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Date:

May 30, 2001

Subject:

Response to Sharma, Online Debate, Greenpeace, Bove,

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Date: May 31 2001 01:59:12 EDT
From: Malcolm Livingstone
Subject: Devinder Sharma

Dr. Devinder Sharma,

Thanks for your detailed reply. Now that we have got our personal insults
out of the way maybe we can talk about these issues without resort to
personal invective.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>CS Prakash has subsequently put out a response to this from one of his
>supporters, the Australian biotechnologist, Dr Malcolm Livingstone. Dr
>Livingstone is well known for his very forthright support for genetic
>engineering (responding, for example, to a previous item on this list
>with the suggestion that we : "Go get psychiatric help. The last thing
>the world needs now is more Nazis.")

DML Yes I'm an unabashed supporter of genetic engineering and so is anyone
who works in this field. So what?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>Dear Dr Malcolm Livingstone
>
>I am rather shocked to read your response to my reply to Dr C.S.Prakash.
>Shocked, because I didnít know that agricultural scientists are so far
>away from the existing ground realities in the South. I think that what
>needs to be done immediately is to launch an orientation course for all
>biotechnologists so that they become aware of what really afflicts
>global agriculture. Maybe, I will request the Rockefeller Foundation to
>support such orientation courses rather than wasting precious funding on
>genetic engineering!

DML OK so Western agricultural scientists have no idea about agriculture. I
challenge you to ask the Rockefeller Foundation for the money to undertake
such a program. If they refuse do you admit that they have faith in the
knowledge base of agricultural scientists?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
I too am trained as a plant scientist, majoring in Plant Breeding and
>Genetics. I then became a journalist and perhaps that is the reason why
>I also try to look into the politics of genetic engineering.

DML I don't want to get into personal details so I won't ask when and where
you got your degree and to what level.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
These are the usual pronouncements of an industry which is
>essentially based on exploitation of natural resources. Didnít they say
>earlier that biotechnology will produce crops which will not require
>fertilisers, pesticides etc etc? What happened to them? Isnít this
>exactly what was responsible for the use of the term "green washing"?
>Reduction in pesticides? Opinions seem divided here and some of the
>studies are being conducted with funding from the industries which have
>an obvious vested interest.

DML OK first of all I am not part of the INDUSTRY. I work for CSIRO (a
publicly funded organisation with a rich history of good science) and
before that with the University of Queensland. I don't know ANYBODY who
works for agricultural companies and never have.
Secondly nobody has said that we are producing plants that don't require
fertiliser. This work is at a very preliminary stage but the potential
exists for such a development. If you think there are no crops in the
ground that require less pesticide use then you need only do a little
research. Bt cotton and maize are grown on vast areas in the US and
Australia (cotton) and pesticide use has dropped sharply in these areas.

Analysis by USDA's Economic Research Service indicates that adoption of
biotech corn, soybeans, and cotton is associated with a decrease in the
number pesticide treatments. An independent study by Dr. Richard Phipps of
the University of Reading, England, that was published in the July 2000
issue of Feed Compounder Magazine, reported that herbicide/insecticide use
in biotech soybean and cotton production had decreased by 20 and 80 percent
respectively, and that the use of biotech crops in North America has
reduced the use of agrochemicals by 4.5 million liters (about 1.9 million
gallons). Many countries provide us with details of reduced use of
herbicides and pesticides of 15-100%, of increased crop yields, less insect
damage, a return of non-target insects to fields and reductions in fungal
toxins in food (Aachen declaration made by a large number of ecologists).

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>Some studies have shown that the yield of herbicide-tolerant crops is
>actually reduced, not increased. The use of herbicides, in fact, seems
>to increase with herbicide-tolerant crops, and this genetic
>characteristic also may break down when temperature goes beyond a
>certain limit.

DML: I don't know what you mean by the genetic characteristic that breaks
down
at a certain temperature. Do you mean that the susceptability of herbicide
resistant crops to herbicide increases/decreases at a certain temperature
or that the herbicide breaks down at a certain temperature? I can't work
this sentence out. Still some facts on herbicide use might be useful.

For all things being equal in a study, the use of an herbicide increases
yield in corn 6X, and in wheat 8X (similarly for other crops).

Contrary to popular belief, GE herbicide tolerant crops have reduced
herbicide use overall, and have especially reduced the use of persistent
herbicides in favour of safer and less persistent herbicides. A USDA
report in 1999 stated that the "technology significantly reduced herbicide
treatments for soybeans and, to a lesser extent, for cotton" (see also new
USDA report at http://www.ers.usda.gov/epubs/pdf/aer786/).

A study prepared for the Canola Council of Canada and paid for by GM
canola-makers Monsanto and Aventis concludes Roundup Ready and Liberty Link
have made western Canadian farmers millions of dollars since their
introduction in 1997. The study says farmers who grew GM canola last year
reported an average additional net return over conventional varieties of
$5.80 an acre. That translates to a total of almost C$39 million (6.7
million acres of GM canola X $5.80). However, the economic model developed
for the study calculated the profit advantage to be $10.62 per acre.

The direct impact to growers (from 1997 to 2000) has been anywhere
from $144 million up to $249 million.; said Joanne Buth, the Canola
Council of Canada's vice-president of crop production. And the
indirect impact, including the impact of the crushing industry and
inputs suppliers is anywhere from $58 million to $215 million, for a
total over that four-year period of up to $464 million. So the bottom line
of the study is switching from the conventional to the
transgenics, growers have seen higher yields, lower dockage and
better returns. There has been less tillage, less herbicides used,
less fuel (used) and millions of dollars in savings that impact on
the industry.

Whether herbicide use is increased is not the most important factor.
Herbicide use has changed in favour of the relatively environmentally
friendly glyphosate. other synthetic herbicides that are at least three
times as toxic as glyphosate and that persist in the environment nearly
twice as long. (Ralph E. Heimlich (202) 694-5504; heimlich@ers.usda.gov).
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is known for its low toxicity
and has been used for nearly 30 years without any harm to beneficial insect
populations. Honeybees are not harmed by Roundup, as show in studies
mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health
Organization. The International Organization for Biological Control deemed
Roundup less harmful than various other herbicides. Additional studies also
indicate glyphosate does not harm earthworms, beetles and other insects.
Glyphosate also biodegrades easily, breaking down into naturally occurring
substances relatively quickly compared to other herbicides. Contamination
of groundwater and field run-off is unlikely as the herbicide binds to soil
particles.

The USDA reports that the use of genetically enhanced crops relative to
pest management has grown, with soybean growers seeing better yields, no
change in net returns and "significant decreases" in herbicide use,
according to USDA's Economic Research Service. Bt cotton has increased
yields and net returns while significantly reducing chemical use.

An NCFAP report analyzed the costs of using glyphosate for weed control in
soybeans in comparison with the costs of previously-used herbicide
programs. The report notes that glyphosate programs were priced to be
competitive with conventional programs. Since the introduction of
glyphosate-tolerant varieties to the soybean market in 1996, prices of
glyphosate and competitive herbicides have been reduced by their
manufacturers. The report documents a $220 million net reduction in annual
weed control costs for soybean growers in 1998 compared to 1995.

Also the number of sprayings per season has fallen dramatically. The study
also says planting GM canola in 2000 cut herbicide costs by 40% and reduced
herbicide applications by 6,000 tonnes.

Herbicide use also reduces soil erosion and fuel costs. Last year, thanks
to reduced tillage and less summerfallow, GM growers cut diesel fuel use by
31.2 million litres saving $13.1 million, Buth said. The Canola Council of
Canada co-ordinated the research and had input from provincial canola
growers associations. (Joanne Buth, the Canola Council of Canada's
vice-president of crop production.)

On September 15, 2000, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a
study at Michigan State University that showed that no-till farming, which
is facilitated by Roundup Ready soybeans, resulted in an 80 percent
reduction in greenhouse gases.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
But tell me, arenít we satisfied with the
>multiple resistance in insect pests that have come about with the use of
>pesticides? Arenít we fed up with the "circle of poison" and the
>resulting "pesticides treadmill"? Instead of getting into a treadmill
>trap, shouldnít our effort be to get out of it? By bringing in these
>transgenics, are we not getting into a "biological treadmill"? Who will
>be responsible for the resulting damage to the human health and
>environment?

DML: You are absolutely right that pests will become resistant to
pesticides
just as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. However this is a tired
old argument that is based on the most elementary understanding of
evolution. Are you so concerned about the develoment of resistance that you
advocate not using antibiotics or pesticides? If so you need to sit and
ponder the consequences of such a position. Not using antibiotics would not
only serve a death sentence on millions of people now, countless thousands
wouldn't have survived the past 50 years to be able to complain about the
use of antibiotics. The same goes for pesticide use. Stop using pesticides
now and we'll have a World of chaos and anarchy the like of which has never
been seen. This is a straw man argument - a reflex argument used by people
who don't understand anything about science. All that is required is to put
in place strategies that reduce the risk of resistance. These are well
known and are already in place.

You are concerned that we are on a technology treadmill. Well you are
completely correct. We have been on a technology treadmill since
approximately 10000 years ago when agriculture was invented. However you
don't offer any way off the treadmill. You don't because there is none. The
planet can support about 10 million people only in a technology free World.
It is difficult to feel relaxed and comfortable with this fact but there is
nothing we can do about save take some valium and work harder to defeat
disease and famine. Evolution NEVER stands still and all life must compete
to exist including ourselves.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>My view is that those scientists who support transgenics should be held
>accountable for any damage that may accrue later. One can imagine how
>mad cow disease and the foot and mouth crisis in Britain might be
>different in such circumstances. Some people had warned that the feed
>including animal supplements that was being fed to cattle was not
>proper. There was a breed of scientists even then who said that those
>who oppose it are Luddites. And look what has happened now. Millions of
>cattle have been slaughtered. Why should those scientists who supported
>the safety of animal content in cattle feed not be held accountable? Why
>shouldnít they be publicly tried now? After all, science too is
>accountable to society. Scientists cannot be allowed to behave like
>trigger-happy terrorists who believe they have the right to fun and
>frolic.

DML: Well this is an interesting spin on science. I personally am quite
happy to
take responsibility for my actions whatever they are and I don't know of
any scientists who would not. BSE has nothing to do with GM technology and
everything to do with the nature of science. No scientist can claim to know
all things and none do. That is the realm of theology. We can give
estimates of what we think is likely but that is all. If you want cast-iron
guarantees of safety (i.e. %100 forever) then you will be sadly
disappointed. I am no expert on BSE but the existence of prions was a
surprise just as the discovery of many things in science. So what does this
have to do with GM crops except to point out (unnecessarily) that science
does not know more than God.

Well I don't know what you mean that scientists are like trigger happy
terrorists. I guess you've lost the plot a bit there so I'll move on.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
I too am trained as a scientist, and I also know how many of the
>scientists go to the farmers' fields. You may deny it, but over the past
>two decades, agricultural scientists (more so in the developed world)
>have begun to behave more or less like the politicians. The politicians
>have lost touch with the people they represent. And agriculture
>scientists have lost touch with the farmers.

DML: Well I again disagree with you that scientists have lost touch with
farmers. I can't speak for Indian scientists but Australian scientists are
certainly in touch as far as solving agricultural problems goes. I guess we
will have to ask some farmers.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>If travelling outside the country is to be counted as a field trip, then
>I must withdraw my statement. But let me tell you another fact. Most of
>these collaborations with the institutes or universities in the South
>are being signed not with the objective of bringing about development in
>the Southern universities but to collect plant and animal germplasm
>resources, soil and similar other unique natural wealth that the South
>is so well known for.

DML: Well that is a ridiculous statement. How can you honestly believe that
Western scientists are agents of neo-colonialism. I realise that
colonialism was a terrible period in history but you are way off the mark
accusing us of pillaging the natural treasures of the developing World to
line our own pockets. I don't know of any scientist in Australia who is in
this work for any other reason than that it is scientifically interesting
and that funds for research are available. I would like to see more
government funding allocated to pure research but that is not something I
have any control over bar voting at the next election. Also I don't
consider that the Earth's resources belong to one country or another - they
belong to us all. I don't favour widespread patents on living creatures or
their genes. However if a patent is granted and funds for scientific
research are then forthcoming as a result then I favour patents. I believe
that scientific research is useful, indeed neccesary to stay on the
treadmill of life, and the source of funds is not important if scientific
credibilty is maintained. I am not in favour of biopiracy and any patents
taken out on produce from a particular culture or even country should
result in fair compensation. I don't see it as any different than American
oil companies using their expertise to mine for oil in Saudi Arabia and the
Saudi authorities taxing the output. This approach has made the Saudis a
very wealthy nation. If genetic resources prove profitable then this
approach can pursued by interested parties. I can't give any guarantees as
to how fair the system is or will be. I can only offer my opinion.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>And donít feel hurt if I tell you that one of the biggest biopirates is
>Australia. Do you remember the case of two chickpea strains from India
>on which one of the Australian institutes had drawn IPR? Didnít RAFI say
>that more than 100 such plant varieties were under IPR control in
>Australia? Donít we know what Australian interest is when they sign an
>agreement with India on cattle development without even knowing what
>kind of cattle exist in India? I can go on with such examples. And these
>are not only true for Australia but for almost all the developed
>countries.

DML: First of all I'm not offended. I don't even know what you are saying.
Assuming you have a legitimate complaint about chickpea and cattle piracy
why don't you give me some references and I'll follow them up?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: It is unfortunate that biotechnology has earned a dubious
>distinction. As a plant geneticist myself, I was excited at the
>prospects that biotechnology could bring. But it is the blind support by
>the biotechnologists for the industry-led path of using and abusing
>genetic engineering that has led to the loss of credibility. Scientists
>failed to stand up when they were required to.

DML: Well now you are on very fragile ground indeed. I can't speak for any
scientists working for Monsanto because I don't know any. I have done
nothing in my research career that I am ashamed of and I am not aware of
any scientist who has. If you can supply me the details of any who have
undertaken dubious research that brings no benefit to the World (I consider
pure research to be of benefit) and is driven only by profit then I will
join you in condemning them.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
For instance, we all know
>that more than 70 per cent of the present GE research is confined to
>herbicide-tolerant plants, which are actually aimed at increasing
>profits for the companies. Scientists should have opposed this. But then
>you were all too keen on getting further extensions to your research
>projects and did not wish to offend industry sources. This is a problem
>even for those working in the so-called "public sector". Indeed, I know
>that in Britain publicly funded bio-scientists even have a gagging
>clause inserted in their contracts to stop them speaking out, though few
>would seem to have the courage to do so in any case. So now you all are
>paying a price in the form of a public backlash. And to be fair, you
>deserve it. Because you were not engaged in "good science" but had
>replaced this phrase by the one promoted by the biotech industry: "sound
>science"

DML: Well again this is a scurrilous and venomous attack on the moral
fibre of
every scientist who wields a pipette. I haven't sold out I am not gagged.
In fact if anything my employer would prefer I not support biotechnology. I
resist for no other reason than that I believe the attacks on biotechnology
to be an attack on reason, logic and science.

I may not be the World's best scientist but I think what I have sone is
good science. Bad science just shouldn't get published. What has "sound
science" got to do with anything? Published science has a long record of
integrity and I can only think of one way of doing it - I don't get your
point.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
It pains me when I am told, "Look, so much of an area is under
>transgenic crops in the United States, so why shouldnít India follow the
>trend?" If we have to follow the Americans, then let me tell you
>something more:
>
>1) The pornography industry in the US is 35 times bigger than the
>Hollywood industry? Would you like India to follow this?
>
>2) At any given time, nearly ten per cent of the American population is
>behind bars. Do you want India to follow this?
>
>3) The highest rate of infant mortality is in New York city. And donít
>ask me why. Do you want us to also follow this?
>
>4) Former President Bill Clinton, during his visit to India, said that
>13 children die from gunshots in America every hour? Do you want us to
>follow that?
>
>5) More than 60 per cent of the American population is over-weight. Do
>you also want us to be like that?
>
>6) And some studies have shown that 40 per cent of the Americans do not
>know whether the Sun revolves around the Earth or vice versa. And I had
>thought all these years that the highest rate of illiteracy was in India

DML Now you are definitely getting hysterical. I shouldn't really respond
to this diatribe of anti-American propaganda but I will. I will also send
this to AgBioView so that some Americans can defend themselves from your
pathetic invective.

1) Your morals on sexuality have no place whatsoever in a debate on
biotechnology. I couldn't give a rat's arse whether you like pornography or
not. I can however state that if I ever found myself in a culture where the
majority held your views on "pornography" I would leave as fast as I could.
America doesn't have pornography they have free speech.

2) I don't wish to get into a debate about how many people are in jail in
India or America. I don't know the figures. However I don't know how safe
I'd feel in downtown Mumbai either.

3) I think you have definitely got your facts wrong there. There isn't the
slightest chance that New York has the highest rate of infant mortality in
the World. I don't want to buy into your argument but what about female
infanticide in India? What about the almost tolerated burning and killing
of women. I could go on but you damn well what I mean.


4) Let's do some arithmetic. Supposing your facts a correct and 13 children
die every hour form gunshot wounds in the US. That means 113880 per year. I
don't know my facts on this so I ask anyone on AgBioView who does know to
reply and set the record straight. However even if true what does this
statistic got to do with biotechnology?

5) One moment you are crying foul that children are starving in India the
next that Americans are overweight. I guess many people in India would love
to be overweight. In fact most of the Indian middle class people I have met
over the years are overweight.

6) Well at last something we can agree on. I have spent a great deal of
time reading about scientific illiteracy and you are absolutely right that
many Americans don't know how long it takes the Earth to go round the sun
(in fact the number is 50%). 13% of Australian biology students thought
that man was created 10000 years ago and that evolution had no part in
man's development. 47% of Americans are creationist. 27% of Australian
medical students at Monash University thought that Darwin was wrong about
the theory of evolution by natural selection. Now we have osme figures for
my part of the World what are the figures in India. Gee I hope nobody there
believes in reincarnation or anything so unscientific. I wish I shared your
faith that mysticism plays no part in Indian society.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>Why I said all this is because what is good for the US, Canada or
>Australia is certainly not what we in India, or for that matter other
>developing countries, would like to have. If you are happy with GE food,
>please eat it. But donít force it down our throats. We already have
>enough problems, mostly arising from our colonial past, and we do not
>want to enter into another age of re-colonisation.

DML Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything. Not one Monsanto employee has
forced any GM food down any throat and never will. All we are asking for is
farmers and individuals to be free to use this technology if they want.
This is legal produce in the USA and millions are eating it. Why are you
attempting to force scientists to work only on projects that you consider
fit? Have you asked any starving children if they would prefer death to GM
soybean?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: Since you called my views "spurious", be prepared for a response.
>Genetic engineering has no connection with feeding the world. Please
>shun any such illusions that you may have. Wasn't it the Editor of the
>Lancet who said that seeking a hi-tech food fix to world hunger was the
>most commercially malevolent wild goose chase of the new century?
>Genetic engineers are helping to promote a technology intended to
>satisfy the hunger for profits of private companies. And this is a fact.

DML Genetic engineering will not feed the World yet. It is just another
tool in our armoury. It will raise yields or don't you think pests are
responsible for yield loss? All business aims to make a profit so I don't
see anything wrong with that. At least in America they do it legally.
Doesn't anyone make a profit in India? Better watch what you are calling
facts there buddy.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>Some publicly-funded research may be going on as window dressing but
>ultimately you are merely an agent for the hungry multinationals,
>whether you realise it or not.

DML Well if I'm being manipulated without me knowing it then there is
nothing to be done. Perhaps I can appeal to God to give me a fair go and
get these damned industry spies off my back.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>And if your technology were to come into my country, I can assure you
>more and more farmers will be committing suicide, just as they have as a
>result of the previous activities of the agrochemical industry which
>claimed to be helping them and bringing them all the benefits of the
>modern world. But as I said earlier, no scientist who helped push in
>such technologies is likely to be held accountable. That is the sad
>part.

DML No, the sad part is that people are committing suicide. The cause
certainly can't be biotechnology because there isn't any in India. I agree
that suicide is a terrible scourge and I am very aware personally about
suicidal depression (I am not prepared to go into details on the internet)
however I don't see why agriculture is to blame. I will hewever leave this
area to somebody more qualified to answer.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: I gave the example of one village because that is what Prakash had
>asked me for. But if you want, I can go on with such examples. And donít
>forget I am not a scientist who prefers to travel abroad on
>collaborations or stays in the lab, I also like to travel into the
>villages and must have spanned more than a fourth of rural India by now.

DML I'm not forgetting that you are a great traveller. I don't know the
stats. in rural India. My job is the creation of plant transformation
systems. My expertise in this area is in the field of molecular biology. So
I bow to your superior knowledge and ask that you give more than one
example so that others with more knowledge can follow it up. Nevertheless I
am not against using every means possible to help people. If you have
successful strategies then great. However why do these other strategies
negate any benefits that might come from biotechnology?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>I donít see how the example of GM crops connects with storage. Please
>try not to be so obsessed with GM technology.

DML You mentioned lack of storage facilities as a major component of food
spoilage. My point is only what has that to do with GM crops? Nothing as
far as I can see. I am not obsessed with biotechnology. I am obsessed with
reason and logic. I can't abide mysticism and psuedoscience. These are the
only reasons I am involved in this debate. This technology is safe and that
is my fundamental message. What happens after this message has been
understood I don't care. I will stop writing in its defence.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: I never said that IPM has the answer to everything. This was just
>one example that I quoted. But in reality, scientists are keen to
>discard IPM. Or else, how do you justify the bulk of the money for
>research going into biotechnology and not IPM and other forms of natural
>farming or low-input farming?

DML I am not and never have been against IPM, conventional or organic
agriculture and have said so many times on AgBioView and in personal
correspondence to people like Robert Vint and Craig Sams. Just in case you
didn't understand I'll repeat it. I AM NOT AGAINST IPM OR ORGANIC
FARMING!!!!!

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: Yes, that is what most Australians think. Just ask the USDA and the
>EU and they will tell you about the subsidies that are pumped in
>Australia. And donít forget, when you set up grain boards for exports
>you are indirectly subsidising farmers.

DML Some farmers in Australia are subsidised by the state but not many.
How do you think Australia can compete against US and EU treasuries? You
have got to be kidding. In fact this is a ridiculous claim. A trade war
with the USA? Take a deep breath Sharma. Our grain boards are funded by the
farmers to sell and promote their produce - not by the government. Get your
facts straight.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: If wishes were horses, biotechnologists would surely take the
>subsistence farmers and the hungry population for an easy ride. First of
>all, American, European and Australian agriculture is highly
>unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly. If you do not know that,
>it is not my fault. The time is not far away when like the Kyoto
>protocol, we will have to sign another agreement for agriculture asking
>the developed countries to stop destroying the soil and polluting the
>environment. Many countries have gone in for "set aside", which is
>essentially based on the principle of regeneration.
>
DML Well we must agree to disagree on this one. I'm not convinced that the
Kyoto agreement is based on anything other than politics. I and many others
don't think the World is about to end from global warming just like it
hasn't ended in past periods of warming. The scientific jury is still out
on1 this one. A previous writer to AgBioView pointed out that the US is in
fact a sink for carbon dioxide. The issue of greenhouse warming is not as
simple as you make out.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>You are perhaps not aware that if we in India were to live like the
>Americans, the life on this planet would have boiled to death some fifty
>years ago. Global warming, or the ozone hole that you are worried about
>in Australia, would have been a hot topic of debate in the 19th century
>if India had abused the environment and the energy systems like the
>Americans or the Australians do.

DML OK I agree we use a lot of energy. What, then, is your answer? Is it to
deny Indians the right to live as we do? Or is it to deny Americans and
Australians the right to live as we do now? Good bloody luck mate.

I actually believe we can have our cake and eat too. I for one am not ready
to throw in the towel and live like a caveman. I'll bet you that science
and technology will come up with an answer - if it's even necessary.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: Oh, yes. Remove the visible and hidden subsidies to the American or
>Canadian farmers, and let me assure you that agriculture in both these
>countries will collapse [see below]. Try that tomorrow to see the result
>a week later. Thatís my challenge.
>
>America and Canada produce cheaper wheat because of the subsidy that you
>give to farmers. And your ignorance of this demonstrates, as I said
>earlier, that there is a dire need for some basic orientation course for
>the agricultural scientists. I am willing to hold these courses -
>provided the Rockefeller Foundation and Aventis CropScience, or the
>like, provide me the financial support.
>
DML So you reckon Indians can produce wheat cheaper than the mechanised
high input agriculture of the West? In fact one reason why Indian farmers
are so poor is that they must try to undercut the low prices of Western
farmers. This is all but impossible except by starving to death. However as
I'm not an agricultural economist I'll leave it to others to answer. I do
know though that low agricultural prices are due primarily to excess
production. Simple supply and demand I think.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>DS: Please donít be so benevolent towards the Indian farmers. Recent
>studies in China have also shown that rice yields can double with
>effective crop rotation and this also minimises the application of
>pesticides to a bare minimum. The New York Times put this story on the
>front page. But strangely, this story will never form part of the
>agricultural text books. The reason is simple. The industry will not
>like it. And what the industry doesnít like, how can agricultural
>scientists like?

DML Oh I'm sorry for caring about Indian farmers. You are now getting
pathetic. First of all any agricultural textbook or course covers low input
agriculture or integrated pest mangement. I think the fact that it was in
The NY Times says enough, or don't think agriculture students can read the
newspaper? Industry (whatever that means) does not write textbooks so I
don't know what you are talking about.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
Now I donít have to give you basic lessons in trade and agriculture.
>Please read my recent study entitled "Selling Out: the cost of free
>trade for Indiaís food security" (UK Food Group, London). That will
>provide you with all the elementary knowledge you so obviously need and
>hopefully make you understand the dirty politics behind global trade.
>

DML I will read your book but I think I already know the conclusion. If
your views on biotechnology are anything to go on I can imagine it will be
a riveting good spy story full of plot and intrigue. Can't wait.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>If the USA produces cheaper wheat, let it. Well said. But then tell me
>what is wrong if the trade surplus of Japan continues to multiply? What
>is wrong if the trade surplus of Taiwan and Germany also goes up at the
>cost of an increasing trade deficit in the United States? To set the
>balance right, the US and the EU (probably aided by Australia) brought
>in the GATT/WTO agreement. So by the same yardstick, why should the US
>be allowed to produce 700 million tonnes of food grains? Why should
>Australia be allowed to produce the surplus that it does? Shouldnít that
>be balanced out?
>

DML Are you comparing agricultural subsidies in the US and Australia to
those in force in the EU and Japan? I'm not really sure what your point is.
All those countries have agricultural subsidies (Australia with the least).
Help I need an economist.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>The surplus production in these countries is leading to further
>marginalisation of farming in the developing countries. It is
>exacerbating the crisis on the hunger front. I canít afford to tell 550
>million farmers to leave agriculture and jump into the Bay of Bengal.
>The answer lies in making agriculture more attractive for the small and
>marginal farmers.

DML No the answer lies in creating a sustainable economy. I can't agree
that the only future for Indian farmers is hanging onto small uneconomic
acreage. How do we make it more attractive for Indian farmers? By subsidy I
suppose.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
We certainly are in a position to do this. We do not
>need the WTO to tell us how to do it. But then trade comes with other
>extraneous threats and you probably are aware of them.

DML Which threats? Could you be more specific. I don't agree with economic
bullying by the WTO or the US but not being an economist I can't lay claim
to knowing the truth here. (by the way in what way do your qualifications
allow you to profer an expert opinion on the safety of transgenics)?

Devinder Sharma wrote:
You must be kidding when you say that the national borders are
>dissolving and it is high time the world shared in the Earthís bounty.
>The best way of economic development is to allow the free movement of
>labour. After all, if cheap labour in Mexico can produce it what is
>wrong if they come to America and do the same work? Why shouldnít
>Australia, for instance, be asked to open its national borders for
>Indians or Chinese or other Asians. Shouldnít we enjoy the Earthís
>bounty? In any case, much of the bounty in the west is because they were
>till recently the colonial masters.
>
>Take the case of India. Columbus had sailed in search of India and not
>America. Vasco de Gama followed suit. They came to India not only for
>its spices but also for its riches. But then, the riches slowly went to
>Britain after the colony began expanding. And we turned into the land of
>famines. There were some 28 recorded famines in India in the past 150
>years before Independence. And all of these were caused because food was
>being diverted to other places by the colonial masters.

DML Yes colonialism was a scourge and it was wrong. If I could appologise
on behalf of Europe I would. However I don't see what this has got to do
with the state of the World's economy today. We would be a lot better
looking forward not back. Now the question of national borders is a fair
one. I acknowledge that in terms of free movement of individuals borders
certainly exist. My point was that borders to the free flow of capital are
dissolving and this will enrich poorer countries at the expense of richer
ones. It will not happen overnight. I wish borders didn't exist but it is
unrealistic to expect countries to extinguish sovereignty overnight. But
economics are not the only considertion. There are very good political
reasons to have borders and armies. I can't see a free flow of citizens
form Iran and Iraq to the US and vice versa in the near future. Which
government would you prefer to live under? The USA, Australia, India, Iran,
Russia, Japan, China? Somebody has to give up their way of life and change
their entire belief system to merge countries not just their money. I for
one will fight to the death rather than live in a country run by Saddam
Hussein and I'm sure many others would too.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
I thought you would perhaps be in agreement with what Dr Gordon
>Conway had told Monsanto about terminator technology. Strange that you
>should still support Terminator which is a classic example of "bad
>science". And if you support "bad science", I donít have anything more
>to say.

DML Not so there is nothing wrong with the idea of protecting your rights.
You are being disingenous about this. Are you against the idea of producing
crops that have inducible pest protection? For example spraying with a
substance to induce disease resistant gene expression that can only be
bought from the supplier. Gordon Conway can you remind me of the terminator
problem.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
Biotechnology IS a part of the globalisation process. As I said
>earlier, whatever its potential, it has been allowed to go astray by
>scientists who were not working for the cause of science but for
>furthering the economic interest of industry.

DML No biotechnology has absolutely nothing to do with globalisation. I
have never worked for the economic interests of any company as a scientist.
However even if I did so what. Everybody who doesn't work for the
government or charity works to garner company profits. I don't see what's
wrong with profits. If you don't like capitalism then just say so.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>It is complete naivety to say that globalisation or free trade will open
>up more factories and bring in more jobs/employment and employ the
>displaced farmers. I donít know where you get such fanciful ideas from.
>Please donít live in a genetically-modified world. Come down to see the
>harsh realities on the ground.

DML I just live in a normal World. Thanks for your concern though.

Devinder Sharma wrote:
>In India, since we took on globalisation, factories have closed. The
>unemployment rate is rising. And the result is that hunger is
>increasing. Did you ever hear of the phrase "jobless growth"? That is
>what globalisation is increasingly leading to. It is happening elsewhere
>in the west and it is fast catching up in developing countries.

DML I already said that globalisation will have victims. What is your
alternative proposal? Perhaps we should return to the good old days of
colonialism, or communism, or running about with spears or even lots and
lots of trade barriers. I don't like drastic change as much as the next
person but I don't believe in a global conspiracy designed to dominate the
underprivileged. In fact any leanings I may have had in that direction have
been totally erased by people like yourself and Greenpeace who have tried
to tar me (the Austalian biotechnologist) with the same brush. Incidently
I'll soon be leaving research to become a high school teacher. At that
point I'll still believe biotechnology is safe. Will I still be manipulated
by THE INDUSTRY?

Finally Sharma I can't comment on the subsidy levels you talk of below as I
don't know but I'd sure like to be a soybean farmer earning $47000 per
hectare. Anyway thank God for the USA.

Malcolm Livingstone
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Food Quality in Europe - an open debate about the future of agriculture,
food production and food safety in the EU

On June 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. (CET) David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and
Consumer Protection, and Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture,
Rural development and Fisheries, invite you to take part in a live
Internet chat.


The European Union Online

Policy makers in the EU and at national level are faced nowadays with
increasing consumer concern about food quality and food production. These
concerns are due in part to the food safety and animal health crises we
all know. But there are other, larger issues at stake. The common
agricultural policy itself and the sustainability of our methods of food
production are being questioned. The globalisation of markets and
pressures on prices are also seen as root causes. Animal welfare and
environmental aspects of agri-food production have become matters of
public concern. The challenge is to find ways to match consumer demands
and expectations for good quality food with an economically viable,
sustainable and safe food supply. To seek out the solutions, we need a
strategic re-thinking of food production and food policy in terms of
quality, safety and cost. Shifts in attitudes of both consumers and
producers may be called for.

But first there are important questions to clarify. What exactly is
quality? Are consumers prepared to pay the price? Are intensive farming
methods really the source of all our problems? What incentives do farmers
have to shift the emphasis from quantity to quality? Can advanced
technology and modern production methods deliver tasty and wholesome food?
Do agri-food multi-nationals give priority to the short-term pressures of
the stock market and longer-term considerations of brand positioning over
consumer demands? Do consumers practise what they preach? Are modern
eating habits part of the problem? Can 'quality' be the subject of
legislation? Is improving the quality of information available about food
products part of the solution? Is it clear to consumers what official and
unofficial quality labels and claims really offer, and are they reliable?
Commissioners David Byrne and Franz Fischler have called for an open
debate on all these issues. They want to discuss with you, live on the
Internet, how agricultural and food policy and food production methods can
better respond to consumer expectations, and at what price.

The discussion will take place in the eleven official languages of the
European Union. Questions may be put in any of those languages and may
also be sent in advance to: Chat-Fischler-Byrne@cec.eu.int. Questions
should be as short as possible, 256 characters maximum.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Propagating myths doesn't help anyone

Bangkok Post
By David Gransby
May 31, 2001

Like many other independent observers, I am becoming seriously concerned
at the increasingly strident noise made by a variety of NGOs in the
spreading of Urban Legends, and in their pursuit of publicity and
self-aggrandisement, rather than the truth and the genuine protection of
the public good.

It is fascinating that they only zero in on alleged malpractices by
multinational corporations with high public profiles, and completely
ignore the plethora of smaller, lesser-known companies who are the real
culprits.

The latest round in this saga is Greenpeace's attack on Nestle for
supposedly using GE ingredients in its food products - particularly baby
food (Bangkok Post, May 29).

In one fell swoop - with the unsubstantiated claim that GE foods might be
harmful to the environment and human health - Greenpeace links babies,
health and a major multinational in statements that are deliberately
designed to stir-up popular consciousness.

With what intent? It is the underlying intent of a statement that affirms
its real purpose. I fear Greenpeace and other like-minded NGOs have long
ditched responsibility for publicity, and thus only attack that which is
large and highly visible.

If those companies so attacked were guilty of extreme malpractice and do
intend to harm human health, particularly at its most vulnerable, then
such attacks would be merited. But this is not the case.

When Henri Nestle produced his first baby food formula well over 100 years
ago, Farine Lactee Henri Nestle, he did so to produce an economical and
healthy alternative to breastfeeding for those mothers who were unable to
breastfeed. His ultimate goal was to help combat the problem of infant
mortality due to malnutrition.

Opponents of non-natural breastfeeding have for years claimed that the
World Health Organisation has categorically stated that 1.5 million
infants per year die because of artificial baby feeding.

This Urban Legend was categorically denied in 1992 by a WHO report which
stated that WHO had made no statements quantifying the impact on either
morbidity or mortality of infants fed on breast-milk substitutes. In other
words, the only categorical statement made by WHO about infant mortality
and artificial breastfeeding was that no statement had ever been made on
that issue.

Not content to let this canard spread (it is still avidly propagated on a
number of ill-informed NGO websites), we are now treated to the latest
fashionable food horror story - baby foods and GE. Once again, a company
is slandered by the promulgation of half truths and great lies - while the
real offenders continue their activities.

NGOs have as much responsibility to offer balanced and provable statements
as have those large companies they so obsessively seek to pillory and
chastise.

I believe the law of diminishing returns has set in on the whole NGO
brigade, and that in a desperate attempt to keep in the public eye, their
increasing hubris forces them to sell half-facts and quasi-scientific
truth.

From providing a great service, they are now doing a great disservice, and
the mindless clarion calls they are repeatedly making against major
corporations deserve to result in a response of stony silence from the
general public, whose goodwill and faith they are now abusing.

NGOs are rapidly losing their way, and unless they can return to the good
intent that was their hallmark of yesteryear, they deserve to wither on
the vine and die.

David M. Gransby
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.planetrice.net/newspub/newstory.cfm?id=896

Jose Bove Takes Anti-GM Fight to Britain

by Tom Hargrove, PlanetRice Editor-in-Chief
May 29, 2001

Jose Bove, the walrus-moustachioed French sheep farmer who is renown for
his attacks on genetically modified crops, and for destroying a McDonald's
restaurant, is taking his fight to Britain next month.

The pipe-smoking figurehead of the movement against globalization is
making contact with groups that oppose the growth of "agri-business" and
the demise of the small farm, the London Sunday Times reported on May 20.

In March, a French court gave rebel farm leader Jose Bove a 10-month
suspended jail sentence for destroying 1,000 genetically modified rice
plants during an assault on CIRAD, a French-funded international
agricultural research center, PlanetRice reported on March 16.

The soft-spoken campaigner has become accustomed to appearing in French
courts for destroying "unnatural" crops. Earlier this year he narrowly
escaped expulsion from Brazil after he took part in burning genetically
modified corn.

In March, Bove joined Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos in his
triumphal march on Mexico City. In April, he led demonstrators at the
Summit of the Americas, when 34 presidents and prime ministers from across
the Western Hemisphere met in Quebec to discuss establishing a Free Trade
Area of the Americas. He also urged Canadians to destroy genetically
modified seeds of death, and attack laboratories where the controversial
crops are being developed, the National Post reported.

"The charismatic mascot of the 'alternative global network' of Third World
activists, environmentalists, and neohippies will be invited to address a
demonstration outside the headquarters of the National Farmers' Union
in...London, on June 12," the Sunday Times reported.

Farmers will be asked to block the road with tractors, a tactic used in
French demonstrations. The protest will highlight claims that the NFU it
is more eager to represent big business than to promote the interests of
small farmers.

"The fight does not stop at the borders of France," Bove said. "When it
comes to agriculture, unfortunately Britain is not an example to follow.
Britain's agriculture should adapt to the wishes of its citizens.

"It seems clear that 30% to 40% of the cattle slaughtered in the foot and
mouth epidemic were killed unnecessarily," he said. "These pyres of
burning cattle, like scenes from the Middle Ages, have had a very strong
impact, reinforcing the view that industrialization of farming is not
linked any more to real life. I hope British organizations will use this
crisis to examine their consciences."

An admirer of the British campaign against genetically modified crops,
Bove, 47, did not rule out taking part in other protests during a book
tour that will take him to Norwich, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Bove's droopy moustache has led to comparisons of Asterix leading the
Gauls against the Romans. Such is the adoration heaped on him in France,
where the public traditionally sides with protesters, that he is often
called "Saint Jose" and his followers are called Bovistes.

When Europe banned imports of hormone-injected beef, America retaliated by
imposing heavy duties on several European food imports, including the
Roquefort cheese Bove makes on his farm in the Massif Central, the Sunday
Times reported.

Accompanied by fellow farmers and activists armed with hammers and
screwdrivers, Bove descended from the hills and started "dismantling" the
McDonald's restaurant in Millau. He was arrested, briefly jailed and
became famous when he was photographed raising manacled hands in defiance.

The image is used on the cover of his book The World is Not for Sale,
Peasants Against Disgusting Food.

These days, Bove spends more time jetting around the world than he does
making Roquefort cheese. His jovial style and fluent English, learned as a
child while his parents studied at the University of California at
Berkeley, have helped him become a star at protests from Seattle to Davos
since the McDonald's incident.

His British tour, Bove says, is a chance to publicize an account of his
fight against "McDomination".

"I hope my book will interest British farmers and citizens," he said. "Mad
cow, foot and mouth ... all the perversions of the system, the UK has
them."

The UK also has lots of McDonald's restaurants.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

GM Crops Get Go-Ahead In WA
However, Minister wants ban for at least five years.

The West Australian
May 30, 2001

THE State Government has opened the door to the commercial release of
genetically modified crops. But it has warned that any problems could
result in the program being suspended for at least five years.

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance released the Government's interim policy
on GM crops yesterday and called for a balance between opportunity and
prudence.

The policy could allow gene technology companies to introduce GM crops in
WA under strict national regulations which will apply from June 21.

Mr Chance said the State Government was prepared to pass mirroring
legislation which would enable crops to be planted.

But he said once the legislation was in place, he would look at ways of
trying to keep the Government's election promise to ban all commercial GM
crops from WA for at least five years.

Mr Chance said he expected to get applications for commercial GM crops
from next season but he would try to oppose the moves.

"My answer would be I don't want it," he said. "I have got to find out
what legal means I will have to implement the policy that we promised the
people."

In the meantime, the Government would agree to pass the legislation
because the Federal interim office of the gene regulator had inadequate
powers to govern GM trials.

"The regulator's powers are next to none and it has no means of compelling
(gene technology companies) to reveal where these trials even are being
held," Mr Chance said.

The office of the gene regulator in Canberra administers GM trials in
Australia but cannot enforce trial guidelines which are voluntary.

The office has investigated many breaches of the guidelines, including
incidents where GM seed has been mixed with non-GM seed, transported and
then misplaced.

In other trials, sheep have been allowed to graze on land used for GM
trials, increasing the risk that the seed will spread, and plants have
been allowed to grow from dropped seed.

Mr Chance said the new laws would improve the regulatory system, giving
extra powers to protect human health, the environment and safety.

Locations of GM trials could be publicised under the new laws. Local and
State governments are not told automatically of the location of GM trials,
which has upset farmers opposed to GM crops.

Mr Chance flagged several investigations into ways that GM and non-GM
crops could be segregated and whether there was a premium for crops which
were guaranteed to be GM-free.

In April, Mr Chance said he was seeking legal advice on whether the
Government could ban companies which misused gene technology.

Misuse of gene technology could damage seriously WA's clean and green
agricultural reputation.

Opponents of GM foods say doctoring genes is unnatural and could create
mutant strains of plants, such as herbicide-resistant weeds.

Farmers fear that other crops will be affected through cross-pollination.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

London Conference To Focus On Agricultural Biotechnology

Dow Jones
May 30, 2001

LONDON -(Dow Jones)- A two-day conference starting in London Tuesday will
focus on agricultural biotechnology and its effects on consumers, the
environment and medicine in the developing world.

A press release from the organizers of the event, which is called "Seeds
of Opportunity - the Role of Biotechnology in Agriculture," said speakers
will address matters of science, farming and commerce. "Agricultural
biotechnology is probably the most contentious food issue facing the U.K.
and Europe," said the release. The conference will bring together experts
"in agricultural
biotechnology in order to demystify this technology and to discuss its
potential advantages and disadvantages."

Speakers include Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for
his efforts to alleviate world hunger by improving wheat yields and crop
management techniques, and Harold Kroto, a co-winner of the 1996 Nobel
Prize in chemistry.

"Another theme that will be discussed at the conference is the importance
of increasing the public's understanding of science and raising their
awareness of scientific achievement," the release said.

The event is being hosted by the U.S. Embassy in London, the University of
London and the Royal Agricultural College.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Arson hampers conservation work

Nature
By Rex Dalton
May 31, 2001

[SAN DIEGO] A plant research facility at the University of Washington was
severely damaged by fire last week, in what appears to be one in a series
of destructive attacks by militant environmental activists.

The university's Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, where
ecologists, botanists and molecular biologists study biodiversity and
plant genetics, suffered damage estimated at $3 million in the incident on
21 May. Vehicles and buildings at a tree plantation in Clatskanie, Oregon,
which works with researchers at the centre, were also damaged in a
simultaneous attack.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the fires, which an
anonymous call claimed was the work of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).
The letters 'ELF' were also daubed in graffiti at the Oregon plantation.
The ELF has been linked to a series of attacks on industry, tourist and
logging facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

The main target for the attack appears to be Toby Bradshaw, who heads a
project studying genetically modified poplar trees. Bradshaw says that his
research materials and data were backed up elsewhere.

But the work of other scientists, such as Sarah Reichard, who studies the
restoration of endangered forest plants, has suffered. "These people are
really ignorant, attacking scientists who spend their lives protecting the
environment," says Reichard, who is secretary of the Society for
Conservation Biology.