Today in AgBioView: July 19, 2004:
* Scientists and Scholars Denounce Position of the Catholic Institute for International Relations on GM Crops
* Organic baby food 'worst for toxins'
* Crying wolf on GM crops
* EU governments deadlocked over Monsanto genetically modified corn product
* Report Release: Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects
* Boosting Agricultural Productivity and Rural Development in Food Insecure Countries, Especially in Africa
* Save Biotech
* Statement of David Winkles, President South Carolina Farm Bureau
* India: Biotech Sector Wants GEAC Wings Clipped
* CAFTA welcomes negotiating framework on agriculture
* China should build on R&D potential
* 8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically modified Organisms
* Prince Charles on the wheel and other useless inventions
Scientists and Scholars Denounce Position of the Catholic Institute for International Relations on GM Crops
Milan, Italy: July 17, 2004 — An international group of scientists and scholars released a statement today countering recent claims by the Catholic Institute for International Relations that “GM crops won’t solve world hunger.” On the contrary, said Piero Morandini, a plant biology researcher at the University of Milan and lead author of the statement, “Opposing this technology means renouncing a relevant tool for tackling food security and world hunger, and opposition will do damage to poor farmers rather than help them.”
The Vatican has acknowledged that feeding the hungry is essential, and is now considering its position on biotechnology after the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened a conference on that issue. Nevertheless, the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) has emerged to defy the Church’s attitude on hunger by criticizing a technology that has generally found favour in Rome, and with poor farmers around the world.
This group of scholars, which includes representatives from public universities in Europe and North America, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and other institutions, was convened to correct the CIIR position (http://www.ciir.org/ciir.asp?section=news&page=story&ID=982), and that of similar groups that oppose self-determination by resource-poor farmers, because they ignore widely known facts. Following is the scholars’
The global area cultivated with GM crops is increasing every year and has now reached 67.7 million hectares, in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Canada, China, the Philippines, the United States, and others. Around 7 million farmers in 18 countries have voluntarily chosen GM crops, as detailed in the last annual report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology applications (http://www.isaaa.org/).
More importantly, more than 85 percent of the 7 million farmers growing GM crops are resource-poor farmers in the developing world, tending small plots. According to ISAAA, “almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last year.” No one has forced these six million resource-poor farmers to choose GM crops. They have willingly adopted the technology because they receive direct benefits — including ease of cultivation, lower pesticide use, higher yields and higher quality.
CIIR claims that the practice of saving seeds is “environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.” However, millions of farmers in developing countries voluntarily choose to buy both conventional and GM seeds from seed breeders. This is not the result of pressure by national or multinational powers. Most farmers do not save seed, but buy it every year because purchased seed is better: free of viral diseases, with a high germination rate, pure, high yielding and pest resistant. Indeed, national governments in Brazil and India were forced to approve GM varieties by farmers revolting against bans in those countries. If, as CIIR claims, “GM crops pose a serious threat to food security,” why is support among small farmers growing every year?
Western agriculture and western consumers are in many ways dependent on multinationals, by choice. For instance, conventional hybrid maize seed is bought every year by basically all maize farmers in our countries. If multinationals are so deleterious and low input agriculture so successful, why aren’t Westerners switching back to traditional approaches (e.g. farmers saving seeds)? Does the CIIR claim it is entitled to choose for farmers what is best for them?
The opposition by the CIIR to multinationals producing GM seeds is selective and hypocritical. Multinational firms also produce cellular phones, cars, airplanes, petrol, computers and pharmaceuticals. Why is being dependent upon multinationals for petrol or conventional seeds preferable to relying upon GM seeds? If dependency on multinational corporations is harmful, the CIIR should renounce first its own dependencies on these products before demanding that farmers be denied the use of technology that improves food production. CIIR does not denounce pharmaceuticals made through modern biotechnology that are widely used by wealthy people. For poor people, food is the most important medicine. CIIR should allow poor people the food that agricultural biotechnology can produce. The CIIR would adhere more closely to the Catholic tradition by preaching (as the Holy Father rightly does) a more sober lifestyle to many Westerners.
Clearly, some Catholics persist in claiming that food security in Africa is less important than financial and economic issues, some of which may not even exist. For an in-depth examination of a tragic misportrayal of Catholicism similar to that of the CIIR, read ‘To Die or Not to Die: That is the Question,’ an earlier paper by many in this same group of scholars, available at:
CIIR is not alone in promoting ideas of farming which are far from reality. Farmers are more realistic than these anti-technology, anti-development groups are willing to admit. Farmers, when given a choice, are increasingly choosing to purchase and plant GM seeds. Poor farmers don’t need patronizing from wealthy activists, be they Catholic or otherwise. Poor people need education and the opportunity to find their own way toward development. Why not allow them to make their own choices?
Piero Morandini, University of Milan
Andrew Apel, AgBiotech Reporter
Giuseppe Bertoni, Catholic University of Piacenza and Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden and Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Davide Ederle, Plant Biotechnologist
Drew Kershen, University of Oklahoma College of Law
Filippo Rossi, Catholic University of Piacenza
C.S. Prakash, Tuskegee University
Wayne Parrott, University of Georgia
Gregory Conko, Competitive Enterprise Institute-
For more information, contact:
Piero Morandini (email@example.com) Tel. +39-025031-4816
Andrew Apel (firstname.lastname@example.org) Tel. +1-319-833-1833
Organic baby food 'worst for toxins'
- The Scotsman, By MURDO MACLEOD, 18 Jul 2004
ORGANIC baby foods carry higher toxin levels than conventional products, according to a damning new report by the Food Standards Agency.
While many parents are prepared to pay a premium of up to an extra 20p, or 30%, for a jar of organic food, the survey found that three of the top four products with the highest levels of toxins were organic, while none of the 10 baby foods with the lowest toxin levels had the organic label.
Consumers’ groups last night demanded clearer information on food to allow shoppers to make the best choices, while organic producers called for more research to allow them to avoid contaminated ingredients.
The food watchdog bought 124 samples of different brands of baby food. They were then tested for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxins, which are man-made pollutants present in the environment as a result of industrial processes.
PCBs and dioxins have been linked with cancer in humans and their production has been banned since the 1970s, although large amounts of chemicals still linger in water, soil, and the atmosphere.
While the study showed that toxins in the food were well within the levels recommended by scientists even for babies, they discovered that the amounts varied dramatically, even between products containing ostensibly similar ingredients.
And despite its clean and healthy reputation, organic food is no more free of toxins than conventionally produced baby food.
In all, four of the top 10 foods with the highest levels of toxins carried the organic label. Meanwhile, none of the 10 most toxin-free products was organic.
In one example, an organic shepherd’s pie had 90 times the level of the chemicals of its non-organic equivalent.
In addition, while fish products have recently been the focus of considerable criticism over their levels of PCBs and dioxins, the only non-organic fish product tested had the lowest level of toxins, while the organic fish products were among the most affected by the chemicals.
Even within the same brands, organic products fared no better than ordinary foods.
Although two organic products from Cow & Gate had high concentrations of toxins, two of their conventional baby foods were among the top 10 cleanest.
The Consumers’ Association last night called for more information to be on food packets to allow buyers to make their selections.
Julia Clark, of the Consumers’ Association Scotland, said: "What is very clear is that many people are confused about what exactly the meaning of the organic label is. People should have the option of buying organic foods, but it should be clear what that involves. Buyers need clearer information about what is in their food so that they can make the most informed choices for themselves."
Dr John Webster, an expert in food science who advises the food industry, said: "I think that many people in the organic sector have created a problem for themselves by allowing people to think that organic always means that you are receiving a healthier, premium product.
"The reality is that organic is more about a form of production which is seen as being more sustainable by using natural fertilisers and methods, rather than actually being necessarily much healthier."
But producers claimed that levels of these toxins were outwith their control.
A spokesman for the Soil Association, which regulates organic food producers, said: "Although we avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, factors such as PCBs and dioxins are not something we can do very much about because they are in the environment and all around us. It shows the need to use cleaner methods of production in future so that we can reduce the levels of pollution for future generations."
A spokeswoman for Cow & Gate, whose organic products had high levels of toxins while their conventional foods were some of the least affected, said: "The key thing to remember is that all the products are well within the set safety limits and they are absolutely safe. We strive to make sure levels of pesticides and chemicals are kept to an absolute minimum. The levels of PCBs and dioxins are as a result of pollution in the rest of the environment, which is out of our control."
One leading organic food producer called for more research into toxins.
A spokeswoman for the company Organix said: "We welcome these tests and we would like to see more guidance from the government so that we could make sure that toxin levels in food are reduced. Testing for PCBs and dioxins is very expensive and we would ideally like to be able to do it ourselves if possible. Intelligent testing of all the ingredients rather than finished products would allow us to source ingredients from the cleanest sources and make products even safer."
She claimed that the comparison between the organic shepherd’s pie and the conventional product was misleading because the non-organic pie was a powdered product which contained fewer whole ingredients.
A spokeswoman for Boots, whose fish pie was the second highest for concentration of toxins, said: "We’d like to reassure customers that Boots baby foods are completely safe to use and that they should not be worried by this report.
"The FSA report simply confirms that any levels of contaminants found in baby foods are low and well within the recommended safety levels."
The FSA estimated that a child eating baby food which had a higher level of toxins would receive 0.7 picograms of toxins per kg of bodyweight per day. That compares to the recommended safe level of two picograms per day.
A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "The most significant finding from this study is that all the products surveyed had levels of PCBs and dioxins which were well within the guidelines."
Earlier this year the Scottish salmon industry was rocked by a report claiming that its product had high levels of toxins.
Although scientists said that the levels were well within safety limits, exports were still hit by the scare.
Crying wolf on GM crops
- open i, David Walker, July 15, 2004
No one can deny the outstanding job UK and other European anti-GM advocates have done in creating doubts about this biotechnology. The greater challenge for those that have lead the vanguard, however, is that of credibility, once the realities of this biotechnology come to be generally app reciated. Genetically modified(GM) crops has now been available to, and widely used by, farmers in North America for almost ten years. And no serious or unanticipated concerns have arisen as a consequence. Under normal circumstances it might be reasonable to expect a year or two's delay in the adoption of such technology in Europe.
While it is tempting to blame the delay on the failure of the European Union to get necessary regulation in place, a general distrust of science since the BSE, mad cow, epid emic in the 1990's and the failure of those who develop the technology to anticipate opposition, these are factors that anti-GM advocates have been able to ferment rather the root cause.
Having raised the issue anti-GM advocates have been very skilful in providing the media with the kind of copy they seek and exploiting the weaknesses of retailers and others in the food industry. Every new concern they have raised has been credible enough to be believed and by the time refuting evidence is available, a new is sue seems to have been raised.
While some opposition to genetically modified crops undoubtedly stems from vested interest, the majority is surely based on faith, an unquestioning belief that for some reason or other genetically modified crops are a threat to society. And as is often the case the more the faith is challenged the stronger it becomes.
This kind of unquestioning support is invaluable to any minority interest cause as it creates momentum which would otherwise not be available. The challeng e is managing it, particularly when the cause has been either acknowledged or generally recognized as without validity. If the organizations are not able to control the throng of support, they are likely to lose their credibility in short order.
This is a challenge that organizations that have lead the opposition to the genetic engineering of crops are likely to be faced with sooner rather than later. They undoubtedly serve a useful purpose in a more general context in questioning societies attitudes towards its environment. It would, therefore, be unfortunate, if through over playing their anti-GM card, they destroy their credibility on other issues.
Having cried wolf so effectively on genetically modified crops, how effective are they likely to be if a real wolf appears at the door.
EU governments deadlocked over Monsanto genetically modified corn product
- Associated Press, by PAUL GIETNER, July 19, 2004
BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union governments Monday failed to overcome continental divisions on genetically modified foods, leaving it to the head office to approve a biotech corn made by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.
EU agriculture ministers deadlocked on Monsanto's NK603 corn, known as Roundup Ready, with no majority either for or against allowing it to be imported for food or food ingredients, officials said. The application did not cover cultivation.
Nine EU countries - Latvia, Denmark, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Greece, Austria, Portugal and Luxembourg - voted against the license. Nine others - Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, France, Ireland, Netherlands, France, Sweden and Britain - voted in favor.
Hungary, Slovenia, Greece and Spain abstained, while Estonia and Poland expressed no view.
Under EU rules, the application now goes back to the executive European Commission, which has backed the application after it received a clean bill of health from EU food safety authorities last year. A commission decision is expected after Sept. 29.
The stalemate reflects continuing unease in Europe over biotech foods despite the restarting last May of new approvals, which had been on hold for six years due to public fears over health and environmental risks.
After a similar deadlock, the commission approved a biotech variety of corn made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG for import and sale, but not cultivation.
The resumption of approvals followed the entry into force in the EU of the world's toughest rules on tracing and labeling bioengineered foods and ingredients.
The U.S. administration has accused the EU of violating international trade rules and exacerbating global hunger by hindering the marketing of genetically modified food for political, rather than scientific reasons.
U.S. officials have said it will pursue its complaint against the EU at the World Trade Organization until it believes applications are being handled in an "objective, predictable manner." An initial ruling is expected in September.
Report Release: Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects
- by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
- July 28, 2004; 11:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.
This release event will be audio webcast live. If you cannot attend, you may participate by listening to the audio webcast and submitting questions using an e-mail form at http://national-academies.org. The webcast requires RealPlayer software, available free at http://www.real.com/player. For more information on setup and
hardware requirements, see the Real.com web site.
Boosting Agricultural Productivity and Rural Development in Food Insecure Countries, Especially in Africa
- Statement from the G8 country leaders after the Sea Island, Georgia, US Summit. June 10, 2004.
Full statement and details at http://www.g8usa.gov/d_061004k.htm
We welcome the high priority Africans place on increasing agricultural productivity as evidenced by the recent, successful Africa 2020 Conference in Uganda. Raising agricultural productivity and promoting broad-based rural development are two of the long-term keys to reducing the threat of malnutrition and child mortality, increasing incomes, and stimulating overall economic growth in food insecure countries. These challenges are multifaceted, requiring reforms of domestic agricultural, social, economic, and development policies with the full participation of civil society. They demand integrating food and nutrition insecure countries into the world economy, decentralizing decision making, expanding access to credit, empowering women, harnessing the power of science and technology, unleashing the power of markets, and improving rural economic and social infrastructure.
We strongly support the significant increase in the World Bank's agricultural and rural development activities, including lending, agricultural research and the rural development strategy "Reaching the Rural Poor." We encourage the World Bank to include an assessment of recipient country agricultural policy performance in Country Assistance Strategies where agriculture is a significant economic sector, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. We commit to supporting efforts by Africans to create a positive and sustainable per capita agricultural output growth rate in Sub Saharan Africa by 2007.
G8 members are supporting a range of programs to promote agricultural productivity and rural development in African and other countries. Our activities are built on the clear lessons of the past, including the importance of a transparent and supportive domestic policy environment; building capacity to implement agricultural and development policy; regional cooperation in support of agricultural growth; participation of all stakeholders; coordination between and a long?term commitment by donors; and local ownership of programs.
Save Biotech: Pressured By Anti-Biotechnology Extremists, Some Companies Are
Backing Away From Techniques Known To Enhance Food Safety. The Public Will Pay
- National Post (Canada), Henry Miller, 25 June, 2004
These are tough times for biotechnology applied to food production. Especially in Europe, we have seen widespread public and political opposition to importing corn and soybeans grown from gene-spliced seeds, vandalization of field trials, moratoria on large-scale cultivation of plants, labeling required to identify gene-spliced foods and even their banishment by major supermarket chains.
Although Canadian and American consumers have generally responded to this turmoil with a collective yawn, they have been profoundly affected by it. Intimidation by anti-technology activists has caused several companies doing business in North America to reject gene-spliced ingredients from their products. Japanese breweries Kirin and Sapporo have announced they will phase out gene-spliced corn. Two of North America's largest producers of baby-food, H.J. Heinz and Gerber, in response to threats by anti-technology activists, have announced they will use only non-gene-spliced materials for their products -- even if these are nutritionally inferior or less safe than those made from gene-spliced plants.
Putting it another way, these companies will boycott seeds modified so that the plants do not need to be sprayed with toxic chemical insecticides, and soybeans modified in ways that make high-quality soy protein cheaper to obtain. The issues involved are ideological and emotional, not scientific, but they have important implications for commerce.
The scientific consensus holds that the risks associated with new biotechnology products are fundamentally the same as for other products. Dozens of new plant varieties improved with traditional techniques of genetic modification, such as hybridization, enter the marketplace each year without special labeling or pre-market review. Many products on the market are from "wide crosses," hybridizations in which genes are moved from one species or one genus to another to create a variety of plant that does not and cannot exist in nature. While this may sound dramatic, the results are as mundane as a tomato that is more resistant to disease or that has a thicker skin that won't be damaged during mechanical picking. Plants that have undergone these slight but important alterations have been an integral part of European and North American diets for decades; they are at the farm stand and supermarket -- and in baby food.
Scientists around the world, and even senior EU officials, agree that new "gene-splicing" technology lowers even further the already minimal risk associated with introducing new plant varieties into the food supply. Thanks to this technology, it is now possible to introduce pieces of DNA that contain one or a few well-characterized genes, while older genetic techniques transferred a variable number of genes haphazardly.
Gene-splicing enhances product safety not only by its greater precision but by exploiting the subtleties of plant pathology. A good example is so-called "Bt corn," crafted by splicing into commercial corn varieties a bacterial gene that codes for a protein that is toxic to corn borer pests (and somewhat so to other insects, including certain butterflies, but not to mammals). As it fends off the insect pests, the gene-spliced corn also reduces the levels of fusarium, a toxic fungus often carried into the plants by the insects. This, in turn, reduces the levels of fumonisin, a potent fungal toxin that can lead to fatal diseases in horses and swine that ingest infected corn, and cause esophageal cancer in humans. Thus, using the gene-spliced corn for food processing lowers the levels of fumonisin --and also the concentration of insect parts -- that will be found in the final product.
But merely because anti-biotechnology extremists have demanded it, such companies as Heinz and Gerber will forego such genetically improved sources of foods that could yield healthier and safer products. Worse still, Gerber has announced that it will use mostly organic corn, which is especially prone to insect and fungal infestations and will probably cost twice as much, because raising corn without insecticide and other chemicals is labour-intensive and produces lower per-hectare yields.
The organic corn will likely have greater amounts of fumonisin, insect parts and bacterial contamination. Is that what mothers expect? Is that consistent with the explanation of Al Piergallini, president and chief executive officer of Novartis Corporation's U.S. consumer health operations, which oversees Gerber, "I have got to listen to my customers. So, if there is an issue, or even an inkling of an issue, I am going to make amends."
I don't call that making amends. Or sound business strategy. I call it cowardly capitulation. I call it selling out, in one fell swoop, the interests of the company, its commitment to making a superior product, and its customers.
Continuing capitulation by food and beverage producers will spell disaster for food biotechology. If the end-users don't want the products, plant breeders and farmers, denied a market for gene-spliced crops, will stop developing and growing them, and the use of the technology will disappear.
That is, it will disappear except for high-value-added applications in which hugely inflated costs of the final product can offset high production costs.
It is wrong, and in the end futile, to capitulate to junk science in order to mollify extremists. Their agenda is to arrogate control over what research is performed, what tools are used, and what products are brought to market. Biotechnology is just a microcosm of this greater struggle. The extremists' agenda cannot be mitigated by scientifically reasonable arguments, by asserting the primacy of empirical evidence and the scientific method, or by invoking the benefits to the public of new products and choices. There is little common ground to negotiate with such ideologues.
Gerber, which sells $1-billion worth of baby food annually, knows gene-spliced foods are safe; Novartis Agribusiness, its sister company, researches and develops gene-spliced plants from which such foods are made.
It is not too late for companies such as Gerber to save the day. By reversing their decision to reject gene-spliced foods and aggressively and publicly defending their position, these companies would enjoy the advantages of the widest and best array of production tools, and they could assure consumers that they are getting the best products that technology can offer.
Industry can, in the long term, do well by doing good.
- Congressional Testimony by Federal Document Clearing House, By David Winkles, 23-Jun-2004
Statement of David Winkles, President South Carolina Farm Bureau
Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research Committee on House Agriculture
Good Morning Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am David Winkles, president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation and a corn, cotton and soybean farmer in Sumter County, South Carolina. I have a special interest in agricultural biotechnology; I served on the secretary of agriculture's first agricultural biotechnology advisory committee and I was chairman of the United Soybean Board when biotech soybeans were first exported to France. I am pleased to be here today to present the views of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) on the important role that biotechnology plays in American agriculture. AFBF represents member families in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
American agriculture continues to be the world leader in the adoption of agricultural biotechnology. In 2003, plantings of biotech crops in the United States accounted for 63 percent of the world`s total plantings. U.S. plantings of the three major biotech crops continue to expand. For example in 2004:
- 86 percent of total soybean plantings will be modified to be herbicide-resistant, up from 81 percent in 2003,
- 76 percent of upland cotton plantings will be biotech cotton, up from 73 percent in 2003, and
- 46 percent of corn plantings will be bio tech corn, up from 40 percent in 2003 (ASCII prospective planting report March 2004).
American farmers have seized the opportunity offered by biotechnology to improve their production efficiency. They have recognized that the adoption of new technology, like biotechnology, is an essential in maintaining a competitive advantage for U.S. agricultural exports on the world market. The advantages of biotechnology crops include the environmental benefits of lower pesticide requirements and decreased soil erosion, increased yields, diseaseresistance and fuel savings. The future for this technology is bright - new biotech plant varieties are currently being developed that produce crops which are high in essential vitamins and minerals and drought, salt and cold-tolerant.
American production of crops utilizing biotechnology is expected to continue to rise. The approval of new varieties of biotech crops will play a part in this increase. New varieties of biotech corn, cotton and soybeans are being developed that address a wider range of production limiting factors and in the future wheat, rice, sugar beets alfalfa, apples, bananas, lettuce and strawberries will move into the biotech era. Currently, approximately 25 agricultural biotech products are on the market and it is expected that an additional 24 varieties of biotech crops will be available within six years.
While the United States is the world leader in the production of agricultural crops enhanced through biotechnology, other countries are also expanding biotech crop production. In 2003, global biotech crop acreage experienced the seventh consecutive year of double-digit growth when the global area of biotech crops increased 15 percent, to a total of 167.2 million acres. In 2003 a total of 18 countries planted biotech crops, up from 16 in 2002.
The increase in production of biotech crops in the United States and abroad has increased the importance of developing and maintaining markets, both domestically and internationally for products derived from biotechnology.
Market development, both domestically and internationally, is dependent on public policy that:
1. Maintains an unbiased, science-based regulatory system that inspires consumer confidence and avoids unnecessary traceability and labeling requirements for biotech commodities;
2. Defends against current threats to market access for biotech crops and expands access where current restrictions exist; and
3. Creates an environment conducive to the development of new crop varieties enhanced through biotechnology.
I would like to elaborate on these points.
1. Maintaining an unbiased, science-based regulatory system that inspires consumer confidence and avoids unnecessary traceability and labeling requirements
Biotechnology in the United States is monitored by several federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These government agencies play an important role in providing unbiased, science-based evaluations concerning human and animal safety of biotech commodities.
Requiring mandatory labeling and traceability of foods containing commodities enhanced through biotechnology in effect nullifies the regulatory system in place. If the unbiased, sciencebased regulatory system concludes that a product is safe for human consumption, it becomes unnecessary to label this product as 'genetically engineered' or 'genetically modified.' If consumers, either domestically or internationally, demand products free from biotech ingredients, the market will function to develop brands that meet the choice of these consumers through a voluntary labeling system. Why should all consumers be forced to pay the cost of a mandatory traceability and labeling system when the biotech-enhanced product in question has been approved as safe for human consumption?
2. Defending current threats to market access for biotech-crops and expanding access where current restrictions exist
Science-based approval for biotech commodities is critical. The approval process in the European Union (EU) has caused disruptions in the trade of biotech-enhanced products. Resolving these issues quickly is necessary to prevent further disruptions.
The EU's current approach to biotechnology is inconsistent with scientific outcomes obtained from exhaustive risk assessments undertaken on products of agricultural biotechnology. In 1999, the EU instituted a moratorium on approvals of any new products enhanced through biotechnology. Prior to the moratorium, the EU approved eight agricultural biotech commodities. In 2004 the European Commission approved its first commodity enhanced through biotechnology since the moratorium was instituted. Reportedly, two further biotech commodities are currently awaiting approval. It is too early to judge whether the EU will begin to undertake approvals for products enhanced through biotechnology within a reasonable period of time.
The EU`s introduction of new regulations governing the approval, marketing, labeling, traceability, and importation of food and feed produced using modern technology last September is a problem for American farmers. Farm Bureau opposes the imposition of any import restrictions, labeling or segregation requirements for products derived through biotech enhancement once they have been approved according to internationally accepted, scientific principles as safe for humans, animals and the environment. The Farm Bureau position is consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) that recognizes Codex Alimentarius as the organization responsible for establishing internationally recognized food safety and trade guidelines. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a policy that directs its working committees to recommend adoption of only those guidelines that are based on sound scientific principles. There is no scientific basis for treating approved food products enhanced through biotechnology differently than other foods.
Convincing arguments exist that the new EU regulations could be in breach of the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. Farm Bureau supports the U.S. government filing a complaint with the WTO on the issue of the new EU regulations. If the new regulations are left unopposed there is nothing to prevent other nations from adopting the EU template. The proliferation of the EU template could create trade zones where the costs of meeting the supply requirements for commodities derived from biotechnology are prohibitive.
It is imperative that we work together to secure foreign regulatory acceptance for products enhanced through biotechnology. Farm Bureau supports increased efforts to educate the public worldwide regarding the safety and benefits of products developed through biotechnology. Recently Farm Bureau leaders visited China and Japan as part of the AFBF International Biotechnology Promotion and Education Program initiative. The objective of the mission was to inform Chinese and Japanese farmers, policymakers and agricultural experts about the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and to promote confidence in the safety and benefits of such technology.
Some disruptions to international trade have occurred since the Biosafety Protocol came into force on September 11, 2003. There have been cases where non-government organizations (NGOs) have picketed ships claiming that the shipments did not have the documentation required under the protocol. The United States currently is not a party to the Biosafety Protocol. The appropriateness of the United States ratifying the Convention of Biodiversity, a precursor to becoming a party of the Biosafety Protocol, is again being discussed. Farm Bureau does not believe that U.S. ratification of the Convention on Biodiversity is in the interest of American agriculture.
AFBF supports addressing the documentation requirements of the Biosafety Protocol through arrangements such as the trilateral arrangement signed by the United States / Mexico / Canada on the ``Documentation Requirements for Living Modified Organisms for Food or Feed, or for Processing (LMO/FFP`s). AFBF believes that this is the best mechanism for ensuring that future shipments transition smoothly through the import process. We believe that the trilateral arrangement is the most suitable mechanism for ensuring certainty in the trading environment between parties and non-parties of the Biosafety Protocol, therefore, AFBF supports extending this agreement to other countries that are parties to the Biosafety Protocol.
3. Creating an environment conducive to the development of new biotechnologies.
If U.S. agriculture is to maintain its place on the technology frontier, it is imperative that an environment conducive to innovation and adoption of new technologies is fostered. Government and private-sector research and development centers should be reassured that the United States is working to ensure that there will be a market both domestically and internationally for approved products derived from biotechnology.
In conclusion, American agriculture has enthusiastically embraced the benefits that biotechnology provides to production efficiency and in turn the competitiveness of U.S. agricultural commodities on world markets. We look forward to continuing our work with Congress on this important issue. AFBF is committed to ensuring broader acceptance of these products internationally and continued domestic consumer confidence. We will work with Congress and the administration to address unnecessary trade barriers implemented by other counties for commodities enhanced through biotechnology. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on this important issue. I would be happy to answer any questions.
India: Biotech Sector Wants GEAC Wings Clipped
- Financial Express, ASHOK B SHARMA, New Delhi, July 15
The biotech industry has favoured curtailing the powers of the existing regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) by seeking changes in rules relating to production and handling of micro-organisms, cells and genetically modified organisims (GMOs).
They have alleged that the `Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989' (EPA-Rules 1989), framed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 have given unnecessary powers to GEAC to intervene and these interventions are hindering the growth of the biotech industry. Apart from the rules being "protectionist in nature", it prima facia "wrongly" reflects that any micro-organisms, whether naturally occuring or genetically modified, are risky and hazardous. The industry have suggested that EPA-Rules 1989 can be amended by a government notification instead of seeking ratification by the Parliament.
In a memorandum to the Union environment ministry and the RA Mashelkar panel on recombinant pharma sector, the biotech division of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has suggested that micro-organisms listed under risk category-1 under EPA-Rules 1989 should be exempted from regulations. Biosafety and risk assessments of micro-organisms, GMOs and biologicals should be done as per guidelines issued by WHO and US Food and Drug Agency (FDA). All drugs, whether recombinant or not, should be treated under Indian Pharmacopia.
Calling for a change in the approval regime for imports of micro-organisms and GMOs, the memorandum suggested that academic institutions and biotech industry should be permitted to import less risk organisms with the approval of their in-house institutional biosafety committee (IBSC) and with intimation to the Union environment ministry, department of biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Import licence should be given by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). However, high-risk organisms should be imported with a short approval process by the enivornment ministry and not by the GEAC.
The R&D labs approved by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) should be allowed to import biologicals with the approval of their in-house bioethics committee and through a system of self-regulation. There should be a common approval for export, import and transportation of GMOs.
FICCI's biotech division has alleged that GEAC is not the competant authority for assessing clinical trials involving both humans and animal studies. The approval for clinical trials should be given by DCGI. GEAC may fix specific timeframes for inspections and approvals. In case of new applicants seeking approval for the already approved products, the process of approval should be simplified.
The use of products derived from GMOs and micro-organisms should be exempted from regulations, while the GMOs used as a product may be covered under the regulations. Instead of case by case approval, a positive list of GM ingredients for foods should be evolved based on scientific method with discussions with stakeholders. The grant of approvals under rules 8 to 11 under the existing EPA-Rules 1989 should be extended for a period of 7 to 10 years, in lieu of the existing 2 year period.
The memorandum said that the definition of micro-organism should be made consistent with that adopted under Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Indian Patent Act and the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order, 2004. Micro-organism cultures used as references while testing food or samples for environment safety in labs should not be covered under regulations.
The memorandum also called for intellectual property protection, simple benefit sharing model for use of community-owned bioresources, standardisation of protocols, simple mechanism for transfer of agricultural biotechnology from public sector R&D institutes to the industry and acceptance of credible regulatory data from US and other countries on biomedical research. It said that the industry should not be made accountable for its financial disclosures to the GEAC and there should be clarity in "what consitutes a violation of the rule and nature of penalties." The Rules-1989 should also unveil the details of the Appellate Authority.
CAFTA welcomes negotiating framework on agriculture
- From a press release, July 16, 2004 (VIA AGNET)
OTTAWA - "The Chairman of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO has accomplished a very difficult task by producing a framework for agriculture that can lead negotiations to a successful conclusion," said Liam McCreery, President of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance. "Chairman Tim Groser has successfully incorporated the concerns of most WTO member countries with the mandate established for agriculture in Doha when the round was launched. We hope that countries will welcome this framework as a very positive step forward."
The framework for agriculture negotiations was released today in Geneva as part of an overall framework for negotiations. If accepted by WTO member countries, this will form the foundation for the next steps towards a conclusion to the negotiations.
"We strongly urge the Canadian government to resist the temptation to retreat into protectionism and negativity when considering the framework," said Mr. McCreery. "Instead, all governments, all industry and all countries need to consider the opportunities that are presented by the framework." CAFTA is particularly pleased with elements of the framework that will allow for the negotiation of rules that will end all forms of export subsidies; make substantial reductions in trade distorting domestic support; and that will substantially increase market access for all products. "Mr. Groser has successfully addressed, albeit in a very general form, almost all of CAFTA's concerns in these negotiations," said Mr. McCreery. "We are going to work very closely with our government, our negotiators and our international allies to ensure that this foundation is not eroded, and that we can use it to build a WTO agreement that will benefit Canada's farmers, processors, exporters and the Canadian economy." CAFTA will be in Geneva next week during the negotiations on this framework to support our very capable negotiators in their efforts to move this process forward.
The Canadian Agri-Food Trade represents producers, processors and exporters of agriculture and agri-food products. Accounting for over 80% of Canada's agriculture and food exports, and more than 50% of farm cash receipts, CAFTA's members are united in their dependence on trade, and in their need for a liberalized international trading environment.
China should build on R&D potential
- China Daily, 2004-07-19
Nobel Prize laureates and leading overseas Chinese scientists who visited China recently talk to Cui Ning and Fu Jing about ways to improve China's basic research programmes and technological development.
Nobel laureates Torsten N. Wiesel and Hartmut Michel won the prestigious prize in 1981 and 1988, respectively.
They believe that in basic research, Chinese scientists can hold their own alongside their peers in other countries.
Overseas Chinese scientists, for example, those in the United States, are playing leading roles in some sectors of science and technology.
The government's strategy to encourage these established researchers to return home is an ideal way to strengthen China's position in international scientific research.
China has already set up many research centres in big cities, and now the government should increase its input into basic scientific research. A healthy increase in research investment, along with better-educated human resources and policies that encourage research will bring fruitful achievements.
Basic research must always lay the foundation for technological and engineering development. That's the golden rule to invigorate a country's competitiveness in science and technology.
China has already moved in this direction. But the Chinese Government has been far behind many developed countries in its commitment to research and development. China spent only US$12.5 billion or 1.1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D in 2001. In contrast, the percentage of GDP allocated to R&D in Japan, the United States and South Korea is 3.0, 2.8 and 2.7, respectively. Sufficient and sustained investment is the fundamental reason why the United States leads the world in science and technology. In this area, China is decidedly still a developing country.
Norman E. Borlaug, the well-known American agricultural scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, said genetic engineering technology can improve a country's agricultural potential, but has to be put into appropriate crops if it is to effectively improve a country's agriculture production. The technology must also be such that farmers can understand and, thus, implement it.
For example, Borlaug said, Chinese scientists have made some achievements in developing the Bt variety of cotton. Commercialization of Bt cotton can reduce the use of pesticides and thus minimize contamination of the environment.
Cotton and other monocultured crops require intensive use of pesticides, as various types of pests attack these crops causing extensive damage. Over the past 40 years, many pests have developed resistance to pesticides.
So far, the only successful approach to engineering crops for insect tolerance has been the addition of Bt toxin, a family of toxins originally derived from soil bacteria. The Bt toxin contained in the Bt crops is no different from other chemical pesticides, but causes much less damage to the environment. These toxins are effective against a variety of economically important crop pests but pose no hazard to non-target organisms like mammals and fish.
8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically modified Organisms
- International Society for Biosafety Research
September 26 - 30, 2004, Montpellier, France
An International Symposium on The Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been held biennially, to address the scientific basis for biosafety associated with GMOs. The Symposium series is designed for senior scientists, policy makers, regulators, environmentalists and
industry representatives involved in GMO field releases.
More details at http://www.isbr.info/announcement/
Prince Charles on the wheel and other useless inventions
- The Guardian, By Catherine Bennett, Thursday July 15, 2004
Readers who have enjoyed the Prince of Wales' contributions in the fields of health and nano-technology may be interested in these extracts from his recent speeches and articles:
It seems extraordinary to me that, despite recent polls showing ever-increasing use of the "world wide web", only a handful of academics is researching the dangers which may one day confront those who cruise the "information superhighway", little suspecting that it could be leading them - to quote Shakespeare - towards "that undiscover'd country from whose bourne no traveller returns".
One need hardly point out that this particular triumph of technology can only exacerbate the ailments the Enlightenment left in its wake - the epidemics of asthma and allergies, stress and overeating, not forgetting the well-documented risks of long-term exposure to western rationalism. This is not to devalue the convenience of instant access to information and communication. Yet, I happen to believe, for what it is worth, that if God had wanted us to be able to engage in auctions without paying 15% commission, he would never have created Sotheby's and Christies. Our stewardship of these threatened places has been truly appalling.
In the hope of stimulating a debate, I recently convened a panel of leading contributors to Thought for the Day: they concluded that even if the internet poses no immediate threat, it could ultimately prove fatal to marine life. Unless science - in all its wisdom - can come up with something to replace the billions of superhighways which now criss-cross the sea beds, we are doomed first to woe, then to suffering and finally, if nothing is done, to an agonisingly protracted death. Elaine Storkey warns that our addiction to emails will not only ensnare the playful dolphin and handsome tuna but, in an Orwellian nightmare, warm the world's oceans to the point that they will reach what she calls "a rolling boil" in around 2018, leading, in short order, to the extinction of most living things. Only insects - and those of us in the specially insulated Thought for the Day boat - will be saved.
Is the convenience of the "email" worth the annihilation of our species? Without wishing to be alarmist, I personally think not.
Speech to the Royal College of Surgeons
I recently had the privilege of meeting members of the Wiccan community at Highgrove. As we toured the leech farm, one of these marvellously wise ladies asked if I could not help stimulate public debate about the incalculable risks posed by Mr Harvey's theory on the circulation of the blood. Although, at this early stage, his ideas might seem to promise great things, another, more ancient school of thought, asks if it is desirable, or helpful to reduce human beings in this classic, Cartesian way, to mere bundles of "veins" and "capillaries". What of the ebb and flow of black and yellow bile - and their all-important relationship with the position of the sun, in its gentle orbit around the earth? I think it was Jimmy Savile who said "the heart has its reasons, that reason knows not of".
We all want to understand what works and what doesn't. And it is true that we need blood to live. But, as in all things, we also need balance and harmony. One leading complementary practitioner, Professor Hakuna Matata, tells me of a patient who turned to daily cupping seven years ago, having been told that she was suffering from a terminal excess of blood. Confounding all expectations, the young woman was able to enjoy a further six years of active life. So it is therefore vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should look beyond narrow, evidence-based medicine to investigate the very real contribution made by therapists such as Mr Matata, the inspiration behind our new Highgrove range of biodegradable coffins (from £995, excl. VAT).
We are constantly told that the wheel transformed human life for the better.Well, perhaps. But how much evidence do we have for this oft-repeated claim? There is a growing feeling among many alternative transport practitioners, that, far from liberating mankind, this much-vaunted triumph of human ingenuity actually condemned us to live the very busy, machine-driven existence which is now responsible for an explosion of allergies and other stress-related disorders.
It occurs to me, to quote Shakespeare, that perhaps "the wheel is come full circle," and we should now be reviving the traditional, more holistic methods of getting about. But so far, research into non-conventional alternatives to the car, train and bicycle has been pitiful.
Do we actually need the wheel at all? In the hope of, at least, stimulating public debate, I recently organised an experiment at Highgrove. After Porritt had confiscated all the wheels on the estate - to the accompaniment of not a few protests! - we discovered that not only can life be lived perfectly well without this so-called innovation, but given a positive attitude, it is possible for four men and a donkey to drag a Bentley from Gloucester to London within six days - providing some of the passengers agree to travel by helicopter. In the garden, heavy wheelbarrows can be readily replaced by a traditional line of men and willow trugs.
For me, the most heartening finding of all was the tremendous morale boost our temporary experiment gave to the equestrian community. In short, if we can rise to the challenge, the permanent abolition of the wheel would have the marvellously synergistic effect of creating thousands of new jobs - as blacksmiths, farriers, grooms and so on - at the same time as it conserved energy and saved the planet from otherwise inevitable devastation.
Technology article for the Independent on Sunday
I am well aware that promoting public debate about the spinning jenny is a difficult business. My first, gentle attempt to draw the subject to wider attention resulted in "Prince Joins Luddites" headlines. So, for the record, I am not a Luddite: my concerns about automation in fact began long before, with the introduction of the flying shuttle, and the very real possibility that such advances in technology would one day lead to self-replicating textile machinery taking over the world. Which, I think most people will agree, is more or less what has happened under the guise of "progress".
I happen to believe that modern manufacture is not, and should not be, simply about people going to offices and factories and operating machines. We in the west need to learn, as I did from my beloved grandmother, to practise complete stillness. She would often say that this country suffers from an epidemic of hard work. Her own, typically practical remedy - to do no work at all - cost nothing, and ensured that she lived to be 101 years old.
Her ideas are supported by the findings of the neo-Platonist scholar Professor G Halliwell. She warns that if we do not give up our frantic, technology-driven western way of life, with its steam looms and motor omnibuses, not to mention the new telegrams and patent mangles, with their collective toll on the environment, it could soon, quite literally, start "raining men". We simply have no idea what will happen.
But at Highgrove, I have taken the precaution of strengthening our flood defences against the ghastly range of catastrophes which urgently confront each and every one of us. As Shakespeare said, "What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth."