Today in AgBioView: October 15, 2003:
* Gates Funds Nutritious Crops Initiative
* IFPRI Receives $25M Grant for Nutrition Program for Poor Countries
* Donāt Let Hysteria Get in the Way
* GM Fish and Chips? Already an Australian Staple!
* UK Farm-scale Evaluations - More on The Guardian reports
* Is the 'Contamination' by GM maize in Mexico Worse than Feared?
* Biotech Sparking Violent Protests Across the Globe
* On 'The Little World of Campaigner Tactics': Reply to Vivian Moses
* Protecting Potatoes
* EU Commissioner Blasts 'lies' of US Biotech Firms
* An Alliance Against Hunger
* Farmers Denied Vital Information on Modern Technology
* GM-Free Rules Made Garden Fail - Claim
Gates Funds Nutritious Crops Initiative
- Associated Press, Oct. 15, 2003
WASHINGTON - A collaborative effort to get more nutritious food to the
world's poor received a $25 million boost from a foundation set up by
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates.
HarvestPlus, an alliance of research institutions and agencies, will use
the money for a four-year project on biofortification, which crossbreeds
crops with high nutritional value and those that are high-yielding and
disease resistant, the organization's director, Howarth Bouis, said
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said the goal of the initiative is
to provide people in poor and developing countries with food already
fortified with vitamins and mineral nutrients. Worldwide, "half the
instances of death among children have malnutrition as important
contributory causes," said Dr. David Fleming, director of the foundation's
global health program.
HarvestPlus offers a strategic approach that would address the problem of
malnutrition, he said. The programs hopes to get improved varieties of
crops to the world's farmers within a decade, Bouis said.
The organization also will conduct research into more controversial
genetically modified crops. "We're very convinced that this is where the
breakthroughs will come in the future, but ... societies, themselves, have
to decide whether they're going to be comfortable with genetically
modified foods or not," said Joachim Voss, director general of the
International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
International Food Policy Research Institute receives $25 million grant to
support innovative nutrition program for poor countries
HarvestPlus program will fight malnutrition--a leading cause of child
deaths--with new agricultural technology
SEATTLE --The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a $25
million grant to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
to combat malnutrition, a leading cause of child deaths in the developing
world, by improving the nutritional quality of staple foods in developing
The grant will support HarvestPlus, a global research initiative to breed
and disseminate crops for better nutrition, which is being spearheaded by
the International Center for Tropical Agricultural Research (CIAT) and the
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Using an innovative
approach called biofortification, agricultural and nutrition scientists
will work together to breed crops that provide higher levels of
micronutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin A.
"Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which contribute to the deaths of
millions of children each year, can be easily prevented by adding just a
few key nutrients to staple foods," said David Fleming, Director of Global
Health Strategies at the Gates Foundation. "HarvestPlus, working with
partners around the globe, has the potential to dramatically improve the
lives of poor children and their families who depend largely upon these
staples for their diets."
Malnutrition contributes to over half of child deaths in the developing
world, and the UN estimates that nearly one-third of the worldās
population suffers from deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, zinc,
and vitamin A. Even mild levels of micronutrient malnutrition can damage
cognitive and physical development, lower disease resistance in children,
and reduce the likelihood that mothers survive childbirth. Iron deficiency
alone affects over 3.5 billion people in the developing world and is
responsible for 100,000 maternal deaths during childbirth each year.
Vitamin A deficiency causes more than 500,000 children to go blind each
year and is a leading cause of child mortality.
"Those most affected by malnutrition, the rural poor, are also the most
difficult to reach with traditional nutrition programs," said Howarth
Bouis, Director of HarvestPlus. "Biofortified crops have the potential to
transform the health of these communities by allowing them to grow crops
that are naturally fortified with essential micronutrients."
The first crops to be developed by the HarvestPlus initiative include
those most widely consumed in the developing world, such as rice, wheat,
maize, beans, cassava, and sweet potato.
"HarvestPlus provides a remarkable opportunity to harness twenty-first
century agricultural science to dramatically improve childrenās health
over the long term," noted Joachim Voss, Director of CIAT, which is
leading crop breeding research for HarvestPlus. "This grant will enable
biofortification researchers to accelerate their work adding nutrition
into existing high-yielding varieties that meet the needs of poor
Biofortification represents an important new avenue for agricultural
research. Traditionally, crop breeding has often centered on increasing
yields or enhancing environmental sustainability. "Adding healthier food
to the agricultural research agenda is an idea whose time has come," said
Joachim von Braun, Director General of IFPRI, which is directing nutrition
and policy research for HarvestPlus. "Together with conventional
strategies for improving nutrition, such as fortification,
supplementation, and diversification of food in diets, this approach holds
enormous potential. It will require a strong partnerships among
agriculture and nutrition specialists."
With the funding announced today, HarvestPlus will be able to
substantially accelerate the development of crop varieties under its
alliance of international and national agricultural research institutes,
university nutrition and food crop programs, the private sector, and
non-governmental organizations in the developing and developed world. The
grant from the Gates Foundation provides one-half of the total $50 million
that will be needed for HarvestPlus over an initial four-year period. It
is hoped that grants from the World Bank, USAID and Denmark will account
for approximately 40 percent of the required funding, and the remaining 10
percent is currently being sought from a number of potential donors.
"The Gates Foundation's support for HarvestPlus is welcome recognition of
the value of innovative approaches to solving global problems," said Ian
Johnson, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank and
Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) that supports CIAT, IFPRI and other agricultural research
partners. "The research program links the agriculture and public health
sectors and creates a public-private partnership for tackling nutrient
malnutrition. It is the latest example of groundbreaking initiatives
adopted by the agricultural research centers of the CGIAR and their
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, www.gatesfoundation.org
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to improving people's
lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global
community. Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates, Sr., and Patty
Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an endowment of approximately
Donāt Let Hysteria Get in the Way
- Financial Mail (South Africa), Oct. 10, 2003 (Sent by Andy Apel)
The case for genetically modified (GM) food is often weakened by some
consumers' hysterical visions of "Frankenfoods" wreaking havoc on the
environment and human health - an apocalyptic outcome remote from
scientific reality. Last week the FM reported that local GM food
production had tripled in the past two years. Much debate followed. Many
people are shocked by the proliferation.
But GM detractors rely on weak premises. The creation of GM foods involves
little more than the insertion of one or more genes from one species into
the genome of another. The process is similar to centuries-old techniques
of selective breeding and grafting.
The potential benefits of GM foods are clear. In SA, subsistence farmers
have tripled their maize yields thanks to GM crops. Globally, GM foods are
expected to reduce food prices by 10%-15% by 2020. The technology can also
aid human health: witness potatoes that absorb less oil when fried, and
maize fortified with vitamin A to combat blindness, particularly in
There are also positives for the environment. Many GM crops have already
reduced the need for fertilisers and pesticides. Improved yields mean less
land is required for agriculture.
But GM foods aren't risk-free. Some could create new allergens or transfer
allergens from one food type to another. Standard testing in GM research
has identified and eliminated a few such cases. There is also the danger
that GM crops resistant to pests or to drought could invade indigenous
But these risks are manageable. They are no different from those posed by
the introduction of foreign crops and SA has the scientific capacity to
GM crops could be a powerful weapon in Africa's war against poverty,
hunger and environmental degradation. Irrationality about the technology
is the chief danger facing progress.
GM Fish and Chips? Already an Australian Staple!
- Jennifer Marohasy, IPA Review (Australia), ipa.org.au, Sept. 12 2003
In a slavish genuflection to self-appointed consumer guardians, Australian
governments are currently placing barriers in the way of commercial food
production based on GM crops.
This is in spite of the fact that Australians have been eating fish and
chips cooked in cottonseed oil derived from GM cotton for over 5 years!
But this fact has not stopped nationwide moratoriums on the
commercialization of GM canola varieties (the source of most of the rest
of our vegetable oil). It is also in spite of the fact that Australiaās
Gene Technology Regulator concluded that a Bayer Crop Science variety of
GM Canola is as safe to human health, safety and the environment as non-GM
This conclusion was made after six years of field trials, extensive
evaluation and public consultation. It is also in spite of Food Standards
Australia and New Zealand deeming this canola to be as safe to eat as
conventionally produced canola.
Vegetable oil produced from GM cottonseed and GM canola is identical in
chemical composition to non- GM oils because all genetic material is
denatured in the refining process. Because the end products are chemically
indistinguishable, the perceived health risk issues were always going to
be issues of perception rather than reality.
Nor is there a basis for concern with cross-contamination in the field. A
detailed study undertaken by the Cooperative Research Centre for
Australian Weed Management showed that, even under the strictest testing
procedures, the requirements of anti-GM buyers would be met with the risk
of pollen transfer between GM and non-GM canola crops shown to be less
than 0.07 per cent.
The final official approval from the Office of the Gene Technology
Regulator should have paved the way for the commercial planting of GM
canola. However, moratoriums on the commercial planting of GM food crops
recently introduced by State governments in Western Australia, South
Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales in response to the
potential Federal Government approval for plantings of GM canola have
prevented this. There is no moratorium in Queensland, but Queensland does
not have a suitable climate for commercial canola production. In the case
of the NSW moratorium on GM food crops introduced in July this year, the
legislation was supported by both sides of politics and the NSW Farmers
Federation. Interestingly, in the associated media release, the
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister said the passage of the bill was a
victory for farmers and consumers.
The Minister acknowledged that 'health, environmental and safety issues
relating to GM food crops are already covered by federal regulations', but
indicated that the moratorium was necessary because of marketing issues.
Although marketing has been repeatedly cited as a reason for the
moratoriums, a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and
Resource Economics (ABARE) concluded that farmers would have no trouble
selling GM grains (including canola) overseas, and that exports of non-GM
grains would not be harmed by fears of 'contamination'. The report
indicated that GM producing countries (including Canada and the United
States) dominate world grain trade, accounting for 79 per cent of world
maize exports, 69 per cent of soybeans, 53 per cent of cotton seed and 42
per cent of canola. The percentage of the market held by GM producing
countries is predicted to increase as the world area harvested to GM broad
acre crops increases. Australian canola producers risk being shut out of
these opportunities and losing market share.
At the forefront of the anti-GM canola campaign have been Greenpeace, the
Australian Conservation Foundation (through their Gene Ethic Network) and
a group of farmers known as the Network of Concerned Farmers. These groups
have repeatedly and falsely referred to GM canola as the first GM food
crop to be considered for commercial production in Australia. That the NSW
Government gave in to their demands for a moratorium and at the same time
provided exemptions for commercial cotton production on the basis that
cotton is a non-food crop is hypocritical and highly misleading.
Fully 35 per cent of our vegetable oil is from cotton seed, and given that
30 per cent of the current cotton crop is genetically modified, it is
reasonable to assume that about 10 per cent of our vegetable oil is
derived from genetically modified plants. An increasing proportion of the
cotton crop will be planted to GM cotton and a correspondingly higher
percentage of vegetable oil will be GM derived.
Furthermore, by ignoring cotton as an important source of vegetable oil
and promoting GM canola as the first GM food crop, the NSW Government has
played directly into the hands of those seeking to invoke the
precautionary principle and instil public fear. The idea that something is
Īa firstā suggests that all decisions have been made on the basis of the
hypothetical--on theoretical laboratory experiments and theoretical risk
Some Federal Government organizations also appear to be happy to play
along with the pretence. The questions in the Biotechnology Australia
surveys of consumer attitudes to GM food failed to make the distinction
between foods containing GM material and food derived from a production
system that involves genetic modification. But the Federal Government is
not being transparent or consistent, failing to then take these issues
into consideration when it devised its labelling rules--vegetable oil
derived from GM cotton is exempt from GM labelling because the refining
process destroys all GM material.
The confusion and hypocrisy surrounding the regulation of GM food and GM
food crops is not confined to Australia. While the Europeans have a
moratorium on the production of GM food crops, they import 6 million
tonnes of soybeans per year from the United States, of which approximately
80 per cent is GM. This GM product is crushed with the soybean oil sold as
vegetable oil for human consumption, while the remaining soybean-meal is
typically fed to animals in feedlots. At the same time, through their aid
organizations, the Europeans are seeking to maintain a moratorium on the
planting of GM food crops in Africa, and some groups have supported
boycotts that have effectively limited the distribution of GM food aid in
We donāt have famine in Australia. In fact we have a diversity of abundant
cheap food thanks in large part to science and our liberal democratic
society--Australian farmers have secure property rights and the
opportunity to experiment and to develop modern farming technologies. Are
we now about to regress on the pretext that we are unsure about the
implications of a technology which we are already successfully using? The
anti-GM lobby is ideology driven, global and formidable. How did GM cotton
achieve regulatory support for commercial field production?
In the mid-1990s, the cotton industry was organized and united in its
approach to the introduction of the new technology. There were no cotton
growers publicly demanding supply-chain segregation between non-GM and GM
cotton. The industry had secured its markets for both lint and cottonseed.
In addition, the first plantings of GM cotton predated the launch of the
anti-GM Greenpeace campaign and the formation of the Network of Concerned
Farmers-- at least in Australia.
The reality is that over the last three years, Greenpeace and the Network
of Concerned Farmers have run a relentless media campaign against the
introduction of GM canola. Over the same period the Biotechnology
Australia surveys have shown that the general publicās concerns about GM
foods have increased and this has been attributed to the campaigning. Yet
both Greenpeace and the Network of Concerned Farmers must know that we are
already eating vegetable oil derived from GM cotton!
The conspiracy of silence is presumably to maintain the illusion that we
are dealing with a new and unproven technology.
Anti-GM crusaders have successfully played to public concerns about GM
foods to block the introduction of commercial plantings of GM canola. They
have used the false pretext that GM canola would represent the first
commercial GM food crop in Australia--when we produce just under 1 million
tonnes of vegetable oil from Australian-grown cotton each year. Like
vegetable oils derived from canola, this cottonseed oil contains no GM
material because all proteins are destroyed in the refining process.
Indeed, the parallels between cotton and canola are such that the success
of GM cotton should have smoothed the way for the introduction and
commercial planting of GM canola. Instead, Cotton Australia has played
along with the conspiracy of silence and not spoken up and told the public
that we have been eating fish and chips drenched in GM cottonseed oil for
about 5 years. Presumably they recognize the global strength of the
anti-GM lobby and fear a backlash. Yet, in reality, GM cotton has been a
global success and is a real-life example of a GM food we are currently
safely consuming while the Australian environment benefits from reduced
So, according to the conspiracy of silence, when is GM food not GM food?
When it is Australian vegetable oil derived from the successful nonfood
crop known as GM cotton.
Dr Jennifer Marohasy is the new Director of the IPAās Environmental Unit.
UK Farm-scale Evaluations - More on The Guardian reports
- Chris Preston
The results of the UK farm-scale evaluations of GM crops are about to be
released. We have already had two newspapers in the UK claim they have had
crucial results leaked to them. The Guardian first carried the story two
then the Independent on Sunday carried an exclusive
followed up with a second story
However, the Royal Society has stated "This attempt by 'The Guardian' to
summarise in a soundbite the entire contents of eight scientific papers
has not been checked for accuracy by either the authors of the papers, who
carried out the farm-scale evaluations, or the journal. In fact, it does
little more than repeat much of the content of a similarly speculative
article that appeared in 'The Independent' newspaper on 2 August."
What are we to make of all this? If we are to believe both The Guardian
and The Independent, the major conclusions of these papers is that the
better herbicides used with the GM rapeseed and sugar beet crops killed
more weeds than did the not quite so good herbicides used with the
conventional varieties. There are in fact no surprises here! Even if the
newspapers did not get accurate information, it would not be difficult to
predict this as a conclusion.
The Royal Society is undoubtedly correct, there will be much more detailed
information and other conclusions in the eight papers to be published.
Having said that, I am certain that a lot of media focus will be firmly on
weed control. Why? Because weeds in crops are seen as food for insects,
which in turn, are food for birds and birds are visible and obvious to the
general public. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK
has already weighed in. Mark Avery of the RSPB wrote the following in a
letter to The Guardian:
>>"The GM issue will test the government's credibility on sustainable
development. If the weedkillers used with GM beet and rape cut insect and
plant numbers to even lower levels than found in conventional crops, then
the consequences for farmland birds are serious. UK farmland bird
populations have already fallen more dramatically than in other European
countries because of intensive farming. The government uses bird
population levels as one of its quality of life indicators and has adopted
a target of reversing bird declines by 2020. If the results you report are
correct, then the government is boxed in - it must ban these GM crops."
Therefore, whatever the results of the large-scale field trials, we could
see the ironic spectacle of the UK Government being forced to ban certain
GM crops because the herbicides used with them are too good. In effect
farmers will be asked to grow more weeds.
For those of us that do not live in the UK, we might think that this will
be the end of the matter. I doubt it. I predict we can expect that anti-GM
lobby groups around the world will seize on this story to demand GM crops
be banned as destroyers of the environment. How could they not resist such
a story? Here is the world's largest scientific comparison of side-by-side
GM and conventional crops demonstrating that herbicides used with GM crops
kill more weeds.
Here in Australia, we already have Greenpeace
the Network of Concerned Farmers
(http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=740) carrying news
articles about the trials in the UK. The Greenpeace article is headed "GM
crops flunk the test" - presumably the environmental test.
Do the UK studies have any relevance to Australia? It will be hard to know
until the studies have been published; however, on the issue of better
weed control being bad for the environment the answer is clearly no!
Canola and cotton growers in Australia at the moment do all they can to
remove as many weeds from their fields as possible. This is because weeds
reduce yields, contaminate produce, and harbour pests and pathogens.
Currently, according to industry estimates, more than 80% of canola grown
in Australia is resistant to either triazine herbicides (72%) or
imidazolinone herbicides (11%). One of the ironies of this is that
triazine herbicides have been banned in some countries in Europe because
of their perceived poor environmental profile. Yet anti-GM campaigners
would rather triazines continue to be used instead of the more
Will killing more weeds in crops in Australia threaten the environment?
Consider that almost all crop weeds in Australia have been imported from
somewhere else, mostly from Europe, Asia and South Africa. So preserving a
few more of these weeds will not provide any new habitat for koalas
(particularly as koalas live in gum trees not crops) or other native
animals. Keeping more weeds in crops is also unlikely to benefit native
birds greatly either. Some native birds do use weeds as food, mostly bulbs
and seeds, but these are weeds more likely to be found in wastelands and
pastures than cropped land. As for more insects in fields, that is most
likely to assist feral birds such as sparrows.
The major threats to biodiversity in Australia are documented as land
clearing, over grazing and invasive plants and pests. Currently, there are
thousands of hectares of Australian bush that are being degraded by
invasive weeds. The WWF in Australia has also identified weeds as an issue
of major importance to the environment
relatively little expenditure occurs to protect the environment from
invasive weeds. Kakadu National Park, the showcase of the Australian park
system, has a budget for weed control that amounts to less than $1 per ha.
With this money there have been some great successes such as removal of
mimosa, but how much more could be done, there and elsewhere, if programs
were properly resourced? Instead we can expect to be told that GM crops
are a major threat to the Australian environment.
Dr. Christopher Preston, Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of
Is the 'Contamination' by GM maize in Mexico Worse than Feared?
- Maurice Lex
See below. Could someone comment on the sigificance of this please because
if it is a lie it is certainly getting around the world and back, Maurice
Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than
Mexico City, Mexico, October 9, 2003
* Contamination has been found in cornfields in the states of Chihuahua,
Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potos, Tlaxcala
* Analyses show contamination with the genetically modified (GM) variety
Starlink, prohibited for human consumption in the United States
* Some plants found to show presence of two, three and four different GM
types, all patented by transnational biotechnology corporations
* Mexican indigenous and farming communities demand a halt to corn
imports, continuation of the moratorium on sowing GM maize, and rejection
of the Bill on Biosafety currently before the Mexican
Biotechnology Sparking Violent Protests Across the Globe
- Paul Elias (Associated Press), Oct. 15
A growing militant movement opposed to genetic engineering in agriculture
and medicine is turning to violent and criminal sabotage - from the
bombing of a Bay Area biotech company to the destruction of genetically
As a result, targeted companies aren't just taking extra security
precautions but also often altering business strategies. The violence,
which the FBI says suddenly became more serious this year, stems in part
from frustration that peaceful protests have failed to slow the pace of
"We've seen a drastic escalation in the use of violent tactics in the past
year," said Phil Celestini, head of the FBI's domestic terrorism unit in
A range of militant environmental, economic and animal-rights activist
groups have used the Internet to organize around biotechnology, first in
Europe and now in the United States. Many fear the technology will forever
harm nature while others object to how animals are treated in drug
A 25-year-old Californian, Daniel Andreas San Diego, is wanted by the FBI
in connection with some of the most recent attacks: the bombings in August
of the biotech company Chiron Corp. of Emeryville and last month of a
nearby cosmetics manufacturer. Aside from a few shattered windows, little
damage was done to either company. The group that claimed responsibility
for the blasts, the previously unheard of Revolutionary Cells, vowed more
bombings were to come.
Authorities consider the bombings to mark a new chapter in anti-biotech
militance in 2003 that included the vandalism of a Chiron executive's car
and the trashing of a biology lab at Louisiana State University last
month. In France, an estimated half of the 100 plots of experimental
biotech crops were destroyed this year, prompting some 1,500 scientists,
including two Nobel laureates, to demand an end to the vandalism.
Genetically modified crop experimentation in Britain is also in danger due
to sabotage and political opposition. "Peaceful protests aren't ending the
suffering," said Danielle Matthews, a spokeswoman for Stop Huntingdon
Animal Cruelty, an animal rights group that supports property destruction
but not human injury. The group has waged a four-year harassment campaign
to shut down the Lawrenceville, New Jersey, laboratory of Huntingdon Life
Sciences, a company that tests drugs and chemicals on animals for
companies including biotech firms.
"The companies say they care when they're faced with nonviolent protesters
and then do nothing," Matthews said. "Maybe the companies will start
caring when they have to pay to replace a few windows." Almost since James
Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA 50 years ago, scientists have been
exploring ways to manipulate and exploit those building blocks of life for
everything from boosting crop yields to germ warfare.
But questions didn't arise about biotechnology's safety and impact on
nature until San Francisco area scientists Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen
succeeded 30 years ago in splicing genes from one species into another.
Since then, opposition to biotechnology research, first in agriculture and
later in medicine, has grown, especially in Europe.
Chiron spokesman John Gallagher said attacks on the company, including the
alleged unauthorized use of an executive's credit card, haven't changed
the way the company does business. But there is evidence that these
"direct action" campaigns are having an effect on other companies.
The accounting firm Deloitte & Touche severed its ties with Huntingdon
earlier this year because of harassment of its employees. Huntingdon
itself moved its headquarters from the United Kingdom to Baltimore last
year because of increasing violence against it. In Britain, Bayer
CropSciences said it no longer will plant experimental plots of
genetically engineered crops because the government has declined to keep
the locations confidential. Bayer was the last company carrying out such
trials in the United Kingdom. Other agricultural biotech companies had
previously pulled out because such experimental plots were routinely
destroyed by protesters.
And the biotech company Biogemma is contemplating leaving France because
its experimental crops keep getting destroyed. The unrest is also
extending to the developing world, where biotech is heralded by proponents
as a panacea for famine and pestilence but where anti-globalization
activists fear corporate control of their livelihoods.
Earlier this month, police in Bangalore, India arrested 29 people on riot
charges after protesters injured two workers and destroyed a greenhouse at
a research facility belonging to Monsanto Co., which sells genetically
That attack came a month after another mob in Bangalore attacked a
warehouse once owned by Monsanto. Ranjana Smetacek of Monsanto Bombay's
office said the violence in India is the result of a single group's
campaign against multinationals. "I do not agree that protest against
biotechnology is becoming violent in India," Smetacek said. "Most people
who oppose biotechnology and Monsanto have expressed themselves in a
On 'The Little World of Campaigner Tactics': Reply to Vivian Moses
- Martin Mieschendahl
Vivian Moses is right in reminding us that "The EU regulations state many
times that "(organic) products (must be) produced without the use of
genetically modified organisms and/or any products derived from such
organisms". If farmers do not use GM seed, they will be fulfilling this
But this is theory, real life may look different. According to the draft
new German genetic engineering law a conventional farmer will have to pay
damages to an organic farmer if genetically engineered material
contaminates an organic farmers produces and if, as a consequence, the
organic farmer canāt sell his produces due to private contracts with a
third party that guarantees freedom of GMOs.
'Scientists discover and clone the gene that would have prevented the
Irish potato famine'
- Peter Hamilton, California Aggie, Oct. 15, 2003
This spring, scientists discovered a potato gene that is resistant to late
potato blight, the devastating disease that caused the Irish potato
famine. Recent developments make commercial production more realistic than
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working in conjunction
with Hanhui Kuang of UC Davis, discovered an extremely rare gene in the
wild potato species, Solanum bulbocastanum. The gene protects the wild
potato from all known strains of potato blight.
Genes discovered prior to this specific one -- which scientists call RB --
only provided resistance against a few of the more than 40 different types
of potato blight. All of the cultivated varieties of potato in the United
States are highly susceptible to the fungus that causes potato blight.
Currently, fungicidal application is the primary method used to kill the
disease in infected plants, costing farmers hundreds of millions of
dollars each year. The problem is that the fungus evolves resistance to
the fungicide, rendering the most current chemicals useless.
In 1994, an outbreak of a new strain of the fungal pathogen across the
country proved resistant to all available fungicides. That strain, which
had the ability to level an entire field of potatoes in just three days,
prompted scientists to develop new resistant plants.
The complexity of potato genetics has caused scientists to struggle to
cross the resistant RB gene with commercially cultivated varieties. They
now have the ability to clone the gene and literally place it in the
desired cultivar. "The use of the transformed plants could greatly
decrease the use of fungicides for late blight control," said John
Helgeson. "The environmental stress of thousands of tons of fungicides
could be reduced or eliminated" he said.
Helgeson, a recently retired UW-Madison professor of plant pathology, was
one of the leading researchers who discovered and cloned the gene. The
genetically modified potato would be very beneficial not only for the
United States, but also for the developing world. Farmers and gardeners in
developing countries cannot afford the expensive fungicides to keep potato
blight under control, Helgeson said, and the introduction of a resistant
crop would do away with such costs.
Hanhui Kuang of the department of vegetable crops at UCD collaborated with
the scientists from UW-Madison and was a co-author of the paper that first
reported their findings. The UW-Madison team elicited Kuangās help because
of his expertise in the evolution of disease-resistant genes.
Kuang predicts the resistant potato will be very durable. "It resists all
types of known pathogen strains and came from a wild potato species where
every single plant contained the resistant RB gene," he said.
For these reasons, Kuang said, he believes that it is very unlikely the
genetically modified potatoes will be overcome by the varying strains of
potato blight. The other genes that were discovered to be resistant to a
few types of the disease commonly fail, or become "genetically obsolete,"
after a few months to the quickly evolving potato blight fungus.
Now that scientists are able to cross the gene into existing plants and
still retain the desired potato qualities, it could be only a matter of
time before the resistant potatoes are commercially used, Helgeson said.
"It will take six to nine months to grow the first blight-resistant
commercial variety potato, and then several years to deploy it," said
Helgeson, who would like to see the new potatoes grown in developing
countries as well as the United States.UW-Madison owns the patents pending
involving the RB gene, its cloning and commercial use. Eighty-five percent
of the proceeds of the RB gene will go to the university and will be used
to support future research.
EU Commissioner Blasts 'lies' of US Biotech Firms
AFP , LONDON, Oct 15, 2003
Margot Wallstrom, EU environment commissioner
The EU's Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, has accused US
biotech firms of trying to lie about the benefits of genetically modified
(GM) crops in an attempt to force them upon Europe.
In a broadside against the firms, Wallstrom said their objective was to
solve starvation amongst shareholders rather than in the developing world.
Her comments in an interview with journalists, extracts of which were
carried in a London newspaper yesterday, come as Britain's government
prepares to publish long-awaited results of GM crop trials. "They tried to
lie to people, and they tried to force it upon people," the Swede told
reporters over lunch in London on Monday, The Independent reported.
"It's the wrong approach. You cannot force it upon Europe," she said. "So
I hope they have learnt a lesson from this, especially when they now try
to argue that this will solve the problems of starvation in the world and
so on. "But come on ... it was to solve starvation amongst shareholders,
not the developing world," Wallstrom added.
The European Parliament passed legislation in July approving the sale of
GM foods in five years' time, provided those with a GM content of 0.9
percent or more are clearly labelled. But the US filed a suit in June with
the WTO, saying a five-year moratorium on approvals of new GM crops
maintained by the EU had deprived it of a potential US$300-million export
market. Britain will publish the results tomorrow of three-year field
scale trials of three GM crops -- maize, oil seed rape and sugar beet.
An Alliance Against Hunger
- Accra Mail (Ghana), Oct. 13, 2003 (Sent by Apel)
"How is it possible in this day and age that so many of our fellow human
beings remain hungry?" Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) asked when commenting on this year's theme
for the celebration of the World Food Day scheduled for Thursday October
The sentiments expressed by the FAO Director General can be properly
appreciated if one takes a look at the current global food situation at a
time when technological advancement has led to cloning and modification of
Current statistics indicate that in spite of the fact that total world
food production is more than is required to provide the world's population
with diets adequate for good living, an estimated 840 million people do
not have enough to eat.
The majority of these hungry people live on our continent. Too many
children die from malnutrition and very many adults never reach their full
potential. It is doubtful whether the world can achieve the target of
cutting by half the number of hungry people by the year 2015 in line with
the millennium goals set by the World Food Summit in 1996 which was
attended by representatives of 185 countries.
The theme chosen for this year's celebration of World Food Day,
International Alliance Against Hunger, should therefore be seen as an
attempt to bring together the strengths of different groups all over the
world to gain momentum to achieve the common goal of eliminating hunger in
Such an alliance, it is hoped will include all partners working in
concert: food producers, consumers, international organizations,
governments, private firms, scientists, academics, individuals, religious
groups, NGOs, donors as well as policymakers from both rich and poor
In times past, conferences have been held from time to time with the view
to eliminating hunger from the world. These conferences have sought to
exploit resources of various international organizations and nations with
a track record of high food production to assist other nations to improve
their food yield and help save millions of people from starvation.
The need for an alliance to combat hunger has been felt for so long and
talked about in so many conferences that when world leaders met in 2002 to
review five years of the World Food Summit, they entitled their final
declaration an "International Alliance Against Hunger" The choice of
International Alliance Against Hunger is appropriate for many reasons.
It is hoped that such an alliance will strengthen political will and
commitment towards existing initiatives and help partners to develop a
common vision. It will also to provide a forum for advocacy, promote joint
actions and facilitate information exchange.
As the international alliance takes shape, leaders will also have to put
the fight against hunger at the forefront of national priorities, moving
from mere rhetoric to action and bearing in mind that only a well-fed
people can play an effective role in their country's economic and social
Such efforts should be seen as just the beginning of the expanding network
of alliances dedicated to fighting hunger more effectively.
Being part of the globe and therefore affected by the global situation
efforts by Ghana to improve the food situation should be pushed with the
theme for this year's World Food Day in mind. In Ghana, while we may not
necessarily talk of hunger in the proportions as exist in other African
countries, statistics show that about twenty-five percent of children down
south and forty percent of those in the northern part of the country are
malnourished. Efforts should therefore be directed towards solving this
To echo the concerns raised by the FAO Director General, it is surprising
that in this modern age and time, Ghanaian agriculture is done with the
cutlass and hoe and is still very much dependent on rainfall. Our research
institutions are full to the brim with findings.
Where officials make concerted efforts in an attempt to make such findings
available to farmers and other user organizations they are usually
restrained by financial and other considerations. There is also the issue
of duplication of efforts by the various research institutions with the
result that resources tend to be spread and not concentrated to achieve
This is where one would want to see some sort of cooperation between and
among our research institutions.
Perhaps one reason why the public seems to have a notion that our research
institutions are not doing much is that such institutions need lots of
funding to replicate their findings for use on a large-scale basis. The
recent manufacture of cassava harvesters by our agricultural engineers is
one case in point.
Now that the engineers have come out with what looks like a solution to
the unending fatigue that our farmers go through to harvest their cassava,
it is hoped that funds will be made available to replicate these
implements which, no doubt, will reduce the burden of our farmers. In this
respect, the role of agribusiness firms should be seen as vital.
The farmers are doing their best to feed the nation. The institution of
the National Farmers' Day and the multifaceted approach being adopted by
government to help alleviate the problems of farmers is helping to ensure
increased food production. Farmers must get the needed domestic support as
an incentive to help boost yield per acre.
But increased yield per acre alone will not ensure that the masses of the
people have access to food in sufficient food at reasonable prices. The
role of transporters in this direction cannot be over emphasized.
While transporters may have good reason to fix haulage fees at the levels
that they do, it will be prudent to ensure that transporters that are
involved in the carting of agricultural produce are given incentives like
tax exemptions to encourage them to be "reasonable" in their charges.
One cannot talk about transport without mentioning the state of most of
our feeder roads. In this respect, government must be commended for the
efforts it is making through the Department of Feeder Roads and the Ghana
Highway Authority to open up the rural areas through the construction of
Perhaps the District Assemblies must also do more to ensure that feeder
roads in areas where government funding has not yet reached will be kept
usable till such time that government is able to construct more permanent
The role of the so-called market queens is also a source of worry to many
a consumer. These queens have constituted themselves into a very
formidable force in our market places and although their activities are
detested by many of our farmers and food traders there seems to be very
little that can be done about their operations.
This is why many see the attempt to institute a farmers market as a bold
attempt by government to ensure that the farmer sells his produce direct
to the consumer at a reasonable price. This idea should be sustained and
any bottlenecks removed so that it does not become a nine-day wonder.
Ghana needs to tap the resources of all stakeholders to ensure that hunger
and malnutrition is eradicated. It is only when we are able as a nation to
take actions that will see the researcher, farmer, the financial
institutions, transporter, the market queens educational institutions and
the consumer as constituting a chain in the overall attempt at ensuring
food security in the country that Ghana will be seen as moving in the
right direction towards the achievement of a global alliance against
Farmers Denied Vital Information on Modern Technology
- Maore Ithula, Daily Nation (Kenya), Oct. 14, 2003
Lack of information and the right equipment is to blame for low production
in agriculture, says Agriculture minister Kipruto Kirwa.
If farmers had better access to modern technology, harvests would improve
and a huge work burden lifted off women's shoulders, he said, and told
scholars to go beyond publishing scientific journals to developing
packages that farmers could easily understand and adopt. Mr Kirwa was
addressing scientists at the sixth conference of the African Crop Science
Society, whose theme is "harnessing crop technologies to alleviate hunger
and poverty in Africa."
He said the provision of appropriate technology to the small-scale farmer
would ensure better yields and food security. "Climatic changes in the
last 30 years have greatly reduced agricultural production in Africa and
caused an acute food insecurity especially in the sub-Saharan region," he
said, and noted that there had been significant progress in technology
related to food production in the same period.
But information on such progress hardly ever reached farmers for whom it
was meant, said the minister. "Application of biotechnology has the
potential of increasing food production to the levels that are able to
sustain the ever increasing population in the continent," said the
The use of biotechnology to improve food security should be handled in the
context of appropriate policies and legal frameworks, he said. A Bill on
biosafety outlining the country's requirements for biotechnology and its
products had been published and would soon be submitted to Parliament for
debate and enactment.
The minister urged researchers who had developed crop varieties resistant
to diseases, pests and drought to make them available to farmers and told
scholars to quantify the benefits of their research to justify their
continued funding by the Government.
Kenya would save Sh750 million per year if Bt Maize variety, which is
resistant to the stalk borer, was made available to farmers. Farmers
spent Sh500 per hectare in trying to control the pest, he said, adding
that there were 1.5 million hectares under maize cultivation in the
country. The economy would save at least a billion shillings each year
if researchers came up with a variety of wheat resistant to the Russian
GM-Free Rules Made Garden Fail - Claim
- Ron Cant, South Wales Evening Post (UK,) Oct.13, 2003 (Sent by Apel)
Troubled Middleton's National Botanic Garden sowed the seeds of doom by
shunning genetic engineering to keep royalty happy. This is the shock
claim made by leading Welsh scientist Tony Campbell, professor of
biochemistry at the University of Wales College of Medicine. He is founder
of the Darwin Centre for Biology and medicine in Pembrokeshire.
He claims Middleton was bound to fail because it pandered to Prince
Charles's aversion to genetic engineering. "It was flawed from the start",
he said. Professor Campbell said he was told that the Prince had let it be
known he wanted the institution to have nothing to do with genetic
modification and that his views had made senior staff at Middleton
terrified of anything to do with technology.
"I want to know what role the Prince played in determining the science
programme" he said. The claims have been dismissed by the garden's
chairman Alan Hayward. He said there had ben no conditions attached to the
Prince's patronage of the Garden. But Professor Campbell said Middleton
had no meaningful scientific plan and had made few efforts to establish a
network of research across Wales. "A botanic garden must have a robust
scientific plan with DNA and genetic modification at the heart of it," he
GM research was already underway at Iger in Aberystwyth and other research
centres in Wales. Professor Campbell claims he was shouted down at a
scientific seminar in Middleton's early days when he showed a transgenic
plant that glowed in the dark.
Professor Campbell's success in developing such technology has made him a
rich man. He has earned some £10 million in patent rights for the college
of medicine. He has set out his claims in a letter to First Minister
Rhodri Morgan and met Mr Hayward yesterday to discuss the issue. "We could
have had a world DNA seed bank at Middleton over the decades," added