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January 17, 2005


ISAAA Report; Better Harvest; Skewed Ethics; GM Rice for Saline Soil; BioEthics


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 17, 2005

* Highlights of ISAAA Briefs No. 32-2004
* ISAAA latest Report
* Better harvest
* Skewed Ethics in Biotechnology
* Government action or public enlightenment needed to raise use of beneficial biotech crops
* Govt hopes to develop GM rice for saline soil
* Genetic farming grows around globe
* Involvement public research sector in Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
* BioEthics Conference

Highlights of ISAAA Briefs No. 32-2004
January 12, 2005
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Clive James, http://www.isaaa.org From Agnet

Preview: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2004 by Clive James,
Chair ISAAA Board of Directors (ISAAA, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications)

The Brief was released on 12 January 2005.

ISAAA Brief 32 characterizes the global status in 2004 of commercialized transgenic or GM crops, now often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in the Brief. The focus on developing countries is consistent with ISAAA's mission to assist developing countries in assessing the potential of biotech crops. The principal aim, is to present a consolidated set of data that will facilitate a knowledge-based discussion of the current global trends in biotech crops.

Brief 32 provides the most recent data on biotech crops globally for 2 004, and confirms that the global biotech crop area continued to grow for the ninth consecutive year at a sustained double-digit rate. In 2004, the global area of biotech crops continued to grow at a substantial rate of 20%, compared with 15% in 2003. The estimated global area of approved biotech crops for 2004 was 81.0 million hectares, equivalent to approx. 200 million acres, up from the 67.7 million hectares or 167 million acres in 2003. In 2004, 5% of the 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acr es) of all global cultivable cropland was occupied by biotech crops.

Biotech crops were grown by 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries in 2004, up from 7 million farmers in 18 countries in 2003. Notably, 90% of thebeneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, whose increased incomes from biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of poverty. The increase in biotech crop area between 2003 and 2004, of 13.3 million hectares or 32.9 million acres, is the second highest on reco rd.

In 2004, there were fourteen biotech mega-countries (countries growing 50,000 hectares -125,000 acres - or more, of biotech crops), compared with ten in 2003 - 9 developing countries and 5 industrial countries; they were, in order of hectarage/acreage, USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Romania, Mexico, Spain and the Philippines. During the period 1996-2004 the accumulated global biotech crop area was 385 million hectares or 951 million acres (a lmost 1 billion acres), equivalent to 40% of the total land area of the USA or China, or 15 times the total land area of the UK.

The continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantialimprovements in productivity, the environment, economics, health and social benefits realized by both large and small farmers, consumers, and society in both industrial and developing countries. During the nine-year period 1996 to 2004, global area of biotech crops increased more than 47 fold, from 1.7 mill ion hectares (4.2 million
acres) in 1996 to 81.0 million hectares (approx. 200 million acres) in 2004, with an increasing proportion grown by developing countries. More than one-third (34%) of the global biotech crop area of 81 million hectares (200 million acres) in 2004, equivalent to 27.6 million hectares (68 million acres), was grown in developing countries where growth continued to be stro ng.

The increased hectarage/acreage and impact of the five principal developing countries (China, India, Argentina, Br azil and South Africa) growingbiotech crops, is an important trend with implications for the future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops worldwide; Brief 32 has biotech overviews for each of the five countries. In 2004, the number of developingcountries growing biotech crops (11) was almost double the number of industrial countries (6) adopting biotech crops.

2004 is the penultimate year of the first decade of the commercialization of biotech crops, during which double-digit growth in global hectarageof bi otech crops has been achieved every single year; this is an unwavering and resolute vote of confidence in the technology from the 25 millionfarmers, who are masters in risk aversion, and who have consistently chosen to plant an increasing hectarage of biotech crops year after year, during the period 1996 to 2004.

The 10th anniversary in 2005, will be a just cause for celebration worldwide by farmers, the international scientific and development community,global society, and the peoples in developing and indust rial countries on all six continents that have benefited significantly from the technology, particularly the humanitarian contribution to the alleviation of poverty, malnutrition and hunger in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For the future, there is cause for cautious optimism with the global area and the number of farmers planting biotech crops expected to continue to grow in 2005 and beyond. There were signs of progress in the European Union in 2004 with the EU Commission approving, for impo rt, two events in biotech maize (Bt 11 and NK603) for food and feed use, thus signaling the end of the 1998 moratorium. The Commission also approved 17 maize varieties, with insect resistance conferred by MON 810, making it the first bio tech crop to be approved for planting in all 25 EU countries. The use of MON 810 maize in conjunction with practical co-existence policies opens up new opportunities for EU member countries to benefit from the commerci alization of biotech maize, which Spain has successfully d eployed since 1998.

In the near term, the one single event that is likely to have the greatest impact is the approval and adoption of Bt rice in China, which is considered to be likely in the near term, probably in 2005. The adoption of biotech rice by China not only involves the most important food crop in the world, but the culture of Asia as well. It will provide the stimulus that will have a major impact on the acceptance of biotech rice in Asia and, more generally, on the acceptance of biotech food, feed and fiber crops worldwide. Taking all factors into account, the outlook for 2010 points to continued growth in the global hectarage of biotech crops, up to 150 million hectares (375 million acres), with about 15 million farmers growing biotech crops in up to 30 countries.

Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2005 18:20:12 +0100
From: bernedebates@ips.unibe.ch
Subject: Debate 2005'0114: ISAAA latest Report No. 32: 20 percent increase of GM crop area

Dear friends,

Despite some regional resistance, GM crop numbers have again made a big leap, just have a look at the latest ISAAA-reports.

I also strongly recommend the excellent knowledge base within the ISAAA-website http://www.isaaa.org/

- the summary http://www.botanischergarten.ch/ISAAA/ISAAA-Briefs-32-Highlights.pdf

- the press release http://www.botanischergarten.ch/ISAAA/ISAAA-Briefs-32-Newsrelease-Europe.pdf

- the preview text http://www.botanischergarten.ch/ISAAA/ISAAA-Briefs-32-Preview-ExecSumm.pdf

Brief 32 provides the most recent data on biotech crops globally for 2004, and confirms that the global biotech crop area continued to grow for the ninth consecutive year at a sustained double-digit rate.

• In 2004, the global area of biotech crops continued to grow at a substantial rate of 20%, compared with 15% in 2003.

• The estimated global area of approved biotech crops for 2004 was 81.0 million hectares, equivalent to approx. 200 million acres, up from the 67.7 million hectares or 167 million acres in 2003.

• In 2004, 5% of the 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acres) of all global cultivable cropland was occupied by biotech crops.

• Biotech crops were grown by 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries in 2004, up from 7 million farmers in 18 countries in 2003. Notably, 90% of the beneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, whose increased incomes from biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of poverty.

• The increase in biotech crop area between 2003 and 2004, of 13.3 million hectares or 32.9 million acres, is the second highest on record.

with my best personal regards,

Klaus Ammann


Better harvest

- Times of India, R K Sinha and Bhagirath Choudhary, January 14, 2005

To feed India's burgeoning population and effectively ensure long-term food and nutritional security, new policy initiatives are a must. India is challenged by declining per capita availability of arable land, low productivity levels, heavy production losses due to biotic (insects, pests, weeds etc) and abiotic (salinity, drought, flood etc) causes, heavy crop losses during storage and transportation and declining availability of water as an agricultural input. The way out of this dilemma is technology. Indian agriculture, therefore, must be dependent upon new technological inputs, in particular GM technology.

Undoubtedly, the success of the first green revolution is attributable in large measure to the introduction of new technologies such as dwarf varieties of seeds, besides pesticides and fertilisers. Indian farmers and the economy benefited immensely from it, as it generated wealth and brought about self-reliance in food production. However, that success story has run its course. Excessive use of inputs has resulted in our food basket and groundwater being contaminated with pesticides and pest residuals. This poses great risks to human, animal and environment health.

Despite these problems, the technology per se of the first green revolution escapes criticism. The problems arose out of ignorance of risk assessment and injudicious management of new inputs. There was no policy or procedure in place to circumvent real or perceived risks associated with these inputs to Indian agriculture. In the interest of food and nutritional security, we have to move on to the second green revolution, popularly also referred to as the gene revolution.

The scientific community in both the public and private sectors understands the underlying physio-chemical processes and evolution of genetic make-up in different environments. Scientists are now developing new organisms that have inbuilt mechanisms to fight pests and diseases, the capacity to withstand biotic and abiotic pressures and the ability to enhance nutritional intake in plants. These organisms would also rectify soil and environmental degradation and develop ultra-nutritional food to fight malnutrition and hunger. We are truly on the brink of a new era, where risk assessment and safety considerations have been given the highest priority.

We have taken a lead among the developing countries in devising new regulations, changing institutional structures and adopting international protocols suitable for us with regard to biosafety, risk assessment and management of transgenic crops. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has devised its own rules, guidelines and protocol and amended them thrice in the last decade. The process of comprehensive amendment is underway. The task force under Prof Swaminathan has already submitted a detailed roadmap on applications of biotechnology in agriculture. Dr Mashelkar's task force on recombinant pharma will suggest measures to streamline regulatory processes for biopharma products. The DBT has also set up a committee to evolve a sound national biotechnology policy by the end of this month. An expert group will suggest a comprehensive HRD plan for biotechnology in the country.

To give a fillip to biotechnology in India, as suggested by both Prof Swaminathan and Dr Mashelkar, the government must establish an independent national bio-technology regulatory authority that would not only work as a regulator and a think tank, but also develop institutional capability and scientific expertise. It would house a state-of-the-art facility to do rigorous biosafety and risk assessment of biotechnology products. It would also evaluate and monitor the release of the products at every stage. It would be the nodal centre for regulating biotechnology products in India.

All these efforts would ensure that crop biotechnology products are safer than conventional products, as they would have to undergo a rigorous biosafety and risk assessment in terms of agronomical, toxicological and allergenicity evaluation before being approved for commercial release. These products would be assessed on the basis of potential cost-benefit analysis. There are other risks such as biodiversity risk, intellectual property rights risk and trade risk that would be pre-emptively dealt with by various legislations such as National Biodiversity Act, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act and the Patents Amendment Act.

GM technology has been enthusiastically accepted by farmers worldwide. To cite an example in India, Bt cotton was introduced in 2002 after six years of rigorous risk and biosafety assessment. Before release, the hybrids were closely monitored by regulatory agencies for toxicity, allergenicity and agronomic benefits. Indian farmers have simply lapped up the new hybrids, planting them over 5,26,103 hectares out of the total of nine million hectares under cotton cultivation during 2004-05. Bt cotton has grown 400 per cent over the previous year and is around 6 per cent of the total now. In addition, part of the slack in the supply of Bt cotton seeds has been filled in by spurious and illegal Bt seeds. The area under illegal Bt seeds is many times more than that of the legal varieties. This is an indicator of the popularity of GM technology among Indian farmers.

The authors are with the Pusa Institute, New Delhi.


Skewed Ethics in Biotechnology

- CHRONWATCH, By Paul Driessen, January 16, 2005

Anti-biotech campaigns perpetuate poverty, malnutrition and premature death.

Tsunami survivors and millions of others could benefit from a marvel of modern science: golden rice. By adding two daffodil genes to common rice, researchers made it rich in beta-carotene, which humans can convert to vitamin A.

This miracle rice could help reduce widespread Vitamin A deficiency that causes up to 500,000 children to go blind every year - and 2,000,000 a year to die from diseases they would likely survive if they weren't so malnourished. Just a few ounces a day will do wonders.

Unfortunately, thanks to anti-biotechnology zealots, the rice is still not available. Even if it were, these unfortunate children would probably still go without. The activists would simply reprise their 2002 tactics, which convinced Zambia's government to reject 26,000 tons of US corn that had been sent as food aid, because some of it was genetically modified (GM).

They spread rumors that it was poisonous, and might cause cancer, or even AIDS - even though it was the same corn Americans have been eating safely for years. So the government locked it in warehouses, while parents and children went hungry.

"We'd rather starve than eat something toxic," intoned President Levy Mwanawasa. Of course, amply provisioned by planeloads of European delicacies, His Corpulence was hardly starving. Finally, desperate people broke into the warehouses and took the corn.

Today, 14 million people still face starvation in southern Africa. Worldwide, 800 million are chronically undernourished. Nearly 30,000 (half of them children) die every day from malnutrition and starvation. And three billion people - half the world's population - try to survive on less than $700 a year, coaxing crops from the earth with farming methods that haven't changed in a millennium. Biotechnology could help reduce this human misery.

In addition to fortifying plants with vitamins, genetic engineering can produce crops that grow better in dry, saline, nutrient-poor soils that prevail in much of Africa. It can replace staples devastated by disease - including Kenyan sweet potatoes and Ugandan bananas. It might soon enable plants to produce vaccines against killer diseases like diarrhea and hepatitis B.

Bt corn and cotton combat insect predators. Bugs that feed on the plants ingest proteins that attack their digestive systems, leaving other insects untouched. Farmers can greatly reduce pesticide use, thereby protecting crops, people and "good" bugs. By eliminating pests like corn borers, which chew pathways for dangerous fungal contaminants, Bt corn plants also reduce fumonisin and aflatoxin, which cause fatal diseases in animals, and cancer, reduced immunity and birth defects in humans.

GM crops also reduce soil erosion, by allowing farmers to use herbicide-resistant plants (like RoundupReady soybeans) and no-till farming methods. Other crops enjoy longer shelf-life, even without refrigeration - a vital consideration for some 2 billion people who still don't have electricity, because radicals also oppose power generation facilities.

By increasing crop yields, gene-spliced plants can help poor farmers earn a decent living, grow more nutritious food for their hungry people - and save wildlife habitats. According to Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize winning father of the first Green Revolution, if the world had been forced to use organic farming or 1960s agricultural technologies to produce as much food as it actually did in 2000, "we would have had to double the amount of land under cultivation." Millions of acres of forest and grassland .habitats would have been plowed under, destroying biodiversity, to feed famished people - or millions more would have starved.

Modern biotech methods are precise, predictable refinements of plant breeding techniques that have been used for centuries to modify the genetic makeup, size, flavor, quality and other traits of nearly every food we eat. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences and others prove they're safe for people and planet.

But Greenpeace still claims gene-spliced organisms "pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems and have the potential to threaten biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable forms of agriculture." A child would have to eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day to get his minimum daily vitamin A, ever-inventive Rainbow Warriors prevaricate.

We need a moratorium on all GE crops, "including those already approved," the Sierra Club insists. Biotechnology threatens "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust," rants professional malcontent Jeremy Rifkin.

No wonder Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore says the campaign against genetic engineering "has clearly exposed the environmentalists' intellectual and moral bankruptcy." Their specious, speculative "concerns" simply have no basis in reality.

They're based on the radicals' willingness to say virtually anything to further their cause, and on their incessant abuse of the so-called "precautionary principle." If they can foresee a possible danger, no matter how remote, they demand that new technologies be banned until proponents can prove they will never cause harm.

This means ultra precaution against distant, theoretical risks to healthy, well-fed Westerners - at the expense of real, immediate, life-threatening risks to Earth's poorest, most malnourished people.

Yet the media report their absurd claims without question or comment. Politicians and bureaucrats cite them to justify new regulations, more delays in approving new products, and trade barriers to protect subsidized farmers from "unfair" foreign competition. And "socially responsible" foundations, EU governments and organic food companies continue to fund the activists - $500 million between 1995 and 2001, and $175 million between 2002 and 2006, according to the Wall Street Journal and other analysts.

People are starving and dying, while these organizations talk about far-fetched, hypothetical risks to the environment - and then claim they're moral and ethical for doing so.

"I appreciate ethical concerns," Kenyan plant biologist Florence Wambugu says. "But anything that doesn't help feed our children is UNethical."

Thankfully, the tide may at last be turning. The European Union finally approved a biotech corn variety for human consumption. India's government acceded to poor farmers' demands that they be allowed to continue planting GM cotton. Brazil did likewise when it realized its farmers were not about to give up their RoundupReady soybeans. And China has been able to slash pesticide use by 70-80 percent in Bt cotton fields.

Will golden rice, Ugandan bananas, Kenyan sweet potatoes and dozens of other potential life-saving crops be next to gain global approval? Will Green zealots finally recognize their scientific and moral decay, as some have belatedly on DDT to control malaria?

The misery and death toll is already unconscionable. It's time to oppose Eco-Imperialism, and return science, ethics and compassion to agricultural and environmental policies.

About the Writer: Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, and author of "Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death" (www.Eco-Imperialism.com).


Well of ignorance
Government action or public enlightenment needed to raise use of beneficial biotech crops.

- OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, 15 January 2005

Food produced by manipulating genes in laboratories continues to generate unwarranted fear among the public and criticism from many government officials around the world.

The former can be laid at the door of ignorance. The latter is less easily explained.

It is nearly impossible to find food that has not been genetically manipulated. Corn, for instance, has been crossbred and hybridized for centuries to increase yields, resist disease and produce a healthy, uniform plant.

But the kind of genetic manipulation that occurs by slow experimentation or, more recently, as a result of bombarding seeds with chemicals or radiation doesn't seem to count in the public mind.

It's generally accepted, even though Dr. Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-author of "The Frankenfood Myth," said that type of genetic manipulation has, in the past, caused human illnesses and deaths.

Rather, the uninformed have chosen to aim their fear at technology -- modern-day genetic engineering. Scientists are trying to produce food crops that, among other things, may yield more or resist pests.

As Miller told New York Times columnist Jane E. Brody recently, "Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients. There hasn't been a . . . single ecosystem disrupted or person made ill from these foods."

His book cited a Rutgers University survey released last October that indicated 43 percent of respondents believed that genetically modified tomatoes contained genes but ordinary tomatoes did not. Wrong.

And one-third, the book reported, also believed that eating genetically modified fruit would change their own genes. Wrong again.

Out of that well of public ignorance -- or, perhaps, at the bottom of it -- are governments.

The European Union makes it virtually impossible to import gene- spliced foods into its member countries. It appears to have used intimidation tactics to induce African countries to reject those foods, too, despite food shortages and suffering there.

Indeed, Brody wrote recently that Uganda has refused to introduce a biotech banana to thwart a fungus that attacks its primary export crop.

Miller, once a biotech official with the federal Food and Drug Administration, said that regulations create their own fear. People think that if something is closely regulated, it must be dangerous.

Perhaps, he said, "government officials should have done less regulating and more educating.''

Meanwhile, biotech foods that could feed the hungry, conserve scarce water supplies and beat bugs and diseases wait on government action or public enlightenment. Either would be welcome.


Govt hopes to develop GM rice for saline soil

BANGKOK, Jan 17 (TNA) – The government hopes to solve bitter land disputes between prawn farmers and rice farmers by developing genetically modified rice strains capable of being grown in saline soil, the director-general of the Land Development Department revealed today.

“If we could use salt water for cultivation, the benefits to the nation would be enormous”, said Mr. Ard Somrang, adding that the department would work with scientists from all agencies concerned with the genetic modification of crops in order to develop the new rice strains.

Although the commercial cultivation of GM crops is currently illegal in Thailand, Mr. Ard dismissed concerns over their safety, and urged the public to accept them.

In the future, he said, GM crops would play a major role in daily life, and unless Thailand jumped on the GM bandwagon, it call fall behind other nations.


Genetic farming grows around globe

- Chicago Sun Times, BY PAUL ELIAS, January 17, 2005

Farmers around the globe planting genetically engineered crops enjoyed another bumper harvest last year even as political and financial pressure mounted from skeptical consumers in Europe and pockets of the United States, an industry-supported group reported.

Eight million farmers in 17 countries grew engineered crops on 200 million acres last year, a 20 percent increase over the 167 million acres in 2003, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The report was paid for by two philanthropic groups, including the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation.

''The technology is probably poised to enter a new era of growth,'' said the group's founder and chairman, Clive James. The group promotes use of the technology in poor countries.

James estimated that the number of biotech crop acreage could double by 2010, spurred by China's expected approval to grow genetically engineered rice as soon as this year.

Recently, anti-biotechnology crusaders in California's Sonoma County said they gathered enough voter signatures to qualify a measure on the local ballot that if passed would ban the growing of biotech crops there for 10 years.

''It's going both ways at the same time,'' said activist Dave Henson, who led the signature-gathering campaign in Sonoma.

Announcement: Involvement public research sector in Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Steering Committee of the initiative "Public Research & Regulation", which aims to offer a forum for the public research sector to be involved in the Meetings of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and related meetings, is pleased to inform you that the initiative continues to receive massive support since its initiation last Summer. Much has happened since that time and the information paper at http://pubresreg.org/Members/Kim/vision provides an update. Further updates can be found on www.pubresreg.org

Phase 2 of this initiative will - subject to the availability of sufficient funds - provide an opportunity to public sector scientists to participate in the second Meeting of the Parties to the Biosafety Protocol (MOP2: May 30 - June 3, Montreal, Canada). To ensure that scientists can make optimal use of participation in MOP2, an introductory seminar will be held on 3-4 March, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St-Louis, USA. Details can be found in the information paper.

The Steering Committee has requested Governments, international organisations and the private sector to provide financial support for this initiative. The reactions have already been so encouraging that we have started preparations for the meetings.

Looking forward to your participation in this initiative, and encouraging you to share this announcement with your colleagues,

The Steering Committee,

- Prof. Philip J Dale, former Leader of the Genetic Modification and Biosafety Research Group, John Innes Centre, United Kingdom (chairman of the Steering Committee)
- Prof. Atanas Atanassov, Director of the AgriBiotech Institute of Bulgaria.
- Dr. Roger Beachy, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St-Louis, USA
- Willy de Greef, Institute for Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO) and International Biotech Regulatory Services (IBRS), Belgium (vice-chair)
- Prof. Calestous Juma, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, USA
- Drs. Piet van der Meer, esq., Horizons sprl, Belgium (vice-chair)
- Prof. Marc van Montagu, Institute for Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO), Belgium.
- Prof. Paul S. Teng, Nanyang Technological University, National Institute of Education, Singapore

Kim Meulenbroeks
Public Research and Regulation Project Assistant
Oude Delft 60
2611 CD Delft
The Netherlands
Tel: +31-15-212-7800
Fax: +31-15-212-7111


BioEthics Conference

This year’s National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference will take you on a journey to “The Brain and Beyond.” Meet experts from business, clinical medicine, philosophy, and law. Hear some of the leading voices in bioethics. Hundreds of undergrads will convene on the beautiful campus of the nation’s first university for a weekend of scholarship, socializing and exploration. The topics of discussion include brain imaging and scanning, enhancement and protections on human research subjects.

More info at http://2005.bioethics.net/