Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 14, 2004:
* More Acres Devoted to Biotech Crops
* Genetically Engineered Crops Up 15 Percent Worldwide
* Double-Digit Growth Continues for Biotech Crops Worldwide
* UK: First Commercial GM Crops May Be Planted in Spring
* UK: Scientists Clear GM Crop for Planting
* ACRE Delivers Advice to Government on Farm-Scale Evaluations
* Brazil: The Hazards of Hitching Plans to GMO Fears
* Brazil Ranks Fourth Largest Transgenic Soy Producers
* Mad Cow Disease Scare and GM Crops: De Ja Vu All Over Again!
* Italians Growing Skeptical on GMOs - One Half Want Research Continued
* PR and Activism: Suggestions for 2004
* Building scientific capacity: What Does It Take?
More Acres Devoted to Biotech Crops
- Justin Gillis, The Washington Post, January 14, 2004
The global acreage devoted to genetically altered crops jumped 15 percent
last year, the seventh straight year of double-digit growth and a sign
that a broad controversy over the safety of the technology has not
deterred farmers from adopting it.
The acreage devoted to the crops, which have been modified to resist pests
and weeds, continues to rise in the United States, though at a somewhat
slower rate than in the past, according to a new report. The biggest
change is in developing countries, where increasing numbers of small
farmers are growing biotech crops, notably cotton.
From 2002 to 2003, a million more farmers adopted the crops worldwide,
raising the total number of farmers growing them to 7 million. Of those,
about 6 million are cotton farmers in China, putting that country of
small, peasant farmers in the forefront of technological change in
While the total acreage devoted to biotech crops remains heavily
concentrated in the United States and a handful of other countries with
big farms, that appears about to change, with some of the world's largest
countries -- such as Brazil, India and Indonesia -- recently embracing the
"As the years go by, we are accumulating consistent, compelling evidence
that this technology offers the world some real benefits," said Clive
James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications, which compiled the new report. "Farmers
worldwide are ruthless if a technology does not work. They will just
His group, which seeks to transfer the technology to developing countries
and receives about 20 percent of its funds from biotechnology companies,
has for several years compiled a report widely regarded as the most
definitive source of data on global adoption of biotech crops. This year's
report, released yesterday, was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in
New York and a charitable foundation in Italy.
The latest numbers are being watched with particular interest, given that
long-standing disagreements between the United States and many European
countries about the usefulness of the technology devolved into a series of
pitched battles last year.
The United States sued Europe in the World Trade Organization in an
attempt to lift a de facto moratorium on the technology in European
countries, a case that could be resolved this year. President Bush accused
European countries of blocking a technology that he said could, if more
widely deployed, help feed starving people in Africa and elsewhere, a
claim that European politicians angrily dismissed.
Agricultural biotechnology involves the genetic manipulation of crops to
confer new traits, such as the ability to kill worms that might destroy
the crop. Most crops developed in this way have been commercial failures,
but a handful -- notably altered varieties of soybeans, corn, cotton and
canola -- have been successes in the United States and a few other
countries. Europe has approved a few biotech varieties but blocked most of
them after a public controversy erupted there in the late 1990s.
The industry, led by the Monsanto Co. of St. Louis, contends that the
crops are safe to eat and good for the environment, and has produced
safety studies that have satisfied U.S. regulators. Environmental and some
consumer groups are less convinced, saying that many long-term safety and
environmental questions remain unanswered. Under American pressure, Europe
has recently taken hesitant steps toward embracing the technology, but the
issue remains contentious.
Farmers don't seem to be waiting for the debate to settle. Biotech seeds
cost them more than regular seeds, sometimes twice as much, but the
farmers appear to be deciding that the benefits -- which can include
higher yields or lower costs for labor and chemicals, depending on a given
year's growing conditions -- are worth the expense. The trend appears to
augur well for Western biotech companies, particularly Monsanto, that have
invested heavily in the new crops. Investors have been skeptical in recent
years that the investments would pay off, driving down the companies'
share prices. "The technology works," said Harvey Glick, Monsanto's
director of scientific affairs. "It provides a lot of value to growers."
Opponents of the technology, while acknowledging that the acreage devoted
to biotech crops appears to be increasing, said it is only a matter of
time before farmers figure out that the crops will not be welcome in the
global marketplace. They pointed to the example of gene-altered wheat,
whose development, by Monsanto, has slowed to a crawl because of
opposition from food companies and overseas buyers.
Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety in
Washington, said, "There are no new crop varieties, no new companies and
no new technologies being commercialized by the agricultural biotech
industry, leaving it stagnant and in deep financial trouble."
Genetically Engineered Crops Up 15 Percent Worldwide
- Paul Elias, Associated Press, Jan. 13, 2004
Genetically engineered crop plantings increased 15 percent last year
despite continued consumer resistance in Europe and elsewhere, according
to a group that promotes use of the technology in poor countries.
Seven million farmers in 18 countries grew engineered crops on 167.2
million acres last year, compared to 145 million acres in 2002, according
to a report released Tuesday by the industry-backed International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. In 1996, the first year
genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million
acres were under biotechnology cultivation.
"Farmers have made up their minds," said the group's founder and chairman
Clive James. "They continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of
significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages." In
all, some 18 percent of the world's 3.7 billion acres under food crop
cultivation are biotech, the ISAAA says. The most popular such crops
contain bacterium genes that make the plants resistant to either bugs or
James and other biotechnology proponents argue that genetically modified
plants will help alleviate poverty and hunger in developing nations by
improving crop yields and cutting expenses through less use of pesticides.
Opponents argue that stable governments, improved transportation systems
and education are more important to improving developing nations' food
production than biotechnology. Further, they argue that not enough is
known about genetically modified crops' impact on human health or the
Farmers in the Philippines grew nearly 50,000 acres of engineered corn in
2003, the first year altered crops were approved commercially there. India
nearly doubled its genetically engineered cotton output last year to
247,000 acres and China raised 6.9 million acres of biotech cotton, a 33
percent increase over 2002. Argentina, Canada, Brazil, South Africa,
Australia, Uruguay, Romania, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Indonesia,
Colombia, Honduras and Mexico all grew genetically engineered crops last
year, James said.
U.S. farmers grew 105.7 million acres of genetically engineered crops,
mostly corn, soy and cotton. "I'm on board with genetically engineered
crops because they reduce my use of chemicals, fuel and labor," said Eric
Freese a farmer in Dixon, Calif., near Sacramento. He hopes to increase
his genetically engineered corn harvest from 600 acres last year to 1,000
acres this year.
But many groups are campaigning to slow the technology's spread. In the
northern California county of Mendocino, residents are voting in March on
a ballot measure that would ban genetically engineered plants and animals
there. Similar campaigns are afoot in Vermont, Hawaii and elsewhere.
Biotechnology has met the most resistance in Europe, where a five-year
moratorium on new crops remains in place. A divided European Union failed
last month to agree on lifting the ban, dragging out a dispute that
Washington charges violates world trade rules and contributes to
starvation in Africa.
The Bush administration says the European ban is unscientific and hurts
American exporters. It began legal action in August at the World Trade
Organization to get it lifted. Despite the continued opposition, James
predicts that within five years, 10 million farmers in 25 countries will
plant 247 million acres of genetically engineered food.
Some biotech critics, though, contend that James' forecast is overly
optimistic, especially as it relates to the developing world. Soy, corn
and cotton continue to be the most popular crops to engineer. None of
those crops are widely grown on the African continent or throughout the
"Those crops have limited benefits to many developing country farmers,"
said Greg Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for Science in the Public
Double-Digit Growth Continues for Biotech Crops Worldwide: U.S. biotech
crop area up 10 percent
- ISAAA Press Release on the ISAAA Briefs No. 30-2003 - Global Status of
Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003. http://isaaa.org
Manila, Philippines (Jan. 13, 2004) - For the seventh consecutive year,
farmers around the world continued to plant biotech crops at a
double-digit pace, with the 2003 total up 15 percent to 167.2 million
acres or 67.7 million hectares, according to a report released today by
the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
The increase includes a provisional conservative estimate of 7.41 million
acres or 3 million hectares of biotech soybeans in Brazil, which approved
planting of biotech soybeans for the first time in 2003. The final planted
area in Brazil could be significantly higher. The report also stated that
7 million farmers in 18 countries - more than 85 percent resource-poor
farmers in the developing world - now plant biotech crops, up from 6
million in 16 countries in 2002. Almost one-third of the global biotech
crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last
"Farmers have made up their minds," said Clive James, chairman and founder
of ISAAA. "They continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of
significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages."
The number of countries responsible for 99 percent of the global biotech
crop area expanded to six, up from four in 2002, according to the report.
Brazil and South Africa joined the United States, Argentina, Canada and
China as the leading growers of biotech crops. China and South Africa
experienced the greatest annual increase, with both countries planting
one-third more biotech hectares than in 2002. The remaining top 10
countries planting more than 50,000 hectares are Australia, India, Romania
and Uruguay; another eight countries each plant up to 50,000 hectares of
In the United States, biotech crop acreage grew 10 percent as a result of
significant gains in biotech corn area and continued growth in biotech
soybeans. A total of 105.7 million acres of soybeans, corn and cotton were
grown. Farmer Ray Bardole, who raises more than 600 acres of no-till
biotech soybeans on his farm near Rippey, Iowa, says he plants biotech
crops because of the economic and environmental advantages they afford.
Global Biotech Crop Hectarage
"Current biotech crops are to agriculture what the Model T Ford is to
modern transportation - we're only beginning to see the benefits," Bardole
said. "We're spending one-half to one-third what we used to on weed
control, and we're able to use more techniques like no-till that help us
be better stewards of our land."
Biotech soybeans continue to lead all hectares globally with an increase
of nearly 13 percent to 102.2 million acres - 55 percent of soybeans
globally. New varieties and country approvals spurred the greatest growth
in the area planted to biotech maize, with an increase of 25 percent to a
total of 38.3 million acres worldwide - 11 percent of the global maize
area. Canola followed with 20 percent growth for a total of 8.9 million
acres - 16 percent of canola hectarage globally. Biotech cotton was up
approximately 6 percent to a total of 9.7 million acres - 21 percent of
the global cotton area.
"Despite the ongoing debate in the European Union, there is cause for
cautious optimism that the global area of biotech crops and the number of
farmers planting them will continue to grow in 2004 and beyond," James
said. Within the next five years, ISAAA predicts 10 million farmers in 25
or more countries will plant 100 million hectares or 247,000,000 acres of
biotech crops. According to the report, the global market value of biotech
crops is expected to increase from approximately $4.5 billion this year to
$5 billion or more by 2005.
UK: First Commercial GM Crops May Be Planted in Spring
- The Daily Mail, (London), Jan. 14, 2004
GM crops could be planted commercially in Britain as early as this spring,
it was announced yesterday. The move to endorse the growing of
geneticallymodified maize is expected to be the first in a series of
approvals for similar crops.
The decision - by the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the
Environment - flies in the face of official polls showing 90 per cent of
people oppose 'Frankenstein' crops and food.
Campaigners immediately accused the committee of siding with the
Peter Riley, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: 'The evidence of
environmental harm from GM crops is clear in the Government's own studies.
'Yet we are seeing scientific limbo-dancing by ACRE to support
biotechnology. They to be turning science on its head to support GM. 'ACRE
may believe GM maize will go into the ground this spring, but any such
move would require the approval of the governments of Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland. 'The Welsh Assembly has a stated objection to GM
farming, so I cannot see them accepting this. 'There would be uproar if
the Government tries to force this on the nation.'
Lord Peter Melchett, of the Soil Association, which sets standards for
organic farming, said planting GM crops this spring was 'not on' because
legislation was needed to protect farms from cross-contamination. 'There
is no way that would be possible in time to allow GM maize to be grown
this spring,' he said.
ACRE was giving its verdict yesterday on three-year farm trials of
modified maize, sugar beet, fodder beet and oilseed rape. Evidence showed
that insect species and weeds declined in the trial areas, endangering
birds that fed on them.
The committee, however, backed the growing of GM maize, saying it was
better for the environment than conventional farming. It also suggested
the other crops might be grown in future if measures were taken to protect
Professor Chris Pollock, the committee's chairman, said: 'ACRE operates on
a case by case basis. It does not seek to give approval for GM as a
blanket technology or disapproval for it.'
The modified maize in question - T25 - was created by German biotech firm
Bayer to resist a specific weed killer. Before farmers can use T25, it
needs Government approval and has to be regis-tered on the national seed
list. The weed killer also needs official clearance.
Jules Pretty, ACRE's deputy chairman, said: 'The decision could come
reasonably quickly. It could come in time for this coming spring. It
doesn't really matter if the decision is this week or next week or
ACRE said farmers planting the new maize had to meet strict conditions.
These include monitoring the crop's effect on the environment and on the
milking cows which eat it. Farms would also have to match conditions in
the original trials. Yesterday Environment Minister Elliot Morley said the
Government's verdict on GM maize would follow consultations with the UK's
He told MPs: 'It is quite clear from the farm- scale evaluations that the
GM maize came out better in relation to the environmental consequences
than conventional maize.' Mr Morley added: 'There are GM products on the
market in this country now. GM is a fact of the global market place.
'Whatever the future of it, I certainly believe there must be clear
traceability, clear labelling and robust regulatory regimes, so that in
the end consumers have choice. 'If consumers wanted to buy GM it would be
A leading Government scientist denied an honour for fear of upsetting
animal rights activists has received an apology. Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury met Colin Blake-more to say sorry for the 'dis-graceful'
The professor, who is head of the Medical Research Council, threatened to
resign after a leak suggested he had been snubbed for a knight-hood or
another major honour because he supported vivisection. For 15 years, the
Oxford brain researcher has endured parcel bomb attacks and death threats
from animal rights extremists.
Yesterday Professor Blake-more said Lord Sainsbury had blamed the 'actions
of one rogue civil servant'. He told MPs reviewing the honours system that
the snub was a 'real blow' for British science.
Scientists Clear GM Crop for Planting
- Paul Brown, The Guardian, Jan. 14, 2004
The first commercially grown GM crops can be planted in Britain this
spring, the scientific committee set up to advise ministers on releases to
the environment said yesterday.
The advice gives the government only a few weeks to decide whether to
allow Britain to go GM or bow to public opinion and block the introduction
of the controversial crops - a decision bound to be taken by the full
cabinet because of its political implications.
The announcement appeared at first sight contrary to the results of three
years of farm-scale trials of GM crops announced in October. It brought a
hostile reaction from politicians of all parties, among them the former
environment minister Michael Meacher.
The advisory committee on releases to the environment (Acre) evaluated the
farm-scale trials and came to the conclusion that in carefully controlled
circumstances the commercial planting of GM crops could go ahead without
any risk to the environment.
In particular, the scientists said Bayer GM maize, which already had a
licence for commercial planting granted in 1998, before the trials, could
be planted this spring.
The trials had shown that the existing methods of growing conventional
maize were even more damaging to the environment than GM maize, and so on
that basis commercial planting of GM maize would be reasonable. The only
potential hold up was the approval for commercial use of the herbicide to
be used on it and the acceptance of the GM seed on to the national list -
both licences being in the last formal stages.
The scientific results for spring-sown oilseed rape and fodder and sugar
beet had shown GM crops to be more damaging to the environment than
conventional crops. Acre thought this problem could be overcome if
mitigating measures, such as wide field boundaries for wild flowers and
insects, were adopted.
Jules Pretty, the committee's deputy chairman, said one of the most
important results to come out of the trials was the extent to which modern
agriculture of all types damaged the environment. Growing of both
conventional and GM maize was very damaging to biodiversity: "Perhaps the
question we should be asking is whether we should be growing maize at all
if we want a healthy farmland environment." Acre has set up a subgroup to
look at the effect of modern intensive agricultural methods on the
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, said yester day that the
government remained neither pro- or anti-GM and would make a decision
based on the advice of Acre and English Nature, which she said had also
recommended the go-ahead for GM maize.
This led English Nature to issue a rebuttal. It had noted that GM maize
was no more damaging than conventional maize with current growing methods
but that did not mean it recommended it. Michael Meacher, who was the
minister responsible for setting up the trials, said Acre's recommendation
In the trials the ground in which the conventional maize was planted had
been sprayed with atrazine, which was being banned. GM crops needed to be
tested again and compared with conventional maize using the new
The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, the GM industry body, said Acre had
provided a compelling case to give the green light for carefully managed
commercialisation. Paul Rylott, for Bayer, said if approval came fast
enough his company was ready for planting this spring.
Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat's food spokesman, said: "It would be
foolhardy to give the go-ahead now, especially while the public remain
unconvinced there is sufficient benefit in taking the risk." Caroline
Spelman, the shadow environment secretary, said "The queries and concerns
surrounding GM crops have not yet been fully answered." The Soil
Association, Genewatch UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
and Friends of the Earth all said there were too many potential dangers.
ACRE Delivers Advice to Government on Farm-Scale Evaluations
- Defra (UK), http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/latest/2004/gm-0104.htm
Today, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett received advice on the
results of the GM crop farm-scale evaluations from the Government's
statutory advisers - ACRE (the Advisory Committee on Releases to the
Farm-scale Evaluations (FSEs)
The Government-sponsored evaluations were carried out over a three-year
period to test the impact on farmland wildlife of the herbicide use
associated with three types of herbicide-tolerant GM crops - maize, beet
and spring oilseed rape.
For details of the publication of the Farm-scale Evaluation results see
the press release issued by the Scientific Steering Committee on 16th
To aid understanding of the results, the Scientific Steering Committee has
published a non-specialist summary, 'GM crops: Effects on Farmland
Wildlife' and a commentary, 'The implications of spring-sown genetically
modified herbicide-tolerant crops for farmland biodiversity: A commentary
on the Farm-scale Evaluations of spring-sown crops'. To view both reports
and for general information on the Farm-scale Evaluations please see Crops
and Farm-scale Evaluations.
The Farm-scale Evaluations (FSEs) looked at the impact of managing
genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops on farmland wildlife.
The results for the three spring-sown crops were published last October.
ACRE advised that if GMHT beet and spring-sown oilseed rape were grown in
a similar way to those in the farm-scale evaluations then adverse
environmental effects would result.
In contrast, ACRE advised that the results of the Farm-scale Evaluations
of GMHT maize did not demonstrate evidence of adverse environmental
impacts providing the crops were grown in a similar way to those tested.
Ministers have also received advice on the FSE results from English
Nature, on behalf of the statutory conservation bodies. English Nature
have advised that, on the basis of the FSE results, GMHT spring oilseed
rape and beet should not be commercialised, but that GMHT maize may be
commercialised subject to certain conditions.
Ministers in the UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will
now consider the advice from ACRE and English Nature before reaching
decisions. Specifically, they will be considering whether the UK should
press for existing EU marketing consents for GMHT maize to be revoked or
amended, and whether the UK should support or oppose the granting of EU
marketing consents for GMHT spring oilseed rape and beet.
Mrs Beckett said: "In October we welcomed the publication of the results
of the farm-scale evaluations - the largest study of its kind ever
undertaken - and today we welcome the advice of ACRE on the implications.
"We will now consider ACRE's advice, as well as the advice from English
Nature, very carefully before reaching a view on whether these crops
should be approved for cultivation in the EU.
"I have said consistently that the Government is neither pro- nor anti-GM
crops - our over-riding concern is to protect human health and the
environment, and to ensure genuine consumer choice." There are currently
no GM crops being grown in the UK and none have all the approvals required
for commercial cultivation.
Brazil: The Hazards of Hitching Plans to GMO Fears
- Acumen Journal of Life Sciences, Vol. II, No. I, Jan. 2004;
www.acumenjournal.com; Reproduced in AgBioview with permission.
The Case: While the United States quibbles with Europe and China over
whether or not they will agree to import its genetically modified crops,
Brazil has cashed in on its GMO-free image and could displace the United
States as the world’s leading soybean exporter. But recent economic
pressures have added transgenic seeds to the mix. How long will Brazil sit
atop the beanstalk?
The lowly soybean has come a long way. Twenty years ago, it was an
also-ran in the multibillion-dollar global grain trade. Today, thanks to
its growing status as a health food and the fact that it is a versatile
additive for processed foods and animal feed, the saucer-shaped bean is
the now the third-most-exported food in the world, after corn and wheat.
Brazil has come
a long way, too. Better known for its beef than its beans, the country was
just a runner-up in the global soybean trade until recently.
About a decade ago, Brazilian farmers began to sow their fields with
soybeans. In a nation where global ambitions were strong, and the currency
weak, soybeans became one of the most reliable economic forces driving
Brazil’s otherwise perpetually unstable gross domestic product. “Brazilian
farmers saw an opportunity in soybeans and they grabbed it,” says Helen
Pound, a grain-futures expert for Goldenberg, Hehmeyer & Company, a
grain-futures clearing agent. Farmers in Brazil had the added benefit of
cheap, fertile land. “Farmers can buy seed with low-value Brazilian reals
and sell the crops that come from it for high-value dollars,” she says.
Events in 2000, not of Brazil’s doing, ultimately put the nation on top of
the global soybean trade. That year, consumers and bureaucrats worldwide,
most noticeably in Europe, Japan, and Africa, began to reject genetically
modified organisms over concerns that genetically altered seeds could
sprout health and environmental hazards, and fears surfaced that GMO
farmers in the
U.S. could hold the world’s food supply in a tight grip. Brazil proclaimed
itself the natural alternative.
Overnight, Brazil became the non-GMO supermarket to the world. According
to the United Nations, in 2002, Brazil was producing 42 million metric
tons of soybeans and had become the second-largest soybean exporter,
behind only the United States. The 2003 harvest could top 60 million
metric tons. By 2004, if current trends continue, Brazil is expected to
surpass the United States in soybean exports, in no small part because
China--the largest soybean importer--has become Brazil’s largest customer.
Officially agnostic about GMOs until it recently instituted new
E.U.-styled labeling and segregation requirements on GMO imports (see
"China’s Soy Ploy," December), China has stated that it will be increasing
both GMO and non-GMO soybean imports. Unlike the European Union, China
buys Brazilian soybeans because the price is right.
Brazil could quickly find itself a victim of its own success as the
world’s leading GMO-free soybean exporter. For starters, as countries
institute GMO labeling and segregation, it will be increasingly difficult
for Brazil to prove that its soybean harvest is free of any genetic
modification. The reason? Brazil’s soybeans fields have never been 100%
free of GMOs. It’s an open secret that some farmers in the southern state
of Rio Grande do Sul, for example, have been smuggling GM soybeans from
Argentina and planting them in their own fields for years. As much as 80%
of the soybeans there are genetically modified. That, plus the fact that
Brazil can actually make more
money selling higher-yield GM grains and cannot afford politically to
classify Argentina as a GMO villain, has forced Brazil’s very green
government to start removing barriers to GMO farming.
Unlike non-GM seeds, genetically altered varieties are more cost-effective
because they are herbicide tolerant, which reduces the need to spray for
pests and fungi, since the plants withstand use of the most toxic,
high-impact herbicide. The next generation of GM crops is being designed
to produce higher yields and increased pest resistance. Since most
Brazilian farmers are not yet highly mechanized, the GM seeds allow them
to be more competitive on the world market. Farmers have been willing to
take the risk of growing GM crops even though, in recent years, the
government would have burned their fields if they had been found out.
Another complication for Brazil, and a growing challenge for the country’s
organic, environmentally friendly, non-GMO image, is the growing awareness
abroad that some Brazilian farmers and large farming coöperatives have
become globally competitive, in part, by burning down the environmentally
rich and diverse Amazon rainforest to expand soybean fields and grazing
In October, the Brazilian vice president signed the controversial
Presidential Order No. 131, which allows the planting and
commercialization of GM soybeans in 2004. But the legislature for the
state of Paraná, which controls the nation’s largest soybean port, just
passed a bill banning the planting and sale of GM crops through December
31st, 2006, effectively declaring the port a GMO-free zone. Although the
federal government has left open the possibility of allowing individual
states like the anti-GMO Paraná and the pro-GMO Rio Grande do Sul to
declare themselves either a GMO-free or GMO zone, Brazil may not be able
to have it both ways and still be commercially successful. It’s also
unclear whether it is even technically feasible for Brazil to pull this
Brazil’s conundrum is a classic conflict that developing nations will face
as they try to become all things to all nations, says Daniel Sokol, an
international trade expert at the law firm of Steel Hector & Davis. "My
sense is that Brazil understood that certain markets were foreclosed to
the United States because of GMOs--specifically the European Union and
Africa. This allowed Brazil to capture certain markets. At some point,
Brazil will need to confront the E.U. on its GMO rules."
Some say that it made sense at the time for Brazil to play up its non-GMO
status. But no longer. Indeed, until the country figures out a way to keep
its two varieties of soybeans separate and devise a transportation and
distribution system that can handle both, it will find that there is no
joy in playing the GMO spoiler. "As an agricultural superpower," says C.S.
Prakash, a GMO expert and professor of plant molecular genetics at
Tuskegee University, "Brazil simply cannot afford to ignore the most
powerful tool that can revitalize farm productivity since the plow."
There are no models or reliable historical data to help Brazil decide
whether to press on as the GMO-free exporter of record. Also, there is no
certainty that GMO-free crops will continue to enjoy the modest price
premium that they have had, at least in Europe and Japan. But one thing is
clear: Brazil’s split personality is already wreaking havoc among farmers.
There are reports of 100-km-long traffic jams leading up to the
grain-transfer stations in Paraná, where inspectors now sift through
millions of metric tons of soybeans to ensure that there is no GMO
Copyright © 2003, 2004 Acumen Sciences, LLC. All Rights Reserved For
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Brazil Ranks Fourth Largest Transgenic Soy Producer
- Latin America News Digest, Jan. 14, 2004
Brazil ranked fourth in the world in terms of plantations of
genetically-modified (GM) soy in 2003 with total areas under transgenic
soy of 3.0 million ha, it was reported on January 13, 2004. A report of
the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA) said it was the conservative estimate of Brazil's areas planted
with GM soy in 2003, which could also be the half of the areas really sown
with transgenic soy seeds.
Mad Cow Disease Scare and GM Crops: De Ja Vu All Over Again!
- Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, LLC, Ellicott City, MD.
Those of us who are following the media coverage of the mad cow disease
stories in the last two weeks could not help but feel a sense of de ja vu.
Does not it sound like a repeat of all that we have heard and read about
GM crops in the last two decades?
I have paid close attention to the details of how a single instance (so
far!) of mad cow disease was detected in the State of Washington that set
off a nation wide frenzy about the safety of the beef supply in the
country and the entire beef eating world (over)reacted to it to safeguard
their public health by banning US beef importation.
Then there were a series of commentaries and criticisms about the
oversight role of USDA, conflict of interest of highly placed officials at
USDA, and how the meat industry has attempted to gut all the so-called
sound regulations, and to top it all, everyone cried about "science" based
regulations. Nobel Laureate Stanley Pruisner wondered loudly how twenty
years of his researches on prions did not seem to exist for USDA
Today in Washington Post, there is very interesting set of Q&A called Cow
and A by Karen Pallarito that goes about reasoning that the probability of
someone catching the mad cow disease variant in the US is so negligible
that it is not worth bothering. To a rational person with a scientific
outlook, Pallarito's reasoning seems perfectly reasonable and reassuring.
There is no such thing as zero risk and for an individual even a slight
risk may not be acceptable. For a population or a group or a community,
may be! But who is going to decide that?
Did not the same thing happen with Bt-corn Monarch butterfly episode, the
Stralink episode, and the Prodigene affair? In the midst of all this
cacophony there is a symphony. We can all detect a common thread in all
these stories, and that is there is an element of truth in all of these
stories, but only an element. Then there are facts and truths. And, they
come in handy for the spinners to turn and twist the story to serve their
To me, here is a great lesson in risk communication and risk perception.
No amount of assuring the people in half a dozen states that their beef
supply was always and is safe would do any good. I am a vegetarian, but if
I was a beef eater living in any of these states, I too would have avoided
eating beef for quite a while as many people did. Public memory is usually
very short, and the beef eaters will come back if they have not already.
But, the damage is done and it will take a lot of doing to undo the damage
done to public perception.
What I have not been able to figure out both in case of the mad cow
disease scare and GMO scares is how to go about reassuring their safety
and alter public perception! I worry because biotechnology is such a
wonderful tool box that is proving its potential on a daily basis, and yet
there is a huge battle against the negative public perception of GMOs.
Sadly, it will delay the growth of agricultural biotechnology. All said
and done US's regulatory oversight did catch things that were about to
slip away both in cases of GMO episodes and the mad cow disease incident.
It seems we are damned if we do, and damned if we don't. I guess this will
be a constant challenge for technology development and all brace up for a
long haul. No one should take the public perception issue lightly no
matter great modern science and technology may be!
Italians Growing Skeptical on GMOs; But one out of two thinks research
should be continued
Italians are getting more and more skeptical towards GMOs (68% of
respondents considers them unsafe, compared to 49% in 2001), but more than
one out of two (57%) believes that research on agricultural
biotechnologies should be continued.
Lack of confidence is growing towards GM food: two italians out of three
(68% compared to 49% in 2001) believe that genetical modification of
fruits and vegetables is unsafe, while more than the half of respondents
think that there's no use in it (62%).
However, the majority of respondents support the continuation of research
in the field of agricultural biotechnologies. Two are the main reasons
given by respondents: the opportunity to solve the world hunger problem -
pointed out by 46,9% of those who agree that we need more research in this
field - and the need not to obstacle science progress (37,3%).
While Italians grew more skeptical attitude towards GMOs, they continue to
express a remarkable openness with regard to biotechnologies in the
medical field. Even if such also applications are recognized as risky (65%
of respondents consider xenotransplants dangerous), they are considered
without any doubt more useful than GMOs. 71% of Italians, for example,
consider useful to resort to human embryios in the attempt to cure
diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson, while 84% says that it is
important continuing research on medical biotechnologies in Italy.
These are some of the most relevant results of the most recent survey on
'Biotechnologies and public opinion in Italy', the result of cooperation
between the research centre Observa - Science and Society - and Fondazione
Giannino Bassetti, carried out under the scientific supervision of
Federico Neresini (Padua University), Massimiano Bucchi (Trento
University) and Giuseppe Pellegrini (Padua University).
This third edition of the survey is focused on the theme 'Biotechnologies,
democracy and the governance of innovation '. The main aims are to
continume monitoring Italia public opinion attitudes and try to understand
more in depth the dynamics, motivations and cultural issues that count for
the process of shaping of perceptions and attitudes towards
biotechnologies. For the first time elements such as the religious
affiliation of respondents, their political orientation, their level of
their technical-scientific education and their relationship with
alternative medical therapies and natural products are considered.
The survey was carried out through telephone interviews on a sample of 994
people, representative of Italian population aged more than 19 years.
PR and Activism: Suggestions for 2004
- Ross S. Irvine, President / Corporate Activist, ePublic Relations Ltd,
Guelph, ON, Canada
A new article titled 'How to succeed like at activist in 2004: 9
suggestions for corporate PR folks" has been posted on the ePublic
Relations web site.
Among the suggestions: * Demand transparency from activists: Then expose
them! * Learn the meaning "precautionary principle" * Make local
government a high priority audience
The article can be viewed at http://www.epublicrelations.ca.
Building scientific capacity: What Does It Take?
- Eva Harris, 14 January 2004, Source: EMBO Reports (via scidev.net)
The phrases 'technology transfer' and 'scientific capacity building' are
two of many used to describe scientific partnerships between developed and
developing countries. This is undoubtedly an essential interaction. But it
is also an extremely complex process that is often oversimplified.
In this article, Eva Harris draws on 15 years of experiencing
collaborative work on infectious diseases in Central and South America,
and explores the problems, complexity and potential of international
Harris points out that simply transferring knowledge and instrumentation
is not enough to help developing countries build their own research base.
Instead, the key to success resides in human resources, and the emphasis
must therefore be on training in an equitable, respectful and sustainable
Full article at