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December 7, 2003


africabiotech.com, Europe Fails to Lift Ban, GM Sugar Beet More Environmentally Friendly, OECD urges better communication


Today in AgBioView: December 8, 2003:

* http://www.africabiotech.com
* Banning Biotech is Undemocratic
* GM Corn as Safe as Conventional
* GM Crops Benefit Growers
* Divided European Union fails to lift biotech crop ban
* GM sugar beet more environmentally friendly, claims study
* China becomes one of the top transgenic planting countries
* OECD urges better communication of science advances


New Educational Resource on African Agricultural Biotechnology Issues is
Now Online

The African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) announces the creation
of its new outeach website, http://www.africabiotech.com. The site
provides relevant and updated information on ag-biotech issues across
Africa to various stakeholders and also provides a forum for discussion on
these topics.

The web site has many interesting features including ag-biotech studies
and reports, recent news articles and contact information for scientists
and other experts in the field along with links to various other sites of
relevance. In addition, a discussion forum encourages member of the public
to exchange ideas with agricultural scientists and students. The website
will be thus of particular interest to scientists, scholars, policy
makers, media and students interested in the relevance of biotechnology to
agricultural productivity and food security issues in Africa.

ABSF (http://www.absfafrica.org) is a not-for-profit, non-political and
non-sectarian organization providing a platform for sharing, debating and
understanding all issues pertaining to biotechnology in agriculture,
health, industry and the environment.

ABSF's mission is to create an innovative and enabling biotechnology
environment in Africa through education, enhanced understanding and
awareness creation on all aspects of Biotechnology, Biosafety and
Intellectual Property rights.

For more information, please visit www.africabiotech.com and
www.absfafrica.org, or contact James Ochanda at absf@absfafrica.org.


ISAAA Crop Biotech Update


The African Journal of Biotechnology has released its November 2003 issue.
Abstracts and full articles are available for free at
November%202(11).htm. Authors may also submit their papers for posting to


äBanning biotechnology or specifically Bt corn, as some sectors propose
because of (certain) claims, is clearly undemocratic,ä says Dr. Eufemio T.
Rasco, Jr., Professor, University of the Philippines, Mindanao. Rasco
presented a paper during the recent Farmer to Farmer workshop that was
held last December 3 to 6 at the Asian Institute of Management Conference
Center in Makati City, Philippines.

Rasco argued that the ãfear of plant biotechnologyä is the real issue that
people should be greatly concerned about. He also clarified some of the
fears and false beliefs about plant biotechnology which are: 1. that
biotechnology is new and untested; and 2. that the process involved in
plant biotechnology is not necessarily bad, but its products can be

Speaking before 31 farmers from six countries, namely: Indonesia,
Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines, Rasco reiterated
that modern plant biotechnology is grounded on principles learned from
nature, and unlike natural biotechnology, it is more predictable and is
subjected to more systematic tests.

Also, negative claims or issues pertaining to plant biotechnology are
generally not supported by scientific evidence.


The European Food Safety Authorityâs (EFSA) Scientific Panel on
Genetically Modified Organisms has concluded that the herbicide-tolerant
GM maize NK 603 is as safe as conventional maize and making it
commercially available is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human or
animal health. This published opinion was released recently as the first
of a series of risk assessments of different GM plant varieties.

Dr. Harry Kuiper, chair of the scientific panel, said that they reviewed
the evidence presented on the GM maize to evaluate its safety. The risk
assessment process include the examination of: the DNA integrated into NK
603; the nature and safety of the target proteins by the transgenic event;
and the possibility that the genetic modification may have influenced the
safety, allergenicity and nutritional value of NK 603 in comparison with
conventional maize.

More details about the EFSA opinions can be viewed online at


Researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom (UK) say
that genetically modified (GM) sugar beet is more environmentally friendly
than conventional beet. ãOverall, herbicide-resistant GM beet was 15 to 50
per cent better for the environment, depending on what impact was being
measured,ä explained Richard Phipps of the School of Agriculture at the
University of Reading. Major benefit was that farmers spray less weed
killer and pesticide on GM beet.

The results are a contrast to the findings of the recently completed UK
farm-scale evaluations which concluded that GM sugar beet and GM oilseed
rape had a negative impact on farmland wildlife. Differences in results
were attributed to the impact measurement used. The University of Reading
study took into account the wider impacts of crop cultivation such as
their contribution to global warming, damage to the ozone layer and
toxicity to aquatic life while the farm-scale evaluations did not.

Phipps presented his preliminary findings to the UK governmentâs Advisory
Committee on Releases to the Environment. For more information, contact
Richard Phipps at r.h.phipps@reading.ac.uk.


The widespread adoption of plant biotechnology in corn, oilseed rape,
wheat, rice, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar beets and stone fruit in Europe can
result in significant yield increases, savings for growers, and pesticide
use reduction. This was revealed by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) in their report entitled ãPlant Biotechnology:
Potential Impact for Improving Pest Management in European Agriculture: A
Summary of Nine Case Studiesä.

Together the nine crops could increase yields by 8.5 billion kilograms per
year, increase grower net income by EUR 1.6 B per year, and reduce
pesticide use by 14.4 million kilograms per year compared with existing
practices. Biotech tomato offers the greatest yield and income, while
herbicide tolerant corn would result in largest pesticide reduction.

The report further notes that crops like virus resistant stone fruit
(peaches, apricots and plums) could save the industry in certain parts of
Italy, Austria, Spain, Greece and many other growing areas, while crops
like herbicide tolerant wheat could reduce pesticide use by 1.4 million
kilograms. Leonard Gianessi, program director of NCFAP says that ãthese
case studies show every country stands to benefit from development of the
new varieties evaluated in this study.ä

View the full report online at


Divided European Union fails to lift biotech crop ban

- The Associated Press, By Paul Geitner, 12/8/2003

BRUSSELS ÷ A divided European Union failed to agree on lifting its
5-year-old moratorium on new biotech foods, dragging out a dispute that
Washington charges violates world trade rules and contributes to
starvation in Africa.

A committee of national experts split 6-6 with three abstentions Monday on
allowing the sale of canned sweet corn from a strain developed by the
Swiss-based Syngenta company.

Spain, Britain, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Ireland were in favor;
Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal and France against; and
Germany, Italy and Belgium abstained.

The lack of a decision means the application will be kicked up to EU
ministers, probably in January, said EU spokeswoman Beate Gminder. If the
ministers don't make a decision in 90 days, the EU's head office ÷ which
made the proposal to approve the corn ÷ has the final word.

"We feel that all the conditions have been met," Gminder said. "We do have
clear labeling, we do have clear specific rules agreed."

The proposal was the first to be considered since EU governments enacted
strict labeling and traceability rules for products with genetically
modified ingredients last summer.

The European Commission has sought to reassure the United States that the
new rules, which take effect in April, would bring an end to the de facto
moratorium imposed in 1998 amid public fears about long-term environmental
and health effects of biotechnology.

But the Bush administration, charging the EU ban is unscientific and hurts
American exporters, started legal action in August at the World Trade
Organization to get it lifted.

Biotech crops, including corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist
insects or specific weed-killers, have been widely grown for years in the
United States.

U.S. President George W. Bush has also argued that the ban keeps African
nations from planting genetically modified crops ÷ even though such crops
have higher yields ÷ out of fear of losing European markets.

Environmental groups in Europe, which has suffered through mad cow disease
and other deadly food scares in recent years, called on the Commission to
resist U.S. pressure.

"The public doesn't want to eat (genetically modified) foods and question
marks remain over its safety," said Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth.
"The Commission must put the well-being of European citizens and their
environment before the business interests of the U.S. government and the
biotech industry."

Diplomats said the Commission refused a request to delay a vote on the
proposal, which was first presented in November, leading to the three
abstentions because ministries involved had not yet agreed on a position
on Syngenta's corn, which is known as Bt11.

French Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard said France voted no on the
advice of its own experts, who recently recommended more animal testing to
see if sugars in Bt11 corn are metabolized differently than traditional
feed corn.

"On this subject we have always been supporters of transparency and food
safety," Gaymard said during a visit to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Danish Food Minister Mariann Fisher Boel said her government would oppose
any approvals until the new EU labeling rules are implemented.

Another corn ÷ U.S.-based Monsanto's Roundup Ready ÷ was given a clean
bill of health last week by the European Food Safety Authority for use as
food or feed and could be submitted to the national experts for a vote in
February or March, Gminder said.

Such moves are intended to demonstrate the ban is being lifted before the
WTO panels begin hearing the complaints from the United States, Canada and
Argentina. No WTO ruling is expected before next summer at the earliest.


GM sugar beet more environmentally friendly, claims study

- Cordis News, 2003-12-08

Genetically modified (GM) sugar beet is better for the environment than
conventional beet, according to the first study of the wider impact of
such crops on the planet's ecosystem.

GM beet was found to be between 15 and 50 per cent more environmentally
friendly, depending on which type of impact was being assessed. These
figures were arrived at following analysis of a range of indicators,
including contribution to global warming, carcinogenic levels and toxicity
to aquatic life.

Explaining the findings, Richard Phripps of the University of Reading in
the UK said that herbicide-resistant GM beet requires a lot less weed
killer and pesticide treatment from farmers, for example. This leads to a
reduction in the amounts of tractor fuel used, thus reducing humankind's
impact on global warming.

The study is based on data from published literature, information from
farmers and field experiments on GM and conventional beet. Dr Phripps and
his colleague, Richard Bennett, catalogued all physical resources consumed
by farmers and the impact of any pollution. They call this approach
'life-cycle analysis'.

Their findings contradict the UK's highly publicised 'farm-scale
evaluations', released in October 2003. These saw scientists gauging the
effect of GM crops on farmland wildlife, and concluding, in the case of
sugar beet, that the introduction of GM has a negative impact on bees and

Dr Phripps argues that his approach, life cycle analysis, gives a broader
picture than simply the effect on wildlife. 'We're not having a pop at the
farm-scale evaluations, which were brilliant,' he said. 'We're simply
saying they looked at only one component of the system.'

The Phripps and Bennett study found that GM sugar beet has far fewer
negative effects on the environment than conventional crops in terms of
global warming, eco-toxicity, acidification, nutrification, toxic
particulates and carcinogenic levels.


China becomes one of the top transgenic planting countries

- People's Daily, December 07, 2003

The Chinese government attaches great importance to the research on
biotechnology and over 130 transgenic species involving more than 100
kinds of genes are under research. China has been among the world's front
ranks in terms of research achievements in the fields of transgenic
insect-resistant cotton, transgenic rice and gene engineering vaccines. In
2002, China became a leading transgenic planting country following the
United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina with a total cultivation area
exceeding 2.1 million hectares for transgenic crops.

The Chinese government attaches great importance to the research on
biotechnology and over 130 transgenic species involving more than 100
kinds of genes are under research. China has been among the world's front
ranks in terms of research achievements in the fields of transgenic
insect-resistant cotton, transgenic rice and gene engineering vaccines. In
2002, China became a leading transgenic planting country following the
United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina with a total cultivation area
exceeding 2.1 million hectares for transgenic crops.

This is learnt from the 7th APEC Seminar on Agricultural Biological
Technology and Biological Safety held on December 2 in Beijing. Zhang
Fengtong, director of the department of science and education under the
Ministry of Agriculture, said in an address made on behalf of China that
China, while energetically developing biotechnology, attaches great
importance to its influence on the eco-environment and human health. As
early as 1993, China had published relevant laws and regulations on the
safety management of gene engineering. In 2001, the State Council issued
"Rules on Safety Management of Agricultural Transgenic Plants". According
to the rules, the Ministry of Agriculture released three associated
regulations on safety assessment, import and export and symbol early last
year for comprehensive management of the research, experiment, production,
processing, operation and import and export of agricultural transgenic

From 1997 to September 2003, the said Ministry, based an a safety
appraisal, approved that over 10 kinds of transgenic plants such as rice,
corn, cotton, soybean, rape and potato are to be released in farm, and
that plants including transgenic cotton, tomato and pimiento and
microorganism gene engineering vaccines for animals to be put into
commercial production.


OECD urges better communication of science advances

- Reuters, PARIS, Dec 8

Governments must do more to educate people about scientific and
technological advances to counter misinformation and often unfounded fears
of risks to health and the environment, a free-market forum said on

Innovation in areas like e-commerce, nuclear power, stem cell research and
genetically modified crops offers huge growth potential, but public
confidence is vital, Donald Johnston, secretary-general of the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), told a forum
on investment.

"To preserve the vast potential of science to better the human condition,
governments must do much more to ensure the maintenance of public
confidence. Fears abound, stoked often by claims of some NGO activists who
exercise media power without... shouldering responsibility," Johnston

"Governments need to take back the initiative on science issues -- through
transparency, education and broad consultation. The public must understand
the trade-offs."

Noisy protests have greeted recent innovations like genetically modifying
crops to make them immune to disease or improve their quality, or advances
in the use of stem cells as potential treatments for diseases like cancer.

Opponents of GM foods say tinkering with the genetic make-up of crops
could upset the natural balance of the environment with serious
consequences. Others worried about the effect on human health have
labelled such crops "Frankenfoods".

Controversy is also raging over research into the use of stem cells
because although they are found in adult tissue, the most flexible stem
cells are found in very young embryos. Johnston said the economic
potential of electronic commerce would never be fully realised unless
national and global regulatory frameworks were put in place to provide
consumer protection and give people the confidence to use the Internet

"Governments must be able to satisfy the public that they are equipped and
able to identify and manage the risks which might otherwise place the
safety, security and sometimes privacy of the public in jeopardy," he