NOTE: This very useful briefing is from GM Feeze. Feedback on the pilot welcome - see below.
GM's Impact on the Global South
The number of reports, meetings, statements, research, activities and articles on genetically modified (GM, also called genetic engineering or GE) food and crops around the world and other significant developments in agriculture is huge. It is the intention of Force Feeding to keep readers abreast of developments in this rapidly changing area including lots of links to references and websites.
It is aimed at policy makers and politicians. Our aim is to provide a short digest of sourced information on GM crop developments around the world which are significant for people involved in developing policy and thinking about regulating GM crops and related biotech research in Southern Countries.
We hope you like Force Feeding and can make use of the information and analysis it provides.
* Who Needs GM for drought resistant rice?
A team of Japanese Researchers at Shizuoko University have been experimenting with crossing African rice (Oryza glaberrima Steud) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa L) to produce strains that perform well under the drought conditions so common in parts of Africa. The crossing is by conventional breeding techniques only and no genetic modification or other forms of biotechnology are involved.
New rice for Africa (NERICA) was compared with Asian rice and millet under drought conditions in the field. The team measured stomata conductance in the crops and soil water content. Dry weights of all the cultivars were measured at harvest. The researched concluded, "It became clear that there are some lines in NERICA that show high growth with small absorption of water and they seem to be appropriate for long periods of cultivation in drought condition".
Although very encouraging, the NERICA breeding programme has some way to go before African rice farmers will be able to sow new drought resistant varieties, but this research is a highly promising start. See www.cropscience.org.au/icsc2004/poster/1/3/2/852_fujiim.htm
* Agrofuels - Food v Fuel
Bioethanol and biodiesel have suddenly become the "answer" to tackling both security of supply and climate change for northern industrialised states. However, the debate about whether food or fuel should take precedent is hotting up. Agrofuels is the term being adopted by many campaigning groups to describe intensive monocultures grown to produce bioethanol or biodiesel to distinguish them from other biofuels, such as methane or biomass, which can be produced sustainably at local level.
The level of interest in using crops to produce fuels for vehicles has been hiked up by the big increases in oil process in 2006 and the growing realisation that many of the predicted impacts of burning fossil fuels on the world's climate have already started to happen. The US and EU are both advancing plans to convert crops such as maize, wheat and sugar beet into ethanol, which in the first instance will be blended with petrol. Sorghum is also being touted as a potential crop in Africa for ethanol production Soya, palm oil and oilseed rape are enthusiastically championed as sources of bio diesel. The biotechnology industry is heavily involved in projects to increase yields from crops. The holy grail is to find a most efficient way to convert cellulose into starches and sugars that can then be fermented to make ethanol. Oilseed rape has also been genetically modified in an attempt to enhance the yield of oil throughout the plant.
- One of the many arguments used to justify the vast R&D expenditure on GM crops has been the need to feed an expanding population. This argument now seems to be taking second place to the need to engineer crops to maximize biofuels production. Major partnerships have been set up, eg between BP and Du Pont. In February, BP announced a $9.4 million investment in India to produce biodiesel from Jatropha curcas, a non-edible oil bearing crop. BP, in partnership with The Energy and Resources Institute, will cultivate 8,000 hectares of land that is currently designated as "wasteland" to produce 9 million litres of biodiesel per year. Where the "wasteland" is located and what impacts on Indian biodiversity, pastoralists and grazing lands might follow such a change in land use remain to be seen or to be assessed. See www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=171&contentId=2000620
- Shell has acknowledged that using food crops for fuel when there are people short of food is "morally inappropriate". However, despite pledging to concentrate efforts on biofuel development using wood chips and plant wastes, the company did not rule out using food crops as a feedstock: "Sometimes economics force you to do it."
- George Monbiot has explored the morality of the fossil fuel hungry north utilizing land in the South to grow transport fuels. See www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/12/06/worse-than-fossil-fuel/
- See Panos' excellent briefing at www.panos.org.uk/resources/reportdetails.asp?id=1089
- A campaign for a moratorium on EU incentives from agrofuel crops, agrofuel imports and agroenergy monoculture has been launched by on international coalition. To sign up to support the moratorium visit www.econexus.info/biofuels.html
* Roundup Resistance Grows
The Proponents of GM herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops claim they will reduce the amounts of weed killers used and hence the fuel needed to transport them and spray them. Evidence is mounting from around the world on the growing number of weeds which are exhibiting resistance to Monsanto's Roundup through natural plant evolution and pollen transfer from GM plants. Even at this stage of their commercial life some people are questioning the long-term viability of GMHT plants.
- Monsanto have issued guideline to US farmers on how to "manage weed resistance".
- A report published in 2004 analysed herbicide usage in the US and showed that after 9 years of GMHT crops it was increasing.
- Evidence is beginning to accumulate in the Americas that resistance through natural evolution and the GM gene transfer are both emerging. Surprisingly it appears that natural resistance development may be ahead of problems arising from cross pollination with weedy relatives and volunteers. In the USA weed scientists have found Roundup resistance in ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and horseweed (Conyza Canadensis).
- Argentina has also recently seen its first case of glyphosate resistance in Johnsongrass in the north east of the country. Monsanto have reported that the resistance problems extend to 17,000 25,000 acres.
- The first documented case of glyphosate resistance was in rigid rye grass in New South Wales, Australia in 1996 following two or three applications per year in an orchard over 15 years. This has been followed by cases in Australia, California, Chile and Malaysia.
- This year saw the USA's first instances of resistance to glyphosate arising from cross pollination when genes of GM Roundup Ready (RR) creeping bent grass were found 3.8km downwind of trial sites in Oregon. See Reichman JR et al, 2006. Establishment of transgenic herbicide-resistant creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) in nonagronomic habitats Molecular Ecology Vol 15 No 13 pp4243 - 4255 November 2006.
Thus sustaining reduced costs for farmers growing RR crops is proving difficult. The measures needed to contain the problem being recommended by Monsanto themselves further undermine the economics of RR crops. Developing countries need to note the global experience of herbicide resistant weeds very closely and avoid getting hooked into a system that has all the hallmarks of being an unsustainable technology.
* South Africa Draws the GM line at Sorghum
South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where GM crops are at all widely grown and is used by the biotechnology industry as a model for others to follow. Recent attempts to licenses GM sorghum trails have run into exactly the same type of concerns that have characterised attempts to commercialise GM crops in the EU.
An application to test GM sorghum inside greenhouses has been turned down by the South African Agriculture ministry. The application by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was turned down on biosafety grounds because the regulators were concerned about the potential impact of the GM crops on other sorghum varieties grown in the country.
The CSIR planned to modify sorghum because "the crop has certain inherent deficiencies". The plan was "to increase the levels of vitamins and the bio-availability of key nutrients by introducing the relevant genetic signals into sorghum". The project is part of the R450-million African Biotechnology Sorghum (ABS) project, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, and is aimed at improving nutrition to promote health, which focuses on improving nutrition levels of bananas, cassava, and rice and sorghum crops.
This project is an excellent example of trying to solve malnutrition by genetically engineering one crop. It fails to recognize that food security can only be achieved through providing access to land and water to produce a balanced diet containing sufficient proteins, vitamins and other nutrients. Over reliance on just one cop for nutritional requirements leaves people very vulnerable as the Irish peasants found in the 1840 potato famines. See www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=2997&language=1
NEWS in brief
* Dead sheep and goats in Andhra Pradesh: Following the deaths of sheep and goats grazing on the stubble of Bt cotton crops in a number of villages in Andhra Pradesh, the precise cause is still to be established, although some obvious diseases have been ruled out.
* GM eggplants tested in India: GM brinjal, or eggplant, is being developed in India amid growing concern about the safety of the crop and its ability to cross pollinate easily. See www.csa-india.org/downloads/GE/bt_brinjal_briefing_paper.pdf
* Cyprus Parliament votes for separate shelves for GMOs: In an unprecedented move the Parliament of Cyprus has voted to legislate that food containing GMOs should be placed on separate shelves from other foods. The proposal first emerged in 2005 when the US wrote to the Parliament saying such a move would breach Cyprus’s agreement to the WTO. In addition Cyprus wants to declare the island a GMO-free zone because it is not big enough to ensure conventional crops will remain unaffected by biotech ones. See www.cyprusembassy.net/home/index.php?module=articles&id=4027 and radio.broadcastnewsroom.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=151928
Date Place Event
22 26 October 2007 Montreal Ad Hoc technical working groups of the Biosafety Protocol on liability and re-dress
18 22 February 2008 Rome (FAO) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the C convention of Biodiversity. One of the items on the Agenda is GM trees, in preparation for COP 9.
12 16 May 2008 Bonn GM free Summit.
See invite at www.gmo-free-regions.org/worldsummit2008.html
12 16 May 2008 Bonn COP-MOP4 Biosafety Protocol
19-30 May 2008 Bonn COP9 of Convention on Biodiversity. Liability and terminator technology will be discussed.
GM Freeze is a not for profit company limited by guarantee, owned and controlled by our 55 member organisations.
The campaign is calling on the Government for a Freeze on:
ÃŸ the growing of genetically modified plants and the production of genetically modified farm animals for any commercial purpose
ÃŸ imports of genetically modified foods, plants, farm crops and farm animals, and produce from genetically modified plants and animals
ÃŸ the patenting of genetic resources for food and farm crops
The GM Freeze campaign is supported by an alliance of national organisations who share the public's deep concern over the speed at which genetic engineering is being introduced into food and farming. The alliance encompasses a wide range of interests including environmental campaigns, trade unions, development charities and religious groups. They are united by a belief that we must stop and think about the huge implications of this new technology and the questions that remain to be answered about its safety and impact.