Today in AgBioView: September 9, 2003:
* WILL FRANKENFOOD SAVE THE PLANET?
* GHANA IN A FIX ... As America, Europe take opposing stands
* European court says no scientific basis for Italian GM crop ban
* Both sides claim win in Monsanto vs Italy GMO case
* Questions of subsidies
* Brazil court overturns GM soy ruling
* Bt cotton: NGO blasts govt over regulating crop
* Govt, AL agree on pursuing biotech to up food output
* Symposium: October 16 2003 Basel Switzerland: "Food Security and
WILL FRANKENFOOD SAVE THE PLANET?
Over the next half century genetic engineering could feed humanity and
solve a raft of environmental ills – if only environmentalists would let
BY JONATHAN RAUCH
That genetic engineering may be the most environmentally beneficial
technology to have emerged in decades, or possibly centuries, is not
immediately obvious. Certainly, at least, it is not obvious to the many
U.S. and foreign environmental groups that regard biotechnology as a bete
noire. Nor is it necessarily obvious to people who grew up in cities, and
who have only an inkling of what happens on a modern farm. Being
agriculturally illiterate myself I set out to look at what may be, if the
planet is fortunate, the farming of the future.
It was baking hot that April day. I traveled with two Virginia state
soil-and-water-conservation officers and an agricultural-extension agent
to an area not far from Richmond. The farmers there are national (and
therefore world) leaders in the application of what is known as continuous
no-till farming. In plain English, they don’t plough. For thousands of
years, since the dawn of the agricultural revolution, farmers have
ploughed, often several times a year; and with ploughing has come runoff
that pollutes rivers and blights aquatic habitat, erosion that wears away
the land, and the release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases stored
in the soil. Today, at last, farmers are working out methods that have
begun to make ploughing obsolete.
At about one-thirty we arrived at a 200-acre patch of farmland known as
the Good Luck Tract. No one seemed to know the provenance of the name, but
the best guess was that somebody had said something like “You intend to
farm this? Good luck!” The land was rolling rather than flat, and its
slopes came together to form natural troughs for rainwater. Ordinarily
this highly erodible land would be suitable for cows, not crops. Yet it
was dense with wheat-wheat yielding almost twice what could normally be
expected, and in soil that had grown richer in organic matter, and thus
more nourishing to crops, even as the land was farmed. Perhaps most
striking was the almost complete absence of any chemical or soil runoff.
Even the beating administered in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd, which lashed the
ground with nineteen inches of rain in less than twenty-four hours,
produced no significant runoff or erosion. The land simply absorbed the
sheets of water before they could course downhill.
At another site, a few miles away, I saw why. On land planted in corn
whose shoots had only just broken the surface, Paul Davis, the extension
agent, wedged a shovel into the ground and dislodged about eight inches of
topsoil. Then he reached down and picked up a clump. Ploughed soil having
been stirred up and turned over again and again becomes lifeless and
homogeneous, but the clump that Davis held out was alive. I immediately
noticed three squirming earthworms, one grub, and quantities of tiny white
insects that looked very busy. As if in greeting, a worm defecated.
“Plant-available food!” a delighted Davis exclaimed.
This soil, like that of the Good Luck Tract, had not been ploughed for
years, allowing the underground ecosystem to return. Insects and roots and
microorganisms had given the soil an elaborate architecture, which held
the earth in place and made it a sponge for water. That was why erosion
and runoff had been reduced to practically nil. Crops thrived because
worms were doing the ploughing. Crop residue that was left on the ground
rather than ploughed under as usual provided nourishment for the soil’s
biota and, as it decayed, enriched the soil. The farmer saved the fuel he
would have used driving back and forth with a heavy plough. That saved
money, and of course it also saved energy and reduced pollution. On top of
all that, crop yields were better than with conventional methods.
The conservation people in Virginia were full of excitement over no-till
farming. Their job was to clean up the James and York Rivers and the rest
of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Most of the sediment that clogs and
clouds the rivers, and most of the fertilizer runoff that causes the algae
blooms that kill fish, comes from farmland. By all but eliminating
agricultural erosion and runoff-so Brian Noyes, the local
conservation-district manager, told me -- continuous no-till could
“revolutionize” the area’s water quality.
Even granting that Noyes is an enthusiast, from an environmental point of
view, no-till farming looks like a dramatic advance. The rub -- if it is a
rub -- is that the widespread elimination of the plough depends on
genetically modified crops.
It is only a modest exaggeration to say that as goes agriculture, so goes
the planet. Of all the human activities that shape the environment,
agriculture is the single most important, and it is well ahead of whatever
comes second. Today about 38 percent of the earth’s land area is cropland
or pasture-a total that has crept upward over the past few decades as
global population has grown. The increase has been gradual only about 0.3
percent a year; but that still translates into an additional Greece or
Nicaragua cultivated or grazed every year.
Farming does not go easy, on the earth, and never has. To farm is to make
war upon millions of plants (weeds, so-called) and animals (pests,
so-called) that in the ordinary course of things would crowd out or eat or
infest whatever it is a farmer is growing. Crop monocultures, as whole
fields of only wheat or corn or any other single plant are called, make
poor habitat and are vulnerable to disease and disaster. Although
fertilizer runs off and pollutes water, farming without fertilizer will
deplete and eventually exhaust the soil. Pesticides can harm the health of
human beings and kill desirable or harmless bugs along with pests.
Irrigation leaves behind trace elements that can accumulate and poison the
soil. And on and on.
The trade-offs are fundamental. Organic farming, for example, uses no
artificial fertilizer, but it does use a lot of manure, which can pollute
water and contaminate food. Traditional farmers may use less herbicide,
but they also do more ploughing, with all the ensuing environmental
complications. Low-input agriculture uses fewer chemicals but more land.
The point is not that farming is an environmental crime-it is not-but that
there is no escaping the pressure it puts on the planet.
In the next half century the pressure will intensify. The United Nations,
in its midrange projections, estimates that the earth’s human population
will grow by more than 40 percent, from 6.3 billion people today to 8.9
billion in 2050. Feeding all those people, and feeding their billion or so
hungry pets (a dog or a cat is one of the first things people want once
they move beyond a subsistence lifestyle), and providing the increasingly
protein-rich diets that an increasingly wealthy world will expect-doing
all of that will require food output to at least double, and possibly
triple. But then the story will change. According to the UN’s midrange
projections (which may, if anything, err some what on the high side),
around 2050 the world’s population will more or less level off. Even if
the growth does not stop, it will slow. The crunch will be over. In fact,
if in 2050 crop yields are still increasing if most of the world is
economically developed and if population pressures are declining or even
reversing -- all of which seems reasonably likely -- then the human
species may at long last be able to feed it-self, year in and year out,
without putting any additional net stress on the environment. We might
even be able to grow everything we need while reducing our agricultural
foot-print: returning cropland to wilderness, repairing damaged soils,
restoring ecosystems, and so on. In other words, human agriculture might
be placed on a sustainable footing forever: a breathtaking prospect.
The great problem then, is to get through the next four or five decades
with as little environmental damage as possible. That is where
biotechnology comes in.
One day recently I drove down to southern Virginia to visit Dennis Avery
and his son, Alex. The older Avery, a man in late middle age with a
chinstrap beard, droopy eyes, and an intent, scholarly manner, lives on
ninety-seven acres that he shares with horses, chickens, fish, cats, dogs,
bluebirds, ducks, transient geese, and assorted other creatures. He is the
director of global food issues at the Hudson Institute, a conservative
think tank; Alex works with him, and is trained as a plant physiologist.
We sat in a sunroom at the back of the house, our afternoon conversation
punctuated every so often by dog snores and rooster crows. We talked for a
little while about the Green Revolution, a dramatic advance in farm
productivity that fed the world’s burgeoning population over the past four
decades, and then I asked if the challenge of the next four decades could
“Well,” Dennis replied “‘we have tripled the world’s farm output since
1960. And we’re feeding twice as many people from the same land. That was
a heroic achievement. But we have to do what some think is an even more
difficult thing in this next forty years, because the Green Revolution had
more land per person and more water per person-”
“-and more potential for increases,” Alex added, ‘“because the base that
we were starting from was so much lower?
“By and large,” Dennis went on, “the world’s civilizations have been built
around its best farmland. And we have used most of the world’s good
farmland. Most of the good land is already heavily fertilized. Most of the
good land is already being planted with high-yield seeds. [Africa is the
important exception.] Most of the good irrigation sites are used. We can’t
triple yields again with the technologies we’re already using. And we
might be lucky to get a fifty percent yield increase if we froze our
technology short of biotech’
“Biotech” can refer to a number of things, but the relevant application
here is genetic modification: the selective transfer of genes from one
organism to another. Ordinary breeding can cross related varieties, but it
cannot take a gene from a bacterium, for instance, and transfer it to a
wheat plant. The organisms resulting from gene transfers are called
“transgenic” by scientists-and “Frankenfood” by many greens.
Gene transfer poses risks, unquestionably. So, for that matter, does
traditional crossbreeding. But many people worry that transgenic organisms
might prove more unpredictable. One possibility is that transgenic crops
would spread from fields into forests or other wild lands and there become
environmental nuisances, or worse. A further risk is that transgenic
plants might cross-pollinate with neighboring wild plants, producing
“superweeds” or other invasive or destructive varieties in the wild. Those
risks are real enough that even most biotech enthusiasts -- including
Dennis Avery, for example -- favor some government regulation of
What is much less widely appreciated is biotech’s potential to do the
environment good. Take as an example continuous no-till farming, which
really works best with the help of transgenic crops. Human beings have
been ploughing for so long that we tend to forget why we started doing it
in the first place. The short answer: weed control. Turning over the soil
between plantings smothers weeds and their seeds. If you don’t plough,
your land becomes a weed garden-unless you use herbicides to kill the
weeds. Herbicides, however, are expensive, and can be complicated to
apply. And they tend to kill the good with the bad.
In the mid-1990s the agricultural-products company Monsanto introduced a
transgenic soybean variety called Roundup Ready. As the name implies,
these soybeans tolerate Roundup, an herbicide (also made by Monsanto) that
kills many kinds of weeds and then quickly breaks down into harmless
ingredients. Equipped with Roundup Ready crops, farmers found that they
could retire their ploughs and control weeds with just a few applications
of a single, relatively benign herbicide-in-stead of many applications of
a complex and expensive menu of chemicals. More than a third of all U.S.
soybeans are now grown without ploughing, mostly owing to the introduction
of Roundup Ready varieties. Ploughless cotton farming has likewise
received a big boost from the advent of bioengineered varieties. No-till
farming without biotech is possible, but it’s more difficult and
expensive, which is why no-till and biotech are advancing in tandem.
In 2001 a group of scientists announced that they had engineered a
transgenic tomato plant able to thrive on salty water -- water, in fact,
almost half as salty as seawater, and fifty times as salty as tomatoes can
ordinarily abide. One of the researchers was quoted as saying, “I’ve
already transformed tomato, tobacco, and canola. I believe I can transform
any crop with this gene” -- just the sort of Frankenstein hubris that
makes environmentalists shudder. But consider the environmental
implications. Irrigation has for millennia been a cornerstone of
agriculture, but it comes at a price. As irrigation water evaporates, it
leaves behind traces of salt, which accumulate in the soil and gradually
render it infertile. (As any Roman legion knows, to destroy a nation’s
agricultural base you salt the soil.) Every year the world loses about 25
million acres-an area equivalent to a fifth of California-to salinity; 40
percent of the world’s irrigated land, and 25 percent of America’s, has
been hurt to some degree. For decades traditional plant breeders tried to
create salt-tolerant crop plants, and for decades they failed.
Salt-tolerant crops might bring millions of acres of wounded or crippled
land back into production. “And it gets better,” Alex Avery told me. The
transgenic tomato plants take up and sequester in their leaves as much as
six or seven percent of their weight in sodium. “Theoretically,” Alex
said, “you could reclaim a salt-contaminated field by growing enough of
these crops to remove the salts from the soil.”
His father chimed in: “We’ve worried about being able to keep these
salt-contaminated fields going even for decades. We can now think about
One of the first biotech crops to reach the market, in the mid-1990s, was
a cotton plant that makes its own pesticide. Scientists incorporated into
the plant a toxin-producing gene from a soil bacterium known as Bacillus
thuringiensis. With Bt cotton, as it is called, farmers can spray much
less, and the poison contained in the plant is delivered only to bugs that
actually eat the crop. As any environmentalist can tell you, insecticide
is not very nice stuff -- especially if you breathe it, which many Third
World farmers do as they walk through their fields with backpack sprayers.
Transgenic cotton reduced pesticide use by more than two million pounds in
the United States from 1996 to 2000, and it has reduced pesticide
sprayings in parts of China by more than half. Earlier this year the
Environmental Protection Agency approved a genetically modified corn that
resists a beetle larva known as rootworm. Because rootworm is American
corn’s most voracious enemy, this new variety has the potential to reduce
annual pesticide use in America by more than 14 million pounds. It could
reduce or eliminate the spraying of pesticide on 23 million acres of U.S.
All of that is the beginning, not the end. Bioengineers are also working,
for instance, on crops that tolerate aluminum another major contaminant of
sod especially in the tropics. Return an acre of farmland to productivity,
or double yields on an already productive acre, and other things being
equal, you reduce by an acre the amount of virgin forest or savannah that
will be stripped and cultivated. That may be the most important benefit of
Of the many people I have interviewed in my twenty years as a journalist,
Norman Borlaug must be the one who has saved the most lives. Today he is
an unprepossessing eighty-nine-year-old man of middling height, with
crystal-bright blue eyes and thinning white hair. He still loves to talk
about plant breeding, the discipline that won him the 1970 Nobel Peace
Prize: Borlaug led efforts to breed the staples of the Green Revolution.
(See ‘Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity” by Gregg Easterbrook., an article
on Borlaug in the January 1997 Atlantic.) Yet the renowned plant breeder
is quick to mention that he began his career, in the 193Os, in forestry,
and that forest conservation has never been far from his thoughts. In the
196Os, while he was working to improve crop yields in India and Pakistan
he made a mental connection. He would create tables detailing acres under
cultivation and average yields -- and then, in another column he would
estimate how much land had been saved by higher farm productivity. Later,
in the 1980s and 199Os, he and others began paying increased attention to
what some agricultural economists now call the Borlaug hypothesis: that
the Green Revolution has saved not only many human lives but, by improving
the productivity of existing farmland, also millions of acres of tropical
forest and other habitat-and so has saved countless animal lives.
From the 1960s through the 198Os, for example, Green Revolution advances
saved more than 100 million acres of wild lands in India. More recently,
higher yields in rice, coffee, vegetables, and other crops have reduced or
in some cases stopped forest clearing in Honduras, the Philippines, and
elsewhere. Dennis Avery estimates that if farming techniques and yields
had not improved since 1950, the world would have lost an additional 20
million or so square miles of wildlife habitat, most of it forest. About
16 million square miles of forest exists today. ‘What I’m saying,” Avery
said, in response to my puzzled expression, “is that we have saved every
square mile of forest on the planet.”
Habitat destruction remains a serious environmental problem; in some
respects it is the most serious. The savannahs and tropical forests of
Central and South America, Asia, and Africa by and large make poor
farmland, but they are the earth’s storehouses of biodiversity, and the
forests are the earth’s lungs. Since 1972 about 200,000 square miles of
Amazon rain forest have been cleared for crops and pasture; from 1966 to
1994 all but three of the Central American countries cleared more forest
than they left standing. Mexico is losing more than 4,000 square miles of
forest a year to peasant farms; sub-Saharan Africa is losing more than
That is why the great challenge of the next four or five decades is not to
feed an additional three billion people (and their pets) but to do so
without converting much of the world’s prime habitat into second- or
third-rate farmland. Now, most agronomists agree that some substantial
yield improvements are still to be had from advances in conventional
breeding, fertilizers, herbicides, and other Green Revolution standbys.
But it seems pretty clear that biotechnology holds more promise --
probably much more. Recall that world food output will need to at least
double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if
production could be increased that much using conventional technology,
which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and
other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed,
disseminated and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best
hope the planet has got.
If properly developed, disseminated, and used. That tripartite
qualification turns out to be important, and it brings the environmental
community squarely, and at the moment rather jarringly, into the picture.
Not long ago I went to see David Sandalow in his office at the World
Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. Sandalow, the organization’s executive
vice-president in charge of conservation programs, is a tall, affable,
polished, and slightly reticent man in his forties who holds degrees from
Yale and the University of Michigan Law School.
Some weeks earlier, over lunch, I had mentioned Dennis Avery’s claim that
genetic modification had great environmental potential. I was surprised
when Sandalow told me he agreed. Later, in our interview in his office, I
asked him to elaborate. “With biotechnology,’ he said, “‘there are no
simple answers. Biotechnology has huge potential benefits and huge risks,
and we need to address both as we move forward. The huge potentia1
benefits include increased productivity of arable land, which could
relieve pressure on forests. They include decreased pesticide usage. But
the huge risks include severe ecological disruptions-from gene flow and
from enhanced invasiveness, which is a very antiseptic word for some very
I asked if he thought that, absent biotechnology, the world could feed
everybody over the next forty or fifty years without ploughing down the
rain forests. Instead of answering directly he said, “Biotechnology could
be part of our arsenal if we can overcome some of the barriers. It will
never be a panacea or a magic bullet. But nor should we remove it from our
Sandalow is unusual. Very few credentialed greens talk the way he does
about biotechnology, at least publicly. They would readily agree with him
about the huge risks, but they wouldn’t be caught dead speaking of huge
potential benefits -- a point I will come back to. From an ecological of
view, a very great deal depends on other environmentalists’ coming to
think more the way Sandalow does.
Biotech companies are in business to make money. That is fitting and
proper. But developing and testing new transgenic crops is expensive and
commercially risky, to say nothing of politically controversial. When they
decide how to invest their research-and- development money, biotech
companies will naturally seek products for which farmers and consumers
will pay top dollar. Roundup Ready products, for instance, are well suited
to U.S. farming, with its high levels of capital spending on such things
as herbicides and automated sprayers. Poor farmers in the developing
world, of course, have much less buying power. Creating, say,
salt-tolerant cassava suitable for growing on hardscrabble African farms
might save habitat as well as lives -but commercial enterprises are not
likely to fall over one another in a rush to do it.
If earth-friendly transgenics are developed, the next problem is
disseminating them. As a number of the farmers and experts I talked to
were quick to mention, switching to an unfamiliar new technology --
something like no-till -- is not easy. It requires capital investment in
new seed and equipment, mastery of new skills and methods, a fragile
transition period as farmer and ecology readjust, and an often
considerable amount of trial and error to find out what works best on any
given field. Such problems are only magnified in the Third World, where
the learning curve is steeper and capital cushions are thin to
nonexistent. Just handing a peasant farmer a bag of newfangled seed is not
enough. In many cases peasant farmers will need one-on-one attention. Many
will need help to pay for the seed, too.
Finally there is the matter of using biotech in a way that actually
benefits the environment. Often the technological blade can cut either
way, especially in the short run. A salt-tolerant or drought-resistant
rice that allowed farmers to keep land in production might also induce
them to plough up virgin land that previously was too salty or too dry to
farm. If the effect of improved seed is to make farming more profitable,
farmers may respond, at least temporarily, by bringing more land into
production. If a farm becomes more productive, it may require fewer
workers; and if local labor markets cannot provide jobs for them,
displaced workers may move to a nearby patch of rain forest and burn it
down to make way for subsistence farming. Such transition problems are
solvable, but they need money and attention.
In short, realizing the great -- probably unique – environmental potential
of biotech will require stewardship. “It’s a tool,” Sara Scherr, an
agricultural economist with the conservation group Forest Trends, told me,
“but it’s absolutely not going to happen automatically.”
So now ask a question: Who is the natural constituency for earth-friendly
biotechnology? Who cares enough to lobby governments to underwrite
research-frequently unprofitable research-on transgenic crops that might
restore soils or cut down on pesticides in poor countries? Who cares
enough to teach Asian or African farmers, one by one, how to farm without
ploughing? Who cares enough to help poor farmers afford high-tech,
earth-friendly seed? Who cares enough to agitate for programs and reforms
that might steer displaced peasants and profit-seeking farmers away from
sensitive lands? Not politicians, for the most part. Not farmers. Not
corporations. Not consumers.
At the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in
Washington, the molecular biologist Don Doering envisions transgenic crops
designed specifically to solve environmental problems: crops that might
fertilize the soil, crops that could clean water, crops tailored to remedy
the ecological problems of specific places. “Suddenly you might find
yourself with a virtually chemical-free agriculture, where your cropland
itself is filtering the water, it’s protecting the watershed, it’s
providing habitat,” Doering told me. “There is still so little investment
in what I call design-for-environment.” The natural constituency for such
investment is, of course, environmentalists.
But environmentalists are not acting as such a constituency today. They
are doing the opposite. For example, Greenpeace declares on its Web site:
“The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) organisms into the
complex ecosystems of our environment is a dangerous global experiment
with nature and evolution GE organisms must not be released into the
environment. They pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and have the
potential to threaten biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable forms of
Other groups argue for what they call the Precautionary Principle, under
which no transgenic crop could be used until proven benign in virtually
all respects. The Sierra Club says on its Web site,
“In accordance with this Precautionary Principle, we call for a moratorium
on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all
GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] into the environment, including
those now approved. Releases should be delayed until extensive, rigorous
research is done which determines the long-term environmental and health
impacts of each GE0 and there is public debate to ascertain the need for
the use of each GEO intended for release into the environment.” [italics
Under this policy the cleaner water and healthier soil that continuous
no-till farming has already brought to the Chesapeake Bay watershed would
be undone, and countless tons of polluted runoff and eroded topsoil would
accumulate in Virginia rivers and streams while debaters debated and
researchers researched. Recall David Sandalow: “Biotechnology has huge
potential benefits and huge risks, and we need to address both as we move
forward.” A lot of environmentalists would say instead, “before we move
forward.” That is an important difference, particularly because the big
population squeeze will happen not in the distant future but over the next
For reasons having more to do with politics than with logic, the modern
environmental movement was to a large extent founded on suspicion of
markets and artificial substances. Markets exploit the earth; chemicals
poison it. Biotech touches both hot buttons. It is being pushed forward by
greedy corporations, and it seems to be the very epitome of the unnatural.
Still I hereby hazard a prediction. In ten years or less, most American
environmentalists (European ones are more dogmatic) will regard genetic
modification as one of their most powerful tools. In only the past ten
years or so, after all, environmentalists have reversed field and embraced
market mechanisms -- tradable emissions permits and the like -- as useful
in the fight against pollution. The environmental logic of biotechnology
is, if anything, even more compelling. The potential upside of genetic
modification is simply too large to ignore-and therefore environmentalists
will not ignore it. Biotechnology will transform agriculture, and in doing
so will transform American environmentalism.
Jonathan Rauch is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a senior writer for
National Journal. He is also a writer in residence at the Brookings
Institution and the author of several books, including Government’s End:
Why Washington Stopped Working (1999).
GHANA IN A FIX ... As America, Europe take opposing stands
The Ghanaian Chronicle
September 9, 2003
By Joseph Coomson
As the transatlantic dispute over the acceptability of the Genetically
Modified (GM) organisms and foods to reduce poverty and hunger in the
world hots up, Ghana is torn between siding with the United States, which
is promoting it and the European Union (EU), which is against it.
But the Scientific Secretary of the Food Research Institute of the Council
for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Mr. Robert Yawson, says the
country will gain a lot rather than lose in terms of food security if she
should embrace GM organisms and foods.
Mr. Yawson, who spoke to The Chronicle in Accra last Friday, said Ghana’s
acceptance of the new technology would reduce poverty and hunger,
especially in the northern part of the country because these foods are
very nutritious in terms of vitamins and other ingredients and could
withstand pests and other crop diseases.
He advised the government to include the production of GM foods in the
poverty alleviation strategy programme. Mr. Yawson said through genetic
engineering rice with added vitamin A and iron could help prevent
blindness and anemia in the North where vitamin A deficiency is prevalent.
“This will help reduce the amount of money spent on importing vaccines.
“Rice can be more nourishing, higher yielding and more resistant to
pests,” he said.
Swiss scientists have developed “golden rice” into which the beta-carotene
has been inserted in order to prevent blindness induced by vitamin A
He noted that so far, no one has proven any dangers associated with the
consumption of GM foods. He said despite the unblemished record of safe
use, critics have mounted stiff opposition against the technology and have
raised concerns about its potential impact on human health and the
In Europe, these campaigns have seriously undermined public confidence in
the safety of foods produced using new technologies. The EU has therefore
established new rules and procedures designed to address genetically
modified organisms. This action has created international trade conflicts,
which have cost farmers millions of dollars and threatened to drive away
agricultural scientists and researchers from field research, which has the
potential of solving food security and environmental problems.
“Ghana cannot afford to follow them blindly,” Mr. Yawson said, adding that
the country stood to gain a lot by adopting this technology and accepting
the consumption of GM foods.
“The government cannot afford to ignore and just do what comes naturally,”
“America produces and consumes about 70% of GM foods it produces and if it
is so bad, do you think America would allow her citizens to eat them?” he
He said Ghanaians might be eating GM foods, as there is no mechanism to
detect whether foods imported from the USA are GM or not.
However opponents of GM foods like Friends of the Earth and People United
Against Genetically Modified Foods, say they are not against progress,
science and new technologies, so long as they do not interfere with the
very essence of life and nature and the wonderful complex and unique
structure of each creature on this planet.
They maintain that whether created by God or not, they do not own nature
and humans have no right to try to change the genetic make-up of any
living plant and creature.
Friends of the Earth Corporate Globalisation Campaigner, Eve Mitchell,
said not only has this already occurred, but also now, large multinational
companies are producing potentially unsafe genetically modified foods.
She noted, “Nature has existed for millions of years; it has evolved
slowly since it’s beginning. How can we now claim to change the result of
this slow evolution in a matter of weeks and still claim that it is safe
for people and for the world? What do we know? The fact that Americans
have been eating GM foods for several years does not prove anything.”
“If these result in something catastrophic, it may not happen until two or
three generations from now, we don’t know. And if this happens sooner or
later, we won’t simply be able to withdraw GM foods from shelves and
fields, it would be too late,” she said.
According to the Regional Director of the office of Consumers
International, Mr. Amadou Kanoute, genetic engineering would not solve the
problems of hunger and famine but would pose potential dangers like
destroying the model of production that sustains about 70% of farmers in
Biotechnology involves taking genes from one species and inserting them
into another in an attempt to transfer a desired character or trait. It is
now possible to introduce genes from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals
or even humans into plants.
Genetically modified foods are then foods that have been harvested from
genetically modified organisms or crops. Most Christians see genetic
engineering as tempering with the very origins of life that is the gene;
therefore challenging God.
Controversy over GM foods was at its peak last year when some countries in
the southern part of Africa (Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe) refused GM
foods as aid during a food crisis.
Currently, about 35 countries, including the EU member states, Australia,
Japan, China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, which account for half of the
world’s population, have refused to use GM technology.
European court says no scientific basis for Italian GM crop ban
Brussels, 9 September 2003:
Today the European Court of Justice (1) said it could not support the
Italian decree to temporarily ban a GM maize variety used in animal feed
from their territory on the suspicion that it was not substantially
equivalent to the conventional variety. No scientific justification on
health or environmental safety grounds was provided by Italy to justify
the ban they said. EuropaBio (2) welcomes the fact that the European
courts threw out the claim which challenged the safety of GM products
which had already been approved as safe by regulatory authorities. In
doing so the Court upheld the right to free movement of goods including
approved GM products within the EU.
There is to date a substantial body of EU legislation to ensure the safety
of GMOs for human and animal health and the environment. These laws
should be consistently implemented by the EU Member States who have agreed
to them in the democratic process. Otherwise there is no point in having
In particular, we welcome the Court's clarification that Member States
must have reasons based on sound scientific evidence to invoke the
safeguard clause, and cannot be based on pure supposition or short term
For further information, contact;
Adeline Farrelly, Tel: 02 735 0313 Mobile : 0475 93 17 24
Notes to Editors
(1) ECJ press release
(2) EuropaBio represents 35 corporate members directly and, through its 21
member associations, over 1200 SMEs. All are involved in research and
development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology
products. EuropaBio, the voice of European bioindustries, aims to be a
promoting force for biotechnology and to present its proposals to
industry, politicians, regulators, NGOs, and the public at large.
Both sides claim win in Monsanto vs Italy GMO case
Septemeber 9, 2003
By Robin Pomeroy
BRUSSELS, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Both sides in a row over genetically modified
(GMO) foods claimed victory on Tuesday when the European Union's top court
ruled that Italy had the right to ban GMO maize (corn) if it can show
grounds to suspect it is a health risk.
Both Italy and Monsanto hailed the ruling, with the biotech firm
predicting the Italian courts would now overturn Italy's three-year old
ban on varieties of GMO maize which are allowed to be sold elsewhere in
"It is a positive outcome for us," Monsanto spokesman Tom McDermott told
Reuters. "We anticipate that the (Italian) court will follow it and the
position (ban) will be revoked."
Italian Environment Minister Altero Matteoli told a press conference in
Brussels: "I am very pleased that Italy has won."
The European Court of Justice ruled on a legal challenge by Monsanto,
Syngenta and the Italian unit of Pioneer
against Italy's decision in
2000 to ban varieties of maize genetically altered to resist pests and
Italian scientists had found residues of GMO protein in the milled maize
which had been approved on behalf of the whole EU by British and French
authorities under a simplified procedure used when GMO foods are
"substantially equivalent" to conventional ones.
The court said the detection of GMO protein did not undermine the original
"simplified" authorisation and was not in itself grounds to ban the maize.
"However, if a member state has detailed grounds to suspect such a risk,
it may temporarily restrict or suspend the trade in and use of the food in
question in its territory," the court said in a statement.
The Italian courts will now have to rule whether Italy's fears were well
grounded. "The risk must not be purely hypothetical or be founded on mere
suppositions which are not yet verified," the court statement said.
NO NEW EVIDENCE
Monsanto believes Italy will present no new evidence to show the maize
could imperil human health or the environment.
"It is extremely unlikely," McDermott said. "These products have been
reviewed by authorities not just in the EU, but around the world, in the
United States, Canada and Japan."
He said the court had sent a message to EU member states that to ban
products approved at EU-level they could not rely on "arbitrary,
capricious and politically inspired" arguments.
The case is one part of a political and scientific tussle in the EU over
how to treat GMO foods, which some consumer groups and environmentalists
fear could pose hidden risks to health and the environment.
The United States, Canada and Argentina, which are major growers of GMO
crops, have taken the EU to the World Trade Organisation for refusing to
authorise any new GMO strains since 1998 pending tougher rules on safety
testing and labelling.
Italy is one of a band of EU states which has pledged to uphold the
unofficial moratorium on new GMO products which EU lawmakers predict will
be lifted early next year.
The maize varieties in the Italian case were approved for use before those
states imposed the EU-wide moratorium.
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 21:06:15 +0300
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Subsidies
From: "Jonathan Gressel"
I would like some of the Agbioworld experts to deal with the questions of
There are two aspects affected by Europe/USA subsidies:
1. They make it harder for African and other developing world farmers to
adopt new technologies that would greatly increase yields. This is very
true from my experience in Africa, and we hear it daily - most recently
from Jimmy Carter.
2. Europe/USA subsidies make it easier for governments in the developing
world to keep prices to the non-producing consumers lower - it is the
riots of the city dwellers that too many politicians fear - and not their
poor, weak dispersed farmers. It also makes it easier for governments
insofar as they need not deal with infrastructure - such as building
storage facilities - grain boats full of subsidized grain are cheaper than
elevators to store local farmers grain. The African farmers have no
tractors or organization, or political strength to block the roads as they
do in France.
Most of us prefer to deal with only the first issue - but we must remember
that the second exists - and in countries where corruption is rampant, the
ministers relative is typically a leading importer of cheap grain...
Indeed the question for the legal people: - Could not governments in
developing countries impose hefty import duties on subsidized grain being
sold to them by Europe/USA at prices below the production costs? I
thought that all WTO agreements allowed anti-dumping tariffs. If indeed
this is so, why are tariffs not imposed to fill the government coffers and
make their farmers more competitive - on a level playing field? Can they
legally do this and would the WTO jurisprudence support them? If the
answer is "they can impose punitive tariffs" but haven't, perhaps the
answer lies in aspect (2) above, and it too must be addressed.
The fruits of biotechnology will be slower to reach the developing world
unless both of the subsidy-related issues are resolved, and the farmer can
Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot, Israel IL-76100
department office: +972-8-934-3585
home phone: +972-8-941-5604
Brazil court overturns GM soy ruling
09 Sep 2003
A Brazilian court has reversed a ruling that had lifted a ban on the
planting and sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans.
In August, one of the federal tribunal’s judges had lifted the injunction
that prevents Monsanto from selling its GM Roundup Ready soybeans in
However, following an appeal by Greenpeace and other anti-GM campaigners,
the federal tribunal suspended the previous ruling, thereby re-imposing
the ban on Monsanto’s GM soybeans.
The Brazilian government is attempting to sort out its regulatory laws on
GM crops before the start of the next planting season in October. A final
decision on the legality of GM crops has yet to be made, but one of the
judges said he would try to speed up the ruling, reported Reuters.
Bt cotton: NGO blasts govt over regulating crop
September 9, 2003
New Delhi, September 8: As India prepares for the second harvest of the Bt
cotton, a Delhi-based NGO has accused authorities of failing to profit
from the genetically modified cotton that would see the technology
Today, Delhi-based NGO Gene Campaign released findings of the official
report by Andhra Pradesh government on the performance of Bt cotton.
According to the report, in North Telangana, net income from Monsanto’s Bt
crop was five times less than the yield from indigenous varieties and in
South Telangana, the difference was seven times.
What the NGO forgot to mention is the fact that the state had one of the
worst droughts and Bt cotton being a resource-intensive crop does not
survive drought. Secondly, last year the pest incidence was so low, it is
difficult to make direct comparison with non-Bt varieties, a fact that is
pointed out in the report itself.
For example, in Medak district, performance of Bt was better as compared
to non-Bt cotton and other hybrids, in rain-fed and irrigated condition.
So is the case with Tamil Nadu where irrigation is available. In
drought-affected areas like Telangana and Kurnool, the report says
Monsanto’s Bt cotton had smaller ball size, shorter fibre length, poorer
quality and low yield.
‘‘We are not against Bt cotton but we want to question regulatory
mechanism in the country. It is not responsive to ground realities,’’ said
Suman Sahai, director of Gene Campaign. They are demanding the varieties
cleared for AP be withdrawn in view of ‘‘poor performance’’.
She claims the particular varieties Mech 162 and Mech 184 are ‘‘weaker’’
and ‘‘less vigorous’’ than indigenous cotton varieties and hence should be
withdrawn. The economics of Bt cotton (one packet is for Rs 1,600 as
compared to Rs 300-400 for a hybrid) did not work for Andhra Pradesh.
Though, the farmers saved on pesticide consumption, the savings were only
Rs 217 per acre, claimed Gene Campaign.
According to them, the problem lies with the lack of stringent regulatory
mechanism. ‘‘Why is there no punitive action against Navbharat Seeds?’’
Sahai said. Navbharat Seeds had developed its own variety of Bt cotton and
sold it in Gujarat without clearances or field trials.
Govt, AL agree on pursuing biotech to up food output
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
September 9, 2003
The government has agreed to pursue agricultural biotechnology to raise
food production, while the main opposition Awami League (AL) has pledged
support for getting a biosafety act passed in parliament.
The government's policy standing and the opposition's commitment came at a
dialogue held in the city yesterday on 'Sustainable Agricultural Growth in
Bangladesh: Should We Go for Biotechnology for Rice Improvement?'
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), an independent thinktank, organised
the dialogue at the BRAC Centre Inn auditorium. Agriculture Minister MK
Anwar and State Minister for Agriculture Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir
attended the dialogue as chief and special guests with the CPD Chairman
Prof Rehman Sobhan in the chair.
Head of the social science division of the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) Dr Mahabub Hossain, IRRI scientist Dr Swapan K Datta and
BRAC University teacher Prof Muazzam Husain jointly presented the key note
paper titled 'Rice Biotechno-logy:
Opportunity, Perceived Risks and Potential Benefits to Bangladesh'.
Lawmakers, agricultural scientists, agro-biotechnologists, economists, NGO
and civil society activists and government officials took part in the
The agriculture minister said the government would encourage
agro-biotechnological research but at the same time keep an eye on any
negative fallout and the associated risk factors.
He said given the reality of gradual shrinkage of arable land in
Bangladesh and increasing size of population, higher risk-taking might be
a better option than let people starve.
The state minister for agriculture said the country needs to ensure food
security without compromising its farming heritage, ecology and
biodiversity. "We've to pursue frontier researches through proper risk
management," he said.
Opposition lawmaker and Agriculture Secretary of the Awami League Dr Abdur
Razzak said the AL would support passage of biosafety act in parliament.
He deplored the fact that Bangladesh was lagging behind in tapping the
benefits of crop biotechnology.
In his presidential deliberation, the CPD chairman emphasised exploiting
all the opportunities without having any damaging effects on the country's
Earlier, one of the keynote presenters Dr Swapan K Datta of IRRI explained
the science of rice biotechnology and narrated how vitamin A-enriched
genetically modified rice could address the problems of anaemia and
vitamin deficiencies among the malnourished children in Bangladesh as
elsewhere in the developing world.
Datta, who has successfully transferred vitamin A producing gene into
Bangladesh's most productive rice variety, BRRIDhan-29, emphasised that
risk factors should not send the science to the backseat.
The keynote stressed that the government must take a stand on
biotechnology research and import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
and have a proper policy in place.
Director General of Bangla-desh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Dr Nurul
Islam Bhuiyan said his institute had applied through the agriculture
ministry to the science and technology ministry for permission to pursue
adaptive research on vitamin A-enriched BRRI Dhan-29.
Symposium: October 16 2003 Basel Switzerland: "Food Security and
Biodiversity: Sharing the Benefit of Plant Genetic Resources"
On the occasion of the WORLD FOOD DAY, a one day symposium looking at
access and benefit sharing of the world's plant genetic resources.
Examines practical approaches and varied perspectives on what constitutes
reasonable sharing under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources. Sorting conflict, compromise and confusion - how might
differences be reconciled, how best to meet challenges of conserving
biodiversity. Hosted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation,
Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and the International
Plant Genetics Resources Institute.
Speakers include: Pamela K. Anderson (International Potato Center); Carey
Fowler (Agricultural University of Norway); Anil Gupta (Indian Institute
of Management); Geoffrey Hawtin (Global Conservation Trust); Bernhard
Herold (Declaration of Bern); Alwin Kopse (Swiss Federal Office for
Agriculture); Eric Mathur (Diversa Corporation); Francois Pythoud (Swiss
Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape); Geoff Tansey
(Consultant Quaker United Nations, Geneva); Petro Terblanche (CSIR).
Introduction by Walter Fust (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)
and Heinz Imhof (Syngenta).
Registration and additional information http://www.benefitsharing.org