Today in AgBioView: June 24, 2003:
* Percy Schmeiser's seed
* Gerry Kiely's views
* GM SCIENCE OR RUSTIC FANTASIES
* The Promise of Sacramento
* 36 arrested in Sacramento protests at conference on GM crops
* Pope to receive report on genetically altered foods
* Black Group Praises Bush For Demanding European Leaders Join
International Fight Against Hunger
* Biotech woes . . . and the culprits
* Caught in the Middle
* Hope and Science, Fear and Superstition
* Bove jailed over GM crop damage
* BUSH URGES EUROPE DROP RESISTANCE TO BIOTECH FOODS
* Europe hits back at Bush in GM row
* Kyoto 'Flatulence Tax' Plan Causes Turbulence in New Zealand
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 13:14:47 +0930
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: Percy Schmeiser's seed
'Who Owns the Seeds?'
- Percy Schmeiser, San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2003
If you want to have the real information about Percy Schmeiser's seed, you
can read the transcript of the case at
(http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2001/2001fct256.html). This transcript
makes it quite clear, using Percy Schmeiser's own evidence, that he
deliberately planted some 900 acres or so to canola seed he "knew, or
should have known" contained glyphosate resistance. This is hardly a case
of a few seed accidentally blowing off the back of a truck.
Perhaps because I am an Australian, I am also bemused about Percy
Schmeiser's claim he had bred his own canola varieties for 50 years and
lost these to Monsanto. My experience in Australia is that canola variety
development, particularly for quality traits and disease resistance,
occurs so quickly that varieties are superseded within a few years of
release. Indeed, most of the varieties popular six or seven years ago are
rare today. I doubt that Australia is alone in this.
This changing of varieties is also not limited to canola as the same thing
happens to our wheat varieties, only more slowly. If indeed Mr. Schmeiser
had been developing his own canola varieties, I suspect they would have
been far inferior to what was available commercially. It is unlikely that
Mr. Schmeiser would have access to the specialist knowledge and equipment
required in modern plant breeding. Indeed, Mr. Schmeiser's previous
claims that the RoundupReady gene spreads quickly throughout a crop
because it is a dominant gene, suggests to me he needs to brush up on his
plant genetics and recognise a factor called "selection".
Given Mr. Schmeiser's other comments on the matter, including the claim he
made in Australia that Monsanto was dropping "Roundup Bombs" on canola
fields in Canada to catch farmers out, I think there might be a bit of
fiction to Mr. Schmeiser The Canola Breeder as well.
University of Adelaide
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Gerry Kiely's views
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2003 10:06:18 -0400
In his Sacramento Bee interview Mr. Gerry Kiely (Agricultural Counselor
for the European Union Delegation in Washington) made a number of
statements with which members of this group might object.
If Mr. Kiely is a responsible person, and not just a spokesman, it would
be well if members of this group could dialog with Mr. Kiely.
The full article is at
Address of Mr. Kiely:
Delegation of the European Commission to the United States
2300 M Street, NW Washington, DC 20037
Telephone: (202) 862-9500 Fax: (202) 429-1766
From: "Murphy D (SApS)"
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2003 14:03:57 +0100
Correction to Colin A. Carter's article about GM crops:
from Agbioworld 23 June, 2003
Prof Carter claims that:
"the U.S. first exported GM food to Europe in 1996. It was tomato puree
from California, and it was voluntarily labeled as genetically engineered.
The product was a big hit with consumers in Britain because it was cheaper
than conventional tomato puree."
In fact the tomato puree he refers to was produced in the UK from research
at Nottingham University & Zeneca Plc. It was a great commercial success,
in contrast to the FLAVR SAVR tomato from Calgene, which was a disaster. I
assume Prof Carter has mixed these up.
The Zeneca tomato puree was pulled from supermarket shelves in 1999 in the
wake of the Pusztai affair. This was done by the supermarkets themselves
and was NOT due to public rejection of the product. In a way the
supermarkets have contributed to public anxiety of GM food in the UK by
their precipitate actions that make consumers feel that there must be
something wrong with these foods. It is misleading and a crude stereotype
to characterize Europeans as anti-GM when we in the UK were amongst the
first pioneers of a class of GM foods that were clearly labeled,
beneficial to consumers and a commercial success.
University of Glamorgan
LETTER: GM SCIENCE OR RUSTIC FANTASIES
June 24, 2003
By Mike Bayliss
Sir: I must object to your "superweed" headline (" Superweeds' signal
setback for GM crops", 23 June). Yes, we do have superweeds: you can buy
them in any garden centre (try Japanese knotweed, Australian swamp
stonecrop or Floating pennywort) together with the "powerful weedkillers"
needed to control them. The eco-fiction of superweeds just panders to an
urban population who seem happy to support ecological campaign groups
whilst denying the technology that has given us a stable, varied and
plentiful food supply for the last 60 years.
Less than 1 per cent of the UK population now produces two thirds of the
food we consume in the UK, leaving the rest free to fantasise about
organic farming and a subsidy-free rural idyll that hasn't actually
existed since the 19th century, if it ever existed at all. The UK then
imported most of its food to feed a population of around 25 million. The
miracle of modern agriculture is that the UK can feed a population of 60
million and the world a population of 6 billion: don't bite the hand that
I would much rather rely on the best science-based practices that UK
farmers and agricultural research can devise. We should be using plant
breeding and genetic modification, which all the evidence shows will
minimise chemical inputs and maximise sustainable production from
intensively farmed land. This is the only way we can devote more land to
re-creation of natural habitats without the nonsense of air-freight
imports from countries that still do not enjoy the food security we take
I put my faith in the science and technology which I know will sustain me
rather than muck and magic from pressure groups which clearly cannot.
The Promise of Sacramento
Tech Central Station
By Andrew Apel and C. S. Prakash
Seldom does an international conference hold out as much promise for
progress in agriculture as the upcoming Ministerial Conference and Expo on
Agricultural Science and Technology in Sacramento, Calif. This is because
we are now on a cusp; we have reached a point where new agricultural
technologies have matured to the point where they can be used by
developing nations for their own betterment, rather than remaining in the
hands of the most developed nations, with strong and well-funded research
Putting well-developed technology in the hands of those who seek
development is called technology transfer, and that is the focus of this
conference. Several years ago, an identical conference could not have
accomplished much; now, it could be a turning point. And that is because
we have only recently seen that technology transfer -- especially when it
comes to biotechnology -- works.
In fact, biotechnology has proven more beneficial in developing nations
than in agriculture-intensive North America. To be sure, genetically
enhanced corn, soybeans, cotton and canola have spared farmers the expense
of millions of pounds of crop protection chemicals, and have relieved the
environment of the burden of those chemicals. This increases profits and
food quality in a highly responsible manner.
In developing nations, the picture is quite different.
Insect attacks on cotton in India are far more damaging than in the U.S.,
often destroying more than half the crop each year. Where cotton
engineered to resist these pests helps U.S. farmers somewhat, the benefit
of that technology in India is so great that in recent tests in increased
cotton production by as much as 87 percent. No American farmer has ever
seen benefits as great as that. The technology has proven so successful
that Indian farmers are defying their government and breeding their own
versions of engineered cotton. Many Chinese, Mexican and South African
farmers have also enthusiastically embraced the insect-resistant cotton.
The story is much the same with corn engineered to resist insect pests. In
the Philippines, corn borers destroy roughly 30 percent of the corn crop
each year -- an amount equal to the corn that country must import to
fulfill its needs. The government of the Philippines has approved the
cultivation of corn modified to protect itself against insects and tests
have shown that the corn, which combines gene splicing and the most modern
breeding methods, increases yield by as much as fifty percent. No American
farmer has seen such an incredible yield increase over earlier products.
These stories are only parts of a much larger pattern that is emerging.
Nearly 6 million farmers in 16 countries chose to plant biotech crops in
2002, up from 5 million farmers in 13 countries in 2001. More than
three-quarters of these farmers were resource-poor farmers in developing
Bio-engineered corn, soybeans, cotton and canola were developed primarily
for use in North America, and while they have proven more beneficial to
farmers elsewhere, there are developments far more promising. Few
Americans have eaten cassava, but in parts of Africa it is the primary
food crop. Unfortunately, if cassava is not properly prepared before
eating, it can deliver a potentially deadly dose of cyanide. Scientists
have achieved a breakthrough in engineering cassava plants that are safe
to eat. In other parts of Africa, the sweet potato is the primary food
crop, and one that is yearly under attack by diseases farmers cannot
defend against. Engineered sweet potatoes resist these diseases, all on
There are other technologies being developed, such as a tomato developed
by UC Davis scientists that can thrive in soil that contains high levels
of salt or a corn developed by Mexican scientists that can tolerate
aluminum, a mineral toxic to tropical crops.
Farming in developing countries is often a daily struggle against
diseases, pests, drought and toxic soil elements -- all of which greatly
reduce crop yields, so the enhanced ability to resist them could make
substantial contributions to much needed food security. Similarly, food
with improved nutritive qualities such as the 'Golden Rice' fortified with
beta-carotene offer so much hope in battling the malnutrition.
All this takes is technology transfer, from those who have the technology,
to those who need it. Now that we can actually see technology transfer
works, we have a ministerial conference that can make it a process to
fulfill the vision of a world where every child everywhere will be born
with the assurance of the most basic necessity of life -- food.
Andrew Apel is the editor of AgBiotech Reporter; C.S. Prakash is a
professor at Tuskegee University and president of the Agbioworld
36 arrested in Sacramento protests at conference on GM crops
Agence France Presse
June 24, 2003
Police said Monday they had arrested at least 36 people during protests
against a US-organized international conference in Sacramento, California
to discuss new food and agriculture technology.
Mounted anti-riot police squared off with protesters, arresting 22 on
charges of vandalism, gun and sharp instrument possession, a Sacramento
police official told AFP. Late Sunday, 14 people were arrested, according
to spokesman Sam Sommers who said around 600 people had been present at
Police expect more demonstrations to take place Monday against the
three-day ministerial level conference.
And in the past two days, between "about 2,000 and 5,000 protesters" had
gathered in the area, a member of the group organizing the protest, Leda
Dederich, told AFP.
A group of activists dressed as butterflies and giant tomatoes kicked off
their protest around the venue of the Ministerial Conference and Expo on
Agricultural Science and Technology.
The event, hosted by US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, lasts through
June 25 and participants from the agriculture sector from 100 countries
will be present.
Pope to receive report on genetically altered foods
June 23, 2003
By Jennifer Garza
Pope John Paul II wants to learn more about the technology that develops
genetically engineered food, according to the Vatican representative in
Sacramento on Sunday for the global agriculture conference.
Archbishop Renato Martino said the pope's interest in the technology comes
out of his concern for the world's poor.
"He wants to do something about the billions of people who go to bed
hungry every night," said Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace. "The Holy See wants to learn about the new technology
and how it can help those living in poverty."
The archbishop spoke to about 100 people who attended a forum on Peace and
Justice on Sunday morning at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in
downtown Sacramento. Martino is in Sacramento to represent the Vatican at
the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology
that is being held at the Sacramento Convention Center over the next three
Martino is believed to be one of the highest-ranking Vatican officials to
ever come to Sacramento.
"His being here is a measure of how serious the Vatican takes this issue,"
said the Rev. James Murphy, spokesman for the Sacramento Diocese. "There
are moral issues on both sides. On one hand, there are tremendous
possibilities to feed the poor. On the other hand, what are the scientific
The pope has not spoken on the topic of genetically altered food, Murphy
At the forum, Martino spoke about the social teaching of the church, the
responsibilities of the individual to "live the spirit of the gospel," and
how dignity is the foundation for human rights.
In an interview, Martino said he is withholding judgment on issues to be
discussed at the event. He said he plans to observe and to become
"We just came to listen to all the aspects, including the ethical
considerations," he said.
After the conference, Martino will prepare a report for the pope. He said
the pope is interested in learning about the new technology.
"The Holy See encourages new ways to fight famine, starvation and
malnutrition," he said.
Black Group Praises Bush For Demanding European Leaders Join International
Fight Against Hunger
Contact: David Almasi of The National Center for Public Policy Research,
202-371-1400, ext. 106 web: http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21Index.html
WASHINGTON, June 23 /U.S. Newswire/ -- President Bush has earned the
praise of members of the African-American leadership network Project 21
for his strong, renewed demand that European leaders help in the fight
against famine in Africa by dropping their opposition to genetically
At the Biotechnology Industry Organization conference in Washington, D.C.
on Monday, Bush said that European leaders who are restricting the
importation of genetically modified foods and pressuring other countries
-- particularly those in famine-ravaged Africa -- to reject so-called
biofoods are "acting on unfounded, unscientific fears." Bush said: "For
the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European
governments to end their opposition to biotechnology."
Genetic modification can be used to produce foods that will grow in
adverse climates, repel insects, stay fresher for longer periods of time
and provide greater nutritional benefits. Additionally, foods can be grown
to administer vaccinations that thwart deadly diseases. Fears of trade
sanctions from European powers opposed to genetically modified foods has
forced the governments of African countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe to
reject U.S. food aid that contains biofood items.
"The debate over the use of biofoods in Africa is unfortunately not just
about food. If that were the case, millions more Africans would be going
to bed with full stomachs and be properly immunized since we have the
technology to do both right now," said Project 21 member John Meredith.
"What is really at issue here is the same European mentality that has
successfully suppressed Africans and people of African decent for hundred
President Bush has already criticized Europeans' "unfounded, unscientific
fears" about genetically modified foods, and has urged European
governments to "join -- not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in
Africa." The Bush Administration has filed suit with the World Trade
Organization to overturn European bans on biofoods.
Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community
since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 371-1400
x106 or Project21@nationalcenter.org, or visit Project 21's web site at
http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21Index.html. A commentary by Project 21
member John Meredith on the issue of genetically modified foods is
available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA298.html. A National Center
"Ten-Second Response" on this issue is also available at
Biotech woes . . . and the culprits
By Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko
June 24, 2003
America learned long ago that what's good for General Motors isn't
necessarily good for the country. This axiom applies equally to the
biotechnology industry, which has lobbied for — and gotten — stultifying
regulation that constrains R&D, inflates prices, and deprives consumers of
new food products.
This is not a new phenomenon. Acutely aware of the potential conflict
between short-term self-interest and the public interest, the patron saint
of capitalism, Adam Smith, warned in the 18th century that any policy
advocated by businessmen should receive "scrupulous" and "suspicious"
attention. Businesses have often pressed for government interference with
free markets; past examples include tariffs on steel and limits on imports
of Japanese automobiles.
Scientific bodies repeatedly have examined the potential risks of
biotechnology and concluded that regulatory policy should focus on the
risk-related characteristics of individual products, rather than on how
those products were developed.
Nevertheless, as early as the mid-1980s, long before the first
gene-spliced plants were ready for commercialization, a few agrochemical
and biotechnology companies led by Monsanto and Calgene approached senior
government policymakers and requested a regulatory framework specific for,
and that would discriminate against, the use of gene-splicing technology.
The policies recommended by the nascent agbiotech industry were far more
restrictive than could be justified on scientific grounds. The goal of
these policies ostensibly was to placate anti-biotech activists and
provide reassurance to consumers that government regulators had vetted
gene-spliced products, but at least part of the companies' motivation was
to use regulation as a market-entry barrier to competitors.
The strategy has backfired. Unrealistic and unnecessary regulatory
requirements have led to pseudo-crisis after pseudo-crisis — precipitated,
for example, by spurious laboratory findings ("Biotech corn pollen kills
Monarch butterflies," trumpeted one headline), and by the inevitable but
inconsequential transgressions of baseless rules ("Biotech corn
contamination prompts widespread recall").
Ironically, the agbiotech industry did create a Frankensteinian monster —
a regulatory one. The USDA, EPA and FDA all have promulgated new policies
that focus specifically on and discriminate against plants and
microorganisms crafted with gene-splicing techniques. Federal bureaucrats
are now squarely in the middle of virtually all field trials and food uses
of gene-spliced organisms (but not conventionally modified ones), spelling
disaster for small businesses and especially for academic institutions,
whose researchers lack the resources to comply with burdensome, expensive,
The big agribusiness companies have achieved their short-term agenda — the
concentration of the entire agbiotech pie in a handful of firms — but
discriminatory regulation also has had the predictable side-effect of
pushing research, development and commercialization costs into the
stratosphere. The cost of field-testing gene-spliced plants is as much as
20-fold higher than for virtually identical plants crafted with older,
less precise genetic techniques.
By early 2003, four companies — Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Bayer/Aventis
and Dow accounted for 57 percent of research and development on
gene-spliced crops, and the time and cost to develop a gene-spliced plant
variety had risen almost to what is required to bring a new prescription
drug to market in 6 to 12 years and $50 million to $300 million.
Does unnecessarily stringent premarket review of gene-spliced crops
assuage consumers' ambivalence about these products? Does it pacify
anti-technology activists' hunger for ever-greater and more debilitating
regulatory oversight? Not a chance. Regulatory requirements for
gene-spliced plants and foods have been ratcheted up steadily for nearly
20 years, with no apparent positive impact on consumer attitudes, and
certainly none on the stridency of activists.
Experience suggests consumers view the products that are the most
regulated to be the most dangerous. But even if consumers were reassured
by our excessive and hugely expensive precautionary regulatory regimes,
surely the responsibility of government leaders is to lead — that is, to
implement policies that are based on science and common sense, and that
are in the public interest, and then to defend those policies
aggressively. During the past 20 years, government regulators should have
spent less time regulating and more educating.
The disincentives to using a superior but "disfavored" technology are
imposing. Consider, for example, the dilemma of the grape grower or papaya
farmer who desperately needs new genetic varieties that can resist the
predation of Pierce's Disease and the papaya ring-spot virus,
respectively, but is afraid that using gene-spliced varieties will
compromise his ability to produce, sell and export a superior product.
Another casualty of excessive regulation has been the long-term
survivability of small, entrepreneurial companies formed to exploit the
experimental research of university laboratories. The genesis of the new
biotechnology was the confluence and synergy of academic and industrial
research on fundamental questions in biochemistry, genetics, microbiology
and analytical chemistry. Today, academic labs still are the source of
most new ideas in these related fields, but the progression from
innovation in the laboratory to marketed product has become uncertain, as
many speculative research projects on low-profitability organisms have
become prohibitively expensive. Virtually all of the agbiotech startups of
the 1980's are gone.
Today, the six major agbiotech companies that remain — BASF, Bayer, Dow,
DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta — have achieved a virtual monopoly. But due
to persistent scaremongering and burdensome regulation in the United
States and abroad, they have been able to generate only meager returns
from nearly two decades and many billions of dollars worth of research.
The major beneficiaries from the these unscientific policies are activist
groups that have raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from gullible
donors, the natural and organic food industries that have exploited and
promulgated misinformation, and the regulators themselves. Spawning vast
new bureaucracies to regulate gene-spliced organisms, the EPA, USDA and
FDA have grown in size and power.
The losers? All of us who foot the bill for government and who purchase
consumer products — that is, society at large. There is no conceivable end
in sight for public policy that affords no incremental protection from
risks, but creates huge disincentives to using a superior technology.
Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, was an official at
the Food and Drug Administration in 1979-1994. Gregory Conko is director
of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Caught in the Middle
Tech Central Station
by James S. Shikwati
Can genetically modified foods provide a solution to African food
problems? The vice chairman of the environment committee of the European
parliament, Alexander de Roo, has observed that "Hunger is a social
problem, not a technical problem. To solve the hunger problem you need
democracy. The world has enough food; the problem is distribution.
Furthermore, the European Union has provided non-GM foods to Africa;
however, it is up to the Africans themselves to decide. But I wouldn't
advise them to consume these foods." The United States trade attaché to
the European Union, Chris Wilson, recently argued that the genetically
modified foods that the U.S. exports to Africa are the same foods
Americans consume. "Nobody has been harmed by these foods. Why can't the
Europeans establish scientific evidence of harm, if any? The world is on
the verge of another agricultural revolution."
Most agricultural activities in Africa are done on patches of impoverished
soils and practiced by smallholder farmers. Seventy percent of the African
population is in the rural areas and depends mainly on agriculture. Sixty
percent of Africans are in absolute poverty, with 80 percent of Africa's
expenditures going to food. Repeated attacks by pests and diseases and
expensive farm inputs together with natural disasters such as drought and
floods have put this industry in jeopardy. Kenya's agriculture minister
recently asked for scientists to step up work to get a solution against
crop pests and diseases. Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa observed, "The
greater grain borer is currently a big threat to food security in this
country, yet no collective professional input has come from researchers."
The U.S. is the biggest investor in the study of transgenic technology. In
recent years about 50 percent of patents in the U.S. related to biological
engineering, compared to 33 percent in the European community, and seven
percent in Japan. Most of the top biological engineering scientists from
Europe are said to be relocating to America. Africa, known for a long time
as a ship to mouth continent, has also made some advances in this area,
with Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt releasing products ranging from sweet
potatoes, cotton and maize. Africa is lagging behind largely because of
its legal structure, which makes it difficult for scientists to patent and
protect their knowledge. On the other hand, her technology is very
U.S. farmers, who produce two-thirds of the world's biotech crops, declare
their products to be safe. These farmers save an estimated $216 million
annually on weed control costs and make $19 million less in herbicide
applications every year. Using non-till methods made possible by herbicide
resistant soybeans, farmers prevent 247 million tons of topsoil from being
The European Union has legitimate concerns about GM products given its
past encounters with mad cow disease and the carcinogenic dioxin in
chickens in Belgium. Concerns on trade also emerge because of the
potential GM technology has in altering the market share in food products.
On the other hand, the U.S., having invested heavily in this industry,
views this "GM Blockade" as another trade barrier.
Caught in the middle of GM warfare are Africans who are looking out for
ways to feed their populations. Some of the benefits of GM foods include
combating malnutrition through use of foods enriched with vitamins and
other vital minerals. Deployment of plant technology can mean the
difference between life and death, and between health and disease for
millions of Africans. The use of GM food technology will not only release
the talent of the 70 percent of the population locked in inefficient
agricultural quests, but will also lead to higher food production. It will
lower food prices and enhance the international competitiveness of
Africa's primary industry. This technology can also help improve health
and environment concerns in Africa. Yields per hectare will go up, with
man and wildlife coexisting peacefully. Crop varieties that are able to
grow in arid areas will transform unproductive land to valuable land.
However, Africans fear that this technology will create dependency on the
big companies that produce the specially modified products. "I was used to
getting seeds from my crop after every harvest, but now I have to keep
buying seeds every year. With this new technology, though good, it is
going to enslave poor countries, and we may soon be held at ransom in
order to get high yielding pest resistant crops," observed a local
university professor who owns a maize plantation. Things are made worse
due to limited capacity in Africa to exploit biotechnology and or regulate
its products to ensure that they are safe.
Africa needs this technology and must embrace it from an informed
perspective. The agriculture minister's challenge to local experts should
be addressed urgently. As Africans seek to expand productivity and join
the world of trade, it is imperative that they shun any food aid -- be it
GM or non-GM -- that will throw farmers out of business. Africa should
import the technology and discourage "food help."
Hope and Science, Fear and Superstition
Tech Central Station
by Duane D. Freese
Two views about biotechnology and its necessity underscore a worldwide
conflict not only between importing and exporting nations of genetically
modified products but between rich and poor nations.
James Shikwati, director of the Kenyan non-governmental organization
Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN), outlined one of those conflicts at a
meeting in Brussels last week organized by TCS. He urged 50 European
bureaucrats and journalists at the meeting to get behind removal of
Europe's moratorium on GM products.
"With insects destroying crops, Africans don't have a choice that their
crops live or die, but with GM crops this could change. We want to explore
GM technology and believe it could tackle pests and save the starving."
Only the European Union's five-year moratorium and its proposals for
strict labeling and transmission rules discourage that investment.
"Biotechnology would give African farmers the freedom to produce their own
goods instead of begging donor countries," Shikwati implored. "Africa
needs this investment and wants to make use of the technology."
The European response was pretty much delivered the next week by French
President Jacques Chirac. "We have to slow down the importation of GMOs
without the full knowledge of the importing countries," he told a meeting
of young farmers in Paris. "We have to make sure that GMOs answer real
needs and that the precautionary principle is respected. To me, these
conditions do not seem to be fulfilled today."
So, in contravention of other rules of trade, such as for French wine and
cheese or tuna, he argues, "each country should be able to make the choice
(of adopting GMOs) as a sovereign nation and in a responsible way."
Translation: We (France and Europe) aren't going to let any of your GM
crops or food in no matter how many in Africa are starving. We've got
ours, to heck with you and yours.
Does that sound like a harsh translation? It really is quite mild, if you
consider what Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America's
Food Policy Institute told an audience at a biotechnology forum at the
American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on June 12.
Playing up the benefits of biotechnology in Africa, she said, is acting
like parents who used to try to get their kids to eat the vegetables by
telling them of starving children in Africa. "It didn't work for parents,
it isn't going to work for biotechnology," Foreman said. People, for the
most part, don't care about others. Consumers only care about the benefits
and safety of biotechnology for themselves.
And right now, she argued, they see "no consumer benefits" for themselves
in biotech, only unknown risks.
The frustrating thing about what Foreman says is that she may be right.
Consumers don't see biotech's benefits, really, just the scare stories
about mostly phony risks.
And the reason for that is that the biotechnology industry has played
responsibly, dealing with its risks first. It was the industry that went
to government, after all, and asked it to review the products that came
from genetically manipulating gene characteristics at specific levels -
rather than the more global level of crossbreeding.
And that opened the technology to the scaremongers - such as Greenpeace
and Friends of the Earth - to attack its differences. Regulation for the
safety of this particular agricultural breeding technology became the tool
by which those with political and economic agendas against either the
technology or the international business concerns involved in it could
lambaste biotech as dangerous. Better toxic herbicides and pesticides, or
fecal contamination in organic agriculture than scary genetic
Only, as Lester Crawford of the Food and Drug Administration told the AEI
audience, the National Science Academy back in 1993 told the FDA that
there was every prospect that GM food would be safer than existing food,
and it was right. "There has not been a single adverse reaction from GM
foods," he said. At the same time, "there have been tens of thousands of
adverse reactions from traditional foods."
Indeed, the European food scare that gave rise to the backlash against GM
food - the much over-hyped mad cow disease epidemic in first Britain and
later in France and Germany - had its origins not in GM but in traditional
agriculture, feeding of sheep protein to cows. If the cows had been fed GM
enhanced soy protein, instead, there would have been no outbreak. But it's
the soy that's in trouble, oddly, not "traditional agriculture."
The question to ask is why?
There are plenty of answers that have been developed, such as culture. Ah,
yes. France has its food culture, including wine, which gives many people
a hangover from neurotoxic amines and sulfur dioxide, but forget about GM
yeasts replacing natural ones to eliminate those toxic effects. Natural
toxicity is good, oui?
And consumer fear of the unknown leads to consumer rejection. That's true.
In Europe, polls show most Europeans don't want anything genetically
modified on their plate.
But why is that so? Why do consumers in Europe see only the risks of GM?
One reason is that they are well off. In short, they can afford to eat
what they want even if organic food carries a premium price tag of 25
percent. So, why save more, if there is any risk whatsoever?
That's where Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth come in, with their holy
brethren in the organic food industry. As Jay Byrne of v-Fluence told AEI,
those nongovernmental organizations spent some $500 million since 1998 at
the height of the scare over mad cow disease to spread fear about GM. And
they did it mostly with money from organic corporations, Ben and Jerry's,
Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Body Shop and Patagonia - the upper-middle class
boutique of companies that play upon the notion that natural is très bon,
And the media, in Europe particularly, have played up their scare stories.
Sylvie Bonny of the National Institute of Agricultural Research in France
said European media "have played a significant part in making GMOs widely
known and in highlighting their potential dangers, especially at the end
of the nineties when many journalists become increasingly opposed to GMOs,
and at the beginning of the 2000s with their growing rejection."
But they did so, for the most part, ignoring the science. "Scientists were
publicly little heard on GMOs," Bonny noted. NGOs, meanwhile, fed a
journalistic imperative: "Shocking headlines revealing hidden dangers and
dramatic presentation of issues guarantee wider audiences and have more
impact than more moderate, qualified articles."
Little wonder, then, that while the French Academy of Medicine and its
Academy of Sciences last December called for an end to the EU moratorium
on GMOs, as "no particular health problem has been detected" in years of
their use abroad, Chirac stands at the doors of French culture to oppose
And that this stance, as Andrew Natsios of USAID told AEI members, only
promotes famine in the developing world, well that just doesn't matter.
The risks of GM outweigh its benefits, say its critics, with not a bit of
evidence to that effect. The Greens have created that perception, and
Foreman is right, perception is more important than reality.
Bonny puts it precisely, "GMOs … seem to have become a symbol of many
negative aspects of global economic development." Those developments
include everything from big multinational firms to economic disparity in
income to American predominance in technology fields, for which they in
fact bear almost no responsibility. Nonetheless, as Bonny writes, "In this
context of high opposition, a change in attitude towards GMOs seems
difficult to achieve in the EU, particularly in France. It would require
them to be considered no longer as the symbol of various unpopular trends
but rather for themselves."
There are many who support GMOs who argue that in this atmosphere, the
Bush administration should tread lightly. Don't raise their profile,
especially in connection with the administration, which itself has become
suspect in Europe due to differences over the war in Iraq. They would urge
the administration to withdraw its complaint to the World Trade
Organization against the moratorium in April.
To do that, though, would be a big mistake. The only way to make clear the
advantages and safety of GM foods is to not merely quietly slip them in,
but to confront the fear mongering about them. The most vociferous voices
against GM, claiming the administration is trying to cram it down the
throats of Europeans, are the ones who lack the science to justify their
There are two views about GM products - one based on hope and science, the
other on fear and superstition. Let's see where Europe and the world
really stand. Let's see whether the poor really don't matter. Let's put
morality along with the technology to the test.
Bove jailed over GM crop damage
June 22, 2003
TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) -- Radical French farmer-protester Jose Bove
was arrested at his home on Sunday and taken to prison to serve a 10-month
sentence for destroying genetically modified plants, his lawyer said.
Bove, who rose to prominence in the 1990s for denouncing globalisation and
junk food, was convicted last November of ripping up genetically modified
rice and maize plants in separate incidents in 1998 and 1999.
Though he was sentenced seven months ago, Bove had refused to give himself
up and supporters had pledged to defend him when police came to take him
Bove was arrested at daybreak by dozens of police who charged through a
glass doorway of Bove's home west of the southern city of Montpellier. He
was bundled aboard a helicopter and taken to the nearby
"The gendarmes went into his house after breaking through a window,
without even ringing the bell," lawyer Francois Roux said. "He was alone.
He obviously did not resist and they immediately took him away by
Bove, a spokesman for the radical Confederation Paysanne farmers union, is
popular in France and government officials quickly raised the possibility
the walrus-mustachioed activist might be pardoned.
Justice Minister Dominique Perben said President Jacques Chirac might
grant Bove clemency in an annual decree traditionally issued on July 14.
"In light of previous decrees from other years, someone like Mr Bove could
see his sentence reduced," Perben said, noting this year's decree was not
Nevertheless, Perben defended police tactics during the arrest, which
neighbours and opposition politicians denounced.
Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet demanded Bove's release and
criticised an "anti-union spiral" by the government. The Socialist and
Green parties also criticised police actions and Bove's jailing.
A few hundred supporters later gathered outside the prison to protest his
Bove, who has led attacks on genetically modified crops in recent years,
spent six weeks in prison last year for vandalising a McDonald's
Bove and his followers argue that genetically modified plants could
trigger the spread of modified genes harmful to the environment.
Supporters say they could lead to the development of hardier grains to
help feed the world's poor.
BUSH URGES EUROPE DROP RESISTANCE TO BIOTECH FOODS
June 23, 2003
Reuters (View Agnet)
WASHINGTON- President Bush was quoted as teling BIO today that, "Acting on
unfounded, unscientific fears, many European governments have blocked the
import of all new biotech crops. Because of these artificial obstacles,
many African nations avoid investing in biotechnology, worried that their
products will be shut out of important European markets.
For the sake of acontinent threatened by famine, I urge the European
governments to end their opposition to biotechnology. We should encourage
the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against
Europe hits back at Bush in GM row
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Europe has defended its refusal to accept genetically
modified foods, following renewed criticism by U.S. President George W.
On Monday, Bush told a biotechnology conference in Washington that
Europe's ban on GM crops was contributing to famine in Africa -- a
contention Europe rejects.
"For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European
governments to end their opposition to biotechnology," said Bush.
"We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win
the fight against global hunger."
But European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen replied: "The fact is
that we in Europe have chosen to do some things differently from the
United States. As regards (GM crops), we simply believe that it is better
to be safe than sorry.
"This is a highly sensitive issue in all our member states. The European
Commission respects that and so should the United States," Reuters quoted
him as saying.
U.S. corn farmers say the EU's five-year-old GM trade barrier is costing
them about $300 million in annual sales to Europe -- and is blocking
access to African markets.
The European Union says it has done nothing to turn African countries away
from GM foods, and that it provides more aid to Africa than the U.S.
Last week, Washington announced it would file a formal complaint with the
World Trade Organization, demanding that it force the EU to end its GM
ban. An initial ruling could come next spring.
Speaking to the Biotechnology Industry Association, Bush said: "Acting on
unfounded, unscientific fears, many European governments have blocked the
import of all new biotech crops.
"Because of these artificial obstacles, many African nations avoid
investing in biotechnology, worried that their products will be shut out
of important European markets."
The United States is the world leader in biotech crops, with gene-spliced
varieties accounting for 75 percent of U.S. soybeans, 71 percent of cotton
and 34 percent of corn, Reuters reported.
UK report to the Commission on the EC co-ordinated programme for the
official control of foodstuffs for 2002: Labelling of genetically modified
Friday, 20 June 2003
The European Commission requested Member States to conduct checks on
certain types of foodstuffs to ensure that, if they contained any
genetically modified ingredients, they complied with the appropriate
labelling rules. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked The Local
Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) to co-ordinate
the UK element of the 2002 EC Programme.
Full report at:
Kyoto 'Flatulence Tax' Plan Causes Turbulence in New Zealand
By Patrick Goodenough
June 23, 2003
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - New Zealand farmers are making a stink
about government proposals that they pay a levy on the flatulence released
by their livestock.
"If it wasn't so downright stupid it would be funny," seems to be the view
shared by many New Zealanders, as one small regional newspaper summed it
up in an editorial.
The center-left government, which supports the Kyoto Protocol, wants to
use the money raised - about $4.9 million a year - to fund research into
ways of minimizing the impact that the country's cattle and sheep
population allegedly is having on the planet's climate.
Like many other Western countries, New Zealand has signed onto the Kyoto
Protocol, an international treaty that aims to reduce the emission of CO2
and other "greenhouse gases," which some scientists believe causes global
Kyoto requires specified countries to meet greenhouse gas reduction
Unlike the rest of those countries, most of the greenhouse gases
contributed by New Zealand are not CO2 from heavy industries, but gases
such as methane emitted from both ends of sheep and cattle, and nitrous
oxide from their dung and urine.
New Zealand has just four million people, but 45 million sheep and around
10 million head of cattle. Together with commercial goats and deer, the
animals are responsible for more than 40 percent of the total greenhouse
By comparison, the agricultural sector only accounts for one or two
percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted by the U.S. and European
countries, the president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, Tom Lambie,
said in an interview Monday.
The farmers' organization is strongly opposed to the government proposal,
he said, and was joining affiliated sectors such as meat marketing bodies
to try to block it.
Among farmers' concerns was the fact that the proposed levy would make it
harder for them to compete against those in countries that have not
ratified Kyoto, such as the U.S. and Australia.
Also, the government had signed up to Kyoto on behalf of the entire
country, Lambie said. If it now wanted to pursue research in this area,
the money should come from all New Zealanders via taxes, not from farmers
More intriguing concerns have to do with the research itself.
If the research is aimed at finding ways of cutting back on the livestock
emission problem, it can theoretically either find another, more efficient
use for the gas; or seek to make the animals less windy.
The first idea is faintly ludicrous. As Lambie noted: "The gas would be
very difficult to capture ..."
The second suggestion - the idea that we could manipulate a ruminant's
digestive system - had not proven particularly productive in past
experience, he said.
Furthermore, New Zealand customers have a reputation for being highly
suspicious about food safety issues and many are strongly opposed to
Any attempt to fiddle around with the way the animals' digestive systems
work could raise an outcry, he said. Animal welfare groups would also
likely be unhappy.
A change of diet could make a difference. In Europe, an individual cow
produces less methane than its New Zealand counterpart because the
European animal's diet is both different and less nutritious.
The average dairy cow in New Zealand produces around 90 kilograms of
methane a year, equivalent in energy to 120 liters of gasoline.
(New Zealand researchers say this means that a 200-cow dairy herd produces
the equivalent of 24,000 liters of gasoline a year - enough gas to drive
an average vehicle more than 120,000 miles.)
But it is precisely the highly-nutritious nature of the plants that New
Zealand's cows and sheep eat that make the country's livestock farming so
productive and cost-effective.
Changing the diet in New Zealand, he argued, could end up costing the
country more in the long run.
"That's what makes New Zealand productive. You'd be taking away its
The government insists that it is simply proposing a levy to finance
research. That research may produce technologies and practices that will
enable farmers to "increase productivity or reduce production costs," it
says in a discussion document.
Officials also strongly deny that the plan amounts to a "flatulence tax."
But that's the term being used by the official opposition National Party
and other critics.
"Our farmers are facing costs that no competitors in the southern
hemisphere have to consider," said National Party lawmaker David Carter,
vowing that a future National government would repeal any such levy that
the current government may impose.
Other opposition parties enthusiastically joined the fray.
In a statement headlined "Flatulence Tax Just Government Hot Air," ACT New
Zealand, a small conservative party, urged farmers to strongly resist the
A spokesman for New Zealand First derided the government's "obsession"
with Kyoto, accusing it of "posturing on the international stage at the
expense of our economy."
The United Future party said the government should never have ratified the
protocol and its "bureaucratic nightmare" in the first place.
The tax proposal was "utter nonsense and should be abandoned immediately,"
Lambie would not be drawn on one other, absorbing question.
One of the main reasons cited by President Bush and Australian Prime
Minister John Howard for rejecting Kyoto is the fact it does not place
demands on developing countries to reduce their emissions.
Only industrialized countries have reduction quotas, but fast-developing
countries like China were left out, despite the fact they may one day
produce emissions to rival those of the U.S.
Already, U.N. figures show China to be a major CO2 polluter - second only
to the U.S.
But with experts arguing that methane is having a considerably greater
effect on climate change than CO2, China may be getting off lightly on
another front too.
While New Zealand's 45 million sheep vastly outnumber its small human
population, it pales in comparison to China, which has 290 million sheep.
The U.S. has less than 10 million.