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June 6, 2004


Bt Cotton in Punjab; Focus on the Poor; French Green Light Trials; GM Papaya; FAO Still Supports GM Crops


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 7, 2004:

* Akalis demand Bt Cotton in Punjab
* Focusing GM on feeding the world’s poor
* Fight Against Hunger
* French green light for new GM trials
* Regulating biotech
* Engineered genes rescue papaya crop
* Fighting biotech foods carries a big risk
* U.N. food agency still supports genetically modified crops


Akalis demand Bt Cotton in Punjab

- NewIndPress.com, June 5 2004

The Shiromani Akali Dal sounded out the Centre on Friday on stopping farmers of Punjab from cultivating Bt Cotton while the farmers in south India are already reaping its benefits.

The Akalis said cotton farmers in Punjab needed the genetically modified variety as the local strains have become diseased and give poor yields. The MPs met Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Thursday and presented him a memorandum, saying a few unscrupulous traders are making the most of the crisis by selling farmers fake ``wonder seeds'' of BT cotton.

SAD general secretary Sukhbir Badal told this website’s newspaper that Punjab has been denied permission to cultivate the crop as ``there was no pressure group from the state to press for this''. He said Pawar was supportive of their demands.

“We have to be aggressive on issues for there is no compulsion of being apologetic like in the past (when Akalis were in ruling NDA),'' an SAD MP said.

The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Committee on GM Foods had conducted field trials of Bt Cotton in Punjab last year. The Akalis said ``the trials were successful as some of these Bt Cotton hybrids were found suitable for Punjab.'' The Punjab Agricultural University too has recommended the cultivation of Bt Cotton.

For good effect, the SAD attached to the memorandum facts on Bt Cotton yields. ``The Bt Cotton varieties give yield of 30 quintals per hectare as against 13 to 19 for local varieties. The Bt Cotton requires 80 to 100 per cent less pesticides and it is three to four times less prone to damage due to bollworm infections,'' the factsheet read. Sukhbir Badal claimed Pawar was positive to their demands.


Focusing GM on feeding the world’s poor

- Europa, 07 June 2004

Genetically modified (GM) crops can feed the world’s bulging populations if biotech research focuses on the needs of poorer nations, reports the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In the same week, an EU decision lifted the de facto moratorium on GM food.

Biotechnology’s role in agriculture has sparked a global debate between advocates and detractors in the worlds of science, policy, industry and the general public. A recent FAO report considers these contrasting views on biotech farming and offers insight on how to feed the billions who suffer each day from deficient diets, while breaking the cycle of poverty driven by subsistence agricultural practices.

In its ‘State of the world food and agriculture 2004’ report, the United Nations body asks the probing question: can the gene revolution – using biotechnology in agriculture – meet the challenge of feeding the growing world population? Yes and no, appears to be the answer. Yes, if certain changes are made to the types of crops that GM technology is currently focused on and certain barriers are lifted. No, if the regulatory environment does not allow for research to explore these alternatives.

The report laments that staple crops, such as rice and cassava, in poor countries receive little attention from scientists and industry. Almost all of the GM crops planted last year were maize, soybean, canola and cotton, and were confined to six countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, South Africa and the USA. Those planted were ‘engineered’ for two traits – insect resistance and herbicide intolerance – out of a host of potential beneficial properties, including resistance to different diseases.

High hurdles but fresh legs

“Other barriers that prevent the poor from accessing and fully benefiting from modern biotechnology include inadequate regulatory procedures, complex intellectual property issues, poorly functioning markets and seed delivery systems, and weak domestic breeding capacity,” notes Jacques Diouf, FAO’s chief.

The EU’s decision, on 19 May, to end its moratorium on GM crops and food, resulting from the Commission’s approval of a new pest-resistant sweet corn (Bt-11) being developed by the biotech firm Syngenta, offers hope that the world’s biggest economic area now has the tacit go ahead to puts its scientific might behind this biotech revolution.

Overstretched agricultural resources will have to sustain up to two billion more people over the next 30 years. The challenge will be to develop technologies satisfying several goals – the need for cheaper, high-yielding crops which offer environmental advantages, and the importance of addressing consumer concerns over food safety and quality while helping poorer rural communities.

“Agricultural research [including biotechnology] can lift people out of poverty by boosting agricultural incomes and reducing food prices,” the FAO said. But it stressed that biotech should complement, not replace, conventional agricultural technologies, helping to speed up conventional breeding programmes and alternatives where traditional methods fail to deliver. It calls for a greater effort and investment in biotech research in developing countries, noting China’s recent progress in growing insect-resistant cotton.


Fight Against Hunger

- Navhind Times, June 5, 2004

BIOTECHNOLOGY holds ‘great promise’ for fanners and agriculture in the developing world, but so far, very few poor countries and only a handful of crops receive its benefits, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said recently.

The world’s poor are missing out on the benefits from genetically modified food because research and technology is concentrated on big money crops — cotton, maize, canola and soybean — rather than on poor country staples like potatoes, cassava, rice and wheat, according to FAO’s annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04.

“Neither the private nor the public sector has invested significantly in new genetic technologies for the so-called ‘orphan crops’ such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and teff that are critical for the food supply and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people,” the FAO Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf said.

“Other barriers that prevent the poor from accessing and fully benefiting from modern biotechnology include inadequate regulatory procedures, complex intellectual property issues, poorly functioning markets and seed delivery systems, and weak domestic plant breeding capacity,” he added.

Drought and insect-resistant crops could boost yields and incomes while reducing food prices, the report says. And with the world population set to rise by two billion over the next 30 years, such crops could help meet food needs. The challenge is to develop technologies that combine several objectives — increased yields and reduced costs, environment protection, consumer concerns for food safety and quality, enhanced rural livelihoods and food security.

The report stresses that biotechnology is much more than genetically modified organisms, sometimes also called transgenic organisms. And while the potential benefits and risks need to be carefully assessed case by case, the controversy surrounding transgenics should not distract from the potential offered by other applications of biotechnology such as genomics, breeding and animal vaccines.

Still, biotechnology should complement — not replace — conventional agricultural technologies, the report says. Biotechnology can speed up conventional breeding programmes and may offer solutions where conventional methods fail.

It can provide farmers with disease-free planting materials and develop crops that resist pests and diseases, reducing the use of chemicals that harm the environment and human health. It can provide diagnostic tools and vaccines that help control devastating animal diseases, as well as improve the nutritional quality of staple foods and create new products for health and industrial uses.

But poor farmers can only benefit from biotechnology products if they “have access to all on profitable terms,” the report says. “Thus far, these conditions are only being met in a handful of developing countries.” USIA

Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2004 09:51:31 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Fredrick Otswong'o"
To: agbioworld@yahoo.com

By Fredrick Omukubi Otswongo, Kenya

The recently published FAO Report on "The state of food and agriculture: Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the needs of the poor" lacks the most basic strategies of solving the problems of the resource poor farmers from Africa in particular.

I totally agree with FAO in arguing that there is a gene revolutionary wave across the globe and that poor countries can reap its benefits if their respective governments invested in capacity building in areas such as IPR, Biosafety regulatory, R&D and plant breeding systems with a view to assisting the local farmers.

What is the situation of farmers on the ground that has made them poor and hungry throughout the year? Is it because of inaccessibility to modern technology or it is because the the technology is exogenous and only imposed to them by policy makers without due consideration of their basic needs? Farmers in most developing countries are never consulted for any agricultural development rather they are informed of the implementation of projects.

The concept of Gene technology especially in agriculture comes along with untold consequences to the rural poor farmers in Africa. The real plight of farmers in Africa, for example is demonstrated in the fictitous story of "Mrs. Namurunda" from Kenya by Gordon Conway and Gary Toenniessen in the article "Science for African Food Security" that was published in the Science Magazine on 21 February, 2003.

In my view, I see a situation where the countries and the multinationals will continue to control agriculture if individual governments do not empower local farmers now. One of the strategy that would assist the farmers is the so called TAILOR MADE BIOTECHNOLOGIES, a concept that is slowly catching the glimpse of policy makers in some EU countries. It involves participatory research, plant breeding, traditional knowledge, traditional biotechnologies {fermentation,farm saved seeds and replanting, use of organic farming etc}. The idea is to work with local farmers and indigenize biotechnologies and use structural genomics to add value to landraces.

Having participated in one of such training, I find it very applicable in arresting local farmers problems in agriculture.


- Business Daily Update, June 7, 2004

Transgenic food is safe, said Shi Yuanchun, academician of both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, in Beijing on June 4. The dispute between the United States and the European Union on transgenic food mainly focuses on trade issues instead of technologic issues. Shi made the remarks in response to a question at the Seventh General Assembly of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, saying that organisms in common food are naturally selected, while genes of transgenic food are reassembled through science and technology and no risks exist. People's worries about transgenic food stays focused on food allergies and gene flow, he acknowledged. More than 1,000 transgenic foods are sold in US supermarkets and no case related to food allergies or other transgenic problems occurred, he said. So far, the problem of gene flow has not happened in the world, although gene flow is possible theoretically, he acknowledged, adding this issue can be resolved completely with the development of science. The crucial discovery of DNA and genetic technology creates opportunities for China's agricultural development, he said, noting that China should take this opportunity to develop biological research and industry, which is a vital strategy of agricultural development of China.


French green light for new GM trials

- FoodNavigator.com, 07/06/2004

The French government has announced its decision to allow new field trials of genetically modified (GM) sweetcorn in eight test sites across the country, reports CORDIS.

The French minister for agriculture, food, fisheries and rural affairs, Hervé Gaymard, in a joint statement with the minister for ecology, Serge Lepeltier and the deputy minister for research, François d'Aubert, explained that the experiments were part of France's regular research programme.

“The field trials are aimed at observing the new strains behaviour in real conditions,” said the statement.

The decision follows an online public consultation carried out between 10 and 24 May. According to the CORDIS report, the French government has been allowing GM crop trials for several years, but they regularly prompt demonstrations from opponents to the new technology who are concerned about potential cross-contamination with conventional crops.

Aware of the strong public opinion on the issue, the French state submitted the eight trial requests from Monsanto, Pioneer, Biogemma and French GM research laboratory Geves to consultation before approval. The website received 2700 emails, generally giving a negative opinion on the testing.

Green representatives, various regional councils and the anti-GM group, the Confédération paysanne, also voiced their opposition. Despite this, the three ministries have agreed to go ahead and authorise the trials.


Regulating biotech

- Business Standard, June 07,2004

The task force for a national biotechnology policy, headed by M S Swaminathan, has done well to suggest the creation of an apex body that will put an end to today’s multiplicity of regulatory bodies.

The problem has its roots in the very nature of biotechnology. It straddles two disciplines, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. So you need not just an apex regulatory body but a hierarchy of regulators to take care of diverse aspects, and then a clear reporting line to a ministry.

Getting this right is important as biotechnology is one of the two areas, along with information technology, in which India is competitive because of high skill levels. But progress in one has far outstripped that in the other, partly because of the regulatory overload.

Biotechnology has to be carefully regulated as medicines and genetically modified agricultural products have to be screened before use. It takes inordinately long to get a GMO approved in India for commercial propagation (Bt cotton took four years to clear), compared to the speedy clearance available in (say) China.

As a result the Chinese economy has benefited from growing GM crops, whereas India has not. It is logical that a complex decision with serious long-term implications should take time but sterile bureaucratic processes should not be the reason.

The task force has pointed out that currently an additional secretary, in his ex officio capacity, heads the apex body, the genetic engineering approval committee, and six people have held the position in the last two years.

Hence the recommendation that an expert head the present body as an interim measure while a new apex body is created. This latter should confine itself to clearing things from the environmental and bio-safety angles. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research should clear specific transgenic crops. Correspondingly, bio-pharma products should be cleared by the drug controller general.

The one recommendation of the task force which is dubious is the one that has hit the headlines, namely that an additional Rs 1,200 crore should be spent by the government in the remaining three years of the current five-year plan period to create the institutional mechanism, going down to the district level, for developing, approving and monitoring biotechnology.

This sounds like a boondoggle. Considerable public investment has already been made in biotech research in the last 20 years, and the emphasis now should be on taking technology to the market.

Instead of jacking up government spending in the old fashioned way, it will be better to make more money available for and through venture capital funding, also recommended by the task force. This could even be done in public-private partnership, as in Israel.

Engineered genes rescue papaya crop

- Sacramento Bee, June 6, 2004, By Mike Lee

A deadly virus threatened Hawaii's papaya industry, so biotech scientists came to the rescue of a key state export.

The cure, two genetically engineered varieties that fight off the ringspot virus, is among the most lauded commercial successes of biotechnology and an example of how the technology can benefit small farmers and consumers.

"There are a lot of farmers who wouldn't be in agriculture if it weren't for the transgenic (papaya)," said Hawaii grower Delan Perry.

For years, scientists tried using traditional plant breeding to produce papaya resistant to ringspot - with few positive results. Then in 1992, Cornell University and the University of Hawaii started field-testing genetically engineered versions that look and taste like their conventional counterparts.

Six years later, after federal approvals, the varieties - one red-fleshed, one yellow-fleshed - were quickly adopted by farmers. Today, roughly half of the state's papaya crop is genetically engineered.

Most farmers' fears about the new technology were overcome by desperation. "It was an easy decision," Perry said. "The difference between your trees dying and growing was so obvious."

The modified papaya's success also proved to be its weakness: Production shot up, but without Japanese buyers - the Japanese government still hasn't approved biotech papayas for import - growers have a harder time selling their fruit.

So farmers toggle between growing biotech papaya when the virus is bad and returning to conventional varieties when they think they've beaten the virus, so they can reap the higher prices from Japan.

Fighting biotech foods carries a big risk

- Grand Forks Herald, June 7, 2004 By Terry Wanzek

Anti-biotech activists declared victory when Monsanto recently announced it was shelving plans to press ahead with a form of wheat that has been genetically modified to resist herbicide. There was a long round of congratulatory patter about saving America's amber waves from transforming into dreaded Frankenfood.

In one respect, the activists earned their celebration. But their victory is a Pyrrhic one, built upon the illusion that they've stopped the forward march of biotechnology in agriculture. They're completely blind to how biotechnology helps farmers, the environment and consumers.

To be sure, there are short-term marketing concerns about biotech enhanced wheat. Over the long term, however, fighting biotechnology places a huge risk on the future reliability and safety of our food.

Fundamental problem

Here's the fundamental problem: In my area, I can plant an acre of wheat and, depending on yield and price, expect to reap as much as $160 for it. If I plant the same acre with biotech corn or soybeans, however, I can earn about $200 with lower production costs.

When I was growing up, North Dakota was wheat country - wheat was everywhere. But many farmers have shifted away from this traditional staple for simple economic reasons: Wheat is not keeping up with the technological advancements and is becoming too costly to grow. In the last five years, wheat production in the United States has fallen by about one-third.

In leaving wheat production, many of my neighbors understandably have entered the corn and soybean markets - and this means most of them have embraced the very biotechnology the activists are trying to defeat. About half of all the corn and more than 80 percent of all the soybeans being planted this spring are genetically enhanced, according to the Department of Agriculture.

These figures have been rising steadily since biotech crops first were introduced commercially about a decade ago and will increase even more in the years ahead.

Improved bottom line

That's because biotechnology has improved the bottom line for farmers. It has enabled us to boost our productivity and grow crops in cleaner fields. We're creating a friendlier environment for wildlife and reducing soil erosion. There are other cost benefits as well: Because we're making fewer trips across the field, we're reducing the wear and tear on our tractors and burning smaller amounts of fuel. On the acres I currently dedicate to corn and soybeans, I'm actually going to have a reduced fuel bill this summer even as prices at the pump are spiking - and biotechnology is the reason why.

Critics sometimes deride this as a "producer benefit" that doesn't help consumers. Yet, the cost of production is built into the price of food - and my savings in the field are passed on to shoppers in the grocery store. I believe an abundant supply of high-quality and affordable food is a consumer benefit. Anybody concerned about surging milk prices can appreciate this.

Others fear biotechnology is "unnatural." They need to understand that there's never been a credible scientific study anywhere showing these crops to be harmful to human health. A new report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says as much. People who complain about them remind me of the folks who once worried that microwave ovens would destroy the nutritional value of foods.

Biotechnology actually is on the cusp of incredible progress, such as producing a strain of wheat that withstands drought better than current varieties. Another kind will be safe for people with wheat allergies to eat. (This, by the way, is an obvious and compelling "consumer benefit.") None of these welcome developments become a reality, however, if the most basic forms of biotech wheat are kept from the marketplace.

Global market

The consequences for American farmers and consumers could be dire. As news stories have indicated, the World Trade Organization could announce soon that America's cotton subsidies are unfair under international trade rules. Although the Bush administration is expected to appeal the decision, few people believe it will win.

That bell you hear ringing may be a death knell for federal farm supports linked to yearly price and production - and not just for cotton, but all commodities.

As Washington rearranges its relationship with farmers over the next few years, those of us who earn our living as food producers will have to find innovative ways to remain competitive in the global market. We're going to need all the help we can get - and if we can't get it from the government, can't at least a portion of it come from sound science and modern biotechnology?

U.N. FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION: U.N. food agency still supports genetically modified crops

- Lab Business Week, June 13, 2004

Genetically modified crops are helping poor farmers and have posed no adverse health or environmental effects so far, the U.N. food agency said May 17, 2004, in a report on how biotechnology can help feed the world's hungry.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization called for greater government regulation and monitoring of genetically modified, or transgenic, products to ensure they are safely used and said more research is needed on their long-term health and environmental impacts.

In a positive report likely to fuel the biotech debate, the agency said the biggest problem with GM technology is that it has not spread fast enough to small farmers and has focused on crops mostly of use to big commercial interests.

U.N. officials stressed that GM products were only one tool to help poor farmers, who still need access to fair markets, credit and decent land. But they said transgenic technology has great potential for increasing crop yields, reducing costs to customers and improving the nutritional value of foods.

"FAO believes that biotechnology, including genetic engineering, can benefit the poor, but that the gains are not guaranteed," said Hartwig de Haen, assistant director-general of the FAO's economic and social department.

"The international community must act decisively if it wants to ensure that this technology can also be accessible and useful to the poor."

Transgenic crops have spread widely in recent years, accounting for 5 percent of the world's crop area and increasing by about 15 percent a year, the agency said. The use of GM crops is widespread in the United States, but GM foods face public opposition in parts of Europe and Africa.

The report comes the same week the European Union is to approve imports of genetically modified corn for human consumption, ending a 6-year moratorium. Last month, European countries started enforcing the world's strictest rules on labeling genetically modified foods.

De Haen said one reason the United Nations compiled the report was to give the public and governments sound science about biotech, particularly after Zambia refused U.N. food aid in 2002 because the food was genetically modified.

Proponents of GM foods say plants that can resist insects and be fortified with extra vitamins are a boon to farmers and consumers.

Opponents say the crops pose unknown health and environmental risks, and the ones who benefit most are the multinational corporations that develop and sell GM seeds.

Yet the report found that while private companies have been largely responsible for selling the seeds, "it is the producers and consumers who are reaping the largest share of the economic benefits of transgenic crops."

The report also said no known adverse health or environmental effects have been recorded.

Scientists differ on the significance of the environmental impact, saying genes from GM crops can be transferred to wild species. However, the report said scientists differ on whether that is a bad thing.

The report also pointed out some environmental and health benefits from using transgenic crops. Foods can be made with reduced allergens or improved nutritional qualities, and the reduction in pesticides has had "demonstrable health benefits" for farm workers in China, it said.

However, FAO said the private sector was focusing too much on technology for crops that benefit big commercial interests, such as maize, soybean, canola and cotton, which in 2003 accounted for 99 percent of GM crops. Some examples are GM cotton grown in Africa, and GM corn and soybeans grown in the United States.

Basic food crops for the poor, including cassava, potatoes, rice and wheat, have received little attention from scientists, it said.

"In spite of the fact these products weren't developed with developing countries in mind, they've still had a substantial and significant economic benefit in places," said Val Giddings, spokesman for the Washington DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organization.

One critic of GM foods, Greenpeace, has maintained such crops pose an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.

"We know there is ample food on the planet," said Greenpeace science adviser Doreen Stabinsky. "Hunger is not a problem that needs technical solutions. It needs political will and appropriate policies."

Louise Fresco, assistant director-general for FAO's agriculture department, said the developing world will need to increase food production to feed its growing population.

Those countries, she said, must figure out how to regulate and monitor biotechnology, noting that the types of GM crops in use and the traits generally applied to them, resistance to pests and diseases, are merely first-generation uses of the technology.

"The next generation is going to be much more important. It's going to affect many more crops, many more traits, traits that are of dire interest to the poor," she said.

"This is where the countries have to be prepared to say 'Yes, it's worth us taking an unquantified, unknown small risk but the benefits are going to be great because it addresses some real needs.'"