Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 30, 2007
* Kenyans Ready to Embrace GMOs
* Can world bump cotton yield again?
* Three years later, no GMOs likely here
* Lies, damn lies and statistics
* Muslim Perspectives on Genetic Modification
* Table of Contents - CropBiotech Update
Kenyans Ready to Embrace GMOs
- Catherine Karong'o, Capital FM (Kenya), March 30, 2007, http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/newsarticle.asp?newsid=2013&newscategoryid=2
A new survey by an International NGO on public perception on biotechnology has revealed that Kenyans are ready to embrace genetically modified foods.
The study conducted by Research International between May and June last year indicates that 81 percent of Kenyans consider new technologies as the only way to eradicate poverty and make the economy competitive.
"52 percent said getting enough food to eat for them and the family is the key issue and then 15 percent said they are concerned with avoiding food with ingredients that may be harmful," said Melissa Baker the public and social research director.
She said it is not that the 15 percent are concerned about GM foods, but are a more sensitive group.
It further indicated that 52 percent of Kenyans rarely check the contents of the food they buy while only 20 percent fear there may be risks involved in adopting GMO's.
Baker however conceded that the respondents lack basic information about genetically modified foods.
She said: "The survey recommended increasing the availability of accurate information to both the population and to key stake holder groups, involve all stakeholders in the process of any genetically modified crop introduction and then overcome some of the concerns such as the perception that there may be negative health impacts."
Baker said 77 percent of the respondents trust medical professionals and the media to pass on the information on GM technology while only 15 percent trust NGO's on the same.
Genetically Modified foods have been adopted in South Africa where they are growing genetically modified maize, soyabeans and cotton.
The countrywide study had 2 500 respondents above 18 years of age.
Can world bump cotton yield again?
- Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press, March 27, 2007, http://deltafarmpress.com/news/070327-cotton-yield/
Can world cotton producers do it again - find a way to satisfy another surge in world hunger for cotton? How this question is answered could determine how much time U.S. cotton farmers spend as grain producers, says a Memphis cotton merchant.
One clue comes from a supply-demand situation a few years ago that is similar to the one cotton producers face today, according to Joe Nicosia, chief executive officer, Allenberg Cotton Co., speaking a the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
World cotton demand was rising slowly until 2003, then took off, thanks in large part to WTO trade liberalization, Nicosia said of the nearly 13 million-bale increase in world consumption from 2003-04 to 2004-05.
"The projections were that the world would be deficit cotton and that cotton prices would have to explode. Speculative firms got on board because they bought the long-term story that there's no way in the world we can take production high enough without having to buy millions of acres around the world."
The world promptly grew an incredibly large crop of 120 million bales in 2004-05, a 20 percent increase over the year before, mostly from yield increases. "People usually talk about yield increases as between 1 percent and 5 percent. A 20 percent increase seems almost impossible. Imagine doing that in corn or beans."
The speculative funds hung on, thinking the production was a one-year quirk, "but cotton prices couldn't rally because of the surplus."
World production declined to 114 million bales the following year, then increased to 116 million bales the year after that, while consumption steadily increased. "Now we're almost back to the cusp of the same story again. Consumption has started to move (projected at 124.7 million bales in 2007-08), and the question is whether or not there will be yield increases. If not, we'll see some separation between consumption and production, and we'll start to draw down stocks around the world."
Acreage estimates support the notion that production could likely fall this year. Nicosia believes that world cotton acreage will decline by about 2.3 million acres in 2007-08, including a 2.8 million-acre decline in the United States, where shifts to grains are occurring, and a half million acres in Brazil.
With a 53.7 million-bale carryover, a 117.5 million-bale world crop for 2007-08 and consumption of 124.7 million bales, "it looks like we have a drawdown of roughly 7.2 million bales. But we have to add back 2.7 million bales of unaccounted-for stocks, which puts our ending world stocks at 49.3 million bales."
This unaccounted-for line on the ledger comes from China's enigmatic accounting methodology, said Nicosia. "We get yarn numbers, textile numbers and production numbers out of China. Every year, the figures say they'll be out of cotton by April. But every year, they end up with a surplus. We know that something is wrong in the statistics, either the consumption is not as big or production is much larger."
Over the last five years, USDA has added 8 million bales into the balance sheet, "8 million bales that the United States, as residual supplier in the world, could have exported," Nicosia said. "We could have gone from a 9.4 million-bale carryout to a 1.4 million-bale carryout. It would have made the long-term speculative story true and prices would be 98 cents instead of 58 cents."
India is becoming a formidable competitor in cotton trade these days, thanks to its increased production and exportable supplies. With by far the largest cotton acreage in the world and the lowest yield in the world, at 400 pounds an acre, It still has the most to gain by new technology.
"They are fully introducing GMO seed and their yields are increasing rapidly. Next year, they will take over the United States in production, moving into the No. 2 spot behind China. They are the thorn in your side because they are the ones who've taken the Chinese demand from you.
"Last year, we shipped 9 million bales to China. So far this year, we've shipped 1 million bales. That should tell you the story right there. We still have five months to go. But we have a smaller share of a lesser number, which is why our exports are down such a large percentage. The market does expect that the Chinese market is going to take off as we head into the spring."
Meanwhile U.S. cotton producers continue to deal with the loss of Step 2. With world demand continuing to rise, "the United States needs more market share, not just more bales. So it's not just that we need to go down in price to sell cotton. The key thing is that we need to go down relative to foreign cotton to get market share back.
"That's what Step 2 did. It allowed us, for any one day, to be relatively competitive without having to go down substantially to grab marketshare. That's why we used Step 2 so much and that's what the government didn't understand."
Given this dilemma, some tweaking in farm programs might be needed, according to Nicosia. "If we can get some flexibility on our counter-cyclical payments, provide the grower with some downside protection, then lower loan rates and loan premiums, this will be a great advantage long-term for the industry.
"We need to get your cotton into the marketplace. Today your cotton is being marketed to the government loan and you're losing customers. It's hard to get your customers back once you've lost them. Now that India has made some inroads into that market, anytime India has cotton, it can sell and compete with you."
Eventually, strong world demand for cotton will rule the day, especially if it's perceived that production cannot keep pace with consumption, the same storyline back in 2003-04. "When the demand for cotton rises to get your acres back against these grain numbers, it's not a 2-cent rally. The difference between cotton at 42 cent or 56 cents is all the same. It doesn't change until you get substantially above the loan. So longer term, I'm encouraged."
Three years later, no GMOs likely here
- Ben Brown, The Daily Journal (Ukiah), March 29, 2007, http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/ci_5548099
Inspectors have been looking out for them
According to a report from biotechnology advocacy group, a record number of genetically modified organisms, or biotech crops, were planted last year. But, in Mendocino County, the numbers are virtually nonexistent, thanks to both a lack of interest and a 2004 county ordinance banning their use in unincorporated areas.
According to the study, published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, 10.3 million farmers in 22 countries planted 252 million acres of GMO crops in 2006, an increase of 13 percent from 2005.
"Here we have virtually no one growing GMO crops," said Mendocino County Agriculture Commissioner Dave Bengston.
In March of 2004, Mendocino County voters approved Measure H, an ordinance banning the growing of GMO crops within the county. Mendocino County is one of only four counties in California to ban GMO crops, the others are Marin, Santa Cruz and Trinity counties.
Bengston said even before the ordinance was approved, it is unlikely there were many people growing GMO crops in Mendocino County because the primary GMO crops - corn, alfalfa, rice and canola - cannot be profitably grown in the county.
"We probably had some people growing GMO corn before the ordinance," Bengston said.
There are a number of potential GMO crops in research, including winegrapes, but none of them are on the market yet, Bengston said.
Bengston compared the passage of Measure H to counties that declare themselves "no nuke zones" when there is little chance of a nuclear power plant being located near them.
"It's a political statement," he said.
Despite that, Bengston said agriculture commission inspectors added GMO seeds to the list of things they look for following the passage of Measure H.
Inspectors visit the offices of major shipping companies, including, UPS, FedEx and DHL, every morning to make sure no banned pesticides, quarantined plants, insects or GMO crops are shipped into the county.
Bengston said inspectors also check for certain pesticides that are commonly used on GMO crops that have been made resistant to them.
Bengston said inspectors spend a very small amount of time actually looking for GMO seeds because of the low likelihood of any coming into the county.
However, just bringing GMO seeds into the county does not constitute a violation of the ordinance. Measure H applies only to land in the county and excludes federal land, tribal land and the county's four cities. There is nothing in the ordinance to stop the federal government from planting GMO white pine, which is resistant to disease, on federal land, Bengston said.
"It's kind of a patchwork quilt when you look at how much federal land and tribal land and city land we've got," he said.
While GMO seeds coming into the county through the mail or in delivery trucks could be caught by inspectors, Bengston said things would be more complicated if individual farmers went out and bought the seeds in another county, brought them into Mendocino County and planted them.
"You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at them," Bengston said.
"It's hard for me to imagine someone sneaking around and doing it," he said.
Assuming someone did grow GMO crops in the county, Bengston said prosecution could be difficult because Measure H does not address court hearings or jury trials for violators.
"I'd have to be talking with county counsel to work out some kind of due process," Bengston said.
Inspectors would have to determine if the crops were GMO, which would likely require getting an inspection warrant and then submitting the evidence to a laboratory for analysis.
"That would be quite expensive," Bengston said.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
- Dr. Christopher Preston, Discipline of Plant & Food Science, University of Adelaide, March 29, 2007
The well-known saying: "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics" attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, refers to how statistics can be used to bolster inaccurate arguments. We all know the misuse of statistics is prevalent throughout politics. Something less well understood is how misuse of statistics in scientific research can lead to erroneous public policy. Surely scientists would not allow statistical lies to mislead the public? Or would they?
In the past 2 weeks there has been considerable press about a forthcoming article in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. This article "New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity" by Gilles-Eric SÚralini, Dominique Cellier and JoŰl Spiroux de Vendomois, purports to show that a genetically- modified corn causes damaged to the livers and kidneys of rats and hence is likely to be dangerous to humans. The article has not yet been published, so unless you are a subscriber to the journal you cannot get a copy.
The article contains no new data. It has taken data already published in 2006 in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology and re- analysed them. In doing so, the authors of the new paper have suggested they found important differences missed the first time around.
This is where the statistical "lies" come in. When scientists want to compare the effects of two treatments they use statistics because it is impossible to test the treatment on the whole population. If the treatment effect differs by enough from the control, they describe it as significantly different. Often a probability value of 5% is used. You can think of this as the scientist betting that there is only a 5% chance that the difference is not real. In statistics these are known as Type 1 errors.
It is therefore obvious that if a large number of comparisons are made between two items that the chance of a Type 1 error is increased. This is the problem of multiple comparisons in statistics. By the time 100 different comparisons are made you are almost certain to find at least one difference at 5% even when none exists. For this reason, good scientists avoid falling into this trap, either by conducting a different type of statistical test or by reducing the probability value at which they describe something as significant.
Seralini and his co-workers in their paper reported 494 comparisons between rats fed GM food and rats fed conventional food. With this number of comparisons, you would expect to get 25 differences at a probability of 5% and 5 differences at a probability of 1% where no differences exist. Seralini reports 33 differences at 5% and 4 differences at 1%; almost exactly the number you would predict to occur through chance. This is an elementary problem in statistics and a practice that good scientists avoid. It also totally undermines any conclusions drawn from the analysis.
Intuitively, we understand that if something we eat is dangerous then eating more of it will be more dangerous, or at least no less dangerous. In science this is the dose response. The effects of a toxin will become more pronounced with more toxin. It is also intuitive that consuming a toxin for a longer time will also be more dangerous. The dose response underpins all toxicology. In the present study, rats were fed either 11% or 33% GM corn for 5 or 14 weeks. None of the differences reported by Seralini followed a dose response. The differences were either sporadic or were better with higher concentrations. Without a dose response, it is not possible to link any of the differences reported to consumption of the product.
As there is no dose response and the differences reported by Seralini are likely due to chance, this study does not support the notion that this GM corn is hazardous to the health of rats. This is the same conclusion that the 2006 paper came to. How then could Seralini get it so wrong? This could easily be dismissed as an argument between statisticians; however, the problems are so basic and so obvious that they show scientific incompetence, at best. It also raises questions about how the paper came to be published in the first place.
What is worse is that this bad science is being used to influence the World's media and decision makers. Greenpeace, who funded the paper, is hawking these statistical lies around. Clearly they are having influence for just last week the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia used this as support for a moratorium on GM crops.
Biomedical Ethics: Muslim Perspectives on Genetic Modification
- Fatima Agha Al-Hayani, Zygon 42 (1), 153-162. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2006.00812.x http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2006.00812.x
Technology pertaining to genetically modified foods has created an abundance of food and various methods to protect new products and enhance productivity. However, many scientists, economists, and humanitarians have been critical of the application of these discoveries. They are apprehensive about a profit-driven mentality that, to them, seems to propel the innovators rather than a poverty-elimination mentality that should be behind such innovations. The objectives should be to afford the most benefit to those in need and to prevent hunger around the world. Another major concern is the safety of genetically modified food. Muslims, as well as those in other religious communities, have been reactive rather than proactive. Muslims must connect scientific knowledge and ethical behavior based on faith. In Islam, there is no divide between the two. God has commanded us to seek knowledge and make discoveries to better our lives and our environment. We are trustees of this world and everything in it. The poor, the sick, and the wayfarers have a right to be fed and cared for. God reminds Muslims continuously that the earth and all the heavens belong to God; therefore, no one should feel hunger, no one should suffer or be prevented from sharing this bounty.
[ed. note: the full paper is available online, free of charge, at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2006.00812.x ]
CropBiotech Update - Table of Contents
- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), March 30, 2007, http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/2007/03/30.html#3
GM Crops Results in Improved Productivity, Says Study
Cisgenic Plants Argued Similar to Traditionally-Bred Plants
Muslim Perspectives on Genetic Modification
ECOWAS Conference on Biotechnology in Ghana
Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) II
New Seed Initiative for Maize in Africa
NERICA Rice Introduced in Central African Republic
Source of Regulated Protein in CL131 Rice Identified
Update on Genetically Modified Alfalfa
Blueberry Skins Found to Lower Cholesterol Levels
Emerging Challenges for Biotech Specialty Crops
Asia and the Pacific
Korea Continues Huge Investment on Biotech
Anti-Hay Fever GM Rice May Gain Japanese Trust
Organic and Biological Farming are Viable Systems Says CSIRO
Soon, a Hundred Billion Dollar Indian Textile Industry
Challenges and Opportunities for Crop Protection
France Adopts New Legislations on Co-existence
Rice Bt Protein Degrades Rapidly in Aerobic Paddy Soils
Gene Found to Lower Apple Acidity
Heterosis in Bt Cotton Hybrids Analyzed
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.