Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 31, 2004:
* Aiding reluctant Angola
* Genetically Modified Grain Ban Cuts Food Aid for Angola in Half
* GM Ban Threatens Angola Food Aid
* Biotech Crop Area Increasing
* Norman E. Borlaug International Science And Technology Fellows Program
* Defining GM
* MAURITIUS ADOPTS GMO BILL
* Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation in the UK
* GM giant abandons bid to grow crops in Britain
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Finding Common International Goals
* Germany says restaurant food must be marked as GMO
* USDA and the Peterkin Papers
* Genetic upside
* Biotech Crops Continue to Gain Ground in the Americas
Aiding reluctant Angola
Omaha World Herald, March 31, 2004
Hunger, even starvation, may be consequence of ignorance, fear, avarice.
Hunger - somebody else's, at least - apparently isn't enough to make some Angolan government officials see sense.
The United Nations is trying to feed almost 2 million Angolans, most of them former war refugees. They are about to go hungry because their government has banned the import of genetically modified cereal grains, U.N. officials said. Food aid from the United States generally consists of corn and other grain crops grown from biotechnically engineered seeds, the same as are used in this country.
Angola isn't alone in its decision to inflict hunger, perhaps even starvation, on its own people. Southern Africa is in the midst of a drought, and food is scarce. But Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique have also refused to accept donated aid if biotech processes produced it.
Zambia has issued a blanket ban on all genetically modified foods. The other four countries want the grain to be milled, and thus unable to reproduce, before they accept it. Milling is costly; it reduces the amount of food that is donated; Angola doesn't have the mills to do the job itself.
Indeed, American donors have tried to comply with previous milling demands from some countries; the last-minute ultimatum from Angola, however, doesn't even leave enough time to get the job done under the best of circumstances.
Such foolishness might spring from ignorance, fear or, perhaps, avarice - Angola's government is notoriously corrupt. Whatever the roots, however, the flower will be suffering and, if the ban continues, perhaps death. But not, of course, for those who make such decisions.
Genetically Modified Grain Ban Cuts Food Aid for Angola in Half
- Voice of America, 31 Mar 2004
U.N. food rations for nearly two million Angolans are to be cut in half beginning Thursday, in part because the Angolan government recently decided to ban imports of genetically modified grain.
The Angolan government decided in the middle of March to ban imports of genetically modified food. That includes donated corn from the United States, where exporters do not differentiate between GM and non-GM crops. So all maize from the United States has to be treated as genetically modified.
On its own, the genetically modified food issue would cause logistical problems for the World Food Program. But the agency could probably deal with it. But the decision is being made during a funding crisis for WFP operations in Angola. The agency has only been able to raise a quarter of the money it needs for the coming year. WFP regional director Mike Sackett says the United States supplies about 75 percent of the aid for the WFP Angola program.
"We have really had relatively few contributions," he said. "And so we have a severe resource shortfall. And this problem has now been made worse by the fact that a cargo of 19,000 tons of maize from the United States has had to be canceled. And it will take us some time to come up with alternative commodities from the United States which comply with the new Angola legislation."
The new regulations do not mean that Angola will reject all U.S. grain, it just means it has to be milled in order to meet the new Angolan import requirements. That creates a delay that the World Food Program says it cannot afford.
Because of the funding crisis, the agency had already planned to cut food handouts in Angola by 30 percent starting Thursday, April 1. Now, because of the rejection of the U.S. grain shipment, Mr. Sackett says the food rations will be cut by half instead.
"Sadly, it is correct, it is very serious," he said. "WFP had a program plan to provide food, a standard ration, to 1.9 million people in Angola in the month of April. And the vast majority of these are newly resettled people. So after the war, they are people who have either gone back from the cities to the rural areas, or they have returned to Angola from neighboring countries. They will, from April, be put on a 50 percent ration as a reflection of our serious shortage of commodities."
Angolan officials have not explained their motive for banning genetically modified grain.
Two southern African nations, Zambia and Namibia, have essentially banned all GM grain in any form because of doubts about its safety. Those concerns are echoed by a number of European nations, but the United States insists that genetically modified foods are safe.
Four other countries in southern Africa have banned imports of genetically modified whole grain, but they will allow milled maize imports. They want to keep the genetically modified products from working their way into their domestic crops.
GM Ban Threatens Angola Food Aid
- The Mercury (South Africa), March 31, 2004
Luanda: Almost two million Angolans faced food shortages following a government decision to ban genetically modified food and a shortfall in donor contributions, the UN's food agency said this week.
The World Food Programme Regional Director for Southern Africa, Mike Sackett, said food aid from the United States, which makes up around 70% of total contributions to the country, could be rejected after Angolan ministers decided to ban the import of unmilled GM produce.
It was unclear when the new rules were due to come into force but Sackett said he had until today to confirm a 19 000-ton shipment of US maize and could lose the shipment after only learning about the new policy on March 18.
Sackett said Angola would accept milled maize but this was far more expensive, took four months to arrive and had a much shorter shelf life.
Opponents of GMO technology say non-GM maize is often contaminated or sometimes mixed with modified maize, making whole shipments of US corn off-limits.
Despite the country's fertile soil, 1.9 million Angolans, almost a fifth of the population, are dependent on food handouts.
About 1.5 million of these are refugees and internally displaced people as the country emerges from nearly three decades of civil war.
Sackett also said the UN body needed $143 million in food aid for the coming year, but had received only $34.5 million. As a result, food rations for every family would be cut by 30% in April and May, and by 50% thereafter.
Sackett said the government had not said whether the new rules applied only to cereals or to all foodstuffs.
Biotech Crop Area Increasing
- High Plains Journal, 03/31/2004
OMAHA (DTN) -- U.S. farmers intend to continue to increase planting of genetically modified crops, according to the latest planting intentions report from USDA.
Of the 75.41 million acres intended for soybeans this year, 86 percent will be for biotech varieties, up from 81 percent in 2003 and 75 percent in 2002.
GMO corn acreage will be on 46 percent of the 79 million acres, up from 40 percent last year and 30 percent in 2002.
Cotton acreage is projected at 14.40 million acres, with 76 percent biotech, up from 73 percent last year and 71 percent in 2002.
Veneman Announces Norman E. Borlaug International Science And Technology Fellows Program
Washington, March 29, 2004 - Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman today launched the Norman E. Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program to support technological progress in the developing world.
"This program will honor Dr. Borlaug by promoting the transfer and adoption of new technologies to improve global food availability," Veneman said during the program's inaugural event. "Science and technology can help raise agricultural productivity, improve food processing and marketing and address global hunger and poverty."
The Borlaug program will be targeted to developing countries, offering short-term scientific training in the United States and supporting the exchange of researchers, policymakers and university faculty. Participants will be placed at land grant and 1890's colleges and universities, USDA and other government agencies, international research centers and other nonprofit institutions and private companies.
In his speech at the Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology, hosted by Veneman in Sacramento last summer, Borlaug challenged government leaders to commit to efforts to accelerate the transfer of agricultural and food technologies to the developing world. "The Department of Agriculture is responding to Dr. Borlaug's challenge and shares his commitment," Veneman said. "This new program is the latest of several initiatives to build on the momentum from that conference."
Veneman recognized Borlaug, who recently turned 90, for his groundbreaking achievements and life-long commitment to raising agricultural productivity in parts of the world where poverty, hunger and malnutrition are worst. Often hailed as the father of the Green Revolution, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his success in developing high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties and reversing severe food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960's. Credited with saving millions of lives, his work virtually eliminated recurring famines in South Asia and helped global food production outpace population growth.
The Borlaug program will be open to participants worldwide but will focus on African, South American and Asian nations. Current plans are to place about 100 fellows from developing countries in the program. The program will be administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, land grant colleges and Texas A&M University, where Borlaug is professor emeritus.
In addition to Borlaug and Veneman, other speakers at today's announcement included Dr. J.B. Penn, USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; Dr. George H. Atkinson, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State; Dr. Edward Hiler, Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University; and Dr. Jim Butler, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
Borlaug is president of the Sasakawa Africa Association, which works with the Carter Center in encouraging sustainable development and raising the productivity of African farmers. He is also a senior consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. More than 60 years ago, Borlaug worked for USDA's Forest Service.
From: "Paul Christensen"
Subject: Defining GM
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2004 10:11:17 -0600
Defining GM: Response to Federoff and Apel
I agree with the objective of improving the image of biotechnology. I think that it is useful and desirable to draw parallels between the kind of genetic change used by our ancestors and predecessors in creating our most widely used crops with the changes involved with genetic engineering. I would hope that those comparisons would make members of the general public more comfortable with the products of modern recombinant DNA technology and biotechnology. However much I may agree with Dr. Federoff’s objectives, I can not agree with any expansion in what is meant by “genetic modification.”
The term “genetically modified” is so damaged by misinformation that I suggest that most authors would be well advised to edit it out of any serious manuscript. Using “genetic modification” without definition risks misinterpretation. Trying to save it with a definition consumes time that could be better used discussing the merits of the issue at hand and is unlikely to remove negative connotations from the mind of the general public.
Dr. Ramsey wisely points out that “In any meaningful discourse concerning GMO’s, distinctions must be made between the different techniques.” Our entire biotechnology regulatory system is based on case by case analysis of risks and benefits. Although this too can be frustrating at times, the use of case-by-case analysis provides us with experience on which we can build science-based evaluation and stewardship. As we build experience, it then becomes possible to create classes of traits and events which can be handled similarly and efficiently and the case-by-case approach can be replaced with meaningful categories that speed analysis.
There are those who suggest the use of the model of our current regulation of the products of genetic engineering for other technology. I would not want to encourage them in their attempts to inappropriately regulate what we know well. If the answer to the situation between the lack of parity in the regulation of the products of genetic engineering and new varieties created by more traditional plant breeding involving conventional crosses is to regulate plant breeding, I don’t want to be involved. I fear that expanding the definition of “genetic modification” in the awareness of the public could lead to non-science-based restrictions on plant breeding.
Both Grun and Federhoff agree that use and misuse of the term “genetic modification” can damage implementation of useful safe technology and put people in Africa at risk. For now, the damage associated with the public differentiation between varieties produced by recombinant technologies and those produced by convention technologies is perpetuated by any use of the term “genetically modified.” Whether it is used with good intentions or bad, the misconceptions are already present in the minds of the public.
The only way to avoid the negative connotations is to find other words for the concept. In so doing, there is some hope that the audience will pay attention to what is being said and not recall the misinformation that they have accumulated. Language is rich. If any term comes to have meaning that we do not accept, it may be easier to create a new term, and move on, rather than continuing to fight for a symbol that we do not need.
Asking “is this GM” will largely be unproductive if it is immediately translated to “is this something that is dangerous” in the mind of the listener, before any discussion of benefits and safety. Keep up the good work, but personally I think that attempts to rehabilitate “genetic modification,” would be better off without those specific words.
Seed Science Center, Iowa State University
MAURITIUS ADOPTS GMO BILL WHILE ANGOLA SEEKS BIOSAFETY REGULATIONS
The Mauritian Parliament has approved the production and sale of genetically modified organism (GMOs). Panafrican News Agency quotes Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger as saying that the new legislative order was not aimed at promoting GMOs but at ensuring that their import, sale, and production are properly authorized. Berenger added that GMO production has been increasing by 10 per cent annually and there has been “no evidence of adverse effects on people’s health.”
Meanwhile, Panafrican News Agency also reported that Angola's National Codex Alimentarius Committee has called for the development of new biosafety regulations on the sale and transport of genetically modified
(GM) products. The proposal follows the Angolan government's issuance last week of a ban on the import of GM seed and grain. Codex Committee Chairman Gomes Cardoso said that Angolan biosafety rules should adhere strictly to the precautionary principle as "provided for" by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and should conform with Southern African Development Community
(SADC) recommendations on biotechnology and biodiversity.
Cardoso called for all grain received as food aid to be ground before distribution and for a ban on the establishment of GM laboratories in Angola. He added that GM products should be controlled using scientific criteria. In promoting the development of biosafety regulations, the Codex Committee says that it will cooperate with Angolan institutions, including Angola's Phytogenetic Resources Centre, the customs department, and scientific laboratories. The committee, which is run by Angola's ministries of trade, industry, health, agriculture, and defense, was established in 2003 to develop food standards and update Angola's legislation on food products.
Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation in the UK
- Cordis News, 2004-03-31
The German company Bayer CropScience has scrapped plans to cultivate its genetically modified (GM) forage maize variety Chardon LL in the UK, citing government constraints for making it 'economically non viable'.
The company was the only one authorised to grow GM maize in the UK, and the government believes that Bayer's decision not to press ahead with commercialisation means that it is unlikely that GM crops will be grown in the UK for the 'foreseeable future'.
In a statement issued by Bayer CropScience on 31 March, the company welcomes the UK government's policy announcement on GM food and crops, published at the beginning of March. The government announcement had confirmed that Chardon LL was both safe and effective, argues Bayer, which they regarded as 'a positive step towards the development of plant biotechnologies in the UK.'
'The government has, however, placed a number of constraints on this conditional approval before the commercial cultivation of GM forage maize can proceed in the UK,' the statement continues. 'The specific details of these conditions are still not available and thus will result in yet another open-ended period of delay. These uncertainties and undefined timelines will make this five year old variety economically unviable.'
However, UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley reportedly defended the government's approach to the commercialisation of GM maize. 'We do not apologise for the fact that there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs. It applies to the whole of the EU, not just the UK,' he said.
'We always said it would be for the market to decide the viability of growing and selling GM once the government assessed safety and risk. [The Prime Minister's] strategy unit report on the costs and benefits of GM last year did say there would be limited short term commercial benefits in the UK for growing GM,' Mr Morley concluded. *******************************8
GM giant abandons bid to grow crops in Britain
- The Independent, By Andrew Clennell, 31 March 2004
In a huge blow to the genetically modified food lobby, Bayer Cropscience has given up attempts to grow commercial GM maize in Britain.
The decision, blamed by the company on government restrictions, means no GM crop will be grown commercially in the UK in 2005 and raises questions about the future of GM in this country.
The German biotechnology company will announce today that its maize variety Chardon LL, which was to be developed as cattle feed, had been left "economically non-viable" because of conditions set by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett when she gave limited approval to the growing of the crop this month.
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night: "We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs. This is a commercial decision made by Bayer and they have decided to withdraw their application, [which means] there will not be any commercial cultivation of GM crops in 2005 in the UK.
"In the current climate in the EU, with member states' strong views on these matters, there's little prospect of any GM crops coming forward for consideration in the near future. We always said it would be for the market to decide [the future of GM]."
There were suggestions last night that GM crops were unlikely to be grown in the UK until 2008, when GM oil seed rape may be approved for cultivation.
Bayer's decision will be seen as a huge win for the former environment minister Michael Meacher and green groups.
Chardon LL, which Bayer had wanted to commercially grow, was developed for approval in 1999. It is already grown in the Netherlands.
A Bayer spokesman confirmed the imminent withdrawal of its application to grow in the UK last night. The company told The Financial Times the UK's tough GM regulatory regime could jeopardise the industry. It said: "New regulations should enable GM crops to be grown in the UK - not disable future attempts to grow them."
Chardon LL gained approval after trials showed it caused less damage to wildlife than its conventional equivalent, but ministers have not yet decided rules for mixing GM and non-GM crops and what compensation might be paid for contamination by GM pollen.
Bayer said: "These uncertainties and undefined timelines will make this five-year-old variety economically unviable."
Only three weeks ago in parliament, Ms Beckett controversially announced her decision to allow Bayer to go ahead with its maize project. The decision came after 15 years of field trials and four years of farm-scale evaluations.
Ms Beckett told the Commons the GM maize could be grown as soon as next year and said non-GM farmers who suffered financial losses because of crop contamination would be compensated by the industry, not the taxpayer.
At the time, Mr Meacher said: "This is the wrong decision. It is driven by the commercial interests of the big biotech companies and, no doubt, pressure from the White House."
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Opportunities are available for student scholarships and international grants. See the NABC 16 web-site for details.
Germany says restaurant food must be marked as GMO
- Reuters, March 31, 2004
HAMBURG (Reuters) - Restaurant and canteen food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be clearly marked when new rules on GMO labelling take effect in April, the German government said on Wednesday.
On April 18 new European Union rules mean food on sale in shops will have to be labelled if it contains GMOs. Animal feed sold to farmers will also have to be labelled.
The rules also apply to restaurants, Junior German Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Alexander Mueller said in a statement.
"If canteens or restaurants use genetically-modified food this must be clearly marked on the menu or in a notice," he said.
The ministry has completed talks with German state authorities, responsible for food inspections, and food industry associations to achieve a smooth implementation of the new regulations, Mueller said.
"It is now the responsibility of the private sector to fulfil its labelling responsibilities," he added. He expected state authorities to increase food inspections from April 18.
USDA and the Peterkin Papers
- Tech Central STation, By Henry I. Miller, 03/31/2004
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's biotechnology regulations have been a shambles for more than fifteen years. Its compulsory case-by-case review and costly field test design and other requirements have made gene-spliced plants disproportionately -- and unnecessarily -- expensive to develop and test. A field trial with a gene-spliced plant may be 10-20 times more expensive than the same experiment performed with a plant that has identical traits, but that was modified with less precise genetic techniques!
The USDA's approach to regulation is internally inconsistent and contradicts the official overarching federal policy (developed during the previous Bush administration), which stipulates that oversight of biotechnology products should be "risk-based," "scientifically sound," and focused on "the characteristics of the biotechnology product and the environment into which it is being introduced, not the process by which the product is created."
But USDA has crafted exactly the opposite: regulation that arguably has an inverse relationship to risk, and that is triggered by the use of gene-splicing techniques.
Regulators at USDA announced recently that they plan to revise their approach to oversight of gene-spliced plants. Good news? Not really, because their plan ensures that they will get the scope of what they regulate wrong yet again, and that they will spend years and tens of millions of dollars on a gratuitous environmental impact statement.
USDA's strategy is an example of a flawed, unnecessarily complex governmental solution to a problem that regulators created in the first place. It is reminiscent of a classic story, "The Peterkin Papers," by Lucretia Hale, which tells the story of a well-meaning but rather dimwitted family. One day, Mrs. Peterkin discovered that she had mistakenly put salt instead of sugar in her cup of morning coffee, making it taste awful. She called her family around to help her decide what to do. First, they took the coffee to the local pharmacist who tried adding ammonia and various other chemicals, including a dash of arsenic, but that only made the coffee taste worse. They proceeded then to the neighborhood herbalist, who added more ingredients to the coffee, but that made it even more distasteful. In desperation, the Peterkins turned to the famed Lady from Philadelphia, who was reputed to be very wise. "Why don't you dump it out and make a fresh cup of coffee?" the lady asked.
A fresh, scientifically sound and risk-based regulatory approach has already been proposed by academics (including this author) -- which, ironically, is based on the well-established model of USDA's own plant quarantine regulations.
Almost a decade ago, the Stanford University Project on Regulation of Agricultural Introductions began work on a widely applicable regulatory model for the field-testing of any organism, whatever the method or methods employed in its construction. It is patterned after national quarantine systems, including the long-standing USDA Plant Pest Act regulations, whose approach is essentially binary: A plant that a researcher might wish to introduce into the field is either on the proscribed list of plants pests -- and therefore requires a permit -- or it is exempt.
The more quantitative and nuanced "Stanford Model" is based on the ability of experts to stratify organisms into several risk categories. It closely resembles the approach taken in the in the federal government's handbook, "Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories," which specifies the procedures and physical containment that are appropriate for research with microorganisms, including the most dangerous pathogens known. These microorganisms were stratified into risk categories by panels of scientists. Interestingly, in contrast to USDA's approach to gene-spliced organisms, the handbook does not -- even for the most dangerous pathogens -- dictate mandatory requirements, but only offers guidance to researchers.
The Stanford Model was validated in a proof-of-principle project in 1997. (That demonstration applied only to plants, but the model can be readily applied to accommodate other kinds of organisms, as well as regional and local preferences for greater or less stringent regulation.) The project assembled a group of approximately 20 agricultural scientists from five nations at a workshop held at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Baños, Philippines, in order to seek consensus on a broad, science-based approach that would evaluate all biological introductions, not just those that involved gene-spliced organisms. The need for such a broad approach was self-evident: There was already abundant evidence that severe ecological risks can be associated with plant pests and "exotic," or non-coevolved, organisms.
As part of the pilot project, the IRRI conference participants evaluated and then, based on certain risk-related characteristics, or traits, stratified a variety of crops into risk categories. These traits included the ability to colonize, ecological relationships, effects on humans, potential for genetic change, and ease or difficulty of risk-management. Consensus was reached without difficulty -- suggesting that it would be similarly possible to categorize other organisms as well.
Each of the organisms evaluated during the conference was assessed for all five factors, which enabled the group to come to a global judgment about the organism's risk category. Most of the common crop plants addressed were found to be of negligible risk, while a few were judged to be of low but non-negligible risk. One plant (cotton) was judged to be of negligible risk if it were field tested outside its historical center of origin, but of low but non-negligible risk if tested in the vicinity of its center of origin.
In the evolution of this Stanford Model, the factors taken into account were indifferent to the genetic modification techniques employed, if any, or to the source(s) of the introduced genetic material. The participants agreed that the use of conventional breeding techniques or gene-splicing methods to modify an organism was irrelevant to risk. They also agreed that whether DNAs were combined from distantly related organisms -- that is, organisms from different genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, or kingdoms -- was irrelevant to the risk of an organism.
In other words, the group's analysis supported the consensus view of the wider scientific community that the risks associated with field-testing a genetically altered organisms are independent either of the process by which it was modified or the movement of genetic material between "unrelated" organisms.
The Stanford Model proves the utility and practicality of an approach in which the degree of regulatory scrutiny over field trials is commensurate with the risks -- independent of whether the organisms introduced are "natural," "exotic" or have been genetically improved by conventional methods or gene-splicing techniques.
What are the practical implications of an organism being assigned to a given "risk category"? The level of oversight faced by an investigator who intends to perform a field trial with an organism in one or another of the categories could include: complete exemption, a simple "postcard notification" to a regulatory authority (without prior approval required), case-by-case review and required assent by regulators, or even prohibition (as is the case currently for experiments with Foot and Mouth Disease Virus in the United States).
A key feature of the Stanford Model is that it is sufficiently flexible to accommodate differences in regulatory authorities' preferences for greater or lesser regulatory stringency. That is, different national regulatory authorities could choose different regulatory requirements for the various risk categories, some leaning more towards exemption and notification, others towards case-by-case review. However, as long as regulatory requirements match the relative risk of each category, and do not discriminate by treating organisms of equivalent risk differently, the regulatory methodology will make scientific (and common) sense.
This regulatory model makes it possible to perform accurate, scientific determinations of the risks posed by the introduction of an organism into the field and, thereby, fosters enhanced agricultural productivity and innovation, while it protects valuable ecosystems. It offers regulatory bodies a highly adaptable, scientific paradigm for the oversight of plants, microorganisms and other organisms; whether they are "naturally occurring"; non-indigenous, "exotic" organisms; or have been genetically improved by either old or new techniques.
Under such a system, some currently unregulated introductions of traditionally-bred cultivars and exotic organisms considered to be of moderate or greater risk would likely become subject to regulatory review, whereas many gene-spliced organisms that now require case by case review would likely be regulated less stringently. The introduction of such a risk-based system would make the regulation of field trials more scientific and more logical, and it would reduce the existing regulatory disincentives to the use of gene-splicing techniques.
The Stanford model is ready to roll, but USDA's roadmap makes it clear that regulators intend to continue to single out gene-splicing for discriminatory regulation. The feds who regulate plant pests are still the biggest pests of all.
Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. His latest book," The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution," will be published later this year by Praeger Publishers. He headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989-1993. This article is based on one that will be published in the forthcoming issue of Regulation.
- IC Harrow, By Hannah Stephenson, Mar 30 2004
There has been so much bad publicity about genetically modified (GM) crops that many people assume anything that has been genetically modified must be bad for you.
But what if you could have flowers that lasted longer, lawns that didn't need mowing so often and hedges that kept themselves in trim?
Well, scientific developments will lead the way to less backbreaking work in keeping your garden looking great, according to experts at the RHS Science Exchange 2004 conference.
Dr Phil Gates, a plant biologist at the University of Durham, says there is value in, and potential for, manipulating plants and their environment for the benefit of horticulture.
"GM technology could deliver benefits that include allergen-free, longer-lasting cut flowers, true-breeding F1 hybrids, slow-growing lawns, drought and frost-tolerant herbaceous plants, more floriferous ornamentals and plants that are better able to absorb nutrients and so require lower fertiliser inputs," he says.
Pollen-free plants could help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever. Innovations could include new colours in plants that produce far more flowers.
"We should not let the furore over currently available GM products, which are comparatively primitive technology, close our minds to environmentally acceptable benefits," he says.
"Gardeners will continue to worry about pests and diseases in the garden and research into organic methods could refine natural techniques for plant cultivation and pest and disease control."
His enthusiasm for scientific development will be music to the ears of many gardeners who don't have time to maintain their garden but are concerned about its look.
Most gardeners in this country are more concerned about the aesthetic appearance of their garden than any other aspect of it, according to an RHS survey.
But before we do a complete turnaround on our attitude towards all things GM, there are some cautionary noises being made.
The RHS feels that we need to understand the technologies more before placing the developments into a living situation. More research needs to be done before we start tampering with nature.
Dr Simon Thornton-Wood, head of science, advice and information at the RHS, says: "Every genetic transformation presents us with a whole new set of questions about its impact.
"And it's our responsibility to investigate those possible consequences."
THESE shade-loving plants - Erythronium, or Dog's Tooth grow to just 25cm
(10in) high and are ideal for the rockery or around the base of trees.
They produce clumps of strong, light bronze-green leaves and nodding, star-shaped flowers in a variety of colours from white and yellow to pink and lilac.
Good varieties include E. Pagoda, which produces sulphur-yellow flowers, Pink Perfection and Lilac Wonder.
They really need a woodland setting to thrive and can be naturalised by planting a group of tubers deep in dappled shade. Give them a good helping of moisture-retentive humus such as leafmould and leave them to themselves and they should be happy.
Biotech Crops Continue to Gain Ground in the Americas
Brazil sees biotech soybeans as a tool for economic development
Agricultural biotechnology continues to gain acceptance in the most fertile growing regions of the world.
The top four countries that plant biotech crops — the United States, Argentina, Canada and Brazil — are all in the Americas and account for the vast majority of the world's biotech crops (soybeans, cotton, corn and canola).
"By far the most important development for GM crops in 2003 was the passage in September of a presidential decree by the government of Brazil to allow, for the first time, the planting of herbicide tolerant soybeans for the 2003–2004 crop," wrote Clive James, chairman of the International Association for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and author of a recent report on global biotech adoption rates.
With that decision, Brazil now accounts for 4 percent of the global production of biotech crops, according to ISAAA. About 18 percent of Brazil's soybean acres were planted with biotech varieties (7.4 million biotech acres of 41 million total soybean acres) in the 2003–2004 growing season, according to what James called a "conservative estimate."
That's expected to increase significantly. About 98 percent of the soybean acres in Argentina, Brazil's neighbor, were planted with biotech varieties in 2003, according to ISAAA.
But Brazil isn't the only Latin American country to recently embrace biotech crops:
- Uruguay tripled its acreage planted with biotech soybeans in 2003 to 148,200 acres and also planted Bt corn commercially for the first time. Uruguay, a relatively small country nestled between Brazil and Argentina, now ranks 10th among countries in the amount of acres planted with biotech varieties.1
- Mexico grew a small amount of Bt cotton — enhanced with a naturally occurring soil bacterium to ward off insect pests — and between 25,000 and 50,000 acres of biotech soybeans in 2003. 2
- Columbia, which began planting biotech crops in 2002, expanded its acreage planted with Bt cotton to about 12,350 acres in 2003. 3
- Honduras extended its Bt corn plantings in 2003 after becoming the first Central American country to grow a biotech crop with a pre-commercial planting of 1,235 acres in 2002. 4
- While these plantings are relatively small in comparison with their North and South American neighbors, they suggest there is a growing trend among farmers in the Americas to embrace biotech crops.
Altogether, farmers in these eight countries produce 94 percent to 95 percent of the world's biotech crops:
United States (66%)
While farmers in these countries plant the majority of the biotech crops, they represent just a fraction of the number of farmers worldwide who have adopted biotech varieties.
The ISAAA report stated that 7 million farmers in 18 countries — 6 million of them resource-poor farmers in China — now plant biotech crops, up from 6 million in 16 countries in 2002. Almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries — up from one-quarter in 2002.
Developing world farmers in Brazil adopted the technology for the same reason farmers have throughout the world, James wrote.
"The farmers opted for herbicide tolerant soybean because it requires less herbicide and tillage, contributes to sustainability … all resulting in higher productivity and profitability," he wrote. 5
Profitability is particularly important for Brazil, which recently surpassed the United States as the world's leading soybean exporter and is close to becoming the world's leading soybean producer. In 2003, Brazil produced 60 million metric tons of soybeans — just shy of the 65.8 tons produced in the United States.
Exports of soybeans and soybean products account for 5 percent of Brazil's total exports. And agriculture plays a very important role in Brazil's economy, employing 26 percent of the labor force and contributing between 8 percent and 9 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to ISAAA.
The Americas have long produced a surplus of food — typically in the neighborhood of 200 million metric tons per year, most of which is exported. With the global population increasing by about 70 million people a year — coupled with rising incomes in much of the developing world that triggers more demand for food, increased agricultural productivity is becoming increasingly more important.
China, with its continually improving standard of living, recently became the world's largest importer of soybeans.
For more information:
Double-Digit Growth Continues for Biotech Crops Worldwide — International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (press release and report executive summary)
Biotech Acres: Global Biotech Plantings Show Double-Digit Growth for Seventh Straight Year — Council for Biotechnology Information
From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution — Council for Biotechnology Information
Biotech Corn Creates Big Gains for Filipino Families — Council for Biotechnology Information
1 James, Clive. "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003," No. 30-2003, January 2003, p. 12, <http://www.isaaa.org/Press_release/updates.htm>.
2 James, Clive. "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003," No. 30-2003, January 2003, p. 15, <<http://www.isaaa.org/Press_release/updates.htm>.
3 James, Clive. "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003," No. 30-2003, January 2003, p. 12, <<http://www.isaaa.org/Press_release/updates.htm>.
4 James, Clive. "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003," No. 30-2003, January 2003, p. 12, <<http://www.isaaa.org/Press_release/updates.htm>.
5 James, Clive. "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003," No. 30-2003, January 2003, p. 20, <<http://www.isaaa.org/Press_release/updates.htm>.
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