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Date:

May 4, 2005

Subject:

Calorie Free Rhetoric; Dreaded G-word; GM Soybeans Stop Hair Loss; Europe Coming to Sense; Bully Suzuki; Ignorant Minister; Miracle of Biotech

 

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

* Ivory-Tower Rhetoric Is Calorie Free
* UK Election: Do Not Mention the G-word
* GM Soybeans Stop Hair Loss
* Europeans Gradually Accepting More Biotechnology
* Biotechnologists Elected to US National Academy of Sciences
* Not So Golden Silence on GM Rice
* Suzuki 'Bullies' Those Who Oppose His Views
* I Won't Eat GM Food: Minister
* .. Minister's Comments Have No Basis in Science
* ... Aussie Ag Minister's GM Claims Rejected by Regulator
* Pakistan: The 'Miracle' of Biotechnology
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Ivory-Tower Rhetoric Is Calorie Free

- Rick Klemm, The Steward, Vol. 8 No. 8, May 3, 3005; HARTS, Hawaiian Alliance for Responsible Technology & Science;

Around the world, 17 a minute. 1,000 an hour. 24,000 a day. 720,000 a month. 8,640,000 a year. When you think about them as numbers, they don't mean so much. Besides, they aren't next door anyway. They are mostly in the "Third World." They are the dropouts from the 800 million of us around the world who don't get enough to eat on a daily basis. "They" are the ones who die from starvation every year.

Because we don't see them, except perhaps in an occasional news story or charity ad or hear about them in church, most of us don't pay much attention to this ongoing tragedy. But, to paraphrase deceased politician Everett Dirksen: A hundred thousand here, a hundred thousand there, pretty soon it adds up to real people dying of starvation.

Neither do some seem to have much concern for the 800 million who are malnourished -- mostly in the Third World. Recently, an anti-people activist testifying on a biotechnology resolution in the Hawaii Legislature mouthed one of the many fatuous and dishonest arguments levied against the need for agricultural biotechnol-ogy: that we already have enough food to feed those 800 million malnour-ished people. Well, ironically, he may be right; we probably do have enough food. It's just a matter of resdistribution.

Unfortunately, redistribution problems, made complicated by political, social, cultural, economic, and physical limitations, are not likely to be resolved despite humanity's best efforts. Consequently, as Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of the International Food Policy Institute, once responded to a similar activist on a Public Radio debate about agricultural biotechnology, the redistribution argument is an "ivory-tower" argument.

Pinstrup-Andersen is co-author of the book Seeds of Contention: World Hunger and the Global Controversy Over GM (Genetically Modified) Crops. Using the well-known tactic of "cherry picking," the anti-people activist, took a fact out of context to argue against the need for agricultural biotechnology.

What the activist ignored is that among the 800 million malnourished people are 400 million farmers who can't feed their families, let alone produce food to take to market. And, the current adequate food supply will not last long as billions more people are added to our world family in the next 30 to 50 years. What can be done to meet current and future food needs around the world? Biotechnology can help.

At this point, it's useful to note an important distinction between organic farming in the First World and the Third World.In the First World, primarily Europe and North America, farmers make a voluntary choice to farm using organic methods. They have access to all kinds of chemicals, power equipment, and strong marketing and distribution systems. They also often have the benefit of having their fields situated in environments surrounded by thousands of conventional and biotech farms where the use of modern technology and methods help to suppress insects, diseases, and weeds and to keep farmland in tiptop shape. Even with all this, First World organic farmers are still not as productive most of the time as are their modern farmer counterparts.

On the other hand, most Third World farmers are involuntary organic farmers. They don't have a choice. They are stuck with farming tools and methods that have been around for thousands of years. Involuntarily they are "pre-technology" farmers. They do not have the means to obtain modern farm equipment and other farm inputs available to First World farmers to effectively combat weeds, insects, and disease, and to keep their farm lands in good condition. In many instances, when their land becomes unproductive, they are forced to move on and destroy more wildlife habitat to grow crops just to survive.

How can biotechnology help? The miracle of biotechnology is that a Third World farmer can improve a farm's productivity without major changes, or any changes at all, in farming practices and tools. All he or she needs are just a few seeds -- biotech seeds.

Today, millions of Third World farmers are using biotech seeds to increase crop productivity. For example, thousands of farmers in the Philippines growing biotech corn have experienced a 30 percent increase in yields and a big drop in insect damage. Even more, growing biotech crops has given Third World farmers, many of whom are women, more free time to do other things in their homes and communities.

Unfortunately, many Third World farmers and consumers continue to be denied access to biotech crops. Why? Because the very anti-people activists who chide the rest of us about redistribution problems are preventing the distribution of bio-tech products to the Third World.

As Alan McHughen, biotechnology specialist and geneticist at the University of California-Riverside, has noted, activists have succeeded in banning the distribution of bio-tech grain to many hungry nations. Real-world problems need real-world solutions, not calorie-free ivory-tower rhetoric.
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UK Election: Do Not Mention the G-word

- William Cullerne Bown, New Scientist, April 30 2005, http://www.newscientist.com

Seated behind a simple wooden table in a side room of the Royal Institution in London, the science spokesmen for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are radiating confidence. This is surprising. Robert Key and Evan Harris are about to try to convince British voters why their particular party is the best for British science. They are being sent in to bat on a sticky wicket.

For Lord Sainsbury, the diffident Labour science minister sitting between them, has ramped up science spending for universities over the past eight years. He has put billions into grants, refurbishing run-down laboratories and doubling the stipend paid to PhD students. Even more dramatically, Labour has introduced a wave of measures to support technology transfer and R&D, amounting to over half a billion pounds a year in subsidies for high-tech firms. The results have been so promising that after almost 20 years of doom-saying, the campaign group Save British Science last month renamed itself the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

Key and Harris, meanwhile, represent parties that propose to eliminate the budgets for that support for technology in the name of "efficiency savings". And they are about to defend that stance to one of the most pro-science lobbies on the planet: a collection of science journalists. Brave or foolhardy?

Key, the Conservative's man, quickly deals with the bread and butter policies so he can get to his favourite theme - the UK's "anti-science culture". His argument goes something like this: we can't find the science teachers, so the kids don't want to study science, so there are fewer science students at university and the good ones that we do produce are leaving the country anyway. Science is seen as slightly embarrassing, allowing pressure groups such as those opposing genetically modified crops to grab the agenda. Progress is grinding to a halt. "We're in a downward spiral." He is energetic, and by the end of it we are thinking that what he is thinking is plausible.

Then Harris, for the Lib Dems, rather disarmingly says he agrees with Key on everything except politics. But it turns out he agrees with him on politics too. He wants to talk about public attitudes to risk, GM crops and mobile phones. "There is a war being fought between science and rationalism and anti-science," he says.

Key and Harris are both recognisably politicians, though of different types. Key is smartly dressed and slightly old-fashioned. He has that touch of the "squirearchy" about him that is deeply Conservative but puts off younger voters. He blusters amiably when asked awkward questions. Harris is dark and handsome and has rings under his eyes that suggest he was doing something much more exciting last night. While Key talks Harris sits quite still, apparently thinking up ways to win over the crowd. He doesn't have so much to say about science, but he's young and witty, the one speaker who is plainly on the up.

What about Sainsbury, Labour's champion of science? Few politicians would recognise him as one of their own. His ego is the most restrained in the room, and as the debate progresses his presence seems to fade. He makes no attempt to win us over, as if believing that the reasonableness of his arguments will do the job for him. He is one of the UK's richest men yet has chosen a job of often dull hard work. He plainly dislikes being the centre of attention, yet by allowing himself to be made a minister he has put himself under constant scrutiny. The mystery of what drives him to pursue such a self-denying role hangs over us. "Genetic modification is a hot issue but none of the speakers has the stomach for it"

His view is rosy. "British science is outstanding, a major national asset," he says. He disputes claims that the public is hostile to science, and quotes surveys to back him up. Over 80,000 more students are now studying science at university than in 1997, he points out, with the number of maths students up by 34 per cent.

There then follows a discussion about anti-science culture and whether the UK suffers from it. But the debate remains abstract, and the participants never get to the nub of the matter, which is the disaster of GM crops. Hundreds of millions of pounds were spent on GM research, but the infant industry expired when it became clear the government would side with the activists and continue to put off approvals for the planting of new varieties. This is a hot issue, but debating it would force the speakers to declare whether they are pro or anti-GM, and it seems none of them has the stomach for it. Key and Harris are right that Labour has failed to take on the technophobes. Yet they emerge from the debate appearing just as scared of Greenpeace as they accuse the government of being.

Does the UK have an anti-science culture? Not really. But on the evidence of these hustings, it does have a political culture that lacks the courage to confront environmental lobby groups. No wonder the speakers have been so polite to each other.
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http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/news-ng.asp?n=59819-gm-soybeans-stop

GM Soybeans Stop Hair Loss

- Food Navigator, April 5, 2005

New, and unusual, opportunities in biotech foods, as Japanese food scientists claim eating genetically modified soybeans could promote hair growth and prevent hair loss. A team of Kyoto University researchers used genetic engineering technology to incorporate an antihypertensive substance derived from egg whites into the soybean.

"If we can confirm the safety of the soybean, we may be able to promote hair growth or stop hair loss just by eating them," said Masaaki Yoshikawa, professor of food science and technology at Kyoto University, reports Kyodo News.

The Japanese news service claim the team identified an antihypertensive substance called ovokinin in an amino acid compound found in ovalbumin in egg whites. In order to enhance ovokinin's antihypertensive property, the team created a substance - novokinin - by modifying some amino acids in ovokinin. The team fed shaven mice with one-1000th milligram of novokinin per one gramme of their body weight and found that their hair grew back faster.
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Europeans Gradually Accepting More Biotechnology

- Nat Williams, AgriNews, May 3, 2005 http://www.agrinewspubs.com

Though European consumers still aren't ready to embrace genetically modified agricultural products, there is real movement toward acceptance, according to a David Lightfoot, a professor at Southern Illinois University who specializes in biotechnology, said that the bottom line will likely decide GMO's future in Europe.

The development of pharmaceuticals by the German-based company Bayer is among factors paving the way for more acceptance of biotechnology in the food markets, said Lightfoot. He spoke at the first Agriculture Industry Day at Southern Illinois University Saturday. "The pump's primed and we're ready to roll," he said. "There are a whole range of products coming forward. The biotechnology industry is growing 10 percent a year."

One driving force is the EU's desire to compete with the United States. The majority of GMO breakthroughs have occurred here and U.S. companies are profiting from their products' use in Asia, Africa and other emerging economies. "Since the mid '90s with biotech products out, there has been a general feeling that the only people making money out of this technology are the Americans," said Lightfoot, a native of England. "The Europeans view themselves as the big competition. Now the opportunity has presented itself to do something about these feelings of competition."

The university conducted two surveys of British consumers in recent years that indicated there might be some acceptance of GMO foods. Ag economist Wanki Moon explained that England was chosen because its attitude toward biotechnology is considered to be in the middle among European nations. Though 45 percent of British consumers surveyed indicated they would never buy genetically modified food, an average of 35 percent said they would if it were less expensive. As many as 50 percent said they would buy it if it were significantly less expensive than non-GMO food.

"It depends on how the food industry sees these numbers," Moon said. "There is still political pressure. But once one company starts to offer GM foods, it's just a matter of time before others will." Also adding to growing acceptance may be the reality that virtually no products on store shelves are without some component of modified genetics.

Lightfoot said that the biotech breakthrough that would make the biggest impact on the world would be the development of grains with drought-resistant characteristics that could be more successfully grown in rain-starved regions in Africa and other continents. "Drought is interesting," he said. "It's the big yield robber. If you could cure every disease in every field you could increase yield by about 20 percent. But if you could make these crops tolerant to drought you could double yields."

But he added that there are huge scientific obstacles to such research. Developing a plant with a gene that makes it resistant to a herbicide, while a complicated procedure, is a much more basic operation than changing a plant's relation with moisture and growth, he said. Instead, Lightfoot believes that the most significant advances in biotechnology over the next few years will be the development of varieties with favorable, value-added characteristics, such as high oil corn.
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http://www4.nationalacademies.org/news.nsf/isbn/05032005?OpenDocument

Calestous Juma, David Baulcombe and Daniel Cosgrove Elected to US National Academy of Sciences

From Prakash: David Baulcombe and Daniel Cosgrove, two plant biotechnologists were elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (USA) which is among the highest scientific honors. Dr. Calestous Juma of Harvard is elected as a foreign member and so is Raghunatha Mashelkar of India (CSIRO). The list also includes Alec Jeffries (Inventor of DNA fingerprinting) and well known geneticists Marie Claire King and Daniel Hartl.

AgBioWorld congratulates all the scientists and scholars for this tremendous honor.

----

Among those Elected:

Cosgrove, Daniel J.; Eberly Professor of Biology, department of biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Davis, Robert E.; supervisory research plant pathologist and research leader, Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory, Plant Sciences Institute, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Md.

Baker, David H.; professor of nutrition, department of animal sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Newly elected foreign associates:

Baulcombe, David C.; head, Sainsbury Laboratory, and professor, John Innes Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich (United Kingdom)

Juma, Calestous; professor of the practice of international development, and director, science, technology, and innovation program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (Kenya)
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http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.547/news_detail.asp

Not So Golden Silence on GM Rice

- Thomas R. DeGregori, American Council On Science And Health, May 3, 2005

Recently, I posted a piece on the discovery of the potential for a serious allergenic response from a foodstuff that was being promoted as a non-genetically-modified (non-GM) alternative to GM soybeans. There was almost total media silence on this matter even though the research itself was published in a leading peer-reviewed medical journal. ACSH Nutrition Director Dr. Ruth Kava recently noted yet another case of media silence, but before I describe the parallels and differences in the two cases, allow me to conjure an imaginary scenario.

Good News Is Only News If It's Genetically Pure

Let us imagine that in a peer-reviewed article in a leading scientific publication -- one of the world's most prestigious journals -- a comparison of farmers' health found that those who grew genetically-modified rice were less healthy than those who grew conventional rice. Is there any doubt that this would have become a major media story, with that one study being described as having "proven" the dangers of genetically-modified crops and closed out the need for further inquiry? One can almost hear the NPR interviews with the researchers and the comments of the non-governmental-organization (NGO) "scientists." One can further imagine the legions of the NGO environmentalists, back-to-nature, and "organic" enthusiasts contacting their local media to make sure the story was not ignored and that it was "correctly" interpreted. Add in letters-to-the-editor and call-in shows and one could expect a blizzard of publicity and concern over the health and wellbeing of poor farmers around the world. In fact, one does not even have to imagine a peer-reviewed article -- a non-peer-reviewed, NGO-funded study would probably have been sufficient to cause a ruckus.

In fact, research "assessed" both the "productivity and health effects" of "insect-resistant GM rice in farmer's fields" in China. The study was published in Science (29 April 2005) and authored by two distinguished Chinese scientists and two distinguished American scientists (Huang et al. 2005). The research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Chinese Academy of Science, so one could hardly accuse it of having either a corporate bias or for that matter one favoring the position of the U.S. government on this issue. On top of all of that, there were press releases from the universities that were home to the American researchers and very good stories by the Associated Press and others on this issue, posted on a number of very popular news groups for agricultural scientists. In case you haven't guessed it by now, the research found that farmers who planted insect-resistant GM rice had increased yields and their households experienced no pesticide-related illnesses in contrast to those planting conventional rice, who continued to experience these pesticide-related problems. (The reduced need for pesticide with the GM variety would obviously lead to reduced pesticide-related illnesses. And one does not have to accept the anti-pesticide hysterics of the chemophobes to recognize that dose makes the poison and that what may be safe levels for consumers might be part of a cumulating dose received by the farmer applicator.)

The author's words from the article abstract nicely state the research conclusions: "Farm surveys of randomly selected farm households that are cultivating the insect-resistant GM rice varieties, without the aid of experimental station technicians, demonstrate that when compared with households cultivating non-GM rice, small and poor farm households benefit from adopting GM rice by both higher crop yields and reduced use of pesticides, which also contribute to improved health" (Huang 2005).

If you haven't heard about this research, it is quite likely because its findings were favorable to a GM crop. The study was intelligently designed and carried out, was useful and informative, and revealed few surprises to those who knew the scientific issues involved. But it is not what someone in the media who has been under a steady barrage of anti-GM propaganda would expect, so it should have been news to them. It apparently wasn't! We are talking about small, poor, or at least low-income farmers beingd better off economically and healthier. These are the farmers that the anti-biotech NGOs purport to be defending. But the farmers aren't doing things the way anti-tech NGOs want them to, through low-tech and "sustainable" agriculture methods -- the farmers are using cutting-edge technology and science capable of delivering similar benefits to the poorest farmers around the world.

Science vs. Starvation in the Developing World

The study was very well done. The farm groups for the conventional and GM planting were carefully matched and no payments or subsidies were provided other than making GM seeds available at the same price as conventional varieties. Even more important, there were no special instructions provided on planting or pesticide use, yet there was an "80% reduction in pesticide usage and a reduction in their adverse effects" along with a 6 to 9% increase in yield.

As someone who has been involved in developing-country agriculture in a variety of locations, including Asia, I was pleasantly surprised by a number of points. I have talked with farmers in countries where extensive pesticide use was a relatively recent event either in their lifetime or in the village memory. They remember the frequent crop failures that preceded pesticide use and are therefore reluctant to cut back on pesticides. So-called tradition-bound farmers were quick to adopt the technology of the dGreen Revolution and having experienced its enormous benefits were justifiably concerned about losing them. An integrated pest management (IPM) project that I studied actually "paid" selected farmers to use less pesticide by guaranteeing his or her crop. Guaranteeing the crop is often a good way to introduce an agricultural innovation to an area. I once asked a farmer outside of the IPM project what he would say if I told him that a farmer across the valley was spraying about one fifth (about the same reduction as the China study) the pesticide that he was and getting the same crop. He replied that he simply would not believe me.

I have often argued that farmers want to use as little pesticide as possible, since it costs them money. This is even more true in poor countries, where pesticide costs can be a significant fraction of household income. But farmers also don't want to lose their crop. Thus, the study published in Science was a pleasant surprise, showing us how quickly farmers can develop an understanding of the potential of insect-resistant rice and reduce their pesticide use without any technical assistance or advice in thdeir decision-making process. Farmers aren't stupid, but they are cautious and there must have been a number of solid indicators of plant health and protection, or insect resistance, that led them to reduce pesticide use so significantly.

Modern Farmers Are Healthier Farmers

In the late 1980s and early 1990s (with a few echoes to the present), there were any number of unsubstantiated reports of thousands of deaths from pesticide use by those opposed to its usage -- though these accounts routinely include deaths where the pesticide was used to commit suicide. Still, consistent with my view of the lack of dangers from pesticide residue on food, I recognize that the level of exposure for farm workers can be a problem. Even if one argues that most estimates exaggerate the sicknessd and deaths, one characteristic pervades virtually all estimates, namely, illness and death associated with pesticide use is vastly greater in poor countries than in developed countries.

My experience in Asia and elsewhere leads me to believe that the health benefits from the reduction in pesticide use in China would be easily matched in most of the developing world. I have observed farmers spraying without protective clothing and, in one case, a farmer spraying a cabbage patch starting from the top of a hill and working his way down, spraying right on top of what was drifting down from his spraying the previous rows. I have worked with farmers who finished spraying and sat down to eat witdh their hands without the option of washing them, except in a canal with floating fecal matter.

Since pesticide use is an essential component of getting yields to feed the world's population, I have long favored programs for teaching safer methods of pesticide application -- and for very labor- and often knowledge-intensive programs of insect-"scouting" and IPM -- to try to reduce pesticide use without loss of output. Now, with the help of biotechnology, small farmers can reduce pesticide use, increase yields and income, and protect their health.

Many of those now silent on the latest study are precisely those who have been screaming about the dangers of pesticide use. They should be on the rooftops shouting hosannas to biotechnology and promoting the use of insect-resistant crops. Undoubtedly, there will be some attempts to refute or discount the study by those who refuse to accept any positive evidence on GM. However important the recent study may be -- and it is important -- it is also consistent with a series of studies on reduced pesticide used as a result of GM crops. Unfortunately, the silence on this study will in no way be matched by a corresponding silence over the next NGO-funded claim of GMO harm -- that report will inevitably come and be widely reported as fact. Those of us who are supportive of efforts to use science and technology to help the poor improve their lot in life (and the world's population to improve the conditions of life) need to find new ways to reach the media to get our side of the story reported.

---- REFERENCE:

Huang, Jikun; Ruifa Hu; Scott Rozelle, and Carl Pray. 2005 Insect-Resistant GM Rice in Farmers' Fields: Assessing Productivity and Health Effects in China, Science 308(5722):688-690 , 29 April.

------

Dr. Thomas R. DeGregori, Professor of Economics, University of Houston and Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health, has extensive overseas experience as a development economist, including work as a policy advisor to donor organizations and developing countries. He is widely published and his most recent books include: Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate; The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology; and Agriculture and Modern Technology: A Defense (all from Blackwell) and Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and the Environment (from the Cato Institute). His homepage is http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg and his e-mail address is trdegreg[at]uh.edu.
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Suzuki 'Bullies' Those Who Oppose His Views

- The Leader- Post (Regina), May 4, 2005 Via Agnet

Lorne Hepworth, president, CropLife Canada, writes regarding the article "Suzuki warns against hastily accepting GMOs" in the April 26 edition of the Leader-Post, to say he admires David Suzuki's skills as a broadcaster and that he also admires the expertise of the thousands of scientists in universities, companies and government who work to ensure and enhance the safety of the food supply.

With proper oversight, the genetic engineering of foodstuffs can contribute small, incr emental improvements to food production. It already has. Cumulatively, these improvements contribute to a safe, high-quality and sustainable supply of food.

That's why farmers in Canada and around the world have steadily increased their use of genetically modified crops since such crops were first approved for planting in 1995. Farmers have found that biotechnology offers another tool to help them control pests and adopt environmentally sound cropping practices. In 2004, approximately 8.25 mil lion farmers in 17 countries planted biotech crops -- 1.25 million more farmers than in 2003, covering a total of 81 million hectares (200 million acres).

In Canada, farmers grew 5.4 million hectares of biotech crops, up 23 per cent from 2003. In Ontario alone, approximately 50 to 55 per cent of soybean and corn, and over 90 per cent of canola was genetically modified varieties.

Suzuki was quoted as telling reporters that, "Anyone that says 'Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,' I say is either un believably stupid or deliberately lying". That's the rhetorical language of a skilled broadcaster. Few foods are "perfectly safe," but dozens of regulatory bodies and scientific societies at home and abroad have determined that the genetically engineered foods commercially available are as safe as, and in some cases safer, than traditional foods. Such foods are also subject to much m oversight. There are many ways to achieve and enhance the goals of safe, affordable and sustainable food production, and Hepworth says he has always encouraged a healthy debate on the issues and alternatives -- but name-calling because someone holds a perspective different from Suzuki is the tactic of a bully broadcaster. Suzuki's comments do little to enhance the safety of our food and his discourse is far from open dialogue.

Robert Wager, a member of the Biology Department at Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C. writes that according to the article, Suzuki said, "we have no idea what the technology is going to do." So, the 15 years of research on GE crops and food by the European Union that concluded there are no new risks to human health or the environment beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding was incorrect? Or when they said that more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably and food safer than conventional plants and food, they were "lying"?

When the International Council for Science report on genetically engineered food stated there is no evidence of any harm from consuming food-containing ingredients Wager says I guess they were "lying" as well. The "so-called benefits" include 100 million pounds of organophosphate insecticides not being sprayed each year. The billions upon billions of insects we do not kill by not spraying and the 80-per-cent reduction in pesticide poisoning of poor farmers who now grow GE crops in China must be "so-called benefits".

There is no such thing as "perfectly safe" anything. But decades of research and 10 years of commercialization have definitely shown the relative safety of GE crops and food. This is exactly why the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, National Academies of Science from around the world, the American Medical Association and 25 Nobel Laureates all support agricultural biotechnology.
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I Won't Eat GM Food: Minister

- Eloise Dortch, The West Australian (Perth), May 3, 2005 Tuesday

WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance yesterday stoked the row over the safety of genetically modified crops by declaring he would not eat GM foods.

Mr Chance, who oversees the policies that severely restrict the growth of GM crops in WA, said too little was known about their health effects for him to feel safe eating them, especially when genetic experts remained divided on the issue.

He said when eating a GM cereal a person was chewing on elements of modified DNA. This was different from oil made from GM canola, from which the DNA elements had been eliminated through refining.

Mr Chance said he would only eat GM food if he had to.

"I'd rather eat GM food than die of starvation," he said.

His biggest concern was that in injecting certain genes into the plant's DNA spiral, scientists also injected a gene "promoter", which "switched on" the injected gene. Mr Chance said geneticists were yet to learn how to switch off the promoter mechanism and it seemed feasible that once inside the body, the promoter would switch on "junk" DNA in humans, such as that for a tail, which humans had lost through evolution.

But he said WA should not fall behind in scientific knowledge of GM crops. He backed a trial of GM salt-tolerant wheat at Corrigin, which was approved recently by the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

Shadow agriculture minister Paul Omodei said Mr Chance's position was humorous.

"For the Minister to allow the trial to take place and then say he wouldn't eat GM products I find a little bit defensive," Mr Omodei said.

Mr Omodei said he would not hesitate to eat GM foods. He said most Australians had already eaten GM foods when holidaying overseas.

"There's something like 30 or 40 million meals eaten every day of GM food," he said. "When people go to Bali, Singapore or China, do people ask first if the food is GM? If it tastes nice and you wake up and you're still alive, what's wrong with it?"

WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft said he would eat GM food, provided the Federal regulator approved it. Pastoralists and Graziers Association spokesman Geoff Gare also said he would eat GM food.

Both farmers groups support trials of GM crops
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Minister's Comments Have No Basis in Science

- Ian Edwards, Chair, AusBiotech (Australia's Biotechnology Industry Association)

Where does our Agricultural Minister Kim Chance get his information on GM (genetically modified) crops? Certainly not from his own Department of Agriculture! His latest comments in the interview with Eloise Dortch (West Australian - May 3rd) have no basis in science and are quite extraordinary. It is now over 20 years since work began on GM crops and for the past decade GM crops have been widely consumed in the global marketplace with absolutely no ill effects. The minister will have consumed GM food as additives in a number of common food products. GM bacteria are used in cheese production and GM yeast are used in beer. The British Medical Association and numerous other distinguished impartial organisations have determined that GM food poses no hazards that are not found with conventional food, and Australia has in place one of the strongest regulatory systems in the world for GM food.

The Minister has also produced factually incorrect information on the subject of 'promoters', or genetic switches that turn genes on. Over 50 percent of nomal cauliflowers and 10 percent of cabbages contain the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CMV), a sequence that has been used on occasion as a 'promoter' in GM crops. Not only has this never been taken up by the body, but Kim Chance can be assured that he will not turn into a cabbage, despite his impeccable 'green' credentials. He also has a zero chance of growing a tail from eating GM food! But perhaps the Minister's most hypocritical comment was on the subject of canola oil having no DNA - this was the only fact that he got right, but he has banned the production of GM canola in WA by imposing a moratorium on GM crops. This year Canadians are planting their tenth crop of GM canola, and they successfully export every bit of it.
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West Australian Ag Minister Chance GM Claims Rejected by Regulator

- Eloise Dortch, The West Australian (Perth), May 4, 2005

The national food regulator weighed into the latest genetically modified food row yesterday, accusing WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance of repeating fanciful statements found on the internet. Speaking the day after Mr Chance, who has backed trials of GM wheat in WA, declared he personally would not eat GM foods because of health concerns, Food Standards Australia New Zealand senior food scientist Lynda Graf said Mr Chance's views were "completely unsubstantiated".

It was likely the Minister, like other Australians, had already eaten GM food with no ill effect, Ms Graf said. Since the mid-1990s, FSANZ had approved 26 GM varieties of corn, soya, canola, cotton, sugar beet and potato to be used in Australian foods.

Most of these varieties were grown overseas. Produce from them was imported into Australia by food manufacturers, who were obliged to label GM ingredients. Some common GM foods found in supermarkets included doughnuts, mayonnaise, frozen meals and processed meats. Oils and other highly refined products such as corn syrup were often made from GM crops but did not require labelling because no DNA or protein remained after refining.

Ms Graf said Mr Chance's comments that GM foods contained gene promoters that might trigger human "junk genes", such as those for tails or other unused genes, was "fanciful scientifically".

"I'm afraid the Minister has been poorly advised," she said. "The Minister has been eating promoters every day of his life because they are part of every gene.

"Plant promoters work in plants and they won't work anywhere else - like bacteria, promoters won't work anywhere else. This argument is quite familiar to us. There are a number of internet sites which quote this hypothesis quite a bit."

As Mr Chance brushed off the criticism, saying he had simply expressed the views of most Australians, South Australian prominent anti-GM scientist Judy Carman joined his defence. Dr Carman, a public health lecturer at the University of Adelaide, said the cauliflower mosaic virus, commonly used as a gene promoter in GM crops such as corn and canola, could trigger genes in the cells system of mammals.

This meant it was possible that if consumed, it could trigger human genes, such as onco genes, which caused cancer. She contested Ms Graf's claim that most scientists thought there was little risk from eating GM foods.

In fact there was scientific division because there had been no long-term trials of eating GM foods on animals nor clinical trials on humans. "We have no idea, we don't know how the body will react," Dr Carman said. Greens Agricultural Region MLC Dee Margetts said the scientific truth about GM seemed to vary with the scientist.
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Pakistan: The 'Miracle' of Biotechnology

- Ijaz Ahmad Rao, The Nation, May 1, 2005

Biotechnology consists of more than thirty areas of health, agriculture, environment, renewable energy and industries and each area being characterized by the use of a different set of technologies. Genetic engineering of microbes, plants and animals (land or marine) implies conferring new capabilities on an organism by transferring into an organism the appropriate DNA of another having these capabilities does this and then ensures that these capabilities are converted into desirable abilities. Nowadays in the news you can read a lot about miracle of biotechnology and the controversies about it and perhaps you ask yourself what it is exactly mean to you?

Until a decade ago, the only way to discover a new treatment or drug was to synthesize a large number of compounds hoping that one of them will be effective against a particular disease which was time consuming and very costly. But by the use of biotechnology tools in designing a drug, or new treatment methods, has cut the cost of discovery of a new and reduces the time required by half. In Pakistan, a number of tools of biotechnology can be applied to overcome our major diseases like hepatitis B, cholera, blindness due to vitamin-A deficiency, thalassaemia, etc.

It is worth knowing that the number of hepatitis B carriers in Pakistan is estimated at around 15 million, which means every tenth person in Pakistan is the carrier of this disease. The good news is that researchers have develop biotech tomatoes, banana and other plants containing a vaccine for cholera, hepatitis B, so on while Bt rice known as "golden rice" is a variety fortified with beta-carotene, which stimulates production of vitamin A in the human body is under testing procedure at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Philippines. IRRI researchers hope to make this rice variety available to farmers probably by 2006.

Our modern consumer society produces a lot of waste, which needs to be disposed of safely and without harmful end products. Genetically Modified Bacteria have even been developed to help with problems such as to treat sewerage; oil spills like from the Greek ship MV Tasman Spirit at Karachi port. They convert crude oil and gasoline into non-toxic substances such as carbon dioxide, water and oxygen and help create a cleaner, healthier environment.

Agricultural innovation has always involved new science-based products and processes that have contributed reliable methods for increasing productivity and environmental sustainability. The set of techniques commonly referred to as biotechnology has introduced a new dimension to such innovation; the most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture by far is in engineered crops. Thousands of such products have been field-tested and over a dozen have been approved for commercial use. The traits most commonly introduced into crops are herbicide tolerance, insect tolerance, and virus tolerance they are also more resistant to bad conditions like drought, floods and frost. The story of potato blight in the middle 19th century, shattering the economy of the Ireland is well recorded. Today biotechnology offers potato resistant to the fungus by engineering a gene from Mexican wild potato. Frost resistant strawberry with the ice-minus gene has already produced miraculous effect on the crop.

Agriculture biotechnology is helping today to provide people with more and better crops food and holds even greater promise for the future. Green revolution farming methods are coming to an end with declining yields due to environmental and soil degradation, loss of seedling varieties and high input costs. So, many farmers the world over are turning to genetic engineered varieties (GE) as an alternative to the Green farming practices; whether cotton farmers in China, India, America and South Africa, canola farmers in Canada, soybean farmers in Argentina or corn farmers in Spain and the United States, millions of farmers around the world are using biotech seeds to boost yields, improve their livelihoods and preserve the environment.

But science-phobic activists opposed to the widespread acceptance of genetically engineered crops and food. They want people of Pakistan and other nations to split down the middle on the question of whether GM foods were safe to eat rather to use it for its social economical growth-despite the fact that millions of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Argentines and other people have been eating genetically modified food for nearly a decade; without one proven case of an illness, allergic reaction or even the hiccups but these "bio-phobic" are trying to portrait themselves as being nice "guys"

Pakistan is an agriculture base state; it covers a total area of 19,671.63 million acres, of which 5,411.49 million acres are cultivated. The irrigation system to support this cultivation is one of the largest in the world. The major "Kharif' crops are rice, cotton and sugarcane and the main 'Rabi' crops are wheat, potatoes, rape seed and mustard.

Minor crops include tobacco, pulses, potatoes, onion, chilies, and garlic. Agriculture remains the dominant sector of the economy and accounts for about 26 percent of GDP, half the employed labor force, and a large share of foreign exchange earnings. So such a technology can improve our economy and play essential role in our poverty alleviation. It is worth knowing that in 2003, six countries grew 99 percent of the world's transgenic crop area, according to ISAAA, an independent international organization.

Today, eight years after commercialization of the first GM crop, such plants are harvested in 18 countries - and they had a commercial value of $44 billion in the 2003-04 growing season. Another 45 nations have tested biotech crops in laboratories, greenhouses or fields. China increased its biotech cotton production for the fifth straight year in 2003/04, planting 6.9 million acres or about 68 percent of its annual cotton crop. India, where farmers grow and sell insect-resistant cotton, has at least 20 academic and research institutions involved in plant biotech research covering 16 crops. Thirteen countries in Western Europe collectively led the world in field trials of GM vegetables, testing 11 crops, including broccoli, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. Eight nations in that region have held field trials of a total of 11 types of GM fruit - melons, plums and cantaloupe among them - again taking the global lead. Although biotech research and development in Europe slowed significantly following the European Utnion's 1999 de facto moratorium on biotech crop approvals, which has since been lifted, Europe's stance on biotech crops can not prevent biotech adoption in the rest of the world.

Under WTO regulations Pakistani government and traders are required to deal with food safety issues, like recent disease outbreaks such as BSE and toxic substances such as dioxin. In Pakistan farmers sprayed heavily during pests attack, as a result there are high level of toxin in our fruits, vegetables and other crops. The use of pesticides in Pakistan is damaging our health and environment; however statistics reveal that there has been no increase in crop production with increased use of pesticides. Water run-offs from agricultural fields where pesticides have been sprayed, chemicals from leather tanneries & textile industries have polluted our rivers and destroyed our marine life. Under WTO any country can ban any other country's products due to its quality deficiencies. Therefore, advancement in Biotechnology is the only answer to solve such impending problems. Therefore it would be a big mistake if we close our door for agricultural biotechnology.

The Green Revolution ushered in the late 1960s has transformed some countries from a food-grain importer to a self-sufficient one; unfortunately we have missed that bus; now our burgeoning population having already crossed the 150 millions mark, the achievements of the Green Revolution are unlikely to be sufficient. Common farm practices have damaged the cultivated land through water and wind erosion, compaction, and water logging. So we need technology like Crop Biotechnology to overcome the forthcoming challenges.

Pakistan can gain economical benefits from biotechnology projects in number of ways. Firstly, they provide employment in the agriculture, health, energy and manufacturing sectors. Secondly, there is likely to be some downstream processing which adds value to the product before it leaves Pakistan, providing skilled employment, adding to our pool of knowledge and to our production infrastructure. Thirdly, where the intellectual property is held in Pakistan we can use it in a way, which is most appropriate for us; hence this illustrates the breadth and implies the positive potential of biotechnology for our economy.

Although government of Pakistan has taken initiative by setting up institutes like National Commission on Biotechnology, National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Center of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) in the country to develop and help flourish crops biotechnology products to compete with other countries. But due to the absence of Bio-safety Guidelines farmers cannot grow our indigenous developed Bt Seeds. Though, Pakistan has ratified many international agreements like TRIPS, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), the Cartagena Protocol so on, to show its growing worldwide interest in the genetically modified organism trade under WTO rules and regulations. The impasse in the process for the approval of proposed Bio safety regulations from last four years created by the Ministry of Environment reflects lack of commitment to our national responsibilities; leave aside our strategy for the future as an enlightened, progressive, dynamic and modern nation.

Despite the fact that Pakistan is overwhelmingly an agrarian economy, it is unable to produce edible oil sufficient for domestic requirements and substantial amount of foreign exchange is spent on the import of soybeans, canola and palm oil. Our total requirement of edible oil is estimated at 1.65 million tons against the domestic production of various types of edible oil is around 600,000 tons annually and, therefore, the shortfall of about 900,000 tons is met through imports of soybean oil It is worth knowing that no one can test refine edible oil either it is from Bt or conventional crops as there is no GMO or Bt in refine edible oil. According to one report Bt crops are safer than non-Bt as it has gone through many tests and evaluations that's has why in May 2004, European Unions have lifted five years ban on GM food.

The biotechnology industry is becoming an important sector for the European Union (EU) because of its economic, social and environmental potential in March 2004, UK regarded as a very Bt crops sensitive country in Europe has also approved the commercial planting of GM Crop in England. Similarly nowadays trials of genetically modified crops are underway throughout Germany. It is worth knowing that Europe is a world leader in harnessing genetically modified microorganisms (GMM) to produce pharmaceutical compounds and industrial enzymes. The main pharmaceutical uses are production of therapeutic protein products such as insulin and growth hormones, while the industrial uses are mainly in the food and detergent industries and bioremediation. In Europe the approval procedure for these activities is covered by Directive 90/219 on contained use of genetically modified microorganisms. It is worth knowing that in December 1998 European Parliament approved the budget 14 960 million for life science, health biotechnology, food safety for 1998-2002.

It is a fact that last June, Zambia's government rejected thousands of tones of GM maize which has threatened lives of 2.4 millions who desperately needed food. Although the United States, FAO, the American Medical Association, the Royal Society in Britain, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Food and Agriculture Organization have repeatedly defended the safety of GM grain for human consumption, which has been modified to increase crop yields and kill pests. It is worth knowing that some people believed that Zambia's President blame white minority for the food shortage in country; so the decision of Zambia's government to reject GM maize was more political rather scientific. The big question is should we follow the model of Zambia's government, which has created unfriendly environment for investors and pushed its nation into edge of famine? In May 2004 United Nations food agency came out in favor of biotech crops, saying genetically modified organisms have already helped small farmers financially, htave had some environmental benefits and have had no ill effects on health.

Enlightened-Moderation and modernization thesis of President General Pervez Musharraf demands us to change the way we conduct our agriculture business and its management. In order to do so we have to take concrete and positive steps and prepare ourselves to embrace new technologies and new concepts like biotechnology and genetics; so there is need to understand and explore further miracles of biotechnology in the field of health, agriculture, environment and industries.

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