Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 10, 2006
* Unsung Hero: The Man Who Fed the World
* Discussion of GE Seeds, Plants is Misleading
* World Trade Organization Opens Door for Biotech Crops in Europe
* AgBioView Readers Comment On the WTO Ruling
* Fair Play for GMOs
* Biotechnology: How to Set African Women Free
* Cruel to Deny Africa A Hand Up
* Risk Perception: Eurobarometer Survey Report
* Training Course on Commercialization of Biotech Crops
* Report - Decline in New U.S. Agri-biotech Products
* Overview of WTO Ruling - Conclusions And Recommendations
Unsung Hero: The Man Who Fed the World
From the day he was born in 1914, Norman Borlaug has been an enigma. How could a child of the Iowa prairie, who attended a one-teacher, one-room school; who flunked the university entrance exam; and whose highest ambition was to be a high school science teacher and athletic coach, ultimately achieve the distinction as one of the one hundred most influential persons of the twentieth century? And receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting hunger and famine? And eventually be hailed as the man who saved hundreds of millions of lives from starvation--more than any other person in history?
What is it that made Norman Borlaug different? What drove him? What can we--especially our youth--learn from his life?
Those questions are answered in Leon Hesser’s authorized biography, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger (Durban House Publishing, September 2006, hardcover, $24.95)
In the book’s foreword, Dr. Borlaug's good friend and fellow Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter wrote, "Since 1986, I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Norman Borlaug in sub-Saharan Africa where, in spite of AIDS, endemic malaria and other maladies, populations are increasing faster than food supplies. I have witnessed first-hand the reverence that thousands upon thousands of Africans have for Dr. Borlaug’s untiring efforts to relieve their hunger. … I commend Leon Hesser for making more people aware of the remarkable life and achievements of this American hero."
In addition to an earned Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Borlaug has been awarded more than fifty honorary doctorates from institutions in eighteen countries. At age 91, Borlaug made three trips during 2005 to Africa and one each to India and Argentina in his continuing efforts to relieve hunger. During each fall semester, he serves as Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.
To request a copy of The Man Who Fed the World or to schedule an interview with Leon Hesser, please contact Diana Oleskow, publicist, at (239-293-1585) or dianabob2.at.comcast.net
Dear friends of Norman Borlaug and Leon Hesser: Leon Hesser has completed his next book and it is due on bookstore shelves September, 2006. It is the engaging biography of his long time friend and colleague Norman Borlaug. The book is titled 'The Man Who Fed the World, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger' and it introduces the reader to Norman Borlaug the man, the hero, the enigma. Dr. Borlaug’s life (he is still working full-time at age 92 to combat world hunger!) is a fascinating story. Leon Hesser tells that story in a well researched and loving way.
You may be happy to know that, in order to help create a buzz about the book, the publisher will make available by April or May a limited number of advance hardcover copies to interested individuals, at a 40 percent discount, or $14.97 plus $3.49 shipping and handling, compared with the retail price of $24.95. If you wish to take advantage of the advance offer, please send me a check, made out to Durban House Publishing, for $18.46 for each copy, by no later than February 18, 2006. I look forward to your response.
Sincerely - Diana Oleskow Lubich, Publicist, ph 239-293-1585
5907 Three Iron Drive Unit #2302 Naples, FL 34110 - dianabob2.at.comcast.net -
Discussion of GE Seeds, Plants is Misleading
- County Courier (Vermont), Feb. 9 2006 http://www.thecountycourier.com
The public discussion that is occurring in Vermont on the use of genetically engineered (GE) seeds and plants is deliberately misleading farmers and consumers alike. It's time for the proponents of agricultural genetically engineered technology to speak up and counter the confusion and misinformation that is being disseminated by the opposition.
Throughout the recent debate regarding genetically modified corn pollen, the opposition is "crying wolf." Organic corn growers are not negatively affected, as suggested, by GE corn pollen moving from one field to another. The USDA National Organic Standards clearly state that if organic growers follow the "organic process" for growing crops, the crops are considered organic. In fact, organic growers are not required to test their produce to prove that they meet the organic standards mandated by USDA.
Agriculture is a business affected by many variables, and one that utilizes the elements that are available to all farmers. USDA's organic standards are not meant to certify organic produce is 100 percent pure and free of all non-organic substances, as this is impossible due to many environmental variables. Agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and sprays, are highly regulated but may remain in the environment in certain instances, despite a farmer’s best efforts to manage them appropriately. That's why the organic certification process remains process-based, requiring farmers to limit, to the best of their ability, exposure to prohibited materials.
It is important for all farmers to co-exist in today's modern food production industry. Conventional farmers who employ the use of new and innovative crop inputs must work diligently to eliminate any type of input drift from their farms. Additionally, organic growers must be tolerant of conventional farmers who choose to use new technologies. It is important to promote the merits of the production practices of all farms in a positive manner, as the common goal is to remain competitive in an increasingly demanding production environment.
In closing, the politics that surround the GE and strict liability debate do nothing to benefit farmers. The misinformation deceives consumers and leads them to believe there is something wrong with food produced by modern production practices. Vermont farmers - small, large, organic and conventional - need to work together. Given a level playing field in the public debate about agricultural practices and the use of new technologies, Vermont’s farmers will continue to produce wholesome, high quality and locally grown food for all of us to enjoy.
- Leon Graves, President, Green Mountain Federation of Dairy Farm Cooperatives
World Trade Organization Opens Door for Biotech Crops in Europe
- Paige Kollock, Voice of America, February 9, 2006
Watch video at http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-02-09-voa43.cfm
For years, the European Union has banned the sale of genetically modified foods in most European countries. Now the World Trade Organization says that ban is no longer legal. Here are details on the preliminary decision.
Based on a complaint from the United States, Canada and Argentina -- the largest growers of genetically modified foods -- the World Trade Organization ruled Tuesday that the EU and six of its member states are breaking international trade rules by barring them.
Also knows as 'biofoods or 'frankenfoods', they are organisms whose genetic material has been altered.
The most popular ones are corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. They have been around since the mid-1990s, but the EU banned their import years ago due to concern for consumer safety.
Gregory Conko is a trade analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington DC.. He says the E.U.'s policies are outdated. "The fact that the World Trade Organization is coming out against them, that every major scientific organization around the world is coming out against them, is reminding them that it is time to move on -- time to reform biotech restrictions in the European Union."
Proponents of the genetically modified foods say they increase yields and allow crops to better resist weeds and insects.
While most scientists agree they are safe for consumption, opponents say the foods are not properly tested or labeled, and are unsafe for both humans and the environment. Europeans strongly oppose the sale of these foods, in part because of several food-safety scandals in the 1990s.
Clare Oxborrow works for Friends of the Earth, an international environmental group that opposes the ruling. She says, "The types of herbicides they use, that are specifically designed to be used on the GM [genetically modified] crop are called ‘broad spectrum’ weed killers, which means they kill off everything in the field apart from the GM crop that has been specifically designed to withstand it, and that leads to less food for birds and less wildlife."
The decision by the WTO panel is not final, and includes only 25 crops, not genetically modified ones. But it is viewed by some as a victory for biotechnology groups in the United States. The EU says it is too early to say whether or not it will appeal the ruling.
AgBioView Readers Comment On the WTO Ruling
- Rick Roush, Univ. California, Davis. rtroush.at.ucdavis.edu; (with thanks to Bruce Chassy for improvements)
It seems to me that the comments about the WTO decision that I've read so far have not really nailed what is at least to one of the most important points to get across to the public about the WTO decision:
The WTO has rejected the anti-scientific claims that EU governments are using to defend their populist policies. This was a decision about scientific evidence with trade implications, not about trade where there is scientific uncertainty. Even the EU's own scientists have overwhelmingly argued that the scientific evidence strongly supports the safety of these crops.
Otherwise, the anti-GM campaigners are essentially trying (and probably successfully) to paint this as a purely technical decision driven by and supporting WTO policies favoring globalization and oppressing local rule. A common claim goes along the lines of "the WTO ruling sets a broad precedent to inhibit the ability of WTO member states to set food safety, public health and environmental health measures where there is scientific uncertainty about the adequacy or quality of data submitted for commercialization approvals”.
In every case where anti-GM claims have met the hard rules of evidence of a high level court rather than the rumor mongering of public opinion (or the odd local judge), they have lost, whether for Schmeiser, the New Zealand Royal Commission, or now the WTO. Greenpeace, FOE and others have had their days in court, and lost.
This is a record equaled in modern times perhaps only by those other popular forces of anti-scientific irrationality, the advocates of creationism/intelligent design. We need to make sure that people see the comparison. Just as the facts of evolution are no less real in Kansas or Pennsylvania than any where else, the facts of food safety assessment are no different in the EU than the US.
Advocates of creationism have long argued that all they want is equal time for their views. "Equal time" is such a rationally sounding and fair concept that it seems hard to oppose in public. However, as I realized in the 1980's as the only faculty member at Mississippi State University teaching a course with the word "Evolution" in it (and after the law mandating the teaching of creationism was passed), this was not about equal time. They did not want equal time for alternative views, such as the creation stories of Navajos or Australian aborigines (or dozens of other cultures), but only their views to challenge the science of evolution. The only fair choice is to keep religion out of public school science classes.
Similarly, "mandatory food labeling" is an argument meant to appeal to a sense of fairness (and to personal choice), but it is really about challenging food safety. Mandatory labeling GMOs is a means to promote discrimination against products with no known health risks and is also a way to increase and transfer costs so that all consumers pay more as a result of the policy. In any non-mandatory state such as the USA, you can freely choose between unlabeled items (possibly containing GMOs) and items clearly labeled GMO-free. We have choice and we have low cost. In the USA, the buyer of the labeled product accepts the additional cost because they are expressing a faith-based preference in the same manner as those who purchase Kosher or Halal foods. What could be fairer? Again, keep faith-based extremism out of public policy.
The buyers right to exercise a boycott for political, ethical or social reasons is also preserved in a voluntary system. MANDATORY labeling is therefore not only a means to scare consumers, but it is also a necessary tool to implement the deliberately imposed barrier to trade. It allows EU manufacturers and retailers to not stock GMO-containing products based on the claim that consumers don't want them. It also allows them to charge higher prices and make greater profits in the process of denying Europeans real choice. Is that fair?
We need to help people realize that such anti-GM attitudes are fundamentalist environmentalism, and as irrational as those of fundamentalist Christians trying to force the teaching of creationism.
Even the notion that conventional foods are safe is fundamentally a creationist view (put here in safety for our use) or at least anti-scientific (ie, inconsistent with scientific findings in evolutionary biology). Are foods safe because they have always been part of our diet? Most haven't been part of our diet for long. Tobacco has been part of human consumption for much longer than many of our foods and is clearly unsafe, despite the fact that it had been used for centuries before that was widely agreed. The Salem witch trials and their apparent inception from delusions driven by ergot (a disease of grain) are a prime historical example. Despite the fact that grains had been domesticated for thousands of years, Salem residents ate grain with ergot and didn't realize that the delusional effects were due to the contaminated grain.
With some exceptions for fruits (which are often naturally selected to be eaten to disperse seeds), plants and their diseases evolved to make lots of poisonous compounds, either incidentally in the course of other adaptations or to protect themselves against being eaten. Wild radishes and Brassicas therefore taste very bitter and are poisonous, compared to domestic radish and cabbage. To the extent that these foods are more safe is a tribute to breeding.
Examples like grocers' rash in celery show that breeding for food safety must be seen as still be seen as a work in progress. We know that raw mushrooms are full of hydrazines, which are very effective carcinogens. Peanuts are very effective sources of allergens. Corn often has fumonisins from fungal infections. I could go on and on.
Thus, from an evolutionary point of view, our foods were basically dangerous to us because natural selection favored plants that deterred or even killed their herbivores (including insects and us). We humans have cleaned up and removed the most obvious poisons and other toxins by selection (e.g, cabbage or potatoes) or processing (e.g., cassava), but not certainly not all of them (e.g, peanuts and kiwi fruits as allergens). No one has carefully studied or assessed our traditional foods in contained human feeding trials, or even rat trials, or even by assessment committees for subtle effects. Are phyto-hormones from soy good or bad? The jury still seems out.
In contrast to traditional but scientifically or statistically untested conventional foods, we are doing safety assessments for GM.
The WTO decision is a teachable moment about scientific understanding, and only improved scientific understanding will improve the trade and use of GM crops. Isn't it time to push aside faith-based irrationality in all its forms?
Andrew Apel - aapel07at.sprintpcs.com -
From my non-scientific survey of sentiments in the blogosphere, there is a growing consensus that the WTO decision amounts to an anti-democratic assault on decisions made freely by democratic governments. These sentiments are being echoed here and there in the mainstream media.
The democratic freedoms said to be at stake are seen as important enough to make science irrelevant, and the trade implications which appear involved are viewed as a "side effect" of the freedom that democratic governments have exercised on behalf of their voters. The "price of freedom," shall we say, is popping up as a trade imbalance.
Unfortunately missing is a discussion of the parallels with the animal feed hormone supplement case, and perhaps a sad comment about how the trend shows "old Europe" is not only falling behind, but proclaiming virtue in backwardness as well.
I'd like to repeat my concern that the text of the decision is not yet available and I would, for myself at least, be cautious about making claims about who has "won" the WTO case. Buried in that document may be a blessing of the precautionary principle, or the inclusion of the Biosafety Protocol in a manner that will constipate technology for years.
Anyone who's won an argument with a spouse can appreciate how winning an argument doesn't necessarily get you what you want and can often get you quite a bit less than that.
- Sivramiah Shantharam - sshantharam.at.biologistics.us -
Thanks to Andrew Apel, I now have a new word-weapon "constipation of technology" in my arsenal for debate. But, that is exactly is what is happening in all this global debate about GMOs. The anti-GM people's continuous demands for public debate and elbow room at the decision making table is nothing but an excuse to delay and procrastinate and eventually kill the technology.
On the face of it, no one can disagree with democratic decision making and pluralism. But, what is missing in all of this demand for pluralism is basic or rudimentary understanding of sciences and technology to take part meaningfully in such a debate or discussion. Another issue is how long one is going to debate over an issue? to eternity or till one gets a decision to their liking?
The debate about GMOs will not stop after this WTO decision. Now WTO is considered an undemocratic institution bruise the verdict went against EU, and actually against the anti-GM groups who have forced EU to behave the way it has for all these years. Had this decision gone against the US group, then WTO, perhaps, would been considered a virtuous organization by these anti-GM groupies. This has happened time and time again when the loosing party characterizes the verdict as unfair or high handed or undemocratic etc. In fact, US was not happy about WTO when a dispute resolution body in the case steel tariffs ruled against US interests. US refused to comply and was fined. I don't know if US paid those fines or what happened to the case eventually. EU has also lost several WTO cases in the past and has been fined for non-compliance.
Adjudicating institutions are a part of democratic institutions and are there to protect and preserve democracy or else, conflicting parties will carry on debating to eternity and never settle on any issue in our life times. Those who lose in such a democratic institution might sulk for a while, but must pick up and move on.
My hunch is that the anti-GM sentiment will not change because of this WTO verdict. On the other hand, it might reinforce their hardened positions. Someone once told me, you have to win to win, but don't win to lose. It remains to be seen who will be a real winner or a real loser in this instance.
More From Bob MacGregor - rdmacgregor.at.gov.pe.ca -
While the end of some mindlessly anti-GM policies in the EU is certainly reason to rejoice, I am less confident of the impact on consumer access to GM food products. During the time legal restrictions have been in place, a much more daunting set of barriers have emerged, namely, labelling and the strategic thinking of food retailers.
Because most GM foodstuffs that are currently available don't offer any obvious advantages to the ultimate consumer, then their labelled use can only have a neutral to negative impact on sales. Strategically, then, why would any food processor or retailer include GM ingredients if even a small percentage of the potential market might reject the product as a result? It will take a marked nutritional or price advantage in GM foods to overcome this consumer reluctance (touted environmental benefits of GM crops don't seem to carry as much weight with most consumers).
In the long term, removing the official ban might allow a slow growth in acceptance (particularly as feed grain and oilseed crops expand), but anyone who thinks GM cornflakes and soyburgers are suddenly going to flood onto European grocery store shelves after this decision is headed for disappointment; there is still a long, hard row to hoe in opening this market to GM foods.
Fair Play for GMOs
- National Post (Canada), Feb. 10, 2006 via Agnet
On Tuesday, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel, according to this editorial, struck a blow for reason and fairness by deciding that six European Union countries (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg) had been violating international trade laws by effectively banning the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for a six-year period, despite a lack of scientific evidence that these products pose any danger to the people who consume them.
It is worth noting, given that the GMO wars are usually portrayed as a battle between a corporatized America and a green Europe, that Canada was one of the countries responsible for the legal complaint that spurred the WTO's ruling. Canadian farmers have suffered as much as their American counterparts from lost export sales of genetically modified crops to the EU countries in question -- and all because the environmental activist crowd has successfully branded the food as politically suspect. It is heartening that these farmers, whose crops have never been shown to negatively affect a single person's health, will now have a chance to market their goods to willing buyers.
There is a good possibility that a large number of Europeans will continue to avoid GMOs since the irrational fear that GMOs are dangerous and unnatural is so well-entrenched there. But at least now it will be customers making the free choice of whether or not to buy GMOs, rather than governments imposing a ban. It may also be the case that the WTO's decision will lead Europeans to seek out more information about the foods they have vilified.
This would be a welcome development since a change of heart about GMOs could be good for the entire globe. As former U.S. president Jimmy Carter pointed out in a speech last fall, it is those people most in need of a hearty and reliable food source who suffer the greatest harm from the campaign to impugn GMOs. "We must combat the false propaganda of some European extremists who condemn the use of genetically modified seeds," Mr. Carter said in September. "Their misleading statements have been extremely dam9aging to Africa, where some misguided leaders have rejected such imports."
The WTO cannot force the leaders of starving countries to accept GMO food aid. But by levelling the playing field and giving GMOs the fair chance they deserve in Europe, the WTO is at least helping to set th e record straight.
Biotechnology: How to Set African Women Free
- The Monitor, Uganda, February 9, 2006
A trade dispute between rich nations could unlock the chains on the world's poorest farmers--meaning most African women: the World Trade Organisation's ruling on GM foods could help them conquer famine. The World Economic Forum published a ranking last year of 58 countries and their "gender gap," a big feature of the UN's Millenium Development Goals.
Only two sub-Saharan countries made the list, South Africa and Zimbabwe, at 36th and 42nd. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Niger, Ethiopia and many other places in Africa, millions of women, children and men were starving. In my country, Kenya, today, close to 3.5 million are in the verge of starvation.
Instead of having careers and au-pairs, most African women are subsistence farmers. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the population depends on agriculture as the sole source of income and women and children contribute 60-80% of the labor. After all these efforts, 30% to 90% of our crops are lost to drought, disease, pests, weeds and poor storage.
These women do not have modern labour-saving devices such as electric ovens and washing machines, so the remainder of their time is spent in more manual labor: fetching water and fuel, cooking and cleaning, and raising children.
But a rapidly increasing population far outstrips food production: right now 12 million Africans are starving and they are expected to reach 30 million in months.
It is not just drought and locusts that oppress us: weak property rights in most African countries means farmers have little incentive to invest in their land, no collateral for loans and no motivation to improve land they could lose from one day to the next. Women, generally, have even fewer property and financial rights.
Lately the HIV/Aids plague has more than decimated the farm labour so badly needed to increase food production, thus exacerbating aid-dependency, conflicts, ill-health, malnutrition and the resurgence of communicable diseases such tuberculosis and hepatitis.
The situation in wealthy countries could not be more different. Farmers (both male and female) sometimes constitute as little as 2% of the population yet food is abundant and farming has been modernised by high-yielding seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, good agronomic practices and machinery. Their market economies encourage profitable research and development and have the infrastructure for transport, refrigeration and trade.
Biotechnology has been the most rapidly adopted technology in agricultural history because of its social and economic benefits--but nowhere could these be greater than for women in poor countries in Africa and beyond.
Not only would better crop yields from biotechnology free women to engage in other economic activities and to get an education and thus reduce the gender gap, it offers important health and environmental benefits for poor countries. It improves the quantity and quality of food and cuts pesticides.
By increasing the intensity of crops, there is less pressure to convert marginal land to agricultural use and more chance of saving our rich biodiversity. Future technological developments promise plants that could withstand saline conditions, drought, pests and the other scourges of poor countries.
So it is easy to understand why biotechnology would help us in so many ways--but it is not that easy. A small group of activists has disproportionately affected the global debate on biotechnology, and particularly in the European Union, using enormous resources to generate scare stories that regularly appear in the news and affect government policy: Zambia rejected GM maize donated by the USA last year while its people were starving--the same corn that Americans and Canadians have been eating for years.
The WTO has ruled in favour of the USA, Canada and Argentina against the European Union's barriers to GM imports: this will have a direct effect on the ability of poor people to produce better food and to export it. But even if the EU barriers come down, origin and labelling rules will still threaten GM produce or even produce grown in a country with GM crops.
To overcome these barriers we must move away from the polarised positions that have defined the transgenic debate so far, to a rational discussion of GM food.
We African women hope that one day we might share the same concerns as our Western sisters about juggling careers and family life and attaining that elusive goal of gender equality. Right now, however, we face the problem of survival--and biotechnology offers a big part of the solution.
Dr Margaret Karembu is a senior researcher for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications AfriCenter, Nairobi
Cruel to Deny Africa A Hand Up
- Jennifer A. Thomson, Business Day (South Africa), Feb. 7, 2006 http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/opinion.aspx?ID=BD4A150831
The World Trade Organisation (WT0) is about to rule on the European Union’s (EU’s) resistance to genetically modified foods and this will have a direct effect on starving Africans.
Genetically modified foods are regarded with suspicion and opposition in Europe and among environmentalist nongovernmental organisations -- Greenpeace panicked Zambia into refusing free genetically modified maize from the US when stricken by famine in 2002, although Americans eat it all the time.
The EU tightly restricts imports to a very few genetically modified products so African countries would face yet another barrier to trade if they took advantage of the benefits of genetically modified crops. All this is based on the vague “precautionary principle” that allows undefined fears of undefinable consequences to be presented as evidence in EU law and UN conventions.
But rich countries have enough food. Should we allow them to dictate to us what is best for Africa? In Africa 70% of the population depends on agriculture as the sole source of income but Africa’s crop productivity is the lowest in the world and 25% of grain is imported. Worse still, yields are falling.
African scientists are tackling the challenge by developing genetically modified crops with increased yields. Africa is home to virulent plant diseases such as cassava mosaic virus and maize streak virus. In the 1990s Uganda lost nearly all its cassava (manioc) to cassava mosaic virus, which is spreading rapidly towards Nigeria, one of Africa’s biggest producers. Varieties of maize have been bred by conventional means to resist maize streak virus but this resistance often breaks down when grown in areas for which they are not entirely suitable. Scientists in our laboratories at the University of Cape Town (UCT), in association with a local seed company, have developed genetically modified varieties that are resistant to the virus.
Witchweed attacks the roots of crops such as maize and strangles them, making it almost impossible to remove by conventional weeding. Field trials in Kenya using a nonmodified maize variety coated with the herbicide imazapyr have proven successful. Other scientists are developing similar resistance using genetic modification technology.
And then we come to drought, one of African farmers’ greatest problems. I was recently talking to small-scale banana farmers in Kenya. When asked what the major constraint to production was, they all replied "lack of water". Attempts to breed crops tolerant to drought by conventional methods have not been successful so a growing number of scientists worldwide are working on the development of drought tolerance using genetic modification.
At UCT we are using genes from the indigenous South African "resurrection plant", Xerophyta viscosa, that grows in cracks in rocks. This plant can survive for long periods at 5% of its normal water content. It loses all its chlorophyll and looks completely dead but add water and within 72 hours the plant resurrects in an amazing display. The first genes we have introduced into transgenic plants show tolerance to dehydration, heat and salt.
Insect-resistant maize expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin has been successful in parts of SA, grown by small-scale and commercial farmers. As well as protecting the cobs from maize borers, it seems to protect them from post-harvest fungus infection. These fungi can produce toxins that can cause toxic hepatitis and oesophageal cancer in humans.
Other important initiatives in African laboratories aim to develop improved varieties of local crops such as cowpea, sweet potatoes, yams and sorghum. These are staples in many parts of Africa but, because there is no mass market for them, multinational companies have little interest in improving their yields: we have to develop them ourselves.
But Europe’s resistance to genetically modified foods is affecting Africa: not only are genetically modified imports banned but the unscientific fears have spread too. Kenya is considering halting experiments, Zambia continues to ban donations of genetically modified maize for famine relief and even SA, with 645000ha placing it among the top 14 growers of genetically engineered crops, faces new restrictive legislation.
Our big hope is that the forthcoming World Trade Organisation ruling -- in a case brought by Argentina, the US and Canada against the EU -- will open up trade in genetically modified crops and free us to exploit this opportunity to fight famine and increase trade.
African farmers already suffer from drought, disease, internal trade barriers, corruption and lack of property rights; refusing them the benefits of genetically modified food is a cruel and nasty trick.
Risk Perception: Eurobarometer Survey Report
- European Food Safety Authority, Feb 7, 2006
The Eurobarometer survey on risk perception was jointly commissioned by EFSA and the European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General (DG-SANCO).
Highlights from the report's conclusions include:
* Major food crises of the past (eg BSE, dioxins..) are not cited by consumers as being top concerns today;
* There is a high level of awareness of EU food safety regulations (>60%);
* Nearly 6 out of 10 agree that public authorities' decisions re food risks are science-based;
* 1 in 2 thinks that public authorities do a good job in informing citizens regarding food risks.
For more information on Eurobarometer surveys, see http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/index_en.htm
Risk perception and food safety: where do European consumers stand today?
For Europeans, food and eating are associated first and foremost with taste and pleasure. When consumers are asked what comes to mind in thinking about food only 1 out of 5 mentions health; furthermore, concerns regarding possible risks or disease are hardly mentioned at all spontaneously. When consumers are asked, more specifically, to cite any possible problems or risks associated with food, no single issue emerges for the majority of respondents. Major food crises of the past such as BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) do not seem to be top-of-mind today. In fact, few respondents (less than 1 out of 5) identify food safety issues spontaneously: amongst these, food poisoning comes to mind most often, followed by chemicals, pesticides and toxic substances and obesity.
A Training Course on Commercialization of Biotechnology Crops in Asia
'Moving from ideas to useful products in farmers' fields'
- June 19-23, 2006, Manila, The Philippines; Details at http://www.bic.searca.org/
Provide a comprehensive, in-depth understanding of the principles, approach, regulatory requirements, information needs, awareness-building techniques, and stewardship requirements for commercializing a biotechnology seed product for widespread farmer adoption. Provide opportunities to network with experts and to become knowledgeable about supporting resources in the region and worldwide, which are relevant to the commercialization of agricultural biotechnology
Pre-registrations may be made via email to - info.at.asiabiobusiness.com - by submitting your name, address, (sponsor, if applicable), phone and / or email. Closing date for pre-registration is March 31 2006.
ABB is pleased to offer a limited number of sponsorships for the course to public sector participants from developing countries, who are actively involved in research, regulation or commercialization of biotech crops. Please contact Asia BioBusiness for further details of the sponsorshop scheme at
Report Shows Decline in New U.S. Agri-biotech Products
- CropBiotech Update, Feb. 10, 2006 http://www.isaaa.org/kc
In the report "Withering on the vine: will agricultural biotech's promises bear fruit?" Gregory Jaffe, Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Biotechnology Project, presents the results of a study comparing the number and type of biotech crops approved for commercialization in the U.S. between the years 1995 and 2000, and the subsequent five years. The report concludes that despite a two third decrease in the number of applications filed since the year 2000, the time required for federal agencies to complete their review of biotech crops had doubled. In addition, most of the products filed after 2000 were not novel applications of the technology, but involved the use the same genes already approved for previous applications.
These "trends should worry those who believe that agricultural biotechnology can be used safely and can benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment in the United States, other developed countries, and in developing countries" says Jaffe. In order to reverse this trend, the CSPI makes five recommendations:
1. The federal government needs to ensure a more efficient review process, and include the adoption of streamlined regulatory procedures for crops engineered with genes already used in previous applications.
2. Public investment should be streamlined into research on traits and crops not pursued by the private sector, with aims of increasing the output of novel biotech applications.
3. The federal government needs to increase public investment in risk assessment and safety studies for crops ready for commercialization.
4. GM crops that address the specific needs of farmers in developing countries need to be developed. The U.S. and other developed nations need to increase public funding for agricultural research on such crops, and agricultural biotechnologies should invest part of their profits to developing technology beneficial to developing countries.
5. Steps should be taken to improve public acceptance of agricultural biotechnology.
To read the full article in pdf, access: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/withering_on_the_vine.pdf
Overview of WTO Ruling - Conclusions And Recommendations
The following summarizes the "Conclusions and Recommendations" section of the confidential draft ("interim") report of the WTO Panel in the GMO approvals dispute, issued February 7, 2006 which was apparently leaked and then posted on February 8 on the Internet.
* The section of the draft or "interim" report issued on February 7, 2006 to the parties (US, Canada, Argentina and the European Communities) and circulated widely on the Internet indicates that the Panel is set to find that the international trade rules of the WTO fully support trade in products of agricultural biotechnology for planting, processing and marketing subject to science-based regulation.
* Key findings include:
- Current WTO rules, principally the SPS Agreement, cover restrictions on trade in products of ag biotech, including pre-marketing approval regulatory regimes like that maintained by the EC.
- Other considerations raised by the EC in its defense, including the Biosafety Protocol, do not alter the EC's WTO obligations to the parties to the dispute.
These two points are critical, as some have argued in the past that biotech products are not "covered" by the WTO Agreement, and that new rules would need to be negotiated to address them.
- Since 1998 the EC maintained a general ban on approvals of new ag biotech products and that ban violated the SPS Agreement.
- There was undue delay as a result of product-specific bans on 24 products in the regulatory pipeline during the period reviewed by the panel. The EC violated its obligations under the SPS Agreement by maintaining those product-specific bans.
- The nine Member State marketing and import bans on products already approved for sale in the EC violated the EC's obligations under the SPS Agreement.
- The Member State measures are not justified by the precautionary principle – as the EC's own scientific committees reviewed and approved these applications, there is nothing "insufficient" about the scientific evidence.
* As in all WTO cases in which a violation is found, the EC would be required to eliminate these trade restrictions to the extent they are still in place. The Panel acknowledged that, although the EC has approved one or more GMOs since the dispute began, the EC might have continued to apply an amended general ban on GMO approvals.
* The Panel's findings are clear that a politically-motivated ban on GMO approvals, whether in the EC or elsewhere, cannot be maintained consistent with WTO obligations.
Specific References And Citations
The Panel has found that the EC procedures for the approval of GMOs set out in Directives 90/220 and 2001/18 are SPS measures covered by the SPS Agreement. Regulation 258/97 is also, in part, an SPS measure. (Paragraph 8.4)
General Moratorium (Paragraphs 8.13-8.16, 8.33-8.36, 8.49-8.51)
The Panel found that the EC applied a general de facto moratorium on approvals of products of agricultural biotechnology between June 1999 and August 2003, when the Panel was established. (Paragraph 8.6)
With respect to Directives 90/220 and 2001/18, the Panel concluded that the general de facto moratorium resulted in a failure to complete individual approval procedures without undue delay, and therefore violated the EC's obligations under Article 8 and Annex C of the SPS Agreement. The Panel reached the same conclusion with respect to Regulation 258/97 to the extent the approval procedure addressed safety aspects. (Paragraph 8.6)
The Panel found that the approval by the EC of a relevant biotech product after the Panel had been established ended the general moratorium, so it did not feel the need to recommend that the EC bring the general moratorium into compliance with its WTO obligations. (Paragraph 8.16) The Panel did acknowledge, but did not reach, the question whether an amended general moratorium continues to exist. (Footnote 1962)
Product-Specific Measures (Paragraphs 8.17-8.20, 8.37-8.40, 8.52-8.55)
In addition to the general moratorium, the Panel found that the EC improperly failed to consider for final approval applications concerning 24 of 27 biotech products identified by the Complaining Parties for which the EC had commenced approval procedures, thus violating the EC's obligations under Article 8 and Annex C of the SPS Agreement regarding undue delay. (Paragraph 8.7) To the extent that these applications are still pending, the Panel recommended that the EC bring itself into compliance with its obligations. (Paragraph 8.32)
Member State Marketing and Import Bans (Paragraphs 8.21-8.32, 8.41-8.48, 8.56-8.64)
The Panel found that the nine marketing and import bans imposed by six Member States on GMOs already approved by the European Commission were covered by the SPS Agreement, violated the Member States' obligations under Article 5.1 (not based on risk assessment) and were not justified by the allowance for temporary precautionary measures embodied in Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement because the Panel found sufficient scientific evidence was available to permit a risk assessment. (Paragraph 8.9) Accordingly, the Panel found that the nine Member State measures are inconsistent with Article 2.2 of the SPS Agreement. (Paragraph 8.10) The Panel recommended that the EC bring the Member State measures into compliance with its WTO obligations. (Paragraphs 8.32, 8.48, 8.64)