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April 9, 2001


Mexico; The bigger, the Better Farms?; Fat Science; NZ City


Transgenetic Products 'Almost Obligatory Step' For Mexico

MEXICO CITY, Apr 9, 2001 (El Financiero/Infolatina via COMTEX) via
NewsEdge Corporation

- Demand for food supplies over the next two decades is sufficient
motivation for Mexico to become involved in "a new era of development,
where biotechnology will play a defining role," Mexican biotech leader
Savia said. By 2020, Mexico will be facing a population of 119.4 million
inhabitants, demanding 45.8 million tons of basic grains, or 20 percent
more than the demand in 2000. A 60 percent increase in demand for meat
products, 70 percent for seafood and 60 percent increase in demand for
dairy products are all on the cards, Savia Director Pedro Bosh Guha said.
Meeting this demand with traditional agricultural methods would place a
tremendous pressure on soil, water and energy resources, which opens the
gate to an increased use of more efficient genetically modified products,
he said.


From: Mark.Cantley@cec.eu.int
Subject: Citation for "The price of precaution"

The article Henry Miller wanted is in full at
and much else that you may enjoy is to be found at

The references in the article are as follows:

(1) The Report of the BSE Inquiry, October 2000
(2) See William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 1976
(3) See William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 1976
(4) See Causes of autism probed
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_1202000/1202660.stm>, BBC
Online, 5 March 2001

- Mark
(Thanks also to "Frances B. Smith" for
pointing this out. I found two relevant commentaries from the 'Spiked'
site that I reproduced below..CSP)


Organic food: why?

- Jan Bowman http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/000000005545.htm

A recent NOP poll found that 82 percent of UK consumers want a return to
traditional farming, even if it means paying more for food. Thirty-seven
percent of us apparently blame industrial farming for foot-and-mouth
disease (1).

Today, many sins are laid at the feet of conventional farming. BSE,
foot-and-mouth, pollution, obesity and the disappearance of sparrows have
all been blamed on modern agriculture. And governments across Europe are
keen to show they care. They are increasingly keen to be seen promoting
not conventional farming methods, but the new-age version: organic.

Europe is now the biggest market for organic food in the world, expanding
by 25 percent a year over the past 10 years. The German agriculture
minister wants to make 20 percent of German agriculture organic by 2010,
and Denmark's agriculture minister is herself an organic farmer. According
to the Soil Association, the UK market for organic food grew by 55 percent
in 2000, while the food market as a whole grew by only one percent. Yet
barely seven percent of British shoppers account for nearly 60 percent of
organic sales: however popular the idea of organic farming is, it is still
a minority interest.

So what makes the idea of organic farming so popular? Organic farming
means farming with natural, rather than man-made, fertilisers and
pesticides. Organic farmers rely on various techniques - such as crop
rotation and the use of resistant varieties - that are used to some extent
in conventional farming, but which are vital for organic farmers to
compensate for the absence of man-made chemicals. The goal is to minimise
external inputs and create a 'self-sufficient, closed system' - rather as
if you were stuck alone on a croft in Wales. Self-sufficiency, in this
sense, has romantic associations that attract many jaded city-dwellers -
although it is not inherent to organic farming.

Organic farming is often claimed to be safer than conventional farming -
for the environment, for our children and for us. Yet after lengthy and
ongoing research into organic farming worldwide for a number of years,
science continues to reject this claim. In January 2001 the UK's
cross-party House of Commons committee on agriculture announced that,
despite exhaustive investigation, it had failed to find any scientific
evidence to prove 'that any of the many claims made for organic farming
are always and invariably true'. Nonetheless, the debate about the merits
of organic farming goes on. This is partly because so much depends on the
individual farm, the soil, the weather, and so on. Research results
therefore tend to vary, depending on the subjective inclinations of those
carrying it out.

The natural toxins in parsnips cause blisters on the skin of agricultural
workers. For example, supporters of organic farming claim that man-made
fertiliser is environmentally damaging; and it is not hard to find
examples of badly managed conventional farms or land that have been
wrecked by over-reliance on fertilisers. But today granular nitrogen -
which is extracted from the air - can be applied to the land through
sophisticated spreaders at the time and in the exact quantities required
by plants, thus minimising leaching into water supplies. It is also less
toxic and smelly than dung. Likewise, the nutritional value and flavour of
a carrot has less to do with whether it was fertilised with manure or
something out of a plastic sack, than with the variety of carrot, how long
ago it was dug up, how it was stored, and the weather while it was
growing. The notion that organic food is safer than 'normal' food is also
contradicted by the fact that many of our most common foods are full of
natural toxins. Parsnips cause blisters on the skin of agricultural
workers. Toasting bread creates carcinogens. Cassava - a staple in North
Africa - has to be laboriously processed before cooking to destroy its
lethal poisons.

Yet educated Europeans are more scared of eating traces of a few, strictly
regulated, man-made chemicals than they are of eating the ones that nature
created directly. Why? To a certain extent, the kind of food we prefer
eating reflects how we relate to nature. For most of human history the
more artificial and elaborate your diet, the better; when dominating
nature was a constant battle, it was a sign of cultured living. The
ancient Romans distinguished between foods not as proteins v
carbohydrates, or even meat v vegetables, but as cultivated v wild. Farmed
animals were a more civilised food than game. Wine and bread, because they
were created by man, were symbols of cultured living - only barbarians ate
wild plants. To medieval city-dwellers, especially the poor, rural squalor
was a terrible and recent memory. Only the poorest peasants ate black
bread. Any risk of a return to rural conditions was a sign of social
regression, and when inferior cereals replaced wheat in the markets, city
authorities would be forced to requisition supplies elsewhere for fear of

Today, Europeans surrounded by plentiful food fear, not nature, but
science. Our obsessions with the ethics and safety of what we eat - with
antibiotics in animals, additives in everything, the export of veal
calves, BSE, GM foods, and so on - are symptomatic of a highly
technological society that has lost faith in its ability to put technology
to a positive end. In this context, the less touched by the human hand
something is, the more virtue we see in it. A dominant contemporary fear
is that people are wrecking nature. This is the real significance of the
NOP poll. It is not a vote of positive support for 'traditional' or
organic farming - something about which most of us are blissfully ignorant
- but rather a vote against human intervention in the countryside.

The organic farming movement is a luxury for people in safe,
well-manicured Europe. That there exists this general, rather
backward-looking, attachment to organic farming is one thing. But why do
European governments endorse it? European agriculture is among the safest
in the world. While there are serious problems with European farming,
these involve funding, distribution and subsidies; they do not directly
affect consumers, and they are not remotely about dangerous substances
lurking in our food.

Foot-and-mouth disease, while an economic disaster for farmers, presents
no risk to human health. This livestock disease is endemic in countries
unable to afford intensive agriculture, yet has been absent from Europe
for three decades. The fear of BSE is rampant in Europe, but there is
still no hard proof of a link between BSE and human fatalities (including
several long-term vegetarians) from CJD or its variant. And any West
European over 40 years of age who remembers better variety, quality, and
freshness - let alone safety - in the food they ate as children, must have
lived a very different childhood from the rest of us.

But Europe does not need the number of farms it has in order to produce
the food it needs, whether for domestic consumption or trade abroad. In
this context, encouraging organic farming makes some sense. Subsidising
desperate, bankrupt farmers to convert their farms to a system that,
because of its inherent inefficiency, will mop up surplus farmworkers,
produce less food, and keep the countryside suitably bucolic for the rest
of us to play in, has a political rationale. Organic farming is a gentle
way of retiring farmland. European governments can pacify farmers while
appearing in tune with public demand for more 'natural' food.

The organic farming movement is a luxury for people in safe,
well-manicured Europe. For less-developed parts of the world, it is
irrelevant. To European environmentalists, the fact that organic methods
require more labour and land than conventional ones to get the same yields
is a Good Thing; to a farmer in rural Mozambique it is a disaster. Here
land tends to be so starved and crop yields so low that there simply is
not enough organic matter to put back into the soil.

Yet bizarrely, while people continue to die of hunger, disease and
backward, inefficient technology in the South, organic activists in the
North are not demanding that these countries should be given access to the
most advanced agricultural techniques. Rather, they seem to want us all to
go back to the harshest basics.

(1) Sunday Times, 18 March 2001


Farming: the bigger, the better

- Brendan O'Neill,

Since the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, intensive farming has found
itself in the firing line. Big, modern, industrial farming - with its
machine-milked cows and chemical-drenched crops - has been blamed for
everything from the spread of disease to the destruction of the
countryside to the collapse of British morale.

'What they breed is disease, not food', one farmer-loathing Londoner told
the UK Observer. 'The way they breed chickens and pigs, it's like
Auschwitz or something. The whole farming business is totally unreal, with
us paying subsidies for stuff nobody wants, produced in sick conditions
and screwing up the environment.' (1) No doubt there are some dodgy
practices on intensive farms - most big farms are big businesses out to
maximise profits and only too happy to cut corners. But the doomsday
depiction of modern farming doesn't square with our experiences: we have
more, varied, fresher and cheaper food than ever before - and nobody has
to break their back on the land to get it to us. So what's going on? As an
urbanite who likes his milk and eggs, I decided to get to the heart of the
contradiction by testing out the arguments against modern farming on some
of those who work, lecture and play in the world of agriculture.

Is intensive farming to blame for the foot-and-mouth outbreak? 'Far from
it', says Dr Jean Margerison, a senior lecturer in dairy science at the
Seale Hayne Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Land Use in Plymouth (2), one
of the UK's leading centres of agricultural study. 'Intensification has
led to pig farms being separate and specialist', says Margerison. 'If that
had not been the case, we would be in the same position as in 1967, when
there was more of a mixture of animals on farms - more pigs would have got
the disease and pigs spread it far more quickly over much greater
distances. Intensification means we're better off this time around,
because we don't have pig farms right next door to other livestock.'

Foot-and-mouth has got nothing whatsoever to do with intensive farming',
says SÈan Rickard, former chief economist of the National Farmers' Union
and author of the UK government's agricultural manifesto. 'It is farming
markets which have spread this disease among sheep - and sheep farming is
probably the most extensive form of farming. This knee-jerk reaction that
modern farming caused foot-and-mouth is so far wide of the mark that you
have to ask: why on earth are people even raising this?'

'The farm where the outbreak started was the opposite of a modernised
farm', says Matt Ridley, commentator, part-time farmer and author of
Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (3). 'It was a small
farm, growing pigs in a "peasant" way - that is, with swill, which is a
locally sourced, natural, unprocessed food. Had the farm been using
processed pig meal, as industrial pig units do, this outbreak would not
have occurred.'

Okay. But intensive farming involves keeping animals very close together
('densely stacked livestock') which must surely contribute to the spread
of disease? After all, as Caroline Lucas, Member of European Parliament
(MEP) for south-east England, points out: 'Agriculture is now organised in
a way that makes transmission of disease very easy.' (4) 'That's not
really true, either', says Dr Jean Margerison. 'People like to say
intensive farming is to blame because modern farmers really stack the
animals densely and that's what causes all the disease - but it's not
actually right. It might have been the case in the past, between 1967 and
now. But today a lot of pig farmers have outdoor and loose sow buildings,
which in fact give the animals more area not less.'

'People like to point the finger at densely stacked livestock', says Sean
Rickard. 'But there is pretty strong evidence that the current outbreak of
foot-and-mouth started on a badly run small-scale farm, where possibly the
animals had more room to roam than on some intensive farms. Presumably it
was just the sort of small, idyllic farm that some people would like us to
return to. The fact is, foot-and-mouth hasn't been here for over 30 years
- it was much more prevalent before we had modern practices, like densely
stacked livestock.'

But isn't intensive farming bad for the animals? The Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals thinks so: 'Most farms offer pigs just a
barren, crowded environment with no bedding for comfort or recreation'
(5). Which is presumably why the UK Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries
and Food has made animal welfare one of its main objectives: 'to ensure
that animals and fish are protected by high welfare standards and do not
suffer unnecessary pain or distress.' (6)

'One solution is the use of GMOs - they have an important role to play in
reducing the use of chemicals' . But according to Dr Jean Margerison,
today's intensively farmed animals are 'better' than they were in the past
- that is, better at 'being productive': 'A lot of animals are genetically
better, more productive, more efficient than they were in the past. You
can choose to keep a very inefficient cow that doesn't produce much milk,
or one that produces a good level of milk for the same input. We are
dealing with animals that are genetically superior, and better able to
produce milk more efficiently. This is what farmers are interested in, and
rightly so.'

But what about all those pesticides that modern farmers spray on their
crops, which are said to be destroying the UK's wildlife? 'There has been
a concerted campaign to blame modern farming for many ills, especially
over bird losses', (7) says Matt Ridley. 'And one kind of modernisation -
winter sowing of corn - is indeed a major cause of bird declines. That,
combined with the usual human tendency to nostalgia, has made modern
farming an easy target.' 'I don't deny that chemicals have brought some
cost to the countryside', says Sean Rickard. 'But I'm afraid that we have
to face up to reality here: everything we do that brings a benefit also
brings a cost. We spend all our lives balancing benefits against costs,
and farming is no different. 'But the solution is not to turn the clock
back 50 years and go back to traditional, small-scale farming. The
solution is to have more technology, not less. Firstly, intensification
means we now have on large, efficient farms something called "precision
farming" - intensive farmers are using less chemicals and only where they
need to use them. The second solution is the use of GMOs - they have an
important role to play in reducing the use of chemicals.'

Fair enough. But what about the argument that we should return to a more
natural, traditional way of farming? Like the kind proposed by Green MEP
Caroline Lucas: 'Agriculture needs local, sustainable solutions based on
farmers and the needs of consumers and the environmentÖ.This must be the
way forward and we should end industrial agriculture in this country.' (8)
Or as the UK Observer asks: 'Where did it go, that rosy English vision of
the farmer and his virtues, of the farmyard and its wholesome produce?'
(9) 'I don't know what kind of world they're thinking about', says SÈan
Rickard. 'But until relatively recent times, anybody who worked in
farming, except landlords, were dirt poor and worked in abject poverty. It
was a hard, tough life. In our society, productivity on average rises by
two percent a year, which means we can enjoy a higher standard of living.
If we don't allow the farming industry to keep apace with that, then we
condemn farmers to a much lower standard of living.'

'Foot-and-mouth is a forceful reminder of how risky and unpleasant farming
used to be before modernisation''Foot-and-mouth is the clearest example of
why we need more, not less technology', says Matt Ridley. 'It is an old
problem, usually found in unmodernised farming countries. If you check the
sizes of the Cumbrian farms that have caught the virus, they are nearly
all small to medium operations with 200 to 1000 sheep or 50 to 300 cattle.
These are tiny farms by comparison with US or Australian standards.' Or as
farmer Oliver Wolston has pointed out: 'Strange, isn't it, that the only
parts of the world where foot-and-mouth is endemic are the third world
countries where the agriculture is extensive? And virtually organic?' (10)

So locally produced food for local people is not a good idea? 'If I had to
eat the food produced in my locality', says SÈan Rickard, 'I'd have to
have to eat whatever they produce, however ropey it was. It would actually
reduce my choice, not increase it. Think about the ease and the extra
choice that intensive farming has given us. We can have strawberries at
Christmas! That might sound like a small thing, but it shows how modern
techniques mean we can have nice, fresh, clean food all year round, at
cheap prices, from the local supermarket. And still some say, "oh we
really should get back to seasonal food, we should only have strawberries
when they're in season". No thanks. Some people want strawberries all year
round, and they have modern farming to thank for that.'

So how far has intensive farming increased productivity? 'Look at the
facts', says Rickard. 'The reason we now spend 10 percent of our income on
food, as opposed to 25 percent in 1970, is partly because our incomes have
risen, and partly because modern farming and other food production
techniques have lowered the cost of bringing food to us. 'Also, we have
been losing about 1200 farms a year recently. And over the past 30 years
we have lost about 180,000 full-time jobs from agriculture. And yet here
we are today with more food than we had 30 years ago. There's your
evidence of productivity. Fewer farmers, more food.'

So intensive farming isn't responsible for the spread of disease; it is
developing technologies that could protect the countryside; it has helped
to make better, more productive animals; and it means we can have fresh
milk, eggs, fruit and meat whenever we want themÖ.Are you saying intensive
farming is a good thing? 'Yes, intensification has had a positive effect',
says Dr Jean Margerison.

'Far from teaching the lesson that farming needs to be less industrial',
says Matt Ridley, '[foot-and-mouth] is actually a forceful reminder of how
risky and unpleasant farming used to be before modernisation'. 'Intensive
farming has caused a whole lot more good than the bad that is being
flagged up now', says Sean Rickard.

All right, this urbanite is reassured. When so much of today's 'heated
debate' about farming seems to be about everything except farming -
uneasiness about modern life, crisis over national identity, the role of
the countryside - it is easy to lose sight of the practical issues. Like
how best to combat disease, how to further modernise and improve the
farming industry.

And how to get milk and eggs to millions of people in time for breakfast.


The Soft Science of Dietary Fat

Gary Taubes; http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/291/5513/2536

Mainstream nutritional science has demonized dietary fat, yet 50 years and
hundreds of millions of dollars of research have failed to prove that
eating a low-fat diet will help you live longer. Indeed, the history of
the national conviction that dietary fat is deadly, and its evolution from
hypothesis to dogma, is one in which politicians, bureaucrats, the media,
and the public have played as large a role as the scientists and the
science. It's a story of what can happen when the demands of public health
policy--and the demands of the public for simple advice--run up against
the confusing ambiguity of real science.

- "In America, we no longer fear God or the communists, but we fear fat,"
says David Kritchevsky
- "Indeed, the history of the national conviction that dietary fat is
deadly, and its evolution from hypothesis to dogma, is one in which
politicians, bureaucrats, the media, and the public have played as large a
role as the scientists and the science. It's a story of what can happen
when the demands of public health policy--and the demands of the public
for simple advice--run up against the confusing ambiguity of real science."
- "Everybody used to complain that industry didn't do anything on
nutrition," he told Science, "yet anybody who got involved was blackballed
because their positions were presumably influenced by the industry."
- "the anti-fat movement was founded on the Puritan notion that "something
bad had to have an evil cause, and you got a heart attack because you did
something wrong, which was eating too much of a bad thing, rather than not
having enough of a good thing."

(I encourage you to read this full (rather lengthy) piece in Science;
While it has nothing to with biotech crops per se, this older debate on
fats is somewhat reminiscent of the current GM debate; in fact, with some
of the same players too.....CSP)


From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: Mr. Sams Thrid world farming woes.

Mr. Sams needs to check his facts on US farm subsides. I made a few calls
to farmers and their incomes from subsides are a very great deal less than
50%. They might approach 50% on year that was major disaster but they
cannot stay in business having disasters. On a normal year my dad's direct
government payment's for 1/3 rent on 160 acre are less than 100 dollars.
The indirect subsidies are more difficult to calculate because they are in
the form of assistance in crop insurance but knowing the premiums before
the government stated helping with the insurance on my dad's farm it would
be about 7 dollars per acre at the most for 100% of the farm. That is
closer to 5% of the farmers income than 50 at least in my dad's case.
Personally I don't consider insurance a subsidy. I do consider disaster
payments, which the law ran out on last year, loan price supports and the
$70 dollar payment my dad gets subsidies.

If you want to see subsides look at the EU.

Mr. Sams could also use a lesson in economics. The price of most farm
goods is not determined by the cost of production it is determined by
supply and demand. I am most familiar with cotton. The US raises pretty
close to the same amount of cotton every year with some adjustments for
price and weather. The big swing in production comes from China when they
decide to raise a lot for export. There is no way a US produce can compete
with a Chinese producer paying a dollar a day for labor even if the US
farmer is 50% subsidized. I ember the cost of raising cotton with hand
labor and it takes and our cultivation machinery runs at about the
equivalent to 50 cents and hour labor and our harvesting machinery runs at
about the equivalent 3 dollars an hour labor. I don't think third world
farmers are doing near that well. I don't think they are doing half that
well. I also don't think you will find this kind of irrigation rig that is
set up for maximum water conservation in use in the third world

As to the American farmer being a parasite the fact that we have the
lowest food cost in the world releases a great deal of income to feed the
economy. All farmers are and overhead cost to a nations economy. The
resources used in agriculture cannot be used to build cities, man
factories or any other advanced technology. Maybe in your idyllic world
every one lives in their little cottage and tends their garden. But in a
country that wants to advance economically safe inexpensive food it a
cornerstone of progress and has been since the first farm made the first
city possible.

If you want to find a parasite in agriculture look to those you sell there
wares by misrepresenting the truth about the safety of food.

Gordon Couger

Latin American Consultative Group in Biotechnology

(Montevideo, Uruguay 30 March, 2001) CG-Biotech , the “Latin American
Consultative Group on Biotechnology ” will be established as a result of
the UNIDO Regional Biotechnology Forum for Latin America, held in
Montevideo, Uruguay from March 28 to 30. CG-Biotech will be a politically
independent technical expert body acting as a platform for addressing the
implications of the development and commercialization of agri-food

Inaugurated by the President of Uruguay, Mr. Jorge Battle, and
Director-General of UNIDO, Mr. Carlos Magariños, the Forum was attended by
two hundred and fifty senior government policy makers, scientists,
representatives of industry and NGOs from 12 Latin American countries. The
strong support for the Forum is based on the recognition by countries in
Latin America with an incipient R&D capacity, that Biotechnology
represents a great opportunity to make the transition from an
agriculturally-based to a "knowledge-Based" economy.

The Forum was the preparatory phase of a UNIDO project that focuses on
three areas that are critical in enhancing the ability of the countries in
the region to deploy biotechnology, namely regulation, access to
proprietary technology and strategic research. The recommendations of the
Forum will be used to prepare guidelines for access to proprietary
technologies and a blueprint for a regional research fund.

Secretariat support for CG-Biotech will be provided by UNIDO. BINAS,
UNIDO’s Biosafety Information Network and Advisory Service, that monitors
global developments in biotechnology will also be central to the Group’s

More information: webmaster@binas.unido.org, http://binas.unido.org/binas

- George T. Tzotzos (Ph.D), Chief, Biodiversity Unit, UNIDO, SES/PEM
P.O. Box 400, A-1400 Vienna, Austria


Nelson City GE decision – a triumph of emotion over reason


The decision of Nelson City to go GE Free poses serious problems for
citizens, which the City Council has obviously failed to think through,
the Chairman of the (New Zealand) Life Sciences Network, Dr William
Rolleston, said today “In the first place the Council is likely to put the
City at risk of being in breach of the Fair Trading Act. If the City
promotes itself as GE-Free then it is clear it must not allow any GE
products to be present within the city’s boundaries.

“To achieve GE-Free status it would have to stop all GE medicines such as
GE insulin for 90% of the diabetics living within the city; such as GE
hepatitis B vaccine; such as GE produced enzymes in washing powders and
proteins in food. The Fair Trading Act does not allow people to describe
something as being GE-Free if it isn’t 100% GE-Free. “Does this mean that
anyone who must use GE products, or chooses to, will be forced to leave
Nelson City for breach of the GE-Free code. If this is the outcome there
are serious issues to do with people’s constitutional rights to live how
they choose.

“Nelson appears to be setting a standard which it will be impossible for
people and business to comply with and is at risk of being hoist by its
own petard. “Nelson residents are faced with the prospect of being
scornfully referred to as: ‘Nearly GE-Free Nelson’; or ‘Partly
GE-FreeNelson’. Think what that will do for their reputation in New
Zealand and overseas.

“It is disappointing that Nelson City Council took this step before the
Royal Commission on Genetic Modification had reported but not surprising
in view of the large number of alternative life-stylers who live in the
Nelson area. “Nelson people will have an opportunity to decide whether
they want this decision foist on them when they go to the polls later this
year,” concluded Dr Rolleston.


To: Mayor Paul Matheson, Nelson, NZ
From: Dr David Saul, School of Biological Sciences, University of

Dear Sir,

I submit my comments below about the recent decision of your council to
declare Nelson a GE-Free zone.

We live in a time when technology is increasingly thrust into our lives
and there is no more obvious an example of such an intrusion than
Genetically Engineered foods. These foods are seen by many as the greatest
threat to the environment, to human health, to the sanctity of Nature,
ever to befall our society. But how valid is GE for judging safety or
ethics? In part our belief that GE is a discrete science (something easily
differentiated from existing technologies) is a result of media reporting
that focuses on extreme examples; we define GE by toad genes in potatoes,
fish genes in strawberries. The reality is somewhat more complex. Despite
its coverage in the media, modification of food represents less than 1% of
the GE that goes on in the world. The bulk is dull, everyday diagnostics –
desperately tedious, routine laboratory tests. The environmental lobby
including the New Zealand Green Party and Greenpeace now (rather
belatedly) acknowledge this fact and are directing their attention to
fighting field release of modified crops rather than condemning the whole
technology. Recent press statements suggest has once more failed to make
this distinction.

As a researcher who has used this technology for eighteen years, it is
clear to me that genetic engineering is no more than a body of knowledge –
a set of tools and recipes, and often the boundaries between this
technology and pre-existing science are indistinct. Concerns should focus
less on the tools and more on the outcome of their usage. Nobody in the
scientific community claims that GE is risk free – all innovation carries
with it a risk, but we have achieved a great deal with this technology
already. For example, 30,000 New Zealand diabetics use genetically
engineered insulin, and GE vaccines, blood products and hormones are far
safer than those manufactured from live viruses or human tissue. It is
easy to impose a blanket ban but surely the wisest path is to reap the
benefits and minimise the risks by selectively choosing the products we

If after informed and careful debate the public decides to abandon this
technology, then it is right and proper that they should have the choice
to do so, but we must take care. Much of the debate is driven by hyperbole
and unsubstantiated rumour. Some of the blame must fall on the scientific
community for failing to explain their science and as a body of
professionals we must understand that unsubstantiated fear is fear
nonetheless and that the public have a right to live without fear. I
believe that there is a logical middle ground that society can choose, but
while entrenched fundamentalist decisions are made by organisations like
your counsel, then debate becomes little more than diatribe.

Yours sincerely, David Saul
Dr David Saul, School of biological Sciences, University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019, Auckland; Email: d.saul@auckland.ac.nz


From: Rick Roush [mailto:rick.roush@adelaide.edu.au]
To: paul.matheson@ncc.govt.nz
Subject: GE Free Nelson

Dear Mayor:

I personally don't have a strong feeling about any GM crop except insect
resistant ("Bt") cotton, on which I have worked for more than 10 years
with financial support only from public sources. Setting aside the
question of how any serious environmentalist can attack a crop that is
already reducing insecticide use by up to 90% in various areas of the
world, and is saving at least 60 farm worker lives per year in China
alone, my question is whether or how your government intends to restrict
the use of Bt cotton products in Nelson. One problem would be how you
could tell whether a cotton product was produced from GM cotton, because
there is no test to distinguish GM from non-GM cotton products.

However, I have a shirt of which I am quite proud because it is made from
Australian Bt cotton, and therefore was produced with among the lower
insecticide uses of any cotton in the world. Can I wear that shirt in
Nelson ?



Richard T. Roush , Associate Professor and CEO
Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management
Waite Inst, PMB 1, University of Adelaide


Future Harvest: Agriculture & Overpopulation

by Lisa Rao ; Calypso - Magazine of the Cousteau Society -- October 1999

As the world approaches the 21st century, it is clear that the key to
feeding a growing population while protecting the environment will be
science. Poor living standards and uncertain food supplies contribute to
out-of-control population growth and the downward spiral of poverty.
Better agriculture unleashes economic growth, raises incomes and leads to
smaller families. Future Harvest, for which Francine Cousteau is an
Ambassador, is an organization that builds public understanding of the
role of agriculture in international issues. Future Harvest identifies
population as one of its five critical areas of focus.

In the next hour, 9,000 babies will be born. By this time tomorrow, the
world will have an additional 200,000 mouths to feed. Each baby will be a
unique individual with the potential to live a full life and be a
contributing world citizen. Unfortunately, most of these babies will be
born into poverty and hunger. Many will die in infancy.

Future Harvest experts estimate that as many as 80 million people are
being added to our planet every year, while resources needed to feed
them--land and water--are diminishing. At the moment, the world produces
enough food for its people but often it is not available to those most in
need, leaving some 800 million people hungry. To produce enough food to
feed everyone in the year 2020, we must nearly double the world1s food

India is a useful example of the world's situation. As the population on
our planet reaches 6 billion, the population of India will reach 1
billion. Together with China, India will account for one third of our
planet1s people. In the 1960's, India was facing widespread famine. The
scientific agricultural innovations of the Green Revolution saved the day
and, with new varieties of grains, India was able to feed its people.
Today, as population continues to grow, 3 out of every 5 infants are born
underweight and malnourished, and a third of the nation's people live
below the poverty line. As the country struggles to feed its people, vital
resourcesÐsuch as water for irrigationÐare dwindling.

A new Future Harvest study conducted by the Sri Lanka-based International
Water Management Institute concludes that by the year 2025, 2.7 billion
people will experience severe water scarcity. Though many parts of India
will have only modest water concerns, several regions will have very
serious scarcities, affecting 280 million people. The study reports that
India is one of many countries that have been rapidly depleting their
groundwater resources in the past two or three decades. Scientists are
finding ways to replenish groundwater aquifers and use irrigation in less
wasteful ways that will not reduce food production.

This is where international agricultural research steps in to help again,
according to Future Harvest. The help is two-pronged--increased output
will help feed today's population while preserving the environment and
will, just as importantly, help reduce out-of-control population growth.
Imagine a couple engaged in subsistence farming in southern India. Their
land barely produces enough to feed themselves, let alone children. But
they need the labor of children to work on the family farm and to help
support them as they age. Their children will be malnourished and will
seldom receive health care. The couple will have many children because
they know that some, or even most, are likely to die.

Agricultural research changes this picture. Perhaps an extension agent
will bring a more productive variety of rice or demonstrate a more
efficient method of irrigation. By increasing the productivity of
farmland, scientists enable families to stay on their land and improve
their standard of living. The couple begins to grow enough food to feed
their family and even have crops left over to sell at the local market.
This brings in money for health care, better quality food and education
for the children. If the children are healthy and strong, the couple may
decide to limit the size of the family.

This is, in fact, what happens.

Mark Rosegrant, Senior Research Fellow at the Washington-based
International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of a study of
agricultural production in India says, "There is no doubt that investment
in agricultural research and extension is and will continue to be the
driving force in India's increased ability to feed their growing
population." Rosegrant continues, "The increase in family incomes brought
about by growth in agricultural production, together with improved
education, results in a reduction in population growth." This double
benefit of agricultural research will alleviate misery today and gradually
ease the world1s population woes.

Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Future Harvest Ambassador
explains the benefits of this vital research: "I often ask the critics of
modern agricultural technology what the world would have been like without
the technological advances that have occurred. For those whose main
concern is protecting the environment, let's look at the positive impact
of science-based technology on the land. Had 1961 yields still prevailed
today, three times more land in China and the USA and two times more land
in India would be needed to equal 1992 cereal production. Obviously, such
a surplus of land of the same quality is not available, and especially not
in populous China and India." India, of course, is only one example.

Agricultural scientists throughout the world are working to help the
farmers of all developing countries increase food production while
preserving their precious land and water resouces. Without this work, we
have little hope of feeding our planet's rapidly growing population or
alleviating the poverty in which so many live.

If the global community continues to work together to find ways to
increase agricultural productivity and incomes sustainability, it will be
able to meet the challenges of a growing world population while providing
better, healthier life for all the world's citizens. Better agriculture
unleashes economic growth, raises incomes and leads to smaller families.