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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 40



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Genetic Engineering Newsletter 40
March 2003

supported by Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft and Triodos-Stichting

CONTENTS
Legal and political developments
Europe
Asia
International
Science News
Business News
News From Organic Farming


Legal and political developments

Europe

Co-existence on the agenda of the European Commission
The European Commission decided on 4th of March that the issue 
of co-existence of GM and non-GMO agriculture concerns the 
economic consequences of adventitious presence of GM crops in 
non-GM crops. Regulatory measures to ban GMOs by introducing 
GM free zones in the member states should be excluded. For 
some crops current farm practices need to be changed. Farm 
management measures could comprise the introduction of isolation 
distances between fields, of buffer zones and pollen barriers or 
planting arrangements for differing flowering period of GM and non-
GM cultures (Press Release of the European Commission 
IP/03/314, 03/05/03). The Commission’s press release cited a 
statement of the agriculture commissar Fischler. The document 
“Communication From Mr Fischler To The Commission” is available 
on: http://www.zs-
l.de/gmo/downloads/Communication_Fischler_02_2003.pdf. 
The Commission stated that the discussion should serve as a 
basis for a Round Table on co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. 
The Round Table is going to take place in Brussels the 24th of 
April. Environmental organizations announced not to participate. 
The Environmental Bureau, the Coordination Paysanne Europenne, 
IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture 
Movements), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth claimed that the 
GMO industry is well represented in the panels, whereas other 
stakeholders are not equally represented. Furthermore, the 
important question, who is going to cover the extra costs related to 
co-existence measures, is not addressed 
(http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2003/GR_18_March_Open_letter.ht
m).
Another important point remains outstanding whether the 
Commission is going to release guidelines or a proper regulation on 
co-existence. Until now the member states do not have the right to 
impose measures to avoid contamination. They can only impose 
measures in agriculture and food production if human health and 
the environment is endangered (see Genetic Engineering 
Newsletter 38). 

European Commission publishes GMO-Review: number of field test 
decreased
The number of field trial applications for GM crops has decreased 
of 80 % in the EU member states since 1998. The reason is that 
the big companies are displacing the research on GMOs to other 
countries because of the moratorium. These results are presented 
in a study of the Fraunhofer Institute on System Technology and 
Innovative Research (ISI), the university in Hohenheim, Germany 
and the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Spain 
mandated by the Joint Research Centre of the European 
Commission (aol-Newsbote, 03/24/03; EuropaBio 03/21/03, cited 
from GENET 03/24/03). The study also reports the research and 
development of those GM crops that could be expected on the 
European market in a short-, medium- and long-term view. Thus, 
the study claims to provide a basis to discuss questions on risk 
assessment and co-existence of these future GM crops. The study 
"Review of GMOs under research and development and in the 
pipeline in Europe" is available in English on 
http://www.jrc.es/gmoreview.pdf.

Eurobarometer survey: Europeans and Biotechnology in 2002
Every three years Europeans citizens are surveyed on their behalf 
on biotechnological issues. Now, the European Commission 
presented the results of 2002. The Eurobarometer 58.0 registers a 
trend to an increasing acceptance on biotechnology in general. 
Asked for different applications of biotechnology, citizens of all 
European countries support genetic testing and the cloning of 
human cells for therapeutic purposes while the use of GM 
enzymes and GM animals for xenotransplantation are not 
supported continuously. GM crops are refused by citizens from the 
countries that support the de facto-moratorium in Europe, such as 
Austria, Greece, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Denmark and besides, 
Sweden. GM food is generally rejected in nearly every European 
country. In this block, the participants were asked whether they 
would buy and consume GM foods described as offering clear 
benefits. For all the hypothetical situations, 50 % of the 
respondents rejected GM food if it would contain less pesticide 
residues or would be more environmental friendly. The rejection not 
to buy GM food was higher (65 %), if GM food would just be 
cheaper. The Eurobarometer is available in English on 
http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/eb/ebs_177_en.
pdf. (For previous results of the Eurobarometer, see Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 30).

Germany: competent authority in the environmental ministry shifts 
to the Federal Office of Environmental Protection
An authority of the Federal Environmental Ministry has to be 
consulted for applications on the deliberative release or on the 
bringing of the market of GMOs. Until now, this competent 
authority was located in the Federal Environmental Agency. It is 
now shifting to the Federal Office of Environmental Protection 
(BfN). Consequently, the BfN is also responsible for the 
monitoring of GMOs, which is obligated by the directive 
2001/18/EG. However, the German Parliament still has to agree 
to that amendment (taz 03/13/03).

Asia

Crop failure of Bt cotton in India affirmed by various sides 
The Agriculture Minister of the Indian state Andrah Pradesh 
announced the failure of the commercial growth of Bt cotton on 
TV and in print media (The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 03/05/03, cited 
from GENET 03/11/03). The Andrah Pradesh Department of 
Agriculture conducted a survey among farmers. 80 % of the 
farmers stated that the yield of Bt cotton was lower and the 
cotton’s quality was worse then of the conventional cotton in 
previous years (The Hindu 03/19/03, cited from GENET 
03/21/03). Before, the Agriculture Minister in the state Karnataka 
and an official of a large estate in Maharashtra had also 
confirmed the failure of Bt cotton (The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 
03/05/03, cited from GENET 03/11/03). As well in the state 
Gulbargha, farmers recorded a decreased yield of Bt cotton then 
of conventional cotton (The Hindu 02/02/03, cited from GENET 
02/05/03). In November, the Indian Research Foundation for 
Science, Technology and Ecology already called for a withdrawal 
of the conditional clearance to the genetically engineered Bt 
cotton (see Genetic Engineering Newsletter 37). In the middle of 
the debate, the noted scientific journal Science published an article 
of two scientists from Bonn, Germany, and from Berkeley, USA. 
The authors, Qaim and Zilberman, refer an increased yield of the 
test growing phase in 2001. Titled “Yield Effects of genetically 
Modified Crops in Developing Countries”, the article presents 
data from 157 farms that each planted Bt cotton on 646 m2. The 
data about the lower pesticide use und the higher yield were 
obtained by interviewing the farmers (Qaim, M. und Zilberman, 
D. – 2003: Yield Effects of genetically Modified Crops in 
Developing Countries. Science Vol. 299, 07.02.03). The GM 
cotton strain was developed by Monsanto and the Indian partner 
Maharashtra Hybrid Company. The governmental Indian Genetic 
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) gave the conditional 
clearance for three years (April 2002 – March 2005), although 
critics already announced that cotton pests would quickly develop 
resistance. In the tropical climate, pest pressure is very high and 
the postulated resistance management for Bt crops is not 
implemented in small holdings (Jayaraman, K. S. – 2002: India 
approves GM cotton. Nature Biotechnology Vol. 20, May 2002).

International

Search for farmers on the Internet for cultivation of pharma crops
The web side „MolecularFarming“ is collecting data on remote 
farms where GM crops producing pharmaceuticals and industrial 
compounds could be cultivated. The web side was built up “by a 
farmer” named Brian Marshall in February 2002. As the only 
problem for these GM crops would be the possibility of out 
crossing, MolecularFarming wants to provide the data for a safe 
cultivation of those GM crops. According to the web side, farmers 
from 20 countries worldwide have already submitted applications 
(http://www.molecularfarming.com). At last, a farmer in 
Canterbury, New Zealand, has offered 201 ha (503 acres) 
(http://www.checkbiotech.org, 03/13/03). In the summer of 2002, 
the first scandal on contamination by pharmaceuticals producing 
GM plants came out on a field test of Prodigene (see Genetic 
Engineering Newsletter 37). Now, the US Department of 
Agriculture (USDA) has strengthened the conditions for field-
testing of GM crops to produce pharmaceutical or industrial 
compounds. The new conditions include among other things an 
increased number of field site inspections during production and 
after harvest and a training program for the personal in order to 
comply with the permit conditions. In case of pharma maize, 
within one mile around the test field no corn is to be grown 
(USDA Press Release 03/06/03, cited from GENET 03/09/03).

Science News

Could Bt-toxin have additionally nutritional value on resistant 
insects? 
Scientists of the Imperial College in London and the university in 
Caracas, Venezuela, found in laboratory experiments on a 
population of the diamond back moth (Plutella xylostella), resistant 
to the Bt-Toxin, that the larvae could use the Bt-Toxin as 
supplementary food protein (Sayyed, A. H. et al. – 2003: Could 
transgenic crops have nutritionally favorable effects on resistant 
insects? Ecology Letters 6: 167-169). So far, Bt resistance 
appeared to be related to reduced fitness. Measures of fitness 
costs are longer development time, a reduced pupal weight and a 
reduced fecundity or a lower intrinsic rate of population increase. 
Against one’s expectations to what the title is implicating, the 
laboratory study was not conducted on transgenic Bt plants but 
the insects were fed on leaves sprayed with a Bt solution. Sayyed 
et al. (2003) compared three different population of the diamond 
back moth, of which one population was selected on resistance to 
Bt Cry1Ac under lab conditions. Larvae of the three populations 
were put on cabbage leaf disks. One group of larvae was put on 
untreated leaf discs. The other group was put on leaf disks treated 
with a Bt solution. Larvae of the resistant population fed on Bt 
sprayed leaf disks reached the highest pupal weight compared to 
the control fed on untreated leaf disks. The pupal weight of the 
other populations either fed on leafs with or without Bt reached a 
lower pupal weight. It is important to note that this experiment 
was made under laboratory conditions. Therefore, the results can 
not be translated to field conditions. Regardless, the authors 
discuss the results in context of Bt crops. Besides, the scientists 
examined a short life span reaching from the third-instar larvae to 
pupation. Independent replication with other resistant population is 
not reported. Thus, the results are statistically not very firm. At 
least, one of the information giving in the in the introduction refers 
to false data saying that the planting of Bt transgenic crops 
reached 44.2 million ha (110.5 million acres) in 2000. But the 44.2 
million ha concerned all GM crops, including 32.7 million ha 
herbicide resistant traits. Bt crops were planted on 11.8 million ha 
(29.5 million acres) in 2000 and on 14.5 million ha (36.3 million 
acres) in 2002. 

Short notes

Study on transgenic fish: The Institute for Applied Ecology has 
worked out a study for the German Environmental Agency 
(UBA) evaluating the research on transgenic fish with a special 
focus on the economic interesting genus salmon and trout. The 
study also illustrates the actual political discussion on biosaftey 
aspects of a commercial use of GM fish. The study is available in 
English („Scientific research on transgenic fish with a special 
focus on the biology of trout and salmon“; UBA-Texte 64/02). 

„Genopoly”: Is gene technology adventure or hazard? – in round 
terms – is the title of the new series´ issue „politische ökologie“ 
published by “ökom”. A number of authors present different 
topics on GMOs in agriculture and food production. Some of the 
topics are controversially discussed at the moment, as co-
existence of GM crops and organic agriculture or GM crops and 
world famine. But some topics reveal hidden aspects: Can GM 
crops get an assurance? And how are the gene giants advertising 
for their GM crops? (politische ökologie 81-82, March / April 
2003). 

CD-ROM about GM food: The consumers´ agency in North 
Rhine-Westphalia in Germany has published a CD-Rom called 
“GM food - cul-de-sac or progress” that is addressed to teachers 
and other multipliers. The CD contains proposals to hold a lesson 
on GM food. It also contains addresses, a glossary and games and 
role-playings on GM food (www.verbraucherzentrale-nrw.de).

“Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of 
Animals and Plants”: The Proceedings of this Workshop in 
Edinburgh, UK, we announced in the Genetic Engineering 
Newsletter 32, is now published. The summary and abstracts are 
available on http://www.anth.org/ifgene/2002.htm.

Study on the terminator technology: Terminator technology means 
genetic seed sterilization - plants genetically engineered to render 
sterile seeds or to render seeds that only germinate with the help 
of chemical inducers. This technology is said to enter the market 
in five to ten years. The study of the German Environmental 
Agency (UBA) warns that this creates a greater dependence of 
farmers on the commercial seed market. Because of out crossing, 
plants from other crop cultures or from other species could also 
produce sterile seeds („Funktionsweise und Risiken von Gene 
Usage Restriction Technologies (Terminator-Technologie)“, UBA-
Texte 74/02; UBA Press-Information 03/07/03).

Business News

Heinz wants to provide GM free baby food 
Canada’s largest producer of baby food, Heinz, binds to a GM 
free production not using GM ingredients for baby food. Even the 
soy cereals are GM free. So far, the Canadian government still 
has to issue guidelines for labeling GM free food 
(http://www.checkbiotech.org, 02/24/03).

The photocopy company Kinkos against GM trees
Kinkos, one of the biggest chains for photocopy in the USA, 
announced that it would not align itself with suppliers using GM 
trees. This is the merit of activities of two NGOs, the Rainforest 
Action Network and Dogwood Alliance (Press Release „Action 
for social and ecological justice, 03/13/03; cited from GENET 
03/25/03).

News From Organic Farming

Biological control of the European cherry fruit fly 
The European cherry fruit fly (Rhagoletis cerasi) is the most 
important pest on black cherries. The cherry fruit fly is over 
wintering as pupae in the soil. In spring, the larvae evolve and 
feed on the pulp surrounding the kernel. The infested cherries rot 
very fast. The Federal Biological Institute in Dossenheim, 
Germany, studied the possibilities to control the fruit fly by 
applications of nematodes. Therefore, they tested different 
species of the genus Steinernema and of Heterorhabditis 
bacteriophora. These nematodes live in the soil and invade the 
larvae of the cherry fruit fly. The nematodes release bacteria that 
are increasing and killing the larvae. Infestation of the cherry fruit 
fly larvae by nematodes was 71 % in sand substrate and 56 % in 
soil substrate. For testing this pest control under field conditions, 
the best timing to release the nematodes is in summer when the 
larvae want to pupate in the soil. The bioassays of field trials will 
be analyzed in May or June 2003 (idw-Press Release 03/26/03; 
Proceedings of the Entomological Conference 2003, p. 233).

Left-over of olive pressing could be used as a plant protection 
agent
Producing olive oil, the kernels, parings and other solid material 
remain. Scientist of the university of Bonn, Germany, found out 
that liquid extracts of that solid material is effective against 
parasitic fungus on crops, such as gray mold, Butrytis cinerea, and 
the root rot on cereals, Fusarium culmorum. 
In summer, field tests are planed with the late blight of potato, 
Phyophtora infestans. The effect of the extract is based on high 
lipid and polyphenolic contents. The most important polyphenol in 
the olive is the oleuropein. During extraction the oleuropein breaks 
down into two decomposition products that seem to be more 
effective against the fungi. It is possible that the combinations of 
the two decomposition products together with the oleuropein are 
crucial for the effect against fungi. The scientists now want to 
optimize the extraction procedure (idw-Press Release 03/18/03). 

Organic area in Spain grows by 37 % in 2002
Andalusia is turning into the region with the largest registered area 
of organic farming in Spain. A total of 665,055 ha (1,662,638 
acres) were farmed organically in Spain in 2002, compared with 
485,079 (1,212,698 acres) ha the year before. The turnover 
achieved by the total of 16,521 producers and 1,204 processing 
companies was estimated at 172.9 million Euros. The underlying 
data show that industrial activities in terms of plant and livestock 
production are also growing in organic farming. (BioFach-
Newsletter 03/31/03).

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Katja Moch
Biodiversity, Nutrition & Agriculture
OEko-Institut e.V. - Institute for Applied Ecology
PO Box 6226
D-79038 Freiburg
Germany

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