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March 1, 2004


Uganda Approves GM; Caliornia H-Bomb; Biosafety Protocol; Confident Consumers


Today in AgBioView: March 2, 2004

* Consumer Labeling Alert!
* Uganda gives cautious approval to GM food
* CA Food Activists Seek to H-Bomb GMOs
* Biosafety Protocol now operational
* Jamia Hamdard Develops GM Herbs
* Select Pieces from FAO-BiotechNews
* “Women, Science and Technology”
* Despite scares, most have confidence in U.S. foods

r /> Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 20:13:42 -0600
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Consumer Labeling Alert!

Consumer Labeling Alert!

Dear Friends, Colleagues and Observers:

As you all are certainly aware, the Precautionary Principle requires that we take measures to ameliorate "threats," "potential threats," "possible threats" and what Greenpeacers call "unknown threats." Well, finally, there is a consumer labeling product which could help minimize the unknown adverse consequences of technology our governments say they have not tested, and the technology involves alien organisms in our environment. Those truly concerned about appropriate, informative consumer labeling should visit http://www.earthbounddog.com/ and find out how to protect themselves. Regulators around the world have not made this sort of consumer labeling mandatory, heightening the urgency of this crucial issue. (P.S. This is NOT an endorsement of the product or the Precautionary Principle.)


Uganda gives cautious approval to GM food

- SciDev.Net, By Charles Wendo, 2 March 2004

The Ugandan government has announced that genetically modified (GM) foods can be imported into the country — but that they should be used " strictly for consumption", and not for cultivation.

In a statement released last month, the government's National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) says that the government "recognises the controversial nature of this subject and has therefore decided to proceed with caution, building consensus at all stages."

The statement, signed by NARO director-general George Otim-Nape. adds that "policy decisions should not adversely affect the development of science." — an acknowledgement that some scientific questions about the potential environmental risks of GM crops remain open.

This is the first time that the Ugandan government has declared an explicit policy on GM foods. However, the issue has been rising rapidly up the country's political agenda in recent months.

Last year, President Yoweri Museveni launched a biotechnology laboratory, which is now carrying out tissue culture of bananas, coffee and other crops (see Banana lab opens in Uganda). Scientists are preparing to carry out experiments involving genetic modification at the laboratory, emphasising that at present this is being done purely for research purposes.

At the same time, a draft law that would regulate both research into GM crops and the release of GM organisms has been submitted to the cabinet, prior to being voted on in parliament.

According to Otim-Nape, the position of the Ugandan government is that GM foods can be considered safe for human consumption until proved otherwise. At the same time, he says, given that long-term risks cannot be entirely ruled out, Uganda will continue to "build capacity to understand, assess, evaluate and manage potential risks and benefits of biotechnology".

Many scientists in Uganda have welcomed the statement. Edward Kakonge, a professor of biochemistry at Makerere University, Kampala, for example, says that as long as GM foods are imported strictly for consumption and not for planting, then the risks will be minimal.

But he urges caution on the cultivation of GM crops, citing concerns that genes may be transferred to other species. "The long-term outcomes are unpredictable," he says. "These things can start off well, then problems emerge later."

In contrast, the government's stance has been criticised by several non-governmental organisations, which argue against the import or local production of GM crops. John Bigyemano, a consumer activist, says that the government's position is unwise. "We will oppose the government's stand," he says. "Our position is that GM foods should be considered as dangerous until proved otherwise."

Bigyemano also complains that certain GM-based products, such as breakfast cereals and cooking oil processed from GM foodstuffs, are already being sold in Uganda without this being revealed on their label. This, he says, violates consumers' rights to choice, information and protection from harmful products.


CA Food Activists Seek to H-Bomb GMOs

- Center for Consumer Freedom, March 1, 2004

Tomorrow's vote on Measure H in Mendocino County, CA will determine if the same locality that voted to legalize marijuana farming four years ago will now outlaw the farming of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Is it something in the pot-laced air? No -- just organic food activists blowing smoke in an attempt to protect their market share. Measure H is curious, not only because it would ban an agricultural activity that doesn't yet exist in Mendocino, but also because its enforcement could present a financial burden to the county. Of course, none of this matters to the holier-than-thou pontiffs of the organic food movement.

One cheerleader and fundraiser for the Measure H campaign is Lori Rosenberg, who runs a Mendocino natural-foods "cooperative." Rosenberg told The Boston Globe that she doesn't "want her foods to be messed with." Or her profits -- especially considering that organic food products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts and provide no unique benefits. Finding it difficult to compete, organic activists often seek to rub out the competition.

Els Cooperrider, another Measure H activist, asks: "What could be so bad to saying 'No to GMOs' until we learn a little more about them?" The answer is nothing -- if you happen to run an organically certified brewpub in Mendocino as Cooperrider does. With no scientific evidence of any problems associated with genetically modified foods, holistic food activists are left to scare the public with a never-ending litany of "what if" scenarios.

Americans have been safely been enjoying genetically modified food in great quantities for almost a decade. Moreover, biotech food has the potential to save millions of lives claimed by starvation every year. Of course, none of this matters to the chic, organic elitists of Mendocino County.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat isn't fooled by organic scare-mongers (see http://www.pressdemocrat.com/local/vote04/newendorsements/20ed1.html). It urges Mendocino citizens to vote "no" on Measure H: "Fear is a powerful motivator. It can lead to both great achievements and to tragic decisions. It can also lead to poorly written and misguided public policy, as in the case of Measure H."


Biosafety Protocol now operational as governments agree documentation rules for GMO trade

Kuala Lumpur, 27 February 2004 - The 87 member states of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which entered into force in September 2003, have adopted documentation requirements and other procedures for promoting the safety of international trade in living (or genetically) modified organisms (known as LMOs, or GMOs).

Under the new system, all bulk shipments of genetically engineered crops intended for food, feed or processing (such as soybeans and maize) are to be identified as "may contain LMOs". The accompanying documentation should also indicate the contact details of the importer, exporter or other appropriate authority.

Over the next year an expert group will further elaborate the documentation and handling requirements for these bulk agricultural shipments. Key issues still to be resolved include the percentage of modified material that these shipments may contain and still be considered GMO-free and the inclusion of any additional detailed information. A decision on these matters will be considered at the next meeting, to be held in 2005.

Agreement has also been reached on more detailed documentation requirements for those GMOs (such as genetically engineered seeds and
fish) that are meant to be introduced directly into the environment. These shipments should be clearly identified as "destined for contained use".

In addition, the documentation should specify the common, scientific and commercial names of the modified organism, the transformation event code or unique identifier code, any handling and storage requirements, contact details in the case of emergency, and how the GMO is to be used.

"Now that a system for identifying and labeling GMO exports has become operational, countries can enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while avoiding the potential risks," said Hamdallah Zedan, the Protocol's Executive Secretary.

"This rigorous system for handling, transporting, packaging and identifying GMOs is in the best interests of everyone - developed and developing countries, consumers and industry, and all those who care deeply about our natural environment," he said.

The meeting also adopted procedures and mechanisms for promoting compliance with the Protocol and assisting countries in cases of non-compliance. It established a 15-member compliance committee that will submit regular reports and recommendations to the governing body of the Protocol.

A negotiating group of legal and technical experts on liability and redress for damages resulting from transboundary movements of GMOs was also launched and asked to develop a regime by 2008. The group must consider issues such as insurance and the definition and valuation of damage to biodiversity.

Other decisions adopted this week focus on making the Biosafety Clearing House fully functional (the Clearing House will enable governments to share information on GMOs, national legislation, and other critical matters), implementing a comprehensive action plan to promote capacity building, providing guidance to the Protocol's financial mechanism on priorities and establishing a medium-term work programme for the Protocol.

The world's governments adopted the Biosafety Protocol in January 2000 to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs that may adversely effect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. The Protocol forms a part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme and signed by over 150 governments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

This week's meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the first meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP1) attracted some 1,000 delegates and observers. The next meeting will take place in the second quarter of 2005.

Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Michael Williams at +60-12-6200706, +41-79-409-1528 or michael.williams@unep.ch; or Diana Nicholson in Montreal at +1-514-287-7031 or Diana.nicholson@biodiv.org. See also [ http://www.biodiv.org/ ]www.biodiv.org.


Jamia Hamdard Develops GM Herbs; Plans GM Oilseeds, Pulses

- Financial Express, By ASHOK B SHARMA, Feb 29, 2004

NEW DELHI, FEB 29: The government has entrusted the Delhi-based deemed university, Jamia Hamdard to develop genetically-modified (GM) oilseeds, pulses and medicinal herbs.

The government has given Rs 40 million as financial assistance for this project to the deemed university under the Technology Mission on Oilseeds, Pulses and Maize (TMOP&M).

Jamia Hamdard’s Centre for Biotechnology has already developed a transgenic medicinal herb, Chicory (Cichorium intybus L), which has 40 per cent higher content of esculin, a glucosyl camarin, having skin protective properties. This herb is used in formulations to cure liver ailments and jaundice by mobilising osmotin gene. “This transgenic herb has been developed by employing novel engineering metabolic pathways. We have also developed a bio-transformation system with higher conversion rate of immediate precursors into artemisinin,” said Dr MZ Abdin.

Dr Abdin, who is the director of the newly set up Centre for Transgenic Plant Development in Jamia Hamdard, also said that his faculty members are working on genes like osmotin, Cu/Zn SOD, Cod A and Bet A for conferring tolerance to abiotic stress in the host plants. Work is in progess on genes like Bt, Chitinase, Lectin, Protease inhibitors for imparting resistance to disease and pests in the host plants. The researchers are also evaluating ACC oxidase for enhancing shelf-life of fruits and vegetables and Chacone Synthase for modulating flower colour, he said.

Jamia Hamdard’s centre for transgenic plant development has recently received Rs 40 million for initiating work on GM oilseeds and pulses. u

Dr Abdin said that work is in progress to develop GM oilseeds and pulses and the centre’s scientists have recently identified two novel genes from the roots of cultivars, Amber and Kaushal which make them resistant to infections from aflatoxigenic moulds. The centre has also the mandate for authentication of crude components of herbal formulations through the development of molecular database, evaluating therapeutic potential of herbal formulations, generation of edible vaccines and in vivo and in vitro conservation of medicinal plants.

Select Pieces from FAO-BiotechNews, 2-3-2004

FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp

Biotechnology research - FAO e-conference summary document

The summary document of the FAO e-mail conference entitled "What should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries?" has been finalised and put on the web. Nearly 350 people subscribed for the conference, which ran from 13 November to 16 December 2002, and 128 messages were posted, about 60% coming from people living in developing countries. The 14-page document aims to provide an easy-readable synopsis of the main issues and concerns discussed by participants during the conference. It is available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C8/summary.htm or can be requested from biotech-admin@fao.org.

FAO/IAEA Plant Breeding and Genetics Newsletter

Plant Breeding and Genetics Newsletter No. 12 (January 2004) has now been published by the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture and the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory. The 24-page newsletter, issued twice a year, gives an overview of their past and upcoming events (meetings, training courses etc.), ongoing projects and publications. See http://www.iaea.org/programmes/nafa/d2/public/pbg-nl-12.pdf (1.1 MB) or contact k.weindl@iaea.org for further information.

"Biotechnology and trade: Untangling key issues"

- 19 May 2004, Geneva, Switzerland.. A half-day roundtable organised as part of the Geneva Environment Network Roundtables, which bring together Geneva-based UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, inter-governmental organisations, industry, embassies and missions to discuss emerging issues relating to the environment and sustainable development. See http://www.environmenthouse.ch/roundtables.htm or contact sofie.flensborg@unep.ch for more information.

SEARCA is pleased to invite you and your staff to a seminar on:

“Women, Science and Technology”
Speaker: Dr. Amelia Ancog, Former Undersecretary, Department of Science and Technology (DOST)

2 March 2004
Tuesday, 4:00 5:00 p.m.
UPLB Campus, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines

This seminar is part of the SEARCA Agriculture & Development Seminar Series (ADSS), which is held every Tuesday, 4:00-5:00 p.m.at SEARCA. (STARTING MARCH 2004, THE SEARCA ADSS WILL NOW BE HELD EVERY TUESDAY.)

The Seminar is open to the public. It is meant to encourage the presentation and discussion of current and upcoming trends in the agriculture sector, key issues in and the implications of these developments in agriculture, as well as results of agricultural research.

Through this seminar series, SEARCA takes a proactive role in identifying problems and concerns in specific sectors of agriculture and provides a venue for researchers to present their findings and questions, thereby contributing to a vibrant scientific exchange within and even beyond the Los Baños Science Community.

If you or your colleagues wish to present your research findings/work through the SEARCA ADSS, please contact Dr. Nerlita M. Manalili, Manager, or Ms. Nyhria G. Rogel, Project Development Specialist, Research and Development Department at telephone numbers (49) 536-2290, 536-3459, 536-2365 to 67 (local 398 or 137) or e-mail .

We look forward to having you at the Seminar Series.

Thank you.


Despite scares, most have confidence in U.S. foods

- The Associated Press, By MATT SLAGLE, March 2, 2004

DALLAS - Mad cow disease. Fish tainted with mercury and PCBs. Contaminated green onions from Mexico. Bird flu in ducks and chickens. Is anything safe to eat these days?

Across the nation, many consumers have made adjustments to their grocery lists, opting for organically grown meats and vegetables following recent food-borne illness scares.

Many more, however, expressed confidence in the safety of the country's food supply.

"Mad cow doesn't bother me," Ohio State University chemistry professor Barbara Pappas said while stocking up on ground round, steaks and chops at Carfagna's Specialty Foods in Columbus, Ohio. "The probability is so remote. A person smoking next to me is more dangerous."

The most recent food-related problem to hit the United States came when bird flu was found last week in chickens on a South Texas farm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is a different virus than the one that has killed at least 22 people in Asia and it poses little threat.

Immediate steps were taken to contain the spread of bird flu at the farm in Gonzales County, Texas. All 6,600 birds in the flock were killed, and two live-bird markets in Houston were closed.

The bird flu scare comes less than three months after the first reported U.S. case of mad cow disease was found in Washington on Dec. 9. Beef products tainted by mad cow can convey a deadly brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Last month, a scientific study found that farm-raised salmon contain far more potentially cancer-causing pollutants than do wild salmon because their feed is contaminated.

In November, three people died and more than 600 were sickened after eating tainted green onions at a Pittsburgh area Chi-Chi's restaurant. It was the largest single-source hepatitis outbreak in the nation's history.

All this has made some consumers think twice.

"I feel like eating fruits and vegetables is definitely safer," said Cindy Hader of North Richland Hills, Texas. "But it's a sad situation in our country when people are buying special foods to avoid poisons and toxins."

Hader, a vegetarian, said she buys organically grown food whenever possible because of fears over pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified plants.

Reggie James, director of the Consumers Union's southwest region, said fears over mad cow and avian flu have encouraged more consumers to scrutinize how their food is manufactured. "This is a good thing. Consumer preference for more wholesomely produced foods could impact food production practices that lead to higher risks and inhumane conditions for animals," he said.

"I prefer to know where my food is coming from whenever I can," said Stephanie Weisenbach, shopping at an organic food store in Iowa. "What's happened the last few months - it's just kind of reaffirmed my decisions."

Some, like Susan Primm of Nashville, Tenn., think the government could do more, especially in the handling of mass-produced chicken and beef.

"I believe it is important for us to raise animals in a healthy way," she said after shopping for groceries. "When animals are not respected and not raised in a healthy way, they get sick."

The goal of the public health system is to prevent what can be prevented and to quickly contain what can't, said Texas Department of Health spokesman Doug McBride. "There's no 100 percent guaranteed risk-free situation."

The USDA has doubled its testing for mad cow disease, and recent surveys indicate U.S. beef consumption has not fallen. The agency also recommended fish farmers change feed and urged consumers to buy wild salmon after it was found that farm-raised salmon had more toxins.

Lester Crawford, acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said consumers should feel confident.

"The American food supply continues to be among the safest in the world," he said.

Note: In yesterday's posting of a letter written to NY Times, we left out the name of the author John Cross (see below). Apologies from AgBioView for this.

> Considering, (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/01/opinion/01MON4.html)
> "Keeping Seeds Safe", an editorial in today's New York Times.
> "Alarming findings indicate that the reservoir of traditional seeds

This editorial needs a reasoned response from experts. The NY Times
appears to accept uncritically UCS's viewpoint regards the significance of
low percentages of transgene sequences in commercial seed. ......