Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 5, 2006
* Columnist biased against GMO, US
* Where is the choice?
* Biotech industry accuses GM event of lacking balance
* Let Them Eat Precaution
* Study detects guilt in the produce section
* Organics not so great, team says
* Monsanto reports record 2nd-qtr sales
* New wheat cultivars to meet yield challenge: Grains Week 2006
Columnist biased against GMO, US
- The East African, By Peter Gakinyua
The anti-business article "Genetically modified foods a threat to humanity" (The EastAfrican March 27-April 2) was a surprising choice for your newspaper. Businesspeople are opposite types to neo-Marxist author and activist Vandana Shiva. Ms Shiva may know something about genetically modified seeds, but has little business or economic sense, something common with neo-socialists.
The latter subscribe to the "better Red than fed" theory of agri-business. Few techniques in history have been responsible for as many tens of millions of deaths by famine as socialist agriculture, and certainly not agricultural multinationals. Most anti-GMO activists are actually practising "watermelon politics" - green environmentalist on the outside but red socialist inside.
They have to conceal their socialism in "greenery," as nobody would otherwise listen to them. What drives most GMO activists is plain anti-Americanism. Ms Shiva has nothing to say about socialist China, which is the largest grower of GM cotton in the world - that's a "communist" country, so GM is fine for them, and ditto socialist Cuba which has an active GMO laboratory programme.
Best was Ms Shiva talking glowingly about French "activist farmer" Jose Bove. We all know that the absurd antics of French and other European farmers are killing off horticulture and floriculture businesses in East Africa that hundreds of thousands of Africans depend on for their livelihoods. Hopefully East Africans, as business-minded people, will take all this anti-GM, anti-US hysteria with a dose of realism and rapidly formulate GM friendly policies.
Vienna Conference on Co-existence between GM and Non GM crops: Where is the co-existence?
Where is the choice?
- EuropaBio Press Release, April 5, 2006 (Via Agnet)
Speaking from the Austrian Presidency Conference on Co-existence between GM and Non GM crops in Vienna today,Simon Barber, Director of EuropaBio’s Plant Biotechnology Unit commented; “So far today, I have heard little about co-existence and very little about real choice. The only speaker to make any sense of this issue is Commissioner Fischer Boel, it is helpful that she addressed the real issues of co-existence.”
“It must frustrate many in Europe that others, such as Commissioner Dimas spoke about issues that are irrelevant to co-existence such as environmental risk assessments for approvals of new products; co- existence is about existing approved products,” says Barber. “The Commissioner appears to be confused about the facts; he misinformed the audience by telling them that “terminator technology” is being sold and by stating that “small farmers are being put out of business by GMOs. The evidence shows that out of the 9 million farmers growing GM crops worldwide, 90% of them are small scale farmers.”
“Furthermore, it is not up to Commissioner Dimas to decide whether EU consumers do or don’t want GMOs. Survey after survey shows that they want choice. Farmers and consumers can act for themselves. Speaking at a conference entitled “Freedom to choose” comments by Mr Graefe Zu Baringdorf MEP that farmers are being “forced” to use GM technology are simply wrong. It does however appear there are many here today who wish to deny ANY choice to farmers.”
Co-existence between GM and non-GM crops has been a success in Europe for years and there is no substantiated evidence to the contrary. “In Europe alone, there are thousands of farmers and dozens of scientists with real field experience of successful co-existence who were not asked to share their knowledge at this conference,” continued Barber.
EuropaBio agrees with the Commissioner for Agriculture that establishing binding EU wide rules on co-existence for farmers who would like to grow GM crops is not the solution.
Biotech industry accuses GM event of lacking balance
- Nutraingredients.com, By Anthony Fletcher, 05/04/2006
The Vienna conference on genetically modified (GM) crops will lack meaningful debate because key experts have not been invited, according to Europe's leading biotech industry body.
The event, entitled 'Co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops - Freedom of choice' opens today in Vienna but already it appears that the context of the debate has been called into question.
"It is ironic that a conference that is labelled as freedom of choice does not include any of the thousands of farmers or independent scientists with co-existence experience in the speakers line up," said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio - the European association for bioindustries.
"Furthermore several farmers who requested a platform to speak were denied the opportunity."
Nonetheless, the European Commission is hopeful that the conference, which forms part of the Commissions consultations with interested parties on the development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence, will achieve real progress.
The Commission says it is keen to hear the views of all stakeholders before drawing any final conclusions.
"This conference is a crucial step in the consultation process," said Mariann Fischer Boel, commissioner for agriculture and rural development.
"We have brought together people of the very highest calibre to cover all aspects of the co-existence issue. Efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence are vital to ensure a practical choice between GM and non-GM produce for farmers and consumers.
"This is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe. But segregation measures must be in place to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in conventional or organic products are kept within the strict ranges defined by EU legislation."
But EuropaBio is concerned that the debate has been slanted in favour of those opposing GM crops, and that not every viewpoint will be heard.
"Thousands of European farmers grew GM last year, successfully co-existing with their neighbours - yet they were not invited to present their practical experience," said Barber.
"In the last three years alone, independent, scientific studies on co-existence have been conducted in six European countries yet these scientists with field experience were not invited to present their findings."
The debate comes at a critical time. EU Member States are currently developing national regulatory approaches to co-existence following the EC's adoption of an overview of the state of implementation of national co-existence measures last month.
The Commission believes that dialogue is now essential to decide about the most appropriate way forward on this important issue.
The three-day conference hopes to achieve this by bringing together policy makers, scientists and a broad range of stakeholders, such as farmers and consumers associations, NGOs and seed producers.
Speakers at the event will include Stavros Dimas, commissioner for the environment and Josef Prll, Austrian minister for agriculture, forestry, environment and water management. Three workshops will discuss different national and regional approaches to co-existence, technical and economic aspects of segregation and consumer attitudes and market responses to GMOs.
Let Them Eat Precaution
What the WTO Decision on GMOs Really Means
- AEI, By Jon Entine, April 4, 2006
Call it “the spin wars”. In a leaked interim report in February, the World Trade Organisation sided with Canada, Argentina, and the US, ruling that the European-wide ban on bio engineered crops has more to do with protectionism than precaution. But that’s not what you’d believe if you relied on the hysteria-grams flooding the internet.
Greenpeace blasted the WTO as “unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues”. Friends of the Earth scowled “European safeguards” were being “sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations”. The Consumers Union lambasted the “pre-emptive effort to chill the development of new policies for regulating GM crops”. The WTO, they chorused, is a puppet of nefarious biotechnology corporations aligned with bully nations force-feeding Europe with “Frankenfoods”.
Let’s separate the chaff from the wheat. If this 1,045-page report is upheld, Europe will not have to alter a single regulation or label. Consumers will not be forced to buy and eat food that they do not want. The WTO will demand the EU observe its own regulations--using sound science to evaluate new products. That has not been happening. European countries have been exploiting the controversy to protect their farmers and keep prices high.
Anti-GMO campaigners have been on the attack since the first generation of biotech crops--soybeans, wheat, cotton, and canola that generate natural insecticides, making them more resistant to pests and drought and reducing reliance on environmentally harmful chemicals--were introduced more than a decade ago. Why? Primarily because corporations brought them to market.
Solution to malnutrition
We are now entering the second phase of the revolution--addressing malnutrition and aiding smaller farmers. Nutrition-enhanced foods such as “Golden Rice” could help millions of malnourished children suffering from vitamin A deficiency. On the horizon are futuristic “farmaceuticals”--medicines made by melding basic agriculture with advanced biotechnology, creating new foods, such as potatoes transformed into edible vaccines against diarrhoea, a leading cause of death in the developing world.
Yet, in a dark, parallel universe of the privileged, egged on by “ethical investors” and funded by the organic and natural product industries, which thrive on food scares, protestors cite the lowest common denominator in fabricated scientific disputes: the “precautionary principle”--the controversial notion that innovations should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided. They assert “Trojan Horse” genes could unleash a “genetic Godzilla,” causing environmental havoc.
Slogans like “better safe than sorry” may ring of moderation, but they are simplistic. The WTO acknowledged as much, ruling there is no mainstream scientific support for the precautionary principle, but leaving the door open to handling the GMO issue differently “if new scientific evidence comes to light which conflicts with available scientific evidence.”
Every activity involves risk. Conventional farmers use chemicals that have unknown long-term consequences. Should we ban conventionally grown foods? People die and fall ill eating organic foods caused by fecal contamination from dung--a “natural” fertilizer. Should we remove these products from the shelves? We are not about to stop vaccinating infants because of the unfounded fear that inoculations cause harm. Do we really want to make profound decisions not on the basis of what we know but on the basis of what we do not know?
There have been no documented health problems linked to GM crops and no evidence that genetic modification poses greater risks than crossbreeding and gene-splicing, which have given us such products as the tangelo and seedless grape. Noting that biotech crops are just as safe and healthy as conventional crops, and can be grown with less environmental hazard, the United Nations has urged their extension to the developing world.
Back on their heals, anti-GMO groups have attempted to reframe the debate in starkly political terms, citing the Biosafety Protocol, which Greenpeace claims should allow countries “to ban or restrict the import and use of GE [genetically engineered] organisms when there is a lack of scientific knowledge or consensus regarding their safety”. But this “international law” is actually only an extra-legal declaration.
The WTO saw through this hyperbole, pointedly writing: “There has been to date no authoritative decision by an international court or tribunal which recognises the precautionary principle as a principle of general or customary international law.” Should the Biosafety Protocol become law, studies have shown it would be a disaster for developing countries (and a boon for protectionist-minded Europe).
The hypothetical risk of biotechnology has to be balanced against the lives lost because new products remain trapped in a regulatory maze. In 2002, Zambia and Zimbabwe, wary of offending their major trading partners in the EU, cited the “precautionary principle” in rejecting donations of bio-engineered grain that could have helped feed ten million undernourished people, thousands of whom ultimately died.
Today in the Philippines, where 42% of the diet comes from white rice, a study by UN food experts estimates that “Golden Rice” could avert 879 deaths, 1,925 corneal ulcers, and 15,398 cases of night blindness each year. A Philippine-based anti-biotechnology group with ties to Greenpeace has aggressively lobbied against “Golden Rice” on the grounds that the benefits from beta-carotene are minimal--claims rejected by scientists.
Popular with the people
We should also be sceptical of polls suggesting consumers, particularly in Europe, are dead set against these innovations. “If you really want to understand whether European shoppers will buy genetically modified foods given the opportunity, ignore the agents provocateurs, the media, and the panicked reactions of the big supermarket chains, and look instead at the behaviour of ordinary consumer,” says David Bowe of the European Parliament’s committee on environment, public health and consumer policy. “When Safeway and Sainsbury’s put GM tomato purée side by side with their non-GM counterparts in 1999 the proof was definitely in the purée. The GM product was seen to offer real added value. It was less expensive and in numerous blind tastings consumers seemed to prefer the flavour. It sold as well as the non-GM product.”
Even with this WTO ruling, political realities suggest this subterfuge may not end soon. Greece and Hungary recently announced they would defy EU regulations and broaden their bans on GM-modified maize seeds, citing “toxicity.” No scientific research was presented to back up this allegation.
While not a silver bullet, GM technology offers unique tools to address international food needs. Biotech crops are grown mostly in major farming nations but farmers in developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, and in Eastern Europe, with hungry stomachs to feed, are vigorously embracing the technology. Last year, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grew biotech crops on 222 million acres, an 11% year-onyear increase.
There are valid concerns, including the degree to which corporations should be allowed to patent beneficial seeds, keeping in mind that Monsanto, Bayer, Novartis and other firms need to recoup their development costs, which have multiplied exponentially because of the country by-country, complex and repetitive approval process.
But years of demagoguery have taken an enormous toll--polluting public opinion, profoundly altering the trajectory of biotechnology applications and damaging the financial wherewithal of corporations and university research projects. The biggest losers are the children, frozen out of the benefits of the green revolution that many of us take for granted.
Jon H. Entine is a scholar in residence at Miami University (Ohio) and an adjunct fellow at AEI.
Study detects guilt in the produce section
- The Toronto Star, by Susan Sampson, April 5, 2006 (Via Agnet)
According to a new study, 14 per cent of Ontario women feel a little guilty when they buy cheaper, conventionally grown fruit and vegetables for the family instead of organic produce.
The Pollara Inc. study also found that organic vegetables cost about 40 per cent more. And eight out of 10 women say it's challenging to provide healthy, nutritious food for the family while sticking to their household budgets.
Researchers surveyed Ontario women and went comparison shopping March 11 to 18 in four cities. On their list were items such as iceberg, romaine and leaf lettuces, white and red potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and celery. Organic produce cost 43.5 per cent more in Toronto and Hamilton, 38 per cent more in Hamilton and 37.5 per cent more in Kitchener.
The story says that the study was conducted for a vested interest, CropLife Canada, who is on a campaign to counter "food snobs" who say organic produce is safer and nutritionally superior. The study found that 77 per cent sometimes buy or consider buying organically grown fruits and vegetables, 22 per cent believe organic produce is more nutritious, and 21 per cent buy organic because of pesticide concerns.
The study notes that in 2004, fewer than 1 per cent of fruit and vegetables tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had pesticide residue levels above the limits set by Health Canada.
Organics not so great, team says
- The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo), by Brent Davis, April 5, 2006 (Via Agnet)
Armed with surveys, statistics and 13 pounds of carrots, registered dietitian Lois Ferguson and home economist Mary Wiley swung through Kitchener, Ontario on a media tour yesterday, saying that consumers are making misguided choices when it comes to choosing between organic and conventional products.
Wiley was quoted as saying, "I'm sad and sometimes frustrated when I hear that people are making purchase decisions based on misinformation."
The pair were speaking on behalf of CropLife Canada, the association representing manufacturers, developers and distributors of "plant science innovations" -- the pest control and plant biotechnology products typically used in conventional agricultural operations.
Speaking with a reporter at The Record yesterday, Wiley and Ferguson were cited as saying they're not anti-organic although critics argue this campaign is a sure sign that conventional agriculture feels threatened by the growing organic sector.
St. Marys-area farmer Ann Slater, president of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, was quoted as saying, "There's been more of an intentional campaign over the last year or so to discredit organic. It's sort of a backwards compliment to the realization we are making some impact."
Slater acknowledges that organics still represent only a small percentage of the total market. Statistics from the 2001 census say only 21 farms of a total of 1,444 in Waterloo Region were producing certified organic goods.
Ferguson was cited as saying some consumers choose organic produce because they believe it's healthier and safer than genetically modified or chemically treated goods and that's not the case, adding, "The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food says there's no conclusive evidence there's any difference in nutritive value."
And she pointed to the results of Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests showing that more than 80 per cent of sampled fruits and vegetables contained no detectable amounts of pesticide residue.
University of Guelph crop scientist Ann Clark was cited as saying she believes organic sales are being driven by fear -- and rightly so, adding, "People no longer trust institutional authorities' judgment that something is safe. And concern about the safety of pesticides is not from tree-huggers and Greenpeacers and flaky wingnuts . . . it's from very sedate analysis."
Clark was further cited as saying there's a disturbing lack of consistency and impartiality in the ways pesticides are assessed and approved in Canada.
A recent price comparison undertaken in four Ontario cities, including Kitchener, shows that organic items like carrots, potatoes, lettuce and broccoli cost an average of 40 per cent more than conventional vegetables.
For $4, Wiley and Ferguson purchased four pounds of organic carrots at a local grocery store yesterday morning. They bought nine pounds of conventionally grown carrots for the same price.
Ferguson was further quoted as saying, "If a person is focusing on organics, but they're limiting variety or quantity because of price, then it's not a healthy decision for their family."
Monsanto reports record 2nd-qtr sales
05 April, 2006
KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - news)on Wednesday said it had record sales for the second quarter, with profits driven by strength of its genetically modified seeds and newly acquired vegetable business.
The agricultural products company said it earned $1.60 a share for the second quarter, which ended February 28, compared to $1.37 a share a year earlier. Analysts, on average, were looking for $1.51 a share, according to Reuters Research.
Net income totaled $440 million, compared with $373 million a year earlier.
St. Louis-based Monsanto said net sales totaled $2.2 billion, compared to $1.909 billion a year earlier.
New wheat cultivars to meet yield challenge: Grains Week 2006
- CSIRO, 5 April 2006
The Grains Council of Australia's Grains Week program will highlight the most important domestic and international issues faced by the grains industry.
Researchers will apply modern technology to conventional wheat breeding methods to meet yield challenges threatening Australia’s grains industry.
CSIRO Plant Industry’s Dr Richard Richards says it is anticipated that the development of new wheat varieties would increase annual yield by two per cent, thereby upholding current profitability levels.
He says collaborative research efforts led by the CSIRO and Australia’s Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) would create new wheat cultivars through the application of physiology and biotechnology to traditional breeding methods.
'While conventional breeding methods will remain the cornerstone of plant improvement in Australia’s wheat industry, new varieties will evolve as a result of research to enhance grain yield and the genetic protection against diseases while retaining or improving grain quality,' Dr Richards says.
In other approaches, contemporary breeding methods using molecular and physiological tools would produce new wheat varieties that would be available to farmers more rapidly than before.
New wheat genetic material containing yield enhancing traits from overseas sources is also being introduced into Australia and will be widely used in breeding programs to overcome genetic weaknesses and abiotic limitations including environmental conditions.
Dr Richards will discuss breeding options to increase Australian wheat yields at the Grains Week 2006 Research Symposium in Canberra on April 6.
He will discuss:
- conventional and contemporary wheat breeding methods;
- key national and regional players in the wheat breeding contest; and
- new yield enhancing traits that will be introduced into improved wheat varieties.
Dr Richard Richards will discuss how current and future breeding efforts will lead to increased wheat yields at the Grains Week 2006 Research Symposium.
When: Thursday April 6
Time: 1:15pm to 4:00pm
Location: National Convention Centre, Canberra