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November 8, 2004


Brussels says no member state can prohibit GM crops back; GMOS SAFE FOR ENVIRONMENT, HUMAN USE, STUDY SAYS; Schroder encourages open mind for biotech products; Bt cotton boost India's cotton production


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; November 8, 2004

* New Zealand Query
* Brussels says no member state can prohibit GM crops back
* Schroder encourages open mind for biotech products
* Bt cotton boost India's cotton production
* The Potato Story
* Genetically Engineered Corn Poses No Immediate Threat to Mexican Crops
* Report on the Effects of Genetically Modified Maize in Mexico
* Letter on Rainbow papaya was mistaken

From: "Lance Kennedy"
Subject: Queries
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2004 08:45:56 +1300

I wonder if I could tap into the collective wisdom of this newsletter and its readers. The New Zealand Herald just published an article by one of New Zealand's Flake Sisters - the quite screw-loose Jeannette Fitzsymons from the Green Party. However, she talks about a couple of scientific studies that suggest GM foods are unsafe, and I would like some clarification, if possible.

She says that only nine peer reviewed studies of GM safety (as opposed to company run studies) have ever been carried out, and half showed the food caused harmful health effects?????

She quotes Monsanto's MON 863 corn causing abnormalities in rats???
Also Monsantos GM canola GT73 causing harmful effects in rats (canola meal - not oil).

Could someone comment?


Lance Kennedy

Brussels says no member state can prohibit GM crops back

- Irish Independent, November 8, 2004, By Aideen Sheehan

Ireland will not be able to ban growing genetically modified (GM) crops within its boundaries, the EU Commission has warned.

Macra na Feirme President Thomas Honner said it had been made clear to them in Brussels that no member state could ban GM crops and as certain crops had now been approved for use,they could be grown anywhere in the EU.

EU Commission official Gijs Berends, with responsibility for GM foods, made it clear that member states could not decide to prohibit the growing of commission-approved products.

"The only set of circumstances in which the Irish government could block the growing of GM products was if Ireland uncovered new scientific evidence questioning the products' safety and even this would be temporary until the Commission examined any such evidence," said Mr Honner.

A Department of Agriculture spokesman said they expected guidelines for GM crops being prepared by an inter-departmental agency would be ready soon.


- The Southern Illinoisan, Nov 06 2004

CARBONDALE -- Research conducted at Southern Illinois University Carbondale supports the growing sentiment in the scientific community that genetically modified organisms -- or GMOs as they're commonly called -- are safe for human consumption and for the environment.

No traces of a "foreign" gene wound up in the flesh or blood of 56 piglets fed genetically modified corn, SIUC researchers found.

While they did detect bits of the corn's transgene in the stomach contents of 50 of the piglets, they found it in only one of the samples screened from the small intestine, suggesting further that the additional gene generally does not survive the digestive process.

This new study reinforced findings from earlier work with samples of contents from the small intestine and feces of larger pigs in which SIUC researchers found no remnants of the transgene at all.

"It seems like it degrades rapidly," said swine expert Gary A. Apgar of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Most, if not all, of the transgenic material is gone by the time the digesta is excreted. We found no evidence that it is absorbed (into the animal), and the risk of its coming out in the environment in the form of waste is non-existent because we failed to find the gene in either the colon or the feces. While nothing can ever be guaranteed 100 percent safe, I think there's no need for concern (about eating meat from animals fed transgenic diets)."

Apgar believes the weight of scientific evidence supports the idea that GMOs are safe.

"If we look at the amount of transgenic crops that have been created and the lack to date of negative effects in the human and animal worlds, I think that's confirming what we have seen here (in this study)," he said.

The SIUC study, conducted with the help of Janet M. Beagle, now a doctoral student at Purdue University, is part of an overall look at GMOs as a component of swine diets. The Council for Food and Agricultural Research and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board paid for the research.

American farmers generally like GMOs, which provide improved yields, health, pest resistance and the like. Federal statistics show that in 2002, 34 percent of the country's corn crop consisted of GMOs. Worldwide, more than 168 million acres are planted in biotech crops -- a 4,000 percent increase over the last eight years, according to Truth about Trade & Technology, an Iowa-based biotechnology advocacy group.

Much of the corn grown in this country -- more than 60 percent, according to National Corn Growers Association statistics released last year -- becomes animal feed.

"The number of crops that are genetically modified grown throughout the world are increasing exponentially, but there's very limited data on what happens 'downstream,'" Apgar said.

"There are a few rat studies, three swine studies, a couple of studies on feedlot steers, but none of them are as comprehensive as our work. We're taking a total systems approach, looking at every aspect of a single animal -- meat, fecal material, blood, digesta -- at different ages."

Using a transgenic corn developed at SIUC but not available commercially, Apgar and his graduate students first showed that pigs digested both regular and modified corn in pretty much the same way.

When they looked for evidence of the gene in the pigs' stomach contents and feces, they found nothing.

"That didn't tell us where it went -- just that it was no longer in the digesta," Apgar said.

"So in this study, we looked at most of the places that gene could be -- the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, the blood from the major vein out of the GI tract into the liver, the liver itself and muscle tissue."

They used weanling pigs this time around instead of the 90-pound grower pigs from the earlier study because the little ones are more efficient at turning a pound of feed into a pound of gain, hence increasing the potential for the transgene to be absorbed.

"That meant the potential for the gene to get through that limited digestive capacity and be absorbed (into the animal) intact might be greater, too," Apgar said.

They also ran their tests twice, once with the analytical tool they'd used in previous work and once with a more sophisticated version of it.

"(The upgraded version) has improved our detection limit while producing an actual numeric value for what we're seeing," Apgar said.

Using the older tool, they found bits of transgene in 40 of the 56 stomach samples and in one of the samples from the small intestine. While the more sensitive equipment turned up evidence of the gene in 50 stomach samples, screening of the small intestine samples still yielded only one positive result. And even the more sensitive equipment could not detect traces of the gene anywhere else.

"Overall, the findings are much more positive than negative," Apgar said.

"Is the fact that we found a single trace of transgenic DNA in the small intestine significant? Not to me, but it might be to you if you're already concerned about food safety. Until we can better characterize the degradation of dietary DNA, we might be a little cautious, but at this point I wouldn't say, 'Throw the brakes on.'"


Schroder encourages open mind for biotech products

- Truth About Trade and Technology, Nov 7, 2004

Germany needs to be more open-minded towards the use of genetically engineered products, says German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

According to a report by CORDIS, Schröder warned a convention this week that technological scepticism is damaging Germany's position in world markets.

“There is no ill will towards the technology in Germany, rather an extreme reluctance to implement genetic engineering," the chancellor is reported as saying at the convention by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

According to Schröder, Germans think about the risks first but he hopes that German society will grow aware of the potential and promises that genetic engineering has to offer.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung further reports that the chancellor has complained to the German Federal Council that Germany's position on the matter of genetically modified organisms is too restrictive.

“This is leading to a situation that weakens our market position and does not promote German innovation,” he is reported as saying.

Facing the fury of anti-GM campaigners, earlier this year the European Commission broke the de facto moratorium – ban - on new GM foods and pushed through approval, the first, for a GM sweetcorn supplied by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta to enter the food chain.

But the unpopularity of biotech crops in the minds of the European consumer means the food industry has been slow to embrace the GM food sources on the grounds of simple business sense. Food manufacturers keen to keep sales afloat will reject any use of genetically modified sources in their formulations, and consequently any need to GM label.

A recent survey polled by the UK’s consumer magazine Which? found that consumers in the UK feel even more strongly about GM foods than they did two years ago and more than six out of 10 people (61 per cent) were concerned about the use of GM material in food production - up from 56 per cent in 2002.


INDIA: Bt cotton boost India's cotton production

- Bharat Textile, November 8, 2004

NEW DELHI: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said recently, Monsanto's Bt cotton has been a significant contributor to India's record cotton production this season.

"The Bt cotton yield was definitely better in quality and quantity, boosting production by 30-35% in areas it was sown. Gujarat has benefited the most from higher production," Pawar told reporters on the sidelines of the annual Social Editors' Conference here.

The higher yield and better cotton quality derived from Bt cotton could well be an incentive to look at other genetically modified agriculture crops being developed, the minister stated.

"The results certainly encourage us to look at other GM crops," he said.

As against the average 16-17 million bales production, India is this year expecting record production of about 20 million bales, said Mangala Rai, director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The officials did not have data on the increase in the acreage sown this year under Bt cotton nor the share of the genetically modified cotton in the total production.

"The low incidence of pest this year plus favourable precipitation of monsoon at the right time as also the performance of the Bt cotton all helped in a record production this year," said Rai.

The farmers joys have however been overcast by lower domestic prices at the prospect of a glut with global production also generally being higher this year. Current International prices are much lower, making exports unremunerative.

Assuring cotton farmers all government support, Pawar said the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) has been directed to purchase stocks from them.

"Along with Maharashtra government plans to procure cotton from farmers, the CCI will also go to the state in eight days to purchase cotton. We will need to export cotton," the minister said.

He said incentives would be provide to cotton exporters. "Incentive schemes for promotion of exports will be considered," Pawar said, adding that various proposals are under consideration.


The Potato Story

Wojciech K. Kaniewski and Peter E. Thomas
Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA; United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Prosser, WA

The need for genetic improvements of American potato was recognized as a primary target for plant genetic engineering. As immediate needs, virus and insect resistance were recognized as important and attainable goals. Russet Burbank was selected as the recipient variety, because it is highly vulnerable to virus and insect production losses, and it is the predominant American variety. The development of resistance to the Colorado Potato Beetle and to potato leafroll virus were selected as priority goals, because these are the most economically important pests of potato in the United States and around the world. This article describes potato research and the struggles to develop commercial products, as well as the safety, initial acceptance, and final commercial failure of developed products. Opportunities for developing countries and subsistence farmers are emphasized.




Genetically Engineered Corn Poses No Immediate Threat to Mexican Crops

- Ohio State University, 8-Nov-2004

Genetically modified (GM) corn won't threaten native corn species in Mexico, according to a new report issued by the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).

In a country whose culture and identity revolve heavily around corn, or maize – the crop was first developed here thousands of years ago – the thought of imported GM varieties contaminating indigenous plants frightens many citizens, said Allison Snow, a co-author of the report and a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University.

Because of that fear, Mexico placed a moratorium on planting GM corn in 1998.

However, an estimated 30 percent of the corn that Mexico imports from the United States may be genetically modified, Snow said. The United States does not separate GM corn from non-GM corn, making it impossible for Mexican farmers to know if the grain they receive is genetically engineered or not.

"Reliable unpublished data suggest that it is extremely likely that some GM corn is already growing in Mexico, whether it was intentional or not," said Snow, who is also an expert on plant-to-plant transmission of GM genes.

"What no one knows, however, is how common this has become," she continued. "Though GM seeds imported as grain from the United States would probably result in poor yields, farmers may try to plant these seeds in times of need, and the seeds could also be considered a new source of genetic variation for plant breeding practices."

Snow was part of the Maize Advisory Group, a 16-member group established by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The CEC oversees the environmental provisions of NAFTA. Her colleagues included experts from Mexico, Canada, the United States and England. The advisory group two years studying the potential effects of transgenic – or GM – corn in Mexico.

Concerns over gene flow from transgenic corn to native Mexican varieties prompted the report, released today, called "Maize and biodiversity: Effects of transgenic maize in Mexico."

"Even though many kinds of transgenic corn have been approved in the United States, where it's a part of nearly everyone's diet, the effects of GM corn in Mexico have yet to be evaluated and determined," Snow said. "But transgenic maize from the United States can easily enter Mexico through the massive amounts of GM grain the country imports from the United States."

While the group concluded that genetically engineered corn currently poses no threat to Mexico's native corn varieties, the advisory group cautions that Mexico remain vigilant when importing and cultivating corn from the United States. The group outlines several recommendations concerning the handling of transgenic corn, including:

* To avoid undermining its current moratorium, Mexico should label all corn imported from the United States as possibly containing GM seed, or grind the corn when it's imported. Grinding would prevent the imported seeds from being planted.

* Conducting more research to learn which transgenes have been introduced in the local varieties of Mexican corn and how common they are.

* Determining to what degree the genes, including the transgenes, of modern corn plants have been introduced into traditional Mexican crops. Also, evaluate and develop ways to eliminate transgenes from native corn, if Mexico desires to do so.

* Requiring regulatory agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico to devise methods to detect and monitor the spread of specific transgenes, as well as the products of those transgenes.

* Conducting more studies to determine how transgene accumulation through gene flow affects the fitness and yield of the plants receiving these transgenes.

* Educating Mexican citizens about possible benefits and risks of GM corn.

* Encouraging better international coordination of regulatory policies, so GM crops that are released in our country are also evaluated for safety in other countries that import viable GM seeds.

Report on the Effects of Genetically Modified Maize in Mexico

The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an international organization established by Canada, Mexico and the United States in a side accord to NAFTA, today released a landmark report on the effects of genetically modified maize in Mexico.

Maize and Biodiversity: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico – Key findings and Recommendations includes a series of unanimous recommendations from a 16-member, international panel of experts. This advisory group includes a former Monsanto executive, the chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Canadian and British academics and an esteemed member of the US National Academy of Sciences. The recommendations are directed at the three North American governments and contain specific actions related to the management of transgenic corn imports to Mexico. These include recommended steps to reduce the chance that unapproved maize grain will be planted in Mexico through policy development, education, labeling and milling of maize intended for livestock feed.

The report was initiated in 2002 following a claim that genetically modified material had been found amongst traditional Mexican varieties of maize despite a moratorium on its planting. The Mexican government confirmed earlier this year that that 7.6 percent of plants tested in 2001 had traces of GM material.

The report also says that "Regulatory agencies of the three countries should develop and implement better methods for detecting and monitoring the spread of specific transgenes. . . [and that] the modification of maize to produce pharmaceuticals and certain industrial compounds that are incompatible with food and feed should be prohibited in accordance with Mexican Government intentions, and serious consideration should be given to banning such use for maize in other countries."

The full report can be downloaded at: http://www.cec.org/pubs_docs/documents/index.cfm?varlan=english&ID=1647

The CEC Secretariat report is also available in Spanish and French. For more information or assistance in contacting members of the advisory group, contact Spencer Ferron-Tripp.

Letter on Rainbow papaya was mistaken

- HONOLULU ADVERTISER, 5 November 2004

The topic of genetic engineering is of great interest to many members of our community. As an agricultural biotechnology educator at the University of Hawaii, I would like to comment on the Oct. 21 letter from Maris Abelson.

It is not true that the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources conducts research predominantly in the field of genetic engineering (GE). Only six of more than 220 projects currently under way at CTAHR are GE-related. CTAHR believes that biotechnology is just one of many agricultural tools.

As we try to help our farmers solve problems, we use conventional breeding techniques, integrated pest management, organic production methods and genetic engineering. We strongly believe that conventional agriculture and biotechnology can coexist and that all approaches will play an important role in helping Hawaii's farmers in the future.

Abelson also suggests that GE papaya will "contaminate indigenous varieties" in Hawaii, but Hawai`i has no native papaya. The threat to Hawaii's papayas came not from GE papaya, but from the papaya ringspot virus. If virus-resistant GE papaya had not been introduced in Hawai`i, the industry would have collapsed under disease pressure.

Last, with regard to the issue of labeling genetically engineered papaya, it must be clarified that CTAHR is not responsible for labeling GE products. If the nutritional value of GE papaya had differed from other papayas, labeling would have been applied by the FDA, but no such difference was found. Furthermore, over seven years of testing were required by three federal bodies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency before the Rainbow papaya wasE declared safe.

UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources