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March 22, 2005


Europe May Approve GM Soon; UK Study - Herbicides Reduce Weeds; Blind Faith of Food Fundamentalists


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 22, 2005

* EU to Push Approving GMOs, Could Come in Few Weeks
* Regulation of GMOs in the European Union
* Beware Blind Faith of Food Fundamentalists
* Biggest Biotech Crop Test Concludes: 'Herbicides, Not Genetic Engineering, Found to Impact Wildlife'
* The End for GM crops (!): Final British Trial Confirms Threat to Wildlife
* ... Latest Farm Scale Evaluation Results - New Evidence On GM Crops
* Bogus Argument that GM Crops Do Not Benefit Consumers
* Benbrook is Not Alone - More Blamed for Zambian Decision to Reject U.S. Food Aid
* Recognizing Opportunity: Risk vs. Benefit
* Banandana - List of GM Crops that Didn't Make it to the Supermarket

EU to Push Approving GMOs, Could Come in Few Weeks

- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, March 22, 2005

Europe will quietly press ahead with authorizing more genetically modified (GMO) crops, if necessary without the blessing of EU governments or the majority of European consumers, the EU's executive said on Tuesday. The first could be approved in a matter of weeks.

Holding its first debate on GMO policy since January 2004, the European Commission said it was ready to push a backlog of GMO requests through the EU's complex authorization process if member states could not break their years of deadlock over GMOs. "The Commission concluded that it would continue to comply fully with its legal obligations and proceed with the approval of pending authorizations as appropriate," it said.

Green groups say the Commission's pledge to return to "business as usual" on GMOs flies in the face of public opinion -- although the biotech industry disputes this -- since most EU consumers oppose GMOs, calling them "Frankenstein foods."

One aim of the Commission is to see clearer member-state positions on GMOs. Since taking office in November, the new team has put several key decisions "on hold" while it sorts out a common position on the way forward for biotech policy. One of these, a Commission approval of a GMO rapeseed, was due for mid-January and can now be expected within a few weeks, officials say.

A proposal on whether to order a handful of EU governments to lift national bans on specific GMO products should be debated by environment ministers in June. "This morning, the Commission was not trying to question the existing system," Commission spokeswoman Francoise Le Bail told a news briefing. "What the Commission would like to see is that member states assume more responsibility within the system."

More and more countries now abstain in GMO votes, which reduces the chances of a consensus agreement. A small group always votes in favor, such as Finland and the Netherlands; a counter-group, including Austria, Denmark and Greece, always votes against. The rest either abstain or vary their vote. When this happens, EU law allows for the Commission to take a decision when member states fail to do so themselves.


Surveys show more than 70 percent of European consumers oppose GMO foods, usually on health and environment grounds, although these figures are disputed by the biotech industry which claims that a "silent majority" holds different views.

Only one EU country, Spain, grows substantial amounts of GMO crops and the continent as a whole remains a major holdout against the spread of the largely U.S.-engineered plants, which are meant to increase yields and be resistant to pests. "Consumers don't want to eat genetically modified foods, regions across Europe want GM crops banned and member states refuse to support new applications," said Adrian Bebb at Friends of the Earth. "This has all been ignored by the Commission."

Commission officials hinted that one goal was to reduce Europe's high level of skepticism over biotech foods. "We have to pay attention to communication ... and the benefits of GMOs," one official told reporters. "We know a lot of people are doubtful about the benefits of GMOs, and there is a lot of unfounded fear," she said. "We need to bring a subjective debate onto an objective level."

EU member states have not themselves approved any new GMO since 1998, when a moratorium on new approvals came into effect. This was triggered when a handful of governments said they would refuse to endorse new approvals until there were tougher laws on GMO traceability and labeling. The moratorium, which inspired an international trade suit against the EU from Argentina, Canada and the United States, was lifted by a legal default procedure in May 2004. *******************

Questions and Answers on the Regulation of GMOs in the European Union at



Beware Blind Faith of Food Fundamentalists

- Dick Taverne, The Scotsman (UK), March 22, 2005

WHEN I first became interested in the controversy about genetically modified crops, I had no bias for or against. But the more deeply I studied the issue, the more convinced I became of the case in their support.

For the public, the main question is whether they are safe to eat. The answer is: they are as safe as any other kind of food. Genetically modified (GM) crops are now cultivated in 18 countries on over 80 million hectares - more than three times the area of the UK - and there have been no reports of harm to human health. Every major scientific academy in the world, those of the United States, Britain, India, China, Brazil and Mexico, has declared they can find no evidence of harm. If they were unsafe, why have US lawyers, who will sue anybody for anything at the drop of a hat, never found any grounds for litigation during the seven years and more that 280 million Americans have been eating GM food? Every new form of food has to be tested and GM food has been more thoroughly tested than most conventional foods.

Still, do we gain any benefit from GM crops? Apart from a tomato puree, which was clearly marked "genetically modified" and sold well until the scare about "Frankenfoods" drove it from supermarket shelves, no GM food has been on sale in Britain, although some food products have a GM content. The only way consumers benefit directly is by wearing clothes made from GM cotton, which we all do. Benefits to farmers, on the other hand, have been substantial, which is why the crops are now so widely cultivated. The environment has also gained. GM herbicide-resistant crops do not need as much weedkiller and there is less need to plough, thus enriching the soil and releasing smaller quantities of carbon dioxide.

Again, pest-resistant crops have hugely reduced the use of pesticides. More than six million small farmers in countries such as China, India, South Africa and Mexico now grow GM pest-resistant cotton. This has raised the incomes of Chinese farmers to $500 per hectare. In South Africa, more than 92 per cent of small-scale cotton farmers, mainly women, cultivate GM cotton and their incomes have risen by as much as 77 per cent. Because farmers have to spray less often, their health improves. We may not gain directly, but many poor farmers gain a lot.

The greatest benefits for the third world are still to come. GM crops that can resist cold and drought and grow in soil that has a high salt content are being developed. GM "golden rice" that can help remedy the vitamin A deficiency from which more than 100 million children suffer will soon be grown. Plants are being modified to make vaccines to protect people against hepatitis and diarrhoeal diseases that cause millions of deaths.

Why, then, do GM crops arouse such hostile passion? Opponents claim to rely on evidence. They cite the work of Dr Arpad Pusztai, based at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, which suggested that genetically modified potatoes damaged rats. The Royal Society said his study was flawed in so many ways that no conclusions should be drawn from it.

Opponents cite a study in Newcastle to show that consumption of GM plants could transfer antibiotic resistance into gut bacteria. In fact, the study concluded the opposite: that there was no evidence of gene transfer.

It is frequently claimed GM maize kills the larvae of monarch butterflies. One much criticised experiment did show that large amounts of pollen from GM maize fed to caterpillars in a laboratory killed them, but later tests in the field showed no harm. Every scare story has proved groundless, but opponents seize on anything they can, however flimsy or discredited, to bolster their case and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

In fact, most objections are not based on evidence at all but are more fundamental, indeed fundamentalist. Many green campaigners are so convinced they are saving the planet that they have acquired a missionary zeal. Their environmentalism has become a new religion and interference with nature is a deadly sin.

So firm are their beliefs that they are more concerned with direct action than with argument. GM crops grown in field trials have been destroyed; farmers who wanted to grow them, and their families, have been terrorised. Apart from vegetarian cheese, we cannot buy GM products because shops dare not stock them in the face of demonstrations by activists. The new crusaders follow the tactics of the religious right in the US who close abortion clinics by intimidation and of animal rightists who seek to close down companies that use animals in medical research by threatening their suppliers. Irrational opposition to anything, including GM crops, is dangerous. If we abandon the evidence-based approach, we cannot effectively oppose more dangerous bigots: the racists and extreme chauvinists.

Indeed, democracy itself depends on discussion, open-mindedness and tolerance. The new fundamentalists, who would deny us choice, not only threaten the future of biotechnology in Europe but undermine democracy itself, by allowing dogmatism to triumph over regard for evidence.

-- Dick Taverne chairs the charity Sense About Science and is author of The March of Unreason - Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism (OUP).


Biggest Biotech Crop Test Concludes: Herbicides, Not Genetic Engineering, Found to Impact Wildlife

- March 21, 2005, MSNBC

London - The world's biggest study on the impact of genetically modified crops on wildlife found birds and bees are more likely to thrive in fields of natural rapeseed than modified seed but the difference is not due to genetic engineering, scientists said Monday.

The scientists behind the British study were keen to stress the differences between the two arose not because the crop was genetically engineered but because of the way pesticides were applied. "The study demonstrates the important of the effects of herbicide management on wildlife in fields and adjacent areas," researcher David Bohan said.

Engineered, or genetically modified, crops "give farmers new options for weed control. That is, they use different herbicides and apply them differently," the scientists wrote in their report summary. "The results of this study suggest that growing such GM crops could have implications for wider farmland biodiversity," they added. "However, other issues will affect the medium- and long-term impacts, such as the areas and distribution of land involved, how the land is cultivated and how crop rotations are managed. These make it hard for researchers to predict the medium- and large-scale effects of GM cropping with certainty." The trial was the last in a four-part, $9.5 million test.

Fewer broad-leaf weeds Scientists said that when compared with conventional winter-sown rapeseed, the engineered, herbicide-resistant plants kept the same number of weeds overall but fewer broad-leaf weeds and more grassy ones. Flowers of broad-leaf weeds provide food for insects, while their seeds are an important food source for other wildlife.

Researchers said that while fields planted with the biotech version were found to have fewer butterflies and bees, differences arose not because the crop was genetically-changed but because of the way they were sprayed. In October 2003, the same government trials found that engineered sugar beet spraying was significantly more damaging to the environment than the management of conventional varieties. They also concluded that gene-spliced, spring-sown rapeseed may also have a negative impact on wildlife, while engineered feed corn did not.

Industry, activists react The biotech lobby insist the crops are safe. "GM crops offer a better, more flexible weed management option for farmers and, as the results today indicate, the difference between the impact of growing GM and non-GM crops on biodiversity is minimal," said Tony Combes, deputy chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents biotech firms like Monsanto and Syngenta.

Green groups, however, were aghast. "These results are yet another major blow to the biotech industry. Growing GM winter oilseed rape would have a negative impact on farmland wildlife," Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow said.

Despite optimism from proponents of the technology, and the fact that the United States has embraced it, engineered crops seem a long way off in Britain. Last year, the only firm to win approval to grow a genetically modified crop in Britain -- Germany's Bayer CropScience -- abandoned field testing in Britain. It also withdrew any outstanding applications awaiting government approval to sell biotech seeds. As a result, no new engineered seeds are awaiting approval in Britain, whereas in the mid-1990s more than 50 different engineered seeds were.


The End for GM crops: Final British Trial Confirms Threat to Wildlife

- Steve Connor, Michael McCarthy and Colin Brown, Independent (UK), March 22, 2005

Yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of the GM food industry in Britain yesterday when the final trial of a four-year series of experiments found, once more, that genetically modified crops can be harmful to wildlife.

The study was the fourth in a series that has, in effect, sealed the fate of GM in the UK - at least in the foreseeable future. They showed the ultra-powerful weedkillers that the crops are engineered to tolerate would bring about further damage to a countryside already devastated by intensive farming.

Only one of the four farm-scale trials, which have gone on for nearly five years, showed that growing GM crops might be less harmful to birds, flowers and insects than the non-GM equivalent - and even that was attacked as flawed, because the weedkiller the particular conventional crop required was so destructive it was about to be banned by the EU.

Even so, a year ago the Government gave a licence for that crop - a maize known as Chardon LL, created by the German chemical group Bayer - to be grown in Britain, thus officially opening the way for the GM era in Britain, to loud protests from environmentalists.

However, only three weeks later Bayer withdrew its application, suggesting the regulatory climate would be too inhibiting. That followed the withdrawal from Europe of the world leader in GM crops, the American biotech giant Monsanto, which also seemed to have tired of the struggle.

Since then, the GM industry in Britain has withered on the vine, despite the fact that some members of the Government, and Tony Blair in particular, were privately great supporters of it from the outset. Official policy is portrayed as being neutral and based simply on scientific advice.

But yesterday's results make it even less likely that other big agribusiness firms will want to come forward and go through the extensive testing process - and public opposition - that bringing a GM crop to market in Britain would involve.

Last night, the Conservatives spotted a political opportunity from the latest test results and, this morning, the shadow Environment Secretary, Tim Yeo, will pledge to prevent any commercial planting of GM crops until science showed it would be safe for people and the environment, and there was a liability regime in place to deal with any cross-contamination. Observers saw that as yet another Tory attempt to win over Middle England voters in the pre-election campaign.

The fourth and final mass experiment involving GM crops has found that they caused significant harm to wild flowers, butterflies, bees and probably songbirds. Results of the farm-scale trial of winter-sown oilseed rape raised further doubts about whether GM crops can ever be grown in Britain without causing further damage to the nation's wildlife.

Although the experiment did not look directly at the catastrophic demise of farmland birds over the past 50 years, ornithologists said the results suggested that growing GM oilseed rape would almost certainly exacerbate the problem.

David Gibbons, the head of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the herbicides used to spray GM rape killed broad-leaved wild flowers such as chickweed and fat hen which are important to the diet of songbirds such as skylarks, tree sparrows and bullfinches.

"For most farmland birds, broad-leaved weeds are a particularly important part of their diet. There are a few birds that will take grass seeds but, by and large, it would be hard to see how the loss of broad-leaved weeds would be beneficial to them," Dr Gibbons said. "Broad-leaved weeds are particularly important to farmland birds and the widespread cultivation of this crop, in this way, would damage hopes of reversing their decline."

The trial of winter oilseed rape involved planting conventional and GM forms of the crop in adjacent plots at 65 sites across Britain. Scientists then carefully monitored wild flowers, grasses, seeds, bees, butterflies and other invertebrates. Over the course of the three-year experiment, the scientists counted a million weeds, two million insects and made 7,000 field trips. Although they found similar overall numbers of weeds in the two types of crop, broad-leaved weeds such as chickweed were far fewer in the GM plots. The scientists counted fewer bees and butterflies in the GM plots compared to plots of conventional oilseed rape.

Les Firbank, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, who led the study, said that there was about one-third fewer seeds from broad-leaved flowers in the GM plots compared to fields with conventional oilseed rape. "These differences were still present two years after the crop had been sown ... So we've got a significant biological difference that is carrying on from season to season," he said.

GM oilseed rape is genetically designed to be resistant to a weedkiller that would kill the non-GM crop. It means that farmers are free to use broader-spectrum herbicides. The three previous farm-scale trials into crops investigated spring-sown oilseed rape, maize and beet. These showed that growing GM rape and GM beet did more harm to wildlife than their conventional counterparts.

"All of the evidence that we've got from the farm-scale evaluations points out that differences between the treatments are due to the herbicides. It's the nature of the chemicals and the timing at which the farming is done," Dr Firbank said.

Christopher Pollock, chairman of the scientific steering committee that oversaw the farm-scale trials, said: "What's good for the farmer is not always good for the natural populations of weeds, insects, birds and butterflies that share that space."

Farm-scale trials of GM crops are unique to Britain and represent the first time that scientists have evaluated the environmental impact of a new farming practice before it has been introduced, Professor Pollock said. Results of the latest trial are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Four Tests:

Test 1: Spring-sown oilseed rape, October 2003 Nationwide tests found that biotech oilseed rape sown in the spring could be more harmful to many groups of wildlife than their conventional equivalent. There were fewer butterflies among modified crops, due to there being less weeds. Verdict: GM fails.

Test 2: Sugar beet, October 2003 The GM crop was found to be potentially more harmful to its environment than crops that were unmodified. Bees and butterflies were recorded more frequently around conventional crops, due to greater numbers of weeds. Verdict: GM fails.

Test 3: Maize, October 2003 The production of biotech maize was shown to be kinder to other plants and animals compared to conventional crops. More weeds grew around the biotech maize crops, attracting more butterflies, bees and weed seeds. Verdict: GM passes, but critics brand study as flawed.

Test 4: Winter-sown oilseed rape, March 2005 Tests showed that fields sown with the biotech crop had fewer broad-leaved weeds growing in them. This impacted on the numbers of bees and butterflies, which feed on such weeds. Verdict: GM fails.


1953: James Watson and Francis Crick unravel double-helix form of DNA, making biotechnology a possibility. 1983: Kary Mullis, a scientist and surfer from California, discovers the polymerase chain-reaction which allows tiny pieces of DNA to be replicated rapidly. Shortly after, US patents to produce GM plants are awarded to companies. US Environment Protection Agency approves release of first GM crop: virus-resistant tobacco. 1987: Potato becomes first GM plant introduced to UK.

1994: Flavr Savr tomato is approved by US Food and Drug Administration, paving way for more GM products. 1997: Public find Monsanto GM soya is used, unlabelled, in processed UK food. June 1998:The Prince of Wales stokes debate by saying he will neither eat GM produce nor serve it to his family or friends.

July 1998: English Nature, the Government's wildlife advisory body, calls for a moratorium on planting of GM crops while trials are conducted into effects on wildlife of their weedkillers. February 1999:Michael Meacher, the environment minister, persuades GM companies to agree to a moratorium until farm-scale weedkiller trials are done. Spring 2000: Farm-scale trials of GM crops begin.

October 2003: Preliminary results find that two of three GM crops are believed to damage the environment. March 2004:Cabinet members approve qualified planting of first UK GM crop


Latest Farm Scale Evaluation Results - New Evidence On GM Crops

- DEFRA (UK), March 21, 2005

Environment Minister Elliot Morley today received the results for the fourth and final crop tested in the Farm Scale Evaluations of herbicide-tolerant GM crops - winter oilseed rape.

The results of the three spring-sown crops (beet, maize and spring oilseed rape) tested in the Farm Scale Evaluations were published in October 2003. Winter oilseed rape is sown in autumn and is economically the most significant of the crops studied in the Farm Scale Evaluations.

The Government-sponsored evaluations have been carried out to test the impact on farmland wildlife of the herbicide use associated with these crops. The results on winter oilseed rape will now be passed to the Government's statutory advisory body - the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). The Secretary of State will ask ACRE to advise on the environmental implications for commercial growing of the GM oilseed rape involved and the wider implications of the results for sustainable agriculture.

Elliot Morley commented: "I am very pleased that all results of this study, the biggest of its kind conducted anywhere in the world, are now available. The trials demonstrate the Government's precautionary approach on GM crops and our firm commitment to case-by-case decisions underpinned by sound scientific evidence."

"I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Chris Pollock and members of the Scientific Steering Committee that oversaw the research programme and I look forward to receiving ACRE's advice on the final results which we will consider very carefully"

Notes for editors 1. For details of the publication of the Farm-scale Evaluation results see the press release issued by the Scientific Steering Committee via Defra Press Office on http://www.defra.gov.uk/defranew.htm.

2. The full scientific results were published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Full details are available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse.

3. To aid understanding of the results, the Scientific Steering Committee has published a new non-specialist summary of the results, which is available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse

4. The Scientific Steering Committee has advised Government ministers on the completion of the studies. A copy of their advice is attached below.

5. The Scientific Steering Committee are holding an open meeting on 21 March, at which the results will be presented. Details can be found on http://host1.oliveserver.co.uk/sscfarmscale/default.aspx

6. As part of their deliberation process, ACRE will be holding an open meeting on 25 May at which they will take evidence on the findings. Details of the event will be available on http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre in due course.

7. The statement to Parliament by Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, setting out the Government's overall policy on GM crops is available on http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/ministers/statements/mb040309.htm

8. Decisions on whether or not to permit the cultivation of GM crops in the European Union are taken collectively by member states after a thorough assessment of the specific GM crop concerned and its potential impact on human health and the environment, in accordance with the procedures in Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs. Further information is available on the Defra web-site at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/index.htm

9. There are currently no GM crops being grown in the UK and we do not expect any commercial cultivation before 2008 at the earliest.

Bogus Argument that GM Crops Do Not Benefit Consumers

- Sivramiah Shantharam Biologistics International, Ellicott City, M

With regard to Andrew Apple's commentary that repeats the long quoted allegation about GM crops like IR and HR GM crops have no direct benefit to consumers is a bogus argument. This argument used to be mentioned quite vehemently five years ago and gets mentioned on and off even now. This is a spurious argument just to oppose GM crops, but the same argument does not seem to be applied other so called "non-GM" crops. Before modern GM crops came along and for almost 100 years of modern plant breeding, scientists and farmers have introduced improved varieties of one kind or another and the India's green revolution is singularly attributed to dwarf wheat varieties. But, no one ever accused those varieties of being no direct benefit to consumers. They were all designed for the benefit of farmers to grow bountiful crops and that helped starving people (hope the are consumers too!). It seems that if modern GM IR and HR crops do not directly benefit consumers, then they should be banned.

It is illogical to think that improvement of crops and animals to be grown in plenty does not have any benefit to the consumers. If the prices fall, and becomes affordable to increasing number of people, and one can see how Green Revolution helped the entire country of India (full of consumers), how is that it not consumer benefit? Consumers benefit in different shapes and forms, directly or indirectly. Consumers don't consume if there is no benefit of some kind. Any one in doubt should look at the economic benefits of Bt cotton and RR soybean in South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and India. Just why do farmers in these countries grown these crops if there was no benefit. By the way, farmers are consumers too!

More to Blame for Zambian Decision to Reject U.S. Food Aid

- Alex Avery

Chuck Benbrook emailed me upset that I singled him out in answering who is to blame for the Zambian decision to reject U.S. food aid corn and that I implied that he had blood on his hands. I do believe that among others, Chuck has the metaphorical blood of starvation victims on his hands. However, in the interest of fairness, Chuck wasn't the only one who advocated Zambia's unconscionable decision.

The Zambian delegation's report to Zambian President Mwanawasa noted in an appendix who they met with in their various visits in the U.S. and other countries. Here is a partial list of the organizations and people who met with the Zambian delegation and likely warned against accepting U.S. food aid corn given their past anti-biotechnology positions:

United States -- Consumer Union (Ed Groth, Michael Hansen), Friends of the Earth (Bill Freese), US Public Interest Research Group (Richard Caplan), National Environmental Trust (Matt Rand), Center for Science in the Public Interest (Greg Jaffe, Doug Gurian Sherman), Council for Responsible Genetics (Sujatha Byravan, Susan Fasten, Brandon Kein)

United Kingdom - Institute of Science in Society (Lim Li Chin), Genetic Engineering Network International (Joyce Hambling), Genetif Food Alert (Robert Yint)

Norway - Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology (Terje Traavik of Philippines disease outbreak fame).


Recognizing Opportunity: Risk vs. Benefit

- Dean Kleckner, March 17, 2005

Around the world, the British are known as a tradition-bound people.

"In England," wrote H.G. Wells, "we have come to rely on a comfortable time-lag of fifty years or a century intervening between the perception that something ought to be done and a serious attempt to do it."

Wells is probably best known for his 1898 science-fiction classic, The War of the Worlds. He had a fertile imagination, but not even he could have foreseen what has become one of the greatest wars in our world today: the battle over biotechnology.

The good news is that our current struggle doesn't involve an army of invading Martians determined to wipe out the human race. Yet the Europeans are nevertheless doing what they can to make it as aggravating as possible. They may require British leadership to change their ways.

That's because Prime Minister Tony Blair has become increasingly frustrated with his continent's knee-jerk rejection of biotechnology. If you listen to him closely, he is an eloquent critic of the "precautionary principle" that has thwarted so much progress. "What we need at some point," said Blair last week in an interview with the Observer, is "a real debate about risk."

Blair continued: "We are in danger of--depending on whatever is the media campaign of the day--ending up spending literally hundreds, sometimes millions, of pounds meeting quite a small risk, when actually that money would be far better used in other ways." He cited two recent public panics, the first over cell phones supposedly causing brain tumors and second concerning the red-dye food additive Sudan-1.

In a moment of candor--so rare in politicians--Blair also acknowledged: "It is probably best not to [mention] this in the heat of an election campaign." He may be right about that, and Britain is hurtling toward a round of national elections. Unlike the United States, which elects its federal officials on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in the eleventh month of even-numbered years, the British schedule their political races at the last minute and at the discretion of the prime minister. Much of the current speculation has swirled around May 5 as Britain's next election day.

Odds are that no matter when voters go to the polls, Blair and his Labor party will prevail (though perhaps with a reduced a majority). If Blair does triumph, I hope he will use his victory to encourage his countrymen, as well as the entire European Union, to understand that biotechnology is not a threat but an opportunity.

Too many Europeans continue to see biotechnology as a threat. Just last week the EU, once again, delayed a vote that might have permitted the importation of a biotech sweetcorn. Since the EU lifted its de facto moratorium on biotech foods nearly a year ago, it has approved only two specific products. If this is progress, then watching paint dry is entertainment.

In fairness, Blair is not the only European who apparently understands the promise of biotechnology. Spain allows its farmers to grow biotech crops. In 2004, they planted about 150,000 acres (1/8 of their crop) to biotech corn--double the amount from a year earlier. There is every reason to believe this rapid growth will continue.

At some point, the Europeans will reject their irrational fears over biotechnology--though it will take leadership from figures like Blair and countries like Spain. The EU needs to have a frank discussion about risks versus benefits. Consider the problem of deaths caused by highway accidents. There's an obvious solution: We could all go back to horses and buggies. But who wants to do that? The risk of dying in a car crash is far outweighed by the everyday benefits of fast and comfortable travel. This is common sense.

Besides, if we went back to old-fashioned horsepower, the manure on I-80 would be waist deep by now. I don't have a strong preference over who wins the upcoming British elections (though I do appreciate Blair's solid support of the United States). But I hope that Britain's next leader, whether it's Blair or another, continues on the course that Blair appears to be setting.

H.G. Wells may have thought the British lagged behind the times by five decades or more, but another one of his well-known books perhaps can point his countrymen in the right direction. It's called The Time Machine. At last, the time has come for Europe to set the controls for the future.

African Experts Endorse 'Sustainable Biotech'

- Crop Biotech Update, March 18, 2005. www.isaaa.org

The role of biotechnology in sustainable development is underestimated largely because of the controversy regarding genetically modified organisms. This assessment led the Africa Biotechnology Experts Working Group, who met in Entebbe, Uganda, to release a statement endorsing the role of science and technology in contributing to sustainable development of the African region, and encourage the governments of the region to acknowledge this in the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) agenda.

The group forwarded several recommendations, among which include the need to: Complement initiatives to create centers of excellence by strengthening existing facilities and investment to create a critical mass of African biotechnologists Create incentives by national governments for the private sector to invest in the development and commercialization of biotechnology products Create regional IP brokerage institutions for technology transfer into and out of Africa Increase and sustain government and devel opment partners investment in biotechnology development Harmonize policies and regulatory frameworks for the safe transborder application of biotechnologies Use existing systems, products and services to create awareness, foster communication, and devise effective information exchange mechanisms amongst the parties in the region

For more information, contact Remi Akanbi of AfricaBio at remiafrica@mweb.co.za or remi@africabio.com. Visit the AfricaBio website at http://www.africabio.com.


Why Going Organic Won't Do

- Financial Express (India), March 20, 2005

'We have to use all types of fertilisers to raise farm output, says Nobel Laureate Borlaug'

The only agricultural scientist to win a Nobel peace prize, Norman E Borlaug, has said that we need to use, and extensively, all kinds of fertiliser, organic and inorganic, to enhance farm productivity which was vital to fight the problem of hunger in the world.

Delivering the 22nd Coromandel Lecture in the Capital on Wednesday, he said productivity has to be enhanced substantially as 900 million people in the world still suffer from hunger. "Use all forms of fertilisers, organic and inorganic, as they enhance soil nutrient contents leading to higher level of farm productivity. The big challenge facing the world today is to make it hunger-free," he said adding that the world food supply would have to be doubled by 2050.

Borlaug applauded the use of organic fertilisers but said they cannot replace chemical fertilisers. "When it comes to organic fertilisers, I say without qualification, use all there is, but don't let anyone tell you that we can feed 6.2 billion people without the use of chemical nitrogen." He said the amount of nitrogen consumed annually through synthetic applications can just not be met through organic sources.

Linking hunger to conflict he said peace cannot be built on empty stomach. He said only 8% of countries with the lowest levels of hunger are mired in conflict compared to 56% of countries with highest levels of hunger that has civil conflict.

Speaking at the lecture, 'From The Green To The Gene Revolution: A 21st Century Challenge', Borlaug said there are limited potential for land expansions, except in the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa and the need for increased farm output has to come by way of application of genetically modified organisms on a wider scale, advancement in techniques like zero-tillage and bed planting.

He said 85% of future growth in foodgrain production should come from the lands already in production by raising the average productivity level through a combination of measures. "Productivity could be enhanced by improving the efficiency of irrigated lands and soil fertility management," he said.

"Irrigation will remain crucial to meeting food demand and genetically modified crops, commonly known as GMOs, will continue to play an important part in crop production," Borlaug said adding that such limitations as availability of water and natural plant nutrients makes biotechnology and improved crop production methods that much more important in battling starvation.

Advances in agricultural technology, from chemical fertilisers to genetically modified crops, are the keys to feeding more than 6 billion people worldwide while preserving vast expanses of uncultivated land for other purposes, said the renowned geneticist. "One has to go by scientific facts on productivity, and not by emotion," Borlaug said in reply to a question as to why NGOs worldwide oppose the application of Bt crops.

Agricultural land used for transgenic crop production has increased thirtyfold over the past five years. The United States leads the world in transgenic crop production, followed by Argentina, Canada, Brazil and China, and use of such crops have boosted yields and reduced costs.

Global grain production has jumped 23% in the past 50 years, from 650 million tonne to more than 1 billion tonne. "These improvements in yield are due to high-yielding varieties, agronomic practices, weed control and fertilisers," he said.

Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to the 'Green Revolution,' a food production movement of the 1960s that helped lift many countries, including India, out of starvation through the introduction of high-yielding wheat varieties.


- Warren Clements, The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 9, 2005

One of last month's challenges was to suggest genetically modified foods that for some reason didn't make it onto the grocery-store shelves. Here is another succulent selection. I've included a few that might have been hot sellers. (suggested by various readers across Canada...CSP)

Kegg: While the albumen stays the same, the yolk is replaced with beer.

Banandana: You can wear the peel.

Lemonde: a more worldly-tasting citrus.

Nukumber: uranium-enriched cucumber.

Runflower seeds: Mother Nature's new laxative.

Graspberry: raspberry that makes lewd advances.

Goatmeal: high-protein hot cereal with strong flavour.

Cornery: corn with a bad attitude.

Zapini: rapini with a static charge.

Rumpkin: pumpkin consisting only of its lower part.

Chalkolat: edible teaching supplies.

'Honey Do' melon: can be programmed to remind spouse of chores requiring attention.

Sasquash: large and dangerous vegetable on a humanitarian diet.

Drout: very dry fish.

Pumpkindling: more a combustible than a comestible.

Honeydewline: melons that always stay frozen.

Yammer: a sweet potato that just won't shut up.

Logoberry: loganberry with IGA inscribed on the outside.

Pomegranite: fruit modified with too many minerals.

Kiwinkle: a kiwi with a hard shell and a fishy smell.

Supineapple: pineapple with a drowsy after-effect.

Baa-aa-aa-nana: delicious with mint sauce.

Asparagas: not to be eaten in polite company.

Smelon: melon going bad.

Cutecumber: causes major disruption in the produce department.

Pharmalade: marmalade with long-lasting side effects.

Gropes: grapes that are a little too fresh.

Bubble gumbo: okra-favoured chewing gum.

Capoff: a capon that's not quite on.

Tushi: fundamentally unattractive. Maybe it's in the jeans?

Rashberries: a breakthrough that causes breakouts.

Storange: orange with a compartment for a spare set of keys.