Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





June 16, 2004


Indian Farmers Growing GM Cotton in North; FAO Response to NGOs; African Farming Initiative


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 17, 2004:

* Indian farmers defying government to grow gene-modified cotton in the north
* Risk of Organic, Conventional and GM food
* Decision on genetically modified oilseed rape to be referred to Council
* FAO response to open letter from NGOs
* DEFRA: Amendments to two consents on GM maize are no longer necessary
* Farming Initiative for Africa Launched


Indian farmers defying government to grow gene-modified cotton in the north

- Associated Press, by S. SRINIVASAN, June 17, 2004

Farmers are defying the government to grow genetically modified cotton in northern India, where authorities have barred it from being planted, the federal textile minister said Thursday.

Authorities have not yet allowed companies to sell seeds of modified cotton - called Bt cotton - in the northern agricultural states such as Punjab and Haryana. So farmers there have found ways around it, Shankarsinh Vaghela told reporters in the southern city of Bangalore.

"Farmers in Punjab and Haryana also want to grow Bt cotton. They go all the way to Gujarat to buy the seeds," Vaghela said, referring to the western desert state. "I don't know if it is illegal. You have to ask the agriculture ministry."

Bt stands for bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected to cotton seeds to give them resistance against bollworms, a major concern for farmers in India, where the economy is driven by agriculture.

Bt cotton developed by agricultural biotech giant Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, is the only bioengineered crop allowed in India. But so far, it is permitted only in six southern and western states.

The fertile plains of the north that include Punjab and Haryana have been kept out of genetic engineering. Last year, the government's regulatory body for the sector, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, refused a strain of Bt cotton for use in the north, finding that it was vulnerable to another pest, known as the leaf-curl virus.

Advocates of genetic modification say it helps fight plant diseases, increase yield and improves nutritive value of food crops.

Critics counter that the adverse effects of the technology have not been studied adequately. They say genetically modified seeds are environmentally hazardous and could contaminate the genes of native varieties through cross pollination, eventually making farmers poorer.

Environmental group Greenpeace said Bt cotton cultivation in unapproved regions is an indication that genetic modification in agriculture cannot be regulated effectively.

"One problem is the government's inaction and inability to regulate the cultivation of BT cotton," said Divya Raghunandan, a Greenpeace campaigner in Bangalore. "The other problem is the inherent nature of the technology, which cannot be regulated. It keeps spreading across fields."

Meanwhile, Monsanto said Bt cotton cultivation in the north was beyond the company's control.

"We do not sell the seeds there. If somebody buys from where it is approved and takes it to the north, it is not in our control," Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto's Indian spokeswoman, said from Bombay.

Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 19:22:37 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Timur Hyat-khan"
Subject: Biotechnology

Dear Sir.

"Biotechnology indeed can help meet the ever increasing need by increasing yields and decreasing crop inputs such as water and fertiliser and providing pest control methods that are more compatible with the environment", .

- NIBGE, Faisalabad, Pakistan as reported by the Nation and Agbioworld.

Is this true? Do GMOs require less water and fertilizer? Also if NIBGE can modify plants genetically, why dont they do so? If we have not been able to improve Basmati Rice (except for lumping together the best produce and giving it a new name), how come we are ready for GM. I have personally witnessed vegetables grown with excessive raw manure and unstabalized Nitrogen and DAP that is washed in water full of effluents from the neighboring City of Abbottabad, before they were sold in the wholesale market.

Ready for GMOs indeed!



From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Risk of Organic, Conventional and GM food
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 20:04:34 -0500

I am far more concern about finding 500 times the proposed maximum levels of mycotoxins in organic maize on the shelf of the store than another 30 ppm of nitrates in a leaf of lettuce that contains 150 t0 200 ppm of nitrates unless your eat the heart that has 1,000 ppm of nitrates.

Organic grains consistently have two to five time more mycotoxins than conventionally grown grains that in the case or corn (maize) have two or three time as many the genetically modified variety that carry the BT protein that protect them from insects damage all season long.

The risks of mycotoxins and fecal bacteria in organically raised food are real and proven risks that can be measured and in the case of bacteria have cost real lives. These risks far outweigh any imaged or theoretical risk that Luddites can dream up.

Gordon Couger www.couger.com/gcouger


Decision on genetically modified oilseed rape to be referred to Council

- European Commission - Press Release, June 17, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

Following vote in the Regulatory Committee (16/06) on the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, the decision to authorise the import and processing of the genetically modified oilseed rape known as GT73 will pass on to the Council of Ministers. The Committee, which is set up under Directive 2001/18 and representing the Member States, did not reach the qualified majority necessary to support the Commission proposal to authorise the oilseed rape. The European Commission will now, in the coming weeks, formally adopt the proposal to be sent to the Council of Ministers. The Council can either adopt or reject the proposal with a qualified majority. If no decision is taken after three months, the file returns to the Commission which can then adopt it. If authorized, the oilseed rape, which has been modified for increased tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate, would be clearly labelled as containing GM oilseed rape, in accordance with the new legislation in force since 18 April 2004.


FAO response to open letter from NGOs
Director-General Jacques Diouf outlines his views on use of biotechnology

- UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 16 June 2004

FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf has sent the following letter to NGOs in response to their criticism of FAO's recent State of Food and Agriculture report.

It has come to my attention that an open letter addressed to me is circulating on the internet for signature by NGOs and other members of civil society. This open letter appears to be in response to misleading press headlines and a mistaken interpretation of FAO's recent report, "Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?" in the 2003-04 issue of The State of Food and Agriculture.

Those of you who have seen this open letter are urged to read my speech introducing the report and the report itself, rather than relying on secondary interpretations of this very important and complex subject. Therefore, I am transmitting to you the full text of my speech. The full report is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish at http://www.fao.org/documents/index.asp. Readers are further asked to consider that while this report emphasizes biotechnology, it is not meant to represent all components of FAO's broad mandate and commitment to promote agricultural development and alleviate hunger.

The open letter mentions several points that require clarification regarding FAO's working methods and our position on agricultural biotechnology, particularly transgenic crops.

1. The State of Food and Agriculture has been published every year since 1947. The report examines key developments in food and agriculture at the global, regional and national levels and provides in-depth analysis of important issues shaping food and agriculture. It reflects the views of the most known specialists of Member States on the subject. FAO has always respected scientific viewpoints in its reports but, as is always the case in controversial subjects, there are differences of opinion.

2. As regards biotechnology, I should point out that FAO's position is determined by its competent statutory bodies under the guidance of the FAO Conference and of Summits of Heads of State and Government. For instance:

* The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius has agreed on the principles and guidelines for assessing health risks related to foods derived from modern biotechnology. Foods derived from the GM crops currently being grown have been evaluated according to existing procedures for risk assessment and have been deemed to be safe to eat. However, the absence of evidence of harm to human health from the consumption of foods derived from GMOs is not a guarantee that they are completely safe; therefore FAO recommends continued monitoring and refinement of risk assessment procedures;

* The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, open to all Member Nations is the body responsible at international level to elaborate standards, guidelines or other principles, as appropriate, for foods derived from biotechnology;

* FAO has recently published the guidelines adopted by the 130 Members of the International Plant Protection Convention for pest-risk analysis for living modified organisms. Such agreements can help harmonize regulatory procedures globally.

3. As far as food sovereignty is concerned, FAO negotiated for 7 years to arrive at the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources which will become operational on 29 June 2004. This treaty recognizes, for the first time at the international level, farmers' rights and the rights of countries originating genetic resources. Further, under FAO's umbrella, genetic resources for food and agriculture are conserved at the international level by the international agricultural research centres of the CGIAR. FAO also assists developing countries to conserve their national genetic resources in situ and in vitro.

In the above context, I would also mention that, in the Declaration adopted at the World Food Summit: five years later (WFS: fyl) in June 2002, the Heads of State and Government reaffirmed "the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food". Under the initiative of the FAO Council, an Intergovernmental Working Group has been established to develop a set of voluntary guidelines to support effective policies and measures for the right to adequate food.

4. Regarding the fight against hunger, the 1996 World Food Summit committed FAO Members to reducing by half the number of hungry persons in the world by 2015. In speeches, interviews, and press conferences, I have always reflected the discussions of the WFSt: fyl, by indicating that the lack of political will and of mobilization of financial resources are the main obstacle to meeting this goal. Implementation of concrete projects in poor communities in rural and peri-urban areas are the priority for ensuring food production, employment and income, and thus achieving sustainable food security. These projects should emphasize:

* small water harvesting, irrigation and drainage works (wells, canals, impoundments, treadle pumps, etc.). The other FAO annual report, The State of Food Insecurity 2003, indicated that 80% of food crises are related in some way to water, especially to drought. Yet Africa, for example, only uses 1.6% of its available water resources for irrigation.

* the use of improved seeds and seedlings, particularly those issued from the Green Revolution and conventional plant breeding and tissue culture; the combination of organic and chemical fertilizer in soils that are no longer placed under fallow and are now depleted due to population pressure and clearly deficient in plant-available phosphorus; the integrated biological control of pests, insects and plant diseases without making excessive use of pesticides and complying with the PIC Agreement negotiated under the auspices of UNEP and FAO; and simple post-harvest technologies;

* diversification of village and household farming systems, with the introduction of short-cycle animal production (poultry, sheep, goats,
pigs) and the provision of feed, vaccine and shelter; artisanal fisheries and small-scale aquaculture;

* the construction of rural roads, local markets and storage and packing facilities, meeting quality and sanitary standards;

* the negotiation of more equitable terms for international agricultural trade.

I have always maintained that GMOs are not needed to achieve the World Food Summit objective: improved seeds and plant material generated by international agricultural research centres, particularly within the framework of the Green Revolution and by national research systems, including hybrids and varieties from inter-specific breeding are barely used by the smallholders of the Third World.

In the meantime, I have always drawn attention to the need to feed a world population that will increase from a current six billion people to nine billion in 2050, requiring a 60% increase in food production, while expanding the arable land area is becoming increasingly unfeasible because urbanization, industrial expansion and transport infrastructure is encroaching upon rural land and deforestation and the cultivation of fragile ecosystems are causing soil degradation. Such a situation will require intensified cultivation, higher yields and greater productivity.

With this in mind, we will have to use the scientific tools of molecular biology, in particular the identification of molecular markers, genetic mapping and gene transfer for more effective plant enhancement, going beyond the phenotype-based methods. Decisions on the rules and utilization of these techniques must however be taken at the international level by competent bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius.

The developing countries should not only take part in the decision-making, but should also develop their scientific capacity and master the necessary expertise and techniques so that they can understand the implications and make independent choices in order to reach an international consensus on issues that concern all of humanity. FAO provides support to the countries of the Third World to this end and will continue to do so.

Finally, in contrast to the Green Revolution which was generated by international public research and provided national research systems with improved genetic material, at no expense, biotechnology research is essentially driven by the world's top ten transnational corporations, which are spending annually US$3 billion.

By comparison, the CGIAR system, the largest international public sector supplier of agricultural technologies for developing countries has a total annual budget of less than US$300 million. The private sector protects its results with patents in order to earn from its investment and it concentrates on products that have no relevance to food in developing countries.

FAO, in accordance with its mandate, will continue to provide a framework for ensuring a dialogue on these issues at the international level. Such a dialogue should be based on sound scientific principles allowing the analysis of socio-economic implications as well as sanitary and environmental issues.

For the sake of transparency, I would be grateful if you would post this reply on your internet site.

Yours sincerely,

Jacques Diouf


DEFRA: Amendments to two consents on GM maize are no longer necessary

- SeedQuest (VIA AGNET), June 15, 2004

DEFRA has today written to the Commission explaining why amendments to two consents on GM maize are no longer necessary.

Following the Farm-scale Evaluations (FSEs), Defra wrote to the French authorities proposing amendments to the two existing consents to cultivate two types of GM maize. These would have restricted the herbicide management regimes used in conjunction with the crops. Following consideration with the French authorities and the withdrawal by BayerCropScience of its proposal to market a variety of GM maize, Defra has concluded neither amendment is necessary.

On one type of GM maize event (T25), since Defra made the proposal for restricting the consent in March, BayerCropScience has announced the withdrawal of Chardon LL, the GM maize variety containing the T25 event, from EU marketing approvals. Hence, there will be no commercial cultivation of T25 before its consent expires in 2006 and therefore amending its consent is unnecessary.

On the other type of GM maize(Bt176), the French authorities' review of the original application has shown that while the herbicide tolerance gene is present, the characteristic is not sufficiently strong for it to be used in the field. Hence, glufosinate ammonium (the herbicide used in the
FSEs) would not be used in conjunction with the crop and therefore the additional consent condition is not necessary. The Advisory Committee on releases to the Environment [ACRE] will consider in light of this whether a different restriction should be put forward.

In writing to the Commission, Defra has made clear that while there is no longer any urgency, it nonetheless wishes to pursue the general issue of controlling herbicide usage with GM crops especially in respect of any future applications to cultivate GM maize in the EU.


The Farm Scale Evaluation results showed that the cultivation of herbicide tolerant GM maize increased the population of weeds compared to the cultivation of conventional maize, with consequent benefits on farmland biodiversity. The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) subsequently concluded that cultivation of herbicide tolerant GM maize would not result in adverse effects on the environment if that cultivation was managed in a similar fashion. Defra therefore proposed that the two existing EU consents for GM maize Bt176 and T25 (Chardon LL) should be restricted either to the herbicide regime used in the FSEs or alternatives that would not result in any adverse effects compared with regimes used on conventional maize. France issued the relevant GM maize consents in 1997 and 1998 which are valid throughout the EU.


Farming Initiative for Africa Launched

- The East African Standard (Nairobi), June 17, 2004, By Konchora Guracha

An initiative was launched yesterday to increase productivity among Africa's small-scale farmers.

The African Agricultural Technological Foundation (AATF) plans to spearhead transfer of agricultural technology as a way of addressing Africa's perennial food insecurity.

Already, AATF has already showcased four out of the original eight areas of problems it identified as control of the devastating striga weed (wipes out tracts of African farmlands, depriving more than 100 million people of staple food), development of insect resistant maize, pro-vitamin A enhancement in maize and rice, and cowpea production.

"The foundation will facilitate the transfer of these technologies and make them available to farmers at the most reasonable cost. Our current focus is on food crops, but we will later target cash crops, and, possibly, livestock products," said Dr Eugene Terry, AATF implementing director.

Headed by Dr Mpoko Bokanga, a food scientist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the foundation is the result of a two-year consultation between African, North American and European scientists on the one hand and stakeholders on the other.

Agriculture minister Kipruto arap Kirwa said Africa should be given the opportunity to make informed decisions on the use and application of genetically modified organisms and agricultural technologies.

"Of particular attention in the range of available technologies is the question of biotechnology, and, specifically, genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Africans should be accorded the opportunity to decide what to do about some of these technologies," said Kirwa.

At the same time, the minister criticised opponents of agricultural technologies like GMOs, saying some spoke from a position of misinformation.

"The issue of technology transfer always attracts debate at different levels. For a number of us, especially, the small-holder farmers, technology paints an image of complicated science that should be approached with suspicion."

He added: "My stand is that technological solutions to human problems should be approached soberly and with as little emotion as possible. It is imprudent to make generalised statements on these issues."