Today in AgBioView: August 3, 2004:
* End world hunger with GMOs
* EAT First! -- CHOICE? WHAT CHOICE?
* Biotechnology To Answer Global Food Issues
* There is an answer to fusarium infestation
* ISAAA SET TO LAUNCH KNOWLEDGE CENTRE IN INDIA
* NAS STUDY ON GE FOOD MAY SPUR CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE ON TIGHTER REG
End world hunger with GMOs
- Ellinghuysen.com, By Gordon Opiyo, Aug 3, 2004
NAIROBI - As Kenya faces yet another famine, food experts say that irrigation and adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops could be the way out of the perennial hunger problem.
Top government officials have in the past two months issued statements that suggest the country may be taking some radical steps to seek alternative ways of producing food.
While opening a bio-safety greenhouse complex at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's National Agricultural Research Laboratories Centre at Kabete in June, President Mwai Kibaki affirmed that the government strongly supports the use of GM crops and other modern scientific technologies to boost agriculture.
He said: "We must embrace and apply modern science and technology in farming. Indeed, there is evidence that countries that have embraced modern agricultural technologies have improved economic performance, reduced poverty and ensured food security for their people."
And early this week, Vice-President Moody Awori stated that the government would seek to aggressively increase the area under irrigation to boost food production. While receiving food donations from a number of well-wishers in his office, the VP announced that the government would put in place a well thought out irrigation strategy that would ensure that the country is self sufficient in food production.
Clearly, the two options seem to be the most practical way to combat food crises, but both have some major hurdles to be overcome before full exploitation in Kenya.
For instance, there is now a very huge disagreement between the United States and the European Union over the use of GM technology. Those opposed to GMOs say that the technology has not been adequately tested to assess the harmful side effects.
In November last year, the United Nations Bio-Safety Protocol allowed countries, under international law, to ban food imports containing GMOs that they think are unsafe. Immediately after the advisory from the UN, the US, the biggest contributor of relief food to the World Food Programme, announced that it would not guarantee that its food aid would not necessarily contain GMOs. The US is the leading country in the production of GMOs.
While registering his support for GMOs, Kibaki said that he was fully aware of the ongoing debate on the application of GMOs. He said that Kenya would apply biotechnology within the existing bio-safety structure, national statutes and international obligations.
He announced that the Government and other players had introduced comprehensive guidelines for the use of biotechnology research. "The development of a biotechnology policy is at an advanced stage. Bills to support this policy are being prepared for consideration in Parliament," he said.
Dr Florence Wambugu, a scientist and leading proponent of GMOs in Kenya, has on several occasions argued that the government should fully embrace the technology.
Dr Wambugu, who was behind the production of the first genetically modified sweet potato in Africa in the early 1990s, says that GMOs are the only way out of the food crises in less developed countries. She says that biotechnology can easily develop drought and pest resistant crops. One example of successful application of biotechnology has been the experiment involving farmers growing tissue-culture bananas in East Africa. Farmers who have participated in the trials have trebled their incomes and doubled their yields.
On irrigation, experts say the country currently uses only 16 per cent of its potential. During last year's World Water Forum, Kenya's irrigation potential was widely discussed. According to Mercy Karanja of the Kenya National Farmers Union, the irrigation potential in Kenya is estimated at 540,000 hectares out of which only 87,000 ha is currently in use.
Lack of a comprehensive national irrigation policy and a legal framework for irrigation development have been cited as some of the greatest impediments to irrigation in the country. The Irrigation Act of 1966 only mandated the National Irrigation Board to administer, coordinate and manage public irrigation schemes. But due to corruption and mismanagement, most of the schemes are now not operational. The operational ones are performing below the actual potential.
In addition, one of the areas in the country with the greatest potential for irrigation, the Lake Victoria basin, is currently restricted by the Nile Treaty, signed in the 1920s between the British and Egyptian authorities, from engaging in any major irrigation activity. Experts say that properly utilised, the Lake Victoria basin has the potential to feed the East and Central Africa region.
Awori says that the government would work round the clock to ensure that the treaty is declared null and void.
EAT First! -- CHOICE? WHAT CHOICE?
- www.eatfirst.org, By Colleen Tigges
Americans make tough choices every day: Breyer’s or Dreyer’s ice cream? Fresh broccoli or asparagus? Organic strawberries? Genetically modified tomatoes?
Affluent societies expend countless hours on “fluff’ choices while ignoring places in the world where choices are truly tough and very different. In third world countries people choose between food or malaria medicine because they can’t have both. During drought, poor farmers must choose between feeding their kids today or feeding the family cow for milk tomorrow.
Protestors and pseudo-environmentalists whine loudly about the “terrible choices” we rich people make. A favorite target is technology-based agriculture. They would rather we forgo synthetic fertilizers and pest control and choose to farm “organically”. That’s fine. They can make that choice because both are available. America is rich enough to cater to silly whims. But they have no right to force their ideological nonsense on others, especially countries that don’t have the choices we have.
Green do-gooders invade third-world countries to “help” them avoid the “bad choices” we Americans made – those awful choices that led to abundant food, advanced medical care and unprecedented wealth. The same wealth that, in fact, paid for their airfare.
World population has surged from 2 billion in 1930 to over 6 billion today – that’s triple! Miraculously, these six billion people are better fed today than at any other time in history thanks to a miracle we call the Green Revolution. Animal and crop science have brought synthetic fertilizer, better insect and plant disease control and improved animal health. Improving yields have kept pace with rising population.
The Green Revolution has been a food production miracle, and equally important, it has been an environmental triumph. World food production tripled and it was accomplished on the same amount of crop land. Technology in agriculture saved millions of people from starvation and misery, and also saved millions of acres of habitat from the plow.
Turning the world away from technology and toward organic or subsistence farming would be a disaster. Population is still going up - experts estimate it will top out at around 8.5 billion. Nobel Prize-winner and father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, along with hundreds of other scientists, estimates that reverting to organic methods on today’s cropland would feed only about 4 billion people, leaving us to choose whether to plow down more land or let one third of the world’s population starve.
While I’m sure that there are many environmentalists who would love to choose which third of the population to sacrifice (capitalists run for your lives!), the reality is that it’s not a choice that anyone can make. People do not starve easily. They will slash and burn every acre of tropical forest to grow food and when the land is drained and barren they will hunt down every warm, fuzzy critter for their stewpots. A mother will not stand outside a protected game preserve and watch her children starve – when the choice is your children or the last tiger on earth, there is no choice… it’s tiger for dinner.
Choosing organic or subsistence farming means choosing to use more land – fragile land like rain forest and wildlife habitat – to feed the world. And because that land is generally unsuitable for growing food, there truly isn’t even enough land on the planet… we would likely need another entire continent.
Environmentalists must accept the reality that two-thirds of the people on earth don’t eat fresh broccoli and organic strawberries, and they don’t have chicken on Sunday either. They eat rice, corn or wheat that they grow themselves, while struggling with never-ending drought and pests. Daily concerns for these people do not include the rain forest, endangered species, synthetic chemicals, or silicone breast implants – they are too busy trying to feed their children and themselves. Third-world farmers don’t need less synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and biotechnology, they need more. To raise their standard of living they must grow more than they eat. Without modern technology they simply can’t achieve what we Americans take for granted every day.
An African delegate to the U.N. stated it best when he said that millions of poor farmers already farm organically because they do not have access to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and “… it’s not getting the job done.”
Advances in agriculture are already bringing prosperity to some formerly destitute countries. India, using enhanced corn and wheat varieties, has gone from starvation to a net-exporter. Another case is small farmers in South Africa, whose use of pest resistant cotton has resulted in a 25% yield increase while insecticide use dropped by over 60%. More crop to sell, coupled with a decrease in chemical cost is a huge success for these farmers!
Americans love having choices – but we have forgotten that the privilege of choosing from 10 different ice creams in a supermarket covering three square blocks was paid for with choices made long ago. We chose to embrace technology and progress that brought huge advances in health, wealth and, even in our environment.
And now America exports do-gooders that are thwarting poor countries’ attempts to rise above third-world status. These wealthy products of American capitalism need to stop impeding other peoples’ opportunities to make the same choices we did. Ideology means nothing to people who have no energy to power homes and businesses, no indoor plumbing, and who don’t have enough to eat. These people will choose any opportunity to stop their children from starving – do they have any other choice?
Colleen Tigges is Director of EAT First!, a non-profit foundation dedicated to fighting the myth and misinformation surrounding environmental issues, especially as they relate to agriculture. She recently co-authored a book titled, “A Field Manual for the Green War,” which is available at www.eatfirst.org. Contact her at email@example.com.
Biotechnology To Answer Global Food Issues
- BruneiDirect.Com, By Laila Rahman, Aug 3, 2004
Bandar Seri Begawan - Biotechnology provides the answer to the challenge of producing food to keep pace with the fast rate of population growth, Dato Paduka Haji Idris bin Hai Belaman, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, said yesterday.
The challenge we are facing today is to feed the world. The world population keeps on increasing and by the year 2020, the expected world population will reach 8 billion and 6.7 billion of which will be in the developing countries, he said.
Without this advance technology, nations with growing population would not be able to feed the future generation, he said.
He was the guest of honour at the awareness seminar on bio safety aspects of genetically modified organisms.
He also launched a book, "Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Organisms".
The book would create awareness among the public on bio safety of genetically modified organisms and to enhance public understanding on the current issues pertaining to genetically modified organisms, he said.
"It is important and become our commitment to educate the public to make them understand the issue on genetically modified organisms. At the same time we should continue to build upon the capacity in regulating and assessing risks associated with genetically modified organisms," he said.
It should become our concern that emphasis should also be made to develop our capabilities to regulate the "non-halal" components in genetically modified organism.
Biotechnology at the Department of Agriculture started with the participation in Asean-Australia collaborative project in 1989. An outcome of the project was the publication of two volumes of books on Medical Plants of Brunei Darussalam published by the Department of Agriculture.
Most of the biotechnology activities are at the lower level and the two institutions, which are currently involved in this area of research, are the Department of Agriculture and Universiti Brunei Darussalam.
`Whatever resources we have and with the assistance of the regional expertise, we should be proactive in ensuring the safety of the food available in Brunei Darussalam', he said.
The development of genetically modified food has become a trend and the products have widely entered the market. Some countries are regulating genetically modified products in the market through labeling which provides information to consumer and allow them to make their choices.
One function of the national regulatory body would to regulate and assess risks associated with the use and release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. It is important for Brunei Darussalam to have its own regulatory body to regulate and manage genetically modified products.
He believed that this seminar would be fruitful and would be able to come up with recommendations to assist the country and other Asean member countries in developing or increasing capacity building.
“We also expect to develop bio safety framework, infrastructure and facilities to evaluate the presence and bio safety of genetically modified organisms in this seminar,” he added.
There is an answer to fusarium infestation
- Letter to the Windsor Star, July 30, 2004
I read with interest the story July 21, about the fusarium infestation of the Essex County winter wheat crop. As an owner of a farm with winter wheat, I sympathize with the farmers who are suffering this fusarium infestation. However, I do not think this difficult situation should pass without additional comment.
Fusarium, a fungus, produces the mycotoxin called fumonisin. Under food safety guidelines from the U.K. Food Safety Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fumonisin in wheat, or in any crop, can quickly make the crop unusable for human food.
Moreover, as attested by the U.S. FDA guidelines for fumonisin in animal feed, fumonisin can also quickly make the crop unacceptable for animal consumption. Hence, the Essex County farmers are at risk of their crop being completely unmarketable.
Transgenic wheat, i.e. Bt wheat (wheat with bacillus thuringiensis) should greatly reduce the risk of fusarium infestation. Scientific studies from Argentina, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the United States have clearly established that Bt corn has a many-fold lesser risk of fumonism contamination than non-Bt corns.
Bt corn has in-built protection from fumonisin contamination because fusarium gains access to the crop most often through insect bites. Bt corn has much better insect control and suffers many fewer insect bites.
Bt wheat should have the same in-built protection from fumonisin contamination.
If so, Bt wheat would protect animal health, human health and the economic markets of farmers. Situations such as that being experienced by Essex County farmers should help us realize the significant benefits that agricultural biotechnology provides to consumers, animals, and farmers in our society.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial
Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma Law Center, Norman, Okla.
ISAAA SET TO LAUNCH KNOWLEDGE CENTRE IN INDIA
- Financial Express, August 1, 2004
The US based International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is slated launch its 'knowledge center' in India in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The launch of this 'knowledge centre' will be on the occasion of the three-day International conference on 'Agricultural Biotechnology : Ushering in the Second Green Revolution' beginning on August 10.
The international conference is being organised jointly by ISAAA, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Chennai-based MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and will be inaugurated by the Union minister of state for science and technology, Kapil Sibal. The ISAAA, sponsored by mutlinational seed companies and some research institutions, has centres in North America, Africa and south-east Asia. The southeast Asian centre is located in the premises of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila in The Philippines, while the African centre is located in the CIP/ILRI complex in Nairobi in Kenya.
The North American centre is located in Cornell University, Ithaca in New York. ISAAA in its mission statement claims "to contribute to poverty alleviation" and has in its objectives "the transfer of and delivery of appropriate biotechnology applications to developing countries and the building of partnerships between institutions in the South and the private sector in the North, and by strengthening South-South collaboration."
The Indian industries engaged in developing transgenic crops and products have been upbeat with the government planning to amend the existing laws to make them more industry-friendly. The government had set up two separate committees to recommend the applications of transgenic technology in agriculture and recombinant pharma sector and also to recommend changes in the existing laws. While the panel on biotechnology applications in agriculture headed by Dr MS Swaminathan has already submitted its report, that on pharma sector headed by Dr RA Mashelkar is yet to submit its recommendations. The government is also planning to set up another panel for the use of transgenic applications in the food and food processing sector. The three-day international seminar is slated to discuss a wide range of issues relating to agriculture biotechnology.
Dr Krishna Ella, chairman of the FICCI biotechnology committee said "the international conference would aim at sharing global experiences on the status and acceptability of GM crops and public-private partnership in promotion of agricultural biotechnology. It would also address and examine at length the need for legal, statutory and structural policy changes. Evolving strategies for effective utilisation of biological resources for improvement of food as well as non-food products and necessary guidelines and material transfer agreements for facilitating access to bioresources and benefit sharing with the local community who own these resources
will be discussed." Dr Ella said that discussions will also be on standardisation of protocols for GM crops and foods, evolving of a simple mechanism for transfer of lead researches in agricultural biotechnology done in government-funded R&D institutions to the industry and creating awareness about the benefits of intellectual property protections on innovative and high yielding crop varieties.
NAS STUDY ON GE FOOD MAY SPUR CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE ON TIGHTER REG
30 July 2004
A new National Academy of Sciences report calling for more research on the safety of genetically engineered food may fuel congressional debate over mandating premarket assessment and postmarket surveillance of GE food. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) plans to use the report to push his legislation for stricter federal oversight of biotech food, a source close to the lawmaker says.
The report was prepared by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine and National Research Council in response to a request by FDA, HHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. The National Academies set up a committee of scientific experts to help draft the study.
The report calls for more research but stops short of calling for premarket review of GE food -- leading factions from both sides of the debate say the report supports their position.
Biotechnology and food-processing industry groups point out that the report recommends that regulators consider the final product over the technology used to create it. The committee recommends assessing products on a case-by-case basis to determine whether unintended changes in their composition could adversely affect human health, irrespective of how the products were made.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization calls the report a "milestone in consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology" because it states that GE food is not inherently dangerous and should be treated the same as other traditional gene-altering techniques. Likewise, the National Food Processors Association supports what it refers to as the report's "science-based approach."
A BIO spokesperson says industry supports premarket notification and wants FDA to finish its rule that would mandate the system.
Consumer groups focus on the report's recommendations for premarket assessment and postmarket surveillance on genetically altered food. A source at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the report acknowledges that government needs to take an active role in determining the safety of genetically engineered food. If the government should determine whether a safety assessment is needed, then the government needs to review the product in the first place, the source says.
But the CSPI source says the report glosses over the fact that safety assessments are not currently done, and the group is disappointed that the report did not recommend mandatory assessment and surveillance. CSPI advocates a premarket approval process like that in place for food additives.
However, the source close to Durbin says scientific boards usually only recommend how a system should work, and it is up to Congress to decide how to implement such a system. The source says the report reinforces Durbin's position that FDA should test GE food before allowing it on the market, then monitor the food once it is on the market.
Durbin's legislation also would require FDA to establish a public registry of the regulatory status of all approved GE food. The NAS report also calls for postmarket surveillance in some cases.
FDA and industry have argued that there is no scientific evidence showing that biotech food is dangerous. Currently there is a voluntary premarket "notification" system for genetically engineered food. FDA has delayed a proposed rule that would require premarket notification of bioengineered foods. Industry officials want FDA to publish the rule because they say it will build customer confidence. The rule would not require government "approval" for GE foods, which is what CSPI wants.
BIO says it supports premarket "consultation," but it does not support requiring that biotech food go through an approval process like that of food additives. BIO also believes that mandating the current voluntary consultation system would supplant any need for a postmarket surveillance system.
The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) also believes a mandatory premarket consultation program would negate the need for postmarket surveillance. An NFPA spokesperson says there is some confusion over what the NAS report meant by postmarket surveillance. NPFA could foresee some sort of postmarket surveillance system for food products that make health claims. However, up to 70 percent of multi-ingredient food already includes GE food and such a system for all those products would be costly and usetless, the spokesperson suggests.
The NAS report agrees with FDA and industry that GE food is not inherently dangerous, but NAS also contends that little is known about the safety of GE food.
"[O]ur ability to interpret how these changes in food composition may affect human health is limited," according to the committee. "The complexity of food composition challenges the ability of modern analytical chemistry and bioinformatics to identify compositional changes and determine their biological relevance."
The NAS committee recommends that modified foods be assessed only when the presence of novel compounds or levels of naturally occurring compounds that are higher or lower than those found in the conventional counterpart. Regulators should then take into account the organism modified and the nature of the introduced trait, the committee says.
"When warranted by changes, such as altered levels of naturally occurring components, vulnerabilities in specific populations of consumers, or unexplained clusters of adverse health effects, the committee recommends improving the tracking of potential health consequences from commercially available foods that are genetically modified, including those that are genetically engineered."
The committee recommends that either the government or industry develop standardized sampling methodologies, validation procedures and performance-based techniques for targeted analyses and profiling of genetically modified foods. Sampling methodology should include comparing the modified food to an unmodified variety of a species, developed under a variety of environmental conditions, as well as comparing the modified food to commonly consumed commercial varieties of food, the report states.