Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

April 19, 2006

Subject:

Power of a Good Example; Costs of Biosafety; Gaining Acceptance; Science, Politics and the GM Debate; EU Precaution; High School Students Get It

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - April 19, 2006

* Africa: Potential of Genetically Engineered Crops
* Biotech Products Not (Yet) Embraced Around The World
* Science, Politics and the GM Debate in Europe
* GM in Developing Countries – Institutional and Policy Challenges
* Transgenic Crops, EU Precaution, and Developing Countries
* Costs and Enforcement of Biosafety Regulations in India and China
* High School Students' Report on AgBiotech

--

Africa: Potential of Genetically Engineered Crops

- Mbae Lawrence, Kenya Times, April 19, 2006 http://www.timesnews.co.ke/

As the proponents of biotechnology have been crusading that genetically engineered crops could relieve hunger around the world, there are some evidence that biotech crops really could make a difference, at least in southern Africa.

Corn is a staple crop throughout the region, including countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe, where production has been steadily declining. In most African countries, people rely on corn for up to 60 percent of their diet despite corn yields being terrible by world standards, not to mention US standards.

Lack of commercial fertiliser is part of the problem, but so is the lack of pesticides to control the stalk-destroying insect larvae so familiar to US growers.

Farmers in South Africa started using Bt corn, bioengineered to kill corn borers, and it is making a meaningful difference for both large, commercial farms and small-scale growers, according to a report by economists at the Agriculture Department and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Yields on large farms have increased about 11 percent with small-scale farmers also benefiting more often.
Yields for small farms shot up as much as 56 percent in two areas of the country, the report found.
Increases in four other regions varied from 7 percent to 47 percent. To put this in perspective, the average corn yield in South Africa, which has the region's most productive farmers by far, is less than three tons per hectare, or well under 50 bushels per acre.

Biotech corn only started to take off in South Africa in 2001 and 2002. Last year, farmers planted about a million acres of the crop, or about 15 percent of their production, according to Monsanto Company.
Theoretically, these increased yields should be good news to farmers in other southern African nations.
In some countries, in fact, the USDA-Rutgers study says Bt corn could reduce food shortages significantly.

In Lesotho, for example, where the average corn yield is about one-third of South Africa's, Bt corn could increase food consumption by 16 percent and that’s if Bt corn only boosted yields by 11 percent, the increase reported by South Africa's large farms. Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe also could see significant impacts. Bt corn "can benefit Africa because it can substantially increase crop yields and reduce pesticide use," the report concluded.

Trouble is that farmers there aren't likely to be planting biotech seeds for a long time. South Africa is struggling with how to get the seeds in the hands of small-scale farmers since majority can't afford the cost.
It's tough for companies to cut their seed prices because of the cost of dealing with the thousands of small farms, the report say.

In South Africa, every farmer who buys biotech corn seed must sign a contract identifying where they are growing the crop and spelling out how they will comply with planting restrictions intended to prevent insects from becoming resistant to the plant's toxin.

The problems facing farmers in other countries are more basic with some of the countries avoiding growing biotech corn for fear they will never be able to sell their crops to Europe, where opposition to biotechnology is strong.

Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola have either refused to take donated US corn or insisted that it be milled first while other countries have yet to take any steps towards allowing the cultivation of biotech crops.
In east Africa, Kenya is testing biotech corn and other crops whereas; Burkina Faso and Mali are moving towards production of Bt cotton in the west.

According to Calestous Juma, a native Kenyan who is an expert on biotechnology and international development at Harvard University, genetically modified seeds will ease as farmers hear about the growers' experience in South Africa and China. "You can't underestimate the power of a good example," he added.

*************

Biotech Products Not Embraced Around The World

- Gene Lucht Iowa Farmer Today, April 18, 2006

Grinnel - There is a long history of rejection of new products and new technology in the world, so Iowa farmers shouldn’t be surprised the biotech products they embrace haven’t been embraced all over the world.

"There has been a very dramatic adaption of new technology (biotech crops)," says Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development and director of the science, technology and globalization project at Harvard University.

But, he says acceptance of the new technology has been slower in Africa than in some other parts of the world. There are a variety of reasons for that slower rate of acceptance in Africa, Juma explains. But first, he says, U.S. farmers need to understand while they have quickly accepted biotech, they haven't always accepted all new technologies so quickly.

Margarine, he says, was fought by the farm community in Iowa for many years. Coffee was fought by many governments and peoples through the centuries. Many other scientific ideas have been rejected or delayed for years because the public or the government or other parts of society rejected or resisted them.

In Africa, there are many issues. One of the largest is the perceived benefits are in the distance while the risks are perceived as immediate -- losing markets in Europe, higher costs for seed at home. Another issue is if it appears the benefits of a new technology will go to a small percentage of the population while the risks go to everyone, there will be problems.

Juma, who spoke here last week as part of the John Pesek Colloquium on Sustainable Agriculture, adds acceptance of biotech products in Africa faces a few additional problems. One is there are comparisons to colonialism. One of the selling points of colonialism was the introduction of better technology. Anything that strikes Africans as a new colonialism will have trouble gaining acceptance.

Access is also very important. Most early biotech products have been expensive and have been in four crops -- corn, soybeans, cotton and canola -- which are not staple crops in large parts of Africa.

There are also questions of control and monopolies. Large U.S. or European biotech and seed companies have not done a good job of partnering with local African businesses, Juma says. That has led to a higher rejection rate by the public which sees this as something being pushed on them from outside.

There are also questions of compatibility with local technology and culture, of political opposition from some governments, and from the identification of market opportunities.

And, much of this isn't unique to biotech crops. "We're going to see the same debate in other areas, such as nanotechnology," Juma says.

**********************************************

Science, Politics and the GM Debate in Europe

- F. Tencalla,. 2006. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.44: 43-48.

Europe today stands at a crossroad, facing challenges but also opportunities. In its intent to make Europe a leading technology based economy by 2010, the European Commission has identified biotechnology and genomics as fields for future growth, crucial for supporting the agricultural and food processing industry.

Since first commercialization in 1996, GM crop areas have grown at double digit rates, making this one of the most rapidly adopted technologies in agriculture. However, in contrast to other world areas and despite European Commission support, Europe has found itself 'bogged-down' in a polemic between opponents and supporters of plant biotechnology. As a result, planted areas have remained small.

This stalemate is due to a lack of political leadership, especially at the Member State level, all the more surprising in light of European early development and competitive advantage with crop biotechnology. This situation proves once again that, for cutting-edge innovations, a solid science base alone is not suffcient. Acceptance or rejection of new technologies depends on interlinked political, economic, and societal factors that create a favorable or unfavorable situation at a given time.

This article will look at GM crops in Europe and the role science and politics have played in the introduction of crop biotechnology.

**********************************************

Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries – Institutional and Policy Challenges

- International Journal of Technology and Globalisation (IJTG), Special Issue: Vol. 2, Issue 1/2, 2006; Guest Editor: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

Download papers at http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/research.cfm?program=STPP&project=STG&pb_id=537
----
* Introduction: Global actors, markets and rules driving the diffusion of genetically modified (GM) crops in developing countries - Sakiko Fukuda-Parr
* The evolving rights to intellectual property protection in the agricultural biosciences - Brian D. Wright, Philip G. Pardey
* Living the promise? The role of the private sector in enabling small-scale farmers to benefit from agro-biotech - Diane Osgood

* The GMO experience in North and South America - Greg Traxler
* Transgenic crops, EU precaution, and developing countries - Kym Anderson, Lee Ann Jackson
* Are genetically modified (GM) crops a commercial risk for Africa? - Robert Paarlberg

* Changing intellectual property regimes: implications for developing country agriculture - Brian D. Wright, Philip G. Pardey
* A analysis of Bt corn's benefits and risks for national and regional policymakers considering Bt corn adoption - Felicia Wu
* Costs and enforcement of biosafety regulations in India and China - Carl E. Pray, Bharat Ramaswami, Jikun Huang, Ruifa Hu, Prajakta Bengali, Huazhu Zhang

***********

Transgenic Crops, EU Precaution, and Developing Countries

- Kym Anderson and Lee Ann Jackson (University of Adelaide and World Trade Organization) Int. J. Technology and Globalisation, Vol. 2, Nos. 1/2, pp.65–80. Excerpt below.. Full paper at http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/BCSIA_content/documents/ijtganderson.pdf

Abstract: Agricultural biotechnologies have the potential to offer higher incomes for farmers in developing countries and lower-priced and better-quality food, feed and fibre. That potential is being heavily compromised, however, because of strict regulatory systems in the European Union and elsewhere governing transgenically modified (GM) crops. This paper examines why the EU has taken the extreme opposite policy position on GM food to equally affluent North America, what has been the impact on developing country welfare of the limited adoption of GM crop varieties so far, and what impact GM adoption by developing countries themselves could have on their economic welfare.

The pace of improving the productive efficiency and quality of the world’s food crops had been slow up until the 19th century. Then, following a century of wheat improvements, hybrid varieties dramatically increased average corn yields from the 1940s and dwarf varieties of high-yielding wheat and rice caused what became known as the Green Revolution in Asia and elsewhere from the 1960s .

Those technological developments of the past six decades contributed to an acceleration of the long-term decline in real international food prices to below 1930s’ levels by the late 1980s which in turn led to complacency about the need for further agricultural R&D. As a result, growth in public funding for such research fell substantially in both rich and poor countries – despite overwhelming evidence that this is a very high payoff investment area (Alston et al., 2000). In particular, the aid agencies and foundations reduced their support for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and for complementary national agricultural research systems in developing countries – which quickly led to fears that food crop productivity growth would slow .

The emergence in the 1990s of new agricultural biotechnologies, and in particular transgenic crop varieties, seemed to offer new hope that the private sector might fill this lacuna. But to those early hopes were added three other concerns. One was that a small number of huge biotech firms would capture most of the gains from the new agricultural biotechnology. A second was that those firms would not invest in poor countries where profits would be slim because of poor protection of intellectual property rights and small commercial seed markets.

And the third concern was that Europeans and others would reject the technology because of environmental and food safety concerns, thereby thwarting export market prospects for adopters of the transgenic crops. That third concern was vindicated by the European Union’s imposing in late 1998 of a de facto moratorium on the production and importation of food products that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It helped to constrain widespread adoption to just three GM food or feed crops (maize, soybean and canola) in three countries where production had already taken off by 1998, namely the USA, Argentina and Canada. Even when the other important GM crop is added (cotton), those three countries continue to dominate.

True, the EU replaced its moratorium in May 2004 with new regulatory arrangements, but they involve such onerous and laborious segregation, identity preservation and labelling requirements as to be almost as restrictive of exports of GM products as the moratorium was. With a number of other countries also imposing strict labelling regulations on GM foods, biotech firms are increasingly diverting their R&D investments away from food. At the same time, the public agricultural research system has remained shy about investing heavily in this technology – including the CGIAR which depends heavily on rich-country grants from EU member states.

* why did this 'Gene Revolution' begin with maize, soybean and canola (along with cotton) rather than with the world’s most important food crops, namely wheat and rice?
* why has the European Union (EU) taken an extreme opposite policy position on GMOs to equally affluent North America?
* what has been the impact on developing country welfare of the limited adoption of GM varieties so far and of the EU’s reaction to that? * what impact could GM adoption by developing countries themselves have on their economic welfare, including if and when GM varieties of wheat and rice also are made available?

Each of these questions is addressed in turn, drawing on empirical data and some simulation results from a model of the global economy, before the paper concludes with some policy implications from the analysis. China and India are the most significant developing countries to consider, in the sense that they house the majority of the world poor, they comprise almost one-third of the world’s production and consumption of grain (and even more of cotton), and they (especially China) have the potential to rapidly apply and disseminate this new biotechnology. But Sub-Saharan Africa is also of crucial concern, given its extreme poverty and strong dependence still on agriculture for employment and export earnings and, in some cases, on food aid imports (which could be problematic if food provided as aid is not GM-free, as was the case for US shipments to Southern Africa in 2002).

7 Conclusions and policy implications
From the viewpoint of developing countries, the above results are good news. The new agricultural biotechnologies promise much to the countries willing to adopt these new varieties. Moreover, the gains from farm-productivity enhancing GM varieties could be multiplied – perhaps many fold – if biofortified GM varieties such as golden rice were also to be embraced . The estimated gains to developing countries are only slightly lower if the EU’s policies continue to effectively restrict imports of affected crop products from adopting countries. More importantly, developing countries do not gain if they impose bans on GM crop imports even in the presence of policies restricting imports from GM-adopting countries: the consumer loss net of that protectionism boost to Asian and Sub-Saharan African farmers is far more than the small gain in terms of greater market access to the EU .

The stakes in this issue are thus very high, with welfare gains that could alleviate poverty directly and substantially in those countries willing and able to adopt this new biotechnology. Developing countries need to assess whether they share the food safety and environmental concerns of Europeans regarding GMOs. If not, their citizens in general, and their poor in particular, have much to gain from adopting GM crop varieties. Unlike for North America and Argentina, who are heavily dependent on exports of maize and oilseeds, the welfare gains from GM crop adoption by Asian and Sub-Saharan

African countries would not be greatly jeopardised by rich countries banning imports of those crop products from the adopting countries. If the reason for China’s reluctance to approve GM food crop varieties for domestic production is because it wants to restrict approval to indigenously developed GM varieties so as to capture the intellectual property earnings domestically, then one can only hope – for the sake of their consumers and farmers – that such varieties will be ready soon (and that India and subsequent potential GM adopters will be willing to use Chinese or other GM varieties rather than cause further delays while their biotech researchers catch up).

Labelling policies potentially provide a more efficient mechanism than trade moratoria for accommodating consumers’ preferences for non-GM food. They would involve a cost to the global economy – and especially to developing country exporters – because of the necessary segregation and identity preservation systems, but their adoption in place of the current EU ban would provide both rich-country and poor-country consumers with greater choice than at present.

However, more economic modelling research is required to include the costs of segregating GM-inclusive from GM-free food products and to explore the incidence of the identity preservation cost between GM and non-GM farmers, between farmers as a group and others, and between rich and poor countries. As Baldwin (2001) argues, the more costly are the segregation and identity preservation systems necessary to meet rich-country labelling standards, the more they will disadvantage exports from poor countries relative to rich countries.

*****************

Costs and Enforcement of Biosafety Regulations in India and China

- Carl E. Pray et al. Int. J. Technology and Globalisation, Vol. 2, Nos. 1/2, 2006 137. Excerpt below.. Full paper at http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/BCSIA_content/documents/IJTG_212_2006Paper09pray.pdf

Most proponents and opponents of transgenic crops (also known as genetically modified or GM) agree on the need for biosafety regulations to minimise the risk of food safety problems, environmental damage, and agricultural problems. Many scholars, however, argue that the biosafety regulatory systems have become an important constraint to the spread of safe transgenic crops that could increase agricultural productivity and improve the environment in developing countries (Cohen and Paarlberg, 2004; Kent, 2004).

In addition to criticism from scholars, current biosafety regulations on transgenic crops in developing countries are under attack from many interest groups. Private biotech companies think the regulations are too expensive, too time consuming, too arbitrary, not science based, and poorly enforced. Non Government Organisations (NGOs) who are sceptical about biotechnology argue that current regulations on transgenic crops are inadequate because they do not require enough research on risks, the regulators are too easily influenced by the biotech companies, and the regulators have little capacity to enforce their regulations.

The first objective of this paper is to examine the evidence regarding two components of this controversy about biosafety regulations: first, the cost of complying with biosafety regulations and second, the enforcement of biosafety regulations. India and China have two of the most well developed regulatory systems in developing countries, but as we shall see, the costs of complying with biosafety regulations are much higher for private firms in India than in China, and China has had more success in regulating the spread of unapproved genes and transgenic varieties than India. The second objective of this paper is to explain why costs and enforcement are so different in these countries.
--
7. Lessons and policy options

The first objective of this paper was to assess the cost of complying with biosafety regulations and the evidence on the enforcement of regulations in India and China. In India, the cost for private companies of complying with regulations was high relative to the costs of government research institutes in India or Chinese companies and institutes.

The costs of compliance for the first Bt cotton event were at least one million US dollars, which is more than the annual research budget of many small to medium Indian seed companies. In addition the costs and the continuing uncertainty led one company to abandon its attempts to commercialise transgenic hybrid mustard. Information from the public sector in India and from public and private sectors in China shows that the cost of compliance can be much less than it was for the first few transgenic varieties. Both countries are making efforts to reduce the cost and the inefficiencies in their systems.

The experience of India and China also makes it clear that it can be difficult to enforce regulations with small farmers. In China, however, the government has been able to push out an unapproved Bt gene. When regulators found out about the unapproved Bt gene, they were successful in replacing the illegal Bt gene in cotton with an approved Bt gene in new varieties in a few years. Indian regulators have not yet been able to do the same – two thirds of the Bt cotton in India is planted with unapproved varieties of Bt. They are using much the same strategy as the Chinese – approving new varieties and hoping that they will replace the illegal ones. As yet this strategy has not worked very well, although it may work when more Bt genes become available.

The second objective of this paper was to understand the reasons for the differences in costs and enforcement. The differences in costs and performance of these regulatory systems are partially due to the basic structure of the systems – in China, the regulatory system is largely controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Science and Technology while in India it is under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Science. The greater influence of the Ministry of Agriculture in China and the fact that agencies under this Ministry earn profits from the Bt cotton seed industry is probably part of the reason why compliance costs less in China and why enforcement works better there.

In addition to the differences due to the structural differences in the regulatory system, the political economy framework also helps explain the differences in costs and enforcement. In China it was not just a few multinationals that were pushing for speedy, low-cost regulations. There was also a powerful lobby of government scientists and local seed companies who wanted to make money from biotechnology but could not do so unless they complied with regulations which were inexpensive and rapid. In India, local researchers and seed companies were not ready with important new genes to compete with Monsanto, and so they did not lobby as vigorously for quick, low-cost regulation. Furthermore, once MMB had the first Bt gene approved they did not have a lot of incentive to reduce the costs for other companies because the high costs which kept some competitors out of the market.

The pattern of enforcement also has both structural and political economy explanations. A structural advantage of enforcement in China was that the policy making, regulatory decisions, and enforcement are all within the Ministry of Agriculture and provincial and local agricultural bureaus. In India, the decisions are made in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Delhi, but the provincial Departments of Agriculture are supposed to enforce the regulations at the ground level, which means that transaction costs were probably higher in India.

The political economy reasons for more enforcement in China are that farmers and small seed companies had much more to lose from enforcement in India than they did in China. Indian farmers who were growing unapproved varieties would have had to pay seed prices that were three or four times higher for varieties that performed about the same in the field. Chinese farmers ended up with little change in prices and better performance when they shifted from unapproved to approved varieties. Chinese seed companies also had less incentive to resist enforcement.

Only a limited number of Indian seed companies could get access to the approved gene in India, and those that did had to come up with a substantial down payment and then pay a large share of the seed price back to MMB as royalties. In contrast, Chinese companies had two sources of approved Bt genes including CAAS in Beijing which collected very limited royalties. Finally, the clear beneficiary of enforcement in India would be a foreign firm; while in China ,most of the benefits from enforcement would go to local government research institutions and seed companies. These different pressures went together to produce less enforcement in India than China.

**********************************************

High School Students' Report on AgBiotech

- Lake Brantley High School, Altamonte Springs Florida.
Sesheta Mwanza (Grade 9; Mwanzasb#aol.com ), Marisa Hazlewood (Grade 10), Rachel Milch (Grade 10), Anna Brupbacher (Grade 9), Michael Irven (Grade 12), Bryan Deshetler (Grade 10); Instructor - Joseph Crain

A biggest problem right now in the agricultural biotechnology field is convincing the policy makers, media, food industry, and consumer groups around the world especially Europe that agricultural biotechnology is a safe and viable option.

We find that biotech crops with nutritional enhancements like "golden rice" can help the poor around the world by providing them more healthy diets. Golden rice is a rice species that was genetically engineered in the early 1990s to produce the vitamin A beta-carotene to fortify rice in areas where dietary sources of vitamin A are limited.

There is a strong European resistance to consuming these products. For example, a United States Trade Representative (USTR) fact sheet states that beginning in October 1998, the EU adopted a moratorium on all approvals of new varieties of biotech crops.However, USTR claims the EU's moratorium is based on political expediency, rather than on health or safety issues, because the EU’s own scientific authorities consistently find biotech varieties to be safe.

The principal response that European policy makers give for this ban is that it is what their consumers demand. But that may be because government propaganda has built a case against genetically altered products. A closer look at the agricultural sector in Europe indicates ulterior motives may drive the banning of Agri-Bio products.

Since European governments supplement farmers every year to maintain a comparative advantage in the global market, competition from outside American companies that produce better biochemicals and seeds may put the European business at a disadvantage.

EU bans may be a short term solution to the destructiveness of globalization, but be detrimental in the long run to the farmers, biotech research, and the people around the world that could be served by science.

Perhaps a plausible solution to the European consumer backlash be:
1. Partnering of European and American business/research to limit great economic losses.
2. Increasing student/consumer awareness through public service adds.
3. Take on a global project such as using genetically modified plants in underdeveloped countries to reduce starvation to show the public the potential of these products.

###