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August 6, 2007


Zambia Remains Adamant; Seed Smuggling in Pakistan; GMO not a dirty term


* Zambia Adamant - No GM
* Regulator amends code for GM corn
* Spurious pesticides rampant
* Delay hurts seed industry
* Illegal biotech cotton cultivation
* Discovery Improves Livestock Feed
* Legon receives AGRA Grant
* Processes That Determine Seed Development
* GMO is not such a dirty term
* Principal Voices
* Pesticides and Humanity
* GM Crops versus Alternative Agricultures
* Risk Assessment of GM Stacked Events
* Perspectives on the development of GM crops
* Conference on Modern Biotechnology


Govt Adamant - No GM

- Michael Malakata Lusaka, SciDev.Net (London), August 3, 2007


The Zambian government has rejected a call made this week by a group of scientific, agricultural and nongovernmental organisations to use genetically-modified (GM) crops to reduce poverty and hunger.

The group -- consisting of AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) -- released a joint press statement endorsing the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which was published in the Times of Zambia on 30 July.

Responding to the statement, Zambian minister of agriculture and cooperatives, Ben Kapita, told SciDev.Net, "We have always said that Zambia will not be used as a dumping place for GMO products."

Earlier this year (3 April), the Zambian parliament adopted a biosafety bill aimed at preventing the entry of GMOs in to the country.

But Wisdom Changadeya, executive director of BioEROC in Malawi said in a press release that nobody could deny Africa its right to a technology that would help its farmers solve some of its most serious and urgent problems.

Margaret Karembu, a researcher at the Kenya-based AfriCenter, run by the ISAAA, warned that African agricultural productivity could drop while the rest of the global community embraced new tools such as GM technology.

She said that African farmers should not be restricted to traditional methods of agriculture.

The same group of five organisations also welcomed a clarification from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) about its stance on GM technology.

Last month, many media outlets reported that AGRA and its president the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had rejected the use of GMOs completely.

The reports came after a speech by Annan in Nairobi last month (16 July), in which he said that whatever the future potential of GM crops might be, conventional breeding represented an important path to food security.

AGRA has since clarified their position on GM technology, stating that although they are not currently funding research into GMOs, they support the use of science and technology -- including GM -- to aid African smallholder farmers.

Norah Olembo, chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed AGRA's clarification that GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

But others believe that not researching GM technology at this stage could undermine the future of biotechnology in Africa.

This week (27 July) the Netherlands-based Public Research and Regulation Initiative wrote to Annan, saying they were concerned about AGRA's focus on conventional plant breeding methods.


Food regulator amends code for GM corn

- Catherine Clifford, ABC Rural (Australia), August 3, 2007


Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has, for the first time, amended its food safety code to approve for human consumption a geneticially-modified corn designed for animal feed.

Biotech giant Monsanto applied to have the Code amended so it could sell its GM high-lycine corn, called LY038, in Australia and New Zealand.

LY038 has been engineered to have high levels of the amino acid, lysine, in combination with high levels of sugar up to four times the amount found in conventional sweetcorn. When fed to livestock the high-energy food speeds growth and muscle development, especially in poultry and pigs.

But a storm is brewing on both sides of the Tasman over the GM corn's approval for human consumption.

Greenpeace alleges Monsanto applied to have the food standard changed because the company anticipates there could be accidental contamination of the human food chain even though LY038 is specifically designed for animals.

Genetic-engineering spokeswoman, Louise Sales, alleges the decision by FSANZ sets a worrying precedent partly because this is the first time the Code has been amended in this way and partly because the testing procedure conducted by Monsanto was wanting.

"They relied on feeding studies on chickens and rats on uncooked corn and obviously humans don't eat uncooked corn," she says.

But Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokeswoman, Lydia Buchtmann, says Monsanto's application met all necessary safety requirements.

Ms Buchtmann adds FSANZ's risk analysis of LY038 was extensive, thorough and detailed.

"We're very rigorous in our safety assessments and, in fact, we're renowned around the world for how well we do them," she says.

Dr Jack Heinemann is the Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dr Heinemann says he is disappointed with the FSANZ decision because he believes the high-lycine feedstock has been approved without the full range of safety testing necessary should the product enter the human food supply system.

"No safety studies have been conducted on this corn using cooked and processed material," he says.

"It is conceivably possible this corn will be of economic benefit to farmers," he says, "but the question facing our food regulator is not whether it makes chickens grow faster but whether this corn is safe and appropriate for human food," says Dr Heinemann.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has just announced it will not immediately follow Australia's lead in gazetting the amendment.

Instead, Food Safety Minister, Annette King, has asked her own Food Safety Authority to provide her with more advice on whether it is appropriate to accept within Australia and New Zealand's joint food standard a genetically-modified product that is intended for use as stockfeed.

We sought comment from Monsanto Australia. The company says it is happy for us to speak to its US-based experts on high-lycine GM corn, but will not be in a position to arrange interviews until next week.

In this report: Lydia Buchtmann, spokeswoman, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ); Louise Sales, genetic-engineering spokeswoman, Greenpeace; Dr Jack Heinemann, A/Professor of Microbiology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.


Manufacture and sale of spurious pesticides rampant in State

Centre urged to amend at least three relevant Acts

There is no check on such pesticides' manufacture and sale

Volume of pesticide business in the State estimated at Rs. 200 crore

- S. Rajendran, The Hindu, August 6, 2007


Bangalore: Leave alone the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers to ensure a higher level of agriculture production, a new development is the easy availability of spurious and adulterated pesticides and insecticides in the market.

A network of manufacturers and traders have come together to make such pesticides available in villages not only in Karnataka but across the country, according to a report of the State Government.

Alarmed by the development and the helplessness of the State which has no control over such trade, the Government has impressed upon the Union Government to immediately bring in certain amendments to at least three Central legislation - the Pesticides and Insecticides Act, the Fertiliser Control Order and the National Seed Act - in the light of a shocking development that apart from fertilizers nearly 75 per cent of pesticides and insecticides sold are adulterated and spurious.

Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Principal Secretary to the Government, Department of Agriculture, A. Ramaswamy, made a presentation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Bangalore on Friday on the extensive use of such pesticides and insecticides apart from fertilizers, and impressed upon him to bring in amendments to the relevant acts which should ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes did not go scot-free. At present, the State authorities can merely book such offenders who in turn are punished with a fine ranging between Rs. 200 to Rs. 1,000. The volume of the pesticide business in the State has been estimated at around Rs. 200 crore and in the country the business is stated to be over Rs. 5,000 crore.

Mr. Kumaraswamy told The Hindu that following the power-point presentation he also conveyed to the Prime Minister that using such adulterated pesticides had a serious effect on consumers and on plants.

"The Prime Minister assured me that steps would be taken to prevent such manufacture and sale by bringing in amendments to the relevant legislation."

Mr. Ramaswamy said a large number of the pesticides and insecticides sold in villages did not even carry the name of the manufacturer, the contents of the pesticides and even the date of manufacture or the expiry date. In certain places, pesticides were sold in bulk and in loose containers (at discounted rates) and the farmers bought them with the belief that they could control pests and insects with them. "There is no check on such pesticides manufacture and sale."

He said the racket had reached a new height in the State after the coconut plantations suffered "Nusi roga" (mite infection) five years ago when almost all farmers were compelled to purchase pesticides. Soon followed mite attack on arecanut plants all along the Malnad belt.

The Chief Minister has also requested the Prime Minister to enable the constitution of Special Court to try cases relating to offences committed under the Pesticides Act, the Seed Act and the Fertiliser Act. Further, the punishment for those held guilty of the charges framed against them should be conviction and the offences should not be compoundable with fines.


Note by Sivramiah Shantharam (sshantharam+at+biologistics.us):

The above news item clearly shows how local pesticide manufacturers have been peddling spurious chemical pesticides for decades. This news is nothing new. But, those NGOs who won't stop at anything to complain denigrate and disparage Bt cotton in India, seem to turn a Nelson's eye on this sorry state of affairs. I don't hear any of these bleeding heart NGOs suing these pesticide manufacturers for selling spurious pesticides. One can argue that it is because of spurious chemical pesticdes and spurious Bt cotton seeds, one hears all sorts of stories of farmer's suicides that is blamed on Bt cotton technology. These same NGOs would not take the trouble of buying the most inexpensive field diagnostic kit marketed by ICAR to determine whether the Bt cotton they are blaming for all the disasters in India are indeed Bt cotton. For sure, they don't want to find out the truth, because truth will not help their propaganda.


GMO crops launch delay hurts seed industry

- The Economic Times (India), August 6, 2007


MUMBAI: India's hesitation to allow sale of genetically modified food and cash crops other than cotton is cramping growth of the biotech-based seed industry, players said.

After BT Cotton received the nod in 2002, the federal government has withheld approval for the commercialisation of any other genetically modified (GMO) crop.

Civil protests led to the Indian Supreme Court staying multilocation trials of GMO food crops. India's stringent bio-safety norms have also been partly blamed for the delay.

In the past, several state governments, including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka have tried to control Bt cotton seed prices as cotton seed was an essential commodity.

However, the central government's decision to remove cotton seed from the list in February prompted the Andhra Pradesh government to introduce an ordinance to regulate prices in the state last week.

The ordinance aims to cut prices of the new Bt cotton seed variety, Bollgard-II, by 21 percent to 750 rupees per 450-gram packet. Other states may follow suit, say industry watchers.

"No clear policy directive, and state intervention into seed marketing, has affected the revenue of seed companies drastically," said S. Raghuraman, head of research with agri-sector research firm, Agriwatch.

The largest Indian GMO seed company, Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (MMB), a joint venture between the Indian arm of Monsanto and privately held Mahyco, reported a revenue decline of 62 percent to 1.5 billion rupees in 2006/07.

Monsanto India , which sells Bt technology to seed companies, has seen revenues erode since 2004/05. Last year its revenue fell 7 percent to 3.09 billion rupees.

Bt cotton has found favour with a section of the farmers due to higher yields and reduced pesticide costs. However, there is opposition to GMO crops on several counts, including higher cultivation costs. Trade sources said more than half of the cotton area is expected to be under GMO cotton in 2007 crop season, but a high adoption rate will not be enough for growth.

State intervention in fixing Bt cotton seed prices is to blame, said M.K. Sharma, managing director of MMB.

"Although adoption has been higher, earnings will be comparatively lower, thereby impacting new investments."


Following Bt Cotton commercialisation, several seed companies have been heavily investing, some as much as 15 percent of revenue, to develop new GMO crops, R.K. Sinha, executive director of industry body All India Crop Biotechnology Association, said.

However, R&D spend will be hit if the government drags its feet on commercialisation of new GMO crops, say players.

"We spend a vast amount of capital on R&D prior to having a crop approved for commercialisation," Sekhar Natarajan, Monsanto's India regional lead said. "If the approval is delayed, then our return on investment is also delayed".

"It would be difficult for any company in any industry to consider bringing new technologies to India in a market where prices are set by the state governments," Sharma said.


Illegal biotech cotton cultivation

- Ijaz Ahmad Rao, Dawn (Pakistan), August 6, 2007


THE government has embarked upon on an ambitious plan of "Cotton Vision 2015". It has devised a three-pronged strategy with focus on biotech (Bt) cotton, developing the Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCV) resistant varieties, and the development of hybrids. The aim is to have 25 per cent area under Bt cotton by 2009. On paper this is a foolproof strategy, but its enforcement will determine its success or failure.

On the other hand, influx of unapproved varieties of BT cotton continues in blatant violation of country's laws. The government agencies responsible for checking this illegal practice, seem to be doing nothing despite the fact the Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock, Sikandar Bosan has said that these varieties are illegal and highly susceptible to cotton leaf Curl Virus.

People involved in this illegal business are making windfall profits without any remorse, and poor farmers are being swindled in the name of Bt. The farmers have no way to confirm whether the seeds they are getting have the Bt gene or are merely spurious.

In a recent national conference on cotton production, conducted at the Nuclear Institute of Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, Dr Qadir Bux Baloch, Agriculture Development Commissioner, while highlighting the importance of GM cotton , advised farmers not to grow unapproved Bt cotton seeds. According to him, in random sampling of Bt cotton varieties available in the market out of 10 only one sample was found positive for Bt gene.

Last year, according to unofficial estimates, one to 1.5 million acres (15 per cent of total cotton area) were under un approved Bt cotton, whereas, during the current season 2007-08, the area can easily cross 30 per cent mark (2.7 million acres) of the total cotton growing area.

It is the responsibility of the government to check availability of unapproved Bt cotton in the market and educate farmers about the ill- effects of using spurious seeds. According to the Agriculture Minister Sikandar Bosan, the government had banned cultivation of unapproved Bt cotton varieties, but farmers cultivated them and got good yield. This has resulted in increase in the area under Bt cotton this year. If the government has reconciled with the position to control spurious seed plantings then the battle is half lost .

If uncontrolled use of technology is allowed to go on, there may be early build up of pest resistance. The lack of expertise with local seed companies, who claim to have developed these varieties, is bound to result in poor gene expression. Knowledgeable farmers are already expressing their apprehensions about the deteriorating lint quality from the unapproved varieties.

The country has done well in adopting the Bio-safety guidelines. It has taken another key step forward by formulating the Plant Breeders' Rights Act and drafted amendments to the Seed Act 2007. Patents are already available for the technology. So there is an appropriate environment in place, also because of a. large number of dedicated and highly qualified biotechnologist, genetics, virologists and plant breeders at well-known institutes like the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) and the Nuclear Institute of Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) in Faisalabad, and the National Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (NCEMB) at the Punjab University, Lahore, Centre of Agriculture, Biochemistry and Biotechnology (CABB), University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and Central Cotton Research Institute (CCRI), Multan.

These institutes have the capacity of developing new crops and isolate and transform the desired genes. The government has promised large financial assistance to the institutes to help develop genetically modified (GM) local cotton varieties.

From merely 1.1 million bales of cotton produced when it came into existence, the country today is producing over 12 million bales per year. However, under the prevailing conditions the present yield per acre is very low - needless to say the country needs new and improved varieties or possibly hybrids that are high yielding and resistant or at least tolerant to diseases like CLCV and Mealy bug. In addition, there is need to move quickly to adopt new cotton technologies, such as, Bt cotton to face the severe infestation and losses incurred by insect pests.

There is a significant growth in the textile industry of the country. Prior to 2003 the demand of the industry was met by local production. However, now only 70 per cent is provided by local farmers and the rest 30 per cent is imported to meet its requirement. This is creating a great deal of concern among the industry, which is pursuing the government to ensure uninterrupted supply of raw cotton.

The country has undoubtedly lagged behind in the adoption of this important technology since the ministry of environment forbade to commercialise and cultivate Bt cotton variety developed by the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (Nibge) after a controversy over the Bt gene ownership. The frustration is evident from the fact that we have failed to produce even a single variety of Bt cotton when compared to India where there are currently 111 (39 approved just this season) varieties available to farmers.

The area under cultivation of Bt Cotton variety in India has almost tripled to 8.6 million acres this year from 3.1 million acres in 2005. Four double Bt genes (cry1Ac & cry2Ab) cotton varieties have received approval for commercialisation from the Indian authority while about 121 Bt cotton hybrids are under various stages of field trials. India had a bumper yield of 26 million bales this year, and had produced a record 24.2 million bales of cotton last year. Experts believe the high yield was because of adoption of transgenic cotton seeds and timely rainfall.

In India more than one million small and medium farmers enjoyed the benefits of Bt cotton technology with increased yields, reduced pesticide applications and other health and environmental benefits. Pakistan can adopt similar strategy to catch up the fast pace of development in this field.

The atmosphere in the country has never been conducive to research and development (R&D), and no opportunity has been provided to private sector to work in the field of agricultural research together with the public sector.

Research to produce genetically modified crops is a painstaking job. Millions of dollars and years of concerted efforts are needed to develop these technologies. By allowing the unapproved varieties to thrive in the market, is almost like discouraging the institutions busy in research and development studies to evolve the required high-yielding varieties of the crop.

All that is needed here is to put the house in order. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is in need of Bt cotton, and that to urgently. But the most important part of this equation is that it needs to employ legal and ethical means for acquiring this technology.

Enormous benefits of this technology can be reaped, provided correct, legal and ethical steps, with strict compliance to the regulatory systems of the country, are taken. For that there is need for immediate and effective measures to curb the thriving illegal business and uncontrolled use of technology, and create an appropriate environment for public and private sectors to ensure incentives for R&D and commercial release of these varieties.


DuPont Discovery Improves Livestock Feed, Environmental Quality

Scientists Identify and Silence Plant Gene That Controls Phytic Acid

- DuPont (press release), August 6, 2007


DES MOINES, Iowa -- A team of DuPont (NYSE: DD) scientists has identified a gene that, when silenced, can help increase the feed value of grain, improve breeding programs for corn and other crops and reduce phosphorous in animal waste. Results of this research were published online in Nature Biotechnology on August 5.

The gene controls production of phytic acid, a compound in grain and oilseeds that is not digestible by monogastric animals, such as swine and poultry, and reduces the availability of essential minerals. Through genetic manipulation, researchers at DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred were able to silence the gene in corn, greatly reducing the amount of phytic acid in the seed.

"This research is a major advancement in our effort to improve the quality of grain used for animal feed and brings more value to producers," said Jinrui Shi, research scientist at Pioneer. "For years, seed and biotech companies have been trying, with little success, to bring a low-phytic acid offering to market. This is the first time an institution has successfully produced a transgenic low-phytic acid trait without impacting germination or plant growth. In the past, this has precluded successful commercialization of this trait."

Low-phytic acid seed is beneficial because it increases the amount of nutritionally available phosphorus and the bioavailability of essential minerals, which reduces the need for producers to add more costly feed supplements. In addition, lowering the amount of phosphorus from undigested phytic acid in manure can help reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production.

"Pioneer has developed a great example of a technology application that will directly benefit pork producers," said Jill Appell, president of the National Pork Producers Council and a pork producer from Altona, Ill. "Low- phytic acid grains will not only allow pigs to better digest feed grains, which comprise 75 percent of their diets, and absorb nutrients, but they'll also reduce the phosphorus content of manure. That's good for the environment."

"The low-phytic acid trait will become part of our portfolio of traits to be integrated into our high-yielding, agronomically superior corn hybrids over a wide range of maturities," Shi said. "We have also demonstrated that this can be used in other crops such as soybeans."

Pioneer plans to introduce low-phytic acid seed during the next decade with a package of traits for improved feed quality. It is part of the DuPont strategy to improve the productivity of grain and livestock producers to meet the growing demand for feed, fuel, food and materials.


Legon receives U$5 million AGRA Grant

- Modern Ghana, August 6, 2007


The University of Ghana, Legon, has received a US $5 million support from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to establish the West Africa Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) project.

The grant forms part of AGRA's programmes designed to improve Agriculture in the West African Sub-region.

The WACCI project, a partnership programme between theUniversity of Ghana and Cornell University in USA seeks to train 40 PhD students in plant breeding and genetics.

A student admitted for the five-year programme will receive a PhD degree award at the end of the training. Eight students however, will be admitted every year to pursue the programme with the first group starting from January next year.

The WACCI project has been set up to improve agriculture with more focus in plant breeding which will subsequently develop into "genetic and molecular discoveries into innovative solutions."

The project will receive the necessary facilities and supports to equip its trainees in improving food crops and increasing yield in West Africa.

University of Ghana has been selected to host the programme following the institution's effectiveness in teaching, outstanding resources and innovative approaches in plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology.

The Deans of International Programmes and School of Agriculture, Professors Eric Danquah and Kwame Offei respectively have been selected to man the success of the programme following their immense contribution to setting up WACCI at the university.

The project will operate as an autonomous centre in the College of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences and will be governed by a committee which will be appointed by the Vice Chancellor.

AGRA is a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation working across the African continent to improve the livelihood of people.


Genetic Processes That Determine Seed Development Identified

- Science Daily, August 6, 2007


Scientists at the University of Oxford have paved the way for bigger and better quality maize crops by identifying the genetic processes that determine seed development.

Plant scientists have known for some time that genes from the maternal plant control seed development, but they have not known quite how, until now.

Working in collaboration with researchers in Germany and France, Professor Hugh Dickinson's team found that only the maternal copy of a key gene responsible for delivering nutrients is active. The copy derived from the paternal plant is switched off. This gene encodes a potential signalling molecule found in the endosperm - a placenta-like layer that nourishes the developing grain, which is involved in 'calling' for nutrients from the mother plant, and so triggers an increased flow of resources. Similar mechanisms can almost certainly be expected in other cereals, and with cereal grain being a staple food across the world, the potential to harness this science to improve yields is clear.

Prof. Dickinson explains: "By understanding the complex level of gene control in the developing grain, we have opened up opportunities in improving crop yield.

"The knowledge and molecular tools needed to harness these natural genetic processes are now available to plant breeders and could help them improve commercial varieties further. For example, they can better understand how to successfully cross-breed to produce higher quality crops. The cereal grain is a staple food of the world's population: with the changing climate and growing population, the need for sustainable agriculture is increasingly pressing."

The mechanism used to switch off paternal genes ensures supremacy of maternally-derived genes. This process is known as 'imprinting' and is achieved mainly through 'methylation' - a naturally occurring chemical change in the DNA. A very similar mechanism takes place in animal embryos. However, unlike the animal imprinting systems where genes are often grouped in the chromosomal DNA, in maize imprinted genes are 'solitary' and independently regulated.

The Oxford research is supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and highlighted in BBSRC Business.


Why GMO is not such a dirty term

- Jason Koutsoukis, The Age (Australia), August 5, 2007


MY RECURRING nightmare is that I am abducted by the People Against Genetically Modified Food. Bundled into the back of a 1964 Kombi van, I am transported to their commune, a place where all reason and rational thought is suspended.

Portraits of Democrats leader Lyn Allison and Greens senator Kerry Nettle hang from the walls, while a massive bust of Noam Chomsky dominates my cell.

On my bedside table is a dog-eared copy of Bill Kaysing's ground-breaking classic We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle and before my show trial I am forced to read all of Peter Singer's books, with nothing to munch on but a few shrivelled husks of organic corn.

In my dream I can see the puzzled and angry looks on the faces of the anti-GM food activists as I try to justify my shameful beliefs that we can plant genetically modified crops, which are insect and virus resistant, and that would reduce our dependency on pesticides and herbicides.

How could I possibly believe that sowing crops that can tolerate climatic and soil stresses such as drought, salinity and frost, or fruits and vegetables with increased nutritional value, would be a good thing?

Or want to live in a world in which vaccines for common diseases could be inserted into the cells of a banana or a lettuce?

I plead that in countries where needles and hygiene are in short supply this could lead to a cheap, easy and devastatingly effective method of distribution.

Then I wake up, grateful that it's only a nightmare.

But to write about GM foods in this country - with even the slightest hint that smart foods such as those I have just described should be planted - is to invite the wrath of a highly organised, hysterical minority.

My great fear is that as sensible people such as federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran continue to push for the lifting of the absurd state government moratoria preventing the planting of GM crops, the voices of irrationality might prevail.

The use of biotechnology in food, using what we know about genes and DNA to improve nutrition and human health, seems to me like progress.

The use of biotechnology to put special genes in vital food crops to make them resistant to viral attacks seems to me like a way of helping communities in which the failure of a crop means starvation.

The opponents of GM foods argue that it's wrong to mess with nature because it's impossible to tell what might happen. They say that the potential risks of altering the genes of our crops and plants must be given more weight than any possible benefit.

If we adopted that principle then all sorts of life-saving medicines would never have been developed. And what have these supposed risks amounted to anyway?

Last year 102 million hectares of GM crops were grown world-wide by some 10 million farmers in 22 countries.

Millions of people are eating GM foods by the tonne and you know how many are getting sick? Not one.

What of the supposed mutation of "superweeds"? Not a single example anywhere in the world.

Just as we are able to regulate the medicines we allow drug companies to put on the market, so we should be able to regulate what goes into the foods we eat.

Yes, there might be some risks associated with GM foods, but isn't it true that every technology has its risks? Why allow politics, and not science, to guide us past those pitfalls?

Using the knowledge gained through scientific research has brought untold wonders to people lucky enough to be born in the 20th century and there is no reason to assume that this will be any different by seeking to improve the foods we eat.

Hopefully, those fanatically opposed to GM foods will, like the Luddites, fail in their attempts to sabotage the new technology.


Principal Voices

- Food for Thought, web dated July 31, 2007


Pitting the science and business community against environmental and consumers groups and creating intergovernmental tensions, few technologies are as controversial as biotechnology.

Ten years ago advocates of commercial biotech crops hailed them as a way to solve global hunger and protect biodiversity. It was an emotive issue to pin on the importance of biotech crops, but to date they have failed to be a silver bullet for world hunger.

Biotech crop sceptics, such as Friends of the Earth, continue to question the long-term impact on the environmental and public health, despite claims that genetic modification merely speeds up selective breeding, which advocates say has been a feature of farming for centuries.

As well as the environmental and health concerns, worries persist over the concentration of power in the hands of only a few multinational corporations who hold the patents and intellectual property rights in the biotech market.

"There are big worries over the corporate concentration of the food chain and technology being in the hands of companies set up to deliver profits rather than environmental sustainability," said Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth.

"The control of large companies over the food chain if very disempowering for small scale farmers. Monsanto, the biggest GM seed company, is now taking over non-GM seed companies and now owns over 60 percent of the global cotton seed market."

More biotech crops, less choice?

One thing is definite; the world is growing more and more genetically modified crops. According to he International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, the use of biotech crops have increased fifty fold in the last decade and now cover 475 million hectares, an area the same size as half of China. One third of this area was grown in developing countries.

Christian Verschueren from international plant science lobby group CropLife, says that between 1997 and 2006 commercial biocrop cultivation has brought a $27 billion increase in net incomes to farms.

But how much of this ends up in the pockets of farmers and is invested back into the long-term development of agriculture?

"Traditionally most farmers grew from their own seeds or could buy them from a number of companies, but now there has been a huge concentration of ownership among seed companies. Many people are worried about a handful of immensely powerful global corporations owning the seed stock of the world's agricultural stock. It also affects what things get developed and what things don't," said Erik Millstone, professor of science and technology policy at the University of Sussex and member of STEPS Center.

Protecting biodiversity and feeding the world?

As for protecting biodiversity advocates of biotech crops, such as CropLife, claim that genetic modification makes existing farmland more productive and so reduces the need to cultivate wild habitats. It's a claim refuted by Friends of the Earth, who say there is no clear evidence to suggest biotechnology increases yield. Growing genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops side by side can also lead to cross contamination.

Rather than protecting biodiversity and the environment, Friends of the Earth claim that over a number of years herbicide tolerant crops caused resistance in weed populations, which meant more herbicide had to be used and return to a more environmentally damaging faming methods.

"The GM crops are pointless without the herbicides and the companies that develop the seed develop the herbicide so they benefit from both. They've only brought herbicide and insect resistance to a limited number of crops to the market - oil seed rape, maize, cotton and soya - because they are relatively simple one gene-modifications," said Oxborrow.

Cross contamination is not just an environmental concern but can have economic ramifications. Countries, particularly in the EU have strict rules on importing and growing biotech crops, which has lead to a long running trade dispute with the U.S., that was taken to the level of the WTO.

"Biotech companies have changed their tune in the last few years from claiming that the technology can feed the world to now being more pragmatic and saying it won't be the silver bullet to cure all ills," said Oxborrow.

The issue goes deeper than just big corporation against environmental groups. There has been public and charitable sector investment in genetically modified crops to help the 820 million people live that in hunger and over 10 million children who malnutrition each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.

One attempt has been the development of "Golden Rice" that was engineered to have a higher vitamin A content than standard rice. (Click here to read more about "Golden Rice"). As well as a lack of international consensus on growing and consuming biotech crops, the project has been fraught with gaining access to seeds protected by patents and intellectual property rights.

"The problems faced by public or charitable sector investment in biotech crops to actually help poor farmers are not just technical but also legal and institutional. As yet they haven't yet found a way to deal with all the legal impediments," said Millstone.

As for empowering individual farmers, genetic modification is still very expensive technology and it takes a long time for anything to come into productivity. "Stacked genes" where more than one gene is altered is the next phase of biotechnology that companies hope will give seeds more than just one beneficial property.

"How genes behave will be much harder to calculate in the future of genetic engineering. Creating one variety of seed to have a number of attributes, such as drought resistance and insecticide, will make it harder to predict," said Millstone.

A less controversial form of biotechnology

While the debate continues over genetic modification could marked-assisted selection be a less controversial means of harnessing biotechnology? Marker assisted selection (MAS) uses genetic information to choose which crops have stronger attributes rather than splicing a gene from one plant and firing it into the genome of another one. (Click here to read more about MAS)

"It's probably not what Monsanto wants to do because the results of traditional plant breeding, even using MAS, doesn't necessarily result in varieties that can be patented, they may just be subject to traditional plant breeders rights," said Millstone.

"It is also hard to see how it can help poor farmers. It might be more appropriate for agricultural research stations that could do the genetic sequencing then develop a variety that could be more straight-forwardly distributed to farmers, but we're a long way away from it being a technique that can be used by individual farmers."

"All genetically modified technology has been designed to be used on a large scale. We think the best way for small scale farmers is to develop their own varieties that are tolerant to their own local conditions, whereas genetically modified crops are all about uniformity," said Oxborrow.

Quick Vote

Are you in favor of genetically modified food?

Yes 65%

No 35%

Not sure 0%


Pesticides and Humanity: The Benefits of Using Pesticides.

- Cooper, J., Dobson, H. 2007. Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich. Pages 1-75. August 1, 2007

The overwhelming majority of publicly available publications on pesticides take a negative position. This is no surprise since the benefits seem self-evident - they kill pests - whereas the hazards are unintended and therefore of greater academic and journalistic interest.

In order to inform a more balanced view, this study was carried out to identify and characterise the various types of benefit and where possible find publications to support them. There is no attempt in this report to weigh the benefits of pesticides against potential risks - that would represent a much bigger task.

The source information assembled during the preparation of this report can be consulted through the dedicated CropLife Benefits Database, which can be found at (http://www.croplifefoundation.org/international_benefits_db.asp). This database allows the user to search on a range of criteria for published evidence of various types of benefit arising from pesticide use. A short abstract and the bibliographic reference for each publication can be accessed from the web pages and for inhouse users, the full text document can be downloaded.

In addition to identifying the immediate consequences - here referred to as pesticide effects (essentially examples of pesticides killing pests) - the report tracks through to primary benefits such as increased yield and then to less intuitively obvious secondary benefits, for example reducing the emission of greenhouse gases because using herbicides is less energy intensive than the mechanical cultivations required to achieve an equivalent effect, or slowing down rural-urban migration in the developing world by making agriculture a better livelihood option. In some cases these secondary benefits are what ultimately justify the pesticides' use. The primary and secondary benefits can be further categorized as economic, social or environmental (see Appendix 1), but this is not the way this analysis is structured.

Rather, it is structured on the basis of the three main pesticide effects, since we consider this more user-centred.

Where there are benefits, it follows that there are individuals or groups of people who gain, i.e., the beneficiaries. The report considers who stands to gain from different types of pesticide use, such as farmers, consumers, local communities, commerce, the global environment or mankind generally.

The finding from the study is that the list of beneficial outcomes from sensible use of pesticides is long and provides compelling evidence that pesticides will continue to be a vital tool in the diverse range of technologies that can maintain and improve living standards for the people of the world.


Coexistence or Contradiction - GM Crops versus Alternative Agricultures in Europe.

- Levidow, L., Boschert, K. 2007. Geoforum: 26 pages.

Agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) has intersected with a wider debate about 'sustainable agriculture', especially in Europe. Agbiotech was initially promoted as an alternative which would avoid or remedy past problems of intensive agriculture, but such claims were soon challenged. Agbiotech has extended the dominant agri-industrial paradigm, while critics have counterposed alternatives corresponding to an agrarian-based rural development paradigm.

Amid controversy over environmental and health risks in the late 1990s, an extra issue emerged - the prospect that genetically modified (GM) material would become inadvertently mixed with non-GM crops. In response the European Commission developed a policy framework for 'coexistence' between GM, conventional and organic crops. This policy has aimed to ensure that farmers can freely choose among different production systems, which would develop side by side, yet specific proposals for coexistence rules favour some choices over others. Such rules have been contested according to different policy agendas, each promoting their model of future agriculture. Moreover, a Europe-wide network of regional authorities has promoted 'GM-free zones' as a territorial brand for green, localised, high-quality agri-food production, whose diverse qualities depend upon symbolic, immaterial characteristics.

This alternative has been counterposed to the agri-industrial production of global commodities - symbolised by the European Union, especially its product authorisation procedure for the internal market. 'Coexistence' policy was intended to mediate policy conflicts over GM crops, yet it has become another arena for contending agricultural systems, which may not so readily co-exist in practice. Wherever an agrarian-based rural development paradigm gains local support, its alternative agricultures are in contradiction rather than coexistence with GM crops.


Risk Assessment of GM Stacked Events Obtained from Crosses Between GM Events.

- de Schrijver, A., Devos, Y., Van den Bulcke, M., Cadot, P., de Loose, M., Reheul, D., Sneyers, M. 2007. Food Science and Technology 18: 101-109.

The risk assessment of GM stacked events, which are considered as a new GMO in the EU, could be less extensive than the assessment of the parental GM events. This will be the case when the latter have been proven to be safe for the human health and the environment for the same uses as the GM stacked event. Criteria for the risk assessment of GM stacked events combining positively assessed GM parental lines are proposed. Molecular and comparative analysis data are put forward as minimum requirements. Additional food/ feed safety testing and environmental studies are considered relevant on a case-by-case basis.


The governance of corporations, technological change, and risk: examining industrial perspectives on the development of genetically modified crops

- Joyce Tait and Joanna Chataway, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 2007 (vol. 25, pp. 21 - 37, DOI:10.1068/c0615j)


Abstract. Why do corporations develop technologies which can be associated with the generation of various environmental risks and how are the technologies that they develop governed by factors within and around firms? The authors examine the factors that have motivated and guided techno- logical innovation, based on an examination of multinational companies developing genetically modified (GM) crops for the European market. The analysis is based on an inherently interdiscipli- nary approach to the study of innovation, which incorporates factors that are governed endogenously through the processes within companies (that is, strategic decisionmaking) and exogenously through interactions between firms and their external constituents (that is, government policies and regula- tions, and stakeholder and public perspectives and engagements). It is found that the introduction of GM technologies in Europe has been shaped significantly by public perception and societal reactions. It is also found that the aspects of industry strategies which contributed most to the course of European public opposition to GM crops were: (a) the choice of first-generation GM products; (b) interactions between pesticide-product and biotechnology-product strategies in different compa- nies, and industry's efforts to present their sector and its products as contributing to sustainable development; (c) cultural and world-view differences between companies; and (d) company responses to European biotechnology policies and risk regulation. It is demonstrated that actions which seem rational to individual actors (corporations, governments, public interest groups) can have counterintuitive, and often counterproductive, outcomes in the longer term and when considered from the perspective of interactions within broader governance processes.


Malaysia: Conference on Modern Biotechnology

- Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia,) August 13-14, 2007


The legislative and regulatory framework which is the 7th Thrust of the National Biotechnology Policy is a key factor that will help determine the direction and development of biotechnology in the country. Regulation is of utmost importance to any new technology and a good regulatory system enhances public confidence in the products and services produced. However, while acknowledging this fact, we must also strive for a robust and flexible regulatory framework that would facilitate biotechnology research and industry growth at the same time safeguarding human and animal health as well as the environment.

The Objective: To facilitate the development of a science-based regulatory framework that would promote research, development, commercialisation as well as the growth of both local and foreign biotechnology industries in Malaysia

The Speakers: Eminent foreign and local speakers from renowned institutes and organisations with great wealth of knowledge and experience in the regulatory framework for modern biotechnology.

The Topics

* Benefits and Risks of Modern Biotechnology: Providing Clear Accurate and Objective Information

* Benefits of Modern Biotechnology in Medicine and Pharmaceuticals

* Islamic Perspectives on Modern Biotechnology

* The First 10 Years of Transgenic Technology

* Biosafety

* Development of Biotechnology in Malaysia

* The Role of Transgenic Technology in Helping to Fulfill the National Agriculture Policy

* Risk Communication and Awareness to Consumers and Relevance of Agribiotechnology to Food Security

* Experiences in Other Countries

* Analysis on Misconceptions of GMOs

* Scientific Risk Assessments

*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net