Today in AgBioView: July 23, 2004:
* Foliar Fertilizer
* World will need GM food, warns expert
* Bt Cotton Creates Three Times the Earnings for Indian Farmer
* A CRASH COURSE ON GMOS
* SCIENTISTS SUPPORT FAO BIOTECH REPORT
* Precaution and Labeling
* Biotech saves Romania
* European Commission left holding GM hot potato
* Why GM is a hard sell in Africa
* Israel to supply disease-resistant tomato seeds to Egypt
* Public's fear of GMO foods and labelling unfounded
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004 18:00:03 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Timur Hyat-khan"
Subject: Foliar Fertilizer
Dear Dr. Charles L. Cheng, M.D.
In your article about Organic Produce, I notice a concern about Foliar Application of fertilizer. It is mentioned as a concern related to Organic Farming.
As far as I am aware it is a cultural practice that results in 70% absorbption as opposed to 30% for Broadcast Fertilizer. Secondly the target plants can be sprayed with minimal loss to unwanted plants. This can be further ensured by the use of Carrier Surfactants. depending upon the fertilizer used (safe and stable with no toxic residue) there is nothing "Organic" about the method.
I have been using foliar methods for the last 10 years and have effected tremendous savings in fertilizers as well as had the pleasure of greatly increased yields. In soils with high pH where many nutrients get tied down and are unavailable to the plant, this is a preferred method of overcoming this problem. For the plant to uptake nutrients and transport them to the leaf for processing and then return to the root system for storage an extra step is excluded by direct absorbption in the leaf.
Since pesticides can be combined with the foliar application there is a great saving on labor. Also in Sprinkle or Misting Irrigation the fertilizer is combined with irrigation water to give us foliar fertigation.
Is there any information at your disposal that would reveal any deleterious affect of foliar application of nutrients? If so could you share it with us?
World will need GM food, warns expert
- The Scotsman, July 21, 2004, By JAMES REYNOLDS
GENETIC modification and other biotechnologies are essential to increase food production and meet huge projected rises in the world’s population, a leading expert on plant science has warned.
If the advances made in creating genetically modified foods are not used to increase food output the world could find itself in the grip of a food crisis in as little as 15 years, perhaps even ten, said Professor Mike Gale of the John Innes Centre, one of Europe’s largest independent centres for research into plant and microbial science.
At present there are six billion people on the planet and, according to the United Nations, that number is set to rise to nine billion by 2050.
The current annual production of 1.8 billion tons of cereals must be increased to three billion tons a year, Prof Gale told the BioScience 2004 conference at Glasgow’s SECC. He warned: "We have doubled food production over the past half century. Now we have to do it again, but this time we have to do it sustainably. We don’t have any more good land and we don’t have any more water and we have to use fewer chemicals.
"At least half of these increases will have to come from improved varieties, especially varieties bred to tolerate drought and salt and be resistant to pests and diseases. We must also reduce our reliance on fertilisers and other chemical inputs."
Biotechnology can both speed up the breeding process and provide crops with advantageous new genes, and genetic modification is one of a range of techniques available.
The technology can provide variations not otherwise available in the crop or close relatives - such as insect-resistant cowpeas for Africa, rice rich in vitamin A in Asia and disease-resistant bananas throughout the tropics.
Bananas are an exceptionally difficult crop to breed and those bought in most British supermarkets are derived from a breed produced about 100 years ago. Over that 100 years, they have become susceptible to a wide range of diseases, in particular the Black Sigatoka fungus. In Nigeria banana plants have to be sprayed about once a week with powerful fungicides. Advocates of genetic modification say many farmers in Africa lose their crops because they can not afford the fungicides.
Although Prof Gale acknowledges that genetic modification is not the only solution to breeding new varieties of crops, he is adamant that the potential benefits can be realised.
He said: "It is time we came out and said people do not die from GM and the way in which crops are bred. They die from lack of food. There are no risks from GM."
Despite GM trials in Britain concluding that two of the three crops tested had a damaging effect on wildlife, Prof Gale went on: "The results of the field trials carried out in this country are of absolutely no concern. If you look carefully at the trials it is evident that the GM crops required half of the herbicides compared to non-GM varieties, and also required half of the passes through the field by tractors. That means massive benefits to the environment."
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "People are dying because of the agriculture industry’s obsession with hi-tech fixes like GM. Sustainable agricultural techniques and political solutions like land reform are driven off the agenda by the greed and arrogance of the biotechnology industries.
"What the companies are after is control over the food chain that doesn’t actually deliver food for local people. The real issues in global food supply are about distribution of food and the way markets are undermined."
Bt Cotton Creates Three Times the Earnings for Indian Farmer Biotech crop could boost living standards for millions.
When Mahalingappa Shankarikoppa saw the advertisement in the newspaper seeking farmers to test a new variety of cotton, he jumped at the opportunity.
For years, bollworms had been damaging his small crop, sometimes devouring up to 80 percent of the cotton planted on about two acres of land on his farm in the southern state of Karnataka, where India's highest quality cotton is grown.1
In the field trials, Shankarikoppa was impressed by the yield gains and reduced spraying from the biotech seeds supplied by Mayhco, the Indian biotech company that is partially owned by Monsanto. Since then, the Indian government has approved three hybrids of biotech cotton for commercial planting. Shankarikoppa was one of the first to plant biotech cotton commercially.
"With biotech cotton, I make two to three times what I used to with the old, traditional seeds," Shankarikoppa said. "And I spray 80 percent less now than I did before."
For Shankarikoppa, who has spent most of his 74 years farming, the new seeds represent one of the most dramatic agricultural improvements he has ever witnessed. Yields have more than doubled — from about 1,320 pounds per acre using conventional cotton to 3,306 pounds per acre using biotech varieties.
In response to yield gains like this, farmers throughout India are turning to Bt seeds, which are enhanced with a naturally occurring soil protein -- Bacillus thuringiensis -- to ward off bollworm pests. 2
"Farmers are most interested in growing Bt cotton," Shankarikoppa said.
In 2003, more than 247,000 acres of Bt cotton were planted in India — double the area in 2002, the first year biotech cotton was approved for commercial planting, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. 3
While that still represents just about 1 percent of the 22.2 million acres (9 million hectares) of cotton planted in India, the government hopes that this new technology will help improve living standards for a wide cross-section of the Indian population. 4
India has an estimated 4 million cotton farmers, and some 60 million people depend on cotton and the textile industry to make a living. Textiles, in fact, are India's No. 1 export, accounting for about $8.5 billion in revenue.5
India plants more farmland with cotton than any other country — 25 percent of the world's cotton acres are in India — yet produces just 12 percent of the world's cotton. 6 Average yields, about 500 pounds per acre, are among the lowest in the world. 7
So the Indian government is looking for many ways to improve the production of cotton to boost the economy. In addition, it is also looking to boost production of edible cottonseed oil to help feed India's growing population of 1 billion people. 8 India's president has called for a "Second Green Revolution," which includes the use of biotechnology, to help feed its people and grow the economy. 9
Numerous studies have documented the economic and environmental benefits of growing Bt cotton. A recent nationwide survey of more than 3,000 farmers by AC Nielsen found that for biotech cotton farmers in India:
Profits increased 78 percent, on average, over farmers who planted traditional varieties. Yields increased 29 percent, on average. Pesticide use declined by 60 percent, on average 10. The survey found that marginal farmers gained the most income per hectare while large farmers gained the least 11 — a finding that matches up with South African farmers' experience with Bt cotton. 12 Moreover, some Bt cotton farmers were paid 8 percent more for their crop because it was of a higher quality. 13
Because of its potential to improve living standards, several groups support the commercialization of Bt cotton, including the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India Environment Ministry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). 14
"If the kind of productivity increase seen in China is possible in India, then genetically modified crops hold a lot of promise for Indian agriculture," stated a report from FICCI. 15 China, the largest producer of cotton in the world, approved Bt cotton in 1997. Last year, more than half of China's cotton farmers (the number fluctuates between 9 million and 13 million16) planted biotech cotton. A 2001 study found that yields, on average, were about 10 percent higher for Bt cotton than conventional varieties. 17
Like 90 percent of the Indian farmers who have experienced the benefits of biotech cotton in the past, Shankarikoppa says he intends to plant the enhanced seeds again this year.
A CRASH COURSE ON GMOS
- Philippine Star, By Ameurfina Dumlao-Santos, Ph.D., 08-July-2004
Picture this: you take a bite of boiled corn on the cob, then find out that it has been genetically modified with Bt, a toxin that kills corn borers. Will you die just like these insects? Should you write your last will and testament?
This Bt corn is an example of a GMO-a genetically modified organism - so-called because a gene from an outside source, the soil microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis, has been deliberately added to the plant. This added gene makes a substance that is poisonous to a particular type of insects that includes corn borers. Man does this because he is sick and tired of these corn borers that extensively destroy his crops.
For thousands of years, man has been randomly mixing genes by crossbreeding two plants or two animals, hoping to get desirable traits in the offspring. This method is nonspecific and unpredictable; the offspring in fact may carry both desirable and undesirable traits of the parents.
Thanks to the discovery in the 1970s of tools needed for genetic engineering, we can now choose and transfer the gene we want into the genetic material of the recipient organism, which then becomes a GMO or a transgenic organism. The transfer is specific, and the desired trait is predicted.
In medicine, drugs may be produced in bulk by microorganisms. Take for example, insulin, a protein needed by diabetics to lower their blood sugar. Before the advent of GMOs, insulin was extracted from thousands of pancreata (Plural of pancreas) of pigs and cows. Human insulin was isolated from the pancreata of cadavers. Now, we don't have to rely on these pancreata that are better put to use for organ transplants because the gene for human insulin has been introduced into bacteria.
And since these microbes multiply very fast, these millions of bacteria produce lots of human insulin. Whereas one pancreas would yield only a few milligrams of insulin, a few liters of the bacterial culture would produce much more. Vaccines, hormones and other therapeutics are now produced by microbes and other organisms. We have ongoing researches at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman where we produce vaccines and therapeutic antibodies from GMOs.
In "gene pharming," pharmaceuticals are produced from transgenic farm animals. ("Transgenic" means that the organism possesses genes from different species.) Therapeutic proteins like human blood clotting factors may now be found in transgenic milk. Hemophiliacs eventually will no longer have to rely on blood transfusions where diseases like AIDS may be contracted.
The benefits to food and agriculture are vast. Given the rates of Vitamin A deficiency and rice consumption of Filipinos, it is practical that Vitamin A rice, which is developed by IRRI, be made available. In UP Los Baños, papayas with a delayed ripening trait are grown for better storage and transport. This institute is also researching on the transgenic coconut with improved components.
The environment likewise benefits from GMOs. Pest-resistant crops mean reduced use of chemicals insecticides that damage the biodiversity within the locality. It also means reduced accumulation of cancer-causing chemicals in the ecosystem. Herbicide-tolerant plants mean environment-friendly herbicides may be used to destroy weeds so that farmers do not have to till the soil, thus preventing soil erosion. There are also genetically modified bacteria that can clean up pollutants like oil spills.
So far, the only approved GM crop for commercial propagation is Bt corn, after six years of research and field trial testing in the country. However, there continues to be a ranging controversy about the planting of Bt corn. The latest involves villagers residing near the Bt corn fields who were stricken ill. Bt corn pollen was allegedly the cause. However, there is no scientific evidence to substantiate this claim to date.
We are assured of the safety of GM foods by our government agencies. The Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture has stringent requirements for the importation of GM plant and plant products.
But in dealing with the GMO debate, it is human logic that will resolve issues on human technology. This Bt substance, a protein, exists in an inactivated form; it is activated only in the alkaline medium of the insect's gut. Once activated, the toxin binds to specific receptors in the insect's gut and bores holes through the membrane. The toxin is thus known as gut poison. But our stomachs are acidic; thus, the toxin cannot be activated. Furthermore, we do not have receptors to bind to the toxin. So what happens to the Bt substance in the corn that we eat? This will be treated by our digestive systems just like any protein, and will be broken down into tiny pieces. Eating Bt corn is no different from non-Bt corn.
Is there any perceived risk for GMOs? Like anything, of course, there is. There are concerns especially regarding the long-term effects such as "superbugs", or insects that have evolved to be resistant to insecticides. Constant vigilance and proper awareness of this issue are the best weapons against these. The bottom line is, do the benefits from GMOs outweigh the risks? Unless we want to continue living the problems of food shortage, crop destruction, medical deficit and environmental decay, the answer is yes.
SCIENTISTS SUPPORT FAO BIOTECH REPORT
- CropBiotech Update, July 23, 2004
Over 200 scientists from around the world have signed an open letter signifying their support to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) recent report “The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04: Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor?”
The letter addressed to the Director General of the FAO noted that “the publication provides a comprehensive overview of biotechnology's potentials and constraints, and it reflects current scientific knowledge on this important subject area.” It said that genetically modified (GM) crops have been field tested since the late 1980s, are now grown commercially in over 16 countries, including several developing countries.
It adds that the FAO report indicated that the new technology is “associated with certain environmental and health risks, so that effective biosafety and food safety regulations have to be integral components of responsible biotechnology development and utilization. Yet, the evidence so far suggests that environmental and health risks can be managed, so that there is no reason for an outright rejection of GM crops based on safety concerns.”
The report also highlighted points raised by the FAO report such as the need for appropriate policies that address appropriate institutional and structural support problems of food insecurity and poverty. Hence, the FAO report highlights the major areas where public interventions are needed, in order to bring the “gene revolution” to the poor on a larger scale.
A copy of the open letter and signatories are available online at:
Precaution and Labeling
What Do They Mean for What Do They Mean for International Regulation? International Regulation?
- By Gregory Conko, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Presentation available at:
Biotech saves Romania
- Ellinghuysen News, July 20, 2004
Lucian Buzdugan, the general manager of several soybean farms in southeastern Romania, was cited as saying he has seen income and yields double by planting genetically enhanced soybeans, and he hopes the ongoing debate never affects his ability to grow biotech soybeans in Romania, adding, "If one day our government says no more GMOs (genetically modified organisms), for me it's a disaster."
The story says that herbicide tolerant soybeans, which have been commercially grown in Romania since 1999, have led to a doubling of both income and yields on the 23 farms Buzdugan manages near the Black Sea — about 175 miles east of Bucharest.
Yields were just 1,300 to 1,500 pounds per acre with conventional soybeans and are now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre with biotech varieties, he said. The yield increases in Romania have been much higher than in other parts of the world — largely because of the economic deterioration in Romania as it transitioned to a market economy — which left some agricultural fields neglected and overrun with weeds.
European Commission left holding GM hot potato
- European Parliamentary Labour Party (VIA AGNET), July 20, 2004
Europe's Agriculture Ministers failed to reach agreement on the import of genetically modified maize yesterday.
Only ten of the EU's twenty-five national governments at the agriculture council backed a proposal agreed by the European Parliament to allow controlled imports of GM maize.
This latest failure to reach a clear decision on the question of GM imports has left doubts over the EU's commitment to lift the five-year moratorium on biotech crops.
Said Gary Titley MEP and leader of the Labour Group in the European Parliament, "This situation raises serious questions about if or when the EU's moratorium on biotech products will come to an end."
"It is frustrating to see the Council faltering on this issue again. It is time for the Council politicians to have the courage to make a decision"
"The European Parliament, the only directly elected body in the EU, held its nerve on the issue of imports. This latest delay means the buck passes back to the European Commission"
"Decision making by default is not acceptable. Consumers and farmers alike must have confidence in the decision making process."
Why GM is a hard sell in Africa
- A Harvest.net, July 22, 2004 (VIA AGNET)
AFRICA Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, told global leaders attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) Summit in Davos, Switzerland, that biotech crops were a hard sell in Africa because private sector players were not dealing with other factors affecting hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
“Although Africa supports biotechnology, there is increasing concern, especially from political leaders, that private companies merely view it as a market. Politicians in Africa know that their largest constituencies continually face the challenges of hunger, poverty and malnutrition”.
Dr. Wambugu said African leaders would openly support biotechnology, hence speeding up its adoption, if major industry players began to look holistically at the problems facing the continent.
“There is need to develop Africa-specific strategies. A global or blanket strategy tends to marginalize the African peoples,” she told the WEF, attended by, among others, African presidents including the Nigerian President, Olugesun Obasanjo, an ardent supporter of biotechnology.
Dr. Wambugu said those opposed to the technology had effectively exploited the private sector's strategy to spread the myth that biotechnology was harmful.
“Our focus as Africa Harvest has been to provide factual information to Africans. Our experience is that they are not as gullible as the anti-GM lobby groups make them out to be. In particular, African farmers, who have continued to adopt GM technology, especially where it has been commercialized, will only adopt a technology if they confirm that it is beneficial to them”.
She said that lack of biotech products that address the needs of Africa has also slowed down open acceptance.
“The global approach of 'one-fits-all' is counter productive. For Africa, capacity building must be part of the overall strategy,” she said.
Israel to supply disease-resistant tomato seeds to Egypt
- Israel21c, July 20, 2004 (VIA AGNET)
Israel is, according to this story, assisting Egypt''s agricultural development by supplying disease-resistant tomato seeds, Globes reported. Zeraim Gedera will supply tomato seeds to Egypt for $1.5 million, including a number of strains that are resistant to a disease that has severely affected Egyptian tomato fields. Additional shipments are likely. Under an agreement signed with an Egyptian company specializing in agricultural input marketing, Zeraim Gedera will market strains resistant to the tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) Zeraim Gedera marketing manager Amnon Eshet said that the virus attacks tomato plants, causing heavy damage, up to total loss of the crop. The virus has almost totally destroyed almost all Egypt?s tomato fields in the vicinity of Alexandria, near the Nile delta. Most of Egypt?s tomato crop is designate for the domestic market.
Public's fear of GMO foods and labelling unfounded
- The Gazette (Montreal), July 21, 2004 (VIA AGNET)
Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., writes that the article by Henry Aubin on labelling genetically modified foods (Opinion, July 15, "Quebec should move on GMO labelling") missed several key points.
First of all, to suggest that the scientific community is spilt on the evidence of safety of GMO-containing food is blatantly false.
Pretty well everyone - including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association and the International Council for Science - has stated there are no unique risks from genetically modified food.
As for the "know what you are eating argument," Wager suggests if we are going to label food made with genetically modified ingredients, then we should also label products that are themselves products of random mutations resulting from ionizing radiation mutagenesis. In this radiation-induced form of breeding, we truly have no idea what we have done to the genetic material of a plant.
Finally, to suggest that rules on labelling in other countries are working fine is not borne out in fact. There are all kinds of cases of false advertising before food authorities all over the world.