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September 17, 2004


Risk Assessement; Gonsalves Brings Hawaii Experience to Manila; Brazil Delays GMO Vote


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; September 17, 2004

* Risk Assessement
* EU readies for another clash on approving new GMO
* Searchin’ for a (Healthy) Heart of Gold
* Brazil Senate delays vote on GMO food bill to Oct.

From: "Paul Christensen"
Subject: Risk Assessement
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 10:07:02 -0500

Risk Assessment combines existing information on hazards and exposure to create models of the risks associated with the use of technology. Such models are always incomplete as representations of reality, but offer insight into improvement that is need, and can be improved as scientific knowledge improves. Opponents of biotechnology are inclined to attack risk assessment because not all the possible experiments have been done, but the skepticism of the scientific community and acceptance of the universality of scientific knowledge moves these models toward sufficient specificity for decision making.

The following article provides an interesting example of how risk assessment is done:

Weed Science: Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 834-844. A comparative ecological risk assessment for herbicides used on spring wheat: the effect of glyphosate when used within a glyphosate-tolerant wheat system Robert K. D. Peterson and Andrew G. Hulting

ABSTRACT Glyphosate-tolerant spring wheat currently is being developed and most likely will be the first major genetically engineered crop to be marketed and grown in several areas of the northern Great Plains of the United States. The public has expressed concerns about environmental risks from glyphosate-tolerant wheat. Replacement of traditional herbicide active ingredients with glyphosate in a glyphosate-tolerant spring wheat system may alter ecological risks associated with weed management. The objective of this study was to use a Tier 1 quantitative risk assessment methodology to compare ecological risks for 16 herbicide active ingredients used in spring wheat. The herbicide active ingredients included 2,4-D, bromoxynil, clodinafop, clopyralid, dicamba, fenoxaprop, flucarbazone, glyphosate, MCPA, metsulfuron, thifensulfuron, tralkoxydim, triallate, triasulfuron, tribenuron, and trifluralin. We compared the relative risks of these herbicides to glyphosate to provide an indication of the effect of glyphosate when it is used in a glyphosate-tolerant spring wheat system. Ecological receptors and effects evaluated were avian (acute dietary risk), wild mammal (acute dietary risk), aquatic vertebrates (acute risk), aquatic invertebrates (acute risk), aquatic plants (acute risk), nontarget terrestrial plants (seedling emergence and vegetative vigor), and groundwater exposure. Ecological risks were assessed by integrating toxicity and exposure, primarily using the risk quotient method. Ecological risks for the 15 herbicides relative to glyphosate were highly variable. For risks to duckweed, green algae, groundwater, and nontarget plant seedling emergence, glyphosate had less relative risk than most other active ingredients. The differences in relative risks were most pronounced when glyphosate was compared with herbicides currently widely used on spring wheat.

Paul Christensen
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa 50011-3228
Email: intlcorn@iastate.edu



Dr. Dennis Gonsalves of the Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (ARS-USDA) visited Manila, Philippines last September 14 to share his expertise in the commercialization of Rainbow Papaya through a seminar-workshop entitled The Commercialization Of GM Food: The Hawaiian Experience.

Currently the director of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Dr. Gonsalves not only stressed the importance of papaya as a fruit crop, but also called for all stakeholders to "move forward on multiple issues, because we are trying to solve a problem, not write a paper." His studies on the fruit began in 1978, then moved on to transgenics in 1985, where the coat protein gene of the Papaya Ringspot Virus (PRSV), a pathogen that threatened to cripple the then flourishing Hawaiian Papaya industry, was inserted into the fruit’s genome. Dr. Gonsalves presented a history of his work, including his field trials in 1993, his work in Thailand in 1994, and the road to commercialization of the Rainbow Papaya, including details on the regulatory process.

Free seeds have been distributed to growers since 1998, and Rainbow Papaya is currently being exported to the Mainland US and Canada.

Read more on Dr. Gonsalves’ work and current projects at http://www.ars.usda.gov/pandp/people/people.htm?personid=34950.



South African Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena has announced the launch of a new South African biotechnology policy describing biotechnology development needs and opportunities in areas such as human health, plant improvement, animal health, and industrial processes.

Mangena said that the launch of the policy "serves as a rallying call to industry to join us in developing a bio-economy" in South Africa. He said that the government recognizes the potential benefits of biotechnology, and, "Government is committed to creating the best possible climate, be it regula[tory], political or commercial, for biotechnology investment."

The South African government has already invested US$67.6 million in infrastructure to support biotechnology development, including setting up Biotechnology Regional Investment Centres (BRICs) to support and incubate research in the field. The three BRICs are the Western Cape Biotech Institute, the Lifelab in Durban, and Biopad, which covers research initiatives in the central and northern areas of the country. Included in the total budget of R450 million is R40 million that has been earmarked for funding the National Bio-Informatics Network – a Cray supercomputer based at the University of the Western Cape.

The article can be viewed online at http://allafrica.com/stories/

In a related report, Mangena also told a Johannesburg meeting on his department’s strategic review and forcast on biotechnology platforms, that since implementing the country’s National Biotechnology Strategy, the department has created five Trusts as agencies aimed with fast tracking the local biotech sector. “We need to recognise that, while the government is committed to developing biotech for South Africa, it can only be done through meaningful partnership with our biotech stakeholders, and with industry. We are determined to give the local sector every opportunity to mature – responsibly – as an African leader in biotechnology,” the Secretary said.


Agricultural research capacity is an important factor in building food security and economic stability in Africa. Hence, new and better-targeted technologies and a well-developed agricultural research system are important prerequisites for their dissemination and adoption. This is the view of Nienke Beintema and Gert-Jan Stads in their paper “Investing in Sub-Saharan Agricultural Research: Recent Trends” published by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Beintema and Jan Stads note that research and development funding has increasingly become irregular and donor-dependent. This problem is aggravated by poor national science and technology (S & T) policies and inefficient and ineffective agricultural research management. Hence, institutional reforms and sound S & T policies are needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural research in Africa.

Although empirical evidence shows high rates of return from agricultural research and development investments, growth in scientific investments has stagnated. The authors believe that attaining the goal of doubling Africa’s agricultural research intensity ratio (agricultural R & D investments as a percentage of agricultural gross development product) is a challenging task.

For the full report, download a copy at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/ib/ib24.pdf.


EU readies for another clash on approving new GMO

- Reuters, 17 Sep 2004, By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS, Sept 17 (Reuters) - EU governments look as divided as ever over genetically modified (GMO) food as a new request for importing a biotech maize type engineered by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto comes up for approval next week.

If approved by EU environment experts, the maize -- modified to resist the corn rootworm insect -- would be used in animal feed, but not for growing or for human consumption.

The experts, representing EU governments, will meet on Monday to discuss whether to allow imports of the maize.

If they agree, it would be the second genetically modified (GMO) product to receive EU-wide approval since a five-year blockade on new approvals was lifted, by legal default, in May.

But so far, the EU is as split over biotechnology as when in 1998 several countries said they would reject any new authorisations until the EU's biotech laws were tougher.

With some of the bloc's 10 new members sceptical about the merits of GMO foods, the chances of an approval seem remote.

"With some new member states voting against, the last vote was closer than it has been before," said one official at the European Commission.

"I don't expect it to be rejected but it (vote) should probably end up somewhere in the middle, as usual -- neither for or against," she said.

EU member states last voiced their opinion on GMOs in July, when farm ministers failed to agree on allowing imports of another Monsanto maize known as NK603, with not enough majority either to approve or reject the application for imports.

Under the EU's complex decision-making process, if EU member states fail to agree after three months at ministerial level on allowing a new GMO into the bloc, then the Commission -- the bloc's executive arm -- may rubberstamp an authorisation.

A qualified majority within the EU's weighted voting system is needed for the experts either to approve or reject such an approval. If there are insufficient votes for this, the dossier will pass to environment ministers.


Despite this year's end of the GMO ban, political deadlock among EU countries has been the pattern for all Commission attempts to win a new GMO approval since 1998.

Any new decision to allow imports would fly in the face of European opinion, since more than 70 percent of consumers are opposed to GMO foods on heath and environment fears.

"Their (Commission's) actions are... against the will of the European public who have made it consistently clear that they do not want to eat genetically foods," said Adrian Bebb at Friends of the Earth Europe.

The EU's food safety agency gave MON 863 the green light in April, considering it safe for human and animal consumption.

Greens disagree, saying there is not enough scientific evidence to say the maize is safe. It is "unfit for rats, unfit for humans", environment group Greenpeace said in a statement.


Searchin’ for a (Healthy) Heart of Gold

- Truth About Trade & Technology, by Dean Kleckner, 9/16/2004

“Let me just say this,” quipped Bill Clinton on the eve of his heart surgery. “Republicans aren’t the only people who want four more years here.”

I know exactly how the guy feels. Like the former president, I have gone under the knife for a quadruple-bypass operation. I got my four more years--and I hope to get plenty more besides. I hope Bill Clinton does as well.

But these last four years haven’t been the same as the ones that came before my procedure. I’m much more careful about what I eat these days: lots of whole grain, extra fish, less red meat (and this from a pork producer). Most important, I’m eating less overall. As they say, diets are for people who are thick and tired of it.

Let me be clear, I don’t enjoy this. You can’t name anything I don’t like to eat. When it comes to food, I’m a big fan of variety. That means I’m the victim of constant temptation.

And that’s why I’m so appreciative of the latest development in soybean technology, which may reduce or eliminate trans-fatty acids in processed soybean oil. Trans fats are associated with heart disease because they lower “good” cholesterol and raise “bad” cholesterol. The public already is becoming familiar with the concept of trans-fats, and that familiarity will only increase. Starting on January 1, 2006--well within Bill Clinton’s next “term”--the Food and Drug Administration will require all food products to carry information about trans-fats on their nutrition labels.

The technical name for this development is the low-linolenic soybean. But I’m going to call it the heart-healthy soybean, because that’s what it really is--and that’s why it will be successful.

We’re coming closer to the day when the public embraces genetically modified food, because consumers soon will see how biotech products directly improve their health and lives. Up to now, most of the benefits associated with biotech crops have accrued to producers. The top consumer benefit has been price, though grocery-store shoppers generally don’t understand what role it has played in helping them save money at the cash register.

It was recently announced that the first heart-healthy soybean will be available for the 2005 growing season. Most soybeans contain 8 percent linolenic acid; this new variety will contain less than 3 percent. (Future versions probably will contain even smaller amounts: In Denmark, processed oils and fats aren’t allowed to contain more than 2 percent trans-fat acids.)

This initial product will be a genetically modified only in one familiar way - it will be herbicide-resistant, as are the vast majority of soybeans grown in the United States. The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology recently reported that American farmers, once again, planted several million more acres of genetically enhanced soybeans this year, boosting the share of U.S. soybeans that are genetically modified from 81 percent last year to 85 percent now.

In the future, however, the heart-healthy component of soybeans will be a direct result of biotech ingenuity. In the decade ahead, we’re going to see a series of heart-healthy soybeans enter the marketplace--and the most attractive ones will derive their finest qualities from genetic enhancements.

Soybeans won’t be our only source of heart healthy attributes. Improved canola oil, virtually trans fat-free and registering the lowest in saturated fat of any vegetable oil, is readily available to restaurants, food service and food manufacturers today. Using this highly stable canola oil, manufacturers can reduce the amount of trans and saturated fat in a typical serving of crackers by as much as 80 percent.

Over the next couple of weeks, soybean farmers will be focused on their harvest--a slightly late one this year, at least here in Iowa, because of the cool weather. In October and November, however, they’ll start to think about buying seed for next year. They’ll make judgments about what worked and didn’t work for them this year, and determine their strategies for 2005.

My hunch is that a lot of us will want to plant the heart-healthy soybeans. I gather that the seed supply will be plentiful, but perhaps not enough to meet the demand. That means farmers will have to pay a premium for it. And many of them will, because farmers feel good about growing food that people want--and the desire for this product is going to be strong.

Something tells me that when Bill Clinton is up and about, he’s going to get in line.


Brazil Senate delays vote on GMO food bill to Oct.

- Reuters, By Natuza Nery, Sept 16, 2004

BRASILIA, Brazil, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Brazil's Senate on Thursday delayed voting on a bill to regulate genetically modified foods and stem cell research due to lack of a voting quorum and will try again in October.

The government's Senate leader Aloizio Mercadante said that a fresh attempt to vote on the bill, which has been approved by four Senate committees, will be made in the week of Oct. 5.

Legislators said that the government may now have to introduce a decree to allow the planting and sale of GMO soybeans as it had done in the past.

But the government reiterated in a statement late on Thursday in would not decree such changes, adding that it wanted Congress to decide on the issue once and for all.

The bill was approved by the lower house of Congress in February but has since been stuck in the Senate, where the government is in a minority, despite various changes being made.

The revised bill will be sent back to the lower house for approval after it has been voted by the Senate.

The latest draft takes away power from the environment ministry in favor of the National Technical Commission on Biotechnology (CTNBio) for approval of GMO products.

Scientists have the biggest say in the 27-member CTNBio.

GMO opponents, including environmental, health and consumer groups, can lodge an appeal within 30 days against a CTNBio decision allowing research and sales of GMO products.

The appeal will be considered by the National Biosafety Council (CNBS), composed of 11 ministers, which has 45 days in which to give a final decision or the objection is dropped.

Analysts said that soy farmers had already bought seeds to plant in coming weeks and that the legislative delay wouldn't have any impact on planting decisions.

"It's already too late. Farmers are already committed," said Daniel Dias, soy analyst at FNP Consultoria, noting that in Rio Grande do Sul state nearly all the soybean area was transgenic.

Celeres MPrado's soy analyst Anderson Galvao said that farmers in other states would quickly switch to GMO soybeans once they were legalized so as to benefit from cheaper production costs.

GMO seed companies, such as Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) which produces Roundup Ready soybeans, would also be major beneficiaries, he added, as they would be able to charge royalties for their technology that is currently being used under the table.

Brazil, the world's No.2 soy producer and exporter, is the last major agricultural shipper to ban the commercial use of genetically modified soy and food.