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Date:

July 12, 2000

Subject:

Seven Scientific Academies Support GM Crops

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

The Times (London)
July 12, 2000, Wednesday

LEADING scientists from around the world have backed genetically modified
crops. They are needed to feed growing populations and to provide
employment in rural areas, a report from seven respected scientific
academies, including the Royal Society, says.

The report calls on private companies that have developed GM technology to
use their expertise to help the poor, and on governments to maintain
publicly funded research in the field.

GM technology can produce crops that will resist pests, grow in salty
soils and produce food that is more nutritious, stable in storage and, in
principle, health-promoting, the report, Transgenic Plants and World
Agriculture, says.

"We do not intend to indicate that it is the only solution to world
hunger," Brian Heap, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, said, "but it
can make a significant contribution."

After rising sharply in the 1970s and 1980s, world cereal production per
capita had fallen for the past few years, he said. Although yields were
still rising, the rate of increase was slower than in the past.

The report gives a warning that 800 million people - amounting to 18 per
cent of the world's population - do not have enough food and six million
children under 5 die of malnutrition each year in developing countries.

The problem with GM crops, Professor Heap said, was that they were "market
led" and it had been hard for consumers to see any benefit. The
multinational corporations involved had concentrated on crops of interest
to farmers in rich countries, not those grown in the Third World.

The report says that broadly written patents on the technology may prevent
it being used to help those who need it most and urges companies to ensure
that the benefits become more widely available. It recommends the
establishment of an international advisory committee from the academies
that would try to build bridges between the private and public sector.
However, it adds that governments should stop reducing the amount they
spend on agricultural research.

Scientists from the academies of sciences in Brazil, China, India, Mexico
and the United States, the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste and
the Royal Society produced the report after a year-long study. It says
that worries about safety and the possible environmental impacts of GM
crops should be countered by research. The environmental effects, if any,
should be balanced against the effects of conventional agriculture and
care taken to maintain a diversity of crops, conventional and transgenic.

Professor Martin Lipton, a research professor in economics at the
University of Sussex, said that there had been a very large reduction in
public funding for agricultural research in Africa and Latin America.

"Multinationals find that it pays them to research crops of interest to
rich people," he said yesterday. "They are not doing anything wrong. But
crops that are very important to poor countries tend to be neglected. That
is why public spending is still important."

Novartis, one of the companies involved in GM crops, has announced new
guidelines for collaboration with developing countries. It promised to
provide the knowledge necessary to help researchers in the Third World.

The company is making its latest GM technology - which allows genes to be
put into crops without the need for antibiotic "markers" - available free
of charge to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines
and to Malaysia's agricultural research and development institute. It will
be used to develop rice and papaya varieties. It is also helping to
develop insect-resistant varieties of sweet potato in Vietnam
and maize in Africa.

LINKS

www.nas.edu/ US National Academy of Sciences, giving the full text of the
academies' report

www.royalsoc.ac.uk The Royal Society

THIRD WORLD COULD BENEFIT FROM TECHNOLOGY'S NEW GREEN REVOLUTION

GM technology has many potential applications in the Third World, the
report says. Among them are:

"Golden rice" produces a large quantity of betacarotene, a precursor of
vitamin A. The iron content of rice has also been increased by GM. Vitamin
A deficiency causes half a million children to go blind every year, while
iron deficiency causes anaemia in pregnancy, a contributing factor in one
fifth of all maternal deaths after childbirth in Africa and Asia.

Mangroves grow in salty water throughout the tropics. The gene that
enables them to do this has been transferred to other plants, which can
grow in salty soils where other crops would die. Plants can also be made
tolerant to high levels of aluminium found in some soils by modifying them
so that their roots produce more citric acid.

The Green Revolution was, in part, made possible by dwarfing genes that
made wheat grow short and strong, so that it could respond to fertiliser
without collapsing and concentrate the plant's energy into producing
bigger ears and thus more grain. At the time, these genes were not
identified, but now they have been. GM technology could be used to apply
them to any plant in which the seeds, rather than the leaf, is
the part that is eaten.

Disease and pest-resistant crops produced by GM include papayas resistant
to ringspot virus, rice resistant to yellow mottle virus and potatoes and
rice resistant to blight.
==================================================

Scientists: genetically modified crops crucial to fight hunger

By EMMA ROSS
The Associated Press
7/12/00 12:06 AM

LONDON (AP) -- To combat world hunger, rich nations must boost funding for
research into genetically modified crops and poor farmers must be
protected from corporate control of the technology, a group of science
academies said Tuesday.

In an unprecedented report by seven independent academies from both the
developed and developing world, experts agreed that genetic modification
of crops is crucial to addressing the problem of the world's growing
population and shrinking land for growing food.

Today, "800 million people don't have access to enough food," said Brian
Heap, vice president of Britain's Royal Society and chairman of the group
that wrote the report.

"Increasing production without increasing land use will require
substantial increases in yields per acre. This
technology needs to be used in the future," he said.

Genetically modified, or transgenic, crops are created when scientists
introduce a gene from one species into another. The technique can be used
to make crops more resistant to disease and pests, fortify them with extra
vitamins or vaccines, and boost their tolerance to drought.

The academies' report, launched in London by the Royal Society, urged
companies and research institutions to share their knowledge and called
for a ban on broad patents covering GM technology.

Corporations must have incentives to produce characteristics needed in the
developing world, and small
farmers in developing nations should enjoy special exemptions from
licensing agreements, the report said.

Meanwhile, the public sector must create more genetically modified crops
that benefit poor farmers in developing nations, such as corn, rice,
wheat, yams, plantains and sweet potatoes, it said.

"The long-term decline of public agricultural research, the increasing
privatization of GM technologies and the growing emphasis on the crops and
priorities of the industrialized nations do not bode well for feeding the
increasing populations of the developing world," the report said.

The document was a consensus of opinions from the Royal Society, the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the
science academies of China, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Investigations into the effects GM crops have on the environment should be
coordinated, and public health
regulators in every country need to identify and monitor any potential
adverse effects on human health, the academies said.

Worldwide, 74 million acres have been planted with genetically modified
crops, mainly in the United States. Other countries embracing the
technology include Argentina, Canada, Australia and China.

"China is likely to become one of the world leaders in this field," Heap
said. "China has recognized the importance of the technology for feeding
its people."

But the issue of genetically altered crops has become politically charged
elsewhere, particularly in Europe, where anxiety about food safety runs
high after a crisis in the mid-1990s over mad cow disease that led to a
ban on British beef exports.

European Union licensing of new genetically modified products and patents
has stalled in recent years because of perceived health concerns.

"The European debate is interfering with trade," said Dr. Wallace
Beversdorf, head of research and development in the seeds sector at
Novartis AG, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology company.
"The biggest limiting factor now is the debate over consumer acceptance
and trade."

Beversdorf noted that Thailand recently turned down the opportunity to
grow genetically modified rice for fear it would not be able to export it.

"Europe is exceedingly important in terms of global development because
it's a big market," he said.

Biotechnology companies welcomed the report and said industry help to
developing nations was not new.

Novartis gives free genetically modified sweet potato seeds to Vietnam and
trained scientists there how to introduce genes that make the crop
resistant to weevils.

Monsanto, which said Tuesday it agrees on the need to share technology to
combat world hunger, recently made public its draft of the rice genome.
===================================================

The Hindu
July 12, 2000

'Harness genetic engineering to improve agriculture'

By Our Science Correspondent

BANGALORE, JULY 11. A report on genetically-modified crops, prepared by
seven science academies from both developed and developing countries, has
emphasised the importance of harnessing genetic engineering for improving
agriculture.

The report also has words of caution on issues such as protecting the
environment and the rights of farmers and ensuring human health. The
report had been prepared in the face of concerns that the backlash against
genetic modification (GM) would overshadow the promise the technology
offered, Prof. Goverdhan Mehta, president of the Indian National Science
Academy (INSA) and Director of the Indian Institute of Science, said after
releasing it here today.

The report is being simultaneously released in Sao Paulo, Beijing, Mexico
city, London, Trieste and Washington D.C., where the other sciences
academies are based.

Apart from the INSA, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese
Academy of Sciences, the Mexican
Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society in London, the Third World Academy
of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences participated in
preparing the report titled ``Transgenic plants and world agriculture''.

The report was intended to put GM technology in perspective, look at its
benefits and address issues of concern, Dr. Mehta said. He emphasised that
there was no single solution for all countries and each country had to
make choices in view of its priorities. It was hoped that the report would
help Governments and societies make wise and considered choices.

The thrust of the report is that GM crops were needed to feed a world
population which would increase by two billion over the next three
decades. GM technology, along with other developments, should be used to
increase the production of food staples, improve the efficiency of
production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and provide
access to food for small-scale farmers. It spoke about ensuring an
adequate level of publicly- funded research in GM crops. If such research
were wholly private, the demands of rich consumers would overwhelm the
need of poor consumers and small-scale farmers. It was imperative that at
least the present level of funding be maintained for the Consultative
Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and for national
research institutions.

Private corporations and research institutions should share technology so
that they could be used for hunger
alleviation and increasing food security in developing countries. The
report also spoke about having a sound regulatory system to ensure public
safety and environmental protection.

Dr. V.Krishnan, INSA vice-president and president of the Jawaharlal Nehru
Centre for Advanced Scientific
Research, who was also present, pointed out that a continued dialogue
between Government and society was needed to make sound choices on issues
related to GM technology.
============================================================

Agence France Presse
July 12, 2000, Wednesday

Seven science academies favor genetic modification research

Seven international science institutions have called for the expansion of
biological research to reduce hunger and poverty around the world, the
National Academy of Sciences in Washington announced.

"It is essential that we improve food production and distribution in order
to feed and free from hunger a growing world population, while reducing
environmental impacts and providing productive employment in low-income
areas," said the science academies in a report issued here Tuesday.

The key is to improve genetic modification (GM) techniques in the field of
agriculture, with an emphasis on research and responsible application of
the techniques, the report said.

The Royal Society of London, the national academies of science of Brazil,
China, India, Mexico, and the United States, and the Third World Academy
of Sciences published the paper, even as these technologies have come
under fire in recent months.

"The obvious concern is that the recent backlash against GM technology
will completely overshadow all the promise that the technology offers,"
said Bruce Alberts, President of the US National Academy Sciences and a
member of the working group.

"Our group concluded that the revolution in molecular biology provides the
developing world with some important new tools for feeding and caring for
its people," he said.

"It will be critical to use the best science to make wise choices with
respect to the application of these technologies," he added.
==============================================================

Chicago Tribune
July 12, 2000

To combat world hunger, rich nations must boost funding for research into
genetically modified crops, and poor farmers must be protected from
corporate control of the technology, a group of science academies said
Tuesday.

In an unprecedented report by seven independent academies from the
developed and developing world, experts agreed that genetic modification
of crops is crucial to addressing the world's growing population and
shrinking land for growing food.

Genetically modified crops are created when scientists introduce a gene
from one species into another. It can make crops more resistant to disease
and pests, fortify them with vitamins or vaccines, and boost their
tolerance to drought.

The academies' report, launched in London by the Royal Society, urged
companies and research institutions to share knowledge and called for a
ban on broad patents.

Genetically altered crops have become politically charged, particularly in
Europe, where anxiety about food safety runs high after a crisis in the
mid-1990s over mad cow disease.
=========================================================

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)

July 12, 2000, Wednesday

SOME of the world's top scientists launched a campaign supporting
genetically modified food yesterday, with a report outlining how the
technology could help to feed the world.

The statement from seven international science academies, including
Britain's Royal Society, said that GM techniques should be harnessed to
tackle the food crisis by increasing yields.

It urged the biotech industry to share its knowledge for the common good.
The report also called for an international GM food watchdog and for an
end to restrictive biotech patents.

The report has taken a year to prepare and is part of an international
move to persuade the public that GM crops have a potential for good.

Prof Brian Heap, the Royal Society vice-chairman, said that 800 million
people, or 18 per cent of the world's population, did not have enough
food. Six million children under the age of five died of malnutrition each
year.

Although transgenic crops were not the only answer to tackling hunger,
they had the potential to alleviate it.

Scientists from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the United States, the Third
World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society produced the report.

It said GM technology could improve yields, develop pest resistance and
create plants with additional nutrition.

GM firms should not restrict farmers from propagating crops. That would
mean no "terminator crops", which are unable to produce seeds for the next
year.

Investigations must also be made into possible environmental dangers and
health concerns so as to reassure the public.