Today in AgBioVoiew from www.agbioworld.org: June 15, 2005
* Medicines and crops
* RE: Greenpeace Fined 4,000 Euros Under New Danish Terror Law
* Nobel laureate addresses audience at Monsanto
* IITA, NABDA Demystify Biotechnology
* Parliament opposes GM crop moratorium
* Scientists breed new fruits and vegetables
* Full committee hearing on "Benefits and future developments in agriculture and Food Biotechnology"
* Panel on modified crops taking shape
* Whole earth - or totally barmy?
From: Dave Wood
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2005 11:38:54
Subject: Medicines and crops
Medicines and crops
Paul Driessen, the senior policy advisor for CORE, criticizes the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for its adverse impact on bioprospecting and the development of new drugs (AgBioView, June 13th). He ain't seen nothing yet.
The CBD covers all biodiversity, most of which, for ecological reasons, is found in developing countries. Most of the resource value of biodiversity is of two kinds: potential drug plants and also genetic resources of our staple crops. Paul concentrates on the first kind: bioresources of medicinal value. He warns that development of biodiversity into new drugs of benefit to all will be jeopardized by activist attacks on patenting, and by over-regulation, and UN bureaucracy.
Yet, in its favour, the CBD endorses bilateral deals over access to resource biodiversity of all kinds. For example, in 1991 Merck supported a Costa Rican programme to identify potential drug plants and animals. Rewards for Costa Rica were a basket of cash, training, and added value to national biodiversity. This market-driven willing-buyer willing-seller approach is encouraged by the CBD but is now threatened by a new UN Treaty. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of 2004 scraps bilateral deals over the second important kind of biological resources - crop genetic resources. At the heart of this new Treaty is a `multilateral system' to control access to genetic resources of our important food crops. This multilateral system attempts a monopoly, an OPEC for genes. Any plant breeder world-wide wanting access to genetic resources will have to agree to pay the system if new varieties are developed and covered by patents or plant breeders' rights. Developing countries have been lead to believe that up to 30% of the farm gate price will be paid by developed countries for varieties developed from samples in the multilateral system (http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPS/Pgrfa/pdf/pacific.pdf). This astronomical sum will first cripple plant breeding and then farming. And these payments will be for ever, unlike patents and Breeders' Rights which are time limited.
Another point in favour of the CBD is that it was not retroactive: only new collections are covered. The many millions of samples already dispersed around the world in botanic gardens, the National Cancer Institute in the US, and more than a thousand crop genebanks, are not covered by the CBD. Countries where the samples originated have no international rights over samples already beyond their borders. Access remained at the whim of the holding institute. For example, for the USDA and the International Research Centres, crop samples were available for the common good without payment and without condition. This access would suffice crop breeders for generations. But the Plant Genetic Resources Treaty introduces retroactivity. To enhance monopoly control, countries are required to place their existing resources into the multilateral system within the Treaty.
To pay for its operations, the Treaty also intends to include the hitherto public domain crop genetic resources in the International Agricultural Research Centres. Even worse, the past products of research of the Centres, including many Green Revolution varieties which are essential for the food security of developing countries, will be taken into the Treaty multilateral monopoly. Yet the International Centres cannot be members of the Treaty, will not benefit from its provisions, and can never regain control of deposited samples (unlike members). Out of about 100 developing countries, only 37 are at present members of the Treaty, and these (including St Lucia, Mauritius and the Cook Islands) will be the main beneficiaries of the new international tax.
All Paul's concerns over the impact of the CBD on global drug development will be magnified for crops under the Plant Genetic Resources Treaty. There will be wildly-wrong estimates of resource value; UN bureaucracy rather than bilateral deals; activist attacks on multinational crop development; and a very complex international legal regime. But for crop resources there are additional problems: an international and everlasting tax; an attempted monopoly; retroactivity, and, worst of all, the Treaty attempts to take control of the `public good' products of research of the `Green Revolution' crop Centres.
Developing countries are already, very sensibly, staying out of the Treaty in droves. But if, for example, Mexico stays out, its potential for bilateral deals over access to its rich national genetic resources could be compromised. The International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), located in Mexico, could place its large collections of Mexican maize varieties into the Treaty without Mexico's knowledge or agreement or discussion; the productive working relationship between Mexico and CIMMYT would crash; and the activists would succeed in their anti-development objectives.
Subject: Greenpeace Fined 4,000 Euros Under New Danish Terror Law
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2005 22:30:00 -0700
I read with interest the June 10 AFP article reporting how Greenpeace was fined 4,000 Euros Under a new Danish Anti-Terror Law for using an anti-GMO protest as a means of public intimidation. Unfortunately, this did not occur soon enough. The Danish action should be applauded and celebrated. It should also be followed by similar actions taken by the UK and other European countries.
Greenpeace Europe has a long history of harrassing companies and scientists that do things it objects to, such as grow GMOs. This occurred regularly in the UK during the early GMO crop trials of 2000-2002, and resulted in actual economic damages. In this regard, Greenpeace's ability to engage in such activities with impunity in the UK has unfortunately encouraged other groups, namely, animal rights activists, to do the same there. This prompted Prime Minister Tony Blair's previous government to recommend the enactment of a new criminal offense called 'economic sabotage'. It is doubtful, however, whether such a law was ever enacted.
I have attached for your review and dissemination an article I prepared on this subject. Please share it with your readership. It is entitled, "In the UK ‘Economic Sabotage' is Still a Form of Free Speech".
Please also inform your readership that the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development has a new website: www.itssd.org . We are developing an online journal called 'SD Watch' which will report on ongoing UN and other institutional activities related to promoting the prevailing negative paradigm of sustainable development embraced by the European Union. We would be pleased to take suggestions for articles.
Lawrence A. Kogan, Esq.
Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development, Inc.
y the UK Department of Trade and Investment (DTI) suggests two possible reasons why such companies may be considering relocation - over-regulation and economic sabotage. Apparently, the UK government has been aware of these problems for some time, as DTI's 5-year plan recommended that the government use a 'lighter regulatory touch' and that it clamp down in a criminal sense on ideological animal rights group activities.
Animal Rights Extremists Commit Economic Sabotage - Animal Testing of Drugs
According to UK trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, the single biggest threat to the UK's "position as number two in the world on biotechnology is the threat of animal rights extremists, animal rights terrorists". And, a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) previously remarked how extremist campaigns were having an increasingly negative impact on R&D investment in the UK and thereby ruining the industry. Such claims were corroborated by the FT which reported last November (11/18/04 - "UK Plans New Law to Rein in Animal Rights Protesters") that "the UK is perceived as having one of the worst records for attacks by extremists. High profile campaigns of intimidation against anyone associated with animal testing have affected academic research, as well as the development of drugs."
In a January 2005 update of that report (1/20/05 - "Law Targets Animal Rights Militants"), the FT noted further how these activities have served to deter pharmaceutical companies from engaging in animal research by forcing "[i]ncreasing numbers of suppliers to drop their business with [such] companies…" According to ABPI figures, "there were 42 such 'capitulations' in the past quarter of 2004, more than two-thirds of the year's total of 113. More than 100 abusive or threatening phone calls and other communications were made to companies engaged in animal research last year, almost three times the 38 for 2003…There were 177 cases of damage to company, personal and private property in 2004, up from 146 the previous year."
A recent report appearing in the Daily Mail further corroborates this trend. It found that, during the three months ended October 2004, forty-eight attacks were committed on property belonging to pharmaceutical companies and their employees, along with countless acts of abuse and intimidation (e.g., blockades) against these companies' suppliers. In addition, such groups have engaged in personal harassment of life sciences company investors, including threats to publish their names and home addresses on the web unless they sell their shares. In fact, "abuse from animal rights militants has prompted almost 5,000 directors of medical research firms and their customers to seek Government protection." Unfortunately, as a recent BBC radio broadcast has revealed, illegal vigilante acts such as these increasingly reflect the modus operandi as well as the raison d'etre of political pressure groups once more 'sophisticated' attempts at legal or public 'persuasion' have failed. As emphasized by one animal rights group protestor, "You don't pick a company unless you can close it down because otherwise you just make those companies stronger. So when they are chosen - they are finished."
For example, by initially focusing legal and public pressure and threatening bad publicity on the suppliers of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe's largest vivisection laboratory, the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) campaign caused eighty (80) such companies to sever their ties with the laboratory. Since, however, not all suppliers were convinced, the Shac organization proceeded to take further 'necessary' steps. As the BBC reported, "some nasty things have happened to companies [Shac] has 'named and shamed' on its website". A case in point is the September 10, 2004 placement of fake bombs under the cars of two directors of another Huntingdon supplier. That Shac 'persuasion' tool immediately proved very effective, as the supplier terminated its business relationship with the laboratory later that same day.
What is remarkable is that, until recently, the UK government has continued to permit this extremist behavior to violate other law-abiding citizens' democratic rights even though, as Prime Minister Tony Blair noted, "Britain has the most tightly controlled regime governing animal experiments in the world."
Environmental Extremists Commit Economic Sabotage - GM Crops
What is most disturbing about these activities, however, is that they do not reflect the aberrant behavior of only a small band of miscreants, as UK officials and the UK media would have the world believe. It is common knowledge that ideological extremism and criminal conduct are not entirely the province of animal rights advocates. Environmental extremism is also particularly well entrenched in UK and European daily life, where it has historically been the mainstay of such internationally recognized environmental groups as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund and other more locally focused groups. Environmental extremists within these groups have widely disseminated misinformation to induce consumer fears and distrust of European regulators to gain credibility with the broader European public. They have employed strong lobbying pressure to shape national and regional 'precautionary principle-based' environmental policies. And they have threatened business and personal reputations, engaged in personal harassment and physical intimidation and caused destruction of personal and business property in order to influence industry conduct. Each of the acts within this latter category of 'wrongs' arguably constitutes a type of criminally actionable economic sabotage or economic terrorism no less severe than the acts committed by the animal rights extremists and targeted by Mr. Blair's proposed criminal legislation. That UK "Ministers are still debating whether the offence [being considered] should cover all extremists, not just the animal rights activists who are its principal target", is nothing less than an acknowledgement of this sad but true fact.
A good example of the type of economic sabotage engaged in by environmental extremists in the UK during the past five years involves genetically modified (GM) food, feed and seed. Extremist efforts have focused, since at least 1999, on terrorizing and causing economic loss to industry (biotech and pharmaceutical companies), farmers and scientists that dared to go forward with outdoor government-planned GM trials. Their ultimate goal was to stop the trials altogether, hamper government GM research efforts, and to block industry's development and distribution of GM products to British supermarkets and retail stores. The intended effect of such conduct was to deny the British public a potentially useful, and perhaps, essential new technology.
The UK government had planned to conduct trials in 55 fields by the end of 2000 - 25 fields for maize and oilseed rape and 30 fields for either sugar or fodder beets. Additional farm-scale trials were planned for 2001 and 2002. While government estimates had suggested that a total of 75 participating farms were needed to conduct a viable study, mounting Greenpeace pressure during this three-year period made it difficult to recruit enough farms. As the Guardian reported in September 2000, of the 31 English and Scottish farms that had originally signed up for the trials, 26 were placed on a Greenpeace 'hit list', and two others pulled out due to local pressure.
The trials had been facilitated by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), an industry group drawn from the plant breeding, agrochemical and farming sectors, whose objective was to ensure that the commercial introduction of GM crops in the UK is managed openly and responsibly. SCIMAC had drawn up a code of practice on the transfer of information about GM products along the supply chain and guidelines on the management of herbicide tolerant crops. While the UK government (DEFRA) initially welcomed this 4-year initiative, it did not, for political reasons, endorse outright SCIMAC's risk management guidelines.
Greenpeace-driven economic sabotage was catapulted into the public limelight following the non-guilty jury verdict rendered on September 20, 2000, at the criminal trial of Greenpeace UK executive director, Peter Melchett. Melchett and 27 other members of Greenpeace had been criminally charged on July 26, 1999, with raiding (trespass), damaging (vandalism) and trying to remove (theft) six acres of a GM maize crop that were being grown by local Norfolk farmers for seed company Agr-Evo Ltd (now the agrochemical company Aventis). At trial, Melchett successfully invoked the subjective facts-intensive defense known in Britain as 'the Tommy Archer defense' which, as the Independent wrote, "relied on the jury accepting that the defendant genuinely believed that the action would prevent greater damage being done." In other words, the group's otherwise illegal actions were justified because the group 'honestly' believed that it was responding to an even greater potential threat posed to the environment by the pollination of GM crops. According to the local prosecutor, the verdict was based on a finding that the group's actions were not premeditated, within the meaning of the Criminal Damage Act of 1971, which was said to allow people to protect land and livelihoods from other damaging intrusions. This is utter rubbish and an insult to the average citizen's intelligence!
Despite strong objections voiced against the verdict by SCIMAC, the National Farmers Union and the participating farmers, the UK government remained 'on the fence'. As a result, environmental extremists believed they were given the 'green light' to destroy the UK's GM crop research program, and along with it the crops themselves. This mindset was reflected in the remarks of Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth UK. He was quoted by the Guardian, during September 2000, as stating that, "As far as I can see this throws the door open for people to legitimately destroy GM crops that are about to go to pollen" (emphasis added). These comments suggest either that the unrepentant extremists suavely knew what they were doing, or that they lacked the mental capacity to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of their conduct or the need to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. In other words, they were criminally insane.
A number of additional attacks against GM crop trials followed the issuance of this verdict at various locations in England and Scotland, between March and August 2002. They were committed by Friends of the Earth and other local extremist groups, and resulted in the destruction of many more acres of GM crops planted by different UK farmers located in such places as Warwickshire, Munlochy (at Easter Ross in the Scottish Highlands), Newport and Hilton, Dorset. The irony of these events was plain for all to see. Individual farmers had willingly participated in UK government planned GM crop trials facilitated by a cautious industry, which were intended to provide more information to the public about the potential scientific risks and benefits associated with herbicide-resistant crops. This was precisely the kind of information environmental extremists such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth had demanded all along but chose to ignore for political reasons.
These environmental extremists, however, were not satisfied until they could also disrupt and destroy the business relationships that existed along the British food supply chain. As early as the fall of 2000, the US Department of Agriculture had noted how Greenpeace-induced "hysteria surrounding genetically engineered (GE) food" had prompted pledges from a number of British supermarkets to phase out meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed GM crops. This was in addition to the bans they had already adopted on the direct use of GM crops in breads, cakes, ice cream, and other products. In other words, Greenpeace was able to successfully shape consumer demand for GM products as well as influence producer and retailer supply of such products. This was achieved by promoting consumer misinformation and fear and by engaging in guerilla-type military tactics against companies, their employees and their suppliers. The goal was plainly and simply economic sabotage, at both a micro and macro level.
The UK Must Hold Animal Rights and Environmental Extremists Legally Accountable
In many ways, animal rights and environmental extremism raises similar British and European societal concerns that go much deeper than the safety of animal testing or GM crops. Fundamental questions about the ability of the British and European legal systems to cope with the gradual erosion of respect for private rights and public authority need to be answered. While it may be true that peaceful direct action carried out by people who actually take responsibility for their actions must be allowed to shape what happens in a mature democracy, it does not, however, follow that the irresponsible vigilante 'justice' practiced by these extremist groups deserves respect at all.
Indeed, the UK would be sending a negative message to the global life science and biotech industries and to the many laboratories and universities participating in critical cutting-edge research if it did not immediately curtail and treat these types of extremist conduct as criminally actionable offenses under the law. After all, the British animal rights and environmental movements are among the largest and strongest in the world, and global activists look to them as models of inspiration which they then import into their own countries and employ against government and industry.
Former Greenpeace co-founder, Patrick Moore, recognized almost ten years ago that it was "not reasonable to expect the [modern] environmental movement to drop its extremist agenda overnight. The rise of extremism is a major feature of the movement's evolution and is now deeply embedded in its political structure" (emphasis added). Unfortunately, nothing much has changed since that time - in fact, it has only gotten worse. And, it has spread to other causes, such as animal rights.
*Lawrence A. Kogan is an international business, environment and trade attorney who has advised the National Foreign Trade Council on WTO trade and environmental issues. He is now CEO and Co-Director of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development, an independent, non-partisan not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of a positive paradigm of sustainable development, consistent with WTO and free market principles.
Nobel laureate addresses audience at Monsanto
- Associated Press, Jun. 14, 2005, CHERYL WITTENAUER
CREVE COEUR, Mo. - At 91, Norman Borlaug says he has strong memories of the Great Depression, its hunger and destitution_ an experience that propelled his life's work to improve food production in developing nations.
"That period made me sensitive to the needs of human beings," he said before an audience of scientists and others Tuesday at Monsanto Co. headquarters here. "It made deep imprints on me. For good or bad, it made me what I am."
Borlaug, equal parts scientist and humanitarian, and never too far in spirit from his roots on a northeast Iowa farm, is the father of the "Green Revolution." He currently lives in Dallas, and teaches at Texas A&M University, but travels the world for his work.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for improving crop management practices that transformed food production in much of the developing world. He spent 20 years developing a high-yield wheat that helped turn the tide of starvation in India and Pakistan in the 1960s.
Other successes were in such far-flung places as China, Mexico and sub-Saharan Africa, which he called "our greatest challenge."
In 1986, he helped launch the Sasakawa Africa Association, which, along with the Carter Center's Global 2000 program, is exploring ways to raise the productivity of small African farmers.
Monsanto has been contributing to that effort since the mid-1990s in two ways.
The agriculture biotechnology giant is selling its Roundup brand, glyphosate-based herbicide to enable small-plot farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to raise crops without tilling the soil for weed removal. No-till farming reduces erosion and conserves both water and labor, especially pertinent in communities hit hard by AIDS.
Borlaug said in sub-Saharan Africa, animal disease has resulted in few animals available for plowing, leaving a farmer with a hoe and a machete to clear weeds.
Monsanto is also selling high-quality, hybrid maize seed and fertilizer, developed by conventional rather than genetically altered breeding. The governments of that part of Africa have not approved GM seed use, unlike the country of South Africa, where Monsanto markets its products.
"It's not commercial. It's not philanthropic. It just seemed like the right thing to do," said Rob Horsch, vice president of Monsanto's international development partnerships. He said Monsanto sells to 250,000 small, sub-Saharan farmers through the Sasakawa program, a minute piece of the company's 25 million-customer base globally.
Borlaug said the world's food supply must double by 2050, and that 85 percent of future growth will come from lands already in production. Ways must be found to increase yields, raise drought-resistant crops and reduce disease, he said.
Borlaug said he is a proponent of biotechnology in farming, which he called "a new tool that adds greatly" to what conventional genetics and plant breeding offers.
Increasing food production in Africa is not limited to farming practices, however.
He said lack of roads and access to markets is killing that continent.
"I'd be happy for gravel roads and we can worry about the niceties of paving later," he said.
He called for a Marshall Plan for Africa consisting of roads, schools, health care and other services. He favors richer nations canceling the debt of African countries, which, in the Cold War, spent far more on arms than on education and other services, he said.
"If we want stability," he said, "it won't be built on misery."
IITA, NABDA Demystify Biotechnology
- This Day (Lagos), June 13, 2005, By Crusoe Osagie
As part of efforts to enlighten people on the positive application of biotechnology tools for agricultural development in Nigeria a one-day awareness workshop on "Biotechnology today and tomorrow" was recently organized for top civil servants of Bauchi State. It was sponsored by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), and the Total Development International Foundation (TODEV) a non-governmental organization (NGO), with support from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
In his opening speech, Dr. Wale Adekunle, Information and Communication Support Coordinator who spoke on behalf of IITA DG Haratmann said the workshop was organized to demystify biotechnology and enlighten participants on its positive attributes in the service of mankind. It was also aimed at assisting the participants to know more about biotechnology. "Top civil servants among the participants will become well equipped to take informed decisions on matters affecting biotechnology henceforth", said Dr. Adekunle.
Also speaking on the occasion, Professor C.P.E.Omaliko, NABDA Director General, said biotechnology has great potential to address the pervasive poverty and food security problems of the developing world. Speaking through Dr. S. Wuyep of NABDA, he described biotechnology as the cutting edge science that makes use of living organisms (plants, animals and microorganisms), to develop or modify products for the benefit of mankind. According to him, the technology is not new as rural farmers have been using it to preserve farm products and brew wine from malted maize or sorghum from time past.
The application of biotech spans agriculture, health care, food industries and the environment, he said. Prof Omaliko appealed to the Bauchi State government to create enabling environment and understanding to deploy biotechnology as a tool to make local farmers in the State more productive and sustainable.
He said the research component of NABDA would develop bio-engineered cowpea, a popular crop in the State with resistance to insect pests, and transgenic cassava resistant to cassava mosaic disease, assuring that such efforts will reduce yield loss, wastes and prevent the threat to food security of millions of small scale farmers in the State.
Earlier in a statement, Dr. Wole Fatunbi of TODEV said the workshop was aimed at dispelling unwholesome rumors, lies and misinformation about biotechnology. He remarked that with the rapid population growth of sub-Saharan Africa, biotechnology stands a better chance to offer respite in terms of producing enough food to meet demands of the African population. Describing some crops such as cowpea and yam as orphan crops where science has not done much on their improvement, Dr. Fatunbi said biotechnology will enable scientists make a major breakthrough to get better quality and higher yields of the crops.
Declaring the workshop open, the State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Abdumalik Mahmoud who represented the Executive Governor on the occasion, said God in His infinite mercy had given mankind the capacity to manipulate his environment and control the universe. He warned however that the protagonists of biotechnology should not dismiss critics of GMO foods as mere cynics.
He remarked that "when it comes to the impact of biotechnology on plants and animals, we need to satisfy ourselves of their safety...we should do more than just accepting the 'safety tag'. He said scientists have always warned against unpredictability of releasing genetically altered organisms into the environment and the possibility of the new genes causing harm if they get into other living organisms. Hence, he advised that Nigerian scientists must leave no stone un-turned in taking necessary precautions from the beginning to adhere to the biosafety rules and regulations when the bill is eventually passed by the national assembly.
The Deputy Governor commended IITA and other organizers of the workshop with the theme "biotechnology today and tomorrow", which according to him was looking beyond immediate of that field of science. He said from the challenge of manipulating fermentation processes, producing hybrid antibiotics, pharmaceutical drugs and environmental bioremediation, there is hope that Nigerian scientists would make biotechnology work in favor of farmers to help eradicate malnutrition and poverty from the nation in the nearest future. He said with the awareness drive biotechnology will be used to improve the lives of the people today for a better tomorrow.
A documentary titled "Harvest of fear" which served as and eye-opener was shown to illustrate what necessitated the need for biotechnology in the world today. The film depicted the problems of food shortage and its consequences on world population growing at a faster rate than before. The training workshop brought together institutional biosafety officers from the Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Science and Technology, and several private individuals and representatives of some local non-governmental organizations, media executives and senior officials of the Bauchi State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
At the end of the enlightenment workshop participants were better informed about the whole issue of biotechnology. From the positive comments received on the awareness of people on the occasion, there was no doubt that biotechnology has a lot to offer to ensure food security in Nigeria and improve the living standards of the people.
Parliament opposes GM crop moratorium
- swissinfo SRI, June 14, 2005
Parliament has come out against a people’s initiative calling for a five-year moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops in Switzerland.
The House of Representatives narrowly rejected the move, following the line taken by the Senate earlier this year. The initiative will now go to popular vote.
Engineered by a coalition of environmental groups, consumers and farmers, the initiative calls for a five-year moratorium on the import or trading of genetically modified plants or grain.
But on Tuesday the house voted by 91 votes to 88 against the initiative. Opponents, mainly from the centre-right parties, described the moratorium as unnecessary and detrimental to Switzerland’s interests.
They said that the law on genetics that came into effect in January last year already adequately protected humans, animals and the environment against abuses.
Others were concerned that the initiative could damage trade relations with other countries and harm Switzerland’s standing as a place of scientific development, even if research was not directly targeted by the moratorium.
"The growth possibilities of future technologies would be affected," said Brigitta Gadient.
Christine Egerszegi warned that scientists could be tempted to work abroad if the future of GM crops remained uncertain in Switzerland.
However, the initiative’s supporters, mainly made up of centre-left Social Democrats and the Green party, denied the moratorium would have an impact on research.
Among their main concerns were that GM crops could contaminate non-GM crops in neighbouring fields through pollen dispersal.
Andrea Hämmerle, also an organic farmer, said that in a country as small as Switzerland cross-pollination would be hard to avoid.
Supporters added that there was still widespread consumer resistance to GM products.
These arguments were backed up by some members of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, who were representing farmers’ interests.
However, despite their stance on the initiative, the house also dismissed an indirect counter-proposal, aimed at showing how GM and non-GM crops could co-exist.
Reacting to the result of the vote, the coalition in support of the initiative said they regretted the house’s decision.
But they said they remained optimistic that their proposal would be approved by the population.
Both the government and Senate have already rejected the initiative. In March the Senate voted decisively against it by 32 votes to seven.
The initiative will now be put to popular vote, which should take place no later than mid-January 2007.
Scientists breed new fruits and vegetables
- Shanghai Daily news, 15/6/2005, By Rachel Hou
On June 14, the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences held a special exhibition of 22 new species of fruits and vegetables it had bred successfully.
The most eye-catching in all the exhibits were the "cluster tomato" and "bicolored melon". The new tomato variety, which grows like grapes on a vine, is harvested in clusters. The bicolored melon, with red and green pulp, is a genetically modified crop that matures earlier and is more resistant to rot than ordinary melons.
Another highlight of the exhibition were improved strains of plants with greater vigor and disease resistance, including cantaloupes that can grow in China's South (previously not considered a cantaloupe area), pumpkins that can endure both high and low temperatures, and green soy beans not needing pesticides.
Other outstanding creations by the institution include a small pumpkin the size of an orange and a lantern-shaped green pepper bigger than a fist.
Full committee hearing on "Benefits and future developments in agriculture and Food Biotechnology"
- Checkbiotech.org, June 15, 2005
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing June 14 on "Benefits and Future Developments in Agriculture and Food Biotechnology." Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spoke at the first of two panel discussions at the hearing.
Clifford Gabriel, director of the EPA Office of Science Coordination and Policy, emphasized at the hearing how genetically modified (GM) crops reduce reliance on older chemical products and lead to "better lower-risk solutions to pest control." Robert Brackett, director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said the FDA is confident that the GM crops on the market today are as safe as their conventional counterparts. Brackett said, "The risk of inadvertently introducing detrimental traits is actually less likely with bioengineering," due to the greater precision of the process.
The panelists discussed the three agencies' role in working together under a Coordinated Framework for regulating agricultural biotechnology in the U.S. Chuck Lambert, deputy under secretary for USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, said the agencies expect to complete an Environmental Impact Assessment by fall or early winter of 2005, which will likely lead to a more "science-based" system of GM crop regulation in the U.S. Senator Richard Luger asked whether the agencies are active in biotechnology communication and outreach.
The panelists said the agencies have been involved in those types of activities in the U.S., as well as abroad, through discussions at the Codex Alimentarius group on biotechnology, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and bilateral actions in Asia. Asked what additional actions are needed to do away with skepticism in Europe and elsewhere, the panelists said they would continue dialog and help other countries develop their own regulatory apparatuses, in order to make them more comfortable with GM products.
Robert Brackett was asked by Senator Tom Harkin about the FDA's voluntary monitoring system, which relies on data from biotechnology companies to determine the safety of GM products. Brackett said the FDA gets all of its research data on a given product from the biotechnology company that developed it. He said there has been several cases where the FDA has rejected a product based on data from the developer. The panelists also responded to questions on Bt10 corn.
Panel on modified crops taking shape
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, By BRIAN SEALS, June 15, 2005
A county committee to study genetically modified crops could be in place by August and its first task would be to investigate a possible prohibition on those crops while it does its work.
The Board of Supervisors established the group at its meeting Tuesday.
The board voted to create an advisory panel to look at existing regulations, identify issues surrounding such crops and recommend policies, among other chores.
"My goal, and I hope yours as well, is that we have a very open, very honest, very balanced discussion on this issue," said Supervisor Ellen Pirie, who proposed forming a study group last month. "My hope is this committee will educate us."
One of the body’s first tasks will be to investigate the legal issues involved in a moratorium on genetically engineered crops, also known as GMOs, while the committee does its work.
Some residents who supported creating the committee also requested a freeze on such crops while the committee works.
"We need to close the barn door before the horse gets out," resident Katherine Handgun said.
County officials believe there are no genetically modified crops growing here.
The state Department of Agriculture does not track it, a spokesman said, adding it is the domain of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With a few exceptions, there aren’t requirements that local governments be notified when genetically altered crops are planted, said Mark Lipsin, police program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
"There is no public disclosure mechanism for planting GM crops," Lipsin said.
The exception is when a pharmaceutical crop is grown and then it applies only to those 50 acres and larger, he said.
The study group will be directed to report on a possible ban as it completes that task.
Critics of genetically modified crops say not enough is known about them to ensure the public’s safety, and they are concerned about such crops inadvertently pollinating traditional and organic crops.
Backers say the crops can increase yields and be resistant to pests, thereby reducing pesticide use.
Each supervisor will appoint two members of the group, which also will consist of county Agricultural Commissioner David Moeller, Laura Tourte, director of the UC Cooperative Extension in Santa Cruz County, a representative of the county’s Public Health Commission and County Health Officer Poki Namkung.
The group will be a subcommittee of the Health Commission, which means it is subject to open meetings laws and will report to the Board of Supervisors.
Genetically modified crops have become a hot issue in California, where agriculture is a $30 billion industry.
The board’s action comes at time when many communities in the Golden State grappling or have grappled with the same issue.
Mendocino County voters approved a ban on genetically altered crops in March 2004. Trinity and Marin counties have imposed bans as well while ordinances to do so were unsuccessful in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties. Supervisors in the ag-rich counties of Fresno, Kern, King, Solano, Sutter and Tulare have passed resolutions supporting the practice.
Earlier this year, Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, pulled a bill that would have shielded farmers from liability, and allow them to collect damages, should their crops be pollinated by GM crops. Laird has said he plans to try again next year.
Whole earth - or totally barmy?
Biodynamic food is even more expensive than organic produce and is gaining its fans. But can any farming system that follows moon cycles and involves burying cow horns stuffed with manure be taken seriously?
The Guardian, By Bibi van der Zee, June 15, 2005
Eighty years have passed since Rudolph Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, gave the eight lectures that would form the basis of biodynamic farming. The agricultural movement has now spread around the world. In Germany there are 1,331 biodynamic farms, in Canada about 30, in New Zealand 42, in Switzerland 215, in Italy 250, and in the UK 122.
Biodynamic food is beginning to penetrate the mainstream marketplace, albeit slowly, and gaining a reputation as it does so for exceptional quality. Heritage Prime pork (Nigella Lawson's favourite sausages and featured in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books), Hampstead Tea and Coffee, Tablehurst apples, Old Plaw Hatch cheese and yogurt, and a long list of biodynamic wines all win awards and attract notice for the intensity and vibrancy of their flavour.
Unsurprisingly, biodynamic produce also commands a high price premium, even more so than organic food: Heritage Prime pork, only available by a whole or half carcass, costs £10.90 a kilo, as opposed to £6.20 per kilo for a whole pig from Sheepdrove Organic Farm. But that is supposed to reflect the sheer labour-intensive nature of a biodynamic farm: a conventional farm of a few hundred acres might have two workers, while Old Plaw Hatch, a biodynamic farm in West Sussex of similar size, has 15.
Denise Bell of Heritage Prime, which is based at Shedbush Farm in Dorset, says that some farmers go organic because they think they will get lots of subsidies. "But biodynamics isn't like that, you have to believe in the whole thing you're doing, and it takes forever to get a return. But if you persevere, and you do it right, and you keep the purity, you do get that return."
Aylie Cooke, one of the head buyers for Fresh and Wild, the chain of wholefood and organic food shops, says that there are significantly more biodynamic products available now than there were five years ago, and she has noticed customers showing more awareness and interest. Fresh and Wild is planning to launch biodynamic training days to make sure its staff can really explain what biodynamic means; a reflection, perhaps, that most consumers have difficulty in grasping the odd (many say fanciful) ideas behind this movement.
In brief: a biodynamic farm must be seen as a whole living organism within the context of both the planet and the cosmos, with no chemicals used on the animals or soil, just homeopathic medicine, the preparations (seven recipes handed out by Steiner) or the compost of the plants and animals on the farm. A biodynamic farm, therefore, must be as self-sustaining as possible. A mixture of animals and crops is preferred, and planting and harvesting are to take into consideration the moon's orbit and the constellations of the stars. The soil, the earthworms, the microbial activity beneath the surface - these are the most vital aspects of the farm, because from healthy soil comes healthy food, and from healthy food comes healthy minds.
Steiner also founded the anthroposophical movement and the Steiner schools, and devoted his life to a unique and sometimes bizarre combination of spiritualism and science. He was convinced that poor farming practices were leading to falling nutrient levels and life forces in plants and animals, and that that was leading to our declining spirituality: "Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life," he told his followers.
Quackery or scientifically grounded? There are three particular aspects of the biodynamic technique that lead most scientists and farmers to continue to reject it. The most attractively bonkers aspect of biodynamic farming is planting by the moon and stars. In a world where horoscope-based advice is doled out on Radio 2 every week, there are probably plenty of people who find this idea perfectly acceptable. In fact, the famous Tresillian House gardens in Cornwall are tended under a similar regime, the charmingly named moon-gardening. Both moon-gardeners and biodynamic farmers claim the practise is based on thousands of years of observation by cultures as diverse as the Sumerians, Mayans, Chinese, Romans and Ancient Greeks. But for most scientists, it is, as one agricultural scientist who wished not to be named put it, "absolute rubbish".
Dr Carlo Leifert, who is heading the European Union's largest ever investigation into organic farming and who grew up amid biodynamic farmers, says that "in the wider academic community the approach of planting by the moon cycle is seen as wacky, so nobody can really find money from the main funding bodies to look into it. My own feeling is that the impact that the moon possibly has is probably minute compared to other impacts, but then again, who knows?"
The second problematic area is Steiner's preparations, of which the most notorious is the one known as "Preparation 500": manure stuffed into a cow horn, then buried underground throughout winter before being mixed in homeopathic quantities into gallons of water stirred first clockwise and then anticlockwise for exactly one hour before being sprayed over the earth. The other preparations involve ground silica for foliage, and the administration of herbal preparations which include yarrow, camomile and dandelion to the all-important compost heap.
In 1993, research carried out in New Zealand by Professor John Reganold of Washington State University and published in Science concluded that biodynamic compost was indeed of better quality than compost from conventional farms. In 2002, a Swiss paper on organic farming from FiBL ("probably the most highly regarded purely organic farming-focussed research institution in Europe," says Leifert) published by Science magazine concluded that biodynamically tended soil showed higher biodiversity and higher levels of microbial activity than either conventionally or organically farmed soil. Lots of microbes are, in case you're wondering, a good thing: the busier the soil the better. But why biodynamic soil should be in such wonderful condition is not yet understood, and FiBL has now launched another study to find out, while in the US, the Michael Fields Centre has had US Department of Agriculture backing for some of its research into biodynamic growth-regulators.
But the third area of controversy has to be the results of all this: does biodynamic farming actually lead to healthier food? The various answers all express, in their different ways, both the problems and the attractions of the biodynamic methods. "In order to understand biodynamic farming, there has to be a paradigm shift," explains Ton Baars, newly appointed professor of Biodynamics at Kassel University in Germany. "I try to explain to my students that there are forces such as gravity and magnetism which are accepted by conventional science, and these forces we refer to as hard forces. But biodynamics deals with soft forces, life forces, and the problem is to get conventional science to accept these soft forces as well. Biodynamics is a holistic view of the world, and our science also takes this approach."
One of the most controversial biodynamic approaches to which Baars refers is a test usually known as crystallisation, which involves mixing plant juice or blood with calcium chloride and then crystallising it on paper. David Younie, an organic farming specialist at the Scottish Agricultural College, says: "It's clear from thousands and thousands of trials that there really is a difference between the crystallisations formed by, for example, a conventionally grown carrot and a biodynamic carrot. The biodynamic community claims that biodynamic carrot crystals are much more complex structures than the mainstream organic or conventional because their carrots have got more vital force, more life forces. But the problem with this technique is that it doesn't actually tell you anything other than that there is a difference. No one has found a way of interpreting these crystals in a truly objective, scientific way."
So although crystallisation proves conclusively to biodynamic believers, with their holistic approach to science, that biodynamic carrots are better, for the rest of us these tests can seem meaningless. "Until someone calibrates these tests with standard biochemical tests," says Leifert, "you either believe it or you don't." Conventional biochemical tests for vitamin/mineral/amino acid differences are, overall, still inconclusive.
There is, however, one aspect of biodynamic farming which some scientists cite as a possible explanation for the quality of biodynamic food. It is nothing to do with cosmic radiation or cow horns: it is simply the passion the biodynamic farmer feels for his farm. Biodynamic farms are exceptionally pleasant places to be, with trees and flowers, and dogs and piglets wandering about, and an absolutely different smell to a conventional farm - biodynamic manure has a mild and sweet aroma that is extremely pleasant, unlike the sour-smelling stuff that comes out of intensively farmed herds. "When I visit conventional farms, the farmers never talk to me about the quality of their soil. And I'm a soil scientist," says John Reganold. "But when I go to biodynamic farms, the farmers just go on and on about the soil, they can't talk about it enough." As one farmer says, there is an old farming expression. "The best fertiliser is the farmer's footprint."