Today in AgBioView: July 12, 2004:
* Fundamental Human Right
* GERMANY: BASF may consider moving GM crop research to US
* Plant Patents and Agriculture
* CGIAR's Role in Agriculture
* N.D. Shoppers Open to Genetically-Modified Pasta
* Medical Experts Plan GM 'Pharming' Project
* July 2004 issue of Information Systems For Biotechnology
* Focusing on Our Feet
* India to unveil new biotech policy
* Prince Charles Fearful Over Nanotechnology
* India, US ink pact on agri research
* Green Revolution - Feeding Africa's malnourished masses
* U.S. wheat producers want strict policy on biotech
* Benefiting From Agri Thrust
* Biotech challenges ahead for Thailand
* GM foods - -to eat or not to eat
* GMO LABELLING: Regulations lack teeth
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 18:22:01 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Timur Hyat-khan"
Subject: Fundamental Human Right
"If certain farming practices are unsustainable -- irrigation with groundwater that is not replenished, for example -- they should be taxed rather than subsidized to make them less attractive to farmers. If certain new pesticides are less toxic to people and the environment than the traditional ones used by organic farmers, their use should not be stigmatized by those seeking economic advantage for their own farming practices. If certain GM crops make agriculture more sustainable because they permit less pesticides to be used or conserve water they should certainly not be banned but embraced by society."
I think that this extract from Mr. Maarten hits the button right on the head [see http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040616/news_lz1e16chrispe.html] and covers one of the most basic of human rights as well as being rational and sane. Could the Author amplify on these aspects and could we take it up internationally? Oppose yes, enforce upon others without demonstrated proof -- NO!
Sardar Taimur Hyat-Khan
GERMANY: BASF may consider moving GM crop research to US
- just-food.com, 12 Jul 2004
German chemical company BASF may consider moving its research into genetically modified crops to the US unless the European market becomes more accepting of new technologies.
Chief executive Jürgen Hambrecht told the Financial Times that the company could not afford to continue to invest in research and development if there was no market for its products.
"If you can no longer push innovation through to the market, the next step will be that R&D will go. You will transfer R&D to a place where you can really push innovation into reality, because we need to earn money, we cannot only spend money," he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
Hambrecht said relocating the company’s research into GM crops to the US was not being actively discussed, but warned the company could not wait ten years for Europe to become more receptive to biotechnology.
"If things don't change in the long term, BASF would have to reconsider. But I still hope that things are going to change," Hambrecht told the newspaper.
Plant Patents and Agriculture
- Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 40, 2 July 2004, By Sandy Thomas
Norman E. Borlaug rightly points to the crucial role of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in international agricultural research ("International agricultural research," Letters, 20 Feb., p. 1137) and makes a strong case for CGIAR to return to its original purpose, to feed the hungry. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics supports Borlaug's view that a combination of conventional plant breeding techniques and new techniques of biotechnology will best address the needs of small-scale farmers in developing countries. In particular, the Council has emphasized the important contribution of genetically modified (GM) crops, assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The role of CGIAR in research on GM crops is strategically important. CGIAR holds one of the world's largest ex situ collections of plant genetic resources in trust for the global community, containing over 500,000 accessions of landraces and improved varieties of the world's major crops. The germplasm within the collections is made available without restriction to researchers around the world, on the understanding that no intellectual property (IP) protection is to be applied to the material as such.
However, further debate is required about the consequences of plant patents for access to germplasm. The collections of germplasm held by the CGIAR cannot be patented in "the form received." However, once a modification has been introduced, they may then be eligible for patenting. Patent protection for plants or seeds is frequently obtained by securing a broad patent that claims rights over the gene or gene vector. In effect, this may have the same outcome as patenting the whole plant. The holder of a patented variety may be able to prevent others from using it for breeding purposes.
This potential locking up of genetic variation would be contrary to the spirit and intent of plant variety rights. We consider that there is a strong case for the principle of the breeders' research exemption established for plant variety rights to be applied to patented varieties. We recommend that CGIAR closely monitor the impact of patents on the availability of germplasm to plant breeders.
Although seed companies and others are keen to use plant patents to protect new varieties, it is likely to erode the long-standing availability of germplasm between plant breeders. Although some may say that cross-licensing freely applied deals with this problem, it would appear to conflict with the need for stronger IP protection. Access to the unique resources of the CGIAR must not be jeopardized.
Sandy Thomas, Director, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London WC1B 3JS, UK.
CGIAR's Role in Agriculture
- Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 40 , 2 July 2004, By Curtis Farrar
In his article on the ferment in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) ("Lab network eyes closer ties for tackling world hunger," News Focus, 27 Feb., p. 1281), Dennis Normile explores some initiatives being considered within the CGIAR but misrepresents the nature of this unique body, and therefore the context in which these issues may be resolved. The CGIAR is not, as he writes, an association of research centers affiliated with the World Bank. Rather, it consists of the public and private donors who support 16 autonomous research centers. In words taken from its Web site, the CGIAR is a partnership that "includes 24 developing and 22 industrialized countries, 4 private foundations, and 13 regional and international organizations that provide financing, technical support, and strategic direction. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank serve as cosponsors." The CGIAR has no formal corporate structure but makes decisions by consensus among the members at annual meetings chaired by a World Bank vice president. It is supported and advised by an office located at the World Bank, a Science Council composed of independent experts, and various other committees. Funding for centers is not pooled but flows directly from donor to center, so that group decisions can only be effective if they are reflected in the sum of individual donor decisions.
The donors making up the CGIAR collectively bear much of the responsibility for the present crisis. They expanded the goals to be addressed by the centers, but failed either to provide adequate resources for the broader program or to make changes in strategy and structure to accommodate the new goals within the funding available.
The boards and management of various centers and the bodies responsible for facilitating the operation of the CGIAR are discussing possible lines of action, some of them quite radical, as the article suggests. These proposals will be influential, as will the report from the Operations Evaluation Division of the World Bank cited in the article and the forthcoming study commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation. Any decisions, however, will be made by the donor members of the CGIAR. Although all of them will have a say, the strongest voices will be the World Bank, reflecting both its financial and leadership roles; the European donors collectively, the United States, and Japan, because of their financial weight; and the developing countries, which now have a substantial presence at the table, although they provide relatively little funding.
It is to be hoped that when these decisions are made, they will respond to the needs of developing countries for agricultural research performed internationally, and also be doable with the resources that CGIAR donor members are willing to provide over time.
- Curtis Farrar, Washington, DC, USA., Executive Secretary of the CGIAR, 1982-89
N.D. Shoppers Open to Genetically-Modified Pasta
NDSU survey finds consumer acceptance of biotech-based wheat foods
- www.growersforwheatbiotechnology.org, July 9, 2004
Valley City, ND – Nearly 80 percent of respondents in a N.D. consumer survey would choose a hypothetical pasta genetically modified with added vitamins and minerals over regular pasta that didn’t have this benefit. A majority would also select pasta genetically modified with better flavor, or with zinc to help prevent head colds, over pasta that didn’t have these features.
"This is good news for farmers, food processors, and retailers," says Allan Skogen, a Valley City, N.D., wheat producer and chairman of Growers for Wheat Biotechnology (GWB), a group that advocates research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in wheat. "It sends an important signal that consumers are ready to accept the positive attributes biotechnology can bring to a safe and abundant food supply."
Results of the survey of just over 400 food shoppers taken last winter on their perceptions toward genetically-modified foods were released recently by North Dakota State University. Cheryl Wachenheim and William Lesch of NDSU are authors of the survey report, which can be found in its entirety on the Internet at http://agecon.lib.umn.edu/cgi-bin/detailview.pl?paperid=14707.
The survey indicated a greater willingness of N.D. consumers to buy GM grain-based foods over GM meat products. The survey found that 72 percent of respondents would approve of grain genetically modified for better nutrition to help feed poor countries. Over 60 percent would also favor GM foods to help diabetics, and wheat with vitamin A to help prevent blindness. Nearly half agreed that "unjustified fears have seriously blocked development of GM foods."
Respondents viewed the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university scientists, and farmers as more trusted information sources for GM foods, over friends and family, public interest groups, food manufacturers, clergy, and grocery stores.
"A primary motivation for starting Growers for Wheat Biotechnology was because we felt as growers, we could serve as a credible source of information to consumers about the benefits of biotechnology for our food supply," says Bruce Freitag, Scranton, N.D. wheat producer and member of the GWB board. "This survey bears that out."
The survey indicated considerable misattribution about the availability of GM foods. For example, only 6 percent of respondents thought that soy products contain GM ingredients, when in fact GM soybeans will comprise about 85 percent of all soybean acres in the U.S. this year, according to USDA.
"Most people have little understanding what biotechnology means. The terminology doesn’t help. The concept of food being ‘genetically-modified’ sounds technical and foreign. But biotechnology is just a way of improving or enhancing food and medicine that’s been used for decades in many products," says Freitag. He points out that while no GM wheat varieties are now commercially available, most wheat foods contain biotech ingredients, such as yeast, oils, and sweeteners.
Medical Experts Plan GM 'Pharming' Project
The Scotsman, By Tim Moynihan, July 12, 2004
Scientists across Europe, including Britain, are to explore the possibilities of producing pharmaceuticals grown in genetically modified plants, it was announced today.
The European Union has awarded 12 million euros (£8 million) to a network of experts in 11 European countries and South Africa and they aim to begin human trials of the drugs within the next five years.
The aim of the “pharming” project is to use plants to produce vaccines and treatments against major diseases including Aids, rabies, diabetes and TB.
The consortium, called Pharma-Planta, will develop the concept from plant modification through to clinical trials.
Its scientific co-ordinator, Professor Julian Ma, from St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, told reporters: “We recognise that this is contentious technology, but I think many of the fears are unfounded.
“We want to address these issues and show that we can overcome them in a safe manner.”
And he added: “There is a cost to not doing anything.
“Millions of people are dying from what are essentially preventable diseases every year. I’m not aware GM crops have ever caused anyone to be unwell.”
July 2004 issue of Information Systems For Biotechnology at:
In This Issue:
* Gene Flow from Transgenic Bt Corn to Non-Bt Corn Refuges
* Immunomodulation Confers Herbicide Resistance in Plants
* Transgenic Plants Produce Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
* Canadian Supreme Court Wraps Up David vs. Goliath Case: This Time the Giant Wins
* 8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms
* Biotechnology 2004: 12th International Biotechnology Symposium and Exhibition
Focusing on Our Feet
- Francis Wevers (New Zealand), email@example.com
The problem is - there is no imminent problem.
When the Bioscience Policy Institute closed its doors early in May it did so not because the bioscience community didn't support and believe in what it was setting out to do but rather because the absence if an urgent issue meant the BPI itself couldn't get high enough up the priority list.
The Institute had lots going for it, not least the calibre of its Board of Trustees. Jim Bolger, Ken Douglas, Margaret Austin, Jim Watson, Jean Fleming and Tipene O'Regan (Sir) are the kind of people who are plugged in. Passionate about their country; passionate about the importance of good policy and a robust policy debate; passionate about the importance of biological science for the economy the Trustees were devastated when the bioscience community failed to stump up the dollars needed to get the think tank off the ground.
Market research undertaken a year earlier elicited universal support for the concept of an organisation to foster co-ordination among the players in the biosciences to engage with the major issues. Sustainable development, cloning, managed aquaculture, greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation and quality etc etc all have their bioscience dimensions. Often, the ways in which we address the problems and arrive at the solutions will be through a political and ethical debate. The Bioscience Policy Institute's mission was to engage in that debate and make sure the non-government bioscience sector was ahead of it rather than playing catch-up.
But that's not to be. The absence of an urgent issue prevailed.
So why do we New Zealanders have this habit of ignoring the strategic issues we know are coming down to confront us until they leave us no other option? The result seems always to be that we end up with much more costly and intensive period of activity to address the issue than is desirable.
It has a lot to do with the size of our economy ands the size of business here. We don't have the big multinational corporates for whom the cost of supporting a think tank (or even more than one) is part of the contribution to a democratic society. Most New Zealand entities, and biotechs in particular, are heavily focused on bottom line issues. One of consequences of that is a strategic frame of reference which hardly gets past the end of year balance date.
That's no way to run business and until we stronger evidence of business looking out five years and more we will continue to see knee-jerk reactions to important strategic considerations. We have to get ahead of the issues to give ourselves the luxury of time to think.
And it is difficult - especially when you have a political system which is hostage to the smallest fluctuation in polls. What chance does business have when it is constantly at risk of the rules being changed to meet some political fashion.
And in this regard politicians themselves have to shoulder a lot of the blame. There's little evidence, among some politicians, of any willingness to abide by a set of standards which require evidence and established facts as being the basis for the dialogue about issues.
There is too much evidence that it is much easier to believe than to know. Believing something means we can avoid the challenges of knowledge.
And while one can easily find utterances from the trenchant opponents of biotechnology for proof of the power of belief over knowledge it is the fact they are allowed to continue to make their wrong-headed assertions, pretty much without challenge, that is the real weakness. How will science ever truly enlighten us if we fail to respond to the misrepresentations and mistruths which tumble out into the news media each day in pursuit of some political agenda.
And let no-one believe that Greenpeace is an organization with a high moral calling. Greenpeace is a multinational corporation with revenues of US$150 million imitating the behaviour of the most rapacious corporates we've ever known. They continually put themselves above and outside the law in pursuit of their so-called noble objective - to save the planet. Yeah, right!
Where's their code of ethics? Where's their commitment to persuasion on the basis of true facts able to be confirmed by independent examination?
The problem is no-one out there in New Zealand is prepared to stand up and challenge the green activist world view.
I'm an environmentalist too. I love the beauty of the natural environment which surrounds me but I haven't made it into a political crusade which verges on being religious.
We do need to live our lives in a way which preserves and sustains our environment - but that doesn't mean we have to reject technology in fact it means the opposite. But I don't see anyone out there advocating that world view in a sustained way - and until we do we will continue to be confronted by all the hurdles and obstacles the activist greens can erect in our path to the future.
India to unveil new biotech policy
- 123Bharath.com, Bangalore, July 11, 2004
India will unveil a new national biotechnology policy within six months to boost the sunrise sector.
The ministry of science and technology's department of biotechnology will set up a committee by month-end to frame the new policy, Biotechnology Secretary M.K. Bhan said here Sunday.
He was addressing an international conference on 'Biotechnology for a billion people', being held as part of the three-day Bangalore Bio 2004 event.
Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural session of the conference, Bhan told about 300 delegates from India and abroad the new policy would provide the framework for the functioning of research and business institutions. It will also spell out trade and investment guidelines for the emerging sector.
"A group of experts will also be set up to suggest models for public-private partnerships in the biotech sector. The biotechnology department will invest in the creation of innovation centres within the existing academic and research institutions," Bhan said.
Delhi University will be the first centre to receive the funding. Five such centres will be established across the country in as many years.
Outlining the department's strategy for the biotech sector's growth, Bhan said the government would allocate its resources in a targeted manner, selecting the areas that had built up competence levels.
Besides Bangalore, the department will focus on other cities such as Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Lucknow for uniform development of the biotech sector.
"We will invest in those states and cities where the ingredients of the biotechnology enterprise are present," Bhan stated.
Inaugurating the conference, Thailand's Science and Technology Minister Korn Thapparansi said Indian scientific and business institutions should explore collaborations with his country in the biotech sector.
"They can identify organic and herbal products besides the traditional medicine as areas of collaboration," he pointed out.
Sharing his country's vision to transform into a knowledge-based economy in the southeast Asian region this decade, Thapparansi said Thailand had launched a campaign to be the "kitchen of the world" as part of its strategic focus on the food sector.
"Biotechnology will help us diversify the range of crops, improve yields and enhance quality," he said.
Prince Charles Fearful Over Nanotechnology-Paper
- Reuters, Jul 10, 2004
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Charles has fired a new broadside at the scientific community, warning them of the dangers of the breakthrough science of nanotechnology.
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, the heir to the throne welcomes the "triumph of human ingenuity" working with extremely small particles -- a nano is a measurement of a billionth of a meter, or 1/80,000 the diameter of a human hair.
But Prince Charles, who is a committed environmentalist, also shares the concerns of John Carroll, retired professor of engineering at Cambridge University, who has given evidence to a Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering study on nanotechnology.
"Referring to the thalidomide disaster, he says it 'would be surprising if nanotechnology did not offer similar upsets unless appropriate care and humility is observed'," wrote Prince Charles.
Thalidomide was once used as a morning sickness treatment for pregnant women in the 1960s, but it was removed from the market when it was found to lead to birth defects.
Prince Charles's scientific salvos -- in the past he has warned of the "disastrous consequences" of genetically modified crops and supported the use of alternative medicine -- have not always been well received by scientists.
In 2000 Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, dismissed Charles's intervention on genetically modified food, advising him to go back to school.
Last week Michael Baum, a professor emeritus of surgery at University College London, said the heir to the throne "may have overstepped the mark" by promoting unproven therapies for cancer such as coffee enemas and carrot juice.
Unbowed, Prince Charles insisted scientists must listen to the worries of interested parties like himself.
"He hopes that the investigation will 'consider seriously those features that concern non-specialists and not just dismiss those concerns as ill-informed or Luddite'.
"There will also, I believe, have to be significantly greater social awareness, humility and openness on the part of the proponents of emerging nanotechnologies than we have seen with other so-called 'technological advances' of recent years."
Nanotechnology has fascinated scientists with its possibilities to develop minuscule computers and tiny medical devices.
But it has also inspired fears about the dangers of nanoparticles and a fictional account of a plague of self-replicating robots turning the world into gray goo.
India, US ink pact on agri research, hope to double farm output by '25
- THE ECONOMIC TIMES, 29 June 2004
NEW DELHI: In an effort to boost the country's food production through adopting "environment friendly" technologies, the government on Tuesday inked a letter of intent on agricultural biotechnology research and development with the US.
"The agreement, which aims at providing easy solutions to problems faced by the farmers, heralds a new era of food development in the country.
It would provide technologies to the farmers, which are effective and at the same time, do not come at a high price," Union minister for science and technology Kapil Sibal told reporters here.
In the initial phase, the experts would focus on increasing the productivity of rice, wheat and potato. Tomato, groundnut and sunflower would be taken up later, he said.
The programme, besides encouraging the creation of partnership to bring together Indian and US institutions to pursue agricultural biotechnology research projects of mutual interest, would also address the problems faced by the farmers in a large area, he said.
On the agreement, signed by Mr Sibal and US envoy David Malford, the minister said "a mix of traditional plant breeding and modern techniques would be used to achieve a twofold increase in food production by '25. Food requirement by '25 is expected to go up by twofold and threefold by '50."
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Malford said "we are happy to extend the strategic relations with India in the field of agriculture and biotechnology, which would also solve our interests of future markets." For the smooth sailing of the agreement, the two sides would not take any matter which involved IPR issues, the US envoy said.
"Our focus is to help the farmer increase the food production by providing better production techniques and not to make wealth," he said.
The country needs yet another green revolution keeping in mind that one-fifth of its population suffers from nutrient deficiencies, Mr Sibal said, adding that the Department of Science and Technology would be the nodal agency from the Indian side, while the USAID would be the agency from their side.
"Under the agreement, scientists from the two countries would work towards enhancing the nutritional values of the food products through breeding techniques, keeping in mind that a large population in the country is deficient in vitamins, zinc and iron," he said.
The partnership assumes significance considering the fact that most of the land in Punjab has gone saline over the years, which might effect its production capacity, Mr Sibal added.
Green Revolution - Feeding Africa's malnourished masses
- THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8 July 2004
Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, appeared at a food conference this week in Addis Ababa ahead of the annual Africa Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.
Annan warned that the world's poorest continent is unlikely to reach its goal of halving hunger by 2015 unless African nations take measures to dramatically increase food output.
"Let us generate a uniquely African Green Revolution," Annan said. "A revolution that is long overdue, a revolution that will help the continent in its quest for dignity and peace."
Indeed, Africa missed out on the Green Revolution of several decades ago that took advantage of technological breakthroughs, that tripled food output in Asia and Latin America, that dramatically decreased the ranks of the hungry and malnourished in those regions of the world.
Meanwhile, nearly 200 million people, some one-third of adults in sub-Saharan Africa, are severely undernourished, the result of chronic food shortages in far too many African countries.
The ranks of the continent's underfed almost certainly will grow because food output is declining in 31 of 53 African countries. In fact, Africa is the only continent whose agricultural output has dropped over the past four decades.
Jacques Diouf, the director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, told those attending the food conference in Addis Ababa that, at the rate things are going now, Africa not only will fail in halving hunger by 2015, it may not reach that goal until 2050.
That is, said Annan, unless the continent's leaders act with "urgency and greater purpose" to solve Africa's food crisis. And as part of the Green Revolution he envisions, Annan urged African nations to embrace biotechnology, to welcome genetically modified crops.
Of course, some activist groups suggests that the problems of hunger and malnutrition that plague sub-Saharan Africa can be solved without biotechnology, without GM foods. And the heads of state of several African nations, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, agree.
But a report issued this past spring by the FAO concludes that biotechnology has an important role to play in addressing the needs of the world's poor and hungry.
In fact, the report stated that the underfed population would benefit from more research and development of basic food crops, like potatoes, rice, cassava and wheat, as well as so-called "orphan crops," like sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon pea, chickpea and groundnut.
They "are critical for the food supply and livelihoods of the world's poorest people," Diouf said back in May.
The Green Revolution that dramatically reduced hunger and malnourishment in Asia and Latin America was driven by technological advances. If Africa is to usher in a similar Green Revolution, it must accept the promise of biotechnology.
U.S. wheat producers want strict policy on biotech
- REUTERS, By Carey Gillam, 9 July 2004
KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 9 (Reuters) - Any company introducing a genetically modified wheat strain in the United States should first obtain regulatory approval from countries that import U.S. wheat, the top U.S. wheat growers' group said on Friday.
The National Association of Wheat Growers said that point is one of several guidelines it has developed for the future roll-out of any genetically modified wheat.
The guidelines follow the decision in May by biotech crop leader Monsanto Co. (MON.N) to shelve commercial introduction of a biotech wheat variety following months of protests by overseas buyers of U.S. wheat and grain industry groups opposed to its plan.
The guidelines will be presented next week to leading wheat industry players at a meeting in North Dakota. NAWG said it "will vigorously oppose" any biotech wheat that does not meet the principles.
"It's important that the board of directors for the wheat industry export marketing organization consider it," said U.S. Wheat spokeswoman Dawn Forsythe.
Drafting of the principles began earlier this year after St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto asked the grain industry to help it win over skeptics of what would have been the world's first genetically modified wheat.
Monsanto developed a herbicide-tolerant spring wheat variety that it planned to roll out in North Dakota as soon as it completed the regulatory approval process.
But foreign buyers expressed reluctance to buy the biotech wheat and the U.S. wheat industry was torn over whether or not to support the project. Monsanto ended up shelving its plans on May 10, and now Swiss chemicals company Syngenta is pursuing a biotech disease-resistant spring wheat.
The document says the company releasing the technology must get regulatory approval not only in the United States but also in wheat export markets that represent at least five percent of the normal export volume of any of the affected market classes of exported U.S. wheat.
That would include countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy and Spain.
Those markets must also have "appropriate" tolerances for biotech wheat found in conventional wheat shipments, according to the NAWG document.
The technology provider must also have identified buyers who will accept the new transgenic wheat, and must provide an "accurate, economical and timely trait detection test" prior to commercialization.
Also, NAWG says the technology should be priced at reasonably comparable levels in all world production markets into which it is introduced, and "when appropriate, the use of farmer-saved seed should be permitted."
NAWG also says the trait should be made available for discretionary adaptation into public wheat varieties.
Benefiting From Agri Thrust
- FINANCIAL EXPRESS, 11 July 2004
Monsanto India (MIL) is a leading player in the agrochemicals business where fortunes are directly linked to agriculture and the vagaries of the monsoon. Agriculture contributes 25 per cent to total GDP and sustains 70 per cent of the population. The major part of agriculture lacks irrigation and dependent on monsoon. The current monsoon's arrival is not close to the forecast made during the last month. The Meteorological Department had predicted better rainfall during the season starting from June 10. By sthe end of June, intensity of rain was much lower than the average rain fall. However, there are still few days left for sowing and much depends on the rainfall in the next two to three weeks. Net sales during the year to March 2004 grew by 13.4 per cent at Rs 333 crore. More than three-fourth of turnover comes in the second and third quarters. Most of the sowing is done immediately after the monsoon which falls under these two quarters. Other income rose by 72 per cent to Rs 10 crore.
The company has increased its trading activities as is evident from the fact that purchase of finished goods has nearly doubled from Rs 20.5 crore to Rs 39 crore. Operating profit increased by 39.6 per cent to Rs 92 crore. Net profit rose 37 per cent to Rs 69.3 crore. The company has a major presence in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and these two states contribute substantially to the total income of the company. MIL is focused on three areas - herbicides, seeds and traits. The sales mix is shifting in favosur of seed business and that is likely to be a major growth driver in the next few years. Profitability in seed business is better than other business. Exports are also likely to contribute in a major way. The company's entire sales mix has a risk of cyclicality which has the same market and customers. Therefore, change in the sales mix is not likely to make much impact on growth. However, it is yet to be seen that how long it is likely to sustain in the future due to uncertainty over monsoon. MIL has devesloped a chemical weed control concept in India and is a leader in rice herbicides marketed under the Machete brand. The company also markets Avadex - a herbicide used on wheat crops. MIL is increasingly moving away from a product-specific approach to one focusing on crop solutions. It has identified wheat, rice, cotton, soybean and corn as the key focus crops. MIL's Bt cotton (bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton seeds to make them resistant to bollworms) has got support fsrom official report of the government of Andhra Pradesh. The government report commented that Mahyco-Monsanto (MM) packets in different districts of Andhra Pradesh have given better yield. Earlier, Gene Campaign had argued that MM variety gave lower yields in spite of higher investments than the non-Bt varieties of cotton. There was 65-70 per cent reduction in pesticide cost, 30 per cent rise in yield and about Rs 7,000 per acre rise in income. MIL has started a project and developed a different market strsategy aiming at capturing the small-to-marginal farmer segment. It was deployed at the Udaipur district in Rajasthan, that forms the single largest maize-growing district in the country. The objective of the project was to provide a solutions package to small farmers on improved technologies, particularly focusing on maize crop. Farmers were encouraged to train other farmers back home through a special 'Humsafar' programme. The government of India has approved a fourth strain of GM cotton seed using technoslogy licensed from US-based Monsanto Co. Despite opposition from the environmentalists, the approval is given for cultivation and sale in parts of India. Rasi Seeds of India developed RCH2BT, a variant of Monsanto's BT Cotton, and fulfiled all conditions relating to crop performance and safety. However, the seed can be sold and cultivated only in central and southern India, as the government has not allowed genetically modified crops in the northern and eastern regions, which account for most of the countrsy's foodgrain production. India allows genetic modification only in cotton. Its policy is not to allow use of this technology in food crops.
Biotech challenges ahead for Thailand
- THE NATION (Thailand), 11 July 2004, By Asina Pornwasin
Thailand needs to encourage entrepreneurs, involve the public and focus on its strengths if it wants to develop its biotechnology, an expert in the field said recently.
The points were raised at a panel discussion on the potential of biotechnology as part of the ?Competitiveness: Challenge and Opportunities for Asian Countries? conference hosted by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) and organised by The Nation.
Speaking in general, Anil Vaidya, CEO of Latro Medical Systems, said there were five issues that needed to be addressed by countries seeking to catch up with the advances in the technology.
The first is producing a high-quality science base and complementary policies targeting the sharing of the knowledge through the model of biotech clusters and a technology-transfer office.
Second, the country should have an appropriate regulatory framework to support knowledge-based industry.
Third is the need to build up a workforce not only skilled in science but with an understanding of what is actually worth patenting and commercialising.
Fourth is to encourage an environment of innovation through training programmes, mentor support and rewards, as this is vital to foster a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Fifth is the need to set up a framework to encourage investors.
Besides this, Vaidya said, government support is necessary to boost a new industry like biotech, which means both direct government funding and changes in the model of funding.
Vaidya, who is also a consultant to the British Department of Trade and Investment, said that all nations found themselves walking a tightrope when it came to how and where to invest public money for the benefit of the country?s industry. As there is a possibility of wastage of public funds, there has to be some level of accountability on the efficiency with which these funds are utilised, he said.
He said it was time to recognise that the old model for funding and supporting biotech companies needed to be changed. The model adopted by new and savvy biotech companies is to develop a revenue stream by selling some form of product or service that supports them in the long-term development of products that in the past would have been developed through support of outside investors, he said.
?Some of the new and bright companies in the UK and America are taking this route to the market,? he said.
Coming to Thailand, Vaidya mentioned three challenges that faced the development of biotechnology. The first is support infrastructure to encourage a lot of biotech start-ups by helping them to identify sources of funding and to negotiate the complex legalities involved.
The second challenge is to go beyond the public debate around genetically modified (GM) food that has dragged on almost 10 years in Europe and which is directly affecting to the Thailand?s agro-biotech sector.
Since the government is focusing on biotechnology with the aim of improving public health and agricultural productivity, Thailand needs to learn an important lesson from the GM food debate in Europe and involve all stakeholders in the debate about agro-biotechnology.
Third, Thailand should identify its own areas of strength in biotech.
Vaidya said a good example of this was Thailand?s considerable experience in shrimp biotechnology, where the country could excel and draw global interest.
Another strength is its rich biodiversity, he said: though many countries in the Asian region have a history of using plant extracts and medication, there are huge difficulties in tapping these resources.
GM foods - -to eat or not to eat
- THE NATION (Thailand), By Theeranuch Pusaksriki, 11 July 2004
Even though genetically modified (GM) products are legally required to have proper labelling for over a year now, most Thai consumers are still in the dark when it comes to this controversial issue.
While consumer-rights protection groups have long adhered to the hypothesis that GM foods pose potential long-term health risks, multinational food firms insisted that their GM products are safe and no one has ever been killed by them.
So who to believe?
Despite lots of information from both sides on the pros and cons of GM products, Vipawan Tongsaipetch, a 48-year-old businesswoman, concedes she does not fully understand what the fuss about GM food items is all about.
'I often hear about it in the news, but I don't have any clear idea about it. It seems to me that no one is really worried, so I guess having GM food should be all right, ' Vipawan says as she does her shopping at Tops Supermarket on Charansanitwong Road.
Another consumer, Kanchana Hiranyakarn, who runs a jewellery shop at a Bangkok mall, says she has some idea about GM products and plays it safe by avoiding all of them.
'I know what GM products are all about and do not want to buy and consume them. I don't buy them for my loved ones either,' she says.
While products with 5 per cent or greater GM content must be labelled, most consumers say the labels are tiny and do not help them make their decisions on the matter one way or the other.
According to Kanchana, these labels say nothing but 'This product contains GM corns/soybeans etc.'
Sairoong Thongplon, of Thailand's Federation for Consumers, says such labelling portrays GM content as just another ordinary ingredient, perfectly safe for human consumption.
'The fact is there has been no scientific research to guarantee that all GM products are safe,' she said.
Suppachai Khunarattaphruk, secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says the current policy only allows the agency to inform consumers what ingredients are their food.
'Every ingredient in any food we've approved for marketing is safe to eat. GM food is no different from conventional food, so there is no need to highlight the labelling,' he says.
However, the FDA has no information on how many food items on sale in Thailand come from products derived from GM ingredients.
A spokesperson for Nestle's consumer service in Thailand says Nestle has a policy of registering its products as GM when they contain GM ingredients.
'All our food products derived from GM soybeans or corn are labelled as such, even though their GM contents are less than 5 per cent, the level required by law for registration,' said the spokesperson.
Nestle aside, other food-manufacturers may believe 'genetically modified' labelling on their products may negatively affect sales, as wary consumers would take such labels as warnings.
However, the Nestle spokesperson said that based on the few inquiries they had received, only a small amount of consumers appeared to be concerned with the GM content or lack thereof in their foodstuffs.
But the low number of inquiries could also be attributed to the low number of consumers who notice the tiny labels.
Consumer Kanchana wondered if the law was really enforced. 'I always read the labels of food products before buying them, but I have never seen GM labelling,' she said.
Kanchana relies on a handbook distributed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which provides information on nearly 100 food items for consumers and instructs them to make their own decisions on the matter.
The manual has three categories of products. The 'green' list supposedly contains GM free-ingredients while the 'black' list contains food items believed to be 'GM contaminated'. In between these two categories is a 'grey' list of manufacturers that do not have explicit public policies on GM food.
Araya Ananprakit, a Greenpeace official, said almost 4,000 Thais had applied for membership of the 'Thais Say No to GMOs [genetically modified organisms]' campaign, with the majority of members being mothers of newborn babies.
Many members have called the group's GMOs hotline asking for information about powdered milk for their babies that is GMO free.
Araya says the group occasionally gets as many 200 phone inquiries in a single day.
'This shows certain groups of consumers are quite concerned about their health and do not want their newborns consuming food derived from GM crops,' she says.
It seems these concerns will not ease unless the government, the FDA and other state agencies protect consumer rights by giving more comprehensive information to the public on genetically modified crops and organisms and improves the quality of the labelling policy in Thailand.
Scientist blames ignorance
While some European companies have invested significant amounts of money in developing genetic engineering techniques for application on genetically modified (GM) products, they are still struggling for acceptance in their own countries.
One examples is Bayer AG, a research-based German company. Bayer AG researches genetic engineering in crop protection and has sold products mainly in the North American market, where GM products and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are more widely accepted.
Anna Maria Simons, a chemist at Bayer CropScience, told The Nation that the plant used biotechnology methods that were in accordance with the principles of nature.
'Nature already invented these codes, but people haven't been able to use them until our generation. Before we didn't have the technology to look inside of a cell. Now we can look and see what nature does and then we can copy her,' she said.
Simons said some Europeans would not consume GM products because people haven't been educated about the basics of GM food and how it is developed.
'At school, genetic engineering is still a new subject. It's just started. Many teachers don't have the in-depth knowledge to explain it to their students,' she said.
Simons added that people felt uncomfortable consuming GM products because they regarded DNA as an inviolate, untouchable compound.
'I often discuss this with young people. They have an impression that DNA comes from God and so only God has the power to change it. They believe no one should tamper with DNA,' the chemist said.
But she added many researchers had proved there was nothing inherently risky about splicing genes from one organism into another. However, when rumours suggest GM products may cause cancer, people immediately believe the worst without investigating how GM products are developed, she said.
Simons suggested that consumers would gain confidence if authorities conducted research on genetically modified products.
GMO LABELLING: Regulations lack teeth
- THE NATION (Thailand), by Pathomkanok Padkunto, 11 July 2004
Local activists call for Thailand to adopt standards in line with the EU
At least 35 countries across the globe have adopted mandatory labelling for any food product derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). European countries are perceived by consumers' rights protection activists as having the best labelling policies to provide consumers with the right to decide.
As of April 18, 2004, every product available on the European market must be labelled if it contains an ingredient that contains more than 0.9 per cent GMOs. Animal feed containing GMOs also must be labelled.
In Thailand, the labelling regulation issued by the Food and Drug Administration is often perceived as a way to indirectly promote GMOs. The regulation enacted last May requires any food product that contains genetically modified maize or soybeans as one of its three major ingredients making up 5 per cent or more of the total to be labelled as genetically modified maize or soybeans.
Consumers' rights protection groups, including the Federation for Consumers and Greenpeace, have called upon the FDA to revise the regulation. The platform of these groups is that all food products derived from GMOs should be labelled.
'It should not only be GM maize and GM soybeans. It does not matter what the percentage of GM ingredients is: even if it is 1 per cent of the total ingredients, that food item should be labelled as GM food,' said Sairoong Thongplon of the Federation for Consumers.
Patwajee Srisuwan, Greenpeace's GMO campaigner, supported Sairoong, saying that some manufacturers might benefit from the weakness of the labelling law.
For example, Unilever produces foodstuffs like Knorr sweetcorn soup and Knorr oyster sauce, which are listed on Greenpeace's latest blacklist. A Unilever spokesperson said the company's products contained no more than 5 per cent GM ingredients, so they were not required by law to have labelling on the packaging.
'We have no policy in response to this issue. We back the idea of labels for all food that contains GMOs according to the policy of the Public Health Ministry,' the spokesperson said.
The deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Science in the Ministry of Public Health, Suphan Srithamma, said that if the country wanted to be strict on GM food items, the laboratory testing capabilities needed to be improved.
'We don't have enough equipment to check all GM ingredients in all types of food items other than maize and soybeans,' Suphan said.
At the moment there are only two major laboratories in Thailand that can test GM items. One is under the direction of Biotech (the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and the other is in the Department of Medical Sciences.
Sairoong also suggested that labelling be more prominent so that it was clearly visible to consumers.
If the country endorses GM food items, it could pave the way for transnational seed companies to introduce GM crops to Thai farmers, she warned.
'Our farmers will be more reliant on transnational companies if GM crops are grown here. What will happen to the country's agricultural sector then?' she asked.