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June 6, 2005


Organically tainted; Who is afraid of GMOs?; Bio-era Releases AGBIOTECH 2005 Report; Plant biologists explore biotech crop options


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: June 6, 2005

* Organically tainted
* Who is afraid of GMOs?
* Bio-era Releases AGBIOTECH 2005 Report on Regional Trends in GM Crop Adoption and Acceptance
* Letter to the NZ Green Party leader
* Letter sent to Lancet by Roger Kalla
* Plant biologists explore biotech crop options


Organically tainted

- Cape Times, June 2, 2005

Asking misleading questions is standard practice for pressure groups: "Why is it left to anti-GMO activists to expose the false claims that surround the biotech industry?" Jan Haringsma's letter "GMOs' beneficiaries" (May 31) is typical.

Why not ask about the vested interests of anti-GMO activists?

Are they as pure as the driven snow, working only in the public interest?

Or are they, in fact, more concerned with finding issues they can manipulate in order to attract membership, income and power?

How about their allies in the so-called "organic sector" whose untested and expensive products cannot be distinguished by taste panels from other products, and which nobody can show to be healthier?

They rightly fear competition from GM products, which are of a high quality, tested and approved for human and animal health safety, beneficial to the environment by reducing the use of chemicals and minimising soil damage - and all at much lower cost.

The biotech industry, like all commercial activity, needs to make profits or there is no investment, no companies and no jobs. To do so they have to satisfy their customers.

Farmers use GM seeds because they work.

Professor V Moses, Chairman, CropGen


Who is afraid of GMOs?

- FoodNavigator.com, By Lindsey Partos, 06/06/2005

t is a perversion of the 21st century that while affluent societies continue the quest to slice the fat from their increasingly obese populations, five million children die from hunger each year, and more than 850m people go chronically hungry.

And the irony is, in their superior knowledge, the fatties have put the brakes on possibly one of the greatest hopes to alleviate hunger: genetically modified crops.

Proponents of biotech foods claim tinkering with the genetic make-up of food crops boosts yields: by improving productivity and survival in drought regions; and producing pest-resistant and stress-tolerant crops.

Not only this, biotech could breed much-needed nutrients and vitamins into plants.

In short, crops could be made to grow on poor soil in marginal lands, increasing overall food production, reducing pesticide use and improving the nutritional value to populations.

But while private companies and academics are pushing the boundaries of this particular strand of biotechnology, for consumers and governments, notably in Europe, GMOs have become a byword for bad.

The fatties fear that genetically modified foods, or ‘Frankenstein foods’ as they are darkly termed, can harm human health. And anyway, they’re fat, their crops are bountiful and they absolutely have no need for biotech food crops modified to cope with drought.

In the 1990’s, campaigners like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth succeeded in propagating the line that GM foods should be banned from the food chain because they posed a potential risk to health.

The European media, especially the UK press, sucked the issue up, giving wide coverage to this paper-selling subject. Their column inches often played to a set of reader prejudices: fear of scientific progress; the powerful food industry somehow trying to hoodwink us into consuming risky foods; lack of trust in, and massive suspicion of, an industry that fed BSE contaminated meat into the food chain.

Yet, to date, proof that GM foods could harm human health is absent. There is no evidence that they are bad for consumers, confirms Greenpeace.

This confirmation comes despite recent media reports suggesting that the dark king of biotechnology, US firm Monsanto, is involved in a cover-up of key evidence on GM risks.

A Monsanto report is alleged to show that rats fed with Monsanto’s GM MON 863 corn developed internal abnormalities, but the health problems were absent from the non-GM rat eaters. The food safety authorities, with the full report before them, have classified the corn as safe for consumption.

But Monsanto’s poor handling of this latest controversy, and its absolute refusal to make the report public despite calls across the globe, simply serves to fuel consumer suspicion.

Indeed, over the years, the media ‘unfriendly’ Monsanto has provided ample fodder for anti-GM campaigners. What irony that the key proponent of GM foods should have done most of all to feed opposition to the technology.

And yet, while the passionate opposition to GM foods has settled around unsubstantiated health issues, the real equation of costs and benefits looks to be an environmental one. And this the rich world should be heeding.

There is now accumulating evidence that GM crops such as corn, soy, cotton and wheat may be detrimental to ecosystems. This is clearly an issue that must be addressed by governments and industry, through painstaking trials.

Yet at the same time, GM technology may also benefit the environment, by slicing away toxic agricultural pesticides, fertilizer and other soil treatments. As example, recent GM rice trials in China found an 80 per cent reduction in pesticide use by the farmers of GM crops, compared with those using conventional rice varieties.

This flips back to human health. Many farmers suffer through the mishandling of such chemicals, and consumers imbibe the residues.

Thus, while it would be naïve and simplistic to suggest that GM foods alone can solve the problem of world hunger, it is more than naive and simplistic to reject this technology so lightly.

In the next 30 years an additional 2bn people will need food, as agricultural resources are increasingly threatened by depletion, water scarcity and global warming.

What we need are rafts of long-term studies, run independently from industry, to guarantee that GM foods are safe for human consumption, and to investigate the pluses and minuses of their environmental impact.

And for as long as current data suggests there is no apparent risk to health, and world hunger inches close to the one billion mark, the technology is far too valuable to abandon.

The duty of the fatties is to weigh the evidence: before they sign-off crops that can feed more people, in the harshest environments, with scant chemical input.


Bio-era Releases AGBIOTECH 2005 Report on Regional Trends in GM Crop Adoption and Acceptance

New Report Examines Recent Trends and Outlook for GM Crop Adoption in Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Europe – Evaluates Elements of Business Environment in Key Countries

Cambridge, MA (PRWEB) June 6, 2005 -- Bio Economic Research Associates, or bio-era™ (www.bio-era.net), a leading independent research and advisory firm providing analysis on the future of the global bio economy, today released a new research report, entitled “Agbiotech 2005: Regional Trends in Adoption and Acceptance”

The full color report (55 pages; 24 graphics and illustrations) analyzes key developments and emerging trends in the regional adoption and acceptance of GM crops, and is available for purchase on the bio-era website. The report summarizes recent developments in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, North America and Europe—with in-depth coverage of key countries in each region, especially for rapidly developing countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. The .pdf version of the full report includes “influence maps” of institutional voices in the GM crop debate within key countries that are conveniently hyper-linked directly to each institutions website.

Key Findings:

- New legislation, regulations, and commercial agreements coming into place in 2005 in Latin America and Asia make this a momentous year for agricultural biotechnology. The frameworks now being put in place will pave the way for significant further expansion of GM crops in these regions. But key stakeholder groups, detailed in the report, still have the potential to shift the trajectory of events.

- Based on an evaluation of technical, commercial, and regulatory factors affecting the business environment for GM crops, Bio era rates the United States, South Africa, Paraguay, Egypt, Canada, Brazil, and the Philippines as the nations most supportive of GM crop development.

- Despite the growth in GM crop adoption in some regions, the possibility of uniformly open markets for GM crops is fading. Regulations governing GM crops and food products in Europe and Japan remain highly restrictive, even as central governments take formal steps toward new GM crop approvals. These regulations cast a long shadow into the international market for key crops

- New biotech policies likely to be introduced this year in India and China will be of tremendous importance to the future of GM crops in Asia. Overall, GM crops are taking root on a rapidly increasing scale in the developing world, but not without controversy and opposition. If longstanding issues in a few especially challenging areas that continue to generate controversy could be solved, companies and governments might win sufficient public confidence to open the way for much greater and more rapid value creation.

Press Contact: Stephen Aldrich
Company Name: BIO-ERA, LLC
Email: saldrich@bio-era.net
Phone: 617 876-2400
Website: http://www.bio-era.net

To purchase the report, or for more information, please visit http://www.bio-era.net/research/add_research_21.html or contact Stephen C. Aldrich 617 876-2400.


Please find my letter to the NZ Green Party leader, the Hon Jeanette Fitzsimons, MP.

Please feel free to post it.


Dear Ms Fitzsimons,

I read your comments in the recent Green Party press release on the NZ Government stand on documentation required for LMOs and liability regimes for traded GM agricultural produce at the just concluded MOP2 proceedings in Montreal.

I agree with your view that the major stumbling points at the Montreal meeting was the labelling and liability issues. However, where my views diverge is on the matter of what the potential environmental and economical damage would be to the environment and biodiversity of NZ (or Australia for that matters) in case of any mishap during handling of shipments of bulk commodities that may contain Living Modified Organisms. This is particularly true if your starting point is the totally unscientific and economically untenable proposition of 'absolute zero' GM tolerance as being the smallest common denominator for any documentation and liability regime.

The 'zero tolerance' stand seems to me to be what many lobby groups in NZ and Australia are trying to 'sell' to the public and was the straw that broke the camels back at the negotiations in Montreal.

Any party masquerading their anti-GM stand with claims that 'zero tolerance' is a sustainable policy is deluding itself and is risking to loose all its credibility with major agricultural industries across the Tasman and the public.

If they also are seen to lend their support to non-sensical marketing campaigns by lobby groups representing a sub-set of agricultural producers wanting to profit from a perceived competitive advantage by mislabelling imported produce as 'non-GM' or 'Organic', relying mainly on rhetoric bluster to back up this claim, it only adds to the perception of the Greens (NZ or Australia) being a political front for lobby groups with their own agendas.

I hope that sense will prevail between now and MOP 3 in Brazil in 2006.

Hopefully we can start to get away from the non-sensical and economically unsustainable 'zero tolerance' polices for regulation of traded allowed GM products and start to discuss robust internationally agreed protocols that will ensure the coexistence of conventional and non-conventional biotechnology crops and the safe transborder shipments of agricultural commodities without resorting to a prohibitively expensive and legally contentious GMO testing regimes. I trust the Green party of NZ like I would prefer for this to take place before China gives the go ahead for GM rice and pulls the rug away from under the 'zero tolerance zealots'.

China has signed and ratified the Cartagena Protocol and will be present as a voting country at MOP 3. If China goes ahead with commercial planting of GM rice before MOP3 this will, in one stroke, increase the voting power of the exporters of GM crops by 1.3 billion Chinese, a major and expanding market for NZ and Australian agricultural produce.

I applaude the NZ Government for acknowledging that no country that trades in agricultural commodities can continue to promote in perpetuity a false image of being a 'zero tolerance' island. New Zealand and Australia have faced the realities and have got our house in order with the implementation of some of the most comprehensive gene technology regulation in the world. It is interesting to note that as an outcome of the strsnded negotiations in Montreal several countries including Mexico and Brazil are following the lead of New Zealand and Australia and are introducing their own national legislation without waiting for international agreements which have been hijacked by political agendas that are plainly not about protecting the biodiversity any longer.


Roger Kalla
Director Korn Technologies
[ http://www.korntechnologies.com ]www.korntechnologies.com

Letter sent to Lancet by Roger Kalla (Australia)

Dear Editor,

I read your critique of China's policy of cautious and stepwise introduction of GM rice i.e. in the first instance insect resistant rice.

There are several misconceptions in your editorial of the underlying reasons for the Chinese Governments willingness to objectively look at the opportunities that novel strains of rice created by Chinese scientists adapted for Chinese conditions could provide for Chinese farmers.

In a recent report by Chinese and US researchers published in Science on the implications of uptake of GM rice on the health and well being of Chinese rural population it was reported that , besides increased crop yields afforded by the insect resistant rice, pesticide use in farmers that had been involved in trials of the GM rice was down 80 per cent and as a consequence fewer pesticide-related health problems were found.

One of the co-authors Prof Carl Pray of Rutgers said "Small and poor farm households benefit from adopting GM rice by both higher crop yields and reduced use of pesticides, which also contributes to the improved health of farmers".This should please health professionals in UK but was not mentioned in your editorial.

Another co - author Professor Jikun Huang said "Annually, more than 50,000 farmers are poisoned in farm fields, of which some 400-500 die. Moreover the survey indicated that none of the farmers in the trial reported experiencing adverse health effects from pesticide use in either 2002 or 2003.

It seems to me that the Lancet has completely ignored the public health issues connected with the present pesticide use by Chinese rice farmers and that GM insect resistant rice has been proven to be good for the health of Chinese farmers and good for the environment.

Yours Sincerely,

Roger Kalla, PhD
Director Korn Technologies


Plant biologists explore biotech crop options

- ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, By Sara Shipley, June 06, 2005

In the mountains of northern Thailand, rice farming is an age-old occupation largely untouched by the modern world.

Farmers hand-cultivate rice from seeds varieties their ancestors have saved for thousands of years.

No high-yield hybrid plants or genetically modified seeds exist there - leaving intact a treasure-trove of rice varieties sprinkled among small villages.

For the past three years, Washington University evolutionary plant biologist Barbara Schaal has used cutting-edge science to explore the genetic diversity of one of the world's oldest and most important food crops. Her goal is to help protect unique varieties of native rice while improving the yield of a grain that feeds more than half of the world's 6.4 billion people.

"When a plant is domesticated, it loses 80 percent of the genetic diversity of the wild plant," Schaal said. "That's why it's so important to preserve the wild ancestor."

In an effort to feed the world's growing population, some countries are considering planting rice that has been genetically modified to resist pests or contain higher nutrient levels. China is expected this year to become the first nation to approve genetically modified rice despite critics' concerns about possible environmental and health impacts.

Already, many Asian farmers have left traditional rice varieties behind in favor of modern hybrids that were bred to grow stronger and better. While this "Green Revolution" has doubled or tripled the crop yield, rice biodiversity - the abundance of unique genetic varieties - has waned.

Thailand is an exception. Only about one-fifth of its rice crop comes from high-yielding hybrids. In remote mountainous regions of Thailand, India, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, many villagers still cultivate their own special strains of local rice.

Those villages are like living museums for plant geneticists. Schaal found particularly fertile ground for her research among the people of the indigenous Karen tribe in the northern mountains of Thailand.

Expert farmers in each village carefully select the seeds best for local growing conditions from rice plants with different traits. Over centuries, each village developed an average of 15 distinct varieties, Schaal and her collaborators found. The researchers used DNA sequencing to determine variations.

The researchers found some important differences that could be used to help improve the world's rice supply, including better disease resistance, high iron content and tolerance to metals.

They also found variety in the shape, color, taste and texture of rice grains. Some farmers bred a particularly sticky, glutinous rice. One farmer saved the seeds of a pretty reddish-brown rice just because he liked it.

Another kind of small, high-quality round-grain rice is prized as food for valuable fighting cocks.

"In one village, I saw a chicken being exercised on a treadmill, cleaned and massaged," Schaal said with a laugh.

Benjavan Rerkasem, a co-investigator at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, said she is fascinated by the local farmers' ingenuity.

"They manage to make use of Thailand's rich rice genetic resource, especially in areas where 'improved' modern varieties from the national breeding program have for some reason not been able to reach," she said.

The growth of large-scale agriculture makes it increasingly important to preserve genetic variety, said Peter Raven, an internationally recognized scientist who directs the Missouri Botanical Garden.

"With world trade in crops and movement of crops around the world, we need every bit of that genetic diversity to make the crop resilient to adapt to different habitats and to respond to global warming," said Raven, who called Schaal "one of my favorite people."

For Rerkasem, the rice research has significant implications for the future of agriculture in her country.

"It is possible to have economically viable rice production systems that are based on genetically diverse local varieties," she said. "So here we have win-win situations where farmers can get good return from rice farming while conserving genetic diversity in the field."

While some would prefer not to introduce genetically modified rice to the mix, Schaal is not opposed to its use - with controls. Her research has led her to believe that biotech rice could naturally interbreed with wild rice, posing a threat to native plants and domestic rice.

That discovery came when Schaal explored the genetic origin of a strange, weedy rice found growing in a domestic rice paddy in Thailand. Her DNA analysis proved that the domestic plants had bred with wild rice to produce a monster weed. The new plant eventually took over the rice field and spread to neighboring fields.

Schaal said her finding "means that GM rice could cross with wild rice. Which means if GM rice is introduced, it would have to be managed. It wouldn't have to be banned."

In St. Louis, students are experimenting with crossing biotech rice and wild rice in the lab. Schaal's husband, St. Louis University biology professor Joe Leverich, is helping with the work.

The rice project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, has a multidisciplinary approach. Anthropology students are tracking how the movement of human genes compares with the flow of rice genes.

"A family will have a variety of ancestral rice, and they pass it on to kin," Schaal said. "We think the genetic information and sociological data will be linked because of seed sharing."

Rice is only the latest research subject for the German-born Schaal, who has two children. Her earlier work on cassava, a root crop that is the source of tapioca, Mead's milkweed and other plants earned her membership in the National Academy of Sciences, an esteemed body of researchers that provides advice to the federal government and the public on issues such as health care, the environment and public transportation.

This year, she became the first woman to be elected vice president of the organization, an honor that didn't come as a surprise to her colleagues and students.

"She's so enthusiastic, it's amazing," said Sarah Fox, a Washington University Spanish major who took Schaal's "Plants and Civilization" class just for fun. "It's one of the best classes I've taken so far."

Schaal is known for bringing students edible treats made from exotic plants: cassava muffins, cooked quinoa, coconut milk, arrow root cookies, chips made from sweet potatoes and taro roots.

She urges students to think of plant evolution as a living, breathing thing that deeply affects the world today. "This is not something that happened in the dark human past."