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July 17, 2001


Fading Interest, NGO Complex, Growth Limits, Banana Genome,


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Today's Topics:

* Column: Anti-Biotech Activists Faced With Fading Public Interest
* Hoax
* The NGO-Industrial Complex
* Limits of growth
* Multinational Effort Begins To Sequence Banana Genome
* Allay fears on GM crops, Nitish tells experts
* Presentation of Dr. Ingo Potrykus July 21 in Providence
* M.S. Swaminathan: Brain Food For the Masses

Column: Anti-Biotech Activists Faced With Fading Public Interest

Grand Forks Herald
July 16, 2001

NORWICH, ENGLAND -- While the genetically modified crop war is being waged
with intensity elsewhere in the world, the front in Britain has been
relatively quiet in the past few months. This is surprising, considering
that Britain just had a general election. The greatest challenge for the
anti-biotech activists is the government's science-based policy and the
election seemed an ideal ambush opportunity.

The usual range of interest groups (from the football association looking
for funding for a national stadium, to the London underground operatives
opposing privatization) were craving attention during the election
campaign. The foot-and-mouth outbreak meant that countryside pursuits,
including electioneering and eco-terrorism, became politically incorrect
for a while. But as with the American and Canadian elections last year,
the genetic engineering of crops never developed into much during the
delayed British election campaign.
The activists soundly rounded both major parties for their environmental
policies. The field therefore was open to the Green Party, which fielded
candidates in about a quarter of the constituencies. It did manage to win
more than 3 percent of the vote in areas where other environmental
concerns, such as new roads, were the local issue. It seems that, while
biotech issues sell newspapers, they do not buy votes.

Washout in Wales

The activists did, however, make a couple of territorial gains, in Wales
and close to organic production. The Welsh assembly back in May declared
Wales a GM-free zone. This motion appeared to have no legal bearing, the
Welsh secretary of agriculture admitting as much.
But as it had been requested by a petition with 10,000 names, compared
with a population of 43,000 full- and part-time Welsh farmers, it's
probably of some political significance.

The scientific steering committee overseeing the environmental trials had
emphasized the need for a good geographic spread of trial sites, even
through the Welsh assembly's opinion was known. The activists were able to
mobilize sufficient local interest to get three trials stopped or moved
beyond the borders of the principality.

The washout in Wales is unfortunate for those farmers wishing to use the
technology but means little in economic terms. Arable farming in Wales is
limited. Welsh farmers seed just 1.3 percent of the total U.K. cereal
acreage. The site of a fourth trial at Wolston in central England was just
over 3 kilometers from the Henry Doubleday Research Association's Ryton
Organic Garden.

The Soil Association, which promotes organic agriculture in Britain has a
policy of not licensing organic production within three kilometers of GM
crops. It actively champions the non-GM status of organic food. Industry
guidelines for siting the trial have respected this, although there seems
more promotional than scientific justification for the distance policy.

With the Wolston trial so close to the organic garden, the Soils
Association had a heaven-sent opportunity for free promotion. It wrote to
the environment minister threatening to withdraw the organic garden's
organic status unless the GM crop trial site was moved.
In turn, the minister asked the scientific steering committee to have the
Wolston trial moved. The committee came to what appears to have been a
majority decision that there was no scientific basis for moving the trial.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a large and well-financed
conservation organization and a member of the committee, then took the
opportunity to express its credentials by threatening to withdraw from the

Meanwhile, the industry was negotiating with the Soils Association on its
threat to withdraw the organic garden's organic status. A further
measurement confirmed that the organic garden was outside the 3-kilometer
zone, but the industry was undoubtedly mindful that the issue was being
raised within the politically sensitive time frame of a general election
campaign. So agreement was reached for moving the trial once, it seems,
that the Soils Association acknowledged there was no legal or scientific
basis for itsstance.


Something of precedence appears, however, to have been established. It
certainly seems enough for even a dull litigation lawyer to go to court
over. This might seem to be a threat to the eventual use of the
biotechnology in Britain. The reality, however, is that the Soils
Association's exclusion zone is commercially motivated.

Vested interests have created the perception that genetically modified
crops are a health risk and environmental hazard. The challenge for the
industryis to prove otherwise. In the United Kingdom, this process is
advancing steadily. The next phase will be to demonstrate this specific
biotechnology, like most others, has health and environmental benefits. As
soon as this occurs, the
Soils Association surely must adopt genetically modified crops as an
organic option.

Such a U-turn in a strongly held conviction may seem improbable. The
reality is, however, that the organic food movement is operating in a
commercial environment. As soon as its clientele begins to doubt the
benefits oforganic food, demand will evaporate.

To continue to succeed in this style of niche market, the organic movement
will need to be nimble. If organic agriculture continues to expand, it
almost certainly will be with the help of genetic engineering. GM-free
zones around organic production will not be a long-term issue, and even
the Welsh may be won over.

Editor's Note: Walker, an agricultural economist, lives on his family's
farm outside Norwich, England. He recently served as senior economist in
London for the Home-Grown Cereals Authority and previously was executive
director of the Alberta Grain Commission.

Thanks to Luke Anderson for forwarding ...

From: "vinia m datinguinoo"
Subject: Re: request from Luke Anderson re fake email sent out in name of
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 09:39:30 +0800

Press Statement

A fake press release supposedly issued by the Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has been circulated since yesterday. The
press release talks about a book supposedly authored
by PCIJ executive director Sheila S. Coronel on "the billion-dollar
business of multinational NGOs and the foreign-interest advocacy they
represent at the expense of Philippine national interest."

No such book exists. The PCIJ is not doing any investigation on NGOs and
their funders. The fake press release is apparently the work of
individuals or groups out to discredit NGOs working on agriculture,
pesticide and genetic-engineering issues.


The NGO-Industrial Complex

A new global activism is shaming the world's top companies into enacting
codes of conduct and opening their Third World factories for inspection.
But before you run a victory lap in your new sweatshop-free sneakers, ask
yourself: Do these voluntary arrangements truly help workers and the
environment, or do they merely weaken local governments while adding more
green to the corporate bottom line?

Full article: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/issue_julyaug_2001/gereffi.html

Date: 17 Jul 2001 15:26:47 -0000
From: "Bob MacGregor" To:
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Limits of growth

While I don't disagree with the contention that fossil fuels are finite in
supply, nor, even, that the fluid fossil fuels are likely already past
their peak and on a fairly rapid downhill slide in terms of production, I
still disagree with Red's suggested use of oil discovery and production
rates as tests of the success of technological solutions to world food
problems. I think the whole point is that, while "they don't make that
stuff anymore", we still have options for de-linking food production from
fossil-fuel supply. The various biotechnologies, including genetic
engineering, have great potential for making this transition
successful. Having said that, it is still quite possible that 6 or 8 or 10
billion humans is just plain beyond the carrying capacity of the earth--
with any sustainable technology in place. Nobody really knows, though I
have seen estimates of carrying capacity (for humans) as low as 2 or 3

For an overview of the trends and a decidedly pessimistic, graphical
presentation of where we might be headed if the technological, social
and cultural situation in the world isn't altered, look at


Multinational Effort Begins To Sequence Banana Genome

Agence France-Presse
July 18, 2001

ARLINGTON, Virginia - Researchers from 11 countries hope to sequence the
banana genome in an effort to develop a disease resistant variety of the
plant that is the staple food of nearly half a billion people worldwide.
The plan is to be announced here Thursday at a conference attended by
representatives from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Czech
Republic, France, Germany, Italy, India, Mexico and the United States who
hope to map the 11 chromosomes of the banana genome over the next five

Farmers in 120 countries grow an estimated 95 million tonnes of bananas
annually, with 85 percent of the global crop produced for home consumption
and local trade.

Bananas and their longer, greener cousin, the plantain, represent the
developing world's fourth most important food crop, providing more than
one-quarter of all food calories to residents in many parts of Africa.

Most of the locally-consumed banana crops are grown without pesticides,
making them susceptible to disease. The 15 percent of the crop that is
grown for export is heavily dependent on chemical inputs, with farmers
spraying those crops about 50 times a year, 10 times the average for
intensive agriculture in industrialized countries.

Using those chemicals comes at a heavy price, not the least of which is
financial; some 27 percent of the production cost for export bananas is a
result of chemical inputs. The scientists, under the auspices of a
Rome-based genetic plant institute's International Network for the
Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), seek
to use the new genetic data to enable developing-world farmers to grow
bananas able to resist the "Black Sigatoka" fungus, which can reduce crop
yields by 50 percent."If we can devise resistant banana varieties, we
could possibly do away with fungicides and pesticides altogether," said
Emile Frison, director of the Montpellier, France-based INIBAP.

"In addition, resistant strains are essential for small-holder farmers,
who cannot afford the expensive chemicals to begin with. When Black
Sigatoka strikes, farmers can do little more than watch their plants die.
Increased hunger can swiftly follow." Black Sigatoka is just one of the
myriad problems that can decimate crops of
both the starchy, potato-like bananas traditionally consumed in the
developing world as well as the sweet, Cavendish dessert bananas favored
by Westerners. The Banana Streak Virus, which imbeds itself into the
banana's own DNA, isthe only known virus that can pop out during times of
stress, reassemble itself and cause disease.

Pests such as weevils and parasitic worms, as well as a soil fungus, can
also undermine banana crops, planted equally in each of Latin America,
Africa and Asia, where the first of the potassium-rich fruit were
discovered. Because the banana is composed of only 11 chromosomes with a
total of 500,000 to 600,00 base pairs, the banana genome is among the
smallest of all plants and researchers expect quick results. "Bananas have
unique characteristics that will provide researchers with a powerful
model, capable of investigating fundamental questions withpotentially
widespread applications to agriculture," Frison said. "We want to
guarantee that any results, such as disease-resistant banana strains, will
be made available to small-holder farmers on aroyalty-basis,even if they
have commercial applications."


Allay fears on GM crops, Nitish tells experts

The Times of India
July 17, 2001

NEW DELHI: Union agriculture minister Nitish Kumar has asked scientists to
get on with research in biotechnology and genetically-modified organisms
cautioned them that people's concerns would have to be allayed before this
new technology was accepted. ``Without removing fears, we shouldn't just
open the doors.''

Addressing the 72nd annual general meeting of the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research Society on Monday, Nitish Kumar set the agenda for
coming year, addressing fears on the new WTO-inspired regime and asking
scientists to focus on two things. One, special programmes to promote
organic farming, ensuring viability even for the small farmer, to make a
dent in markets abroad. Two, given the fragmentation in land holdings,
developing a one-hectare, integrated farming package that can sustain a
farming family. ``This is the challenge,'' said the minister.

The annual ICAR awards were given to scientists, farmers and journalists in
the evening. An award for fishers/fishermen is to be instituted next year.

Nitish Kumar devoted the initial part of his morning speech entirely to the
need to tread ``the middle path'' on GMOs, be transparent with information,
assess and allay fears of environmental and health risks. Right now, those
speaking for the farmer get divided into ``extreme'' views, from the
``let-the-farmer-decide'' to ``we-are-the-only-protectors''.

The concerns on risks have not been addressed, the minister chided
scientists, recalling the recent controversy over a move to commercialise
cotton. Anything new has to find acceptance, people have to be prepared,
it's something only scientists can do, said the minister. ``We should know
if the technology is okay or not.''

And, then, prepare the ground. India may have rejected the terminator gene
but does it have a strategy for this - does it know how to recognise it,
stop it? Till this happens, and people are satisfied that GM crops can be
pest and disease-resistant and raise productivity without damage, this
technology won't be commercially practical.

But research must continue, said Nitish Kumar. China is already well ahead
and multinationals may not prove to be the most reliable. When is Bt cotton
coming into the ICAR system? he asked.

Switching tracks and making it clear that the road to a fairer WTO regime
will be a long haul, Nitish Kumar argued the need to use the existing
provisions to fight and make a dent in overseas markets while reforming
within to make small land holdings viable and fuel the agriclinics scheme
with the subsidy element so necessary to its success. So far, he rued, they
have been unable to convince the Planning Commission on the subsidy - but
hoped, ultimately, to convince it and then, link the agricultural insurance
scheme, and Krishi Vigyan Kendras, to agriclinics.


Presentation of Dr. Ingo Potrykus July 21 in Providence

Contact: Brian Hyps
American Society of Plant Biologists

PROVIDENCE, RI, -- The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) will
present the ASPB Leadership in Science Public Service Award to Dr. Ingo
Potrykus July 21, 2001 at the ASPB annual meeting in Providence.

The award recognizes Dr. Potrykus' outstanding contributions to science and
humanity through his research. Dr. Potrykus' research contributes to food
security in developing nations by developing and applying genetic
engineering technology to crop plants such as rice, wheat, sorghum and
cassava. Dr. Potrykus addresses problems difficult to solve with
techniques in the areas of plant disease and pest resistance, improved food
quality, improved yield, improved exploitation of natural resources and
improved biosafety.

Dr. Potrykus has genetically modified rice (Golden Rice) to have higher
levels of beta carotene that could address Vitamin A deficiencies of people
in developing nations where rice is the staple of their daily diets. Beta
carotene converts to Vitamin A after human consumption.

Dr. Potrykus' tremendous contributions to plant science and society have
been recognized in science journals and in the general media. As Time
magazine noted in its cover story on Swiss Professor Potrykus and on Golden
Rice, "this rice could save a million kids a year…but protesters believe
such genetically modified foods are bad for us and our planet" Golden Rice
could potentially save nearly 500,000 children a year from being stricken
blind from Vitamin A deficiencies in their diet.


The Leadership in Science Public Service Award will be presented 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 in the Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, Rhode
Island. Potrykus will discuss new developments in his research and recent
public reactions to Golden Rice during the Perspectives of Science Leaders
program immediately following the award presentation. For information on
press registration for the ASPB annual meeting July 21-25 and for
information on contacting Dr. Potrykus by phone before and after the
meeting, contact Brian Hyps at ASPB at 301-251-0560, ext. 114 or at

Founded in 1924, ASPB is a non-profit science society representing more
5,000 plant scientists. ASPB publishes two of the three most widely cited
plant science journals in the world, The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology.
ASPB, headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, changed its name from the
American Society of Plant Physiologists this year to reflect the broader
diversity of plant scientists in its membership.


M.S. Swaminathan: Brain Food For the Masses

JUNE 29, 2001

The father of a 'green revolution' that staved off famine in India 40 years
ago has a new cause: delivering information to the underclass