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February 9, 2005


Codifying Corn Pollution In Vermont; Genetically modified crops are good for Africa; Tanzania to grow GM cotton for trial this year


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: February 9, 2005

* Codifying Corn Pollution In The Twilight Zone
* Genetically modified crops are good for Africa
* Biotech rejection a 'tragedy' among developing countries
* Tanzania to grow GM cotton for trial this year
* California wine country considers biotech ban
* GM papaya available soon: advocate
* GM foods to undergo close scrutiny, says Fawaz Al-Alami


- Center for Global Food Issues, By Alex Avery, Feb 8, 2005

Codifying Corn Pollution In The Twilight Zone

Comment on VT S. 18

The bill before the Vermont legislature, S.18, would take the state of Vermont into a regulatory Twilight Zone where:

- Corn can contaminate corn;

- The normal and accepted realities of nature and farming are replaced with impossible and unrealistic genetic purity standards;

- The liability protections conferred are based entirely on how a crop was developed, not on the actual properties of the crop or food itself;

- The supposed "harm" is based - at least in part - on a misrepresentation of existing organic farming and food rules.

Moreover, the bill would allow farmers to extort "damages" for their inability to deliver on unrealistic contractual promises of genetic and/or varietal purity. It essentially creates a zero-tolerance policy for biotech-derived crop materials (crop pollen, seeds, residues) in an era when we can detect proteins in the parts per billion range (one second in 31 years) and genetic material in the part per trillion range or less (one second in 31,000 years).

VT S.18 is a "poison pill" meant to make it too financially risky to sell safety-tested and approved genetically enhanced biotech crops in Vermont, which the bill notes is "a leading producer of organic crops."

What next, the right to sue neighbors for ragweed pollen blowing from their yard? Pollen is like organic fertilizer, it happens.

Legislators should remember that organic activists led the protest against the very genetic technologies that would prevent biotech cross pollination, deliberately misnaming it "terminator technology" and claiming it was a tool to monopolize and control the food supply. After the negative press onslaught, the idea of genetically sterile pollen was dropped by every biotech seed developer for fear of future public floggings.

Organic activists don't want a solution and peaceful coexistence with biotech-growing neighbor farmers, they want a conflict so intractable that there are no biotech-growing neighbors.

They want to be able to sue biotech crop companies for corn contaminating their corn. Yet the notion of corn contaminating corn is so illogical that even the USDA's National Organic Program has not established a tolerance or limit on so-called "contamination" of organic crops with biotech-derived material and states in the preamble that this is not to be construed as a de facto zero tolerance. As the USDA's organic rules clearly state:

The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not affect the status of the organic product or operation.

Moreover, the USDA rules clearly state that organic "does not mean GM-, GMO-, or GE-free." On the USDA website, the NOP states that as of mid-January 2005, not a single organic crop or farmer has ever lost organic status due to the presence of biotech-derived materials. Not one. http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Q&A.html

So how did we get to the point where the legislature is contemplating codifying the concept of corn pollution? Deliberate misinformation by organic food activists.

For years organic farmers and activists have misled reporters and policy makers, claiming that they would lose their official organic status—and thus their high price premiums—if their crops were "contaminated" by biotech crops.

Don't believe me? Do an internet search using the words "organic genetic contamination" and you'll hit over a quarter of a million websites. One of the top five will be www.saveorganicfood.org, a website dedicated solely to whipping up public anxiety over "genetic contamination" and financed—surprise—by major organic food companies. Another is from the Organic Consumers Association, with the headline, "GE Corn in Vermont Threatens Organic Farmers." You'll find alarmist articles about "genetic contamination" on the websites of nearly every organic group worldwide. These claims have been repeated in hundreds of major newspaper and magazine stories.

It is all part of a global media manipulation campaign whose goal is to sow distrust of biotech foods, paint biotech crops as a source of "contamination" (i.e. bad), and buildup the caricature of a mean, corporate agriculture Goliath against the innocent, victimized, powerless organic David. And it's all a sham.

Consider that for 50 years, organic activists have accepted far higher levels of non-organic pesticide contamination than they now claim is acceptable for DNA and proteins. Fully one quarter of all organic fruits and vegetables tested by federal and state agencies in the U.S. have detectable synthetic pesticide residues. Ten percent have higher residue levels than are found on the average non-organic product. Yet none of this inadvertent chemical contamination has ever led to the loss of "certified organic" status for the product or the farm. Nor have organic farmers demanded the right to sue their neighbors or pesticide manufacturers for such miniscule and impossible to avoid trace contamination.

Compare this with the hysterics over biotech crop contamination, where the supposed contaminants are DNA and proteins from safety tested and approved crop varieties—biological substances that aren't toxic and are present in every cell of our bodies and in every morsel of food we consume—organic or biotech. For this they are demanding a zero-tolerance standard that is essentially impossible to meet.

The one guaranteed result of this ill-conceived piece of legislation will be the immediate exodus of seed companies from Vermont and fewer choices available to farmers and consumers. The other result will be a rash of needless litigation.

Vermont S. 18 is a bill that will guarantee conflict and litigation, not reduce it.

Alex Avery
Director of Research
Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421
(540) 337-6354, or -6387


Genetically modified crops are good for Africa

- Vanguard, By C. S. Prakash, February 08, 2005

Africa needs GMOs to survive the impending continental famine.

DR. Norman Borlaug, the architect of the Green Revolution and Nobel Laureate keeps reminding us “People talk about the potential of the sub-Sahara region of Africa. Yes, the potential is there. But you can’t eat potential.” The farm productivity has increased in Africa on par with the rest of the world, but the higher rate of population growth in this continent necessitates an urgency of need to increase the food production. Already, the rate of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is among the worst in the world and is expected to reach catastrophic proportions unless food production and access is enhanced dramatically within the next decade.

In many African countries, agriculture is the backbone of the economy employing most of its people and contributing to a major share of its GDP and exports. Thus, an improvement in agricultural productivity is vital to ensure the prosperity of its rural sector but also to make food abundant and affordable for all. Biotechnology represents a frontier advance in agricultural science with far-reaching potential in uplifting African food production in an environmentally sustainable manner. Biotechnology represents a powerful tool that we can employ now in concert with many other traditional approaches in increasing food production in the face of diminishing land and water resources. Crops enhanced through modern biotechnology are now grown on nearly 160 million acres in 16 countries. More than three quarters of the 5.5 million growers who benefit from bioengineered crops are resource-poor farmers in the developing world.

Farmers limitations

The productivity of most African farms is limited by crop pests and diseases. African cassava farmers typically lose 60 per cent of their crop to mosaic virus. Sweet potato yields in many African nations are dangerously low — in some cases losing up to 80 per cent of expected yields due to the sweet potato weevil and also the feathery mottle virus (SPFMV). And the European corn borer likewise destroys approximately seven per cent, or 40 million tons, of the world’s corn crop every year - equivalent to the annual food supply, in calories, for 60 million people. Banana and plantains are seriously threatened with a fungal ‘Sigatoka’ disease.

Biotechnology is working to solve these problems by producing plants that resist these pests and diseases. Biotech corn, which is already widely used now in South Africa, produces its own protection against the corn borer. Research is under way on sweet potatoes that produce their own protection against SPFMV, as well as beans, cassava and other staple foods with enhanced natural tolerance to diseases, pests, and physical stresses.

Biotechnology is also helping to develop more nutritious strains of staple crops. Researchers have been working to develop varieties of cassava that more efficiently absorb trace metals and micronutrients from the soil and have enhanced starch quality and contain more beta-carotene and other beneficial vitamins and minerals. “Golden rice” that contains increased amounts of iron and beta carotene (a precursor of Vitamin A) could be on the world market within a few years. This new rice could help more than 100 million children worldwide who suffer from vitamin A deficiency, the developing world’s leading cause of blindness, as well as some 400 million women of childbearing age who are iron-deficient. Iron deficiency places a newborn baby’s at risk of physical and mental retardation, premature birth and death.

Crop immunity

Biotechnology could well help to prevent these maladies and others by producing more healthful, nutritious crops. Research is already underway on fruits and vegetables that could one day deliver life-saving vaccines - such as a banana that could soon deliver the vaccine for Hepatitis B, and a potato that provides immunisation against the Norwalk virus - making it possible to inoculate against deadly diseases with locally grown crops that are easy to handle, distribute and administer. While helping African farmers produce more nutritious crops, biotechnology can also help sustain the land’s ability to support continued farming.

By developing crops that more efficiently absorb nutrients from the soil, biotechnology can help farmers produce more on land already under cultivation, and may reduce the need for costly inputs such as fertilizer and non-renewable resources, such as oil and natural gas. Biotech crops that require less tilling may help to decrease soil erosion. And the development of plants that can grow in tough conditions, such as drought, or dry or poor soil, may make it easier to farm marginal lands, helping to keep fragile soils such as wetlands and rainforests out of food production. Success in these studies will have tremendous implications in addressing food security in Africa.

The late Dr. John Wafula of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) said: “The need for biotechnology in Africa is very clear. The use of high-yielding, disease-resistant and pest-resistant crops would have a direct bearing on improved food security, poverty alleviation and environmental conservation in Africa". Among the biggest threats to realising biotechnology’s promise are restrictive policies stemming from unwarranted public fears. Anti-biotechnology campaigners in both industrialised and less developed nations are feeding this ambivalence with scare stories that have led to the adoption of restrictive policies.

The scores of peer reviewed scientific reports or the data from tens of thousands of individual field trials does simply not support those fears. As former Nigeria’s Minister of Agricultural and Rural development Hassan Adamu wrote in the Washington Post: “To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong. We want to have the opportunity to save the lives of millions of people and change the course of history in many nations.” Failing that, Adamu warns, “The harsh reality is that, without the help of agricultural biotechnology, many will not live.”

A Workshop “Facilitating Biotechnology in West Africa — Communicating issues to the Stakeholders” is being organized at the Sheraton Abuja between 3-5 May 2004 hosted by the Nigerian National Biotechnology Development Agency (Abuja), Tuskegee University (USA), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (Ibadan, Nigeria); and Sponsored by USAID. The goal is to develop a consensus on how to foster the development and use of agricultural biotechnology research and products in the West and Central Africa region through networking, informed decision making, and dialogue among stakeholders.

During this workshop, West African Biotech Network (WABNET) and Nigeria Agricultural Biotechnology Project (NABP) will be launched. The discussion would focus on identifying opportunities and challenges for capacity building to facilitate biotechnology development and its integration into agricultural research; and identify effective means of communicating biotech issues to stakeholders (policy- makers, regulators, scientists, media, farmer, NGOs and agri-business); and provide science-based information on agricultural biotechnology issues.

C. S. Prakash is professor of plant biotechnology at Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA and president of the AgBioWorld Foundation.


Biotech rejection a 'tragedy' among developing countries

- by Tom Steever, February 7, 2005

A European consultant says more has to be done to coax biotechnology acceptance among developing countries.

Failure of developing countries to accept genetically enhanced crops is a tragedy, according to Willie DeGreef, a biotechnology consultant from Belgium who spoke at the U.S. Grains Council meeting in Huntington Beach, California.

DeGreef calls it an outrage and tragedy when third world policy makers state that they’d rather have their children starve than to eat genetically enhanced foods. “How did we get that far; who was responsible for whispering (those) messages to those policy makers,” says DeGreef, referring to leaders of developing countries who have rejected humanitarian shipments of food that may contain genetically enhanced ingredients. “That is something that I would rather sooner or later want to find out, because you’re talking about literally crimes against humanity.”

One way to combat the problem, according to DeGreef, is by getting information from farmers familiar with biotechnology to third world farmers who might benefit from the use of biotechnology. That is effective, says DeGreef, because producers in developing countries make up 50 percent of the voting public.

Tanzania to grow GM cotton for trial this year

- Angola Press, February 8, 2005 (VIA AGNET)

DAR ES SALAAM -- Newspaper Daily News was cited as quoting a government official as saying that the planned GM trials would be carried out in the country`s Southern Highland regions where cotton farming was stopped in 1968 in a move to halt the spread of the red ball worm disease that had affected cotton yields.

Wilfred Ngirwa, permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry, was cited as saying that Tanzania largely depends on agriculture and cannot afford to be left behind in technology development that increases crop yields, reduces farming costs and augments agricultural profits.

The GM trials in Tanzania will use cotton seeds inserted with a bacterium (baccilus thuringiensis) programmed to kill pests including red ball worms that try to feed on cotton seeds.


California wine country considers biotech ban

- Reuters, 8 February 2005 by

A measure to ban genetically modified crops in the heart of California's wine country has qualified for a local ballot, officials said last week.

'It's an important symbolic victory for biotech's skeptics,' Conko said. 'It certainly is something that should make supporters of biotechnology, including myself, a little bit nervous.'

Activists gathered 9,000 signatures -- more than needed to qualify the measure -- which county supervisors now may enact or put to voters in a special election as soon as May or June. If the measure is approved, Sonoma would become the fourth California county to ban raising genetically engineered foods.


- Mindanao Times, 2005-02-07

GM papaya available soon: advocate

ALABEL, Sarangani — After the controversial Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) corn, genetically-modified (GM) papaya will be available for mass production within the next two years, an advocate for the use of of GM foods said.

Dr. Bienvenido Pecson, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) president, said Filipino scientists are perfecting the papaya variety that can resist the ring spot diseases.

First developed in Hawaii where ring spot virus was prevalent in 1990s, Pecson said the gene for this variety has been developed by the scientists of Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), an agency under the Department of Science and Technology using the Hawaiian technology.

Leading the development of this new papaya variety is Dr. Desiree Hautea of PCARRD, Pecson added. “The technology is already available here, but we still have to complete the field tests,” Pecson told journalists during a forum on biotechnology here.

If approved, this new papaya variety will be the second GM modified plant after the Philippine government approved the Bt corn in December 2002 despite the massive opposition from cause-oriented organizations.

Pecson said this new papaya variety solved the problem of Hawaii which used to be hit with reduction in papaya production due to ring spots.

Pecson hopes that non-government organizations will eventually stop their protests on the propagation of GM plants, saying that scientists have proven that these are safe.

When multi-national company Monsanto started its field test for its Bt corn in the South Cotabato area, cause-oriented groups held protests because of the possible bad effects that the products would bring to humans and the environment.

Although lately, protest actions were not as massive as before, these groups asked the government to at least compel companies producing GM products to label these products so that consumers will have the choice.

This demand has fallen on deaf ears as even those proposals on the issue which were filed in Congress did not get enough support.

However, Socorro Requiza of the Konsumo Dabaw, a consumerist group, said the seeming refusal on the part of the national government to heed her group will not stop it from continuing with its battle.

“We just hope that eventually the government will really listen to us before it becomes too late,” said Requiza in a talk recently.

But Pecson said the labeling is not needed anymore considering that the products were proven safe scientifically.


- The Philippine STAR, By Rudy A. Fernandez, 04-February-2005

The global market value of biotechnology reached $4.7 billion in 2004, up by about $200 million over that of 2003.

Also, the area planted to genetically modified (GM) crops hit the 81 million-hectare mark, up from 67.7 million ha in 2003.

Moreover, 8.25 million farmers in nine developing and five industrial countries grew GM crops, particularly soybean, maize, cotton, and canola.

These were the gists of a report prepared by Dr. Clive James, chair of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA).

New York (United States) based ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization cosponsored by the public and private sectors with an international network of centers, one of them in Los Baños, Laguna. It was designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by facilitating transfer of crop biotechnology application s to developing countries and global knowledged-sharing about biotech crops.

"The market value of the global biotech crop market is based on the sale price of biotech seed plus any technology fees that apply," explained Dr. James in a just-released report titled" Global Status of Commercialized/GM Crops: 2004," a copy of which was furnished The STAR.

Since GM crops were first commercialized in 1996, the accumulated global value for the nine-year period (up to 2004) is $24 billion.

Dr. James, who has worked for the past 25 years in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, also projected that the global value of the biotech crop market for 2005 is more that $5 billion.

In terms of area, the ISAAA official reported that the 82 million ha planted to "transgenic crops in 2004 were 13.3 million ha more than that of 2003.

Seventeen countries grew biotech crops last year.

The US remained the top grower of GM crops, devoting 47.6 million ha (59 percent of the global total). It was followed by Argentina with 16.2 million ha (20 percent of the global total); Canada, 5.4 million ha (6 percent); Brazil, 5 million ha (6 percent); China, 3.7 million ha (5 percent); and Paraguay, 1.2 million ha (2 percent).

Others which planted GM crops is less than one million ha were India, South Africa, both 0.5 million ha; Uruguay, 0.3 million ha; Australia, 0.2 million ha; Romania, Mexico, Spain and the Philippines, all 0.1 million ha each.

About 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries grew biotech crops in 2004, up from seven million farmers in 2003.

"Notably," Dr. James pointed out, "90 percent of the beneficiary-farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, whose increased incomes from biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of poverty."

Globally, in 2004, growth continued in all four commercial GM crops.

Biotech soybean occupied 48.4 million ha (60 percent of the global biotech area), up from 41.4 million ha in 2004.

Biotech maize was planted on 19.3 million ha (23 percent if global area), up substantially from 15.5 million ha in 2003, co-sharing the highest growth rate in 2003 and 27 percent in 2002.

"Biotech maize is projected to have the highest percentage growth rate for the near term as maize demand increases and as more beneficial traits become available and approved," Dr. James stressed.

Biotech cotton was grown on nine million ha (11 percent of global GM area) compared with 7.2 million ha in 2003. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton is expected to continue to grow in 2005 and beyond, as India and China continue to increase their area and other countries introduce the crop for the first time.

Biotech canola occupied 4.2 million ha (6 percent of global biotech area), up from 3.6 million ha in 2003.

"In 2004, 5 percent of the 1.5 billion hectares of global cultivable crop land was occupied by biotech crops," Dr. James said.

Summing up, he noted that the experience over the first nine years (1996-2004), during which a cumulative total of more than 385 million ha (equivalent to 40 percent of the total land area of the US or China) of biotech crops were planted globally in 22 countries, has met the expectations of million of large and small farmers in both industrial and developing countries.

Biotech crops are also delivering benefits to consumers and society at large, through more affordable food, feed, and fiber that require less pesticides and, hence, a more sustainable environment.

Dr. James concluded:

"2004 is the penultimate year of the first decade of the commercialization of biotech crops during which double-digit growth in global hectarage of biotech crops has been achieved every single year. 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 people in developing and industrial 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."

GM foods to undergo close scrutiny, says Fawaz Al-Alami

- Arab News, by Javid Hassan & Nasser Al-Salti, February 8, 2005 (VIA AGNET)

RIYADH — Dr. Fawaz Al-Alami, deputy minister of commerce and industry, was cited as saying on the sidelines of a symposium on genetically modified food (GMF) at the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) yesterday that the Kingdom is currently importing genetically modified products with a threshold of one percent for safety considerations, adding, “But we are not going to use genetically modified seeds as they are banned. We have adequate stocks of conventional seeds."

Dr. Al-Alami also announced that his ministry has issued 74 licenses for setting up accredited laboratories in the private sector for issuing certificates under the International Conformity Certificate Program (ICCP). An internationally known company will open an office in the Kingdom to inspect and certify the facilities of new labs yet to be established. Based on its certificate, the ministry will issue the license.

US delegate Richard White was cited as telling the conference that the U.S. objected to food labeling on the ground that the display of ingredients on the label could discourage consumers from buying the product and constitute a technical barrier to trade.

Acknowledging the sharp differences, the minister was cited as saying the issue remains to be resolved, given the sensitivities in the Kingdom, adding, "The consumer has a right to know the contents of the foodstuff that he is going to buy."

Dr. Al-Alami hoped the issue would be resolved at an international symposium that SASO is organizing. The US, Canada and Argentina have expressed concerns over the food labeling practice; the European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand support food labeling. He said the practice is compatible with the concept of transparency, one of the requirements for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Bart Bilmer, director, Office of Biotechnology, Canada, was cited as saying that food labeling is mandatory in his country, adding, "We also have mandatory labeling for food that has been changed in composition of their nutritional elements which should be mentioned on the label. In Canada, 70 percent of canola and 40 percent each of corn and soybeans are genetically engineered products."

Dr. Jamil M. Al-Khayri, associate professor of plants biotechnology, King Faisal University, noted that information on labels should be educative or it would look like a statutory warning. He assured the gathering that biotech food is completely safe. He believes it is important to educate the people on the biotech products.