ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 December 2001

BRAZIL GM-FREE CORN EXPORTS SEEN AT RECORD HIGH

see also: Booming GM-Free soybeans help boost Brazilís economy
http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/151201a.htm

all items via Agnet
1. BRAZIL GM-FREE CORN EXPORTS SEEN AT RECORD-SAFRAS
2. DNA FROM GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN BEING FOUND IN FIELDS IN MEXICO
3. GENETICALLY ENGINEERED GRAPEVINES MEET RESISTANCE

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1. BRAZIL GM-FREE CORN EXPORTS SEEN AT RECORD-SAFRAS

December 19, 2001
Reuters
Reese Ewing

SAO PAULO -- Brazil's record corn harvest of 42  million tonnes this season and its reputation for banning genetically modified crops have pushed the country's corn exports to all time highs, independent grains analysts Safras e Mercado said Wednesday.

Brazil's 2001/2002 (Feb.-Jan.) net corn exports could reach a record 6.2 million tonnes compared with net imports of 1.8 million tonnes last season, Safras' corn analyst Paulo Molinhari was cited as telling Reuters. The story says that unlike the soybean crop, of which over 60 percent is exported, most of the corn crop is consumed by the country's thriving pig and poultry industries, in some years making Brazil a net importer of corn. Molinhari was cited as noting that corn makes up about 70 percent of the country's livestock feed, which nourishes principally poultry and pig farms but also serves as supplemental food for Brazil's 170 million cattle, the world's top commercial herd.

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2. DNA FROM GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN BEING FOUND IN FIELDS IN MEXICO

December 18, 2001
NPR
ANCHORS: BOB EDWARDS
REPORTERS: DAN CHARLES

BOB EDWARDS, host: Bits of DNA created through genetic engineering have turned up in the cornfields of Mexico, the birthplace of corn. That's provoking protests in Mexico and the United States. According to one widely held theory, genes created through biotechnology amount to genetic pollution and could destroy corn varieties unique to Mexico. According to most experts, the real threat to Mexico's storehouse of corn genes lies elsewhere. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES reporting: Major Goodman, a corn geneticist at North Carolina State University, has spent a lifetime fishing through corn's gene pool, sorting through all the genes that corn plants can possess. He's looked for genes that might, for instance, protect corn plants in the United States from disease. Most of that gene pool, he says, lies in the fields of Mexico, where you can observe more different kinds of corn than you ever imagined existed.
Mr. MAJOR GOODMAN (North Carolina State University): These things vary from slightly over two feet high to well over 15 feet high. They grow in everything from essentially desert conditions to areas where the rainfall is heavier than anyone can imagine in the winter in Seattle.
CHARLES: That diversity of corn, or maize as it's called in most of the world, is not a product of nature, though. That's according to Mauricio Belon(ph), a sociologist at the International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize.
Mr. MAURICIO BELON (International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize): Maize is a crop, and as such is the result not of natural selection but human selection.
CHARLES: Year after year, farmers in places like Oaxaca and Chiapas use for seed the ears of corn they like the best. That creates strains of corn that grow well where those farmers happen to live or taste best in special dishes.
Mr. BELON: For example, in the case of Oaxaca, you might find that you want to have special hatole, which is a beverage, and also people have a very refined taste for--they can distinguish all these maize types, what they are good for.  Is part of a very strong cultural tradition that goes back for thousands of years.
CHARLES: A foreign intruder was sighted recently in this close-knit community of plants and people. Tests detected a snippet of DNA created in the laboratories of North American biotech companies to protect North American corn against an insect pest. Somehow it reached remote valleys of Oaxaca. No one knows how. It might have arrived in shipments of corn intended for food, perhaps some Mexican farmer decided to plant those kernels instead. The report has fast become a prime exhibit of biotechnology's dangers. Opponents of genetic engineering say that this gene, this genetic pollution, may take over Mexico's cornfields, replacing the rich collection of native varieties the way, in North America, imported species like zebra mussels or kudzu invaded lakes and forests. Major Goodman thinks that's ridiculous.
Mr. GOODMAN: I cannot see that it will do any harm, period.
CHARLES: A gene isn't a living creature that competes with other species, he says. Through cross-pollination, the gene will shuffle itself randomly into strains of corn that are already there. It will keep turning up in future generations if it helps plants find favor in the eyes of Mexican farmers. And if the gene does that, Goodman says, it could even help native corn survive and prosper.
Mr. GOODMAN: If it's detrimental, it will be eliminated rather quickly. If it's beneficial, it will stick around and multiply a bit, and it might lend a little bit of protection to populations that are currently rather endangered, as a number of these populations are.
CHARLES: The corn populations are endangered because their human partners also are, says Mauricio Belon, the Mexican sociologist.
Mr. BELON: The most important consideration in the loss of diversity has to do with the fact that farmers are simply abandoning farming.
CHARLES: 'Don't get me wrong,' Belon says, 'there's still plenty of corn all over Mexico. But villages in places like Oaxaca and Chiapas are suffering. Young people particularly are leaving, so fields are left untended, special dishes are forgotten, and with them perhaps some strains of corn.'
Mr. BELON: Human diversity is fundamental for the maintenance of the biological diversity of maize.
CHARLES: When human communities can't maintain that biological diversity anymore, it can vanish, or end up in so-called gene banks. There, long-forgotten seeds are stored in jars, preserved in secure vaults. Those collections also require human tending, and many say they don't get nearly enough. In the gene banks, just as in the fields of Mexico, the biggest threat to the genetic diversity of agricultural crops appears not to be high-tech intervention, but simple human neglect. Dan Charles, NPR News, Washington.

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3. GENETICALLY ENGINEERED GRAPEVINES MEET RESISTANCE

December 19, 2001
AP
Colleen Valles

Advancements have, according to this story, been made in the fight against the vine-killing disease threatening California's $33 billion wine industry, including the development of grapevines genetically engineered to be resistant to it.

But, the story adds, consumers wary of genetically modified foods may not have to worry about their wine, since the new plants could have a hard time finding their way into vineyards.

The story says that while many conventional growers appreciate the research, developed by the University of Florida, they're not likely to switch their vines over to the new ones resistant to Pierce's disease if they become available.

Karen Ross, director of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, was quoted as saying that most growers are interested in learning more about the genetically engineered vines, but they haven't yet expressed a desire to plant them, adding, "Most growers and most of the people in the industry support doing genomic research because we believe it's an important diagnostic tool to better understand the problems we're facing. Because we're such a traditional industry to begin with and because wines take so long to make, it takes longer for us to implement new sciences like this." It also would be costly to plant the new vines.

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