* Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Agbiotech
* Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development
* Nobel Laureate Werner Arber on GM Crops
* Constraints to Biotech Introduction for Poverty Alleviation - Ingo Potrykus
* Bioluminescent Trees Glowing Like Fireflies
* Happy Genetically Modified Thanksgiving
* The Man That Saved a Billion Lives: Norman Borlaug & GMOs
* EU Council Legal Services on EU proposal for GM bans
* President of Zambia Farmers Union call for GM crop
* Organic Bt Cotton: An Indian Farmer Leads by Example
Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Agbiotech
Today Tuesday 30 November New Biotechnology, the official scientific journal of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB), has published the proceedings of the Study Week on ‘Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development’ held under the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at its headquarters in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican from 15 to 19 May 2009. The Conference was attended by public scientists and was organized by Ingo Potrykus, ‘father’ of the Golden Rice, and Klaus Ammann (managing Editor).
The New Biotechnology open source Volume 27, 5, p. 445 – 717
also includes a statement of the Study Week endorsed unanimously by the Participants in 16 Languages and all Presentations.
The conclusions are very supportive of agriculture biotechnology to improve sustainable development:
1. More than 1 billion of the world population of 6.8 billion people are currently undernourished, a condition that urgently requires the development of new agricultural systems and technologies.
2. The expected addition of 2-2.5 billion people to reach a total of approximately 9 billion people by 2050 adds urgency to this problem.
3. The predicted consequences of climate change and associated decreases in the availability of water for agriculture will also affect our ability to feed the increased world population.
4. Agriculture as currently practised is unsustainable, evidenced by the massive loss of topsoil and unacceptably high applications of pesticides throughout most of the world.
5. The appropriate application of GE and other modern molecular techniques in agriculture is contributing toward addressing some of these challenges.
6. There is nothing intrinsic about the use of GE technologies for crop improvement that would cause the plants themselves or the resulting food products to be unsafe.
7. The scientific community should be responsible for research and development (R&D) leading to advances in agricultural productivity, and should also endeavour to see that the benefits associated with such advances accrue to the benefit of the poor as well as to those in developed countries who currently enjoy relatively high standards of living.
8. Special efforts should be made to provide poor farmers in the developing world with access to improved GE crop varieties adapted to their local conditions.
9. Research to develop such improved crops should pay particular attention to local needs and crop varieties and to the capacity of each country to adapt its traditions, social heritage and administrative practices to achieve the successful introduction of GE crops.
Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development
- Proceedings of a Study Week invited by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican City, May 15-19, 2009
A joint publication of the invited participants of the Study Week as an open source Volume of NEW BIOTECHNOLGY of Elsevier and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Food security – sufficient nutritious food at all times to live a healthy and productive life – is one of the prime challenges for mankind. On the background of the public debate about the potential contribution from transgenic plants and the interest of the Vatican in the this challenge, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was inviting an interdisciplinary group of independent public sector scientists, known for their scientific rigor and their engagement in social justice, to analyze the peer- reviewed state of science about transgenic plants and to explore the conditions under which the obvious potential of this technology could be made available in a better way for public good and the poor.
In summary, the program of the study week was designed (a) to present the potential of plant genetic engineering to contribute to food security, (b) to analyze the causes for the obvious exclusion of the public sector and projects from the delivery of public goods and (c) to develop concepts how to improve the situation to the benefit of the poor. The participants represented a wide and interdisciplinary range of scientific disciplines including philosophy, theology, political science, economy, agricultural law, agricultural economics, development economics, intellectual property rights, botany, ecology, plant pathology, evolution, botany, microbiology, agriculture, crop science, biochemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology, food safety, biosafety, and regulation.
Against this background the program of the study week was organized into the following sections,
About the organizers and participants:
Prof. Dr. em. Ingo Potrykus email@example.com was the organizer of the study week; Mons. Prof. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was inviting the 41 participants to Vatican City. Prof. Dr. em. Klaus Ammann firstname.lastname@example.org was the editor of the proceedings, together with Prof. em. Ingo Potrykus
List of participants including email addresses of the contributors:
The program and scientific contributions of the Study Week
Program of the May 2009 meeting with abstracts, invitation by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Full bibliography (including open source links) of published papers and statements:
- Werner Arber, New Biotechnology, Volume 27, Number 5, November 2010
www.elsevier.com/locate/nbt (Biozentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 50-70, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland)
During the 400 years of its existence, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has carried out its statutory goals by employing various approaches. In the words of its 1976 reformed Statutes, it ‘organises meetings to promote the progress of sciences and the solution of important scientific problems...and promotes scientific investigations and research which can contribute, in the appropriate places, to the exploration of moral, social and spiritual problems’.
Inspired by this idea, in October 1982 the Pontifical Academy held a Study Week on Modern Biological Experimentation. In this meeting, Professor J. Schell gave a paper on Gene Transfers into Plants as a Natural and Experimental Phenomenon. On this occasion, John Paul II addressed the participants with these words: ‘‘I wish to recall, along with the few cases which I have cited that benefit from biological experimentation, the important advantages that come from the increase of food products and from the formation of new vegetal species for the benefit of all, especially people most in need’’.
The Holy Father John Paul II, who was well aware of what Paul VI called the tragedy of world hunger, concluded his message by asking God ‘‘to direct the application of scientific research to the production of new food supplies, since one of the greatest challenges that humanity must face, together with the danger of nuclear holocaust, is the hunger of the poor of this world’’.
Encouraged by the Pope’s message, in the Jubilee Year 2000 the Academy drafted its first Statement on Genetically Modified Food Plants to Combat Hunger in the World, which was then published in 2004. Ten years after this first Statement, the Council of the Academy, led by myself and counting on such authoritative members as Ingo Potrykus and Peter Raven, decided to update it with the meeting we are presenting in this volume. It is particularly significant that the new Statement was then signed by all the participants. It is our hope that this new effort will serve to clarify an issue which can undoubtedly and decisively contribute to solving the growing problem of world hunger.
The general view
Individual life times and population densities of any kind of living beings depend to a large extent on the availability of food, or in other words on food security. In archaeological times, humans found their nutrition as gatherers and hunters. About 10,000 years ago, our ancestors started to collect seeds and other plant materials from their preferred food plants.
Agriculture then took its start by deliberate planting of the collected materials, growing the new plants up and harvesting their products. This neolithic or food-producing revolution must have taken place independently at different locations on the planet, both in the Old and in the New World. This cultural development allowed the human population to transform from small local or migrating tribes to larger, often resident communities which eventually developed into technologically advanced nations.
A number of factors including food security contributed at various stages of this development to limit the ongoing population expansion.
A wide geographic exploration of our planet in the last millennium led stepwise to beneficial exchange of agricultural crops between continents of the Old and the New World. For example, Europe profited tremendously from
the introduction of potatoes, tomatoes and maize from the Americas, while the New World introduced wheat, barley and rice, among other agricultural crops, from the Old World. None of these mass implantations led to serious ecological problems. As a result, food security generally improved and allowed the human population to continue to grow.
For a long time, agricultural management improved food security stepwise, largely through learning by doing and by learning from each other. Breeding methods became introduced and led to the selection of agricultural crops with higher yields and sometimes with higher nutritional values. It is mainly in the last century that increasing scientific knowledge and science-based technologies started to contribute to the improvement of food security, at least in parts of our planet. The green revolution boosted this development.
In the meantime scientific knowledge has tremendously increased, largely by the introduction of novel research strategies. Genomics, proteomics and metabolomics provide us with a rich scientific basis to understand better the sources and nutritional values of the products of many of our common food crops. In addition, research strategies, such as genetic engineering, have become available and can allow one to attempt experimentally to improve nutritional values and yields of food products. Site-directed mutagenesis of inherited genetic information and recombinant DNA techniques introducing carefully selected foreign genetic information into the genome of an agricultural target crop have recently become routine methodologies to reach envisaged improvements.
Thanks to the set of actually available research strategies, selected products of such improvements can be assessed for their genetic setups and functional phenotypes before their introduction into the environment. In contrast to earlier practices, such as conventional plant improvement methodologies, today’s molecular biological research strategies can confidently allow the researcher to obtain the envisaged genomic and functional abilities without introducing other, unexpected alterations into the developed product.
There is no justification to assume that carefully carried out and controlled genetic engineering would principally go along with conjectural risks. Rather, molecular methodologies provide to the researcher highly secure and responsible approaches to improve crop properties such as higher nutritional values and improved health of the plant itself.
The good news given here can contribute to render agricultural practices more secure and also more sustainable. We must be aware,
however, that the carrier capacity for agricultural crops is limited on our planet.
Any longterm improvement of worldwide food security has to go hand in hand with a responsible and sustainable parenthood, together with the safeguard of the naturally given rich environmental diversity.
Constraints to Biotechnology Introduction for Poverty Alleviation
- Ingo Potrykus, New Biotechnology, Volume 27, Number 5, November 2010
www.elsevier.com/locate/nbt (Emeritus Prof. Plant Sciences ETH Zu ̈rich, Zurich, Switzerland )
Poverty in developing countries is usually linked to low agricul- tural productivity. Inadequate quantity and quality of food impacts human development potential, physically and mentally. Reduced immunity to disease due to poor nutrition increases the burden and kills. Current technologies (fertiliser, improved seed, irrigation, pesticides) correctly applied can sustainably and safely increase crop yields. Purchase cost and infrastructural issues (lack of roads, credit, market access and market-affecting-trade-distor- tions), however, severely limit small scale farmers’ ability to adopt these life sustaining and life saving technologies.
Plant Biotechnology has great potential to improve the situa- tion. Delivery of the technology in the seed largely overcomes the logistical problems of distribution involved with packaged pro- ducts: farmers can pass seed to each other. Once the initial research is completed the ‘cost of goods’ (that is of a biotechnologically delivered trait delivered in a seed) is zero. Total time to market is comparable between biotechnology products and conventionally bred seed.
For some traits conventional breeding is not an option: the only way to introduce such a trait is by genetic engineering. Even for traits that can be improved by traditional breeding, genetic engineering may facilitate and speed up the process. Intellectual property issues are usually not a constraint in devel- oping countries and in pro-poor agriculture.
It is notable that agricultural biotechnology uptake for com- mercially introduced traits has been extremely rapid, including in developing countries. However, for public good products from the public sector, despite much research in developing countries, this potential has not materialised. The politicisation of the regulatory process is an extremely significant impediment to use of biotech- nology by public institutions for public goods. Costs, time and complexity of product introduction are severely and negatively affected (without such political impediment the technology is very appropriate for adoption by developing country scientists and farmers: it does not require intensive capitalisation).
The regulatory process in place is bureaucratic and unwarranted by the science: despite rigorous investigation over more than a decade of the commercial use of genetically engineered (GE) plants, no substantiated environmental or health risks have been noted. Opposition to biotechnology in agriculture is usually ideological.
The huge potential of plant biotechnology to produce more, and more nutritive, food for the poor will be lost, if GE-regulation is not changed from being driven by ‘extreme precaution’ princi- ples to being driven by ‘science-based’ principles.
Changing societal attitudes, including the regulatory processes involved, is extremely important if we are to save biotechnology, in its broadest applications, for the poor, so that public institutions in developing as well as industrialised countries, can harness its power for good.
Against this background the programme of the study week was organised into the following sections. The Introduction to the Study Week presents the problem of increasing food insecurity in developing countries, the need for continued improvement of crop plants and agricultural productivity to address the problem, the track record and perspective of genetic engineering (GE) technology, and the roadblock to efficient use by the established concept of ‘extreme precautionary regulation’. Contributions From Trans- genic Plants will highlight what important contributions in the areas of tolerance to abiotic stress, resistance to biological stress, improved water use efficiency, improved nutritional quality, inac- tivation of allergens and reduction of toxins, are already in use or in the R&D pipeline.
Following an account of the state-of-the-art of the technology and the world-wide, radical opposition on the use of the technology in agriculture, this session continues with the question of whether or not GE-plants diminish or promote biodiversity and describe what is necessary to achieve sustainable yield, including the contributions from the private sector.
In the section on the State of Application of the Technology concrete examples from Argentina show which products have made it over the hurdles of the regulatory regimes. This session concludes with a paper on the problems of and possible solutions in regard to intellectual property rights, and with a discourse on the ethics of the use and non-use of transgenic plants in the context of development. The session on the Potential Impact on Development will highlight what an important role transgenic plants could play if released from excessive regulation.
The question of whether or not there is any scientific basis for an extreme precautionary attitude is analysed in the session on Putative Risk and Risk Management. A comparison of the molecular alterations to the genome by natural genetic variation and genetic engineering shows that there is a priori little reason to be concerned with genetic engineering of plants. In detailed case studies putative risks to the environment and the consumer are analysed, to explore whether in the history of use there was any case of real concern. This is followed by the lessons from 25 years of use, biosafety studies and regulatory oversight, and by an overview comparing GMO myths with reality.
A brief section on Biofuels Must Not Compete With Food indicates novel problems arising from the concept of biofuel production from agricultural land, already seriously affecting food security and concepts under study aiming at biofuel production from biological materials that will not compete with food sources. Hurdles Against Effective Use For The Poor describes which hurdles under the presently established regulatory regime prevent use of the technology for public good. The analysis focuses on (a) the political climate around GEs having been spread from Europe around the world; (b) the legal and trade consequences connected to regulation and political climate; (c) GMO over-regulation making use of GEs for the public sector inaccessible for cost and time reasons; (d) the financial support to professional anti- GE-lobby groups and (e) poor support for agricultural research in general.
The programme of the study week was designed (a) to present the potential of plant genetic engineering to contribute to food security, (b) to analyse the causes for the obvious exclusion of the public sector and projects from the delivery of public goods and (c) to develop concepts how to improve the situation to the benefit of the poor.
The participants represented a wide and interdisciplinary range of scientific disciplines including philosophy, theology, political science, economy, agricultural law, agricultural economics, development economics, intellectual property rights, botany, ecology, plant pathology, evolution, botany, microbiology, agri- culture, crop science, biochemistry, molecular biology, biotech- nology, food safety, biosafety, and regulation.
The participants jointly formulated and agreed unanimously to the following summary of the results of the study week in form of a ‘STATEMENT’ which summarises the scientific conclusions and recommendations following from those conclusions.
How 'Bioluminescent' Trees That Glow Like Fireflies Could One Day Replace Our Streetlights
- NIALL FIRTH, Daily Mail, 26th November 2010
Scientists are developing ways of making trees glow so they can be used as natural streetlights without the need for electricity.
A team of researchers are experimenting with genes to allow the trait that causes fireflies to glow -bioluminescence - to be implanted into a variety of different organisms.
As well as replacing traditional streetlights, bioluminescent plants would be useful for people who are not hooked up to the electricity grid.
And if more lights were ever required, they could simply be grown.
Trees that glow naturally with bioluminescent genes could be used to light streets, as in this artist impression from Cambridge
The scientists at Cambridge University used genes from fireflies and a special form of glowing sea bacteria to create ‘BioBricks’ – genetic building blocks that can be inserted into a genome.
After inserting the modified genes into a sample of e-coli bacteria they were able to produce a range of colours – and created a living light that was bright enough to read by.
The scientists created the glowing effect by creating a substance known as oxyluciferin which is naturally in a high-energy state at first. However it quickly settles into a more stable, lower-energy state, and when it does so it emits a single photon of light.
Geneticist Theo Sanderson, one of the members of the team, told New Scientist: ‘We didn't end up making bioluminescent trees, which was the inspiration for the project. ‘But we decided to make a set of parts that would allow future researchers to use bioluminescence more effectively.’
The research was presented at the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The technology could even be used to make glowing signs that do not need to be wired up. The team say that there is huge commercial potential in replacing the street with natural bioluminescent systems. The idea is also extremely environmentally friendly as no electricity would be required and the process which produces the photons of light is extremely energy-efficient.
The scientists have also considered the possibility that the fuel to fire the chemical reaction in the trees could come from human waste or food waste.
And if the plant species used was a form of algae then energy could be harnessed from sunlight.
The team say on their website: ‘We might imagine a system where a bioreactor in the roof of a house - supplied with leftover foodstuffs - could pipe glowing algae through the rooms of the house during the night and across the roof during the day.’
In separate research, Taiwanese scientists have found that inserting gold nanoparticles into the leaves of trees helped the chlorophyll to glow red.
Under ultraviolet light the nanoparticles glowed with blue light, causing the surrounding chlorophyll to glow red.
Gallery: Happy Genetically Modified Thanksgiving
This year, your bread dishes are probably not genetically modified — consumer and food industry opposition has so far prevented any GM wheat from making it to your table. So your biscuits, thickened gravy and turkey stuffing are made with flour from traditionally bred wheat.
But several seed companies, including Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF and others, are working on transgenic wheat. U.S. Wheat Associates, an industry group, said in early 2010 that GM wheat is still several years away, but efforts are ongoing to improve its acceptance among international consumers.
Monsanto Co., the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seed, backed off commercialization of “Roundup Ready” wheat several years ago, amid concerns it could hurt the U.S. wheat market. But earlier this month, the firm said it's the "right time" to pursue development of drought-resistant and high-yielding wheat.
What's Next? Thanksgiving in 2020
If the ubiquity of biotech crops is any indication, this futurey Thanksgiving is likely only the beginning. Any day now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the sale of genetically modified salmon the first GM animal approved for human consumption ó and it might not require a special label.
Scientists are also working on genetically modifying cattle to feel no pain, and pigs are being engineered excrete less phosphorus.
Alongside high oleic acid and omega-3 soybeans, biotech firms are enhancing the nutritional value of staple crops like cassava and golden rice. By 2012,
Syngenta is expected to release its vitamin A-enhanced "golden rice" to the worldís poorest farmers, though environmental advocacy groups argue it will not solve vitamin A deficiencies in the developing world. And sometime in 2012,
Monsanto aims to introduce a new strain of corn altered to resist drought.
All this work requires some pretty advanced technology, and biotech firms are always coming up with new automated procedures, planting devices and robots. In this photo, robots help Bayer scientists in Monheim, Germany, search for new active ingredients.
Eventually, it may be impossible to distinguish between modified foods and those grown the way nature intended. No matter your opinion, genetic modification enhancing crops with genetic traits that would be unlikely to evolve naturally is the future of food.
The Man That Saved a Billion Lives: Norman Borlaug & GMOs
Why Genetically Modified food is necessary to feed the planet
- Jonathan Gray, The Toronto Globalist, Nov. 24, 2010
Saving the species. It’s the noblest goal any human can aspire to, and it is associated with figures who are the paragon of humanity. I do not wish to speak about ‘saving souls’ in a religious sense. Abraham Lincoln literally saved tens of thousands of men and women who would otherwise be subject to abject slavery. Nelson Mandela literally saved millions from apartheid. In terms of occurrences outside one’s lifetime, there are some individuals whose contributions to medical science have saved numbers of an unimaginable order of magnitude – Jonas Salk discovered a method of defeating polio; Edward Jenner brought about the beginning of the end for smallpox. We have our heroes, our saviors, the ones who dedicated themselves to helping, above all else.
We are 6.6 billion people now. We can only feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2 billion volunteers to disappear. -Norman Borlaug
Norman Borlaug isn’t a household name by far. Yet, in his lifetime, he was credited to saving over a billion people, in a very literal sense. For this, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, a frank defeat of the doomsaying Malthusians and ‘Population Bomb’ adherents. Thomas Malthus, a British economist, had predicted in 1798 that exponential population growth would outstrip global food output, which was limited by the efficiency of the land. Now deceased, Norman Borlaug’s legacy lives on in the technology he tirelessly distributed across the globe. This is the legacy of agricultural technology, specifically of genetically modified organisms. Yet, it is amongst the most malignedscientific achievements of the past decades; the ‘Franken-Foods’ have been spurned in favor of a return to the ‘natural’ processes of the ‘organic’ food movement.
In a BBC radio interview, ecofeminist and noted critic of Norman Borlaug’s ‘Green Revolution’ Vandana Shiva remarked- “In the process new health and ecological hazards are being forced on Third World people through dumping of genetically engineered foods and other hazardous products.”
Prince Charles of the United Kingdom has consistently denounced genetic modification of crops, insisting that to do so is to intrude to the realm of ‘God and God alone’.
Unsurprisingly, the two are substantial supporters of ‘organic’ food. Borlaug’s opinion was summed up during an television appearance prior to his death, where he responded to the position that all food should be processed according to the practices of the ‘organic’ movement: “We are 6.6 billion people now. We can only feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2 billion volunteers to disappear.”.
Indeed, the disappearances should not go unnoticed. While Vandana Shiva may have applauded Zambia’s decision to stop the donations of genetically modified (GM) corn from the United States on the advice that such products were ‘toxic’ (this corn is identical to that consumed by Americans on a daily basis), but the consequences were lethal. Unable to meet with the demands of the population by methods of ‘traditional’ agriculture, there was mass starvation.
What is it that is so profoundly objected to about this technology? Why is it that it is so unacceptable to even those with some modicum of scientific literacy (Vandana Shiva, for example, has a PhD in physics)? Here we must pass over the spiritualist claims that GM crops are a violation of nature. Mankind has been imposing an artificial selection over the environment since the realization of the material poverty of the hunter-gatherer paled to the communal benefits of domesticated crops and agriculture. Even simple techniques such as grafting the branches of one plant onto another are very much ‘against nature’, yet this is glossed over in the sheer horror over GM (incidentally, John Chapman, of the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ lore expressed similar rejections to the practice of grafting, preferring a ‘natural’ expression of apples).
The claim that GM crops are ‘untested’ or that they are released without knowledge of their effects or impacts is unfounded. The degree and breadth of required research is in fact so profound that it promotes tremendous expenses, on top of which includes the further costs safety testing prior to release. Monsanto, the much-maligned agri-science monolith, exists by itself precisely because of the gigantic costs associated with ensuring the safety of its crop products. While Monsanto has certainly left itself open to ethical criticism by virtue of its ‘ultra-capitalist’ methods, criticism of Monsanto as a corporation is not a legitimate criticism of GM foods; those anti-corporatists who argue otherwise ought to be reminded that the majority of organic foods are themselves the product of corporate monoliths, and often are imported from countries such as China. Caveat emptor.
As for the claims of the toxicity of GM crops, we will use as example the modified Bt corn, which in the United States alone, accounts for upwards 80% of the corn produced. Bt’s insecticidal properties are derived from the products of Bacteria Thuringiensis, whose genes for producing the toxin have been spliced into the corn. Bt toxin (‘Cry’ protein) requires an alkaline stomach (virtually found only in insects) as well as a receptor for the toxin on the gut lining, without which the toxin will not work. It is a genuine example of a pesticide that doesn’t even need to be washed from the plant. Worth noting is the fact that Cry protein itself is a pesticide used by ‘organic’ farmers: ‘organic’ farming is not so much pesticide-free so much as it is free of most ‘synthetic’ pesticides. Plant-based rotenone is an example, and despite being re-approved by the US National Organic Program, it is highly toxic to water ecosystems and humans; in Canada, it is only approved for killing fish. GM, on the other hand, has a methodology not only permitting, but emphasizing the minimization of pesticide use by endogenous and highly specific products. It’s an environmentally-conscious product.
The last concern regarding GM crops is more salient. Vandana Shiva and others have accused the technology of trading high yields for reduced diversity. While this claim borders again on a blindly wishful and spiritual interpretation of nature that may be tremendously divorced from reality, we are given much by the genetic variance that exists around us. Unfortunately, organic crops only maintain diversity if restricted to set geographies and not distributed. Equally, attempts to improve yield by selecting the most promising plants need to be discarded if ‘diversity’ is to be maintained. Monocropping, then, is more a consequence of the demands of the hungry than it is a consequence of GM foods– the need is also diminished when denying GM technology denies the ability to directly modify and distribute crops, thus increasing diversity. Even less is gained if the lower land output of organic farming is supplanted by converting larger tracts of land for planting; GM’s genuine contribution to diversity is due in part to its delivery of more with less.
Other concerns can be solved through learning more about the science involved: genes transplanted into food do not threaten to magically integrate themselves into the consumer’s genome. The body digests DNA as it would any similar product: it is broken down into usable products, no different from any others. There aren’t ‘fish genes in plants’, and even if there were, it wouldn’t impart any more ‘fish’ qualities than on the molecular level, and would be broken down in the same manner.
GM foods are simply an extension of the artificial selection we’ve been practicing since the dawn of civilization, refined to a surgical precision like none other. The ability to put our hand on the tiller in a way that benefits our environment and our health. These are the tools of understanding, and should not be discarded simply on baseless stigma. Tomorrow’s table is the promise of a full stomach.
Jonathan Gray is a medical student and science enthusiast. He studied Psychology & Biology at Ryerson University.
Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has dismissed as unfounded the action brought by the Land Saxony-Anhalt against the Genetic Engineering Act, ruling that the provisions for the cultivation of genetically modified crops and liability are compatible with the Basic Law, Germany’s constitution. The reasons given by the judges made reference to “the particular duty of care of the legislature in view of the fact that the state of scientific knowledge has not yet been finally established when assessing the long-term consequences of the use of genetic engineering.”
The court also upheld the current liability provisions in the Genetic Engineering Act. A farmer who grows GM plants will continue to be liable for any economic loss caused by GMOs outcrossing to conventional crops. The GMO farmer remains liable even if he has respected all the rules and is not therefore to blame for the losses caused by the outcrossing. If a single originator cannot be identified, all the GMO farmers in the region will be jointly liable.
Aabout the ruling in more detail:
Federal Constitutional Court on the Genetic Engineering Act
“An appropriate and well-balanced adjustment of the conflicting interests”
EU Council Legal Services on EU Commission's proposal for GMO cultivation bans
- Amsterdam/Brussels, 11 Nov 2010 ; Press release by IVM-VU: Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)
The EU Commission's proposal to allow individual Member States to ban or restrict GMO agriculture on their national territory has an "invalid legal basis" and leaves "strong doubts" about the compatibility with EU and WTO trade laws of national restrictions of EU-authorized GM crops. These are the conclusions of a legal assessment report by the legal service of the EU Council of Ministers, which is due to be presented to Member States today, in Brussels.
The report confirms the legal criticisms raised in recent months by various EU law experts, including biotechnology law specialist Thijs Etty, of the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at the VU University Amsterdam, who currently also serves as a legal expert on a biotech panel for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an EU Advisory Body.
In response to media requests to comment on the content and implications of the conclusions of the (leaked) legal report, Mr. Etty said: "this is a sensitive and embarrassing blow for the EU Commission's proposal. As guardian of the Treaty, its primary task is to safeguard the functioning of the EU internal market and to upheld European law. Instead, today's Council's legal service report reveals that the Commission's proposal was grounded on a fundamentally flawed legal basis and impairs the internal market."
The impact of the legal report is expected to be significant. So far, the Commission had dismissed all skepticism and doubts about the legal soundness of its proposal, as raised by Member States, NGOs, industry and academia.
However, as Mr. Etty noted: "now the EU's own lawyers have confirmed my earlier criticism that the Commission proposal does not afford Member States a realistically viable degree of legal protection for bans based on ethical, moral, or religious concerns, or public opinion. Both EU Courts and the WTO have in the past been very restrictive in accepting such arguments, unless countries can provide extensive and consistent evidence to justify their trade restrictions."
EU countries will now decide in the coming weeks whether to vote down the proposal entirely, to accept it as it stands, or to pressure the Commission to amend its text. Ministerial summits in the Environment and Agriculture Council meetings in October were already highly skeptical of the plans.
But, as Mr. Etty explains: "Member States are caught between a rock and a hard place -- if they accept the proposal as it stands, their bans will be extremely vulnerable to legal actions by biotechnology companies, GM farmers, world trade partners, or even the EU Commission itself. But if they reject the proposal altogether, the Commission will have free rein to authorize a plethora of new GM crops for cultivation."
In fact, in a New York Times & International Herald Tribune article published today, Etty predicts: "With many crops ready, or nearly ready, for final approval, we could have what represents an unprecedented avalanche of new biotech varieties growing in Europe within the next couple of years." If this happens, "Europe's unique position as the world's largest GMO-free zone will come to an end", Mr. Etty adds.
Last July, the Commission proposed an amendment to current EU GMO regulation, to allow individual Member States 'opt out' from EU-level authorizations by banning or restricting GM farm crops on their national territory.
The policy shift was a bid to overcome the longstanding political stalemate that has crippled GMO decision-making in the EU for over a decade. According to Mr. Etty, the so-called 'renationalisation' of GM crop cultivation decision-making will actually entail a further transfer of power to Brussels.
President of Zambia Farmers Union call for GM crop: ZNFU Calls For Reversal of GMO Policy
- Chiwoyu Sinyangwe, The Post, Zambia, Nov 25.2010
THE ZNFU is proposing that Zambia should embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to improve productivity of certain crops.
Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Jervis Zimba said calls for a stark reversal of the stance taken by the country a few years ago follows low competitiveness of the local agriculture sector.
Nearly four years ago, the government made a strong stance against GMOs. We, however, now believe that time has come to open the discussions on GMOs more so now that bio-safety regulation board has been set up under the Ministry of Science and Technology where ZNFU is ably represented, Zimba said during the launch of the 2010/2011 agricultural planting season held at Mweetwa farm in Mumbwa on Tuesday. “While cautiously mindful of the public perception about GMOs, as a country we must not be left out particularly in exploring production-enhancing technologies which can be tried in Cotton production to start with.”
Zimba said GMOs could also help to improve productivity of small-scale farming and make a dent on rural poverty.
“In other countries where bio-technology, especially for cotton, has been used, our small-scale farmers are able to produce 10 times more than our current levels of production with less inputs, implying less production cost leading to huge profits to our small-scale farmers,” said Zimba.
The government banned the production and consumption of genetically modified crops, saying this would impact negatively on the countrys agricultural potential.
Organic Bt Cotton: An Indian Farmer Leads by Example
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore; email@example.com
The environmentalists abhor genetically engineered (GE)crops and argue that they are incompatible with such agricultural practices as the Non (chemical) Pesticide and Integrated Pest Management (NPM, IPM) and more particularly with organic farming, though FAO and other international organizations concede possibilities of their co-existence with a few precautionary spatial and temporal measures in place. On the other hand the modern agribiotech contend that GE crop technology does not preclude any conventional agricultural practices and that transgenics can be cultivated organically. Amidst these diametrically opposing positions Mr Viswasrao Patil, a farmer at Lohara, a farming village in the Jalagoan District in Maharashtra, who cultivates Bt cotton organically, stated that ‘It is a matter of economics. Bt cotton is giving better yields and works with organic practices. The combination helps me to increase profits and conserve the environment.’ (Ajay Jakhar, Farmers’ Forum, 10:6,September-October, 2010, pp. 64-66). Mr Patil believes that ‘the knowledgeable are open to knowledge; the unwise have closed minds. The idea is to combine science with tradition. That will give you more life; make your land alive and bountiful.’
Mr Jakhar describes Mr Patil as an epitome of wisdom and innovation, who advocates that farmers would have to combine age-tested practices of farming with new technology, an advice he has himself put into practice.
Mr Patil uses the state of the art seeds and does not depend upon a single crop but grows corn, sorghum, pearl millet, green gram, sesame, mustard,and sugar cane, along with Bt cotton. He also planted such fruit trees as custard apple and mango. Basically a cotton farmer, Mr Patil adopted a multi-storied and mixed cropping system alternating every three years, to reduce crop specific pest pressure.
When many of his 23 rain dependent wells were drying up, MrPatil compensated the deficit by connecting 10 wells with underground pipesystem, supplemented by rain water harvesting and check dams. He has increased the distance between crop lines and adopted cross sowing on slopes to conserve water and reduced water evaporation by planting trees on all sides of his farm.
Mr Patil cultivates several varieties/hybrids of the same crop, such as Bt cotton, choosingthem based upon water availability in a given crop season.
Mr Patil’s farm abounds in birds that feed on insects on thecrop reducing pest pressure along with the use of biopesticides such as neem. He believes thatonly two per cent of the insect species are harmful to crops.
He replaced chemical fertilizers with biofertilizers in theform of fermented weeds, cow dung, cow urine, rotten besan and jiggery, applied on wet soil.
While there may be several other farmers adopting the same practices as Mr Patil yet unknown to us, the impressive results of Mr Patil’s approach, evident in a lush green farm amidst the usually distressing dry cropland scenario, make him an example to emulate.