ISIS Report 27/02/08
Non-GM Breakthroughs Leave GM Behind
Non-GM breakthroughs keep coming
thick and fast for problems that GM proponents claim require GM, but GM solutions,
if any, are years away
GM Watch: www.gmwatch.org
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the mention of allergen-free peanut, salt-resistant wheat, beta-carotene rich
sweet potato, and virus-resistant cassava make you think of GM? If so, you’ve
missed the great unpublished story of 2007 – all the non-GM answers to precisely
the problems (drought-resistance, salt-resistance, biofortification, etc.)
that proponents claim only GM can solve.
While GM ‘miracle’ stories win vast amounts of column inches
in the popular media, the non-GM stories are seldom reported. Without the
GM lobby’s exaggerated crisis narratives and silver bullet solutions, it seems
there is no story. The biotech industry and its PR people, of course, are
keen to keep it that way; particularly as the non-GM solutions are often way
ahead of the work on GM. They also bring with them none of the uncertainties
over environmental and health hazards that surround GM.
Thanks to the lack of success of GM ‘solutions’, non-GM success
stories can end up being claimed as GM breakthroughs. This happened most recently
when the UK government’s retiring chief scientist, David King, claimed
an important non-GM breakthrough in Africa as evidence of why we need to embrace GM .
This tells us why we need to stop being distracted by GM and support the non-GM
solutions to crop production problems.
Many organic successes have been covered in detail in this and previous issues
of SiS (see for example, Message from Andra Predesh:Return to organic
cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap, SiS 29; Scientists
Find Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World and More, and FAO Promotes
Organic Agriculture, SiS 36; Organic & Sustainable series, SiS
37) [2-5]. Here are other examples over the past year.
Zambia gets better harvests from non-GM maize
drought-prone Zambia is still facing problems, huge improvements have been reported
in its maize harvests – its main staple crop. Production is reported to have
changed dramatically after President Levy Mwanawasa took over from Frederick
Chiluba in 2001. He promoted innovations such as mixed farming and conservation
farming. Mwanawasa rejected GM maize and encouraged the growing of non-GM
maize, resulting in bumper harvests for the past three years .
Ironically, when the Zambian government
rejected GM maize in 2002  (Africa Unites Against GM to Opt for Self-sufficiency,
SiS 16), there were calls from
the US Ambassador to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization for its leaders
to be tried “for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts
of the world” .
Non-GM crop science gets £13 million boost in the UK
UK crop scientists have been awarded
a £13.3m boost in funding to carry out research aimed at delivering benefits
for farmers and consumers. Researchers say they will not be producing GM crops.
Prof. David Pink at University of Warwick, Coventry, whose team has been awarded
£500 000 to identify genes in broccoli that will extend its shelf life and
maintain its nutritional value longer, said , “We are not going down that
[GM] route because GM is not acceptable at the moment, and not acceptable
to our plant breeding partner].”
GM drought-tolerant maize way behind non-GM methods
March 2007, the South African authorities gave Monsanto permission to conduct
GM drought-tolerant maize field trials in South Africa. The African Centre for Biosafety released a report
on the issue, pointing out that drought tolerance GM maize is at least 8-10
years away from commercial release, and points out that traditional breeding,
marker assisted selection, and building up organic content of the soil are
proven and immediately available methods of dealing with drought . Nevertheless
GM drought-tolerant crops are being used as PR tools by biotech lobbyists
to promote acceptance of GM crops, to expand existing markets and develop
New non-GM drought-resistant maize in the Philippines
scientist Dr Antonio Mercado at the University of Philippines Los Banos has developed a new non-GM maize
variety that was able to survive a drought for 29 days .
Indigenous rice better than GM-rice at dealing with stress
a New Delhi-based NGO headed by Vandana Shiva, together with farmers from
nine Indian states, has developed a register of over 2 000 indigenous rice
varieties. They say GM rice strains are not only costly to cultivate but also
perform poorly compared to native strains in fighting pests, diseases and
environmental fluctuations. Several indigenous rice strains adopted by the
Indian farmers can withstand extremes of climatic conditions, survive submergence
for a fortnight and even withstand salinity with great success .
New Non-GM maize a body blow to grain borer
larger grain borer is taking a beating from CIMMYT (International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Centre) breeders in Kenya, as a new non-GM African maize withstands the
onslaught of one of the most damaging pests. CIMMYT researchers found resistance
to the borer in the Centre’s germplasm bank, in maize seed originally from
the Caribbean . The bank holds 25 000 native maize races.
Non-GM process for allergy-free peanuts
researcher at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has developed a simple non-GM process to make
allergen-free peanuts. An estimated one percent of children in the United States suffer from the allergy. The
inventor, Dr Mohamed Ahmedna, is optimizing the process further to remove
allergens from other foods .
While we do not have enough information on the process to
judge any potential downsides, it is noteworthy that a seemingly straightforward
solution has been found to a problem that GM proponents claim requires the
use of GM.
Non-GM salt-tolerant wheat to bring life to dead land
at Australia’s Molecular Plant Breeding CRC are using marker assisted breeding
to identify salt-tolerant wheat varieties which could allow farmers to crop
agricultural land lost to salinity across Australia’s wheat belt. Some 67
percent of the dryland cropping area in Australia is affected by salinity, resulting in meagre yields
Scientists developed non-GM drought-tolerant canola species
based in Victoria, Australia, have developed a new species
of drought tolerant canola that could make up to 1.5 million hectares of drought-prone
farmland in Australia more productive and profitable. Traditional breeding
and molecular marker assisted selection were used .
The breakthrough comes after pro-GM lobbyists
persuaded the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales
to lift their moratorium on GM plantings, partly based on claims that GM would
provide drought tolerant crops. However, Robert Horsch, Monsanto's vice president,
has admitted that such crops are actually not so easy to develop, while Christopher
Horner, another Monsanto spokesperson, has admitted such GM crops are years
away from commercial production .
Gates Foundation supports non-GM biofortified sweet potato in Africa
alliance HarvestPlus has received a US$ 6 million grant from the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce a nutritionally improved orange sweet
potato into the diets of the undernourished in East Africa. The orange sweet potato is rich in beta-carotene,
an essential building block of vitamin A, which helps to prevent blindness
According to a BBC report, only a “relatively small” amount
of HarvestPlus’s work in biofortification involves GM. Harvest Plus’s Bonnie
McClafferty said , “We’ve been able to experience great success in actually
finding varieties to do conventional plant breeding with.” Harvest Plus has
recently announced the discovery of a new non-GM method of improving the vitamin
A precursor content of maize .
Links to these and other non-GM success stories at: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8658,