Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : Dec 8, 2004
* No Munich on GM Crops: Biotech is Not Just for Orphan Crops
* Thomas Hoban: Change of Heart
* Opposition to GM Foods Plummets in UK
* Comprehensive List of GM-Animal Feeding Articles
* More on Trees and Patents
* Biotech and Developing Countries: The Potential and the Challenge
* Letters to the 'Weekly Times - Where is Truth and Logic?
* Drug Barons Grow New Line In Cocaine
* ... Fertilizer May be Root of Big Colombia Coca Plants
* Europe in a 'Frantic pause' Over GM Technology
* Biotechnology a Tool for the Future
* Biotechnology Opportunities for Developing Countries
* .. Open Secrets
* GMOs in the Food Supply - Evangelical Lutheran Church Chips In
No Munich on GM Crops
- Pierre Malvoisin and David Grausz, Nature Biotechnology, 22, 1501; December 2004; www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor
Your editorial 'Orphans at the window' (Nat. Biotechnol. 22, 1055, 2004) presents an interesting view on potential niche markets for GM crops in Europe. Even so, as directors of companies working directly in the field, we have heard so many opinions and recommendations from various people, that the niche market proposal seems like just another idea--not new by the way--and a bit irresponsible because it is proposed as an alternative to the conventional market of raw agricultural production, not as a complement.
We accept the blame for our short-minded market approach, for having completely failed to communicate with the consumers, etc. Agriculture is an economic activity, however, not just a pastime (see Table 1). Producing raw agricultural materials is a risky business. Farmers have to ensure that what is in the ground in the autumn will blossom and produce for harvest in the spring and summer, despite erratic climatic conditions, pests and diseases. We do not accept the argument that the advantages of the GM technology to the producers are negligible. For farmers, the reduction in exposure to toxic chemicals, the smaller load on the environment and the lower production costs are a big plus.
We know that the average European consumer does not pay much attention to the farmer as a producer. Often, for those who wander our beautiful rural landscapes during vacation time, the perception is that farmers are gardeners, not producers. This view of agricultural activities is more common in the United Kingdom than in France because France has a long tradition of an active rural economy (it is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world and the largest agricultural producer in the European Union). In fact, there are millions of Europeans whose livelihood comes directly or indirectly from the land. Ceding the seed and produce markets to non-European producers is not in their best interest. This argument applies to any region around the world; each is the best judge of its own agricultural needs and each requires access to the tools that permit the best response to those needs.
Yes, there is no problem in matching niche markets with GM products, especially, as you point out, once European legal regulations have been fully implemented. However, niche markets should be seen as a complement to core GM crop production, not a substitute for it.
Reply to 'No Munich on GM crops'
- Editor, Nature Biotechnology 22, 1501; www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor
Nature Biotechnology responds:
We completely agree with Malvoisin and Grausz that there is no objective reason to avoid the development of 'mainstream' GM crops. Our editorial did not make the argument that the advantages of the GM technology to producers are negligible, far from it. Such crops can reduce farming risks and benefit both the environment and consumers, albeit indirectly sometimes. The fact is, though, that there are currently many greater opportunities for European (or any other) companies to sell GM staple crops in markets outside of Europe.
Our intention was to address current market conditions in Europe for GM products and to suggest a means by which agbiotech companies can best adapt to that market's conditions. On that basis, we believe commercial strategies other than mainstream crops may better suit small agbiotech companies targeting European markets.
A few agrochemical/seed companies currently dominate the GM crop market and this means that biotech companies have almost no direct access to mainstream agricultural markets. The best biotech companies can expect from developments in 'mainstream' crops is a few field trial evaluation-based R&D contracts and some royalties on sales, but those royalties will be low and far into the future. Especially in Europe, investors have no interest in helping agbiotech companies migrate up the value chain, which is what they need to do to survive commercially.
Malvoisin and Grausz have also completely misjudged the prevailing economic trend when they say that "Ceding the seed & produce markets to non-European producers is not in their best interests." Recourse to such protectionist arguments might persuade some backward-looking nationalistic politicians to cut GM developers some slack, but they do not change the fact of increasing free trade in global markets. It is precisely because some European politicians, notably the environment ministers in member state governments, have sought to use biotech regulation as a non-tariff-barrier to trade that 'mainstream' GM crops have faced such difficulties in Europe.
The proposal for 'orphan' crops in niche markets is admittedly a compromise, not an ideal-world solution. It recognizes that many of the difficulties that agbiotech companies face are not technical but commercial and political. Ignoring those commercial and political dimensions has got European agbiotech where it is today with GM crops. We would like it to be somewhere else in the future.
Thomas Hoban: Change of Heart
North Carolina State University professor of sociology and anthropology Thomas Hoban describes himself as, at one point, being "caught up" in the enthusiasm over agricultural biotechnology – the logical next step in a long line of technical innovations in farming.
Now, he's a bit uneasy about it.
"The technology is becoming more complex. We are making changes to plants that will have impact the human diet," he says. "The first crops were designed to impact farmers by saving them money and time. These new products will have direct impact on people. We need more regulation – not less – of the emerging products that are designed to be active in the human body."
Hoban’s main concern is that strong regulatory programs in the US have been short-changed by the current Bush administration. "They have gone back to [an] approach of ‘taking the shackles off the industry.’ The FDA ignored the consensus recommendation from their 1999 public hearings to require the biotechnology industry to simply notify the FDA before they release a new product [leaving such notification voluntary.]"
This summer, Hoban warned the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture that biopharming and transgenic animals could cause consumers to rally against all food biotechnology because more and more consumers believe potential risks aren’t being discussed openly.
"As the technology jumps from being fairly simplistic, adding a single gene to a plant, to basically reshaping plants at will, we have to start getting more open with the public," he says. "The more we use [the technology] and the more complicated it gets, there are going to be greater risks."
Hoban’s connection to agriculture began in childhood playing on neighbor’s farms outside Chicago. In 1970, he entered the University of Colorado to study ecology, but was having so much fun with the hippie lifestyle he was asked to leave school.
Four years later, Hoban got serious, enrolled in the University of Illinois and earned an undergraduate degree in biology in 1978. In 1986, he earned a doctorate in rural sociology from Iowa State University. Soon after, he took his current position at North Carolina State University studying how people respond to change and to new technologies.
For 15 years, Hoban has kept his finger on the pulse of public acceptance of biotechnology. In 1989, he conducted a survey for the North Carolina Biotech Center to find out how the public viewed biotechnology. Shortly after that, he began speaking around the country to actively endorse the benefits of agricultural biotechnology. "I was fairly excited about the potential," Hoban says.
When the Europeans began making loud noises against the technology, Hoban initially laughed them off. "I thought look at how silly these Europeans are. They don't understand the benefits our farmers are receiving," he says.
Four years ago, Hoban's views began to shift as he took a more critical look at several of the surveys he had conducted. While most of them showed consumers had a favorable opinion of agbiotech, Hoban believes the surveys didn't tell the whole story.
"We were consistently finding 65 to 70 percent of Americans were answering positively to questions such as do you believe there is a benefit from it. Most of them thought it was a good idea," Hoban says. "But, in retrospect, they were answering based on little awareness and knowledge. We were asking people to speculate on things they really didn't know anything about."
He began focusing more on the sizeable "minority" expressing opposition to agricultural biotech. "Polls may show that two out of three express support for biotech. That also means one quarter oppose it and 10 percent don't have an opinion," he points out. "In this country, at least 25 percent of people have always been negative. That number has jumped in recent years."
Hoban believes the minority should be taken more seriously because they tend to be more educated about the issue and more politically active. Many of them have already dropped out of the traditional farming food chain and buy organic.
Hoban is worried about how little people know about the technology. "Polls still show the vast majority of American consumers do not understand that they already have been eating genetically engineered foods," he notes. "When they find out, they resent the fact that no one told them scientists were changing their food."
To some degree Hoban believes crop and agricultural scientists, who actively support the technology, made the mistake of dismissing the public in a case of "scientist knows best." "However, when consumers are nervous, food companies get nervous," Hoban says. "Agriculture still doesn’t get it that the rules have changed. They no longer call the shots, Walmart does!"
Hoban believes the potential for cross contamination of GM crops designed to make pharmaceuticals with conventional food crops could prove devastating to consumer trust in the food supply. "The bottom line is that the food retailers, processors, and others have gone on record that food crops should not be used to produce pharmaceuticals," he says. "You probably don't want that stuff in food. You don't want to be the food company identified as having plastic or pig vaccines in your corn flakes."
Hoban thinks the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture need to be informing people more and should require companies to disclose if their products contained GM products. "The FDA practices of voluntary pre-market notification and substantial equivalence are no longer valid," Hoban maintains. "It is time for the US to learn from the EU about regulation."
For more information, visit Thomas Hoban's web page at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~hobantj/
Opposition to GM Foods Plummets
- Jenny Rees, Western Mail (UK), Dec 8 2004 http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/
Further findings from the 21st annual British social attitudes report:
GM foods: Opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods has plummeted since 1999. Then 52% thought that GM foods should be banned, even if prices suffered as a result; now less than a third (29%) agree. But there has not been a surge in support for GM foods; people are simply now more ambivalent than they once were. Indeed around a third of the population is neither for nor against GM foods.
GM Safety Studies - A Comprehensive List of Journal Articles on Animal Feeding Studies with Biotech Crops
We noted the excellent contribution by Dr. Chris Preston, "Peer Reviewed Publications on the Safety of GM Foods," AgBioView, Dec. 3, 2004.
For those readers interested in a more exhaustive list of animal feeding studies with crops derived from biotech crops, we provide below a reference list organized by animal species, transgenic crop group and by author.
This extensive database of feeding studies also supports the conclusion of Dr. Preston --"The overwhelming majority of publications report that GM feed and food produced no significant differences in the test animals." This information also can be found via Monsanto's website at
- Eric Sachs and Gary Hartnell, Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri
On Trees and Patents
- Larry Miller, LarryMiller@BC.com
I have been following the current discussion in AgBioView concerning genetically modified trees, pollen flow, patent matters, etc., and believe that the points made by Drew Kershen are essentially moot, given
the very real world of genetic engineering in trees, the current and likely future regulatory climate, long term liability issues, and the terribly litigious world in which forest products companies continue to labor and try to make a living. I make the following comments not as a scientist engaged in the genetic modification of trees, but as a still optimistic (but beat up) practicing forest geneticist taking a more realistic view given the record of the past 5 years and likely outcomes in the next 5-10 years.
* First and foremost the lead governing body of genetic engineering, APHIS, steadfastly refuses to say one way or the other if reproductive incompetence (hereinafter referred to as "sterility") will be required to achieve full deregulation of a genetically engineered tree. When asked, the response is always something along the lines of, "make your best case for deregulation, and we will let you know if your argument and supporting data are sufficient."
* In this regulatory limbo, those involved with genetic engineering of trees take no chances, and are furiously working on the development of sterility. Given that these companies either have been, or know of others subjected to spurious lawsuits by the usual list of suspect "green" NGO's, under the current climate they simply won't take the chance of releasing a non-sterile tree into an area with compatible wild relatives. This is so, regardless of risk assessments that very likely will support Drew Kershen's arguments. The risks to continued freedom to operate, increased litigation, and even public image are just
too high, again under the current climate.
* With the above as background, the points made by Claire Williams are right on target. Forest trees are much different than annual crops in that the investments made in establishing the crop must be carried (and thus protected!) for many years. In the best case say, with Eucalyptus, we are still talking about at a minimum 5-6 years for the production of pulpwood. If we are talking loblolly pine, it is 20-30 years. These time frames mean tremendous exposure to the owner over the course of the rotation. Growing trees over a rotation already entails multiple risks over multiple years, such as fire, insects and disease, hurricanes, drought, flooding, and frost to name just a few. Thus, if and when the first GE tree is deregulated, I would almost bet my house that this tree will be sterile, to (hopefully) eliminate the added risk of frivolous, but expensive to defend lawsuits that, regardless of their outcome, hurt the public image of the forest owner.
* And, if this weren't enough, even following the letter of the law 100% and going the extra mile do not insulate the forest owner from spurious lawsuits. Those of us in the industry are all too painfully aware of repeated instances of lawsuits brought while in the legal practice of forestry. Again, given this ongoing business climate, you may rest assured that when the first GE tree is deregulated, every jot and tittle will have been checked ad nauseum, and the tree will sterile.
* I suppose it is possible this will change, and I do remain optimistic. But, I believe the case for genetically modified forest trees will remain as outlined above for at least the next 5-10 years. For the sake of those involved in this enterprise I hope that I am wrong.
Biotechnology and Developing Countries: The Potential and the Challenge
- Lisa Jategaonkar, Editor; New Issue of PBI Bulletin Now on line at http://www.pbi-ibp.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/en/bulletin/2004issue2/
Can GM technology improve food security in developing countries? This is a topic that has been the subject of much debate and controversy. In order to explore this issue, we discuss some examples where GM technology is being used to improve food production in developing countries. Recognizing that GM technology is not a cure-all, but only one tool to aid in improving food production, we have also asked our contributors to describe the challenges, be they technical, economic, or social in applying biotechnology towards this goal.
The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) is a non-profit trust with the mandate to impart a pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-women orientation to a job-led economic growth strategy in rural areas through harnessing science and technology for environmentally sustainable and socially equitable development. Its founder, MS Swaminathan, is recognized as the Father of the 1960s Green Revolution that saw significant increases in food production in India. In 1987 he was recognized for this remarkable contribution by receiving the first World Food Prize. Dr. Rajalakshmi Swaminathan, Senior Scientist with the MSSRF discusses the need for another revolution, one that involves a decreased use of chemical synthetic products but allows reclamation of areas that have been abandoned for production due to environmental stress.
Dr. C.S. Prakash and Gregory Conko are cofounders of AgBioWorld Foundation, a network organization that brings together scientists and members of the policy community with an interest in the agricultural applications of biotechnology. Conko and Prakash discuss the uptake of GM crops in developing countries and the social and economic challenges of implementing these technologies.
In his article, Dr. Peter Hackett, former Vice-President of the National Research Council of Canada, discusses some of the ways in which this Canadian federal government research organization can contribute to developing countries.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a strategic alliance of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations that support 15 international agricultural Centers. The alliance mobilizes agricultural science to reduce poverty, foster human well being, promote agricultural growth and protect the environment.
The CGIAR generates global public goods that are available to all. Two CGIAR centers are represented in this issue. One of the organizations, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), is currently conducting field trials on GM drought tolerant wheat in Mexico. These crops are discussed in detail by Dr. Alessandro Pellegrineschi with CIMMYT. Dr. Emile Frison, Director General of CGIAR's International Plant Genetic Resources Institute and his colleagues, discuss the application of biotechnology to bananas and plantains, both major staple foods in developing countries.
Read it online or download the whole issue at [ http://www.pbi-ibp.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/en/bulletin/2004issue2/
Letter to the 'Weekly Times; (Australia) – Response to Judy Carmen, Phil Davies and Kate Clinch Jones
Re: Weekly Times "GM food claims hard to swallow", p17, 1/12/04
The letter by Judy Carmen, Phil Davies and Kate Clinch Jones (1/12/04, p. 17) in response to David Tribe's comments is without merit, and represents a gross distortion of the realities of GM food.
What the three individuals have done is to invoke the 'Precautionary Principle'. This has several definitions but the essential meaning is that regulatory measures should restrict or prevent actions that raise theoretical threats to human health (or the environment), although there may be incomplete scientific evidence as to their potential significance. In other words, if there is the slightest element of doubt - restrict or ban the product! If we had used this principle on micro-wave ovens, cars, electricity, planes or a host of other items or innovations we use today, society and mankind would have made minimal progress over the past century.
What the authors also disregard by singling out GM food are the multiple allergens in conventional food that people encounter daily. The trial and error methods of conventional plant breeding, which is totally non-regulated, have led to problems in certain circumstances. Two conventionally bred varieties each of squash and potato and one of celery were found to contain endogenous toxins and were, therefore, banned from commerce when problems arose.
There have been no such problems with GM food, which is not surprising given the more precise and predictable techniques employed, together with the rigorous level of regulation required by law on all GM products.
We need more truth, balance and perspective in the debate on GM crops, which this year have been grown on approximately 75 million hectares worldwide, and are improving the quality of life for many in both developed and developing countries.
Australian agriculture can be innovative, productive and globally competitive or we can remain a commodity based industry that will slowly grind to a halt as the world passes us by.
- Dr Anthony Coulepis, Executive Director in consultation with Dr Ian B Edwards, BSC(Hons), MSC, PhD, DSc, FCSSA, Chairman, AgBio Advisory Group AusBiotech – Australia’s Biotechnology Organisation
Letter to the Editor – response to Judy Carmen, Phil Davies and Kate Clinch Jones
Where is truth and logic?
Reality, logic, misinformation and distortion of the truth are being manipulated by anti-GM groups with grave potential consequences to the Australian agricultural industry. The response by Judy Carmen, Phil Davies and Kate Clinch Jones in the Weekly Times (1/12/04, p. 17) to David Tribe comments represents a gross distortion of the truth when many reports worldwide on the safety of GM food have concurred with the findings of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Let me provide a European example, since the authors have chosen to cast aspersions on the US Academy of Sciences, and our own Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). This year, the Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities Commission on Green Biology produced a report on GM food and came to the following conclusion:
"Since absolute safety is not possible, the basis for approval of food products containing GMO is the evidence that they are at least as safe and nutritious as the corresponding products from conventionally produced crops."
They cite amongst their sources:
1. GM Science Report of the Royal Society (first report 2003; second report 2004);
2. Report of the Food Standard Agency (UK, 2003); and 3. Symposium of Green Biotechnology of the Union of German Academies (2002).
Aside from these three sources, the British Medical Association, after an exhaustive study, have also endorsed this opinion of the US Academy of Sciences.
This is the point -- no food is absolutely safe, be it GM, non-GM or organic and distinguished academies around the world acknowledge this.It is now over 10 years since GM crops were first grown commercially in the US and, in addition to the 280 million Americans who to date have not encountered a single problem with GM food, countless others around the world use GM ingredients on a daily basis.
- Dr Anthony Coulepis, Executive Director in consultation with Dr Ian B Edwards, BSC(Hons), MSC, PhD, DSc, FCSSA, Chairman, AgBio Advisory Group AusBiotech – Australia’s Biotechnology Organisation
Letter to the Editor - Stock Journal
In her recent letter (Stock Journal 2/12/04), Julie Newman demonstrates the typical unfounded bias of the anti-GM movement and ignores the spirit and intent of coexistence trials.
Coexistence generally refers to the ability of farmers to make a practical choice between conventional, GM and organic production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling and/or purity standards.
Coexistence also means an equal choice for farmers irrespective of what type of product they choose to cultivate.
Sadly, the current moratoria prevent the generation of data needed for informed decision making about GM crops. As pointed out recently by Agrifood Awareness, forget GM-free zones, welcome to Australia's data-free zone! Our farmers have been denied the fundamental right to choose GM canola, despite clearance by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and the preponderance of evidence from Canada that we would not loose any significant markets (beyond Europe – an occasional customer). We have a canola industry based largely upon atrazine resistance, a chemical now banned in Europe because of groundwater contamination.
Since companies like Bayer and Monsanto are denied the right to conduct appropriate coexistence trials here in Australia we have to draw upon data from overseas, so let’s choose the most cautious region of all – Europe. In a study just released involving nine contributing authors (PG Economics Ltd (UK); IRTA (Spain); Arvalis (France) and Maiz Europ (France)), the key findings were:
* By applying good farming and normal harvest practises alone (ie. without coexistence measures), GM and non-GM crops of maize separated by only 4 buffer rows easily achieved the 99.1% threshold set by the EU labelling legislation (Note: Maize is a far more prolific pollen producer than canola);
* Application of coexistence measures reduced adventitious presence even further;
* In Spain only four buffer rows on adjacent plots of less than one hectare delivered successful coexistence; and
* Application of a greater separation distance (eg. 10-12 metres) in French coexistence research offered additional provision for a worst case scenario and further reduced adventitious presence to minute trace levels.
When one considers the normal separation of crops on Australian farms the alarmist views become even more laughable, but are consistent with the anti-GM stance of the Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF).
Let’s set the record straight -- coexistence trials are nothing new. Arrangements have been in place for years around the world for:* Non-GM crops for industrial and food use (high erucic acid rapeseed and food- grade canola; *Certified seed and non-seed crops; and * Human food versus animal feed crops (e.g. sweetcorn and forage maize).
Let's have a sense of perspective here in Australia. Our farmers deserve better than the current scaremongering by NGO's, and politicians pandering to fringe groups. It’s time that we put the future of Australia’s agricultural industry and the future of our farmers first.
- Dr Anthony Coulepis, Executive Director, in consultation with Dr Ian Edwards - Chairman, Ag Bio Advisory Group, AusBiotech –Australia’s Biotechnology Organisation.
Drug Barons Grow New Line In Cocaine
- Andy Webb-Vidal, Financial Times Dec. 7, 2004 http://news.ft.com/
Colombian police have identified a genetically modified and super-hardy coca "tree" that yields up to eight times more cocaine than a traditional shrub.
The discovery, detailed in a counter-narcotics police intelligence dossier obtained by the Financial Times, underscores the lengths to which Colombian producers are going to outsmart the US in its efforts to curb the drugs trade.
"In their search for greater profits, drug-traffickers appear to have entered the world of genetically modified crops," the dossier says, referring to a new variety of coca found in the remote Sierra Nevada in northern Colombia.
The government of President Alvaro Uribe, aided by US companies such as Dyncorp, is striving to end Colombia's long-held status as the world's biggest cocaine producer. Its main tool is aerial fumigation of illicit crops with a potent herbicide. But while official figures show that since 2000 the area under cultivation in Colombia has almost halved to about 212,000 acres, coca productivity per acre appears to be rising.
With the help of foreign agronomists, the police say, traffickers have developed a leafier strain of plant that grows to 9ft, at least twice the height of the traditional shrub. The size and strength of the plant makes it resistant to herbicides. More important, the modified coca contains about four times more cocaine alkaloid.
Coca bushes are tended by peasant farmers who harvest the leaves and sell them to Colombia's guerrilla and paramilitary armies. The paramilitaries convert the leaves to a paste and then pure cocaine before selling it to groups specialised in smuggling and money-laundering.
Fertilizer May be Root of Big Colombia Coca Plants
- Reuters, Dec 7, 2004
Bogota, Colombia - Giant coca plants said to resist herbicides and yield eight times more cocaine may be due to extra fertilizer, not a drug cartel's genetic modification program, a scientist said on Tuesday.
A Colombian police intelligence dossier quoted in the Financial Times said smugglers apparently received help from foreign scientists to develop a herbicide-resistant tree that yields eight times more cocaine than normal shrubs.
But a toxicologist who studied the plants for the police said he knew of no evidence that showed whether the plants were genetically modified or merely grew big because they received an unusually large amount of fertilizer.
"Up to now there is no scientific evidence, at least in our country, which shows this is the consequence of genetic manipulation," said toxicologist Camilo Uribe. "They could simply be the result of an excess of fertilizer," he said.
A few isolated giant plants had been found in areas including Colombia's Sierra Nevada and Macarena mountains, he said. The United States has provided more than $3 billion of mainly military aid to back a crop spraying program that the Colombian government says has cut the country's coca-growing area by almost two-thirds.
Washington dismissed media reports of genetically modified coca in August. "We regularly hear rumors that narcotraffickers are working to create a transgenic form of coca, but there is no scientific proof that they have undertaken such research," Phyllis Powers, Director of the Narcotics Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, said at the time.
Europe in a 'Frantic pause' Over GM Technology
- Farmers Guardian (UK), November 26 2004
Genetic modification technology has officially come of age but it still looks like a case of arrested adolesence in Europe, according to a leading researcher. The first successful gene transfer to a whole plant emerged in 1983, Professor Simon Bright, director of Warwick HRI, reminded members of the HRI Association.
In global terms, agribusinesses spent $250bn on crop protection chemicals, $15bn on conventional seeds and $3bn on GM seeds in 2002, with the latter category growing fastest at 15 per cent a year. About half of all soyabean production, around 20 per cent of cotton and rapeseed and 11 per cent of maize were all produced by GM technology.
But due to the EU regulatory framework, Britain and the rest of Europe was stuck in a `frantic pause' with great activity going on but little happening, he said. There had been a `frenzy of activity' earlier this year, but this had cooled off.
"The trouble has been that you cannot have a public discussion about a technology but you can about the resulting products and about sustainability,'' he said. "For example, in fruit and vegetables, you can show the benefits to the consumer in terms of quality, shelf life, flavour, texture, aroma and nutrition as well as production advantages.''
This had been demonstrasted in improved flavour tomatoes for paste production prior to the European moratorium but was continued to be exploited in the US with Stayripe GM bananas which stayed edible for up to five days longer than conventional bananas.
Prof Bright claimed that consumer resistance to GM technology was beginning to wane in the wake of labelling rule changes and increased imports of branded goods containing modified ingredients such as soya. Supermarkets were not altruistic, he said. If they found a demand for these products they would start producing their own-label versions.
The next step was to get the commercial sector fully involved, otherwise scientists would find themselves just going round the loop. As well as food, GM technology could demonstrate a significant advantage in the production of crops for renewable energy, such as biodiesel and bioethanol, in the face of fossil fuel fears which ranged from increasing cost to global warming.
Genetically-modified microbes and viruses had also provided optimism for a new generation of biological insecticides, members heard.
Biotechnology a Tool for the Future
'Technology Can Feed The World's Population While Slowing Destruction of Wilderness'
- Gene Hugoson, Grand Forks Herald, Dec. 6, 2004
St. Paul: Plenty of people with Minnesota ties have made names for themselves on the world stage. None, however, have had the positive impact of University of Minnesota alumni and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug.
In recognition of Borlaug's achievements, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed legislation marketing Oct. 16 as Dr. Norman Borlaug World Food Prize Day.
In the 1960s, Borlaug was at the forefront of a movement that became known as the "Green Revolution." He led a team that developed a special breed of high-yielding wheat that resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases. To his great credit, Borlaug didn't stop there. Working side by side with local farmers, Borlaug showed farmers in India and Pakistan how to cultivate the crop properly. By doing so, he helped the drought-stricken countries avoid a famine that would have claimed thousands of lives.
More recently, Borlaug has been involved in sub-Saharan African programs bringing similar benefits to farmers in that region. In countries where he has worked, crop yields have doubled or tripled over what the traditional practices provided. While regional food shortages still occur today, they more often are because of social crises than production crises.
Reflect on accomplishments It is appropriate to reflect on Borlaug's impressive list of accomplishments, but it would be a mistake for us to overlook his message for us now. Borlaug is a staunch supporter of biotechnology, describing it as a tool that can help the world produce enough food to feed the still-growing population while also reducing the need for turning pristine wilderness lands into cropland.
"Today, anti-science and technology zealots are trying to retard and even stop the application of new science and technology ... that offer so much promise for the future," Borlaug said during an appearance last May at the University of Minnesota.
Like Borlaug, I consider biotechnology a tool that has immense potential for improving agriculture and protecting the environment in the 21st century. Properly implemented, biotechnology can help farmers around the world grow more nutritious crops more efficiently and with fewer inputs. It will allow us to increase production on existing cropland and thereby reduce the need for converting rain forests and untouched grasslands into cropland.
Concerns about biotech I understand why some people have concerns about specific biotechnology applications. It is entirely fitting that society asks questions about potential impacts and that we have a rigorous system of testing and regulation to prevent unintended negative consequences for humans or the environment. Since agriculture is a business, it also is fitting that American farmers listen to the demands of overseas consumers even when they clash with our own views on biotechnology. However, it is a mistake to dismiss all biotechnology, and for that matter, other beneficial technologies such as food irradiation, because of hypothetical dangers or real but remote risks that can be minimized by proper implementation and effective regulation.
Forty years ago, Borlaug showed the world it was possible to effectively use crop breeding techniques, fertilizers, pesticides and other crop technologies to feed a hungry world. Today, at an age when most people are decades into retirement, he still is directing his considerable energies to show us that biotechnology can feed the world better while also slowing the destruction of the world's remaining wilderness.
Biotechnology Opportunities for Developing Countries
Health biotechnology - the application of genetic engineering techniques to the development of new drugs and vaccines - is often seen as the preserve of rich countries. For poorer countries, struggling with failing health systems and low medical research budgets, it is an expensive, long-term investment. Yet health biotechnology, drawing in particular on genomics, has the potential to make cheap, locally produced drugs, as well as build a thriving industrial sector. This special supplement, published in a special supplement to the December 2004 issue of Nature Biotechnology, presents case studies of progress in health biotechnology in seven countries in the developing world.
Free registration is required to view these articles. Link at http://www.scidev.net/ms/naturebiotech/
- Andrew Marshall, Editor, Nature Biotechnology, Supplement to Dec 2004; Full editorial at http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nbt/journal/v22/n12s/full/nbt1204supp-DC1.html
The world's richest nations dominate biotechnology. They are the major innovators, funders and consumers of biotechnology's products. They are the ones that have benefited in terms of jobs, productivity, wealth and health. Developing countries hardly get a look. Why would they? Biotechnology is difficult enough when markets are lucrative, R&D spending is high and economies are stable. Yet developing countries are often cast as those in most need of biotechnology's products. Too little information is shared about the ability of poorer nations to harness biotechnology for their own needs—how they can use recombinant technology to build their own wealth and improve the well-being of their own people. This supplement seeks to address these issues.
Health Biotechnology Innovation in Developing Countries presents findings from a three-year study of the biotechnology sectors of seven countries (Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, South Africa and South Korea); it is the brainchild of a group of researchers at the Canadian Program on Genomic and Global Health at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. For each country, data and information were gathered from interviews with local experts, background documents, the scientific literature and patent databases. The study sought to highlight biotechnology successes in these countries and the means by which these successes were achieved, with a view to reproducing them more widely in other parts of the developing world.
One of the most important lessons to emerge is that biotechnology is a long hard slog. Governments that see it as a means of growing their economy and augmenting the health of their populations must commit to funding for many years, often with little hope of return. It takes time to build all the elements—an advanced education system, a requisite level of scientific excellence, a business-friendly set of intellectual property laws and an adequate regulatory infrastructure and healthcare system—needed to promote venture creation and the commercialization of products.
Even if all these elements are in place, there are still no guarantees. Biotechnology is a leap of faith for investors in industrialized countries; imagine how hard it is in countries where R&D expenditures may be only a fraction (usually less than a quarter of that in industrialized nations) of gross national product, skilled and educated labor is at a premium, intellectual turf wars stifle collaboration, economic difficulties and inflation are rampant, venture capital investors are an unknown species, intellectual property protection is murky and political turmoil is a frequent backdrop.
Under such conditions, one might argue that trying to establish a biotechnology presence would be folly. But sometimes fools who persist in folly become wise. And as this supplement shows, developing nations that have persisted in promoting biotechnology have found several ways to succeed.
One approach has been to exploit lax local intellectual property laws to enable the creation of ventures that can copy from industrialized nations brand products that address local unmet medical needs. By producing these products internally at cheaper prices, developing countries can reduce dependence on expensive imports of Western brand drugs, generate income for their own economies and, by improving the health and wellness of their populations, indirectly reduce healthcare spending and increase economic productivity.
All that being said, it is necessary to reemphasize the obvious: biotechnology is clearly no panacea for the health problems of developing nations, and as an endeavor for producing wealth it can take decades. Innovative enterprises require huge amounts of investment before they produce products and profits; generic companies require less and reap rewards faster. But if governments in developing nations are prepared to stay the course, the benefits could be substantial. As the United Nations Development Program has noted: "Biotechnology innovation and globalization is a means of helping the poor of the world live fuller, richer and more secure lives." Thus far, few have seen those benefits. But on the basis of evidence in this supplement, this may be changing: biotechnology for the few may soon become biotechnology for the many.
Genetically Modified Organisms in the Food Supply
Church Council Action, November 2004, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Full document at http://www.elca.org/dcs/elca_actions/gmo.html
Since the 1980s, the application of the technology that makes possible genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the economic and political policies used to deliver that technology have become a center of controversy. This biotechnology bears the potential both for substantial good and permanent harm. The manipulation of genetic material (DNA) in seeds, for instance, has sometimes prevented crop disaster or increased crop productivity, reduced chemical input, and lowered production costs. At the same time, the use of GMOs has led to disputes about food safety, food security, food sovereignty, economic development, trade implications, and ecological integrity.
This discord in settings as diverse as farm homes, corporate boardrooms, and international organizations is understandable, since GMOs and their delivery alter basics of life such as food quality or affect age-old practices like saving seed for planting. Despite the controversy, it seems clear that GMO research and its application will continue for the near future. We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) as individual members and as a corporate body are called to responsible deliberation and action when such weighty social and ecological issues are at stake.
The following are values derived from ELCA social policy relevant to the GMO conversation.
The good of science and technology
ELCA policy recognizes the value of scientific research and technological developments (CC p. 3.4). The human capacity for genetic manipulation should be understood, in principle, as one of God's gifts in the created order to be pursued for the good of all. As with any such gift, it must be used responsibly and tested for its contribution to justice and stewardship.
Human needs and justice
ELCA policy recognizes the need to assess the development of GMOs and their delivery according to the impact on human needs and social justice. The assessment must consider, for instance, whether GMOs and the practices associated with them increase the availability and equitable distribution of food for people who are hungry in the short term and ability of people to feed themselves in the long term. The assessment must also consider the public good that GMOs should enhance and not take into account only the private gain they may offer. (SSLA p. 5.1) This requires scrutiny according to "how specific policies and practices affect people and nations that are the poorest" (SSLA p. 5.1).
Humility and the future
ELCA policy recognizes a need for special considerations and caution with regard to GMOs. The reasons are several. The use of GMOs may affect the integrity and limits of the earth. (CC p. 2.6). Food--including its production and delivery--as a basic need of life cannot simply be left to the decisions of the market (SSLA p. 5.2). In the face of the uncertainties involved with GMOs, solidarity with creation means that humility and wisdom must mark human action (CC p. 7.8). All of this warrants a cautious approach.
Regulation and the common good
ELCA policy recognizes the need for judicious government regulation when it is necessary to protect the needs of individuals and communities or to promote the common good (SSLA p. 10.3.2). The goal of such careful and comprehensive regulation seeks both to protect from any potential harm of GMOs and their delivery and to advance the potential good.