Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 17, 2004
* GM Free or Not -- The Shaky Scientific and Legal Foundation of a Marketing Strategy
* GM oilseed rape GT73
* Plea to Donors On Food Plan
* Biotech crops make progress in India
* Time to support GM food
* GMOs TO HIKE FARMERS' INCOMES, SAYS SCIENTIST
* NGOs AGREE TO BIOTECH FOR FOOD SECURITY
* BIOTECH CROP PLANTINGS SEEING GREATER EXPANSION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
* NEW INDEX POSSIBLE FOR SCREENING SALT TOLERANT RICE LINES
* PAPER RECOMMENDS STRATEGIES FOR BIOTECH IN EUROPE
* EUROPEAN COUNTRIES MUST JOIN FORCES TO STRENGTHEN BIOTECH SECTOR – REPORT
Subject: GM Free or Not -- The Shaky Scientific and Legal Foundation of a Marketing Strategy
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2004 11:35:15 +1100
I would be happy for this to appear in the agbioworld news bulletin. I have contacted Greenpeace for their comment and also discussed this with the Network of Concerned Farmers that pointed out the NZ decision on their web site recently with their interpretaion of it. This was echoed on the GMwatch web site in an interview of Julie by Caroline.
Hopefully it will inform your readers of the misconceptions that exists here in Australia (at least in some quarters) of the marketing advantage of Australia being ''GM-free'' -- a paper tiger if there ever was one. A careful economic analysis has been released (www.vic.gov.au) by the Victorian State Goverment which commissioned an in-depth study on the potential economic impact of allowing coexistence GM canola trials to take place in the canola growing states of Australia. The finding was that there was no premium to be had by staying GM-free. The Government then promptly slapped a 4-year moratorium on the commercial release of GM canola in Victoria (followed by the other States) based on the potential for loss of market share if we couldn't provided ''GM-free'' certification of our export produce to China, Japan and middle east.
GM Free or Not -- The Shaky Scientific and Legal Foundation of a Marketing Strategy
By Dr Roger Kalla
Director Korn Technologies
The protection of the GM free status of the Australian food supply is the basis for Greenpeace's very public campaign against Australian chicken producers for their legal use of imported GM soy to feed chickens.
I find it interesting that the GM-free labelling of food products recently has been successfully challenged by Greenpeace in Australia and, on the other side of the Tasman, by the Consumers Commission in New Zealand. While Greenpeace successfully challenged two poultry producers for labelling their chickens 'GM- free' to differentiate them from another producer that is using GM chicken feed, the NZ Commission successfully challenged the 'GM -free' claims of a vegetarian food producer based on motives that I suggest are diametrally opposed to Greenpeace's stated campaign goals.
Greenpeace has announced that its campaign aim is to stop the legal import of 300,000 tonnes of GM soy they claim enter Australia to feed broilers, cows and other farm animals. They want to keep Australia 'GM -free' and are waging a very public campaign to stop GM soy to enter our ports, our broiler factories, our chickens and the supermarket outlets in the suburbs of our major cities. One of the arguments they have put forward is that NZ can source 'GM- free' soy at low cost without any problem and Australia should follow suit.
The recent case in NZ has moved the goalposts and the legally accepted bench mark for 'GM- free' is now 0.0088% (less than 1/10, 000) of GM product for invalidating 'GM- free' as well as 'non-GM' claims on the vegetarian 'sausages' ( made out of imported certified 'non-GM' soy meal) produced by the NZ company .
Presumably this 'non-GM ' soy is the same soy meal that Greenpeace wants Australian broiler producers to pay a premium for on the basis that it is 'GM- free'.
It needs to be pointed out that the NZ Food producer in this instance wants to adhere to the guidelines that Greenpeace put out in the True Food Guide and has gone to considerable trouble in doing so. However the company now come to the realisation that producing a 110 % guarantee that mix-ups will not happen…ever … anywhere is not possible.
What these recent rebukes of the use of 'GM-free' labelling as a marketing ploy proves can be best summarised as follows;
1) DNA testing technology is moving forward relentlessly and even an adventitious presence of less than 1 in a 10,000 of GM product can now be measured. In fact the levels that are reliably detected these days is closer to 0.001 % i.e 1/100,000 as quoted in a recent report by ACIL Tasman commissioned by the Victorian State Government (www.vic.gov.au).
2) These detection levels are rapidly approaching the levels used for detecting highly potent environmental toxins in the air or water or our food which typically are measured in quantities of 1/1,000,000 (1 ppm) or less.
Any thinking person would come to realise that the consequence of the requirement of our foods to measure GM content down to these trace levels is to explicitly equate the risks of GM crops and the products we derive from them ( that have passed the regulatory hurdles set by Food Safety Australia NZ) with environmental toxins such as dioxins which have been proven to be toxic when present in our water or food sources at 1ppm or lower.
A number of consumer surveys performed by Biotechnology Australia have consistently found that consumers are most concerned by Food safety i.e. to keep known toxic compounds at levels that will not cause any risk of food poisoning.
I ask my self if consumers really equate the 'GM- free' labelling of foods with food free from proven toxins at levels experimentally proven to be safe for human consumption? I certainly don't and I like most Australians enjoy the healthy, safe and nutritious food we can sample in our supermarkets.
The food we buy in the supermarket is not labelled 'Dioxin free' precisely because most people expect that FSANZ and the other bodies that are there to protect our food supply are doing their job and we trust they do it to the best of their abilities.
Let's extend the trust to GM crops and product's derived from GM crops. Then the labelling of food as being GM ( i.e. containing more than 1 % of GM product) can begin to make sense to the consumer and will not require the basis for the labelling system to be settled by costly legal battles.
Dr Roger Kalla
Director Korn Technologies
GM oilseed rape GT73
A draft decision for the authorisation of the placing on the market of the GM oilseed rape known as GT73 was presented to the regulatory Committee under Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment on 16 June 2004. The oilseed rape in question has been genetically modified for tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate, and it would be used for industrial processing and as animal feed. As the regulatory committee did not reach a qualified majority on the proposal, the Commission submitted a proposal for a Council Decision on 26 October. The Council may now act by qualified majority within three months. If the Council does not reach a position, the file comes back to the Commission for final adoption.
Plea to Donors On Food Plan
- The Nation (Nairobi), December 17, 2004, By Zeddy Sambu
The Government yesterday asked donors to fund proposed projects on food security to the tune of Sh5.6 billion.
Cabinet ministers Kipruto Kirwa (Agriculture) and Joseph Munyao (Livestock Development and Fisheries) said they needed support for all programmes outlined in the National Food Security Programme that had been finalised.
It identifies rural finance, irrigation and disease control as factors necessary to spur growth to about three per cent. It also seeks for an improved rural infrastructure.
The two ministries, with about 1.4 per cent growth, are key to realising goals of the programme over the next five years.
"This would be made possible through the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation to network with appropriate international or regional financiers," said the ministers when they received FAO's director general Dr Jacques Diouf.
Mr Kirwa said further assistance was needed to reverse the current trend in which productivity had declined leaving about seven million Kenyans at the risk of starvation.
The programme on food security should be upscaled and an action plan formulated to eliminate hunger, he said.
Mr Munyao said Kenya had made significant efforts to attain disease-free status for its livestock and fish products.
But Dr Diouf said further assistance would be pegged on the level of commitment by Kenya to adopting declarations passed at the African Union Heads of State summit in Maputo last year.
The director general said allocation for the sector must be doubled to more than 10 per cent so that FAO can shop for increased assistance.
But in financial year 2003/2004, a paltry six per cent of the budget was given to agriculture and only 0.2 per cent of the total land area is under irrigation.
Dr Diouf said a sub committee had been jointly formed by FAO and the World Health Organisation to prepare African governments for the adoption of genetically
The committee will ensure its recommendations comply with World Trade Organisation rules.
Eight ministries have benefited from some 30 projects costing Sh1.1 billion currently undertaken by FAO.
Biotech crops make progress in India
- NT News Service, Dec 16, 2004
Less than a decade after the first biotech crop was commercialised in 1996, biotech crops are now being grown in 18 countries, and research and development is being conducted in another 45 countries, according to a study by a leading United States food and trade policy analyst.
The study titled, ‘The global diffusion of plant biotechnology: international adoption and research in 2004’, reported the global commercial value of biotech crops grown in 2003-04 at $ 44 billion, 98 per cent of that value came from five countries — the United States, Argentina, China, Canada and Brazil — growing one or more of four biotech-enhanced crops: soybean, cotton, corn and canola.
While India has commercially approved insect-resistant cotton, researchers also have conducted field trials on drought-tolerant canola, insect-resistant cotton and tobacco. Further experimental research has been conducted on cabbage, potatoes, rice and tomatoes.
“The international adoption and diffusion of biotech crops has gone global and is poised to transform production and development around the world,” said Mr C Ford Runge, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy. To date, the United States is the leader in producing crops, with $27.5 billion in value in 2003-’04 from growing biotech-enhanced soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.
“We see continuing expansion of commercial and scientific possibilities for plant biotechnology in the next decade and beyond,” said Mr Runge. “Major expansionss in biotech crop approvals and plantings are expected in Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa.”
India, where farmers grow and sell insect-resistant cotton, has at least 20 academic and research institutions involved in plant biotech research covering 16 crops. Many Indian scientists hope to usher in a second ‘green revolution’ while adding another facet to its already-booming, knowledge-based economy.
Time to support GM food
- December 16, 2004, Truth About Trade and Technology, 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.
GMOs TO HIKE FARMERS' INCOMES, SAYS SCIENTIST
- Manila Bulletin, 15-December-2004
CEBU CITY - Dr. Emil Javier, former University of the Philippines (UP) president, does not buy the idea promoted by some groups that the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture would worsen the living conditions of farmers nationwide.
In fact, Javier is batting for the propagation of biotechnology products like Bt corn nationwide, saying that these crops have practically little need for pesticides and generate higher yields, and these would improve farmers' incomes rather than reduce them.
Javier said the experience of corn farmers since December 2002, when Bt corn was approved for cultivation in the country, was positive, with yields rising by 37 percent and profits zooming by 60 percent of P10, 132 per hectare.
He said that these developments augur well for corn farmers, particularly in Mindanao, who have been batting for the wider cultivation of Bt corn.
Originally, only 129 hectares of farms were devoted to the cultivation of corn but the figure has reached about 30,000 hectares today.
Javier said a study undertaken by Prof. Jose M. Yorobe of the Department of Agricultural Economics of UP Los Bańos showed that Bt corn has already gained wide acceptance among farmers.
Moreover, the same paper disclosed, farmers interviewed in four major Bt corn growing areas in Isabela, Camarines Sur, Bukidnon and South Cotabato said they substantially reduced the use of incentives, thus adding more to their incomes.
The superior financial performance by farmers using Bt corn has become a magnet for other cultivators, prompting Javier to say that "Bt corn cultivation would reduce corn importation."
Without biotechnology, the former UP president said, "we will import more corn, even rice and other agricultural products. The reverse will happen if we promote Bt corn and other genetically-modified agricultural products."
Javier predicted that the country would become an exporter of corn and other products if the Philippines continues to expand hectarage devoted to GMOs.
If this does not happen, the country will suffer perpetual dependance on corn imports, noting that at present, "it is cheaper to import them from the US than to get them from Mindanao."
To obviate this expensive possibility, Javier says the hectarage devoted to Bt corn will have to increase from the 30, 000 hectares devoted to the crop today.
Dr. Saturnina Halos, chairwoman of the Biotechnology Advisory Team (BAT) of the Department of Agriculture (DA), says that the country is also developing a Filipino GMO rive even as the popularity known IR-64 variety has become resistant to tungro and BB.
It has also been genetically engineered to carry more Vitamin A, which combats blindness.
There is also GMO papaya, which is protected from viruses and has longer productive lives, she added.
Another Filipino GMO is the cotton bollworm.
Banana and tomato vaccines are being developed to boost the resistance of fruits to viruses even as GMO fertilizers for the culturally important wagwag rice variety will be used to allow farmers to harvest even during the off-season.
Halos said that with GMO fertilizers, farmers can still harvest 140 cavans per hectare.
NGOs AGREE TO BIOTECH FOR FOOD SECURITY
- Philippines Today, 13-December-2004
RECOGNIZING that food security for a growing population as a serious concern, representatives of nongovernment organizations (NGO's) reached a consensus about the important role of biotechnology in addressing the issue of food accessibility within successive generations.
"Biotechnology is the wave of the future", said Abe Manalo, executive secretary of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines.
At the roundtable discussion on biotechnology, held at the Palm Plaza Hotel in Malate, Manila, last week, NGO leaders had the chance to reaffirm their concern for the ability of the government in pursuing a policy that favors biotechnology as means to give the people an option to decide whether the scientific technology is useful or not.
"We have no apprehension about the gains that biotechnology has to offer, but we realize from our experience that the government has problematic constraints with the implementation," said Clive Dodd of Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, representing the labor sector.
For her part, Corazon Fernando from Taguig, Rizal and representing Mare Foundation, informed the gathering that efforts in implementing biotechnology in her municipality prove successful.
"The regular floods we have had in Taguig affected the quality of our food products," Fernando said. "Biotechnology offered a solution that proved effective," she said. "Taguig has since become a showcase for the positive aspects of biotechnology."
While stressing that biotechnology is the answer, Jhune Rodriguez, chairman of Convergence and representing NGO's in integrated protected areas, mentioned major concerns regarding environmental protection, as well as health risks of the community.
Forum speakers, Dr. Saturnina Halos, chairman of the Department of Agriculture's Biotechnology Advisory Team and Dr. Nina Barzaga, gave assurances that biotechnology was proven safe by international health agencies and by scientific testing in the country.
Barzaga indicated that "our challenge is in overcoming widespread disinformation campaign funded by multinational organizations that are against biotechnology."
BIOTECH CROP PLANTINGS SEEING GREATER EXPANSION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
- CropBiotech Update, December 17, 2004
The direction of global plant biotechnology suggests that major expansion in biotech crop plantings will occur in developing countries, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa, according to a new study, The Global Diffusion of Plant Biotechnology: International Adoption and Research in 2004, conducted by C. Ford Runge, director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy, University of Minnesota.
Apart from this expansion, the range of biotech crops approved commercially will continue to grow, resulting in new markets and opportunities, especially in developing countries.
Biotech crops are now being grown in 18 countries, while another 45 countries are into research and development and field testing.
Twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region are involved in some aspect of plant biotech research and development. The leading national programs are in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. More modest plant biotech research activities are underway in Bangladesh, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Korea, and Thailand.
“Perhaps the most significant single potential actor in Asia is China, which is aggressively engaged in biotech adoption and research. There is reason to expect China to emerge as an influential force in plant biotech in the years to come”, the study says. The study foresees that in the next 10 years, about half of China’s fields will be planted to biotech crops.
Countries with biotech crop research in Africa include South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. South Africa is taking the lead with commercial production of biotech maize, soybean, and cotton, all valued at $146.9 million.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are aggressively adopting biotech crops and are poised to move to adopt more varieties in the near future. The adoption process is led by Argentina, with nearly 14 million hectares planted to biotech soybean, maize, and cotton. Brazil has 3 million hectares planted to biotech soybean.
The study is available at
NEW INDEX POSSIBLE FOR SCREENING SALT TOLERANT RICE LINES
- CropBiotech Update, December 17, 2004
The concentration of glycinebetaine, a molecule produced in plants in response to salt stress, may be used as a rapid biochemical index for the screening of new salt-tolerant lines of rice. Suriyan Cha-um of the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and colleagues discuss this finding in an article in the latest issue of Science Asia.
Glycinebetaine (Glybet) is involved in plant stress responses to extreme salt, drought, temperature, and light conditions. Studies have shown that Glybet acts as an osmoprotective agent by stabilizing both the quaternary structures of proteins and the highly ordered structure of membranes against the adverse effects of salinity and water-deficit.
Using Thai jasmine rice seedlings, researchers found that betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase (BADH), a key enzyme in the Glybet synthesis pathway, showed progressive elevation during the first four days after growth under salt-stress conditions (342 mM NaCl), but gradually decreased thereafter (days 6-8). This increase in BADH activity was accompanied by an accumulation of Glybet. In contrast, the BADH activity and Glybet content of control seedlings (0 mM NaCl) remained at a low and constant level during the same 8-day interval.
Significant reductions in the concentrations of chlorophyll a, chlorophyll b, total chlorophyll, and total carotenoid content of salt-stressed seedlings were also observed with increasing exposure time to salt-stressed conditions.
Glybet accumulation in rice seedlings is consistent with the known defense response in plants, and assaying BADH activity and/or Glybet accumulation may be further used in screening for salt-tolerant varieties of rice.
Download the complete article, "Biochemical and Physiological Responses of Thai Jasmine Rice to Salt Stress," at
PAPER RECOMMENDS STRATEGIES FOR BIOTECH IN EUROPE
- CropBiotech Update, December 17, 2004
In For A Competitive European Biotechnology Industry, Christian Patermann recounts the proposals set forth by the European Union (EU) Comprehensive Strategy on Life Sciences & Biotechnology, and recommends strategies by which Europe may be able to strengthen its biotechnology industry. The paper is part of the compilation Biotechnology In Europe Today, available online.
The strategy, first drafted in 2002, emphasized research, careers and mobility, linking science and society, regulations, and coordination between member states. It specifically outlined the EU-funded 6th Framework Programme for Research (2003-2006), which prioritizes Life Sciences, Genomics, and Biotechnology for Health (designated Priority 1) and Food Quality and Food Safety (Priority 5).
An outgrowth of this strategy is the European technology platform on plant genomics and biotechnology, launched in June 2004, which brought together key stakeholders from various sectors to formulate a strategic research agenda for 2005-2010. The meeting sought to define medium and long-term targets and priorities; and build up the necessary public-private-partnership, including the mechanism to mobilize private and public investments.
Patermann, however, recommends fresh strategies for a stronger biotechnology industry in the continent. These include increasing funds for research; drafting workable intellectual property rights laws; implementing regulations more strictly; and bringing researchers, businessmen, and other stakeholders together, working to sustain momentum.
More papers are available for download at
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES MUST JOIN FORCES TO STRENGTHEN BIOTECH SECTOR – REPORT
- CropBiotech Update, December 17, 2004
Countries in Europe must join forces, sources, and knowledge to develop a strong biotechnology sector. This was proposed in a recent compilation of country reports on the state of local biotechnology, as well as on emerging biotechnology products and techniques in the continent, entitled Biotechnology in Europe Today.
The report cited the lack of financial resources, lack of business knowledge by the science sector, delays due to a stringent regulatory framework, and low consumer acceptance as the main obstacles to growth of biotechnology in the region.
Problems are further explored in each country report. Portugal, for instance, is doing research, but has little entrepreneurial spirit amongst its researchers, as well as strong public diffidence towards biotechnology applications. On the other hand, other countries like Estonia have difficulty in attracting Venture Capital (VC), since VC’s have poor information and knowledge about risk assessment regarding the biotech sector in that country, and are not interested in the sector itself because it gives no assurance of success.
More country reports are available for download at