Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

April 2, 2001

Subject:

British Ease Up on GM Food; Patagonia Helps Hunger; NZ

 


GM tide turns in Britain

The Times (London) TUESDAY APRIL 03 2001
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,13-108883,00.html

A majority of people in Britain are happy to eat genetically modified
foods for the first time since the issue emerged three years ago. A poll
by NOP found that 48 per cent will eat GM food and 44 per cent still
refuse. Only 20 per cent believe it is significantly less safe. Last year
50 per cent rejected GM food while 46 per cent ate it.

---
(from CSP: Visit http://www.cropgen.org later today for a full report of
this survey)

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Buy Patagonia: Support World Hunger

By: Duane D. Freese ; Editorial Consultant and Freelance Writer, April 02,
2001 http://www.techcentralstation.com/Bios.asp?FormMode=Bio&ID=84

When you walk into 1048 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., in Washington's Georgetown,
you'll find a store looks about like any other trendy "outdoor wear"
boutique, from Banana Republic to Urban Outfitters.

Only Patagonia, named after the often-forbidding expanse of southern
Argentina, has a purpose -- to raise fears among its clientele of
well-heeled backpackers. A table filled with pamphlets, one attacking
Frankenbucks, and a poster of a huge dew dripping spider's web call
attention to this chain store's raison d'etre, for now - the inhibition of
genetic modification.

With photos of trees, butterflies and salmon, all of which the poster
claims are threatened by genetic modification, Patagonia asserts: "We must
protect wild nature from the unknown effects of genetically modified
organisms. Patagonia believes these organisms should be considered harmful
until proven otherwise."

The store offers written letters to Food and Drug Administration
Commissioner Jane Haney and to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman that
customers can sign, demanding all genetically engineered food and
ingredients be labeled and "a moratorium on GE foods until long-term
studies show they are save for human health."

Nowhere on the table were any scientific studies about biotechnology. Nor
is there any background that most reputable scientific organizations,
while favoring testing and oversight of biotechnology, support its
development as a vital tool to combat malnutrition and to save the
environment.

So, after examining an $80 pair of "100% organic cotton" men's duck pants,
a $275 pair of men's "waterproof/breathablepants" with a "mesh and taffeta
liner" and $17.50 men's "lightweight Capilene briefs," I asked some of the
sales people if they really believed what the signs and pamphlets say.
"Yes, we do," piped up two guys, one short with a goatee, the other tall
and college preppie looking. Why? "Because how do we know that after years
of eating this stuff we won't grow a third eye or something," the goateed
guy stated.

Really? "No, no," said the more preppie one. "We just don't know what harm
they'll do." At that point a young woman broke in: "We think that the
businesses that market these products should have to prove that they're
safe for humans and the environment, rather than the government having to
show they are dangerous."

Ah, yes, the precautionary principle - or overprecautionary principle, as
no amount of oversight or study will ever satisfy extremists who oppose a
technology, even one that can save lives.

I asked if she'd been to the garbage cities in the Philippines, where
youngsters walk on crutches, their legs bent by rickets. She hadn't, nor
to any other desperately poor places. How do we know the safety of
anything we eat or any process of cross breeding or food production?
Organic foods because they are grown with manure can pose dangers, too.
Why treat biotechnology differently from everything else?

"Bioengineering is different," she says.

Yeah, it's more precise, rather than hundreds of genes being manipulated
only one or two are, so there's less danger, not more.

"It should first prove that it's absolutely safe," she says. There is no
meeting of the minds. She walks away, and I walk out.

Patagonia's workers follow the lead of the store's founder, Yvon
Chounaird, a mountain climber and avid outdoorsman, who began making
climbing spikes - pitons -- and now is bent on spiking biotech. One
percent of sales, which now total $200 million a year, go to favored
environmental causes; more than $14 million has gone to grassroots
organizations since 1985.

Chounaird, who no longer runs the day-to-day business, himself lives in
the rarefied air not of mountains but of high society. NBC anchorman Tom
Brokaw is a climbing buddy now. He told Time magazine, though, that he's
still a "dirtbag," only a rich one. And what is a dirtbag? An essay by a
retired freelance adventurer Arlene Burns in this year's Patagonia
catalogue explains dirtbag culture as one in which you learn how to
relieve your bladder while hanging from the rear of a bus motoring through
the Himalayas.

Other essays in the catalogue repeat Chounaird's antibiotechnology lament.
One by Patagonia's environmental program director says, "Genetic
engineering represents an attempt to cast off humility and to rewrite
Nature's plan." Another by Jack Turner, a former philosophy professor and
current guide in Grand Teton National Park, opines: "What is at stake with
the advent of the new genetic technologies is the radical domestication of
the planet, the loss of a self-generated autonomous world, the world of
wild salmon no less than the world of wild children."

Wild peeing and teeing off against science apparently go hand in hand. But
equating salmon with children? Do we real want kids to run wild? What
about feeding them? Or is starving them part of "Nature's plan"?

This is where Patagonia and other environmental extremists have gone too
far over the edge. In recent months, Greenpeace has led an assault on the
development of Golden Rice. The rice is being developed using
bioengineering to relieve vitamin A deficiency in the Third World. More
than a million youngsters die each year from lack of Vitamin A; another
500,000 would appreciate if they could grow a third eye as they go blind.
Greenpeace and other critics have misrepresented people's nutritional
needs to make it seem they would have to eat so much of the rice that
creating it won't do any good.

Such extremism has led Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, to
level his own charges against his former organization. "If Greenpeace et
al had any moral standards they would be offering millions to solve any
outstanding problems with Golden Rice, or at least encouraging
humanitarian agencies to do so. Instead they sit on the sidelines of human
misery and take pot shots at a brilliant invention, threatening to prevent
the possible solution to a tragedy that makes Chernobyl pale by
comparison," he wrote.

Indeed, a world of 6 billion people headed for 8.5 billion in the next
quarter century desperately needs more efficient methods for providing
people with protein and fiber. Without them, more forestland will go to
tillage, more seabeds will end up denuded of their resources and more
conflicts will arise between nations seeking to stem starvation.

Biotechnology offers help to prevent such tragedies. But as Nobel Peace
Prize winner and plant physiologist Norman Borlaug wrote last fall: "The
world has the technology that is either available or well advanced in the
research pipeline to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more
pertinent question today is: Will farmers and ranchers be permitted to use
this new technology."

And who will pay the high price if environmental extremists such as
Greenpeace and the people at Patagonia succeed in killing biotechnology in
its crib by raising exaggerated fears of its dangers? The poor, of course.

"The affluent nations can afford to adopt elitist positions and pay more
for food produced by the so-called natural methods; the 1 billion
chronically poor and hungry people of this world cannot," Borlaug noted.

To own a pair of Patagonia's organic cotton ducks would take three months
labor for more than a billion of the world's workers today. To Patagonia,
those people are a sightseeing attraction for "dirtbag culture," or worse
- as impediments to its idea of "the wild," as excess population. Maybe
Patagonia's motto should be: Buy Patagonia, Support World Hunger Now.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

From: "Barry B. Bean" Subject: Corporate vote coming up

Anheuser Bush has a shareholder-sponsored vote coming up on a proposal to
ban GMO purchases.

- B.B. Bean, Bean & Bean Cotton Co/Bean Farms, Peach Orchard, MO
http://www.beancotton.com

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

The Need for Care
From: "Dr R. Phipps"

Plant transformation is a powerful tool used to manipulate gene expression
in order to study gene regulation, plant development and the control of
metabolic pathways. Whilst the use of transgenic technology in model plant
systems, such as tobacco and arabidposis, is routine in many laboratories
throughout the world, most of these studies are conducted in a controlled
environment (greenhouse) and as such, pose little risk of escape of
transgenes into the environment

The situation, however, is quite different for maize. During the last 10
years maize transformations have largely been conducted in the private
sector. This is now beginning to change, with an increase in the
development and utilization of transgenic maize plants in academic
research projects. The availability of maize transformation technology to
the many university researchers involved in maize genetics, genomics,
physiology, and breeding activities is sure to advance our knowledge and
understanding of this important crop species. Unlike studies with
arabidopsis it is likely that most transgenic maize plants used by
university researchers will be grown not in glasshouses, but in field
conditions. Currently experimental transgenic maize plants are grown
primarily by the private sector at a limited number of field sites. As the
use of maize transgenics in public-sector research increases, so too will
the number of locations and the geographic range in which these
transgenics are planted. Such a situation increases the risk of
unintentional cross-pollination of non-transgenic maize plants by
experimental transgenic maize plants. While it is unlikley that such a
scenario would not effect commercial grain or result in the recall of food
products from grocery shelves, the potential for introduction of regulated
transgenes into the food chain exists as a real issue. The possibility of
this happening is increased by one of the very strengths of the maize
research community: cooperation among individual investigators. The maize
genetics community is well-known for sharing genetic seed stocks. Thus the
potential exists for the unknowing, unwitting and unintentional
distribution of a given transgene in a 'non-transgenic' stock in which
cross-pollination by a transgenic stock goes undetected. This may lead to
unchecked contamination of non-transgenic research materials, and even
commercial grain fields, with regulated transgenes.

The concerns and scenarios presented above are unlikely to result in a
situation of the economic magnitude seen with the spread of Starlink
outside the range of that product's intended use. A more likely result, no
matter how small the risk, may be a restriction on the use of government
funds for projects involving maize transgenics. Academic researchers must
make compliance with government regulations for handling transgenic maize
plants the highest priority, and take every precaution to prevent
unintentional release of transgenes outside the confines of the experiment
in which these plants are used.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

New Zealand GMO debacle undermines green lobby

NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY Liz Fletcher, New York; April 2001 Volume 19 Number 4
p 292

On March 6, an Oregon State University researcher Elaine Ingham and the
New Zealand Green Party apologized to the New Zealand government for
submitting false claims about the ecological impact of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs)˜a mistake that seriously undermines the green
lobby's call for a moratorium on field trials of all GMOs in New Zealand.

The debacle is yet another example of the hijacking of scientific research
for political ends, and reminds those in the anti-GM camp that if they
choose to pit science against science in the fight against GMOs then they
must apply the appropriate intellectual rigor or risk losing credibility.
The apologies in question relate to the erroneous evidence submitted to
the New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, a group
currently deliberating the future of genetic modification in New Zealand.
Ingham told the Commission at the beginning of February: "The likely
effect of allowing the field trial [with the GMO in question] would have
been to destroy terrestrial plants." To illustrate this risk, she referred
to an experiment˜carried out by a graduate student in her
laboratory˜showing that GM soil bacterium, Klebsiella planticola, killed
plants.

The Klebsiella had been engineered to convert plant waste into alcohol,
eliminating the air pollution created by the "burn off" of fields at the
end of the growing season. After the alcohol was removed, a rich
plantˆbacterial "sludge" would be left that could be used as fertilizer.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted standard toxicology
tests of the GMO, revealing no ill effects. Ingham, however, remained
concerned about its broader ecological impact. Ingham told the Commission
that wheat plants exposed to the GM Klebsiella initially grew healthily,
but 7 days later "had turned into slime." The plants, she said, died
because the bacteria had produced lethal concentrations of alcohol. Ingham
further claimed that her research, allegedly published in Applied Soil
Ecology (3, 394ˆ399, 1999), had effectively stopped EPA-approved field
trials of the bacterium. Her claims prompted sensational headlines in
national papers (for instance, "GM bacteria could kill all life˜US
Expert," Evening Post and Christchurch Press, Feb. 2, 2001), spurring an
investigation by the New Zealand Life Sciences Network (Wellington, New
Zealand), an organization representing the local biotech community. The
Network found that the cited publication did not exist, and that the EPA
had never approved the field trials. When questioned further, Ingham cited
a second research paper (Applied Soil Ecology 11, 67ˆ78, 1999), which was
then scrutinized by three independent scientists recruited by the Life
Sciences Network.

In its rebuttal evidence to the Commission, the Life Sciences Network says
that Ingham had made "scientifically unsupportable and exaggerated
assertions" to the Royal Commission. The experts even suggest that
bacterium was "environmentally non viable" and would not survive under
normal conditions. Persistent requests by the New Zealand Life Science
Network to the Commission evoked an apology from both Ingham and the Green
Party, which had also rested its argument against field trials of GMOs on
Ingham's evidence. In a letter to the Commission, Ingham admitted that her
doomsday predictions were only "extrapolations from laboratory evidence."
Jeanette Fitzsimons of the New Zealand Green Party also admitted that the
paper did not support her assertion that a field trial of the GMO would
have lead to global devastation.

Despite the fact that Ingham admitted her error, Doreen Stabinsky, science
advisor for Greenpeace's Genetic Engineering Campaign, says that it was
predictable that Ingham's scientific credibility would be attacked.
Ingham, she claims, has long been a political "scapegoat" for the
agbiotech industry, since speaking out against GMOs at an international
meeting on biosafety in Madrid in 1995. "Ingham's scientific evidence [on
Klebsiella] contradicted the statements being made by the US delegation at
the time," says Stabinsky, and she became an embarrassment. Stabinsky
continues to stand by Ingham's work˜which Greenpeace also cited as a part
if its testimony to the Commission˜as evidence that GMOs can have
"unanticipated effects" on the environment. She also points out mistakes
and overextrapolations made in data presented in part of the Life Science
Network's testimony, and argues that "scientists supporting the status quo
have [also] not been held to the required high standards in the past."

Nevertheless, the case is a classic example of the lack of scientific
rigor applied by the anti-GM lobby group, says Val Giddings, vice
president of food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry
Organization (Washington, DC). "The bedrock of science is that is that you
follow the data wherever it leads you...you don't go through the data to
pluck out anything that proves your point," says Giddings.

Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Center for Global
Food Issues at the Hudson Institute (Indianapolis, IN), agrees that
"negative" research findings (such as Ingham's) get overly exhaustive
attention from activists. "From a scientific perspective. . .the sham [of
Ingham's research] was bound to come out in the end." However, Avery is
pessimistic that it will spur the lobbyists and the media to take a more
critical look at the scientific "evidence." Another recent example was the
outcry over Golden Rice, a strain of rice modified to be rich in vitamin A
(Science, 287, 303ˆ305, 2000). In theory, Golden Rice could help prevent
blindness, caused by a deficiency in the vitamin, in children in
developing countries. Greenpeace calculated that˜at the concentrations
produced by current strains of Golden Rice˜a child would have had to eat
seven kilograms of cooked rice a day to get the recommended daily dose of
vitamin A.

Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the
project, wrote to Greenpeace pointing out that vitamin A deficiencies can
arise when children lack "10%, 20% or 50% of their daily requirements, not
100%." An average daily rice quota could, therefore, be beneficial.
Doubtless, the debate over genetic modification is highly politically
charged. There are important social, religious, political, and economic
reasons for care in the application of genetic modification˜especially for
food and agriculture. Indeed, the New Zealand Royal Commission has taken
the unique approach of listening to both facts and feelings on the issue
from a broad cross section of the population of New Zealand. However, if
groups on both sides choose to use science-based argument then they must
get their facts right. Giddings concludes: "This incident was not the
hallmark of intellectual rigor."

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Letter: Our Biotech Foods
By Nick Smith, Washington Post, March 31, 2001

The Post's March 19 front-page article "Biotech Corn Is Test Case for
Industry" may have left the mistaken impression that the accidental
"engineering in" of allergens or toxins into new food varieties is a
problem only for varieties created using biotechnology. But the
introduction of allergens to the food supply can come from any new food,
not just those created through biotechnology.

Scientists agree that biotechnology allows greater precision in
transferring genetic material into a plant compared with hybridization and
other conventional breeding methods. Traditional breeding involves
crossing of tens of thousands of genes whose functions are largely
unknown; bad traits often get transferred with good ones.

For example, the Lenape potato was withdrawn from the U.S. market in the
1960s when it was found to contain dangerously high levels of solanidine
glycoside toxins, and a new variety of celery was discontinued in the
1980s because it contained high levels of psoralens, which caused farm
workers to develop skin rashes. Both varieties were developed through
conventional breeding.

Risks surrounding the potential allergenicity of foods created using
agricultural biotechnology, while not zero, are quite likely lower than
for other new foods because there is at least a target of concern -- the
newly introduced protein and any enzymatic byproducts of it.
(Biotechnology also is being used to remove allergens from foods.) In
contrast, assessing the potential allergenicity of any new whole-food
product is almost impossible.

NICK SMITH Chairman, House Science Subcommittee on Research, U.S.
Representative (R-Mich.), Washington

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Canada bars fabled farm activist
By Mark MacKinnon. The Globe and Mail March 31, 2001

OTTAWA -- Canadian immigration officials have put out an all-points
bulletin to try to keep Jose Bove, the French farmer who gained notoriety
for trashing a McDonald's, from attending next month's Summit of the
Americas in Quebec City.

A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada told The Globe and Mail
yesterday that a notice has been sent to all the country's ports of entry,
warning staff to be on the lookout for Mr. Bove. "It's just another
example of how our civil liberties are being suspended," said Maude
Barlow, chairwoman of the nationalist Council of Canadians, the group that
had asked Mr. Bove to speak in Quebec City. "He speaks for millions of
people, for farmers and landless peasants." The moustachioed sheep farmer
became something of a Robin Hood figure after he and four others were
imprisoned for vandalizing a McDonald's and locking up agricultural
officials in France. Attacking the fast-food chain, he said, was a
symbolic gesture to protest against the rise of genetically modified
foods, as well as against tariffs imposed by the United States on French
delicacies such as Roquefort cheese and foie gras.

Bove was fined and sentenced to three months in prison, but is currently
out on appeal. Since the incident, Mr. Bove has emerged as one of the most
notorious members of the protest movement that has hit several
international gatherings in recent years, including the 1999 World Trade
Organization meetings in Seattle that were effectively shut down by street
demonstrations. Mr. Bove recently predicted that the Quebec summit -- a
gathering of 34 heads of state and government from across North and South
America -- would generate a protest that would make the Seattle street
battle pale in comparison.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Quebec City for
the April 20-22 summit to show their opposition to a proposed so-called
free-trade area of the Americas (FTAA) that would include every country in
the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. Immigration spokesman Richard St.
Louis said Mr. Bove would be kept out of Canada because of his conviction
related to the McDonald's incident. "There is a lookout for Mr. Bove
because he is technically inadmissible to Canada . . . he has a criminal
background," Mr. St. Louis said. Those with a criminal record cannot enter
Canada without a special ministerial permit. However, Mr. St. Louis
acknowledged the bulletin specifically advising customs officers to keep
an eye out for Mr. Bove was unusual and tied to his stated intention to
attend the summit. Yesterday evening, American activist George Lakey --
who is to give a keynote speech on non-violent protest at a planned event
tomorrow on Parliament Hill -- was detained at the Ottawa airport by
Canadian airport officials for four hours while authorities questioned him
about what he would be doing while in Canada. Mr. Lakey said after his
release that the search of his belongings reminded him of the old
Communist East Germany. He said Customs officials ran his name through a
computer, then did an extensive search of his bags.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

U.S. Farms to Lift Modified-Seed Use 10% This Spring

Wall Street Journal; By Scott Kilman; April 2, 2001

U.S. farmers, shrugging off the debate over the safety of crop
biotechnology, are making plans to plant 10% more acres of genetically
modified seed this spring than last year.

These seeds make farming so much easier that many growers are planting
more, although several of their biggest foreign customers and some U.S.
food companies wish they wouldn't. Despite assurances from regulators,
some consumer and environmental groups say the inventors of genetically
modified crops have done too little research to prove they are safe for
human consumption and for the balance of nature.

According to a farmer survey released by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture Friday, growers expect to plant 76.7 million acres of
genetically modified seed this year, compared with 69.6 million acres in
2000, when the biotech crop boom that began in 1996 suddenly ran out of
steam. The only group in the USDA survey that plans to use less
genetically modified seed this spring is that of corn farmers, who are
still smarting from last year's StarLink debacle. Traces of the
bioengineered insect-resistant corn, which was only approved for feeding
to livestock, contaminated hundreds of millions of bushels of corn and
forced food companies to recall hundreds of corn products. French
pharmaceuticals concern Aventis SA has stopped selling to U.S. farmers the
seed, which it developed.

According to the USDA survey, corn farmers plan to plant 18.4 million
acres of genetically modified seed this spring, down 7.5% from the 19.9
million acres they planted last year. The acreage numbers will likely
change by the time planting is done. The planting season has just begun in
the South and won't reach the Midwest for several weeks. Many farmers
fiddle with their plans until the last possible moment to account for
changes in the weather and commodity prices. But the second year of the
government survey signals that a large majority of the food in U.S.
supermarkets will continue to contain genetically modified ingredients.

The crop-biotechnology company that is benefiting the most from the
growing demand for genetically modified seeds is Monsanto Co., the St.
Louis concern that is 85%-owned by Pharmacia Corp., Peapack, N.J. The most
popular genetically modified seed is a soybean that contains a Monsanto
gene. The gene, which comes from a micro-organism, gives the plant
immunity to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. The seed, which is called
Roundup Ready, makes it far easier for farmers to chemically weed their
fields without damaging their crops. According to the USDA survey, farmers
plan to plant Roundup Ready soybeans on 48.3 million acres, or 63% of
their total soybean acres, this spring. That would be up 20% from last
year, when USDA surveys calculated that soybean farmers planted Roundup
Ready seed on 40.2 million acres, or 54% of their total acres.

Monsanto is the nation's largest soybean seed marketer and collects a
royalty from seed companies it licenses to use its gene. Wider use of the
genetically modified seed also spurs sales of Monsanto's herbicide. In 4
p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, Monsanto
shares were up $1.61 at $35.46. Soybean farmers have largely escaped the
twists and turns of the debate over genetically modified crops in the past
year. Roundup Ready soybeans are approved for import by major trade
partners such as the European Union, which nonetheless requires food
companies to put warning labels on products that might contain genetically
modified ingredients. Likewise, cotton farmers have been partly shielded
from the issue because they aren't raising food. According to the USDA
survey, cotton farmers intend to raise 9.99 million acres of
herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant plants this year, which represents
64% of the total cotton acres expected in U.S. production this year. Last
year, U.S. cotton farmers planted genetically modified seeds on 9.48
million acres, or 61% of their total acres.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Technology pushes farmers in opposite directions

Associated Press April 1, 2001

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - Farmers across the state are being swept into a
revolution that is pushing some toward growing genetically modified crops
and others into the natural practice of organic farming. Both methods have
evolved into serious business for an increasing number of farmers.

New Mexico was one of the first states to regulate and certify organic
farming. It is also home to early experiments to put genes from two
different species together in one plant - genetic engineering. Joe Nelson
and Ramon Alvarez are successful cotton farmers and neighbors in the lower
Mesilla Valley. But technology has driven them in different directions.
Nelson says you can easily spot fields that have been planted with
genetically engineered seeds. "It's a real big difference," he said.
"Conventional cotton just doesn't produce as well. The fields don't look
as good. It's too susceptible to worms." Nelson plants "Bt cotton." It has
been genetically spliced with a soil bacteria that alters the plant and
causes it to manufacture its own pesticide.

The bacteria - Bacillus thuringiensis - doesn't naturally occur in cotton,
but when introduced it enables the plant to turn the tables on a cotton
farmers worst nightmare - the boll weevil. "It cuts down on the spraying
by about 80 percent," Nelson said. "Last year I grew two fields of
conventional cotton and I spent Sundays out there spraying, when I
could've been doing something better." Less than two miles from Nelson's
fields, Alvarez does things the old fashioned way. Certified organic
farmers can't use anything unnatural, particularly chemicals or poisonous
sprays. Fertilizers must be on a list of about 30 approved substances,
including certain kinds of composted manure, applied under specific
requirements for temperature and nitrogen ratios.

Alvarez, a third generation Mesilla Valley farmer, switched from
conventional farming about seven years ago and now runs the biggest
certified organic farm in New Mexico. In the early 1990s, "I got married
and had a little boy," he said. "But before he was born, I worried about
him turning out all right (he did), because I had exposed myself to a lot
of insecticide and herbicide; sometimes I would be so busy I would leave
that stuff on me all day." If the boll weevil chooses to visit Alvarez's
cotton, he would have to use insect predators and other means that do not
include pesticides to get rid of it. About the time Alvarez was thinking
about the change, a Swiss-owned mill came to him agreed to buy all the
Pima cotton he could produce organically. Alvarez started small and now
grows 450 acres of the high-quality cotton. Although there has been little
consumer resistance to Bt cotton, corn containing the same bacteria has
met strong opposition. The genetically engineered corn, marketed under the
name StarLink, produced crops that were not cleared for human consumption
by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 because of questions about
its digestibility. The corn was approved as animal feed. Despite efforts
to separate StarLink from regular corn, it ended up in taco shells, corn
chips and muffin mix. The corn didn't kill anybody, but caused a panic.

Grocery shopping could become more of an adventure as shoppers must decide
between the products produced through the different practices. Genetically
modified foods are now ingredients in approximately 60 percent of the food
at supermarkets, according to biotech experts and state agricultural
specialists. Those foods come from 46 varieties of genetically modified
crops, including soybeans, potatoes, sugar beets, corn and squash. In
1992, the Food and Drug Administration said there was "no substantial
difference" between foods from genetically modified seeds and conventional
varieties, from crops probably treated with pesticides. Since they were
judged essentially the same, no labeling was required. There are second
thoughts about the absence of a label in the last six months, especially
in the face of recently enacted regulations for mandatory labeling of
organically produced foods.

The commercial success of each of the farming practices is dependent on
growing public relations campaigns being waged around the world and in New
Mexico. It's not so much a contest for the consumer dollar as it is for
the consumer.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Have tough new gene, will travel

New Straits Times; Theresa Manavalan; April 1, 2001

PAPAYAS are poor passengers. They just can't go the distance. They get far
too ripe far too soon on the boats taking them to faraway places.
Malaysian Eksotika papayas, although highly rated, make it to Singapore
and Hong Kong but don't always reach West Asia and Europe in good time,
thus inhibiting their potential as a Made-in-Malaysia dessert fruit or a
breakfast staple served with a wedge of lime to jumpstart its delicate
flavour. But cutting edge science is about to give the Eksotika a visa for
whole wide world travel and, pardon the pun, a chance for more exotic
destinations.

Plant molecular biologists Vilasini Pillai and Umi Kalsom Abu Bakar of
Mardi are upgrading the papaya's travel-worthiness by modifying the
genetic code to delay its ripening. In their Serdang labs, Pillai and Umi
Kalsom have young tissue- cultured plants bearing the anti-sensed gene
that will extend travel time for Malaysian papayas. "What we've done is to
reverse the genetic code that launches the ripening process," says Pillai.
"By the end of this year, these plants will bear fruit and our project
will be put to the test." With that kind of itinerary, papayas with
delayed ripening are likely to appear on the market in about five years.
That's assuming the follow-up phases of their project go through. That
would include field trials.

The Eksotika, by far the most successful papaya variety grown in Malaysia,
ripens in about two weeks after it is plucked. That fortnight is just
right for the short haul by ship to nearer markets like Singapore and Hong
Kong. "What we've done is extend that fortnight to a month," says Umi
Kalsom. "This means exporters can ship papayas much further, say Europe
and West Asia." On arrival in distant ports, most fruit exports are gassed
with ethylene which assists to launch their natural ripening processes.
But Pillai and Umi Kalsom, both post-grads of the University of
Nottingham's world-famous genetics centre, have ensured that no other
characteristic of the papaya will change. It will look, smell, taste and
feel the same. "No other change would be acceptable," says Pillai, "so you
can expect the exact same fruit."

They didn't introduce a new gene; rather, they reversed the code of the
gene 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate oxidase (usually called ACC
oxidase) by a process called anti-sense. This gene releases the enzyme
that launches ethylene, the ripening hormone. Ethylene then turns on the
genes which give fruit the characteristics of colour, sweetness, softness,
flavour and scent - what we call "ripening" on a schedule determined by
DNA. There are two enzymes involved in the management of ethylene in
papaya. The genetic modification suppresses only one of them, thus
inhibiting by way of a delay the ripening process but not ruling it out
entirely. Next month, when their little plants are old enough for
transplanting, Pillai and Umi Kalsom will apply for permission for field
trials, which they hope can start by September. They will use a half
hectare plot on Mardi's Serdang station. The trial is technically for
proof of concept. "It will take a few generations to stabilise the genes,"
says Umi Kalsom. "We need to know that the delayed ripening gene continues
to work." A "few generations" of papaya means about four years as the
papaya is an early fruiter. That's why Mardi puts five years as an
expected date for market.

Also, during that time, they will apply food safety assessment tests to
compare the natural fruit with the transgenic one. These food safety
assessment tests for papaya were drafted by Pillai and Umi Kalsom together
with other South East Asian scientists through a programme by the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- Biotech Applications
(ISAAA), a non-profit network that guides work in this field. ISAAA has
also encouraged research into Papaya Ring Spot Virus, which is now
ravaging papaya groves in Johor. A separate project at Mardi is looking at
this, with a view to make the Eksotika entirely resistant to the virus.
This is an important project as the economic damage is disastrous for
farmers. The Eksotika, a home-grown cross, produces uniform-sized fruit
weighing about 500g with a superior aroma and texture. Before the advent
of the Eksotika, Malaysian grown papayas were great tasting but farmers
could never get their size uniform. That fact alone made them unattractive
for export. When Mardi's Eksotika cross hit the market about 10 years ago,
exports shot up.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

New from Commodity Classic - Track your GM crops

by Jodie Wehrspann; Mar 29 2001
http://www1.telecomclick.com/newsarticle.asp?Newsarticleid=190080&mode=print

If the news about StarLink has made you afraid to grow genetically
modified crops, a new crop-tracking service may give you more confidence.
The service, called CropTracer, allows you to record everything from seed
planted to inputs applied so you can prove the integrity of the grain you
deliver to the elevator.

With this service, John Deere provides the machinery and hardware to
collect the information, VantagePoint Network stores the data and
generates reports, and CropVerifeye.com LLC verifies the data collected
and audits third-party testing of the grain.

"We‚re the first ones to tie everything together into a complete tracking
system," says Barry Nelson, director of public relations for John Deere.

How it works. Using John Deere's Global Positioning System receiver,
mobile processor, display unit and new data collection software called
FieldDoc, you can record field conditions, tillage practices, seed variety
and population, herbicides applied, and weather conditions to get a record
of what you‚ve done where in your field.

You can transfer this information to disk and download it to your office
PC or, in the future, to the VantagePoint storage bank on the Web. Upon
your request, VantagePoint will generate reports required by food
contractors or processors. During the growing season, representatives from
CropVerifeye will inspect and audit the entire crop production process and
test the grain.

Benefits. Having this information provides two benefits to growers,
according to Jim Mock, co-founder and vice-president of CropVerifeye.
„First, it lets contract growers know up front whether they are in
compliance with the terms of the contract,‰ he says. „If not, and you know
it soon enough, you can make a business decision whether you want to
harvest it or bring it to a different facility.‰

Second, it gives non-contract growers a base to show they handled their
crop in a certain way and prove it is of a certain quality, which may
entitle them to a premium for that grain.

Cost of the service is as follows: FieldDoc key card to download to
VantagePoint: $500; VantagePoint Network storage: $19.95/month
subscription; CropVerifeye access and field service fee: $0.02 to $0.03/bu.

For more information, contact John Deere Agricultural Marketing Center,
11145 Thompson Ave., Lenexa, KS 66219, 913/310-8324, www.John Deere.com.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

WTO Can Help World's Poor Farmers

A interesting commentary, "WTO Can Help World's Poor Farmers" by two
IFPRI colleagues appeared in the International Herald Tribune on March 28.
Click on http://www.iht.com/articles/14849.html to view. Klaus von
Grebmer; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: To Feed a Growing World Family, Fund Science for Farmers -
Robert M.


> To Feed a Growing World Family, Fund Science for Farmers - Robert M.
> Goodman; International Herald Tribune
> http://www.iht.com/articles/13344.htm

Genomics will be a very powerful tool but we will still need genetic
engineering methods to introduce traits that just aren't there in crops
being bred. Getting the BT or Roundup Ready gene in with genomics if
possible would be a very long process.

Gordon, Gordon Couger gcouger@couger.com