AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
Date: Jun 04 2001 20:49:26 EDT
From: Malcolm Livingstone
Subject: Devinder Sharma
Dear Devinder Sharma,
Your reply to my criticism of your previous article is reproduced below. I
would like to make some comments.
Dear Malcolm Livingstone,
DS I am writing this to express my deep gratitude and sincere thanks to
the 102 people, a majority of them scientists from the west, who wrote to
me saying how delighted they were to find that someone could muster the
courage to put the issue in the right perspective. I am unable to write to
them individually and so take this opportunity to thank them and look
forward in future to their continued support in favour of "good science"
DML Look Sharma what is your point? It seems to me that you are only
interested in hearing the views of those that support your extreme
position. So what that 120 scientists wrote to you, 3000 have signed
Prakash's petition and scientific bodies from all over the World
representing hundreds of thousands of scientists also support
biotechnology. It is not a fact that you have courageously discussed the
matter from the RIGHT perspective.
DS -- the science and technology that is socially relevant,
environmentally sound and helps pull the poor and marginalised out from
from the vicioustrap of artificially-induced hunger and malnutrition.
DML So can biotech.
DS The only nasty letter that I received was from you. I did not respond
for the simple reason that using insulting and derogatory language is not
part of the INDIAN CULTURE AND TRADITIONS. Nor will I stoop so low in
future, I can assure you.
DML My letter was not nasty as you put it. It was disagreeing with you.
I'm sorry if you are not used to criticism. You insulted my integrity and
knowledge by saying that I am being duped by multinationals. I can think
for myself actually and just because my views are the same as industry and
government doesn't make me a moron. In Australia the term pigs arse is
hardly a personal insult it's just an expression (like merde in French).
I'm Australian and proud of it. Your insults to my integrity are a far
worse sin in this country. I don't want to insult you or India but yours
is not the only culture on Earth and India has its faults as well. I have
a right to be an Australian and if you can't abide Australians then that
is your problem. You insist that the USA is not to be trusted
because it allows the publication of pornography. I just don't agree with
you and maybe it won't be possible for us to have an honest discussion.
Despite your longwinded replies you still haven't bothered to address
real biological concerns about biotechnology. Why don't you want to
discuss the science? My main argument has nothing to do with society's
ills, or the poor in India, or pornography (how did you manage to bring
pornography into a discussion on the safety of biotechnology?). My
argument is that GM crops are just as safe as any other. Now if you are
really interested in a scientific debate you will speak like a scientist
and discuss some science. I am totally unconcerned that you don't like the
way I write or the cultural and moral values I possess. Our paths will
probably never cross and it is probably a good thing.
DS It is often said that ignorance is bliss. If you are not even aware
of what Dr Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, had
told Monsanto with regard to 'Terminator', don't blame me. If you are not
aware of the massive agricultural subsidies being pumped into western
agriculture, how can I help? If you do not know what kind of external
threats are being used to push the WTO agenda, don't you think you need a
course in understanding the political economy of global trade in
agriculture? And still worse, you say that you do not know of ANY
scientist working for the agricultural companies? Just ask Dr Prakash, and
you will get a list which may be several kilometers long !!
DML No Sharma I don't need to read Gordon Conway's article because I
understand the science behind terminator technology. I don't need
anyone's approval to express my ideas. Terminator technology is simply
the use of the cre/lox system to inactivate a gene in the GM plant which
will make it sterile. This would mean the farmer would have to buy fresh
seed every year. This is exactly what farmers must do at the moment if
they purchase hybrid seed.
Now some farmers won't buy hybrid seed for this reason but plenty do. Why
do they? Because despite the increased costs the yield is so high they
more than cover their costs. So once again I suggest you let the
farmers(the market) determine the profitability of the produce they buy.
Terminator technology was also developed to allay fears by environmental
groups of pollen spread from GM crops. These crops can't produce fertile
pollen and therefore no transgene can "escape" into wild relatives (not
that they are anyway). Still this is just another example of the
environmental movement avoiding sound science and shifting the goal posts
as soon as one of their concerns is addressed. The environmental movement
isn't interested in the environment but in conflict. Patrick Moore has
declared on a number of occasions that the environment movement won most
of the important goals years ago and they don't seem to be able to let go
and get on with something useful. I would like you to check out the
references I am going to send you and you can work out for yourself
whether terminator technology is an environmental or economic
catastrophe. I will post some references when I look them up.
The average rate of Australian tariffs is 4.5% down from 15.6% 5 years
ago and for the US it is 3.4% down from 4.2% 5 years ago. Australian
agriculture has an average tariff level of 1.3%. Malaysia has reduced
tariffs from 17 to 9%, Phillipines from 28 to 11% and Korea 19 to 11%
over the same period.
Those agricultural products that do attract a tariff are cheese, some
vegetables and oilseeds and some processed foods. Those that receive
no subsidy at all are; beef, wheat, barley, sugar, wool,
dairy industry (milk) and cotton (Australian Department of Foreign
Affairs, 28 January 2000). It is the case that lamb producers here have,
in the past, had to shoot their stock in the paddock because they
couldn't get enough at market to justify the transportation costs.
Doesn't sound like strong govt. subsidy to me.
A good introduction to globalisation can be found at
http://www.austrade.gov.au/image/globalisation.pdf written by the Chief
Economist at DFAT Tim Harcourt.
It is also true that EU production quotas can artificially inflate global
prices. For example an ABARE study examined two specific reforms and
found that if they were instituted dairy product market access would
increase and the volume of subsidised dairy exports would be reduced. The
study found that if dairy product quotas had been doubled and tariff
rates halved in 1999, world cheese, butter and milk powder prices would
have been 20 to 35 percent higher. If the volume of subsidised exports
had been halved, prices would have been 17 to 35 percent higher.
According to the Cattle Council of Australia we are second bottom of the
list as far as the use of agricultural subsidies goes. Only New Zealand
is any lower.
No, Devinder Sharma we don't subsidise our farmers AT ALL. Get your facts
You should read my response carefully. I said I did not know any
scientists working for Monsanto personally. Of course biotechnologists
work for the biotech. industry.
DS This kind of ignorance is not bliss but is dangerous. It is dangerous
because society is being led up the garden path by people who do not even
know, for instance, what causes hunger in the first place. They swear by
hunger to promote an unproven technology and do not even know whether the
technological inputs will actually exacerbate the existing crisis. Instead
of retracting and accepting
their mistakes, these scientists boil with rage and irritation and fire
all kinds of accusations.
DML You have absolutely no right to claim and no evidence that
biotechnology harms one person. I don't have any mistakes to retract and
if you continue to make these allegations then I suggest you try to back
them up. I have not, nor ever have, led anyone up the garden path. One
more thing you need to be made aware of is that GM crops are not going to
alleviate World poverty now - maybe in the future but not now. World
poverty is a complex issue. I just think that modern technology can help
- you don't (by the way I do think that technophobes are Luddites)
DS I thought the underlying principle of good science was to debate
about its virtues and also examine the threats. Good science calls for a
public debate on a contentious issue. Instead, the proponents of the
technology are now trying to influence the Courts. If uprooting of
genetically modified plants by activists and farmers is 'vandalism', what
term do you give to the efforts being made by the industry and
public-sector agricultural scientists to 'influence' the judiciary? The
mere fact that the judiciary is being influenced is a clear indication
that all is NOT well with genetic engineering.
DML No the underlying principle of science is to investigate the
Universeand try to make sense of it. Science sometimes deliberately tries
solve a specific applied problem. Are you seriosly suggesting that
scientists in biotech don't discuss the risks of what they are doing? We
do so all the time. If you mean, that by disagreeing with yourself, I am
not discussing the risks then you need to think again. Everytime I
counter a risk that is brought by an opponent of biotech I do so with
conviction and integrity. It just so happens I haven't found any
objections that I can agree with. Should I just agree with you so I can
be considered fair and reasonable? I'm sorry Sharma but I just can't lie
to make friends. If you don't like what I consider to be the truth then
there is nothing I can do. I'm doing my best and so far my analysis of
the risks matches those of thousands of other scientists (most of those
not working for biotech companies).
Biotech companies did not start this debate and court action has been
started by opponents of biotechnology. For example the Royal Commission
in New Zealand. I am all in favour of scientific debate but I think your
agenda goes a bit further than that. Who is influencing the courts in the
USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand? Can you give one expample of the
perversion of justice in these countries because if you can then this a
very serious offence. Any judge whose findings are influenced by
predjudice or bribery will go to jail - no doubt about it. So if you can
give me the names of any judges in these countries who have committed
these offences then I will follow it up and get them tried in a court of
All is well in genetic engineering. Give me one substantiated example of
something going wrong.
DS In many countries, including the United States, Britain, South
Africa, Australia and India, some scientists from respectable scientific
institutes have accepted that they have met the judges to tell them how
wonderful biotechnology is. It happened recently in India [see article
below], when such a group met the Chief Justice of India inviting him and
his other colleagues to workshops in the US. And I had always thought that
there was something called tampering with justice, which was punishable !!
DML I know of no judges invited to biotech workshops in my country.
However it is a terrific idea. Educating members of society is not
considered bribery in this country. In fact we show our work to
schoolchildren, university undergrads, politicians. In fact anybody who
is interested. Our research is open to the public. We have nothing to
hide (visit CSIRO homepage). This recent debate on the merits of biotech
has shown us that we need to spend more time educating the public. I have
been saying this for sometime.
DS Further, the USDA is pumping in millions of dollars in 'educating'
the media of the developing countries to 'appreciate' biotechnology. Why
can't they spend these millions from the tax-payers money to have a public
debate, to let the society decide whether or not this technology is
required and in what form and to what extent must we allow the
trigger-happy biotechnologists to operate?
DML You are off on another conspiracy theory again. I'm sorry but do you
think that this debate is gagged or something? Greenpeace is spending
plenty of money on propaganda - not education. Plenty of money is spent
on education and more will be. If you want a public debate then lets have
one. I don't mind.
In Australia the media does participate in debate. Several shows have
used debate format recently. In fact most of the media coverage is
entirely onesided and against anti-GM. Our society is deciding whether we
want this technology. We have legislated to label GM products and this
should come into effect soon. However the facts are that most people here
don't care. It is not a big news item except when anti-GM protestors
chain themselves to buildings in the city or when they torch facilities
and destroy years of hard work with their terrorist acts.
DS And finally, what do you want me to say in reply to your statement:
"I couldn't give a rat's arse whether you like pornography or not." If you
can go to the extent of accepting pornography for the sake of
biotechnology, I have nothing left to say. Nor will I have anything
more to say in future on this particular dialogue.
DML Well here's a good one. I didn't bring pornography into this. You
did. I replied just because I couldn't let such a ridiculous claim go
unanswered. What has pornography got to do with biotechnology? Can you
answer the question this time?
The term rat's arse is just an expression of my frustration that you have
the hide to bring pornography into a discussion of the benefits and risks
Sharma you have made various unsubstantiated claims and you have backed
none of them up. I replied to you at length with evidence to refute your
claims about pesticide use and GM crops. You failed to reply to these
facts. Does that mean you now agree with me on the pesticide issue?
I have not insulted you any more than you have I. I write in a frank and
honest way using my own language. If it is offensive to you then there is
nothing to be done. However at no time have I taken the gloves off and
all my writing has been to address issues relevent to this debate or
those brought up by yourself (frequently not relevent).
Lastly I will say once again that I think we should work together to
bring about better living conditions for all. I just don't see why
biotechnology is the cut off point. Why don't we work together to solve
agricultural problems? My expertise is in transgenic crops but my
interest is in helping to solve all the World's nutritional problems just
as yours is. I'm sure that you will come around eventually when you see
products that are obviously going to help people nutritionally. In fact
it won't be long before these products are out there in the market place.
I also suggest that you have some faith in market forces to either accept
or reject a new technology.
One consequence of the anti-GM campaign has been to halt work on research
projects that will be beneficial to the consumer. I can't understand this
Sharma you are obviously a passionate defender of the poor and
disadvantaged. This is a great asset and a personal quality to be admired
and fostered. I too think this way and the only thing separating us is
the GM issue. I am saddened that so many caring people have rejected this
technology out of hand. It holds great promise whether you think so or
Date: Jun 04 2001 23:34:05 EDT
From: "terry hopkin"
Subject: The future
Was watching one of these speculative science programmes whilst filling in
time, and they began to discuss food in the future and nano technology's
effect on it's production. There was not a mention of crops but of
proteins source to be harvested, which the little nano machines would
convert into beef, cornflakes or what ever man had programmed them to do
at the time. A quick look at nano tech sites on the web showed that this
was a good way in the future, as seen by our experience, but, anyone
suggesting that we all would have super computers in our homes in the
fifties would have had to write it it as science fiction.
Perhaps the rate of development is best explained by the birthday card you
buy which plays a tune has more computing power than existed before 1960
Are we all arguing about the size and shape of a sail, for the boat whilst
round the bend in the river they are laying down the keel to atomic
Whilst looking at the production of crops as they exist now, we perhaps
should be aware of the changes that might well sweep in almost over night,
and the dangers and advantages they would bring. Think of it GM food out
dated and organic food vanished as replication would be perfect. Well
it'll never happen in my life time
terry hopkin firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2001 13:36:49 -0400
From: Wayne Parrott
Subject: rr soybean
Thanks for posting my rebuttal on RR soybean. However, I noticed
that you did not pass along the literature cited. Perhaps you may
want to do so in case someone questions the references. They were in
the original, but here they are again:
Carpenter, J.E. 1999. Comparing Roundup Ready and Conventional
Soybean Yields 1999, www.ncfap.org.
Caviness, C.E., and H.J. Walters. 1971. Effect of phytophthora rot
on yield and chemical composition of soybean seed. Crop Science
Lambert, L. and J. Tyler. 1999. Appraisal of insect_resistant
soybean, p. 131_148. In: B. R. Wiseman and J. A. Webster (eds.),
Economic, environmental, and social benefits of resistance in field
crops. Entomological Society of America, Lanham, MD.
Singh, N.B. and J.W. Lambert. 1985. Effect of the gene Rps1 for
resistance to phytophthora rot on yield and other characteristics in
soybean. Crop Sci 25:494-496.
Dept. Crop & Soil Sciences
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-7272
(706) 542-0928/fax 0914
The paradigm warrior in pursuit of environmental justice
The Financial Express
June 4, 2001
She's into redefining paradigms. Picketing the World Bank office in New
Delhi, educating tribal groups and farmers in rural India, lecturing
multinationals, are her preferred weapons. That?s Vandana Shiva, the
celebrated eco-feminist, for you. Author of eleven books, winner of the
prestigious Right Livelihood Award?or the ?alternative Nobel??and guest
speaker at numerous universities on issues such as eco-feminism,
agricultural ecology, biotechnology, intellectual property rights and
globalisation (she claims all of them fit neatly under the umbrella of
environmental justice) is no stranger to awards.
Which is probably why she takes the latest accolade?Asiaweek magazine has
recently ranked Ms Shiva as the fifth most powerful communicator in
Asia?in her stride.
?I have known for a long time that global corporations who are making
everyone run scared just now?from the World Trade Organisation, to our
premier and finance minister?run scared themselves when I sit across the
table and debate with them,? she says with a broad smile. Yet, she refuses
to take herself too seriously. ?Now how much that translates into any
other form of power, I have no idea?, she guffaws. But, after a pregnant
pause, she adds that her success as a communicator is a result of her deep
convictions: ?I don?t say, write or act upon anything unless I am deeply
Interestingly, this ?powerful communicator? is often accused of distorting
facts. Jairam Ramesh, member of the Congress party says, ?She?s so
scholarly and articulate, so of course she?s a good communicator. But
unfortunately, with her, any resemblance to facts is totally coincidental.
She?s been proven wrong many, many times. In fact, her misinformed
convictions make her dangerous?.
A senior member of the Bharatiya Janata Party concurs. The gentleman, who
had occasion to participate in a debate with her, was left ruing the
encounter as a complete waste of time. ?Her facts were just wrong. I spent
most of my time correcting them instead of debating with her?.
Fellow NGO activist Pradeep S Mehta of the Centre for International Trade,
Economics and Environment (CITEE), also wonders about her communication
abilities. ?Although she can communicate well, she?s been able to get
through to only those who remain in tight compartments. She?ll not be able
to convert those who are in the know. Moreover, she doesn?t like to enter
into a debate on a serious platform?.
A respected intellectual property expert, part of the Indian government?s
team on IPR issues, is also a bit sceptical. ?We had to dismiss two
petitions which she filed against the Indian government, alleging
bio-piracy by international companies, because her own statements were
found to be inconsistent?.
Critics question her credibility. Mr Mehta feels she?s too much of a
jetsetter and accuses her of hypocrisy. ?She talks about sustainable
agriculture, yet uses chemicals on her farm.? So does the BJP functionary.
?If she?s so anti-MNCs why does she go off to (the World Economic Forum
at) Davos, that ultimate rich club of the MNCs??
Others doubt her motives. ?She?s a lobbyist out to scuttle the economic
progress of India. Where does she get her funding from??, asks one.
Ask Ms Shiva about the violent feeling she inspires (her website was
recently hacked and linked to a pornographic site), and she returns matter
of factly: ?You have to treat both (love and hate) with equal detachment.
It?s the price you pay for the work you choose to do.?
Press on and she points out that her international work and subsequent
recognition are a logical progression of her work at home. ?From 1982-1985
I concentrated on local issues because by that time I?d already travelled
the world and been an international expert. But during that time I
realised that every one of the projects I was working on had been financed
by the World Bank. So in 1984-85 I started to study World Bank financing.
Then, when in 1985, I was asked to spearhead the Save the Rain Forest
campaign, (?I?d done all the studies on rain forests?), that was the start
of linking back internationally?.
Ask her why liberal, forward-looking Indians remain sceptical of her
activism and she tells you that it stems from an Indian trait: pulling
down someone who?s successful.?The West has a civilisational crisis.
They?ve recognised that they need to find an alternative. That?s why my
writings have struck a chord with them?.
Her various critics notwithstanding, Ms Shiva does have a substantial
following, within and without India. Which is probably why Asiaweek
believes an increasing number of governments, multilateral institutions
and global corporations are listening to her words of wisdom. But Rome
wasn?t built in a day and Ms Shiva, the paradigm warrior, was effectively
born 19 years ago, in 1982.
After finishing her PhD in Foundations of Quantum Theory in 1979, she
dabbled in science and taught science policy for a while. Then, in 1982,
she did a study on mining in the Doon valley for the ministry of
environment, a study which resulted in the first ever Supreme Court
judgment stopping economic activity on grounds of environmental
destruction. ?That study made me realise that there was an entry-vacuum of
an independent research system and so, the same year, I set up the
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy?.
1982-1985 found Ms Shiva working on local issues: forest conservation in
the Himalayas, water issues, mining in the Doon valley, campaigns against
dams etc. By 1985, she had started to focus on agro-ecology. At the same
time, two of her books Violence of the Green Revolution (which arose from
her study on Conflict over Resources for the United Nations University)
and Staying Alive, became huge hits abroad, perhaps as a result of her
initial fame (remember ?Save the Rain Forests??).
By 1987 she had graduated to debunking globalisation and strongly opposing
intellectual property rights which she felt were tools used by MNCs to
perpetuate their monopolies. This latter was nicely timed, with the
Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations (1986-1993) under way
and, by 1995 when the World Trade Organisation came into existence, she
was firmly perched on the anti-globalisation bandwagon. Her latest
addition, to an already lengthy list of causes, is agricultural
biotechnology. ?Genetic modification of crops is manipulation of life,?
she declares with evident distaste.
Farmer stands firm on GM trials
June 1, 2001
Another attempt to convince the Flintshire farmer who is running Wales's
only genetically-modified crop trials to pull out of the project has
Organic farmers from Pembrokeshire travelled to north Wales to meet John
Cottle, who is hosting trials of GM fodder maize
The meeting was amiable but the points of view on both side are at
The organic farmers are concerned about cross-contamination but Mr Cottle
remains convinced about the benefits of the trials.
Mr Cottle was presented with what is claimed to be 'scientific evidence'
on the risks of GM crops.
There was a then a tour of farm at Sealand including an inspection of Mr
Cottle controversial GM maize crop, followed by a visit to an organic farm
Last month, Mr Cottle explained to the Welsh Agriculture Minister Carwyn
Jones that he was pressing ahead with the trials despite a plea from the
assembly to stop.
He has said he is determined to carry on with the experiment and he
remains convinced of its benefits.
Mr Cottle said: "I do believe that this technology is the beginning of
He has said that he admires the organic farmers for what they are trying
to achieve but he has insisted that there are environmental benefits to
"The main advantage of the spray which we use it that it is very friendly
to the wildlife and unlike the conventional sprays it breaks down in the
soil," he said.
The assembly's attempts to persuade Mr Cottle to change his mind and dig
up the crops have so far failed.
They fought for six months to try to "go it alone" and prevent the crops
from being grown at all in Wales.
But scientific studies carried out on behalf of the assembly failed to
give Mr Jones the proof he needed to ban the GM crops.
Mr Cottle believes that the assembly are out of touch with what the
Trials called off
He said: "Most of the disquiet has come from the assembly but I don't
think that that actually reflects the feeling of the people of Wales.
"I think that the assembly only listen to one side of the story."
The assembly had aimed to create a GM-free Wales - not least as a
marketing ploy to kick-start Wales's flagging farming industry.
Two other GM trials in Wales, planned at Mathry in Pembrokeshire, were
called off last month when landowner Tony Marlow accused the government of
providing misleading details on the experiment.
Green guru in call for compulsory GM studies
By Vic Robertson
June 5, 2001
A NOBEL Peace prize winner has called for the introduction of compulsory
biology studies among wealthy urban nations to improve understanding of
food and agricultural issues.
Dr Norman Borlaug, often described as the father of the "green revolution"
said that this understanding would help counter the irrational fears
stirred up by zealots against genetic modification techniques.
"The intensity of attacks against GMOs by certain groups is unprecedented
and, in certain cases, even surprising given the potential environmental
benefits that such technology can bring in reducing the use of crop
protection chemicals," he said.
"It appears that many of the most rabid crop bio-tech opponents are driven
more by a hatred of capitalism and globalisation than by the actual safety
of transgenic plants.
However, the fear they have been able to generate ... among the public is
due in significant measure to the failure of our schools and colleges to
teach even rudimentary courses on agriculture.
"This educational gap has resulted in an enormous majority, even among
well educated people, who seem totally ignorant of an area of knowledge so
basic to their daily lives and, indeed, to their future survival. We must
begin to address this ignorance without delay ... by making it compulsory
for students to study more biology and to understand the working of
agricultural and food systems."
Dr Borlaug, who was one of the keynote speakers on the opening day of an
international biotechnology conference in London last week, said that
almost all traditional foods were the products of natural mutations and
genetic recombination. Without this process we would still be "slime on
the bottom of some prime evil sea".
He added: "The Green Revolution of the last four decades had led to vast
increases in food supplies at lower prices to millions in developing
countries but it needed to be taken on further with biotechnology; again
with those countries as prime beneficiaries."
"But instead the battle over biotech products is being fought mainly in
the rich nations, whose governments collectively subsidise their very
small farming populations to the tune of $350 billion a year and where
many of the major problems of human nuitrition are related to obesity."
Dr Borlaug urged private life science companies to establish concessionary
pricing of GM materials for low income countries and to share their
expertise with public research institutions and scientists concerned with
smallholder agriculture. He expressed some "uneasiness" at the
concentration in ownership of these life science groups and called on
governments to establish a stake in GM research to produce "public goods"
and to ensure farmers and the public were not held hostage to possible
private sector monopolies.
His themes were broadly endorsed by Senator George McGovern, US ambassador
to the UN Food and Agriculture agencies, who said he felt strongly about
the potential for biotechnology to alleviate hunger and suffering in the
GM soya: success plus confusion
By Gurumurti Natarajan
May 29, 2001
Genetic modification of crops is now passe with numerous species having
been engineered to incorporate resistance to herbicides, pests, and viral
attacks or to postpone . the natural phenomenon of ripening and
senescence. Farmers have embraced these new technological innovations by
the droves planting last year 109.2 million acres across five continents
with seeds carrying these modifications.
In five short years since their introduction, American farmers have
embraced the new wave crops by planting a whopping 40 million acres of
Roundup Ready (RR) Soya, representing 55 per cent of the total acreage.
RR Soya responds well to a single broad-spectrum herbicide of Roundup
(glyphosate) which is applied over the top of emerging seedlings.
Conventionally, herbicides are applied either pre-emergent or
post-emergent. Pre-emergent herbicides are less efficient because they
tend to leach out, mandating higher doses or supplementary post-emergent
herbicide sprays, which add to the chemical load on soils in either case.
Many of the post-emergent sprays suffer from being persistent and
effective in highly active low-dose, thus requiring repeats which tend to
harm young plants. Roundup provides farmers with a wider window in which
to pace their operations and, therefore, ensures that the herbicide
sprayed is good to the last drop because wash-aways from unseasonable
rains are avoided. All of these translate into a weed-free crop, fewer
passes of heavy-duty equipment for repeat sprays and the numerous benefits
that accrue from it, fuller utilisation of fertilisers by the crop and
more beans to harvest. Concomitantly, RR systems also entail higher costs
from higher doses of application, which, according to one estimate of the
USDA, is as high as 1.7 times compared to sulfonylurea and imidazolinone,
the low-dose alternatives.
The massive mandate to the RR Soya has caused a 50 per cent drop in prices
of nearly all the other types and classes of herbicides. Anxious farmers,
ever striving to protect their crops, to reap a good harvest; have begun
indulging in additional sprays with these other herbicides, largely
encouraged by the drop in costs. Cumulatively, these tend to increase
chemical pollution in the soil and the atmosphere, besides triggering
resistance among weeds.
An independent study that compared RR Soya with conventional seeds across
three states showed the yields of the former to be lower by one to 19 per
cent. This depression in yield is traced to lower levels of two aromatic
amino acids in the plant, phenylalanine and tyrosine. Phenylalanine has
been shown to be a "master control switch" that triggers a range of plant
defense responses to both biotic and abiotic stresses as pest attacks and
This new discovery has provided fodder to the anti-GM groups that
highlight three issues to challenge the positive claims of the
biotechnology protagonists. Any biotechnology that lays emphasis on a
single mode of action as does the RR system is a sure invitation to
development of rapid resistance among the adversary, namely the weeds.
Secondly, insertion of transgenes into major metabolic pathways of plants
could lead to unanticipated consequences, especially under extreme stress
conditions occasioned by drought, high incidence of pests and so on.
The reduced levels of two important amino acids and their role in the
defense mechanisms are a case in point. Thirdly, it calls for a cautious
approach by the regulators before approval for commercialisation of the
products of such new technologies.
Monsanto, the architect of RR Soya, however, feels that these criticisms
are unjustified. They content that although RR Soya yields are similar to
conventional varieties in weed-free conditions, they record higher yields
in the presence of weeds, due to superior weed control. Being a
self-pollinating crop, there is hardly any pollen drift from the GM Soya
to neighbouring crops planted with conventional seeds. Nor is the concern
of spread of the altered genes to the wild relatives of Soya a realistic
one in most of the countries that cultivate large areas of Soya, save
China which is the centre of diversity of this species.
Moreover, glyphosate is non-toxic to mammals and fish and is quickly
degraded into soils. The last word is that RR Soya has been grown in
millions of acres spread across every conceivable agro-ecological
condition for five years now.
While every new technology needs to be carefully evaluated before it is
recommended for commercial use, undue criticism is akin to throwing the
baby with the bath water.
In India, the genetically engineered Bt cotton, which confers resistance
to the rapacious attack of the bollworm, is due to make its debut in the
forthcoming kharif season.
That should spell relief to the millions of indigent farmers who have in
the past suffered untold misery from failed crops due to ineffective
Technology deserves a chance to succeed. Ignoring it would be to the peril
of the farmers and the food security of nations.
(Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan is an agri-consultant and can be contacted at
Genetically Modified Trees, Good News For Paper Industry
New Straits Times
June 5, 2001
Traditionally the raw material of the pulp and paper industry depends on
the natural forest where trees which are more than 50 years old are felled.
As it is increasingly seen as unacceptable to hew such trees, Thai paper
manufacturer Advance Agro Public Company Ltd has found a solution. The
company uses trees which are only five years' old, the youngest in the
Currently major producers of pulp and paper such as Brazil useseven-
year-old trees while Sweden and Finland still use 40-year- old trees.
"We are the first in the world to discover this and we did it by making
the best use of Thailand's natural geography and climate combined with the
agricultural skills of the Thai people," said deputy managing director
Paisan Srisa-an during a media tour of the company's plant recently.
The company had conducted a 20 year research which culminated in the use
of genetically modified Eucalyptus trees.
Advance Agro has transformed Thailand from an importer of pulp and paper
into a major exporter.
The company was incorporated in 1989 but in the early 80's its major
shareholder the Soon Hua Seng Group began experimenting with Eucalyptus
and other species as an alternative to low value crops such a rice and
It realised that the farmers would be better off planting fast growing
trees which would produce high fibre yields.
In 1987 it succeeded with one variety of Eucalyptus which not only
thrived on degraded land but was also disease and insect resistant.
Having established the raw material source, the company formed Advance
Agro in 1989 as the only fully integrated pulp and paper producer in
The company was listed in the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 1995.
In 1998 Stora Enso, the biggest pulp and paper manufacturer in Europe
acquired a 19.99 per cent equity in the company. Stora Enso provides
support in technology, research and development as well as marketing in
In the same year Japan's Oji Paper Co Ltd bought a 5.5 per cent stake. It
helps with the expansion into Japanese and Asian markets.
Advance Agro was recently awarded the ISO9001:2000 and to date more than
10,000 farmers have joined the tree growing programme.his way the farmers
receive a steady income while the company has a long term wood supply
without having to rely on trees from the natural forest.
It has created a new era for the paper industry based on the dual concept
of saving the environment and of developing the Thai agricultural sector.
Environment protection dictates every stage of the company's processes.
The trees are grown on tree farms. Reservoirs are dug so that the
community's water supply is not disturbed. Electricity is produced by
using raw material residues as recycled fuel. The residues also double up
as natural fertilisers.
Water is recycled using a pulp cleaning system which uses less water than
any other system in the world.
A storm in the GM coffee
By Gurumurti Natrajan
June 4, 2001
Genetic Modification of crops is now passe, I had written in these columns
recently. The highly utilitarian technology has conferred pest resistance
in cotton, viral resistance In papaya, herbicide resistance in soya,
delayed the process of natural ripening and senescence in tomato, so that
green, firm fruits can be harvested and transported long distances but
triggered to ripen at will at the retail grocery store.
The technology has now caught up with everyone's favourite brew, coffee.
Traditionally, coffee beans are hand-picked at just the right moment from
the trees as they mature at different times even within the same bunch.
Harvesting can last several weeks and in some countries be spread over two
seasons. Traditional coffee plantations are interspersed with tall trees
with a wide canopy and others that bear fruits. Such inter-Cropping
provides the much-needed shade to the coffee plants besides a hedge to
farmers against failure of the main crop or its uneconomic price swings.
Plantation floors are planted with vegetable patches, all of which is
calculated to provide steady employment and regular income to keep the
hearth going. Although construed labour-intensive, the massive employment
potential that traditional coffee bestows on millions of indigent farmers
Mechanisation of coffee harvest here is neither desirable as the berries
mature at different times nor possible due to the presence of other useful
vegetation that is inter-cropped with it. However, all of this could
change with the commercialisation of a new technology authored by the
University of Hawaii. The researchers have genetically engineered the the
crop so that berries develop and grow uniformly. They mature until a
certain point after which further development ceases. When all the berries
in a farm have reached this stage, they are sprayed with a certain
chemical which allows for uniform ripening.
Facilitating mechanical harvesting: This technology is touted to cut
labour costs by enabling strip harvesting and is clearly targeted at the
large plantations. A US patent has been granted to the university for this
technology. A private company, Integrated Coffee Technologies, has been
established to develop this technology further
to realise its commercial potential after Monsanto apparently declined to
get involved with it.
Millions of small coffee farmers in developing economies, already
straddled with declining prices and the angst of competition from other
origins in the post-WTO era, are now faced with daunting prospects that
threaten to take their livelihood away from them.
Nearly seven million farmers account for about 7O percent of total
production of coffee berries that are raised on patches ranging from their
back yards to a few acres.
Granted that science has been extended to include a technology-based
application of bringing coffee berries to ripen uniformly and thereby
facilitate mechanisation, it surely is an instance of a low priority
objective taking precedence over more immediate needs to alleviate hunger
and poverty, rid disease and spread cheer to millions. On the contrary,
when applied, it has all the trappings of fuelling unemployment among farm
labourers and driving them to poverty in the Asian and African hinterland.
It could only help the big companies that farm vast acres of coffee to
reduce their wage bill, besides ringing in huge profits to those
agriculture-inputs companies that would sell expensive seeds of these
newly modified coffee, as also the purveyors of chemicals needed to ripen
The potential beneficial applications of recombinant DNA technology are
astounding. These range from enriching rice with Vitamin A for alleviating
blindness among millions of Asian children, to administering an edible
vaccine through the ubiquitous banana or
potato, so essential to the success of vaccination and other programmes
for the eradication of epidemics and other dreaded diseases Bioremediation
of toxic waste dumps and reclamation of wastelands rendered unfit for
profitable cultivation due to salinity or alkalinity is within the realms
of possibility. Plastics and other useful chemicals can be made to order
in the living plant, thus reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
However, this latest innovation in coffee simply goes to show that
sometimes commercial considerations pre-occupy the minds of some companies
more so than principles of good corporate governance. Ergo,
responsibilities of corporate citizenship are quietly forgotten. It also
underscores the need for developing indigenous technologies through robust
investments and appropriate partnerships in the South so as to address
local issues. Which perhaps explains why we are flooded by new Viagra each
month while malaria continues to haunt the hapless.
(The author is an agri-consultant)
Genes in the Food!
New York Review of Books
BY RICHARD LEWONTIN
June 21, 2001
Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants:Science and Regulation
a report by the Committee on Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants,
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, National Research Council.
263 pages, $44.95 (hardcover)
published by National Academy Press
The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops
by Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon
168 pages, $19.95 (paperback)
published by MIT Press
Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply
by Vandana Shiva
140 pages, $14.00 (paperback)
published by South End Press
Pandora?s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified
by Alan McHughen
277 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
published by Oxford University Press
If the nineteen recent books and fifteen-pound stack of articles that
confront me as I write are any measure, then nothing is more productive of
food for thought than thoughts about the production of food. The
introduction of methods of genetic engineering into agriculture has caused
a public reaction in Europe and North America that is unequaled in the
history of technology. Not even the disasters at Three Mile Island and
Chernobyl were sufficient to produce such heavy and effective political
pressure to prohibit or further regulate a technology, despite the evident
fact that uncontained radioactivity has caused the sickness and death of
very large numbers of people, while the dangers of genetically engineered
food remain hypothetical.
It is out of the question to review this vast literature in its entirety,
so I have chosen four recent characteristic examples from the pile. One is
a report and set of recommendations from the font of American scientific
legitimacy, the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council. A
second, The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops, is a partisan but
temperate case for the dangers of genetic engineering in agriculture,
produced under the auspices of a long-established political action group,
the Union of Concerned Scientists. The third, Stolen Harvest, is an
unremitting indictment of genetic engineering, on moral, cultural, and
economic grounds, especially as it applies to the third world. The fourth,
Pandora?s Picnic Basket, is the only example I could find of the opposite
prejudice. It is a defense of genetic engineering in agriculture and a
bitter attack on the apparatus of government regulation written by an
agricultural scientist, an inventor of transgenic varieties whose life was
made difficult by government regulation.
Whatever fears I might have of possible allergic reactions to food
produced from genetically modified organisms, they are not more unsettling
than the allergies induced in me by the quality of the arguments about
them. What are we to make of a major issue of science and public policy in
which a physicist bases her opposition to genetic engineering on ?the
recognition in the Isho Upanishad that the universe is the creation of the
Supreme Power meant for the benefits of (all) creation?1 ; or a professor
of agricultural economics who, in the course of trying to convince us that
technology is good for farmers, conveniently makes the elementary error of
confusing total household income of farm families with income from
farming2 ; or a senior research scientist working in plant breeding at a
major public university who ridicules the need for regulatory oversight of
new kinds of foods by citing the introduction of macaroni and cheese on a
stick that was announced in his local newspaper3 ? And these examples are,
alas, characteristic of what has been written. Even the most judicious and
seemingly dispassionate examinations of the scientific questions turn out,
in the end, to be manifestoes. We are presented with a paradigm of Julien
Benda?s trahison des clercs; but The Treason of the Intellectuals was
concerned with the corrupting effects of ideological passions on
intellectuals. Ideological passions about potatoes? It gives one to think.
The uproar about so-called genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been
the direct consequence of the development of a radically new way to
manipulate heredity. Human beings have been genetically modifying
organisms since the first domestication of plants and animals. The results
of those ancient modifications have been organisms that are not only very
different from their wild ancestors, but are in many characteristics the
very opposite of the organisms from which they were derived. The compact
ear of maize with large kernels adhering tightly to the cob is very useful
in a grain that needs to be gathered and to be stored for long periods,
but a plant with such a seed head would soon disappear in nature because
it could not disperse its seed. The history of domestication is precisely
the history of the genetic modification of organisms to make them most
Until recently the method for producing new varieties of plants or animals
has been to search for desirable variants and to propagate them
selectively. The naturally occurring variation within species can also be
augmented by matings with closely related species that do not ordinarily
interbreed in nature, but will do so under conditions of domestication. So
classical methods of plant and animal breeding have included ?unnatural?
transgression of species boundaries. But the use of the genetic variation
available only from closely related organisms limits what can be
accomplished precisely because they are closely related and therefore
quite similar. Moreover, introducing genetic variation by crossing between
organisms is imprecise. A cross between two varieties is indiscriminate in
the hereditary characteristics that are transmitted. Thus if one attempts
to introduce disease resistance into an especially high-yielding variety
of wheat by crossing that variety with one that has the disease resistance
but not the high yield, the result will be a variety with improved
resistance but lower yield. The ideal of the plant or animal engineer is
to be able to remake the heredity of an organism to order, so as to
produce just those variants that the occasion seems to require.
Apparently the secret of genetic engineering was known to the ancients.
Genesis 30 tells us that in order to retain the services of his son-in-law
Jacob, who was apparently quite good at animal husbandry, Laban agreed to
let him keep all the speckled and streaked goats and sheep that were born
in the flocks that he tended. Jacob, the ur-biotechnologist, then peeled
some twigs to make them speckled and streaked and held them up before the
eyes of the plain-colored ewes just as they were about to conceive. This
produced the desired result and Jacob became very rich indeed.
Being of little faith, we seem to have lost the twig trick, but have
invented a new one. Modern genetic engineering consists in extracting the
DNA corresponding to a particular gene from a donor organism and then
inserting it into the cells of a recipient in such a way that it becomes
incorporated into the recipient?s genome. This insertion can be carried
out by coating tiny metal particles with the DNA and shooting them into
the recipient cells or by first putting the DNA into microorganisms and
then infecting the recipient with them. If the source of the DNA is a
distant species that cannot be intercrossed with the recipient, the
engineered result is said to be a transgenic organism. The donor and
recipient need not be anything like each other for the trick to work.
Thus the human gene for insulin has been successfully inserted into the
genome of bacteria, and these bacteria, grown in industrial vats, are now
churning out human insulin for the market. Despite the fears about the
human ingestion of the products of genetic engineering, no one appears to
be worried about the large number of diabetics who are injecting
bacterially produced insulin twice a day. As far as anyone knows, no one
has been harmed by this product of genetic engineering; but then, as far
as anyone knows, no one has yet been harmed by any product of genetic
The chief use of transgenic DNA transfers in agriculture up to the present
has been to provide crop plants with resistance to insect pests or to make
the plants resistant to herbicides used to control weeds. The resistance
to insects has been created by in-serting into plants the genes codingfor
powerful toxins, the Bt proteins, from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis.
When insects begin to nibble the plants, they ingest the Bt toxin and die.
Resistance to herbicides has also been transferred into a variety of crop
plants from bacteria, as well as from a variety of unrelated plants that
happen to be resistant to particular chemicals. One of the ironies of the
current struggle over GMOs is that advocates of organic farming practices
who strongly oppose the introduction of transgenic crops containing the Bt
genes have for many years promoted the dusting of the bacteria themselves
on plants as an organic substitute for chemical insecticides.
While an irony, it is hardly the contradiction that proponents of GMOs
suggest. The dusting of a toxin on the outside of plants, from which it
could be washed away, is not the same thing as having the plants
manufacture it internally. Although pest and herbicide resistance have
been the main focus of transgenic engineering until now, anything seems
possible. What makes the technique so attractive and so productive of
anxiety is that any gene in any species can be transferred to any other
species. Of course, some of these transfers will be harmful or even lethal
to the recipient organism so that no practical use can be made of them;
but there are no general rules to tell us what will work.
The critical point is that there is no limit to what could be done if it
were worth someone?s while to do it. Hundreds of plant varieties created
by genetic engineering have been tested under guidelines approved by
federal agencies, and several dozen transgenic varieties are commercially
available, including corn, cotton, squash, potatoes, canola, soybeans, and
sugar beets. It has only been six years since the first transgenic crops
were planted commercially, yet now more than 20 percent of maize acreage
in the United States is planted in transgenic corn and worldwide there are
about 100 million acres sown in a variety of transgenic crops, including
cotton and soybeans.
The usual reaction of the federal government to widespread public
agitation about public health and environmental issues is to tinker with
already existing regulatory procedures. When scientific questions are
involved, federal agencies or Congress will often request that the
National Academy of Sciences, through its research arm, the National
Research Council, produce an expert report to guide regulatory policy.
Sometimes, however, the Academy will act even without such a request. The
National Academy of Sciences is a self-perpetuating body of the American
scientific elite that provides technical advice to the government. Its
leadership, conscious of its legitimacy as a font of supposedly
disinterested and expert opinion on scientific questions, will sometimes
arrange for National Research Council reports unbidden, on the assumption
that their weight of authority will have an effect on public policy.
The NRC has issued, without a formal request, several reports on genetic
engineering since 1974, when it became clear that recombinant DNA
techniques would be important as tools of genetic research and technology.
Three of those reports have been directly concerned with the application
of the techniques in agriculture, one in 1987 on the release of GMOs into
the environment, one in 1989 on the safe field testing of transgenic
varieties, and, in 2000, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants, which
includes a discussion of both the environmental issues and threats to
The creation of a scientific report on a contentious issue presents a
special difficulty. On the one hand the drafting committee must include
representatives of various constituencies with opposing views. So the
committee that wrote the new report included academics involved in
genetics, economics, and agriculture, a representative of a public
interest environmental action group, a lawyer who helps clients to obtain
regulatory approvals, and a state government environmental regulator. On
the other hand, there cannot be a majority and a minority report, since
after all we are dealing with Objective Science, and scientists either
know the truth or they don?t. NRC reports always speak with one voice.
Such reports, then, can produce only a slight rocking of the extremely
well gyrostabilized ship of state, no matter how high the winds and waves.
Any member of the crew who mutinies is put off at the first port of call.
While usually artfully concealed, the machinery of forced consensus is
apparent in the pest-protected plant report. The economist on the
committee, Erik Lichtenberg, clearly felt that the sorts of regulation
recommended by the report were not worthwhile and, indeed, would have
costs not justified by any claimed benefits. He and his cost-benefit
analysis are quarantined in an appendix and referred to only in a
footnote: ?This appendix was authored by an individual committee member
and is not part of the committee?s consensus report. The committee as a
whole may not necessarily agree with all of the contents of appendix A.?
Of course, appendix A is merely economics, while the ?committee as a
whole? must ?necessarily agree with the contents? of the rest of the
report or it wouldn?t be a scientific report. In fact, the committee could
have discounted the appendix on substantive grounds. Like so much of
cost-benefit analysis, it fails to take account of the fact that the
costs, possible ill-health, fall on different parties than the benefits,
profits to corporate entities who produce the inputs into agriculture.
More fundamentally, it avoids the deep problem that to provide a
quantitative balancing of the books, the costs and benefits would have to
be assessed in the same currency, while it has never been possible to come
to a general agreement on the dollar cost of sickness and death.
There are five general issues that are in contention in the struggle over
GMOs. Three of these, threats to human health, possible disruption of
natural environments, and threats to agricultural production from a more
rapid evolution of resistant pests, comprise the agenda of the NRC report.
The other two, disruption of third- world agricultural economies and
principled objections to ?unnatural? interventions, are deliberately
excluded. Page 2 of the report states in italics: ?The study does not
address philosophical and social issues surrounding the use of genetic
engineering in agriculture, food labeling, or international trade in
genetically modified plants.? In analyzing the risks of GMOs the committee
follows a general principle established in previous Academy reports, a
principle that it regards as fundamental, namely that it is the product
and not the process that matters. For the NRC it is irrelevant whether a
variety has been produced by conventional genetic manipulations or by
transgenic transfer of DNA. What counts is whether the new property of the
resultant organism is harmful to health or the environment.
The NRC authors point out, quite properly, that the conventional methods
of breeding, including sexual crosses between species that do not
ordinarily cross in nature, might produce varieties with some heightened
toxicity to humans or other species, or with unusual invasive abilities,
or with greater resistance to pests that would hasten the evolution of
more effective pest species. Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon, in their
extremely informative The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops, give many
examples of new troublesome weeds that have arisen from the hybridization
of crop plants with their wild relatives and several where rare wild
species have been driven to extinction by hybridization with crop plants.
Indeed, the only examples we have so far of the adverse effects of
agricultural varieties on any animal or plant species in nature, including
on human health, have been from conventionally bred organisms or from the
introduction of invasive species from distant geographical areas, or from
foods like peanuts or milk to which some people are naturally allergic. So
if the usual products of agricultural practice already provide numerous
examples of adverse effects, why is there the massive popular and
political anxiety centered on genetically engineered crops in particular?
None of the authors of the reports and books seems to have noticed that if
it were really only the product and not the process that matters, then
nothing has changed. The NRC report itself provides a protocol for
protecting consumers against new food toxins and allergens (i.e.,
substances causing allergies) that applies irrespective of the genetic
method used in variety development and which makes use of the already
existing federal apparatus for the approval of new plant varieties.
First, one asks whether a new substance is found in parts of a plant that
consumers eat or with which workers come in contact. If not, the substance
is ?exempt from health concerns.? If it is found in such parts, then does
it have chemical properties common to many allergens? If it does, then
safety assessment is needed. If not, then is it similar to other
substances that people eat? If not, then again we need safety assessment.
The real problem revealed in the NRC report, although it did not seem to
bother the panel, is that the data on which ?safety assessment? is
currently based are not produced by the federal agencies themselves but
are provided by the very parties who are asking for approval to distribute
the new variety in the first place. Moreover, no one seems to have noticed
that there is, in fact, an aspect of the process of genetic engineering
that does make that process unusually likely to produce unpredictable
All the attention has been paid to the physiological effect of the gene
that has been put into the recipient, but none to the effect of where it
is inserted in the recipient?s genome. Genes consist of two functionally
different adjacent stretches of DNA. One, the so-called structural gene,
has information on the chemical composition of the protein that the cell
will manufacture when it reads the gene. The other, the so-called
regulatory element, is part of a complex signaling system that concerns
where and when and how much protein will be produced. When DNA is inserted
into the genome of a recipient by engineering methods it may pop into the
recipient?s DNA anywhere, including in the middle of some other gene?s
regulatory element. The result will be a gene whose reading is no longer
under normal control.
One consequence might be that the gene is never read at all, in which case
it will probably be bad for the recipient and will never be part of a
useful agricultural variety. But another possibility is that the cell will
now produce vast amounts of a protein that ordinarily is produced in very
low amount, and this high concentration could be toxic or be involved in
the biochemical production of a toxin. Yet another possibility is that a
toxic substance that used to be produced only in one part of a plant, not