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October 13, 2010


Transgenic Harvest; Beachy on BBC; Filling the Cupboard; Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Protocol


* Transgenic Harvest
* Dr. Roger Beachy, the father of GM foods in BBC
* Filling the Cupboard: U.N. Estimates the World’s Hungry at Almost 1 Billion
* C’mon, Forbes Wasn’t Entirely Wrong About Monsanto
* Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Protocol on Liability and Redress

Transgenic Harvest

- Editorial, Nature 467, p633–634, October 7, 2010 http://www.nature.com/

‘African nations are laying foundations to extend the use of GM’

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops for food divides opinion, especially when it comes to Africa. Sharp views on the technology in the developed world, honed by more than a decade of arguments in Europe and elsewhere, are too easily projected onto Africa, with the continent portrayed as a passive participant in the global melodrama over GM food. So it is heartening to see a group of 19African nations working to develop policies that should make it clear to all sides in the debate that Africa can make up its own mind.

After more than nine years, talks between member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have produced a draft policy on GM technology, which was sent for national consultation last month. COMESA is a trade bloc, and its proposals aim to develop research and trade in GM crops. But they also state that decisions should be based on sound science and evidence.

Under the proposals, a nation that wants to grow a GM crop commercially would inform COMESA, which would then carry out a science-based risk assessment — COMESA seems to have sufficient access to scientific expertise to fulfil this role. The body would judge whether the crop is safe for the environment and human consumption. If the assessment proves positive, blanket approval would probably be given for the crop to be grown commercially in all COMESA countries. National governments would retain the power to decide whether or not to proceed.

Risk assessments are currently left to individual countries, but this requires scientific expertise, money and a well-established regulatory system. That combination is rare in Africa, and only four countries — Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya — have passed laws specifically to govern GM organisms. This helps to explain why there are so few GM crops grown commercially across Africa. Even field trials of GM crops are scarce, although tests of a banana engineered to resist bacterial disease will begin in Uganda this week.

Under the COMESA plan, the African nations are consulting on a biosafety road map to guide the development of national regulations on transgenic organisms, and on regimes and mechanisms for monitoring and inspection. A communication strategy to provide countries with the latest scientific information on GM organisms is also under discussion.

The consultation is expected to continue until March, with a decision coming from the relevant ministers soon after. If agreed, the proposals will help many more African nations to explore agricultural biotechnology should they wish to, and perhaps to profit from the increased food security that the technology has the potential to provide. By working together, nations will also benefit from greater access to the experience of commercial issues relating to GM technologythat is currently the preserve of just a few African countries.

For their efforts so far, these nations should be applauded, as should the African scientists who have managed to get their voices heard in a difficult and contentious debate. The moves signal a shift towards evidence-based assessments of technologies that could hold much promise for the continent.

African countries have been wise to draw from the speed and enthusiasm with which nations such as Brazil have exploited GM technology, rather than the confused and fearful stance of European countries such as France. The few GM crop initiatives across Africa are already dispelling some myths peddled by the anti-GM lobby, such as the image of poor African farmers being exploited by profiteering multinational companies. In fact, many of the existing projects involving GM organisms in Africa are public–private partnerships through which companies donate their best technologies royalty-free.

It is by no means certain that the COMESA proposals will get through the consultation unscathed. A key sticking point is concern in some countries that regional guidelines would usurp national sovereignty. And although Zambia is the only country in the bloc to take an explicit anti-GM stance, others are pushing for tougher rules that could restrict the adoption of the technology.

African countries should not let ideological opposition to GM technology cloud the admirably clear view that they have taken on the issue so far. Food and water shortages that already ravage the continent will only get worse, and GM technology offers a promising way to tackle poverty and poor agricultural productivity. The question is not whether countries there should adopt GM crops, but how quickly.


Dr. Roger Beachy, the father of GM foods on scientific ignorance and
our moral obligations.

- BBC - One Planet, Oct 7, 2010 Listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00b2rgn
Dr Roger Beachy is an expert on plant viruses and the biotechnology of plants. But if you recognise his name, a different phrase is likely to jump into your mind: genetically modified foods.
Two decades ago, his research - in collaboration with Monsanto - helped develop the world's first genetically modified crop (a tomato). In this week's show, Mike sits down with him to discuss his work and the world's attitudes to his creation.
Scientific ignorance is a major obstacle according to Dr Beachy, who argues the public's understanding of cutting edge science has deteriorated over the past 50 years - and this is leading to misunderstandings when it comes to GM crops. He also passionately urges nations to share their knowledge and research to help the world's growing population feed itself; with GM crops central to that goal.
Listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00b2rgn
Filling the Cupboard: U.N. Estimates the World’s Hungry at Almost 1 Billion
- Biotech Now, October 8, 2010 http://biotech-now.org
‘Food and Agricultural Organization points to biotechnology as a key to expanding food sources quickly and inexpensively’
This year alone, 925 million people will go hungry or be malnourished That’s the data in a new report to be issued this month from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. FAO says that although this figure represents a decline from the previous year, it’s not significant enough to achieve hunger reduction goals.
Additionally, the slight decline was expected, says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. It’s the result of the world’s economy bouncing back from the trauma of 2008’s economic collapse and food prices stabilizing, which gave larger swaths of the population access to food supplies. But this is no reason for world leaders to rest on their laurels, says Diouf, who is urging world leaders and policymakers to stay diligent in the fight against world hunger.
“At close to 1 billion, hunger remains unacceptable. A child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment-related problems is the world’s largest tragedy and scandal,” he says. “The current number is higher than the level that existed when world leaders agreed to reduce the number of hungry by half at the World Food Summit in 1996. To meet the first MDG [Millennium Development Goal] on hunger reduction, the prevalence of hunger in developing countries needs to be reduced to 10 percent by 2015.”
The way forward, according to Diouf, is through investment in agriculture in developing countries, where the world population spike to 9 billion by 2050 will be felt the most. In the short term, government leaders and agencies must institute social protection programs to reach people in immediate need.
Biotech Is a Necessity
Biotechnology will play a huge role in these efforts, the FAO report says. Crops improved through biotechnology contributed production gains of 29.6 million metric tons for items such as soybeans, corn, canola and cotton in 2008. Proliferation of these products and those like them will help farmers across the globe increase harvests and yields, which help feed the world’s hungry, says BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood.
BIO has long been a proponent of incorporating biotech crops and products as a means of ending global hunger. Greenwood lauds the Obama administration’s recent announcement of an initiative to increase global food supplies by 50 percent to meet expected demand.
“Agricultural biotechnology has an important role to play in these efforts. Today’s farmers are sowing seeds that yield more per acre while resisting insect pests and reducing the impact on the environment,” Greenwood says. “We know we can increase the world’s food supply for both the short and the long term. We can help alleviate hunger, raise farmers’ incomes, improve health and nutrition, expand opportunities and strengthen regional economies.”


C’mon, Forbes Wasn’t Entirely Wrong About Monsanto

- Matthew Herper, Forbes, Oct. 13 2010 http://blogs.forbes.com/matthewherper/2010/10/13/cmon-forbes-wasnt-entirely-wrong-about-monsanto/?boxes=businesschannelsections

Over at The Treatment, my colleague Bob Langreth is wearing a hairshirt over the cover story we co-wrote naming Monsanto Forbes’ Company of the Year, which came complete with a glowing image of Monsanto chief executive Hugh Grant. You can also watch Bob gleefully self-flagellate in this video debate with me. But me? I’m feeling less penitent, particularly after seeing the comments on Bob’s post, which follow the worn out trope of calling Monsanto a “bio-terrorist.”

Look, there’s no denying that as a stock pick, Monsanto ten months ago was absolutely, completely and unequivocally horrible. Our Company of the Year covers are traditionally awarded for stellar past performance over a period of years, and that creates the trap that sometimes we pick a company that has completely and totally peaked. Think Paula Abdul in 1993. Or in the case of another Forbes Company of the Year, Pfizer in 1998. Still, mea culpa, and with any other company I’d spend the rest of this post begging for forgiveness.

But I don’t want to. I want to emphasize that much of what we wrote in that Monsanto cover is still true. Genetically engineered crops do represent a way to get higher yields. There’s been no link between them and any health consequences. Even the StarLink fiasco a decade ago, when an Aventis CropScience gene only approved for animal use got into Taco Bell taco shells that were sold in stores didn’t result in harm to people. There was some worry about butterfly populations being harmed, but that didn’t pan out. And there are cases where genetic modification of crops had big benefits. For instance, in preserving papaya crops. Much of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically modified to protect against a viral blight that almost wiped out crops a decade ago. (It’s not a Monsanto trait, but it is an example of the way this technology can be used to good ends.)

Monsanto’s business problems aren’t a moral defeat, they are strategic flubs. Its new brand of genetically modified crops isn’t performing as expected, weeds have evolved resistance to the weed-killer that it sold for years, and the company is facing an anti-trust investigation from the U.S. government. Some of those problems were mentioned in our story, but we should have made a bigger deal about all of them. But we still need genetically modified crops, Monsanto is still the leader, and I think people should be careful about writing them off in the long term.

Monsanto, as I see it, has two big problems that go beyond its business hiccups. One is that people hate them, even more than they hate drug companies or other crop companies. Syngenta, DuPont, and Bayer don’t get called juvenile names like Monstersanto and Monsatan. Part of this the company’s fault, for the ham-fisted way it introduced GM crops in the first place and for the way it has treated farmers and scientists since.

Which brings me to the second big problem: Monsanto has not been open enough in finding ways to let researchers study its genetic traits or invent new ones. This is a lot like the software business before open source became force: everything is locked down and shut tight. This won’t work anymore. Monsanto is backing one of the hottest DNA sequencing companies, Pacific Biosciences; it also needs to adopt the openness that is becoming standard in human genetic research. This is especially important because some experts think the next wave of genetically modified crops may come from government-funded labs as well as industry ones. It’s going to be important for Monsanto to play the field to come up with new opportunities. The real danger is that its pipeline could run dry.

It would be a waste of a crisis if Monsanto didn’t use its current stock market problems to fix the things that are wrong with its business model. Come on, Hugh. Open up. To mimic the words of dentists everywhere, it won’t hurt a bit.


The Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Protocol on Liability and Redress for Damage Resulting from Living Modified Organisms born in Nagoya


Nagoya, 12 October, 2010 – After more than six years of intense negotiations, Parties to the Biosafety Protocol finalized the negotiation of a new treaty known as the ―Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety‖.

Named after two cities where the final rounds of negotiations were held, the new treaty will establish international rules and procedures for liability and redress in case of damage to biological diversity resulting from living modified organisms.

The text of the Supplementary Protocol was agreed upon a few hours before the opening of the fifth meeting of the COP-MOP by a group of government representatives, known the ―Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs on Liability and Redress in the Context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety‖ that was established by the last meeting of the governing body of the Protocol (COP- MOP) in Bonn, Germany. The Group was mandated to undertake further negotiations towards a legally binding instrument on liability and redress and submit its outcomes to the fifth meeting.

In his statement made at the opening of the fifth meeting of the COP-MOP, Mr. Michihiko Kano, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan and host of the meeting, said: ―The agreement reached this morning on the contentious and complex issue of liability and redress that had dodged us for more than six years marks a turning point for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The new treaty provides a good opportunity for us to renew our efforts to tackle the global biodiversity challenges in order to protect the life of current and next generations. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that we pass on to the next generation a wealth of biodiversity and lifestyles that coexist harmoniously with nature‖.

Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity said: ―The agreement to adopt the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress is a major milestone in the global effort to protect life on earth. The unprecedented naming of the new treaty after two cities located in the North and the South sends a clear and strong political message that addressing the challenges facing us today requires a new North South partnership and cooperation and calls for a new way of doing business.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity United Nations Environment Programme 413 Saint-Jacques Street, Suite 800, Montreal, QC, H2Y 1N9, Canada Tel : +1 514 288 2220, Fax : +1 514 288 6588 secretariat@cbd.int www.cbd.int

Notes for Journalists
1. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to contribute to ensuring the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.
2. The Protocol was adopted on 29 January 2000 in Montreal, Canada and entered into force on 11 September 2003. To date, 159 countries and the European Union have ratified or acceded to it.
3. The governing body of the Protocol, known as the ―Conference of the Parties to Convention on Biological Diversity serving as meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (or COP-MOP, in short), has held four meetings—in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004; in Montreal in June 2005; in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006; and in Bonn in May 2008.
4. Article 27 of the Protocol states that: ―The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall, at its first meeting, adopt a process with respect to the appropriate elaboration of international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms, analysing and taking due account of the ongoing processes in international law on these matters, and shall endeavour to complete this process within four years.‖
5. The first COP-MOP meeting established an "Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Liability and Redress in the Context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety" to undertake the process referred to in Article 27 of the Protocol. The Working Group completed its work and submitted its final report to COP-MOP 4. After reviewing the report of the Working Group and taking into account the work undertaken at the fourth meeting, COP-MOP decided to establish a Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs with a mandate to further negotiate international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress on the basis of the text agreed at COP-MOP 4. The Group of the Friends of the Co- Chairs held four meetings as follows: 23 to 27 February 2009 in Mexico City; 8 to 12 February 2010 and 15 to 19 June 2010 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and 6 to 11 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.
6. At the beginning of COP-MOP 5, a legal drafting group was established to look into the legal consistency and accuracy of the text of the Supplementary Protocol in all the six official languages of the United Nations.
7. The Supplementary Protocol will be opened for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 7 March 2011 to 6 March 2012.
For additional information, please contact: Mr. Erie Tamale on +81 806 990 4177 or at erie.tamale@cbd.int Ms. Ulrika Nilsson on +81 806 990 4180 or at ulrika.nilsson@cbd.int
Additional information is available at the following websites:
Protocol website: http://www.cbd.int/biosafety MOP 5 media website: http://www.cbd.int/mop5/meeting/media/ Frequently asked questions: http://www.cbd.int/biosafety/faqs.asp-