Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 14, 2004:
* EU Will Approve Syngenta GMO Corn Next Week - Spokesman
* Europe to end six-year GM moratorium
* Green light for GM foods?
* Demand For Bt Cotton Takes Root
* Minnesota wheat farmers disappointed by biotech decision
* Perceptions of food that are an ocean apart
* Syngenta buys AstraZeneca's Advanta seeds
* Monsanto sues Syngenta over genetically modified corn
* Syngenta says Monsanto lawsuit 'totally without merit'
* A precautionary tale
* GM pullout shock for growers' body
EU Will Approve Syngenta GMO Corn Next Week - Spokesman
- Dow Jones Newswires, By William Echikson,email@example.com,
May 14, 2004
BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- The European Union Commission will approve Wednesday plans by Syngenta AG (SYT, news) to sell genetically modified corn, an E.U. spokesman said Friday.
The decision will end a six-year moratorium on new biotech food.
"Any imports of the canned vegetable will have to show in the list of ingredients that this corn has been harvested from a genetically modified plant, " said spokesman Reijo Kemppinen.
Europe's refusal to approve new types of genetically-modified food and crops has been a continual source of friction with Washington. Last year, the U.S. launched a case against the E.U. at the World Trade Organization, trying to force Europe to restart testing of GM foods, which was halted in 1998.
E.U. institutions are divided over the technology. Farm ministers deadlocked in April on Syngenta's application for Bt11 sweet corn. Because ministers failed to reach a verdict, the E.U. executive, more favorable to GM foods, won the power to allow the product. The executive Commission had long urged an end to the de facto moratorium, saying strict new traceability and labeling rules that went into effect last month provided adequate protection for consumers.
The Bt11 proposal is the first of some 34 applications to start working its way through a new approval process.
Syngenta's corn is considered less controversial than some of the other strains under consideration because it is for consumption, not cultivation. Opponents of GM foods have expressed worry that planting GM crops could hurt the environment and contaminate existing crops.
The insect-resistant corn had been approved as animal feed and its derivatives, such as corn syrup, were approved for human consumption before the E.U. halted its approval process in 1998.
The Syngenta product is already used in foods imported into the E.U., "maize oil, maize flour, sugar and snacked foods and baked foods, confectionary and soft drinks," Kemppinen said. The approval will be valid in all 25 E.U. countries for 10 years, he added.
Despite the move ahead, controversy continues to hold up widespread acceptance of GM crops in Europe. On April 29, a panel of European Union scientific experts deadlocked on an application by U.S. agribusiness company Monsanto Co. (MON, news) for a different type of genetically modified maize.
Europe to end six-year GM moratorium
- Ireland Online, 14/05/2004
The European Union’s head office said today it would approve a variety of genetically modified corn for human consumption next week, ending a six-year biotech moratorium that the United States has challenged at the World Trade Organisation.
But whether the decision would open the market for biotech companies was less clear.
Under new EU rules that took effect last month, “any import of canned vegetables will have to show clearly on the label in the list of ingredients that the corn has been harvested from a genetically modified plant,” European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said.
That would likely be a kiss-of-death for any company that tried to sell it in Europe, where genetically modified foods are widely mistrusted and avoided. Many supermarket chains require suppliers to guarantee their products are biotech-free.
The industry trade group EuropaBio welcomed the announcement as a “step forward”, although a spokesman conceded the corn was unlikely to hit store shelves soon.
“I would hope there’s an opportunity to be able to purchase it,” said Simon Barber, director of EuropaBio’s plant biotechnology unit.
Opposition remains fierce despite the enactment last year of a new approval process and the labelling requirements, considered to be the most stringent in the world.
“If the commission decides to force this down our throats then they can only expect the public’s confidence in (genetically modified) foods to sink even further,” said Adrian Bebb, anti-biotech campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
The commission announced its intention to lift the ban last month after EU governments failed to agree on the first application submitted under the new rules: Swiss-based Syngenta’s insect-resistant Bt11 sweet corn.
Kemppinen said the commission would approve the sale for human consumption
- canned or fresh – at its meeting on Wednesday, under provisions that authorise the EU executive to decide if member governments cannot.
Cultivation by farmers would still be forbidden, although an application is pending.
The decision will be valid in all 25 EU countries for 10 years, he said.
The EU has been under pressure from the Bush administration and other major agricultural exporters to lift the ban, which they charge is unscientific and thus illegal under WTO rules.
Bt11 was considered an easy test for the EU, since it had been approved for other uses – animal feed and for human consumption of derivatives such as corn oil and syrup – before the EU halted its approval process in 1998.
But last month, France, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece and Denmark continued to oppose the application. Spain, Belgium and Germany abstained, while Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Finland voted to approve it.
The executive commission has long urged an end to the moratorium, insisting the new traceability and labelling rules provide adequate protection for consumers.
Green light for GM foods?
- FoodNavigator.com, 14/05/2004
After months of political wranglings GM sweetcorn could be on the supermarket shelves by the end of the year with the European Commission poised to end the five year unofficial ban on genetically modified foods, writes Lindsey Partos.
In Brussels next week Commission officials will decide whether to clear entry into the EU25 bloc of the GM maize Bt 11 produced by Swiss biotech firm Sygenta. A green light would mark the end to the de facto moratorium that has blocked new GM foods into Europe since 1998.
"At the May 19 meeting the Commission will discuss Bt11 and is expected to make a decision," a spokesperson for the Commission tells FoodNavigator.com.
Tough new rules on the labelling of GM ingredients were enforced last month. By providing the consumer with the choice to buy GM foods or not, the strict new labelling laws have paved the way for Brussels to authorise new GM foodstuffs.
A controversial subject that has seen national states divided, last month EU15 agriculture ministers failed to reach a qualified majority on the biotech Bt 11 imports. But in the absence of a qualified majority under the ‘Comitology procedure’ the Commission is now free to carry Syngenta’s GM maize to legal status. Widely anticipated to occur next Wednesday at the Commission meeting.
"It is difficult to predict exactly, but I would imagine this [approval for Bt11] will be before the Commission in late May or early June," a Commission spokesperson told a news conference last month.
Critics view the Commission’s determination to push through approval of the new GM crop as caving into pressure from the US. Home to a massive GM farming industry where the Bt11 crop is cultivated, the US has accused the EU’s de facto moratorium on GM foods as an illegal barrier to trade, taking the issue to a World Trade Organisation panel.
Grown in the US and Canada since 1996, and authorised for food and feed in the EU since 1998, Syngenta’s biotech maize BT 11 is resistant to the European corn borer (ECB) Ostrinia nubilalis and the herbicide phosphinothricin (PPT). Agronomists pitch losses caused by the ECB in the US and Canada- damage and control costs -at $1 billion each year.
Grown commercially in over 100 countries, global maize production is in the region of 590 million metric tonnes. While only a small amount of whole maize kernel is consumed by humans, maize oil is extracted from the germ of the maize kernel.
Maize is also a raw material in the manufacture of starch. A complex refining process converts the majority of this starch into sweeteners, syrups and fermentation products. Refined maize products, sweeteners, starch, and oil are abundant in processed foods such as breakfast cereals, dairy goods, and chewing gum.
Demand For Bt Cotton Takes Root
- Financial Express, By ASHOK B SHARMA, May 11, 2004
The farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are virtually scrambling for Bt cotton seeds with sowing season in progress in the irrigated belts of the country.
Though no Bt cotton variety has yet been approved for commercial cultivation in north India, the farmers in this region are sourcing Bt cotton seeds through illegal channels.
The leaders of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) said that this craze of Bt cotton among farmers in north India is due to the hype generated by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Company that its cultivation reduces bollworm attack by 58 per cent, increases yield by 24 per cent and results in a net profit of Rs 7,276 per acre.
BKU leader Jagmohan told FE, "influenced by the largescale publicity about the success of Bt cotton, the farmers are not even hesitant to pay Rs 400 to Rs 500 for a purported pack of 400 gm of Bt cotton seeds. They hardly get what they are paying for as most of the packing is done in the neighbouring Haryana with some unspecified varieties of seeds. The demand for illegal Bt cotton seeds has also spread to Rajasthan."
He further said "in some cases, sowing of cotton with such varieties costs the growers Rs 2000 an acre, but the agriculture department officials turned a Nelson eye to this unscrupulous sale and in most cases they are hand in glove with the fly-by-night operators."
The Punjab agriculture department officials when contacted, however, denied this charge by saying "encouraged by last year's bumper cotton crop the farmers do not listen to our warnings. We are constantly telling them that no Bt-cotton has yet been approved for the region. Sowing of unapproved Bt cotton varieties may lead to serious ecological consequences and even crop loss."
Last year Mahyco-Monsanto had applied to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for approval of a Bt cotton variety for cultivation in north India, but this variety was rejected as it was found susceptible to the dangerous leaf curl virus. This year Bt cotton varieties developed by Rasi Seeds have been granted permission for largescale field trials in north India.
The Punjab state agriculture department has estimated that area under cotton is likely to touch 5.5 lakh hectare, one lakh hectare more than the previous year. The cotton production in the state is likely to be 16 lakh bales as against 14 lakh bales in the previous year. The government has a stock of only 10,000 quintal of certified cotton seeds of convention hybrid varieties as against the demand for 4 lakh quintal of cotton seeds. This is one of the reason for farmers opting to purchase seeds from illegual operators.
The convenor of Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity (APCIDD), PV Satheesh has said that contrary to the claims of Monsanto, Bt cotton has failed in the state. The farmers who cultivated Bt cotton yielded 9 per cent less profit as compared to those who cultivated non-Bt hybrids. He alleged "after harvest and at the points of sales Bt cotton are mixed with non-Bt cotton. This is dangerous. Cotton seeds are used in animal and poultry feeds. Milk and poultry products derived from animals and birdus which have consumed Bt feed may invite serious health hazards in humans."
Minnesota wheat farmers disappointed by biotech decision
- AgriNews.com, May 12, 2004
Minnesotans in the agriculture industry had mixed reactions to the news that Monsanto is shelving plans for genetically modified wheat that would have been grown mostly in the Upper Midwest.
Dave Torgerson, president of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, said most of Minnesota's wheat farmers were disappointed by the decision, which was announced Monday.
"Within Minnesota, our growers understand and believe that biotechnology is important for our future," said Torgerson, citing earlier surveys of his 900-member farmer association.
Anti-biotech groups such as Greenpeace claimed victory with St. Louis-based Monsanto's announcement that it was stopping efforts to commercialize the first genetically modified wheat in the world, which would be resistant to the company's own herbicide, Roundup.
Monsanto said it is realigning its research and development investments to corn, cotton, and oilseeds. The company said it is deferring all further efforts to introduce Roundup Ready wheat until other wheat biotechnology traits are introduced.
Millers and food producers, however, welcomed the news. General Mills, based in Golden Valley, said the herbicide-resistant wheat would offer little benefit to consumers.
"We don't think it makes sense to extend the use of agricultural biotech to America's largest and most pervasive crop until consumers fully accept its use," spokeswoman Marybeth Thorsgaard said. "That acceptance will be more evident when the technology delivers consumer benefits, not just benefits to farmers."
General Mills manufactures and markets bakery products around the world. Opposition to genetically modified foods has been more widespread in Japan and Europe than in the United States.
Torgerson said other traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance or even human health benefits, including varieties that could be eaten by people who are gluten intolerant, might more easily gain public acceptance.
If a new disease-resistant wheat under development now by Syngenta Crop Protection can be introduced, few Midwest farmers would dispute its value, he said. That could then pave the way for acceptance of Monsanto's herbicide-resistant wheat technology, he said.
Midwest farmers are hoping that Syngenta's developing technology, if approved, would halt a fungal disease called wheat scab, or fusarium head blight, which has cost Minnesota farmers an estimated $1 billion in losses in the past decade.
Wheat scab overwinters on dead plant matter and is nurtured by moist, warm conditions in the spring. It first ravaged Minnesota wheat fields in 1993, a year of heavy rain. Torgerson and other farmers remember driving through the flat expanses of the Red River Valley, where from miles away they could see billowing black smoke as farmers burned their fields, trying to stop the fungus.
"Every wheat grower that farmed over the last 10 years won't forget it because a lot of their neighbors went out of business because of it," Torgerson said. "If there is a disease-resistant wheat that's available through biotechnology, it would have a huge economic impact on our state."
In Minnesota, the wheat industry generates about $750 million a year in economic activity, though that's down from $1.3 billion 10 years ago. Many farmers have switched from wheat, finding it more profitable to grow corn and soybeans.
The Roundup Ready wheat was targeted for Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, where 90 percent of the nation's hard red spring wheat is grown. That's the variety that Monsanto had planned to use to launch its transgenic wheat.
Perceptions of food that are an ocean apart
- FINANCIAL TIMES, By FELICIA WU, 13 May 2004
Despite strong ties and many common views, Europeans and Americans see some basic things differently thanks to varying cultural perspectives. One of these things is food, manifested by the transatlantic controversy over genetically modified foods. The decision on Monday by Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology company, to drop plans to sell its genetically modified spring wheat to farmers takes these different views into account.
Many farmers in the US and Canada feared that Monsanto's GM wheat would not be marketable in Europe and Japan because of consumer opposition to biotech products. The Monsanto wheat was altered to make it resistant to the company's own Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to kill weeds without harming the wheat itself.
Monsanto cited economic factors for making its decision, including a 25 per cent drop in spring wheat acreage in the US and Canada since 1997 and a lack of "widespread industry alignment" on GM wheat. Groups opposed to GM foods hailed the action as a victory in their anti-biotech campaign.
European Union rules, which are stricter than any others in the world, took effect last month. They require labelling and tracing of GM foods. Many in Europe - where polls show more than 70 per cent of Europeans oppose GM food - see the new rules as a consumer protection measure designed to inform millions of people about food safety.
But more than a difference in cultural taste is needed to legally uphold the EU restrictions against GM crops. Unable to reach agreement, the US, Argentina, Canada and Uruguay have brought a case against the EU to the World Trade Organization in an effort to open up European markets to GM products. WTO regulations say countries may ban imports only on condition of scientific evidence of risk. The EU now faces a challenge to show its aversion to GM products has a scientific as well as a cultural basis.
US biotechnology companies contend that the European rules are unnecessary, protectionist and potentially harmful to American agricultural markets abroad. Scientists have been genetically modifying crops for two decades to make them more resistant to disease, insect damage and herbicides, or to make them more nutritious. Because some GM crops require fewer pesticides, some scientists believe that modified crops may not only be safer to eat but may cause less damage to the environment.
The US, the world's leading producer of GM crops, points out that 81 EU- funded research studies on GM foods in the past 15 years have found that crops with gene modifications posed no dangers to human health.
Despite the research findings, Europeans persist in emphasising precaution when dealing with GM foods. This is largely because of the contrasting cultural perspectives.
Many Americans view food as fuel that keeps bodies operating and mealtimes merely as necessary interruptions. It is common for them to gulp down their meals, which is often fast food, in cars, on desks, or at the kitchen counter. In Europe, dining is the highlight of the day. Food is savoured at length and is integral to culture. Europeans often linger over dinner and even lunch for hours, turning meals into social occasions.
As a result, genetically engineering food - a central element of the culture - is abhorrent to many Europeans.
Europeans and Americans also have different perceptions about agriculture. While much of US farmland is devoted to large-scale, single-crop agri-business, European farms are smaller and often family-run, with greater crop variety per operation. So while the switch to GM crops is seen as a change in business operations in the US, it is perceived in Europe as a change in the way families earn their livelihoods.
Moreover, a greater percentage of Europeans than Americans live in rural areas. Changes to the countryside - through industrialisation by agribusinesses supporting GM crops - are perceived as threatening to their very way of life for some Europeans. Such changes are also seen as threatening the traditional variation in the distinctive, locally produced food products that are a source of regional pride.
Yet another difference hinges on the varying perceptions of government competence. Europeans' confidence in their regulatory bodies has plummeted because of recent food-related scares. By comparison, Americans tend to have confidence in their government's pronouncements about food safety.
All this explains why what looks good to Americans on the food menu often looks frightening to Europeans. In many ways, where you eat continues to determine what you eat.
The writer is an associate policy researcher at the Rand Corporation
Syngenta buys AstraZeneca's Advanta seeds
- FINANCIAL TIMES, By Haig Simonian, May 13 2004
AstraZeneca and Royal Cosun, its Dutch joint venture partner, have reached an agreement to sell their Advanta seeds business for ¤400m (£280m) plus a final net asset value adjustment.
Syngenta, the Swiss crop protection group, is buying Advanta with Fox Paine, an investment group that moved into seeds last year by buying the Seminis food and vegetable business.
The Swiss group is paying ¤239m for part of Advanta, the world's fifth-biggest seeds group. The purchase was one of two deals it announced yesterday that boost its US presence.
It has also agreed with Bayer of Germany to purchase, for an undisclosed sum, a genetic technology that improves the resistance of corn seeds.
The developments should reinforce Syngenta's position in the big US corn market and narrow the gap with Monsanto, a pioneer of genetically-modified crops.
Syngenta is buying Advanta's North American corn and soya bean business, while Fox Paine is spending ¤161m on the vendor's non- North American free trade agreement region activities, as well as some Nafta-area activities.
Analysts said the purchase price of almost 1.8 times sales was more expensive than some recent seeds transactions, but reflected higher profitability. The Advanta businesses Syngenta is buying had sales of ¤135m last year. Advanta was formed in 1996 as a joint venture between AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish group, and two Dutch companies, Royal van der Have and Royal Cosun.
The business, put to auction some months ago, represented something of a completion for Syngenta, formed in 2001 from the spin-off and merger of Zeneca's agrochemicals business and the seeds and crop protection business of Novartis, the Swiss group.
Michael Pragnell, chief executive, said the Advanta deal would nearly double Syngenta's US market share in corn and soya bean to 11 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. "We now have the critical mass to present a very sensible alternative to Monsanto," he said.
He said the Zeneca seed activities were not included at the time of Syngenta's creation, as that would only have added to the difficulties of an already extremely complex transaction.
Mr Pragnell said the deal entailed restructuring costs of about $30m (£17.8m). After diluting earnings in 2004 and 2005, the purchase should be earnings enhancing from 2006.
Syngenta expected the acquisitions to contribute about $45m in cost synergies within four years.
Syngenta needed a partner to avoid cartel problems. Syngenta and Advanta each control more than 20 per cent of the European sugar beet market, potentially prompting concerns.
Monsanto sues Syngenta over genetically modified corn
- mlive.com, By JIM SUHR, 13 May 2004
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Monsanto Co. has accused Syngenta AG of patent infringement, looking to block the rival agribusiness giant from technology used in producing a popular genetically modified corn.
The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Delaware, involves what St. Louis-based Monsanto called its "fundamental technique" used in producing glyphosate-tolerant plants, namely corn.
Glyphosate is a key ingredient in Roundup, the company's popular herbicide. Monsanto's Roundup sales have been under pressure since 2000, when the company lost U.S. patent protection for glyphosate.
Such corn in question is genetically engineered to resist Roundup, meaning farmers could spray the herbicide without harming the corn plants.
Switzerland-based Syngenta said earlier Wednesday that it had bought rights to some parts of the so-called GA21 technology from Bayer CropScience -- a unit of drug-making Bayer AG -- and plans to use and market that commodity in the United States.
Monsanto said it had not licensed Bayer CropScience to its "proprietary intellectual property" for use in corn. In filing suit, Monsanto wants a federal judge to permanently bar Syngenta from marketing GA21 corn, arguing that Syngenta's doing so would violate a Monsanto patent.
"The bottom line is Bayer did not have a license for the intellectual property owned by Monsanto, and Syngenta does not have a license either," Carl Casale, Monsanto's executive vice president, said in a statement.
Without specifying terms of its deal with Bayer CropScience, Syngenta said earlier Wednesday that it would offer the technology in certain hybrids and through licenses with other seed companies.
"This transaction gives Syngenta fast-track entry into an important segment of the corn crop protection market," David Jones, Syngenta's chief of business development, said in a statement.
Messages left Wednesday night with Syngenta offices in Switzerland and the United States, seeking comment about the lawsuit, were not returned.
The GA21 technology largely has been phased out in the marketplace, giving way to improved glyphosate-tolerant NK603, commercially available since 2001. Monsanto's NK603 is marketed as Roundup Ready Corn 2.
The lawsuit came just two days after Monsanto announced it was shelving plans to offer farmers its genetically modified spring wheat, which had drawn global opposition from food makers, environmentalists and consumers.
Monsanto cited economic factors in backing away from marketing that wheat including a 25 percent drop in U.S. and Canadian spring wheat acreage since 1997 and a lack of "widespread industry alignment" behind biotech wheat.
Syngenta says Monsanto lawsuit 'totally without merit'
- just-food.com, 14 May 2004
Swiss biotech firm Syngenta has said today that it considers a lawsuit filed against it by US competitor Monsanto as groundless.
Monsanto said this week that it had filed suit against Syngenta for alleged infringement of Monsanto’s patent covering the technique used in producing glyphosate-tolerant plants, including the GA21 glyphosate-tolerance trait in corn. Monsanto said its lawsuit requests a permanent injunction against Syngenta to prevent the commercial sale in the US of any Syngenta corn that uses Monsanto’s patented technology.
“This case is totally without merit,” said David Jones, head of business development at Syngenta. “We are delighted to have secured worldwide ownership of commercially proven glyphosate tolerance technology for corn which we intend to make available to growers in the 2005 season. We are entirely satisfied with our decision and have the intellectual property rights we need to commercialise this product. Monsanto's lawsuit is a flagrant attempt to intimidate customers and restrict choice in the market.”
Syngenta had announced on 12 May that it had acquired rights to a commercially successful glyphosate tolerance technology in corn from Bayer CropScience.
A precautionary tale
The EU plans new regulations for scientific risk-taking, based on the principle of sustainable development. US big business is furious
- THE GUARDIAN, By Jeremy Rifkin, May 12, 2004
Chances are that most people have never heard of "the precautionary principle". This relatively new term is the most radical idea for rethinking humanity's relationship to the natural world since the 18th-century European Enlightenment. Its potential impact is already being felt within the business community and the halls of government, with profound implications for all of us.
Recently, a congressional committee released emails between the United States and Europe about the future of scientific research, technology innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking. At issue is a proposed EU directive that would force companies to prove chemical products introduced into the marketplace are safe before being granted permission to market them. Existing laws allow most chemical-based products to be introduced without prior assurances by the company of their safety. The result is that 99% oLf the total chemicals sold in Europe have not passed through any environmental and health testing review process.
Under the proposed EU standards, companies would be required to register and test for the safety of more than 30,000 chemicals at an estimated cost of nearly ¤6bn (£4bn) to the industry. The new proposed standard is called Reach - regulations, evolution and authorisation of chemicals.
The American chemical industry is furious. The US says the EU chemical regulations threaten the export of over $20bn in chemicals the US sells to Europe each year. According to the released White House and state department emails, the US government, in collaboration with the American chemical industry, has been putting unprecedented pressure on key European governments to waylay the proposed regulations. Even secretary of state Colin Powell has intervened. US strong-arm tactics appear to have paid off. TonLy Blair, Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac have all urged the European commission to water the proposed Reach regulations and have partially succeeded. When the final proposal was introduced last October, it was a much weaker version of the original legislation.
What's at stake here goes far beyond the chemical industry. The EU is attempting to establish a radical new approach to science and technology based on the principle of sustainable development and global stewardship of the Earth's environment.
In November 2002, the EU commission adopted a communication on the use of what it calls the "precautionary principle" in the regulation of science and technology innovation and the introduction of new products into the marketplace. The precautionary principle is designed to allow government authorities to respond pre-emptively, as well as after damage is inflicted, with a lower threshold of scientific certainty than has been the rule of thumb in the past. "Scientific certainty" has been tempered by the notion of "reasonable grounds for concern". The precautionary principle gives government the flexibility to respond to events in real time, so that potential adverse impacts can be forestalled or reduced while the suspected causes of the harm are being evaluated.
At the heart of the precautionary principle is a radical divergence in the way Europe has come to perceive risks compared to the US. In Europe, intellectuals are increasingly debating the question of the great shift from a risk-taking age to a risk-prevention era. That debate is virtually non-existent among American intellectuals. Risks of all kinds are now global in scale, open-ended in duration, incalculable in their consequences, and not compensational. Acid rain, the tear in the Earth's ozone layer, anLd the spread of virtual and biological viruses, are among the new genre of man-made threats. No one can escape their potential effects. When everyone is vulnerable, and all can be lost, then traditional notions of calculating and pooling risks become virtually meaningless. This is what European academics call a risk society.
The EU hopes that by integrating the precautionary principle into international treaties and multilateral agreements, it will become the unchallenged standard by which governments oversee and regulate science and technology. While the US has integrated aspects of the precautionary principle into some of its environmental regulations, for the most part its standards are far more lax then the EU's, though better than many countries. But the US views Europe's tightening regulatory regime as a noose around US Lexports and is determined to thwart its efforts. America's National Foreign Trade Council warned that the EU's invocation of the precautionary principle "has effectively banned US and other non-EU exports of products deemed hazardous" and stifled scientific and industrial innovation.
The precautionary principle is deeply at odds with the traditional Enlightenment idea about science. Risk taking is at the heart of modern science. To attempt to put limits on scientific pursuits, in lieu of greater certainty about their potential impacts on the environment, is, some scientists say, tantamount to squelching our very notion of progress.
The precautionary principle says, in effect, that because the stakes are so high, we have to weigh even the most dramatic benefits against the prospects of even more destructive consequences. The old Enlightenment science is too primitive to address a world where the bar for risk has been raised to the threshold of possible extinction itself. When the whole world is at risk because of the scale of human intervention, then a new scientific approach is required that takes the whole world into consideration.
· Jeremy Rifkin is the author of The Biotech Century
GM pullout shock for growers' body
- New Zealand Herald, May 13, 2004, By Michael Byrnes
Australia's leading grains grower body has expressed disappointment at a decision by Monsanto to close its genetically modified canola operations in Australia.
"It certainly puts us behind the eight-ball [and] sends a bad signal to anyone wanting to invest in new technologies in this country," Keith Perrett, president of Grains Council of Australia, said.
Monsanto Australia's spokesman on genetically modified (GM) foods was not available to confirm the decision to close the group's Australian GM canola operations.
The decision would follow implementation of bans by state Governments on commercial GM canola crops, even though the federal Government has given a go-ahead for gene-spliced canola crops to be commercially grown.
"Unfortunately ... our state Governments have not matured enough to allow an industry to determine its own future, to allow an industry to update a technology which the rest of the world seems to have access to and is uptaking at quite a dramatic rate," Perrett said.
Australia is the second-largest canola exporter in the world, after Canada, whose canola crop is mostly genetically modified.
Genetic modification raises yields through increased resistance to chemical sprays or through increased natural resistance to pests.
In March, Victoria announced a new four-year moratorium on the commercial planting of GM canola.
Premier Steve Bracks said there were still deep divisions and uncertainty within industry, the farming sector and regional communities about market access for GM crops.
The West Australian Government has also placed an indefinite ban on the growing of all GM crops.
New South Wales recently scaled back areas for trial crops of GM canola this year.
Last year, the federal Government's gene technology regulator gave approval for commercial canola crops. State Governments, however, have powers over production and marketing of GM crops.
Australia so far grows only two GM crops - a large cotton crop in NSW and Queensland, and a smaller carnation crop.
Victoria intends to prohibit the commercial planting of GM canola until 2008, except tightly controlled non-commercial, low-level trials.
Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss has said that states that ban GM crops may be disadvantaging their farmers and Australian agriculture.
Europe, the main market for non-GM canola, takes only small amounts of Australian canola because of shipping costs and competition from other vegetable oils.