I sympathize with Andura Smetacek in his running battle with Starbucks
over their decision to switch to organic milk (Agbioview
archive msg #1026). With all due respect, though, right now it is
futile for pro-biotech scientists (or any scientists) to write
individual letters of complaint to major U.S. corporations like
Starbucks. The simple fact that Starbucks' response to Andura was a
form letter proves that the opinions of scientists (unlike those of
physicians and lawyers) are not taken seriously in the U.S. The
majority of Americans look at scientists and see well-paid contract
laborers, not honored members of a profession. Nobody with any power
in this country particularly cares what contract laborers think.
Until pro-biotech scientists in the U.S. organize themselves
politically (and financially support such organizing through regular
"tithes") to collectively defend their political, economic and
scientific interests, neither Starbucks nor America at large will
lose any sleep over the views of individual irate scientists. The day
that pro-biotech scientists become capable of effectively placing
"informational" pickets in front of the doors of *many* Starbucks
stores and launching boycotts against companies like Starbucks that
can stick is the day that scientists will be taken seriously. Power
concedes nothing without a demand. If you want to be taken seriously,
act like you want to be taken seriously. Organize.
Date: Mar 27 2001 14:48:50 EST
Subject: USDA Says Organic More Nutritious? Prove It!
I was surprised to read on AgBioView this article, which attributes to
"agricultural activist" Wayne Roberts a reference to "new research from
the U.S. Department of Agriculture that he says shows that organic food is
Perhaps Mr. Roberts would like to give readers of AgBioView the scoop, as
I have never heard or read any reports along this line from USDA.
Quite the contrary, in fact, and it is well documented. For example, this
from Secretary Glickman:
"Let me be clear about one other thing: the organic label is a marketing
tool. It is not a statement about food safety, nor is 'organic' a value
judgment about nutrition or quality. USDA is not in the business of
choosing sides, of stating preferences for one kind of food, one set of
ingredients or one means of production over any other.'"
Prepared Foods, February 1, 2001
SECTION: No. 2, Vol. 170; Pg. 20 ; ISSN: 0747-2536
Date: Mar 27 2001 19:09:08 EST
From: Andrew Apel
It has often been repeated here, even by a mathematician, and a good deal
elsewhere as well--a chestnut or at times, a rallying cry, regarding the
supposed dangers of GM crops--"Absence of evidence is not evidence of
Very well. The logical structure of the statement is: "A is not B." This
expression can easily be transposed to: "B is not A."
If the radicals and one mathematician who posted here will agree that the
statement of a a non-identity relation is transposable, we get: "Evidence
of absence is not absence of evidence."
The evidence of an absence of risk regarding GM crops is abundant;
therefore, QED evidence is not absent.
Date: Mar 28 2001 00:14:06 EST
From: Roger Morton
Subject: GM Free Compenstation
Interesting article in an Australian Newspaper:
GM-FREE COMPO THREAT
28 March 2001
On page 10 of The Weekly Times by Peter Hunt
The Victorian Government could be forced to pay compensation to farmers
whose properties were included in genetically modified free zones,
according to a discussion paper released today.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment discussion paper has
found that while GM-free zones may create marketing advantages for some
communities, they could also create major problems and would be difficult
to police. It raised serious concerns about forcing farmers who wanted to
take advantage of the benefits of GM crops into GM-free zones. Several
shire councils, including Strathbogie and West Wimmera, have already
declared their shires GM-free.
But the ability of the councils to police these zones has been questioned
since the Federal Government has control of the commercial release of GM
crops and livestock.
The push for GM-free zones and increasing public concern about the impact
of GM organisms on Victoria’s clean, green image prompted Agriculture
Minister Keith Hamilton to commission the discussion paper last year. But
the report has already found the opportunities for gaining a price premium
from marketing produce as GM-free were extremely limited. An investigation
of the global trade in canola showed that while Canadian growers tried to
create niche markets for GM-free grain, most buyers were not prepared to
pay a high enough price to make the effort of segregating grain
North American grain giant Cargill has already found that while Japanese
buyers often talked about wanting GM-free canola, they were unwilling to
pay a premium.
Cargill spokesman Lloyd George said growers were also finding that the
savings earned from growing GM crops far outweighed any premium they could
get from segregating GM-free canola from the rest of the crop. “You can
segregate at a local level, if you’re an individual who can put the crop
on a truck and send it straight down to a processor,” Mr George said. “But
once you start talking about putting it into the main storage system,
you’re talking about real problems and costs.” Canola is likely to be the
first GM crop to hit the Victoria countryside. At least 21 GM plants have
so far been approved for field testing in Australia.
Gene Revolution -- Why biotech phobia will only keep tomorrow's Indians
India Today (Editorial)
April 2, 2001
Speaking at a conference in Delhi recently, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug
voiced the obvious when he warned against ignoring biotechnology in
agriculture. Consider India's case. After four decades of food sufficiency
Malthus is back in business. In the 1990s, for the first decade since the
green revolution, the rate of growth of food production fell behind the
rate of population growth. To feed every Indian in the year 2011-12, food
production needs to grow at 3.4 per cent a year. The current rate is 1.8
per cent. The gap is clear. How will it be filled? Certainly not by
chemical fertilisers, which operate on the law of diminishing returns.
Organic fertilisers may be beneficial for the soil but in terms of sheer
scale they are useless. The world's entire organic fertiliser resource can
meet the food requirements of four billion people. Earthlings already
number six billion. Finally, there is a limit to the arable land
available. Mankind's only option is biotechnology.
The strength of biotechnology is that it doesn't limit itself to quantity.
it promises multi-purpose, all-in-one crops. For instance, the rice genome
has been sequenced and work is on to identify and modify genes that will
make it amenable to deserts, swamps and salty soil conditions. Admittedly
this overwhelming power is double-edged. The importance of safety and
stringent regulations in releasing genetically modified (GM) products is
beyond argument. Fundamentally this requires rational, informed debate-not
hysteria. While it is true that long-term consequences of GM foods are not
entirely known, such crops have been grown on 40 million hectares of land
in a dozen countries over the past five years. They have led to no
scientifically proven disaster. India cannot reject this evidence-nor its
Date: 28 Mar 2001 14:13:01 -0000
From: Andura Smetacek
Subject: Fear campaigns working in UK, will same happen in US?
Representatives of the UK organic industry association (Soil Association)
are clearly pleased with the results of their fear campaigns around
conventional and biotechnology-improved agriculture. As noted below,
sales have increased 55% to ove $1 billion per year in the UK alone! How
you ask, can an industry
that was in decline according to their own reports make such an incredible
comeback? Let us not forget the words of organic industry marketing
consultant Katy Hamilton of Promar:
"If the threats posed by cheaper conventionally-produced products are
removed, then the potential to develop organic foods will be limted."
These marketing admonishions to the organic industry in Great Britain two
years ago were clearly well-heeded as highlighted in the industry
association's poll noted below: "one-in-four people... are concerned about
food safety" and have been misled to believe organic food is safer.
How is it that this multi-billion dollar industry is left without
scrutiny, while attacking the smaller (yes smaller) agricultural
biotechnology industry. Don't be surprised to find that global
agricultural biotechnology sales are less than the organic sales in
the U.S. and Europe alone.
Now the Soil Association, which validates findings exposed by the Scottish
Crop Research Association that Britain's ability to grow enough food for
itself using less-productive, lower yielding organic methods, is also
economically unsustainable without heavy
Is this what consumers in the U.S. can expect? Well, according to the
U.S. organic industry's Gay Franklin yes. Franklin told organic retailers
last year: "Right now, Europe is freaking out about genetically altered
produce. That's an opening for U.S. organic
Misleading fear campaigns, government subsidies and false promises of
non-existent environmental benefits. A sad state of affairs and a poor
foundation on which the organic pyramid scam is being built. Worse,
future generations will pay the price in less food security and less
invested in real sustainable agriculture, like biotechnology.
For a more detailed view, check out
written by the former director of consumer affairs at
the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UK SOIL ASSOCIATION PRESS RELEASE
New report shows record growth in market for organic
food -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, MONDAY 26 MARCH 2001
Sales of organic food grew by a record 55 per cent in the year to April
2000, according to the Organic Food and Farming Report 2000, published
today. The Soil Association is using the launch of the report at the
International Food Exhibition and new MORI poll
findings to highlight the strength of consumer demand for organic food and
challenge the government to adopt an action plan for sustainable
'The organic market topped £600 million in 1999-2000, and our new report
shows not only that more people are buying organic but they are buying
more frequently and spending more when they buy,' says Patrick Holden, the
Soil Association's Director. 'We believe this dynamic growth in the market
and the strength of public opinion that consumers want the politicians to
deliver a new and sustainable vision for British agriculture.'
'The time is ripe for our government to match the progress being made
elsewhere in Europe by committing itself to an action plan for organic
food and farming. We need to put an end to the stop-start funding of the
Organic Farming Scheme and give farmers the ongoing
organic stewardship payments which their contribution to protecting the
The Organic Food and Farming Report 2000 warns that continued growth
depends upon stronger government support and a commitment by the
supermarkets to maintain high organic standards and ensure a fair
return to organic producers. It points out that committed organic
consumers consistently state that they are prepared to pay more for
The report also shows imports account for 75 per cent of UK organic food
sales compared to 70 per cent the previous year, underlining the
importance of developing capacity in domestic production to meet demand.
Fifty-two per cent of respondents to a MORI poll commissioned by the Soil
Association said that 30 per cent of farmland should be farmed using
organic methods in contrast to the current 3 per cent. One in four said
the government should devote more resources to organic farming to address
concerns about food safety.
The Soil Association Action Plan for Sustainable Farming calls for:
policy - a detailed strategy to convert 30 per cent of farmland in England
and Wales to organic farming by 2010, reform of the Common Agriculture
Policy towards farming which benefits the environment and more post
conversion financial support, such as the organic
stewardship scheme. environment - promoting local food which reduces food
miles and pollution, support for sustainable farming practices and the
'polluter pays' principle on practices which harm the environment. health
- an immediate ban on antibiotics in animal
husbandry, other than for essential medical use, a significant reduction
in pesticide use and a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until
evidence is established on whether they impact upon human health or the
environment. local food links - promoting local and regional food
initiatives and locally produced food in the
Patrick Holden mobile 07774 846858
Soil Association Director 0117 914 2442
Simon Brenman mobile 07771 667422
Soil Association Agriculture Development Director 0117
What's So Great About Organic?
It is a myth that modern intensive farming is more environmentally
damaging, says Tony Trewavas
The Daily Telegraph
By Tony Trewavas
March 28, 2001
For consumers shaken by salmonella, foot and mouth, BSE and GM food,
organic farming is often heralded as the saviour of the food chain by
vocal supporters, including the Prince of Wales.
According to the mantra, organic farming is more friendly to the
environment and more sustainable than traditional intensive methods.
Indeed, its aims are hard to quarrel with, from the maintenance of soil
fertility and animal welfare to avoiding pollution.
But the lack of scientific studies means that many important claims - that
organic food is healthier, that natural pesticides and soil supplements
are less harmful, and that wildlife are better off - cannot be
Supporters of organic farming have said that such food is superior and is
more healthy. Hundreds of rigorous tests have failed to reveal
better-tasting properties or improved nutritional value, but have
consistently shown that organic produce has lower nitrate and protein
content. The health benefits are unclear.
But this may not be the whole story: toxins from contaminating fungi
(which can be controlled by specific fungicides) contribute to European
cancer rates - fumonisin and patulin are both reported to be higher in
organic products, and failure to use effective fungicides has led to
organic farms acting as repositories of disease.
Indeed, conventional farmed food seems better for children. Cancer rates
have dropped 15 per cent during the era of synthetic pesticide use;
stomach cancer rates have dropped 50-60 per cent, probably an effect of
plentiful, cheap conventional fruit and vegetables.
Two principles distinguish organic farming: soluble mineral soil additives
are banned and synthetic herbicides and pesticides are rejected in favour
of natural pesticides.
The reduction in pesticide use does lead to higher levels of some insects
and birds on organic farms. But current synthetic pesticides are very
unstable and only short lived declines of most field insects are reported,
even when the maximum dose is used. Lower levels of aphids on organic
farms could reflect lower nitrogen and protein content of crops, and lower
yield - there are fewer plants for the pests to eat. Indeed, when we look
at the a ratio of crop yield/aphid population, the difference between
organic and intensive farming is negligible.
Underlying our concerns about the environment are worrying statistics
about the decline in the range and number of species on farms. But it is
often overlooked that some conventional mixed farming can maintain
Mixed farming in smaller plots, or farming based on the traditional ley
(for example wheat undersown with legumes) maintains conventional yields
and low costs. The benefits for wildlife equal those provided by organic
farming but at lower cost to the consumer.
Competitive organic farmers keep fields clear of weeds using frequent
mechanical weeding, which harms nesting birds, worms and invertebrates.
They use more fossil fuels, which greatly increases pollution from
nitrogen oxides. A single treatment with innocuous herbicide coupled with
no-till conventional farming avoids this damage.
Similarly, while higher, beneficial levels of earthworms are often
reported in organic fields, reflecting the dependence on manure, there are
problems with the use of manure to boost soil quality, while conventional
crop rotation seems equally effective.
Manure breakdown cannot be synchronised with crop growth but continues
throughout the growing season. When legume crops are ploughed in (a
necessary part of the organic method to build soil fertility) the
continued breakdown leads to nitrate leaching into aquifers and waterways
at identical rates to conventional farms. Degradation of organic material
from manure produces significant amounts of nitrous oxide and methane,
potent greenhouse gases. The variable composition of manure has varying
effects on crop growth.
The use of soluble mineral salts prohibited by organic regulations is also
contentious. Minerals taken out of farmland as produce must balance those
put back by other means; organic farmers typically rely on legume nitrogen
fixation, rain water or mineral recycling in the farm. The few detailed
accountings suggest slow but accumulating mineral deficits, particularly
of potassium and phosphate, in organic farmlands.
Developments in the past 25 years have shown how conventional agriculture
can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly than organic. An
intensive farm can match organic yields using only 50-70 per cent of the
farmland. Excess food is being produced in Europe, hence farmers are being
encouraged to set aside up to half of their land for fast-growing willow
plantations which are frequently coppiced for fuel.
With this novel conventional approach, now in commercial operation
throughout Europe, total fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide production is
lower than in organic farming, and because of carbon recycling it is more
The plantation of willow trees with its undercover of weeds, mammals
(including deer) and insect refuge and bird-nesting sites outperform
organic farms on any biological measure of environmental diversity.
However this practice crucially depends on the most efficient use of land
for food production.
Modern agriculture, with its single-crop monoculture system, is claimed by
organic proponents to be inherently unstable and unsustainable. It is true
that crops rapidly disappear from fallow fields, as they cannot compete
with weeds, but wild, stable monocultures of species such as phragmites,
wild wheat, (genetically uniform) spartina and mangroves indicate that
ecological stability is not understood. Furthermore, although mixed
cropping (supposedly mimicking ecological diversity) can reduce disease,
some combinations accelerate disease spread.
In the search for a more environmentally sensitive approach, integrated
farm management combines the best of traditional farming with responsible
use of technology, integrating care for the environment with safe,
efficient methods of production. Detailed information on soil structure
and field fertility is used to target minerals and integrated pest
management to control pesticides and avoid waste.
Integrated farm management is a prime example of how to retain the
benefits of technology while minimising the problems. Yet, unlike organic
farmers, who receive money for conversion, no aid is given by the
government to those who learn integrated farm management or encourage its
Organic farming is glibly backed as the only alternative to intensive
farming, a "holistic" approach that is kinder than the "chemical"
approach. We should ignore this dogma and focus on the real issue: how to
produce high yields efficiently and improve species diversity using tried
and tested methods. We need rigorous science, not ideology.
Tony Trewavas is a professor at the Institute of Cell and Molecular
Biology, University of Edinburgh. The current issue of Nature carries a
longer version of this article
'Natural' pesticides are dangerous
Approved pesticides for organic farmers include: rotenone, recently shown
to induce Parkinson's disease copper sulphate, which has caused liver
damage in vineyard workers, kills worms and is persistent in soil and
produce (to be banned by the EC after 2002).