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May 18, 2004


EU Ends Ban on Biotech Crops; Why the Shredded Wheat?; Feeding the Hungry; Frontline Mischief on Bt Cotton


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 18, 2004:

* EU Ends Ban on Biotech Crops
* Why the Shredded Wheat?
* Feeding the Hungry
* Africa Behind in Food Output
* Seeks Realistic Solutions: Greenpeace Founder Wins Converts
* Frontline Mischief....
* .... Bt Cotton, Again
* Nigeria: Issues in Biotechnology
* ABIC2004 – AgBiotech goes Europe!


EU Ends Ban on Biotech Crops

- Paul Geitner, Associated Press, May 18, 2004

Brussels, Belgium - The European Union lifted its 6-year-old ban on biotech products Wednesday by approving imports of an insect-resistant strain of sweet corn for human consumption. David Byrne, the EU's commissioner for health and consumer protection, said the Bt11 strain of corn from Swiss-based Syngenta was approved after "the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world.

"It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize," he said. "Food safety is therefore not an issue, it is a question of consumer choice."

The EU has been under pressure from the United States and other major agricultural exporters, which charge the 6-year-old ban is unscientific and thus illegal under international trade rules. U.S. officials say they will press ahead with their complaint at the World Trade Organization despite Wednesday's step.

The genetically modified corn would only be imported and not grown in Europe, although an application for cultivation is pending. Any biotech corn sold - canned or fresh - would have to be labeled under strict new rules that took effect last month. "Labeling provides consumers with the information they need to make up their own mind," Byrne said. "They are therefore free to choose what they want to buy."

Syngenta spokesman Rainer von Mielecki said it was now up to European consumers to make up their mind. "We understand and accept this," he said. Von Mielecki said there would be no immediate financial impact as it would take time for the market to develop in Europe. Syngenta currently generates around 3 percent of its annual sales - representing $198 million
- from genetically modified organisms.

The commission announced its intention to lift the ban last week and followed through Wednesday despite last-ditch appeals from biotech opponents, who accused the Brussels-based bureaucracy of ignoring widespread distaste across Europe for genetically modified foods.

EU governments were bitterly divided in several votes since December, which under EU rules sent the decision ultimately to the EU's executive body. A delegation of Green politicians warned Commission President Romano Prodi on Tuesday that lifting the moratorium when several countries continue to oppose it "might be seen as an abuse of power," according to Green party spokesman Helmut Weixler.

Friends of the Earth Europe also warned the commission - often derided as an arrogant bureaucracy out of touch with average Europeans - that it will face "increased public hostility if they force through the approval." The executive commission insists that a new approval process and strict new laws on traceability and labeling provide adequate protection for consumers.

"The Commission is acting responsibly based on stringent and clear legislation," Byrne said. Meanwhile, the biotech industry has begun to retrench, especially in Europe, where polls show wide majorities do not want to eat genetically modified foods.

Last week U.S.-based Monsanto shelved plans to offer farmers its genetically modified spring wheat due to a lack of market demand. A month earlier, Germany's Bayer Cropscience gave up attempts to grow genetically modified corn commercially in Britain.


Why the Shredded Wheat?

- Michael Fumento, Tech Central Station, May 17, 2004

There's dancing and singing in the streets of the Land of Biotech Bashers. Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, has announced it will delay commercialization of gene-spliced wheat.

"This is great news for the environment, for farmers and consumers," gushed Greenpeace spokesman Ben Ayliffe. It's "the end of genetically modified" food, Tony Juniper, director of the green group Friends of the Earth crowed to Reuters. "It is the final nail in the coffin."

All of which brings to mind Mark Twain's famous remark upon reading his own obituary that "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

In 2003, the global area of biotech crops grew a remarkable 15 percent according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an even greater expansion than the year before. The "167 million acres was grown by 7 million farmers in 18 countries, an increase from 6 million farmers in 16 countries in 2002," says an ISAAA report. In the last eight years, the number of biotech crop acres worldwide increased by a staggering 40 fold.
In the United States, planted biotech acreage increased 10 percent in 2004. If it's true as Ayliffe claims that "The markets are not expanding for GM crops," then farmers must be growing and then burning them just to spite the environmentalists.

But no, "Farmers have made up their minds," said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA. "They continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages."

Why the Shredded What? Perhaps the best evidence that the wheat in question, called "Roundup Ready," is safe is that the single gene Monsanto added to it is also in Monsanto's biotech soybeans. It gives the plant resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (which Monsanto sells as "Roundup") and allows fields to be sprayed "over the top" without harming the crops. Not only do those soybeans comprise the most popular biotech crop in the world, they also constitute 86 percent of all soybeans grown in the United States, and we've been eating them for eight years. (And have lived to tell the tale!)
So why the shredded wheat? St. Louis-based Monsanto says the decision was economics based. The biggest problem was that since development began in 1997 wheat acreage in North America has fallen by a fourth. Ironically, notes CEO Daren Coppock of the National Association of Wheat Growers in Washington, D.C., "many of those acres have been replaced with biotech crops," either soy or corn. So to some extent the success of some biotech crops precluded the introduction of another. In any case, Monsanto's wheat investment in the past year was less than one percent of the company's $500 million research and development budget.

Another problem for Roundup Ready Wheat is that while, like all Roundup Ready crops, it's better for the environment by requiring less tilling of the land and reducing herbicide runoff, a farmer's first job is to make money. The added value of these new seeds simply wasn't as great as seen with other biotech crops.

Consumer Acceptance. But consumer acceptance clearly was a factor. "Nobody that I've talked to in business has the least scientific, technical or food safety objection to biotech wheat," Coppock told me. "But they are concerned with the customer."

That's why even some mainstream wheat farming associations opposed it. So far, the vast majority of biotech crops grown have been used for animal consumption or cotton materials. Biotech soybean meal and oil and biotech canola oil are in practically everything we eat, it seems. But they constitute minor ingredients compared to "the staff of life."

Start with the traditional status of bread and hence wheat, mix in a cup of hysteria from the competing organic farmers and environmentalists, and you get farmer fear that all wheat products would be disparaged. Monsanto's move was "recognition, since wheat is closer to the human food chain, that it's a lightning-rod issue," Frank Mitsch, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners, told CBS MarketWatch. Further, "The potential for the European Union to reject it (as protectionism disguised as a safety
concern) and the farmers who grow it is significant."

Thus it makes sense for Monsanto to wait until consumer awareness catches up to its wheat, even as it looks to introduce other biotech crops such as potatoes; new types of cotton and corn; tomatoes, and rice. It hopes to commercialize the wheat in four to eight years when more biotech traits could be added to the crops.

This could include fungal resistance under development from Monsanto competitor Syngenta, although Greenpeace struck a blow for "consumer choice" when it sabotaged Syngenta's first test plot. Others being tested are resistance to viruses and to drought. All four traits could be put into the same plant through technology called "gene-stacking."

And then? Perhaps genetically-engineered wheat will be the "final nail in the coffin" for those spreading anti-biotech hysteria.

Michael Fumento (fumento[at]pobox.com) is author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World, a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, and a nationally syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.


Economist Report on Feeding the Hungry

- Roy Atkinson  

Below is an article from the May 8 Economist. It is the 4th in a series reporting "the Copenhagen Consensus Project" which was sponsored by Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute with the co-operation of the Economist. The project aims for consider and to establish priorities among a series of proposals for advancing global welfare. This article reports on options for addressing global hunger and malnutrition. It looks at benefits and costs for 1) in utero nutrition, 2) improved nutrition of infants, 3) micro nutrients, 4) "improved agriculture - for example , by using higher yielding crops (which are often genetically modified) and controlling pest better."

The latter strategy showed the highest benefit cost ration of the 4 options with benefit cost ratios of between 14.3 and 79.3. "The authors see investment in technology as the most effective means of increasing incomes of hungry people. Teaching a man to farm better, it seems , can yield far more than simply giving food or medicine away."

I have not reviewed the study design, but given its sponsors there is a possibility that this will be a robust and credible study. It is interesting that this study joins the recent updating by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics of its earlier study that examined a wide range of options for ensuring adequate food for the resource poor in the developing world. They too concluded that GM agriculture was the best option.

It may be both significant and helpful to the public debate that reputable and disinterested groups are examining wide ranging policy options for feeding the hungry in the developing world, and they are concluding that modern, scientifically enhance agriculture is the best alternative. These studies directly address the generalised and untested critique that no one really needs the new GM agricultural technology because better alternatives exist. The evidence provided by these two studies lead to the conclusion that this hypothesis is not correct.

Roy Atkinson, Chelsea, Quebec


Feeding the Hungry

- The Economist, May 6 2004 , http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=2647369

In the fourth of a series of articles on the Copenhagen Consensus project*, we look at hunger and malnutrition

Televised images of starving children with distended bellies have brought the problem of global hunger home to people in rich countries. Sadly, however, the problem is far deeper than an immediate lack of food, as a new paper for the Copenhagen Consensus project points out. Jere Behrman of the University of Pennsylvania, Harold Alderman of the World Bank and John Hoddinott of the International Food Policy Research Institute have examined the extent of hunger and malnutrition and four concrete proposals to ameliorate it.

Around a billion people, say the authors, are malnourished, and around a sixth of these are children. That is not only a deplorable human tragedy in its own right. It also leads to measurable economic losses -- ie, further poverty. Lives are shortened, causing lost output and income. Those who survive the effects of malnutrition may be less productive, perhaps throughout their lives. Hunger also often leaves people more susceptible to disease, so that more output has to be devoted to health care.

The benefits of reducing hunger and malnutrition are many. Better-fed people are likely to contribute longer to GDP. They are even likely to have healthier babies. Infant mortality is much higher for babies with low birth-weights. According to one study, an additional pound at birth reduces mortality by 14%.

Labour productivity can be strongly influenced by malnutrition at an early age, since it can affect people's size and strength. Stunted growth--one symptom of malnutrition--often leads to lower earnings. One study in Brazil found that a 1% increase in height is associated with a 2-2.4% rise in wages.

Improved nutrition can allow children to perform better in school. Moreover, malnourished children may receive less education because they are not seen as good "investments". Eliminating hunger, therefore, can increase the prevalence of skills needed for higher value-added jobs.

Hunger, the authors note, is not caused only by a lack of food. Other factors can play big roles. Women's education and status are associated with the quality of their children's nutrition. Diseases such as AIDS and malaria can cause or worsen hunger, in part by shortening lives of breadwinners and by causing families to fail to pass down farming skills to future generations. Poor transport infrastructure can make it difficult for food to reach the people who need it most. And then there are trade barriers--put up by rich and poor countries alike--that keep farmers mired in poverty by depriving them of export markets.

But what can be done to address hunger directly? The authors note that measuring the benefits of reducing hunger is especially hard, thanks partly to the unintended consequences of some policies. Moreover, since the costs and benefits are incurred over lifetimes, discount rates play a big role, so the authors use a range of scenarios. Overall, they caution that there is no single 'magic bullet' for hunger.

Aid or agriculture?

The first course they examine is halting the ill effects of hunger at the earliest possible stage: in utero. Each year, around 12m infants are born weighing less than 2.5 kilograms (5.5lb), a definition of low birth-weight. This includes roughly 22% of newborns in India and 30% in Bangladesh. The benefits of raising birth-weights come from several
factors: reduced infant mortality, savings on health costs and lost output due to illness, improved growth and lifetime productivity. The costs of achieving these benefits take the form of providing medicines (anti-microbial and anti-parasitic treatments), keeping better track of mothers' health, and providing food and mineral supplements. Using a 5% discount rate, the benefits amount to some $580 for every infant who avoids a low birth-weight. Benefits exceed costs, sometimes by a wide margin, for all but one of the treatments considered.

Next, the authors investigate improving nutrition in young children. This is typically achieved by encouraging breast-feeding, and by educating mothers about 'weaning foods'. The authors rely on successful policies from Latin America to draw their conclusions. The benefits, they find, are similar to those achieved from raising birth-weights, but the costs are more difficult to pinpoint. Even so, the authors think it likely that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Third is a reduction of deficiencies in key "micronutrients", such as iodine, zinc, vitamin A and iron. The authors reckon that the benefits of increasing the uptake of these minerals, achieved through food-aid or supplements, “comfortably exceed” the costs. But they caution that the scope for taking advantage of this opportunity may be limited.

The fourth course is to improve agricultural technology--for example, by using higher-yielding crops (which are often genetically modified) and controlling pests better. Many studies show high rates of return from such improvements, and the authors argue that these returns dwarf those from the other policies they consider. One study in particular looks at the dissemination in the Philippines of Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain rich in vitamins and minerals. By some measures, that produced a benefit-to-cost ratio of between 14.3 and 79.3.

The authors see investments in technology as the most effective means of increasing the incomes of hungry people. Teaching a man to farm better, it seems, can yield far more than simply giving food or medicines away.

* The Copenhagen Consensus project, organised by Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute with the co-operation of The Economist, aims to consider, and to establish priorities among, a series of proposals for advancing global welfare. The initiative was described in our Economics focus of March 6th. That article can be read here, along with other material, including an Economics focus on migration, published this week online only. A book, 'Global Crises, Global Solutions' (Amazon.co.uk), containing the full set of papers written for the project is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.


Africa Behind in Food Output

- Simbi Kusimba, The Nation, Nairobi; May 15, 2004

Adoption of biotechnology to create genetically modified crops could be the ultimate answer to Africa's falling food yields. An estimated 200 million people on the continent are malnourished, and research findings by the Rockefeller Foundation, an American charity organisation indicate that average agricultural production is one tonne per hectare in Africa, whereas in Asia it is three tonnes.

The New York based organisation cautions that without more and better trained local scientists, the cycle of poverty caused by inadequate technologies, low yields and poor markets was likely to continue being experienced.

The charity now advocates growing of tissue cultured bananas that are free of pests and diseases, which yield over 50 tonnes per hectare, and the new rice varieties for Africa that record yields of up to three tonnes per hectare with low fertiliser use.

The new rice was developed by researchers at the West Africa Rice Development Association and is now widely grown in Uganda and West Africa. In Western Kenya, the Sustainable Agricultural Centre for Research Extension and Development Africa) has began trials of Nerica in Bungoma.

Sacred Africa's executive director, Dr Eusebius Mukhwana, told the Nation that the crop would do well if the rainfall patterns did not change drastically. "Biotechnology-genetic engineering-holds the considerable promise in solving Africa's food production problems and new technologies must be accessible to the poor in particular so we must ensure that proprietary technologies are available to African plant breeders," Rockefeller president Gordon Conway said.

He observed that the rise of a sophisticated global intellectual property system covering many building block technologies locked out public researchers from accessing new ideas and tools in their field of specialisation. -Dr Conway said Rockefeller helped set up the African Agricultural Technology Foundation to gain access to new proprietary technologies and make them available to plant breeders in Africa.


Seeks Realistic Solutions: Greenpeace Founder Wins Converts

- Harry Cline, Delta Farm Press, May 14, 2004

Patrick Moore's hair has noticeable thinned in the 26 years since he was photographed straddling a baby seal to prevent it from being clubbed to death. However, his passion for environmental issues has not disappeared since that photograph appeared in 3,000 newspapers worldwide in 1978.

Moore, who holds a doctorate in ecology from the University of British Columbia, is one of the founders of Greenpeace. Greenpeace introduced the world to environmental activism by protecting baby seals, protesting atmospheric nuclear testing and challenging huge Russian whaling trawlers in rubber boats in the stormy North Pacific.

Moore is no longer associated with Greenpeace or any of the other so-called mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club. When what he called the anti-civilization, anti-human, anti-globalization, anti-trade ultra-left extremists took over those groups, he turned his back on them. Not only that, he challenges their so-called science at every turn. "We have an environmental movement (today) that is run by people who want to fight, not win," Moore says.

Moore left Greenpeace after 15 years to find realistic solutions to issues like the "environmental disaster" of 6 billion who go hungry each day. He now mesmerizes audiences like the California Cotton Growers Association annual meeting with his take on finding solutions to environmental issues.

One solution is embracing genetically modified crops to feed the world's poor. Genetically modified food not only can generate more food per acre, but it does it with fewer pesticides and less soil erosion. "There are so many real benefits from genetic modification compared to the largely hypothetical and contrived risks that it would be foolish to ban genetic modification," said Moore.

He scoffed at the recent vote banning genetically modified crops in Mendocino County, Calif. It was purely politically motivated because "the campaign of fear now being waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic." He calls it scripts right out of Hollywood movies.

He said the attack on "Golden Rice" is a tragedy that is preventing millions from receiving sufficient Vitamin A in their daily diet. An estimated 500,000 children go blind each year from chronic Vitamin A deficiency. A Swiss scientist used DNA technology to insert a gene from daffodil plant into rice to add high levels of Vitamin A to rice, a staple for millions worldwide. The controversy over genetically-modified crops likely will keep that off the market for decades.

He said if environmental extremists were to admit that Golden Rice was a good GM crop, they would have to admit that there might be others. “And then, they would be reduced to a rational discussion on the subjects like the rest of us mortals,” he says. He said environmental extremists invent campaigns against invisible poisons. He calls the Alar on apples scare a classic case of this. The end result of this activity is that people eat fewer fruits and vegetables, the very food stuff that has proven to reduce cancer risks.

Moore's passion today is forestry. "No species has ever become extinct because of logging forests," he says. "There is more diversity of life today than ever before." Forest area in the U.S. is the same as it was 100 years ago. "Trees are the answer to a lot of the questions about our future on this planet," he said.

Trees clean the air and water and using wood for building material uses less energy than making steel and concrete. "Using more wood means using less fossil fuel," he explained. Eighty percent of the timber produced in the U.S. is from private land and "when you buy wood from a lumber yard that is a signal to plant more trees" which is good for the environment.

Moore is a rare scientist who brings logic; sound science and passion to what he says are the real environmental issues of today. When he is introduced as a Greenpeace founder to a conservative crowd like the cotton growers who have been hammered by today's breed of environmentalists, skepticism is thick enough to cut


Frontline Mischief

- C Kameswara Rao, krao@vsnl.com; Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India

The Frontline, a magazine of the Hindu group, published an article entitled 'Biotechnology: Bt cotton again' (by Ms Asha Krishnakumar, in May 08, 2004-week issue) (see below). The major objective of the article seems to criticize the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), for approving RCH2 (developed by RASI Seeds, a private sector seed developer), for commercial cultivation in the central and southern parts of India, as also of the approval for large-scale field trials of 12 additional varieties of Bt cotton developed by RASI and ANKUR, in the private sector. All these are Bt cotton varieties containing Monsanto's Cry 1Ac event, sub-licensed to the companies. While one should be happy that the action of the GEAC provides for a greater choice to the farmer, the article expresses dissatisfaction of the GEAC's action, on the assumed basis of 'abysmal record of Bt cotton last year', a conclusion not shared by others who know it differently.

The mischief of the article lies in harping on last year's (2002-2003) unscientific and controversial negative reports on the performance of Bollgard (Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt cotton varieties) in India, without ever
mentioning this year's performance of Bollgard. Several people, who have
seen this article, thought that it is a report on the 'failure of Bt cotton' in the second season too. The author cites the then (2002) and the former Joint Directors of Agriculture, and the then Minister for Agriculture for Andhra Pradesh, to declare that Bt cotton was a failure. The author takes support also from the Greenpeace's own data and pronouncements. The methodology adopted to gather these data is not normally publicized and from what is known it is scientifically unacceptable and so are the conclusions.

We would like to remind that many of us were critical of the 'good performance certificate' to Bt cotton in India, by Qaim and Zilbermann
(Science, January 2003), as their methodology was not sound. If the
reports on the devastating failure of Bt cotton in the last season were true, how could Mahyco sell 2,30,000 seed packets in 2003, as compared to 72,682 packets in 2002? Why did 1,25,000 farmers go for Bollgard in 2003-04, compared to 41,328 in 2002-03? Why did so many farmers ignore the advice liberally dispensed through massive negative publicity on the performance of Bt cotton?

Ms Asha repeats the much-misunderstood issue of wilt. The kind of wilt disease that appeared in north India does not occur in south India and
there is no variety of cotton in India that is resistant to this. A
physiological wilt (para-wilt) may ensue when drought conditions are
followed by excessive rain. We repeatedly pointed out that the biomass
of Bt cotton plants is about 30 per cent more than that of non-Bt isogenics, and so the Bt crop requires more water. If there was drought naturally the crop suffers.

Last year, the anti-tech activists and the leftist newspapers trashed all reports of satisfactory performance of Bt cotton, as Mahyco, the developer of Bollgard in India, generated them. Even independent positive reports were grossly ignored. This year Monsanto-Mahyco commissioned AC Nielsen (ORG-MARG), an independent agency, to conduct a survey on the performance of Bollgard during the 2003-04 season. The report, based on scientifically sound methodology, was released on March 26, 2004. The report says that on an all-India weighted average, Bt cotton resulted in a reduction of 60 per cent of bollworm infestation and increased the yield by 29 per cent and per-acre net profit by 78 per cent. Again on an all-India weighted average, the net profit to farmers per acre was Rs 10,385 for marginal farmers, Rs. 7,599 for small farmers, Rs. 6, 110 for
medium farmers, and Rs. 5,009 for large farmers. Bt cotton farmers in
Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh seem to have gained more than those in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

I have not seen any anti-tech activists referring to this report even to thrash it as an MNC ploy. If the critics of technology were honest in their belief that Bt cotton failed during the last season, they should be honest enough to accept what is factual in this year's report.

The technology phobia induces a Nelson's (not Nielsen) eye to the international situation too. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has recently released a report on the global adoption of Bt cotton (1996 to 2003), which indicates that Bt cotton acreage has grown up from 0.8 mil ha in US, Australia and
Mexico in 1996 to 13.5 mil ha in nine countries in 2003. This includes
China that adopted Bt cotton in 1997 and India, Indonesia and Columbia
that entered the arena 2002. The ISAAA report also highlights the
substantial economic, environmental, health and social benefits derived from growing Bt cotton and herbicide tolerant cotton, contributing to a better quality of life.

Ms Asha declared that 'Transgenic Bollgard cotton seeds, which are easy to identify thanks to their blue colour'. For over one and a half decades scientists have failed to find an external and visible marker to distinguish Bt seed from non-Bt seed, for which the only certain means is
molecular analysis. The colour of cottonseed is variable from variety to
variety, from light to dark bluish gray or even black. Seed developers
conscious of the quality of the seed they supply to the farmers, coat the
seed with fungicides. Systemic fungicides, such as Gaucho (chemically
Imidaghlobid), get into the tissues of the developing seedlings and protect them from damage from fungal infection. Gaucho is deep blue to violet, which is imparted to the seed. Mahyco supplies Bt cottonseed coated with this fungicide and so the seeds look blue-violet and there is hardly any scope for the fungus Fusarium to affect the seedlings and
plants grown from the seed so treated. The risk we face now is that,
taking cue from Ms Asha, critics of technology may declare all seed (cotton or not) coated with Gaucho, as Bt transgenic, because of the blue colour.

When transgenics are compared, they should be compared with their isogenic varieties and not with anything and everything. Ignorance may be bliss in some contexts, but certainly not so in the context of biotechnology. In fact, it is extremely dangerous as it builds up unreasonable suspicion in the public mind on the benefits and safety of technology. Even anti-tech activism should be based in science and not on personal perceptions, assumptions, and half-truths and certainly not in ignorance. Criticism would be more credible, if the critics cross check issues of science.


Bt Cotton, Again

- Asha Krishnakumar, Frontline, Vol. 21 - Issue 10, May 08 - 21, 2004 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2110/stories/20040521001408100.htm

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approves a fourth Bt cotton variety for commercial cultivation even as crops raised earlier using other varieties have been disappointing. THE Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India's regulatory authority for transgenic products, has approved yet another transgenic Bt cotton, RCH 2, for commercial cultivation in the central and southern parts of the country.

Developed by Rassi Seeds, a sub-licensee of the American multinational Monsanto, RCH 2 is the fourth Bt cotton seed variety to be released for commercial cultivation. The varieties Bt Mech 12, Bt Mech 162 and Bt Mech 184, all developed by Monsanto in collaboration with the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), its Indian partner, were approved by the GEAC in March 2002.

Said GEAC Chairperson Bina Chotray: "We have given conditional approval for the commercial cultivation of the Bt cotton seed RCH 2 in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for three years. As in the case of the other three varieties of Bt cotton approved earlier, the performance of RCH 2 will be reviewed within three years for further any extension of the approval."

On April 22, the GEAC, which functions under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, approved large-scale field trials and production of seeds of 12 varieties of Bt cotton hybrids developed by Raasi Seeds, Ankur Seeds, (another sub-licensee of Monsanto, and Mahyco). These Bt cotton hybrids contain the Bt cry 1 ac gene developed by Monsanto.

Raasi Seeds has been allowed to conduct trials of RCH 118 Bt and RCH 559 Bt in Central India, RCH 368 Bt in South India and RCH 317 Bt in North India. Ankur Seeds has been allowed to conduct trials of Ankur 651 Bt and Ankur 2534 Bt in North India and Ankur 651 Bt and Ankur 09 Bt in Central India. Mahyco has been given the go-ahead for trials of MRC 6301 Bt and MRC 6160 Bt in Central India and MRC 6301 Bt and MRC 6322 Bt in South India.

The three Bt cotton varieties approved in March 2002 are grown in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. But in the first year of commercial cultivation, 2002-03, reports from different parts of the country indicated a "failed" or "unsatisfactory" harvest of the first round of commercial transgenic Bt cotton crop. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture asked the Centre to re-evaluate the economic viability of Bt cotton. Meanwhile, the GEAC rejected the use of the Mech 915 Bt cotton seed in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

The 55,000 farmers who sowed cotton seed on over 42,000 hectares across the country last year were an unhappy lot. This was corroborated by studies conducted by the governments of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, as also by independent agencies. Following widespread complaints of failure of Bt cotton in Madhya Pradesh early last year, the GEAC commissioned a seven-member team of scientists to evaluate the performance of the crop. The study showed that Bt cotton failed in Madhya Pradesh "due to wilting and large-scale drying of the crop at the peak bolling stage, accompanied by leaf-dropping and shedding, as also forced bursting of immaculate bolls". According to the study, non-Bt plants performed much better.

A six-member panel set up by the Gujarat government under S.K. Sangami Joint Director, Agriculture (Oilseeds), to evaluate the performance of Bt cotton in the State said that "it is unfit for cultivation and should be banned in the State".

The Andhra Pradesh government set up a team under Dr. Abdul Qayoom, former Joint Director of Agriculture, to evaluate the performance of Bt cotton after Agriculture Minister Vadde Sobhandreswara Rao announced in the Assembly that "the overall information is that farmers have not experienced positive and encouraging results" and hence they had to be compensated. The study showed that "Bt cotton has totally failed" as crop yields were lower than those in the case of non-Bt cotton, besides the staple being shorter and of lower weight. In several villages in Andhra Pradesh, the majority of farmers reported Bt cotton yields of 15 quintals a hectare against 35 quintals a hectare of common hybrid varieties. (The company has said that it will compensate farmers only for the failure of the seeds to germinate and for the absence of the genetic purity promised, and not for yield losses.)

Transgenic Bollgard cotton seeds, which are easy to identify thanks to their blue colour.

In Karnataka, studies by Greenpeace India showed that not only were Bt yields lower than yields in the case of other hybrid varieties, but input costs were much higher and crop quality quite poor. A Bt cotton evaluation study carried out in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh by Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based agricultural policy think tank, reported complete failure of the crop in both the States. The study showed that 60 per cent of the farmers did not recover costs.

A study conducted in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), yielded similar results.

According to the study, not only did the Bt seed not protect the plant from bollworm attack, but the plant was subject to a 250-300 per cent increase in attacks by non-target pests such as Jassids. Bt plants also fell prey to a fungal disease, fusarium. Apart from low yield, the fibre harvested was very short and fetched poor prices. Compared to non-Bt varieties, Bt seeds are more expensive and the Bt crop needs more fertilizers and water. The study concluded that Bt cotton was not suited for Indian conditions.

Despite the abysmal record of Bt cotton last year, the Union government has gone ahead and approved the commercial cultivation of the fourth Bt cotton variety, RCH 2.


Nigeria: Issues in Biotechnology

- Daily Champion (Nigeria), May 11, 2004

Lagos, May 11, 2004 : Ordinarily, the recent launch of the Nigeria Agricultural Biotechnology Project (NABP) would seem a milestone in the country's rather slow march towards embracing and utilising the highly controversial but seemingly inevitable science of bioengineering in increasing food production.

This latest development came on the heels of other steps taken so far by Nigeria advancing towards full applications of modern bioengineering in the agricultural sector.

In addition to these, the country has ratified key international instruments relating to biotechnology regulations such as the Cartagena Protocol on safe transboundary movement of living modified organisms and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Nigerian government has equally sent several delegations to study progress made so far in the several countries and also set up a biological safety committee. The present administration has also pledged to commit resources and support capacity building in the science of biotechnology.

These steps towards adopting the science and reaping the benefits of biotechnology are in order and should be encouraged by the scientific community, the academia, the private sector and non-governnmental organisations.

This is mainly because of the acclaimed benefits which include increased yield, improved post-harvest quality of crops, reduction in loss from pests and diseases, improvement in nutritive values, decrease in use of pesticides, stress tolerance by plants, lowering of toxins and extension of crop area and season.

Again, the prognosis looks bad for the continent of Africa and countries within her unless a sustainable means of drastically increasing food production is adopted and implemented continent-wide. It is estimated that 50 per cent of all deaths of minors in sub-Saharan Africa is traceable to poor nutrition; that there are 25 to 30 million malnourished children in Africa presently; that the gap between production and demand for cereals in the area will leap from nine to 27 million metric tonnes in the next 20 years.

In addition the continent will need to increase her food production by 300 per cent if she is to adequately feed her population by the year 2050.

In the face of all these, it is inevitable for the continent to pay more than a passing attention to the study and possible adoption of biotechnology touted as the likely breakthrough technique for combating hunger and undernourishment in Africa.

However, this will have to be situated within the cultural, dietary and social-economic context of Nigeria and other African countries. A wholesale import of products, ideas and technique is unacceptable and will most likely prove unsustainable and unaffordable.

Again, it is pertinent to stress that the whole idea of genetic modification of food has over the years been the subject of intense controversy with the opposition making several claims against the practice of modifying food or consuming such. Issues raised so far against the practice include claims that modified foods could pose grave health problems, damage the environment and pollute the genes of plants.

Other concerns expressed are ethical ones about the appropriateness or otherwise of man playing God while there are worries about the adequacy of regulatory mechanisms. Even more pervasive is the fear of possible domination and economic emasculation that will attend the technique with the patenting of genes and the commercial side of biotechnology.

These worries must not on any account be totally discountenanced. This gives rise to the need for the encouraging and enabling of a vibrant, articulate and healthy opposition. This will ensure more attention to details and promote more research and greater care with the handling of biotechnology matters.

On account of these, we urge the government to pay even greater attention to the science of biotechnology and empower our universities, research institutes and scientists in this field through improved funding.

There should also be even more concerted effort to ensure that internationally acceptable practices in handling research and movement as well as the introduction of modified products are strictly enforced in Nigeria. This will entail a more careful manning of our borders and training of border personnel as well as appropriate regulatory agencies on acceptable practices.

To this end, the Nigerian government must ensure it is fully equipped to face the issues involved before fully introducing modified products into the country.

Before then, the government must pay attention to current farming methods and provide farmers with affordable farm inputs and enabling environment as we work towards the future and the adoption of more complex and hi-tech options and methods.


New review available on AgBiotechNet

Responses of farmland wildlife to genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops

Beate Strandberg (ABN 122)

Genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops have the potential to affect farmland wildlife through the associated pesticide usage and management. All available GMHT crops are tolerant to either glyphosate or glufosinate-ammonium and the tolerance of the crops to these herbicides allows application at any time of the growing season. In contrast to the conventionally used selective herbicides, glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium are highly effective against most weed species even at larger stages. The weed control of GMHT crops, therefore, may be more flexible than for equivalent conventional crops without yield reduction. Consequently, the challenge will be to use the possibility of the GMHT crop system both to produce high yield and for the benefit of wildlife. Studies of effects of GMHT crop management on farmland wildlife have only been carried out in maize, oil seed rape and beet. Within these crops some improvements on flora and fauna in the fields may be obtained in early summer. A large pesticide-free window, i.e. late herbicide application and no use of insecticides, is decisive for the improvements. If the farmer sprays early to reduce the amount of pesticide used there will be no improvements. On the contrary, there will be fewer weeds and insects within the fields than within conventionally managed fields. Furthermore, the efficiency of glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium reduces the production of weed seeds, which will probably have negative consequences on the farmland wildlife. To fully understand effects on farmland wildlife
- positive as well as negative - long-term investigations within all relevant GMHT crops are needed.


ABIC2004 – AgBiotech goes Europe!

- Cologne, Germany. http://www.abic2004.org

ABIC2004 in Cologne is one of the most important conferences on agricultural biotechnology. Scientists, industrial managers, investors and policy makers will come together for an intensive exchange of experience in order to give new momentum to further the development of agricultural biotechnology and to enable co-operations between academic research institutes and partners from industry.

This high level conference aims to bring 'AgBiotech back to Europe'. With the imminent lift of the de facto moratorium on genetically modified food, the implementation of new European regulations and a more competitive European market, this conference is important as ever to give new impulses to the European AgBiotech research and AgBiotech business in Europe. The county of Northrhine Westfalia supports the ABIC and its’ organisation ideally and financially. In addition well-known national and international companies will be presented as exhibitors in Cologne. High-ranking speakers and decisionmakers from Economy and Politics will present on the conference (among other Kast, BASF; Garthoff, Bayer CropScience; Steinbrück, MP NRW; Busquin, DG Research EC; Schramma, mayer of city of Cologne).

- Best regards, Marnie Bröring, ABIC Organisation