Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: December 5, 2005
* FOE on BT resistant cotton bollworm
* Journal of Public Affairs publishes an issue on GM foods
* Documentary on Bt cotton busts myths
* China leads in research of genetically modified plants
* EU Ministers Fail to Agree on Latest GMO Approval
* Denmark to tax farmers of GM crop
* IRAN RELEASES WORLD'S FIRST BT RICE
* Grounds for a fight: Farmer protection battle plans take root
* Harnessing Biotechnology For The Caribbean
* Visayas mayors ready to push GM crops in their jurisdictions
From: "Roger and Carolyn Morton"
Subject: FOE on BT resistant cotton bollworm
Date: Mon, 5 Dec 2005 09:50:26 +1100
In a letter in 19 Nov 2005 issue of New Scientist Liz Wright of Friends of the Earth claims that "Australian researchers recently obtained unequivocal evidence that a strain of the cotton bollworm Helivoverpa armigera was resistant to the Cry1Ac toxin".
Does anyone on AgBioView know what this research might be?
Date: Fri, 02 Dec 2005 18:13:40 -0500
From: "Gale West"
Subject: Journal of Public Affairs publishes an issue on GM foods
Some of your readers may be interested in the latest issue of the Journal of Public Affairs, which is a special issue about GM foods. Here is the web page for the journal with information about the articles and their authors.
The articles are not yet available in PDF format. Interested readers may, of course, either purchase the issue or the individual articles, or they may contact the various authors in order to obtain copies of the papers.
Gale West, Ph.D.
Centre de recherche en economie agroalimentaire (CREA)
Documentary on Bt cotton busts myths
- SIFY.com, 05 December 2005
Mumbai: Rapid strides made by India in cotton production in the last three years are nothing short of a dream run for any agrarian economy. Today in Sify Finance
The period also coincides with the adoption of Bt cotton, the country's first genetically-modified (GM) crop. Yet, misconceptions and disinformation continue to constrict the growth potential of this technology.
A documentary film "The Story of Bt. Cotton in India" aimed primarily at placing the technology and policy context in perspective and produced by a team of experts headed by Bhagirath Choudhary of International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application was released at a national seminar on resurgence of cotton here recently.
While leading scientists, including Dr M.S. Swaminathan, are on record supporting adoption of GM technology, views elicited from cotton growers in several States, including Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, highlight their optimism about crop prospects and cost reduction. | Read more Finance news. |
On the regulatory regime, the documentary clearly brings out the position that as Bt cotton was the first biotech crop in the country, the Government followed strict monitoring and that various bio-safety tests were rigorously conducted prior to release.
Calculations show a profit of anything between Rs 7,000 and Rs 11,000 a hectare resulting from planting of Bt cotton, which demands less number of agro-chemical sprays.
The documentary clearly captures the way in which adoption of technology has transformed the outlook for growers.
According to Choudhary, the project took almost one year to complete and involved extensive travel (5,000 km) across the country to obtain first-hand impressions and views from stakeholders.
The documentary will be translated into seven Indian languages for the benefit of those interested and shown widely in the cotton-growing belt across the country.
China leads in research of genetically modified plants
- People's Daily Online, December 05, 2005
China has taken the lead among developing countries in the research of genetically modified (GM) plants, an expert has said.
China has been investing 100 million US dollars per year in the research of biotechnological plants since the beginning of this century, and the sum is expected to reach more than 500 million US dollars in 2005, said Shen Guifang, executive deputy director of China High-tech Industrialization Association and researcher of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
At present, more than 60 versions of GM plants are approved for field trials and release, including China's staple crops -- rice, maize and wheat, as well as cotton, potato, tomato, soybean, peanut and rape, she said at the "Forum of Industrial Innovation and Agriculture Industrialization" held recently in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
More than 30 versions of GM tomato, cotton, petunia and pimient o have been approved for commercial production. The leading GM plant in China is pest-resistant cotton covering 66 percent of cotton-growing areas, Shen said.
China developed 47 GM plants in 1996, including almost all the main food and for age plants. It has examined and approved 26 GM plants in terms of safety between 1997 and 1999, including 16 of pest-resistant type, nine of antiviral type and one of quality-improved type.
China ranks the fifth -- behind the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil - in the amount of genetically modified crops, saida World Health Organization report in June. Last year it had 3.70 million hectares planted, 5 percent of the total transgenic crop area of the world.
EU Ministers Fail to Agree on Latest GMO Approval
- Reuters, December 5, 2005
BRUSSELS - EU environment ministers crossed swords on genetically modified (GMO) foods on Friday as the 25-nation bloc failed again to reach consensus on approving imports of a GMO maize type, diplomats and officials said.
The requested use for the maize, a hybrid strain engineered by US biotech giant Monsanto was for processing into food and animal feed, not for cultivation.
"There was no qualified majority for or against, as always. It now goes back to the (European) Commission for approval," an EU official told Reuters. The rubberstamp authorisation usually takes place in a few weeks, but can take longer.
The ministers' failure to agree means that the Commission, the EU executive, gains the power to authorise imports of the maize into EU markets - the approval method that has been used in the EU five times since May 2004 to approve new GMO products.
Two countries changed their votes from a committee meeting of EU member state environment experts held in September. Germany voted in favour after a previous absention, while Poland changed its earlier absention to a vote against authorisation.
Producing hybrid maize involves making separate lines that are then crossed to make a hybrid seed, allowing for desirable traits to be selected to enhance agricultural performance.
The maize is a cross between two distinct maize types known as MON 863, which can provide plant protection against certain pests, specifically corn rootworm, and MON 810, which is resistant to other pests such as caterpillars and certain worms. Both strains used to manufacture the hybrid maize have already won EU authorisation separately -- MON 810 maize in 1998, and MON 863 which the Commission approved in August.
Even though the EU has now lifted its six-year unofficial moratorium on approving new GMO products, national governments have consistently clashed over biotech policy.
EU member states have ended meetings in deadlock around 15 times in a row - either as ministers or as national experts - on whether to approve new GMO products, usually for use in industrial processing or as animal feed.
The last time they agreed on a new GMO approval was in 1998.
Denmark to tax farmers of GM crops
- NEW SCIENTIST, December 2, 2005
Depending on your point of view, it's either a neat ruse to help keep genetically modified crops out of Europe, or an unfair barrier to farmers who want to benefit from GM technology.
Denmark last week became the first country in Europe to tax farmers who grow GM crops. The money collected, around ¤13 per hectare, will be used to compensate organic or conventional farmers who can't sell produce at its usual price because of contamination from a GM farm nearby. Crops with a GM content above 0.9 per cent cannot be labelled GM free.
"What's good is that the GM farmers are paying, otherwise they'd have no incentive to prevent contamination happening," says Gundula Azeez of the Soil Association, which represents organic farmers in the UK. "It's based on the polluter-pays principle." The biotech industry, meanwhile, regards the tax as arbitrary and unfair.
The European Commission authorised the scheme on 23 November, and other countries are considering similar measures. Don't expect the Danish fund to be bursting with cash though: like all European countries except Spain, it has no GM farmers yet.
IRAN RELEASES WORLD'S FIRST BT RICE
Philrice may tap GM crop into its own variety to raise yield
- By Melody M. Aguiba, Manila Bulletin, Nov. 26, 2005
Iran has become the world's first to release a genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) rice resistant to the pest stem-borer which developing countries like the Philippines can tap into its own variety to raise yield. Leocadio S. Sebastian, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI) director, told reporters during the Fifth International Genetics Symposium that Iran has gone ahead in commercializing the world's first transgenic rice after developing it for more than 10 years.
Observers have been expecting China to commercialize the world's first GM rice which is also bred to be resistant to the stem-borer, but public perception against GM food is a hurdle on its development. "Wherever you are close to a technology, there'll be a lot of opposition that will find its way into the public. The Chinese are doing an excellent work, but they have to talk to their people. That's what Iran did. People will love it. It's a wonderful technology," said Behzad Ghareyazie, senior scientist, International Rice Research Institute (Iran) in an interview.
The stem borer-resistant gene in cry1Ab has been inserted by genomic scientists in Iran's local self-pollinating variety called "Tarom Molaii," an aromatic rice Iranians are fond of. However, its yield is low at just two metric tons (MT) per hectare. The stem-borer resistance gives farmers a 10 percent yield advantage, raising harvest to 2.2 MT per hectare even as stemborer normally infests 25 percent of harvest.
Ghareyazie said that while there are no official requests yet, developing countries like the Philippines may be interested in harnessing Iran's GM rice trait into their local varieties. "We have not yet received official requests, but scientists want to have access for these in their germplasm. And we will be happy to share this with them. Stemborer and leaffolder are a major problem. China, the Philippines, almost any country where rice is grown have this problem," he said.
Iran released its transgenic rice last year, coinciding with the International Year of Rice. The GM crop has so far been planted for two seasons with Iran's one-cropping per year on "several thousand hectares." The GM rice, whose gene transferred was conducted at IRRI's Philippine office in Los Bańos, Laguna, will later be developed on Iran's high-yielding varieties.
The target of Iran IRRI is to raise its national yield to six MT per hectare to make the country rice sufficient in its production. "That's possible because a lot of countries produce nine to 10 tons per hectare average," said Ghareyazie. Iran presently imports some one million MT of rice per year. Its rice is planted on 600,000 hectares which only produces one-third of its consumption.
An important impact of the Bt rice is its elimination of chemical spray against stem-borer infestation which is beneficial to human health and the environment. It wasn't really a fast route that Iran took to release the world's first Bt rice. Over the last 10 years, the Bt rice has gone through rigorous testing including animal feed safety, composition analysis, field trial for yield and environmental impact, and other risk assessments.
"It wasn't too fast. It was too slow. We're very sad about the lives taken during these 10 years that we didn't release it. Every year, we have reports of death because of the misuse of pesticides. We didn't give it to farmers because of concerns of the people," he said.
Iran is eyeing other use of genetic engineering in raising rice yield which may involve traits such as drought resistance or salinity tolerance.
Grounds for a fight: Farmer protection battle plans take root
- Vermont Guardian, December 2, 2005
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and Vermont Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr was thinking about food. Not turkey and stuffing, though. Kerr was focused on how genetically modified crops might ease world hunger, and how liberal, well-fed Vermonters have no right to uproot a possible solution while millions starve.
“This debate has been about selfishness,” declared Kerr. “We live in a society that is too well fed. What’s our biggest food problem in this country? It’s obesity. We have the luxury of debating this fraudulent issue while people are starving.”
Kerr is unabashedly enthusiastic about the promise that genetically modified (GM) crops like Monsanto’s “golden rice” — enhanced with vitamin A to combat blindness — hold for the developing world.
Likewise, he has little patience for Vermont skeptics’ go-slow approach, rooted in concerns that the organisms could have adverse environmental and health implications.
Other nations are putting the brakes on this technology. Swiss voters last week passed a five-year ban on the use of genetically modified plants and animals in farming, and China has dramatically slowed plans to produce the world’s first genetically modified rice for human consumption.
That doesn’t dissuade Kerr.
“If we’ve got this holistic perspective about a clean environment, safe streets, health care for all, does it only extend to the borders of Vermont?” Kerr asked. “What about those who don’t have enough food? It’s not Vermont’s responsibility alone to solve Africa’s problems, but if Vermont is going to position itself as a leader, it seems we’re getting pretty damn selective.”
Up north along the Canadian border where farmer Jack Lazor was waiting for test results on whether his organic seed corn had been contaminated by a neighbor’s GM crop, Kerr’s argument hit a little close to home.
Lazor frames the GM issue in a decidedly Vermont context. “We’re losing our land in this state. You can’t keep farming it like this year after year — continuous corn — and expect it to be there for our grandchildren.”
Kerr’s pro-GM argument promotes the kind of crop and land management that relies heavily on the genetic engineering (GE), fertilizers, and soil additives that hurt small farmers and make big ag even richer, Lazor contends.
Without such crutches, Lazor says, farmers wouldn’t get their corn out of the ground “because there’s no life left in it.”
“What does that kind of agriculture promote? Chemicals and fertilizers and GE seeds,” he said. Kerr “doesn’t really care about a little farmer trying to grow corn up in a little corner of Vermont.”
Farmer vs. farmer
Lazor and Kerr, farmer and bureaucrat, personify two polar opposites in a heated debate that shows no signs of cooling as anti-GM activists lay the groundwork for their renewed push to pass the Farmer Protection Act. Expected to take front and center stage in the opening days of the 2006 legislative session in January, the measure as originally proposed would make seed manufacturers liable for damages from cross-pollination by genetically modified crops.
Lazor’s seeds ultimately tested negative for GM infiltration, but not before the Westfield farmer spent five months wondering whether he would lose as much as $10,000 on his organic seed crop after a neighbor inadvertently planted GM corn that a distributor delivered to his farm.
Even though Vermont was the first state in the country to pass a seed labeling law, in 2004, the Agency of Agriculture under Kerr has chosen to enforce the spirit but not the letter of the law, allowing companies to refer indirectly to their seeds as “virus resistant” or “pest resistant” without overtly specifying “GE” or “GMO” on the bag label.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) result from genetic engineering when scientists take a gene from an unrelated species and insert it into another species. GE crops are engineered to withstand pests with less or no pesticides.
Soy and corn are believed to be the only GE crops grown in Vermont, and their prevalence has increased steadily for the third consecutive year, according to Agriculture Agency statistics.
The agency reported to the Legislature in January that sales of genetically engineered corn rose 12 percent in 2004, to a total of 337,472 pounds. GE corn now makes up 19 percent of all field corn grown in Vermont, covering 17,100 acres. In 2002, GE corn claimed only 8 percent of the state’s corn crop.
Sales of GE soybeans increased 46 percent in 2004, to 168,900 pounds, the department reported.
Anti-GE activists say the increased use adds urgency to the quest for legislation to minimize the potential negative impact of crops on farmers.
Lazor said it was only when his neighbor last spring casually complained about the high cost of the seed, about $135 a bag instead of $90, that together they inspected the packaging and determined that he had put in genetically modified corn.
Had Lazor lost money on his crop, said Amy Schollenberger of Rural Vermont, his only recourse would have been to sue his neighbor.
Advocates say the Farmer Protection Act would place that liability squarely on the seed manufacturer.
“Here’s a perfect example,” said Shollenberger. “Why should the farmer bear this responsibility? It should be on the manufacturer.”
Farther south in Rockingham, when a seed distributor brought out a few bags of GE corn last spring, Arnold Fisher told him to leave it in the truck.
“I don’t believe in it,” said Fisher, who raises about 45 acres of corn in fields scattered around Rockingham. “The fact that some of the seed can blow out and get on somebody else’s land, I don’t think we need that here.”
According to organic berry farmer and state Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, the Farmer Protection Act would resolve both the labeling and liability issues. “If the liability bill passes with some strong teeth, seed companies will want to make sure people know what they’re planting,” reasoned Zuckerman, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
But that could be a big “if”
Passed in the Senate last session by a margin of 26-1, the original Farmer Protection Act required that corporate seed contracts adhere to Vermont laws, and that any dispute between a Vermont farmer and a seed manufacturer must be heard in a Vermont court, rather than the corporation’s home state.
But a compromise version late in the session aimed at moving the stalled bill out of Zuckerman’s committee omitted the stringent “strict liability” section. Instead, the revamped bill attempts to codify case law, established in a decision called the Mainline Tractor case, which defines farmers as consumers, and therefore gives them consumer protection rights. But in the revised bill, the burden of proof still rests on the farmer rather than the manufacturer.
Time ran out on the measure before it came to a vote of the full House. It is expected to be one of the first bills out of the chute in January, but not before a proposed amendment sponsored by Rep. Dexter Randall, P-Troy, which aims to reintroduce the strict liability provision holding manufacturers liable for damages.
Supporters say there is strong support in the House for strict liability, but it’s not clear whether they have the votes to restore the original liability language. It’s also not clear whether Gov. Jim Douglas, who supports GMO technology, would veto a liability measure if it gets to his desk.
Agri-giants like Monsanto, which holds more than 600 plant biotech patents and has a nearly 30 percent share of all biotech industry research and development, are expected to lobby heavily against it.
Monsanto’s ownership of seed companies and its domination of genetic technology through patents force farmers to buy new seed every season rather than saving and replanting seed in the age-old farming tradition, according to a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety in Washington. The company has filed nearly 200 lawsuits against U.S. farmers, according to the report.
Ready for a fight
Kerr dismisses the Farmer Protection Act as a “political ploy and nothing more” — the last ditch effort of an anti-GM movement grasping at straws after their original line of defense, a proposed moratorium on GM crops in Vermont, failed to hold.
“Vermont needs to look deep into its heart and ask the question: What are we really trying to accomplish? If this is really about corporate control, why are we putting farmers in the middle? Farmers are not legally liable today. … If this is really a contest about corporate control, let’s have that debate.”
He argues that GM seeds like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn have dramatically reduced the need for dangerous pesticides like atrazine, an herbicide known to cause serious health problems.
“We are leaving the era of chemicals in conventional agriculture, finding finally substitutes that are if not eliminating then dramatically decreasing the use of chemicals in the open environment,” Kerr said. “That’s the trend they’re stymieing in the effort to stigmatize this technology.”
As a bellwether state for progressive causes, Vermont must tread carefully, Kerr exhorted. “Vermont I think proudly believes that the policy positions that this little state takes influence national, maybe even international positions,” he said.
“This effort to stigmatize GE products is sending a message to the nation and the world, a message sent by very warm, very well-fed, very comfortable, very nice people who really should be thinking about the message we are sending, because we are part and parcel in retarding the use of this product in countries where starvation still stalks the land.”
On that point, at least in part, Shollenberger concurs. The world is watching and waiting to see what happens to the Farmer Protection Act, she told a Nov. 16 forum that drew about 30 people in Saxtons River. Schollenberger said she has received calls from people across the globe supporting Vermont’s campaign.
Similar legislation in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and North Dakota has failed, she said. Vermont is the only state left where the bill is still alive.
But Zuckerman dismisses the bellwether argument. “Big ag states don’t even know that Vermont exists,” he said. Still, he labels Kerr’s big-picture reasoning as “simplistic and somewhat inaccurate.”
“The underlying causes of world hunger have far more to do with sociopolitical issues within those hungry nations than they have to do with food supply,” he contends. “GE crops, in fact, will add to the problem because so much land area in these hunger- and food-poor nations is getting converted to GM crops for export to U.S. markets. So in fact we are creating a greater food dependence and food problem with our global marketplace and global use of GMOs rather than solving any kind of hunger problem.”
Farmer protection is “what’s right for Vermont producers and consumers,” Zuckerman said. “I think we need to be looking out for our agriculture situation here at home, which is a very healthy, diverse mix. We need to keep all farms economically viable, and we don’t need to have farmers potentially suing their neighbors for the losses than can occur.”
Harnessing Biotechnology For The Caribbean
Bahama Journal, By Godfrey Eneas, 5th December
At the 4th Advisory Committee Meeting of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development which was recently held November 7 – 12, 2005 at the CTA’s Headquarters in Wageningen, The Netherlands, the Board Approved and Adopted the Policy Paper #2 on “ACP Region must Harness Biotechnology for a Better Future”. The Bahamas was represented on the Board by BAIC’s Assistant General Manager responsibly for the Agricultural Division Mr. Arnold Dorsett.
The mission of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) is to strengthen information and communication management capacities of ACP agricultural and rural development organizations. It is also charged with policy and institutional capacity development. Consequently, CTA is committed to building capacity to participate in and lead the policy dialogue on Science and Technology in pursuit of these goals.
This year’s meeting was built on the outcomes of prior meetings of the Advisory Committee, which has met regularly since its conceptualization in Cape Town, South Africa in 2002. The theme for this year’s meeting was "Enhancing the S&T Policy Dialogue / Bridging the Gap in the Agricultural Science, Technology and Innovation System".
The ACP Policy Brief Paper # 2 is presented in its entirety.
African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) experts are calling on governments in the ACP region to invest more in science and technology and more specifically biotechnology if the region is to be assured of a better future.
Biotechnology, embraces both life sciences and engineering, and has been used for centuries to produce food and to solve health and environmental problems. It is widely accepted that modern advances in biotechnology hold great promise for addressing key challenges in agriculture, human health and the environment. However, ACP countries lack the resources to make the investments needed in research and product and process development and innovation to harness biotechnology for sustainable social and economic development and wealth creation. Biotechnology when exploited appropriately can improve the collective welfare of the population. ACP countries must therefore act now to avoid being left behind in yet another technological revolution.
ACP leaders have endorsed this principle on previous occasions at various regional and international fora and made commitments to increase investments in science and technology and in particular to adopt biotechnology as a tool for achieving development targets. At the meeting of ACP Science & Technology Ministers and Senior Officials on Research and Technology for Sustainable Development in Cape Town in July 2002, biotechnology was identified as a priority area for ACP countries. At the NEPAD Science & Technology Ministerial Conference held in Johannesburg in 2003, biotechnology was also identified as one of the twelve flagship areas for research and development in agriculture, health, environment, mining and industry. In 2003, CARICOM Ministers mandated the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) to develop a regional policy on biosafety. In 2005, the CARICOM Minister with portfolio responsibility for Science & Technology provided an Endorsement Statement to support the commercialization of biotechnology in the Caribbean region. In 2005, Pacific biotechnology experts recommended that the role that biotechnology can play in sustainable development and economic growth be acknowledged in the Pacific Plan which outlines the strategy for strengthening regional cooperation and integration of the Pacific region.
This policy brief highlights the importance of harnessing biotechnology for wealth creation and improvement of quality of life in the ACP countries and calls on governments and other key stakeholders to take the necessary policy and legislative action to advance the development of biotechnology in its widest sense.
What is biotechnology?
It refers to any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use (Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992). Biotechnology is not new, it has been employed for centuries in the production of fermented foods such as gari, bread, yoghurt, cheese and beverages such as wine and beer.
What are the uses of biotechnology?
The denominations of "green", "red" and "white" biotechnology highlight its main uses and applications.
"Green biotechnology" encompasses a wide range of techniques that consist of culturing plant tissues and/or organs, followed by the multiplication of the relevant plants with desirable characteristics. Genetically identical plantlets are thus available for distribution to farmers, horticulturalists, forestry growers, and nurseries all the year round. It also includes the transformation of plants, crop species and varieties through genetic engineering techniques, leading to what are known as "genetically modified" (GM) crops. In addition, green or agricultural biotechnology also applies to techniques used in livestock husbandry (nutrition and reproduction). Green biotechnology should therefore not only be equated with advances in genetic engineering.
"Red biotechnology" encompasses the genetic engineering techniques that have been used since the mid-1970s to produce drugs and vaccines in micro-organisms, animal cells, and more recently in plants. For example, insulin, human and bovine growth hormones, interferons, cell-growth factors, anti-hepatitis B vaccine and others are being produced in this way. A wide range of diagnostic techniques and veterinary vaccines are produced using red or medical biotechnology.
"White biotechnology" refers to a wide range of processes resulting in fermented products and chemicals (e.g. enzymes, biofuels such as ethanol and bioplastics) as well as to the technologies used in recycling wastewater, industrial effluents and solid wastes. These "bioremediation" processes contribute to the abatement of pollution. The extraction of metals from ores with the help of micro-organisms (biomining) is also part of white or environmental biotechnology.
Why the controversy?
Biotechnology as is the case with any technology has its advantages and limitations. Within recent years, the focus has been on modern biotechnology applications and the food and feed products derived from them. The proponents of modern biotechnology have highlighted the positive impact on agriculture, human health and the environment through increased crop yields, the reduced use of pesticides and herbicides, production of nutritionally enhanced foods and affordable vaccines. However, the contentious debate surrounding biotechnology continues because of the safety, geo-political, trade and ethical issues that have been raised particularly in the public domain. As such, the public now equates biotechnology with GM crops and foods leading to the intense controversy about the perceived risks to human health and environment. Although scientific evidence of the associated risks continues to be debated, there is consensus on the need for effective and continuous monitoring, assessment and management of the potential risks. This highlights the importance of having biosafety regulations in place and ensuring that there is adequate in-country capacity so that all the necessary precautions are adhered to. It should be emphasized that medical and environmental biotechnology and genetically engineered commodities which are not produced for human consumption and which presently have not shown indications of posing any ecological risks, enjoy higher acceptance.
What are the opportunities for ACP countries?
ACP countries are rich in biological diversity, the value and sustainable use of which can be optimized through the appropriate application of biotechnology, for improving food production through plant and animal breeding, bioremediation processes (relying on the diverse native soil and water microflora) and to advance the search for novel bioactive compounds (pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals).
Additionally, the ACP countries have the requisite competencies within each region, which can be harnessed if the necessary agreements are put in place to facilitate transboundary movement of experts and sharing of facilities. There are several centres of excellence to support biotechnology research and development including molecular biology and genetic engineering at the national and regional levels. For example, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, Biosciences facility in Kenya, Biotechnology Centre - University of the West Indies, and the University of the South Pacific.
There are several important biotechnology initiatives already in place in the ACP region, which need to be fostered and better coordinated. These range from the design and implementation of biosafety regulatory frameworks to micro-propagation projects for the large scale multiplication of crop species, genebanks, molecular marker applications and the production of vaccines. These provide opportunities for knowledge sharing, employment and wealth creation, enhancement of food security and improvement of health.
International and inter-regional co-operation is important for strengthening the research and development (R & D) capacity, development of regulatory frameworks and the commercialization of new products and processes. The ACP region is well placed to benefit from several international cooperation facilities to advance the process but priorities must be critically evaluated prior to entering into agreements if significant benefits are to accrue.
Are there lessons from within the ACP region?
Over the last thirty years, many developing countries have used biotechnology to meet their technological needs and placed it at the forefront of the policy agenda for social and economic development. Several of these countries are actively participating in biotechnology development and expansion. The following select examples illustrate the steps that some ACP countries have taken to enhance the contribution of biotechnology to developmental goals.
The Dominican Republic established the Biotechnology and Biodiversity Centre (Centro de Biotecnologia y Biodiversidad – CIBIO) in 2000 to serve as the national and scientific base for finding biotechnology solutions to the main problems affecting the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. This Centre serves as the base for exploiting modern biotechnologies. Specialized laboratories which focus on tissue culture, molecular biology, molecular diagnostics, germplasm management, industrial biotechnology and nutraceuticals have been established. Emphasis is also being given to human resource development; a new Masters Degree programme has been set-up and protocols have been developed for a wide variety of biotechnology products (biopesticides, medicinal extracts, diagnostic methods, scale-up of tissue culture protocols).
Are there other experiences from outside the ACP region?
After thirty years of successful conventional agricultural research, Brazil is becoming a world agri-business superpower, using biotechnology in the cultivation of GM crops (soybeans and cotton), the production of veterinary vaccines and medicines (world’s largest exporter of beef), and promoting genomics research (sugarcane, eucalyptus, cattle). In the early 1970’s, Brazil invested in the production of ethanol from cane sugar fermentation and its use as a fuel in motor vehicles and is now the leader in this area.
Brazil is also involved in advanced stem cell research and human medicine applications (regenerative medicine). It is among the very few developing countries, which are setting up bioclusters i.e., concentrating the bio-industries in key areas of the country. However, there are challenges in balancing the rapid expansion of genetically modified soya bean fields and deforestation such that the livelihoods of indigenous communities are not negatively impacted.
Since the early 1980s and consistently over the last twenty years, Cuba has invested in red biotechnology and has become an important producer of biotechnology derived medicines, vaccines and diagnostic kits. The foreign exchange generated through sales of these products is an important contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since the 1990s Cuba has placed special emphasis on biotechnology applications to increase agricultural productivity and development of their aquaculture sector.
What did they do?
The successes gained by countries that have invested in science and technology and more specifically biotechnology are largely attributed, first and foremost to visionary leadership and strong political commitment. In addition, the following factors played a critical role in their success:
Creation of an enabling environment for science, technology and innovation and more specifically for biotechnology to thrive;
Public and / or private investment in science and technology infrastructure and biotechnology programmes;
Promotion of entrepreneurship and provision of rewards for innovators;
Development of key partnerships between public research (universities, national research institutions and centres of excellence), the private sector (industry) and the government; and
Raising public awareness and acceptance of the value and potential of biotechnology applications.
However, it should be noted that their governments and other key stakeholders continue to be called upon to respond to the challenges of ensuring environmental and economic sustainability as the technology advances.
- Manila Bulleting, December 5, 2005, By EDITH B. COLMO
BACOLOD CITY — A Filipino scientist yesterday said Visayas mayors are ready to receive more genetically modified (GM) crops that would soon be released for commercial production all over the country.
He added that these executives believe that the widespread cultivation of GM crops would pave the way for sustained economic growth in their jurisdictions and better food security for the country.
Dr. Benigno Peczon, who is also president of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), a biotech non government organization comprised of scientists, academicians, and agriculturists said municipal mayors are optimistic that genetically modified products will be widely accepted owing to its benefits to various stakeholders.
In an earlier dialogue with members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) at the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel, Peczon said most municipal mayors were impressed by the benefits to farmers who tries the Bt corn.
Pecson spoke about "Biotech: Economic Opportunities Paving the Way for Partnership for Bio-Commerce" where he stressed that biofuels, biofertilizers, production of lactobacillus and anti rabies vaccine and tissue culture as among market prospects.
He said the biotechnology is a maturing technology which will continue to provide useful crops, improve health and help sustain the environment.
The event paved the way for an exhibit showcasing the importance of biotech in providing food security, and information of the would-be benefit to various stakeholders by genetically modified crops currently being developed and tested in the Philippines. Aside from increased farm yield, Bt corn, the first genetically modified crop ever to be released for commercial production in the Philippines, does not require the use of pesticide owing as it was genetically engineered to resist the European and Asian corn borer.
Study conducted on the cot-benefit of the Bt corn compelled some corn farmers to plant Bt corn owing to the 0.8 to 1 metric tons per hectare increase in their farm production.
According to Peczon, modern biotechnology is now available in the Philippines and transfer of technology is now up for grabs for local government units who want to provide farmers in their respective towns more advanced farming methods to do away with too much pesticide and fertilizer that pose health risks to farmers and consumers.
Aside from Bt corn, the government is now developing genetically modified fruits, vegetables, and root crops to make them resistant to virus, pest and with enhanced nutrients.
Among these GM crops are papaya resistant to ringspot virus, papaya with long shelf life, banana with enhanced Vitamin A precursor, resistant to bunchy top virus, with antifungal genes, and with long shelf life; eggplant resistant to pest insect, cotton resistant to bollworm, rice resistant to (GNA) insect, bacterial leaf blight, and Tungro plus enhanced Vitamin A precursor; sweet potato resistant to feathery mottle virus, resistant to weevil; and tomato resistant to virus.