Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org ; August 27, 2004
* GM Clouded by Emotion
* GM Ban Could Cost Me My Family Farm
* Kerry Tackles Organic Issues
* Bush vs. Kerry on Biotech Issues
* Russia: World Production of GM - Safety and Outlook
* Asia Heads Towards Use of GMO Foods, Despite Activist Protests
* WTO Ruling Delayed In Transatlantic Row Over GMOs
* On Catholic Institute Report on GM Crops
* Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotech
* Western NGOs Undermining the Chinese Government
* Scientists in Europe ...Revolutionize the Way Vaccines are Made
* Food Safety vs. Hysterical Fiction
* India Funding Biotech Projects
* A Growing Taste For GM Food
GM Clouded by Emotion
- Trevor Johnston, Weekly Times (Australia), August 25, 2004
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald extolling the virtues of genetically modified cotton highlights the difficulty science faces in overpowering emotion in the GM debate. -The article noted that the introduction of GM cotton had reduced toxic pesticide spray applications from 16 to twice annually, with 69 per cent less herbicide used when cotton is stacked with Roundup Ready tolerant genes.
The next day saw a venomous campaign of letters to the editor labelling the GM concept as contaminated, its supporters as environmental vandals, and its science as propaganda. Misinformation and myths surround the subject, to the detriment of the community and the farming community.
In 2002, a group of researchers at the University of Adelaide, led by Dr Rick Roush (now in the US) and Peter Langridge, responded to a list of claims by GM antagonists with factual comment. They quoted a European Union report reviewing 400 research groups, which found no new risks to human health or the environment, compared with conventional plant breeding, adding that GM comprised a more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny.
They refuted the argument that DNA can be passed from GM feeds to human consumers or livestock, noting that all recognisable fragments of DNA are broken down in digestion and not taken up in animals.
Further, a wide range of studies show that consumption of milk, meat and eggs produced from animals fed GM crops is as safe as traditional practices.
The anti-GM club also suggests that GM will not solve world hunger, but a 1997 World Bank report estimated that biotechnology could increase food production in the developing world by 25 per cent, vitally important in Africa where insects and viral diseases reduce production of key crops by as much as half.
Finally, the issue of big bad multinationals creaming money from innocent GM users from patented plants. Nearly all of the corn in Canada and the US has been grown for decades from hybrid seed bought from companies. Farmers continue to have options to buy both GM and non-GM seed in crops where GM is offered.
GM Ban Could Cost Me My Family Farm
- The Age (Australia) August 26, 2004; From Agnet
Gerald Feeny of St Arnaud, Australia, writes that the last time he looked in the filing cabinet, he had many contracts related to growing crops which oblige him to protect the rights and pay fees to the technology owners. But none of these crops are GM. Farmers who choose to grow GM crops enter contracts of their own free will because they perceive a financial benefit, and they continue to grow GM crops only if they realise that benefit.
There is no compulsion, as implied by Carl Dunmore (24/8), from bio-tech companies. Mr Dunmore is quite wrong, too, when he contends that European farmers have chosen not to grow GM crops; they have been banned by their governments from making any choice. The Victorian Government has done the same, and would punish Feeny if I grew a GM canola - even though this has passed all environmental and health tests. Canada's farmers will produce 8 million tonnes of canola this year that is marketed as GM, compared to our forecast tonnage of 1.4 million. Are Canadian farmers slaves - or are they two steps ahead of us?
Banning GM technology is dumb policy that leaves Australian farmers competing with better equipped and more efficient overseas farmers - not a very happy prospect for Feeny's family farm, he's afraid.
Kerry Tackles Organic Issues
- Philip Brasher, The Des Moines Register, August 22, 2004
'The presidential nominee says the government should insure farmers against crop contamination.'
It's safe to say John Kerry has Berkeley and Boston sewn up. So what's with the talk about organic farming? It's a topic presidential candidates usually avoid, certainly in the Midwest. But during a recent campaign swing through Missouri, Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, both brought up organic issues.
Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said the government should insure organic farmers against contamination from the genetically modified crops that their neighbors are growing. "If your crop gets polluted by a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop, poof, you're gone," Kerry said, according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Actually, there's nothing in the government's organic rules that disqualifies a farmer because his crops cross-pollinated with a neighbor's. The problem is that some elevators may discount the corn or refuse to buy it for food use if it contains traces of GMO material. Kerry's wife opined at an event that going organic could be a good option for farmers, and she said there was a "huge market" for organic pork.
That got the attention of a conventional hog farmer named Winston Simpson. The self-described die-hard Democrat warned the Kerrys how farmers react to a candidate promoting organic agriculture.
"They freak," Simpson said. "In a really close election, if you're looking to get votes in a rural area, I don't think you're going to achieve that much . . . talking about organic farming," Simpson told me.
It isn't clear why the Kerrys would bring up organic agriculture -and raise issues bound to irritate conventional farmers.
Kerry is hardly an enemy of biotechnology. His campaign Web site says Kerry sees genetic engineering is a way of "reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture and ensuring adequate safe food and sustainability." The statement cites "Iowa Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug" as having proven that biotech crops "are part of the way we will achieve that goal."
Whether Kerry would be as aggressive as President Bush in promoting the industry will depend in part on whom he would appoint to key positions, including agriculture secretary. The two people often mentioned as a likely agriculture secretary in a Kerry administration are two Democratic congressmen: Rep. Cal Dooley of California and Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas. It would be hard to find two Democrats who are more pro-agribusiness.
Kerry said he does not think his insurance plan for organic farmers "will be that hard to pull off." That remains to be seen.
The National Corn Growers Association is decidedly cool to Kerry's idea. "Coexistence is not a problem, and corn growers and farmers across the country successfully grow both biotech and organic crops," said Texas farmer Dee Vaughn, the group's president.
Farmers avoid the kind of contamination Kerry is talking about by scheduling plantings so their crops do not pollinate at the same time as neighboring fields.
And it's not just organic growers who have to worry about cross-pollination. Farmers who sell nonorganic corn for export to Europe share concerns. Should taxpayers protect them, too?
As I said, why talk about organic farming?
Kerry has taken a stand on an international agreement to move toward slashing worldwide agricultural subsidies and tariffs. He supports it. A final agreement is at least a year or two away.
Kerry vs. Bush on Biotech
- Prakash: Some documents I found at both candidates' websites...
John Kerry: Fighting For Farmers
Common Sense Approach To Biotechnology
John Kerry wants to work towards the goal of reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture and ensuring adequate and safe food and sustainability. As Iowa Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug’s work has proven, genetically modified crops are part of the way we will achieve that goal. John Kerry supports farmers’ rights to use safe, approved, and regulated technologies.
* Regulation. As president, John Kerry will redouble government efforts to make sure biotechnology is safe for human consumption and safe for the environment. He will give government agencies the power they need to effectively regulate genetically modified food products, both before and after market.
* Foreign Policies. As president, John Kerry will work with the international community to effectively address concerns about genetically modified products and improve trade relations.
John Kerry for President - A Plan To Create Millions Of High-Wage Jobs In The Industries Of The Future
...high-wage jobs in the industries of the future such as the broadband Internet, clean energy, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing. John Kerry and John Edwards are also committed to increasing investments in...
And now from George Bush
President Bush Addressing BIO 2003: "Your industry is also helping this country and the world to meet a second great challenge: sparing millions of people from starvation. America and other wealthy nations have a special responsibility to combat hunger and disease in desperate lands. We meet that responsibility with emergency food in times of crisis. Next year the United States will devote more than a billion dollars providing food and aid to the hungry. But for the long-term, we must help troubled nations to avert famine by sharing with them the most advance methods of crop production.
Through the work of scientists in your field, many farmers in developed nations are able to grow crops with high resistance to drought and pests and disease; enable farmers to produce far greater yields per acre. In our own country, we see the benefits of biotech every day with food prices and good land conservation practices. Yet, the great advantages of biotechnology have yet to reach developing nations in Africa and other lands where these innovations are now most needed.
Acting on unfounded, unscientific fears, many European governments have blocked the import of all new biotech crops. Because of these artificial obstacles many African nations avoid investing in biotechnology, worried that their products will be shut out of important European markets.
For the sake of a continent threatened by famine I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology.
We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against global hunger."
Russia: World Production of GM Foods and Feed - Safety and Outlook
- Yelena Sorokina, Interfax: Food & Agriculture Report (Senior Research Associate, Food Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences)
The active application of genetic engineering technologies in breeding crops with specified characteristics has led to the large-scale production of foods and feed from genetically modified (GM) sources or components that contain them. Agricultural genetic engineering essentially continues traditional selection, aimed at altering the genotype of crops, but achieves results more quickly and effectively. The overwhelming majority of GM crops now produced on a commercial scale have been created to increase yields. This is achieved by giving them more resistance to herbicides, pests and disease.
Growing GM crops also reduces the need to apply broad-range pesticides, which reduces the trace amounts of pesticides in food and feed products.
Since the first GM crops appeared on the global market in 1994-1995 - tomatoes with longer ripening periods from Galgene and glyphosate-resistant soy from Monsanto - the use of genetic engineering in agriculture has proven very profitable. There are now dozens of crops with GM equivalents.
Research conducted by the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy (NCFAP) in 2002 showed that GM strains of soy, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and rapeseed grown in the United States yield additional harvests worth $4 billion, boost farm revenues by $1.5 billion and reduce the amount of pesticides used by 46 million pounds per year compared to similar traditional crops.
All this has fostered the spread of biotechnology in various countries. In the eight years from 1996 to 2003, the global area of GM crops grew 40-fold to 67.7 million hectares. Analysts expect the area of GM crops and the number of farms that grow them to increase further.
The dominant GM crops on the global market are soybeans, corn and rapeseed. Some 55% of the soybeans grown in the world are genetically modified and the figure for corn is 11%. In the United States, the leader in biotechnology, the figures are respectively 81% and 40%, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS).
The number of countries growing GM crops commercially is increasing every year. In 2003, the largest areas under GM crops were 42.8 million hectares in the United States, 13.9 million hectares in Argentina, 4.4 million hectares in Canada, 3.0 million hectares in Brazil, 2.8 million hectares in China and 0.4 million hectares in South Africa.
The three most populous Asian countries - China, India and Indonesia, the three largest countries in Latin America - Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, and the most economically developed African country - South Africa have all begun commercial farming of GM crops for use in the food industry and for feed production. Extensive laboratory and field research in this area is being conducted in almost all developed countries and a number of developing countries.
The future of biotechnology lies in second-generation GM crops, with altered chemical compositions that improve the nutritional and feed value of products. Such goals are not new. About thirty years ago, traditional selection resulted in the breeding of rapeseed with virtually no toxic erucic acid. The development of genetic engineering and the growing understanding of the metabolism of humans and animals make it possible to create such products much faster and with greater likelihood of success. There are has been intensive research in this area in recent years. GM rice with higher beta carotene content, potatoes with higher lysine content in protein, wheat with higher content of various minerals and other crops are now undergoing laboratory and field studies.
One of the determining factors in the emergence of new GM foods and feed on the market is their safety for humans and animals. These are products created with new, unconventional technologies and are subject to mandatory evaluation for safety and subsequent monitoring.
As a fundamental approach to assessing the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development adopted the concept of substantial equivalency in the early 1990s, which is used by most specialists, including the World Health Organization. The concept is based on a comparison of GMO with its traditional source equivalent according to external features, content of key substances (proteins and amino acids, fat and fat acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals), toxins, allergens and biologically active substances typical for the given product.
The system for assessing the safety of GMO focuses on studies of protein with new features. This protein is compared to the amino acid composition of known protein toxins and allergens from genetic databases (GenBank, EMBL, PIR and Swiss Prot), and a conclusion of the degree of equivalency is made based on the analysis. Further assessment of the protein includes determination of toxicity on rodents, how quickly it breaks down in stomach and intestinal juices in models and in animals, breakdown in cooking of food and allergenic potential.
Lengthier (28 to 90 days) toxicological studies are conducted if it is found that the protein is slow to break down in digestion and has a similar amino acid structure to known protein toxins or allergens. If the tests do not find that the protein is toxic or allergenic, the GMO is declared as safe as conventional equivalents.
The list of GM crops that have undergone a complete assessment for safety and are permitted for use in foods and feed in 2004 includes more than 100 strains, according to the U.S. Federal Drug Association.
Russia has a legislative, methodical and regulatory framework to regulate the turnover of productions with GMO. The country in 1996 adopted a federal law on state regulation of genetic engineering activities (No. 86-FZ of July 5, 1996), which regulates such activities in the areas of resource use, environmental protection and safety. Under Article 11 of this law, products resulting from the use of genetic engineering must meet requirements of environmental safety, health standards, pharmacological regulations, and mandatory national standards
In 1998, the country defined procedures for the registration of GM foods that were later revised by Russia's health safety chief (resolution No. 14 of November 8, 2000). Under the rules, all new GM foods entering the Russian market are subject to health safety testing, which covers three areas: a medical-genetic assessment (the Bio-engineering Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences), a medical-biological assessment (Food Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences) and an assessment of the technological parameters of the product (the State University of Applied Biotechnology).
The results of the assessments are sent to the Health Ministry, which issues permits for the use of GM foods in the food industry and sales to consumers, or an argued refusal. In 2000, Russia approved a system for assessing the safety of food products with GM ingredients, which is based on international practice and takes into account domestic research on new food sources. Thirteen types of food crops have now gone through the full cycle of tests and are permitted for use in the food industry and sales to the public in Russia: three strains of pesticide-resistant soybeans, three strains of pesticide-resistant corn, three strains of pest-resistant corn, two strains of potato resistant to the Colorado beetle, one strain of glyphosate-resistant sugarbeet, and one strain of rice resistant to ammonium gluphosinate.
The Agriculture Ministry is responsible for registering GM feed, according to a January 18, 2002 government resolution. Only feed containing GMO, feed additives and ingredients intended for direct feeding of animals are subject to government registration. Several dozen feed products have now been registered.
Thus, Russia now has a legislative foundation for regulating the circulation of food and feed products with GMO. They are registered according to established rules, assessed for safety and monitored following registration.
However, all GM products on the Russian market are made from GMO created in the United States and the European Union. Russia does not yet allow GM crops to be grown in the country for subsequent sale to the public or use in the food industry or in feed production. This is in large measure due to the lack of a legislative framework to support the registration of GM crops for farming in Russia.
Asia Heads Towards Use of GMO Foods, Despite Activist Protests
- Agence France Presse, August 27, 2004
A decision by Thailand, one of Asia's prime agricultural producers, to allow open-field trials of genetically modified crops marks another milestone for the controversial products in the region, as governments ignore activists' concerns, industry analysts said Friday.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced last weekend he had given the nod to the trials. Several other countries were expected to follow suit, while the Philippines and China already have huge plantations producing crops such as corn, as well as cotton.
The United States is the world's biggest producer of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but has faced an uphill battle in persuading other parts of the world - from Europe to Africa and the Middle East - to accept the products. But industry analysts, and even green groups which oppose their introduction, say the tide is turning in favour of the new products.
Japan approved field-tests of the so-called "super-crops" more than 15 years ago but has since been cautious and has yet to approve their cultivation. However Australia and New Zealand have recently relaxed their opposition and signalled a readiness to consider GMO tests.
But the big change comes with the change in attitude among developing countries which need to find easy ways to feed their growing populations. "Generally Asia is becoming far more accepting of GMOs because many countries are developing and have growing populations that they can't feed," Cheng Luk-ki, scientific research and conservation head of Hong Kong-based Green Power, told AFP. "They need to find enough food to feed their people and are willing to accept anything that promises that."
Genetically modified crops have their genetic makeup engineered by scientists to boost beneficial characteristics, such as nutritional value, and remove detrimental ones, such as susceptibility to pests. They come with the promise of bumper harvests and higher yields, tempting carrots to dangle before impoverished farmers in a region with some 720 million people living below the breadline.
But opponents of the use of GMOs say the crops are dangerous and the way they are marketed will end up ruining many of the farmers who hope to make their living from growing them. GMOs, they say, are "super strains" that could muscle other varieties of plants into extinction. They also fear the crops have not been fully tested and could pose health problems not yet apparent.
They are further opposed because distribution of GMO seeds is controlled by Western companies who tie growers into contracts they may not be able to honour, thus extending the poverty cycle. Many rich nations, particularly in Europe where public opinion is largely hostile to GM foods, have fended off the GMO onslaught.
As a result aid workers such as Ramesh Kadkha, international food rights campaigner for poverty-relief group Action Aid, believes Asia has become the new battleground for GMO acceptance. "Some governments are very poor and not very strong -- they are attracted by the promises of the big GMO companies," Kadhka told AFP. "But while they come with big promises and big money they also come with big clouds."
Critics argue that weak regulatory systems in the region are at fault, giving GMO multinationals ample room to operate. They cite India as an example of what can go wrong when controls are loose: There, thousands of farmers have found themselves in greater debt after the GM cotton seeds US biotechnology company Monsanto said would boost yields failed. (from Prakash: Ha?)
"There is a case pending before the Supreme Court against the company as they tried to bypass our weak regulatory system," said Vandana Shiva, activist and founder of voluntary organisation Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. "What we have appealed to the court to do is to strengthen the regulator."
Certainly, not all of Asia is yet persuaded of the value of these products. Taiwan has tight labelling requirements for food containing GMOs as a means of monitoring the products' spread there and Pakistan, where controls are very lax, announced this week it was looking into similar legislation.
Other nations, however, appear more welcoming. "We are open to research in genetically modified crops but we have to be really cautious before we can recommend an open field trial for them," said Achmad Suryana, head of the Indonesian agriculture ministry's Research and Development Agency.
WTO Ruling Delayed In Transatlantic Row Over GMOs
- Richard Waddington, Reuters August, 26, 004
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has put off until March a decision on whether the European Union broke trade rules by not allowing imports of genetically modified foods (GMO), officials said on Thursday. But environmentalists said a verdict in the politically charged case, brought against the European Union by the United States, Argentina and Canada, could take even longer after trade judges agreed to hear scientific opinion.
WTO judges had initially been expected to issue a ruling in September or October, but officials said that it had been put back until the end of March to give both sides more time to make their case and to let the judges question scientists. The judges' decision to take evidence from scientists was seen as a victory for the EU, which had pressed for their views to be heard, while the United States and its allies had argued that this was unnecessary.
"I think that next spring is very optimistic (for a decision)," said Adrian Beeb of green activists Friends of the Earth. In a previous trade row between the United States and the European Union involving food and health -- that time over beef hormones -- it had taken the WTO two years to gather scientific opinion, he noted. The EU eventually lost the case.
In bringing the case in August last year, the United States and its allies argued that the then 15-nation EU had flouted trade norms by not allowing any GMO crops to be grown or imported since 1998, in what amounted to a de facto ban.
The United States says that there is no scientific evidence for human health or environmental problems related to biotech products -- two of the grounds on which WTO rules allow countries to bar imports. Washington and its allies also argued the WTO had no need to hear scientists because the argument was over whether or not the EU had applied its own rules for approving GMO applications. "The issue is that the EU has a mechanism and that it has not been applying it. Science does not come into it," said one trade diplomat from a country involved in the case.
He said that a first scientific hearing was expected in November. In a move aimed at taking some of the heat out of the case, the EU authorised the import of a genetically modified maize in May, the first such approval for five years.
The decision followed months of deadlock between member states and flew in the face of public opinion in Europe, where consumers are largely hostile to biotech foods, with opposition rated at more than 70 percent. Washington applauded the decision but said it was not enough and diplomats say the real test of whether the moratorium is over will be when the EU approves the planting of GM crops.
Catholic Institute for International Relations Report on GM Crops
-Drew L Kershen
Dear Friends: I have read this latest Catholic Institute for International Relations Report on GM Crops. As one could expect, it is the same old nonsense that CIIR has published before. CIIR apparently releases a new (more accurately, recycled) scare campaign and misinformation about every three-four months. I think responding again just gives greater exposure and publicity to ignorance and irrationality.
I did learn by reading the missive that CIIR is apparently funded by the European Commission, just as the EU and some individual EU nations fund Greenpeace and other anti-biotechnology NGOs. This is a shameful use of taxpayer money -- making them support ideological positions that most assuredly do not know they are being made to support. In my opinion, this missive and its funding are shameful and disgusting.
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law
>What's wrong with GM?
>Catholic Institute for International Relations, August 2004
>Why genetically modified crops are bad for people and bad for the environment
Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology
- The Pontifical Gregorian University, Piazza della Pilotta, 4 Rome, Italy
- Friday, September 24, 2004; 8:30 am - 5:30 pm
Join the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See at a conference presented in cooperation with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
According to the United Nations, one person dies from hunger and malnutrition every six seconds -- nearly 15,000 every day. As many as 1.5 billion worldwide, mostly in developing countries, suffer from hunger and malnutrition. The magnitude of these avoidable deaths should challenge everyone to take steps to alleviate this crisis. At the beginning of the 21st century, mankind has the ability to create crops that resist extreme weather, diseases and pests, use less water, require fewer chemicals, and are more nutritious than conventional crops. Scientists the world over have attested that genetically modified, biotech foods could be a crucial element in the fight against hunger in the developing world. The world's needs and the potential of this new technology give rise to a moral imperative to investigate ways in which genetically modified foods can help the poor.
Among many who have spoken out on the subject is the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has argued that intellectual property rights "should not inhibit wide access to beneficial applications of scientific knowledge." The Academy has also called for closer study of ways to facilitate cooperation between the public and private sectors in the development of this modern genetic technology that can help promote solidarity and justice between the industrialized and developing worlds.
This conference will bring together prominent scientists, leading experts in humanitarian relief and agricultural development in the developing world, and farmers working with biotech foods to explore the potential of genetically-modified organisms to address hunger and malnutrition. We hope to share the experience of the experts with concerned individuals like you. Please join us in examining how biotechnology can contribute to protecting human life and promoting human dignity.
Speakers will include:
? Rev. Gonzalo Miranda, L.C., Dean of the School of Bioethics, Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome ? Dr. Piero Morandini, Professor of Genetic Biotechnology, Department of Biology, University of Milan ? Dr. Prabhu Pingali, Director of the Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome ? Dr. C.S. Prakash, Professor, Tuskegee University, Alabama, U.S.A. Founder and President of AgBio World Foundation. ? Dr. Carl Pray, Professor, Rutgers University, New Jersey, U.S.A. Director of the Department of Agricultural Food and Resource Economics, Graduate Program. ? Dr. Peter Raven, Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Engelmann Professor of Botany at Washington University in St. Louis, U.S.A.
Sessions will examine: The Current State of the Global Food Crisis; The Theological and Moral Case for Biotech Food; Scientific Advances in Biotech Crops; How Developing-World Farmers Have Used Biotech Crops;and Debunking the Myths of Biotechnology.
Simultaneous translation will be provided. No reservations required.
For media inquiries call: Public Affairs Coordinator, U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, 06.4674.3433 / RothTurnleyAE@state.gov; For more information call: Amy Roth Turnley 06.4674.3425/8
Undermining the Chinese government
- Neil Hrab, American Enterprise, via www.checkbiotech.org; August 27, 2004
Environmental activists seeking to halt the worldwide spread of the advanced technologies they fear see China as an important battleground. Predictably, Greenpeace is leading the charge against China's adoption of such technologies. In 2001, for example, the group ran a loud campaign demanding that the European Union not lend any money to help finance any Chinese nuclear power projects. Today, Greenpeace has China's acceptance of biotechnology in its crosshairs.
Frontal assaults on Chinese ambitions to modernize could easily boomerang on Western NGOs like Greenpeace. This is because Chinese leaders are predisposed to view the outside world with suspicion. But Greenpeace has obviously studied the Chinese system and learned how to advance its cause without offending the powers-that-be. In contrast to its clumsy anti-nuclear efforts, Greenpeace is now pursuing a slick campaign to stir up fears of genetically modified (G.M.) foods in China, in the hope of swaying Chinese public opinion.
China's sheer size makes it an important prize in the world food market, and thus a vital target for anti-G.M. activists. Some G.M. foods are already widely available, and many in the Chinese political and scientific establishment favor the widespread adoption of the technology because of the country's dearth of arable land. Of the soybean products sold in the People's Republic, 70 percent contain GM material, according to the South China Morning Post. And new strains of G.M. rice may soon be on the way.
While Greenpeace cannot directly challenge the Chinese government's acceptance of crops, it can try to bring indirect pressure on the government to change its policy. One way to do this is by spreading unfounded fears about G.M. products, as the average Chinese consumer knows little about the technology. This tactic has worked well elsewhere, particularly in Western Europe. Unfortunately, suspicion towards certain modern conveniences runs high among Chinese consumers, making them ripe for scare tactics. A July 24 report in the Shanghai Daily, for example, details how many Chinese parents "don't understand painkillers properly and stop [physicians and dentists] from using" them on their children, due to hysterical fears that the children will become addicts.
If Greenpeace can stoke fears of G.M. food products in China, and turn consumers in that country against those products, its global anti-GM food crusade would earn a legitimacy it so far lacks.
Greenpeace's main weapon in this campaign is a 34-year old Shanghai woman named Eileen Zhu Yanling. In March 2003, Zhu purchased some Nestle chocolate milk powder for her three-year-old son. Soon after, she told the China Daily in a January 2004 report, "I learned from a report by Greenpeace the product contained genetically modified elements." She subsequently claimed to be shocked by these allegations.
Furthermore, she was disconcerted that while E.U. regulators required Nestle to label foods containing G.M. products sold in Europe, the same policy did not prevail in China. Nestle disputed the claim and responded by saying that "it strictly adheres to laws and regulations regarding food safety and food labeling in every country it operates," and that the products it sells in China do not contain any materials that the country's Ministry of Agriculture requires to be labeled as G.M. food.
In June 2003, a court in Shanghai agreed to hear a legal suit Zhu had filed against Nestle. She wanted the equivalent of about US$2 in compensation--twice the price of the chocolate milk powder. The case became quickly mired in confusion. A test of the milk powder in August 2003 revealed the presence of G.M. soybean, but a second test in January 2004 turned up no G.M. products. In April 2004, the court dismissed the case, based on the second test's results. Zhu's lawyer is appealing the decision.
In December 2003, Greenpeace helped arranged a meeting in Switzerland between Zhu and Nestle representatives. In a letter Zhu sent to Nestle ahead of the meeting, she requested the company adopt European-style G.M. food labeling practices in China. She hit the perfect rhetorical note, writing as follows: "I am making these demands [for labeling] because there are millions of mothers in the world who trust Nestle to provide their kids with nutritious food. Please do not abuse the trust of these mothers and their children!" Greenpeace's Chinese wing is now using Zhu's story to further the group's anti-G.M. agenda.
Because G.M. crops would allow China to develop her agricultural sector and feed her people, the nation's leadership currently favors the technology's spread. Yet even an undemocratic regime like China's cannot completely ignore public opinion. A well-coordinated scare campaign might bring just enough pressure on Beijing to change its policy. That would be a major victory for Greenpeace--and a blow to Chinese consumers and farmers.
Neil Hrab is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.
Scientists in Europe Looking to Revolutionize the Way Vaccines are Made
- Cheryl Glaser, Anchor, Minnesota Public Radio: Marketplace Morning Report August 25, 2004
This is MARKETPLACE. I'm Cheryl Glaser. Scientists in Europe want to revolutionize the way vaccines are made. Instead of harvesting the active ingredients from animal cells, they're going to grow them in genetically modified plants. But customizing crops traditionally doesn't go down well in Europe, and that may be why South Africa has been included in the research, as Eric Whitney reports.
ERIC WHITNEY reporting: In his lab at South Africa's University of Cape Town, Dr. Ed Rybicki is tinkering with tobacco. He's trying to change the plant's genetic structure, so it can produce the kinds of proteins and antibodies made by animal cells. So far this kind of work hasn't gone beyond a lab. That's set to change. The European Union is giving researchers close to $12 million to grow what will look like ordinary tobacco and corn but inside will be the building blocks for vaccines against diseases like AIDS and rabies. Trying to grow crops like this in Europe is risky. Activists there regularly hunt down and destroy similar field trials. Rybicki says that's tragic.
Dr. ED RYBICKI (University of Cape Town): I think it's a massive step backwards. You know, we're stepping back into the Dark Ages where--you know, we're going witch-burning, is what's happening. There's no more sense to it than that.
WHITNEY: Rybicki thinks these kinds of disruptions are a lot less likely here in South Africa, where the green movement is smaller and less organized. The European consortium that wants to grow the plants is worried about security, too, so they're expected to grow the plants here instead of Europe. But they may run into opponents from outside the green movement. On the main street of the little farming town of Swellendam, South Africa, farmers are already suspicious of the European scientists' plans. The EU says it's including South Africa in its project to share science and technology with the developing world. But some see other motives.
Mr. PETER LOWINS: So what's easiest to do is go to the Third World countries. They can tell methods normally expected not to be in such a good order.
WHITNEY: Peter Lowins is a farmer. He represents the local grain growers committee. They're worried that the Europeans' genetically modified crops will have unintended consequences.
Mr. LOWINS: And that's why they try using Third World countries to do these experiments. If it's wrong or if it's a failure in the future, it doesn't affect them.
WHITNEY: In general, South Africa's laws on genetically modified plants are more lax than Europe's. Researchers here and abroad say they're strong enough to protect the public and the environment. But Lowins says many farmers aren't entirely convinced. They've been slower to adopt the so-called GM, or genetically modified corn, soybeans and other crops that are commonly grown in America.
Mr. LOWINS: And that's why I mentioned five or 10 years might change it. But two or three years you can't make a decision concerning such a thing that is such a new innovation like GM.
WHITNEY: Lowins says the farmers in his local grain growers association will oppose attempts to plant vaccine-producing crops here. The European researchers hope it won't slow them down. They want to get their experimental crops in the ground soon, so they can start limited trials of their plant-produced vaccines by 2009. In Swellendam, South Africa, I'm Eric Whitney for MARKETPLACE.
GLASER: And here in Los Angeles, I'm Cheryl Glaser. Thanks for joining us.
Food Safety vs. Hysterical Fiction
- Vancouver Island News Group, August 24, 2004; From Agnet
Robert Wager of Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., writes that the letter by Tanis Dagert on food safety (Prove, don't declare, that our food is safe, Aug. 19) asks several important questions. Wager says it is accurate to say pesticides kill things. That is exactly why they are used. However, the exact nature of a given pesticide is unique and can not be extrapolated into blanket statements about all pesticides. This was one of the major flaws in the report on pesticides by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.
An excellent review of the OCFP report was published in the National Post by Dr. Frank Dost (June 26). In his review he shows how several studies were quoted to support an association of pesticides with cancer but the data in the original papers was very weak or did not support such claims. Dr. Dost reveals a large number of reports that showed no associations were excluded from the study, suggesting a preconceived outcome. In my opinion, the American Council on Science and Health did a far better, extensive review of chemicals and children. The book is titled Are Children More Vulnerable to Environmental Chemicals? The book can be found on their website at www.acsh.org.
Dagert seems to suggest that organic food is grown without pesticides. This is simply not true. The USDA National Organic Program has a list of allowed chemicals, including pesticides, that are permitted in organic agriculture (see www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/ standards/ListReg.html). The insecticides are hidden in the summer oils section. Included in that section are pyrethrums that the EPA rates as a possible human carcinogen and rotenone that has been linked to Parkinson's disease in test animals.
Further, the Bt insecticide used in GE crops is the exact same Bt insecticide used by organic farmers. Dagert suggests that the extensive testing done on genetically engineered (GE) crops is somehow invalid because the manufacturers supplied the data. But the type, duration, number, and scope of tests are dictated by the regulatory agencies. If the proper controls are not also included the test results are rejected and the GE crop will not move forward through the regulatory process. It is easy for critics to say the tests are flawed yet very difficult to supply evidence of the flaws.
The proof of safety is found in eight years of safe use by hundreds of millions of people. There have been over two trillion (million-million) meals consumed that contain GE ingredients. There is not a single case of harm documented. All claims to the contrary have been disproved. The International Council on Science (an umbrella organization that represents over 100 academic and scientific organizations) did the most extensive study to date on the safety of GE crops and food titled New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries- Social Dilemmas. In it they stated: "Further, there is no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients" (www.icsu.org).
The European Commission also did a study on the safety of GE crops and food. The 15-year study found that GE crops and food are as safe or safer than conventionally bred crops and food. There are a long list of similar studies from reputable organizations and institutes. Many of them can be linked through Wager's website at http://web.mala.bc.ca/wager
Indian Government to Fund Biotech Research Projects
- Financial Express (India), August 26, 2004
In a bid to boost research in the biotechnology sector, the government has decided to provide funding and infrastructure support for public-private partnership programmes in specific areas. The identified areas include crops, biofertilisers, medicinal and aromatic plants, animal and plant biotechnology, aquaculture and marine biotechnology.
The government will also make special efforts to expand public-private partnerships, besides forging effective links with academia particularly in upscaling and validation of laboratory research, department of biotechnology (DBT) secretary Dr MK Bhan said. "There is a paradigm shift in basic research in modern biology; scientists are moving closer to the fundamental secrets of life and the application of the knowledge generated," he told eFE. Going further, he said, "Work on transgenics, coupled with prospecting for new genes from our rich biodiversity, is poised to pay rich dividends in terms of new products and technologies. This will be for improved production and enhanced nutritive quality of food, fruit and vegetable crops and reduce post-harvest losses."
As part of DBT's focus on research and development (R&D) in agricultural biotechnology, a putative transgenic rice line has been obtained with the co-bombardment of four genes. According to DBT's annual report for 2003-04, these plants are in green house and will be analysed for integration of transgenes. In a project on genetic engineering of sugarcane for developing resistance against borers and red rot disease, a population of 119 putative transgenic plants developed has been advanced to next generation in the transgenic green house. Development of superior nitrogen fixing microorganisms and those that mobilise nutrients from soil to the plants more efficiently will be another priority area in biotechnology, Dr Bhan said. Keeping this in view, a major programme on engineering of efficient strains is being pursued at 12 centres.
A Growing Taste For Genetically Modified Food
Tamar Kahn, Business Day (South Africa), August 24, 2004
'Monsanto Finds South Africa A Handy Laboratory and The Gateway To Africa'
Relaxing by the terrace bar at the Malelane Sun Hotel in Mpumalanga, the man charged with overseeing local operations for the world's biggest seed company, Monsanto, has no difficulty explaining why the company has invested millions of rand in local experimental plant nurseries.
"South Africa is the gateway into Africa," says Monsanto's MD for Southern Africa, Kobus Lindeque.
The electric-fenced nurseries are the living laboratories where Monsanto researchers are hunting for the best locally adapted strains of crops such as maize and cotton to carry tiny pieces of genetic code that will offer the plants protection against insects or chemical sprays.
Monsanto is researching both conventional and genetically engineered versions of wheat, maize, soy and sunflower varieties at various sites in SA, the only African country planting a significant acreage of genetically modified crops for human consumption. SA's adoption of the technology has been swift, with the total plantings of genetically modified cotton, soya and maize rocketing from just 7000ha in 1998, to almost 1,5-million today, according to Monsanto. The seed giant is not the only global agrichemi4cal company sizing up the region's taste for genetically modified crops, says independent consultant Wynand van der Walt, but the complex licensing agreements between seed companies make it difficult to determine exact market shares. Delta Pineland dominates the local cotton market; Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto are the key maize players; and on the soy front, Monsanto is the only major player, licensing its technology to Durban-based Panaar.
Monsanto holds patents on two kinds of genetically engineered traits - one uses part of a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to kill pests like the stalk borer; the other confers resistance to the weed killer glyphosate. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup, the world's biggest-selling agrichemical. Global sales of Roundup top $620m, contributing 40% of Monsanto's operating profit.
The company has launched herbicide-resistant maize, soya and cotton in SA, and cotton and maize strains with Bt genes. It is also waiting for South African regulatory approval for "stacked gene" maize seeds that contain both insect-killing and herbicide-tolerant genes.
"We are living proof to the world that genetically modified food is acceptable," says Lindeque, "(as) SA is one of the few countries where genetically modified maize goes straight in our mouths." In the US, by contrast, most genetically engineered maize and soya is used as ingredients in the processed food industry.
Not a single person has gone to hospital with so much as a stomach ache since genetically engineered yellow maize first hit the South African market in1997, says Lindeque. Genetically engineered white maize, the staple food for many poor South Africans, was first harvested in 2001. "We don't have evidence of harm, but it's impossible to track genetically modified ingredients - because these guys refuse to label it," says Glenn Ashton, the co-ordinator of SafeAge, which is campaigning for a moratorium on genetically engineered crops.
Lindeque counters activists' claims that these crops pose risks to the environment, saying that the technology has been thoroughly screened. "We do about 65000 tests before we release anything into the environment," he says, adding that South African laws on the release of genetically engineered crops are amongst the toughest in the world. Ashton disagrees, saying that SA's regulatory regime favours commercial interests because the public does not have the resources to oppose big business's applications to investigate or commercialise genetically engineered plants. Activists, led by Biowatch, have taken the agriculture department to court to try and force it to provide details of all the trials on genetically engine4ered crops in SA, but no ruling has yet been handed down.
"The activists sleep under the best duvets, drive nice cars, and don't care about hungry people," says Lindeque, arguing that genetically modified crops offer millions of small-scale farmers the technology to extract themselves from the insecurity of subsistence farming. But he concedes that more than 95% of Monsanto's business in SA is with the large commercial growers.