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October 26, 2010


Why Europe In Dark; Power to the People – Federoff; Aussies Give Thumbs Up; Policies Affecting Biotech and Trade


* Global Farmers Ask: Why are European Farmers In the Dark?
* Power to the People: A Former US Science Adviser Speaks Up
* Aussies Give Thumbs Up to Biotechnology
* Economic Impacts of Policies Affecting Crop Biotechnology and Trade


Global Farmers Ask: Why are European Farmers Not Allowed to Take Advantage of Agricultural Innovations?

- EuropaBio, Brussels 26 October 2010

Did you know:
* 14 million farmers around the world grow GM crops and over 90% are small and resource-poor farmers.
* Since 1996/97, Brazilian farmers have accumulated nearly US $4 billion as direct benefits from the adoption of biotech crops.
* Farming biotech cotton in Burkina Faso, which is up to 30% more productive per hectare, has allowed more land to be used for growing food.

* According the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), this year alone, 925 million people will go hungry or be malnourished.
* The UN estimates that by 2050 the world will need a further 70% of available food.
* By 2020 around a third of the world’s population will be living in regions facing low levels of water.

* According to Action Aid, food security is predicted to deteriorate further in Africa, to the point that nearly 50 percent of Africans could be going without enough food by 2020.
* In the EU, only two GM crops have been approved for cultivation, while an additional 20 have been submitted and are awaiting authorisation.

Farmers around the globe have witnessed the benefits of using products derived from agricultural biotechnology, such as improved food security and better incomes. Their political leaders, they say, have shaped policies that allow them to reap these benefits to help their families and communities. Yet, they ask: why has Europe—long admired for its cutting-edge innovation—fallen so far behind in agriculture? Six farmers from around the globe – Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, the Philippines, and Uganda – are participating in a series of meetings and events in Brussels, London and Paris to show European leaders how technological advances have improved their food and economic security.

During today’s event in Brussels, “Sustainable Solutions for Food Security,” seven farmers and international experts—including Roberto Ridolfi, Head of Unit in EuropeAid at the European Commission, Mayra Moro-Coco, Policy Officer at Action Aid, and Justus Wesseler, Associate Professor at Wageningen University—discussed Europe’s role in ensuring food security.

A farmer who spoke at the event, Ms. Rosalie Ellasus from the Philippines, noted, “I’m surprised that European farmers can’t take advantage of GM crops. The safety and benefits of this technology have been proven, and we need as many solutions as possible to help feed a growing population and improve farmers’ economic situations. Since I began farming GM maize in 2003, I’ve had higher yields, fewer pests and greater profits – I wonder when European farmers will experience these same benefits. As a widow raising three boys, I was able to leave behind my career as a medical technologist and pursue my dream – becoming a successful small farmer.”

Justus Wesseler, Associate Professor at Wageningen University, sees the benefits of GM crops for Europe: "Farmers around the world are actively benefiting from GM crops thanks to their governments' policies. Let's make sure that EU policies will do the same for European farmers, and allow them to capitalise on cutting-edge environmentally-friendly agricultural technologies."

Nathalie Moll, Secretary-General of EuropaBio, stated: “It is truly motivating and inspiring to meet farmers from around the world who are benefiting from biotechnology’s scientific advances and products in tangible ways to help their economies and their sustainability, and I look forward to the day when Europe will have managed to catch up with the developing world in that respect!”


Power to the People: A Former US Science Adviser Says People Can Often Achieve More Than Governments

Nicola Jones, Nature, Oct. 2010 | http://www.nature.com/

‘Nina Federoff says the United States needs more scientifically literate people in government.’

Nina Fedoroff is preparing to take up the reins of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February next year. Having finished a three-year stint as science adviser to US secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton this July, Federoff is getting back to her roots in plant genetics by heading up a new centre for desert agriculture in Saudi Arabia. Nature caught up with her at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Montreal last week.

* What did you achieve as the State Department's science adviser?
- The biggest impact I made was in bringing more scientists to our embassies — through my own travels, the State Department Jefferson fellowships and the AAAS science fellowships, as well as the new Science Envoys [six senior scientists sent by the State Department around the world]. People were enormously appreciative. Especially in countries where there are scientists in top government positions — they appreciate dealing with a government representative who's a scientist. We sought funding for the State Department to place more scientists in embassies. Will they get funding? I think so. But these things don't happen overnight.

* You believe that genetically modified (GM) crops are needed to help to feed the world. Were you able to help speed their progress?
- No. We started. It's a very delicate issue. One of the things that's really dispiriting is that countries have basically declared that it's necessary to start testing from scratch. There's no process by which the testing in one country can be accepted in another country.

* What were the frustrations of being a science adviser?
- The culture gap. For a scientist, the most compelling thing you can say is "the weight of the evidence is this". For a non-scientist, that simply isn't compelling. I understand that they're different mindsets. And yet, when you look at how important it is to recognize the weight of the evidence in areas like climate change, it's beyond frustrating — it's scary.

* Did the administrations you worked with listen to you?
- It's very hard for me to answer that in a global way. I found individuals I could work with. Part of the frustration of bridging administrations is that the relationships you built get swept away and you have to start all over. That's hard. I had formed a relationship with Condi [Rice] — she hired me — but I was never part of the inner circle with Hillary. Rice came out of an academic background. She was probably more attuned to how scientists work.

In India, in China, and in many African countries, there are scientists in the top ranks of government. I actually sometimes found it easier to deal with governments other than my own.

* Were you free to express your personal views?
- Well, I did, and nobody ever stomped on me.

* Your first language is Russian. Did that help in your job?
- “I actually sometimes found it easier to deal with governments other than my own.” Because I grew up between cultures, I can more easily see the way the United States looks from the outside. I still see in our foreign relations the notion that the United States will 'come in and solve this problem for you'. That just doesn't work. Helping people to develop their own capabilities and skills is just not terribly much how we Americans work. In some ways it was better 25 years ago, when we had a lot of scientists in USAID [the US Agency for International Development].

* Should the United States work harder to get more scientifically literate people into government?

- Obviously it should. But in the end, thousands of people interacting can often do more than governments. You don't need to wait for governments and huge institutional changes in order to do something to build a better world. It can be university to university, professor to professor.

* You sound slightly cynical of what can be achieved through government. Would you take on the role of science adviser again?
- Yes I would. I'm not trying to be dismissive. But I am trying to acknowledge that governments don't solve problems, people do. Governments move slowly, and the problems we're facing are now. I'm an impatient person.

* You're starting a new centre for desert agriculture at King Abdullah University (KAUST). Why?
- To feed the world, we have to use science and technology to use water that's unusable and land that's unusable. There are forward-looking people in the United States, but our water policy is not conducive to developing desert agriculture. If there's a nation in the world that has the need and the resources, it's Saudi Arabia. KAUST is a young university with a real focus on global problems.

* You are also incoming president of the AAAS for February 2011 to February 2012. What do you hope to achieve?
- My interest is in making it a more global organization, starting with the annual meeting in 2012. I'm delighted that the AAAS has given a home to the Global Knowledge Initiative, a non-governmental organization I started to help build person-to-person contacts. That's what science organizations ought to be doing, and they don't need to wait for governments to do it.


Aussies Give Thumbs Up to Biotechnology

- Australian Life Scientist, Oct 26, 2010 http://www.lifescientist.com.au/

‘Stem cell technology gets the thumbs up especially, while confusion and misinformation impede acceptance of GM food’

A national survey to gauge how Australians feel about biotechnology has shown that the majority are strongly supportive of those efforts which lead to health and environmental benefits, while support for genetically modified (GM) food has fallen amid ongoing confusion and uncertainty.

The biennial survey was conducted between December 2099 and June this year by the IPSOS-Eureka Social Research Institute under commissioned from the federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

It involved six focus groups with a total of 47 participants, three separate stakeholder consultations with at total of 15 participants, as well as 1024 people chosen from demographically diverse areas either online or via computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI).

The results showed that the general public is especially interested in genetic modification, cloning and using organisms to clean up pollution. However, it is stem cell research which garnered the most interest and the most positive response.

“Of all the uses of biotechnology surveyed, the findings show that stem cell use remains the most accepted application, with the highest levels of perceived benefits (92 per cent) and one of the lowest levels of perceived risk (24 per cent),” said Dr Craig Cormick, from the Department’s National Enabling Technologies Strategy team.

These results were welcomed by a number of imminent Australian stem cell experts, including Dr Megan Munsie, Senior Manager, Research and Government at the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

“We are pleased Australians continue to support stem cell research as shown by such a high level of awareness and acceptance in this Report,” she said. “At the Australian Stem Cell Centre we have worked tirelessly to make stem cell research accessible to the community through our engagement with teachers, students, patient groups and community groups such as Rotary.”

She warned however that while stem cell technology carrier the potential to ease pain and suffering of millions of people, it is important to remain realistic about the technology so as not to create an “expectations vacuum”, which could be exploited by overseas companies and clinics which may over promise yet under deliver.

Associate Professor Kuldip Sidhu is Director of the Stem Cell Lab and Chair of Stem Cell Biology at the University of New South Wales added that education, clear labelling of products and transparency of information regarding stem cell technology would be key to its acceptance.

Facing a much harder battle for public approval, according to the survey, is GM food.
“GM food remains among the least well-supported biotechnologies, although the public perceives the benefits (70 per cent) still outweigh the risks (48 per cent),” Dr Cormick said.

For instance, while support for it increased from 64 to 77 percent between 2005 and 2007, last year it fell back down to 67 percent. Dr Cormick said that the change appeared to be more a result of confusion and uncertainty than any pattern of negative sentiment.

“It is actually getting harder to give a single figure for support or not for GM foods,”

“While 67 per cent say GM foods are acceptable, half of those opposed would change that position if there was long-term evidence of no harm being caused. “And 45 per cent of those opposed to GM foods would change their position if labelling explained what ingredients had been modified and why.”

Associate Professor Christopher Preston, an expert in weed management at the University of Adelaide nevertheless felt that there were a lot of positives to be taken from the survey. “Two-thirds of the Australian public continue to support the use of biotechnology in food production, despite the considerable amount of negative comment on the subject made by some activist groups,” he said.

He added that GM crops have been in production for about the last 15 years by some 14 million farmers, many f whom can b found in developing countries. “This demonstrates the power of biotechnology in helping to develop solutions to agricultural problems. However, these technologies still need to be adopted in the correct manner in order that other problems, like pest resistance, do not arise from their use.”

Professor Mike Jones, Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology at Murdoch University, Perth said that biotechnology was leading to vastly improved understanding of the biology and plants and animals which has the potential to greatly benefit the world’s population.

Nevertheless, there are some areas of biotechnology where the public’s attitude is often based more on perception and misinformation, than on a sound understanding of the science and relative risks,” Professor Jones said. “This is the case for GM crops, which have been embraced globally by farmers, and in 2009 there were 134 million hectares grown in 26 countries.”

And the uptake has been especially enthusiastic in our own backyards, he added, with GM canola expanding from 800 to 72,000 hectares in Western Australia in just one year, “a real vote of confidence from farmers,” professor Jones said, adding that “growing GM crops reduces pesticide use and contributes increased yields and tolerance to drought and other environmental stresses – this is needed to feed an extra 70 million people each year.”

Further, he stressed that GM crops have a role to play in protecting biodiversity by reducing the need for farming to further encroach into the natural ecosystem.


Economic Impacts of Policies Affecting Crop Biotechnology and Trade

- Kym Anderson, New Biotechnology (in Press), full paper at

Agricultural biotechnologies, and especially transgenic crops, have the potential to boost food security in developing countries by offering higher incomes for farmers and lower priced and better quality food for consumers. That potential is being heavily compromised, however, because the European Union and some other countries have implemented strict regulatory systems to govern their production and consumption of genetically modified (GM) food and feed crops, and to prevent imports of foods and feedstuffs that do not meet these strict standards.

This paper analyses empirically the potential economic effects of adopting transgenic crops in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It does so using a multi-country, multi-product model of the global economy. The results suggest the economic welfare gains from crop biotechnology adoption are potentially very large, and that those benefits are diminished only very slightly by the presence of the European Union's restriction on imports of GM foods.

That is, if developing countries retain bans on GM crop production in an attempt to maintain access to EU markets for non-GM products, the loss to their food consumers as well as to farmers in those developing countries is huge relative to the slight loss that could be incurred from not retaining EU market access.

From the above results it is clear that the new agricultural biotechnologies promise much to the countries willing to adopt GM crop varieties. Moreover, the gains from farm-productivity enhancing GM varieties could be multiplied – perhaps many fold – if 2nd generation biofortified GM varieties such as Golden Rice were also to be embraced. The estimated gains to developing countries are only slightly lower if the EU's policies continue to effectively restrict imports of affected crop products from adopting countries. Importantly, developing countries would not gain if they imposed bans on GM crop imports even in the presence of policies restricting imports from GM-adopting countries: the consumer loss net of that protectionism boost to Asian and Sub-Saharan African farmers is far more than the small gain in terms of greater market access to the EU.8

The stakes in this issue are thus very high, with welfare gains that could alleviate poverty directly and substantially in those countries willing and able to adopt this new biotechnology. Developing countries need to assess whether they share the food safety and environmental concerns of Europeans regarding GMOs. If not, their citizens in general, and their poor in particular, have much to gain from adopting GM crop varieties – and those gains will increase as climate change proceeds and requires adaptation by farmers to changes in weather patterns and in particular to increased weather volatility and higher costs of water for irrigation.

Unlike for North America and Argentina, who are heavily dependent on exports of maize and oilseeds, the welfare gains from GM crop adoption by Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries would not be greatly jeopardized by rich countries banning imports of those crop products from the adopting countries.

(George Gollin Professor of Economics, University of Adelaide, Australia)