Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : May 27, 2005
* A New Anti-GM scare is Born - and Dies?
* Monsanto GM Maize Study - BBC Radio Interview
* Save Our Plant Science
* Bumper Aust Cotton Harvest Said to Validate GM Technology
* How Your Garden Grows
* EU: Biotech Troublemaker or Food Protector?
* The EU as 'Global Troublemaker in Chief'
* British PM: We Must Accept Risks
* Controversy Rages While Farmers Plant One Billionth Biotech Acre
* Indian Regulators Approve Two More Biotech Cotton Hybrids
* Fact Sheet On Bt Cotton In India
* Ag Biotech and Biosafety in India: Expectations, Outcomes and Lessons
* Pakistan Approves Biosafety Rules
* Comments of Malaysian PM - Factual?
* Protecting Intellectual Property - May The Force Be With Us
* Global Warming Will Increase World Hunger - UN
* Warming: Famine or Feast?
* Bioscientists: Gods or Monsters?
A New Anti-GM scare is Born - and Dies?
- Vivian Moses, CropGen, London, May 26, 2005; www.cropgen.org
Every now and again a new anti-GM scare starts up, usually on the
flimsiest of evidence, and duly dies away when no support is
forthcoming. In 2001 we had the Monarch butterfly story; in 2004
there was the one about the Philippine villagers living near a
Bt-maize plantation falling ill of a mysterious illness. Both
disappeared in due course.
Another one started up last weekend. On Sunday, the story was
reported as showing that "details of secret research carried out by
Monsanto, the GM food giant, which shows that rats fed the modified
corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their
blood. According to the confidential 1,139-page report, these health
problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as
part of the research project" (1). The outrage expressed was
supported by the usual group of "experts" and
again on Monday in the tabloid anti-GM press (2).
By Sunday afternoon, Monsanto had denied that any information had
been withheld from the regulatory authorities. On their website (3)
they stated that "the full "rat study" has not been released because
it contains confidential business information which could be of
commercial use to our competitors and exploited by others for
commercial advantage, if made available. This is why EU regulations
contain data confidentiality provisions for commercially sensitive
information. Equally, under these regulations, certain data may NOT
be treated as confidential information, but this does not extend to
technical reports containing research results (4)?The full study has
been used by website provided the URLs for anybody who wished read the EFSA report
and the toxicology report study.
Nevertheless, on Monday there was a further pronouncement (from Rome)
to the effect that "Agribusiness giant Monsanto has been asked to
provide all its research results into a genetically modified corn
that may be a health risk, a leader of the European Union's food
safety authority (EFSA) revealed. Monsanto must immediately transmit
to EFSA its entire research into (the corn strain) MON 863," said
Italy's professor Giorgio Calabrese, an EFSA member in an interview
with the Italian daily La Stampa" (4).
Then came the clincher. On Tuesday, EFSA published a statement saying
that "EFSA's Scientific Panel on genetically modified organisms (GMO)
has evaluated MON 863 maize and considered that this maize is as safe
as its conventional counterpart. The experts considered that data and
information provided by the applicant were sufficient to carry out a
full risk assessment" (5).
End of story? We shall see.
1. Geoffrey Lean (22 May 2005). Revealed: health fears over secret
study into GM food. Independent on Sunday
2. Sean Poulter (23 May 2005). Coming to our plates, the GM corn that
harmed rats. Daily Mail.
3. Monsanto Response on MON 863 Maize 90-Day Rat Feeding Study.
Monsanto UK (http://www.monsanto.co.uk/news/ukshowlib.phtml?uid=8970)
4. EU demands Monsanto's test results on controversial corn. Yahoo!
5. EFSA further clarifies status of risk assessement concerning MON
863 and hybrid MON 863 X MON 810. European Food Safety Authority (24
Monsanto GM Maize Study - BBC Interview
- BBC Radio 4 'Farming Today' - May 23, 2005.
(Interview with Dr Vyvyan Howard, well known biotech critic and
medical college lecturer on human anatomy at Liverpool University and
Professor Sir Colin Berry, independent toxicologist and former
chairman of the UK Government's advisory committee on Pesticides)
MARK HOLDSTOCK: Presenter
The bio-technology company Monsanto's denying that one of its own
studies on a GM variety of maize has shown it could harm rats fed
with it. The full report on the corn known as MON863 hasn't been
publicly released but reports suggest that it caused blood variations
and reductions in the size of the kidneys in laboratory rats. We'll
be hearing shortly from a pathologist responding on behalf of
Monsanto but firstly Dr. Vyvyan Howard who's also a pathologist based
at Liverpool University told me why he was concerned about what he'd
DR. VYVYAN HOWARD: Pathologist, Liverpool University: Well firstly I
think really that if studies are done for safety purposes then the
data from that should really be in the public domain, there's no real
strong argument for confidentiality. I mean I can understand in
production of a new variety or something like that you might want to
beŠ have confidentiality but this is to do with public healthŠ
MARK HOLDSTOCK: But Monsanto say that there are parts of the report
which are commercially confidential and they've released the
information which they feel is relevant to public safety.
DR. HOWARD: I haven't seen all the report but what I have seenŠ I
would like to see the rest of the report if I was going to be
confident in what they're saying. I mean there are some things in
this study where they've mixed male and female animals and pooled the
results for example. There are indications in the literature
published in period ..[unclear].. journals like the Lancet that there
may be implications for this technology for the cells lining the gut,
and none of that's been looked at as far as we can see, or if it has
been it's not been published. So I think these are reasons why it's
reasonable for there to be concern and wish to see more
MARK HOLDSTOCK: But nine regulatory authorities throughout the world
have seen this report and they have approved this maize for
cultivation and consumption.
DR. HOWARD: Yes and I take it they've seen the full data set. I was
asked to comment on what was available to me and I would certainly
think that the intestines for example should be examined in view of
the pre-existing literature indicating that there may be a problem
for the cells lining the gut, and I mean I don't know whether that's
been done, I'm not party to that.
MARK HOLDSTOCK: Well Monsanto asked Professor Sir Colin Berry to
respond to these points. He's a former chair of the government's
advisory committee on pesticides. I asked him whether he'd actually
seen the full report.
PROFESSOR SIR COLIN BERRY: I've seen all of the data that relates to
the health.. possible health effects, I mean what I haven't seen I
think are all the tables on the weights of the animals day by day and
so on. Though I know the regulatory authorities of course have seen
MARK HOLDSTOCK: What about this issue of variations in blood and
reduced kidney size in the rats?
PROFESSOR BERRY: Well just to deal with the kidney size, I really
think this is not an issue. The.. what was found in the study was a
decrease in the kidney weight in males but it wasn't significant if
you looked at it statistically and it fell within the range of
controls that you see normally in these.. this species of animal.
MARK HOLDSTOCK: And what about the blood variations?
PROFESSOR BERRY: That I think too is within the sort of range of
changes that you see. You must remember that in almost all long
term.. comparatively long term - this is a 90 day study - that I
looked at, the feeding studies, you get these kind of variations, and
let me repeat again those who would have seen.. the regulatory
authorities that would have seen the whole study were obviously
satisfied with those data.
MARK HOLDSTOCK: What about the question that Dr. Howard raises about
the lining of the gut? He says that more research needs to be done
about the impact that these GM feeds have on the lining of the
PROFESSOR BERRY: Certainly I've been involved with the GM issue
since I left the advisory committee a good deal, largely because I'm
interested in the genetics of it, and I know of no data that suggests
there are significant adverse health effects delivered via the gut
from any GM crop, let me emphasize, not just this one.
MARK HOLDSTOCK: Aren't people going to be suspicious if reports like
this are not released publicly?
PROFESSOR BERRY: I'm not sure what the law is in all of the nine
authorities that have looked at this, but certainly in many of these
countries these reports are discoverable. In other words it may be
that they're not published in the formal way but you can find access
to all those parts of the data that are not commercially sensitive.
MARK HOLDSTOCK: Wouldn't it be better then just to publish them up
front and people would have much more confidence if they knew that
any scientist could go and look at the data, look at the original
findings and say whether or not they stand up to scrutiny?
PROFESSOR BERRY: Yes I think that's a perfectly reasonable point. I
think the problem is I'm not the proper person to decide what is
commercially sensitive, but let me emphasize, as far as I understand
it all of these data are discoverable that anyŠ by any scientist who
wants to see them if they've been reported to a regulatory authority.
Save Our Plant Science
- T, J. Higgins, The Weekly Times (Australia), May 25, 2005
Anthony Whistler misses the point in his letter (WT, April 20).
Plant science has traditionally been a powerhouse behind some of our
greatest advances, such as dwarfing in wheat and rice, and some of
our simplest solutions, such as crop rotations to break disease
cycles and improve plant nutrition. Modern plant science has the
potential to continue this tradition.
But its future is at risk because of situations such as the GM crop
moratoria, where we are either unable to apply science, or are
restricted in its use. It is well-established that in the long term,
the world will need to boost food production and find ways to provide
resources we take for granted, such as fuel and materials.
Couple this with with the fact that more and more countries -- 17 at
the last count, across 81 million hectares -- are planting GM crops
now and developing expertise in gene technology. As a result,
Australia could be setting itself up to benefit its competitors, who
will be able to attract our top young scientists to research programs
that are making a difference.
The impact of restricted application of scientific outcomes is
already starting to surface in the UK and Europe, with funding for
agricultural and environmental research -- and not just GM --
becoming more difficult to obtain.
There are also reports of growing difficulty in attracting young
scientists to a career in plant science. To avoid this phenomenon
spreading to Australia, we need to move the debate about GM from a
simple "for or against" argument to a discussion of the merits of
different crops, and the applications of this technology beyond GM
Limiting modern plant science is not a win.
It will only affect our ability to address agricultural and
environmental issues and ultimately affect our ability to remain
competitive into the future.
- T.J. Higgins, deputy chief, CSIRO Plant Industry
Bumper Aust Cotton Harvest Said to Validate GM Technology
- Graeme O'Neill, Australian Biotechnology News, May 26, 2005
The harvest of Australia's 2004/05 cotton crop, the first to involve
full-scale production of new-generation, pest-resistant Bollgard 2
varieties, is nearing completion.
In the early 1970s, massive pest resistance forced the industry to
abandon its former tropical heartland in WA's Ord River Irrigation
Scheme and decamp to central-northern NSW. Its resurrection will be
complete when growers in the cooler regions of southern NSW bring in
their crops in the next few weeks. The new, doubly-protected
transgenic cultivars have delivered a further massive reduction in
the industry's use of synthetic pesticides, a hazard both to human
health and the environment.
CSIRO cotton breeder Dr Greg Constable, of the Cotton Cooperative
Research Centre at Narrabri, said Bollgard 2 varieties this year
accounted for about 70 per cent of the total crop area, and with the
extended protection provided by two Bt endotoxin genes, average
consumption of synthetic pesticides has been cut by 85 per cent.
Constable said the combination of the 85 per cent reduction in
synthetic pesticides, and a huge increase in the area of the crop
planted to transgenic cotton, from 30 per cent of the total crop last
season, to 70 per cent this season, equates to a 60 per cent
reduction in pesticide consumption for the average farm, relative to
the pre-transgenic era.
Until this year, the industry voluntarily limited the total area of
the national crop planted to transgenic cultivars to only 30 per
cent, as part of a broad strategy to minimize the risk of pest
resistance to now-obsolete, single-gene Ingard cultivars.
After their introduction in season 1995/96, Ingard cultivars reduced
pesticide consumption by 50 per cent. But as long as conventional
cultivars still accounted for 70 per cent of the crop, the net
reduction in pesticide consumption industry-wide was only 15 per cent.
With the advent of Bt -protected cultivars, anti-GM activists and
organic farmers protested that widespread planting of Bt -protected
cotton would impose selection pressure that would lead to cotton's
major pests, the heliothine moths Helicoverpa armigera and H.
punctigera , becoming resistant to the 'organic' pesticide Bacillus
thuringiensis , a mainstay of organic farming.
The industry's resistance management strategy required Ingard growers
to plant small refuge areas of conventional cotton or other crops
highly attractive to Helicoverpa larvae. The strategy was based on
computer modelling which predicted that the regular influx of
wild-type genes should swamp any emergent resistance genes, and it
proved watertight. In the seven years during which Ingard crops have
been grown in Australia, no trace of resistance was detected in the
In addition to being protected against pests, 53 per cent of this
year's total crop area was planted to herbicide-tolerant cultivars,
containing Monsanto's Roundup Ready glyphosate-tolerance gene. The RR
gene has reduced the time and energy required to control weeds in the
establishment phase of the crop -- Constable said many growers of
non-RR cultivars still manually weed their crops.
How Your Garden Grows
- The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2005
'Discovery of how a plant hormone triggers and slows development
holds the potential for manipulating crops'
How do flowers know to bend toward the sun, plant shoots to grow up,
roots to grow down and strawberry seeds to grow red fruit? Figuring
out the exact chemical and genetic steps that command plant cells to
grow or divide in response to light or gravity has been one of the
longest- standing puzzles of biology.
But now plant scientists are abuzz over a solution reported in this
week's issue of the British journal Nature by research teams from
Indiana University led by Mark Estelle and a group headed by Ottoline
Leyser at the University of York, England, working independently.
They found that the hormone auxin, which is released with exposure to
the sun or the pull of the Earth's gravity, combines with a protein
called TIR1 to activate a plant's growth genes. "This is indeed one
of the most important findings in plant biology for many years," said
University of Chicago plant biologist Jocelyn Malamy.
Charles Darwin had speculated about the existence of a plant growth
hormone in his 1880 book "The Power of Movement in Plants." But even
after scientists in the Netherlands discovered auxin (derived from
the Greek word auxein, meaning "to grow") in the mid-1920s, no one
could figure out how exactly it triggered plant growth.
Estelle has been trying to solve that puzzle for 20 years. He finally
succeeded by studying gene mutations in a plant called Arabidopsis
thaliana. Scientists have identified all the genes in Arabidopsis,
which is related to broccoli, cauliflower and similar plants.
Four years ago Estelle and his team identified the TIR1 protein. Now
they are reporting the critical discovery that auxin combines with
TIR1 to release the chemical brakes holding back genes that regulate
cell growth. The researchers have mapped auxin's life cycle. The
growth hormone is produced in the tips of shoots and branches where
growth is the fastest, though it also travels to other parts of the
plant. Roots get a double supply because root tips also make their
Auxin enters plant cells to combine with TIR1, and together they
remove proteins locking up the cells' growth genes. After auxin spurs
growth it detaches from the genes and is chemically broken down,
allowing new chemical brakes to take effect, stopping growth.
Despite the new understanding of the machinery of plant growth, auxin
remains a big mystery because it does so many other things that have
yet to be explained. "What they found is a central mechanism that
eventually is going to be important in understanding how plants
perform," said Hans Kende, a plant hormone expert at Michigan State
University and member of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It is not going to have a direct effect on biotechnology in terms of
now we can make plants bigger or more efficient," he said. "But down
the road it might." Estelle and other scientists say the new
knowledge about plant growth could make food more abundant and
nutritious for people around the world. "The more we understand about
how plants grow and develop, the more opportunities there are to
manipulate plant growth and development using the tools of genetic
engineering," Estelle said.
That possibility is likely to increase concern among opponents of
genetically modified foods who worry that manipulating plant genes
may become easier and more widespread. One of their main fears is
that genes put into or modified in one plant species may accidentally
contaminate other species and cause serious environmental problems.
Although biologists have long been familiar with the growth patterns
of plants, the new findings explain the mechanism underlying those
behaviors. Flowers, for instance, rotate to face the moving sun
because auxin is turned on in some parts of the plant stem and turned
off in others depending on the sun's position, Estelle said.
EU: Biotech Troublemaker or Food Protector?
- Food Production Daily, Novis Publishing, May 23, 2005 (Thanks to
Mark Mansour for forwarding this)
The EU's restrictive position on biotechnology food products is
closely connected to domestic political reversal in key countries
such as France and the UK and concerns over the power of
multinationals and globalisation, according to two researchers at the
University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.
The issue has everything to do with the politics of biotech advances
relating to food. Many activists and consumers feel they are being
left out of the democratic process of deciding what goes into the
Their viewpoints are expressed in a paper published last year for
UBC's Institute for European Studies. "In other words, the issue of
GMOs is loaded with meanings that go well beyond the mere regulation
of biotechnology," they state. "The response to GMOs has come to be
seen as a proxy for a larger institutional response to globalisation
and the democratic deficit. Many actors have drawn a line in the sand
over GMOs. The EU's regulatory response and global leadership with
regards to GMOs may signal a growing willingness and ability of the
EU to push for new international regulations to accompany economic
EU countries, with their powerful farmers' unions and activist
consumers, want to restrict the use of GM seed, food and products, or
at least have it clearly labelled. Current EU requires that all food
be tracked and labelled if it contains 0.9 per cent or more traceable
GM content, along with derivatives such as paste and ketchup from a
GM tomato. Products derived from GM processing aids, such as GM
enzymes or yeast, are not affected.
A proposed package of legislation would extend this labelling to
foods without any traces of transgenics under the Cartegena Protocol
being discussed this week in Montreal. The new legislations would
also impose labelling and a traceability system based on
documentation throughout the food and feed manufacture system. The
regulatory issues of risk analysis and labelling are currently
harmonised by Codex Alimentarius, a UN health body.
The EU shift against GMOs came late, in a fragmented manner, and goes
against the EU's economic interests and one that is holding back
biotechnology food research in the bloc, they say. "Indeed, the EU
took time both to find a common voice on the issue of biotechnology
and to move from a concern to technological competitiveness to a
primary concern about health and environment," they say.
Even though the EU's environment directorate gained leadership within
the EU commission over GMOs by the late 1980s and led the way to the
drafting of two restrictive regulations in 1990, these two
regulations made it difficult enough for the EU to block the approval
of GM products. As a result, 18 GM products were approved for market
consumption between October 1991 and October 1998.
Only in June 1999 did the EU council reach a broad agreement in
favour of a full moratorium on new approvals of GMOs. At the level of
states, only three states acted consistently against GMOs throughout
the 1990s: Denmark, Greece, and Austria. Big states, particularly
France, Germany, and the UK, wavered back and forth.
With its strong presence in the biotech industry, France took a
position as the sole pro-GMO state in 1997 and 1998, allowing the EU
to approve Novartis corn Bt-11. By 1999, France had turned anti-GMO,
leading the battle against the US in words and at the World Trade
Organisation. "The EU chose not only to pass the strictest GMO
regulations in the world, so strict that the industry argues that
they are unenforceable, but also to pursue tight international
regulations through a new UN treaty and through stonewalling at the
WTO," they say. "These latter steps partly contradict the EU's prior
commitments to the WTO."
But even with a common regulatory regime, the issue of biotech food
within the EU results in deep divisions between the various
countries. As reported last week by FoodNavigator, a sister
publication to Food Production Daily, food and feed experts from the
member states failed to reach a qualified majority that would have
cleared the way for imports of Monsanto's Mon 863 maize into the EU.
Reflecting disparate opinions on biotech foods, the vote saw ten
members in favour (including the UK and France), eight voting against
(Greece and Italy for example) and six abstaining.
The EU as Global Troublemaker in Chief
EU Actions Regulating GMO: Modified from a presentation by Professors
Yves Tiberghien and Sean Starrs of the University of British
Columbia, paper presented in Chicago 13 March 2004.
EU Actions Regulating GMO
Modified from a presentation by Professors Yves Tiberghien and Sean
Starrs of the University of British Columbia, The EU as Global
Troublemaker in Chief: a paper presented in Chicago 13 March 2004.
* 1982: European Parliament and Council adopt non-binding
recommendation from Commission (1980) requiring only notification of
* 1984 Germany: Bundestag inquiry on Gene Technology (pushed by
Greens). A gene law passed in 1990
* 1986: France creates Commission of biomolecular genetics (CGB) to
encourage biotechnology. Subsidies given for GM crop testing. French
company Rhone Poulenc (just privatized) plays key role
* 1986 Denmark passes Environment and Gene Technology Act; Commission
proposal of framework to regulate biotechnology
* 1986-1987: Single European Act gives EC new role in environment and
* 1990: Directives 90/219 (Contained Use) and 90/220 (Deliberate
Release) drafted by DG XI. Tight approval procedure for GM products
but requires state unanimity to refuse approval in the face of
* 1992: France transposes EC Directives and decides not to open a
public inquiry on biotech; Maastricht Treaty creates new EU
responsibility: consumer protection and public health policy
* 1993: Norway law on genetic technology, bans GMO imports that are
not "socially justifiable"
* 1994: UK Conference of Citizens (state sponsored) proposes
labeling; Denmark and Sweden pass GMO labeling law.
* April 1994: EU Commission and EU states sign Marrakech Treaty (WTO
founding treaty). Includes two key pro-GMO features: the
"science-based" health and phytosanitary standards and intellectual
property rights on GMO seeds (part of TRIPS); global coalition of
NGOs against GMOs forms in response to TRIPS (Third World Network,
* Feb 1997: Austria bans Novartis Corn Bt (although approved by EU);
Mar 1997: Italy votes ban on growing GMO corn; Apr 1997: Austrian
public petition against GMOs garners signatures from 20 per cent of
* 1997-1998: French triple flip flop on Novartis corn Bt-11.
France's highest court (Conseil d'Etat) freezes the authorisation
* Dec 1997: Treaty of Amsterdam enshrines precautionary principle
and specifically allows states to adopt measures to protect
environment and health, even if it impedes free trade (Art 95)
* 1998: Swiss Referendum on GMOs: 66 per cent vote against GMO ban
* May 1998: European Directive on the Legal Protection of
Biotechnology Inventions (98/44/EC), harmonizing national
legislation, allowing patenting of plants and animals.
* June 1998: European Patent Office (EPO)'s Administrative Council
adopts similar resolution (applying to all 20 signatories, including
* Oct 1998-Feb 1999: Netherlands (first), Italy, and Norway sue at
the ECJ for annulment of EU patent directive
* Jan 1999: Greek ban on GM canola
* Feb 1999: Cartagena negotiations over biosafety: clash between
EU/developing countries, stalemate
* June 24, 1999: de facto moratorium on new GMO approvals decided by
council of ministers
* Jan 2000: Montreal Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, EU emerges as
* Sept 2000: Starlink Corn scandal in the US, Japan. Developed by
French company Aventis
* Dec 2000: Final Report of EU-US Biotechnology Consultative Forum:
admits need for labeling and some limits on IPR.
* Feb 2001 (implemented Oct 2002): Very tight directive passed by
Council and EP on the release and tracking of all GMOs (Directive
2001/18 replacing 90/220)
* Jan-April 2002: GMOs appear as one key issue in French
presidential elections. Parties are divided. Anti-GMO parties prosper
* Aug 2002: EU ratifies Cartagena Protocol. EU-US controversy over
food-aid to Africa. US aid refused by Zimbabwe, Zambia, and
Mozambique because it contains GMOs
* May-Aug 2003: WTO legal complaint against EU (launched by US,
Canada, Argentina). EU commission pushing for rule-based regime and
end of ban
* July 2003: France. Anti-GMO activist Jose Bové jailed. Strengthens
anti-GMO feelings. EP vote marks adoption of tight new regulations on
labeling (with low threshold of 0.9 per cent)
* July 2003: Commission sues Austria, Belgium, Finland, France,
Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Spain
at the European Court of Justice for not implementing biotech
* Sept 2003: EU Commission sues eight states at the ECJ for their
refusal to transpose EU patent directive: Austria, Belgium, France,
Germany, Italy, Lux, Netherlands, Sweden
* Dec 2003-Jan 2004: Battles over approval of Syngenta sweet corn
Bt-11 and Monsanto NK corn. EU punts and does not lift moratorium.
States are divided equally
British PM: We Must Accept Risks
- Nigel Morris, Independent (UK), May 27, 2005
Britain was in grave danger of "blowing our chance" to become a world
leader in biotechnology, Tony Blair warned as he called for a
national debate on everyday risks faced by the public. The Prime
Minister, pointing to concerns such as genetically modified foods and
the MMR jab, said: "We are in danger of having a wholly
disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a
normal part of life."
Demanding an end to the "compensation culture", he promised ministers
would reflect more before reacting to scandals or accidents. The
Government has pledged to spend Ł1bn on biotechnology by 2008,
including on research on stem cells, with the aim of developing
therapies for conditions such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and
diabetes. "It is time to have a proper dialogue about how science and
its risks are evaluated and reported. Biotechnology is probably the
coming industry of the world," Mr Blair said in a speech in London to
the Institute of Public Policy Research.
"Britain and Europe should be world leaders. We are in grave danger
of blowing our chance. If we do, we will rue it bitterly."
The Government had a duty to be open in discussing such subjects, to
produce its evidence and not exaggerate, he said. The media also had
a responsibility in its reporting. Every government decision involved
"fine-grained risks and the balance of probability", Mr Blair said.
"Unless we find a viable way of discussing these risks, a mature
national conversation on important policy questions such as GM
science will be impossible."
He also cited a report linking the MMR jab with autism that started a
scare "despite the vast weight of evidence to the contrary".
Controversy Rages While Farmers Plant One Billionth Biotech Acre
- Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury, May 24, 2005; Via Agnet
Somewhere in the world, a farmer planted the world's one billionth
biotechnology crop acre earlier this month. The date - May 8 or 9,
which was as close as the powers-that-be could predict -- was a
momentous occasion for some parts of the agricultural industry.
Supporters reflected on the presence of a billion acres of anything,
let alone biotech crops, just 10 years after first appearing on the
scene. And considering the way these crops arrived, to a highly
polarized mix of suspicion and promise, it was Hindeed a noteworthy
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the announcement, made
possible from data generated by an organization called the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications, drew more accolades from biotech crops supporters than
it did dire warnings from opponents.
I was expecting mock funerals, grim reapers and people dressed in
grotesque distorted vegetable costumes. I didn't see any of it.
But that doesn't mean opposition has vanished. And wisely, rather
than get too caught up in self congratulations, most plant
biotechnology advocates recognized that despite there being a billion
biotech acres out there, they still have a lot of educating and
explaining to do. There's still way too much finger pointing about
biotechnology for anyone to consider the announcement a home run.
For example, on the heels of the one-billion acre announcement,
anti-biotech advocate Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was making
his first public appearance in our region, speaking out against the
kind of corporate involvement in agriculture that ran him afoul of
the law (he was convicted of using paten ted seed without paying for
The industry sees Schmeiser as a criminal. But others see him as a
folk hero for battling big business. The agri-food industry should be
concerned that he has the kind of platform that nets him front-page
coverage, while it struggles to get anyone to listen to its stories,
even ones about a billion acres of crops.
But rhetoric aside, the one-billion-acre announcement reflects what
many farmers feel about certain products of biotechnology: that is,
they work. They reduce pesticide use and increase yields. Farmers
might not like paying obvious technology-use fees, but in 2004 alone,
more than eight million of them planted 200 million acres of biotech
crops. In Ontario, more than half of all corn and soybeans have some
biotech trait (mainly, genes to prevent them from being killed by
Biotech advocates say these crops actually help the environment. I
think that's where they stand to win support. If they can convince
the public, and their opponents, t hat their products do indeed
reduce pressure on rainforests and marginal land that would better be
left in their natural state, they'll gain some converts. Some people
will always be against biotechnology because it's profit driven. But
so is forestry, and that industry convinced its critics it was
"green" through an intensive campaign abouHt reforestation.
Agriculture has started down that path, but it needs to put
significant support behind worthwhile organizations such as AGCARE
(Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment)
if it wants to appreciably move the public opinion needle.
Biotechnology is getting closer to us all the time. It's in our
fields, and in our homes. It will appear more and more on our dinner
plates, as scientists figure out ways to introduce health-enhancing
traits into conventional crops -- traits which have more to do with
consumers, not farmers, although farmers will benefit from growing
them and selling them for a premium.
And if there's more biotech, there must be more education. They need
to go hand in hand, or risk more biotech battles.
More on 'Crop Contamination' a la Percy Schmeiser
As a follow up to the article 'More to case than meets the eye
[Schmeiser]' published in Guelph Mercury (May 12, 2005) by Robert
Wager, AgBioView readers might find the following source references
(a) Contamination that results from circumstances beyond the control
of the operator will not necessarily alter the organic status of the
operation. The level of such unavoidable contamination will range from
non-detectable to very low, depending on a number of factors, most of
them outside the control of the producers. Any defined threshold will
be chosen arbitrarily and does not reflect adherence to organic
principles. Therefore IFOAM does not support the introduction of de
minimis thresholds for genetic contamination.
Because of this, mandatory testing for genetic contamination should
not be introduced for the verification
of organic production. However, testing is a tool available to
certification bodies to utilise in certain specified situations, such
as when negligence or fraud is suspected or to assess if established
safeguards are sufficient.
(b) Queen's Bench For Saskatchewan; Between: Larry Hoffman, L.b.
Hoffman Farms Inc. And Dale Beaudoin (Plaintiffs) - And - Monsanto
Canada Inc. And Bayer Cropscience Inc. (Defendants)
India: GEAC Approves Two More Biotech Cotton Hybrids for Cultivation
Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express, May 22 , 2005
New Delhi, The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in its
emergency meeting convened on last Friday approved two Bt cotton
hybrids of Nuziveedu Seeds namely NCS-145 Bunny Bt and NCS-207
Mallika Bt for commercial cultivation in south and central India.
The GEAC was scheduled to meet on June 5, but the meeting was
advanced on request made by the industry. The seed industry cited
reasons for early approval as the sowing season will commence from
May 20. The GEAC met thrice so far in the year for new approvals of
Bt cotton for commercial cultivation. So far the number of new
approvals for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton hybrid varieties is
Some of the new approved varieties like MRC-630 developed by Mahyco,
Ankur 651 of Ankur Seeds and NCS-145 Bunny Bt and NCS-207 Malika Bt
can be cultivated in both central and south India.
Fact Sheet On Bt Cotton In India
A fact sheet on Bt cotton in India has been released, listing all
approved varieties for the Central, Northern, and Southern Zones for
the year. All approved hybrids are from Mahyco (MECH, MRC), Rasi
(RCH), and Ankur seed companies in India.
The fact sheet can be found at http://www.isaaa.org/kc. For more
information, contact Bhagirath Choudhary (email@example.com) of
the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications India Office.
Agricultural Biotechnology and Biosafety in India: Expectations,
Outcomes and Lessons
- Indira, A., Bhagavan, M. and Virgin, I.; Stockhom Environment
Institute, 138 pp. ISBN 91 975238 0 1 2005 May
Download report here (pdf) at http://www.sei.se/newreport.html#india
Pakistan Approves Biosafety Rules
- Crop Biotech Update, www.isaaa.org
Pakistan's Ministry of Environment has approved and put into law the
country's biosafety guidelines. The rules apply to the following
activities: manufacture, import and storage of microorganisms and
gene technological products for research; all work involved in the
field trial of genetically manipulated plants, animals (including
poultry and marine life), microorganisms and cells; and import,
export, sale and purchase of living modified organisms, or
substances or cells and products for commercial purposes.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had
earlier chaired a meeting on the biosafety guidelines for the
agriculture and pharmaceutical sectors where he directed the Food and
Agriculture Ministry to adopt biosafety measures in the agriculture
sector to grow disease-free crops and boost agricultural production.
The approved biosafety rules follow a three tier safety mechanism
system composed of the National Biosafety Committee, Technical
Advisory Committee and Institutional Biosafety Committee that
control and monitor the whole gamut of activities from the
laboratory to the field.
Obtain more details of this approval from Ijaz Ahmad Rao at
Comments of Malaysian PM - Factual?
- Colin Sanderson, Curtin University of Technology, Australia
Comments: The following quotation from the Malaysian Prime Minister
was reported in a recent AgBioWorld news update. Is there any
justification for such a claim?
> "Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that although
>the Netherlands, with a population of 16 million, was only the size
>of Pahang, it was the world's second largest food exporter after the
>United States. "
Response from Prakash:
I do not think it is correct. Many politicians get things like this
wrong. It is true though that Netherlands is a large exporter of
agricultural products such as cut flowers which are mostly imported
and then re-exported.
Protecting Intellectual Property - May The Force Be With Us
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade and Technology, May 25, 2005
The new Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, earned untold millions
in its opening days--and only a few hours after the curtains rose,
illegal copies of the film were already circulating on the Internet.
You could shrug your shoulders and say, "Sith happens."
Then again, there's much more at stake here than the size of George
Lucas's big bank account. American farmers have a direct interest in
making sure that everybody's intellectual property rights are
protected, and that high-tech thievery doesn't have a future.
In the United States, farmers make use of other people's intellectual
property every day - we pay special fees to plant biotech seeds. The
prices aren't cheap, but those of us who choose to use them have
decided they are worth it because biotech crops lead to reduced
pesticide costs and higher yields. That's why virtually all the
soybeans grown in this country, as well as most of the cotton and
about half the corn, are biotech enhanced.
It would be great if these seeds were free, or if they weren't sold
at a premium. But the reason they exist at all is because seed
companies have invested tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars
into research and development. If they aren't able to recoup these
expenses in the marketplace, they'll withdraw the existing
technologies and quit making new ones. That would help nobody.
Unfortunately, some countries are trying to exploit American
ingenuity--they want to plant biotech seeds and take advantage of
everything they have to offer, but they don't want to pay for it the
same way U.S. farmers do.
You could say they've gone over to the dark side.
The biggest problem is Argentina, a major exporter of soybeans.
Argentine farmers will grow perhaps 39 million tons of it this year,
and something like 95 percent of their harvest will be genetically
improved. But few will pay the technology fees that routinely apply
in the United States, because the seeds are commonly acquired on the
They're able to get away with this practice, at least for now,
because Argentina does not have strong legal protections for patents,
trademarks, and copyrights. This failure to guarantee intellectual
property rights is one of the main barriers to developing countries
becoming fully integrated into the global economy.
The good news for American farmers is that many growers in other
nations understand the basic problem. They're grateful for the ways
in which biotechnology improves agricultural practices and they're
typically willing to pay their fair share for it. Farmers in
Paraguay, which borders Argentina, recently agreed to pay royalties
on biotech seeds.
"This is very positive for the country and for producers," said Cesar
Jure of the Paraguayan Grain and Oilseed Exporters Chamber upon
striking the deal in March. "After years of underground seed trade,
we had reached a point of such disorder that we didn't even know what
we were planting. Now we'll have seeds that are designed for
different planting situations."
There has also been substantial progress on this issue in Brazil,
another one of Argentina's neighbors and a substantial producer of
Negotiations to correct the problem have been underway in Argentina,
but they recently took a turn for the worse because their government
seems determined to get something for nothing for as long as
possible. When Monsanto announced that it will try to collect
royalties on its soybean patents by working with countries that both
import Argentine soybeans and recognize intellectual property rights,
the government in Buenos Aires threw a fit. The agriculture secretary
even accused Monsanto of holding a "hoodlum-like attitude."
These hotheaded words need to be taken with a grain of salt. They
come from the same socialist government that recently called for a
consumer boycott of Shell gas stations because fuel prices are going
up. Can you imagine the outrage if President Bush were to attempt
such a thing in the United States? In Argentina, however, this is
politics as usual.
There's still time to craft a sensible solution in Argentina. But
this is an issue that won't vanish the way Obi Wan Kenobe did when
Darth Vader smacked him with a light saber--especially as China and
India increasingly adopt biotechnology on their own farms.
Much wrangling lies ahead. As we confront it, may the force be with us.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a
national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed and
led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in
Global Warming Will Increase World Hunger - UN
- Philip Pullella, Planet Ark, May 27, 2005
ROME - Global warming is likely to significantly diminish food
production in many countries and greatly increase the number of
hungry people, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said on
Thursday. FAO said in a report that food distribution systems and
their infrastructure would be disrupted and that the severest impact
would likely be in sub-Saharan African countries.
"There is strong evidence that global climate is changing and that
the social and economic costs of slowing down global warming and of
responding to its impacts will be considerable," said the report by
FAO's Committee on World Food Security.
Many scientists fear rising temperatures, blamed mainly on
heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels, will melt ice caps,
raise sea levels by almost a metre (three feet) by the end of this
century and bring more floods, droughts and storms.
Global warming would increase the amount of land classified as being
either arid or insufficiently moist in the developing world. In
Africa the amount of this type of harsh land could increase by as
much as 90 million hectares by 2008, an area nearly four times the
size of Britain. Changes in temperature, rainfall as well as an
increase in the number of so-called "extreme weather events" such as
floods will bring with them potentially devastating effects.
The world suffered 600 floods in the past two and a half years, which
claimed the lives of about 19,000 people and caused $25 billion in
damages, excluding December's devastating tsunami in southeast Asia
that killed more than 180,000. FAO said scientific studies showed
that global warming would lead to an 11 percent decrease in rain-fed
land in developing countries and in turn a serious decline in cereal
"Sixty-five developing countries, representing more than half of the
developing world's total population in 1995, will lose about 280
million tons of potential cereal production as a result of climate
change," FAO said.
The effect of climate change on agriculture could increase the number
of people at risk of hunger, particularly in countries already
saddled with low economic growth and high malnourishment levels. "In
some 40 poor, developing countries, with a combined population of 2
billion ... production losses due to climate change may drastically
increase the number of undernourished people, severely hindering
progress in combating poverty and food insecurity," the report said.
Warming: Famine or feast?
- Dennis Avery and H. Sterling Burnett, Washington Times, May 25,
Mass famine and starvation due to a collapse of agricultural
production ranks high among myriad catastrophes environmentalists
claim human-induced global warming will cause. Fortunately, this is
one global warming bogeyman that's easy to slay.
Regardless of the cause of the current warming, the best available
evidence indicates a warmer planet should result in bountiful crops.
The modest warming many scientists expect should result in longer
growing seasons, more sunshine and rainfall, while summertime high
temperatures change little. And a warmer planet means milder winters
and fewer crop-killing frosts. History shows the Earth's climate is
less stormy and more stable in relatively warm eras.
The present warming trend has not resulted in agricultural water
shortages. Indeed, rainfall is increasing moderately over most of the
world because global warming evaporates more water from the oceans,
where it falls back down to earth in a reinvigorated hydrological
Thanks partly to increased rainfall, infrared satellite readings show
worldwide vegetative activity generally increased 6.17 percent
between 1982 and 1999. The world is getting greener. Continued
warming should increase, rather than reduce, rainfall.
In addition, global warming also increases carbon dioxide (CO2),
which acts like fertilizer for plants. As the planet warms, oceans
naturally release huge tonnages of additional CO2. (Cold water can
hold much more of a gas than warmer water).
CO2 in the atmosphere has increased more than 30 percent in the past
half-century. CO2 is a critical component of photosynthesis, the
process by which plants use sunlight to create carbohydrates - the
material that makes up their root and body structures. Increasing CO2
levels not only speeds the growth of plants, it improves their water
use efficiency. More CO2 also decreases water loss in plants, which
is beneficial in arid climates or during droughts.
Botanists pump large volumes of CO2 into their greenhouses to enhance
plant growth. A series of 55 experiments by research scientist
Sherwood Idso, formerly of the Agriculture Department, support
botanists' faith in CO2's beneficial effects. For example, when Mr.
Idso increased CO2 by 300 parts per million (ppm) above the current
atmospheric level of more than 370 ppm, plant growth increased 31
percent under optimal water conditions, and 63 percent under water
scarcity. With a 600 ppm CO2 increase, plant g rowth was enhanced 51
percent under optimal water conditions and an astonishing 219 percent
under conditions of water shortage.
CO2 enrichment causes plants to develop more extensive root systems
that allow plants to reach additional pockets of both water and
nutrients in the soil, reducing the metabolic energy required to
capture vital nutrients. More extensive, active roots also stimulate
and enhance the activity of bacteria and other organisms in the soil
that are beneficial to plants.
Since many of today's plants evolved when CO2 levels were much
higher, some scientists fear today's plants are literally starving
from CO2 deprivation. Based on nearly 800 scientific observations
around the world, a doubling of CO2 from present levels - would
improve plant productivity on average by 32 percent across species.
Controlled experiments have shown that, that under elevated CO2
levels, average yields of cereal grains, including rice, wheat and
oats are 25 percent to 64 percent higher. Tubers and root crops,
including potatoes, and cassava, yield 18 to 75 percent more under
high CO2 conditions. And yields of legumes, including peas, beans and
soybeans, increase between 28 percent and 46 percent. So far, since
1950, in a period of global warming, these factors have helped the
world's grain production soar from 700 million more than 2 billion
tons last year.
Humans can help nature along. Recently, Egypt genetically engineered
a drought-tolerant wheat plant - containing a gene from the barley
plant - that needs to be irrigated only once, rather than eight times
per season. The new wheat is expected to dramatically increase food
production in semi-arid climates. In addition, constantly improving
transportation systems help reduce localized food shortages.
The real famine threat will come not in the present warming, but
rather the next Ice Age when huge ice sheets will once again cover
Canada and Russia, and the Northern Plains will be too cold to farm.
Fortunately, that test may not come for another 10,000 years. By
then, unless regulations interfere, the world should have genetically
engineered a set of even higher-yielding and still more
stress-tolerant crop varieties to feed humanity on dramatically
Dennis Avery is director of the Center for Global Food Issues and an
adjunct scholar at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). H.
Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow at the NCPA.
Bioscientists: Gods or Monsters?
- Kristen Philipkoski, Wired, May 27, 2005. Full story at
Scientists working with embryonic stem cells or transgenic organisms
are sometimes perceived as evil: modern-day Frankensteins meddling
with the building blocks of life.
In his new book, The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA ... and
Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech, journalist and
author David Ewing Duncan chats with some of the most prominent and
powerful life scientists in the United States about the human
motivations behind their God-like endeavors.
He finds them to have benevolent intentions -- almost completely
convincing us that their experiments won't have unintended negative
Duncan's book profiles seven scientists, including famously
cantankerous DNA discoverer James Watson, Human Genome Project leader
and born-again Christian Francis Collins and Harvard geneticist Doug
Melton, who hopes to advance medical research one day by creating
monkeys with human brains.
Duncan weaves lay-friendly science through the profiles, making the
book fun to read whether you're interested in science, ethics or
philosophy, or simply curious about exceptional people.
In the book, Duncan plays basketball with Icelandic DNA hero Kari
Stefansson (an episode that inspired the title), and sits with Nobel
Prize winner Sydney Brenner in his La Jolla, California, apartment as
he nurses a cold. He explores how Collins reconciles his fiercely
competitive nature and faith in science with his faith in God. And
despite many of the scientists' clear disdain for journalists, Duncan
holds his own as a non-scientist in his conversations with these
Their quirky, sometimes cranky, but mostly charitable natures should
allay the public's fear of scientists tinkering with DNA and stem
cells. Mistrust of scientists stems at least in part from ignorance,
not necessarily of the science, but of the people performing the
experiments. We don't know them as men and women who have families,
catch the flu and play hoops at lunch.
It's partly the fault of science reporters, Duncan writes:
"Journalists tend to write articles trying to explain the intricacies
of proteomics, genetically modified organisms, ribonucleic acid,
transgenic animals and therapeutic cloning -- and the ins and outs of
startups, initial public offerings and rolling markets." ......
...... Read on at http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,67643,00.html