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

December 8, 2003

In This Issue:

Asian Farmers Form Regional Network
NCFAP: GM Crops Offer Benefits to Growers
Rasco: Banning Biotech is Undemocratic
EFSA: GM Corn As Safe As Conventional Corn
New CD-ROM from PhilRice
Biotech Politics in India
African Journal of Biotechnology
Biotech: An Arena for Corporate Dominance
New Paper on Co-existence of GM and Non-GM Crops
Study Shows GM Beet More Environmental Friendly


Farmers from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam have grouped themselves into the Asian Farmers Regional Network or ASFARNET to promote the active exchange of experiences and knowledge on alternative modern farming technologies. This was a major highlight of a capacity building workshop on “Farmer to Farmer: Sharing Experiences Related to Agricultural Biotechnology” held in Manila and Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines from December 3-6, 2003.

The workshop aimed to, among others: increase Southeast Asian farmers’ awareness of the challenges facing agricultural biotechnology; enhance farmers’ knowledge of policy issues, based on stakeholders’ experiences with agricultural biotechnology in the Philippines; and discuss farmer-level experiences with biotechnology crops. Farmers from the United States, India and the Philippines shared their experiences in planting genetically modified crops and how they have benefited from the technology.

In the interim, ASFARNET will be assisted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) after which it will be coordinated by a Secretariat headed by Mr. Edwin Paraluman, a farmer-leader from the Philippines. The farmers’ network will also engage in activities that will ensure responsible farming, accelerate transfer of appropriate modern technology, and ensure community participation in these activities.

A total of 31 farmers were joined by representatives from media from the Philippines and Thailand, researchers, and representatives from research agencies and related institutions. They attended a series of lectures on biotechnology from experts in the field, visited field trials and actual farmers’ fields planted to Bt corn, and engaged in active discussion of research activities in the International Rice Research Institute and the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. Farmers were unanimous in saying that they should be given the right to choose what crop to plant and having alternative crop varieties is important to allow them to make the right decisions.

Click here to view larger version

The workshop was co-organized by ISAAA, UP Los Baños, SEAMEO Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, Cornell University, and the United States Government under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

For more information about ASFARNET email Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA Southeast Asia Center director at



”Banning biotechnology or specifically Bt corn, as some sectors propose because of (certain) claims, is clearly undemocratic,” says Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., Professor, University of the Philippines, Mindanao. Rasco presented a paper during the recent Farmer to Farmer workshop that was held last December 3 to 6 at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center in Makati City, Philippines.

Rasco argued that the “fear of plant biotechnology” is the real issue that people should be greatly concerned about. He also clarified some of the fears and false beliefs about plant biotechnology which are: 1. that biotechnology is new and untested; and 2. that the process involved in plant biotechnology is not necessarily bad, but its products can be harmful.

Speaking before 31 farmers from six countries, namely: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines, Rasco reiterated that modern plant biotechnology is grounded on principles learned from nature, and unlike natural biotechnology, it is more predictable and is subjected to more systematic tests.

Also, negative claims or issues pertaining to plant biotechnology are generally not supported by scientific evidence.


The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms has concluded that the herbicide-tolerant GM maize NK 603 is as safe as conventional maize and making it commercially available is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human or animal health. This published opinion was released recently as the first of a series of risk assessments of different GM plant varieties.

Dr. Harry Kuiper, chair of the scientific panel, said that they reviewed the evidence presented on the GM maize to evaluate its safety. The risk assessment process include the examination of: the DNA integrated into NK 603; the nature and safety of the target proteins by the transgenic event; and the possibility that the genetic modification may have influenced the safety, allergenicity and nutritional value of NK 603 in comparison with conventional maize.

More details about the EFSA opinions can be viewed online at


Peter Newell of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom, stated in an IDS working paper that in India, firms that are engaged in biotechnology have played an important role in the formulation of biotech policies. Newell added that the policy agenda appears to be influenced by a close-knit policy network of biotech entrepreneurs from larger multinational companies and successful start-up firms with good national and global connections.

The author theorizes that the extent to which biotech companies are involved in primary research, how they export their products, or whether they require protection for their products help to determine their political affiliation with leading organizations that are active on biotechnology issues. In turn, these associations would illustrate distinct patterns of interaction with particular regulatory agencies, and differing degrees of contact with global industry coalitions.

Newell concludes that whose influence would prove strongest would depend on the individual firms’ biotechnology development efforts, which are supposedly consistent with the national interest, and the roles that foreign investors would assume as opposed to local entrepreneurs.

See the full paper entitled “Biotech firms, biotech politics: Negotiating GMOs in India” by Peter Newell at


”Biotechnology’s evolution will be driven largely by the decisions of company directors and research scientists in the private sector, who are preoccupied with corporate profitability and competitiveness, rather than the problems of poverty, food security and economic development in poor countries,” states Dominic Glover of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, in Brighton, United Kingdom.

Glover observed that whether developing countries and poor farmers have access to agricultural biotechnology, the science would still have a profound effect on them. Private companies have continued to concentrate on the high-value proprietary of genetic modification (GM) technologies which are primarily attuned to the needs of wealthy markets.

Thus, to lessen threats on farmers in developing countries, Glover suggests a public policy and regulatory framework which includes the following elements:

  • Public funding for research and development (R&D) should address the needs of developing country farmers for affordable, appropriate technologies; and
  • A regulatory framework that would ensure that the core business activities of companies contribute to development. This may require additional policies on: private companies’ incentives; re-examination of intellectual property rights (IPR) policies; effective enforcement of competition and anti-trust laws; and policy and regulatory frameworks that should include ethical practice of corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship.

Download the briefing paper “Corporate Dominance and Agricultural Biotechnology: Implications for Development” at


Researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom (UK) say that genetically modified (GM) sugar beet is more environmentally friendly than conventional beet. “Overall, herbicide-resistant GM beet was 15 to 50 per cent better for the environment, depending on what impact was being measured,” explained Richard Phipps of the School of Agriculture at the University of Reading. Major benefit was that farmers spray less weed killer and pesticide on GM beet.

The results are a contrast to the findings of the recently completed UK farm-scale evaluations which concluded that GM sugar beet and GM oilseed rape had a negative impact on farmland wildlife. Differences in results were attributed to the impact measurement used. The University of Reading study took into account the wider impacts of crop cultivation such as their contribution to global warming, damage to the ozone layer and toxicity to aquatic life while the farm-scale evaluations did not.

Phipps presented his preliminary findings to the UK government’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. For more information, contact Richard Phipps at


The widespread adoption of plant biotechnology in corn, oilseed rape, wheat, rice, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar beets and stone fruit in Europe can result in significant yield increases, savings for growers, and pesticide use reduction. This was revealed by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) in their report entitled “Plant Biotechnology: Potential Impact for Improving Pest Management in European Agriculture: A Summary of Nine Case Studies”.

Together the nine crops could increase yields by 8.5 billion kilograms per year, increase grower net income by EUR 1.6 B per year, and reduce pesticide use by 14.4 million kilograms per year compared with existing practices. Biotech tomato offers the greatest yield and income, while herbicide tolerant corn would result in largest pesticide reduction.

The report further notes that crops like virus resistant stone fruit (peaches, apricots and plums) could save the industry in certain parts of Italy, Austria, Spain, Greece and many other growing areas, while crops like herbicide tolerant wheat could reduce pesticide use by 1.4 million kilograms. Leonard Gianessi, program director of NCFAP says that “these case studies show every country stands to benefit from development of the new varieties evaluated in this study.”

View the full report online at



The Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) has released its new publication on the golden apple snail (GAS). The new publication, which is available in CD-ROM, contains a scientific information database on GAS. It provides three decades of literature on ecology, damage, management options and utilization of GAS as an invasive pest of rice, and other crops that grow in aquatic environments. The database includes 400 articles, and over 100 images sourced from experts worldwide. For more information, email Dr. RC Joshi at


The African Journal of Biotechnology has released its November 2003 issue. Abstracts and full articles are available for free at Authors may also submit their papers for posting to



Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot's paper entitled "Co-existence of GM and non-GM Arable Crops: Case Study of the UK" is available at The authors discusses the issue of co-existence between these two types of crops with specific applicability to the other crops grown in the United Kingdom.

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