Monsanto's Seed Depot in Italy Set on Fire
AP Worldstream April 3, 2001
U.S. biotechnology company Monsanto said Tuesday that unidentified
arsonists set afire its depot in northern Italy, which contained seeds
suspected of being genetically modified.
Monsanto said that the attack occurred in the early hours Tuesday. The
seeds ''were ready to be distributed to Italian growers,'' Monsanto said.
A company official in Milan declined to provide any details, pending a
news conference later in the day .
The depot, Monsanto's only one in Italy, is in Lodi, about 30 kilometers
(18 miles) south of Milan. A batch of soybean and corn seeds imported last
month from the United States was suspected of being genetically modified.
The Italian government ordered tests on some of the seeds, while the
others were sent to the Lodi depot. Most of them were later distributed to
Monsanto's retailers across the country.
The Agriculture Ministry said last week that analyses taken on the seeds
showed the presence of genetically modified material. Monsanto maintains
that the seeds were conventional, and that the presence of genetically
modified organisms, even if confirmed, would be below accepted standards.
Public opinion swings towards GM foods
London, 3rd April 2001 ? As the DETR this week announces new trial sites
for genetically modified (GM) maize, a national survey conducted by NOP
reveals that support for GM foods amongst the British public has increased
over the last 12 months. Key findings include:
· Half the nation would eat GM food
· A 10 per cent decrease in those who believe GM foods are unsafe
· Two out of three people don't feel they know enough about GM foods
Contrary to claims that there is no demand for GM food in the UK, and
major campaigns against it, 48 per cent of people questioned said that
they would eat food they knew was genetically modified. 44 per cent of
people questioned said they would not. Comparisons with an identical poll
in 2000 demonstrate an increase in consumer acceptance. Then, 46 per cent
said they would and 50 per cent said they would not eat it. The greatest
level of support resided in the north east of England, where 60 per cent
of respondents expressed a willingness to eat GM products: broadly the
divide is between willing young men in the north east and reluctant middle
aged women in the west country and Wales.
A significant swing in the dynamics of the GM debate was also apparent in
the results of the survey. While in 2000, 30 per cent of people questioned
thought GM foods were not as safe as conventional foods, this year, it was
only 20 per cent. Professor Vivian Moses, Chairman of the CropGen panel
that commissioned the survey comments: "This survey reveals that the
changing attitudes of the public as the potential of GM crops are being
recognised. It is clear that the public wish to make up their own minds
on this issue; however with 69 per cent of people saying they are not
informed enough to make a judgement on the benefits and risks of GM crops,
there is a clear demand for information. The farmscale trials offer an
opportunity to gain such valuable information and will prove vital in
evaluating this technology."
For interviews with Professor Howard Slater or Guy Smith of the CropGen
panel, or full breakdown of the survey results, please contact Peter
Johonnett, Michael Brannan or Penny Hawley on 020 7853 2393 or 07720
277143. Website: www.cropgen.org Editor's notes: NOP conducted a telephone
survey of 999 adults aged 15+ years, 23-25th February 2001. CropGen is an
information initiative designed to make the case for crop biotechnology.
It is funded by industry but operates independently of it.
GREENPEACE FANATICS BETRAY MILLIONS OF POOR CHILDREN
April 2, 2001 Herald Sun Page 018 Andrew Bolt (Via Agnet)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, according to this story, is right.
We must talk to our children to stop them falling into a sub-culture that
can claim young lives.
Yes, let's talk to them -- before they join Greenpeace. The author says
this because Greenpeace has now vowed to take "direct action'' to stop
trials of a genetically modified rice which could save 50,000 children a
month from going blind. This truly shocking development has led to
Greenpeace being warned it could be tried for crimes against humanity --
which should be a wake-up call to parents here, too.
Bolt says that hardly a week goes by in the city when he doesn't see a
teenager, eyes glazed with mystic fervor, begging for Greenpeace. This
multinational dogooder seems in fact to be one of those cults now offering
children a religious experience they too rarely get from their upbringing
-- that euphoria of feeling infinitely more moral than the pathetic adults
trudge-trudge-trudging off to earn their wicked wages. The story described
the development of golden rice, and goes on to say that desperate for a
cause that will bring it donations, Greenpeace has run a ludicrous scare
campaign against genetically-modified "Frankenfood'' crops, claiming --
with almost zero proof -- that they could easily mutate into virulent
This opposition has been not only irrational, but anti-green. As Patrick
Moore points out, "genetic modification can reduce the chemical load on
the environment . . . and reduce the amount of land required for food
crops''. But Greenpeace will stop at nothing to get its way. Led by
vandals like Britain's Lord Melchett, its greenshirts have destroyed GM
crop trials and caused enormous losses.
Italy performs GMO trial about-face
Anna Meldolesi; Nature Biotechnology; April 2001 Vol 19 No 4 p 293
On 13 February, top scientists rallied in Rome against the Italian
government. What started as a protest against the anti-GMO policies of the
country's Green agricultural minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, has turned
into an internationally supported call for scientific freedom from
researchers across many disciplines. As a result, there has been an
about-turn with respect to research involving GMOs in Italy and the
scientific community is riled up to fight for the right for politically
and ideologically independent research. However, none of this is likely to
have any effect on the impasse currently dogging commercialization of GMOs
The final straw came when Pecoraro Scanio, who has constantly tried to
thwart agbiotech research, refused to fund experiments—be they in field
trials or laboratories—involving GMOs. Although several European countries
oppose the commercialization of GMOs, Italy became the only country to ban
all research involving GMOs. The move was perceived as an attack on
scientific freedom in general, prompting a petition against Pecoraro
Scanio that was signed by over 1000 Italian researchers and supported by
the international agbiotech community (Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 1229, 2000).
Although Pecoraro Scanio subsequently claimed his decree was a misprint
and that he was referring to field trials only, the protest snowballed,
making newspaper headlines for weeks, and culminated in the February
rally. "Italy was the most anti-GMO country in Europe last year," says
Giuseppe Rotino, a researcher of the Institute of horticulture in
Montanaso Lombardo near Milan, "and now it is the theatre of a revolt by
scientists without precedent in the developed world."
The research situation is particularly dire in Italy because, as Silvio
Garattini, director of the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, points out,
"Italian research is trapped by two extremes, the green one and the
religious one." (Research on cloning and stem cells is at risk through
politicians' desire to appease the Vatican.) Italy hasn't produced a new
drug in the last 6 years, says Garattini. "We just can't accept
restrictions in the name of ideologies."
As a result of the protest, which has attracted wide international
interest, Italian politicians have fallen over themselves to publicly
support biotechnology and distance themselves from the Green anti-GMO
campaigns that, until now, have been shaping Italy's agbiotech policies:
the health minister, oncologist Umberto Veronesi, has stated he is on the
side of scientists against the agriculture minister; the two presidential
candidates have assured the public that the next government will be less
insensitive to the needs of researchers; and the current premier, Giuliano
Amato, has forced Pecoraro Scanio to allow the first open field trial of
GM crops—a humiliating defeat for the minister.
However, although a victory for the agbiotech community, the permission
for a field trial is merely a token gesture, and much still needs to be
done for researchers. The government says it plans to set up yet another
new committee to oversee the field trial, but there are already several
such biotechnology committees and, as Roberto Defez of the National
Research Council points out, the trouble with them is that many scientists
involved in them are more concerned with pandering to politicians than
presenting credible science. What is needed, he says, is authoritative,
politically and ideologically independent scientific committees, whose
exponents are scientifically credible.
Nevertheless, the field trial about-turn has filled the agbiotech
community with optimism. "This is proof that to efficiently tackle
antiscience propaganda, Italian scientists must actively participate in
the public debate on science and have, as we will have, their own
'lobby'," says molecular biologist Angelo Spena of Verona university.
However, the episode is unlikely to have any effect whatsoever on the
political impasse that is blocking commercial planting of GMOs in Europe
(Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 589, 2000). "We can hope that, thanks to this
impressing action by Italian scientists, the number of field trials will
finally increase in our country," says Giuseppe Battaglino, health
ministry representative inside the Interdepartmental Biotechnology
Committee, which advises the government on GMO policies and oversees
authorizations for field trials. But "the situation is more difficult to
solve with respect to GM crops commercialization, which depends heavily on
political balance and consumers attitude."
Indeed, in February, the European parliament approved revisions to
directive 90/220 governing the release of GMOs into the environment,
imposing mandatory monitoring and risk assessment of GM crops and setting
guidelines on labeling. However, the environment ministers of France,
Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece, and Denmark say they will continue to
block the approval of GM products until there is legislation that ensures
they can be traced through the entire production chain. With the
Commission's refusal to fight the envirocrats and enforce the directive,
the legislation is irrelevant and the de facto moratorium remains.
From: Mike Ernest
Subject: Backpacker Magazine will review future Patagonia ads...
Sharing our views can help prevent irresponsible marketing by such groups
as Patagonia which are attempting to profit from false fear campaigns
around biotechnology. Note the letter below from Backpacker Magazine's
advertising director indicating: "I will take your comments into
consideration for further review of any future ads of this type."
Hopefully this will result in Backpacker refusing to run any more of
Patagonia's misleading and irresponsible scares.
While Backpacker's policy on this matter is weak, it is a start. Magazines
should take responsibility for content they promote in their publication.
Is anyone on this list aware of what legal responsibilities or liabilities
a publication, like Backpacker, might have in profiting from sharing false
information as they did with the egrigious Patagonia advertisement?
I urge others on this list to share their views directly with the
publisher Rodales via Mr. Ebersole noted below.
Michael Mbwille, MD Mbeya, Tanzania
From: Ebersole, Kent"
To: email@example.com Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 16:13:19 -0500
Thanks for your letter and insightful comments. It is interesting as well
as educational to learn more about this issue. Please understand a few
things to help you in your mission.
Backpacker magazine is owned by Rodale, Inc. Rodale, Inc publishes Organic
Gardening magazine in a completely separate division. The two divisions
that publish Organic Gardening magazine and Backpacker magazine share
nothing but a parent company.
Backpacker does not use Fenton for public relations, nor to my knowledge
have they ever. We do not share editorial or advertising policies with
Organic ardening. We just happen to be owned by the same company but are
lucky enough to be in an extremely decentralized environment. Therefore,
our policies or philosophies co-exist yet may differ dramatically. To my
knowledge we have never voiced an opinion on bio-technology. And I have no
knowledge of what Organic Gardening's position is on bio-technology nor
can I confirm that they use Fenton.
If Patagonia's message "makes claims (false if everything I read from the
various science journals is true)" , than I urge you to continue your
efforts with them. Backpacker is certainly not in a position to affect
their philosophy or message on this subject whether we agree or disagree.
And most likely this ad was run in a variety of magazines so your efforts
will be more effective if you continue to work with Patagonia. In any
case, I will forward your letter to my contact in the advertising
department at Patagonia.
We are a backpacking magazine with a mission of "encouraging and enabling
people to experience the wilderness". To my knowledge and according to our
five year index, we have never covered anything "organic" within our
editorial, but I would lean on an editor to speak to that. At Backpacker,
the advertising department makes the advertising policies and not the
editorial department. And since I am the Advertising Director at
Backpacker magazine, I will take your comments into consideration for
further review of any future ads of this type.
Thanks for your time. Please do not hesitate to e-mail me if I can assist
in any further discussion. Good luck!
Kent Ebersole; Advertising Director
Get Out More at www.backpacker.com; 503.228.5948 fx 503.228.5128
INFORMATION SYSTEMS FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY: ISB News Report April 2001
.pdf version at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2001/apr01.pdf
IN THIS ISSUE:
Safety First" Workshop Explores Proactive Governance of Genetic Engineering
World Economic Forum Davos 2001
Old And New Breeding Attack Tropical Rice Virus
Transgenic Trout Vary In Their Response To Growth Hormone Overexpression
The Royal Commission Of Genetic Modification In New Zealand
New EU GMO Rules Passed
Segregating Grain In A Post-Starlink World
New ERS Report Explores Economic Issues In Agbiotech
Precaution without principle
Henry I. Miller & Gregory Conko
NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY; April 2001 Vol 19 No 4 pp302 - 303
(Forwarded by: "Henry I. Miller" )
Remember the admonition not to believe a bureaucrat who claims that "I'm
from the government and I'm here to help you?" Well, government regulators
now have a more subtle, updated version of that assertion: a wolf in
sheep's clothing called the "precautionary principle". It has already laid
waste to several industries and boasts a body count in the tens of
thousands. It is now being used to cripple public sector and academic
researchers as well as the biotechnology industry.
Although a widely accepted definition of the "principle" does not exist,
its thrust is that regulatory measures should prevent or restrict actions
that raise even conjectural threats of harm to human health or the
environment, although there may be incomplete scientific evidence as to
their potential significance. Several European countries have used the
precautionary principle to justify paralyzing restrictions on agricultural
and food biotechnology, and the European Commission (EC) has invoked it to
justify a moratorium on the approval of new recombinant DNA-modified
products 1. Use of the precautionary principle is sometimes represented
as "erring on the side of safety". But we believe the way it is typically
applied to research and development and to commercial products can
actually increase risk.
Potential risks should be taken into consideration before proceeding with
any new activity or product, whether it is the choice of site for a power
station or the introduction of a new drug into the pharmacy. But advocates
of the precautionary principle focus primarily on the possibility that
technologies could pose unique, extreme, or unmanageable risks. What is
missing from the precautionary calculus is an acknowledgment that even
when technologies introduce new risks, most confer net benefits; that is,
their use reduces many other, far more serious hazards. Examples include
blood transfusions, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and automobile
air bags, all of which offer immense benefits and only minimal risk.
The real danger of the precautionary principle is that it distracts
consumers and policymakers from known, significant threats to human health
and often diverts limited public health resources from those genuine and
far greater risks. Consider, for example, the environmental movement's
misguided crusade to rid society of all chlorinated compounds.
By the late 1980s, environmental activists were attempting to convince
water authorities around the world of the possibility that carcinogenic
by-products of chlorination made drinking water a potential cancer risk.
Peruvian officials caught in a budget crisis used this supposed threat to
public health as a justification to stop chlorinating much of their
country's drinking water. That decision contributed to the acceleration
and spread of Latin America's 1991-1996 cholera epidemic, which afflicted
more than 1.3 million people and killed at least 11,000 (ref. 2).
Anti-chlorine campaigners more recently have turned their attacks to
phthalates, liquid organic compounds added to certain plastics to make
them softer. These soft plastics are used for important medical devices,
particularly fluid containers, blood bags, tubing, and gloves; children's
toys, such as teething rings and rattlers; and household and industrial
items, such as wire coating and flooring. Waving the banner of the
precautionary principle, activists claim that phthalates could have
numerous adverse health effects—even in the face of significant scientific
evidence to the contrary3. Governments have taken these unsupported claims
seriously, and several formal and informal bans have been implemented
around the world. Industry has been stymied, consumers denied product
choices, and doctors and their patients deprived of lifesaving tools.
During the past few years, skeptics began more intensively to scrutinize
the precautionary principle. In response to those assessments, the EC, a
prominent user and abuser of the precautionary principle, last year
published a formal communication to promote the legitimacy of the
concept4. The EC resolved that, under its auspices, precautionary
restrictions would be "proportional to the chosen level of protection,"
"non-discriminatory in their application," and "consistent with other
similar measures." The commission also avowed that EC decision makers
would carefully weigh "potential benefits and costs." But all of these
stipulations have been flagrantly ignored or abused in the commission's
regulatory approach to recombinant DNA-modified—or in their argot,
"genetically modified" (GM)—foods.
Dozens of scientific bodies, including the UK's Royal Society, the US
National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the
American Medical Association have analyzed the oversight that is
appropriate for gene-spliced organisms and arrived at remarkably congruent
conclusions: The newer molecular techniques for genetic improvement are an
extension, or refinement, of earlier, far less precise ones; adding genes
to plants or microorganisms does not make them less safe either to the
environment or to eat; the risks associated with recombinant DNA-modified
organisms are the same in kind as those associated with conventionally
modified organisms; and regulation should be based upon the risk-related
characteristics of individual products, regardless of the techniques used
in their development.
Notwithstanding the EC's promises that the precautionary principle would
not be abused, regulators treat recombinant DNA-modified plants and
microorganisms in a discriminatory and inconsistent fashion, and without
proportionality to risk. Both the fact and degree of regulation turn on
the use of certain production methods—that is, on whether recombinant DNA
techniques have been used—regardless of the level of risk posed by
For example, recombinant herbicide-tolerant crop plants, such as soybeans
and canola, are subject to lengthy, hugely expensive mandatory testing and
pre-market evaluation, whereas plants with virtually identical properties
but developed with older, less precise genetic techniques are exempt from
such requirements. In the United States, Department of Agriculture
requirements for paperwork and field trial design make field trials with
gene-spliced organisms 10–20 times more expensive than the same
experiments with virtually identical organisms that have been modified
with conventional genetic techniques 5. The real-world impacts of this
wholly disproportionate approach are instructive. If a student doing a
school biology project takes a packet of "conventional," but genetically
improved, tomato or pea seeds to be irradiated at the local hospital and
plants them in his backyard in order to investigate interesting mutants,
he need not seek approval from any local, national, or international
authority. However, if the seeds have been modified by the addition of one
or a few genes by recombinant DNA techniques, this would-be researcher (or
equivalent highly skilled agricultural scientists) faces a mountain of
bureaucratic paperwork and expense.
Not only does this discrimination flaunt the scientific consensus about
the essential continuity between the traditional and molecular genetic
improvement of plants, but it also ignores the fact that recombinant DNA
technology is more precise and predictable and the modifications far
better characterized than with other techniques. Logical application of
the precautionary principle to situations of scientific uncertainty would
dictate that greater precaution apply to the cruder, less precise, less
predictable "conventional" forms of genetic modification. Instead, by
torturing the precautionary principle, regulators have chosen to set the
burden of proof far higher for recombinant DNA technology than for
conventional plant breeding. And, as the EC's moratorium on new product
approvals demonstrates, even when that extraordinary burden of proof is
met through unprecedented amounts of testing and evaluation, regulators
frequently declare themselves unsatisfied.
Remarkably, although the EC characterized its communication on the
precautionary principle as an attempt to impart greater consistency and
clarity, it specifically declined to define the principle, adding naively
that "it would be wrong to conclude that the absence of a definition has
to lead to legal uncertainty." Although reliance on regulatory agencies
and courts to define and elaborate statutory policy is not unusual, this
reluctance to define what purports to be a fundamental principle makes
confusion and mischief inevitable, leaving innovators' legal rights and
regulators' legal obligations subject to the wholly subjective and
sometimes nefarious judgment of governments or even individual regulators.
As it is being applied, the precautionary principle provides neither
evidentiary standards for "safety" nor procedural criteria for obtaining
regulatory approval, no matter how much evidence has been accumulated. In
effect, regulators are given carte blanche to decide what is "unsafe" and
what is "safe enough", with no means to ensure that their decisions
actually reduce overall risk or that they make any sense at all. Contrary
to the claims of its supporters, the precautionary principle tends to make
governments less accountable, not more so, because its lack of definition
allows regulators to justify any decision. In spite of the assurance of
the European Union and other advocates of precautionary regulation to the
contrary, regulators of biotechnology applied to agriculture and food
production seldom consider the potential risk-reducing benefits of new
technologies. For example, the use of recombinant DNA-modified plants with
enhanced pest or disease resistance has reduced farmers' use of chemical
pesticides, reducing runoff into waterways, and the exposure of workers
who manufacture, transport, and apply these chemicals. It has also
permitted farmers to more widely adopt environment-friendly, no-till
farming practices. And recently developed rice varieties enhanced with
pro-vitamin A and iron could drastically improve the health of hundreds of
millions of the malnourished in developing countries. These are the kinds
of tangible environmental and health benefits that have been given little
or no weight in precautionary risk calculations.
But benefits aside, the safety of this new technology is not really in
doubt. Both theoretical and empirical evidence shows the extraordinary
predictability and safety of gene-spliced organisms. Recombinant
DNA-modified plants are now grown worldwide on more than 100 million acres
annually, and more than 60% of processed foods in the United States
contain ingredients derived from recombinant organisms. There has not been
a single mishap resulting in injury to a single person.
For anti-biotechnology activists, the deeper issue is not really safety at
all. Often, the controversies over the testing and use of gene-spliced
organisms—and in particular, the metastasis of the precautionary
principle—stem from a social vision that is not just strongly
anti-technology, but one that poses serious challenges to academic,
individual, and corporate freedom.
In the western democratic societies, we enjoy long traditions of
relatively unfettered scientific research, except in the very few cases
where bona-fide safety issues are raised. (An example with contemporary
relevance is the ban on research using live foot-and-mouth disease virus
in the mainland United States.) Traditionally, we shrink from permitting
small, authoritarian minorities to dictate our social agenda, including
what kinds of research are permissible and which technologies and products
should be available in the marketplace. Thus, for remarkably well-behaved
recombinant DNA technology, a refinement of earlier techniques, it is
beside the point whether the purpose of investigating a new plant variety
or microorganism is to test a scientific hypothesis or a marker gene, to
produce a more elegant rose, to offer a marginal improvement for purposes
of downstream processing, or to improve the lot of malnourished children.
It is precisely the anti-technology nature of the precautionary principle
that makes it the darling of many non-governmental organizations.
Greenpeace, one of the principal advocates of the precautionary principle,
wrote in its 1999 Internal Revenue Service filings that the organization's
goal is not the prudent, safe use of recombinant DNA-derived foods or even
their labeling; rather, they demand nothing less than these products'
"complete elimination [from] the food supply and the environment.6" Many
of these groups do not merely proselytize for illogical and stultifying
regulation or outright bans on product testing and commercialization; they
advocate and carry out vandalism of field trials.
Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Environmental
Health Network, a consortium of radical groups, asserts that the
precautionary principle "is in the hands of the people," as illustrated,
according to her, by violent demonstrations against economic
globalization, such as those in Seattle at the 1999 meeting of the World
Trade Organization7. "This is [about] how they want to live their lives,"
In our view, it's really about how a small, vocal, violent group of
radicals wants to dictate to the rest of us how we should live our lives.
In other words, the issue here is freedom and its infringement by
ideologues who disapprove, on principle, of a certain technology. But
bullies should not be permitted to use untruths, conspiracy, and violence
to oppose legitimate research into technologies that can improve our
safety and well-being. We should no longer allow extremists to dictate the
terms of the debate.
1. Hodgson, J. Nature Biotechnol. 18, 918-919 (2000).
2. Anderson, C. Nature 354, 255 (1991). | PubMed |
3. Durodié, W. Poisonous Propaganda: Global Echoes of an Anti-Vinyl Agenda
(Washington DC: Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2000).
4. European Commission. Communication From the Commission on the
Precautionary Principle (Brussels: February 2, COM 1, 2000).
5. Huttner, S.L., Miller, H.I. & Lemaux, P.G. US Agricultural
Biotechnology: Status and Prospects. Technological Forecasting and Social
Change 50, 25-39 (1995).
6. Greenpeace. 1999 Federal Income Tax Filing with the U.S. Internal
Revenue Service: IRS Form 990, Part III, Statement of Program Service
Accomplishments, "Genetic Engineering."
7. Appell, D. Sci. Am. 284, 18-19 (2001).
Henry I. Miller (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a fellow at the
Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA, 94305 and the author of Policy
Controversy in Biotechnology: An Insider's View. Gregory Conko (e-mail:
email@example.com) is director of food safety policy at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC 20036.
Bioinformatics: Key to 21st Century Biology
Bioinformatics, which straddles the interface between traditional biology
and computer science, has emerged as a new discipline that promises to
transform research in fields from genomics to pharmacology, and may well
reverse the life sciences' longstanding reductionist paradigm. More and
more universities are establishing bioinformatics programs to meet the
growing demand for training.
Model Organic Farmers Struggle To Stay Afloat
* If Organic Farming Like This Is The Hope For Feeding The World, We
Aren't Going To Eat Well
By Dennis T. Avery of the Hudson Institute
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--Jon Watts and Jenny Tutlis grow five acres of
organic crops in northwest Michigan, and their Meadowlark Farm is featured
in the May-June issue of Organic Gardening magazine. Both of the young
farmers grew up in the suburbs, went to college (art history for her,
biology for him), then to New Guinea with the Peace Corps. They learned
about organic production on a community-supported farm in Wisconsin. Now
they grow produce for 40 nearby families on a "subscription" basis--$460 a
year for a weekly box of in-season fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
On a given summer day, they may have four varieties of eggplant ready for
harvest, along with fancy salad greens, flowering basil and broccoli. The
artichokes may be nearly ready too, and the garlic drying in the rafters
of the old barn needs to go into the customer boxes as well. Then the
boxes have to be driven to the drop-off points. The kids need supper, and
some of the bills are due. That's all besides the eternal battle with
weeds, insects and the planting schedule for later in the season. It's a
tough life. Last year, they had 80 families. They had to work 16-hour
days, fitting in their two little kids and the housework as best they
could. It was too much, so this year they'll do more off-farm work in the
winter. (She's a waitress, he's a movie projectionist.) They also hope
that cutting back will help regain control over the insects. They say that
with the 80 families, they brought too much land into production too fast.
They couldn't get at the weeds when they were small enough to pull or hoe
easily. They may have planted too soon after the cover crops were plowed
down, before the green manure had fully decomposed. They may have
overfertilized with turkey manure.
In the complex biology of an organic field, it's hard to get precise
answers. Whatever the cause, they were inundated by root maggots, squash
bugs and other pests. They keep chickens on the farm, which are good at
eating bugs and scratching up beetle grubs but they also eat some of the
produce as well. At least one field is always in buckwheat, which the two
organic farmers call "organic Roundup" because of the way it suppresses
weeds. They plant one-third of their land in flowers, which the customers
like almost as much as the lady bugs, bees, green lacewings and other
beneficial insects that visit them. Watts has come up with a novel method
of insect control: a field vacuum. Carrying a Shop-Vac and a portable
generator in a wheelbarrow, he moves up and down the rows sucking insects
off the plant leaves. But it takes time, because it has to be done over
The Michigan organic farmers sound like wonderful, hard-working folks. But
if organic farming like this is the hope for feeding the world, we aren't
going to eat well. When a field is in flowers to attract beneficial
insects, it isn't producing bread or feed grain. When the squash bugs ruin
much of the squash crop, that means we must devote more land to squash and
less to wildlife habitat. Ditto for the free-range chickens wandering the
produce plots. Organic farming is also very labor-intensive. I greatly
admire the willingness of Watts and Tutlis to work hard. But how would we
draft another 25 percent or 40 percent of the population to weed crops and
vacuum insects by hand, instead of pursuing lucrative urban careers? Then
there's the shortage of organic biomass. It's not that big a deal on five
acres of organic vegetables, but the eco-activists are telling us that all
farming should be organic.
The Department of Agriculture says America has less than one-third of the
organic nitrogen (found in manure and stalks) to support today's farm
output, let alone tripling it for the future. Thus we might have to clear
half the forests east of the Mississippi for green manure crops like
buckwheat, clover and rye, that aren't used for food or feed, but just
plowed back into the soil. What would the effect be on wildlife habitat of
a 40 percent yield reduction on the world's 1.7 billion acres of cereal
grains? Watts and Tutlis haven't even been able to buy their farmland.
They need to be near their customers, so the land they need has
development potential and is priced accordingly. The most poignant part of
the story is when Watts discusses his ruined squash crop. He flipped over
a butternut squash with his sneaker, and the ground swarmed with the
squash bugs that were sucking the life out of his crop. "There are
thousands of them in here--thousands upon thousands...It's ruined."
DENNIS T. AVERY is based in Churchville, Va., and is director of global
food issues for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis. His views are not
necessarily those of BridgeNews, whose ventures include the Internet site
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Conventional pest resistance
The following article announces the release of a new ARS corn variety
which resists attack by corn borers. How well is the mechanism of this
type of resistance known? Do these plants actually kill the juvenile
borers or do they just seem to dislike the taste, or do adults not lay
eggs on them for some reason? In any case, this variety, if it had been
genetically engineered, would likely attract regulatory attention from EPA
and would also have been criticized by GE opponents as clearly NOT being
substantially equivalent to conventional, susceptible corn. So, exactly
who is tasked with demonstrating, unequivocally, the safety of this and
similar new plant varieties?
ARS RELEASES NEW INSECT-RESISTANT CORN GERMPLASM LINE
March 29, 2001 USDA ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service scientists recently released a new corn
germplasm line that will be a source for developing corn plants resistant
to the southwestern corn borer, Diatraea grandiosella, and the fall
armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda. ARS researchers at the Crop Science
Research Laboratory in Mississippi State, Miss., led by plant geneticist
William P. Williams, have developed the corn germplasm line, Mp716, that
is resistant to leaf feeding by these formidable pests. The new line was
developed by self- pollinating a cross between two other germplasm lines
for eight generations and then selecting for the desired traits. The
milky-white larva of the southwestern corn borer appears in early June
throughout much of the South. After feeding on the whorl--tightly coiled
leaves within the stalk--of the corn plant, it moves down the stalk and
begins to tunnel within. If the larva feeds on the bud of the plant within
the whorl, the plant's entire yield is lost. Female southwestern corn
borers can lay from 300 to 400 eggs in their lifetime.
Agriculture Extension specialists in Mississippi estimate that this pest
produces about $1 million dollars worth of damage annually in that state
alone. The fall armyworm attacks corn and a variety of other crops
including tomato, cotton and alfalfa. Like the southwestern corn borer,
also damages the whorl of the plant. This feeding produces frayed holes in
the leaves that become apparent when they are unfurled. In addition, the
larvae of the fall armyworm also feed on immature ears and tassels. The
new germplasm line was evaluated for three years by infesting plants in
the whorl stage of growth with 30 young larvae and checking for damage 14
days later. Mp716 was found to be only moderately damaged by these
insects. The genetic material for this new germplasm line will be
deposited in the National Plant Germplasm System where it will be made
available for research purposes.