Is China the great equalizer in the global GM debate?

Genetically modified foods get U.S. traction, global debate

by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today…

Biologically engineered crops continue to be embraced in both developed and developing nations. Last year, 330 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 25 countries, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application (ISAAA) says. 

“China most definitely will have an influence in the future of agriculture and trade. They grow an incredible amount of food and fiber, and the more they embrace this technology, the more it’s going to be used,” says Eric Hoffman, the group’s genetic engineering policy campaigner in Washington, D.C. “There’s potential for China shifting the balance away from the movement that Europe is creating to stop these technologies.”


Prize for GM Organics paper… winning compromise for food and food development

‘GM Organics’ Paper Awarded International Society of Bioethics 2009 Prize

The International Society of Bioethics has decided to award its 2009 prize to the paper entitled “More sustainable food: genetically modified seeds in organic farming” presented by Mrs. *Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler*, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. You can find the announcement here:

One hectare of GMO maize = 15 tonnes of seed (5 x conventional)

Zimbabwe Farmers Calls for Planting of GMOs
– Sarah Ncube, The Zimbabwe Telegraph, Nov. 19, 2009

Zimbabwe – Harare – The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) has called on the Government to allow farmers to plant Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) maize seed so as to increase harvest and counter imports. In a telephone interview yesterday, the organisation’s vice president for administration Robert Marapira said GMO maize could be the short term solution to the country food shortages. “It is known that the country has over the past decade failed to harvest adequate maize to cater for the needs of the citizens hence we believe that the growing of genetically modified maize could be the counter measure especially taking into consideration that the Government has been spending millions of dollars in sourcing grain from outside the country,” he said.

Marapira said research had shown that a hectare of land planted with GMO seed could harvest 15 tonnes compared to natural seed, which rakes in only three tonnes. “GMO seeds mature faster than the natural seed and they need less water looking at a possibility of the country receiving less rainfall meaning that if such a thing was to occur the country would be guaranteed of a good harvest,” said Marapira.

He added that GMO maize could also be used as a way of countering imports that have flooded the local market. “The majority of food stuffs coming into the country are GMOs and paying particular attention to maize you would notice that South African maize is cheaper than local because production costs lesser meaning that most businesses and millers would prefer to buy from neighbouring countries a situation which would negatively affect farmers,” said Marapira.

Meanwhile various farmer organisations met to discuss challenges faced by farmers and strategies on how to effectively market their produce.

NY Times Article of Interest – Can GM Food Cure the World’s Hunger Problem?

Interesting article in today’s issue of the New York Times: “Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?”… includes commentaries from six experts (academics, activists, authors) on the subject.

I am particularly fond of Paul Collier’s (economist with Oxford U) encouragement for us to put aside our prejudices: “Genetic modification is analogous to nuclear power: nobody loves it, but climate change has made its adoption imperative.” Particularly, Collier says, for countries like Africa. He says, “African governments are now recognizing that by imitating the European ban on genetic modification they have not reduced the risks facing their societies but increased them. Thirteen years, during which there could have been research on African crops, have been wasted. Africa has been in thrall to Europe, and Europe has been in thrall to populism.”

Johnathon Foley, director of the new Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, expounds upon “The Third Way”… “Currently, there are two paradigms of agriculture being widely promoted: local and organic systems versus globalized and industrialized agriculture. Each has fervent followers and critics. Genuine discourse has broken down: You’re either with Michael Pollan or you’re with Monsanto. But neither of these paradigms, standing alone, can fully meet our needs.” Foley suggest a “hybrid” of the two: “…take ideas from both sides, [create] new, hybrid solutions that boost production, conserve resources and build a more sustainable and scalable agriculture.”…

Just the Flax, ma’am, just the Flax…

All is quiet on the flax front… a little too quiet, perhaps.

What could be next? Seven more notifications on the RASFF Portal ( posted by Germany and Sweden this past Thursday in the product category cereals and bakery products. It makes one wonder where the food inputs (and potentially outputs) are held in the companies that have apparently discovered the FP967 event in their products. Are they kept in storage? Incinerated perhaps?

In other (related?) news… 9.7 million children were reported to have died of malnutrition before their fifth birthday in 2006. (UNICEF – State of the World’s Children 2008 /

“Poverty is when you hide your face and wish nobody could see you just because you feel less than a human being. Poverty is when you dream of bread and fish you never see in the day light…Poverty is when the hopes of your fathers and grandfathers just vanish within a blink of an eye. I know poverty and I know poverty just like I know my father’s name. Poverty never sleeps. Poverty works all day and night. Poverty never takes a holiday.” (one impoverished African quoted in

GM Crops: Top Ten Facts and Figures

To mark my first week on the job here at the University of Saskatchewan, a ‘top ten’ list on GM:

*Genetically Modified Crops: Top Ten Facts and Figures*
Thursday, October 8, 2009

*Formation Farming

Workers harvest soybeans in Mato Grosso state in western Brazil. Soybean is the top GM crop, taking up over half of all GM farmland01. The first commercial GM food was the FlavrSavr tomato developed in the early 1990s in California. It was genetically altered so that it took longer to decompose after being picked.

*01.* The first commercial GM food was the FlavrSavr tomato developed in the early 1990s in California. It was genetically altered so that it took longer to decompose after being picked.

*02.* GM crops have been grown commercially since 1996. Since then the GM market has grown 74-fold and spread to 25 countries. The global value of the GM crop market was 7.5 billion dollars in 2008.

*03.* There were 125 million hectares of GM crops worldwide in 2008, about 6 to 7 percent of the total cultivated land area. That is an increase of nearly 10 percent on the 114 million hectares in 2007.

*04.* The top three GM crops in 2008 were soybeans (53 percent of total GM area), maize (30 percent), and cotton (15 percent). Others include rapeseed (canola), alfalfa, and papaya.

*05.* Ninety percent of GM crops, and almost all GM food crops, are grown in four countries—the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Canada. The U.S. produces almost half of all GM crops.

*06. *There are 13.3 million farmers cultivating GM crops. The vast majority are smallholders in China (7.1 million) and India (5 million) who are growing GM cotton.

*07.* Almost all commercial GM crops today are genetically altered for one or both of two main traits: herbicide tolerance (63 percent) and insect resistance (15 percent), while 22 percent have both traits. Different genetic traits are combined to create “stacked” GM crops.

*08.* In the United States 12.2 million hectares of GM crops (nearly 10 percent of the global total) were used for biofuels in 2008.

*09.* According to industry researc, in 2007 GM crops saved 15.6 million tons of CO2 through rejduced herbicide and pesticide use and reduced tillage, the equivalent of removing 6.3 million cars from the road.

*10.* Future GM crops likely to be commercialized by 2015 include rice, eggplant, potatoes, and wheat. Drought resistant and nutritionally enhanced crops are also expected in the near future.

Sources: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA); International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Prospective Technological Studies; International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development; United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization10. Future GM crops likely to be commercialized by 2015 include rice, eggplant, potatoes, and wheat. Drought resistant and nutritionally enhanced crops are also expected in the near future.

Source: Allianz Available online at: