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October 14, 2004


GM Can't Be Ignored; Fortified Food; Safety in Crop Tests; Biotech Ban Ballot in California


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; October 14, 2004

* The Need for GM Can't be Ignored
* Fortified Food: Complex Regulatory Issues Make It A Distant Dream
* Safety In Biotech Crop Tests
* California University System Seeks A Ban On Genetic Engineering Of Crops
* WHO Urges Thailand to Study Further on GMOs
* Vandana Shiva - Environmentalist: On What is Wrong with Foods Today
* Letters to the Editor on Biotech Ban Ballot in Ca
* Planting-time soy quandary for Brazil

The Need for GM Can't be Ignored

- John Goodwin, The Weekly Times, October 13, 2004 (via Vivian Moses)

'Environmentalists can't have it both ways in the GM debate, according to international oilseeds leader'

There is no doubt we enjoy expanding markets. World population stands at about six billion people. By 2050, it will be something like nine billion, meaning an extra 78 million people will be born each year. About 20 per cent of these are in India. About 50 million of the increase will be in Asia, 18 million in Africa and eight million in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rest will be in stable countries: the US and Europe.

Our key developing markets are China and India. While China's growth rates are expected to slow, India's population will power on, overtaking China in about 2035. Western economic growth is steady at about 2 per cent, but in China is up to 8 per cent and in India about 5 per cent. This means that we have more people with more money to spend.

And with the developing world becoming more urbanised, there will be fewer producers and more consumers. World oils and fats production has more than doubled from 65 million tonnes in the mid-1980s to nearly 130 million tonnes. We will need 268 million tonnes of oils and fats in 2050 -- more than double today's production. Production of soyabeans, the main oilseed, has expanded hugely, mainly in South America. Efficiency of production, price and consumer demand also means palm oil production is growing fast. But we still need 268 million tonnes by 2050.

Where will it come from?

The logical step is genetic modification. More than 50 per cent of world soyabean production is now genetically modified with all the US and Argentina and some of the Brazil crop GM. Continued uncertainty about GM in some markets and health concerns about trans fats could limit soyabean production.

In general, it is not governments, industry, scientists or consumers, but pressure groups dictating the agenda for biotechnology. Indeed, farmers who have been planting GM crops for years report less herbicide and pesticide use, better farm safety and better yields.

Yet to date, the vast majority of GM plantings have been in industrialised countries and have been limited to two traits: insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. It means the focus is narrowed and there has been little to show that biotechnology can address the needs of developing countries.

Much more work is being done on crop-trait varieties and I feel sure biotechnology can make a vital contribution to increasing food supply, diversity and quality, reducing production costs and improving food safety, storage life and nutritional traits.

With limited new land available, biotechnology could improve the efficiency of traditional selection and breeding techniques to improve agricultural productivity. It could lead to higher yields on marginal land in countries that can't grow enough food to feed their people.

It is my fervent belief that the agronomic benefits of genetically modified organisms in a world struggling to meet ever-increasing food shortages, will win the day. We are at the very early stages of GM development and the advantages are many.

Naturally, we cannot ride roughshod over genuine environmental concerns but we need objective debate, government commitment to research programs involving rigorous scientific inquiry and review and a close alliance between producers and consumers and all stakeholders in finding ways to apply GM technology.

The food supply must grow. We are still going to need more land -- possibly as much as 10 million hectares. That is going to place serious pressure on eco-systems. It may mean less rainforests and orangutans. If land is limited, the only way to meet demand in a sustainable way is to lift production on land already in use, and avoid further encroachment on land that is only marginally suitable for cultivation.

GM technology could provide a responsible way to enhance agricultural productivity and promote conservation.

Ignoring its benefits is not an option.

--- John Goodwin is president of the International Association of Seed Crushers. This is an edited text of a speech to the Australian Oilseeds Federation forum last week


Fortified Food: Complex Regulatory Issues Make It A Distant Dream

- Financial Express (India), BV Mahalakshmi & Ashok B Sharma, , Oct 12, 2004

Biofortified foods research in the country might see the fruits only after a decade. It might be a distant dream to have fortified foods for the poor. Complex regulatory issues are among the reasons behind the delay, experts say.

While the agenda is indeed to provide food to the poor, having the tools of biotechnology through tissue culture, marker-assisted selection, comparative and functional genomics and genetic engineering, which are the inevitable waves of the future, it might take long before it fructifies, according to Dr KK Sharma, scientist, at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT). There were many issues in plant genetic engineering which were yet to be discussed, he said.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), in coordination with the Directorate of Rice Research, along with few state agricultural universities is working to develop Golden Rice containing higher levels of Beta Carotene targeting Vitamin A deficiency among the masses.

Under the HarvestPlus programme, ICRISAT has also proposed to work on edible vaccines for rabies and Vitamin A for improving Beta Carotene levels in groundnut and improving sulphur amino acids in pigeonpea.The research aimed to make not only "Golden Rice", but also Golden Mustard and Golden Peanuts, he said.

Highlighting transgenics, Dr Sharma pointed out the next generation of transgenic crops will be marker-free transgenic plants, plant-based vaccines, enhanced nutritional content, plant-derived plastics and polymers, besides controlled gene expressions.

While agricultural biotechnology has the potential to reduce levels of natural toxins in plants, provide simpler and faster ways to identify and remove pathogens and increase food supply to support growing world population and decreasing agricultural space, Dr Sharma also cautions on the risk assessment of transgenics. There has to be precision in plant breeding, which will take care of deploying transgenics else the risks might be very high, he said.

Dr Sharma informed that some of the bottlenecks are lack of efficient protocols for transformation and genomics, availability of novel genes and effective promoters, lack of scientists, research facilities and lack of proper biosafety regulations in most developing countries of Asia and Africa.

Safety In Biotech Crop Tests

- Darunee Edwards, Bangkok Post, Thailand; October 12, 2004,

In an earlier article in this series on plant biotechnology, we detailed some of the trade issues that dominate many of the economics-focused discussions on this important subject. We will now turn to another equally important subject that focuses on an essential step in the commercialisation of biotech crops: environmental safety assessment through field trails.

Biotech crops meant for human food and/or animal feed will need assessments on environmental biosafety and food/feed safety, following the guidelines of international agencies.

The public needs to have a clear appreciation of the many scientific tests and experiments that must be successfully undertaken before any biotech crop can be cultivated by farmers and consumed by the public.

Field trials of crops derived through biotechnology are conducted in multiple phases. Each is strictly monitored by relevant regulatory agencies. In Thailand, these are primarily the Department of Agriculture, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Food and Drug Administration. Technical assistance is provided from the Ministry of Science and Technology.

This comprehensive approval process is not just for trials but is also for the import of any materials used in the trials, as well as trial facilities and equipment. Everything is vetted, checked and cross-checked. Everything must be approved at each step of an approved guideline procedure before the trials are allowed to continue.

Field trials are carried out in a confined location where biotech plants can be safely isolated through a buffer zone from the rest of the environment, particularly where conventional crops are being grown. This ensures that any cross-breeding or sharing of traits between conventional and biotech crops will not occur. Scientific data are collected and evaluated within the experimental area.

Field trials must determine that the crops' characteristics are "distinct, uniform and stable", the so-called "DUS criteria". This is to be scientifically certain that the biotech crop does not harm the surrounding environment, animals and plants.

Throughout the entire field trial evaluation, the crops would be considered experimental and under strict regulatory oversight. The Department of Agriculture has well defined compliance responsibilities to prevent biotech crops and traits that are being tested from spreading into the broader environment. It is also responsible for ensuring that all parties conducting field tests comply with measures to ensure that the tests are comprehensive and safe.

Some of these measures relate to the buffer zone, the extent of which depends on the specific crop and its characteristics ,which are elaborately explained in the guidelines. Trial plantings are typically destroyed in the field as soon as the tests are complete.

However, some plant materials may be harvested and analysed to develop data, or the seed may be harvested to plant in subsequent field trials. All machinery used in the trials must be cleaned completely before being used in any other field trial to ensure that all seeds from the biotech-derived crops are contained within their specific trials.

If the field trials of different phases meet their objectives in biosafety assessment criteria and plant viability, the developer may apply for approval from the Department of Agriculture to introduce the plant commercially. However, if the plant is to be used for human food or animal feed, the developer will have to go through food/feed safety assessment according to the guidelines of Codex Alimentarius (the international guidelines for food safety) before the biotech plant can be commercially introduced to the commercial farming system.

Assessing the safety and viability of biotech crops has withstood considerable scrutiny over many years, from both regulators and neutral parties motivated to enhance public safety. Thailand's Department of Agriculture, and other agencies and personnel involved in monitoring and controlling various trials for biotech crops, are well equipped with tools and expertise to execute these important functions safely and thoroughly. ---- Darunee Edwards is a deputy director at the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

California University System Seeks A Ban On Genetic Engineering Of Crops

- The Sacramento Bee, Mike Lee, October 13, 2004

California State University's systemwide biotechnology program is taking a stand against efforts to ban genetically engineered crops in four counties - the first political foray of its kind for the 17-year-old program.

While the announcement gives a boost to opponents of four November anti-biotech ballot measures, it also raises questions about publicly funded institutions taking sides on an issue that sharply divides Californians. "It's predictable but continually disappointing and, I think, outrageous," Renata Brillinger, campaign coordinator for Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, said Tuesday of the CSU endorsement.

Biotech prohibitions already are in place in Mendocino and Trinity counties. Proposals to ban the growing of biotech crops are on Nov. 2 ballots in Butte, Marin, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo counties, making this election critical for an emerging technology with substantial implications for California agriculture.

"These initiatives narrowly and selfishly serve the purposes of the anti-biotech community by attempting to prohibit the cultivation of biotech crops that have been proven to be beneficial to agriculture in general, and to farmers and the environment in particular," according to a statement made public this week by CSU's Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology.

The program promotes biotechnology and has invested heavily in laboratories and related research. Roughly 750 CSU faculty and thousands of students statewide study aspects of the fast-growing and high-paying industry that Bay Area professors helped launch in the 1970s.

"When we see ballot measures coming out of this type where there is very little scientific reasoning taking place ... we feel compelled to voice our opinion," said A. Stephen Dahms, executive director of the CSU biotech program in San Diego.

The CSU executive council of campus presidents declined to lend its support to the biotech statement but encouraged the biotech program to make its views known. Dahms said the public position would not squelch debate on CSU campuses or undermine the university's role of testing ideas.

Emily Robidart, who tracks biotech issues for the California Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento, said the CSU support should help defeat the ballot measures without damaging university credibility. "The way I see it, the science is there and scientific institutions are backing it," she said.

But anti-biotech spokeswoman Brillinger raised concerns about industry interests infiltrating public universities and said the CSU position paper overstated biotech's benefits. "This looks to me like ... biotech advertisements I have seen," she said.

A special report by The Bee in June found that U.S. universities are linked closely to biotech companies, and they do relatively little research about the possible negative impacts of genetic engineering. The University of California also has a systemwide biotechnology program, and biotech companies fund scholarships and research at several campuses. Director Martina Newell-McGloughlin, whose office is in Davis, said the UC program likely will remain neutral on the proposed biotech bans.

She is working with university officials to offer science-based public forums about biotechnology after the fall election. "It's education as opposed to advocacy," she said. "We are trying ... to provide information for people to make an informed decision (about biotechnology)."

By cutting and pasting DNA, genetic engineering allows scientists to create novel plants, the most popular of which withstand weedkillers or kill pests. Biotechnology also was used by a Sacramento company to design a rice that grows human proteins - a proposed product that sharply split the state's rice industry and unsettled consumers.

Genetically engineered corn, cotton and soybeans are wildly popular around the world, including in the Central Valley. Farmers say they make weed control easier and reduce dependence on toxic chemicals. Commercial biotech crops never have been proven dangerous to human health, although it's still too early to write their environmental legacy.

Biotech foes typically oppose control of the food supply by a few multinational biotech companies and question the long-term human safety and environmental consequences of the products.


WHO Urges Thailand to Study Further on GMOs

- China View. Oct.12, 2004

BANGKOK, Oct. 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The World Health Organization (WHO)has urged Thailand to make further research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in order to be fully prepared to cope with possible risks posed by transgenetic food.

"At this point, we have no evidence to say that it is dangerousto consume food products that contain GMOs, so we have to say thatwe don't know the adverse health effects of GM food," Bangkok Post newspaper on Wednesday quoted WHO Assistant Director-General Kertstin Leitner as saying at a food safety conference here.

Leitner suggested more study on the issue be conducted to make sure that should there be a negative health effect, appropriate action could be taken. With more than 500 food safety regulators and scientists from 104 countries participating, the second World Food Safety Conference kicked off in Bangkok on Tuesday. The aim of the conference is to enhance food safety controls in developing countries and to curb food-related illness by setting up effective systems.

One in there of the global population, particularly children and infants, are affected by food-borne diseases such as food poisoning which has caused 700,000 moralities in Asia alone, said Leitner. Assistant Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Hartwig de Haen recommended governments strictly follow the international guidelines on scientific risk assessment before approving the use of transgenetic crop varieties.

Vandana Shiva - Environmentalist: On What is Wrong with Foods Today

- The Times of India. October 11, 2004

What can go wrong with the diet of today's child? With genetic tampering of foods, increasingly narrower concentration of food production and attaching toy sales with fast foods and soft drinks, we are neglecting wholesome intake of food and affecting a generation at large.

What is wrong with genetically altered foods? DNA from bacteria and other organisms are interwoven with crop. The intention is to either make it resistant to pests or better yielding. But this in turn can have an adverse effect on humans. Earlier, plant diseases stayed with plants, animal disease stayed with animals and human ailments affected only humans, but today with all the genetic tampering, viruses mutate from plant to animal to humans.

What do you mean by narrow concentration of food supplies? By catering to an export market, we have turned our fields to produce mainly soya, potato, corn, rice and wheat. There are 650 other local foods that can provide wholesome nutrition to our population. We must change our farm to port policy and make it farm to stomach.

How can the city dweller contribute to change this trend? The more aware urbanite has started looking at farms for weekend getaways. Small holdings being the future, these small patches can be turned to produce healthy crop which can cater to personal and local needs. When these numbers grow, it will make a difference. In the West, the urban farmer is making a big difference by conscientious farming.

Letters to the Editor on Biotech Ban Ballot in Ca

- The San Luis Obispo, Tribune October 12, 2004

Q will keep ag land safe

I am in good company with others actively involved in gathering information around issues on the November ballot. Recently, I attended the Cal Poly forum. I was surprised by the turnout and the evenly split supporters and opponents.

Listening to nightly news, one would believe people only vote the party line. The evidence of so many people showing up wanting to understand what's going on says there is intelligence present, not just "herd mentality."

With Measure Q, issues appear complicated: such as gene splicing and legal interpretations. But for reasonable people, it's wise to avoid a problem if you can.

David Wehner of the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly gave statistics that there are 1.2 million acres of agricultural land in this county with $529 million revenue of product from that land. Voting in favor of Measure Q would give time to decide whether genetically engineered crops are best for our county, and it would give us options.

San Luis Obispo County has a small window of opportunity here. I put trust in the inherent intelligence of the public. Vote "yes" on Measure Q. Keep our agricultural lands safe. Judie Anders, San Luis Obispo

--- Is Q what we want?

Measure Q's "fix" will devastate the agricultural economy of this county. As it stands, Measure Q bans all "genetically altered organisms."

This means our entire $529 million agricultural industry must go completely organic -- including vineyards grafting vine root stock with different DNA -- or they will have their crops ripped out.

This wording also bans any and all private biotech companies in the county from genetic research and development -- which could stall potential advances toward life-saving medicines (insulin, for instance, is a genetically engineered product) or the cure for cancer.

Is this what we want? Melanie Cleveland, San Luis Obispo


Planting-time soy quandary for Brazil

New York Times, October 13, 2004, ByLarry Rohter (VIA AGNET)

BRASÍLIA -- With the spring planting season just beginning in the Southern Hemisphere, Brazil, the world's leading exporter of soybeans, is, according to this story, in a quandary. The government has been unable to secure congressional approval for the planting of genetically modified seed stock, but farmers are ignoring the ban and sowing the seeds, many obtained illegally, anyway.

The messy situation promises to create additional uncertainty in the trading of soybeans, one of the most important and widely consumed commodities in markets around the world. After hitting a high of $10.55 a bushel in March, soybean prices have tumbled nearly a third as China abruptly cut back on its purchases.
The story says that the Brazilian Senate approved a Biotechnology Law last week that covers areas from genetically modified organisms to stem-cell research, but the modified legislation is still subject to approval by the lower house of Congress, where it is likely to face delays and additional debate. As a result, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may be forced to issue a temporary decree that would apply only to this year's harvest, as he also had to do in 2003.