ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
17 December 2002


The 2 UK advisory committees on GMOs (ACRE and ACNFP) who were shown at the Chardon LL maize enquiry as having done such an inadequate job in assessing this GM maize in the first place, have now concluded the enquiry has thrown up nothing of sufficient consequence to make them reconsider their original findings (see comments of ACNFP via FSA in item 2).

Given that many of the same people, or their clones, were involved in both the original decisons and the review, their conclusions are about as startling as our quoting Mandy Rice-Davies.

The New Scientist commentary (item 3) while predictably complacent on many aspects of GM crop safety still contains some shrewd observations.  Item 6 contains some important observations on the Ethiopian situation.

Subtext of item 7 is a Vatican official saying if you're hungry you'll eat more or less anything so it's time for the hungry to shut up and eat their GM food. By way of comparison he points out that in the war he ate bread that "was made of powdered marble". The fact that there are abundant supplies of non-GM grain is somehow overlooked in this touching homily.
"It's wicked, when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics... if there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed it is here."  UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, November 27, 2002

1. Rice off the menu
2. Chardon LL maize - FSA
3.New Scientist on commercialisation in UK
4.Transatlantic tensions rising over GM foods
5.techno-euphorics' url of the day: engineering the silkworm
7.Vatican official says GM food better than eating grass


1. Rice off the menu

New Scientist, December 14, 2002

Protests by Japanese opponents of genetic engineering have scuppered a project to develop genetically modified rice in the prefecture of Aichi, a region centred around the southern city of Nagoya. The prefecture's Department of Agriculture and Forestry last week axed a programme begun in 1996 with multinational biotech firm Monsanto to develop rice resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. The protesters hope their victory  will spur other campaigns against GM rice projects elsewhere in Japan.

[see also: Japan: Citizen Campaign Visits Monsanto ]


2. Chardon LL maize (ALSO KNOWN AS T25)

December 17, 2002
Food Standards Agency

A public hearing on food safety and environmental concerns relating to a type of GM maize known as Chardon LL finished in June 2002 and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) has published its response.

The ACNFP (the independent committee that assesses food safety of novel foods, including GM crops) was asked to consider the representations made to the hearing held regarding placing Chardon LL maize on the National Seeds List.

This is the final stage for the maize to be grown commercially in the UK if the moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops is lifted.

...The ACNFP has considered the written and oral representations made to the hearing, and has concluded that no new evidence has been submitted that would question the safety of food products derived from Chardon LL maize.


3.To grow,  or not to grow

New Scientist December 14, 2002
Comment and Analysis, Pg. 27

With trials of genetically modified crops almost over, Britain has to decide whether to join the GM club. It's not just a little local spat, says David Concar

AT SOME point over the next few days or weeks, a small group of ecologists will march into a field of genetically modified  oilseed rape (canola) somewhere in England. There they'll take  soil samples, look for invertebrates and count weeds. It's a  routine they are well used to. For the past three years,  such teams have been monitoring more than 70 farm sites dotted  around Britain, all in a bid to assess the impact of GM crops on  farmland biodiversity. Activists have periodically pulled  up the crops, and there have been relentless claims that  the trials are environmentally risky and scientifically  worthless. But for the researchers at least, the end is in  sight. In six months, the weed counting will be over and  the first results out. Then it will be ministers' turn on  the rack. At the height of GM fever in Britain back in  1999, the farm trials bought the British government a  three-year voluntary moratorium on commercial growing.

 After July, there will be no further respite. To grow, or  not to grow: industry will demand one answer, greens (and  quite possibly the wider public) another. Which side will  prevail? The farmers of the Midwest could be excused for  thinking the answer hardly matters. With or without  Britain, the portion of the planet covered in these crops  will continue to grow. And even if Britain does join the GM  club, the market for GM seeds in such a small land  populated by so many sceptical consumers will not make "big  biotech" rich. But on closer inspection, the debate in  Britain does matter -- just not for the obvious reasons.

 What is not at stake is public safety. It should by now be  clear to everyone that past environmental and safety fears  were overblown: the present generation of crops have killed  nobody and produced no apocalypse. But the benefits of  these crops have been overblown too. The biotech industry  likes to depict the technology as a magic bullet answer to  world hunger. As Britain's farm trials have slowly  gestated, this has looked increasingly like shallow  propaganda. The world as a whole produces more than enough  food for everyone. People go hungry because they lack the  money to buy it.

The environmental pay-off is no more  clear-cut. Most GM crops, including those in the British  farm trials, are herbicide-tolerant. Whether this makes  them good or bad for biodiversity depends crucially on how  farmers use them. Those who let the weeds grow a little  longer before zapping them later in the season may, as the  biotech industry claims, provide extra plant food for  wildlife. Farmers who spray early and repeatedly in pursuit  of ultra-clean fields and bumper yields, or resort to using  more toxic weedkillers -- as some GM growers in the US have  apparently been doing -- will achieve the opposite. That is  one reason why interpreting the British farm trials will be  so difficult, and why, come July, everyone will be able to  spin the results their own way. So what should matter? If  the British government does say yes to GM crops, then  exactly what rules it introduces to govern how they are  grown will be crucial. If the impact on biodiversity of  herbicide-resistant crops depends on how farmers use them,  it is logical to set rules that deliver biodiversity  benefits. And if the present farm trials can't tell you  what those rules should be, or how much biodiversity to aim  for on farmland, well, do more research.

Other questions  may be harder to resolve. With some crops, cross-pollination of wild relatives or non-GM crops is inevitable. There is  no serious evidence to suggest that cross-pollination from  the present generation of GM crops is likely to cause any  actual harm, by, for example, damaging the nutritional  value of non-GM food. But green groups in Britain have  succeeded in making the question of gene flow symbolic of  the whole notion of consumers and organic growers being  forced to accept a technology that they do not trust. Since  future crops may contain pharmaceutical genes that would be  harmful if they got into the human food chain, this stance  isn't quite as irrational as some scientists claim, and  deserves at the very least to be addressed with strict  regulations. Expect a fierce scrap over this issue to come  to a head in the next few months.

Even gene flow, however,  is not the key issue. At present Britain as a whole, if not  its government, is seen as something of a world leader in  anti-GM sentiment. A Britain that is at least nominally  pro-GM, even if the crops are seldom grown or eaten there,  would shatter that perception. That in turn would boost the  long-term prospects for those wanting to export GM foods to  Europe and generally grease the wheels of world trade in  high-tech mechanised farm produce. And it's this, above all  else, that should concentrate our minds. Does it matter if  the food chain is increasingly controlled by a handful of  large companies? If food travels ever greater distances  from farm to plate? If there is little or no social bond  between growers and consumers, and even less awareness of  the impact that this global market has on local food and  trade needs? These are the important questions.

 Unfortunately, there isn't a farm trial in the world that  can put them to the test.


4.Transatlantic tensions rising over GM foods

Environment Daily 1351, 16/12/02
EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy has urged America not to take legal action against Europe's moratorium on genetically modified (GM) product licensing amid rising signs that the USA could be about to launch a new trade war. The European Commission is reiterating its calls for member states to lift the moratorium.

EU governments have refused to approve any new GM crops or similar biotech products since 1998. The USA believes the policy has no scientific foundation. But it has fought shy of launching a legal challenge through the World trade organisation (WTO), fearing this would antagonise EU countries while not achieving its aim of opening up the European market.

America's mood has shifted sharply since October, when Zaire rejected US maize delivered as food aid. The move heightened concerns in Washington that EU opposition to GM crops is spreading to other countries. Zaire argued that the maize contained GM material not proven to be safe and which could contaminate the country's seed stock, so hurting its ability to export to the EU.

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal newspaper, a proposal for legal action could emerge formally early next year. US trade minister Robert Zoellick is said to favour this course. The EU's Pascal Lamy responded to the rising tide of US frustration on Friday, urging America to think twice before launching a complaint.

Ironically, stiffening US resistance to the moratorium comes just as it should be nearing its end. New European rules on traceability and labelling of GM products including animal food and feed could be finalised next spring (ED 10/12/02). It is widely expected that once they are adopted then the six-country bloc of refusniks who sparked the moratorium will relax their opposition.

On the other hand it remains far from certain what will happen. Final agreement on the traceability and labelling rules could be delayed. Or some EU governments could demand entry into force of the rules rather than just adoption. Either outcome could delay the moratorium's end by months.

Furthermore a large minority of EU states is continuing to press the European Commission to broaden proposals for a directive on environmental liability to include GMOs. The Commission has repeatedly refused to take this step, so the issue could potentially become another flashpoint.

Even if EU countries agree in principle to restart the approvals process, it will not guarantee positive decisions on concrete proposals. This should be put to the test next year as the Commission is asking companies wishing to propose products for approval to "test the system".


5.Silk industry could profit from biotech invention


6.Circulated by the Gaia Foundation

Statement by Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher on Ethiopia's predicated food crisis and his article on Ethiopia1s capacity to feed itself. 9/12/02

In June 2002, The Environment Protection Authority of Ethiopia (EPA) described how Ethiopia was capable of feeding itself. In 2001 food production was at a surplus, as had been the case for several summers running. Now in the face of the pending famine that has been widely reported in the media, this claim seems impossible to believe. However, he explains below how two successive droughts this year have critically reduced crop production in some areas. Poor infrastructure, inappropriate food aid policy and biased international trade rules exacerbates the situation. The country has the ability to feed all its population without a net import of commodities at the moment. There is not reliable data on whether all the country's needs could be satisfied until the next harvest.

Rainfall regimes are such that in el Ninio or la Ninia years one or another part of the country is hit by draught. These cyclical patterns were normally separated by five or six years. Recently the draughts have become more frequent, most probably as a result of climate destabilisation caused by global warming. In 2002 these weather occurrences were back to back. This freak occurrence will lead to crop shortfalls that could lead to 14 million people being without adequate food supplies. This figure is spread over the next year and will peak just before harvest during the months of August to October 2003.

There is food in the country from the previous bumper harvests. However, there are various reasons why this will not get to the hungry.  Those people who lost their harvest in 2002 have no economic means to buy from the market until the next harvest (October 2003). Poor infrastructure means that it is extremely costly and difficult to store or move foods from areas of surplus to those of need. The government lacks the necessary funds to pay for this internal redistribution.

The OECD, EU and international aid agencies all recommend that aid should be given in cash, allowing food to be purchased locally. This would support and stimulate local markets and therefore production. The US has a policy of donating "aid" purchased off its own farmers. This reduces prices in recipient nations and further harms their farmers. The US now threatens to donate GE maize, which will not only disrupt local agricultural systems but could have unpredictable effects on both the environment and human health.

Solutions to prevent the situation recurring
1. Improve infrastructure to provide effective storage and transport of food products. This means investment in roads and silos. Food and seed storage should be decentralised and locally managed.
2. Diversification of farmer1s income. By exploiting alternative ways of raising money farmers can have the means to buy food at times of draught from the areas of the country that have a surplus. Total economic dependence on farming leaves farmers vulnerable to effects of cyclical weather systems.
3. Improved financial resources of the government allowing them to allocate resources effectively to move food at times of famine.
4. If food is needed, provide cash to stimulate production and the market (in areas of surplus). This will boost the local economy.


7. Vatican backs GM foods

The Vatican says GM foods should be used to feed the world's hungry.

A spokesman says the controversy over altered foods is more political than scientific.

Archbishop Renato Martino says it is better people eat GM foods than eat grass.

Archbishop Martino, who until recently represented the Holy See at the United Nations, was asked about the issue at a news conference about John Paul's annual world peace message.

"I lived 16 years in America and I ate what came from the market, what was given to me," including, he said, genetically modified foods. "So far I have had no ill effects."

Martino said "he wouldn't make such a big deal" about food being genetically modified. "When you're hungry you eat everything."

Now head of the Vatican's council dealing with social issues, Martino says during the Second World War in Italy he and others ate bread that was made of powdered marble as well as flour to give it substance.

"But we ate it because that's what we had," Martino said.

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