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March 14, 2005


Back-to-Nature Syndrome; Tragedy of Biotech Rejection; Commonsense Labeling; Brazil Law; Titans Clash, Asians Move on


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 14, 2005

* A Little Pesticide Does You Good But 'Organic' Farming Harms The World
* Biotech Rejection A 'Tragedy' Among Developing Countries
* Biotechnology Raises Hope and Ethical Concerns at BYU
* More On the Political Biology of Labels
* Brazilian Academic Stresses Importance of New Biosafety Law
* To Grow or Not To Grow - That's The GM Question
* Food Fight Looms Over Europe
* India - Genetically Modified Crops: To Use or Not to Use?
* Position: Biosafety Expert for Africa
* Any Anxiety-Reducing Fat Burners in GM Plants?


A Little Pesticide Does You Good But 'Organic' Farming Harms The World

- Dick Taverne, Sunday Telegraph,March 13, 2005 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/03/13/do1304.xml

Our health is threatened not by chemicals and GM crops but by the eco-fundamentalists and their crusade against intensive agriculture: in an extract from his new book, Dick Taverne demolishes the myths and pseudo science of the organic movement

Nowadays "organic farming" commands such wide public support that to question its merits is to question the virtues of motherhood. Nearly every famous cookery expert takes it for granted that organic food tastes better and is more nutritious and healthier. Nearly every environmentalist is convinced that organic farming is better for the environment.

The British Government subsidises farmers to convert to organic farming, and in 2002 an official Commission on Farming and Food recommended that even more money should be spent to ensure that organic farming plays a larger role in agriculture. Of course, by definition, all food is organic and the term "organic farming" is meaningless, but to the ordinary public, the label "organic" has a reassuring ring. Eating "organic" food is like drinking "real" ale, not ersatz, imported, imitation stuff. It sounds safe because it is guaranteed to be GM-free and is assumed to be untainted by nasty, possibly carcinogenic pesticides. Supermarkets promote it, which they would not do unless there were a popular demand for it; it is also clearly to their advantage that the public are prepared to pay premium prices for it.

Evidence to justify this enthusiasm has proved elusive. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), set up to examine evidence about the safety of food and to protect the interests of consumers, has persistently refused to uphold claims for the superiority of organic food, much to the chagrin of the Soil Association, the voice of organic farming in Britain. In January 2004 the FSA stated: "On the basis of current evidence, the Agency's assessment is that organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally." When a complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority that recruiting leaflets published by the Soil Association made misleading statements, claiming that organic food tastes better, is healthier, and is better for the environment, the Authority found no convincing evidence to support the claims and the leaflets had to be withdrawn.

It is not surprising that these two independent bodies should find no evidence to support the claims, because public faith in organic food is based on myth. The organic movement is governed by rules that have no rhyme or reason; it is steeped in mysticism and pseudo-science; and, whenever it seeks to make a scientific case for itself, the science is shown to be flawed.

The philosophical reasons for supporting organic farming are part of the "back-to-nature" syndrome. Like alternative medicine, they are based on the belief that "nature knows best" and that what is natural must be good. It is nostalgia for a mythical golden age of small-scale and simple farming and pure and wholesome farm produce. Such a paradise never existed. In the days before intensive farming, when farmers did not use pesticides or artificial fertilisers, food supplies were constantly endangered through climatic and environmental fluctuations and crops were frequently lost to pests and diseases. Agriculture was associated with grinding poverty, intensive labour, and low yield.

In the last 50 years, since synthetic chemicals came to be widely used, our life expectancy has increased by seven years or more. Healthier and safer food, together with better health provision, has improved our physical well-being and increased longevity, and modern agriculture deserves much of the credit.

Since the main reason given for buying organic food is to avoid pesticide residues, the question has to be asked: Is organic food safer? The Soil Association plays on the public's concern, as do a number of other campaigning organisations that have helped to create a food-scare industry. In November 1998 the Consumers' Association magazine Which? under the heading "Pesticide Concerns", carried a story that test results from animal studies linked high doses of pesticides with cancers, hormone disturbances, and birth defects. It did not mention that high doses of anything cause harm, or that official reports on the concentrations of pesticide residues in food found that the amounts present were so low as not to be a hazard to health.

There is evidence that low concentrations of many toxic chemicals may actually have a beneficial effect. Examples are, of course, familiar. A small dose of aspirin mitigates a headache and can help prevent heart attacks, but a larger dose can kill. It is not generally realised that this dose-related effect is also known to apply to many supposedly toxic chemicals, including arsenic, dioxins, some pesticides and fungicides. In fact, a little bit of poison or pollution can do you good, and serves to reduce tahe incidence of cancer. More than 30 separate investigations of about 500,000 people have shown that farmers, millers, pesticide-users, and foresters, occupationally exposed to much higher levels of pesticide than the general public, have much lower rates of cancer overall.

By demanding total elimination of all pesticide residues from our foodstuffs, the organic movement promotes an unreasonable fear of chemicals and scares us about non-existent dangers. The public is not made aware of their beneficial effect on our general health.

DDT is another good example of a chemical that saved millions of lives by eliminating malarial mosquitoes yet was banned after environmentalists - including Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring - accused it of causing cancers. Yet not a single study shows that exposure to DDT damages the health of human beings. In Sri Lanka alone, the reported number of malaria cases rose from just 17 in 1963 to more than a million in 1968 after DDT was banned.

Possibly the most telling indictment of organic farming is its inefficiency, its high cost and its wasteful use of land. The facts cannot be seriously disputed: yields of most crops from organic farms are about 20-50 per cent lower than from conventional farming. That is why organic food costs more.

Efficiency matters. It affects the health of low-income families. Even in a prosperous society like Britain we should not ignore the importance of cheaper ways of producing food, provided they are not based on intolerable breeding conditions for animals. Prosperous middle-class consumers may not care about price, but the poorer you are, the more the price of food matters. Pesticides keep down the cost of fruit and vegetables and if the organic lobby prevails they will become more expensive. People in the lower-income groups will buy less; this is all the more important since they are now exhorted to eat more of them to help control obesity. Moreover, the more pervasive the propaganda that more expensive organic food is "safer and healthier", the greater the pressures on poorer families to buy food they can ill afford. Their diet will suffer and they will lose the protection against cancer that a healthy diet provides. More will die younger.

The environment also suffers if farming is inefficient. Organic farming wastes farmland. Since Europe produces an excess of food as a result of efficient farming, farmers can be encouraged to set aside half their land for environmental purposes.

However, all these considerations are minor compared with the world as a whole. Farmers in Africa and Asia are already organic: they do not use pesticides or artificial fertilisers because they cannot afford them. The Green Revolution passed them by, which was one of its failures. The organic movement seeks to go back to the days before the Green Revolution. Unlike GM crops it cannot help eliminate the pests and diseases that destroy nearly half the crops in Africa, or the development of drought-resistant crops that can grow on arid or semi-arid land. It cannot even match the yields which conventional farming already achieves.

Organic farming may satisfy the whim of the rich European or American consumer; its extension to the developing world would be a disaster. As the Indian biotechnologist, C S Prakash, has correctly observed: "The only thing sustainable about organic farming in the developing world is that it sustains poverty and malnutrition."

* Taken from The March of Unreason: Science Democracy and the New Fundamentalism by Dick Taverne, published by OUP, 18.99.


Biotech Rejection A 'Tragedy' Among Developing Countries

- Tom Steever, February 7, 2005 http://www.brownfieldnetwork.com/

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.

Listen to DeGreef Interview at


Biotechnology Raises Hope and Ethical Concerns at BYU

- Mark Wilcox, The Daily Universe; Brigham Young U., March 11, 2005

Cross corn with a gene from a bacteria feeding on the active ingredients in Roundup. The corn can now be sprayed with the weed-killer and not be killed itself, making weeding easier and more effective. These are just a few examples of what biotechnology and genetic engineering have pioneered, and many scientists at Brigham Young University are exploring new uses of this technology.

But as scientists use genetic improvements to increase farmland productivity throughout the world, it begs the question, are the scientists who alter crops playing God? For example, Asia's staple food rice lacks the antioxidant beta carotene, so a scientist created "Golden Rice," which essentially contains it. This prevents human blindness and vitamin A deficiency. Some still call the rice "fool's gold" because they believe scientists shouldn't toy with God's creations.

"We're told 'the glory of God is intelligence' and we're told to 'seek after these things' and 'seek after the miracles of the world,'" said Jeff Maughan, a professor in the BYU department of plant genetics. "If we start to manipulate humans, then there's some questions," Maughan said. He said part of being human is taking care of others through the stewardship God has given man over the land. He said biotechnology provides viable solutions to world hunger.

Europe is host to a raging debate about this ethical question, which is why leading companies have strayed from using animal or human genes in plants for now, Maughan said. "There's plenty of genes out there in these lower organisms that most people don't seem to care about, and they'll allow us to use those," he said. "We've focused mainly on those ideas."

Lisa Turner, author and opponent to genetic engineering for use in human food, wrote in an article published in "Better Nutrition" in 2002: "It's a new, weird science that allows the insertion of genes from any plant or animal into any other organism. "The problem is, no one really knows the long-term effects of such complex genetic manipulation. The potential dangers to humans and the environment are substantial."

Turner said she is concerned that birds and the wind might carry the genetically-altered plant seeds to other fields, eventually eradicating the natural strain. She also said new allergies might develop to biotech crops, which could cause serious problems.

Although such arguments against genetic engineering and biotechnology are in the limelight, genetic marking is the safer, more common and natural way to alter crops.

Rick Jellen, associate professor in BYU's department of plant genetics, said: "It [the press] gives the impression that we're a bunch of mad scientists, that we're all here to mess around with life to further our careers at the expense of consumers, at the expense of the ecosystem. "The problem we have, as scientists, is we're lousy communicators; just ask my students," he said.

Jellen said biotechnology can be divided into three parts: plant cloning, genetic engineering and gene marking. BYU focuses on gene marking, the process of finding a naturally occurring gene within plants that makes them resistant to disease. Once the gene is found, it is marked. If the gene is not found in plants grown in a lab setting, those plants are removed so they don't have to be field-tested. This is a great way to speed up and reduce the cost of traditional breeding programs, Jellen said.

Right now, Jellen and Maughan, other BYU professors and students, are working to improve Bolivia's quinoa crops through gene marking to make it resistant to drought, insect pests and disease. Quinoa is a common subsistence crop in South America. Jellen said this will considerably improve Bolivia's economic standing.

DeeVon Bailey, professor and extension economist at Utah State University with an interest in biotechnology said, "From the point of view of economics, there are obviously some very important sorts of things biotechnology can do for food." "The question is: Do we have enough proof at this point to suggest we do not need to worry about long-run or unintended effects of biotechnology?" Bailey said.

He said no hard proof is available to prove genetically altered food is detrimental to health, but some legitimate ethical issues need to be discussed. "When we're talking about [genetic modification of] food," Bailey said, "I have very little, if any reservation about that."


On the Political Biology of Labels

- Roger Kalla, Director Korn Technologies, Australia; stenroger@kalla.name

Ron, I read your contribution to the debate on what the confusing assortment of 'LMO ' , 'GMO', 'GM', 'GE', non-GM labels means to the readers of AgBioworld and to confused consumers all over the world.

As a scientist it raises my hackles to hear demands that anything should be 100 % free of anything. This is not a scientific proposition ( if we are not talking about the absolute vacuum of outer space at 0K) for any living system and certainly not for anything as chaotic and unpredictable as our biosphere.

With increasing sophistication of analytical methods we push the borders of detection further and we are now able to detect 1 ppm to 1 ppb levels of most biological and chemical compunds including DNA.

This sophistication comes at a cost though as a forensic analysis for presence of minuscule amounts of DNA cost AUD 100 to 250 and can only reliably be performed by accredited labs.

I have put up the example below for comment to the forces of unreason here in Australia that say that the market demand is for Australian produce to remain ' GM-free'( that seems to be the accepted terminology here down-under for the moment) and I would argue have lost all sense of proportion.

Dioxin is a potent toxin present in our environment . It has had its uses recently to poison the President Elect of Ukraine Viktor Yushenko. It has also appeared in organic 'free range' eggs in EU recently due to the hens being able to roam freely on a contaminated site in the name of ' market demands' pushed by animal rights activists and marketing organisations wanting to get a premium on their produce with out much effort.

The amount of dioxin required to cause clear health effect is as low as 1 ppm The expense to apply careful scientific analysis to track down the source of the contamination and fix the problem was well worth it. Contrast this to the 'GM free' lobby insistence that the egg and chicken producers keep GMO content in the chicken feed down to 1ppm levels for GM events that has received US and Australian regulatory health clearance and have got no indication that they are unsafe at any level. To adopt a 'zero tolerance ' policy for GM is totally disproportionate and will divert stretched resources away from food safety issues that really matters.

In this context the insistence on 'GM-free' labelling is not only a luxury Western consumers can't afford due to the real possibility it has to divert away resources from the protection of the public health and the food safety of Australia and other countries being pressured by the global 'GM-free' lobby.

The next opportunity to confront these unreasonable demands in a world forum will be at the 2nd meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Biosafety protocol in Montreal in May where the global GE campaign movement will be wielding their political influence to push the levels for 'LMO' labelling down to levels that don't make any scientific, economical or political sense.

I hope to be there in May to put some sense of proportion back on the agenda and work for cut-off levels for GM labelling that make scientific, economic and political sense on a global scale.

Regards, Roger Kalla

>The Political Biology of Labels: GMOs, LMOs, Transgenics Ron Herring, AgBioView, agbioworld.org, March 8, 2005


Brazilian Academic Stresses Importance of New Biosafety Law

- Correio Braziliense web site, Brasilia, in Portuguese; Mar 9, 2005; BBC Monitoring

Text of commentary by Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro, president of the Brazilian Society of Biotechnology and member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences: "The importance of the new biosafety law" published by Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense web site on 9 March

On 2 March, Congress passed the Biosafety Law for Brazil, which regulates the use of genetically-modified organisms [GMOs], the basis of modern biotechnology, and the handling of embryonic stem cells, the basis of medicine for the new millennium. Parliament had already passed a biosafety law for Brazil in 1995 after five years of intense debate. All this effort was foiled by a judicial decision that prohibited sales of GMOs on the grounds that the Brazilian law was unconstitutional. This halted the progress of biotechnology in the country in 1998. The funds for science disappeared and it was not possible to promote technological development.

To this day, none of Embrapa's [Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Research Company] biotechnology products have managed to reach the market, although our competence in the field is beyond question. We had a gap in the law for seven years. In 2004, the Judiciary restored the legitimacy of the biosafety law passed in 1995, led by the vote of Judge Celene Almeida. Last week, parliament passed a new legal framework for biosafety, compatible with scientific and technological development in biotechnology in Brazil. There is also the worrying argument of some who want to treat science and technology as two separate worlds, as if the investments required for science did not depend on making technology possible.

It will not be possible to attract investment for biotechnology development, both scientific and technological, if we do not have clear rules to guarantee that products will be marketed only if they are safe for man and the environment. It is understandable and feasible to ban technology on the grounds of safety. That is what the CTNBio [National Technical Biosafety Commission] has competently been doing since 1995. Banning technologies without scientifically-based safety reasons are exceptional acts that are ultimately justified by issues of public interest. Thus, the new law created a Council of Ministers which was viewed by scientists as a kind of supreme court to address exceptional cases.

Embrapa can now hand the farmers its biotechnology products, which have cost 25 years of public investment. The return depends on treating technological development and the marketing of products as set forth in the law recently passed by Congress. Science and technology are two halves of a whole. The role of biotechnology is to transform science into high-value-added products. Science is expensive for poor countries and thus the marketing of its products must yield a profit to ensure financial viability in the long term. If we create obstacles to selling the products, it will be a death sentence for our technological development in the field and thus for our scientific development.

We would also be telling our youth that they should avoid biotechnology because it has no future. We would be telling millions of PhDs in biotechnology in Brazil that they will have no finance for research, as has occurred over the last seven years.

Brazil's great scientific progress over the last 25 years increased its scientific contribution to the world by 400 per cent. The main reason is the training received by tens of thousands of scientists both in Brazil and overseas since the early 1970s. There is a clear link between scientific production and the development of human resources. Scientific development, however, does not automatically generate technological development with innovations. For that purpose, we have new laws of innovation, public-private partnerships, and the Forum for Competitiveness in Biotechnology, created in September 2004. An adequate biosafety law was necessary to complete the government's industrial policy.


To Grow or Not To Grow - That's The GM Question

- This is Worcestershire, UK Newsquest Regional Press - March 9, 2005

The subject of genetic modification (GM) has triggered conflicting reactions among many with countless public utterances and media opinions generating more heat than light. So I was glad of the opportunity to go to a well-balanced debate laid on by the NFU at Hereford.

Ian Howie who chaired the meeting had succeeded in inviting two exceptionally well-informed and well-qualified speakers. John MacLeod well known to Herefordshire farmers from his period as sheep specialist at Rosemaund Experimental Husbandry Farm occupied a number of other posts in rural research agency ADAS before becoming director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany at Cambridge for 10 years. He retired in 2000. He was a member of ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England)the committee entrusted with recommending whether or not to release GM crops.

Tom Latter who went organic 12 years ago farms 132 acres in Pembrokeshire producing cereals beef and sheep and some vegetables. He has recently given up milk production.

Mr MacLeod said:
"Biotechnology now offers the means of making a great impact in food production and GM is just one aspect of this. We must not forget that agriculture itself has had huge impact on the environment both in this country and worldwide.We know that there is great potential to do good but also to get some things wrong. But now we know much more about risk assessment than our predecessors.

An old proverb said 'a man with plenty has many problems. A man with no food has only one'. We will have two billion more mouths to feed by 2030; and people desire a better diet with more meat and milk. There is a choice between relatively intensive production and extending agriculture into unreclaimed areas.

Europe's demand for non-GM soya has resulted in big areas of rainforest being cut down in Brazil. Looking to the year 2020 the stalemate on biotechnology and GM is a pity. We need to lift our eyes and move on. Time is not on our side. It would take 15 to 20 years to produce new types of GM seed in quantity. GM is not just about moving genes but identifying genes in the genera of the grasses that include all the major food crops.

There has been talk of Frankenstein plants but never an example of a food crop plant becoming an invasive pest plant. "Plant breeding is moving from an art to a science. Since 1960 plant breeders have been working to get genetic disease resistance and to reduce dependency on pesticides. Achieving this by natural breeding is a slow process. Being able to move genes offers more scope.

In my six years with ACRE I strongly supported the cautious step by step European approach on GM as opposed to the US and Canadian way of jumping in But there is an urgent need for Europe to develop a more strategic foresight. In the UK we have a very strong science base. We could lose it. The train is about to leave the station. There's a risk we'll not be on board!"

Mr Latter said:
"I share a lot of common ground with John. We certainly need the best of all sides including organic. But I am very concerned at the GM trials in relation to organic farms. There was a big fuss with 90 per cent opposed to the trials. And there is a huge controversy worldwide.

Scientists had called for a moratorium for many reasons including safety tests for GM food and co-existence issues. The science approach is biased and tells only half the story. The establishment prefer us not to hear it all. Remember that science itself cannot make people good. It can produce evil as well as good.

Scientists are no more qualified to pronounce on basic truths than anyone else and are biased because of vested interests. It is more convenient but not more profitable to grow GM crops. Canadian farmers have problems of practical management and economics with high seed costs and a lower selling price for GM.

In North America GM crops have spread to neighbouring farms causing problems with non-GM. After three years on GM higher doses and more frequent applications of pesticides were needed. There is very little data on safety tests for GM foods. It is a desk-top study of risks not feeding trials with animals. Why not repeat the trials in Scotland where GM tomatoes led to stomach ulcers in rats and GM potatoes to intestinal growths in mice?

GM frightens me because it all seems geared to an industrial approach to agriculture. In the wild you never find a single species by itself. Sustainable systems in the tropics are based on mixed cropping and biological pest control.

We are trying to perpetuate a mono-cropping system with industrial control of seed and herbicide out of the farmer's hands. A system run by a handful of mega-companies is vulnerable. If there is a mistake it is a very big mistake. Farmers are the foundation of civilisation. This is still as true as ever. But is the aim the industrialisation of society?"

In the ensuing debate Mr MacLeod posed the question: "Since about 80 per cent of our medicines are now produced by GM including improved choices of insulin to control diabetes why is it OK to have our medicines but not our food GM?"

The debate threw some light on the GM food controversy. The fact is that high pressure for GM from global companies to maximise profit by exploiting their monopoly stimulated a big anti-GM reaction among consume


Food Fight Looms Over Europe

- Reuters via CNN, , March 12, 2005

'Genetically modified food is the issue: Old World fears it, while the New World embraces it.'

Europe looks on course for another clash with its top trading partners over genetically modified (GMO) foods as negotiations get under way for the gradual enforcement of a treaty to control global GMO trade.

Europe's skeptical stance on GMOs has long poisoned its trade relations with biotech-friendly countries like the United States, Canada and Argentina, where consumers shrug off claims from green groups that these products may be pose risks.

In Europe, genetically modified maize, soybeans and other crops and their products are shunned as "Frankenstein Foods" by most consumers, leading retailers to keep them off shelves. This puts a dent in world trade and prompted the GMO-growing trio to file suit against the EU at the World Trade Organization for its policy, begun in 1998, of not accepting imports of new GMOs: the EU's de facto moratorium, which ended last year.

The battleground now switches to a UN treaty, the Cartagena Protocol, that came into force in 2003 and aims for more transparency and control in international GMO trade. It has been signed by 116 countries but not the United States, the world's GMO giant. Negotiations on implementation and enforcement have moved slowly, with the next meeting set for Montreal in late May and early June.

The protocol obliges exporters to provide more information on GMO products like maize and soybeans before any shipment to recipient countries, to help them decide whether to accept it. Crucially, it lets a nation reject GMO imports or donations, even without scientific proof, if it fears they pose a danger to traditional crops, undermine local cultures or cut the value of biodiversity to indigenous communities.

U.S. frustration
The biotech industry complains the treaty will create costs running into millions of dollars for testing export cargoes for the presence of gene-altered grains. In the meantime, those countries that have not signed the treaty -- the major exporters, who say GMOs are no different from natural organisms -- are struggling to make their voices heard.

This was the situation at the last major meeting of the protocol's signatory countries in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004. "They (exporters) were unhappy (at Kuala Lumpur). They get their view heard and then it's ignored," said Doreen Stabinsky, genetic engineering campaigner at Greenpeace International. "They were frustrated, they will continue to be frustrated and they'll do what they can to influence the terms of the agreement," she told Reuters.

Too complex, industry says
Many details on how countries put the protocol into practice still have to be thrashed out. Whatever happens, all signatories must work its provisions into national laws. And this is where GMO exporters, and the biotech industry, want to play a role.

"The protocol itself is not so bad, it's how it would be interpreted. It's a question of how far you go. That's where the battleground for ideas will be," said Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International, a Brussels-based federation representing the global plant science industry. "The complexity of this could grind the trade to a halt and add costs. Liability is also one of the major issues," he said. "We're seeing two trading blocs emerge, GMO and non-GMO. It will eventually equalize out, but it's creating some tension."

U.S. officials say they want to see proper implementation of the protocol by its signatories, in line with WTO rules. If not, this would disrupt trade and could be challenged. EU diplomats were skeptical about U.S. attempts to influence the final shape of the treaty. "It really doesn't look like it's progressing very fast," said one. "The U.S. doesn't think we (EU) have implemented it in a particularly fair way so I can't see what the immediate incentive is for them to take the process very seriously."

Problem areas for the Montreal meeting will be agreeing requirements for labeling and documentation of GMO cargoes, as well as thresholds for the percentage content of GMO material that may exist by chance in a non-GMO shipment.

"There will be a push by the United States and other countries for allowing adventitious presence of unapproved GMOs -- for which Europe has a zero percent threshold. Those things are on the table," Stabinsky said.


India - Genetically Modified Crops: To Use or Not to Use?

- Reuters via Financial Express (India), March 13, 2004 http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=85096

The debate continues on the pros and cons

When India first allowed commercial use of genetically modified seeds three years ago, farmers hoped the new technology would quickly take root. But mired in field trials and political debate, India has made little headway in launching gene-altered seeds. So far, cotton is the only crop to be introduced to transgenic technology.

]The government is cautious. Critics and non-governmental agencies warn of environmental dangers to the farm sector, which employs about 60% of its population. "The government's strategy has been public safety first," said S.R. Rao, director in the biotechnology department. "Our policy is of precaution and at the same time promotional."

Environmental activists Greenpeace say farmers of the few genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops to have been grown in India have not benefited from the technology. "The yields have not gone up in some areas and there have been cases of secondary pest attacks," said Divya Raghunandan, a Greenpeace campaigner.

Government institutes, seed firms and agriculture universities have been conducting trials on GMO seeds such as mustard, rice, potatoes, brinjals and tobacco. They are in various stages of development, but it will be up to four more years before many can be planted. India is also cautious on GMO imports. "All GMO imports have to be declared by importers and clearance has to be taken from environment and health ministries," said a government official.

Analysts and officials say India, where farm yields are among the lowest in the world, needs to speed up GMO crop research to feed its people. India, the world's largest buyer of edible oils, is struggling to boost oilseeds output, which has been stagnant for the past 10 years. India grows 1,000 kg of soybeans per hectare, compared with the world average of about 2,400 kg. "We need to more than double our grain output to 420 million tonnes in the next two decades to feed our growing population," a farm scientist said. "The only way out is technology."

The opposition to GMO food crops across the globe is much stronger than for crops such as cotton. Last year, US biotech giant Monsanto Co dropped plans to introduce the world's first GMO wheat. Indian cotton farmers have embraced the new technology with enthusiasm. Genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, is widely grown worldwide. It contains a bacterial gene that kills the common bollworm pest.

Traders and officials said the area under genetically modified cotton in India had surged to 1.34 million hectares this crop year, from 44,500 hectares when it was launched in 2001.

Last week, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the regulatory body comprising scientists, officials, activists and seed developers, approved new cotton varieties to be produced in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

"It is a good step. Punjab farmers should have got it two years ago," said Balbir Singh Rajewal, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a leading association of farmers.

"Cotton crop had been very badly hit by bollworm and there was no solution to it. We should get the latest GMO technology so that we can get rid of pests and save our crops. The government should encourage GMO seeds in other crops also," he said.
Asia Is Cautious

Asian countries are still cautious about embracing genetically modified organisms (GMO) as debate across the globe intensifies on safety of such crops to health and environment.
Here is the situation in several Asian countries:

JAPAN - Farmers can grow GMO crops approved by agriculture, health and environment ministries. The farm ministry has approved planting of GMO corn, soybeans and rapeseed. But such crops have so far not been produced commercially due to public concern. Research into rice genome, development of new crop varieties based on genome research, and development of agricultural biotechnology is on.

CHINA - China could start commercial production of a new breed of genetically engineered rice as early as this year. If adopted, it would be the world's first large-scale plantation of a major transgenic food crop. Government officials have remained tight-lipped about plans to introduce any form of GMO rice. China has so far allowed only GMO cotton to be grown.

SOUTH KOREA - The government requires labelling for GMO beans, bean sprouts, corn and potatoes, and also for food for human consumption processed from these commodities. It plans to expand the regulation to cover all living organisms imported for human consumption this year, in line with global regulations. GMO crops that have been certified as safe by the government can be used for food. But amid safety concerns, food processors have always taken a cautious stance.

TAIWAN - The only regulation in place requires assessment and labelling for 10 varieties of modified corn and one variety of modified soybean. Government agencies are working on similar requirements for potatoes, cotton and canola oil. There is no timetable for implementing these requirements.

PHILIPPINES - The Philippines, the first Asian country to commercialise genetically modified corn, is now holding field trials for biotech rice. Industry experts say approval for planting the food grain is at least two years away. In 2002, it approved Monsanto's application for limited commercialisation of Bt corn, an insect-resistant variety.

AUSTRALIA - Concern from state governments has blocked Australia from growing its first commercial GMO canola crop, although the federal government approved it for commercial release in December 2003. Most provincial governments have the bans in place until 2006, with some extending the bans until 2009. State bans are based on concerns that GMO canola would jeopardise Australia's exports of conventionally produced canola. Consumer opposition last month forced Australia's three biggest poultry producers to stop using imported, genetically modified feed to fatten the birds.


Position Announcement: Biosafety Expert Needed for Africa

The Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) is seeking a qualified individual to assist the Associate Director for West and Central Africa, starting immediately. We are asking your assistance in locating suitable candidates so that the position can be filled as soon as possible.

The person hired will be full-time PBS staff and have a renewable annual contract with IFPRI. The job involves working with PBS staff, government officials and scientists in partner countries, and USAID bilateral and regional missions in West Africa to develop and implement programs to strengthen national and regional capacities for the safe testing and use of agricultural biotechnology products. Relocation is not required; near-term opportunities for advancement are expected.

The successful candidate will:
1. be an African national (strongly preferred)and does not require relocation.
2. be fully fluent in French and English 3. have program management experience
4. be knowledgeable about biotechnology and biosafety 5. be able to travel internationally

Patricia L. Traynor, Ph.D., Associate Director for West and Central Africa, Program for Biosafety Systems
PO Box 10173, Blacksburg, VA 24062, USA, tel: 540-961-2628, fax: 540-961-2629; traynor@newagritech.net


Anxiety-Reducing Fat Burners in GM Plants?

I would like to know if anyone knows of an approved mixture from plants that will meet the following pharmaceutical need: Anxiolytic fat burner

Thank you very much, - Orlando M. Ruiz Acosta, Pharmaceutical chemist", "info"