Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : July 21, 2005
* Let's Reap the Bounty of Agricultural Biotechnology
* CAST Commentary on Adventitious Presence
* Borlaug to be Featured on the Front Page of Wikipedia
* New Project to Help Improve the Diet of the World's Poor
* Africa Union Sets Up Biotech Advisory Panel
* GM Debate Needs to be Meaningful
* Using Biotech to Improve the Yield and Quality of Rice
* Egypt: Tough to Swallow
* Africa Urged to Use Biotech to End Hunger
* Unlike Climate Science, GM is Full of Uncertainties
* Leave GM Analysis to the Relevant Scientists
* Greenpeace 'Contaminates' Office
* Wanted: Scientific Heroes
* Top 100 Biotechnologists - Voting Form
Turning Point for California's Farm Industry: Let's Reap the Bounty of Agricultural Biotechnology
- Bill Pauli, San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 2005
They say farmers get pretty set in their ways, and in a line of work
where tradition and routine are common, that's probably true. Some
things about farming don't change -- working with soil, planting with
the seasons, reaping during harvest.
But while the fundamentals of farming are well known, the actual
practice of growing and ranching in California has undergone much
change and innovation. We are among the most progressive farmers in
the United States, and we play a vital role in providing safe and
healthy food throughout the world. That's why I can't understand all
the misinformation associated with biotechnology, an established
practice of modern farming that makes our food more plentiful,
longer-lasting and, yes, healthier than ever.
Since it was introduced to U.S. markets in 1996, not a single person
or animal has become sick from eating biotech foods or feeds.
-- All biotech crops on the marketplace today have been thoroughly
reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. They have been
approved only on a case-by-case basis.
-- The American Medical Association has stated that biotech plants
have the potential to improve nutrition and prevent and cure disease,
and the World Health Organization concludes that biotech crops can
help developing nations overcome food scarcity problems.
-- A 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that
foods from biotech crops are as safe as any other foods in your
In a recent survey, Californians told us they think it's important
for the state's family farmers and ranchers to stay in business. To
do that, we must take advantage of the latest innovations, such as
biotechnology. By saving on crop-production materials such as water
and fuel, we can continue to offer what Californians tell us they
value so much: safe food, open space, jobs and a wonderful,
sustaining environment for wildlife.
I understand that some are unsure of biotechnology, and many concerns
have been addressed to the farming community in a thoughtful way that
has produced a sound dialogue and increased understanding. Others,
however, use scare tactics in an effort to ban biotechnology and deny
everyone the benefits of the best science and the most extensive
research in the world today.
These political activists hope to pass a measure in Sonoma County in
November and to qualify county ballot measures to ban proven biotech
crops in several other regions, including Alameda ($37.3 million in
agricultural production) and Contra Costa ($108.6 million) counties.
This would be an economic disaster for California, the leading U.S.
agricultural state for more than 50 years.
Despite California's agricultural heritage, its future is uncertain.
Every year, California loses more than 100,000 acres of farmland to
urban growth. To produce more food on less farmland, today's farmer
must have access to innovative farming practices to continue feeding
There is no justification for restricting the family farmers' ability
to utilize the kind of breakthroughs and ingenuity we celebrate in
every other facet of life. In a world of camera phones, Palm Pilots
and Blackberries, why should farmers be made to use the outdated
equivalents of rotary phones, 8- track tapes and carbon paper?
I believe when the facts are known about biotech crops, consumers
will support the innovations of today and embrace their promise. They
will do this after considering an important reality that's true of
every family farm I know: Before any crop from our fields, whether
traditional or biotech grown, arrives on your table, it first gets
served on ours. That's why farmers have every incentive to grow and
produce the best -- and the safest -- food in the world.
Bill Pauli is president of the California Farm Bureau Federation
(www.cfbf.com), a statewide organization of nearly 89,000 family
farmers. For more information, visit the federation's Web site on
agricultural biotechnology, www.feedingthefuture.org.
CAST Commentary on Adventitious Presence
- A new CAST publication (a CAST Commentary on Adventitious Presence)
was released July 19 on the CAST website at
http://www.cast-science.org . On the homepage, click on the link in
the first article to go directly to the Commentary.
News Release: July 19, 2005: Ames, Iowa. In response to current
concerns about adventitious presence-the unintended commingling of
trace amounts of one type of seed, or product, with another-the
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a
commentary on the subject.
After defining the term, the article briefly addresses the issues of
seed purity, coexistence among members of the agricultural community,
potential for legal liability, and consumers' food preferences. The
purpose of the Commentary is to provide a framework to facilitate the
informed discussion of adventitious presence and to assist in the
development of federal policy.
Contacts: Dr. Drew L. Kershen, phone: 405-325-4784; e-mail:
dkershen-at-ou.edu Dr. Alan McHughen, phone: 952-817-7532; e-mail:
alanmc-at-ucr.edu Dr. John M. Bonner, CAST, phone: 515-292-2125, Ext.
25; email: jbonner-at-cast-science.org
Borlaug to be Featured on the Front Page of Wikipedia
The Nobel laureate, agricultural scientist, and biotechnology
advocate Norman Borlaug will be featured on the front page of the
non-profit online encyclopedia Wikipedia on Wednesday, July 27th. The
front page averages about 3 million hits per day, while the entire
encyclopedia averages about 12 million hits per day. The article on
Dr. Borlaug will be featured along with his picture for a period of
24 hours, starting at Midnight UTC (8:00pm EST July 26th).
The following text will appear on the front page for that period:
"Norman Borlaug is an American agricultural scientist, humanitarian,
Nobel laureate, and the father of the Green Revolution. During the
mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of his grain and
modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and
India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963.
Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and
India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These
collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution,
and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his
contributions to world peace through increasing food supply. More
recently, he has helped apply these methods of increasing food
production to Asia and Africa. Borlaug has continually advocated the
use of his methods and biotechnology to decrease world famine,
although such work has faced environmental and socioeconomic
criticisms, most of which he has repudiated. In 1986, he established
the World Food Prize to recognize individuals who have improved the
quality, quantity or availability of food around the globe."
Front page: http://en.wikipedia.org
Dr. Borlaug's article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug
- Brian Tinker, brian.tinker-at-cwru.edu or bctinke-at-sandia.gov
New Project to Help Improve the Diet of the World's Poor
University of Bath http://www.bath.ac.uk/
Scientists at the University of Bath will be taking part in an
international £4.2 million ($7.5 million) research project that could
help millions of people avoid starvation. The BioCassava Plus project
will improve the nutritional and storage properties of cassava
(Manihot esculenta), the primary food source for more than 250
million Africans and a substantial portion of the diet of nearly 600
million people worldwide.
The research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
through a partnership based at Ohio State University. Scientists from
the University of Bath will receive over £300,000 to support their
part in the project.
Although cassava is relatively easy to grow even in poor soils and
drought conditions, its roots are low in protein and also deficient
in several micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin A. Once
harvested the roots of some varieties of cassava can produce
potentially toxic levels of cyanogens - substances that induce
poisonous cyanide production.
In addition, harvested roots have a very short shelf-life of only one
to three days, which can cause significant wastage and economic
losses. Also, like most crops, cassava is susceptible to a variety of
diseases and pests; in Africa, cassava mosaic virus is a serious
The new research project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation through its "Grand Challenges in Global Health" programme,
will try to overcome these problems before running field trials in
Africa and eventually handing over the improved crop to subsistence
farmers in the developing world, free of charge.
As well as increasing the amount of protein in the diet of the
millions of people who rely on cassava as their primary food source,
the improved cassava crop will be easier to store and transport. This
means that more locally-grown food will be available in areas where
people are most at risk of starvation.
The research will use transgenic technologies that genetically modify
the crop so that it incorporates these new beneficial traits.
"Cassava crop breeders tell us that these problems simply cannot be
overcome using traditional plant breeding methods," said Dr Beeching.
"We have the technological ability to do this safely and in a way
that maximizes the benefit of the new crop to the people who need it
most. "What's more, once we have tested the crop in Africa we will
give the crop to subsistence farmers free of charge with absolutely
no strings attached so that they can grow and harvest the crop as
Africa Union Sets Up Biotechnology Advisory Panel
- Kimani Chege, SciDev.Net, July 21 2005
A panel has been set up to advise the African Union on ways of
building capacity to apply and safely handle modern biotechnology.
The African Panel on Biotechnology includes senior scientists and
policymakers from across the continent. Its creation was announced on
30 June by the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's
The panel will be co-chaired by a former vice-president of the World
Bank, Ismail Serageldin of Egypt, and Calestous Juma, the Kenyan
former secretary-general of the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
Its creation is "a clear sign the Africa Union is finally pushing
Africa towards science-led development" says Norah Olembo, executive
director of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, which
promotes public awareness of biotechnology solutions to Africa's
Juma, also director of the Science, Technology and Globalization
Project at Harvard University in the United States, says the panel
was created with the view that Africa should stop "playing victim".
"Africa much take charge of its future and assess the usefulness of
all existing technological options for meeting its needs," Juma told
Launching the panel, Alpha Oumar Konare, chair of the African Union
Commission, said it showed "Africa's determination to take a common
informed approach to address issues pertaining to modern
biotechnology and its applications for health, agriculture, industry,
mining and the environment". Juma says "important relevant research
is being carried out in East Africa on agriculture and in Egypt and
South Africa on biomedical research. Nigeria is an important player
in a variety of fields".
"The challenge is how to make biotechnology relevant to local needs
and how to ensure that existing institutions meet this challenge," he
says. "More specifically, there is an urgent need to look at African
universities as vehicles of community development, and one of the key
technological opportunities for this is biotechnology."
The panel includes the Ghanaian environmental lawyer George Sarpong,
Samuel Nzietchu, director of the Algeria-based African Agency for
Biotechnology, and Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabhe, Africa's chief
negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which governs the
international movement of genetically modified (GM) organisms.
Tewolde advocates a 'precautionary' approach to GM crops. Despite
this, Olembo, whose organisation supports using biotechnology
solutions, approves of his appointment. "The composition of the panel
is excellent," she told SciDev.Net.
"The tendency has been to see biotechnology in Africa narrowly in
terms of GM crops -- this should not be the case," said Olembo,
pointing out that biotechnology also has applications in other
sectors such as health, industry and the environment.
Olembo said the panel must appreciate Africa's need to increase
capacity to deal with all aspects of biotechnology -- from research
and innovation, to biosafety and intellectual property. This, said
Olembo, would require African countries to increase funding for
biotechnology research and development. The NEPAD Science and
Technology Office in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria), South Africa, will
coordinate the African Panel on Biotechnology's activities.
GM Debate Needs to be Meaningful
- Weekly Times (Australia) July 20, 2005
Gill Rosier has every right to her opinions on the use of
biotechnology in agriculture, but I cannot support her views.
She states in her letter (WT, July 13) that Biotechnology Australia's
publication Our Biotechnology Future is framed to favour the use of
GM crops, is only distributed in Victoria and "is a travesty of the
notion of impartiality by a Federal Government body and abuse of
The facts are that the publication has been widely distributed around
Victoria, NSW and other parts of Australia. Its contents cover a wide
variety of biotechnology applications -- some of which involve gene
technology, but many which clearly do not.
The publication also includes opinions from a diversity of people,
including the Network of Concerned Farmers -- who might take some
offence at being described as "conducive to GM crops".
People commonly look for information that supports their set
attitudes and denigrate or dismiss any information that opposes them
-- regardless of its factual content -- which we see being
demonstrated here. It is time for the debate on GM crops and foods to
move away from the polarised extreme positions and into areas where
dialogue and debate is more meaningful for all parties.
Craig Cormick, manager of public awareness Biotechnology Australia
Preparing for the future
Helen Chambers' letter (WT, June 22) almost brought a tear to my eye
and made me think back to the good old days.
My thoughts went back to school where I learnt of the plague and the
Irish potato famine, of hunger and disease, polio and tuberculosis.
And also of night-soil carts taking untreated sewage to market
gardens around our cities.
I then recalled my travels around Victoria -- visions of denuded
hills, eroded gullies and salt-affected landscapes. I remembered the
small mixed farmers who aspired to self-sufficiency out of necessity,
and not from a yuppie lifestyle choice.
People who worked hard, lived poor and died of old age in their 50s.
My thoughts then turned to the present. I thought of our local
Landcare group (3000 trees planted in the past two months), of the
development of no till/low tillage cropping. Of measures to combat
salinity, erosion and maximise biodiversity.
I thought of the fact that, based on life expectancy trends, my young
daughters have a chance of living to 100. My thoughts then turned to
the future. What if GM crops could further reduce our dependence on
What if transgenics could give us grasses and cereals that use
rhizobia to fix their own nitrogen, reducing the need for
fertilisers? What if those plants could also use our water resources
We live in exciting times and I am yet to see any scientific evidence
to suggest GM crops are unsafe. It is time we got past the emotion
and had rational debate regarding the pros and cons of the available
- Ken Lawrence, Jindivick
Using Biotechnology to Improve the Yield and Quality of Rice
- Daryll E. Ray, Western Farm Press, July 20, 2005
Demographers project that the World's population will increase over
the next 30 years, increasing the demand for all crops, but
particularly rice because it is a significant source of calories for
half of the world. As a result, rice is receiving considerable
attention by plant breeders who are using both conventional and
transgenic techniques. The goal of these breeders is to increase
rice's yield and quality.
APAC researcher Kelly Tiller has been a part of a consortium of
research institutions that has undertaken a "Participatory Assessment
of Social and Economic Impacts of Biotechnology" focusing on rice and
tobacco. In a recent column, we looked at the use of tobacco in the
production of pharmaceutical compounds. This week's column looks at
the work that is being done in rice and consumer attitudes toward
A full series of fact sheets can be obtained on the Internet from
www.agecon.vt.edu/biotechimpact. The institutions participating in
this research include Virginia Tech, The University of Tennessee,
North Carolina State University, Virginia State University, and the
International Rice Research Institute.
Rice is grown under a wide range of conditions from fertile,
irrigated lowland plots to saline or drought-prone fields that are
deficient in essential plant nutrients like zinc. Centuries of
selective breeding by peasant agriculturalists has resulted in a wide
number of varieties that are adapted to the local growing conditions
and the cooking preferences of each area. The traits that are bred
into rice by plant breeders can then be transferred to these local
The traits that geneticists want to breed into rice fall into several
distinct categories. One of the primary traits is increased
photosynthesis. By enabling plants to more efficiently use sunlight,
breeders hope to increase rice's yield, producing more rice on the
same amount of land.
A second set of traits of interest to breeders are those that protect
the plants against insects and disease. Some of the genetic work
would help the plant ward off infection by bacteria and fungi that
are particularly prevalent in irrigated rice paddies. The Bt
technology that is so familiar to U.S. farmers could be bred into
rice to reduce the impact of insect infestation, particularly by the
stem borer that is endemic in most rice growing countries of Asia.
Another trait that should be of no surprise to U.S. growers is
herbicide resistance. Similar to soybeans, herbicide resistant
varieties could be sprayed with a herbicide to reduce or eliminate
weed pressure on the rice crop, increasing the effective yield.
Because approximately half of the area on which rice is grown is less
than optimal, plant breeders are seeking to introduce genes into rice
that would increase its tolerance to drought, salinity, excess water,
and nutrient deficient soils. More than half of Asia's poor receive
at least 50 percent of their calories from rice grown in these
fragile environments. Improving rice's stress tolerance would be
aimed at reducing malnutrition among the world's most vulnerable
A fifth set of traits that are being bred into the rice genome are
those that would improve its nutritional content. The one that has
garnered most of the publicity is "Golden Rice" which has been bred
to increase the vitamin A content of rice, which is traditionally low
in this nutrient. Other breeders are working on increasing the iron
and zinc content of rice to increase the availability of these
nutrients among the poor for whom rice is the major component of
Breeding these and other traits into the rice genome is only one part
of the story. The other crucial issue is consumer sentiment. Will
consumers be willing to eat rice with these traits bred into it? To
help assess consumer sentiment, several surveys of attitudes towards
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were conducted in Bangladesh
and the Philippines.
Several conclusions can be drawn from these surveys.
First, there is the need to assess GMO rice varieties for both
environmental impact and health impact with the latter being the most
important to consumers and agricultural leaders. Second, the survey
respondents indicated a preference for rice GMO research that is
conducted by public sector researchers. The results of such research
were seen by the survey respondents as more trustworthy than that
done by commercial firms.
Not surprisingly, the consumer surveys documented that attitudes
toward GMO rice was polarized. In such a climate, the trustworthiness
and objectivity of the research will be paramount in shaping consumer
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in
Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee
Egypt: Tough to Swallow
- Joseph Krauss, Business Today (Egypt), July 19, 2005. Full article at
As America and Europe squabble over the viability of genetically
modified foods, Egypt is quietly developing modified corn and cotton
crops that have the potential to boost output and reduce chemical
spraying. But even if the crops prove safe, some fear GM production
could interfere with Egypts exports to the EU. Are GM foods worth the
In May of 2002, a number of southern African nations faced the worst
food shortages in more than a decade when crop yields already
weakened by poor management, political turmoil and the devastation
wrought by AIDS were further aggravated by a summer of severe
flooding, followed by an equally severe drought. Aid groups estimated
that nearly 15 million people faced starvation. The international
community acted quickly, with the United Nations World Food Program
(WFP) promising a substantial amount of emergenRcy food aid in the
form of surplus crops, primarily from the United States, the WFPs
chief donor. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique politely
Leaders said they could not accept food aid from America, because it
was contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which
they claimed made it hazardous to human health. The most outspoken
was President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who refused to admit even
milled grains from the United States. Simply because my people are
hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them
food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health, said Mwanawasa,
during a development conference in JohRannesburg.
Many speculated that African leaders opposition to the aid was
motivated by other concerns, namely the fear that GMO contamination
could harm their countries long-term ability to export to Europe,
which at that time had a strict moratorium on the import of
genetically modified foods. The United States implored the small
African countries to accept aid, claiming that there is no scientific
proof that GM foods are harmful to human health. The threat of famine
is something we know, Andrew Natsios, head of theR United States
Agency for International Development (USAID), told the BBC. We know
what happens when people dont eat they die. Natsios added that he and
his family, like most Americans, have been eating genetically
modified foods for the last several years without any noticeable
effects on their health.
The countries eventually gave in and accepted milled GM cereals, but
Zambia refused to budge, and was only spared from the catastrophe at
the last minute when European donors stepped in to provide
certifiably non-GM aid.
The Zambian case remains one of the most extreme and often discussed
events in the history of a controversy that has engulfed the entire
world, pitting the United States against the European Union and
large-scale agribusiness against the global environmental movement.
As a result, nearly every developing country in the world has had to
carefully navigate between the rival export markets, while making
hard decisions about a new technology that manipulates the building
blocks of biological life, promising biRg dividends and, critics
allege, potentially catastrophic long-term effects on human health
and the environment.
Since 1990, the Agricultural Research Center (ARC), based in Egypt
under the leadership of Magdi Madkour, has been actively researching
and developing genetically modified crops that scientists believe can
address a host of problems faced by the agricultural sector, from
insect infestations to drought and rising soil salinity. But until
now, the country has refused to delve into commercial production,
largely out of the fear that doing so may shut down export markets in
Europe, where hostility to GM foods Rruns high. In recent months,
however, as the European Union has softened its stand by lifting a
five-year moratorium on GM crops, opened the door to 18 GM products
including soybeans, maize, and some vaccines and taken 24 more under
review, Egyptian advocates of GM technology have grown bolder,
calling for the commercial production of GM cotton and corn crops by
2006. Egypt would not be the first developing country to embrace the
technology China and Argentina have been growing GM crops for years
but the dRecision will nevertheless mark a crucial juncture in the
history of Egyptian agriculture. However, whether a cautious majority
of growers and consumers in Egypt will embrace GM technology remains
to be seen.
Sowing GM crops in Egypt
South of Cairo University, behind the tall concrete walls that
separate it from the bustling city, sits the Agricultural Research
Center, a sprawling commune of fields, greenhouses and administrative
buildings. Here scientists in lab coats and straw hats wander through
narrow furrows in several sequestered gardens, carefully monitoring
and evaluating a microcosm of Egypts agricultural landscape the size
of a football field. It was here that Egypt launched its own applied
biotechnology research program, theR Agricultural Genetic Engineering
Research Institute (AGERI), in 1990.
Anticipating the important role the burgeoning science of genetics
would eventually come to play in agriculture, the Ministry of
Agriculture partnered with USAID to establish the center. Now, nearly
15 years later, it may be on the verge of launching the countrys
first commercially grown genetically modified crop, a strain of
cotton that could save the industry millions of pounds every year by
boosting output and virtually eliminating chemical crop spraying.
Cotton is a very safe product to start with, because the areas in
which cotton is grown are restricted to certain varieties, so each
variety is segregated, says Hanaiya Al Itriby, AGERIs director and
one of the pioneers of GM technology in Egypt. Every year theres a
decree that comes out that says the Giza variety so-and-so will be
grown in this district, so its allocated to specific areas.
Cotton is also a safe bet for export markets. Although exporting
cotton seed oil from genetically modified plants would qualify as a
GM product, the fibers themselves, especially when transformed into
yarns and fabrics, do not contain any genetic material that would
shut them out of European markets, and while many consumers refuse to
eat GM products, few object to wearing them.
Over the last decade, AGERI has been actively researching a wide
array of products everything from virus-resistant potatoes to bananas
that contain vaccines for hepatitis. But with cotton, the center has
found a commercial partner in the Monsanto Company, the US-based
producer of the worlds No. 1 herbicide, and anticipates Egypt will be
able to start growing GM cotton by 2006.
The new cotton crop will contain a gene purchased from Monsanto that
makes the plants resistant to certain insects, but Al Itriby
maintains that the crop will retain its unique Egyptian
characteristics in every other respect. In addition to collaborating
with Monsanto, AGERI has also cooperated with the Cotton Research
Institute (also part of the ARC) to insure that the new plants
produce the sought-after long staple fibers Egypt is know for. The
breeders of the cotton are making sure that we keep the EgypRtian
line with all its characteristics, Al Itriby says. The selection was
done by the breeders, so its a collaborative and multi-disciplinary
Many in Europe also worry about the possible health effects of
genetically modified crops. Although people in the United States and
many other countries have been consuming GM foods for several years,
many who oppose the technology maintain that there is still too much
uncertainty when it comes to what they call Frankenfoods.
The US Embassy official says that such claims are unfounded, tied
more to a political agenda than to scientific fact. The scientists
and politicians in the European Union seem to be on two different
tracks, he said. In our own biotech-related seminars, when we talk
about the benefits of biotechnology, we have invited a number of
scientists from the European Union who have been able to come and
talk about their research and the benefits of biotechnology and what
it can do for humanity.
In recent months, the scientists appear to have gained the upper
hand, as the European Union, once a bastion of the movement opposing
GM foods, has been slowly warming up to the idea. In May of this
year, the European Commission lifted a five-year moratorium on the
import of GM foods, putting a rigorous regulation system in its
place. Now any member wishing to import genetically modified products
may apply for permission to do so, but any product intended for human
or animal consumption, even those that contain only trace amounts of
GMOs (the threshold is .9 percent of the product) must be labeled as
containing genetically modified organisms. Given the distrust many in
Europe feel towards genetically modified products, officials in the
European Union say the labeling is necessary in order to allow
consumers to make their own choices.
The United States has long rejected the rationale for labeling GM
products in Europe, maintaining that there is no reason to draw
attention to something that is not proven to be dangerous. The US
position is that one should label things if they are substantially
different from non-biotech products, the embassy official says. We
dont put anything on the label to say these fertilizers were used to
produce those products, whereas those fertilizers and chemicals could
be more harmful than the genetic modification.
Although the United States and the European Union officials continue
to disagree on what level of regulation is necessary when it comes to
GM foods, recent evidence suggests that the latter are gradually
moving closer to the position of the former. Since the lifting of the
moratorium, the European Commission has approved a number of GM
products, and both Spain and Germany are already growing their own GM
crops, albeit in small amounts. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom
gave the go-ahead for planting genetically modified corn after the
British Medical Association gave its approval, with Chairman David
Carter saying it was necessary to move away from the hysteria that
has been so often associated with GM foods.
For now at least, it appears that the rival schools can continue to
coexist alongside each other. Those who favor the commercial
deployment of GM crops in Egypt admit that the country cannot afford
to lose its export markets in Europe, but they nevertheless maintain
that the new technology offers, if not a cure, then at least a
reprieve for Egypts struggling agricultural sector. bt
Africa Urged to Use Biotechnology to End Hunger
Crusoe Osagie, This Day (Lagos), July 18, 2005
Lagos - The International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) has
called on Africa to use the advantages inherent in Biotechnology to
bring and end to the endemic problems of Hunger and poverty in the
continent. A statement from the organisation explained that Research
into genetically modified (GM) crops is crucial to improving food
security and reducing poverty in Africa.
"Food security is of serious concern to the African continent and
public sector research into GM foods is of direct importance to the
smallholder farmers, who need something both to eat and to sell,"
"Current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of
pesticides, increase drought tolerance and improve the nutritional
value of staple foods," Ifpri said in the statement
The statement, which was based on the findings of a study on the
development of GM crops by public research institutes in Egypt,
Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, stressed that despite the common
view that corporations drove the GM food agenda, a few African
countries had vibrant public biotech research programmes.
Ifpri said improvements in crops brought about by public biotech
research could "benefit the environment, improve health, reduce the
cost of food and increase the incomes of poor smallholder farmers
throughout Africa". According to the organisation, a 10 percent
increase in the level of agricultural productivity was associated
with a 7.2 percent reduction in poverty.
Cohen said research into GM crops by African governments often
targeted the improvement of indigenous plant varieties relevant to
local use by small-scale farmers. Kenya, for example, was engaged in
public biotech research into producing drought-resistant maize;
Uganda was involved in researching insect-resistant bananas.
He emphasised the importance of GM research in Africa reaching a
stage where it could help the farmers, noting that "if the research
stays in the lab, there will be no benefit to the farmers". However,
the introduction of GM seeds into African soil and GM crops into
indigenous markets is an issue that remains extremely contentious;
critics have argued that biotechnology is not the solution to
Africa's poverty and hunger.
"We have not exploited research into conventional seeds enough,"
Angela Wauye, officer in charge of food security at Action Aid Kenya,
told Irin. "In Kenya, we are not ready to handle GM crops - we do not
even have a biosafety bill in place."
Cohen stressed that the agency was interested in "biosafety first",
saying all plants produced by the various public biotech research
institutes were submitted for review to the relevant national
biosafety channels and regulatory bodies. "We must address the real
reasons our agricultural sector is performing so dismally," Wauye
said. "Poor farmers must be empowered by the government to be able to
access credit, cheaper farm inputs and better infrastructure."
She pointed out that "because of poor roads, transporting crops from
Marsabit [northern Kenya] to [the eastern Kenyan port of] Mombasa is
more expensive than transporting the goods from Mombasa to Europe."
Wauye also said not enough was known about the effects of GM crops on
the environment and on human health. "We may not have seen any
effects of GM crops so far, but more research needs to be done into
their side effects over prolonged periods."
Although research was a very important component of the struggle to
end hunger, Wauye noted that it was important to focus the research
on issues that were relevant to Africa. "The research must be driven
by national needs - we must be our own agenda-setters," she added.
Unlike Climate Science, GM is Full of Uncertainties
- Douglas Parr, Nature 436, 328; July 21, 2005
Sir: Greenpeace has been invited by David Dennis, in Correspondence,
to reconsider our opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops in
the light of our support for the consensus on climate science
("Activists should accept mainstream view of GM" Nature 435, 561;
2005). There are two factors to consider when deciding to support any
apparent scientific consensus.
First, what was the process of arriving at the current mainstream
position? In the case of climate change, uncertainties over the
physics, measurements, modelling and historical data have generally
(although sometimes erratically) tended to be resolved. In the case
of GM, further investigation of genomes and gene function has led to
new insights, such as alternative splicing mechanisms and the
regulatory roles played by RNAi and chromatin packing, which question
the fundamental understanding of gene regulation and control. This is
demonstrated by the hedging on certainties in the UK government's GM
science panel review in 2003, which was a far cry from the
certainties expressed in the mid-1990s.
Second, as an environmental-protection organization, it should come
as no surprise that we interpret scientific uncertainty in favour of
environmental protection. Anyone who interprets a given level of
uncertainty to propose a policy action must be imposing their values,
even if that means advocating "do nothing now except more research".
Whereas we are clear about our values, one might wonder what values
are espoused by those, especially in the United States, who support
GM organisms but reject the evidence of climate change.
Douglas Parr is at Greenpeace UK, Canonbury Villas, London N1 2PN, UK
Leave GM Analysis to the Relevant Scientists
- Denis Couvet, Nature 436, 328; July 21, 2005 (Department of
Ecology, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 55 rue Buffon, 75005
Sir: David Dennis, in Correspondence, claims that "an overwhelming
majority of plant geneticists, biochemists and molecular biologists
have endorsed the use and safety" of genetically modified (GM) crops
("Activists should accept mainstream view of GM" Nature 435, 561;
2005). I question the validity of that claim.
Assessing the potential environmental and/or economical consequences
of using GM crops -- such as their impact on soil fauna or on
non-target organisms -- requires analysis in crop fields and in the
natural environment, working on relevant objects, at the relevant
Statements by scientists who deal with simplified biological systems,
at small scales, only add to the problem of misinformation. As
questions about the use and safety of GM crops concern primarily
environmental science, statements by biochemists and molecular
biologists, who deal with simplified biological systems, at small
scales, only add to the problem of misinformation and lead to an
increase in concern about GM crops.
Perhaps the public would be less worried if it was the overwhelming
majority of environmental scientists who felt confident about the use
and safety of GM crops.
Greenpeace 'Contaminates' Office
- Daily Telegraph (Australia), July 21, 2005
Eight Greenpeace activists staged a protest in the office of Bayer
CropScience in Melbourne "to show what it's like to have an unwanted
presence of contamination". Greenpeace is demanding the biotech giant
take responsibility for a genetic engineering contamination that was
revealed in Victoria last week.
"Bayer don't seem to care that their genetically engineered canola
has contaminated Australian exports to Japan, so we're here to start
holding them accountable," campaigner Jeremy Tager said from outside
the building. "Bayer need to learn that genetic contamination of our
food and environment is unacceptable at any level."
To demonstrate the "low level" contamination, Greenpeace said it had
one volunteer occupying the Bayer office for every 100 Bayer
employees. The protesters entered the building in suburban Hawthorn
about 10am (AEST) and were all believed to have been removed by
police before noon. Comment from Bayer and police was being sought.
Wanted: Scientific Heroes
- Richard Gallagher, The Scientist, v.19, Issue 14; July 18, 2005
Who would have thought that a ragtag group of entertainers could have
an impact on the biggest social and political questions of the day?
And yet not once, but twice, this has happened: LiveAid in 1985 and
Live8 in 2005.
This clout is not something to which we in the research community can
hope (or need) to aspire to. But we should aspire to a higher profile
than we currently enjoy. Consider these data points:
A recent poll of the Top 100 Americans1 included just four
scientists, Einstein, Sagan, Salk, and Tesla (although this could be
increased to seven if we include Edison, Bell, and Franklin). A
similar BBC project2 yielded a healthier 12 scientist in the list of
"100 Great British Heroes." Before you get too excited, however, what
was striking about that is that only one - Stephen Hawking - is
alive. It seems that scientists can be memorable, but only one of us
is. To hammer home that point, in another poll teenagers in the UK
floundered when asked to name a single contemporary scientist,
producing suggestions such as Madonna, Chemical Ali, and their
science teacher.3 And in the same poll, only 7% considered scientists
to be "cool or fun."
Eric Lander in wrap-around shades and a black trench coat isn't going
to carry the same punch as Bono, and I don't see Tony Blair cuddling
up to Craig Venter on MTV like he did with Bob Geldof. But we don't
want or need to have the impact of the rock fraternity on world
opinion. We just need researchers to have a higher profile than the
current, pitiful, low.
Why? How many reasons do you want? Science's future is at stake - we
need to make a more attractive career path for today's youngsters if
we want to keep building knowledge. Right now students appreciate
that science is important but mostly they don't enjoy it. So changes
in education are crucial, but the development of credible role models
that are clever and cool will help no end. Scientist trading cards,
There's a wider societal issue, too. We need an informed public if
social policies are to be decided on reasonable and rational grounds.
Everything from the future of healthcare, and how it's paid for, to
taxation on fuel, could benefit from a wider appreciation of the
underlying science. Not to mention evolution versus intelligent
design and stem cells. Right or wrong, people respond to charismatic
figures, as do our politicians.
And speaking of politicians, there's the question of research funding
in the short term. With representative scientists helping set the
news agenda, voters are more likely to bring pressure for the support
of science to bear upon their representatives.
The first tentative steps are being taken to develop new scientist
personalities. FameLab, a talent competition in the UK for the "new
face of science" threw up a clear winner in Dr Mark Lewney, a patent
examiner.4 Of course we want more than style, we also want substance,
so we need our scientific leadership to step up.
And we're also to have a Top 100 of our own - the Top 100
Biotechnologists are being voted for as we speak - go to
to have your say.
Those seem like some kind of a start, and there are probably others.
Who knows? Perhaps one day a million-odd crowd will gather on the
steps of Philadelphia's art museum to hear talks from the great
scientist-orators of the day, in support of some momentous cause.
Top 100 Biotechnologists - Voting Form
Who are the greatest living contributors to Biotechnology?
Here is a chance to have your say. On the form below you can list the
Top 10 living people who in your opinion have most influenced the
industry, inspired developments and catalysed change.
Nominations are open to all across the industry including;
entrepreneurs, ethicists, government figures, investors, lawyers,
policy makers, regulators and scientists. The results of this
campaign will be announced at CORDIA -- mark your diary and make sure
you are a part of this key industry event. PLUS once you submit your
entry, you will enter the draw to win a case of champagne.