Today in AgBioView: June 23, 2003:
* “If technology is killing us, why are we living longer?”
* Biotech is hot topic at meeting
* Biotechnology: Science has yet to find evidence for health and enviro
* 'No proof of GM health risks'
* Study says transgene unlikely to spread among wild sunflowers
* SUDAN: Government reviewing policy on GM food imports
* Biotech, if not loved, wins respect
* FSA publishes report on checks on labelling of GM foods
“If technology is killing us, why are we living longer?”
Life Sciences Network
June 23, 2003
This and other pertinent questions were put to an invited audience at the
American Embassy in Wellington today by Thomas R. DeGregori, Economics
Professor from Houston University, Texas.
Professor DeGregori’s address, ‘Technology Transfer, 1st World Myth and
3rd World Reality’ was particularly relevant to New Zealand, as we face
the lifting of the moratorium on genetic engineering in October.
“Everywhere I have worked in the world, people want access to the latest
technology. Meanwhile, people in developed countries are saying modern
technology is killing us, but why are we living longer and healthier
lives?” Professor DeGregori said.
“Genetic modification is one of the most interesting technological
transformations of our time. The discovery of DNA has allowed us to
produce the first GM pharmaceutical insulin, which is now around 97
percent manufactured using this method.
“New pharmaceuticals are so well targeted that we have seen significant
improvement in cancer drugs, with far less side effects. Some of the
latest cancer drugs only target a particular type of protein that exists
in tumours, reducing the possibility of side effects to almost zero.”
On the topic of technology in agriculture, Professor DeGregori cited the
positive environmental and economic benefits seen since the introduction
of transgenic crops in the mid-nineties.
“Crops engineered for herbicide tolerance have brought an enormous decline
in pesticide and fuel use by farmers. The potential for farmers in poor
countries to reduce costs in pesticides, water, fuel and labour input
while increasing crop yields offers an opportunity to improve their lives
and that of their families. When mothers are better nourished the height
of their children increases, which is matched by longer life expectancy.
Technology has brought about these changes.
“If planting GM crops was uneconomic, farmers wouldn’t want to use it, but
they do. We have the technology to lengthen life expectancy and improve
our health. It’s our responsibility to carry it forward.”
Biotech is hot topic at meeting
By Mike Lee
June 23, 2003
Embracing technology in farming would help end world hunger and poverty,
according to a report to be released today by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture in conjunction with this week's high-profile agricultural
conference in Sacramento.
The USDA's first Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and
Technology -- one of the largest gatherings ever of world agriculture
ministers -- opens today at the Convention Center. Ministers from more
than 100 countries -- mostly nations with limited technology -- are
expected to view a wide range of high-tech solutions to food production
problems. The agenda includes drip irrigation, animal disease control,
satellite imaging and -- most controversially -- genetically engineered
crops, called GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Agriculture ministers from the European Union will be notable by their
absence from the Sacramento conference. They say they aren't coming
because of EU meetings on agriculture policy.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who invited the ministers to the
United States, said she's not viewing their decisions as snubs, despite an
ongoing dispute between the United States and the EU over opening European
markets to genetically modified foods.
Several Europeans will attend the conference, including Gerry Kiely, the
top EU agriculture representative in Washington, D.C.
In separate interviews Saturday, Kiely and Veneman discussed farm
technology. Here is some of what they said.
Veneman: No pushing of U.S. goals
Q: How are you going to measure the success of your conference?
A: This is not a conference we see with communiques where people agree to
do things. ... We hope to see people come together and create a network
that will create expanded knowledge (and) will give people the opportunity
to improve conditions in their own countries. ... I don't see this as a
business conference. ... This isn't about selling American technology to
Q: You said clearly that this isn't a business conference, but how will
you measure success?
A: It will be largely the reaction of the people who attend. Are they
satisfied with what they heard? Are they feeling like they got something
to take home? ... This is all part of the goal that was set at the World
Food Summit that was first held in 1996 to (reduce) the number of hungry
people by half by the year 2015.
Q: Much has been made of the role of biotechnology in this conference? Has
that been blown out of proportion?
A: I think it has been. ... Biotechnology is one technology we are
discussing at this conference but certainly not the only technology.
Q: Do you see biotechnology as the answer to world hunger, the most
important offering the U.S. can bring to the world?
A: I wouldn't say the most important. I think it's an important tool, but
I think you can't say there is one answer to the issue of world hunger.
The one issue that we are talking about is increasing productivity. There
are many ways to do that. ... It may be through biotech varieties. It may
be through basic irrigation technologies. It may be through sustainable
Q: The level of secrecy around this conference and security has raised
suspicions outside that this is an attempt to strong-arm Third World
countries into backing the U.S. position on biotechnology at the World
Trade Organization. How do you respond to that?
A: The secrecy issue kind of baffles me because we have had information on
this conference on our Web site from the very beginning. ... When you have
a meeting of this magnitude, you obviously can't open it up (to the
general public), but we are in effect opening it up by Web-streaming in
real time (www.fas.usda.gov).
Q: What about the suspicions that the United States is using this to kind
of push countries that can't afford to say no toward backing our position
on biotechnology at the WTO?
A: That is just absolutely untrue. I just don't know how else to say it.
Q: A few days ago, U.S. and EU representatives met in Geneva to talk about
the United States' WTO complaint (over the EU ban on biotech foods). Why
not back off? It appears the EU is going through some regulatory
mechanisms to deal with the issues.
A: Basically, the U.S. lost patience and decided that the WTO was the
avenue that we had to begin the process.
But in addition, we also believe that it is important to have the WTO
address this issue because the issue of acceptance of these technologies
is a growing issue around the world and it's important for a rules-based
system to be implemented in other countries as well as the EU.
Q: Are U.S.-EU divisions over biotechnology as deep as they appear?
A: In many ways, the problem with the EU situation is the lack of
consensus within the EU. There are a lot of countries and a lot of people
who would like to move ahead with the GMO approval process and with the
regulatory systems, and yet you have the inability of people to agree
enough as to what is the right solution.
Q: What responsibility does the United States have to respect the desires
of other countries if they don't want to be fed GMOs?
A: I don't think we force anything on anyone. That is not the intent.
The question you ask assumes we have some ulterior motive, which we do not
-- other than trying to find ways to enhance agriculture productivity to
reduce world hunger. That is the objective. As much as people have tried
to create another objective or ulterior motive, it is not there.
The E.U. perspective
European official just an observer
Q: What are your goals for this conference, or do you essentially want to
observe what happens?
A: Observe, not goals. All of the focus is on GMOs and biotechnology, but
I don't see this conference as being about that.
OK, it is an aspect and in the context of developing countries, GMOs may
well have a role to play in the future. But the GMOs which are there today
are totally worthless for developing countries. ... (They) are a benefit
to large-scale farms; that is not an issue for developing countries.
Having said that, there is great potential ... to genetically modify crops
... which can withstand drought, crops that can withstand salinity, crops
that can withstand diseases particular to developing countries.
Q: I am surprised to hear you give credence to the possibility that GMOs
could help the developing world. That is what you said, right?
A: Absolutely. You have to differentiate between the European consumer and
European consumers are very skeptical about GMOs. They are not against
biotechnology. We have all of this pharmaceutical biotechnology ...
because there are clear benefits there. The biotechnology in agriculture,
the GMOs, there are no benefits for the consumer today. ... There is no
shortage of food in the European Union. (Consumers) say, "We don't want
our food messed around with like this. We have plenty of food. Even if we
have to pay more for our food ... we don't want GMOs." This is what we as
policy-makers have to wrestle with.
Q: Why is there such a difference between the European attitude toward
GMOs and a typically blasé attitude in America?
A: One is the GMOs came onto the market pretty much at the same time as we
had the (mad cow disease) crisis on the mind and (a lack of) public
confidence in scientific opinions.
Two, there is a great diversity of food and tradition of food. Food is not
just keeping the furnace filled in Europe, it's also culture. You will
have people saying GMOs in food is going to lead to a lack of diversity of
food and a breakdown in traditions.
Q: The U.S. apparently is going forward with its complaint against the EU
at the WTO. You say that is a big mistake if the goal is to get Europe
opened up to more GMOs.
A: Once we have agreed on our labeling and traceability legislation ...
there is no argument against approving GMOs and placing them on the
There is a risk that some of our legislators will say, "We'll see what
will happen at the WTO. The U.S. could lose the WTO case. ..."
It puts GMOs back in the headlines again. The European consumer just
remembers, "Oh, GMOs -- there is some problem about that. I read it in the
paper. Bang! I don't want them."
Q: Are EU farmers planting GM crops?
A: No. No. There is no benefit for them. ... (GMOs) are for a large
farmer. A large farm in Europe is 400 acres. ... A 400-acre farm here is,
you know, a back garden.
Q: President Bush and others have been vocal in the last few months saying
that the EU is to blame for worsening world hunger by not embracing GMOs.
How do you respond?
A: I would say the comments are unacceptable. It's up to the countries in
Africa to say what they will accept in food aid. ... In any case, given
the paltry contribution by the U.S. towards (Third World) development,
they are not in the position to lecture us on moral grounds.
Q: What is the perspective in Europe about why the U.S. government is so
adamant about GMOs and the world's need for them?
A: The U.S. sees it as U.S. technology, and certain U.S. companies are so
deep into this that a global backlash would have major economic
implications. So, the U.S. administration and the U.S. Congress is
defending U.S. economic interests. Understandably so, because there is no
evidence to show they are not safe from a food safety point of view or an
environmental point of view.
But they should also recognize that if consumers say, "We don't want
them," they have no right to say, "You will eat them whether you like them
Biotechnology: Science has yet to find evidence for health and enviro
By Colin A. Carter
June 22, 2003
The U.S. and the EU are not in the same camp when it comes to the future
role of bioengineered crops in the world food system.
The U.S. has rapidly adopted genetically modified (GM) crops and is in
favor of making this cost-saving and environmentally friendly technology
available to its own farmers and anyone else, including poor countries.
Alternatively, the EU is doing its best to prevent further introduction of
biotech crops in Europe or elsewhere.
This major dispute is now being played out at the World Trade Organization
(WTO). Last month, the U.S. filed a high-profile WTO case against the EU
over its embargo - in place since 1998 - on the approval of any new
genetically modified crops.
Some observers believe the U.S. is simply trying to bully the EU into
accepting GM crops so multinational seed companies can benefit. Others
believe that the fight over transgenic crops gives environmental activists
like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth a cause, and they are holding the
EU politicians captive on this one.
But the U.S. is likely on the correct side of the WTO transgenic case, and
it may win because this case is similar to the disagreement won by the
U.S. in the late 1990s over the EU's ban on hormone-treated beef imports.
Under the WTO's agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures,
non-tariff barriers like the EU embargo on GM crops would have to be
scientifically justified, which is not possible based on research to date.
The EU position is indefensible and shows a total disregard for the plight
of developing countries. Rich countries like France can afford to shun new
agricultural technology, but poor countries like those in sub-Saharan
Africa cannot. The EU's opposition to biotech crops is responsible for
prolonging malnutrition and child deaths in the poorest regions of the
world. For example, largely because of the EU's staunch opposition to
transgenic crops, commercial release of the famous "golden rice" is on
This GM crop has the potential to reduce vitamin A deficiency in
developing countries, alleviating malnutrition and blindness. But it does
little for French consumers.
Transgenic crops are produced using plant biotechnology to select
desirable characteristics in plants and transfer genes from one organism
to another. It is used to give plants resistance to chemicals, disease and
weather-related stress. As a result, crops can survive under harsher
conditions and yields are improved. Farmers and the environment are better
off and consumers gain from lower prices.
The benefits to developing countries are straightforward. They stand to
gain due to reduced pesticide use, higher yields, lower production costs,
increased farm profits and lower food prices. For instance, in China the
use of agricultural pesticides has dropped sharply since the introduction
of transgenic cotton a few years ago and farm incomes have improved.
In the 1990s, the EU approved some GM varieties of corn, soybeans and
rapeseed, but then suddenly halted the approval process in 1998. The EU
has offered no scientific evidence in support of its prohibition on new GM
crops. As a result, the U.S. maintains that the ban constitutes an illegal
trade barrier under the WTO and that it restricts imports of U.S. corn in
particular. The EU's response is that they are in the process of lifting
the moratorium and therefore the WTO case is unnecessary.
In fact, the case symbolizes a bigger issue because many developing
countries are afraid to research and approve GM crops for fear of
jeopardizing trade relations with the EU. Furthermore, even if the EU
moratorium is lifted, the EU's GM labeling regulations will serve as a
second line of defense against imports. In the official response to the
WTO case, the EU said that the lack of consumer demand accounts for the
low sales of GM products in the EU. This is nonsense because the EU's
approach to mandatory labeling of GM food is not really giving consumers a
choice - you cannot find GM food products on retail shelves in Europe.
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.
However, when GM soybeans were imported into Europe later that year, there
was a huge backlash from environmental groups, and the EU was then quick
to introduce mandatory labeling for GM foods, which took hold in 1997. The
U.S. government has correctly viewed the EU's mandatory labeling policy as
a trade barrier.
The World Health Organization and several national scientific academies in
Europe and around the world have judged biotech foods as safe as
conventional non-GM foods. If the U.S. wins, this WTO case may influence
other countries to accept transgenic crops.
At the same time, the WTO case could backfire for the U.S. and further
jeopardize the EU market for U.S. farmers. Soybeans and corn, and their
byproducts, are important U.S. agricultural exports to the EU, and GM
varieties account for 70 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 30 percent
of the corn crop.
The EU parliament does not pretend that GM food products pose a health
risk. Instead, European politicians talk about environmental risk of GM
crops despite the lack of scientific evidence of significant environmental
risks. It is hard to argue against the EU's point of the importance of
consumer choice, but in fact consumers in Europe do not really have a
choice, as food processors and retailers have moved away from using GM
ingredients in response to the stringent labeling laws in Europe.
Given that GM crops are environmentally friendly, it is ironic that
environmental groups are leading the anti-GM charge in Europe. Biotech
crops reduce the use of chemicals and encourage zero-till farming, helping
to conserve the soil. Nothing has done more for the natural environment in
the U.S. than the introduction of GM cotton, corn and soybeans. The
National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy estimated that in 2001,
GM crops in the U.S. reduced pesticide use by 46 million pounds. European
agriculture is one of the heaviest users of pesticides on the globe, and
moving towards transgenic crops would cut this down.
The EU ignored the WTO ruling against them in the hormone beef case and
the U.S. retaliated with economic sanctions against the EU. If the U.S.
wins this transgenic case and the EU tries to ignore the ruling, I hope
developing countries like China, India and Brazil will step into the
dispute as they have a huge stake in the outcome.
Colin A. Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an agricultural economics
professor at the University of California, Davis.
'No proof of GM health risks'
23 June, 2003
GM foods have never been shown to pose any risk to human health, according
to new Environment Minister Elliot Morley.
He was speaking the day after his sacked predecessor, Michael Meacher,
said studies on the effects of GM foods on human health had been
"scientifically vacuous", and warned the government against rushing the
Adequate testing, sound scientific conclusions and an understanding of the
effects on people were still lacking, he said.
But Mr Morley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There have been studies
in this country, there have been studies in France, there's been studies
by the food and agricultural organisations of the UN.
"There have been lots of studies in terms of toxicology, in terms of
potential allergies, in terms of potent health risks, in any of the
existing products there has never been any indication there has been a
Mr Morley conceded that Mr Meacher was "quite right" to raise health
issues in the light of developments in the production of food.
"The issue of health is one which must be carefully examined and that is
why all the science that we have on this work is going to be put into the
public domain next month as part of the overall debate."
Weighing the arguments?
Mr Morley said his position on GM foods was that although care should be
taken, both sides of the argument needed to be listened to.
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Mr Meacher said the only human GM
trial commissioned by the Food Standards Agency found genetically modified
DNA did transfer to bacteria in the human gut.
Many scientists had denied this was possible.
"But instead of this finding being regarded as a serious discovery which
should be checked and rechecked, the spin was this was nothing new and did
not involve any health risk," he said.
Mr Meacher - a veteran of the Wilson and Callaghan administrations - was
widely believed to be at odds with the prime minister over his stance on
In his article, Mr Meacher accused the government of deliberately
undervaluing negative research findings on the safety of GM foods.
He said scientific reports indicating possibly damaging effects on humans
had been "widely rubbished in government circles".
And the debate on GM foods had been deliberately stifled with pressure
from bio-technology companies, he said.
He said a public debate on the GM issue was under way, and people were
welcome to contribute views.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Andrew George said Mr Meacher's
comments "blow a hole in any claims the government might make about their
desire for an open debate on GM".
Anti-GM campaigners welcomed Mr Meacher's comments.
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said they confirmed the fears of
those who suspected the government-funded debate on the GM issue was a
mere PR exercise aimed at getting the green light for GM crops to be grown
in the UK.
Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, which campaigns for
organic food and farming, said: "Mr Meacher's comments are very worrying
because they suggest the government has already made up its mind on GM."
But a farmer involved in GM crop trials claimed some of Mr Meacher's
comments were "inaccurate".
Bob Fiddaman, who is also a board member of pro-GM group Scimac (Supply
Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops), said: "The GM foods that
are released for human consumption have been tested and there are no known
negative effects on humans."
Mr Meacher argued that some GM substances had already been found to cause
allergic reactions, he said.
There were concerns the development pesticide-resistant GM crops meant
consumers were being exposed to increasingly toxic residues, some of which
could damage embryos in the womb.
Mr Meacher said the so-called rigorous testing of GM products only
amounted to considering whether a crop was similar in composition to a
The government launched a series of nationwide public consultations on GM
crops earlier this month.
Study says transgene unlikely to spread among wild sunflowers
Life Science Weekly
June 23, 2003
One of the major environmental concerns that has been raised about the use
of genetically modified (GM) crops has been the possible effects that
artificially inserted genes, called transgenes, may have if they spread to
A number of studies performed in the last 10 or so years have found that
commercial plants exchange genetic material with wild relatives in their
vicinity with considerable regularity. But now one of the first studies of
what actually happens to a transgene when it moves from a genetically
modified cultivar into a wild population indicates that such transfers
need not have a major environmental impact.
Results of the field study, which was conducted by plant scientists at
Vanderbilt University and Indiana University and funded by Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, which produces sunflower seed, were reported in the May 23,
2003, issue of the journal Science. The subject of the study was a
transgene that can provide commercial sunflowers with additional
protection against a disease called white mold, which is caused by a
pathogen named Sclerotinia sclerotiorum.
The experiment found that wild sunflowers already possess a degree of
resistance to white mold that the commercial variety lacks. As a result,
wild sunflowers that pick up the transgene do not gain a reproductive
advantage that would cause them to spread widely. Although subject to some
significant caveats, the finding suggests that this particular transgene
is unlikely to spread throughout the wild sunflower population, making
wild varieties hardier and more aggressive.
White mold is one of the worst diseases afflicting commercial sunflowers.
Sunflower is one of the world's four most important oilseed crops, with a
value of $40 billion per year. White mold infection, which causes the
rapid wilting and death of cultivated sunflower plants, is the source of
economic losses that range from $50 million to $80 million annually.
Efforts of sunflower breeders to improve the resistance of their plants to
this disease using traditional techniques have been unsuccessful and the
application of chemical fungicides is costly and often ineffective.
The situation led Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of E.I. du
Pont de Nemours and Company, to genetically modify one of their varieties
of sunflower by inserting a gene isolated from wheat. Much of the damage
that white mold inflicts on sunflowers is caused by its production of an
organic acid called oxalic acid. The wheat gene, called OxOx, allows the
sunflowers to produce a compound called oxalate oxidase that breaks down
Pioneer Hi-Bred then funded a study to help determine the likelihood that
the wheat gene would spread into the surrounding wild sunflower community,
which was carried out by John Burke, assistant professor of biological
sciences at Vanderbilt, and Loren Rieseberg, professor of biology at
In the first stage in the study, the researchers surveyed the areas in the
United States where commercial sunflowers are grown looking both for the
incidence of white mold infections among wild sunflowers and for the
points of contact between wild and commercial varieties. It took two years
and involved driving more than 8,000 miles throughout the Midwest and
Despite its prevalence among cultivated sunflowers, the researchers found
surprisingly few wild sunflowers suffering from white mold infection.
The survey also found wild sunflowers growing next to fields of cultivated
sunflowers almost everywhere that they looked. They also confirmed the
conclusion of previous studies that cultivated sunflowers hybridize
(exchange genetic material) with their wild relatives when they come in
"We showed that contact between cultivated and wild sunflowers occurs
throughout the entire range of cultivation, making gene escape
inevitable," says Burke.
The close relationship between cultivated and wild sunflowers means that
the risk that transgenes will jump from commercial plants to their wild
cousins is particularly high. But there is another factor that governs
whether these genes will spread widely throughout the wild population: if
the transgene confers a reproductive advantage to the wild plants that
obtain it, then it will spread. If it does not provide such an advantage,
however, then it won't spread and so shouldn't become an environmental
"It's time to move beyond all the hand-wringing about whether and how
often transgenes are going to escape and start attacking the real root of
the problem, which is what impact will specific transgenes have if they
get out," Burke says.
To address the question of the likely impact of OxOx transgene escape,
Burke and Rieseberg simulated the early stages of gene escape by
"backcrossing" the gene into wild sunflowers. They grew the resulting
plants - roughly half with the transgene - in containment cages at three
sites, one in Indiana, one in North Dakota, and one in California. Just
before the plants flowered, they inoculated half of them at each location
with S. sclerotiorum.
"Faced with such a severe pathogen challenge, we expected the plants with
the OxOx gene to have quite an advantage," says Burke. "Somewhat
surprisingly, that was not what we found."
The researchers discovered that although the transgene did provide some
protection against becoming infected, the transgenic plants did not
produce any more seeds than those without the OxOx gene. As a result, the
gene does not appear to confer any reproductive benefit even under the
unusually severe exposure to the pathogen that the researchers imposed.
When taken with the survey results that found little evidence of white
mold infection among wild sunflower populations, Burke and Rieseberg
conclude that it appears that wild sunflowers already possess some level
of resistance to white mold that their commercial cousins lack. "It looks
like we are giving the wild sunflower a degree of resistance to white mold
that it already has, so it isn't a big advantage," says Burke.
Because wild sunflowers with the transgene don't look as if they will
reproduce at a faster rate than those without it, the scientists have
concluded that the OxOx gene appears unlikely to spread widely through
wild populations and so does not represent a significant environmental
There are some important caveats to their conclusion, however. The study
was performed in a single season. There could be multi-year cycles of
white mold infection that would give the transgenic sunflowers a selective
advantage that is not reflected in the study.
Also, the experiment did not examine the effects of environmental stress,
like drought. Stress could work either way: it could enhance the advantage
of the transgenic plants or penalize them in ways that would restrict
their spread. Finally, the study only looked at three locations. There was
enough variation among the locales to suggest that there could be some
circumstances under which wild, transgenic sunflowers might do better than
indicated. The researchers recommend that these questions be addressed in
"I believe there is a middle ground between dismissing genetic
modification of crops entirely or introducing them without appropriate
scientific study," says Burke. "That is doing the research necessary to
provide an informed judgment of the relative risks and benefits of genetic
modifications on a case by case basis."
SUDAN: Government reviewing policy on GM food imports
NAIROBI, 17 Jun 2003 (IRIN) - The Sudanese government has guaranteed the
World Food Programme (WFP) that all food deliveries will be permitted to
enter the country for the next six months, while it conducts a review of
its policy on genetically modified (GM) foods.
"The government informed us verbally that it will review its policy on GM
foods over the next three months," a spokesman for WFP, Robin Lodge, told
IRIN on Tuesday.
A number of food shipments held up in Port Sudan for over a week due to
concerns about GM food were released by Sudanese authorities on Saturday.
WFP, which sources and delivers most of Sudan's food aid, received a
letter from the Sudanese Standards and Metrology Organization (a
government body) in May outlining a ban on imports of GM food. The new
regulations stated that a GM-free certificate would be required for food
commodities, including grains, pulses and blended foods, entering the
WFP did not test the food it distributed for its GM content, Lodge said,
as there were neither international guidelines calling for such action,
nor international agreements on tolerance levels of such foods. "We can't
say whether we're giving out GM food or not."
However, he said, in a case where a country objected to receiving
deliveries of GM food, WFP would guarantee not to supply it. "If we get a
directive to stop all deliveries, including airdrops, we can't go ahead
with them without their [the authorities] say so."
"WFP has never pressed any recipient government to accept GM food," he
While the food shipments arriving in Port Sudan - which were donated
mainly from the US - were being held up, WFP had continued to deliver to
other areas in Sudan, he said.
Muhammad Dirdeiry, the charge d'affaires at the Sudanese embassy in the
Kenyan capital, Nairobi, told IRIN that requests to bring in GM foods to
Sudan were being studied. "One idea that we are mooting is to see whether
it's possible for the African Union to take a decision [on this issue],
which would be an African decision, adopted by all of the African
"We will not take a unitary decision," he said. "We are going along with
the African consensus on this matter."
Biotech, if not loved, wins respect
San Diego Union Tribune
By Terri Somers
June 22, 2003
In the past decade, the annual gathering of the world's biotechnology
community has attracted protesters and debate about such weighty issues as
the long-term health risks of genetically engineered food, the ethics of
stem cell research and cloning.
But as the biotech world prepared for its largest annual gathering – Bio
2003, which begins today in Washington, D.C. – it appeared industry
leaders would avoid controversy.
The usual protesters against genetically modified food, who in past years
dressed like ears of corn and waived banners reading "Listen to your
mother -- Don't play with our food," would be demonstrating in Sacramento,
at the first Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and
"These are the people who make the decisions about whether to buy products
from the biotech industry," explained one protest leader.
That would leave the industry free to talk with increasingly friendly
policy-makers about getting funding to develop products to combat
bioterrorism, fighting virulent new diseases like SARS and dealing with
what many hope may be a new and improved Food and Drug Administration.
While the debate over genetically modified food remains a hot issue,
executives believe the industry's image is improving. In the wake of world
events, industry leaders say the public is beginning to realize the
growing importance of biotechnology.
"We've got some real momentum," said Carl Feldbaum, president of the
national Biotechnology Industry Organization.
The key to this change has been "pure selfishness," said Joseph D.
Panetta, president and chief executive of Biocom, the trade association
for San Diego biotech.
In a previous job as a policy analyst at the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, Panetta worked on a project that used gamma radiation as an
alternative to chemicals to kill fruit flies. He said he spent a lot of
time arguing the benefits of radiation to a public that just didn't
understand the science and didn't want to consider it.
Then San Diego's SureBeam was hired to radiate reams of the nation's mail
to eradicate anthrax and other potentially harmful biological agents. And
the public welcomed it.
"It all comes down to people being able to identify how something is going
to be a benefit to them," Panetta said. "When you can't see the benefit,
it's easy to be
ambivalent or persuaded that it's not a good thing."
A more recent example of an enlightening moment, said Feldbaum, was when
it took biotechnology just days to identify the SARS virus and sequence
its genome, a first and crucial step in developing a diagnostic test for
"Frankly, post 9-11 there is a new seriousness in the public debate, so
that whether there is a genetically modified tomato in the ketchup on your
hamburger is not a searing national issue. Real concerns have replaced
pseudo concerns," Feldbaum said.
Those opposed to bioengineering of food would hardly call their cause a
"People around the world find it odd that U.S. government officials are
saying engineered foods are safe, when U.S. scientific bodies like the
National Academy of Sciences and a scientific advisory panel serving the
Environmental Protection Agency are calling for more safety testing," said
Lawrence Bohlen of Friends of the Earth.
The European Union, so far, has rejected genetically modified food.
Yet, with President Bush touting it as the solution for ending hunger in
Africa and other positive developments in biotech during the past few
months, it is easier for industry insiders not to dwell on such protests.
The economy of biotech has not been as dismal as the general economy,
Feldbaum said. In fact, over the past six months many biotech stocks have
With biomedical advances and new leadership at the FDA, it appears the
bureaucratic and corporate machinery it takes to get new drugs to market
has been turned on again, Feldbaum said.
Last month the FDA approved the cancer drug Velcade, Boston-based
Millennium Pharmaceutical's product to treat multiple myeloma. The agency
also approved Iressa, a lung cancer treatment from the British biotech
Last month it also approved the first of a new kind of drugs known as
fusion inhibitors that keep HIV from entering cells. And earlier this year
the agency approved Genzyme General's drug for Fabry's disease and Biogen
Inc.'s drug Amevive for psoriasis.
"And those are just the approvals," Feldbaum said. "In the background
we've got a committee at the FDA recommending the agency approve asthma
drug Xolaira," he said.
And data released at the world's largest cancer meeting last month showed
promising results from Genentech's Avastin and ImClone Systems' Erbitux
for colon cancer.
"Meanwhile there are 370 biotech drugs in late stage clinical trials. That
is a deep pipeline," Feldbaum said.
The industry also seems to have gained support on Capitol Hill, with a
bipartisan coalition pushing for a Medicare bill that would include
reimbursement for more costly biopharmaceuticals already on the market and
others now in development.
"This is the first time in a long time it is all positive news," Feldbaum
Between 15,000 to 20,000 industry executives, politicians, scientists and
journalists are expected in the nation's capital this week to attend the
conference. Exhibitors from biotech companies across the country and
around the world will fill the 345,000-square-foot exhibition hall at the
Capitol Convention Center.
For San Diego's attendees, how to get access to biodefense funding and
other financial topics seem to be of top interest, Panetta said.
There's also continuing interest in corporate governance issues and
ethics, he said. In the wake of ImClone chief executive Sam Waksal's
seven-year prison sentence, people are concerned about ensuring that they
operate in a way that is totally above board and not to be questioned, he
The conference has grown tenfold since BIO's inception in 1993, when only
1,400 people attended and two dozen companies exhibited their technology.
BIO, which represents the industry, plans to capitalize on its momentum
and the location of this year's conference. Several panel discussion will
be held on Capitol Hill. A number of legislators, administration officials
and judges will participate on panels on topics ranging from ethics, to
securing government funding for biodefense initiatives to stem cells and
It's an opportunity for the industry – which in the words of BIO pays more
attention to what happens on Wall Street than inside the Beltway – to
lobby the political leaders, network with the FDA and National Institute
of Health and educate the jurists whose decision will determine the limits
of intellectual property protection.
"So much happens in the course of a year in the life sciences ... few
topics get stale," Panetta said.
FSA publishes report on checks on labelling of GM foods
Food Ingredients First
The European Commission requested Member States to conduct checks on
certain types of foods to ensure that, they complied with the appropriate
GM foods labelling rules.
The Food Standards Agency has published a UK report to the European
Commission on the EC co-ordinated programme of checks on the labelling of
genetically modified foods.
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 EC Programme.
Current EC regulation for GM labelling requires labelling of any GM
ingredient (at any percentage) if it has been used intentionally, but
allows a 1% threshold for adventitious presence if manufacturers can show
that they have attempted to avoid using GM ingredients in their product.
Labelling is based on the presence of GM material (DNA or protein).
Of the 91 samples tested for the presence of GM, none contained GM above
the 1% limit for adventitious presence. 8 samples contained traces of GM
below the 1% threshold for adventitious presence, three of which were
labelled ‘GM-Free’. These three were soya textured vegetable protein, soya
textured vegetable protein mince, and soya protein isolate.
Samples were tested for GM ingredients in the following proportions: 45
soya; 42 maize, two rapeseed oil and two tomatoes.
Where GM-Free claims were made, local authority representatives visited
manufacturers to remind them of their responsibility to ensure that claims
made on labels are representative of the contents to avoid misleading
consumers. However, there is no specific legislation covering the use of
the term GM-Free on food labels, despite calls from the FSA for EC
labelling regulations to include the development of a GM-Free label.
Provided that the manufacturers can show that GMOs detected below the 1%
threshold are not present intentionally, they are not required to label it
on the product. Nevertheless, where any GM was detected, Local Authority
representatives ensured that manufacturers were aware of labelling
requirements for the use of GM ingredients.