Today in AgBioView: October 16 - II, 2003:
* World Hunger Situation Worsening
* Momentous Day for British Agriculture
* GM Trials Setback
* Report into GM Crops Shows Mixed Results
* Prince Charles is a GM Royal
* GM Crop Trials Provide Mixed Message
* Farm Scale Evaluations of spring-sown GM crops
* Time to Choose
* Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don't...
* FSE RESULTS PUBLISHED TODAY - SCIMAC STATEMENT
* NatureÔs Bounty is Rich in Pesticides
* Growing Backlash Against Greens
* Q&A: The GM Food Debate
* New York Times Writer: Food Is Too Cheap!
World Hunger Situation Worsening
- CNN.com, Oct. 16, 2003
LONDON, England -- The United Nations World Food Program has issued a
rallying call to businesses and governments to help alleviate the growing
hunger problem. An estimated 840 million people went hungry last year, a
rise of 25 million on 2001, a United Nations report said.
The WFP warned there was a greater need for food aid now than at any time
in its 40 year history -- with a $600 million shortfall in its $4.3
billion budget. Countries going hungry include Liberia, Eritrea, southern
Africa, Uganda, North Korea and Haiti, often caused by civil unrest and
drought. The WFP, which made the plea on World Food Day Thursday, said
the problem was one for everyone to try and solve.
"Clearly, no single organization can solve world hunger," agency chief
James Morris said in a statement. "Its causes are incredibly complex, and
its solution requires more than food aid alone. "All of us --
individuals, businesses, non-governmental organizations and governments --
have a deep responsibility to join the campaign to end hunger."
But Patrick Mulvany, chairman of the UK Food Group, which is a network for
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), hit out at governments, and
especially the U.S. administration of George W. Bush for failing to get
food through. "It is a terrible political, social problem. There is a
lack of will," he told CNN.
He said the U.S. offer to supply genetically modified (GM) food to Africa
"does not solve the problem." Rather, it is an attempt by Washington to
offload its surplus which it cannot sell, he added. "It is a scandal," he
said. Mulvany also attacked the Indian government for not distributing
its food from warehouses because of arguments over subsidies. "The
solution is there...there is plenty of food to go around. The problem
needs to be addressed at the highest level."
In a separate move a United Nations report blamed food companies for
abusing their clout and violating human rights. The report by a U.N.
investigation team, to be published next month, calls on governments to
take responsibility for the behavior of big firms.
It was becoming increasingly clear, the report said, "that the monopoly
control of the food system by transnational corporations can be directed
toward seeking monopoly profits, benefiting the company more than the
Meanwhile on Thursday the British government released a report on GM food
testing and its effects on the environment and wildlife. The report, Farm
Scale Evaluations, seemed to give conflicting results. The tests, which
are the biggest of their type held anywhere, found that growing GM
herbicide-tolerant beet and spring rape is worse for wildlife than the
conventional varieties because of the shortfall in weeds and insects. But
the results of UK-wide field-scale trials of GM crops also show that
growing herbicide-tolerant GM maize was better for many groups of wildlife
than conventional maize.
The researchers stressed Thursday that the differences they found in the
three-year-long project were not a result of the way in which the crops
have been genetically modified. They arose because the GM crops gave
farmers taking part in the trial new options for weed control. They used
different herbicides and applied them differently.
The same day U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto has said it is to pull out
of the European seed cereal business. The company blamed the failure in
the growth of a market in hybrid wheat seeds for the decision, saying it
had "failed to materialize."
The EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom this week accused U.S.
bio-tech companies of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology
Momentous Day for British Agriculture
- Cropgen.org (UK), Oct. 16, 2003
The Farm Scale Evaluations show that, contrary to what campaigners have
been asserting for years, GM technology, if managed properly, can benefit
the environment as well as farmers and consumers. Today is a momentous one
for UK agriculture. The implications of the FSEs are clear:
* GM Maize is good for farmers, better for biodiversity and is ready for
* GM sugar beet has been shown to be highly effective at controlling weeds
and, as the results from a Broom's Barn study published earlier this year
demonstrated, with more effective management it could have environmental
* GM spring oilseed rape is also effective at controlling weeds, giving it
significant advantages over its conventional and organic equivalents.
CropGen looks forward to the day when GM technology offers important
nutritional advantages as well as crop management benefits with little or
no environmental impact.
It is worth noting that GM holds the promise of higher, better quality
yields and more efficient land usage but the FSEs did not consider these
factors. What the FSEs do show is that GM crops should be assessed on a
case by case basis.
Britain is at an agricultural crossroads and the Government must now
choose which path to follow. Millions of farmers across five continents
are taking advantage of GM technology, operating more efficiently due to
the better weed control that GM offers.
Are British farmers to be told that they cannot have access to these same
benefits? If so, how are they to compete in the global agricultural
economy? What role do we want farmers to play in our country? Are they to
be forced to become park keepers first and foremost? If so, will consumers
be prepared to pay for their stewardship of the countryside at the
The truth is, it is a false choice. The results of the FSEs show that GM
crops can play a role in British agriculture. They show that one
critically important crop is ready for commercial cultivation and that,
with the right management techniques in place, others may follow.
All farmers - GM, organic and conventional - are in a perpetual battle
against weeds. Yet weeds provide food and cover for insects, and insects
provide food for birds. Achieving a balance between crop protection and
bird preservation is difficult in conventional and organic farming but
much easier with GM where the farmer has a good deal more flexibility.
CropGen is an information initiative designed to make the case for crop
biotechnology. It is funded by industry but operates independently of it.
For more information please visit our website at www.cropgen.org
GM Trials Setback
- Darshna Soni, Channel 4 TV (UK), Oct. 16, 2003 http://www.channel4.com/
So is this the end for the commercial growing of genetically-modified
crops in Britain?
Two government-backed trials lasting four years have found that GM crops
are more damaging to wildlife and the environment than conventional
varieties. The debate over whether GM crops are harmful to the
environment has always been controversial - and today's findings don't do
anything to change that. Both sides of the debate say the results support
The farm-scale evaluations began in 1999 - the aim, to assess the impact
GM crops have on wildlife and the environment. Three crops were chosen -
oilseed rape, sugarbeet and maize. The results suggest two of the crops -
the oilseed rape and sugarbeet - do more harm to plants and insects than
conventional crops and should not be grown commercially. The third,
genetically modified maize, does less harm - and so might win approval as
a wildlife-friendly crop.
Overall, the results do nothing to resolve the GM debate - the government
won't be able to use the evidence to support the widescale planting of GM
In a separate development, anti-GM campaigners have welcomed a decision by
Monsanto, the US multinational which pioneered GM crops, to pull out of
the European cereal business. The decision was made because the market
for hybrid wheat sales here in Europe has failed to materialize. The farm
trials are part of a Government consultation exercise on GM crops.
Public debates held across Britain have shown that that only 2 per cent of
people are in favour of growing GM crops, with 54 per cent opposed. A
costs and benefits study of GM technology found that economic gains for
the UK would be limited in the short term, but there could be longer-term
A science review said risks to human health from GMs currently on the
market were very low, but warned that these risks could increase if
different crops were grown. The final piece in the jigsaw is a report out
shortly on whether GM crops can co-exist with non-GMs.
Today's findings - the result of the world's largest ever scientific
experiment of its kind - provides few answers and will have disappointed
those hoping for a resolution of the GM debate.
Report into GM Crops Shows Mixed Results
- Telegraph (UK), Oct. 16, 2003 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Growing GM herbicide-tolerant beet and spring rape is worse for wildlife
than the conventional varieties, scientists have said.
But the results of UK-wide field-scale trials of GM crops, the largest of
their type ever carried out, also show that growing herbicide-tolerant GM
maize was better for many groups of wildlife than conventional maize.
Scientists unveiling the long-awaited findings of the Farm Scale
Evaluations (FSE) at the Science Centre in London said some insects such
as bees in beet crops and butterflies in beet and spring rape were
recorded more often in and around the conventional crops because there
were more weeds to provide food and cover. There were also more weed seeds
in conventional beet and spring rape crops than in their GM counterparts.
These seeds are important in the diet of some animals and birds.
However, the results showed that some groups of soil insects were found in
greater numbers in herbicide-tolerant GM beet and spring rape crops. There
were more weeds in and around the herbicide-tolerant GM maize crops, more
butterflies and bees around at certain times of the year and more weed
seeds. The controversial study launched three years ago by former
environment minister Michael Meacher has been criticised by environmental
Soon after the trials were launched protesters destroyed some fields of GM
crops complaining that the danger of cross pollination with ordinary crops
would ruin the livelihoods of organic farmers. Opponents also fear GM crop
technology could lead to the emergence of new herbicide-resistant weeds
which could cause havoc in the countryside.
The researchers have stressed that the differences they found are not a
result of the way in which the crops have been genetically modified. They
arose because the GM crops gave farmers taking part in the trial new
options for weed control. They used different herbicides and applied them
Prince Charles is a GM Royal
- Richard Smith, Mirror (UK), Oct. 16 2003 http://www.mirror.co.uk
TV scientist Robert Winston yesterday launched a scathing attack on Prince
Charles over his campaign against GM food. In a thinly veiled dig at the
Prince's blue-blooded lineage Professor Winston said: "I suppose it is
probably fair to say that Prince Charles is one of the most genetically
modified organisms on the planet."
The presenter ridiculed the Prince's stand against GM crops by beaming two
photographs of Charles onto a giant screen during a talk to 800 people.
One showed him drinking tea. In the other he was receiving a carnation at
Chelsea Flower Show.
Prof Winston, 63, said: "Prince Charles, who is a highly intelligent and
charming individual, has conducted a campaign from a feeling almost of
revulsion for GM. "Yet there he is drinking Assam tea, which is highly
genetically modified, and at a flower show receiving a carnation - one of
the most genetically modified of flowers."
But Prof Winston, whose new series The Human Mind was launched on BBC1
last night, praised Charles's sister Princess Anne, for her help with
relief work in the Third World. He said she had seen the problems of
starvation there at first hand. And the celebrity scientist accused people
who shared the Prince's views of standing in the way of a possible
solution to Third World starvation.
He said: "A third of the population has not eaten a proper meal today,
yesterday or the day before. "They are existing on 1,500 calories a day -
a starvation diet. "Yet it is just possible that GM crops, being drought
and pest resistant, can be used in a sensible way to help the Third World.
It is odd that we as a country cannot begin to have a much broader
discussion about GM."
Charles - a champion of organic farming - has waged a five-year campaign
against GM food which has left him at odds with the Government. The Prince
has made it clear he wants a ban on GM food - claiming it will not benefit
consumers and risks meddling with nature.
He has said: "Genetically altered food crops take mankind into realms that
belong to God, and to God alone. It is wrong that nature has come to be
regarded as a system that can be engineered for our own convenience."
In Cardiff three months ago he said: "We need a GM-free Wales - and a
GM-free Britain as well for that matter." And last month a
government-backed poll showed 90 per cent of shoppers did not want GM
food. Prof Winston refused to elaborate yesterday on his royal put-down at
the Cheltenham Literature Festival. An aide said: "He doesn't want to add
anything to what he said - he thinks there's enough there already."
GM Crop Trials Provide Mixed Message
- David Dickson, SciDev.Net, 16 October 2003
The biggest experiment ever carried out to evaluate the environmental
impact of genetically modified (GM) crops has concluded that it is
impossible to draw a general conclusion about whether such crops are safe
or dangerous for wildlife.
The researchers who carried out the experiments - the findings of which
were announced in London today (16 October) - say that the impact depends
on a variety of factors, including the specific genetic traits introduced
into the crops, and the way in which herbicide use is altered.
In some cases, they say, the use of GM crops actually increased the amount
of wildlife. But the researchers emphasise that any judgement of the
environmental impact of GM crops can only be made on a case-by-case basis.
And they add that this applies as much to developing as to developed
These conclusions have emerged from a comprehensive set of farm trials
that were launched in Britain three years ago and carried out at about 60
sites across the country in an attempt to address concern about the
potential impact of GM crops on the environment.
The researchers studied three different crops - oilseed rape, beet and
maize. They looked at the impact on local biodiversity (for example on
natural vegetation and on bird and insect life) of growing conventional
varieties of each crop compared to varieties that had been genetically
modified to resist weed-killers.
In the case of oilseed rape and beet, they found that the farming
practices involved in growing the GM varieties were more harmful to many
groups of wildlife than growing the conventional varieties, as the
practice led to a greater reduction in the natural vegetation that such
In contrast, the cultivation of GM varieties of maize caused less overall
damage to the natural vegetation (as it resulted in reduced weed-killer
use) and therefore proved to be beneficial to the local wildlife, which
used such vegetation for food and shelter.
"The results of these studies reveal significant difference in the effect
on biodiversity when managing genetically modified herbicide-tolerant
crops, as compared to conventional varieties," said Les Firbank of the
Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, who co-ordinated the project. "One
important conclusion is that each new application of GM crop technology
must be looked at on a case-by-case basis using a rational, evidence-based
The results of the studies of the GM oilseed rape and beet crops have been
quickly picked by anti-GM groups in the United Kingdom, who argue that it
confirms their fears that the widespread use of such crops in Britain
would have a damaging, and irreversible, impact on the countryside.
"If we grow herbicide-tolerant crops here, it may be the final nail in the
coffin for some species," says Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK. She
points out that the new results contrast sharply with the conclusions of
government science advisors in 1997 that GM oilseed rape presented no
threat to the environment.
In contrast, the results have been welcome by the agri-biotech industry,
who argue that they vindicate its own position that it would be wrong to
apply a blanket ban on all GM crops in Britain, and that each proposed
crop should be judged individually on its potential environmental impact.
"These results confirm that the flexibility of GM crops allows them to be
grown in a way that benefits the environment," says Paul Rylott of the
Agricultural Biotechnology Council. │These studies show that claims that
GM crops will wipe out our wildlife are not supported by the evidence. On
the contrary, they show that GM crops are more flexible and can enhance
John Pidgin, the manager of one of the set of trials, says that although
it would be wrong to extrapolate the results of the trials directly to
developing countries, the main implication that the impact of a GM crop
depends heavily on the specific characteristics of the crop and the way
that it is grown remains valid.
Full FSE papers at http://www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/FSEresults/
The Farm Scale Evaluations of spring-sown genetically modified crops
- Duncan Edlin
The Farm Scale Evaluations of spring-sown genetically modified crops
A themed issue from Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences Series
B Volume 358 Issue 1439 29 November 2003
Time to Choose
- Peter Aldhous, Nature 425, 655 (16 October 2003)
In some countries, transgenic plants are already a part of mainstream
farming. Will the rest of the world soon follow suit?
Anyone attempting to predict the future is asking for trouble ¨ especially
at the cutting edge of science and technology, where the unexpected is the
norm. But for the past few years, there has been one forecast that
scientific soothsayers have been able to rely on: that controversy will
rage over genetically modified (GM) crops.
So to say that agribiotech is now in for a volatile time might seem like
an empty prediction. But there are good reasons to believe that the fight
over GM crops is coming to a head.
Most European governments, realizing that their people have little
enthusiasm for GM food, have been stalling on deciding whether to allow
commercial plantings of transgenic crops. But following the introduction
of a regulatory framework at the European Union (EU) level, they won't be
able to stall for much longer. Decision time is dawning. If European
countries say yes, they will face an onslaught from their own public. If
they say no, the pro-GM US government will be spoiling for a fight.
Already, the United States has fired a warning shot across Europe's bow,
lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the EU's
failure to open its markets to GM seeds and produce.
In Britain, the government has prepared for decision time by conducting by
far the largest-ever trial of GM crops, seeking to gather as much evidence
about their impact on biodiversity as possible. Those trials, along with
extensive scientific evaluation and public consultation, are now coming to
an end. But ultimately, the government's line may be influenced as much by
Prime Minister Tony Blair's sagging popularity as by the scientific
questions surrounding transgenic agriculture. In the following pages,
Nature examines the pending British decision and places it in its wider
international context (see page 656).
The outcome in Britain is bound to influence the debate in other countries
where similar skirmishes are taking place. Around the world,
environmentalists are battling with biotech-industry lobbyists to win over
public opinion. In the developing world, the action is poised to
intensify, with sub-Saharan Africa emerging as an important new
battleground. In other countries, such as China and India, the fight seems
to be not so much 'GM or not GM', but rather between home-grown transgenic
technologies and imports from agribiotech giants in the United States.
So far there is no clear winner. Our international survey of the extent of
commercial cultivation of GM crops reveals a decidedly mixed picture (see
page 658). Only a few countries have wholeheartedly embraced a transgenic
future. But the agribiotech industry can point to several key markets
where the prospects for GM farming are improving. Brazil, for instance, is
the world's second-largest producer of soya beans ¨ and there the tide
seems to be turning in favour of GM varieties.
For now, our world map showing the market penetration of transgenic crops
remains mostly blank. How quickly it fills up will depend on events and
decisions that cannot be avoided for much longer.
PETER ALDHOUS, chief news and features editor.
Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don't...
- Jim Giles, Nature 425, 656 - 657 (16 October 2003)
It's crunch time for agribiotech in Britain, as politicians rule on the
planting of commercial transgenic crops. The world is watching, says Jim
On trial: whatever the result of Britain's tests of transgenic oilseed
rape, the final decision will also be influenced by Tony Blair's desire to
keep a sceptical public happy. Politicians don't often evoke pity. But
it's hard not to feel some sympathy for the British ministers who must,
over the coming months, decide on whether to give the green light for the
commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. They're in a
On the one hand, the government wants to support the biotech industry,
which it sees as a key component of Britain's future economic
competitiveness. It also wants to appease its closest ally, the United
States, which is already fuming over Europe's reluctance to embrace
transgenic agriculture. But surveys have shown that, for now at least, the
British public doesn't want to see GM crops grown commercially. And with
the government's popularity dipping in the wake of the war in Iraq,
brazenly defying public opinion is not an attractive option. "The British
government is in a difficult position," concludes Simon Barber of
EuropaBio, a Brussels-based body that represents Europe's biotech
The arguments over transgenic agriculture have been played out more
vociferously in Britain than in perhaps any other country. This ensures
that the government's decision will resonate beyond the shores of the
British Isles, colouring the debate over transgenic agriculture both at
the European level and beyond.
Ministers must wish that they could kick the problem into touch and return
to it when the political climate is more favourable. But matters are now
coming to a head, thanks in part to a timetable of the government's own
making. In 1999, as arguments over GM crops raged in the media, the
government announced that applications to begin commercial planting of
herbicide-tolerant GM maize, oilseed rape (or canola) and beet would be
put on hold, pending the results of 'farm-scale evaluations', taking
several years, of the crops' impact on farmland biodiversity. Results from
these huge experiments will be published this week.
Ask the people
But public concerns about GM agriculture run wider than the question of
whether herbicide-tolerant crops will disrupt populations of weeds and
invertebrates. There are anxieties about the safety of GM food, for
example, and about whether transgenes will 'pollute' organic crops. So,
over the past few months, the government has embarked upon an elaborate
exercise in evaluation and public consultation. A scientific panel has
reviewed the pros and cons of transgenic agriculture; Prime Minister Tony
Blair's Strategy Unit has considered the economic case; and the 'GM
Nation?' debate, involving more than 600 meetings, has sampled public
For the government, it has been a sobering exercise. The scientific panel,
while pointing out areas of uncertainty that need further research, voiced
no fundamental objection to transgenic agriculture. But if Blair hoped
that the public would warm to the idea of GM farming, he was mistaken ¨
the 'GM Nation?' debates revealed hostile attitudes towards the
technology. Although the apparent depth of feeling will have been
exaggerated by the presence of environmental activists at the meetings,
other opinion polls have found little support for the commercialization of
GM crops. And economic specialists have advised the government that there
is little to gain by pressing ahead while consumers remain so suspicious.
Sources in the biotech industry accept that transgenic crops will not be a
money-spinner in Britain until consumer opposition softens, but they are
desperate for the government to send out a positive message by approving
the commercialization, in principle, of herbicide-tolerant GM crops.
Without such a move, they claim, investment and scientific talent will
drift away to more favourable pastures.
Some senior plant-biotech researchers have already announced plans to
leave Britain this year. "Public opposition has caused industry to bleed
away, which reduces funding opportunities and options for the future
employment of students," says Mark Tester of the University of Cambridge,
who is shortly to join the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
at the University of Adelaide. One company, Bayer CropScience of Hauxton,
near Cambridge, suspended its field trials of GM crops late last month,
complaining that its experimental plots could not be guaranteed protection
from protesters intent on their destruction. Blocking or delaying the
decision to approve transgenic crops for commercial use will exacerbate
these trends. "It would send out a very negative signal," says Barber.
It would also widen the rift between the United States and Europe ¨
something that Blair is anxious to avoid. The World Trade Organization is
already considering a complaint brought by the United States against the
European Union (EU) over its failure since 1998 to approve any new GM crop
for commercial planting or human consumption. Thanks to opposition from
countries including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg, some 20
pending applications have been left in limbo.
GM agriculture is not the only issue that splits the United States and
Europe ¨ the war in Iraq has also soured transatlantic relations. And as
Blair calculates his political future, the two issues could become
entwined. In Britain, doubts about the wisdom of invading Iraq are
mounting, particularly in light of the death of David Kelly, a scientific
expert at the Ministry of Defence. Kelly took his own life after being
identified as the source of a BBC radio story alleging that the government
had exaggerated intelligence on Iraq's weapons capability to win support
for the war. The affair, now the subject of an independent inquiry, has
dented public trust in the government. Against this background, Blair will
not want to be seen as disdainful of public opposition to GM crops.
The farm-scale evaluations could offer an escape route. If they suggest
that GM herbicide-tolerant crops might damage the environment, biotech
firms will have little basis for complaint if approval for commercial
planting is denied or delayed. Some press reports have suggested that the
farm-scale trials will indeed raise red flags against some of the tested
crops. But with the scientists involved keeping the results under a strict
embargo, the truth will only be unveiled this week.
If the farm-scale trials contain no showstoppers, the best bet for the
government would be to delay the decision until public disquiet over Iraq
and Kelly has subsided. The government has already pledged to refer the
results of the farm-scale evaluations to an expert scientific panel, the
Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. Awaiting its advice
will probably delay things until January. A second set of results from the
trials, based on winter planting of oilseed rape, is due out in the middle
of next year, and could be used to stall a decision yet further.
But by then, the government's hand may have been forced by events at the
European level. Following the drafting of strict new rules on labelling of
GM produce, together with requirements that should allow transgenic
ingredients to be traced from farm to fork, the stalled process of
approving GM crops for growth and sale in the EU is expected to resume
around the turn of the year.
Even if developments in Brussels mean that the British government has
little choice but to sanction the commercial planting of GM
herbicide-tolerant crops in principle, it might be able to placate public
opinion in other ways. When the EU's provisions for tracing and labelling
GM foods were agreed last July, member states were given the freedom to
set their own 'coexistence' rules ¨ designed to minimize cross-pollination
between GM and non-GM crops. "Tough legislation in this area would knock
commercial planting on its head," says a senior figure in one
The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, another
government advisory body, is currently grappling with the issue of
coexistence, and is due to report any day soon. Opponents of transgenic
farming argue, for example, that fields used to grow GM crops should
subsequently be kept free of non-GM varieties for several years; the
biotech industry retorts that such measures would make transgenic crops
New laws on liability could also make commercial planting financially
unattractive. Environmental groups point out that forcing agribiotech
companies to take legal responsibility if transgenes spread to organic
crops, or have unforeseen effects on biodiversity, could provide another
way for the government to approve the crops while ensuring that they are
unlikely to be grown.
The biotech industry, meanwhile, may prefer a compromise that makes
commercialization contingent on stringent scientific monitoring, while
setting limits on the total area that can be cultivated. It is unclear
whether such limits would be allowed under EU law, but they would suit
agribiotech firms in the short term ¨ especially as consumer demand is so
The government's eventual strategy may depend on Blair's popularity in the
coming months, which in turn rests on the report of the inquiry into
Kelly's death. "If Blair comes out badly, he won't want to take risks,"
says one British expert in food and environmental policy. Blair might then
try to show that he is in tune with public opinion by bringing in rules
that effectively shelve the introduction of transgenic agriculture. "This
is a political decision, not a scientific one," agrees Tester.
If these predictions are correct, it would be an odd end to a debate in
which environmental groups and the agribiotech industry have invested
enormous effort. It would also be demoralizing for researchers who have
devoted the past four years to the farm-scale evaluations ¨ not to mention
everyone involved in this summer's huge evaluation and consultation
exercise. But that's politics for you.
'GM Nation?' public debate
Jim Giles is a reporter for Nature in London.
FSE RESULTS PUBLISHED TODAY - SCIMAC STATEMENT
The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops , October 16,
2003 (Daniel Pearsall )
Today's publication by the Royal Society of the scientific results of the
UK Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSEs) for spring-sown GM crops is cause for
celebrating the efforts of all involved in delivering the most extensive
programme of ecological research ever conducted in arable agriculture.
First and foremost, SCIMAC wishes to congratulate the research scientists
on this achievement, and pay tribute to the enormous contribution of
participating farmers, often under difficult conditions, in delivering
trial sites to meet the data requirements of this pioneering study.
The results themselves will take some time to digest in full, but it is
immediately clear that the differences between the crops studied is
governed above all by the crop type, herbicides and weed control practices
involved, not by the use of genetic modification. This is a point
highlighted throughout by the reports' authors.
For maize, today's results have demonstrated the role GM technology has to
play in benefiting farmland biodiversity, even under standard management
regimes. The priority for other GM HT crops now lies in the development
and application of management options which can achieve a similar outcome.
One of the key advantages of GM herbicide tolerance technology is the
increased flexibility it offers growers in their control of weeds. The
Farm-Scale Evaluation results must now be considered in the context of
other research which has shown that varying the timing, rate and targeting
of herbicide applications in GM crops can have a significant influence on
biodiversity impact. The FSEs did not evaluate other management options,
nor were they intended to.
The FSEs have also provided a unique opportunity to prove that
co-existence of GM and non-GM crops is possible. The SCIMAC on-farm
guidelines have been applied and audited at all FSE sites, and clearly
demonstrate that co-existence can be achieved under practical farming
conditions, so allowing choice for farmers and their customers.
In addition to co-existence, this framework of guidelines can equally be
adapted to address other objectives, such as the need to protect farmland
biodiversity. This will now be the focus of efforts to ensure farmers in
the UK are able to access the advantages of a technology already enjoyed
by millions of farmers worldwide.
The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a
grouping of industry organisations representing farmers, plant breeders,
the seed trade and biotechnology companies. Member organisations share a
commitment to the open, responsible and effective introduction of GM crops
in the UK.
NatureÔs Bounty is Rich in Pesticides
- PROFESSOR V. MOSES Times (UK), Oct. 16, 2003
Sir, Mr George Hewitt (letter, October 13) says: ŃNature, in her wisdom,
packs each food with (most of) the enzymes, mineral elements, etc,
necessary for proper human digestion.ń
Unfortunately, nature does not. All our crop plants and domestic animals
have been carefully bred over centuries to maximise the nutritional
benefit for ourselves and to minimise toxins and other undesirable
molecules. Even so, of the pesticides in our diets, almost all are
chemicals produced by the plants themselves. There are 27 in many common
foods which are rodent carcinogens (and no doubt have similar effects in
They include basil, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cocoa,
coffee beans roasted, fennel, honey, jasmine tea, mango, mushroom,
parsley, pineapple, sesame seeds and many fruits. Most of the 10,000
natural pesticides in our daily fruit and vegetables are carcinogenic in
rodents when applied at the right dose. Frying or smoking food doubles its
Nature is not some benevolent system intended primarily for our benefit
but, as Darwin and others have shown over and over again, an environment
in which species are in a constant competition for limited resources. We
do so well because we can compete.
Sincerely yours, V. MOSES (Chairman, CropGen), Department of Life
Sciences, KingÔs College London,
Growing Backlash Against Greens
- Biotech Reporter, Oct, 2003. www.bioreporter.com
There is a growing backlash against environmentalists and anti-globalists
who oppose the use of biotechnology in agriculture, and an increasing
diversity among those willing to confront them directly. This last month
saw a venerable US civil rights group publicly denounce three such groups,
the launch of a complaint against Greenpeace alleging money-laundering,
and the inauguration of a website dedicated to showing that much of
environmental activism rests on "junk philosophy."
During the September World Trade Organization meetings in Cancun, Mexico
the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) publicly denounced Greenpeace, the
European Union and the Pesticide Action Network by presenting them with
'Green Power - Black Death' awards. CORE is one of the oldest and most
respected civil rights groups in the United States.
This is not the first time CORE has denounced green activists. Last May,
CORE conducted a counter-demonstration at Greenpeace USA's "Run for Your
Life" road race at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. While Greenpeace
awarded prizes to the winners of the race, CORE members accused the group
of 'eco-manslaughter' and chanted: "Africa, yes! Greenpeace, no!"
In Cancun, Niger Innis, national spokesman for CORE, accused the groups of
what he called 'eco-imperialism.' "They know their opposition to
genetically engineered foods, pesticides and energy development devastates
families and communities - and kills millions every year. And yet, they
continue to impose more and more layers of misguided laws, rules and
treaties on citizens who have no time to worry about esoteric First World
concerns, because they are trying to put food on the table and survive
Innis gave the first Green Power - Black Death award to Greenpeace, for
leading million-dollar campaigns against any technology and economic
development that could improve or save the lives of poor people. The
second was awarded to the European Union, saying the bloc was using its
power to impose laws, rules, tariffs and subsidies that stifle trade from
developing countries, and pressuring them impose environmental
constraints. Innis also presented a special "Uncle Tom" award to the
Pesticide Action Network (PAN), saying it was the developing world
activist group "most willing to sell out its own people," in exchange for
funding from rich country foundations, agencies and companies.
Headquartered in Malaysia, PAN opposes pesticides and biotechnology.
"This was not an easy decision,"Innis observed. "There were many deserving
candidates - and many who deserve to be given dishonorable mention for
their own roles in keeping people mired in squalor, starvation and early
death from diseases we hardly even hear about in the United States and
Not long after CORE's denunciation, a group formed in 2002 to monitor
tax-exempt organizations filed a complaint with the US Internal Revenue
Service against Greenpeace, accusing its US operations of illegally
soliciting and transferring millions of dollars in tax-deductible
contributions. "At the heart of the matter is the way in which
Greenpeace's complex corporate structure masks its misuse of tax-exempt
contributions," said Mike Hardiman, executive director of Public Interest
Watch (PIW), in a statement.
"The IRS very clearly differentiates between taxable and tax-exempt
contributions, and the ways in which they can be used," Hardiman said.
"Greenpeace has devised a system for diverting tax-exempt funds into
non-exempt organizations within its empire and using the money for
improper and illegal purposes. It is plainly a case of money laundering."
A report issued by the PIW claims that during a three year span, one
Greenpeace entity diverted over $24 million in tax-exempt contributions.
Such contributions are supposed to be used for charitable, educational or
scientific programs, PIW says, but instead were used to fund invasions of
public and private property, among other things.
"Greenpeace is cheating the taxpayer by accepting tax-deductible
contributions, and then misusing the funds," Hardiman said. "They are
accepting taxpayer subsidized funds for charity and education, and then
using it to hang banners on buildings and break into nuclear power
Melanie Janin, Greenpeace USA's spokeswoman, called the charges
"completely false and without merit," adding that the activists considered
them "an attack by a fringe group."
"While PIW will not disclose its funding sources, Greenpeace strongly
suspects that PIW is funded by American corporations, many of which may be
under scrutiny for anti-environmental behavior by environmental
organizations like Greenpeace," the activists said in a press release.
Hardiman rejected Greenpeace's call for his group to reveal its funding
sources. "I don't have to reveal my funding because I am not mooching off
the taxpayer," Hardiman said. "Contributions to Public Interest Watch are
Greenpeace said it was considering legal action against PIW, but Hardiman
was unconcerned. "Bring them on," Hardiman said. "That is what I say.
Bring them on. Greenpeace will just embarrass itself further."
This month also saw the launch of a new website at http://www.ecoNOT.com
which is designed by Robert Bidinotto to portray the modern environmental
movement as fundamentally antithetical to human welfare. "Their
[environmentalists'] basic premise is that human activities to develop
natural resources constitute a desecration of nature," he says, adding
that the activists regard humans as a "blight upon the earth" and an
"enemy of the natural world."
"Their fanatical activities have led not just to enormously increased
financial burdens on us all," Bidinotto says, "but 'demonstrably' even to
the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children worldwide."
The Policy of Rapeseed
- Claude Willemot
Please remember that the real inventors of plant GE were Marc van Montagu
and Jeff Schell, at the Rijksuniversiteit Gent, Belgium. Too bad Belgian
public opinion is so negative about GMOs .
Q&A: The GM Food Debate
CNN.com, July 7, 2003
(CNN) -- Europe and the U.S. remain split over genetically-modified food.
The American government and biotech companies say it can help solve world
hunger, while critics say more tests are needed before it is pushed into
Q. What are genetically modified foods?
A. GM foods are grown from crops improved through biotechnology that
changes the genetic makeup and make them more resistant to insects and
disease, says Lisa Dry, communications director at Bio, an organization
representing biotechnology firms. She says genetic modification makes
crops more productive while their nutritional value can also increase.
This is disputed by critics. The extra genetic material makes GM crops
resistant to weed killers and other chemicals used in agriculture, says
Charlie Kronike, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace.
Q. What GM products are in the market place now?
A. The most common GM crops are soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beet, and
fodder beet. GM crops are mainly used in processed foods or in animal
feed, Kronike says.
Ninety-eight percent of GM crops are grown in four countries: Canada, the
U.S., Argentina, and China, according to Greenpeace. GM foods are also
produced in South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Romania,
Spain, Indonesia, and Germany, says Dry. In the past year India and the
Philippines both approved crops.
The European Union imposed a moratorium on new genetically modified foods
in 1998. But now it is to allow it to be sold in shops, subject to strict
labeling rules. The U.S. says mandatory labeling might be too costly for
Q. Are there any differences in taste and appearance?
A. Both sides agree that GM foods are no different from those produced
from regular crops in taste and appearance. "You would never be able to
tell the difference if (the foods) were side by side unless one was chewed
by bugs and the other was not," Dry says.
But Greenpeace says because there is no difference in taste and
appearance, it is difficult to prevent cross contamination, or breeding
between GM and non-GM crops. Greenpeace wants careful documentation to
ensure GM crops do not cross-pollinate.
Q. How do GM foods affect the environment?
Supporters say GM crops are good for the environment. Dry says GM food
means less soil erosion, and because GM crops need less pesticides and
herbicides, fewer chemicals end up in the water supply. GM crops also
produce a higher yield so farmers use less land, she says.
Opponents say GM foods offer no benefits to consumers and farmers. They
say it has not been proved that they bring a higher yield. Opponents are
also concerned about the chemical resistance of "volunteers," GM crops
that spread into the wild or sprout where they are not supposed to grow
and need more herbicides to control them. Kronike says there is evidence
that weeds growing near GM crops become more resistant to herbicides.
Opponents also say that GM food makes farmers over-reliant on biotech
firms that supply the seeds and appropriate pesticides.
Q. Are there any health concerns?
Producers say there are no health concerns associated with GM foods.
"These crops are more tested than any other crops in the history of man,"
says Dry. "There has never been a single health issue associated with
Opponents say insufficient tests have been done and the long-term health
impact of GM foods is unknown. They warn that allowing GM crops to be
grown commercially would mean introducing genetic alterations into the
environment without full knowledge of the long-term consequences.
"What the industry says is that there is no proof that GM foods are
dangerous. What we say is that there is no proof that GM foods are safe,"
New York Times Writer: Food Is Too Cheap!
- ConsumerFreedom.com, October 13, 2003
In a New York Times Magazine cover story, food author Michael Pollan
labels America "the Republic of Fat" and blames our over-hyped "obesity
epidemic" on "a veritable mountain of cheap grain." Without talking to a
single consumer or considering how most people make their food decisions,
Pollan argues that food is just too darn cheap.
Pollan calls inexpensive corn "the building block of the 'fast-food
nation'," complaining that "cheap corn, transformed into cheap beef, is
what allowed McDonald's to supersize its burgers and still sell many of
them for no more than a dollar." If you're wondering what's so bad about
that, you're not alone.
Agricultural technology like "mechanization, hybrid seed, agrochemicals
and now genetically modified crops" have led to "abundant and cheap" raw
materials for food, Pollan notes. As a result, "the number and variety of
new snack foods in the supermarket have ballooned." The horror!
Pollan is by no means the only author who believes food should cost
American consumers more. Big Brother Kelly Brownell and food cop Marion
Nestle think so too. Speaking at a public health conference last year,
Nestle insisted: "[F]ood is too cheap in this country."
Pollan titled his article "The (Agri)Cultural Contradictions of Obesity"
-- an intentional riff on The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, which
argued that the success of capitalism will be its downfall. By the same
misguided token, Pollan suggests that our present cornucopia of food
options at relatively low prices is actually a bad sign.
One explanation for Pollan's counterintuitive thesis that food should cost
more is his bias in favor of small, local, and (small and local) organic
farms. In a May 2001 article for the Times Magazine, Pollan wrote:
[T]here are values that the new corporate -- and government --
construction of "organic" leaves out, values that once were part and
parcel of the word but that have since been abandoned as impractical or
unprofitable. I'm thinking of things like locally grown, like the humane
treatment of animals, like the value of a shorter and more legible food
chain, the preservation of family farms, even the promise of a
Pollan opposes large-scale agriculture and modern farming techniques for
sentimental reasons like "the promise of a countercuisine." If he gets his
wish and agriculture becomes less efficient, conventional food prices will
r ise -- making Pollan's favored products more competitive. While Pollan
should feel perfectly free to pay through the nose for food, most
consumers find no joy in spending more than they have to.