Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 13, 2004:
* Mae-wan Ho At It Again
* Government No-till Action Plan
* Radicals For Hunger
* GM maize can be solution to Zambia's hunger: UNICEF official
* Seeds of doubt over the Monsanto decision
* Shredded wheat
* Some genetically modified foods have become hot potatoes
* Bt cotton – good news for farmers in developing countries?
* Do PR folks take the easy way out?
Subject: Mae-wan Ho At It Again
Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 08:50:19 +0200
From: "Mieschendahl Dr., Martin"
Mae-wan Ho At It Again 05//10/2004
Ms. Mae-wan Ho tells us that "Vitamin A rice" or "Golden rice" produces such a minute amount of Vitamin A precursor carotene that a person has to eat some 3.5 kilos per day to get the minimum requirement.
The FAO/WHO recommends a daily intake (RDI) for a child of between the age of 1 and 3 years of 400 ugVit A, for adults of 500 to 850 ug. Golden rice (the first construct) contains 1.6 ug of ß-carotene per g fresh weight (sweet potatoes 11.4 ug, watermelon up to 3.24 ug).
With a conversion factor ß-carotene to Vit A of 6:1 the RDI would be 2.400 ug ß-carotene or 1.5 kg of golden rice per day. But this is not the “minimum requirement” as asserted but the recommended maximum amount for healthy growth.
As other approaches to reduce Vit A deficiencies in developing countries obviously failed, golden rice will be an important contribution not to solve but to reduce to problem.
Subject: No Till Action Plan
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 14:34:56 -0400
From: "Mitchell, Brad (AGR)"
Athony Trewavas asks a very good question as to "Why is there no government no-till action plan". I would agree with Anthony that there is significant benefit to no-till farming, and that herbicide tolerant crops help to make this a much more viable practice.
In the US, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is responsible for promoting and supporting practices that conserve natural resourses. They provide specifications for various farming practices to conserve and protect soil and water. Through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP) they provide cost share to farmers who implement conservation practices.
EQUIP funding is managed on a state-by-state basis. It is my understanding that some NRCS state offices have developed specific organic cropping or livestock conservation options under EQIP. NRCS and the Organic Trade Association have even signed an agreement to work together on resource conservation issues. I think this is wonderful. Conservation should be a key concern of all farmers - organic and non-organic. If OTA and NRCS can work together to conserve soil and water resources, I'm all for it.
I think it would be equally wonderful for NRCS to begin to work with ag biotech industry - as they have with the organic industry - for the same purpose. I see no reason why a farmer should not get cost-share dollars for herbicide tolerant seed, just as they would for a seed for a cover crop.
Director of Regulatory Services
MA Dept. of Agricultural Resources
Radicals For Hunger
- Investors Business Daily, May 12, 2004
Special interest groups believe the battle against genetically modified foods has turned in their favor. Mark it as a loss for reason and responsibility.
Two days ago, Monsanto announced it was suspending its seven-year program to commercialize the first biotech wheat crop. The company called it part of a corporate "realignment." Eco-activists drew a different conclusion.
Tony Juniper, director of the green lobby group Friends of the Earth (news
- web sites), resorting to description by cliche, called the decision a "nail in the coffin" and the "the end of GM" foods. Monsanto, he said, had finally gotten the message that it "can't spin this past the people who can see the truth of what is behind these products."
We wonder if fear-mongering organiks such as Juniper have to work hard at being scientifically ignorant - and silly - or if it comes easily for them. The truth behind these GM products is that no scientific group has determined that they are a health risk. In fact, science says biotech foods are indeed safe to eat.
The FDA, one of the federal government's most cautious nannies, also says GM foods are safe for human consumption. And consume them we do. Roughly 60% of the food found on the shelves of conventional grocery stores is made from modified crops.
We further wonder why the groups that obsess over the fantasy dangers of GM foods don't see their actions as being irresponsible, because they certainly are. Plants genetically modified to be resistant to pests, diseases and herbicides increase crop yields, making them precious to those in Third World nations who have difficulty feeding themselves.
Other foods that are bio-fortified with proteins, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants are a treasure where diseases and other health conditions abound due to chronic mal- and undernourishment.
Man has been altering the food around him for about 10,000 years, going back to when he began cross-breeding practices in agriculture. Genetically modifying food today is nothing more than the continuation of that process and is no more dangerous than crossing a plum with an apricot.
Some of these points should matter to the militant environmentalists. But they don't. They simply have no shame that their efforts ensure that millions in developing countries continue to struggle with inadequate food supplies.
Meanwhile, they know nothing of relentless hunger and starvation. That makes it easy for them to shut down a reasonable and humane scientific advance from the comfort of Western privilege.
GM maize can be solution to Zambia's hunger: UNICEF official
- Xinhua News, May 13, 2004
Genetically modified (GM) maize can be a solution to Zambia's hunger situation if farmers pledge not to plant it, said the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) goodwill ambassador in Lusaka on Sunday.
Briefing the press after a two-day tour of the country's orphans and underprivileged projects, Roger Moore, popularly known for his movie role as James Bond, said the hunger situation in Zambia needed a quick solution.
He expressed concern at the hunger disaster affecting millions of people in southern Africa.
The Zambian government has maintained its earlier position not to accept GM maize offered to Zambia as relief food, saying that the country still lack biotechnology required to manage the effects of products.
Zambia has refused emergency food aid from the United States despite being one of the six countries affected by famine in southern Africa.
Zambian officials say the supplies of maize from the United States come from GM crops, adding that they are concerned that GM food aid could be used to grow new crops and so enter the local food chain.
This could jeopardize exports to Europe, where GM food is less common than in the United States, they say.
However, US officials deny there is any risk involved with GM food and point out that it is eaten every day by millions of Americans.
Around 3 million Zambians are facing famine after failed harvests but President Levy Mwanawasa has blocked GM food aid to feed them, calling it "poison."
Mwanawasa says his government has no scientific evidence it was safe for human consumption.
Some Zambians disagree with the government's position. Hungry villagers recently raided a chief's palace and stole GM food, which the authorities were refusing to distribute.
Moore is a popular British film, television and stage actor, who is portrayed as secret agent James Bond in international television shows and films.
He said he had visited many projects in the southern tourist city Livingstone and the capital Lusaka and his visit revealed that children were subjected to severe suffering.
With his wife Kristina at his side, Moore said he came to Zambia to assess the hunger situation in order to lobby for international support when he goes back to Britain.
"When I go back home, I will be on television and radio shows to lobby support for Zambia's need for relief food," he said.
Moore arrived in Zambia last Thursday and left for South Africa Sunday.
Seeds of doubt over the Monsanto decision
- The Globe and Mail, By PETER PHILLIPS, May 12, 2004
On Monday morning, Monsanto Corp. blinked. After more than three years of an increasingly tense debate over its genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready (RR) wheat, the company announced that it has suspended all further research and commercialization efforts, in all countries, effective immediately. While it has not withdrawn its current applications with Canadian and U.S. regulators, the company states that they will not proceed in the foreseeable future.
A decade ago, Monsanto Corp. inserted a gene into spring wheat to make the plant tolerant to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum, non-specific herbicide sold under the trademarked name Rounduptm (Roundup Ready and other
tolerant systems are currently used in soybeans, corn, canola and cotton, and widely cultivated in nine countries). Both U.S. and Canadian regulators were expected to approve introduction of the new wheat, enabling Monsanto to bring it to market by spring of 2005.
But Monsanto hadn't reckoned on market resistance. Canada Western Red Spring wheat, Western Canada's single largest field crop, is grown by about 53,000 farmers, who export more than 80 per cent to foreign markets. Buyers in Japan and Europe said they wouldn't buy from us if RR wheat were introduced here, or else they would not pay top price for it.
Monsanto's announcement has been hailed as a victory for consumers and farmers. But its impacts will be mixed in the long term for researchers, producers and consumers. Ultimately, we've exchanged short-term certainty for long-term uncertainty.
For one thing, Monsanto will not earn anything on its recent investments, conservatively estimated at U.S. $50-million over the past 10 years, and so other firms may shy away from research related to production traits in wheat, and possibly other major food crops.
At first, farmers will be pleased that the potential threat of market disruption, or of foreign buyers offering lower prices for wheat, has been postponed. That will especially please organic wheat producers and farmers who can handle weed pressures in their crops. Some North American farmers may be disappointed, because RR wheat offered better weed control, higher yields and some production efficiencies. A recent unpublished survey shows significant interest by North American farmers in at least testing the new technology.
Consumers who care about GM are happy because they'll be able to avoid the inconvenience and cost of seeking out GM-free produce. But it's estimated that a majority of consumers are indifferent to the GM issue, and they could be worse off -- because RR wheat's potential yield gains and lower prices won't be realized.
The longer-term costs of this decision are complex. Scientists may conclude that there's little point in working on improving production traits such as herbicide- and drought-tolerance and insect- or viral-resistance. We've already seen developers withdraw GM flax, potatoes and tomatoes from the market and reduce their research in these crops. Work is switching to crops where GM traits are already well-accepted -- soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.
Even with the recent acceleration of investment in agri-food research, we have seen a slowdown in productivity gains and greater yield variability in some crops, because of new and unanticipated environmental factors and disease. We need sustained research. Yet governments, which currently fund about one-third of global agri-food research, show little interest in making up any shortfall.
The need for greater productivity and profitability remains. Monsanto's decision to shelve RR wheat may very well be the right one for consumers today, but it may have a long-term cost. If research shifts away from wheat -- the world's single most important source of human nutrition -- it could significantly affect the location, cost and environmental impact of global wheat production.
Monsanto's announcement will cool the debate about the new technology's impact on farmers and markets, but the issue won't go away. All new technologies create winners and losers. Ultimately, we need to find some way to enable new, potentially transformative technologies to co-exist with conventional technologies. It is not acceptable to have to only have winner-take-all resolutions, as happened Monday.
Peter W. B. Phillips is the director of the College of Biotechnology at the University of Saskatchewan.
- Globe and Mail (Editorial), May 12, 2004
Monsanto has blinked. This is good news for the Canadian Wheat Board, but, in the circumstances, resist a celebration.
The U.S. chemical giant has been trying for years to win approval in Canada and the United States for its Roundup Ready spring wheat, genetically altered to make it resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. As with Roundup Ready canola, which is in wide use, farmers could spray their fields with Roundup knowing that it would kill the weeds but not the wheat. The benefits would include greater yields.
On Monday, Monsanto said it would stop seeking approval to sell its wheat. It said fewer farmers were planting spring wheat, and insisted the decision had nothing to do with the opposition of the wheat board or with the protests of environmental activists against GM foods in general. That line is hard to swallow. More likely, as wheat board chair Ken Ritter put it, "it finally dawned on them that the only way you sell something is if you have someone who can buy it."
And that's the sad part. The long-standing refusal by Europe, Japan and others to import GM wheat means Canadian wheat exports would collapse if Roundup Ready wheat were grown commercially in this country. Even if only a few farmers used the altered seed, it could not be segregated to the satisfaction of foreign buyers. This is what drove the wheat board's opposition, and it is hard to dispute its economic reasoning. But the good that might have come of GM wheat, a prospect that led the Canadian government itself to help fund Monsanto's research, is being lost.
Some genetically modified foods have become hot potatoes
- Times Record News, By LANCE GAY, May 12, 2004
A decade ago, amid much fanfare, the Food and Drug Administration approved for supermarket sales the first of what promised to be a new generation of genetically modified crops: an ordinary-looking tomato called the Flavr Savr.
Now, 10 years after that May 18, 1994, decision, the Flavr Savr is nowhere to be found on market shelves. Neither are any of the other genetically modified strawberries, squash, lettuce and potatoes that won government approval after millions of dollars spent on research and development.
Kent Bradford, director of the seed biotechnology center at the University of California-Davis, said the commercialization of gene splicing for lucrative horticultural crops has come to a virtual stop in recent years - although there still is a thriving market for genetically engineered crops like soybeans, corn, canola and cotton.
About 150 million acres around the world are growing genetically modified plants, most of which are destined for animal feed.
But once-heady hopes that genetic engineering would launch a revolution are fading. A decade ago, some forecast that genetic engineering would bring as many changes to American agriculture as did the post-World War II "Green Revolution" in which crop yields doubled due to pesticides and seeds.
Bradford said that engineered horticultural crops never broke into the lucrative niche markets that make up the $81 billion fresh produce sold in the United States each year.
"The economics make it difficult to put it into the market,'' he said. Bradford said he's still convinced that engineered crops have a bright future, even though Monsanto announced this month that it is suspending efforts to bring a new pesticide-resistant wheat to market.
"I remain optimistic that eventually we will use these technologies, but it's going to take time," he said. Bradford said the benefits of using genetically engineered seeds to lower the use of pesticides, and the prospect of cheaper foods that come with greater yields, make the technology inevitable.
But what happened to the Flavr Savr and other bioengineered plants shows that there's an uphill fight. This year, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce whether it will allow genetically modified salmon on the market - the first generation of gene-spliced animals.
The Flavr Savr tomato, the result of five years of study, was engineered to allow the fruit to ripen on the vine. But maturation was delayed, making it easier to transport to market.
Still the Flavr Savr failed simply because shoppers just didn't take to it, said John Radin, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher. Consumers found no particular advantage in buying a Flavr Savr.
"Probably the most important lesson is, the customer is always right," said Radin.
California Agriculture, a magazine published by the University of California, devoted its April-June issue to why genetic engineering hasn't worked for many crops.
In some cases, researchers found that genetic engineering wasn't effective. Plant engineers were successful in developing a virus-resistant squash, for example, but it was only resistant to some strains.
Other problems involved government regulations that required individual approval for every "event," when a gene was inserted in plants, even in different varieties of the same crop. Field-testing of horticultural crops has declined from 374 permits issued in 199 to 94 last year.
The biggest hurdle stemmed from criticism that the new technology was producing "Frankenfoods." Opponents demanded that the government label genetically modified crops so consumers could avoid buying them if they chose to do so. European farmers also threatened to close markets to any crops grown from genetically modified seeds.
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association and leader of the anti-biotech movement, said the backlash helped launch the organic-food industry, now the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. supermarket industry.
Under Department of Agriculture rules, food cannot be brought to market as organic food if it is derived from genetically modified plants.
Cummins believes that gene splicing has no future, and said Monsanto's decision shows that the technology is in terminal decline.
"This is the beginning of the end of genetically engineered crops," he said. "I think it definitely was a mistake to let these gene-splicing plants out of the laboratory. It's an untested new technology."
Bradford disagreed, saying the successes with commercial crops shows there's a bright future for gene splicing, particularly in Third World countries. He said genetic engineering is just another way of manipulating plants - something farmers have done through the ages to improve crop yields.
He predicted that the industry will boom overseas. Bradford said farmers in India, who use less pesticides on their crops than U.S. farmers do on theirs, are seeing an 80 percent increase in yields using genetically modified plants, and that China is trying to become a world leader in biotechnology to feed its population.
Bt cotton – good news for farmers in developing countries?
Use of bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton – a pest-resistant genetically engineered variety pioneered by Monsanto - is spreading rapidly in the major cotton growing regions of China. Many environmental campaigners argue that it is inappropriate for farmers in developing countries. Do their arguments hold up? Is China’s investment in biotechnology research proving profitable to farmers?
A paper from the Biotechnology Policy Process in Developing Countries’ Project of the Institute of Development Studies assesses the impact of Bt cotton in China using data from research conducted with the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy. Collected over three years from more than 400 farmers in North China, the data suggests that Bt cotton has reduced the use of pesticides and risks to the health of cotton farmers while improving both yields and farmers’ incomes.
In 1997, a year after obtaining regulatory approval in the US, Monsanto, Delta and Pineland, together with their local partners the Hebei Provincial Seed Company were allowed to start selling Bt cotton seed to farmers. In the same year the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
(CAAS) was permitted to start selling a different variant. Chinese provincial research institutes have also produced new Bt varieties by backcrossing the Monsanto and CAAS varieties into their own local strains and selling them across northern China. By 2001 43 per cent of China’s cotton growing area was planted with Bt cotton and five million farmers had adopted it.
Insect pests, particularly the cotton bollworm have been a major problem for China’s cotton producers. Farmers have turned to Bt cotton not because of any state coercion (as critics allege) but out of frustration at the decreasing effectiveness of the dangerous cocktails of organo-phosphates, pyrethroids and DDT with which they sought to fight the bollworm. Cotton farmers had been spending $500m per annum on pesticides.
Key findings are that:
* Bt cotton has positive crop yield impacts, shifting the crop yield frontier by nearly ten percent.
* It reduces yield loss and at the same time reduces pesticide use by 35.7 kg per hectare.
* The rapid commercialisation of GM crops in China – compared to other developing countries – has been due in part to the lead role of China’s public sector biotechnology research programme.
* The absence of effective intellectual property rights on novel genes or new plant varieties has combined with competition between local government firms and foreign firms providing Bt cotton varieties to keep down prices of cotton seed and to make GM technology affordable.
* Authorities have been providing conflicting Bt messages – while commercialised government and private seed companies have encouraged farmers to buy Bt cotton seed, plant protection stations and state-owned pesticide companies have tried to discourage uptake in order to sell more pesticides.
Urging wider promotion of Bt cotton in other countries with similarly significant smallholder production, the authors suggest that wherever it is introduced it is incumbent on policy-makers to:
* discourage unnecessary pesticide use through information, extension related training, pesticide price and marketing policies
* commission research to monitor bollworm resistance to Bt cotton over time and, if necessary, implement measures to reduce the risk that widespread use of Bt will lead to the development of pest resistance
* strengthen local biotechnology research capacity – the fact that Bt cotton was developed in China by government researchers in tandem with international companies made it more politically palatable and fostered the emergence of a local pro Bt lobby.
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 15:58:22 -0400
Subject: Do PR folks take the easy way out?
Do PR folks take the easy way out?
When the world biotech industry puts its best foot forward at Bio2004 in San Francisco in June, activists will be on hand. The activists have a broad range of issues they want to address, biotechnology is but one. Their approach is more complex than the narrowly focused, single-issue approach of traditional PR. How are the activists preparing?
Do PR folks take the easy way out?
Activists prepare for another confrontation with a global industry
Visit: ePublic Relations (http://www.epublicrelations.ca)
Ross S. Irvine
President / Corporate Activist
ePublic Relations Ltd
Guelph, ON, Canada
Phone: 519 767-0444