AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
Date: May 29 2001 12:57:38 EDT
From: Alex Avery
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Organics, CAST report, No-till, Safety,
NewZealand, Greenpeace, Wheat, Spain, Cotton
Craig Sams has responded to my post with his usual misunderstanding of the
issue. Let us take a look at his comments and some reality.
Mr. Sams writes:
"Well, both Alex Avery and Gordon Couger have called me to account on
>soil erosion and assured me that modern no till farmers are building soil.
>Stanley Trimble's research in one watershed in Wisconsin seems to be the
>basis for Avery's comments. I suppose it comes down to whether you
>believe the USDA figures that show a national average soil loss that has
>declined since 1982 from 4.4 tons per acre down to 3.1 tons per acre as
Mr. Sams' first mistake is huge but common. Sams confuses soil movement
statistics with soil loss. Soil moved is NOT soil lost and this is an
all-too-common mistake in interpreting erosion statistics. Most of the
soil moved is not lost at all, but is merely deposited on the same farm or
a neighboring farm. So don't ever be tricked into taking USDA soil stats
as soil LOSS stats--they aren't loss stats, but MOVEMENT stats. (Mr. Sams,
do your homework next time)
Mr. Sam's second mistake is more understandable--that is challenging
Stanley Trimble's research. Trimble's research is indeed the basis for my
remarks and is the most comprehensive research in the field in decades.
As Olav Slaymaker, president of the International Association of
Geomorphologists, put it, ?it?s the most comprehensive study of its kind
anywhere in the world.?
Simply put, if the USDA stats on soil movement are correct, then the
streams and rivers should be choked with eroded soil. But as Trimble's
research indicates (in which Trimble re-surveyed almost 100 valley
cross-section profiles that were originally taken in the 1930s during the
dust bowl. Trimble re-surveyed the profiles in the early 1970s and again
in the 1990s), the soil can't be found in the rivers and streams or their
valleys. As he puts it, ?the burden of proof is on those who have been
making these pronouncements about big erosion numbers. . . . They owe us
physical evidence. For one big basin, I?ve measured the sediment and I?m
saying, I don?t see it.?
>In Wisconsin, according to the USDA the soil loss is higher, at 3.7 tons
>per acre. In Texas it's been steady at 2.6 tons per acre for the past two
>decades. That's 52 tons of topsoil loss per acre in the past twenty years
>in Texas, 86 tons per acre in Wisconsin, all since the introduction of
>'no till' farming. Oh, and 180 tons per acre in Stanley Trimble's native
>Tennessee. (It's a bit hillier in Tennessee than in Wisconsin or Texas)
Aside from the huge mistake of misunderstanding soil movement stats as
loss stats (leading to the ridiculous and incorrect calculations Mr. Sams
presents above), the USDA stats were generated with computer models, not
real-world measurements. These models were created with assumptions that
no longer look plausible, as Trimble's research shows. Trimble's
measurements of actual soil loss are a fraction of the USDA's computer
model estimates and reconciling their model estimates with Trimble's
measurements will be a huge task for the NRCS in the coming months.
>Either the USDA is totally incompetent or Alex Avery and
>Gordon Couger are guilty of wishful thinking.
We'll let soil scientists sort this question out, but it looks
increasingly like the USDA is at least a little incompetent (by being
overly confident in computer models), a point that Trimble and Dr. Pierre
Crosson with Resources for the Future argued brilliantly in a commentary
article in Science last year.
>If an annual loss of 3 or so tons per 'acre' is 'building
>soil' remind me not to ask him or Avery to 'build' me a house.
If this is indicative of the "scholarship" of Mr. Sams, then remind me not
to ask him to research my next scientific paper.
I stand by my earlier statements that no-till farming builds soils, and
will do so until good science indicates otherwise.
Date: 30 May 2001 02:14:20 -0000
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: organic ag and soil conservation
Craig Sams wrote:
>Land that has been farmed organically for a period of a few years
>starts to increase in value. This is because its increased humus
>leads to better moisture retention, less need for irrigation and
>soil structure. If there is still net soil loss arising from organic
>farms then that means organic farming is unsustainable too....
I accept your point that all cropping ag is probably unsustainable, but
your note implies that organic ag will have less soil loss than no till.
I'm confused about how you can control weeds with organic ag and still
have less soil loss than with no till. Further, how can organic ag give
significantly more humus or soil structure than no till, especially when
applied to broad areas (eg., 10 million hectares of Australian grain or
40+ million hectares of US grain)? I have built up the soil in my garden
by adding manure and plant matter, but could this be done across the
states of Wisconsin, Texas and Tennessee, to use your examples? Can you
give us more data or better yet, scientific references?
Date: 29 May 2001 18:25:08 -0000
Subject: Soil erosion and No Till
Mr. Sams you need to get out of your office and go stand at the water
out fall of a no till field and a tilled field in a substantial rainfall
event and see the clear water run off the no till field and the muddy
water run of the tilled field and then make his decision.
If a organic farmer can improve his farm to any degree with on farm
resources and maintain any substantial production there are a lot of us
regular farmers that would like to know how they do it. I have spread the
manure from a 500 head feed lot on 270 acre over a period of 10 years and
yes it helped the land but it just replaced the nitrogen and caused a over
supply of phosphorus. It did help the structure of the soil for about 4
years after we closed the lot. My dad's renter keeps half the place in
alfalfa. That too improves the soil. But neater has much effect on the
value of the farm. If organic farming has method better than either of
these I would like to know what they are.
As long as you put steel in the ground you are going to loose soil at
some rate. If the slope is flat enough it will be very slow but it is
still there. The claim that organic farming is sustainable at levels that
can feed a substantial part of the world population is bogus. The claims
that commercial nitrogen and herbicides aren't sustainable are equally
bogus. While we currently use petroleum as a feed stock there is no reason
that other organic compounds can't be used as feed stocks. It is all a
matter of costs. We don't have enough information to know if a few pints
of herbicide made from bio organic compounds or a few gallons of bio fuel
are more sustainable. Or we may find that some of the herbicides that are
used at rates of less than an ounce to the acre can do the job.
Maybe you need to go out in the country and look at what is going on
before you say what a new practice can or can't do. Farmers are doing
things that aren't written up in the literature.
Gordon Couger email@example.com
Greenpeace under fire for GM suspect list
But state agency finds traces
KATHIMERINI English Edition
May 26, 2001
The publication by the Greenpeace environmental group of a list of food
companies it believes might be using genetically modified (GM) ingredients
drew a sharp condemnation yesterday from the government and food
industries, which accused the group of publicity-seeking and amateurism.
At the same time, the State Food Authority (EFET), said preliminary tests
had found that 12 percent of 241 food samples containing soya or corn
included GM products.
But EFET did not specify whether the content of offending ingredients -
which were not mentioned on the products' packaging - had exceeded 1
percent, the legal limit above which companies must advertise the presence
of GM products.
"Keeping public opinion informed is a very serious business that lies in
the hands of the state, and is not suitable for exercises in
publicity-drawing, nor yet for actions which, objectively and irrespective
of any good intentions, are detrimental to Greek companies," Development
Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said yesterday.
On Thursday, the Greek branch of Greenpeace presented a list of food
products, including yogurt, ice cream, tinned food, pasta and potato
chips, that it said might contain GM products of soya or corn.
The brands named are produced by Greek companies that either refused to
fill out a Greenpeace questionnaire asking whether they could guarantee
that their products contained GM ingredients, or responded in the negative.
Christodoulakis took issue with this approach.
"Companies are obliged to respond to and accept inspections carried out by
the accredited state bodies," he said. "Nobody has the right, just because
someone did not answer a question, to automatically suspect them of making
products that break Greek and European health guidelines."
The Federation of Hellenic Food Industries (SEVT) said the list was
misleading and scare-mongering.
"Greenpeace used questionable methods that led to conclusions which just
mislead consumers," a SEVT statement said yesterday. "Despite the fact
that all the genetically modified food in circulation has been approved by
the European Union... and is therefore considered safe for consumption,
the food industry respects consumers' feelings concerning its use in the
food chain. That is why it is in favor of labeling, and implements current
Greek and EU legislation.."
Greenpeace blocks gates at Nestle's Hong Kong plant
Times of India
May 29, 2001
HONG KONG: Greenpeace activists chained themselves together Monday to halt
shipments from a Nestle plant to protest the alleged use of genetically
modified ingredients in food, but the police removed one of the human
blockades after about eight hours.
Nine protesters blocked the front gate of Nestle Dairy Farms Hong Kong
Ltd., while two activists and a van were used to barricade the back gate,
Greenpeace campaigner Lo Sze-ping said by telephone.
After the protesters refused orders to leave, the police physically
removed the two people and van from the rear of the plant and Nestle
trucks resumed its delivery of products from within, Lo said. The
remaining campaigners then abandoned their blockade of the front gate, Lo
Greenpeace accused Nestle of failing to follow through on its promises to
eliminate the use of genetically modified ingredients in two products: a
fresh soya milk and a bean curd dessert.
The general manager at the Nestle plant, Ken Donaldson, issued a statement
saying Greenpeace had disrupted "our normal business operations" before
police restored order.
Donaldson said the company follows all regulations governing the
development and use of gene technology and "we are in regular contact with
the local authorities and interested parties on this matter."
Nestle said its stance has remained consistent since it issued a statement
in November and that it responds to all inquiries about genetically
But Nestle said it told Greenpeace "that we will not enter into
discussions with them while they are breaking law and order and refusing
to respect both our employees' right to work at our site and our company's
right to operate our business in a peaceful, law-abiding manner."
Lo said a Greenpeace lawyer had gone to the police station where two
volunteer activists were taken, but it was not immediately clear whether
they would be charged with anything. (AP)
Setting fires in the 'Frankenforest'
May 29, 2001
A jihad against some of Americaīs best and brightest researchers continues
unabated. Arsonists struck again in the Pacific Northwest last week,
gutting a University of Washington horticultural lab in Seattle and
burning down property at a poplar tree nursery in Clatskanie, Ore. The
fires caused an estimated $3 million in damage.
Will Bush-Cheney fare any better than Clinton-Gore did in catching the
masked cowards who commit these violent acts in the name of the
environment? What will Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI do to
protect the victims of this domestic terrorism? And where are the
"mainstream" environmental groups, which should be openly and aggressively
condemning the senseless destruction of private property and intellectual
The fires are a testament to the scientific illiteracy and moral
bankruptcy of these so-called "eco-terrorists." They target biotechnology
and all things "unnatural," even if it means trashing invaluable research
to restore and protect the environment. They are "terrorists against
science," says Steve Strauss, a plant geneticist at Oregon State
University and a victim of past research vandalism. Attacking genetic
experiments is "just another way of attacking capitalism and technology,"
notes Hudson Institute fellow Michael Fumento, who has tracked
eco-terrorism and is writing a book on the biotech revolution.
The green avengers pose as the most principled protectors of the Earth,
but creep around in the dark torching plants, crushing crops, chopping up
trees, and refusing to be held accountable for their actions. Among the
items destroyed at the University of Washington this week by the zealous
crusaders against "Frankenforests":
? A hundred showy stickseed plants, a rare and endangered species
that one researcher was trying to restore through tissue culture and
planning to reintroduce to the wild.
? More than 30 years of research files, and slides documenting the
regrowth of vegetation around Mount St. Helens since it erupted two
? Work on adding a human gene to plants that could help break down
cancer-causing toxins in soi.
? And research on wetlands rehabilitation and urban forestry.
Nice going, nitwits.
The suspected perpetrators belong to a shadowy group of environmental
anarchists called the Earth Liberation Front. One federal agent says
time-delayed incendiary devices the kind ELF teaches members how to build
on its web site were used in both the Seattle and Oregon incidents. Since
the mid-1990s, members of the ELF and its militant ally, the Animal
Liberation Front, have claimed responsibility for a long string of arsons
and vandalism, from crop experiments and test fields at university
research centers in the Midwest, to fur farms in the Pacific Northwest,
meat vendors in the San Francisco Bay area, and department stores on the
East Coast. ELF takes credit for arsons at a ski resort in Vail, Colo.,
and inspired four teens to torch housing developments in Long Island.
The Oregon nursery was apparently targeted for its connection to
University of Washington plant geneticist Toby Bradshaw, in whose office
the Seattle fire began. Mr. Bradshaw studies poplars and their ability to
produce wood and fiber at dramatically higher rates than other trees. He
uses traditional cross-breeding methods to analyze the genes of hybrid
trees for helpful traits like disease resistance. Mr. Bradshaw himself has
never actually inserted genes into trees, but anti-biotech terrorists have
destroyed his experiments, anyway, and targeted others with connections to
him such as the Oregon nursery, which collaborated with Mr. Bradshaw in
Biotech researchers are making breakthroughs every day to feed more people
faster with sturdier crops and healthier food, produce more wood more
cleanly and efficiently, and improve and save lives in unimaginable ways.
"I will not be intimidated by people who canīt make a reasoned argument in
the light of day," Mr. Bradshaw told the press as he sifted through the
ashes of his lifeīs work.
Itīs no wonder the eco-thugs do their evil deeds at night. Sunlight
reveals who the real monsters and heroes are.
Hype, Not Hype, in the Golden Grains
by Gregory Conko
Two years ago, practically no one had ever heard of Ingo Potrykus. Today,
he?s the darling of the biotechnology industry and the hero of research
scientists everywhere. But he?s also public enemy number one for
environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Potrykus is the mild mannered Swiss scientist who co-developed Golden
Rice, a variety that is genetically modified to produce beta-carotene in
its edible grains. Once fully tested and ready for wide-scale planting,
Golden Rice could help address the severe problem of micronutrient
deficiencies in developing country diets ? a problem that results in half
a million cases of childhood blindness, and millions of deaths each year.
Even before the first biotech crops were planted commercially in 1994,
environmentalists had begun attacking them over concerns that biotech
plants could damage ecosystems or be unhealthy for consumers. Worst still,
they claimed, biotechnology could never help the poor of the world.
Claiming that it might was tantamount to moral depravity. Some of these
concerns have to be taken seriously. But the campaign of fear built around
?Frankenfoods? is characterized primarily by gross distortions and a few
Today, Potrykus? work is single-handedly demolishing a few of those myths.
And for that, anti-biotech activists have set out to destroy him and
The Story of Golden Rice
More than a decade ago, Potrykus began to think about using the newly
emerging techniques of gene-splicing and other biotechnologies to improve
the nutritional quality of the basic staple foods consumed by poor
residents of developing countries. The diets of more than three billion
people worldwide include inadequate levels of many important
micronutrients such as iron and vitamin A. Deficiency in just these two
can result in severe anemia, impaired intellectual development, blindness,
and even death.
Twentieth century advances in conventional breeding techniques generated
an explosion in the productivity of cereal crops, including wheat, corn,
soy, and rice. And when these Green Revolution techniques spread to the
developing world, they helped to prevent hundreds of millions of deaths
from hunger and starvation. But while staple grains are good sources of
energy, they are poor sources of vitamins and minerals. Despite nearly
four decades of outreach work by groups like the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, and others, the problem of poor
nutrition has yet to be conquered.
This seemingly intractable problem spurred Potrykus, and countless other
plant scientists around the world, to think that biotechnology could be
used to start a Gene Revolution to address the problems left unconquered
by the original Green Revolution. In 1990, Potrykus began working with
German scientist Peter Beyer to use gene-splicing techniques to modify
rice so that it would produce beta-carotene, which is turned into Vitamin
A by the human body. In the Spring of 1999, Potrykus and Beyer finally
succeeded in creating this ?Golden Rice??named both for its golden yellow
color and its tremendous possibilities.
Who Is Deceiving Whom?
Even before Potrykus? research team published their results in the
prestigious science journal, Nature, environmental activists started
getting nervous. It had been easy to scare consumers about such products
as herbicide tolerant soybeans and corn. But because Golden Rice promised
so much tangible benefit to the poorest of the world, it represented a
real threat to the anti-biotech campaign?one that could silence critics
and win over a skeptical public.
Consumers in Europe and North America tend to be well fed, so they have
little obvious need for innovative food products or plants. And the
biotech varieties now on the market mainly have improved agronomic
properties designed for high-output farmers in industrialized countries.
Few readily apparent benefits flow to consumers from the products now on
the market. Those facts make many consumers question the usefulness of
biotechnology, skeptical of the industry, and ripe for an anti-biotech
So when Potrykus and Beyer announced that their Golden Rice experiment had
succeeded, the scientific community finally had its holy grail: a product
that would force European and American consumers to take notice of
biotechnology?s potential. The biotech industry was perhaps more excited
than anyone, as the attributes of Golden Rice could be used to counter the
public?s negative opinion of its products.
But it didn?t take long for critics to argue that biotechnology companies
are interested in generating profits, not feeding the poor. How would the
product actually get to the poor farmers who need it? Wasn?t this just a
stunt dreamed up by the biotech industry to counter negative public
opinion? Greenpeace campaigner Von Hernandez called the whole Golden Rice
project an ?intentional deception.?
The biotechnology industry might be rightly cautioned against seeming to
represent Golden Rice as an industry development. But it is biotech?s
opponents, not supporters, who are more accurately charged with
The Truth About Golden Rice
Biotech critics argue that innovations in agricultural biotechnology are
profit-driven, not need-driven. In part, at least, Golden Rice shows that
to be untrue. The basic research was financed primarily by the New
York-based Rockefeller Foundation. It is now being tested in the
Philippines by the publicly funded International Rice Research Institute.
And both the inventors and the Rockefeller Foundation have promised to
make the rice available to developing-world farmers at little or no cost.
Of course, the first generation of biotech products had been targeted for
farmers in industrialized countries like the United States, Canada, and
Australia. This was only natural, as genetic research is costly. But
thisdynamic is not unique to biotechnology.
Wealthy consumers are usually first to benefit from innovations?from
automobiles to antibiotics. Today, those once exorbitantly priced luxury
items can be found across the globe and in use by many of modest means.
The reason is that costs tend to fall over time due to economies of
large-scale production, and once R&D expenditures are recouped.
The Product Pipeline
Focusing solely on the products now on the market misses a much bigger and
more nuanced picture. Once developed and commercialized, the technological
knowledge used by for-profit endeavors is easily applied to far less
profitable products. Many patented genetic discoveries are already being
used to create extraordinarily promising plants solely for use in
For example, corporations like DuPont and Monsanto cooperated with Mexican
scientists to develop biotech potato and tomato varieties that are grown
on large farms in Mexico for export to the United States. During the
research effort, however, those corporations gave the Mexican public
sector scientists access to much of the patented genetic material used in
the project, which they are now free to use more liberally.
?So far, in Mexico, we have only been able to grow varieties for export,?
says Dr. Ariel Alvarez-Morales, a microbiologist at the Center for
Research and Advanced Studies in Irapuato, Mexico. ?But now that we have
the technology, we can transfer the useful genes into the landrace
varieties that are grown by small farmers.?
Other scientists have now identified genes for resistance to tropical
plant diseases and viruses common in developing nations, for salinity and
drought tolerance, and for resistance to tropical insect pests and weeds.
In many cases, these genes have been successfully transferred into crop
plants. Some varieties are already in the commercial pipeline. And once
they do become commercially available, farmers in developing countries,
where the soils are poor and the climates harsh, can be expected to
achieve dramatic productivity gains.
In addition, biotechnology offers realistic hope of improving the
nutritional benefits of many foods. Golden Rice is just one example.
Researchers at Royal Holloway College of the University of London have
boosted the beta-carotene level in tomatoes. Similar work is also underway
in France with peppers. And a second rice variety developed in Potrykus?
lab has boosted iron levels.
Scientists at other publicly funded or charitable research centers are
developing such products as sweet potatoes with enhanced dietary protein,
cassava and papaya with built-in resistance to common plant viruses, and
rice that can more efficiently convert sunlight and carbon-dioxide for
faster growth. Researchers at Cornell University in the U.S. have even
modified potatoes to produce vaccines for hepatitis B and bananas that
produce vaccines against cholera. The examples go on and on. All of these
products are being created specifically or primarily for use in developing
Forty thousand people die each day of malnutrition, one-half of them
children. Regardless of the cause, ensuring food security in a world of
eight or nine billion?a conservative population estimate for the year
2050?will require substantial increases in productivity.
As population rises, farmers must be able to grow more and more nutritious
food on less land. Without such gains in productivity and nutrition, the
escalating need for food will require plowing under millions of hectares
of pristine wilderness?an environmental tragedy surely worse than those
envisioned by biotechnology?s critics. Furthermore, improved living
standards begin with a stable and reliable source of nutrition.
Even biotechnology advocates cannot claim that biotechnology alone will
solve developing world problems. Nor do advocates suggest that other
programs be rejected. But biotechnology does represent an important,
low-input way to help farmers substantially increase productivity.
Refusing to investigate its potential would be a gross injustice.
In a report published in July 2000, the Royal Society of London, the
National Academies of Science from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the
US, and the Third World Academy of Science, embraced genetic modification
(GM), arguing that it can advance both the productivity and income
elements of food security while promoting sustainable agriculture. ?It is
critical,? argue the science academies, ?that the potential benefits of GM
technology become available to developing countries.?
Biotechnology?s opponents have condemned Golden Rice for everything from
having too much beta-carotene (vitamin A is toxic and carcinogenic at very
high doses) to having so little of the micronutrient as to be functionally
useless. It is also criticized for not yet being made available to poor
farmers. About three to four years of breeding experiments, environmental
safety studies, and nutritional assessments are required before
commercialization is feasible. Of course, if the product were put on the
market with no testing, their criticisms would be greater still.
There just doesn?t seem to be a way to win with these opponents, and
perhaps that?s the point. Biotechnology?s critics are bent on discrediting
the science, its practitioners, and the entire biotechnology revolution.
A healthy skepticism of all new developments can be beneficial. But if our
real goal is to advance the public well being, we need to weigh the
evidence and make a reasoned evaluation, not point to hypothetical
problems and say no.
Gregory Conko (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of food safety policy at CEI.
The Dish on Biotech Food
By Marc Kaufman
Wednesday, May 30, 2001
Ever since humans started raising animals and growing plants for food
thousands of years ago, they have tried for improvements. By mating
different breeds of animals or splicing together different plants, we have
created improved, and sometimes entirely new, foods to eat.
Today, something called "genetic engineering" takes this a step further.
Researchers in the laboratory add individual genes from one plant or
animal species directly into the DNA of another. (DNA carries the genetic
instructions that are passed on from generation to generation.) The result
is called "biotech food."
Not everyone is happy about this. Some people think humans shouldn't be
messing with nature. Washington Post science reporter Marc Kaufman
Why do food companies want to create genetically engineered foods?
There are several reasons: One is that genetic engineering can make plants
stronger. Scientists have taken the genes from a bacterium that naturally
kills insects and added them into corn plants. When a pest tries to eat
the corn, it dies and the plant is out of danger.
Another reason is that many biotech crops are cheaper to grow, keeping
prices down. A genetically engineered hormone given to cows makes them
produce more milk. Another gene given to fish makes them grow faster.
Genetic engineering also can give food more of the qualities that
consumers want, such as tomatoes that have more nutrition and don't get
mushy as quickly.
Eventually, it may be possible to produce foods that carry vaccines and
other medicines. Instead of getting a shot or taking a pill, you could
just eat a banana or some rice.
Why do some people think there shouldn't be genetically engineered foods?
The technology is still quite new, and some people worry that it hasn't
been properly tested. They're especially worried that genetically
engineered plants and animals might change the environment in ways we
don't yet understand. For example, some of the pollen from corn
genetically altered to contain a natural pesticide can drift to
neighboring milkweed plants, the favorite food of monarch butterflies.
Research has shown that the pest-killing pollen can accidentally kill
monarchs, though no one knows exactly how bad the problem is.
There also are concerns that genetically engineered foods could produce
food allergies in some people, but there are no confirmed cases of that
These critics of biotech food point out that it's hard to keep genetically
modified food from mixing with regular food. A type of genetically
modified corn called StarLink was approved to be fed to animals, but not
people. But that corn has been found in taco shells and other corn
products that humans eat.
Some environmentalists also worry that genetically engineered fish and
insects now being developed might escape and mate with regular animals,
causing problems. But industry and government officials say the risks can
How can I know if I'm eating genetically modified foods?
You can't. Officials at the Food and Drug Administration, the part of the
U.S. government that makes sure what we eat is safe, say that genetically
engineered foods are pretty much the same as regular foods.
Some people want new laws that would require food companies to label their
products, saying whether they used genetically modified crops. (That kind
of information is required in Europe.) The food industry says that the
labeling wouldn't be fair, since some consumers might think there was
something wrong with biotech food.
Divisions On World Hunger Wide As Ever
May 30, 2001
Anarchists and environ-mentalists were missing from the World Agricultural
Forum in St Louis in the US state of Missouri this week. But even without
organised protests at the meeting - attended by representatives of
agribusinesses, multilateral agencies and developing countries - there was
While US and European companies hawked technology as the solution to
undernourishment in developing countries, international agencies and
national representatives saw a host of more immediate and mundane
problems. These included inadequate farm size, lack of investment, trade
distortions and subsidies in the industrialised countries.
As the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) points
out, recent international efforts to reduce the numbers of underfed
people, primarily in developing nations, are falling short of objectives.
This is not for want of agricultural production. "If all food produced in
the world were to be divided equally among its inhabitants, every man,
woman and child would consume 2,760 calories each day," says Jacques
Diouf, the FAO's director-general.
Yet even the relatively modest objective, adopted five years ago, of
halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 - to about 400m - will
be missed if current trends persist. At present, about 8m people a year
are moving from the "hungry" category to that of adequately fed, according
to Mr Diouf. This is well short of the 20m needed to keep up with
Then there is the prospect of a sharply rising global population in the
decades ahead. Projections vary, but the United Nations thinks the world
population could be 9bn-plus by 2050, compared with 6bn at 2000.
That leaves some agricultural economists calculating that demand for
cereals could rise by as much as 40 per cent by 2020, and for meat, by 60
Although land under cultivation will probably also rise, it is unlikely to
match the population growth rate.
Given recent experience, everyone is wary of drawing catastrophic
Malthusian conclusions. Over the past two decades, rising agricultural
yields have meant that food production growth has more than matched
population trends, with food prices falling significantly.
With the prospect of another round of world trade talks now back on the
horizon after the Seattle debacle, developing countries are pointing
vigorously to the distorting implications of food support payments in
They point out that agricultural subsidies in the developed nations are
about the same as the total GDP of sub-Saharan Africa.
"In 1999 alone, the total support to agriculture by OECD (industrialised)
countries was estimated at Dollars 361.5bn, or 1.4 per cent of their total
Certainly, this support is in accord with WTO (World Trade Organisation)
agreements, but there is little doubt that it gives a competitive edge
which poorer countries cannot match," said Mr Diouf.
At the same time, there is the question of the extent to which developing
countries themselves - and multilateral agencies - have been missing
opportunities for structural change or infrastructure investment in
agriculture. Pointing to the tens of millions of small-scale farmers in
Indonesia, for example, Bungaran Saragih, the country's agriculture
minister, acknowledged that the result was inadequate capital to buy farm
"inputs" (such as fertiliser) and reduced bargaining power.
Even representatives of the World Bank admit the organisation's lending to
farm projects has dwindled to an all-time low (as a percentage of the
total budget), and that there is a need to foster structural change as
part of the loan programme.
"We would like to shift our strategy towards (encouraging) efficiency,"
said a senior adviser. "Small is not always beautiful in a globalised
Last, there is the thorny issue of technology. St Louis is home to
Monsanto, perhaps the company most closely associated with agricultural
biotechnology, and representatives of other large agribusiness companies -
such as Cargill, Bunge, Dow Agrosciences - were out in force. For the most
part, issues such as genetic engineering were wrapped together with less
controversial topics such
as yield management systems.
"Technology will be absolutely essential, but the answer does not lie with
one technology, rather a technology toolbox," said Charles Fischer,
president of DowAgrosciences, the chemical company's agribusiness arm.
Even so, the responses from some developing countries remained cautious.
The earlier "green revolution" - which dramatically increased rice
productivity - "has given rise in Asia to the idea that technology is a
panacea", noted another Indonesian representative. But, he added: "Since
the 1990s, we have
begun to suffer setbacks - soil degredation, diseases."
"We need a very wide range of technologies - and ones that are appropriate
in one region may not be appropriate in another," suggested Gerard Viatte,
director for food, agriculture and fisheries at the Paris-based OECD. A
diplomatic thought - but one which seems unlikely to resolve the debate.
University Of California To Hold Conferences On Resource-Saving Farm
Practice Of Conservation Tillage
May 29, 2001
FRESNO, Calif. -- The potential to conserve energy, equipment and labor
costs while boosting soil organic matter and saving water is prompting
more California farmers to pay attention to conservation tillage, a
farming practice that will be the center of all-day University of
California conferences June 26 in the San Joaquin Valley and June 28 in
the Sacramento Valley.
The San Joaquin Valley conference is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the UC West
Side Research and Extension Center, 17353 W. Oakland Ave., Five Points,
Calif. The Sacramento Valley conference, also running from 8 a.m. to 3
p.m., is at the Western Center for Agricultural Equipment, on Hutchinson
Boulevard just west of Highway 113 on the UC Davis campus. "Conservation
tillage has been around for a long time," said UC vegetable crops
specialist and conference organizer Jeff
Mitchell, "but it is only now beginning to catch on in California."
The conservation tillage farming system dramatically reduces the number of
times tractor implements disturb the soil. A cover crop may be grown
during the off-season and later killed. The desired crop is then planted
within the dead plant material, which can serve as mulch to suppress
weeds, slow water evaporation and increase soil organic matter.
"In conventional farming, tractors make an average of 9 to 11
tillage-related passes from fall to spring to prepare the soil for summer
cropping," Mitchell said. "Using conservation tillage, tractor passes can
conceivably be cut to 2 or 3."
During the morning session, participants will tour conservation tillage
research trials. The speakers are:
-- UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Sutter and Yuba counties
Cahn, who is studying processing tomatoes' development in strip-till and
no-till organic production systems.
-- UC Riverside weed science specialist Milt McGiffen, who will review his
work with warm-season cowpea and sorghum-Sudan cover crops preceding a
variety of desert valley vegetable crops, including peppers, melons and
-- UC cotton specialist Bob Hutmacher and UC Cooperative Extension farm
advisor in Madera County Ron Vargas, who will cover herbicide-resistant
crop trials being conducted in Buttonwillow and Firebaugh. They are
looking at stand establishment, soil water content and weed management
-- Vegetable crops specialist Mitchell, who will review his studies on a
variety of crops in conservation tillage systems, including tomatoes,
cotton, corn and melons.
Field demonstrations of the specialized implements farmers use in
conservation tillage will show such operations as no-till planning,
ridge-till planting, no-till transplanting, strip-till planting, high
residue cultivating, single-pass post-harvest tillage and others. In Five
Points, a visit to John Diener's ranch, where large-scale conservation
tillage farming is underway, rounds out the morning activities.
Following lunch, Max Carter, president of the Conservation Tillage
Alliance in Douglas, Ga., a long-term user of strip tillage production
systems, describes his farming operation in South Central Georgia and
presents his rationale for advocating conservation tillage. John Bradley,
director of conservation tillage programs for Monsanto Corporation in
Tennessee, describes what is involved in retooling for conservation
tillage and gives the latest on
Monsanto's demonstration trials on herbicide-resistant corn and cotton.
Finally California farmers who are either using or experimenting with
conservation tillage will discuss their personal experiences. The farmers
speaking at the Five Points conference are west side cotton-rotation
farmers Diener, Bob Prys of Five Points and Rick Neuenschwander of Huron,
Buellton organic farmer Helmut Klauer, Tulare dairy operator Vernal Gomes
and Stratford cotton and tomato farmer Dick Newton. At the Davis
conference the farmer panel
consists of Chuck Dudley, farm manager for Heidrick Farms in Woodland, and
Bruce Rominger, a row crop farmer in Winters.
Registration for the conservation tillage conferences is $10 per person
before June 1 or $15 at the door. The fee includes parking, lunch and
proceedings. Six hours of continuing education credit (PCA or CCA) will
be awarded to participants.
Genetic engineering arrives in Amish country
Pennsylvania farmers say experiment with low-nicotine tobacco doesn't
By George Strawley
May 29, 2001
GAP, Pa. -- Amish farmer Daniel Dienner Jr. is planning to grow
genetically engineered tobacco this year. While his sect shuns most modern
technology, he sees no conflict between his new crop and his traditional
"I myself like biotechnology," Dienner, 41. "I feel it's what the farmers
will be using in the future. There's a lot of technology out there that I
feel we're just right on the edge of. I think it's exciting."
The tobacco to be planted by Dienner and about 550 other Amish farmers in
and around Lancaster next month will be bought by a company that wants to
produce a virtually nicotine-free cigarette.
Prices have fallen with the demand. Dienner said for the past three years,
he has taken his harvest to Maryland because he could get far more money
there than in Pennsylvania, where prices have dipped as low as 50 cents a
This year, Vector Tobacco, based in Durham, N.C., is guaranteeing $1.50 a
pound for the new tobacco.
Vector Tobacco is a subsidiary of the Vector Group Ltd., which also owns
the Liggett Group, the nation's fifth-largest cigarette maker.
The company is also working with farmers in Illinois, Mississippi and
Louisiana, none of which are traditional tobacco producers.
For the Amish, tobacco is still farmed the same as it was a century ago.
It is both a cash crop and a good fit with their familial ways.
Dienner, his wife and their seven children, ages 7 to 17, will hand-plant
52,000 seedlings provided by Vector, harvest the plants in 12 weeks, and
strip the stalks after the leaves dry in the tobacco shed.
Dienner said his youngest children are particularly useful in stripping,
which frees older family members for other tasks. "I grew up with
tobacco," he said. "I feel that's one of the things that helped me learn
responsibility and work. It teaches a whole family to work."
Auctioneers say farmers can earn from $2,500 to $3,500 an acre for the
Vector tobacco, compared to $300 to $400 for corn.
Technologies like genetic modification of crops are not inconsistent with
the tradition-bound life of the Amish, said Don Kraybill, a professor at
Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. Rather, members reject innovations like
automobiles or mechanized tractors that undercut the community and its
work ethic or tie the community too closely to the outside world, said
Patent Protection for China's Genetic Engineering
May 26, 2001
China will introduce stricter patent rules to accelerate advances of
genetic medical treatment, a patent official said recently.
Ma Zhaoruo, an official with the State Intellectual Property Office, said
at a human genetic diagnosis and treatment symposium held in this capital
of central China's Hunan Province that although the study of genetic
engineering is at an initial stage, the clinical advances in techniques
have shown the tendency of becoming the most important means in medical
In the next five years, China will accelerate the clinical experimentation
of genetic therapy to industrialize the patented medical results.
China has dealt with over 190 patents related to genetic medical treatment
submitted from the United States, Japan and some European countries.
Ma said that most of the patent applications are related to therapeutic
methods rather than new genetic materials or genomes.
China's genetic engineering industry set off in the late 1980s, two
decades later than some other countries. Insufficient financial support
has also limited its progress.
China has given the genetic engineering priority to tackling key technical
problems in genetic treatment, and has gained quite a few patents in the
sector, according to sources at the symposium.
Date: Tue, 29 May 2001 12:04:06 -0400
From: Michael Fumento
Subject: Interesting article on work on output traits in biotech food
A New Science: Accounting for Taste
Genetics Could Provide Tools to Engineer New Flavors, Fragrances
By Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2001; Page A01
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- A computer jockey named Michael Richards punches a
keyboard to search a database of chemicals kept at a biotechnology company
here. With a few keystrokes, he calls up one of the more unusual inventory
lists in corporate America.
"Harsh but sweet, floral-hay odor; sweet cherry-berry taste," reads the
entry for a chemical called 1-acetyl-4-methyl benzene. "Fruity, floral,
weak, vanilla-like odor and taste," says another entry, for
The chemicals at Senomyx Inc. are part of new genetic research that is
attempting to unravel the human senses of taste and smell. The start-up
company is one of several around the country that hope to use that
knowledge to come up with flavors and fragrances that effectively create
new foods and other products.
It's part of a new discipline that might be called "consumer genetics."
There are plans to create seasonings to make vegetables more palatable to
young children by blocking specific tastes that overwhelm their palates.
Some companies foresee additives that precisely mimic the taste and feel
of rich foods without the fat, or room deodorants that temporarily block
the ability to perceive nasty smells. Some are interested in developing
artificial sweeteners that can survive cooking, as some of today's popular
In the near term, scientists envision medicines, diet sodas and coffee
that have no bitter aftertaste because they would contain compounds that
momentarily block the tongue's perception of bitterness. The first product
from the industry might well be a cough syrup that babies can stand.
The scientists believe that they can eventually not only make ordinary
products better but also -- starting with compounds like those in the
Senomyx stockroom -- use the tools of genetics to create smells and tastes
never before encountered by the human race.
Researchers foresee a time when genetics can explain precisely why one
steak tastes better than another, why some people hate broccoli but others
love it, and why most of humankind goes crazy for chocolate. They envision
a day, moreover, when those responses can be precisely manipulated by
adding smells or tastes or suppressing old ones.
As word spreads of the potential of this work, start-up capital is
flowing, and genetics companies that previously focused entirely on
disease are making deals to use their knowledge in service to the new
Some groups that monitor food safety worry that the discipline will spur
greater industrialization of agriculture and food production, separating
consumers even further from real food grown on real farms. And they say
new ingredients produced by molecular techniques will face major safety
Paul Grayson, chairman and chief executive of Senomyx, is optimistic that
such concerns can be allayed. "We want to make healthy food taste better
or make good-tasting food healthier," he said.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington publishes
lists of food additives, deeming some of them safe and desirable and
advising people to avoid others. Its executive director, Michael Jacobson,
said he could see some potential benefits from the new technology, such as
the ability to make more palatable milk or meat substitutes, reducing the
environmental impact of large-scale farming.
But he also expressed concern that, over time, the technology could harm
"Companies love artificial flavors and colors because it's cheaper to add
them than it is to add, say, strawberry juice to soda pop," he said. "The
additives are more economical than the real food, and they can replace the
real food. Many people's whole diets are made of fake foods. It seems like
this would open up new avenues to facilitate the production of these
Research into food additives has been going on for decades. A vast
industry located in factories along the New Jersey Turnpike supplies
flavor and odor ingredients by the ton to companies that make consumer
The usual way of finding new ingredients often involves sophisticated
chemistry in the early stages but then runs into a bottleneck. New
compounds have to be screened by human panels. Hours of tasting or
sniffing can overwhelm the senses, and the panels can screen only so many
compounds. Many of the additives begin as extracts from plants or animals,
and patenting them is difficult or impossible, limiting their profit
The new gene-based companies are devising a much faster and potentially
more lucrative way of approaching the problem. As they learn the precise
structure of proteins in the tongue or nose that detect taste and smell,
they can copy those proteins. The copies can be used to build robotic
testing systems that can screen tens of thousands of new chemical
compounds a day. If a new compound binds tightly to taste or smell
proteins, it's a clue that the compound might elicit a strong sensory
The system is similar to the screening methods that pharmaceutical
companies use to find new drugs. Human taste or smell panels would get
involved only after much of the drudgery has been handled by machines, and
only to sample the most promising compounds. Because they can be created
from scratch and not extracted from plants or animals, such additives
probably could be patented -- and sold at higher prices than traditional
The most visible company in the field is Senomyx, which has raised about
$33 million in start-up money, hired 70 employees, filed for an initial
public offering of shares and secured control of an extensive set of
patents. Most notably, Senomyx has licensed patents believed to cover
virtually all the human genes that permit detection of bitter tastes and
it has filed for patents on many of the hundreds of genes involved in
Grayson, the Senomyx chief executive, said the company's research method
will resemble that of a pharmaceutical company, but product development
should be far easier. Pharmaceutical companies must not only test their
products to ensure safety, they also must put them through lengthy trials
to determine whether they are effective. For Senomyx, once a compound
passes safety tests, proving that it works should be a simple matter of
tasting or smelling it.
The company would make much of its money by collecting royalties on
products whose sales increased with Senomyx ingredients -- a radically
different business model from that of the traditional flavor and fragrance
The technology could, in principle, be used to alter the genetics of
plants or animals to make them tastier. But Grayson, noting the rising
public concern about genetically modified food, said Senomyx does not plan
to do that. "We're not trying to replace food," he said, just create new
ingredients to make existing food taste better.
The concept is unproven so far, but big consumer-product companies are
interested. Senomyx has signed major research deals with Kraft Foods Inc.,
the nation's largest packaged-food company, and with Campbell Soup Co.,
which owns such brands as Pepperidge Farm, Swanson and V8.
Other companies are also pursuing such research. A smaller company,
Linguagen Corp. of Paramus, N.J., controls key patents and is busy
devising compounds, including a "bitter blocker." Smaller start-up
companies are in the early stages.
Some huge consumer companies, notably Procter & Gamble Co. of Cincinnati,
have started genetics programs. P&G, which sells $40 billion worth of
consumer products every year, confirmed that it is buying gene-analysis
devices from a California company, Affymetrix Inc., but would not reveal
the goals of its research except to say they do not involve food or
beverages. P&G sells many products that depend on odor ingredients.
One of the leading scientists in the field, and a founder of Senomyx, is
Charles Zuker, a biologist at the University of California at San Diego.
Many of the proteins that detect bitter tastes were discovered in his
laboratory, which licensed patents on them to Senomyx.
In an interview, Zuker expressed excitement about the potential of the
field. "I hate drinking diet soda," he said, lauding the prospect of an
additive that could block the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. But he
also noted that many foods and drinks are very complicated mixtures of
chemicals that scientists won't be able to emulate with artificial
ingredients anytime soon.
He seemed to derive some comfort from that fact.
"It's going to be a while," he said, "before you take a poor bottle of
wine and turn it into a wonderful Petrus or Cheval-Blanc."