* (Without) GM Wheat: 'People will die'
* Biotech Food Is Safe: Is Anyone Telling The Consumer?
* Auf Wiedersehen, Agbiotech
* Scientists Need to Step Up and-Now
* Danish Farmers to Grow GM crops
* Biosafety Regulations in Asia-Pacific Countries
* Australia: Regulation - Sate by State Basis
* China Plans $3.5 Billion GM Crops Initiative
* Report to India: Secondary Agriculture Value
* Yogic Flying at the Common Ground Fair
* Trace and Traceability--A Call for Rgulatory Harmony
* GM Foods: I'll Eat Your Words (This Guy Needs Your Input!!)
GM Wheat: 'People will die'
- James Grubel, Retuters, September 03 2008
Canberra - Japan and Europe need to embrace genetically modified wheat to combat food shortages in poor countries, rather than pander to consumer fears, the head of a global wheat research institute said on Wednesday.
Resistance from the public and consumer groups in rich countries to genetically modified (GM) wheat has forced major producing countries, such as Australia, the United States and Canada, to steer away from growing GM crops.
But GM crops can boost yields and help poor countries feed their people at a time of food shortages and rising world prices, said Thomas Lumpkin, head of the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
"Governments should try to help the public appreciate how much the high price of food affects the poor in developing countries," Lumpkin said in an interview on Wednesday.
"By denying them this technology, you are keeping them hungry, they are dying."
Wheat and maize account for 40 percent of the world's food and 25 percent of calories consumed in developing countries, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Wheat prices have risen strongly over the past two years, more than doubling from 2006 to March 2008's peak of $454 (about R3 533) a ton, before falling back. Food prices rose 50 percent worldwide over the same period.
The maize and wheat improvement centre, or CIMMYT, is a global wheat research centre with offices in 100 developing countries, and aims to improve livelihoods and boost food security in developing nations.
No commercial transgenic wheat currently exists in world markets due to strong opposition by consumer and environmental groups in many countries.
But several biotech crop developers, notably Monsanto Co and Syngenta have done extensive work in developing different types of biotech wheat. Monsanto, however, has shelved its herbicide-resistant wheat project and Syngenta has slowed the pace of its work on a disease-resistant wheat because of the widespread opposition.
The European Union has not approved any genetically modified crops for a decade and the 27 member countries often clash on the issue. Japan supports genetic research, but the public is strongly opposed to genetically modified wheat and rice.
"That is really holding up Canada, the United States and Australia," Lumpkin said on the sidelines of an agriculture and climate change conference. "Japan is a very important market."
Countries that imposed bans on genetically modified crops, including Australia's largest wheat growing state of Western Australia, he said, were being short sighted and "pandering to the fears of voters."
Genetic science was needed to help boost wheat yields, which currently have annual gains of less than 2 percent, far lower than yield gains of about 10 percent annually up to the early 1960s, Lumpkin said.
And with the increased problems of climate change and the need to produce more food without hurting the environment, scientific breakthroughs are needed to bring about a 50 to 100 percent improvement in crop yields, he added.
At the same time, world grain reserves have shrunk, with 53 days worth of supply grain worldwide in 2008, compared with 115 days of supply seven years ago. This could lead to a humanitarian crisis if China, India or the US suffered a severe drought, he said.
"If we get a major drought in those countries, then prices will be up to five times what they are today," he said.
"People will die, a lot of people will die."
In June, Australian researchers, who were developing a drought-tolerant wheat, achieved early success in field trials and hope to have the world's first transgenic wheat in farmers' hands in five to 10 years.
Biotech Food Is Safe: Is Anyone Going To Tell The Consumer?
Brussels, 11th September 2008 - EuropaBio welcomes the report (1) issued by the Joint Research Centre today that reconfirms the results of a 2001 Commission study concluding that no demonstration of any health effect of GM food products has ever been reported and the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny very likely makes them even safer than conventional plants and foods.
"That food made from biotech crops is safe for human and animal consumption is not exactly news," says Willy De Greef, Secretary General of EuropaBio. The 2001 study by the European Commission covering 15 years experience with agricultural biotech products affirmed exactly that, and so did the more recent reports by the WHO, the French and British Academies of Medicine and other renowned institutes, "We hope that the European policymakers who have insisted on verifying this fact again will now act in accordance with the findings in the form of more timely and actual approvals of biotech products".
The head of EuropaBio calls for widespread communication from the EU to the general public about the JRC's findings, something that that was sorely lacking when the 2001 Commission study was published.
"Now that we have once again (re-)ascertained the safety of biotech foods, let's give consumers the opportunity to choose among a variety of safe foods produced with the help of modern biotechnology... let's get these products approved!" he concluded.
(1) JRC Study: Scientific and technical contribution to the development of an overall health strategy in the area of GMOs; http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/downloads/jrc_20080910_gmo_study_en.pdf
Auf Wiedersehen, Agbiotech
- Henry I Miller, Nature Biotechnology 26, 974 - 975 (2008) doi:10.1038/nbt0908-974
(The Hoover Institution, Stanford University; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Recombinant DNA technology, or genetic modification (GM), applied to agriculture has yielded a cornucopia of grains, fruits and vegetables that are resistant to disease, salt or drought, display enhanced nutritional content or produce higher yield with lower chemical input and environmental impact. And yet, many countries have treated recombinant DNA technology shabbily and inappropriately. Debilitating overregulation, which prevails worldwide, has prevented the wider diffusion of the technology; politicians, legislators and supermarket chains have stigmatized transgenic products through gratuitous regulatory requirements, labeling schemes or boycotts; and activists have ripped up field trials of transgenic plants, destroying experiments that would better characterize the risks and benefits of new varieties.
Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in Europe, where in Switzerland the system of oversight now singles out genetic modification protocols for futile and risible discussions of the impact of the technology on plants' 'existence' and 'dignity'. And across the border in Germany, the institutions that are meant to uphold the principles of intellectual openness and exchange are now capitulating to the demands and threats of activists and organizations ideologically opposed to experiments with recombinant DNA-modified plants, curtailing the academic freedom of their faculty and students.
The new and bizarre wrinkle introduced in Switzerland which has completely banned the cultivation of any recombinant DNA-modified plants through at least 2010 is a federal constitution that prohibits violations of the 'dignity' of plants. (When I first learned of this, I assumed it was a belated April Fools spoof.) According to a recent analysis by Switzerland's Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology, recombinant DNA modifications may eventually be permissible, as long as plants' "reproductive ability and adaptive ability are ensured" and they do not "lose their independence." In addition, "social-ethical limits on the genetic modification of plants may exist" meaning, presumably, no modification would be permitted that shortens a plant's life, makes its petals an ugly color or otherwise prevents it from leading a rich and fulfilling existence.
A more serious problem is the destruction of experiments by activists. In France[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n9/full/#B1 ] 1 and Germany, in particular, small-scale field trials conducted by researchers at universities and research institutes regularly have been vandalized by activists, even though most of these investigations were studying the environmental safety of growing recombinant DNA-modified plants in normal agricultural environments. A few scientists have continued to pursue their research in the face of this adversity despite a lackadaisical approach from criminal-justice systems but the coup de grâce may now have been administered by the recent decision of two German universities to prohibit field trials of recombinant DNA-modified crops.
In April, the rector and external advisory board of Nürtingen-Geislingen University "urgently recommended" that a faculty member terminate his field trials, which had begun in 1996, on insect-resistant and fungus-resistant recombinant DNA-modified corn. The university's rector, economist Werner Ziegler, was quoted as saying "We have always been very critical of this kind of research----Lately things got out of control. There were e-mail attacks, vandalism, intimidation and personal threats"[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n9/full/#B2 ] 2.
Also in April, the Justus Liebig University announced that it would stop its planned initiation of two small field trials of insect-resistant recombinant DNA-modified corn after protests by activists and local politicians[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n9/full/#B2 ] 2. Both trials had been approved by the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety and were to be conducted on behalf of the national authority for agriculture variety and seed affairs. "I am not happy at all with this decision," said Stefan Hormuth, the university president. "Unfortunately, we were no longer able to deal with the massive opposition from politicians and the general public. The university has a reputation in the region that we cannot risk losing."
Let me see whether I have this right: German universities maintain their reputations by curtailing the academic freedom of their faculty and students in the face of demands and threats from ideological bigots?
Germany is the only country in which the universities which are normally refuges dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and to the freedom to perform legitimate research have fully capitulated to hoodlums. One might expect such deplorable, dastardly behavior in Russia or Sudan, but in a major Western democracy it is inexcusable.
Along with France, Germany has experienced consistent and violent vandalism of field trial sites. But the appropriate response is not to ban the research. Would British, Canadian or US universities even have considered banning research using animals in response to threats, intimidation and violence by 'animal rights' demonstrators?
This capitulation to the vilest sort of antiacademic and antisocial behavior is grotesque and has dire implications. Violent, antitechnology, antisocial activists of all sorts will now smell blood. If German universities continue along this path of circumscribing a kind of Entartete Forschung, 'degenerate research', and allowing persecution of practitioners of certain intellectual approaches, such as the use of the most precise and predictable techniques for genetic modification, the stridency and absolutism of the activists' pronouncements and their violent tendencies will only increase. It is not hard to draw parallels with some of the excesses of intellectual persecution in the 1930s, when the regime's objections to Entartete Kunst, or 'degenerate art', drove out such great minds and innovators as Albert Einstein, Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso. Those who ignore the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.
But Herr Hormuth has a different take on Germany's past. In an e-mail to me, he wrote: "If we look at history then we should have also learned that we have to act responsibly with the results and possibilities of scientific research and are accountable to society." A quite extraordinary statement. Given the existing achievements of recombinant DNA-modified plants economic benefits to farmers, less use of chemical pesticides, more environment-friendly farming practices he appears to have a peculiar view of what constitutes acting "responsibly with the results and possibilities of scientific research" and being accountable to society. Could anyone argue seriously that delaying or abandoning a demonstrably safe technology that is environmentally friendly and enhances food (and potentially, biofuel) production is beneficial to society?
This time around, the German government is not directly culpable for the current situation, but it certainly has failed to protect freedom of expression and the personal safety and property of plant scientists against assaults by antitechnology activists. (In the United States, such groups have been officially designated as terrorist organizations.) How have we arrived at a position in the 21st century where thugs and vandals dictate the research and syllabus of the academic institutions of a major Western European democracy?
One reason is that policy makers in both the European Union (EU) and in individual European countries like Germany have consciously and purposefully chosen not to apply scientific and risk-based regulatory policies to the oversight of recombinant DNA-modified plants. Flying in the face of the scientific consensus including the EU's own risk assessments current EU and national regulations cast a veil of suspicion over agbiotech by requiring case-by-case government environmental assessments for field testing with recombinant DNA-modified plants. In contrast, plants with similar or even identical traits that were created with less precise techniques, such as hybridization or mutagenesis, are subject to no government scrutiny or requirements (or publicity or vandalism) at all. And that applies even to the numerous new plant varieties that result from 'wide crosses' with embryo rescue, hybridizations that move genes from one species or genus to another; that is, across what used to be thought of as natural breeding boundaries.
Undermining Scientific Credibility - Scientists Need to Step Up and Defend Their Turf--now
- Alan McHughen, Genetic Engineering News Sep 1 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 15)
Science is the knowledge of Nature and the pursuit of such knowledge. Scientists are generally held in high regard by laypeople.It is, after all, a noble and rewarding calling. Scientists span the political spectrum, come from every nation and race, and subscribe to any religious creed (or none).
The nonpartisan nature of the study of Nature has engendered the support of people worldwide, with scientists accumulating considerable political capital due to this broad spectrum of high regard.Unfortunately, most scientists, particularly those in academia, are politically naïve and unaware of the power of the wealth amassed. It is thus not surprising that others with less noble motives are arrogating the political capital rightly belonging to science and scientists.
Pseudoscientists come with various agendas-political, religious, and industrial are common examples. On the extreme left wing, when the overt political agenda fails to convince sufficient voters in the usual democratic exercise of elections, science is presented to gain support for the now-covert political agenda.
The typical guise here is any number of popular but scientifically questionable green or sustainable environmental initiatives. While there are certainly plenty of scientifically legitimate environmental issues, the left-wing pseudo scientists infiltrate easily, and readily convince the masses of the scientific credibility of their cause.
When the burning issue turns out to be wrong or grossly overstated,the credibility thieves slink back into the shadows, while science and legitimate scientists suffer the loss of credibility and respect.Meanwhile, legitimate environmental threats are pushed aside, and the thieves plan their next steps, financed again by inappropriate withdrawal of scientists' political capital.
On the extreme right wing we find the religious pseudoscientists,who also illegitimately withdraw from the bank of scientists' political capital in asserting what they call science to support what should be left to faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in the contentious debate of biblical creationism under the pseudoscientific guise of intelligent design.
The mere fact that this issue is under popular debate and even litigation proves that at least some people are convinced by the scientific content argued by the pseudoscientists representing a covert religious view. Of course many people hold beliefs in the absence of supporting evidence and even in the face of compelling counterevidence-that is, after all, the basis for religious faith.
Even many legitimate scientists hold religious beliefs, delegating and limiting their scientific beliefs to the natural world and the irreligious faith to the supernatural. But that is different from, and does not legitimize, the deceiving of people seeking scientific evidence before adopting beliefs.
For example, when family theme parks present "scientific evidence"purporting to support the notion that people walked the Earth with dinosaurs nearby, people are tricked into believing something that should be taken on religious faith as true scientific evidence contradicts the notion. This dishonesty undermines science, certainly,but also faith, as religious faith should stand on its own; it does not require the support of purloined and manipulated scientific evidence.
The industrialists also arrogate science when they present pseudoscience to sell questionable products. Nowhere is this more evident than in the health food market where organic foods are marketed and sold to naïve consumers based on the claimed superiority of the products. Food supplements and herbal remedies in reality are, at best,benign placebos or, at worst, malignant uncontrolled drugs of unknown purity and batch-varied potency.
Healthfood purveyors have convinced consumers that "science is on our side," manipulating public support while shilling sales. Again, the price-loss of public credibility-is eventually paid when the scam becomes apparent, and not by the thieves responsible, but by the legitimate scientists who develop products with attributes backed by real and meaningful scientifically sound data.
In all these cases, thieves are squandering the political capital that properly belongs to the community of legitimate scientists. Sofar, the thieves have become wealthy, advanced their political agendas,and now enjoy an unearned status. Real scientists, the ones who have earned the social status and political capital, are too naïve to recognize that they are being robbed. The common assets are being stolen, eroded, and polluted from various sources claiming science as their own. When will real scientists start defending their property?
Danish Farmers to Grow GM crops
More than 250 Danish farmers are ready to begin growing genetically modified crops in the autumn of 2009.
The Copenhagen Post
At the top of the interest list is a type of GM corn that is resistant toweeds as well as a variety of potato that has a starch content suitable for use in the textile industry. Neither of these crops is currently recognised by the EU, but they are expected to be accepted during the winter and be ready for the following autumn.
The Danish authorities will allow the farmers to begin growing EU-sanctioned GM crops after they have attended an educational course. The Danish Plant Directorate told Børsen newspaper that most of the farmers interested in growing the new crops are from Jutland. 'We expect that it will be the larger farm producers that will try out these new possibilities, especially if there are obvious advantages tousing the new technology,' said Karina L. Vinterborg of the directorate.
Eva Kjer Hansen, the minister for food,agriculture and fisheries, said she was pleased that so many farmerswere ready to avail of the new technology. 'I think that we must use genetically modified plants to our advantage, especially when they can provide farmers with a better economy and a cleaner environment.'
There are 114 million hectares of genetically modified crops planted worldwide, accounting for eight percent of total global crop production.
Biosafety Regulations in Asia-Pacific Countries
- Crop Biotech Update
A report on "Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries" has been published by the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), a program of Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). Brief descriptions are provided of the biosafety regulatory instruments (including laws, decrees, rules, and regulations) in 39 countries of the Asia-Pacific region.
It includes chapters on: 1) Status of Agricultural Biotechnology in Asia-Pacific; 2) Biosafety Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology; 3) International Agreements Related to Biosafety; 4) Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries; 5) Overview of Biosafety Regulatory Systems in Asia-Pacific; and 6) Regulatory Management - the Way Ahead. The report at:
Australia: Regulation of Commercial GM Production - Sate by State Basis
Dear Dr Prakash
I am a long time reader of the AgBioView Newsletter.
I recently completed a Masters of Philosophy in the area of plant biotechnology at the Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University. Over last few the years, I have written a number of articles about GM crops and their regulation, several of which were published or mentioned in AgBioView in 2005.
I am currently practicing as a lawyer in Sydney. Recently, I conducted a presentation about the legislative framework for commercial production of GM crops in Australia. There have been significant legislative changes this year, as Victoria and New South Wales approved the commercial production of GM canola, the first GM food crop to receive approval for commercial production in Australia.
I believe that the presentation slides would be of interest to your readership as they detail the legislation regulating commercial GM production in Australia on a state by state basis. The presentation can be accessed at http://www.cp-law.com.au/zip/gmregulationaust.pdf.
Please let me know your thoughts or any comments that you may have.
Greg Bodulovic, Cropper Parkhill Solicitors, www.cp-law.com.au
China Plans $3.5 Billion GM Crops Initiative
- Richard Stone, Science via http://www.merid.org/fs-agbiotech/
The Chinese government is expected to launch a 13-year, US$3.5 billion research and development (R&D) initiative on genetically modified (GM) plants later this month, to help meet growing demand for food in China. "The new initiative will spur commercialization of GM varieties," says Xue Dayuan, chief scientist on biodiversity at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection. Half of the US$3.5 billion is expected to come from local governments on whose land GM crops will be grown and from agricultural biotechnology companies.
"It's a new way to support a big science project in China," says Huang Dafang, former director of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Details on the new initiative have not yet been released. But Huang says a central aim is to help China catch up with the West in the race to identify and patent plant genes "of great value." Once intellectual property rights are in place, says Huang, GM technology could transform Chinese farming "from high-input and extensive cultivation to high-tech and intensive cultivation." Huang Jikun, director of Chinese Academy of Sciences' Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, reports that one component of the new initiative will be to educate the public about GM crops. The article can be viewed online at the link below.
Report to India: Secondary Agriculture
Prof. D. P. S. Verma of Ohio State University has just completed a report on Secondary Agriculture: Value Addition to Primary Agriculture" for the Planning Commission of India. This report can be accessed at: http://www.secondaryagriculture.org/tacsa-draftreport.html.
If implemented, this may help increase the rural economy of India significantly which otherwise is declining as the percentage of agriculture in the growing economy of India is reducing every year. Please send any comments directly to Prof. Verma (email@example.com) so that they can be incorporated in the final report to be submitted to the Indian Government soon.
Yogic Flying at the Common Ground Fair
- Douglas Johnson, The Republican Journal (Maine) Sep. 7, 2008
STONINGTON: Fairgoers at the Common Ground Country Fair this year could be in for a big surprise, if one of the keynote speakers chooses to demonstrate a little-known skill.
Jeffrey Smith, vocal opponent of biotechnology in agriculture and featured speaker Saturday, Sept. 20, once traveled to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate "yogic flying" in support of a candidate for the U.S. Senate running on the Maharishi Natural Law Party ticket. A witness to the demonstration said the 12 yogic fliers seated cross-legged on the floor looked like "corn popping" as they levitated, then fell back to Earth at the press conference.
Yogic flying would certainly make for a more informative presentation than the one Smith plans: "The documented health effects of genetically modified foods." The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, in a bid to breathe life into its flagging campaign to make Maine a "GMO-free" state, is dragging Smith out here from Fairfield, Iowa, home of the Maharishi University, to warn the crowd at Common Ground of the dangers of eating nonorganic food. Nothing subtle there.
Smith's problem is he isn't an expert on the subject, though he bills himself as "a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms." Smith's last hands-on experience in a science lab was probably in high school biology; his college training is in business administration. He makes his living writing books and giving lectures on the dangers of GMO foods. Any bets on whether there will be a table selling his books at the fair?
"Genetic Roulette" is Smith's most recent self-published book. It details 65 alleged health risks from eating foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The so-called risks are a laundry list of the health scares spun by opponents of GMOs. Trouble is, in the 20 years that farmers have been planting GMOs, not one single adverse health effect has been documented. To make matters worse, experts have systematically demolished the junk science behind Smith's 65 alleged risks.
For example, the damage caused to rats from eating GMO potatoes? Nature retracted the study, which is now widely recognized as flawed in its design. The allergies claimed by those who ate Star Link corn that mistakenly found its way into corn products? All tests of people claiming allergic reactions were negative, including a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial - the gold standard. Or the Russian researcher who claimed the offspring of rats fed GMO soy died within three weeks? The openly anti-biotech researcher with ties to Greenpeace never published her work.
It's not surprising that Smith's books reflect a profound lack of respect and understanding for the scientific process; books based on good science don't sell very well. What is surprising is that the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association would give Smith a platform from which to deliver his anti-biotechnology rant. Smith's obvious lack of qualifications on the subject mean that MOFGA is more interested in scoring points than in educating the public, a strange posture for an organization that bases its exemption from paying income taxes on a claim of educating the public.
For nearly 20 years, MOFGA has been at the center of an effort to block the use of modern biotechnology by Maine farmers who choose not to farm organically. Though there have been a few victories along the way, MOFGA has lost the overall battle as more and more Maine farmers are planting biotech varieties.
This summer, for the first time, Maine dairy farmers were cleared to plant insect-resistant, genetically modified corn - a major blow to MOFGA's campaign against biotech.
Now, in an apparent last-ditch effort to squash the technology by frightening consumers who choose not to buy organic food, MOFGA is dragging Jeffrey Smith to Maine to sell his books and, hopefully, transcend the moment with some yogic flying.
Douglas R. Johnson is executive director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau in Stonington. For more information, visit mainebioinfo.org.
Trace and Traceability--A Call for Rgulatory Harmony
- Koreen Ramessar, Teresa Capell, Richard M Twyman, Hector Quemada & Paul Christou, Nature Biotechnology 26, 975 - 978 (2008) (University of Lleida,, Spain.; University of York, UK; Calvin College, Michigan; Institucio Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avancats, PBarcelona, Spain.; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Genetically modified (GM) crops were grown commercially in 23 countries in 2007, with a further 29 allowing the import of GM crops for food and/or feed use and release into the environment1. Despite encouraging evidence concerning the positive socioeconomic and environmental benefits brought about by the adoption of GM technology1, 2, we wish to highlight the fact that further development is being hampered by a lack of harmonization among national regulatory frameworks relating to research, biosafety and to the trade and use of GM crops. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the laws and regulations governing the tolerance levels for GM material in non-GM food and in the labeling and traceability of GM products.
The definition of what is considered GM and non-GM food varies from country to country, with some nations enshrining precise tolerance targets in their GM regulations and some overlooking this important criterion. The European Union (EU; Brussels) follows the 'precautionary approach' and the consumers' 'right to know', with stringent approval, labeling and traceability standards on any food produced from or derived from GM ingredients3. In contrast, US regulations are based on differences in the end product, and include a voluntary safety consultation and voluntary labeling guidelines for GM food4. Most other developed countries, including Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced regulations that share features of both the EU and US systems4. Developing countries often base their regulatory frameworks on models promoted by developed nations without considering the potential socioeconomic impact of such decisions, and the negative consequences of an overcautious regulatory environment on the health and well-being of their populations. The regulatory frameworks of selected countries are compared in Table 1.
Table 1: Current GM biosafety regulations for selected countries
In the United States and Canada, as well as Japan and Taiwan, food and feed can be classed as non-GM, even if they contain up to 5% GM material. In contrast, other countries set much lower limits (e.g., 0.9% in the EU or 1% in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and China). The EU actually has a two-tier tolerance policy, with the 0.9% limit applied to approved GM organisms, and a stricter 0.5% limit applied to GM organisms that have yet to be approved, but which have received favorable risk assessments. In many developing countries, there appears to be no established tolerance limit, which calls into question how such countries will distinguish GM and non-GM food and feed. Similarly, this global regulatory discord begs the question of how nominally GM-free food and feed imported from countries with high tolerance will be handled in stricter countries when it may breach local regulations concerning GM tolerance. This inevitably will lead to disputes and the impounding of food and feed.
The potential confusion caused by these conflicting tolerance levels will only become worse as more countries join the 'GM club'. It is projected that the number of countries growing GM food and feed commercially will double over the next 10 years in line with the amount of land given over to GM crops1. The potential for conflict is compounded by disharmonious regulations concerning the labeling and traceability of GM food. The USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, The Philippines and South Africa have voluntary labeling practices, whereas the EU, Australia, New Zealand, China, Chile, Brazil and Taiwan require the mandatory labeling of GM produce. Still other countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt and Kenya, have no requirements for labeling at all.
As the prevalence of GM crops continues to grow, we foresee real problems with the trade and use of food and feed if the regulations are not harmonized on a global level. US food exporters and biotech companies have already complained about the EU's slow and obscure approval process, and bans by individual EU countries on GM products approved by the EU as a whole5. This ongoing dispute has been intensified by the EU's introduction of mandatory labeling. The role of the World Trade Organization's (Geneva) legal framework regarding trade in GM products (the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade; http://www.wto.org has played a significant role in stifling the opportunities offered by GM products. Strict labeling, identity preservation and import requirements impose additional costs and reduce public confidence, which in turn affects trade. The decline in US corn exports to the EU has been blamed on the EU's strict approval and labeling requirements, with some EU countries banning GM products all together, even after they have been approved as safe by European Food Safety Authority (Parma, Italy), the EU's own regulatory agency on GM6. Developing countries have also been drawn into this dispute as both sides try to win their support. Many developing countries have banned GM products owing to consumer and environmental concerns, only to find themselves excluded from markets and refused financial support from industrialized nations to conduct research and build human capital for biotech activities.
to find out more!
In the decade since GM crops were first adopted, it is estimated that farmers have earned $27 billion from the technology, split almost equally between developed and developing countries2. As well as direct economic benefits, GM crops reduce pesticide use, and reduce the use of fossil fuels in agriculture2. These benefits could be lost, or curtailed, if the regulations in different parts of the world are not brought into line, or at least made mutually compatible. It is also important to base the global regulations on scientific principles rather than unrealistic expectations of risk avoidance. Currently, many countries have in place regulations that erect unnecessary hurdles to the further development of the technology, especially developing countries where the benefits are most needed7.
Several policy tools have been used to accommodate, reduce or eliminate international regulatory diversity8. One realistic approach is 'mutual recognition', where countries agree to recognize each other's regulations; for example, the US and EU could agree to allow imports of each other's products (GM and conventional) produced and marketed under home regulations, giving consumers on both sides of the Atlantic the choice. Perhaps if Europe and the US were to show such leadership, this type of compromise could be rolled out globally. Whatever the case, as more and more countries cultivate GM varieties, and national and international bodies continue to promulgate diverging regulatory approaches, there is little doubt that a more harmonious future for GM food and feed regulation would be in the interests of all.
1. James, C. ISAAA Brief No. 37. (ISAAA, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2007).
2. Brookes, G. & Barfoot, P. ISAAA Brief No. 36. (ISAAA, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2006).
3. Gruère, G.P. Food Policy 31, 148-161 (2006).
4. Carter, C.A. & Gruère, G.P. in Regulating Agricultural Biotechnology. Economics and Policies (eds. Just, R., Alston, J.M. & Zilberman, D.) 459-480 (Springer Publishing, New York, USA, 2006).
5. Fransen, L., La Vina, A., Dayrit, F., Gatlabayan, L., Santosa, D.A. & Adiwibowo, S. Integrating Socio-Economic Considerations into Biosafety Decisions: The Role of Public Participation (World Resources Institute White Paper, WRI, Washington, DC, USA, 2005).
6. Bernauer, T. Genes, Trade and Regulation: The Seeds of Conflict in Food Biotechnology (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA, 2003).
7. Christou P. & Twyman, R.M. Nutrition Res. Rev. 17, 23-42 (2004).
8. Bernauer, T. Intl. J. Biotechnol. 7, 7-28 (2005).
GM Foods: I'll Eat Your Words
- Jay Rayner, Guardian (UK), Sept 11, 2008
Jay Rayner seeks your leads and opinions for a feature on genetically modified foods. Share your thoughts and steer us towards the good sites and key people
I am just starting work on a large piece examining the arguments around genetically modified foods, and I want your help. GM raises many questions. Are they the solution to the world's food shortages, as some suggest, or are they of no help whatsoever? Are they, as some have argued, a genuine threat to the well being of both us and our environment?
Normally what happens with a subject like this is that the journalist works away quietly, interviewing people and consulting sources. The piece is written, posted to the web and then the debate begins, sometimes rancorously. Despite - or perhaps because - they are being introduced to both arguments and sources of information that they missed the journalist, understandably, becomes defensive. The posters become increasingly adamant.
We thought we'd try a different approach for this one. We'd like those of you with something to say about GM foods to tell us what you think now, at the beginning of the reporting process, so that your take on the subject can become a part of the finished article.
We do of course want your opinions - we do all have gut responses to important subjects like this - but what we really want is for you to point us in the direction of reports, documents and studies available on the web which could well inform my reporting and which otherwise we might have missed. (Though be assured: the Observer has produced an impressive pile of material for me. A lot of happy bed time reading there.) It goes without saying that I would like to be supplied with evidence from both sides of the debate. Anybody who has something they'd rather not share with the group can email me at email@example.com.
Obviously it would be quite possible to work out what my starting position on GM Foods is, both from what I have previously written, and things I've said on the radio. But I'm not going to restate it here, because it can interfere with obtaining interviews if people think they already know which side of the debate you're on, and because the temptation to tack your posts to my position will be almost irresistible. In any case, it's irrelevant. I am out to have those opinions informed and, perhaps, in the process, have them changed.
We'll leave this one open for three days, otherwise it could run and run.
And when the article is published in a few weeks time it too will be here to be read and commented upon.