Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org January 19, 2006
* EU Prepares for Bruising WTO Ruling in Biotech Case
* APEC to Continue Rationalizing Biotechnology Regulations
* A Decade On: Is GM Winning Hearts and Minds?
* UK Peer Speaks Out on GM Crops
* Genetic Modification of Domesticated Plants and Animals
* Aussies 'Missing' GM Revolution
* Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to Drive Up Food Costs
* Vitamin-enriched Rice Knocking on Door - India
* Campers' Loo Habits 'A Threat'
* Ghana Can Produce Own Genetically Modified Seeds
* How to write about Africa
EU Prepares for Bruising WTO Ruling in Biotech Case
- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, Jan 18, 2006 http://today.reuters.com/
Brussels - Europe may suffer a bruising next month when a world trade panel delivers its long-awaited verdict on whether the EU's six-year blockade on biotech crops and foods was tantamount to a protectionist trade barrier.
In 2004, the European Union ended that blockade by allowing imports of a canned sweetcorn engineered by Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta. It was the bloc's first new approval of a genetically modified (GMO) crop product since October 1998.
Despite the move, the EU may still lose out in a landmark case filed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) by major GMO crop growers Argentina, Canada and the United States, which say its de facto ban hurt their trade and was not based on science.
The WTO verdict in the biotech case, now delayed several times, is being keenly watched by all sides in the long-running row. Due in the first week of February, the confidential ruling will comprise several hundreds of pages. It is bound to leak.
While most observers say the WTO is unlikely to issue a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy, it may well criticize areas like the string of national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries: a particular annoyance for the three complainants and cited in their original 2003 complaint.
Already, rumors are flying in industry and green circles that the EU could come off worst in the ruling. "There'll be winners and losers on both sides, although some people suggest the EU will be the bigger loser," one biotech industry official said. "The market is not operating properly and the EU institutions have not implemented their own law."
"The EU is going to be bruised. It might be a moral victory for industry but that's about it," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "It's fairly obvious that they (WTO) will come out against the national bans."
Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness toward GMO products, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods", with opposition polled at slightly more than 70 percent. This is a stark contrast to the United States, the world's largest grower of GMO crops, where they are far more widely accepted. U.S. farmers say the EU biotech stance cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while the ban was in effect.
EU Compliance. A key question for the EU, if it does face an adverse WTO ruling, is what it could do to satisfy the three complainants. The European Commission, which administers and instigates legislation for the EU-25, says the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process.
The trouble is, EU governments can never agree among themselves on biotech crops. So the Commission eventually uses a legal approvals process that kicks in when EU ministers are unable to reach a majority view on a GMO after three months.
"All our legislation is in place and works well. The challenge isn't against our legislation -- we will continue to deal (with applications) on a case-by-case basis on their own merits," one Commission official told Reuters. "This (WTO) panel wasn't against the integrity of our system as such, it was against the moratorium that we had," he said. "Whatever happens, this will not affect our legislative set-up."
On The Fence. The Commission processes applications from biotech companies that want to import and market their GMO products across the 25-country bloc. Approvals are given for 10 years, usually for the imported GMO to be processed into food and animal feed.
However, the idea of growing GMO crops is far more sensitive and only a handful of "live" GMOs have won EU approval for cultivation, mostly in the run-up to the 1998-2004 moratorium. The EU has a plethora of GMO laws to regulate applications and approvals, with strict and complex requirements for scientific opinion and risk assessment of all new products.
A small group of EU countries is implacably opposed to any new GMO approvals and always vote against -- and they are offset by a hard core of countries that are always in favor. The rest sit on the fence and only occasionally vary their view.
That balance of power could change with the WTO verdict. "If you get an adverse WTO ruling on the substance of the EU process, then you've got a major problem," one EU diplomat said. "If it says that the way the EU is applying its process is flawed, then you put political pressure on those member states to change their voting pattern," he said. "They'd have to start producing some pretty solid evidence that GMOs were harmful."
APEC to Continue Rationalizing Biotechnology Regulations
- Asia Pulse January 19, 2006
Manila - The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will continue rationalizing regulations on biotechnology-generated agricultural goods to ensure human and environmental protection as well as food security.
These were among major consensus formed during a three-day conference this week at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City when representatives of APEC economies discussed bio-safety policy options for the agricultural sector.
"We're learning how to best interpret and achieve rational and harmonized regulations," said Dr. Julian Adams, senior science and technology adviser of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID and the Department of Agriculture (DA) hosted the January 16 to 18 conference from which highlights of discussions will be presented next month during APECs meeting in Hanoi. Adams explained the rationalization process is crucial since this will enable stakeholders concerned to conduct an in-depth analysis of economic implications arising from public policies on export and import of such goods.
To further help rationalize safety regulations, APEC countries vowed to sustain international cooperation in technology transfer. These countries also agreed to share experiences in regulating movement and use of genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops.
APEC is still taking a hard look at regulations across the region as some sectors continue raising safety concerns associated with biotechnological interventions. Such interventions involve genetic modifications to either improve produce and products or to create new and better ones.
During the summit, delegates agreed on the general assessment that transgenic crops during the past decade posed no serious threats to both environment and peoples health. "There will never be zero risk but the German Academy of Science concluded last year risk from biotechnology is minimal," Adams said during a post-conference briefing with reporters.
Canadian International Food Agency Director Dr. Stephen Yarrow agreed with this conclusion although he said rational regulations are still necessary since the manner in which biotech goods are used can trigger more serious risks. "We all need to be responsible about how these goods are used and to take into account any potential danger so protective measures must be established," he stressed.
The matter is urgent as another expert warned during the briefing that food supply for the next generation will be compromised unless biotechnological interventions are continuously undertaken. "Around 2030, each farmer will have to produce 40 percent more of what their output is now to meet food demand," said Dr. Tantono Subagyo, an intellectual property and technology transfer consultant of the Indonesian Intellectual Property Society. He attributed this to dwindling number of farmers, declining hectarage of agricultural land worldwide, and ballooning human population which are all expected to stress agriculture production.
"Output from organic farming is insufficient to meet food demand so we cant solely rely on this system to feed people," he explained. Subagyo also said peoples access to affordable and quality food is limited if production is done through organic farming alone. "Production of commodities consumed in large quantities like rice must be opened to biotechnology," he said.
DA Biotechnology Program Director Alice Ilaga, on the other hand, said the department will continue adapting internationally accepted protocols in assessing such goods. She explained this is in line with DA's biosafety thrust which was formally manifested in its October 2002 Administrative Order 8 covering relevant measures.
Meanwhile, Gene Technology Regulator Director Dr. Sue Meek from Australia lauded the Philippines for being one of the first countries in the region to establish such biosafety measures. She also clarified during the briefing APEC has yet to set a timetable for completing its rationalization of regulations. "Biotechnology is still developing so assessments must be done continuously," she explained.
Meek is optimistic, however, there will be more coherence in biotechnology risk management within the region since she said the structure of risk assessment among APEC countries is becoming more similar.
A Decade On: Is GM Winning Hearts and Minds?
- Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator, Jan 18, 2006 http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/
It is ten years since the first large-scale planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. Food Navigator looks at both sides of the argument to assess the future of the technology and its implications for the European food industry.
The argument for genetically modified crops
Advocates such as the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) argue that the benefits of the technology to the food industry have simply become irresistible. More and more farmers are planting GM crops, while hostile regulators such as those in the EU are softening up to the technology.
Farmer demand has driven annual double-digit increases in biotech crop adoption since the crops were first commercialised a decade ago, with four new countries and a quarter million more farmers planting biotech crops last year.
The 8.5 million farmers planting biotech crops in 2005 also marked a significant milestone as the 1 billionth cumulative acre, or 400 millionth hectare, was planted. "Farmers from the United States to Iran, and five EU countries demonstrate a trust and confidence in biotech crops, as indicated by the unprecedented high adoption rate of these crops," said ISAAA chairman Clive James.
Certainly, 2005 saw Iran growing its first crop of biotech rice, while the Czech Republic planted Bt maize for the first time, bringing the total number of EU countries growing biotech crops to five with Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic being joined by France and Portugal.
This, says the ISAAA, could signal an important trend in the EU. Last week, the EU ordered Greece to lift its ban on a GM seed manufactured by Monsanto, and also granted European approval for three Monsanto GM maize types.
Ultimately, claim supporters, GM crops have proved their effectiveness in the space of a decade despite fierce opposition. Opinions are beginning to change. Recent European Commission decisions have tended to back GM use, and consumers are being won over by scientific as well as economic argument. "I am cautiously optimistic the stellar growth experienced during the first decade of commercialisation will not only continue, but will be surpassed in the second decade," said James. "The number of countries and farmers growing biotech crops is expected to grow, particularly in developing countries, while second-generation input and output traits are expected to become available."
The argument against genetically modified crops
This of course is not a view shared by many environmentalists and food activists. European consumer opinion is still unequivocally anti-GM, and retailers have tended to respond by advertising their products as ‘non-GM', creating an impression that this is a health and safety as well as an environmental issue.
Pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth have marked the ten year anniversary of GM crops by arguing that no benefits to consumers or the environment have materialised. "Contrary to the promises made by the biotech industry, the reality of the last ten years shows that the safety of GM crops cannot be ensured and that these crops are neither cheaper nor better quality," said Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Nigeria.
A new FoE report argues that contrary to what the ISAAA might say, GM crops are not 'green'. According to the pressure group, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, the most extensively grown GM crop today, has led to an increase in herbicide use. It claims that independent reports from the US show that since 1996, GM corn, soybean and cotton have led to an increase in pesticide use of 55 million kilos. The intensive cultivation of soybeans in South America is fostering deforestation, and has been associated with a decline in soil fertility and soil erosion.
In addition, the report argues that GM crops do not tackle hunger or poverty. Most GM crops commercialised so far are destined for animal feed, not for food, and none have been introduced to address hunger and poverty issues.
And what's more, the biotech industry has failed to introduce the promised ‘new generation' of GM crops with consumer benefits. "After 30 years of research, only two modifications have made it to the marketplace on any scale: insect resistance and herbicide tolerance," said FoE. "The biotech industry is still mostly focusing on the traits, crops and applications that it did in the 1990s, and animal feed is the exclusive or primary intended use of most new-generation GM crops."
…and the future?
European consumers undoubtedly still hold strong reservations over the proliferation of GM crops. Member States such as Luxembourg, Greece and Austria consistently vote against GMO approvals and will not be happy with the recent EC announcement that Greece must lift its ban on Monsanto's MON 810.
In contrast to the US, pressure groups have successfully convinced the public that the powerful biotech sector is somehow trying to hoodwink them into consuming risky foods. But the fact remains that firm proof that GM foods could harm human health is absent.
This has diluted the argument against GM crops. If debate continues to focus on whether GM has health and safety implications, then the biotech industry will likely win over European regulators, as it is already doing.
But if the debate focuses fully on whether GM has had a negative environmental impact, as the FoE suggests, then the industry could have a real fight on its hands.
UK Peer Speaks Out on GM Crops
- Hugin Online, Jan 18, 2006 http://www.huginonline.com
'Lib Dem Lord Dick Taverne says biotech crops create environmental benefits'
St. Louis, MO - Lord Taverne - Dick Taverne QC -- currently a member of the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee, speaks out on the proven benefits of genetically modified (GMO) crops following a decade of commercial use on more than one billion acres worldwide.
"I am a keen environmentalist.Environmentalism is a very, very important cause. But it's got to be based on evidence," says Lord Taverne, who expounds on those views in a new video at biotech-gmo.com. "I became more and more interested in the whole question of genetic modification because that, in a sense, has been the central battlefield on which the anti-science and science forces have locked horns."
"The evidence is fairly clear on certain points," Lord Taverne, a former member of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, continues. "First of all, there can be no doubt that so far there is no evidence of any damage to health -- any danger to health. It's reduced the use of pesticides. It produces greater productivity. And, if it reduces the amount of farmland you have to use, it can actually be very beneficial to biodiversity . . very beneficial to the environment."
Lord Taverne is founder of the charity Sense About Science which promotes an evidence-based approach to scientific issues and the public understanding of scientific research. He is the author of The March of Unreason: Science Democracy and the New Fundamentalism.
Lord Taverne's exclusive interview can be found at Monsanto's "Conversations About Plant Biotechnology" website: http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo
Genetic Modification of Domesticated Plants and Animals
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India http://fbae.blogs.com/
Domestication is the art, science and technology of taming wild species of plants and animals to suit human needs, and to rear them wherever desired. Domestication is at the root of classical agriculture and animal husbandry and was achieved through a long painstaking process. All products of agriculture and animal husbandry we have today are the result of genetic modification of domesticated species, addressing both quality and quantity.
The key difference between the genetic modification of wild plants and animals on one hand and of cultivated plants and animals on the other is that, wild plants evolve under the influence of natural Selection and the domesticated varieties develop under the influence of human or artificial selection. Since many wild habitats have been interfered by man, today there is an extraneous influence on many wild species as well.
All species of plants and animals, whether wild or domesticated, are dynamic undergoing natural changes in their gene pool, the complete set of unique alleles that would be found in every living member of that species or population. Natural selection operates upon the naturally occurring genetic variation. Till about a century ago, natural genetic variation was the only source of variation for crop and animal improvement by farmers and agricultural scientists.
With rapid and ingenious technological advancements in biology and sciences related to agriculture, scientists have devised methods to experimentally induce genetic variation to create new varieties of plants and animals choosing useful traits. Induction of gene mutation, altering chromosome number and structure, hybridization and exploitation of hybrid vigour or heterosis, have all played a crucial role in the efforts at genetic modification in classical agriculture and animal husbandry. Nevertheless, natural genetic variation continued to be an important component of their options.
For several reasons, the classical approach to genetic modification, based on natural and/or artificial genetic variation, was an extremely difficult process.
a) No matter however much advanced, the technology was imprecise. Most of the time it was shooting in the dark with no control on the outcome.
b) Thousands of varieties had to be carefully screened to pick up one with the desired trait.
c) There is no control or guarantee that the gene for the chosen trait would express truly generation after generation.
d) Most mutations, natural or induced, were deleterious. Only the scientists who worked with them know how many different kinds monstrosities mutation breeding has thrown up.
e) Like mutation breeding, altering the chromosome number or structure also produced a very large number of varieties among which only a few were useful.
f) Polyploids that contained more doses of the same genes did not always mean multiplied advantages.
g) The hybrids contained a lot more genes than necessary, and their function and interaction with other genes were unpredictable, as also is the case with mutants and polyploids.
h) The progeny of both natural and experimental hybrids were sterile. This was no problem with vegetatively propagated crops like potato, sugarcane or grapevine, but a serious handicap with crops like wheat, corn, or rice, where the fruit or the seed is the economic product.
The process of human selection from this sea of variation was a tremendous and very time consuming task requiring a keen mind and eye and persistence, with no assurance of success at the end of the road, after decades of hard work.
Surmounting enormous difficulties, classical agricultural scientists and farmers have done a marvelous job in producing a couple of hundred thousand varieties of crops and animals.
There are now over 1,00,000 varieties of rice, 70,000 varieties of wheat, 15,000 varieties of beans and 12,000 varieties of potato, besides several thousand varieties of other crops. The high yielding IR 64, one of the very popular varieties of rice, is the result of extensive hybridization involving over 160 parents in its lineage. Repeated hybridization, with wild relatives of wheat that are resistant to the devastating wheat rust disease, produced cultivated wheat varieties resistant to the disease. A hybrid of cultivated sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and its wild relative Saccharum spontaneum is resistant to the serious red rot disease. Durum wheat, used to make pasta, is man made. Triticale, a hybrid between wheat and rye (belonging to two different genera, Triticum and Secale)) that took 100 years to succeed, can withstand the severe winter temperatures. Inducing mutation by irradiation, Golden Promise, a commercialized variety of barley, was produced fifty years ago.
Several thousand new varieties of garden plants, such as roses, were produced. Such amazing feats as the production of several forms of the hybrid orchid Brassolaeliocattleya, spanning three different orchid genera, were also performed.
Similarly, classical animal husbandry produced hundreds of new breeds of farm animals, milch cattle, improved meat sources, pig, horse, dog, cat, poultry, pet birds and several others.
Products of classical agriculture and animal husbandry entail risks similar to those attributed to the products of modern biotechnology today, but none ever came to public notice. Inward and outward gene flow and influence on biodiversity are natural phenomena, irrespective of whether the species is wild or domesticated. However, none of the products of classical agriculture and animal husbandry was ever sought to be regulated in any manner. Better new products replaced the old ones. Farmers welcomed the new varieties and had no serious difficulty in maintaining their identity, even with such crop varieties as cabbage, cauliflower, knol-kohl, and Brussels’s sprouts, all of which are varieties of the same species (Brassica oleracea), that freely interbreed among themselves losing their individual identity in a few generations, if out-crossing was not prevented.
Aussies 'Missing' GM Revolution
- David Mckenzie, Weekly Times, January 18, 2006
Australian farmers could lose out in world markets if they fail to join the global push into genetically modified crops, according to a prominent GM analyst. The warning came after news five European countries were among 21 nations -- and 8.5 million farmers -- now growing GM crops.
The latest report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications has found France, Portugal and the Czech Republic started growing GM maize for the first time last year. They joined other EU countries Spain and Germany in commercial GM crop production.
ISAAA chairman Clive James said the development showed Australia's perception of the EU being opposed to GM produce was misguided. ''They are buying from major producers like Brazil and Argentina, and they're now starting to grow it in increasing amounts,'' Mr James said.
Australian farmers are being stopped from growing GM canola -- despite having the thumbs up from the federal Gene Technology Regulator -- by state government moratoriums. ''The problem is, GM crops are offering producers a big competitive edge, and the longer you stay out of GM production, the more you risk losing export markets,'' Mr James said.
He said pesticide use had been halved, yields were up by about 10 per cent and net farmer incomes had increased by at least 20 per cent. There were also benefits from better soil management.
Mr James said a new generation of GM crops was likely to come on line within five years. ''Export-oriented countries like Australia will be vulnerable if they ignore this new technology,'' Mr James said. While insect, pesticide and herbicide resistance were the main traits of current GM crops, new crops were being developed with drought tolerance and health benefits, he said.
Mr James said crops with multiple GM traits were also being introduced, while GM rice and wheat varieties were in the pipeline. He said Australia had invested in GM research and had effectively managed the introduction of GM cotton. ''You should be positioning yourself as a world leader in development and use of GM crops,'' he said.
According to the ISAAA report, the global area planted with GM crops last year reached 90 million hectares, nine million hectares up on 2004. The largest GM producers are the US (50 mill. ha last year), Argentina (17 mill. ha), Brazil (9 mill. ha), Canada (6 mill. ha) and China (3 mill. ha).
Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to Drive Up Food Costs
Makati City - Compliance with the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to the Convention of Biological Diversity will increase the cost of imported food and feeds, a study of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IFATPC) said recently.
The study said developing countries would be particularly affected and compliance with the protocol could eventually defeat the role of biotechnology in helping address health and food supply problems, especially in poor countries.
The biosafety protocol regulates all trans-boundary movements of living modified organisms (LMOs), including LMOs intended for introduction into the environment (seeds); LMOs intended for contained use (research); LMOs intended for food, feed and processing (oil, meal, ingredients, biofuel).
"If you want genetically modified organism-free imports, suppliers must institute procedures which will result in additional costs," said Raul Montemayor, a member of the IFATPC, in a lecture during the three-day Biosafety Options for APEC Economies held in Makati City.
Among the testing protocols that will be required are the assessment whether a cargo contains LMOs; determining whether specific LMO varieties are present; and knowing the percentage of each LMO variety in the cargo.
A study on the annual cost of testing for LMOs in US and Argentine maize export, for example, revealed that for each sample, the additional cost to determine if it the shipment contains LMOs would amount to $936,650. The identification of the LMOs would cost $2,342,900, while determining the quantity of the LMOs would require $4,356,900.
Montemayor said 130 countries have ratified the protocol but major exporters like Argentina, Australia, Canada and the United States, have not. He said the Philippines has yet to ratify the protocol.
Of the world's major commodity exporters, only Brazil has ratified the protocol.
"The importers might pass it (the additional cost) on to farmers or consumers, but in the end, the consumers will be the ones who will bear the brunt. It cannot be avoided because you will have to protect your biodiversity," he said. - Reinir C. Padua
Vitamin-enriched Rice Knocking on Door - India
- Indian Express, January 17, 2006
Ahmedabad - Rice that can prevent blindness? This is no longer a dream. Vitamin-enriched rice may soon be available at the neighbourhood kirana store. After the successful implementation of Bt cotton seeds by Indian farmers, the South-Asian Biosafety Program (SABP) has sought the commercial release of rice genetically modified to include Vitamin A. SABP has also modified brinjal seeds to reduce the use of insecticides.
SABP is an international developmental programme supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It is implemented in India and Bangladesh by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Currently in the fifth (approval) phase, the hybrid rice and brinjal seeds will increase yield, while reducing the use of insecticides. While the brinjal seeds have been modified to fight insects, the rice called Golden Rice is enriched with Vitamin A. The only drawback is the price. If the Centre okays sale of these seeds, it will be available for a higher price compared to the regular ones.
Speaking to the media in Ahmedabad, National Co-ordinator of SABP (India), Purvi Mehta Bhatt said, ''Lakhs of people in the country turn blind due to lack of Vitamin A in the diet. This vitamin is available in plenty in green vegetables. However, not all can afford to buy green vegetables. Therefore, the scientists have modified the rice to include Vitamin A. One bowl of rice is equivalent to two bowls of spinach. ''This will help the people get adequate amount of Vitamin A in their simple rice diet,'' she added.
The problem of insects damaging brinjal crop is very common in Maharashtra. To counter this, SABP modified the seeds to fight insects to some extent. ''Though farmers will require insecticides for their crop, the quantity will be reduced three times.''
So far, Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop that has been approved by the Indian government for commercial use, though research is being conducted for biotech crops like mustard, salt-tolerant varieties and insect-resistant vegetables.
Mentioning the use of Bt cotton, Bhatt said, ''The biotech revolution is about to begin. The yield of cotton has grown three folds since the time it was introduced. In 2004, cotton was grown in 5 lakh hectares. In 2005, the area covered is 1.3 million hectare. More than 1 million farmers are using Bt cotton.''
To promote genetically modified crops, SABP has also prepared a 20-minute documentary in collaboration with International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotechnology (ISAAA). Bhatt said, ''The film focuses on Bt cotton, how it was introduced, safety precautions taken before it was put into the farmers' hands. It also includes interviews of some prominent Indian scientists.''
Campers' Loo Habits 'A Threat'
- News24, South Africa, Jan 17, 2005
Cape Town - Foreigners who visit campsites in South Africa and defecate in adjacent open spaces may pose a genetic threat to the environment, according to a submission received by parliament's agriculture and land affairs portfolio committee on Tuesday.
The committee is conducting public hearings in the next two days on the Genetically Modified Organisms Amendment Bill, which aims to promote greater care in the development, production and use of GMOs than is required under existing legislation.
The unusual written submission, one of 33 received, suggests that food eaten before travelling internationally might prove environmentally hazardous to the country visited.
"A person who has consumed a genetically modified product with seeds might eat the product in Europe and move to South Africa for camping within hours. On their arrival at the camping site... they find an open space and relieve themselves, secreting (sic) a product that consists of genetic modified seeds... which were not properly digested through the human digestive system.
By so doing, leaving the camping environment with seeds that have a potential to alter the original generic (sic) nature or state of that environment."
The submission says the amendment bill under consideration does not cater for this type of "genetic transfer", and calls on the committee to plug the loophole.
Comments from Andy Apel:
The notion of poop releasing genetic organisms into the environment is not at all new. About eight years ago, British activists succumbed to paroxysms of fear when British scientists ate some GM tomatoes to prove that they weren't toxic. The activists demanded that the scientists be quarantined until all seeds had passed through their digestive tracts and properly disposed of.
The scenario is not entirely far-fetched. The guy in charge of inspecting sewage treatment plants in this neck of the woods says that the most startling feature of sewage treatment lagoons in late summer is the lush crop of tomatoes that grows at the margins. He says the fruits rival any he has ever seen in stores or farmers' markets, but can't bring himself to eat any of them.
Ghana Can Produce Own Genetically Modified Seeds
- Isabella Gyau Orhin, Public Agenda News, Jan17, 2006
The Coordinator of the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) for West and Central Africa Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan has said Ghana can produce its own genetically modified seeds that farmers can keep.
This he said is possible only when government builds the capacity of its scientists as well as absorbs the huge costs that would be involved on behalf of the farmers. "We can put a gene in the seed to enable farmers keep them but the public sector must be ready to absorb the cost," he said.
Prof. Alhassan was reacting to criticisms at a meeting in Accra to the effect that biotechnology and genetically modified seeds will lead to a situation where few companies such as Monsanto will dominate world food production.The meeting was to launch the report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech systems (ISAAA).
He said conventional Ghanaian breeds of maize such as Ekomasa, Dada Ba and Mama ba can all be genetically modified to improve their yield and other value. He explained that companies remove the gene that makes seeds geminate in order to make profit from farmers who have to depend on them all the time.
If a company develops seeds for farmers that they can keep, that company will collapse since no farmer will go back to them for seeds-hence the need for government to absorb the cost.
Prof. Alhassan said, "If we do not start building our capacity, guard and direct our research as well as pass our biosafety laws we will be completely dependent on foreign countries who will be exporting genetically modified products to us," he explained.
According to Prof. Alhassan who was once the director of the Centre for Scientific the various universities and other research institutions in the country can be resourced to produce safe and nutritious genetically modified crops for the country. Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) are said to be a combination of genes from different organisms.
Relatively, biotechnology has been defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as "any technical application that uses biological systems or derivatives there of to make or modify products or processes for specific use.
Since their introduction to the world market some years back, GMOs have been embroiled in controversy over their safety for humans and the environment leading to their rejection in some countries with others developing safety laws to reduce their risks. Critics of GMOs say it could have potential human health impacts in the areas of allergens transfer of antibiotic resistant and unknown health hazards.
Access and intellectual property issues have generated hot debates around the world between various scientists as well as companies and civil society groups. A couple of years ago, South African Countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe hit by famine refused to accept genetically modified food aid from the West.
The debate got interesting when the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) joined the proponents of biotechnology in African agriculture.
But this was not without a caution. UNECA said in a policy research report dubbed "Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development" released at the 2002 World Summit for sustainable Development that "Under the right circumstances, modern biotechnology could speed up Africa's agricultural productivity to sustainability and expedite reductions in poverty and food insecurity,"
In an interview with Public Agenda, a lecturer at the Department of Botany University of Ghana, Dr. Elisabeth Acheampong said genetic modifications are just one technique in biotechnology.
According to her biotechnology which is not knew has several benefits such as rapid multiplication which is being used to develop pineapples, getting rid of infections in plants and also to avoid abortion in plants after fertilization.
She recommended biotechnology saying, "Our development depends on it, we need to get informed, educate the people, make informed decisions and select the techniques that are useful to us," she said. Ghana has developed its biosafety framework which has not yet been passed, although some Universities are training biotech experts while some genetically modified products have found their way into the country illegally.
Prof. Alhassan said there is the need to pass the law quickly to check some of these things, the cooking oil he discovered which was made from genetically modified soybean is not harmful. Prof. Alhassan also agrees that biotechnology is not knew to Ghana. He says some practices in the past in Ghana consist of biotechnology.
Supporting Prof. Alhassan, Prof. Samuel Offei of the College of Consumer Agric Sciences of the University of |Ghana said Ghanaians have been involved in biotechnology without knowing it. He said beer is a product of biotechnology since many enzymes are used in its preparation. He said current research is trying to incorporate Vitamin A into rice while biotech soybean continues to be the principal biotech crop in 2005.
An expert on biosafety, Alex Owusu Biney said biosafety is a management system that reduces the risks resulting from modern biotechnology. He said Ghana is a signatory to international protocol that expects the country to develop regulations on it to regulate movement of GMOs across the countries borders among others such as the Cartegena Protocol.
How to write about Africa