Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - January 8, 2007
* We Cannot Afford to Become A Part of the Flat-Earth Brigade
* Scientists Search for the Perfect Potato
* Organic Food is No Better, Says UK's Environment Minister
* Dishing the Dirt On Organic Food
* Gates Foundation Taps A Second St. Louis Bitoech Expert
* Biotech Will Help Meet Demand for Food and Fuel
* Harnessing the Science for the Evolving consumer - The Fit of Ag Bitoech
* USDA Grants - Biotech Risk Assessment Research
* Feeds from GM Plants - Nutritional and Safety Assessment
* Detection and Fate of Novel Plant Molecules Derived from Biotech in Livestock
* Closing Markets to Biotech: Does It Pose An Economic Risk If Markets Are Globalised?
* Workshop: Biosafety of GM Crops and the Evolution of Regulatory Frameworks
* OECD's Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology
* Scholarships for Science, Society and Development Course (for Africans)
* Colorado Governor: PETA "A Bunch Of Losers," "Frauds"
We Cannot Afford to Become A Part of the Flat-Earth Brigade
- Jim Buchan, The Scotsman (UK), Jan 8, 2007 http://business.scotsman.com/agriculture.cfm?id=34932007
Genetically modified crops are back in the news again, but many farmers will reckon that it is for the wrong reason. Recently the British Potato Council, the organisation to which all commercial growers must subscribe through a levy, announced that it was not going to support research into the development of GM strains of potato resistant to blight. That has to be an own goal if ever there was one.
Blight is a foliar disease of potatoes which, if untreated, eventually rots the tubers. This was the disease that halved the population of Ireland in 1845-6, either through starvation or emigration. In the modern era, blight can be tackled by spraying at roughly ten-day intervals using a compound containing tin and manganese. If the disease takes a real hold then the farmer is left with no alternative than to burn down the crop using sulphuric acid, which is certainly not the most pleasant of chemicals to work with.
Blight is found in most years throughout the UK, especially when humidity levels are high. Global warming is forecast to lead to more warm soggy summers, so the threat from blight will be exacerbated.
Surely then it is better to research the possibility of introducing a gene which will render the potato resistant to blight rather than spraying crops with some pretty noxious chemicals. Scientists are confident that it can be accomplished, so let's get on with it. It would certainly be a huge benefit to the Scottish seed potato industry. On the broader front, GM crops are increasingly being cultivated around the world. Vast areas of soya and maize are grown in South America, the US, India and China with no apparent harmful side effects. Europe is being left behind in developing the technology and the crops specifically suited to a largely temperate climate.
It is estimated that the world will need to double its food production over the next half century. GM crops will be needed, so let's end this talk of "Frankenstein Foods" so beloved of certain ill-informed sections of the popular media. For those who remain unconvinced, let them consider that, in the early 1960s, a new and highly productive variety of barley called Golden Promise was developed.
The breeding process involved using gamma radiation on an outclassed variety called Maythorpe. If that is not a form of GM, then what is? Incidentally, almost 50 years later, Golden Promise is still being grown in Scotland, albeit on a limited scale. A certain distillery in Easter Ross uses virtually no other variety of barley to produce a very fine malt whisky!
Science and agriculture have gone hand-in-hand for centuries, and always must if people are to be fed. It is almost 11 years since the onset of the BSE crisis. It cost the farming industry billions of pounds and, tragically, the lives almost 150 people who succumbed to variant CJD. So the efforts of scientists in both the US and Japan who have succeeded in breeding cattle lacking in the prion, which is thought to be cause of BSE, has to be welcomed. However, it will be several years before it can be said with absolute certainty that BSE has been eliminated.
Dolly the Sheep, had she still been alive, would have recently celebrated her ninth birthday. Dolly was the world's first clone, but that process has been repeated frequently since and now scientists in the US have managed to clone cattle. The flat-Earth brigade will wring their hands and say that is both dangerous and immoral. Nonsense, because, if it can be done commercially, the consumer will be the eventual beneficiary.
In the early 1950s, there were those who said that artificial insemination of cattle would never work. Time has proved them wrong, but the livestock industry has moved on from those days and now eggs are frequently flushed from superior cows and used in embryo transfer programmes. One cow can produce not just a single calf, but a veritable litter. History has proven time after time that scientific advances cannot be ignored.
Farming needs that progress and the world will need it too.
1. Farmernot, Darkest Midlothian / 10:42am 8 Jan 2007
Spot on......unless we embrace GM technology we will run out of food. Global warming on the way so lets breed drought resistant crops.Also the advent of technology to breed Golden Promise led to a rise in spirit yields of almost 10% back in the late 60's and early 70's. Its time to dispel the myths......after all the current debate in todays issue on organic crops sums it up.....there is little or no difference. well done Jim Buchan ( or are you another Journo in disguise......I know so!!!!)
2. IanW, Germany / 11:55am 8 Jan 2007
GM crops have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, that is how farmers develop new crops and better yields. All the hoo-hah which surrounds GM products is because people just don't realise this. All they think is that some chemist is creating new crops by playing God.
In reality it is a scientist who uses modern technology to help him do what farmers did by cross-pollination, grafting, etc. for all these years. Let the research and testing flourish as eventually we will need their results to feed the world. Think about the poor production areas in Africa which could benefit from GM crops designed to resist disease, etc.
3. Russell M, Stirling / 12:31pm 8 Jan 2007
The surest tool (weapon) to defeat the "neo-luddites" is knowledge, widely and freely available. My thanks to the Scotsman for doing its part.
Scientists Search for the Perfect Potato
- Jesse Harlan Alderman, The Oregonian, Jan. 7, 2007 http://www.oregonlive.com/
Boise -- In the potato capital of the world, spud honchos who got sizzling rich on America's french fry affair fill downtown offices. In the distance, potato fields sprawl east and west, and there are ample cafes to carbo-load on spuds served baked, stuffed, fried and, somewhat miraculously, frozen into ice cream.
And inside tucked-away laboratories in the town that hash browns built, teams of scientists are splicing potato genes, working daily to perfect Idaho's top cash crop with modern biotechnology. At J.R. Simplot Co., the eponymous potato company founded by Idaho's richest man, biologists have used gene technology to design a spud that's tastier and resistant to unsightly bruises and sprouts.
What's more, the potato's revamped gene structure rebuffs acrylamides, potentially dangerous chemicals that studies suggest bond with sugars in fried potatoes. Company officials stress that the new potato, a genetically modified Russet Ranger, is in a preliminary research stage. It will be five to 10 years before Simplot markets a genetically enhanced potato that could supplant unmodified Russet Burbanks, the variety sold by the billions to fast-food restaurants across the world.
Still, the recent announcement of the new Russet Ranger in an industry scientific journal underscores the potential of biotechnology to mute the adverse health effects of fried snacks, while stoking the ethical debate surrounding these so-called "Frankenfoods."
No labels required
Processed foods with genetically altered materials dot the aisles of most U.S. supermarkets, the reconfigured gene structure invisible to the consumer because the government does not require labels as do most countries in Europe.
However, whole foods in supermarket produce sections are almost never genetically engineered. Only a few brands of bioengineered Hawaiian papayas and a tiny amount of sweet corn ears and squash plants are on the market, said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.
All potatoes on the market, however, retain their original genetic structure; there currently are no genetically modified potatoes in American stores, said Caius Rommens, Simplot's lead biologist on the gene-silencing project. "It's five years down the road and only if consumers really want it," Rommens said. "But this could be the first. It's a breakthrough -- the first time genetic modification ever enhanced flavor."
There are more than 50,000 genes in a potato. The scientists at Simplot removed two of those genes and introduced replicas that silence some of their negative effects, Rommens said. The altered potato could contain 7 percent more healthy starch while offering a stronger flavor.
The new potato also stores longer before its starches begin to degrade. As starch degrades, sugars build in the potato. Those sugars form acrylamides when cooked under the intense heat of a fry oven or stove, international studies first reported a few years ago.
Studies have linked acrylamide, a chemical agent once used to treat sewage, to cancer in animals, according to the World Health Organization. In California, McDonald's and Burger King have been sued for not providing warning labels informing customers that french fries could cause cancer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not ruled yet on any acrylamide risk, and the battle over warning labels is still bottled up in court. Fred Zerza, a Simplot spokesman, said a link between acrylamides in french fries and human cancer has never been proven. But, the gene-altering technology's potential to solve the problem is promising, he said. "That's one of the traits that we hope this research would have the potential for," he said. "But it's a gradual process."
Even when the new Russet Ranger is perfected, it may not be a potato panacea. Consumers are skittish about genetically modified foods. Fast food products, already under intense scrutiny from health groups and government regulators, may not withstand a public outcry against this "Brave New World" of food science.
Testing for risks
Jaffe, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it's crucial that genetically modified foods be tested for higher levels of natural toxins, allergens and other potential public health risks. The center thinks that after genetically modified foods face a battery of testing and regulation, the choice to eat an altered potato, tomato or other food should be left up to the consumer.
The position differs from several national organic food associations that oppose scientific engineering of crops. "We need to regulate it and make sure there are no food safety risks," Jaffe said. "And if there are health benefits, we could support that."
Simplot marketers hopes they can eventually sell a technical distinction to the french fry-noshing public: that their bioengineered potato does not include foreign DNA and is not a crossbred species. Currently, Simplot's Russet Ranger only modifies existing potato genes. "Presumably a higher-quality potato would receive consumer acceptance, but that's a question mark," Zerza said. "There's been an indication that there's a reluctance of consumers in this country and to a greater extent in Japan and Europe."
Government regulators would likely be a smaller obstacle, said Alan Bennett, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration in Portland, Ore. With all genetically modified foods, the agency examines the final product to ensure it does not differ in taste or health effects from what the customer expects. "Our concern is not how it's produced, but what the end product is," Bennett said.
Jeff Stark, an agronomist with the University of Idaho's Tri-State Potato Program in Aberdeen, Idaho, said genetically modified potatoes are poised to succeed if consumers are convinced of the health benefits. "The public is likely to be more willing to accept genetically modified plant material in the food supply as long it improves their health," he said. "My personal opinion is it's a viable option."
UK: Organic Food is No Better, Says Environment Minister
- Isabel Oakeshott, The Sunday Times (London) January 7, 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk
Organic food may be no better for you than mass-produced farm food, according to the cabinet minister responsible for the industry.
David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a "lifestyle choice" with no hard evidence that it is healthier. His comments will be a blow to the organic food industry, which is pressing for government recognition of what it describes as the nutritional and environmental benefits of its produce.
Sales of organic food jumped by 30% last year, with the industry now worth £1.6 billion. A growing number of shoppers believe that it tastes better and is safer. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Miliband said: "It's only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I would not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it's not organic."
He insisted that ordinary food should not be thought of as "second best", although he described the rise of organics as "exciting". On nutritional benefits, the minister said: "It's a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn't any conclusive evidence either way."
About 350 pesticides are allowed in conventional farming, with an estimated 4.5 billion litres of chemicals poured onto British crops every year. Campaigners say the average mass-produced apple has 20 to 30 chemicals on its skin.
The Soil Association, which regulates organic food, argues that meat, vegetables and dairy produced without pesticides are likely to be healthier, with some additives used in conventional farming linked to asthma and heart disease. Organic meat also has welfare benefits, guaranteeing that animals are kept in free-range conditions and fed natural diets.
However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused to accept these arguments. Sir John Krebs, a former chairman of the FSA, angered organic lobbyists when he said that there was no evidence that organic food was more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced food, despite its cost.
Organic produce is up to 63% more expensive than conventional food, according to recent research by Morgan Stanley, the investment bank. The Soil Association says this is because it takes longer to produce and is more labour intensive.
Dishing the Dirt On Organic Food
- Hugh Pennington, The Scotsman (UK) Jan 8, 2007 http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=35462007
Sales of organic food in Britain have never been higher. There can be little doubt that the people buying it believe it is healthier for them than other products, and that this faith is responsible for its popularity. So it is not surprising that David Miliband's comments as a government minister that organic food is a "lifestyle choice" have been top of the news.
His comment that there is no conclusive evidence either way concerning the health effects of pesticides will surprise many. But he is right. Dispassionate analysis of the many studies done over the years searching for the health benefits of eating organic food has found none.
Admittedly, such studies are difficult to do. Two sizeable groups of individuals identical in all respects other than in the way their otherwise identical diets have been grown would have to be compared from birth to death to make the results of such a study scientifically compelling. Such research has never been done. So we have to rely on much less satisfactory evidence.
But no organic advantages have emerged. Neither has any evidence that food grown conventionally using synthesised fertilisers and pesticides is harmful because of their use.
Of course, there is plenty of evidence that food-associated health problems occur. But excessive consumption is the big villain of the piece. It could be said that the popularity of organic food might help here because it is significantly more expensive.
However, this is not true for another very common group of diseases - food poisoning by microbes. Organic food is just as likely to be contaminated microbiologically as intensively farmed meat or vegetables, and for some products more so, as shown by recent research on Campylobacter in chickens.
The lack of any detectable health-giving property of organic food is mirrored by the absence of any laboratory tests that can distinguish it from food grown differently. And those organisations that regulate it, like the Soil Association, define it not in terms of properties as a product, but by the way it is produced.
In my view, this is where the demonstrable effects of organic systems are to be found, like more birds and insects in organic fields. The minimisation of antibiotic use is another good thing - but microbiologists were calling for this long before organic farming became popular.
I have nothing against organic food as a component of the basket of foods available to us in the UK today. I have nothing but admiration for the success of those responsible for marketing it and their ability to overcome the propensity of the public to choose food primarily on price (as shown by survey after survey). As niche products, organic food is here to stay. But from the health point of view, at the end of the day, it is nothing but a brand.
Advertising and lobby groups are very successful in determining our eating preferences and the way we grow our food (organic farming is not unsubsidised). They are parts of a free society. But challenges to their influence should be made from time to time. So I welcome David Miliband's comments.
It is also worth noting that the environmental effects of organic systems are not all beneficial. Much organic food sold in the UK is imported. It generates food miles by the million. And a big by-product of animal manure production for organic fertiliser is methane, 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Most important, to put organic farming in a global context, it is an undisputed fact that two-fifths of the world's population lives on food whose production is dependent on artificial fertiliser. Organic food will never feed us all.
Gates Foundation Taps A Second St. Louisan
- Eric Hand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 5, 2007
A second prominent figure in the St. Louis plant science community will be leaving for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been gobbling up America's best and brightest to help it spend billions of dollars on issues of global poverty and hunger.
Lawrence Kent, the director of international programs at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur, said he would begin work in Seattle on March 1. He was recruited for the position by Rob Horsch, a former Monsanto executive who left for the foundation last fall. Both will be working to fund projects aimed at small farmers in the developing world.
"What it says is that the Gates Foundation knows where to get good people," said Danforth Center president Roger Beachy. "He knew Africa," Beachy said. "He had the same philosophy that I do, which is that science should be useful." Beachy said it won't hurt to have two people familiar with St. Louis researchers holding the strings to the Gates Foundation's large purse.
The foundation has a $32 billion endowment that is just beginning to incorporate money from a $31 billion pledge made by billionaire investor Warren Buffett last year. Kent will report to Horsch, and Horsch will report to Dr. Rajiv Shah, the director of agricultural development programs, which will fund projects in four areas: technology to improve seeds and crop yields; fertilizer, irrigation and other farm management systems; access to markets; and advocacy for improved agricultural policies.
As to whether the Gates Foundation supports controversial biotechnologies, Shah said: "We do believe in the power of science and technology to transform peoples' lives. That said, all of our funding to date in the agriculture portfolio has been looking at conventional ways to improve crops." He added, "At the end of the day, we believe countries and farmers should make up their minds about the technology."
Kent has been involved in trying to bring a genetically modified cassava, an important potato-like crop, to African nations. The plant is suffering from a continent-wide disease that has cut yields in half. Scientists at the nonprofit Danforth Center, which freely licenses its technology to poor countries, have genetically engineered a cassava that is resistant to the plant virus causing the disease. The center also is part of a consortium that has received money from the Gates Foundation's global health initiatives to fortify cassava with vitamins and minerals.
Biotechnology Will Help Meet Demand for Food and Fuel, BIO says
Biotechnology makes "food vs. fuel" a false choice
- Business Wire, January 5, 2007
Washington - Biotechnology is helping American farmers continue to supply an economic, environmentally sustainable supply of food and raw material for biofuels, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said today in response to a recent Earth Policy Institute report. BIO noted the EPI report underestimates the impact biotechnology will have in increasing yields of both corn and ethanol from corn as well as producing ethanol from cellulose, meeting worldwide demand for both food and fuel.
"Agricultural biotechnology is helping farmers increase corn yields so we can make more ethanol," stated BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood. "In addition, industrial biotech companies are developing new enzymes that make current ethanol processes more efficient and will soon allow the economical conversion of cellulosic crop residues to fuel. With ongoing advances in biotechnology, biofuels can help America meet nearly half its transportation-fuel needs by the middle of this century."
BIO's recently released report, "Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock," outlines current and future feedstock supply challenges for the biofuel industry and discusses incentives to spur sustainable production, harvest and delivery of agricultural cellulosic biomass. The report shows that corn stover and cereal straw can supply 200 million dry tons of feedstock annually within three to five years, tripling current ethanol from corn production. The report is available http://www.bio.org/ind/biofuel/SustainableBiomassReport.pdf.
"The Earth Policy Institute's calculations fail to take into account recent developments in the ethanol industry that will ramp up production of ethanol from cellulose," said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO's Industrial and Environmental Section. "The technology for production of ethanol from cellulose is ready today. With industrial biotech processes ready for deployment and production -- by companies such as Abengoa, Iogen, Broin, Mascoma and others -- and currently available feedstock from agricultural residues such as corn stalks, ethanol production could reach three times current levels within three to five years as ethanol from cellulose is added to the current biofuel technology mix."
Harnessing the Science for the Evolving consumer - The Fit of Agricultural Bitoechnology
- September 23-27, Calgary, Alberta, Canada - http://www.abic.ca/abic2007/
In recent years, the annual Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) has become an essential event for professionals around the world. Scientists, entrepreneurs, policy specialists, government officials and many others depend on ABIC conferences to be challenging, penetrating and highly applicable to their day-to-day work.
It is with the greatest pride that we invite you to attend ABIC 2007, from September 23 to 26, 2007 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Our aim is to build on the successes of previous conferences and take ABIC into exciting new territory.
The field of agricultural biotechnology is located at the intersection of scientific possibility and commercial reality. The advance of the products and technologies of ag biotech depends in equal measure on what science can do and how consumers respond.
The theme of ABIC 2007 Calgary is Harnessing Science for the Evolving Consumer: The Fit of Agricultural Biotechnology. With ABIC Calgary 2007 drawing near, we have searched the globe to bring you the most authoritative and forward-looking speakers on a wide variety of essential ag biotech topics. If ag biotech is your business, ABIC Calgary 2007 is the place to be.
- Rick Smith, Co-Chair; Art Froehlich, Co-Chair
USDA Grants - Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program
The purpose of the USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) Program is to assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing genetically modified organisms into the environment. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant.
Applications to the USDA BRAG Program must seek partial funding for a conference or address one of the following areas: 1) Identify and develop practices to minimize risks associated with genetically engineered organisms; 2) Research methods to monitor the dispersal of genetically engineered organisms; 3) Research to increase knowledge about the characteristics, rates, and methods of gene transfer that may occur between genetically engineered organisms, and related organisms; 4) Perform assessments to provide analysis which compares impacts of organisms modified through genetic engineering to other types of production systems
Deadline 15 Feb. Contact: Kathy Kimble-Day, Program Specialist, Phone 202-401-4420.
Studies on Feeds from Genetically Modified Plants (GMP) - Contributions to Nutritional and Safety Assessment
- G. Flachowsky K. Aulrich, H. Böhme and I. Halle Animal Feed Science And Technology, Vol. 133(1-2) , Pages 2-30
Since 1997, 18 studies with feeds from genetically modified plants (GMP) in the nutrition of dairy cows, growing bulls, growing and finishing pigs, laying hens, chicken for finishing as well as growing and laying quails were conducted at the Federal Agricultural Research Centre (FAL) in Braunschweig (Germany).
The majority of the experiments (16) were undertaken with GMP of the so-called first generation (plants with input traits and without substantial changes in composition) such as Bt-maize, Pat-maize, Pat-sugar beet, Gt-soybean, Gt-potatoes and Bt-potatoes. Two studies were carried out with GMP of the second generation (plants with output traits or with substantial changes in their chemical composition) such as an altered fatty acids profile in rapeseed or inulin potatoes. In all experiments, feeds from GMP were compared with their isogenic counterparts.
The iso- and transgenic feeds were analysed for their composition (proximates, fibre fraction, amino acids, fatty acid pattern, minerals) and undesirable substances (e.g., mycotoxins). Animal studies were carried out for nutritional and safety assessment such as digestibility, feed intake, health and performance of target animal species and quality of food of animal origin. Reproduction was studied in a 10-generation experiment with quails and a 4-generation experiment with laying hens. Duration of experiments and number of animals were limited in some cases due to small amounts of GM-feed available for experimentation.
Attention was drawn to the fate of DNA during feed processing (silage making, oil extraction), in the digestive tract of animals (slaughtering of animals 0, 4, 8, 12 and 24 h after feeding) and in the animal body (samples from several organs and tissues).
In agreement with more than 100 animal studies available to date, results show no significant differences in the nutritional value of feeds from GMP of the first generation in comparison with non-GMP varieties. To date, no fragments of recombinant DNA have been found in any organ or tissue sample from animals fed GMP. The lower content of mycotoxins in Bt-maize and side effects in GMP of the second generation are of safety concern.
The results indicate that routine feeding studies with target animal species add little to nutritional assessment of feed from GMP of the first generation, but they are of public interest and important for safety assessment. These studies will play a more important role in nutritional and safety assessment of feeds from GMP with output traits. Proposals for such studies were made on the basis of previous experiments.
A Review of the Detection and Fate of Novel Plant Molecules Derived from Biotechnology in Livestock Production
- Trevor W. Alexander et al. Animal Feed Science And Technology, vol. 133(1-2) , pages 31-62
Since the commercialization of the first genetically modified (GM) crop in 1996, the amount of arable land dedicated to the production of GM feed has increased significantly. Despite widespread adoption of GM foods and feeds, public perception of their safety remains mixed. To provide consumers the opportunity for choice, some countries have adopted mandatory labeling of GM foods and feeds when their adventitious presence exceeds a defined threshold percentage.
Methods for detecting and quantifying GM plants in feeds include protein- and DNA-based assays, but their sensitivity may be influenced by the techniques used in feed processing. Interest in the consumption of transgenic protein and DNA has prompted investigations of their fate within the gastrointestinal tract of livestock and the potential to which transgenes or their products may be incorporated into tissues. Transgenic protein has not been detected in any animal tissues or products. Fragments of DNA from endogenous, high-copy number chloroplast genes from plants have been detected in poultry, pig and ruminant tissues. Low-copy endogenous and transgenic DNA in animal tissues have been detected but to a lesser extent than high-copy genes.
Current research suggests that the passage of dietary DNA fragments across the intestinal wall is a natural physiological event, the likelihood of which is dependent on their concentration in the feed. To date, the transgenic traits approved for expression in crops used as feeds have not posed a safety concern for livestock.
Closing Markets to Biotechnology: Does It Pose An Economic Risk If Markets Are Globalised?
- Stuart Smyth, William A. Kerr, Kelly A. Davey, International Journal Of Technology And Globalisation, Vol. 2(3/4), (2006) 377-389 http://www.inderscience.com (Full paper with tables from Stuart Smyth
College of Biotechnology, University of Saskatchewan, stuart.smyth(@)usask.ca
Abstract: This paper compares international trading patterns for canola, corn and soybean varieties prior to commercialisation of the Genetically Modified (GM) varieties with present trading patterns that include GM varieties. Any marketplace changes that have occurred are analysed to determine the cause for any market shifts. GM canola, corn and soybeans entered the marketplace successfully, but some international markets were lost because of the commercialisation of the GM varieties. The paper examines if these industries were able to successfully identify any new marketplace opportunities and shift commodity exports into new markets.
While technological change is most often seen as beneficial, it is not normally embraced by all members of society. Any technological change will lead to losers as well as winners. Further, change itself is disturbing to some members of society and they will resist it (Smyth et al., 2004). In recent years, agricultural biotechnology has been one of the most controversial new technologies. While there has been widespread licensing and adoption of biotechnology in some countries, other countries have not approved the use of the technology and have closed their markets to the imports of products produced using the technology. One of the arguments marshalled by those who wish to inhibit the spread of biotechnology to additional crops is that the potential for market closures presents a significant economic risk. This paper examines the validity of this argument in the era of globalisation.
The adoption of GM crops has occurred at a rapid pace. As noted by James (2003), the acreage of GM crops increased by 15% alone between 2002 and 2003. Based on these adoption rates, concerns of agricultural producers regarding negative market impacts from the production of GM varieties would not appear to be high. Given the rapid adoption rates of GM crop varieties, the increased level of international trade and rising concerns regarding the consumption of GM food products, the logical question to pose is has the adoption of GM crops in Canada and the USA affected the export markets for canola, corn and soybeans?
We compare trade patterns for Canada and the USA in canola, corn and soybeans by examining the value of commodity exports. Data has been gathered from the 19901996 period for the Canada and the USA, prior to the commercialisation of GM crops. This is compared to the post commercialisation period of 19972003. Once the trade patterns are identified, any changes and/or market losses can be identified.
2 What the critics claim
Numerous claims have, and still are, being made about potential market losses from the commercialisation of GM crops. Many of these claims originate from environmental Closing markets to biotechnology groups and producer organisations opposed to the production of GM crops in both Canada and the USA. In an attempt to address the validity of these claims, we will present the arguments put forward by those opposed to GM crop technology to determine the accuracy of their statements.
One of the leading studies that was highly critical of biotechnology and suggested several areas of market loss was a report released by the UK Soils Association (2002). This report stated that the commercialisation of GM canola in Canada in 1996 was directly responsible for the loss of virtually all canola sales to Europe that was reported to be C$300400 million annually. In addition to the lost canola sales to Europe, the report goes on to suggest that Canada was on the verge of losing the ability to export canola to China due to new import regulations, an additional loss of C$125 million per year.
The report identifies large market impacts in the USA as well; reporting US corn exports to the European Union (EU) had dropped by 99.4% from 19962001. The report states that US corn exports to the EU in 1996 totalled 2.8 million tonnes and were worth US$ 305 million, and by 2001 total corn trade was 6,300 tonnes worth US$ 1.8 million. In addition to commodity exports, US corn gluten meal exports to the EU dropped from 5.5 million tonnes in 19951996 down to 4.4 million tonnes in 20002001.
The report (p.43) states that when all corn-related exports from the USA to the EU are considered, "the USA lost an estimated $2 billion in trade with Europe". There is also a suggestion in the report that US corn exports to Japan and Korea have been rejected due to contamination concerns. Finally, the report notes that the US share of the world soy market has dropped from 57% to 46%, but no time frame is provided for these figures. It is well known that in recent years soy production in Brazil and Argentina has been increasing rapidly, eroding US market share.
Market loss claims have also been made by producer organisations. In March 2004, the Illinois Farm Bureau (2004) issued a press release regarding the approval of new GM corn varieties that protect against damage from rootworm. The press release states that the release of these GM corn varieties " could threaten a $400 million market for corn gluten ". The press release additionally suggests that if the USA were to lose the EU corn gluten market, it would disrupt the entire US corn market and depress the domestic price of corn and that this would cost US corn producers US$ 1 billion.
Clearly, unsubstantiated claims are being made about market losses pertaining to the commercialisation of GM crops in North America. The focus of the paper is to examine the value of exports for crop varieties that have commercialised GM varieties and to determine what, if any, market impact has occurred. The paper will identify how the globalisation has allowed markets to adjust to handle the commercialisation of GM varieties and identifies how international trade has shifted among international buyers.
3 Economic trade effects of closing markets The commercialisation and introduction of GM products into the global marketplace have been a subject of intense debate. As with any contentious issue, the debate is led by advocates and opponents with vested interests or strong preferences who vie for the hearts and minds of a largely indifferent general public as well as political decision makers. In true advocate style, both sides marshal arguments and evidence that bolster their case. As illustrated above, opponents have not shied away from using the potential 'loss of export markets' argument to further their cause.
It will be argued here that, while there may be some loss of export revenue from some markets being closed to GM products, the actual loss in revenue is likely to be far less than those prophesised by the opponents. While the use of overly pessimistic projections of the loss of revenue for export sectors may in some cases be ingenuous, one suspects that the real cause is a poor understanding of international trade and the substitution possibilities that arise in international markets under globalisation.
Each new commercialisation of a GM crop creates a marketplace impact. Initially, these impacts were productivity-related with the advent of commercial varieties of herbicide tolerant canola, corn and soybeans. Lately, however, the marketplace impacts have become considerably more noticeable and arise from consumer-based shifts in demand or as a result of regulatory interference. In some instances these forces may have altered traditional international trade patterns.
It would appear that when GM crop varieties are initially commercialised, there is a short period where small market losses may occur. The international market, however, quickly adjusted to these varieties. This is the result expected if markets are globalised. The canola and soybean markets have experienced export growth in the post-GM marketplace and the corn export market has been increasing since 2000. The key is that these markets have recovered in the absence of two key factors. First, there has been no regulatory intervention to restrict or attempt to control the adoption of GM canola, corn or soybeans. Second, all three GM crop types operate with a pooled market, that is, any efforts to provide a differentiated product such as a non-GM variety, is purely a voluntary effort.
One of the most noticeable market impacts came not from the commercialisation of GM varieties, but rather from the economic collapse of the former Soviet Union. The former USSR was forced to reduce purchases in all commodity areas, which had a huge impact on the global market as exporters were quickly forced to identify market alternatives and establish sales opportunities within those markets.
At roughly the same time as the collapse of the former USSR, the globe witnessed the rise of one of the 21st Century's economic powers, China. Exports in all three GM commodities have increased to China following the commercialisation of GM varieties. China has been open to the innovation of agricultural biotechnology and has had to increase market access to foreign exports following China's joining the World Trade Organization. Considerable amounts of commodity exports have moved from the former USSR to the Chinese market and this impact has no relationship to the commercialisation of GM crops.
There are many more factors that affect international commodity markets than the commercialisation of GM crops. While GM crops did have some market impact, it is minimal when compared to the natural volatility of these international markets. Global markets have dealt with and adjusted to market shocks considerably greater than those resulting from GM crop commercialisation and markets faced with GM variety commercialisation can be assured that the international market for their exports will adjust in a similar manner.
Huge markets worth hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars are not being lost, as claimed by critics of agricultural biotechnology. Globalisation means market integration; it also means that markets are easily substitutable. While the uptake of new technologies may vary among countries, globalisation should allow a sufficient degree of international market substitutability for investments in the development of new technologies not to be inhibited.
Workshop: Biosafety of GM Crops and the Evolution of Regulatory Frameworks
- Belo Horizonte, Brazil; September 24 - 28, 2007 http://www.anbio.org.br/eventos/icgeb.htm
Organised by: International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology; Deadline for applications: 31 March 2007. The workshop is aimed primarily at people who will be in a position to review applications for the deliberate release of genetically modified crops.
It will a training workshop on genetically modified organism biosafety, with formal lectures on biosafety and several sessions of hands-on exercises as in actual regulatory review process. There will also be a chance to analyse and discuss the near term evolution and challenges in genetic modification biosafety, namely the developments of genetically modified crops expressing complex phenotypes, non-food applications and gene-restriction constructs.
Contact: secretaria.at.anbio.org.br or l.oda.at.uol.com.br.
OECD's Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology
Latest newsletter at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/37/35/37785967.doc
OECD and its member countries have been addressing issues related to biotechnology since 1982.
Since that time, biotechnology has had an increasing impact on the programmes of different sectors at OECD such as: agriculture; science, technology, and industry; environment; and trade. So in 1993, the Internal Co-ordination Group on Biotechnology (ICGB) was established to facilitate co-ordination among these sectors.
More recently, there has been much public discussion about the potential of nanotechnologies, which are set to offer a wide range of economic benefits. Such technologies pose new policy challenges to governments, which will require a robust framework of policy and safety. The OECD is working on efficient policies and effective instruments that foster the safe development of nanotechnologies.
- Peter Kearns, the Head of OECD's Biosafety Programme
- Masatoshi Kobayashi, Environment, Health and Safety Division
Scholarships for Science, Society and Development Course (for Africans)
- Institute of Development Studies http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/teach/mascience.html
Two full scholarships are available in 2007 for African students wishing to study on the new Institute of Development Studies (IDS) masters course - Science, Society and Development.
* What will future health and agricultural systems look like?
* Who will benefit from genetically modified crops or new vaccines?
* Will there be enough water for people to survive the 21st century?
* What are the implications of global pandemics of HIV/AIDS or bird flu?
* What does a global knowledge economy and society mean?
Focusing on such pressing practical and policy questions in health, environment and agriculture, this programme provides students with a solid grounding in development concepts and theories, in combination with an understanding of the politics and governance of scientific knowledge and policy processes.
Contact: Julia Brown, Tel: +44 1273 678869 Email: j.l.brown.at.ids.ac.uk
Colorado Governor: PETA "A Bunch Of Losers," "Frauds"
Links to audio at http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/headline/3212
As many as 340,000 cows and steers have been left stranded by southeastern Colorado's most recent snowstorm, and National Guard units are helping ranchers in a frantic bid to save the freezing animals. Faced with 15-foot snowdrifts, rescuers are airlifting bales of hay and hoping for the best.
But as Coloradans are learning, the wealthy People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) isn't about to lift a finger. Not for those animals -- the ones destined to be flame-broiled, grilled, or roasted. Appearing on Denver radio station KRFX yesterday morning, Colorado Governor Bill Owens spoke for all of us. PETA, he declared, are "a bunch of losers" [click to listen] and "frauds" [click to listen].
Penn and Teller take on PETA