Today in AgBioView: July 8, 2003:
* Muslim council approves GM foods
* Dave Wood: A reply to Jerry Cayford
* Re: soybean allergies
* EDITORIAL: Europe's latest ruse to bar modified foods
* Myths and lies turning GM into Frankenstein monster
* CONCLUDING CONFERENCE OF ENTRANSFOOD
* Biotech crops an "ancient art"
* Stewardship and Compliance: Doing what's right for the right reason
* U.S. Farmers Decry EU Proposal
* Greens should get a grip on reality
* ASSURING FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY IN AFRICA BY 2020
Muslim council approves GM foods
The Jakarta Post
July 8, 2003
JAKARTA - Indonesia's leading authority on Islamic affairs has given the
go-ahead for the consumption of imported genetically modified organism
(GMO) foods, one of its members said yesterday.
'Despite there being no official ruling on GMO-based food products, as
long as it comes from plantations, such as soya bean or corn, there are no
problems,' said Professor Aisyah Girindra, head of medicine and food
supervision at the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI).
MUI is the highest Indonesian Muslim body authorised to release religious
rulings or labels of halal on processed food products distributed in the
'Unofficially, we have discussed the GMO issue but, until now, there was
no official fatwa issued on the matter,' Prof Aisyah told Deutsche
Without a fatwa, Indonesian Muslims remain free to consume GMO products,
In many countries, GMO imports are restricted due to fears of unknown side
effects from consuming food products whose natural genetic make-up has
Nearly 88 per cent of Indonesia's 215 million people are Muslims, making
it the world's most populous Islamic nation.
While the country's religious leaders appear unconcerned about the GMO
issue, the Indonesian Consumers Institute (YLKI) has urged the government
to issue regulations requiring all imported processed foods, including
those derived from GMO products, to undergo health examinations before
entering the domestic market.
'Our aim is just to make sure that those imported food products are safe
for consumers,' said YLKI activist Iliani.
From: Dave Wood
Date: July 8, 2003
Subject: A reply to Jerry Cayford, AgBioView, July 4, 2003 Jerry:
You specifically claim (AgBioView July 4) that critics of biotechnology
THINK that utility patents on plants caused THE rapid concentration of the
seed industry, and that they are alarmed by it.
I note that you are not arguing yourself – just reporting the concerns of
others, specifically the mixed bag of `ETC Group, Oxfam, Third World
Network, or Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’. Yet as a reporter
you still have a responsibility to get it right. You have not done so. Let
me report RAFI’s concerns of twenty years ago. In 1983 RAFI (the parent of
ETC) recognized that : `A small number of very large transnationals—led by
Royal Dutch/Shell, Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz—have acquired hundreds of seed
companies over the last twelve years and are aggressively moving into the
South.’ (Mooney, P. 1983 The Law of the Seed. Development Dialogue 1983,
1-2, p. 4). While Mooney accepted that emerging biotechnology could be
`contributory’, his main reasons for industry consolidation were plant
patents [not utility patents], Plant Breeders Rights, and the momentum for
quality seed on the back of the Green Revolution. Mooney also mentioned
(p. 109) hybrid maize and sorghum: nothing whatever to do with
biotechnology. Therefore, as reported by RAFI in 1983, THE consolidation
of the seed industry dated from the early 1970’s and, according to Mooney
(1983, p. 97) `was now nearing completion’.
Yet you claim: `utility patents have been at least an important factor in
THE concentration of the seed industry and quite possibly the dominant
factor’ (my emphasis). This bold claim is wrong by up to twenty years. We
need to insert the word `recent’, or replace `the’ by `a’, before
`concentration’. This distinction is important. If seed-industry
concentration preceded utility patents, then our `elite critics’ will not
be able to beat biotechnology with the stick of utility patents and
monopoly control (or vice versa). But some will certainly try.
And you do your case (or whoever’s case it is) no good whatever by
bringing up tobacco companies and the cause of cancer. This is nothing to
do with my mistaking coincidence for cause, as you say, but with
identifying a prior cause that better fits all the facts. THE
concentration of the seed industry did not follow on from utility patents,
just as ALL (or even most) cancer is not caused by tobacco smoke. Only by
recognizing this chronology can more basic problems be avoided or
addressed. For example, it is fatuous to claim that utility patents or
even Plant Varietal Rights caused or will cause genetic erosion in
developing countries. Yet this was the RAFI `monopoly control’ bogeyman of
1983, which resulted in a furious, yet unnecessary, campaign against
multinationals and a still-costly campaign to preserve obsolete varieties.
If at all, damage to genetic resources in developing countries had been
done long ago by national (public) seed systems. Similar mistakes are now
being made by the `elite critics’ of biotechnology, witness the Mexican
maize `contamination’ fiasco, and similar waste will ensue.
Also you are setting-up a straw man when you claim I am treating people
like lunatics and idiots: very far from it. I recognize that there are
some extremely clever people out there who are making a living out of
You are doing a service to food security by allowing us to sharpen our
weapons in this way.
Subject: Re: spurious correlation
From: "David Duthie"
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2003 08:10:14 +0300
This quote looks like a perfect example of "guilt by association" -
linking two trends together with little thought of cause and effect.
Organic food consumption has also risen over the past few years!
The CDC runs a very impressive website where you can check all the
foodborne disease statistics. Try starting at:
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 07:43:56 +0000
From: "Professor Vivian Moses"
Subject: Food-derived illnesses
In his recent article in the Independent on Sunday, Michael Meacher wrote
"What is known is that coinciding with the introduction of GMOs in food in
the US, food-derived illnesses are believed by the official US Centres for
Disease Control to have doubled over the past seven years. And there are
many reports of a rise in allergies - indeed a 50 per cent increase in
soya allergies has been reported in the UK since imports of GM soya
Does anyone know of relevant sources in support or otherwise of these
Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003 16:08:32 -0400
From: "Wayne Parrott"
Subject: soybean allergies
The claim of increased allergenicity to soybean has been around a long
time. The first time I saw a claim that soybean allergies had risen after
the advent of GMO soybean was in 1999, when a question about was posted on
Plant-TC by a person who saw the original in Agnet:
Quote from AGNET: "A study from York University in England showed that
allergy to soy increased greatly after modified soy was introduced. The
study pointed out that the failure to label modified food made it
difficult to relate allergy to the food."
My response at the time was posted July 26, 1999:
Basically, the 1999 transgenic soybean crop has not been harvested yet. It
also takes about a year between the time the soybean crop is harvested and
the time it ends up on the supermarket shelves. Hence, the 1998 crop is
just now making it to the supermarkets, so it cannot be blamed for any
That just leaves the 1997 soybean transgenic crop. An estimated 12% of the
US crop was transgenic that year, and the US accounted for 49% of world
production. That means that no more than 6% of the beans available to
consumers could possibly have been transgenic, so I am having trouble
believing that that is enough to account for a "sharp increase" in soy
Some further information on soy: The oil is the soyfood most often
consumed by humans. Since oil is protein and DNA-free, oil from
nontransgenic and from roundup-ready soybeans is identical-- there would
be no biological basis for attributing an increase in allergenicity to the
oil. That just leaves the meal left over after crushing the soybeans. 97%
is fed to animals, and only 3% is used as ingredients for human food.
So, to answer the original question, I do not believe the statement that
transgenic soy allergies are increasing due to the availability of
transgenic soy. Likewise, the vast majority of the statements in the
original London Free Press article are either false, misleading, or
distorted through the omission of relevant details.
If I were replying today, I would add that the transgenic protein is
present in less than .03% of the total protein in soybean, further
diluting the amount of transgenic protein around. Furthermore, the
transgenic gene is an orthologue of a gene already in the soybean (and all
other green plants), which means it is basically an allele of the same
gene. Finally, the protein gets degraded within 15 seconds in gastric
fluid and 30 seconds in intestinal fluid, hardly enough time to cause an
Here is more discussion on the topic:
From: "Fran Smith"
Subject: Re: Food-borne disease stats-US
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 13:34:45 -0400
Regarding Dr. Moses' query on food-derived illnesses in the US, the
Centers for Disease Control publishes annual data on the incidence of
foodborne diseases and has comparative data for 1996-2001, as well as
preliminary data for 2002. "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of
Foodborne Illnesses --- Selected Sites, United States, 2002" -- this
report describes preliminary surveillance data for 2002 and compares them
with 1996--2001 data.
Here's a relevant quote: "The data indicate a sustained decrease in major
bacterial foodborne illnesses such as Campylobacter and Listeria,
indicating progress toward meeting the national health objectives of
reducing the incidence of foodborne infections by 2010 (objectives 10-1a
to 10-1d) (3). However, the data do not indicate a sustained decline in
other major foodborne infections such as Escherichia coli O157 and
Salmonella, indicating that increased efforts are needed to reduce further
the incidence of foodborne illnesses."
Annual reports before 2002 http://www.cdc.gov/foodnet/annuals.htm
While Dr. Moses expressed interest in UK allergy stats, here is some CDC
info on US trends
risk. Although most foodborne illness results from a microbial or chemical
contaminant in food, a food itself also can cause severe adverse
reactions. In the United States food allergy is an important problem: 2 to
4 percent of children under age 6 years,  and 1 to 2 percent of
adults are allergic to specific foods. The foods most likely to cause
allergic reactions are milk and milk products, eggs and egg products,
peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts and tree nut products, soybeans and
soybean products, fish and fish products, shellfish and shellfish
products, cereals containing gluten, and seeds. Allergic reactions to
natural rubber latex from food handlers' gloves have been reported.,
Based on a 3-year study of anaphylaxis cases treated at an emergency
department, an estimated 2,500 individuals per year in the United States
experience food-induced anaphylaxis.,  Food allergy is the most
frequent cause of anaphylaxis occurring outside of the hospital and the
most common cause for emergency department visits for anaphylaxis.
Because potentially allergenic foods are present as ingredients in a
variety of food products, and because even trace amounts of these
allergenic foods can induce anaphylaxis, research, education, and clear
food ingredient labeling information are critical for managing food
EDITORIAL: Europe's latest ruse to bar modified foods
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Saturday, July 5, 2003 - Page A16
The European Union, long wary of genetically engineered crops, claims it
is opening the door to the so-called Frankenfoods it has banned since 1998
from countries including Canada and the United States. It insists the key
to that door is a label identifying food and feed that contain more than
0.9 per cent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Stick on a label
that says "this product is produced from GMOs" and, voilà, genetically
engineered products including pet food, cookies and popcorn will be
welcome in Europe.
Not so, the affected countries shot back this week after the European
Parliament passed the tough new label law. "Essentially they are saying
these products are safe and can come in, but they have set up a regime in
which it is extraordinarily difficult to impossible to access their
market," said Barbara Isman, president of the Canola Council of Canada.
She is right. Mandatory labelling is nothing more than a trade barrier
cloaked in new packaging. The EU's law would require genetically modified
products to be traced through all stages of production, from the field
where the product grew to the factory where it was processed, its arrival
in Europe and, finally, the store shelf. Retailers could not sell products
containing GMOs without labels saying as much.
Genetically modified crops are not Frankenfoods. They are bred, as one
example, to be more resistant to herbicides, to make it easier for farmers
to get rid of weeds and salvage their crops. That in turn makes it
possible to use fewer chemicals. Other genetic modifications can produce
Canada has produced modified canola, corn and soybeans for years. About 65
per cent of its canola crop is now genetically manipulated. Because of the
EU's ban, the sector as a whole is missing out on perhaps $185-million in
annual sales. About 40 per cent of corn in the United States is
genetically modified, and growers there say they have lost $300-million
(U.S.) a year in sales to the EU.
When the EU imposed its 1998 ban, it cited concerns about GMOs' effect on
human health and environmental safety. The Canadian, American and
Australian governments responded that their own health and environmental
officials had given the products the okay after years of rigorous testing.
All three have filed a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization
citing unfair trade practices.
The EU officials naively hoped this week's regulations would prompt these
countries to drop their complaint, but the complaint stands. Meanwhile,
some officials in Canada and the U.S. suggest the labelling initiative is
a sign the EU is starting to bow to political pressure. Even European
scientists have said the EU's argument to the WTO about safety concerns is
on shaky ground. This week's approval of the label law suggests
genetically modified products are safe enough to enter the EU; it's just a
matter of giving consumers information so they can make a choice.
Some North American farmers are calling on their governments to file a new
complaint when the labelling law takes effect, likely by early next year.
They have a point. The regime the EU proposes would be costly and
Modified and regular grains would have to be separated at the grain
elevators and packaged accordingly. Canada just doesn't have that kind of
infrastructure, producers say. Right now, modified and non-modified grains
are intermingled. This means that, under the EU's scheme, Canadian-grown
non-modified crops could end up with a GMO label. So much for accurately
informing consumers. And some European supermarkets have already said they
won't stock certain products if they have the GMO label.
The EU would continue to shut out products accepted around the world.
There may well be grounds for an international labelling protocol -- the
Canadian industry is already working on a voluntary code -- to serve the
legitimate end of informing consumers about the products they buy. But the
EU's proposal looks more like a non-tariff barrier, a new tool to keep
North American products off the European market by every means possible.
The injured countries should continue to press the WTO to use its muscle
to push Europe's door open.
Myths and lies turning GM into Frankenstein monster, scientists say
Agence France Presse
July 7, 2003
Myths and lies spread by the green movement about the consequences of
genetic modification (GM) are preventing the use of new crops that could
alleviate third-world famine, an international conference has been told
The XIX International Congress of Genetics, which opened on Sunday, has
heard from world-renowned scientists that ignorance and paranoia has
turned genetic engineering into a monster feared when it should be hailed.
"Genetic engineering has been turned into this Frankenstein technology and
a lot of it is due to ignorance," last year's Nobel Prize winner, South
African scientist Sydney Brenner told the conference.
Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu said anti-GM campaigners "play around
with the anxiety of the public and make them more anxious with myths and
Wambugu said poverty and not development or genetic modication were
causing the loss of bio-diversity in Africa and the continent faced a food
deficit without new technologies.
The scientists have also warned that anti-GM feeling in Europe had caused
the withdrawal of funding for some trials.
Swiss geneticist Klaus Ammann said European countries should not be
imposing their standards on Africa and other developing regions of the
The warnings support claims by US scientists that paranoia about gene
modification is preventing African countries from using new crops that
could relieve famine.
Australian state governments have also blocked the commercial release of a
genetically modified crop, GM canola, even though it was approved as safe
by a federal government regulator.
Craig Cormick, manager of public awareness for the Australian government
agency Biotechnology Australia said the general community was ignorant
about scientific facts, wrongly believing genetically modified organisms
were "unnatural" and unreasonably demanded "zero risk".
After peaking in 2001, public concern over GM foods and crops eased in
2002 but had risen again in the past 12 months, Cormick told reporters at
"In the last four years debate about genetic technology has become
increasingly complex because it's broken up into foods, crops and
medicine," he said.
The congress was also told Monday that now the human genome has been
mapped, an international collaboration of genetic scientists has begun
working on the "Hapmap", which could shed new light on common conditions
like heart disease and diabetes.
Dr Francis Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research
Institute said that compiling the Haplotype Map was one of the biggest and
most exciting projects since the mapping of the human genome which was
finalised in April.
While the genome is a record of the entire sequence of genes, the Hapmap
will be a catalogue of variants in the genetic sequence.
Once the genetic culprits in a disease have been identified, it becomes
possible to develop new treatments and even cures.
Collins said 15,000 genetic mutations had so far been linked to specific,
However, hereditary factors contributing to diseases primarily responsible
for filling up hospital wards, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease,
were proving more difficult to pin down.
This had led many scientists to conclude that common genetic variants,
rather than rare mutations, were the cause of the most common diseases.
CONCLUDING CONFERENCE OF ENTRANSFOOD, THE EUROPEAN NETWORK ON
SAFETY ASSESSMENT OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD CROPS
Conference held May 29-30, 2003
The European Network on Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Food
Crops, ENTRANSFOOD, held its Concluding Conference in Rome, May 29-30,
2003, at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità. The Network, sponsored by the
European Commission, consists of 45 participating research centres
carrying out RTD projects, and 62 experts involved in Working Groups.
Participants come from academia, research centres, biotech and breeding
companies, food industries, food retailers, regulatory agencies and
consumer groups from across Europe (www.entransfood.com)
At the Conference invited speakers covered various aspects of food
production using modern biotechnology and of social acceptance. A
Summarising Document, the Overarching Paper, was presented containing the
conclusions of the Working Groups. External experts from FAO/WHO, OECD,
EFSA, research centres, regulatory agencies, food industry, consumers
organisations and the European Parliament were invited to comment on the
Overarching Paper and to provide additional input.
1. Current internationally agreed approaches to the safety assessment of
GM food crops offer a high level of safety assurance for the consumer.
ENTRANSFOOD has developed a detailed step-wise working procedure for the
safety evaluation. This strategy is also applicable to the new generation
of GM food crops with improved nutritional characteristics.
2. ENTRANSFOOD has developed and evaluated strategies to detect unexpected
effects in GM food crops as a possible result of the genetic modification.
Existing targeted single compound analysis is considered adequate to
identify such effects, but profiling techniques, measuring many compounds
simultaneously, may complement targeted screening, once these methods are
validated and databases have been established.
3. The feasibility of post-market surveillance of GM foods as an
instrument to confirm the pre-market safety assessment should be
critically looked at. Its success depends on whether specific health
endpoints can be identified and whether the intake of the GM food
component can be realistically estimated. Questions raised during the
pre-market safety assessment should be solved before a product is released
on the market.
4. The risk of gene transfer from foods derived from GM crops that are
currently commercially available is deemed negligible. The use of marker
genes expressing resistance to antibiotics in use for medicinal or
veterinary purposes has been evaluated. If the antibiotic is widely used
or is a tool of last resort, such genes should be avoided. Marker genes
coding for neomycin phospho transferase (nptII) or hygromycin phospho
transferase (hpt) can be used without the risk of compromising human or
5. The availability of sequence information on the genetic modification
and of relevant reference materials is crucial for the development of GMO
detection methods. This requires joint efforts for global exchange of
information on GM events on the market and under development. Appropriate
traceability and segregation systems may reduce the necessity for
stringent sampling schemes, but additional measures should be taken before
administrative systems can effectively be applied.
6. Public concerns should be explicitly addressed and incorporated into
the risk analysis process. Further research is needed on how to formalise
public engagement and consultation into new working procedures and its
impact on regulatory procedures and institutions involved.
7. The establishment of a Permanent Evaluation and Discussion Platform is
recommended as a follow-up of ENTRANSFOOD on the assessment and
introduction of new foods in Europe produced by different breeding
practises and production systems, which could significantly contribute to
further development of test methods and risk analysis models, and of new
procedures for a broad stakeholders involvement in the risk analysis
process for these foods.
Results of the RTD projects will be published in peer reviewed scientific
journals, and papers of the Working Groups in a special volume of the
Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. The Overarching Paper will be
published by the European Commission.
H.A. Kuiper, Co-ordinator ENTRANSFOOD
Biotech crops an "ancient art"
The Daily Illini
By Lauren Matthes
July 8, 2003
With public concern, fear, and opposition of biotech crops growing, many
consumers do not realize that biotechnology is not a new concept.
"I view biotechnology as very old, almost an ancient art" said Bruce
Chassy, associate director of the University Biotechnology Center.
Isolating a gene and transferring a gene from one organism to another is
not a new and different technology, Chassy said.
When the ancient Egyptians learned to put yeast in grain and water to make
beer or yeast in flour to make bread, they were using micro-organisms and
techniques to make products, Chassy said. Biotechnology was used to make
antibiotics in the 1940s when penicillin was created by fermentation, he
"To some people biotechnology opens Pandora's box because it is something,
that in their view, would not happen in nature," Chassy said.
Genetically modified crops are actually subjected to much more stringent
safety regulations than conventional crops, he said.
"There have been hundreds of studies of safety and there are regulatory
systems put into place to ensure this safety," Chassy said.
"Consumers in the United States are not resistant of biotechnology,"
Chassy said. In a study done 71 percent consumers in the US have a
generally positive acceptance level, he said.
Rantoul resident Rebecca Ash said she thinks the media tends to put
biotechnology in a negative light and she does not know what to think
about this technology.
"I do not feel like we get the full story," Ash said.
Urbana resident Louise Adam said she has no worries about biotechnology.
Biotechnology is about breeding better strains of corn by selecting for
certain characteristics, Adam said.
"People think it is some kind of Frankenstein simply because they do not
understand," she said.
Biotech crops also offer a variety of environmental benefits, Chassy said.
"Most biotech crops are better for the environment than the crops that
they replace," he said.
With biotechnology there are less chemicals, erosion, farm injuries,
ground water contamination, and physical energy used in the field, he
From a policy standpoint, the furor over biotechnology is hurting society,
Chassy said. There are so many other concerns that need our attention,
such as food-borne illnesses, he said.
"It pains me to waste precious time and precious dollars on a non-issue,
when there are so many public safety issues being overlooked," Chassy
Stewardship and Compliance: Doing what's right for the right reason
Truth About Trade
By Dean Kleckner
Few people appreciate the importance of genetic change as well as farmers.
After all, we've been cross-breeding to build better plants for
eons--going all the way back to prehistoric communities thousands of years
ago. The crops we grow today aren't anything like the ones our ancestors
found in the wild and decided to cultivate. And that's true even without
recent advances in biotechnology.
So natural selection is a tool we've used to our advantage for longer than
anyone can remember. But it can also work against us when the pests who
prey on our crops develop resistances to the obstacles we throw in their
That's why the federal government requires farmers who plant bt corn to
reserve 20 percent of their corn acres for non-bt varieties. If nobody
planted anything but bt corn, corn borers would suffer mightily in the
short term but come back with a vengeance in the long term. They would
evolve immunities to what has been a fantastic technology that helps us
boost yield and reduce sprays.
The good news is that the vast majority of farmers are complying with
these rules, which are established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
A new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a
consumer-advocate group, shows that more than 80 percent of farmers who
plant bt corn abide by these guidelines.
Of course, this is not what the news media chose to focus on. We were
treated to a series of glass-half-empty stories about how a minority of
biotech farmers aren't in compliance. And that's the bad news - About one
in five bt-corn farmers are not using this biotechnology properly.
That's not glass-half-empty. That's glass-one-fifth empty.
Even so, let's get something straight - We ought to have close to
100-percent compliance when it comes to these rules. They're in place for
our common good--and so this form of agricultural biotechnology can remain
helpful to us for years to come.
There's no evidence so far that corn borers are developing resistance to
bt corn. Yet if we fail to improve upon this 80-percent mark, we're going
to invite intrusive government regulations. This, in fact, is exactly what
CSPI wants. "Noncompliance on this scale shows that current regulations
aren't up to the task," said Gregory Jaffe, director of CSPI's
biotechnology project, in a press release. "Both the EPA and the biotech
industry must do more to make sure that farmers meet these very basic
obligations, so that the benefits of this technology won't be squandered.
While I don't believe we need bureaucratic busybodies tramping through
everybody's cornfields, I do think people in the business of selling bt
corn seeds need to remind their buyers of the 20-percent refuge rule. I've
been a farmer-seed salesman and I understand the reluctance to tell
customers how they should use what they've purchased. On the other hand,
we want the people who use our products to use them as effectively as
possible--and the effective use of bt corn also means growing non-bt
Reminding farmers of this obligation should be no more intrusive than car
salesmen telling customers that they ought to change their oil every 3,000
miles. Most of us already know this, but a handful of us may not--and
we're all better served when everybody understands the rules of the road.
Having said all that, the news about compliance is actually better than
CSPI lets on. Its study examines farms rather than acres. It turns out
that small farmers are less likely to comply with the EPA rules than big
ones--so it follows that compliance, when tracked against acreage, is
actually higher than 80 percent.
So that's even more good news. The bottom line is that the vast majority
of farmers are complying with these important rules and that an even
vaster majority of bt-corn acres are also complying.
We can do better and we will do better. But we're also doing pretty well
U.S. Farmers Decry EU Proposal
The Wall Street Journal
By Scott Miller and Scott Kilman
July 1, 2003
Europe would become an even tougher market for U.S. farmers raising
genetically modified crops under pending rules that would require wider
warning labels on food and a lot more red tape.
In addition to setting back American agribusiness hopes for expanding into
the world's second-richest market, legislation expected to be passed by
the European Parliament on Wednesday is likely to aggravate an already
bitter trade dispute between the U.S. and European Union.
Among those hit hardest would be U.S. soybean farmers, whose exports to
Europe have been cut in half over the last five years, to $1 billion
annually, after earlier European action against genetically modified
crops. Among other things, the new rules would require warning labels on
two new products -- cooking oil and livestock feed -- that are largely
made from genetically modified U.S. soybeans.
Some European supermarket chains already say they won't stock cooking oil
carrying a genetically modified warning label. And antibiotechnology
groups in Europe plan to put pressure on farmers to avoid using U.S.
soybeans to fatten animals.
The EU also will require food imports to show their genetic history with a
comprehensive paper trail leading back to the farm, a requirement some
U.S. grain exporters and farm groups say is impossible to satisfy because
of the way grains are mixed in the U.S. industry. Bob Callanan, a
spokesman for the American Soybean Association, which represents U.S.
soybean farmers, called the proposal "outrageously stupid."
Last-minute additions to the legislation would give individual countries
powers to greatly limit the planting of genetically modified crops within
their own borders.
The action by the 15-nation trading bloc's legislative body is certain to
aggravate the EU's trade relations with the Bush administration, which has
filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization over the EU's
five-year-long moratorium on approving new genetically modified crops for
planting and consumption. U.S. farm groups already are urging Washington
to file a new complaint as soon as the latest rules become law, probably
The proposed rules would officially end the moratorium, but U.S. critics
say the legislation would effectively douse demand for any new genetically
modified crops, as well as the few genetically altered crops already in
the EU market.
The EU approved the consumption of Monsanto Co.'s herbicide-tolerant
soybeans in 1996, before public opinion in Europe swung against crops
using biotechnology. U.S. farmers are using genetically modified seed to,
among other things, grow plants that tolerate exposure to herbicides, thus
making it easier to weed their fields without damaging their crops. Some
farmers in Spain raise corn that is genetically modified to resist certain
European lawmakers are in a pickle. On one hand, many of their scientists
acknowledge they have little ground to challenge the safety of America's
genetically modified crops -- a fact that weakens the EU's case before the
WTO. But it is politically unwise to open the floodgates to a technology
that most European consumers say they don't want on their dinner table. By
requiring more labeling information, Europe's lawmakers are effectively
putting responsibility on consumers to keep out genetically modified U.S.
"Because of these rules, U.S. farmers are going to lose market share,"
said Alexander de Roo, vice chairman of the European Parliament's
committee on environment, public health and consumer policy.
European consumers are far more leery of science's ability to move genes
between plants than are consumers in the U.S., where crop biotechnology
has swept across the Farm Belt and food products don't have to be labeled
to note the presence of genetically modified ingredients. The outbreak of
so-called mad-cow disease in Europe in the 1990s shattered the public's
confidence in food regulators and in the safety of intensive farming
The EU has required warning labels on many genetically modified food
products for years. Indeed, the proposed rules won't have much impact on
most U.S. packaged-food companies that do business in Europe because they
have reformulated their products to remove any genetically modified
"If consumers don't accept [genetically modified products], the end of the
moratorium won't matter," said Austin Sullivan, a spokesman for General
Mills Inc. of Minneapolis, part of joint ventures that sell such items as
breakfast cereal and snacks in Europe.
The proposed rules' burden would fall mostly on U.S. farmers and the
companies that export their crops to Europe. Lawmakers will consider two
pieces of legislation in a debate that starts Tuesday. One would begin to
require warning labels on products containing genetically modified
ingredients even if the food-processing technique has destroyed any
evidence of their presence, which is the case in cooking oil.
The legislation also would create an elaborate paper trail on any
genetically modified ingredients. Under the proposed rules, EU regulators
would have to be able to trace the genetically modified grain used in a
product back to the farm.
The American grain industry isn't set up that way: Crops that leave a
farmer's field quickly lose their identity. U.S. farmers typically sell
their crops to a local merchant, who dumps their crops into big bins. The
merchants, in turn, sell their grain to processors that create huge
stockpiles from which to fill orders from around the world. For example, a
single ship carrying soybeans headed to Rotterdam, Netherlands could
easily hold the commingled production of thousands of U.S. farmers.
Greens should get a grip on reality
ACT New Zealand Rural Affairs Spokesman Gerry Eckhoff today recommended
that Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton take a minute to encourage the Green
Party and Sustainability Council to get a grip on reality.
"The Greens' scaremongering tactics over miniscule amounts of GE material
-that may, or may not, have emanated from New Zealand - is designed to
prey on the public's fears," Mr Eckhoff said.
"The real problem is not genetically-modified organisms, but the regular
incursion of unwanted organisms such as fire ants, mosquitoes, varroa
mites, painted apple moths and the like.
"If the Greens' tenuous grip of biosecurity issues is going to focus on
genetically-modified organisms, then they will leave the back door wide
open for real disasters like plum
pox disease and foot-and-mouth.
"More than 66 million hectares of GE crop is grown worldwide, and this is
increasing daily. Genetically-modified organisms pose no health risks.
Focusing on the GE issue puts our economy at risk, as it detracts from the
real threat to the welfare of every single New Zealander - the economic
collapse of our economy, should foot-and-mouth enter New Zealand" Mr
ASSURING FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY IN AFRICA BY 2020
An All-Africa Conference to be held April 1-3, 2004 - Kampala, Uganda
More information available at: