Today in AgBioView: August 11, 2003:
* Dear Editor; Go Biotechnology
* UN Secretary General: 'Impact of New Biotechnologies'
* Food for The Soul: Catholic Church is Right to Support GM Crops
* Vatican Mulls View Change on GMO
* Bio-tech Potato May Solve Many Problems
* Soften Stance on Biotech Crops
* Northern Ireland : Consumers 'Favour GM Crops' (Especially Potato)
* Biotech Can Solve Problems in Farm Sector
* Precaution in Science-Based Decision Making About Risk
* Adding Value to Cassava: Applying Biotech to a Small-Farmer Crop
* International Plant Protection Congress- Beijing 2004
* Vavilov-Frankel Fellowships 2004
* Response to Article by Michael Meacher MP In Independent
* ... To know the truth about GM, ask the Canadians
* Chemical Hysteria and Environmental Politics
Dear Editor; Go Biotechnology
- Benigno D. Peczon, BusinessWorld, Letter to the Editor August 11, 2003
We read in your July 30th issue a letter to the editor entitled "Why are
they killing our environment? For Whom?" It is always an encouraging
thought to learn that Filipinos increasingly take pride in the abundance
of our natural resources. More encouraging is the thought that people have
become increasingly aware and concerned that this natural wealth is fast
depleting, is oftentimes abused, and hence, must be protected. It is not a
matter of coincidence that the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines
(BCP) was founded, because of reasons such as this, and more.
The UN estimates global population to balloon up to about nine billion by
2025. Philippine population on the other hand is expected to reach 100
million in 2020 from the current 82 million. To be able to feed this many
people, food production must be increased. However, increasing arable land
area planted to food crops means bringing down precious forestlands.
We believe that there is a more creative solution to this imminent
dilemma. Biotechnology promises to increase food production by preventing
pre and post-harvest losses. A local field trial of corn genetically
modified to resist corn borers estimates a yield increase of as much as
40%. Next-generation biotech crops have improved nutritional content, such
as golden rice, which contains the Vitamin A precursor beta carotene. In
the pipeline are rice varieties that can withstand diseases and crops that
can tolerate unfavorably high salinity.
We also do not like harmful pesticides and other chemical inputs being
used in current agricultural practice. Harmful chemicals go to soil and
water ecosystems and eventually bioaccumulate in our food chain. But with
biotech innovations, some crops are genetically improved to express
resistance to destructive pests, keeping insecticide application to a
minimum. In 2000 for example, insecticide use in the US was cut by 2.7
million pounds due to insect protected cotton alone.
We welcome any means of chemicals-free farming, including organic farming.
But due to the very high production cost of maintaining an organic farm,
only a fraction of our countrymen can afford to go organic. Organic
markets mainly target upscale locations such as Ayala-Alabang and Legazpi
Village in Makati City because organic produce are way too expensive even
for the middle-class Filipino. With biotechnology however, production
costs are kept low while output is maximized. This means that with biotech
crops, even the less-privileged can also experience healthier foods at low
We in the Coalition - farmer organizations, food and feed industry
associations, scientists, researchers, some members of the clergy,
doctors, etc. - believe that biotechnology holds great promises that can
be exploited for national development goals of achieving food security,
improving health, and sustaining the environment. We advocate only for the
safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology that is responsive to the
needs of our country.
It is always our pleasure to open lines of communication to people who
want to learn more about the science behind modern biotechnology. To
fellow BusinessWorld readers, you can get credible and factual information
from scientists-educators through email@example.com. They will
be more than glad to share what knowledge they have acquired through years
of scientific learning.
- Benigno D. Peczon, Ph.D, President, Biotechnology Coalition of the
UN Secretary General: 'Impact of New Biotechnologies'
'..with Particular Attention to Sustainable Development, Including Food
Security, Health and Economic Productivity'
- Report of the Secretary-General, United Nations May 9, 2003.
(Thanks to Hoan T. Le for forwarding this document. Excerpts below...Send
me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the complete document.)
Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 56/182 of 21 December 2001 on
science and technology for development, the present report provides
information on sectors and countries where biotechnology is making a
significant contribution to economic productivity and human welfare.
The report identifies measures that need to be taken in order to build
indigenous capabilities in biotechnology. It addresses the impact of new
biotechnologies, with particular attention to sustainable development,
including food security, health and economic productivity, and puts
forward proposals on the aspects of the transfer of such technologies, in
particular to developing countries and countries with economies in
transition, while taking into account the need to protect intellectual
property rights and the special needs of developing countries.
II. Global development goals and the biotechnology revolution
4. The major challenges faced by humanity are outlined in the Millennium
Development Goals.1 Admittedly, about a billion men, women and children
still live under dehumanizing conditions despite the availability of
modern technology that can bring relief to some of the many human
sufferings. It is estimated that 95 per cent of the 840 million people
that are undernourished live in developing countries. The World Food
Summit noted that “hunger is both a cause and an effect of extreme poverty
[that] prevents the poor from taking advantage of development
opportunities”.2 Given that about 52 per cent of the population of
developing countries depends on agriculture in comparison with only 7 per
cent in developed countries, developing agriculture in poorer countries
will take many people out of extreme poverty.
5. Many people in developing countries still die from curable and
preventable diseases despite the progress in medical sciences. Infectious
and parasitic diseases account for about 52 per cent of all deaths in
Africa compared with about 2 per cent in Europe. Many people still lack
access to medical care, and the supply of drugs for some of the most
devastating diseases remains limited. For example, there are more drug
options for pain relief in developed countries than drugs for malaria in
6. Biotechnology, a collection of techniques or processes that employ
organisms or their units to develop useful products and services, has the
potential to become a powerful tool in meeting the challenges posed by
food insecurity, industrial underdevelopment, environmental degradation
and disease. Traditional biotechnology includes plant and animal breeding
and the use of micro-organisms and enzymes in fermentation, preparation
and preservation of product as well as in control of pests among others.
Modern biotechnology mainly refers to the use of recombinant
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques (the transfer of genetic material
from one organism to another) and detailed analysis of the genetic
information of organisms. However, the two are not mutually exclusive as
modern techniques are used to empower traditional methods. For example,
recombinant enzymes and genetic markers have been employed in traditional
biotechnology methods, such as fermentation, plant and animal breeding.
7. The Millennium Development Goals may be more easily met with the
extensive application of modern biotechnology in agriculture and health.
New and more effective vaccines and drugs against diseases, such as human
immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS),
malaria and tuberculosis, will be needed. Similarly, more food of high
nutritional value has to be produced to meet the expanding needs of the
world’s rapidly growing population.
8. The main beneficiaries of the current biotechnology revolution are
largely developed countries. For example, United States of America, Canada
and Europe account for about 97 per cent of the global biotechnology
revenues, 96 per cent of persons employed in biotechnology and 88 per cent
of the total biotechnology firms.3 Developing countries are lagging behind
in adoption and development of biotechnology processes, products and
services. Biotechnology has yet to deliver products in agriculture,
health, industry and environment in developing countries.4
9. While an even distribution of technology is unlikely to be achieved, it
becomes a source of concern when large sections of the population and of
continents do not benefit from the existing biotechnology applications.
Ensuring that those who need the technology have access to it remains a
major challenge. Similarly, creating a conducive environment for the
acquisition, adaptation and diffusion of biotechnology in developing
countries remains a major challenge. Furthermore, the current debate over
the safety of genetically modified organisms has swayed the attention of
policy makers away from the wider benefits of biotechnology to transgenic
crops. The term biotechnology has almost become synonymous with
genetically modified organisms.
10. In order to bridge these gaps, Governments should take important
steps. Firstly, developing countries have to increase the pace at which
they pursue, acquire, adapt and diffuse new innovations. Secondly,
developed countries should help developing countries to build the
necessary capacity needed to develop, manage and use biotechnology.
Thirdly, developing countries and countries with economies in transition
have to invest their limited resources in applications that generate
wider, but also attainable, benefits for their economies. Finally, stable
and beneficial strategic partnerships between developed and developing
countries and among developing countries have to be established. ---
74. Biotechnology has become an important component of the scientific,
economic and social life of society. It cuts across all areas of human
activities. Its impact on agriculture, health, environment, manufacturing,
energy and mining among other sectors is already being felt, and the
economic and social benefits have become a reality. For these reasons,
biotechnology presents unique opportunities for developed and developing
countries and small and large enterprises.
75. Developing and implementing science and technology policies that
encourage the adoption, use and development of innovations in developing
countries to meet their needs are required. Such policies could take into
account the provision of incentives, such as public funding, formation of
public-private partnerships, technology acquisition, market access and
protection of innovations.
76. In this way, biotechnology will become part of the global fight
against poverty, hunger, disease and underdevelopment, which have a direct
bearing on school attendance, infant mortality, maternal health and
freedoms associated with a decent standard of living. It is not a question
of whether it will deliver the promises but how the promise of
biotechnology will be shared. It is in the interest of humanity, in
developed and developing countries, that safe biotechnology applications
are used as widely as possible.
77. Similarly, the policies governing biotechnology have to be harmonized
so that they do not disadvantage developing countries and countries with
economies in transition. Biotechnology has the potential to dislocate the
production base, wipe out some industrial platforms and displace products
in the market place. Some developing countries lost their sisal market to
synthetic fibres and sugar to artificial sweeteners. Unless developing
countries keep up with advances in biotechnology, they may lose out again.
The cost of leaving some countries behind may be higher than the cost of
empowering them to become players in mastering and benefiting from
Some Food for The Soul: The Catholic Church is Right to Support
Genetically Modified Crops
- The Ottawa Citizen, August 6, 2003
American historian Lynn White Jr.'s 1967 essay in Science titled "The
Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis" was a watershed moment in
religious thinking about the environment. In it, Mr. White argued that if
we are to address environmental problems coherently, we need to understand
that attitudes toward nature are ultimately rooted in religious beliefs.
As he put it: "Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our
nature and destiny -- that is, by religion." The Vatican, it seems, has
taken his argument to heart.
In a press statement earlier this week, Archbishop Renato Martino, head of
the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican would
publish a report next month endorsing genetic modification of plants as
the best way to feed the world's starving. When it comes to dealing with
world hunger, "there is no room for the ideological argument advanced by
the environmentalists," the archbishop said. "The Pope ardently desires to
do something for the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night."
The Vatican decision has upset many environmentalists, and will
undoubtedly infuriate European politicians opposed to allowing genetically
modified foods into the European Union. Indeed, the head of Italy's Green
Party, Alfonso Scanio Pecoraro, has already accused the Catholic Church of
"using its authority to support a scam by the multinationals."
This is the voice of irrationality and fearmongering, since there is no
scientific evidence that GM foods are harmful to either humans or the
environment. Such irrationality also betrays ignorance about the
relationship between Christianity and technology.
In his Science essay, Lynn White argued that man's capacity to wreak
damage on the environment has grown out of western technological advances
since Medieval times. These advances occurred in a cultural context
informed by a Judeo-Christian tradition that tended to regard nature as
matter to be exploited in the service of human needs. However, he also
acknowledged another tradition within Christianity that posits a more
positive relationship with nature, namely the idea expressed in the
Genesis stories that while man has dominion over nature, it is as the
steward of God's creation.
Arguably, it is this tradition that we see in the Vatican's support for
genetically modified food. Some may question how the Vatican can support a
technology such as GM food while opposing a technology such as cloning.
The answer lies in the Church's understanding of humans as both spiritual
and material creatures. Spiritually, the Church believes we are directed
toward God, yet we also live in the physical world and are morally bound
as creatures in the image of God to live in ways that enhance the human
Those who oppose technological innovations such as GM food forget that the
purpose of scientific experimentation, as formulated by Renaissance
thinkers, was to improve the conditions of human life, and this desire was
rooted in the Christian concept of caritas, or charity. Technology is not
necessarily an expression of man's hubristic dominance of nature; it can
also express the fundamental moral obligation of God's creatures for one
Thus, the Vatican is on the side of the angels when it comes to GM food.
There is no scientific evidence that it is harmful. And for the Catholic
Church, feeding millions and helping them overcome the spiritual
debilitations of hunger and poverty through technology is the Christian
thing to do.
Vatican Mulls View Change on GMO
- Eric J. Lyman, United Press Internation, August 8, 2003
The Vatican appears to be reversing its opposition to the use of
genetically modified foods, unexpectedly thrusting the Holy See into the
debate on the subject raging between the United States and the European
A full Vatican statement on the subject is not expected to be released
until September -- a timetable that would coincide with the annual meeting
of EU farm ministers. Information leaked this week, however, says when
the statements are released they will highlight a clear shift in Vatican
policy. Already church officials have made statements supporting the use
of GM foods to feed the starving.
Although the church had previously stayed clear of much of the debate over
GM foods, the few statements on the subject indicated a well- marked-out
opposition to the technology.
In 2000, for example, Pope John Paul II, speaking at a special Vatican
mass dedicated to agriculture, called on farmers to "resist the temptation
of high productivity and profit that work to the detriment of the respect
of nature," adding that "when (farmers) forget this basic principle and
become tyrants of the earth rather than its custodians ... sooner or later
the earth rebels."
Less than a year later, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Vatican's
permanent observer to the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization, formally asked the institution to monitor the spread of GM
crops in Europe and to support tighter controls on the technology.
Several times in recent years, bishops have made statements saying
genetically modifying food was the same as tampering with God's work. The
latest statements on the subject, however, represent a dramatic change
from those stances.
In a statement to United Press International, Archbishop Renato Martino,
head of the pontifical council for Justice and Peace, said the pope is
"greatly interested in new technologies for food development as part of a
policy of sustainable agriculture ... (and that he) ardently desires to do
something for the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night."
Martino also said there is biblical support for the new view, offering
that "the Book of Genesis clearly establishes the domination of man over
nature ... God has entrusted mankind to preserve nature but also to use
A related statement - obtained by United Press International - from
Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical
Urban University, brushed away opposition to GM foods, saying it is "easy
to say no to GM food if your stomach is full." Although the new view has
yet to be released as an official church document, expert observers say
there is not much room for misinterpretation with the recent statements.
"Given the reports that very senior church officials are making these
statements, there is little doubt that the statements reflect a new view
from the church," the Rev. Alistair Sear, a church historian, told UPI.
The statements come as the debate between Washington and Brussels on the
subject is heating up. The EU generally opposes the use of GM crops on the
grounds they could pose unexpected health risks; the United States -- the
world's largest producer of GM products -- contends they are the best way
to feed starving populations.
The latest salvo in the debate came Thursday, when the United States
officially asked the World Trade Organization to set up a panel to
determine if Europe's opposition to GM foods is legal. An EU spokesman
reiterated the trading bloc would not budge on the issue.
Almost nobody expected the Vatican to weigh in on the issue, and
environmental groups did not welcome the unexpected entry into the debate.
"We don't believe the Vatican has considered all of the health and
environmental aspects represented by GM crops," a spokesman for the
Italian environmental lobby group Legambiente told UPI. "We believe the
Vatican is unaware that it is being manipulated by large biotechnology
firms and the government of the United States."
Although views from the Vatican usually do not have an impact on policy in
developed countries, it's opinions are thought to be taken into serious
consideration when laws are developed in Catholic parts of the developing
world, such as South and Central America, and parts of Africa and
Bio-tech Potato May Solve Many Problems
- Dennis T. Avery, Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee) August 10,
It likely will break the selfish hearts of America's personal injury
lawyers and Europe's eco-activists, but the answer to the world's obesity
problem may soon be a visit to a nearby McDonald's, Burger King or
Biotechnology has just produced another massive breakthrough for world
food security in the form of a blight-proof, diet-enhancing potato.
Researchers used biotech to insert a gene from a wild Mexican potato to
create the first high-yield potato with complete resistance to late
Late blight is the terrible epidemic disease that starved a million Irish
farmers to death in the 1840s and drove another million refugees or so to
America. The disease can turn a field of potatoes to wilted black mush in
a few days.
Today, late blight represents an even bigger threat to global food
security as Asia is becoming dependent on the potato's ultra-high food
production per acre and has tripled production.
In the first wave of publicity, the British Broadcasting Corp. got the
news wrong, again -- perhaps, because of its European anti-biotech bias.
The BBC announced that "scientists have discovered a gene which protects
potatoes from blight." Plant explorers actually discovered the
blight-resistant wild potato nearly 50 years ago, but plant breeders
couldn't successfully cross it with the domestic varieties that tasted
good, baked well and made golden french fries.
Only biotech could turn the wild gene into protection for future harvests.
Both the University of Wisconsin and the University of California at Davis
have now engineered the wild blight resistance into commercial potatoes.
The UC/Davis team hopes to begin field tests next year. Wisconsin says it
may be five years from farmers' fields.
The discovery of a blight-free potato will now force the potato industry
to confront the anti-biotech activists along with corn, soybean, cotton
and dairy farmers. U.S. potato growers have had pest-resistant and low-fat
biotech potatoes available since 1999, but french fry processors told
growers not to plant them. The processors feared anti-biotech
demonstrations against restaurants selling the low-fat fries. Obviously,
they weren't much concerned that customers would protest the lack of a
low-fat product they'd never heard about.
But the blight-resistant potato is too important to suppress, biotech or
not. Potato growers all over the world live in constant fear of the
blight, which can destroy a whole region's crop quickly. Most potato
growers spray repeatedly with expensive fungicides to prevent blight from
getting a foothold.
China now grows more than 60 million tons of spuds per year. Smaller
Bangladesh grows about 3 million tons, and still continually teeters on
the edge of hunger. Both governments live in fear of a phone call
reporting a blight epidemic.
Such countries will not risk at-home replays of the Irish potato famine if
they have a simple, economic new technology. Nor are near-hungry Asian
consumers likely to reject disease-resistant crops that undergird their
In America, meanwhile, obesity has become a front-page issue, and it looks
as though the anti-biotech campaign is about to collide with the anti-fat
campaign. The low-fat biotech potatoes have 35 percent more starch, so
they absorb less fat during frying. Ergo, a lower-calorie, lower-fat
biotech french fry. These "leanfries" should solidify the french fry's
place in the global 21st century, if the fry processors and drive-ins can
find the courage to sell them.
Even the fast-food restaurants may now be more afraid of lawyers waving
obesity lawsuits than of people dressed like corn ears, and loudly
claiming to protect us from nonexistent "superweeds."
The anti-biotech activists, being at least nominally environmentalists,
may be slightly impressed by the amount of pesticide spraying the biotech
potatoes could forestall. Potato growers will likely cut their currently
heavy fungicide and insecticide use by 80 percent with the biotech
potatoes. Idaho growers recently have been spraying their crops more than
20 times per year, with more than 1.6 million pounds of fungicide and
Most of the sprays are aimed at controlling blight. In addition, however,
the new biotech potatoes protect against the hugely destructive Colorado
potato beetle, potato leafroll virus and the destructive potato virus Y.
This technological leap will ultimately allow us to produce still more
food from even less land, using fewer chemicals. So in the crowded,
affluent world of the 20th century, there'll be a bit more room for the
wildlife the activists and the rest of us are pledged to protect.
With the advent of famine-proof low-fat biotech potatoes, the question is
no longer whether biotech crops are good for the planet and its people.
The question is now what the activists, being activists, will object to
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow at The Hudson Institute,
Soften Stance on Biotech Crops
'Governments need to step up involvement'
- Curtis Schaeffer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Aguust 11, 2003
It is like a science fiction tale. The leader of Zambia refuses donated
food for 3 million starving people in his country because the food has
been genetically modified.
This controversy over what we put in our mouths is just heating up. Last
month, U.S. agricultural groups lashed out at a European Union vote on
proposed new rules for the labeling and traceability of genetically
modified crops and foods. The EU has had a four-year moratorium on U.S.
biotech imports. At the same time, the United Nations adopted new
standards providing detailed procedures for determining if biotech foods
Biotech crops offer one solution to food shortages worldwide at a time
when increasingly less land is dedicated to food production and population
growth continues. A crop is considered "biotech" when a gene from an
unrelated species is introduced to the original plant group for the
purpose of making the harvest more productive, healthy or disease
There is growing resistance to biotech crops in the United States although
most Americans are unaware that they have been consuming genetically
modified foods since the mid-1990s. Sixty to 70 percent of all processed
food in the United States now contains genetically modified ingredients,
including the majority of soy and corn raised in this country.
U.S. farmers like biotech crops because they require fewer chemicals for
killing insects and weeds. Biotech crops are now so common that they are
mixed in silos with non-biotech crops before being processed. It is
impossible to determine what we are consuming or what we export for human
Critics say that not enough is known about biotech crops, that it is
irresponsible to produce and consume them on a massive scale until more
extensive testing has been carried out. Many of these same critics have
decried the heavy use of pesticides and herbicides for years as
contaminating both food and water but now lobby against genetically
modified foods, a viable solution to pesticides.
A clear indication that the development of biotech crops is not simply a
corporate money grab is that developing countries are conducting important
research on their own to benefit their populations.
Cuba obtained a U.S. patent five years ago on its process of genetically
engineering fructose into sugar cane to replace the more fattening
sucrose. The Mexican government has supported research on biotech corn and
signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a
permanent bilateral working group for cooperation in biotechnology; the
Chinese government has the largest biotechnology industry outside of North
America and has invested heavily in research since the 1980s as a way of
ensuring future food security for 1.3 billion people.
Greater involvement in the research, regulation and production of biotech
crops by governments in cooperation with international bodies,
universities and consumers will assure distrustful countries such as
Zambia of the safety of biotech crops while guarding against corporate
control of the world's food supply.
Curtis Schaeffer is an international relief and development consultant
living in Atlanta.
Northern Ireland : Consumers 'Favour GM Crops'
- Martin Cassidy, BBC, July 24, 2003 bbc.co.uk
Many consumers say they would prefer genetically modified crops to the use
of chemical sprays in conventional food production. The research for the
BBC Newsline programme in Northern Ireland, found that almost half the
people who voted in a poll said they would prefer genetically modified
blight resistant potatoes rather than conventional crops which rely on
frequent spraying with fungicides.
Viewers to the programme have been getting a close-up look at the dilemmas
facing farmers by following one potato crop from planting right through to
harvest in the autumn. Programme makers have already sounded out people
for their views on a range of topics.
But this is the first time consumers in Northern Ireland have been asked
how they feel about conventional crops versus genetically modified
produce. Of the viewers who responded, 47% said they would prefer
genetically modified potatoes while 53% opted for a conventional potato
crops and a blight spraying regime involving up to 12 treatments with
chemicals. A NI survey suggested 47% of consumers would prefer GM
"It surprised me," said BBC Newsline presenter Donna Traynor. "A lot of
people thought the public would be really hostile to the idea of
genetically modified crops but this survey - although it's not scientific
- was pretty neck-and-neck and shows that maybe things are not quite as
straightforward as some might have assumed."
BBC Newsline focused on public reaction to claims by American scientists
to have developed a blight resistant potato. Researchers have identified
a blight resistant gene in a Mexican plant which they are using to confer
fungal resistance to commercial crops. But local scientists have reacted
coolly to American claims that it would be all but impossible to produce
blight resistant potatoes using conventional plant breeding techniques.
Paul Watts of the Northern Ireland Horticulture and Plant Breeding Station
at Loughgall in County Armagh, says a lot of progress is being made
towards developing "very resistant" varieties that would be used in
combination with sprays. He said that researchers in America found that
insects were capable of mutating and so overcoming the genetic resistance
of the crops to attack. "Even they admit that in the varieties they have
produced, resistance to insects can break down. There is no reason to
expect that the same thing couldn't also happen with blight."
Professor Sir David King, who chairs the UK Government's GM Science Review
Panel, argues that precaution should govern the discussion on whether to
grow GM crops in the UK. In the meantime, he said, the moratorium on
planting them should stay in place. The review panel is to present the
government with an assessment of GM field trials in the autumn.
Biotech Can Solve Problems in Farm Sector
- Nagesh Prabhu, The Hindu (India), August 3, 2003
Biotechnology has, in the past couple of years, come as a ray of hope for
the farm sector, which is facing innumerable problems in the country. In
the coming days, it is likely to play a vital role in helping the sector
to overcome its shortcomings.
Painting a rosy picture of the relevance of biotechnology, Sivramiah
Shantharam, expert and Head of the Biologists International, U.S., says
biotech will provide an answer to many chronic problems of the agriculture
sector in India.
In an interview with The Hindu recently, Dr. Shantaram, who is also
Biotechnology Consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation, Global Biotech
Forum, and USAID, said India's vast flora and fauna offered enormous
potential and natural advantage for biotechnology. The country could use
biotech for increasing agricultural yields, and providing affordable
diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and therapies. Genetically
modified (GM) crops reduced the application of pesticides, provided more
yields, and were environment friendly, he added.
Read on at
A Framework for the Application of Precaution in Science-Based Decision
Making About Risk
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Liaison, Preparedness and Policy
Coordination; July 31, 2003
The precautionary approach/principle is widely recognized as a distinctive
approach to managing threats of serious or irreversible harm where there
is scientific uncertainty. It is not newÐwhat is new is the increasing
complexity of the science and the public debate about the ability of
governments to respond to such situations.
The application of "precaution" recognizes that the absence of full
scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing
decisions where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm. Canada?s
application of precaution is distinctive within science-based risk
management and is characterized by three basic tenets: the need for a
decision, a risk of serious of irreversible harm and a lack of full
To address the application of precaution by federal science based
departments and agencies, the Government of Canada has developed A
Framework for the Application of Precaution in Science-Based Decision
Making About Risk. The Framework outlines guiding principles for the
application of precaution to science-based decision making in areas of
federal regulatory activity, for the protection of health and safety, and
the environment and natural resources.
The Framework was developed through the efforts of a Government of Canada
multi-departmental working group, on which the CFIA was a participant. The
development of the Framework took into account the views of a broad range
of stakeholders, whose comments were sought during a lengthy consultation
process between November 2001 and April 2002. Stakeholders consulted
include provinces and territories, experts and interested individuals from
the academic sector, the non-government sector, consumer groups, industry
Canada has a long standing history of applying precaution in areas of
federal regulatory activities. The Government?s obligations in this regard
are governed by the applicable provisions of federal law, binding
federal-provincial agreements and international agreements to which Canada
is a party.
The CFIA applies precaution in its decisions within science-based risk
management, and the Framework reflects the CFIA?s current practices as
well as fundamental policy positions espoused over the years in
international regulatory fora. The "guiding principles" set out within the
framework will assist in ensuring consistent and coherent implementation
of precaution within science based risk management.
Departmental and Agency officials are expected to consider the Framework?s
guiding principles in decision making and to work together in developing,
in consultation with their stakeholders, guidance for the application of
precaution in their particular area of responsibility.
The Framework for the Application of Precaution in Science-Based Decision
Making About Risk is available on the PCO web site at the following
Adding Value to Cassava: Applying Biotechnology to a Small-Farmer Crop
- Sixth International Scientific Meeting of the Cassava Biotechnology
Network (CBN VI). Cali, Colombia; March 8-14, 2004
Presentations at the Meeting will discuss how biotechnology can assist
cassava farmers by developing, for example, more suitable varieties,
disease-free planting materials, and better ways to conserve and process
cassava after harvesting.
http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/biotechnology/cbn/index.htm Contact: Alfredo
International Plant Protection Congress (IPPC)
- Beijing, China; May 11-16, 2004
Email: email@example.com; http://www.ipmchina.net/ipm/ipm_e.html
Vavilov-Frankel Fellowships 2004
International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) (Via Plant
IPGRI has established the Vavilov-Frankel Fellowship Fund to commemorate
the unique contributions to plant science by Academician Nikolai Ivanovich
Vavilov and Sir Otto Frankel. The Fund aims to encourage the conservation
and use of plant genetic resources in developing countries through
awarding Fellowships to outstanding young researchers. More Info:
Monsanto Responds to Article by Michael Meacher MP In Independent
In response to today's article in The Independent newspaper "To know the
truth about GM, ask the Canadians", Monsanto in the UK has sent this
letter for publication:
Dear Sir, There are many factual errors in Mr. Meacher’s article about GM
in Canada. (To know the truth about GM, ask the Canadians, August 6).
Amongst the more obvious is that his trip, funded by organic farmers, did
not seem to ask the majority of farmers who increasingly grow GM canola,
about the very truths his article claims.
This is quite an achievement, given that 73% of all the 11.6 million
Canadian canola acres planted this year are GM. The 18,000 or so Canadian
farmers choosing this year to plant Monsanto's variety of this commodity
crop, have previously reported benefits of better weed control, increased
yield, higher returns and improved profit (www.canola-council.org). No one
forces them to plant GM; Monsanto also sells conventional canola seed.
Mr. Meacher quite erroneously reports that contamination of the seed
supply resulted in Mr. Schmeiser "extraordinarily" being taken to court by
Monsanto. A quick check of the judge's ruling, (unanimously upheld
subsequently by the appeal court which rejected all 17 of Mr. Schmeiser's
points of contention) shows Justice Andrew MacKay ruled how Mr. Schmeiser
"knew or ought to have known" that he had saved and planted seed that was
The judge concluded his infringement arose "not just from occasional or
limited contamination", saying the seed could only have been of commercial
quality and could not have arrived in Mr. Schmeiser's field by accident.
Monsanto only took court action as a last resort and with great reluctance
- it remains the only court case of its kind in Canada after eight seasons
For the record, unlike the UK's NFU, the Canadian NFU is not
representative of most farmers. Rather, it is a minority grouping of
- Yours faithfully, Tony Combes, Director of Corporate Affairs, Monsanto
'To know the truth about GM, ask the Canadians'
- Michael Meacher, The Independent (London), August 6, 2003
The lesson of their experience is that co-existence between conventional
and GM farming is a mirage
What would happen if early next year the Government decided to allow GM
crops to be grown commercially in this country? To find out, go to Canada.
where GM crops were introduced into the prairies in 1997. With what
results? I have just spent a week in Saskatchewan and Ontario finding out.
When the technology was first applied in the prairies seven years ago, the
farmers were enthusiastic. Monsanto and the other big biotech companies
promised that there would be higher yields, less herbicide usage, little
or no cross-contamination and ready containment of "volunteers" (plants
that survive the harvest and become weeds when different crops are later
planted). It has not turned out like that at all.
Yields were found to be lower because contamination was wider than
predicted, herbicide use was not reduced, and often had to be increased,
and volunteers were much more difficult to deal with than expected. There
were no gains to consumers that might have balanced the losses to the
farming producers. And the environmental impacts, assumed to be benign on
the specious principle that GM crops were "substantially equivalent" to
non-GM varieties, turned out to be seriously adverse. There was damage to
wildlife, new superweeds were generated and ecosystems that support
insects and birds were destroyed.
There are several lessons that Britain can, and should, learn from the
Canadian experience. The most important is that "co-existence" - a
framework to ensure that organic and conventional farming can survive and
prosper alongside GM farming - is a mirage. In Saskatchewan, organic
oilseed rape (which the Canadians call canola) has been wiped out by
cross-contamination from Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" GM canola. The issue
for Britain is that if it is impossible to separate off organic oilseed
rape in the vast spaces of the Canada prairies, it is inconceivable that
it can be kept separate in the very much smaller land area of Britain
where farms exist cheek by jowl together.
Even more disturbing is that pollution of organic crops does not come
primarily airborne, from pollen, but from contamination of the seed
supply. The most famous example of this in Canada is the case of the
farmer Percy Schmeiser. He saved seed from his harvest and planted it the
next year, only to find that some of it was GM, even though he had never
allowed any GM crops on his farm. Extraordinarily, he was taken to court
by Monsanto on the grounds that the company had patented the gene in the
GM plants on his farm and he had infringed the patent. The company won the
lawsuit. If that has been happening in Canada, there is no reason to doubt
that Monsanto will use the same tactics in Britain.
Another problem is the removal of volunteers and GM weeds. Volunteers are
already resistant to the chemical weedkiller (glysophate, known as Roundup
Ready) used for cultivation, and weeds and other plants can also acquire
this resistance through the transgene flow from the GM oilseed rape and
wheat. So in addition to the two or three field sprays by glysophate, it
is then necessary to use other, old-fashioned, toxic chemicals such as
2,4-D to destroy remaining weeds. The President of the Canadian NFU, whom
I met, quoted a university study showing that the cost of chemical
spraying to Canadian farmers now amounted to nearly £200m a year.
This problem is further compounded by two other unexpected factors that I
encountered in Canada and that would also occur in Britain if GM
commercialisation were ever introduced here. One is that volunteers don't
just spring up the year after the original harvest. The seeds may subsist
in the ground for years, and volunteers often arise three to five years
Labelling and liability are also issues both in Canada and the UK.
Contrary to the general impression that North America is quite content
with GM and not worried by it, several recent polls have shown that 92-97
per cent of Canadians believe that their government should require
companies to label GM products. In the EU, labelling of GM food will soon
be required above a 0.9 per cent threshold, though that will still not
tell consumers what they really want to know - whether this food is
GM-free or not.
Liability - the question of who pays if an organic or conventional farmer
has his business damaged or his livelihood ruined by contamination from GM
crops - is now becoming a crunch issue both in Canada and Europe. There is
huge resistance from the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic to
accepting any responsibility for the contamination they cause.
One other highly relevant piece of evidence shown to me by the Canadian
NFU about the current battleground in Canada concerns the tactics adopted
by Monsanto to get the unpopular idea of GM wheat accepted. A draft
letter, to be signed by prominent farmers in key positions, details the
"mutual understanding and agreement" between each of them and Monsanto
about how they will assist, secretly, in "ensuring the positive
introduction of Roundup Ready Wheat in Canada".
We have to ask: is the same happening here, or will it happen here in the
The author was Minister for the Environment from 1997 to 2003.
Chemical Hysteria and Environmental Politics
- Doug Bandow, Ideas on Liberty, July 2003 http://www.fee.org/
Chemicals are one of the wonders of human creation. They help heal and
feed us; they help fuel our autos and heat our homes; they help produce
toys and computers. Yet some chemicals can hurt, making them a perfect
target for alarmists who detest most anything modern.
There's no doubt that chemicals have become an integral part of our lives.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released its latest "National
Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals," which reviewed
Americans' exposure to 116 different substances. The study confirms that
most people have contact with a plethora of chemicals.
Yet this conclusion reflects the dramatic advances in bio-monitoring:
scientists are now capable of detecting the minutest trace of different
substances in human beings. Researchers measure concentrations of a
thousandth, millionth, and billionth parts.
This enables us to better understand our environment, assess chemical
exposure, and understand risks. But it also provides a tool for alarmists,
who conveniently ignore actual contact levels when claiming an epidemic of
At a time when many people fear for their lives, the CDC found much good
news. Exposure to lead, which is particularly harmful to the development
of children, and cotinine, a tobacco residue, is down. Moreover, exposure
levels to some of the most toxic chemicals were extraordinarily low.
Reported the CDC: "For dioxin, furans and coplanar PCBs, most people in
the Second Report had levels that were below what the analytic method
Even the bad news was bad mainly relative to overall successes. For
instance, during the 1990s cotinine exposure dropped 55 percent for teens,
58 percent for kids, and 75 percent for adults; yet today the exposure of
black children remains disproportionately high.
Alas, good news does not dampen the alarmist impulse in some people. The
Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted its own study and found an
average of "91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals" in
the nine volunteers studied. All told, the EWG reported 167 different
chemicals, many of which, it claimed, caused cancer, birth defects, or
other harms. The result was a significant "body burden," as the group put
But this is fear-mongering at its misleading worst. Simple exposure
demonstrates nothing. As the CDC explained: "Just because people have an
environmental chemical in their blood or urine does not mean that the
chemical causes disease."
This is the case even for substances known to be capable of causing harm.
Observes Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science
and Health (ASCH), people "should remember the basic tenet of
toxicology--the dose makes the poison." Almost anything can prove toxic if
ingested in a high-enough concentration, one vastly above the levels faced
by even the most at-risk person.
Yet animal tests not only rely on huge dosage levels, but also can fall
afoul of the substantial differences between rodents and primates. In many
cases absorption rates and hormonal reactions, which vary among creatures,
matter far more than exposure levels. Todd Seavey of ACSH argues, "Thanks
to the CDC report, we’re now more certain than ever that the synthetic
chemical amounts we are routinely subjected to are trivial. We ought to
feel safer than ever."
Another argument has been advanced by groups like the Collaborative on
Health and the Environment (CHE), an umbrella group for the most active
alarmists. It claims that multiple chemical exposure can be
harmful—indeed, that chemicals are currently hurting one-third of the
population. CHE is aided by the PR firm Fenton Communications, which
specializes in turning junk science into newspaper headlines.
It’s an attractive argument for the scientifically uninformed, but it
fails the basic test of evidence. As Steven Milloy, publisher of
JunkScience.Com, points out: "Despite more than 40 years and countless
billions of dollars of research, no credible scientific evidence exists to
link typical exposures to chemicals in the environment with disease."
Indeed, though our theoretical exposure to chemicals has increased
dramatically over the last half century, actual chemical contamination of
the environment has been falling. And we are living longer and healthier
lives than ever. Apparently the human body is able to bear the alleged
Children at Risk?
What of children? People naturally worry about the impact on youthful
development, but ACSH warns, "We are at a juncture where emotion, fear,
and uncertainty compete with scientific data, toxicological principles,
and principles of risk analysis." In fact, ACSH reports in a new book, Are
Children More Vulnerable to Environmental Chemicals?, "There is little
toxicological evidence to support the premise that children are
consistently more susceptible to environmental chemicals than adults."
Where there is a problem, as with lead and PCBs, kids need to be
protected. But parents need not live in fear of a world that is actually
getting safer and healthier day by day. And they need to be aware of what
ACSH warns as a "disturbing pattern in which activists with a nonscience
agenda manipulate the public's legitimate and appropriate concern for
children’s health in an effort to promote legislation, litigation, and
This is the fundamental problem. Alarmist groups with radical political
agendas are ever-ready to manipulate science to promote their own ends. A
particularly apt example is the case of acrylamide, a chemical coagulant
used in drinking water, wastewater treatment, and tunnel construction. In
April 2002 the Swedish National Food Administration andresearchers at
StockholmUniversity held a press conference announcing that disturbingly
high levels of acrylamide had been found in food.
The revelation set off a media sensation around the world. French fries
and potato chips cause cancer! California environmental activists sued
snack-food makers and fast-food restaurants to warn customers that their
products included a chemical "known to the State of California to cause
Acrylamide is formed naturally in the cooking of many foods. It appears to
cause cancer in rodents fed exceptionally high doses. In fact, in this
case the doses not only well-exceeded human consumption, but they also may
have exceeded medically tolerable levels for mice, since more died from
other causes than from cancer.
Moreover, extrapolating such results to humans is always problematic:
genetic differences between rodents and primates often result in different
metabolic reactions to chemicals. Dr. Joseph Rosen of RutgersUniversity
observes: "There is substantial evidence that the rodent studies may not
be accurately predicting relevance to human health."
Last January the British Journal of Cancer published a study announcing
that there was no apparent link between acrylamide in food and cancer. One
British newspaper headline trumpeted: "Crisps Do Not Cause Cancer!" A
Swedish paper went onto suggest that acrylamide in food might actually
reduce cancer risks.
Obviously, some substances do cause cancer, and evidence of carcinogenic
properties requires investigation. But as Waldemar Ingdahl puts it,
"Publication by press conference is not good scientific publishing,:
especially when there is a transparent political agenda.
Constantly crying wolf will make it harder to deal with the few cases
where there is a legitimate health issue.
Contributing editor Doug Bandow, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a
senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author and editor of several