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Date:

July 12, 2003

Subject:

Superweed; Norman Borlaug; SCIMAC; Scrinis; Biotech and Baby Food

 

Today in AgBioView: July 11, 2003:

* Superweed not Necessarily Bad According to Green Groups
* Re: Scrinis is wrong
* RE: Indian Campaign to malign Ag-Biotech
* The Next Green Revolution
* Genetically modified crops important to many Cenla farmers
* GM CROPS - SCIMAC RESPONSE TO STRATEGY UNIT REPORT
* NEW STUDY IGNORES POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF GE CROPS
* Time to narrow the gap
* New EU Food Body Sees No Reason for Austria GMO Ban
* Biotech and Baby Food
* UN body adopts global GM guidelines
* Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM crops
* EFSA issues GMO opinion
* Position Paper of the International Seed Federation on Genetic Use
Restriction Technologies (GURTs)

http://riskcom.ca/forums/message-view?message_id=3650

Superweed not Necessarily Bad According to Green Groups

Ass. Press
July 10, 2003

A recent report issued by Friends of the Earth (FoE) claims that superweed
could start growing in the British countryside due to cross-pollination
with genetically modified (GM) crops. But despite the alarmist nature of
the report, other green groups have dismissed the danger of such an
occurrence, with some even supporting it.

A new map published by FoE today reveals the locations of five of the
areas most likely to experience superweed infestation. "The long-term
consequences of this are difficult to predict,” said Pete Riley, spokesman
for FoE.

However, others within the Green movement disagree.

“I would have absolutely no problem with superweed,” said Nigel Robinson
of Greenpeace UK. “In fact, it might even save me a trip to Amsterdam.”

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association dismissed the report’s claim about
long-term consequences, insisting that “we’ve had superweed in some form
or another since the 1960s and we’ve never seen anything that couldn’t be
solved by a bottle of Vizine and a bag of crisps.”

Upon hearing about the report, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science
in Society encouraged scientists to continue their experiments.

“Call it whatever you like – superweed, grass, green bud, sticky icky, the
homegrown, spliff, purple kush, maui waui, acapulco gold, backyard boogie,
the shit, whacky weed, ash, the black, sweet Mary Jane, ill, glazed, boot,
nickelbag, the kind, lid, Skoobie Doo, dimebag, hemp, ganja, the 'ydro,
the bubonic chronic, cherry, lethal, turbo, thai, shake, skunk, express –
it doesn’t really matter,” said Dr. Ho. “That shit is the bomb!”

Simon Smith, a farmer in Somerset, pointed out however that all of the
Greens seem to be missing the point.

“The real issue is canola that may become resistant to certain herbicides
– which the Greens have termed “superweeds”, as if they could grow
uncontrollably and take over London. What a load of bollocks. If such a
thing ever happened we would simply use different herbicides or pull the
plants by hand.”
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.dailycal.org/article.asp?id=12153

Nobel Laureate Feeds Audience With Talk of Hunger

The Daily Californian
By ALICIA WITTMEYER
July 11, 2003

Norman Borlaug is a haunted man.

From his Depression-era boyhood spent on an Iowan farm to almost 60 years
spent traveling throughout the poorest countries of the world, Nobel Peace
Prize Laureate Borlaug has been followed by images of hunger.

Borlaug met a warm reception last night in Dwinelle Hall where he
addressed concerns about genetically engineered harvests and
biotechnology. He underscored the importance of training new, young
scientists to take on the fight against hunger in the future.

Borlaug was first exposed to widespread hunger during his time at the
University of Minnesota, where he saw the results of the Great Depression
firsthand.

"That left indelible impacts on me and my hatred of hunger and human
poverty and misery," Borlaug said.

Those first images of hunger carried him forward, directing his research.
Borlaug won the Noble Peace Prize in 1970 for devoting his life to
alleviating hunger in developing nations.

Borlaug headed to Mexico 59 years ago to develop stronger strains of wheat
to feed the country's growing population.

He has never looked back since, traveling to India, Pakistan and
Sub-Saharan Africa to tout the benefits of genetically modified crops.

Borlaug takes a proactive approach to his agriculture. He said only
genetic modifications allowed crops to grow in the highly acidic soils of
Brazil, which were depleted by natural processes.

Although genetically engineered crops may not yet be perfected, Borlaug
said the world cannot wait for perfection with a population growing at 80
million people a year.

"They're always saying, 'Next year I'll cure this, next I'll do this,'"
Borlaug said. "Things don't change, while the human population continues
to grow."

Borlaug lauded biotechnology as the future of agricultural methods.
Current technology cannot sustain the population without destroying the
environment, he said.

Borlaug's other passion is training young scientists. While in Mexico
cultivating dwarf wheat, Borlaug taught research methods to the country's
rising bioscientists.

Young scientists will be the innovators who change the scientific status
quo, Borlaug said.

"I tell them, 'We're going to teach you to be rebels, but in science, not
in gunpowder,'" he said.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2003 09:49:11 +0930
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: Re: Scrinis is wrong

In reference to the article in the Age by Gyorgy Scrinis, it is a pity he
did not sign himself with his other moniker "national spokesman for the
Friends of the Earth food and biotechnology campaign"; but perhaps he no
longer does this. Dr. Scrinis is an occasional contributor of opinion
pieces to the Age Newspaper in Melbourne, and this latest effort follows
pretty much along the lines of the ideology presented earlier.

However, as Dr. Aaron Oakley has pointed out Scrinis has got it wrong.
Scrinis' central thesis is that GE crops will not help feed the world, but
instead will exacerbate hunger and malnutrition in the third world. The
evidence Scrinis provides to back such a statement is practically
non-existent. It consists almost entirely of a stated position that the
ideal way to solve hunger in third world countries is to continue to
insist that traditional, high labour, low yielding farming systems are
used. Scrinis argues in effect for subsistence farming. The same sorts of
arguments can be seen from other organizations with goals similar to FoE.
They argue that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. Indeed
there is, but many of the poor of the world simply cannot afford to buy
it. Should not the aim, therefore, be to increase wealth in these
countries rather than demand "poor people and communities around the world
will either feed themselves, or they will not feed at all" as Scrinis
does?

Somehow, he seems to forget that farming is not actually about directly
feeding farmers. Farmers farm to make money. Money allows them to buy food
and other goods. Like every other form of human endeavour, specialization
is required to increase efficiency. So you end up with vegetable growers,
grain growers, and so on. Were the world still surviving on subsistence
farming we, Gyorgy Scrinis included, would all be starving.

Farmers can increase their profits, and hence spending power, in three
ways. Firstly, they can increase yields, secondly they can grow more
lucrative crops, and thirdly they can cut costs. So where do GE crops come
into this? It is in fact a widely propagated erroneous belief that third
world farmers cannot "afford" GE crops. In fact as ISAAA has pointed out,
more than 75% of growers of GE crops are resource poor farmers in
developing countries (http://www.isaaa.org). This also puts paid to
Scrinis' other claim that GE crops are only for large corporate farms. GE
crops by increasing yields and decreasing costs allow poor farmers to make
more money. This then allows such farmers to buy more goods. This has
economic impacts on those around them who also acquire more wealth. If the
country gains more income from its agricultural exports, it can afford to
import cheaper food from elsewhere where there is an oversupply, if it
cannot grow it itself.

So will GE foods feed the world? Not on their own. However, allowing
access of cotton farmers in sub-tropical areas to Bt cotton will decrease
crop losses, reduce pesticide costs and ultimately increase profits for
those farmers. Denying access of such crops to those growers may mean more
pesticide costs, increased problems with insect resistance and ultimately
the collapse of cotton growing forcing farmers to grow less profitable
crops and make less money. Bt cotton will not solve all the problems, but
is likely to be a valuable tool for farmers. It is one of the ironies of
life that supposed "environmental" NGOs are seeking to stop the
cultivation of Bt cotton forcing farmers to use more pesticides to keep
insects at bay and use more land to make sufficient income to feed their
families. I note Chengal Reddy's plea in todays AgBioView as evidence of
the efforts of these groups to use any methods to gain their ends. There
is much to fear from the mailgn influence of these groups who would seek
to entrench poverty in the Third World by denying access to useful
technology.

Dr. Christopher Preston
University of Adelaide
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: "Fran Smith"
Subject: RE: Indian Campaign to malign Ag-Biotech
Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 14:28:10 -0400

Chengal Reddy's query about what to do about the misinformation campaign
in Andhra Pradesh is a difficult one. A possible approach would be a
counter-campaign to provide facts, perhaps led by Mr. Reddy's group.

He should also reach out to allies and potential allies. There are at
least two Indian free-market groups that support the need for agricultural
biotechnology. In particular, the Liberty Institute in New Delhi is very
active.

Also, a campaign like the one you described costs money. Where do the
activists get their funds? If their funding comes from anti-biotech
activists in the North, that would damage their credibility as
representing the interests of Indian farmers. A policy group in Australia
has done some research on this type of campaign, with outside funding, in
other developing countries -- the Institute of Public Affairs. Perhaps
they could provide you with ideas on where to try to find information on
funding.

Frances B. Smith
Executive Director
Consumer Alert
1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1128
Washington, DC 20036
202-467-5809
Fax: 202-467-5814
www.consumeralert.org
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/11/opinion/11BORL.html

The Next Green Revolution

New York Times
By NORMAN E. BORLAUG
July 11, 2003

The key to economic development in Africa is agriculture. As President
Bush concludes his trip to the continent, and Americans ponder ways to
help it emerge from decades of poverty and turmoil, we would do well to
remember that crucial point. Fortunately, we have the economic and
technological means to bring about an agricultural revolution.

Using proven agricultural techniques, Africa could easily double or triple
the yields of most of its crops. It has the potential not only to feed
itself but even to become a dynamic agricultural exporter within a few
decades.

African farmers face three main problems: depleted soil, a scarcity of
water and distorted economics caused in large part by primitive
transportation systems. None of these problems is beyond our capacity to
solve.

Low soil fertility is one of the greatest biological obstacles to
increasing food production and improving land productivity. (Because of
overfarming and insufficient crop rotation, Africa's soil is actually less
rich than it was 30 years ago.) Yet there is a man-made solution to the
sub-Saharan soil's lack of nutrients — namely, fertilizer, either chemical
or organic. Unfortunately, economic forces keep fertilizer out of many
African farmers' hands.

Because of transportation costs, fertilizer costs two to three times more
in rural sub-Saharan Africa than it does in rural Asia. As a result,
fertilizer consumption in Africa is about 10 percent what it is in Asia.
That's a market failure, and it could be remedied by a mix of public and
private programs. Aid organizations might buy fertilizer at its point of
entry into Africa and distribute it at reduced cost to wholesalers.
Alternatively, poor farmers might be given fertilizer vouchers.

Chronic water shortages are another challenge. Nearly half of Africa's
farmland suffers from periodic and often catastrophic drought. But here,
too, the problem isn't beyond our control. About 4 percent of farmland
south of the Sahara is irrigated, compared with 17 percent of farmland
worldwide.

Large-scale irrigation projects are prohibitively expensive and can ruin
villages and ecosystems. But clever, small-scale technologies — including
subterranean pools for capturing rainfall, pumps on river banks, and
cisterns under drain spouts — can make parched land bloom.

Because of the dismal state of roads in Africa, farmers there face the
highest marketing costs in the world. A study by the World Bank, completed
in the late 1990's, found that it cost roughly $50 to ship a metric ton of
corn from Iowa to Mombasa, Kenya, more than 8,500 miles away. In contrast,
it cost $100 or so to move the same amount of corn from Mombasa inland to
Kampala, Uganda — about 550 miles. And not much has changed in recent
years.

The challenge is that African produce is conveyed to buyers via a vast
network of footpaths, tracks and dirt roads, where the most common mode of
transport is walking. American- and European-financed road projects would
connect farmers with consumers while improving life in countless other
ways.

As agriculture takes off, agricultural-improvement and food-aid programs
should dovetail. School lunch programs, for example, can provide a
significant stimulus to the expansion of commercial food markets if the
produce involved is locally grown.

Biotechnology absolutely should be part of African agricultural reform;
African leaders will be making a grievous error if they turn their backs
on it. (Zambia's president notoriously barred shipments of food aid from
America last year that included genetically modified corn.) Genetic
technology can help produce plants with greater tolerance of insects and
diseases, improve the nutritional quality of food staples and help farmers
to expand the areas they cultivate. Rather than looking to European
leaders, who have demonized biotechnology, African leaders ought to work
to manage and regulate this technology for the benefit of their farmers
and citizens.

Africa's warm temperatures, abundant sunlight and wide open spaces and
diverse climates make it a place where agriculture can thrive. Countries
with tropical climates, like Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, should be
exporting, not importing, rice. Drier places — including Burkina Faso,
Mali and Chad — have the potential to be major producers of sorghum and
millet. But you can't eat potential.

Nothing will happen without an infusion of money and technical help from
the industrialized world. President Bush is right to emphasize a new
emphasis on standards of evaluation. Sub-Saharan countries that make
significant progress in producing food and diminishing poverty should be
rewarded with additional financial support.

Lest we forget, helping African agriculture to prosper is not merely a
humanitarian issue — it's a matter of enlightened self-interest.
Smallholder African farmers, after all, are stewards of one of the earth's
major land masses. And as the Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey once
said, "You have to have at least one square meal a day to be a
conservationist." Aiding African farmers will not only save lives, it will
also, in a uniquely literal sense, help to save the earth.

Norman E. Borlaug, professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M
University, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.thetowntalk.com/html/047F25D5-2C44-442B-A518-F6437664B66D.shtml

Genetically modified crops important to many Cenla farmers

The Town Talk
By Suzan Manuel
July 11, 2003

Genetically modified crops have gotten a lot of attention from nations and
consumers around the world who worry about the long-term consequences of
the new technology.

But for the agricultural scientists who gathered at the Dean Lee Research
Station at LSU at Alexandria on Thursday, the work is necessary to assure
future food supplies. They toured research crops and discussed technology
vital to the industry's future.

"The purpose," LSU AgCenter agent John Chaney said, "is to focus on
research and make sure it is in line with industry needs and state needs."

Much of the new technology involves genetically modified organisms. GMOs
have only been allowed in certain European markets recently, and only when
clearly labeled. Governments in Africa, Mexico and South America also have
objected to imported foodstuffs that contain the products. Some critics
have referred to GMOs as "Frankenfood."

The controversy often surrounds food crops, but the GMOs at Dean Lee
Research Station are primarily used for livestock feed.

The station, located at Louisiana State University at Alexandria, tests
and evaluates GMOs produced by commercial companies, researcher Steve
Moore said.

Yield, performance and how well the modified genes do what they're
supposed to all are measured at the station.

Genetic modification may sound exotic and frightening, but it's not, Moore
said.

Most genetic modification is geared toward making crops more resistant to
disease, insects or herbicides.

The modified genes aren't created in laboratories. They are taken from one
plant -- a dandelion, for example -- that has the desired trait and
transferred to another plant, such as corn.

The Dean Lee Research Station is also licensed to do breeding research for
Roundup-resistant plants.

Roundup, made by Monsanto, is the "most environmentally friendly"
herbicide on the market, Moore said. It kills practically everything and
does not seep into groundwater.

Crops that are resistant to Roundup and similar herbicides are good for
farmers, AgCenter researcher David Lanclos said.

Ninety percent of the soybeans planted in the state are already resistant
thanks to genetic modification, he said, and have been for about 10 years.

The herbicide "controls lots of weeds and makes for easier farming."

Most nuisance plants are killed by Roundup, but so are many food crops. If
the crops can develop a resistance, then farmers are able to use an
environmentally safe herbicide and can use it less often.

"Agriculture is struggling," Lanclos said. "Less labor in the field means
one man can cover more acres."

Lanclos admits the long-term effects of GMOs are not yet known. But, he
said, the sort of modifications being done occurs naturally over time.
Using technology to modify crops is simply faster.

"We cannot continue to produce our yield without GMOs," he said.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

GM CROPS - SCIMAC RESPONSE TO STRATEGY UNIT REPORT

11th July 2003

SCIMAC agrees with the central conclusion of the Strategy Unit's report
that future applications of GM crop technology offer significant potential
benefits to the UK, and that the technology's development must continue to
be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

In terms of the GM crops currently available, the report is right to
conclude that herbicide tolerant oilseed rape, maize and beet in a UK
context will not transform the agricultural or national economy. No one
has realistically claimed that they will.

However, growers involved in the UK's Farm-Scale Evaluation programme have
reported significant benefits from growing these crops at the farm level,
ranging from a switch to more environmentally benign forms of weed control
to a reduction in sprays and cultivations. Such developments are
consistent with the kind of agriculture people want to see in the future.

Whether UK farmers decide to grow GM crops commercially is another issue,
but SCIMAC believes the freedom to choose should not be denied. The
Strategy Unit is right to highlight the significance of consumer attitudes
in predicting future market demand for the products of GM crop technology,
and SCIMAC endorses the report's acknowledgement that public attitudes are
complex and can evolve. However, SCIMAC seriously questions whether
genuine consumer attitudes can ever be gauged in a meaningful way when
access and choice are currently being denied.

SCIMAC was established to support access and choice to GM crops at the
farm level once approved by the regulatory authorities. In this regard,
SCIMAC supports the conclusions of the Strategy Unit's report that the
measures required to achieve co-existence between GM, non-GM and organic
crops are consistent with existing farm practice and need not add
significantly to production costs.

The report refers to the survey conducted by SCIMAC among GM crop trial
growers [para. 3.3.17], which found that 94% of farmers found the SCIMAC
on-farm guidelines very or fairly straightforward to follow. The central
objective of these guidelines is to deliver a framework in which access,
choice and co-existence for all approved forms of crop production is
possible.

- Ends -

Contact:

Daniel Pearsall, SCIMAC Secretary 01733 231133 or 07770 875455
Bob Fiddaman, SCIMAC Board Member 07770 935117
Dr Colin Merritt, SCIMAC Board Member 01223 849338

Notes for editors

The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a
grouping of industry organisations representing farmers, plant breeders,
the seed trade and biotechnology companies. Member organisations share a
commitment to the open, responsible and effective introduction of GM crops
in the UK.

SCIMAC membership comprises the National Farmers Union, British Society of
Plant Breeders, Crop Protection Association, UK Agricultural Supply Trade
Association and the British Sugar Beet Seed Producers Association.

SCIMAC has developed a management programme for the introduction of GM
crops in the UK. The core aims of the SCIMAC Code of Practice are to
provide identity preservation for GM crops, so allowing consumer choice,
and to ensure effective adoption of GM crops within UK agriculture through
best practice guidelines.

The SCIMAC guidelines build on existing principles of good agricultural
practice, and closely mirror the proven system operated for more than 30
years to control the production of certified seed crops. All aspects of
on-farm operations are covered, from seed storage and planting procedures
to crop separation distances, harvesting procedures, post-harvest
management and record-keeping.

The objective of the Government's farm-scale evaluation programme is to
assess the effects on farmland wildlife of growing GM herbicide tolerant
crops in direct comparison with current farming practice. The programme is
overseen by an independent Scientific Steering Committee, which includes
representatives from English Nature, RSPB and the Game Conservancy Trust.

Ecological monitoring is conducted by a consortium of independent research
organisations led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The consortium
also includes scientists from the Institute of Arable Crop Research and
the Scottish Crop Research Institute. SCIMAC's primary role within the
Government's farm-scale evaluation programme has been to identify
potential sites for final assessment and selection by the Scientific
Steering Committee.

Sites have been selected to provide a representative spread for each crop
type in terms of geographical location and farm type. Field sizes
typically range between 2 and 10 hectares. In November 2002, the
Scientific Steering Committee confirmed that sufficient sites and data had
been provided to meet the scientific requirements for the spring-sown
crops (oilseed rape, beet and maize) within the programme. 18 autumn-sown
oilseed rape trials are currently ongoing.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

NEW STUDY IGNORES POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF GE CROPS

Commentary from the Food Safety Network
By Brenda Cassidy
July 11, 2003
www.foodsafetynetwork.ca

In the latest manifestation of its ongoing effort to stop the introduction
of Roundup Ready (RR) wheat, the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has released a
study it commissioned to examine a number of potential risks that may
result from the availability of the technology to Canadian farmers. The
study, produced by researchers at the University of Manitoba, concludes
that the production of genetically engineered (GE) wheat that is resistant
to the herbicide Roundup would require new stewardship and management
approaches to ensure the segregation of GE from non-GE wheat. Although the
current wheat production, handling and distribution system already
segregates the grain by class, grade, protein level and other quality
factors, the researchers argue that separating GE from non-GE is not
feasible under the current system, given the potential for outcrossing,
especially if GE wheat is grown adjacent to non-GE wheat. The researchers
also speculate that the new wheat could undermine the growing adoption of
reduced and minimum tillage practices that conserve topsoil and reduce
fossil fuel usage while producing equivalent or higher yields of grain.
They suggest that RR wheat could increase the likelihood of the
development of glyphosate-resistant weeds (none have been identified in
Canada to date), reduce farmers' net returns and complicate existing crop
rotation practices in western Canada. They express concern that
traditional practices such as the planting of farm-saved seed would be
compromised by the introduction of contractual restrictions against
replanting, similar to those in place for the use of other crop varieties
(such as canola and
soybeans) developed through genetic engineering.

At no point do researchers suggest that there are potential benefits to
the adoption of the new technology. And yet in the final analysis, the
benefits the technology can offer will determine its fate. Potential risks
can, and must, be managed. Some of the concerns raised in the CWB study
will be addressed regardless of the fate of RR wheat. For example, the
development of effective mechanisms for segregation and traceability is an
integral component of Canada's national strategy for the agriculture
industry through the new Agricultural Policy Framework. Such mechanisms
are likely to include mandatory management protocols to ensure crop purity
and quality levels. In terms of the potential impact on environmentally
friendly management practices such as conservation tillage, the RR
technology now in use for canola has been helpful in allowing farmers to
implement the direct seeding systems that protect soil from wind and water
erosion and reduce fossil fuel use. Similar claims could well be made for
RR wheat should the technology become available for farmers’ use. Although
rotations of two or more RR crops would likely require special management
techniques, an ongoing study underway at the University of Wisconsin not
only indicates that Roundup-resistant corn and soybean crops can be
successfully grown in rotation, but also suggests that the long-term use
of such crops can carry fewer risks for farmers than the herbicides used
with conventional crops. That's not to suggest that the technology will be
appropriate for use for all farmers or in all situations: farmers who wish
to hold back some of one year's harvest to produce next season's crop, for
example, will likely be restricted to the use of varieties produced
through conventional technologies. That restriction leaves them in exactly
the same position as they are now, while opening additional options for
other farmers. The CWB study consistently draws parallels between canola
and wheat, and infers that the introduction of RR canola has given rise to
significant problems in the industry. As with wheat, researchers do not
indicate that herbicide-resistant canola provides any advantages over
conventional canola. A study conducted by the Canola Council of Canada in
2000 compared production costs and net returns for conventional and GE
canola varieties. That study concluded that the use of GE varieties
resulted in higher yields, increased purity levels and reduced crop input
costs, and eliminated the use of more than 13 million pounds of pesticide.
GE canola use resulted in higher returns to farmers of $26.24/hectare
($10.62/acre) over conventional varieties, perhaps explaining why the
technology continues to flourish, with approximately 70% of the 2002
canola acreage seeded to GE varieties. Genetic engineering is a powerful
technology that requires strong regulatory oversight to ensure that it is
deployed in a safe and responsible manner. Like all new crops, however
they are developed, RR wheat will undergo assessment by Canada's
regulatory bodies - the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada
- to ensure its safety, to identify any potential environmental or health
risks, and to develop potential action plans for mitigating such risks. In
some cases, such as with genetically engineered Bt corn, approval of a new
crop may require the implementation of specified management practices to
offset potential risks. Farmers continue to choose GE crops in situations
where the technology provides benefits. It is up to Canada's regulators to
assess the potential risks surrounding RR wheat and determine whether it
is safe for use in Canada. Ultimately, the market will decide whether the
product provides sufficient benefit to justify its use. Brenda Cassidy is
a research assistant with the Food Safety Network at the University of
Guelph.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.guardian.co.uk/economicdispatch/story/0,12498,995364,00.html

Time to narrow the gap

The Guardian
July 10, 2003
By Victor Keegan

There is only one way to address the growing gulf between rich and poor
countries: abolish agricultural subsidies.

The harrowing statistics on the widening gulf between rich and poor
countries, revealed in the UN's annual development report this week,
should act as a bugle call for global action.

Among the catalogue of depressing facts was that more than 50 countries,
mainly in Africa, have suffered from falling living standards over the
past decade. During that time, most developed countries have steadily
increased their prosperity.

Governments in the west have, wrongly, become cynical about what they can
actually do to help. They are increasingly reluctant to give aid or debt
relief to countries, such as Zimbabwe, where they feel that it would be
diverted and not reach those who need it.

Aid, debt relief and improving governance must be part of any rescue
strategy. But the truth is that the biggest single factor that would help
developing countries would not cost the west anything at all. In fact,
developed countries would gain by doing it.

And what is this elixir? It is simple: abolish agricultural subsidies. Not
some of them, but all of them, so that there is no scope for wriggling out
of it.

It almost beggars belief that the Bush administration, which came into
office to reduce subsidies, has actually massively increased them to
farmers.

This means that US farmers are paid by the US taxpayer to produce crops,
such as cereals and cotton, that could be more economically produced by
countries in the developing world. It is economic and social madness. In
Europe, farmers in Scandinavia, thanks to EU subsidies, are growing sugar
beet, a product far better suited to being grown in parts of Africa. This
is barmy.

Not only do African producers find it extremely difficult to sell in
export markets against this subsidised competition, but they are even
undercut in their home markets by surplus EU beet produced at ludicrously
subsidised prices.

Abolishing agricultural subsidies is, virtually, a free lunch. Practically
everyone gains. Consumers in rich countries will gain from lower prices
(worth £20 a week for a family of four, according to Oxfam), taxpayers
will pay less to fund the subsidies, and developing countries will have
the opportunity to sell products in which they have a competitive
advantage (lots of land and low wages) on world markets.

There will be jobs lost in agriculture, but most of the displaced workers
will find work in similar areas, such as managing the countryside. Farmers
will be liberated from the debilitating task of farming for subsidies
instead of growing food to which they can add value.

What is needed is a global campaign, utilising the latest internet and
blogging techniques, to shame the governments of rich countries into doing
something that they should, in their own interests, be doing anyway. How
about calling the campaign something simple, such as Abolish Agricultural
Subsidies (or KickAAS).

Interestingly, the abolition of subsidies is one of those rare policies to
unite free-market right with interventionist left, and it also has the
support of industry and the unions. Governments have proved themselves
unable to resist the powerful agricultural lobbies in their own countries.
It is time for consumers to unite instead.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/21479/story.htm

New EU Food Body Sees No Reason for Austria GMO Ban

Reuters
July 11, 2003

BRUSSELS - Austria has presented no scientific evidence that would justify
creating a genetically modified organism-free zone, a new European Union
food safety agency said yesterday.

"European Food Safety Agency scientists have concluded there is no new
scientific evidence, in the recently submitted report, to justify the
banning of certain GMOs in upper Austria," it said in a statement.

The opinion, the agency's first, is non-binding and is intended to help
the European Commission reach a decision on whether to accept Austria's
proposal to ban GMOs, including those that have been cleared for use in
the EU.

The case is not directly related to the trade suit the United States has
launched against the EU's five-year unofficial ban on most GMOs, but may
have an impact on the way national or regional governments try to restrict
GMO farming in the future.

EU officials are predicting the bloc will start authorizing new GMO
strains by the end of the year but that some anti-GMO countries, like
Austria, may try to create GMO-free zone to protect conventional and
organic crops from mixing with GMOs.

EFSA's Executive Director Geoffrey Podger said no similar applications for
GMO-free zones were in the pipeline for his scientists to consider.

"I would have thought that other countries with similar interests to Upper
Austria will probably want to wait for the Commission decision," he told a
news conference.

Upper Austria's provincial parliament passed the ban last year but it has
not been formally put into effect, pending a reaction from the European
Commission, the EU's executive arm which polices the bloc's single market
laws.

The ban would stop farmers planting any GMO seeds, even those which have
been approved for use in the EU.

A central tenet of EU law is that products which have been approved for
sale in the bloc must have free access to all markets. Countries can
impose emergency bans if they provide new evidence the products could harm
their environment.

The governor of Upper Austria, Josef Puehringer, said he regretted EFSA's
decision and would now wait for the Commission's final verdict, which is
due by mid-September.

"For us, the important question is the co-existence of GM and untampered
crops, whether the Commission wants to thoroughly look into it and create
some Europe-wide rules," he said.

Later this month, the Commission is due to adopt guidelines on how farmers
can grow conventional, organic and GM crops in any kind of proximity - an
issue as co-existence. The EU's 15 farm ministers will discuss these
guidelines in September.

EFSA said the dossier of evidence that Austria put forward was
insufficient to justify a ban.

"It became clear to them (EFSA scientists)...that it contained no new
public health or environment-related evidence which would justify a
different approach being taken in Upper Austria than for the EU in
general," Podger said in a statement. (additional reporting by Robin
Pomeroy in Brussels, Louis Charbonneau in Vienna)
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http://frontpagemag.com/articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=8815

Biotech and Baby Food

FrontPage Magazine
By Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko
July 9, 2003

Warnings about one societal danger or another often portray children as
the likeliest or most susceptible victims. As is the case with so many
other public health false alarms, the attack on the new biotechnology -
also known as bioengineering, gene splicing, or genetic engineering - is
less about real concern for children's health than about environmental
activists' willingness to exploit children's issues for their own benefit.
Biotechnology has been the target of scare campaigns since the technique
was first demonstrated in 1973. Activists, like Jeremy Rifkin of the
Foundation on Economic Trends, have been warning against the supposed
dangers of biotechnology for three decades, calling it "the most radical,
uncontrolled experiment we've ever seen" and even likening it to "Nazi
eugenics." Others have claimed that gene-spliced crop plants are "worse
than nuclear weapons or radioactive wastes." Fortunately, the American
public has not taken such arguments seriously.

The first biotechnology-derived medical treatment, human insulin, was
commercialized in 1982, and the first biotech plant in 1994. During the
past two decades, thousands of new medicines, foods, and industrial
products have been produced with the aid of modern biotechnology and sold
to doctors, farmers, manufacturers, and consumers. So powerful is the
technology that literally tens of millions of lives worldwide have been
protected, enriched, and even lengthened due entirely to these techniques.
But so subtle and precise are the production changes generated by the
technology that very few people recognize how widely biotechnology figures
in everyday life.

Indeed, it was not until the late 1990s that activist scare campaigns
began to gain traction. The earliest successes were in several Western
European countries, where environmentalists capitalized on recent food
scares - primarily the concern about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or
"Mad Cow Disease" - to frighten consumers about what seemed to be another
mysterious threat in the food supply. But no similarly frightening
affliction has beset the U.S. food supply in decades, so Americans have
not been so easily scared away from the technology. However, environmental
activists may have found the right approach for their U.S. audience in the
time-tested tactic of capitalizing on parents' concern about the health of
their children.

In 1998, the environmental activist group Greenpeace began a campaign
aimed at frightening baby-food producers away from using biotech-derived
ingredients in their products. Prior efforts had failed to scare Americans
away from agricultural applications of biotechnology, but Greenpeace had
significantly better luck with this new approach. The ploy had worked
wonders in Europe earlier that year as part of a broader campaign. In that
case, Greenpeace activists simply asked, in a letter to executives of the
Swiss baby-food line Galactina, whether their products contained biotech
ingredients. Galactina's parent company, the pharmaceutical giant
Novartis, buckled under even that minimal pressure literally overnight,
promising to remove certain existing products from grocery store shelves
and to reject biotechnology in future production. Naturally, when
Greenpeace targeted Gerber Foods, the U.S. baby-food brand also owned by
Novartis, it expected a similar result - and got it.

In May 1999, Greenpeace activist Charles Margulis faxed a letter to Gerber
headquarters in Freemont, Michigan, demanding to know whether Gerber used
gene-spliced products in its baby food and inquiring about any steps
Gerber was taking to make sure that no gene-spliced ingredients were used.
Earlier that year, a spurious environmental issue had been raised when the
journal Nature published a brief report suggesting that certain
gene-spliced corn varieties could have a negative impact on Monarch
butterflies. The report had been picked up and grossly exaggerated by the
popular media and, in any case, was later discredited. No substantial
public concern about the safety of biotechnology for humans was elicited,
but the damage was done. Gerber had learned that even unwarranted scares
could command substantial media attention, and by July, the company caved
in to Greenpeace's threat.

Gerber representatives tried to make clear that the company did not
believe biotechnology to be dangerous in any way. But competition in the
food industry is intense, and profit margins tend to be very small. Thus,
were it to embrace biotechnology, Gerber believed it could suffer from the
kind of negative publicity that would likely result from a Greenpeace-led
campaign against the company. Gerber announced plans not only to drop
gene-spliced ingredients from its products, but also to try to use only
organic ingredients in the future.

Unaware of the successful campaign against Gerber's Swiss counterpart,
Galactina, American supporters of biotechnology were shocked by the
company's announcement that it would relinquish biotechnology. After all,
Novartis, parent company to both product lines, was also one of the
world's largest producers of gene-spliced plant seeds, so the decision by
two Novartis divisions to forgo one of their parent company's most
important products cast a pall over the entire biotechnology industry.
Almost immediately, two other baby-food producers, Pittsburgh-based H.J.
Heinz Company and Healthy Time Natural Foods of Poway, California,
announced that they too would be making similar changes in their products,
and another major baby-food producer, St. Louis-based Beech-Nut Nutrition
Corporation, announced that it too was eschewing biotech ingredients.

The damage this campaign has done to food producers' confidence in their
decisions to use biotechnology-derived ingredients, versus going "biotech
free," has been tremendous. Soon after, Pepsico-owned Frito Lay, one of
the largest U.S. manufacturers of snack foods, told its corn suppliers
that it would no longer purchase gene-spliced corn varieties for use in
corn or tortilla chips. And both McDonald's and Burger King informed their
suppliers that they would not purchase gene-spliced potato varieties for
making french fries. Even alcoholic beverage producers Seagram's, Kirin,
and Sapporo have sworn off gene-spliced varieties for their products.
Thus, environmental activists have begun to accomplish indirectly what
they could not achieve by targeting consumers directly.

These decisions are, in the long run, anti-consumer. They reduce consumer
choice and possibly even the safety of the food products. Biotechnology
enhances product safety not only by its greater precision, but also by
exploiting the subtleties of plant pathology. A good example is a
gene-spliced corn variety engineered to kill certain insect pests (which
can also minimally affect some non-pest insects, including butterflies),
but which is harmless to humans and other mammals. As it fends off the
insects, the gene-spliced corn also reduces the levels of Fusarium, a
toxic fungus often carried into the plants by the pests. This, in turn,
reduces the levels of fumonisin, a potent and dangerous fungal toxin that
can lead to fatal diseases in horses and swine that ingest infected corn
and can also cause esophageal cancer in humans. Thus, using the
gene-spliced corn for food processing lowers the probability that harmful
levels of fumonisin will be found in the harvested kernels.

Fortunately, a broad-scale disavowal of biotechnology by the food industry
has not ensued, but an important, natural ally of the biotechnology
industry has been publicly neutralized. Caught between the threats of
activists and the desire to use superior technology to enhance their
products, major food producers are clearly reluctant to put their brand
reputation at risk - especially in the face of a campaign aimed at
worrying parents about the safety of their children. They are only too
aware of the lengths to which activists will go in the name of protest:
They have destroyed crops undergoing field trials, vandalized laboratories
and greenhouses, and even set fire to research offices at Michigan State
University.

Many branded food products have developed a long-standing and
well-deserved reputation for quality and safety. But it's also that
reputation that should make the food industry inclined to defend
gene-spliced agricultural products. The benefits of biotechnology for food
processors, in terms of reduced prices and better product attributes, can
be substantial. More important, however, food biotechnology has the
potential to make foods safer and more nutritious. Thus, by scaring food
processors away from food biotechnology, the anti-biotech "kid campaign"
could well have a real and negative effect on the future of this important
technology. Its loss could actually make our children worse off, not
better.

How safe is biotechnology?

Although most americans have not succumbed to the ideological
scare-mongering campaign against biotechnology, they cannot avoid hearing
over and over about the supposed threats to children's health.
Increasingly, some Americans are beginning to view gene-spliced foods with
more than a little skepticism. Of course, those who are critical of
biotechnology are often unaware of an important, fundamental point: The
modification of organisms at the basic genetic level is not new, and
consumers, farmers, and industries all have extensive - and positive -
experience with it. Even the term "biotechnology" was once used in a much
broader sense, to describe any application of biological organisms to
technical or industrial processes. A primitive form of food biotechnology
dates back at least to 6000 bc when the Babylonians used microorganisms in
fermentation to brew alcoholic beverages. Only in recent years has
biotechnology come to connote only the most sophisticated methods for
modifying organisms at the genetic level.

During the course of the twentieth century, a better understanding of
genes and cell biology added to the improvement of all manner of
organisms. An excellent example is the genetic modification of Penicillium
chrysogenum, the mold that produces penicillin. Using a variety of
techniques, the mold has been altered to produce more and more penicillin,
and yields have increased more than a hundredfold in the past five
decades. Similarly, agricultural crops have been genetically improved with
astonishing success with both "natural" and "unnatural" breeding
techniques. These applications of older biotechnologies represent
scientific, technological, commercial, and humanitarian successes of
monumental proportions. The "conventional" genetic modification of wheat
plants was recognized in 1970 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to
Dr. Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution."

However, the techniques used for these earlier successes were relatively
crude and recently have been supplemented, and in many cases supplanted,
by modern biotechnology. The techniques described by practitioners as gene
splicing, genetic engineering, or recombinant dna engineering use a
variety of tools to identify single genes from one organism, isolate and
remove them from the surrounding dna, and then insert them into the dna
strands of other organisms. Because the dna in every living organism is
made up of the same basic chemicals - and because dna works in essentially
the same way whether it's in a bacterium, a plant, or an animal - a gene
can be moved from one organism to another and still produce the same
trait. And the products of modern biotechnology can be used for a variety
of purposes - including modified bacteria for cleaning up oil spills; a
weakened virus used as a vaccine; a protein, such as insulin, used to
treat diabetics; or a crop plant modified to need less pesticides or to be
more nutritious.

Dozens of scientific bodies, including the uk's Royal Society, the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the
American Medical Association, have studied modern biotechnology and
gene-spliced organisms and arrived at remarkably congruent conclusions
about their safety:

* Modern genetic modification techniques are an extension, or refinement,
of earlier, far less precise ones;

* Simply adding genes to plants or microorganisms does not make them less
safe either for the environment or for humans;

* The risks associated with gene-spliced organisms are the same in kind as
those associated with conventionally modified organisms (and in both cases
are usually extremely low); and

* Regulation of the products of genetic modification should be based upon
the risk-related characteristics of individual products, regardless of
whether newer techniques are used in their development.

Thus, the primary thing that has changed since the introduction of
gene-splicing methods in the early 1970s is the technology of
biotechnology. The new technology, however, is more precise and
predictable than its predecessors and yields better-characterized and more
predictable products. There are already more than 100 gene-spliced
medicines on the market and more than 300 more in clinical development.
Marketed products include human insulin, used daily by millions of
American diabetics; tissue plasminogen activator, a protein that dissolves
the blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes; human growth
hormone, used to treat children with hormonal deficiency; erythropoietin,
which stimulates the growth of red blood cells in certain patients
suffering from anemia and is especially beneficial to cancer patients who
have undergone chemotherapy; and several interferons, proteins used to
treat a variety of maladies from multiple sclerosis to viral infections
and cancer.

This reality of current therapeutics, along with the vast potential of
biotechnology to produce new and better medicines, presents such a
powerful argument for the medicinal use of biotechnology that it has been
difficult for anti-technology activists to challenge it. Scare campaigns
have instead typically focused on attacking agricultural applications of
biotechnology. But gene-spliced plants have also shown many important
benefits for both farmers and consumers, as well as for the environment.

Dozens of gene-spliced crop and garden plants now on the market have been
genetically improved with a range of new traits, including resistance to
insect pests and plant diseases. Gene-spliced varieties of
insect-resistant corn and cotton have been modified to produce a protein
that is toxic to certain chewing insects but not to birds, fish, or
mammals, including humans. In turn, they require fewer applications of
synthetic pesticides and generate higher yields. Gene-spliced varieties of
soybean and canola that are resistant to one or another herbicide allow
farmers to spray less and still control weeds effectively. Because this
eliminates the need for mechanical cultivation to remove weeds,
herbicide-tolerant crop plants protect topsoil from eroding easily, which
has been a major agricultural and environmental concern for decades. And
biotech-derived growth hormones for livestock, like cows and pigs, can
help farmers produce more meat and milk at a lower price and with less
nitrogen and phosphorous waste from the animals.

One such hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbst), or bovine growth
hormone, has been a target of activists for nearly two decades. The Food
and Drug Administration approved the product in 1993 to boost milk
production in cows after more than 10 years of intensive scrutiny
(although, years earlier, the agency had approved the analogous human
hormone for use in growth-hormone-deficient children after a mere 18
months of review). But scaremongers have often claimed that administration
of the hormone to cows was potentially hazardous to consumers of the milk
- causing, for example, immune deficiencies in children. One activist,
Samuel Epstein of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, has charged that
drinking milk from cows given rbst will cause an increase in childhood
cancers - even though milk from treated cows is chemically
indistinguishable from other milk.

But scientific evidence doesn't seem to matter. Activists have targeted
schools, day care centers, and even the coffee retail chain Starbucks for
boycotts and petition campaigns calling for the end of rbst use, in spite
of endorsements for the product by such esteemed scientific bodies as the
American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the National
Institutes of Health, and the United Nations World Health Organization and
Food and Agricultural Organization.

The adoption of rbst by U.S. farmers in the face of such antagonism has
been remarkable. But it demonstrates an important correlation that exists
between citizens' well-being and government policies that encourage
product innovation. Farmers use rbst, which increases the productivity of
their cows roughly 10 percent to 25 percent. This, in turn, enables them
to produce the same amount of milk with fewer expenditures, making the
farmers better off and reducing the retail price for consumers.
Ultimately, if government agencies were to keep the regulation of research
and development only to the level that is necessary and sufficient, the
quest for profits would stimulate researchers' and industry's interest in
making more products like rbst.

Health risks for children?

Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that biotechnology methods
pose no inherent risks, critics still argue that splicing genes into
plants can cause all sorts of human health risks, including the addition
of new phytochemical toxins or allergens into the food supply. The allergy
issue is of special concern when children are involved, because children
tend to be more sensitive to allergens than adults. According to the
National Institutes of Health, approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of
children have a true allergy to certain types of foods, but only 1 percent
to 2 percent of adults do. So, if biotechnology really did increase the
risk of introducing new allergens into the food supply, this might pose a
genuine children's health issue. But is this a real possibility?

Food allergies are a reaction of the body's immune system to a substance
or an ingredient in a food, usually a protein. And, because the function
of most genes is to provide the cellular blueprint for making proteins, it
has been easy for activists to convince the uninformed that a real
children's health scare is imminent. But the issue is not so simple. Both
conventional and biotech plant breeding involves the introduction of new
genes into established crop plants. Thus, they both pose a risk of
introducing potentially harmful proteins and other substances into the
food supply, some of which could be allergens or toxins. But it is
important to remember that the risk for both types of breeding is
generally quite small. Furthermore, the level of risk an individual plant
variety will pose - either to human health or to the environment - has
nothing to do with how it was developed; it has solely to do with the
characteristics of the plant that is being modified, the specific gene or
genes that are added, and the local environment into which it is being
introduced. In short, the fact that biotechnology was used to introduce a
new gene into a crop plant has no bearing on whether or not new allergy
issues could arise. Indeed, with biotechnology, breeders are actually less
likely to introduce new allergens into the food supply. Why?

Conventional plant breeding involves an essentially random mix of
literally tens of thousands of genes from two or more parent plants - any
one of which may never before have been part of the human food supply.
Thus, plant breeders generally have little knowledge about which genes
combine to create new crop varieties, which gene products are expressed
(and at what levels), or which traits may be generated or altered. Dozens
of new plant varieties produced through imprecise hybridization and other
traditional methods of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year
without any scientific review or special labeling. Many such products are
from "wide crosses," hybridizations in which large, sometimes huge,
numbers of genes are moved from one species or one genus to another to
create a plant variety that does not and cannot exist in nature. For
example, Triticum agropyrotriticum is a relatively new man-made "species"
that resulted from combining genes from bread wheat and a grass sometimes
called quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the chromosomes of wheat
and one extra whole genome from the quackgrass, T. agropyrotriticum has
been independently produced in the former Soviet Union, Canada, the United
States, France, Germany, and China and is grown for both animal feed and
human food. One might envision various problems arising from such a
genetic construction, which introduces tens of thousands of foreign genes
into an established plant variety. For example, the new genes could
increase the invasiveness (or weediness) of the plant in fields, or
proteins derived from the quackgrass genes could be toxic or allergenic to
consumers. However, neither regulators nor activists have evinced any
concern about these possibilities. Instead of focusing regulatory
attention on such risk-related issues, they have concentrated solely on
gene-spliced plants, about which plant biologists and breeders invariably
know considerably more. They know, for example, exactly which new genes
are being added into an existing plant line, and they know what proteins
those genes will help create. Often they even know the precise sequence of
the dna segments that have been inserted.

An analysis of gene-splicing techniques published by the U.S. National
Research Council in 1989 concluded:

[Gene-splicing] methodology makes it possible to introduce pieces of dna,
consisting of either single or multiple genes, that can be defined in
function and even in nucleotide sequence. With classical techniques of
gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number
depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number
or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot
always predict the [characteristics] that will result. With organisms
modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect,
position to predict the [characteristics].

Why, then, are genetic constructions crafted with the older, less precise
techniques exempt from regulation from the dirt to the dinner plate? Why
don't regulatory regimes require that new genetic variants made with older
techniques be evaluated for increased weediness or invasiveness, or for
new allergens that could show up in food? The answer is based on millennia
of experience with genetically improved (but pre-gene splicing) crop
plants: Even the use of relatively crude and unpredictable genetic
techniques for the improvement of crops and microorganisms poses minimal
risk to human health or the environment. Regulators in the United States
and many other countries have found that post-marketing regulation of food
largely through surveillance of the marketplace is sufficient to assure
food safety. Equally important, it permits plant breeders, food
processors, and manufacturers to offer consumers a vast array of
constantly improving, varied, tasty, and inexpensive foods.

Paradoxically, only the more precisely crafted, gene-spliced crops are
exhaustively, repeatedly, and expensively reviewed before they can enter
the field or food supply. If those supposedly concerned about risk were
crafting regulatory approaches logically, the balance of scientific
certainty and uncertainty would dictate that greater precaution apply not
to gene splicing but to the cruder, less precise, less predictable
"conventional" forms of genetic modification. Instead, regulators and
their supporters - including anti-biotech activists - have chosen to set
the burden of proof far higher for the products of gene splicing.

Potentially even more important, one of the most noteworthy potential
advantages of biotechnology is actually to eliminate existing allergens
from foods like peanuts, wheat, and milk by "silencing," or turning off,
the genes that generate allergenic proteins. Professor Steve Taylor, a
noted allergen researcher at the University of Nebraska, says that, "in
the long term, we will have foods that are less hazardous because
biotechnology will have eliminated or diminished their allergenicity."

Safer and healthier kids

Aside from the very promising possibility of making "allergy free" foods,
there are plenty of other important health benefits that food
biotechnology holds in store. One good example is the addition of
vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids into staples, such as grain
crops, that have little micronutrient value. Another is the ongoing
research into developing vegetables with higher levels of potentially
beneficial micronutrients. Varieties of soybean and canola, which have
been modified with modern biotechnology to produce healthier cooking oils
with less saturated fat, are even now being grown on tens of thousands of
acres in the United States and Canada.

Even more important are the nutritional benefits gene-spliced plants could
deliver to people in less developed nations. For example, the diet of more
than 200 million children worldwide includes inadequate levels of many
important micronutrients such as vitamin a. In Asia, this is often caused
by the weaning of poor children on little more than rice gruel. Deficiency
in this single micronutrient can result in impaired intellectual
development, blindness, and even death; each year, approximately 2 million
children die from a severe lack of vitamin a. Fortunately, a substantial
amount of research into improving the nutritional value of staple crops is
well underway. Perhaps the most promising recent advance in this area is
the development of a rice variety that has been genetically enhanced to
add beta carotene into the edible grains, which is then converted in the
human body to vitamin a. It is estimated that by boosting the availability
of vitamin a in developing-world diets, this variety, called Golden Rice,
could help prevent as many as a million deaths per year and eliminate
numerous other health problems. A similar modification to increase iron
content is also under active investigation.

And there are many other ways in which biotechnology can help poor women
and children, who perform much of the daily farm work in less developed
countries. One approach is to enhance the ability of many kinds of crop
plants to grow in poor soils, a problem that reduces cereal crop
productivity over vast areas of the earth, but primarily in the poorer
nations of the tropical zone. Adding genes to rice and corn that enable
the plants to tolerate high concentrations of aluminum in the soil is the
goal of a team of scientists in Mexico. Other researchers, at the
University of Toronto and the University of California at Davis, are
creating crop varieties that can be irrigated with poor quality, brackish
water. And there are many similar examples of crop modifications, such as
improving the ability of plants to grow in alkaline, iron-poor soil, that
could have direct and substantial benefits for poor farmers.

Gene