Today in AgBioView: November 5, 2003:
* We Will See A Market For British-Grown Biotech Food
* It's Time to Modify Your Views on GM
* UK Sunday Times' Misleading Article on GM
* Supporters of GM Food Take to Streets of Paris
* British Report Says GM, Non-GM Crops Can Coexist in EU
* More Manure from the Soil Association
* Genetically Modified Bill May Kill Research in Brazil
* Kenya: Biotech Law Could Boost Food Output
* Biotech: A Solution for Ending Hunger and Poverty in Ghana
* GM Foods Feed The Future
* Public Goods and Public Policy for Ag Biotech - Papers
* Nairobi Centre Chosen to Boost Biosciences in Africa
* Advances In GM Plants In Pest Management
* Assessing Responses of Soil Microorganisms to GM Plants
The Saturday Essay "We Will See A Market For British-Grown Biotech Food"
- The Grocer (UK), Nov. 1, 2003
Read recent headlines, and you could easily believe that the GM foods
debate is done and dusted and any suggestion that genetically modified
products could find their way onto British supermarket shelves has been
consigned to a dusty file, deep in the heart of DEFRA.
A glance at the Daily Mail, and you would also think that crop-trampling
lobbyists have donated their white suits to Oxfam and the promoters of GM
have scurried back to laboratories in underground bunkers somewhere in
So, on the face of it, even putting aside the dramatic headlines, the
anti-GM brigade has had its best summer since the concept hit these
shores. The conclusions of the world's biggest environmental-impact study
of GM crops, although mixed, provided enough sound bites to be distorted
into headline fodder to feed the lobbyists.
Of three crops tested, two were found to be more harmful to the
environment than conventional ones; the third was kinder. Add the fact
that Monsanto has announced its exit from its European seeds business and
the Co-op has decided to ban the growing of GM crops on its land, and you
can understand the glee in bastions of all that is agri-natural.
Of course, much of the euphoria has centred on the government's attempts
to consult with consumers about GM. And, sadly, all the evidence coming my
way suggests that lobbyists with firm anti-GM agendas dominated at least
some of those meetings. At one session an official was reportedly heard to
comment ruefully: "We needed more of the silent majority. This meeting was
meant to be for the man in the street, but the man in the street stayed
But then, if well-practised, articulate activists are bussed to a meeting
the result is inevitable. And that's a pity, because, on the face of it,
the regional sessions were a perfect way to not only gauge real public
opinion but also present a balanced picture of GM.
So, despite the fact that GM crops have been eaten by America's millions
for nearly a decade and not a single example of harm from a GM product
licensed for humans has been filed, 93% of the UK still believes they are
unsafe to eat. Yet, significantly, the small print of the government's
recent GM Science Review found there was no evidence of any commercially
available variety that was "toxic, allergenic or nutritionally
deleterious". But then, that sort of technical, mind-blowing phrase was
never going to be sexy enough for a tabloid journalist on a mission.
But despite the lobbyists' celebrations and fear among a confused public,
I believe we will see a market for British-grown biotech food. And before
the Soil Association reaches for its rapid-reaction fax machine, let me
Sure, the agri-romantics who yearn for a return to the days of
rosy-cheeked milkmaids will take some convincing of the merits of
biotechnology in the food chain. Yet, most serious thinkers still charge
the biotech promoters with putting up a weak defence in the face of the
lobbyists when they could have been much more scientifically proactive.
For history shows the big groups were arrogant when they brought the idea
to our shores, with the result that they have rarely failed to regain the
media high ground. "Bring out a GM product that has real merit for the
shopper and watch it take off" is still an oft-heard phrase.
Clearly, several serious questions about GM technology need to be
resolved, most notably the environmental. But, listening to some of the
more articulate scientists recently, I don't fear that food safety is one
of them - a point that the concept's promoters have not pushed hard
And that's something Tony Blair might ponder as he considers the
commercial cultivation of GM crops in Britain. The debate is far from
It's Time to Modify Your Views on GM
- Lord Winston, Western Daily Press (UK), Oct 31, 2003
People increasingly distrust science and the technology it produces. There
has been public concern about nuclear power, about measles vaccines, about
the control of foot-and-mouth disease and recently about genetically
These issues are crucial to our health and welfare. But one of the
concerns that I have as a doctor and a scientist is that it is getting
more difficult to debate them rationally.
Take fears about GM crops. Partly these are because scientists have
arrogantly assumed that they know best and have pooh-poohed public
anxiety. But irresponsible headlines about "Frankenfoods", and press
photos of naked people wantonly trampling fields of modified corn, are not
helpful to serious discussion.
When Lord Melchett went unpunished after destroying GM fields grown in a
legal experiment, prejudice triumphed over knowledge. And it is outrageous
that HRH The Prince of Wales has led a misguided campaign against GM which
is largely instinctual.
It is an odd protest by Prince Charles seeing that, after generations of
inbreeding, he himself is one of the most genetically modified organisms
on the planet.
There is resistance to GM crops partly because few people realise how
beneficial they just might be. Once modified, different plants could
produce invaluable pharmaceuticals - vaccines, antibiotics,
anti-malarials, and hormones like insulin - at a tiny fraction of their
current cost. But what should grab our attention is that GM might help
many humans who are dying of starvation, or aid those whose malnutrition
causes huge susceptibility to diseases.
Six billion people live on Earth. In the next 25 years its population will
grow by another 2.5billion. Currently, about one-third of the world's
population is barely surviving on a starvation diet. For example, 75 per
cent of the population of Somalia and Afghanistan are malnourished, as are
around 220million people in India.
World food requirements should double in the next 25 years; the key
problem is water. All staple crops - for example cereals and rice -
require it. We need huge amounts. Just one kilo of cotton grown for
clothing manufacture needs 8,000 litres, while one kilo of rice requires
1,500 litres of water. Cereal production is declining because 40 per cent
of these foods necessitate irrigation - yet in the last decade or so 50
per cent of wetlands have disappeared.
And 40 per cent of edible plants are lost to pathogens, viruses and
parasites - usually when they are mature and have absorbed (and wasted)
their full complement of water.
There are many ways to help world starvation, but GM is one possible
solution. Genes could be inserted into plants, protecting them against
viruses and parasites. Other genes could greatly reduce a plant's need for
irrigation. Yet this research, a great humanitarian objective, is largely
prevented in this country, the country most skilled in these complex
studies. The embargo is not because these experiments have been shown to
be unsafe, or that they threaten human health.
GM is not undoubtedly the answer. I am not even saying that GM crops,
planted without restrictions, could not damage the ecology of the
countryside. Limited trials in GM fields conducted so far in
Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Suffolk and Dundee do demonstrate changes
in weed population, and the numbers of insects such as butterflies and
bees. Moreover these changes are not entirely predictable and seem to
depend on whether, for example, rape-seed or beet is planted.
And distant spread of pollen may be a problem. But my impression is that
no major risk has been demonstrated and arbitrary closure of trials would
be wrong. But our populist government seems too craven to fully endorse
the need for this research.
A major problem is that the public, understandably, do not feel that they
own this science.
This technology is almost entirely controlled by governments or by big
business. It is regrettable that Monsanto, a company with such a strong
commercial interest in this technology, showed such avarice in the early
phases of its development. And as long as some scientists show poor
ethical judgement over such issues as cloning, reproductive technology,
and the knowledge gained by the genome sequence, it is unsurprising that
most people will not trust what other responsible scientists might
Morality requires us to find a way of handing this technology to poorer
countries who need it - for their own control and benefit. This must not
merely be another way of exploiting the third world. And we should be
aware that in some countries, India for example, any exploitation could
possibly come from within that society itself.
This must be a matter for these countries to control themselves but,
paradoxically, the use of Western patent protection, employed responsibly,
could help prevent rich individuals exploiting poorer people from the same
society. Patents are not only for private enrichment. They could provide
protection to ordinary people, when responsibly enforced, both in advanced
and developing countries.
But without communication of the real facts and rational debate, it is
impossible for people to take sensible decisions. We in the West live in
an age that depends greatly on the benefits of science.
Scientists and governments have to ensure that adequate information is
given to the public and that we the scientists listen to the public's
properly evaluated concerns and react responsibly to them. Without this,
there is no assurance that scientific knowledge will be used for the
- Lord Winston's latest book, The Human Mind, has just been published by
Transworld, at £18.99.
UK Sunday Times' Misleading Article on GM
- George Baxter, email@example.com
On 15th September 2002, the Sunday Times ran a prominent front page
article claiming that GM had been detected in honey 2 miles from a trial
site. They went on to say that the Governments buffer zone policy was
I obtained a copy of the laboratory report. That was conducted by
GeneScan, in Bremen, Germany. The report shows the complete opposite of
what the Sunday Times had claimed.The report details four separate tests
which were run. Three of the tests were negative for any GM. The fourth
test was positive.
But there are disturbing aspects to the test. The test run was to amplify
the sample, and then test for GM. The amplification process is PCR
(polymerase chain reaction). Each cycle increases the amount of GM. It is
normally only used with 20-30 cycles. The Sunday Times laboratory test
needed 50 cycles to obtain that positive result. After three months of
pressure, GeneScan admitted that only 10-20 molecules at most would have
been in the sample.
The PCR technique is not an infallible one. The technique is known to be
unreliable at 50 cycles. In 2002, another controversial claim of GM spread
had to be withdrawn when serious doubts were raised using the same
technique. You could put almost anything the test and get a positive
result when using 50 cyles.
How much is 10-20 molecules in the sample? To put it into real world
context, the current EU laws permit 0.9% taint by weight. The GeneScan
result would be a million, million, million time below that level. In
reality is a ringing endorsement of the Government's policy of buffer
zones, to limit the spread of GM to neighbouring farms.
So three out of four tests, negative and the so called positive is
unreliable any highly questionable, and certainly not as claimed, there
was no justification for the publication of the item at all, let alone on
the front page.
The Sunday Times' compounded their guilt, by claiming that because
Governmental bodies had not complained about the results, they took that
as a confirmation of the results. That piece about the results of logic
nonsense came from the Sunday Times' legal department. The reality is that
the Food Standards Agency and Scottish Agricultural Science Agency did
actually express doubts the tests.
There is little doubt that the Sunday Times' article is grossly misleading
and inaccurate. The public have a right to know that they have been
mislead. It is sad reflection on the Sunday Times that they seem to lack
the integrity to admit that they got it wrong.
More at http://www.031312.org.uk/5961.html
From: George Baxter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Prof. Prakash, I am a pro-GM campaigner. I do not work for any
biotech company nor university or have I ever done. I campaign to undo the
lies and damage by the anti-GM lobby groups. I investigate the claims made
and where possible attempt to correct them.
There is a representation of 100 UK based scientists, complaining to the
UK Government, about media bias. I have a clear and explicit example where
a leading UK newspaper, the Sunday Times, mislead the public about GM.
They made claims that GM would spread beyond the Governments guidelines. I
obtained the laboratory report and it does not support the ST claim. In
fact, it upholds the Governments guidelines emphatically.
Such is the media bias in the UK that no newspaper will investigate
another, nor will the Press Complaints Commission investigate, despite the
truth of my investigation and the fact that the it fully complies with
their own published guidelines.
I have created a web site www.031312.org.uk, to publicise the inequity of
both the ST and the PCC. I appreciate your time is busy. I would
appreciate your review of the site and any assistence is publicising the
For your information, I do have other examples of how the UK public are
(1) The supermarkets in the UK withdrew GM from their shelves, claiming
public pressure. There is clear evidence that they did not recieve the
public pressure ( Greenpeace are advisors to one, and the Soil Association
[ organic standards group] are advisors to two others, they refuse to
publish details of how many letters they recieved ). If the UK public
really were against GM, then why did travel to the US rise, and not fall?
Why have the so called health food shops not risen?
(2) The Church of England banned GM on their 2000 farms. But the committee
was chaired by Ms Helen Browning of the Soil Association, and main
contributors were Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and amazingly, the
Natural Law party. The Natural Law party hosted a conference to eliminate
GM in 1998, and was attended by the GP, FoE and SA. So hardly surprising
the the CofE banned GM. But the media will not investigate that sort of
Thank you for your time. I am based in the UK. If you find this helpful,
or you want verification of any of the above, I will be happy to fax it to
you. -- Best wishes, George Baxter
Supporters of Genetically Modified Food Take to Streets of Paris
- Minnesota Public Radio: Marketplace Morning Report, Nov 3, 2003
KAI RYSSDAL, anchor: Europeans aren't big fans of genetically modified
food, but for the first time pro-GM activists have taken to the streets of
Paris. Genevieve Oger has more.
GENEVIEVE OGER reporting: The action was largely symbolic; activists took
a couple of stocks of genetically modified corn and planted them in the
garden just under the Eiffel Tower.
OGER: Fields containing GM plants have repeatedly been attacked by
environmental activists. One field destroyed in central France this past
August contained corn to be used in an experimental drug. Protester and
university Professor Guy Medier says anti-GM activists who do this are
trying to keep France in the Dark Ages.
Professor GUY MEDIER: Biotechnology is one of the main field of the future
of economy. And if France has nothing in this field, France will become
another Third World Country. And I don't want that for my country.
British Report Says GM, Non-GM Crops Can Coexist in EU
- Successful Farming, Agriculture Online http://www.agriculture.com/
PG Economics Ltd, a British firm of consultants to the plant genetic,
agricultural, agricultural supply, trade and food industries, has released
a research paper on the co-existence of genetically modified (GM) and
non-GM crops. The report is a case study of corn (maize) grown in Spain,
where Bt corn has been grown for six years. The authors say the report
offers a case study that is unique in the EU.
Evidence to date shows conventional, biotech and organic corn production
have co-existed without economic and commercial problems, they say.
Where non GM maize has been required in some markets, supplies have been
relatively easily obtained, the report found, based on market-driven
adherence to on/post farm segregation and by the purchase of corn from
regions where there has been limited adoption of Bt maize. Two isolated
instances of GMO adventitious presence in organic corn crops were reported
"The likelihood of co-existence problems arising remains fairly limited,
even if there is a significant expansion in both the areas planted to GM
crops and to organic maize," the author concluded.
PG Economics says its clients come from both public and private sectors,
and include the leading biotechnology companies, agro-chemical
manufacturers, seed companies & plant breeders, breakfast cereal
manufacturers, food processors, starch/sweetener manufacturers, Farmers
organisations and the European Commission.
Download the paper through a link at
More Manure from the Soil Association
- Tom DeGregori
>> RE - Organic toxin levels put consumers at risk, The Times Higher
>Education Supplement,Nov. 3, 2003
>> "A spokeswoman for the Soil Association, which regulates and campaigns
>for organic farming .... She added: > 'There is no real reason or
>evidence that organic farming has higher levels of mycotoxin'." ....
>> "But the Soil Association spokeswoman said anecdotal evidence suggested
>organic crops were less susceptible to fungi than conventional crops, as
>they possessed thicker plant-cell walls. She said fungal infections were
>best controlled through crop rotation, lower applications of nitrogen and
>the selection of resistant crops."
DeGregori Comment - A lie by any another name, remains a lie. In addition
to the silliness of offering what is admitted to be "anecdotal evidence,"
the spokesperson for the "Soil Association" violates the very principles
of zero that they have been advocating for conventional and transgenic
food. Further, once again we have the horrible double standard. For
transgenic products, the slogan is absence of evidence of harm does not
mean evidence of absence of harm. In a marvelous leap of "logic," this
somehow becomes evidence of harm.
But for "organic" food, not only we have gone beyond absence of evidence
of harm to both evidence of harm and to good solid scientific reasons for
potential harm. Unfortunately, to the Soil Association true believers,
this is somehow not "real reason or evidence" which therefore proclaims
the "anecdotal evidence" for superiority of the "organic" food. "Anecdotal
evidence" is somehow more "real" than measure scientific evidence.
Somehow, I am not laughing at the tortured "logic" of this anecdotal
MORE TO THE POINT - Several recent articles have touted the nutritional
superiority of "organic" produce based upon the fact that the plant is
"less well protected." "Less well protected" means among other things,
more likely to have been fungal infested which is "reason" to believe in
the greater fungal infestation of "organic" maize and the findings of the
often touted articles themselves and those of the UK Food Standards Agency
are evidence enough. The unidentified spokeswoman for the Soil Association
should know this or if she doesn't, it is irresponsible for her to make a
public comment on an issue on which she is ignorant.
In light of the recent statement from the soil association on fumonisin
infestation, is the soil association now prepared to repudiate the series
of articles that claim nutritional superiority for "organic" food products
because the plants are less well protected???
With wanton expectation, I await their reply that I do not expect to
Genetically Modified Bill May Kill Research in Brazil
- Mailson da Nobrega, Tendźncias Daily, Nov. 2003
Sao Paulo - According to scientists who study agriculture, the proposed
bio-security bill announced by the government this week will lead to an
enormous disincentive to research and innovation in the sector. Today, the
researcher has to go through an ordeal to obtain authorization to develop
The bureaucratic tangle limits research development, but the bill could
kill it all together. This because the bill would make it illegal to
produce a genetically modified organism without previous authorization.
This type of production however is a routine activity in laboratories
which work with bacteria and viruses. If the bill is passed research will
be subjected to excessive bureaucratic processes or may land the
researcher in jail.
Kenya: Biotech Law Could Boost Food Output
- Abdulsamad Ali and Willis Oketch, The East African Standard (Kenya),
Nov. 3, 2003
Nairobi - The Government plans to introduce new legislation to govern the
use of biotechnology in the country. This would enable the country put
the technology to various uses, including the development of high-yielding
crops, Agriculture Assistant Minister George Khaniri said.
The minister also revealed that a new policy on biosafety issues was being
developed. Khaniri, who was addressing a workshop in Mombasa attended by
more than 40 MPs, said the new law would benefit sectors such as
agriculture, health and environment. He asked MPs and scientists to
contribute to the Bill and ensure it served the interests of Kenyans now
and in the future.
Khaniri said the Government was keen on developing biotechnology to help
alleviate hunger, poverty and disease. He said in view of the growing
population, it was important to come up with a law that allowed Kenyans to
exploit new technologies.
The minister said Kenyan scientists were qualified and should strive to
come up with improved crops, both to feed the nation and for export.
Khaniri said research had shown that Kenya had some of the best crops in
He said crops such as soya, beans, cotton and canola could benefit many if
high yielding varieties were developed. Among those present were Bahari
MP Joe Khamisi, Assistant Minister Andrew Ligale and the National
Biosafety Framework Co-ordinator, Prof James Ochanda.
Biotechnology: A Solution for Ending Hunger and Poverty in Ghana
- Albert Wireko Osei, GhanaWeb, Nov. 4, 2003
Ghana‚s ratification of the Catagena protocol on bio-safety should have a
significant meaning to food policy and poverty reduction in the country.
In particular, it will help to deal with future population increases and
their impact on land tenure and management in the country.
The Catagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international treaty that sets up
a comprehensive regulatory system for ensuring the safe development,
transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms within and
across state borders.
By Ghana becoming a signatory to this agreement is a commitment that the
country must uphold and take seriously if hunger and poverty are to
reduce. The true test of this international agreement is how effective
food and agriculture policy makers use the country‚s membership in this
regulatory regime as participants of the technological revolution and not
as beneficiaries or observers.
The many food science and agricultural research agencies tasked with the
responsibility of developing food and agricultural science programs and
laying the foundation for an agricultural research policy framework to
serve the food needs of Ghanaians, have failed. The failure is in a large
part due to the non-integrated food production concepts that have been
introduced by many and uncoordinated institutions and organizations
involved in food and agricultural development schemes in the country.
Rather than implementing a holistic ecosystem and socially based programs
in food production and agricultural research that are responsive to
domestic, global food and agricultural production initiatives, food and
agricultural experts in the country have opted for a compartmentalized, ad
hoc and short term policy solutions by designating food production and
agricultural research initiatives to established agencies that assume the
primary responsibility of managing food and agricultural production
programs in the country.
While most of these existing agencies have adequately satisfied their
stated mandates, the current state of food and agricultural management
programs in Ghana, suggests that the existing state management programs
are not adequately responding to the current food challenges facing
consumers. One needs only look at the accelerated and widespread
increasing prices of food and agricultural products in the country, it is
easy to conclude that the agencies responsible for food and agricultural
production programs have failed to effectively manage the food and
The way forward is to demand a new navigational nudge that will amalgamate
the many food production and agricultural research agencies into a single
agency to collate and coordinate various knowledges of traditional, modern
food and agricultural production technologies to help meet the food
production needs of the country as well as her trading partners.
Biotechnology is after all to improve on already existing food and
agricultural technologies to produce higher yields. Ghana‚s traditional
fermentation and cross breeding programs alone, when well developed could
make the country competitive in the food and agricultural science
revolution and help secure for the country a respectable share of the
genetic food and agricultural products market.
The promotion of biotechnology should incorporate educational programs to
inform farmers about the seriousness of land fragmentation in food
production programs. Organic food production from small and marginalized
farmlands can be destructive to the ecology of the farm and at the end
make the food production processes unsustainable. In Pakistan, the
population is projected to increase from the current population size of
156 million to 345 million in 2050 but the average farmland will shrink
from 0.08 hectares to 0.03 hectares (the size of a tennis court). Ghana
faces a similar fate if the problem of land division and subdivision
Population growth affects the acquisition and availability of farmlands
more than anything else. When a farm passes from one generation to the
other, it is subdivided between the wife and the children. The high rate
of population growth in developing countries and the associated farmland
fragmentation-taking place, available arable lands for food production are
shrinking and that makes it difficult for farmers to produce enough food
to feed the hungry. Between 1970 and 1990, the Indian government recorded
49 to 82 million small farmlands with less than 2 hectares (5 acres) in
farm size. If the trend continues these shrinking farmlands will not be
able to support a society expected to add about 515 million people to its
current population of 1 billion in 2050. Therefore the question that
arises is how can such traditional and cultural practices of land division
and subdivision from one generation to the other change to improve land
availability to increase food production to reduce hunger and poverty in
In African countries such as Nigeria, the current population figure of 111
million people is projected to increase to 244 million in 2050. The per
capita farmland will shrink from 0.15 hectares to 0.07 hectares and that
will make Nigeria‚s current precarious food production prospect far more
difficult. Ghana is expected to add on additional 45 million people by the
year 2050 and the average farm size will fall from 0.25 to 0.09 hectares
per capita. This is attributed to the country‚s tradition and custom,
which require the holder of the land title to divide the land in equal
proportion among male and female children upon his or her death. The
practice of land division and sub-division between generations has
contributed to extreme land fragmentation and increasing landlessness in a
country where large farmlands promote productive food systems. These
cultural practices complicate the efforts to expand food production.
While Genetically Modified (GM) food and agricultural crops would help to
increase global food supply, it has the potential of limiting access to
low- income earners in developing countries. Many agricultural
organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organizations of the
United Nations (FAO), have argued that the biotechnology industry would
not contribute to food security because it would deepen the economic
inequalities inherent in the global food trading system by reducing access
and affordability to low income consumers, which clearly emerge as the
major cause of the disparities evident in regional food production and
But the prospect of adding 80 million or more people each year to the
global population over several decades is a problem facing world
agriculture and its ability to produce enough food to sustain present and
future populations. In each of the three world food systems, croplands,
rangelands and oceanic fisheries, the production increased dramatically
over the last half of the twentieth century but output in all these three
areas have declined considerably between 1950 and 2000. Croplands expanded
from 631 million to 1,860 million tons and grain harvest increased from
247 kilograms to 342 kilograms per capita, which outstripped human
population growth but production per person reduced to 308 kilograms in
The food insecurities in Ghana are a problem that requires changes in the
way food and agricultural products have been produced in the past. More
than 75 percent of people in the country are not eating adequately and
over 80 percent of children are not getting access to adequate food to
help them develop their mental and physical potentials. In addition to the
economic crises in the country, it is estimated that Ghana will not be
able to contain her population growth rates by 2050, if current food
production programs are not improved to respond to the country‚s current
and future food demands.
The government must now take the bold step of producing enough food to
reduce hunger and poverty in the country. Development cannot be promoted
on empty stomachs and neither could corruption be reduced in the midst of
widespread hunger and poverty. This means that our cultural practices also
need an overhaul, as our land and labor must now compete in the genetic
science economy. The socio-economic future of the country provides us with
pragmatic alternatives and choices, no more excuses but to move forward as
a country and prove to the world that Ghana is capable of addressing the
problem of hunger and poverty, as are already known.
The biotechnology industry is an important contributor to food and
agricultural crop production because of the use of modern scientific
methods to help boost global food production. The food production
successes by the industry have resulted in an upsurge of private sector
investment in agricultural biotechnology. The industry has demonstrated
that conventional agriculture lacks the capacity to produce enough food to
meet global food security needs and that food and agriculture policymakers
can develop an effective subsidized and distribution system for farmers to
make GM foods and agricultural products a valuable contributor in
producing affordable, accessible and available supply of food to feed
Ghanaians and those beyond her borders.
Hunger and poverty reduction must be addressed by integrating modern
agriculture with the traditional food production system and to make sure
that food and agricultural varieties, which were not part of the
traditional food system are introduced into the country to expand Ghana‚s
food and agricultural product base. Such a strategy would not only reduce
the importation of foreign foods and agricultural products into the
country but use the foreign earnings saved to rebuild the country‚s
degrading school system and to provide children with affordable,
accessible and available healthcare services. I have argued that the
future belongs to those who plan and prepare for it and the character of a
nation is measured in the way that country treats her children. No country
could realize her development goals while the collective will of her
children are challenged.
GM Foods Feed The Future
- Ishtiaque Masud, Arizona State University State Press, Nov. 4, 2003
By 2050, the global population will grow nearly 40 percent to reach 8.9
billion, according to the United Nations. And all these people will need
Here's the problem: Feeding them all will require the current global food
output to double or even triple. Genetically engineered food may just pose
the best solution to this upcoming dilemma.
"Genetic engineering" is nothing new to the agriculture industry; farmers
have always experimented with crossbreeding seeds to produce better, more
weather-resistant and better-tasting crops. However, modern biotechnology
involves genetic modification: the selective transfer of genes from one
organism to another.
Ordinary breeding can combine related varieties, but it cannot take a gene
from a bacterium, for instance, and transfer it to a wheat plant. The new
organisms resulting from gene transfers are called "transgenic" by
scientists, and "Frankenfood" by the anti-biotech crowd. These transgenic
crops promise enormous potential for the future of farming. Today,
scientists already have revolutionized the way many common crops are
Farmers always have had to plough soil to control weeds; the down side is
that plowed soil, having been stirred up and turned over again and again,
becomes lifeless. Once a tract of land is farmed, planters have to move on
to a new area to give the land time to revitalize the soil. This practice
is very hard on the land and has related environmental complications. As
October's issue of The Atlantic Monthly points out, "The point is not that
farming is an environmental crime - it is not - but that there is no
escaping the pressure it puts on the planet."
One of these new trends is no-till farming, which involves growing crops
without plowing the land. Biotech already has improved this situation in
one area. Genetically engineered crops can prevent habitat destruction by
allowing the same land to be farmed more productively and multiple times.
Genetically modified soybeans called Roundup Ready tolerate Roundup, an
herbicide that kills many kinds of weeds and then quickly breaks down into
harmless ingredients. Farmers using Roundup Ready can control weeds with
just a few applications of a single, relatively harmless herbicide instead
of multiple applications of more harmful products. The most important
benefits of such crops are twofold: Current land is being used more
efficiently, and pesticide also is being used less.
Scientists also have produced salt-tolerant crops and a cotton plant that
produces its own pesticide. This transgenic cottonseed reduced pesticide
use by more than 2 million pounds in the United States from 1996 to 2000
and reduced pesticide sprayings in parts of China by more than half. It
seems strange then, given all these potential benefits, that many
environmentalist groups have spoken out against genetically modified food.
Both the Sierra Club and Green Peace have objected to genetically
engineered crops. They say these crops pose unacceptable risks to
biodiversity and the ecosystem. In addition, consumers also have been
somewhat hesitant in the past to buy the new "Frankenfoods."
But as The Economist reported in July, "there is no evidence to suggest
that today's GM [genetically modified] crops are less safe to eat than
conventional foods." While it is true that certain ecological risks are
involved in genetic modification of crops, the huge potential benefits
certainly outweigh these risks. The important thing is that the government
creates a regulatory system to ensure that there is enough supervision in
this ultramodern industry. In the future, we will have to find ways to
maintain our agricultural output while doing as little environmental
damage as possible. That is where biotechnology comes in.
"Experts say 60 percent to 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery
shelves have genetically modified ingredients," according to WebMD. And
this number will continue to rise in coming years. In the future fight to
feed the world, genetic engineering will be a key player.
Ishtiaque Masud is an economics junior. You can reach him at
The Conference on "Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural
Biotechnology" took place in Ravello (Italy) on July 2003. The papers of
this meeting can be found at
- Vittorio Santaniello
Nairobi Centre Chosen to Boost Biosciences in Africa
- Kimani Chege and Duncan Mboyah, SciDev.Net, Oct. 31, 2003
Details of a US$21 million initiative to improve Africa's bioscience
research facilities and encourage African researchers to stay in the
region was announced yesterday (30 October) in Nairobi, Kenya. The
initiative includes a commitment to set up a biosciences research facility
for East and Central Africa at the Nairobi-based International Livestock
Research Institute (ILRI).
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the New
Partnership For African Development (NEPAD) are backing the initiative,
which will upgrade laboratories at ILRI and elsewhere to create
state-of-the-art research facilities. This is intended to pave the way for
a network of African őcentres of excellence‚ in science and technology.
"African scientists from all parts of the region [will be able] to
contribute to world-class research on some of Africa‚s biggest problems,"
says Wiseman Nkuhlu, chairman of the NEPAD steering committee, "These
advanced research facilities will be shared, offering a 'swing door'
rather than an 'ivory tower' to the wider research community."
Researchers will use the ILRI facilities to work towards a range of
objectives, such as developing nutrient-rich plants that are resistant to
stress and disease, and creating safe vaccines against livestock diseases.
The initiative will also provide funding for strengthening research
capacity elsewhere in Africa ,and will include a fellowships programme for
African scientists. It also aims to promote greater collaboration between
African researchers and leading public- and private-sector research
"Individual countries cannot afford to tackle serious agricultural
problems alone," says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI. "We need to
find ways of doing science that are more appropriate to poor countries. We
believe that the facility will attract many African scientists to remain
in Africa working on African problems."
Advances In Genetically Engineered (Transgenic) Plants In Pest
Management--An Over View
- R. Mohan Babu, A. Sajeena, K. Seetharaman and M.S. Reddy; Crop
Protection [Review], 2003, 22:9:1071-1086
Transgenic plants are produced via Agrobacterium mediated transformation
and other direct DNA transfer methods. A number of transgenes conferring
resistance to insects, diseases and herbicide tolerance have been
transferred into crop plants from a wide range of plant and bacterial
systems. In the majority of the cases, the genes showing expression in
transgenic plants are stably inherited into the progeny without
detrimental effects on the recipient plant. More interestingly, transgenic
plants under field conditions have also maintained increased levels of
Now, transgenic crops occupy 44.2 million hectares on global basis. During
the last 15 years, transformations have been produced in more than 100
plant species; notable examples include maize, wheat, soybean, tomato,
potato, cotton, rice, etc. Amongst these herbicide tolerant and insect
tolerant cotton, maize and soybean carrying Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
genes are grown on a commercial scale. Genetic transformation and gene
transfer are routine in many laboratories. However, isolation of useful
genes and their expression to the desired level to control insect pests
still involves considerable experimentation and resources.
Developing pest resistant varieties by insertion of a few or single
specific gene(s) is becoming an important component of breeding. Use of
endotoxin genes such as Bt and plant derived genes (proteinase inhibitors)
to the desired levels offers new opportunities to control insects and
strategies involving combination of genes. Transgenic technology should be
integrated in a total system approach for ecologically friendly and
sustainable pest management. Issues related to Intellectual property
rights, regulatory concerns, and public perceptions for release of
transgenics need to be considered. Providing wealth of information on gene
expression in higher plants by switching the gene on and off as and when
required, makes gene manipulation a more direct process for genetic
improvement of crops.
Assessing Responses of Soil Microorganisms to GM Plants
- George A. Kowalchuk, Maaike Bruinsma and Johannes A. van Veen; Trends in
Ecology and Evolution, 2003, 18:8:403-410
Abstract. Risk assessment concerns and recent advances in microbial
ecology have spurred a wave of research on the impact of genetically
modified (GM) crops on soil-borne microbial community structure and
function. Effects have often been observed, but these usually pale in
comparison with 'normal' sources of variation.
In spite of our incomplete knowledge of the microbial communities and
processes in plantŲsoil systems, recent technological and conceptual
improvements do offer a way forward. We propose a case-by-case approach
within a framework that targets both potentially vulnerable indicators as
well as general community parameters for assessing the impact of GM plants
on soil microorganisms.