Today in AgBioView: February 16, 2004
* Poles will lift ban on GM after EU accession
* The blindness of the greens
* Schröder's Reluctant Cabinet To Allow GMO Foods
* EU gets ready for second try at lifting GMO ban
* Confidence-Building Measures for GM Foods
* Taking aim at environmentalists
* GM beer eyes UK
16 Feb 2004
Poland has confirmed that it will overturn its ban on the sale of genetically modified food and the cultivation of GM crops once it accedes to the European Union.
Poland’s accession date has been set for 1 May 2004 and the country is working hard to prepare for the practical implications of membership. Rzeczpospolita reported that the Polish government had already submitted a draft bill to the country’s lower chamber, the Sejm, in which it proposes that the country’s regulations be brought into line with those of the EU without a transitional period.
The blindness of the greens
- The AGe, By Patrick Moore, February 16, 2004
I was raised in the tiny fishing and logging village of Winter Harbour on the north-west tip of Vancouver Island, where salmon spawned in the streams of the adjoining Pacific rainforest.
In school, I discovered ecology, and realised that through science I could gain insight into the natural beauties I had known as a child. In the late 1960s I was transformed into a radical environmental activist.
A ragtag group of activists and I sailed a leaky old halibut boat across the North Pacific to block the last US hydrogen bomb tests under President Richard Nixon. In the process I co-founded Greenpeace.
By the mid-1980s my interest was in "sustainable development" that would take environmental ideas and incorporate them into the traditional social and economic values that govern public policy and our daily behaviour.
Every morning, 6 billion people wake up with real needs for food, energy and materials.
The challenge is to provide for those needs in ways that reduce negative impact on the environment, while also being socially acceptable and technically and economically feasible.
Compromise and co-operation among environmentalists, government, industry and academia are essential for sustainability.
Not all my former colleagues saw things that way, however.
Many environmentalists rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favour of continued confrontation, ever-increasing extremism, and left-wing politics.
At the beginning of the modern environmental movement, Ayn Rand published Return of the Primitive, which contained an essay by Peter Schwartz The Anti-Industrial Revolution. In it, he warned that the new movement's agenda was anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-human.
At the time, he didn't get a lot of attention from the mainstream media or the public.
Environmentalists were often able to produce arguments that sounded reasonable, while doing good deeds like saving whales and making the air and water cleaner.
But now the chickens have come home to roost. The environmentalists' campaign against biotechnology in general, and genetic engineering in particular, has exposed their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.
By adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards a technology with so many potential benefits for humankind and the environment, they have lived up to Schwartz's predictions.
They have alienated themselves from scientists, intellectuals and internationalists.
It seems inevitable that the media and the public will, in time, see the insanity of their position.
On October 15, 2001, I found myself sitting in my office in Vancouver after Greenpeace activists in Paris prevented me from speaking via video conference to 400 delegates of the European Seed Association. The Greenpeacers chained themselves to seats in the auditorium and threatened to shout down the speakers. The venue was hastily shifted elsewhere, but the video-conferencing equipment couldn't be set up at the new location, leading to the cancellation of my keynote presentation.
The issue, in this case, was the application of biotechnology to agriculture and genetic modification. Surely these are topics covered by the rules of free speech.
Had those rules not been violated, I would have told the assembled that the accusations of "Frankenstein food" and "killer tomatoes" are as much a fantasy as the Hollywood movies they are borrowed from. I would have argued that, if adding a daffodil gene to rice in order to produce a genetically modified strain of rice can prevent half a million children from going blind each year, then we should move forward carefully to develop it. I would have told them that Greenpeace policy on genetics lacks any respect for logic or science.
In 2001, the European Commission released the results of 81 scientific studies on genetically modified organisms conducted by more than 400 research teams at a cost of $US65 million. The studies, which covered all areas of concern, have "not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods".
Clearly my former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth. And they choose to silence by force those of us who do care about it.
The campaign of fear now waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic. In the balance it is clear that the real benefits of genetic modification far outweigh the hypothetical and sometimes contrived risks claimed by its detractors.
The programs of genetic research and development now under way in labs and field stations around the world are entirely about benefiting society and the environment. Their purpose is to improve nutrition, to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals, to increase the productivity of our farmlands and forests, and to improve human health. Those who have adopted a zero-tolerance attitude towards genetic modification threaten to deny these many benefits by playing on fear of the unknown.
The case of "golden rice" provides a clear illustration of this. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Africa suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Among them, half a million children lose their eyesight each year, and millions more suffer from lesser symptoms. Golden rice has the potential to greatly reduce the suffering because it contains the gene that makes daffodils yellow, infusing the rice with beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.
Ingo Potrykus, the Swiss co-inventor of golden rice, has said that a commercial variety is now available for planting, but that it will be at least five years before golden rice will be able to work its way through the Byzantine regulatory system that has been set up as a result of the activists' campaign of misinformation and speculation. So the risk of not allowing farmers in Africa and Asia to grow golden rice is that another 2.5 million children will probably go blind.
What is the risk of allowing this humanitarian intervention to be planted? What possible risk could there be from a daffodil gene in a rice paddy? Yet Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the GM rice out of the fields if farmers dare to plant it. They have done everything they can to discredit the scientists and the technology, claiming it would take nine kilograms of rice a day to deliver sufficient vitamin A. Potrykus has demonstrated that only 100 grams of golden rice would provide 50 per cent of the daily need.
Surely there is some way to break through the misinformation and hysteria and provide a more balanced picture to the public. Surely, if reasonable people saw the choice between the risk of a daffodil gene in a rice plant and the certainty of millions of blind children, they would descend on Greenpeace offices around the world and demand to have their money back.
How is it that these charlatans continue to stymie progress on so many fronts when their arguments are nothing more than wild, scary speculation?
Schröder's Reluctant Cabinet To Allow GMO Foods
DW-World.de, Feb 11, 2004
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill regulating the cultivation of genetically modified organisms. The bill would make it legal for German farmers and supermarkets to sell GMO goods.
The bill passed by Germany's ministers aims to codify European Union legislation and guidelines for the cultivation and export of genetically modified organisms (GMO) into national law.
Several days ago, EU Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne criticized the German government for dragging its feet on regulating the export and import of GM foodstuffs out of fears that the products could swamp the market. But with a new set of regulations in place, EU member states no longer have the right to exclude GMOs from their territory, neither from cultivation nor from supermarket shelves.
On Wednesday, German Agriculture Minister Renate Künast conceded that her ministry could no longer prevent the cultivation of GM crops in Germany. But she pledged that her office would closely monitor crops.
"Should it turn out in the process of GMO cultivation that neighboring conventional or organic farming units are affected in a negative way, the bill provides the instruments for speedy lawsuits," Künast (photo) said. "Such lawsuits may be initiated if, for instance, a conventional farmer can no longer sell his produce under a specific high-quality or ecological label because his crops have been contaminated by GM strains.”
Critics: GMOs dangerous
But opponents of the use of GMOs are not convinced. They claim that not enough scientific evidence is available to gauge the impact of what they call GM-contaminated foodstuffs on humans.
"Genetically modified crops in general are dangerous for human health and also for the environment because what the g.e. (genetic engineering) industry is doing is putting new genes into new organisms, like taking a growth gene from a fish and putting it in a tomato," said Ulrike Brendel of Greenpeace Germany. "And of course nobody can predict what effects such a crude effort is having on human food and the environment."
Industry leaders claim that if the EU does not jump onto the GMO cultivation bandwagon, the continent may be left behind, then the continent will be left behind and put at a technological disadvantage over other countries who have deployed the cutting-edge agricultural methods.
But that may be a little off the mark, since few countries have adopted GMO foodstuffs despite a decade of attempts by American companies to promote genetically engineered agricultural technologies. Around 70 percent of land devoted to genetically engineered crops is in the United States, with almost all of the rest in Argentina and Canada. Most other countries have been put off by the potential risks.
Safeguards for conventional farmers
The new German bill doesn’t specify what steps GMO farmers here will have to do to protect neighboring areas from being effected by their crops. But in the event of contamination, the bill would allow for lawsuits to be filed and heard swiftly.
"Should it turn out in the process of GMO cultivation that neighbouring conventional or organic farming units are affected in a negative way," Künast said, "the bill provides the instruments for speedy lawsuits. Such lawsuits may be initiated, if for instance a conventional farmer can no longer sell his produce under a specific high-quality or ecological label because his crops have been contaminated by GM strains."
Künast also pointed out that it will be largely up to consumers to decide whether GMO foodstuffs become a major success in Germany. Mandatory labeling within the European Union informs consumers whether a product contains GMOs and thus gives them the freedom to decide what they want to place on their dinner tables.
The bill must still be approved in a vote by Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.
EU gets ready for second try at lifting GMO ban
- Reuters, 13 February, 2004, By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - EU environment experts will vote next week on whether to authorise a genetically modified (GM) variety of maize, in a likely re-run of a deadlocked December meeting that revealed the bloc's deep divisions over biotech policy.
The meeting, slated for Wednesday, will be the European Commission's second stab at persuading the EU's 15 member states to lift the bloc's five-year ban on new biotech products.
If they say 'yes', the vote would end the unofficial moratorium to the delight of the United States, Argentina and Canada, which have taken the EU to the World Trade Organisation for refusing to authorise any new GM strains since 1998.
A different EU committee, composed of food safety specialists, went through a very similar process in December for authorising another GM product. That debate ended in deadlock.
Next week's meeting will address a proposal to allow imports of a GM maize known as NK603, made by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto MON.N , for use in feed and industrial processing.
"NK603 will be submitted for a vote for processing and import only. If they (experts) agree, this would mean lifting the moratorium. But it's too early to say which way it will go," a European Commission official said.
However, diplomats and Commission officials said the most likely outcome was a repeat of the December meeting, since little has changed politically among EU governments.
If this happens, the proposal will pass to EU ministers who then have three months to decide. If they reach no decision, the Commission has the right to rubberstamp its own proposal.
EU farm ministers are currently looking at the Commission's proposal to allow imports of Bt-11 maize, marketed by Swiss agrochemicals maker Syngenta.
In December, the food safety committee was split roughly 50-50. Six backed the Commission's proposal to authorise Bt-11: Spain, Ireland, Britain, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden.
France, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Denmark and Luxembourg all voted against, while Belgium, Italy and Germany abstained.
Neither the Bt-11 nor NK603 applications relate to growing in Europe's fields -- the acid test for determining whether the EU has really lifted its biotech ban.
If approved, neither product would was expected to hit EU markets before mid-April.
The EU's ban was triggered when a handful of countries said in 1998 they would refuse new GM authorisations until there were stricter laws on testing and labelling.
U.S. farmers say the EU moratorium costs them millions of dollars a year in lost sales.
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 10:14:37 -0700
From: "Gary Marchant"
Subject: Confidence-Building Measures for GM Foods
Posted by: Gary E. Marchant, ASU College of Law Subject: Confidence-Building Measures for GM Foods
The proceedings of a December 2002 conference on Confidence-Building Measures for Genetically Modified Foods have been published in a special issue of Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science and Technology. The conference was sponsored by the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology. Contributions include:
- Thomas P. Redick, Stewardship for Biotech Crops: Strategies for Improving Global Consumer Confidence
- Gregory N. Mandel, Confidence-Building Measures for Genetically Modified
Products: Stakeholder Teamwork on Regulatory Proposals
- Rebecca M. Bratspies, Bridging the Genetic Divide: Confidence-Building Measures for Genetically Modified Crops
- Serina Vandergrift and Christine Gould, Issues Surrounding the International Regulation of Adventitious Presence and Biotechnology
- Gary E. Marchant and Andrew Askland, GM Foods: Potential Public Consultation and Participation Mechanisms
- Douglas A. Powell, Katija A. Blaine & Ben Chapman, Enhancing Consumer Confidence in Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetically Engineered Food
- Jane Maienschein, Confidence Building: In What, for Whom, and Why?
I have some extra copies of the journal, and would be happy to provide a complementary copy to interested persons upon request. Send requests to email@example.com.
Taking aim at environmentalists
- Scripps Howard News Service, By Linda Seebach, February 13, 2004
If I were to tell you that the Congress of Racial Equality held a teach-in last month, and that among the featured speakers was one of the founders of Greenpeace, what would you suppose was the agenda?
Denouncing the policies of rich-world environmentalists whose policies mean suffering and death for hundreds of millions of destitute people in poor countries, especially in Africa. That's what.
Participants minced no words in their description of the event, and I intend to deliver them to you largely unminced as well, because they know what they are talking about and they've said it better than I ever could.
"We must put humanity back into the environmental debate," said CORE national spokesman Niger Innis. "We all want to protect our planet. But we must stop trying to protect it from bogus or illusory threats - and on the backs, and the graves, of the world's most powerless and impoverished people.
"The green movement imposes the views of mostly wealthy, comfortable Americans and Europeans on mostly poor, desperate Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. It violates their most basic human rights," he said.
Paul Driessen is the author of "Eco-Imperialism: Green Power. Black Death" (and a former member of the Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth).
"Eco-imperialism perpetuates poverty and misery," he said. "It's hypocritical and immoral, unethical and socially irresponsible. Worst of all, it's lethal. It simply has to end." (Information about the book is available on Driessen's Web site, www.eco-imperialism.com/html/12.html.)
Patrick Moore said that when he helped create Greenpeace in 1971, "I had no idea it would evolve into a band of scientific illiterates who use Gestapo tactics to silence people who wish to express their views in a civilized forum. I had no idea the movement would oppose genetic engineering and other programs that could benefit mankind - and adopt zero-tolerance policies that so clearly expose its intellectual and moral bankruptcy."
Want some specifics? Golden rice. This is rice that has had a daffodil gene added through genetic engineering, to help alleviate Vitamin A deficiencies that are common in areas where rice is a staple.
According to CORE's press release, "Every year, 500,000 children around the world go blind, as a result of vitamin A deficiency, noted Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee University and a native of India. Two million die from problems directly related to this simple lack of a common vitamin, often because they are so malnourished they cannot survive the malaria, dysentery and other diseases that also afflict them. If people could eat just 1.5 ounces of 'golden rice' a day, they could eliminate these threats, Dr. Prakash pointed out."
In another article (at www.taemag.com/issues/current-issue.asp), Moore said the tangle of red tape that environmentalists have imposed on any genetically modified crops guarantees that large-scale planting of golden rice will be delayed for at least five years. The cost of avoiding the insignificant risk of "a daffodil gene in a rice paddy" is the certainty that "another 2.5 million children will go blind."
Other examples? Genetically modified strains of soybeans and other crops allow farmers to use less herbicide. They are widely planted in the United States, without ill effect, but have been resisted elsewhere. In September 2003, the government of Brazil authorized the planting of GM soybean seeds, essentially conceding that the thriving black market indicated that farmers considered it a superior product.
In China and India, the planting of Bt cotton, which produces a natural pesticide, allows farmers to reduce their use of chemical pesticides by 70 percent to 80 percent.
Moore believes, and I think he's right, that countering the steady drumbeat of disaster from self-proclaimed environmentalists such as his former colleagues requires much more aggressive campaigning of scientific progress. (Why should the Luddites get to call themselves "progressive"?)
"Imagine an advertising campaign that showed graphic images of blind children in Africa, explained vitamin A deficiency, introduced golden rice and demonstrating how Greenpeace's actions are preventing the delivery of this cure," he suggests. Or one showing workers in developing countries applying liberal amounts of pesticides with no safety protection.
As it is, he says, "the activists are playing hardball" while the companies and organizations "are trying to project positive, clean and calming thoughts." That's not good enough.
"The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity," Moore said at the CORE teach-in. "The pain and suffering it inflicts on families in developing countries can no longer be tolerated."
If you want to join the opponents of progress, at least be honest about the costs.
GM beer eyes UK
- The Grocer, February 14, 2004
A Swedish microbrewer is looking to launch what it claims is the first beer to be made with genetically modified ingredients.
Kenth lager is made with a GM version of maize called Bt maize, which brewer Kenth Persson claims is as safe and healthy as conventional maize.
The beer is already sold in Sweden and now the brewer is understood to be keen on bringing it to the UK.
Samples of the beer will be available at next months Food & Drink Expo where it is hoped that retailers will respond as enthusiastically as it is claimed the Swedish public have.
However, one influential beer buyer said: Consumers are very reluctant to eat food containing GM products and I dont think beer will be any different.
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