Today in AgBioView: January 20, 2004
* Voting for science
* Blinded With Science
* Germany sees biotech advancing
* Battle Over GMOs Heads To Canada's High Court
* The biotech debate
* Employers hear from scientists on GMOs
* Farmers increasingly using biotechnology
* FEARS ABOUT BIOTECHNOLOGY, TRANSGENIC PLANTS ALLAYED
* Support for GM crops grows, survey reveals
* Open Letter on GM Crops from International Scientists to HM Government
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2004 12:33:00 -0500
From: "TAWANDA ZIDENGA"
Subject: Voting for science
So the modern trend in the west is that people will vote for or against
science. That trend would be for laughing out loud if it wasn't
threatening the development of important technologies.
We had GM Nation in the UK and now we are told that Mendocino county will
be going to ballot in March
(http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/california_initiative.cfm) in an
attempt to make the area GM free.
Needless to say, the move is spearheaded by stakeholders in the biggest
agricultural con of our time, organic farming.
There have been numerous contributions on this forum on the dangers of
relying on votes to determine the progress of science and technology.
There are key questions we'd need to ask before we rush to the ballot. Who
is eligible to vote? How do the opinions of a thousand taxi drivers count
against the opinion of one molecular biologist?
I personally will not have a history teacher telling me the dangers of
eating genetically modified foods. If I need his opinions I will ask him
on matters of history. That is the logic of having people called experts.
Does it make sense to ask people to decide on things they know not about?
What does it really mean to have a GM-free nation or world beyond the
economic implications on organic growers? Are we not being driven by a
handful of people controlling a "billion dollar" industry of organic
Blinded With Science
- Tech Central Station, By Craig Winneker, 01/20/2004
Is Europe coming to its senses and choosing science over hysteria and
political correctness? Don't bet your last euro on it, but there have been
some encouraging signs of late.
News of man-bites-dog proportions came last week with the revelation that
Germany was on the verge of approving the production and marketing of
genetically-modified corn within its borders. This, in a country where the
Green Party is part of the governing coalition and holds several of the
top cabinet positions.
Most surprising of all is that the announcement came from Agriculture
Minister Renate Künast, who is a Grüne herself and, polls show, the
second-most-popular politician in the country after Foreign Minister
Künast is the kind of public figure who likes to be photographed
rollerblading to work and making sure pigs are comfy and emotionally
stable on their way to slaughter. So it comes as a bit of a shock that she
would announce that the government saw no risks associated with GM food --
something scientific study after scientific study has shown -- and that
she expected products to be on German shelves by this autumn.
And, despite the fact that EU ministers continue to punt on the question
of whether to lift the moratorium on GM production, she said she expected
products to be available throughout Europe very soon.
Most shocked of all at these statements were Künast's Green Party
comrades, who sent her (and a bunch of reporters, naturally) a letter of
"We would like to ask you to make clear at this moment that, while there
is no specific scientific evidence linking GMOs to health risks, there are
well-founded reservations and reasons for caution," wrote MEPs Daniel
Cohn-Bendit ("Dany le Rouge", of Paris in May 1968 fame, is now head of
"les Verts" in the European Parliament) and Monica Frassoni.
"On the authorization procedure under way for BT11 sweetcorn it is
important not to create the impression that a Green minister has already
given the go-ahead when, at the EU-level, the agreement is still pending,"
they warned. "During the European election campaign this would do little
to encourage votes for any Green party."
Ah-so. It would appear there is a very different kind of precautionary
principle at work here: Don't take any action if there is a risk of losing
The GM decision isn't the only positive sign. Consider the European
Commission's decision in late 2003 to re-register the herbicide Paraquat
for use in European countries, despite its being banned in a few
individual member states.
The product is hugely effective and, when used safely, can help boost
agricultural production in the most unforgiving environments. Apply the
vaunted precautionary principle here and you get the following reasoning:
Paraquat can be dangerous and therefore should be banned so as to avoid
any risk. But there's another kind of precautionary principle that
applies, one that says: take the proper precautions and the benefits
greatly outweigh the risk.
This is the conclusion reached not only by farmers all around the world
but by Indian economist and risk expert Prasanna Srinivasan in a
groundbreaking new study called "Paraquat: A unique contributor to
agriculture and sustainable development," which he presented earlier this
month in a Hayek Series debate in Brussels hosted by TCS.
Srinivasan shows that when governments, and especially major trading blocs
such as the EU, ban substances such as Paraquat, their actions have
serious consequences in the developing world.
"Policymakers are charged with balancing the benefits and costs of
technologies to society," argues Srinivasan. "Over the course of the past
50 years, techniques for assessing these costs and benefits have improved
dramatically. However, policymaking continues to be dominated by lobbying
from pressure groups and vested interests. In the past, the resultant
policies often benefited industrial interests at the expense of consumers,
workers and the environment.
"However, over the course of the past 30 years the balance has shifted.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that single-issue pressure groups are
in most cases now far more powerful than industrial interests in
When it comes to Paraquat, he concludes, "The unsubstantiated fears of a
vocal minority must not become a justification for undermining the right
of the silent majority of farmers to choose technologies appropriate to
Even Margot Wallström, the EU's reliably knee-jerk-green commissioner for
the environment, who has been quoted as saying there is no such thing as a
good chemical, agrees with this.
You read that right. Last fall she gave an interesting reply to a written
inquiry from an MEP about the EU's decision to re-register Paraquat. The
parliamentarian wanted to know why its use would be approved across the
entire bloc if a few member states considered it dangerous enough to ban.
Responded the Commissioner, "Firstly, the fact that a substance is at
present banned in a member state is not pertinent to the question of its
inclusion in Annex I to the Directive. 97 percent of the substances
covered by the Directive are banned in at least one member state -- for
various reasons and not always related to safety.
"European agriculture -- in fact even the agriculture of any one Member
State -- could not survive with only the remaining 3 percent of
Indeed. And certainly neither could agriculture in developing countries.
Which brings us to an area where the EU still has some work to do: the
so-called REACH directive on chemicals testing. Under this controversial
proposal, which pits the Commission's directorates on environment and
enterprise against each (guess who's on which side), some 30,000 chemicals
currently in use in the EU will require a rigorous and expensive round of
testing and analysis -- even though the vast majority of these chemicals
have been safely in general use for a generation.
Nearly everyone outside of environment NGOs and a few scattered
bureaucrats agrees that the proposal is an unmitigated disaster, and some
folks are going about trying to mitigate it.
One of them is Neil Parish, an MEP from Britain and a farmer himself. He's
concerned not only with the effect of the legislation on Europe's chemical
industry and economy as a whole, but also on its consequences for the
"The third world cannot afford the precautionary principle, and is not
concerned with theoretical risk," he told the Hayek Series audience. "They
care about fighting pestilence, about coping with disease, about producing
enough food from a harsh and hostile environment that can often only be
tackled with the blunt instrument of pesticide use."
Stefan Scheuer, a chemicals and water policy officer for the European
Environmental Bureau (EEB), countered that chemical companies "will be
encouraged by REACH to substitute safer chemicals for more harmful ones."
But probably not if they are too busy testing a bunch of chemicals known
to be safe. They will only have so many resources available.
And, as Parish argued, there is something else at stake here -- as well as
with the GM food and Paraquat issues. I can't put it any better than he
"It is difficult to tell someone that they should be concerned with the
environment, when their bellies are empty and their crops have failed," he
said. "Is it acceptable for the well-fed, wealthy and contented Western
world to deny developing countries access to chemicals that we have had
the luxury to use for many years, simply because our priority is to
improve the environment, whereas theirs is to feed the hungry?"
Germany sees biotech advancing
- Associated Press, January 20, 2004
BERLIN - Germany says the European Union can't hold out against new
biotech foods much longer, signaling a public shift by the most populous
country even as the 15-member group remains split over lifting a 1998
moratorium on such foods.
The German government this week presented planting rules for genetically
modified crops and hinted it expects the EU suspension on new biotech
foods to be lifted this year.
That prospect dominated talk at the world's biggest annual food fair,
which opened Friday in Berlin with a strong representation by organic food
producers, reflecting their rising market share in Germany over the last
As she toured the booths, Consumer Protection and Agriculture Minister
Renate Kuenast said Germany has to get ready for new biotech crops – but
under strict conditions.
"I will fight like a lion to make sure that in the future there are
biotech-free areas" in Germany, she told reporters at the Green Week food
Genetically engineered crops are increasingly being planted worldwide and
are widely used in the United States, mostly corn, soy and cotton. But
many Europeans are worried about the long-term environmental and health
Kuenast personifies the political predicament in a nation where polls
consistently show that most people don't want to buy biotech food.
A Green Party member tapped by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder three years
ago after mad cow disease broke out in Germany, she says she personally
sees no need for biotech food.
But after months of wrangling inside the government, she signed off this
week on the proposed biotech law – because, she told the Berliner Zeitung
newspaper, she expects EU-approved, genetically modified corn to show up
on European supermarket shelves in the fall.
Kuenast said she supports putting biotech food in stores next to
unmodified food as long as it is clearly labeled.
The difficulty of marketing biotech products to European consumers was
underscored by a German public television poll Friday that found 70
percent of Germans saying they cannot imagine buying such foods.
"I think the long-term effects aren't known," said fair visitor Christin
Groeger, touring the organic food section. "Maybe I'd buy it in 100 years
if there are no problems."
Germany's farm lobby is also worried. Farmers fear that the proposed
biotech law will leave them liable if genetically modified seeds
accidentally mix with someone else's conventional or organic crops.
Without referring specifically to biotech, Schroeder urged Germans on
Friday to open up to new technologies, criticizing their tendency "to
first discuss risks, and then the opportunities."
"We would like to turn that around," he said after hosting business
leaders and academics in Berlin to discuss the future of innovation in
Fairgoer Simone Sabry was dubious about genetically engineered food, but
figured she would probably have no choice. She might even eat the labeled
"A lot of what you buy is manipulated and you never know. So, why not?"
she said. "If it looks nice, and it's OK to the touch, then you buy it and
Battle Over GMOs Heads To Canada's High Court
- CropDecisions.com, Jan. 20, 2004
A narrow legal case over whether a Canadian farmer infringed on biotech
patents held by Monsanto Co. has mushroomed into a broader battle over
genetically modified organisms that will be heard before the Supreme Court
of Canada on Tuesday.
Monsanto has already won two lower-court judgments against Saskatchewan
farmer Percy Schmeiser, successfully arguing he used its canola without a
license. The grain has been genetically modified to be resistant to its
Schmeiser portrays himself as a small-time operator who wants to grow
crops and develop his own seeds without worrying about whether is
infringing biotech patents if some of the modified seeds blow on to his
"I'm very concerned with the patenting of life forms, and to me, when you
introduce a new form of life ... into the environment, there's no cutting
back," Schmeiser, 73, told a news conference on Monday.
Anti-corporate activists and environmentalists have come out in support of
Schmeiser and made him a champion for farmers around the world who want to
stop the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
But the issue has also divided farmers. Some resent paying fees from their
shrinking incomes to multinational corporations, while others want to see
investment in new and improved crops and support GMOs.
"We feel what's at stake is the access to innovation," said Brian
Tischler, a canola farmer at Mannville, Alberta. Tischler is part of a
canola growers group that has sought intervener status in the case,
fearing the Supreme Court might overturn Monsanto's patent.
Nine out of 10 canola farmers now use Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola or
other forms of the grain that tolerate herbicides. The herbicide kills the
competing weeds but the canola is left unaffected, increasing the farmer's
Schmeiser insists the genetically modified canola that grew on his farm
came from seeds that blew in from other fields or from passing trucks. The
modified plants' dominant genes eventually take over a field, he says.
Monsanto said independent tests of his Saskatchewan farm found that 1,030
acres were 95 percent to 98 percent tolerant to Roundup -- a level
contested by Schmeiser.
Referring to the trial judge's decision in 2001, Monsanto said: "At such a
high level of tolerance, Justice MacKay ruled the seed could only be of
commercial quality and could not have arrived in Mr. Schmeiser's field by
When a reporter asked Schmeiser at the news conference how his fields
happened to have so much Roundup Ready Canola, the lawyer representing the
activist groups stepped in to say it was an issue they did not want to get
Finally Schmeiser responded: "I don't like to get into the facts, and that
will be one of the issues addressed."
In 2002, in what was known as the Harvard Mouse case, the Supreme Court of
Canada denied Harvard University the right to patent a mouse that was more
susceptible to cancer, despite U.S. and Japanese decisions to grant it
The United States also allows for the patenting of seeds and plants, and a
central question the Canadian justices will decide is whether to agree to
patenting genes in plants.
The biotech debate
Even the laws of nature are not immutable
- Bangkok Post, Bt Darunee Edwards, Jan. 20, 2004
We hope readers of the last article in this series on Dec 18 gained a
better appreciation of the long established safety and environmentally
friendly features inherent in biotech crops. In this article, we will
review the ethical considerations of biotechnology, which continue to
attract substantial attention and, yes, controversy.
The introduction of biotech crops into the environment and food chain has
become fairly controversial in Europe and some other parts of the world.
In these countries, the possibility that biotech crops will form a large
portion of the plants grown by farmers in the United States and Europe
within the next decade has aroused reactions ranging from outrage and
unease to passive acceptance. By contrast, their introduction has been
greeted with near indifference by consumers in the United States and
Many opponents of biotech crops perceive them as ``unnatural'', a
violation of the natural order of things. They are among the strongest
critics of this technology. These critics offer the argument that the
natural world order should be respected. Read another way, this translates
as ``not altered in any way''. These same critics would argue that
altering nature requires proof of the absence of all conceivable risks.
The fear that lies behind the objections seems to be a fear that the laws
of nature themselves are no longer to be relied on. Jonathan Porritt,
former director of Friends of the Earth, wrote in his book Playing Safe
that ``the hard lines between different organisms and species are
beginning to melt away. We can now pick and choose individual genes from
one organism to introduce them into a totally different and unrelated
organism, crossing all biological boundaries in combination that nature
never could and never would bring together.''
One can argue that even in nature boundaries between species are not
irreversibly fixed. There is, for example, increasing evidence that the
transfer of genes has always occurred between lower and higher organisms,
Most ethical issues revolve around what is good for the general welfare of
all people, what serves to preserve the health and welfare of today's
consumers and future generations and also what rights consumers have, for
example, in knowing exactly what ingredients are in the products they eat.
Critics may link the need for ethics with a concern for food safety. This
is understandable since, if any consumers believe that eating biotech
crops could be in any way dangerous, you can assume they also believe it
is unethical to market it, especially without their knowledge.
On the other hand, it is implausible to think that proponents of biotech
crops would support ongoing cultivation of these food items if there were
empirical evidence or plausible scenarios of danger, such as short- or
long-term health risks, which had arisen or could arise from their
But there haven't been. And, as much as we can reasonably predict, there
won't be in the future.
No health-related problems related to consumption of biotech crops have
been recorded in any country since commercialisation in the mid-1990s.
Critics would perhaps grudgingly acknowledge this and yet may expect
ironclad guarantees that no such problems will ever arise in the future.
This is impossible and if consumers did not eat anything (biotech or not)
until they had in hand such a guarantee, they would starve.
Taking this point further, if it can be shown that the genetic
modification of rice to make it more tolerant of adverse weather
conditions would significantly increase the level of nutrition in
countries where rice is the key to the daily diet, it could be argued that
ethics demand that such a crop be made accessible.
One can argue that it would be wrong to forego the potential benefits of
plant biotechnology simply because of hypothetical and unspecified risks.
Isn't it more beneficial to assess and balance risks in individual cases?
In some instances, it may be clear that possible risks outweigh possible
benefits. In other instances, it may be the case that the risks can be
minimised through responsible use of the biotech crop.
While there is no such thing as a 100% safety guarantee, we can say with
some confidence that biotech crops for the foreseeable future will have
the same safety profile as their conventional counterparts.
- Darunee Edwards is a deputy director at the National Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Employers hear from scientists on GMOs
- Ukiah Daily Journal, By Mark Hedges, Jan. 20, 2004
When it comes to the topic of Measure H there appears to be a divide not
in the organic community itself but in the community of organic officials.
At a lecture on Friday afternoon at the luncheon meeting of the Employers
Council of Mendocino County, Peggy G. Lemaux, a University of California
Cooperative Extension Specialist from the Department of Plant and
Microbial Biology, gave an overview of biotechnology in plants as it
pertained to Measure H.
If passed by the voters in March, Measure H would ban the use of
genetically modified organisms in the county and it contends that "if
organic crops become contaminated by GMOs, the organic farmers and
wineries will lose organic certification and their products will not be
marketable as organic."
But Lemaux highlighted the fact that she personally called Ray Green, the
Organic Supervisor for the California Department of Food and Agriculture,
and asked him if an organic farmer would "automatically lose his
accreditation" if his crop became pollinated with pollen from a GMO crop.
The answer was no, Lemaux said, "as long as an organic operation has not
used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the
products of excluded methods."
She said Green told her an organic farmer would therefore not lose the
ability to market his or her crops.
"You have to believe him," she said, though she admitted that "things can
exchange" when it comes to GMO and non-GMO crops of the same plant. But if
pollination is "by accident," Lemaux said the product could still be sold.
But a signed declaration by Thurston Williams, an organic inspector for
California Certified Organic Farmers and certification committee
chairperson for the Mendocino-Lake Chapter of CCOF, said that in the event
he "became aware of contamination" of organic crops by GMOs he would take
samples and order laboratory tests and, if the tests showed contamination,
Williams said he "would recommend to CCOF that the perennial crop be
Organic inspectors like Williams are responsible for verifying compliance
with the National Organic Program standards under federal law.
Laws contained under the California Organic Products Act of 2003 are the
same as the National Organic Standards except that the COPA also requires
all operations selling a product as organic to register either with the
CDFA or Department of Health Services, depending on the activities of the
Beyond this issue, however, Lemaux said that genetic modification of crops
has been going on for millennia.
Classical breeding is the traditional method, she explained, which entails
"hit and miss" experimentation with chosen plant specimens.
Genetic engineering is simply a fine-tuned version of classical breeding,
Lemaux said, with the difference that the former can be incredibly
specific -- "down to a paragraph on a page of DNA" with one DNA comparable
to 52 books of 1,000 pages -- and can also utilize any living organism as
a source of the gene instead of just a "closely related species."
This is because "all (DNA) books are written in the same language," Lemaux
She also pointed out that almost all the plant foods we eat have been
classically bred, citing corn -- which started out a not-very-edible plant
-- as a prime example.
Genetically engineered plant products were mostly comprised in the areas
of corn, canola, soybean and cotton oils.
Of GE products on the market when she took her position at UC, Lemaux said
only "virus resistant papaya" were still available, leaving behind
vine-ripe tomatoes with an extended shelf-life, yellow crookneck squash
with viral resistance, a "higher-solids" tomato and potatoes resistant to
viruses and insects.
"People feel like there are so many things out there," Lemaux said, "I'd
like to destroy that myth a little bit."
Though there are some "small field trials of GE grapes in the state,"
Lemaux said there was nothing commercial.
What "might come along," Lemaux said, was "strawberries resistant to
molds, tomatoes not attacked by nematodes, grapes resistant to Pierce's
disease, drought-tolerant lettuce," and "peppers resistant to bacterial
diseases," to name a few.
The one unknown out there, according to Lemaux, is potential allergic
reactions from the intermingling of genes from different plants or
"I can't say people aren't going to develop allergies," she said.
A colleague of Lemaux's, Alison L. Van Eenennaam, a UC Cooperative
Extension Specialist in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology, had a similar
take on her speciality of "genetically engineered animals."
Eenennaam said that simple forms of genetic engineering in animals include
artificial insemination and "marking the best animals" for breeding.
She said there were "no GE animals on the market today" and that if there
were, "there is a regulatory process in place for those animals to come
into market" so that humans and the environment are "safe."
A GE salmon is currently in the midst of the application process to be
approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Eenennaam said, but this has
so far taken a "couple years" and it will take "a couple more."
As an example of a GE animal, Eenennaam described how an Atlantic salmon
has been given genes from chinook salmon and another fish so that its
growth hormone would trigger in cold water, causing it to grow "four to
six times faster."
She also said that one GE fish, called "glo-fish," was banned by the
California Fish and Game Commission "on ethical grounds" that these fish
were "just a pet."
But Eenennaam warned that outright bans on GE animals may obscure
potential benefits perhaps not readily apparent in the first generation of
For example, she said there are possibilities like "transplant-friendly
pigs" for human organ transplants and GE cows with "therapeutic proteins
in milk" as well as a "low emissions enviropig" with "less phosphorous"
and "mad cow resistant calves."
For all these, Eenennaam said the FDA will regulate with "extensive safety
Anyway, she said that we "have yet to see if the expense of developing
(such animals) is commercially viable" -- which so far is not the case.
Farmers increasingly using biotechnology
- The Canadian Press (CP), January 18, 2004
GUELPH (CP) _ Farmers in Ontario are using biotechnology at
ever-increasing rates, a farmer's group says.
"Biotechnology offers a useful tool to help farmers control pests more
efficiently using less pesticide, and adopt better soil management
practices such as no-till,'' Greg Hannam, AGCare chairman, in a news
It is estimated that approximately 50 per cent of soybean and corn, and
over 90 per cent of canola acres grown in Ontario are genetically modified
The proportion of GM corn and soybeans is up slightly from 2002 when an
estimated 45 to 50 per cent of soybean and corn crops were genetically
modified varieties, according to AGCare. Genetically modified canola
acreage has remained the same.
Farmers in Ontario have steadily increased their use of biotechnology
since genetically modified crops were approved for planting in 1996.
This trend appears to be global according to the International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment)
is a coalition of 17 agricultural groups that represent Ontario's 45,000
growers of field and horticultural crops.
The organization provides science and research-based information and
policy initiatives on pesticide use, crop biotechnology developments,
nutrient management and other related environmental issues on behalf of
FEARS ABOUT BIOTECHNOLOGY, TRANSGENIC PLANTS ALLAYED
- The Hindu, January 18, 2004
Leading biotechnologists have sought to allay fears about biotechnology
and transgenic plants.
They were participating in a national symposium on "Biotechnology for a
better future" organised by the Dr. W. Kupper's Biotech Unit of St.
Aloysius College here on Friday to mark the 125th anniversary celebrations
of the college. The symposium will conclude on Saturday.
Inaugurating the symposium, Manmohan Attavar, biotechnologist, said the
future belonged to biotechnology-driven agriculture as the demand for food
was growing at an alarming rate while the means of production were on the
wane. Due to irrational use of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and
pesticides, land had become less fertile now, he said and added that only
biotechnology could help maintain the quantum of foodgrain production to
meet the growing demand.
He said conventional agricultural methods were prone to the dangers of
diseases, pests, environmental degradation, climatic changes, and
Biotechnological tools could help farmers in this regard.
Mr. Attavar said developed countries had already started using
biotechnology in a big way and their agricultural produce was free from
the hazards of chemicals.
By embracing biotechnology, the country could market its agricultural
produce globally as "chemical residue free", he said.
With its vast land resource and varied weather conditions, India could
increase its agricultural and horticultural produce by using biotechnology
and emerge as the world leader in agriculture, he said.
Mr. Attavar noted that 70 per cent of the country's population depended on
agriculture for a living. The country could use this to its advantage to
bring about a change in the food security situation as well as earn
foreign reserve, he added.
However, there was a delay in understanding the importance of
biotechnology and the policy initiatives were sluggish. If policy
initiatives had to yield result, biotechnology research and production
should have access to more funds and longer repayment period, he said.
The secretary of the Plant Tissue Culture Association of India, S.K.
Sopory, revealed that by using genomic tools, it was possible to bring
down "abiotic" stress in plant caused by salinity.
He pointed out that drought, salinity, high and low temperature, and
floods were the major causes for abiotic stress in plants, which could
bring down the production level drastically. Dr. Sopory, who quoted a
report, highlighted the problems caused by salinity and said 954 million
hectares in the world was affected by salinity, of which 69 per cent was
in Asia and Australia. The only solution to this problem was to develop
salinity-tolerant plants using genomic tools.
Earlier, the Rector of St. Aloysius Institutions said media was
highlighting the negative aspects of biotechnology, which would have an
adverse affect on the move to popularise biotechnology for the benefit of
The Director of Dr. Kupper's Biotech Unit, Leo D'Souza, introduced the
speakers. The Principal of the college, Eugene Lobo, welcomed the
About 60 delegates from across the country are participating in the
symposium. It is proposed to bring out a charter of recommendations at the
end of the symposium, which will be presented to the Union and State
Support for GM crops grows, survey reveals
- Herbert River Express (Australia), Janaury 17, 2004
FARMER'S attitudes to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops
have shifted condsiderably since 2002 with opinions now divided on their
proposed introduction, according to Kondinin Group's 2003 National
The survey revealed a shift in opposition from 2002 when 45 per cent of
farmers objected to the introduction of GM crops to only 34 per cent in
Kondinin Group chief executive officer Dr William Ryan said this shift
could reflect the longer time period in which farmers had now had to
consider the pros and cons of the issue.
"In 2002, 19 per cent of farmers supported the introduction of GM crops.
According to the 2003 survey, 31.5 per cent of farmers now support the
introduction," he said.
"The proportion of producers who are unsure remains similar at 33.5 per
Dr Ryan said the debate was now split evenly across those who supported
the introduction, those who oppose it and those who were yet to decide.
"The GM debate for farmers continues, and we believe high quality,
independent information and education on the issue is what is needed to
form the basis for a sound industry decision on this issue."
Dr Ryan said the debate was split evenly in Queensland, Victoria and
Western Australia, while New South Wales and South Australia recorded the
strongest levels of opposition to the introduction of GM crops.
"Kondinin Group encourages farmers to continue to educate themselves on
this debate before making their decision to support or oppose the
Open Letter on GM Crops from International Scientists to HM Government
From Scientists Around the World
The Right Honorable Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AS
CC: The Right Honorable Margaret Beckett MP
DEFRA, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR
The Right Honorable Patricia Hewitt MP
DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET
Mr Nigel Griffiths MP
DTI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET
Dear Prime Minister Blair:
You recently received a letter from a number of our esteemed colleagues
(Professor Derek Burke and others) in the United Kingdom. We felt
obligated to write you to offer our support to them and the sentiments
they expressed in their recent correspondence.
The United Kingdom has always enjoyed a preeminent place in the world of
science, and in the biological sciences in particular. From Charles
Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection to the Nobel Prize
winning work at Cambridge University on the elucidation of the structure
of DNA by Frances Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind
Franklin, the UK has always been the home of cutting edge biological
research. It is distressing to us to see the impacts (as expressed in
Professor Burke's letter) that anti-science efforts in the UK have had on
the development of excellent basic research into new technologies as well
as those engaged in it.
The treatment of the FSE results is just the latest example of how
over-simplification and rhetoric can undermine rigorous scientific
assessments. The FSEs were an extremely detailed look at the impact that
weed management regimes in GM and non-GM crops may have on certain
invertebrate and plant species. The summary conclusion that certain GM
crops were "harmful to wildlife" is an inaccurate and misleading
oversimplification of the extensive FSE database. In fact, the added
flexibility of GM weed management systems provided a number of significant
benefits in the crops studied. The broader environmental impacts of GM
crops (reduced pesticide use, more environmentally desirable herbicide
choices, positive effect on species diversity, such as beneficial insects
in Bt crops, etc.) were cited in the FSE publications but were not
reported in the summary documents and press coverage. Most importantly, GM
crops have permitted the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices,
such as no till agriculture, that has been documented to promote bird and
We have been able to see firsthand the positive impact that biotechnology
is contributing to conventional agricultural practices in many parts of
the world. GM crops are providing farmers with cost-effective means of
controlling pests while using less pesticides and reducing the impact of
agriculture in the face of increasing environmental pressures. We urge you
not to lose sight of these broader impacts (some of which were cited in
the FSE publications) when making the decision on how to move forward with
GM technologies in the UK. Developing countries, such as India and China
have undertaken research and are rapidly exploiting the economic and
environmental opportunities from the adoption of GM crops. Future traits
that are in development hold much promise to extend the benefits of
biotechnology to provide preventative health benefits, tolerances to
stresses and the use of plants as efficient environmentally friendly
It is indeed unfortunate that our UK colleagues reached such a point where
they felt they had to write and express their dissatisfaction with the
agricultural biotechnology research environment in the UK. We write to you
to acknowledge the great contributions that the UK scientific community
has made to the advancement of science and to the development of new
leading-edge technologies, and to express our hope that your government
can help to restore the luster by ensuring that decision-making is based
on science-based policies that foster the development of demonstrated safe
technologies with significant environmental and economic benefits in the
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