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November 25, 2003


Out of Africa; Traceability and Labelling Mess; Hawaii Law Suit Controversy; Media Coverage of AgBiotech; Great Threat to Africa's Future


Today's AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : November 26, 2003
> * Out of Africa
> * European Traceability and Labelling Rules Come Into Force
> * Food & Ag Groups Urge U.S. Government to Take Action on EU
> * Europe Gropes for Consensus on GMO Crops
> * Indian Food, Agriculture Laws Need Review
> * The Economist Essays: Do We Need Nature?
> * Hawaii Law Suit Controversy: Letter from the Hawaii Ag Res Center
> Director
> * Hawaii GM Tests Draw More Suits
> * Development of Genetically Improved Pineapples
> * Media Coverage of Agrobiotechnology: Did the Butterfly Have an Effect?
> * Genetically Modified Food Will Not Solve Hunger - Scientist
> * Eco-Imperialism: The Greatest Threat to Africa's Future
> --
> Out of Africa
> - Francis Wevers, Unlimited, Dec. 3/Jan. 4; via Agnet
> http://www.unlimited.co.nz/unlimited.nsf/UNID/9AE64EE50E5D3D1CCC256DE300097872?OpenDocument&More=Biotech+Columns
> The thing which strikes me straight away, flying into Johannesburg, is how
> brown everything is. Not much evidence here of the lush green colours
> which are such a feature of the New Zealand landscape.
> Brown is the colour of drought, the colour which cries out water shortage,
> so it wasnít that hard, at the conference on genetic technology in Kenya a
> couple of days later, to identify the stark differences between the GM
> debate in New Zealand and Africa.
> For Africans the niceties of the debate about GM in New Zealand may be a
> little bewildering. Their concerns about food security and the vast,
> undernourished, population in sub-Saharan states cry out for solutions
> which will make their agriculture yield more.
> Even so it was slightly disconcerting to discover how deeply and
> passionately the Africans feel about the divide between the rich northern
> states and their own countries. The recent experience of the Zambians
> casts a long shadow over the conference proceedings. The way in which the
> EU pressured Zambia into not receiving US food aid GM maize is seen as
> another example of ex-colonial masters continuing to exercise their power
> over powerless Africans in pursuit of a trans-Atlantic trade war.
> Many Zambians, we are told by Zambian delegates, died of starvation as a
> direct result of the EUís pressure on the Zambian government. But no-one
> knows exactly how many because the Zambian Government isnít interested in
> counting.
> Thereís barely any discussion about the morality of the EUís pressure -
> itís almost as if the history of Africa leads to no higher expectations. I
> suspect the need for an ongoing relationship with northern hemisphere R&D
> funders (many of them governments) imposes a more diplomatic
> consideration.
> Because thatís Africaís situation.
> Biotechnology undoubtedly has the potential to deliver huge benefits to
> Africa Ė benefits which will make Africans and African states
> agriculturally and economically much more independent than they have been
> for the best part of 400 years.
> African agriculture which delivers increased yields at prices which make
> food locally affordable and of sufficient volumes to develop export
> markets in Europe is the bright shining light on the horizon. There are
> just so many things to do.
> Most of the crops which have been modified so far have less appeal to
> African farmers than their cohorts in North America and Europe. So thereís
> a huge effort going on to develop local varieties which will protect
> against local pest species and be tolerant to the yield reducing local
> conditions. But this all takes research dollars, huge amounts of them, and
> African countries donít generate enough surplus value from existing
> agriculture to fund the research they need to transform their agriculture.
> Therefore their reliance on funding from the northern hemisphere.
> Thus the next conundrum. To generate investment you need markets for your
> product and preferably export markets. That immediately increases the
> investment risks. Which is why the privately funded technology transfer
> initiatives of organisations like the Rockefeller Foundation, and aid
> programmes from some northern hemisphere governments are so important.
> Most African farmers are so far from the highly mechanised and technology
> intensive structure which current GM crops have been developed for. They
> have little experience in the careful management techniques which are
> required to maximise yields from modern agricultural systems.
> So, apart from the education of farmers to get the most out of their new
> generation crops, the demand will be for new crops with multiple traits;
> pest resistance and drought tolerance for instance, or pest resistance,
> drought tolerance and extended ripening.
> Thereís still such a long way to go to get new varieties which will make a
> meaningful difference. Itís a very steep staircase and the last thing the
> Africans need is some people pulling the treads out along the way.
> By comparison the debate weíre having about GM in New Zealand looks
> shallow and vacuous Ė feeding on our self-satisfied middle class fears and
> prejudices.
> Would that some people, who have resorted to taking their clothes off (is
> it because they donít have anything better to say?), could spend some time
> where the biotechnology rubber hits the road. Being in a country where new
> agricultural technology is often the difference between life and death
> certainly focuses the mind on whatís important.
> History shows us the advances in agriculture and medicine which have led
> to longer life spans in all countries have been born in wealthy economies.
> Itís when those new techniques and technologies are successfully
> transferred to developing countries that they deliver the greatest
> benefit. The biotechnology revolution has great potential in Africa
> because, once it has conquered its mountains of difficulty, it will give
> the subsistence farmer of Africa the tool to help himself.
> The only question is whether Africa will be allowed to do whatís needed by
> the combined forces of environmental activists and European governments
> determined to deny anyone else the opportunity to compete with European
> farmers on a level playing field.
> ************
> Experts Urge African Leaders to Invest in Biotechnology
> - Panafrican News Agency (PANA), Nov. 21, 2003
> Ibadan, Nigeria (PANA) - Agricultural experts, most of them from leading
> African research institutions have urged policy makers on the continent to
> invest in capacity building for African researchers so they can take
> advantage of biotechnology to help solve the continent's food problems.
> At an international conference on biotechnology in Nigeria's southwest
> city of Ibadan Thursday, the experts also deplored the lack of accurate
> information about genetically modified food products to the African
> public.
> "To help close the biotech gap in the continent, efforts need to be geared
> by the policy makers into strengthening capacity building programme among
> African researchers, scientists, farmers as well as upgrading of
> technological infrastructure and provision of modern laboratories," Walter
> Alhassan of the Ghana-based Agricultural biotechnology support programme
> (ABSP2) told journalists at a joint press briefing. Alhassan also
> insisted on the need to upgrade technological infrastructure and provide
> modern laboratories.
> The more than 130 participants at the three-day conference, co-sponsored
> by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and USAID
> called for policies and a legal framework on biosafety and intellectual
> property protection rights to enable Africa take full advantage of
> biotechnological tools and allay the fears of critics.
> Eugene Terry of the Sierra Leone-based African Agricultural Technology
> Foundation devoted to improving food security and poverty reduction
> observed that most programmes meant to address farmers' problems in Africa
> were being funded from outside the continent. "We must invest in
> technology, capacity building and infrastructure. Governments must
> allocate more funds for research and development so as to complement the
> initiatives of USAID," the Kenyan-born researcher said.
> On her part Theresa Sengooba, coordinator of the Uganda-based National
> Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) said biotechnology could be of
> great benefit if properly used. Citing Uganda's experience, she said "we
> embraced biotechnology from the start, using it in sustainable manner
> already a policy has been put in place and legislation made to control its
> application."
> Sengooba further said the Ugandan government had set aside some money for
> capacity building and for creating public awareness about biotechnology.
> "We have chosen banana as an area of concentration," she disclosed.
> Deploring lack of accurate information within general public as well as
> among policy makers about genetic enhancement of food products,
> participants urged the media in Africa to help shape the debate on
> biotechnology through correct information. "There has been a lot of
> distortion of facts. We have food a problem in Africa, [and] biotechnology
> is one way of addressing the food deficit and putting more food on the
> table of about 40 million hungry people," Terry said.
> "The media should not limit itself to the controversial aspects of the
> debate, but should also highlight the good aspects," he added.
> **********************************************
> BIotechnology: Traceability and GMO Labelling Rules Come Into Force
> - European Report Nov. 13, 2003 http://www.eis.be
> The two new Regulations on the labelling and traceability of
> genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and the traceability of animal
> products derived from GMOs, came into force on November 7. They amend
> Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment.
> These two Regulations will not be applied in full until next April 18,
> when the EU has adopted all the implementing instruments. The pair are
> designed to guarantee the traceability and labelling of GMOs, and products
> derived from GMOs, throughout the food chain and ensure a high level of
> environmental and health protection. The new rules are stricter than
> current labelling laws. They cover all foods produced on the basis of
> GMOs, without making any distinction between those containing DNA
> (deoxyribonucleic acid) and genetic modifications in the chromosomes, on
> the one hand, and those containing proteins derived from GMOs, on the
> other. The earlier GMO legislation covered solely food with GMO traces in
> the DNA.
> The new legislation also includes genetically-modified feed, with the same
> protection as for food. The new legislation proposes that traders
> marketing pre-packaged products consisting of or comprising GMOs should
> ensure, at all the stages of the production and distribution chains, that
> products feature a label to show the products contain GMOs or were
> produced from GMOs. In the case of non-packaged products, including those
> in large quantities, and if labelling is ruled out, the trader has to
> ensure the information is provided with the product. This may take the
> form of accompanying documents, for example. Traces of GMOs in products
> (their presence is unintentional and technically unavoidable) continue to
> be exempt from the labelling requirements if they do not exceed the 0.9%
> limit.
> The traceability rules apply to all GMOS whether they are intended for
> food or feed. They impose an obligation for operators to retain and
> forward information about GMO-containing products or those made from GMOs,
> at each marketing stage. Industry has to have a system for determining by
> whom and for whom the genetically-modified products are supplied.
> Information about the presence of GMOs has to be forwarded throughout the
> marketing chain and kept for five years.
> Some 29 applications to market or grow various GMO-related products are
> now awaiting a decision from the relevant authorities in the EU and
> individual Member States. One of these - an application from Syngenta
> company to market genetically-modified sweet corn - will be considered by
> Member States' experts on November 10.
> *****************
> 22 Food And Agriculture Groups Urge U.S. Government to Take Action on EU
> Biotech Labeling and Traceability Requirements
> - November 25, 2003, Via Agnet
> The 22 organization of the Agricultural Biotech Planning Committee (ABPC),
> including the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), today called on
> the U.S. government to file a new World Trade Organization (WTO) case
> against the European Union's biotech traceability and labeling
> requirements. In a letter to USTR Robert Zoellick and Secretary Veneman,
> ABPC stated that the new traceability and labeling regimes are not science
> based, discriminate against imported goods and will be barrier to trade
> for U.S. food and agriculture products.
> The Honorable Robert Zoellick, United States Trade Representative, 600
> 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20508
> Dear Ambassador Zoellick:
> On October 18, 2003, regulations were published in the Official Journal of
> the European Union (EU) establishing new requirements for the traceability
> and labeling of food and feed products and safety assessments for food and
> feed produced through biotechnology. These requirements are non-tariff
> trade barriers that violate World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations and
> will result in significant losses to the U.S. food and agriculture
> industry. The undersigned organizations urge you to take immediate action
> to prevent further disruption of U.S. agricultural commodity and food
> product exports to the EU resulting from these regulations.
> The new regulations clearly violate the EUís WTO obligations. The Sanitary
> and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade agreements (TBT)
> require that import restrictions not discriminate between imported and
> domestic products and not be overly restrictive to trade. The SPS
> agreement also requires that any measures which have the effect of
> restricting trade must be based on scientific principles. The new EU
> regulations are not consistent with these provisions and clearly
> discriminate against imported products. In addition, the requirements
> would set a precedent for process-based traceability and labeling that
> could create potentially insurmountable technical barriers to trade and
> discourage adoption and acceptance of new technologies, including
> biotechnology, around the globe.
> Products of modern biotechnology must undergo intensive scientific and
> regulatory review before being approved to enter the EU market, and the EU
> has not identified any science-based risks associated with approved
> biotech products. Despite this, the regulations use the ďPrecautionary
> PrincipleĒ and other non-science based factors to justify the
> implementation of costly and trade-restrictive traceability and labeling
> requirements. The United States Government consistently has opposed the
> use of such criteria for restricting trade and must challenge EU
> regulations that embody these concepts.
> Finally, it is important that the Administration challenge the EUís new
> regulations in anticipation that other countries will come under pressure
> to adopt similar requirements and restrictions. Just as a number of other
> large importers subsequently adopted biotech labeling policies after the
> EU enacted its first labeling regulation, influence will be exerted for
> other countries to adopt trade-restrictive traceability and
> discriminatory, process-based labeling regimes. Further, international
> organizations such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission will have license
> to adopt similar requirements as global standards. U.S. agricultural
> commodity and food exports will be very negatively affected by these
> developments.
> The U.S. government must take every possible action to confront these
> trade-distorting policies and prevent further erosion of U.S. agriculture
> and food export markets in the EU and other countries. Now that the EUís
> regulations have been finalized, we believe it is time to engage the EU in
> a WTO dispute settlement proceeding, and we urge that you initiate such
> action immediately. In addition, a review of the impact these requirements
> will have on U.S. agricultural commodity and food exports by the
> International Trade Commission should be requested to quantify economic
> losses to U.S. farmers, exporters, and food companies.
> Our organizations appreciate your strong support of biotechnology and
> pledge our assistance to help you address this critical issue.
> Sincerely,
> American Farm Bureau Federation. American Feed Industry Association,
> American Meat Institute, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean
> Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Corn Refiners
> Association, CropLife America, Grocery Manufacturers of America, National
> Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Association of
> Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council,
> National Grain and Feed Association, National Food Processors Association,
> National Grain Trade Council, National Oilseed Processors Association,
> National Renderers Association, North American Millers Association, U.S.
> Grains Council, USA Rice, Wheat Export Trade Education Committee
> ******************
> Europe Gropes for Consensus on GMO Crops
> - David Cullen, Reuters, Nov 25, 2003
> Europe struggled to reach common ground on genetically modified (GM) crops
> Tuesday, with Britain's top adviser unable to provide clear guidelines for
> their use in the U.K. while an upcoming EU vote to lift a five-year ban on
> biotech products is too close to call.
> The continuing debate over the planting of GM crops, and their use in food
> products, has sparked a long-running debate between Europe, where there is
> strong resistance to their use, and the United States, which has invested
> huge effort and money in developing them.
> In a keenly-awaited report, the UK's Agriculture and Environment
> Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) called for strict rules governing the
> sowing of GM crops, but without clear proposals it makes a vital
> government decision next year much more difficult.
> The report was due to have been published earlier this year, but its
> release was pushed back because scientists could not agree on a threshold
> limit for their use in food -- crucial if the government is to spell out
> how GM and non-GM crops can co-exist and still leave consumers with a
> choice of what to buy.
> The AEBC said its members could not agree whether the acceptable limit of
> GM material in food should be set at 0.1 percent, as demanded by Britain's
> increasingly influential organic food lobby, or 0.9 percent as suggested
> by the biotechnology industry and the EU Commission.
> "There is a fear that setting a threshold of 0.1 percent seriously
> threatens progress in developing this and possibly other new technologies
> in farming which promise consumer, environmental and other benefits," the
> report said.
> Wider Debate Needed
> The Royal Society called for a more wide-ranging debate on the future of
> farming in the UK, without focusing too much on GM crops. Society
> president Lord May of Oxford said recent studies of the effects of GM
> crops on the environment showed it was not GM crops but the weed
> management system associated with them that determined the effect on
> biodiversity.
> Scientists last month ruled after trials that some GM crops like rapeseed
> and sugar beet were more harmful to wildlife than those grown
> conventionally, further fueling demands for the government to keep them
> from being grown commercially.
> UK ministers are under pressure to agree a UK regulatory regime for GM
> crops because the EU is poised to lift its five-year moratorium on the
> crops, a move which could pave the way for possible cultivation.
> Crunch Vote Looms For EU
> Next month, EU countries will have another try at lifting the ban on new
> biotech crops, renewing the debate on a type of sweetcorn that may unlock
> the transatlantic trade row. The European Commission will put the issue to
> a vote in two weeks -- hoping to win its long-awaited showdown against a
> small but powerful group of GM-skeptic states.
> The outcome could either be a spectacular backfire for the Commission,
> leaving the stalemate to be resolved by EU ministers, or could end an
> unofficial ban that sparked international action against the EU by
> Argentina, Canada and the United States. The EU last authorized a new GM
> food product in April 1998.
> This month, an informal show of hands at one of the bloc's myriad
> specialist committees showed the Commission it did not yet have enough
> support to back its recommended approval for Bt-11 sweetcorn. The same
> committee meets again on December 8. "It depends how serious they (skeptic
> states) are about rejecting it, when push comes to shove. But one thing is
> clear, that there will be a vote in December," one EU diplomat said.
> If there is no clear momentum either way after the vote is taken, the
> matter goes to EU agriculture ministers -- raising the political stakes.
> If ministers cannot decide after three months, the Commission can
> rubberstamp its own recommendation.
> Even if the EU lifts its ban, Europe's farmers will have a long time to
> wait before getting a green light to plant biotech crops -- the acid test
> of whether the EU moratorium is really over.
> **********************************************
> Indian Food, Agriculture Laws Need Review
> - Business News India, Nov 26. 2003
> http://www.newkerala.com/news-daily/news/features.php?action=fullnews&id=1362
> Noted agronomist M.S. Swaminathan Wednesday said there was need to
> introduce more safeguards in Indian food and agriculture laws,
> particularly for genetically modified (GM) technology. He said that with
> proper safeguards, biotechnology could help India achieve the objective of
> raising food production to meet growing demands.
> Swaminathan heads a special committee studying the issue of agriculture
> biotechnology and the safe and responsible use of GM technology. "There
> are serious regulatory lapses in food and agriculture that need a
> re-look," said Swaminathan on the sidelines of a two-day seminar organised
> here by leading NGO Gene Campaign.
> "There is need to have more public consultation and understanding of new
> technology before adoption. From the farmers' point of view, there are
> issues of cost, risk and return on investment that have to be considered
> and understood."
> Gene Campaign organised the seminar to mark the completion of a decade of
> campaigning for farmers' rights and protection of indigenous knowledge.
> The event focussed on the relevance of GM technology in India's quest for
> food security.
> Agriculture experts like V.L. Chopra, president of the National Academy of
> Agricultural Sciences, and Suman Sahai, president of Gene Campaign, said
> that while there was nothing wrong with adopting new technology, there was
> need for proper safeguards to ensure "bio-happiness".
> Criticising the fact that India's regulatory authority on GM technology --
> the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) -- has witnessed several
> changes of chairmanship in the last one year, Swaminathan said: "This is
> not desirable in a committee that is looking after a very complex and
> scientific issue."
> Swaminathan said there should be more technically competent people in the
> panel he was heading to handle the issue of approval of GM technologies
> for adoption by farmers. "We will be submitting our report on the
> application of agriculture biotechnology next month. It will cover the
> broad spectrum of agriculture including crops, animal husbandry and
> fisheries," Swaminathan told IANS.
> He said government policies were proving a hindrance to successful
> implementation of projects like grain banks, which were mooted to help
> farming communities with seeds supplies and to act as buffer stocks in
> rural areas. "Currently the transaction costs of transporting food grains
> is such that states are unwilling even to lift the food grains allocated
> to them for various programme," said Swaminathan.
> Similarly, on India's experiment with GM technology with BT Cotton,
> Swaminathan said it is hard to say whether it has been a success as apart
> from GM seeds making their way to farmers through illegal channels, even
> spurious seeds have been reaching them.
> "In addition, most farmers are still not aware why they are being given
> traditional seeds to grow alongside genetically modified seeds," said the
> scientist, stressing the need for creating more awareness and safeguards.
> *********************************************
> The Economist Essays: Do We Need Nature?
> - From: Mark Cantley
> The prize winning essays freely available at
> http://www.shelleconomistprize.com
> are well worth reading, some of particular relevance to bioengineers in
> reflective mood. I enjoyed them all, especially, "Nature v Nanotechnology:
> Reinventing our world one atom at a time", by Prof Alan Goldstein. Perhaps
> worth an entry in AgBioView, to expand our horizons!
> >From Prakash: Plant Pathologists and mycologists should also check out
> the prize winning essay on an interview with a fungi!
> **********************************************
> Hawaii Law Suit: Letter from the Hawaii Ag Res Center Director to Peter
> Jenkins (Center for Food Safety) and also to Earth Justice
> - Published in AgBioView with explicit approval of Dr. Whalen
> From: Stephanie A Whalen
> To: peterjenkins@icta.org
> Date sent: Mon, 10 Nov 2003 15:27:09 -1000
> Hi Peter,
> I am the president and director of the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center.
> As you know or should know one of our projects (among others) was the
> subject of the freedom of information act that resulted in your lawsuit
> with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Your inquiry was forwarded to
> me and I am happy to provide you with some information.
> Hawaii Agriculture Research Center is a not-for-profit organization. Our
> website is www.hawaiiag.org/harc. Our objective is to maintain, improve
> and advance the sugarcane industry in Hawaii and to assist in the
> development of new agribusinesses. The organization is over 100 years old
> and has been successful in its objectives because it has recognized the
> key role science plays and has been adept at rapid technology transfer in
> order to keep an industry competitive. This is most important for a
> multi-island state and one which is the most isolate land mass on the
> globe.
> I understand you are interested in release of information on field trials
> of sugarcane plants involving a pharmaceutical protein. Your company's
> suit attempted to create the impression that biotech companies and the
> Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) are conducting secret and
> somehow dangerous biotechnology research in Hawaii.
> We would like to correct that impression and state clearly that we are
> proud of the biotechnology research conducted by HARC. Hundreds of
> thousands of people in the US and throughout the world depend on
> therapeutic proteins like insulin which is produced safely and efficiently
> through genetic engineering. If we are able to adapt sugarcane for similar
> purposes, it would provide life-saving health benefits to many people at
> lower costs, while simultaneously providing a much needed high-value crop
> for Hawaiian agriculture. The sugarcane industry in Hawaii is finding it
> increasingly difficult to compete in the commodity market place and is
> interested in co- products of higher value.
> HARC has no objections to making additional information from this
> particular field trial public, however we do not want to release the
> location of the fields because of the past history of vandalism against
> biotechnology trials in Hawaii and many other places. It is unfortunate
> that some activists believe they are above the law, free to destroy
> property and threaten careers. Some of the biotech companies involved do
> not want some information released for proprietary reasons, and we respect
> their right to maintain confidentiality of business information and may
> have similar needs in future projects.
> We want to make clear that there is currently no bio-engineered sugarcane
> being grown commercially anywhere in Hawaii, and bio-engineered
> experimental cane is grown in complete isolation from all commercial cane
> fields. The current project has been completed and the plants destroyed as
> per our permit. We plan to continue such experimentation and if it proves
> successful, sugarcane grown in Hawaii has several advantages that make it
> particularly well suited for safe production of therapeutic proteins.
> First, commercially grown sugarcane is propagated vegetatively, not
> through seed. Second, Hawaiian varieties have been seleced that do not
> flower or produce seed under commercial field conditions. For varieties
> that do flower, a well timed and understood process, chemicals exist and
> are currently available to prevent flowering. Thirdly, the food product
> consumed from sugarcane, sugar, is refined and contains no protein.
> Protein is removed in the sugar producing process. Therefore, if despite
> all safeguards some bio-engineered protein-producing sugarcane somehow was
> used for sugar production in Hawaii, the resulting sugar would not contain
> the bio-engineered protein.
> Again we are proud of this work. It is safe and environmentally sound. We
> have rigorously followed state and federal regulations regarding these
> trials, permits, and oversight. If successful, this research offers great
> benefits to the safety and economics of human health care, while providing
> a much needed boost to the Hawaiian agricultural economy.
> If you had requested the information of the specific gene and protein
> directly from us in advance of your organization's lawsuit, I would not
> hesitate to have provide it to you except for location information as
> indicated above. However, since your organization chose the process to
> seek information you'll have to live with your choice and wait.
> It remains of interest to me why you did not file your FOIR with
> USDA-APHIS (as have others) who is the actual regulator in this area and
> with whom we interact in this matter. There is a process established and
> you would have had your information by now.
> Please feel free to contact me at any time if you have further information
> needs.
> - Aloha, Stephanie
> Stephanie A. Whalen, President and Director, Hawaii Agriculture Research
> Center, Aiea, HI
> *************
> Hawaii GM Tests Draw More Suits
> - Charles Q Choi, The Scientist, Nov. 19, 2003
> http://www.biomedcentral.com/news/20031119/02/
> 'Citing endangered species, environmental groups want USDA to stop
> open-air field tests'
> Environmental groups are suing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to
> halt open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical crops in Hawaii until
> officials assess the environmental and public health risks the plants may
> pose. Such legal action represents mounting activism in Hawaii, the world
> leader for agricultural biotechnology trials.
> "We want these tests stopped until proper analyses of their impacts are
> done," Paul Achitoff, managing attorney of law firm Earthjustice's Hawaii
> office, which is representing a coalition of environmental groups, told
> The Scientist.
> More than 4000 field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops have been
> conducted in Hawaii, including more than two dozen tests of
> biopharmaceutical crops. The state's balmy weather allows researchers to
> grow crops in open-air field tests year-round. Biotech giants, such as
> Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont, and academic institutions conduct experiments
> there on plants including corn, tobacco, and soy.
> "The papaya industry in Hawaii is one of the great success stories of
> biotechnology. The technology provided a solution to a plant virus problem
> that was about to wipe out a $17 million industry," Biotechnology
> Industry Organization spokeswoman Lisa Dry said. ďScientists on the island
> are now looking to this same technology to improve the pineapple, the
> state's largest agricultural crop and one that is losing market share to
> other countries. They hope that through biotechnology, they can replicate
> the success of papaya and save an industry that is vital to the state's
> economy.Ē
> The coalition contends biopharmaceutical crops testing in Hawaii carries
> greater risks than testing anywhere else. Hawaii has more than 300
> endangered species, more per square mile than anywhere else on Earth, and
> about 97% of native Hawaiian species are found nowhere else.
> "Open-air testing of genetically engineered plants in vulnerable
> ecosystems presents unacceptable risks to Hawaii's fragile biodiversity,"
> said Cha Smith, executive director of KAHEA, one of the four groups
> Earthjustice represents in the lawsuit.
> Moreover, the environmentalists say accidental contamination from GM crops
> could damage Hawaii's seed corn industry, valued at $35 million, which
> ships globally. The lawsuit notes that in 2002, the Environmental
> Protection Agency fined Dow AgroSciences of Indiana and Pioneer Hi-Bred
> International of Iowa for failing to comply with regulations in their
> Hawaii plantings on segregating GM corn from other corn. Both settled with
> the government without admitting wrongdoing.
> In July, Earthjustice sued the Hawaii Department of Agriculture on behalf
> of the Center for Food Safety, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., for
> public access to state agricultural records concerning field tests of GM
> crops. No decision has yet been reached on that case.
> The latest suit contends that USDA is violating a number of federal
> environmental and agriculture acts by not fully considering the risks of
> open-air tests of biopharmaceutical crops. Earthjustice filed suit against
> USDA on November 12, asking the federal district court of Hawaii to order
> the department to immediately terminate all open-air field tests of
> biopharmaceutical crops until it consults with the US Fish and Wildlife
> Service to determine whether field tests may affect endangered species in
> Hawaii and elsewhere; prepares an Environmental Impact Statement in which
> the department analyzes all the environmental impacts of the field tests,
> as well as alternatives to open-air trials; and "issues new regulations
> that would adequately protect public health and the environment from the
> adverse effects of field tests," Achitoff said.
> USDA declined to comment on pending litigation. Dry said the lawsuit was
> unnecessary. "The US Department of Agriculture has strong guidelines in
> place for the regulation of plant-made pharmaceuticals. The effect these
> plants may have on the environment and public health are carefully
> considered by both the US Department of Agriculture and the individual
> state's agriculture department before a permit for field trials is
> granted," she said. "This lawsuit can only serve to impede the potential
> medical benefits of the technology."
> ************
> Development of Genetically Improved Pineapples is Under Way
> - Sean Hao, The Honolulu Advertiser, Nov. 26, 2003
> Hawaii's pineapple industry is pushing ahead with efforts to engineer a
> better pineapple genetically, though a commercial version might be five or
> six years away.
> The University of Hawaii, which is working on the project with the Hawaii
> Agriculture Research Center, recently received federal approval to conduct
> open-field trials of a pineapple modified with genes from rice.
> But creating a heartier pineapple is proving more difficult than past
> experiments that created papayas genetically modified to resist the
> ringspot virus.
> "Right now it's going well, but there have been some difficulties," said
> Robert Paull, chairman of the Department Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences
> at UH-Manoa. "Pineapple is not as easy to work with as papaya."
> With support from Hawaii's three pineapple growers - Maui Pineapple Co.,
> Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and Dole Food Co. Inc. - UH launched an
> effort in 1995 to design a pineapple resistant to nematodes and mealybugs,
> and that would flower uniformly so fields wouldn't have to be picked
> repeatedly. More at
> http://www.delawareonline.com/newsjournal/business/2003/11/26developmentofge.html
> **********************************************
> Media Coverage of Agrobiotechnology: Did the Butterfly Have an Effect?
> - L. A. Marks, N. Kalaitzandonakes, K. Allison, L. Zakharova. Journal of
> Agribusiness, 2003, 21 (I):1-20; Thanks to Nick K. for sending the
> excepts below...
> In this study, we examine media coverage of genetically modified (GM)
> crops in a risk communication framework. We employ content analysis to
> investigate how specific environmental, food safety, and landmark events,
> such as, the Monarch Butterfly and Pusztai controversies and the cloning
> of Dolly-the-sheep were reported by the media. Our coverage is United
> Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) newspapers from 1990 to 2001. On
> balance, we find that the UK press has been more negative than the US
> press in its coverage of GM crops. In addition, environmental and food
> safety events had a significant impact on the level and cycle of GM crop
> coverage.
> Introduction
> Understanding how environmental and food safety controversies are reported
> in the mass media is important for agribusiness firms. In the United
> States (US), less than 2% of the population is now engaged in agricultural
> production. Hence, the average food consumer has diminishing personal
> experience and knowledge of agriculture and food production systems.
> Likewise, as personal contacts and one-on-one experiences also diminish,
> consumers often rely on impersonal sources for information (TV, radio,
> newspapers, magazines, internet). Indeed, over 90% of consumers receive
> information about food and biotechnology primarily through the popular
> press and television (Hoban and Kendall, 1993; Schulz, Burkink, and
> Marquardt, 2000). And while the media is not a singular influence, it has
> been found to play a role in the risk (and benefit) perception that the
> public holds (Bauer, Durant, and Gaskell, 1998). As a result, agribusiness
> firms are increasingly affected by how the media report on food and
> environmental hazards. Understanding how the media report these risks and
> what factors drive such reporting is therefore important for agribusiness
> firms. Managing response to media coverage, particularly during
> heightened public awareness and controversy, will be a critical part of
> any public relations (PR) strategy.
> Genetically modified foods (GMFs) and agricultural biotechnology have
> generated considerable attention, as well as controversy, since their
> introduction in the mid-1990s. While some have argued that the technology
> is extremely beneficial others have questioned its potential impact on the
> environment and raised concerns about its safety for human health (The Pew
> Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (PIFB), 2002). For instance,
> transgenic crops have been perceived by some Europeans to carry
> unacceptable environmental and food safety risks. Such perceptions
> contrast with the broader acceptance of environmental applications of
> biotechnology (Gaskell et al., 2000), and its use in other applications
> such as medicine and drugs. While the United States has enjoyed a
> smoother ride than the European Union, it has also experienced
> environmental and food safety controversies in relation to biotechnology,
> such as the "Monarch Butterfly" research and, more recently, the recall of
> food products made from Starlink corn.
> In this context, we investigate how the public controversy over
> genetically modified foods has been reported in the mass media, focusing,
> in particular, on their biosafety risks. We employ content analysis
> (Wimmer and Dominick, 1987) to investigate how specific landmark events,
> and environmental and food safety controversies associated with GM foods
> have been reported by the media. Our coverage is United Kingdom (UK) and
> United States newspapers from 1990 to 2001.
> Conclusions
> Our results allow certain conclusions about the coverage of GM foods and
> agrobiotechnology. The peak in media coverage of agrobiotechnology
> occurred in 1999 and, at least for now, the controversy appears to have
> diminished. Despite a low level of coverage of environmental issues we
> find that on both sides of the Atlantic environmental risks rather than
> benefits have been the focus of newspaper reporting. On balance, the UK
> has been more negative than the US. Environmental events, such as the
> Monarch butterfly study and GM seed contamination; and food safety events,
> such as the research of Dr. Arpad Pusztai, had a significant impact on
> both the level and cycle of environmental coverage.
> Our analysis and conclusions on the media coverage of agrobiotechnology,
> however, can be generalized. How events are picked up and amplified by
> the media have immediate and long-term implications for agribusiness.
> Some events are general in nature (e.g., Monarch Butterfly), and emerge as
> truly international by the very fact that global media choose to report
> them. Given that agribusiness firms increasingly do business in global
> markets, the international transmission of such events is important. The
> media, acting as "amplification stations," (Kasperson et al., 1988) serve
> to raise public awareness and debate (Bauer, Durant, and Gaskell, 1998).
> As consumers increasingly understand food production and marketing through
> the media, agribusinesses will be increasingly affected by how global
> media outlets report on food issues over time.
> However, not all food safety and biosafety events turn out to be reported
> internationally -as the predominantly UK coverage of the commingling of GM
> canola with conventional seed or the lack of Starlink coverage in the two
> UK newspapers would suggest. Our findings confirm that newspapers vary in
> how they cover a breaking story and have a definite bent towards regional
> and local issues. Given that newspapers target certain audiences, a
> customized approach that allows for segmented outlets will be an important
> part of any public relations strategy.
> Our findings also suggest that it would be a mistake to ignore what at
> first blush might appear to be unrelated, or at least less relevant, media
> events. The research of Dr. Arpad Pusztai, while predominantly a food
> safety issue, triggered more broad risk communication in the UK media in
> 1998. Monitoring, managing, and being ready to respond to industry-wide
> issues affecting tangential businesses, or even competitors, will be an
> increasingly important PR strategy. It was only after European markets
> had essentially been lost (at least in the short run) that North American
> firms realized their common interest in providing a more united message to
> consumers and the media about the potential benefits of agricultural
> biotechnology (e.g., via the Council for Biotechnology Information).
> And while it might be more difficult for agribusiness firms to overcome
> the series of food safety crises that have plagued the UK in recent years;
> nevertheless, there is room for ongoing strategic responses which attempt
> to restore public confidence in the food supply, in general, and
> biotechnology, in particular. Follow up research conducted by independent
> scientists (Sears et al., 2001, Oberhauser et al., 2001, Pleasants et al.,
> 2001) on the field level impacts of Bt corn on the Monarch Butterfly did
> not confirm the initial laboratory findings of Dr. Losey and colleagues.
> Such follow on studies have gone some way to diffusing public concern in
> the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent Europe. While the
> subsequent findings of "no harm" were less reported than the original
> study; nevertheless, US and UK reporters did report the non-corroborating
> findings in 2001. As memorable events, like the Monarch Butterfly
> controversy, are referred to long after the initial story breaks; the
> dissemination of such findings by credible scientists (regardless of
> whether they confirm or refute the original research) is important. And
> industry must be ready to respond.
> **********************************************
> Genetically Modified Food Will Not Solve Hunger - Scientist (sic)
> - KTN, ANSA - English Media Service Nov. 21, 2003
> Rome, November 21 - Genetically modified crops will not solve hunger in
> developing countries, a leading Indian scientist said here today.
> Speaking at a conference on women in the developing world, Vandana Shiva
> explained that a trial introduction of GM cotton in India had been a
> "fiasco in every sense." She said that it was "the wrong solution" for
> developing countries.
> Paradoxically the 800,000 people worldwide who are suffering hunger are
> the same ones who produce the food, Shiva said. She added that women were
> the main victims. Shiva said that women already run the majority of
> smaller farms, and that their agricultural methods are "highly
> productive." She pointed out that they use ten times less water than
> intensive farming methods and no chemical fertilisers.
> Rather than resorting to biotech solutions, Shiva suggested that resources
> needed to be concentrated on promoting these small women farmers. Shiva,
> who describes herself as "passionately opposed to globalisation" has won a
> string of awards for her scientific research (sic) and contributions to
> the environment. She has also published numerous books on farming and
> biodiversity.
> In the past she has shown that, while firms claim that GM seeds could feed
> the world and solve specific vitamin deficiencies, traditional subsistence
> farming already provides the necessary nutrients. She says this is because
> in traditional farming, women collect dozens of different vitamin-rich
> wild plants and leaves.
> During the conference Italian Equal Opportunities Minister Stefania
> Prestigiacomo suggested that development aid be linked to educating women
> on their rights.
> Nobel prize-winner Rita Levi Montalcini said that new technology and
> long-distance training offered one solution to underdevelopment.
> ****************
> Eco-Imperialism: The Greatest Threat to Africa's Future
> - Paul Driessen, Green and Gold (Pretoria, South Africa), Nov. 2003
> "What about the people?" asks Fifi Kobusingye, a designer and
> businesswoman in Kampala, Uganda. "The mosquitoes are everywhere. You
> think you're safe, and you're not. Europeans and Americans can afford to
> deceive themselves about malaria and pesticides. But we can't." "If we
> don't use DDT," adds David Nabarro, director of Roll Back Malaria, "the
> results will be measured in loss of life," and our countries will never be
> able to escape from poverty.
> "If they don't have electricity, people will cut down our trees," senior
> Kampala government official Gordon Mwesigye says bluntly. Africa will lose
> its wildlife habitats, health and economic benefits will continue to elude
> it, and contaminated air and water will continue to kill millions every
> year. Wind and solar power will never provide enough electricity for a
> modern Africa. Only fossil fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants
> can do that.
> "Foreign aid is like life support for corrupt politicians who keep their
> people poor," argues James Shikwati, president of the Inter Region
> Economic Network (IREN) in Nairobi. "We need free and open trade, and
> access to modern technology."
> "Biotechnology could replace crops that are being devastated by disease
> and drought. It could help feed people, and prevent blindness and deaths,
> by ensuring that people get enough Vitamin A and other nutrients," IREN's
> June Arunga points out.
> "There are 6.6 billion people on the planet today," says Dr. Norman
> Borlaug, biotech proponent and father of the Green Revolution. "With
> organic farming we could only feed 4 billion of them. Which 2 billion
> would volunteer to die?"
> A strong, prosperous Africa will never arise, until it has: * DDT to kill
> the mosquitoes that infect 250,000,000 Africans every year, and kill
> 2,000,000; * ample, reliable, affordable electricity for homes, hospitals,
> schools and factories; * trade to generate opportunity and prosperity; and
> * biotechnology to end malnutrition and give Africa a better chance to
> compete with rich nations that subsidize their farmers with hundreds of
> millions of dollars a year.
> It should be easy. After all, Europe and America used the same
> technologies to solve the same problems decades ago. But today radical
> eco-imperialists stand in Africa's way. They talk about "saving the
> planet" from all sorts of theoretical catastrophes, citing concerns that
> they can afford to have, because they no longer have to worry about the
> diseases, malnutrition and near absence of electricity that still plague
> Africa.
> They promote "sustainable" development and agriculture, "appropriate"
> energy technology like solar panels on huts, and other "solutions" that
> have no basis in science, economics or Africa's situation. They can afford
> to talk about this, too, because they live in comparative splendor, while
> millions of Africans continue to live in squalor.
> Worst of all, they present their anti-humanity agenda in vague, lofty
> terms like corporate social responsibility and environmental ethics. These
> terms appeal strongly to politicians, journalists, foundations, government
> agencies and even clergy that fund and support the US$8-billion-a-year
> eco-activist industry. But the effects are lethal for Africans - and the
> agendas are hardly responsible, moral or compassionate.
> "I appreciate ethical concerns," says Kenyan plant scientist Florence
> Wambugu, "but anything that doesn't help feed our children is unethical."
> The only things the Green agenda sustains, says Tuskegee University plant
> genetics professor CS Prakash, are "poverty, malnutrition and early
> death."
> Africa's life-or-death problems must not be shackled any longer to vague
> and emotional claims about the needs of future generations of wealthy
> Americans and Europeans. Leon Louw, director of South Africa's Free Market
> Foundation, puts it very directly: "Telling destitute people in my
> country, and in countries with even greater destitution, that they must
> never aspire to living standards much better than they have now - because
> it wouldn't be 'sustainable' - is just one example of the hypocrisy we
> have had thrust in our faces, in an era when we can and should grow fast
> enough to become fully developed in a single generation. We're fed up with
> it."
> Eco-activists who've never known malnutrition, malaria or the other
> threats that afflict Africa have no right to impose their fears,
> priorities and prejudices on its poor people. Greenpeace co-founder
> Patrick Moore is right. The environmental movement he helped found "has
> lost its objectivity, morality and humanity."
> The same can be said for the foundations and corporations that support the
> movement - and for Amnesty International and other "human rights" groups
> that are so concerned about politically correct "victims" that they seem
> to have no time to think about the millions who suffer at the hands of the
> eco-imperialists.
> If Africans and their many friends around the world would speak out more
> forcefully qnd often about these facts, they would make it much more
> difficult for any of these ethically-challenged organizations to continue
> in their silent complicity (or even active collaboration) in the poverty,
> misery and death of so many people in less developed countries.
> ____
> Paul Driessen is a senior fellow with the Committee For A Constructive
> Tomorrow, a public policy institute in Washington, DC. His new book,
> Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death, addresses these issues in
> depth and largely from the perspective of African and other developing
> nations. For more information, go to www.Eco-Imperialism.com