ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

6 November 2001


"Americans, the world's healthiest, wealthiest people, can do something better to feed the world's starving people than give them our food. We can give them our science. We can discover and share methods of genetically altering crops..."

1. More media coverage of the Trewavas affair
2. Europe's concerns over GE foods not likely to be assuaged soon
3. US soy lands in China, inspection to take a month
4. Bio-safety ignored in India
5. Brazil drags heels on green light for GM soybeans
6. A biological imperative - the need for a bio-weopons treaty
7. Monsanto's 'plant version of the moon shot'


1. More on Anthony Trewavas and the Glasgow Herald (Private Eye)
Private Eye - 2 November 2001, from 'Street of Shame', p.4

The Glasgow Herald had to pay libel damages to Lord Melchett and Greenpeace over a letter making spurious allegations that the charity had deliberately spread unfounded fears about GM foods to further Lord Melchett's financial interests.

The author of this letter, which also wrongly suggested that Greenpeace had inappropriate links with commercial organisations, was Professor Anthony Trewavas, pro-GM professor on plant biochemistry at Edinburgh University.

Could this be the same Prof Anthony Trewavas listed as one of the Royal Society "experts" who are recommended and available to help busy science hacks get their stories right?


2. Europe's concerns over biotech foods don't seem likely to be assuaged soon

November 4, 2001, St.Louis Post-Dispatch
Bill Lambrecht

A new spirit of cooperation between the United States and Europe in fighting terrorism may, according to this story, do little to solve another thorny foreign policy matter: Europe's  stubborn rejection of genetically modified foods.

Industry and government officials who were gathered last week for a "Future of Food Biotechnology" conference heard a bleak assessment from Tony Van der haegen, the European Union commissioner of agriculture, fisheries and consumer affairs, about prospects for ending Europe's three-year freeze on new imports and plantings of gene-altered products, who was quoted as saying, "I would warn you against a traditional American attitude of saying that what is good for America is good for Europe."

The story says that Van der haegen chided his American audience for vigorously contesting Europe's proposed new rules for labeling genetically modified products and keeping records of their origins, adding, "I hear from you that there is no difference between GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and traditional products. If that is true, why does the biotech industry want to patent the differences?"

In an interview, Van der haegen was cited as saying he had seen no change recently in consumer resistance to engineered food in Europe even though scientists for the 15-country European alliance had pronounced it safe, adding, "Perhaps there will be more solidarity now, but I don't see how that could influence a problem that is a consumer problem and a political problem."

Hans Klemm, a State Department agriculture official, was cited as saying that for now, Americans would continue their efforts to convince the Europeans to change their policies, adding that, "What we are doing for the moment is working behind the scenes at the very highest levels possible to try to get resumption of approvals."

Carol Tucker Foreman, a consumer leader and a member of the White House's agriculture trade policy advisory committee was cited as saying that given the war on terrorism, the likelihood of Americans mounting a World Trade Organization protest seemed remote, adding, "We have every reason to get along with the European Union right now. They are our biggest supporters in a life-and-death struggle."


3. US soy lands in China, Inspection to take a month

November 5, 2001
Reuters [via Agnet]

SHANGHAI, - The first cargo of U.S. soybeans from this season's crop arrived, according to this story, at the northern Chinese port of Yantai over the weekend and inspection of the cargo is expected to take up to a month, a quarantine official was cited as saying on Monday. The market will be watching the fate of the first U.S. soybean shipment closely as a test of a Chinese import system mired in uncertainties due to stringent quarantine inspections and new rules on genetically modified organisms (GMO).  The story says that the shipment was booked before June 6, when China announced the fuzzy GMO rules that brought orders for U.S. soybeans to a virtual standstill due to fears that the cargoes might not pass stricter quarantine inspection, traders said.


4. Bio-Safety ignored, alleges Greenpeace

The Times of India November 5, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Centre has failed in implementing bio-safety guidelines in India through its three-tier mechanism put in place by the department of biotechnology (DBT), alleged environmental organisation Greenpeace International. This follows the Gujarat visit of Greenpeace campaigners in connection with the controversial sale and planting of Bt gene variety of genetically engineered cotton seeds in the state, though the Central government has not granted permissions for this. Criticising the huge gaps in the Indian regulatory system, Greenpeace pointed out that the only legal mechanism regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which puts the entire responsibility of approval under the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

Greenpeace expressed serious concern about the thousands of hectares of illegally planted Bt cotton in Gujarat, stating that the entire episode was ludicrous revealing the inability of the Indian regulatory systems to control the release of GMOs into the environment. The campaigners found that no proper environmental assessment of the situation was undertaken and that the GEAC had sent an investigative team comprising of the director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur and a scientist from the DBT. But, no assessment or even investigation of the environmental damage was undertaken. The investigation team only verified whether the cotton fields were planted with Bt cotton or not. "The incident is being used as a tool to legitimise Bt cotton, with the final beneficiary being the gene giant Monsanto," stated a Greenpeace campaigner. "This is happening across the world, and only shows how uncontrollable GMOs are."

However, managing director of the Maharashtrian Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO) Raju Barwale told the TNN, "Bt cotton technology has been commercialised in seven countries - the US, China, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Indonesia - and is being used effectively by millions of farmers to control bollworm on 1.5 million hectares world-wide."

MAHYCO in collaboration with Monsanto is also working on transgenic Bt gene cotton seeds. The managing director further stated, "Over 3,00,000 small farmers in China alone planted Bt cotton on 5,00,000 hectares last year. This large planting by millions of large and small farmers in both industrial and developing countries reflects their satisfaction with the significant and multiple benefits of biotech crops."

Meanwhile, the long-term implications of genetically modified crops on the agricultural biodiversity, soil fertility and non-target species need to be studied, the Greenpeace demanded. It further said the Gujarat government along with the GEAC undertake a comprehensive mapping and environmental survey of the illegal plantations and make its findings public. In addition, the offending company, Navbharat Seeds, must be prosecuted and taken to task.

Greenpeace feared a very high chance of environmental contamination, as farmers have already carried out a couple of pickings of Bt cotton this year in addition to a full harvest for the past two years. It suggested that to prevent further contamination, the authorities must procure the Bt cotton crop from farmers at a mutually agreed remunerative price and take necessary steps to contain it.

The government must launch a confidence building drive amongst farmers to inform them of the threat that genetically modified crops pose to land, fertility and sustainable agriculture.


5. Brazil drags heels on green light for GM soybeans

Monday November 5, 6:30 pm Eastern Time
By Peter Blackburn
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Nov 6 (Reuters)

Consumers may soon have serious cause for concern if agricultural powerhouse Brazil allows sales of genetically modified (GM) crops. Supplies of staple foods such as soybeans might never be the same again. Brazil, a leading world producer of soybeans, coffee, sugar, beef, corn and orange juice, is one of the world's last bastions blocking the advance of GM crops despite fierce lobbying from powerful multinationals such as U.S.-based Monsanto. Brazil's soybean fields are already riddled with unknown amounts of beans -- estimated by some analysts at up to 60 percent in the key southern crop areas -- which are grown from modified seeds smuggled in from neighbouring Argentina. But if Brazil were to permit the widespread cultivation and sale of genetically modified soy, which might still take many months due to the country's labyrinthine legal system, the global balance between modified and unmodified beans might change forever.

Lucrative Europe market key for Brazil's soy exports

This could have an enormous impact on exports of soybeans from Brazil, the world's second largest grower, as it would very likely lead to losses in the lucrative European market where safety-conscious consumers often prefer to buy non-GM foods. "Europe is the principal buyer of Brazilian soy," said Cesar Borges de Souza, former president of the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oils Industries (Abiove). "Europe's preference for conventional soy means that they will look to Brazilian products first. So in market terms, this is a big advantage even if they are not paying an explicit premium for conventional soy," he said. More importantly, perhaps, a pro-GM stance from Brazil would put it on a much more equal export footing with the hemisphere's other main producers Argentina and the United States -- both of which plant more than half their crop with GMO beans. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts, Brazil should grow 41.5 million tonnes of soybeans in 2001/02, compared with 75.1 million tonnes in the U.S. and 27.0 million in Argentina -- together, nearly 80 percent of global output. If Brazil's government were to adopt a pro-GM policy, modified beans would also dominate world soy exports as the top three producers would account for an expected 52 million of a total 57 million tonnes of exports forecast for next season. Brazil's non-genetically modified soy commands a premium over GM material especially in health-conscious markets
such as Europe and Japan -- and some U.S. processors with customers in Europe will spurn their obvious source of supply and pay extra for non-GM beans. The European Union purchased over half of Brazil's total soybean and soymeal exports of more than 22 million tonnes between January and September this year. "Brazil is exporting more and more soybeans compared with the U.S. and Argentina because people want GM-free food," said Mariana Paoli, campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil, which wants a moratorium on the development of GM food crops until their safety has been properly researched.

Farmers lured by low costs, seed smuggling rife

Apart from the premium paid for their produce in Europe, Brazilian farmers are attracted by the savings offered by GM soybeans as they require less application of herbicides, and less fuel to power machinery for routine field operations. The financial rewards may have already moved the GM issue in Brazil beyond the power of the courts and the government. Some of Brazil's soybean fields, especially in the south, are said to be rife with GM seeds smuggled across the land and river borders from Argentina, where the use of GM technology is widespread among the country's farmers. In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state bordering Argentina and Uruguay, GM soy accounts for some 60 percent of planted area: double the levels seen last year, according to Brazil's Seed Producers Association (Abrasem). "Profit margins for the certified seed producers are shrinking. It is a life or death issue for the seed industry," said Abrasem's director Joao Henrique Hummel, adding that the illegal traffic had crippled conventional seed suppliers. Annual production of registered seed had slumped to 100,000 tonnes in Rio Grande do Sul from 300,000 tonnes just three years ago, he said.

Rio Grande do Sul is Brazil's third largest soy-growing state after Parana and top grower Mato Grosso. Industry sources have said the government is either turning a blind eye to the smuggling, or simply unable to prevent it.

Monsanto, government, consumers locked in legal battle

The legal battle over genetically modified crops has raged in Brazil for years. The wrangle between the government, which is broadly in favour of GM farming, and consumer lobby groups has been dragging through the country's courts for years as each new incident emerges to revive the issue once again. Last year, Brazil barred several shipments of Argentine corn and wheat to its southern ports while laboratory tests for GM material were conducted. Brazil imported nearly all its eight million tonnes of wheat from Argentina in 2000/01. Early this year, more than 1,000 impoverished farmers stormed a biotech research centre owned by Monsanto in Rio Grande do Sul to protest against GM crops, pulling up fledgling corn and soybean plants at the company's experimental farm. In July, the Agriculture Minister was reported to be poised to give Monsanto the green light to market and sell GM soybeans. But he was forced to beat a speedy retreat when reminded that the issue was still subject to a legal injunction. The
government favours GM farming techniques, which it says should cut costs, raise productivity and help keep Brazil as a leader among the world's food exporters. For its part, Monsanto has been lobbying hard in government circles to secure authorisation to sell its soybean varieties, which have been bio-engineered to withstand the company's Roundup Ready herbicide, on the Brazilian market. While Roundup Ready soybeans are the furthest along the bureaucratic trail towards approval for sale, Monsanto is still completing a five-year environmental impact study in Brazil, which was ordered by the local courts in 1998.

Analysts say a ruling on the GM issue may emerge later this year and even if it goes against Monsanto, appeals could still be lodged in Brazil's Supreme Court -- which would drag the process out for many more months. Anti-GM campaigners say a decision in favour of Monsanto might include new reference terms for studies into the impact on the environment, human and animal health, as well as food labelling, safety, and the segregation of GM and traditional crops. "It's a very slow process. Approval certainly won't be in time for this year's harvest, possibly for 2002 or 2003," said Flavio Roberto de Franca, analyst at grains and oilseeds consultancy Safras e Mercado. "But the question seems to be when, rather than if, approval will be given," he said.


6. A Biological Imperative

Los Angeles Times November 5, 2001 Monday

Whatever happened to "trust but verify"? That was former President Reagan's sensible advice on enforcing a nuclear weapons treaty. It should also be the guiding principle of proposed changes in the global Biological Weapons Convention, but even as anthrax stalks the United States, the Bush administration won't go for it. In May, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan persuaded a broad coalition of countries to put teeth into the weak 1972 treaty by requiring nations to permit surprise inspections of plants in which bioweapons could be made. Annan's "draft protocol" died July 25, when U.S. negotiator Donald Mahley rejected it, saying inspectors "would put national security and confidential business information at risk."

U.S. drug companies, which are very large campaign contributors, had lobbied the Bush administration against strengthening the treaty, saying inspectors might steal commercial secrets. Now, two weeks before a U.N. meeting to revive the protocol, it is being hammered again by biotech lobbyists and members of the administration who are philosophically opposed to arms control agreements, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in 1997 argued unsuccessfully against a similar U.N. plan to monitor chemical weapons. As an alternative to the U.N. proposals, they offer nothing more than a provision making bioweapons manufacturing a crime and urging nations to cooperate. Run that one past the postal workers and others who contracted anthrax and the families of those who died. The U.N.'s draft lays out specific guidelines to prevent inspectors from collecting privileged business information. If the Bush administration is concerned that the guidelines aren't tough enough, then it should strengthen them. How about a professional cadre of credentialed and certified bioweapons inspectors, much as the International Atomic Energy Assn. has done for nuclear plants? In half a century of visits, the association's inspectors, bound by strict laws and ethics codes, haven't been accused of stealing any proprietary information. The administration's other key argument against inspections is that they would "create a false sense of security." Yes, inspectors will not be able to stop every lunatic who tries to chop up anthrax in his blender. Or even every rogue nation that resists inspection. But an international team of trained inspectors would make it much harder to hide the sort of technically sophisticated operations--including bomblets, aerosolizers and industrial-sized drying machines--necessary to prepare a large and successful attack. Obviously, no single treaty can stop bioterrorism. But a treaty that trusts but doesn't verify provides no meaningful shield at all.


7. St Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Editorial [via AgBioView]

"Americans, the world's healthiest, wealthiest people, can do something better to feed the world's starving people than give them our food. We can give them our science. [   ] A country that cannot feed its own people has a foundation for chaos of every sort."

A Mission Launched

Challenged to overcome our grief, tame our fear and fight for the "hearts and minds" of those who distrust us, Americans can take pride in one small group of people from many countries who will begin work today in Creve Coeur to help feed the world. The opening of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a small occasion of great hope. Its multicultural, humanitarian mission deserves our encouragement.

The underlying premise of the center is ambitious and new. Americans, the world's healthiest, wealthiest people, can do something better to feed the world's starving people than give them our food. We can give them our science. We can discover and share methods of genetically altering crops to make them more nutritious and easier to grow in hostile soil and weather. When we give countries the technology to grow their own food, we give them self-determination. A country that cannot feed its own people has a foundation for chaos of every sort. Afghanistan certainly comes to mind.

To succeed, the center must take on tricky challenges that have nothing to do with coaxing cassavas from drought-parched soil. It must place ethics above all else-even as it solicits money to fund the ongoing operation. At the center, there must be one startling invention that defies history: a free lunch.

Scientists sometimes operate in a vacuum, then struggle when societal hurdles arise. Some feel betrayed by unanticipated public backlash. To short-circuit that possibility, the center must meet, head-on, the public's misgivings about genetically modified foods. It must consider the safety of these foods to be a sacred trust and communicate this to a mass audience that has, unfortunately, the skimpiest of scientific understanding. The center also must work in conjunction with some knowledgeable entities that can explore cultural and political barriers to implementing its discoveries overseas. Such questions have arisen over whether Asian nations that attach religious significance to the whiteness of rice would grow yellow-colored "golden rice," which is genetically modified to increase vitamin A content.

Most of all, the center must be aggressively vigilant in maintaining a measure of independence from those who fund it, especially private corporations such as Monsanto that undoubtedly will turn the center's discoveries into marketable products. Most of the center's $146 million in start-up money comes from Monsanto Co., the Monsanto Fund and the Danforth Foundation. The center is a joint project of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Monsanto, Washington University, the University of Missouri, Purdue University and the University of Illinois.

Roger Beachy, president of the center, told Post-Dispatch editorial page writers that the center will attempt to walk the fine line of maintaining some intellectual property rights while retaining humanitarian licenses to share critical information with developing countries.

None of this will be easy work. It is the plant version of the moon shot, a visionary, courageous undertaking with no guarantee of success. In other words, it's the type of thing America does best.

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