* World grain demand straining U.S. supply
* GMOs gaining global market acceptance
* Food Supply Fears Heighten UK Debate
* Farmers' Understandings of GM Crops
* Italy: 67% of Farmers Ready To Grow GMOs
* Fewer Britons fear dangers of GM food
* Euro Ministers Must Support New Crisis Measures
* Poland sticking to planned GMO livestock fodder ban
* Philippines cited as top GM corn producer
* US, EU In Talks To Solve Biotech Crops Dispute
* Traces of unapproved GMO trait found in U.S. corn
Ag economist: World grain demand straining U.S. supply
- University of Purdue (press release), Feb. 20, 2008
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Consumers usually reduce their purchases of goods and services if prices become too high. Buyers of United States corn, soybeans and wheat seem to be ignoring that economic principle, however, as the nation's grain stocks reach critically low levels, said Chris Hurt, a Purdue University agricultural economist.
With global demand for grain and oilseeds at record levels and a weak U.S. dollar, foreign buyers are outbidding domestic buyers for American grain. While the higher commodity prices are good for crop agriculture, there are disconcerting downsides, Hurt said.
"Food consumers worldwide are going to have to pay more," Hurt said. "We ended 2007 with our monthly inflation rate on food nearly 5 percent higher. I think we'll see times in 2008 where the food inflation rate might be as much as 6 percent.
"I also think we'll have discussions about food security in 2008. We'll have discussions about whether we should allow the foreign sector to buy our food. Is food a strategic item that we need to keep in our country?"
For some U.S. crops, it's almost too late. The 2007 U.S. wheat crop is virtually sold out, while domestic soybean stocks soon will fall below a 20-day supply. Corn inventories are stronger, but with demand from export markets, the livestock industry and ethanol plants, supplies also could be just as scarce for the 2008 crop. The condition could become more serious if adverse weather trims U.S. crop yields this summer and fall.
The situation is reminiscent of another run on U.S. grain one generation ago, Hurt said.
"This is a very rare circumstance," he said. "The last time we had this kind of uncertainty on food supplies was the early 1970s when the former Soviet Union became a major buyer of wheat in the United States. In the fall of 1972 they were such aggressive buyers that they essentially bought the pantry out of our available wheat supplies.
"In 1973 we also virtually ran out of soybeans. The U.S. Congress and president responded by saying we cannot let the rest of the world have our strategic food supply, so they embargoed all foreign soybean shipments until we could replenish the supply."
Hurt doesn't expect a similar export prohibition this year, but grain prices will have to keep climbing to slow the buying frenzy.
Recent cash prices for wheat, soybeans and corn are up dramatically from two years ago. Wheat prices have been near $10 a bushel, more than $6 a bushel higher. Cash prices for soybeans are about $13 a bushel, up more than $7 a bushel. Corn is pricing at near $5 a bushel, an increase of greater than $3 a bushel.
Despite the higher prices, wheat exports are 32 percent higher than one year ago, 33 percent of the U.S. soybean crop will be shipped out of the country and corn exports this year are on pace to break the 1979-80 record of 2.4 billion bushels.
Because of the devalued U.S. dollar, high prices haven't dissuaded foreign buyers from purchasing American grain, Hurt said.
"We've seen the relationship of the U.S. dollar to foreign currencies change substantially in the last few years," he said. "The European euro has increased in value relative to the U.S. dollar by 40 percent. What that means is that with the same number of euros, the Europeans can buy 40 percent more in the United States than they would have been able to buy three or four years ago.
"As an example, $12 soybeans in the Midwest are equivalent to something in the range of $9 to the world at this point. This suggests that the world will not cut back on grain usage as quickly, because as buyers purchase using their own currencies they are not experiencing as high a price as we perceive these prices to be in the United States."
It might take another month of grain price increases to get users to cut back, Hurt said. He estimated soybean prices could top $15 a bushel before all is said and done.
Farmland values and cash rental rates should continue rising as producers look to expand their crop acreage to meet the grain demand, Hurt said. He also expects agribusinesses - especially those that offer seed, ag chemicals, fertilizer, machinery and financial capital - to benefit.
The challenge to satisfy the world's hunger for grain promises to make for an interesting year, Hurt said.
"It turns out food is a security issue for every country of the world," he said. "World agriculture has been so productive in the past 60 years that general food shortages have been rare. With this long period of abundant food supplies, most of the world's consumers in developed countries have forgotten food's strategic nature. Given the world's appetite for basic crops, the hope for 2008 is for favorable yields throughout the globe that will give consumers and crop producers more time to adjust to this new high-demand era."
Pioneer sees GMOs gaining global market acceptance
- Karl Plume, Reuters, Feb 22, 2008
WASHINGTON - Rising food prices will encourage worldwide acceptance of genetically engineered crops as more consumers set aside health concerns for the lower prices that biotech crops may deliver, a leading seed company executive said.
Governments that have been slow to accept biotech crops, or GMOs, will find it increasingly difficult to deny access to the technologies as food costs are poised to continue climbing.
"The only way we're going to meet some of these demand expectations that we have and are going to have in the future is through improved productivity. A lot of that productivity will come through technology," said Paul Shickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred International and vice president of DuPont Co (DD.N: Quote, Profile, Research).
U.S. food prices rose by a 17-year high of 4 percent last year and were seen rising by another 3 to 4 percent in 2008. Food inflation was expected to outpace the general inflation rate through 2010, the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast.
Global food prices have risen even faster and will continue to do so, economists said.
Current technologies that improve yields by protecting plants against insects or weed killing herbicides are "just the tip of the iceberg," he said on the sidelines of the USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum.
Future developments include soybeans that produce healthier oil or corn with more fermentable starch for ethanol production.
CONSISTENT, RISING YIELDS
GMO seeds have increased corn output in the United States by about 1.5 percent over the past decade and products in Pioneer's pipeline could accelerate that rate of yield improvement to about 3 percent in the next 10 years, Shickler said.
Perhaps more importantly, GMO varieties offer more consistent, reliable yields, which farmers find highly valuable in the current volatile commodities market climate, he said.
"Farmers don't want to be surprised, particularly they don't want to have negative surprises," Shickler said.
"What's going to drive broader acceptance worldwide is the productivity factor, the environmental factor, competition among countries. It's not going to come from the seed industry demanding that they approve. The real demand is going to be driven by farmers," Shickler said.
Since biotech seeds tend to yield more grain per acre, less fuel is needed to plant and harvest the crop -- another selling point for seed companies amid sky-high energy prices.
GMO seeds are already broadly used in the United States, Argentina, and Brazil, and plantings are poised to increase in South Africa, China, India, Canada and elsewhere.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-business Applications, 22 countries planted biotech crops in 2006 on 252 million acres.
"With rising food prices globally, the benefits of biotech crops have never been more important," ISAAA said ahead of the release of its annual report on genetically modified crops.
More than 73 percent of corn planted in the United States last year was some form of GMO, according to USDA. Pioneer's Shickler said that could approach 90 percent this year.
Biotech crops have also started to gain a foothold in Europe, where critics have been especially vocal in the past, dubbing GMOs "Frankenfoods" whose risks outweigh any potential benefits.
Britain's chief scientific adviser said this week that genetically modified crops should be accepted as a possible solution to rising food demand and production issues linked to climate change.
Food Supply Fears Heighten UK Debate On GMO Crops
- Nigel Hunt, Reuters via PlanetArk, Feb. 20, 2008
LONDON - Rising food prices due partly to soaring demand in China are increasing pressure on Europe to boost harvests and could help turn the tide in favour of genetically modified crops despite widespread public opposition.
Opponents have cited concerns that GMO crops could have a negative environmental impact and could even pose a risk to human health. European Union governments have been unable to reach a consensus to speed up authorisations.
GMO crops met a hostile response when first touted in Europe a decade ago after they were dubbed "Frankenstein foods" and it has proved hard for proponents to overcome consumers concerns.
But pressure is growing for acceptance of GMO technology.
"We have to face up to the issue of genetic modification and rise to the challenge of helping to foster a fair and scientific debate on an issue that has typically been clouded by suspicion and a lack of trust," Iain Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle Plc said on Tuesday.
Ferguson, who is also president of Britain's Food and Drink Federation, told the National Farmers Union annual conference it was increasingly difficult for food companies to be able to make products without genetically modified ingredients.
"I think we sit at a momemt of history when GM technology because it has accepted by a large number of crop producing countries which export, that a lot of the international trade is now of GM-derived products and that is a fact of life.
"For those people who are trying to source non-GM through identity preservation in whatever form they are doing it, that is become a tougher and tougher thing to do and it is becoming more expensive," he said.
There has been significant opposition among consumers in Britain and several other European countries to genetically modified crops and few are grown in the European Union, in contrast to the United States, Brazil, Argentina and China.
Demand for food is rising sharply in China, India and several other countries and is expected to continue to increase, boosted by both economic expansion and population growth.
Climate change is also forecast to reduce agricultural production in many areas over the next few years.
"I think the debate about higher prices and being able to meet the demand of people in the world for food is a perfect opportunity to make the case (for GMO crops)," Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said.
"We may have a window of opportunity here and I would encourage you to exploit that," he told the NFU conference.
Britain's chief scientist said GMO crops should not be shunned as agriculture seeks to respond to rising food demand.
"It seems to me to be insanity to throw away potential solutions of scientific problems and to practical problems that the (farming) industry have," the UK government's chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, said.
Beddington, however, said it was vital to assess any potential harm the crops could do to the environment although he downplayed concern they might damage human health.
Farmers in Britain have been reluctant to support GMO crops openly until they are widely accepted by consumers.
NFU president Peter Kendall, however, told the conference that food production needed to double and possibly treble over the next 40 years and "developing the agricultural potential of this country to its fullest is actually a moral issue".
"It is acutely painful to me to see how we have allowed our science base to run down. Part of the problem is the aversion to new technology and risk that has been fostered by a section of our society," he said.
"The NFU has called for a new and intelligent debate about new technology. We must start that debate now."
Livestock farmers at the conference expressed frustration they were unable to import cheaper GMO feed under EU rules at a time when feed costs are soaring.
Kendall argued that British government papers have said that Britain as a rich country does not face a food security threat and it could trade its way our of trouble.
He, however, questioned the morality on passing the problem on to poorer countries, many of whom face a greater threat from climate change.
Growing concern about the food price inflation has helped spark increased interest in the agricultural sector and leaders of Britain's three leading political parties, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, participated in the conference.
Farmers' Understandings of Genetically Modified Crops within Local Communities
- Andy Lane, et. al., The Open University (web posting/press release), Feb. 24, 2008
This project investigated the attitudes, intentions and practices of farmers regarding the new technology of GM crops (both those with experience of them and those without) in relation to their social setting. The relationship building research approach we developed had three phases that used three different, and progressively more interactive, discussion and mapping techniques to engage with (often the same) participants.
Much of the debate around the science and technology of genetically modified (GM) crops has focused on the policies and practices of national governments and international organisations or on the acceptability of GM products with consumers. Little work had been done with the primary users of such technologies - farmers. Further, the management of knowledge has become a significant issue for all sectors of the economy and yet little attention had again been given to farmers as a particular societal group of small to medium sized enterprises subject to 'knowledge-based' influences from many other societal groups.
Aims and objectives
This project investigated the attitudes, intentions and practices of farmers regarding the new technology of GM crops (both those with experience of them and those without) in relation to their social setting. The relationship building research approach we developed had three phases that used three different, and progressively more interactive, discussion and mapping techniques to engage with (often the same) participants. Telephone and face-to-face interviews with farmers, and a workshop with farmers and others involved in agriculture, helped: Explore how farmers construct their understandings of GM crops through their interactions with others, in particular family members, neighbouring farmers, seed companies, farming advisors and the local community.
2. Ascertain the acceptability to farmers of recommended management practices for GM crops used in the Government sponsored Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs).
3. Develop models of social learning systems appropriate to support individual farmers within informal social settings who decide to adopt contentious new technologies such as GM crops.
Farmers' understandings of GM crops as a new technology:
Farmers view GM crops as a technology derived from new practices in plant breeding that build upon previous technologies and contribute to the running of the whole farm business. They are responding to them much as they would to any new technology, as a technology that provides improvements that are assessed for their value in practice by experimentation in the individual farm context. Farmers who had been involved in the FSEs, and those who had not, believed that GM crops offer clear economic and environmental benefits to themselves and the wider public. New technologies, such as GM crops are attractive to farmers as a way of reconciling conflicting demands to deliver high quality products at low cost and also to farm in an environmentally responsible way.
Farmers' acceptance of recommended management practices:
The farmers involved in the FSEs had no problems following the recommended management practices and several could see ways in which to modify them to create benefits to themselves and to others if GM crops were licensed in the UK, in particular by using lower rates of herbicide.
Farmers' social learning systems and links to their communities:
Farmers' learning is dominated by informal learning, beyond any initial formal training, and this occurs through experimenting and the use of tacit knowledge arising from using new technologies in practice on their own farm. They also actively engage with other farmers (their network of practice) and many organisations that impact on their work (their community of influencers). That is, they draw on and exchange knowledge and experience from the range of people in their social environment.
Farmers' network of practice is widely distributed rather than being local while their community of influencers is complex, but relatively stable and consistent over time, and largely not local, although the degree of influence of individual members of the community may change. Some influence over practice is one-way (e.g. regulations that impose restrictions on what can be done) while some influences result from two-way negotiation (e.g. with agricultural advisers on agronomic matters). Key individuals within organisations in their community of influencers are often important, rather than simply the organisations themselves.
Most farmers have to act individually at the boundary between their network of practice and community of influencers in order to find and exchange information and knowledge. For example, with the decline in public funding for the former Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS) there is a lack of official people working at the boundary between farmers' network of practice and other key communities of practice within a farmer's community of influencers. Similarly, there is a less effective connection between both the scientific research occurring in the agricultural science community of practice and agricultural policy development occurring in government departments and agencies, with the day-to-day agricultural practices and long term plans of farmers.
The value of our research approach:
Farmers appreciated the use of a more participatory approach that sought the inclusion of their views, as users, into the broader conversations about new technologies. They also valued the interactive, relationship-building nature of the research approach.
Dissemination of findings
An integral part of the project has been the sharing of the outcomes of each phase of the study with the participants and with key stakeholders in the agricultural sector. A project website, project reports, conference papers, journal articles and an executive summary document are being used to disseminate the findings to different audiences.
Implications for policy and practice
Based on our findings there is a need for:
An enabling environment that is responsive to farmers' needs, with clear, consistent and long-term policy signals about the future of agriculture, to allow them time to adapt to changing demands.
Improved connections between farmers and consumers.
Greater awareness amongst policy makers, regulators, scientists and the supermarkets, of what farmers can and cannot do.
Independent, trustworthy, sources of research and advice for farmers.
The valuing of farmers' informal learning from experience, for example in the shaping of agricultural research.
The following features are among those that would most improve the systems of support available to farmers in their decisions about new technologies:
- horizon-scanning on behalf of farmers, to synthesise information, look at the potential of new technologies, and develop clear long-term directions for agriculture
- government-sponsored intermediaries qualified in and knowledgeable about agriculture, to improve the links between government policies, scientific research and the grassroots
Full report (.pdf, 11 pp.): http://www.sci-soc.net/NR/rdonlyres/8FAAA64E-66E6-4964-8E1A-54023298C4DA/801/FarmersUnderstandingsofGeneticallyModifiedCropswit.pdf
67% Of Farmers Are Ready To Grow GMOs Immediately Says A Demoskopea Survey, Italy
- ASSOBIOTEC [Associazione Nazionale per lo sviluppo delle biotecnologie/Italian National Biotech Association] (press release) via MedStore, Feb. 21, 2008
Milan - 67% of maize growers in the main maize growing region of Italy, Lombardy, say they would be ready to cultivate GMOs immediately were they given the chance. 74% of them are also in favour of running field trials of GMOs in Italy so as to better understand the benefits.
These are the main findings of a survey on maize growers' perception of GMOs carried out on a representative sample of 532 farms in Lombardy by Demoskopea on behalf of Assobiotec, the Italian association of biotechnology industries, within Federchimica.
"The results show that the farmer base in Lombardy is open to innovation and biotechnology" says Elisabetta Brambilla, the survey coordinator. According to 80,6% of maize growers "it is absurd to ban the cultivation of GMOs while allowing their import for feed". 75,9% "feel unfairly penalised compared with farmers operating in other countries". 75,6% consider GMOs "an innovative agricultural instrument". And the underlying feeling for 74,8% of the farmers is that "farmers should be given the freedom to choose what to produce".
"Demoskopea's survey offers an insight into the high level of modernity, innovation and awareness of our agricultural sector;" declares the president of Assobiotec, Roberto Gradnik "this is very different from what is depicted by many politicians and agricultural associations in Italy who are clearly pursuing a prejudiced and ideological opposition to GMOs".
According to Gradnik "the farming sector has confirmed its willingness to be dynamic and innovative, being acutely aware that these are the tools required to remain competitive on the increasingly international market that the farming sector faces today".
"Those who are trying to manage the damage caused by fungi and parasites day in day out - continues Gradnik - can but appreciate the solutions offered by modern biotechnology. Genetically improved maize is not only safe for humans and animals but it offers economic benefits in terms of increased productivity given the pest and disease pressure".
"We hope that those responsible for the legislative framework in Italy will finally end the ideological hostility against GMOs and allow the benefits to be felt in Italy as well, starting with allowing field trials in the country. This is no longer a request of industry alone, farmers are demanding the freedom to choose as well" concludes the President of Assobiotec.
Fewer Britons fear dangers of GM food
- Denis Campbell, The Observer (UK), Feb. 24, 2008
Only one in five Britons is worried about the dangers of genetically modified food, new research shows. Just 20 per cent of 2,627 people questioned by the Food Standards Agency said they were concerned.
The finding will disappoint groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth which have campaigned against GM foods. The 20 per cent figure is the lowest yet recorded in the agency's annual consumer attitudes survey, and fewer than half the 43 per cent who voiced unease in 2000.
The poll also found that almost half those questioned did not know the difference between 'use by' and 'sell by' dates on food. The amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar in food remains the main area of concern.
Euro Ministers Must Support New Crisis Measures
- ThePigSite, Feb. 19, 2008
EU - European pigmeat producers are facing an unprecedented crisis, with prices for pig feed having risen by almost 50 percent in recent months due to the low availability of feedstuffs, reports the UK's National Pig Association.
This increase has not been offset by a corresponding increase in the price of the meat, which instead has fallen by eight percent, says Copa, the European farmers' union, in a press statement. Producers are now losing up to £26 a pig.
Jean-Michel Lemetayer, president of Copa, and Gert Van Dijk , president of Cogeca, said, "Given that the market situation remains critical, urgent action is needed." Widen Export Refunds COPA and COGECA are calling on Brussels to widen the use of export refunds and to extend the storage period of pork currently in cold stores under Brussels' storage subsidy scheme, which ended in November.
They are also seeking help in finding a solution to producers' cash-flow problems and want measures to increase the availability of feedstuffs, including the possible use of meat and bonemeal and an improvement in the European authorisation procedure for GMOs used in feed.
"If nothing is done we expect up to 20 percent of producers to go out of business in the next six to ten months. If this happened, we might no longer be able to guarantee the availability of pigmeat that society has come to expect. As a consequence, consumer prices would skyrocket," warned Jean-Michel Lemetayer.
Poland sticking to planned GMO livestock fodder ban
- EUbusiness, Feb. 12, 2008
(WARSAW) - Poland is sticking to plans to ban the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in livestock fodder, despite an earlier rethink, the agriculture ministry announced Tuesday.
Ministry spokeswoman Malgorzata Ksiazyk told AFP that the government had decided to put on ice a move to amend a restrictive law that is due to come into force on August 1.
In January, Poland's newly-installed liberal government had said it planned to change the incoming law in order to stay in line with European Union rules.
Poland's previous conservative-nationalist administration, which clashed regularly with Brussels on a host of issues, had in 2006 announced that it would ban GMOs in fodder from this year.
Despite the expectations that Warsaw would change tack in the wake of the conservatives' defeat in a snap election last October, the new government "shares the viewpoint on GMOs" of its predecessor, Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki told reporters after a cabinet meeting Tuesday.
Under the rules of the 27-nation EU, a member state has the right to apply a "safeguard clause" against GMO products if it can provide scientific evidence to question their safety.
But last year the EU's executive body, the European Commission, found fault with Poland's proposed law, saying Warsaw had failed to come up with the required proof of risks to the environment or people.
Poland is planning to turn to the European Court of Justice to overturn the Commission's ruling, the government said Tuesday.
A survey published by the environmental campaign organisation Greenpeace has found that 76 percent of Polish consumers oppose GMOs.
Despite the planned fodder rules, Poland is to continue allowing the import of genetically modified food for human consumption, provided it is clearly labelled as containing GMOs and cannot be transformed into other products.
Guest ed. note: See also, "Genetically modified organisms: Unmodified opinion," Anna Kapica-Harward, Warsaw Business Journal, Feb. 18, 2008, http://www.wbj.pl/?command=article&id=40100&type=wbj
RP cited as top GM corn producer
- Melody M. Aguiba, Manila Bulletin, Feb 17, 2008
The Philippines landed in 2007 on the tenth position among world's biggest countries planting biotechnology crops with genetically modified (GM) corn's consistent growth at now 250,000 hectares.
Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), told a press briefing that the country is blazing a trail in Asia with a fully in-place biotechnology regulation that's speeding up adoption of biotechnology crops.
The Philippines is the third Asian country with the biggest biotechnology crop area after India (GM cotton), 6.2 million hectares and China (GM cotton), 3.8 million hectares.
"Developing countries are taking a lead in this area. We have an impact on developing countries... India, China, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa that have 2.6 billion or 40 percent of the world's population," James said.
GM corn expansion in the country in 2007 was at a hefty 25 percent from 200,000 hectares in 2006. Herbicide tolerant corn was planted on 110,000 hectares while Bacillus thuringiensis corn (borerresistant) was at 75,000 hectares. Stacked trait corn (containing both borer and herbicide resistance) was at 63,000 hectares.
Biotechnology crops will play a pivotal role in cutting poverty and hunger as major crops (corn, rice) which are principal sources of food, feed, and fiber have been experiencing a doubling of prices. And biotechnology crops can be the only instrument in doubling yield of these crops which is a challenge by 2050.
"Conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050. Biotech crops are not a panacea but these are important," he said.
Among the benefits of biotechnology crops, he said, is increased yield by five to 50 percent and bringing income gain for farmers by $ 7 billion in 2006 and $ 34 billion cumulative from 1996 to 2006.
James noted that as global warming confronts countries worldwide, biotechnology crops will become even more important in raising productivity without needing to raise existing land area. Bt corn crops, for instance, do not need greenhouse gas-producing chemical inputs to raise yield.
"Biotech crops protect biodiversity-doubling crop production on the same area of land, saving the forests and biodiversity at a rate of 13 million hectares loss per year in developing countries," he said.
ISAAA, a global coordinator on biotechnology propagation, noted that these crops reduced need for chemical inputs totaling to savings of 289,000 metric tons of pesticides from 1996 to 2006. This saved 15 billion kilos of carbon dioxide emission in 2006 equivalent to running 6.5 million cars.
Moreover, the social benefits include poverty alleviation for 11 million small farmers in 2007, up from 9.3 million in 2006.
ISAAA projects that by 2015, there will be 40 biotechnology countries, up from 23 at present and impacting on 200 million hectares from the present 114 million hectares. Farmers planting these crops by 2015 will have increased to 200 million.
In 2007, biotechnology crop area worldwide grew to 114.3 million, up by 12 percent in2006. This benefitted 12 million farmers, up from 10.3 million in 2006.
In the Philippines, among the important future crops will be droughttolerant grains (rice and corn), pro-Vitamin A-rich rice, and crops that are important to resource-poor farmers including the fruit and shoot borer resistant eggplant and the ring spot virus resistant papaya, James noted.
ISAAA foresees that up to 2015, biotechnology crops will continue to expand in Asia (India, China, Vietnam) and will continue to increase in area in Africa led by Egypt, Burkina Faso in West Africa, and Kenya in East Africa.
Biofuel crops will expand in US and Brazil which have corn for ethanol and GM soybean for biodiesel.
It will have slow to modest growth in European Union and potentially in Eastern Europe while continuing to grow in US, Canada, and Australia as facilited by high commodity prices.
US, EU In Talks To Solve Biotech Crops Dispute
- Jonathan Lynn, Reuters via PlanetArk, Feb. 20, 2008
GENEVA - The United States and European Union are in talks to resolve their dispute over the EU's ban on genetically modified (GMO) crops, diplomats said on Tuesday.
But Washington reserved its right to seek sanctions against Brussels by restarting a suspended arbitration process if the talks fail to make headway, the United States told the dispute settlement body (DSB) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
"The arbitration will resume, at the request of the United States, if and when the DSB finds that a measure taken to comply with the recommendations and rulings of the DSB in this dispute does not exist or is inconsistent with a covered agreement," the US said in a statement to the dispute body.
The United States says it could seek compensation for the millions of dollars in lost exports and licensing fees for biotech crops it is suffering because of EU bans.
The WTO has said the EU ban is illegal, and the two sides are now talking to see how Brussels should implement the ruling. Washington says its main aim is to crack open the EU market rather than retaliating.
Crops engineered to resist pests and tolerate pesticides while improving yields are increasingly popular with farmers in both rich and poor countries.
But green groups say they threaten biodiversity, and many European consumers are wary of eating "Frankenfoods". European supermarkets often advertise foods as being free from genetically modified organisms.
However, some European farmers fear that Europe could find itself without supplies of animal feed at a time of record commodities prices, as more and more growers worldwide turn to GM crops.
The EU told the dispute body that it had authorised 17 applications for GM crops since ending a moratorium in 2003, including seven new GM products in 2007, and was likely to add another four early this year.
But the United States said more than 40 applications were pending in the EU approval system, including one filed over 10 years ago, and many of these were already approved and traded in other major world markets.
"A handful of approvals over a nine-year period is, unfortunately, of little commercial significance," it said.
Brussels has found it hard to implement the WTO ruling in the dispute, which also pits it against Argentina and Canada, because the 27 EU member states operate their own bans.
The EU said its executive commission was working to lift bans imposed by Austria on MON810 maize produced by US biotech company Monsanto and on T25 maize developed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer. The commission is currently examining scientific data provided by Austria to support its ban, the EU said.
The commission is also reviewing a decision this month by France, the EU's biggest food producer, to impose a temporary ban on MON810, it said. But it noted that Germany had lifted its ban on MON810 at the end of last year.
The dispute will also be closely watched by other biotech companies such as US chemical majors Du Pont and Dow Chemical , and by Switzerland's Syngenta, the world's biggest agrochemicals company.
Traces of unapproved GMO trait found in U.S. corn
- Lisa Shumaker, Reuters, Feb 22, 2008
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Traces of an unapproved genetically modified trait were found in U.S. corn planted in 2006 and 2007 but the grain poses no threat to food or feed safety, said the U.S Agriculture Department on Friday.
The 2008 corn crop will not be affected when it is planted this spring across the United States, the world's largest corn exporter.
The unapproved GMO trait, known as Event 32, was found in approximately three seeds per 1,000 in Herculex RW and Herculex XTRA Rootworm Protection corn samples. The Herculex brand is made by Dow AgroSciences LLC, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co.
Dow reported the discovery to the government on January 25, said Cindy Ragin, spokeswoman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
"We took steps to investigate the information that was submitted to us by Dow," she said. "We don't think our trading partners will stop corn trade with the United States. There are no food or feed safety concerns."
Biotech crops are widely accepted in the United States, with GMO crops found on 73 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2007, according to USDA data. GMO seeds can improve yields, withstand herbicides and repel pests.
Other parts of the world, especially Europe, have been reluctant to accept GMO food due to concerns about dangers to the environment and human health.
DOW RECALLED SEED SHIPPED IN 2008
Dow said the GMO contamination originated with a small research plot, according to a news release on its Web site.
Farmers planted 53,000 acres with the affected seed in 2007, Dow told APHIS. The total U.S. corn acreage last year was 93 million acres.
The seed was inadvertently sold to farmers by Dow AgroSciences' affiliate Mycogen Seeds.
The unapproved GMO trait produces proteins that are identical to an approved trait, APHIS said. The approved trait is also permitted by several foreign countries.
Dow recalled the affected seed that was shipped to farmers for the 2008 planting season.
Grain traders said the discovery would not affect U.S. corn sales.
"Demand is too strong and alterative suppliers too few," said a grain trader. "But it could make it more difficult if there are new testing and analysis requirements. And it certainly gives us another black eye."
The trader was referring to an incident in the fall of 2000 when a biotech corn called StarLink, approved for use only as animal feed, was found in the human food chain, sparking a nationwide recall of taco shells and corn products foods from grocery shelves.
The detection led several countries to temporarily ban imports of U.S. corn, including Japan, the top U.S. corn buyer.
Guest ed. note:
This edition of AgBioView may well herald a turning-point in "the debate" over engineered crops. In fact, it may well have to be.
European urbanites who feel that farming is as humble as day-labor, or merely a delightful pastoral lifestyle, are now confronting reality. These urbanites are wealthy enough to disdain modern advances in food production, and many of them go so far as to insist on food produced with methods already considered old-fashioned before the outbreak of World War II.
With globalization, Europe's insistence on antique methods of farming are making the trading bloc increasingly irrelevant in world food trade. With globalization, wealth and prosperity elsewhere have increased. Nations willing to embrace progress in food production, which enjoy cultures more accepting of science, gladly purchase what Europe rejects.
This leaves Europe in the position of attempting to survive on the agricultural products of a by-gone age, at prices increasingly exhorbitant, and for reasons which become less rational every day.
The World Trade Organization has ruled that Europe's regulatory rejection of engineered crops is not based on facts, and Europe faces trade sanctions as a result. It may be, in the end, that official trade sanctions against Europe by more progressive nations will prove to be unnecessary. Europe is set to experience self-imposed calamities far worse than anything the WTO would prefer, or other nations would advocate.
It is, of course, Europe's prerogative to insist on antiquated food production methods, but Europe cannot feed itself. Increasingly, it finds itself dependent on nations willing to modernize. And, increasingly, Europe is seeing its farmers and citizens reacting against a regulatory regime which has paid more attention to government-paid activist groups claiming to represent voters, than to the voters themselves.
Ironically, Europe increasingly resembles Zambia on the import of food and feed from progressive agricultural producers. Will Europe starve its citizens, as Zambia has done? Of course not. Will this drive Europe to apologize to Zambia? Probably not. In the best Cold War tradition, Europe will continue to export its attitudes to those who can least afford them.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net