Today in AgBioView: January 21, 2004
* Area life-science leaders urge Blair on biotech crops
* SPROUTED BY ACCIDENT?
* Don't Pity Poor Percy
* Genetically Modified Food: The Americas' New "Green Revolution"?
* Biotech experts see increasing approval, less protests, including in RP
* Battling over Biotechnology
* Mad Cow and Madder Organic Agriculture
* Mutiny on the Sierra
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Area life-science leaders urge Blair on biotech crops
- St. Louis Business Journal, Jan 20, 2004
Four St. Louis life scientists were among 150 life scientists worldwide
who signed a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair urging a
science-based approach to the country's policy on genetically modified
Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; Roger Beachy,
president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Ralph Quatrano,
chairman and professor of biology at Washington University; and David
Cove, a biology professor at Washington U. were among the scientists, who
cited concerns that the government's science-based reviews of new
technologies such as genetically modified crops are being adversely
impacted by politics.
"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," the letter read. "In
reality, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that this technology is
a safe and useful approach to improving agricultural production and
environmental sustainability, and contributes significantly to better
(Full letter available at
SPROUTED BY ACCIDENT?
- Edmonton Sun, January 21, 2004
Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser deliberately planted Roundup Ready
canola on his land in 1997, thereby infringing Monsanto's patent on a gene
in the plant, the biotech giant told Supreme Court yesterday.
Robert Hughes, representing Monsanto, dismissed Schmeiser's claims that
the Roundup Ready canola sprouted on his land by accident, carried by the
wind or spilled by passing truck.
"This case, we submit, is a rather simple case of an infringement of a
patent by a knowing use of the patented claimed material," said Hughes.
But Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski, said it doesn't matter how the
canola took root on Schmeiser's land because plants are not patentable.
Hughes said Monsanto does not claim a patent on the canola plant, but
rather on the gene that was inserted to make the plant resistant to
Roundup, a popular herbicide.
Don't Pity Poor Percy
- The Leader-Post (Regina), January 21, 2004 - (Via Agnet)
Kevin Hursh, a Saskatchewan farmer and agricultural commentator, begins
this column with, poor, downtrodden Percy.
Some of those evil Roundup Ready canola seeds blew onto his property from
passing trucks and now the huge multinational monster known as Monsanto is
trying to crush him like a bug.
What a hero for farmers everywhere. What an international icon. What a
David taking on Goliath.
What a crock, says Hursh.
Monsanto has no interest in going after farmers who by accident have
Roundup Ready canola on their land. In fact, the accidental spread of the
crop is a worry and embarrassment for the company.
Most of the news stories don't mention the fact that Schmeiser had more
than a thousand acres of canola, which by independent analysis was shown
to be well over 90-per-cent Roundup Ready. Hursh says he isn't quite the
innocent bystander portrayed in many media reports.
Percy has become an international star by dragging the issue through the
court system. That was his choice.
How sorry should we feel about his mounting court costs?
Hursh goes on to say that if patenting of genes is struck down by the
Supreme Court, companies may still be able to patent the processes by
which they developed GM crops. And the country still has protection for
new crop varieties under Plant Breeders' Rights legislation.
It's also interesting to note that some companies make their new
herbicide-resistance traits widely available, because they make their
money off the sale of that specific herbicide. Herbicides can still be
patented, even if plant genes can't be.
Hursh also states that no matter the outcome of the Schmeiser case, there
will continue to be many cropping options where the farmer has a
contractual obligation to use purchased pedigreed seed.
In many of these contracts, all of the crop has to be returned, and the
farmer is not allowed to save seed.
These contracts are good for farmers or they wouldn't sign them.
Genetically Modified Food: The Americas' New "Green Revolution"?
Washington, DC, January 21, 2004 (PAHO) — A PAHO publication notes that
genetically modified foods could herald a new era of food security in the
Americas and other developing regions. But lingering public doubts about
their safety must first be addressed.
At the dawn of the 21st century, "biotech crops represent the fastest
take-up of new technology in agricultural history," according to an
article (see http://www.paho.org/English/DD/PIN/Number18_article3.htm) in
the latest edition of "Perspectives in Health", the magazine of the Pan
American Health Organization (PAHO).
"Today 46 percent of the world soybean crop is genetically modified (GM),
as is a quarter of all corn production in the United States," notes the
article, "Battling over Biotechnology," by Donal Nugent, 2003 science
journalism fellow at the U.S.-based Council for Agricultural Science and
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO),
more than 50 million people worldwide suffer from chronic malnutrition,
and GM proponents argue that genetically modified crops can and should
play a critical role in addressing their needs and those of future
"But not everybody has jumped on the bandwagon," notes the article.
Pressured by their consumers, the European Union and the United States are
at odds over the merits and the use of GM foods.
On a lesser scale, this same controversy is playing out in Latin America,
with varying results in different countries. The article cites three key
examples, including the region's two top food producers, Argentina and
-- Argentina has emerged as the world's second-largest grower of GM crops,
primarily soy but also corn varieties licensed in the European Union.
-- Brazil, the world's second-largest producer of soybean, until recently
had refused to license any commercial GM crop variety. "Yet in fact, GM
soy has been planted widely in certain areas of Brazil because farmers
find it more productive and easier to grow than conventional varieties,"
the artic le says.
-- Chile has been able to exploit its unique geography to secure niche
markets internationally in what seem to be mutually exclusive enterprises
- organic foods and GM seeds.
"Biotech may help in developing new market niches, improving the quality
of our produce and even creating new technologies - new cultivars, for
instance, better adapted to the Latin American environment," says Carlos
Muñoz Schick, an agronomist at Chile's National Institute for Agricultural
However, the article cautions that public concerns about the safety of GM
foods could keep Latin America from taking full advantage of the
opportunities presented by biotechnology. To help address these concerns,
PAHO is providing technical assistance to help its member countries update
and incorporate GM foods into their existing food safety systems.
Recent developments in Latin America suggest that biotechnology may be
heading toward greater acceptance. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador,
Mexico, Peru and Venezuela are all signatories to the Cancún Declaration
of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, which affirms their desire "to take
an active part in the new economy associated with the use of biological
diversity, genetic resources and biotechnology." This and other
developments "could signal a growing shift in focus toward how - not so
much if - GM technology can be harnessed to benefit the region and its
inhabitants," the article says.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health
organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve
the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It serves as
the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France,
the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are
Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.
Biotech experts see increasing approval, less protests, including in RP
- ABS-CBNNews, By Rhodina Villanueva, Jan 21, 2004
Experts on biotechnology projected a trend of “increasing approval and
less protests” to this type of technology globally.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications
(ISAAA) said that several countries across the globe, including the
Philippines, are now being more supportive of modern biotechnology.
In the country, the ISAAA is projecting around 50,000 hectares to be
planted with the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn this year.
Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the ISAAA, said the figure is more
than 50 percent of the 20,000 hectares that have been planted with the
genetically modified (GM) crop in the country in 2002.
He added that the Bt corn planting, which will be done in two seasons,
will result in greater yields for the corn farmers.
“The yield will be one ton more than what the hybrid corn produces.
Though, growth will be much more pronounced of course, in favorable
areas,” Hautea told reporters in a news briefing.
He estimated that some 10,000 local farmers will be engaged in the
cultivation of GM crops this year. This will be conducted in Isabela,
Cagayan and other areas in Cagayan Valley.
Hautea also pointed out that Bt corn planting in the country will be in
full swing since Pioneer Hi-Breed will start its planting of the Bt crop
“Actually, Pioneer has already conducted field trials simultaneous with
that of Monsanto’s in 1998. However, the agro-transnational corporation
has been late by one season since Monsanto’s operations have started,” the
ISAAA has documented that for the seventh consecutive year, farmers around
the world last year have planted biotech crops at a sustained double-digit
rate of 15 percent, compared to 12 percent in 2002. The estimated global
area of GM crops for 2003 was 67.7 million hectares.
“The increase includes a provisional conservative estimate of 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,” Hautea said.
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 of 2002.
The number of countries responsible for 99 percent of the global
biotech-crop area expanded to six, up from four in 2002, the report said.
Brazil and South Africa, joined the United States, Argentina, Canada and
China as the leading growers of biotech crops.
Hautea noted that China and South Africa experienced the greatest annual
increase, with both countries planting one-third more hectares in biotech
crops than in 2002. The remaining top 10 countries planting biotech crops
in more than 50,000 hectares are Australia, India, Romania and Uruguay;
another eight countries each plant up to 50,000 hectares of biotech.
“Within the next five years, ISAAA predicts 19 million farmers in 25 or
more countries will plant 100 million hectares 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,” he stressed.
In April last year in protest against the commercialization of Bt corn in
the country, a number of farmers held a hunger strike in front of the
Department of Agriculture in Quezon City.
Robert Verzola, secretary-general of the Philippine Greens who led the
protest-action, said genetically modified organisms like Bt corn should
also be given immediate attention since it poses a threat to humans and
The hunger strike ended after a month, when the farmers decided to elevate
their concerns to a higher level of information and awareness campaign.
Battling over Biotechnology
- Perspectives in Health Magazine, Volume 8, Number 3, 2003, By Donal
Genetically modified foods could herald a new era of food security and
greater prosperity throughout the Americas. But public doubts about their
safety will have to be addressed.
Today, modern Peru takes a more cautious approach to an equally
groundbreaking advance in agriculture. Its government has banned the
growing of genetically modified (GM) crops because it believes not enough
is known about their impact on the environment.
Fifty years ago, the publication of James Watson and Francis Crick's paper
identifying the double-helical structure of DNA heralded a new era in
science. In 1964, the so-called Green Revolution was kick-started with the
introduction into Third World countries of new highyielding varieties of
wheat and rice. By 1978, scientists had demonstrated the practical value
of biotechnology by producing human insulin through genetically modified
bacteria (before this, diabetics depended on the insulin recovered from
In 1994, another milestone followed. The American seed company Monsanto
unveiled a new variety of soybean genetically engineered to be resistant
to the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is a highly effective herbicide
that is particularly attractive from an environmental point of view
because it is less toxic than many other herbicides and breaks down more
quickly into relatively harmless components. The new soybean would require
fewer pesticide applications, facilitate better environmental management
and result in greater productivity on farms.
A decade later, biotech crops represent the fastest take-up of new
technology in agricultural history. Today 46 percent of the world’s
soybean crop is GM, as is a quarter of all corn production in the United
The U.S.–Europe standoff on GM foods is significant in its own right, but
it also affects other countries around the world. Zambia, for example,
made international headlines last year when its government rejected GM
corn as food aid from the United States out of fears that it might
"poison" its citizens and jeopardize its trade relationship with Europe.
Within the Americas, individual countries are aligning themselves on
different sides of this GM fence. Latin America's top two food producers
provide contrasting examples. Argentina has emerged as the world's
secondlargest grower of GM crops, primarily soy but also corn varieties
licensed in the European Union. Meanwhile Brazil, the world’s
second-largest producer of soybeans, until recently refused to license any
commercial GM crop varieties. Yet in fact GM soy has been planted widely
in certain areas of Brazil because farmers find it more productive and
easier to grow than conventional varieties.
Issues at stake
Far more is at issue in this controversial debate than the fears of
well-fed consumers in the developed world. According to the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 50 million people
worldwide suffer from chronic malnutrition, and proponents argue that GM
crops can and should play a critical role in addressing their needs and
those of future populations.
"The majority of agricultural scientists, including myself, anticipate
great benefits from biotechnology in the coming decades to help meet our
future needs for food and fiber," Borlaug wrote in the October 2000 issue
of Plant Physiology.
Critics counter that, hunger notwithstanding, GM foods pose more risks
than benefits. Greenpeace charges that GM crops are put in foods despite
unknown health risks, that they can produce allergies and antibiotic
resistance and that they "genetically contaminate" wild populations and
Most members of the scientific community view such claims as unfounded or
wildly exaggerated. The American Society of Toxicology said in a 2002
position paper: "The available scientific evidence indicates that the
potential adverse health effects arising from biotechnology-derived foods
are not different in nature from those created by conventional breeding
practices.… It is therefore important to recognize that it is the food
product itself, rather than the process through which it is made, that
should be the focus of attention in assessing safety."
Both sides now
If biotechnology were the new Cold War, then Chile would be its unlikely
Berlin Wall. Isolated between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains,
and with a small growing area (only an estimated 3 percent of the country
is arable land), Chile has been able to exploit its unique geography to
secure niche markets internationally in what seem to be mutually exclusive
enterprises, organic foods and GM seeds.
The country has a population of 16 million, of whom approximately 20
percent live below the poverty line. Since 1992, Chilean law has allowed
GM seeds to be imported into the country, "multiplied," and then exported,
but not planted for food production.
Carlos Muñoz Schick, an agronomist at the National Institute for
Agricultural Research, says that Chile’s agricultural policy is to
increase the country’s international market share by developing niche
enterprises rather than competing with countries like Argentina and Brazil
in commodity products. Toward that end, Chile has introduced
nontraditional crops such as kiwifruit, blueberries and organic produce
into its food-export basket and, more recently, has begun domesticating
wild native fruits such as the murtilla, a richly flavored berry. Within
this strategy, biotechnology could play a significant role.
"Biotech may help in developing new market niches, improving the quality
of our produce, and even creating new technologies—new cultivars, for
instance, better adapted to the Latin American environment," says Muñoz.
"Creating new jobs is a must for our economy," he adds.
A similar analysis underlies recent research into the possibility of
growing GM salmon in the country. One of the world’s biggest suppliers of
salmon, Chile is looking at the possibility of breeding a biotech variety
that grows four times faster than conventional salmon. The reaction of
consumers in export markets will be a deciding factor in its eventual
The relationship between GM and organic growers in Chile is not without
controversy. The location of GM seed farms has been kept secret by the
government since production began in the early 1990s. In January 2002,
following litigation by organic producers, a Chilean court ordered the
Cattle and Agricultural Service to disclose the location and ownership of
fields planted with transgenic crops. That decision is under appeal. The
concerns of organic farmers were further heightened later in the year when
France returned two batches of maize seed to Chile because they contained
transgenic material above the allowed 0.5 percent threshold.
Over the last 13 years, Argentina and Brazil have emerged as major
suppliers to the world commodities market. According to U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) figures, soybean production has more than doubled in
both countries. Argentina’s production of wheat and corn has increased by
75 percent and 105 percent, respectively, and Brazil’s corn production by
In Brazil, meanwhile, government policy has been largely opposed to GM
crops, even though the country has its own homegrown biotechnology
research sector that is globally renowned. As an officially "GM-free"
commodities producer, Brazil has emerged as the supplier of choice for
many E.U. importers. Yet the reality on the ground has been somewhat
different. A 2001 USDA report estimated that 20 percent to 40 percent of
soy planted in Brazil's south is GM. Other estimates put the figure at up
to 80 percent.
Under mounting pressure, the Brazilian government in September issued an
executive decree that allows farmers to plant GM soybeans—but only if they
already possess the GM seeds and only during the 2003–2004 growing season.
Farmers must also agree to assume financial responsibility for any
environmental damage that might result.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian government has allowed researchers to conduct
field trials on a wide array of transgenic crops, focusing on insect and
virus resistance as well as herbicide tolerance. Government-funded
research institutions, an indigenous private biotech sector, and
multinational life sciences companies are involved in trials of tobacco,
potatoes, sweet corn, papaya and sugarcane, as well as cotton, corn and
In global terms, the ratio of commercialized biotech products to those
that have been developed in laboratories is something akin to an iceberg
above and below water. The U.S.-based International Food Information
Council has identified what it terms a "second generation" of
biotechenhanced products that could soon find their way to the supermarket
shelf. Among them are cooking oils with higher stearate concentrations
(and so not requiring hydrogenation), singleserve seedless melons,
tomatoes with increased lycopene (a powerful antioxidant), higher-starch
potatoes that absorb less fat, and strawberries higher in ellagic acid (a
natural cancer-fighting agent). Add to these a host of nonfood products
under development as well.
Chile is among the Latin American countries determined not to be left
behind in this process. In June 2003, its National Commission for the
Development of Biotechnology issued a wide-ranging report on the future of
biotechnology in the country. It calls on Chile to seize the opportunity
to improve its competitiveness by applying biotechnology in its natural
resource sectors. But it also calls for the development of a well-defined
regulatory framework to reduce any associated risks.
Other recent developments suggest that biotechnology may be heading toward
greater acceptance in Latin America. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela last year all signed the Cancún
Declaration of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, along with China, India,
Indonesia, Kenya and South Africa. The declaration recognizes "the urgent
need to develop human resources, institutional capabilities, as well as an
appropriate legal framework and public policies, to enable our countries
to take an active part in the new economy associated with the use of
biological diversity, genetic resources and biotechnology."
In March 2004, Chile will host the world's first Global Biotechnology
Forum, cosponsored by the United Nations Industrial Development
Organization (UNIDO) and the Chilean government. The event will bring
together representatives of government, development agencies, industry,
the scientific community and the public to discuss the challenges and
opportunities of biotechnology in the developing world. For the countries
of the Americas, it could signal a growing shift in focus toward how—not
so much if—GM technology can be harnessed to benefit the region and its
Mad Cow and Madder Organic Agriculture
- Health Facts and Fears, By Thomas R. DeGregori, January 20, 2004
The media that is quick to magnify every hypothetical risk of modern food
production largely ignores a far greater risk — the practices of those in
revolt against modern science ...
The unsafe practices of the anti-modernist are legion, including a
preference for organic products such as corn with a much higher level of
fumonisin, aflatoxin, and other fungal toxin infestation than conventional
corn, which in turn has a higher but tolerable level of infestation than
bioengineered Bt corn. Some anti-modernists pop a variety of pills with
highly active amino acids or use a variety of herbs and other plant
concoctions for which there is virtually no evidence of benefit. These
pill poppers are folks who invoke the "precautionary principle" to oppose
thoroughly tested products of modern science that have a demonstrable
human benefit. They are all beneficiaries of the very science and
technology they are so quick to criticize ...
Full article at:
Mutiny on the Sierra
- Washington Times, Jan 19, 2004
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance warns that "a man who flies the skull and
crossbones on his sea vessel and has sunk nearly a dozen ships" in the
name of animal rights has set his sights on one of the nation's largest
Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace and founder of Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society, is "advocating the takeover of the Sierra Club,"
charges the sportsmen's alliance, which says Mr. Watson wants the
organization to take a strong stance against hunting, fishing and other
management of natural resources.
"Watson is known for his tactic of ramming and sinking whaling ships. Some
of his actions have landed him in jail in foreign nations, but he claims
he is not an eco-terrorist," the group notes. "He said at the 2002 Animal
Rights Conference that activists 'should never feel like we're going too
far in breaking the law.' "
Mr. Watson was elected to the Sierra Club's board of directors in April
2003, and critics contend he is now stacking the board with like-minded
More on Watson at: