Today in AgBioView: February 24, 2004
* RE: Wheat Is at Forefront of Biotech Battle
* RE: GM crops will not help developing world
* RE: Jeffrey Smith's Seeds of Deception
* GM and TM
* Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo receives the Ceres Medal
* Manila rejects GM maize health findings
* Statement by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick Regarding China’s Approval of Final Safety Certificates for Key U.S. Agricultural Products
* China OKs import of 5 genetically modified crops
* Think Carefully Before You Vote – No on H
* Elvis lives, MI5 murdered Diana, MMR is dangerous
* Critics will always make a meal of cautious government welcome to GM foods
* Travel Grants for ABIC Meeting
* Golden Rice May Pave Way for GM Acceptance
* Pharmaceutical Crops - Promise or Peril?
* What Should be the Role and Focus of Biotechnology in the Agricultural Research Agendas of Developing Countries?
* Enhanced Animal Feed Will Be a Boon for the Environment
* Keys to Capacity
iotech Battle", I thought you might find the following information interesting. I worked for a French-owned company in Hayward, California from 1985 to 1990, when I left to do food safety work for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
During the time I was at Sogetal, one of our projects was transforming wheat. Sogetal successfully created genetically engineered wheat about 1991. However, the French-owned parent company subsequently lost interest in the project and sold all the company's rights to another biotechnology company.
GMO wheat has thus been around a while, just not commercialized.
The people who "... worry that genetically modified foods are unsafe and could harm the environment." are the same fanatics with the same tired, old arguments. The facts speak otherwise. GMO crops are neither unsafe nor do they harm the environment. Those who say they do are misinformed.
John W. Cross, Ph.D.
From: "cps" to Colin Fudge (Guardian Writer)
I read everything you had to say, published on AgBioWorld, and I find inexplicable the notion that it is appropriate to call attention to the shortcomings of government and experts in general, as if such insight is sufficient. When someone is dying, you don't worry about who is right, or not. None of that matters. You take whatever resources you have, and you act to assist. If something better comes along, you take advantage of it.
Right now, biotechnology has something to offer, and that's enough for me. Of course, I'm in the USA, and I eat food everyday, and I know everything I eat has been genetically modified since the beginning of time. I am not going to stop eating because you aren't sure what I should consume. It's my decision to make, not yours. You are entitled to your opinion, but please don't impose it on me. And, don't impose it on people who have no choices. Let them decide! That would be the ethical thing to do.
S M Anderson
MY COMMENTS ON TUDGE ARE IN CAPS - THOMAS DEGREGORI, PHD
Genetically modified crops will not help the developing world
- Colin Tudge, Guardian, Feb 20, 2004
COLIN TUDGE OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER. HIS ARGUMENT IS SIMILAR TO THE ONE MADE IN THE 1950S THAT WE DIDN'T NEED NEW RESEARCH (EG. THE GREEN REVOLUTION) SINCE THE EXISTING TECHNOLOGY IN DEVELOPED COUNTIES WAS ALL THAT WAS NEEDED TO TRANSFORM WHAT WAS THEN CALLED THE "BACKWARD" OR "UNDERDEVELOPED" COUNTRIES. THE VERY "PLENTY OF FOOD" THAT THE BIOTECH CRITICS TOUT IS A RESULT OF OVERCOMING THE IDEOLOGY OF THEIR INTELLECTUAL PROGENTIORS.
Most worrying of all, though, is the truly astonishing ignorance of people in high places.
WHATIS TRULY "ASTONISHING" IS TUDGE'S LACK OF KNOWLEDGE (IGNORANCE?) ON THIS ISSUE.
The crucial claim for GM crops is that they are necessary. They can out-yield traditional varieties, and can be made especially rich in protein and vitamins.
TRUE AS CLAIMED!!
The world population stands at 6 billion, and the UN says it will reach 10 billion by 2050 - but then should level out. Present productivity could be doubled by improving traditional breeding and husbandry, so whatever the virtues of GMOs, necessity is not among them.
LIKELY TRUE BUT AT WHAT COST? THERE HAS BEEN MAJOR DETERIORATION IN THE SOILS OF MOST PARTS OF AFRICA (AND SOME PARTS OF LATIN AMERICA) BECAUSE OF TAKING MORE NUTRIENT FROM THE SOIL THAN IS RETURNED BECAUSE OF THE PROHIBITIVECOST OF FERTILIZER. BIOTECH ALONE WILL NOT SOLVE THIS PROBLEM BUT IT IS A VITAL COMPONENT IN ANY STRATEGY TO DO SO.
Present-day deficiencies are almost never caused by an inability to produce enough. Angola is a good example: it is always bordering on disaster, yet it has two-and-a-half times the area of France and every kind of climate, and only 12.5 million people. Its farmers are highly accomplished. Famines result not from inability but from the civil war that raged for 30 years.
MAYBE SO BUT WHAT ABOUT BANGLADESH (I COULD NAME MORE BUT ONE ISALL THAT IS NEEDED TO COUNTER THE ALLEGED UNIVERSALITYOFYOUR CLAIM) WHERE PROBABLY 70% OF THE CALORIES ARE DERIVED FROM RICE? SHAME ON TUDGE FOR TRYING TO PROVE HIS POINT BY SELECTING ONE COUNTRY!
Behind the claim that GMOs are necessary lies a deep - and racist - failure to appreciate traditional farming.
LOOK WHO IS CALLING WHOM RACISTS - IT IS THE WHITE NORTHERN EUROPEAN AND NORTH AMERICAN MALES (WITH A FEW TOKEN FEMALES) WHO RUN THE NGOs AND PRESUME TO SPEAK FOR THE POOR OF THE WORLD WHO ARE THE REAL RACISTS. THEY MAY HAVE FULLY PAID SUBSIDIARIES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES BUT THEY IN NO WAY SPEAK FORTHE PEOPLE OF THESE AREAS.
It's assumed that farmers of the developing world, with their small farms, cannot cope. But all who have looked closely know that traditional farmers are remarkably adept.
GRANTED THAT THEY ARE ADEPT BUT THEY ARE STILL POOR AND WITH A GROWING POPULATION THAT WILL HAVE TO FEED MORE PEOPLE ON LESS LAND.
Their greatest need is for financial security: especially small loans with regulated rates of interest.
IF TUDGE HAS NOT HEARD, THIS IS WHAT WAS DONE THROUGHOUT ASIA WHERE THE GREEN REVOLUTION HAS HAD ITS GREATEST SUCCESS. ONE HAS TO ASK THE QUESTION WHETHER TUDGE HAS EVER BEEN OUT TO A FARM AREA OF A POOR COUNTRY AND TALKED TO THE FARMERS ABOUT WHAT THEY WANTED AND NEEDED.
Technological innovation becomes pertinent only when the traditional ways have been given half a chance, and shown to be lacking.
THIS IS SO NONSENSICAL AS TO ALMOST DEFY BELIEF. ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WORKED WITH POOR FARMERS ANYWHERE KNOWS THAT THEY ARE CONTINUING TO LOOK FOR WHATEVER SOLUTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL OR OTHERWISE WILL ADDRESS THEIR PROBLEMS. WHAT WOULD VANDANA SHIVA TUDGE HAVE US TELL THEM? - KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING? IT IS BETTER TO BE IN A MYSTIC HARMONY WITH THE ENVIRONMENT THAN TO HAVE A BETTER CROP. THE REAL RACISM AGAIN, IS THOSE WHO DO NOT THINK THAT POOR FARMERS DO NOT WANT A BETTER TECHNOLOGY AND A LARGER CROP.
But, say the enthusiasts, GMOs are part of the transition from peasant-based, low-output subsistence to industrialised production based on biotech, modern chemistry and machines. This is "progress". It "liberates" the peasants,
TUDGE'S IGNORANCE IS EVEN MORE APPARENT HERE AS HE HAS NOT HEARD OF THE INCREASED RURAL EMPLOYMENT BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE GREEN REVOLUTION WHICH ALLOWED PART-TIME EMPLOYMENT FOR SMALL FARMERS TO EARN EXTRA MONEY FOR SCHOOL FEES AND OTHER ADDED AMENITIES OF LIFE. IN JAVA, OVERHALF THE FARMERS GET MORE THAN HALF THEIR INCOME OFF-FARM AND YET PRODUCE FAR MORE ON LESS LAND THAN THEIR PARENTS OR GRANDPARENTS DID.
But extra productivity can be harmful,
GET SERIOUS TUDGE. DO YOU WANT TO BE LESS PRODUCTIVE OR IS THAT SOMETHING THATIS ONLY GOOD FOR THOSE WITH SKIN PIGMENTATION THAT IS DARKER THAN YOURS? AFTERALL, YOU RAISED THE ISSUE OF RACISM.
while profit is achieved primarily by cutting labour, which is the most expensive input. In Britain and the US, only about 1% of the labour force works on the land. In India, as in the third world as a whole, it's 60%. If India farmed as the British do, 594 million people would be out of work. India's IT industry, flaunted as the hope for the future, employs 60,000 - which falls short of what would be required by 10,000 to one. To replace the status quo with hi-tech, low-labour, industrialised agriculture >would create social problems on a scale that mercifully has not yet been seen.
THAT IS RIGHT, LET US KEEP THEM POOR AND DOWN ON THE FARM IN NOBLE POVERTY. PEOPLE ARE NOT DUMB, THEY ARE MIGRATING TO CITIES BECAUSE THEY SEE THE POSSIBILITY OF A BETTER LIFE FOR THEMSELVES AND THEIR CHILDREN.
For the foreseeable future the world's economy has to be primarily agrarian.
CHECKITOUT, COLIN - CLOSE TO HALF THE WORLD'S POPULATION TODAY IS ALREADY URBAN OR HADN'T YOU NOTICED?
Ironically, one victim of the GM madness is science itself, for in principle GMOs could be of real use. I saw an example in Brazil: GM papaya, designed to resist local diseases. This is hi-tech as it should
be: designed by the people for the people.
I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BRAZILIAN VARIETY BUT THE PRSV DESTROYING THE PINEAPPLE IN HAWAII WAS OVERCOME BY BIOENGINEERING AT A MAJOR US UNIVERSITY. IN OTHER DEVELOPING WHERE I HAVE VISITED, THEY ARE USING WHAT WAS LEARNED IN THE US TO DEVELOPE THEIR OWN DISEASE RESISTANT VARIETIES. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY ARE FINDING SOLUTIONS THAT INVOLVED A COMBINATION OF BOTH LOCAL INITIATIVE AND INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE AND IN SOME INSTANCES INTERNATIONAL HELP! IT MAY BE IDEOLOGICALLY SATISFYING TO CONTRAST BETWEEN
TOP-DOW>N AND BOTTOM-UP AND INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL, BUT THE REALITY IS
QUITE DIFFERENT AS ANYONE WHO KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT THE GREEN REVOLUTION CAN TESTIFY. THE ONLY "GM madness" IS BY THOSE WHO WOULD LET IDEOLOGY INTERFERRE WITH THE EFFECTIVE USE OF A BENEFITIAL TECHNOLOGY.
Contrast this with GM "golden rice", widely presented as an unequivocal triumph. It is is fitted with a gene that produces carotene, which in effect is vitamin A - lack of which causes blindness in tens of millions of children. But carotene is one of the commonest organic compounds in nature. People who practise horticulture have no fear of vitamin A deficiency; and traditionally, horticulture was universal. Modern, corporate farming - monocultural rice, or maize grown for export as cattle feed - is a prime cause of the deficiency that lea>ds to blindness. It's all good for the GDP but not for people.
POOR PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF FRUIT AND VEGETABLES AND DO NOT NEED GREENPEACE OR TUDGE TO TELL THEM TO EAT MORE OF THEM! THIS IS TRULY RACIST (REMEMBER, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO INTRODUCED THAT TERM INTO THIS DISCOURSE.). IT IS THE YIELD-INCREASING TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION THAT HAS ALLOWED MANY PEOPLES TO SHIFT LANDOUT OF GRAIN PRODUCTION INTO MORE DIVERSE FORMS OF AGRICULTURE. AND IT WILL BE THE YEILD-INCREASING TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSFORMATION OF BIOTECHNOLOGY THAT WILL MAKE OUR CROPS MORE NUTRITIOUS AND ALLOW FOR MORE LAND TO BE USED FOR MORE DIVERSE PRODUCTION.
IS TUDGE AWARE OF THE INCREASE IN MAIZE PRODUCTION (AS WELL AS THE INCREASED IMPORTATION OF IT) IN THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES TO PROVIDE ITS INHABITANTS WITH MORE MEAT, MILK, EGGS CHICKEN, FISH AND CHEESE? OR DOES HE PREFER TO LET THEM EAT TOFU?
The prime task for people seriously interested in humanity's food problems is to help the world's small farmers.
DON'T PREACH TO US UNTIL YOU HAVE A BETTER STRATEGY AS SOME OF US HAVE BEEN DOING JUST THAT. CONTRARY TO POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS, THE POOR BENEFITED MORE PROPORTIONATELY BY THE GREEN REVOLUTION THAN ANY OTHER GROUP.
Technical up-grading is desirable, and could include GM.
But wholesale transition of the kind now in process, in which GM has become a key player, is a disaster. GMOs have drawn attention to the disaster, and for this perhaps we should be grateful.
PLEASE DRAW UP A BILL-OF-PARTICULARS FOR THESE DISATERS AND THE SAVIOR NGOs THAT RESCUED HUMANITY FROM THEM. IF YOU CAN'T NAME THEM, PLEASE BE GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO WITHDRAW THAT STATEMENT.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Web homepage [ http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg ]http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg
From: "Tom DeGregori" Add to Address Book
Subject: A real howler from Jeffrey Smith's Seeds of Deception
Page 128 of Seeds Of Deception - "According to Henry Miller, who was in charge of biotechnolgy issues at the FDA from 1979 to 1994, "the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do."
This quote form Henry was in the middle of a context on the lack of regulation of biotechnology. I presume the quote itself is accurate but the use of it is dishonest. Henry's point has been that the large firms were promoting a regime of over-regulation which would make it too costly for smaller firms to get their products approved and be competitive with the major biotech companies.
Henry has further made the point that whatever the sins of the corporate would be monoploists, they pale in comparison to those of their critics. I presume that would include those who (deliberately?) misuse a quote from someone to attempt to prove the very opposite of what was said. In some circles, that might be called lying.
GM and TM
- By Jim Peron; Full article at http://www.liberalvalues.org.nz/index.php?action=view_article&article_id=46
HL Mencken once wrote that he "never heard of a Socialist who did not also believe in some other quackery."
In 1926 he noted that after a government clamp down on the radical Left in the United States many socialists fled the movement for other "causes." He wrote that when socialism "collided slambang with the harsh and horrible facts" that its followers "fled in this direction and that. Some took to spiritualism, some to chiropractic, some to Genesis. Some, like [Upton] Sinclair, took to prohibition, the single tax, fasting, and the electronic vibrations of Dr. Abrams. But not one, so far as I can make out, took to sense."
Mencken seems to have gotten it right. He had the annoying habit of doing that. It attracted him legions of fans and many archenemies - the latter usually far more vocal than the former.
I was reminded of Mencken's comments when I got a phone call from someone who was an anti-GE activist who wanted information about what I had written in Free Exchange about initiatives.
But quickly his conversation turned to GE and he had an absolute fit when I said I supported GE.
It didn't take long to figure out a few things. First, he thought anyone who supported GE was either stupid or in the pay of the biotech industry. Second, he believed in massive cover-ups, conspiracies, plots and so on. He also talked about the "balance" of nature - a view of the world that I think is outdated and naive.
He brought up arguments that I tried to counter by citing the accepted literature. Well, it seems he also doesn't trust mainstream science, doesn't like modern medicine, doesn't trust evolutionary theory, ad infinitum. We clearly have opposite worldviews.
A bit of research turned up that he's a major GE opponent in New Zealand. He also believes in space aliens and secret technologies. He supports a long line of what I think to be quackery and since modern science thinks such things are quackery too he opposes modern science.
He quoted to me the book Hard to Swallow which is an anti-GE diatribe by Jeffrey Smith.
Coincidentally I've been researching Mr. Smith for the last week. Smith's book, originally published as Seeds of Destruction was published by himself. While the logo on the book said it was publish by Yes! Books it seems that the company operates out of Mr. Smith's dance studio. Smith has confirmed that the Yes! Books never published another book prior to his and none since.
What I found out about Mr. Smith, and which I will go into shortly, is that he's a member of a really bizarre cult that has designs on the anti-GE movement and has already infiltrated it. Their opposition to GE is not based on science. In fact, like this activist who called me today, they oppose science - which doesn't mean they won't use scientific jargon to support their arguments.
When this activist started quoting Smith as his source I asked him if he was involved with the cult in question. He says he's not. But he immediately assumed the question was an ad hominem argument. Is it?
I don't think so. We realise that many people have many reasons for believing what they do. And we know that some reasons are better than others. Even the most religious among us tend to dismiss faith-based reasoning particularly if the faith on which the reasoning is based is one other than their own.
A fundamentalist Baptist who argues for evolution would be an anomaly. A book about evolution by a Christian fundamentalist is not likely to be taken too seriously by anyone except fellow fundamentalists. The same is true if an orthodox Catholic wrote a book on stem cell research. We know there are people who interpret their science through theological lenses.
It's not that such people don't have the right to do so. It's just that most of us, particularly the media, take the scientific conclusions these people draw with a very large grain of salt. And rightly so!
But the Smith book is not taken that way. The political Left has a tendency of being duplicitous in their principles. They'll pooh-pooh books on evolution by a fundamentalist and dismiss articles on the science of stem cell research written by Catholics. In fact I clearly remember various Green groups attacking Julian Simon and his "pro-population" beliefs. They said Simon was a Catholic and he had an axe to grind - wasn't Simon actually Catholic, but that's neither here nor there.)
So Mr. Smith's cult leanings should be investigated. It's proper to ask what his worldview is and whether or not someone with such views should be considered an accurate source for scientific facts. And I think we'll see that he's not. More importantly we'll see that there is a vocal sub-group of Greenies who come to their views through their religious beliefs - beliefs that the vast majority of people would recognise as totally bizarre.
GMA GETS FAO MEDAL FOR MODERNIZING AGRICULTURE TO ATTAIN FOOD SECURITY, SOCIAL EQUITY & JOB CREATION
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today became the first Filipina to receive the Ceres Medal of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in recognition of her efforts to modernize agriculture to attain food security, social equity and greater job opportunities in the rural areas.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf presented the Ceres Medal to President Macapagal-Arroyo during a simple ceremony, held this morning at Malacanang's Rizal Room.
The Ceres Medal is named for an ancient Roman goddess believed to have taught mankind to plough the land, plant seeds and harvest food. Ceres symbolizes the important role of women in agricultural policy planning and program implementation, according to FAO.
President Macapagal-Arroyo said that she accepts the Ceres Medal, which is the woman's equivalent of the Nobel Prize or the Oscar Awards for food and agriculture, "with great pride as well as with deep humility."
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo joined the ranks of distinguished women leaders who have been conferred the Ceres Medal since FAO instituted the award in 1971. The awardees include Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Prime Minister Helen Clarke of New Zealand, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh.
The President said that her administration is currently implementing a P20 billion agriculture modernization program. To attain food security, it is propagating the Gloria hybrid rice variety, which will double or even triple rice harvest in the country, she said.
In the short period of her presidency, she pointed out that the administration had irrigated 500,000 hectares. She pledged to irrigate one million hectares annually, if she would win in the May elections.
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo said that the reforms in agriculture are part of her program design to reduce poverty, adding that bulk of the poor population lives in the rural areas.
Manila rejects GM maize health findings
- Reuters, 02.24.04
MANILA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Tuesday it would press ahead in using gene-modified (GM) maize as it doubted findings by a Norwegian scientist that some Filipino farm workers showed signs of exposure to the plant's anti-pest toxin.
"It's absurd. No biology student will believe it," Artemio Salazar, director of the corn programme of the Philippines' Department of Agriculture, told reporters.
Salazar was reacting to news blood samples from 39 people on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao carried increased levels of three different target antibodies, evidence of an immune reaction to the Bt toxin built into the maize gene to combat pests.
The results of the tests were disclosed on Monday by Norwegian scientist Terje Traavik in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of international talks on trade in genetically modified crops in Kuala Lumpur.
Traavik said the maize variety involved, sold as Dekalb 818 YG, came from U.S. crop company Monsanto (nyse: MON - news - people).
"The implication of the study is that the resistant gene got inserted into the human gene, which is impossible," Salazar, who has a doctorate in plant breeding and cytogenetics, said.
Salazar asked the Norwegian scientist to provide a copy of his findings for analysis by the government and other scientists.
Salazar said the Philippines, which allowed commercial planting of genetically modified maize or Bt corn for the first time last year, would not stop farmers from using the insect-repellant grain variety.
The Philippines, which imports about one million tonnes of corn or substitutes such as wheat for animal feed each year, expects the area planted to Bt corn this year to double to 30,000 hectares from 15,000 last year.
The country has a total corn area of 2.5 million hectares.
Monsanto Philippines Inc said it was "extremely unlikely that the limited production in the Philippines in a single season would have produced the claimed results."
It added in a statement: "There have been no documented cases of allergic reactions to Bt maize after seven years of broad commercial use on millions of hectares in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Spain and South Africa starting in 1996."
Statement by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick Regarding China’s Approval of Final Safety Certificates for Key U.S. Agricultural Products
- USDA, February 23, 2004
“The United States welcomes the announcement today that China’s Ministry of Agriculture has completed its biotechnology regulatory review of Roundup Ready soybeans and two corn and two cotton products. These biotech crop approvals are a significant development that should assure continued U.S. access to this important market.
“This announcement is good news for American farmers. China is the top foreign customer for U.S. soybeans and cotton. For the first five months of the current marketing year, U.S. soybean sales to China reached 8.3 million metric tons, more than a third of total U.S. soybean sales to all export destinations.
“China’s decision to approve permanent safety certificates for several biotechnology crops is another positive step for trade between our two countries and demonstrates the Chinese government’s commitment to the WTO principle of using sound science to determine such issues.
“We will continue to engage China on outstanding biotechnology issues to ensure that both American and Chinese farmers have access to this technology to increase agricultural productivity and to provide safe and wholesome products to consumers.”
Chinese government officials have announced the approval of permanent safety certificates for several grains derived from plants improved through biotechnology. The decision comes after extensive testing by Chinese scientists who confirmed the safety of these crops, which has long been realized in the United States. The successful outcome of this issue resulted from close cooperation between the United States and China.
Previously, China required traders to obtain temporary safety certificates, usually good for only a few months, if they wished to import biotech grains. China is expected to finalize the safety approvals for other biotechnology products in the near future.
In 2003, U.S. agricultural exports to China reached a record of nearly $5 billion, in large part due to record exports of soybeans, which reached nearly $2.9 billion. U.S. cotton sales to China also rose significantly, amounting to almost $740 million compared to $141 million the previous year.
China also issued today permanent safety certificates for two corn and two cotton products produced through modern biotechnology.
This is the first permanent approval issued by China for imports of a food commodity produced through modern biotechnology.
China OKs import of 5 genetically modified crops
- China Daily, By Zhao Huanxin, 2004-02-24
Foreign genetically altered crops can now enter China with the Ministry of Agriculture's official seal of approval.
The move formalizes earlier interim agreements with export businesses that had been granted temporary certificates of permission to trade genetically modified crops, such as soybeans, maize and cotton.
As of Monday, the ministry awarded its first batch of safety certificates for foreign genetically modified crops used for processing purposes in China.
The ministry also pledged to place the importation of agricultural biotech products under "normal'' administrative rules when related interim rules expire on April 20.
China issued new regulations in March 2002 requiring safety certificates for imported crops derived through biotechnology, or genetic modification.
Since then, the ministry has received 18 applications for certificates from five foreign biotech crop developers, ministry sources told China Daily last night.
The ministry has completed environment and food safety testing on seven genetically modified crop strains -- all from US biotech giant Monsanto.
It finally granted safety certificates to five of Monsanto strains: Roundup Ready soybeans, one version of Roundup Ready corn, YieldGard Corn Borer, Bollgard cotton and Roundup Ready cotton.
The certificates are valid for three to five years.
The other two -- NK603 maize and Mon863 maize -- were denied certificates for the time being, due to lack of necessary information, ministry officials said.
Monsanto developed the gene technology used in most US soybean seeds. China imported 20.74 million tons of soybeans last year, mostly from the US, customs statistics indicated.
Processing is under way for another 11 applications from DuPont, Dow AgroSciences in the US, Bayer of Germany and Syngenta in Switzerland for exporting genetically modified rapeseed crops and maize, according to the ministry.
The safety certificates are one of the key requirements for related genetically modified products to enter China.
Under China's statutes, all such crops entering the nation for research, production or processing must be certified by the ministry to ensure the goods are safe for people, animals and the environment.
"None of the safety testing on these genetically modified strains was finished within the 270 days when they entered China's biotechnology testing institutions,'' said a ministry official, who asked not to be identified.
The ministry then entrusted 21 biotechnology institutions to do the testing. Monsanto finally was granted approval after passing.
The 270-day period is prescribed in the Chinese regulations for the ministry to decide whether to give a permit to the exporters, said the official.
To ensure trade in biotech agriculture products was not disrupted, China made interim provisions three times since 2002, providing temporary certificates to foreign exporters of the products, such as US soybeans, said the official.
The last extension expires on April 20.
As soon as it completed its safety evaluation of biotech products, the ministry announced its first batch of safety certificates, with the first given to Monsanto.
"The Chinese Government's approval today of the final safety certificates for the importation of grain from biotech crops is good news for growers who plant crops improved through biotechnology,'' Jerry Hjelle, Monsanto's vice-president of regulatory affairs, said yesterday.
Issuance of these final safety certificates will allow for a more predictable process for traders and continued trade of Roundup Ready soybeans, the executive said in a statement.
With the safety certificates, exporters may apply for shipment of genetically modified agricultural products after their documents -- a safety administration registration form and safety measures -- are endorsed by the ministry.
Importers will be responsible for applying for labelling of the products as modified. They should also submit information with regard to how the bioengineered products are stored, processed and consumed, the ministry said in a bulletin posted yesterday at its website http://www.agri.gov.cn.
Think Carefully Before You Vote – No on H
- Truth About Trade and Technology, By Ted Sheely, 2/20/2004
“If God had wanted us to vote,” Jay Leno once quipped, “he would have given us candidates.”
I think of that joke whenever an election presents us with a choice between bad options. It also comes to mind whenever a half-baked initiative makes the statewide ballot out here in California--because then we really do face an election without any candidates and at least one bad option.
This year, however, it isn’t a statewide proposal that has caught my attention. Instead, it’s Measure H--a ballot question confined to voters in Mendocino County, about a hundred miles north of the San Francisco Bay. They’re being asked to turn back the clock with a ban on one of the most useful environmental tools available to farmers: biotechnology.
The strangest thing about Measure H is that it would accomplish absolutely
nothing: Although agricultural biotechnology is widely used and accepted throughout California and the nation, nobody in Mendocino County actually grows genetically-enhanced crops. In a very basic sense, this Measure H is a solution in search of a problem.
Not that biotech enhanced crops are a problem: They’ve helped farmers around the world boost their productivity, grow crops in cleaner fields while allowing a much more efficient use of our resources. That’s good for growers, consumers, and anybody who cares about the environment. Something as simple as increasing the yields on existing acreage reduces the pressure all of us face to convert wilderness into farmland. Isn’t that a worthwhile benefit?
So Measure H won’t solve any problems, but it will create plenty. Right now, farmers in Mendocino County don’t use biotechnology because they
can’t: Their crops aren’t yet available in genetically enhanced form. But one day they will be--and just as biotechnology saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from a devastating disease a few years ago, it may come to help Mendocino County’s grape growers and pear farmers. Is it really wise to ban something with such amazing potential?
But that’s in the future--and it’s easy for people to forget their long-term interests during a political campaign. Measure H presents short-term problems as well. Every law requires enforcement--but the authors of Measure H didn’t bother to identify any sources of funding for monitoring what people are planting in their backyards. This is fiscally foolish because it may require the country to raise taxes or divert resources from vital services. It may also lead to more government intrusion, as inspectors invade personal privacy to make sure everybody’s in compliance with the ban.
I don’t live in Mendocino County, so the outcome of the vote won’t affect me or my personal decision to grow biotech enhanced cotton--at least not right away. Yet Measure H isn’t an isolated event. It’s part of a small but growing national effort to stamp out agricultural biotechnology.
A year and a half ago, activists tried to convince Oregon voters to approve a complicated system of labels for grocery products and restaurant items containing biotech ingredients, which an overwhelming number of our foods do. Oregonians wisely rejected this idea because it would have been confusing and expensive--all in the service of achieving something of no value.
The Oregon vote was so lopsided that the enemies of biotechnology decided they needed to achieve a political victory somewhere, no matter how small the locality. So they went shopping for an ideal venue. They believe they’ve found it in Mendocino County because of its liberal reputation.
But is it liberal to ban a tool that has helped us fight diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, cancer, and other afflictions? Not in my book.
My immediate concern is that if Measure H passes in Mendocino County, its supporters will try to build upon their success and pass bans elsewhere--perhaps in my own county or for the whole state. That would be a terrible development for everybody. It would mean a less “environmentally friendly” system of farm production, higher prices in stores, and an increased temptation to plow more fields just to maintain our existing level of productivity.
That just doesn’t make sense. I hope people in Mendocino County decide to nip this problem in the bud and vote no on Measure H.
Elvis lives, MI5 murdered Diana, MMR is dangerous
- Tim Hames, THE TIMES (UK) February 23, 2004
The rational must unite against this loopy alliance of anti-science crackpots
The Pope, this newspaper reported on Saturday, is about to ensure that the first married woman acquires sainthood. Now that the precedent has been established, I would like to recommend Margaret Beckett for (eventual) canonisation.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, deserves this and other accolades for apparently convincing her colleagues in the Cabinet that there would be "no scientific case for an outright ban" on the cultivation of GM crops, and that it would be "irrational" for ministers to take the "easy way out" and concede one. If her view prevails, as seems probable, she will have struck a rare blow on behalf of sanity on the subject.
Less obvious candidates for the place at the right hand of the Almighty are the Sunday Times journos who have exposed Andrew Wakefield's claims about the MMR vaccine as "fatally flawed". A partial absolution for past sins would be sufficient reward for them.
That the conflict of interests behind the Wakefield crusade has been outlined is welcome. It is a tragedy, however, that it has come after six years of ceaseless scaremongering.
What both the GM crops row and the MMR controversy reveal is a new (or rather the reversion to an old) division. For many years the character and role of the State has been the main faultline in British politics. But arguments about the State aren't what they used to be, now that we are in an era when the two major parties are discussing whether public spending should be 42 per cent or 40 per cent of national income, each has agreed that health and education are the supreme national priorities and where thwe distinctions in their policies are largely technocratic.
What is emerging instead is a contest over the character and role of society. It can be witnessed in attitudes towards immigration, sexuality and women in the workplace. But above all it involves approaches to scientific progress. The contrast is between optimism and pessimism, confidence and fatalism, change and continuity, hope and fear, reason and reaction. The State is almost irrelevant to this debate.
The GM and MMR disputes are the first of many similar contests, which is why their resolution is especially important. On both questions an oddball alliance has emerged - the old Left, the old Right and the New Age have united against what they perceive as an "establishment" consisting of Whitehall, big business and the scientific community.
This alliance rages against those it believes are out to poison food, injure children, fry our brains with waves from mobile phones and their masts, slice up cuddly animals for the fun of it and, under the cover of "therapeutic" cloning, develop a master race of which the Nazis would have been envious.
Such suspicions, and the sense of a shared enemy, have made unlikely bedfellows of the Daily Mail and The Guardian, which jointly oppose GM crops.
This bizarre collection, apparently under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, has three features in common. The first is the reversion to a pre-Enlightenment view of humankind and history to a period before it was assumed that each succeeding generation was capable of doing, knowing and understanding more than the one before.
The second shared facet is an extraordinary passion, a paranoia even, for conspiracy. Not only are politicians, civil servants, business executives and scientists behaving recklessly but they are doing so deliberately. It is as if the "GM" in genetically modified crops stands for General Motors and the letters MMR represent Ministers, Money and Research. These opponents are the sort of people who believe not only that John F. Kennedy died as a result of an elaborate plot, that Elvis Presley is alive and wewll somewhere on the Moon and that Diana, Princess of Wales, was fiendishly murdered, but that the same organisation is responsible for all three events. And they are running the cover-up on flying saucers.
The third element is an attitude towards evidence that matches the credulity displayed by those who served on the O. J. Simpson jury. The fact that, on GM food, as the Royal Society put it, "the results of the farm-scale trials show that the weed management of the GM maize variety clearly has a less damaging effect on farmland wildlife than current conventional practice", is deemed no more valuable than that some bloke in the pub reckons his ploughman's lunch has started tasting peculiar lately.
The Wakefield "study" on MMR, which included a whopping 12 individual patients (some of whom, we are now told, were sent in his direction by parents already hostile to MMR), is deemed as valid as others that concluded that MMR was safe and that involved the study of three million children.
The real irony here is that those who favour logic and reason are far weaker than their opponents would suppose. Those most sympathetic to progress as a cause - the "modernisers" - are split between the three political parties, new Labour, the Conservative Portillistas and the heirs to Jo Grimond among the Liberal Democrats. And even among the activists among those groups they are not in a majority.
Despite the heroic efforts of a small number of underfunded groups, scientists remain inclined to fight separate battles over the likes of GM food, MMR, mobile phones, vivisection and therapeutic cloning, rather than combining forces to wage a wider war. Big businesses, partly because of competition between them, are similarly ineffective.
A little more conspiracy among the rational would, therefore, be helpful.
Critics will always make a meal of cautious government welcome to GM foods
- The Scotsman, By MAGNUS LINKLATER, 22 Feb 2004
ALWAYS distrust a leaked report. It is likely to be incomplete, probably biased, and will almost certainly be grinding an axe. Thus, when I read the telltale sentence: "Secret documents show that Tony Blair is planning to give the go-ahead to GM crops despite overwhelming public opposition ..." I took a very large pinch of salt. When, in addition, I saw the give-away phrase "Frankenstein Foods" to describe anything derived from genetically modified plants, I knew that I would have to discount at least 50% of what I was about to read.
GM crops are one of those subjects on which most people have hard and fast views. If you are a Green supporter, or a foodie, buy organic produce, or care passionately about the environment, you are likely to be adamantly against them. If, on the other hand, you believe that progress in science means taking risks, you are likely to be in favour. The truth, as always, is more complex than both but far more interesting.
Mr Blair may well be about to approve a very limited programme of GM planting, but the reports from his scientific advisers are cautious, conservative and immensely circumspect about the case for it. The most they have committed themselves to is judging it on a "case-by-case" basis.
The first crops will almost certainly be limited to maize, not exactly a massive part of the British farming scene. Thus far, however, they have given the thumbs down to sugar-beet and oilseed rape because they think there is a risk that the herbicides to be used with GM crops would contaminate the weeds, insect and bird-life around them.
There have been two science reviews so far, examining every available published paper and experiment on GM crops, including those from countries like America, China and Argentina, where they have been grown and consumed for many years. The panel of scientists, under the chairmanship of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, includes as many who are sceptical about GM crops as those who are enthusiastic.
What, therefore, is remarkable, is how much they agree on. For a start, they are virtually unanimous on the evidence that today’s GM food is as safe to eat as conventional foods. This is not only because Americans and Chinese have been eating it without adverse effect for years, but because the Government’s advisory committee has approved it.
As Janet Bainbridge, who chairs the committee puts it: "You can never guarantee absolute safety, but GM foods … are as safe, if not safer, than conventional alternatives."
Will GM crops contaminate neighbouring fields, in particular organic crops? There is an inevitable risk, and pollen from oilseed rape in particular can travel up to three kilometres in the wind. But maize and sugar-beet are seen as less of a threat, though there would have to be mandatory separation distances between fields of GM crops and organic farms. Will wildlife be harmed? The threat, if any, is not from the GM crops themselves but the herbicides to which they are resistant.
One of the strongest arguments for GM crops is that they can be used with so-called broad-spectrum herbicides that kill everything with leaves except the crop. This means that far less will be needed, which would help bio-diversity. There is, however, a risk to the immediate surrounding vegetation and insect life.
The most that can be said here is that the risk appears far smaller than opponents claim. The Science Review is cautious, but optimistic that the impact would be limited. It says there is no current evidence that wildlife would suffer, nor would soil health be adversely affected.
"However," it states, "almost all this data is drawn from small-scale, short-term studies and there is a need for larger … more realistic studies to be undertaken…" As for the nightmare vision of new breeds of super-weeds or super-pests, totally resistant to herbicides and covering the countryside, this seems unlikely. "There is no reason to expect different responses depending on whether a crop’s resistance was introduced by GM or by conventional breeding methods," it states.
There is more, much more of this, and no one could accuse the review body of ducking any of the charges laid against GM crops. It seems likely, therefore, that the government will take it as an amber if not a green light to press forward. "Genetic modification is not a homogeneous technology," say the scientists, "and each specific application must be considered on a case by case basis." So why, opponents will argue, take the risk at all?
The answer is simple: science cannot stay still. Breeding better, stronger, more productive crops has been part of farming since agriculture began. GM introduces a new element undoubtedly, by transferring genes from different plant species, but in essence it is a development of the same improving practice.
It does have benefits, though not perhaps as many as its supporters claim, and since it has now been adopted by many other countries, including Switzerland, it would be hard to resist it for ever. So can we trust the government to get it right?
The problem is Mr Blair himself. His track record on science is not particularly admirable. He resisted vaccination during the foot and mouth outbreak, not because the science was unpersuasive, but because the farmers resisted it. In the case of GM crops, he will have to convince the doubters that he is not simply a creature of big companies, like Monsanto, which are pressing the GM case, and the US President who wants to see the ban on GM imports lifted. The fact that his science minister, Lord Sainsbury, has a financial stake in the outcome, albeit through a blind trust, while his new press secretary, David Hill, is a former adviser to Monsanto, will make it even more important that he demonstrates impartiality, leaving the arguments to the experts.
Even here, however, one cannot be entirely certain. As one top scientist put it recently: "One man’s sound science, is another’s matter for debate." Whatever step is taken is bound to provoke dissent. However, to take one cautious step in the direction of one crop, judged to be reasonably safe, seems sensible to me. As to the longer term, I would move slowly. I like the sound of a major review to be launched by the World Bank. It will be headed by a man with impeccable credentials on both sides of the environmental debate.
Bob Watson, the bank’s chief scientist, has worked on ozone depletion and global warming. His view is that when you are taking really big decisions like this, you should talk not only to the scientists, but to everyone involved, from biotechnology experts to small farmers and fishermen. They are the ones, after all, with most experience of nature at first hand, and their views deserve to be listened to.
"The longer I live," he says, "the more I realise that scientists are not the only people who ask the right questions." Nor, for sure, are politicians.
Travel Grants for ABIC Meeting
- For ABIC 2004 to be held in Cologne, Germany in September 2004
The ABIC Foundation has set aside funds to provide for two travel bursaries for ABIC conferences. The bursaries cover the cost of return travel for two individuals to attend an ABIC conference. The bursaries were created to encourage ABIC attendance from among young scientists in emerging nations. With this gesture, the ABIC Foundation hopes to assist promising new researchers by making the ABIC network of agbiotech contacts more accessible.
The bursaries are open to young scientists in developing countries whose potential has come to the attention of the ABIC Foundation. Applications will be accepted from graduate students or post-doctoral fellows at accredited post-secondary institutions whose studies are closely focused on agricultural biotechnology.
Candidates will be evaluated by the Foundation's Board based on the following criteria:
More information at http://www.unesco.org/iau/
Golden Rice May Pave Way for GM Acceptance
- Reuters, 20 February 2004
Scientists say China leads in development of GM rice after pumping in huge sums of government funds into plant biotechnology to improve national food security. Some say it is developing the largest research capacity outside of North America.
The country is already conducting large-scale field trials on insect- and disease-resistant rice in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, they say. Still, Beijing has put off commercialisation of the GM rice due to rising safety concerns. "China may approve the GM rice," said Dayuan Xue, a professor at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, who also works for the State Environmental Protection Administration of China.
"(But) I think it will take at least another three years," he told Reuters, adding that Beijing had demanded more safety tests for both the food and the environment. For example, farmers in China and elsewhere grow BT cotton, a GM crop that is toxic to insects that attack it. But Xue said the crop might encourage successive generations of the insects to become more resistant to poisons, making the problem worse.
He added that, while farmers benefited from BT cotton, which requires less pesticide against bollworms, the benefits were not necessarily large in some areas suffering from other pests.
NEW GENERATION. Scientists say that, while most GM crops commercialised so far were engineered to cut production costs, the next generation of transgenic crops, such as Golden Rice, would benefit consumers directly.
"The second generation is beginning now," said Samuel Sun, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who runs a joint project with China on rice that contains more lysine, one of the essential amino acids that the human body cannot make. "This is harder to do. More genes are involved," said the biologist. "For the first-generation products, such as insect resistance, one gene would do."
Golden Rice -- which is a yellowish grain with beta-carotene, a substance that human bodies convert to vitamin A -- includes three new genes, including two from daffodil and a bacterium. While GM critics have said the vitamin A content in Golden Rice is too small, others say any addition could make a difference to about 125 million children suffering from serious deficiency.
Scientists have successfully raised the vitamin A content since the invention of Golden Rice in 2001. Swapan Datta, a scientist working on Golden Rice at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, told Reuters IRRI would start field trials this year. It also planned tests on whether the vitamin A can be absorbed by the body.
Yet even if everything goes well, Datta and other scientists say, it will take at least another four to six years before Golden Rice makes it to the market.
CO-OPERATION. Scientists say Golden Rice, if successful, would also become a model for co-operation between public and private sectors in pursuit of human welfare. Inventors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer are claiming no property rights in Golden Rice. Neither are the companies whose technology they used to devise it, such as Monsanto, Syngenta AG and Bayer AG.
"This is one of the best examples that the private sector and the public institutions can work together," said IRRI's Datta. "If this project becomes successful, I believe in future many private sector (scientists) could be more interested in developing those technologies that can go to the people in developing countries."
In fact, some scientists and industry officials say that is already happening. The outcry from GM critics has also encouraged the private sector to do more to win consumer support. "I think things are changing," said Andrew Powell, an independent bio-consultant based in Singapore. "We see more and more partnerships between public research institutes and private sector companies."
Pharmaceutical Crops - Promise or Peril?
- Checkbiotech, 23 February 2004
Imagine hepatitis vaccines produced in corn, rabies vaccine in alfalfa, and anti-cancer drugs in potatoes. What seemed like science fiction not long ago is now science reality. Genetically engineered crops are not only being targeted to produce pharmaceuticals, but these crops are already being grown in agricultural fields throughout the United States.
"The acreages are still small, but there is potential for large increases in acreages as companies turn to crops to produce drugs," says Bob Peterson, a risk assessment researcher at Montana State University-Bozeman. The impact of this technology on agriculture could be substantial. "It sounds strange, but these pharmaceutical crops can actually produce human and animal drugs more efficiently than any other way," says Peterson.
In some cases, there is no other way to produce some of the new, therapeutic proteins except in plants. But, using genetically engineered crops to produce drugs poses questions not shared by other manufacturing methods. "Many of these questions arise from the simple fact that the crops are being produced in the open environment, which is a unique aspect in drug manufacturing," says Peterson.
How risky are these crops to people, wildlife, and agriculture? We need a way to understand the risks so we can make good decisions about how to regulate the technology. In a recent article published in the journal "Trends in Biotechnology," Peterson and Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University in Tempe propose a framework for assessing the risks posed by pharmaceutical crops. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they advocate using a science-based risk assessment method, which is well-established for many other technologies. In the article, they discuss how the existing method can be used for pharmaceutical crops.
The key to the risk assessment approach is to consider not only if a pharmaceutical crop has the possibility of causing an adverse effect, but also to determine the probability of an adverse effect happening. "Because of the lack of toxicity, many pharmaceutical proteins that will be produced in plants will challenge our ability to define an environmental hazard," says Peterson. It is much easier to conduct risk assessments with pesticides. They are usually toxic to some plants or animals.
Many pharmaceuticals can be grown in crops, and regulations will need to assess them on a case-by-case basis, he added. It would be a waste of money to impose a rigid regulatory scheme for these proteins that is similar to the way pesticides are regulated.
"Basically, we are talking about using food crops to produce non-food products. From a regulatory perspective, the crops are part of pharmaceutical manufacturing. Understanding the risks posed by this reality is important for all aspects of agriculture" Peterson said. This technology offers opportunities for Montana crop growers and businesses, he added.
"By working actively with this technology and its issues, Montana could become a leader in plant-based biopharmaceutical research and production," Peterson said. His work is being supported, in part, by a USDA special research grant to the Institute for Biobased Products at MSU.
An important aspect of risk assessment will be better communication with the public. "If people don't understand the process, they're not going to trust the decisions," says Peterson. The next steps for Peterson will be to conduct risk assessment research on pharmaceutical crops either currently being grown in the field or being considered for field production. He will do this in collaboration with researchers at Iowa State University in Ames.
What Should be the Role and Focus of Biotechnology in the Agricultural Research Agendas of Developing Countries?
- From Conference 8 of the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture; 13 November to 16 December 2002.
1. Bottom-up approach to agricultural research 2. How much of the limited resources available for agricultural research should be devoted to biotechnology? 3. What should be the priorities for biotechnology research in developing countries? 4. Focusing research towards the small farmer 5. National, regional and international research collaborations 6. Should developing countries adapt existing biotechnology products and techniques or develop their own? 7. Intellectual property rights and biotechnology research in developing countries
The document is available on the web at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C8/summary.htm. All of the messages posted during the conference are available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c8logs.htm.
- John Ruane, PhD, Forum Administrator; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.fao.org Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp
Enhanced Animal Feed Will Be a Boon for the Environment
More efficient use of animal feed will greatly reduce animal pollution. Plant biotechnology is already making animal feed safer for a wide variety of livestock and holds even more promise for creating feed that is more nutritious and better for the environment.
Bt corn -- enhanced with the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that wards off insect pests --already has lower levels of a harmful mold. And animal feed from this enhanced corn is considered healthier for both animals and humans.
But new animal feed being developed with plant biotechnology is expected to have even more benefits. Enhanced feed in development will allow animals to absorb essential nutrients in feed more efficiently, which will benefit the environment through a reduction in harmful wastes and will boost economic returns for farmers.
One way plant biotechnology is being used to improve animal feed is maximizing the way phosphorus, a critical nutrient for livestock, is utilized in feed. Animals need phosphorous to grow, reproduce and to maintain healthy bones.1 Both corn and soybeans contain significant amounts of phosphorus in a form called "phytate." But swine and poultry lack the necessary enzymes required to digest phytate.
As a result, this undigested phytate passes through animals' digestive systems and can pollute lakes and rivers. At the same time, because the phytate can not be digested, livestock diets must be supplemented with expensive inorganic phosphorus to ensure proper health.2
To help correct this imbalance, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that they can reduce the phosphorus waste from hogs by feeding them genetically enhanced corn that has lower levels of phytate and higher levels of digestible phosphorus.3
In the low-phytate corn, 64 percent of the phosphorus was available to the animal, compared to only 10 percent availability with traditional corn. Additionally, the researchers found no adverse affects from feeding hogs the low-phytate corn. "There is a tremendous increase in digestibility of phosphorus in the low-phytate corn," said Gary Allee, a swine nutritionist at the University of Missouri. "Low-phytate corn comes very close to supplying all phosphorus needs of a finishing pig."
Genetically enhanced feeds come just in time to feed a growing, more affluent global population that is consuming more meat. By 2020, it is expected that corn will surpass rice and wheat as the world's No. 1 crop. Rising incomes in Asia and Latin America are triggering a shift to increased meat consumption, which in turn is creating more demand for corn-based animal feeds, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). 4
Corn isn't the only animal feed to be enhanced so phosphorous can be more efficiently absorbed. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Animal Science looked at the effects of genetically enhanced low-phytate soybean feed on poultry. Researchers determined that the bioavailability of phosphorus in the low-phytate soy exceeded that of conventional soybean meal by 12 percent to 16 percent.5 Another approach to reducing the levels of environmental phosphorus pollution is through the use of phytase, an enzyme that is added to animal feed to improve the absorption of phosphorous.
Its use is mandated in some countries such as the Netherlands -- which has a tightly packed human population and a large hog-production industry -- where the problem of phosphorus buildup has reached critical proportions. The enzyme can reduce the level of phosphorus released in animal waste to about half the previous level.6 Although the enzyme is effective, it is also expensive -- about three times the cost of conventional phosphorus supplements -- and it degrades rapidly. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are currently developing ways to genetically enhance alfalfa to provide the supplement more economically.
They have developed a strain of alfalfa that can express phytase, which can then be extracted from the juice squeezed from the alfalfa plants. Using plants as "bioreactors" to produce phytase -- instead of the conventional method of using genetically enhanced organisms in fermentation vats to produce the enzyme -- is believed to be more cost-effective. 7 In addition, initial tests have shown that alfalfa juice was effective in replacing inorganic phosphorus supplements in the diets of chicks. 8
In much the same way, plant biotechnology is also being used to improve the balance of essential amino acids in feed -- lysine, methionine, tryptophan and threonine -- so animals can more efficiently make use of protein.
Without the proper balance of these essential amino acids, much of the protein in feed can't be absorbed and is passed on as nitrogen in animal waste, which can also pollute lakes and rivers. 9, 10
Boosting the levels of essential amino acids such as lysine, methionine, tryptophan and threonine would allow hogs and poultry to be fed lower-protein diets, according to Terry D. Etherton, professor of animal nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.11 "Feeding these GM varieties to pigs and poultry would greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen Š being excreted into the environment," Etherton said.
As safe as non-enhanced feed Nearly 60 studies have concluded that biotech animal feed is as good or better for animals than their traditional counterparts, is more economical for farmers, and results in milk, meat and egg products that are identical to those produced from animals fed non-enhanced feed, according to a 2003 report from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. 12
Currently, farm animals consume more than 75 percent of the U.S. biotech corn crop and a significant amount of the biotech soybean crop. The nutrients contained in this feed are nutritionally equivalent to their non-biotech counterparts, according to Barbara Glenn, the former executive vice president and scientific liaison for the Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS). 13
Biotech corn has been on the United States and Canadian markets for several years and is also approved in Spain, the Philippines and South Africa. These lion's share of the global biotech corn crop is used as animal feed. "When you look at biotech corn -- both grains and silage -- you find there isn't any difference in protein, fat, fatty acids or carbohydrate components compared to conventional corn," added Glenn. 14
Jimmy Clark, a professor of ruminant nutrition in animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reviewed the results of 23 research experiments that examined the differences between chickens, dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep that were fed biotech corn and soybeans an