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November 11, 2004


US slams environmental report on GM maize; Groups reject NAFTA report on genetically modified corn; The Miracles of Modifying


Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; November 11, 2004

* US slams environmental report on GM maize
* Groups reject NAFTA report on genetically modified corn
* The Miracles of Modifying
* Biotechnology - GM Food & Feed
* New variety of biotech corn paid off in a variety of ways


US slams environmental report on GM maize

- Justfood.com, 11 Nov 2004

The United States has aggressively rebuffed a draft report from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which recommends more care to ensure genetically modified maize does not contaminate natural strains.

Washington was angered when the report was leaked before its officials could review its contents, along with other North American Free Trade Area countries, Mexico and Canada.

The report, for instance, recommends US corn exports to Mexico be milled at the border. This, said the US government, “would increase the cost of US corn significantly, negatively affecting Mexico’s livestock producers and consumers. Milling corn before transport also raises quality concerns and increases shipping costs, exacerbating the problem.”


Groups reject NAFTA report on genetically modified corn

- St. Louis Business Journal, 10 Nov 2004

The United States is rejecting a report by a NAFTA panel that said the unintentional spread of U.S. genetically modified corn in Mexico poses a potential environmental threat and should be stopped.

The report, written by a North American Free Trade Agreement commission, said that because the Mexican government has never examined or approved the use of genetically modified crops, such as those produced by Monsanto Co., their presence in the country is a risk.

The report was requested by Mexican farmers and officials in 2002 after they found some forms of genetically modified corn in the country, including types resistant to insects and herbicides.

Mexico's equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency, Semarnat, said in a statement: "There is no doubt that the recommendations in the official document will be beneficial for Mexico and its environment. . . . Semarnat is awaiting the official publication of this report and is confident that the majority of the recommendations made will be implemented."

Genetically modified corn can be used for food in Mexico but cannot be planted and grown, except in small test plots recently approved by the government.

"This report is fundamentally flawed and unscientific; key recommendations are not based on sound science and are contradicted by the report's own scientific findings," the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Trade Representative said in a joint statement. "Implementing many of the report's recommendations would cause economic harm to farmers and consumers of all NAFTA countries and restrict international trade."

The Chesterfield, Mo.-based National Corn Growers Association also criticized the report. "The report needlessly raises concerns where there are none about a technology that is proven safe and already greatly benefits the environment and farmers around the world," NCGA President Leon Corzine said.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) produces herbicide- and insect-resistant crop seeds and the Roundup herbicide.

The Miracles of Modifying


In the distant past, ruddy husbandmen tilled the earth, yielding the pure bounty of nature. Then scientists came along, and nature gave way to artifice with the use of unnatural hybrids and chemicals, and, inevitably, despoliation of the environment. Or so the story goes.

As it happens, agricultural practices have been "unnatural" for 10,000 years. With the exception of wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the grains, fruits and vegetables in our diets (including "organic" ones) are, strictly speaking, genetically modified. Potatoes, tomatoes, oats, rice and corn, for instance, come from plants created -- during the past half-century -- by "wide cross" hybridizations that transcend "natural breeding boundaries."

This is only one of the many surprises in store for readers of "Mendel in the Kitchen" (John Henry, 370 pages, $24.95) (Gregor Mendel, a 19th-century Austrian monk, first described the basic laws of heredity that became the foundation for modern genetics.) Nina V. Fedoroff, a plant biologist, and her co-writer Nancy Marie Brown meticulously depict the past, present and future of genetics in agriculture. They mix didactic science (including diagrams reminiscent of a high-school biology textbook) with accounts of what farmers, naturalists, plant breeders and biologists have wrought over time. The saga brings rationality to the controversy now haunting the newest, most precise and most predictable manifestation of genetic modification -- gene-splicing.

Why worry? Gene-splicing is the latest chapter in a long history of crop improvement.

Ms. Fedoroff and Ms. Brown remind us that, to take examples from only the 19th and 20th centuries, plant breeders and farmers, not "nature," gave us the "canola" variety of rapeseed, seedless grapes and watermelons, the red grapefruit -- and the hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables bred by the "plant wizard" Luther Burbank (1849-1926).

Gene-splicing, the authors argue persuasively, is essentially an extension, or refinement, of earlier techniques for crop improvement. And yet a kind of hysteria surrounds it. Britain's Prince Charles has said that the prerogatives of genetic improvement "belong to God, and to God alone." Dennis Kucinich, the former presidential candidate -- who apparently opposes gene-splicing as much as the Iraq war -- calls it "violent," maintaining that it has "nothing to do with the ways of nature." There are activists in the U.S. who would agree with him, but so far to limited effect. In Europe and Africa, however, the effort to ban or stigmatize "genetically modified" food has turned into a kind of social movement, aimed at protecting the common man from vague, hidden dangers.

Except that the dangers are, so far, nonexistent, and the new technology has proved to be superior to its predecessors. The authors quote Klaus Ammann, curator of the botanical garden at the University of Bern in Switzerland, noting that "when we eat wheat, we consume varieties mutated by nuclear radiation." And yet, he goes on to say, "we have been eating this wheat for decades, without any type of problem." Similarly, for more than a decade farmers have cultivated gene-spliced plants on more than 100 million acres annually (currently in at least 18 countries) -- and not a single ecosystem has been disrupted, or person injured, by any gene-spliced product.

Meanwhile, the benefits of gene-spliced plants are enormous. The world has been spared the use of scores of millions of pounds of chemical pesticides because of the way that gene-splicing enhances the resistance of plants to pests and disease. By inserting a single gene into squash, sweet potatoes and other crops, scientists have made them virus-resistant. Gene-spliced papaya varieties have resurrected Hawaii's $64 million-a-year industry, which was moribund a decade ago because of the papaya ringspot virus. The technology also makes it possible to remove dangerous allergens from wheat, peanuts, milk and other commonly allergenic foods.

The future holds out even greater hope. It is easy to imagine, for example, that gene-splicing will allow crop varieties to thrive in conditions of drought or near-drought. Imagine the boon to water-distressed countries, and to the environment: Irrigation for agriculture accounts for roughly 70% of the world's fresh-water consumption.

Unfortunately, most countries (including the U.S.) impose unnecessarily burdensome regulations that raise the cost of research and development to levels that, according to Roger Beachy, director of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, "exclude the public sector, the academic community, from using their skills to improve crops." As Ms. Fedoroff and Ms. Brown observe: "Regulators and regulations [must] become more responsive to evolving knowledge than to public perceptions and anxieties. Only then will public sector scientists be able to invest their time and knowledge in raising yields in an ecologically sound way."

That gene-splicing is unproved, untested and unregulated is one of the Big Lies of current technophobia. "Mendel in the Kitchen" goes a long way toward exposing it.

Mr. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of "The Frankenfood Myth" (Praeger).

Biotechnology - GM Food & Feed

- European Commission, November 10, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

Community Register - NK603 added
Available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/food/biotechnology/authorisation/commun_register_en.htm


New variety of biotech corn paid off in a variety of ways

- Sioux City Journal, By Dave Dreeszen, November 11, 2004

A new variety of biotech corn paid off in a variety of ways for Plainview, Neb. farmer Dell Kroeger this past season.

Monsanto's YieldGuard Plus controlled his rootworm and corn borer problems. And, Kroeger's yields increased by as much as 20 percent per acre in the areas where he planted the new variety.

Kroeger joined about 2,000 farmers throughout the Corn Belt, including several hundred in Siouxland, who planted test plots of YieldGard Plus in 2004. He also was among the dozens of area growers who attended Monsanto's "Yield Rally'' Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel in Sioux City. Participants heard reports on how the new product performed this growing season, and received information about varities for 2005.

YieldGard Plus became the first seed corn variety that contains genetically modified material to protect itself from both European corn borers and rootworms. Through the genetic material, the corn plants produce their own pesticides.

"In the past, (growers) have had to make a choice, 'Do I use a corn borer-based variety or a rootworm variety,'' said Dave Rhylander, director of traits for St. Louis-based Monsanto. "Now, what they can do is buy both of them in one seed corn.''

Kroeger said the biotech corn is safer than applying pesticides, which often lose their effectiveness prior to harvesting the crop.

"You don't have to handle the chemicals,'' he said. "It's season-long control.''

Monsanto launched the product after it received final U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration in October 2003 and environmental approval in Japan, a major U.S. grain exporter, in June. The test plots of YieldGard planted this year were surrounded by conventional corn, so the pests do not develop a tolerance to the genetically modified seed.

Though some of that crop is still awaiting harvesting, Rhylander said early indications show that YieldGard Plus averaged 5 to 6 bushels more per acre than conventional corn. Kroger said test plots yielded around 220 bushels an acre, 20 percent above non-biotech corn. BT corn planted on acres where corn grew the previous year were up 10 percent, he said.

Rhylander said Monsanto will sell YieldGard Plus to growers on a much larger scale in 2005, introducing additional varieties and enlisting more seed corn companies.

Dean Herbst, a Midwest Seed Genetics representative who lives half an hour southwest of Mitchell, S.D., was among the dealers attending Wednesday's meeting. Herbst, who sold some seed for test plots this year, said he expects to sell a lot more next year in his South Dakota territory, where growers regularly battle rootworms.

"In our area, it will catch on quickly,'' he said.

Between 2001 and 2003, the number of U.S. acres planted with biotech crops expanded by 26 million acres to 106 million acres. In Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, many corn and soybean farmers have embraced biotech varieties to boost yields and reduce chemical use and costs.

The use of biotechnology in raising crops and livestock remains controversial in some quarters, particularly in Europe. Monsanto, for instance, is still awaiting approval from the European Union for YieldGard Plus.

But Rhylander points out YieldGard Plus is fully approved for food and feed use in the United States, Canada and Japan, as well as for ethanol production. Most Midwest grain elevators accept the biotech corn, including nearly all of them in this part of the country, he said. Siouxland also is home to a growing number of ethanol plants, creating another market for the corn.