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March 4, 2005


Battle Ending Soon?; Benefits Outweigh Negatives; How to Farm Well; Truth in Advertising; WTO on US Cotton Subsidy


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 4, 2005

* Is The Battle Over Genetically Modified Finally Over?
* Farmer Tells MLAs GM Crop Benefits Outweigh Negatives
* What Kind of Farming Works Best?
* UK: Ad watchdog upholds complaints about Soil Association leaflet
* Is Bt Cotton Failing in India?
* Biotechnology can Help India Leapfrog In Food Production
* Global Warming, A Done Deal
* U.S. Loses WTO Cotton Aid Appeal, Paving Way for More Disputes

Is The Battle Over Genetically Modified Finally Over?

- Saleema Saleh-Lakha R. Glick, Biotechnology Advances, Vol. 23, 93-6 (2005); Department of Biology, University of Waterloo. Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G1; glick@sciborg.uwaterloo.ca.; Via Dr. Vivian Moses

The Earth is finite, and as such has a limited capacity to produce the food and fresh necessary to sustain human populations. With the size of the world's population, topping 6 billion people, including over 1 billion each in China and India alone, only has the availability of natural resources become limiting, but also it has become difficult to feed this enormous population.

Moreover, the world's population expected to double in the next 50 years. Birth control awareness programs and restrictions on the

decreasing the rate of population growth, especially in China. However, in many of the world, cultural and religious views on birth control are a major to effective population control. As a result, many countries are faced with a that is well beyond their carrying capacities. Many of the regions beset with population growth and/or the inability to feed a burgeoning population developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

One potential solution to address the problem of insufficient crop yields to support populations is the use of genetically modified (GM) foods. These GM foods are from crops that have been modified genetically to contain a desired trait such as or salt tolerance; insect, herbicide, or disease resistance; or increased nutritional (Glick and Pasternak, 2003). GM plants have been touted to have the advantages enhanced yield, decreased ecological footprint, and increased nutritional value (Uzogara, 2000). On t critics of GM plants argue that GM crops may the natural habitat of other plant and animal species in the environment. For, it has been suggested that butterfly larvae that land on insect-resistant GM crops ingest the insecticidal proteins from the plant and thus be negatively affected. Others envisioned problems from cross-pollination and interbreeding between GM crops weeds that may result in "superweeds" that have acquired the crop's resistance to (lames, 2003; Snow et al., 2004).

The concerns about this technology notwithstanding, many countries have funded on genetically engineered crops, and with each succeeding year since 1995, the of countries, crops, and hectares of land devoted to GM crops has increased significantly. For example, between 2002 and 2003, there was a 15% increase in world utilization and production of GM crops. China alone increased its acreage of transgenic by 25%, from 2.1 million ha in 2002 to 2.8 million ha in 2003, compared to a 9% by the U.S. from 2002 to

More recently, China has intensified its in the development and commercialization of genetically modified rice, by 27% price increases for rice since the beginning of 2004, compared to the time in the previous year (Jia, 2004). Rice, being the most important staple crop for than half of the world's population, is primarily grown and consumed in Asia (Lu, 1996). Apart from the price increase, what further complicates the issue of sustaining's population is a significant decrease in recent rice outpu needs for rice, the government of China announced that it is ramping up its efforts to genetically modified rice. From a research perspective, China has already several varieties of genetically modified rice that are resistant to that area's pests, pathogens, and diseases. Moreover, China is expected to launch several new field trials for GM rice this year, with the total planted area of GM rice to be 53 ha. In addition, the U.S. regulatory authorities approved 12 field trials G of 2004.

Commercialization of GM rice in China, at a competitive price for its population of 1.2 billion people, would mean a virtually guaranteed market for this staple . India, being the second largest producer of rice in the world, is expected to soon suit with its own commercialization program of GM rice. Already, India grows GM that has led to reduced pest populations and significant reductions in insecticide use (Thomson, 2002; Jayaraman, 2004). In addition, Indian scientists have engineered rice that resist

Quite recently, a consortium of seven Indian (companies) obtained licensing for genetically modified cotton, and hope to push for the of other GM crops such as rice (Bagla, 2004). This step would in effect the "clincher" in the global debate over the use of GM foods. With the two largest rice (producers) in the world (representing approximately 35--40% of the world's population) over to GM rice in an effort to increase output and decrease crop losses due to and insect damage, the rest of the world will eventually have little choice but to GM foods as a significant component of modern agriculture. Japan recently the commercial sale of allergy-fighting transgenic rice, expected to be generally to the public by the year 2007 (http://www.betterhumans.com). The Japanese have funded a major collaborative project into laboratory and field trials of a rice variety that has been developed to fight hay fever and has promised (provided that the tests go as expected) commercial availability of the product by 2007 (Anonymous,2003).

While many of the countries that have been active in the commercialization of GM are not involved in the production of GM rice, in the past few years, they have produced and commercialized a number of other important crops including corn, cotton, canola, and soybean. Moreover, every year for the past 7 years, there has an increase in both the total number of hectares of GM crops planted, as well as the of countries involved in planting GM crops (James, 2003).

The strongest opposition to GM foods has come from Europe, which, on a global scale, not happen to be a large rice importer. Therefore, it is likely that GM rice will face opposition from environmental activists in Europe, especially with the backing of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAG) of the United Nations, which recently the use of genetically modified crops (Nature Biotechnology, 2002). , it is worth remembering the case, in the summer of 2002, when six African nations afflicted by drought, r that the Union would boycott their local exports, after the corn that was sent for had been found to be genetically modified. The refusal came after the Union threatened to ban agricultural imports from Africa because of fears that may have become contaminated with the transgenic corn from the U.S. that was as food aid. As a result, millions of people in Africa faced possible starvation and death (Nature Biotechnology, 2002). To prevent this kind of disaster, it is to take ste modified . This can only be accomplished through education, and open and informed public on of research on GM crops.

According to Dr. Florence Wambugu, President of Harvest Biotech Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, "The African continent urgently needs agricultural , including transgenic crops, in order to improve food production" (Wambugu, 2003). Famine provides critics with an opportunity to promote an anti-message that only results in millions of people, who urgently need food, starving death. She urges the public to recognize the difference in needs between Europe and . Europe, with a population that is under control, has surplus food and does not hunger, whereas Africa, in contrast, experiences mass starvation and death (Wambugu, 2003).

New biotechnological advances could have significant impacts not on yields of crops, but a reap a fruitful . She further argues that it is necessary to set up knowledgeable regulatory bodies set policies to ensure that multinational biotechnological companies do not exploit the economic wealth of Africa. She suggests that the emphasis should be on local farmers about GM technology, and providing them with the resources to implement this technology in an effort to enable Africa to become more self-in food production.

Once GM rice is commercialized, it is highly likely that other crops will soon follow. , the impact of the current initiative by China is that it will, in all likelihood, act as a to alter some of the perspectives and biases against GM foods. Embracing GM globally would mean alleviating existing starvation and malnutrition, especially in of the poorer countries of the world where the majority of the populations are.

For example, Africa has the lowest crop productivity in the world, mainly to poor soil qua to basic agriculture (Thomson, 2002). Implementation of GM crops in developing nations of Africa would more independence from fertilizers and irrigation, factors that are not readily to farmers in the Sub-Saharan desert. Apart from the obvious advantages of GM such as insect and drought tolerance, pathogen resistance, added nutritional value improved yield, oral vaccines could also be incorporated into GM plants in an effort to the availability of immunizations of the most impoverished and disease-areas of the world (Glick and Pasternak, 2003). Of course, GM foods can provide a short term solution to food shortages due to over population, if population growth to increase as it has.

The advent of transgenic crop biotechnology and its implementation into fields has had a tremendous impact on global food security. To date, 18 countries in total implemented GM crop technology for a total of 67.7 million ha of land growing crops that are either herbicide resistant, insect resistant, or both (ISAAA, 2004). China forging ahead with the largest annual increase in acreage for transgenic crops two consecutive years, and India following suit to commercialize and implement its variety of GM rice that the battle over genetically modified foods is (coming) to an end. The day of stocking grocery shelves worldwide with "GM' foods does (not) seem so far away.


Anonymous, 2003. Allergy-fighting transgenic rice to be sold in Japan. September 2003, Website Access. http://www.betterhumans.com.

Bagla P. Report says India needs stronger, independent regulatory body. Science 2004;304.1579.

Glick BR, Pasternak JJ. Molecular biotechnology: principles and applications of recombinant DNA. 3rd ed. (DC). ASM Press; 2003.

James C, 2003. Global status of commercialized transgenic crops. International Service for the acquisition of Agri-applications Website Access. http.//www.isaaa.org/.

Jayaraman KS. India produces homegrown GM cotton. Nat Biotechnol 2004;22:255-6.

Jia H. China ramps up efforts to commercialize GM rice. Nat Biotechnol 2004;22.642.

Lu BR. Diversity of the rice gene pool and its sustainable utilization. In. Zhang AL, Wu SO, editors. Floristic and diversity of East Asian plants. Beijing: China Higher Education Press-Berlin. Springer-; 1996. p. 454-60.

Nature Biotechnology editorial board So. The fear factor. Nat Biotechnol 2002;20.957.

Snow AA. Andow DA, Gepts P, Hallerman EM, Power A, Tiedje JM, et al. Genetically engineered organisms and environment: current status and recommendations. Washington (DC): Ecological Society of America; . Thomson JA The potential of plant biotechnology for developing countries. In. Thomas JA, Fuchs RL, editors. and safety assessment, 3rd ed. USA. Academic Press; 2002. p. 385-96.

Uzogara So. The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century A review. Biotechnol Adv; 18:179-206.

Wambugu F, Dr. Florence Wambugu's statement on biotechnology in Africa. Biotechnology Industry , Washington (DC) 2003; Website access. http.//www.bio.org/foodag/action/20030326.asp.

Farmer Tells MLAs GM Crop Benefits Outweigh Negatives

- Wayne Thibodeau, The Guardian (Charlottetown, Canada), March 4, 2005, Via Agnet

Gary Renkema, a Wheatley River, P.E.I. farmer who has been growing genetically modified (GM) crops for the past five years, was cited as telling The Guardian Wednesday that GM soybeans are a perfect match on his hilly central Queens County farm. Renkema was cited as saying the soybeans are designed to combat soil erosion, cut the amount of chemicals he uses and reduces the number of times he has to go out with the tractor, which in turn cuts his costs and damage to the environment, adding, "I have almost egliminated my erosion and used, for sure, less chemicals. I use less time in the whole process so it's an economical benefit to me."

The story says that Renkema is the first P.E.I. farmer who grows GM crops to come forward to a legislative standing committee examining whether the pr ovince should ban them. Renkema was further cited as saying that banning GM crops will hurt him and other farmers, adding, "It would be a very uncertain future for me. I'd have to buy new equipment again, face erosion, spray more and work more hours in the field which I cannot afford. I'm time-strapped on my farm as it is."

The story adds that during Wednesday's hearings, fireworks erupted between MLAs and Leo Broderick, an outspoken opponent of GM crops. Five members of the standing committee on agriculture are farmers or work in farming, including chairman Wilbur MacDonald, Andy Mooney, Fred McCardle, Ron MacKinley and Eva Rodgerson.

Mooney challenged Broderick and other environmentalists who have tried to paint P.E.I. as a toxic playground because of the province's use of chemicals and are now being critical of farmers who are trying to find an alternative, stating, "The problem is we've got people passing out literature at the carferries and bridge saying, 'welcome to our poison playground.' They don't want farmers using chemicals, but yet when a company says they have tools that can help us not to spray . . . we run into opposition gtoo."

Broderick was cited as saying there is no proof that GM products reduce chemical use, adding, "There is far too much pesticides being used in P.E.I.," and that his literature indicates that GM crops may actually increase chemical use.

What Kind of Farming Works Best?

- Science, Vol 307, Issue 5714, 1410-1411; March 4, 2005

In his review of Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods by N. Fedoroff and N. M. Brown ("Changing genes to feed the world," Books et al., 29 Oct. 2004, p. 815), D. Pimentel misrepresents the impacts of genetically modified herbicide- tolerant (HT) crops and the consequences of organic farming, which he offers as a more sustainable way to meet the food challenges of the 21st century.

Pimentel derides HT crops because they result in increased herbicide use and potential pollution, yet are not significantly more effective against weeds than herbicides and tillage combined. This completely overlooks the drastically reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, and reduced fossil fuel consumption made possible by herbicides and HT biotech crops. The Soil and Water Conservation Society says that herbicide-based, low- and no-tillage cropping systems are the most sustainable ever (1) points made in the book.

Pimentel further denies the benefits of HT crops when he claims that "the soil has to be tilled" with current annual grain crops, causing "serious soil erosion." Perversely, Pimentel uses this misrepresentation to promote organic farming, which relies heavily on erosion- causing tillage for its weed control.

Pimentel selectively cites Rodale Institute research to claim that organic crop yields are equivalent to nonorganic. Yet, many long-term stu dies have shown a 10 to 40% organic yield deficit (2-4).

Pimentel may be correct in claiming "organic approaches would reduce the use of fossil energy in corn production by about 30 percent" due to not using synthetic fertilizer, but as Fedoroff and Brown note, only by using far more land per ton of food produced. Replacing synthetic nitrogen fertilizer would require at least a fourfold increase in manure applications or equivalent green manure crops (5).

Humanity already farms more than one-third of Earth's total land area, and additional land cleared for organic fertility and yield deficits would be of lower productivity, greater erosion potential, and higher ecological sensitivity. As Fedoroff and Brown make clear, genetic engineering offers us powerful and important tools to sustainably feed the larger and more affluent global population without using more land and wasting resources.


Alex A. Avery, Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues, Post Office Box 202, Churchvil le, VA 24421, USA.

C. S. Prakash, Center for Plant Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 36088, USA.

Alan McHughen, Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.

Anthony R. Trewavas, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh, Darwin Building Edinburgh EH9 3JR, Scotland, UK.

Thomas R. DeGregori, Department of Economics, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-5019, USA.


1. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Farming for a Better Environment (Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, IA, 1995).

2. J. Smolik, T. Dobbs, J. Sust. Agric. 9, 63 (1996).

3. M. Shepard et al., An Assessment of the Environmental Impacts of Organic Farming: A review for Defra-funded Project OF0405 (U.K. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, London, UK, 2003) (a vailable at www.defra.gov.uk/science/project_data/DocumentLibrary/OF0405/OF0405_909_TRP.doc)

4. P. Mader et al., Science 296, 1694 (2002). 5. V. Smil, personal communication.


UK: Advertising watchdog upholds complaints about Soil Association leaflet

- JUST-FOOD.com, March 3, 2005 http://www.just-food.com/news_detail.asp?art=60083

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld two complaints against Britain's biggest organic food certifier, the Soil Association, after it said that organic farming produces healthy food and is more humane to animals.

The complaint was about a leaflet for donations to the Soil Association, which said, "Does your food leave a bad taste? Demonstrate good taste - support the Soil Association." The complainant objected to a statement that "organic farming produces healthy food," because he believed there was no guarantee, whatever the farming method used, that the food would be healthy, the authority said.

The authority considered that the Soil Association had not shown that organically-produced food conveyed noticeable health benefits over and above the same food when conventionally produced or that a diet of organic food could guarantee no harmful effects. It asked the Soil Association to amend the claim.

The authority also upheld a complaint about a claim that organic farming was more humane to animals. The authority considered that the advertisers had not substantiated the claim that organic farming methods were more humane to animals than industrial farming techniques. The authority concluded that the advertisers had not justified the claim and asked them to delete it until they could substantiate it.

See the full decision at http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Adjudication+Details.htm?Adjudication_id=39414

Is Bt Cotton Failing in India?

- Anand Halli

Last week I read several articles in leading Indian newspapers on Bt cotton. The Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad had reported that several places in Andhra Pradesh the Bt cotton had failed. The farmers are disappointed. The CSA chief Dr. Reddy states that the Bt cotton has some defects. The Warangal region farmers had spent nearly Rs 2756 per acre of Bt cotton while organically grown Bt expenditure was as low as Rs. 200. The CSA say that they have proofs for their findings.

We are in the era of exploiting the potentials of biotechnology for betterment of human life. Any such findings would really result in cutting down the pace at which the biotechnology is progressing in various fields particularly Agriculture.

It is the time to understand, what is the cause for all these confusions? Are our Multinational seed companies responsible for this?

Biotechnology can Help India Leapfrog In Food Production


Bangalore, Mar 8 (UNI) India can leapfrog in food production to feed its hungry masses only through biotechnology, Dr V Prakash (No relation...CSP), Director of the Central Food and Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) said today.

Delivering an address at a Symposium on ''Agricultural Biotechnology: Opportunities for Farmers and Consumers,'' organised by seed multinational Monsanto to mark its seventh birthday in India, he said over the last several years growth in the Indian foodgrain production had almost been flat. But to meet the gluttonous need of the country there should be a vertical growth in production and this could be triggered only through greater spread of genetically modified crops. From less than 200 million tonnes, the country need to produce about 400 million tonnes by 2015, he added.

Making special mention about coarse grains such as horsegram, pigeonpea and chickpea, he said there was greater need for biotechnogical interventions in these crops as they form staple regional food in some parts of the country.

Stating that the rich human resource, besides the natural resource availability in the country offered a rich prospect for biotechnology to thrive in the country, Dr Prakash said like Information Technology, Biotechnology and Food Technology could put India among the top of the world. But there was need for a cautious and confident approach to tap it.

He said though India ranked eighth among the countries producing genetically modified crops, it still had a long way to go and instead of cotton, it should be used for foodgrains. Referring to the United Nations' goal of reducing by half the global poverty afflicting nearly two billion people, by 2015, he said only Biotechnology offered the solution. It could also help in tackling malnutrition both in urban and rural areas, he added.

Global Warming, A Done Deal

- Nick Birch

Dear Editors,

While I do enjoy reading your thought-provoking GM e-newsletter I do sometimes wonder if some of the credentials supplied by some authors are scientifically serious, given what is now widely accepted by most scientists about global warming as a serious threat to our global ecosystem.

"Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, is the editor of Global Warming and Other Eco Myths (Prima Publishing) and Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet(McGraw-Hill)"

Regards, Dr Nick Birch, Research leader, SCRI, Invergowrie, Dundee, UK

U.S. Loses WTO Cotton Aid Appeal, Paving Way for More Disputes


March 3 (Bloomberg) -- The Bush administration lost an appeal against a World Trade Organization decision that cotton aid worth $2.7 billion a year violates global trade rules in a case that may make the U.S. vulnerable to more subsidy attacks.

The ruling, the first ever to target domestic agricultural aid, faulted the U.S. for overshooting a cap on cotton payments agreed in 1994. The case by Brazil was followed by a challenge over European sugar export support, and Brazil is now threatening to bring a complaint over payments to U.S. soybean farmers.

As part of a WTO outline trade accord reached on Aug. 1, the U.S. agreed to negotiate scaling back payments to its cotton farmers, after a year of pressure from African producers of the fiber including Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso. More than 10 million people in West Africa rely on cotton for their livelihood, U.K.- based aid agency Oxfam says.

The arbitrator, Merit Janow, found that the U.S. "granted support to a specific commodity in excess'' of commitments made at the WTO "and therefore these measures are not exempt'' from attack under global subsidy rules, said the 311-page report, published today on the Geneva-based WTO's Web site.

The decision comes as trade ministers from about 30 governments gather in Mombasa, Kenya, for a two-day meeting designed to steer WTO talks toward an agreement on the formulas for cutting duties on industrial products and farm subsidies in December.

Prices Plunge

Cotton prices have tumbled 30 percent in the past year. The Washington-based International Cotton Advisory Committee, which represents 41 nations that grow and consume cotton, expects prices to remain at the same level -- about 15 U.S. cents per pound below their average for the last three decades -- until 2010, said Gerald Estur, the organization's statistician.

Without the aid, U.S. cotton production would have shrunk nearly 30 percent and world prices jumped more than 12 percent, according to the research done two years ago on behalf of the Brazilian government by Daniel Sumner, a University of California at Davis economist.

U.S. cotton exports are projected to fall to $3.4 billion in 2005 from $4.2 billion last year and $3.7 billion in 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And while American food exports are set to increase 16 percent since 2000, imports will be up 50 percent over the same period.

Breaching Limits

The WTO ruled that aid to 25,000 American cotton farmers overshoots payment caps the U.S. accepted a decade ago, when the trade arbiter was founded. Brazil argued that the legal protection for subsidies, known as the Peace Clause, had expired and wouldn't apply because U.S. payments are higher than those paid in 1992, the reference year.

Brazil's government estimates that its cotton farmers have lost more than $600 million in sales because of the subsidies. West African growers in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, some of the world's poorest nations, have lost some $382 million in exports since 2003, according to Oxfam.

Moussa Nebie, economic counselor for Burkina Faso in Geneva, said the case is "important and encouraging'' for efforts to reduce U.S. subsidies, although he doesn't expect the dispute to raise market prices for his country's farmers.

The Brazilian complaint against U.S. cotton aid followed a similar case against European Union sugar exports. In that dispute, which is pending an EU appeal, Brazil, Australia and Thailand successfully argued that EU sugar exports illegally benefit from production subsidies.