Today in AgBioView: October 4, 2003:
* Expert View: Plant New Seeds in the GM Debate
* Spin Harvest is Spreading
* The Guardian - Results of Field Trials
* Fischler Urges EU States To Lift Modified-Crops Ban
* GM Crops in Brazil: An Amber Light for Agri-business
* Farming and Plant Biotech: Thailand Maintains Total Ban On Using It
* Re: "Organic" Food Produces More Nutritious Piss
* The Soil Depletion Song
* NZ Men Lodge Complaints on GE Billboards
* ISB News Report, October 2003
* Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in World Food Aid
* GM: Africa's Opportunity
* Intellectual and Moral Poverty of Deceitful Activists
- Paul Ohm (Edgbaston), Telegraph (UK), Oct 2, 2003
Sir - According to a government consultative paper, a large majority of
people do not want genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in
Britain. As a keen amateur technologist, I have never felt so disgusted by
popular ignorance and prejudice.
These instinctive Luddites, sunk in the darkness of medieval superstition,
are always aghast when exposed to the light of scientific reason. Why do
they oppose GM crops? Apparently they are concerned about the risk of
contaminating conventional crops, particularly "organic" crops, which
would deny freedom of choice for consumers. They believe GM technology is
driven more by profit than by public interest.
Needless to say, their arguments are pure organic rubbish. Profit and
public interest, as most people know, are identical. There is no future in
the long run for so-called "conventional" or so-called "organic" plants.
Like everything that stands in the way of technological progress, they are
going to disappear, however much whining sentimentalists, forever worrying
about buttercups and daisies, try to protect them.
But the Government cannot simply ignore prejudices that belong, like
slavery, bear-baiting and homophobia, to a past age. It must strive,
through intensive, compulsory education, to eradicate them for good.
Expert View: Plant New Seeds in the GM Debate
- Ragnar Lofstedt, The Independent (UK), Oct 5, 2003
Last month the Government released its "GM Nation" report, which
summarised the findings of 675 public meetings, 36,557 feedback forms, a
series of focus groups and public emails. And according to the report, we
are overwhelmingly opposed to the whole GM concept.
Should we be surprised by these findings? Certainly not. As I have argued
previously on these pages, the GM debate is no longer a scientific but a
political one. The primary reasons why 54 per cent never want GM crops
grown in Britain, or 84 per cent believe they will cause unacceptable
interference with nature, are that the survey participants trust neither
the messages put forward by those policy makers nor the agro-businesses
that are trying to introduce GM crops to the UK, and aren't convinced
there will be any benefits in using them.
So what now? Should we go on with more public consultation exercises on
this topic? No, the outcome will be the same. What is needed is for the
regulators to re-establish trust with the public. This is not easily done,
as the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that promote anti-GM messages
have much more credibility with the public than the regulators supporting
For example, in his book In the Chamber of Risk, Professor William Leiss
of Queen's University, Ontario, shows how quickly opinion on genetically
modified organisms can swing once NGOs become involved. Before Greenpeace
launched its global campaign against GMOs in Canada in the autumn of 1999,
only one third of Canadians polled had any concerns about them. By
December that same year, almost two thirds were expressing fears about
having GM products on their shelves, with the public no longer believing
the messages of the regulators or the scientists that GM foods were safe.
Of course, faced with such a dramatic swing in such a short time, it is
very hard for regulators to recapture the initiative, which is exactly
what we are seeing in the UK today. And they will continue to lose ground
until they put time and resources into communicating risks properly.
The regulators can do this in two ways. First, they can try to emulate the
sort of culture established by the US Environ- mental Protection Agency,
which developed an in-house research programme on risk communication in
the 1980s to ensure that the research conducted on a topic met its
Over many years, in addition, the agency has paid for members of its staff
to attend outside courses (such as the annual programme run by the Harvard
Centre for Risk Analysis). By taking into account the theories and
concepts of risk communication, the agency has been largely able to
rebuild its trust base with the American public.
Second, regulators need to engage with the public to uncover exactly what
concerns it has. For example, Baruch Fischhoff and his colleagues at
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have shown that by carrying out
carefully constructed face-to-face surveys with people lasting up to two
hours or more - and then, based on the results of these surveys,
developing "mental models" showing the public's actual knowledge of the
issue at hand - regulators were able to construct risk communication
guides that were much more attuned to common concerns.
In sum, UK regulatory bodies such as the Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs have a lot of work to do. But rather than pouring money
into consultation exercises, let's ensure they first pay attention to the
importance of risk communication.
Professor Ragnar Lofstedt is director, King's Centre for Risk Management,
King's College London.
Spin Harvest Is Spreading
- Tony Smith (Branston) ,Lincolnshire Echo (UK), Oct 2,2003
I am fed up with people telling me what I think. Last week we had, yet
again, a small minority telling me what I think about GM foods /
fluoridation of water / MMR vaccination, and god knows what else. Where
does it stop? Food has been modified for years by additives and no-one
complains. Remember food irradiation? Now who bothers?
Fewer than 50,000 in the country (September 24) speaking on my behalf on
these subjects? I don't think so. As for MMR, I recall years ago that
doctors were saying that all treatment carries a risk, not least
immunisation, and this was before MMR. Spin not only affects politics but
every aspect of life. Perhaps we should get back to facts rather than
The Guardian - Results of Field Trials
- Marita Gill
Prof Prakash and AgbioView: Am I going mad, or do these results simply
mean that all the expense, time and anguish of the field trials has
resulted in the conclusion,
"If you use an improved weed management system,
(1) you will have fewer weeds on your property; and
(2) this is a bad thing"?
We shall see on publication whether the article is a true reflection of
the Royal Society's findings, but are UK farmers really expected to be
custodians of weeds? Aren't the effects of glyphosate and glufosinate
already well-known? How do these constitute "findings"?
Surely this result would likely hold true of any improved herbicide used
on non-GM crops; and certainly if the farmer chose to change crops, run
sheep or build a farmhouse on the field instead?
Excerpt from the Guardian, 2 October, "GM crops fail trials amid
The numbers of weed species and various types of spiders, ground beetles,
butterflies, moths and bees in fields of GM crops and the adjacent
conventional crop fields were counted to see if they showed marked
differences. All were treated with herbicides to kill weeds but the GM
crops were modified to survive special types made by Monsanto and Bayer.
The papers accepted for publication by the Royal Society show that in GM
sugar beet and oil seed rape the weeds and insects were significantly less
numerous. Spraying with the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate had taken a
heavy toll in the beet fields and the Bayer product glufosinate ammonium
had wiped out many species in the rape fields.
Fischler Urges EU States To Lift Modified-Crops Ban
- Tobias Buck, Financial Times (UK), Sep 30, 2003
Franz Fischler, the European Union farm commissioner, yesterday pleaded
with member states to lift their moratorium on the approval of new
genetically modified organisms, although some countries insisted further
legislation was needed to shield consumers and farmers from potential
hazards linked to the technology.
His call comes as Brussels faces strong international pressure to restart
authorisations of GMOs following its five-year de facto ban on new
approvals, imposed by a coalition of member states. The ban faces a legal
challenge by the US and other countries at the World Trade Organisation.
The European Commission has pushed hard to make sure the moratorium is
lifted before a WTO panel rules on the case, which could be next year at
However, the Commission's efforts have run into opposition from some
member states as well as from environmentalists, whose hostility to GMO
technology reflects fears about food safety and animal health. The EU
this year passed two tough laws dealing with the labelling and
traceability of GMOs, a move the Commission argued would lead directly to
the removal of the ban.
However, countries such as Austria and Luxembourg said at a meeting of
farm ministers in Brussels yesterday they would not back any new GMO
authorisations without EU-wide rules on the "co-existence" of
conventional, biological and GM farming.
Such rules would include measures aimed at preventing cross-pollination of
GM and non-GM crops and would establish under what circumstances farmers
would have to pay damages in case of such contamination. The Commission
wants such rules to be established at a national level, to prevent any
Mr Fischler told the ministers yesterday: "It is important to note that
the co-existence debate should not be misused for causes that will further
delay the authorisations of new GMOs."
Although EU officials present at the talks said Austria and Luxembourg had
failed to win broad support, Josef Proll, Austria's farm minister, said
there were "several countries leaning towards our position". Germany, for
example, had backed Vienna's call for EU-wide rules setting out liability
for farmers responsible for contaminating other farmers' crops.
Despite Mr Proll's remarks, Commission officials said they remained
optimistic that the ban would be lifted in time. "Austria has not caused a
domino effect," said a spokesman for Mr Fischler.
GM Crops in Brazil: An Amber Light for Agri-business
- The Economist, Oct 2 ,2003
'Brazilian farmers will embrace genetically modified crops, unless
European consumers pay them not to'
JOSÉ ALENCAR, Brazil's vice-president, was feeling sorry for himself last
week. His boss, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was abroad, lecturing George
Bush at the UN and visiting Fidel Castro in Cuba. That left Mr Alencar as
the “poor wretch” with the unpleasant task of signing a decree that for
the first time allows the planting of genetically engineered crops in
The vice-president was caught between two juggernauts. One is an alliance
of activists and politicians who regard biotechnology as a dangerous
novelty foisted on Brazil by malign multinational companies. Many are
close to President da Silva's Workers' Party, which dominates the
government. The other is Brazil's increasingly powerful agri-business
lobby, which sees biotech as a competitive tool. The decree—which allows
the planting and sale this year of a herbicide-resistant variety of
soyabean developed by Monsanto, an American company--is a victory for the
planters. It will reverberate from the floor of Brazil's Congress to the
shelves of European supermarkets.
In soyabeans, Brazil is a superpower (see chart). Within five years, it
could become the world's biggest producer, reckons the United States'
Department of Agriculture. Soya products already account for about 5% of
Brazil's total exports. It has achieved this despite banning the use of
genetically modified (GM) seed. That has set it apart from the United
States, where 80% of the soya is GM, and Argentina, where nearly all of it
is. The ban was popular not just with Lula's supporters but also with
ordinary Brazilians and biotech-wary consumers in Europe.
The waiving of the ban, albeit for only one season, will shock both
groups. Lula's traditional supporters are already troubled by his
government's orthodox economics. They sense another betrayal. Marilena
Lazzarini, head of IDEC, a consumer-advocacy group, accuses the government
of succumbing to “pressure from economic interests”. Europeans, accustomed
to eating GM-free food without paying much extra for it, may have to
choose between their phobias and their wallets.
Farmers will cheer. In Rio Grande do Sul, a southern state, farmers have
long flouted the ban, planting Monsanto seeds smuggled in from
neighbouring Argentina. These require less weed killer and tillage.
Brazilians get extra savings because they do not pay royalties to Monsanto
for the smuggled seed. The clandestine crop already accounts for 10-20% of
Brazil's total. Unbanned, Monsanto guesses that its seeds would account
for 70% of soyabean production within a decade.
Brazil's treatment of GM crops has bordered on farce. In 1998 its agency
for vetting biotechnology approved GM soya. IDEC and others persuaded a
court to block the decision. Earlier this year Lula said farmers could
sell, just this once, the soya they had harvested. Mr Alencar's decree is
another one-off exemption. It applies only to farmers who already have the
seed (ie those in Rio Grande do Sul). It, too, is likely to be challenged
in court. But the alternative, said the agriculture minister, Roberto
Rodrigues, was "civil disobedience". The decree requires farmers using GM
seed to register with the government, but lax enforcement means few will.
A new law is supposed finally to settle the procedures for approving
biotech products. The government has promised to send it to Congress this
month, but has already missed deadlines. The pro-biotech Mr Rodrigues,
himself a farmer, is tussling with his cautious colleague, Marina Silva,
the environment minister, over how tough the procedure should be.
Foes of GM farming think they have an irresistible argument: the world
does not want it. So say politicians in Paraná state, Brazil's
second-largest soya producer, where the seeds are conventional. The state
governor is pushing a local law that would ban GM soya from the state and
close its port to GM crops.
Inconveniently for the antis, though, "many Paraná farmers want to produce
biotech soya," says Carlos Augusto Albuquerque of the local farmers'
federation. The important thing is to segregate GM from non-GM varieties,
which will be easier if Monsanto soya is legal. If the port is closed,
biotech farmers will use others.
The reason for Mr Albuquerque's stance can be found in European kitchens.
In Britain, where consumers are especially fussy, supermarkets sell pork
and chicken raised on non-biotech soya for the same price they once
charged for Monsanto-fed meat. They can do so in part because Brazilian
farmers, the main source of non-GM soya, are paid little extra for it.
If Brazil shifts largely to biotech soya, non-GM farmers may at last gain
the leverage to extract something more than the derisory premium they are
accustomed to. For Europeans, that will come on top of the costs of
complying with new regulations, which are about to mandate labeling of GM
animal feed (though not of the meat itself) and an expensive paper trail
to certify the purity of non-GM ingredients. If supermarkets pass such
costs on, consumers' appetite for GM-free food could wane.
Thanks to Mr Alencar's one-year decree, the premium for non-GM soya in
Brazil is rising already. The prospect of further gains will tempt Brazil
to join the other soya superpowers in allowing the market to determine how
much biotech seed to plant. If that happens, it will be Lula, not his
vice-president, who takes the heat.
Farming and Plant Biotechnology: Thailand Maintains Total Ban On Using It
- Darunee Edwards, Bangkok Post Oct 5, 2003 http://www.bangkokpost.com
Essentially, plant biotechnology describes a process commonly referred to
as genetic engineering in which genetic information and techniques are
used to produce improved strains of plants.
Plant biotechnology allows scientists to identify beneficial traits in one
plant qualities such as added nutrition, enhanced flavour or a greater
ability to fight pests or diseases and incorporate them into another. This
modification process is not new and occurs naturally, usually with the
help of wind or insects.
Crops that are modified through plant biotechnology sometimes referred to
as "genetically modified'' or "genetically improved'', because the process
of gene transfer has been accelerated. This can be viewed as an
improvement on basic farming techniques that have been used for
generations. While the underlying processes have been around for many
years. The commercialisation of biotech crops occurred in 1996 in the
United States with a biotech-enhanced tomato product.
Since 1999 the market has grown immensely. Land masses totalling hundreds
of millions of rai throughout the world are now exclusively devoted to the
planting of biotech crops. The estimated global area of biotech crops for
2002 was 362 million rai, grown by between 5.5 million and six million
farmers in 16 countries -- up from five million farmers and 13 countries
The trends indicate that increasing numbers of farmers are choosing to
grow biotech crops. In Thailand this choice is not yet available to
farmers. The government has a comprehensive ban on farmers employing any
agro-biotechnologies in any of their crop varieties.
The government also refuses to permit third parties or even its own civil
servants from conducting field test trials on any biotech crops, even if
these crops are in commercial use in other countries. The government's
position remains firm and yet it appears evident that there are several
key factors limiting productivity in Thailand's agricultural sector, apart
from competitive pressures.
As in many other countries, the agricultural sector in Thailand is
adversely affected by soil erosion, dramatic and unexpected weather
changes and stress factors such as drought, heat and saline soil
conditions. Further, too much of Thailand's crop yield is lost annually
due to disease, pests and weeds as well as spoilage during transport and
On a global level, although the world's annual population growth rates
have declined somewhat over the last few years, it is expected that the
world's population will increase to 8.1 billion by 2030. The population of
those regions and demographic groups most subject to poverty and
under-nutrition are expected to increase the fastest during this period.
Currently, the amount of arable land in Thailand devoted to agriculture is
declining. This is a trend common in countries where more and more people
move to the expanding cities in search of higher-paying jobs. The
questions then arises, can Thailand's food self-sufficiency last forever?
Is Thailand's food self-sufficiency using exclusively conventional crops
guaranteed forever? In many parts of the world, including Thailand farms
are very often small. The challenge for small farmers is to produce enough
food for their families and still have enough to earn a living.
These farmers are at the mercy of drought, torrential rains and pests.
Further, labour is often in short supply. Compounding these problems,
commodity prices for the world's staple products, such as corn and wheat
often fluctuate greatly. Meanwhile, the price of producing crops continues
It can be viewed that higher productivity per unit of land and water is
essential to ensure the availability of sufficient staple foods to today's
growing population. Crops with higher yields are needed. However, they are
needed against a backdrop of farmers who are constantly facing problems
that are both natural and man-made.
Thus, both sides of the biotech debate would agree that the highest
possible agricultural productivity should be realised from the arable
farmland that remains in the world. Again, the pressure is on the farmer,
including Thai farmers, with potentially far-reaching implications for
their livelihood. In Asia, countries such as China, the Philippines, India
and Indonesia allow their farmers to apply plant biotechnologies in
growing increasingly greater varieties of crops.
If Thailand is to join these countries in permitting its farmers to use
agro biotechnologies, its first step will be to allow controlled field
trials that show the benefits of these crops. We will explore these and
other important issues in further articles in this series on plant
biotechnology. The next article will highlight some of the applications of
plant biotechnologies in developing and developed countries.
- This is the first part of an occasional series on biotechnology and its
applications. Darunee Edwards is a deputy director at the National Center
for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
Re: "Organic" Food Produces More Nutritious Piss
- Muffy Koch South Africa
The review Tom deGregori did for Agbioview readers on the publication
"Effect Of Diets Based on Foods From Conventional Versus Organic
Production on Intake and Excretion Of Flavonoids And Markers of
Antioxidative Defense In Humans, Journal of. Agricultural and. Food
Chemistry 51 (19), 5671-5676, August, 2003." is extremely valuable for
those of us facing public debates and misinformation on a daily basis
(AgBioview 2 Oct 03).
Please extend our thanks to him. Also, I'd like to encourage other experts
to review similar reports and give us the scientific facts and tools to
refute them when they are used to spread misinformation.
The Soil Depletion Song
-Nutrition News Focus, Oct 2, 2003 http://www.nutritionnewsfocus.com/
(Sent by Tom DeGregori)
The refrain that depleted soils yield less nutritious fruits and
vegetables is one story that refuses to go away even though there is
minimal evidence for it. Vitamins are not found loose in the soil just
waiting for plants to soak them up into their roots. Plants synthesize
their vitamins from a variety of building blocks in the soil. Minerals are
taken up from the soil, but if there is a deficiency in a mineral needed
for growth of the plant, it simply does not yield commercially viable
amounts of fruits or vegetables.
Many people hold the belief that commercial fertilizers lack some
nutrients that are present in the soil or in organic fertilizers. This is
simply not true. Most commercial fertilizers are formulated to give the
highest yield of whatever crop they are used on. While there may be some
variations in mineral levels of produce due to soil content, only selenium
varies markedly. Some plants can take up lead in very variable amounts
depending on the immediate environment.
HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Depleted soil is not commercially
profitable. Therefore, farmers use fertilizers containing all the needed
nutrients for specific crops. While organic farming may be more
environmentally friendly, there is no nutritional difference in vitamins
or minerals between crops grown under these two conditions.
Men Lodge Complaints on GE Billboards
- The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand), Oct 3, 2003
A few "stupid white men" are finding a billboard showing a naked,
genetically engineered woman, whose four breasts are being milked,
difficult to swallow. Alannah Currie, founder of Mothers Against Genetic
Engineering in Food and the Environment (Madge), who masterminded the
billboard, said she had received two complaints about the image.
Complainants named themselves as "stupid white men", after Ms Currie's
claim that only people of that description were likely to be offended. The
seven billboards were posted in Wellington and Auckland on Wednesday. The
Advertising Standards Complaints Board has received a couple of
Board secretary Glen Wiggs said it was "early days yet" but the
complainants found the billboard "generally offensive". However, at least
10 people have contacted Madge in support of the campaign, which is
designed to spark discussion about the ethics and role of genetic
"They're saying they had never really thought about it before and it makes
people think," said Ms Currie, a former singer with the Thompson Twins.
ISB News Report, October 2003 - INFORMATION SYSTEMS FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY
* Making Decisions on the Release of GM Crops
* GM Foods: Treading Water in the Stream of Commerce
* RecA and Transgenic Livestock Production: A Method to Improve Efficiency
* Benefits from Transgenic Maize Resistant to Corn Rootworm
* Tailoring Modern Biotechnologies for Resource-Poor Farmers
he Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in World Food Aid
- Economic Perspectives, Sept.1, 2003
Biotechnology has the potential to play a key role in reducing chronic
hunger, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which missed out on the "Green
Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s, says University of Illinois professor
Bruce Chassy. He urges more public investment in agricultural research,
education and training at the local and national levels.
GM: Africa's Opportunity
- Walter Alhassan, Food without Frontiers - openDemocracy; Oct 2, 2003
The marketing and developing of GM crops across Africa is intensely
controversial. But in an interview with Sophie Jeffreys and Ian Christie
of openDemocracy, Walter Alhassan argues that African farmers have little
to fear from biotechnology when it is correctly monitored, and much to
openDemocracy: What does biotechnology offer to Africa?
alter Alhassan: Unlike Liz Orton, I believe that GM technology is one of
the components of biotechnology which holds out the biggest promise for
solving Africa’s food security problems.
It is a tool which, if judiciously applied alongside other institutional
interventions, will overcome Africa’s food security constraints. The power
of GM technology lies in its ability to move desirable genes across the
species barrier to enable the recipient organism cope with various
stresses (insect, bacteria, virus, fungus, nematode or other parasites,
soil fertility, drought). The technology also identifies and concentrates
desirable genes within a species – but this feature of GM is not the main
source of controversy over new techniques.
It is, rather, the transfer of genetic material across species boundaries
which raises ethical (non-scientific), health (allergies) and
environmental concerns. The environmental concerns relate to unintended
crossing of the modified organism (say a crop of maize) with a wild
relative or cultivated variety such as the farmer’s variety (landrace).
This phenomenon – known as gene flow or genetic erosion – can reduce
Before a GM product is released it undergoes stringent biosafety tests to
ensure that these risk factors are addressed to a large extent. A permit
must be granted by a National Biosafety Committee to the applicant who
wishes to introduce a genetically modified organism into a country either
through importation or development of the organism within the country. A
risk assessment is done based on evidence demanded and supplied by the
applicant such as the influence on related species (gene flow or
hybridisation, health trials including evidence of non-allergenecity.
The development of the GM product is done under strict biosafety
conditions as provided by the biosafety laws and framework of the country.
This will require that until the product is cleared for release it be
handled under containment or quarantine facilities in the laboratory and
in the field. Even when the product is cleared some legislation require
that it be labeled.
Because of lack of information and the consequent fear of the unknown some
countries have introduced stringent precautionary legislation to control
and in some case deny access to this very powerful tool which finds use in
agriculture, industry, health and the environment. It is worth stressing
that GM intervention is the last resort when traditional methods are
either intractable or will take too long to accomplish. It is a complement
to traditional technology and does not replace it.
openDemocracy: What has been the extent of public debate on GM technology
Walter Alhassan: Due to the current low level of awareness the current
level of emotionally-charged debate seen in the developed countries is not
seen in Africa. Indeed, African farmers who have heard what GM technology
is doing for other farmers often ask to test the products.
In my recent survey Agrobiotechnology Application in West and Central
Africa (2002) for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
(IITA) I visited countries in West and Central Africa, farmers in Cote
d’Ivoire demanded to test Bt cotton and to use it if it proved
efficacious. Currently, Burkina Faso is field testing Bt cotton. It is the
only country in West Africa currently testing a GM product on the field.
Nigeria is poised to start the testing of genetically modified cassava
against devastating viral diseases. South Africa has already
commercialized Bt maize and cotton. Kenya is currently field testing Bt
maize under open quarantine. More countries in Africa are poised to join
The major concern for an impending biotechnology revolution in Africa is
with trade. The bulk of trade in agricultural commodities is with Europe
which does not appear to favour trade in GM food products. There is the
fear of a trade embargo following the introduction of GM agricultural
commodities in Africa.
openDemocracy: What GM products are being used now in Africa? What
benefits do you see?
Walter Alhassan: GM products in use in parts of Africa are Bt maize
(against stem borers) and Bt cotton (against cotton boll worm). There is a
drastic reduction in the amount of agro-chemicals needed to produce these
crops. This greatly reduces the impact on the environment from the
collateral damage caused by pesticides against beneficial insects
(pollination and biological control) and possible toxicity to farmers from
handling pesticides. The cost of pest control is cut considerably through
direct reduction of cost of the pesticide and saving of labour in
Other products in line to benefit from GM technology are cowpeas (prone to
insect attack), cassava (cassava mosaic virus) and bananas/plantain (Black
Sigatoka). Other crops are cocoyam (prone to root rot) and coconut (lethal
yellowing disease). Malnutrition from micronutrient deficiency (iron,
Vitamin A, zinc) has been the scourge of children under five pregnant
women. Biotechnology is to be used to assist in the rapid identification
of genes carrying traits for these micronutrients and to concentrate them
in food crops.
South Africa is the only country in Africa actively commercialising Bt
maize and cotton as far back as 1998. The advantage is a reduction in
production cost through a diminished use of pesticides with the attendant
hazard to human health and the environment alluded to earlier. The use of
Bt maize has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of
aflatoxin which is a potent toxin produced by a fungus. Infestation often
starts from the field and worsens under storage. Countries such as Uganda
(banana), Kenya (maize, cotton, sweet potato), Burkina Faso (cotton),
Nigeria (cassava) and Egypt (tomatoes) are in the field testing stage for
the products indicated against their names.
openDemocracy: How are African states going to secure access to new
biotechnologies? And what safeguards will there be for farmers, consumers
and the environment?
Walter Alhassan: To ensure that African countries access these
technologies, frantic efforts are taking place to build up their
biotechnology capacities and to develop the necessary biosafety protocols.
While South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe already have the necessary laws in
place, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Cote d’Ivoire have draft laws at
the point of legislation.
Many African countries are signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. This Convention
governs the movement of GM products across national boundaries. All
countries of Africa are building the necessary capacity in biotechnology
to be able to apply the tool as appropriate in developing their own
products or assessing the safety of GM products developed from outside.
Agencies like the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID and UNEP/GEF are helping
African countries to develop the infrastructure needed to make use of
The necessary capacity must be built to ensure that African scientists
living in an environment of chronic food deprivation can be their own
spokespersons as to whether GM or non-GM technology is the way forward for
their countries. This capacity cannot readily be built if African
countries are constantly harassed and intimidated with trade barriers if
they should opt for GM technology. African biotech capacities should be
built up to the point of being able to produce and maintain GM and non-GM
product lines without cross-contamination to the satisfaction of trade
Africa missed the green revolution, which was to a large extent
input-intensive. GM technology minimises the use of inputs. Africa, with
its rich biodiversity, cannot afford to miss out on the GM revolution.
Intellectual and Moral Poverty
- Gary Jones, openDemocracy, 08-Aug-2003
In 'The war of the world: America, GM, and developing countries' we hear
from another deceitful activist,Devinder Sharma.
There is a very real problem in world agriculture; heavily subsidized and
protectionist policies that impoverish less developed regions and nations.
All developed nations commit this crime against less developed countries
but by far the worst offender is the European Union. Sharma rails against
the US and international trade organizations but says nothing at all about
the worst offender.
The intellectual and moral poverty of Sharma's deceitful rant is stunning.
Hunger is a huge problem in the world. Poverty, disease, lack of
education, oppression of women and minorities, population growth,
environmental degradation and political oppression are all direct
consequences of food insecurity.
Agriculture is the foundation of civilization, the base on which
development stands. Improving the ability of poor peoples to produce
sufficient food for their needs is the first step in helping them uplift
Europe has exploited the people of Asia, Africa, India and S. America for
centuries. Theft of resources and enslavement of populations is no longer
done at the point of a sword, it is done with the point of a pen. The USA,
with subsidy rates half that of the EU, is not blameless but if the EU was
to do no more than reduce its protections to the level of the US the
developing world would be very, very much better off.
Opposition to GM is a deceitful attempt to maintain European protectionism
at the expense of the developing world. The tradition of exploitation and
indifference to suffering continues.
- From: rrose Posted: 11-Aug-2003
I am appalled by Mr. Sharma's statement that "Zambia and Zimbabwe led the
resistance against GM foods, saying that it would prefer its poor to die
than to feed them with unhealthy food."
Firstly, GM food is not unhealthy. Secondly, for any government to make
such irresponsible decisions on the part of its citizens is entirely
unconcionable. Mr. Sharma's article is irresponsible in tacitly supporting
such lunacy. There is a great deal of scientific evidence to support the
use and continued development of genetically modified crops. The
interested lay reader should make an effort to seek out the truth, which
is not well represented in Mr. Sharma's article.
Re: Intellectual and Moral Poverty - Reply
- Solana Larsen Posted: 30-Sep-2003
Apologies. 'openDemocracy' has removed the article by Devinder Sharma
because it contained unsubstantiated claims. It can today be found
elsewhere online: http://www.countercurrents.org/en-sharma200703.htm
We have asked Sharma to clarify his point and when he does we will
- Sincerely, Solana Larsen - forum moderator