Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 16, 2007
* EFSA statement on MON 863 maize
* China To Increase Spending On Agricultural Biotechnology
* Mexico Closes Border to U.S. GM Rice
* EU may change environment requirements for farmers
* Kill The Frankenstein Myth
EFSA statement on the recent CRIIGEN  publication on MON 863 maize
- EFSA (press release), 15 March 2007, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press_room/press_statements/mon863.html
EFSA is aware of the recently presented publication by the CRIIGEN research group on genetically modified maize MON 863 containing a revised statistical analysis of the 90 day rat study considered in the risk assessment. EFSA will carefully evaluate this new publication and its new statistical analysis including any possible significance this publication may have on the risk assessment of MON 863. MON 863 maize has been subject to a comprehensive risk assessment by EFSA and by other authorities which did not identify any adverse effects on human and animal health or the environment. The 90 day rat study analysed by CRIIGEN is one element of the comprehensive risk assessment of MON863 maize. The CRIIGEN analysis findings on MON 863 will be discussed by the GMO Panel at its next meeting to be held in Parma on 22/23 March 2007.
 Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering
 http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/science/gmo/gmo_opinions/381.html and http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/science/gmo/gmo_opinions/383.html**
 Australia/New Zealand: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/A484_Final_Assessment_Report.pdf
 Canada: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/cry3bb1_e.html
 France: http://www.afssa.fr/Ftp/Afssa/22026-22027.pdf**
**ed. note: these links refer to findings of other 90-day rat-feeding studies of MON 863 which similarly concluded that the corn does not harm the organs of rats--studies which the Greenpeace-sponsored CRIIGEN authors found it expedient to ignore. As of this writing, Greenpeace has not yet made the CRIIGEN paper freely available to the public.
China To Increase Spending On Agricultural Biotechnology
- Richard Bowden, All Headline News, March 15, 2007, http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7006757771
Beijing, China (AHN) - China is expected to increase its spending on agricultural biotechnology almost five fold by 2010 in an attempt to improve food security for its rapidly increasing population the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
China's population, currently 1.3 billion or twenty percent of the world's total, is expected to rise to 1.5 billion by 2020. Yet with only seven percent of the world's arable land, China needs to address the problem of feeding its people.
By increasing its research in genetically modified food products, China hopes to lessen its dependency on other countries for food products such as soy beans.
"The government takes the issue of food security seriously," said Zhang Liang Chen, president of the Agricultural University of China. "Last year we imported 17m tonnes of soybean from the US, Brazil and Argentina. This dependency could lead to trouble in the future."
Already accounting for twenty percent of the world's investment into global research into agricultural biotechnology, the spending is expected to more than quadruple as China attempts to meet soaring food demand.
With an estimated 6.8 million Chinese farmers already using biotechnology crops, increased Chinese research spending could potentially posing a commercial threat to more established biotech companies such as the American giant Monsanto.
"The landscape is changing very fast," said Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. "China has already developed a biotechnology cotton variety that is insect-resistant that competes with the private sector companies."
Mexico Closes Border to U.S. GM Rice
- Farm Futures, March 16, 2007, http://www.farmfutures.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=CD26BEDECA4A4946A1283CC7786AEB5A&nm=News&type=news&mod=News&mid=9A02E3B96F2A415ABC72CB5F516B4C10&tier=3&nid=73A6C43F0DD14BF5ACD9CA847BF7E76D
Mexico is requiring certification to show that U.S. rice crossing the border does not contain genetically modified rice.
Mexican officials are holding U.S. rice imports at the border and requiring certification o conclusively show that the rice is not contaminated with genetically engineered variety LLRICE601.
Mexico joins other U.S. rice markets such as Europe and Japan in putting measures in place to stop genetically engineered rice from crossing their borders. Mexico is currently the largest export market for U.S. rice, with $205 million worth in exports in 2006.
The precautionary measures come in response to the contamination of conventionally grown rice with LLRICE601, a genetically engineered variety developed by Bayer CropScience.
The USA Rice Federation is in contact with the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in relation to the border closing.
The actions mark Mexico's first precautionary measures on the import of genetically engineered food.
EU may change environment requirements for farmers
- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, http://today.reuters.com/sponsoredby/ge/eco-business/article.aspx?type=environment&storyid=2007-03-16T112653Z_01_L16612307_RTRIDST_0_ENVIRONMENT-EU-FARM-RULES-DC.XML&src=rss
Brussels - EU regulators plan to slice through much of the red tape surrounding a series of strict environment requirements that must be met before farmers receive subsidies for growing crops, a document showed on Friday.
In a report due to be unveiled this month, the EU's executive Commission will propose streamlining the system known as cross-compliance, where farmers who qualify for agricultural cash must comply with various environmental laws that aim to keep farming land, and the countryside, in good condition.
If they fail to adhere strictly to a list of 18 EU standards in environment, food safety and animal health and welfare, then farmers can quickly lose funding. Cross-compliance was the main environmental element within the EU's sweeping 2003 farm reform.
"As the farmers are at the heart of the system and their acceptance of cross-compliance is central to its success, it is very important to see things from their perspective," the Commission said in the document due to be published on March 28.
"Cross-compliance may indeed represent a challenge as it often results in a rather bulky set of rules ... The crucial element, the possibility of reduced payments, is also a matter of concern," said the document, obtained by Reuters.
After canvassing the EU countries where the system operates -- nearly all states that joined the bloc in 2004 are exempt from the obligations -- the Commission thinks some simplification is needed.
National farm authorities told the Commission that the system was "burdensome," with far too much technical paperwork for farmers to complete to prove they were in full compliance.
EU rules were unclear about how any subsidy reductions should be calculated, they said, and also for on-the-spot checks in areas like wild birds and habitats, as well as how to ensure sheep, goats and pigs were properly tagged and registered.
The draft Commission report proposes a number of technical changes to make farmers' lives simpler, while not altering the principles of cross-compliance as agreed during the 2003 reform.
There would be advance notice given of on-the-spot farm checks, perhaps to be conducted on only half the land areas eligible for EU payments rather than a whole farm, it said.
The EU's so-called "10-month rule," whereby a farmer must retain all parcels of land that he has declared eligible for EU payments -- not sell them -- for 10 months, would also change.
The Commission proposes more leeway for minor infringements with a threshold below which no action would be taken. But a warning letter would be sent to the farmer concerned first.
"For farmers it makes a big difference, with notice of inspections and the 10-month rule," a Commission official said.
And there will also be special treatment for the eight EU countries that use a simplified transitional scheme for farm subsidies and do not yet have to apply cross-compliance rules.
When they joined the EU in 2004, that group chose a specially designed flat-rate system known as the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS) for distributing farm subsidies according to land area from a single pot of cash. It expires in 2008.
The rest of the EU, apart from the newest joiners Bulgaria and Romania, uses a far more complex payment system that was also chosen by Malta and Slovenia on their EU accession in 2004.
At present, the eight SAPS states are exempted from the cross-compliance obligations. The Commission now proposes a three-year phasing-in period so the requirements would kick in from 2009. For Bulgaria and Romania, they would start in 2012.
To subsidize actual food
- Stephen J. Hedges, March 16, 2007, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0703160127mar16,1,5263524.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
It might seem strange to most Americans, but the building congressional debate over the Bush administration's proposed 2007 farm bill involves something unusual: actual food.
This bill puts new emphasis on what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls specialty crops: fruits, vegetables and nuts from trees. They make up a third of the nation's cash crop receipts--50 percent of receipts if floriculture and greenhouse plant sales are counted--and, until now, they haven't drawn much federal money or attention.
Expanded competition from overseas, as well as a change in the government's nutrition pyramid in 2005, new concerns about nutrition in the federally funded school meals program and the growing organic foods market have all helped to elevate specialty crops in the agriculture funding debate.
"The specialty crop group has always been tangentially involved, and now we expect to be in the middle of things," said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive of the National Potato Council. "This promises to be a more open process than before."
Past farm funding measures have been dominated by the needs of what the agriculture industry calls "program crops" or, more informally, "the big five"--corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton. Those crops are variously used not just to feed people, but also for products that range from corn syrup sweeteners and animal feed to fabrics and ethanol.
Now that emphasis is changing. In 2003, fruit and vegetable growers pushed a Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act through Congress, elevating their industry's profile and the need to fund crop research and market expansion. But that funding is just a fraction of the $12 billion the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be spent annually until 2016 under USDA programs to pay farmers for failed crops, land set-asides and disaster relief.
Nearly two years ago, the produce growers formed an alliance to promote their agenda in Congress. And the new Democratic-controlled House in January established a subcommittee on horticulture and organic agriculture, in addition to an existing subcommittee on specialty crops.
Charles Conner, the deputy secretary of agriculture, told a House committee last month that the latest farm bill will "create greater equity in farm policy by increasing support for specialty crop growers through an array of changes that will enhance their ability to compete in the marketplace."
$500 million school program
The proposed 2007 farm bill would "target nearly $5 billion in funding to support specialty crop producers by increasing nutrition in food assistance programs, including school meals, through the purchase of fruits and vegetables, funding specialty crop research, fighting trade barriers and expanding export markets," according to the USDA. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are examining the proposal.
For specialty crop growers, the biggest boost could come from $500 million over 10 years that the USDA proposes to spend to put more fruits and vegetables into the national school lunch and breakfast programs. Those direct purchases would most likely expand a school lunch fruit-and-vegetable snack program already active in 16 states.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has also proposed spending $20 million a year to study obesity in low-income Americans, work that is almost certain to put a new emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
Jean Daniel of the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service said, "The administration has also offered a proposal to increase spending on fruits and vegetables across all 15 feeding programs, about $2.75 billion over 10 years. That will provide fruits and veggies not only to school meal programs but to emergency food assistance that we have through food banks and in reserve."
Other proposed changes in the farm bill include $68 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program, and $230 million over 10 years to expand market access for non-program crops.
Another $1 billion, the USDA said, should be invested over 10 years to "establish a Specialty Crop Research Initiative that would provide science-based tools for the specialty crop industry."
And $100 million, the department said, should go to support producers of cellulosic ethanol.
While all that looks good on paper, some in the specialty crop industry say that some of the proposals are deceptive.
`Highly competitive industry'
Most distressing, according to Tom Nassif, president and chief executive of the Western Growers Association, is the USDA's proposal to lift a produce-growing ban on farmers who received subsidies for program crops.
Currently, USDA regulations prohibit farmers who receive those subsidies from growing specialty crops. The USDA said it must lift the ban to make U.S. crops comply with World Trade Organization agreements.
But Nassif said there isn't an existing WTO export agreement that governs fruits and vegetables. The USDA proposal, he said, would give some program crop farmers an unfair advantage over those already growing specialty crops.
"We're paying for the previous sins of the cotton industry when we've done absolutely nothing," said Nassif, a former Reagan administration official and U.S. ambassador to Morocco. "Why should we grow fruits and vegetables on land that's not subsidized?"
It doesn't appear that the emphasis on specialty crops will hurt the funding that program crops now receive. The specialty crop farmers are not asking for price supports or assistance similar to the aid program crop farmers receive. In fact, they make a point of noting that they don't want government involvement in their pricing and planting decisions.
"This is a highly entrepreneurial-based, competitive industry," said Mike Stuart, president and chief executive of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. "They [growers] see direct payments as not productive. But they do see investment in research and nutrition programs as ways to keep the industry free from basic pests and disease."
Sam Willet, senior director of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, said his group is concerned with restructuring federal aid that corn farmers receive. The specialty crop incentives, he said, are spread through the farm bill and don't directly affect commodity supports.
Fruit and vegetable growers "made very clear last year that they want to have greater resources out of the farm bill," Willet said. "That's not in terms of direct assistance, but in programs that would fund research and in their marketing and export efforts."
Kill The Frankenstein Myth: Genetically Modified Food, Science and Technology Are Good
- V.S.Siddharth, I Am Therefore I Think, March 15, 2007, http://thesixthsheikhssixthsheepssick.blogspot.com/2007/03/kill-frankenstein-myth-genetically.html
The American Government's Decison to formally impose regulations on genetically modified foods was supposed to be a step forward for scientific objectivity--but it will actually serve to perpetuate an anti-biotech crusade fueled by an irrational hatred of science and technology.
The ostensible purpose of the American Government's rules is to "reassure consumers" about the safety of genetically modified foods. But it will merely serve to give an undeserved legitimacy to anti-biotech environmental activists, by treating their scare tactics as scientific claims to be answered with scientific evidence.
In reality, these claims are based not in science, but in a superstitious fear of science and technology. It is revealing that environmental activists have chosen to smear genetically modified foods with the term "frankenfood," invoking Frankenstein, the classic horror story of a mad scientist who tampers with nature's secrets and unleashes a rampaging monster. The moral of the story, as stated in Mary Shelley's novel, is to show "how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge"--an appropriate theme for a movement dedicated to stamping out new technology.
But this Frankenstein myth, and its theme of the dangers of science, has been thoroughly refuted in the nearly 200 years since it was first published. Science and technology have improved human life in countless ways, from the steam engine to the pasteurization of milk, from electrical power to antibiotics. And genetically modified foods are just the latest step in this march of progress.
Farmers have long modified the genetic makeup of their crops and livestock through selective breeding--choosing to breed the prize bull, for example, or planting seeds from the highest-yielding stalks of wheat. But genetic engineering has made this process much easier and faster. Scientists have discovered how to alter genes directly, allowing them to take advantages possessed by one species of plant or animal and splice them into the genes of another species. So, for example, one popular variety of genetically engineered corn contains a gene taken from a bacteria; that gene produces a chemical toxic to caterpillars, giving the corn an inbuilt defense against harmful insects.
This new technology is already providing farmers with crops that bear higher yields, grow in drier climates, require fewer pesticides, and so on. The result has been bigger harvests and lower costs for American farmers. And scientists have also begun engineering plants that grow better under difficult conditions, such as drought--promising a new "green revolution" for the Third World.
Genetically modified foods are not merely safe--they are an enormous advance, and we should be applauding the heroes of science who invented them. But that's not what the environmentalists are doing. Instead, they have concocted a pseudo-scientific scare campaign against these foods. Here is a sampling of the claims against genetically modified foods, as summarized in a U.S. News & World Report article last year: "Though no scientifically valid study has shown that altered foods are toxic, some researchers believe it's possible that genetic manipulation could enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways." And: "People who suffer from allergies could be exposed to proteins they react to without knowing it." The FDA already screens for such allergens, but: "[S]ome scientists fear that unknown allergens could slip through the system." Or: "Scientists also say foreign genes might alter the nutritional value of food in unpredictable ways."
The basis for all of these claims is the "unexpected," the "unpredictable," the "unknown"--in other words, not evidence, but the lack of evidence. This gimmick could be used to prove or disprove anything. By the same logic, anyone could be hauled into the police station and charged with murder, on the grounds that he might have killed an unknown person using an undetermined murder weapon and then hidden the body in an undiscovered location. Of course, such an arbitrary assertion would be thrown out of a court of law--and it should also be dismissed from any scientific debate.
But for the environmentalists, this debate is not really about science. They approach this issue with the pre-established conviction that science and technology must create monsters. They believe in the Frankenstein myth--and they refuse to let any amount of evidence, or lack of it, shake their belief.
The proper response to this anti-science campaign is not more regulation of biotechnology, but a total rejection of the alleged need for such regulation. It is time to expose and reject the primitive fear of technology that lurks behind the attack on genetically modified foods. It is time to kill the Frankenstein myth.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net