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September 28, 2004


Modify or Starve; Rifkin's Pipe Dream; Transatlantic Gap Over Biotech Crops; Political Economy of GM Food; GM Bans Threaten Aussie Exports


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; September 28, 2004

* Scientist Poses A Grim Choice: Modify or Starve
* Re: Fear of Pharming- Scientific American Sept issue
* Mr. Rifkin's Pipe Dream
* New Look At The Transatlantic Gap Over Biotech Crops
* Trade, Standards, and the Political Economy of Genetically Modified Food
* DuPont CEO Says Benefits of Biotechnology Here Today, More on the Way
* From Corn Wars to Corn Laws: A National Nervous Breakdown Over Maize
* Aid Like This Is Fatal
* India Oil Trade Chief Backs GMO Oilseeds
* GM Bans Threaten Aussie Exports
* Environmental Impact Statement; Petition for Deregulation of Genetically Engineered Glyphosate-Tolerant Creeping Bentgrass
* Only in Australia? - Dubious Claims of Herbicide Safety
* History of Plant Breeding

Scientist Poses A Grim Choice: Modify or Starve

- Peter Morley, Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia), Sept.28, 2004

Genetic modification of food crops and enhanced conventional breeding techniques would be needed to feed the world's population in the face of a grain shortage, an international conference was told yesterday.

Professor Monkombu Swaminathan, who has been recognised as the father of the green revolution, said crop-yield growth rates had fallen below levels needed to overcome malnutrition in developing countries. Yield potential of major crops had to be raised, Professor Swaminathan told the International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane. The congress is being attended by more than 1000 delegates from 65 countries.

"Public acceptance of genetically modified crops is still low," Professor Swaminathan said. "Organic foods and GM foods are being placed at two ends of a table. "The way ahead lies in harmonising organic agriculture and the breeding methods based on the new genetics."

All states except Queensland have a moratorium on the genetic modification of food crops. There are trials involving pineapples and sugar cane occurring in five places in northern and southeast Queensland.

Professor Swaminathan said crop yields had improved in the past century because of scientific breakthroughs, improved varieties and better farming techniques. However huge population increases, a reduction in farming lands because of city spread and degradation of the environment meant researchers had to concentrate on increasing crop yields.

Despite consumer resistance, particularly in the Western world, genetically modified crops had to be considered. No technology should be rejected. Professor Frank Rijsberman of the International Water Management Institute told the congress that two-thirds of the world's population would be affected by water scarcity in coming decades.

Humans required thousands of litres of water a day to produce their food, depending on diet and lifestyle. It took 1000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cereal grains and up to 13,500 litres to produce 1kg of beef.

"A typical diet of a person from the United States requires about 5400 litres of water a day," he said. "A vegetarian diet with approximately the same nutritional value is responsible for the consumption of 2600 litres a day."

Queensland's Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk told the congress that research work meant the state continued to feed a population 10 times greater than its own. As a state we can meet the daily dietary needs of a population of more than 35 million -- the equivalent of 10 times larger than our own population, " he said. "My department's research is helping primary producers to produce larger yields and better quality products, while ensuring soil, water and other resources are sustainable."

Re: Fear of Pharming- Scientific American Sept issue

- Chris Preston

What I find disappointing about this article is the tone that it is written in. Nobody ever has expected that 100% of GM crop pollen or seed will never go anywhere. What I and others have often consistently said is that gene flow can be kept at such low levels that it is an insignificant risk. When we conducted the canola experiment in Australia, we went out to 5 km because we were expecting to find something. We also tested big numbers so we could find rare events. By looking at 700,000 seeds from each field we maximized our chances of finding straying resistance genes. The big surprise to me was how little gene flow we observed given the expectations in the media.

If we look at some of the other examples given - the conclusions drawn assume that somehow attempts to keep GM and non-GM separate are doomed to failure. However, this has not been tested. The Union of Concerned Scientists were able to find GM material in seed lots of three crops in the US. They used techniques that were able to detect small amounts of material which helped. What everybody who quotes this study seems to have forgotten is that nobody has been seriously trying to keep GM soybeans separate from non-GM soybeans in the US. As nobody is trying to keep them separate it should be no surprise that admixture occurs from time to time. I might add that as far as I could tell, the amounts of GM found were below the acceptable limits for off-type seed in Australia and would presumably be the same in the US.

Corn in Mexico. Mexican corn farmers have been illegally bringing back maize seed from the US because it is better. It is a hard task for people to complain that it should not be there. As far as I can determine, the Mexican Government does little to stop seed movement across the US border so farmers will continue to bring the seed in.

Pollen grains may be viable for a long time under the right conditions, although I doubt they would be viable for long at 2000 m. In any case when the fall to land again they need to compete with all the local pollen. One pollen grain lobbing in a field already containing billions of pollen grains is not going to have much of a chance.

Of course the whole problem of pharmaceuticals in the food chain could be avoided if non-food crops were used.

-- > Fear of Pharming: Controversy Swirls at the Crossroads of >Agriculture and Medicine

> - Alla Katsnelson, Scientific American, September 20, 2004 >http://www.sciam.com/

> Farming, one of the world's oldest practices has suddenly found >itself entangled with modern medicine. Imagine this: at your child's >appointment for a routine vaccination, the doctor proffers a banana >genetically engineered to contain the vaccine and says, "Have her >eat this and call me in the morning." Though still far-fetched, the >scenario is getting closer to reality, with the first batch of >plant-made medicines--created by genetically modifying crops such as >corn, soy, canola and even fruits such as tomatoes and bananas to >produce disease-fighting drugs and vaccines--now in early clinical >testing

Mr. Rifkin's Pipe Dream

- Henry I. Miller, MD, TechCentral Station, Sept. 27, 2004 http://www.techcentralstation.com/

Professional worrier Jeremy Rifkin's pronouncements always remind me of the characterization by one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas B. Reed of his political opponents, "They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." Rifkin's assertion that Americans' consumption of beef causes domestic violence were absurd. So were his claims that biotechnology threatens "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust," and that a small-scale field trial of a gene-spliced soil bacterium could change weather patterns and disrupt air-traffic control.

He's at it again in a completely different realm in a new book, "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream" (Tarcher/Penguin, 435 pages, $25.95). As the title implies, its thesis is, "When one considers what makes a people great and what constitutes a better way of life, Europe is beginning to surpass America."

Before tackling this new attempt at redefining reality in an unreal way, it is useful to consider briefly Rifkin's previously published views on other subjects. In "Beyond Beef," he asserts that "the statistics linking domestic violence and quarrels over beef are both revealing and compelling." He believes that men use meat as "a means of conditioning women to accept a subservient status in society." The evidence? He quotes a woman battered by her husband: "It would start off with him being angry over a trivial thing like cheese instead of meat on a sandwich." Oh.

Rifkin's views on biotechnology, his preoccupation for many years, are no less wacky. His decades-long predictions of doom ignore the scientific consensus that the newest techniques of biotechnology are essentially a refinement, or extension, of earlier ones applied for centuries, and that gene transfer or modification by molecular techniques does not, per se, confer risk. Like robotics, fiber optics and supercomputers, the new biotechnology is no more than a widely applicable tool.

Moreover, crops made with the techniques of the new biotechnology have for almost a decade been cultivated on more than 100 million acres annually around the world. They have drastically reduced soil erosion and applications of chemical pesticides, and Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients -- all without a single documented untoward event.

Yet, Rifkin has crusaded relentlessly to banish currently marketed biotech foods and pharmaceuticals, and to keep future products from being developed and tested, all the while distorting and making up facts to suit his purposes.

The late Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, by his own admission, tried to be sympathetic to Rifkin's views but was overwhelmed by the "extremism" and "lack of integrity" in Rifkin's anti-biotechnology diatribe, "Algeny." Gould concluded that Rifkin "shows no understanding of the norms and procedures of science."

In "The European Dream," Rifkin demonstrates that his ineptness extends to political science and economics. He believes that at the same time that "the American Spirit is tiring and languishing in the past, a new European Dream is being born" -- an ethos that "emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power."

Rifkin is convinced that before long, however, overworked and materialistic Americans will soon realize the superiority of and embrace the European ideal of "working to live" instead of "living to work," and that they will exchange American self-reliance for Old World groupthink.

It is true that already-underachieving European workers constantly press for even shorter workweeks and longer vacations, and that by contrast, Americans relish and feel a sense of accomplishment in work. (Witness the proliferation of laptops, PDAs, pagers and cell phones among vacationing Americans.) But this ethic is part of the very fabric of our national heritage. In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson opined that his proudest achievement had been to fashion a meritocratic United States in which "a new aristocracy of virtue and talent" replaced the old aristocracy of hubris, privilege and indolence.

As long as we Americans are able to reap rewards that are commensurate with our labors -- and can keep taxation and socialism at bay -- we are unlikely to relinquish that ethic.

Rifkin is the master of oversimplification and overstatement. His portrayal of a homogenous, harmonious Europe is inaccurate, as the split over policy toward Iraq clearly illustrates. A solid majority of European countries officially support the U.S. position, although France and Germany are in the minority. There is also wide disparity in public opinion: polls show that in the U.K. and the Netherlands there is significant support for the U.S. intervention, while in France and Spain there is widespread oppZosition.

As he is wont to do, Rifkin frequently invokes flawed assumptions and "facts" that are made up and contradicted by data. Contrary to his prognostications, the evidence suggests that if there is evolution toward greater congruence between the European and American Weltanschauungen, it will be the result of the Europeans moving in our direction, rather than the opposite. Recently, major German labor unions have agreed to work longer hours without additional pay, and the leaders of France, Germany and other countries are beginning to acknowledge that their profligate social welfare programs are unsustainable.

In stark rebuttal to Rifkin's paean to European society and institutions, European countries and their Union are, in comparison to the United States, in dire straits. They have aging populations and low birth rates, their productivity is in decline, and their economies are stagnant.

Everything in Europe is not on the decline, however: Stultifying taxation, over-regulation, obstruction of free markets, unemployment, anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-Semitism, and envy of the American economic miracle are alive and well.

Finally, Rifkin is an adviser to the president of the European Union, and it should come as no surprise that he fawns on the hand that feeds him.

Stephen Jay Gould dismissed Rifkin's "Algeny" as "a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship," concluding that he had not "ever read a shoddier work." But then he had not read "The European Dream."

Henry Miller, a physician, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the author of The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution. He was an FDA official from 1979 to 1994.

New Look At The Transatlantic Gap Over Biotech Crops

- On The Plate, Sept. 23, 2004

A new research paper published by the World Bank indicates that the differences between the U.S. and Europe in accepting genetically modified crops are influenced not only by "cultural" views of food and environment but also by economic interests and lobbying efforts by European farm organizations.

The paper, "Trade, Standards, and the Political Economy of Genetically Modified Food," uses political economic theory to explain the differing consumer acceptance between Europe and the U.S. The authors conclude that, in the case of biotech foods, the threat of competition from agricultural producers who are better suited to adopt biotech crops, such as many U.S. farmers, have influenced the European approach and lobbying activities.

While other political economic models generally assume that companies will engage in lobbying activities for reducing regulations, the model used shows that increased competition can motivate companies to engage in strategic lobbying for stricter standards. Domestic producers that compete in their home market often find it easier than the importing competition to influence standard setting and regulations. Stricter regulations and standards tailored according to the domestic industry concerns can prove advantageous when challenged by foreign competitors. Domestic industries might also find it easier to influence consumers' view about the need for those stricter regulations.

The authors conclude that consumer or environmentalist opposition to biotech crops is "not the only reason why there has been a moratorium on the production and sale of GM foods in regions like the EU. Rather, differences in comparative advantage in the adoption of GM crops may be sufficient to explain the trans-Atlantic difference in GM policies."

The model did not include the potentially more influential role of biotechnology companies in the U.S. compared with Europe, which, according to the authors, could provide an additional reason for the drastic differences in adopting this technology in agriculture.


Trade, Standards, and the Political Economy of Genetically Modified Food

- Kym Anderson, Richard Damania, and Lee Ann Jackson, World Bank; Working Paper No. 3395; September 1, 2004

Anderson, Damania, and Jackson develop a common-agency lobbying model to help understand why North America and the European Union have adopted such different policies toward genetically modified (GM) food. Their results show that when firms (in this case farmers) lobby policymakers to influence standards, and consumers and environmentalists care about the choice of standard, it is possible that increased competition from abroad can lead to strategic incentives to raise standards, not just lower them as shown in earlier models.

The authors show that differences in comparative advantage in the adoption of GM crops may be sufficient to explain the trans-Atlantic difference in GM policies. On the one hand, farmers in a country with a comparative advantage in GM technology can gain a strategic cost advantage by lobbying for lax controls on GM production and use at home and abroad. On the other hand, when faced with greater competition, the optimal response of farmers in countries with a comparative disadvantage in GM adoption may be to lobby for more-stringent GM standards.

So it is rational for producers in the European Union (whose relatively small farms would enjoy less gains from the new biotechnology than broad-acre American farms) to reject GM technology if that enables them and consumer and environmental lobbyists to argue for restraints on imports from GM-adopting countries. This theoretical proposition is supported by numerical results from a global general equilibrium model of GM adoption in America with and without an EU moratorium.

DuPont CEO Says Benefits of Biotechnology Here Today, More on the Way; Progress Being Made on Acceptance, New Applications of Biotechnology

- PR NEWSWIRE (U.S.) 28 September 2004

TOKYO, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- DuPont Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles O. Holliday, Jr. today said significant progress has been made in demonstrating the benefits of biotechnology, in its acceptance, and in the advancement of new and exciting products the technology is making possible.

"We can now say that biotech has been established as one tool, among many, for feeding the world sustainably - a tool that producers and consumers around the world will increasingly depend on," Holliday said, speaking at Asia's largest biotechnology conference, BioJapan 2004.

He noted that plant biotechnology has been adopted faster than any other technology in the history of agriculture. In eight years, farmers in the United States have converted 81 percent of soybeans, 73 percent of cotton, and 40 percent of corn to biotech varieties. The amount of biotech crops planted globally is increasing every year with the fastest growth coming outside North America.

"Companies can't drive that kind of adoption. It occurs because people see the value," Holliday said.

The value goes well beyond the farmers who choose to grow the crops. Holliday said that many overlook the importance of productivity improvements that biotechnology is helping sustain. "Where would we be today, if in 1950 someone had decided we had enough grain in the world and we had stopped investing in improved genetics?" he asked.

"Since 1980, the world's corn growers have increased their production by 45 percent and done it on less than a 5 percent increase in acres. In effect, we've added 130 million 'virtual' acres by improving corn genetics, technology, and management practices. Think of the impact on our world if we did not have those 130 million 'virtual' acres," Holliday said.

Both large and small farmers are using biotechnology today to grow more while reducing the spraying they need to do, Holliday said. And there are many other benefits on the horizon.

Biotechnology is allowing DuPont to develop products like drought- resistant crops, bio-fuels and biomaterials, Holliday said. The benefits in industrial applications could far outstrip the contribution of biotechnology to medicine and agriculture.

"We are working to create new manufacturing platforms based on biotechnology that significantly lower cost and investment or offer an improved environmental performance," said Holliday. "We are solving problems that cannot be solved by existing approaches."

Holliday acknowledged that the technology is not without its critics and challenges. But he said DuPont continues to be committed to pursuing the promise of biotechnology for its customers in a careful and transparent manner. "We understand that continued open and transparent dialogue with consumers and governments will be necessary for this tool - biotechnology - to achieve its maximum utility," he said.

The company formed an external global Biotechnology Advisory Panel in 2000, which helped the company create its Bioethics Guiding Principles. The DuPont Biotechnology Advisory Panel is in the process of completing its second independent report on DuPont and its application of biotechnology. A listing of advisory panel members, their reports, and the DuPont Bioethics Guiding Principles, and extensive information on its biotech products are available at http://www.dupont.com/biotech.

"We are convinced that biotechnology can and is being employed successfully and safely to the benefit of people everywhere," Holliday said. "It will make great contributions to meeting human needs in the 21st century."

The full text of the Holliday remarks prepared for delivery at BioJapan 2004 is available at http://www1.dupont.com/NASApp/dupontglobal/corp/index.jsp?page=/content/US/en_ US/news/speeches/index.html.

From Corn Wars to Corn Laws: A National Nervous Breakdown Over Maize

- The Economist, Sept. 23, 2004

In the village of Capulalpam, high up in the Sierra Madre mountains of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, a local woman proudly shows off her small plot of farmland. The courgettes are almost as big as footballs and her maize plants tower above her. The secret, she confides, is the quality of her pigs' excrement. She insists that all her produce is completely organic. Here, that claim means something more than usual: Capulalpam was where, in 2001, unregulated genetically modified (GM) corn was first found in Mexico. That set off a national debate that at times has looked more like a national nervous breakdown-especially since the source of the offending corn was the United States. Now, Mexico is about to enact a bio-security law which may fashion some sense from the confusion.

Corn, or maize, matters to Mexico more than to any other country in the world. It is indigenous to Mexico, and has been cultivated there for some 6,000 years. The country is home to more varieties of maize than any other. It remains the staple of the Mexican diet, in everything from tortillas and tacos to tamales and soup. Amanda Gálvez, a food scientist at the National Autonomous University, reckons that the average Mexican gets 40% of his protein intake from corn, of which he eats between 250 and 400 grams (8-14 ounces) a day. It is also a cultural staple. Many Mexican Indians in southern states such as Oaxaca believe that the maize plant represents the origin of life itself.

All this has made GM maize an unusually sensitive issue. In 1998, the government declared a moratorium on planting and experiments with GM maize-though not for other GM crops and plants. But this ban does not apply to imports. Inefficient farming and a rising population mean that Mexico now imports some 6m tonnes a year (about a quarter of its needs) from the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). About 30% of this imported corn is GM, according to Exequiel Ezcurra, the director of the government's National Institute of Ecology. These imports are probably the source of the GM corn found in the Sierra Madre.

Traditionalists worry about unintended pollution of the world's purest genetic stock of maize. Although no confirmed finds of GM maize have occurred on Mexican farms since 2003, few doubt that it is still present. Supporters of GM argue that Mexico's poor yields and droughts mean that it is precisely the sort of country that should invest in biotechnology. GM could help Mexico's many peasant farmers increase their output and incomes, and "decrease hunger", says Luis Herrera-Estrella, a genetic scientist at the National Polytechnic Institute.

The blanket ban on GM research was lifted last year. But only in theory: no permits have been issued. For the past three years, Mexico's Congress has been discussing the whole issue. A law is likely to be approved, perhaps next month, which may strike a compromise. Greens want it to reaffirm the ban on experiments with GM maize, and to order stricter labelling of imports. Supporters of GM want a green light for planting and research.

The issue is becoming an urgent one. In 2008 remaining quotas on corn imports from the United States will be lifted under NAFTA. This will unleash an avalanche of cheap, subsidised GM corn from the American mid-west. The best response, say some Mexicans, is to adopt biotechnology. Ms Gálvez points out that while Mexico-once a world leader in this field-has been sitting on its hands for the past six years, the United States has granted 5,000 permits for research on maize alone.

Carlos Camacho, the president of AgroBIO, a business lobby, expects that the new law will introduce some flexibility. The requirements to get permits for planting and research will be exacting, "but at least you will know where the bar is," he says. He argues that this will be an improvement on the current fog of obscure environmental protocols and fudged laws. At the same time, special areas of bio-diversity, like Oaxaca, could choose to maintain a total ban. That is a rough-and-ready compromise-but better than the current self-defeating prohibition.


Aid Like This Is Fatal

- Stephen Pollard, The Times (UK), September 27, 2004

Do You want to help to kill an African? It's very easy. Just sign Christian Aid's petition against free trade.

According to the charity's current campaign: "Millions of farmers in poorer nations are being gradually ruined by free trade." As evidence for this, it cites "the onion farmers of Senegal. With free trade forced on them, they're unable to sell their produce because their local markets are flooded with onions imported from Europe."

That statement is true, apart from one detail: it is not a description of free trade but of its opposite, protectionism.

The EU foodstuffs market is warped by the subsidies of the common agricultural policy (CAP). When EU farmers export, they sell products which would not have been grown without subsidy. The EU spends ?2.7 billion a year paying farmers to grow sugar beet, for example, while it imposes high tariff barriers against sugar imports from the developing world.

The CAP generates immense surpluses that cannot be sold within the EU. Much of these are exported at low prices that undercut those charged by the developing world's unsubsidised producers. And when they attempt to export to the EU, their access is blocked by trade barriers. The EU's agricultural tariffs are as high as 250 per cent. Free trade is the solution, not the problem.

According to Oxfam, if Africa could increase its share of world trade by just 1 per cent, it would earn an additional £49 billion a year - enough to lift 128 million people out of extreme poverty. That will happen only if trade barriers are lifted.

There are two possible explanations for Christian Aid's misguided campaign. One is that those behind it are so stupid that they simply do not know that free trade involves abolishing subsidies, pulling down trade barriers. The other is that they know that full well, but have an anti-globalisation, anti-prosperity agenda that they are attempting to disguise with an apparent but misleading concern for the developing world.

A recent paper by the Centre for the New Europe calculated that one person dies every 13 seconds somewhere in the world - mainly in Africa - because of the EU's protectionism. The Christian Aid campaign's stated aim would make that figure even worse. --- Stephen Pollard is a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe.

India Oil Trade Chief Backs GMO Oilseeds

- Hari Ramachandran, Reuters News, September 25, 2004

India, the world's largest edible oil buyer, should closely examine cultivating genetically modified oilseeds to increase production and bridge a widening supply-demand gap, a top industry official said. The country imports about five million tonnes of edible oils annually, nearly half its needs, and analysts say the volume could increase with growth in consumption and population.

It mainly buys palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia and soft oils from Argentina, Brazil and the United States. "We need to initiate a national debate on the use of GMO seeds to increase productivity," said Ajay Tandon, the newly elected chairman of the Central Organisation for Oil Industry and Trade, the country's largest edible oil trade grouping.

"If we can consume GMO soybean oil from Argentina and the U.S., why can't we seek an answer for our needs here?" Tandon told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a trade meeting on Saturday. India has resisted using genetically modified crops and so far has permitted only limited varieties of cotton for commercial cultivation. Trial production on the use of genetically modified mustard seeds has not made much headway.

"The way consumption levels are rising, if productivity levels remain the same, we will continue to be a food deficit country," Tandon said. "In three to five years our edible oil imports could go up to 6 to 7 million tonnes unless we work on productivity."

A technology mission set up by the government to boost oilseeds output has led to diversification of some crop area from grains to oilseeds, but annual oilseeds production has stagnated at around 22 million tonnes.

Need For Higher Yields "Area diversification is not a long-term sustainable solution, and as a country we need to be more pragmatic," Tandon said. He cautioned that India might soon be left with no viable options except imports, as in the case of crude and petroleum products.

He said this year's cotton output was expected to rise to more than 21 million bales from 17.7 million last year, mainly because of the use of transgenic cotton in large areas. He said the U.S. and Argentina, which use GMO seeds, produce 3.2 tonnes per hectare of soybean while India produces just one third of that in a hectare (2.5 acres).

The government should also liberalise the imports of oilseeds to help crushers and improve domestic availability of oils, he said. The government currently puts high duty on oilseeds and also imposes quarantine restrictions, which make imports unviable.

"The government says import of oilseeds will hurt farmers but the trade feels the effect on the farmers would be the same whether the country buys oils or oilseeds," said Tandon. He said a three to four percent growth in agriculture will not help the gross domestic product to grow to desired levels. "The reality is if we are planning for 8 to 9 percent GDP growth then we need to look for higher farm growth and plan to meet future food requirements," said Tandon.

GM Bans Threaten Aussie Exports

- Agra Europe,September 10, 2004

Australia could lose its edge on world markets if it does not take the plunge into genetically modified (GM) crops, agricultural think-tank the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) said on Monday.

The recent withdrawal of crop science group Monsanto Co. from GM canola operations in Australia, after varying state regulations halted a planned GM canola crop, threatened wide consequences, AFI warned (see also AE2105, 14.05.04, M/1).

"It's a double (loss).... We lose the production advantage and we also lose the R&D (research and development) advantage," said Mick Keogh, executive director of the farmer-backed institute.

Anti-GM campaigners fear cross-crop contamination, while Australia's state governments have introduced bans on GM crops under pressure from environmentalists and consumers.

But Keogh, commenting on Papers published in the institute's Farm Policy Journal, said other farm science groups, led by Bayer AG, would be justified in following Monsanto's exit from GM canola development in Australia.

"It would be only entirely sensible if those companies did pull out. Why should they invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research ... if state government turns around and says, 'sorry we've decided to keep the ban going'?" he said.

Reaping major gains

Global competitors of Australia's AUS$25 billion worth of annual agricultural exports were already reaping major gains from GM crops, with the main savings in pesticide costs, Keogh said. Studies by top international agencies showed GM crops cut down the use of pesticides by 10-15%, with greater gains in bad pest years.

There was no evidence that GM crops caused significant harm, Terri Raney, senior economist of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, said in the institute's journal. However, farmers in developing countries had reaped significant yield, environmental and profit advantages from growing GM crops, she said.

Pest-resistant GM cotton, which has been introduced to Australia, has produced estimated global market benefits of AUS$212.5-AUS$300.7 million per year through yield enhancement and savings in pest control, according to William Lin, senior economist at the USDA.

The estimated global market value of GM crops was US$4.50-US$4.75 billion in 2003, with a projected value of up to US$5 billion in 2005. (l)

Environmental Impact Statement; Petition for Deregulation of Genetically Engineered Glyphosate-Tolerant Creeping Bentgrass

- Federal Register, 57257, Vol. 69, No. 185, September 24, 2004

Summary: We are advising the public that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service intends to prepare an environmental impact statement relative to its consideration of a petition received from Monsanto Company and The Scotts Company for a determination of nonregulated status for a glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera). This notice identifies potentially significant issues, as well as alternatives, that the Agency proposes to examine in the environmental impact statement and re quests public comment.

DATES: We will consider all comments that we receive on or before October 25, 2004.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods: . Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Please send four copies of your comment (an original and three copies) to Docket No. 03-101-2, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. 03-101-2. . E-mail: Address your comment to regulations@aphis.usda.gov. Your comment must be contained in the body of your message; do not send attached files. Please include your name and address in your message and "Docket No. 03-101-2" on the subject line. . Agency Web site: Go to http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/cominst.html for a form you can use to submit an e-mail comment through the APHIS Web site.

Other Information: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/webrepor.html. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Susan M. Koehler, BRS, APHIS, 4700 River Road Unit 147, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238; (301) 734-4886.

Only in Australia? - Dubious Claims of Herbicide Safety

- Chris Preston , Senior Lecturer, School of Agriculture and Wine, University of Adelaide

I have just been sent the most extraordinary claim, verified it as being a true posting on the internet and simply feel I have to share it. To me it illustrates the lengths that some of the anti-GM activists will go to.

As background it is important to know that in Australia there are three distinct types of canola grown. About 70% of canola is triazine-tolerant, 10% is Clearfield (imidazolinone tolerant) and the rest convention (just tolerant to herbicides like trifluralin, clopyralid, sethoxydim, etc.). The registration for TT canola allows for up to 2 kg active per ha per year application of atrazine or simazine. Several people have questioned the continuing sustainability of TT canola in Australia, given that the EU has effectively banned the use of triazine herbicides. If TT canola were to be lost to Australia, many farmers, particularly in Western Australia, would have to stop growing canola or agititate for the release of GM canola.

In response to this problem, a lobby group called the Network of Concerned Farmers has come out in defence of atrazine. What is truly ironic about this is that about half the founding members of the Network are organic growers. The latest piece makes the rather dubious claim that glyphosate and glufosinate are more dangerous to people and the environment than atrazine. The full document can be found at: http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=1504, but here I will just quote the opening few paragraphs.

"Are chemicals safer?

Is Atrazine worse than glufosinate?

Much has been made by the pro-GM activists on the possible health and environmental risk of the popular Atrazine (the chemical used on a popular non-GM chemical resistant canola) but the 1997 Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) review confirmed that "all approvals of Atrazine, the active are confirmed" which confirms the relative long term safety of Atrazine to health and the environment. APVMA Review on Atrazine (here)

See link for APVMA Questions and Answers on chemical residues (here) An extract:

"Q: How do I know it is safe for me to eat foods that contain residues?

A: The safety of eating foods containing residues is determined at registration, where dietary intake estimations are carried out. The estimate assumes the worst case, that all crops/animals that could be treated with the chemical are treated and contain residues at the MRL. A chemical product would not be registered by the APVMA if the estimated intake were likely to exceed the health standard, the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)."

What of the chemicals proposed for GM crops?

The GM canola crops proposed for Australia is Monsanto's Roundup Ready crop which will be resistant to glyphosate, and Bayer Cropscience's Liberty canola which is resistant to glufosinate.

Although glyphosate is the most common pre-emergent (before crop emerges) chemical used in the agricultural industry, conventional crops will die if glyphosate is applied post emergent (during crop growing stage). However, GM crops have been bred specifically to allow glyphosate and glufosinate to be applied post-emergent without killing the crop. These chemicals can remain active on the plant resulting in small amounts of chemical being consumed by the public in the form of residues.

In response, applications were submitted to the regulatory bodies for an increased tolerance level of glyphosate residues (here). The Glufosinate license has since been extended to include broad acre crops (here).

There is a fear that chemicals could be in excess of residual limits or could leach in to the water table and over time these chemicals can build up in our drinking water to a level that may cause concern."


Following this is a long diatribe full of mis-quotations on the dangers of ingesting glufosinate and glyphosate. However, it is the paragraph about leaching that I want to address here. A quick survey of the information in the WSSA Herbicide Handbook, describes atrazine as moderately adsorbed to soil and a half life of 60 d. Glyphosate on the other hand has rapid and tight adsorption to soil and an average half life of 47 d. Glufosinate is described as weakly adsorbed to soil, but has a half life of 7 d. Of these three herbicides, atrazine is the most likely to leach, because it has lower absorption capacity and a longer half life. Glufosinate is rarely found below 15 cm in soil because it is too rapidly metabolised. Equally, glyphosate will not leach because it is so tightly bound. In fact it is atrazine that is most commonly found in water ways in Australia - reflecting its slow degradation and water solubility. So how could the Network of Concerned Farmers get it so wrong?


History of Plant Breeding

- Transgenic Crops - An Introduction and Resource Guide, Colorado State University

What is Plant Breeding?

For several thousand years, farmers have been altering the genetic makeup of the crops they grow. Human selection for features such as faster growth, larger seeds or sweeter fruits has dramatically changed domesticated plant species compared to their wild relatives. Remarkably, many of our modern crops were developed by people who lacked an understanding of the scientific basis of plant breeding.

Despite the poor understanding of the process, plant breeding was a popular activity. Gregor Mendel himself, the father of genetics, was a plant breeder, as were some of the leading botanists of his time. Mendel's 1865 paper (http://www.MendelWeb.org/Mendel.html) explaining how dominant and recessive alleles could produce the traits we see and could be passed to offspring was the first major insight into the science behind the art. The paper was largely ignored until 1900, when three scientists working on breeding problems rediscovered it and publicized Mendel's findings.

Major advances in plant breeding followed the revelation of Mendel's discovery. Breeders brought their new understanding of genetics to the traditional techniques of self-pollinating and cross-pollinating plants.

Corn breeders, particularly, tried numerous strategies to capitalize on the insights into heredity. Corn plants that had traditionally been allowed to cross-pollinate freely were artificially self-pollinated for generations and crossed to other self-pollinated lines in an effort to achieve a favorable combination of alleles. The corn we eat today is the result of decades of this strategy of self-pollination followed by cross-pollination to produce vigorous hybrid plants. Information on the history of corn breeding is available in an article written by L.W. Kannenberg for the Ontario Corn Producers Association (http://www.ontariocorn.org/ ocpmag/dec99feat.html).

The art of recognizing valuable traits and incorporating them into future generations is very important in plant breeding. Breeders have traditionally scrutinized their fields and traveled to foreign countries searching for individual plants that exhibit desirable traits. Such traits occasionally arise spontaneously through a process called mutation, but the natural rate of mutation is too slow and unreliable to produce all the plants that breeders would like to see.

In the late 1920s, researchers discovered that they could greatly increase the number of these variations or mutations by exposing plants to X-rays. "Mutation breeding" accelerated after World War II, when the techniques of the nuclear age became widely available. Plants were exposed to gamma rays, protons, neutrons, alpha particles, and beta particles to see if these would induce useful mutations. Chemicals, too, such as sodium azide and ethyl methanesulphonate, were used to cause mutations.

Read on at http://www.colostate.edu/programs/lifesciences/TransgenicCrops/history.html