Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - July 1, 2004:
* Re: NGO Letter to FAO
* Sending GMOs to Starving People is ‘Inhuman Aid’
* “Poor farmers need the benefits of GM crops”
* “The GMO debate deflects attention from global hunger”
* Syngenta to move its labs to US
* Feds catch on to seed saving woes
* Public science in liberal democracy: The challenge to science and democracy
* Are Europe's labeling laws for genetically modified foods cost-effective, or even necessary?
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: NGO Letter to FAO
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 08:05:10 -0500
In your letter to the FAO you yield too much ground to the opponents of GM food. Admitting that there may be risks is foolish with out pointing out there are more risks with development or conventional crops than GM crops and in the case of production there are many more risks in organic crops and produce their GM counter parts. The mycotoxin that insect damage cause on grain alone are enough to ban non organic crop and the untested persistent herbicides they use on the organic crops would not be tolerated in another crop. The continued failure to stop unpastueized milk and cheese cost hundreds of people a year thier lives and order of magnitude more then Mad cow disease but the greens have painted modern agriculture with troll of BSE while continuing to spread TB, Bangs and other diseases with no concern. After controlling Malaria they banned the use of DDT with any country that buy agriculture produce from leaving millions to die a agonizing death form malaria so the who have cleansed them selves of the dieses sit and wonder why thier trading partners die in number that rival and will soon equal the number that died in the Nazi death camps. And they could care less that they are killing off the markets of the future.
We don't have to talk about the good GM crops can do. The good that they have done is more than enough to make the worth while to mankind. Reducing erosion, redesigning the loss of organic material. Changing agriculture from a carbon intensive operation to a potential carbon sink possibly meeting most of the US requiems for the doomed Kyoto treaty. The potential for BT cotton alone to reduce the worlds use of insecticide up to 25% is a very substantial contribution to the welfare of the world. Replacing persistent herbicides with the very lowly toxic and short lived Round up is a giant step in reducing the herbicide pollution of our landscape.
Most important of all the ability to build back our soils to half or more what they were before we broke out the sod in terms of organic matter and microbial life and the massive reduction in mycotixis in grain alone are more than enough to pay society back for the use of the GM crops. Irregardless of the reduced fuel cost and soil losses and savings on labor bringing the population less expensive food freeing up capital to invest in parts of the economy that provides greater return and releases more people for industrial jobs.
No matter how much the opposition vilifies GM crops with their lies farmers world wide are adopting them at a pace never seen before because they are better yielding, require less work in terms of spraying and in some cases cultivating and for the 3d world farmers can make the differed between suicide and a good life.
Yielding any points to those that stand ageist GM crops just condemns more people to die as it gives them more reasons to delay the implantation of GM coops world wide. It is one thing to ham string the farmers in the EU who can afford archaic farming methods with massive CAP payments that the EU pays them but the 3d world farmer must make it on his own and often fight the government to get payment for his crop and electricity to water his crop and water to irrigate with. It is not uncommon for 3d world governments to be 6 months behind on crop payments and the seed and chemical dealers are far form honest selling seeds wiht poor germination and chemical that are not what they claim to be or a diluted down to the point they are ineffective.
While in India the government has a farm loan program of 5 to 8% by the time it goes through middle men it cost the farmer 11 to 14% with out BT cotton fighting insists with costs running as high as $90 dollars an acres he has to make a awful lot of cotton to pay the bill at the end of the year. An effected farm service agene could put a stop to theta. An India is not the only country that the government pools the cotton and sells if for the farmer and skims a bit off the top.
Alex, I feel that apical such as these are just feeding the flames of those that oppose GM crops and drugs. I have seen better work forum you. As they win us over to their side bit by bit even if only conceding that some of the points might be valued we empower them by legitimize a bunch of fools that have no under standing of agriculture when the claim a different in natural and man made fertilizer. By simply recognizing their validly we give them stature.
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Sending GMOs to Starving People is ‘Inhuman Aid’
- Humanitarian Review, By Vandana Shiva, Summer 2003
FOOD AID IS INCREASINGLY being used as a weapon to create markets for the biotechnology industry and genetically engineered foods. The most dramatic example of this inhuman form of aid was the attempt by USAID to supply GM maize as food aid to the famine stricken countries of Southern Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi. Malawi accepted the GM maize because under pressure from the World Bank it had been forced to sell its maize reserves in order to repay commercial loans. However, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which had played a significant role in negotiating the Biosafety Protocol, the regulatory system for GMOs under the United Nations Conventionon Biodiversity, refused to accept GM maize in the form of food aid.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said his people would rather die than eat toxic food. The President's statement followed a national consultative meeting in Lusaka on 12 August 2002 at which farmers, women's groups, church leaders, traditional leaders, members of parliament, opposition politicians and government jointly recommended that Zambia should not accept GM food aid.
The Zambian president condemned the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme for being irresponsible in supporting the US. “We may be poor and experiencing food shortages”, he said, “but we are not ready to expose people to ill-defined risks”. He also pleaded that Zambians should not be used as guinea-pigs.
Drought and famine
The combination of climate change and the World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes have turned Southern Africa into a victim of drought and famine with the result that countries have been obliged to dismantle their food security systems.
More than 300,000 people now face starvation and the policy of sending them food aid containing GMOs is now a major issue. In the closing plenary o f t h e 2 0 0 2 Johannesburg Earth Summit, for instance, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was heckled by both NGOs and governments when he insisted that African countries import GM food from the US. Hundreds of African farmers and government representatives also condemned the US pressure to distribute GM contaminated food aid. Instead, they proposed small scale, indigenous solutions based on farmers rights to land, water and seed. A forthright statement issued by representatives of civil society in 45 African countries made the following points in support of the governments and people o f Z a m b i a a n d Zimbabwe:
• We refuse to be used as the dumping ground for contaminated food, rejected by the northern countries; and we are enraged by the emotional blackmail of vulnerable people in need, being used in this way;
• The starvation period is expected to begin early in 2003, so that there is enough time to source uncontaminated food;
• There is enough food in the rest of Africa (already offered by Tanzania and Uganda) to provide food for the drought areas;
• We want to strengthen solidarity and selfreliance in Africa, in the face of this next wave of colonization in which corporations are trying to control our agricultural systems by manipulating the supply of seed;
• As a mark of responsibility to future generations we will stand together in preventing our continent from being contaminated by genetically engineered crops.
Food aid is also being used to create markets for the biotech industry in non-African countries:
• After the devastating cyclone in India which killed 30,000 people, a corn-soya blend was distributed as food aid despite the fact that the local people eat rice. On analysis by our organisation, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, the mixture was found to be genetically engineered, in total violation of GM laws in India;
• The World Food Programme has been distributing transgenic food for seven years without informing recipient countries and often in violation of the national laws of these countries;
• On 10 June 2002, the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development found that a sample of USAID food aid tested positive for the presence of Starlink maize, a G M c o r n n o t approved for human consumption due to health concerns over possible allergenic effects;
• Aid to Columbia was found to be 90% transgenic.
Three major issues arise when food aid is used to market biotech products. Firstly, hunger and food scarcity increase as a result of the destruction of ecological security and food security. In our opinion the best solution to food insecurity is to strengthen the ecological resilience of farming systems through biodiversity and sustainable agriculture and the economic strength of local communities through food sovereignty.
Secondly, when countries facing food scarcity want non-GM food, their views must be respected. Southern Africa needed a million tonnes of food grain to relieve its immediate food crisis. 1.16m tonnes of non-GM maize is available in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. More than double this amount is available on the world market. The EU announced that it would provide Southern Africa with €30m to buy GMfree food and India has 65m tonnes of non-GM food stockpiled which can be provided for less than US$ 0.10 a kilo. There are many alternatives to GM food. We believe that coercion in periods of emergency is inhuman action, not humanitarian aid.
Finally, India's experience with Bt. cotton demonstrates that the GM option is a threat to food security since it creates ecological and economic vulnerability. On 26 March 2002 the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, gave conditional clearance for commercial planting of genetically engineered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) cotton to Monsanto and Mahyco.
Commercial clearance was granted on the grounds that the crop had been fully tested in Indian conditions, that it does not require pesticide sprays and it gives higher yield and farmers have higher incomes. However, all the claims on the basis of which the clearance was granted have since been proven false by the total failure of Bt. cotton in the states where it was cleared for planting. A field survey by the Research F o u n d a t i o n f o r Science, Technology and Ecology last year found the following results:
Bt. Cotton is not pest resistant
The Bt. cotton was devastated by pest attacks such as bollworm, aphids and thrips and required more frequent spraying than non-Bt. cotton. In some areas the Bt. cotton was also attacked by wilt and root rot which do not affect other varieties.
Promised higher yields did not occur
Bt. cotton was sold with the claim that it would give 15 quintals of yield per acre. Average yields of Bt. cotton were in fact only 1.2 quintals per acre and none were higher than four quintals per acre, which is w e l l b e l o w t h e expected yield in other cotton hybrids. The Bt. cotton plant yielded 60 bolls per plant while other varieties yielded up to 200-250 bolls on each plant.
Farmers’ incomes were not higher
Some growers received very poor yields from their Bt cotton, despite spending thousands of rupees on its cultivation. The poor return has made farmers angry with the companies who have sold them Bt. cotton. Many of them did not earn enough to cover the costs of seed and labour, which amounted to 3500-4000 rupees ($76-$86) per acre. Both Monsanto-Mahyco and GEAC, predicted that a Bt. cotton grower would get an average increased income of 10,000 rupees ($276) per acre. In fact, the Bt. cotton failure has cost farmers a total loss of 1,128m rupees ($24m) in one cropping season.
Food aid has become a major mechanism for undermining food security which can be assured only by ecological and sustainable agriculture. It is usually assumed that food aid is a simple matter of countries donating food. However, food aid also creates a market for northern agribusiness.
The World Food Programme and bilateral aid agencies use public money to buy food in international markets and provide it to countries facing food emergencies. Usually food aid undermines domestic markets, brings down prices, and thus destroys local food security. Sometimes, as in the case of the recent drought and famine in Southern Africa, the US has tried to use food aid to blackmail countries to accept GM food.
Aid needs to be oriented to build long-term food security through sustainable agriculture.Emergency food aid needs to be based on procurement as close to the crisis area as possible and in ways that do not undermine domestic food security by destroying domestic markets and food production. People's cultures and choices need to be respected when emergency food aid is distributed.
In conclusion, aid can either be support for sustainable agriculture and food security, or a subsidy for dumping non-sustainably produced inappropriate foods on victims of poverty and disasters. It is time for citizens worldwide to insist that their public taxes and public money be used for enhancing public good, not for subsidising global corporations and private profits.
“Poor farmers need the benefits of GM crops”
- Humanitarian Review, By CS Prakash and Gregory Conko, Summer 2004
Channapatna S. Prakash and Gregory Conko, respectively president and vicepresident of AgBioWorld Foundation based in Auburn, Alabama also take issue with Vandana Shiva’s article, “Why I Believe that Sending GMOs to Starving People is inhuman aid”, in the last issue of HAR. Prakash and Conko claim that it is irresponsible to deprive developing countries of the benefits of GM technology.
Vandana Shiva argues that transgenic – also known as bio-engineered or genetically modified (GM) – crops are unsafe for people and the environment and they offer no benefits to poor farmers in less developed countries. She concludes that the distribution of GM foods to starving people is therefore “inhuman”. Unfortunately, Dr. Shiva is wrong on all three points. The GM food crops now on the market have been shown to be safe for the environment and human consumption, and practical experience in several less developed countries shows that engineered crops have already delivered benefits to poor farmers.
Risk of starvation
In 2002, while more than 14m people in six drought-stricken southern African countries faced the risk of starvation, efforts by the UN’s World Food Programme were stifled by the global GM food controversy. Food aid, containing kernels of transgenic maize from the US, was initially rejected by all six governments, even though the same maize is consumed by hundreds of millions in the US and millions more around the world, and has been distributed by the WFP throughout Africa since 1996. Five of those governments later accepted the grain on condition that it be milled to prevent planting. Only Zambia continued to refuse.
Shiva proudly notes that Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, said his people would rather die than eat bio-engineered food. The starving Zambian people felt differently, though. News reports described scenes of hungry Zambians rioting and overpowering armed guards to release tens of thousands of tons of the transgenic maize locked away in warehouses by the government.
Distributing food aid that posed a genuine threat to human health would indeed have been unethical. However, the crops in question had been found safe by scientific bodies and numerous regulatory authorities all around the world. The UK’s Royal Society, the National Academies of Science from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the US and the Third World Academy of Science have all embraced bioengineering. In a report published in 2000, the scientists declared: “It is critical that the potential benefits of GM technology become available to developing countries.”
Today, some 200m people in sub-Saharan Africa go hungry every day and, despite commitments by industrialised countries to increase international aid, Africa will still have over 180m undernourished citizens in 2030, according to a report published by the UN Millennium Task Force.
GM technology has already increased crop yields and food production, and reduced the use of synthetic chemical pesticides in both industrialised and less developed countries alike. Critics, like Shiva, dismiss such claims as nothing more than corporate public relations puffery. However, while it is true that most commercially available bio-engineered plants were designed for farmers in the industrialised world, the increasing adoption of transgenic varieties by underdeveloped countries over the past few years demonstrates their broader applicability.
Crops enhanced through modern biotechnology are now grown on nearly 68m hectares (168m acres) in 18 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. Nearly one-quarter of that acreage is farmed by over 7m poor farmers, in less developed countries because they see many of the same benefits as farmers in industrialised nations.
As much as 40% of crop productivity in Africa and Asia and about 20% in the industrialised countries of North America and Europe is lost to pests and diseases, despite the use of large amounts of insecticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals. Clearly, pest-protected transgenic crops can be useful around the globe.
Shiva claims that the first growing season of transgenic cotton in 2003 was a “total failure” in India, but a study conducted by the University of Agriculture in Dharwad contradicts this view. The study concluded that the transgenic cotton reduced pesticide spraying by one half or more, delivering a 30-40% increase in profits. Another survey also confirmed these findings and showed that Indian Bt cotton helped increase yields by 30% when compared with conventional cotton fields.
It is true that, due to drought conditions, some Indian cotton farmers saw no increased yield from the more expensive transgenic varieties last year. However, most farmers are eager for more. A recent report showed that the farm area under Bt cotton tripled in just one year from 72,682 hectares to 216,000 hectares this year, and many growers in the northern states are now pushing for government permission so they too can grow GM varieties. Yet, Shiva continues to perpetuate the myth that this crop has been a failure.
There is even evidence that transgenic varieties have literally saved human lives. Some 400 to 500 Chinese cotton farmers die every year from acute pesticide poisoning because, until recently, the only alternative was risking near total crop loss from voracious insects. A study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University in the US and the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that adoption of transgenic cotton varieties in China has lowered the amount of pesticides used by more than 75% and reduced the number of pesticide poisonings by an equivalent amount. Another study, by economists at the University of “Increasing agricultural productivity is an essential environmental goal, and one that would be much easier in a world where bioengineering technology is in widespread use” Reading in the UK, found that South African cotton farmers have seen similar benefits.
The productivity gains generated by transgenic crops provide yet another important benefit: They could save millions of acres of sensitive wildlife habitat from being converted into farmland. Increasing agricultural productivity is an essential environmental goal, and one that would be much easier in a world where bioengineering technology is in widespread use.
Ultimately, Shiva argues that food aid is being used to create markets for the biotechnology industry and transgenic foods. But, as Andrew Apel of the AgBiotech Reporter notes, “people so desperately poor that they cannot afford the most basic necessity of life – food – can scarcely be thought of as a market for much of anything at all.” Perhaps it is those who would keep bioengineering technology from those so eager to embrace it who are being dishonest?
Shiva concludes by arguing that we all have a responsibility to future generations to prevent our environment from being “contaminated” by genetically engineered crops. We do indeed have a responsibility to future generations, but that responsibility is poorly served by needlessly preserving low-yield agricultural practices that have so obviously failed resource poor farmers – especially when a safe and effective technology is available to help them.
“The GMO debate deflects attention from global hunger”
- Humanitarian Review, By James Morris, Summer 2004
James T. Morris, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), disagrees strongly with Vandana Shiva’s article, “Why I believe sending GMOs to starving people is inhuman aid” in the last issue of HAR. Vandana Shiva argued that starving people had been used as human guinea pigs without their knowledge and that food aid is being used to create markets for the biotech industry. In his article, James T. Morris says that WFP policy on GMO foods follows international scientific guidelines, and that the wishes of recipient countries are always respected. He explains how the ‘tabloid’ frenzy of anti- GMO groups has shifted attention from the real issue: global hunger.
Like many people and organisations, the WFP has been challenged by the questions raised by genetically modified foods, notably the debate on whether GM foods are a valuable tool in the fight against hunger or a threat to health and the environment. Our response is clear: the WFP’s mission is to relieve the suffering of the hungry and to help them feed themselves. Under no circumstances would we be prepared to distribute food which might harm the recipients.
The problem is a scientific one, and as the World Food Programme is an operational agency and not a technical one, we have naturally taken advice from the scientific world. The response was resounding: none of the scientific studies of food containing genetically modified organisms has come up with any evidence that these foods might be harmful to consumers’ health.
The agencies qualified to make technical judgements on food safety issues are the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), the co-sponsors of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, whose highest priority is to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. In 2002, a joint UN statement on the use of GM foods as food aid in Southern Africa stated categorically: “The FAO, WHO and WFP confirm that they are not aware of any scientifically documented cases in which the consumption of these foods has had negative effects on human health.” Subsequently, in June 2003, the Codex Alimentarius adopted a “Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants” which will standardise the procedures for judging the safety of genetically modified foods in the Codex member states.
The European Commission has also decided that there is no reason to believe that GM food is inherently unsafe. EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, David Byrne, has said on a number of occasions that EU scientists have found the GM corn varieties they have examined, to be “as safe as their conventional counterparts.”
Commissioner Byrne has also said that none of the many reputable studies conducted to date, has found any peerreviewed evidence that GM food is inherently unsafe to human health. The European Commission has cited 81 separate studies that support this view.
Foods with a genetically modified content are now grown and consumed in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Europe, South Africa and the United States. The number of countries growing these crops and the number of hectares planted with them has increased steadily every year since they were first commercialised in the 1990s, and by 12% in 2002 alone. In each and every one of these countries, foods derived from biotechnology have successfully passed the regulatory hurdles required for such new products. The food WFP’s beneficiaries eat has been certified fit for human consumption and is no different from the food that families eat daily in cities like Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and New York. Food safety aside, no country has been pressured to accept donations of food containing genetically modified foods. Just as with any other shipment of food, the receiving country has the right to choose to accept or reject any consignment, whether or not it contains GMOs. WFP has, and will continue to, respect such requests.
In Southern Africa, Zambia was the only country that decided not to accept imports of any kind of genetically modified food. WFP complied with this request, and obtained non-GMO food aid from donors. WFP also attempts to comply with requests to mill genetically modified grain, to prevent it from being planted in countries that have environmental or trade concerns. However, the additional cost and time this involves inevitably affects the hungry. In Southern Africa, milling requirements increased the cost of delivering food by approximately $2.5m. The same cash could have been spent on other emergency needs, such as additional food, fortifying food with micronutrients or the aid projects of NGOs and other UN agencies such as UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the FAO.
In her article in the last edition of Humanitarian Affairs Review, Vandana Shiva called for emergency food aid to be procured as close to the crisis as possible. The WFP follows this policy whenever it can - as long as the net result is not an even worse situation for people in need. In Southern Africa, for instance, WFP spent almost all of its cash donations on purchasing food in the region. However, we were aware that large-scale purchases from local and regional producers might drive maize prices so high, that even people who were not originally in need of food aid, could not afford to buy it on the market. That would have been a strange way of promoting food security indeed.
Is food aid a mechanism for dumping unwanted commodities? Not in today’s agricultural economy. Global food aid was just 9.6m metric tons in 2002, less than 1% of the 1.5bn tons of grains consumed globally, and a mere 4% of the global trade in cereals. The food aid market is hardly rich pickings for a $534bn a year business. Were genetically modified foods, which could not be sold, “dumped” as food aid in Southern Africa? Hardly.
The price of maize world-wide was actually rising during the food crisis – so there was no need for exporters to dump unwanted grain that they could have sold profitably. Since commodities are generally not segregated according to whether or not they contain GMOs, it would be quite difficult to ‘dump’ them separately in any event.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 800m people in developing countries are chronically malnourished. Hunger still claims more lives each day than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. The WFP, with the highest level of contributions in the entire UN system ($2.6bn in 2003), reaches just one in ten of the world’s hungry on average each year. Clearly, there are too few resources available to reach our goal of helping to halve the number of hungry people worldwide by 2015.
The WFP’s duty to the hungry poor is to mobilise as many resources as possible to relieve hunger and poverty. That’s increasingly difficult when the volume of food aid has dropped dramatically from 15m tons in 1999 to just 9.6m tons in 2002, and much of that food is directed to politically high-profile crises such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In southern Africa last year, we found that our calls to other donors to donate cash or in-kind food were unable to raise sufficient resources to fill the gap. Ironically, those groups most vociferously opposed to genetically modified foods did not step forward to offer an alternative or help us find cash resources to buy non-genetically modified foods.
Sadly, the debate over genetically modified organisms has derailed a far more grave debate over why, in 2003, the number one risk to health worldwide is still hunger. It has been hijacked by individuals and groups approaching the issue with tabloid frenzy, advancing political and ideological arguments which ignore the basic scientific facts. Food scientists and biotechnologists have long since determined that the genetically modified foods available on the market today are perfectly safe for human consumption. In fact, they have been eaten safely on literally billions of occasions. Those who continue to pursue the debate would do much better to turn their considerable polemic talents to more positive pursuits like a campaign to end the age-old problem of starvation. Ending hunger is the challenge that we at the United Nations World Food Programme struggle with every day.
Syngenta to move its labs to US
- Financial Times, By John Mason, 1 July 2004
Large-scale commercial research into genetically modified crops in the UK is to end after Syngenta, the Anglo-Swiss biotechnology company, on Wednesday said it would close its laboratories because of the poor business outlook for the technology.
The company plans to move its research efforts from Jealott's Hill in Berkshire to North Carolina, in the US, where there is a more favourable business and regulatory climate.
"This does not lessen our commitment to biotechnology but we have to have people in places where they have the most impact - and that is in North Carolina," the company said.
The Jealott's Hill research centre will continue developing agro-chemicals, receiving $15m of fresh investment. But all biotech work will stop with the loss of 130 jobs, it said.
Syngenta's move, reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement on Thursday dismayed plant scientists throughout the UK who saw the decision as a blow to some academic research.
Syngenta was the last biotech company to retain a significant GM research presence in the UK after decisions by Monsanto, Dupont and Bayer Cropscience to withdraw. It has underpinned much plant science research by universities.
Michael Wilson, a professor of plant biology at Warwick University, told the THES: "Anyone who isn't about to retire will leave the country. We are all feeling, 'what the hell is the point?'
Mike Gale, of the John Innes Centre, the leading public sector plant science centre, was not surprised, saying Syngenta had been winding down its UK commitment for two years. "The state of applied plant science is not as high as it has been, but in terms of fundamental research we are still strong," he said.
Syngenta stopped short of blaming government policy for its decision to pull out of the UK.
However, the Agriculture and Biotechnology Council, the trade association it belongs to, said lack of government support was a clear factor behind the decision.
Julian Little, a spokesman for the council, said: "The whole industry understands Syngenta's decision. The UK is a difficult place to work." Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, had made encouraging statements saying GM crops would be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, this had not been backed by action, he said.
Environmentalists welcomed Syngenta's withdrawal. Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said: "This decision shows the biotech industry misjudged the market in the UK and Europe. Rather than retreat to the US, they should rethink the products they offer sustainable agriculture."
Feds catch on to seed saving woes
- Farm and Dairy Online, July 1, 2004
SALEM, Ohio - Missouri and Ohio legislators are giving it a try, and now federal lawmakers have caught on, too. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, introduced a bill last week that would allow farmers to save seeds with patented technologies from one crop year to the next.Kaptur, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee, said the Seed Availability and Competition Act of 2004 will level the playing field for farmers.
Currently, holders of patented technology, including Roundup Ready and YieldGard gene traits, force farmers to pay a 'technology fee' each year. Farmers are also required to sign a contract saying they won't save seed for more than one growing season. Violators face stiff penalties. According to Monsanto, the average U.S. settlement is $108,400. One Tennessee farm was fined $1.7 million.
Working at it.
Missouri Rep. Wes Shoemyer, with help from the Missouri Farmers Union, also drafted and introduced a bill that would let farmers save seed.
That bill says farmers who want to save patented seed can register with the state department of agriculture and pay a fee of $7 for each bushel of seed saved.
For each bushel, $6 would be paid to the seed companies that hold patents on the technology, and $1 would go to administrative costs.
Any funds remaining would go to the state's land grant university for agricultural research and development.
Farm and Dairy reported earlier this month about identical legislation pending in the Ohio legislature.
Those bills were introduced by Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty Township in Trumbull County and State Rep. George Distel of Ashtabula County.
Dann and Distel expect state action on the bill late this year or in the next session.
Kaptur's act, like the state initiatives, would make it legal to save patented seed as long as a producer reports what he's saved and how much of it, and pays the technology fee. In addition, the federal legislation proposes tariffs on imported products from countries that do not levy comparable technology fees.
Kaptur said imported grains grown from seed on which patent fees have not been paid do not undercut domestic markets.
"Our farmers are at a competitive disadvantage because of the fact that some countries which produce products from these same patented genetically modified seeds refuse to pay the patent fees.
"As a result, products derived from these seeds come into the United States at a lower price, taking market away from American producers," Kaptur said.
Cracking down on grain imports that haven't been assessed the technology fee is significant.
Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said a Monsanto manager told him "more than half of the soybeans exported from Brazil and Argentina are raised using this pirated technology."
A good answer.
"Rep. Kaptur's legislation offers a common-sense resolution to this difficult situation," said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson.
The Farmers Union worked with Kaptur to draft the legislation. The bill is pending in the House Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.
DEPARTMENT OF FOREST SCIENCE
FACULTY RESEARCH ASSISTANT OR POST-DOCTORAL ASSOCIATE
Natural Resource Biotechnology Outreach
LOCATION: Corvallis, Oregon
STARTING DATE: September 13, 2004
APPLICATION CLOSING DATE: August 2, 2004 for full consideration.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This position is at the rank of Faculty Research Assistant (FRA) or Research Associate (RA), with the OSU Program for Outreach in Resource Biotechnology (ORB). The goal of ORB is to play an active role in providing factually and contextually accurate information to the scientific community, governments, and the public on the scientific benefits, safety, and ethical perspectives on the use of biotechnology, including genetic engineering, in natural resources in Oregon, the United States, and the world. The RA will 1) Create and maintain a worldwide web site to provide ready access to ORB activities and information; 2) Maintain a high level of awareness of regulatory and scientific developments; 3) Actively communicate scientifically accurate and ethically responsible information via scientific publications, mass media, participation in conferences and panels, and university teaching; 4) Become part of a national and international network through which accurate and up-to-date information can be mobilized and provided to decision makers and media, and used in publications, in a timely manner; 5) Lead, or catalyze, the submission of grant proposals to fund selected interdisciplinary research and/or outreach programs on the scientific benefits and safety of natural resource biotechnologies.
• For appointment at the rank of Faculty Research Assistant, a M.S. in a discipline closely related to plant genetics, plant biotechnology, plant physiology, or agriculturally oriented policy, ethics, ecology, economics, or horticulture.
• For appointment at the rank of Post-Doctoral Research Associate, a Ph.D. in a discipline closely related to plant genetics, plant biotechnology, plant physiology, or agriculturally oriented policy, ethics, ecology, economics, or horticulture.
• Knowledge of plant physiology, plant molecular biology, methods of in vitro plant tissue culture, and plant genetic engineering.
• Excellence in communicating effectively in English, verbally and in writing, for diverse audiences.
• Demonstrated ability to work productively, responsibly, and cooperatively in dynamic teams.
• Knowledge and experience with computers, including worldwide web applications, and standard office, graphics, internet, database, and scientific software.
• Demonstrated ability to read, comprehend, organize, filter, and rapidly access diverse and rapidly proliferating sources of biotechnology information.
• Demonstrated interest and commitment to improving human welfare via enhancements to the economic efficiency, environmental sustainability, and healthfulness of natural resource production systems and products.
• Knowledge of crop biotechnology ethics, policy, and regulation.
• Demonstrated interest and experience in outreach programs, and socioeconomic dimensions of natural resources applications.
• Demonstrated experience writing essays and delivering oral presentations on complex issues that are accurate, synthetic, critical, factually and contextually accurate, and inspiring.
• Demonstrable commitment to promoting and enhancing diversity.
EMPLOYMENT CONDITIONS: Twelve month, fixed term, full time position (0.8 to 1.0 FTE). Re appointment is at the discretion of the Dean. The full time annual salary rate will be $30,000 to $40,008 depending on qualifications, education, and experience. Medical, dental, and life insurance group plans are available.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact Professor Steve Strauss, OSU Director of Biotechnology Outreach, at (541) 737-6578 or Steve.Strauss@oregonstate.edu
TO APPLY: For full consideration, send by August 2, 2004: (1) a 500 to 800 word (not less) letter of application describing your qualifications, experience, and reasons for specific interest in this position, (2) resume or curriculum vitae summarizing your work experience and education, (3) copies of transcripts of all university work, and (4) the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of five references to Glenda Serpa, Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University, 321 Richardson Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331 5752.
Public science in liberal democracy: The challenge to science and democracy
- University of Saskatchewan, June 29, 2004, Via Agnet
Please be advised of an upcoming international conference at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, entitled "Public Science in Liberal Democracy: The Challenge to Science and Democracy." The conference will include world experts on governing science and public policy. You might want to come and participate in this innovative event and be a part of ouranticipated thought-provoking debate.
The list of international speakers includes:
Dr. Steven Shapin, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University Dr. Peter Cook, Chief Executive, Cooperative Research Center for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC), Canberra, Australia Dr. Alan McHughen, Biotechnology Specialist, University of California Dr. Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University
Who: The conference will include essays presented by major international scientists from academia, business and government as well as academics from setveral disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. We anticipate 200 participants from local and global locations will contribute to the debate about how society can make better choices about complex science and technology.
What: The conference will focus on three key questions:
1. Can science retain independence and objectivity in the face of demands to meet commercial and public policy objectives?
2. In what ways is scientific discourse privileged in the formation of public policy?
3. How can scientific knowledge and scientific methodology be made compatible with the interdisciplinary and integration required in public policy discourse and formation?
When: October 14, 15, and 16, 2004
Where: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Delta Bessborough Hotel
For more information please go to: http://www.publicscience.usask.ca
Are Europe's labeling laws for genetically modified foods cost-effective, or even necessary?
- Regulation Magazine, By Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Spring 2004
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABSTRACT: 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.
BODY: 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?
To fully understand the evolution of genetically modified food regulation in the EU, one must place it against the broader context of the fundamental institutional change that has been taking place in Europe over the last decade. Starting with the 199 3 Maastricht Treaty and through the 1997 Amsterdam and 2002 Nice Treaties, the EU has been slowly moving from a community of independent nations toward a centralized European state. Because of that transition, the EU's labeling policy and its institutional basis have co-evolved. Indeed, it is instructive to contrast the institutional foundation of the EU's labeling policy with that of the United States.
In the United States, the genetically modified food labeling policy has been developed by the Food and Drug Administration, an agency with much experience in labeling. This approach has ensured some continuity with prior food-labeling policies. Over the years, the FDA has generally reserved the option of mandatory labeling for alerting consumers to possible safety hazards. Accordingly, the PDA's acceptance of the scientific position that genetically modified foods pose no unique safety risks beyond those of conventional foods led to its current voluntarily labeling policy. In fact, after internally reviewing its genetically modified food policy, the FDA recently determined that mandatory labeling was not even within its power. U.S. courts have agreed with that determination. In 2000, in the case Alliance for Biolntegrity v. Shalala, a district court reviewed the limits of the PDA's power and concluded that it has limited authority to mandate labeling when the justification is consumer interest rather than safety.
In contrast, the EU food labeling policy has been practically developed on a blank regulatory slate and has looked beyond safety considerations. As Tassos Haniotis, a member of the cabinet of EU Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler, recently explained, "The main idea behind labeling food products according to ingredients and processes responds to the Amsterdam Treaty idea of consumer 'right to know.' That philosophy, coupled with the use of the Precautionary Principle in food safety regulation, leads to a long-term view of potential costs and benefits for each product before it is approved."
The Amsterdam Treaty does indeed refer to the consumers' "right to information." Of course, that is an "in principle" right; there is no prima facie case that consumers have the right to know everything through mandated labels or at any cost. Instead, the government must consider the circumstances and decide whether it is reasonable to create a positive right under which consumers are entitled to specific information. As Haniotis clarified, potential costs and benefits influence the decision; so do safety considerations.
To ensure safety, the EU government installed regulatory procedures requiring all genetically modified foods to undergo premarket risk assessment and approval. Each individual product must be subjected to a scientific review to ensure that it poses no risks to public health and the environment. A new centralized agency, the European Food Safety Authority, was created and charged with all scientific safety and communication to the public. Following scientific assessment, product approval decisions rest with the Council of Ministers.
Even with safety assurances, however, some European consumers could still be adverse to genetically modified foods. The degree of aversion might vary with consumer values and beliefs, risk preferences, level of understanding of modern biotechnology, and other factors. Some European consumers could then exhibit differential demand for genetically modified and conventional foods.
Labels could be used to inform those interested consumers about the presence or absence of genetically modified ingredients in various food products. Practical implementation of genetically modified foods labeling, however, affects the operations of the agrifood marketing chain because it requires identity preservation (separation) of genetically modified and conventional foodstuffs, from seed to the supermarket shelf. Labeling is therefore costly. In this market context, producers across the agrifood marketing chain could recognize differential consumer demand for various genetically modified and conventional food products and, after accounting for incremental costs, could decide to label their products voluntarily in order to differentiate them in the marketplace and increase their profits.
Given that the EU adopted mandatory labeling, it apparently arrived at the conclusion that if markets were left on their own, they would fail to provide consumers with appropriate information and product choice. In making that assessment, the EU government should have evaluated the merits and relevance of mandatory labeling policy against the standard criteria any regulation must confront:
* Would there be a market failure necessitating regulatory intervention?
* If so, would regulation be efficient? That is, would the social benefits secured through regulatory intervention exceed the costs?
* Would the regulation be cost-effective? In other words, would the regulatory policy of choice be the lowest-cost option for achieving the policy goals?
Seven years after the commercial introduction of genetically modified foods, is there sufficient evidence to support the judgment that mandatory labeling is cost effective or even necessary?
Henry Miller and Peter Van Doren effectively argued previously in Regulation that market failure would be evident only if food markets failed to segment despite differentiated consumer demand for genetically modified and conventional products. (See "Food Risks and Labeling Controversies," Spring 2001.) Put differently, if markets responded to differential consumer demands and thus achieved separating equilibria, then the case for market failure is undermined. Substantial voluntary labeling of non-genetically modified "non-GM" foodstuffs as well as other forms of market segmentation would then signal a diminishing prospect of market failure.
In the EU, mandatory labeling was implemented before any significant amounts of genetically modified foods were commercialized and, hence, markets were effectively preempted. One must therefore evaluate the counterfactual of whether there would have been market failure in the absence of preemptive regulation. Empirically, this is a difficult assessment.
First, it is tricky to measure ex post what would have been the demand for genetically modified and non-GM foods in the absence of regulation. Upfront regulatory requirements for mandatory labeling could have signaled increased product riskiness for some consumers and could have influenced their preferences.
Second, it is difficult to anticipate all the possible ways firms might have attempted to differentiate their products in the marketplace in order to accommodate the preferences of various consumer segments. For example, while some firms could have voluntarily labeled for genetically modified content, others could have used in-store information and could have leveraged their brand equity to assure consumers of product safety and quality. Charles Noussair, Stephane Robin, and Bernard Ruffieux, in their paper "Consumer Behavior with regard to Genetically Modified Organisms in the Food Supply," determined through experimental auctions that French consumers could readily substitute trust in specific food brands for explicit information on genetically modified content.
Despite those and other inherent empirical difficulties, there is evidence that firms have extensively used voluntary labels to differentiate their products in European markets. Jos Bijman and I wrote in our Nature Biotechnology article "Driving Biotechnology Acceptance" of significant voluntary labeling activity in key ELJ markets for products that have not been covered by mandatory labeling requirements. Major retail chains like Sainsbury, Tesco, and Asda in the United Kingdom, Carrefour in France, Delhaize "Le Lion" in Belgium, and Migros and Coop in Switzerland have offered labeled products from animals reared on non-GM feed. Large food service chains like Burger King have also opted for serving poultry products reared on non-GM feeds. While such chains do not offer both product lines in their stores, many of their competitors have not followed such strategies, thereby allowing market segmentation. A host of small and medium-size manufacturers and retailers in the EU have also actively participated in the "non-GM" markets, offering a wide variety of products, from cookies and meats to cotton wool rolls.
In addition to market differentiation through "non-GM" claims, further segmentation has been achieved in the EU through broad offerings of products that are considered substitutes to genetically modified commodities and foods. Those include organics that explicitly preclude use of genetically modified organisms as well as commodities where genetically modified varieties have not been marketed (e.g., wheat and sugar beets). Organics alone amount to a $9 billion market in the EU with a full range of products, from dairy, fresh and frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables to a variety of drinks, spirits, and prepared foods.
Active market segmentation can be found in many other parts of the world for genetically modified commodities, ingredients, and processed foods. For instance, in the United States the production of an estimated 1.2 million corn and soybean acres has been identity-preserved and directed to the non-GM market segment every year since the late 1990s. Similarly, there has been active market segmentation and voluntary labeling of processed foods. A few large U.S. manufacturers (e.g., Gerber, Heinz, and Frito Lay) have announced non-GM status while some specialized food manufacturers (e.g., Hain Celestial and Eden Foods) and retailers (e.g., Whole Foods and Wild Oats) offer a wide range of products voluntarily labeled as "non-GM." In most cases, such voluntary labels also claim organic status, indicating the close attribute overlap in the preferences of consumers targeted by those products. In recent years, "non-GM" claims have been increasingly subsumed into organic labels. According to Elizabeth Sloan of Sloan Trends & Solutions, many core consumers seek out organics specifically to avoid genetically modified foods. Accordingly, in the United States, the non-GM and organic segments have been converging, representing a $6 billion market with extensive offerings in virtually every food product category.
Probably the most direct case of voluntary labeling in the United States is the small but stable market of milk labeled as "free of rBST" - abioengineercd hormone that induces yield increases in dairy cattle. Milk labeled "rBST-free" has been sold alongside unlabeled milk since 1995 and it is currently estimated to represent about 1.5 percent of the total whole milk market in the United States.
There is also empirical evidence of active differentiation between genetically modified and conventional food products in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and elsewhere. For example, futures for non-GM soybeans have been actively traded in the Tokyo Grain Exchange since 2000. Similarly, voluntary "non-GM" labels have been placed on a variety of processed foods in the Japanese market - from soy sauce and tofu to corn snacks and potato chips.
Clearly, the empirical evidence on voluntary market response for labels is sketchy. Furthermore, the existence of market failure can be fully examined only through joint analysis of supply and demand conditions. In the case of the EU where markets have been preempted by mandatory labeling regulation, such analysis would certainly be challenging. Still, the substantial voluntary labeling activity and product differentiation that exist today through various market initiatives around the world suggest that market failure is by no means obvious or demonstrated.
Even if economic analysis could demonstrate that EU markets would indeed fail and that efficiency gains were possible through regulatory intervention, only a necessary condition for regulation would have been established. Additional analysis would be needed to demonstrate that selected regulatory policies are both efficient and cost effective. Cost-effectiveness ensures that policy goals are achieved at minimum cost, eliminating unproductive alternatives. However, cost effectiveness does not assure that the regulation is in the best interest of society. For that, the regulation must be shown to be efficient - i.e., that it generates more benefits to society than costs.
Cost-benefit analysis is necessary to confirm that those conditions for regulation exist. Appropriate value must be assigned to the benefits the society derives from mandatory labels, and the relevant costs must be calculated. Konstantinos Giannakas and Murray Fulton considered that problem in their Agricultural Economics article "Consumption Effects of Genetic Modification." They derived the conditions of optimal labeling regimes for genetically modified foods in markets with differentiated consumer demand. They show that the relative optimality of mandatory labeling regimes depends chiefly on the level of consumer aversion to genetically modified foods, the costs associated with mandatory labeling, and the extent of mislabeling. Naturally, the desirability of mandatory labeling increases as a society's aversion to genetically modified foods grows, labeling costs decline, and the probability of mislabeling in the specific market is reduced.
The level of aversion to genetically modified foods exhibited by a society is determined both by the degree of aversion and the distribution of aversion among consumers. In a market with widespread and intense aversion, benefits from mandatory labeling are expected to be substantial. A society's differential willingness to pay for genetically modified and conventional foods provides a proper measure of societal benefits from mandatory labeling. Estimates of willingness to pay may be derived through consumer interviews. But as Kip Viscusi and Ted Gayer explained in their Regulation article "Safety at Any Price" (Fall 2002), such estimates, because of their hypothetical nature, often turn out to be misleading. Instead, economists turn to actual market behavior for insights.
BENEFITS So what do we know about European consumer preferences and their differential willingness to pay for genetically modified and conventional foods? Surprisingly, we know very little. Despite regular references by the EU government to the strong interest of the European consumers in mandatory food labels and aversion to genetically modified foods, market evidence for such preferences is almost non-existent.
Indeed, much of what is known today about consumer purchasing intentions toward genetically modified foods or interest in labels in Europe is inferred from attitude surveys such as the Eurobarometer. Such surveys have long indicated widespread public ske