Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 20, 2004:
* India Must Cultivate GM Rice: Rejoinder to Suman Sahai
* I am a Biotech Advocate
* Needless Tragedy In Angola: Anti-GM Activity Lacks Humanity
* Scale Neutrality….Another Biotech Attribute
* Biotech 'Essential' to Fight World Food Crisis
* Future Prospects for Biotech Crops
* It is Unwise to Merge IRRI and CIMMYT
* Saving the Seed or Saving Romantic Assumptions
* Food Industry Dreads European Labeling Rules
* UK is GM Free? (We'll Eat 'em but Not Grow 'em!)
* Response from Syngenta on "Cows Ate GM Maize & Died"
* Brazil Maps Arabica Coffee Genome to Improve Quality
* Value of GM
India Must Cultivate GM Rice: Rejoinder to Dr Suman Sahai's article
- Gurumurti Natarajan
Dr. Suman Sahai is at it again. Alarmist, unscientific and melange of bits and pieces of information misleading at every turn as to trigger a sense of doubt, despair and despondency in the minds of the uninitiated; an ugly attempt at veering away from the valid and perhaps wantonly so.
Dr. Sahai was an invited participant at an international workshop on the biosafety of rice (organised by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, India) where time and again it was clearly explained and made to be understood even to non-specialists that given the morphology of the rice floret, mechanism of pollination and its genetics very little out-crossing takes place between and among cultivated varieties, between cultivated varieties and local land races and much less between cultivated varieties and weeds, such that what little cross pollination that actually does occur in nature is truly insignificant and not germane to the issue of lateral gene transfer from one rice variety to another, its relative or weed nearby.
Therefore, no harm is wrought (willfully or otherwise) to the noble thought spared to the preservation of biodiversity of the species through the introduction of GM rice. Thus," harm (to) the native gene pool of rice" is more in the minds of the ignorant and those deliberately misleading.
Further professes Dr. Sahai, 'Too little is understood about what happens when foreign genes are abruptly pushed into the genetic material of living organisms like plants'. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Quite simply, nothing happens unless there is a selective advantage to the new recombination and/or a suitable selection pressure exerted on the new recombination!
At any rate, she might find it interesting to learn that of the several popular cultivars of rice being cultivated in India, NOT ONE of them is a pure line nor do they originate from a single cross, double cross or even a three-way cross! Cultivar Mahsuri draws from 6 parents (and has the least number of parents involved), while Lalat, Swarna and others each draw from 12 or more while the ubiquitous IR64, by far the most popular modern cultivar is derived from a cross involving not less than 163 parents (with a few of them being repeated in different combinations). So are the earlier modern varieties starting from IR20, IR36, IR42, IR60 to IR66! Incidentally too IR64 is a popular cultivar in such diverse ecosystems as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, besides India and has been cultivated in millions of acres over two decades that one is yet to uncover a distortion unto this variety per se or to other varieties of rice that are cultivated in adjacent fields! So much f or her grotesquely wrong and mischievously worded article in terms of 'foreign genes' being pushed in to genetic material of living organisms!
Other respondents have provided very apt information and nailed Dr. Sahai on such dubious remarks of hers as the 'ban by Mexico on GM research', 'suspected allergenic properties of starlink corn', 'herbicide tolerance gene can move to native varieties and create new, difficult to control, weeds', implications of gene silencing through introgression of "foreign genes" and such other preposterous submissions that they do not need to be further dignified by additional scientifically valid condemnations.
She would do well to brush up her fundamentals of genetics before embarking on such fear mongering and deprecating science in her unfettered quest to romanticizing the return to the past as the panacea to quell the maladies of hunger, malnutrition and impoverishment and before she proclaims that 'India must not cultivate GM rice until a solid body of research is done under Indian conditions to understand the implications of foreign genes shifting to rice diversity', whatever the last phrase means!
> Should India Cultivate GM Rice?
> - Suman Sahai, The Hindu (India), April 5, 2004
> 'India must not cultivate genetically modified rice until a solid body
> of research is done under local conditions to understand the
> implications of foreign genes for rice diversity.
I am a Biotech Advocate
- Dean Kleckner, BioScience News (NZ), April 20, 2004
Having visited over 70 countries and New Zealand five times, I am a "New Zealand advocate"! A terrific country, filled with hard-working people and farmers that are proud of their clean, green image----as I am of my farm and my home state. And, I'm a believer in biotechnology.
The enemies of biotechnology want you to think that they're fighting a heroic struggle against Frankenstein’s monster--something so horrible and unnatural that it shouldn't be allowed to exist. But they're really living in some kind of Hollywood fantasyland. They understand almost nothing about agriculture, science, or common sense.
Farmers have been growing genetically modified crops for thousands of years. We're the world’s first genetic engineers. Long before the folks in white lab jackets discovered DNA, our forefathers were breeding all kinds of plants to grow more, better and healthier food. To them, this was simple necessity. Today, however, we recognize that they were actually combining genes.
Everybody loves eating big, juicy tomatoes. Farmers have grown them for ages, but they’ve also developed them over time, through experimentation. The tomatoes we buy now originally derived from a plant that produced little red berries. They're nothing like today’s tomatoes, which are the genetic creation of farmers. The same is true with New Zealand’s kiwi fruit--it hails from the inedible Chinese gooseberry.
Anthony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh has pointed out that these modern crops would survive in the wild "no longer than a domesticated chihuahua would last in the company of wolves." Yet none of us would consider the act of eating seedless grapes "unnatural."
We should therefore appreciate biotechnology as the continuation of a historic process to improve crops through better breeding. And let’s be absolutely clear about something: Nobody anywhere has ever found so much as a single scrap of evidence showing biotech foods to be anything but perfectly safe to eat. They've been tested over and over by top scientists in government, industry, and universities--even by people hoping to expose problems. Yet the fact remains that they may be consumed without concern.
The benefits of biotechnology are fantastic: Because these crops do a better job of fending off pests and disease, they’ve delivered tremendous advantages to farmers and the consumers who eat them. We've boosted our yields, which lowers prices and makes it easier to feed a growing population. We've been able to reduce our use of herbicides and pesticides. Finally, we’re helping the environment, because biotech crops help combat soil erosion and remove incentives to turn wilderness into farmland.
This isn't science fiction--it's science fact. The best news of all is that agricultural biotechnology is in its infancy. In the near future, we’re going to see the development of plants that resist drought. Genetic enhancement also will allow us to grow heart-healthy food as well as crops that fight cancer and other menaces.
A few outspoken radical activists may call this "unnatural"--though I think it’s unnatural not to want to use the tools of biotechnology to help us grow better food, feed the world, and help conserve our environment.
Dean Kleckner Chairs Truth About Trade and Technology,
(www.truthabouttrade.org) a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology. Mr. Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and a former President of the American Farm Bureau Federation
Needless Tragedy In Angola: 'Refusal of Genetically Modified Food for A Starving Populace Lacks Humanity'
- Buffalo News, april 15, 2004
There ought to be a reasonably fast connection between 2 million starving Africans and a ship laden with 19,000 tons of American corn, but the government of Angola has instead imposed a barricade. The corn, it fears, isn't safe.
Neither is malnutrition or starvation, but that has not cracked the resolve of Angola and other member nations of the Southern Africa Development Community. Angola is just the latest of those nations to ban genetically modified foods.
American agriculture has produced the corn and engineered it to be resistant to disease and insects. The corn is consumed by, among others, Americans. The southern African nations are afraid that such genetically modified crops are harmful to humans and animals or that seeds will be diverted from consumption to planting. According to Angola's National Center of Phytogenetic Resources, that threatens native crops and seed types.
The South Africa group has recommended banning such crops entirely or, if they are accepted, making sure they are milled or sterilized before distribution. That precaution is costly and reduces the amount of donated food. Even if one could make an argument for the policy, it doesn't trump the stark reality that Angolans are starving. Two million of them could lose desperately needed food aid if American crops -- which make up 77 percent of the food funneled to Angola by the United Nations -- are turned away.
Angola is a deeply troubled place. A bloody two-decade civil war ended in 2002, but recovery is slow. Some 3.8 million refugees have returned to their rural lands in the former Portuguese colony, but only recently have rains curtailed months of deep drought that meant crop failures.
Making matters worse are a variety of abuses, both physical and financial, including the torture and killing of thousands of children, some as young as 5 years old, by their own families on suspicion of being young witches. AIDS and other diseases take a toll. Poverty is widespread, although Angola is Africa's second- leading oil producer. But $4.2 billion in oil money, one in every four dollars, is unaccounted for. The suspected government corruption behind that missing money has led nations to cut back on contributions of food and cash to Angola.
The decision to ban the genetically modified corn was literally a life-or-death question for many Angolans. The talk of protecting them from food is incomprehensible. And it now raises the possibility of even more cutbacks in food aid, U.N. officials said.
Angola is now on the same page, officials say, as drought- stricken Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, which previously banned genetically altered foods. That page has tragedy written all over it.
Scale Neutrality….Another Biotech Attribute
- Dean Kleckner, Chairman, Truth About Trade & Technology http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=1649
It sounded like a sick April Fool's joke when I first heard the news. A few weeks ago, the government of Angola refused to accept humanitarian assistance in the form of biotech food. A shipment of 19,000 tons of corn from the United States was cancelled, even though their people are starting to go hungry. The reason----some of it might have been genetically enhanced.
When a country finds itself caught in a food-shortage crisis, it seems to me they don't always have the luxury of picking what's on the menu. But in truth, I was more disappointed than surprised. Two years ago, as millions of people in southern Africa faced a terrible drought, political leaders in several of the most affected nations announced that they would have nothing to do with donations of biotech food. Zambia president Levy Mwanawasa infamously declared, "We'd rather starve than get something toxic."
This was sheer nonsense: Biotech crops are perfectly safe, and as healthy as any other food. If they weren't, we wouldn't eat them here in the United States every day -- as we have for many years.
What isn't healthy, however, is Europe's ban on the importation of genetically enhanced crops. African leaders in Angola and elsewhere do admit it's the real reason why they won't accept biotech food, even when it comes to feed the hungry. They want to leave open the possibility of one day, down the road, exporting crops to Europe. So they've made an unconscionable decision: Better dead than fed.
Experts say few people in Angola are likely to starve, thank goodness. But they'll spend much more time looking for food, rather than improving a country that has endured nearly three decades of civil war. "Clearly, this will make it more difficult for them to start rebuilding their lives," says Richard Lee of the World Food Program, which provides much of the aid to Angola.
The immediate result of Angola's decision is that food aid has been cut drastically. The government in Luanda now says it won't accept biotech corn unless it has been milled. This can be done, of course, but it's an expensive and time-consuming process that will have the effect of reducing the level of assistance. We should be removing the barriers to feeding hungry refugees, not constructing new ones.
Despite Angola's problems, the overall situation in Africa is not entirely bleak. South Africa is making the most of what the 21st century has to offer farmers, even as many of its neighbors in the region turn their backs on biotech. Within five years, about half of South Africa's corn crop is expected to be genetically modified. This is not because anybody is imposing GM corn on growers, but because individual growers themselves want the advantages of biotech.
What's more, biotechnology is on the verge of making advances that the rest of the continent simply won't be able to ignore. "There's a whole new generation of bright, young Africans in plant breeding and in biotechnology that are showing the way," says Rockefeller Foundation president Gordon Conway. He is particularly impressed with laboratories in Uganda that are trying to create better bananas through gene transfer.
Some of the biggest beneficiaries, he insists, will be Africa's small-acreage farmers. Because many of them cannot afford fertilizer and other modern tools of agriculture, their yields are effectively cut in half. This is one of the main contributors to Africa's brutal cycle of malnutrition and famine.
It's also the reason why we are more often hearing biotechnology called "scale neutral." There's a misperception fostered by the anti-biotech groups that only big, bad biotech corporations benefit from these important scientific innovations. But that's hogwash: Small, medium and large acreage farmers in the United States, South Africa, and elsewhere have embraced biotech crops because they make sense. Everybody wins, from the researchers who try to solve agricultural problems to the companies that distribute the seeds to the people like me who plant them.
The ultimate winners, of course, are consumers, even if they aren't fully aware of the massive efforts undertaken on their behalf. In that, most consumers are alike - whether they're grocery-store shoppers in the suburbs, African subsistence farmers who consume much of what they produce or desperate refugees in Angola.
Biotech 'Essential' to (fight) World Food Crisis
Opponents and defenders of genetically modified crops were at each others throats on Tuesday over the most environmentally friendly way to feed the world. A report just out claims that by 2050 the world will have to double its food production to feed a predicted population of nine billion.
And the biotech sector argues that in order to do this sustainably and without an untenable increase in land use, gene-altered crops will be needed. Clive James, chairman of the international service for the acquisition of agri-biotech applications (ISAAA) that produced the report said on Tuesday that “biotech crops although not a panacea are essential”.
He added that "no single approach will provide a solution … conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050". Proponents of GMOs argue that they produce much higher yields than conventional - and especially organic - crops, meaning that less land is needed to provide the same amount of food.
Some estimate that if the UK alone, with a population of 60 million, decided only to grow organic crops, it would need to plough up an area the size of Wales. But green groups refute the claim out of hand, with Eric Gall of Greenpeace highlighting the fact that the western world already produces a massive surplus of food..
Future Prospects for Biotech Crops
- EuropaBio, Brussels, April 20th 2004
By 2050 the world will have to at least double food production in order to feed 9 billion people. To do this sustainably the world should not have to increase the land area used today for agriculture, according to Clive James, Chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Speaking at a press lunch today in Brussels, Clive James said that "No Single approach will provide a solution to food, feed and fiber security - conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050, biotech crops although not a panacea are essential."
More including Clive James' presentation at http://www.europabio.org/pages/ne_200404.asp
It is Unwise to Merge IRRI and CIMMYT
- Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express (India), April 20, 2004 (Forwarded by Shantu Sharma )
The global research body, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is shrinking in size and activity. This is no good news.
The CGIAR which had earlier 16 "future harvest centres" catering to different areas of activity is now left with 15 such centres. One of its "future harvest centre", the Hague-based ISNAR officially does not exist from April 1, this year. This centre has been merged with IFPRI based in the United States. ISNAR's offices and assets located across the globe has been transferred to IFPRI.
ISNAR has informed all its global associates of the termination of their respective agreements with it on March 31, 2004. The global associate programme had enabled ISNAR to draw on talents of many researchers and scientists from around the developing world for many years. Before the dissolution of ISNAR about 22 specialists from 15 countries were working for providing inputs to the programme through short-term consultancies, while maintaining regular employment in their respective countries. The recent success story of the programme was in Costa Rica.
The fund-constrained CGIAR is now on the move to close down some more "future harvest centres". Talks are afloat to merge to two research bodies, the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the international research centre on wheat and maize (with the acronym
CIMMYT) into one institution.
This is a very sorrowful state of affairs. The CGIAR as an inter-governmental research body was responsible for ushering in Green Revolution in 1960s in many developing countries. India was one of the beneficiary. It has also been an instrument for eradicating world hunger.
The fund flow from member countries have stagnated and shrunked. This has created a problem for CGIAR. The mindset of the national governments have changed and they are gradually withdrawing from rendering financial support even to many welfare schemes in their own countries. Many national governments in the developing countries are facing the problem of bridging their fiscal deficit. The CGIAR too, in this changed scenario, has started opting for more private partnership and sourcing funds from the private sector. It has sacrificed its image of a global public sector research body and its recent mission statement it has said that CGIAR is a body of both public and private sector research.
It is unfortunate when the world is celebrating the International Year of Rice, talks are afloat to merge IRRI and CIMMYT into one affliate body. IRRI and CIMMYT have all along played distinct roles for the cause of eradicating world hunger. Both the institutes deals with the staple food crops. Rice is the staple food crop in Asia. Wheat and maize are staple food crops in many countries across the globe. Each of these crops need separate systems of research and hence there was a need to create two separate research bodies for these staple crops.
It will be a height of folly if IRRI and CIMMYT are merged together as one affialiate body under CGIAR. One should not think that the roles of IRRI and CIMMYT are over with the ushering in of the Green Revolution. There are still millions of hungry people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Both IRRI and CIMMYT still have effective roles to play.
The national governments, in the interests of greater public welfare, should increase their funding to the CGIAR system in general and to IRRI and CIMMYT in particular. Also in the interest of greater public welfare the CGIAR system should maintain its image as a global public sector research body working for public good.
The CGIAR should not depend upon funds from private sector. It is a fancy these days to go for private-public sector partnership. It has started sourcing funds from Syngenta, Rockfeller Foundation and other multinational companies. But this honey mooning may sometime result in certain adverse consequences, if adequate caution is not taken. The CGIAR system hold the largest gene bank in the multilateral system. This is a precious public property. The multinational companies are eager to expolit these resources to their own advantage, less for public good. Caution is needed to see that the public resources not pirated and patented for the benefit of multinational companies. There have been ample cases of biopiracy by multinational companies.
If the CGIAR system is unable to maintain IRRI and CIMMYT as separate research bodies, then it would be rather wise to handover IRRI to The Philippines government and CIMMYT to Mexican government, where these two institutions are currently located, rather than thinking of its merger or privatisation. Similarly other offices of IRRI and CIMMYT can be handedover to respective countries where they are located.
Saving the Seed or Saving Romantic Assumptions
- Thomas R. DeGregori
Modern agriculture is increasingly being used as an all encompassing category of evil by critics of globalization and transgenic (genetically
modified) food crops, and by street protestors and their mentors and organizers. Implicit in the protest rhetoric is a dichotomy between modern agronomy (assumed to be large corporate enterprises either farming or selling to farmers) and small self-sufficient farmers, who replant their own seeds from year-to-year and have little or no reliance on the market for inputs.
The difference between the two presumed types of agriculture could not be more stark in the minds of the believers. The enemy is the monopolistic seed corporations and industrial farms that are mechanized, use purchased inputs including synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, and are by definition "corporate polluters." In using commercially acquired industrial inputs, modern agriculture has removed some vital essence from our foodcrops and become divorced from the natural ecological environment. In contrast, the small scale traditional agriculturalist follows more benign practices, substituting labor for technology, and otherwise using more natural time-tested practices and inputs that preserve the soil and do not pollute the environment.
Commercial "organic" farmers in developed countries are seen as a permitted exception to the agribusiness category, as they are assumed to be following a regimen that is the larger scale environmental equivalent of traditional agriculture. Even here, among the "organic" enthusiasts, there are purists who bemoan the take-over of the movement by large corporate enterprises and advocate buying from small local producers even if the price is significantly higher. To these purists, "organic food is being openly accused of selling its soul" (Vidal 2003). Most of us who grew up in the United States assumed that "soul food" was an expression used by Black Americans to describe home cooking, not to be taken literally and definitely not an appellation reserved exclusively for food grown with manure.
SAVE THE SEED has become the slogan of choice for those opposed to modern agriculture in general, and genetically modified crops in particular. The claim is made that the vast majority of the world's farmers plant only seeds from their previous harvest, as those who went before them have been doing for the several millennia since agriculture began in their region. The FAO indicates that there are 1.4 billion farmers who save seed for planting from harvest to harvest. Unfortunately, FAO does not distinguish between farmers who never have bought seeds, and farmers who go into the market one year and replant it for one or more years until a new higher yielding is available, or a new disease-resistant variety becomes necessary. Nor does it identify the very common practice of poorer farmers in many regions who in replanting their seeds will mix with it anywhere from 40 to 60% of a purchased variety. Even more affluent farmers have for the last 4 decades been crossing modern varieties with local ones, providing the Green Revolution seed package with far greater diversity than the critics seem to be aware.
The idea that agriculture can in any way be "natural" or in "harmony with nature" is silly if not downright pernicious. This does not mean that we are free to do whatever we wish and not be concerned with the consequences. It does mean that in transforming nature we have to acquire a scientific understanding of as many dimensions of agriculture and the environment as possible, and then devise and continually revise rules of the game so that we can grow and raise our food sustainably.
In agriculture, we are concentrating nutrient that is also nutrient for birds, rats, insects, fungus, bacteria and viruses. In a word we have to protect the plant which historically has required a "pesticide" of some sort or another in addition to the plant's natural defenses. When we grow a plant in one location and eat it in another, we are mining and transporting soil nutrient which has to be replenished. If nature doesn't provide sufficient nutrient in usable form, as is the case with nitrogen, then humans have to produce it (Smil 2000 and 2001). The question then is
- who owns nature - particularly when an ownership claim is made by those who oppose patenting life forms (Brown 2003).
Read the full article at http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=56
Food Industry Dreads European Labeling Rules
- Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 2004 http://www.stltoday.com/
'They ease biotech exports but impose strict record keeping'
WASHINGTON - The food industry is bracing for new European labeling and tracking rules that could knock down export barriers to genetically modified food but at the cost of changes in food-production and farming.
Fear of the new rules - which take effect Sunday - is so widespread that leading American farm and food groups are pressing the government to challenge their validity in the World Trade Organization.
The stakes are especially high in St. Louis, headquarters of the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and Monsanto Co., the world leader in plant biotechnology. The European rules represent a stark divergence from practices in the United States, where the government and industry have fought to prevent labeling genetically modified products along with requirements to track their shipment.
But in return for abiding by their rules, the Europeans are promising to lift a moratorium on approvals of many new, American-bred biotech products that were banned six years ago. That would be hugely welcome news for Monsanto and its rivals in the biotechnology industry were it not for concern about the looming rules for labeling.
They require European retailers to inform consumers if even a tiny portion (0.9 percent) of their food has ingredients that come from genetically modified plants. Even sacks of engineered grain fed to animals in Europe must bear labels. In order to avoid the stigma of labels, food companies could choose to reformulate products to assure that they contain no genetically engineered ingredients whatsoever.
That would be especially troublesome to the soybean farmers in the United States, where the crop is now more than 80 percent genetically modified. Soybeans are used in a wide variety of processed foods but companies might substitute palm oil or the equivalent for soybean oil. American soybean farmers already have lost one-quarter of their European market - valued at more than $200 million - in two years in part because of the furor over biotechnology.
David Hegwood, trade adviser in the U.S. Agriculture Department, said he worries that some food companies may simply choose to relocate in Europe to avoid burdensome export rules. "We think this is a lousy way to accomplish what they are trying to accomplish," he said.
The loss of markets is just one of the worries. Accompanying the labeling rules are new documentation requirements for genetically modified products that will require record keeping from farms to grocery shelves.
American farmers hoping to export engineered corn will need to keep track for five years of which seeds were planted in what field. Similar records will need to be maintained at grain elevators and by rail, trucking and barge lines as grain makes its way across the ocean.
The prospect of all that paperwork is daunting, said Hayden Milberg, the director of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association in Washington. "The U.S. grain-handling system is just not set up for this level of traceability. Such a system would be extremely expensive," he said.
The issue takes on even bigger significance because much of the world looks to Europe for leadership in matters of food safety. Since Europe's initial labeling regime was imposed five years ago, some three dozen countries representing 20 of the top 25 American export markets have adopted a labeling system, according to industry calculations.
In other words, rules written for the 15-country European Union - soon to grow to 25 countries - could have an impact far beyond the European continent. "These rules are important for the entire global economy," said Karil Kochenderfer, director of international trade for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the world's largest food association. "These products are safe by every scientific measurement, but they are being treated like hazardous waste. If we don't have the objectivity of science, what do we rely on?" she asked.
Tony Van der Haegen, a European Union official in Washington, argued that the traceability requirements are becoming common throughout the world as a means to prevent bioterrorism and attacks on computer systems. He asserted that the United States ought to understand that there are views about food in the world other than those held by Americans. "The problem of the United States is that it works under the motto that what is good for Americans is good for the world. That is wrong, and that is why the U.S. is losing big chunks of its export markets," he said.
It didn't take long after the first shipments of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans arrived in Europe in 1996 for a backlash to begin. Europeans long have paid more attention than Americans have to food, its sources and its presentation. In the 1990s, the continent had been shaken by a serious epidemic of mad cow disease, which produced spongelike holes in the brain of animals and began afflicting humans.
Despite a loss of faith in the continent's regulatory apparatus, Monsanto did little to prepare the European public for newly constituted food, leading to the 1998 de facto embargo that remains in effect today.
Europe's new labeling rules were devised as a strategy to give consumers a choice and to tamp down concerns about the safety of genetically modified food and its impact on the environment. Greenpeace activists are planning to fan out to European supermarkets to warn people about products carrying the new labels.
Despite opposition, Van der Haegen predicted that by early June, Europe will approve two biotech corn products - one a Monsanto variety - which he interpreted as lifting the moratorium that has plagued the industry and cost American corn farmers more than $1 billion in lost exports.
Tom McDermott, Monsanto's spokesman in Brussels, said he is hopeful that the Europeans will live up to their promise to end the moratorium that is blocking the approval of about a dozen Monsanto products both for import and planting.
But McDermott said that Monsanto, like many others, is wary of the new labeling rules. "Besides requiring a lot of record keeping and extra work by the people who handle these products, it will be very difficult to enforce and open the door to confusion, possibly even to consumer fraud. People might not represent truthfully what they have," he said.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch in Washington and the author of a newly released book on the World Trade Organization, sounded amused by the fretting. "The industry has its knickers in a colossal knot about the most basic of market freedoms - the consumer's right to know. It strikes me that there's more going on here than worry about the cost of regulation. It has to do with the fear of what consumers will do if fully informed," she said.
Signs of change
In November, 22 organizations representing much of the American food and farm industry requested that the U.S. trade representative begin formal proceedings in the World Trade Organization against the new rule, similar to the challenge to the European Union moratorium last year.
If the World Trade Organization found that the new rules unfairly restrained trade, Europe could be harshly penalized. As of last week, the U.S. trade office had made no decision on challenging the rules, and officials there did not respond to requests for comment. Government officials have expressed fears in recent months of what they call a growing "Europe-ization" of world attitudes against genetically modified food.
But a U.S. official who monitors biotech issues said last week he believes that the anti-biotech sentiments that gave rise to the new rules are increasingly being questioned in developing countries. Peter Chase, a State Department official who returned recently from a U.N. global biotechnology forum in Chile, said he detected rising resentment toward European-induced obstacles to agriculture biotechnology. "Many people feel that the pendulum has swung too far and that some of the questions that the Europeans keep asking aren't relevant to them," he said.
UK is GM Free? (We'll Eat 'em but Not Grow 'em!)
- C Kameswara Rao, email@example.com
The EC website at http://gmoinfo.jrc.it/ indicates that there are at least three notifications originating from the UK, relating to import of GM oil seed rape, rice and maize for the same as the non-GM counterparts of these crops, that is as food, feed and industrial use, but not for cultivation.
The applications do not indicate any geographical restriction and so these GM products are meant for use in all the EU countries including UK. For the notification on rice the time for public comment has elapsed. The notification number, the applicant and the trait are as follows:
1. No. C/GB/04/M5/4, Bayer Crop Science, Gulfosinate tolerant oil seed rape. 2. No. C/GB/03/M5/3, Bayer Crop Science, Gulfosinate tolerant rice LLRICER2. 3. No. C/GB/02/M3/03, Monsanto, GM maize.
There are several other notifications originating from the other EU countries and if no geographical restriction for import were mentioned, they too would be available in UK, sooner or later.
So basically, 'we will use, but will not cultivate'.
Response from Syngenta on "Cows Ate GM Maize & Died"
- Chris Novak, Syngenta,
I am responding regarding the recent Greenpeace allegations in Germany about Bt corn and cattle (AgBioView, April 8). For five years, Mr. Gottfried Glockner had fed his cows with a diet that included Bt-176 maize, with good results in animal health. The first symptoms of illness occurred in December 2000--at which point Mr. Glockner sought our assistance determining the cause of the illness.
In order to identify all possible causes, a broad investigation of the feed management and feed quality, including Bt maize, as well as the overall health status of the cows, was undertaken by several independent scientific institutions. These institutions included the Veterinary Pathology Department of the University of Giessen, the Institute for Animal Nutrition of the Federal Research Institution for Agriculture and the Clinic for Maternity, Gynaecology and Andrology of Large and Small Animals with the Veterinary Outpatient Clinic of the University of Giessen, and the Robert Koch Institute, as well as Syngenta scientific experts.
The examination of animals concluded that a number of health and management factors likely contributed to the poor health of these particular animals.
Importantly, these tests ruled out Bt maize as a potential contributing factor.
A letter from the Robert-Koch Institute (the German regulatory authorities for gene technology) to Mr. Glöckner, dated February 18, 2002 states: "from the information available to us and its evaluation, there is no reason to suspect that the problems which occurred on your farm are causally related to the Bt-toxin which is expressed in Bt-176 maize. We also do not see any argument against using an adequate amount of Bt-176 maize in the diet for dairy cows."
As Mr. Glöckner has been our customer for several years, Syngenta has been committed to working with him and the scientific and regulatory authorities to investigate the cause of these illnesses and deaths.
The results of the scientific investigations have shown that Bt corn is not linked to the cause of the problems associated with Mr. Glöckner's cows.
> Cows Ate GM Maize and Died!
> If you are still in mood for even wackier stuff, you cannot beat out
> friend Mae-Wan's "Cows Ate GM Maize & Died" from
> http://www.i-sis.org.uk :
> Twelve diary cows died after being fed GM maize and silage. This
> happened on a farm in Woelfersheim in the state of Hesse, Germany.
> According to the report by Greenpeace Germany, 'common errors in
> feeding and infections had by and large been ruled out as the cause of
> deathî, and the farmer involved, Gottfried Glickner, a supporter of GM
> crops, now suspects that Syngenta's GM maize Bt 176 is to be blamed.
Brazil Maps Arabica Coffee Genome to Improve Quality
- Peter Blackburn, Reuters, April 20, 2004 http://www.forbes.com/business/newswire/2004/04/20/rtr1338370.html
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian scientists finished mapping the arabica coffee genome with the aim of raising the tree's resistance to disease and harsh weather and improving quality, a research leader said on Tuesday.
A coffee genome is made up of 11 chromosomes which are packed with genes and form a blueprint for the beverage's taste, texture, flavor and other qualities. During the past two years, scientists from Brazil, the world's biggest coffee grower and exporter, produced 200,000 genetic sequences from which 35,000 genes were identified. Many of the genes recur in roots, branches and leaves of coffee trees.
"The object is to improve coffee quality and yields by protecting trees from disease and weather," project coordinator Alan Carvalho Andrade of the government's Agricultural Research Agency (Embrapa) told Reuters. "We can now start with coffee institutions, the functional phase which is about how to use the data bank on the 35,000 genes to improve coffee quality," he added. Andrade said it was uncertain how long it would take to start commercial production of improved coffee varieties.
Researchers have estimated that cost savings of between 50 and 100 percent could be made on herbicides, pesticides and other crop chemicals, and that productivity could be raised by between 30 and 50 percent. Sao Paulo's research foundation (Fapesp) helped coordinate the coffee genome project which cost 6 million reais (US$2.05 million) and was funded by the National Coffee Development Fund (Funcafe).
The coffee genetic data bank also contains information about conillon
(robusta) coffee varieties, which account for about 30 percent of Brazilian coffee output, although their genetic sequences have not been separately mapped, Andrade added. In Parana, the state's agronomic institute is researching the development of genetically modified (GMO) coffee beans which resist stronger herbicides. Brazilian researchers have already genetically mapped sugarcane as well as Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that attacks orange trees. Research is also being conducted into mapping witches' broom fungus that sharply reduced cocoa output in Brazil in the 1990s.
Value of GM
- The Evening Chronicle (UK), April 19, 2004 http://icteesside.icnetwork.co.uk/
There has been so much bad publicity about 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 did not need mowing so often and hedges which kept themselves in trim without you having to spend hours and days toiling to get them just right?
Scientific developments will lead the way to less back-breaking work in keeping your garden looking great, according to horticultural scientists and gardeners who took part in the RHS Science Exchange 2004, as part of the society's bicentenary celebrations.
Phil Gates, a plant biologist at Durham University, says there is value in, and potential for, manipulating plants and their environment for the benefit of horticulture. He explains: "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".
Pollen-free plants could help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever sufferers, while gardeners looking for innovations could see a host of new colours in plants which produce far more flowers. Dr Gates adds: "We shouldn't let the furore over currently available GM products, which are comparatively primitive technology, close our minds to environmentally acceptable benefits that a more sophisticated GM technology might deliver.
"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. "For example, recent discoveries of benign fungi that live inside plant tissues and protect their host from pathogens may mean that in future we'll find ourselves spraying our plants with fungal spores rather than fungicides."
Dr Gates' enthusiasm for scientific development will be music to the ears of many gardeners who do not 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 a gardeners' needs survey by the RHS. The survey shows that of the 18 million gardeners in the UK, six million spend an average 3.5 hours a week maintaining it. Some 85% of those surveyed said their key motivation is to make it look beautiful. But most people do not have the time to do that.
The least enjoyable features are lawns and hedges, which correlates with the most amount of work involved in maintaining these features. 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 and that, generally speaking, more research needs to be done before we start tampering with nature.
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. "Any organism with its own genetic code placed in our natural environment presents a set of potential consequences, and it's our responsibility to investigate those possible consequences.
"If we see how genes can be transferred from an artificial into a living state, one thing we have to have is control over those genes. We've got to account for any ways in which those genes can be transferred into the natural landscape beyond. "For instance, we don't know enough about how viruses interact with plants. There's a lot more to learn about the processes of genetic transfer and I'm quite sure the work that's done on new GM plants will seek to take that into account."
Another factor will be which of these ideas will ever come on to the market, bearing in mind the huge development costs and exhaustive testing which needs to be carried out on each potential product. Dr Thornton-Wood
adds: "It's difficult to predict which products will be commercially viable to offset the development costs."
While there are undoubtedly time-saving benefits to be made from scientific breakthroughs, it may be a good few years before our geraniums stand up to harsh winter frosts and watering cans become a thing of the past".