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January 28, 2005


Genetics Key to Future: GM Rice May Soon; Argentine Farmer Responds to Benbrook; High Yield Farms Help Nature; Lord of the Seeds


Today in AgBioView from www.AgBioWorld.org : January 28, 2005

* Genetics Key to Future, Scientist Says
* GM Rice May Soon Be Commercialized
* An Argentine Farmer Responds to Benbrook's Latest Report
* Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops: FAO
* Paper looks at GM development in Africa
* African politicians challenged over their attitude towards science
* Farming and the fate of wild nature
* Ravello, Italy Conf. on Agricultural Biotechnology: Ten Years After
* Greek Biotech Conference
* Int. Foundation for Science Research: $$ for Research
* Tanzania to accept GMO goods
* Lord of the Seeds
* Singer back, with new food for thought

Genetics Key to Future, Scientist Says

- Karen Ravn, Monterey Herald, Jan. 26, 2005 http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/10737618.htm

The science of genetics can help lower the cost of health care, increase the world's food supply and even contribute to homeland security, Time Magazine's Scientist of the Year for 2000 told an audience of several hundred at Tuesday's annual meeting of the Community Hospital Foundation.

But progress could be delayed, J. Craig Venter warned, because many people don't understand basic principles of science and statistics. Venter, founder and president of the Venter Institute and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation, headed the team that published the map of the human genome -- the entire sequence of genes in humans -- in 2001.

In his keynote address at the Monterey Conference Center, Venter cited colon cancer as an example where applied genetics can improve health care. "When people turn 50, there are two things they're supposed to get," he said, "an AARP card and a colonoscopy. Personally, I was more upset about the AARP card."

But people who are at high risk for colon cancer shouldn't wait until they're 50 to start getting colonoscopies. That could already be too late. The key is for high-risk people to know who they are. And these days they can. A variety of gene-based tests are available to give them that information. Once they know, they can take steps to prevent the disease, or at least catch it at an early stage.

"We need to go in the direction of trying to predict disease and prevent it," Venter said. "It's the only way we're going to lower the cost of health care." And Venter leans in the direction of trying to increase food production by genetically modifying crops -- as long as it's done carefully. "Natural tomatoes are small little green things the size of my thumb," he said. "Just about everything we eat has been genetically modified, but it's happened over hundreds of years by random, gross experiments."

Many people don't understand that though. So if we change just one gene on purpose, for reasons based on solid research and proven facts, much of the public thinks it's dangerous, Venter said. "We have a really bad education system when it comes to anything that has to do with basic science."


GM Rice May Soon Be Commercialized

- Jia Hepeng, Business Weekly, Jan 26, 2005

Xia Guoyuan, a 40-year old farmer in Xiaguanyuan Town in Hubei Province's Xiantao City, feels satisfied with his rice harvest. He was selected last year to plant genetically modified (GM) rice, able to resist pests in scientists' trial programmes, last year. Xia has now saved about 80 per cent of the pesticides.

"The output of the new (GM) rice strain is similar to those of traditional varieties, but for each mu (0.065 hectares) of new GM rice, I can save up to 80 yuan (US$9.66) in pesticide and labour costs, which are about 30 per cent of my total costs," Xia said. All the GM rice harvested on Xia's farm was bought by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) for research. "Many fellow villagers envy me because I was selected to plant the trial field of GM rice. If the government approves the planting of GM rice, I will offer my skills to them," Xia said.

Go ahead
Xia is totally unaware of the escalating debate on whether to commercialize GM rice between scientists and environmental groups since last December when the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) announced it had officially launched the safety evaluation of GM rice.

So far, GM rice has not been commercialized worldwide. According to Fang Xiangdong, director of MOA's Office of Biosafety, a biosafety committee under the MOA is assessing the biosafety of three pest-resistant Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) rice strains and another rice strain able to resist bacterial blight. The official biosafety certificates are likely to be released early this year and then the GM rice strains must undergo up to two years of field studies before proceeding to commercialization.

Huang Jikun, director of the Agricultural Research Centre under CAS who has long been close to the MOA, said last week that the ministry is very likely to ratify the commercialization of GM rice within the year.

"In fact, many necessary experiments concerning the biosafety certificates have been previously completed and the results have been reported to the MOA. This can save time and speed up the ratification process of GM rice," Huang said.

Bt rice transplants insect-resistant genes from bacteria to rice so the crop is able to resist stem borer, a major pest for rice. The Chinese Government approved commercialization of genetically modified cotton, tomato, pimiento and a species of morning glory in the late 1990s.

But in 2000, after China ratified an International Biodiversity Protocol and with rising international resistance to GM crops, China suspended the commercialization process of GM crops, although the research continued.

Environmental groups have launched campaigns to oppose the commercialization of GM rice. Pang Cheung Sze, an official with Greenpeace China, argued that the risk of gene floating between GM rice and common rice is very high. If GM rice is commercialized, many traditional rice strains in China may eventually disappear.

In addition, it is very difficult to manage GM rice seeds and label the products in practice. Commercializing GM rice may equate to Chinese consumers without a choice over GM or non-GM rice, Sze said. In 2002 China began labelling GM crops and products made from GM crops. But the rule was not well implemented until July 2003 when the authorities punished a group of soybean oil processors using GM soybeans.

Rising benefits
Jia Shirong, a renowned scientist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said there was a very low risk of gene floating during his research to test the biosafety of GM rice for four years in Hainan Province.

Xu Haibin, a scientist at the China Disease Prevention and Control Centre, used GM rice to feed rats for several generations. No observable abnormal features were found.

According to Huang's research on the economic impacts of GM rice commercialization, which is based on the scenario of China's GM cotton, Bt rice - the most mature GM rice strain in China - can save farmers 70-80 per cent of pesticide use in rice fields while reducing the risk of exposure to dangerous pesticides for the farmers.

The current GM rice strains do not improve crop output. But they improvesthe efficiency to resist pests and crop disease, indirectly stimulating higher output, said Zhu Zhen, deputy director of the Bureau of Life Science and Biotechnology under the CAS. Zhu is the chief scientist leading a research team to develop another kind of insect-resistant GM rice strain adopting a cow pea trypsin inhibitor gene, CpTi.

According to Huang's model, while reducing farmers' costs on pesticides and herbicides, adopting GM rice may cause a growth in seed price and a slight decline in grain price due to increased output. As a whole, farmers may be able to save up to 190 yuan (US$22.90) annually, per hectare planted. By 2010, technology may save the nation US$4 billion if GM rice can be commercialized in the near future.

Clive James, director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said farmers in developing countries are becoming more and more ready to accept GM crops.

Xia' s case is an example. "When planting traditional rice, we need to spray the crops eight times with pesticides. The work is very heavy so young labourers are needed. GM rice can save young labourers and they can go out to seek urban jobs," Xia said.

According to the latest report from the ISAAA, in 2004, global plantation of GM crops reached 81 million hectares, rising 20 per cent over 2003. In that year, developing countries surpassed developed countries in terms of plantation area of GM crops for the first time in history.

Business chances?
In a speech made to a conference last Summer, Chen Zhangliang, president of China Agricultural University, appealed to biotech company chiefs: "Invest in the upcoming GM rice now. You may receive several fold in returns!" Guo Longbiao, a leading rice scientist with the Hangzhou-based China National Rice Research Institute, said scientists at his institutes have developed dozens of applicable strains of three kinds of GM rice. If the approval for GM rice commercialization is granted, they can be spread rapidly.

However, the current situation of GM seeding is far from optimistic. Shenzhen-based Biocenture, a leading GM cotton seed provider, has reportedly made high profits in the past years. Gu Dengbin, vice-president of Biocenture, said that many seed companies have pirated its GM cotton.

"Thanks to the massive unauthorized regeneration of our seeds, domestically developed GM cotton strains have surpassed the strains of US biotech giant Monsanto, but as the patent holder of the domestic GM cotton, we receive little returns," Gu said.

In 2004, China planted 3.7 million hectares of GM cotton in 2004, rising 32 per cent over the previous year and accounting for 5 per cent of the global plantation area of GM crops. It is widely believed that Monsanto's GM cotton seeds account for a little less than 50 per cent of China's total plantation areas.

However, Eddie Zhu, spokesperson for Monsanto China and a major scientist at the company, estimated that legal plantation of Monsanto's GM cotton might be just 10 per cent with the remaining parts being illegally copied.

Foreign biotech companies' business prospects are further obscured by the 2002 version of the "Catalogue for the Guidance of Industries for Foreign Investment," that banned foreign companies from conducting GM seeding in China. The regulation is continued in the 2005 version of the catalogue.

Eddie Zhu said that in practice, the ban mainly excluded newcomers instead of Monsanto, which has co-operated with Chinese partners to conduct GM cotton seeding for nearly 10 years. "But the ban will make it difficult for Monsanto to expand to other GM crops in China," Zhu said.

Huang argued that the ban should be temporary and might be loosened due to the improving policy environment for GM crops in China. He believes the seeding market will be better regulated. "After all, with severe competition in the sector, the price of GM crops will decline and farmers will be benefited," Huang said.


Perspective on Benbrook's Latest Screed for Greenpeace from an Argentine No-till Farmer

- Alex Avery, aavery@rica.net

Hello all, I wanted to as quickly as possible include you in on an email I received from a good friend and no-till farmer from Argentina in response to Chuck Benbrook's latest screed against biotech that he did on paid contract for the anti-biotech pressure group Greenpeace.

The big sin of Argentine no-till in Greenpeace's mind and identified in Benbrook's paper is to reduce the need for farm labor, which a simple reality because of the drastic reduction in need for time, fuel, and labor-intensive plowing/tillage.

But one of the more interesting claims in Benbrook's paper is that "after 5 or 10 years in intensive soybean production, the honeymoon is coming to an end. Costs of production are rising as farmers face the need to replace soil nutrients removed with the crop each season and deal with changes in soil physical and chemical properties, especially soil compaction."

While it hardly seems to be "the end of a honeymoon" that Argentine no-tillers are getting high enough yields as to require supplemental fertilization in their crop rotations – as if this isn't the reality for ANY productive farmer, including organic farmers beloved by Chuck – his claims of soil compaction are simply unsupported.

Benbrook cites a paper by Michelena et al. to support the soil compaction claims. As you'll see below, my friend in Argentina just happened to have this paper with him while on vacation in Uruguay with his family (in a set of conference proceedings he took along for "light reading")

His comments are excerpted below for all to see. Bottom line: Chuck hasn't cited the literature accurately in his desperate efforts to support the increasingly discredited anti-biotech movement. Maybe Greenpeace can ask for their consulting fees back.

Happy reading

Alex Avery
From: Roberto Peiretti [mailto:sdrob@idi.com.ar]
To: Alex Avery
Subject: Re: An anti-argentina no-till paper by Greenpeace

Dear Alex and the whole family:

Checking some books I brought with me to read during vacation, I found the AAPRESID proceedings of the VIII Congress where the Michlenea paper cited on Benbrook report. I just took a glance to it. Here are some comments related to this work: First the study was not layered out to compare No Till - Conventional plow tillage environments ( even the author did some), if not to compare the evolution of some soil physical and chemical properties for two different type of soils: 1.) the Arequito´s ( Santa Fe Province ) one texturally well balanced ( True Argiudol) located at 50 miles from our farm ( a very similar type of soil than ours), and 2.) other higher in clay content ( Vertic Argiudol) belonging to a farm located on Entre Rios Province. Both soils had been managed under No Till for a period of 9 to 11 years.The conclusions of this study are establishing several No Till benefits and progresses regarding different soil characteristics:

Chemical Soil Properties
a.) It was reported a significant increase in both organic matter( which implies carbon increase and carbon fixation), and total nitrogen while compared with the respective regional averages under conventional till management.
b.) They found values about the threshold for Sulfur and Borom in both cases.

The measurement mentioned on previous point (a) are the only parameters than in the report are compared to conventional tillage managed soils condition. For the rest of the study, the only comparisons were established between the two type of soils of the two farms under No Till management.

Physical properties
c.) Bulk density was similar for both soils.
d.) The resistant to be penetrated ( a physical structural measure that under No Till does not seems to correlate with Yield Potential and general Fertility as it does for conventional plough tillage), is presented on a chart but again not compared with conventional till environment if not among the two soils under No Till.

Mr. Benbrook, the author of Greenpeace article probably do not understand very much on soils characteristics and functioning. He could have pick up these values regarding resistance to penetrate the soil and erroneously assumed a problem. In reality, and in front of the yield and general productivity evolution of both farms (which I personally know), no problem exist!. On the contrary, yields obtained have a positive trend and also the internanual variability of yields is lower when the years under No Till are larger. These yield data (not included on the AAPRESID report) is a real farming derived data and probably the only important one that summarizes the real soil health and good functioning from a real practical standpoint!!!

e.) Regarding the soil water infiltration, very good values were found and reported on the AAPRESID paper. For a rain simulator simulating a heavy rain intensity( 60 millimeters ( +- 2,1 inches) per hour during one hour), in the case of Ramirez Entre Rios the infiltration was 100 % while for Arequito Santa fe soil was 83%. Both very good values having in mind that under conventional tillage the most common values for this parameter and for the area would be around 40 to 50% or even less in many cases. The values found under No Till condition for both farms mean a lot from the efficiency of rainfall water capturing soil capacity!!¡.

This increased soil ability to capture rainwater implies a very positive and important benefit derived from No Till. The effect has big positive impact on the water availability for crops increasing the yield and decreasing yield variability among years. It represents a phenomenon similar to, or have the same effect of if we could increase the rainfall of a given area!!. Also it represents a true possibility of reducing the irrigation need when under irrigated condition. It is so because the soil water capturing capacity is increased increasing the irrigation total efficiency!! The total water to be irrigated can be significantly reduced Also in the AAPRESID paper it was reported that soil losses by mean of water erosion were drastically cut on both cases. In Ramirez Entre Rios was "0" "null" = NO SOIL LOSS after a 2,1 inch of rain in an Hour . For the Arequito, Santa Fe the soil loss value was only 0,15 tn/ha which is extremely low. Unfortunately they did not include the conventional tillage comparison for an hour 2.1 inches rain condition. Even so, for the Arequito's area ( Carcaraña Basin) under conventional tillage you could find values as high as 50 Tn ( or even more) of soil losses PER YEAR.

Indeed, these findings reinforce the existence of very large positive environmental impacts derived from No Till

The author of the AAPRESIDS paper conclude ( I am translating the conclusions):

1.) No till improved several soil properties in both soils when compared with conventional tillage ( even the comparison with conventional was not the main study target he draw a conclusion in this respect). He also stated that the improvement was specially noticeable in regard to the Organic matter and soil structure evolution¡¡

2.) The soil from Ramirez ( Entre Rios), showed a higher organic matter and total nitrogen content, better structure and a higher infiltration when compared to the one from Arequito ( Santa Fe ).

3.) These differences in structure and infiltration between the two soils may be due to a higher organic matter and clay content of the Ramirez (Entre Rios) soil, lower loam content and a better structural condition of the same soil.

Regarding water issue and the improved No Tilled soil performance, you can check my interventions on a FAO e-forum. I had participated on it during November and December. On Theme two you will find three personal interventions one of them entitled PowerPoint....... On it you will find some pictures of my farm clarifying some concepts and showing real NO TILL REAL WORLD¡¡¡¡ The pictures may help to clarify my concepts of soil functioning under the No Till management. You can check this at :


- Roberto, Cintia and Clara


Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops: FAO expert consultation recommends guidelines and methodologies

- FAO Media Release January 27, 2005. via Agnet

Rome - A consultation of experts convened at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recommended that any responsible deployment of Genetically Modified (GM) crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.

Environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity. In this way monitoring could become the key element in generating the necessary knowledge to protect agro-systems, rural livelihoods and broader ecological integrity.
Potential hazards associated with GM cropping - according to the scientists - have all to be placed within the broader context of both positive and negative impacts that are associated with all agricultural practices.
Involving farmer groups

Environmental organizations, farmer groups and community organizations should be actively and continuously engaged in this process. These stakeholders - the workshop agreed - are absolutely intrinsic to the system.

FAO is ready to facilitate this process along with other agencies and national and international research centres, encouraging the adoption of rigorously designed monitoring programmes. Besides FAO and UNEP, the CGIAR Centres are expected to play an important role in partnership with national research centres.
The consultation was organized in the light of the controversy and public concern over Genetic Mo difications (GM). FAO asked a group of agricultural scientists from many parts of the world to provide clear preliminary guidelines on the most accurate and scientifically sound approach to monitoring the environmental effects of existing GM crops.

Protecting agrosystems and livelihoods
"FAO's aim is to provide a tool to assist countries in making their own informed choices on the matter, as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity of farming systems" said Ms Louise O. Fresco, FAO Ass istant Director-General of the Agriculture Department.
She added "the need to monitor both the benefits and potential hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming ever more important with the dramatic increase in the range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially in developing countries."

The experts acknowledged that a great deal of data is already available. What needs to be done is to bring together and coordinate this volume of often scattered information. They also emp hasized that monitoring the effects of GM crops on the environment is not only necessary but feasible even with limited resources when it is integrated with the deployment of these crops.

The experts agreed that it is important to identify the most accurate existing data. They noted that field and traditional expertise should become a strong resource in addition to scientific expertise. These data could be used in indicators to measure the effects of GM crops on the environment. Significant changes that might cause concern should be promptly notified. In this regard, a full stakeholder engagement - farmers, scientists, consumers, public and the private sector and the civil society - will beq necessary and integral to the process.

One of the difficulties in monitoring agriculture is the heterogeneity of farming systems in the different regions. The group of scientists recommended that the objective of environmental monitoring of GM crops should be nested within processes that address broader goals. There would be a need to adapt any methodology to the specific farming system through a well-designed process.
Monitoring GM crops will provide information for policies and regulations, but mainly will give producers informed options in order to allow technologies to be adopted in a sustainable way.


Paper looks at GM development in Africa

- Crop Biotech Update. January 28, 2005 http://www.isaaa.org/kc

In 'Putting GM Technologies to Work: Public Research Pipelines in Selected African Countries,' Idah Sithole-Niang, of the Department of Chemistry, University of Zimbabwe, and colleagues identify and exam
ine public research pipelines for GM crops in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, and offer suggestions on improving the state of GM research for each country based on their findings. Their research is documented in the November 2004 issue of The Af rican Journal of Biotechnology.

For instance, South Africa, the report states, presents an important case study. The research its scientists undertake is required to be linked toindustry, with the aim of providing relevant products to end users.
Researchers also found that 13 public institutions in the 4 countries have stably transformed 21 crops, with 17% of the events for maize, 13% for potatoes, and 11% each for sugar and tomatoes. Of all traits incorporated, virus resistance comprised 34% of all cro ps, while insect resistance made up 20%.

The researchers hope that their data will be useful in formulating new policies, including greater South-South collaboration. Download the article at


African politicians challenged over their attitude towards science

- Crop Biotech Update, January 28, 2005 http://www.isaaa.org/kc

The African struggle to overcome hunger and food deficit can only be achieved through concerted efforts and strong political will from its leaders, a leading scientist has observed.

Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug noted that politicians were shunning the role science can play towards developing the African continent. In a keynote address to over 200 African crop breeders in the 2nd general meeting of the Biotechnology, Breed ing, and Seed systems for African crops in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr Borlaug said that much of the achievements made during the green revolution could be achieved in Africa.

'What we need is for two or more African politicians to be committed to the goal of eradicating hunger. This can only be done through the use of various scientific means at the continent's disposal,' he added.
While officially opening the forum, Kenya's Minister of Agriculture, Kipruto arap Kirwa challenged scientists to translate their re search work into viable projects that would help the African farmer in combating food insecurity. 'We must work closely with the private sector and create an environment that we can increase their participation in agricultural development and in extending the benefits of research to African farmers,' noted Kirwa.

For more on the conference contact the Kenya Biotechnology Information Centre or visit their website at http://www.isaaa-africenter.org.


Farming and the fate of wild nature

- Science, Vol 307, Issue 5709, 550-555; Via Agnet; Science Express on 23 December 2004

Rhys E. Green,1,2* Stephen J. Cornell,1,3 Jörn P. W. Scharlemann,1,2 Andrew Balmford1,4

World food demand is expected to more than double by 2050. Decisions about how to meet this challenge will have profound effects on wild species and habitats. We show that farming is already the greatest extinction threat to birds (the best known taxon), and its adverse impacts look set to increase, especially in developing countries.

Two competing solutions have been proposed: wildlife-friendly farming (which boosts densities of wild populations on farmland but may decrease agricultural yields) and land ssparing (which minimizes demand for farmland by increasing yield). We present a model that identifies how to resolve the trade-off between these approaches. This shows that the best type of farming for species persistence depends on the demand for agricultural products and on how the population densities of different species on farmland change with agricultural yield.

Empirical data on such density-yield functions are sparse, but evidence from a range of taxa in developing countries suggests that high-yielsd farming may allow more species to persist.

1 Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK.l: reg29@hermes.cam.ac.uk


9th International Conference n Agricultural Biotechnology: Ten Years After

- Ravello, Italy; July 6 – 10, 2005

CALL FOR PAPER. See http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr2005/call_for_paper.asp

Ten years have passed since the first biotech varieties were made available to farmers for cultivation. In this decade those varieties have spread in numerous developed and developing countries, although at different speed and scope. Farmers and consumers acceptance have been different from place to place and in several occasions have interacted. In some cases in fact farmers although attracted by the advantages of those new varieties have been concerned upon the acceptance of their produce on the export markets.

During this decade an increasing number of biotech varieties and processes have been invented and commercialised. The presence of those varieties have attracted public attention and stirred public debates. In important markets - as those of the European Union - production and commercialization of those products have been – for several years – practically banned. Now the situation is gradually evolving and a new regulatory framework has been set to govern production and trade.

The techniques of genetic engineering were first developed in scientific research programs and first pursued by scientists. The sciences underpinning the technology are continuing to open up new technological invention opportunities as genome maps are completed and as the fields of genomics and proteomics analysis take form.

Important policy questions regarding public research system design and conduct are emerging. These are of particular importance in developing countries. These questions require a long view and an understanding of the scientific revolution that is underway.

As those biotechnology products have become increasingly available, policy issues relating their trade, domestic production and consumption seems to have gained paramount relevance in the national and international agricultural policy arena and have also acquired some more general relevance as well. Increasingly important has become the capacity of governments to envision and enforce an appropriate set of rules to ensure a sustainable development if tis sector. Among others in this regard the experience in Brazil and India is very instructive.

Proposals for contributing papers are sought. Contact: icabr@economia.uniroma2.it


International Greek Biotechnology Forum (IGBF2)

- July 1-3, 2005, Athens http://www.igbf.gr/index.php?sid=54778q

Long before the actual inception of the 1st International Greek Biotechnology Forum (IGBF), the Organizers had individually envisioned a platform which would foster knowledge exchange and encourage biotechnology transfer in Greece as well as in the whole Southeastern Europe.

IGBF2 program can be summarized as follows: White & Green Biotech (July 1, 2005); Human Disease Biology & Medicine (July 2, 2005); Bio-technology Transfer & Bio-finance (July 3, 2005)


International Foundation for Science Research

The International Foundation for Science Granting Programme is open for project proposals from developing country scientists who conduct research on the sustainable management of biological resources. Proposed projects must be related to the sustainable utilization of biological and/or water resources.

IFS is targeting scientists in countries with developing science and technology infrastructures, and are intended for the purchase of equipment, expendable supplies, and literature. Research grants are award ed up to $12,000 for one to three years and may be renewed twice.




NEW VISION (Kampala)

Tanzania to accept GMO goods

27 January 2005

Tanzania is drafting laws to pave way for the introduction of genetically-modified foods, which anti-GMO campaigners and some African nations fear may harm people or damage local crops.

The East African country of 35 million is frequently beset by foodshortages due to recurrent drought and crop failure.

"It is one of the breeding methods that we have to eventually adopt. We are working on rules and regulations which will govern the introduction of genetically modified technology into the country," agriculture minister Charles Keenja said.

Most Europeans tend to be wary of GMO crops and foods, but growers and consumers in the US are more accepting.

In Africa, where food shortages are frequent, some countries have banned genetically- modified food imports, while others have turned to them because of the potential for hardier crops.

The issue is further complicated because some food aid given in Africa can contain GMO products.

The minister said the legislative process could take until the end of the year, at which time Tanzania would decide what types of food it would import.

There are fears that the technology could bring in genetic material harmful to Tanzanian crops, the environment or human health, Keenja said.

"We are trying to be careful so that we do not import the adverse effects of the technology. So eventually, we know we shall have to adopt, but we want to be careful," he said. He was speaking at a conference on how to implement programme.


rop researchers join forces in hope of bigger harvests

Cereals, such as rice, maize and wheat, are the main source of calories in developing countries.
Catherine Brahic
27 January 2005
Source: SciDev.Net

Two of the world's leading agricultural research centres announced last week (19 January) that they will form an alliance to strengthen food security in the developing world.

Details of the alliance between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) were mapped out at a joint meeting of their trustees, held in China early this month.

Together, rice, maize and wheat provide 60-70 per cent of calories consumed by people in developing countries, where the three crops cover 400 million hectares of land.

The two research centres have agreed to collaborate in four areas. The two research priorities are to intensify crop production systems in Asia and to adapt maize, wheat and rice to the changing global climate.

In addition, the centres agreed to set up units providing information to researchers who are genetically modifying the three crops, and to create 'training and knowledge banks' to provide training events, learning materials, and library services.

Although both centres conduct research into genetically modified crops, Masa Iwanaga, director-general of the CIMMYT, told SciDev.Net that he did not believe that genetic modification was a "silver bullet" for solving the food and agriculture difficulties of developing countries.

Rather, he said, genetic modification is an important research tool – one of many options.

As part of the IRRI and the CIMMYT's commitment to training, Iwanaga said the partners could develop Internet-based training tools, including information on identifying and managing pests, for scientists in developing nations.

"Training is the most difficult area to get funding for in developing countries," said Iwanaga, adding that there has been a decline in the international community's commitment to capacity building over the past ten years.

He hopes that by creating an alliance, his centre and the IRRI will attract more funds into this area.
The IRRI and the CIMMYT are two of the fifteen research centres of Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which aims to reduce poverty and increase food security in developing countries through scientific research.


Lord of the seeds

- The Economist , Jan 27th 2005

A good move to buy the world leader in vegetable seeds

MONSANTO, the world leader in genetically modified (GM) grains and oilseeds, is buying a second blade for its plough: California-based Seminis, the leader in vegetable seeds. Seminis made a small loss in 2003-04 and news of the $1.4 billion buy cut Monsanto's share price by 6%. But it may yet prove a smart move.

Seminis brings four benefits. One, a huge range of new crops—almost any vegetable you can name and some that you can't—to join Monsanto's maize, soya and others. Two, an extra $550m-a-year turnover as Monsanto's focus shifts from its $3.2 billion (but slow-growing) herbicide business into seeds and GM, whose $2.35 billion sales in its latest reported 12 months were 24% up on a year earlier. Three, a worldwide network, including a new operations centre in China and a two-year-old one in India, two huge potential markets. Four, a non-GM image.

Seminis was founded in 1994 by Alfonso Romo, a Mexican tycoon, as part of his Savia group. At the time he dreamed of GM, but Seminis made heavy losses, and in 2003 he sold to Fox Paine, an American private-equity firm that is now profitably selling out. Mr Romo's string of acquisitions created a firm that is widely (and wisely) decentralised. Much of its research and sales lies in Europe. Facing European fears and rules, however, Seminis has not tried to push GM there.

Indeed, it sells very little GM anywhere: its many new varieties arise from advanced use of the old technique of cross-pollination. The link with Monsanto, suggests Gillian Turco of Rabobank, a Dutch bank that specialises in agribusiness, might, paradoxically, be exactly what the GM cause needs. Biotechnology does not mean just GM. Give consumers something as unusual as Seminis's mini-watermelon, downsized—but not by GM—to suit one person, not eight, and they may realise they are already in the biotech era, and over time lose their fear of GM.

Well, perhaps, though enemies of GM argue persuasively that Europeans already know very well that their food results from cross-breeding, but still think GM a step too far. Monsanto itself says it will carry on with Seminis's traditional technology, though it might use GM in the longer term. GM farming is spreading rapidly outside Europe, but, given the hassle that Monsanto's present GM crops have met, that slow approach may be wise.


Singer back, with new food for thought

- Stephen Cauchi, Science Reporter, January 28, 2005

Australia's best-known philosopher, Peter Singer, is back in Melbourne for his latest piece of ethical research, which is as close to the stomach as the mind.

It is, simply, what we eat: where and how it is grown, whether it has been genetically modified, who grew it, how it has been traded.

Given his controversial theories on veganism, euthanasia and animal rights, his new work - and the book that will follow - is sure to give readers food for thought.

"I'm looking at it from the consumer's point of view, saying, all right, I'm about to put something in my mouth, I'm about to buy something in a supermarket - are there any ethical issues in this product," he said. Some obvious issues include intensive farming of chickens and pigs and, especially in the US, beef.

"They raise big issues in terms of cruelty to animals and in terms of the environment and energy use and so on," Professor Singer said. "That's certainly something we'll be talking about.

"The European Union has been making significant moves in that direction, but not Australia or the United States."

Professor Singer, 58, has spent the past five years at Princeton University in the US, where he has written books on international justice and the ethics of President George Bush.

He will spend three months each year in Melbourne for the next five years under Melbourne University's eminent scholars' program, while continuing to hold his Princeton appointment.

He will finish his research into food by April, when he will return to Princeton.

Having written a book in 1975 on animal rights, including intensive farming of chicken and pigs, he felt that it was time to revisit the issue - but expanded it to include food generally.

He said the topic involved human welfare as much as that of animals: is it ethical, for example, to buy imported food produced in sweatshop conditions overseas? He mentioned coffee from Africa and South America, and food that illegal Latino immigrants produced in the US, working in "close to slave conditions".
Some obvious issues include intensive farming of chickens and pigs."

But he said the US did have an advantage over Australia with organic food - such produce was only marginally more expensive than its genetically modified counterparts. He suspected this was because organic food in Australia was still a niche area.

GM food, of course, will feature heavily in the book.

"I've come to the conclusion that it's not a yes/no issue," Professor Singer said.

"It's not an issue that says there's something in principle wrong with GM food and it should never be used under any circumstances.

"On the other hand, it's not an issue that says that GM is fine, there's something to worry about . . . it's on a case-by-case basis."