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Date:

April 11, 2001

Subject:

Harvest of Fear; A Food Awakening; Seedy Journalism?; Fate

 


I would be most grateful to hear from anyone who knows of any scientific
references where the fate of DNA in soil, compost, manure and/or silage
has been investigated.

Thank you in advance, Belinda Clarke

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

From: Jessica Smith
Subject: Harvest of Fear on FRONTLINE

Dear Professor Prakash,
Please consider alerting subscribers of AgBioWorld.org discussion list to
the upcoming FRONTLINE/NOVA film "Harvest of Fear," airing Tuesday, April
24 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). A program description is
provided below for your convenience. Please feel free to contact me for a
full press release, images, or with questions about this film.

Sincerely,
Jessica Smith
-Outreach Coordinator; FRONTLINE 617/300-5374;
Tuesday nights on PBS; http://www.pbs.org/frontline
-----------
HARVEST of FEAR

FRONTLINE and NOVA investigate the growing controversy over genetically
modified foods

PBS Airdate: Tuesday, April 24, 9 P.M, 120 minutes

A gene from a jellyfish is placed in a potato plant, making it light up
whenever it needs watering. Rice plants are genetically transformed to
produce vitamin A, preventing millions of African children from going
blind. Crops are engineered so that they can grow in aluminum contaminated
soil. Plants are modified to produce plastic or pharmaceuticals.

These are just a few of the touted benefits of genetically modified
agriculture—the use of genetic engineering to alter crops for the benefit
of mankind. But while proponents say this new technology has the potential
to end world hunger and dramatically improve the quality of life for
billions of people, others argue it may constitute the biggest threat to
humanity since nuclear energy. Dubbing such genetically altered products
“Frankenfoods,” critics argue that the technology has been rushed to
market and that scientists are tampering with nature, risking potentially
catastrophic ecological disaster.

In “Harvest of Fear,” airing Tuesday, April 24, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check
local listings), FRONTLINE and NOVA join forces to explore the growing
controversy over genetically modified agriculture. Through interviews with
scientists, farmers, biotech industry representatives, government
regulators, and “anti-GM” activists, the special two-hour documentary
presents both sides of the debate, exploring the potential benefits and
hazards of this new technology. “Basically, this is a story about the
increasing power of science to alter our world and the fear this power
generates,” says producer Jon Palfreman. “The fact that the story is about
food—a subject about which people have entrenched opinions, tastes, and
beliefs—makes it that much more controversial.”

FRONTLINE and NOVA speak with representatives of large biotechnology
companies as well as farmers, who tout the advantages of genetically
modified crops. Far from being the environmental disaster that opponents
claim, they say, these improved crops can actually help preserve the
environment. For example, by inserting a gene from the organic pesticide
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) into crops such as cotton, corn, and apples,
proponents say, farmers can grow these crops using very little pesticide.
And for a crop like cotton—which accounts for twenty-five percent of the
world’s pesticide use—the positive impact on the environment could be
significant. In some cases, supporters note, genetically modified crops
have prevented the destruction of whole plant species—and the economies
based upon them. Take the papaya. Hawaii’s second largest crop behind the
mighty pineapple, Hawaii’s papaya crop was found several years ago to be
infected with Ring Spot virus. Despite numerous efforts to stem the spread
of the virus, nothing worked, and it was predicted that Hawaii’s papaya
industry would be wiped out within a decade.

Then, Cornell University scientist Dennis Gonsalves hit upon the idea of
using biotechnology to make the papaya immune to the Ring Spot virus. “You
put a gene from the virus into the chromosome of the plant,” Gonsalves
says. “You make the plant resistant, because it has the gene from that
virus that’s attacking it. So it’s like a vaccination.” Gonsalves’s idea
worked and Hawaii’s papaya crop was saved—along with the livelihood of the
state’s papaya growers. Perhaps even more promising is the possibility
that genetically modified crops could play a pivotal role in
alleviating—or even eliminating—world hunger. Proponents argue that by
developing fertilizers designed specifically to work in some of the
world’s poorest soils—and by allowing farmers in developing countries to
grow crops without the use of expensive pesticides or
herbicides—genetically modified agriculture may hold the answer to feeding
a world population that’s expected to reach twelve billion or more by 2100.

But others aren’t so sure. Concerned about the unknown hazards genetically
altered foods may present, many of the world’s so-called “green
movements”—including such groups as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and
the Union of Concerned Scientists—have mounted a vocal opposition campaign
that has effectively stopped the development and use of genetically
modified foods in Europe. Critics say modern scientists are playing with
fire, creating new organisms with little thought to how these new hybrid
plants will affect the environment or mankind. “We feel that this is a
mass genetic experiment that’s going on in our environment and in our
diets,” says Charles Margoulis, who heads Greenpeace’s anti-GM campaign.
“These genetically engineered foods have never been subject to long-term
testing and yet there are millions of acres of them growing in the United
States and pervading the food system here.” By putting new genes into
plants, opponents say, mankind runs the risk of these genes migrating to
other plants not intended to receive them. New, potentially lethal toxins,
allergens, and resistant organisms could be created, they argue, while the
safety of the world’s food supply could be dangerously compromised.

Critics also fear that genetically modified crops grown outside in
uncontrolled environments could prove harmful to “non-target
organisms”—animals, insects, or other wildlife that may come in contact
with these experimental plants. Moreover, by favoring mass production of a
few lucrative cash crops, they say, genetically altering foods could
result in reducing the world’s biodiversity. What’s more, opponents say,
genetically modified food is only the beginning. “In the next few years,
they want to introduce not just genetically engineered foods, but
genetically engineered grasses, ornamental plants, trees,” warns
environmental activist Jeremy Rifkin, “They want to re-seed the planet
with a second Genesis.”

In “Harvest of Fear,” farmers and scientists say such alarm is unfounded.
Noting that genetically modified crops and food are the most regulated on
the market—coming under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug
Administration—supporters say the world’s food supply has contained
genetically modified ingredients for years. Virtually all breads, cheeses,
sodas, and beer, for example, are made with genetically engineered
enzymes. “Food companies have learned that the [anti-GM] groups are not
intent on having a reasoned debate about biotech or helping consumers find
out about biotech,” says Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of
America. “It seems that their motive is to scare people.”

“Harvest of Fear” contains footage of anti-GM demonstrations, including
one at Kellogg’s “Cereal City,” where a demonstrator—dressed as a mutated
Tony the Tiger—bemoans what genetic engineering has done to him. (A
security guard arrives swiftly and blocks the camera.) But not all
protests are so amusing: Some farmers have had their genetically modified
crops hacked away during the night by “eco-terrorists.” Members of the
Earth Liberation Front, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for a fire at
Michigan State University that destroyed a building being used for work
related to agricultural biotechnology. “Companies are not going to listen
to morals,” says Earth Liberation Front spokesperson Craig Rosebraugh. “If
you cause them enough economic damage or economic sabotage to their
industry, hopefully they’ll see that it’s in their best interest to stop
their unjust acts.”

Such demonstrations and protests have yet to deter the technology’s most
fervent supporters. Pandora’s box has been opened, they say, and no amount
of protests or alleged scare tactics will be able to put the lid back on.
“We will not be able to stop this technology,” says USDA Secretary Dan
Glickman. “Science will march forward.”

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

A Food Awakening

Bob Beale ; Bulletin with Newsweek (Australia) Tuesday 20/02/2001
(- Thanks to my student Ron Cuie for patiently typing this piece from the
magazine....CSP)

The simple fact of global food production is that it will have to double
in the next 25 years to enable the world's peoples to be fed. Genetically
modified food could play a vital part in meeting that enormous need, a
renowned grain scientist tells Bob Beale, but only if well-fed
environmentalists get out of the way.

Children born today must share the planet with 6 billion other human
beings. When their children are born - around 2025 - they will have to
share it with 8.3 billion others. No one knows whether we will be able to
adequately feed and clothe so may people, or do so without further
damaging our natural resource base. Global food production now stands at
about five billion tonnes a year and, in theory, we have the capacity -
and some to spare - to properly nourish everyone on the planet. Yet one
billion people still go hungry due to gross inequities in food
distribution. Thousands die every day.

Food-exporting countries such as Australia will come under increasing
pressure as the population monster grows - food production will need to
near double over the next 25 years if all those 8.3 billion people are to
be suitably fed.

Norman Borlaug thinks the world can pull off this mighty task and he has
some clear ideas on how it can be done. But he also fears that some
"ridiculous" ideas held by many in the environment movement stand in the
way. Norman who? Don't worry if you've never heard of this American
scientist. His should be a household mane but Borlaug is not the kind of
man who seeks publicity. And when he speaks on this topic, his word most
definitely carries weight. That's because Borlaug is one of the genuine
heroes of the 20th century, a man whose skills as an agricultural
researcher and dedication as a humanitarian helped save tens of millions
of lives and avert untold hunger and misery.

His achievements as a father of the so-called "Green Revolution" in would
agriculture were recognized with a Nobel peace prize in 1970. From 1944,
when the Rockefeller Foundation asked him to help boost wheat production
in Mexico, a team led by Borlaug spent almost two decades breeding
high-yield dwarf wheat. The results were brilliant - wheat that resists
many pests and diseases and bears three times more grain than traditional
varieties. Then other researchers at the Consultative Group on
International Agriculture Research developed high-yield rice varieties,
and the Green Revolution took off like a rocket. More recently, new
high-yield, more nutritious and drought-resistant maize varieties have
been bred and are starting to make an impact on hunger in sub-Saharan
Africa, where food production is in crisis.

It was Borlaug and others such as him who took the new grain varieties and
crop management practices to where they were needed most and helped to
teach scientists and farmers how best to grow them. Wealthier
wheat-growing nations such as Australia benefited from the improvements as
well, producing ever larger surpluses for sale. Despite the warnings in
the 1960s of imminent mass starvation, the advent of such crops, along
with the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and more irrigation saw
world food production soar. In Pakistan and India, for example, wheat
yields almost doubled between 1965 and 1970; Indian yields soared from
12.5 million tonnes 1965 to a record 75 million tonnes in 1999. China has
also been an extraordinary success story and is now the world's biggest
food producer.

Globally, people are better fed than ever before. On the downside, the
rate of increase in food production has slowed and the environmental costs
of excessive chemical use, poorly designed irrigation schemes and
expansion of agriculture into marginal lands have become apparent in too
many cases. Nevertheless, according to United Nations figures, the world
food supply in 1970 represented 2360 calories a person each day, yet
despite huge population increase it has risen to more than 2750 calories a
person each day (the nutritional bottom-line for an adult is 2200 calories
a day). The rate of increase in food supply is expected to exceed that of
population growth until 2010.

Borlaug and his colleagues can take much praise for their roles n those
achievements. At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre
(CIMMYT) in Mexico, Borlaug led the wheat program from the mid-1960s until
his "official" retirement in 1979. Approaching his 87th birthday, Borlaug
is still hard at work - teaching, traveling, educating and trying to steer
the world towards his vision of the future, as became apparent in a wide
rage interview with The Bulletin.

From his childhood family farm in Iowa, his inquiring mind and strong
work ethic have taken him around the world, teaching several thousand
agricultural scientist from more than 50 countries. He is a professor of
international agriculture at Texas A&M University, where he teaches one
semester each year, and since 1986 has been president of the Sasakwa
African Association - along with former United States President Jimmy
Carter, he has overseen the association's work with millions of farmers in
14 African Countries. His many awards include 45 honorary doctorates. He
belongs to 12 national academics of science and just for good measure - he
is also a member of the US Wrestling Hall of Fame. About 80% of all the
spring wheat and 25% of all the maize grown today in the developing world
is based on varieties developed a CIMMYT in Mexico, notes its
director-general for the past six years. Timothy Reeves, an Australian
and former professor of sustainable agriculture at Adelaide University.

Borlaug concedes that population growth, changing demographics and
inadequate poverty intervention programs have eaten up many of the gains
of the Green Revolution, and that it largley bypassed sub-Saharan Africa.
But he remains confident that food production can be increased even more.
He describes himself as "a reasonable optimist" who knows "there's no
magic to let you snap your fingers and make things happen". Clear
potential exists for major gains to be made through better conservation
tillage, water use, fertillisation, weed and pest control, and harvesting
techniques. But that alone will not be enough, he argues. Borlaug is
convinced that biotechnology is also vital to the genetic improvement of
food crops at a pace fast enough to feed 8.3 billion people in 2025.
Farmers acorss the world will have no choice - they wlll need access to
current and new crop-production methods to boost the yields, dependability
and nutritional quality of basic food crops, he says.

"The commercial adoption by farmers of transgenic crops has been one of
the most rapid cases of technology diffusion in the history of
agriculture," Borlaug ntes. "Even though we've been using the modern
biotechnology in common production for only the last six years, it has
already contributed substantially to cutting costs of production and
increasing yields. "In 1996, 1.7 million hectares of transgenic crops
were under cultivation, nainly in North and South America. By 1998, the
area had risen to 27.8 milion ha - in Canada, the US, Mexico, Argentina
and Brazil - and, in 2000, the total reached 44.2 million ha. "So far, it
has been used only for the transfer of individual genes - for better
insect resistance in fruit vegetable, and herbicide resistance. Even so ,
to me, these are very significant developments.

"Not only has this contributed to controlling insect and weed pests and
stabilising and increasing production, it has meant a lot less herbicides
and pesticides are being sprayed around. It's amazing that it has already
made such a difference even in its early stages." One of the things that
worries him most, however, is the growing backlash in developed nations
against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and against the transfer
of that technology to modernise farming in developing nations. As he
sees it, the main opposition comes from affluent and secure urban dwellers
who are too divorced from the land, from the practicalities of food
production and from the grim realities of life in the developing world.

Less than 4% of people on developed nations are directly involved in
agriculture and their food is relatively cheap and reliable. These
city-based consumers - as he sees it - simply don't understand the
complexities of annually producing the world's food supply and expanding
it to feed almost 85 mllion new months each year. That ignorance - along
with broader social concern about the pace of change in science and
technology - is behind the growing deadlock between the farm and green
lobbies over the use of GMOs.

He approvingly cites Kenyan archeologist Richard Leakey's comment that
"you have to be well-fed to be a conservationist", and appeals for more
common sence in the debate on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture.
"Environmentalists have achieved much good. But one of the tragedies of
the environmental movement is that so much of it has become highly
elitist. reflecting an affluent standard of living that they would deny so
many people of the world even basic necessities of life and do nothing to
help them," he says.

The one billion chronically under nourished people of the developing world
cannot afford to pay more for so-called organic food, he points out. Nor
do they have much capacity to expand food production using organic
fertilisers unless they expand the area of land under cultivation - and so
doing more environmental damage. While organic fertilisers were
agricultural staples onto the early 1900s, it was the application of
low-cost nitrogen derived from synthetic ammonia that let food production
kee ppace woth population growth.

"Professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba has estimated that
40% of todays 6 billion people are alive thanks to synthetic ammonia
fertilisers," Borlaug says, adding that environmentalists' calls for
synthetic ones are ridiculous.

"Even if we use all the organic fertilisers available to us in the world
today, there's not even enough to feed the 6 billion people we have
already. We could feed only 4 billion people at most and even then we
would have to plough up most of the marginal land and cut down millions of
hectares of forests." To support his argument, he calculates that an extra
5 or 6 billion cattle would be required to supply the manure needed to
produce the 80 million tonnes of nitrogen nutrients used globally for
agriculture each year.

A light bulb can't tell whether the electrons that illuminate it come from
a coal-fired power station or a solar one: likewise, argues Borlaug,
plants can't tell whether a nitrate ion comes from artificial chemicals or
form decomposed organic matter. Synthetic fertilisers and the new and
emerging transgenic crops, however, could make a huge difference to many
small farmers currently without access to them, both Reeves and Borlaug
point out. The Developed world has a moral obligation to make them
available.

"It is a global disgrace that a billion people go hungry every day and
live in abject misery," Reeves says. "It's so hard living as part of the
gifted 20% of the world's population in Australia to realise that half the
world's people live on the equivalent of $2 a day to meet all their needs.
"To oppose that technology because you merely don't like the thought of it
really is a form of technological colonialism." Seven out of 10 people in
the developing world live on small farms. By increasing their
productivity, he argues, you increase their food security and raise their
income enough to let them do what most families do given the opportunity -
spend more on educating their children. Birth rates tend to fall as
education levels rise: "Agriculture is the key intervention point."

A typical sub-Suharan African family plot of one hectare, for example,
might be sown fully to maize every year to ensure the family is fed,
usually leading to declining soil fertility. If yields rise enough to let
the family get its maize from only a third of their land, the remainder
can be used in rotation for cash crops and fallow periods. Borlaug adds: "
There's no tractor power virtually anywhere in the south of Africa, with
the exception of South Africa. In west Africa, there's virtually no
animal power because of sleeping sickness, and there's only limited animal
power in east Africa. "In these areas, maize is the staple food and it's
mainly produced with hand tools - it's burdensome, not very effective and
it limits the area a family can cultivate. The tropical grasses are very
vigorous and highly invasive so crops with attributes such as herbicide
resistance would make a huge difference. Too many people have opinions
about this without having lived there or looking closely at the hunger and
human misery.

"Agricultural production there is so far behind it's difficult for many
people from our countries to comprehend just how hard it is for farmers in
these areas. Then as malaria mean they cannot work many days of the
year." Reeves believes as well that HIV/AIDS has thinned the rural
workforce in Africa so much that perhaps only herbicides used in
combination with herbicide-resistant crops may make it possible to
maintain food production in the near future.

Borlaug believes we have a responsibility to develop and make such
genetically modified crops available. He also finds it frustrating that
many environmentalists fail to see how higher food productivity in
developed nations has been of great benefit to nature conservation as
well. American farmers in 1940 , for example, produced 56 million tonnes
of maize on roughly 31 million ha, with an average yield of 1.8 tonnes a
hectare. Fifty years later, they produced 240 million tonnes of maize on
roughly 29 million ha, with an average yield of 8.4 tonnes a hectare.

It was the combination of modern hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilisers,
herbicides and high-tech farm machinery that made such gains possible
while reducing the area under cultivation. Borlaug says that if 1940s
technology was still used in the US, an extra 200 million ha would need to
be under cultivation for crops. "We would have cut down much of our
forests and ploughed up grazing land that should never have been used for
cropping." "A lot of noise was made in the US recently about president
Clinton setting aside 25 million ha of retired forest land and closing
forestry roads through them and so on. But that was only possible because
of what has been done over the past 50 years to increase food and fibre
yields."

In India, an extra 25 million ha of virgin land - which they did not have
- would have had to go under the plough without high-yield wheat. Borlaug
is therefore puzzled by the conservation movement's deeply
negative attitude to the new biotechnology.He points out, for example,
that there's already evidence that genetically engineering wheat and other
crops can increase yields by 20% to 30% using the same amount of
fertilisers. Much potential exists as well for transgenic varieties of
tomato, pepper, cucumber, squash and papaya developed over the past decade
with resistance to virus diseases. Virus-resistant sugar beets, rice,
barley, and wheat are in various stages of evaluation as well.

"In retrospect, they really were an awful choice," Reeves concedes.
"They were designed to help farmers in such a way that also seemed to
unduly help the companies that made them. That has coloured everyone's
attitudes. "Potatoes that don't go brown and flavourless tomatoes are
peripheral when you consider this technology can be used to develop crops
with better stress tolerance to drought, heat, cold, low soil fertility or
salinity. We also could be enhancing the nutritional qualities of staple
foods such as rice, wheat and maize. "Using conventional breeding
technologies, we've developed maize that performed 50%-100% better under
drought and low-nitrogen conditions. That took 15 years to produce.
Mean-while, 40,000 people a day were dying."

Borlaug understands that many people are worried by the pace of
technological change and concedes more needs to be done by way of
education and information about what is happening and why. "Whenever
there is change there's always a certain amount of resistance to it," he
says. The rapidity of change has caught out a lot of people and [today]
they are far better able to communicate their concerns quickly to each
other around the world. "I've been saying to colleagues for the past
seven years that we haven't been doing a good job in explaining these new
transgenic crops to people.

"The world has the technology - either available or well advanced - to
sustainably feed 100 billion people. I'd hate to see it all tied up by
parents or blocked by politics. The real question today is whether
farmers and ranchers will be allowed to use it" Borlaug dreams of seeing
one innovation in particular, one that has led him along a path broaden
much earlier by an Australian pioneer plant breeder, William Farren.

All the cereals - wheat, maize, sorghum, barley, oats and rye - can be
damaged by two to three species of rust. Much if Borlaug's career has
been spent breeding wheat varieties for resistant to stem, leaf and yellow
rust species. After many years of intense research and breeding stable
resistance to stem rust was found in 1952 and it is still effective. But
stable resistance to leaf or yellow rust has eluded science; those rusts
keep evolving to attack new wheat varieties, usually within three to seven
years.

Yet one grain - rice - is rustproof. Borlaug's fondest hope is that the
genetic basis for that resistance in rice can be found and transferred to
all the other grains. With 70% of the worlds food coming from grain, such
transgenic crops would be a major step towards freeing us from the
ever-present threat of famine. He remains convinced that grains are the
key to feeding the world. Western meat-centred diets are much more
environmentally demanding, for example. It's been calculated that the
meat yield from a single pig would provide one person's minimum energy
needs for about 50 days, yet the amount of grain eaten by that pig to
reach market size would sustain one person for 500 days.

Finally, he would like to see the 21st century usher in what he calls a
Blue Revolution - to complement the Green Revolution - in which more
productive land use is wedded to more productive water use. Lack of
available water will limit the expansion of food production since modern
agriculture is by far the largest consumer of water, accounting for 70% to
80% of all water use.

Once again, biotechnology will play a role, he believes. Designer plants
with greater stress tolerance, for example, will help to achieve "more
crop per drop" through reduced water needs.

Borlaug continues to serve at CIMMYT as a senior consultant and travels
widely each year: "As long as I am in a position to contribute positively,
I 'd just as soon die with my boots on."

------------
Response from Two Bulletin Readers for the above piece

Food for thought

Congratulations to Bob Beale and The Bulletin for finally injecting some
meaningful and thought-provoking insights into the world food production,
population, poverty and biotechnology debate ("Afood awakening", February
20)

Australia has a proud history of supporting international agricultural
research and development through the scientific network known as the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research of which the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre is one. At a recent
address in Western Australia, I pointed out that I found it remarkable
that the public that had so vilified the agricultural products of genetic
engineering had so happily accepted them in medical products. And yet the
frontier science of agriculture biotechnology could improve the lives,
health and buying power of many millions of people.

It would be a travesty of Western backlash against GMO foods is allowed
to cloud the bury real reasons for producing more food and fibre for a
growing population without further degrading our environment. Instead of
preoccupation with their own needs, prosperous countries should work with
developing countries to help them provide for their needs in the 21st
century. The task ahead is to put the checks and balances in place to
ensure the safety and efficacy of agricultural products for all consumers.

---------
In trying to convince us that genetically modified food is essential if we
are to feed the world's growing population. Bob Beale blames opposition
on "elitist" environmentalists and ignores a few facts. First, the basic
reason for widespread hunger is not that there isn't enough food, it is
that our market systems fail to ensure that everybody is able to get
access to that food. Producing even more food is not going to change
that. Second, an exponentially modified food may see rapid population
growth as just desirable market expansion, but those concerned about the
sustainability of the planet should be directing more energy towards
curtailing future population growth. Third, the environmental risks of
widespread use of genetically modified crops are many. Threats to
biodiversity and to ecosystems should not be risked by fast tracking GM
crops under the false pretext that it will solve world hunger.

The Green Revolution was heralded as a panacea for the world's food ills.
High-yielding strains of cereal did become commonplace but also came
environmental and economic handicaps. These new crops needed large
amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water. The switch to
mechanization and heavy equipment from animals led to the compaction of
soil on marginal lands and loss of animal manure.

So what will the new genetically modified corps bring to those who have no
money to pay for the new technology? Even if it was give to them, will
they be able to afford to grow and harvest it? To the people in
the developing world who need to feed third families and communities the
promises of the genetically modified crop hollow.

Dismissing environmental concerns as the ranting of well-fed elitists
ignores the real dangers of rapid expansion of genetically modified crops
and foods.

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

From: ICABR
Subject: ICABR Conference 2001

Dear Colleague, we have drafted the provisional program for the 5th
International Conference on: Biotechnology, Science and Modern
Agriculture: a New Industry at the Dawn of the Century organised by the:
International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR )
in cooperation with: CEIS - University of Rome "Tor Vergata" , the Center
of Sustainable Resource Development, University of California at Berkeley,
the Economic Growth Center, Yale University and Sichelgaita – Institute
for Economic and Social Studies

At http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr/Program.htm
you could see the list of papers will be presented at the Conference and
by clicking on each title you could read the abstract of each of them.
You can register on-line to the Conference:
http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr/Registration.htm

Best regards,
- Prof. Vittorio Santaniello; Dipar di Economia e Istituzioni
Univer di Roma "Tor Vergata"; via di Tor Vergata snc 00133 Roma (ITALY)

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

Seedy Journalism?
Biased Article About Canola Seed Court Case Leaves Major Newspaper With
Egg On Its Face

Posted BY ALEX AVERY

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On a Friday in late March, The Washington Post ran an
egregiously misleading story on a Canadian court battle between biotech
seed company Monsanto and a Canadian farmer.

Reporter Marc Kaufman's story began, "A judge yesterday ordered a Canadian
farmer to pay ... Monsanto Co. thousands of dollars because the company's
genetically engineered canola plants were found growing on his field,
apparently after pollen from modified plants had blown onto his property
from nearby farms."

Although the Post ran a "clarification" four days later, they should have
completely retracted the deceptive piece, begged the pardon of Monsanto
for demonizing the company, and apologized to consumers and farmers across
North America for grossly misrepresenting an important issue. The case
involves a farmer who knowingly planted Monsanto's Roundup Ready (RR)
canola seed -- genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup --
in 1998 without paying Monsanto. Last Thursday, the Canadian judge ruled
that the farmer, Percy Schmeiser, knew or should have known that he was
illegally using the patent-protected variety and ordered him to pay
damages.

The Washington Post story, however, misled readers into believing that
Schmeiser was prosecuted merely because his conventional canola was
contaminated by pollen from nearby biotech fields. Kaufman wrote that the
ruling was "a significant setback for farmers who fear they will be held
liable if pollen from neighboring farms blows onto their fields,
transmitting patented genes to their crops without their knowledge or
consent." Continuing with this theme, Kaufman wrote, "any farmer whose
neighbors grow engineered varieties could find himself in the same
situation as Schmeiser -- especially farmers of easily windblown canola
and corn."

Margaret Mellon from the Union of Concerned Scientists was quoted as
saying "This means that people who are in the neighborhood of genetically
modified crops will have to pay royalties to the companies for products
they never purchased and got no benefits from."

All of this is absurdly untrue. The judge explicitly rejected the
pollen-drift tale because the facts don't support it. Moreover, no biotech
seed company would even think of prosecuting a farmer simply because of
cross-pollination. The negative publicity would kill their market -- which
explains why anti-biotech activists have mischaracterized this case from
the beginning. In fact, it was law-abiding neighboring farmers who first
alerted Monsanto to Schmeiser. They were concerned that he was cheating
the system and would undercut their price at the grain elevator. Tests of
canola plants growing on the public rights of way along side Schmeiser's
fields in 1997 showed they were Monsanto's.

The next year, based on this evidence and continued reports of seed piracy
by Schmeiser, Monsanto acquired a court order to collect samples from
Schmeiser's fields. Tests revealed more than 900 acres of 95-98 percent
pure Roundup Ready canola. This level of purity and uniformity across such
a large area is impossible with cross-pollination or wind-blown seed.
Schmeiser claimed in court that in 1997, after spraying field edges with
Roundup, he noticed lots of surviving canola plants in one field. So he
"tested" his supposedly conventional crop by spraying 3-4 acres with
Roundup. According to Schmeiser, approximately 60 percent of the sprayed
plants survived. Despite knowing that he had RR canola growing in this
field (purified, no less, by killing all of the non-RR plants), Schmeiser
admitted to saving the seed harvested from this area for planting his 1998
crop. Schmeiser planted his 1998 crop, Judge MacKay noted, "with seed that
he knew or ought to have known was Roundup tolerant."

It is also clear from his ruling that the judge didn't buy Schmeiser's
implausible story. Third-party tests of canola seed from Schmeiser's 1997
harvest (obtained from the local seed mill) and of all plant samples taken
from throughout Schmeiser's 1998 field showed an incriminating 95-98
percent purity -- a level far higher than possible through pollination or
even the crude "purification" method offered by Schmeiser. Since his fight
with Monsanto began, Schmeiser has become a cult hero within anti-biotech
circles. He has toured the world railing against "corporate control" of
the food system and testified at government hearings on biotechnology. He
was even awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Award last October in India, given
"for the betterment of humankind in a non-violent way."

Just exactly how thievery fits into Gandhi's philosophy I don't know. The
legal fight between Napster and record companies has captured the
attention of millions of Americans. Yet this intellectual property battle,
over something much more important than mere entertainment, continues to
receive mostly biased coverage.

In its April 3rd "clarification," the Post explained that Kaufman's
article "failed to fully report the judge's conclusions in deciding the
case."

No, Kaufman's article completely ignored the judge's conclusion and the
facts, and instead pushed the predetermined agenda of anti-biotech
activists.

Alex Avery is Director of Research at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues. Readers may write him at The Hudson Institute, 1015
18th Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036

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From: rnaidu

I am rather amazed by the views that biotechnology will alleviate the
world hunger. I fully accept that biotechnology has a role in enhancing
the breeding line. We need conventional breeding techniques to improve the
genetic background and improve their yield potenial. It is only worthwhile
to insert Bt or Roundup ready foreign genes in high yieding varieties.
Somebody has to produce high yielding varieties continuously and this
cannot be carried out in biotechnology labs. The amount of resources
allocated to biotechnology without much consideration for conventional
crop improvement will be doing a great damage to the humanity in the long
run!

Rajanaidu, N; Senior Research Fellow; Malaysian Palm Oil Board

AgBioView wrote:

> Transgenetic Products 'Almost Obligatory Step' For Mexico
> - Demand for food supplies over the next two decades is sufficient
> motivation for Mexico to become involved in "a new era of

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From: Craig Sams

Gordon Couger says "Mr. Sams needs to check his facts on US farm
subsidies" and then repudiates the USDA figures I quoted by making a few
phone calls to farmers and commenting on his Dad's 160 acre situation.
Subsidies just crossed the 50% barrier last year. The same thing is
happening in Europe and is equally indefensible. Third World countries
can't compete with this.

Mr. Couger also seems to think that the laws of supply and demand operate
independently of production costs. What happens in the real world is quite
different. If the market won't pay a price, then producers switch to some
other product where they can make a profit. Only in agriculture do they
run to the taxpayer to make up the difference. If they reduced production
then the good ol' laws of supply and demand would kick in: supply down,
demand the same, then prices go up. Supply up, demand the same then prices
go down. But when the government guarantees prices, then supply goes up
and demand doesn't keep pace (people can only eat so much food, after
all). Surpluses get dumped outside the US and the EU, where real economics
still apply.

And please, can we forget about this little organic farmer in a cottage
with a garden feeding the world? It's a fantasy and a delusion. That's not
what modern organic farming is about. If you actually saw an organic farm
you'd see a highly efficient productive unit that is not only producing
good quality food but is adding to rather than diminishing the capital
value of its land. Organic farmers operate large acreages using modern
technology unashamedly. Who do you think is producing all this food that
is keeping up with rocketing demand? A bunch of hippies in a commune? The
organic market wouldn't be anything like the size it was if it was all
little smallholders up in the hills with handknitted sweaters eating
homemade yoghurt out of hand thrown pottery bowls. That was fun in the 70s
but the world has moved on. Most organic farmers in Europe were
conventional chemical fertilizer and pesticide users just a couple of
years ago. They converted for sound agricultural and economic reasons and
would deeply resent the patronising remarks that emanate from people who
cherish outdated illusions about their productivity and efficiency.

Craig Sams