8 inaction on global trade. For their part, the G8 nations have made
a show of affirming their commitments to the Doha development agenda.
The Action Plan on Global Trade unveiled in Evian pledges to promote
"improved access to markets for all WTO members ... particularly the
poorest, to ensure their integration into the multilateral system,
and their development more broadly". To this end, the G8 nations
commit "to delivering on schedule, by the end of 2004, the goals set
out in the Doha development agenda".
Their resolve would be more convincing if it came accompanied with
concrete measures. There was, of course, talk of action, and even a
specific proposal by the French to suspend subsidies temporarily on
food exports to Africa, but, perhaps predictably, nothing came of it.
It is hard even to say whether the proposal was made in earnest,
considering that France is one of the most ardent supporters of the
European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which provides for
lavish subsidies to EU farmers. French recalcitrance in reforming the
CAP - even, in fact, providing for its unmodified extension until
2013 - is one reason the Doha talks have so far foundered.
Trans-Atlantic rows over agriculture. Despite the unabashed rhetoric
of solidarity coming out of Evian, the differences that have
deadlocked the Doha Round show no signs of abating. These differences
pit the US against the EU and Japan (which tends to hide behind the
EU's position) and come down to the question of reforming the way
agricultural trade is conducted.
While agricultural trade is not the only contentious issue, it is the
main one. In keeping with the Doha Round, the United States has
offered to scrap agricultural export subsidies over a five-year
period, to cut domestic subsidies to 5 percent of the value of farm
production, and to cap tariffs at no more than 25 percent. The EU has
refused to go along with these cuts and has instead proposed a far
more gradual scheme for farm subsidy reform. Efforts at compromise
have so far failed: the EU sees the US proposal as going too far; the
US sees the EU scheme as not going far enough.
The EU and the US also knock heads on the issue of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs). Last month, Bush accused the EU of
hindering the "great cause of ending hunger in Africa" by continuing
to ban GM foods. Bush argued that the moratorium discouraged Africans
from investing in GM technology because they feared the EU would
block their GM food exports as a result. The EU has maintained that
its moratorium is simply a measure of precaution, arguing that the
absolute safety of biotechnology crops, which have been genetically
altered to become more resistant to pests, have yet to be confirmed.
Despite the high-toned rhetoric on both sides, there is little
question that this dispute has a lot to do with the billions of
dollars in agricultural trade at stake. As the main producer of GM
foods and technology, the US is keen on finding new markets for GM
products. The EU is equally keen on keeping its markets to itself and
keeping US products, GM or otherwise, out.
These rows, however acrimonious, are not entirely unproductive.
Aileen Kwa, development think-tank Focus on the Global South's WTO
observer, notes that developed country infighting, particularly
between the US and EU, may be part of a negotiation process that
keeps power within their circle. "This stalemate is not foreign to
trade negotiations: it is part and parcel of the negotiation
strategies of big players - to hold extreme positions, to negotiate
on the side with equals (the US and EU will come to their own private
deals), offer some carrots and wave some sticks to developing
countries, and mix in a large dose of personal contact with
ministers, with heavy servings of persuasion and coercion."
While the WTO mandates consensus among its members, controlling the
process of getting consensus can be instrumental in achieving the
"right" outcome. And certainly by keeping the debate largely on their
terms, developed countries manage to frame the terms of consensus.
The real losers. Poor countries lose the most from rich-country
squabbling. According to the United Nations, developing countries
lose about $100 billion a year through protectionist policies. That's
twice as much as they receive in aid. Since their Uruguay Round
commitments, developed countries have increased, not reduced, the
amount they spend on agricultural subsidies to $350 billion a year.
Developing countries are caught between cynicism and hope. The Doha
Development Round holds out the promise that agricultural trade can
be made to work better for poor countries. But it is a promise that,
while consistently affirmed in the rhetoric of G8 leaders, needs to
be fulfilled in order to be fully believed.
Let's Do A Monsanto
- George Monbiot, The Guardian (London), June 10, 2003
'The Government Says That It Wants A 'Great Debate' About GM - We
Must Call Its Bluff'
Something about the launch of the government's "great GM debate" last
week rang a bell. It was, perhaps, the contrast between the ambition
of its stated aims and the feebleness of their execution. Though the
environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, claims she wants "to ensure
all voices are heard", she has set aside an advertising budget of
precisely zero. Public discussions will take place in just six towns.
Then I got it. Five years ago, Monsanto, the world's most
controversial biotechnology company, did the same thing. In June
1998, after its attempts to persuade consumers that they wanted to
eat genetically modified food had failed, it launched what it called
a public debate "to encourage a positive understanding of food
biotechnology". As the company's GM investments were then valued at
Dollars 96bn (pounds 60bn), the proposition that it might desist if
the response was unfavourable seemed unlikely. To Monsanto's horror,
it got the debate it said it wanted. A few days after it launched its
new policy, Prince Charles wrote an article for the Telegraph. His
argument, as always, was cack-handed and contradictory, but it shoved
genetic engineering to the top of the news agenda. Monsanto's share
value slumped. Within two years it had been taken over by Pharmacia,
a company it once dwarfed.
Like Monsanto, the British government has already invested in genetic
engineering. In 1999, it allocated pounds 13m (or 26 times what it is
spending on the great debate) "to improve the profile of the biotech
industry", by promoting "the financial and environmental benefits of
biotechnology". This, and its appointment of major biotech investors
to head several research committees and a government department,
ensured that it lost the confidence of the public. So, like Monsanto,
it now seeks to revive that confidence, by claiming - rather too late
- that it is open to persuasion. Again, the decision to introduce the
crops to Britain appears to have been made long before the debate
Last year, an unnamed minister told the Financial Times that the
debate was simply a "PR offensive". "They're calling it a
consultation," he said, "but don't be in any doubt, the decision is
already taken." In March, Margaret Beckett began the licensing
process for 18 applications to grow or import commercial quantities
of GM crops in Britain. Her action pre-empts the debate, pre-empts
the field trials designed to determine whether or not the crops are
safe to grow here, and pre-empts the only real decisions which count:
namely those made by the EU and the World Trade Organisation. The WTO
must now respond to an official US complaint about Europe's refusal
to buy GM food. If the US wins, we must either pay hundreds of
millions of dollars of annual compensation, or permit GM crops to be
grown and marketed here.
Why should this prospect concern us? I might have hoped that, five
years after the first, real debate began in Britain, it would not be
necessary to answer that question. But so much misinformation has
been published over the past few weeks that it seems I may have to
start from the beginning.
The principal issue, perpetually and deliberately ignored by
government, many scientists, most of the media and, needless to say,
the questionnaire being used to test public opinion, is the corporate
takeover of the food chain. By patenting transferred genes and the
technology associated with them, then buying up the competing seed
merchants and seed-breeding centres, the biotech companies can exert
control over the crops at every stage of production and sale. Farmers
are reduced to their sub-contracted agents. This has devastating
implications for food security in the poor world: food is removed
from local marketing networks - and therefore the mouths of local
people - and gravitates instead towards sources of hard currency.
This problem is compounded by the fact that (and this is another
perpetually neglected issue) most of the acreage of GM crops is
devoted to producing not food for humans, but feed for animals.
The second issue is environmental damage. Many of the crops have been
engineered to withstand applications of weedkiller. This permits
farmers to wipe out almost every competing species of plant in their
fields. The exceptions are the weeds which, as a result of GM pollen
contamination, have acquired multiple herbicide resistance. In
Canada, for example, some oilseed rape is now resistant to all three
of the most widely used modern pesticides. The result is that farmers
trying to grow other crops must now spray it with 2,4-D, a poison
which persists in the environment.
The third issue, greatly over-emphasised by the press, is human
health. There is, as yet, no evidence of adverse health effects
caused directly by GM crops. This could be because there are no
effects, or it could be because the necessary clinical trials and
epidemiological studies, have, extraordinarily, still to be conducted.
There is, however, some evidence of possible indirect effects. In
1997 the Conservative government quietly raised the permitted levels
of glyphosate in soya beans destined for human consumption by
20,000%. Glyphosate is the active ingredient of Roundup, the
pesticide which Monsanto's soya beans have been engineered to resist.
"Roundup Ready" GM crops, because they are sprayed directly with the
herbicide, are likely to contain far higher levels of glyphosate than
conventional ones. In 1999, the Journal of the American Cancer
Society reported that exposure to glyphosate led to increased risks
of contracting a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The defenders of GM crops say we can avoid all such hazards by
choosing not to eat them. The problem is that we can avoid them only
if we know whether or not the food we eat contains them. The US
appears determined to attack the strict labelling requirements for
which the European parliament has now voted. If it succeeds in
persuading the WTO that accurate labelling is an unfair restriction,
then the only means we have of avoiding GM is to eat organic, whose
certification boards ensure that it is GM-free. But as pollen from GM
crops contaminates organic crops, the distinction will eventually
become impossible to sustain. While banning GM products might at
first appear to be a restriction of consumer choice (someone,
somewhere, might want to eat one), not banning them turns out to be a
far greater intrusion upon our liberties.
The only chance we have of keeping them out of Europe is to ensure
that the political cost becomes greater than the economic cost: to
demand, in other words, that our governments fight the US through the
WTO and, if they lose, pay compensation rather than permit them to be
planted. So let us join this debate, and see how much the government
likes it when "all voices are heard". Like Monsanto, it may come to
wish it had never asked.