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August 29, 2000


Green Ag Minister's Havoc In Italy; Myth of Farmers Saving


This is an article by me published in the September issue of Nature
Biotechnology about the Italian situation.

Best wishes

Anna Meldolesi
Anna Meldolesi
Nature Biotechnology
Business and Regulatory News
September 2000 Volume 18 Number 9 pp 919 - 920

Anna Meldolesi is a freelance writer working in Rome.

Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Italy's Green minister for agriculture and
forestry, is pushing Italian agbiotech research to the point of collapse.
By attaching strict conditions to public funding, he is limiting the
efforts of scientists and stifling research in an area that is already

Behaving somewhat incongruously with his position, Pecoraro Scanio has
been denouncing GM foods while research institutes within his ministry
conduct agbiotech research. The minister's inconsistent behavior was
publicly exposed in mid-July, when the European commissioner Margot
Wallström, in an effort to end the moratorium on GM crops, urged European
Union countries to approve the new, stricter 90/220 directive for release
of GMOs into the environment (Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 705;MEDLINE). Although
Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission and former premier in
Italy, publicly supported Wallström, Pecoraro Scanio stated in several
television interviews that the ban must stay because GM products represent
a threat to health, the environment, and traditional Italian agriculture.
However, on national news on July 19, a researcher from the National
Research Council (Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche; CNR), Roberto Defez,
showed the public that researchers in institutes funded by the
agricultural ministry were filing patents on GM crops. He revealed a
document signed by the agriculture ministry on July 16 authorizing an
application for the international extension of a patent on parthenocarpic
GM melons and tomatoes.

Even though soon after taking office Pecoraro Scanio had ordered all
research units within his ministry to notify him of every GMO experiment,
to avoid public embarrassment, he claimed he was unaware of what was going
on and announced an "investigation" into the institutes' activities.
Moreover, on July 20, the agriculture ministry sent a letter to the
researchers involved stating that it would only cover expenses for
patenting if there was "a clear promise not to use this patent."

Defez is astonished. "That's really amazing: we'll give you the money
providing you don't exploit the invention! This is a self-evident example
of Italian schizophrenia˜while new university courses in biotechnology are
established, scientists are prevented from accomplishing their objectives
and from getting results," says Defez. "Probably politicians can behave
like this because there isn't an economic lobby able to oppose." He points
out that, as it is, Italy is not represented among the top 60
revenue-generating biotech companies in Europe.

Moreover, a few days earlier on July 11, the agriculture ministry had sent
a separate letter to Francesco Salamini, coordinator of research projects
throughout the ministry, stating that agbiotech funding is tied to the
promise that field trials of GM crops will not be carried out.

"The agriculture minister evidently thinks he is exempt from the
provisions of European law, which allows [field trials] with due
precaution," says Agostino Falavigna of the Istituto Sperimentale per
l'Orticoltura (Experimental Institute for Horticulture). "The little money
he gives us this way is wasted, since laboratory experiments have a
limited meaning." Although Pecoraro Scanio will be in office for only one
year, Falavigna thinks he's causing long-term trouble. "The damage he is
causing to the Italian agbiotech research is probably irreversible," he

Pecoraro Scanio's hostility to agbiotech has been evident since his
appointment in April: a few days after taking office, he removed his
ministry's support of the International Biotechnology Congress held in
Genoa in May, banning his officials from taking part in the meeting. His
new constraints come when Italy's public funding of agbiotech is already
limited and the industry struggling. There has been a 75% cut of financial
resources for research inside the agriculture ministry in the last two
years. The government's long-term plan, the National Plan for Vegetal
Biotechnology, had intended that the agriculture ministry allocate $4
million a year for agbio research, but even this was stopped two years ago
as a result of Italian economic problems; in 2000, $2 million must be
shared among 200 agbio projects. In addition, GM field trials have fallen
from about 40 in 1999 to 26 this year, many being halted because of
pressure from local authorities. "The precautionary principle is turning
out to be a 'no experimentation principle'," says Defez.

"The agriculture minister says he wants to protect Italian traditional
products, but to reach success we need innovation" points out Enrico
Porceddu, of the Società Italiana di Genetica Agraria (Italian Society of
Agricultural Genetics). "Italy has an important past in this field
[particularly development of cereal varieties], but now we are already
losing the market of flowers and, without a turnabout, we will be forced
to buy seeds produced abroad."

Sub: Movies in Molecular Biology

If you want to see some good instructional movies or animation about
molecular biology visit the following Web page for movies of cells, and
methods from the Davidson College Biology Department


It also has links to other animations and graphics sites such as Cold
Spring Harbor Lab for learning and teaching about molecular biology, cell
biology and immunology


Farmers Take To Hybrid Seeds In A Big Way
Financial Express (India)
28 August 2000

One of the many fallacies in India is that the majority of farmers use
seeds saved from the previous year's harvest rather than buy new seeds
from the market.

We asked Raju Barwale, managing director of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds
Company (MAHYCO), India's largest private sector seed company which
provides seeds to farmers throughout India (162 products in 38 crop
species), what the facts are. Here are some answers and statistics he gave

Annual sales of public and private sector seed companies in India today
are in the range of Rs 2,500-3,000 crore, of which the private sector
accounts for Rs 1,600 crore ($353.04 million). This excludes the seeds
that Government distributes free of cost to farmers. How does one explain
this huge turnover of the public and private seed sectors combined if only
10 per cent of farmers buy new seeds, as one paper claimed recently?

At least three-quarters of the seeds of hybrid crops like maize, sorghum
(jowar), millet (bajra), sunflower, cotton and vegetables are supplied by
a hundred private sector seed companies, the rest comes from the public

On the basis of these figures, the number of farmers buying new seed
rather than using saved seed for jowar alone works out to a million
farmers!n All hybrid vegetable seeds for bhendi, tomato, cabbage, brinjal,
gourds (pumpkin, karela, etc) are also purchased because farmers find the
returns from them are much higher than from conventional seeds.

Of the four million cotton farmers in India, 2.5 million use hybrid cotton
seeds because of higher yield and better quality. This means that 2.5
million cotton farmers buy fresh seed each year because they know that the
yield and quality from hybrid seeds that are saved declines with each

Of the 1.5 million cotton farmers in Maharashtra, 1.2 million use hybrid
cotton and only 150.000 use non-hybrid cotton. They buy these seeds from
the market each year because they have experienced the benefits of new

India was a food deficit country with only 375 million people in the
mid`60s, producing only 80 million tonnes of food. Today, it grows over
200 million tonnes for one billion people thanks to the seed revolution.

Over a million rural women get part-time employment in the seed industry
in just one crop - cotton.

We also found that a survey by ORG-MARG last year showed that an
overwhelming majority of cotton farmers in this country prefer hybrid
seeds to conventional seeds because they experience higher yields, faster
growth more profitability and better crop quality with less disease and
fewer past problems.

The study covered over 1,000 farmers in seven key agricultural states.
Overall, more than 80 per cent cited more yield as the reason for using
hybrid seeds.

The preference for hybrid seeds over conventional seeds cuts across
farmers with holdings of all sizes - from small farms to medium-sized
farms to big farms. Crop-wise, 78 per cent of farmers growing cotton said
that the advantage of using hybrid seeds was higher yields.

Ninety-four per cent of those interviewed said they use hybrid seeds, with
80 per cent citing increased production for doing so, while 38 per cent
said hybrid crops grow faster. Farmers in states like Madhya Pradesh (87
per cent), Maharashtra (85 per cent) and Haryana (82 per cent) topped
those who said that hybrids increase yields.

The study found that the use of hybrid and/or improved seeds has become
the norm in some states - 99 per cent of farmers interviewed in Haryana,
98 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, 97 per cent in Punjab and
94 per cent in Gujarat said they use hybrid seeds.
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Reader's Digest: What You Should Know About GM

Applause to Mr. Harris for a balanced article and to Reader's Digest for
balanced journalism. Conscience may salvage this mess entirely.

>What You Should Know About GM FOODS
>(Reader's Digest, Canada)
>Let's sort the biotech wheat from the chaff