Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : June 27, 2005
* Put Biotech Wheat on the Table
* ... Don't Fall for the Hype Over Biotech (!)
* India Should Opt for GM Crop Development
* Straight Thinking: NZ Shooting Itself in Foot
* Phytopharm Sees Shares Plummet After Broker Quits
* Farmers: Frankenfoods Aren't Evil Crop Monsters
* West African States Hold Talks In Mali on Agricultural Output
* EU GMO labyrinth
Put Biotech Wheat on the Table
- Al Skogen, Grand Forks Herald, June 27, 2005
'Producers, Consumers And Environment Benefit From Technology'
Valley City, N.D.: Biotech crops have been grown successfully by
farmers for 10 years on nearly 1 billion acres around the world.
What's more, a recent report by the National Academies of Science
verifies there hasn't been a single legitimate issue regarding human
health or environmental harm attributed to biotech crops. The truth
is producers, consumers and the environment have benefited greatly.
Consider the facts. With 1 billion acres, 10 years' experience and
proven track record with these crops consumed around the world, this
technology no longer can be classified as "new," "untested" or
"unpredictable," but rather should be described as "proven"
"accepted" or "well-tested."
One billion acres is a vast amount of experience. If the Japanese had
adopted this technology exclusively and tried to chalk up 1 billion
acres of experience, it would have required planting every arable
crop acre in Japan to biotech crops for 87 consecutive seasons. In
Europe, it would be similar to planting biotech crops on every acre
of France for 22 consecutive seasons.
Just when, exactly, does precaution give way to experience?
During the past 10 years, more than 50 seed traits have gone through
extensive regulatory review and been approved by government
regulators for distribution to farmers. These regulatory standards
require proof the crops are at least as safe as conventional crops
for human and animal consumption and that they pose no new problems
for farmers or the environment.
No other crop technology ever has been subjected to as much
conclusive testing for safety to humans or the environment as
Biotech crops let farmers reduce pesticide use by millions of pounds
annually, and studies show that beneficial insects and bird
populations increase when biotech crops replace chemical
insecticides. Biotech crops also contribute to soil-saving tillage
practices, which reduce fuel consumption and protect water quality.
Exaggerated fear campaign
It's clear to most farmers that the environmental movement completely
has neglected the fact that biotech crops are a solid step forward
for the environment. Unfortunately, most environmental activist
groups sold their allegiance to the environment a long time ago in
exchange for a fully funded fear campaign supported by trust funders,
organic promoters and professional agitators.
While activists have done their best to sack genetically improved
crops, it appears they haven't been successful - 85 percent of
soybean acres, 40 percent of corn acres and 76 percent of cotton
acres in the United States are planted in biotech varieties.
However, in the case of wheat, a greatly exaggerated fear campaign
about market risk completely has overshadowed the health, economic
and environmental opportunity of adopting biotech wheat.
Our real charge is to educate customers in the truth that biotech
crops are safe and offer the best chance to increase the food supply
for a global population, while reducing the costs to produce this
food and enhance the environment.
My only regret, as a grower who has benefited from growing these
biotech crops over the past several years, is that we are not closer
to realizing these benefits in the wheat industry. Despite 20-plus
years of research and 10 years of commercial success in several
crops, the wheat industry has succumbed to fear tactics of activist
groups and retreated from efforts to introduce beneficial biotech
traits. For wheat farmers in the Northern Plains, this is a tragedy.
I am confident the next 10 years of biotech crops will be even more
beneficial than the previous 10. Drought and cold tolerance, disease
resistance and even more healthful grains are on the horizon.
For the sake of wheat farmers, consumers and the environment, let's
hope wheat will adopt this technology before it is too late.
Don't Fall for the Hype Over Biotech
- Todd Leake, Grand Forks Herald, June 27, 2005
EMERADO, N.D.: Pro-biotech activists such as Al Skogen get pretty
frothed up about the alleged wonders of biotechnology. But after 10
years, the real questions are, "Where's the science?" And "Where's
Are the markets there for biotech wheat? Of course not. Otherwise, it
probably would be on the market now. Wheat customers both in the
United States and abroad categorically rejected the proposal of
genetically modified wheat. Monsanto responded to massive market
rejection of its proposed Roundup Ready hard red spring wheat in May
2004 by suspending field trials and withdrawing permit applications.
It was the only rational thing to do.
Lucky for wheat farmers that Skogen wasn't in charge at Monsanto.
Lucky for Monsanto, too. He probably would have run both wheat
farmers and Monsanto out of business - and blaming the customers who
didn't want the product wouldn't have been much consolation.
Speaking of consumers, their attitudes aren't changing very fast,
despite the propaganda efforts of Skogen and others. According to a
report issued by agricultural economist Dr. Robert Wisner of Iowa
State University one year after Monsanto pulled the plug, U.S.
farmers still stand to lose one-half of foreign markets and one-third
of their wheat price if Roundup Ready wheat were to be introduced.
Also last week, Japan rejected shipments of U.S. corn contaminated
with Syngenta Corp.'s BT-10 corn, an unapproved variety suspected of
health problems. Many countries around the world have been buying
only corn guaranteed free of BT-10, cutting U.S. corn farmers out of
those markets and decreasing family farm income.
So, are biotech products safe to eat? There's not much proof -
because not much research has been done, and what has been done has
been kept secret. Only last week, a British court ordered Monsanto to
release a 1,139-page report it kept secret, indicating that a
genetically modified corn variety caused disease in rats fed the
corn. Hiding research of negative health impacts of genetically
modified crops does nothing but instill suspicion of the integrity of
the science and public heath regulatory process behind GM foods, and
In spite of Skogen's claims, no federal agency conducts scientific
research to determine the safety of new biotech crops before they are
introduced, and that's the way the companies that market GM crops
want it. Other independent research also is rare. Two Norwegian
researchers published a review in 2003 of the scanty research on
biotech safety and concluded that "much more scientific effort and
investigation is necessary before we can be satisfied that eating
foods containing GM material in the long term is not likely to
provoke any form of health problems."
But at least biotech crops cut down on pesticide, right? Not
according to independent researcher Charles Benbrook, whose October
2004 report found that Roundup Ready crops have increased herbicide
use on corn, soybeans and cotton by 138 million pounds since 1996 -
about nine times the 15.6 million-pound decrease in insecticide
applications due to Bt corn and cotton.
Most of the hype surrounding GM foods is just that: hype. It is hype
to promote corporate products despite the concerns of food safety and
the adverse economic impact to farmers. It's well past time for the
United States to catch up on the safety and economic scrutiny of GM
Leake is an Emerado farmer and member of the Dakota Resources Council.
India Should Opt for GM Crop Development to Boost Agri Growth -
Interview with ISAAA chair, Clive James
- Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express (India), June 27, 2005
India will stand to lose if it does not follow Brazil in encouraging
development and cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, said
Dr Clive James, the chair of International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
Dr James indirectly hinted that as Brazil and India are both leading
partners in G-20 negotiating bloc on farm issues under WTO, the
latter should follow the former in boosting agricultural prospects.
Speaking to FE, Dr James said: "Brazil has lot of potential for
boosting its agriculture. It has rightly opted for development and
cultivation of GM crops. It is the world leader in soybeans and has
25 million hectare under cultivation of GM roundup ready soybeans.
This area is slated to increase to 35 million hectare."
He said that Brazil has also approved Bt cotton in 2005. It has the
largest area under rice cultivation outside Asia and has third
largest area under corn cultivation after US and China. "If Brazil
opts for transgenic rice and corn, it can surpass many developing
countries in agriculture," he said.
Dr James said that Brazil generates revenues through exports of
transgenic soybeans to Europe and China in a big way. Public sector
research in Brazil has developed transgenic papaya and beans, which
are in the final stages of approval.
His (Dr James's) analysis of Brazil clearly indicates as to why this
country blocked the birth of regime for regulating transbounday
movements, handling and packaging of living modified organisations
(LMOs) at COP/MOP-2 in Montreal. Brazil is slated to host MOP-3 at
Curitiba, nine months later and also take up the leadership of
like-minded megadiverse countries (LMMCs) from India. Brazil's future
roles can easily be predicted in this context.
Dr James praised President Lula's leadership for introducing two
presidential decrees for GM soybeans cultivation and Ominibus Bill
for in March 2005 endorsing the approval of GM soybeans and approving
Bt cotton cultivation. He said that Mr Lula before becoming the
president was a different person. He openly opposed the introduction
of GM crops in his poll campaign. But after becoming the president he
realised the importance of GM crops. He said that this is a lesson to
be learnt by those who are presently opposing introduction of GM
Regarding recent developments in the EU, Dr James said: "If the Union
retains more powers, then the process of approval of GM crops will be
faster. If the national governments retains more powers, then the
process of approval of GM crops will be slower as the civil society
organisations will be unnecessarily pressuring their national
governments not to go for such approvals." He said that European
countries are now realising the benefits of GM crops. Portugal has
begun cultivating Bt corn after a gap of four years. Portugal
realised that neighbouring Spain reaped huge benefits out of Bt corn,
- Owen McShane, The National Business Review (New Zealand), June 24, 2005
'We let other countries overtake us in biotech; the rest of the world
probably can't believe their luck'
The Mystery Creek Fieldays generated numerous media releases
reminding us how much agriculture contributes to our economy - about
40% of total direct export earnings and up to 60% if we include
related goods and services. It also reminded us that when farmers do
well we all do well.
We still depend on the competitive and innovative strengths of our
farming sector. One wonders, then, why we seem so determined to shoot
ourselves in the foot.
The National Business Review recently carried stories pointing out
that our researchers and growers can no longer import new strains of
grasses, crops and trees. We have regulated the GM industry out of
existence. New processing plants attract objectors from everywhere.
Naturally, the rest of the world is stepping into the gap. They
probably cannot believe their luck. For example, scientists in the
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute have announced new
pest-resistant maize varieties, including a new GM type that is 100%
resistant to stem borer, claiming these strains will reduce
production costs by 30%. The institute is also working on genetically
modified varieties of potatoes, cassava and cotton.
We panic ourselves witless over Corngate. These Kenyan projects are a
joint effort between the institute and the International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Center, funded by the Syngenta Foundation for
Sustainable Agriculture. Monsanto has nothing to do with it. So what
will Greenpeace say?
India is also on the ball. Biospectrum India reports on the
biotechnology sector's rapid development in that country; its top
biotech companies cover the spectrum of biopharmaceuticals, enzymes,
animal and human vaccines and new GM crop varieties, including 17 Bt
In China*, independent international researchers have concluded that
Chinese farmers, growing genetically modified rice, have produced
larger crops, saved money on pesticides and reduced their risk of
pesticide poisoning. The researchers found conventional farmers used
eight to 10 times more pesticides than those growing the genetically
None of the farmers using the GM strains were sickened by exposure to
pesticides, while 8.3% of the farmers growing conventional rice
reported pesticide-related illness. In China more than 50,000 farmers
are poisoned in farm fields each year and some 400-500 die.
These GM farmers saved a lot of money and they didn't get sick or
die. While Kenya, India and China are reaping the gains of GM and
other biological technologies, we remain bogged down in
over-regulation and moratoria. Is this "development" really
Deal with reality or reality will deal with us
Biotech crops have now been grown successfully by farmers for 10
years on nearly 400,000ha around the world. What's more, a recent
report by the National Academies of Science verifies there hasn't
been a single legitimate case of harm to human health, or to the
environment, attributed to biotech crops. Instead these GM crops have
benefited producers, consumers and the environment.
On the other hand, during this time, hundreds of thousands of tonnes
of "organically" grown produce have been withdrawn from European
markets because they posed threats to human or animal health.
Four hundred thousand hectares planted in GM crops over a 10-year
period represents a vast amount of experience. In Europe, it would be
equivalent to planting biotech crops on every hectare of France for
22 consecutive seasons. Eighty-five per cent of soybean hectares, 40%
of corn hectares and 76% of cotton hectares in the US are planted in
biotech varieties. When does "precaution" give way to experience?
Biotech crops allow farmers to reduce pesticide use by millions of
kilos annually, and studies show that beneficial insects and bird
populations increase when biotech crops replace chemical
insecticides. Biotech crops also contribute to soil-saving tillage
practices, which reduce fuel consumption and protect water quality.
The environmental movement steadfastly refuses to acknowledge these
benefits to the environment.
Unfortunately, most green activist groups have sold their allegiance
to the environment in exchange for fear-campaigns supported by
organic industry lobbyists and professional agitators..
In the meantime we export our best and brightest "biotech" experts to
countries where they can apply their knowledge and skills without
spending most of their working time filling out applications and
preparing submissions to tribunals. Their lives are too short to
waste on paper treadmills.
Too many regulators?
Parkinson's Law holds that bureaucratic "work" expands to fill the
time available to the bureaucrats on the "job." We should not be
surprised to find there is a connection between the ability to house
people at a reasonable price and the numbers of planners per head of
population. The figures in the table are supplied by Christchurch
developer Hugh Pavletich.
If New Zealand was building as many houses per thousand people as the
UK, the number of dwellings built would slump from about 27,000 a
year to only 13,000 a year. The regulators could wipe out half our
residential construction industry - given the chance.
We have more than enough planners to do the job, and they are longing
to do so, if the recent plans of the Auckland Regional Council and
Christchurch City Council are anything to go by. If Australia's
"build rate per thousand people" slumped to the UK level, its current
rate of 165,000 residential units a year would slump to only 66,600 a
year, or only 37.7% of its current production. The impact on
efficiency, costs and prices would be dramatic.
The table suggests we should reduce the number of land use regulators
from 1500 to 400 in New Zealand, and from 5500 to 2000 in Australia.
The regulators would then have to focus on real issues rather than
regulating to address issues that don't exist. A good starting point
for such a purge would be to fire any regulator who aspires to
"develop coherent vibrant communities."
Where we are heading? The end result of all this regulation is that
we shall soon have more science regulators than scientists and more
building regulators than builders.
Dealing with junk science
One of the major problems New Zealand is facing is the plethora of
junk science used to justify all manner of costly interventions -
which usually make matters worse. At frequent intervals, some
government department, or poodle Crown research insitute, churns out
a report designed to engender general panic and justify more
intervention, more regulations and more jobs and funds for the
As soon as these "doomsday" reports see the light of day they are
immediately accepted as proven fact and widely reported in our
gullible press, even though the most cursory analysis shows them to
be full of holes, based on books that have been thoroughly cooked or
no more than computer scenarios that defy any form of "ground
Recent examples include the report that claimed that soils used for
horticulture posed serious risks to human health, the report claiming
400 people died prematurely as a result of vehicle exhausts, the
report claiming taxpayers are funding road users, and the Niwa
computer "prediction" of widespread droughts. And these are the ones
I know about.
Reports of good news, such as my own report that horticultural soils
pose no threat to health, gain no traction at all. We seem to enjoy
being scared out of our wits.
We desperately need something like the US system where such reports
can be challenged in public, by independent scientists, before about
a dozen standing committees of congress, including the Committee on
Science, so the executive knows the people's representatives are
looking over their shoulder. This process might even constrain the
media from being so easily hoodwinked by junk science.
* For details of these reports visit AgBioView from
www.agbioworld.org and subscribe to the AgBioView newsletter
Phytopharm Sees Shares Plummet After Broker Quits
- Richard Irving, The Times (UK), June 24, 2005
The chief executive of Phytopharm insisted that he would stand firm
against animal rights activists after shares in the company fell 15
per cent yesterday on fears that activists were stepping up a
campaign against his business.
Richard Dixey insisted that Phytopharm, which specialises in
developing new medicines from plants, would not be affected by
terrorists. "The business is well funded and in good health and we
will continue to pursue our goal of developing new medicines," he
said. Dr Dixey was speaking after Canaccord, the Canadian investment
banking boutique, resigned as Phytopharm's corporate broker.
The City firm severed ties with Phytopharm on Wednesday after police
officials made it aware of a message that had been posted on an
Animal Liberation Front website claiming responsibility for a
firebomb attack on the car of a Canaccord executive. Until then, the
executive had thought that the car, which was garaged at the time,
had caught fire as a result of an electrical fault.
The activists said that they had targeted Canaccord because of its
client's links with Huntingdon Life Sciences. The message read: "If
you support or raise funds for any company associated with HLS we
will track you down, come for you and destroy your property by fire."
Phytopharm responded that it had no links, direct or indirect, with
HLS. Canaccord is understood to have called an emergency board
meeting on Wednesday, at which the decision was taken to resign as
Phytopharm's broker with immediate effect. Peter Brown, Canaccord's
chairman, said that the company regretted the decision, adding that
it believed that Phytopharm was itself an "innocent victim". However,
Mr Brown said: "The priority at this stage is to protect our
personnel following an attack on one of our senior members of our
Shares in Phytopharm initially plunged 22 per cent as news of
Canaccord's resignation was released to the stock exchange. The
shares eventually closed 16p lower at 96–p. Dr Dixey brushed aside
suggestions that the company might struggle to find a new broker.
"Phytopharm has a very exciting portfolio with a major product
licensed to Unilever and an Alzheimer's drug that is due to report at
Christmas. This is an attractive company to investors and I don't see
us having any problems hiring a new broker," he said.
He added that Phytopharm would remain in the UK. "The value of our
business lies in its UK assets. We are not about to risk disruption
to that," he said. Dr Dixey said that he was saddened by the attack
on Phytopharm's broker. "This is without doubt the low point in my
long career as a chief executive of a pharmaceutical company. I am
proud to be in the business of developing medicines," he said.
Farmers: Frankenfoods Aren't Evil Crop Monsters
- Lance Gay, Scripps Howard News Service, June 24, 2005
A decade ago, critics called them "Frankenfoods" and forecast that
these "sci-fi" foods grown from gene-altered seeds would turn
America's fertile lands into unwanted and barren deserts.
But a milestone in genetic engineering passed in relative silence
this spring, as farmers planted more than 1 billion acres in
genetically modified seeds. An estimated 85 percent of the soybeans
and 50 percent of the corn crop growing in the United States this
year has at least one biotech trait, and bioengineering seeds are
available for canola, papaya, cotton, potatoes and tomatoes.
While opponents are still proclaiming biotech a food catastrophe,
Kansas corn grower Ken McCauley says he's found nothing negative in
his experience using the genetically altered seeds to grow 80 percent
of the corn on his 2,000-acre farm.
"Corn is corn," said McCauley, a member of the National Corn Growers
Association who serves on the organization's biotech working group.
"There's no difference once it's accepted."
McCauley explained that the persistent problem he faced at his
northeastern Kansas farm was the "corn moth" or European corn borer.
Before the borer-resistant corn seed scientists engineered went into
commercial use in 1995, McCauley said he just had to accept the crop
losses caused by the moth. The borer eats into the stalk and also
carries mycotoxins that cause rot in the corn ear.
The engineered seed McCauley uses is changed to produce its own
insecticide, which makes the corn resistant to the borer. Using the
seed only reduces the losses caused by the borer, but doesn't result
in increased crop sizes, and it's not always 100 percent effective.
McCauley said he still has losses when there are heavy infestations
caused by variations in rainfall.
McCauley said he listened to the critics, who warned that the
technology would result in superbugs, but he said he hasn't found one
yet. The 20 percent of his corn crop grown from traditional hybrid
seeds is set aside for the corn borers to prevent the development of
resistant bugs. "The naysayers said it would ruin the market, but
that hasn't happened, either," said McCauley, who plans to continue
using such seeds.
One of the more persistent critics of genetically modified seeds is
economist and attorney Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on
Economic Trends, a Washington think tank that monitors the effects of
technology on economies around the world.
Rifkin admits that the campaign he led to stop widespread use of
bioengineered seeds in the United States failed, but he said he has
no apologies for his opposition to the technology. "It's in the U.S.,
it's here," said Rifkin. "My views on it haven't changed at all."
Rifkin said public concern about genetic engineering never ignited in
the United States as it did in Europe, where many countries still are
opposed to using genetically altered plants. Rifkin said his major
concern is that wider use of modified seeds results in
cross-pollination of wild plants and is altering the genetic base.
Rifkin said the longer-term effects of using gene-altered seeds
haven't yet been seen and that it's premature to declare the
technology risk-free. He noted that opposition to the technology
remains strong in Europe, a market of 455 million.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering wider use of
bioengineering, including a proposal to bring to commercial markets
genetically engineered fish and proposals to alter genes in plants so
pharmaceutical manufacturers can grow drugs.
Kimberly Brooks, of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology,
said her organization's polls have found that public concerns about
the technology appear to be diminishing.
Controversy Grows Over China's Biotech Crops
- Geoff Dyer, Financial Times, June 24, 2005 http://news.ft.com
Disagreements over genetically modified cotton in China were a mere
skirmish compared with the looming battles over rice, says Geoff
Dyer, continuing a series on Asia
For the past few years, Monsanto and Greenpeace have fought pitched
battles all around the world over the issue of genetically modified
crops. The US multinational and the environmental campaign group have
crossed swords on the soya bean farms of Brazil, India's cotton
plantations and the UK's experiments into GM maize.
The two icons of the GM debate, however, are facing a tough, new
adversary - China.
China's efforts in biotechnology are still small and its investment
pales in comparison with the research budget of a large multinational
- it spent only Dollars 121m (Pounds 66m) ast year on research into
plant biotechnology. The numbers hide a real determination, however.
China has quietly established itself as a capable competitor in GM
"It is usually only the foreigners who have the technology, but in
this area we decided to push aggressively," says Jikun Huang,
director of the Centre of Chinese Agricultural Policy. "GM is an
important alternative for China to deal with future agriculture
problems, such as food security and farm incomes."
As a result, China poses an unusual threat to both Monsanto and
Greenpeace. For the US company, China is one of the developing
countries most in favour of the new and controversial technology, yet
it is equally keen to see its own companies grab part of the market.
This competitive threat from China also makes it harder for
Greenpeace to argue that GM crops are a tool of transnational
China's first venture into GM crops came with cotton. From the 1970s,
a rapid rise in the use of pesticides in cultivating cotton crops had
become a significant health threat to Chinese farmers. The crops
would sometimes be sprayed daily with pesticides and on smaller farms
this was often done by hand, leaving traces of the chemicals on hair
In the mid-1990s, Chinese scientists introduced a type of cotton seed
that contains a protein from the soil micro-organism bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt) that can protect plants from some insects.
Monsanto's main cotton product is based on the same gene.
Since then there has been a huge take-up by farmers, with around 65
per cent of the Chinese cotton crop now GM. According to Mr Huang,
the Bt cotton has raised yields among Chinese farmers by 9 per cent
and has contributed to an 80 per cent reduction in pesticide use.
The result has also been that Chinese companies have been going
head-to-head with Monsanto. Precise figures for market share are hard
to come by. Mr Huang reckons that the Chinese companies have about 60
per cent and Monsanto 40 per cent. Monsanto would not disclose an
estimate of market share. The US company is more effective at
marketing than its mostly state-owned Chinese rivals, which gave it a
strong head start. However, as the Chinese seeds can be saved by
farmers and re-used, they have gained groundb on Monsanto.
The Chinese have also developed about 100 varieties, which means
there are many more options based on soil and climate, although it
can also lead to lower quality. Moreover, other developing countries,
such as India and the Philippines, are thinking about introducing the
GM cotton has been a mere skirmish compared with the looming battle
over rice. The Chinese government is currently studying an
application to allow the commercial sale of GM rice. If this goes
ahead, China will be the first country to approve the genetically
modified version of a big food staple. (Soya beans, the biggest GM
crop, are mostly used in animal feed and oil.)
In other words, it would be a substantial breakthrough for the
proponents of the new technology. China has developed three separate
types of GM rice, each of which has undergone trials around the
country. One of the varieties is based on the Bt gene used in cotton,
while the others contain genes to make the crop resistant to diseases
The first application for commercial use was lodged in 1998 and was
rejected. However, last year the agriculture ministry signalled it
would look again at GM rice. China's Biosafety committee met this
week to discuss the issue but no decision was taken. Mr Huang
believes approval is a year away.
Supporters of GM rice received a boost earlier this year with the
publication of research that claimed significant benefits for two of
the Chinese varieties. Based on the observation of rice farms in
Fujian and Hubei provinces, the authors (Mr Huang and scientists at
University of California-Davis) found that one variety increased
yields by 6 per cent and the other by 9 per cent compared with
The studies also showed that the amount and costs of pesticides used
on conventional rice was eight to 10 times higher.
Although Chinese GM rice has some momentum behind it, opponents are
fighting hard to prevent its approval. Greenpeace has found evidence
that GM rice has spread beyond the field trials in Hubei into
mainstream production. It also says GM rice was found at wholesalers
in Guangzhou in southern China, an indication that it has already
entered the food chain.
As well as the untested environmental impact, it says, the rice could
cause allergic reactions. According to Sze Pang Cheung, a campaigner
at Greenpeace's China office, the discoveries "call into question
China's ability to regulate GM crops". Opinion polls that Greenpeace
has commissioned also point to increasing consumer unease about the
prospect of GM food in China.
Even Monsanto, which is reckoned to be behind the Chinese in
developing GM rice, is not optimistic about the product's prospects.
"It looks like it will be a long time before GM rice is approved in
China," says an executive at the group's China office.
Rice is not the only genetically modified crop that China has so far
refused to approve. Soya is the most successful GM product,
dominating produce from the US and Argentina and making big inroads
into farms in Brazil. Yet China has yet to give the OK.
The reason lies in the mix of pragmatism and industrial policy that
has governed China's attitude to other GM crops. The government has
no health concerns about GM soya - China is the biggest importer of
soya and much of that trade is GM.
However, when the government debated the issue in the mid-1990s, the
decision was made that China could benefit by selling non-GM soya at
higher prices to European customers sceptical about the science. As a
result, it put little emphasis on developing its own seeds. This
followed a similar approach over GM tobacco, which was approved in
the early 1990s but later withdrawn because of pressure from overseas
The debate has shifted, however, as China's soya imports have surged
and research is now being backed. But until China has its own
varieties, which could take many years, the government is not
expected rapidly to approve GM soya. "One of the problems with soya
is that the sector is dominated by Monsanto," says Jikun Huang,
director of the Centre of Chinese Agricultural Policy. "The approval
process will depend on what sort of technology is developed in China."
That still leaves opportunities for some companies. Chinese producers
of soya protein, which is used in sausages, and other health and food
products have found strong demand from European and US consumers
concerned about the potential dangers of GM products.
West African States Hold Talks In Mali on Agricultural Output
- Radio Ghana, Accra, in English 18:00 GMT, June 22, 2005
[Presenter] A four-day meeting on agricultural biotechnology for the
ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] region is taking
place in the Malian capital, Bamako. It is providing a forum for
agricultural scientists, policy makers and agricultural producers to
consider innovative ways of enhancing agricultural production that
will decrease the dependence on climatic conditions while improving
technical and economic performance to fight hunger and poverty. Radio
Ghana's Ama Kudom Agyemang is in Ba"mako and has filed this report on
[Ama] The conference is a follow-up to one held last year in
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This conference is to enable them to
develop strategies and actions for sustainable agricultural
production, safe for humans and the environment.
During the first two days of the conference the scientists are to
evolve the strategies for adopting biotechnology for agricultural
application. The strategies are to be adopted during the ministerial
session on Thursday and Friday [23rd and 24th June]
Opening the conference, the Malian minister of agriculture, Seydou
Touare, noted that since agriculture in the ECOWAS region is rural
and conventional based, there is the need to apply technologies that
will enhance production and improve the quality of life of the
people. He said currently the African farmer uses big land areas for
farming but still gets insignificant yields, while farmers in Asia
through applying biotechnology use small land areas for farming and
yet get higher yields.
Mr Touare said the reluctance to adopt agricultural biotechnology
will have devastating effects on the continent in the near future. He
urged all stakeholders to act responsibly and come out with an
informed position on agricultural biotechnology.
The director of the Mali mission of the USAID, Alex Newton, said such
a regional effort will make it possible for farmers to be supplied
with good seeds while market avenues will be created for the produce
to get to consumers.
A senior adviser for agricultural biotechnology in the US Department
of State, Madelyn Spirnak, hoped that in the next few days ECOWAS
countries would develop a coordinated strategy to address
The director for the Forum on Agricultural Research for Africa Dr,
Monty Jones, said even though biotechnology is not the complete
solution, it is a good compliment to conventional plant and animal
breeding and good farming practices. He said Africa allowed the green
revolution to pas it by in the late 60s and early 70s. And this time
round the continent cannot afford to let the green revolution to pass
EU GMO labyrinth
- Reuters, June 27, 2005
Brussels - European Union rules on genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) are a legal labyrinth.
Several different procedures apply for authorising a biotech product,
depending on the uses that the manufacturer specifies in its request
for EU approval. The most common requests are for cultivation, use in
animal feed or industrial processing.
Some of these laws have been updated and replaced since the bloc
started an effective moratorium on authorising new gene crops and
products in 1998. This ended in May 2004, when the Commission issued
an approval for imports of a GMO maize.
EU environment ministers on Friday agreed to uphold eight national
bans on genetically modified (GMO) maize and rapeseed types, the
first time the bloc has managed to agree anything on biotech policy
since 1998, officials said. [nBRU003579]
Following is a guide to the European Union's GMO legislation and
A company that intends to market a GMO must:
1. Apply to the competent national authority of the EU member state
where the product will first be placed on the market, and include a
full risk assessment.
2. If the authority gives a favourable opinion, the member state
informs other member states via the European Commission.
3. If there are no objections by other member states, the notifying
state or its national food safety authority may authorise the product
for marketing throughout the EU.
4. If no objections are sustained, a decision is needed at EU level
and the following procedure is initiated:
- depending on the law used for the application, the Commission asks
a committee of member state scientists or the independent European
Food Safety Authority for an opinion.
- if the opinion is favourable, the Commission submits a draft
decision to a regulatory committee of either food safety or
environment experts from the member states. If they agree, the
Commission adopts the decision and authorises the new GMO.
- if the committee does not agree, the Commission sends its draft
approval to the Council of Ministers, likely to be either agriculture
or environment ministers, who have three months to reject or adopt
it. If they do not act within this time, the Commission may adopt its
own decision and authorise the new GMO.
- this was the process the Commission used to drop the unofficial ban
in May 2004 and authorise imports of Bt-11 maize. EUROPE'S GMO LAWS
1.Deliberate Release Law (Directive 2001/18):
This is the EU's main GMO law, dating from October 2002 which updates
an old law. First approvals under this law are limited to a maximum
of 10 years. The law covers any environmental release of products
that contain or consist of GMOs. This includes live GMOs for
planting, as well as those for use in feed and processing. The law
also has a safeguard clause whereby a member state may provisionally
restrict or prohibit the use of a GMO on its territory if it has
cause to consider that an approved GMO product poses a risk to human
health or the environment.
This clause has been invoked nine times under the old legislation. In
each case, the Commission ruled that the restrictions must be
withdrawn. 2. Novel Foods Law (Regulation 258/97):
This law dating from January 1997 covers food products and food
ingredients derived from GMOs - such as flour, starch or oil from a
GM maize, paste or ketchup from a GM tomato. Only products deemed
safe for human consumption may be marketed. The law has a special
procedure for foods derived from GMOs but no longer containing them.
If a food is "substantially equivalent" to existing foods or
ingredients, the company may notify the Commission itself (with a
scientific justification). Very few applications remain pending under
this law, which has now been replaced by the new GM Food and Feed
3. GM Food and Feed Law (Regulation 1829/2003) and GMO Traceability
and Labelling Law (Regulation 1830/2003): These are the EU's most
recent laws on GMO authorisations and came into full effect across
the bloc on April 18, 2004. They set down criteria and standardised
procedures for evaluating potential risks, as well as rules on
labelling feed that consists of GMOs, contains GMOs or is produced
All GMO feed and all foods made from GMOs, whether or not there is
GMO material in the final product, must be labelled. This applies,
for example, to biscuits made from biotech maize, refined soyoil made
from GMO soybeans, and corn gluten feed from GMO maize. The threshold
for labelling is 0.9 percent. For accidental GMO presence in food or
feed, the threshold is 0.5 percent but it must be proved this cannot
be technically avoided. Above this, the product may not be put on the
But there is no requirement to label products such as meat, milk or
eggs that are obtained from animals fed with modified feed or treated
with modified medicinal products.
SEEDS (Directive 98/95)
EU rules on biotech seeds date from December 1998 and are due for an
update. However, member states disagree over the Commission's
proposed thresholds for GMO presence in organic and conventional
seeds - and the thresholds are being redrafted.
The last proposal in circulation suggested a 0.3 percent GMO limit
for maize and rapeseed, the only two biotech crops so far authorised.
Batches of conventional seed with GMO material below those levels
would not have to be labelled.
The Commission authorised the first genetically modified seeds for
commercial use across Europe in September 2004. It entered 17
different strains of Monsanto's 810 maize into the Common Catalogue,
the EU's seed directory which allows the seed to be marketed across
the 25-nation bloc.
At present, national authorities that have agreed to the use of a
seed on their territory must notify the Commission, which examines
the information supplied.
The seeds law also requires that biotech seeds must also be
authorised under the Deliberate Release law before they are included
in the Catalogue and marketed in the EU. If the GMO seed is intended
for use in food, it must also be authorised under the GM food and
Coexistence: The Last Piece Of The Jigsaw
In July 2003, the Commission issued guidelines on how farmers should
separate organic, conventional and biotech crops, to ensure that
these crop types can be safely grown alongside each other with a
minimal risk of cross-pollination.
In the past, rather than pushing for EU-wide legislation as demanded
by some countries, the Commission said it wanted EU states to use
national laws. This may now change with the latest EU executive,
whose agriculture commissioner says there may some "EU framework
directive" for coexistence proposed in 2006.
A handful of countries - notably Germany, Denmark and Italy - have
already agreed strict coexistence laws. The Commission assesses any
national plan before it can become law.
The guidelines refer, for example, to isolation distances between
crops, buffer zones and pollen barriers such as hedgerows. They also
advise on cooperation among farmers on sowing plans and crop
varieties with different flowering times.
The issue is highly controversial as the main problem for countries
will be how to determine economic liability. When does a farmer
growing biotech crops have to pay if a neighbour complains of organic
crops being contaminated?