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

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





May 30, 2006


Biotech and Food Security; India's Gene Revolution; Bt Cotton; Organic Isn't Easy; Europe Missing Out


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: May 30, 2006

* ISAAA's CropBiotech Update
* Science Academies support GM-foods
* Biotechnology: Hope for food security
* Kenya MPs pledge to fast-track GM food law
* India now needs a gene revolution
* Nod likely for field trials of 3 GM crops
* For I Was Hungry and You Fed Me: Ag-biotech and Hunger
* It's Not Easy Being Organic
* Recent and prospective adoption of genetically modified cotton
* European Biotech industry figures show signs of chronic under-funding
* Why Europe is missing the benefits of GM crops


Headlines from ISAAA's CropBiotech Update:

- IFPRI Releases Briefs on Agriculture, Health
- Japan and Malaysia to Collaborate on Biotechnology
- Reforms Proposed for International Coffee Organization
- India Considers GM Mandatory Labeling, Opens Rules for Suggestions
- PRSV Outbreak Reported in Thailand
- Kenya MPs to Table Biotech Fact Finding Report to Parliament
- Vietnamese Ministry Approves Biotech Development Project
- IAALD Chapter Established in Africa
- France to Assist Vietnamese Cotton Industry
- FAO Projects to Improve Food Security in Five African Countries
- Strong Market for Agri-Biotech Products in Japan
- Increased GM Planting for France and Czech Republic
- Chile Develops Drought-Tolerant Eucalyptus Varieties
- EU Meeting Tackles GM
- Mexican Scientists Develop New Biofertilizer
- EFSA Releases Guidance Document on Risk Assessment Transparency
- Research Finds Way to Make Starchier Cassava
- Arizona Bt, Non-Bt Cotton Compared
- Research Reports New Cowpea Germplasm Screening Technique

All articles available at;



Science Academies support GM-foods

- CheckBiotech.org, May 30, 2006, By Norbert Lossau

(Translated from an article in "Die Welt")

BERLIN – During last weekend’s international meeting of the Science Academy in Berlin, twelve leading researchers in the field of green genetic technology worked on a manifesto which aims to clarify the significance of this technology.

Scientist from Germany, China, South Africa, India, France, Egypt, Switzerland and the USA unanimously declared that transgenic food is at least as safe as other food. Genetically modified plants pose no danger to the environment and they don’t conflict with so-called bio-agriculture.

Professor Klaus Ammann of the University of Berne accused Greenpeace of spreading “lies“ in this respect. Professor Walter Heldt of the University of Goettingen and chairman of the Academic Union Commission for Green Genetic Technology emphatically called for an objective instead of an ideological discussion about green genetic technology.

This manifesto, compiled in Berlin by the so-called Interacademy Panel, will be submitted to all science academies around the World for ratification. It is probable that a majority of the academies will support the paper, which could then be presented to the public, in December.

Original German text

Die Akademien der Wissenschaft setzen sich für "Gen-Food" ein

BERLIN - Auf einer internationalen Tagung der Akademien der Wissenschaft haben am Wochenende in Berlin zwölf führende Forscher der Grünen Gentechnik an einem Manifest gearbeitet, das den hohen Stellenwert dieser Technologie verdeutlichen soll. Die Akademie-Forscher aus Deutschland, China, Südafrika, Indien, Frankreich, Ägypten, der Schweiz sowie den USA stellten einmütig fest, daß genetisch veränderte Lebensmittel mindestens genauso sicher seien, wie andere Nahrungsgüter. Genetisch veränderte Pflanzen stellten keine Gefahr für die Umwelt dar, und sie ständen auch nicht im Widerspruch zur sogenannten biologischen Landwirtschaft. Professor Klaus Ammann von der Universität Bern warf in diesem Zusammenhang der Umweltschutzorganisation Greenpeace die Verbreitung von "Lügen" vor. Professor Hans Walter Heldt von der Universität Göttingen und Vorsitzender der Kommission Grüne Gentechnik der Akademieunion forderte nachdrücklich eine sachliche statt ideologisch geprägte Diskussion über Grüne Gentechnik.

Das jetzt in Berlin vom sogenannten Interacademy Panel (iap) erarbeitete Manifest wird allen Wissenschaftsakademien der Welt zur Ratifizierung vorgelegt. Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, daß sich eine Mehrheit für das Papier aussprechen wird. Es könnte dann im Dezember offiziell der Weltöffentlichkeit vorgestellt werden.


Biotechnology: Hope for food security

- Republic of Botswana, 30 May, 2006

GABORONE - Biotechnology has been described as the only hope for Africas food security development.

Debating the issue during the biotechnology panel discussion in Gaborone last week, panelists said biotechnology could redress problems of food production, goods and services in developing countries.

They said the technology had been in place from time immemorial but had not been put to good use, saying that had been shown through crop rotation, whereby species of certain crops would be circulated to enhance better results.

One of the panelists, Prof. Diran Makinde of University of Zululand said concerns had been raised about the issue, but there was a need to consider biotechnology as a way-forward to address questions of food production and security in Africa, looking at population growth rate of 3.5 per cent and food production deficit at the rate of two per cent.

He said though the technology was new to Africa, it had a long way in redressing the continents many years of poverty, adding that South Africa had already taken leaf of the technology, and enhanced its food production and had been able to alleviate problems of poverty.

Makinde said the fact that food production was low throughout the continent, means that many children go to bed without food. He added that if farmers could access this technology problem, food production could be evaded and many people could be saved from pockets of starvation and other ailments related to lack of food.

He said in South Africa farmers whether small or big commercial entrepreneurs had seen the genetically modified seeds as the only way forward and some of who are of good quality.

Some farmers have been able to produce 50 per cent of genetically modified Soya beans, some of which have been resourceful to country, even beneficial to neighbouring countries as well, he said.

Since technology was not static and dynamic people should be susceptible to change, and that farmers should be prepared to take leaf of this technology if they want to go along globalization spirit.

Charmaine Treherne of South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering saw things differently.

She said while it was good to engage to new technology, extreme care should be exercised to evade recklessness.

Terherne asserted that while power and knowledge were the main ingredients in todays world affairs, it should be in the rights, for should it fall in the wrong then many lives would be at stake.

She said the United States was stark with problems of obesity created by the genetically modified food, warning that once the problem created by these technologies were around it would be very difficult to disappear.

However, Tamala Kambikambi of Zambia said farmers should be taught and allowed to make right choices as to whether they go along with biotechnology or remain in the old school of thought with improvement in food production, looking at the climatic change severity, frequency and rapidity.

Kambikambi proposed the introduction of drought tolerant products, and new methods of dealing with weeds, which by now take much of crops Africa produces.

She was the only one who touched on the issues of HIV/AIDS and said it was no longer a health issue, but had a developmental element as well, because whatever could be done to mitigate its impact had something to do with food.

She said governments should not become biotchnophobiac but rather be susceptible to change because this would not take the continent to anywhere. She added that as this happens millions of African lives would be flashed into drains.

Roger Mpande an independent researcher working with SADC said Africa needed to come up with strategies that would assist in coming up with better ways of mitigating poverty case by case, rather than waiting for the north to come up with technologies that has nothing to do with situational problems Africa faces but only make them forever dependent on hand-outs.

He said while southern Africa was dependent on low erratic rainfall she should make use of it to the optimum best, and apply biotechnology appropriately to yield better results.

He asserted that whatever technology was introduced, it should not be taken blindfolded or rather be utilised for the good of the country.

He said where not feasible mitigating mechanisms should be put in place to redress problems that might accrue.

Mpande said Africa should take biotechnology as a wake up call and should make use of it to enhance food productivity for the benefit for millions of starving Africans.

He added that Africa had been used as dumping ground for whatever has been rejected by the west and propagated as good for easy acceptance by the Africans, even the deadliest toxic waste.


Kenya MPs pledge to fast-track GM food law

- East African Standard, May 29, 2006

Kenyan MPs who have just returned from an agricultural biotechnology fact-finding mission to South Africa have resolved to seek audience with relevant government authorities to discuss the way forward.

The MPs are concerned that after 15 years of research on modern biotechnology, Kenya still does not even have a biotechnology policy and biosafety laws necessary for commercialisation of genetically engineered (GM) products. Without mincing words, they said they would ensure that GM crops are commercially introduced in Kenya.

They needed to know what policy issues have facilitated the adoption of GM crops in South Africa but hindered their adoption in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. The MPs wanted to see how small-scale farmers benefit from Bt Cotton and Bt Maize in South Africa.

The MPs said it was taking too long to have the necessary laws passed to facilitate commercialisation of GM products. They have, therefore, resolved to do everything within their powers to fast-track a biotechnology agenda in Kenya and Africa at large, saying Africa needs a common front or agenda on issues such as biotechnology.

After interacting with small-scale farmers growing genetically modified (Bt) maize and Bt cotton in South Africa, the Kenyan MPs, who were accompanied in the Decision Makers Biotechnology Fact-finding Mission to South Africa by their counterparts from Malawi, are convinced that Kenyan and Malawian farmers could benefit immensely from the technology if its products were made available to them.

The traveling workshop was organised by AfricaBio — South Africa in collaboration with African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF-Kenya), the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA-Kenya) and BioEROC-Malawi. The purpose of the traveling workshop was to expose the participants to how South Africa has handled biotechnology issues and make the participants gain a better understanding of the current South African and to a larger extent, the global situation of agricultural biotechnology.

The MPs, drawn from various parliamentary select committees, including Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Science and Technology, and Public Accounts want the Biosafety Bill and the draft National Policy on Biotechnology enacted as soon as possible as this is critical for widespread adoption of biotechnology and related products.

They intend to table the report from their mission in South Africa in Parliament and demand a ministerial statement on biotechnology. The MPs also propose to seek amendment of the current Agriculture Act to include biotechnology as another way of fast tracking biotechnology legislation in Kenya.

Muhoroni MP Ayiecho Olweny , who is also a professor of genetics, says biotechnology could bridge the gap between food insecurity and food prosperity.

"Biotechnology offers the best possible attack on production problems like the striga weed, cassava mosaic virus and cotton bollworms."

Alfred Nderitu, the MP for Mwea constituency, where Bt cotton confined trials are being carried out, regrets that the Government spends about Sh6 billion on 1.2 million Kenyans who permanently need relief food.

"Kenya needs to turn these people from consumers to producers," he said.

He believes one way to achieve this is through widespread adoption of biotechnology. Nderitu lamented that Kenyans are being denied GM products because of lack of appropriate legislation. "Let us look for a shortcut. Let us have the products, grow them and then enact the necessary laws."

But as the legislators commit themselves to fast-tracking GM issues in the country, they also challenge researchers to involve policy makers and other stakeholders in their research activities.

They feel there is a big disconnect between researchers and policy makers.

"Development is a process that everybody must be involved in. Bridging science and politics remains a challenge in Kenya that must be adequately addressed," says Mutinda Mutiso, MP for Kilome.

Sammy Weya, the MP for Alego Usonga urges researchers in the field of biotechnology to not only rely on the respective ministries when seeking such important legislation, but also to deal directly with the relevant MPs and parliamentary committees.

The Bill and policy would have been enacted by now had MPs been involved from the start, said Weya. But Prof Jocelyn Webster, the director AfricaBio cautions the legislators not to rush to enact an inadequate law, noting that the Kenya Biosafety Bill, as it is now, is too restrictive.

"A Biosafety Bill that is too restrictive will not help. It must be more open."

Welcoming the MPs pledge to fast-track GM issues in the country, Dr Margaret Karembu, Executive Director ISAAA reiterates the need for harmonisation. She notes that Kenya risks being left behind on the new revolution in agriculture.

"We should not just be recipients but innovators. However, we are not going to be innovators in a vacuum. We need the necessary legislation. We risk losing the technology altogether. The technology may be rendered obsolete by the time it is approved for adoption if it is delayed for too long."

ISAAA advises developing nations like Kenya to adopt regulatory models that have proved successful elsewhere.

"Developing nations may use — and improve upon — the successful model supported by such governments, therefore saving time and scarce resources as they develop their own regulations. Furthermore, international co-operation helps harmonise food and biosafety regulations, which will increase trade and regional prosperity," says Dr Karembu

Currently GM crop research in Kenya includes genetically engineered (Bt) maize that is resistant to maize stem borers, pest resistant Bt Cotton, Bt cassava that is resistant to the Cassava Mosaic Virus and Bt sweet potato against the Sweet Potato Virus. Research on maize and cotton is already at confined field trials at Kari-Kiboko and Kari-Mwea respectively. Cassava and Sweet potato research is still at the laboratory level.

The MPs take a swipe at the anti-GM NGOs and other civil society organisations accusing them of greed, peddling lies and only serving the business interest of the West. "This is a business gimmick. Why should America and Britain fund NGOs to fight biotechnology when they are the major producers and consumers GM products?" Nderitu wonders.

"Here we are fighting GM products. We are major importers of textile products from China, a leading producer of BT cotton. How sure are we that the textile products are not from GM cotton?" posed Olweny.

He does not understand why there is so much opposition to GM crops. He argues that crop breeding has been practiced for centuries. Farmers should generally view GM crops as merely a step in the continuum, within their experience in conventional breeding leading them to consider GM technology as an a natural process to improve crops.

The biggest problem in adoption of biotechnology in any country is not in its scientific capacity or presence of supportive legislation. Enacting legislation, though critical for commercialisation of GM products, will not guarantee widespread adoption of the GM crops.

"The problem with commercialisation of GM products is not the country’s capacity to develop the GM crops. The biggest problem is consumer perception," states Prof Webster, noting that the struggle to have legislative framework in place must go hand in hand with public education and awareness.

Kenya has the technological and scientific capacity. Sooner or later, the Bill and policy will be enacted. But how many Kenyans are knowledgeable or aware of the benefits and risks GM processes and products?

The legislators strongly believe that the scarcity of current, authoritative information and knowledge regarding biotechnology crops represents a major deficiency in Kenya and other developing countries, which denies policy makers and scientists access to vital knowledge needed to make well-informed decisions.

According to ISAAA, consumers are generally ill-informed regarding GM crops and food.

"Full awareness of the benefits, constraints, and attributes associated with food biotechnology belongs in the hands of developing nations – who stand to gain or lose the most," says Karembu.


'India now needs a gene revolution'

- Economic Times, MAY 30, 2006

MANILA: India’s crop management systems and harvesting pattern need to undergo a major transformation to meet the daunting food needs in the years ahead, according to the man behind the Green Revolution — the 1970 Nobel laureate, Norman E Borlaug.

Speaking at the Asian Development Bank here, as part of its Distinguished Speakers programme, the 92-year old scientist, who helped uplift foodgrain production dramatically in hunger-struck countries like Mexico, India, Pakistan, China and others, said the pattern must change, especially in irrigated areas, while precision farming practices are needed in the high-potential areas.

The way forward, he suggested, is to move from the Green Revolution — rapid development in agriculture through use of artificial fertilisers and high-yielding plant strains — to the gene revolution.

He rejected the concern about genetically modified (GM) crops and the polemic over chemical fertiliser vs organic fertiliser. With biotechnology, he said, new scientific tools would be developed to help meet future food challenges and “we must use the best cards we have”.

Within the next 25 years, India will have 346m more mouths to feed, as its population rises from the present 1.1bn to nearly 1.5bn in 2030, thus beating China by over 2.6m and becoming the world’s most populous nation.

In the following two decades, the Indian population will rise by an additional 144m — adding five Australias — to reach 1.6bn in ‘50 and pushing China further behind by more than 200m people.

Mr Borlaug agrees that the growing food needs can indeed be met if economic policies are correctly tuned and supported by the necessary political will.

In the early 1960s, he pointed out, “the boom and gloom crowd” wrote off India as a hopeless case for attaining food self-sufficiency. But today, India is a foodgrain-surplus nation — a testimony to good policy and planning.

A ‘02 study of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), assessing the population growth and food requirement had concluded that by the year ‘30, there will be enough food globally for the growing world population. But hundreds of millions of people in developing countries will nevertheless continue to remain hungry.

Today, in South Asia alone, some 230m people remain hungry while globally, 1.1bn people — almost a sixth of the world population — live in extreme poverty.

World food supply over the next 50 years, Mr Borlaug said, would have to double, while the arable land base is likely to shrink. Therefore, future expansions in food production must come largely from land already in use.


Nod likely for field trials of 3 GM crops

- Financial Express, May 30, 2006, By ASHOK B SHARMA

NEW DELHI, MAY 29: Genetically modified (GM) versions of three food crops, namely brinjal, mustard and potato, are awaiting permission for large-scale field trials before the final approval for commercial sale.

The secretary, department of biotechnology, MK Bhan said, “Transgenic mustard and potato have completed the requisite rounds of field trials under the Review Committee for Genetic manipulation RCGM). These two crops are awaiting the nod of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for large-scale field trials, before they get the final approval for commercial sale.”

Mustard and potato are winter crops, and its field trials are expected from October this year. Comparatively, brinjal is a summer crop and GEAC is likely to give approval for large-scale field trial in this kharif season.

According to Dr Bhan, the data generated by RCGM field trials are favourable and the GEAC is likely to approve field trials. GM mustard has barnase-barstar genes incorporated in its genome, with claims for increasing oil content. This variety has been developed by Deepak Pental in the South Campus of Delhi University.

The transgenic potato developed by Asish Dutta of National Centre for Plant Genome Research by inserting genes rom the amaranthus plant is claimed to have improved protein content.

Bt brinjal is awaiting approval for large-scale field trials, developed by Mumbai based company Mahyco by insertion of Cry 1 Ac gene. Mahyco claims that its GM brinjal is tolerant to fruit and shoot borer, one of the major pests of the crop.The company has claimed to have completed biosafety studies.



- Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, By C Kameswara Rao

The performance of Bt Cotton in India, during the 2005-06, the fourth consecutive season, appears to be very encouraging.

The acreage under Bollgard, the Bt cotton varieties of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd., (MMB), containing the Cry 1Ac Bt gene has consistently increased. Starting with 12 Bollgard varieties on 72,000 acres in the 2002-03 season, Bt cultivation rose to 2,30,000 acres in the 2003-04 season. During the 2004-05 season Bollgard was planted on 1.3 million acres and with one more variety from Rasi, another private seed company. During the 2005-06 season there were 20 Bollgard varieties on 3.125 million acres, with two more private seed companies, Ankur and Nuziweedu, entering the field. Also, during the 2005-06 season the States of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have officially came under Bt cultivation.

For the 2003-04 cotton season, MMB commissioned a survey of the performance of Bollgard varieties by A C Nielsen ORG-MARG who contacted 1,672 Bt cotton farmers and 1,371 conventional cotton farmers. Their report indicated that on the average, a) profits of Bt cultivation increased 78 per cent, over farmers who planted traditional varieties, b) yields increased 29 per cent, and c) pesticide use declined by 60 per cent.

The Indian Market Research Bureau International (IMRB), which is also contracted by the Government of India for market surveys, was commissioned by MMB to analyze the performance of Bt cotton during the 2004-05. The IMRB then interviewed 3,199 farmers across 20 cotton-growing districts in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. This year, IMRB has considerably increased the base and interviewed 4,779 farmers across 31 cotton-growing districts in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, during January and February, 2006, to analyze the performance of Bt cotton during the 2005-06 season. These two surveys showed that both the small and large farmers have benefited by Bt technology.

During the 2004-05 season, with the use of Bollgard, the increase of cotton yield was 58 per cent, increasing the net profit by 60 per cent. The increased profits are also due to a reduction of 4 to 5 pesticide sprays from 15 to 20.

During the 2005-06 season, Bollgard varieties increased the yield by 64 per cent and the net profit increased by 118 per cent and the expenditure on pesticide was reduced by 25 per cent.

Although the Bt gene does not directly enhance yield, the prevention of loss of yield due to bollworm attack results in higher recovery of cotton. The IMRB survey indicates that Bollgard crop of 2005-06 helped the Indian cotton farmers to earn an additional in come of Rs. 2,100 crore. The net profit increase for Bollgard farmers is Rs. 6,727 per acre, over conventional cotton farmers.

The IMRB report, widely covered in the Indian press, says that ‘if one were to compare the input costs to realized output, it appears that, a Bollgard farmer gets 144 per cent return on investment as compared to only 83 per cent with conventional cotton.’

The significance of Bt cotton cultivation should be viewed against the fact that only 9 per cent of cotton acreage is under legal Bt cotton, while 26 per cent is under illegal Bt cotton sold as ‘Navbharat seed’, mainly in Gujarat. As per a source from the Navbharat Seed Company, reportedly the principal player in the illegal Bt seed market, the remaining 66 per cent of cotton acreage is under non-Bt cotton.

The Indian anti-tech activists rubbish any positive report and expect others to believe their own versions. While denigrating MMB’s Bollgard, the anti-tech activists have a tongue-in-cheek appreciation for illegal Bt cotton, particularly in Gujarat. There have been several activist reports that strive to prove Bt cotton a disaster in India. In the end, no matter who says what, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The clamour of the Indian farmers for Bt cottonseed and the ever-increasing acreage under Bt cotton, are strong indicators of the good performance of Bt cotton. Obviously, there are some areas where Bt cotton’s performance was below optimal, for reasons that largely lie outside Bt technology, such as growing cotton in grossly unsuitable areas, faulty management practices, vagaries of the weather and no less the anxiety to prove the technology a failure. This is what we have to seriously look into and remedy.


- Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, By C Kameswara Rao, May 23, 2006

The cost of Bt cottonseed in India has now become highly contentious, much more than ever before.

Making an allegedly poor performance of Bollgard in the State an issue, the Government and the anti-tech activists in Andhra Pradesh prevented three Bollgard varieties from cultivation in the State, since the 2005-06 cotton season.

In 2005, the cost of a packet of the authentic 450 g Bt cottonseed (required for an acre), whether of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB) or their several sub-licensees, ranged from Rs. 1,600 to 1,850, including about 17 per cent trade margin on the MMB price of Rs. 1450. The illegal Bt cottonseed was sold between Rs. 800 to 1,000, and non-Bt cottonseed between Rs. 450 to 500 per packet. During the 2005-06 season, the acreage of legal Bt cotton was only nine per cent, while illegal Bt occupied 26 per cent and the remaining 66 per cent of acreage was under spurious or non-Bt cotton.

The Minister for Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh, charged that Monsanto was collecting technology fee of about Rs 34 in China, Rs 108 in US and Rs 1,250 in India. There is no reliable information on Bollgard seed costs in China and US and the reasons for its being lower than in India. But the cost of Bt cottonseed required for one acre in India and elsewhere cannot be directly compared, for two reasons: a) in India cotton hybrids are used while most other countries use open pollinated varieties, each requiring a different cost inputs and seed rate, and b) in India cotton is planted in rows and elsewhere the seed is broadcast. Hence, the quantity of seed required to sow in one acre varies from country to country.

Even when developed in the public sector, technology costs of genetically engineered (GE) products do not disappear, as royalties on patented protocols used have to be paid. If developed in the public sector as some GE crops in China, the costs of GE seed can be lower to the farmer since the Governments bear the costs, which ultimately fall on the tax paying public. Undue delays in the regulatory process also add to seed development costs.

Obviously pressurized by the anti-tech activists, the Government of Andhra Pradesh approached the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) complaining on high Bt cottonseed costs as well as certain conditions in the agreement between MMB and the sub-licensees. This petition is of interest to the Bollgard I sub-licensees, since they can avoid payment of the technology fee, if the petition were successful. This Petition has prompted MMB to reduce the technology fees by about 30 per cent (to about Rs. 900 per packet), in the cotton season of 2006.

In an interim order, the MRTPC has now asked Monsanto to reduce the price of Bt cottonseed (even lower than the new price of Rs. 900), and to fix the trait value as in China. The MRTPC also held that the MMB is indulging in restrictive and monopolistic trade practices, as Nuziweedu Seeds, a sub-licensee of MMB, is ready to sell a packet at Rs. 800 but was forced by MMB to sell at Rs. 1,818.

The Minister for Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh, hailed the MRTPC order as a ‘great victory of farmers’.

The All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) described the MRTPC’s order as 'highly inappropriate’, and a setback to both the agricultural sector and the biotechnology industry in India. AICBA adds that in the end the Indian farmers lose out on the benefits of Bt cotton as seed companies will forced to reduce R&D expenditure on improving their product on Indian soil.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh was ready with a Caveat, to ensure that it was heard, in case Monsanto challenged MRTPC’s order in the Supreme Court of India.

Monsanto has now moved the Supreme Court of India (Deccan Herald, May 17, 2005), seeking a stay on the implementation of MRTPC’s order. Monsanto questioned the jurisdiction of MRTPC to adjudicate the issue, because ‘licensing of technology does not fall under the classification of goods or services.’ Monsanto denied that the fee charged in India was royalty. It also considers that MRTPC should have stayed its order in view of a NGO petition pending in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.

The outcome of the current tussle could be implemented only during the 2007-08 cotton season. Nevertheless, the costs of Bollgard I will have to come down drastically in the future for two reasons: a) there is now tough competition with about 40 varieties of Bt cotton being available in India and more will be added soon, many containing non-Monsanto events, and b) for the next season, two gene stacked Bt varieties with Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab (one is Monsanto’s Bollgard II and the other Chinese) will be available and these will shift the farmers’ preference from Bollgard I and similar varieties.

What is missed in these projections is that in the absence of patent protection, and administrative and political will to take decisive action against infringements, every developer of GE crops is likely to face the same situation as Monsanto with Navbharat’s illegal Bt cotton. If recovery of investment were at risk, the Indian agribiotech industry, the farmer and the country are bound to suffer.


For I Was Hungry and You Fed Me: Ag-biotech and Hunger

- Action Institute, By Piero Morandini

To well-fed (sometimes overfed) people in Western countries, it is certainly odd to think of food as a life-saving medicine. But for those suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, the idea is a reality. It is repeated over and over again that the amount of food produced in the world is enough to feed all the hungry people in the world; hence, the solution to hunger is not to increase production but to improve distribution of what is already being produced. As sensible this statement might seem, it is of no help to the hungry.

Large amounts of food are indeed produced in the West, but this is mainly used to feed animals that eventually become food themselves. Granted, the conversion is quite inefficient, requiring ten kilos of feed (mostly maize and soy) to produce one kilo of meat. In principle, it might make sense to stop feeding the animals and use the maize and soy to feed the hungry. But for such a thing to happen, it would first be necessary to convince all meat-eaters to reduce their food consumption. Secondly, all the maize and soy producers would have to donate their product —since they are not making a profit—and ship it where it is needed. And thirdly, the handlers would have to effectively deliver the food to the needy—usually a daunting task—and to do so without destroying the local agriculture and trade market. In essence, those who advocate redistribution rather than better production methods are not interested in feeding the hungry in a sustainable fashion; they are actually interested in institutionalizing perpetul alms for the hungry.

For those with the gift of plenty, there are, of course, situations where alms are not only good but morally imperative. Alms, however, cannot be the rule. Rather, it is important that every country tries to produce enough food or other goods to trade for food. We do no one a favor if we make them dependent on us for their survival.

So to suggest that the redistribution of existent food is the solution to the tragedy of hunger is to shift the demand of a solution to others, thereby implying someone else is at fault for 850 million hungry people. But unfortunately these “others” are not going to change their habits to satisfy the needs of the poor. Western consumers are probably not going to eat less meat, nor are farmers going to donate their harvest, nor are traders going to pay for the shipping, nor are handlers going to redistribute it carefully enough. If all these prerequisites could be achieved simultaneously, the strategy could be effective—the hungry could be fed. I could even commend it and start, as a consumer, to pursue it. But nevertheless, I am quite skeptical about the chances of success. Many lives are at stake here—those of children in particular—so it is wise to look for strategies that enable the poor and hungry to meet their own needs by their own efforts. Agricultural biotechnology can help to achieve this by making crop production more efficient.

One way ag-biotechnology can help to feed the hungry is by addressing the problem of pests. Around 30 percent of harvested food is lost to pests: viruses, bacteria, fungi, insects, and other animals destroy it before it reaches the mouths of the hungry. Any effort to avoid these losses automatically makes more food available, without the need of increasing production. This can be achieved by developing crop plants that produce toxins specific to major pests but essentially non-toxic to humans. For instance, so-called Bt maize has one gene, normally present in a bacterium called Bacillus thuringensis (Bt), which drives the production of protein effective against some insect pests (technically speaking it is said that the gene is “expressed”). The protein is, however, much less toxic than table salt to animals—and remember that we ingest several grams of table salt per day. A similar approach is the development of transgenic crops producing tiny amounts of a protein, avidin, otherwise absent in crops. Avidin binds biotin, a vitamin, with great strength. Humans and animals are used to ingesting avidin because it is normally present in eggs. Avidin is harmless to humans and animals, being destroyed in the gut. Avidin is toxic to some insects, however, because they are not able to destroy avidin, preventing the insect from getting an adequate supply of biotin.

Production can also be increased by creating virus resistant plants (e.g. papaya). These are made by inserting a viral gene that gives rise to a protein tampering with normal virus replication or propagation: In effect the plant is vaccinated against the virus. The gene and the protein in question are normally present at a billion copies in infected plants, and humans have eaten these infected plants without harm for thousands of years. It is silly to worry about the minuscule quantity of viral DNA and protein in transgenic plants, while continuing to swallow the same DNA and protein in far larger amounts from “natural” infected plants.

A promising strategy is the breeding of plant varieties resistant to biotic (e.g. bacterial and fungal pathogens) as well as abiotic stresses (e.g.: heat, frost, drought). As we better understand how pathogens elude cell surveillance systems or how some plants resist to frost, we should be more able to breed resistant varieties.

Ag-biotechnology can help to address another problem: weeds. Weeds are nice for students of biodiversity, but are more than a nuisance to farmers: they are a yield drag. Because weeds compete for nutrients, water, and sunlight, allowing too many weeds means loosing part of the harvest (up to 80 percent when left growing uncontrolled). Therefore, weeds must be controlled, and the development of herbicide-tolerant crops can help farmers to do the job.

In addition to addressing problems of quantity—loss of crops to pests or weeds—plant biotechnology can also help tackle the problem of quality. For example, many people in the world have poor diets, diets lacking the essential vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, or fats necessary for a healthy life. Many people, especially children in Asia for instance, do not receive enough vitamin A and many women do not get enough iron. Therefore, producing food crops where the quantity of these components are increased by metabolic engineering is a major field of research: Rice with more vitamin A or iron has been developed and is a great hope for malnourished people whose food staple is rice.

A striking bonus about ag-biotech is that the technology is built “in the seed.” To reap the benefits of the technology, one needs nothing more, in most cases, than the engineered seed. Obviously, fertilizers or hybrid seeds can further improve yields, but such things are not essential for the technology to work (with the exception of herbicide tolerant crops, where an additional input, the herbicide, is needed).

The benefits of ag-biotechnology include more than just more and better crops. A farmer’s agricultural practices are also affected advantageously and without requiring special training or education. Simplified practices—that is, more efficient crops—mean reduced labor requirements. Increases in yields or reductions in costs (e.g. less pesticides) mean higher profits. So the poor farmer may (and actually does) gain at least as much as a wealthy farmer from the technology.

Ag-biotech will allow greater food availability where it is most needed with limited or no additional input than a bag of seeds. By increasing crop production efficiency and quality, ag-biotech has a great potential for relieving poor people and for fighting malnutrition. But science is not a magic bullet and will not do these things automatically. Many changes are still required in the social structure and education system of poor nations, as well as in the hearts of people living in areas of perennial conflict. Science will not give human life meaning nor will it extinguish the longing of the human heart for its fulfillment: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord,” said St. Augustine. And we will not use the potential of science automatically for the good, because science multiplies the power of human will: it can reduce (or increase) human suffering. Simple fertilizers can boost crop production or they can be turned into explosives. The decision to turn from farming to terrorism lies, first of all, with the farmer. And the science of agricultural biotechnology can help to reduce human suffering, if we so will to use it.

Piero Morandini is a biologist at the University of Milan.


It's Not Easy Being Organic

- New York Times, By WILLIAM ALEXANDER, May 27, 2006

THEY spring from a tree that I've nurtured from a sapling. I have protected them from deer, squirrels, insects and fungi, and fed them a healthy diet of compost and manure. So why do I feel so guilty about eating these apples?

Because they are not organic.

It's not that I didn't try. Maybe Whole Foods can sell organic apples, but I sure can't grow 'em. I labored mightily for several years to cultivate, first, organic apples; then minimally sprayed apples (spraying only in response to a pest invasion); and finally in desperation for home-grown fruit, I surrendered the high moral ground to the apple maggots, codling moths and fungi that were destroying my trees, and resorted to prophylactic application of a chemical wide-spectrum orchard spray.

It was not a decision taken lightly, and the first time I sprayed the trees I felt like I had let down an entire generation: my generation, the Woodstock generation. To be sure, I was not a flower child, but I consider myself an environmentalist — an environmentalist armed with a malathion-loaded spray gun. Is that a contradiction? As gardening season gets into full swing, consider what we might call the herbivore's dilemma: Should I grow and eat only organic vegetables?

An organic garden (or farm) does not come cheaply. I'm not talking only about financial costs. I'm referring to the human and — this may surprise some — environmental costs. On the human side, when bugs appear in my organic vegetable garden, I first use the most organic of treatments — my fingers.

When that proves insufficient (and it almost always does), I escalate to a pesticide containing pyrethrins and rotenone, substances made from the roots and stems of several tropical flowers, and favored by backyard gardeners and organic farmers. It is most effective, however, when directly sprayed on the bugs, as it has little if any residual effect. So it requires frequent spraying while the bugs are active (this is usually while I'm at the office, as the bugs and I follow the same schedule). Still, it is organic, so you get to feel virtuous in the garden.

Until, that is, you learn that rotenone has been implicated in Parkinson's disease. If that's disillusioning, consider another organic substance extracted from a tropical plant: strychnine. Nature, it seems, is really good at making poisons (just ask Socrates).

I'm no chemist, but is it possible that the manufactured chemical malathion — at least in the small quantities used in my garden — is as safe to use as the organic chemical rotenone? Plants have to literally be drenched (particularly if harboring hard-shelled beetles) daily in rotenone, while malathion can be used sparingly, and needs to be applied only occasionally. Both break down in the environment fairly quickly.

But neither one is really desirable. And if a little pesticide in the backyard is acceptable, tons of pesticides, running into rivers and streams, moving up the food chain, are not. Which brings us to the next quandary. There is, in fact, a technology available today that can drastically reduce if not eliminate the use of pesticides, natural or manufactured: genetically modified organisms.

Such plants are engineered with natural insect resistance and offer substantial reductions in pesticide use without the increased costs associated with conventional organic crops. Monsanto, for example, claims that over the last 10 years, use of its genetically modified seeds has reduced the application of pesticides by 172,000 metric tons. Yet such "Frankenfood" is anathema to the very people who are the strongest proponents of organic food.

Oddly enough, Monsanto achieved this apparent miracle by taking a page out of the organic playbook. For years, organic farmers have been using sprays containing Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a naturally occurring bacteria, different strains of which are toxic to certain insects. Bt is a favored organic pesticide because its toxicity is very specific, making it harmless to just about everything but the pest in question. By splicing the Bt gene that manufactures its toxic protein into the plant (say, corn or potatoes), the entire plant is rendered toxic to the pest, all without the use of pesticides.

At first blush this would seem like something an environmentalist would cheer, but suspicions abound about genetically modified crops. The most publicized one, especially in Europe, is over whether eating such foods endangers consumers. But the focus has been shifting lately from food safety to questions about the effects of modified crops on conventional agriculture.

For example, scientists and organic farmers worry that unlike Bt spray, which breaks down within days and is applied only when needed, the toxin in Bt plants is present all the time, and in all the plant's tissues. Thus it is only a matter of when, not if, some insects develop resistance to Bt. Insect resistance to Bt would do irreparable harm, not just to genetically modified crops, but to organic crops as well, because Bt sprays would be rendered useless.

Furthermore, what are the risks of cross-pollination of genetically modified crops with conventional plants? Is genetic engineering acceptable when used to increase yield, reduce weeding or simply improve flavor or nutrition?

There are no easy choices, for the gardener or the consumer.

I suspect that in the not-too-distant future, backyard gardeners like myself will have the option of planting genetically modified trees that offer the elusive dream of home-grown organic apples. But will the apple be offered by a savior or a serpent? As I gown up to spray my apple trees, donning face mask, hat and boots, I'm thinking that, like Adam, I may be ready to bite. What's the worst that can happen?

William Alexander is the author of "The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden."


Recent and prospective adoption of genetically modified cotton

- World Bank, May 30 2006

The authors provide estimates of the economic impact of initial adoption of genetically modified (GM) cotton and of its potential impacts beyond the few countries where it is currently common. They use the latest version of the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) database and model. The results suggest that by following the lead of China and South Africa, adoption of GM cotton varieties by other developing countries-especially in Sub-Saharan Africa-could provide even larger proportionate gains to farmer and national welfare than in those first-adopting countries. Furthermore, the estimated gains are shown to exceed those from a successful campaign under the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Agenda to reduce and remove cotton subsidies and import tariffs globally.

For full report in PDF format:


European Biotech industry figures show signs of chronic under-funding

-EuropaBio, 30 May 2006

The latest figures published today compares biotechnology sectors across some eighteen European nations and the USA.

The report finds that the European and the US biotechnology industries both have around 2000 companies, but the US sector employs nearly twice as many people, spends around three times as much on research and development, has twice the number of employees involved in research and development, raises over twice as much venture capital, and has access to 10 times as much debt finance. It earns twice as much revenue.

Despite the right-minded high-level political intentions to transform Europe into an innovation-intensive economic powerhouse, Europe’s biotechnology project is in danger of foundering from the relative dearth of that most vital of fuels for innovation: money. There is a good deal of national government enthusiasm for biotechnology, apparent in a myriad of technology transfer initiatives, seed funding schemes, and taxation schemes encouraging bioscience and other high-technology research and development.

According to John Hodgson, Partner at Critical I - a specialist biotechnology consultancy – who authored the study: “Venture capital is a luxury. Less than 10% of European companies win venture funds each year. But it is an indispensable luxury. Only properly capitalised companies can hope to compete globally in knowledge-intensive industries like biotechnology.”

The report shows that Europe’s science base is inventive, and the establishment of over 100 new biotechnology firms across Europe in 2004 is testimony to the fact that its inventors are entrepreneurial, too. However, the practicalities of funding innovation, whether in science or in business, are currently confounding the good intentions and enthusiasm. “Europe can be a breeding ground for European companies, or it can be a greenhouse for high-technology firms that are acquired by better funded US firms. The development of technology will follow the money that allows it to develop. Europe needs to ensure that the money is here,” says John Hodgson.

This study identified 2,163 European biotechnology companies whose primary commercial activity was in biotechnology.

Responding to the industry figures published today, Dr Hans Kast, Chairman of EuropaBio, and President and CEO of BASF Plant Science said: “Identifying the problem is the first step to a solution. A second step is providing significant financial and tax incentives to investors and venture capitalists to invest in biotechnology such as the Young Innovative Company (YIC) concept. This was introduced in France in 2004, and gives generous tax and social cost incentives for small companies developing new, science-based products. Making this the norm across all Member States would give a significant boost to attracting more investors to our sector and help to close the yawning competitiveness gap.”

Johan Vanhemelrijck, Secretary General of EuropaBio said: “Europe is extraordinarily entrepreneurial, creating over 100 new small vibrant companies each year. These companies must keep being vibrant, but they must stop being small. More than anything, Europe must ensure that its biotechnology firms grow, and they must do it rapidly and efficiently.”

Link to report www.europabio.org

For further information, contact:

Critical I Limited - John Hodgson
Mobile: +44 7957 367 850
Direct Tel: +44 1223 307544
E-mail: john.hodgson@criticali.net

EuropaBio - Adeline Farrelly
Mobile: +32 475 93 17 24
Tel: +32 2 735 0313
Email: a.farrelly@europabio.org

Why Europe is missing the benefits of GM crops

- AGRAEUROPE, By Graham Brookes, 29 May, 2006

2006 is the tenth year since the first widespread commercial planting of GM crops. Yet whilst there were over 90 million hectares of biotech crops planted globally (in 2005), resistance within the EU has resulted in plantings of only 50, 000 hectares (the EU accounted for less than 0.1% of global plantings in 2005).

There have been important environmental and economic gains from the adoption of GM crops - gains that Europe, by and large, is missing out on. But the technology's opponents argue that there is little demand for GM derived products, that there are no economic or environmental benefits, and that biotech crops threaten the purity of other forms of agricultural production, notably organic.

This article briefly assesses these claims based on the available representative, real world scientific data and draws on peer-reviewed research.
Global impact

Biotech crops have had a significant, positive impact on the global economy and environment. They have contributed to a net decrease in pesticide spraying, reducing the environmental 'footprint' associated with pesticide use, have contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and the incomes of the vast majority of farmers using the technology have increased. More specifically :

o Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced because fewer spray runs and less ploughing are required. This has reduced fuel usage.

In addition, GM herbicide tolerant technology has played an important facilitating role in helping many farmers to switch from a plough-based husbandry system to a low/no tillage production system . For example, the reduced/no tillage soybean area accounted for 85% of the total soybean crop in Argentina in 2005, compared to 35% in 1996 when GM soybeans were first planted. In 2004, this reduction was equivalent to eliminating more than 10 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

o Biotech crops have reduced the volume of pesticide spraying globally by 6% since 1996, equivalent to a decrease of 172.5 million kg. This is equivalent to eliminating one-third of all pesticide active ingredient (by weight) applied to arable crops in the EU-15 in 2004. For the four main crops for which biotech traits have been widely adopted (soybeans, maize, cotton and oilseed rape), the decrease has been 14% .

o The largest environmental gains from changes in pesticide spraying have been from biotech soybeans and cotton, which have reduced the associated environmental footprint by 19% and 17% respectively.

o Substantial net economic benefits at the farm level have been realised. Since 1996, global farm income has increased by a cumulative total of $27 billion derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains. This increase in farm income is equivalent to adding 3% - 4% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops.

Growers in the United States and Argentina have reaped the greatest rewards, each gaining approximately $10 billion in the past nine years, while farmers in China have experienced a $4 billion income increase from planting biotech cotton. Overall, the majority of the global farm income benefits have gone to farmers in developing countries; 90% of the farmers using biotech crops have been resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

Consumers' "opposition"

Are European consumers happy to consume products derived from biotech crops? If European consumer demand was judged solely on press reporting, it would appear that most consumers actively seek to avoid consuming products from biotech crops.

However, in cases where robust and non-biased consumer market research has been conducted (e.g. Groves (2003) ), most consumers have appeared largely indifferent to the production method of food. In essence, the biotech origins of food consumed is not important for most people.

This view is also borne out where consumer buying behaviour has been monitored in circumstances where there is a clear choice between labelled GM and non-GM derived products. In general, the biotech origin is of limited relevance and has not adversely affected sales of biotech-derived and labelled products .

A peaceful co-existence

However, the core question which has been under discussion at political level in Europe in recent weeks is: Can biotech crops co-exist with conventional and organic crops?

Co-existence generally refers to the economic consequences of adventitious presence of material from one crop into another and is related to the principle that farmers should be able to cultivate freely the crops of their choice using any production system they prefer (GM, conventional or organic). It is not therefore a product/crop safety issue, but relates solely to the production and marketing of crops which have already been approved for use.

It is also important to recognise that co-existence becomes an issue only when there is a distinct, preferential demand for non-GM products/crops. If there is no distinct non-GM demand, there is no (GM) co-existence issue. For example, most animal feed users in the EU do not have a preference for non-GM protein-based feed ingredients, and therefore for farmers supplying crops such as soybeans and maize to this sector, no economic consequences will arise if adventitious GM presence is found in crops supplied.

So how have biotech, conventional and organic crops co-existed? The key findings of research into co-existence experience of GM and non-GM crops in North America and Spain show that:

o Biotech crops have coexisted, and continue to co-exist, with conventional and organic crops in North America (where biotech crops account for the majority of plantings of important arable crops like soybeans, oilseed rape and maize), and in Spain, without causing any economic or marketing problems to non-GM or organic growers. Claims by anti-GM groups that GM and non-GM crops cannot co-exist in North America or Spain are greatly exaggerated;

o The market has developed practical, proportionate and workable co-existence measures without government intervention. Where isolated instances of adventitious presence of GM material have been found in non-GM or organic crops, and are reported to have resulted in economic losses, these have usually been caused by poor implementation of good co-existence practices (for example, poor segregation of crops in storage and transport, or not using certified, tested seed).

In addition, where necessary, some operators have implemented revised measures to further minimise the chances of adventitious presence occurring. For example, the seed industry has found very low levels of GM adventitious presence in non-GM seed of some crops like maize. As a result of this, co-existence practices have been revised to reduce further chances of adventitious presence occurring (e.g. by increasing separation distances for foundation level seed crops of maize from 200 metres to 270 metres).

This shows that co-existence is deliverable without imposing onerous and costly burdens on farmers who wish to consider using the technology. Unfortunately, a number of EU member states appear to be ignoring this real world experience and the findings of scientific research to establish co-existence rules that are largely designed to discourage EU farmers from using GM technology. If this becomes the norm across the EU, GM technology adoption will continue to be much more limited than in the rest of world, with the consequences that EU farmers and users of agricultural produce lose out competitively and European citizens miss out on the income and employment generation opportunities and on the environmental benefits.

Graham Brookes is an independent economist and consultant specialising in agriculture and food chain issues. He is a Director of PG Economics.