1. Ploughing GM crops has risks
2. Organic Versus Genetic Debate Dominates Swiss Conference
3. GM crops might affect birds - Reuters
4. Geneticist attacks Porritt
1. Ploughing GM crops has risks - McKenna
By Olivia Kelly
The Irish Times
Monday, September 4, 2000
Genetically modified crops being tested in the Republic are being disposed of by potentially hazardous methods, the Green MEP, Ms Patricia McKenna, has claimed.She said the method of disposal used by biotech company Monsanto in their GM sugar beet trials at various sites heightened the risk of contaminating conventional crops.
GM sugar beet used in four field trials by Monsanto last year was chopped up with a rota-tiller and ploughed back into the soil at the end of the year's test growth. This, Ms McKenna said, is "potentially unsafe", though the trials and disposal of the plants were approved by the Environment Protection Agency.
The EPA has said the fields were monitored regularly to ensure that regrowth did not occur. Ms McKenna maintained, however, this method was totally unsatisfactory as it did not guarantee that GM contamination of nearby crops would not occur in the long term.
"The risks of contamination from GM crops to non-GM crops have not been fully evaluated," Ms McKenna said. "It is essential that the safest method be employed to dispose of plants which are field tested."
The safest method of destroying these crops was incineration, she said, which prevents any traces of the test crop from reentering the food chain. "The mechanisms of gene transfer have not been fully understood. There is a very strong chance, as the soil contains that primary constituents of the food chain, that over time contamination of adjacent crops could happen."
The EPA has said that the disposal method of re-ploughing is also used when plants are "bolting" or about to produce seed. This, Ms McKenna said, was an even more obvious threat which seriously increased the risks of contamination of nearby crops.
She said she was, "quite astounded" that EPA scientists had approved "such an untested method of disposal". The EPA has indicated that all tests were closely monitored and had EU approval.
Dr Jim Burke, a scientist who has carried out work on GM beet at Teagasc Research Centre at Oak Park in Co Carlow, said any trials carried out by Teagasc were done in accordance with EU directives. "These stipulate that all tested plants are ploughed back into the site and this is done under supervision of the EPA."The same regulations and guidelines were used as in all other EU countries, he said.
However, Ms McKenna maintained this was insufficient. "The EU regulations leave room for certain derogations and stricter rules can be applied, as some other EU member-states have done."Ms McKenna said she would be raising the issue with the European Commission and urged the EPA and the Minister for Environment, Mr Dempsey, to insist on incineration.
2. Organic Versus Genetic Debate Dominates Swiss Conference
Environment News Service 31 August 2000
BASEL, Switzerland, August 31, 2000 (ENS) - Home to chemical giants Roche and Novartis, Basel might not seem the obvious place to host a discussion on organic agriculture, but that has not stopped more than 1,000 delegates from displaying their expertise at a nine day conference here.
The World Grows Organic - 13th International Scientific Conference is sponsored by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and is accompanied by events ranging from how to improve your organic wine to demonstrations of the latest eco-friendly detergents.
IFOAM Secretary General Urs Maier. (Photo courtesy IFOAM)
Under secretary general Urs Maier, IFOAM unites 750 member organizations in 105 countries. IFOAM's goal is to promote organic agriculture as an ecologically sound method of food production, which minimizes environmental pollution and the use of non-renewable natural resources.
The German based group finds a natural base of support in neighbouring Switzerland where more than 5,500 organic farms manage eight percent of the agricultural acreage organically.
Basel is the cradle of organic agriculture. In Dornach, 15 minutes out of the city, Rudolf Steiner developed the basis for biodynamic agriculture in 1924. Basel and the rest of the country have been debating the merits of organic farming and sustainable production of foodstuffs in referendums during the last decade, which has seen an huge upturn in popularity for the organic movement.
But it would be hard to gather a handful of scientists and farmers in a room, let alone 1,000 in a conference center, without talking about genetic engineering. Tuesday's workshop "Organic Farming or Genetic Engineering against the Hunger in the World" was among the best attended of the conference, which ends Saturday.
Debating against genetic engineering, the process of altering cells' genetic makeup to achieve a particular result, was writer and science policy advocate Vandana Shiva, from India, and Camila Montecinos of the Chilean based Center for Education and Technology.Shiva directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. Her current work centers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.
Speaking in favor of genetic engineering, was Mahendra Shah of the World Bank and United Nations sponsored Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, with Maria Fernandez from Cuba.
The United Kingdom's agriculture and genetic engineering expert
BenMiflin had the challenging task of moderating the debate.
Today's events wrap up with summaries and conclusions from workshops on labels, regulations and certifications; coordination and networking for organic research; and market and policies.The results of the Conference will be presented at the final plenary session as the "Declaration of Basel," which will be communicated to decision makers worldwide.
For more information on the conference, visit http://www.ifoam2000.ch/
3. GM crops might affect birds: Study
Monday Sep 04 2000
USING crops genetically engineered to resist weedkillers might harm birds ”” not because the genetic changes are harmful but because killing weeds means less food for birds, researchers said recently.Some farms where such crops are used could see a 90 per cent drop in the number of weeds ”” a boon to farmers but bad news for hungry birds, Andrew Watkinson of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, said.
Watkinson and colleagues used a computer model to predict the effects that planting a weedkiller-resistant sugar beet would have on a weed known as lamb’s quarters or fat hen (its scientific name is Chenopodium album), whose seeds are a major food source for skylarks.
"We predict that weed populations might be reduced to low levels or practically eradicated, depending on the exact form of management," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Science."Consequent effects on the local use of fields by birds might be severe, because such reductions represent a major loss of food resources."
They said the effects on overall bird populations would depend on whether a few large farms used the genetically modified crops in just a few places, or if such crops were planted by many different farmers."These results probably apply widely to other crops, weeds, and seed-eating birds," Watkinson told Science.
But he stressed the results would be seen as a result of any weed management practice. It is just that using GM crops is a particularly effective way to get rid of weeds, he said.Watkinson said bird populations in Britain have fallen by up to 90 per cent in the last 25 years."It seems likely that the widespread introduction of herbicidetolerant crops will result in further declines for many farmland birds unless other mitigating measures are taken," he said.
Monsanto, which makes the Round-Up Ready soybean genetically modified to resist its herbicide of the same name, was quick to issue a response to the study."It is important to understand that this is not an issue of biotechnology," the company, a division of Pharmacia, said in a statement.
"It is an issue of weed control, whether through biotechnology or other methods. This mathematical model, and any conclusions drawn from it, must be viewed with caution because it does not reflect real farming conditions." ”” Reuters
4. Porritt 'is the wrong man' for green job
The Times (London) September 2, 2000
Mark Henderson Science Correspondent
TONY BLAIR'S choice of Jonathon Porritt, the environmentalist, as the Government's main adviser on green issues was attacked yesterday by one of the country's most eminent scientists. Sir Walter Bodmer, a geneticist, said that the appointment of Mr Porritt, an adviser to the Prince of Wales, as chairman of the new Sustainable Development Commission was inappropriate as he held attitudes that were hostile to science and technology. The former director of Friends of the Earth was apt to make sweeping statements about environmental issues for which the scientific evidence was flimsy, Sir Walter said at the Creating Sparks festival of science and arts, which begins in London on Wednesday. Sir Walter, a founder member of the Human Genome Project, also said that Mr Porritt, who was appointed in July, was derisory about the work of researchers as distinguished as Steve Jones, the geneticist, and Lewis Wolpert, the medical biologist. "He says that tens of thousands of people die every year because of exposure to pesticides and toxic chemicals. Is this really true? What's the evidence? What about counterbalancing benefits?" asked Sir Walter, who is also Principal of Hertford College, Oxford. The Eton-educated friend of the Prince has long advised him on environmental matters. He has written of his belief that science has been "corrupted" by business, and has argued that it is philosophically impossible for science to address the challenges of sustainable development. He is also a promoter of organic farming, and has attacked the GM revolution. When the Prince criticised "scientific materialism" and urged rediscovery of a "sense of the sacred" in his contribution to the Reith lectures, Mr Porritt was widely identified as one of his influences. The lecture led Sir Walter to liken the Prince to a "dalek", saying that his arguments "burnt up when confronted with rationality". Sir Walter said that scientists were disappointed by Mr Porritt's appointment because it indicated that the commission was likely to be suspicious of their work, to the detriment of sustainable development. He pointed to the example of GM crops as an area in which science had a contribution to make to the environment and said that it would probably be ignored by the new commission, though he would "wait and see who the other members are" before making a judgment. Mr Porritt said last night in response to the comments: "It would have been nice if Sir Walter had read my book on science and society in which I stated, in even stronger terms than he has, that achieving a sustainable future for humankind is indeed dependent on science and technology. "Good science will be at the heart of the Government's new commission. We're not likely to be impressed by the partisan and premature advocacy of dangerous or unproven technologies, or by the blustering defence of a model of elitist science which I believe has had its day."
The Creating Sparks festival will stage 400 events over three weeks. Speakers at the South Kensington event will include Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut, and Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly, the cloned sheep. There will also be a street festival on September 10, during which admission to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum will be free. LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: September 2, 2000 [Entered September 03, 2000]