Today in AgBioView: June 30, 2003:
* Much ado about GM food
* Scientific Revival Day: Science and technology create wealth
* EU Parliament faces key vote on biotech crops that could mean end to
moratorium on new GMO products
* Radical farmer says won't bow to Chirac for pardon
* Adoption of Biotechnology Continues to Grow
* GM crops debate for Norwich
* GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS: Council says GM crops show promise for
Much ado about GM food
Washington Times Editorial
June 20, 2003
The term "Old Europe" has recently taken on a new connotation: Add "an
aversion to technological improvements that could improve global welfare,"
to the list of possible definitions. The Bush administration recently
announced that last-ditch efforts to convince European officials to drop a
de facto EU ban on genetically modified foods imports have failed. In the
short term, the losers will be U.S. farmers — who lead the world in
genetically-modified innovation — and the world's hungry masses that
benefit enormously from biotechnology breakthroughs which bolster the
nutritional quality of crops.
The administration said it will now push forward its challenge to the EU
ban in the World Trade Organization (WTO). If the United States wins
there, then it would be entitled to levy retaliatory tariffs on European
exports, creating long-term problems for Europe.
And Europe is already paying a price for its intransigence. According to
the first Europe-wide study of the economic impact of genetically modified
foods, its farmers would reap big dividends from biotechnology. The
results of the first three case studies completed by the National Center
for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) showed that if European farmers
were to grow genetically modified insect-resistant maize,
herbicide-tolerant sugarbeet and fungus-resistant potato, annual yields
would increase by 7.8 billion kilograms, 9.7 kilograms of pesticides would
not have to be used and farm income would grow by $1.22 billion. The study
found that the increased yields from biotech farming would allow an area
larger than Luxembourg to be removed from production without any loss in
The study backs some statements President Bush made on genetically
modified food. Mr. Bush said Monday that Europe's ban was preventing
African nations from experimenting with valuable technology. "For the sake
of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to
end their opposition to biotechnology," he said. The president added that
Europe's decision to block these farm exports was based on "unfounded and
Mr. Bush's comments caused a stir in Europe. "It is one thing to
disagree," said Pascal Lamy, European trade commissioner. "It is another
thing to use starvation to advance a position in this debate."
But, unfortunately for Mr. Lamy and others, the starvation argument is
valid. According to the NCFAP study, Europe's largest benefit would come
from using the fungus-resistant potato. This potato is resistant to "late
blight," a fungal infection that contributed to the Irish famine in the
1840s and continues to harm European crops.
The Bush administration is correct in defending the interests of the
American farmer at the WTO and in pointing out the negative effects of the
EU bio-ban on the developing world.
During a summit meeting of U.S. and EU leaders in Washington Wednesday,
Mr. Bush joked, "Let's go eat some genetically modified food for lunch."
Europeans in Europe — and Africans, for that matter — should be so lucky.
Scientific Revival Day: Science and technology create wealth
The Daily Nation (Kenya)
June 30, 2003
Last year, the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) took an
important first step in marking the African Scientific Revival Day,
reminding everyone that June 30 was declared by African leaders as a day
to appreciate what science can do for the continent.
The activities generated a lot of interest amongst policy-makers,
journalists and other regional scientific institutions. Today, we are
taking a second giant step.
ATPS has come together with non-governmental organisations and
institutions, the Government and the African Union to organise this year's
It is a three-day event involving key policy-makers, parliamentarians,
students and the private sector. The idea is to send a strong signal that
science and technology can only work to Africa's benefit if all the
stakeholders understand their various roles.
This year, we have added a science and technology exhibition to give
visual reality to the use of science in producing goods and offering
But this is not just a science day; it is a science and technology day,
the African renaissance day, Africa's innovation day, and principally a
day to demonstrate that Africa can use it further to advance its economic
and social reconstruction.
Can there be an African renaissance without a strong dose of relevant
application of science and technology?
Many have equated the renaissance to good governance, the emergence of
democratic governments and enlightened leadership across Africa. This is
only one aspect of the rebirth of hope.
Central to the renaissance is good governance of science and technology
and an understanding of its key role in development. There cannot be a
renaissance if there is self-doubt, if science and technology is not used
to improve Africa's competitiveness, and if it is not used to interrogate
the intricate questions of poverty.
Africa's renaissance must be knowledge-based and knowledge-driven. Thus
institutions such as the ATPS and others have taken up the mantle to
champion the good governance of science and technology, to enlighten the
populace, journalists, policy-makers, legislators, farmers' groups and all
others that, without full deployment of science and technology, Africa's
renaissance will only be a pipe-dream.
But is the message getting across? We think, slowly but surely. The
interest is growing. It is an attempt to concretise this interest that the
organising committee chose the theme: "Science and technology and wealth
Science and technology is often seen as an abstraction in Africa without
any link to wealth creation. Science is what scientists do and wealth
creation is what business and industry do. Where we appreciate the link,
we allow all forms of excuses to stand in the way of forging this link.
In the developed and many developing countries, the link is obvious. While
the private sector takes the lead in converting science and technology to
wealth, the government provides an enabling environment, fostering
Africa remains the poorest continent in the world in spite of its natural
resources. It is in the transformation of these resources and the
knowledge content of the new products that greater value is created.
Africa's agriculture has remained rudimentary.
It is only in Africa that we still bemoan the failure of rains as we watch
helplessly as children, women and the weak die from hunger and starvation.
Yet regions of the world where there is virtually no rainfall produce
surplus food to export to Africa.
Africa continues to operate at the fringes of biotechnology and
information and communication technology. Biotechnology is a multi-billion
dollar industry in the world with enormous potential for wealth creation
and ensuring food security.
There is enormous potential in bio-pharmacy, in vaccine production, in
application to indigenous foods, in improving yields in raw materials such
But before biotechnology can realise its potential, governments must
invest in an innovative policy that enables them to make intelligent
But none of this will happen unless we invest and build adequate national
or regional capacity for biotechnology, including appropriate institutions
that will organise and ensure fruitful use of the knowledge in this
Information and Communication Technology is not only linking people and
fostering increased globalisation, it is also producing enormous amounts
of wealth in the world.
In Asia, and in particular India, knowledge industry specific to the ICT
sector has become a source of employment and huge export to the United
States and other developed countries. The Silicon Valley in California has
its match in Bangalore in India and several young Indian noveau rich have
emerged through tenacious application of science and technology.
Searching for leadership
Many Africa countries do not yet have an ICT policy or a road map to how
they see the deployment of this tool for societal benefit. The private
sector is searching for leadership from the government but bits and pieces
of legislation give conflicting signals.
Science and technology-led development can only occur when there is a
leader willing and ready to champion it. In Africa, this is the critical
missing link. African leaders continue to pay lip-service to the question
of science and technology for development.
The application of biotechnology to vaccine development in Cuba is very
instructive. Reports from the scientists involved confirmed that President
Castro stopped by the laboratory every day for the life of the project to
monitor progress. This act was not only a morale booster to the
scientists, it gave an indication that this was a project with national
We have also seen leaders construct crisis in order to propel scientists
to greater national feat.
When president John F. Kennedy announced that the United States will land
someone on the moon, he actually had no idea what it would take. But that
announcement was an act of crisis construction and since he had made the
promise, the scientists worked very hard not to fail their president.
EU Parliament faces key vote on biotech crops that could mean end to
moratorium on new GMO products
June 30, 2003
The European Parliament is expected to approve proposals meant to toughen
rules on how genetically modified crops are regulated in the European
Union in a bid to lift in the EU's moratorium on new biotech foods.
But a vote expected on Wednesday will likely be close, officials said,
pitting those who want even tougher rules against those looking for a
compromise to finally lift a seven-year-old freeze on the introduction of
new biotech products in the EU.
The EU head office, which wants the ban lifted and drafted the proposal,
recommends leaving it to EU governments to adopt their own rules for the
coexistence of biotech, conventional and organic farms as part of new
EU-wide labeling and monitoring rules.
"This is a highly sensitive subject," said Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for
EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne.
"If the legislation is in place, then we could ask the member states to
lift the moratorium," Gminder said.
She added that the new legislation, which updates existing rules drawn up
in 1997, would provide clear and effective guidelines meant to address
lingering safety concerns by skeptical Europeans.
The proposals up for vote in the 626-member EU assembly plans to trace all
genetically modified organisms or GMOs at all stages of production and
could force producers to label their products clearly using the words;
"This product is produced from GMOs."
One of the most contentious aspects of the proposals is setting the
threshold for which accidental contamination would have to be labeled,
which was raised in December by EU governments to 0.9 percent from the 0.5
percent approved by the European Parliament last July, during the bill's
The EU responded to mounting fears of European consumers about possible
health risks from biotech products by imposing a moratorium on new
genetically modified foods in 1998.
That moratorium led to a fresh attack on the EU's cautious GMO approach
last week after U.S. President George W. Bush criticized the restrictions,
saying they were based on unfounded, unscientific health fears.
The issue has soured EU-U.S. trade relations and led the United States,
Canada and Australia to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization
earlier this month to push Europe to lift the moratorium, arguing that it
is an unfair trade barrier.
U.S. farmers estimate the European restrictions have cost them nearly
US$300 million a year in lost corn exports alone.
Biotech crops have been widely grown in North America and Australia for
years, including corn, cotton and soybeans genetically modified to resist
insects or disease.
Greek conservative member, Antonios Trakatellis, who is guiding the bill
through the EU assembly, was confident that the new rules would mean a
lifting of the moratorium and an end to the trade row.
"The swift adoption of this regulation ... will lead to the removal of the
de facto moratorium on the approval of new GMOs," he said in his report.
"Europe ... is lagging noticeably behind in the promising technology of
the 21st century as compared with its competitors."
Green party spokesman Helmut Weixler said his group could live with the
compromise draft now up for vote. "It is not perfect, but it is quite a
good regulation," he said.
EU governments would still need to give their approval if passed by the
parliament, before it can become law.
Radical farmer says won't bow to Chirac for pardon
29 Jun 2003
PARIS, June 29 (Reuters) - Radical French farmer-protester Jose Bove,
arrested last Sunday for destroying genetically modified crops, said over
the weekend he would not kneel down before French President Jacques Chirac
to win his freedom.
France's justice minister hinted last week that Bove could win a
presidential pardon on July 14, the national Bastille Day holiday and a
traditional day of amnesty in France.
But in an interview with French daily Le Monde, Bove said he was not
looking for any favours from the government and that if he was freed it
would be due to public outrage at his detention.
"I always said, ever since I was convicted, that I would not get down on
my knees before President Chirac," Bove said from prison, in a written
response to questions from the newspaper.
"If I was given the opportunity to go free I would not say no, but let's
be clear. My freedom would be the result of the protest movement and that
The walrus-moustached Bove, who gained fame in the 1990s for his attacks
on globalisation and trashing a McDonald's restaurant, was arrested last
Sunday by police who smashed their way into his rural home near the
southern city of Montpellier.
They bundled him into a helicopter and flew him to a nearby prison to
serve a 10-month sentence, handed down last November after a conviction
for ripping up genetically modified rice and maize plants in separate
incidents in 1998 and 1999.
Bove, the spokesman for the radical Confederation Paysanne farmers' union,
had refused to give himself up.
Several thousand protesters marched on Saturday in the central French town
of Millau, demanding his freedom.
French Justice Minister Dominique Perben told French radio last week that
it was "not impossible" that Chirac would grant the activist a pardon on
But in an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday,
the head of Chirac's conservative party and former French Prime Minister
Alain Juppe suggested Bove was getting what he deserved.
"I understand that with a reduced sentence he could stay in prison until
September," Juppe said. "Is that unthinkable for someone who has
destroyed, on several occasions, the property of fellow citizens?"
Bove and his followers say 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
Adoption of Biotechnology Continues to Grow
Jun. 30, 2003
Adoption of biotech varieties continues to increase, according to USDA's
Acreage report. The new data indicates that 40% of this year's corn crop
will be planted to biotech varieties, up from 34% a year ago. This is
slightly higher than the 38% adoption rate indicated in the March
Prospective Plantings report. In South Dakota, 75% of all corn planted
will be biotech. Insect resistant varieties will account for 25% of the
crop, up from 22% last year, and herbicide resistant varieties will reach
Biotech soybean varieties will account for 81% of this year's crop, up
from 75% in 2002. This is slightly more than the 80% biotech indicated in
the March Prospective Plantings report. More than 90% of the crop in South
Dakota will be biotech.
Adoption of cotton biotech varieties is now expected to reach 73% of the
crop, up slightly from the 71% reported for 2002. However, the March
Prospective Plantings report had indicated that the share of biotech acres
would drop to 70% this year. More than 1/4 of the crop will be planted to
varieties containing stacked biotech genes. There is a 5 percentage point
gain for these crops, from 22% to 27% of the crop. The share of varieties
with herbicide resistance alone will decline this year from 36% in 2002 to
32%. Farmers had indicated intentions to cut this type of product to 30%
of the crop in the March report. Across the Delta and Southeastern states,
more than 90% of this year's crop will be planted to biotech varieties.
GM crops debate for Norwich
Eastern Daily Press
June 30, 2003
A public debate on whether the Government should allow
genetically-modified crops to be commercially licensed is to be held in
Six regional debates are being conducted around the country as part of the
Government's consultation on the future of GM foods. But despite
conducting GM crop trials in the county, Norfolk was not included.
Now members of Norwich City Council have agreed a debate should take place
after Liberal Democrat Jane Rooza, executive member for the environment,
proposed the motion.
The debate, details of which have not yet been worked out, was one of five
proposals approved by the council.
Councillors will also call on the Government to extend the time for public
debate to enable a more "informed discussion" as well as delay the
decision to license commercial GM crops until early next year.
Ms Rooza said one reason for the council to facilitate a debate is because
it recognises the "concern" of residents of Norwich and Norfolk over GM
Jessica Goldfinch, Green Party councillor for Henderson ward, said:
"Norfolk is one of the main areas where GM crop trials are being
conducted. This is an issue on which there are strong feelings locally."
Government questionnaires can be obtained by calling 020 7261 8616 or at
the website – www.gmnation.org.uk. The deadline for responding is July 18.
Bashir Khanbhai, Conservative Euro MP for the East of England, hosted a
Biotechnology in Agriculture seminar at the John Innes Centre near Norwich
to give farmers and members of the public an opportunity to question a
panel of leading experts on the science of genetically-modified organisms.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS: Council says GM crops show promise for
Life Science Weekly
June 30, 2003
Genetically modified crops could help small-scale farmers in developing
countries, some bioethicists think.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics invites comments on its the draft of its
Discussion Paper, "The use of genetically modified crops in developing
countries." The Council plans to present the paper to "GM Nation?," a
public debate organized by the U.K. government that is scheduled to run
through mid-July 2003.
In 1999, the Nuffield Council recommended that there was a moral
imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to
people in developing countries who want them.
"We have reviewed the scientific developments since our last report as
well as recent trends in poverty and hunger in developing countries. In
the light of this evidence, we have no hesitation in affirming, and
expanding, our previous conclusions," said Dr. Sandy Thomas, director of
the Nuffield Council.
"We recognize that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture,"
continued Thomas. "Food security and the reduction of poverty in
developing countries are extremely complex issues. We do not claim that GM
crops will eliminate the need for economic, political, or social change,
or that they will feed the world. However, we do believe that GM
technology could make a useful contribution, in appropriate circumstances,
to improving agriculture and the livelihood of poor farmers in developing
The draft considers developments in regulation and trade and concludes
that European agricultural policy is likely to restrict severely the
freedom of choice of farmers in developing countries. Many developing
countries do not have the necessary infrastructure to meet strict EU
requirements for labeling and traceability of GM crops. Additionally,
there is concern that even planting GM crops only for domestic use might
jeopardize an export market for non-GM crops.
"We believe EU regulators have not paid enough attention to the impact of
EU regulations on agriculture in developing countries," and we recommend
that the U.K. government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should
monitor this closely," said Thomas.
European skepticism may also deter people in developing countries from
adopting GM crops, particularly when the risks of GM crops are
"The current evidence from safety assessments of GM crops does not suggest
any significant risk to people who eat them, and we believe it is
unhelpful to suggest otherwise," said Prof. Derek Burke, a member of the
In 2002, two million people in Zambia were threatened with starvation. But
the Zambian government refused food aid donations from the U.S. because
the maize was genetically modified. In its paper, the Nuffield Council
discusses issues behind this controversy and recommends that developing
countries must be given a genuine choice between GM and non-GM food aid.
When developing countries prefer to receive non-GM food aid, the World
Food Program and other food aid organizations should purchase such grain,
Scientists claim that Golden Rice, modified to produce beta-carotene,
could help prevent vitamin A deficiency in Asia, but opponents question
whether it would actually achieve this aim. The Nuffield Council
recommends that it is essential to continue research to establish how
effective the approach might be. Golden Rice could make a valuable
contribution where other sources of vitamin A are not easily available,
but it should be compared with alternative methods of improving
micronutrients in the diet, for example providing vitamin supplements
through public health programs.
The possible costs, benefits, and risks associated with particular GM
crops can only be assessed on a case by case basis. "It is important not
to generalize," said Prof. Michael Lipton, a member of the Working Group.
"However GM crops do, in some cases, have considerable potential to
increase crop yields. There is an ethical obligation to explore these
Small-scale farmers in China and South Africa are already benefiting from
GM cotton, modified to resist the cotton bollworm. Another example cited
is research to genetically modify bananas to resist the Black Sigatoka
fungus. Untreated, this fungus can reduce banana yields by as much as 70%.
Currently, farmers spend one quarter of the production costs on
fungicides, and farm workers may risk their health by applying the spray,
up to 40 times per year. A GM banana, resistant to the fungus, could
eliminate these problems, reducing the amount of fungicide required and,
at the same time, increasing yields.
Genetic modification could also be used to address specific agricultural
problems, such as drought and salty soils, where other methods of plant
breeding have not proved successful. However, much GM research currently
serves the interests of large-scale farmers in developed countries. There
is also concern that only a few commercial companies control most of the
seeds, chemicals, and research technology.
The Nuffield Council recommends that additional resources should be
committed by governments and the EC to fund a major expansion of
GM-related research relevant to the needs of small-scale farmers in
The Council is inviting views on the draft version of the Discussion
Paper. Comments must be received by August 8, 2003.
"We look forward to hearing comments from members of the public,
stakeholders, and experts. We would particularly welcome comments from
people in developing countries," concluded Thomas.
Copies of the Discussion Paper can be downloaded from the Council's
website: www.nuffieldbioethics.org. For a printed copy, e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7681 9619.
This article was prepared by Life Science Weekly editors from staff and