Today in AgBioView: July 30, 2003:
* Make Britain GM Free, Says Charles
* Sinn Fein in Plea Over Crops
* The Fly Ash on Indian Biotechnology: EU Policy on GM
* Enhancing Public Acceptance of Food Biotech
* Nothing to Lose by Using GM Crops, Australian Govt Report
* Let's Not Miss Out On GM Benefits
* Australia Can't Afford to Ignore GM crops, Warns Farm Minister
* Foes of the Earth
* Crop Biotech Bites
* EuropaBio - Documents on the Safety Assessment for GM Crops
* European Labeling Mess
* UK Royal Society Fellowships and Science Seminars for China and India
* Ending Hunger in our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization
* Biotech and Biodiversity
* Gene Conserve
* Truth, Trust and the Responsibilities of Journalists
* Who's in Charge Here?
Make Britain GM Free, Says Charles
- Steve Dube, The Western Mail, July 30 2003
(Prince Charles, heir to the British throne has once more entered the GM
crops debate in a new bid to create a GM-free Britain - a legal
impossibility according to EU law. See also my recent report highlighting
why a GM-free Wales is a "misguided fantasy" -
- Denis Murphy, Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan )
Genetically modified crops should be banned in Britain, the Prince of
Wales told The Western Mail yesterday. Speaking as he officially opened
the Western Mail and Echo's new £18m press in Cardiff Bay, the Prince
said, "We need a GM-free Wales - and a GM-free Britain as well, for that
matter." And he dismissed the merits of a claim that moves to ban
so-called "Frankenstein foods" in Wales alone were illegal.
The World Trade Organisation is threatening legal action against the
European Union over its refusal to allow imports of unlabelled GM produce
from America. But the claims of illegality come from the European
Commission, and were repeated by EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler at
last week's Royal Welsh Show.
The Prince's reaction, as he fuelled the debate on GM crops, was blunt:
"It's ridiculous," he said. Prince Charles took his dislike of GM crops
to the ultimate level yesterday as he called for the British ban, although
he has frequently expressed strong views on the issue
"I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind
into realms that belong to God, and to God alone," he has written. "Apart
from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications, do we
have the right to experiment with, and commercialise, the building blocks
"We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the
wider environment, of releasing plants bred in this way. "We are assured
that these new plants are vigorously tested and regulated, but the
evaluation procedure seems to presume that, unless a GM crop can be shown
to be unsafe, there is no reason to stop its use.
"Once genetic material has been released into the environment it cannot be
recalled. The likelihood of a major problem may, as some people suggest,
be slight, but if something does go badly wrong we will be faced with the
problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. "I
am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done,
or indeed who would have to pay."
Dr Brian John, a co-ordinator of the GM Free Cymru campaign group, said
last night, "Good for Prince Charles, to put this issue in the public
spotlight again. "Franz Fischler is making up the rules as he goes along.
He should go away quietly and sit in a dark room for a while. "The
crucial issue is not the claim of GM-free status, but the strength of the
The European Commission will make a ruling on the legality of GM-free
zones in September, after Upper Austria declared itself GM free last
month. Dr John said the case was likely to become another tug-of-war
between the EC and its greatest rival, the European Parliament. Dr John
said, "I would have thought that Wales would have a very powerful
scientific case for saying that we want to be GM free as a country."
Plaid Cymru's rural affairs spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas said, "If the
National Assembly of Wales - which has a settled view on the need for
Wales to be GM free - can't make such a decision, what is the point of
"Let's use the powers we have got to the maximum. Let's push at the
boundaries and see what we can actually achieve. "If the Welsh Assembly
Government had the political will, they could announce that Wales was GM
free and, in terms of a marketing tool for Welsh products, what could be
better than clean and green, backed by GM free?"
A spokesman for the National Assembly insisted that Wales could not
legally describe itself as GM free. "We never claimed to be GM free but
we take the most restrictive approach possible within the existing
legislation," he said. "The Assembly not only argues for a restrictive
approach to the commercialisation of GM crops, but has also taken
practical steps to ensure that none are grown in Wales."
But University of Glamorgan bio-technologist Dr Denis Murphy dismissed the
bid for a GM-free Wales as a misguided fantasy. He said the policy was
not practically feasible - following the EU's decision earlier this month
to approve the sale of GM food as long as it was clearly labelled -- and
not legally enforceable.
In addition Dr Murphy, a former government adviser on GM technology,
claimed that the policy would not enhance the economic competitiveness of
Welsh agriculture. "A GM-free Wales would be completely irrelevant
because the kind of GM crops you can grow in Wales would not affect our
farmers. And he added, "Organic farmers would be 'stuffed' whether Wales
was GM free or not."
Sinn Fein in Plea Over Crops
- U TV, Ireland, July 30, 2003
'Agriculture ministers on both sides of the border were today urged to
keep Ireland free of genetically modified crops and foods.'
Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris, Fermanagh councillor Gerry McHugh and the
party's European Parliament candidate in Dublin Mary Lou McDonald called
for a "simultaneous public consultation" on the issue on both sides of the
border amid a fierce debate over the potential threat to human, animal and
Accusing the British Government of conducting a "superficial debate" on
the issue in Northern Ireland, Mr McHugh said it was clear Prime Minister
Tony Blair was intent on growing genetically modified crops. "There has
only been a superficial debate in the north (of Ireland) yet it appears
Tony Blair already has his mind made up on GM," he said in Dublin. "In his
last cabinet reshuffle he exiled Michael Meacher, a vocal critic of GM, to
the back benches. "A July 11 report said there was little economic benefit
from GM and then last week another report by scientists with advice that
there are apparently few risks associated with eating GM food.
"It is clear that the British Government is going to adopt GM food and
crops, they do not support the European model of farming while Tony Blair
is only interested in appeasing big business interests." The former Sinn
Fein Assembly agriculture spokesman claimed the risk of hybrid
cross-contamination from GM crops to indigenous crops was extremely high.
This, he said, would result in the loss of genetic diversity and would
have "serious, potentially fatal consequences" for the future of organic
farming. Mr McHugh also warned that local farmers would be "at the mercy"
of consumers if the technology went wrong. "They will be the ones who will
suffer huge losses - not the large corporations like Monsanto," he argued.
The Sinn Fein councillor said the party would continue to lobby Northern
Ireland Office Agriculture Minster Ian Pearson to ban the planting or sale
of GM food and crops. "When devolved government returns to the north, we
will pursue this with a local minister and through as many of the relevant
committees as possible," he vowed. "Sinn Fein will also be seeking a
meeting with the minister of agriculture to express our concerns and the
need for a simultaneous public consultation with the south. "I know my
colleague, the former (Stormont) Health Minister Bairbre de Brun shares
all of my concerns on this issue because of the huge risks associated with
human health. "Farmers have a lot to lose if genetically modified food is
grown in Ireland."
Sinn Fein`s Martin Ferris also accused the Republic's Agriculture Minister
Joe Walsh of being "out of touch" with public opinion for failing to
initiate a public consultation on the GM issue south of the border. The
Kerry North TD said: "This is typical of a minister who is out of touch
with public opinion and an arrogant denial of the right of the Irish
people to have their say in whether they want to consume genetically
modified food. "Irish farmers are also being denied the opportunity to
voice their opinion. This debate must take place on an island-wide basis.
"This island cannot allow one part to opt for genetically modified crops
or food while the other part abstains. "Cross contamination of hybrid
plants and crops could contaminate the whole island."
Mr Ferris said the claim that GM technology led to increased crop
productivity was a myth. "Research from the United States proves that the
main GM crop, Roundup Ready soya has up to 11% lower yield than non-GM
soya," he said. "A Soil Association report, 'Seeds of Doubt,' concluded
that GM crops have led to lower yields, greater dependency on herbicides
and pesticides, a loss of markets and lower productivity for farmers in
the US." Dublin European Parliament candidate Mary Lou McDonald attacked
claims by supporters of GM technology that it was needed in the fight
against starvation. "It is unethical for the genes of animals to be placed
in the genes of plants," she said. "We are told that this is for the
benefit of countries which cannot produce enough food to feed their own
people and that it will reduce the amount of damage to crops and reduce
the amounts of pesticides used.
"Genes are the right of everyone. No-one has the right to own or to patent
genes but this is exactly what is happening. "It is incredible that these
people who use the argument that GM will help to feed the world are the
very same people who placed a 'Terminator Gene' in their seeds so that
farmers cannot use seeds that are harvested to plant next year's crops."
Ms McDonald also rejected claims that those hungry.
"People who today are starving are starving because they cannot access
food or cannot afford it," she continued. "Food has more to do with land
reform, food distribution and the availability to access cheap credit and
the assistance to source food locally. "Farmers in poor undeveloped
countries cannot afford to buy seed each year but this is exactly what the
'Terminator Gene' is intended to do.
"Further to this debate, the GM industry hailed the introduction of
'Golden Rice' as the saviour of malnourished children by the introduction
of beta-carotene that converts into Vitamin A. "What use is beta-carotene
when the body requires sufficient body protein and fat to produce Vitamin
From Prakash: I checked with my Irish friend Shane Morris on this. His
reply: Irish Government did actually hold a public consultation in 1999
which involved a national call for opinions and a two day consultation
meeting with public groups.
The Fly Ash on Indian Biotechnology from the European Commission's Policy
on Genetically Engineered Products
- C. Kameshwar Rao and Shanthu Shantharam, AgBioView, July 30, 2003.
The recent passing of a new legislation by the European Commission lifting
the de facto moratorium on the commercialization genetically engineered
organisms (GEOs, GMOs) in Europe, resulted in a sigh of relief, that was
stifled midway, on account of the largely impractical regulations
associated with it. The Ministers for Agriculture of the member countries
have endorsed the new regulations. Most of these regulations relate to
segregation and labeling of GE products and have not much to do with
science or biosafety.
The EC‚s de facto moratorium of the past six years prevented commercial
releases of GEOs in Europe, and hampered research on them. Both private
investment and expertise largely moved over to the US. Nevertheless, over
200 traits were identified for transgenic technology in various crops in
the EU countries. By the end of June 2003 the EC received 64 reports of
studies on biosecurity and yield performance of transgenic crops, ready
for commercialization, from the member countries.
Belying the hope for a rational climate from the EC, the new policy turned
out to be a pyrrhic victory to the pro-tech lobby. What is more perplexing
is that the stringent regulations were framed ignoring overwhelming
evidence, much of which originated from Europe itself, on the safety of GE
crops. In 2001, the EC released results of a 15-year study, costing US $
64 million, and involving more than 400 research teams and 81 projects.
This report concluded that GE products pose no more risk to human health
or the environment than conventional crops.
The Strategy Unit of Cabinet Office of UK has also released a new report
on the costs and benefits of GE crops. In addition, the recent GM-Nation
report involving 16,000 interviews, in 15 cities and in 11 languages, is
considered as the most balanced set of recommendations and conclusions to
go forward with the commercialization of GE crops. So far, extensive and
intensive research in the US, Australia and elsewhere, on the probable
risks of GE technology, has not brought out any adverse effects and none
of the fears expressed by anti-tech activists were proved even marginally.
Such overwhelming evidence should have been sufficient to soften up on GEO
regulations by the EC.
The silver lining is the EC‚s stand that public authorities cannot ban
farmers from planting genetically modified crops. The EC also published
guidelines for the development of strategies and practices to ensure the
co-existence of GE crops with conventional and organic farming. This will
provide some support to those farmers in the EU, who want to embrace the
technology, and takes some wind out of the sails on anti-tech activists in
Biosecurity regulations should be objective to the extent of ensuring
biosafety and environmental safety. A strict compliance of must be
enforced. But the regulations must themselves be based in science, risk
specific, rational and practical. While the scientific community is
reasonably clear and reassured on biosecurity issues, the objective of the
whole regulatory process is to reassure the public on the safety of GE
products. This objective largely remains unachieved, without appropriate
public awareness and education programmes about the purpose, benefits and
risk mitigation related to GEOs. Public education is the critical need of
the hour to save the public from being misguided by the negative
propaganda of vested interest groups.
Too rigid and impractical regulations will result in either no product
getting into commercialization thus denying the potential benefits to the
public or the regulations becoming lackadaisical. It would be akin to the
statutory warning on cigarette packets, which every smoker sees but
ignores it. If a product is bad in the public interest it should be banned
altogether. Such a step requires a strong conviction, courage and
political will, which in the context of GEOs, is totally absent. Merely
making noises and creating scenes, when one does not have the
responsibility of being answerable for actions, is quite a convenient
situation, for the rabble-rousers.
The new regulations of the EC will certainly put the member countries at a
lot of disadvantage in the matter of GEO development and deployment. This
will also result in infringement of certain regulations of the WTO. These
consequences would not be confined to the EU countries, but have a telling
effects on the Asian and African countries, with major export interest in
the agriculture sector.
Even now, several member countries of the EU have not fully complied with
their responsibilities. The EC has recently decided to take eleven
countries to the European Court of Justice, for failing to adopt and
notify national legislation implementing the EU law on the deliberate
release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.
This is in addition to several other infringements by member countries.
Having spent enormous amounts of money and time on developing and testing
several transgenic products, the defaulting member countries are naturally
wary of the effects of the new stringent rules they have to pass and
implement under the new guidelines of the EC.
Spain would suffer most from EC‚s rigid regulations, as 34 out of the 64
European projects, came from Spain. Of these 34 reports, 18 are on rice
(15 on the yield increase and three on abiotic stress), 14 on maize and
one on gene stacked (Cry 1F/Cry 1Ac) cotton. France has 16 GEOs, Germany
six, while others have one to three transgenics, ready for commercial
release, once (and if) the green signal comes from the EC. Left to the
respective countries, the stringency of the biosecurity regulations each
country makes, would depend much on the economic stakes at risk for that
Infringement of safety regulations does not seem to be confined to just
any one country or continent. A fifth of the Bt maize farmers appear to
have flouted federal regulation, by planting refuge at either
below-regulation levels (19 per cent) or much worse even without any
refuge at all (13 per cent), in the Midwest US. Several Indian farmers,
who cultivated Mahyco/Monsanto‚s Bollgard Bt-cotton, planted less than
regulatory requirement of refuge and in some cases no refuge at all. The
obvious reason is there for all to see. If one makes impractical and
scientifically untenable regulations, they will be defied or not complied
with in its entirety. Market forces have their own strange ways of
breaking them or circumventing them. This has happened time and time again
in all spheres of economic activity, and agriculture is no exception.
Biotechnology in India and other developing countries has suffered serious
damage from the past policy of the EC. It is not that EU dictates policy
on GEOs to the developing countries, but its policy has repercussions on
agricultural trade and development. Anti-technologists and the Greens take
advantage of EC's stringency. They have already twisted EC‚s de facto
moratorium into a virtual ban. The refusal of USAID by Zimbabwe, a fall
out of EC's policy, was repeated in India. When the public, and even the
regulatory bodies, repeatedly hear that "Europe has banned GEOs",
naturally doubts and fear rule the roost. Vested interest from different
quarters used this position to advantage.
We cannot derive much happiness from the recent lifting of the de facto
moratorium by the EC, since the anti-tech activists would now shift their
position into demanding for regulatory procedures including labeling, as
rigid or even stricter than those imposed by the EC on its member
countries. This will have serious consequences for the developing
countries that have no infrastructure, expertise and financial resources,
to comply with such regulations. In fact, several activists in Indian have
demanded an absurd and scientifically unwarranted regulatory regimen,
including an outright ban on GEOs. Such postures had an unfortunate effect
on the functioning of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
the highest regulatory authority in India. The GEAC has used the
Precautionary Principle more often than most regulatory bodies, and has
been making inexplicable and irrational decisions on the release of GE
crops in India.
India can certainly find a sensible position between the rigid policy of
the EC and the rather lax policy of China or some of the African
countries. India has the means to handle GEOs in a rational manner,
provided its scientific community, rather than its bureaucracy, frames and
implements policy. This is possible only if there was political will to
prevent inter-continental and multi-national corporate politics, which
mainly operate in the garb of anti-tech postures, from interfering with
Decisions should be timely, rational, consistent and transparent.
Regulations should be based in science and made in relevance to India‚s
crops and conditions. All stakeholders must be a party to the process of
making policy and regulations. This is the only way to save Indian
agriculture and farmers from the benefits of a promising technology.
Professor C Kameswara Rao and Dr S Shantharam, Foundation for
Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India. E-m:
Enhancing Public Acceptance of Food Biotech
- Sheila Anderson, email@example.com
(Sheila is an enlightened 'consumer' and an expert on property tax in
Florida; I asked her as to how we can enhance public appreciation of
agbiotech, and below is her response - Prakash)
The basics are to a) identify your audience, b) know where they are and
how to reach them, c) tell them what they want to hear. Consumers don't
know what to think because a) they have not seen the food; b) don't know
everything they eat is organic and has been genetically modified in some
fashion, most of it for centuries; c) don't care about the scientific
details, but are bombarded with that information.
1. Get to the point, and begin with it. Food makes an attractive visual
subject, so showing pictures that make something look good enough to eat
is a way to get immediate attention. Bold, close-up shots are more
compelling than staged portraits from a distance. And, pictures,
particularly photographs, are self-explanatory, saying much more than
words. In the case of GM products, showing produce without insect damage,
perfect, fresh, and as large as life or even bigger, is a strong start.
2. Make a statement with words, stressing the point. Typically, this is a
headline. However, we've been watching highly effective advertisements in
the US, and have found asking a question is compelling. "Have you tried
bug free . . . ?"
The right picture, with the right question, can create interest,
especially if the product is highly attractive. Another question we like
is, "Did you know . . . ?" We've suggested, "What's for dinner?" And,
"Would you like a taste?"
3. To the formula of showing a bold picture, and asking a compelling
question, we find telling an intriguing brief story cements an impression.
The history of food is fascinating, and there will be specific stories how
certain produce was preferred by someone in French history, or was
discovered in France.
Telling those stories puts the crop into context, and ties the advances in
food to proud moments in French culture. People like to read about
themselves, so using French associations with food will be welcomed.
My favorite is the Chinese meaning of giving watermelon as a gift to
someone. Using watermelon, I would show an oversized picture of the flesh,
ask "Do you know what it means to give watermelon to someone?" Then answer
the question by telling, in story format, in one or two paragraphs.
Instead of "Do you know . . .?" you can ask "Are you glad to know
someone?" Or, "Do you wish someone well?" Or, "How do you wish someone a
long and healthy life?" For thousands of years, in China, gifts of
watermelon have meant . . .
Or, to be feisty, take French cheese, show an oversized picture, really
perfect looking wedge, with the camera so close and the photograph so
clear, it's tempting to bite it, and ask "Did you know prized French brie
is genetically modified?" How can that be?" In France, advances in science
have been a tradition. Pasteur's research led to the discovery of . . .
and from that breakthrough in knowledge, we have . . . , leading to the
best cheeses in the world.
4. Match the message. Scientists may want to hear about breeding
techniques. Growers may want to hear about savings of labor and pesticide
costs. Grocers may want to hear about shelf life, and less waste.
Consumers want to hear about good taste and nutrition or cultural
associations. So, it is critical to know your audience, and adjust what
you have to say to their criteria.
5. Repetition and variety are key. It takes at least 18 months for a new
name or product to be remembered. But, people tend to ignore what they've
already seen or read when it's identical. So, the solution is to set up a
program(me) with a format or formula that can be used repeatedly, but
always change the subject.
You cannot ignore the raging food fight, but you can get ahead of it, by
going to the next level. Present food, in all of its glory, the way
produce is presented to consumers by stores and processors. It is key to
reach the decision-makers, who are consumers in the food chain.
How food looks is fundamental to what they select to eat. People respond
to seeing others, who look like them, enjoying a product. Too many people
are debating, while no one is presenting enjoyment. Therein is a void, and
an opportunity to fill it. Let us see samples of what you do!
Australia: Nothing to Lose by Using GM Crops, ABARE
- Cathy Bolt, Australian Financial Review, July 29, 2003
Genetically modified food crops are finding ready markets worldwide and
there is little evidence that growers will gain financially by remaining
GM-free, according to a new government report. The finding puts more
pressure on the states over their bans on the release of GM canola after
Bayer CropScience's InVigor was official approved last week.
The rapid adoption of genetically engineered crops in the United States,
Argentina and Canada has led to complex changes in world trade, the
Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report says. The
changes include new market access barriers, such as mandatory labelling
and bans on some grains. However, despite these restrictions, there was no
strong evidence that GM grains generally were not finding ready markets.
"GM-producing countries already dominate the world grain trade, with
export market shares of 79 per cent for maize, 69 per cent for soya beans,
53 per cent for cottonseed and 42 per cent for canola," the report says.
"Moreover, there is limited evidence of willingness by consumers to pay
high prices for products that are certified not to contain GM materials.
At this stage, the market for certified non-GM grain would appear to be
only a niche one."
The report will further inflame the debate over GM technology after last
week's landmark determination by the Office of the Gene Technology
Regulator that InVigor GM canola was safe for commercial release. This
would make InVigor the third GM plant species available to farmers in
Australia after cotton and a blue-tinged carnation, but the first one
primarily produced for food and stockfeed. However, its commercial release
is still blocked by precautionary freezes of up to five years on GM crops
imposed or planned by all the southern states.
The states' concerns, shared by many farmers, centre largely on market
resistance to GM crops, the costs of segregating them, and the threat to
Australia's clean, green marketing image. On Friday, Western Australian
Agriculture Minister Kim Chance ruled out any commercial releases of GM
crops for three years in the country's biggest grain-producing state.
Victoria, South Australia and NSW could still allow a commercial release
of canola next season, or at least large-scale trials, under the different
regimes they have in place.
In its report, ABARE noted concerns by national wheat exporter AWB and
barley exporter ABB Grain that the release of GM canola in Australia could
jeopardise markets for other grains because of concern about
contamination. However, it said there was little evidence that
GM-producing countries were having difficulty gaining market access for
Status of genetically modified crops
* Industry-agreed moratorium on commercial release of GM canola until
* Two independent studies into trade and co-existence issues to determine
position beyond 2004
* Victorian Farmers Federation last week decided to oppose a three-year
* Moratorium on GM food crops until March 2006.
* Trials can continue.
* NSW Farmers Association last week voted to support paddock-sized trials
totalling up to 5000 ha of GM canola in 2004 and 2005.
* Legislation planned by next autumn to stop commercial release of GM
crops unless they can be proved not to harm markets or other crops.
* Complete prohibition on Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula.
* Legislation drafted for moratorium on commercial release of GM crops
until 2006 provides for GM-free zones expected to cover all farmland.
* No moratorium on commercial releases but grows little canola, the only
GM food crop ready for release in next three years.
* Premier Beattie says other states' bans are a political stunt.
* GM canola declared a noxious weed for next five years.
* Conducting GM poppy trials.
Let's Not Miss Out On GM Benefits
- Christopher Kelly Australian Financial Review, July 29,2003
Cathy Bolt's recent column "Twynam opposes GM canola" (AFR, July 24, page
8) puts a very negative view of the genetically modified canola
The British GM science review she referred to clearly gave
commercialisation of GM crops the green light. The Australian regulatory
system, like the UK, will examine each new construct on a case-by-case
basis, assessing its impact on public health and environmental safety.
The simplistic "win lose lose lose" comments from Bruce Finney, a regional
manager for Twynam Agricultural group, only serve to highlight the
intensive, complex and often emotional reactions evoked by the debate.
These remarks were obviously made with his Network of Concerned Farmers
hat on; as I understand, the Twynam group already grows significant
quantities of GM corn in Argentina. Nevertheless, his concern about market
acceptance is a valid issue.
In his paper GM canola - what are its economics under Australian
conditions?, economist Max Foster, of the Australian Bureau of
Agricultural and Resource Economics, points out that, excluding
intra-European trade, the world canola export trade is dominated by Canada
with more than 70 per cent of the business. Some 66 per cent of its canola
acreage is planted with GM varieties. At receival points, GM and non-GM
are not segregated.
Canada's two biggest customers, China and Japan, also bought 60 per cent
of Australia's exported canola in 2002. Clearly this trade will not be
affected by the introduction of commercial GM canola crops here. They are
also premium markets for Australian wheat and barley, and both countries
are well prepared with regulatory frameworks for GM canola.
The second point of concern for Finney and Rabobank was the often-used
misnomer "contamination". The word implies poison and we know that Bayer
canola is safe for human food and animal feed consumption, so we should
refer to it correctly as accidental presence or admixture. The issue has
been thoroughly researched by the Gene Technology Grains Committee. They
have published a comprehensive set of stewardship protocols to manage the
co-existence of GM and non-GM canola production in Australia.
These protocols have entailed the application of the world's best
scientific practice through, for example, the Co-operative Research Centre
for Weeds in Adelaide. Its resident scientist, Chris Preston, in a recent
letter to Adelaide's Advertiser, pointed out that "canola was mostly a
self-pollinated plant; crossing between canola crops averages nine
thousandths of 1 per cent". Therefore, admixture or accidental presence
due to pollen drift will be minor and easily tolerated in the threshold
levels of Australia's and now Europe's food labelling laws for GM food
I am not trying to demean the comments of the unconvinced, such as Finney,
but the issues need to be analysed and addressed logically and
scientifically. In this way the benefits of this new technology are not
delayed or lost to the Australian community. - Christopher Kelly,
Australia Can't Afford to Ignore GM crops, Warns Farm Minister
- Just-food.com, Jul 30, 2003
Australian Agriculture Minister Warren Truss has warned that Australian
cannot afford to ignore genetically modified crops.
Truss also called for state and territory governments to lift any
temporary bans on GM crops and allow farmers to begin planting, reported
the Australian Associated Press. Last week Australia’s Gene Technology
Regulator approved the commercial growing of Australia’s first GM food
crop, InVigor canola.
But while the herbicide-resistant canola has been approved by the federal
government, all canola-growing states except Queensland currently have GM
food crop bans in place. Truss said that those who opposed GM crops were
holding back Australia’s farmers. He warned that if the country did not
allow the planting of GM crops, other major grain exporters would have
cost and product advantages.
"Australia cannot afford to bury its head in the sand on this issue,"
Truss was quoted by AAP as saying. "By denying our farmers access to
significant potential benefits of GM technology - benefits such as
increased yield and oil content - we run the risk of slipping behind as a
major grain exporter."
Foes of the Earth
- Alex Avery, TechCentral Station, July 29, 2003
Those who call themselves advocates for the environment continue in their
desperate campaign against biotech-improved crops -- the most critically
needed farming technology in half a century. In a world that already farms
nearly half the non-ice covered land on planet earth, yet faces a doubling
of global food demand over the next half-century, neither humanity nor the
wildlife we might otherwise plow down for more farmland can afford to lose
such a promising technology.
This month in the Times of London, Tony Juniper, the director of the U.K.
environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, offered a litany of
reasons why Europe and the U.K. should not allow their farmers to grow
"genetically modified" (GM) crops. His primary argument, however, was that
GM crops will "contaminate" organic crops, thereby threatening the
livelihoods of U.K. organic farmers.
As the other arguments Mr. Juniper raised against GM crops have been
disproved or have proven to be reasonable and manageable risks (i.e.
supposed threats to butterflies, birds, and wildlife, food safety,
liability, control over the food system, etc.), the "genetic
contamination" argument has become the last, desperate roadblock of those
ideologically opposed to the technology.
Yet the concept of genetic contamination holds tremendous potential
blocking power, so it is important to understand that the argument is
contrary to the entire history of organic food standards.
Juniper states, "Since organic crops cannot contain GM ingredients, the
organic status of many U.K. farmers would be threatened." This statement
ignores the fact that the organic folks make up their own rules. If they
wanted, they could establish reasonable and realistic tolerances for
"genetic contamination." But on GM crops, the organic and environmental
lobbies aren't interested in being reasonable.
Organic certification has always assured process, not content. That is,
organic has always meant that foods were grown using specific farming
practices, rather than ensuring the food was free of prohibited
substances, contaminants, or DNA.
For example, organic farmers have always had to deal with trace
contamination of their crops by synthetic pesticides and other chemicals
forbidden under their self-imposed rules. In response to this reality,
organic certifiers around the world simply set realistic tolerances for
these chemicals. (In the U.S., organic crops can contain up to 5 percent
of maximum legal residues for non-organic synthetic pesticides)
Realistic tolerances are only prudent in a world where science allows the
detection of chemicals in foods at parts per billion levels (equivalent to
one inch in 16,000 miles). Yet in their extreme opposition to biotech
crops, the organic activists are apparently willing to turn their own
system on its head. Practice is tossed out and content is now king. The
fact that this new zero tolerance policy is a roadblock to other farmers'
use of GM technology is exposed when it is realized that "genetic
contamination" can be detected at parts per quadrillion levels. (Equal to
one second in a million years)
Never mind that farmers have had to live with pollen from neighbor's crops
since the dawn of agriculture. (Pollen is like organic fertilizer: it
happens.) While there are genetic technologies that would prevent "genetic
contamination," such as the much maligned and misnamed "terminator
technology," organic activists and their allies in the environmental
lobbies are opposed to those as well.
Why are organic farmers so opposed to GM crops? Perhaps it is because in
the countries where they are grown, they have already drastically reduced
the use of toxic pesticides, raised yields, reduced soil erosion (and thus
protected waterways and fish), reduced costs, and reduced fossil fuel use.
It's my belief that organic farmers see that with GM crops, many of the
supposed benefits of organic farming can be delivered at far more
reasonable prices to consumers and far greater benefit to the environment.
Alex Avery is Director of Research at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues in Churchville, Virginia, USA.
Crop Biotech Bites
- FAO-BiotechNews; 9-2003; FAO-Biotech-News@fao.org
FAO's Crop and Grassland Service is developing Crop Biotech Bites, an
on-line information tool containing a series of short articles, designed
for the non-expert to understand the status of important topics in crop
biotechnology. The articles are to be prepared by experts in the different
topics to provide updates on what is happening in their respective areas
and indicate the implications, especially for decision makers.
In the preliminary version of Crop Biotech Bites, most articles are
classified under one of seven themes - research and development, abiotic
stress, biotic stress, environment, human health, regulatory issues and,
finally, ethics. The focus is very much on crop biotechnology
applications/implications for developing country agriculture. See
or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
EuropaBio Publishes EU Industry Guidance Documents on the Safety
Assessment for GM Crops
Brussels, 29th July 2003: New Industry guidance documents provide a common
industry approach to meeting the health, environmental, food and feed
safety standards for GM crops, complementing the EU, WHO, FAO and OECD
safety guidelines. "We wanted to create a harmonised industry approach to
meeting the technical requirements of EU authorities who are responsible
for approving GM crop products. We believe a common industry approach will
help ensure a high standard of safety and consistency in meeting
requirements in the EU," says Dr. Hilde Willekens, Chair of the Technical
Advisory Group (TAG), which brings together scientific and regulatory
experts from the major plant biotechnology companies operating in
Europe. TAG is a specialist advisory group to the Plant Biotechnology
Unit of EuropaBio - the European Association for Bioindustries.
For further information, please contact Adeline Farrelly, Communications
Manager, EuropaBio Tel: +32 2 735 0313 Mobile: +32 475 93 17 24
European Labeling Mess
- Martin Mieschendahl
See below the table from "Van den Eede et al., Journal of AOAC
International Vol 85, No. 3,
2002, 757 - 761"
Analytical challenges: Bridging the gap from regulation to enforcement
Quantitation: Table 1 explains how the threshold regulation must be
interpreted. If, for instance, an ingredient exclusively derived from
maize contains <1% GM-maize, its derived food does not need to be
labelled. If it contains >1% GM-maize, its derived food must be labelled,
even if in
the final product (all ingredients combined) the amount of GM-maize drops
below 1%. If 2 or more different GM-maize varieties are present, their
concentration should be summed, and the total percentage used to determine
whether labelling is required.
Attention should be paid to ingredients that are derived form more than
one crop; the labeling regulation specifies that the amount of GMO must be
related to the organism from which it was derived. Hence, an ingredient
consisting of a mixture of 49,2% maize, 0.8% GM-maize, and 50% soybean
must be labelled because the GM-maize to maize ratio is 1.6%; a mixture of
49.6% maize, 0.4% GM-maize, 49.6% soybean, and 0.4% GM-soybean does not
need to be labeled because in both ingredients the GM concentration is
M GMM-1 GMM-2 GMM-3 S GMS Label
99.5 0.5 - - - - No
98.5 1.5 - - - - Yes
98.5 0.5 0.6 0.4 - - Yes
49.2 0.4 0.4 - 50 0 Yes
49.6 0.4 - - 49.6 0.4 No
Numbers are given in %
GMM-1: Genetically modified maize variety 1
GMS: Genetically modified soybeans
Royal Society Postdoctoral Fellowships to the United Kingdom from China
and India (via scidev.net)
The Royal Society International Fellowships to the United Kingdom from
China and India have been established by the Society to strengthen
scientific collaboration between the United Kingdom, China and India. They
aim to encourage young and excellent postdoctoral scientists based in
China and India to undertake high quality research in centres of
scientific excellence in the UK.
More Information at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/international/india/
Indo-UK Science Networking
The Royal Society in collaboration with the Indian Department of Science &
Technology (DST), are working together to initiate and encourage
scientific networking between excellent young UK and Indian postdoctoral
There are two modes of networking available in both countries * One-to-one
meetings, typically lasting from five days to a maximum period of 3
months. * Small seminars or workshops in clearly defined topics, typically
lasting up to a maximum of five days and with a maximum of five delegates
from each side attending. Applicants must have already identified a host
who would be willing to participate in this scheme.
For further information about the awards and an application form, visit
the Society's website at: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/international/india/
for UK applicants and http://www.dst.gov.in/scprog/uk.htm for Indian
Ending Hunger in our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization
- C. Ford Runge, Benjamin Senauer, Philip G. Pardey, and Mark W. Rosegrant
304 pages/2003; $55.00 hardcover/ISBN 0-8018-7725-3; $19.95 paperback/ISBN
Johns Hopkins University Press
At a time in history when conflict erupts daily in far-flung corners of
the world, ending severe deprivation may be critical to global peace and
stability. Yet we are far from reaching the goal of reducing hunger by
2025. The authors of this book bring good news: hunger can be banished in
our lifetime. They first distill what is already known about fighting
hunger and then report on important new research findings and projections
that show it can be done, through new and renewed institutions, scientific
innovation, global economics and investment, and sustainable environmental
Although the book encompasses a wide array of ideas, arguments, facts, and
figures, it is not a dry, academic text. Anyone wanting a better
understanding of poverty and hunger and how to end it will benefit from
reading it. The text is strikingly illustrated with photographs by the
renowned Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado.
"A very effective synthesis and exposition of the issues related food
security. I know of no other work that brings the various threads of the
food security issue together under one cover. It is well written and might
even be able to capture the attention of that mythical individual -- the
very busy policy maker. I would guess that it might also find substantial
classroom use." -- Vernon W. Ruttan, Regents Professor Emeritus,
University of Minnesota.
"Despite its breadth and complexity, the book argues clearly and readably
that we know a lot about how to reduce hunger... It is a hard assessment
of what we know and what we can expect in the decades ahead." -- from the
foreword by Joachim von Braun, director general, International Food Policy
Research Institute, and David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
Send Your Comments on Nuffield Report
As you may know, Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published DRAFT FOR
COMMENT JUNE 2003 "The use of genetically modified crops in developing
countries; A follow-up Discussion Paper to the 1999 Report 'Genetically
modified crops: the ethical and social issues'"
They are looking for comments, particularly from colleagues in developing
countries: DEADLINE FOR RESPONSES: 8 AUGUST 2003.
Biodiversity and Biotechnology
- Klaus Ammann, email@example.com
After a long time we finally come out with the Proceedings of the Bern
Workshop on BIODIVERSITY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY, with a set of edited articles
dedicated to the ongoing debate on the impact of agricultural
biotechnology on biodiversity. I do not think that a single article in
this volume has lost its value due to the long editing phase for the risk
assessment debate of today. Responsibility for the long delay you have to
blame on me.
You can order the volume at the following website and read some more
More volumes of the same series Methods for Risk Assessment of Transgenic
Plants under: http://www.birkhauser.ch/books/biosc/5917.htm
I also refer to the latest assessment on the same topic, which has been
given some weeks ago in a draft copy with a call for comments
This report will be discussed at the occasion of the workshop on
biodiversity and biotechnology in Basel at the EUROPEAN CONGRESS OF
BIOTECHNOLOGY NO. 11 AUGUST 24-29 IN BASEL BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN
BIOSCIENCES AND BIOENGINEERING, see details under: http://www.ecb11.ch
click to Scientific Programme, then to Thursday August 28, 2003, then to
the lowest link: Biodiversity and Biosafety (Workshop)
- Nagib Nassar , Professor,Uniuversidade de
Please visit the 9th issue (July/September) of
You are welcome to publish articles,comments and news too.
Truth, Trust and the Responsibilities of Journalists
- David Dickson, Sciedev.net, July 28 2003; Excepts here - Full text at
The suicide of a UK biological weapons expert has thrown a harsh spotlight
on the tasks faced by journalists reporting on areas in which science,
technology and politics overlap.
This is territory that is increasingly familiar to science journalists.
The more that science becomes embedded not only in everyday life, but also
in the political decisions that shape such everyday life, the more that
science journalists have been required to reflect this trend in their
reporting. And this in turn requires a set of skills and sensitivities
that are substantially different from those needed merely to summarise
results emerging from research laboratories (the terrain that seems the
principle focus of those concerned about the 'public understanding of
In one sense, it is already familiar territory. The task of any journalist
is not merely to report facts accurately, but also report on the
significance of those facts, indeed on what makes the facts significant.
This applies to a straightforward scientific discovery; the audience for
such a story – whether readers, viewers or listeners – will want to know
not only the nature of the discovery but also how it fits into what is
already known. It is also clearly true where the implications are direct
(such as the potential therapies likely to emerge from a biomedical
breakthrough) and form a critical aspect of the significance of the
results being reported.
More difficult are those areas where the links between the scientific or
technical information and public policy are more complex, particularly
when the science or technology involved may carry a substantial degree of
uncertainty.. Here, it is precisely because any "facts" being quoted carry
the extra legitimacy of being labelled as "scientific" that particular
care needs to be taken to ensure their accuracy. At the same time – and
this is often the trickiest part – a competent journalist needs to remain
sensitive to the possibility that this labelling is being misused.
Take, for example, the current dispute between the United States and
Europe on the issue of genetically modified crops. European opposition to
such crops has many different causes, ranging from possible long-term
damage to ecosystems to the threat that small-scale farmers will find
their lives dominated by the agendas of multinational corporations.
Attempts to reduce this to a 'scientific' argument are doomed to failure
(as are US protests that European policy is not based on "sound science").
Reporting accurately requires an awareness of the broader picture. The
need for independent reporting The stakes have been even higher with
reporting on the war on Iraq. At the root of the dispute between the BBC
and the British government are two questions that appear to be technical
ones. Firstly, how accurate was British intelligence about the threat
posed by Saddam Hussein’s armoury of weapons of mass destruction,
particularly since this evidence was used as the public justification for
US and UK action against Iraq? And, secondly, how accurately was this
information reflected in the public statements made by the government to
defend its actions?
In such situations, all journalists have a responsibility to point out the
limitations of the expertise being offered. But they also have a
responsibility to evade the opposite trap of 'spinning' what they are told
by experts - whether anonymous or otherwise. Britain's Prime Minister Tony
Blair has already squandered much of the trust with which he came into
office by, in the eyes of much of the public, doing precisely that.
Journalists cannot afford to make the same mistake.
Who's in Charge Here?
- Anne Moore, Hampton Union News (NH)
"The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan is one of the most enjoyable
books I have read. Subtitled "A Plant's-Eye View of the World," it chooses
four plants to illustrate the interrelationship of botanical and human
life. The book makes the case that those four plants, among many others,
influenced the course of history, which they did and still do, but the
reverse is also true. The ways in which humans used and still use those
plants not only reveal our wisdom and weaknesses but also influence the
continued survival and well-being of the plants themselves.
Each of the four plants is linked to a basic human desire, the apple with
sweetness, the tulip with beauty, marijuana with intoxication, and the
potato with control. Beginning with John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed,
and ending with Monsanto Corporation, we learn how man - while he is
planting, pollinating, hybridizing, controlling, in other words acting
like a "human bumblebee," as the author puts it - is really controlled by
the plants themselves, and unwittingly aiding them in their long journey
The author has grown each of these plants in his own garden, and so can
speak from first-hand experience and observation. Not all of us can do
that. Most of us lack the space for an apple orchard or a potato field,
lack the skill to hybridize tulips to the breaking point, and certainly
lack the courage to buck the law and try a few Cannabis sativa x indica!
Full review at