Today's Topics from Agbioview at http://www.agbioworld.org/
* Organic Report from Soil Association
* Terminator - An Eco-Friendly Gene
* Italian Berlusconi Seeks Summit Transfer to Nairobi
* GM Food Better Be Good For You -- Australian Survey
* Read Any Good Fruit? The E.U. labeling for GM food
* Meeting of the Cassava Biotechnology Network
* Biotechnology & Sustainable Development: -Egypt
* Benefiting from GE Crops (India's Top Regulator Speaks Up!)
* Growing More Food On Less Land
* Analysis: Genetically Modified Salt-Tolerant Tomato
* Bjorn Lomborg: A Chipper Environmentalist
* Environmental Movement Series: Five Parts; Fat of the Land
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Organic Report
Craig Sams made good on his promise to release a big report on
organic food if the people his industry maligns didn't quit fighting
back. The "Executive Summary" of the report, said to be based on 400
published papers, is available at http://www.soilassociation.org.
If the Executive Summary is any indication, the report is a tissue of
lies and distortions. Here are a few:
1. " There is no evidence linking organically produced foods with an
increased risk of food poisoning. A recent survey gave organic food a
clean bill of health . . ." A recent British survey found fecal
bacteria on organic food. The survey conveniently avoided comparing
fecal remains on organic food with conventional food.
2. " There is currently insuficient [sic] published evidence to reach
any definitive conclusions regarding the safety of genetically
modified foods for humans, although negative health effects have been
observed in animal trials." This conclusion obviously stems from a
severely limited reading list, one perhaps headed by Arpad Pusztai's
study of how lab rats placed on starvation diets have tissue
3. " No record has been found of any case of BSE, suspected of being
linked to new variant CJD in humans, in any animal born and reared
organically." This is a blatant falsehood. The first case of mad cow
disease in Germany was detected on an organic farm. Another 'organic'
herd in France was found to be infected, and organic officials tried
to cover the case up. Given how little organic beef is grown, this
suggests mad cow disease may well be as prevalent in organic
agriculture as elsewhere.
4. There is no point in responding to fundamentally baseless
assertions of the form "there is growing concern" or "have been
linked" or "potentially harmful," as such assertions say absolutely
nothing about food, and merely describe people's attitudes.
5. The conclusion is perhaps most instructive: "Collectively, the
evidence supports the hypothesis that organically grown crops are
significantally [sic] different in terms of food safety, nutritional
content and nutritional value from those produced by non-organic
Many thanks to the Soil Association for admitting that has no more
than an "hypothesis," as shabby evidence and haphazard research are
obviously incapable of supporting anything more robust.
Re: USDA Says Yes To Terminator
From: William Muir (posted to an Internet discussion group)
I find it ironic that Terminator technology is finding so much
resistance. I and others have shown that there are environmental
risks of GM organisms, bothplant and animal (particularly fish),
thorough vertical gene flow, i.e. spread of the transgene through
mating with native species or wild related species (this is the
risk). The hazards of which are similar to that of an invasive
species and could cause species extinction, habitat destruction, or
other ecological harm. On the other hand, there may be cases where
such invasion does not cause harm, however those cases are nearly
impossible to determine a priori due to the near infinite number of
ways a species interacts with other species in nature. While it is
possible to evaluate the risk of gene flow using my net fitness
component approach, the best solution is to ensure the gene cannot
spread, the hazards of which then become irrelevant. Terminator type
technology is exactly what is needed to prevent such harm.
I find particularly short sighted the conclusion "We reject the
notion that Terminator is a biosafety bandage for GM crops with leaky
genes, but even if it were, biosafety at the expense of food security
is unacceptable," concludedby RAFI's Silvia Ribeiro. This position is
one which justifies destroying the environment for the sake of
mankind. Who given mankind the right to destroy the environment to
propagate themselves? The solution is not to control nature but to
control our population growth.
Personally I am less concerned with being able to propagate GM seeds
than I am in preventing unwanted propagation (GM or human). No one is
forcing anyone to propagate any strain or variety, so those who
reject the technology can continue to plant their favorite non GM
crops as they always have. If anything we should call this the
"eco-friendly gene", the hazards we are now seeing with spread of
canola or rape seed could have been avoided with this technology.
- Bill Muir, Professor Genetics, Purdue University
Berlusconi Seeks Summit Transfer
- David Willey in Rome, BBC, 4 August 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says the World Food summit -
due to be held in Rome in November - should be transferred to another
city to avoid a repetition of last month's riots in Genoa. He told
MPs supporting his right-wing government that Italy had given quite
enough by hosting the Genoa summit. Mr Berlusconi has clearly been
bruised by the fallout from the summit, when G8 leaders met amid
scenes of unprecedented security.
The riots, in which one protester died and dozens of people were
hurt, caused damage to buildings and public structures which will
cost millions of dollars to repair. A political row is still going on
over allegations of police brutality against demonstrators. At a
meeting with senators, Mr Berlusconi said it was the Italian
Government's intention to get the November summit transferred to
Hunger meet : The meeting of heads of state and government is being
organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations. Italy's Agriculture Minister, Giovanni Alemanno, said it
would be a splendid opportunity to transfer the meeting to an African
city like Nairobi, so that delegates could get first-hand experience
of populations which, unlike those in the West, know what hunger
Left-wing Italian politicians immediately attacked Mr Berlusconi's
proposal. Gavino Angius, a left-wing senator, said he was astonished
that Italy would refuse to host such an important summit because it
was unable to guarantee public order.
There was no immediate comment from FAO headquarters in Rome. The
November food summit is due to review progress made towards
eradicating world hunger since representatives of more than 180
countries meeting in Rome in 1996 pledged to reduce the number of
hungry people in the world by half by the year 2015.
GM Food Better Be Good For You -- Australian Survey
- Michael Byrnes (Forwarded by: Rosedale55@aol.com)
SYDNEY, Aug 7 (Reuters) - What's in it for me? Australian research
is showing this may be the key question in selling genetically
modified (GM) foods to consumers.
Surveys by government agency Biotechnology Australia show that the
strongest consumer acceptance of genetic engineering is for GM foods
with health benefits, such as lower cholesterol in oils, lower sugar
content, or improved nutrition. If consumers perceive that the motive
behind genetic modification is blind profit, the product may not sell.
Genetic manipulation for taste is a put-off. Engineering better
yields for farmers, one of the main reasons why GM crops are being
grown in the first place, is also less accepted. And cross-species
genetic manipulation, for example through the insertion of fish genes
in tomatoes, is a definite "no-no."
"If a GM food or crop appears to have been done to no direct consumer
benefit, there's a good chance it may not be picked up,"
Biotechnology's manager of public awareness, Craig Cormick, said
following the release last week of the group's latest survey.
"Consumers want products they get benefits from, not products that
will benefit a grower or a company," he told Reuters.
Biotechnology's survey of 1,200 people in April and May showed a
continued rise in the acceptance of GM foods in general. The
proportion of those who said they would eat GM foods rose to 49
percent from 35 percent a year ago and 28 percent in 1999. This
enthused biotech groups. "It's pretty positive," said Brian Arnst,
spokesman for the Australian unit of U.S. life science giant Monsanto
Australian Views Midway Between U.S., Europe: The survey results put
Australia in line with public attitudes in New Zealand on GM foods
and midway between Europe, where the majority of consumers oppose GM
foods, and the United States, where most people accept them.
Australia's consumer acceptance rate of about 50 percent compares
with 70-75 percent in the United States and about 35 percent in
Europe. Biotechnology's new Australian survey showed a majority, 51
percent, believe genetic engineering would improve human lives over
the next 20 years. This was up from 42 percent in 1999.
Most Australians also now believe that most applications of gene
technology are morally acceptable. "There's a lot of concern (about
GMs), but low level concern. GM food concerns were noticeably less
than concerns about pollution or greenhouse gases," Cormick said. But
the survey showed support had fallen for GM foods which were altered
simply for taste, a trivial rather than beneficial modification,
Only 37 percent of respondents accept modification of crops to make
them more pest resistant, although this was up from 31 percent in
1999. The survey delivered a decisive thumbs down to cloning,
rejected by 98 percent, and to cross-species engineering.
"People are pretty comfortable crossing plants with other plants.
Animal genes in plants, forget it," Cormick said. "They are fairly
comfortable with human genes for a human pharmaceutical application.
(But) putting human genes into animals, like growing organs on
pigs... forget it," Cormick said.
Read Any Good Fruit?
The E.U. approves tough new labeling for GM food, pleasing activists and
complicating trade relations
- James Graff/Brussel, Time - Europe, August 6, 2001 Vol. 158 No. 6
The radical gap between Americans' tolerance for genetically modified
foods and Europeans' broad rejection of them has become a
commonplace, but also a conundrum. Does the difference reflect
consumer choice or producers' offerings? Or has it become a kind of
marker gene of European lifestyles versus those of the Americans? The
European Commission set the stage for an answer last week when, after
nine months of deliberation and missed deadlines, it finally
announced a proposal for the strict labeling of GM foods.
The new proposal, which will have to be approved by the European
Parliament and the 15 member states, demands that not only products
containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such, but
also foods derived from GMOs. That would slap a label on highly
refined products, such as sugars and oils, that bear no trace of the
sugar beet or rapeseed from which they originated. The new scheme
would require a "farm-to-fork" system of traceability of all
genetically modified products. The provisions, strongly opposed by
the U.S., Canada and other countries that plant GM crops, are bound
to worsen the already sour relations among the transatlantic trading
Little wonder, then, that the 20-member Commission couldn't reach a
decision until its last meeting before Brussels empties out for
August. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy in particular argued against
labeling. But consumer protection Commissioner David Byrne and his
counterpart for the environment, Margot Wallström, won out. Said
Wallström: "Citizens should have the right to choose whether what
they serve for dinner has GMOs or not."
Sounds simple enough. But the details of what foods to label are
devilishly arcane and essentially political. As the Commission
acknowledges, there is no scientific evidence that genetic
engineering is "inherently unsafe." Under the proposed rules, if the
corn oil used in a particular mayonnaise was derived even to a degree
of 1% from GM corn, it gets a label. But an egg laid by a hen raised
on nothing but GM feedcorn, duly labeled as such, doesn't. A paper
trail that connects glucose to a genetically altered sugar beet earns
the end product a label; but cheese, wine and beer made with the help
of genetically manipulated enzymes ˜ widely used in Europe ˜ go to
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the U.S., Canada
and Argentina account for 99% of the world's GM crop plantings; the
European Union's share is .03%. In the U.S. no labeling of GM foods
is mandated, and the stuff is everywhere: two-thirds of all processed
foods in the U.S. contain GMOs, says Jeffrey Barach, a vice president
of the National Food Processors' Association in Washington. If U.S.
producers want to export to the E.U., they would have to trace their
ingredients all the way back to the farm. Says Barach: "It's a
tremendous amount of paperwork and quickly becomes a nightmare."
Europe's anti-GMO activists have little sympathy. "The market economy
runs on full disclosure between seller and buyer," says Brigid Gavin
of Greenpeace. "It's a bit rich to suggest that you don't need
traceability for food while you do for tires and any number of other
products." Her organization is unhappy that the Commission proposes
allowing food shipments that accidentally contain up to 1% of certain
Washington believes the traceability provisions constitute a trade
barrier and that the Commission's proposals draw arbitrary
distinctions between foods that are chemically indistinguishable. And
as with any control regime that depends entirely on a paper trail,
there are worries about the potential for fraud. The only bright spot
GMO advocates see in the new law is that member states may view them
as stringent enough to end a de facto moratorium on allowing new GMO
varieties in Europe: only 18 have been approved, all before 1998,
whereas U.S. authorities have given the green light to about 50.
After the summer break, the ideological battle will be joined anew as
the European Parliament and the member states take a closer look.
Once the law is in place, the consumer will be the ultimate arbiter.
Barach worries that a label bearing the letters GMO could prove "the
kiss of death" for any product. Two years ago, puree from GM tomatoes
was yanked from supermarket shelves in Britain after a campaign by
GMO opponents. But consumers have a way of trumping expectations.
Unless solid evidence surfaces that GMOs are unhealthy, the labels
could end up as yet another piece of information for shoppers to
"Fifth International Scientific Meeting of the Cassava Biotechnology Network":
The meeting will be held 4-9 November 2001 in St. Louis, Missouri,
USA and is titled "Cassava, An Ancient Crop for Modern Times: Food,
Health and Culture." The first day will present cassava as a crop and
constraints that limit productivity. The next four days will be
devoted to the status of cassava biotechnology. Please contact
Bernadette Delannay, ILTAB/D. Danforth Plant Science Center at email:
email@example.com; phone: 314-516-4583; fax: 314-516-4582 or
(From The Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project Linkages
Newsletter; Forwarded by )
"Biotechnology & Sustainable Development: An International Conference-Egypt":
An international conference on will be held in Alexandria, Egypt from
15-17 October 2001 on "Biotechnology and Sustainable Development."
The conference will be held in the beautiful new Bibliotheca
Alexandria. All aspects of biotechnology will be addressed in
concurrent panel sessions to include biotechnology in health, in
agriculture, in food production, in environmental protection and in
industrial processes. The conference is co-sponsored by the Egyptian
Government, FAO, UNESCO, World Bank, OECD, CGIAR, ICARDA, AGERI,
AAS&T, NAS and TWAS. Thanks to the generosity of the donors,
conference registration fees will be waived for all participants. For
more information call: phone 203-4876024 or 4876028 or internet:
Why this Conference?
Biotechnology And Sustainable Development: Voices Of The South And The North
An International Conference Egypt: 15-17 October, 2001
Too long, the debate on biotechnology has been seen as a debate
between the US and Europe or between the NGOs and the private sector
largely in the industrialized countries. The developing countries
have a vital stake in the pattern of development that the new
technology will take. For it is in the developing countries that 80%
of humanity resides and it is in the developing countries that all of
the additional two billion persons that will be added to the world's
population will come. It is in the developing countries that we will
have to double food production in less than two generations with
largely the same amount of land and water. It is from the developing
countries that the bulk of the biological diversity has been
obtained, and it is to the people of the developing countries, in
their poverty and lack of health, that the new technology could bring
significant and even dramatic improvements in their way of life.
Thus the voice of the developing countries needs to be heard much
more forcefully than has been the case so far. Not by just having an
occasional representative in a meeting held in a western capital, but
by being the hosts of the international meetings, and engaging their
decision makers in this debate. Such events would allow these
decision makers to benefit from the multiplicity of views of the most
informed and knowledgeable persons in the world, to form their own
views and then hopefully to articulate their official positions in
various international forums in response to this engagement.
To that end, Egypt is inviting leaders from the developing and the
industrialized world: leaders in science, government, NGOs, the
media, farmers groups, philanthropy, academia, the private sector and
the civil society to meet in Egypt on October 15-17 2001. The event
should cover the multi-faceted dimensions of the biotechnology
debate: the scientific, ethical, and safety issues as well as the
regulatory, IPR and trade and economic issues. Too frequently in the
past these issues have been discussed in separate and uncoordinated
forums, where the government representation comes from different
ministries and looks at only one part of the issue. Thus we must
bring representation from the ministries of agriculture, environment,
health, education, scientific research, foreign affairs and
international economy and trade who ultimately represent their
countries at so many different venues: the WTO, FAO, WHO, UN, CSD,
UNEP, CBD, WIPO, UPOV, and so many more.
For this event to be truly effective, we must have the very best
scientists meet and interact with each other as well as with the
highest levels of the political, governmental, non-governmental,
private sector, media and philanthropic sectors. To make progress on
this multi-faceted debate we must make a firm commitment to the best
science, and the most rigorous analysis of risks and promises, of
legal and moral obligations, insisting on firm evidence rather than
The following is a brief outline of the eight topics to be covered.
1. Where are we going: The state of cutting edge science. The
promise of likely new discoveries.
2. Ethical issues: Not everything that is technically feasible is
What are the ethical issues involved in dealing with life forms?
Modifying life forms in a way that conventional breeding could not
achieve? Cloning? How much say do citizens have in deciding what is
3. Safety issues: Safety issues should not be underestimated, but
what is the best way to deal with safety concerns? What do we know
about the likely risks? How do we apply the precautionary principle
responsibly in a context of uncertainty and risk? How do we improve
risk analysis using comparative approaches?
Also the different aspects of safety must be looked at: 3-a) Human
safety: medical aspects, as well as food safety. 3-b) Environmental
issues: bio-safety arguments.
4. Economic concentration: The role of multi-nationals in the seed
business in the pharmaceutical business. The role of national
private sector and governments. The concerns with economic
concentration. The arguments about trade.
5. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Who owns the genes? What
constitutes adequate patents? The role of the farmers rights,
breeders' rights and IPR. Different regimes: UPOV, TRIPS/WTO, the
multilateral undertaking (FAO), the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, and
6. Regulatory regimes: To address all these issues what do we need
in terms of international, regional, national and local
(institutional) regulations? The role of the governments? Of
professional associations? The scientists themselves? Asilomar
revisited? the harmonization of regulations. Liability? Who is
responsible for what? Independent bodies for food safety? for
environmental safety? For what?
7. Towards a better future: different role: What should governments
do? How and where should the private sector invest? The role of the
media, the role of the civil society. The role of international
bodies. Partnerships, with whom?
8. Brokering partnerships for action: Can the conference provide a
platform for new alliances of the caring? South/South collaboration,
North/South collaboration international-regional-national-local
alliances? Government, NGOs, farmers' groups, research labs and the
private sector? public/private partnerships? How? Where?
Benefiting from GE Crops
- Dr. P. K. GHOSH, Advisor, Ministry of Science & Technology, Dept.
The Hindu August 07, 2001 http://www.hinduonnet.com/stories/13070364.htm
GE technology has shown promise of reducing the farm production costs
by minimising the use of chemical pesticides, simplifying agronomic
practices, improving productivity or by enhancing the value of crops.
INDIAN FARMERS will immensely benefit if they are empowered with
genetically engineered (GE) seeds that have capacities to work with
relatively fewer inputs. The green revolution, which is based on
conventional methods of breeding and selection, has reached a
plateau. Excessive use of fertilizers has caused land degradation,
manifesting salinity and alkalinity. Pesticides, though efficacious,
have caused enormous damage because of non-judicious use or have
accidentally impacted non-target organisms. Productive seeds with
quality traits to match the above adversities can be developed by
using genetic engineering technology. In this technology, a useful
gene coding for a property is inserted into the plant using a plant
compatible promoter and a terminator sequence. Genes, promoters and
terminators are DNA sequences having different properties. The genes
used are obtained from non-related but natural organisms. They can
also be synthesised in the laboratory. The promoter sequence directs
the genes to work. The implantation of the genes into non-related
plants by different non-sexual methods has been possible in GE
technology. This technology has major advantages over breeding
methods in scope, reliability, precision and speed.
GE technology has shown promise of reducing the agricultural
production costs by minimising the use of chemical pesticides,
simplifying agronomic practices, improving productivity or by
enhancing the value of crops. GE technology is gaining gradual
acceptance wherever it has been introduced after adequate safety
evaluation. Many people who do not have exposure to this technology
have expressed fears about the use of transgenic plants produced by
this technology. In order to dispel such fears, governments from
different countries are conducting case- by-case evaluation of safety
of transgenic plants before being released into the new open
environment. In India, no transgenic plant has yet been commercially
released, but testing for safety is in progress.
Regulatory structure India has a comprehensive legal and regulatory
structure in place to deal with genetically modified organisms
(GMOs). GMOs include GE seeds. This structure oversees the
development of GMOs from research stage to large-scale commercial
use. All GMO plants require evaluation in the open environment.
Guidelines have been developed for field evaluation. Food safety
issues are also addressed in the guidelines. There are detailed
procedures for involving the State Governmnet authorities as well as
the scientists from State and Central Government institutions. The
regulations bring together the scientific personnel, the government
officials as well as the legal system in the evaluation process.
There is however no clear policy on labelling requirement of GMOs.
Also, the capabilities to analyse and assess GMOs in products have
not yet been developed.
There are several issues associated with GE technology in plants.
Molecular biology provides capacities to isolate valuable genes and
insert them into plants to produce new clones. Capacities to access
risks and to conduct food and environmental safety evaluation are
other parts of skills commensurate with this technology. Risk
assessment includes analysing data on a case-by- case basis for
informed decision. It covers deeper understanding of the behaviour of
and interrelationships among transgenic plants, animals and
micro-organisms, and implicating for environmental and/or food
safety. In all GMOs, the three variables, namely the transgenic DNA
sequences (genes, promoters, etc.), the transformed plants and the
environment of release, need to be analysed through scientific
experiments. As the flora and fauna as well as the environmental
conditions vary from one place to another, the assessment of a
transgenic plant in one environment may not be valid in another,
necessitating fresh evaluation. Food immunology for allergenicity
evaluation is not yet practised in India. The country has several
institutions that intend to specialise in related disciplines in a
fragmented manner. Consequently, there is need for a comprehensive
approach to planning which includes upgradation of existing
infrastructure and skills in most of the institutes. In addition,
right relationships among the related institutes are also to be
encouraged to enable them to broaden their horizon of activities
through mutual cooperation.
In India bench scale researchers in top class laboratories spend
close to $4,000 per person per year against $1,000-2,000 per person
per year in most laboratories in the country. In contrast the
expenditure in developed countries is close to $20,000 but about
$30,000 or more per year in private foreign industries. These figures
reflect the quantities of expensive materials the researchers have
access to and are indicators of opportunities of development in
different environment. The financial situation of Indian laboratories
dealing with GE technology calls for a review.
Visibility of the technology in the public sector should be profound.
Towards such efforts, the Indian Government can buy certain valuable
transgenic DNA materials including transgenic seeds and establish
collaboration with efficient international organisations, using the
public sector institutions as the prime movers in order to develop
GMOs of economic value. Several international organisations such as
the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, Rockefeller
Foundation U.S., International Crops Research Institute for the
Semi-Arid Tropics, Hyderabad, have transgenic materials of economic
value, whose assistance can be sought.
Collaboration There can also be great wisdom in identifying
economically valuable Indian germplasms and use them as source
materials for isolating and discovering DNA of economic value through
collaboration. There can be various ways of achieving these
objectives. One way can be that scientists from Indian public funded
institutions could visit the premier research universities and
institutions in developed countries, to convert the Indian materials
into desired transgenic lines and bring the transformed materials
back to India for use in agriculture. The intellectual properties
developed through this process could be shared on mutually agreed
terms, consistent with the IPR laws.
Over the last five years India has developed some expertise in
scientific, managerial and legal skills to handle all aspects of
GMOs. A large number of locally developed scientific protocols have
been utilised to assess short-term risks of GMOs. India has gained
experience through the conduct of several field experiments
throughout the country, though there are yet gaps in assessing the
environmental risks, both short-term as well as long-term ones. There
is therefore a need to strengthen infrastructure, protocols and
trained manpower in different agricultural universities.
For the acceptance of GMOs, the scientific assessment alone cannot be
the ultimate basis for decision-making, howsoever precise the
scientific study may be. Scientists derive experimental evidence by
designing rational experiments and by taking measurements utilising
techniques and instruments. All conclusions based on science have
limitations in terms of methods used and the sensitivities of the
instruments utilised. Moreover, the present knowledge in science
would not provide a definite answer for certain questions. For
example, the question of transfer of marker genes including
antibiotic resistant genes from GE plants to micro-organisms along
with the effect of such transfer cannot be quantitatively resolved.
Therefore, societies would have to decide on accepting or rejecting
GMOs on the basis of current knowledge of assessment of risks. Once
risks are ascertained with reasonable scientific certainty, decisions
would have to be taken on the basis of other non-scientific
considerations such as cost benefit analysis, the relevance of GMOs
to societal needs in relation to addressing the problems of hunger or
meeting the nutritional requirements.
Growing More Food on Less Land
By Jaydev Jana, The Telegraph (India) August 6, 2001
During the last 50 years, the total production of food grains in
India has jumped from 51 million tonnes in 1950-51 to the current
level of 206 million tonnes, resulting in a self-sufficiency in food.
The green revolution ushered in a „reductionist agriculture‰ which
led at first to rapid growth in productivity but has now created
crops that are increasingly dependent on higher, more costly and less
efficient doses of fertilizer and pesticide. Indian cultivators are
showering their crops with an estimated 90,000 tonnes of around 140
odd pesticides every year. These pesticides leave residues that
linger on crops and soil, leach into ground water and streams, get
magnified biologically and are an environmental concern. Subsistence
and sustainable agriculture are pushed onto marginalized or less
productive land, leading to deforestation and erosion. In a recent
survey, 75 per cent of food and vegetable samples collected from
markets in Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were found to contain
significant levels of pesticide residues. In 70 per cent of milk
bottles in Maharashtra, DDT and Dieldrin residues have been found to
be 4.8 ˆ 6.3 ppm and 1.9 ˆ 6.3 ppm respectively, while the
permissible limit for both is 0.66 ppm. According to the
International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, India accounts
for one-third of pesticide poisoning reported from the developing
Double green The Indian population is likely to reach 1300 crore by
2020 for which about 300 million tonnes of food grains are required.
India will therefore be required to produce an additional 5-6 million
tonnes of food grains annually. But the green revolution has started
waning, making it difficult to obtain the required incremental food
production. In the 21st century, ecological access to food seems to
be the biggest challenge because of the damage being done to land,
flora and the atmosphere. What we need is a new „double green
revolution‰ ˜ environmentally sustainable as well as
yield-increasing. It should aim to reap benefits from genetic
revolution based on cutting-edge work associated with genetic
mapping, molecular markers and biotechnology. Biotechnology is the
tool that will allow us to produce more food on less land, with
reduced depletion and damage to water resources and bio-diversity.
This technology is not a substitute for conventional plant breeding
methods. It is a supplementary tool for producing tailor-made
genetically modified or transgenic crops. Insertion of a carefully
selected gene into a plant is safer than introducing thousands of
genes at once, as commonly occurs during conventional crossbreeding.
Safety first There are many advantages to GM crops over traditional
and crossbred crops. Pest-resistant GM crops, like the Bt crop, limit
pesticide usage. Similarly, herbicide-resistant GM crops are also
available. The most common GM crops cultivated are soyabean, corn,
cotton and canola. GM crops have a five to 15 per cent increase in
yield over non-GM crops. Consumers will also benefit from the
development of micronutrients-rich GM food. Golden rice that has been
genetically engineered to contain beta-carotene, the precursor to
Vitamin A, is a case in point. Tata Energy Research Institute in
India is collaborating with Monsanto Company on the development of a
product related to golden rice ˜ golden mustard oil ˜ that may help
alleviate Vitamin A deficiencies in areas where mustard oil is a
staple in local diets.
GM crops that appropriate to varied adverse environmental conditions
might also be evolved. A scientist at the Bose Institute, Calcutta,
has been able to identify the gene responsible for producing a
specific enzyme that helps wild rice survive in saline conditions. By
inserting the same gene any rice variety can therefore be made
salt-resistant. This finding raises the hope for utilization of the
long stretches of coastline in India for rice production. With
liberal support from the United Nations and the World Bank, a number
of transgenic cultivators, that are currently undergoing testing,
have been developed in India.
The safety and choice of GM foods have triggered fears and ethical
debates, although there is very little evidence so far. GM foods
should be marketed only after proper safety testing, quality control
and label declaration.
Analysis: Genetically Modified Salt-Tolerant Tomato
National Public Radio - NPR: Talk of the Nation August 3, 2001
Ira Flatow, Host: This Is Talk of The Nation/Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow.
But first, what some are calling a major breakthrough in agricultural
technology. According to the US Department of Agriculture, every year
about 25 million acres of farmland worldwide is lost because the soil
becomes too salty for plants to grow. It's a huge problem in many
parts of the world, including here in the US, and now researchers
working at the University of California and the University of Toronto
say they have genetically engineered a tomato plant so that it will
grow in salty soil. The plant can even be watered with saltwater. Now
joining me to talk about this new plant is Dr. Eduardo Blumwald,
professor of cell biology in the Department of Pomology in the
University of California-Davis. He joins us by phone from his office.
Thanks for being with us, Dr. Blumwald.
Dr. EDUARDO BLUMWALD (University of California-Davis): Oh, thank you.
FLATOW: You're welcome. Is this true? Why--you have a tomato plant
that grows in salty--salt conditions in the soil?
Dr. BLUMWALD: You bet.
FLATOW: How well does it grow?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Well, you can grow this plant at the same height and
the same number of fruits and the same quality of the fruits as
normal plants, when you water them with the equivalent of 40 percent
FLATOW: Huh. Now what have you been able to do to this tomato plant
that makes it so able to grow in salty soil?
Dr. BLUMWALD: What we have done is--essentially, it's common sense.
Any plant that has to grow in such adverse conditions faces two
problems. The first is that sodium is very toxic for the metabolism
of the cell. Sodium will inhibit key reactions, killing plant cells.
The other problem is that due to the high osmoticum outside, the high
sodium chloride concentrations, the plant cannot take water. In fact,
the plant is going to lose water. So what we have done is instructed
the plant through genetic modification to produce more of a plant
protein--this is not a fish protein, just is a protein from the
plant--that now is going to make the sodium ions that enter the
plant's cell go into an organelle that the plant cell has, called a
vacuum. By doing that, which is by accumulating the sodium in this
vacuum inside the plant cells, we accomplish two things. First of
all, we are removing the sodium from the other part of the cells,
which are critical for the metabolic reactions of the cell. And
second, now, that pool of sodium starts sucking water literally from
the soil to the plant. So the plant now can use the salty water to
FLATOW: So the plant is genetically engineered to take the salty part
of the water and store it in the leaves, let's say, so it doesn't get
into the tomato fruit itself.
Dr. BLUMWALD: But that is a consequence. The water that goes into the
fruits, or into the seeds, or into the grains, depending on the
plant, is water that comes from inside the cells through cell-to-cell
communication. If we manage now to filter the sodium out of that
liquid in the site of the cells, now the water that goes to the
fruits have very little sodium. And, in fact, our tomatoes have very
little sodium, although the plant is full of sodium.
FLATOW: So you took a gene from the Aridopsis plant, which is a
mustard plant, correct?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Yeah. Yeah.
FLATOW: And the mustard plant had tolerance for the salt?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Not so much tolerance. We show two years ago--actually,
we published that in Science in 1999, that in order to that little
plant to be tolerant to salt, you have to make that plant overexpress
its own gene. You need more of that protein.
Dr. BLUMWALD: The only reason that we use the gene in Aridopsis was
for lack of funding, really, because we know that tomato has genes
which are incredibly similar--93 percent identical than the one in
Aridopsis. And in fact, many plants have the same gene.
FLATOW: They have this gene that would override the saltwater problem.
Dr. BLUMWALD: In a way, yes. The only problem is that for some reason
that we don't know and we are now trying to investigate why those
genes are not highly expressed, actually through a grant of the
National Science Foundation to understand why this protein is not
highly expressed in most of the crops.
FLATOW: So the trick here is if you could get that gene to be
expressed in other crops, then these other crops might also be
Dr. BLUMWALD: I can tell you already that yes, because we have now
other coral-growth plants that show similar resistance to salt. For
example, we now engineer canola that produce oil seeds to grow in 40
percent seawater, and we can tell you already that the number of
seeds per plant is exactly the same when it grows in 200
milliwater(ph) sodium chloride or in no sodium and the quality of the
oil is the same.
FLATOW: So how many other plants do you think might work this way also?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Oh, if we can get the proper funding, we can transform
every single plant, every single important crop.
FLATOW: You're saying that all the important crops--wheat, oats,
barley, rye--those crops like that--corn, maybe--that they have a
gene in them that will express the protein if it's, let's say,
stimulated enough, and then that they might grow in salty environment?
Dr. BLUMWALD: I cannot tell you if all those plants have the same
similar gene, but I can tell you, yes, that we could engineer those
plants using plant genes to grow in salty water. Yes.
FLATOW: How would you overcome the resistance that people have to
genetically modified plants and foods this way?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Listen, I would tell these people, `Let's be realistic
and let's apply common sense.' I can understand the activism very
much at the multinational companies and their right to know, and I am
an advocate of the right of people to know what is in the foods. So I
sympathize totally with them in that aspect. But well, let's make a
simple mathematical equation. We are six billion people, and in 30
years from now, there are going to be nine billion people, so we are
going to increase our population 50 percent. Now if--in your own
introduction, you point out that we are losing land constantly to
this problem of salinity, and there's no solution to that. So a
simple math equation tells you that unless we do something, we are in
very deep problems. Conventional breeding has been tried for almost
100 years or more, and there are very, very little results. So in my
opinion, this is the only common sense solution.
FLATOW: You know, in effect, actually, the proteins, the genes that
make this protein are already in the plants, are they not? We're
already eating those genes. You're just strengthening the...
Dr. BLUMWALD: Absolutely. You know, you are not going to die because
you're eating it. I will tell you something--another simple math
equation. If I just take in consideration how many people have died
in the last 20, 30 years because of famine, because of drought and
stress-induced famine in the world, I will need at least seven zeros
after the digit. But if I have to count how many people die because
consuming a genetic engineered food, sorry, there is no reported
case. Zero. So, you know, you have to be realistic. This is the only
reality. We are going to lose the soil and we have to do something.
FLATOW: Is the answer--is the tomato plant the ideal plant that you
want to grow? Is that going to help these...
Dr. BLUMWALD: No, no, no. I did a tomato plant because, you know, the
tomato is a very good model plant. The transformation methodology is
very well established.
Dr. BLUMWALD: The plant grows fast, has a fruit that you can easily
evaluate. But, obviously, we have to target wheat, and we have to
target rice, and we have to target corn, and we have to target
essentially every single fruit and nut and grain there is on the
planet. But we should maybe prioritize which ones we are going to do
a lot. Essentially and practically, this work in tomato plants show
that you can do it in every single plant.
FLATOW: And you're saying, as you said before then, the limiting
factor is the research money you have to go...
Dr. BLUMWALD: Absolutely. Absolutely. And now, you know, maybe the
main problem that we face in the university--we are researchers. You
know, I'm a professor of cell biology. I'm not a politician. And I
have to be above this political problem in what the sense providing a
benefit for humanity. If we had the research sources and the
university researchers would have enough funding, there will be no
controversy between the research done in the university and then with
the nationals and their influence.
FLATOW: Could you use this plant to make salty soil clean again, if
this plant soaks up the salt?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Ah, bingo. Bingo. You--right--right question. Yes, yes
and yes. In fact, we have data now that shows that if you will grow,
for example, canola--we did it in canola, which is a very tall plant,
can reach two meters, 20 centimeters, large leaves--we are absorbing
from the soil 12 grams of sodium per plant. This could have an
incredible benefit in bioremediation.
FLATOW: So you can not only harvest the canola, but you could
desalinate the soil.
Dr. BLUMWALD: Absolutely. You can have sustained agriculture in a
very compromised land, and yet reduce the salinity problem in the
FLATOW: So how far away are we from possibly seeing one of your
plants or maybe the tomato plant first being planted widely outside
of your laboratory?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Well, your question is a little bit difficult to answer
because it's going to depend on, first of all, enough funding to do
the research in the field and try to now adapt the particular plant
to the particular constraints in the field. We have not done that
yet. Then the regulatory issues. Then the technology that you need to
use to do those plants and make them accessible to everybody which is
depending on technology which has been patented and owned by those
multinationals. So I would say that there will be a lot of wheeling
and dealing here in order to get plants going on.
FLATOW: Well, who owns this technology? You don't own this technology here?
Dr. BLUMWALD: I can give you names, but they're irrelevant.
FLATOW: No, but it's...
Dr. BLUMWALD: Don't get me in trouble. There are companies that are
fighting among themselves to who own the particular vector and so on,
so on, so, you know, I want to be away from that. That's not my
FLATOW: And is there any fear that if a plant, you know, like this
gets in the wild it could spread, you know, its salinity properties
to other plants?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Salinity properties--on the contrary.
FLATOW: It's anti-salinity. I'm sorry. Anti...
Dr. BLUMWALD: That is what you want.
Dr. BLUMWALD: I invite all the activism to go and read my paper. In
my paper I show that the transgenic plant growing in no salt is even
performing better. The fruits have more potassium, more protein,
equal amount of sugars. There's no problem with that. You know, I
agree that we have to attack problems where they are, but we should
not invent problems where they are not.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Any chance you'll get past the tomato, closer toward
the other plants you want to do in the near future?
Dr. BLUMWALD: Can you repeat the question?
FLATOW: When do you move on to the next plant besides the tomato? You
said the canola plant...
Dr. BLUMWALD: Well, the canola is--we have recently submitted the
paper for publication where we show these results, and the--of
course, 50 percent of my time is writing grants in order to get money
to do the work. So I cannot do it without money for salaries for the
students, and postdoctoral fellows and chemicals, but we are ready.
FLATOW: All right. Well, good luck to you.
Dr. BLUMWALD: Oh, thank you.
FLATOW: Maybe a few people who are listening today will have a few
bucks in their foundations or something.
Dr. BLUMWALD: Oh, tell them to send it to me.
FLATOW: All right. Thank you very much. Dr. Blumwald.
Dr. BLUMWALD: Bye-bye.
FLATOW: Dr. Eduardo Blumwald is professor of cell biology in the
Department of Pomology at the University/California-Davis, UC-Davis,
and he joined us by phone from his office talking about some
salt-tolerant plants that he helped develop in his laboratory.
Bjorn Lomborg: A Chipper Environmentalist
By NICHOLAS WAD, New York Times August 7, 2001
The news from environmental organizations is almost always bleak. The climate is out of whack. Insidious chemicals taint food and drink. Tropical forests are disappearing. Species are perishing en masse. Industrial poisons pollute air, earth and water. Ecosystems are being stressed to the breaking point by the greedy, wasteful consumption of the Western lifestyle and its would-be imitators.
So it is a surprise to meet someone who calls himself an environmentalist but who asserts that things are getting better, that the rate of human population growth is past its peak, that agriculture is sustainable and pollution is ebbing, that forests are not disappearing, that there is no wholesale destruction of plant and animal species and that even global warming is not as serious as commonly portrayed.
Strange to say, the author of this happy thesis is not a steely-eyed economist at a conservative Washington think tank but a vegetarian, backpack-toting academic who was a member of Greenpeace for four years. He is Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, a 36-year- old political scientist and professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Dr. Lomborg arrived at this position, much to his own astonishment, through a journey that began in a Los Angeles bookshop in February 1997.
Dr. Lomborg was leafing through an issue of Wired magazine and started reading an interview with Dr. Julian L. Simon, a University of Maryland economist who argued in several books that population was unlikely to outrun natural resources.
But Dr. Simon, who died in 1998, is more widely known for his solution to the airline overbooking problem (having airlines pay passengers to take a later flight) and for a 1980 bet with Dr. Paul Ehrlich, president of Stanford University's Center for Conservation Biology. Dr. Lomborg bet that any five metals chosen by Dr. Ehrlich would be cheaper in 1990; Dr. Ehrlich lost on all five.
Dr. Lomborg felt sure that Dr. Simon's arguments were "simple American right-wing propaganda," though presented with enough seriousness that they would be worth rebutting. Back in Aarhus, he started nightly study sessions with his statistics students to debunk Dr. Simon's contentions, using figures drawn from reports of the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the International Panel on Climate Change and other gatherers of official facts.
"Three months into the project, we were convinced that we were being debunked instead," Dr. Lomborg said. "Not everything he said is right. He has a definite right-wing slant. But most of the important things were actually correct."
Dr. Lomborg has presented his findings in "The Skeptical Environmentalist," a book to be published in September by Cambridge University Press. The primary targets of the book, a substantial work of analysis with almost 3,000 footnotes, are statements made by environmental organizations like the Worldwatch Institute, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace. He refers to the persistently gloomy fare from these groups as the Litany, a collection of statements that he argues are exaggerations or outright myths.
Dr. Lomborg also chides journalists, saying they uncritically spread the Litany, and he accuses the public of an unfounded readiness to believe the worst.
"The Litany has pervaded the debate so deeply and so long," Dr. Lomborg writes, "that blatantly false claims can be made again and again, without any references, and yet still be believed." This is the fault not of academic environmental research, which is balanced and competent, he says, but rather of "the communication of environmental knowledge, which taps deeply into our doomsday beliefs."
To understand the world as it is, Dr. Lomborg says, it is necessary to look at long-term global trends that tell more of the whole story than short-term trends and are less easy to manipulate.
For example, the Worldwatch Institute, in its 1998 "State of the World" report, said, "The world's forest estate has declined significantly in both area and quality in recent decades." But the longest data series of annual figures available from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization shows that global forest cover has in fact increased, to 30.89 percent in 1994 from 30.04 percent of global land cover in 1950. The Worldwatch report goes on to claim that because of soaring demand for paper, "Canada is losing some 200,000 hectares of forest a year." The cited reference, however, says that "in fact Canada grew 174,600 more hectares of forest each year," Dr. Lomborg writes.
Janet Abramovitz, Worldwatch's forest expert, said the world forest cover had shrunk significantly in the last 20 years. She based that contention on a different, shorter series of Food and Agriculture Organization statistics but declined to cite a percentage. The institute's figure on Canadian forest loss was an error, she said.
In its report for 2000, the Worldwatch Institute cited the dangers it had foreseen in 1984 ˜ "record rates of population growth, soaring oil prices, debilitating levels of international debt and extensive damage to forests from the new phenomenon of acid rain" ˜ and lamented that "we are about to enter a new century having solved few of these problems."
But in his book, Dr. Lomborg cites figures from the United States Census Bureau, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Environment Agency to show that the rate of world population growth has actually been dropping sharply since 1964; the level of international debt decreased slightly from 1984 to 1999; the price of oil, adjusted for inflation, is half what it was in the early 1980's; and the sulfur emissions that generate acid rain (which has turned out to do little if any damage to forests, though some to lakes) have been cut substantially since 1984.
In an interview, the president of the Worldwatch Institute, Christopher Flavin, agreed that progress had been made in the four problems cited in the institute's 1984 report, but he said that had been mentioned in other institute reports. "If you read through our materials as a whole," Mr. Flavin said, "many of these improvements are acknowledged."
Dr. Lomborg has also been unable to find strong support in the official statistics for the regular predictions of disaster from Dr. Ehrlich. "In the course of the 1970's," Dr. Ehrlich wrote in "The Population Bomb," published in 1968, "the world will experience starvation of tragic proportions ˜ hundreds of millions of people will starve to death."
Although world population has doubled since 1961, Dr. Lomborg writes, calorie intake has increased by 24 percent as a whole and by 38 percent in developing countries.
Dr. Lomborg also takes issue with some global warming predictions. In assessing how waste gases could warm the world's climate, he says, there are four wild cards that affect the climate change models.
One is the multiplier effect of carbon dioxide ˜ as it heats the atmosphere a little, the air can hold more water, and that heats the atmosphere a lot more. How much more is in question, but Dr. Lomborg cites satellite and weather balloon data that seem to weaken the case for a strong multiplier effect.
The other three wild cards, Dr. Lomborg says, are the role of clouds, the effect of aerosols and the effect of the sunspot cycle on earth's climate.
Dr. Lomborg believes that when it comes to computer models of climate change, the International Panel on Climate Change deals all four wild cards in a way that exaggerates the effect of greenhouse gases. This means, in his view, that the actual warming will be at the cooler end of the panel's predicted range.
He contends that the internationally agreed Kyoto targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions will impose vast costs for little result. A more effective approach, according to Dr. Lomborg, would be to increase research on alternative sources of energy, like solar and fusion.
But Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said that new satellite data were likely to point toward a strong multiplier effect for carbon dioxide.
And while Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, an expert on global warming at Environmental Defense, agrees that clouds and aerosols are still weak points in the climate models, he says Dr. Lomborg's contention on the effects of the sunspot cycle is not widely accepted. As to Dr. Lomborg's policy recommendations, Dr. Oppenheimer said that investing in technology alone was "like betting the farm on a policy in which we have less confidence than emissions reduction." In his view, a broad- based technology push would turn into a pork-barrel program and be far less efficient than the technology that would develop in response to a requirement to reduce emissions.
"The Skeptical Environmentalist" portrays several other elements of the Litany as little more than urban myths. One is the prediction that the world's forests and a large number of species are headed for catastrophe.
Dr. Lomborg believes that forest loss has been less serious than is often described ˜ only 20 percent since the dawn of agriculture, not 67 percent, as stated by the World Wildlife Fund. He also puts the present annual rate of loss at 0.46 percent, as calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization, rather than at 2 percent or more, the figure cited by many environmentalists.
Given that the forests are not doing that badly, he is skeptical of claims that the world is about to lose half or more of its species. The often quoted figure that 40,000 species are lost every year comes from a 1979 article by Dr. Norman Myers, an ecologist at Oxford University. But this figure, Dr. Lomborg says, was not based on any evidence, just on Dr. Myers's conjecture that one million species might be lost from 1975 to 2000, which works out to be 40,000 species a year.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the Red Book of endangered species, concluded in 1992 that the extinction figures for mammals and birds were "very small" and that the total extinction rate, assuming 30 million species, was probably 2,300 species a year.
Nonetheless, Dr. Lomborg says, Dr. Myers repeated his estimate in 1999 with a warning that "we are into the opening stages of a human- caused biotic holocaust."
Dr. Myers confirmed in an interview that the figure of 40,000 extinctions a year had come from his estimate. He said that it was an illustration used to make his argument clear and that he gave figures only "when I am speaking to a political leader or policy maker who says that in order to sell his message, he absolutely must have some number."
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's estimate was too low, Dr. Myers said, because it considered a species extinct only after none of its members had been sighted for 50 years. "All I am trying to do is to demonstrate that we are in the opening phase of a mass extinction," he said.
Though no longer a member of Greenpeace, Dr. Lomborg still counts himself as an environmentalist and portrays his critique as based on the outlook of a leftist. "I'm a left- wing guy," he says, "and a vegetarian because I don't want to kill animals ˜ you can't play the `he's right- wing so he's wrong' argument."
He believes that the environment must be protected and that regulation is often necessary. But exaggerating problems distorts society's priorities, he says, and makes it hard for society to make the best decisions.
Writing about environmentalists, he says, "The worse they can portray the environment, the easier it is for them to convince us that we need to spend more money on the environment rather than on hospitals, child day care, etc."
Those who abandon long-held faiths are often strident advocates of their new views. But Dr. Lomborg displays little of the convert's zeal. His aim is not to preach free-market solutions for every problem or to deny that threats to the environment exist.
His motive, he says, is simply to document that the facts, in his view, tell a far brighter story than the Litany. Thomas Malthus argued in 1798 that population growth was certain to outrun food supply. As Dr. Lomborg sees it, Malthus's gloomy predictions still hold an iron grip over many minds, and are still wrong.
Environmental Movement Series: Five Parts
By Tom Knudson, Bee Staff Writer, Sacramento Bee; April 22, 2001
Forwarded by: Don Wright
(Visit http://www.sacbee.com/news/projects/environment/ to read the
complete five-part series.
Excerpts from the first part below)
Fat of the Land: Movement's Prosperity Comes at a High Price
As a grass-roots conservationist from Oregon, Jack Shipley looked forward to his visit to Washington, D.C., to promote a community-based forest management plan. But when he stepped into the national headquarters of The Wilderness Society, his excitement turned to unease. "It was like a giant corporation," Shipley said. "Floor after floor after floor, just like Exxon or AT&T."
In San Francisco, Sierra Club board member Chad Hanson experienced a similar letdown when he showed up for a soiree at one of the city's finest hotels in 1997. "Here I had just been elected to the largest grass-roots environmental group in the world and I am having martinis in the penthouse of the Westin St. Francis," said Hanson, an environmental activist from Pasadena. "What's wrong with this picture? It was surreal." Soon, Hanson was calling the Sierra Club by a new name: Club Sierra.
Extravagance is not a trait normally linked with environmental groups. The movement's tradition leans toward simplicity, economy and living light on the land. But today, as record sums of money flow to environmental causes, prosperity is pushing tradition aside, and the millions of Americans who support environmental groups are footing the bill. High-rise offices, ritzy hotels and martinis are but one sign of wider change. Rising executive salaries and fat Wall Street portfolios are another. So, too, is a costly reliance on fund-raising consultants for financial success. -- Some of the highlights: Salaries for environmental leaders have never been higher. In 1999 -- the most recent year for which comparable figures are available -- chief executives at nine of the nation's 10 largest environmental groups earned $200,000 and up, and one topped $300,000. In 1997, one group fired its president and awarded him a severance payment of $760,335.
Money is flowing to conservation in unprecedented amounts, reaching $3.5 billion in 1999, up 94 percent from 1992. But much of it is not actually used to protect the environment. Instead, it is siphoned off to pay for bureaucratic overhead and fund raising, including expensive direct-mail and telemarketing consultants. Subsidized by federal tax dollars, environmental groups are filing a blizzard of lawsuits that no longer yield significant gain for the environment and sometimes infuriate federal judges and the Justice Department. During the 1990s, the U.S. Treasury paid $31.6 million in legal fees for environmental cases filed against the government. -- There is no clearinghouse for information about environmental groups, no oversight body watching for abuse and assessing job performance. What information exists is scattered among many sources, including the Internal Revenue Service, philanthropic watchdogs, the U.S. Department of Justice and nonprofit trade associations. Sift through their material and her
"Our business is booming," said Patrick Noonan, chairman of the Conservation Fund, an Arlington, Va., group that provides financial and educational assistance to environmental organizations. The dollars do not enrich equally. The nation's 20 largest groups -- a tiny slice of the more than 8,000 environmental organizations -- took in 29 percent of contributions in 1999, according to IRS Form 990 tax records. The top 10 earned spots on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of America's wealthiest charities.
-- About three-fourths of all