Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 16, 2004:
* GM Food Could be Good for You...
* Kenyan Scientist Defends GM Sweet Potato
* Penn and Teller's 'Bullshit' Video on GM Food
* Put Your Feet Up in an English GM Garden
* Do Environmentalists Hate GM Crops or the Corporations?
* Keep the Peasants Poor and the NGOs Funded!
* GM Science Review. First Report
* Ready, Steady, Grow
* Biotech is for the Birds
* India: Thorough Discussion Must Precede Decision on GM Technology
* India: ICAR Moots Two Arms For Transgenics Regulator
* "Most Wanted" Eco-terrorist Arrested
* Biotech Company Says Regulations, 'Greenies' Forced It Out of NZ
* More Research or More Prudence?
* Confusing Terms: GM Foods & GE Foods, and the 'Ugly' term GMO!
GM Food Could be Good for You...
- Charles Pasternak, Sunday Times (London), March 14, 2004
'The widely held fears about 'Frankenstein' food are irrational and unscientific, says genetics expert Charles Pasternak'
For once the government has got it right. In sanctioning the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) maize, it is allowing fact finally to triumph over fantasy.
But wait, you say. More than 80% of people disagree with the government's decision, according to opinion polls. Surely they cannot all be wrong?
Oh yes they can. Before the 16th century most people believed the earth to be flat. Until the late 19th century the view that diseases such as cholera and malaria were caused by foul air prevailed. Even today 70% of Americans believe in miracles. Basing governmental policy on the ignorance of the majority is bad strategy.
Forget Frankenstein food: join me, instead, in simple biochemistry. The difference between GM maize and its unmodified counterpart is this: the GM variety contains an additional gene, that is to say a bit of "foreign" DNA. It also contains the protein made according to that gene's instruction.
DNA and proteins are both large molecules. When we eat them, each is broken down to its constituent units in our intestine before being absorbed into the bloodstream. There are just four different constituent units -called nucleosides -in DNA, and 20 constituent units of proteins (called amino acids). The four nucleosides of DNA and the 20 amino acids of proteins are the same in all organisms -plants and microbes, animals and humans.
Whether you choose to eat a banana or a camelia, the liver of a bat or the kidneys of a whale, the same four nucleosides and the same 20 amino acids will finish up in your blood. So it makes not a jot of difference that in GM maize less than 0.001% of the total DNA and protein is slightly different from that in conventional maize. The digested units are identical.
But wait. Isn't it true that prior to degradation, proteins are occasionally able to elicit an immune response? Isn't that how the oral polio vaccine works? Quite right, and immune responses underlie the allergic reactions that some people suffer when eating peanuts, for example. And it is possible that the aberrant protein in GM maize could set off such a reaction.
Theoretically. But millions of people have been consuming GM products on a daily basis throughout America, Argentina, Canada and China since 1996 -and not a single one has suffered an allergic reaction of this type.
How much bigger does a trial need to be to assure the doubters? A trial involving every one of the six billion people alive today?
So much for the health risks. What about the environmental consequences? This is precisely what recent studies, like that sponsored by the government, have set out to assess. Three types of GM crop were grown alongside unmodified counterparts at more than 200 sites over a three-year
period: maize, beet and oilseed rape. The GM versions contained genes that make the plants resistant to a herbicide called glufosinate (not to be confused with atrazine, the herbicide which is being phased out across the Europetan Union).
Glufosinate is a powerful weedkiller that destroys all plants to which it is exposed -except those that have been made resistant to it by genetic modification. Animals and humans are also unaffected by the herbicide. GM crops can therefore be sprayed with glufosinate at earlier times during the growing season than would be possible with unmodified crops. The outcome of the studies was clear: in the case of GM beet and oilseed rape, contamination by weeds was down three-fold compared with unmodified beet or rape.
This is clearly good news for farmers. But it is bad news for the insects and birds that feed on weeds and their seeds -and it is for this reason that the government has decided not to recommend the commercial use of GM beet or oilseed rape at this time. On the other hand, if the herbicide is used carefully, GM maize can be grown so as to encourage more weeds to develop. This is good news for butterflies and bees, but not a particularly attractive scenario for farmers. However, it is this combination of crop and herbicide that the government is to allow for commercial use.
So how important is it that GM technology is introduced onto European farms? Probably not very. Affluent nations like the UK can indulge in their particular choice of agriculture: organic, conventional or GM.
But in the Third World this is not an option. Organic farming is too expensive and conventional farming produces too low a yield. The yield from the production of sweet potato in Africa is six tonnes per hectare; the global average is 14 tonnes (and in China it is 18 tonnes).
What is the reason for such low yields? Partly of course it is the
weather: long periods of drought. But more than 40% of crops are also lost annually because of over-growth by weeds and attack by viruses and insects. As a result, Africa needs to import more than 25% of its grain, which it can ill afford to do.
Drought-resistant and pest-resistant GM crops would be a lifeline.
Nowhere are herbicide-resistant crops, coupled with the use of cheap weedkillers, needed more than in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40,000 people -half of them children -are dying from malnutrition daily. We should be helping them by developing and promoting the relevant GM crops, not hindering their salvation by unjustified criticism of the technology.
We should set an example of sense, not bias, and encourage Third World nations to accept GM technology as the most effective way forward -second only to the removal of their corrupt leaders who with one hand steal 90% of the financial aid provided to their countries, and with the other create murder and mayhem and raze to the ground the feeble crops that their starving people are trying to nurture.
Now there's a cause the anti-GM technology gang might like to espouse.
Charles Pasternak is the author of a book about genetics, Quest, The Essence of Humanity (Wiley). He is director of the Oxford International Biomedical Centre http://www.oibc.org.uk
Kenyan Genetic Scientist Defends GM Sweet Potato
- www.ahbfi.org, press release, March 15, 2004
Chief Executive Officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Dr. Florence Wambugu, says recent allegations that trials to develop GM virus-resistant sweet potato had failed were not based in sound science.
"Recent reports alleging that imported transgenic material did not withstand virus challenge in the Kenyan fields (DN 29th January, 2004) have completely been misinterpreted and distorted. Critics of GM technologies have cited the "findings" as proof that the GM sweet potato project was a failure," Dr. Wambugu -- the first scientist to be involved in the project -- says. "Contrary to what anti-GM activists are saying, in several articles published globally, the GM sweet potato has been a resounding scientific success and Kenyans should be proud of this".
Dr. Wambugu -- who founded an international foundation, which has offices in Washington D.C., in Nairobi and Kenya - explained that "typically, the first generation products are not intended for commercialization". She said "the GM sweet potato variety being tested in Kenya was meant to develop a genetic transformation system which did not exist globally. It contained a reporter Gus gene which is a 'tell-tale' gene commonly used to indicate to scientists whether a plant is indeed transformed. Reporter genes like the Gus gene are not included in final gene products and are out-bred once the final product has been established."
"The sweet potato variety produced in Kenya’s was the first generation product developed for the system and it takes several generations to come up with the final commercial product," says the Africa Harvest CEO. "The recent field trials were meant to identify the level of protection needed for the final product in Kenya. The purpose of the field trials was also to shed some light on how to improve the system used to transform the sweet potato. The "failure" - as it has been incorrectly implied - was to indicate the extent to which sweet potatoes are vulnerable to disease in the region. This in turn highlights the extent to which the final sweet potato product needs viral protection", says the scientist.
The Africa Harvest CEO said that "in anticipation to the result of the field trials, scientists working on the GM sweet potato had already begun Research and Development (R&D) on a second generation product which includes a gene construct from the most virulent Kenyan potato virus strain". She said the Muguga virus strain was identified after extensive screening.
"Future R&D is expected to produce a second generation GM sweet potato variety that is equipped with double protection. The protective feature of this GM variety will have both the Cp gene and its replicase gene which has the special ability to prevent the sweet potato feathery mottle virus
(SPFMV) from replicating upon infection, thereby rendering the virus harmless". The scientist said "a cloning site to the gene construct had been made, which will make it much easier for scientists to add the gene that gives it resistance to weevils, if and when this is discovered. The final GM sweet potato product will therefore be tailor made for African environmental conditions".
Although Dr. Wambugu is no longer directly involved with the GM sweet potato project, she says that it had achieved all its goals, including the development of a global commercial genetic transformation system. "Being the first GM crop variety in Sub-Saharan Africa, the pioneering nature of the project demanded adherence to strict international standards. The trials were carried out after close consultation and in close collaboration with the very rural communities that will benefit from the final product," says Dr. Wambugu
The scientist said many Kenyan scientists had been trained under the project. "It is this human capacity that has enabled the country define its nature of support to the GM technology. Kenyan scientists have been at the forefront of advocating for a Kenya-specific policy. We support the technology – not as a silver-bullet, but alongside other agricultural interventions -- that will address our unique problems of improving and increasing productivity of local crops".
Dr. Wambugu also said that under the project, Kenya now has a bio-transformation lab where other crops -- other than the sweet potato -- can be researched in future. "The lab puts Kenya in a position to form vital collaborations with countries such as South Africa which may be conducting related scientific work. The country is also a beacon of light in the region with regard to biosafety and GM technologies," she noted.
"Organizations such as Kenya plant Health Inspection services (KEPHIS) have developed relevant expertise and experience out of the GM sweet potato project". KEPHIS monitors all field trials, collects and analyses data to ensure compliance with internationally accepted standards.
The project also enables Kenya and the region to benefit from relevant scientific collaborations. "Without the bio-transformation lab, North-South collaborations would be one-sided, perpetuating the current science and technology dependency. South-South collaborations would be virtually impossible," said Dr. Wambugu.
For full statement visit Africa Harvest web site at www.ahbfi.org
Watch Penn and Teller's 'Bullshit' Program on Genetically Modified Food
Penn and Teller became famous as comedians and magicians who showed their audience how their magic tricks were done. Their television show, "Bullshit" does the same by exposing popular myths and scams.
One hilarious episode featured a short segment on genetically modified food, world hunger and the organic food industry, including interviews with leading members of Greenpeace, the Organic Food Association, a "raw-food chef" and others.
Excerpts of this light-hearted show are presented here as educational material. The excerpts are about 15 minutes long, and your computer must use Windows Media Player.
WARNING: Please note that the excerpts contain some profanity. Thus, do not watch this program with children around or if you have puritan sensibilities against offensive language. Mac users may have problem in seeing the video and thus may have to use the Windows.
View Penn and Teller's "Bullshit" Segment on Genetically Modified Food at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/penn-teller-bullshit.html
Put Your Feet Up in an English GM Garden
- David Derbyshire, Daily Telegraph (UK), March 15, 2004
The perfect garden, with its immaculate lawns, manicured hedges and vibrant borders comes at a heavy, and back-breaking, price. For every hour spent enjoying its calm and tranquillity, at least a dozen more are spent on the hated chores of watering, mowing, edging and weeding. But that could be about to change.
According to a leading botanist, traditional gardens are about to get a GM makeover. Within a few years, lawns will need mowing once or twice a month, geraniums will survive the harshest winter frosts, roses will bloom longer and watering cans will be banished to the shed along with shears, hoe and sprinkler.
Some scientists believe the benefits to horticulture from genetic modification will be so clear that garden centres will achieve what the biotech industry has so far failed to do - make GM acceptable. Dr Phil Gates, a plant biologist at Durham University, will make the case for the genetic manipulation of plants at a debate today hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society in London.
"We should not let the furore over currently available GM products, which are comparatively primitive technology, to close our minds to environmentally acceptable benefits that a more sophisticated GM technology might deliver," he says. "In gardening I doubt whether there will be any major GM uses in food, but there may be considerable benefits for ornamental plants."
A survey of 500 gardeners carried out by the RHS found that lawns were the least enjoyed feature of gardens, followed by hedges. "Mowing the lawn is an incredible pointless activity - and it's extremely wasteful," said Dr Gates. "It's a waste of energy and a source of noise pollution." GM grass could be the answer. American biotech companies have already produced GM lawns that grow slower than conventional grasses and are tolerant to droughts. Although they were designed for the golf industry, they could have uses in gardens.
Britain's changing climate, with less rain expected over the coming summers, will make the appeal of GM lawns even stronger, Dr Gates believes. A similar technology could be used to develop slow growing hedges - ending another nuisance chore and a source of neighbourly rows. GM technology could help hayfever sufferers, he will argue. Pollen-free plants and trees would ease the agony of itching eyes and runny noses because the plants would be sterile.
Scientists have already created GM flowers that stay fresh for longer, but GM also offers the chance of new colours - bringing the elusive blue rose or shrubs with twice as many flowers as normal. Other benefits include frost tolerant herbacious plants, and plants that are able to absorb nutrients more efficiently and so need less fertiliser.
"I suspect that gardeners will be more responsive to this kind of technology than other consumers," says Dr Gates. "Gardeners have a long history of innovation and novelty. They have no scruples about crossing species boundaries or creating mutants. Many roses out there are hybrids of up to six species." New organic technology could also make gardeners less dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Do Environmentalists Hate GM Crops or the Corporations?
- Prof. Piero Morandini, University of Milan, Italy; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear folks, I have two questions for this honourable audience:
* If the FSE study has shown that GMHT canola and sugarbeet are bad for the environment, while GMHT maize is better for the environment, I would have expected that all environmentalists or people involved in the debate would demand that GMHT maize be cultivated in the UK and the other two crops banned. I do not want here to question the validity of the conclusions of the FSE study, but I want to understand the reaction to the conclusions. Since I am not able to follow all the debate on the issue I ask AgBioview readers if they ever found a statement of supporters of environmental groups in favor of planting GMHT maize. This would be a pH test for the intention of these people. Do they love the environment or do they simply hate GMOs and the corporate business producing them? If you know of such statement, please, forward them to me (or to the list, if you prefer).
* As far as I could understand Monsanto RR canola is being given to farmers for planting only if they sign a contract binding them to give back the variety after use. Basically, as far as I can understand, they do not own the seed but they are simply given a licence for cultivation. Is this correct? Is there any other transgenic crop that is being "lent" to farmers like RR ready canola? Do you know the reason for this policy? Is it because otherwise farmers would quickly propagate the seed and produce their own seed stock without of buying it every year?
Keep the Peasants Poor and the NGOs Funded!
- Submitted by Tom DeGregori; Selections from the NY Times story with
> Research Panel Warns Mexico of Threat From Modified Corn
> By ELISABETH MALKIN, The New York Times, March 12, 2004.
> "One thing is clear," the study's coordinator, Chantal Line
> Carpentier, said in a telephone interview from Oaxaca, where the panel
> was meeting. "The huge diversity in Mexico should be protected in situ
> and in gene banks. And Mexico does not have the money."
Comment - Hasn't Ms. Carpentier heard of CIMMYT and its seed bank?
> Scientists detected insect resistant corn in Oaxaca fields in 2001.
Comment - Apparently the "Research Panel" cut off their research in 1991 after the Quist and Chapela article and before it was repudiated by Nature.
> Existing modified corn strains, designed for American farmers, are of
> little use to Mexican farmers, a fact that helps to limit their spread
> right now. But a future strain that increases Mexican yields might be
> widely adopted, despite the planting ban, and overwhelm native
> varieties, Ms. Carpentier said.
Comment - Now We Have It, The NGO Activists And Their Allies Are Concerned That The Poor Zapatecan And Mixtecan Farmers Will Increase Their Yields And Improve Their Standard Of Living. The Gene Expressing The Bt Protein Is Not The Issue And Clearly Never Was Since It Alone Is Unlikely To Have Any Impact On Either Yield Or Biodiversity. It Was Just A Ruse. A High Yielding Conventional Variety Would Have The Same "Adverse" Effects As A High Yielding GM Variety.
By All Means, Let Us Keep Them In Their Poverty So That The NGOs Can Keep Raising Money To Protect Them!*
* - For any NGO activists reading these last two paragraphs, please realize that they are written tongue-in-cheek. However, my point remains that whatever your intentions, Carpentier’s statement reveals much and the outcome of your actions may in fact differ little from the policy implied in my spoof. It is outcomes and not intentions that ultimately count for those who are recipients of them.
An Open Review of the Science Relevant to GM Crops and Food Based on Interests and Concerns of the Public.
- GM Science Review. First Report. GM Science Review Panel: 298 Pages. 2003 http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/report/default.htm
Ever since the beginnings of agriculture, some ten thousand years ago, people have been selecting plants to develop into new crops. We now know that the process of plant breeding builds on changes brought about in a plant's genetic structure, with the information being encoded by genes (typically some 30,000 genes in each plant cell).
Since the 1970s, it has become possible to modify the genetic information of living organisms in a new way, by transferring one or more gene-sized pieces of DNA directly between them. Such transfers have become an everyday tool in biological research and are already the basis of a considerable number of commercial applications in drug and food development that involve the genetic modification of micro-organisms such as yeast and bacteria.
When applied to the production of crop plants, genetic modification can involve gene transfer from another plant species, or from a completely different organism such as a bacterium or virus. The process shares some common features with earlier plant breeding tools, as well as exhibiting unique differences.
World-wide, genetically modified (GM) crops occupy a relatively small proportion of the world's agricultural acreage. However, in 2002, GM crops were cultivated on some 59 million hectares globally. Almost all (99%) of this was grown in only four countries: USA (66%), Argentina (23%), Canada
(6%) and China (4%). Three crops comprise 95% of the land under GM
cultivation: soybean (62%), maize (21%) and cotton (12%). Traits achieved by genetic modification primarily involve herbicide tolerance (75%) and insect pest resistance (15%), or a combination of both in the same crops.
Ready, Steady, Grow
- New Scientist, Mar 13, 2004
'The UK has set a new benchmark for deciding which crops are safe'
SO THE British government has finally taken the plunge and given the go-ahead for commercial growing of a genetically modified crop. It has placed so many hurdles in the way of planting that it is more like an amber light than a green one (see page 4), but the move is certainly symbolic and will reverberate round the world.
The decision is based in large measure on the results of a unique set of farm trials designed to compare the effects on farmland biodiversity of GM maize, beet and oilseed rape (canola) with those of non-GM strains grown in the conventional way. Only Bayer's GM maize proved more environmentally friendly than its conventional counterpart, and this is the crop that has received the go-ahead. Significantly, the government will not license the other two GM crops as grown in the trials.
Because of its careful approach, the UK's decision is likely to have a major impact on other European Union countries, which have unofficial bans on new GM products. It may also help to fend off a trade war by sending a message to the US, Canada and Argentina, which have asked the World Trade Organization to investigate Europe's ban.
But the biotech companies are likely to hold the champagne until they find out all the hoops they will have to jump through to gain approval for commercial growing in the UK. Bayer's GM maize will have to be grown in the same way as it was in the farm trials. And before that can happen, the government will have put in place rules for the size of buffer zones between GM and conventional crops, and a plan for compensating non-GM farmers who lose money because of "contamination" by GM crops. That compensation will be paid by the GM industry.
There is little doubt that by homing in on biodiversity, the UK has added a sensible new measure for deciding which crops - both GM and non-GM - should be grown. The farm trials showed that GM crops are not universally good or bad for biodiversity and this week's decisions reflect that. The government must follow through with this science-based approach in the finalised approval process.
The farm trials, for example, have been criticised for being too short. In North America, farmers have found herbicide-resistant weeds start to become a nuisance after three years of planting, at which point some farmers add other herbicides to their sprays. The government must decide how to deal with such events. Will biotech companies have to test new strains for four years before they can apply for a licence, or will monitoring be set up after a crop has been approved? Both options are costly, but if biodiversity matters then it is a price worth paying.
Biotech is for the Birds
Alex Avery, http://www.bioscinews.com/files/news-detail.asp?newsID=6818
Biotechnology is demonstrating itself to be the most wildlife friendly agricultural technology since the development of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer saved huge swaths of wildlife habitat from conversion to green manure crops.
The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy estimates that biotech crops have already reduced pesticide sprays in the United States by over 45 million pounds per year. Yet these crops yielded an additional 4 billion pounds of food and fiber.
These reductions in overall pesticide use are now showing real world environmental benefits. After the introduction of Bt cotton in 1996, many farmers began reporting increases in bird populations around their fields. [i]
According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations of songbirds that frequent around cotton fields have increased significantly in the major U.S. cotton producing states, with increases of 20 percent in Arizona, over 30 percent in Mississippi and Alabama, and 10 percent in Texas. Dr. Jim Byford, Dean of the University of Tennessee-Martin’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, has “no doubt” the two are linked. “With the GMO cotton, we don’t need to spray much at all. That has meant more insects that birds of all kinds use for food.” Byford believes quail and other birds are actually nesting within biotech cotton fields, something he never saw before the introduction of biotech cotton. [ii]
his same phenomenon was observed after plantings of biotech insect and virus resistant potatoes, which obviated the need for frequent sprays with insecticides. Crop specialists reported seeing pheasant tracks and other signs of wild birds in potato fields for the first time in more than 30+ years of field observation. Unfortunately, end users of potatoes, fearing a consumer backlash, have rejected the biotech potatoes and they are no longer grown in the U.S.
The wildlife friendliness of biotech crops is even greater when the rapid expansion of no-tillage acreage is considered. Researchers at the Conservation Technology Information Center found that quail feeding in no-till fields find enough insects for survival in less than one-fifth the time as quail in conventionally tilled fields. More than three quarters of all no-till soybeans and cotton are biotech. [iii]
Contrast these tangible benefits with the predictions of some so-called experts. The much misunderstood and poorly designed Farm Scale Evaluations in the UK examined weed abundance and insects in the fields as a proxy for impacts on off-farm wildlife.
Yet it has already been shown that predictions of off-farm impacts from different farming schemes can be far off the mark. Europeans have been paying farmers up to a billion Euros per year to follow eco-farming schemes aimed at boosting bird populations. In the Netherlands, agri-environment schemes in place since 1981 delay spring mowing to protect nestlings. Yet when scientists at the Wageningen Agricultural University examined the fields, they found “no positive effects on plant and bird species diversity”. In fact, the researchers found that “the four most common wader [bird species] were observed even less frequently on fields with management agreements.” [iv]
Finally, any technologies that allow humanity to produce more per acre will allow us to leave more land for nature. In that regard, there is no more promising technology than biotechnology.
[i] Edge JM, Benedict JH, Carroll JP, Reding HK. Bollgard Cotton: An Assessment of Global Economic, Environmental, and Social Benefits. Journal of Cotton Science 5:1-8 (2001). [ii] Byford, Jim. "GMO Systems Good for Wildlife," Southeast Farm Press, December 18, 2002, www.biotechknowledge.com. [iii] "Conservation Tillage and Plant Biotechnology: How New Technologies Can Improve the Environment by Reducing the Need to Plow," Conservation Tillage Information Center, February 23, 2002, press release and study, www.ctic.purdue.edu/CTIC/Biotech.html.
[iv] Kleijn D, Berendse F, Smit R, Gilissen N. Agri-environment schemes do not effectively protect biodiversity in Dutch agricultural landscapes. Nature 413:723-725 (2001)
Alex Avery, Director of Research Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues.
India: Thorough Discussion Must Precede Decision on GM Technology
The Hindu, March 14, 2004
A thorough discussion on various aspects of genetically-modified (GM) seeds and food should be held before a final decision on adopting the new GM technology is taken. This was the consensus after a public debate on "Biotechnology and shaping the future of rice", organised by the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here today.
While three out of four panellists favoured the introduction of the GM seeds for increasing food production, the dissenter felt that the cost of the new technology was higher than benefits.
Initiating the discussion, the MSSRF Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan, said the growth rate of rice production in the country, which was three per cent during 1985-1989, came down to 1.5 per cent and remained stagnant. This trend had to be reversed for the country to meet the food needs of the growing population. The focus should therefore be on more marketable surplus through increased productivity to help poor and marginal farmers.
M.K.Bhan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, appealed to the people not to mix biotechnology with GM crops or foods. Biotechnology had numerous applications in health care, especially in developing new vaccines and drugs and in sustaining environment. With widespread micro-nutrient deficiency and a burgeoning population, it was necessary to find a new technology for improving productivity and new crop varieties. At present there was blind opposition to GM food. The evil effect of tantibiotic was much more than that of GM food and so there was nothing wrong in taking the plunge to find a solution to the persisting problem.
However, Suman Sahai, president of the Gene Campaign, Delhi, said there should be a national consensus on introduction of GM seeds and food after an educated and informed public discussion. The benefits of the new "wonder seeds" were nothing compared to their ill-effects. India's soybean was preferred in the international market because it was not genetically modified. She warned that the country would lose its export market for foodgrains if farmers adopted GM technology for increasing production. There sthould be a cost and risk analysis before going in for the new technology.
William James Peacock, Chief, CSIRO, Canberra, Australia, said that after the introduction of GM cotton in his country, there was no major pest attack. More and more farmers were going in for the new variety as productivity was higher with increasing profits. The best way for developing countries to improve food production to feed their increasing population was to adopt the new technology. Gerard Barry, Golden Rice Network Coordinator, International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, said nearly 3.5 bitllion people were suffering from a micro-nutrient deficiency, causing a devastating impact on the economy of the developing countries.
It was possible to produce nutrient-rich rice varieties through GM technology which would be less expensive than any other supplement. The Executive Editor of The Hindu Business Line , K. Venugopal, said that though availability of hybrid varieties helped farmers in improving production, they had replaced traditional varieties liked by consumers.
He suggested a widespread discussion in a transparent manner to create a public opinion about the new technology.
India: ICAR Moots Two Arms For Transgenics Regulator
- Ashok B Sharma The Financial Express (India) March 14, 2004 (Sent by Shantu Sharma ) http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=54771
The apex research body in the farm sector in the country, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has suggested that the regulatory body for transgenic products should have two separate divisions, one for agricultural applications and the other for pharmaceutical and other applications. There should be a separate gene bank for transgenic constructs.
Though one of its affiliate body, Indian Agricultural Research Institute
(IARI) has developed two Bt transgenic rice namely IR-64 and Pusa Basmati-1 and has conducted bioassay for yellow stem borer resistance, the ICAR has clearly said "the geographical indications such as Basmati rice should be kept in tact and untouched by transgenics." The exporters and growers of Basmati rice are also against growing transgenic Basmati rice as this would spoil the export market for this premium commodity.
The ICAR has also echoed the industry's demand that "once a transgene is tested for biosafety, its derivatives should not be evaluated. There is a need for reduction in levels and number of steps required for biosafety evaluation and release of GMOs. After environmental release, the crop variety should be notified and registered under the Seeds Act so as to make possible for applications of the provisions of the Act for monitoring and checking spurious seeds plorification."
The ICAR arrived at these conclusions after a national conference on `Transgenics in Agriculture' held last week. The ICAR recommendations assume importance in view of the much awaited report of the MS Swaminathan panel which is deliberating on the role of the regulatory authority for transgenic crops in the country.
The Union minister of state for agriculture, Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav inaugurating the conference, however, said that the scientists while developing transgenic crops should ensure that their efforts are not directed towards changing the basic inherent quality of the crops endowed by nature. He also said that the scientists need to study to what extent the transgenic technology will be helpful in ensuring food and nutritional security as against the conventional technology.
The ICAR has asked for clearly spelling out the biosafety parameters and has urged for developing biosafety guidelines and procedures for transgenic acquatic animals. It has suggested that the post-release monitoring of GM crops should be looked after by the agriculture and environment ministries. Another set of VCU trials after the approval by the regulatory body may be taken up the applicant seed company in farmers' fields in collaboration with agriculture universities.
The ICAR is of the view that the clearance of GM crops should be without delay. In fact the ICAR system has decided to develop transgenic varieties of 14 select crops and most of them are in experimental stage. Madurai Kamaraj University has developed transgenic rohu fish and catfish.
Transgenic rice will be developed for stem borer and fungal resistance. While transgenic sorghum and maize will be developed for stem borer resistance, transgenic pigeonpea and chick pea will be developed for pod borer resistance.
ICAR will also develop transgenic cotton for bollworm and virus resistance and transgenic brassica for aphid and drought resistance. It will develop transgenic tomato and brinjal for fruit borer resistance and the transgenic tomato will also be for delayed ripening and virus resistance. A number of transgenic crops like soyabean, potato, banana and papaya will be developed for virus resistance. The transgenic banana will also be for fungal resistance.
The ICAR director-general, Dr Mangla Rai said "the Planning Commission has recently given clearance to develop transgenics in these select crops and we plan to go ahead. These transgenic crops will be developed out of the Rs 40 crore fund earmarked for the purpose in the 10th Plan."
"Most wanted" Eco-terror Arrest:
- Michael Scarpitti, MSNBC, March 15, 2004 http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4534715/
'FBI says Michael Scarpitti has ties to ELF group'
PORTLAND, Ore. - A fugitive radical environmentalist has been arrested by federal officials on charges of bombing logging trucks in 2001, the FBI announced Monday. Michael Scarpitti has been on the FBI’s most-wanted list since disappearing two years ago. He is among four activists charged with setting fire to trucks using incendiary devices. The arson was in protest of a timber sale on the slopes of Mount Hood.
Three others were captured after one of them told a girlfriend about the crime, according to arrest papers. The girlfriend’s father is a deputy state fire marshal. Scarpitti, also known as Tre Arrow, had a $25,000 reward on his head.
The FBI wanted poster said "he is known to be affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which is a loosely organized movement whose stated objective is to stop the destruction of the natural environment and the exploitation of the earth's natural resources through whatever means are necessary.”
The FBI lists ELF as its No. 1 domestic terrorism priority. In recent years, dozens of attacks across the country -- especially on SUV dealerships, construction sites and test plots of genetically modified crops -- have been made in ELF’s name.
Rubicon Says Regulations, 'Greenies' Forced It Out of NZ
- Stuff (NZ), 16 March 2004 http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,2846451a13,00.html
One of New Zealand's best-financed biotechnology companies, Rubicon, says regulatory costs and "greenies" have driven its research into genetically modified pine trees out of the country. Rubicon vice-president Bruce Burton told a biotechnology forum in Auckland yesterday that New Zealand had created "a very high regulatory hurdle" that was deterring companies from GM research, despite the official end of the GM moratorium last October.
"Our US partners say the costs and the potential threats of the greenies are too high, so we'll carry on doing tests in the US and Brazil." Rubicon was carved out of the Fletcher Challenge empire in 2000, taking over Fletcher Forests' interests in tree technologies including a 31.7 per cent stake in ArborGen, a joint venture with US-based International Paper (51 per cent owner of Carter Holt Harvey) and Mead Westvaco.
Auckland's Genesis Research & Development also has a 5 per cent stake in ArborGen. Mr Burton said ArborGen aimed to modify eucalyptus, loblolly pine and eventually radiata pine to improve wood quality and provide resistance to pine pitch canker, which has infected US pine forests.
The company was developing modified seedlings in laboratories in New Zealand, then sending them to the US and Brazil for field trials. Hamilton-based AgResearch said last year that it had to spend $500,000 in fees and legal costs to get regulatory approval to genetically modify cows to produce medically valuable chemicals in their milk.
Mr Burton said that was "too high a barrier. . . the costs you have to go through are very high compared with the US and Brazil. "ArborGen is looking to start developing GE radiata, and one of the questions it has is that the regulatory environment here is too tough."
Julie Watson, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma), said it introduced a new fixed fee in December of $35,000 for a GM field trial. "That is obviously less than what we charged in the past," she said. But fees for commercial releases, including conditional releases, of GM organisms will still be set on a case-by-case basis depending on the expected costs of hearings.
Ms Watson said no applications for GM field trials or commercial releases had been received since the moratorium ended. Only one application, for a contained trial of GM onions, has been heard and approved since October, but it was lodged when the moratorium still stood. But Life Sciences Network chairman William Rolleston said he knew of planned applications that were "moving forward".
More Research or More Prudence?
The current posted issue of the BMJ has an item on the BMA report on GM food. I recommend that some of you go online and submit a rapid response including a response to the second letter below. I have submittes a response which I have added at the bottom. Obviously, I do not know yet whether it will be posted
- Tom DeGregori
GM Foods Should Be Submitted to Further Studies, Says BMA
- Zosia Kmietowicz, British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, No. 7440 March 2004 http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/
More research is needed to show that genetically modified (GM) food crops and ingredients are safe for people and the environment and that they offer real benefits over traditionally grown foods, says a BMA report.
The report calls for more long term research into the potential of GM food to cause allergies, although it acknowledges that preliminary, short term studies of GM foods have not shown any health risks. It says that more research is also needed on the impact of GM foods in vulnerable groups, such as babies, elderly people, and people with chronic diseases, and that the health effects generally of GM foods should be closely monitored.
Consumer and other groups that have taken part in debates on GM foods have called for an end to the sale of GM foods in the United Kingdom and a continuation of the moratorium on farming GM crops. They also want to dispel the assumption that GM foods are needed to feed starving populations, as overcoming famine is more complex than simply growing more food, they say.
The report concludes: "The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations."
"The BMA shares the view that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe, but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit."
Genetically Modified Food and Health: A Second Interim Statement is accessible at http://www.bma.org.uk/GMFoods
Tom DeGregori response:
The Possible Perversity of Prudence
The "call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit" for GM food may sound sensible and prudent to some but not necessarily to an economist. Given the campaign of disinformation against GM foods such as the recent scare story out of Asia alluded to in the second letter above, such a scheme may be an unfortunate necessity.
To an economist, there is an assumption that even with increased resources for food safety research, funding will be finite so that research needs have to be prioritized. As of yet, there no evidence has been presented that transgenics produces any greater uncertainty and risk than does the rather heroic forms of breeding that have produced most of our current food supply such as mutations by radiation or carcinogenic chemicals, protoplastic cell fusion, embryo rescue, tissue culture, or even "conventional breeding" as the public understands it. Quite the contrary, plant breeding with biotechnology is both the most predictable and the most regulated.
Perversely, a prudent policy could produce an adverse outcome. If (repeat and please note "if") it is true that the earlier BMA report on GM food was effectively used by the NGOs to persuade Zambia not to accept donated maize when famine stalked the land, then its outcome was anything but beneficial. Even if not true, putting the mark of Cain uniquely on GM food could be interpreted by public as evidence of likely harm leading them to make less than optimal choices.
- Competing interest - academic and economic development specialist with research, publishing and applied interests in the use technology in agriculture and development.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D. Professor of Economics, University of Houston
Confusing Terms: Genetically Modified Foods & Genetically Engineered Foods
I'm very excited about the opportunities that GMO-supporters outline. I'm a proud alumni of UC Davis. Through my experience at UC Davis, I developed a genuine interest in agricultural technology. One of my favorite organizations is based in Davis: Freedom From Hunger.
I've recently taken up studying Molecular Biology and Chemistry so that I can truly understand the science behind GMO. I find the subject very fascinating. If GMO is nothing to be afraid of, I need to be able to explain to my friends and family why that's so. I feel like most folks are scared of this technology because they don't understand the science. I don't want to be ignorant about the science.
I'm very confused about the difference between two terms: genetically modified foods and genetically engineered foods. Is there a difference? If yes, Can someone please explain the difference?
Thank you, Ang
Reply from Prakash:
The terms referring to bioengineered foods can be really confusing. Most of these terms (genetically engineered, genetically modified, gene-enhanced, transgenic, bioengineered, 'Frankenfood'..) all mean the same - foods produced through insertion of foreign genes into crop plants i.e., crops improved using the recombinant DNA technique.
The term 'genetically modified' has a broad meaning and can also be referred to traditionally bred crops using hybridization and mutation breedings although in the current popular usage now it essentially refers to crops improved through gene technology.
I personally do not like the term 'GMO' and find it ugly and repulsive. We should strive to banish the term 'GMO' from our lexicon as it somehow gives a false perception that these new crop varieties are radically different from the traditionally bred counterparts. Activists opposed to biotechnology recognize that repugnance, and thus deliberately use this term freely. Ironically, this term was first introduced by an elite American scientist group back in 1987 by the National Academy of Sciences of USA for their report title.