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Date:

June 28, 2001

Subject:

Betrayal of Indian Farmers; Green Lobby; Gutless

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Today's Topics
* Discussion on American Corn Growers Assoc. and Dutch Debate
* Betrayal Of Indian Farmers!
* Indian Government Scared of Fashionable Green Lobby
* Gutless Committee
* Discovery Heralds Way for Plants To Survive Drought
* Biotech Food Safety Songs
* Science Fiction
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Allan Green
Subject: AMERICAN Corn Growers Association

Andrew Appels is correct to question the appropriateness of Gary
Goldberg's appeal to Australian growers to avoid using GMO's so that
they don't "blow the opportunity" to capture the supposedly large
share of international corn trade that US growers have foregone
through their adoption of GM corn.

At first glance this does appear to be contrary to the interests of
the AMERICAN growers that Goldberg represents from his position of CEO
of the American Corn Growers Association. However Australia is
actually not a significant corn producer or exporter, so American corn
growers can sleep peacefully.

But wait - perhaps Goldberg's entreaty is actually part of a more
sinister plot - a carefully planned ploy to convince Australian grain
growers to avoid GM technology, thereby denying them access to the
technological improvements made by their American counterparts, and
ensuring that American growers actually gain a long-term trade
advantage over competing "GM-free" producer nations. This may be a
cynical hypothesis, but how else can one explain Goldberg's apparent
capture by those fringe groups in Australia that seek to demonise
technological advances of the modern food supply chain, in order to
scare consumers into buying their over-priced organically-grown
produce. The American Corn Growers Association does on face value seem
to be an unexpected fellow-traveller of these groups.

- Allan Green, CSIRO Plant Industry

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Malcolm Livingstone

Why does W. de Lange think that by opposing GM crops he is more right
than those who support it? For example, "The 150 selected Dutch people
are being accompanied by a project group which we know to be not
neutral and basically supportive of GE".

Why is it OK for opponents of GM crops to be against the technology
but somehow sneaky and underhand for those who support the responsible
use of biotechnology to openly say so? I am not in any way apologetic
for my stance on biotechnology and neither should anyone else be. If I
believed for one minute that there was some doubt about the safety of
GM crops I would not advocate using them. I guess we will only be
believable when we agree with Greenpeace. At least we don't hide
behind a complex maze of false shopfronts and associations whose links
to each other require a private investigator to sort out.

Malcolm Livingstone
---
The comments expressed here are entirely my own and in no way represent
those of CSIRO.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Betrayal Of Indian Farmers!

- P Chengal Reddy President, Federation Of Farmers Associations,
Hyderabad, India

- Dr. J.R. Murthy, Sr. Faculty, Administrative Staff College Of India,
Hyderabad, India

(Forwarded by: Chengal Reddy )

Public Memory is short, regretfully. Henceforth, 19th June must be
declared 'Farmers? Betrayal Day'. On this day, the Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) of Government of India withheld approval for
freely providing the first transgenic agri-technology (the Bt cotton
seed) to farmers. Mysteriously, neither has this august body
clarified its summary decisions logically, nor provided its report for
public scrutiny & debate. Thousands of progressive and small-holdings
cotton farmers were eagerly looking forward to study its economic and
scientific benefits, on their own. Their awareness of the new biotech
modified seed appears to be greater than the shipping, trade and
customs officials charged with handling the new-age biomaterials at
the port of entry. These officials have presumably been authorized to
implement policy directives designed to restrict public choice on the
emerging agri-biotechnologies. Such 'learned' officials, and many
others, remain blissfully unaware of frontier developments and policy
issues. They have even used official machinery to distribute
Genetically Modified (GM) food products to the general public through
the ICDS program of the Women & Child Development Department (DWCD).

Too often, and despite public protests, the Government of India has
once again belittled the hopes and expectations of our farmers. Bt
cotton technology in India would have opened a new chapter of Indian
farmer quickly responding to global competition in terms of adopting
new technologies, reducing input costs and increased quality
production. The opportunity cost of the delay in freely introducing
frontier technology even in the year 2001 must be seriously drummed
into our policy makers, economists, industry and of course the farmers.

The Food & Agricultural Organization, eminent scientists all over the
world, including Dr. Norman Borlaug have categorically stated that
Biotechnology is necessary for developing countries to meet its food
and nutritional needs. However this seems to have little impact on
the policy framers of India.

The USA, admittedly the world leader in Biotechnology is already well
ahead of others in introducing new agri-transgenics, so also China the
emerging superpower. Interestingly in US the legal, ethical, social &
policy issues have also been open to public debate and academic
deliberations in a very transparent and rational manner. India, the
contender (pretender), for world superpower recognition, has once
again failed to even take a simple decision of allowing Bt cotton
cultivation, despite 5 years of study by Indian Agricultural Research
Institute and its army of scientists.

Ever since liberalization farmers in India eagerly sought reforms that
will reduce Government controls and restrictions, provide access to
best technologies, mechanization, change in the Tenancy Act,
establishing modern processing units, etc. But instead of choice,
they were forced into unplanned international competitive situations,
diminishing subsidies, faulty financial schemes, legacy technologies,
and of course, the same Government controls restrictions and apathy
under the guise of enlightened policy making.

The tragedy for Indian farmers is that none of the national leaders,
MPs from farming commission and of course the successive Finance
Ministers (including Dr. Manmohan Singh, Mr Yashwanth Sinha who are
techno-bureaucrats-cum-politicians and Mr Chidambaram, a
businessman-advocate-cum-politician could comprehend the complexities
of India?s Agriculture. They remain clueless on an acceptable
definition of an Indian farmer and list measures required to make him
compete internationally. Perhaps they were thinking of affluent
politicians and parliamentarians who claimed to be representatives of
the agriculturists as farmers? In reality these politically inclined
farmer-leaders are professional politicians who never depended on
agriculture for their livelihood. Since 1990, farmers were given
negative subsidy of 38% as is revealed in the recent WTO documents.
Even though the F.M.s are aware of this fact, none openly admitted it.
None made efforts to correct the mistake and explain why the Indian
farmer is subsidizing the agricultural economy and forced to
indirectly prop up a myopic food and agricultural policy!

In the true spirit of myopic policy making, the all F.M.s successively
reduced subsidies on agriculture. During 1990-2000, the investments
in agricultural sector were constantly reduced, which effected
production and consumption. The per capita grain availability increase
of 1980?s was reduced from 1.2% to 0.28%(1990-2000). The credit
availability from organized sector was reduced from 18% to 12%. The
agriculture research budget stagnated at 0.5% as against the demand
for 1% in IX Plan. The negative subsidy for farmers during this period
was as high as 38.5% (Gulati 2001). Leading economists Mr Ashok Gulati
and Ch. Hanumantha Rao have pleaded for increased allocation, in vain.

During the same period, developing nations continued to steadily
increase support to the agriculture through direct and indirect
subsidies, often with great benefits to all stakeholders. None of
these facts could bring about any change in the Government of India
policies towards farmers and their plight.

In the Planning Commission?s midterm evaluation of IX Plan, it was
pointed out that there is urgent need for revitalizing the
agricultural economy and included suggestions for improving the
productivity by providing more public funding access to quality
inputs, mechanization and increased value addition and agro-processing.

Amongst the important requirements of farmers is the absolute
imperative for quality seed, which accounts for almost 60% of input
costs. Indians are well aware of the benefits of the Mexican Hybrid
Wheat variety, the vegetables and other modern agri-inputs. However
the 21st century agriculture scenario has to be viewed as a High Tech
agriculture in which GMOs, green houses, drip irrigation systems,
weather forecasting, information technology, forward trading, value
addition play key roles. In other words, free market forces proved
their benefits through rapid information access, just-in-time
technology transfers and fair returns for agri-products, thus
benefiting everyone in the agri-value chain. The farmers in developed
nations have comparative advantages in quick access to all modern
technologies provided by the private sector, excellent backward,
forward linkage, highly efficient infrastructure, access to IT and
also support of the Governments through direct and indirect subsidies.
On the contrary, India?s Agriculture Productivity is one of the lowest
in the world; 70% of small and marginal farmers remain without credit,
extension facility and access to technologies. How can they compete
internationally? They have to be trained and provided with all these
modern technologies specially BT before they are permitted to face the
consequences of globalization.

Agri-biotechnology is useful to Indian farmers to increase yields,
controlling pests, insects, weeds, fight droughts, floods, submersion,
cultivation in saline soils, alkaline lands and to provide nutrition
to women and children. Biotechnology, and its agricultural
applications, have already become the new economic engines in the
developed countries, and have been the new incubators for national
investments, job opportunities and financial market inter-linkages.
In the USA, the involvement of scientists, farmers and policy-makers
have evolved a strong public interest and involvement more than 20
years ago. The financial markets and the US Government helped develop
venture capital financing mechanisms, allied with bigger seed companies.

American farmers have achieved among the highest levels of land usage
and labor productivity in the world. A mere 1.5% of the US population
provides enough food for domestic and export markets. Recent reports
from the US Census of Agriculture reveal a pattern of consolidation,
improving technology, rapid and nation-wide adoption of new
technology-driven practices and sharp farmer know-how. The estimated
economic benefit from growing genetically improved crops in the US and
Canada was nearly $500 million in 1998, and is expected to reach $6
BILLION by 2005. In 1950, every US farmer was producing food for 27
people, whereas by 1999 it went up to 129 people.

Our neighbor China, similar to us in all aspects of population,
poverty, small holdings, drought and floods, limited resources has
achieved remarkable results with the help of technology and robust
decision-making in just 10 years. In 1998 alone, Chinese Government
have received 75 Transgenic Seed development applications and they
permitted 53 for small scale field testing, environment release and
for commercial production. In 1994, China entered into agreement with
Monsanto and introduced number of transgenic cotton seeds varieties,
including Bollgard. In 1998-99, 3 million farmers in 9 provinces of
China have used Bollgard cotton-seed in 1.5 million acres. The farmers
reaped additional profits of 30% - 40% over conventional practices
(Report on Impact of Bt Cotton in China Jikun Huang and Fangbin Qiao,
Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of
Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China). So much so they were able to
increase their cotton exports to India by 27% in the subsequent year.
China started Biotech research along with India 1986 is experimenting
with hundreds of new varieties. The Chinese have targeted a 60% food
increase to meet the demand from a population of 160 crores (1.6
billiion), by 2030. They are making efforts to join the WTO community
as they are confident of withstanding international competition. What
are the reasons? The simplest answer is that the Chinese Government
has a vision- strong political will and simplified procedures.

On the contrary, a cursory look at the Indian agricultural development
policies and Government effectiveness shows a distressing trend.
Public sector research is in a pathetic stage wherein not one B.T.
could be developed indigenously and disseminated. The permit system
that is choking private B.T. initiatives is a typical bureaucratic
mess which has no relevance to the problem and solution. The
permission raj starts with a District Level Committee (DLC) headed by
the Collector, State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC)
headed by the Chief Secretary, Monitoring Evaluation Committee (MEC)
headed by a Agricultural scientist, Institutional Bio Safety Committee
(IBSE) headed by DBT, Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM)
headed by a Secretary and Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) headed by another Secretary have to clear this proposal before
it is sent to the concerned Ministers. It is very difficult to
comprehend what has the Collector, Chief Secretary or a Minister got
to do with Biotechnology!

Biotech research takes 5-7 years for basic concept-to-prototype
development and the field trails take another 5-6 years. There are 800
parameters to be tested and approved. Each parameter costs as much as
40,000 dollars which means as much of Rs.200 crores has to be invested
to know whether a specific Gene Transfer is proved worthy enough for
an average Indian?s consumption! Even after all the experiments this
Gene Transfer could be rejected outright on very flimsy grounds which
may not even be remotely related to the technology itself! B.T.
research is a highly complex and time consuming precision research
wherein it ought to have been left to experts of national stature to
monitor, evaluate and decide. B.T.s sold by MNCs have successfully
completed all the tests as per international standards. They have
successfully met the US Department of Agriculture approval, easily
amongst the fairest and most stringent in the world. India which does
not have even basic Transgenic research facilities leave alone the
testing facility has evolved a typical committee system wherein MNCs
are expected to go round the committee?s, the Babu?s and the
politicians to get approval. It is as if Indian Government is
reinventing the wheel. Perhaps it is for this reason that the
multinationals are not forthcoming in their investments in domestic
agri-biotechnology. An interesting situation could arise if Indian
scientists were to ever commercially offer transgenic variations of
tea, coffee, silk, or even sandalwood, and meet international GM
safety standards. Myopic policy making does not even begin to
factorize these opportunity costs for future benefits, especially
those technologies relating to academia-to-industry technology transfers.

The defects of decision making in India has been clearly pointed out
by Dr Robert L.Paarlberg of International Food Policy Research
Institute on Governing GM Crop Revolution in India. This analysis must
be seriously internalized by Government of India.

'One important finding from this study is that Kenya, Brazil and India
have each recently adopted national policies that are slowing the
spread of GM crops within their borders. In some respects these
policies are actually more cautious than those adopted in Europe.
Farmers in most European countries may legally plant at least some GM
crops if they wish to do so, and imports of some GM crops are still
permitted. Yet, as of late 2000, authorities in Kenya, Brazil and
India had not yet approved commercial planting of any GM crops or the
routine commercial importation of Gm commodities. This degree of
caution is surprising, given the conspicuous unmet food production
needs in some of these countries. The extreme caution is also
surprising given the prevalence in some of these countries of
precisely the crop-pest and crop-disease problems that GM crops have
been designated to address. Also puzzling is the fact that all three
of these countries have slowed the planting of GM crops primarily in
the name of biological safety, which has not otherwise been a high
policy priority.

Of the developing countries examined in this study, only China had
approved any kind of commercial GM crop production by 2000. China
began commercial production of GM crops in 1997, partly on the
strength of a strong national GM crop research program. Yet what sets
China apart is not its research program, since Brazil and India have
both invested substantial amounts in GM crop research as well. Nor
has China granted stronger IPR guarantees to the private companies
that are now the leading purveyors of this new technology. To the
contrary, China has at times antagonized the international private
sector with its failure to control IPR piracy in the area of crop
biotechnology. What sets China most clearly apart from Kenya, Brazil
and India so far is its decision to implement a biosafety policy
toward GM crops that focuses solely on demonstrated risks, rather than
on scientific uncertainties and hypothetical or undemonstrated risks.
A major challenge for this study is therefore to explain the
emergence of highly precautionary biosafety policies toward GM crops
in some developing countries but not in others'.

Farmers in India must have the right to decide which seed to use. For
too long those who know little about farming have claimed to know what
is best for 'peasants'. It is time now to give Indian farmers choice
to speak up for themselves. Communications technologies like
satellite TV, mobile telephony and the Internet have already opened up
the world for them. They see the urban India and the organized
sectors enjoying the benefits of new technologies in every area of
their lives. But new technologies in agriculture are sought to be
denied to them on ground of 'environment', 'MNC domination' and 'Food
Security'.

Farmers in rural India already have much wider choices in several
areas of their lives today. A marketing revolution in rural areas,
again spearheaded by global companies like Hindustan Lever, is making
available to them choice in articles of daily use that would have been
inconceivable a decade ago. Why is no one raising objections to these
choice of Colgate, Coca Cola, Cadburys, Star TV being made available
to farmers? After all, there are huge profits to be made there too?
Why is there apposition only to the tools that will raise farm income
and liberate farmers from spraying some of the harmful pesticides,
that he must perforce use to save atleast a part of his crop from
pests or give him more options in terms of crop management? Why should
the right of choice of farmers be limited, by denying them only the
benefits of agriculture technology? What kind of level playing field
is this?

Governments at the Central and the State must also go in for policies
that foster an environment that enables farmers to try out new
technologies of their choice, as happened in the 60?s and 70?s. The
beneficiaries will be not just the farmers of India but the rural
population of 600 million which depends on them and the industry which
needs quality raw material. Increased productivity will give small and
marginal farmers the means to buy the 40 million tons of food stock
lying in FCI godowns and improve their own nutrition.

Lets? face it. India can never be an industrial superpower and has
missed the genetic revolution, but it can certainly become an
agricultural superpower with the right policies and the right tools in
the hands of farmers, especially through the new genomics revolution.
Indian farmers have proved through the Green Revolution, White
Revolution and Blue Revolution that given them the proper tools. They
can deliver the food for India?s nutritional and calorific needs.

What shall we do with the Biotechnology paradox so peculiar to India?
The cotton area under transgenic crops in China, America and other
countries will further grow up during the year 2001-2002. Their
farmers will get an additional income of 40%, the productivity will go
up and quality will also go up. On the contrary, the Indian farmers
will be confronted with the same Bollworm problem even this year also.
If another few thousand cotton farmers commit suicide, the country
need not be surprised. All that will happen is it will be reported in
the press and there will be usual enquiries and compensations by the
Government. Whom should we blame for this situation? Is it the poor
and illiterate and ignorant farmers who are not united and express
their demands or the politicians majority of them claiming from the
agricultural families, not understanding the importance technologies
for development of agriculture and not able to take timely decision or
should we blame the environmentalists who want the Indian farmers
should live in isolation and be away from global competition or the
intellectuals including the journalists who are only acting as
reporters not as conscious keepers of the people? Perhaps a rural
revolt is necessary to bring about change of heart in the policy makers

As a last warning, we, the farmers should try something different. Let
us demand that our Government initiate an inquiry into the reasons for
delay to distribute the Transgenic Cotton Seed (for starters). The
points that this investigation could cover, include:

1. Is the Transgenic Technology of MAHYCO obtained from MONSANTO a
proven technology as per the international standards ?
2. Have the Chinese, Australians and Canadians accepted international
protocols in adopting Bt Cotton technology by MNCs in order to save
time and provide benefit to their farmers? If so why has Indian
Government failed to adopt this method?
3. Have the farmers, consumers, scientists and Government in America
and China have raised any objections about the usage of Bollgard
Cotton or Seed or Cotton Cake or Cotton Oil?
4. Are the scientists of the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee
(MEC), Institutional Bio Safety Committee (IBSC), Review Committee on
Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) and Scientists of Agricultural
Universities or qualified to conduct trials on B.T. cotton? If so, why
was the report rejected?
5. Have any product-claimed defects been pointed out by the scientists
who have conducted the studies?
6. If not, are there any scientific reasons for Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) to defer to postpone approval?
7. Are any inter-departmental turf battles responsible for
postponement of GEAC decision?
8. Is the Government of India adopting international protocol in the
interest of people in introducing pharmaceuticals, food products,
chemicals, consumables, electronics etc. for usage by people in order
to save time and avoid duplication of research? If so why is the same
procedure not adopted in agricultural products? (seed, pesticides,
weedicides).
9. How could ICAR, a research Institute working on Transgenic research
impartially evaluate / field test, another Transgenic organisation?s
capabilities in private sector ?
10. Is it desirable to have 6 Government Committees to give approval
to B.T. studies or should Government constitute an independent
Committee under the Chairmanship of a Non-Government Scientist with
representatives from Research Institute, Concerned Departments,
Private Industry and Farmers to give approval, so that an impartial
view can be taken.

We appeal to all my farmers friends in the country to write to their
respective Parliament Members, Legislators and Political Parties to
institute an enquiry and initiate such measures so that the Indian
farmers have access to best technologies at the shortest possible time.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Government Scared of Fashionable Green Lobby
June 27, 2001 The Statesman - India (from Agnet)

The recent India visit by personable Greenpeace activists protesting
genetically modified (GM) crops inevitably, according to this story,
attracted some media attention. It seemed to have caught official
attention, too. For, the story says, nearly coinciding with the visit
was the environment ministry decision to postpone commercial clearance
for a GM crop - trans-genic Bt cotton. The ministry committee on
genetic engineering has asked for one more year of field trials, to be
held under the guidance of the Indian Council of Agricultural
Research. The story says that just what the ICAR boffins will discover
over and above the data collected by three years of trials is more
difficult to understand than a primer on genetics.

The environment ministry committee does not seem to have come up with
anything beyond vague apprehensions. This almost certainly means the
government is scared of the politics of GM crops, not their science.
For, had Bt cotton been as demonically dangerous as green activists
claim, three years of field trials in India and its commercial use in
America and some Asian countries would have surely provided at least
indicative evidence. Ironically, the story says, farmers, whose
interests green activists so passionately champion are in favour of Bt
cotton. They know that thanks to the gene transfer from a soil
bacteria, Bt cotton can kill a pest, boll worm, usually resistant to
pesticides. Boll worm menace has been known to destroy an entire
season's effort. Clearing the commercial use of a remedy, field tested
for three years, should have been an official priority. More so since
we don't eat cotton.

Irrational caution in cases of genetically modified food crops may be
understandable, given the high emotive connotations of food politics.
But surely even the Indian government can show a little more courage
when it comes to biotechnological advances in non-edible categories.
No one is advocating rash and rushed introduction of GM crops. But
they represent a technological advance, responding to commercial
needs, and, green activism notwithstanding, their introduction at
various stages is inevitable. Expectedly, Greenpeace activists in
India showed tins and cans of processed food, which allegedly use GM
crops as raw materials. The message was familiar: look what the big
bad West does to poor countries.

The story says we hold no particular brief for the West, but radical
conspiracy theories propagated by first world activists have a nasty
way of harming victims more than "exploiters". Look, for example, at
green labels on trade, which typically affect third world exports to
the West. The tirade against GM crops need to be similarly understood.
Especially since India has the scientific potential to emerge as an
important player in biotechnology. Government help has been paltry.
Now, fear of appearing insufficiently green may do further damage.
Perhaps, there is a need for personable pro-biotechnology activists!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Gutless Committee

- Business Standard (India) (Editorial) 26-Jun-2001

The bid to reap the fruits of biotechnology has come a cropper _ yet
again. The genetic engineering approval committee of the environment
ministry has once again deferred clearance of Mahyco's trans-genic Bt
cotton for commercial cultivation, even after three years of limited
field trials under the government's and experts' supervision. Though
convinced to at least some degree of the utility of new seeds, the
committee nevertheless could not resist succumbing to the
anti-biotechnology lobby. It has ordered fresh trials for one more
year, under the surveillance of yet another committee to be set up by
the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

This should not be viewed as a victory for the opponents of
genetically modified (GM) crops. For, sooner or later, the cultivation
of GM crops is bound to begin. Nor is it a defeat of the scientific
community and the millions of farmers who are overwhelmingly in favour
of exploiting this state-of-the-art technology for ushering in the
next phase of the green revolution. The real triumph (if there is one)
is for the bureaucracy and its penchant for deferring action on
contentious issues, perhaps for want of the courage of conviction.
India already lags far behind many other nations in the practical
application of biotechnology, despite possessing the capability to do
so. This latest development puts it further back in the race, making
it all the more difficult to catch up. What is particularly
regrettable is that the detractors of biotechnology are exploiting
people's ignorance and spreading nameless fears. As came out in a
recent interactive workshop organised by the Economist Intelligence
Unit (EUI) India and Assocham, the anti-biotechnology lobby often
makes vastly exaggerated claims that are scientifically untenable. The
risks projected are usually hypothetical. The differences between
concepts like genetically modified organisms, transgenic crops and
terminator genes are conveniently overlooked in order to confuse the
public about their contrived dangers.

Bt cotton, which is at the centre of the present controversy, has a
gene transferred to it from a commonly present soil bacteria called
Bacillus thuringiansis (Bt). This gene produces a toxin in the cotton
plant that kills a pernicious pest, called boll worm, which defies
most other pest control measures. Even pesticides often prove
ineffective, leading at times to suicides by hapless cotton growers.
Bt cotton is already being commercially used in many countries,
including the US and China. No less than seven other genetically
modified crops carrying alien genes are also being grown (and
consumed) by people. There has so far been no confirmed report of any
environmental or health hazard posed by any of them, let alone Bt
cotton which is not an edible product.

The need for caution cannot, of course, be disputed and the green
lobby deserves credit for focusing on this. But obstructionism beyond
that point will be counter-productive. These activists should not
sully their credibility by over-reacting. No technology is wholly
risk-free. The benefits have to outweigh the risks, and this does in
fact seem to be the case with biotechnology. The best course under the
circumstances would be to start with the genetically modified seeds of
non-edible cash crops like cotton, and then move with due caution
towards food crops.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Discovery Heralds Way for Plants To Survive Drought

- Tim Radford, The Guardian 28-Jun-2001

Scientists have found out how plants open and close their stomata -
the tiny pores through which they breathe. The discovery could open
the way for genetically engineered crops which could survive drought.

The 'biological Morse code' used by plants to control the stomata is
described in Nature today by Gethyn Allen and Julian Schroeder from
the University of California, San Diego and colleagues from Munich and
Tubingen in Germany. Plants soak up huge quantities of water through
their roots and respire through their stomata to cool themselves as
they grow, mature and ripen. It takes around 900 litres of water to
grow 1kg of wheat. But huge areas of farmland are becoming
increasingly arid, and areas once made fertile by irrigation are being
abandoned because the soils become increasingly salty.

What has become a challenge in the developed world is already a
disaster for many poorer nations in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle
East and parts of Asia, as crops wither before they ripen. The hunt is
on for ways to develop plants that will survive at least a period of
drought, and quicken again with the return of the rains.

'Much of the land used for agriculture is not irrigated because water
is either unavailable or too expensive,' said Professor Schroeder. 'So
if crops can be engineered to respond to droughts by more rapidly and
effectively closing their stomatal pores, where 95% of the water loss
in plants occurs, they could better survive drought periods by
conserving water until the next rain hits.'

Calcium plays a powerful role in the machinery of the cell, and is
part of the signalling mechanism of stress. The researchers found that
specialised 'guard cells' in the leaves which surround each pore, or
stoma, 'tune in' to the frequency of calcium oscillations in the cell.
When these oscillations are at a particular frequency, the guard cells
react, and close the stomata for extended periods.

A study last year warned that one third of the world's population
would face 'severe' water scarcity by 2025.

'We don't know how to genetically engineer a plant to hit the right
frequency to close its stomata in response to a drought,' said Prof
Schroeder. 'That lies in the future. But understanding the calcium
code means we can now learn more about the mechanisms that control a
plant's resistance to drought conditions.'

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

New Spanish And Biotech Food Safety Songs

University of California, Department of Food Science and Technology
Carl Winter

Dear Colleagues, I'm pleased to announce the availability of two new
food safety songs available for download from the Food Safety Music
website at http://foodsafe.ucdavis.edu/music.html One is "Mantenga
Bien La Comida", recorded in Spanish to the music of Ritchie Valens'
"La Bamba". This song provides basic food safety information.

The second new song is "Still Seems Like Food to Me", derived from
Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me". This song takes a
humorous look at contemporary food biotechnology issues such as
Starlink corn, Roundup Ready soybeans, and consumer benefits. You can
download the RealPlayer audio files directly from the music website as
well as lyrics and PowerPoint slide presentations containing the
lyrics. RealPlayer software is free and easy to use and can be
obtained directly from a link on the webpage.

In addition to these new additions, the website contains twenty other
food safety songs covering topics such as microbial food safety,
pesticides, biotechnology, mad cow disease, and government regulation.
These songs are also available for RealPlayer download and include
lyric and PowerPoint slide presentations.

You can also receive information about how to receive your personal
versions of the "Stayin' Alive" and "Sanitized for Your Consumption"
music CDs on the website as well as media reviews of the music and my
performance schedule. Enjoy the music!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Science Fiction

Colleagues,
Agricultural biotechnology news covers a wide spectrum, and part of
that is, literally, literary... herewith is a book review carried by
the publication, somewhat uncharacteristic of its just-all-the-news
bent, but you may find it interesting.
---
Year's Best SF
- by Andrew Apel, editor, AgBiotech Reporter http://www.bioreporter.com

Works of popular fiction range from press releases issued by shadowy
activist organizations to Hollywood film extravaganzas replete with
special effects, and all have the power to impress the public at many
levels. Within this wide spectrum is found science fiction, a genre as
often praised as maligned in its relatively short and somewhat
checkered history, but still capable of influencing public perception.

Among the many delights of reading science fiction is the genreís
rather free-wheeling penchant for examining novel technologies and
their possible impacts on individuals, cultures and ecologies. Since
writings in this genre also often take a privileged viewpoint from the
future, they can equally well offer an interpretation of the past our
actual present, that is in terms more sensible than the ever-present
chaos of daily life often allows.

Against this backdrop, it should not be surprising that science
fiction authors have during the last few years increasingly dabbled in
biotechnology, sometimes as an aside, sometimes as a major plot
element or even as a fundamental of future history. In the latter
category I most highly recommend a series of novels beginning with The
Reality Dysfunction.*

Embarking on the consumption of an entire series of novels by a single
author is not, however, the ideal introduction to the use of
biotechnology as an element in science fiction, especially for those
not familiar with, or fond of, the genre. An anthology of short
stories would be a far better introduction, and one is now available:
Yearís Best SF 6.**

As the title implies, the anthology is the sixth of a series and its
editor, David Hartwell, believes each installment represents the
finest new science fiction short stories available. Hartwell's
introduction betrays no intent to collect biotechnology science
fiction short stories, but the majority of the 27 items of short
fiction nonetheless incorporate a biotech element or focus on it
exclusively. This may well indicate that biotechnology has become more
popular among science fiction authors - and, and by extension, among
their readership - than rocket ships.

Biotechnology and its political and scientific context covers a lot of
ground, but so, too, do these stories, indicating the authors have
been following the field with interest. In Reef, we see two
political/scientific groups contending over the potential uses and
dangers of genetically modified extremophiles turned loose on a
planetoid, where the creatures in a short period produce an
astonishing biodiversity. Extremophiles are examined briefly in The
Oort Crowd as well, a disappointingly short piece actually no more
than a teaser, as itís an introductory chapter to what may turn into
an excellent novel.

Oracle is a variation on the tried-and-true time-travel theme and
this time, the scientist with information from the future ìinventsî GM
crops during Post-WWII England. He is disappointed to see this
invention and others promptly denounced as unnatural.

To Cuddle Amy, The Dryad's Wedding and Seventy-Two Letters all
deal with human cloning or modification. The last of those three is
the most remarkable. In it, medievalistic scientists have developed a
process of naming in order to alchemically animate natural objects
with life force. In the course of developing the theme, the author
makes it apparent that the process of naming, involving various
combinations of 72 letters of an arcane alphabet, is actually a
stand-in for gene sequences. As it turns out, advances in naming
raise Medieval issues regarding intellectual property rights, the
potential of technology for use and misuse and the roots of activist
opposition.

By far the most amusing tale in the collection is Bordeaux Mixture,
in which a retired genetic engineer tends a vast garden of GM tomatoes
and muses about the past, when GM was the object of violent
objections. The problem was solved overnight by modifying crops to
express highly targeted pheromones, which made modified crops the
darlings of even the most hardened activists virtually overnight. Amid
the thronging tomatoes, this scientist waxes rapturous in describing
the gorgeous plants he tends endlessly with such loving care....

Some readers, however, might find themselves chuckling a good deal
more over Tuberculosis Bacteria Join the UN, which has a simple
scenario GM bacteria form intelligent biofilms and petition for
membership. Some of these bacteria have a history of less than
amicable relations with the human race, which complicates things.

The most sumptuous repast in the book is The Last Supper by Brian
Stableford, an author and critic of great repute among the
cognoscenti. This fine vignette takes place primarily in a fabulous
restaurant where the chef is so fastidious in his presentation of
gastronomic delights that he insists all his ingredients be
genetically modified to his demanding specifications. Then it is
discovered that he has failed to register some of his modified morsels
with health authorities. After he delivers an eloquent soliloquy in
praise of GM and gourmandizing, rapt patrons nearly revolt when
Scotland Yard comes to arrest him for his illicit ingenuity. (In an
aside, the protagonist mentions that the mystery of mad cow disease
was finally solved with the discovery that cows caught it from people,
and not vice versa.)

More purely environmental themes are investigated as well. In New Ice
Age, or Just Cold Feet? veteran author Norman Spinrad briefly
mentions Qwik-gro treesí as an aside in his light-hearted portrayal
of a future where efforts to stem global warming have been so
effective that an ice age has fallen, even as hysterical pundits
squabble over the possible impacts of warming things up. The demise of
Earthís biodiversity is darkly chronicled (or perhaps ridiculed) in
ìThe Thing About Benny, in which a botanist is stuck with searching
among plants in office buildings for new species.

For industry observers who are fans of fiction or otherwise, Yearís
Best SF 6 is bound to incite some thoughtful examination of the issues
surrounding biotechnology, and deserves to be near the top of any
properly varied reading list.

-----------
* Hamilton, Peter F., Warner Books, N.Y. 1997. I would caution that
the series strains credulity on a number of points, which in spite of
the nature of this genre is somewhat rare. ** Hartwell, David G.,
editor, HarperCollins Publishers, N.Y. 498 pp., $7.50