Crop Biotech Update

A weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA), and AgBiotechNet 
November 29, 2002

In This Issue:

Panel of Food Experts: Bring to Public Attention Biotech's Benefits
Biotech Market Budding in Russia
European Parliament Resolution Favors Biotechnology
South Korea to Expand Plant Biotech
EuropaBio Calls for Strong Biotech
New Website Links Biotech Sector in NZ
European Complacency Causes Food Chaos in Africa, Says Trade Council
WHO Identifies Top Risks
India Must Modernize Farming Sector, Says Former Chief Justice
New Transgenic Crops from Bayer and Pioneer
UNIDO Publishes Biosafety Report
Scientists Develop Stress-Tolerant Rice Variety
Position Papers on Crop Biotech
Costa Ricans Have Positive Attitude to GM Crops


Scientists must do more to explain and bring to the attention of the public the benefits of food derived from biotechnology, says a panel of food experts.

Speaking during a forum on "Transatlantic Affairs and Global Nutrition" held early this month at Johns Hopkins University, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said public discussion on the safety of biotech foods has been dominated by multinational nongovernmental organizations that focus only on "unknown risks" of the technology and downplaying the potential benefits. The opponents "are blocking technologies that can benefit the poor people", he said.

Biotechnology proponents, including scientists, should continue to bring to the attention of the media the fact that biotech foods have been proven as safe as non-biotech foods, stressed Isi Siddiqui, vice president of biotechnology and trade for CropLife America. Acceptance of biotechnology in developing countries will surely increase as they learn more about the benefits from credible sources, said Siddiqui.

David Aaron, a senior international advisor of the law firm Dorsey and Whitney, noted that European's distrust on biotech foods are based more on distrust to food safety regulators than on science. The panelist urged a "harmonized" US-EU food regulatory process based on science.

For more information visit


The European Parliament adopted what it described as "a very biotechnology-friendly" resolution based on the European Commission's (EC) communication 'Life Sciences and Biotechnology: A Strategy for Europe', and further calls on the Commission to launch a "bEurope" policy in the field of biotechnology.

The Parliament resolution emphasizes the need for a knowledge-based, predictable and ethical framework for biotechnology companies and farmers, in order to secure consumer safety and competitiveness and prevent both a "brain drain" in this field and future dependency on the import of biotech products.

The resolution also strongly supports an end to the existing de-facto moratorium on genetically-modified foods in force since 1998, in order to promote innovation. The Parliament states that biotechnology alone will not help to overcome hunger in the world but stresses that it might also be necessary to use GM crops to produce enough food.

For more information, visit


Member States of the European Union will decide on pursuing biotechnology as a central part of Europe's competitiveness strategy. "This is a welcome signal. Building a knowledge-based economy with biotechnology as a key area is crucial to Europe's future economic growth and quality of life," says Feike Sijbesma, Chairman of EuropaBio, the European Association of Bioindustries.

EuropaBio noted there is strong competition in biotechnology from the US and that it is creating more biotechnology products and services than Europe. "For many years, Europe has been the world's life science leader. Biotechnology provides the power to reaffirm this role and to spearhead economic recovery in the EU. Action is needed now," says Schepens, Secretary General of EuropaBio.

The biotechnology scenario in Europe is being affected by a de facto moratorium on research and development of biotechnology derived plants including a biotech patent directive which is unimplemented in 9 out of the 15 Member States. This situation has resulted in investors fleeing to regions where biotech is encouraged.

Hugo Schepens, Secretary General of EuropaBio adds that a lack of policy measures to encourage investors and companies into biotechnology, as well as a non implemented EU patent system and a stalled regulatory process for GM products have contributed to a drain from Europe of researchers, investors and companies to biotechnology. "Europe has the means to reverse these trends" says Hugo Schepens. "But it will require more political leadership and consistency and a greater sense of urgency than we have seen so far."

In related developments, EuropaBio said that the European Parliament recommended an end to the four year de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms."Such a move would allow the sale of new plant varieties developed through biotechnology specifically for European farmers to be offered to the market, " said Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit of EuropaBio.

For more details on EuropaBio's pronouncements, visit


Confusion and uncertainty about biotech regulations in Europe and beyond threatens the lives of desperately poor farmers in southern Africa, warns the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council. The international council is "dedicated to developing and advocating policies that support an efficient and open global food and agricultural system."

The Trade Council said that despite reassurances by the European Union, the US government, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, leaders of African countries facing starvation rejected shipments of genetically modified corn offered through food relief programs. African leaders fear that allowing biotech products into their countries will make their exports unacceptable to world markets.

Liberty Mhlanga, former general manager of Zimbabwe's Agricultural and Rural Development Authority says that biotechnology offers great promise for African farmers, but a complex and confusing array of regulations makes African farmers wary of using it. "Farmers in poor countries do not have the production, storage or transportation systems to meet impractical, dissimilar and changeable global regulations. If regulations are not more practical, more consistent, and more constant, poor farmers will find it too costly to adopt biotechnology they need to increase their food production."

But Mhlanga suggests ways for poor farmers to have the technology they need while consumers can have the choice they want. He says:

  • Biotech labeling regulations should be based on detectability, not production processes;
  • Biotech labeling thresholds should not be set at arbitrary levels; they must reflect the realities of the global grain trade;
  • Biotech thresholds need to accommodate the unintentional co-mingling of biotech varieties;
  • Biotech thresholds should be internationally harmonized;
  • Countries should create a "mutual recognition" system to facilitate trade when approvals in one country lag those in another;
  • Biotech labeling should allow food companies to label foods that do not contain biotech products, for those consumers who wish to avoid them, rather than require labels on all foods that do contain biotech products;
  • International organizations should help developing countries create the capacity to evaluate and develop biotech crops; and
  • Regulatory agencies should evaluate the potential risks and benefits of adopting new technologies - as well as the risks and benefits of not adopting new technologies.

More on the Trade Council at


"There is no other alternative than to modernize agriculture with the application of scientific and technological innovations to support more than a billion people solely dependent on agriculture", says former chief justice A. Laxamana Rao of Allahabad Court, Hyderabad, India.

Rao underscores the potential of agri-biotechnolgy in improving agricultural productivity by citing experiences of countries extensively using GM crops and the potential benefits the technology offers.

Since 1986, India had already recognized that biotechnology applications would bail out the agricultural sector, according to Rao. The problem, however, is that India "has been dithering and dilly-dallying in taking the decision for using transgenic seeds in augmenting agricultural production".

Rao said it is high time that serious thought be given to taking appropriate decisions to modernize Indian agriculture as being done by other countries. He further stressed that modernizing agriculture by adopting GM crops will solve the problems of farmers in India.

The former chief justice delivered the lecture "Will Modernization of Indian Agriculture Provide Permanent Solution to Rural Problems of Malnutrition, Unemployment and Social Imbalance" during the 10th Annual Day Celebration of Peddi Reddy Thimma Reddy Farm Foundation in Hyderabad.

Email Chengal Reddy at for an electronic copy of Rao's memorial lecture.


Bayer CropScience has released a new transgenic cotton variety, FiberMax 5024BXN. According to David Becker, seed breeder of Bayer CropScience, the variety will be competitive with other transgenic and conventional stripper varieties in terms of yield and quality. Growth characteristics include: medium to early maturity, storm resistance, competitive yields, good fiber quality and transgenic weed control.

FiberMax 5024BXN will be available commercially during the 2003 growing season. Pioneer Hi-bred likewise reports that 12 new Pioneer(r) brand corn hybrids will be available for the 2003 planting season. Seven of the hybrids carry new Herculex1 I insect protection while the other five deliver the Roundup Ready2 gene.

Developed in a collaborative research effort between Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow AgroSciences, the Herculex I gene, according to Pioneer, provides highly effective protection against European corn borer and control against black cutworm larvae.


Genetically-modified strain of rice plant that fared better under stressful conditions was developed by a team of scientists based at the Cornell University.

In an article that appeared in an online site Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists reported they introduced a gene for trehalose, a sugar that helps plants withstand abiotic stress. The scientists first fused two genes from E. coli that synthesize the sugar and then introduced them into the rice plant.

Ajay K. Garg, one of the principal researchers, said few plants produce trehalose, but is a major component in the growth of "resurrection plants" that can survive long period of droughts and revive quickly once moisture has been restored. Garg said experiments showed the transgenic rice plant is about twice as resistant to salt water, can withstand temperatures about 10 degrees lower than ordinary rice varieties, and higher capacity for photosynthesis in both stress and non-stress conditions.

Abstract of the paper can be viewed at


Adult Costa Ricans have an overall positive acceptance on the use of genetically modified (GM) crops. So says Ana Sittenfeld and Ana M. Espinoza, researchers from the University of Costa Rica who investigated attitudes to GM organisms. The survey revealed that only 21% of the respondents believing that GM foods posed a health risk.

Half of the survey's respondents had some knowledge of GMOs. People living closer to the capital, younger people and those with a higher level of education were more likely to have heard of GM technology. The media was found to be an important source of information on GMOs. Men were more likely to gain information from newspapers whereas women found the television more informative.

The researchers found that overall, the national awareness levels of GM crops and their risks and benefits in Costa Rica was more in line with public opinion in the USA than that of European consumers. Between 40 and 50% of Costa Ricans who were aware of GM crops said that they would buy food obtained from them if the price was the same as normal crops and if the GM crops did not pose a risk for the environment.

Around 30% of those questioned were supportive of research into GM crops and a similar percentage trusted their regulatory institutions.

Results of the researchers' study are in Trends in Plant Science (
) Volume 7, Number 10.

Email Ana Sittenfeld of the Centro de Investigacion en Biologia Celular y Molecular, Ciudad de la Investigacion, Universidad de Costa Rica at


The US government's Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (BISNIS) released an article saying that a biotech market is "budding" in Russia. President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin requested the Government to set more ambitious goals for economic growth and pay greater attention to the creation of a knowledge-based economy. BISNIS states that "the growing frequency and quantity of government decrees and initiatives in the biotechnology sector indicates that it is viewed as a high priority sector for Russia". However, the sector is constrained by financial conditions.

It is estimated that the current capacity of the Russian market for biotechnology products for agriculture is $500 million a year. However, about 95% of biotech preparations in animal farming and 75% for the plant sector are imported. There is a potential demand for GM soy seeds however it is constrained by public acceptance. Meanwhile, the annual demand of the Russian food processing industry is around $100 million in the form of yeast, ferments for alcohol distilling, beer and wine manufacturing, bacterial products for milk processing and GM additives for meat processing.

The best prospects for the Russian market in general are:

Bioactive Dietary Supplements - products for sport, immune system boosters, targeting specific problem (cancer prevention, digestion improvement), food products with bioactive additives.

Biotechnology Equipment - laboratory, diagnostic and research equipment, production equipment (bio-reactors, extractors, fermentation equipment, etc.)

Biotech products for farming - feed and supplements for poultry, hog, cattle farms, crop improving products, modified seeds and crops.

Additives and ingredients for food processing - technology of production and application of ferments, enzymes, bacteria, final products and production technology of modified fiber, proteins, polysaccharides, various food additives (amino acids, flavorings, etc.)

Environment - agricultural and industrial waste/cleanup systems, metal extraction technologies, oil spill treatment, wood-working waste processing.

The article can be viewed at while a more elaborate report can be found at


The South Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is planning to strengthen the seed industry and the biotechnology research network to boost exports. The Asian market will be a key focus for Korea's seed developers. MAF also said it will ensure the safety of genetically modified (GM) organisms. The ministry says GM crops provide benefits such as increased yield and quality improvement, but they note concerns raised by consumer and environmental organizations.

The government introduced regulations to create a GMO safety management system, and introduced a GMO display system applied to soybeans, corn and bean sprouts which has been enforced under the Agricultural and Marine Product Quality Management Law since 2001.

Visit South Korea's MAF at


New Zealand's primary biotech companies have provided basic company details and website links in a new website called "Biosphere New Zealand". The new website provides listing of companies with interest in biotechnology applications and innovations. New breakthroughs, discoveries, and achievements in the field of biotechnology are also highlighted in the website.

Listed in the website are 393 companies that comprise New Zealand's biotech industry working in 11 primary sectors: agri-forestry (232); animal bioproducts (64); bioprospecting (5); bioinformatics (13); biomedical and health care (50); bioprocessing (14); molecular pharming (20); waste treatment (9); forensic (12); nanotechnology (5); and nutraceutricals (43).

Biosphere New Zealand can be visited at


According to the World Health Organization (WHO) malnutrition accounts for over three million childhood deaths a year in developing countries. The other risk factors making it to the top ten are unsafe sex; high blood pressure; tobacco consumption; alcohol consumption; unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene; iron deficiency; indoor smoke from solid fuels; high cholesterol; and obesity. These were identified based on the burden of disease they cause and together, these account for more than one-third of all deaths worldwide.

Iron deficiency was said to be one of the most prevalent nutrient deficiencies in the world, affecting an estimated two billion people, and causing almost a million deaths a year. Vitamin A deficiency was identified as the leading cause of acquired blindness in children. While iodine deficiency is probably the single most preventable cause of mental retardation and brain damage. Sever zinc deficiency is a significant cause of respiratory infections, malaria and diarrhoeal disease and causes short stature, impaired immune function and other disorders.

An overview of the report in six languages can be downloaded at



The United National Industrial Development Organization Regional Office in Thailand has published a report on "Biosafety Policy Options and Capacity Building Related to Genetically Modified Organisms in the Food Processing Industry of ASEAN". Dr. Sakarindr Bhumiratana of Thailand's National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), prepared the report which contains an overview of the structure of the GMO-based food processing industry in ASEAN member countries; a review of the policy and institutional framework at both country and regional levels; an analysis of the main emerging issues, challenges and trends relating to GM food and the GMO-based food processing industry; as well as recommendations on possible policy options and viable mechanisms for their implementation.

Aside from UNIDO. the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications also supported this publication.

The full report can be downloaded at
in PDF and html.


A growing number of national and international organizations, scientific bodies, and governments have spoken in support of agricultural biotechnology. A collection of position statements, press releases, and official documents are available at the website.

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