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January 31, 2005


Benbrook's latest Technical Paper; Environmental movement has lost its way; 'Frankenfood' label finally losing ground


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 31, 2005

* Comment on Benbrook's latest Technical Paper
* `Environmental movement has lost its way'
* 'Frankenfood' label finally losing ground
* Group lauds RP’s biotech performance in agriculture
* New GM corn seed to be introduced this year
* Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops
* Crop researchers join forces in hope of bigger harvests
* GM crop watch: FAO calls for all-round control
* Seminar on Assessing Environmental Risks from GMOs

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 20:47:34 +1030
From: "Chris Preston" Add to Address Book
Subject: Comment on Benbrook's latest Technical Paper

Charles M. Benbrook's latest technical paper Rust, Resistance, Run Down Soils, and Rising Costs - Problems Facing Soybean Producers in Argentina (available from Greenpeace at http://www.greenpeace.org/multimedia/download/1/715238/0/test.pdf) analyses the soybean industry in Argentina and paints a bleak picture of its future. Benbrook claims that major setbacks or even the collapse of the Argentinean soybean industry is nigh and shafts much of the blame home to adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans.

Benbrook claims there are problems with yields, grain quality, competitiveness, economic stability, land use changes, food security, nutrition, herbicide use, soil microbial communities, rusts all because of the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans. No doubt, this document will be cited often as compelling evidence that GM crops are failing in the US and Argentina. Many of the claims made are related to the adoption of soybeans in general; however, Benbrook does point to some specific issues to do with Roundup Ready soybeans. Several of these claims are work examining.

Yields. Benbrook has claimed for many years that Roundup Ready soybeans have a yield drag. However, the evidence that this yield drag is at all important is fairly slim and based on a limited number of selectively quoted examples. There are a few important issues to consider when comparing yields of different varieties with herbicide tolerance. In a farming system, there are weeds and herbicides used. Both can have impacts on yields, in some cases quite significant impacts. These need to be considered.

Benbrook uses crop variety trials to support his argument. One source of information is an analysis by Oplinger et al. (available at http://www.biotech-info.net/soybean_performance.pdf) that compares variety trials across the US conducted in 1998. This comparison found on average that Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 4% less than convention varieties, with site means ranging from 86 to 113% of conventional yield for Roundup Ready types. A second study by Elmore et al. (Agronomy Journal 93: 408-412) made a comparison between sister lines with or without the Roundup Ready trait. Elmore et al. reported an average 5% reduction in yields of four Roundup Ready lines compared to their conventional sister lines. However, comparing the yields in the absence of weeds is inappropriate, as herbicide tolerant varieties are adopted as part of a farming system that involves using a herbicide regime not available to growers of the conventional crop. Therefore, growers may not obtain this 4 to 5% increase if there are greater reductions caused by uncontrolled weeds or herbicide damage. Equally, the yield differences may be greater if the herbicide tolerant crop herbicide regime leaves more weeds or causes increased crop damage.

Plenty of information is readily available with various comparisons of Roundup Ready soybeans and conventional types of soybeans with a range of appropriate herbicide regimes that Benbrook could have examined. A number of such papers have been published in journals over the years and I was able to easily obtain examples by looking through two years of back issues of Weed Technology. There are likely to be many more studies. Reddy and Whiting (Weed Technology 14: 204-211) found no significant difference in soybean yields between the best herbicide program (dimethenamid, imazaquin, acifluorfen and bentazon) for conventional soybeans compared to Roundup Ready with two applications of glyphosate, although the latter program yielded 9% higher. Culpepper et al. (Weed Technology 14: 77-88) found no significant difference in soybean yields between the best herbicide program for conventional soybeans (dimenthenamid, imazaquin and two applications of chlorsulfuron) and Roundup Ready with two applications of glyphosate. The latter program yielded 12% higher in the first year and 5% lower in the second year. Both studies reported better financial returns for the Roundup Ready compared to the conventional system. Shaw et al. (Weed Technology 15: 676-685) compared yields in conventional soybeans and Roundup Ready soybeans. The former had a variety of herbicide programs depending on site and year, whereas the latter had two applications of glyphosate at all sites in all years. At a dryland site there was no significant difference between yields of conventional and Roundup Ready soybeans, although the latter yielded between 4 and 13% lower depending on year. At one irrigated site, there was again no significant difference in one year where the Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 8% higher. At the other site, yields of Roundup Ready soybeans were significantly lower (by 40%) due to poor hemp sesbania control with glyphosate. These three examples simply illustrate that yield comparisons can be quite variable between sites and years depending on a number of factors including weed pressure and varietal tolerance to herbicides, but frequently the differences between conventional and Roundup Ready types are not significant.

A second line of evidence cited by Benbrook is that yield improvement in soybeans has been essentially nil since 1995 and that this is due to the high adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans. In evidence, Benbrook cites a presentation by Eliason and Jones at the Midwest Soybean Conference in 2004 (go to http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html and click on the link). In this presentation, Eliason and Jones contend that per acre soybean yields peaked in 1994 and have been effectively flat ever since. In 1994 there was the highest ever per acre soybean yield, whereas 2003 was the lowest yielding year for a decade. A second presentation at the same conference (J.E. Sprecht. Is soybean yield improvement stagnating? Perception and perspectives. http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html and click on the link) examined the same problem. Sprecht showed that plateaus in soybean yields could be seen at various times since the 1970s and suggested what has happened in the last decade is not new. Soybean yields in Nebraska have mirrored soybean yields over the whole US, with no apparent yield improvement since 1995. However, a number of droughts have occurred in Nebraska over the past decade. Sprecht showed that while yields in dryland soybeans had not increased since 1995, yield improvements, with no significant reduction in rate of improvement, had occurred in irrigated soybeans. Benbrook has simply ignored Sprecht. It is clear from Sprecht's analysis and other data presented at the same conference that weather conditions rather than Roundup Ready are responsible for the apparent lack of yield improvement in the US. Indeed, as Benbrook shows, per hectare yield increases for soybeans have continued to occur in Argentina despite the extensive adoption of Roundup Ready technology with 2002/2003 being the highest yielding year ever. Instead Benbrook uses a single anecdotal comment to support his contention that yields of Roundup Ready are lower in Argentina.

Quality. A second claim Benbrook makes is that Argentinean soybeans are of inferior quality because they are GM. In support, Benbrook cites data on crude protein published by Karr-Lilienthal et al. (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52: 6193-6199). The data of Karr-Lilienthal et al. that Benbrook cites are from a single 750 g sample collected from each of 5 countries. It is risky to draw conclusions like Benbrook does from a single sample. Karr-Lilienthal et al. refuse to do so and point out that other studies on soybeans from the US, China and Brazil had variable protein contents (see Grieshop and Fahey Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 49: 2669-2673; Grieshop et al. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51: 7648-7691). Crude protein of soybeans clearly varies within a country and between years. In addition, Karr-Lilienthal et al. report on three samples of soybean meal from each country. The crude protein content of soybean meal from Argentina was not different to that from China and only slightly lower than that from Brazil. Meal from the US and India had the highest crude protein contents. Again, it seems that Benbrook has selectively cited the data and one must conclude at the moment that there is no evidence to support a contention that Roundup Ready soybeans have lower quality than other soybeans.

Herbicide Use. Benbrook has written before about Roundup Ready soybeans increasing herbicide use over conventional soybeans. In Argentina, it is clear there has been a significant increase in glyphosate use coincident with the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans. However, it is important to remember that it is not just the adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans that is driving this increase, but also the adoption of no-till agriculture. No-till agriculture automatically requires more glyphosate use than conventionally tilled systems as the latter use cultivation for early season weed control. Trigo and Cap (AgBioForum 6:87-94) point out that the drivers for adoption of no-till in Argentina are: to reduce tillage induced soil erosion and to enable wheat-soybean double cropping. According to Trigo and Cap, the area double cropped had increased to 3 million hectares by 2000. In all there were over 9 million hectares no-tilled in Argentina in 2000 rising from 300,000 hectares in 1991. It should be no surprise then that glyphosate use has increased in Argentina. Glyphosate use will continue to increase for Roundup Ready soybean growers as they continue to adopt no-till as has happened in the US.

What is really important about herbicide use is the type rather than total tonnage of active ingredient that is used. Herbicides that have soil persistence can affect subsequent crops. Herbicides that leach can move off farm and affect the environment and water quality. Glyphosate, because it is bound tightly to soil and is not active and doesn't leach, is relatively benign and has little environmental impact. Qaim and Traxler (cited by Trigo and Cap and also by Traxler ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/ae063e/ae063e00.pdf) reported that glyphosate use in soybeans had almost eliminated the use of more toxic herbicides. The other comparison that could be made is between cultivation and glyphosate. Cultivation is clearly more damaging to the environment, both on and off farm than glyphosate applications.

Benbrook highlights the problems of over reliance on a single herbicide. In this case he is correct. Over-reliance on glyphosate will inevitably lead to the appearance of glyphosate resistant weeds in Argentina just as it has in orchards in Chile and Brazil. Of crucial importance is the level of over reliance on glyphosate, which is not clear from Benbrook's analysis. Experience elsewhere has demonstrated that if glyphosate is being used every year the risks of resistance evolution are real. If glyphosate is being used less often, the risks decrease. Whether resistance becomes a serious issue in Argentina will depend on the use pattern and the willingness to take steps to reduce the risk.

Soil problems. Benbrook makes a number of claims about the effects of Roundup Ready soybeans on soils. Some of the key claims are easily dispelled. For example, Benbrook claims that there is increased soil compaction with no-till Roundup Ready soybeans. I suspect that every no-till farmer in the world will raise their eyebrows (if nothing else) at this claim. It is well known that no-till, because of the reduced traffic and reduced soil damage, decreases compaction compared to other farming systems. Likewise claims about soil organic matter. As no-tillage also means more stubble retention, no-till systems often increase soil organic matter compared to conventionally tilled systems. In fact, reduced soil compaction and increased organic matter are two of the reasons driving farmers to adopt no-till systems.

Benbrook makes an elaborate claim about how glyphosate application might be toxic to microorganisms and allow pathogens like Fusarium to proliferate. Benbrook cites only two pieces of evidence to support his claims and indeed has cited no other studies in his other writings on this subject. One is work by King et al. (Agronomy Journal 93: 179-186) who examined the effect of glyphosate treatment on nitrogen fixation and nitrogen content of Roundup Ready soybeans. King et al. found that using 5 treatments of 1.68 kg/ha of glyphosate decreased N content of soybean roots in 3 of 5 cultivars. Reductions in N content were more likely to be observed soon after glyphosate application, but plants generally recovered. They also found that treatment with three applications of 1.68 kg/ha of glyphosate decreased acetylene reduction in three experiments, but increased it in a fourth. Reductions in acetylene reduction due to glyphosate application were more likely to be found under drought stress conditions. The second piece of evidence is a press release from the University of Missouri reporting a study by Donald and Kremer, who found increases in Fusarium populations on the roots of soybean plants shortly after glyphosate application, but reported there was no effect on yields.

These two studies indicate that glyphosate application to soybeans can affect the roots of the plants. This would be expected as the plants, although resistant, are not necessarily immune to glyphosate. There are likely to be flow on effects from minor glyphosate damage, such as temporarily reduced nitrogen fixation and other impacts. However, neither of the studies quoted provide any evidence that glyphosate application in Roundup Ready soybeans is having any negatively effects on soil organisms. There is simply no evidence to back the claims made by Benbrook.

A number of Benbrook's claims, such as run-down soils, lack of increase in yield potential and reduced quality are not supported by current evidence and some are simply wrong. It seems that Benbrook, like all good activists, has selectively used the information available to support the case he wants to make and on occasions ignored the conclusions made by the authors of studies so he can put is own spin on the story. There may indeed be some problems ahead for the Argentinean soybean industry as it is rare to get such rapid changes in agricultural practices without some problems occurring. However, the evidence presented by Benbrook to support some of his claims is selective, flimsy or simply non-existent.

Dr. Christopher Preston
University of Adelaide


`Environmental movement has lost its way' -- Scare tactics, disinformation go too far

- Miami Herald, BY PATRICK MOORE, Jan. 30, 2005, www.greenspirit.org

I am often asked why I broke ranks with Greenpeace after 15 years as a founder and full-time environmental activist. I had my personal reasons, but it was on issues of policy that I found it necessary to move on.

By the mid-1980s, the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development: balancing environmental, social and economic priorities. Converted to the idea that win-win solutions could be found by bringing all interests together, I made the move from confrontation to consensus.

Since then, I have worked under the banner of Greenspirit to develop an environmental policy platform based on science, logic and the recognition that more than six billion people need to survive and prosper every day of the year. The environmental movement has lost its way, favoring political correctness over factual accuracy, stooping to scare tactics to garner support.

We're faced with environmental policies that ignore science and result in increased risk to human health and ecology. To borrow from the vernacular, how sick is that?

• Genetic enhancement: Activists persist in their zero-tolerance campaign against genetically enhanced food crops. There is no evidence of harm to human health or the environment, and benefits are measurable and significant. Genetically enhanced (GE) food crops reduce chemical pesticides, boost yield and reduce soil erosion. Enriched with Vitamin A, Golden Rice could prevent blindness in 500,000 children per year in Asia and Africa if activists would stop blocking its introduction. Other food crops contain iron, Vitamin E, enhanced protein and better oils. The anti-GE campaign seeks to deny these environmental and nutritional advances by using ''Frankenfood'' scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.

• Salmon farming: The campaign against salmon farming, based on erroneous and exaggerated claims of environmental damage and chemical contamination, scares us into avoiding one of the most nutritious, heart-friendly foods available. The World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and the Food and Drug Administration say that eating salmon reduces the risk of heart disease and fatal heart attack. Salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks, yet activists tell us to eat only wild fish. Is this how we save them, by eating more?

• Vinyl: Greenpeace wants to ban the use of chlorine in all industrial processes. The addition of chlorine to drinking water has been the greatest public-health advance in history, and 75 percent of our medicines are based on chlorine chemistry. Greenpeace calls for a ban on polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), claiming it is the ''poison plastic.'' There is not a shred of evidence that vinyl damages human health or the environment. Apart from lowering construction costs and delivering safe drinking water, vinyl's ease of maintenance and its ability to incorporate anti-microbial properties is critical to fighting germs in hospitals. Banning vinyl would raise the cost of an already struggling healthcare system, denying healthcare to those who can least afford it.

• Hydroelectricity: International activists boast to have blocked more than 200 hydroelectric dams in the developing world and are campaigning to tear down existing dams. Hydro is the largest source of renewable electricity, providing about 12 percent of the global supply. Do activists prefer coal plants? Would they rather ignore the needs of billions of people?

• Wind power: Wind power is commercially feasible, yet activists argue that the turbines kill birds and ruin landscapes. A million times more birds are killed by cats, windows and cars than by all the windmills in the world. As for aesthetics, wind turbines are works of art compared to some of our urban environments.

• Nuclear power: A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions seems unlikely given our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel consumption. Even UK environmentalist James Lovelock, who posited the Gaia theory that the Earth operates as a giant, self-regulating super-organism, now sees nuclear energy as key to our planet's future health. ''Civilization is in imminent danger,'' he warns, ``and has to use nuclear -- the one safe, available energy source -- or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.''

Yet environmental activists, notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, continue lobbying against clean nuclear energy and for the Band-Aid Kyoto Treaty. Renewable energies, such as wind, geothermal and hydro are part of the solution. Nuclear energy is the only nongreenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.

• Forestry: Activists tell us to stop cutting trees and to reduce our use of wood. Deforestation is caused by clearing forests for farms and cities. Forestry operations are geared toward reforestation and the maintenance of forest cover. Forests are stable and growing where people use the most wood and are diminishing where they use less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to plant more trees and produce more wood. North Americans use more wood per capita than any other continent, yet there is about the same forest area in North America as there was 100 years ago.

Trees are the most abundant, renewable and biodegradable resource in the world. If we want to retain healthy forests, we should be growing more trees and using more wood, not less. This logic seems lost on activists who use chilling rhetoric and apocalyptic images to drive us in the wrong direction.

• Prognosis: Environmentalism has become anti-globalization and anti-industry. Activists have abandoned science in favor of sensationalism. Their zero-tolerance, fear-mongering campaigns would ultimately prevent a cure for Vitamin A deficiency blindness, increase pesticide use, increase heart disease, deplete wild salmon stocks, raise the cost and reduce the safety of healthcare, raise construction costs, deprive developing nations of clean electricity, stop renewable wind energy, block a solution to global warming and contribute to deforestation. How sick is that?

Patrick Moore is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada.


'Frankenfood' label finally losing ground

- Yuma Sun, Jan 30, 2005

In the long and continuing struggle between superstition and science, the latter has been winning significant victories as signs grow that biotechnology is finally overcoming the “frankenfood” label used against it by Chicken Littles in the environmental anxiety industry.

During the November elections, for instance, three of the four California counties in which a ban on growing genetically altered crops was on the ballot, the bans were decisively voted down. Farmers convinced voters that biotechnology, when used properly, is key to producing bigger and better yields, with less need for fertilizers, pesticides and precious water. Farmers also realize that genetically altered crops are not exactly new, and that a ban would put them at a competitive disadvantage with farmers elsewhere.

But that’s only one of numerous signs that science is finally overcoming sensationalism. The European Commission last year voted to approve the use of 17 different strains of genetically modified corn in the European Union. This ended a nearly six-year ban on the use of genetically modified agricultural products and seems to suggest a more enlightened and realistic view of such technologies is taking hold where hostility once prevailed.

In another recent reversal, the EU approved the sale in stores of its first genetically modified product in six years, a brand of canned sweet corn developed by a Swiss company. EU regulations will mandate the new product carry a label reading, “This produce contains a genetically modified organism.” There is nothing wrong with providing people with information and allowing them to choose for themselves.

These changes followed a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Commission that identified the use of genetically modified crops as one key to alleviating the developing world’s hunger problems in the year ahead. Without these products, it will be difficult to feed the 2 billion people expected to be born into the world in the next 30 years, according to FAO.

At present, an estimated 24,000 people die daily due to hunger-related conditions. Yet only the developed world has reaped the full benefits of this technology, the report pointed out, while the countries that need it most have been left behind by the biotech revolution.

Part of the reason is economic — some of these technologies are not as affordable as they could be, due to the regulatory burdens imposed on manufacturers and users at the behest of opponents. But part of the problem is fear and superstition sown by biotech bashers.

Far from being something to fear, genetically modified crops have the potential for helping millions of hungry people in the developing world survive, while conducting large-scale agricultural operations in an environmentally friendly way. Approved strains of corn are insect resistant, for instance, reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Like all technologies, care is required in how this one is applied. But when educated about the risks versus rewards, the public seems to be coming around to a fuller understanding that the latter far outweigh the former.


Group lauds RP’s biotech performance in agriculture

- Manila Bulletin, Jan 31, 2005

DAVAO CITY (PNA) — The Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) lauded the performance of the country in producing agricultural biotech products.

Dr. Benigno Peczon, president and chief executive officer of BCP, said he was elated over a recent report which stated that the Philippines now ranks 14th in the list of mega countries producing biotech products in agriculture.

He said that the 2004 report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) showed that the Philippines has devoted more than 50,000 hectares to biotech crops.

Director Alice Ilaga of the Department of Agriculture-Biotech Program Implementing Unit (DA-BPIU) said that the report is a confirmation of the increasing trend among Filipino farmers to repose their trust in biotechnological advances in agriculture.

Peczon and Ilaga noted that in spite of the early doubts placed on the viability and propriety of using biotechnology products, farmers eventually believed in scientific tests and concluded that they would earn more by producing crops like bacillius thuringiensis (Bt) corn and Bt cotton.

They said that by overcoming their worst fears, Filipino farmers eventually relied on the results of field tests, which showed that Bt corn had higher resistance to the Asiatic corn borer, the single biggest reason why the carcinogen aflatoxin saddles local corn varieties.

Moreover, farmers found out that Bt corn had higher yields and are more nutritious than traditional varieties, thus ensuring them better incomes and larger markets.

Peczon and Ilaga said they have been heartened by additional reports about religious leaders advocating the use of biotechnology products, thus paving the way for their utilization by farmers of various religious persuasions.

Apart from these, the two biotechnology experts argued, paraphrasing Victor Hugo, that one cannot defeat an idea whose time has come.


New GM corn seed to be introduced this year

- Mindanao Times, Jan 31, 2005

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato - A new genetically-modified (GM) corn seed is set to be introduced this year.

The new seed, a product of Monsanto Philippines, will be resistant to a brand of herbicide, said Ronaldo Cayomo, Monsanto-Mindanao team leader, said.

Cayomo said the company’s latest genetically-modified corn variety, the DK818-RR, maybe released within the year.

This latest variety will be resistant to Roundup, a herbicide developed by the company. Mr. Cayomo explained that by spraying the weed killing product, corn will not get affected, unlike other corn varieties.

Asked why the company formulated the herbicide when it can kill other plants, Cayomo explained that this particular herbicide is environment-friendly considering that it is biodegradable.

With this newest variety, farmers will be able to save between P3,000 to P6,000, the amount spent per hectare for manual weeding, he added.

Earlier, the company got embroiled in a controversy when it started to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, a variety corn resistant to Asian corn borers.

As the first producer of Bt corn seeds in the country, the company met stiff opposition from cause-oriented organizations, including church-based ones, because of the perception that genetically modified products might affect humans and the environment.

At one instance, farmers backed by cause-oriented organizations uprooted the corn plants in a field test here.

However, despite the opposition, the Philippine government in December 2002 approved the commercialization of the Bt corn. Aside from the all-year round DK818YG, the other Bt corn seed variety is the DK9050YG, the one that can be planted during dry seaon.

At present, Cayomo said, the company produces about 300,000 to 400,000 kilograms of Bt corn seeds in its 200-hectare farms here which can be planted in about 2,000 hectares of corn farms.

“We run short of seeds here. We still import,” he said during a presentation to members of the media of its new test farm.

Although the seeds are a bit expensive at P4,200 for every 50 kilograms, Cayomo said this is just enough because of the technology employed in formulating these new corn varieties which can fight certain problems.

On the average, said Francisco Camacho, Monsanto Mindanao technology development executive, Bt corn yield is about 2.5 metric tons higher than the conventional corn, provided all factors are the same.

Camacho admitted that Bt corn can only be better than the commercial corn if Asian corn borer infestation takes place because the Bt corn can resist the corn borer attack.


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

27 January 2005, 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 Modifications (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 Assistant 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 emphasized 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 be 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.


Luisa Guarneri
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56350


Crop researchers join forces in hope of bigger harvests
Cereals, such as rice, maize and wheat, are the main source of calories in developing countries

- SciDev.Net, Catherine Brahic, 27 January 2005

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.


GM crop watch: FAO calls for all-round control

- Foodnavigator.com, Jan 31, 2005

Joining the heated debate on GM food crops and ingredients, a group of agricultural experts, herded together under the UN-backed FAO, declare an A to Z approach must be the only path for ‘responsible deployment’ of GM crops.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation led group has recommended that control over GM crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.

For the group, environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity.

The FAO advice comes shortly after a new report that shows the market value of GMOs continues to rise steadily.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the group behind the report, finds that the accumulated global value of biotech crops for the period between 1996 and 2004 stood a €18.4 billion. This year alone, the value of biotech crops is expected to hit €3.8 billion.

"The continued adoption of biotechnology, especially among small, resource-poor farmers, signals a strong vote of confidence in the benefits that farmers are around the world are deriving from these crops," Dr Clive James, chairman and founder of the ISAAA, says in the report.

He identified China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa as countries that have significantly increased the proportions of their farms that are under biotech crops.

The five countries now account for one-third of the total global acreage under transgenic crops.

But in contrast, Louise O. Fresco, FAO assistant director-general of the agriculture department, warned this week: “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 Rome-based body said the aim of the expert gathering is to eventually design 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.

According to the FAO, the experts underlined that the wide-body of knowledge currently available on GM crops, needs to be brought together to coordinate this volume of ‘often scattered information.’

They also emphasised 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.

A reflection of the EU consumer’s poor regard for GM foodstuffs, in total Europe has planted about 58,000 hectares of GM maize in Spain, lagging far behind the US, Canada and Argentina that have planted millions of hectares of GM crops.

Last week representatives from the 25 European member states postponed a vote on clearing a herbicide-resistant maize, known as GA21, from biotech giant Monsanto into the European food chain. Designed for use as an ingredient in food processing, not for growing, the members opted to delay the vote, pending further scientific data. Previous votes on clearing a handful of GM ingredients onto the market in Europe have all met with divided opinions.

The National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) in cooperation with SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) is inviting everyone to the Seminar on Assessing Environmental Risks from GMOs - Experiences from the UK


Dr. Brian R. Johnson
Head Biotechnology Policy Advocacy Unit English Nature

at the

Umali Auditorium, SEARCA, College, Laguna on 03 February 2004, 4:00 - 5:00 pm.

The seminar is free and open to the public!

SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center
College, Laguna 4031 PHILIPPINES
URL: http://www.searca.org/~bic
Email address: bic@agri.searca.org
Tel: (63-49)536-7163
Tel/Fax: (63-49)536-7162