"The GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it would. It's absolutely impossible to control." - MARTIN ENTZ, University of Manitoba
"Now is our golden opportunity. Most countries are looking for non-GM produce. We should take advantage of it." - Wanchai Cherdshewasart, a member of Thailand's National Board of Biosafety
Lots via Agweb:
*More worries about genetically modified canola
*GM flax seed off the market [shortened]
*Protesters warn on genetic engineering in Oz
*GM seed border control protocol to take effect in NZ
*Fertilizer company avoids planting transgenic crops
*Field experiments resume on virus-resistant papaya
*Seed companies threaten science treaty: rolling the die in "sin city"
*GM rice will trigger market for non-GM rice? Thais call demand for non-GM crops a ''golden opportunity''
*10th European Congress on Biotechnology
MORE WORRIES ABOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED CANOLA
June 21, 2001
CBC News and Current Affairs
ALISON SMITH: There are more worries tonight about genetically modified canola, a controversial plant that was originally designed to help farmers fight weeds. Well, now in some places, the genetically modified canola itself has become a weed. As Kelly Crowe reports, farmers who don't want it are having a tough time controlling it.
KELLY CROWE (Reporter): That's it, standing out above the rest of the crop, western Canada's newest weed, genetically modified canola, popping up where it wasn't planted and isn't wanted. And because it's designed to resist a chemical weed killer, it doesn't die with the rest of the weeds. Dan Karen is with Manitoba Agriculture and Food. He says he's been getting calls from farmers who want to know what to do.
DAN KAREN (Manitoba Agriculture and Food): We're seeing side effects that maybe we haven't seen in the past that maybe raise a few red flags. CROWE: In this field, the farmer has never even touched a genetically modified canola seed. Still, the canola is growing here, and now plant scientists are trying to solve the mystery of how it got here. The theory, cattle manure. The seed travelling right through the animal into the manure and onto the field, a sign of how much this plant can spread.
MARTIN ENTZ (University of Manitoba): The GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it would. It's absolutely impossible to control. CROWE: Ottawa approved genetically modified canola back in 1996, one of the first varieties to be licensed. In this decision document, the government considered its potential to become a weed of agriculture and its potential to become a plant pest, and decided it would be no worse than regular canola. Today, Steven Yarrow of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency agreed that the canola is now becoming a nuisance, but advised farmers to simply use another chemical. But scientists say it's not that simple. Although other chemicals will kill the canola weed, some can also kill whatever new crop is planted. And in this field, the canola was sprayed with the recommended alternative, and it still survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (1): Again, this plant has somehow escaped. CROWE: And there's another problem. This scientific paper describes a case of a canola that was sprayed with three different chemicals and still won't die.
ENTZ: It's been a great, a wake-up call about the side effects of these GM technologies.
CROWE: Monsanto, the company that created a variety called Round-up Ready Canola, says this is not a big problem. Farmers should simply call the company. Monsanto says it will send people out to pull the plants out by hand. But this law professor says Monsanto may be liable to pay for damages if canola spreads. He says it's a legal question that still hasn't been answered.
MARTIN PHILLIPSON (University of Saskatchewan): I don't see the federal government taking any action at all legislatively or regulatorily at all in this area. I think they will be very reluctant to do so. I think it will have to come down to the cost.
CROWE: For many farmers, genetically modified canola is still a popular choice. But some are beginning to worry that the crop that was supposed to simplify their weed control is starting to make things more complicated. Kelly Crowe, CBC News, Toronto.
GM FLAX SEED OFF THE MARKET (via Agweb)
June 22, 2001
The Leader-Post (Regina)
SASKATOON -- A genetically-modified flax seed developed at the University of Saskatchewan has, according to this story, been taken off the market because of European fears the variety will contaminate other flax produced in Canada. The story says that the last of the 200,000 bushels of Triffid flax seed worth at least $2.5 million was rounded up from farms across the Prairies and crushed earlier this year and de-registered April 1.
PROTESTERS WARN ON GENETIC ENGINEERING (via Agweb)
June 22, 2001
Environmentalists and gene ethicists were cited as urging Premier Steve Bracks to cancel his upcoming trip to the US to promote Victoria, Australia, as a genetic engineering centre, saying its was a risky new technology which should not be at the top of Victoria's priorities.
The story says that a couple of dozen protestors on the steps of Parliament this morning put on a "genetically engineered street theatre" to highlight their concerns. The centrepiece of the display was a weird creature made out of cardboard, material cotton and wooden sticks it had a pig's head, a dog's tongue, a sheep's body, chicken legs and a tiger's tail. To top it off, there was a giant syringe inserted into the body to symbolise genetic tampering. This, they worry, could be the result of genetic engineering.
GeneEthics Network director Bob Phelps was quoted as saying, "We want Mr Bracks to stay home. We already know that the field trials of genetically engineered organisms in Australia generally and probably in Victoria have polluted the environment," adding that Mr Bracks was committing $110 million to research the genetic engineering of food, crops and drugs when the money could be better used elsewhere.
GM SEED BORDER CONTROL PROTOCOL TO TAKE EFFECT
June 19, 2001
Press Release by New Zealand Government at 19 Jun 2001 17:23
A new protocol that reduces the risk of unapproved genetically modified (GM) seeds being imported into New Zealand will take effect from August 1, the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, announced today. The new protocol will apply to all non-GM sweet corn seeds imported for planting. "There is growing international concern about this issue, as all countries face difficulties detecting unapproved GM seeds," Marian Hobbs said. "The new inspections for imported seeds will provide a high level of assurance that incoming seeds are non-GM.
"The law does not permit unauthorised GM seeds to be deliberately imported or planted, and if GM seeds are detected, the consignment will not be allowed to enter New Zealand." The protocol is an interim measure for 12 months and will apply only to sweet corn seeds. Sweet corn seeds are imported only between August and December. The Government will develop a new protocol to apply from next year, which may be extended to cover other seeds. Consignments of sweet corn seeds will be tested at the border for GM presence, unless the producers use an accredited quality assurance system that involves testing for GM presence and additional measures to prevent GM contamination. Reputable seed companies provide a high level of assurance that their seeds are non-GM.
The Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) will accredit assurance systems and set up auditing procedures, including testing consignments at the border.
MAF expects to accredit the main companies by the end of 2001, and audit testing will begin after companies have been accredited.
Marian Hobbs said the greatest difficulty lay in obtaining reliable test results for very low levels of contamination. The limit of reliable detection occurs at a contamination level of somewhere between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent (between one and five GM seeds per 1000 non-GM seeds). Below these levels, repeated tests produce ambiguous or conflicting results.
"This does not mean that there is an allowance for contamination, but reflects the fact that no test can detect GM material with 100 percent certainty," Marian Hobbs said.
Technology for detecting GM material is still new. As yet, there are no international standards to refer to.
FERTILIZER COMPANY AVOIDS PLANTING TRANSGENIC CROPS
June 21, 2001
The agronomists at AgriEnergy Resources Inc., in Princeton, will try to avoid planting transgenic corn and soybean varieties on the 300-acre company farm that they use as testing ground for biological fertilizers (e.g., compost tea, manure tea, humic and fulvic acid).
" We want to increase soil life and rely less on chemical inputs," says staff agronomist Ken Musselman.
So why the informal policy of avoiding genetically engineered seed? Musselman cites two reasons:
1. Segregation. The staff wants to be able to say that their crops, which are processed and sold, are non-transgenic. In fact, the company sometimes receives a 5- to 10-cent per bushel premium because of that. Although neighboring fields of transgenic varieties are somewhat of a concern, none of the AgriEnergy crops has tested positive for genetically modified organisms. Instead of growing seed crops, the AgriEnergy turns to seed companies, including Pioneer, for non-transgenic varieties.
2. Soil life. It1s still unknown what these crops do to soil ecosystems. Research at the University of Missouri has concluded that the fusarium, fungi that inhibits growth, is more prevalent in soil around Roundup Ready soybean plants. Monsanto engineered the variety to resist the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).
Musselman added other reasons to question the wisdom of this technology.
" As we get further down the road with transgenic crops, it limits the production decisions made by farmers and instead puts them in the hands of the chemical and seed companies," he says.
And then there is the growing problem of genetic contamination of organic crops.
Organic standards disallow farmers from using transgenic seed to grow the grains, fruits and vegetables they sell at a premium.
" If you give up a five to ten cent premium, that1s one thing, but giving up $10 per bushel is a problem," he says. " At that point, organic production is no longer an economically viable option."
FIELD EXPERIMENTS RESUME ON VIRUS-RESISTANT PAPAYA
June 22, 2001
Thailand Deputy Agriculture Minister Nathee Klipthong was cited as allowing a field experiment on genetically modified papayas was to resume yesterday. The story explains that the field trial, by the Agriculture Department, was put on hold by a cabinet resolution in April after demands by greens that all GM field trials be scrapped in the absence of a biosafety law and good preventive measures.
Tests will be held at field stations before the product is tried out on farmers' fields, though it will be some time before the product makes it way
SEED COMPANIES THREATEN SCIENCE TREATY: ROLLING THE DIE IN "SIN CITY"
June 21 2001
RAFI News Release
Self-proclaimed 'heroes' in Monte Carlo, the world's seed companies have bowed to U.S. pressure in Sun City, South Africa.
The world's leading seed trade association, ASSINSEL (International Association of Plant Breeders for the Protection of Plant Varieties, Nyon, Switzerland) may have succumbed to political pressure from the USA and four other OECD governments. The trade group has reversed its position in support of a new global treaty to safeguard the exchange of research seed for food security. The policy turnabout apparently came during the trade group's annual meeting in Sun City (popularly known as "Sin City" because of its casinos). ASSINSEL is expected to tell governments at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome next Monday (June 25th) that it, "...does not support the current IU [International Undertaking, the treaty] text...". The statement will come as a shock to European governments and to diplomats from Africa, Asia, and Latin America attending the Undertaking's final negotiating round June 25-30.
Card tricks: "In 1998 at the industry's annual bash in Monte Carlo, seed companies agreed that they should pay a proportion of their intellectual property royalties into a common fund for global seed conservation," Patrick Mulvany of ITDG (UK) recalls, "the fund is to be managed by the treaty's intergovernmental body. While the move was a ploy to entice poor countries into accepting the North's patent regimes, some South countries see it as a tax on corporate seed ." Developing nations took the industry proposal as "admission that the South has been 'ripped off' but now the companies are prepared to pay," Mulvany adds. "Rightly or wrongly, it represents a moral victory of sorts for some delegations. Taking their bid off the table in Sun City is an attempt to scuttle the treaty."
Governments in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted a non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources in 1983. Since then, the expansion of intellectual property regimes to encompass plant varieties and breeding material, combined with globalization and the ratification of patent rules in the WTO in 1995 have led to a crisis in the scientific exchange of agricultural breeding material between countries.
In 1995, FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture began the politically complex task of turning the 1983 Undertaking into a legally enforceable treaty. Its primary objectives are to facilitate access to research seed; to safeguard the world's major genebank (seed) collections held by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; and to guarantee that in a world of rampant privatization, the several million seed samples donated by farmers as the basis for today's plant breeding will stay in the public domain.
Cards under the table: Civil society organizations have been notifying European and South governments of the industry flip-flop. "I talked with several governments," Susanne Gura of the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development (Bonn, Germany) confirms, "all are stunned by the explicit industry rejection of the draft text. The prevailing opinion is that the companies have been double-dealing. They had ample opportunity to express their views during the negotiations. They did not."
In 1998, after almost three years of fractious wrangling, the Chair of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture moved the debate to a 41-country Contact Group. Industry and civil society are allowed one representative each in the closed-door encounters. ASSINSEL represented the companies and RAFI (Winnipeg, Canada) observed on behalf of CSOs. "The seed industry made its move at the Tehran Contact Group last August," RAFI's Pat Mooney remembers, "The proposal was modified by Norway and Japan and accepted by all the governments. Since then, the Contact Group - with ASSINSEL in attendance - has met three additional times with the last round concluding at the end of April. It was clear that ASSINSEL's deal rang belated alarm bells in Washington as well as in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. France and Switzerland were also jittery about establishing a global tax precedent of a conflict with the WTO but the Europeans all agreed to stick together backing the tax. Industry reps were adamant in defending the proposal. Now - on the eve of the last negotiating round - the companies are changing their game."
What happened? "Canada and the USA asked for a meeting with ASSINSEL in April," Pat Mooney says. "At that meeting, both governments pressured them to come out against the draft text since it had been modified by Norway and Japan. The French Government also approached their seed industry to withdraw support for the royalty tax." Intense lobbying by the U.S. and Canada - especially Canada according to insiders - has caused confusion and panic within some national trade associations not intimately familiar with the treaty process. Some companies have complained that the language around intellectual property issues is ambiguous, "We have the same complaint from an entirely different political perspective," Pat Mooney notes, " but the text is still under negotiation. Now is not the time to launch torpedoes. These are the same companies that pushed for the TRIPS (intellectual property) chapter in the WTO. TRIPS is a legally binding text - which they support - that couldn't be more ambiguous for plant varieties. Now they are pretending that ambiguity is a problem."
Stacking the deck: Not only have Canada and the USA been trying to reverse industry's position, but the USA may also be working with two dissident Latin American governments to conjure up a fall-back or alternative to the treaty. Susanne Gura and Silvia Ribeiro (of RAFI in Mexico) attended a meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, Washington DC, USA) in Durban, South Africa just before the ASSINSEL casino caper in Sun City. A subset of that meeting was called by the USA, Brazil, and Colombia to discuss the possible development of a global endowment fund for major agricultural seed banks. The three governments clearly see the endowment proposal - obviously a good idea from almost any perspective - as an end-run around the International Undertaking. The seed industry also likes the endowment. Several European governments are now alarmed that the USA, Colombia, and Brazil - perhaps with Canada and Australia - are not only trying to derail the treaty but present a global genebank fund as a viable alternative to an intergovernmental agreement.
On this, Pat Mooney is emphatic, "An endowment fund for the world's most important regional and international gene banks is long overdue," he says, "but it won't work outside of a legally binding intergovernmental Undertaking. To clear up this confusion, CGIAR should announce next week that the endowment if it comes into being, must be placed under an intergovernmental umbrella. If CGIAR refuses to make such a public statement, alarm bells will really start ringing."
Rolling the die: Civil Society observers are concerned that the two initiatives amount to a political pincer movement to cut the solidarity of Europe with the Group of 77 (South) countries. "The only good news," Pat Mooney suggests, "is that the industry move is so gauche that it will backfire. They are being manipulated by Canada and the USA. Europe and the South will likely just carry on while the United States drops out. When ASSINSEL rolled the die in Monte Carlo, they scored a PR success," Mooney concedes, "In Sun City, they played Russian roulette and lost. Maybe next time they should pick a venue other than a casino!"
This is a joint news release issued simultaneously by:
IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis), USA
ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group), UK
GAIA Foundation (London, UK)
German NGO Forum on Environment and Development, Bonn, Germany
GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International), Barcelona, Spain
RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International), Winnipeg, Canada
GM RICE WILL TRIGGER MARKET FOR NON-GM RICE? THAIS CALL DEMAND FOR NON-GM CROPS A ''GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY.''
June 21, 2001
Greenpeace has recently campaigned to expose the widespread use of GM ingredients--imported from abroad--in Thailand and the Philippines. In the process, Greenpeace may have also unwittingly exposed a growing market opportunity for foods that are certified as not having been made from GM crops, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on June 14. Unlike the United States and Canada, Asian countries have not embraced GM seeds, the FEER reported. Japan recently approved three GM seed varieties, but China is the only Asian country that now grows a GM crop: cotton.
But several countries have imported GM seeds for field trials, and GM rice is under development, with commercial varieties about 5 years off. Multinational seed companies have promoted GM seeds as a key technology for feeding growing populations.
But for agricultural exporting countries like Thailand, India, and Vietnam, the marketing benefits of avoiding GM crops may far outweigh any yield increases or nutritional benefits GM seeds may offer, the FEER said. "Now is our golden opportunity. Most countries are looking for non-GM produce. We should take advantage of it," says Wanchai Cherdshewasart, a member of Thailand's National Board of Biosafety. The advantage of non-GM crops has all to do with consumer perceptions of GM crops. Carole Burke, editor of Japanscan's Food Industry Bulletin, says, "Japanese consumers are very concerned about food quality and safety in general, and are very sceptical about the safety of GM foods."
That same scepticism has spurred several European countries to reject numerous shipments of American and Canadian GM corn, soy beans, and canola. Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is well aware of how such consumer sentiment affects export markets. He recently told a local newspaper, "We should not say that we want or do not want GM...People are just suspicious of the technology."
While some GM commodities have been approved for import into Europe and Japan, many European governments now require the labeling of foods with GM ingredients. Asian countries are beginning to follow suit. Some companies like food-processing giants Unilever and Nestle have eliminated the use of GM ingredients in their operations in Europe.
Japan's top two brewers, Asahi and Kirin, eliminated GM ingredients several years ago. Says Burke, "All leading food-processing companies in Japan are very conscious of consumers' fear of GM foods. Market leaders in all segments of the food industry are demanding GM-free commodities, and the menus of major restaurant chains note their foods are GM-free."
As labeling becomes widespread, the demand for GM-free food is likely to increase and could potentially represent a multibillion-dollar market. Burke says the growth in demand can be compared to the demand for organic food. In Japan organic foods represent only 1%-2% of food sales, "but will grow considerably" she says.
Organic foods are the fastest growing segment of food sales in the U.S. To meet that demand, U.S. food processor Archer Daniels Midland has been offering American farmers a premium for non-GM corn and soybeans of around 8 cents a bushel.
But maintaining separate storage and processing facilities for GM and non-GM commodities requires vigilant tracking, which increases costs. To avoid this complication, Brazil adopted the alternative strategy of simply banning the import of all GM seeds and commodities. Brazil's new reputation as a reliable source for non-GM corn and soy beans was the key factor in South Korea's recent decision to import Brazilian, rather than American, corn.
When GM rice hits the market, demand for non-GM rice will likely follow, and Asia, the world's ricebowl, will be expected to meet that demand.
In Asia, Thailand is the country best positioned to reliably serve the non-GM market. More than 2 years ago, the government banned the import and cultivation of commercial-GM seeds. While there are currently experimental field trials of Monsanto's GM cotton, and the government-funded National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is conducting research into GM papaya, tomato, and cucumber, those field trials may not be legal for much longer.
At the urging of Thai NGO Assembly of the Poor, Thaksin's cabinet is considering a ban on the field-testing of GM seeds and plants. Agricultural economist Chaiwat Konjin, who oversees a major Asian Development Bank agricultural loan in Thailand, says, "It is not in the interest of Thailand to produce transgenic crops. The trade issue is very important and we must protect our export markets."
The Philippine Senate tried to pass similar legislation last year. Despite an active NGO community opposed to GM crops, the move was unsuccessful. Unlike Thailand, the Philippines is a net importer of food, especially rice, and is more concerned about feeding its population.
The Philippines is also home to the International Rice Research Institute. The IRRI's spokesman, Duncan Macintosh, says the proposed ban was short-sighted and would have been counterproductive.
"We try to keep our research agenda separate from consumer concerns. Because without the science, consumers will never get the facts they need to have a constructive debate."
China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and even Thailand are part of the IRRI's Asian Rice Biotechnology Network, which may eventually develop GM rice varieties, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported.
If such a variety were to come to market, "there is just no way Japan would accept it," says Burke. "The Japanese are extremely fussy about their rice." Chaiwat says Thailand is keenly aware of this attitude and neither the Ministry of Commerce nor the Ministry of Agriculture will promote GM crops. "We want to protect our own varieties of rice."
Vietnam is the world's second-largest rice exporter, after Thailand, but the Vietnamese serve a different market segment with lower-quality rice and so are not as opposed to the idea of GM rice.
The governments of China and Indonesia, like the Philippines, are more concerned about food security than export-market security and so are not opposed to GM rice. While the Indian government is cautiously optimistic about GM crops, a delegation of private soybean producers recently visited several European countries to confirm that Indian soy was still non-GM. While Thailand's stance toward GM crops may be pre-emptive, it is not simply forward-looking. Thailand has already run into problems with some of its export markets. A few months ago, the government of Saudi Arabia rejected shipments of tuna packed in soy oil produced from GM soybeans, imported from North America. The two countries have resumed trade in tuna, but Thai manufacturers must now label the product as GM-free and pay for certification by a third-party testing facility.
This experience underscores the complexity of the situation and lends credence to Greenpeace's calls to ban imports of GM commodities from other countries, which are often used in foods processed in Thailand. But there are reports of Thai farmers smuggling and growing GM seeds from China, and there is always the possibility that GM seeds and plants will be brought into the country illegally or by accident. While the verdict is still out on whether GM crops are a boon for farmers and consumers or a risk with far-reaching environmental implications, Thailand's pragmatism suggests an answer already familiar to business: The customer is always right.
BIOTECHNOLOGICAL CHALLENGES IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM10TH EUROPEAN CONGRESS ON BIOTECHNOLOGY
June 22, 2001
European Federation of Biotechnology
July 8-11, 2001
Palacio de Congresos Madrid, Spain
Chairman Dr. Rafael P. Mellado.
President of SEBIOT
ECB10 - SEBIOT
For details, see: http://www.sebiot.es/congreso.htm