* Brinjal and Beyond
* Make Your Voice Heard - Help India Approve Bt Eggplant
* Bt Brinjal Commercialization In India
* Experts Worry As Population and Hunger Grow
* UK's Royal Society Report: Reaping the Benefit
* UK Urged to Lead on Future Food
* New Drive to Fight World Hunger With GM Crops
* Are GM Foods the Key to Feeding the World?
* Ghost of 'Frankenfood' Haunts Europe
* My Love is Like A Blue, Blue Rose
Brinjal and Beyond
- Editorial, The Hindu (India), http://www.hindu.com/2009/10/21/stories/2009102155640800.htm
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee's recommendation that Bt brinjal be commercialised is a significant marker in the country's slow and somewhat hesitant embrace of agri-biotechnology. The nod has come a full seven years after approval for the country's first transgenic crop - Bt cotton. But Bt brinjal is the country's first approved genetically modified (GM) food crop and the decision of the GEAC, the high-level committee under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, may be read as an affirmation of a key principle.
It is that transgenic seeds will be approved for commercialisation as long as they adhere to the bio safety and other requirements demanded by the regulatory process. This may well spur the process for clearance of other transgenic food crops at different stages of the regulatory and approval process. It is imperative that Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, who says he will study the GEAC's recommendation in depth before giving a final stamp of approval, bases his decision solely on the body of scientific data culled from Bt brinjal trials. He should ignore the huge pressure from organisations that have no time for the scientific evidence while claiming to speak for the environment and the public.
It is not just the 'organic' movement but also the pesticide industry lobby that is viscerally opposed to Bt crops, which acquire a pest-resistant character with the introduction of a gene derived from a common soil bacterium (bacillus thuringiensis).
Introduced commercially in the United States in the mid-1990s, genetically modified crops have expanded substantially in recent years. An estimated 125 million hectares were under such cover in 2008 in 25 countries, including China, Brazil, Egypt, and Australia. Even in GM-phobic Europe, seven countries, including Germany and Portugal, grow genetically modified maize commercially.
It is nobody's case that the massive spread of agro-biotechnology is proof of its safety. India's regulatory process must continue to put transgenic plants through a battery of rigorous tests - for toxicity, allergenicity, bio safety, agronomic worth, and so forth - before recommending commercial release. It is also important that the country addresses issues such as labelling GM products through an independent regulatory process that commands public confidence.
Legislation must be speedily introduced to set up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, as recommended in 2004 by a task force led by eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan. In a country where agricultural productivity and food security are vital issues, agri-biotechnology holds great promise. We need to regulate its application, not allow it to be strangled by misconceived or motivated campaigns.
Make Your Voice Heard - Help India Approve Bt Eggplant
Bt brinjal has been under research & development and stringent regulatory approval process in India for the last 8 years. As per the press statement from the Minister Jairam Ramesh issued on Oct 15, 2009, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has recommended the environmental release of Bt brinjal and submitted the Expert Committee-II Report on Bt Brinjal Event EE-1 for his consideration for commercial release.
Minister Jairam Ramesh has uploaded the EC-II report on Bt brinjal on MOEF website (pasted link below). In the process, he is seeking public comments on the proposal for commercial release of Bt brinjal from interested stakeholders by Dec 31, 2009.
Press Statement by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forest (MOEF) dated Oct 15, 2009 available at: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Press_Bt%20Brinjal.pdf
Expert Committee (EC-II) Report on Bt Brinjal Event EE-1 made available on MOEF website on Oct 15, 2009: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Report%20on%20Bt%20brinjal.pdf
Brinjal - the King of Vegetable is the second largest consumed vegetable in India after potato. As an important cash crop, 1.4 million small and marginal farmers grow brinjal on 550,000 hectare throughout India. Brinjal is prone to many insect-pests of which Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) causes significant losses of up to 60-70% in commercial plantings. Farmers spray twice a week applying 40 insecticides sprays or more in a season to control menace of this insect which escapes repeated insecticides sprays as it bores inside shoots and fruits causing heavy losses to farmers. As a result, brinjal fruits sold in the market contains high pesticides residue and are of inferior quality, infested with larvae of FSB. Bt brinjal offers promising solution to the problems faced by farmers and consumers.
The results of studies conducted by IIVR, TNAU and UAS, Dharward show that Bt brinjal would double the marketable yields and would help farmers to reduce use of insecticides to control FSB by 80% which would translate into 42% reduction in total insecticides used for control of insect-pest on brinjal. As a result, it would significantly reduce the pesticides residue content in brinjal fruits making them better, safer and affordable to farmers and benefit enormously to consumers.
The content of the extensive regulatory dossier for biotech Bt brinjal, which has undergone a rigorous safety assessment by the regulatory authorities in India is synthesized in ISAAA Brief is available for your reading at: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/38/download/isaaa-brief-38-2009.pdf and also refer to ABSP-II document at: http://www.absp2.cornell.edu/projects/project.cfm?productid=2
Full biosafety data on Bt brinjal is available on GEAC website at: http://moef.gov.in/divisions/csurv/geac/bt_brinjal.html
Please submit your comments/recommendations on Bt Brinjal to Mr. Jairam Ramesh, MOS (I/C) E&F preferably by post and/or fax:
Honorable Mr. Jairam Ramesh
Minister of State (Independent charge)
Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF)
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road
New Delhi - 110003, India
You may also submit your comments/observations to Minister via MOEF website as well: http://moef.nic.in/modules/contact-ministry/contact-ministry/
Bt Brinjal Commercialization In India
- Robert Wager, AgBioView, Oct 22, 2009. http://www.agbioworld.org
The media in India have been abuzz with stories about the commercial release of the genetically modified (GM) crop Bt Brinjal. The press is always trying to present both sides of a story. However, what happens when one side of the argument is not based on sound science?
Greenpeace has been very active in the Indian press on the Bt Brinjal debate. It seems every story about Bt Brinjal has at least one quote from a Greenpeace spokesperson or Greenpeace sponsored critic of GM crops. Last December the Greenpeace-India website carried the headline; "GM pose irreversible health risk." This sounds ominous. However a closer look at the facts behind the headline will ease the fear substantially.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil bacteria that product a series of Cry-proteins that are toxic to selected insect pests. Organic farmers have been safely using this naturally derived bacterial insecticide for decades. The UN-OECD 2007 report on the safety of transgenic (GM) crops containing Bt proteins states: "Throughout several decades of use of commercial microbial B. thuringiensis products, mammalian toxicity has been evaluated. The toxicological database on B. thuringiensis shows no mammalian health effects attributed to the delta-endotoxins [Cry proteins]". (1)
Further, the growing of Bt crops result in significant health benefits for the farmers who grow these crops. With over 60 percent of the countries cotton farmers now planting Bt cotton, India's commercialization of Bt cotton has been a tremendous success. Increased yields, reduced input costs and reduced exposure to chemical insecticides are all positive outcomes from the rapid adoption of Bt cotton by Indian farmers.
Bt Brinjal is a GM product that has been in development for over eight years. Extensive testing is part of the development for all GM crops and Bt Brinjal is no different. Studies on food and feed safety, including toxicology and allergenicity tests, have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows. These studies have confirmed Bt Brinjal is as safe as its non-Bt counterpart.
On their January website Greenpeace-India claimed that Austrian researchers proved Bt maize (MON810 maize) was harmful to mice and therefore an example of the dangers of Bt crops. This statement refers to a non-peer report widely disseminated by critics of GM crop technology. Closer examination of that research by world experts came to a very different conclusion.
The inventor of the reproductive assessment by continuous breeding (RACB) method for the National Toxicology Program of the USDA, Dr. J.C. Lamb, states; "I have found some significant errors in the data calculations that led to the important misinterpretations of the findings by the authors...These errors directly impact the interpretation of the MG and the RACB studies...In the end, the authors did not see a treatment effect in this study."
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) GMO Panel studied the Austrian report and concluded: "...the GMO Panel identified various deficiencies in data reporting, methodologies and statistical calculations, which do not allow any interpretation. Therefore the GMO Panel considers that these data do not invalidate the conclusions of the GMO Panel on the safety of MON810 maize." (2)
Peer review would likely have caught these errors before publication. Although not perfect, peer-review remains the gold standard for quality research. Without it the media would be wise to be very skeptical.
Greenpeace has a significant history of putting forward research that claims harm from GM crops and food. Upon examination by world experts, invariably the experts come to different conclusions. It would appear that once again Greenpeace supported research is in need of proper evaluation.
When one looks at the position of Greenpeace on Bt crops it is very difficult to understand how they can endorse the use of Bt bacteria in organic agriculture but denounce genetically modified Bt crops. The UN-OECD states: "The use of Bacillus thuringiensis delta-endotoxins in transgenic plants poses some of the same kinds of risk concerns as the use of microbial Bt preparations..." (1)
The latest research put forward by Greenpeace contains shortcomings which make interpretation impossible. It seems clear the time has come to question any stories about the alleged harm from genetically modified crops more thoroughly, especially if it is solely based on Greenpeace spokespersons. Greenpeace has a long track record of misleading claims against GM crops and food. The statement on their website that describes Greenpeace as "part of the Safe Alliance, a network of organizations and individuals who want to stop GM food from being approved as safe" makes it clear they have decided on the safety issue and no amount of properly carried out science will deter them.
Fortunately governments look at well documented, well researched and well evaluated science to help guide their decisions. The Indian government has helped evaluate dozens of GM crops. Their focus on sound science is an excellent example of how to move these safe products to market.
It is important to remember that when bad science dictates public policy, we get bad public policy.
1) OECD Environment, Health and Safety Publications, Series on Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology, No. 42, Consensus Document on Safety Information on Transgenic Plants Expressing Bacillus thuringiensis - Derived Insect Control Protein. Environment Directorate Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris 2007
2) The EFSA Journal (2008) 891, 1-64 SCIENTIFIC OPINION Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on maize MON810 and T25 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (Question No EFSA-Q-2008-314)
Adopted on 04 December 2008 http://www.efsa.europa.eu/cs/BlobServer/Scientific_Opinion/gmo_op_ej891_austrian_safeg_clause_MON810_T25_maize_en.pdf?ssbinary=true
(Author teaches at Vancouver Island University, Canada; Robert.wager(at)viu.ca)
Experts Worry As Population and Hunger Grow
- Neil Macfarquhar, The New York Times, Oct 21, 2009
ROME - Scientists and development experts across the globe are racing to increase food production by 50 percent over the next two decades to feed the world's growing population, yet many doubt their chances despite a broad consensus that enough land, water and expertise exist.
The number of hungry people in the world rose to 1.02 billion this year, or nearly one in seven people, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, despite a 12-year concentrated effort to cut the number.
The global financial recession added at least 100 million people by depriving them of the means to buy enough food, but the numbers were inching up even before the crisis, the United Nations noted in a report last week.
"The way we manage the global agriculture and food security system doesn't work," said Kostas G. Stamoulis, a senior economist at the organization. "There is this paradox of increasing global food production, even in developing countries, yet there is hunger."
Agronomists and development experts who gathered in Rome last week generally agreed that the resources and technical knowledge were available to increase food production by 50 percent in 2030 and by 70 percent in 2050 - the amounts needed to feed a population expected to grow to 9.1 billion in 40 years.
But the conundrum is whether the food can be grown in the developing world where the hungry can actually get it, at prices they can afford. Poverty and difficult growing conditions plague the places that need new production most, namely sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
A straw poll of the experts in Rome on whether the world will be able to feed its population in 40 years underscored the uncertainty surrounding that question: 73 said yes, 49 said no and 15 abstained.
The track record of failing to feed the hungry haunts the effort. But other important uncertainties also give pause. The effect climate change will have on weather and crops remains an open question. The so-called green revolution of the 1960s and '70s ended the specter of mass famines then, but the environmental cost of chemical fertilizers and heavy irrigation has spurred a bitter divide over the right ingredients for a second one.
In addition, the demand for biofuels may use up crop land. And as scores of food riots in 2008 showed, oil prices and other income shocks can quickly drive millions more people into hunger, sending ripples of instability around the world.
A summit meeting of world leaders in Rome on Nov. 16 is expected to address the future food demands. Since July, the richest countries have ostensibly committed more than $22 billion to the effort over the next three years.
The final meeting of Group of 8 leaders that month in L'Aquila, Italy, started with $15 billion already on the table. Then President Obama gave a speech evoking the Kenyan village where his father herded goats as a child. In countless villages like it, millions of people face hunger daily, Mr. Obama said, and after he finished speaking, the pledges jumped by $5 billion, according to several officials present.
Yet those pledges remain murky. Senior diplomats estimate that less than a third to slightly more than half of the money represents new commitments that had not already been made, with the rest being repackaged existing aid.
Washington and its European allies have also jostled over putting the money in a World Bank account, the American preference, or working through United Nations or domestic aid agencies, an approach the Europeans favor. An initial American proposal of one unified fund was largely rejected. How policy and priorities will be established on a worldwide scale is also a central negotiating hurdle.
"The good news is that the political class considers this important and wants to do something about it," said one financial official involved in the talks who was not authorized to speak publicly. "But nobody has 20 billion and spare change in their sock drawer."
The United States, with the largest pledge, $3.5 billion, organized a conference in Washington along with Italy last month in an unsuccessful attempt to nail down the pledges so that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could announce the results during the United Nations General Assembly.
"It is a little bit difficult - I cannot give you a precise figure per country," said Renzo Rosso, a senior Italian aid official. "But the most difficult part will be to make them all work together."
Mrs. Clinton often calls agriculture aid a critical issue, saying the administration supports domestic efforts in developing nations and improvements in production by small farmers, particularly women. Philip J. Crowley, a department spokesman, said, "We are trying to shift away from emergency aid toward agricultural development."
Agriculture was once a pillar of international aid programs, with World Bank figures showing that it constituted 17 percent of all foreign assistance in 1980, said Christopher Delgado, the bank's agriculture adviser. But the emphasis declined as the number of hungry people dropped to its lowest recent level, 825 million people, around 1996. By 2000, agriculture aid had shrunk to 4 percent, he said, although it has since ticked up slowly.
World leaders often evoke the green revolution of the 1960s and '70s as an inspiration for future progress. The original revolution employed new seeds, fertilizers and irrigation in Asia and Latin America to stave off famines affecting millions.
But the green revolution's concentration on wheat and rice would be impossible to copy in parts of Asia and in Africa, experts say, noting that Africa has seven or eight staple crops, wildly varied growing conditions and only an estimated 7 percent of farmland irrigated.
Then there is the question of genetically modified crops. No issue provokes such an emotional division among agronomists, who debate whether they constitute the building blocks of a second green revolution or a health menace.
"Who is steering this fear and global paranoia about the G.M. cotton and all these G.M. crops?" said Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize, a South African agriculture consultant. "Show us where the corpses are - the corpses of earthworms, the corpses of bees, the corpses of antelopes and the corpses of humans. Nobody has yet ever shown us a corpse."
Opponents respond that organic farming is critical to producing healthy food and reducing global warming. Widespread use of nitrogen fertilizers has contributed heavily to greenhouse gases, and the vast water resources required for irrigation are not sustainable, they contend.
"We have a billion hungry people today, so we can't say the green revolution solved the problem," said Markus Arbenz, the executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. "We can't just cut and paste the solution from the 1960s with G.M. crops."
Reaping the Benefits: Science and the sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture
- The Royal Society, UK, 2009
The full report at http://royalsociety.org/document.asp?tip=0&id=8825
UK Urged to Lead on Future Food
- Richard Black, BBC News, Oct 22, 2009
The world's food supply has to rise by about 50% in 40 years, the report says. The UK should plough £2bn ($3.3bn) into crop research to help stave off world hunger, says the Royal Society. It says the world's growing population means food production will have to rise by about 50% in 40 years and the UK can lead the research needed.
Approaches it endorses include genetic modification, improved irrigation and systems of growing crops together that reduce the impact of diseases. It says that rising yields have brought "complacency" over food supplies. Earlier in the year, the G8 pledged to spend $20bn (£12bn) improving food security for the developing world.
The Royal Society's report, Reaping the Benefits: Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture, concludes that science has to have a significant role if the food supply is to be maintained in 2050, when the world population may have reached nine billion.
The Green Revolution that created new high-yielding strains of crops such as rice and maize in the 1950s and 60s reduced hunger and improved food security, it says, but a new push is needed quickly. "We need to take action now to stave off food shortages," said Professor Sir David Baulcombe from Cambridge University who chaired the study. "If we wait even five to 10 years, it may be too late. "In the UK we have the potential to come up with viable scientific solutions for feeding a growing population, and we have a responsibility to realise this potential."
In June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said there were now one billion hungry people in the world - "the first time in history" there had been so many.
Although it said rising unemployment and lower incomes were to blame for recent increases in the number of hungry people, investment in science to increase the supply of food was also needed.
The Royal Society says the UK should spend £200m per year for the next 10 years on food-oriented research. Short-term plans could involve improving irrigation so water is used more efficiently, and promoting management patterns where plants are grown together for the benefit of crops. Techniques include growing plants around the edges of agricultural fields that attract predators of insect pests. Investment should also go into advanced plant-breeding technologies, including genetic modification.
Although acknowledging the approach can lead to problems such as the unwanted spread of inserted genes into neighbouring wild plants, it says the genetic modification can in principle produce crop strains resistant to disease, drought, salinity, heat and toxic heavy metals.
Experimental strains resistant to drought and salinity are showing promise, it says - conclusions that were we
"Food security is one of the biggest challenges we currently face," said ABC's chairman Julian Little. "Advanced crop breeding using biotechnology and GM methods-- are already being used by more than 13 million farmers around the world and helping to deliver higher and more reliable crop yields while mitigating major threats to crop production, such as damaging effects of pests, diseases and droughts."
New Drive to Fight World Hunger With GM Crops
- Selah Hennessy , Voice of America, October 21, 2009 http://www.voanews.com
Britain's national academy of science is calling for a multi-billion-dollar research program on global food security. The Royal Society says genetically modified plants should be an essential tool for feeding the world by 2050, but activists object that GM foods destroy the livelihood of small-scale farmers. Britain's Royal Society has released a report looking at how science and technology can be used to fight a food shortage it says is expected to hit the globe by 2050.
A Royal Society research team member, Jules Pretty, says the team took into account a number of changes that are expected in coming decades, such as climate change, massive rises in world population, and new consumption patterns. "When you put that all together it suggest that we are going to need something like 50 percent more, perhaps 100 percent more, food from our existing land and that is a very significant challenge and we believe we need to be thinking seriously about that right away," said Pretty.
The Royal Society says farmers will have to grow improved crop varieties to meet growing food demands. It calls for genetic improvement of crops through conventional plant breeding and through direct genetic modification of crops.
Pretty says the Royal Society is not giving blanket support for GM foods, but says GM crops should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. He says because GM crops can be designed to be resistant to insects and disease they may also be better for the environment. He highlights the example of potato blight, a common pest that can destroy crops.
"At the moment typically farmers will apply 12 [applications] of fungicide each season to potatoes, which means driving your tractor up and down 12 times and using an awful lot of fungicide," said Pretty. "Now if that GM potato is effective and works then the environmental impact will be substantially less because the chemicals are not being used and there will be less fossil fuel use."
But Britain and many other European countries have resisted the introduction of GM food crops. Kirtana Chandrasekaran is from the environmental group Friends of the Earth. She says a four-year scientific study initiated by the World Bank says there is little role for genetic modification in feeding the poor on a large scale.
She says genetic modification is hugely expensive and patent heavy, which means the industry is dominated by large multi-national corporations. "You have seen massive evidence of huge social impacts in South America, farmers, up to 90,000 farmers, being displaced from their land in places like Paraguay because of the advent of massive GM intensive mono cultures, urban poverty increasing, food security has decreased all across the southern corner of Latin America dramatically over the last decade," said Chandrasekaran.
She says Africa has by and large resisted GM crops because it does not benefit poor farmers. She says for developing countries to improve their crop output, investment needs to be made in promoting traditional farming techniques. "You have traditional knowledge which has existed for hundreds of years, which is absolutely being starved of any kind of policy support or funding because governments seem so obsessed with genetic modification," said Chandrasekaran.
The United Nations has predicted the world's population will reach nine billion by 2050. The Royal Society is calling for the British government to contribute around $3 billion to fund the research into science that improves crops and sustainable crop management.
Anti-GM forces in Britain have successfully destroyed many field trials of GM crops. Their campaign has led some scientists to give up GM research and others to call for the British government to carry out trials at secure or secret sites.
Are GM Foods the Key to Feeding the World?
- Red Orbit, October 22, 2009 http://www.redorbit.com/
In a somewhat controversial statement made on Wednesday, England's elite science academy, The Royal Society, said that world must utilize genetically modified crops in order to feed a rapidly growing global population and reduce the environmental damage of large-scale farming.
The academy's report referred to the "grand challenge" of feeding an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050-a statement corroborated by a report issued earlier this month by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization which stated that current food production will have to be increased by 70 percent by halfway through the century in order to feed the explosive population growth in developing countries.
Royal Society chair and Cambridge University professor David Baulcombe summed up the problem for Reuters reporters as one of balancing the need for a dramatic increase in food production without further increasing the environmental impact of farming.
"The problem is such an acute one, doing that sustainably [farming] without eroding soil, overusing fertilizers is an enormous challenge," he explained. "There isn't a lot more land to use, and from the point of expense and using fossil fuels, we want to use less fertilizer."
"The food supply problem is likely to come to a head 10, 20, 30 years from now," he explained, highlighting the time crunch that this will put scientists in to develop robust new genetically-tweaked crops. The solution, however, will not be found solely in the development of new super-crops but also in taking new, innovative and environmentally friendly approaches to land management.
A number of scientists report that farming directly and indirectly accounts for as much as a third of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year. According to some, practices like clearing large swathes of forests for farmland may have nearly as large an impact on the atmosphere as the production of the fossil fuel-based fertilizers used to enrich the soil.
After years of food over-production in much of the western world, growing populations and changing diets in developing countries as well as increased demand for biofuels and soaring energy prices are reinvigorating interest in long-term agricultural investment.
According to a report by UN agencies released last week, an estimated billion people worldwide will suffer from malnutrition in 2009 as a result of food shortages and the global economic slump. Not everyone, however, believes that GM crops are the solution to the hunger problem. The environmental group Greenpeace has stated that the real solution lays in helping small-time farmers in developing countries get their products to the market, and that all the hoopla surrounding GM foods only distracts from the real issues.
"Poverty and hunger are the same thing," said Greenpeace's European GM policy directory, Marco Contiero. Contiero also added the world is already producing enough crops to feed itself and the problem lies rather in the "fair" distribution of existing supplies.
According to the Royal Society's report, some of the challenges faced by researchers in the coming years include developing strains of crops that are not only disease and pest resistant, but also able to withstand drought, heat and high levels of salinity and toxic heavy metals.
Baulcombe says that there is cause for optimism, however, as significant advances in genetic engineering have drastically improved the predictability of results for today's genetically modified plants. "We're looking at a different base than 10 years ago," he said.
There'll Always Be Demand For GM Crops
- Lucy Knight, Farm Online Stock and Land (Australia), Oct 22, 2009 http://sl.farmonline.com.au/
Australian farmers need not worry about a reported snub of genetically modified canola, according to the head of the Australia Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), with severe food shortages ensuring there will always be demand. The AFGC's Kate Carnell was commenting on last week's reports that grain and oilseed buyers, Elders and CBH, were going to stop buying GM canola to appease European and Japanese customers.
While Ms Carnell acknowledges there will always be buyers and consumers who choose to buy GM, the challenge of doubling food production in the next 40 years will dictate genetically modified (GM) crops be a part of that. Ms Carnell went further this week, describing the debate about the growth of GM crops in Australia as "a tragedy" with opposition not based on science.
"We're facing the need to double our food production in the world over the next 40 years," Ms Carnell said. "To do that we need to make every bit of arable land count and GM technology is an absolutely essential part of that. "There's no indication of a safety problem with GM canola and not even any vague view that there's some issue with it. "What we must focus on is that there are one billion people in the world today that are starving and how in the world we plan to address that."
Ms Carnell said while Australia has enough food, an awful lot of the world doesn't. "I've got every faith that as long as the market is allowed to operate as a market it will all sort itself out," she said.
"The reality is there's such a huge market globally for grains and crops generally that this will have to sort itself. "It would be very disappointing if the reason for the recent moves was to placate people who were agitating rather than because there was no market."
Ghost of 'Frankenfood' Haunts Europe
- Paul Voosen, NY Times, October 21, 2009. Full commentary at http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/10/21/21greenwire-ghost-of-frankenfood-haunts-europe-55309.html?pagewanted=print
Europe could have been the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops.
The research was there in the 1980s, when Belgian scientists pioneered the introduction of foreign genes in plants. So much was still to be discovered, said Marc Van Montagu, an emeritus professor at Ghent University who is one of the architects of modern plant biotechnology.
"Belgium was the place," said Van Montagu, who received the prestigious Japan Prize, which honors science and technology, in 1998 for his biotech work. "There were 50 different field trials."
Then came the fear, the cries of "Frankenfood" and the public backlash against the European Union's approval of its first biotech crop, a pesticide-freighted corn known as "Bt maize," in 1998. Fresh from scares about mad cow disease, the public was in no mood to tackle more food safety issues, true or not. No GM crop has been approved for growing since.
Scientists failed the public utterly back in those days, Van Montagu contends. Convinced that opposition to the crops lacked merit, they ceded the debate to environmental groups. The science became politicized and, to this day, a majority of Europeans remain opposed to GM crops.
"Now it's a real question," Van Montagu said. "How to rebuild it?" One way to start, some say, is to restore the integrity of science.
Just as other scientific issues, such as climate change and evolution, faced politicization in the United States, some European countries have politicized scientific evaluations of GM crop safety. Trying to ban the politically unpopular crops, the countries have invoked a science-based protection clause using what some scientists, policymakers and businesses say is flimsy evidence.
Six countries -- Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg -- have banned GM crops by deploying a clause meant to protect environmental and human safety. But when the evidence they presented for the ban is scrutinized, it does not hold up, said Jaap Satter, a senior policy adviser at the Dutch Agriculture Ministry. "You cannot say anymore that there is a scientific reason to be against genetic modification," Satter said.
In Germany, the government banned Bt maize earlier this year, partially as a concession to the now just-passed elections. But scientific publications used to justify the ban are not sound enough to say that the crops present a health risk, said Gerhard Rühl, a German crop scientist. The exposure levels are all off, not reflecting actual consumption, he said. "If you just ate [plain] potatoes for eight weeks, you'd probably also get a stomachache," Rühl said.
European regulators have left these countries little recourse but to invoke the clause -- it was one of the few legal routes they had to keep Bt maize out, said Maria Lee, a law professor at University College London who has written extensively on European GM regulations.
"It's problematic, because everyone has to play that game," Lee said. "And you can see why they're playing that game, because they don't think they'll win otherwise."
Countries need to be honest, and then real debate can begin, Satter said. "Come out and say that it's not science, but we have socioeconomic reasons," Satter said. "Why can't that be a reason?"
Above all, the European Union is an economic pact, known for its striving toward a single market, with industries like telecommunications, transportation and even electricity operating fluidly from Belfast to Bucharest. But when it comes to crop coexistence, as E.U. officials have discovered, all agriculture is local.
Few issues tear at the seams of the European project, as it is sometimes loftily known, more than GM crops. Authority is fractious, split between European officials in Brussels and national governments. Neighbors are divided: Poland, with its vast collection of tiny farms, fiercely opposes the crops, while the neighboring Czech Republic is one of the few growers of Bt maize.
The divisions, most agree, can be chalked up to cultural values or farming practices: The specialty olive groves of eastern Crete are unlikely to have the same needs as Britain's large-scale grain farms. Even internally, some nations remain sharply split on the issue.
For example, the two dominant regions of Belgium, Flemish-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, have each gone about devising their own policies for the introduction of GM crops. While Flanders, with its clutch of biotech companies, is friendly to the idea, Wallonia could not be more opposed, according to Cindy Boonen, a policy adviser at the Flemish Agriculture Department.
"Wallonia is very negative on [GM crops] in general," said Boonen, who is Flemish but lives in Wallonia, which is a forested, rural region. "They put very stringent measures to avoid any contamination."
The differing rules being implemented by Flanders and Wallonia for GM crops represent a compromise struck by the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm. Facing uproar from E.U. countries that oppose its ability to approve GM crops for general use, the bloc has devised a set of loose policies that it says will allow organic, GM-free and GM crops to coexist.
These coexistence policies set rules for how much distance is required to isolate GM crops (and their pollen), notification systems and how the economic liability of GM contamination of organic or GM-free crops is handled.
However, since these standards are sliding scales -- the required buffer for maize could be 25 meters (in Holland) to 300 meters or more (in Wallonia) -- the rules in effect allow regions to make the use of GM crops so easy or burdensome that, even if approved, farmers would not choose to use them. "You can say, more or less, coexistence is sometimes used and abused," Boonen said.
The chemical companies that make GM crops approve of the European Union's coexistence policies in general -- anything to get their products on the market -- but are wary that the policies will be used to reject their crops, according to Hilde Willekens, a governmental affairs director for the seed firm Syngenta AG.
"The whole [coexistence] discussion is about segregation and separation," Willekens said. "It's not about tolerance at all anymore. It's more the black-and-white discussion that you can have with sentimental people in many areas."
Many of the companies have a special ire for the European Commission, which has not moved forward any GM crop for approval in a decade. It has acted in other respects -- implementing mandatory labeling for GM products and, under heavy pressure from the United States, allowing GM imports like soy -- but the de facto moratorium on cultivation has continued, Willekens said.
There is just no political will there to clear new GM crops, added Nathalie Moll, director of agricultural biotechnology at EuropaBio, which represents the European biotech industry. "We have a birthday card that we made this year because we have been waiting 10 years" for new crop approvals, Moll said.
The European Commission is currently nearing the end of its five-year term, with E.U. nations jockeying as to who will lead influential divisions like agriculture and environment. Some firms lay the delay in growing approvals at the feet of Stavros Dimas, the European Union's environment commissioner, who likely does not want to return to his native Greece as the man who opened Europe to GM crops.
However, with a majority of the European population opposed to GM crops -- 58 percent, according to the most recent survey -- crop authorizations are unlikely to come soon, even with a new commission.
Indeed, the problem with coexistence that many states have is more about its single underlying assumption: that GM crops should be planted at all. "The difficulty is [that coexistence] is about socioeconomic and consumer choice, but the assumption is that's in a context where we have GM crops," Lee said. "The assumption is there will be widespread cultivation of GM crops."
The Netherlands, Europe's most famously pragmatic nation, thinks it has the answer to the GM question -- one that will both restore scientific integrity and allow nations wary of the crops to resist their planting.
Regulators have been too narrow in what they weigh when approving the crops, the Dutch say. Space must be hollowed out of the European Union's single market principles to allow variations based on social and economic considerations, and consideration given to granting the bloc's 27 nations the right to a "second opinion" on crops.
Earlier this month, the Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification presented a report outlining the country's broadened view of criteria. The report included the usual suspects -- human safety and biodiversity -- but also highlighted areas like "cultural heritage" and economics.
The Dutch, who will host a conference touting these principles next month, hope that by acknowledging and factoring in social and economic concerns, combined with coexistence policies, farmers who seek to use GM crops can move forward. "We are in a process of finding a way we can give [GM crops] their proper place," said the Agriculture Ministry's Satter.
The irony of the Dutch initiative, however, is that such considerations are already a part of the E.U. law on biotech crops, a revised version of which was passed earlier this decade. The law makes reference that "other legitimate factors," like social or ethical concerns, should be considered in regulating GM products, Lee said.
"At the rhetorical level, they accept that it's not just about risk, it's not just about science," Lee said. But despite this law, the European Commission has continued to only focus on findings from the European Food Safety Authority for guidance, she said. "When it comes to it, the legal structures are such that it's extraordinarily difficult to not explain the issue on risk or science," Lee said.
The regulatory use of societal concerns has long been sought by environmental groups opposed to the current generation of GM crops, which are largely herbicide-resistant or designed to produce pesticide.
"In principle, [the Dutch proposal] is absolutely a very good thing that we've called for quite a long time," said Marco Contiero, the European GM policy director for the environmental group Greenpeace. "The problem we see in the Dutch initiative is a problem of substance, not a problem of form," Contiero added.
The Dutch have placed too much emphasis on the benefits of GM crops -- reduced pesticide and herbicide use, at least in the short term, being paramount -- without talking enough about the drawbacks, Contiero said. Those drawbacks, he said, could include increased use of severe chemicals as weeds develop further herbicide resistance or economic damage from GM pollen contamination.
Van Montagu, the Belgian scientist, has a special store of wrath for Greenpeace, which was a strident opponent to GM crops in the 1990s, mentioning "Frankenfood" at every turn. The advocacy group is trying to move past that image. "We haven't used the word 'Frankenfood' in many years," Contiero said. But it is "still attached to us. We're trying with all our means to have a broader debate and a more serious debate."
The debate could finally come next year, as the rest of the European Union's 27 member nations present their proposals on the socioeconomic effects of GM crops to the new commission, which will then contemplate revised policies based on the proposals. Then we will see if the debate will have a tangible effect, Contiero said.
All Greenpeace wants, he added, is "to see the current existing legislative framework correctly applied." Scientists like Van Montagu and the biotech industry may criticize how political the GM issue has become in Europe, but it is the job of politicians to make decisions on what are societal goods, Contiero said.
"When we have a science that doesn't have definite answers," he said, "when it is very young and very complex ... we can't just leave decisions to be made by parts of the scientific community."
My Love is Like A Blue, Blue Rose
- Kathryn Westcott, BBC News, Oct 21, 2009
The blue rose has long been referred to by horticulturalists as the "Holy Grail" of the plant breeding world. Now what is being described as the world's first genetically-modified blue rose is about to hit flower shops in Japan.
A Japanese firm has announced it will be the first to put the unique flower on sale to the public - at a not-to-be-sniffed-at 2,000 and 3,000 yen (US$22 and US$33) per stem, about 10 times more expensive than normal.
Genetically, there is no natural blue pigmentation in the rose to allow a true blue rose to be bred by conventional methods. But in 2004, whisky distiller Suntory said it had succeeded in developing natural blue roses.
With Australian biotech company Florigene, it said it spliced into roses the gene that leads to the synthesis of the blue pigment Delphinidin in petunias. The fruits of that 20-year research project will be delivered to the public next month.
Talk of blue roses is not new. Faux blue roses were traditionally created by dyeing white roses. And nominal "blue roses" have been bred by conventional hybridisation methods. But, according to experts, these are more accurately described as light purple in colour.
In 1847, American nurseryman Samuel Parsons wrote in his book The Rose that progress in science and technology might, indeed, enable gardeners to cultivate blue roses. If so, he said, they would be worth the effort. Rosebreeder Bernard Mehring says that as far back as the 1900s there was a German variety of "blue" rose known as the Veilchenblau. But the petals are, again, more a "mauvey-grey", he says, and it only flowers once.
According to the Victorians, who promoted floriography - the language of flowers - blue roses signified mystery or the attempt to attain the impossible. Since those times the colour of a rose has represented a different sentiment or feeling.
Passion and romantic love is still associated with red roses. Pink roses apparently imply a less passionate affection - rather a more gentle or poetic one. White roses signal sincerity and purity, while yellow roses stand for friendship.
Sarah Holland from the Flowers and Plants Association in the UK says she believes natural blue roses "would be hugely in demand". Dyed-blue roses, which are also a soft purple colour, sell well in the UK, she says. "They don't appeal to everyone because they are unnatural, but there is definitely a place for them. They are, for example, popular for weddings." Her association receives lots of inquiries about black or blue roses every year ahead of Valentines Day, she adds. "Roses may be ubiquitous nowadays, but they haven't lost their meaning and people are always looking for something that is unique."
Helen Bostock, a horticulture advisor at the UK's Royal Horticultural Society, says that while a true-blue rose sounds fabulous, it could stand out like a "sore thumb". "A natural blue rose would signify something that is expensive and rare. It would signify exclusivity. "It has been the Holy Grail to rose breeders, but, personally, I think it would look odd - a bit like a plate of blue chips."
She is doubtful that a blue rose would be anything other than a novelty. "A red rose signifies passion, but blue is a bit cold in my book." Breeder Bernard Mehring is also unimpressed by the news of the blue rose. He has managed to breed a black rose, but says that if you tried to grow it in the garden the sunlight would cause the petals to shrivel up.
He thinks the blue rose, for different reasons, would be no good in the garden. "I can't see that a natural blue rose would be easy to grow." Its cultivation would not be allowed in some countries, such as the UK, because of the controls imposed on genetically-modified plants.
Roses have been the subject of many myths, legends, poems and paintings. Our fascination with them stretches back centuries. The Romans loved roses. The Emperor Nero was believed to have had an extravagant rotating banquet hall in which rose petals cascaded from the ceiling. And Napoleon Bonaparte's Empress Josephine instructed collectors to send her roses from around the known world, even during the Napoleonic Wars.
In Japan, where the act of present-giving is highly ritualistic, the new blue variety, Applause, will be marketed as a "luxurious gift for special occasions such as wedding anniversaries". There are no current plans to sell the new variety overseas, which might not be a bad thing, according to Mr Mehring. He warns that in some countries blue is not a popular colour for flowers. "In Italy, the blue is associated with mistrust or bereavement," he says. In China, however, according to one Chinese folk tale, the blue rose signifies hope against unattainable love.
Blue Roses, Rudyard Kipling
Roses red and roses white
Plucked I for my love's delight.
She would none of all my posies -
Bade me gather her blue roses.
Half the world I wandered through,
Seeking where such flowers grew;
Half the world unto my quest
Answered me with laugh and jest.
Home I came at wintertide,
But my silly love had died,
Seeking with her latest breath
Roses from the arms of Death.
It may be beyond the grave
She shall find what she would have.
Mine was but an idle quest -
Roses white and red are best.