EU Court Adviser Sets High Bar for States’ GMO Bans

(CN) – An EU high court adviser on Thursday gave member states a very limited go-ahead to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops, but only if they can prove the crops are “a serious and evident risk likely to endanger health and the environment.”

European Court of Justice Advocate General Michal Bobek’s advisory opinion is another marker in the long fight over genetically modified crops in the EU. In 1998, the European Commission authorized the cultivation of MON 810, a genetically modified maize, basing its decision on findings by EU scientists that there was no reason to believe the crop would have adverse effects on health or the environment.

But in 2013, the Italian government asked the commission to ban MON 810 in light of research done by two research institutes there. The commission refused, noting more recent studies done by the European Food Safety Authority that found no cause for concern.

The Italian government forged ahead and banned the cultivation of MON 810, and prosecuted farmers who grew it despite the ban.

Some of those prosecuted appealed, leading an Italian court to ask the European Court of Justice whether something known as the “precautionary principle” – which an increasingly at-risk society can rely on to protect itself from the unintended consequences of rapid scientific progress and new technologies – justified Italy’s emergency ban on the GMO.

In a thoughtful 10-page opinion, Bobek noted up front that EU law tailors the precautionary principle more narrowly – and one of two regulations on GMOs doesn’t mention it at all. The one that does, which covers genetically modified food, requires a full assessment of the product in question that reveals “scientific uncertainty regarding the possible harmful effects on health of a food,” Bobek wrote.

So while in theory member states are allowed to pass emergency national legislation on the basis of the precautionary principle, it’s much more difficult to do so for GMO products because EU law requires them to be rigorously vetted before they’re even allowed on the market. Scientific understanding of the crops would have to change in order for member states to pass emergency bans, Bobek said.

The adviser also noted that since Italy’s ban on MON 810, two events have changed the GMO landscape in Europe: in 2015, EU lawmakers made it possible for member states to restrict or ban GMO cultivation, and in 2016 – giving in to the demands of Italy and 18 other states – the commission banned MON 810 in those territories.

But Bobek said neither event affects the case at hand, since they happened after Italy initiated criminal proceedings against the scofflaw farmers.

Bobek’s opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its deliberations of the case.

-Written by Wiliam Dotinga in Courthouse News Service.  See original article link here.

PPPs: Planting the seeds of prosperity for Bangladeshi farmers

 
Local consumer buying eggplants at a market in Mohishaban, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

The eggplant, known in Asia as brinjal, is one of the most inexpensive and popular vegetable crops grown in Bangladesh, ranked only below the potato and onion in terms of total production. It is a major source of income for around 8 million smallholder farmers, and a mainstay in the diet of the nation’s 160 million people. However, the crop is constantly under threat from the fruit and shoot borer — a moth species whose larvae burrow into the eggplant, destroying it from within. If not controlled, the pest can damage up to 100 percent of a field of eggplants and threaten the smallholder farms that depend on it.

On his farm in northern Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman Sheikh told us that he has been growing brinjal for 10 years. While it’s not a difficult crop to grow, he said the impact of the fruit and shoot borer can be disastrous for eggplant farmers.

“Two years ago, 50 percent of my crop was lost to the borer,” he recounted. “I lost a lot of money and seriously considered giving up the crop altogether.”


Anisur Rahman Sheikh in his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Given the social and nutritional importance of the eggplant, public and private sector scientists and farmers have pooled their expertise to find both economically sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to tackle the pest.

Rahman Sheikh recently planted biotech eggplant for the first time. The biotech variety (Bt eggplant) repels or kills the fruit and shoot borer, and Rahman Sheikh is confident that it will make a difference for him and his family.

“Already, the plants look stronger and healthier,” he said. “I won’t know until the harvest, but the plants look good. I am expecting a good harvest with no losses.”

In fact, the Bt eggplant has shown close to 100 percent effectiveness in controlling pests. Not only have farmers’ incomes risen through increased yields, but the crop requires far fewer insecticide applications to reduce pests that threaten it.


Anisur Rahman Sheikh ploughing his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Rahman Sheikh explained that a good harvest will have a significant impact on his life.

“You see, my house is still not complete,” he said. “So if I get more crops, I get more profit and I can repair my house and I can contribute to my kids’ education, their health, and their safety.”

We visited plant scientist Hasan Tanbir from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the country’s public research body that helped bring the Bt eggplant to Bangladesh. BARI has been distributing saplings to farmers, and providing training on good stewardship and best practices. In a country where agriculture is so important to the economy, he said the adoption of new technology is vital.


Scientific Officer Hasan Tanbir at the On-Farm research Institute of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Bogra, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

“Over 90 percent of Bangladeshi people work in agriculture, and food security is very important to our country,” said Tanbir. “Farmers were becoming afraid to grow brinjal. But with the Bt gene inserted to fight the borer, farmers can be successful with an important crop. It is essential for these farmers.”

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The insect-resistant Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was facilitated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Cornell University in very close collaboration with BARI. The project’s goal is to commercialize biotech crops to complement conventional agricultural approaches to help alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and boost food and nutrition security. The Bt eggplant was commercialized in Bangladesh in 2013.

Initially developed in the private sector, the Cry1-Ac protein produced in the Bt eggplant — and which repels the borer — is similar in structure to that found in nature, and is used commercially in the form of Bt-based biopesticides, often used by organic growers. Through a creative partnership and licensing agreement between private and public actors, the Bt eggplant is available to farmers who can most benefit, with no additional technology fees or royalties payable. In addition, farmers will not only be permitted, but actively encouraged, to save their seeds.

Just like the biotech sorghum plant that can tackle blindness, the Bt eggplant is another compelling example of how public and private sector expertise can pull together to meet huge global challenges such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. By harnessing our collective strengths, including research and development, manpower, resources and facilities, huge progress can be made.

-Written by Deb Carstoiu in devex,com.  See original article link here.

Uganda: Pressure to Pass GMO Bill Gains Momentum

Will it, will it not? Uganda teeters on the brink of having a new bill to regulate genetically modified goods after President Yoweri Museveni cleared the air about which side he supports, writes JUSTUS LYATUU.

The pressure to pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012 has started building up in recent weeks after some parts of the country experienced food shortages due to the prolonged drought.

Proponents of the bill believe that once it is passed, the already developed varieties of food crops that are drought-resistant will be given to farmers to plant and this would end hunger in Uganda.

President Yoweri Museveni says the bill will help the country resolve some of the problems the agriculture sector faces. President Museveni, on March 20, while touring a demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero district, is quoted to have said that the bill should be passed to help improve farming practices, backed by modern research and technology.

This month alone, the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), researchers from National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCCRi) in Namulonge and President Museveni called upon Parliament to quickly pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012.

Farmers said the failure by the legislators to pass the bill has denied them the chance to access modern technologies being developed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) centres spread across the country.

Charles Ogang, the president of UNFFE, said Uganda will go on to lose opportunities to prevail over challenging agricultural production constraints that could be best addressed using technology.

“Researchers have developed genetically modified bananas and cassava, which are resistant to drought and diseases such as bacterial wilt and cassava brown streak but cannot have access to these varieties without a law in place,” he said.

According to Barbra Zawedde Mugwanya, the Uganda Biosciences Information Center (Ubic) coordinator at NaCCRI, farmers continue to suffer tremendous economic losses yet researchers are developing varieties and shelving them because there is no law.

“There is a lot of food insecurity from manageable stresses such as pests, diseases and even drought. But we can’t give solutions because we don’t have the law,” she said.

Mugwanya explained that scientists from Naro have identified the use of various measures and biotechnology has been identified as the best solution.

“For instance, we have developed solutions to banana bacterial wilt, viruses in cassava, drought-resistant maize and rice. In fact, bacterial wilt disease is causing Uganda an annual loss of over Shs 600 million,” she said.

Uganda is the only country carrying out biotechnology research without a law yet it has the largest number of crops under testing, which include cassava, banana, maize, potato, rice and sweet potatoes.

“Our neighbours and major trading partners have put in place regulations to regulate the use of modern technology. Their products will enter our markets soon in an unregulated manner,” Mugwanya said. Kenya last year approved the use of GMO seeds.

CONCERNS

Antagonists, however, say that the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country will adversely affect Ugandans and make farming more expensive.

Some of the common concerns include loss of indigenous seeds, failure of the genetically modified seeds to adapt to the different seasons, and the dominance of the large seed companies in Uganda’s agriculture sector.

Mugwanya said the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and European Food Safety Association agree that genetically modified foods on the market are safe.

“We are already consuming genetically modified products in Uganda. These are foods, beverages and drugs. All these products are imported from elsewhere and unregulated,” said Anita Tibasaaga, the media and public relations officer at Ubic.

Harriet Ityang, an official from the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said the bill emphasizes safety in using biotechnology by providing for measures to be taken to minimise or avoid risk to human health and the environment arising from actual or potential contact with a genetically modified organisms.

“The bill provides for every application for research or general release to contain an emergency plan, complete with safety measures for unintentional release of a genetically-modified organism,” she said.

Ityang added: “We need the bill because Kenya and Rwanda are planting GMOs. We believe with the law, we can fight drought; also the government has invested over Shs 20bn in research, this money should not be wasted.”

She explained that Uganda needs a law in place before improved versions from biotechnology can be passed on to the farmers for planting. In 2014, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy, said seeds improved through biotechnology were grown by 16.5 million small farmers in 20 developing countries on 230 million acres (53 percent of the global total).

TREATING REMEDIES, NOT CAUSES

Hakim Baliraine, a board member at Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF- Uganda), said GMOs will only give short-term solutions that are not sustainable in the long run. He explained that organic seeds are still relevant but the challenge is mainly caused by low soil fertility and environmental degradation.

“Our soils are infertile due to mono-cropping. Also, changing weather patterns have affected farming, whether GMO or organic farming. Rain is needed. What government should do is to initiate irrigation schemes,” he said.

Baliraine, who is also a member of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFISA), explained that genetically modified crops are highly dependent on fertlisers, which will increase a cost in farming.

Baliraine said more work on the GMO bill is needed in order to accommodate the wishes of the organic farming community.

“The bill will be good, but not in its current form. It does not explain what will happen to our seeds if they are contaminated by GMO seeds…,” he said.

Baliraine added: “We need the bill to explain how we shall be compensated in case of cross pollination, and also it should give us a way forward for those doing indigenous knowledge research.”

-Written by Justus Lyatuu in The Observer via AllAfrica.  See original article link here.

Uganda: Museveni Wants Parliament to Enact Biotechnology Bill

Luweero — President Museveni has repeated his efforts to boost food security and household income with a promise to ensure that the Biotechnology and Bio-safety bills are passed by Parliament to boost modern farming practices.

President Museveni, who on Monday toured a demonstration farm at Kawumu State Lodge in Luweero District as part of his efforts to boost modern farming practices in the former war zone which brought the NRM government into power said the NRM party Caucus would soon sit to ensure that the Biotechnology Bill is passed to help improve farming practices backed by modern research and technology.

“The Biotechnology Bill will help us resolve some of the problems we have in the agriculture sector. The NRM caucus will soon convene to finalise on this matter. We should not be held back on this matter,” Mr Museveni told journalists on Monday.

Earlier in the day, President Museveni toured several demonstrations on the farm plots at the State Lodge where modern farming practices have been developed through establishment of coffee, banana, pineapple and fish ponds.

Mr Museveni said his last visit in Makulubita Sub-county where he encouraged residents to use water bottles for irrigation was misinterpreted by many people yet he had a point for the rural poor who cannot afford the bigger and sophisticated irrigation methods.

“We have been using water bottles to irrigate the coffee, banana, passion fruits among other crops on this demonstration farm. You are witnesses to what has happened. You should be able to help me preach this gospel of improved farming practices, the President told journalists on Monday.

At Kawumu demonstration farm, President Museveni has 400 banana plants, 450 coffee trees and a demonstration garden for pineapples. The farm also has four fish ponds.

The demonstration plots are supposed to help the people in the area learn better farming practices. The demonstration plots were established in November 2016 when Mr Museveni camped in Makulubita Sub-county to monitor Operation Wealth Creation activities.

-Written by Dan Wandera in The Monitor via AllAfrica.com.  See original article link here.

Agricultural Academy of Japan proposes conduct of field trial of GM crops

The Agricultural Academy of Japan, a professional academic organization for agriculture, held a press conference on their proposal to conduct a confined field trial of various GM crops, with priority to herbicide tolerant GM sugar beet in Hokkaido farms. The media briefing was held at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry in Tokyo on March 1, 2017, and attended by representatives from 10 media outlets in the country.

The proposal aims to conduct a field trial of GM crops, especially herbicide tolerant GM sugar beet to confirm the cost-cutting benefits of the technology enjoyed by HT sugar beet planting countries such as the USA and Canada. The non-labor intensive technology saves cost from labor, weeding activities and utilizes direct seeding rather than the planting of seedlings.

The proposal was made by the Academy to the national government and Hokkaido government, the first of its kind, which is hoped to resonate to other places in Japan so they will also benefit from the technology. The proposal was uploaded to the Academy website and forwarded to Governments and their research institutions, as well as to relevant academic associations.

Details in Japanese can be obtained at its website, academy.nougaku.jp. For information on biotechnology in Japan, contact Dr. Fusao Tomita of Nippon BIC at ftomita@a-hitbio.com.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Government to hike investments in R&D activities to boost farm output

The Duterte administration vowed to increase its investments in research and development (R&D) activities to boost the farm sector’s productivity, according to the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022.

“Investments will be increased to cover the direct cost of R&D, build a critical mass of human resources and improve infrastructure in support of the Harmonized National R&D Agenda for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources 2017-2022,” Chapter 8 of PDP, titled Expanding Economic Opportunities in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, read.

“This agenda espouses the use of advanced and emerging technologies, such as biotechnology, genomics, bioinformatics, nanotechnology and ICT [information and communications technology] as tools to find science and technology solutions to AFF [agriculture, fisheries and forestry] problems and to develop new products with significant impact to the sector,” it added.

In Chapter 14 of the PDP, titled Vigorously Advancing Science, Technology, and Innovation, the government bared its plan to craft a Harmonized National R&D Agenda (HNRDA) that would serve as a road map to advancing R&D in the country.

“Funding support will be provided for the implementation of the HNRDA, which defines the country’s priorities and guides public investment in R&D. The agenda will consolidate and promote basic and applied research in agriculture, aquatic resources, natural resources, health and nutrition, drug discovery and development, industry, energy, defense and security and emerging technologies,” it read.

The government said it will prioritize the development of R&D in sectors that would benefit the most from advanced technologies and innovative practices, such as the agriculture sector.

“This is expected to translate to an increase in incomes and jobs, especially in the countryside. The government will also foster the development of networks and markets, and undertake effective marketing strategies through the extensive use of quad-media and the organization of fora, fairs and exhibits,” the chapter read.

The PDP noted that, despite the significance of R&D in developing technologies and identifying good farm and fishery management practices, the share of R&D programs remains low in the total budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development.

“In 2015 the aggregate budget was at P3.8 billion or only 0.28 percent of the AFF GVA [in current prices], which is lower compared to the 1-percent level recommended for developing countries,” it read.

The government also noted that the farm sector’s R&D capacity is “quite weak” because most of the scientists and researchers in the sector work on a contractual basis due to the limited number of permanent work positions.

The PDP said the government would tap the expertise of private and public institutions and think tanks to strengthen the farm sector’s R&D capacity.

“The coordination and complementation between DA and LGUs [local government units] will be strengthened for a more efficient delivery of extension services and feedback on farm-related problems,” it read.

“State universities and colleges will also be tapped to hasten he diffusion of good farm and fishery practices, indigenous and local knowledge and appropriate technologies,” it added.

The national government is keen on growing farm production by 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent annually starting this year until 2022, when the President steps down from office, according to the PDP.

The previous administration had targeted to increase annual agriculture and fisheries output by as much as 5 percent.

-Written by Jasper Y. Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas is a graduate of the UST Journalism School (Batch 2016). He currently covers agribusiness for the BusinessMirror. He joined the news outfit in August 2016.