Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





December 15, 2004


Mexico Approves GM Law; Rules Delay GM Maize in Kenya; Burden on GM; Organic Safety Concerns; GM Oil in Italy; China to Clear GM Rice


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 15, 2004

* RE: Europe Promotes Tragedy in Uganda
* Mexican Lawmakers Approve Controversial GM Law
* Revision of safety rules delays Kenya's GM maize
* Lift the crushing burden on biotech foods
* Survey raises organic food concerns
* Italy's first modified soy oil on sale
* GE Crops and Poverty Alleviation
* ZAMBIA: Govt drafts biosafety legislation
* China to clear GM rice?

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 21:57:12 -0800
From: "Muchugi, Alice (ICRAF)"
Subject: RE: Europe Promotes Tragedy in Uganda

Thanks to Roger Bate for highlighting this economic injustices to the poor African nation. We hope our governments will one day be strong enough to make decisions that can survive against such economic sanctions. Most countries in the sub-Saharan Africa are fighting the most basic enemies to human survival; hunger and diseases (not terrorists), and it is sad that any attempt that they undertake to solve this, the developed countries have the main say. To make it worse most of our leaders get swallowed up in the maze (for example in GM crops). But we cannot lose hope. With the support of friends like Bate and others we will keep voicing our concern and hope will hear it. Thanks

Alice Muchugi
Biotechnology PhD Student
Kenyatta University, Kenya.


Mexican Lawmakers Approve Controversial GM Law

- Reuters, Dec 15, 2004

Mexican lawmakers approved a new law on Tuesday to regulate genetically modified crops, but opponents said it catered more to the interests of big business than to the protection of centuries-old biodiversity.

Legislators in Mexico's lower house of Congress approved the law by a vote of 319 to 105, with 17 abstentions.

Supporters said it would enable the regulation of GM crops in Mexico and an evaluation of any possible risks to human health and the environment.

Opposition to the law came mostly from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which claimed, along with environmental groups like Greenpeace, that the new law would endanger corn diversity in Mexico, the birthplace of the grain.

"It's important to make clear that we are not completely satisfied with the result, given it does not express many of the demands we come across in the course of our work," said PRD deputy Jose Luis Cabrera.

Greenpeace has called the new legislation the "Monsanto Law," claiming it protects the economic interests of the multinational producer of genetically modified crops from policies that could cut into profits.

"This only benefits multinationals and supports the interests of a tiny elite in Mexico and goes against thousands of farmers," Greenpeace spokeswoman Cecilia Navarro told local media after one of the group's activists briefly entered the debating chamber in Congress.

A NAFTA environmental panel from Canada, the United States and Mexico recommended in October that Mexico adopt strict measures to control imports of genetically modified corn.

One recommended measure, which could only be carried out at considerable expense to companies like Monsanto, was that corn be milled at the border, before entering Mexico, in order to prevent contamination of its 7,000-year-old corn gene pool.

In recent weeks the report was attacked by U.S. authorities as "fundamentally flawed and unscientific," and Mexican trade authorities said they had no plans to change import policies.

Mexican farmers say they need to stop imported corn that is genetically modified from mixing with local strains.

Mexico is viewed by scientists as the birthplace of corn and many fear that introducing transgenic or genetically modified corn could harm it.


Revision of safety rules delays Kenya's GM maize
Drought and pests cause major losses of African maize crops

- SciDev.Net, 14 December 2004, By Kimani Chege

The introduction of genetically modified (GM) maize to Kenya is likely to be delayed by two years to 2010 following revisions to safety regulations for the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) project.

The revisions, made public at a meeting of stakeholders in Nairobi on 9 December, are intended to bring the project in line with national and international standards by giving greater attention to threats that the release of GM maize could pose to the environment and human health.

"It became clear that regulatory issues were not exhaustively covered in the original project plan," said Stephen Mugo, IRMA's project manager.

Mugo said the revised rules are intended to be compliant with existing Kenyan regulations — which allow research on GM crops but not their sale — while being stringent enough to anticipate any changes to the law.

A group drawn from the IRMA project and the government regulator, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, decided on the changes. As well as revising safety standards, they updated plans relating to plant breeding, facilities and permits, and the social and economic implications of introducing GM maize to Kenyan farmers.

The IRMA project is a joint venture between the Kenyan government and international research institutes. It aims to develop a variety of maize able to resist attack by stem borers, major insect pests.

It is expected to cost US$6,670,000 during the next five years with the bulk of the funding coming from the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. The Rockefeller Foundation is also a donor.

The project's GM maize was initially scheduled to be distributed to farmers in 2008, but, according to Mugo, the revised safety standards means this will be delayed until 2010. As a result, widespread distribution will only be achieved by 2011.

Joe DeVries of the Rockefeller Foundation said he hoped extra regulations would not slow the pace of the project. "It is clear that [this type of GM] maize has been tested and proven to work elsewhere hence there is no need for unnecessary regulations," he added.

Each year, stem borers are responsible for crop losses of up to 12 per cent, amounting to US$76 million in lost harvests. The IRMA project, which began five years ago, aims to create both conventional and transgenic maize varieties to resist the pest. The GM plants, incorporating genetic material from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, are referred to as Bt maize.

The research is being done by scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

The project's first line of the Bt maize has been tested in the biosafety greenhouse that was officially opened earlier this year (see US$12 million greenhouse signals Kenyan GM commitment). Approval for open field-testing is being sought from the government. If it is obtained, these tests will take place early next year.


Lift the crushing burden on biotech foods

- Financial Times, December 14 2004, By Dick Taverne

The European Commission has recently asked five member states to lift their bans on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods.

Nevertheless, the future of agricultural biotechnology in Europe looks bleak. Supermarkets do not stock GM food. Regulatory obstacles make commercial production of GM crops uneconomical, except in Spain. In the US, by contrast, three-quarters of food in supermarkets contains ingredients from GM plants and Americans have been eating food with a GM content for more than seven years without harm and even, significantly, without a single lawsuit alleging harm.

More than 80 per cent of the soya bean crop grown in America, 70 per cent of cotton and 38 per cent of maize is now genetically modified. But in an important book Henry Miller and Gregory Conko show that in the US, too, biotechnology is threatened*. An unholy alliance of big companies and green pressure groups has created a burden of over-regulation that stifles innovation and hamstrings research.

The relevant regulatory bodies in the US are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concerned with food safety, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), for farming, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates field trials and the use of pesticides. Each has a different approach.

The FDA sensibly considers the nature of a new product, not the process by which the product is made, in granting licences. Supported by the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion in the developed and developing world, it accepts that GM food is as safe to eat as conventionally produced food. Indeed, since GM crops have been more carefully tested, they are probably safer. This view is strongly contested by green activists, in the US as in Britain, in spite of the evidence.

The USDA and EPA act differently because, surprisingly, leading biotech companies, supported by the industry's main trade organisation, lobbied the regulators to create a framework specific to GM products. They did so partly, according to Miller and Conko, to reassure the public that its concerns about safety were taken seriously, partly to keep out smaller competitors. The USDA and EPA duly obliged. The first defines GM plants as posing an inherent danger and regulates them as if they are pests. The second regulates GM pest-resistant plants as chemical pesticides, while exempting resistant plants bred by conventional means.

This has proved counter-productive. It has increased public concern because special regulation implies that GM crops present special risks. Green activists have been vindicated: their claim that GM organisms are dangerous is officially endorsed.

Furthermore, costs have soared. Field trials with GM crops are now 10 to 20 times more expensive than experiments with similar conventional crops. Over the past 20 years the time to develop a significant GM crop variety has increased from six to 12 years and the cost has risen from $50m to $300m. Competition has been suppressed and so has innovation because neither small start-up companies nor academic institutions, two big sources of innovation, have the resources to comply with the regulatory burdens. For example, an allergen-free GM wheat variety developed at the University of California, Berkeley, will not be tested in the field because the cost of compliance is prohibitive. Products that would benefit the poor and hungry have been hit particularly hard because only field trials of high-volume products for rich markets can be justified commercially.

In Europe, regulatory burdens are even greater and their effect is felt worldwide. Regulations that impose rules for mandatory labelling and traceability are a case in point. They go far beyond any reasonable requirements to provide consumers with choice. The traceability rules alone may finally exclude all GM crops from EU markets because, in practice, they will require exporters to maintain separate grain elevators, freight wagons, barges and drying and processing facilities. Costs will double.

GM plants already help the developing world. More than 5m small farmers in China, India and South Africa now grow GM cotton and the reduced need to use pesticides has greatly increased their income and improved their health. Yet excessive regulation is holding back one of the most promising technologies of modern times.

* The Frankenfood Myth - How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution (Praeger)

Lord Taverne is chair of Sense About Science, which backs an evidence-based approach to science, and author of the forthcoming The March of Unreason


Survey raises organic food concerns

- TV New Zealand, Dec 15, 2004

New Zealand's organic food industry is built on a very clear principal that what it sells, and therefore what we eat, is clean, green and pesticide free.

At least that's what we thought.

But that image is under suspicion after a Food Safety Authority (FSA) survey found more than 20% of the organic fruit and vegetable sampled had been sprayed.

"Someone's cheating... and the fact is that organic is meant to be pesticide free. It is not meant to be less pesticides than conventional foods, it's meant to be no pesticides," Andrew McKenzie of the FSA told Close Up At 7.

The survey sample was small, but was conducted over three different centres. It has shaken the organics sector and those people who had always assumed they were buying something pure.

"I thought it was shocking actually. We go to all this trouble of buying organic food and it turns out some of it isn't even organic," Organics shopper Jane White says.

There are a number of certification schemes for organic products operating in New Zealand, such as Biogrow and Organic Farm New Zealand, but they are self regulating. Only produce that is exported is checked by the FSA for compliance.

David Russell from the Consumers Institutes says he would like to see legislation similar to what they have in Europe where if a product is claimed to be organic it would have to be checked and verified as such.

Reputable organic growers would like to see those suspected of pesticide use publicly outed, but the authority can't do that with these samples.

"The samples were taken effectively blind. We know where they came from in terms of an outlet, but we don't know who grew them," McKenzie says.

It is now in the hands of the commerce commission to investigate the matter further.

Italy's first modified soy oil on sale

- AGI, December 13, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

ROM – www.greenplanet.net, Italy's major organic farming website, was cited as revealing that GMO oil is available on Italian supermarket shelves.
The story says that the oil, called "Giusto", comes in two versions – 100% soy, and soy plus sunflower seeds. A one-litre can costs 89 cents. The oil is produced in Monopoli, near Bari, by Olearia Italiana.

The company is a member of Gruppo Italiana Alimenti Spa, capable of producing 800,000 litres a day. Besides oil, the company produces flour used to make fodder. Since April last year, the sale of biotech foods is no longer banned. So far, however, no company had ever marketed any, as most consumers are obviously against them.


GE Crops and Poverty Alleviation

- Tech Central Station, By Al Rio and Peter Turner, 12/14/2004

Europe needs to take an urgent look at two recent World Bank reports on genetically engineered (GE) crops and food technologies in developing countries. The first focuses on GE rice (mainly harvested in Asia), and the second looks at crops in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Among the key findings of the first study are:

* existing GE varieties of crops have "conferred direct benefits to farmers through reduced input costs and/or improved management flexibility, and benefits to consumers via lower food prices";

* new developments promise to include GE "varieties of various crops that also provide direct benefits to consumers through enhanced consumption characteristics such as improved nutritional content" (the so-called nutriceuticals);

* the computational models behind this research conducted at the World Bank estimate "the potential welfare gains from the consumer-focused health attributes of golden rice and compares them with the welfare benefits of producer-focused attributes of other new (non-golden) GM rice varieties". They also estimate "the welfare impact if GM adoption were to spread beyond rice to other grains and oilseeds", finding that, even if richer countries ban food imports from GE-adopting countries, great benefits will follow the poorer ones;

* the consumer-focused health attributes of golden rice are reflected in the improved productivity of unskilled farm and non-farm workers whose health would improve because of greater vitamin A intake.

It's clear from the report how much we all can gain from these GE crops (see the report for a demonstration of the economic welfare effects of GM crops adoption by developing Asia and the US, Canada and Argentina).

The simulations assume first that these last three countries adopt GE coarse grains and oilseeds, with benefits of more than $2 billion for the whole world (this is the base simulation); in the second run, the same countries plus China, and other South and Southeast Asian countries, adopt golden rice, and the world benefits by more than $17 billion. In those simulations where the EU, Japan and South Korea impose a ban on imports of rice and other cultivars from countries adopting those GE crops, benefits fell to $12 billion. In the last result, with even more limits in the EU, Japan and Korea, the world makes a clear net loss over the base simulations of around $5 billion (the difference between maximum benefit and maximum loss is a surprising $22 billion).

Of course, this is just a set of simulations. But, despite the limitations of the paper, we see that effects in producing countries can be largely positive, even if protectionist countries ban GE crops and derivatives. Those which gain more are the poorest ones. And those which ban the more, lose the more. This is a beautiful irony.

The special case of Sub-Saharan Africa merited a study by itself. Two decades ago, Africa accounted for a tenth of the world's people living on less than $1 a day, but now it amounts to one-third of it. The authors use, as in the first study, a general equilibrium model. They assume, among other things, perfect competition, flexible wages, flexible exchange rates, and full use of all productive factors "which are immobile internationally." The model was calibrated to the economic structures and trade flows of 1997, when GE crops where gaining acceptance. That was the year before the EU adopted a de facto moratorium.

What's interesting in the model simulations is that the welfare gains can be rather large, especially from golden rice (and "golden" wheat, so to speak): current estimates of better health and a bigger contribution to unskilled laborers' productivity are greater for nutritionally enhanced grain than for conventional, non-GE foods. And fortunately, even if the European Union keeps banning GE food imports, the gains do not vary much. But what's more revealing, if Sub-Saharan countries ban GE crop imports to prevent losing EU markets for their traditional non-GE produce, consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa would lose more than what a privileged market access would earn producers. This means that those African countries which consider banning GE crops would suffer net losses too.

Note that these papers do not consider non-food GE crops, like cotton, already a success in China, so the researchers are not computing the savings and benefits of less tillage and less pesticides. Studies like these pile upon scientific reports showing the same or better safety for GE varieties than for conventional ones, and EU consumers would get better prices, and producing countries would get more exports and advance their development. Knowing all this, why are EU governments so protectionist? They are depriving the less well-off people of a way to better their lives, both in developing and developed countries.


ZAMBIA: Govt drafts biosafety legislation

- Reuters, 14 Dec 2004

JOHANNESBURG, 14 December (IRIN) - The Zambian government has drafted biosafety legislation to build technological capacity to ensure the country is not consuming non-genetically modified food.

"The legislation, which will help us regulate and monitor GMOs [genetically modified organisms] will also establish the National Biosafety Authority," said Paul Zambezi, permanent secretary for the Zambian ministry of science, technology and vocational training.

The proposed legislation, currently with the ministry of justice, is part of the country's five-year National Biosafety and Biotechnology Strategy Plan to initiate biosafety research and the protection of biodiversity, Zambezi told IRIN.

The bill, expected to be submitted to parliament between January and March next year for approval, will make Zambia one of the few African countries to have biosafety legislation in place.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has issued guidelines on handling GMOs, and has asked its member states to develop national biotechnology policy and establish biosafety regulatory systems.

"We also need the legislation to penalise [organisations, companies] who do not meet biosafety requirements. At the moment we are following the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety," said Felix Mwangala of the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research. The global protocol establishes international procedures for managing the transboundary movement and handling of GMOs.

"Our intention is to make Zambia GMO-free, but we have not got there yet - we need to build the capacity of our scientists. A substantial portion of our strategy plan will focus on human resource development," Zambezi said.

Zambia was among several southern African countries which banned GM food relief in 2002, at a time when it was facing critical food shortages.


China to clear GM rice?

- FoodNavigator.com, 15/12/2004

China may become the first country in the world to operate the commercial production of genetically modified rice, ushering in cheaper and constant supplies for the popular food staple and ingredient.

Reports in the Chinese media this week state that four varieties of GM rice were submitted for approval to the recently concluded Biology Safety meeting, sponsored by Ministry of Agriculture.

According to a news report from the Peoples’ Daily, the project leader and biologist Professor Zhu Zhen says that the promotion of GM rice is important for China, a country with 1.3 billion people whose main food staple is rice.

As global rice consumption continues to outpace production, supporters of the rice claim biotech rice could be the key to unlocking food security in major rice-growing areas.

Environmental and health concerns over GM foodstuffs will have to be considered by the Chinese regulatory bodies before clearing the way for GM rice onto the local and exporting markets.

Exports of GM rice into Europe will meet with opposition from certain member states, reflecting European consumer concerns, who continue to resist the entry of new GM foods in the food industry.

A recent poll of British consumers found that more than six out of 10 people (61 per cent) said they were concerned about the use of GM material in food production - up from 56 per cent in 2002.

The US department of agriculture predicts global production of rice to reach 401.8 million tons (milled basis) in 2004/05, up 10.8 million tons from 2003/04 but ending stocks are projected to plunge 16.1 million tons, with substantial declines expected in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, implying stronger prices throughout the 2004 and 2005 trade years.

Rice is a staple crop the world over but principally in Asia where the average person eats rice two or three times a day. The average person in Myanmar eats 195 kg of rice each year compared to their European counterpart who consumes just 3 kg a year.

Rice, the source of a starch used to form tender, opaque gels in food formulations, is currently the focus of an international effort to map its genome.

In October this year the UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) singled out Dr Youyong Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University in China and Dr Takuji Sasaki, director of the genome research department at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan for their contribution to the advancement of rice research.

Dr Takuji Sasaki and his team won first prize in the rice breeding category for the paper, ‘The genome sequence and structure of rice chromosome 1’, the longest chromosome in the rice genome.

Sasaki’s rice genome breakthrough is slated to help breeders in determining gene function, thereby making it possible to more efficiently identify and select rice varieties with beneficial traits.