Today's AgBioView 'Special on GM Maize'
From http://www.agbioworld.org : November 7, 2003
* GM Maize Could Push Crop to World No.1 By 2020
* Global Review of Transgenic Crops: 2002;
* Feature: Bt Maize
* Mexican Maize and GM Corn: Protecting a Center of Origin
* Are GM Crops A Threat To Biological Diversity?
* .. No Threat So Far ... Aren't The Greatest Threat
* Mexican Maize Resource Library from AgBioWorld.org
* CIMMYT Director General Responds to Erroneous ETC Statements
* The CIMMYT Maize Program and Transgenic Maize
* National Corn Growers Association
* Biotech and Genetic Diversity - Corn in Mexico
- The Economist, Nov. 6, 2003 http://www.economist.com
'Genetic modification works'
Finicky consumers in the rich world, particularly in Europe, may be
rejecting genetically modified crops, but a report by the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications ( ISAAA ), a
not-for-profit organisation based in Ithaca, New York state, suggests that
many poor countries are embracing them enthusiastically. The report
examines the take-up of maize that has had the gene for a natural
insecticide produced by a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis , or Bt
, engineered into it.
At the moment, according to the ISAAA , 9% of the world's maize crop is
lost to insect pests. That loss costs $5.7 billion, while a further $550m
is spent on insecticide. The organisation reckons the widespread
deployment of Bt maize could halve both figures. It reports that trials of
the modified crop raised yields by up to 23% in China, by up to 24% in
Brazil, and by up to 41% in the Philippines. Gains in countries where Bt
maize is already planted commercially, such as America, Argentina, South
Africa and Spain, range from 5% to 10%.
One of the principal uses of maize is to make animal feed, and the ISAAA
expects the maize harvest to outstrip those of wheat and rice by 2020, as
meat consumption in many currently poor countries rises along with
incomes. Genetic modification should help to increase the economic impact
of that shift, while reducing its environmental impact.
GM Maize Could Push Crop to World No.1 By 2020
Agbiotechnet, Nov. 6, 2003. http://www.agbiotechnet.com/
Adoption of GM maize could push maize ahead of wheat and rice to become
the world's most important crop by 2020, according to a new report.
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications
says that GM maize is currently accounting for an additional 35 million
metric tons, more than 5% globally.
ISAAA says that rising incomes in the developing regions of Asia and Latin
America are triggering a shift to more meat consumption, which will cause
a dramatic increase in demand for corn- based animal feeds.
Bt maize, containing an endotoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis that
protects plants from insect pests such as corn borers could cut in half
the estimated 9% loss of the global maize harvest to insect pests.
Adoption of Bt maize could make food and feed safer by minimizing insect
damage that causes the incidence of harmful mycotoxins, says ISAAA, and
could cut pesticide spraying by up to half, or 5,000 metric tons.
"Bt corn offers a unique opportunity to provide developing countries with
safer and more affordable food and feed, which can make a major
contribution in alleviating the hunger and malnutrition that claim 24,000
lives a day in Asia, Africa and Latin America," said Clive James, chair of
ISAAA and author of the report, " Global Review of Commercialized
Transgenic Crops: 2002 Feature: Bt Maize ."
The report said average yield gains for Bt maize over traditional
varieties were an average of 5% higher in the United States, 6% higher in
Spain, and about 10% higher in Argentina and South Africa. In Spain, the
only country in the European Union to grow a significant area of the
biotech crop, growers realized gains of 170 euros per hectare due to
increased productivity and insecticide savings.
In field trials, Bt maize yields were 24% higher in Brazil, up to 41%
higher in the Philippines, and between 9 and 23% higher in China.
Second-generation biotech maize -- such as the newly approved variety in
Canada and the United States that wards off rootworm -- will produce even
more gains with $1 billion in annual benefits to the United States alone.
The report also noted that developing countries will consume 80% of the
additional maize needed by 2020, with the lion's share of this increased
production being grown by developing world farmers, who make up 98% of the
world's 200 million maize farmers.
"This is a daunting challenge for developing world farmers, many of them
small and resource poor," said James. "The fact that biotechnology
incorporates beneficial traits into the seed makes these crops a very
appropriate tool for small farmers, as witnessed by the 5 million small
farmers in Asia, Latin America and Africa who have already adopted Bt
The first year of experience for farmers in the Philippines, the first
country in Asia to approve a biotech food crop for commercial planting,
"My previous harvest of traditional corn was 80 sacks of corn kernels per
hectare," said Rafael Sarmiento, who farms 1.3 hectares near General
Santos City in the Philippines. "With Bt corn, I now harvest close to 132
sacks of corn kernels per hectare." In fact, the report said increased
yields from Bt corn production were able to meet the subsistence
requirements of a family of five in the Philippines, while conventional
corn could not.
Carlos Andico, who farms 2 hectares nearby, added, "I earn big with Bt
corn because I only spend for fertilizers and do not need to spray. I
could have lived comfortably much earlier if Bt corn was introduced years
In addition to the yield gains, increased farmer incomes and reduced
pesticide spraying, the report said, "There is now clear evidence that
food and feed products from Bt corn are often safer than the corresponding
products from conventional corn because of lower levels of the mycotoxin
Fumonisin is produced when insects burrow into the corn stalks and
kernels, allowing fungi to enter and produce harmful mold. While mycotoxin
levels are closely monitored in the industrial world, they are not
monitored in many developing countries in the tropics where the threat
from fungal infection is greatest.
"Minimizing insect damage through Bt corn has significantly reduced
concentrations of fumonisin in food and feed," James said. "This is a
major benefit in developing countries where levels of the harmful mold are
higher in food and feed and where corn is directly used as food by a
significant portion of the population."
In 2002, Bt maize accounted for approximately 7% of the global maize area
-- about 10 million hectares. The study projects adoption of Bt maize
could be extended to between 28 and 32% of the global maize area -- 40 to
45 million hectares. Wider adoption and benefits could be made available
from five second-generation Bt maize varieties expected to be
commercialized in the next three years, ISAAA said.
Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2002; Feature: Bt Maize
- Clive James, Executive Summary of ISAAA Briefs 29, Nov. 4, 2003
Full Report at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/CBTNews/ISAAA_PR/briefs29print.htm
Growth in GM Crop Area
* In 2002, the global area of GM crops was 58.7 million hectares or 145
million acres, grown in sixteen countries by 6 million farmers, of whom 5
million were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. GM crop
area has grown 35 fold between 1996 and 2002 – one of the highest rates of
adoption of any technology in agriculture. The US was the largest grower
of GM crops (68%), followed by Argentina (23%) Canada (6%) and China (4%)
with the balance grown by the other 12 countries. Three countries India,
Colombia, and Honduras grew GM crops for the first time in 2002.
* The principal GM crops continued to be soybean, maize, cotton and
canola. On a global basis 51% of the 72 million hectares of soybean was
GM, 20% of the 34 million hectares of cotton, 9% of the 140 million
hectares of maize and 12% of the 25 million hectares of canola. Herbicide
tolerance continued to be the most dominant trait occupying 75% of the GM
global area in 2002, followed by insect resistance (17%) and the stacked
genes of herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, occupying 8%.
* In the first seven years of GM crop commercialization, 1996 to 2002, a
cumulative total of over 235 million hectares of GM crops were planted
globally which met the expectations of millions of small and large farmers
in both industrial and developing countries. GM crops delivered
significant agronomic, environmental health and social benefits to farmers
and to global society, and contributed to a more sustainable agriculture.
* Global GM crop area is expected to continue to grow in 2003.
Value of the Global Transgenic Seed Market in 2002
* The value of the global transgenic seed market is based on the sale
price of transgenic seed plus any technology fees that apply. The value in
2002 was $4.0 billion, up from $3.7 billion in 2001.
Global R&D Expenditures in Crop Biotechnology
* Global R&D expenditure in the private and public sectors is $4.4 billion
with over 95% of the total in the industrial countries, led by the US.
China is the leading investor in R&D crop biotechnology in the developing
countries, followed by India.
GM Crops and the Commercial Seed Industry
* GM crops represent approximately 13% of the $30 billion global
commercial seed market in 2001.
Feature: Bt Maize
The feature on Bt maize is devoted to:
* Assessing the performance to-date of the first generation of Bt maize
with the cry1Ab gene on a global basis over the last seven years
* Evaluating the future potential of cry1Ab and other Bt or novel genes
that confer resistance to the major caterpillar/moths (Lepidoptera),
particularly the economically important stem borer complex
* A preliminary assessment of new genes for the control of the corn
rootworm complex (Coleoptera/beetles), an important pest in the Americas
which has also been detected in 13 countries in Europe
The principal aim is to present a consolidated set of data that will
facilitate a knowledge-based discussion of the potential benefits and
risks that Bt maize offers global society. The topics presented include:
* the maize crop and its origins;
* global distribution of maize in developing and industrial countries, by
area, production, consumption, imports, and exports as well as projections
of future maize demand in 2020;
* definition of the areas sown to hybrids, open pollinated varieties and
* estimates of the number of maize farmers worldwide, by principal
country, and average size of maize holdings;
* maize production systems, germplasm development and maize utilization;
* an overview of the insect pests of maize as well as the crop losses they
cause, including the cost of control, and an analysis of the $550 million
global maize insecticide market and a gains from Bt maize;
* deployment of the cry1Ab gene in Bt maize, its global adoption and
assessment of benefits;
* a preview of the second generation genes which include the genes
cry3Bb1 and cry1Fa2, first commercialized in the US in 2003, and five
other gene products that are in development and expected to be launched
within the next three years;
* a review of Insect Resistance Management, the potential effect of Bt
maize on the environment and the food and safety aspects of Bt maize,
including the important topic of mycotoxins and the advantage that Bt
maize offers with lower levels of the mycotoxin fumonisin in terms of
food and feed safety, particularly in developing countries;
* a brief overview of trade issues as they relate to Bt maize in the USA
and the EU;
* concluding with an assessment of the global potential of Bt maize, as a
safe and sustainable technology that has the capacity to make a critical
contribution to global food and feed security, more specifically to the
unprecedented demand for approximately 850 million tons of maize in 2020,
60% of which will be consumed in developing countries which will have the
formidable challenge of having to produce most of their maize demands in
their own countries with imports supplying only around 10% or less;.
The Maize Crop
Approximately 75 countries in both the industrial and developing world,
each grow at least 100,000 hectares of maize; the total of 140 million
hectares produces 600 million MT of maize grain per year, valued at $65
billion annually, based on the 2003 international price of $108/MT.
Developing countries plant two-thirds of the global maize area, and
industrial countries one-third. The top five producers of maize are the US
229 million MT, China 124 m MT, Brazil 35.5 m MT, Mexico 19 m MT and
France 16 m MT. Of the top 25 maize countries in the world 8 are
industrial and 17 are developing countries including 9 from Africa, 5 from
Asia and 3 from Latin America.
There are approx. 200 million maize farmers worldwide, 98% of whom farm in
developing countries; 75% of maize farmers are in Asia (105 million in
China alone), between 15 and 20% in Africa and 5% in Latin America. Two
thirds of the maize seed sold globally is hybrid and only 20 % is
farmer-saved seed. In fact, hybrids are the predominant seed type in many
of the principal developing countries which have a seed distribution
system already in place for providing Bt maize to farmers; for example 84%
of the 105 million Chinese maize farmers buy hybrid seed, and 81% of all
maize seed used in Eastern and Southern Africa is hybrid.
Maize insect pests and the value of crop losses
The lepidopteran pests, particularly the stem borer complex, are a major
constraint to increased productivity, and are of economic importance in
most maize-growing countries throughout the world. Just under half (46%)
of the maize area in the 25 key maize-growing countries have medium (40%
area infested in temperate areas) to high levels (60% area infested in
tropics/subtropics) of infestation with lepidopteran pests. Corn rootworm
infests 20 million hectares in the Americas, requiring more insecticide
than any other pest in the US, with losses and control measures in the US
costing $1 billion per annum. The global losses due to all insect pests is
9%, equivalent to 52 million MT of maize, valued at $5.7 billion annually
and consuming insecticide valued at $550 million. Losses associated with
lepidopteran pests, that can be controlled by cry1Ab, are estimated to
cause losses of 4.5%, equivalent to half the total losses from insect
pests of maize.
Potential global benefits of Bt maize
Bt maize has proved to be a safe and effective product. Having undergone
rigorous testing for food and feed safety, it has provided environmentally
friendly and effective control of targeted pests, and the resistance is
still durable after seven years of deployment on 43 million hectares. It
is the first Bt maize product widely commercialized with proactively
implemented, science-based insect resistant management strategies
featuring refugia (areas planted to non-Bt maize) combined with high dose
technology. Global deployment of the cry1Ab gene in Bt maize has the
potential to increase maize production by up to 35 million MT valued at
$3.7 billion per year; yield gains due to Bt maize are estimated at 5% in
the temperate maize growing areas and 10% in the tropical areas, where
there are more and overlapping generations of pests leading to higher
infestations and losses. From a global perspective the potential for Bt
maize in the near to mid-term is substantial. There are several reasons
* Firstly, the cry1Ab gene has provided effective control of several of
the primary pests of maize, principally the stem borers, and intermediate
control for other caterpillar pests including armyworm and earworm. The
successful performance of Bt maize (cry1Ab) has resulted in its rapid
adoption on 43 million hectares in seven countries, since its introduction
* Secondly, new Bt products are already being launched including the
cry3Bb1 gene for corn rootworm control in the US in 2003 and the cry1Fa2
gene that provides effective control of pests controlled by cry1Ab with
enhanced control of fall armyworm and black cutworm. In addition there are
five new Bt and novel gene products that are anticipated for launch in the
next three years that will provide the necessary diversity in modes of
action to allow even more effective control of a broader range of the
principal insect pests of maize.
* Thirdly, in addition to the significant advantages that Bt maize offers
as a pest management tool, the product offers safer feed and food products
than conventional maize with lower levels of harmful mycotoxins, an
increasingly important attribute as food and feed safety is assigned
higher priority. Of the three major staples, maize, wheat and rice,
to-date maize is the only one that offers the significant benefits of
commercialized biotechnology. Bt maize now offers an increasing range of
options to meet the very diverse needs of the environments in which maize
Farmers assign Bt maize high value because it is a convenient and cost
effective technology that allows them to manage risk in an uncertain
environment and offers insurance against devastating crop losses in years
when pest infestations are unusually high. For example, benefits from
using Bt to control corn rootworm in the US alone, where it infests 13
million hectares, are projected at $460 million annually of which farmers
would gain two-thirds and technology developers one-third. Producer gains
of $289 million would be associated with increased yields, lower
production costs and a significant decrease (2,300 MT a.i, or more) in
insecticide use, which is currently the highest for any pest in the US.
Global deployment of Bt or novel genes to control the principal
lepidopteran pests of maize as well as corn rootworm has the potential to
substitute up to 40 to 50% of the current 10,700 MT (a.i) of insecticides
applied to maize globally, valued at approximately $550 million annually;
this has significant environmental implications..
Challenges and Opportunities
The potential yield gains of up to 35 million MT, attainable from the
first generation of Bt maize (cry1Ab), with more gains to come from the
second generation of Bt maize and novel gene technology, represent a
challenge and an opportunity to contribute to feed and food security in
2020, when, for the first time ever, maize demand will exceed the demands
for wheat and rice. The challenge is to produce an additional 266 million
MT globally to meet an unprecedented global demand totaling approximately
850 million MT of maize by 2020, fuelled by more demand for meat by a more
affluent global society. The 35 million MT potential gain from Bt maize
amounts to almost a 15% contribution to the additional 266 million MT
needed by 2020.
Of the additional 266 million tons required globally in 2020, 80%, or 213
million MT, will be required by developing countries and the formidable
challenge for them is to optimize domestic production to meet most of
their own additional needs, with imports expected to continue to provide
only around 10%. It is projected that Bt maize has the technological
potential to deliver benefits on 40 to 45 million hectares in the near to
mid term compared with the 10 million hectares it occupies today. This
should be an incentive for major maize consuming developing countries,
such as China and Brazil, to approve and adopt Bt maize because of the
significant and multiple benefits it offers, including less risks
associated with food and feed security.
The major constraints are the lack of regulatory capacity in many
developing countries, with acceptance, and trade issues being equally
important, especially relative to the market influence of the European
Union. Bt maize is likely to continue to experience high growth rates in
the near-term in the traditional markets of the US, Canada, Argentina,
South Africa, Spain, Philippines and Honduras. Subject to regulatory
approval and acceptance, Asia offers significant new opportunities
particularly in China and in India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Other
important markets include Brazil and Mexico in Latin America and Egypt,
Kenya, and Nigeria on the African continent.
Acceptance will be the major factor governing approval and adoption in
Eastern European countries such as Romania and Hungary, which are EU
accession countries. In Western Europe, France, Italy and Germany have
much to gain from the technology, but political considerations related to
acceptance have continued to result in rejection of the technology except
in Spain where Bt maize has been a success, occupying 10% of the national
maize area in 2003, having doubled from 5% in 2002.
Bt maize is a proven safe and effective technology that has the potential
to deliver benefits on 25 million hectares through hybrid systems in
temperate mega-environments, amongst which China offers the most important
opportunity. In the tropical environments with a potential of 18 million
hectares of Bt maize through hybrid systems, the most important
opportunity is in Brazil.
Bt maize offers a unique opportunity and an incentive for major maize
consuming developing countries to approve and adopt Bt maize and benefit
from the multiple and significant benefits it offers in terms of a safer
and more affordable food and feed, which can coincidentally make a major
contribution to food and feed security and to the alleviation of hunger
and malnutrition which claims 24,000 lives a day in the developing
countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Mexican Maize and GM Corn: Protecting a Center of Origin
- Pew AgBiotech, http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=111
When scientists reported two years ago that genes from genetically
modified corn may have been found in native Mexican corn species, it made
headlines around the world - for a few days.
Not so in Mexico. In a nation where corn – or maize – was originally bred
from a wild plant some 7,000 years ago and where both civilization and
culture are intertwined with this crop, the possibility that genes from GM
corn could have an impact on the immense variety of Mexican maize has
remained a highly visible and charged issue.
"Maize is one of the great factors for development of culture for this
country," says Juan Manuel Hernández, a Mexican agronomist from the
University Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro, speaking at a two-day Mexico
City workshop on gene flow hosted by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation for
Science (FUMEC) and the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology in late
Without doubt, maize plays a pivotal role in Mexico and Mexican culture.
What may be less obvious is how important Mexican maize is to the rest of
the world, because Mexico is the crop's "center of origin."
As a center of origin, Mexico is a source of enormous genetic diversity.
Mexico has a tremendous array of maize - some 59 races, each with a large
number of sub-varieties, said Rafael Ortega Paczka, research coordinator
at the University Autónoma Chapingo and member of the Mexican Society of
Plant Breeding. Unlike the limited number of varieties of corn that appear
in U.S. or European grocery stores, Mexican maize comes in all colors,
sizes, shapes, and textures with a variety of uses and flavors. What's
more, it is bred to grow in very specific places: from mountains where the
weather is wet and cool to the hot, drought-prone valleys, and everywhere
in between. The tremendous natural genetic diversity of maize is important
to the world because it allows breeders to develop new maize varieties
with traits that make it easier for farmers to grow.
In addition to these landraces, Mexico also is home to a wild grass called
teosinte, the plant from which maize was originally bred and developed
thousands of years ago. There is at least a theoretical concern that GM
corn could cross-pollinate with teosinte, introducing the corn's
"transgenes" (genes from one organism inserted into another organism) into
the wild teosinte population, according to evolutionary biologist Peter
Tiffin of the University of Minnesota.
The possibility for cross-pollination of native and agricultural varieties
– also known as "gene flow" – is not unique to GM corn. The concern is
that introducing modern corn varieties, including GM varieties, into the
center of origin could reduce the genetic diversity of maize. Should
modern varieties crossbreed with native maize, the resulting hybrids may
prove to be highly competitive and could displace some native varieties.
As a result, breeders could lose some genes from the native land races
that may be important later.
Because of general anxieties about agricultural biotechnology, concerns
about gene flow from GM corn receive significant attention and nowhere
more so than in Mexico. "This is the central issue in many parts of the
world, but especially in Mexico because it is the center of origin [of
maize]," said Exequiel Ezcurra, president of Mexico's National Institute
Even so, GM corn isn't the only, or necessarily the major, threat to maize
diversity. For example, general agricultural has significant effects on
the environment. "Agriculture is bad for biodiversity," say Peter Raven,
director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and board chairman for the
American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"Maize is an incredibly diverse crop," says Tiffin. It's also one that has
become completely dependent on humans because it cannot disperse its own
seeds. "If humans were to stop planting it, it would cease to exist."
Therein lays the crux of the Mexican maize matter: "The great part of the
diversity is in the hands of the farmers," says Hernández.
In addition, Paczka point out that "Many races (of maize) are being lost
because of the losses in tradition." Those traditions are being lost
because younger people are emigrating to the U.S. or urban areas in
Mexico. "Young people, women and men, leave not because they don't like
Mexico, but because they don't like poverty," says Daniela Soleri, who
studies culture of crop management practices in Mexico at the University
of California, Santa Barbara.
Some argue that GM corn could in fact help alleviate the economic problems
associated with migration and the resultant cultural loss which threaten
maize, says Robert Horsch, vice president of product and technology
cooperation at Monsanto, a producer of GM maize. "Biotech actually [could]
have benefits to small farmers in Mexico." In the Philippines, Horsch
notes, small farmers using GM corn have increased yields 30 percent and
reduced their costs by 20 percent. "These are very substantial, real
benefits from the first year of introduction."
Horsch expresses concern that many times a great deal of energy is spent
fighting over the wrong problem. For instance, while people were up in
arms about the possible effects of GM corn on monarch butterflies in the
U.S., logging was underway in Mexico that was dramatically reducing the
wintertime habitat for those very same butterflies. "The irony was that
the concern for a possible risk could have prevented solving an actual
threat to habitat."
There would be consequences for Mexico's economic future if it does not
allow GM crops, says Victor Villalobos, coordinator of international
affairs for Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural
Development. If Mexico must become more competitive in the international
market, it also needs to improve the standard of living for farmers,
protect natural resources and, develop a better regulatory framework and
better technology for rural farmers, he says. "It's clear that Mexico
cannot keep itself on the margin of benefits offered by biotechnology and
Raven agrees that GM technology could provide significant benefits for
Mexico. For example, one way to reduce the impact of agriculture on
biodiversity is to use current farmland more effectively and employ fewer
pesticides, he says. GM crops can help intensify production and stop the
spread of agriculture to marginal, sensitive lands, says Raven. "It's a
matter of record that GM crops have reduced the use of pesticides."
Luis Herrera Estrella, Director of CINVESTAV (Centro de Investigación y
Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional de México) agrees.
According to Dr. Estrella, in order for Mexico to reap the benefits of GM
technology while minimizing the risks, research must be completed to
understand what happens when transgenic varieties are planted in a center
of origin. He further notes that the research hasn't taken place in large
part because of the moratorium on planting GM corn in Mexico.
In order to get the best answers from any research conducted, University
of California, Santa Barbara's Daniela Soleri notes, the small farmer must
be involved. "In farmers' households all aspects of corn are part of
life," she says. "Corn is not bought and eaten, but it is planted, grown,
harvested and processed to make food. [It is] eaten, stored, used for
ceremonies and seed is shared with neighbors and family. That's different
from the industrial model we all live with. Our goal is to bring farmers
[points of view] into the policy discussion."
Regardless of the science or policy of the matter, however, there is no
magic bullet that's going to solve Mexico's maize controversy. That's
because it's a cultural - not scientific - matter, says Bill Lambrecht,
Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and
author of Dinner at the New Gene Café .
"Food is a cultural issue," says Lambrecht. "The notion was overlooked by
many people who started GM." Working through cultural issues is a
formidable task, he notes, recalling Charles DeGaulle's response to the
question of how to govern France, "How can you govern a country with 300
kinds of cheese?'"
Are GM Crops A Threat To Biological Diversity?
'No Threat... So Far'
- Klaus Ammann, Director, Botanical Garden of the University of Berne,
Chairman of the Biodiversity Section of the European Federation of
"I have written a 60-page report with thousands of references on this
question and I have not found a single instance where there was a
detrimental effect," says University of Bern's Klaus Ammann. "But that
doesn't mean it will always be that way."
As Ammann sees it, one of the problems with determining whether GM crops
will be detrimental to biological diversity is the fact that scientists
doing the studies are still trying to find the best method to address the
question. He notes ecologists are not really trained or experienced in
crop systems. And, those systems are very different than studying wild
"One of the real troubles with ecologists is that they work in habitats.
Then they go to an agricultural field and they [don't understand that
system]," Ammann says. "Even then you see that it's not a real field
study. But the work is getting better. We know much better what we are
doing in the field than 20 years ago."
"There are literally dozens of field studies being done right at this
moment," Ammann says. "The early U.S. field studies were sloppy. They were
lucky and saw only benefits. But we don't have any real long-term
However, the work today will lead to the type of information that will
help scientists determine how GM crops affect biological diversity. Until
then, Ammann notes some important information does exist. First, he notes,
"It's a myth that an escaped transgene can't be taken back. They trickle
Ammann points out single genes don't often persist through the generations
because a gene that is inserted in a plant often has a cost to that plant
that exceeds any benefits the gene confers to the plant, such as herbicide
resistance. He also notes that better molecular biology techniques will
allow for the detection of very minute levels of genetic flow of
transgenes. Ammann points out that these methods could be used to argue
for or against the introduction of GMOs into different areas.
However, Ammann notes that the discussion of the effect of transgenes on
biological diversity may be addressing a very minute issue associated with
biological diversity. "A bigger threat (to biodiversity) is agriculture
itself," he says. "Nothing reduces biodiversity like an agricultural
'GM Crops Aren't The Greatest Threat to Biological Diversity'
- Major Goodman, Professor, College of Agriculture & Life Science, North
Carolina State University
Corn Breeder and Expert on the Maize Genome,
An expert in corn, Major Goodman has two important questions when
considering whether GM corn is a significant threat to maize diversity:
Are GMO genes themselves any different from any other genes? And, will GM
maize have any effect on maize in Mexico? To the first question he
argues, "In general, they are not."
"I'm a plant breeder. I work with 10,000 to 20,000 genes at a time [when
making conventional hybrids]," he points out. In fact when breeding corn
the traditional way by crossing [mating] different varieties, he says. "I
have no idea what these genes are. These are very wide crosses. I strongly
suspect that this is more a threat to the status quo than a single
Yet, mankind has been doing just that for at least 10,000 years since the
advent of agriculture and the birth of civilization. Otherwise, "we
wouldn't be here today," he points out. Goodman is far less sanguine when
considering whether GM maize will affect Mexican maize. "It might," he
"Scientifically-improved [hybrid] corn has been around in Mexico since at
least the mid or early 1930's. Yet this has had remarkably little effect
on maize in Mexico. That's because only large farmers use most
scientifically improved corn," he notes. And, those farmers are in
Jalisco, Chiapas and northern Mexican states. "But much of Mexico's corn
farming is rain-fed, rain-limited and in the mid to high-elevation
These are the products of very ancient breeding programs by local small
farmers. They are generally isolated from the scientifically improved
varieties and don't even "flower" at the same time – so they have a hard
What's more, he says, "Hybrids work well when you have a large area to
grow and market them in." In contrast, they are poor performers in Oaxaca,
the maize Center of Origin, because there are too many microclimates and
virtually no irrigation. That means the small farmers are better off using
locally-bred corn that is adapted to, for instance, resist fungus in wet
highlands, or endure drought conditions in the lowlands.
"I have no doubt that GMOs have reached Mexico." But it's doubtful there
is any effect on the indigenous maize. Even if a hybrid appeared, they
tend to do well in the first generation and that vigor quickly degrades by
the second and third generations. "The odds of a transgene surviving are
not very good." That's not to say Goodman believes Mexican maize is
thriving. He notes, "I'd say there is a big threat from U.S. trade
A U.S. farmer invests about five minutes per bushel of corn. Mexican
farmers may invest more than 24 hours per bushel. That difference in
efficiency, plus the corn subsidies in the U.S. and NAFTA, are driving the
small farmers out of business – and the ancient maize races (hence maize
biodiversity) are disappearing as well. This is especially true since
maize can not grow without human intervention.
Goodman notes the survival of the Mexican farmer and the demographic
changes associated with corn cultivation are much bigger threats than
GMOs. He believes Mexican national germplasm banks need better funding
because they are non-funded at the moment. In addition, U.S. germplasm
banks need help as well. "That would certainly be the first response,"
Goodman notes. "In the long run it's very much in mankind's best interest
to see that these genes are preserved."
Mexican Maize Resource Library from AgBioWorld.org
AgBioWorld presents a brief library of resource documents of relevance to
the Mexican maize issue.
CIMMYT Director General Responds to Erroneous ETC Statements
- Masa Iwanaga, Director General, CIMMYT (Mexico), Oct. 22 2003
On 9 and 10 October 2003, the ETC group issued two press releases
reporting that studies in which they participated had identified
transgenes in maize varieties grown in farmers’ fields in nine Mexican
states. CIMMYT welcomes the new information on this issue. However, we
regret that ETC ventured beyond reporting the implications of their
findings and restated their erroneous accusations about CIMMYT’s
activities with respect to transgenic maize in Mexico, especially the
maintenance of CIMMYT’s maize genebank.
ETC’s press release, "Maize Rage in Mexico," charges that “there is no
plan to protect vital national and international collections of crop
germplasm stored in Mexico and elsewhere.” To the extent that this
accusation is made towards CIMMYT, which is the custodian of a large
international collection of maize genetic resources in Mexico, it is
completely and obviously false.
ETC should know this. CIMMYT has publicly explained how it is dealing with
this situation each time the group has issued a press release making this
accusation. CIMMYT has communicated directly with staff of ETC about this
issue as well.
This statement recapitulates CIMMYT’s position. We cannot, however, speak
for the Mexican government or for any of the other governments with which
we work (we work with about 100 countries). Nor are we empowered to take
the kinds of steps that a government might take and that some groups
apparently demand of us.
CIMMYT’s actions with respect to transgenic maize in Mexico date back to
long before gene flow between genetically modified crops and landraces
were subjects of debate--years before the ETC group first raised the issue
with respect to Mexico. The chronology of actions that CIMMYT has taken is
1. In 1995, when others were silent on this issue, CIMMYT, the Mexican
National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research, and
the Mexican National Agricultural Biosafety Committee began to express
their concern at a jointly convened workshop on "Gene Flow Among Maize
Landraces, Improved Maize Varieties, and Teosinte: Implications for
Transgenic Maize." Proceedings of this workshop were published in early
2. On 4 October 2001, CIMMYT issued a statement on the news brief in
Nature (Vol. 413) which had just reported that transgenic maize was
growing in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Puebla. We stated: “The
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)…regards this as
a serious development and offers its considerable expertise to the
appropriate Mexican institutions to (1) help identify the type and source
of the introduced gene(s), (2) assess potential impacts to biodiversity,
the ecology, and the socioeconomic environment, and (3) to explore
possible responses." We stand by that statement.
3. On 16 October 2001, CIMMYT posted results of its initial tests on maize
landraces stored in its genebank. Those tests found no traces of
transgenes. We took further action: we decided not to distribute maize
accessions from CIMMYT’s genebank unless they were collected before
transgenic maize was commercially released anywhere in the world. CIMMYT
took these precautions rapidly, prior to the publication of the scientific
study on this topic by Quist and Chapela (Nature Vol. 414, 29 November
4. Since then, CIMMYT has continued tests to ensure the absence of
transgenes in maize genetic resources stored in its genebank. In September
2002, we implemented new procedures at CIMMYT’s research stations in
Mexico to reduce the possibility that transgenes could enter maize
breeding materials or accessions being regenerated for the genebank (see
"The CIMMYT Maize Program and Transgenic Maize" ). These precautions are
essential, because each year more than 20,000 packages of seed (ranging
from a few grams to half a kilogram) arrive at CIMMYT from our partners
throughout the world. CIMMYT also ships more than 45,000 packages of seed
from its genebank and breeding programs to other countries.
5. Thanks to rapid action and funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, in
late 2002 CIMMYT initiated research focusing expressly on “the
determinants and consequences of gene flow in maize landraces and
implications for the livelihoods of Mexican farmers." It builds on earlier
research by CIMMYT and the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement,
France. Landraces and farming systems in three broad maize-growing
environments (highlands, lowlands, and the middle elevations) are being
studied in 20 municipalities in the states of Mexico, Tlaxcala, Puebla,
Hidalgo, and Veracruz. maize races.
It is precisely this kind of research that is needed to move the debate
(in Mexico and the world) beyond the facile, qualitative, and subjective
assumptions that are currently made (e.g., that gene flow is either
inherently “contaminating” or “improving”). It will provide the basis for
scientifically informed assessments and decisions. We would hope that
governments and civil society organizations alike would recognize that
such scientific contributions are useful and in keeping with CIMMYT’s
capacity and expertise. Our hope is that these contributions will lead to
constructive policies that address the very special issues raised by the
presence of transgenic maize in a center of diversity.
6. The next step is to complement the protective measures in use at CIMMYT
with routine, large-scale testing of seed that comes in and out of CIMMYT.
On 6 and 7 October 2003, CIMMYT charged a group of its scientists and
external experts from universities, government agencies, and advanced
research institutes in Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, and the USA to
recommend a cost-effective, large-scale, efficient protocol to identify
transgenes at internationally accepted standards. Outcomes of this
workshop (“Technical Issues Related to Sampling and Detection of
Adventitious Transgenic DNA Sequences") are reported on our website.
The protocol will be reviewed by management and will be validated for two
crop seasons and revised if necessary. Such a protocol for screening
breeding and genebank materials at CIMMYT may well serve as a model for
similar institutions around the world. It should be of concern to the
international community that this costly testing has not yet been
supported by dedicated funding from any of the countries (developed or
developing) or civil society organizations whose constituencies appear to
7. Far from being silent on the topic, CIMMYT scientists over the years
have regularly advocated the need for careful research and scientifically
informed action in relation to transgenic maize in Mexico, even when such
work literally “goes against the grain” of powerful industrial and
political interests. We have published articles in international
scientific journals, given numerous conference presentations and seminars,
and have conducted more than 50 interviews with local and international
media. We will continue to engage the media and stakeholders in the
scientific community in the future.
ETC and its associates charge in their October press releases that
CIMMYT’s failure “to take action on the contamination of traditional maize
is deplorable,” and they go on to call for “a specific strategy and
procedure to ensure that genebank accessions are protected from
contamination.” In both instances, as the information above clearly shows,
they are wrong.
The question then arises whether ETC’s attacks are born of ignorance or an
intentional disregard for the facts. We trust it is the former. We would
welcome the technical and financial support of ETC should they choose to
help us in this vital work. Along with constructive action, we welcome
constructive dialogue: communication through press releases has its
In an average year, CIMMYT provides genetic resources, including products
of its breeding research, to about 80 countries, a strong testament to the
value that governments and farmers place on CIMMYT’s work. CIMMYT’s
mission is to act as a catalyst and leader in a global maize and wheat
innovation network that serves the poor in developing countries. By
drawing on strong science and effective partnerships, we create, share,
and use knowledge and technology to increase food security, improve the
productivity and profitability of farming systems, and sustain natural
resources—including genetic resources. We intend to remain faithful to
this mission and invite all who share such goals to join with us in the
work needed to bring them to fruition.
The CIMMYT Maize Program and Transgenic Maize
The controversy surrounding transgenic (or, genetically modified-GM) maize
continues. Since Mexico is center of origin of maize, the government does
not permit the planting of transgenic maize, because of the possible
impact on maize genetic diversity. CIMMYT's response to this issue must be
careful and scientific, since some of the questions related to transgenic
maize do not yet have satisfactory answers. In that spirit:
1. We endorse the value and potential benefits of GM maize for people and
the environment. However, we believe that any decision on transgenic maize
in a country is that of the country. CIMMYT can work with countries that
choose to use the technology, by providing training, scientific
information, and information on intellectual property and biosafety policy
2. More research is needed on the genetic consequences of transgenes for
maize diversity, especially on issues relating to expression, fitness, and
3. To ensure confidence in and public acceptance of studies on biosafety
and diversity, in relation to GM maize, we recommend that such studies be
conducted by or in collaboration with reputable public institutions.
4. Given that Mexico is the center of origin for maize and that seed from
private companies may contain transgenes, CIMMYT will not grow germplasm
from private companies on its Mexican experiment stations and will not
distribute the seed in our trials as checks.
5. Private sector germplasm may be used at CIMMYT outreach sites, if done
carefully and only when essential. CIMMYT trials distributed in Africa,
South America, and Asia, and not grown in Mexico, may include private
sector hybrids as checks, provided the source company furnishes a written
statement to the effect that the hybrid (s) contain no transgenes, to the
best of their knowledge. If the company cannot provide such a statement
and the CIMMYT scientist must use a private sector hybrid, the scientist
must first justify the need to the Maize Program Director and have the
germplasm analyzed and certified as transgene-free by an independent
service provider recommended by the CIMMYT Applied Biotechnology Center.
6. For germplasm held in or considered for introduction into the
collections of the CIMMYT maize germplasm bank, the following procedures
will be followed:
* Test for the presence of transgenes using existing kits and tools,
before introducing new seed in the gene bank as designated materials.
* Sow a 5-meter wide buffer of non-GM maize around germplasm regeneration
blocks, to trap pollen from non-germplasm bank materials.
* All regenerations will be conducted using strict hand-pollination.
7. CIMMYT will continue to put emphasis on collecting, regenerating, and
preserving local landraces, and assisting farmers who continue to grow
them, as the primary mechanism for conserving and enhancing diversity.
Biotechnology - National Corn Growers Association
The development of biotechnology offers great promise for corn growers
through improved efficiencies and potential profits when managed wisely
and with regulatory oversight based on sound science. However, the
proliferation of biotech corn is straining current systems of price
discovery, consumer information, health regulation and trade management.
Widespread acceptance of biotechnology depends on better methods of
informing consumers and better management by biotechnology providers,
producers, suppliers, and grain merchandisers.
For NCGA's Complete Position on Biotechnology, choose the following link
Biotechnology and Genetic Diversity - Corn in Mexico
- Full report at http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=1814
'Experts say risks and benefits of biotechnology must be weighed on a
Could plant biotechnology affect wild ecosystems?
Critics fear a genetically enhanced gene could "escape" from a farmer's
field and breed with a wild relative to create a "superweed" that could
overwhelm the natural environment and curtail genetic diversity.
Proponents, on the other hand, say the productivity gains of genetically
enhanced crops allow more food to grow on existing farmland, which
preserves natural areas from being plowed under to feed a growing
population. This, supporters say, promotes genetic diversity.
Researchers increasingly say the question is no longer whether a
genetically enhanced gene, or transgene, will "escape." Pollen flow
between plants is a natural phenomenon that has been occurring for
thousands of years.
Corn in Mexico: Corn, or maize, is a cornerstone of society in Mexico,
widely considered the birthplace of corn. So news in a September 2001
issue of Nature, a respected science journal, that traces of biotech corn
had been discovered in farms field in Oaxaca created widespread concern.
Nature later disavowed its original article, and several researchers say
biotech corn will not have a negative impact on traditional varieties.
"There is no scientific basis for believing that out-crossing from biotech
crops could endanger maize biodiversity," said Luis Herrera-Estrella,
director of the Mexico-based Center for Research and Advanced Studies,
which is known by its Mexican acronym, CINVESTAV. "Gene flow between
commercial and natural varieties is a natural process that has been
occurring for many decades."
Some genetically engineered traits, such as built-in pest resistance,
could fold into traditional crop varieties and may help them survive
better, he said. Others will die out if they don't provide a recognizable
benefit to farmers or consumers.
The real threat to genetic diversity in Mexico, say many researchers, is
the exodus of small farmers who are leaving their small plots in Mexico
for more lucrative jobs in the cities of Mexico and the United States.
Since corn requires human intervention to thrive, unique varieties are
being lost when the plots are abandoned.
"The most important consideration in the loss of diversity has to do with
the fact that farmers are simply abandoning farming," Mauricio Bellon, of
the International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize (CIMMYT),
told National Public Radio in December 2001.
Increasing genetic diversity
The exodus of rural farmers to cities is occurring at a rapid pace around
the world -- not just in Mexico. So the genetic diversity of more crops
than corn is at stake.
At the same time, a growing world population, coupled with increased
urbanization and higher incomes, is creating a greater demand for food.
The United Nations predicts that the global population will increase to
8.9 billion by 2050 -- a 40 percent increase over the 6.3 billion people
on Earth today.
By helping farmers produce greater yields, biotechnology can play a part
in making farms of all sizes more viable, which in turn could help reduce
the pressure on remaining wilderness areas.
Currently, about 38 percent of the Earth's land area is cropland or
pasture. To keep pace with growing food demand, the increase in natural
land converted to cropland or pasture has been about 0.3 percent -- about
the size of Greece or Nicaragua -- every year.18 By one estimate, an
additional 4 billion acres of arable land will need to come under the plow
by 2050 if there are no increases in farm productivity. That's more than
twice the size of the continental United States (about 3 million square
Experts fear that in the coming decades, half of the world's remaining 6
billion acres of forests will be lost to agricultural expansion.19 If
forests continue to disappear at the current rate, as many as 20 percent
of all tropical forest species of plants and animals could become extinct
in 30 years.
An August 2002 United Nations report predicted that agricultural and urban
expansion will threaten biodiversity on 72 percent of the global land area
by 2032. The "World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth's Living Resources for
the 21st Century" report said that as much as 48 percent of these areas
will become converted to agricultural land, plantations and urban areas,
compared with 22 percent today.
"By slowing the rate at which natural habitats are destroyed, GM crops and
other technologies that increase agricultural productivity can help to
preserve natural biodiversity," said Ammann of the University of Bern.