Today's Topics in AgBioView at http://www.agbioworld.org/
* Scientist Guarantees Soy is Safe: Bars NGOs from using his results
* Sri Lanka Urged To Postpone GM Food Controls
* Spending on 'Anti-Biotech' and 'Biotech in the Developing World'
* Greenpeace Annual Report 2001 : Income and Expenses
* Philippine House Approves Prison Term For GMO Labeling Violators
* Midwest Menace Means Monarch Mortality
* Rootworm: A Biotech Boon?
* Saving Lives Through Research: VAD and Dr. Sommer
* Agricultural Research And Poverty Reduction
* Helping The World's Poorest
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Scientist Guarantees That Transgenic Soy is Safe
Belgian Bars NGOs from using the results of his studies
- Ruth Helena Bellinghini, O Estado de Sao Paulo, (Brazil) August 18, 2001
There is nothing mysterious or unexpected about the DNA segment indentified in Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans. "We notified the regulatory agencies of all the countries about the existence of those 534 base pairs in May of 2000," said Luiz Antonio Abramides do Val, Monsanto's director of technology and regulatory affairs.
And it's not just the company that was surprised by the attention the news got. The author of the study, Belgian scientist Marc De Loose, barred Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from using his work to question the safety of transgenic seed. "We checked that sequence in different generations of RR soy on the market and we found no difference among them. That means that the genetic sequence of transgenic soy is stable and all the data about its safety are reliable," De Loose said in an interview with Reuters.
EU Says No Evidence That U.S. GM Soybeans Unsafe
BRUSSELS, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Monday there was no scientific evidence that unidentified DNA fragments in gene-modified soybeans made the product unsafe.
Belgian scientists discovered gene fragments in Roundup Ready soybeans, grown from seeds developed by biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - news) which are spliced with a bacterium to make them resistant to Roundup herbicide.
"From a scientific point of view there is no reason to say the product is unsafe,'' Commission spokeswoman Andrea Dahmen told a news briefing. Dahmen said the gene fragments had not been detected when the Commission in 1996 approved the import, but not planting, of the Roundup Ready Soybeans. Europe is a leading export market for U.S. soybeans and soy products. "Scientifically the existence of this DNA does not mean it is a consequence of modification in the plant. It could have been generated by a spontaneous mutation, which often happens in plants,'' Dahmen said.
ALIEN GENE FRAGMENTS FOUND
Marc De Loose from Belgium's Centre for Agricultural Research told Reuters last week he and colleagues had found alien gene fragments in Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans which had no link with the plant's DNA sequence or the genome of soya. But he said there was no evidence to suggest that the unidentifiable genetic sequence could lead to unknown and unpredictable results.
"There is no scientific data to support this idea because we checked this sequence in different generations that were on the market and we didn't see any differences. This means that the sequence is stable and all the data concerning safety are still valid in my opinion,'' De Loose said. "There is also no evidence that the sequence causes any expression, so we did not demonstrate that the sequence is expressed...there is no indication that this (soy) might cause any allergy.''
On Friday, environmental group Greenpeace called on France to ban imports of the soybeans, saying they had been authorised for use as human food and feedstocks for animals on an ``incomplete and false'' basis.
Dahmen said it was unlikely France would impose a ban, since it would first have to prove the soybeans posed a safety risk. Dahmen also said the results of the Belgian study would be evaluated by the Commission scientific plant committee and that any further action would depend on the committee's findings.
Monsanto has said the Greenpeace demand for a ban was unjustified. "There is no safety issue here at all that Greenpeace alleges,'' Monsanto spokesman Bryan Hurley said last week. "It is absolutely uncalled for.''
Sri Lanka Urged To Postpone GM Food Controls
COLOMBO, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's business community appealed to the government on Monday to delay plans to bring back tough controls on genetically modified (GM) food on September 1.
The restrictions were first introduced in May but removed a month later at the request of the World Trade Organisation to give exporters in other countries more time to adjust. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said the controls, which require 21 categories of food imports to be free of GM products, should be delayed until 2003 when a U.N. commission will announce an international standards regime for GM foods.
"We would appreciate if consideration is given to defer the current provisional regulations banning the importation of GM foods," the chamber said in a statement. The chamber said the government should concentrate on regulating the advertising and labelling of GM foods.
The government says the controls would allow Sri Lanka time to assess any risks to human health from GM foods. Sri Lanka lacks the capability to test imports for genetic modification and plans to rely on certification in countries of origin until such a system is in place.
Comparing Spending on 'Anti-Biotechnology in the World' and for 'Biotechnology Research in the Developing World'
See below the latest Annual Report from Greenpeace. It shows that Greenpeace's received a global income in the past year of 143 millions Euros (US$ 131.28 million) and it spent 7 million Euros (US$ 6.52 million ) — an almost double of its expense in 1999 — in opposing agricultural biotechnology worldwide. This number is just by Greenpeace alone, and we must recognize that many millions in addition were spent cumulatively by other organizations such as FOE, Western-funded local NGOs, organic-coalitions etc.
If one assumes conservatively that about $15 million was spent last year on anti-biotechnology activism, just consider how much progress could have been made if this (along with the funds to counter this by the industry) were to be used to fund agricultural research in the developing countries including all sustainable options to improve food security. Think also of all the damage being done to thwart the progress and the missed opportunities in research investment. Currently the investment in biotechnology research at the CGIAR centers (the most important potential developers of the technology for the poor in the developing world) is pitiful; for instance the total budget at the International Rice Research Institute on transgenic rice research impacting 4 billion people was about $1 million.
Greenpeace Annual Report 2001
Years ended 31 December 2000 and 1999
All amounts are Thousands of Euros and are unaudited
Year 2000 Year 1999
Total income 143,646 126,023
Genetic Engineering 7,138 3,841
Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes into sequences that do not occur naturally.
The resulting genetically engineered (GE) organisms – animals such as fish and sheep, or plants such as rice, tomatoes and cotton – can interbreed with non-GE organisms, thereby spreading to new environments and future generations. We call this “genetic pollution”, and, despite its reassurances, the biotech industry lacks a full understanding of the impact of released GE material on the environment and human health. Greenpeace is therefore opposed to all such releases. Greenpeace also opposes all patents on plants, animals and humans as well as their genes. Life is not a commodity and must not be subject to private property claims.
Molecular biology has the potential to increase our understanding of nature and provide new medical tools; but this is no justification for turning the environment into a boundless genetic experiment. highlights
Greenpeace has mobilised hundreds of thousands of consumers who reject the use of GMOs in their food and demand mandatory labelling of all products. Greenpeace has achieved a ban on planting GMO soybeans in Brazil – the world’s second biggest soybean exporter. Following Greenpeace protests, Thailand banned GMO field trials and announced GMO labelling legislation (see p10) Greenpeace was instrumental in getting the Biosafety Protocol on transboundary movements of GMOs adopted and expects it to be ratified by 2002. This protocol provides for national bans on GMO imports. challenges for the future A fish farm in the USA awaits permission to begin trafficking in genetically engineered salmon – grotesque fish which grow 2-3 faster than normal. Greenpeace has filed a legal petition against any approvals.
Greenpeace wishes to see the mandatory labelling of GMOs in food and animal feed, but has a fight on its hands. The US, Canada and Argentina are struggling desperately against such provisions.
Challenges for the future: .......... Greenpeace seeks to protect the environment and health of the earth’s living organisms by stopping the manufacture, use and disposal of all hazardous substances. It is particularly concerned by substances that do not break down easily in the environment and are building up in the food chain and in the fatty tissues of every living organism on earth (bio-accumulative substances), passing from one generation to the next. It is proving increasingly difficult to adequately separate genetically modified from conventionally produced seed, food and animal feed. The only realistic answer to this contamination is a global ban on the use of GMOs.
Greenpeace Finance director’s report 2000 (Excerpts.....)
The accounts presented on p25 are the consolidated accounts of all the Greenpeace organisations operating worldwide and on p26 the consolidated accounts of those entities comprising Greenpeace International. .......The year ending 31 December 2000 saw an increase of 14% in income to Greenpeace ‘Worldwide’.
This reflects increased financial support from the public for Greenpeace’s campaigning activities. Supporter numbers as at 1 January 2001 increased to approximately 2.65m, an increase of over 6% on the previous year. In order to retain its independence and in line with a strict fundraising policy, Greenpeace only accepts funds from individuals and independent foundations.
No funding is received from corporations or governmental organisations. The decline in merchandising and licensing income in 2000, and the overall low level of this income, reflects Greenpeace’s low prioritisation of these activities as a source of funding.
On the expenditure side, Greenpeace’s primary focus on campaigning activities is reflected in the 11% rise in campaign expenditure. ......
The increase in fundraising expenditure, at a higher rate than current-income growth, reflects an investment-for-the-future strategy. There has to be up-front investment in fundraising if future periods are to show sustained income growth. Greenpeace believes that it should, as far as possible, encourage local populations to support the activities of Greenpeace in their regions, both to increase local legitimacy and to empower local people. We expect to see the first signs of the benefits of these investments in 2001. A key financial indicator of the health of a non-governmental organisation, is the income net of fundraising costs, which in Greenpeace, on a worldwide basis, has continued to increase over the past five years. The overall result for the year shows a significant surplus, of 2.8m euros. On an operating level, Greenpeace aims to break even – matching income to expenditure; however, on an annual basis this is not easy to achieve, as fundraising income is difficult to predict accurately in advance
Comments from Andrew Apel
Greenpeace Discloses Strong Financial Performance
(Editor: financial figures are in Euros)
For the year ending December 31, 2000 Greenpeace once again showed stronger financial performance than most of its rivals in the life sciences sec tor, even though expenditures increased noticeably. The annual financial report of the Amsterdam-based multinational activist group shows a 14 per cent jump in gross income, from 126 million Euros in 1999 to 143 million Euros in 2000, for a worldwide net profit of 88 million euros. Total assets, mostly held as cash, grew from 110 million to 114 million. However, campaign expenses around the world moved up from 89 million in 1999 to 100 million in 2000. Fundraising expenses grew dramatically, from 29 million in 1999 to 40 million euros in 2000, outpacing income gains disproportionately.
The group attributes its stellar income growth to increased financial support from the public and a six percent increase in members, bringing total membership to 2.65 million. The group could have showed stronger financial performance for the year, but the group says its increase in expenses, especially for fundraising, reflects an invest-for-the-future strategy and that an up-front investment in fundraising is required if future periods are to show sustained income growth.
Expenditures for individual campaigns show a shift in the group's emphasis. The ocean campaign saw the biggest drop. Meanwhile, payouts for the anti-GM campaign early doubled, following last year's growth, the biggest increase for any of its campaigns. The second-largest increase was for its climate campaign. Spending was essentially flat or down in other campaigns.
The group has posted strong financial results over the last five years, resulting in significant accumulated cash reserves. It anticipates drawing these reserves down in 2001, the group says, saying the cash will be spent furthering Greenpeace's [sic] goals.
Greenpeace is a multinational organization based in The Netherlands which takes a creative role in producing alarms based on human concerns for the environment, thereby driving a reliable and increasing return on investment (ROI). Profits are not distributed as dividends to those who contribute capital, as the group is designated a not-for-profit and therefore completely unaccountable to any investor. As a non-governmental organization (NGO), it attempts to dictate government policy without the accountability typical of governments.
Philippine House Approves Prison Term For GMO Labeling Violators
Michael Bengwayan ENS World News service; August 16, 2001
MANILA, Philippines, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - If you are selling a product that contains genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the Philippines you may soon have to label it "genetically engineered" or go to prison. Up to 12 years in jail plus a $2,000 fine is the penalty for failing to label that was passed bys the Philippine Congress Tuesday. The bill requires the labeling of GMO derived food and food products. Under the bill, violators could be imprisoned for not less than six years but not more than 12 years. If the offender is an alien, he or she can be immediately deported without need of any further proceedings.
Congressman Del de Guzman of the city of Marikina introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, which demands that food and food products containing genetically modified organisms or those produced through genetic engineering technologies be labeled as such. "It came to my attention that there are many products available in local markets that were sent to Hongkong for laboratory testing have been tested positive for GMO contamination," de Guzman said in a press statement. Jose de Venecia Jr. is Speaker of the House, the fourth highest official in the Philippine government. (Photo courtesy Office of the Speaker) Last year, the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said that 11 popular food products in the country were tested positive for GMO contamination. The latest to be identified GMO positive is Nestle's infant product Cerelac Wheat.
In addition, GMO products like canola oil and potato chips have found their way to the stomach of Philippine consumers. The bill will give meaning to the right of our people to know if what they eat have been modified by modern biotechnology," the congressman said. "Consumers have the right to know the contents of the food items they buy and then decide for themselves whether to buy or not, he added.
In the Philippines, most buying consumers have little knowledge of GMO issues, neither pro nor con. The debate regarding the safety of GMOs is on the level of the academe, professionals and some safe food advocates. Agricultural professor Bony Ligat of the Benguet State University says, "There have been so many discussions regarding GMOs. But these are mostly within the walls of universities and colleges, he says, and not many consumers and farmers are aware of the advantages and disadvantages.
The stand of the Philippine government as well as the Department of Agriculture is pro GMO. Only the non-government organizations have taken the task to bare the loopholes of the current legislation, Ligat said. Some Benguet farmers, unknowingly, are now planting genetically engineered vegetable crops. The province of Benguet produces almost 70 percent of the vegetables in the Philippines. Philippino feasts such as this may soon be made from GMO labeled food products. (Photo courtesy EManila Food) De Guzman is doubtful about the safety of GMOs and GMO products. "The safety of GMOs has not been established conclusively. I felt it was necessary to pass a law that will require all products to be appropriately labeled." Last March, Senator Wigberto Tanada called for the Senate to require the labeling of GMO products especially because many Muslims suspect some of the food commodities they buy are laced with pork ingredients. Muslims, by call of religion, do not eat pork. There are more than six million Muslims
Critics of the labeling bill are mostly food manufacturers and importers. "It will cause a drop in sales, no doubt. When consumers start questioning your products, they hesitate to buy," a top salesman of Purefoods said on condition of anonymity. Purefoods is one of the top five food makers and importers in the country. "GMO products are being misunderstood. In fact, they ensure food security," he added.
Congressman de Guzman replied, "Global food production is one and a half times more than what is necessary to feed the burgeoning world population. GMO food and food products is not needed, many food experts say." "Worse, the promise held out by GMOs may turn out to be more harmful to human health than their perceived benefits," the congressman said. Already, de Guzman's bill has gathered popular support from NGOs advocating for food self-reliance and sustainability.
Members of MASIPAG, a nationwide organization of farmers and scientists, and Sibol Agham at Teknolohiya, an NGO providing ecologically safe farming technologies, have rallied in the streets to support the bill. Many countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Russia, 15 countries of the European Union, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, the Czech Republic and Norway have mandatory laws which call for labeling of GMO products.
Global companies are starting to remove genetically engineered ingredients in their foods, particularly in USA, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Europe. Large food supermarkets have cleared their shelves of "genetically-tinkered food items," de Guzman said.
Midwest Menace Means Monarch Mortality
From: Andrew Apel
Autumn is coming to the Northern Hemisphere, and with that, the Monarch butterflies are making their annual migration in North America. Having just driven through Northeast Iowa into Minnesota and back, I can report on mortality figures of the Monarch butterfly in the heart of corn country in the US. Passing through this region, I saw dead and dying Monarch butterflies littering the ground, their wings alight in black and gold, like the fallen petals of some fantastic flower. Were these grand representatives of Lepidoptera fallen victims to the pollen of GM corn?
(1) No, their fluttering corpses lay on the roadside, and I, in my car, became responsible for 18 of their deaths. I counted. These butterflies (2) deftly avoid involvement with the pollen of Bt corn by feeding on nectar of flowering weeds instead, but these glorious insects are poorly equipped to avoid an automobile hurtling down the road thirty times faster than they can move (3).
My trip covered 210 miles of a two-lane highway; 105 miles on one lane there, an equal number on the other lane back. My conservative car-density estimate for this stretch of road is one car per quarter-mile in each lane, totaling 1680 cars at any one moment while I drove. My trip, there and back, took 5.5 hours during the hours when Monarch butterflies are most active. Multiply my experience by the number of those on the road with me , and you find we killed altogether 30, 240 Monarch butterflies in one afternoon, on that one stretch of road. Now, multiply that by the tens of t housands of miles of roads in Iowa and Minnesota, and this equals carnage of epic proportions. Even that calculation vastly understates Monarch butterfly deaths.
If Losey and Obrycki are anywhere on this listserv, I herewith challenge both of them to produce any figures regarding the potential impact of Bt corn which might rival the actual number of deaths I have now documented. Furthermore, I would challenge them to do a cost/benefit analysis of shutting down transportation during the Monarch migration, and more importantly, to compare Monarch mortality in Bt corn fields to Monarch mortality fields sprayed with conventional pesticides. These scientists work hard, and eventually, they may even produce research which is relevant.
1. Some poorly-conducted studies suggest that the larvae of Monarch butterflies die when forced to eat the pollen of corn (Zea mays) modified to express an insecticidal protein produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium used for the same purpose by organic farmers.
2. I only counted Monarch collisions. Collisions with other Lepidopteran representatives were roughly five times as numerous, making it necessary to clean their body-fluids from my windshield. Collisions with Coleoptera n and other representatives of airborne arthropods were extremely low, as in these parts they tend to be nocturnal.
3. Top speed for a Monarch butterfly is about 2 miles per hour in still air, while cars on this road typically travel about 60 miles per hour. The butterflies tend to fly close to the ground, where they impact the grilles or windshields of cars. Turbulence created cars can also throw them in to the path of another car, with similar results. The poor surface/weight /energy/intelligence ratio of the butterflies makes this a difficult situation for them to handle, much less avoid.
Rootworm: A Biotech Boon?
Corn Designed to Kill Common Pest Stirs Hope as Pesticide Alternative
- Marc Kaufman, Washington Post, August 18, 2001
WAYNESBORO, Va. -- Armed with a shovel and a machete, two men entered a lush stand of corn ripening on a rolling Shenandoah Valley farm and began digging up stalks to examine the roots. The corn looked healthy, and entirely normal.
But below ground, something with potentially great implications was happening: An especially destructive and widespread pest, the corn rootworm, was being killed without the use of chemical pesticides. Genetic engineering was employed instead, and the men were there to study the results. "Farmers don't like using soil insecticides," agronomist James Haldeman said as he tramped through the stand. "Some of them stink and they're nasty."
The sponsor of the field test, Monsanto Co., believes the new corn will be the next big development in crop biotechnology, transforming the way farmers control the worst pest of the nation's largest crop. If it does, genetic engineering could finally begin to realize one of its most tantalizing promises: helping the environment by allowing farmers to cut their need for chemical pesticides as never before.
"The issue of pesticide use is clearly a key concern for farmers, consumers and regulatory agencies," said Robert Fraley, the company's chief technology officer. "All three groups want to find alternatives to the current approaches. It's our strong belief that biotechnology offers a better approach, with considerably less impact on the environment than current insecticide use."
While some environmentalists are concerned about its safety and worried that it will quickly be overused -- saying Monsanto is more interested in making a profit than a safer world for corn growers and consumers -- even some who are usually skittish about tinkering with the genes of plants acknowledge the corn's possible benefits. Federal regulators, who are still studying its safety and effectiveness, are enthusiastic about its environmental advantages as well.
This response has raised hopes in the biotechnology industry that the corn can help ease the public's general queasiness about genetically engineered crops, which are highly controversial in Europe and increasingly so in the United States. Rootworm-resistant corn, the industry hopes, will refocus attention away from potential problems to the technology's ability to reduce the use of environmentally destructive farm practices and help feed the world's hungry.
"It's time for people to acknowledge that genetic engineering can lead to the use of fewer pesticides or less dangerous pesticides," agreed Michael Jacobson of the public interest group Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Environmentalists have been rightly concerned about chemical pesticides since Rachel Carson and 'Silent Spring,' and here is a real potential alternative."
Like many genetically engineered farm crops, the rootworm-control corn is created by splicing into seeds a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) -- a family of soil bacteria that produces toxins fatal to many pests, but not to humans. The Bt genes produce different Bt toxins that kill different pests, essentially endowing the engineered plants with their own "biological" insecticide.
Research has generally concluded that Bt toxins are less harmful to the environment than chemical pesticides. While many chemical pesticides do a good job of killing harmful pests and weeds, they can also harm a broad range of insects (and sometimes birds and fish). If misused, they can affect people in and around farms as well.
For decades, organic farmers have sprayed mixtures of Bt toxins as a natural insecticide.
Modifying crops to produce Bt toxins has helped reduce insecticide use in some crops, most notably cotton, and has allowed the widespread use of less harmful herbicides. But overall, federal statistics show, American farmers now spread about the same amount of pesticides as they did before the biotechnology revolution began.
That would clearly change if federal regulators approve the new corn modified to resist the rootworm, which costs farmers an estimated $1 billion a year and is the target of well over half of the 10 million pounds of insecticides used annually by corn growers. Monsanto hopes the new corn will be available in time for next spring's planting.
"We only have estimates now, but as much as 8.5 million pounds of insecticides would not be used if the [rootworm] technology lives up to the promise it's showing" in experimental test plots, said Stephen Johnson, assistant EPA administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. "That affords some rather dramatic decreases in insecticide use that would have a tremendous impact on both the environment and farm workers themselves."
An extensive review by the National Academy of Sciences last year found that pest control through biotechnology generally killed fewer creatures unintentionally and so was preferable to chemical pesticides. The use of genetic engineering, the report concluded, "could lead to greater biodiversity in [farmland] where they replace the use of insecticides."
Officials at Dow AgriSciences, which produces one of the most widely used chemical pesticides for controlling the corn rootworm -- Lorsban -- agree that genetically engineered rootworm control is the wave of the future. The firm, a unit of Dow Chemical Co., is developing a modified alternative to its own chemical insecticide that it hopes to have available by 2004.
"A good amount of rootworm control will go to that market because it's so effective and easy to use. That comes as no shock to us," said Stan Howell, a Dow vice president for insect management. "Actually, we hope to displace ourselves with our own [genetic modification] technology."
But some environmentalists do not agree that modified Bt crops are benign, and they are trying to block the new corn's approval. They say the rootworm-destroying corn is particularly troublesome because it is designed to produce Bt toxin at higher levels than in almost any other genetically engineered crop plant. They also worry that large amounts of Bt toxin could be released through the roots into the soil -- where it breaks down more slowly than the Bt toxins sprayed onto plant leaves in the sunshine. As a result, the modified corn could prove more harmful to beneficial bugs and worms.
And they are concerned that as more Bt variations are engineered into corn seeds to kill a range of pests, unforeseen effects could appear that each single use avoids. Their conclusion: Organic and other "sustainable" types of farming are the only long-term solution to pest control.
"While future genetically engineered crops could significantly shift or reduce pesticide use, they mean trading one set of inadequately researched and regulated health and environmental risks for another," said Skip Spitzer of the Pesticide Action Network, an environmental group. "They are not a sensible alternative."
Regulators are still examining the long-term impact of anti-rootworm corn on creatures living in the soil. Monsanto researchers have exposed many of them to large amounts of the rootworm-killing Bt and have reported that they were not harmed, or faced a risk far smaller than with most chemical pesticides.
Despite their concerns, some researchers and environmentalists acknowledge the especially great potential for pesticide reduction with the new anti-rootworm corn.
For instance, Charles Benbrook, a former agriculture specialist for the National Academy of Sciences, opposed the Monsanto rootworm application on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists on the grounds that there were too many environmental risks and unresolved technical questions. But he also said that "this is the first application of biotechnology to manage crop pests where there is some substantial potential to move away from chemical pesticide use, with all its negative environmental impacts."
The corn rootworm -- the larval stage of a beetle -- is widespread in the Corn Belt and very damaging if left untreated. The larvae eat the roots of plants and leave them unable to absorb water and nutrients. The insecticide DDT was widely used against the rootworm until it was taken off the market because of environmental concerns.
The pest is most common in states such as Nebraska where farmers plant corn year after year, rather than alternating it with other crops such as soybeans. Until recently, the rotation to other crops generally killed off the rootworm, but in some areas the pest has developed an ability stay alive in soybean fields. That, in turn, has increased the use of chemical pesticides.
Fears of Overuse
The prevalence of the corn rootworm and the tons of chemicals used to control it are what make it a potential textbook case in pesticide replacement. But the fact that it is so widespread also leaves farm specialists worried that the new biotech control could quickly become overused and ineffective.
Just as the rootworm developed an ability to withstand chemical treatments and to live in previously fatal soybean fields, they say, it can develop a resistance to the toxin in rootworm-resistant corn. The potential for Bt resistance is especially troubling to organic farmers, who depend on natural Bt varieties as their primary insecticide.
Michael E. Gray of the University of Illinois, a member of an EPA advisory panel on the issue, said he worries that farmers will see the new product as a "silver bullet." "There is a definite concern that it will be embraced by producers in a way that will undermine its usefulness," Gray said. "The rootworm has a remarkable ability to adapt, and it will adapt to Bt quickly unless we are thoughtful and careful."
One possible brake on the use of the Bt corn for rootworm is that Monsanto says it will not sell the seed here until Japanese regulators have also given their approval. American public opinion will play a role as well, and consumer uneasiness has already stopped or reduced the development of genetically modified potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. "Farmers tell us they would like to grow it, and that it would cut back on [insecticide] applications a lot," said Greg Neusley of the University of Florida, who field-tested the sweet corn for Syngenta, an agribusiness company. "But their buyers don't want genetically modified corn, and they have to do what their customers want."
The Environmental Protection Agency, however, says it is actively looking for alternatives to chemical pesticides. It has a program to analyze and rank pesticide risks and to limit the more toxic ones, and Johnson, an assistant administrator, said genetically modified crops are expected to play a large role in future replacements.
Biotech critic Benbrook, who directs the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center in Idaho, said the Bt corn for rootworm will provide an "acid test" of the agency's sincerity about pesticide reduction. "If they approve Bt corn for rootworm, they should restrict the use of organophosphates," a particularly toxic class of insecticides, Benbrook said. "That will show whether they're really serious about pesticide reduction." (c) 2001 The Washington Post Company
Saving Lives Through Research: Vitamin A Deficiency and Dr. Alfred Sommer
The loss of eyesight can be among the most serious misfortunes to befall anyone. Although the exact number of blind persons in the world is not precisely known, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are about 40 million blind persons in the world, with a further 110 million persons with low vision, who are at risk of becoming blind. Furthermore, according to the WHO, nine out of ten blind people live in the developing world. Tragically, more than two-thirds of today's blindness could be prevented or treated. Apart from the personal toll involved, blindness also imposes a considerable economic burden on society-in India and the USA, for instance, the cost of blindness to society is estimated conservatively by the WHO at $4.6 and $4.1 billion respectively.
Blindness can result from a number of infections and diseases, as well as injuries. Aside from cataract, trachoma and glaucoma (which account for about 70% of the world's blindness), the leading causes of preventable blindness in the developing world include vitamin A deficiency, onchocerciasis (also called river blindness) and leprosy. Among these, vitamin A deficiency is thought to cause blindness in about 350,000 children annually. In addition, 228 million children are vitamin A deficient, which increases their risk of dying. Vitamin A deficiency remains a concern in over 75 countries, where it is responsible for as many as one in four child deaths.
Vitamin A, like other vitamins (such as vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin C), is required by our bodies to function and develop properly, but we are unable to synthesize it ourselves. These micronutrients therefore must be obtained through our diets. Vitamin A comes from breastmilk, eggs, and other animal products, or is converted from beta-carotene found in dark leafy green vegetables, and from orange and yellow fruits such as carrots, papayas and mangoes. Because it is stored in the liver, animal liver is also a rich source of vitamin A. Deficiency of vitamin A has been known for years to cause blindness from xerophthalmia, a disease of the eye. Xerophthalmia often begins as nightblindness, which is also sometimes called "chicken blindness" because it mimics the inability of chickens to see at dusk. As the disease progresses, white, cheese-like tissue accumulates on the eyes. If this deficiency goes untreated, the patients (mainly children) develop severe dry eyes, such that the cornea in the front of the ey
The work of the 1997 Lasker Clinical Research Award recipient, Dr. Alfred Sommer, changed this, by showing that vitamin A, in addition to saving the sight of many children, can also save their lives. Dr. Sommer, while working in Indonesia in the mid-late 1970s, showed that children with mere night blindness actually had a much greater risk of getting severe infections and dying. Not only that, but the rate of infection and death increased in a dose-dependent fashion with increasing vitamin A deficiency. In one of his studies in rural Indonesia, Dr. Sommer and his colleagues examined about 4,600 children every three months for one and a half years, with the aim of understanding why some children developed night blindness and dry eyes while others did not. To his surprise, Dr. Sommer found that children with night blindness and dry eyes died at a much higher rate (4 to 8 times) from respiratory infections and diarrhea compared to children with no eye problems. This increased risk of death was highly correlate
Dr. Sommer then went on to show, through studies in Tanzania, that many children who were thought to suffer measles-caused secondary infections (which resulted in blindness and sometimes death) were actually suffering from a deficiency of vitamin A. When children suffering from severe measles were given acute therapy of vitamin A for two consecutive days, their risk of death was reduced by 50%. As a direct result of this research, the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommended immediate treatment of measles cases with high doses of vitamin A, a recommendation that was subsequently also adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, as a result of Dr. Sommer's controlled vitamin A trials, health experts now recognize that giving vitamin A orally is as effective and more practical than giving it by injection, the once favored route of administration. The UN launched a worldwide campaign to reduce vitamin A deficiency, to save the lives of an estimated two million children and the sight of m
Dr. Sommer's work has also sparked new research, both in his laboratory and elsewhere, into understanding the mechanism of vitamin A action. It is now clear that even mild vitamin A deficiency can prevent the normal development of the epithelial lining of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, making these crucial organs prone to infection. Vitamin A is also essential for normal differentiation of immune cells. Dr. Sommer's work has also encouraged studies on the molecular aspects of vitamin A, which is now known to affect the expression of some 300 genes. Also, this work has stimulated new interest into the deficiencies (however mild) of other micronutrients such as zinc, iron and iodine.
Dr. Sommer has continued his research, and is currently conducting field experiments in Nepal and Bangladesh, where he anticipates that giving expectant and new mothers vitamin A supplements will decrease their pregnancy-related deaths. Improving maternal health is a key way to improve child health, and by demonstrating the importance of micronutrients to maternal health, Dr. Sommer hopes to convince governments and aid agencies that this would be a cost-effective way to reduce mortality and infection rates among the most vulnerable groups in the developing world. In addition, Dr. Sommer and his team are conducting trials in India; the preliminary results of which indicate that giving infants high doses of vitamin A soon after birth reduces early infant mortality. Whereas the best way to deliver vitamin A to young mothers and children might be by giving them an inexpensive micronutrient supplement (the cost of a large dose of vitamin A supplement is about 2 cents each), another approach is to modify and for
According to UNICEF estimates, thanks in large part to the research of Dr. Sommer and others, many children in developing nations now receive needed supplements. For instance, in India, 60% of children in risk areas received supplements, saving the lives of an estimated 220,000 children. In Bangladesh, 94% received supplements, saving 70,500 lives. However, many more continue to die from this deficiency-in a single year (1994) 145,400 children could be been saved in India alone if all the vitamin A deficient children had received a two-cent vitamin A capsule twice a year. Dr. Sommer and others, through their scientific work and advocacy, hope to mobilize the world into saving more of these lives-for, as the World Bank recognized, periodic treatment with vitamin A is one of the most cost-effective treatments in all of medicine.
New Publications from International Food Policy Research Institute
1. Agricultural Research And Poverty Reduction
- Peter Hazell and Lawrence Haddad
A discussion paper released for the 2020 Vision conference Based on an analysis of the links between agricultural research and poverty alleviation in different types of countries and rural regions, this discussion paper identifies six key priorities for a pro-poor agricultural research agenda. Download Or Order Discussion Paper 34 (48 pages) http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/catalog.htm#dp
2. The Future World Situation And The Role Of Plant Diseases Paper - Per Pinstrup-Andersen
Will global food security be attained in the decades ahead or will food surpluses continue to co-exist with widespread hunger and malnutrition?
AgBioView.............Selection from the Past!
Helping The World's Poorest
- Jeffrey Sachs, The Economist August 14, 1999 (Excerpts below)
Jeffrey Sachs, a top academic economist, argues that rich countries must mobilise global science and technology to address the specific problems which help to keep poor countries poor*
IN OUR Gilded Age, the poorest of the poor are nearly invisible. Seven hundred million people live in the 42 so-called Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), where a combination of extreme poverty and financial insolvency marks them for a special kind of despair and economic isolation. They escape our notice almost entirely, unless war or an exotic disease breaks out, or yet another programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is signed. The Cologne Summit of the G8 in June was a welcome exception to this neglect. The summiteers acknowledged the plight of these countries, offered further debt relief and stressed the need for a greater emphasis by the international community on social programmes to help alleviate human suffering.
The G8 proposals should be seen as a beginning: inadequate to the problem, but at least a good-faith prod to something more useful. We urgently need new creativity and a new partnership between rich and poor if these 700m people (projected to rise to 1.5 billion by 2030), as well as the extremely poor in other parts of the world (especially South Asia), are to enjoy a chance for human betterment. Even outright debt forgiveness, far beyond the G8's stingy offer, is only a step in the right direction. Even the call to the IMF and World Bank to be more sensitive to social conditions is merely an indicative nod.
A much more important challenge, as yet mainly unrecognised, is that of mobilising global science and technology to address the crises of public health, agricultural productivity, environmental degradation and demographic stress confronting these countries. In part this will require that the wealthy governments enable the grossly underfinanced and underempowered United Nations institutions to become vibrant and active partners of human development. The failure of the United States to pay its UN dues is surely the world's most significant default on international obligations, far more egregious than any defaults by impoverished HIPCs. The broader American neglect of the UN agencies that assist impoverished countries in public health, science, agriculture and the environment must surely rank as another amazingly misguided aspect of current American development policies.
The conditions in many HIPCs are worsening dramatically, even as global science and technology create new surges of wealth and well-being in the richer countries. The problem is that, for myriad reasons, the technological gains in wealthy countries do not readily diffuse to the poorest ones. Some barriers are political and economic. New technologies will not take hold in poor societies if investors fear for their property rights, or even for their lives, in corrupt or conflict-ridden societies. The Economist's response to the Cologne Summit ("Helping the Third World", June 26th) is right to stress that aid without policy reform is easily wasted. But the barriers to development are often more subtle than the current emphasis on "good governance" in debtor countries suggests.
Research and development of new technologies are overwhelmingly directed at rich-country problems. To the extent that the poor face distinctive challenges, science and technology must be directed purposefully towards them. In today's global set-up, that rarely happens. Advances in science and technology not only lie at the core of long-term economic growth, but flourish on an intricate mix of social institutions-public and private, national and international.
Currently, the international system fails to meet the scientific and technological needs of the world's poorest. Even when the right institutions exist-say, the World Health Organisation to deal with pressing public health disasters facing the poorest countries-they are generally starved for funds, authority and even access to the key negotiations between poor-country governments and the Fund at which important development strategies get hammered out. The ecology of underdevelopment
If it were true that the poor were just like the rich but with less money, the global situation would be vastly easier than it is. As it happens, the poor live in different ecological zones, face different health conditions and must overcome agronomic limitations that are very different from those of rich countries. Those differences, indeed, are often a fundamental cause of persisting poverty.
Modern society and prosperity rest on the foundation of modern science. Global capitalism is, of course, a set of social institutions-of property rights, legal and political systems, international agreements, transnational corporations, educational establishments, and public and private research institutions-but the prosperity that results from these institutions has its roots in the development and applications of new science-based technologies. In the past 50 years, these have included technologies built on solid-state physics, which gave rise to the information-technology revolution, and on genetics, which have fostered breakthroughs in health and agricultural productivity..................
The role of the developing world in one sense is much greater than the chart indicates. Many of the scientific and technological breakthroughs are made by poor-country scientists working in rich-country laboratories. Indian and Chinese engineers account for a significant proportion of Silicon Valley's workforce, for example. The basic point, then, holds even more strongly: global science is directed by the rich countries and for the rich-country markets, even to the extent of mobilising much of the scientific potential of the poorer countries.
The imbalance of global science reflects several forces. First, of course, science follows the market. This is especially true in an age when technological leaps require expensive scientific equipment and well-provisioned research laboratories. Second, scientific advance tends to have increasing returns to scale: adding more scientists to a community does not diminish individual marginal productivity but tends to increase it. Therein lies the origin of university science departments, regional agglomerations such as Silicon Valley and Route 128, and mega-laboratories at leading high-technology firms including Merck, Microsoft and Monsanto. And third, science requires a partnership between the public and private sectors. Free-market ideologues notwithstanding, there is scarcely one technology of significance that was not nurtured through public as well as private care.
If technologies easily crossed the ecological divide, the implications would be less dramatic than they are. Some technologies, certainly those involving the computer and other ways of managing information, do indeed cross over, and give great hopes of spurring technological capacity in the poorest countries. Others-especially in the life sciences but also in the use of energy, building techniques, new materials and the like-are prone to "ecological specificity". The result is a profound imbalance in the global production of knowledge: probably the most powerful engine of divergence in global well-being between the rich and the poor.
As with malaria, poor food productivity in the tropics is not merely a problem of poor social organisation (for example, exploiting farmers through controls on food prices). Using current technologies and seed types, the tropics are inherently less productive in annual food crops such as wheat (essentially a temperate-zone crop), rice and maize. Most agriculture in the equatorial tropics is of very low productivity, reflecting the fragility of most tropical soils at high temperatures combined with heavy rainfall. High productivity in the rainforest ecozone is possible only in small parts of the tropics, generally on volcanic soils (on the island of Java, in Indonesia, for example). In the wet-dry tropics, such as the vast savannahs of Africa, agriculture is hindered by the terrible burdens of unpredictable and highly variable water supplies. Drought and resulting famine have killed millions of peasant families in the past generation alone.
Scientific advances again offer great hope. Biotechnology could mobilise genetic engineering to breed hardier plants that are more resistant to drought and less sensitive to pests. Such genetic engineering is stymied at every point, however. It is met with doubts in the rich countries (where people do not have to worry about their next meal); it requires a new scientific and policy framework in the poor countries; and it must somehow generate market incentives for the big life-sciences firms to turn their research towards tropical foodstuffs, in co-operation with tropical research centres. Calestous Juma, one of the world's authorities on biotechnology in Africa, stresses that there are dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of underused foodstuffs that are well adapted to the tropics and could be improved through directed biotechnology research. Such R&D is now all but lacking in the poorest countries.
The situation of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) has become intolerable, especially at a time when the rich countries are bursting with new wealth and scientific prowess. The time has arrived for a fundamental re-thinking of the strategy for co-operation between rich and poor, with the avowed aim of helping the poorest of the poor back on to their own feet to join the race for human betterment. Four steps could change the shape of our global community.
First, rich and poor need to learn to talk together. As a start, the world's democracies, rich and poor, should join in a quest for common action. Once again the rich G8 met in 1999 without the presence of the developing world. This rich-country summit should be the last of its kind. A G16 for the new millennium should include old and new democracies such as Brazil, India, South Korea, Nigeria, Poland and South Africa.
Second, rich and poor countries should direct their urgent attention to the mobilisation of science and technology for poor-country problems. The rich countries should understand that the IMF and World Bank are by themselves not equipped for that challenge. The specialised UN agencies have a great role to play, especially if they also act as a bridge between the activities of advanced- country and developing-country scientific centres. They will be able to play that role, however, only after the United States pays its debts to the UN and ends its unthinking hostility to the UN system.
We will also need new and creative institutional alliances. A Millennium Vaccine Fund, which guaranteed future markets for malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS vaccines, would be the right place to start. The vaccine-fund approach is administratively straightforward, desperately needed and within our technological reach. Similar efforts to merge public and private science activities will be needed in agricultural biotechnology.
Third, just as knowledge is becoming the undisputed centrepiece of global prosperity (and lack of it, the core of human impoverishment), the global regime on intellectual property rights requires a new look. The United States prevailed upon the world to toughen patent codes and cut down on intellectual piracy. But now transnational corporations and rich-country institutions are patenting everything from the human genome to rainforest biodiversity. The poor will be ripped off unless some sense and equity are introduced into this runaway process.
Moreover, the system of intellectual property rights must balance the need to provide incentives for innovation against the need of poor countries to get the results of innovation. The current struggle over AIDS medicines in South Africa is but an early warning shot in a much larger struggle over access to the fruits of human knowledge. The issue of setting global rules for the uses and development of new technologies-especially the controversial biotechnologies-will again require global co-operation, not the strong-arming of the few rich countries.
Fourth, and perhaps toughest of all, we need a serious discussion about long-term finance for the international public goods necessary for HIPC countries to break through to prosperity. The rich countries are willing to talk about every aspect except money: money to develop new malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS vaccines; money to spur biotechnology research in food-scarce regions; money to help tropical countries adjust to climate changes imposed on them by the richer countries. The World Bank makes mostly loans, and loans to individual countries at that. It does not finance global public goods. America has systematically squeezed the budgets of UN agencies, including such vital ones as the World Health Organisation.
We will need, in the end, to put real resources in support of our hopes. A global tax on carbon-emitting fossil fuels might be the way to begin. Even a very small tax, less than that which is needed to correct humanity's climate-deforming overuse of fossile fuels, would finance a greatly enhanced supply of global public goods. No better time to start than as the new millennium begins.
Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Centre for International Development and professor of international trade at Harvard University. A prolific writer, he has also advised governments of many developing and East European countries