Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : April 1, 2005
* GM Cotton Approved for Brazil
* Aluminant-Tolerant Wheat
* The ABC of genetic modification
* Philippines at forefront of using biotechnology in agriculture
* Greece supports biotechnology but wary of effects
* Biotech is devil's friend, says film 'Future of Food'
* Food revisits Davis with director Garcia
Most of us have heard that Greenpeace has called Golden Rice "Fools Gold." Well, in honor of April Fool's Day today, a new website on Golden Rice has been launched. The site is complete with photos, FAQs, and other information. I encourage everyone to visit this site and to create links to it from your own web sites.
See the site at:
- GM Cotton Approved for Brazil
- ICRISAT Signs MOU with Local Agri-biotech Firm
- New Policies Formulated for India
- Increased Pro-Vitamin A Content in Rice
- EU Commission Confirms Support for GM Regulatory Process
- Aluminant-Tolerant Wheat
- UK Study Shows GM Crops Could Alter Weed Species Balance
- Document Reminder: Pocket K No. 17 Now Available
- FAO Releases Workshop Proceedings
- CBT News Feature: The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI)
- New NERICA Varieties Added
Read the full articles at:
The ABC of genetic modification
- SABC News, March 31, 2005, 14:30, By Deodatus Balile, Wagdy Sawahel, Luisa Massarani, Christina Scott and Mike Shanahan
Tanzania will soon begin its first field trials of genetically modified crops, making it the seventh African country to go the controversial GM route, according to reports on the Science and Development Network website.
The first plants to be tested will be cotton transformed to resist insect pests, including a caterpillar known as red bollworm. "Tanzania cannot afford to be left behind by technologies that increase crop yields, reduce farm costs and increase profits," said Wilfred Ngirwa, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
The government-run trials — expected to begin before October — will be supervised by researchers from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, whose laboratory studies have shown that the genetically engineered cotton kills caterpillars feeding on it.
Back to cotton?
The research will be conducted in Tanzania's southern highlands, where cotton production was suspended in 1968 in an effort to stop the bollworm spreading to the rest of the country. Since then, farmers in the region have largely grown sunflowers for their oil but complain that the industry offers little financial security due to the small market for their product.
GM cotton will be good news for farmers in southern Tanzania, according to Paul Ntwina, the member of parliament for Songwe constituency. "I am glad we will be able to produce cotton," Ntwina told SciDev.Net. "Technology is likely to be our liberator".
Job Lukonge of the Tanzania Farmers Association said it was good that the government had decided to start its genetic modification trials with cotton instead of a food crop, as it would avoid the contentious issue of having GM products in the human food chain. Lukonge cautioned that Tanzania may not have the necessary skills to handle genetic modification if it proves to be harmful.
By starting its GM trials, Tanzania will become the seventh African country to do so, following Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Of these, South Africa is the only country producing GM crops commercially.
Saudi Arabia and Brazil too
Elsewhere in the world, Saudi Arabia has just approved genetically modified crops for human or animal consumption. Meanwhile, Brazil has just authorised the planting and sale of cotton genetically engineered to resist attack by insects, SciDev.Net reports. And researchers investigating sterile potatoes genetically transformed to resist a major crop pest are searching for venues in China to continue tests.
According to the Saudi newspaper Alhayat, no genetically modified crops are grown in the desert kingdom, so the new ruling will apply to imports. Plant products containing genetic modification material will have to be labelled clearly in Arabic and English and carry official certificates showing that they are approved for human consumption in their country of origin. The decision explicitly bans imports and agricultural use of genetically modified animals and their by-products, as well as imports of genetically modified seeds, dates and decorative plants.
Environmental protection important
But Mohamed Hamoud, head of genetic research at Tanta University in Egypt, criticises the Saudi regulations for focusing on ensuring the safety of human health without adequately protecting the environment. "Importing genetically modified seeds for cultivation is prohibited under the regulation but farmers could obtain seeds from genetically modified fruits and vegetables imported for human consumption or plant GM seeds imported as fodder for animals," Hamoud points out. According to Hamoud, failure to ensure that imported GM plants are seedless or produce no viable pollen could possibly result in modified genes transferring naturally to other plants.
This is not the first move towards genetic modification in the Middle East. Iranian scientists announced earlier this year that they were growing their first genetically modified rice commercially for human consumption after transforming the rice with a bacterial gene that kills four types of insects but is harmless to birds and mammals, including humans. In addition, Iran has produced insect-resistant maize, cotton, potato and sugar beet in the laboratory, as well as herbicide-resistant canola, salt- and drought-tolerant wheat, and blight-resistant maize and wheat. Greenhouse and field tests are being conducted on these crops.
Brazilian project meets opposition
Meanwhile, the recent decision to allow Brazilian farmers to plant pest-resistant GM cotton has pitted two government departments against each other. The decision was taken by the national technical commission for biosafety (CTNBio) but was met with objections from the Ministry of Environment, which says the move violates the precautionary principle and contravenes both Brazilian environmental legislation and the global Cartagena Protocol on biosafety. The ministry claims the decision was based on unpublished studies and wants the potential risks of growing GM cotton to be assessed in a Brazilian setting.
According to the Nuffield Centre of Bioethics, a heavy-handed approach to the precautionary approach - designed to curtail the potential for cross-contamination - could prevent poor farmers and consumers in developing countries from reaping the potential benefits of modified crops.
The same issue of the "precautionary principle" has been raised in objections to genetically modified potatoes. However, South American and European researchers whose collaborative work was published in the rigorous science journal Nature say they have designed their pest-resistant potatoes so that they are sterile. Without viable pollen, there is no opportunity to influence related species, says Howard Atkinson of the University of Leeds, who worked with colleagues in Bolivia, Peru and the Netherlands.
They inserted a rice gene into potatoes to protect them from a microscopic nematode worm that causes tens of millions of dollars of damage. The gene produces a protein that interferes with the nematode's ability to digest its own food. By ensuring that the gene is only active in potato roots - not in the part of the plant above ground and not in the potato tuber itself - the researchers minimised its potential for accidental interaction with other species. Tests comparing the insects and microbes in both types of potatoes and other crops have confirmed this. The gene would therefore not enter the human food chain, although the protein already occurs in the human diet in rice and maize and is also present in saliva, so is considered an unlikely risk.
"This approach is practical for crops such as potato and banana that can reproduce asexually," says Atkinson. "We seek to carry out field trials of the technology for potato and banana in areas where no wild relatives exist, such as in China in the case of potato," he said. - Report written by Christina Scott with the assistance of Deodatus Balile in East Africa, Wagdy Sawahel in Egypt, Luisa Massarani in Brazil and Mike Shanahan in the United Kingdom.
Philippines at forefront of using biotechnology in agriculture
- BUSINESSWORLD, 1 April 2005
The Philippines is at the forefront of using biotechnology as an alternative means to ensure food security and alleviate poverty, and women are playing a bigger role in its propagation.
Dr. Clive James, visiting chairman of the board of directors of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA), 8.1 million farmers worldwide who benefited from biotechnology were subsistence farmers in developing countries.
In the Philippines, some 50,000 subsistence farmers plant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn which is resistant to the dreaded Asiatic corn borer.
Mr. James, who is an agricultural epidemiologist noted that in the Bt corn fields of the Philippines, said that in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa, and the Xingjiang province of China, women farmers are reported to be a contributing factor in the propagation of biotech crops.
"Women produce 80% of the food, feed and fiber of South Africa," Mr. James said. "And in the Philippines, it is striking to know that there are lots of women farmers involved in the production of Bt corn so women are playing a very important role here."
Mr. James also cited the role of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in approving the use of biotechnology in the country.
He said Mrs. Arroyo played a key role in making biotechnology a role model for other Asian countries to follow.
"I don't know what will happen if she had opposed the technology," Mr. James said. "More Filipinos will end up malnourished and the issue of poverty will remain a bigger problem in the year[s] to come."
He said there are several major benefits generated by biotechnology, including increase in productivity where Bt corn farmers got a 40% increase in yields, or eight times more than the 5% increase in Bt corn yield in the US.
Mr. James said the global value of production from biotech crops in 2003 was $44 billion.
He said another benefit from biotechnology is the challenge of feeding the world by year 2050. He said 90% of the population will be living in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Mr. James said biotechnology can also help preserve biodiversity and protect the environment, particularly in soil erosion.
He also noted that scientists are looking at the possibility of producing drought-tolerant biotech crops.
"Biotechnology has been proven safe and we have 10 years of experience in the technology and not a single death related to it has been reported," Mr. James said.
"We have thousands of farmers attesting to its benefit gains and not a single one of them have reported a loss of profit or loss of life."
In the 2004 annual report released by ISAAA, the Philippines was ranked no. 14 among countries producing agricultural biotech products.
Greece supports biotechnology but wary of effects
- XINHUA NEWS AGENCY, 1 April 2005
ATHENS -- Greece supports the development of biotechnology but is wary of its side effects, Greek Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said here Thursday.
"The Development Ministry supports the development of the biotechnology sector in our country and encourages related research," he said while addressing the first national biotechnology and food technology conference held on Thursday.
"However, it also monitors and studies the social, genetic and any other consequences that may result from biological research," he added.
He said that biotechnology has contributed significantly to improving and producing new ingredients, adding that biotechnological methods in food analysis and management of food by-products have improved both food safety and environmental protection.
The minister called on the industry and universities to make efforts for a closer integration between research, production and economic growth.
He also urged the industry to invest more in research in order to boost product competitiveness, market reach and export value.
As for genetically-modified (GM) foods, Sioufas said the government has no choice but "to maintain our reservations and objections to the cultivation and consumption of genetically- modified foods," until scientists are able to prove that GM foods do not pose a long-term risk to public health and the environment.
NOTE: The following is NOT an April Fool's joke. This article is real. Yes, the wife of the Grateful Dead musician joins Prince Charles, Paul McCartney and other celebrities in the fight against genetically improved crops, and has made what she calls a "shocking" film about them. According to the article, Ignacio Chapela collaborated on the film. Too bad she did not interview any of the 25 Nobel Prize winners who support these crops (see http://www.agbioworld.org/declaration/nobelwinners.html) -- CSP
Biotech is devil's friend, says film 'Future of Food'
- SACRAMENTO BEE, Alison apRoberts, 31 March 2005
Deborah Koons Garcia has never shied away from a food fight. In her 20s, she would berate friends who ate meat. At 55, she has calmed down a little, but not much.
"I'm almost like a food fanatic, but I'm not so evangelical now," she says during a phone interview from her home in Marin County.
Although she is best known as the widow of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, she also is a filmmaker, so it was natural for her to make a movie about food.
She thought she might take on pesticides, but then she decided to battle a monster she believes is much bigger.
"As a concerned citizen - and a person who eats - it became clear the big issue was genetic engineering and the corporatization of agriculture," she says.
The result is "The Future of Food," a cinematic indictment of genetically modified food and the corporations that promote it.
"It's kind of a shocking film; most people don't realize how this technology works and how prevalent it is," Garcia says.
The movie will be shown Thursday at the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento and Friday at the Veterans Memorial Theater in Davis. There will be a panel discussion after the screenings with organic farmer Judith Redmond, environmental researcher Ignacio Chapela and the filmmaker.
The screenings are sponsored by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Organic Sacramento, GE-Free Yolo and the Community Alliance With Family Farmers.
Whether you call them "Frankenfoods" or GMOs (the acronym for genetically modified organisms), you've probably eaten them. It has been estimated that some sort of GMO can be found in more than half of processed foods, about a decade after the first genetically modified crops were approved for commercial sale in this country. Canola, corn, soy and cotton are among the most commonly engineered crops. Almost half our corn is genetically modified.
The gene-splicing technology that makes it possible allows genetic material from different species to be joined in ways that conventional breeding could never achieve, even placing animal genes into plants. Typically, crops are engineered to make them resistent to insects or herbicides.
"It's not like traditional breeding," says Redmond, who started the organic Full Belly Farm in Yolo County's Capay Valley in 1985. "They're taking human genes or flounder genes and putting them into plants; there's something weird about it."
To proponents, such science offers salvation by reducing reliance on pesticides and increasing food supply, and perhaps someday cultivating plants to produce pharmaceuticals and even plastic.
To Garcia, it poses an uncertain and unacceptable risk.
"They have not been tested for health," she says. "We are the experiment; it's a real scandal."
Not so, says professor Rick Roush, an insect and weed expert at the University of California, Davis, who has worked extensively in biotechnology around the world.
"GM crops are among the most intensively assessed anywhere," he says. "The thing is, it's hard to figure out how GM foods could be risky; it's a psychological thing."
While people eat up tales of sinister food, Roush says, the good-news stories are lost, such as the one about genetically modified cotton in China, where a gene from a bacterium was inserted into cotton to create a pest-resistant crop. Before, pesticide exposure killed hundreds of people every year and sickened many thousands. Now, less pesticide is used and fewer people are poisoned.
Roush watched Garcia's movie carefully after a colleague bought a copy.
"I made, like, four pages of notes when I watched it," he says. "There are so many things that are misleading about it, but there are some good points. One of the areas I agree with is we should be putting a lot more emphasis on locally produced foods."
Roush also sees a need for some restrictions: "My personal view is, they shouldn't put human or industrial or pharmaceutical genes into food crops, just as an extra measure of safety."
But then, restrictions supposedly in place now don't always hold. Just last week, news came out that genetically modified corn seed that had not been approved by U.S. regulators was sold accidentally to some American farms for several years and may have gotten into the food supply. Federal investigators say there was no health risk.
In 2001, Chapela, a faculty member in environmental science policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, found engineered genes in native corn grown in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, where cultivation of biotech corn was illegal.
Chapela, who worked with Garcia on the film, says financial incentives skew research.
"Most people working in this field are very well-intentioned; to me, the big problem comes because of corporate and money influence," Chapela says. He argues that research promoting the technology is better funded than research that challenges it, and that researchers often invest in the biotech they study.
Garcia is not the first person to try to make food issues palatable to a mainstream audience. But it's not easy to succeed like last year's "Super Size Me," the documentary about McDonald's that dished out lots of attitude and became a box-office hit.
"The challenge was to make a film that someone who didn't know about these issues could watch and get a deep understanding - and motivate them to take action, even if it's just voting with their fork," Garcia says.
Garcia's husband, who died in 1995, would have approved, she says: "Jerry was very supportive of my filmmaking, and I think he would be really proud."
The filmmaker has been pleased by the response to her movie, which has been shown mostly at film festivals since it was finished last summer, especially from the conservative side of the political spectrum.
"There are some evangelicals who believe genetic engineering is against God's rule," she says. "It's not just a tree-hugger, liberal thing."
Sometimes it's a ballot thing, too, as activists campaign to ban GMO crops. Voters in Marin and Mendocino counties have passed measures to do so.
After serving up this cinematic fare, what will Garcia do for dessert? She's thinking about making a short movie about soil.
"I really like the people that I met in the farming and food world," she says. "I just enjoy that crowd more than the hip filmmaker thing - it's earthier."
On the food front, she is going to keep on eating organic gourmet food. Before the interview, she had vanquished a lunch of polenta, shiitake mushrooms, squash and green salad.
"Later, I'll probably have a little organic chocolate," she says. "I like my candy."
"It's kind of a shocking film," Deborah Koons Garcia says of her new work.
Food revisits Davis with director Garcia
By SYDNEY YEW / Aggie News Writer
If you really are what you eat, many Americans today are genetically modified.
With the increasingly common presence of genetically engineered foods in our supermarkets and restaurants, millions of people consume genetically engineered meat, produce and grains every day -- and many do so without knowing it. That is what activist Deborah Koons Garcia, who opposes GE foods, hopes to change with her new film, The Future of Food.
The documentary-style film will screen today at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium at 203 E. 14th St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
The $10 event includes a social hour prior to the film's showing and a panel discussion afterward with director and producer Deborah Koons Garcia, former UC Berkeley scientist Ignacio Chapela and local farmer Judith Redmond.
Chapela, whose research exposed genetic contamination in Mexican crops, called genetic engineering "the largest biological experiment humanity has ever entered into." (FOR MORE ON CHAPELA'S RESEARCH, SEE http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/articles/mexmaizeresource.html.)
Genetically modified organisms are created when DNA is transferred from one organism into another -- for example, a flounder available at the supermarket might have been created using bacterial DNA. Often, those who eat such modified products are unaware of where their food actually came from. This ambiguity leaves some consumers on edge, according to activists.
"This is an educational opportunity to come out and help people play a part in the food chain," said Temra Costa, food systems coordinator of Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "For me, to have opportunities to know what is wrong with food corporations can tell people what they can do about food."
The Future of Food focuses on the negative impacts of genetically engineered crops and livestock in the food supply. Koons Garcia, the wife of late singer Jerry Garcia, uses a documentary style to present facts and arguments from people who work with modified food.
"[The film] does a good job at explaining to a layperson what food industries do when they genetically modify something," said Sandy Weaver, co-coordinator of Yolo GE-Free.
The film features several biotechnology experts and farmers who study GMO foods, including Chapela, who researched corn DNA and GE corn grown in Oaxaca, Mexico with Berkeley graduate student David Quist.
"Consequences are very important," Chapela said. "We are finding DNA where we're not supposed to be finding it."
Both Chapela and Quist discovered that government-approved GE corn, grown approximately 60 miles away from natural corn crops, had crossed DNA with the natural corn, transferring a virus DNA into the natural corn.
"That's what was shocking, because people saw this transgenic crop that was not staying put where it was released," Chapela said. "It changed the whole industry for environmentalists and [people] realized it was out of control."
The film also features farmers and industries fighting against Monsanto -- a national provider of seed brands -- which Costa and other critics claim is buying out seed companies, thus disallowing farmers to grow their own crops.
"Whoever has the seeds has a lot of power over what people eat," Costa said.
Monsanto spokesperson Eric Aasen said he is comfortable with the movie, saying the audience is entitled to hear both sides of the GE food debate.
"Everybody is free to make a movie," Aasen said. "I wish to have an opposing side [to the film] because how can someone make an educated choice with one view? To present a topic, [the movie] has to have more than one view."
The event's organizers will pass out fact sheets about genetically modified organisms, and attendants can participate in a raffle. The 7 p.m. screening will follow a reception catered by local restaurants.
Tickets can be purchased at Natural Food Works and Armadillo Music, or at the door. For more information, visit http://organicsacramento.org or call 756-8518, ext. 22.