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September 23, 2004


Genetic Engineering Video; GM Controversy; Farmers Battle Activists; Chinese Transgenic Cotton; EU Drops Ban


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; September 23, 2004

* Genetic Engineering in California Agriculture
* Sowing seeds of doubt – the GM food controversy
* Farmers must take up battling anti-biotech groups
* Biotech Agriculture: Go For It!
* China makes major breakthrough for transgenic cotton
* Syngenta resumes sale of GM seeds Syngenta back in GM seed business
* Angry GM stalemate in Germany
* EU drops ban on GM Seeds

Genetic Engineering in California Agriculture

This 30 minute video explains the science behind genetic engineering, outlines its uses in food crops and animals, details where and why this technology is being used by California farmers, and examines the science-based concerns pertaining to the use of genetic engineering in agricultural production systems.

If you want to view the movie

a) It can be viewed as a streaming media version at the following address using Windows Media Player 9 or greater. WMP9 is available as a free download for Macintosh computers as well, but for OSX only.

mms://STREAM.ucanr.org/Windows Media/UCTV_04_06.asf

Note: Eudora does not recognize mms:// as a link the way it does http://. People will have to paste the link above into their browser address field.

b) The movie will also be shown on UCTV - Dish Network, Ch. 9412 which reaches all of North America and cable companies throughout California.

The scheduling for its premiere week is as follows. ALL TIMES ARE

Genetic Engineering in California Agriculture UCTV - Dish Network, Ch.

Mon, Oct 4, 2004 -- 3:00pm
Tue, Oct 5, 2004 -- 7:00pm
Tue, Oct 5, 2004 -- 10:00pm
Wed, Oct 6, 2004 -- 5:00am
Wed, Oct 6, 2004 -- 4:30pm
Thu, Oct 7, 2004 -- 11:00am
Fri, Oct 8, 2004 -- 2:00am
Fri, Oct 8, 2004 -- 12:00pm
Sat, Oct 9, 2004 -- 8:00am
Sat, Oct 9, 2004 -- 12:30pm
Sun, Oct 10, 2004 -- 9:30am
Sun, Oct 10, 2004 -- 1:30pm

http://www.uctv.tv/where.shtml is the link on the UCTV site where people can find out when their local cable station airs UCTV material (most are not 24/7).

As of October 4 there will be a UCTV streaming video link that will require Real Player.

If you want to purchase a video or DVD

The general public and other interested parties can purchase DVD or video copies at the following website:



Sowing seeds of doubt – the GM food controversy

- The African Scientist, January 2004

Is Genetically Modified maize the evil monster of food aid, or a goodwill offering bringing relief from starvation for millions of people throughout southern Africa?

Many people would answer immediately and unequivocally. But the order of their ”yes” and ”no” depends entirely on who they are, what they know or believe – and more importantly, what their needs are. Whether it has merits or not, Genetically Modified (GM) food is one of those things that divides people into ”for” and ”against” camps. And while their views may be clear-cut and absolute, the issue itself remains extraordinarily complex. The only thing that has been resolved in the GM food aid debate is the stance the six southern African beneficiary countries have taken on whether they will or will not accept GM maize.

While Zambia has banned GM maize in any form, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho are willing to accept it as long as it is milled. Swaziland has not set criteria.

These countries are part of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) southern African emergency operation.

WFP information officer Richard Lee says governments insisting that maize donated by the United States (US) should be milled were concerned that local crops might be contaminated by the GM seeds. Their concerns are either that accidentally spilt maize would germinate or that people would hold back some of the maize to plant for themselves. Milling obviates these possibilities.

Last year food aid made headlines when some governments, including Zimbabwe and Zambia, rejected the food on suspicion that it contained GM maize.

The WFP, a United Nations body based in Rome, is the biggest distributor of food aid in the region and relies exclusively on donations – in cash or kind.

While the US is still donating maize from its surplus (largely due to subsidised farming), the WFP is purchasing a lot in the region, which is non-GM.

Lee says they are currently meeting the need for food aid in southern Africa, but will be facing a crisis towards the end of the year and beginning of next year because there are not enough donations.

”Overall, 540 000 tons is required from July this year to June next year. We’re appealing for donations totaling $308m. So far, we have received only $102m.”

While there is clearly a need for food aid, there are various layers to the issue of GM food aid.

The political layer focuses on international policies and trade relations, the power play between countries, and the control held by big corporates.

Scientists and others touting the merits of GM foods (including many farmers), versus watchdog organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are against it – or at least say the ”precautionary principle” should be applied until more is known about the health effects (and others) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Those almost invisible in the debate are the people not only dependent on food aid, but on the decisions their governments take on the GM issue.

Anti-GM activists and NGOs are quick to point out that even starving people want and deserve a choice about whether they consume GM food or not, like their richer counterparts. WFP spokesperson Mike Huggins says: ”We don’t force any government to accept any food aid. Also, we don’t dictate to donors what they should give us. We adhere to the UN food safety guidelines, and would prefer not to take a position on whether GM food is good or bad. The reality is that 800 million people in the world don’t get enough to eat each day.”

On the view that the US is dumping its Do starving people really care how their food is produced? Gillian Warren-Brown looks at the issue of genetically modified food maize surplus on southern Africa’s starving people because, due to the European Union’s (EU) moratorium on GM foods, it has lost a trade outlet, Huggins says: ”That’s a ludicrous argument. There’s a surplus and a need. If the US government is generous enough to buy up the surplus from farmers and donate it to where it’s needed, that’s great.”

And on the statement that Africans would rather have monetary donations than GM maize, Huggins says: ”Donors have to be careful about giving money because it’s often misappropriated. It’s important for humanitarian agencies to take charge of donations given by governments to keep track of the beneficiaries.” One of the issues that elicits strong responses from various quarters is corporate control of GM seed patents.

Professor Mark Swilling, of the Sustainability Institute at Stellenbosch University’s School of Public Management and Planning, says: ”The key point is that no matter the virtues of the science of GM (and I believe there are none), the intellectual property is owned by large corporations which means farmers must forever buy seed from the corporations. Farmers all over the world are going organic and using their own seed. Why do they need to be beholden to the large corporations?”

Bobby Peek, director of Groundwork NGO, agrees. ”It’s about corporatisation, and the implications of maintaining local economies once GM technology has entrenched itself,” he says. Professor in the University of Cape Town’s department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Jennifer Thomson, says farmers are not stupid. They can choose to plant whatever they want. She explains that part of the reason multinationals such as Monsanto have patents on GM seed is that they can afford the enormous regulatory costs, estimated to be about $10m, in bringing new seeds to market.

Thomson, an international expert on GM crops and author of Genes for Africa: Genetically Modified Crops in the Developing World, adds: ”Even if farmers don’t want to grow GM crops, if they intend to export maize, they have to grow hybrid (instead of local) varieties because of their superior yield.” Hybrid seed, like GM seed, has to be bought every season.

Her point also addresses the concern that any accidental cross-pollination with GM crops would preclude the chance of exporting to Europe. ”The crop couldn’t be said to be GM because you’d buy fresh hybrid seed for the next season anyway,” she says.

On the fear that GM maize brought into African countries as food aid will contaminate local crops, destroying biodiversity, she says: ”It’s a non-issue. If the seeds did germinate, there would be hardly any crop. Because they’re from the US, they’re sensitive to all our pests. Maize streak virus is endemic to Africa and it would be virulent on the crop. ”If by chance it did grow and was crosspollinated with local varieties, this would simply improve the crop and make it resistant to maize borer.”

Mexico is often cited as a case where GM food aid apparently contaminated indigenous maize. Thomson claims these indigenous varieties are not static. Farmers are constantly competing and the maize is evolving and changing anyway.

In addition to the above concerns, Haidee Swanby, education and media officer for watchdog environmental NGO Biowatch, highlights the issues of health and the environment. She says there is insufficient research to prove that GMOs are safe for human consumption and that they do not damage the environment – for example, by killing insects other than the ones for which the crop might contain an insecticide gene.

Thomson disputes this, saying GM crops are the only foods in history to have been tested. ”They are treated as toxins and subjected to predictive toxicological tests – which of course can’t predict 100 percent – but we have more information about GM foods than conventional foods.” She uses peppadews as an example: ”This is a previously unknown crop. We love eating them, but they haven’t been tested.”

She adds there is not a single shred of evidence found by the World Health Organisation, or anyone else, that there is anything unsafe about eating GM foods.

Swanby raises another commonly-cited problem with GM foods: that farmers have to use pesticides that go with the seeds – increasing their dependence on large corporates (which often sell both seed and pesticide) and forcing them to adopt industrialised farming methods.

Thomson says: ”That’s garbage! Farmers would treat GM crops in the same way they would others. All that happens is they get double the yield.”

She says claims by anti-GM activists that farmers end up using more pesticide on GM crops is also not accurate – they use less. She says activists tend to look only at places where pesticide use has not decreased – either because farmers continue to spray unnecessarily or because the GM crop is resistant to particular pests and they’re spraying for others.

Asked if the pesticide gene in GM maize, for example, isn’t harmful to humans eating the product, Thomson says absolutely not. ”It binds to the lining of an insect gut and we don’t have the lining of an insect gut. There are 500 different toxins, each with a different specificity. None can act on the lining of any mammal [or human] gut.”

While the debates continue, there are still millions of starving people in Africa who need food and food security. In the short-term, food aid will continue to be distributed in accordance with governments’ policies. The longterm solution, however, is sufficient local production to feed farmers’ families and consumers in their immediate environment. Export is a larger goal.

Thomson concurs, and adds: ”GM technology gives the advantage of producing greater yields right where people live and work. Food security is a complex problem. Though it can help, GM is only one of the solutions.”

No doubt, this will be the subject of ongoing debate.


Farmers must take up battling anti-biotech groups

- Western Farm Press, Sep 22, 2004, By Harry Cline

The battle being waged to ban genetically modified crops in California is a war that must be fought and won not by biotech corporations, but by California farmers and ranchers because it is producers who stand to lose the most if the radical anti-biotech movement wins over an unsuspecting public with its lies and distortions.

Fresno County, Calif., farmer Don Cameron says the anti-biotech movement orchestrated by out-of-state groups like Greenpeace and Organic Consumers Association "is not about biotech companies forcing biotech on growers. It is about our survival — our future — this is our fight. We must counter misinformation being put out by the anti-biotech movement."

Farmers need biotechnology to produce crops for less cost to remain competitive in world markets, said Cameron. Take biotechnology away, and California producers will be at a disadvantage, he added.

Cameron made his comments at the recent California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD) Expo at Shafter, Calif.

One of the arguments used by the anti-biotech radicals is that biotech crops contaminate organic cotton.

Cameron knows that is not true because he grows organic cotton as well as conventional and biotech cotton. Reasonable isolation precludes contamination issues, he said.

He is going to prove his point by opening his farm to tours by consumer and retail groups like Patagonia, which buys his organic Pima.

Farmers are credible sources of information, he said, to report the facts about biotechnology and debunk the distortions and lies being told by a small group of extremists who have succeeded in getting anti-biotech initiatives on the ballot this fall in at least four California counties. They did succeed in passing a biotech ordinance in Mendocino County by a slim margin and Trinity County has passed an anti-biotech ordinance. Neither county grows biotech crops.

"Farmers have first hand experience" with not only biotech crops, but conventional and organic crops.

‘Tell their story’

"I would encourage everyone to tell their own story to the public," said Cameron.

"The battle is ours to lose," said CPCSD president Bill Van Skike. Ninety percent of CPCSD’s cotton varieties sold this year had biotech traits.

Hal Moser, head of CPCSD’s biotechnology program, said a ban on genetically modified crops would have a "chilling effect" on current biotech crops in the state and would slow down the technology that offers even more benefits through biotechnology to farmers.

"Biotechnology is working. It is allowing farmers to develop farming strategies that they could not have before — like conservation tillage," he said. Benefits of biotechnology have been well documented, like in Arizona where producers once treated cotton 10 to 12 times per season for insect pests. Since the introduction of Bt cottons there, growers treat for insect pest only one or two times per year.

Moser said biotechnology has been scientifically proven to be safe. Unfortunately, the public is not aware of that. Radical anti-biotech groups feed on the public’s ignorance of the complex technology with distortions and lies to create unfounded fears.

Rick Roush, director of the University of California, Davis integrated pest management program, said the radical anti-biotechnology groups have lost the battle to persuade farmers not to plant biotechnology crops. Now they have taken their anti-technology, anti-corporate campaign of fear to the public.

Expert manipulators

These groups are small, yet very dedicated, highly organized and experts at manipulating the media with deception and untrue claims about biotechnology.

One is that genetically modified crops have not been evaluated for risk. Roush said scientific risk assessments have been done since the mid 1990s.

According to Moser, biotech crops are evaluated by at least three federal agencies over six to 12 years at cost of $30 million to $300 million. And studies continue to make sure biotechnology is safe.

A native of San Diego, Roush spent 10 years in Australia before taking the position at Davis last year. He first encountered anti-biotech groups in Australia.

"They try to hijack" biotechnology with deception and lies," said Roush.

Reputable scientists have proven in peer reviewed research that biotech crops significantly reduce production costs and pesticide use.

Arguable the most significant, beneficial case for biotechnology was the introduction of Bt cotton into China where 500 to 1,000 people died each year from mishandling pesticides used to control lepidopteran pests before Bt cotton was introduced.

Since 1998 Bt cotton has reduced pesticide use by 80 percent. "It has completely changed the lives of 5 million Chinese cotton farmers and their families," said Roush. They are making money growing cotton and their families are healthier because of Bt cotton.

"You would think something that spectacular would win endorsement from environmental groups," said Roush. It has not. Greenpeace continue to oppose Bt cotton in China as part its anti-corporation campaign.

Farmers know better

"Chinese cotton farmers know better and have not been moved by anti-biotech groups like Greenpeace," said Roush.

One of the co-founders of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, who left the group several years ago to form another environmental group called Greenspirit, said Greenpeace’s agenda is now anti-science, anti-technology and anti-human.

Modern day environmental radicals, said Moore, are confrontational, ever-increasing extremists and politically left-wing who reject consensus politics and sustainable development.

Moore says the environmentalists’ campaign against biotechnology has "clearly exposed their intellectual and moral bankruptcy." Moore said the so-called environmentalists have "alienated themselves from scientists, intellectuals and internationalists.

"It seems inevitable that the media and the public will, in time, see the insanity of their position," said Moore.

However, it takes effort to challenge these groups, and Roush has uncovered many inaccuracies of the anti-biotech movement.

For example, one of the cornerstones of the California movement is a book called Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith, a member of the Natural Law Party, a Fairfield, Iowa, based transcendental meditation organization. Roush said the book is quoted at virtually all anti-biotech gatherings in the state.

Footnote reference ‘lie’

Roush admits it is an impressive-looking book, replete with footnotes that appear to give it scientific credibility. Roush traced the footnotes and found many were simply made up. The book cited a study by a prominent scientist Roush knows. Roush contacted the scientist who called the footnote reference "a complete lie."

"The footnotes look very intelligent, until you track them down," said Roush.

Another argument the anti-biotech group foists on the unsuspecting public and media is that Bt corn reduces the Monarch butterfly population.

Roush said that is based on a single scientific study no reputable scientist has been able to duplicate. There are six others reports that debunk the notion that Bt corn hurts Monarch butterflies, but these do not get reported.

One of the most preposterous anti-biotech claims is that Monsanto flew Blackhawk helicopters over Canada dropping "Roundup bombs" on farmer fields to detect illegally planted herbicide-tolerant crops. This came after Monsanto successfully sued a Canadian farmer for illegally saving genetically modified planting seed.

Roush questioned that claim at a speech given by leader of the anti-GMO movement in California and was told the proof was on the Internet. "You can find more about alien abductions on the Internet than you can about Roundup bombs," he said.

Other arguments seem more reasonable, like the one demanding biotech foods be labeled. "This is not about the consumer’s right to know. The motivation behind this is to label food to make consumers suspicious, implying something is wrong if it is labeled genetically modified," he said.

Definition muddled

Even this group’s definition of genetically modified is muddled. Roush says they want to ban any crop which has had "gene doubles." This would result in banning most all commercial strawberries. Today’s strawberry varieties have been bred to contain eight chromosomes.

These groups have hauled people identified as "Midwest farmers" to California to "share their stories" about biotech crops. They are not farmers, said Roush.

"If they want to hear what farmers have to say on the issue, why not ask you?" Roush told the growers at CPCSD’s annual field day.

Since Greenpeace and others have lost their anti-biotech battle with farmers, they are trying to further anti-technology agenda by trying to convince countries to ban crops. One of the anti-biotech ordinances proposed in Alameda County not only bans biotech crops in the county, but would prevent ships with biotech crops onboard from docking at Alameda County ports.

It seems improbable that these groups could stop biotech crops since they are grown on 160 million acres in 18 nations by 7 million farmers. There are more than 600,000 acres of biotech crops growing this season in California.

However, Roush said do not underestimate this small group of radicals. He said they stopped the development of biotech potatoes by scaring McDonald’s into refusing to buy GMO potatoes.

The only people who can turn back this radical movement at the ballot box and in the public arena are farmers, said Roush. The biotech corporations cannot do it because they are lightning rods for the anti-corporate groups.

If farmers do not aggressively campaign against these initiatives, their future "could be at risk.

"It is up to you and your colleagues to decide," said Roush.

Biotech Agriculture: Go For It!

- The Saigon Times Weekly, September 18, 2004

Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor of plant biotechnology at the College of Agriculture, Tuskegee University in the U.S., and president of Agbioworld Foundation, tells The Saigon Times Weekly about the latest biotechnology applications. Prakash was interviewed during his recent visit to Vietnam, where he shared with Vietnamese scientists his views on how biotechnology can be of use to this country.

Question: What are the benefits of using biotechnology in Vietnam?

I think the number one benefit is to improve productivity, to produce more food but with less land, using less water and less chemicals. That's going to be the key in the future of agriculture.

Second, biotechnology helps improve the quality of food, reduce toxin in food to make it healthier and give better nutritional quality. It also helps industry produce raw materials such as cotton.

Question: What do you think Vietnam should do to promote the use of biotechnology in agriculture?

Agriculture is an important part of the economy in Vietnam. Although industrialization is going on very well, one must recognize that more than half the Vietnamese population is engaged in farming and there is a great disparity between people living in urban and rural areas. So, the most effective way to improve the life of rural people is to increase agricultural productivity, and one of the tools to improve the productivity is to use biotechnology.

To do that, I think Vietnam should continue to support biotechnology research and development at universities and government institutions. It should also create policies that encourage innovations so that the fruit of research is not confined just to the laboratory, and it should make a concerted effort to bring research findings to the people. One way to do that is to put together a bio-safety law so that those who want to develop products or crops improved by biotechnology have a legal means of doing so, and also to ensure that Vietnam can control the kinds of products being introduced and bring assurance to the public that what they are consuming is safe.

Question: What biotechnology applications can be used to help Vietnam boost agricultural productivity?

I think the most immediate application of biotechnology would be in the area of growing cotton, because cotton is not a food crop, so it's less controversial, and textiles is one of the most important industries in Vietnam. Some cotton experts told me that Vietnamese farmers use up to 20 tons of pesticide on one crop, and that's too costly and it's too much chemicals going on to the crop. They could eliminate 80% of pesticides used by growing biotech cotton.

Biotech cotton is naturally resistant to pests, so you don't have to use much pesticide, and there is less pesticide poisoning. Moreover, its productivity is very high, and it can help promote biodiversity. Also, there is no problem with safety issues.

Cotton is just one example. I believe Vietnam could gainfully employ biotech in other crops like papaya, sweet potatoes, cassava and also rice. It is important that Vietnam should be better prepared to use biotechnology to its advantage, because it can help increase productivity, cut down the use of chemicals in farming and bring a level of hardiness, like resistance against the unpredictability of the environment, such as lack of rain or too much rain.

Question: Do you think that Vietnam should use biotechnology to produce genetically modified (GM) food?

Certainly. There is no reason why Vietnam should delay the commercialization of GM crops and the production of GM food, because Vietnam has a population of 80 million people with a small amount of land used for agriculture. Most of the land is forests and mountains and only 24% of land is arable. Even so, it is subject to lot of constraints, such as uneven and unpredictable rain in some places and poor soil that make it less productive. So the country needs to have scientific methods, especially GM technology to bring some level of improvement to crops and to produce food with less pesticide, less fertilizer and better nutrition quality.

Question: Can you provide any help in developing biotechnology in Vietnam?

I think the most important aspect of biotechnology is to train human resources because it is a very sophisticated area of science and needs a lot of expertise. We have worked with young Vietnamese scientists and provided them with some training.

There are many opportunities for mutual collaboration between scientists in Vietnam and those in many universities in the U.S. I do encourage Vietnamese scientists to explore such opportunities where they could come for short-term visits to the U.S. and seek higher education for training in many areas of biotechnology.

China makes major breakthrough for transgenic cotton

- People's Daily Online, September 22, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

The Transgenic Tech System of Cotton Commercialization was, according to this story, declared a success, and that based on this system, 8 new cotton varieties have been developed and more than 32 million mu land has grown insect-resistant transgenic cotton.

Transgenic crops have been spreading around the world faster than any other crops in recent years. From 1996 to 2003, its coverage increased by nearly 40 times globally.

In China, transgenic insect-resistant cotton is the major product of transgenic farm produces. In the face of the fierce international competition, the research and industrialization of transgenic cotton has made a series of significant breakthroughs thanks to the governmentˇŻs support. New varieties with intellectual property rights have been invented.


Syngenta resumes sale of GM seeds Syngenta back in GM seed business

- Business Report (South Africa), By Stewart Bailey, September 23, 2004

Johannesburg - Syngenta, which competes with Monsanto in the market for genetically modified (GM) seeds, has resumed selling to South African farmers after a voluntary halt of a month.

Syngenta stopped selling mealie seeds to farmers on August 23 after Biowatch, an organisation opposed to gene-altered crops, appealed a government decision to allow Syngenta to sell seeds.

But a board of legal and agricultural experts convened by the high court dismissed Biowatch's appeal on Monday, said Ken Flower, the managing director of Syngenta's South African unit.

"We are now selling and distributing seeds as per our permit," Flower said.

The Basel-based company, to comply with the appeal board ruling, would release a statement detailing "additional monitoring and research" of crops.

Farmers in South Africa, usually one of the world's top five mealie exporters, will begin planting next month for the 2005 harvest.

Cormac Cullinan, a lawyer acting for Biowatch, said the decision was disturbing and declined to comment further until he had seen the reasons for it.

Syngenta sells GM seed for yellow mealies, which account for 39 percent of the 8.7 million tons the SA Crop Estimate Committee has forecast commercial farmers would reap this year.

The committee expects yellow mealie plantings to rise this season by 14 percent to 1.04 million hectares.


Angry GM stalemate in Germany
Political parties and legislative bodies seem unable to resolve their dispute over GM crops

- BioMed Central,| By Grit Kienzlen, September 23, 2004

Germany's two national legislative bodies were at loggerheads over genetically modified (GM) plant legislation yesterday (September 22) after an arbitration panel that is supposed to conciliate between the Parliament and Bundesrat failed to reach a consensus.

On July 9, the representatives of Germany's 16 provinces in the Bundesrat—dominated by the Christian Democrat party—defeated a bill that had been approved by the Parliament (Bundestag), where Social Democrat (SPD) and Green parties hold the majority.

The arbitration panel is supposed to mediate between Bundestag and Bundesrat, but "the talks there are still extremely emotionally charged," Wolf-Dieter Glatzel, who represents the SPD faction in the panel, told The Scientist. Each party accuses the other of irrationality, as they struggle to draft a law that will allow commercial use of plant biotechnology while being acceptable to opponents of the technology.

Originally, the federal government was supposed to implement EU guidelines for releasing GM plants by 2002, but the law proposed by the minister of consumer protection, Renate Künast, a member of the Green party, was fiercely criticized by all major research organizations, who called it a "law of gene technology prevention."

There are two major points at issue, both concerning liability in case crops sown by conventional or organic farmers and contaminated by the neighboring fields of GM farmers.

While the EU guidelines recognize a contamination only when it exceeds a threshold level of 0.9%, the draft of the German law also acknowledges economic damage to an organic farmer if the contamination exceeds a threshold that he or she has arranged individually with his customers.

Secondly, the law currently allows for all neighboring GM farmers to be held liable for the damage collectively, even if they have personally followed all rules of good agricultural practice. The German Farmers Association therefore discourages its members from planting GM crops because of incalculable economic risks.

An alliance of German research organizations, including the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer Society, the German Research Foundation, and the Conference of University Rectors, sent an open letter to the arbitration panel last week. The letter said that the bill would prevent experiments with GM plants, making internationally competitive research impossible.

In addition to criticizing the liability rules, the research bodies were unhappy that cultivation areas for GM plants would have to be disclosed in a public registry, as experimental fields have been destroyed regularly by environmental activists in the past. The bill, the alliance writes, therefore "jeopardizes the future of the major branches of innovation in Germany."

The European Commission has also criticized the German bill in a detailed statement from July 26 for undermining EU regulations. If the bill is enacted without major changes, a legal procedure at the European Court may be foreseeable.

The arbitration panel will meet again for further consultation by the end of October, but members of the political opposition, such as Christel Happach-Kasan from the Liberal party (FDP), don't believe that the governing parties will try to find a compromise. "Fundamental opposition to green biotechnology is popular, but not enforceable in the EU any more," she said. The likely outcome will be that decisions will be left to the courts, she said.
Links for this article
N. Stafford, "Law may stifle German science," The Scientist, June 28, 2004.

Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 on the Deliberate Release into the Environment of Genetically Modified Organisms and Repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC
http://europa.eu.int/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!pro d!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=32001L0018&model=guichett

N. Stafford, "German GM wheat trials continue," The Scientist, April 13, 2004.


EU drops ban on GM Seeds

- Hindu Business Line, September 22, 2004

NEW DELHI: For the first time, the European Union has approved the planting and sale of genetically-modified (GMO) or biotech seeds throughout its 25 member States.

At the same time, the EU also dropped a proposal on how much GMO material may be tolerated without labeling in batches of conventional seed - a controversial requirement that has bounced between the European Commission's various departments for over a year.

The move authorises the cultivation of 17 different strains of corn seed developed by the US-based international conglomerate Monsanto, said a Cal Trade Report from Brussels.

The corn seeds were from a parent crop that had been approved before the EU established its ban against biotech foods in 1998.

On the other hand, three environmental groups - India's Gene Campaign, Friends of the Earth Europe and Coalition against Bayer-dangers (Germany) - have petitioned European Commission not to permit GM rice as animal feed in EU countries, saying that the use of genetically modified (GM) rice as animal feed in European Union will promote its sowing in India and other developing countries, adversely affecting their bio-diversity.

Bayers had applied for only import and processing (not cultivation) of GM rice (LLrice62) into the EU, but it will have a major environmental health implications outside the border of the EU community, said Gene Campaign.

Earlier in his statement, EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, Mr David Byrne said the corn is safe for human health and the environment, and has been grown in Spain for years without any known problems.

However, the commission withdrew its proposal setting purity levels for labeling of seed containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Before the ruling, the GMO seeds only had national authorisations issued by France and Spain. The ban meant that only farmers in those countries could buy and plant them.

The decision comes as the contents of a French food safety agency AFSSA - Agence Frangaise de Sicuriti Sanitaire des Aliments - study has concluded that crops developed through biotechnology might benefit human health.