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February 3, 2010


Higher Food Prices If No Biotech; Still Fresh; Say Yes to GM Food; Sowing Confusion; Hold Greenpeace Accountable


* The Production and Price Impact of Biotech Crops
* 45 Days and Still Fresh - In Delhi Lab, World’s Longest-Lasting Tomatoes
* Naive, Not Unethical
* Biotech Wheat Could Slam U.S. Wheat Prices - Report
* Delivering Genetically Engineered Crops to Poor Farmers
* Say Yes to GM Food
* Sowing Seeds of Confusion
* For Farmers' Sake Give Bt Brinjal A Fair Chance
* Leveraging Technology for Development of Agriculture
* The Role Of Biosafety Research In The Decision-Making Process
* The Impact of EU GMO Regulation on Agricultural Biotechnology Research for The Public Good
* Hold Greenpeace Accountable for Retarding Progress: An African Journalist


The Production and Price Impact of Biotech Crops

- Graham Brookes, Tun-Hsiang (Edward) Yu, Simla Tokgoz, and Amani Elobeid, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University, Working Paper 10-WP 503 (January 2010),

Download full paper at http://www.card.iastate.edu/publications/DBS/PDFFiles/10wp503.pdf (40 pp.)

Biotech crops have now been grown commercially on a substantial global scale since 1996. This paper examines the production effects of the technology and impacts on cereal and oilseed markets through the use of agricultural commodity models. It analyses the impacts on global production, consumption, trade and prices in the soybean, canola and corn sectors.

The analysis suggests that world prices of corn, soybeans and canola would probably be, respectively, 5.8%, 9.6% and 3.8% higher, on average, than 2007 baseline levels if this technology was no longer available to farmers. Prices of key derivatives of soybeans (meal and oil) would also be between 5% and 9% higher, with rapeseed meal and oil prices being about 4% higher than baseline levels. World prices of related cereals and oilseeds would also be expected to be higher by 3% to 4%.

The effect of no longer using the current widely used biotech traits in the corn, soybean and canola sectors would probably impact negatively on both the global supply and utilization of these crops, their derivatives and related markets for grain and oilseeds. The modelling suggests that average global yields would fall for corn, soybeans and canola and despite some likely “compensating” additional plantings of these three crops, there would be a net fall in global production of the three crops of 14 million tonnes. Global trade and consumption of these crops/derivatives would also be expected to fall. The production and consumption of other grains such as wheat, barley and sorghum and oilseeds, notably sunflower, would also be affected.

Overall, net production of grains and oilseeds (and derivatives) would fall by 17.7 million tonnes and global consumption would fall by 15.4 million tonnes. The cost of consumption would also increase by $20 billion (3.6%) relative to the total cost of consumption of the (higher) biotech inclusive level of world consumption. The impacts identified in this analysis are, however, probably conservative, reflecting the limitations of the methodology used. In particular, the limited research conducted to date into the impact of the cost-reducing effect of biotechnology (notably in herbicide tolerant soybeans) on prices suggests that the price effects identified in this paper represent only part of the total price impact of the technology. (Thanks Andy Apel!)


45 Days and Still Fresh - In Delhi Lab, World’s Longest-Lasting Tomatoes

- G.S. Mudur, Telegraph (India), Feb. 2, 2010 http://www.telegraphindia.com/

New Delhi, Feb.1: Refrigerator marketers, looks like you need to change your “farm-fresh” sales pitch. Plant biologists in India have discovered two previously unknown genes that are involved in fruit ripening and shut them down to create what might be the world’s longest-lasting tomatoes.

The tomatoes developed at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), New Delhi, can retain their firmness and texture for up to 45 days without refrigeration, compared with ordinary tomatoes that shrink and lose texture in about 15 days.

The researchers at the NIPGR have applied their gene-silencing technology on tomatoes, but they say it may also, in theory, be used to increase the shelf life of mangoes, papayas and bananas. “We’re not adding new genes into tomatoes -- the shelf life is increased by shutting down two genes that make the fruits go soft,” said Asis Datta, the senior scientist at the NIPGR who led this research.

Datta and his colleagues identified two plant enzymes and their genes — alpha-Man and beta-Hex — that drive fruit ripening. Then they applied a well-known trick called RNA-interference to “silence”, or shut down, the alpha-Man and beta-Hex genes. The results of their experiments will appear tomorrow in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The lack of a widespread network of cold-storage facilities and the softening of fruits during transportation leads to the post-harvest loss of nearly 40 per cent of India’s annual produce of fruits and vegetables. Many research groups, including one at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, have previously tried to increase shelf life of tomatoes by suppressing various known enzymes involved in the process of ripening. “But the shelf-life improvements so far have been inadequate -- either from the point of view of softness or texture of the tomatoes,” said Subhra Chakraborty, a team member at the NIPGR.

Scientists who were not associated with the research say it appears promising. “The work is somewhat unique -- the team led by Datta attacked a different ripening pathway,” said Roger Beachy, a leading plant biotechnologist and the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the US. “I hope this work is followed up with studies to determine if the technology will help reduce post-harvest losses to other valuable crops and enhance food supply that will help feed a growing population,” Beachy told The Telegraph.

The genetically-modified tomato would have to pass a series of field trials, including animal safety tests, before it can be considered for commercial cultivation. The NIPGR scientists say the process could take three years, perhaps longer.

But scientists caution that applying the gene-silencing strategy to other fruits may be technically challenging. “Papayas and bananas are candidate targets, but mangoes have resisted all efforts at genetic engineering,” said Kailash Bansal, a scientist at the IARI who has used a similar technique to delay ripening of tomatoes.

The NPIGR achievement comes at a time the government is conducting public consultations on the introduction of a genetically modified brinjal in India. The brinjal has been approved by a scientific panel, but is being opposed by activists.

Datta said he doesn’t expect his tomatoes to run into similar controversy. “There is no alien gene in these tomatoes — its two genes have been silenced,” he said. The RNA interference technique involves designing special gene sequences that shut down the activity of the target genes — in this case the alpha-Man and beta-Hex.


Naive, Not Unethical

- Times Higher Education Supplement (UK), June 16, 2006

I am among the very few people to know both Arpad Pusztai [GM Potatoes fame] and Andrew Wakefield [MMR Vaccine and Autism controversy] personally. From my limited knowledge of them, I believe both to be men of integrity. But that does not excuse their appalling naivety and over-interpretation of very limited scientific data. The consequences for genetically modified food and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination have been awful.

All scientists make extravagant statements based on preliminary results and optimism, but we usually do it in the privacy of a laboratory to critical colleagues who demolish our enthusiasm and persuade us to go away and do more experiments until we can justify our hopes.

Who on earth allowed these two innocents to expose themselves (and their nascent hypotheses) to the spotlight of the media, and why? Once you have told a few million enthusiastic readers and listeners, it is very difficult to withdraw or even qualify.

Pusztai retired, but the perception that he was sacked remains, and the belief that he was martyred has (foolishly) strengthened the support for his irrational statements.

Although I reject Wakefield's views on MMR, I am not confident that if the General Medical Council does bring him to book it will advance the cause of raising confidence in vaccination. - Alan Malcolm, London

(Thanks, Shane Morris!)


Biotech Wheat Could Slam U.S. Wheat Prices - Report

- Carey Gillam, Reuters News Services, January 28, 2010

CHICAGO - U.S. wheat prices could fall by 40 percent or more if industry efforts to develop a biotech wheat succeed, according to an industry report issued on Wednesday.

The report, issued by the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a farmer and rancher group, cited persistent opposition to genetically modified wheat in Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries. It said buyers in those countries probably would shift purchases away from the United States, if a biotech wheat was commercialized here.

The price of U.S. hard red spring wheat would fall 40 percent, the report predicted, and the price of durum wheat would drop 57 percent. "Introduction of genetically modified wheat in the United States is a risky proposition," said the report's author, industry consultant Neal Blue, a former research economist at Ohio State University.

Any biotech wheat is still years from commercialization as companies like Monsanto Co (MON.N), Dow (DOW.N) AgroSciences, and others research various improvements to the crop through genetic modifications and other means.

Monsanto, a leading developer of corn and soybeans genetically altered to tolerate herbicide treatments and resist pests, backed off a plan to commercialize herbicide-tolerant "Roundup Ready" spring wheat in 2004. At the time, the industry feared the new wheat would hurt U.S. export business.

Monsanto said last year it was starting a new biotech effort focused on making wheat plants more drought tolerant, more efficient in the use of nitrogen and higher yielding. U.S. wheat acres have been declining in recent years as farmers shift to more profitable crops. Several wheat industry groups have asked Monsanto and rival seed companies to develop better wheat seed.

Currently no biotech wheat is grown on a commercial scale anywhere in the world due to opposition from consumers and food industry players.

The report issued Wednesday said consumers in the European Union and Japan remained opposed to biotech wheat, and labeling and traceability requirements would make it difficult to sell genetically modified wheat there, the report said. "Some in the wheat industry seem intent on pushing genetically modified wheat," said Todd Leake, a wheat farmer and member of the Dakota Resource Council. "This report strongly suggests they should be very cautious and listen to the customer."

U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said the wheat industry was working to improve international acceptance of biotech wheat in advance of commercial introductions, which are still several years away. "The U.S. wheat industry has pledged to our customers that we will continue to supply them with the products they need," said Tracy. "U.S. wheat growers generally recognize that, if our industry is to prosper, we need to take advantage of technological changes, and that to feed 9 billion people by mid-century, the farmers of the world need to do so as well."


Delivering Genetically Engineered Crops to Poor Farmers - Recommendations for Improved Biosafety Regulations in Developing Countries

- José Falck-Zepeda, Anthony Cavalieri, and Patricia Zambrano, "International Food Policy Research Institute"

Small-scale, resource-poor farmers in developing countries face daily stresses, including poor soils, drought, and lack of inputs. Ongoing trends such as climate change and population growth will likely exacerbate binding stresses. A new generation of genetically engineered (GE) crop research aims to alleviate these pressures through the improvement of subsistence crops—such as cassava, sorghum, and millet—that incorporate traits such as tolerance to drought, water, and aluminum in soils as well as plants with more efficient nitrogen and phosphor use.

However, many developing countries lack the necessary biosafety systems for a timely and cost-effective adoption. This brief focuses on the regulatory reforms necessary for farmers and consumers in developing countries to benefit from GE crops.

Brief at http://www.ifpri.org/publication/delivering-genetically-engineered-crops-poor-farmers


Say Yes to GM Food

- PNV Nair, Food & Beverage News (India), Feb. 2, 2010 http://www.fnbnews.com/article/detarchive.asp?articleid=26938§ionid=1

Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution, once said, “It’s better to die eating genetically modified (GM) food than dying of hunger.” On another occasion he said “We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted. There has been great progress, but hunger is common place, and famine appears, all too often.”

He also laughed at suggestions about organic farming as an alternative to harmful fertilizers. “Do use organic farming wherever possible, but it is nonsense to think you could feed the world without the use of chemical fertilizers. Despite the tremendous rise in food production using the fertilizers, millions around the world still go to bed hungry. You need to double the food production by 2050 to feed every one.”

Environmentalists and others who oppose production of GM food, perhaps, do not understand the pain of hunger. India’s population is projected to overtake even that of China by the year 2025. With one child norm compulsory for the couples, China is able to control the population growth significantly.

India is just one-third of the size of China and agricultural productivity is much lower, not even one-fourth of China. Where do we end up by the year 2025 when we boast of being the largest populated country in the world? Even now at least one-third of our population has just one meal a day. President Pratibha Patil, in her Republic Day address to the nation, has called for a Second Green Revolution. But how? The area under cultivation is dwindling every year, productivity is coming down due to over exploitation of land and increased use of fertilizers.

Farmers are also facing the problem of shortage of water and electricity. The only way out is adoption of GM crops that will give higher production with less water and will be pest-resistant. Genetically modified cotton, also called Bt cotton, has been a blessing. The country has generated an additional income of Rs 10,000-12,000 crore annually because of its higher yield.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has cleared Bt brijal. Eminent scientists who had examined Bt brinjal had concluded that it was absolutely safe for human consumption and also for science and environment. Let us leave the issue to the scientists. There will always be some persons with a different view. They will always find something wrong. Countries like the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and China had already approved the genetic crops. Besides Bt brinjal, Indian scientists are experimenting with 22 more crops like cabbage, cauliflower, okra (lady’s finger), potato and tomato under vegetables, groundnut, mustard under oil seeds, chikpea, pigeon pea under pulses and maize, sorghum and rice under cereals. If Bt brinjal, the first to pass the test by the scientists, is stopped the entire process of developing more crops like rice will have a setback.

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh is personally holding public meetings over the decision of the GEAC to allow commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. He is under tremendous pressure from environmentalists and NGO activists who are raising concerns of health safety. Hope the minister will not succumb to such pressures and take a positive decision of Bt brinjal. If not, the fate of other GM crops also will be under standstill.

Some people ask why Bt brinjal? Brinjal, also known as egg plant, is an important vegetable and is the second largest consumed vegetable in the country, along with tomato and onion. India is the second largest producer of brinjal in the world with 26% of the total 32 million production of brinjal in the world. China leads with almost 56%.

According to Dr Swaminathan, brinjal is consumed throughout one’s life. It is a vegetable of very widespread consumption. However, the government should not be in a hurry to introduce Bt brinjal until fundamental issues were addressed. “We must analyse whether the risks are more or the benefits are more. There should be an authority to analyse the risks and benefits in a transparent way. Unfortunately we don’t have an authority like that, Dr Swaminathan said.”

The technology has delivered, for sure. And it is for the government to allow resource-poor farmers to benefit from it. At the same time, the protestors should not be allowed to hold the country to ransom by organising the farmers who are being misinformed by vested interests.


Sowing Seeds of Confusion

- Editorial, Hindustan Times, January 22, 2010 http://www.hindustantimes.com

'Instead of bickering over Bt brinjal, why don’t we put all the facts on the table?'

Is it Sharad Pawar, is it Jairam Ramesh, is it Prithviraj Chavan or is it an alien brinjal? Most people would be forgiven for being a little bewildered over the current spat over genetically modified brinjal, or Bt brinjal, given the contradictory signals from the ministries concerned. As things stand now, the vegetable that has been approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee for commercial use awaits a final decision on its safety from the environment minister on February 20.

The wrangling over the safety of biotech crops will continue but there are certain irrefutable facts that the public needs to know. These should have been made public and easily available at the outset so that the current mess could have been avoided.

The Bt brinjal has been in the pipeline for over nine years and every conceivable test, including feeding it to animals, has been conducted. India is the second largest brinjal producer in the world with 550,000 hectares under cultivation. The Bt brinjal requires 77 per cent less pesticides than the normal variety and is 98 per cent insect resistant. This means a much higher yield for farmers who grow this low-calorie, high-nutrition vegetable.

The experiment with Bt cotton has been highly successful in India with the country moving from being an importer to an exporter. Farmers in many parts that cultivate transgenic cotton have reported an almost doubling of yields. Now it may be argued that cotton is not edible. But with India being a party to the Convention on Biodiversity that mandates that all genetically modified crops be subject to stringent safety tests, the margin for error is negligible. The high price of GM seeds is often cited as a problem. But then, what is lost on the roundabouts is more than made up on the swings with the farmer being assured of his harvest, getting a higher yield, better quality and a better price.

Instead of getting bogged down over Bt brinjal, we ought to be looking at widening the scope of technology to improve the lot of our farmers. Next on the agenda should be saline- and drought-resistant crops that could address the issue of food security. But at every step the facts and figures should be made widely available, to put an end to scare-mongering and posturing by the anti-GM lobby. And, most of all, the public must know the views of the farmer, who is the most affected by this issue. So far, they are more than satisfied with the progress of this technology. After all, they’ve put their money where our mouths are.

A few readers responses:
I guess the punch line "time to move" suits HT to the Hilt. One simple fact can overwrite every silly bickering of the opposition. The fact that after introduction of Bt cotton India has become the 2nd largest cotton producer(exporter) in the world.

Apart from this the use of pesticides in these farms has reduced drastically. We need more scientists coming forward to put the technology on forefront rather than the so called HEALTH EXPERTS claiming made up information. With no knowledge of the tests that these products go through people make up sci-fi movies out of nowhere. Use of technolgy to uplift the nation & its people is the cry of the day.I wish people are more sensitive to issues like HOW to solve a certain problem rather than finding problems with beneficial things.

The anti GM lobby's stalwarts (or shall we say STALLwarts since they stall everything) are groups like Greenpeace and people like Vandana Shiva - this is well known. I really wish the govt. would audit the accounts of these so called NGOs and find out who is financing this systematic campaign of misinformation and lies. Whose vested interests are they protecting in the garb of doing good? The worst of it is, all these people, plus those who have raised such a hue and cry over this editorial would all happily line up outside the US and Canadian embassies begging for visas to these countries, and happily consume GM foods once they are there, and call it a part of a good life. Just the hypocrisy makes me ill.


For Farmers' Sake Give Bt Brinjal A Fair Chance

- S Chaitanya, Feb 03, 2010 http://www.merinews.com

'Bt Brinjal must be promoted in India because it promises to reduce wastage due to pests. As it minimises the need for chemical pesticide, Bt Brinjal is also environment friendly. For farmers' sake, BT Brinjal must be given a fair chance.'

FIRST OF all, it is important to realise that as the world's population grows and the extent of arable land decreases, the only way of ensuring food for all is by increasing productivity.

Though India is self sufficient in food production, many Indians suffer malnutrition, poverty and are susceptible to environmental vagaries such as drought and floods. Much of it has to do with our agricultural productivity, which is among the lowest in the world.

The need to increase agricultural productivity is clear and can’t be challenged. We must use whatever means available to improve productivity, while keeping environmental concerns in mind.

BT Brinjal must be promoted in India because it promises to reduce wastage due to pests. As it minimises the need for chemical pesticide, Bt Brinjal is also environment friendly. The rupees saved by removing the need for pesticide could be used for other purposes. An overall increase in productivity and greater profit is the result.

However, in light of various criticisms that BT Brinjal is toxic, that it is a source of genetic pollution, that it is a way for multinational corporations to make huge profits at farmers' expense, the introduction of BT Brinjal must take place only after these criticisms are addressed.

One must steer clear of absolutist positions on the issue. At one extreme are those who have deep mistrust towards modern technology and multinational corporations, and cloak their criticism in scientific sounding language and propagate scientific inaccuracies about genetically modified food. At the other extreme, are those who advocate large scale introduction of BT Brinjal without regard to the possibility of harmful environmental effects. Both these extremes must be avoided.

As research stands today, the truth is somewhere in between. Genetically modified foods have been around since 1985, with no major impact on environment or health. The best way forward is to continuously research and track the effects of GM foods on the environment and health, if any are discovered.

Brinjals grown with BT Brinjal seeds must also be labeled ‘genetically modified food’ as the consumer deserves to make an informed choice, if he/she is apprehensive about the impact of BT Brinjal on health.

Last but not the least, it is the Indian farmer who must have the ultimate say on whether he wants to grow BT Brinjal or not. If he feels that BT Brinjal is harmful, he reserves the right not to grow it. However, if another farmer feels that BT Brinjal helps him improve productivity, it may be a violation of rights and unethical for anybody to stop him from growing it (except where it harms the environment), as it is his livelihood that is at stake.


Leveraging Technology for Development of Agriculture

- G. Chandrashekhar, The Hindu Business Line, Feb 1, 2010

Development, dissemination and adoption of new technology are an important determinant of the future lifestyles of mankind. Technology has the potential to transform agriculture too. If anything, agriculture has always been in a transformation mode.

For millennia, human beings have been engaged in improving the crops and animals they raise. The painfully slow process accelerated in the last 150 years or so, with scientists helping develop and refine techniques of selection and breeding. Conventional selection and breeding are time consuming and bear technical limitations.

Slowing growth
Enter technology-driven farming. In recent years, the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop yields have slowed, raising fears that the world may not be able to grow enough food and other commodities to meet the needs of future population. Also, there still are areas in the world with shortages of land or water, or with particular problems of soil or climate.

More often than not, these are areas with a high concentration of poor people facing threat of food insecurity. Technology can play a vital role in addressing the issues relating to food production, processing and marketing, while ensuring that the benefits are more equitably spread. Although productivity increases are vital, environment protection is equally important.

Also, technologies must be both affordable by, and geared to the needs of, the poor and undernourished people. In future, farming as an activity – economic, largely for the developed world and livelihood for many in the developing regions – will be at once more knowledge-intensive and more productive in more sustainable ways. As a factor in farm and rural development, infusion of two apparently disparate technologies – agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) and information technology (infotech or IT) – is expected to catalyse progressive changes.

Agbiotech and Infotech together are helping create new tools to attack the problem of rural poverty, generate employment and incomes by helping enhance farm productivity and production, improve quality and explore marketing and income generating opportunities in newer ways.

Agbiotech offers considerable promise as a means of improving food security and reducing pressures on the environment. Genetically modified (GM) crop varieties – such as those resistant to drought, water-logging, soil acidity, salinity and extreme temperatures – could help to sustain farming in marginal areas and to restore degraded land to production. Pest-resistant varieties can reduce the need for harmful pesticides that pollute the environment.

The technology is also capable of delivering health benefits to consumers by helping produce crops with superior quality and nutrition. However, potential risks and concerns cannot be ignored. Issues of bio-safety, especially food safety and environmental impact, of agbiotech have to be adequately addressed without which widespread use of this technology may not materialise.

Risks and benefits
The risks and benefits may vary from one product to another, and these are often perceived differently in different countries. To reap the full potential of this technology, appropriate policies must be developed to ensure that the potential risks are accurately diagnosed and, where necessary, avoided.

The debate whether “sound science” or “precautionary principle” should form the basis of adoption of the GM technology is far from over.

Fortunately, the spread of GM varieties in developed countries in recent years and absence of any notable and documented negative consequences has helped address some of the concerns. However, improved testing and safety protocols have to be an ongoing process. What has been India's experience in adopting agbiotech?

Bt cotton
Currently, Bt Cotton is the only transgenic crop approved and commercialised in India. Introduction of technology seeds has triggered a major transformation in the country's cotton sector in recent years as a result of which the situation of shortage has turned into surplus.

In six years, cotton output has doubled, yields have risen by over 50 per cent and cotton exports, rather than imports, are the norm. Potential for raising yields further exists.

Crop losses due to pest and inspect attacks have largely been contained. Can the ‘cotton experience' be replicated in other crops, say soyabean or maize (corn)?

A number of public institutions and private sector companies are currently engaged in researching pest resistance in a variety of food crops that include vegetables (brinjal or egg plant, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, potato, tomato); oilseeds (groundnut, mustard); pulses (chickpea, pigeon pea); and cereals (maize, sorghum, rice). The recent GEAC grant of clearance for Bt. brinjal has run into rough weather. The Government is seized of the matter. One must hope science will eventually triumph. Is agbiotech scale-neutral or location-neutral?

Doubts persist. Developed countries such as the US have their rationale or compulsion to develop, adopt and promote the GM technology. Large farms, low level of labour input, mechanisation and intensive cultivation meant that incremental costs of raising yields would be greater than the value of incremental output.

GM technology helps cut losses (for instance, Bt. Cottonseed repels bollworm attack) and thus, reduces costs. However, conditions in developing countries are vastly different. Fragmented landholding, low level of input usage, antiquated agronomic practices, limited availability of irrigation facilities - all combine to make output unsteady, quality suspect and prices volatile.

As opposed to agribusiness in developed economies, for farmers in developing countries agriculture is a livelihood issue. This is not to argue that GM technology is inappropriate for developing countries; far from it. The technology has delivered, for sure. It has to be adopted and disseminated in a way that resource-poor farmers in agrarian economies benefit from it. It is necessary that institutional reforms precede.

A strict regulatory regimen that seeks to protect the interests of all stakeholders even while ensuring food and environment safety is called for. It is important to recognise that GM technology is not a magic bullet. It cannot solve all the problems confronting agriculture. The technology is at best an enabler. Other necessary conditions have to be in place and fulfilled to obtain best results from adoption of this technology.

You are the master. Technology is your servant; use it well.


‘The Role Of Biosafety Research In The Decision-Making Process’ - International Symposium on the Biosafety of GMOs

- Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 15 - 20 2010 http://www.isbgmo.info

The 11th ISBGMO will include plenary sessions, poster sessions, workshops and training sessions. There will be a visit to experimental and commercial GM crops. An entertaining social programme also is planned. Subjects will include studies of the environmental biosafety of a range of GM plants and insects, risk assessment methods, risk management and the interactions between scientific information and regulation of GMOs.

ISBGMO will be of interest to risk assessors, scientists, researchers and regulators involved in assessing the environmental and agronomic impacts of the release and cultivation of GMOs.

We will inform you when registration starts. For further information, please see the enclosure and the ISBGMO web site: http://www.isbgmo.info

We are looking forward to seeing you in Buenos Aires. - Dr Patrick RÜDELSHEIM (President, International Society for Biosafety Research); Dr Jeremy SWEET (Programme Chair of ISBGMO)


The Impact of EU GMO Regulation on Agricultural Biotechnology Research for The Public Good

- Thursday 25 February 2010, 14:30 - 18:30 at European Parliament, Brussels


The world community is confronted with unprecedented, escalating developments such as growing world population (+ 50% by 2050); increased consumption of food, feed, fibre and fuel; loss of agricultural land (– 50% by 2050); shortage of fresh water; climate change; increasing demand for renewable fuels, and loss of natural habitats and biodiversity

These developments create immense challenges to produce more crop per hectare and per litre of water, and to produce on marginal land, enhance the nutritional value of crops, reduce dependence on pesticides and fertilisers, and reduce soil erosion.

No single technology can solve these complex challenges by itself. The future of agriculture is not a matter of “either this or that” technology but rather of combining the most suitable approaches of each available technology and agricultural practice, tailored to specific needs and situations. As governments and international organisations have stated repeatedly: modern biotechnology – although not a “silver bullet” - can contribute significantly to finding solutions for these challenges.

Consequently, governments and international organisations invest considerably in public research in modern biotechnology to strengthen sustainable agricultural production, to improve health care and contribute environmental protection. Despite these investments, the current regulatory situation in many countries, and in the EU in particular, increasingly curtails public research in biotechnology.

The Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) and the Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel of the European Parliament (STOA) will organise a seminar to address this. The seminar will discuss how current regulations and policies impact the potential for public biotechnology research.


Greenpeace Must Be Held Accountable for Slowing Biotech Progress: An African Journalist

- Peter Wamboga-Mugirya (Kampala, Uganda), Feb 3, 2010; AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org

Dear Agbioworld, I have read with awe, Greenpeace’s softening position towards Golden Rice, a genetically-modified (GM) crop developed by scientists to fight against Vitamin A deficiency!
(refer: AgBioWorld January 6, 2010 “Green Peace Backs Down On GMOs” http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=2936).

The article was originally published in the respected German magazine Der Spiegel and quoted by AgBioWorld. Golden Rice was developed to combat Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) which kills 6,000 people daily and causes blindness in 500, 000 children annually (UNICEF 2007).

In part, the new Green Peace international Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, states among others: "In view of developments like Golden Rice, Greenpeace must reconsider its position with regard to GMOs. We must make sure not to dismiss new and important developments."

This may be a very exciting and at the same time, a very intriguing statement or position by this leading and well-known global anti-biotech/GMOs NGO. What I wish to know right away is whether this is a paradigm shift by Greenpeace, a new single policy position or just Kumi Naidoo’s view? Whereas the move is being welcomed in some quarters, in other quarters like mine, Greenpeace has a lot of questions to answer and accountability to make, for their long-held opposition to the science of biotechnology and particularly GMOs—a product of the scientific process of genetic modification/engineering (GM/GE).

I’m a science journalist living and working in the Third World, who has strived to understand GM/GE over five years now, and I have come to appreciate the science. Along the way, I’ve got convinced that modern biotechnology especially in agriculture is highly-scrutinized, comprehensively-regulated and in some cases over-regulated unnecessarily, before any GM product is approved. Therefore, if it is food or/and feed from a GM crop, it is safe for growing and consumption, and to plant among other plants in the same environment due to the careful scrutiny and high-regulation.

Thanks to activism by Greenpeace and her allies around the world. Greenpeace's information so far has been that GM plants are harmful for human and animal consumption; that they mutate into uncontrollable or invasive weeds and that genetically-modified foods cause cancer, impotency and/or obesity, blah, blah, blah--without scientific proof and evidence! And the world has largely listened to such unscientific sentiments, threats and heavily biased information, which is misguiding, misleading and worst of all, frightening propagated with impunity by Green Peace about scientific issues, processes and technological advances!!

Whereas Prof. Jocelyn Webster, Executive Director of AfricaBio, South African biotechnology stakeholders' organisation, welcomes Green Peace’s latest move as: "This is a very welcome approach to the acceptance of GMOs in general and not only concerns Golden Rice. It will undoubtedly boost Africa's endeavors to speed up the development of GM crops to alleviate hunger and poverty. It is an encouraging move away from the usual radical view of activists to a more open approach where things can be discussed, which is a boon to GMO acceptance worldwide in general.” Golden Rice is scheduled to be launched in 2011/12.

I say yes I agree with Prof. Webster’s views, it is a welcome move. But Greenpeace must first apologize for de-campaigning scientifically-proven safe and effective technology and then account for the unscientific allegations they have all along made against GMOs. How about the blindness and deaths all these years among rice-dependant people due to Vitamin A deficiency; starvations in the Third World especially Africa, due to failed crop arising from pests and crop diseases because of the absence of varieties genetically-modified to resist the pests and diseases? Where available, these anti-pest and disease-resistant GM technologies cannot be released to farmers because Greenpeace has vehemently decampaigned them, especially against biotechnology-derived crops?

How about the deeply-rooted and biting poverty among smallholder farmers—who are Africa’s majority and hardest-working class—but cannot access fertilizers or use them, partly because Green Peace and her affiliates around the world, have said chemical fertilizers poison the soil and hence poison crop produce. In the end, these farmers cannot raise productivity of their land, in order to boost yields to harvest enough food and surplus for sale to raise household income levels!

From the outgoing, doesn’t Greenpeace take part of the blame for this ugly scenario? Isn’t Greenpeace and its European backers liable for the fear/failure by many governments around the world, especially Africa, to introduce supportive legal, policy and institutional measures, that promote conduct of research in modern biotechnology, development and release of GM crops tolerant to drought, for example?

As if it was not bad enough for Africa to be bypassed by the Green Revolution that radically transformed Asia’s food production situation and averted starvations and massive poverty, the continent mainly sub-Saharan Africa, is again systematically being by-passed by the gene-revolution thanks to Greenpeace’s anti-biotech campaigns!!
On their website, Greenpeace International boasts among other achievements registered by April 2009: “Germany announces that it will become the sixth EU country to ban the cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) maize MON810 - the only GE crop that can be commercially grown in the region”

This may be seen as a case in one of Europe’s well-fed states, but the question is: ”Against what constraint was such maize modified/engineered? Is it rejected because it was developed by Monsanto? Or was it ‘injected’ with a gene to make it poisonous as Greenpeace depicts biotechnology in pictures? Their pictures are unethically and immorally engineered with photos of a tomato having a fish protruding from one side; human foetus [unborn baby growing] in a tomato or worse still an injection on a tomato or banana finger allegedly something done in genetic engineering e.t.c] Is this extremist stance with totally misleading illustrations even when one is opposed to a technology, justified?”

What about the millions of Africans who are illiterate today, because yesterday their farming parents could not take them to school as their crops were either devastated by pests and diseases or the farmers couldn’t raise enough amounts to eat and sell the rest for money to pay fees? And the millions who have suffered measles, stunted growth, kwashiorkor, marasmus and malnutrition in general, because crops developed by biotech-scientists via bio-fortification with micronutrients e.g. iron, zinc, vitamins, proteins using tools of biotechnology e.t.c yet cannot be commercialized because Green Peace says food from such bio-fortified crops are unsafe? The damage done by Green Peace’s many years of unrelenting and immense campaigns on human health, poverty and on many African countries’ planned development/advancement of biotechnological capacities, is immeasurable.

The world’s renown scientist, Norman E. Borlaug (RIP) and former U.S President, Jimmy Carter, commenting on the book Starved for Science -- HOW BIOTECHNOLOGY IS BEING KEPT OUT OF AFRICA by Robert Paarlberg—the scholar on the role of science on smallholder agro-developments in Africa—both categorically state--“many in the international donor community who afraid of antagonizing powerful environmental lobbying groups[one of them is Green Peace—author], have turned away from supporting science-based agricultural modernization projects still needed in much of smallholder Asia, sub-Saharan Africa ad Latin America.

This confusion and paralysis is now most obvious in the case of agricultural biotechnology. The science of genetic engineering has significant potential to help rural Africa, particularly since it can now speed the development of crop varieties better able to tolerate stress factors such as drought. Yet the governments and non-governmental advocacy groups of most prosperous countries, particularly Europe, are resisting the introduction of modern agricultural biotechnology into Africa”

The two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, in their foreword to Paarlberg’s book also state thus: “Paarlberg shows that low-income, food-deficit nations are being advised by governments and pressure groups in privileged nations to reject agricultural biotechnology mostly because this is a technology the rich countries themselves do not happen to need. When it comes to new applications of medical science, which prosperous countries still need and value, genetic engineering is not seen as a threat and is not regulated to death. Only in the area of agriculture, where new science is no longer needed by the rich—because their citizens are well fed and their farmers already highly productive—are stifling regulations imposed”

Finally, it is my humble submission that the debate about whether GMOs are safe or not safe for human consumption and the environment as compared to foods from conventionally-bred crops is another one. But the bottom line is that both may cause allergies to some people and not to others. Can that cause GM crops to be labeled unsafe? Have anti-biotech activists labeled breeders of conventionally-bred crops, animals and birds; milk and meats that cause allergy to some people, as traitors or such products as ‘poisonous’? Isn’t it because some bodies react differently to some foods no matter whether it is GM or conventionally-bred? By the way how much are non-GM or conventionally-bred foods regulated? Thank you.

- Kind regards, Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode), Kampala, UGANDA. http://www.scifode.org, pwamboga@gmail.com