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June 22, 2004


African Leaders Support Biotech; Zambia Refuses GM Food; Boost for India's Biotech Biz


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 23, 2004:

* Four African Presidents Support Biotech, US Official Says
* African Leaders Cautiously Favor Genetically Modified Crops
* BIO Announces New Food and Ag Executive Director
* Rasi Seeds sees brisk demand for genetically-modified cotton seed
* Zambia refuses GM foods
* Genetically Modified Foods, the Debate Moves Ahead, Europe
* Biotechnology conference opens
* Small-scale farmers get technology boost in Africa
* Boost for India's battling biotech business
* Letter to Scottish Farmer magazine

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004 17:19:00 -0700
From: "Sivramiah Shantharam"

Dear Timur:

Drought resistant plants are supposed to grow in arid zones and dry land areas or where there is poor rain water. No plant will grow without water. All plants will need some water. Like wise, plants also need nutrients which we all call fertilizers. If you are looking for plants to grown without added chemical or less chemical fertilizers, then the answer is there are none.

Shanthu Shantharam


Four African Presidents Support Biotech, US Official Says

- United States Department of State, June 22, 2004

The presidents of four West African countries have voiced support for agricultural biotechnology and for science in general, saying science-based technologies can help end famine on their continent, says Pamela Bridgewater, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

In a June 21 interview the first day of an agricultural science and technology ministerial conference in Burkina Faso, Bridgewater said that the presidents of Mali, Niger, Ghana and Burkina Faso underlined to U.S. officials the importance they attach to the conference and to its focus on food security, water resource management and the uses of biotechnology to improve the overall health and well-being of their populations.

Burkina Faso is co-hosting the June 21-23 meeting with the U.S. departments of Agriculture (USDA) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The conference drew more than 200 participants -- primarily government officials and agricultural researchers -- from Africa, North America and Europe.

The four West African leaders believe biotechnology has the potential to increase agricultural production and improve the environment, thus improving the standard of living in their countries, Bridgewater said.

At the same time, the leaders indicated that they and their citizens want to learn more about biosecurity in order to feel confident about the safety of genetically improved crops, she said.

The presidents realize that agriculture -- the largest part of Africa's economy -- is essential to economic and human development throughout the continent, Bridgewater said.

Developing human resources is also linked to strengthening national security, Bridgewater added. Children who have no hope of a stable economic future could be more vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist and criminal groups, she said.

Discussing the role of women in development, Bridgewater said, "I have spent a lot of time in villages in Africa and have seen women eke the land for income for their families' survival." Biotechnology is one of the tools that can help them increase production and their household incomes while requiring less labor, she said.

Bridgewater said conference participants hope the meeting will launch a series of follow-up events to share information about new agricultural technologies.

"We have a real opportunity now to educate more people about the real nature of biotech crops and seeds," she said.


African Leaders Cautiously Favor Genetically Modified Crops

- VOA, By Nico Colombant, 22 Jun 2004

West African leaders say they are cautiously in favor of using genetically modified crops. But non-governmental organizations are calling for a five-year moratorium so more research can be done. The issue is being discussed at a U.S.-sponsored conference in Burkina Faso.

During the three-day conference, which started Monday, West African leaders said they want assurances that genetically modified products are safe for the people who eat or use them, and for the environment. But the leaders say that in general they believe the genetically modified crops will lead to higher agricultural productivity and therefore should be used.

Niger's President Mamadou Tandja said he is excited about the prospect of the new crops, but he also wants to make sure Africans get the financial ability and the technical training to use genetically modified production techniques.

President Tandja says that in the first tangible impact of the conference, Niger hopes to use biotechnology to resume cotton production, which was abandoned during the 1980s. At the time, Niger faced food shortages and focused instead on food crops.

President Tandja says Niger hopes to begin a partnership with Burkina Faso, which has already started the test planting of genetically modified cotton.

The host of the conference, Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore, said using genetically modified products is like testing new medicines.

President Compaore says research needs to be done locally, and that the safety of the new products will always be a concern. But he says Africa can not lag behind the rest of the world and ignore scientific progress.

Ghana's President John Kufuor agreed, saying there is urgency to embrace biotechnology because he says with traditional methods and over-exploitation, fertile African land is being depleted.

The main conference organizer, Undersecretary of Agriculture J.B. Penn, said the United States will help Africa fight hunger by sharing scientific knowledge and giving scholarships to African researchers.

But non-governmental organizations in West Africa remain unconvinced. A group of Ouagadougou-based organizations said they believe the U.S.-based multi-national company Monsanto, which is leading the experiments in Burkina Faso, is simply trying to take over new markets and create dependencies with test products and technology transfers.

The groups say food shortages in Africa are caused mainly by poor distribution and lack of infrastructure. They are concerned that once a dependency on genetically modified crops is created, the foreign companies will abandon African farmers, who will not have the necessary know-how and equipment to use the new technology.

Benin-based activist Rene Segbenou, who opposes the use of genetically modified crops, warns the introduction of biotechnology could wipe out seed varieties Africans are familiar with, possibly making the food situation worse.

"When we talk about the technology, itself, I think that is a way to kill the varieties, the seed varieties, that we always have here on the continent," he said. "The genetic resources of Africa are abundant. We should not let them down to just use something which we cannot use, let us say, with our own capacities on the continent."

A protest by non-governmental organization is planned for Wednesday, when the conference ends.


BIO Announces New Food and Ag Executive Director

- BIO Press Release, 6/22/04

Contact: Dan Eramian, Lisa Dry, 202-962-9200

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 22, 2004) -- Carl B. Feldbaum, President of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) today announced that Sean Darragh has been selected for the newly-created position of Executive Director for BIO’s Food and Agriculture section.

“With the growth of biotechnology in agriculture, food, animals and plant-made pharmaceuticals, along with the consolidation of the Council of Biotechnology Information and its communications programs into BIO, our food and ag section has expanded at a rate and scope that required increased, strategic management of multiple programs. Sean Darragh has both the skills and breadth of experience to lead our member companies’ efforts to usher in this new technology with its broad range of benefits,” Feldbaum stated.

The new Executive Director, who comes on board August 9, reports to the BIO President and is accountable to the BIO Food and Agriculture Section Governing Body (FASGB). He will direct the diplomatic, legislative, regulatory and communications strategy for the Food and Ag Section as well as manage the day-to-day operations, budget and staff.

Darragh has most recently been Deputy Vice President of International Affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
(PhRMA) where he led advocacy, alliance development and public affairs initiatives in the United States and abroad on intellectual property, WTO matters, tariff and non-tariff barriers and customs issues.

Prior to PhRMA, Sean served in a number of senior positions at the U.S.
government. They include: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of
Defense at the Pentagon, where he oversaw export policies into Latin America, Principal Negotiator at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative where he managed the agricultural and life sciences division, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Director for Global Issues and Multilateral Affairs on the National Security Council staff.

During his time in the U.S. Army, Darragh commanded two artillery batteries. He is a graduate of U.S. Army Ranger School, Air Assault School and Airborne School. He earned an M.A.L.D. in International Affairs from Tufts University and a B. S. in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“Biotechnology in the food and agriculture sector will continue to be a vital area of innovation contributing to health, environmental, and economic benefits for consumers everywhere,” Darragh stated, “but with any new technology, the industry faces regulatory hurdles, trade barriers and communications challenges. It’s a full agenda, and one that I look forward to taking on. I am delighted to have the opportunity to play this leadership role at BIO.”

“We are very pleased to have Sean Darragh in this new position,” said BIO FASGB Chairman Richard Hamilton of Ceres, Inc. “Sean brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in agricultural policy and international trade as well as industry association experience. We look forward to having Sean spearhead our efforts to enhance public understanding of agricultural biotechnology, promote science-based regulation and to provide an intellectual property framework that encourages and rewards innovation.”

Pete Siggelko, Vice Chairman of the BIO FASGB and Dow AgroSciences Global Leader added, “Sean’s range of experience in the life sciences area combined with his global perspective and past work with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Department of the Treasury will help us take the necessary steps to take our organization to the next level.”

Feldbaum also praised Jim Leslie of Kincannon & Reed of Vienna, Va. who helped conduct the nationwide search for the new position.

BIO represents more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health-care, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.

To sign up to receive BIO press releases either by email or by fax, to change your options, or to unsubscribe, please visit http://www2.bio.org/members/biopresslist.asp.

Rasi Seeds sees brisk demand for genetically-modified cotton seed


- Financial Express, June 21, 2004, by Joseph Vackayil

Rasi Seeds Pvt Ltd, which has been approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to market its RCH 2 Bt cotton seeds, plans to sell about 3.5 lakh packets of 450 gm seeds in South, Central and Western zones of the country this season. In Tamil Nadu where planting is to start soon, the company would sell about 50,000 packets to over 30,000 farmers, M Ramasami, managing director of the company stated.

“Sales are in full swing with demand much more than our expectation. The acceptance by farmers for this product has indeed been very encouraging,” he indicated. The company was also organising the first-ever large-scale trial for RCH 134 Bt and RCH 137 Bt in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, Mr Ramsami pointed out.

“We have a set programme to spread awareness on the advantages of Bt to the farmers. These include, spreading awareness about refugee crop resistance management. More than 100 field staff are also directly involved in extending service to farmers. In addition to this, mailers are planned to directly communicate with progressive farmers to guide them to take better yield,” he informed.

GEAC has permitted Rasi to conduct field trials of RCH 20, RCH 138 and RCH 144 Bt varieties. The company was asked to go in for one more year of large-scale trials for RCH 20 Bt in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; RCH 138 Bt and RCH 144 Bt in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and in 80 locations for each hybrid.

Apart from this, Rasi has got approval to conduct trials of RCH 118 Bt and RCH 359 Bt in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and RCH 368 Bt in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It also sells seeds of Bhendi, Cluster Beans, Bitter Gaurd, Snake Gaurd, Tomato, Chilies and Brinjal.


Zambia refuses GM foods

- News24.com, 21/06/2004

Lusaka - Zambia has maintained that it will not allow genetically modified foods to enter its territory despite shortages, as biotech foods are not yet scientifically proved to be suitable for human consumption.

Chance Kabaghe, deputy agriculture minister, said genetically modified food has been banned from being distributed in the poor country, which is largely dependent on Western food aid.

"The position of Zambia on GM foods has not changed. We still feel that the country is not ready to accept genetically modified foods without proper research on its effects" Kabaghe said.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa told delegates at the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg in September 2002, that despite starvation, he would not expose his people to "poisonous" food.

"Simply because my people are hungry, there is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health" he said at the time.

During 2002, Zambia rejected about 27 000 tons of transgenic food aid donated by the US government to feed nearly one quarter of Zambia's population of 10.4 million people, who were struggling to cope with hunger caused by a prolonged drought.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) in Zambia, responsible for relief food aid distribution, said the lesson learnt from the GM controversy was that countries should have an up-date policy on biotech food on file.

"WFP's job is to ensure that the hungry get food and it works within the parameters set up by the national government. It is not for us to say whether a government's decision is justified or not as long as people do not go hungry," said Sibi Lawson, a WFP spokesperson in Zambia.

By the time Mwanawasa announced the ban on the GM foods, some transgenic grain had already been distributed to various parts of the country to the poor.

The withdrawal of the food caused sporadic riots and Zambia's Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana accused western donors of "promoting food riots in order to force Zambia to accept GM maize."

The WFP withdrew the GM food aid and replaced it with non-GM relief food that was donated mainly by the European Union, which stepped in to help thousands of starving Zambians.

"WFP policy is to respect the position of the country it is working in" Lawson said.

"If the country prefers no GM food, we do not send in GM food. Additionally, we only accept food that has been cleared by the health authorities of the donor country as fit for human consumption" she said.


Genetically Modified Foods, the Debate Moves Ahead, Europe

- Medical News Today, 22 Jun 2004

The debate over genetically modified (GM) foods has been going on for some years now, with much of the discussion centered on whether or not these foods are safe to eat. Thanks to scientific research, improved understanding of the technology and new regulations, most parties involved in the GM debate now agree that the food and food ingredients derived from currently available genetically modified crops are not likely to present a risk for human health.


A crucial point to remember when considering the safety of GM foods, is that it is the food as it is consumed that must be examined, not the production process in isolation. This means that the properties and overall safety of the food needs to be assessed, just as we do with foods produced using conventional methods. European Union legislation requires that GM products are submitted to a rigorous safety evaluation before authorisation is given for human consumption.

The European Union, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations agreed on a methodology referred to as "substantial equivalence" as the most practical approach to assess the safety of GM foods and food ingredients.

"Substantial equivalence" focuses on the product rather than the production process. It is a rigorous procedure including a detailed list of parameters and characteristics that need to be considered including molecular characterisation of the genetic modification, agronomic characterisation, nutritional and toxicological assessments.

The 'substantial equivalence' approach acknowledges that the goal of the assessment cannot be to establish absolute safety. The important conclusion is that if, after the evaluation, the safety of the new product is comparable (substantially equivalent) to a conventional counterpart then the level of "risk" is comparable to foods that we have consumed safely for thousand of years.

However, if the GM product has new traits or characteristics that make it no longer substantially equivalent (such as a higher level of a vitamin), then an additional assessment is required. This assessment focuses on the effects the new trait may have on the safety of the new food and may include various types of tests to demonstrate the safety.


The debate on GM food is far from over. Various environmental issues and the safety assessment of future generations of GM products with unique characteristics are among the issues that will continue to elicit discussion, research and testing.

It is however evident that much progress has been made with regard to developing a consensus on the food safety. As the number of GM products available in the market slowly grows, consumers can be assured that they have been subjected to a rigorous evaluation and that food authorities worldwide agree on their safety for human health.

Available evidence shows that GM foods are "not likely to present human health risks" and therefore "these foods may be eaten." Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General, 28 Aug 2002.

Current scientific research confirms the safety of GM food.
Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO Director General, 30 August 2002.


-- FAO/WHO (1991) Strategies for assessing the safety of foods produced by biotechnology. Report of a joint FAO/WHO Consultation. WHO. Switzerland.

-- OECD (1993) Safety evaluation of foods produced by modern
biotechnology: concepts and principles. OECD, Paris, France.

-- Genetic Modification and Food. Consumer Health and Safety. ILSI Europe Concise Monograph Series, 2001

-- WHO, Food Safety Programme, 20 Questions on genetically modified (GM) foods, 2002


Biotechnology conference opens

- News24.com, 21/06/2004

Ouagadougou - A US-sponsored conference to promote the use of genetically-modified organisms to boost food production in west Africa opened on Monday in Burkina Faso.

Four heads of state from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) were among the 400 delegates gathered for the summit, also attended by the deputy US minister of agriculture, the organisers said.

The aim of the congress is to promote a better understanding of the benefits of biotechnology, touted as a way of breeding drought-resistant crops as well as new strains of African staples such as rice and cassava that require less water.

Despite poor harvests caused by drought, poor soil and deficiencies in agricultural technology, Ecowas countries remain wary of introducing GMO crops into their fields due to the still-unknown risks to human and environmental health.

Landlocked Burkina Faso is the first west African nation to make forays into the use of GMO crops, allowing agribusiness giant Monsanto to plant transgenic cotton seeds in key areas.

Annual grain production per capita in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world, with 128kg produced per person per year.

Chronic malnutrition continues to afflict one-third of sub-Saharan Africans, or more than 200 million people according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

FAO says 23 out of 53 African states suffer from dire food shortages, primarily due to drought, and suggests that biotechnology could help farmers in the developing world to feed another two billion people in 30 years.

Africa remains the largest recipient of food aid, taking in some 2.8 tons of donated cereals and grains in 2000 - one quarter of the global total.


Small-scale farmers get technology boost in Africa

- SciDev.Net, By Kimani Chege, 18 June 2004

Access by Small-scale farmers in Africa to agriculture technology was given a boost this week when Kenya's agriculture minister Kipruto Arap Kirwa officially launched the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

The foundation is a public-private partnership that aims to boost incomes and food security for the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa by promoting both classical plant breeding approaches and novel genetic modification approaches.

The AATF hopes in particular to overcome the high costs and restrictions imposed by intellectual property rights that act as barriers to African farmers' adoption of new technology. It will do this by seeking to obtain royalty-free licenses from producers of agricultural technologies, and to adapt such technologies to African needs.

AATF was formed last year after consultations between Africa scientists and their counterparts in Europe and America. The foundation's official opening follows the recent appointment of its first executive director Mpoko Bokanga, who assumed office this week. He joins AATF from the Regional Industrial Development Centre of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Abuja, Nigeria.

"The African Agricultural Technology Foundation will work with you all, not to duplicate the good work that is being done, but to facilitate [new] partnerships and innovative linkages, and bring technologies that increase productivity within the reach of African farmers," Bokanga told the launch audience.

Bokanga said the foundation's top priorities included combating 'witch weed'. The pest is estimated to cause US$7 billion of crop damage in Africa each year, depriving over one million of food, and reducing the income of many small-scale farmers.

The organisation is also working with the Mexico-based International Research Center for Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT), the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Syngenta Foundation to introduce a variety of maize resistant to the stem borer — a major insect pest.

Other projects include enhancement of vitamin A in maize to counter nutritional problems of dietary vitamin deficiency and an initiative to increase cowpea productivity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Funding for the initiative comes from the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development and the UK Department for International Development.


Boost for India's battling biotech business

- Asia Times, By Raja M, June 24, 2004

MUMBAI - Earlier this month, an agricultural biotechnology task force led by Professor M S Swaminathan, aka the "father of India's green revolution", mapped a path to end the rampant confusion, suspicion and controversy choking India's fledgling biotechnology industry.

The one-year-old task force has met 11 times, and is recommending the government pump US$264.9 million into India's food security, establish a new apex regulatory body, insure farmers and take steps to make life happier for local and foreign biotechnology investors.

Biotechnology refers to a diverse array of traditional and new technologies that use biological systems, living organisms or derivatives to produce products or processes for a specific use. Making curds from milk is biotechnology, and so too was the manufacturing of the late Dolly, the cloned sheep.

But between reality and promises of better medicines, a higher yield of crops, more nutritious food and business worth $35 billion rages a frothing battle involving governments, scientists, multinationals, farmers, non-governmental activists, venture capitalists, religious leaders and a media either being fashionably cynical or trumpeting biotechnology as the next great mix of miracles since Moses shook his walking stick at Pharaoh Ramses.

In getting Swaminathan to head the task force, India's agriculture department gave the recommendations some balm of credibility. Public fears about biotechnology being a greedy Western multinational racket ruining scarce farmlands, driving farmers to suicide and contaminating our digestive systems were in serious need of soothing. Not surprisingly, over one-fifth of the task force's recommendations, five chapters (17 to 21), dealt with increasing public awareness and confidence in agricultural biotechnology.

Swaminathan, whom Time magazine ranked one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century (the other two Indians listed were Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore - Indian Nobel laureate for literature ) has been described by the United Nations as "the father of economic ecology".

A plant geneticist by training, Swaminathan's Chennai-based non-profit MS Swaminathan Research Foundation serves rural India, respecting the rural and tribal families it works with as "partners" and not "beneficiaries".

The task force has tried bridging the gap between those for and against biotechnology. "Among frontier technologies relevant to the next stage in our agricultural evolution, the foremost is biotechnology," states the Chennai Declaration, composed during a workshop for policy makers held in the south Indian city of Chennai last October.

Referring to India as a "megadiversity" country, the Chennai Declaration
says: "India has a natural advantage in becoming a world leader in food and agricultural biotechnology."

With the aim of heading in that direction, an 89-member Indian biotech mission organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry visited the United States from June 2 to 9 looking to get a slice of the US biotech industry, with its estimated worth of $34.8 billion. Calling India a team leader, the mission said the country had about 200 biotechnology firms and expects a 20+% annual growth rate, a chunk of it expected from outsourced research assignments. The visit coincided with the annual biotechnology convention in San Francisco that started June 6.

In attendance at the convention, yelling from the protestors' corner, was Vandana Shiva, the Indian nuclear physicist turned ferocious bio-piracy warrior. Her detractors call her a false prophet denying developing countries the benefits of frontier technology. Her admirers celebrate her for fighting unscrupulous multinationals trying to patent timelessly traditional Indian knowledge and biological resource such as the medicinally powerful neem leaf and turmeric.

Shiva, who serves as an ecology advisor to organizations such as the Third World Network and the Asia Pacific People's Environment Network, won the Right Livelihood Award (also called the "Alternative Nobel Prize") in 1993. Better known outside India than in it, 51-year-old Shiva was earlier this month rousing American audiences, including at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with her usual war whoops such as "ten thousand years of expertise in feeding us is a woman's expertise. That work is now being claimed as an invention by a handful of corporations." To her, biotechnology in agriculture equals corporates dominating world agriculture.

In her commentary "The Suicide Economy of Corporate Globalization" published in February this year, Shiva blames the World Bank's structural adjustment policies in 1998 for ruining India's farmers. She says, "The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, today faces a crisis of extinction."

Shiva blames their fate on India opening its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. "The global corporations changed the input economy overnight," says Shiva. "Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved." The farmer, she said, was turned from producer to a consumer of costly seeds and fertilizers.

"More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalization pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life," says Shiva. "Seed monopolies rob farmers of life."

Shiva wrote this two months before the biotechnology-friendly Indian state of Andhra Pradesh was booted out in the Indian elections this year, a result widely accepted as punishment for the high rate of debt-ridden farmers in the state committing suicide. Their genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton crop failed. The tragedy still continues after the new state government took over on May 14, with 161 farmers reported killing themselves since. The electoral loss in Andhra Pradesh was a critical factor in the change of national government in New Delhi.

The Swaminathan-chaired task force recommendation addresses such risks to farmers by suggesting that companies selling GM seeds to small and marginal farmers should also give them insurance coverage. "An insurance system for GM crops needs to be developed speedily," says Chapter 23 on "Liability and Compensation". "So that small farmers who take institutional credit for buying expensive seeds do not suffer in case of crop failure." But while this opens another shop window for insurance companies, the fact remains that farmers cannot easily fight legal battles if the insurance companies default.

The Indian biotech industry could earn $5 billion in revenues the next five years, says a new Ernst & Young (E&Y) biotech report titled "On The Threshold - The Asia-Pacific Perspective". India, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Korea are crowned regional biotech leaders, with China seen as quickly shortening the gap.

The E&Y report says India could create over 1 million biotech jobs over the next five years. But substantial doubts remain about how much of the predicted boom will actually benefit Indian farmers and food security. A June 15 report in Asia Times Online on global biotechnology
(Biotechnology: Breeding hurdles and hypeJune 15) observed: "The subsistence crops that are most important in the war with hunger, such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and teff, are not being improved because they hold little appeal for the firms that own most of the biotech patents."

In India, stifling biotechnology growth was blamed on cluttered, cumbersome regulatory mechanisms. The first genetically modified crop legally used in India, the controversial Bt cotton, was cleared after four years, eight years after it was cleared in the US. Result: a booming black market boom for spurious Bt cotton seeds in the states of Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan, seeds that have not been cleared as being safe for the local soil.

Instead of the existing Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Swaminathan's task force proposed establishing an autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. This apex body will have two wings, one for agricultural and food biotechnology and the other to serve medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology.

"Provisions to protect bio-diversity, bio-security and a series of measures for new regulatory mechanics [for GM crops] will inspire public confidence," Swaminathan said. He has also asked for the establishment of 30 agri-biotech parks across India.

The new measures and the new technology could be "pathway to an era of bio-happiness" in India, as Swaminathan and Co hope. But reality suggests agricultural biotechnology investors should wisely refrain from counting their GM chickens before they are hatched.

Letter to Scottish Farmer magazine

- By Keith H Adamson, June 23, 2004

In reply to Brian Henderson’s opinion, 19th June, roughly stating he doesn’t want GM until there’s something available like disease resistant malting barley suited to his area and until then he’s “manning the Luddite barricades and keeping the damn stuff as far away as possible”.

This is all very well, we all want our cake and to be able to eat it, but a little more foresight will be required, especially from those with realistic attitudes who believe they’re in the know.

Biotechnology as a whole deserves a better opinion. There are ever so many startling and innovative developments in this field almost on a daily basis but many of them are still a long way off from the market place for various non-scientific and non-technological reasons. Perhaps your “damn stuff” is a contributor to this problem even though you seem to want the cake.

The overwhelming cost of regulatory approval has limited the 1st tranch of GM crops to big hit uses, even though 21 countries, 68 million HA and 7 million farmers are finding them useful; bt insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.

It will be in our interest to have a thriving biotechnology sector and people need to support, not demoralise our innovative, hard working scientists.

Eventually it will be shown that all the worry related to the use of technology in food is either very hypothetical or very insignificant in terms of food safety or its environmental effects.

400 independent scientific bodies and 25 Nobel Prize winners have given GM and its promotion the green light, which includes the Royal Society and the British Medical Association.

If we want full use of the 2nd tranch of GM products a little more support would help so we can benefit from less fatty acids, healthier omega-3 oils, higher lycopene (a cancer fighting antioxidant in vegetables) and drought resistant crops which may be useful with global warming and water shortages.

All these things have already been achieved, some at a very early stage.

Support would help stop the rot of scientific defection to more receptive countries and perhaps save or encourage investment in our own biotech industry, so when full acceptance of biotech products comes in 5-10 years time, and we realise all that shouting has been about rather little, we wont have to import the technology for evermore, thus nothing particularly suited to my or your area

Natural selection and plant breeders have hybridised plants for generations, transferring thousands of genes, in a random, haphazard, trial-and-error way. No crops we grow today are “natural”- they show little or no comparison to their wild relatives. Even wheat, what our civilisation has been grown on, has had its genetic make-up modified by nature, as it originates from three species of grass.

Organic and conventional farming use plants breeding techniques like embryo rescue, protoplastics, and mutagenesis, where unknown mutation and damage takes place to DNA - all have been openly accepted for decades; for example, Golden Promise Barley. Mutagenesis in akin to a baseball bat where GM would be likened to brain surgery!

It should also be comforting to recognise that no major weed or invasiveness problems have developed since the advent of modern plant breeding, because domestic plants are typically poorly fit for survival in the wild. Concerns about genetically modified crops running amok or errant genes flowing into wild relatives pale in comparison to the genuine risks posed by introduced totally unmodified “exotic” plants into new ecosystems.

I do hope that not too many people have been affected by the Oscar-winning propaganda some media and associations have said about the technology. Especially the English organic lobby, but you can understand their concern; they produce a product with less inputs (albeit using more land to achieve a smaller yield) and GM is doing the same with higher yields – obviously direct market conflict. All types of farming can exist. The half stories and “slogan phrases” are designed to scare the public into moving to their organic type of product.

GM is not the only answer, other types of biotechnology like genomics (gene mapping) and improvements in conventional will all be required – integrated farm management, LEAF is a good example. Given the chance the UK could help supply the world with the required, correct technology throughout the 21st century. China is developing the largest plant biotechnology capacity outside North America, almost entirely funded by the public sector.

GM may be the most environmentally beneficial technology to have emerged in decades or possibly a century, but it is not immediately obvious.

The most widely used GM, bt insect resistance, (the same bt organic farmers use) has saved the environment thousands of tons of insecticides, especially on cotton and maize.

On a planetary scale population is set to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion in 40 years (World Health Organisation figures) and although the UK will not see much of this, more land will have to come under cultivation, deforestation of the worlds “lungs” exasperates the planets problems. Therefore preserving wilderness and biodiversity will require “increased” crop productivity. We’ve managed it in the last 40 years with fertilisers, chemicals, irrigation and improved plant breeding (when our population rose from 3 billion to 6 billion) - to achieve it again we have to use technology as one of our tools.

Why the “environmentalists” don’t see this, I do not understand.

One of our former Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disraeli, once said that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics” and never was this more true than in reference to public opinion polls.

In the end the only poll that really matters is that tallied on the basis of pounds/euros. Experience the world over is consistent with the hypothesis that customers are primarily motivated by price and after that by quality, with other considerations coming in well behind – safety is taken as a given here as facts clearly warrant foods derived from crops improved through biotechnology to be safe, if not safer than conventional or organic, but facts are stubborn things.

Crops improved through biotech are cheaper to grow and higher quality, future improvements will increase this further.

If some farmers want to take refuge in the opposite of what I’ve been saying they have that freedom, but they should not increase or hide behind false rationales and misunderstandings of public will, but instead try and help the understanding.

If we in the UK hide from crops improved through biotech the eventual outcome is certain… We will be displaced or demoted and agricultural production here will lag behind that in the rest of the world in the necessary reductions of environmental footprint.

Yours Sincerely,

Keith H Adamson NSch
Nuffield Farming Scholarship (2003) studying Biotechnology [Visited USA, Canada, and China 2003/4] UK government GM–FSE OSR crop trialist 2002 Family farm, 600acres mixed arable and beef herd in conjunction with father, Andrew. Married with three young daughters.