Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : November 23, 2005
* Anti-biotech Crowd Trounced on Home Territory
* Let's be Smart on Genetic Crops
* Comments on the Australian GM Pea Research
....by Chrispeels, Kershen, Preston and Apel
* CSIRO Abandons Research into GM Peas - Interview with TJ Higgins
* Nutritious GM Sorghum Would Attract More Pests?
* Iran, First to Plant GMO Rice, Hopes to Cut Imports
* Population Boom Pushes Asia to Accept GMO Rice
* GM Takes Off In Poor Economies
* Zambia Declares Food Disaster as 1.7 Million go Hungry
* Grants for Biotech and Biodiversity Interface: Program for Biosafety Systems
Anti-biotech Crowd Trounced on Home Territory
- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, November 21, 2005
Three times the anti-biotechnology crowd has gone head to head with
agriculture, business and science in California trying to palm off
its pseudo-science and antidotal baloney onto voters to get them to
reject sound science.
And, three times it has lost big, the latest being Nov. 8 when voters
in Sonoma County, Calif., a highly urban, liberal county considered
part of the San Francisco Bay, soundly rejected the anti-science,
anti-societal garbage put out by the anti-GMO crowd.
At press time, the margin of defeat was 58 to 42 percent. This comes
on the heels of two more resounding defeats for the anti-GMO bunch in
San Luis Obispo and Butte counties. An anti-GMO initiative also
failed in Humboldt county during the same election that resulted in
victories in San Luis Obispo and Butte, but that victory for
agriculture came because local anti-biotech folks could not write a
ballot measure correctly and recommended voters reject it and the
anti-GMO crowd would come back later with anoAther initiative.
Everyone in Humboldt is still waiting.
Of course, the anti-GMO crowd gloats about victories in Mendocino,
Marin and Trinity County. They won in Mendocino with a sneak attack
where no grassroots opposition was mounted. They won in Marin by
default. There was no organized opposition because there is no
agriculture there. The "victory" in Trinity was an ordinance hastily
passed by the board of supervisors partly to avoid a costly county
There have been at least a dozen California counties that have passed
ordinances supporting biotechnology and at least one county rejecting
a proposed anti-biotech ordinance.
The way I figure it, the score is at least 15 to 3 and three is being
generous. Game's over.
It's time for the outlaw, anti-society, anti-GMO crowd to get out of
California and quit wasting taxpayer money on an issue that has
already been settled in the laboratory, through government
regulations and the public's acceptance. More than 1 billion acres of
biotech crops have been grown worldwide; more than 600,000 in
California. No one has become ill from eating biotech crops.
Livestock have not been harmed. The pesticide load on the environment
has been reduced.
Grocery stores in Marin, Mendocino, Trinity and every other county in
the state are full of food produced with biotechnology. The Family
Farmers Alliance and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau are to be
commended for turning back the anti-biotech crowd and hopefully
running it out of California for good.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau executive director Lex McCorvey did a great
job of giving the truth to voters in his county. The Sonoma County
victory was especially sweet because Sonoma is the home of Support
for the GMO the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, the organic
farming "swimsuits optional" commune that has been the center of the
anti-GMO campaign in California.
A defeat for the state's anti-biotech movement on its home turf is
Hopefully, California has heard the last of this bunch. Now Git! Go
find some other left-wing cause to create trouble and needlessly cost
people time and money.
Let's be Smart on Genetic Crops
- Jennifer Marohasy, Courier-Mail (Australia), Nov 22, 2005
CSIRO has scrapped its $5 million project to develop a genetically
modified pea because it produced an allergic reaction in trials on
But even if the GM pea had passed all the safety testing, it could
not have been grown commercially because there are bans on GM food
crops in all states except Queensland - and we don't grow field peas
The bans on GM food crops are a result of campaigning by Greenpeace
against GM canola. Canola is grown in southern Australia in rotation
with wheat and is a source of vegetable oil. GM canola has passed all
national safety tests and been approved by the Federal Government's
Gene Technology Regulator who determined that it was as safe as
In 2003, the Victorian Government slapped a one-year ban on GM canola
while commissioning an independent review. The Victorian Government
accepted the regulator's determination that there is no health, or
environmental issue with GM canola but on the basis of lobbying by
Greenpeace determined there might be a market risk.
In March 2004, the same day Premier Steve Bracks announced he was
extending the ban to 2008, two government commissioned reports were
released. Both stated that while there are sensitivities to GM in key
markets there is little or no evidence of any general price
discrimination or market access problems.
A detailed study undertaken in 2003 by the Australian Bureau of
Agricultural and Resource Economics reached the same conclusions: GM
products are being traded on the world market; GM producing countries
dominate the world grain trade; and there is no premium for non-GM
It seems double standards are increasingly common when the agenda is
being driven by environmental campaigning. Indeed while there is a
ban on GM food crops in New South Wales, the cotton industry has been
growing GM cotton for nearly 10 years and selling GM derived cotton
seed oil. Cotton is exempt from the bans on the basis it is grown
primarily for fibre.
Few people realise that fully 35 per cent of the vegetable oil
consumed in Australia is from cotton seed and that more than 90 per
cent of the Australian cotton crop is now GM. The first plantings of
GM cotton predate the launch of Greenpeace's anti-GM campaign in
Australia. Greenpeace has conveniently ignored cotton as an important
source of vegetable oil and falsely promoted GM canola as the first
GM food crop.
The cotton industry, fearing a backlash from the anti-GM lobby, is
saying nothing. But there are costs and they are not just economic.
When Premier Geoff Gallop declared Western Australia a GM-free zone
early last year it was purportedly to protect the state's "clean
The immediate effect was to prevent WA canola growers from planting a
new variety that could be grown with softer and less persistent
chemicals. Traditional varieties are dependent on use of the
herbicide atrazine - a chemical being phased out in Europe on the
basis it poses an unacceptable environmental risk.
The WA Department of Agriculture acknowledges that dependence on
atrazine is a problem because of concerns over groundwater
contamination. So Gallop was in reality increasing the risk of
groundwater contamination with atrazine. GM crops are cleaner and
greener than conventional varieties and in the case of canola give a
20 per cent higher yield. Last week CSIRO abandoned trials on GM peas
because the trials indicated there was a potential human health risk.
Clearly not all GM crops are safe and there is a Aneed for each new
GM variety to be carefully tested.
But when crops pass all the tests, as was the case with GM canola,
then shouldn't they be given a fair go? Now is perhaps the time for
southern states and WA to lift their ban on GM food crops and
encourage the planting of GM canola.
We don't grow canola in Queensland, but we could give more support to
research into crops that we do grow. Scientists now are working on a
new GM sugarcane variety that provides resistance to cane grub
attack, and there is a drought tolerant GM wheat variety under the
Both offer the potential for smarter farming - and after all, aren't
we the Smart State?
Dr Jennifer Marohasy is the Brisbane-based director of the
Environment Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs.
Comments on the Australian GM Pea Research
- Maarten J. Chrispeels, University of California San Diego,
The recent Prescott et al paper in JFAC contains a very interesting
study on the immunogenicity of amylase inhibitor in its native form
(isolated from beans) and expressed as a transgene in peas. First of
all, amylase inhibitor is a food protein, but also a "toxic" protein
because it inhibits our digestive amylases. This is one of the
reasons you have to cook your beans! (The other toxic bean protein is
phytohemagglutinin and it is much more toxic).
This particular amylase inhibitor is found in the common bean (other
species have other amylase inhibitors). Even though it is a food
protein, it is unlikely ever to be used for genetic engineering of
human foods because it inhibits our amylases. What the results show
is that the protein, when synthesized in pea cotyledons has a
different immunogenicity than when it is isolated from bean
cotyledons (the native form). This is somewhat surprising but may be
related to the presence of slightly different carbohydrate chains. Is
there some difference in the folding or in the C-terminal processing
at the two C-termini?
This amylase inhibitor is a proteolytically processed and
glycosylated vacuolar glycoprotein, offering multiple steps at which
processing could be different in two species and result in different
epitopes. I am sure that TJ agonized over these results and the
explanation may be some years in coming.
T.J. Higgins is my long-time collaborator (25 years) and I have full
confidence in these studies, which, like many studies, are open to
misinterpretation. The results fully support the notion that approval
of every GMO should be based on an evaluation of the crop and of the
Dr. Chris Preston Answers Questions Posed by Prof. Drew Kershen on GM Peas
I am not an immunologist (although I did train as a biochemist), so I
won't be able to answer all your questions.
> 1. Does the allergy (the immune system response) come from eating
>the peas? Or does the allergy only come from inhaling the peas (pea
In the experiment, the mice were fed the peas and then exposed either
sub-cutaneously or by inhalation to the antigen. In both cases,
there were significant allergenic responses.
> 2. Does eating the peas predispose the mouse eating the peas to
>have an allergic response but only when the pea (pea dust?) is
>inhaled? In other words, what is the relationship between eating
>and inhaling, if any?
Yes, eating the peas pre-disposes the mice to an allergic reaction.
This can occur through exposure by inhalation or sub-cutaneously. I
imagine further consumption of the peas would also elicit a response
as the alpha-amylase proteins tend to be fairly persistent in
artificial digestion tests. This could be somewhat similar to nut
> 3. Does inhaling the pea (pea dust?) cause the allergic response
>regardless of whether the mouse has or has not eaten the transgenic
Don't know as they didn't do this experiment.
> 4. If it is the inhaled pea (pea dust?) that is the source of
>the problem, how much pea (pea dust?) is needed to evoke the
>allergic response? Or stated differently, is the pea inhalation
>(pea dust) problem likely to occur for every person who washes the
>peas prior to cooking? Or is the problem only likely to occur for
>workers in storage warehouses and pea processing plants where lots
>of pea dust is floating in the air?
I am on much surer ground here. Pea dust would certainly be a problem
in shipping and handling. I have a friend in the agricultural
commodity business who splits, polishes and exports peas to
south-east Asia. There is a huge amount of dust invovled. Pea dust
would be a much smaller problem at the consumer end, but would still
be there. There is some likelihood a person would inhale pea dust
while preparing peas. Remember, these are dry peas for animal or
human consumption - not the green peas you get in the market.
> 5. If it is the inhaled pea (pea dust) that is the source of the
>problem, how many people are likely to be allergic when exposed
>(either at home or at the work)? Everyone, some, a very few
It is likely reactions in sensitized people would also occur from
consumption - rather like the known allergens in nuts and cereals.
How many people are allergic to nuts or cereals? The proportion of
the population sensitive may be larger or smaller. At this stage, we
don't even know whether people will become sensitized to this protein.
> 6. What is the severity of the allergic response? Always
>significant; always mild; always minor? Varies with the individual
>from severe to mild? [As an aside, I well remember at about age 13
>when inhaling barley dust during barley harvest gave me a raw, red,
>itching rash over my entire body for several days. I do not
>remember anyone (especially my parents) calling for a ban on the
>growing and harvesting of barley. My parents did, however, exempt
>me from barely harvest for that one year only.]
Not clear from the paper, but you could expect variability.
> 7. Depending upon the answers to the questions above, did anyone
>think to balance the risk of allergenic response to the benefits of
>99.5% weevil control for pea growers and the consumer benefits from
>a greater availability of quality peas? Or is the risk/benefit
>analysis not allowed in Australia for all new crops? Or only all
>new TRANSGENIC crops?
One of the complaints made by some about the Australian legislation
is that it does not explicitly include a risk/benefit analysis. In
fact, I believe this is done to some extent, that is benefits are
considered, but it is fairly heavily weighted to the risk side. For
example, it is unlikely the regulator would allow release of a
product into the environment (as opposed to medical use) that carried
a higher risk than the current products of adverse human reaction. In
any case, proponents would be extremely wary of the bad press and
potential litigation that might come with releasing such a product
and would voluntarily withdraw the product.
More from Andy Apel
Dr. Preston's post from AgBioView, November 21, 2005 does a lot to
point the way towards answering the questions Drew poses, questions
which arouse my curiosity as well. What stuck out for me was
Preston's saying that "[i]t is important to note, that the sites of
glycosylation were not changed in the transgenic protein, just the
sugars that were added (1). Cereal alpha-amylase inhibitors are known
allergens and are responsible for a condition called baker's asthma
This is suggestive of a "pea dust" scenario, and adds weight and
emphasis to this query by Drew: "[D]id anyone think to balance the
risk of allergenic response to the benefits of 99.5% weevil control
for pea growers and the consumer benefits from a greater availability
of quality peas?"
Apparently, "baker's asthma" is not a concern sufficient to outlaw
baking. This is connected to my earlier query: is it not possible
that this product was pulled prematurely? Is there a good reason to
optimize our food products in favor of rodent pests? Expecially when
it appears that those most likely to suffer from inhalation of pea
dust are rodents--which humans are prone to poison anyhow? (As far as
I know, nobody makes bread from peas anyhow.) In light of the obvious
effectiveness of the transgenic peas in managing insect pests, it's
looking like a lack of human trials is a glaring, perhaps outrageous,
Do I detect the scent of the "precautionary principle" here?
CSIRO Abandons Research into GM Peas
- Paula Kruger , ABC (Australia), November 18 , 2005 http://www.abc.net.au/
MARK BANNERMAN: It is an issue that has caused fierce debate among
scientists, farmers and consumers - whether or not genetically
modified food is bad for your health. Adding fresh fuel to that
debate is news today that the CSIRO has had to abandon 10 years of
research into genetically modified field peas because it made mice
The CSIRO says the result shouldn't cause alarm, because it shows
that there are adequate measures in place to weed out defective GM
crops. But opponents of the technology say not all producers of GM
products maintain the same high standards and that the long-term
effects are still unknown.
Paula Kruger reports.
PAULA KRUGER: The field pea may sound like a humble little plant, but
it's actually an important rotation crop for Australian farmers worth
up to $100 million a year. And when the CSIRO took on the task of
genetically modifying it, they wanted to make a plant that was
resistant to pea weevils, a pest known to decimate 30 per cent of
So they created a new field pea by adding a protein found in Kidney
beans that causes the weevil to starve to death. But when they added
kidney bean DNA to encourage the field pea to create the protein
itself, the humble sounding plant had its own ideas and made a
different protein. The result was a product resistant to insect
attack, but when it was fed to mice in small quantities over a few
weeks, it made them sick.
Deputy Chief of CSIRO Plant Industry Dr T J Higgins. T J HIGGINS: The
mice responded, not in a life-threatening way, these tests showed
that there was inflammation of their lungs, which means that white
blood cells go to that point of stress in the lung tissue.
KAREN KRUGER: So we can assume that it was something that affected
the immune system?
T J HIGGINS: That's right. Absolutely.
PAULA KRUGER: Dr Higgins says he is very disappointed his team
couldn't create a safe pest resistant field pea and says this rarely
T J HIGGINS: There has been one other case that has occurred during
the 10 or 15 years that genetic modification has been going on. That
was a case where a gene was being transferred from Brazil nuts into
soybeans to improve the protein quality of soybeans for feeding
animals. Most proteins do not change when they're transferred.
PAULA KRUGER: The CSIRO has tried to spin a positive out of the
failed project by saying it shows that measures designed to protect
the public from unsafe GM products are effective. But that is not the
view of Dr Judy Carmen the Director of the Institute of Health and
JUDY CARMEN: First of all, I think the people who did this study
should be congratulated, because this is the kind of study that
should be done on all GM foods. And the study was done with the
CSIRO, but it was particularly done at the John Curtin School of
Medical Research and they have done a very good study here.
One of the problems with this study is that, as I said, it hasn't
actually been done with other GM foods and needs to be done. So while
Dr T J Higgins is saying that this shows that the regulatory process
is working, unfortunately it doesn't, because this pea has never made
it to the regulatory process.
PAULA KRUGER: So you fear that there's probably other genetically
modified products out there that, like this field pea, would fail the
test if it went through animal testing?
JUDY CARMEN: Yes. There very well could be and I think that we do
need to have very thorough safety testing done on animals.
PAULA KRUGER: The feeling among farmers is mixed. The Farmers
Federation grains group in Victoria say they're disappointed the
field pea project had to be scrapped but that it shouldn't diminish
the public's confidence in GM technology. But Julie Newman, a Western
Australian farmer and spokeswoman for the Network of Concerned
Farmers doesn't share their confidence and says some farmers are
finding it hard to remain GM free.
JULIE NEWMAN: We haven't got a choice at the moment. The Government
has decided that we are to accept contamination in our non-GM
products. Now, if the health testing down the track becomes obvious
that there is a problem, we can't recall this product, and that's the
problem. We want to be able to market as non-GM, or GM-free, which
legally means no-GM, because consumers don't trust the regulatory
process at the moment.
PAULA KRUGER: The CSIRO says it will ensure its failed field pea
doesn't cause any more problems. It plans to incinerate or bury its
12 tonne crop.
Nutritious GM Sorghum Would Attract More Insect Pests
- Prof. Jonathan Gressel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel,
Re. The following article on supersorghum: A quick perusal of the
website does not suggest that they are dealing with a major
constraint to sorghum production in Africa. Dr Babatunde Obilana, who
recently retired from ICRISAT and spent decades dealing with sorghum
in Africa reported that 32% of East and Central African sorghum, and
64% of West-African sorghum fields are infested with the parasitic
Striga (Witchweeds) leading to an estimated yield loss nearly a
million tons a year (see Table 5 in the attached reference). One
would think that dealing with this pest would be a prerequisite to
the needed biofortification, yet there is nary a mention of this on
the site or press releases.
In another part of the same article, Dr James Ochanda estimates about
an equal yield sorghum loss due to stem borers. In may cases,
enhancing nutritional quality of a crop renders it more susceptible
to insect attack, as the insects prefer the more nutritious varieties
over the previous ones. It has been posited that our ancestors
selected for less insect damage during the millennia, and by doing so
selected for mutants that were less nutritious to insects, and to
mammals. Returning to the more nutritious varieties
(biofortification) may create crop protection problems that should be
addressed together with the biofortification efforts.
Clearly unless dealing with these major constraints is integrated
into such a project, major beneficiaries of the project will be weeds
and insects, and not the people of Africa who need biofortified
> Africa Biofortified Sorghum http://www.supersorghum.org/
> Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project Consortium is a needs-driven,
> African-initiated and African-led initiative. It brings together nine
> globally-respected institutions under the leadership and co-ordination of the
> Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International (AHBFI) or
Major Heretofore Intractable Biotic Constraints to African Food
Security That may be Amenable to Novel Biotechnological Solutions
- Jonathan Gressel, et al., Crop Protection v.23 p661-689 (2004)
The input costs of pesticides to control biotic constraints are often
prohibitive to the subsistence farmers of Africa and seed based
solutions to biotic stresses are more appropriate. Plant breeding has
been highly successful in dealing with many pest problems in Africa,
especially diseases, but is limited to the genes available within the
crop genome. Years of breeding and studying cultural practices have
not always been successful in alleviating many problems that
biotechnology may be able to solve.
We pinpoint the major intractable regional problems as: (1) weeds:
parasitic weeds (Striga and Orobanche spp.) throughout Africa; grass
weeds of wheat (Bromus and Lolium) intractable to herbicides in North
Africa; (2) insect and diseases: stem borers and post-harvest grain
weevils in sub-Saharan Africa; Bemesia tabaci (white fly) as the
vector of the tomato leaf curl virus complex on vegetable crops in
North Africa; and (3) the mycotoxins: fumonisins and aflatoxins in
Abiotic stresses may exacerbate many of these problems, and
biotechnological alleviations of abiotic stress could partially allay
some predicaments. Some of these constraints are already under study
using biotechnological procedures, but others may require longer-term
research and development to alleviate the problems. Despite the huge
impacts of post-harvest weevils and of mycotoxins in grains, these
issues had not been given high priority in national biotechnological
programs, possibly due to a lack of knowledge of their immensity.
The need for public sector involvement is accentuated for cases where
immediate profits are not perceived (e.g. lowering mycotoxin levels
in farmer utilized grain, which does not increase yield) but where
the public weal will gain, and will be invaluable, especially where
the private sector supplies genes already isolated.
Iran, First to Plant GMO Rice, Hopes to Cut Imports
- Dolly Aglay, Reuters News Service, November 21, 2005
Manila - Iran, which says it was the first country to commercialise
genetically modified rice in 2004, hopes to cut its imports of about
1 million tonnes each year by developing higher-yielding varieties, a
senior scientist said.
Behzad Ghareyazie of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research
Institute of Iran said the area planted to GMO rice was likely to
rise in the next several years after high acceptance among farmers
and consumers of the initial variety. "In the near future, we will
have better varieties and more higher-yielding varieties," he told
reporters on the sidelines of an international rice conference in the
Ghareyazie said Iranian scientists were conducting more research on
other higher-yielding varieties. Iran approved the commercial
planting last year of a GMO variety called Tarom molaii, an aromatic
rice popular among Iranians but not classified among the
higher-yielding varieties. The Tarom molaii variety yielded an
average of 2.2 tonnes per hectare, higher than the 2 tonnes per
hectare for a non-GMO counterpart in Iran, Ghareyazie said.
Resistance. The GMO rice introduced in Iran is resistant to the stem
borer pest, the main rice pest in that country which normally infests
up to 25 percent of harvest each cropping season.
Greenpeace and other consumer groups are opposing the planting of
transgenic crops, specially rice, saying they threaten consumer
health and the environment.
Scientists said countries in Asia, like China, India and the
Philippines that are pursuing research on other GMO varieties, are
closely watching developments of the GMO rice in Iran. "Wherever you
come close to a technology in a developing country, then there will
be a lot of noise," Ghareyazie said, adding it was up to public
officials and scientists to explain to the people the merits of such
Ghareyazie said the GMO rice released in his country was
commercialised after nearly 10 years of risks assessment, including
field trials. "It wasn't too fast. It was too slow," Ghareyazie said,
referring to deaths from misuse of insecticide during the 10 years.
"Every year we have reports of deaths or serious illness due to the
mismanagement and misuse of ... insecticides that are being used for
controlling rice stem borer."
The first GMO variety came from Iran and scientists at the
International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines helped to
modify the rice to resist attack by insects. The first GMO rice in
Iran is now planted in "several thousand hectares," Ghareyazie said.
Rice is planted on 600,000 hectares of land in Iran, which produces
just two thirds of its consumption.
"If we can have our average yield increased to 6 tonnes per hectare,
definitely we will be self sufficient in rice production and that is
possible because there are a lot of countries which are producing 10
tonnes per hectare," he said.
Population Boom Pushes Asia to Accept GMO Rice
- Dolly Aglay, Reuters, Nov. 22 2005
Manila - Opposition to genetically modified (GMO) rice in Asia is
likely to dissipate in the next 5 to 7 years as the region struggles
to feed its growing population, a senior scientist said.
Gurdev Singh Khush, a consultant at the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI), said opposition by environmental groups and the
tedious regulatory process in getting approvals for GM crops have
delayed the release of GM rice in the region. But Khush said he
expected GM rice to follow the path of GMO corn, which was eventually
commercialized starting in the Philippines in 2002, despite protests
by groups like Greenpeace.
"Similarly rice will also be approved someday," Khush, often referred
to as one of the fathers of the 1960s green revolution for his work
developing high-yielding rice varieties, told Reuters on the
sidelines of a rice conference in Manila. "It will be adopted
particularly in Asia because there is a food security problem," he
said. "My feeling is, in the next 5 to 7 years, this opposition will
Greenpeace and other groups have stepped up protests against the
Philippine government's plan to push biotech crops, saying they
threaten consumer health and the environment. The Philippines is not
the only nation whose plans have suffered setbacks. China is also
facing hurdles and is unlikely to approve a transgenic variety of
rice this year.
The opposition to GMO food crops is much stronger than for cotton and
feed crops such as corn. Last year, Monsanto Co. dropped plans to
introduce the world's first GMO wheat, after worldwide protests.
China, India and the Philippines are pushing research on a few
varieties of GMO rice containing the BT gene, which is resistant to
the corn borer pest, the leading destroyer of corn crops in Asia.
Khush said he expected BT rice to be commercialized in Asia in the
next couple of years.
Other GMO rice -- one containing the Xa21 gene which is resistant to
the bacterial blight pest and golden rice rich in Vitamin A -- are
also being studied and may be released in the next several years,
Iran claims to the first country to commercialize GMO rice in 2004
after nearly 10 years of risk assessment, including field trials.
Khush said he expected the number of rice consumers, now about 3
billion people, to rise by 1 billion by 2030. Nearly 70 of rice
consumers live in Asia.
While about 90 percent of world rice output comes from Asia, it also
consumes the same volume. But the region's population is growing at a
rate of 1.6 to 1.7 percent each year, Khush said. "With no new land
to grow rice, where will this additional rice comes from unless we
have the new technology for producing varieties which have more
yields and more resistance to diseases and insects," he said.
"That is why biotechnology is going to be very important in producing
enough food for Asians particularly." Khush said that with better
varieties, the average yield of rice per hectare in Asia could be
increased to 4 tons from the present 3 tons. Biotechnology, he said,
would also make rice more nutritious, such as the Vitamin A variety.
GM Takes Off In Poor Economies
- Clive James, The Australian, Nov. 23, 2005
'While the West argues, the developing world is planting biotech crops'
This year, the billionth acre of genetically modified crops was
planted, just 10 years after the first commercial planting of what
are also called biotech crops. Since then the global hectarage of
biotech crops has grown at unprecedented double-digit rates every
year. Australia ranks 10th in terms of biotech crops area, with about
250,000ha of GM cotton, featuring Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt)
genes that confer resistance to insect pests and herbicide-tolerant
GM crops are being embraced in developing countries where there is
greater interest in high-yield, pest-resistant crops that -- quite
simply -- can sustainably increase productivity of food, feed and
fibre crops. Last year, the number of developing countries growing
biotech crops (11) was almost double the number of industrial
countries (six). More than 34 per cent of the global biotech crop
area of 81 million hectares last year was grown in developing
Notably, biotech crops were grown by 8.25 million farmers in 17
countries last year. Ninety per cent of these were resource-poor
farmers from developing countries whose increased incomes from
biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of poverty. These
included seven million resource-poor farmers in all the
cotton-growing provinces of China, an estimated 300,000 small farmers
in India, subsistence farmers in the Makhathini Flats in KwaZulu
Natal province in South Africa and in the other eight developing
The continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops is testament to the
economic, environmental, health and social benefits realised by
farmers and society in industrial and developing countries. While
Western countries debate the issues of GM crops -- possible health
risks, helping only large biotech companies -- the reality is that
developing countries are voting with their feet and planting GM crops
because they offer what they need more of: increased income for the
rural poor derived from the higher product
fibre crops that can contribute to the alleviation of poverty.
Of all biotech-developing countries, China is likely to be the most
influential in adopting GM crops, and what China is to Asia, Brazil
is to Latin America and South Africa is to the continent of Africa.
There is little doubt that China intends to be one of the world
leaders in biotechnology, since Chinese policy-makers have concluded
that there are unacceptable risks of being dependant on imported
technologies for food, feed and fibre security.
A similar trend may also apply to the poorer and more agriculturally
based countries of eastern Europe that have recently joined the
European Union and those expected to join in 2007 and beyond. Last
year there were signs of progress in the EU, with the EU Commission
approving, for import, biotech maize for food and feed use, thus
signalling the end of the 1998 moratorium. The commission also
approved 17 maize varieties with insect resistance conferred by MON
810, making it the first biotech crop to be app
all 25 EU countries. The use of MON 810 maize, in conjunction with
practical and equitable coexistence policies, opens up new
opportunities for EU member countries to benefit from the
commercialisation of biotech maize, which Spain has successfully
deployed since 1998.
Economic benefits to producers from biotech crops in the US in 2003
were estimated at $1.9 billion while gains in Argentina for the
2001-02 season were $1.7 billion. China has projected potential gains
of $5 billion in 2010, $1 billion from Bt cotton and $4 billion from
Bt rice, which is expected to be approved in the near term.
A global study by Australian economists on biotech grains, oil seeds
and fruit and vegetables projects a global potential gain of $210
billion by 2015; the projection is based on full adoption with 10 per
cent productivity gains in high and middle-income countries, and 20
per cent in low-income countries.
The GM revolution has already taken hold. By 2010 there is likely to
be more than 150 million hectares of GM crops, with up to 15 million
farmers growing crops in up to 30 countries. This is a revolution
that is being led by the developing world. Unconcerned with the
debate in the West, countries such as China and India are simply
going ahead and planting GM crops and reaping the benefits.
Clive James is chairman and founder of the International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
Zambia Declares Food Disaster as 1.7 Million go Hungry
- Shapi Shacinda, Reuters News Service, November 22, 2005
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa declared a national food disaster on
Monday, appealing for immediate donor help to feed hundreds of
thousands of people left hungry by drought and crop failures.
Mwanawasa's declaration follows a government estimate last week that
1.7 million Zambians were suffering from acute food shortages in the
current crisis, part of a wider food emergency stretching across
parts of southern Africa.
Parliament last week declared the food shortages in some parts of
Zambia an emergency, legally compelling Mwanawasa to declare an
official national food disaster. "Now parliament is the highest law
making body in the land and in view of this resolve, I hereby declare
the current food shortages a disaster in Zambia and I appeal for
donor assistance," Mwanawasa told journalists in Lusaka.
Mwanawasa said crop failure due to drought in 2005 in southern,
central, eastern and northern parts of Zambia had resulted in the
food deficit. The WFP said in October that some people were
surviving on wild fruits, which it said were also being depleted,
while others were eating unripe mangoes.
Zambia's staple white maize output declined to 866,000 tonnes in 2005
from 1.3 million tones the previous year. Millers are currently
importing 250,000 tonnes of white maize, but traders say the process
has been slowed by shortages of fuel in October and the government's
stringent health rules on imported maize.
The UN's World Food Programme said last month it had run out of cash
and required an additional $35 million to purchase food for 800,000
people. The government has been feeding 1.2 million people initially
affected by the food shortages, but has seen its resources stretched
as the number rose to 1.7 million.
A senior official in the vice president's office told Reuters the
disaster declaration could spur western donors to respond promptly to
pleas for food aid. "Donors normally respond slowly in the absence
of a disaster situation, but this will now compel them to respond
promptly because the situation is grave," the source said.
The source said the United States had already made inquiries on
possibilities of shipping food aid to Zambia.
BBI Grants--Program for Biosafety Systems
- Hector Quemada
The Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) announces a call for
pre-proposals for the Biotechnology and Biodiversity Interface (BBI)
grants program. This is the third year of the BBI Grants program,
which funds research on the impact of genetically engineered crops on
biodiversity in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Up to $1
million is available for this round.
The call for preproposal is available at
- Hector Quemada, Ph.D. Manager, BBI Grants Program, Program for
Biosafety Systems, Department of Biological Sciences, Western
Michigan University, Kalamazoo