Today in AgBioView: December 11, 2003:
* Prolonging the EU Biotech Dance
* GM crops: misleading reports harm our prospects
* Study examines genetically modified corn in livestock
* EU Food Agency To Assess Safety Of Three More GMOs
* Biotechnology Important for Africa's Farmers
* Smart GM plants win CSIRO's top award
* Bt corn growers follow the rules
* Alarm at pesticide levels in organic produce
Prolonging the EU Biotech Dance
- AgWeb.com, by Dean Kleckner, December 11, 2003
I look forward to a time when EU decisions regarding biotech foods are
everyday events rather than headline news. Apparently, that time is not
After five years of delay, deferment, duplicity, along with postponement
and procrastination, the European Union, at long last on December 8, took
a vote on the approval of a new biotech crop. Guess what - no surprises -
the 3 "D's" and the 2 "P's" won once again. A committee of experts, by a 6
to 6 vote with three abstentions, left it hanging.
For the record, that's closer than usual to approval. But, that tie vote
sends the controversy directly to the EU's Farm Ministers for a political
vote within 90 days. And who knows, they may decide to their own version
of the "3 D's and 2 P's dance".
The crop in question is a biotech enhanced sweet corn that fends off pests
and resists herbicides. All the science-based testing and retesting that's
been done shows it to be safe.
Ironically, this decision to delay follows a separate decision a few days
earlier in which an EU food-safety panel determined that a type of biotech
field corn is "as safe as conventional maize." Science and reason are on
our side. There isn't a scrap of evidence suggesting that genetically
enhanced food is anything but perfectly safe to eat.
I've been saying that for years, and I fully expect to keep on saying it.
The evidence keeps pouring in.
My favorite recent example concerns the case of a fellow named Keith A.
Finger. Three years ago, he was one of the dozen or so voices denouncing
StarLink because he claimed an allergic reaction. Starlink was a biotech
enhanced corn that had found its way into taco shells. It had not yet been
cleared for human consumption although approval had been granted for
The enemies of biotechnology seized upon this incident with a ruthless
passion. They attempted to turn the incident into a major public-relations
fiasco for biologically enhanced foods. They didn't succeed, though they
did land a few good blows with their fundamentally bogus claims and it
affected corn exports for a little while.
One of their leading allegations was that biotech crops could trigger
allergic reactions in some people. Of course, there was no actual
confirmation of this ever occurring. In fact, just the opposite is
happening. Science is getting ever closer to eliminating food allergens by
Yet a handful of complainers insisted that they were victims and sued the
maker of StarLink. Today, however, we have smoking-gun proof that StarLink
didn't cause so much as a sneeze.
According to a report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,
Keith Finger is not allergic to StarLink corn.
I'll give the guy credit for agreeing to be tested at a hospital in
Cincinnati. Over the course of several days, he was fed StarLink corn,
another kind of corn, and a placebo. Neither the doctors nor their patient
knew which food came on which day. Finger was thoroughly examined for
signs of an allergic reaction--and none was found.
Finger certainly believed he was allergic. He just happened to be totally
wrong. Now he owes everybody an apology for raising such a stink over
nothing. Of course, I haven't heard him make one. In fact, he continues to
insist that he's allergic to StarLink.
It only goes to show that some people refuse to be convinced of certain
things. It's very hard to persuade the unpersuadeable. Changing their
minds would require them to renounce firmly but wrongly held beliefs.
That's a tough thing to do--but sometimes it simply must be done, such as
when evidence demonstrated beyond all doubt that the Earth wasn't flat and
the planets revolved around the Sun.
I think Europe may be going through this difficult mental process right
now. The continent is waking up to the realization that it ought to reject
its know-nothing posture of the last several years, but it hasn't really
embraced this idea as fully as it must.
This will take time--and probably more time than it should. But at least
it would be a start. As they say, the first step is admitting you have a
GM crops: misleading reports harm our prospects
- Canberra Times, 11 December 2003
EIGHT years ago I was in the fortunate situation of witnessing the
introduction of Australia's first commercially grown genetically modified
crop, grown after 15 years of research.
Fortunate for three reasons. First, the insect-resistant GM cotton led to
50 per cent less insecticide use where it was grown, an immense benefit
for the environment and local communities.
Second, the way the crop was introduced and managed, helping to turn the
industry into a sustainable one, earning Australia $1.5 billion in export
Contrary to popular mythology, farmers embraced GM cotton and were not
forced into crippling licence agreements by agribusiness companies.
What really happened was an effort by growers, industry, researchers and
government to make sure everything - markets, crop management and
environmental safety - were in place before GM cotton was introduced.
Growers were required to adopt a management strategy to prevent insect
resistance, and this improved their farms' sustainability and
profitability, for example by about $300/ha in the 2001-02 season, a
benefit that flows to local communities.
Third, the care taken to bring in GM cotton made it possible to introduce
additional GM varieties, including RoundUp Ready herbicide-tolerant cotton
and Bollgard II, an insect- resistant variety expected to reduce
insecticide use by another 30 per cent.
Herbicide tolerance is a hot topic with the proposed introduction of GM
herbicide- tolerant canola, even though conventionally bred herbicide-
tolerant wheat and canola are available in Australia.
RoundUp Ready cotton has been grown for two seasons and is achieving its
goal of reducing the use of herbicides, including those that persist in
the environment, especially our waterways.
I know I'm ruining a good story with the facts but so much of what makes a
great read about gene technology in the media and on the Web is way off
the mark and not helpful to people wanting a deeper understanding of the
implications, the pros and cons of introducing another GM crop to
Take, for example, recent reports on the UK farm-scale trials. Despite the
best efforts of scientists involved, the results were widely reported as
GM crops' harming the environment, especially wildlife diversity.
This was not the case and the reports were misleading, especially when
extrapolated to farming systems in other countries.
The trials were not primarily of GM crops; they were not specifically of
the impact of a GM trait. They were of the impact of adopting modern
farming practices, which could be achieved equally by non-GM crops such as
conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant crops.
Not surprisingly there were biodiversity impacts of changes in weed
management in the UK, particularly where weed seeds were an important food
source sustaining biodiversity which, unlike in Australia, relies largely
on farms and hedgerows.
Other research has been described as developing Frankenfoods, even though
it may involve no new genes, only "switching off" existing genes.
One example is CSIRO research into how to make food oil better for our
health by increasing monounsaturated fatty acids.
My own research, modifying lupins, a valuable stock feed, with a sunflower
gene, enhanced protein quality, trials showing more efficient weight gain
and wool growth in sheep.
Independent medical research at the Australian National University to
determine any allergic reaction to the sunflower protein showed that,
rather than causing an allergic reaction, the lupins had a protective
effect against asthma in mice.
It's worth mentioning GM cotton in Australia because it is in stark
contrast with what's happening in canola and in the UK farm-scale trials.
Insect biodiversity is increasing in Australia's GM cotton, especially the
many "good" insects, as a result of decreased insecticide use and of
farmers' adopting integrated pest management (IPM).
IPM aims to reduce chemical use by combining knowledge of pest insects and
the good insects for biological control, with judicious use of chemicals
and better farming practices.
It's true that cotton and canola are quite different and should be treated
as such, and have been so treated by the Gene Technology Regulator.
Future GM plants will need also to be treated on a plant-by- plant basis,
using the national regulatory system to give a science-based assessment of
What really stands out is the way in which growers and communities were
prepared, or not prepared in the case of canola, for GM plants.
Some of the many jigsaw- puzzle pieces that were essential to cotton's
introduction might have been missing for GM canola.
Like cotton growers, canola growers want to know whether they can sell a
GM crop, if crop performance can be guaranteed and whether a GM canola
crop will cause "contamination", a deliberately misused word that
describes something that occurs in nature: cross-pollination.
Without research, field trials and partnerships many of these questions
won't be answered.
Now the Greens have introduced a Bill to ban planting of GM crops in the
ACT and, should it be successful, may block field trials and affect
research, possibly forcing it out of the ACT.
GM cotton is showing that, as a tool, gene technology can contribute to
sustainable and profitable agriculture. Other research is showing gene
technology's potential for our health and well-being.
We must think carefully before reacting to gene technology and GM plants.
Farmers and the community cannot afford to let this technology be
abandoned in Australia.
Dr Higgins is a principal research scientist at CSIRO Plant Industry
Study examines genetically modified corn in livestock
- Daily Nebraskan, By DAKARAI I. AARONS, December 11, 2003
Genetically modified corn has a number of benefits that are positive for
agronomy, but researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln want to
make sure this corn won't have a negative impact on livestock.
Nebraska produces plenty of corn, but much of it is used as feed corn for
growing livestock, said Galen Erickson, a UNL assistant professor of
animal science and extension feedlot specialist.
"We wanted to make sure anything done to enhance the corn doesn't hurt the
use of it as feed," he said.
Researchers weren't concerned the genetically modified corn would cause
damage to the livestock's health, but did want to see if the corn would
affect the way the livestock developed, Erickson said.
To research this, feeding trials for cows and swine were conducted at the
university's agricultural and development center near Mead.
For cattle, four studies that lasted between 150 and 200 days each were
conducted. The researchers examined how much corn the livestock ate and
how much weight they gained.
Researchers also measured effectiveness -- how much corn the livestock
needed to grow to a desired size.
In each study, university researchers found there were no differences in
the livestock, Erickson said.
A similar conclusion was reached in a study of the effects of genetically
modified corn on swine by Phil Miller, a UNL professor of animal science.
The genetically modified corns used were Bt corn, which is designed to
prevent crop damage by rootworms, and Roundup Ready Corn, which is
resistant to Roundup, a herbicide.
Normally, using herbicides would kill the corn crop and cause unwanted
weeds, Miller said.
The two trials, which lasted about 14 weeks, examined carcass
characteristics and swine performance.
People have an interest in genetically modified products, and they want to
know whether using the products makes any difference, Miller said.
Before conducting the studies, the researchers thought the genetically
modified crops wouldn't make a difference, but doing studies brings a
measure of evidence, he said.
"(The study) demonstrates that in our production system, there were no
differences," he said.
EU Food Agency To Assess Safety Of Three More GMOs
- Crop Decisions, Dec. 10, 2003
Europe's top food agency, keen to raise its profile on genetically
modified organisms (GMOs), plans to deliver its safety verdict on three
more gene-spliced types early next year.
With EU countries split down the middle on whether to lift their five-year
ban on new biotech foods and crops, the views of the European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA) are seen as key to the debate since it is independent and
Last week, EFSA issued its first verdict on the safety of GM foods, giving
a clean bill of health to a modified maize type engineered by U.S. biotech
giant Monsanto, saying it was safe for human and animal consumption.
Now, EFSA specialists are assessing three other products -- two maize
types and one oilseed rape, all from Monsanto. EFSA expects to publish its
assessments in January and February.
"Oilseed rape will be a little different from maize because there are
different environmental questions associated with it," an EFSA official
EFSA scientists will meet this week and again on January 20-21. If all
goes according to plan, the agency would publish its opinion on the first
GMO -- Monsanto 's herbicide-resistant GT73 oilseed rape -- about a week
Monsanto's application for EU authorization only relates to import and
processing for food and feed, not for growing.
The company's two other products due for an assessment are maize types
MON863 and the hybrid MON863/MON810, submitted as one request for
evaluation. EFSA's verdict is due in February.
Both are engineered for resistance against certain insect pests, such as
the European corn borer. The applications relate to imports for use as
animal feed and processing, not for growing or use in products for human
Biotechnology Important for Africa's Farmers
- AllAfrica.com, By Colleen Flanagan, December 10, 2003
More cowpeas, cotton, corn and soybeans, grown by African farmers for the
world market -- that is only one of the possibilities if Africans make use
of biotechnology to increase crop yields, participants heard at a panel
discussion December 9 in Washington.
Speaking as part of a panel on "Biotechnolgy and African Agriculture,"
Professor Diran Makinde of AfricaBio asserted that biotechnology should be
used as a tool to boost crop quality and improve agricultural efficiency
in Africa. As a result, he said, costs would decrease and new niche
markets would be created.
"I want African farmers to be able to access this technology and assess
the benefits for themselves," Makinde said. Crops such as cowpeas, cotton,
corn and soybeans have all been grown with the assistance of
biotechnology, he added.
Makinde's remarks came on the second day of the two-day Private Sector
Session of the third U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic
Cooperation Forum, held at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. Representatives of
biotech businesses from both the United States and Africa, as well as
doctors and scientists, all spoke to the benefits of including
biotechnology in the range of methods used to develop African agricultural
Such products could be exported from Africa as part of the AGOA (African
Growth and Opportunity Act) process, panelists said, but some also
championed the integration of more efficient fertilization products and
The full potential of biotechnology will never be realized if "the basic
needs of fertilization and irrigation in Africa" are not addressed,
according to Cyril Broderick, president of the International Society of
"Yields without adequate fertilization and irrigation would be too low and
not at all profitable," explained Broderick. "The benefits of
biotechnology would be undermined. Proper irrigation can extend growth
throughout the dry season," he added, "and fertilization can help with
"African ministers are appealing for $16 billion a year from major
financial institutions such as the World Bank to help address the
continent's mammoth water woes," Broderick said. He also added that
investment in both irrigation and fertilization would "improve response to
biotechnology" and "enhance productivity."
"Biotechnology is certainly not a total solution," said Dr. Rob Horsch,
vice president for product and technology cooperation at Monsanto Company,
"but it does have its place within African agriculture production."
"From what I see," he added, "Africa has enough sunlight, soil, and water
to be producing many more crops than what they are today."
Smart GM plants win CSIRO's top award
Research that has led to new cotton varieties with increased yield and
reduced pesticide use has won this year's CSIRO Chairman's Medal.
Dr Gregory Constable and Dr Danny Llewellyn from CSIRO Plant Industry won
the medal for their contributions to the development and delivery of
genetically modified insect and herbicide resistant varieties for the
Australian cotton industry.
CSIRO Chairman, Ms Catherine Livingstone presented the medal at Discovery
in Canberra today.
The scientists introduced Monsanto gene constructs into CSIRO cotton
varieties which are marketed by the Australian company Cotton Seed
Since its introduction in 1996, INGARD cotton has reduced insecticide use
by 50 per cent where it is grown, and a new two-gene variety Bollgard II
planted this season is expected to reduce chemical use by a further 30 per
"This medal recognises an outstanding contribution that has helped make
our valuable cotton industry more sustainable," Ms Livingstone said.
"Cotton growers now have varieties that offer substantial benefits to the
environment and local communities as a result of needing less pesticide,
while at the same time increasing yields."
Established in 1991, the CSIRO Chairman's Medal honours the very best in
CSIRO research. It is awarded to scientists who have carried out research
and development of national or international importance in the advancement
of scientific knowledge, technology application or commercialisation. To
be considered, the work must have been completed or gained scientific or
industrial recognition during the past five years and have been carried
out predominantly within CSIRO.
Australian Government Science Minister Peter McGauran presented the CSIRO
Medals for 2003 to:
* Team leader of the Engineered Polymers Team, Dr Ezio Rizzardo, accepted
a CSIRO medal for his team's world leading process that stands to
revolutionise the polymer industry. The new process (dubbed RAFT
polymerisation) provides complete control over the size and shape of
polymer molecules and thereby offers polymer scientists and technologists
unprecedented flexibility in tailoring the properties of polymeric
* The Bushfire Behaviour and Management Team, led by Mr Phil Cheney, have
made an outstanding contribution to bushfire science and practice by
identifying new factors that determine how bushfires behave. The
internationally-recognized program, Project Vesta, is in its sixth year
and helped coin the phrase 'Dead Man Zone'. Firefighters have been trapped
and burnt in bushfires when the fire developed rapidly after a wind change
due to previous models' underestimating the potential speed of fire. If
firefighters get too far away from the safety of burnt ground behind a
controlled section of fireline they may find themselves in 'The Deadman
Zone' where there is not enough time to return to a safe refuge. These
findings have helped produce guidelines to improve the training and work
place safety of fire fighters around the world, along with increased
community safety and education.
* Molecular Genetics Group led by Dr. Bill Barendse for their work which
has led to the identification and commercialisation of the first
diagnostic tests for marbling in beef cattle, the primary determinant of
price, and beef tenderness, the primary factor in consumer preference.
These represent the beginning of a pipeline of genetic tests for
economically important traits of livestock species.
"Australia needs a vigorous and relevant CSIRO to support ideas and
innovation," Mr McGauran said.
"By recognising the talent and commitment of CSIRO scientists we confirm
the importance of science and innovation to Australia's future
prosperity," Mr McGauran said.
CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Geoff Garrett presented lifetime achievement
medals to Doug Cocks and Michael Freer. Doug Cocks for his
trans-disciplinary methods to pioneer and demonstrate multi-valued
approaches to land use planning and management; and the use of
national-scale computerised data-bases for resource policy analyses.
Michael Freer is one of the pioneers of grazing systems science in
Australia and its application to help farmers manage their flocks and
Mehrdad Baghai, Executive Director, Business Development and
Commercialisation for CSIRO, announced the winner of the Business
Excellence Medal - the Schering-Plough Business Development Team - led by
team leader Dr Kevin Winzenberg.
Rosie Schmedding, CSIRO Media, 02 6276 6520
Bt corn growers follow the rules
- Gainesville Times, By Billy Skaggs, December 11, 2003
The percentage of corn growers adhering to insect resistant management
requirements rose significantly in 2003, marking the fourth year of an
upward trend in compliance.
According to results of an annual survey required by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, 92 percent of farmers met regulatory
requirements for management refuge size, while 93 percent met refuge
distance requirements. That's an increase from 87 and 82 percent reported
respectively in 2000 when the survey began.
These results demonstrate the vast majority of farmers growing Bt corn
borer resistant corn are adhering to management requirements.
EPA requirements established in 1999 obligate growers to plant at least a
20 percent refuge, or corn that does not contain a Bt gene, for
controlling corn borers. Also, every Bt cornfield must be located within
one half mile of a refuge.
In certain corn or cotton areas of the South, growers are required to
plant at least a 50 percent corn refuge. These management refuge
requirements were enacted to help prevent corn insect pests from
developing resistance to Bt technology.
More than 550 growers responded to the survey conducted during the 2003
growing season among Bt corn users in the Corn Belt and Cotton Belt. The
survey was conducted by an independent research firm for the Agricultural
Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee, in conjunction with the
National Corn Growers Association.
The recent Compliance Assurance Program is another factor that has
contributed to increased awareness of management in the grower community.
Introduced by the seed industry in response to EPA requirements in 2002,
the program was developed to further inform growers about the management
requirements and how to implement them on their farms.
Under the program, registrants of Bt corn borer resistant corn must
conduct on-farm visits with growers to check for management refuge
compliance. Growers who do not meet their management refuge requirements
in two consecutive years can be denied access to Bt corn borer resistant
corn in the third year.
"We're clearly seeing the fruits of this comprehensive education effort
and will continue to work hard to meet our industry's stewardship
responsibility around this technology. Being good stewards benefits our
customers, industry and agriculture," said Dick Crowder, CEO and president
of the American Seed Trade Association
Not only did the majority of survey respondents indicate they were aware
of management requirements, but 94 percent of Bt corn growers said they
received enough information to implement a refuge properly in 2003, which
is 20 percentage points higher than 2001 survey results.
What's more, the survey indicates that 72 percent of growers who used
insecticides regularly before the introduction of Bt corn borer resistant
corn (four or five of the previous five years) decreased their insecticide
use to control corn borers.
Billy Skaggs is Hall County Extension Agent. He can be reached at (770)
Alarm at pesticide levels in organic produce
- Sydney Morning Herald, By Kirsty Needham
Expensively-priced organic food sold in supermarkets has been found to
contain pesticide residues equal to the maximum limit legally allowed in
traditional food products.
In some cases, organic products sampled by health department officers
contained pesticide residues that should not be detected in any foods,
Food Standards Australia has reported in its latest bulletin.
The regulator's food surveillance unit says more consumers are buying
organic as an alternative to traditionally-processed food, but they
believe food labelled as organic will be free of pesticides.
Queensland Health examined 96 organic products - both imported and locally
made. Pesticide residue was found in 15 per cent, of which, 78 per cent
had been "certified organic".
Food Standards says six products contained residues that are not
prescribed under the food code "and therefore should not be detected in
Andy Monk, chief executive of the Biological Farmers of Australia, which
runs the largest Certified Organic program, has responded to the report by
asking the food producers named to "please explain".
However, Mr Monk said that consumers should realise that the term
"certified organic" refers only to a guarantee of chemical-free
production, and not the end product.
"We live in an environment where there are persistent chemicals. The
organic industry never makes the claim that a product is pristine," he
The survey found a bottle of organic sesame oil from the United States had
residues equal to the maximum allowed in the food code.
All Australian products found with pesticide had residue levels of less
than 10 per cent of the safety standard, Mr Monk said.
He said that the Queensland report, which is still being finalised, is
based on testing conducted two years ago, and a more recent Victorian
survey had given an almost clean bill of health to the industry.
Random auditing by the Certified Organic program has since increased as
the organisation moved from a voluntary to a professional footing, he
The Biological Farmers of Australia estimate the organic retail market to
be worth $250 million, growing at over 20 per cent a year.
Food Standards labelling codes do not cover the use of the term organic,
potentially allowing it to appear on produce that has not been certified.
Food makers that do so risk legal action for false claims, however. Coles
and Woolworths had taken a "firm stance" and require the food they sell to
be certified, Mr Monk said.