* EU Effort to End GM Crop Deadlock Meets Resistance
* GMOs: Member States to be Given Full Responsibility on Cultivation In Their Territories
* Questions and Answers on the EU's New Approach to the Cultivation of GMOs
* EuropaBio Response: Commission's Nationalisation of Approval for the Cultivation of GM Crops
* Joint Spanish, Romanian and Portuguese Delegation Calls for Fairer Access to GM Crops and Technologies
* Indian Scientist Reviews the Moratorium on Bt Brinjal
* Is Organic Food Better for You? A Critical Look at Organic Claims
* Correction: IFT Live webcast is on July 19 (and not July 9)
EU Effort to End GM Crop Deadlock Meets Resistance
- Christian Spillman, AFP, July 13, 2010
BRUSSELS - The European Commission sought Tuesday to end a deadlock blocking the growth of genetically modified crops in Europe, proposing to give countries the freedom to ban the controversial foods. But the proposal drew immediate protests on both sides of the issue amid deep divisions in Europe over the safety of such food.
"The Commission is not in favour or against GMOs," said European Health Commissioner John Dalli. "But in today's world, they are a reality and Europe cannot stand idle and deny itself the political responsibility to take decisions and implement a policy of responsible innovation."
Europe has fallen behind the rest of the world amid public concerns over the potential effects of GM crops demonised as "frankenfoods" by opponents. With governments unable to reach a consensus on the authorisation of new crops, the commission decided to give individual states the power to prohibit or plant such seeds.
Under the proposed rules, once a new GM crop is authorised, governments would be able to ban them across all or part of their territory for socioeconomic, ethical or moral reasons, Dalli said.
But French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said the proposal was "not acceptable" because it did not address the need to improve the authorisation process. "They have proposed a swap, that is not going to work," Borloo told AFP.
Dalli denied that the proposed rules were aimed at pressuring some governments to end their opposition to new GM crop applications. "I don't expect countries to change their voting just because we've put these considerations," he said.
Biotech firms are awaiting clearance for the cultivation of four types of genetically modified maize. A maize seed developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, MON 810, is the only crop to have been cleared for commercial cultivation in Europe since 1998.
Six EU states, Austria, Hungary, France, Greece, Germany and Luxembourg, have prohibited MON 810 from their territory but it is grown in Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Slovakia.
However, Monsanto's MON 810 was grown on fewer than 95,000 hectares (235,000 acres) of land in the EU last year, down from almost 107,000 hectares in 2008. A genetically modified potato developed by German group BASF, the Amflora, was given the green light in March but it will only be used for industrial uses for its starch content.
The biotech industry and environmentalist groups slammed the proposal, which has to be adopted by the EU parliament and the European Council. EuropaBio, which represents the industry in Brussels, said the proposed rules "give carte blanche to ban safe and approved GM crops in any country or region regardless of the needs or wishes of their farmers."
The Green bloc in the European parliament described the proposal as a "dubious bargain" and warning that GM crops posed a contamination threat to other plants. Green EU lawmaker Martin Haeusling said: "The Commission has not been able to overcome the opposition of the member states to GMOs over the years and wants now to trick them into accepting quicker authorisations."
Opponents of GM food fear they would inevitably contaminate other crops and maintain that is no definitive evidence of their safety. Supporters argue that such crops have higher yields, resist pests and disease better and require less fertiliser and pesticide. They say farmers should be given the freedom to choose whether they want to plant GM crops.
GMOs: Member States to be Given Full Responsibility on Cultivation In Their Territories
- European Commission, Belgium. July 13, 2010. http://europa.eu
Today the Commission proposed to confer to Member States the freedom to allow, restrict or ban the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on part or all of their territory. While keeping unchanged the EU's science-based GM authorisation system, the adopted package consists of a Communication, a new Recommendation on co-existence of GM crops with conventional and/or organic crops and a draft Regulation proposing a change to the GMO legislation.
The new Recommendation on co-existence allows more flexibility to Member States taking into account their local, regional and national conditions when adopting co-existence measures. The proposed regulation amends Directive 2001/18/EC to allow Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory.
Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli said: "Last March, the Commission promised to present a comprehensive proposal on our future policy vis- a-vis GM cultivation by the end of the summer. Today we deliver on that promise. The concrete measures adopted today will allow Member States the freedom to decide on GMO cultivation. Experience with GMOs so far shows that Member States need more flexibility to organise the co-existence of GM and other types of crops such as conventional and organic crops."
The Commissioner added: "Granting genuine freedom on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks also necessitates a change to the current legislation. I stress that, the EU-wide authorisation system, based on solid science, remains fully in place. To conclude: This means that a very thorough safety assessment and a reinforced monitoring system are priorities in GMO cultivation and are therefore being pursued vigorously. The Commission is committed to follow up actions on them before the end of the year."
As of today, a more flexible approach towards cultivation:
The strict authorisation system already in place, which is based on science, safety and consumer choice, will remain the same.
With the new freedom given to Member States to decide on cultivation, a strong signal is sent to citizens that Europe takes into account their concerns, which may vary from one country to another, regarding GMOs. The new approach aims to achieve the right balance between maintaining an EU authorisation system and the freedom for Member States to decide on GMO cultivation in their territory. The proposal delivers on President Barroso s political guidelines, presented in September 2009. Adding this freedom to the legislative framework for GMOs should enable the authorisation system for GMOs to function effectively. As a first step under existing legislation, today s new Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national co-existence measures replaces the previous recommendation of 2003.
The previous Recommendation made a direct link between the establishment of co-existence measures and the respect of the 0.9% threshold for labelling as GM food, feed or products intended for direct processing. Member States were advised to limit co-existence measures (e.g. length of distances between GM and non-GM fields) to comply with 0.9% GM presence in other crops.
Experience gained over the last years shows that the potential loss of income for non-GM producers, such as organic and sometimes conventional producers, is not limited to exceeding the labelling threshold. In certain cases, the presence of GMOs in certain food products may cause damages to operators who would wish to market them as not containing GMOs.
The non-binding guidelines included in the new Recommendation on co-existence better reflect the possibility provided in the existing legislation (Article 26a of Directive 2001/18/EC) for Member States to adopt measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops. This also allows for measures aiming to limit GMO content in conventional food and feed to levels below the labelling threshold of 0.9%. The Recommendation also clarifies that Member States can establish GMO-free area and this new Recommendation provides better guidance to Member States to develop co-existence approaches. The European Co-existence Bureau will continue to develop together with Member States best practices for co-existence as well as technical guidelines on related issues.
Legal certainty for the future:
The proposal for revising Directive 2001/18/EC aims to secure legal certainty for Member States when they decide on GMO cultivation on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks. To this end, the Commission proposes to include a new article (26b), which would be applicable to all GMOs that will be authorised for cultivation in the EU, either under Directive 2001/18/EC or under regulation (EC) N1829/2003. Member States will be able to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation in part or all of their territory without recourse to the safeguard clause. Their decisions will not need to be authorised by the Commission, but Member States will have to inform other Member States and the Commission one month before the adoption of their measures. The Member States will also have to respect the general principles of the Treaties and the Single Market, and be consistent with the international obligations of the EU.
At the same time, the EU authorisation system, based on scientific assessment of health and environmental risks will be maintained and further improved, thus ensuring the protection of consumers and the functioning of the internal market for GM and non-GM seeds, as well as for GM food and feed.
The legislative proposal will be adopted through co-decision with the European Parliament and the Council.
For more information please see:
Questions and Answers on the EU's New Approach to the Cultivation of GMOs
- European Commission, Belgium, MEMO/10/325 http://europa.eu/
Why is the Commission adopting this package today and what does it include?
In March 2010, the European Commission announced that it would come back before the summer break with a proposal on how to combine the EU science-based authorisation system with freedom for Member States to decide on the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The package adopted today delivers on this commitment and complies fully with the position set out by President Barroso in the political guidelines he presented in September 2009.
What are co-existence measures and what does the new Recommendation on co-existence change?
The objective of co-existence measures, in areas where GMOs are cultivated, is to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products, preventing the potential economic loss and the impact of traces of GM crops in non-GM crops, such as conventional and organic crops.
Experience gained over the last years shows that Member States need more flexibility to take into consideration their particular local, regional and national conditions when defining measures to organise the cultivation of GM, conventional and organic crops.
The new Recommendation on co-existence recognises that Member States may adopt measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products below the labelling threshold of 0.9%. When co-existence measures are not sufficient to prevent the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional or organic crops, Member States may restrict GMO cultivation in large areas of their territory. Such restriction measures need to be proportionate to the objective pursued (i.e. protection of particular needs of conventional or organic farming).
The Commission published in 2009 the second report on national strategies for coexistence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming. The report shows that 15 Member States adopted legislation on coexistence while three more notified draft legislation.
The European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB) develops together with Member States best practices for co-existence, which take into consideration that Member States need flexibility to take account of their local and regional conditions.
For more information on ECoB: http://ecob.jrc.ec.europa.eu/
What is the current procedure for authorising the cultivation of GMOs?
GMOs are authorised at EU level on a case-by-case basis on the basis of the particular uses defined by the application of the company, after a positive assessment of health and environmental risks. Applications for cultivation of GMOs can be submitted under Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 for GM food and feed if those GMOs are to be used as source material in food and feed production. GMOs can also be authorised under the Directive for the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment (Directive 2001/18/EC) for uses other than food/feed. In both cases, the Member States play a significant role, carrying out the initial risk assessment of the GMO for cultivation.
What are the amendments to the current legislation proposed by the Commission?
The proposed amendment provides for the addition of one article to Directive 2001/18/EC, which explicitly allows Member States to restrict or prohibit cultivation of GMOs on their territories. Member States may use any grounds to do so, other than those covered by the health and environmental risk assessment of the EU authorisation process. Therefore, the proposal gives competence to Member States to decide on cultivation.
When the legal amendment enters into force, Member States will be free to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of all or particular GMOs, in parts of or in their entire territory. This amendment will be applicable to all GMOs that have been authorised for cultivation in the EU, being under Directive 2001/18/EC or under Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003. According to this proposal Member States are only allowed to adopt measures against the cultivation of GMOs. They are not allowed to adopt measures prohibiting the import and/or the marketing in the EU of authorised GM seeds.
Are any GMOs already cultivated in the EU?
Yes. There is one GM maize MON 810 that is commercially cultivated in the EU. This product s genetic modification aims to protect the crop against a harmful pest - the European corn borer. It was authorised in 1998. A GM starch potato, known as 'Amflora' potato, was authorised for cultivation and industrial processing on 2 March 2010. This starch potato has increased amylopectin starch content. The starch is intended for industrial uses, such as production of paper.
What are the GM plants that are authorised in the EU for feed and/or food uses?
Besides cultivation, the placing on the EU market of GMOs and the use of their derived products in the food and feed chain is subject to an EU authorisation. As of today, the list of authorised GMOs includes also: one sugar beet, three soybean, three oilseed-rape, six cotton and 17 maize products.
One of the most recently authorised GMO is the 'Amflora' starch potato. As it is the case for conventional starch potatoes, 'Amflora' is not intended to be used as food. The by-product of the starch potato (pulp) is authorised as feed. The adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of this potato in food and animal feed is authorised up to a level of 0.9%
The list of authorised GM plants and the precise scope of their authorisation is available in the EU register of GM food and feed, which can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm
Have Member States already prohibited GMO cultivation?
Six Member States (Austria, Hungary, France, Greece, Germany and Luxembourg) adopted safeguard measures and prohibited the cultivation of the GM maize MON810 on their territories. Moreover, Austria, Luxembourg and Hungary have notified to the Commission the prohibition of the cultivation of the Amflora potato. Poland has legislation in place forbidding the marketing of all GM seeds.
Member States could now reconsider their safeguard measures on GMO cultivation, when there is no scientific justification, and rather use the more flexible Recommendation on co-existence adopted today to avoid unintended GMO presence in other crops.
Once the addition proposed today of the relevant article to Directive 2001/18/EC is applicable, Member States will be able to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation without resorting to the safeguard clause when no new scientific risk is identified.
Are there any other GMOs for cultivation on which the EU could take decision before the legal change is applicable?
There are more than ten requests for authorisation of GMOs for cultivation (or for their renewal), at different stages of the procedure.
Four GMOs are at an advanced stage. They have received a favourable European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion and their authorisation procedure (or renewal of authorisation procedure) is ongoing. The favourable EFSA opinion concerning the renewal of the authorisation of MON810 maize, conferring protection to the plant against certain insects, was adopted in June 2009. There are two other GM maize products - Bt Maize 1507 (filed by Pioneer) and Bt maize Bt 11 (filed by Syngenta) -, which also confer protection to the plant against certain insects. The favourable EFSA opinions were respectively adopted in January 2005 and April 2005 and draft decisions to authorise these two GMOs were voted on 25 February 2009 in the framework of the Regulatory Committee under Directive 2001/18/EC. No qualified majority was obtained. The fourth one is maize NK 603 (filed by Monsanto), which is tolerant to the herbicide RoundUp. EFSA adopted a favourable opinion on this product in June 2009.
From a procedural point of view, the next step for MON810 and NK603 would be the submission of a draft decision to the Standing Committee for Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) (first step of the comitology procedure). Bt 11 and Bt 1507 are in the middle of the Comitology procedure, the next procedural step being the submission of decisions to the Council.
What improvements have been made to the environmental risk assessment of GMOs since the Council s request in December 2008?
The Commission and EFSA, together with the Member States, are working on the particular areas for improvement of the implementation of the GMO legislation, identified by the 2008 Environment Council conclusions.
The update of the EFSA guidelines for the environmental risk assessment is ongoing and covers the specific areas requested by the Council. Given the complexity of the topic, the need to ensure a broad consultation process and the large number of public comments (approximately 500), EFSA is expected to finish the guidelines in November 2010. The Commission will then discuss these guidelines with Member States to give them normative value with the Member States endorsement.
Furthermore, EFSA is engaged in dialogue with Member States and stakeholders, enabling them to contribute to its scientific work. EFSA has created a network of Member State experts to exchange scientific knowledge and experience. EFSA is also considering all Member States comments during the entire risk assessment process.
In addition, EFSA has a comprehensive set of internal mechanisms and working processes to safeguard the independence of the scientific work of its Scientific Committee and Panels, including a comprehensive policy on declarations of interest for its scientific experts. EFSA keeps this policy under regular review, and as encouraged by the Commission, will continue to strengthen the examination of the independence of its experts.
The Commission is analysing how to further reinforce the post-market environmental monitoring of GMO crops, in line with the provisions of the current legislation and the 2008 Environment Council conclusions.
When will the Commission finalise the report on the socio-economic implications of GMOs?
In December 2008, the Council requested the Commission to provide a report on the socio-economic implications of GMOs by June 2010 This report should be based on information provided by Member States, which have made an important effort to compile information on the socio-economic implications of GMOs and, notably, of their cultivation. But given that Member States contributions arrived later than expected, the Commission will finalize its report by the end of 2010. This report will then be submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council for consideration and further discussion.
Can we anticipate a speeding-up of the authorization process of GMOs and a rising of surface of GM cultivated areas in the EU?
There is no speeding up of authorisations or weakening of the rigorous environmental risk assessment requirements of the legislation. The proposal the Commission adopts today does not change these requirements. To the contrary, work on the implementation of the 2008 Council conclusions is since ongoing. Moreover, ensuring a safety assessment following the highest scientific standards and a reinforcement of the monitoring function were and remain priorities for the Commission as concerns GMO cultivation.
For more information http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm
Commission's Nationalisation of Approval for the Cultivation of GM Crops
- EuropaBio, Brussels, July 13, 2010 http://www.europabio.org
This afternoon EuropaBio provided industry's initial reactions to Commissioner Dalli's announcement of the
Commission's proposal to nationalise the authorisation of cultivation of GM crops.
Commenting on the proposal, EuropaBio Secretary General, Nathalie Moll, said: "EuropaBio recognised
President Barroso's commitment early on to develop a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy and we
were also encouraged by the Commission's goal of embracing responsible European innovation across all
sectors. Furthermore, we appreciated the vision put forward by the Commission of enabling the EU member
states to move forward on the issue of GM crop cultivation at their own pace. Central to this vision must be
permitting those member states and their farmers who wish to embrace the benefits of GM crops the freedom
to do so."
Consequently, industry is disappointed that today's proposal does not appear to provide a means of
delivering this vision in that it disables rather than enables the application of beneficial and rigorously tested
agricultural biotech products and technologies. We strongly believe that for the proposal to be workable it
must be science-based, proportionate in its recommendations and non-discriminatory to those farmers that
wish to choose to grow the crops that work best for them. Without due respect for these fundamental
principles, the resulting policy will be detrimental to the overall sustainability and success of the European
agricultural sector as a whole.
EuropaBio Director for Agricultural Biotechnology, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, explained: "These proposals
appear to give carte blanche to ban safe and approved GM crops in any country or region regardless of the
needs or wishes of their farmers. In addition, the proposals will inject further legal uncertainty for those
farmers that do wish to grow these crops. The upshot is that even as we contemplate a future fraught with the
challenges of globalisation, climate change, food insecurity and shortage of natural resources, we will be
denying our farmers the ability to use cutting edge technologies, already available to their counterparts
outside the EU, to help them to deal with these same challenges".
EuropaBio and its members remain committed to applying their expertise towards providing sustainable and
beneficial products and technologies giving European farmers and consumers a greater choice in what they
grow, buy and eat.
Joint Spanish, Romanian and Portuguese Delegation Calls for Fairer Access to GM Crops and Technologies
- EuropaBio, Belgium
Today and tomorrow a delegation of Spanish, Romanian and Portuguese farmers and farming associations meet in Brussels to demand fairer access to the agricultural biotech products and technologies available to their global competitors.
The group has come to Europe's capital to highlight the extent to which the EU is disadvantaging its farmers and its agricultural sector in general in terms of producing more food more sustainably, using fewer resources. They are calling for science-based decision making, better access to EFSA approved GM crops and food and feed as well as workable coexistence measures that do not discriminate against those farmers that wish to grow GM crops.
Speaking at the event, Dan Botanoiu Executive Manager of the Romanian National Farmer s Federation said: 'Before accession to the EU, Romania was producing' 150 million worth of GM Soy. Since Europe has not approved cultivation of this crop, when we joined the Union we immediately lost this income. As a result we are now importing 500,000 tonnes of soy from South America each year just to meet our domestic needs. The net result is we loose our own income and we have to find the finances to buy-in what we used to produce, with the finances going to our competitors in the Americas. In our view this is completely unnecessary and unsustainable
Antonio Villarroel, Secretary General of the Spanish biotech association ANTAMA added "We demand that Spanish farmers have the right to access the same technologies available to farmers elsewhere in the world. Many Spanish farmers have successfully adopted the cultivation of GM maize which is allowing them to produce greater yields of higher quality food using fewer resources. But we have real fears that the new proposals that the Commission will announce tomorrow will make it harder and harder for us to coexist successfully with other types of farming. We believe these proposals will discriminate against us unfairly and that they could result in impossible coexistence measures being imposed upon us"
The delegations including farmers, agronomists and a range of stakeholders held a workshop to highlight their situation and concerns this morning and will meet with a range of stakeholders asking for their concerns to be heard and reacted upon this afternoon and tomorrow. They will then go to the European Parliament to hear Commissioner John Dalli make the announcement of the new nationalisation proposals.
Gabriela Cruz, a Portuguese Farmer, concluded: "We have already made a relative success of growing GM crops in successful co-existence with other types of farming in Portugal. In doing this we have seen massive benefits for both our farmers and our environments. But we are genuinely worried that the Commission's new proposals will cause even greater confusion within regions and municipalities in Portugal. Already our farmers suffer because of contradictory decisions at the level of Portuguese administration restricting a higher adoption rate of GM crops. This means that GM farmers cannot access the agro-environmental supporting measures that other farmers are entitled to, just because they are growing GM. We fear even more unfair discrimination in the future and we want to be here and on record as being totally opposed to any proposal which worsens these inequalities."
Indian Scientist Reviews the Moratorium on Bt Brinjal
Scientist C. Kameswara Rao reviews the document released by the Minister of Environment and Forests of the Government of India that declares a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal (eggplant) in India. Through a scientific review process Dr. Rao points out the bias and lack of scientific reason in the moratorium document, and then provides real evidence that supports the safety and efficacy of Bt brinjal.
Full text of the review at http://www.whybiotech.com/resources/thirdpartystudies.asp
Moratorium on Bt Brinjal: A Review of The Order of The Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, India; firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: On February 9, 2010, the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, following a seven-city public consultation process, put on hold the October 14, 2009 recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercial release of Bt brinjal, and declared a moratorium of an unspecified period on Bt brinjal. The moratorium document (MD) has a text of 19 pages in 31 paragraphs, containing the opinions and responses of the MoEF to the consultation process, and selected submissions, from various interest groups, which constituted the four Annexures of 532 pages, all posted on the Ministry's website at www.moef.nic.in. The Annexures contain a) a report on the seven consultation meetings (Annexure I), b) letters from Chief Ministers of States (Annexure II), c) submissions by Scientists in India (Annexure IIIA) and abroad (Annexure IIIB) and d) submissions by interested individuals and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) (Annexure IV). The GEAC and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) did not get an opportunity to present their stand at the public consultation meetings.
To facilitate more people to know the arguments of the MoEF in support of his decision, the MD is reviewed here in pointed reference to the material in the Annexures. Part A of this review is an analysis of text of the order, supported by references to scientific literature, and Part B is a summary of the Annexures II to IV. Annexure I is not reviewed here as a hard copy is published.
The MoEF stated that the GEAC is a statutory body authorized to grant approval for environmental release of genetically modified organisms, yet seized the opportunity presented to him by the GEAC by putting up its recommendation for commercial release of Bt brinjal to the government, for a final decision. Notwithstanding his assurance that the moratorium applies only to Bt brinjal, and to no other genetically engineered (GE) crops under development, the moratorium created a regulatory uncertainty. No research and development of GE crops is possible without the shadow cast by the moratorium. There are already second thoughts on some transgenic vegetable projects that are in advanced stages. No investor, Indian or foreign, feels secure in pursuing even the existing projects, let alone starting new ones. With bleak prospects of employment caused by the slump, education and training in GE crop technology will also suffer.
Of the 28 States and seven Union Territories in the Indian Union, only nine have actually opposed the release of Bt brinjal 'at this point of time' and four conveyed no decision and the stand of the rest of the States is unknown.
Yet, the MoEF claimed that all States who responded to his letter have expressed apprehension and the Media erroneously reported that all the States have rejected Bt brinjal.
Ignoring the vast scientific evidence, the MoEF gave credence to activist claims that a) Bt brinjal may contain unknown toxins, b) India is the country of origin of brinjal and brinjal is a largely self pollinated crop, and hence gene flow from Bt brinjal would lead to the loss of currently available diversity of brinjal in India, and c) as there is a lot of uncertainty and doubt about the safety of Bt brinjal, the 'Precautionary Principle' makes the moratorium imperative.
The MoEF had also supported the other view points of the activists such as a) alternatives to Bt technology such as 'no pesticide management' practices should be considered, b) biosecurity tests were conducted only by the product developers and not in any independent institution thereby casting serious doubts on its reliability and credibility, c) absence of publicly funded effort in GE crop development in India leads to the dominance of the private sector, d) release of Bt brinjal would result in Monsanto dominating Indian agriculture, e) need for an independent GE regulatory body (meaning the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) now being set up as the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India, BRAI)) as the integrity of the GEAC process is questioned, and f) other countries opposing GE crops and foods. These are not issues related to the safety of Bt brinjal or environmental concerns arising on account of its commercial release. More importantly, there is no credible evidence in support of any of these assumptions.
Of the 18 scientists from abroad who made submissions to the MoEF, eight supported Bt brinjal and the rest were critical of it. The MoEF ignored the supporting arguments and heavily leaned on those who opposed Bt brinjal recognizing them as 'independent scientists'. The most conspicuous among them is Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from Paris, who was commissioned by Greenpeace to evaluate the Indian Bt brinjal dossier and Seralini's comments are being widely used by the activists. No reasons were given as to why no positive recommendation was seriously considered by the MoEF.
There are 26 submissions from scientists in India, 16 supporting and 10 opposing Bt brinjal. Here again the MoEF almost totally rejected very valid scientific arguments of the supporters. The apprehension that Bt brinjal would hamper the use of brinjal in Alternative Systems of Medicine has also become a contentious issue, though the cultivated brinjal has no known medicinal value. Socio-economic issues were mixed up with the science of biosecurity regulation. The MoEF strongly feels that Bt brinjal developed in the public sector institutions needs to be introduced first, not realizing the serious legal implications as this idea constitutes discrimination against private sector.
The MoEF leaned heavily on Dr MS Swaminathan's letter in support of the moratorium. Dr Swaminathan recommended that the existing brinjal diversity be conserved and long term toxicological tests be conducted before Bt brinjal is released, which overlooks the large body of evidence that is already available on both the issues. Dr Swaminathan also emphasized the need for an independent regulatory system before Bt brinjal is released, meaning that Bt brinjal will not see the light of the day till BRAI is in place which would take several years.
The MoEF has selected two submissions in support and 13 against Bt brinjal from the among the submissions by CSOs and concerned individuals. There are some elaborate documents opposing Bt brinjal from CSOs and petitioners in the Supreme Court of India against GE crops, that are in essence a consolidation of the critical view points of Professor Seralini and Dr Pushpa Bhargava. The operative principle of the MoEF here is that the studies being demanded by responsible civil society groups before release of Bt brinjal should be conducted as a measure of our sensitivity to public opinion, trashing the combined Indian and global scientific opinion on the safety and efficacy of Bt brinjal which was developed for public good. The MoEF has not for a moment thought of the underlying forces behind the opposition to Bt brinjal such as the pesticide and organic lobbies and scientifically baseless activist arguments.
The MoEF wants the moratorium period to be used a) to build a broader consensus on GE in agriculture, b) operationalize an independent regulatory body, c) evolve strategies for retaining public and farmer control over agriculture, and d) to have a detailed debate in the Parliament and the National Development Council (NDC) on these issues. These are broader issues, even if relevant to Bt brinjal, would take several years before decisions come and therefore delay the decision on Bt brinjal by a decade.
The MoEF has asked the GEAC to consult scientists to draw up fresh protocol for the specific tests that will have to be conducted in order to generate public confidence, by completely trashing all scientific evidence gathered on the efficacy and safety of Bt brinjal so far. Besides, the scientists he named for GEAC's consultation have already expressed their opinion to the MoEF.
The MoEF's Bt brinjal exercise has obfuscated the entire issue and created a new breed of experts. With emotion riding a rough shod over scientific reason, decision making has been further politicized. The moratorium may have gladdened those who claim to represent the public, but threatens the deployment of a safe technology aimed to benefit the public. The critical science based activity of biosecurity evaluation of GE crops is now replaced by the whims of the politicians and professional protestors on the street. The MoEF supported the alarmist and paranoid activism that imagines demons where there are none. At this rate, the nation will not be able to derive the full benefit of modern agricultural biotechnology for a very long time to come.
Full text of the review at http://www.whybiotech.com/resources/thirdpartystudies.asp
Is Organic Food Better for You? A Critical Look at Organic Claims
- Ashleigh Mattern, The Sheaf: Univ. of Saskatchewan Student Newspaper, July 13, 2010.
Full text at http://thesheaf.com/2010/07/is-organic-food-better-for-you/
The average North American grocery shopper has only a vague idea of how their food is grown, processed and transported to the supermarket.
The agriculture-to-grocery-store process is a complex machine that seems almost like magic: row upon row of shiny fruits and vegetables appear in the store every day in seemingly unending amounts. But it's not magic, and many consumers are aware of this, and becoming wary of the great agriculture machine.
For some, organic foods seem to be the answer. Producers tout organics as the answer to the toxic, mutant fruits and vegetables that crowd the grocery store. They encourage consumers to pay a little more for peace of mind, painting organics as the safer alternative.
Organic producers say their food tastes better, is more nutritious, and is better for the environment. But in an effort to be wary of salespeople's pitches, I decided to get to the roots of claims about organic foods.
Initially, one of the biggest barriers for me when considering buying organic foods was the price. To compare what I might spend on an average grocery trip, I took my regular grocery list to an organic market.
The biggest surprise for me was the price of milk. My boyfriend and I drink a lot of milk, and so I buy four litres a week. A four-litre jug of organic milk cost a whopping $12.19, compared to the Co-op brand four-litre I usually buy at $3.99.
I would have spent about $60 on organics, compared to about $30 on conventional foods. That's a pretty big price difference, and no small difference for a student, but most people don't buy all their food organic. Organic fruits and vegetables have the most competitive prices, and the organic lemons were actually 10 cents cheaper.
As more organic producers get into the market, the prices will continue to drop, as well. For a fairly well-off family, paying an extra dollar for organic ground beef may seem worth the perceived added benefits. Unfortunately, I had only started my journey into the world of organic food. Soon enough, price was the least of my worries.
Nutritious and delicious?
Proponents of organic food say it has more vitamins and nutrients and it tastes better. The taste factor may never be scientifically settled as it is completely subjective, but at least one study has determined the nutritious value of organic foods: they're no more nutritious than non-organics.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition surveyed over 50,000 published articles about organic food, focusing on 55 studies that met their scientific standards.
They found more nitrogen in conventional crops and more phosphorus in organic crops, but concluded that "there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs." There were fewer published studies on livestock, but of the studies they did have, they found no nutritional difference between organics and non-organics.
Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, oh my!
There are strict regulations on what foods can be labelled organic. When talking to the owner of an organic market recently, he said "no pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers" can be used, but this simply isn't true. Organic farmers can't use synthetic products on their crops, only "natural" products. The seemingly logical conclusion is that any natural pesticide or fertilizers is safer than a synthetic one, but again, this isn't true.
One fertilizer some organic farmers use is manure. What the person selling you organic food won't tell you is that food grown in a manure-based fertilizer has a higher chance of containing E. coli because the virus thrives in the bellies of cows.
The bottom line is that nearly all pesticides are bad for humans, whether they're natural or synthetic. Luckily, the amount of harm they can do has a direct relation to the amount of pesticide you're exposed to. The Extension Toxicology Network explains that pesticides decline over time. Residues left on the food after washing and processing break down eventually, and the levels of pesticides and herbicides on the food is "well below legal limits" by the time the food reaches the grocery store. Organic food proponents say there have been no studies showing low levels of pesticides and herbicides do no harm, but this is also not entirely true.
Pesticides are anything used to defend against fungi, insects and predators. A little known fact is that most fruits and vegetables produce their own pesticides. A paper written by Bruce Ames, who invented the Ames test to determine whether a compound is carcinogenic, says the average American ingests 1,500 mg of natural pesticides per day, compared to 0.09 mg of synthetic pesticide residues.
"The amounts of synthetic pesticide residues in plant foods are insignificant compared to the amount of natural pesticides produced by plants themselves," the paper says.
Touting the claim that the effects of exposure to low levels of pesticides has not been studied, one organic-supporting website suggests that "In the absence of this information, the safest course is not to expose yourself to chemicals designed and proven to kill other forms of life." Sticking with this strain of logic, should we stop eating all fruits and vegetables? Natural pesticides may not be synthetically designed, but they certainly have been proven to kill other forms of life.
Genetically modified foods
As with irradiation, the rejection of genetically modified foods seems to stem from fear and misunderstanding. "People have to understand that all the foods we have right now---have all undergone genetic modification; that's where you take one cultivar and cross it with another cultivar," said Dr. Nicholas Low, a professor with the U of S's College of Agriculture and Bioresources. "We want them to grow fast; we want the tomatoes to grow big- When people talk to me about GM, I don't think they understand that everything we eat has been modified."
He says the difference between the old fashioned way of crossing cultivars and genetically modifying it by moving genes from one plant to another is that a very specific modification is made. In fact, Low says "These genetically modified foods are safer because we know the genome of these plants." Basically, no changes happen by accident.
Since GM foods can gain genetic materials from other plant species, some consumers and anti-GM groups worry this means allergens might end up in non-allergenic foods, for example, genes from a nut used in grains. In fact, this has been tried: in 1996, the seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International attempted to use genes from the Brazil nut to make their soybeans hardier.
Pioneer dropped the project when the testers pointed out the folly of using a known allergen to enhance other foods.
GM foods aren't developed over night. They go through years of trials and testing guided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. If it's not fit to be consumed, it won't be approved.
That's not to say there aren't risks involved in the use of GM foods. Critics have legitimate concerns about the possibility of GM foods having an impact on biodiversity or the potential effects of horizontal gene transfer, where genes from the modified crops would transfer into wild crops. So far, GM foods aren't in wide enough use to know if horizontal gene transfer can happen or to say if they have an effect on biodiversity (in fact, at least one scientist believes GM crops might promote biodiversity). But we have to ask ourselves if the potential risks outweigh the known benefits.
A complete rejection of genetically modified foods might be a mistake. "GM foods have the potential to solve world hunger and maltnutrition problems and protect the environment," said Low. "We could use our foods to help to prevent disease rather than having medicine as a the middle man."
Flat-out rejecting GM foods might mean rejecting better nutrition and feeding the world's growing population. Perhaps the better path is to continue investigating this relatively new science, but tread carefully.
Fresher is better
The Dieticians of Canada and Canada's Food Guide have no official stance on organics, simply suggesting to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But organic foods are also not all the proponents make them out to be. It's not healthier or safer, and if used improperly, natural pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are just as dangerous for the environment and humans as synthetic products.
The process of bringing organic food to your table is every bit as complicated as it is for conventional foods. The best way to feel better about your food choices is to learn about agriculture and how the food gets from the farm to your local grocery store, not by simply assuming organic food as the better choice.
"If you say, 'I choose to eat organic foods,' that's fine," said Dr. Nicholas Low, "but if you say, 'I eat organic foods because it's better for me,' I have a problem with that."
Next time you're trying to decide between an organic or conventional food item, you might want to consider your reasons behind the choice a little more carefully.
Correction: Live webcast is on July 19 (and not July 9)
Live Webcast - Biotechnology: What Food Companies Need to Know
- Institute of Food Technologists, July 19, 2010 8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. CDT