Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 4, 2006
* cassava to improve livelihood
* Battle over GM produce moves to new grounds
* EU must be realistic on GM crop co-existence - SCIMAC
* EU asks for more info on corn testing
* Corporate Social Restriction
From: "Jose Bezerra"
Subject: cassava to improve livelihood
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2006 14:43:11 -0300
The First International Symposium on Cassava Breeding, Biotechnology and Ecology to be held in Brasilia (capital of Brazil), from 11-15 November, 2006 has its theme: Cassava improvement to improve livelihood in Africa subsahara and Northern East Brazil. The details of the second call are available at http://www.geneconserve.pro.br/meeting2/
Prof.Dr. Nagib Nassar
Battle over GM produce moves to new grounds
- The Herald, DAN BUGLASS, April 04 2006
Farmers and consumers should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions as to whether they want to grow or consume food that has been produced from genetically modified crops.
That is the stance to be taken today in Vienna, Austria, at a major international conference by the UK-based organisation the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops.
The very concept of growing GM crops, which advocates claim require significantly reduced levels of chemical input, has been strongly resisted throughout the Euro-pean Union. Trial plots in the UK have frequently been sub-ject to protests and damage.
However, Bob Fiddaman, who farms in Herefordshire and the current chairman of SCIMAC, believes that a more rational approach is necessary.
"With GM crops now grown on more than 90 million hectares in 21 different countries around the world, it is hard to square the technology's progress made with claims by opponents that these foods would be consigned to history by 2004".
Fiddaman argues there is scope for both conventional and GM crops. He said: "Co-existence is about choice, not prejudice, and we will be arguing strongly for practical arrangements to be grounded in reality. Although the UK has yet to consult on the co-existence issue, we have watched with disbelief and dismay as other EU member states have blatantly sought to use the entire topic as a political barrier to the development of GM technology."
Many leading agricultural scientists reckon the world will have to embrace GM tech-nology to feed a burgeoning global population. There are no reservations in China, but Fiddaman remains concerned at the attitude of the EU.
"In certain regions of Austria, co-existence has been proposed as a pretext for simply banning GM crops, In Slovenia, it was suggested that access to agri-environment schemes should be made conditional on not growing GM crops. Other member states have seen fit to impose an arbitrary, upfront tax, on farmers planning to grow GM crops."
A great irony of the ongoing debate is that Golden Promise, a variety of barley developed in the UK during the early 1960s, was a result of a breeding programme using gamma radiation on an old established strain – Maythorpe. Golden Promise is still grown in Scot-land, albeit on a limited scale, for a premium malting market for one leading distillery. The view among plant breeders is that in the current political climate, Golden Promise would be designated as definitely a GM variety.
NFU Scotland takes a neutral attitude, according to press officer Anna Davies. She said: "It is customers who dictate how farm businesses operate. If GM varieties get the green light, it may give farmers another option. But ultimately they would have to judge the reaction of their customers.
"But in the same way that customers can choose whether or not to buy products with GM material, farmers should have the choice of growing these crops, especially if their competitors elsewhere can."
The global dimension is also shared by Fiddaman: "Europe's farmers must face the reality that as international trade barriers are dismantled and support for production is progressively dismantled, denying fair access to the same tools as our competitors is like asking us to operate with one hand tied behind our backs."
EU must be realistic on GM crop co-existence - SCIMAC
- SCIMAC News Release, 3 April 2006
If Member States fail to adopt sensible and realistic measures for the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, EU agriculture risks becoming a technological backwater and an international laughing stock, warns UK supply chain group SCIMAC ahead of a major EU co-existence conference taking place in Vienna from 4-6 April.
Two SCIMAC representatives have been invited to participate, and the group has issued its ten key points on GM crop co-existence as a practical view of the issues at stake.
SCIMAC Chairman, Hertfordshire farmer Bob Fiddaman, explained the group’s objectives:
‘Co-existence is about choice, not prejudice, and SCIMAC will be arguing strongly in Vienna for practical arrangements to be grounded in reality.
‘SCIMAC does not regulate the safety of GM crops – that’s the role of scientists and regulators. Nor are we responsible for fixing thresholds to distinguish between GM and non-GM products. Again, that’s the job of politicians and regulators.’
‘But SCIMAC does represent those sectors of the agricultural supply chain, from plant breeders and seed merchants through to farmers and grain handlers, who will deal with the issue of GM crop co-existence in practice. We have issued our ten guiding principles to cut through the campaigning rhetoric and propaganda, and set the issue of co-existence in perspective.
‘Although the UK has yet to consult on the co-existence issue, we have watched with a mixture of disbelief and dismay as other Member States have blatantly sought to use co-existence arrangements as a political barrier to the development of GM crop technology.
‘In certain regions of Austria, for example, co-existence has been proposed as a pretext for simply banning GM crops. In Slovenia, it was suggested that access to agri-environmental payments could be made conditional on not growing GM crops. Other Member States have seen fit to impose an arbitrary, upfront tax on farmers planning to grow GM crops.
‘With GM crops now grown on more than 90 million hectares in 21 different countries around the world, it is hard to square the technology’s progress with predictions made by opponents that GM foods would be consigned to history by 2004.
‘Europe’s farmers must face that reality as international trade barriers are dismantled, support for production is progressively withdrawn and increasing environmental demands are placed upon us. Denying fair access to the same tools as our overseas competitors is like asking us to compete with one hand tied behind our back.
‘Effective co-existence means farmers can make a genuine choice between growing conventional, organic and GM crops. It should not be treated as a pro- or anti-GM issue – the aim of co-existence is to permit choice and freedom to operate whatever the production method involved.’
- ends -
The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a grouping of UK industry organisations representing farmers and the agricultural supply trade. Member organisations share a commitment to the open, responsible and effective introduction of GM crops in the UK.
SCIMAC membership comprises the National Farmers Union, British Society of Plant Breeders, Crop Protection Association and Agricultural Industries Confederation.
Click http://www.scimac.org.uk/Holding page downloads/SCIMAC-co-exist06.pdf to download a copy of the new SCIMAC leaflet ‘GM crop co-existence in perspective’.
The 10 key points on GM crop co-existence set out in the leaflet are:
1. Co-existence is an economic issue – it is not about safety
All GM crops must undergo rigorous, science-based safety assessment on a case by case basis prior to their approval for commercial cultivation. Co-existence is not therefore concerned with safety, but with the implications for farmers of meeting market requirements in the context of a statutory 0.9% GM labelling threshold.
2. The need for co-existence measures will be determined by market demand
GM crops offer another choice for UK farmers, who will only choose to grow them if it makes economic sense for them to do so. If there is no market demand, GM crops will not be grown in the UK.
3. A zero threshold is not achievable, but practical tolerance thresholds work
In every crop sector, from certified seed to mainstream commodity production, practical tolerance levels are applied to define a crop’s end-use quality and value according, for example, to its varietal purity or freedom from unwanted material.
4. Co-existence is not a new concept in farming
The agricultural supply chain is currently able to service a range of market channels with different labelling and/or quality requirements, eg:
- certified seed and non-seed (commodity) crops
- industrial and food grade oilseed rape
- sweetcorn and forage maize
In each case, well-established practices are in place to deliver co-existence, including neighbour to neighbour communication, separation distances between crops, and careful segregation during harvest, storage and transport.
5. Co-existence is not a one-way street
Since farming takes place in the open air, co-existence depends on well-established measures to ensure the integrity of crops destined for different market outlets. In practice, this involves mutual co-operation between farmers who share a vested interest in delivering products to meet their customers’ requirements.
6. GM growers cannot reasonably be expected to bear responsibility for the self-imposed marketing standards of others
SCIMAC accepts that GM growers must bear the initial responsibility for delivering co-existence measures in line with the statutory 0.9% GM labelling threshold. Where voluntary marketing standards specify a lower threshold, however, GM growers cannot reasonably be held to account for these additional, self-imposed criteria.
7. GM crops introduce no new liability issues
The key to effective co-existence is a sensible, agreed definition of good practice to define the boundaries of negligence and due diligence in respect of GM and non-GM crop production. This is the basis for existing principles of liability within UK law. Once GM crops are approved as safe for commercial release and marketing, there are no grounds to suggest they should be treated differently – in liability terms – from other equivalent non-GM products.
8. Experience of growing GM crops in other parts of the world confirms that co-existence is achievable
Where GM crops are grown commercially on a large scale in other parts of the world, there is no evidence over the past 10 years of farmers routinely suing each other or claiming compensation. Spanish farmers, for example, are now growing more than 60,000ha of GM maize without any specific provision for liability or compensation, nor any evidence over the past six years to suggest such a regime is necessary.
9. No one can predict whether new price differentials will emerge or be sustained between GM and non-GM value chains
With the prospect of commercial GM cropping in the UK still some years away, SCIMAC would challenge the assumption that GM crops will always and inevitably trade at a discount. In Spain, for example, there is currently no price differential between GM and non-GM maize, other than on regular quality parameters. Where no price differential exists, there may be no potential for economic loss or liability.
10. Gene flow data offers a high degree of confidence that breach of labelling threshold would be extremely rare
Based on the wealth of practical experience and scientific data now available, SCIMAC takes the view that breach of the 0.9% GM labelling threshold would be extremely rare where all farmers have complied with the respective co-existence measures. If GM (or non-GM) farmers are at fault through misuse of product or non-compliance, however, they should bear any responsibility - and cost.
Bob Fiddaman, SCIMAC Chairman 07770 935117
Daniel Pearsall, SCIMAC Secretary 01733 231133 or 07770 875455
EU asks for more info on corn testing
- Associated Press, April 4, 2006
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union asked Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta AG on Tuesday to give it more information about its testing to detect and prevent an unauthorized version of genetically modified corn from entering the EU.
The request came after EU researchers raised doubts about the reliability of data used in testing for Bt10 genetically modified corn.
Markos Kyprianou, EU health and consumer protection commissioner, sent a letter to Syngenta "to clarify the situation as soon as possible and provide the Commission ... with all the necessary information."
In a statement, the Commission said "the most recent information on the structure of Bt10 received ... from Syngenta was inconsistent with earlier information provided."
It added, "this has led the (EU's) joint research center to express doubts about the reliability of the detection method."
The EU head office raised alarm last year after finding that animal feed imported from the United States containing the banned Bt10 product had made its way to EU countries between 2001 and 2004.
The food scare led to the EU imposing a ban on suspect U.S. corn gluten imports after Syngenta acknowledged it had accidentally sold Bt10 to U.S. farmers.
The U.S. government has called the EU measure an overreaction and said the biotech product was neither a health nor an environmental hazard. European nations, however, have been particularly wary of allowing the marketing of genetically modified food and animal feed following an array of food scandals over the past decade.
The Commission, working with Syngenta approved a new testing method last April, to ensure no more Bt10 products made their way into the 25-nation bloc.
To avoid the ban, all imports of brewer's grain and corn gluten must be tested prior to leaving the U.S. and have a certificate that they are Bt10-free, said EU spokesman Philip Tod.
The imports to the EU from the United States were worth some $419 million in 2004. About 1,000 tons of animal feed containing the corn were thought to have entered the EU since 2001.
The Commission said its EU laboratory would "re-evaluate the detection method" to see whether changes were needed "to ensure full reliability."
Corporate Social Restriction
- Tech Central Station, By Carlo Stagnaro and Lawrence A. Kogan, 04 Apr 2006
In recent years Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a mantra. A complex movement has been campaigning throughout Europe for high labor, environmental, and human rights standards, even though it is not quite clear what 'is meant by "high". The movement comprises Western trade unions, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and human rights activists who have little faith in the ability of private companies and free markets to generate wealth and improve living conditions for all workers. In fact, these groups believe that there exists a threshold beyond which a company's profits become too high, inequitable, and even immoral.
The CSR movement has grown to become a potent regional political force, and has thus far succeeded in causing many companies to "voluntarily" adopt or develop programs that have nothing at all to do with their core businesses. They range from special commitments to environmental and labor conditions, to aid initiatives in developing countries that are often accompanied by information and education-based campaigns. Notwithstanding the costs incurred and distractions suffered by such companies in pursuit of CSR, many critics within the CSR movement are still not satisfied.
Sensing that companies are employing CSR disingenuously as a mere advertising façade to cover up their otherwise socially bereft conduct, CSR activists have sought to raise the level of "public accountability". They now want the current voluntary benchmarks converted into something more concrete: mandatory requirements. Their goal, simply, is to impose upon companies third-party monitoring and enforcement systems, thus providing themselves with an ample source of future employment, to ensure that pure and unadulterated CSR is practiced company- and region-wide. And they have enlisted none other than national governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, which endorse public "naming and shaming" campaigns in order to "smoke out" (expose and extinguish) corporations' heretical practices. The movement is especially strong in the European Union, where the Commission is expected to and often does embrace every request.
If you combine the political agenda of the CSR movement and the political power of the European Commission, the result may well be explosive. In fact, Europe's business climate is already less-than-welcoming. There continues to be a persistently low rate of economic growth and technological innovation, and a dramatic rise in the number of costly regulations that require strict company compliance. It is no surprise, then, that European companies have chosen to invest significantly less on local research & development than their American and Asian counterparts.
If recent media reports are any indication, perhaps the Commission has finally awakened from its largely self-imposed stupor, and has discovered the distinctly negative influence that the movement has had on European corporate performance. Indeed, Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günther Verheugen might have been so startled by what he found when he actually took the trouble to look, that he "moved [the Commission] towards a more pro-business view on CSR over the past year." This change of heart has resulted in last month's launch of the "European Alliance for CSR". The alliance focuses on enterprises as the "primary actors in CSR". This is an elegant way of signaling that, at least for the time being, CSR is and should be the business of companies, and not the business of NGOs or the Commission. "The Commission has opted for a voluntary approach which is more effective and less bureaucratic," Verheugen said. "Since CSR is about voluntary business behavior, we can only encourage it if we work with business."
CSR proponents, such as the European Trade Union Confederation and Friends of the Earth, attacked Verheugen as a hijacker of CSR. Despite his attempt to implement a soft move from the old to a new concept of CSR, however, one must seriously question the Commission's ability to stay the course in the face of rabid NGO opposition. No matter how one "packages" CSR the problem of unmasking its true identity will remain, as long as the core issue underlying CSR is left unresolved: what is the social responsibility of a business? According to renowned economist and Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business -- to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud." Although this makes perfect sense in the increasingly competitive and low-margin global marketplace in which companies operate, regionally-focused and regulatory-minded NGOs and EU bureaucrats abhor it.
If a business has any "social" corporate responsibility at all, it is owed to the shareholders and debt-holders who keep it going. Plus, in order to survive and flourish another day so that it might later consider redeploying excess profits to "social philanthropic causes", a business must also competently serve its market constituents. If Jean Q. Consumer is different from Jean Q. Citizen, then the products and services a company offers for sale may also need to be different. For instance, Jean Q. Consumer may only want high quality and performance-driven goods and services at an affordable price, while Jean Q. Citizen might not be so concerned. He might instead demand only goods and services with a "high" level of environmental, labor and human rights protections, for which she would be willing to pay a higher price, even though she does not quite know what those protections really mean. Is it substantively different than "low" standards? How is this measured? Who makes such a determination? Is it verifiable and truthful?
In the end, the decision to purchase one rather than the other of these types of products or services is part personal and part market-driven. And, despite what the NGO community often claims, there exists no moral difference between the companies that respond to these different demands. Indeed, one may argue that each such company is socially responsible.
EU bureaucrats and European NGOs recognize the truth about market influences, and have developed ways to distort it. One such way is to identify artificial distinctions between products and services, such as "low" and "high" environment, worker, and human rights content, and to falsely claim that the former are not socially responsible because they pose unacceptable health and environmental hazards to the public. When this distortion rises to the political sphere as the result of well-organized and funded NGO public fear campaigns, it is usually doomed to turn into anti-business regulations that raise costs to all businesses, harming both shareholders and consumers. Firms that suffer from harmed reputations become fearful, risk averse, less competitive, and protectionist in nature. As Professor David Henderson, formerly head of the Economics and Statistics Department of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Organization, has said, "insofar as this trend weakens enterprise performance, limits economic freedom and restricts competition, the effect is not only to reduce welfare: it is to deprive private business of its distinctive virtues and rationale".
Mr. Kogan is CEO of The Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (http://www.itssd.org), Inc. Mr. Stagnaro is Free Market Environmentalism Director of Istituto Bruno Leoni (http://www.itssd.org).
- Wall Street Journal, By JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI, April 4, 2006
In the annals of shareholder activism, what happened at the Goldman Sachs meeting on Friday was just a footnote. But footnotes are often worth reading. Hank Paulson, Goldman's CEO, came under fire for the firm's environmental policies -- not as a corporate predator despoiling the earth, but for saving it at shareholders' expense. Steven Milloy, an executive at the Free Enterprise Action Fund, had claimed that Goldman's policies are anti-growth, harmful to shareholders and designed to advance Mr. Paulson's personal causes. He objected to Goldman's gift of 680,000 acres in Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society, calling it a conflict of interest because Mr. Paulson is chairman of the Nature Conservancy, which works with the society, and has a daughter, Merritt, who sits on the society's board of advisors. (Mr. Paulson's post as chairman emeritus of the Peregrine Fund, which saves birds of prey, seems an altogether more useful interest for a CEO and did not figure in Mr. Milloy's complaint.)
According to several accounts, Mr. Paulson batted away the charges with a simple defense: The board did it, not me. He was not even part of the discussions of the Chilean land deal. Mr. Milloy's proposal got a minuscule portion of the vote. No harm, no foul; end of story.
But there is foul, and there may be harm. Leaving aside the merits of Goldman's environmental policy -- I am all for saving planet earth, but still am not sure Goldman should unilaterally allocate shareholder assets to the cause -- Mr. Milloy raised serious concerns. It's ludicrous to suggest that Goldman's board acted alone, as if directors didn't know of Mr. Paulson's involvement with the conservancy or his advocacy of environmental causes. No one who makes it into the board room of a place like Goldman is unfamiliar with the time-honored strategy of gaining influence by showing interest in the CEO's interests, be they golf or global warming. Why wouldn't directors rubber-stamp Mr. Paulson's green causes?
Furthermore, while corporations are increasingly giving strategically, to positively affect their business, CEOs still hold sway. Much corporate philanthropy is far more aligned with their social ambitions than with shareholder interests. There are no studies to prove this, of course. But the society pages hold a clue: It's the CEO who is toasted at benefits and photographed for posterity. How often is the source of the funds -- the pockets of shareholders -- even mentioned?
Ms. Dobrzynski, a former reporter and editor at the New York Times and Business Week, is a writer in New York.