Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 28, 2007
* USDA Clarifies Policy on Genetically Engineered Material
* NCGA Advises Growers on New Biotech Trait
* S. Korean gov't orders labelling of GMO products
* Green-tinted spectacles
USDA Clarifies Policy on Low-Level Presence of Genetically Engineered Material
- USDA/APHIS (press release), March 27, 2007, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/llppolicy.shtml
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is clarifying the existing approach for handling situations in which regulated genetically engineered (GE) plant material becomes mixed at low levels with commercial seeds and grain.
This policy is not new, but rather a description of how APHIS currently evaluates and responds to these incidents. In light of continuing international discussions regarding low-level presence (LLP), APHIS is taking this opportunity to formally state our approach.
One of APHIS' roles is to protect plant health by overseeing the importation, movement and field testing of regulated GE material. A major focus is ensuring appropriate confinement of such material in field tests. Developers must comply with all APHIS regulations and permit conditions to prevent the release of regulated GE material. However, when LLP incidents occur, the agency's policy is to respond with actions appropriate to the level of risk, determined by a scientific assessment and warranted by the facts in each case. APHIS will initiate an inquiry whenever regulated material is mixed with commercial seeds or grain to evaluate any risk, to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and to determine whether remedial and/or enforcement actions may be appropriate.
If APHIS determines that an incident involving regulated GE plant material could pose a risk to plant health or the environment, APHIS will take appropriate remedial steps using its authority under the Plant Protection Act. In cases in which APHIS determines that remedial action is not necessary to mitigate LLP of regulated GE plant material to protect plant health and the environment, APHIS is not precluded from taking enforcement action against a company or individual for violations of APHIS regulations.
A 2002 U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy Federal Register notice outlined proposed actions to be taken by the three agencies that provide regulatory oversight of the development of GE organisms - APHIS, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - aimed at strengthening the controls to prevent low levels of regulated materials from GE plants from occurring in commercial seeds and grain until appropriate safety standards have been met.
APHIS, in 2003, strengthened its field testing requirements for crops that produce pharmaceutical or industrial compounds to ensure that regulated materials from these plants are not found, even at low levels, in commercial seeds and grain. APHIS also initiated a process to
amend its biotechnology regulations in 2004. In 2006, FDA published a Federal Register notice and guidance document for early food safety assessments and EPA published a Federal Register notice clarifying its guidance for field testing of plant-incorporated protectants (pesticides intended to be produced and used in a living plant). This clarification is consistent with those documents.
APHIS oversees the development and introduction (importation, interstate movement and environmental release) of GE organisms. The agency is committed to ensuring safety in the oversight of field tests and other activities involving GE plants. APHIS' approach is to apply precautionary measures to such activities which are commensurate with the risks posed by these crop varieties. This allows for research and development activities to take place, so that potential benefits can be realized, while still protecting agriculture, the environment and the public.
Notice of this policy document is scheduled for publication in the March 29, 2007 Federal Register.
NCGA Advises Growers New Biotech Trait Lacks Japanese Approval
- NCGA (press release), March 27, 2007, http://www.ncga.com/news/notd/2007/march/032707.asp
The 2007 corn planting season is under way, and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) advises growers Syngenta's Agrisure Rootworm trait (MIR 604) has not received full approval in Japan. NCGA's biotechnology policy only supports events that have received full regulatory approval in the United States and Japan.
"We have requested Syngenta not release hybrids containing this trait this planting season," said NCGA President Ken McCauley. "Growers planting the Agrisure Rootworm trait should be aware that if Japanese regulatory approvals are not granted by harvest, there will be serious restrictions on the marketability of the grain."
NCGA's request that Syngenta withhold the release of the Agrisure Rootworm trait was solely based on the current lack of full Japanese approvals. Japan is the leading U.S. corn export market and accounts for nearly 5 percent of total U.S. production.
"Our request is consistent with our policy, which addresses customer concerns and protects our traditional markets," said NCGA President Ken McCauley. "NCGA supports commercial release of biotech corn events or combination of events that have received full approval by U.S. and Japanese regulatory agencies."
NCGA's biotech position I-A-1 #4 reads: "Support the commercial release of biotech corn events or combination of events subsequent to consultation with and approval by the NCGA Biotech Working Group. These events must also receive full approval by the relevant U.S. and Japanese regulatory agencies, and the product registrant must be aggressively pursuing approval in every country or bloc that requires approval prior to importation of corn, corn products or food containing corn ingredients."
NCGA strongly encourages farmers planting the trait to develop alternative marketing plans for this grain. It will not be marketed under the Market Choices label. If Japanese regulatory approvals are not received prior to harvest, this grain must be kept out of export channels and away from processors that might export corn products such as corn gluten feed and distillers dried grains.
Although the primary concern is Japan, Agrisure Rootworm currently lacks regulatory approval in most major export markets, McCauley said.
Agrisure Rootworm and stacks will be carried by NK Brand, Garst and Golden Harvest hybrids.
Click here [http://www.ncga.com/biotechnology/pdfs/PolicyPositionPapers/POLICYPOSITIONPAPERS.PDF] for NCGA's complete position on biotech hybrids.
S. Korean gov't orders labelling of all GMO products from late June
- Yonhap News, March 28, 2007, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/Engnews/20070328/650000000020070328135350E9.html
The South Korean government said Wednesday that all products with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be clearly labelled as such under a plan to enhance consumer rights.
The plan, which goes into effect on June 29, is an expansion of current identification requirements designed to protect the environment and consumer health. Under the current rules, it is only mandatory to identify genetically modified beans, bean sprouts, corn and potatoes.
Products containing GMOs, which have been artificially transformed in labs to improve output, taste and resistance to disease, have drawn criticism over their possible adverse effects on the ecosystem and human health.
"The changes call for all GMO products that are imported and manufactured for human consumption to be labelled," said Kim Young-man, head of the Agriculture Ministry's agriculture distribution bureau.
To encourage enforcement of the new rules, the official said people who report mislabeling will be given cash rewards of up to 2 million won (US$2,130).
Kim stressed that the move is not aimed to hurt imports of GMO products from such countries as the United States, and speculated that it will not cause complaints.
"The actions are not new and are only an expansion of existing procedures," he said.
In addition to GMO products, the ministry said it will start a nationwide probe to ferret out mislabeling of fresh and processed agricultural goods starting on April 1.
The latest actions are to cover both fresh produce like melons, watermelons, strawberries and peaches as well as manufactured products including bread, noodles and curry.
Because of higher prices and stronger consumer demand, some importers and retailers have intentionally mislabeled cheap imports as being produced in the country.
The ministry said those found to have tried to mislead consumers could face a fine of under 100 million won [US$106,000] or a jail term of less than seven years.
Monday Morning Corn Comment
- Jim Riley, Inside Futures, March 26, 2007, http://www.insidefutures.com/article/13349/Monday%20Morning%20Corn%20Comment.html
-- Export Sales: South Korea tendering for 55,000 mt. opt. org. non GMO Corn for June
- Jonathan DG Jones, Guardian Unlimited (London), March 28, 2007, http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jonathan_dg_jones/2007/03/jonathan_jones_scientist.html
We live in a strange world. The so-called greens are opposed to a technology that substantially reduces the environmental impact of agriculture. Consider the following:
+Thanks to GM cotton, thousands of tons of insecticide have not been sprayed in fields, and fewer farm workers are poisoned by insecticides.
+Of the 8.5 million farmers growing GM crops in 2005, 90% are in developing countries, yet European consumers try to dictate to them that they cannot use an environmentally benign GM method to control insects.
+Insect-resistant GM maize means that levels of dangerous mycotoxins in the human and domestic animal diet have been reduced.
+Golden Rice which could contribute to alleviating vitamin A deficiency for millions is unnecessarily delayed.
+The greens purport to oppose the power of multinationals, yet the onerous regulatory burden imposed by their posturing ensures that small companies can't compete with big companies to bring GM products to market. A startup company I co-founded in the US, now employing some 50 people, could not have been established in Britain because of investor worries about consumer reactions to GMOs.
+Drought resistance, disease resistance and nutritional benefits, from developments already available or in the pipeline, are being delayed throughout the world.
+Nobody counts the considerable cost of NOT expeditiously deploying GM crop improvements.
I have been making transgenic plants for over 20 years. It is the most benign, ecologically sound new method for crop improvement in a century. The more I do it, the less I worry about it. Provided simple and obvious regulatory precautions are taken, there are no plausible scenarios for the technology to cause serious damage. There are some known unknowns that can be tested in any new GM variety, but there are no unknown unknowns.
How did we get into this impasse? The opponents of the technology recklessly damage the public interest by ignoring some obvious truths.
First, agriculture is not "natural" any more than it is "natural" to talk to someone miles away on a mobile phone. For readers in London, a natural state would be for most of them to be reading this in a dense swampy oak forest; most readers would not like the "natural" state for long. Converting wild areas to agriculture is about the most damaging thing we can do; we should maximise agricultural productivity in order to minimise the extent to which such conversion is required. Breeds of domestic animals and plants are all unnatural; consider the diversity of dogs, all descended from wolves. It is absurd to suggest that GM represents a quantum shift in unnaturalness.
Second, farmers have to solve practical problems. What is the least bad way to control weeds in their crops? Or insects, or diseases? Very few of those who lecture farmers on how to solve these problems without modern methods have any experience of doing so themselves. Hand-weeding millions of acres is not an option. Ploughing is damaging to the soil and promotes release of CO2 from agricultural land. If you're going to use herbicides, what is the least bad herbicide? It turns out that for cheapness, low mammalian toxicity, lack of persistence and lack of tendency to contaminate groundwater, glyphosate (Roundup) is hard to beat. The trouble is, it kills the crops. Solution? GM Roundup-Ready crops. Those who think this is a bad way to control weeds have yet to propose a better alternative.
Third, with decreased affordability of oil, the competition between food and biofuels will intensify. A ton of grain requires a thousand tons of water; is it any wonder that China, which is experiencing water shortages, is importing grain? We cannot afford to waste land and water by growing organic wheat with a 50% reduced yield compared to conventional.
Organic agriculture was originally envisaged as a cultural practice to nurture soil health. For organic farmers to rule out GM approaches to disease and pest resistance is irrational, a matter of doctrine rather than logic. The arguments about contamination are about imaginary hazards. It is as if a Protestant and a Roman Catholic church were next door to each other, and the Protestants objected to the smell of incense from the neighbouring church as "contamination". It boggles the mind that the "greens" are opposed to a late blight resistant potato developed with GM techniques when organic methods for blight control involving copper compounds are more toxic, environmentally damaging and less effective. David Miliband is right to call organic "a lifestyle choice" that is justified neither on reduced environmental impact nor food quality.
During the last century the human population increased four-fold and is expected to rise by another 50% to nine billion people. Humans already intercept about 30% of all terrestrial photosynthesis; for any species to be so greedy is unprecedented. We need to reduce our footprint on the earth; by increased use of renewable sources of energy, by minimizing the waste of water, by maximizing recycling and by controlling our population.
A GM blight-resistant potato will require less agrichemical applications, fewer tractor trips and less CO2 emissions. No damaging effects have been documented for GM crops or GM food. Never before have such expensive and onerous regulations been established in response to purely hypothetical anxieties. GM agriculture is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.