Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 10, 2004:
* Response to Terie Traavik
* Mae-wan Ho At It Again
* Africa GM Food Aid Claims are 'Rubbish'
* GM Food Aid Comes Under Fire Again in Africa
* India: Bt Cotton today, BITS tomorrow
* GM Plants and Protection Against Insects
* Plant Biotechnology Can Enhance Food Security and Nutrition
* What Horitzontal Gene Transfer?
* Water - More Nutrition Per Drop
On behalf of the scientific community, I offer this short paper in response to the latest allegations from Terie Traavik and the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology. It is unfortunate that this institute continues to publicize preliminary and unpublished findings that have not yet subjected to peer review. While the findings presented are not really new at all, they are being represented as "new evidence" of "possible human health impacts." Since the allegations are available on the Internet and accessible to search engines, we decided to provide a short summary of existing and relevant published research by well-recognized experts in the field. Please feel free to post our response.
Survival and Activity of Cauliflower Mosaic Virus Promoter in Mammalian Systems is Nothing New
Sachs, E., R. Goodman, D. Goldstein, K. Glenn, and J. Jennings Monsanto Company
June 5, 2004
Preliminary research conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology under the supervision of Terie Traavik has been reported publicly prior to the studies being completed, subjected to peer review, and published.
Traavik announced his findings at a meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on February 22, 2004, sponsored by the Third World Network. Subsequently, Jeffrey Smith presented the preliminary findings to delegates at the UN Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety meeting in Kuala Lumpur on February 24, 2004.
The researchers report in their summary, "Findings on CaMV Survival in Rat Tissue" that they have found intact cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter sequence in various cells and tissues of some rats following intragastric gavage of diet containing linear or circular genetic constructs of CaMV promoter sequence joined to a gene sequence encoding a green fluorescent protein (GFP). The researchers do not report expression of the GFP in the rat cells but state that this portion of the study is incomplete. They do report in vitro expression of GFP in human intestinal epithelial cells, rat cells, and fish cells, using the same constructs in the rat study, implying that the constructs are competent to express GFP in mammalian cells. This finding suggests, though does not confirm, the expectation that the CaMV promoter-GFP construct may eventually be shown to function in the rat cells and tissues studied. The researchers provide implications for human health that are based upon the presence of a proposed "recombination hot spot" (Ho et al. 1999) in the CaMV promoter sequences used in transgenic crops. Ho et al. assert that the putative hot spot could result in "inappropriate over expression of genes" leading to cancer in humans, or in recombination that may create "new viruses" that would endanger human health.
While there is little information provided to evaluate the study methodology, or information about the results with other constructs evaluated, there is sufficient information to understand the purpose and relevance of the study. The study seeks to: (1) determine whether the CaMV promoter can be shown to be functional in a mammalian system, and (2) to quantify the expression, if any, of the CaMV promoter construct relative to the human cytomegalovirus promoter (hCMV) construct in the rat, although the data are not provided. These are legitimate questions, but other researchers already have answered these or similar questions.
In a study by Vlasak et al. (2003), the researchers compared transient expression of several constructs containing the beta-glucuronidase (GUS) reporter gene driven by the CaMV promoter or by the hCMV promoter in both potato leaf protoplasts and cultured human cells. They found that the CaMV promoter construct was functional in human cells, but that activity was several thousand times lower in the human cells than in the potato cells. The very low level of expression documented by Vlasak and co-workers is consistent with the fact that gene promoters in general are capable of supporting very-low-level transcription in multiple species. This pertains not only to the CaMV promoter and other pararetoviral promoters, but also to all genes and promoters in plants and animals. Virtually every gene we consume is capable, at some level, of uptake by immune cells (as a part of normal immunologic function) and may be transiently expressed at a low level. Vlasak et al. (2003) state, ! "...that the potential hazards associated with the use of p35s [CaMV] may not be so serious as it is sometimes maintained." In response to the allegations by Ho et al. (1999), they state, "it is questionable whether relatively low transcription activity of CaMV 35S promoter can induce such hazardous events in mammalian cells." The production of cancer requires the induction of a heritable abnormality within a cell and its progeny. This would, in turn, require that the CaMV gene in fact become integrated into the genome. Traavik has not demonstrated gene function at this time, let alone integration into the genome. While some level of function is probable if sufficiently large doses of DNA are utilized, integration remains extraordinarily unlikely, and integration in a manner that would result in adverse effects would be more unlikely still. As explained above, this pertains not just to CaMV, but also to all genes consumed.
Another publication by Hull et al. (2000) focuses more directly on the questions concerning the potential risks of using the CaMV promoter in transgenic crops. These researchers explain that the CaMV organism is naturally present in a wide range of traditional food crops (crucifers), including cabbages, cauliflowers, oilseed rape, mustard and other brassicas, and can be routinely found in extremely high numbers (~10,000 copies per cell) -- compared to only one or a few copies per cell for transgenic crops. As a result, the consumption of these vegetables would result in the ingestion of vastly more copies of the CaMV 35S promoter than the consumption of transgenic crops containing the introduced promoter, since CaMV is naturally present in many food crops.
Interestingly, these researchers point out that CaMV is a caulimovirus that also is found in groundnuts, soybeans, and cassava, as well as brassicas; and that caulimoviruses represent only one of two groups of plant par! aretroviruses, both of which include the 35S promoter. The other group, the badnaviruses, are found naturally in food crops such as banana, cocoa, citrus, yams, pineapple and sugarcane -- all crops of interest on the islands. The paper by Hull and colleagues is useful for assessing the risks of the CaMV promoter in food crops, including use in transgenic crops. The researchers conclude:
"From the arguments above, there is no evidence that the CaMV 35S promoter will increase the risk over those already existing from the breeding and cultivation of conventional crops. There is no evidence that the 35S promoter, or other retroelement promoters, will have any direct effects, in spite of being consumed in much larger quantities than would be from transgenes in GM crops."
Another point, addressed by Murphy (2002) in his article "CaMV DNA is not a novel cancer risk," relates to the assertion by Ho that the CaMV DNA is protected in plants by a viral coat protein, but that the naked 35S DNA is "highly infectious." Murphy explains, "Many of the CaMV viruses would have penetrated into the nuclei of infected plant cells, where their DNA replicates as naked plasmids. This replicating form of the virus would be present in many brassica vegetables. The viral DNA would be unshielded by its protein coat and presumably therefore theoretically available for recombination with other DNA, whether from different viruses or from bacterial or human cells in the gut -- just like the recombinant CaMV that Dr. Ho warns us about." As a result, people have safely consumed vegetables with CaMV DNA, and the CaMV 35S promoter, for millennia without adverse health consequences. In summary, Murphy states that the "assertions would appear to be based on speculation ! that does not take into account the prevalence of viruses like CaMV in our normal diet."
Ho et al. (1999) also alleges that recombination of the CaMV 35S promoter in plants and animals would lead to over expression of endogenous genes, and potentially adverse consequences. Even if a recombination event were to occur, albeit rarely and under a strict set of unlikely conditions, it is most likely to be found in only one or a few cells (Hull et al. 2000).
In fact, to date, there is no evidence to support a role for plant viruses as a causative factor in mammalian malignancies.
It also is relevant to consider that animals routinely ingest DNA from a variety of sources, including plants, animals, fungi, viruses and bacteria. Some of the genes encoded by the DNA include toxins, allergens, and antibiotic resistance genes. Many bacteria that are consumed or live in the mammalian digestive tract contain self-replicating plasmids, with toxic factors or antibiotic resistance genes. And in spite of these apparent "risks," it is widely recognized by experts and regulators that the consumption of DNA does not pose risks; and regulators have determined that DNA is generally recognized as safe or GRAS.
The presence of ingested DNA in certain animal cells and tissues should be expected and, in fact, has been demonstrated previously (e.g., Hohlweg and Doerfler 2001). Other researchers have elegantly shown that very high doses of apparently intact plasmid DNA, or linear DNA, with constructs similar to those used by Traavik, have shown that very few cells, mostly lymphocytes, appear to be involved in taking up the DNA. The amount of detectable DNA following ingestion or intragastric gavage in rodent tissues drops quickly and appears to result from normal degradation of ingested DNA, regardless of the source.
Furthermore, multiple highly controlled and well-designed studies of the fate of DNA from transgenic crops in various animals (chickens, pigs and
cows) have consistently failed to detect the presence of single copy plant genes or introduced transgenes in animal tissues or products. These studies used very sensitive PCR methods and demonstrate that if even very short pieces of ingested plant DNA, including inserted transgenes in biotech crops, are taken up from normal diets by animal cells, such a transfer must be a very rare occurrence (Jennings et al. 2003abc; Ash et al. 2003; Phipps et al. 2003; Chowdhury et al. 2003; Phipps et al. 2002; Aulrich et al. 2002; Einspanier et al. 2002; Japan MAFF 2001). Recently, small fragments of multi-copy plant genes have been detected in a few well-controlled studies (Klaften et al. 2004; Einspanier et al. 2003; Klotz and Einspanier 2002; Reuter and Aulrich 2003). These results demonstrate that it is common for relatively small fragmen! ts of DNA from dietary material to be absorbed through the digestive tract with no apparent health effects. Similar detections of ingested DNA from various sources would be expected if one tested for other bacterial, viral, plant and animal genes, especially if sensitive PCR methods of detection are used.
And finally, regulations require that the safety of the proteins encoded by the introduced transgenes in biotech crops be assessed as one part of the comprehensive safety and risk assessment process that is undertaken for all transgenic crops. Regulators must conclude for each biotech crop that the expressed protein is unlikely to increase the toxicity or allergenicity of derived food and feed, compared to the traditional crop, prior to commercial production. The assessment begins with an evaluation of what is known about the protein or homologous proteins, including the source of the gene and comparison to known toxins or allergens. If the source is known to include toxins or allergens, then additional tests are performed to establish safety. If the introduced protein is an enzyme, then the mode of action is examined, including the potential for health implications based on any known or suspected activity of the protein. The allergenicity assessment is a special focus o! f the safety assessment since dietary allergens represent a potential risk. Understanding the source of the gene (allergenic or not), the similarity of the sequence and therefore structure, to known allergens, and the susceptibility to digestion by pepsin are used to help eliminate proteins that are likely food allergens. If the protein is from an allergenic source, or sequence similar to an allergen, in vitro IgE binding tests are performed using sera from appropriately allergic individuals to evaluate potential allergenicity. If further questions remain, skin prick tests, or food challenge may be warranted. Based on these required evaluations, it is unlikely that expression of the protein within a few cells of an animal (or human) that may have taken up an intact gene would represent a risk to the individual.
In summary, the work by Traavik and the concerns raised by Ho have been previously addressed by other researchers and are readily accessible in the scientific literature.
1.DNA and protein are constituents of all living cells, are present in food and in animal feed, and are rapidly degraded along with other dietary components, upon consumption, by normal digestive processes.
2.It is widely recognized by experts and regulators that the consumption of DNA does not pose risks; and regulators have determined that DNA is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
3.The presence of ingested DNA, including the CaMV promoter, should be expected, and has been demonstrated previously in certain animal cells
(lymphocytes) that sample DNA present in the digestive tract and move to other tissues via the blood and lymph.
4.CaMV promoter mediated expression of genes has been demonstrated in animal systems, although the extent of expression was several thousand times lower in animal cells than in plant cells.
5.Humans have safely consumed vegetables with CaMV DNA, and the CaMV 35S promoter, for millennia without adverse health consequences.
6.The potential for recombination of the CaMV promoter from transgenic crops in plant and animal cells is remote; limited to only one or a few cells, and consequently is unlikely to pose a health risk. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the CaMV organism and CaMV promoter are naturally present in a wide range of traditional temperate and tropical food crops and can be routinely found in extremely high numbers (~10,000 copies per cell) -- compared to only one or a few copies per cell for transgenic crops.
7.Highly controlled and well-designed studies of the fate of DNA from transgenic crops in various animals (chickens, pigs and cows) have consistently failed to detect the presence of introduced transgenes in animal tissues or products.
8.Regulations require that the safety of the proteins encoded by the introduced transgenes in biotech crops be assessed as one part of the comprehensive safety and risk assessment process that is undertaken for all transgenic crops. Regulators must conclude for each biotech crop that the expressed protein is unlikely to increase the toxicity or allergenicity of derived food and feed, compared to the traditional crop, prior to commercial production.
Ash, J.A., C.L. Novak, and E. Scheideler. 2003. The fate of genetically modified protein from Roundup Ready® soybeans in the laying hen. J. Appl. Poult. Res. 12:242-245.
Aulrich, K., T. Reuter, and G. Flachowsky. 2002. The fate of foreign DNA in farm animals fed with genetically modified plants. Proc. Soc. Nutr. Phsiol. 11:187-188.
Chowdhury, E.H., H. Kuribara, A. Hino, P. Sultana, O. Mikami, N. Shimada, K.S. Guruge, M. Saito, and Y. Nakajima. 2003. Detection of corn intrinsic and recombinant DNA gragments and Cry1AB protein in the gastrointestinal contents of pigs fed genetically modified corn Bt11. J. Anim. Sci. 81:2546-2551.
Einspanier, R., A. Klotz, J. Kraft, K. Aulrich, R. Poser, F. Schwägele, G. Jahreis, and G. Flachowksy. 2001. The fate of forage plant DNA in farm
animals: A collaborative case-study investigating cattle and chicken fed recombinant plant material. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 212:129-134.
Ho, M.-W., A. Ryan, and J. Cummins. 1999. Cauliflower mosaic viral promoter - a recipe for disaster? Microb. Ecol. Health Dis. 11:194-197.
Hohlweg, U. and W. Doerfler. 2001. On the fate of plant or other foreign genes upon the uptake in food or after intramuscular injection in mice. Mol. Genet. Genomics. 265:225-233.
Hull, R., S.N. Covey, and P. Dale. 2000. Genetically modified plants and the 35S promoter: assessing the risks and enhancing the debate. Micro. Ecol. Health and Disease. 12:1-5.
Japan_MAFF. 2001. No Traces of Modified DNA in Poultry Fed on GM Corn. Nature 409:657.
Jennings, J., A. Whetsell, N.R. Nicholas, B.M. Sweeney, M.B. Klaften, S.B. Kays, G.F. Hartnell, R.P. Lirette, and K.C. Glenn. 2003a. Determining whether Transgenic or Endogenous Plant DNA is Detectable in Dairy Milk or Beef Organs. Advancement in Analytical Techniques. Bulletin of the IDF 383.
Jennings, J.C., L.D. Albee, D.C. Kolwyck, J.B. Surber, M.L. Taylor, G.F. Hartnell, R.P. Lirette, and K.C. Glenn. 2003b. Attempts to detect transgenic and endogenous plant DNA and transgenic protein in muscle from broilers fed YieldGard Corn Borer corn. Poult. Sci. 82:371-380.
Jennings, J.C., D.C. Kolwyck, S.B. Kays, A.J. Whetsell, J.B. Surber, G.L. Cromwell, R.P. Lirette, and K.C. Glenn. 2003c. Determining whether transgenic and endogenous plant DNA and transgenic protein are detectable in muscle from swine fed Roundup Ready soybean meal. J. Anim. Sci. 81:1447-55.
Klaften, M.B., A. Whetsell, J. Webster, R. Grewal, E. Fedyk, R. Einspanier, J. Jennings, R. Lirette, and K. Glenn. 2004. Development of PCR Methods to Detect Plant DNA, in Animal Tissues, Agricultural
Biotechnology: Challenges and Prospects, M.K. Bhalgat, W.P. Ridley, A.S. Felsot, and J.N. Seiber, Editors. American Chemical Society: Washington, DC. p. 83-99.
Klotz, A., J. Mayer, and R. Einspanier. 2002. Degradation and possible carry over of feed DNA monitored in pigs and poultry. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 214:271-175.
Murphy, D. 2002. CaMV DNA is not a novel cancer risk.
Phipps, R.H., D.E. Beever, and D.J. Humphries. 2002. Detection of transgenic DNA in milk from cows receiving herbicide tolerant (CP4EPSPS) soyabean meal. Livestock Prod. Sci. 74(3):269-273.
Phipps, R.J., E.R. Deaville, and B.C. Maddison. 2003. Detection of Transgenic and Endogenous Plant DNA in Rumen Fluid, Duodenal Digesta, Milk, Blood, and Feces of Lactating Dairy Cows. J. Dairy Sci. 86:4070-4078.
Reuter, T. and K. Aulrich. 2003. Investigations on genetically modified maize (Bt-maize) in pig nutrition: fate of feed ingested foreign DNA in pig bodies. Eur Food Res Technol. 216:185-192.
Vlasak, J., M. Smahel, A. Pavlik, D. Pavingerova, and B. Jindrich. 2003.
Comparison of hCMV immediate early and CaMV 35S promoters in both plant and human cells. J. Biotech. 103:197-202.
Mae-wan Ho At It Again - From Roger Morton
Any one care to comment on any of these claims by our friend Dr Ho? From an interview with Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Director of the Institute of Science in Society, by Anastasia Stephens of the Evening Standard?
AS: A GM strain of rice that produces high levels of Vitamin A is already helping to prevent blindness in South East Asia. Isn't this good news for producers and consumers alike?
MWH: That is yet another lie that they keep retelling, long, long after it has been exposed. This "Vitamin A rice" or "Golden rice" produces such a minute amount of Vitamin A precursor carotene that a person has to eat some 3.5kilos per day to get the minimum requirement. But, anyone who is malnourished won't be able to convert carotene into Vitamin A anyways. Besides, many green leafy vegetables that anyone can grow in their own backyard will supply lots more Vitamin A and other essential nutrients and minerals.
Why did the scientists embark on such a stupid, useless project in the first place, at the cost of tens of millions to the taxpayer only to produce a junk crop that has more than 70 patents attached to it? Why don't scientists learn and work together with farmers who are doing sustainable non-GM agriculture that recovers local varieties adapted to grow and flourish in the local environment, which has proven much, much more successful?
AS: One of the first commercially approved GM crops is a soya bean modified to be tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate. Manufacturers argue that spraying with glyphosate replaces a more toxic regime involving several herbicides. Isn't GM in this case helping the environment?
MWH: Glyphosate is not a benign herbicide. It is a broad-spectrum herbicide that will kill all species of plants indiscriminately, broadleaves and grasses both, so it is actually much more devastating for the environment. It also destroys nitrogen-fixing bacteria and kills earthworms, both of which are crucial for maintaining soil fertility. New research is linking glyphosate to cancers in humans, spontaneous abortions and neuro-behavioural defects in children born to people using the herbicide. It causes genetic damage in mammals, fish and frogs.
New data from the US Department of Agriculture actually found that glyphosate tolerant GM crops have increased the use of herbicides, especially as fields have become infested with glyphosate tolerant weeds after just a few years.
AS: The Institute of Food Science and Technology claims that since 1987, more than 25,000 field trials of GM plants have been carried out in 45 countries without adverse environmental consequences. Surely this is enough to allow the use of these crops?
MWH: More lies. The most devastating environmental consequences have been documented by scientists in Argentina, the second largest grower of GM crops after the US. This country, once known as the "world's granary", has spiralled into despair from planting GM crops, especially GM soya. It is having huge problems with hunger, displaced rural populations and loss of traditional food crops. Weeds have multiplied, as resistance to glyphosate (the herbicide used with RR soya) soared. The herbicide has had to be applied more frequently and at higher concentrations. Toxic older herbicides, such as 2,4 D and Paraquat, banned in many countries are back in use. The pampas - the beautiful natural grasslands for which the country is renown - has disappeared, as have hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest. Aeroplanes are used to spray herbicides on RR soya, subjecting local populations to tremendous health risks.
Africa GM Food Aid Claims are 'Rubbish'
- Gillian Jones, Mail & Guardian online, May 06, 2004
The United Nations's World Food Programme (WFP) has strongly refuted claims that it forces African countries to accept genetically modified
(GM) food aid, a spokesperson said on Tuesday. "We have never forced any country to accept GM food aid. The WFP does not dictate to any government what kind of food aid it must accept or give," said Michael Huggins, Southern Africa regional spokesperson for the WFP.
He was responding to claims made by about 60 groups representing farmer, consumer, environmental and development organisations from 15 African countries who sent an open letter of protest to the WFP on Tuesday. "The groups are demanding that the WFP and USAid immediately desist from misleading the governments of Angola and Sudan with a scenario of no choice, and forcing them to accept GM food aid," a statement from the group said.
They said they were objecting to the pressure being put on Sudan and Angola to lift their restrictions on GM food aid. Huggins said: "This is completely erroneous. No government has been misled over GM food or been strong-armed to accept any particular kind of aid."
Sudan asked that food aid be certified "GM free" and Angola said it will accept GM food aid only if the whole GM grain is first milled. The group said the WFP told Angola this would mean it would receive significantly less food aid. Huggins denied this. "We informed the government of Angola that if they insist all GM food must be milled it would delay the delivery process because Angola does not have the capacity to mill large quantities of grain. "Milling would have to be done overseas and we would have to find someone to pay for it."
This does not mean Angola will not receive food aid, Huggins insisted. He also denied claims that USAid has cut off food aid to Sudan. The group had earlier said although the Sudanese government adopted an interim waiver on its GM food restriction until July, USAid cut off food aid to the country. "The United States government has since continued to exert enormous pressure on Sudan, with the result that the Sudanese government has relented and extended the waiver for a further period of six months, allowing the distribution of GM food to continue until January 2005," they said.
Huggins refuted this. "It's complete rubbish. The US government has just donated 33,000 metric tonnes of food to the country. "USAid has never cut off food to Sudan and has always been the largest single donor to the country. "When Sudan said it would not accept GM food we did go out to donors to request non-GM food for them," he said.
Huggins said it is the policy of WFP to accept a country's decision to refuse GM food. "In this case we would source non-GM food for them. Every government has a civil right to decide."
Bryan Ashe of Earthlife Africa, however, said: "The scenario presented by the WFP and USAid to these African countries is either they accept GM food or face dire consequences." Mariam Mayet of the Africa Centre for Biosafety said: "Zambia, which imposed an outright ban on the acceptance of GM food aid, not only managed to cope with its crisis, but is now even able to export non-GM food to its neighbours."
Once again, Huggins denied this. "When Zambia decided it did not want GM food aid, after accepting it for seven years, the WFP went back to food donors and appealed for non-GM food and that was forthcoming. "It cost the WFP in excess of $1-million to remove the food from their country," he said.
He said Zambia still receives food aid. "We now buy food in Zambia to support their local markets," Huggins said.
According to the group, a report, GM Food Aid: Africa Denied Choice Once Again, released on Tuesday, said there are non-GM alternatives at national, regional and international levels, and donors should make these available to Sudan and Angola. The statement said the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations have both officially recognised that Sudan has an abundance of food available in the country.
There are also alternatives to GM food in Angola. "Non-GM alternatives need to be fully explored in Angola. Furthermore, regional and international non-GM alternative sources also exist," the group said.
Huggins said: "The whole GM debate is very emotive and groups wishing to partake in the discussion should first check their facts before trying to enter into a dialogue."
GM Food Aid Comes Under Fire Again in Africa
- David Dickson, SciDev.Net, May 7, 2004
Environmental groups have clashed again with the World Food Programme
(WFP) over the extent to which the programme is able to meet the food needs of African countries that doubt the safety of genetically modified
Earlier this week, a coalition of more than 60 African groups signed a letter of protest about what they claim to have been pressure by both the WFP and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Sudan and Angola, both of which have decided to impose restrictions on GM food aid.
The African groups, which included a wide range of farmer, consumer, environmental and development groups, accused the two organisations of effectively forcing the countries to accept GM food aid by suggesting that the alternative was to receive less food.
In response, WFP says that it is keen to respect the views of countries that have decided not to accept GM food aid, and that any subsequent difficulties in supplying food have been a direct result of this position, for which the programme should not be blamed.
For example, the WFP argues that delays in shipping food aid to Angola were the direct result of the country only agreeing to accept GM food if it had been milled prior to entering the country, as this had taken some time to arrange (see Angola Rejects GM food aid).
In the case of Sudan, which has passed legislation restricting the cultivation or import of GM food, the protestors claim that USAID had put "enormous pressure" on the country to delay implementation of this law and allow the distribution of GM food up to January 2005. They also claim that the US agency has cut off food aid to the country as a result of the government's policy, citing a speech in which a USAID official appeared to make such an assertion to a committee of the US House of Representatives.
However, WFP officials strongly deny that the United States -- which is the major donor to the food programme -- has made any such policy decision. A spokesman points out, for example, that the US government has just donated 33,000 metric tonnes of food to the country. The protestors have rejected claims by WFP officials that they are doing all they can to respect the wishes of African countries that have concerns about GM foods.
Bryan Ashe of Earthlife Africa, for example, told the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian that "the scenario presented by the WFP and USAID to these countries is that they either accept GM food or face dire consequences".
In response, Mike Huggins of the WFP told the same newspaper that "groups wishing to take part in the discussion should first check their facts before trying to enter into a dialogue". The protestors claim that the WFP should in principle be able to meet the needs of Africa countries that are rejecting GM food by turning to many sources of non-GM food that currently exist.
India: Bt Cotton today, BITS tomorrow
- Indian Express, By Sonu Chhina, April 25, 2004
At Adilabad, the second biggest cotton market of the country, the mercury has touched 44 degrees Centigrade. Seven km off the buttersmooth National Highway No 7, in a village of alabaster white mud walls, ferozi blue doors and red Mangalore tiles, Thirupathi Reddy (50) is the picture of cool. In a couple of months, when the temperature is in the late forties, he will sow 20 acres with cotton.
"Last year was great," he grins sitting on a plastic chair with his friends in the century-old Panchayat hut. He and three others from Ponnari braved government warnings and sowed 10 acres with Bt cotton seed, that costs four times the regular variety, to get a bumper yield of 10 tonnes/acre.
The Bt variety of cotton, genetically modified by Monsanto to make it pest-resistant, has a history of controversy in India. In fact, right here in Ponnari four years ago, the first Bt patch was burnt by activists. A year later, the dreaded bollworm attacked the cotton flower and nobody got more than three quintals an acre. Next time, a few tried Bt, but a cheaper, less-effective grade. Their produce tanked.
Last year, Reddy went by the Bt book and turned the tide. "From four last year, it will be 20 acres this time" he says. Looking at him, almost 25 cultivators will sow over 500 acres. From the younger, small farmer like Tirman Reddy (25), who owns eight acres, to the more cautious Srinivas Reddy (52). "It is expensive, but you save on the pesticide," says Srinivas.
The farmer sprays the crop thrice instead of 10-12 times with the regular variety. It means Thirupathi Reddy's wife Indubai will have to buy real buckets this year instead of re-using the big pesticide containers. She is not complaining. From last year's earnings, they bought a Maruti 800 (car) so that their grandson Kartik (17), who studies in a Hyderabad boarding school, could travel the 300 km in comfort. She beams with pride about the fixed deposits for the granddaughter Priyanka (15), a gold medallist in Class X, who lives with her father in Adilabad city.
GM Plants and Protection Against Insects - Alternative Strategies Based on Gene Technology.
- Hilder, V. 2003. Acta Agric. Scand., Sect. B., Soil and Plant Sci. Supp.
Insect resistant genetically modified (GM) crops may provide a partial substitution technology for chemical pesticides. Those which are available commercially are all based on modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxis t is desirable to have a pool of alternative genes that encode insect control proteins (ICPs) having entirely different modes of -action. Various classes of compound have been suggested although most have one or more disadvantages compared with Bt toxins.
A pool of alternative IlCPs would allow pyramiding of resistance genes, which should have a number of advantages: inultifactorial resistance is expected to be more durable, to increase the spectrum of pests targeted and to be more effective. Some of these compounds address concerns about durability, spectrum of activity, reliability, environmental impact and public acceptability of GM crops. More speculative alternative approaches which might remove other key constraints on the transgenic approach to crop protection are discussed. The fundamental research necessary for their development is unlikely to be funded from commercial sources.
Plant Biotechnology Can Enhance Food Security and Nutrition in the Developing World
- Mackey M, Montgomery J. Nutr Today. 2004 Mar;39(2):52-58.
The world's demand for food production will increase markedly in the coming years. Meeting this demand will require that we employ all manner of approaches, including the use of biotechnology, to produce results that cannot be achieved using traditional methods. This 2-part article reviews ongoing experiences in developing countries where crop biotechnology is being used to enhance the availability and/or nutritional value of local crops. In part 1, the authors describe strategies that seek to enhance yields of staples and to improve the yields of indigenous nutritious foods. In Part 2 of this article, the authors describe strategies that seek to enhance the nutrient density of foods that can increase net income to resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
What Horitzontal Gene Transfer?
'Lack of detection of ampicillin resistance gene transfer from Bt176 transgenic corn to culturable bacteria under field conditions'
- Esther Badosa, Carmen Moreno and Emilio Montesinos; TFEMS Microbiology Ecology; Vol. 48, Issue 2; May 1, 2004, Pages 169-178; Abstract at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.femsec.2004.01.005
Water - More Nutrition Per Drop
'At UN development summit, international water experts press for change in global food production and consumption patterns'
Stockholm/Colombo/New York, April 20, 2004 -- In a report released today at the 12th meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 12), experts warn that if more is not done to use less water while concurrently producing more food, the international community will face great difficulties in meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015.
The report, entitled "Water - More Nutrition Per Drop" (Adobe Acrobat Download, 2 MB) was initiated by the Swedish Government and was produced through a unique collaboration composed of leading international water experts from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
"Water scarcity is a harsh reality that affects billions of people in many parts of the world," says Lena Sommestad, Swedish Minister for the Environment. "Attitudes to water development and management must be addressed and changed if we are to reduce the number of malnourished people. We need practical solutions that benefit poor farmers as well as global solutions that address trade barriers and agricultural subsidies".
As 840 million people remain undernourished across the world, the report highlights how the challenge to find sustainable solutions towards feeding the world's population is an issue that requires urgent attention from the international community. It identifies five innovative policy-oriented recommendations which, if followed at national and international levels, could greatly enhance humanity's future food security and nutritional needs.
The recommendations include finding ways to produce more food using less water and ensuring that these new technologies and methods are made widely available to groups that range from farmers to policy makers. Another recommendation highlights the need to identify and influence unsustainable food production and consumption patterns that require excessive water usage.
One of the key findings of the report is that today, unlike during the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, it is consumers - not producers - who are driving global food production. With massive urbanisation and increasing wealth, food preferences are changing with significant increases in the demand for meat and dairy products. It takes 550 liters of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread. This is a fraction of the up to 7000 liters of water that is used in developed countries to produce 100 grams of beef.
Improving the quality of nutrition, per drop of water, in food produced, is also addressed in the Report. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls malnutrition "the silent emergency" and says children are its most visible victims, as malnutrition is an accomplice in at least half of the 10.4 million child deaths each year. At the other end of the malnutrition scale, obesity is one of today's most blatantly visible -- yet most neglected -- public health problems, particularly in the developed world. Trends in imbalances in the "food basket" can also be seen in developing countries, especially its expanding megacities and urban areas. Measures are needed on many levels if millions of people should not suffer from an array of serious health disorders.
"An overriding challenge today is to identify the path towards sustainable consumption and production patterns and to design incentives and other policy measures that can help us achieve these goals," says Professor Jan Lundqvist of SIWI, a main author of the report. "Practical sustainable solutions mean balancing environmental, economic and social concerns".
Production of food is a highly water-consuming activity. In developing countries agriculture accounts for 70-90% of available freshwater supplies. SIWI Senior Scientist Malin Falkenmark says that astonishingly huge volumes of water are transformed into vapour during the food production process. "With prevailing land and water management practices, a balanced diet requires 1,200,000 litres of water per person per year (3287 liters per day) - 70 times more than the 50 liters per day used for an average households domestic needs," she said.
The report recommends the need to safeguard aquatic ecosystems against water depletion by identifying the minimum ecological service criteria for their protection. In river basins representing 15 percent of the land area of the world, river depletion has already exceeded the need for committed environmental flows to protect aquatic ecosystems such as wetlands.
"Between the late 1990s and 2020 world cereal demand will have increased by 40% but the world has a finite supply of water," says Frank Rijsberman, Director General of IWMI. "Current production patterns are unsustainable. They involve large scale groundwater overexploitation and widespread river depletion which poses a major threat to biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems. We are seeing ever increasing levels of environmental degradation and loss of production potential caused by water pollution from agricultural chemicals, water logging and salinisation."
The report also stresses the need to identify unsustainable agricultural subsidies and trade barriers. In water scarce regions, food imports may ensure food and nutritional security regardless of the possibility to produce the food domestically. However, the ability to increase import is limited by poverty and lack of foreign exchange. Agricultural subsidies and trade barriers are effectively reducing a desirable pattern of trade in food commodities. There is a need to identify unsustainable agricultural subsidies and trade barriers and establish to what degree free trade can help to solve regional food deficiency problems.|