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May 27, 2004


Biotech Corn Helps Filipino Families; NABC Conference; GM Spuds in South Africa; Bt Cotton Studies in French


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - May 28, 2004:

* Biotech Corn Creates Big Income Gains for Filipino Families
* National Agricultural Biotechnology Council 16th conference
* GM spuds could be growing in a field near you
* Interview-GMO rice trials on in Asia, crop three years away
* Why France is still so keen to support and protect a declining business


Biotech Corn Creates Big Income Gains for Filipino Families

- Council for Biotechnology Information

Families earn 34 percent more planting Bt corn — enough to support a family of five.

Life, says the Andico family of the Philippines, is much better since the government gave the OK to allow the commercial planting of biotech corn, or maize, in 2002.

"I earn big with Bt corn because I only spend for fertilizers and do not need to spray," said Carlos Andico, who farms 5 acres of land near General Santos City. "I could have lived comfortably much earlier if Bt corn was introduced years ago."

Added his wife, Margarita, "Ever since we planted Bt corn … we have peace of mind. Now I do not worry and I get to do other household chores. My children can also look for other jobs because of the lighter work load in the fields."

The testimonial from the Andico family and others supports the findings of a study released Nov. 6, 2003, that said Bt corn — enhanced with a naturally occurring soil protein (Bacillus thuringiensis) that protects plants from insect pests such as corn borers — significantly boosts farmer incomes.

"Whereas Bt maize could meet the subsistence requirement of a family of five (in the Philippines), conventional maize could not," said the study by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help alleviate hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology applications.1 "Bt maize hybrids consistently performed better than their corresponding conventional maize hybrids, in terms of yield, production cost, profitability and in terms of capacity to meet subsistence needs of farm families."

The "Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2002 Feature: Bt Maize" study said Bt corn yields in the Philippines — the first country in Asia to approve the planting of a biotech food crop — were between 41 percent and 60 percent higher than yields for conventional varieties. 2

And although biotech seed corn costs about 80 percent more than conventional hybrid seed, Randy Hautea, director of the ISAAA office in the Philippines, said the net income of farmers who planted Bt corn increased about 34 percent, on average.

"My previous harvest of traditional corn was 80 sacks of corn kernels per hectare," said Rafael Sarmiento, who farms 3.2 acres near General Santos City. "With Bt corn, I now harvest close to 132 sacks of corn kernels per hectare."

In addition, the report from ISAAA, said average yield gains for Bt corn over traditional varieties were an average of 5 percent higher in the United States, 6 percent higher in Spain, and about 10 percent higher in Argentina and South Africa.

In field trials in Brazil and China, where Bt corn has not yet been approved for commercial planting, yields were 24 percent higher and between 9 and 23 percent higher, respectively. Second-generation biotech corn — such as the newly approved variety in Canada and the United States that wards off rootworm — could produce even more gains, up to a billion dollars in annual gains to the United States alone, said the study.

"Bt corn offers a unique opportunity to provide developing countries with safer and more affordable food and feed, which can make a major contribution in alleviating the hunger and malnutrition that claim 24,000 lives a day in Asia, Africa and Latin America," said Clive James, chair of ISAAA and author of the report.

James said that since 80 percent of developing world farmers already plant higher-yielding hybrid corn, a network for seed distribution already exists, which could facilitate the wider adoption of the first generation of Bt corn that could produce an additional 35 million metric tons — a 5 percent increase.

That increase could give developing countries a significant boost in meeting rising demand for corn which, by 2020, will surpass wheat and rice as the world's No. 1 crop.

Boosting corn yields will become increasingly important as rising incomes in the developing regions of Asia and Latin America are triggering a shift to more meat consumption, which will cause a dramatic increase for corn-based animal feeds.

The report also noted that developing countries will consume 80 percent of the additional corn needed by 2020, with the lion's share of this increased production being borne by developing world farmers, who make up 98 percent of the world's 200 million corn farmers.

"This is a daunting challenge for developing world farmers, many of them small and resource poor," said James. "The fact that biotechnology incorporates beneficial traits into the seed makes these crops a very appropriate tool for small farmers, as witnessed by the 5 million small farmers in Asia, Latin America and Africa who have already adopted Bt cotton."

James said Bt cotton is now planted by more than half of China's cotton farmers and is widely used in South Africa and in many other developing countries.

"Farmers are fairly ruthless if the technology doesn't perform," said James, explaining that farmers wouldn't use the enhanced seeds if they didn't work. In 2002, the amount of land planted worldwide with biotech crops increased by 12 percent — the sixth straight year that global farmers have adopted biotech crops at a double-digit pace. James said he expects to see a similar increase for 2003.

He explained that Bt corn can cut in half the estimated 9 percent loss of the global corn harvest to insect pests, while at the same time making food and feed safer by minimizing insect damage and lowering levels of harmful mycotoxins. In addition, the wider adoption of Bt corn could cut pesticide spraying by up to half, or 5,000 metric tons.

"There is now clear evidence that food and feed products from Bt corn are often safer than the corresponding products from conventional corn because of lower levels of the mycotoxin fumonisin," said James.

Fumonisin is produced when insects burrow into corn stalks and kernels, allowing fungi to enter and produce a harmful mold. While mycotoxin levels are closely monitored in the industrial world, they are not monitored in many developing countries in the tropics where the threat from fungi is greatest.

"Minimizing insect damage through Bt corn has significantly reduced concentrations of fumonisin in food and feed," James said. "This is a major benefit in developing countries where levels of the harmful mold are higher in food and feed and where corn is directly used as food by a significant portion of the population."

In 2002, Bt corn accounted for approximately 7 percent of the global corn area — about 10 million hectares. The study projects adoption of Bt corn could be extended to between 28 percent and 32 percent of the global corn area — 40 to 45 million hectares. Wider adoption and benefits could be made available from five second-generation Bt corn varieties expected to be commercialized in the next three years.

Bt corn is now planted on about 49,000 acres of land in the Phillippines. The government approved the commercial planting of the crop as a way "to help the poor of our country," according to the secretary of agriculture.

National Agricultural Biotechnology Council 16th conference
June 13-15-04, Ontario Canada

Internationally-renowned academics and practioners from social and scientific disciplines will gather with delegates from over 20 countries
world wide June 13 - June 15, 2004 when the University of Guelph hosts
the 16th annual National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC) conference.

If you are interested in environmental sustainability, international development, agriculture, food security and technology don't miss the opportunity to register today and take advantage of early bird rates available until May 31, 2004.

The conference theme Agricultural Biotechnology: Finding Common International Goals will be an opportunity for researchers, students, farmers, agri-business, policy makers and concerned people worldwide to engage with a diverse group of leaders and citizens to address the intersection of biotechnology with global issues such as diminishing the ecological footprint, ensuring safe and healthy food, and improving quality of life.

Some of the program highlights include:

Opening speaker Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, Director General of the African Rice Development Association supervised the 2004 World Food Prize recipient, Dr. Monty Jones, in a “community- based seed system” to implement a novel rice variety for Africa.

MS Swaminathan, acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the twenty most influential Asians of the 20th century for his contributions to the green revolution movement on the continent, will also open the conference proceedings on Sunday afternoon.

Ruth Chadwick, professor of Bioethics and Director of the ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics at Lancaster University, U.K.

William Rees, best known for inventing the concept of 'ecological footprint analysis', a tool that estimates humanity's ecological impact on the ecosphere.

Suzanne Harris, an expert on human nutrition and Executive Director for the International Life Sciences Institute in Washington, D. C.

Peter Calamai, national science writer for the Toronto Star newspaper.

Tom Remington, agriculture advisor for the non-governmental organization Catholic Relief Services with experience working in Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Dominican Republic.

Edilberto D. Redona, Deputy Executive Director for R&D, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice)

Florence Wambugu, CEO, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International will be speaking about “Africa’s new confidence in achieving food security”

Please visit the conference web-site at: www.uoguelph.ca/research/NABC .

Feel free to pass this on to colleagues and students.


GM spuds could be growing in a field near you

- Independent Online (South Africa),May 28 2004, By John Yeld

An application to conduct field trials on genetically modified (GM) potatoes at six sites in South Africa, including a farm in the Koue Bokkeveld near Ceres, has been submitted to the government.

The application is by the Agricultural Research Council and is for trials designed to test potatoes that have been genetically manipulated to prevent damage by moth larvae that feed on the plants, and damage by antibiotics.

But the exact locations have not been revealed, reportedly because of threats that these sites will be targeted and damaged by anti-GM activists.

The move comes as judgment has been reserved in the Pretoria High Court in an application this week by the non-government organisation BioWatch South Africa, to force the government to reveal details about scores of other trials of GM foods, including maize and cotton.

The potato trials the research council wants to conduct are earmarked for Roodeplaat, Bethlehem, Kokstad, Dendron, Patensie (near Humansdorp) and the Kouebokkeveld.

According to an advert calling for public comment on the proposal, no antibiotics will actually be used in the field trials, to be conducted at sites smaller than one hectare.

The proposed trials will run for two growing seasons "and care will be taken to minimise pollen spread and ensure that all genetically modified potatoes are removed from the site after the trials".

"Harvested material will be used in contained storage trials, for environmental and food safety evaluation stored in secure facilities for future research, or destroyed."

People wanting to comment must make a submission to the registrar before June 23.

For further information, contact Biosafety consultant Muffy Koch - who is assisting the research council with calling for public comment - at 011 702 1682 or email muffykoch@telkomsa.net.

Interview-GMO rice trials on in Asia, crop three years away

- Reuters (Via Agnet), May 27, 2004, By Sambit Mohanty

BANGKOK - Director-General Ronald P. Cantrell, the head of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), was cited as saying on the sidelines of the Thailand Rice Convention 2004 Thursday that China, India and the Philippines are getting good responses from the field trials of genetically modified rice, but the first commercial crop may be at least three years away, adding, "Field trials are on but it could be three years on the lower side and five years on the higher side to see the first genetically modified rice crop."

Cantrell was further cited as saying that rice yields would have to rise at least one percent annually over the next 30 years to keep up with an expanding population and that IRRI projects the number of people eating rice will almost double to 4.6 billion by 2025, adding, "On the genetically modified variety of rice that is being currently tested in the Philippines, the feedback so far has been that the resistance to diseases is good and it will have an impact on the productivity."

The Philippines is the first country in Asia to plant biotech corn commercially and government officials say they will encourage more genetically modified crops after adequate testing.


- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA)

The lack of a coherent research strategy and the impact of legislation are hampering the successful use of new tools and methods in plant genetics to conventional farming. This was pointed out in a report published by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

Gian Tommaso Scarascia-Mugnozza, chair of the working group that produced the report, said “There is a major opportunity for policy-makers across the European Union, in the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers, to capitalize on the exciting new era in plant genetics. But we need a more coordinated approach and funding to realize the potential benefits that this area of science offers conventional farming.”

The report highlights the use of new tools and methods in plant genetics to create new industries, such as the production of crop plants that can be used as renewable fuels or as more 'environmentally-friendly' sources of chemicals. It also recommended proposals to create 'banks' of seeds and plant varieties and urged the European Commission and Council of Ministers to focus more on the regulation of plant genetics and engaging the public as consumers about research developments.

EASAC was formed in 2001 to provide a means for the national academies of Europe to work together to inject high quality science into European Union policy-making. For more of EASAC visit http://www.easac.org.

See EASAC's press release at http://www.easac.org/ PressreleaseMay2004.htm. The full report is available at http://www.easac.org/CPG%20report_fin5.pdf.



Two Bt cotton case studies in China and South Africa are now available in French, and are downloadable at http://www.isaaa.org/. These publications discuss the yield and economic advantages of Bt cotton, and the corresponding health benefits.




- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA)

Majority (58%) of South Africans are still in favor of genetically modified (GM) food. This was the highlight of a public phone-in poll that was conducted two weeks ago to assess the South African public's acceptance of the safety of foods derived from GM crops. This opinion polling was done following a TV debate on GM food.

According to AfricaBio, an association of biotechnology stakeholders, public debates and media coverage of radio and TV panel discussions on the pros and cons of GM crops have proliferated the South African media for the past few months. These debates were conducted to provide the public information in lieu of the hearing on a class action litigation case filed by an activist group against South Africa's Department of Agriculture.

At present, the South African government has a national strategy on biotechnology in place, and has clearly accepted the potential benefits of modern genetic technologies. On the other hand, activists groups are calling for a moratorium on GM crops, and demand that local socio-economic studies and environmental impact assessments on such crops be conducted.

For more information about the opinion polling results, the recent debates in South Africa, and the class action litigation case, contact AfricaBio at africabio@mweb.co.za.


- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA)

Eduardo J. Trigo, and Eugenio J. Cap, of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA), Buenos Aires, Argentina, started that “since the early 1990s, Argentinean grain production underwent a dramatic increase in grains production (from 26 million tons in 1988/89 to over 75 million tons in 2002/2003). Several factors contributed to this 'revolution,' but probably one of the most important was the introduction of new genetic modification (GM) technologies, specifically herbicide-tolerant soybeans.”

In their article entitled “The Impact of the Introduction of Transgenic Crops in Argentinean Agriculture,” Trigo and Cap analyzed the process that lead to this so-called “revolution,” and reported on the economic benefits accruing to producers and other stakeholders. They also analyzed the environmental and social impacts that could be associated with the introduction of new technologies. Institutional factors that led to the success of the adoption of GM technologies, such as the early availability of a reliable biosafety mechanism, a special intellectual property rights
(IPR) situation, the favorable market pricing for GM soybeans and glyphosate, and agreeable trade relations with the European Union (EU) were, likewise, discussed.

Trigo and Cap concluded that “changes in Argentinean agriculture are much more comprehensive and far reaching than the incorporation of GM crops; nevertheless, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have played a strategic role in the growth of the sector-not only because of their direct impact, but also due to their interaction with other technologies and their global macroeconomic effect through their impact on the country's agricultural exports.”

Read the full article at http://www.agbioforum.org/v6n3/v6n3a01-trigo.htm.


- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA)

Syngenta donated a substantial portion of its Arabidopsis functional genomics seed collection to the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center
(ABRC) hosted by the Ohio State University, USA. The agribusiness company said that the ABRC will distribute the collection of about 48,000 seed lines in collaboration with the Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Center in Nottingham, United Kingdom. The sequence information will also be universally available in the international gene database GenBank by May.

Arabidopsis thaliana is an important reference plant for genetic research as it was the first plant to have its genome fully sequenced.

For more details, visit http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/ article.aspx?article_id=407.


Why France is still so keen to support and protect a declining business

- The Economist, May 27th 2004

WHEN President Jacques Chirac visited the agricultural fair in Paris in March, he stayed for three hours. He was upstaged a few days later by his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who squeezed in an astonishing seven hours. Such is the lingering hold of farming on the French imagination that no self-respecting politician can ever miss the chance to pose with a heaving Charolais bull, or to cuddle a kid goat. Now France's strange bond with farming is under fire once again. The European Commission wants to revive the Doha round of world trade talks by offering to eliminate all export subsidies for farm products, a concession that is fiercely resisted in Paris. What is it about the French and farming?

France is, admittedly, the European Union's biggest overall producer by some way (see chart); it leads in cereals, sugar beet, cattle and poultry. It also has more farmland—making up 22% of the EU 15's agricultural surface area—than any other EU country. A founder member of the European project and chief architect of its much-derided common agricultural policy (CAP), it is also the biggest beneficiary of EU farm subsidies.

Yet the importance of agriculture in France, as elsewhere, has shrivelled. In 1958 one in five French workers was engaged in farming; today, that share has shrunk to just over 3%. Farming accounts for a shade under 3% of GDP, a bit less than as it did in Britain 30 years ago. Young people are less keen to take on their parents' farms; they are leaving in droves from such upland places as Auvergne or Vaucluse. “It costs too much, the weather's too unpredictable, and it's hard work,” says a retired sunflower and wheat farmer near Velleron, in Vaucluse, whose son has decided not to stay in the business. “Young people here would prefer a steady job at the town hall.”

Given this change, why does farming continue to cast its spell over French people and their politicians? Much is down to nostalgia and tradition. From its landscape painters to its culinary prowess, France's image of itself is rooted in the land. Behind the pseudo-rustic packaging of provençal honey or olives in cloth-topped jars, there is a genuine link between local produce and the cuisine of different terroirs. Although most French towns are ringed by vast hypermarkets, shoppers still flock to cheaper and fresher street markets. The daily farmers' market in Velleron, where local producers turn up in the evening after a day in the field to sell thick white asparagus or early strawberries from the back of their pick-ups, is always thronged.

Another explanation is geography. France is big, wide and relatively
empty: over half its surface area is farmland, and some four-fifths of the country is rural. The French economy industrialised relatively late, so family links to farms and villages still linger. And the French are keenly aware that it is their farmers who keep the countryside the way that the tourists who descend on it each year like it.

But the most important explanation is political. Farming made Mr Chirac's career. He was first elected to parliament in Corrèze, in rural Limousin, in 1967. His first cabinet job, in 1972, was as agriculture minister. His wife, Bernadette, has been a local councillor in Corrèze for over 30 years. In the most recent campaign, she appeared with a startled piglet in her arms, begging it not to pee on her while the photographers snapped. Despite the odd liberal voice within his government, it is Mr Chirac who dictates farm policy—and that means fighting to preserve the CAP. “It's not a political battle that you can win,” comments one reform-minded official, “so it's not one worth fighting.”

Hence the instant French condemnation of the offer by Pascal Lamy, the
(French) EU trade commissioner, to scrap farm export subsidies. Hervé Gaymard, the farm minister, dismissed it as “unwelcome”, and denounced the Americans for increasing their own farm support. In parliament, Jean-Claude Carle, a centre-right senator from Haute Savoie, declared himself “shocked, not to say scandalised” by Mr Lamy's plan. The French now have a line, first drawn by Mr Chirac a year ago, that any concessions on export subsidies must benefit poor African countries. “If it is to help poor countries, yes; if it is to help rich counties increase their market share in Europe, then no,” says one official.

Helping Africa is a laudable objective. But French concessions in the name of reform do not always amount to much. The deal hatched between Mr Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schröder in late 2002, which freezes CAP spending in real terms until 2013, was hailed in France as a big concession. The more liberal-minded hoped that it might force through deeper CAP reform, by holding down spending even after the ten new EU members had joined. Yet, with these (farm-intensive) arrivals queuing up for their turn at the trough, it looks more like a deal to shelter the CAP from a radical overhaul.

Does France have so much to fear from reform? Mr Gaymard told Le Figaro this week that “without the CAP, our agriculture would disappear”. Really? Many of its big farms are highly efficient. The yield per hectare of sugar-beet producers, for instance, is higher than in any other country in Europe, and 25% above Germany's. Much CAP support has gone to mechanised big farms, such as the cereal growers of the Paris basin. Yet most French farms are small and family-run, and eke out a living without much help from Brussels. Those who raise pigs and poultry, grow fruit and vegetables or make wine get little CAP support. Brittany pig farmers and Bordeaux wine growers, for example, are in trouble thanks to falling prices and flagging consumption—and no help is coming from Brussels.

The French dislike talking of farming in vulgar terms of efficiency. Farm support is not about competitiveness, but the need to keep the French countryside—its jobs, its hedgerows, its olive groves—as it is. In some ways, policy is moving this way. Under past CAP reforms, subsidies are being “decoupled” from production, removing the incentive to over-produce. Instead they are being converted into direct payments to farmers linked to respect for the environment, food safety and animal welfare.

Yet even this sensible switch vexes some in the French government. Officials fret that it will, in effect, create a new class of state-employed, risk-averse rural gardeners. And farmers fear emasculation. “We want French agriculture to be about production,” says Jean-Paul Bastian, of FNSEA, the farmers' union, “not just about turning us into caretakers of the land.”