Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: February 21, 2006
* Zimbabwe not importing genetically modified food: official
* Nobel Laureate To Be Honored During February 2006 Event
* San Diego Union Tribune article
* Enhanced food is answer to food security
* What's best for U.S. growers?
* EFSA opens up to discuss future of GM in Europe
* Time Running Out for WTO on Trade Talks
* Forget organics, just eat more veg, says food adviser
Zimbabwe not importing genetically modified food: official
- People's Daily (China), February 21, 2006
Zimbabwean Minister of State for Land Reform and Resettlement Didymus Mutasa has denied the press reports that the southern African country had started importing genetically modified foods from Argentina.
Mutasa said in a statement that "To be honest, I have never heard of that. They would have to consult with me but no one has done so. That policy (against unmilled genetically modified maize) is steadfast, we continue to maintain it. It has not been reviewed and the cabinet has not changed its position," he said.
Zimbabwe and many other countries in the region are suspicious of genetically modified foods, particularly concerning the health of consumers.
In recent weeks, press reports were saying that the United States was set to coerce African nations to accept genetically modified foods following the World Trade Organization (WTO)'s ruling that the European Union was breaking its rules by barring genetically modified food and seed entry into that region.
Earlier this month, Zimbabwe's National Economic Consultative Forum, in conjunction with the Biosafety Board of Zimbabwe, held discussion series on the implementation of biotechnology for enhancing agricultural output, which featured an American expert on the issue of genetic modification, Prof. Tom de Gregori.
The outcome of the meeting was inconclusive on whether the country is to change its stance on genetically modified foods.
Nobel Laureate To Be Honored During February 2006 Event
- Danforth Center, February 20, 2006
St. Louis, February 20, 2006 - Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, often referred to as the "Father of the Green Revolution" in agriculture, will receive the Danforth Award for Plant Science in recognition of his life-long commitment to increasing global agricultural production through plant science. The groundbreaking work by his research team and colleagues from around the world reversed the chronic food shortages suffered by India and Pakistan in the 1960s and led to his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Borlaug recently received the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor, from U.S. President George W. Bush on February 13, 2006, and he was honored by the Government of India on January 26, 2006 with the Padma Vibhushan - India's second highest national award. "Dr. Norman Borlaug is a distinguished scientist and agricultural historian with a vision for how technology can directly impact the lives of people of the world. Many of the crops consumed throughout industrialized nations are hybrid strains that were advocated by Dr. Borlaug," said Dr. Roger N. Beachy, President of the Danforth Center. "His ability to see how planting high-yield crop hybrids, implementing fertilizers and pesticides, and utilizing improved irrigation would dramatically improve the lives of people was revolutionary in the 1950s. Today, it is the foundation upon which plant science is building future innovation."
The Green Revolution is a term that was coined in 1968 by William Gaud, then director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to describe the agricultural movement that called for the use of technology to increase agricultural production. Led by Dr. Borlaug, the Green Revolution began in 1945 when the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government established the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program to improve Mexican agricultural output by developing improved strains of wheat, rice, maize and other cereals. The program was so successful that Mexico went from importing half its wheat in 1945 to exporting half a million tons of wheat in 1964. Building on the program's success in Mexico, it was expanded to India and Pakistan in the 1960s and today Green Revolution practices are used throughout the developing world.
"Norman Borlaug has brought more benefit to more people than anyone in my lifetime and shown how science can serve humanity. He is a hero and the role model for us at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center," said Danforth Center Chairman, Dr. William H. Danforth. "That one man can have such a profound impact on the world is nothing short of overwhelming. It is a pleasure to once again host Dr. Borlaug at the Danforth Center, and a true honor to recognize his incredibly important lifetime of achievement."
Dr. Borlaug's return to the Danforth Center is a homecoming of sorts, as he joined former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in July of 1998 to celebrate the founding and launch of the Danforth Center, and returned in February 2002 to view the completed construction of the Danforth Center building.
The public is invited to hear Dr. Borlaug present a lecture entitled "From the Green to the Gene Revolution: Our 21st Century Challenge" on February 21, 2006 at 4PM in the SBC Auditorium at the Danforth Center. Prior to the start of his presentation he will be presented with the Danforth Award for Plant Science. The Danforth Award for Plant Science recognizes a prominent national or international leader for outstanding achievement and service in the conduct and/or advocacy of science for the benefit of agriculture, food, nutrition or human health. Previous recipients include Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, Principal Syngenta Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology Inc., Dr. Ernie Jaworski, former Interim President of the Danforth Center, and Dr. Peter H. Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Individuals interested in attending the February 21 lecture and awards presentation should call 314/587-1070 to make reservations.
About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. Research at the Danforth Center will enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply, and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri.
Please visit www.danforthcenter.org for additional information.
Dear Dr. Prakash,
The following opinion piece by David Schubert was published in the San Diego Union Tribune last week. I found it to be remarkably offensive in its insinuation that scientists working in plant biotechnology who do not believe that biotech crops pose a human safety threat are guilty of fraud and misconduct. The author, who is a neurobiology professor at the Salk Institute, appears to claim that the biotech industry has orchestrated a campaign of falsified journal articles in order to co-opt a "consensus of scientists" holding the viewpoint that genetic modification of traits may cause serious health problems in animals and humans, and that consequently government regulations and oversight should be strengthened.
The article would be laughable if its untruths weren't being presented on the editorial page of the leading newspaper of the nation's seventh largest city, and by someone in a position of ostensible credibility as a professor at a respected research institution. If I were a member of the public uneducated on this issue and read the article I would be very concerned that a great cover-up of known, serious health consequences was occurring. Something like this deserves a serious response. Allegations of scientific fraud cannot be taken lightly, and crying wolf in this manner jeopardizes the credibility of science as a whole.
Peter B. Heifetz,
Enhanced food is answer to food security
- Times of India, Feb 20, 2006
Saying 'no' to tech-enhanced food is tantamount to rejecting technology per se. Technology by itself cannot be good or bad; only its application can be subject to value judgment.
In its first phase, agricultural biotechnology applications by genetically modifying crops to have weed-resistant or pest-resistant properties benefited farmers in the US (where it was first introduced) by repelling insects and controlling weeds.
The success of genetically modified (GM) crops has revolutionised farming practices in the US, significantly reducing the use of harmful pesticides and weedicides that tend to permeate the environment and add to costs and increasing yield.
The safety record of the decade-long cultivation and consumption of GM crops in the US vindicates the position of agro-biotechnologists and seed companies that have had to face severe opposition from critics who decry intervention in natural processes.
The non-intervention argument falls flat on its face since intervention is already a ubiquitous part of our lives in almost every sphere.
Babies are made through assisted reproduction techniques, diseases are being overcome and lifespans are being extended through medical intervention, shelf life of perishable foods are being extended through refined refrigeration techniques, even the green revolution of the 60s was the result of human intervention to produce hybrid, higher-yielding varieties.
To move from pest-resistant crops to those that are engineered to produce more nutritious wheat or tomatoes is the next logical step in our endeavour to improve the quality of life through innovation and ingenuity.
Vitamin A enriched rice, transfat-free foods, non-allergenic crops, cancer-fighting tomato and nutritious potato can help alleviate the suffering of millions to whom eating right through choice is not an option.
'Smart' food made available in free midday meal programmes in schools will ensure attendance while helping improve child nutrition. When the ideal like organic food is too expensive, unavailable or difficult to grow, only biotech food can save the day.
What's best for U.S. growers?
- Corn & Soybean Digest, February 21, 2006, By Barb Baylor Anderson
Both U.S. corn and soybean growers have found benefits in biotech trait seed — greater yield potential, simpler weed and pest control and improved handling safety.
But who bears the cost of the technology has become a point of considerable debate, especially in Iight of illegal biotech soybean seed use in South America the last several years.
Biotech traits, such as the Roundup Ready trait in soybeans, are considered intellectual property (IP), and are protected by U.S. patents. Part of the research and development (R&D) cost of the technology is recouped through technology fees paid by growers in the U.S., but not necessarily by foreign competitors, including those in Brazil and Argentina.
"Monsanto patented Roundup Ready soybeans in the U.S., but was not able to obtain patent protection in Argentina. Farmers in Argentina and (until recently) Brazil have been able to plant Roundup Ready soybeans without paying the technology fee that U.S. producers have had to pay, and have been able to keep harvested soybeans for use as seed," says Dermot Hayes, who together with fellow lowa State University (ISU) economist Sergio Lence recently completed a comprehensive study on the effect of IP protection on agricultural seed companies, producers and consumers.
Since the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans, ISU's Hayes points out that South American soybean producers have made gains in market share at the expense of U.S. growers. The report cites American Soybean Association (ASA) officials who have confirmed, "Brazilian farmers receive all of the cost-saving and yield-enhancing benefits without paying for the right to use the technology, and have a distinct comparative advantage over U.S. soybean farmers in competing in the global soybean market."
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service also cited by the ISU economists concluded, "The cost savings to South American soybean growers on the technology fee alone nets out to about $8-9/metric ton — a considerable cost advantage over U.S. soybeans in the highly competitive international soybean market."
In the report, Lence and Hayes contend effective IP protection is needed to encourage private agricultural seed companies to continue to invest in R&D that will bring new technologies to farmers worldwide. But at the same time, the industry must find the balance between enticing new investment and protecting the farmers helping to pay for it.
"The agricultural seed market is unique," says Lence. "lt's not like the medical sector where the customer directly consumes the benefits of the newly developed technology. lnstead, farmer customers sell the resulting crop from the newly developed technology into a competitive market. Higher yields encourage them to purchase seed each year."
The model designed by the researchers allows them to calculate the economic impact on producers and consumers of changes in the level of IP protection under various scenarios. lt also measures the effect on seed companies, both while legal protection exists and after protection ends.
The model identified that a level of IP protection exists at which the combined interests of consumers and producers are complementary to the interests of seed companies. The model also found a level where the combined economic benefit to producers and consumers can be increased only at the expense of the seed companies.
"Our results suggest the optimum level of IP protection is greater than what existed in the North American market in the late 1990s," says Hayes. "lt also shows companies need to have incentives to develop new products or there won't be any. U.S. farmers lose if they pay the R&D and the technology goes to South America. Companies and property rights need to be protected in South America, too, so South American farmers have to help pay for R&D and U.S. farmers pay less."
Lence notes that the study results indicate technology fees that are charged in one country (the U.S.) and not in another (such as Argentina) are harmful to producers in the first country when spillover is high.
"Neither producers in the first country nor R&D firms have incentives to promote, finance or develop technologies that can be easily adopted in countries with protection," he explains. "The resuits also suggest that this outcome is unfortunate, because total world welfare is expected to be higher when transferable R&D is conducted."
EFSA opens up to discuss future of GM in Europe
- Bakeryandsnacks.com, By Anthony Fletcher
Europe's food safety authority is holding a high level meeting with scientists this Wednesday to discuss the future development of Genetically Modified (GM) food within the bloc.
Scientists from environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been invited to share views on scientific and procedural issues related to the authority's work and advice in this field.
Herman Koter, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)'s acting executive director, will chair the meeting.
The summit comes just days after a WTO ruling backed the US, Canada and Argentina in their efforts to open Europe up to genetically modified (GM) food.
In August 2003, the US, Canada and Argentina took the EU to the WTO for suspending approvals for biotech products, and for six member states national bans on EU-approved GMOs.
The WTO ruled earlier this month that any ban on GM imports contravened the rules of free trade.
Both the European biotechnology industry and the European Commission have welcomed the decision. "The industry continues to back a science-based regulatory system to ensure farmers have the choice to use sustainable techniques that best meet the needs of their farming operations," said EuropaBio, the European association for biotech industries, in a statement.
But some anti-GM campaigners remain convinced that Europe does not want GM food. It is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable the Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.
The meeting, which will be held in Parma, Italy, will therefore provide an opportunity for NGOs to express their concerns. Presentations will be given on topics related to the risk assessment of genetically modified food, including environmental aspects.
Equally, EFSA will use this opportunity to explain fundamental concepts of hazard characterisation and risk assessment.
The objective of the meeting is to consider if there are issues of a scientific or technical nature that the authority may wish to take into account in the further development of its work and operating procedures.
EFSA believes that the meeting illustrates the agencys willingness to dialogue with interested parties on scientific matters in line with EFSA's policy on openness and transparency. The authority says that it is committed to exchange and collaboration with all of its stakeholders, including those who may hold different views.
Time Running Out for WTO on Trade Talks
- Associated Press, February 20, 2006
Diplomats have pledged to make changes, negotiators have promised to work together, and ministers have embarked on a hectic series of meetings. But with time running out for the World Trade Organization to wrap up its current round of trade liberalization talks successfully, there is still little sign that the major players are giving the necessary ground to get things moving.
The process has been at an impasse for months. The European Union and other rich countries are demanding greater concessions on industrial goods and services from developing countries like Brazil before they cede ground on access to their own farm markets. But Brazil, India and others insist that Brussels must make the first move.
Observers say there's not enough time before a final year-end deadline to achieve the original ambition of slashing tariffs and subsidies, opening global markets to international trade flows and helping the world's poorest people _ even though WTO ministers say they have agreed on a series of bilateral talks that should enable them to make progress.
"We've already lost much of the ambition of the Doha round. It's not an ambitious round," said David Woods, director of the Geneva-based World Trade Agenda Consultants. "There is a generalized inability to make deals, to take political pain back home."
At a December meeting in Hong Kong _ a key stage in the round of talks started in 2001 in the Qatari capital _ WTO members set a schedule to reach their target by the end of 2006. The first major deadline is the end of April for agreeing on a formula for cutting tariffs and subsidies.
Members also insist that despite repeated delays _ including admitting that they would be unable to agree on that formula at the Hong Kong meeting _ the ambition of the round shouldn't be reduced. Ministers are now holding a flurry of bilateral meetings to try to get the talks back on track.
But this doesn't necessarily reflect the real state of the talks, which are now so far behind schedule that WTO ministers are racing against time even to come up with a limited agreement, observers say.
"It is highly unlikely that the sort of detail that is needed will be agreed by April _ not just because there is a lot of it and it's technical _ but because the major players are still holding back, waiting for the other ones to move first," said Amy Barry, spokeswoman for aid agency Oxfam.
Part of the rush is that the 149 WTO members want to finish the substance of the agreement by the end of this year, so they can wrap up the loose ends before the July 2007 expiration of "fast-track" authority. That authority means the U.S. Congress must accept or reject international deals as a whole and cannot accept or reject specific measures.
After that, U.S. trade officials will have more problems pushing deals through, making it much more difficult to get the approval of the U.S., the world's biggest trading power.
"Trade negotiators are not likely to finalize a comprehensive trade round before the U.S. fast-track authority expires," said Philippe de Pontet, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington. "Furthermore, the negotiating deadlines agreed to in Hong Kong may not be realistic, as the parties involved have not yet determined a framework, never mind the actual product-by-product negotiations on tariffs and subsidies."
Many WTO members have blamed the impasse on EU intransigence over cutting import tariffs on farm goods, but analysts say this is far from the whole picture.
Although spats between the EU and the United States have dominated the headlines _ most recently when a WTO panel supported Washington over EU restrictions on imports of genetically modified foods _ the problem may actually lie with major developing countries like Brazil and India, who are stalling on easing access to their markets while demanding greater concessions from their richer trading partners.
"At the end of the day, everybody has to give something to get something. The only exceptions are the least developed countries, quite reasonably so," explained Woods.
"The rest of the developing world seems to think that they also have a right to do next to nothing, whilst developed countries open their markets. It's not going to happen, it never was."
The world's poorest countries say the series of rows between the EU and United States distracts attention from their needs.
If the Doha round fails to deliver, developing countries will focus on bilateral agreements, which are less difficult to conclude than a multilateral WTO deal but bring fewer economic benefits.
"Developing countries will increasingly turn their attention to bilateral and regional free trade agreements, many of which will focus on Asia," de Pontet said. "This trend is already well under way, but it will accelerate in the face of Doha delays."
Forget organics, just eat more veg, says food adviser
- THE GUARDIAN, By James Randerson, February 21, 2006
The former head of the government's food watchdog has criticised the focus on organic food in efforts to improve school dinners. He said money could be better spent by buying fresh conventional produce rather than spending it on more expensive organic varieties.
"My advice would be not to worry about the organic, but worry about your kids having more vegetables," said Sir John Krebs, who was head of the Food Standards Agency until April last year.
"I totally admire what Jamie Oliver has achieved in trying to turn around the whole approach to school meals," said Sir John, "but nevertheless I would say if local authorities and schools are strapped for cash I think money would be better spent increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables and meals that contain lower salt and lower fat, than specifically spending it on organic."
In an interview with the Guardian Sir John said there was no scientific evidence that organic food was healthier, either because it contained more nutrients, or because conventional foods had pesticide residues on them. He added that public protection bodies across Europe, including Austria, France and Sweden, had come to the same conclusion.
Supporters of organic farming reacted angrily to the comments. "(He) turns round and says, 'well it would be much better to eat three portions of spinach a week than switch to organic' - this is, I think, an intellectually flawed argument," said Lord Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association.
Sir John also criticised the way that campaign groups and the food industry distorted scientific evidence to suit their cause. "If you look you can always find some experts who are prepared to take a contrarian view which goes against the mainstream," he said. "I think that's very common and it's not just the industry that might selectively quote information, but also the pressure groups."
Another tactic, he said, was to conflate different issues. In the case of GM food, the potential environmental risks were confused, he thought deliberately, with human health concerns. "Saying it may be bad for some obscure beetle is not going to excite people as much as saying it may be bad for your children," he said.
An independent review of the FSA carried out by Lady Barbara Dean last year concluded that on the organic and GM issues "the vast majority of people consulted felt that the FSA had deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence".
Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch said: "They just regarded the FSA's stance under Krebs as prejudiced in favour of GM and against organics. I think that perception was almost universal."
However, Sir John said this was a survey of opinions about the FSA, not its actual performance. "I have been portrayed in the media as being pro-GM, which is actually quite untrue," he said. He occupied a middle ground in favour of assessing potential risks scientifically. "Because it is quite a polarised debate that neutral view is generally portrayed as 'well, if you are not against it you must be for it'. There are people who don't like that because the science goes against their belief."
'My advice would be not to worry about the organic, but worry about your kids having more vegetables' Sir John Krebs