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* Protestors acquitted
* Modest reduction in chemical use with GT-soya
* IFPRI Reports
* Borlaug: Will farmers be permitted to use biotechnology?
* Conservation Tillage Initiative 'Planting Without Ploughing' Brings Gold
Award To South Africa Group
* Top Chinese award to renowned Indian rice breeder
* What the Green Revolution did for grain, biotechnology may do for protein
* New Markets for Biotech
* Four Seasons
Biotech Corn Didn't Cause Reactions
By By Philip Brasher
June 14, 2001
WASHINGTON - Biotech corn that spawned nationwide food recalls last fall
didn't cause the allergic reactions that people reported after finding out
about the grain, the government said Wednesday.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites)
said its investigation of the complaints ``did not find any evidence that
hypersensitivity'' to a special protein in StarLink corn caused the
Blood samples were taken from 17 people and tested for sensitivity to the
protein, known as Cry9C.
StarLink corn was never approved for human consumption because of
questions about whether it was an allergen.
The Cry9C protein breaks down slowly in the digestive system, an
indication that it might induce allergic reactions. However, scientists
say people would have to be exposed to the protein repeatedly to become
sensitive to it.
Critics of biotechnology say the CDC investigation was too limited to
conclude that the corn is safe. ``This is a small piece of evidence,''
said Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist with Environment Defense, an
advocacy group. ``It's far from being definitive.''
StarLink is one of several types of corn that have been genetically
engineered to produce its own pesticide.
StarLink was withdrawn from the market last year but not before the grain
was found contaminating a significant portion of the nation's corn supply.
Discovery (news - web sites) of the corn in taco shells last fall led to
nationwide recalls of corn products, and more recalls may be necessary
unless the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) agrees to
allow a minimal amount of the corn in food, according to the corn's
developer Aventis CropScience.
Aventis wants the EPA to set a maximum level for the biotech grain of 20
parts per billion - the equivalent of one StarLink kernel in every 800
kernels of corn. The EPA is expected to consider the CDC report in making
After the CDC began investigating complaints about StarLink, the Food and
Drug Administration (news - web sites) developed a blood test that could
tell whether someone was allergic to the Cry9C protein.
The 17 people who gave blood samples to CDC were among 24 people
interviewed by investigators after reporting complaints.
Keith Finger, a Florida optometrist who was included in the CDC study,
said he suffered a severe allergy attack last September shortly before the
first recall of a StarLink-tainted product, Taco Bell-brand taco shells.
Finger said he had a meal containing corn ingredients shortly before the
attack, which included severe stomach cramps and swelling of his throat.
He has since eaten the same products, which included a tortilla made with
corn starch, without a reaction, he said.
CDC's findings should give EPA ``the final piece of information'' it needs
to approve the Aventis request, said Val Giddings, a spokesman for the
Biotechnology Industry Organization.
CDC involvement in investigating adverse health effects associated with
eating corn products potentially contaminated with the Cry9C Protein in
June 13, 2001
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
* In May 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a
limited license for the production of StarLink? corn containing the
protein Cry9c. This protein has pesticidal properties and was inserted
into StarLink? corn to protect the crop against several insects. The EPA
did not license StarLink? for use in food intended for human consumption
because the Cry9c protein shared several molecular properties with
proteins that are known food allergens.
* In response to a request from EPA in October of 2000 the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) requested assistance from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in investigating possible adverse
health effects among people who had reported to FDA that they may have had
an allergic reaction to eating corn products contaminated with the Cry9c
protein in StarLink? corn.
* CDC?s investigation did not find any evidence that hypersensitivity to
the Cry9c protein was responsible for the self-reported allergic responses
that people experienced last fall.
* Our field investigation included the following:
1. Reviewing the adverse event reports (AERs) that FDA/Center for Food
Safety and Applied Nutrition received from consumers in the United States
or its territories who reported adverse health events between July 1,
2000, and November 30, 2000, and involving a product suspected of
containing corn meal contaminated with StarLink? corn.
2. Contacting persons who gave permission to the FDA for CDC to speak
with them. CDC field investigators asked basic questions about food
consumption and signs and symptoms that each person recalled experiencing
when they consumed corn products. CDC obtained medical records and
collected blood specimens from each person for later laboratory tests.
* An FDA laboratory developed a laboratory method to detect the type of
antibody (IgE) that would indicate hypersensitivity to the Cry9c protein
that was inserted into StarLink? corn.
* CDC asked FDA to evaluate the case report samples as well as other
reference samples using this developmental method. To avoid bias in the
laboratory analysis, all samples were provided to FDA with just a simple
* FDA returned the data to CDC and CDC analyzed it to compare case values
with control values.
* Although the study participants may have experienced allergic reactions,
based upon the results of this study alone, we cannot conclude that a
reported illness was a Cry9c allergic reaction.
* An independent laboratory analyzed the same set of coded samples that
CDC sent to FDA and confirmed the results.
* CDC reviewed this data and issued individual reports to the study
participants. CDC has also sent a report of the investigation and study
results to FDA, and FDA will provide this information to EPA. EPA will
consider the results of the CDC study and other data as it makes
recommendations about the use of Cry9c.
* CDC is continuing to work with FDA to evaluate the AER system for
identifying potential health outcomes.
To access the full report, log onto http://www.cdc.gov/nceh.
Date: Jun 13 2001 23:23:53 EDT
From: Rick Roush
Subject: Question to Sams
Craig Sams wrote in part:
"I would like to iterate the longstanding reasoning behind the proposition
that organic farming is a preferred route towards stopping and reversing
the soil erosion that makes so much agriculture essentially unsustainable.
In a nutshell it is that a humus-rich living soil acquires a cohesive
energy of its own that makes it far more absorbent of moisture and far
less prone to erosion than soils that have lost their population of
colloid-bound tiny organisms....."
Interesting idea (although I'm having trouble getting my head around what
kind of "energy" this is). As I raised before, what's the evidence that
organics are better than any other conservation farming system (say, no
till using herbicides) and can also be applied to broad areas? Reading on
through the Soil Association's recent submission, it appears to me that
the answer is "there is no evidence" but that the Ministry is being asked
to generate it. For example, where is the evidence that "fungicides,
insecticides and inorganic fertilisers all have negative effects on
microbial populations"? All of them do?
Finally, I was disappointed to see that credit for many of the principles
for which there is general scientific support is being claimed by the
organic movement, but would be more rightly credited to a much wider range
of soil scientists, most of whom would not have called themselves organic.
Surely the organic movement can be a bit more generous than to claim that
all of the advances were due to their efforts and not to those of more
Date: Jun 13 2001 12:55:30 EDT
From: Chuck Benbrook
Subject: Soil Erosion
The Sams-Avery exchange on soil erosion indeed covers important
ground. Sams should not take Alex too seriously, many of his claims
regarding soil movement are largely divorced from reality. Sams is
correct to emphasize the critical role that humus and organic matter plays
in binding soil particles together, making them less prone to
erosion. Agricultural systems that include rotations, periodic cover
crops and forages, and lots of crop residues returned to the soil keep the
soil pliable, reducing bulk density and increasing infiltration rates
dramatically. So when those hard spring-summer rains come, more water
gets into soil more quickly, hence less runoff; and when the rain
continues strong, fewer fine soil particles are dislodged and carried away
as water flows off farm fields. Thirty years of research on erosion
supports all of the above general statements. Sure -- there are
exceptions and odd soils, but for most soils and farming systems, these
general principles are valid.
USDA soil scientists acknowledged in the early 1990s that the "K" factor
in the Universal Soil Loss Equation actually varies as a function of how
the soil has been managed.
Refresher course: Estimated average erosion movement (the USLE) = the
product of RKLS, where R is the rainfall factor, K is the soil erodibility
factor (basically related to soil cover, soil structure and humus
content), L is length of slope, and S is slope. For many years, the K
factor was largely a function of soil cover, which was in turn a function
of how much tillage had been carried out. The less cover, the higher the
rate of erosion. But now soil scientist understand that it is both soil
cover and soil "quality" that determines propensity to erode. A "quality"
soil from the perspective of erosion control is one with lots of organic
"stickiness" binding together soil aggregates.
So, farms with rich soils can manage erosion with some tillage and
mechanical weed control as effectively as no-till systems on the adjoining
farm with low-organic matter, trashed, high bulk density soils.
A couple of other comments on Avery's notions of soil movement. Soil
never washes uphill. Soil deposition clearly does occur, as sheet erosion
moves down slope. But in time the impacts can be negative, as rich,
bottomland soils are covered with thinner, sandier soil particles flowing
Well-managed notill systems can definitely build soils -- see George
Langdale's (ARS soil scientist who works in Georgia) work on thin, farmed
out Southern Piedmont soils placed in wheat notill systems. The more
organic matter that gets added into a notill system, the faster organic
matter can build, as long as there remains some rotation and some tillage
to keep the organic material cycling through the soil profile.
Ag BioTech InfoNet <http://www.biotech-info.net>
Benbrook Consulting Services CU FQPA site <http://www.ecologic-ipm.com>
5085 Upper Pack River Road IPM site <http://www.pmac.net>
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864
From: Juan Carlos Rodriguez
I am a postgraduate student at Colombian National University, where I' m
researching a thesis on the subject of longer-term Socio Economic
parametrs for the establishment of Socio Economic Risk Assessment for the
introduction of Biotechnology or biotech products in developing Countries,
and I'm wriing to ask if subscribers could possibly point me in the
direction of any particularly useful information they may know of on such
term evaluatio options.
The thesis is being supervised by Professor Rodrigo Artunduaga, and seeks
to evaluate a number of different assessment options that have been tabled
on what might come after the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety has been
Please any information could be mailed to the address below,
Many Thanks in advance,
Juan Carlos Rodriguez C,
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Date: 13 Jun 2001 16:44:35 -0000
From: "nicholas clark (IACR-LARS)"
Subject: Protestors acquitted
The reason I heard that the protestors was acquitted was fundamentally
different for the reason Lord Melchett and Co. were let off. The charge of
aggravated trespass needs there to have been some force
in getting on the land. In this case there was nobody in the field to
stop the vandals and so it was not aggravated. The acquittal was nothing
to do with the fact that it was GM plants that were destroyed, unlike the
IACR-Long Ashton Research Station
Department of Agricultural Sciences
Modest reduction in chemical use with GT-soya
12th June 2001
Cultivation of genetically modified, glyphosate-tolerant (GT) soya in the
US results in a modest reduction of the use of chemical pesticides. The
quantity of this reduction is calculated between 0 and 10%. The
environmental burden of the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in the
cultivation of GT-soya for weed control, is lower than that of herbicides
used in the current soya-cultivation.
These are the results of a review of relevant literature performed by the
Centre for Agriculture and Environment and Schenkelaars Biotechnology
Consultancy, the Netherlands. This research was carried out on behalf of
three Dutch Product Boards (the Product Board of Margarine, Fats and Oils,
the Product Board of Grains, Seeds and Pulses and the Product Board for
Until now, there was lack of clarity about the effects of GT-soya on
agricultural and environmental issues. During the introduction of GT-soya
for commercial cultivation, it was assumed that the use of chemical
pesticides should decrease by 30%. The study shows that this expectation
is only partly realised.
In the present study, a large amount of reports on field data about the
effect of GT-soya cultivation in practice in the USA between 1996 and 1998
were analysed. The results (varying between +7 to - 40% change in
herbicide use) were compared and assessed on scientific reliability. These
findings indicate a modest reduction in the use.
According to the researchers, the harvest of GT-soya is comparable to
non-modified soya. In field studies performed by universities, the harvest
of GT-soya is lower compared to the harvest of top varieties of
non-modified soya. In practice, this is compensated by the fact that
GT-soya is cultivated by the ?more sophisticated? farmers and that the
weed management is less complicated.
Nowadays more than half of the US soya-area is GT-soya. The reason for
this popularity is the comfortable and the flexible way weeds can be
In the present study, also other effects of GT-soya on the environment
have been reviewed. However, due to limited data, no conclusions could be
derived yet about the impact of GT-soya on use of energy during
cultivation, the biodiversity en the degree of resistance to the
The research is carried out in collaboration with Dutch governmental and
non-governmental organisations such as Greenpeace Netherlands, Foundation
Nature and Environment, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Consumer and
Biotechnology Foundation, Dutch Biotechnology Industry Association, the
Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fishery and the Product Boards. The
conclusions of this study are the responsibility of the Centre for
Agriculture and Environment and Schenkelaars Biotechnology Consultancy.
For more information please call:
Piet Schenkelaars, telephone +31 71 5235089/ mobile +31 6 53428287
Gé Pak, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,telephone +31 30 2427304
You can download this report as Acrobat PDF document.
Download the Agronomic and environmental impacts of the commercial
cultivation of glyphosate tolerant soybean in the USA report (144 kB) at
IFPRI 2000-2001 (annual report)
IFPRI's annual report features thought-provoking essays on two aspects of
the contentious issue of agricultural biotechnology: the first considers
how the biotechnology revolution is likely to affect developing countries?
trade in agricultural products, and the second examines whether
intellectual property rights are stifling developing-countries use of this
new technology. The report also describes IFPRI's research for the year
2000, and lists the Institute's collaborators, publications, and
DOWNLOAD or ORDER
Also available are TEXT ONLY versions of the two essays on biotechnology.
i. "Biotechnology, Trade, and Hunger"
by Eugenio Díaz Bonilla and Sherman Robinson
ii. "Are Intellectual Property Rights Stifling Agricultural Biotechnology
In Developing Countries?"
by Philip G. Pardey, Brian D. Wright, and Carol Nottenburg
Borlaug: Will farmers be permitted to use biotechnology?
By Anne Cook
June 14, 2001
TUSKEGEE, Ala.--Speaking at Tuskegee University, Norman Borlaug, the 1970
Nobel Peace Prize winner, said biotechnology offers great promise for
future generations. Borlaug's remarks initiated the recently established
Norman Borlaug/DuPont scholarship program at Tuskegee to support
undergraduate and graduate students studying biosciences.
"Despite the formidable opposition to recombinant DNA transgenic crops,
the commercial adoption by farmers of new genotypes of several food and
fiber crops has been among the most rapid cases of technology diffusion in
the history of agriculture," he said.
Borlaug said that from 1996 to 1999, the area planted with transgenic
crops jumped from 1.7 million to 39.9 million hectares, and estimates for
2001 say that area could increase to 44 million hectares. A hectare is
equal to 2.47 acres.
"While there has always been resistance to change, the intensity of the
attacks by certain groups against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is
unprecedented and somewhat surprising," Borlaug said. He said opponents
attack on two fronts -- safety, and ownership and access.
"First there is the debate about whether introducing 'foreign DNA' into
our food crops is 'natural,' or a threat to health," Borlaug said. "DNA is
a common code to life. All living things contain DNA. How can so-called
'foreign' DNA be unnatural?"
He said many genes are common across many organisms so identifying what's
foreign is problematic, and almost all foods are products of natural
mutations and recombinations that occur frequently.
"Neolithic women accelerated genetic modifications in plants in the
process of domesticating our food crop species," Borlaug said.
He underlined the fact that three federal agencies -- the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture -- monitor safety issues closely.
Ownership and access issues also contribute to controversies about the
technology, Borlaug said. He noted that most of the research underlying
the technology has been done by private companies that patent their
"Under what conditions should patents be applied to life forms and for
what period of time?" Borlaug said. "And how will resource-poor farmers of
the world be able to gain access to the products of biotechnology
"Let's not tie science's hand through excessively restrictive regulations.
The issue of intellectual property rights must be addressed."
He said biotechnology research is expensive and that's leading to rapid
consolidation of ownership of agricultural life science companies.
"Is this desirable?" Borlaug said. "I don't think so. To help safeguard
against undue concentration of ownership of plant and animal genetic
resources, I believe it is also important for governments to fund
significant public-sector programs of biotechnology research.
"Such publicly funded research is not only important as a complement and
balance to private-sector proprietary research, it is also needed to
ensure proper training of new generations of scientists."
Borlaug said the world's farmers face an awe-inspiring job, doubling gross
food production by 2025 to feed the world's burgeoning population.
"In my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize 31 years ago, I said
the Green Revolution had won temporary success in man's war against
hunger, which if fully implemented could provide food for people through
the end of the 20th century," he said. "But I warned that unless the
frightening power of human reproduction was curbed, that success would be
"I now think the world has technology either available or well-advanced to
feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people," Borlaug
said. "The pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will
be permitted to use it."
Conservation Tillage Initiative 'Planting Without Ploughing' Brings Gold
Award To South Africa Group
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA--The ABSA Gold Trophy for 2001, awarded by the
KwaZulu-Natal Premier in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been
won by the Xoshindlala (chasing away hunger) Planting Without Ploughing
project in South Africa. The project started in 1998.
The project is managed by Bill Berry of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of
Agricultureat Cedara, with close support from Richard Fowler, Agricultural
Research Council Grain Crops Institute, and Dr. Jim Findlay, an
independent consultant on conservation tillage supported by Monsanto.
Findlay, a South African, formerly was head of Monsanto Africa Product
Development until his retirement in the mid- '90s. He is a renowned expert
on conservation tillage in Africa, and is also consulting for Monsanto on
its small holder projects in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and
A team of supervisors and extension workers in the field helped establish
Planting Without Ploughing. During the 2000-2001 season, more than 700
farmer plots were established, with many other farmers adopting the
technology. An estimated 1,200 farmers are now using the no-till
technology as a result of the program.
The concept introduces small-scale, rural farmers to the growing of crops
without any mechanical tillage or manual hoeing. Weed control is the major
problem, but with the use of a pre-plant Roundup spray and then a Bullet
herbicide application immediately after planting maize, the crop is
weed-free for approximately 12 to 15 weeks. If necessary, hand weeding can
be done to prevent any weeds from seeding. Use is made of certified seed,
and fertilizer is applied at planting and again as a top dressing at about
Farmers adopting this technology have seen their maize yields rapidly
increase from under 2 tons per hectare up to more than 7 tons per hectare.
There are about a dozen farmers who have harvested 10 tons per hectare,
with the record harvest being 11.4 tons per hectare.
Apart from the advantage of improved yields and the use of modern
technology, farmers are seeing the benefits of improved water conservation
and soil structure, which in turn is greatly reducing soil erosion in
KwaZulu-Natal. Land preparation takes considerably less time under a
no-till system and the labor requirements are also reduced per-unit area.
This allows for increased productivity elsewhere on the farm.
There were 72 projects entered for this award. They covered a wide range
of issues such as education, housing, job creation, industry, health and
many others that have benefits for rural communities. There were five
bronze awards, three silver and one gold.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Monsanto Canada Trish Jordan (to arrange an interview) (204) 985-6964
Top Chinese award to renowned Indian rice breeder
The Press Trust of India
June 13, 2001
China Wednesday awarded renowned Indian scientist Dr G S Khush with
"International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award" for his
yeoman service in promoting agricultural research and increasing rice
Khush, who is one of the world's premier rice breeder and head of plant
breeding, genetics and bio-chemistry division of Manila-based
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was presented the award by
Chinese Minister for Science and Technology Xu Guanhua.
"Dr Khush's contribution has greatly moved forward the hybrid rice and
conventional rice breeding researches in China, and yielded far-reaching
effects on China's theoretical and overall researches in rice," Chinese
Earlier, in October, 1999, on the occasion of 50th anniversary of PRC, he
was awarded the "Friendship Award."
Speaking on the occasion, Charge d' Affaires of the Indian embassy, R Venu
described Khush as "an eminent son of India" and noted that he has won
many honours in the country.
"India is proud of the achievements made by Dr Khush and would like to
congratulate him on his attainments which have made a big difference to
the well being of mankind," he said.
"His work has helped enhance in a significant way food security in India,
China and all developing countries of the world," Venu said.
Eating the Genes
By Richard Manning
What the Green Revolution did for grain, biotechnology may do for protein.
Fears that genetically engineered foods will damage the environment have
fueled controversy in the developed world. The debate looks very different
when framed not by corporations and food activists but by three
middle-aged women in saris working in a Spartan lab in Pune, India. The
three, each with a doctoral degree and a full career in biological
research, are studying the genes of chickpeas, but they begin their
conversation by speaking of suicides.
The villain in their discussion is an insidious little worm, a pod borer,
which makes its way unseen into the ripening chickpea pods and eats the
peas. It comes every year, laying waste to some fields while sparing
others. Subsistence farmers expecting a bumper crop instead find the fat
pods hollow at harvest. Dozens will then kill themselves rather than face
the looming hunger of their families. So while the battle wages over
"frankenfood" in the well-fed countries of the world, here in this Pune
lab the arguments quietly disappear.
A generation ago the world faced starvation, and India served as the
poster child for the coming plague, occupying roughly the same position in
international consciousness then that sub-Saharan Africa does today. The
Green Revolution of the 1960s changed all that, with massive increases in
grain production, especially in India, a country that now produces enough
wheat, rice, sorghum and maize to feed its people. Green Revolution
methods, however, concentrated on grains, ignoring such crops as chickpeas
and lentils, the primary sources of protein in the country's vegetarian
diet. As a consequence, per capita production of carbohydrates from grain
in India tripled. At the same time, largely because of population growth,
per capita protein production halved.
The gains in grain yield came largely from breeding plants with shorter
stems, which could support heavier and more bountiful seed heads. To
realize this opportunity, farmers poured on nitrogen and water: globally,
there was a sevenfold increase in fertilizer use between 1950 and 1990.
Now, artificial sources of nitrogen, mostly from fertilizer, add more to
the planet's nitrogen cycle than natural sources, contributing to global
warming, ozone depletion and smog. Add to this the massive loads of
pesticides used against insects drawn to this bulging monoculture of
grain, and one begins to see the rough outlines of environmental damage
the globe cannot sustain.
During this same revolutionary period, India and other countries,
including Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Cuba, developed scientific communities
capable of addressing many of their own food problems. High on their list
is the promise of genetic engineering (see "New Markets for Biotech"). In
India, researchers have found a natural resistance to pod borers in two
other crops, the Asian bean and peanuts, and are trying to transfer the
responsible gene to chickpeas. If they are successful, farmers will not
only get more protein; they will also avoid insecticides. "The farmer has
not to spray anything, has not to dust anything," D. R. Bapat, a retired
plant breeder, told me. He need only plant a new seed.
This is the simple fact that makes genetic modification so attractive in
the developing world. Seeds are packages of genes and genes are
information?exceedingly valuable and powerful information. Biotech
corporations can translate that information into profits. Yet when those
same packets of power are developed by public-sector scientists in places
like India, they become a tool, not for profit, but for quickly
distributing important information. There is no more efficient means of
spreading information than a seed.
The above argument built only slowly in my mind in the course of
researching a book (Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution) that
profiled nine food projects in the developing world, all of which were
carried out largely by scientists native to the countries I visited. I
expected to encounter low-technology projects appropriate for the
primitive conditions of subsistence agriculture in the developing
world?and I did. But I also found, in all nine cases, a sophisticated and
equally appropriate use of genetic research or genetic engineering.
A lab in Uganda, for example, could not regularly flush its toilets for
lack of running water, but could tag DNA. This tagging ability, used in
six of the projects I studied, allows researchers to understand and
accelerate the breeding of new strains. Typically, an effort to breed a
disease- or pest-resistant strain of a crop can involve ten years of
testing to verify the trait. Using genetic markers cuts that time in
half?a difference that gains urgency in countries where test plots are
surrounded by poor farmers whose crops are failing for want of that very
In this manner, by allowing researchers to accelerate the development of
new, pest-resistant sources of protein, genetic engineering can help
fulfill the decades-old promise of the Green Revolution. Our last
revolution created a world awash in grain. But if Uganda is to get better
sweet potatoes, Peru better mashua and India better chickpeas, then
research on those orphan crops will have to catch up rapidly.
Biotechnology can help.
Food researchers in developing countries are understandably worried they
will be hampered by the controversy over genetically modified foods.
Meanwhile, they have a hard time understanding why genetic engineering is
the focus of such concern. The gains of the Green Revolution, after
all?and for that matter the gains of 10,000 years of agriculture?have in
many cases come from mating unrelated species of plants to create
something new and better. Every new strain has brought with it the
potential dangers now being ascribed with apparent exclusivity to genetic
engineering, such as the creation of superresistant pests. Genetic
engineering merely refines the tools.
When viewed from labs surrounded by subsistence farmers, where food
research is a matter of life and death rather than an intellectual debate,
genetic engineering is a qualified good?not without problems and dangers,
but still of great promise. Genetic modification of foods becomes a
natural extension of the millennia-old practice of plant breeding, less
environmentally damaging than many modern alternatives. In the end, DNA is
knowledge, which we can hope will build to wisdom, from which we may one
day create an agriculture that both supports our population and coexists
peacefully with our planet.
Environmental writer Richard Manning's six books include Food's Frontier:
The Next Green Revolution and Inside Passage: A Journey Beyond Borders.
New Markets for Biotech
By Alexandra Stikeman
Much of the push to commercialize the first generation of genetically
engineered crops has come from large companies in the United States and
Western Europe. But the next big producers of biotech crops could very
well be nations in the developing world. While battles over genetically
modified foods have slowed the technology's progress in Europe and North
America, countries such as China and India are now gearing up to
commercialize dozens of genetically modified plants in the next few years
(see "Eating the Genes").
The first such plants hit the market in the mid-1990s, and last year 13
nations allowed them to be grown commercially. Of those, five are in the
developing world: Argentina, China, Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay. In
fact, China and Argentina now rank among the top four growers, alongside
the United States and Canada, in number of hectares planted.
And the adoption of the technology is spreading fastest in some of the
world's poorer countries, according to a report by the nonprofit
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
Between 1999 and 2000 (the most recent year for which data were
available), the amount of genetically modified crops planted in the world
increased by 4.3 million hectares. While industrial nations?mainly the
United States and Canada?still produce three-quarters of the world's
biotech crops, 84 percent of the 4.3-million-hectare increase occurred in
developing countries. That boost came mainly from Argentina, China and
South Africa. Canada, on the other hand, decreased its biotech crop
hectarage by 25 percent.
Governments and nonprofit research centers in a number of developing
countries are investing in their own genetically modified plants, in the
hope of protecting crops from droughts, floods and insects and of getting
higher yields out of plants such as rice and cassava that are staples in
local diets. "With more than a billion people in India, the government
came to the conclusion that it cannot afford to not develop biotech
crops," says Claude Fauquet, who heads a training program for
international scientists at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St.
To date, China is the only developing nation to have engineered its own
genetically modified crop?insect-resistant cotton?and brought seeds to
market. The country has more than 80 state-funded institutions focused on
agricultural genetic engineering. Though China's investment pales in
comparison to that of the large agricultural firms, the Chinese government
spent roughly $12 million annually on biotech crops in recent years.
Similarly, the governments of India and Brazil continue to funnel millions
of dollars toward plant biotechnology. All in all, it "dispels the notion
that all of the biotech research so far has been going on in developed
countries and is all in the private sector," says C. S. Prakash, director
of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in
But there are potential roadblocks ahead. Some developing nations,
concerned that agricultural exports could be negatively affected by
existing or future bans on plant biotech in Europe and elsewhere, are
putting the brakes on research. For instance, Thailand, the world's number
one exporter of rice, has placed a moratorium on field trials. Other
countries have plenty of homegrown resistance to genetic engineering.
Mexico, for one, has instituted a field-test moratorium in response to
local environmental groups that oppose biotech crops, according to Luis
Herrera-Estrella of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in
Irapuato, Mexico. His center is still awaiting government approval of its
virus-resistant potato, which is ready to be marketed.
But Prakash, for one, believes the hesitance is only temporary. "When the
international hysteria over biotech crops settles down, a lot of these
countries will come forward," predicts Prakash. "You're going to see huge
increases [in genetically modified crops] in these countries."
Alexandra Stikeman is an associate editor at Technology Review.
From: Natural Law Party
The Crop Protection Quarterly from Bayer, Volume No3 Summer 2001
Blends give a bit extra!
BY focusing so intently on achieving uniformity, modern farming is missing
out on a large slice of nature's productivity.
So says Dr Adrian Newton, cereal pathologist at the Scottish Crop Research
Institute (SCRI) at Invergowrie.
His work contributes to a huge body of evidence that shows, when several
varieties are sown mixed together, disease
control and yield potential are improved.
"It's no coincidence that Gordon Rennie's world record wheat yield of
13.99t/ha was achieved from a crop with
a three-way varietal mix," he says.
In Adrian's own research, yield increases of as much as 15% were recorded
from the most complex
mixtures of five or six varieties.
"Such a large number of varieties, however, would be impractical on farm,
and the number of agronomically
compatible varieties available is limited.
"While the performance of two componant mixtures is somewhat variable,
three-way mixes would seem to
be more reliable, practical, and capable of achieving a high proportion of
the disease control seen in much more
complex mixtures," says Adrian.
Although the disease control benefits of variety mixtures contribute to
their inherently higher yield potential, it does
not necessarily follow that fungicide inputs should be reduced, he adds.
"Mixtures work very well both with and without fungicides, but the yield
increases can be even greater where
they are applied appropriately."
Despite the benefits of mixtures being well proven, end users have
traditionally been reluctant to accept
mixtures, other than for animal feed.
"It's been assumed that quality factors, such as those required for
will not be as good in a mixture as the mean
of its components," says Adrian.
Recent studies at SCRI, however, have found that mixtures can be quite
satisfactory, or even advantageous, for
use in malting.
"On a laboratory scale, we are able to achieve a higher spirit yield per
tonne of grain, which is one of the most
important measures for maltsters," states Adrian.
"Now we are hoping to establish that the principle holds true on an
industrial scale. If so, it will be a real challenge to
some of those ingrained assumptions," he says.
How do variety mixtures work?
VARIETY mixtures limit the spread of disease in two ways:
First, they simply dilute the number and increase the spacing of host
susceptible to any particular race of pathogen. Disease progress pathways
become very contorted in the complex canopy structure created by
Second, not only are pathogen races unable to grow and produce spores on
varieties resistant to them, but they also induce resistance to other races
to which those same varieties would normally be susceptible.
The use of variety mixtures, however, often gives more yield increase than
would be expected from the level of disease control because there is better
resource utilisation overall. A single variety may not make use of all the
available root or aerial environment for nutrient and light capture.