Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 25, 2004:
* Safe And Sorry: The Wrongheaded Idea that Risk Is Bad
* Will We Be Heralding Biotech Wheat Performance by 2014?
* On the Use of Fertilizer and Water
* Kenyan President Backs Use of Biotechnology
* West African Leaders Give Cautious Thumbs Up to Biotech
* Norman Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program
* Plant-Made Antibody Targets Hepatitis B Virus
* Free Video of Plant Produced Pharmaceuticals
* Europe: New Technology Platform Vision for Plant Biotech
* The Future of GM Crops
* Errors in BioSpectrum Interview
* Are Europe's Labeling Laws For GM Foods Cost-Effective, or Even Necessary?
Safe And Sorry: Another Victory for The Wrongheaded Idea that Risk Is Bad
- Cass R. Sunstein, Forbes, July 5, 2004Pg. 48 Vol. 173 No. 14
Monsanto's decision not to market bioengineered wheat was another victory for the wrongheaded idea that risk is bad.
In recent months opponents of genetically modified food have insisted on the application of a popular, yet misguided, standard for regulating risk known as the Precautionary Principle. The principle demands that all steps must be taken to avoid risks of harm even if cause-and-effect relationships are not established scientifically. And it says an activity's proponents bear the burden of proving the activity is safe. The principle's influence is growing. In March voters in Mendocino County, Calif. showed their enthusiasm for it by passing a ballot initiative to ban the planting of genetically modified crops. Bowing to pressure from those who invoke the principle, Monsanto announced in May that it will not market the world's first bioengineered wheat.
The sweep of the principle is potentially limitless. It could be applied to medicines and air pollution, global warming and cell phones, human cloning, arsenic in drinking water or exposure to sunlight and radon. First used as a legal principle in Sweden in the late 1960s, it spread across Europe in the following decades to the point where it now promises (or threatens) to become a general principle of international law.
The Precautionary Principle has a lot of intuitive appeal. Sensible regulators should not require unambiguous proof of harm. Inconclusive evidence can be enough. But the problem is that while promising safety, it can be both dangerous and incoherent. Risks are on all sides of social situations, and regulation itself creates risks. Because risks are everywhere, the Precautionary Principle forbids action, inaction and everything in between. It is therefore paralyzing; it bans the very steps that it mandates.
Consider the question of whether regulators should take a highly precautionary approach before allowing new medicines to be introduced. If a government takes such an approach, it will protect people against harm from inadequately tested drugs--which is good. But a precautionary approach will also prevent people from receiving benefits from those very drugs--which is bad. If we're really interested in human health, is it "precautionary" to require extensive premarketing testing, or instead to do the opposite? The Precautionary Principle doesn't say.
Sometimes regulation would violate the Precautionary Principle because it would give rise to substitute risks in the form of hazards that materialize, or are increased, as a result of regulation. A reluctance to use DDT, often justified by reference to the Precautionary Principle, is now having really bad effects in the Third World. DDT may well be the cheapest and most effective way of combating the mosquitoes that cause malaria. So shouldn't the Precautionary Principle call for use of, rather than restrictions on, DDT?
The genetic modification of food poses risks and thus might be regulated in the name of the Precautionary Principle. But an argument can be made that the principle forbids restricting these foods. Modified crops could provide food that is both cheap and healthy, food desperately needed in some poor countries.
In England the Precautionary Principle has been invoked on behalf of limitations on cell phones; some studies suggest the use of cell phones might be associated with an increase in brain cancer. But cell phones are often used to call for police and medical assistance in the event of emergencies. Would it truly be precautionary to restrict their use?
We can go much further. A great deal of evidence suggests that expensive regulations can have harmful effects on life and health simply because they reduce income and employment. If regulatory policies increase the cost of producing goods, they will lower living standards. Poverty really isn't good for your health. It follows that a multibillion-dollar expenditure for "precaution" has--in the worst case--serious and harmful effects on human well-being. Such expenditures are therefore inconsistent with the Precautionary Principle!
Of course sensible societies take precautions, but they do so after balancing all of the relevant risks, not simply a few. Ordinary people are unlikely to do well if they always think, "Better safe than sorry." What is true for ordinary people is true for societies, too.
Will We Be Heralding Biotech Wheat Performance by 2014?
- Al Skogen, Growers for Wheat Biotechnology, June 23, 2004
BIO 2004, the largest biotechnology conference in the world, adjourned recently in San Francisco with new records for attendance and international representation, attracting nearly 17,000 from 61 countries. The conference was organized by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents over 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other nations.
The conference featured discussions on various biotech issues, and the application of biotechnology in agriculture figured prominently at this event, and indeed in the mission priorities of BIO itself. For example, in the online newsroom of the conference web site
(http://www.bio.org/events/2004) there is an excellent link, "Myths about Food & Animal Biotech" which addresses virtually every claim that detractors use in attempts to discredit biotechnology (including one of the biggest myths of all, that organic or conventional crops are more nutritious or safer than biotech crops).
Also in the BIO 2004 online newsroom, there is a link "Editors & Reporters Guide to Biotechnology." This link
(http://www.bio.org/speeches/pubs/er/) does a good job of explaining the basics of biotech and its applications, from health-care to its use in homeland security. That link also has a good overview on agricultural production applications, food biotechnology, and agricultural biotech products on the market. While wheat as a crop isn't among this list yet, it should be pointed out that many (if not most) wheat foods products on the market today include ingredients (such as soy oil and corn syrup) that are made from biotech crops. Many of the new low-carb wheat products coming on the market also include biotech ingredients, such as soy protein.
BIO outlines standards, ethics, and protocol that guide biotech product and biotech industry advancement. At the BIO Conference, the launch of a new nonprofit organization was announced: BIO Ventures for Global Health (www.bvgh.org), which received a $1 million start-up grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is hailed as a bold new public/private venture to use biotech approaches to help fight diseases that are a problem in developing countries. Of course, these type of humanitarian efforts will never be enough for the zealots who oppose biotech at every turn: surely it must be a corporate plot to take over the world!
Also at the BIO Conference, findings of a study were released that pointed to the tremendous economic impact and growth of the biosciences sector. For example, all 50 states have economic development initiatives available to assist bioscience companies, and 40 states specifically target biosciences for development. Investments in this business sector have grown as states and regions that are promoting bioscience development are focusing on the activities best suited for the area. "For example, North Dakota is focusing on bioprocessing in value-added agriculture," said BIO, in a press release regarding the study.
An Associated Press article from the conference suggested that states shouldn't hold their breath for great economic windfalls from wooing biotech firms. But this excerpt from the article caught my eye: "Biotechnology companies like to 'cluster' around universities and each other so they can easily swap?technology and scientists." One can see the technology park developing at NDSU and the aerospace and innovations R&D at UND, and sense the opportunities. Certainly biotechnology will be no panacea for reviving the economic fortunes of North Dakota, but the potential should not be discounted either. At the very least, North Dakota should not put up road blocks that would discourage research in the biosciences, or investment in other non-ag biotech sectors.
Carl Feldbaum, outgoing president of BIO, said this at the conclusion of the BIO Conference: "Over a decade ago, it was mostly about the promise and potential of biotechnology. Now it is all about performance. And you have performed: now there are treatments for a long list of devastating
diseases: breast and colon cancers, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attack and stroke to name just a few; there are new crops and industrial and environmental applications that have already reduced pesticide use and provided cleaner, pollution-preventing industrial processes."
I would correct Feldbaum that within our nation's wheat sector, the focus is still on the promise and potential of biotechnology. But in another decade, by 2014, I hope we can say the same about the application of biotechnology in wheat as Feldbaum describes the application of biotechnology in other business sectors: "Now it is all about performance."
Skogen is chair of Growers for Wheat Biotechnology, which advocates the research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in wheat. The group's web site: www.growersforwheatbiotechnology.org
On the Use of Fertilizer and Water
- Timur Hyat-khan
Dear Shanthu Shantharam: I am not looking, I am trying to tell you! Firstly Chemical Fertilizers need to be stabilized to ensure that they are not subject to hydrolysis and volatilization. For instance urea is an organic compound that is subject to the above and releases nitrous oxide (Green house Gas) and decomposes to nitrate nitrogen from its original Ammoniacal Form. Stabalized Urea with either sulfur coating or calcium chloride or other n-hib products will prevent this.
Secondly, Water, treating seed with natural rooting hormones causes more than double growth of the roots and that too in the downwards as opposed to later direction. Added root mass and downward direction will serve to help the plant gather more nutrients and water The jibe was at my Country's DG of NIBGE stating as reported by you that GMOs have developed plants that require less water and less nutrients. The answer was not up to the mark as you yourself are stating. My actual point is that there are a lot of unnecessary controversies over scientific facts. I wish we could have a webinar that resolves these issues instead of partisan proponents to one or other technology without resort to logic or facts. Regards, TH
Kenya: Kibaki Backs Use of Biotechnology
- Francis Openda,The East African Standard (Kenya), June 24, 2004
President Kibaki yesterday backed the use of the controversial genetically modified organisms to increase agricultural yields. The President was, however, quick to caution that this must be done under specific guidelines.
He said the country would apply modern biotechnology in line with existing biosafety frameworks, national statutes and international obligations.
The Head of State said the development of a policy for biotechnology research and the use of resultant products was at an advanced stage. "Bills to support this policy are being prepared for consideration by Parliament," he said.
The President said agricultural biotechnology would enable the country overcome the increased incidence of drought and disease to realise higher yields.
"With the decreasing per capita land, there is now greater need for increased production per unit area. This calls for use of farming methods that will enable farmers to increase production per unit of labour, land and other inputs," said the President.
Kibaki was speaking at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's National Research Laboratory in Kabete after commissioning a Biosafety Green House complex.
The President said there was evidence that countries that have adopted modern methods of farming have improved economic performance, reduced poverty and ensured greater food security.
It has also been established that 15 per cent of the total maize output was lost to the stem borer, making it equivalent to a loss of Sh 6 billion a year, the President said. "It has also been established that the East Coast Fever costs this country Sh2.7 billion a year through livestock deaths and cost of treatment," he said.
Kibaki said biotechnology would help save the country from incurring the huge losses. The green house complex was developed in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) at a cost of Sh908.5 million.
It will enable local scientists conduct experiments on GM crops and was built as part of the Insect Resistant Maize in Africa project. Present was Agriculture minister Kipruto arap Kirwa and CIMMYT director-general, Dr Masa Iwanaga.
West African Leaders Give Cautious Thumbs Up to Biotech
- allAFRICA.com, June 23, 2004 http://allafrica.com/stories/200406230889.html
Four West African presidents said this week that they were in favour of genetically-modified (GMO) crops to solve food production problems but that they wanted to be sure about consumer safety and would proceed cautiously.
At a three-day agricultural science conference in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou that ended on Wednesday, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Ghana voiced their support for biotechnology that fitted the needs of the continent.
"We cannot and must not wait on the sidelines of this global debate and ignore scientific and technological innovations that are crucial to progress," Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure told delegates on Monday. "But our obligation to the people to provide safe food, means we must proceed with caution." The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates almost 200 million people annually suffer from chronic malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, which has recorded lower growth in agricultural output over the last three years.
"This technology has revolutionised agriculture and could also be used to improve the performance of African agriculture," Niger President Mamadou Tandja said. The FAO said another two billion people born in the developing world will have to be fed over the next 30 years and biotechnology could be used to supply disease- and drought-resistant crops or to make African staples like cassava more nutritional.
At the conference this week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which footed the bill for the conference, signed a memorandum of understanding to share food technologies with the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, a public-private partnership.
"By cultivating and applying our knowledge and by working together, we believe that the power of technology can be harvested to unleash the productive and economic potential here in Africa," said John Penn, the US undersecretary for Foreign Agriculture Services. Landlocked Burkina Faso was the first West African nation to make a foray into genetically-modified organisms, when it accepted a proposal from multinational Monsanto to test genetically-modified cotton on its land.
"It's imperative for Africa... to resolutely focus on an agriculture policy that works by adapting scientific research and new technologies to the needs of the rural populations in Africa," Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore told the conference of about 500 delegates.
But not everybody was jumping on the GMO bandwagon. News agency AFP reported that a group of environmental, development and women's groups in Ouagadougou had issued a joint statement, criticising the conference. "The use of biotech products is a short-term solution without a future, which perpetuates our dependence on multinationals," the statement said.
Norman Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program
The cornerstone of the Borlaug Fellowship Program would be faculty and scientist exchange programs with developing countries. The program would provide short-term scientific training for international agricultural research scientists and policymakers from selected developing countries. Each Fellow would be assigned a mentor who would visit the Fellow's host country after completion of the training. Training venues would include U.S. land grant universities, USDA or other government agencies, private companies, not-for-profit institutions and international agricultural research centers.
Although the program would be open to participants worldwide, the three primary regions of coverage would be Africa, South America and Asia.
Background The United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service is establishing the Norman E. Borlaug International Science and Technology Fellows Program (Borlaug Fellowship Program) as an outcome of USDA's Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology held in Sacramento, California, June 2003. The program would foster developing countries' adoption and adaptation of agricultural science and technology.
Purpose: The purpose of the Borlaug Fellowship Program is to help countries strengthen agricultural practices through the transfer of new science and agricultural technologies. The program would encompass a wide variety of agricultural technologies, including those related to production (e.g., biotechnology), processing (e.g., food safety
techniques) and marketing. The program would also address obstacles to the adoption of technology, such as ineffectual policies and regulations.
For more information contact: FAS International Cooperation and Development 202-690-0775
Plant-Made Antibody Targets Hepatitis B Virus
- Megan Rauscher, Reuters Health, June 23, 2004
Japanese scientists have successfully used genetically engineered cells from the tobacco plant to produce a human antibody that homes in on a molecule on the surface of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Currently, treatment of HBV may include infusion of serum containing antibodies, called immunoglobulin, collected from blood donors.
The new results demonstrate the feasibility of producing anti-hepatitis antibodies in plants "as an alternative to anti-HBV human immunoglobulins," Dr. Akira Yano from the National Institute of Public Health in Tokyo and colleagues write in the Journal of Medical Virology.
"Our plant-derived (antibody) has the potential to be a cheap and effective pharmaceutical" for the prevention and treatment of HBV infection, Yano told Reuters Health. "From the technical point of view," Yano continued, "several recent reports suggest that the remaining problems could be resolved in the next several years. The most indeterminate problems might come from society," the scientist said. "Should we use transgenic-plant-derived pharmaceuticals?"
For his part, Yano said, "I would prefer to use plant-derived than blood-derived antibodies, because there is less risk of infectious contaminants." Yano's team says they are "confident" that, in time, biopharmaceuticals derived from genetically modified plants will become "both safe and economical for promotion of global health."
Source: Journal of Medical Virology, 2004.
Video of Plant Produced Pharmaceuticals
Plant-made pharmaceutical videos available: One of the most popular areas of our Web site to date has been our multi-media video documentary on the potential of plant-made pharmaceuticals. We have received several requests for VHS or DVD copies of this video. We have been able to secure a limited number of VHS (NTSC-format only, sorry) copies for use by teachers and others wishing to show it to ! students or other interested groups.
To view the video on our site, please visit: http://www.plantpharma.org/ials/index.php?id=22
If you would like a copy (while supplies last), please write us at email@example.com and provide your contact information and please share with us your intended use.
Europe: New Technology Platform Forms First Part of Vision for Plant Biotechnology
- Cordis News, June 24, 2004
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has endorsed a 20-year vision for the future of plant biotechnology in Europe, drawn up by representatives from industry, research, agriculture and consumer organisations and presented to him in Brussels on 24 June.
The vision paper represents the first step in establishing a technology platform on plant biotechnology over the coming months. The technology platform will comprise the stakeholders that developed the vision as well as Member State representatives and other experts. Its main task will be to develop a strategic research agenda for the sector.
'Today, in the face of important challenges at the European and global levels, we must pay renewed attention to plants,' writes Mr Busquin in a foreword to the vision document. 'A growing world population has to be fed, and increasing demands for high quality, safe and affordable food have to be met. [...] The transition to a sustainable economy based largely on renewable resources - the 'bio-based' economy - is as inevitable as it is desirable.'
Other high level personalities to endorse the vision besides Mr Busquin included Feike Sijbesma, president of the European association for bioindustries, EuropaBio, and Andrzej Legocki, president of the Polish Academy of Sciences. During a press conference to present the document, Professor Legocki reminded journalists that in past decades it was European researchers who pioneered plant biotechnology, adding that now is the time to apply that knowledge for the benefit of European consumers, industry and agriculture.
'We must launch programmes aimed at carrying out research in key areas, and public-private partnerships should be initiated to develop novel products,' said Professor Legocki. He revealed that the work of the technology platform would follow a road map based on three strategic
priorities: producing better quality, healthy and affordable food; promoting agricultural and environmental sustainability; and enhancing European competitiveness through the promotion of basic research.
The vision outlines both short to medium and medium to long term milestones for plant biotechnology in Europe. By 2015, it foresees the creation of basic plant genomics research programmes for the major EU grown crops, projects focused on improving the nutrition of food and feed, and public-private partnerships to develop agricultural, food, energy and biomaterials products. Looking ahead to 2025, the vision is of a comprehensive genomics knowledge base covering all strategically important crops in the EU, superior crop varieties to meet consumer and environmental needs, and partnerships with developing countries to help promote self sufficiency and competitiveness.
Other challenges to be met through research include increasing biodiversity, reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, improving coexistence and developing more efficient bio-fuels.
Commissioner Busquin said that he was happy to lend his support to the initiative for a number of reasons. He highlighted the huge economic importance of plants and plant derived products for Europe, but at the same time pointed to stalling investment and the worrying exodus of biotech researchers and companies from the continent.
When it was suggested that the vision for the technology platform had come five or ten years too late to reverse these trends, however, Mr Busquin
disagreed: 'We are not starting from scratch. Much research is already being carried out under the 'Food safety' priority and through the ERA-NET project on plant genomics, but we do need to make an effort to stimulate research in this area.'
Dr Indridi Benediktsson was one of the Commission's representatives in the group that drew up the vision paper, and CORDIS News asked him whether he agreed with this assessment. 'I think the technology platform comes at just the right time, because we now have the necessary legislative framework in place, the required political will, and the support of the biotechnology and research sectors.'
All of those present were at pains to make clear that this is not a vision to promote genetically modified organisms, though GMOs would not be excluded from the agenda. They also stressed that the concerns and views of consumers would be heard in the process through the participation of consumer organisations in the platform.
However, the Commissioner was asked why no anti-GM lobbies had been included in the platform to reflect a view shared by many Europeans. 'This platform is for R&D stakeholders, and therefore we are not obliged to invite those who don't have expertise in research. The Commission will continue to consult with NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and environmental organisations, but those who wish to achieve progress in this area must be free to work together.'
Mr Busquin added that Europe has the strictest legislative regime in the world when it comes to GMOs, and that consumers would always be able to make the choice between GM and conventional foods through the EU's new labelling system.
Europe's vision for plant biotechnology was also welcomed by Professor Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the third world academy of sciences. He said that increased partnership with Europe would offer developing countries, particularly in Africa, the opportunity to build their capacity in this sector. 'Many countries are doing very little in this area as they don't have the scientific capacity to make a judgement about the technology themselves.' He argued that by equipping them with the resources to carry out the labour and time intensive practice of genetic sequencing, for instance, developing countries could build their scientific infrastructure and make a contribution to the global research effort. 'Let us not forget that the majority of the world's plant biodiversity is located in some of the poorest countries,' concluded Professor Hassan.
Armed with a vision of the challenges and milestones that lay ahead, the Commission hopes that the plant biotechnology industry in Europe now has the basis it needs to secure its future competitiveness.
To read the vision document, please consult the following web address:
To find out more about the Commission's biotechnology activities, please
The Future of GM Crops
- Richard Braun, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5673, 959-963, 14 May 2004
In their Perspective "Deciding the future of GM crops in Europe" (7 Nov., p. 994), R. P. Freckelton et al. discuss the recent Farm Scale Evaluations in the UK, which have shown that herbicides are efficient at controlling weeds, whether applied to traditional or to genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops. The more weeds there are, the more invertebrates thrive in a field. With GMHT canola and beet, the researchers found fewer weeds and therefore fewer invertebrates than in the traditional fields, which were also treated with herbicides. Some observers, but not Freckelton et al., interpreted the experiments as demonstrating that the GMHT crops were particularly damaging to the environment. However, it should be noted that in the maize fields, the opposite was observed: The GMHT maize had more invertebrates (and more
weeds) than the traditional maize, also treated with herbicides.
In the light of these results, British farmers will have to decide what their priorities are, i.e., in what proportions they want to produce food versus biodiversity. If they do not want to use efficient production methods, such as GMHT crops and herbicides, their competitiveness on the world market may drop. In general, GMHT crops use fewer herbicides, help conserve the soil, facilitate farm management, and often give higher yields. On balance, they are more environment friendly, when properly applied.
Of course, there are ways to maintain biodiversity and still farm
efficiently: Use sustainable modern techniques on active land and set aside some land as temporary biodiversity reserves. This has been done for many years and works well if governments and taxpayers are willing to compensate farmers for set-aside unproductive land.
Richard Braun, BIOLINK, Switzerland. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
In our perspective, we pointed out that the recent Farm Scale Evaluations showed that the introduction of genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant
(GMHT) crops could have a significant negative impact on farmland biodiversity, but that they could also reduce herbicide inputs into the environment. The negative impacts on biodiversity were particularly apparent in sugar beet and canola; there were, in contrast, positive impacts on biodiversity in maize. It should be noted, however, that we have subsequently shown that apparent short-term benefits in biodiversity may not necessarily translate into long-term benefits (1). There is an urgent need for more modeling work to explore long-term impacts. It is too early to conclude, as Braun does, that GM crops are more "environment friendly, when properly applied."
We agree with Braun that the Farm Scale Evaluations lead logically into a consideration of how GM crops fit into the future of farming in the UK (and western Europe), where there are clearly considerable concerns over the potential loss of biodiversity associated with GMHT crops. However, we question the idea that farming should develop simply by temporarily setting aside land to conserve biodiversity, while actively farming other land with GM crops. The experience in the UK suggests otherwise, with set-aside land providing limited benefits for biodiversity. Even agri-environment schemes, such as conservation headlands and botanical management agreements, with the express objectives of improving biodiversity, have patchy success (2, 3), despite the enormous amounts of money that have been spent on funding such schemes.
Because temporary cessation of farming is unlikely to be effective in conserving biodiversity, we need to explore more imaginative solutions. An alternative is to combine carefully targeted agri-environment schemes with large-scale habitat restoration (4) to achieve other objectives such as increased tourism, water quality, and flood protection. For example, in the presence of rising sea levels, strategic managed realignment of the coastline can benefit biodiversity and reduce the cost of coastal defense, while restoring habitats that absorb water and release it slowly (such as woodlands, wetlands, and flood meadows), can help reduce the risk of flooding.
We must recognize that farming is just one component of the rural economy, and move toward the creation of a sustainable countryside that delivers economic and internationally competitive farming, while also providing the food, landscape, social, and environmental features required by society (4). The debate over GM crops is just one small component of a much wider debate that needs to take place on how to develop a sustainable rural landscape for the future.
Robert P. Freckleton, University of Oxford, UK.; William J. Sutherland & Andrew R. Watkinson, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.; and
1. R. P. Freckleton et al., Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B; published online 13 Dec. 2003 (10.1098/rspb.2003.2603). 2. D. Kleijn et al., Nature 413, 723 (2001).
3. D. Kleijn, W. J. Sutherland, J. Appl. Ecol. 40, 947 (2003).
4. W. J. Sutherland, Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 148 (2002).
Errors in BioSpectrum Interview
- From Kim Nill
Within the below interview, the following errors should be corrected:
Final Sentence Within The Eighth Paragraph --- Europe is not a "country".
You need to make clear that for Japan, the pesticide usage discussed is
on a per capita (per hectare?) basis.
Second Sentence Within Eleventh Paragraph --- The U.S. exports more than
half of its wheat, so the assertion of "10 percent" is incorrect. In
fact, for the specific type of wheat that was genetically engineered by Monsanto (i.e., spring wheat), it is close to 80%.... a statistic which makes the decision regarding biotech wheat to be more understandable.
First Sentence Within The Twenty-Third Paragraph -- The word "NOT" needs
to be inserted in front of the word "JEOPARDIZE".
> Scientists have an obligation to explain science
> - BioSpectrum, By N Suresh & Rolly Dureha, June 10, 2004
> Continuing our series of "Biotech Gurus", in this issue we focus on Dr
> Channapatna S Prakash, the founder of the highly successful and
> popular agricultural biotechnology website-Agbioworld.......
Are Europe's Labeling Laws For Genetically Modified Foods Cost-Effective, or Even Necessary?
- Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Regulation, Spring 2004, Cato Institute
Full Article at http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv27n1/regv27n1.html. Excerpts below...
Discussions of appropriate regulatory norms for genetically modified foods date back to the early 1980s. Twenty years later, agreement among key trading countries on what such norms should be remains elusive. Mandatory labeling has added costs to the trade of agricultural commodities and food products and has restricted market access. Nevertheless, regulators in the EU have argued that mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is necessary to safeguard consumers' right to an informed choice. It is clear that the current labeling policies could fail all three standard criteria typically used to justify regulation: 1. A case has not been made that a market failure exists or should be expected. 2. The efficiency of the current regulation has not been sufficiently appraised. 3. The cost-effectiveness of current and pending regulations has not been evaluated.
Discussions of appropriate regulatory norms for genetically modified foods date back to the early 1980s. Twenty years later, agreement among key trading countries on what such norms should be remains elusive. Some countries, including the United States, consider genetically modified foods substantially equivalent to conventional ones and regulate them similarly. Others, including the European Union, scrutinize and require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.
Mandatory labeling has added costs to the trade of agricultural commodities and food products and has restricted market access. Nevertheless, regulators in the EU have argued that mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is necessary to safeguard consumers' right to an informed choice. But are, in fact, Europe's mandatory labeling laws necessary or cost effective? And how do the European standards compare with the standards of mandatory labeling laws implemented in other countries?
The global regulatory system for genetically modified foods is heavily fragmented - a patchwork of country-specific initiatives that continue to evolve. In 1986, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development recommended that risks associated with organisms derived through modern biotechnology were expected to be the same as those of conventional ones and could be assessed in similar ways. This notion of "substantial equivalence" was adopted in the United States and Canada where new food products derived through modern biotechnology arc assessed for safety and nutritional fitness. Regulation in other countries, however, has zeroed in on the process of biotechnology rather than its products.
EUROPEAN UNION In the EU, a process-specific regulatory framework was adopted early on. Specifically, the EU government decided to regulate biotechnology by newly installed institutions, starting in 1990 with Directives 90/219 and 90/220 on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms. Since that time, the regulatory framework in the EU has been a work in progress, frequently revised and reshaped by different legislative bodies. The 1997 revision of Directive 90/220 installed mandatory labeling for genetically modified organisms. In the same year, novel foods regulation 258/97 imposed mandatory labeling on food products derived from genetically modified organisms. It was not until a year later (regulation 1139/98), however, that the presence of novel DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification became the criterion for labeling. A standard was finally established in 1999 when the mandatory labeling threshold of the novel DNA or protein was set at one percent. Further revisions extending mandatory labeling to food additives and flavorings in processed foods went into effect in 2000 (regulations 49/2000 and 50/2000).
In 2001, the ELJ Commission adopted two new legislative proposals
(2001/0180) that sought to extend mandatory labeling beyond foods and food ingredients. After almost two years of deliberations, the proposals were adopted by the EU Parliament and the Council of Ministers in july 2003 and have now gone into effect. The new regulation requires labeling of animal feeds and feed additives as well as highly refined oils, sugars, and starches. The regulation is far more onerous because a large share of genetically modified commodities is used for the production of animal feed. The new regulation also requires mandatory labeling of products that are derived from genetically modified organisms but do not contain detectable levels of novel DNA or protein (e.g., highly refined oils). Under those circumstances, enforcement of mandatory labels can no longer rely on laboratory testing. Instead, the new regulation mandates the implementation of a traceability system that requires chain of custody and accountability for all genetically modified commodities and food ingredients at each point of the $750 billion European agrifood marketing chain.
OUTSIDE THE EU Other countries also have mandated labeling of genetically modified foods, but their regulatory regimes are more liberal than that of the EU. For instance, Japan and South Korea have introduced mandatory labeling for food products that contain over five percent and two percent of genetically modified food ingredients, respectively. Mandatory labeling rules in both countries, however, have affected only a very small part of the market, as they explicitly exclude animal feeds, highly processed foods, and many oils from labeling requirements. Similarly, Australia and New Zealand require mandatory labeling for whole foods, processed foods, fruits, and vegetables that contain more than one percent of genetically modified material. Highly refined foods such as oils, sugars, and starches are again excluded from mandatory labeling.
Why did the EU arrive at a more rigid regulatory regime than other countries? Can market conditions and institutions in Europe explain the divergence?
The EU has had the difficult task of creating new regulations for genetically modified food labeling through a democratic process while simultaneously developing its governing institutions. It is unclear that the resulting policies can be supported by substantial welfare gains often presumed to exist. What is clear, instead, is that the current labeling policies could fail all three standard criteria typically used to justify regulation.
First, a case has not been made that a market failure exists or should be expected. Despite evidence that voluntary labeling and other market-driven solutions emerge to satisfy various consumer segments with differential demands, the EU government anticipated market failure years ahead of any commercial introduction of genetically modified foods in the market and thus pursued mandatory labeling.
Second, the efficiency of the current regulation has not been sufficiently appraised. Proper methods for measuring consumer behavior and social benefits from mandatory labeling have been ignored. The costs of the regulation have been underscrutinized or brushed aside. And, key uncertainties that undermine the credibility of the regulation continue to be overlooked.
Third, the cost-effectiveness of current and pending regulations has not been evaluated. The most recent revisions of the regulation promise to further cloud a murky picture of regulatory efficiency by drastically increasing the costs of regulatory restrictions while diminishing its enforceability in return for unspecified consumer benefits.
Over the years, EU policymakers seem to have operated on the belief that large social welfare gains from mandatory labeling regulation will be forthcoming. Yet, evaluating the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of genetically modified foods regulation so that consumers' economic interests are safeguarded is not simply an academic exercise. Instead, it is a constitutional burden that EU regulators must meet as dictated by article 153 of the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty - the very same article that safeguards consumer right to information:
In order to promote the interests of consumers and to ensure a high level of consumer protection, the Community shall contribute to protecting the health, safety and economic interests of consumers, as well as promoting their right to information, education, and to organize themselves in order to safeguard their interests.
The EU government is charged with balancing and protecting the rights of many in the young European state. In the case of genetically modified foods, the EU government has emphasized consumers' right to information, which it has freely translated as "consumer right to know," and has set out to protect that right through an increasingly complex centralized bureaucratic regulation. But in the absence of serious analysis that demonstrates significant welfare gains from such regulation, the EU government could ultimately appear capricious in its decision-making.
Nicholas Kalaitzantionakes is professor of agribusiness and director of the Agrobiotechnology Center at the University of Missouri, Columbia. he can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.