Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : July 29, 2005
* Genetically-modified Fears
* GM Crops - Scaremongering
* Weeding Out GM Myths
* Drought-resistant Corn Sprouts
* Climate Science is Certain?
* New Zealand: Time to Abandon Zero Tolerance of GM
* Precautionary Preference: How Europe's New Regulatory Protectionism
Imperils American Free Enterprise
* London Daily Mail's GM Food Poll
* Ghana: Workshop on Organisms Opens
* Visions of a Science-based India
- Spiked Online, July 28 2005 (An antidote to panics based on dodgy
statistics and dubious arguments.
Edited by Rob Lyons.)
Panic: 'GM crops created superweed, say scientists', declared the
Guardian, reporting on a study of genetically modified oil-seed rape.
Researchers from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the
government research station at Winfrith in Dorset, found that in a
field of the GM crops, a charlock plant - a weed distantly related to
oil-seed rape - was not affected by herbicide applied to it. Dr Brian
Johnson of English Nature told the Guardian that even though the
occurrence was likely to be rare, 'You only need one event in several
million. As soon as it has taken place the new plant has a huge
selective advantage. That plant will multiply rapidly.' The report
has prompted calls for further delays on the rollout of GM crops in
Don't panic: It is a serious problem for farmers if weeds become
herbicide-resistant. However, there is little about genetic
modification that makes the process more likely than before.
Herbicide-resistant weeds already exist, and are a significant
problem in Argentina and Canada. But these weeds were created by
natural selection, not GM technology. At present, the charlock plant
referred to in this report seems to be a one-off. Seeds taken from
the charlock plant could not produce new plants, suggesting that even
if such hybrids are occasionally created, they often won't reproduce.
Even if they can reproduce, there is good reason to believe their
impact will be small. 'Herbicide-tolerant weeds tend to under-perform
compared with wild type, so unless all its competitors have been
sprayed out with the same herbicide, it won't thrive', Dr Les Firbank
from CEH told BBC News. The researchers found no herbicide-tolerant
charlock the following year in the same fields -- which seems to
contradict talk of a 'huge selective advantage'.
The truth is that genetic modification gives seed producers far
greater control over crops, with benefits in terms of output, reduced
use of chemicals, and nutritional composition. However, the use of
this technology has been held up in the UK by the defensiveness of
the British government and its scientific advisers to the complaints
of environmental groups who are implacably opposed to GM.
This panicky response has prevented a more balanced discussion of
risks versus benefits, seeing the development of GM as
work-in-progress with enormous potential. It's time to weed out these
Scientists play down 'superweed', BBC News, 25 July 2005
GM crops created superweed, say scientists, Guardian, 25 July 2005
GM: past, present and future, by Channapatna S Prakash
Links at http://www.spiked-online.com/sections/central/panic/index.htm
GM Crops - 'Scaremongering'
- The Times (London), July 29, 2005
From the Deputy Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council
Sir, Your report headlined "GM crops produce a poisonous mutant
superweed in the fields" (some editions, July 26) amounts to little
more than scaremongering. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who
published the research on which the story was based, has issued a
statement which says:
Hybrids between the two species referred to in the study (oil seed
rape and Sinapis arvensis) are not only rare, but previous studies
have shown they do not produce viable seeds. Thus they do not persist
-and so are not weeds, let alone superweeds.
GM crops have an important role to play in future farming and
agriculture and it is essential that their development is considered
within the context of a sensible and informed debate.
We cannot achieve this balance when important research is distorted
and misrepresented in the media.
- Tony Combes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Weeding Out GM Myths
- Guardian (UK), July 27, 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/
As the scientist quoted in your article (GM crops created superweed,
say scientists, July 25), can I clarify that I specifically said the
plants found during the research were not, in my view, "superweeds"
because one of them appeared to have non-viable seed? I neither said
nor implied that the plants found by the researchers would multiply
rapidly or have a "huge selective advantage" - quite the opposite.
I did not say "there is every reason to suppose that the GM trait
could be in the plant's pollen", but that it was just possible that
the GM trait could be carried in the pollen, and the research did not
analyse the pollen so we could not know if the trait was there, and,
in any case, pollen from hybrids might not be viable.
- Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature
Drought-resistant Corn Sprouts
- Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, July 28, 2005
As high temperatures continue to scorch large swaths of the USA, tiny
plots of corn and soybeans around the country are growing green and
strong while their neighbours shrivel up and die.
Through what some describe as the wonder and others the scourge of
biotechnology, the plants carry a trait that has long been the Holy
Grail of crop breeders: drought resistance.
The world's two largest seed producers, Pioneer Hi-Bred International
and Monsanto, both have drought-tolerant corn and soybeans growing in
test plots. Corn is furthest along, perhaps five to six years from
commercial release. "Under severe drought conditions we were able to
see 20% yield improvement with those plants with the drought gene,"
Monsanto's Robert Fraley says.
Both companies are experimenting with using bio-engineering to put
drought-tolerance genes from other plants and microbes into corn and
soy. For areas where farmers use irrigation to grow crops, the
drought-tolerant trait would allow them to lower their water usage
and cut costs, Fraley says.
But the technology is problematic, says Michael Hansen of the
Consumer Policy Institute. "A genome is like an ecosystem. When you
introduce new things, it can have not so much of an impact or (it can
have) a catastrophic impact," he says. "Scientists have no control
over where the genes go, which can cause all sorts of disruption."
The plants still must face years of testing and regulatory studies,
plus review by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug
Administration and the Department of Agriculture.
Climate Science is Certain?
- John Kaufmann
In the story entitled "Unlike Climate Science, GM is Full of
Uncertainties", I find interesting the implication that an ocean can
change science. It reminds me of how the U.S./Canada border did the
same thing when saccharin was banned in Canada because it was too
"dangerous", but cyclamates were accepted, and the exact opposite was
true in the U.S. Science??? Climate science is certain??
I don't know about the U.K., but here in the U.S., we still devote 10
minutes of every local newscast twice a day to listen to reports on
what will happen with our climate; predictions that are often
inaccurate within hours.
New Zealand: Time to Abandon Zero Tolerance of GM
- Life Sciences Network, lifesciencenz.com, July 28, 2005
The discovery of GM presence in a maize consignment in the North
Island is another reminder that it is time the Government abandoned
zero tolerance, the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William
Rolleston said today.
"Six episodes of GM in New Zealand crops proves that zero tolerance
will never make us GE free, yet every time GM is detected, even at
extremely low levels, MAF is obliged to divert valuable resources and
swing an expensive emergency response procedure into action. "
"The associated hysteria from anti GM groups does more damage to our
country's trade image than the implementation of a scientifically
determined tolerance level. Meanwhile the rest of the world is moving
forward with the development of this valuable science, and more and
more farmers are switching to the benefits of genetic modification.
"In October 2004 the Local Government and Environment Select
Committee reported on 'Corngate' and recommended in cases like this
one "that where the seed has been planted, then those crops (but not
unused seed) should be able to be grown, harvested, and consumed."
The Government stated the recommendation had merit and would consider
"We expect the New Zealand Government will take a fair and practical
approach and not demand valuable produce be destroyed if it proves,
as expected, that any GM presence is of a variety approved for
consumption. This would be the first practical step towards
abandoning zero tolerance of GM, which continues to show that its
approved use is safe", Dr Rolleston concluded.
Contact: Dr William Rolleston, Ph 027 246 0634
'Precautionary Preference: How Europe's New Regulatory Protectionism
Imperils American Free Enterprise'
The ITSSD recently posted an important new white paper on its
website. The Full Version is accessible at:
The Executive Summary is accessible at:
The white paper documents how Europe is attempting to inject the
precautionary principle within the U.S. for the purpose of changing
U.S. law and business practices. The white paper also discusses how
this effort threatens the American legal and free enterprise systems
that serve as the cornerstone of the U.S. national economy and
America's comparative advantage in international trade. It focuses on
a number of regulated areas, including biotechnology.
The study furthermore identifies the role of the EU Commission, the
UN and the social and environmental movements they support in
employing reputation destroying campaigns against U.S.
multinationals. The goal is also to indirectly control the
activities of these companies' U.S. small business suppliers. This is
presently occurring at a rapid rate in all industry sectors.
Our study finds that they are inserting into everyday 'supply-chain
management' practices 'soft-law' environment, labor and corporate
social responsibility requirements (standards). They first impose
them on large public multinational companies via 'name and shame'
(public disparagement) campaigns sanctioned by the UN that negatively
impact company stock market values. To avoid the negative publicity,
these companies eventually capitulate and then pass these standards
downstream to bind their many small and medium-sized suppliers. This
way, the burden is shared up and down the supply chains.
Unfortunately, the small and medium-sized suppliers often cannot bear
the increased costs. They also can go bankrupt if their products,
services or activities are boycotted or if they are otherwise
prohibited by precautionary-principle-based regulations.
We will issue a press release on the study sometime next week. The
ITSSD would be pleased to field any questions posed by AgBioView
- Lawrence A. Kogan, Esq., CEO, Institute for Trade, Standards and
Sustainable Development, Inc., Princeton, NJ 08540
Daily Mail's GM Food Poll
- There is an ongoing poll by the Daily Mail (UK) (very unbiased, of
course!) now online.
Q. Are you worried about the damage GM food could wreak?
Click no and let your vote be counted!
Ghana: Workshop on Organisms Opens
Accra, July 28, GNA - A workshop on Genetically Modified Organisms
(GMOs) on Thursday opened in Accra to discuss and debate the benefits
and risks in applying the GMOs in various key sectors of Ghana's
economy. Genetically Modified Organisms are genetic engineering tools
for producing new varieties and new products in agriculture, health
The Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) of the
Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is hosting the
workshop being attended by stakeholders who would exchange ideas and
provide inputs to policy formulation on the application of GMOs in
Ghana. Participants would also address issues of Ghana's effort to
take full advantage of genetic engineering, issues of risk
management, capacity building and investment.
Professor Emmanuel Owusu Bennoah, Director General, CSIR, said
despite the risks involved with any scientific technology, Ghana
could take advantage of the GMOs in her agriculture productions to
enable her to become food sufficient. "Since we are in the era of
science and technology, Ghana should take part in the Green
Revolution or stand the risk of being left behind", Prof Bennoah
In a speech read for Ms Christine Churcher, Minister of Environment
and Science, she said discussing genetic engineering and its products
was welcoming because it had generated much controversy and yet had
enormous potential to address Ghana's national economic challenges.
Ms Churcher said food production and distribution, which had become
the biggest challenge facing developing countries like Ghana, could,
therefore, be addressed with the adoption of genetic engineering to
ensure food security.
She urged the participants to come out with strategies that would
consider the farmers in the villages, the micro and small-scale
industrialists, the traders in the markets and ordinary citizens in
harnessing biotechnology for national development. Dr Joseph Gogo,
Director of STEPRI, said several follow-up actions some of which
involved training programmes to build capacity of stakeholders would
be organised to enable Ghanaians to make informed choices over the
application of GMOs.
Visions of a Science-based India
- Scidev.net, July 29, 2005
'India has one of the fastest growing economies and science sectors
in the developing world'
India's economy is booming and so is its research and development
sector. But although Indian scientists have achieved much in the past
15 years, some key obstacles remain.
Nature has gathered a collection of articles focusing on these issues.
Included are features on India's biotechnology sector, the search for
drugs based on traditional medicine, and whether India can handle the
increasing number of clinical trials being undertaken there.
The articles touch on the bureaucracy that hinders research in India,
the gap between research and teaching, conflicts between funding
agencies, and the need to increase innovation to sustain the growth
of India's biotechnology sector.
Links to articles at http://www.scidev.net/ms/india_focus/