Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Brussels Urges Rapid Boost For Biotech Sector
* Big Rise in Hunger at Africa: Massive Investment Needed
* Filipino Farmer Groups Denounce Uprooting of Bt Corn
* ELF Strikes Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories
* Sri Lanka's GM food ban delayed indefinitely
* Mary Bryant confronts Greenpeace with Hard Questions
* The UN Weighs In on Biotech
* Reality Must Rule In Debate on GM
* Future Shock: Forecasting a Grim Fate for the Earth
* Global Agriculture - Facing the Challenges - Swaminathan
* Scientists Plan To Wipe Out Malaria With GM Mosquitoes
* Chinese Farmers Laud GM Cotton
* Nuts, Toxins and the Garden of Deadly Delights
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Brussels Urges Rapid Boost For Biotech Sector
Financial Times; September 4, 2001
Brussels-- Biotechnology must be given a rapid boost if the European Union is serious about becoming the world's most dynamic economy, the European Commission will warn today.
Amid growing evidence that European biotech companies are lagging behind their US competitors, the Commission will call for improved business conditions for the industry, and ask how ethical and safety concerns about biotechnology can best be addressed. "Life sciences and biotechnology are of strategic importance in Europe's quest to become a leading knowledge-based economy," the Commission says in a draft consultation paper due to be unveiled today. "Europe cannot afford to miss the opportunity that these new sciences and technologies offer."
The initiative comes at a tricky time for the biotech sector in Europe. Data suggest that the EU has a poor business environment for the development of high-risk ventures such as dedicated biotechnology companies. Meanwhile, public suspicion of some sections of the industry is increasing.
Concerns over the safety of genetically modified foods have led to a three-year moratorium on approvals of new GM crop varieties in the EU. Although the EU has 1,570 dedicated biotechnology companies - more than the US - these employ less than half as many people as their US counterparts. EU expenditure on biotech research and development of Euros 5bn (Pounds 3.1bn) is dwarfed by the Euros 11.4bn spent in the US. Public spending on biotech research is four times greater in the US.
The Commission cites factors including bankruptcy rules which preclude those affected from attempting new start-ups, regulatory uncertainty, fiscal barriers and lack of liquidity in the risk capital markets as main reasons why the industry continues to struggle in Europe. It asks how ethical concerns - such as the use and control of genetic information - can best be addressed, and wonders whether risk evaluations of new products should also include an assessment of their potential benefits.
In the agricultural sphere, it admits that consumers have perceived few benefits from the first wave of GM crops on the market: "Biotechnology research efforts could and should be used to develop new GM varieties to improve yields and enable cultivation by small-scale and poor farmers," it says. Warning that the EU risks being left behind if it adopts an unilateralist approach to biotechnology, the Commission concludes that the industry could come to play an even more important role than the IT sector does now.
"In the 21st century, biotechnology may become even more economically important (than information and communication technology)," it says.
Big Rise in Hunger Projected for Africa:
Report Stresses Need for Massive Investment
- Karl Vick, Washington Post, September 4, 2001
Banana Hill, Kenya--Stephen Waithaka, who farms two acres of the rich volcanic soil on the foothills below Mount Kenya, brings in two crops of corn a year, but lives in constant fear of not having enough.
"In the last five seasons we did not sell anything, because we did not have rain," Waithaka said of a crop that drought has reduced by half. "We still had enough for ourselves. "I fear others did not."
The fear is well founded. A comprehensive study of whether the world will have enough to eat 20 years from now concludes that Africa, at least, probably will not. The report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington think tank, predicts rising hunger on the continent, which is notorious for periodic famines and struggles to feed itself even in normal times.
The study concludes that without massive investment in irrigation, roads to take the harvest to market and crop research, Africa might have 49 million malnourished children by 2020, a rise of 50 percent. At the same time, the rest of the world, including India and China, will be better nourished than it is today, the report predicts. African experts on agriculture, a sector widely neglected by African governments even though three-quarters of Africans are farmers, consider that prediction credible.
"They are really seeing things as they are," said Mercy W. Karanja, chief executive of the Kenya National Farmers' Union, referring to the report released last week. "We're talking budgetary allocations in Kenya of 4 percent for agriculture, of which 3 percent is supporting the parastatals [state-owned enterprises]. It is such an insult to farmers. This does not show even understanding."
Finding enough to eat is a daily challenge for the vast majority of Africa's nearly 700 million people. Most Africans rely on homestead plots of one or two acres for survival. They cultivate staples such as corn or cassava, eat what they need and stack any surplus for sale on a plastic sheet at the local market. The pennies from those sales may be the only cash the household sees. It will buy the used clothing that most Africans wear, or perhaps a handful of tomatoes from the next plastic sheet in the market. Meat is a rare treat.
"What do you do? If you can't buy the food, you have to raise it yourself," said Waithaka, 48. His family of seven has survived off of two acres on Banana Hill, a nominally residential township outside Nairobi, since his job as an insurance surveyor went south with the Kenyan economy five years ago. Far more than the sporadic wars that dominate headlines, this precarious hand-to-mouth existence defines life on the continent two generations after most of its countries gained independence from European colonial masters.
Ambitions declared in the flush of nationalism -- industrialization by the year 2020, in Kenya's case -- have gone the way of broken telephone systems, cratered roads and health centers better stocked with mildew than medicines. Hunger binds the continent as it binds the stomach. In Sudan, where a history of war-related famine prompted the United Nations to establish a permanent food airlift, a Dinka tribeswoman hands back a snapshot of a relief worker's daughter with the words: "She is beautiful. She is not hungry."
A thousand miles to the south, in peaceful Malawi, a political party's slogan, "Get the grain, not the husks," is no metaphor. In blackened cooking pots outside residents' mud huts, a rolling boil softens a dinner of chaff.
The report, based on a computer model taking into account population, prices and production data for 16 commodities, delivers a mixed message. Worldwide, rising outputs and declining prices mean that the global market's growing demand for cereals was generally met over the past two decades. In the process, the global rate of malnutrition among children under age 5 dropped from 45 percent in the 1960s to 31 percent today. But in Africa, many people are simply too poor to participate in the global market. Population gains outpaced cereal production on the continent between 1967 and 1997, and countries lacked the hard currency to purchase imports that would have filled the gap.
As a result, a third of African children suffer from hunger. The institute said that by 2020 that number will likely reach 39 to 49 percent, depending on whether conditions remain the same as today or grow worse. The report acknowledges that given Africa's troubling trends in governance, the pessimistic forecast is more likely. "To really get the purchasing power to buy food, you have to produce more food," said Mark W. Rosegrant, the primary author of the report, called 2020 Global Food Outlook. "It's kind of a vicious circle right now."
The key, Rosegrant said, appears to be larger yields. A single acre in Europe produces six times the cereal harvested from an acre in Africa, on average. Few African farmers use fertilizer or irrigate their fields. They live at the mercy of the weather, which in East Africa has been especially unpredictable since the 1997 floods caused by El Nino. "This is the biggest problem we have here in agriculture -- the water," said Waithaka, one of the few farmers on Banana Hill to have built a concrete reservoir. "With rain, we will never go hungry. But there's a problem: It depends on the rain."
Another challenge is transport, Rosegrant said. In its search for arable land, Africa's rural population has moved even farther from the increasingly rare usable roads. And if there is no access to markets, gains in production stand to be wasted. Karanja, the farmers' union chief, said Kenya's current harvest illustrates the point. Despite a bumper crop in corn, the country is accepting hundreds of tons of relief food. Western donors truck it themselves to the remote, semiarid northern reaches that Kenyan merchants scarcely supply.
"In the '70s, Kenya was self-sufficient for food," Karanja said, "but then the infrastructure was not so run-down." Africa would stand to gain more than any other region by full liberalization of trade laws, Rosegrant said, not least because it would remove domestic taxes on production and consumption that discourage farmers from investing. In all, African governments will need to invest $133 billion over the next 20 years to avoid the predicted sharp rise in malnutrition, the report says.
Some experts say the money should go toward research aimed at developing crops that will thrive in Africa's often-marginal soils, plus roads, irrigation, education and clean water. The $133 billion does not include investments in basic health care that International Monetary Fund and World Bank experts say will be fundamental to improving Africa's economy and alleviating the effect of the AIDS virus, which has infected more than 20 million people.
These recommendations assume that Africa's often dysfunctional governments will pay attention. To date, Rosegrant said, only a handful -- including Uganda, Botswana, Ghana and Mozambique -- share their citizens' preoccupation with feeding themselves. Karanja complains that Kenya's national irrigation board "has collapsed."
"Some of it is probably power politics," said Delphin Rwegasira, executive director of the African Economic Research Consortium, a Nairobi group. "Power politics is determined in cities. The rural poor just don't have this empowerment, this voice." Rwegasira said that as more rural Africans migrate to cities, the demands on the food supply will grow "very dangerous." "The urban sector is growing very fast," he said. "But without the food . . ."
Farmer Groups Denounce Uprooting of Bt Corn
SEARCA Biotech Info Center; 4-Sept-2001
Several Mindanao-based farmer organizations condemn the illegal uprooting of the Bt corn plants in Barangay Maltana, Tampakan, South Cotabato. The said uprooting which took place last August 29 was apparently lead by the non-government organization Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) by about 300 people comprising of churchmen, students, farmers and members of the civil society. The local government that has already made a resolution allowing the field trial of Bt corn also denounced the said act.
The statement came from the South Cotabato Provincial Agricultural & Fisheries Council, the Koronadal City Agricultural & Fisheries Council, the Federation of Irrigators Association of SOCSARGEN, the General Santos City Agricultural & Fisheries Council, the Gen. Santos Sarangani Fruit Cooperative, and the Mindanao Mango Industry Development Foundation.
In the statement, the farmers supported the trial because they wanted to find out whether Bt corn will effectively control the Asiatic corn borer, a dreaded insect corn pest. They expressed their hope in the GM technology for corn in providing additional options to counter corn borer infestation and lessen use of costly and toxic chemical inputs.
The Bt corn hybrid incorporates a gene from a naturally-occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to combat the corn borer larvae from feeding on stalks and ears of corn plants. In the Philippines, corn borer infestation accounts for 30-40% yield loss. In a survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 1999 in South Cotabato, yield loss was valued at P118 M or 30% of harvest. The farmers stressed that, "We are in a free country. Let us give the farmers freedom of choice. Let us give the consumers freedom of choice. Let these NGOs also sell their produce if they have any to offer to the open market, and not confuse and twist the minds of people with unfounded claims and scare tactics. They seem to employ the communist tactics of brainwashing. For their act of destruction, without any legal basis, and contrary to the norm of conduct of a civilized society, they have now unmasked themselves as the real terrorist and anarchist."
According to a Monsanto representative, the said corn plants were due for harvesting in November.
The statement of farmer groups can be viewed at http://www.searca.org/~bic/news/ctry/phil/Aug/farmers.pdf .
In a related development, there was an attempt by a militant group to uproot corn plants in a Bt corn trial site in Kibawe, Bukidnon but failed, according to sources. They have now set camp near the the site. Other Bt corn test sites might also be threatened by this group.
Earth Liberation Front Strikes Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories Again On Long
Island; Sabotages Newly Built Bio-tech Building
Urgent News Advisory; September 2, 2001
PLAINVIEW, LONG ISLAND, NY -The Earth Liberation Front (E.L.F.) has officially claimed responsibility for sabotaging a new bio-tech building at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on August 21, 2001. This is the second time the E.L.F. has targeted this facility in just over one year.
A communique sent by the E.L.F. stated,"Here activists inflicted heavy damages to their exterior air filtration and coolant systems, by smashing thermostats and computer instruments, and damaging extensively insulation to coolant pipes.The building was donned with slogans denouncing genetic engineering, one reading 'tampering with biodiversity = extinction', the other reading 'Love E.L.F.'. Upon retreat windows were also smashed."
The Earth Liberation Front is an international underground organization that uses direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the destruction of the natural environment and exploitation of life. Since 1997 in North America alone, the E.L.F. have caused over $40 million in damages to entities profiting from the destruction of life.
The communique continued,"This was a warning shot from the Long Island community to the Labs, that the technologies they develop have potentially drastic and lethal consequences. Be forewarned that we are watching your every move, and if you thought for one second that you could keep your new Plainview lab location under wraps you were gravely mistaken. We watch your every step. E.L.F."
The E.L.F. previously struck Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on July 13, 2000, destroying two acres of genetically modified corn and greenhouses containing seedlings.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories are responsible for research related to the "discovery of hybrid vigor (which) led to increased corn production and to a revolution in crop breeding".This is now more commonly referred to as "the green revolution" and identified by thousands of scholars and activists from the Global South as a root cause of the starvation and depletion of soil and bio-diversity occurring at an unprecedented pace around the planet.
Contact: North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office 503.478.0902 http://www.earthliberationfront.com
*A copy of the communique sent by the E.L.F. appears below.
- Communique Sent By The Earth Liberation Front
"Statement for Aug 21st ELF Action: On Tuesday August 21st members of the Earth Liberation Front, paid visit to the newly built bio-tech building for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, located on Sunnyside Blvd, in Plainveiw, Long Island. Here activists inflicted heavy damages to their exterior air filtration and coolant systems, by smashing thermostats and computer instruments, and damaging extensively insulation to coolant pipes. The building was donned with slogans denouncing genetic engineering, one reading "tampering with biodiversity = extinction", the other reading "Love E.L.F.". Upon retreat windows were also smashed.
This was a warning shot from the Long Island community to the Labs, that the technologies they develop have potentially drastic and lethal consequences. Be forewarned that we are watching your every move, and if you thought for one second that you could keep your new Plainveiw lab location under wraps you were gravely mistaken.
We watch your every step. E.L.F."
Sri Lanka's GM food ban delayed indefinitely (Again!)
Colombo, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has postponed indefinitely plans to impose one of the world's toughest bans on genetically modified (GM) food, a senior health ministry official said on Monday. The ban, which drew criticism from the United States and was delayed for three months at the request of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), had been due to go into effect on September 1.
"The secretary of the Health Ministry has issued a circular ordering that the regulations do not go into force until further notice,'' said the senior official, who did not want to be identified. The ban had been recommended by a government committee which said Sri Lanka needed time to study health risks associated with the new technology.
Proponents of GM products say they contribute to higher crop yields and lower production costs, while critics fear long-term health and environmental consequences. A ban went into force on May 1 but was later delayed until September 1 after criticism from Washington, which said there was "no credible scientific evidence'' to justify it.
The WTO had also asked Sri Lanka to give its trading partners 60 days to prepare for the restrictions. The ban required 21 categories of food imports to be completely free of GM products which contain a gene from another organism, generally to make them resistant to herbicides or to produce their own toxins to kill pests.
"We don't know whether it will ever see the light of day,'' the official said. The ban had also drawn fire from local business groups which asked the government to wait until 2003 when the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission is due to announce an international standards regime for GM foods. Health Ministry officials said the ban had not been expected to seriously hamper Sri Lankan trade except in processed foods. Sri Lanka is a significant importer of wheat and sugar.
Confronting Greenpeace with Hard Questions
From: "Mary Bryant" ; Subject: Greenpeace replies
The following is my response to Greenpeace. It is followed by their reply. -- Mary Bryant
Craig, In answer to your reply:
> Hi Mary,
> Our position against the release of genetically engineered
> organisms into the environment is completely defensible, and we
> are joined by many hundreds of scientists in that opposition.
Mary: But what about the thousands (I believe it is around 3,000 now) of scientist who have signed Prakash's petition (surely you have heard of Dr. Prakash?) in support of genetic engineering?
> Trading one terrible solution for another terrible solution is not the answer.
Why do you think genetic engineering is a terrible solution (be specific)other than the hysteria you help create using such terms as Frankenfoods? (by the way, I always thought the true idiots in the Frankenstein book were the townspeople who destroyed that which they didn't understand) and what other solution do you propose? How much research has Greenpeace supported in finding a way to deal with agricultural pest without using pesticides?
>Finding a way to reduce pesticide use without releasing
>genetic contamination into the world makes the most sense-and THAT is what we are fighting for.
I believe in using caution. You seem to have already decided that there will be "contamination". Do you actually see no promise in genetic engineering?
>As for the monarch, it STILL represents a non-target species with the potential for being
> adversely affected by Bt corn pollen. Plus, there are thousands of
> other organisms in the fields and in the soil which have not been tested for affects from Bt toxin.
You are aware that Bt is used in 'organic' farming systems? This seems to be
something Greenpeace supports. So how much research have you funded on Bt's
affect on the environment? Have you read the latest research that does not
support your position on the welfare of the Monarch with the use of Bt corn?
> How do you or anyone else defend the wholesale release into the
> environment of novel organisms that can't be recalled and haven't
> been tested for long- or short-term environmental and human health
And how can we carry out these tests when you create hysteria among the uninformed? You also seem to be operating on the assumption that there has been no testing when it is fairly easy to find refereed journal articles on this. How long is long term? How many tests have been supported by Greenpeace? Has any food been tested to the extent that GM crops have? (no) Did we even have the technology to do the kind of testing being done today before genetic engineering? (no again)
>Sounds pretty short-sighted and dangerous to me. Ever
> heard of PCBs or DDT? Both had some very clear benefits for
> humanity but proved devastating to the environment and human health.
And what do these have to do with genetic engineering? But now that you brought up DDT, it did save literally millions of human lives and today millions die because we don't use DDT. (I'm not suggesting that we throw caution and wildlife to the wind by ignoring the problems caused by it's use. I'm just pointing out that we pay a heavy price we by not using it.)
>And now they are banned and we're trying to fix the long- term mess they created.
> Do you know that it takes, on average, 50 years for smokers to
> develop life-threatening effects from smoking? And that it has taken
> five decades of ever-more bomb-proof science to get where we are.....
Now you throw smoking in there to bolster your argument? It seems this would be more fitting if we were talking about the evils of money or corporate America. I don't see how this has anything to do with the safety of genetic engineering.
> Genetic engineering/contamination has the potential to trump even
> these environmental and health catastrophes. Once we engineer
> and then release into the environment new organisms, we can
> never get them back, we can never just stop manufacturing them--
> they will forever be living pollution. What if one of those engineered
> organisms -- say something ubiquitous like soy -- is found to cause
> severe allergies in kids 20 years from now? What then? How do
> you deal with millions upon millions of acres of soy around the
> world and millions of products containing that soy? Do you have a
> plan, because the biotech industry doesn't?
But you don't advocate caution. You advocate throwing the baby out with the
bathwater so to speak.
> The simple argument for many people who oppose the release of
> gene-altered organisms into the environment goes like this: we do
> not want pesticides in our food, in our children's blood or in our
> environment but we don't want to live in a genetically engineered
> world either! And before the middle of the last century, we had
> neither. There are choices that don't have to include the pesticide
> manufacturers...which just happen to be the same companies
> developing genetically engineered crops...hmmmmm.
Although we did not have pesticides or GM crops 50 years ago, we also did not have enough food for 2.5 billion people. In the early fifties, the population bomb, and looming global food wars, were top international priorities. UN agencies like FAO, and the CGIAR research centres, were created to address this crisis. There is ample literature that shows the number of chronically malnourished people in the world has remained roughly stable over the last half century. That has actually been used in attacks against the agronomists who developed the Green Revolution. It tends to be overlooked that we now feed properly 5.2 out of 6 billion people while in 1950 we fed 1.7 out of 2.5 billion. That is not enough, but stated this way, it is a triumph of science and policy.
I really don't want to sound so confrontational. I have considered myself an
environmentalist since getting involved in high school in the early 70's.
Greenpeace was a good alarm system, but now seems more anti-capitilist or
anti-human than pro-environment. With the huge amount of money you guys
get.....how about putting your money where your mouth is and come up with
some solutions. I happen to think that human beings are the most incredible
organism this planet has ever produced and our most precious resourse is our
brain. Science is human and science is the answer.
* REPLY FROM GREENPEACE *
> But what about the thousands (I believe it is around 3,000 now) of scientist
> who have signed Prakash's petition (surely you have heard of Dr. Prakash?)
> in support of genetic engineering?
GP: The overall numbers are ultimately irrelevant. That's like saying, "My scientific report is better than yours because it has more pages." The point is, there are many scientists on both sides of this debate -- there is no certainty or consensus. And that is, in itself, good reason to err on the side of caution.
> Why do you think genetic engineering is a terrible solution (be
> specific)other than the hysteria you help create using such terms as
> Frankenfoods? (by the way, I always thought the true idiots in the......
The biotech industry is creating -- okay, pay attention here -- BRAND NEW organisms that have never existed on the planet before by combining genetic material from UNRELATED organisms. All this without having a CLUE about how those novel organisms will interact with the natural environment, either in the short term or over the next thousand years. That is patently irresponsible and should be stopped by people with the tiniest sense of there obligations not to screw the planet for future generations. When the biotech industry can PROVE that it is not screwing the planet with genetic contamination to make a buck, my position could change.
> I believe in using caution. You seem to have already decided that there will
> be "contamination". Do you actually see no promise in genetic engineering?
I do see promise in genetic engineering, but I find the risks to be too great if it cannot be contained within a lab. With so little long- term study (50, 100 years since we can never go back once we've let new organisms loose in the environment) of the impacts of GMOs on human health or the environment, putting them into 70 percent of our processed foods and onto tens of millions of acres of cropland is CRAZY!
> You are aware that Bt is used in 'organic' farming systems? This seems to be
> something Greenpeace supports. So how much research have you funded on Bt's
> affect on the environment? Have you read the latest research that does not
> support your position on the welfare of the Monarch with the use of Bt corn?
I should say, much more than you have. How much research have you funded/conducted to be so certain that you are not supporting a technology that could end up being the greatest environmental disaster of human history? And how much have you read about the impacts on all non-target species of loading the environment with Bt toxin? How much have you read about creating super-pests through the over-use of this extremely valuable organic pesticide (which is parsimoniously applied by organic farmers to preserve its usefulness)? Or about how organic agriculture could be destroyed by this over-use of Bt and by wind-born contamination from GE crops?
> Has any food been tested to the extent that GM crops have? (no) Did we even
> have the technology to do the kind of testing being done today before
> genetic engineering?(no again)
I find your defense of this new technology to be hysterical. I also find the claims by its proponents that it is needed to feed the world hysterical. I challenge you to send me ONE peer-reviewed, long- term (50 years, since we can never go back once we release new organisms into the environment and since we have SO little experience creating new organisms thru genetic engineering) study on the human health impacts of eating GE foods everyday, and on
the environmental impacts of releasing GMOs into the biosphere.
> And what do these have to do with genetic engineering? But now that you
> brought up DDT, it did save literally millions of human lives and today....
They are examples of reckless pursuit of cash flow creating HUGE environmental crises that take generations and countless lost lives to correct. DDT has now been linked to infant mortality. So, on the face of it it looks like DDT did save millions from death by malaria -- but how many did it kill in-utero? We may never know the exact millions of infants lost from exposure to DDT in the womb. My point with these examples is this: "if we do not learn from our mistakes (and we have made MANY of them), we are doomed to repeat them."
> Now you throw smoking in there to bolster your argument? It seems this would
> be more fitting if we were talking about the evils of money or corporate....
But we are talking about the evils of money and corporate America!!! What in the world do you think is behind every enviro or man-made human health disaster in history?! The smoking analogy has everything to do with the GE debate if you get below the PR hyperbole in the biotech advertisements. The point is, the same people who are fighting to have the right to kill millions of us a year with their products are the ones fighting for the right to release genetically engineered organisms into the environment -- consequences be damned!
> But you don't advocate caution. You advocate throwing the baby out with the
> bathwater so to speak.
Whao! You've lost me. I am most certainly advocating closing the barn door before the horse gets out -- not after.
> I really don't want to sound so confrontational. I have considered myself an
> environmentalist since getting involved in high school in the early 70's...............
> I happen to think that human beings are the most incredible
> organism this planet has ever produced and our most precious resourse is our
> brain. Science is human and science is the answer.
I could hardly disagree more with your final statement. I think science run amok -- which will certainly happen if we all begin to think science is "the answer" -- will be the death of humanity and the planet. Humans are just one piece of the ecosystem, with no greater claim on the right to live than any other organism. I think your belief that humans sit atop the heap is exactly what makes humans the most dangerous organism this planet has ever seen. I am not at all anti-human -- I am anti-human-as-the-destroyer-of-the- planet-to-make-a-buck-or-to-get-all-the -Big-Macks-and-DVD-players- I-want. Big, obvious difference.
- Best to you, Craig
The United Nations Weighs In on Biotech
- Gregg Hillyer, Progressive Farmer, Sept 2001
The din of biotech bashers often overpowers the voice of reason. Criticism creates a more gripping story line than optimism in a world conditioned to receive news in 30-second sound bites. Closed-minded activists readily dismiss and discredit scientific studies or toss aside exhaustive industry reports on the benefits of biotech. But a recent paper from the United Nations may lower the volume of critics opposed to the technology and strengthen the science's standing among the undecided.
The U.N. Human Development Program's annual analysis suggests that opposition to genetically engineered crops and foods in developed countries could impede the ability of poorer countries to feed their growing populations. "The current debate in Europe and the U.S. over genetically modified crops mostly ignores the concerns and needs of the developing world," notes the report.
They point out that transgenics offer the hope of developing crops with higher yields, resistance to pests, disease and drought, and superior nutritional characteristics. That is especially true for farmers working marginal land "left behind by the Green Revolution."
In many of these countries, having food on the table is a daily struggle. Starvation is often a fact of life. In fact, the United Nations estimates there are 826 million undernourished people in the developing world alone. As the U.N. report points out, biotechnology offers the "only or the best tool of choice for marginal ecological zones" such as sub-Saharan Africa. These zones are home to more than half of the world's poorest people. And they are dependent on agriculture and livestock.
Over the next 25 years, pressure to increase the world's food supply will only intensify as its population swells to 8 billion. The report notes that the true potential of biotechnology will only be tapped if it's done with a systematic approach to assess and manage the risks to human health, the environment and social equity.
"Every technological advance brings potential benefits and risks, some of which are not easy to predict," notes the report. That's why concerns that genetically modified foods may introduce novel genes that create food toxins or new allergens deserve attention. However, the report stresses that a risk assessment looking only at potential harms would be flawed. A full risk assessment needs to weigh the expected harms of a new technology against its expected benefits.
And that's no easy task. As the report points out, both sides of the biotech debate tend to focus only on messages that solidify their viewpoint. In the case of transgenic crops, the report says, the commercial lobby overstates the near-term gains to poor people from the genetically modified organisms it develops. Meanwhile, the opposing lobby overstates the risk of introducing GMOs and downplays the risk of worsening nutrition in their absence.
But even when societies and communities consider all sides, they may come to different conclusions because of the variety of risks and benefits they face and their capacity to handle them. For example, European consumers who do not face food shortages or nutritional deficiencies see few benefits of genetically modified foods. They are more concerned about possible health effects. Undernourished farming communities in developing countries, however, are more likely to focus on the potential benefits of higher yields with greater nutritional value. The risks of no change may outweigh any concerns over health effects.
But in the end, the report concludes that technological innovation is essential for human progress. "People all over the world have high hopes that new technologies [of all kinds] will lead to healthier lives, greater social freedoms, increased knowledge and more productive livelihoods." Sometimes it takes a strong voice of reason to get both sides of a contentious debate to lower the rhetoric and look for common ground. The U.N. report is one message that comes through loud and clear.
Reality Must Rule In Debate on GM
- Editorial, New Zealand Herald, Sept 4, 2001
It is difficult to tell when scientist Stephen Hawking is winding us up. His now-famous synthesised voice is not so sophisticated that lesser mortals can detect whether his utterances are laced with laughter. So we should not leap too quickly to conclude that he was entirely serious when he suggested that humankind should start modifying its own genes in order to stay ahead of the robots.
Of course, policy research group Genewatch did rise to the occasion and accused him of taking the debate about genetic engineering in the wrong direction. In so doing it was following an increasingly familiar characteristic in the GM debate - leaping to conclusions.
Professor Hawking's comments pointed to the advantages that could accrue from linking human and artificial intelligence. It would, he said, keep human intelligence ahead of artificial intelligence - the robots. He also said it was a very long road. All of which suggests that, at the very least, he was well inside the theoretical realm that is the stuff of which his world is made.
Other scientists, more at home in applied disciplines, would be quick to point out the difficulties involved in such genetic engineering. In short, the robots do not have much to worry about for a while and, frankly, we do not have a lot to fear from the robots either (Hollywood aside).
What we do have to worry about is the direction in which the GM debate is moving. When the eminently sensible findings of a royal commission are swept aside by Bic Runga's T-shirt and sufficient celebrities to have a women's magazine editor's heart racing, something is seriously wrong. And when dissenters at an anti-GM rally are cried down and forced to leave the very definition of a debate is lost.
The vast majority of us are opposed to the notion of cloning human beings and see dangers in transgenic modifications. No one denies that there are risks in allowing genetic modification research to take place in anything other than properly controlled conditions. However, within those constraints there lies a worthwhile and ethically sustainable field of research and development. The royal commission was an admirable focus around which the debate should take place. Instead it has been captured by placard-wavers and public relations experts.
That is an unfortunate development because it promotes the idea that there is a popular front that will accept from our politicians nothing less than a GM-free state that can sit comfortably alongside our nuclear-free status. Both Government and Opposition must resist any temptation to bow to such "popular" movements. The Greens will not be moved from their anti-GM stand and New Zealand First may feel the need to use it to push a populist button, but the remainder in Parliament must be persuaded to see the matter pragmatically and sensibly.
The fact is that, properly managed, genetic modification stands to make this country more competitive and wealthier. Conversely, it will be hard-pressed to challenge other producers and manufacturers if it is held in a GM-free strait-jacket. And that will make the country poorer.
The real debate must be around how New Zealand manages its GM research and development and how it ensures that the results of that research do not have adverse environmental impacts. In other words, how we achieve the right balance.
For a person like Stephen Hawking, imprisoned by motor neuron disease, the placard-wavers must be a burden. Likewise, New Zealanders with conditions such as multiple sclerosis must wonder where the humanity of such people truly lies. For these sufferers, genetic modification may offer the hope of recovery. The medical possibilities that have been opened up by the human genome project are vast but without some ability to undertake genetic modification many of those opportunities will be lost.
Public perceptions are being driven by fear. Fear of the unknown is a legitimate concern but it should not be allowed to be whipped up to mass hysteria. The greatest weapon against fear of the unknown is knowledge and our community must be made more aware of the realities of the GM debate. There will be a safe middle ground where Frankenfood is no more a reality than Stephen Hawking's human-hunting terminators.
Future Shock: Forecasting a Grim Fate For The Earth
- William F. Laurance September 4, 2001; HMS Beagle Issue 109 (Via Agnet)
Abstract: In recent years, much attention has focused on the potential environmental effects of global climate change, but other anthropogenic impacts might be even more important. A new study by Tilman et al. highlights the threat posed to natural ecosystems worldwide by increasing agricultural development. Over the next 50 years, model projections suggest that rates of habitat destruction, water consumption and emission of agricultural pollutants will increase drastically. Such changes will be greatest in developing nations, which sustain a disproportionately large fraction of the Earth's biological diversity.
This article will appear in a forthcoming issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution.
Information Systems For Biotechnology; ISB News Report; September 2001
http://www.isb.vt.edu; pdf version at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2001/sep01.pdf
In This Issue: Bioindication with Transgenic Plants; Plants Fight Disease in the New Millennium; Bidirectional Expression Vector for Plants; European Commission's Proposed End to Moratorium; Arouses Lively Debate; Reporting In: The New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification
Obiter Dictum Anyone?
Global Agriculture - Facing the Challenges
- Professor M.S. Swaminathan, of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
New Agriculturist:What do you see as the challenges facing global agriculture between now and the year 2020?
-The first point is that we have to produce more, because today, in spite of the large food mountains there are also millions of hungry. The paradox of hunger in the midst of plenty, of food mountains and hungry mouths co-existing, is a very great shame, a national shame. Secondly, it is also vital to ensure that our production is environmentally sustainable so that the ecological foundations like land and water, and the bio-diversity of flora and fauna are not destroyed. For example, the Punjab is our bread-basket in India. Today the food security is very high but by 2020, they will be very food insecure because of groundwater depletion. There is pollution and soil salinisation taking place and more and more land is becoming unusable. There is no proper crop rotation: it is rice, wheat, rice, wheat, and no legumes are planted in between to replenish soil fertility and soil health.
These challenges can be met only by taking the best in traditional wisdom and technologies, and combining that with cutting-edge science. In order to bridge the divide between the genetic haves and have-nots, we must start at the village level, with the very poor. We need to consider the environmentally safe bio-technologies that are available, whether bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides, or biological control agents like ladybird beetles. We need to look at how they are produced, how they are marketed, and whether they can make village level agriculture more sustainable. We also need to look at non-farm employment, because a large number of people who are going to bed hungry have no land, no livestock, no assets, and often they are illiterate. But how can you give the asset-less some assets? We must look at the options for rural non-farm employment, offering people new skills and new opportunities.
And agriculture is also the engine for the triggering of industrial growth. In India, for example, many of our industries are based upon agricultural raw material, large industries like textiles. Cotton is very important, providing jobs for 60 million people, who entirely depend on the cotton crop. Similarly, with the jute and the sugar cane plantation crops. In addition, rural purchasing power is important for urban industrial growth. Starting from the industrial revolution, technology has been the prime mover of European prosperity, in contrast to those who were not part of that industrial revolution. Today, I'm saying that this technology needs to be an ally in the equity movement.
Professor MS Swaminathan is the UNESCO Cousteau Chair in Ecotechnology and Chairman of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, India. This perspective is based on an interview he gave to New Agriculturist at the Global Agriculture 2020: which way forward? conference in Norwich, UK, April 2001, at which he was the keynote speaker.
Scientists Plan to Wipe Out Malaria with GM Mosquitoes
- James Meekhe Guardian; 03 Sept 2001
Scientists fighting malaria are preparing the ground for one of the most audacious attempts ever to wipe out disease: genetically modifying an entire animal species in the wild.
In laboratories around the world, there is increasing confidence that scientists will acquire the ability to spread a synthetic gene throughout the populations of dangerous mosquitoes, making it impossible for them to pass malaria on to humans. Until now, spreading genes throughout a species was something only evolution was capable of, over millions of years of natural selection. But scientists think it might be possible to transform the malaria-carrying mosquito into a subtly different species - still a bloodsucking nuisance, but no longer a killer - within two to 25 years of releasing the first GM insects. In a sign of how fast research is moving, specialists in the field are gathering in London next week for a conference to discuss the risks and benefits of releasing GM mosquitoes into the wild.
'We're not talking about one to one replacement of lab mosquitoes for wild mosquitoes,' said Tony James, of the University of California in Irvine, who is attending the conference at Imperial College. 'There's no question of competition between transgenic and non-transgenic insects. What we're talking about is actually driving the gene through a population. It's an ambitious idea.' In the lab, Dr James's team has already inserted a gene into mosquitoes which makes it impossible for the parasite that causes malaria to gain a foothold.
Last year, a joint British-German team, partly led by one of the organisers of next week's conference, Andrea Crisanti of Imperial College, created a transgenic mosquito - a GM mosquito whose offspring would also carry the inserted gene.
'For the past decade, our efforts have been rather esoteric, trying to get to a certain stage. We are at that stage now,' said Dr James. 'We' re able to put genes into animals in a stable way.' But there are concerns. Luke Alphey, a specialist in the field at Oxford University, supports the release of GM insects into the wild to combat disease. But he is wary of the idea of genetically modifying an entire species. 'I have a rather negative view of this strategy,' he said. 'One of my con cerns is that once you've let such a thing go, you can never recall it.'
Supporters of the approach point out that it is not necessary to modify every single dangerous mosquito to stop the disease. But the nature of the technique is such that this could well be the end result. Normally, a new gene will spread to cover an entire species only if it gives animals who have it some survival or reproductive advantage over animals that do not. But scientists have found two ingenious ways to drive a non-advantageous gene through mosquito populations so that eventually all mosquitoes inherit it.
One is to attach the gene to a bacterium called wolbachia, which can be made to infect mosquitoes, becoming effectively a part of the insect. When GM females mate with males, they produce GM offspring, whether the males are GM or not. But because of the peculiar properties of wolbachia, non-GM females cannot have offspring with GM males. In other words, GM females will always have more children, eventually crowding out their non-GM rivals completely. Freakish
The other method attaches the gene to a freakish chunk of DNA called a transposable element, which hops between chromosomes during reproduction. Normally, mating between parents with different genes gives the offspring a 50% chance of inheriting either gene. Because of the transposable elements moving around, however, the GM mosquito will always pass on the added gene to more than 50%of its offspring - again, eventually covering an entire species.
Sixty of the 380 mosquito species can transmit malaria, although one, Anopheles gambiae, is responsible for a large part of the 2.7m deaths caused by the disease each year. In order to transform a single species, GM insects would have to be released in many locations to spread the gene through different populations of that species. Steven Sinkins, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who has done extensive research into mosquitoes and wolbachia, said tests of a complete system were unlikely in the next two years, but progress had been rapid. 'From the theoretical point of view, there's no reason why either approach should not be successful,' he said.
Malaria is transmitted by female mosquitoes who harbour a parasite called plasmodium. The parasite infects humans from the insect's saliva when it drinks the person's blood. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 500m cases of malaria each year, with plasmodium becoming resistant to drugs and mosquitoes becoming resistant to insecticides.
Dr Sinkins argued against the idea that human intervention in a wild species on such a scale was unnatural or wrong. The species would live on: it would just be more human-friendly. 'It doesn't have to be anything too unnatural,' he said. 'Within a mosquito population there will always be some with a natural inability to transmit the parasite. All you're doing is increasing the percentage of individuals with those genes. They'll still be biting.'
Dr James said the genetic approach was no more unnatural than the massive, failing effort of drugs and insecticides. 'The last thing anybody wants to be known for is irrevocably screwing up mankind or the environment. The whole idea is to figure out how one conducts experiments, what's going to be safe, and what's not. 'The problem of infectious disease is going to be an eternal struggle. What we are looking for is the next wave of useful tools that's going to buy us time.'
(Chinese) Farmers Laud GM Cotton
- He Sheng, China Daily 31 Aug 2001
Life was hard for Guo Chuanyou, a farmer from Lujiang in East China's Anhui Province, during the summer of 1998. He remembers it as a time of extensive flooding and the relentless pests. The heaviest rainfalls in half a century held the province hostage for months. Young men and women volunteered in large numbers to help reinforce the riverbanks, while the elderly, like 61-year-old Guo, were left to take care of the crops. The farmers faced an outbreak of bollworm, a major threat to cotton growth.
"The pesticides seemed to fail," said Guo. "There were so many bollworm that we had to get rid of them by hand each day." Guo's was not the only family that suffered great losses that year. But things started looking better beginning last year, when Guo and other farmers began growing a new type of cotton called transgenic anti-pest cotton. Guo used seeds bred with genetic engineering technology that introduces a pest-resistant toxin from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the cotton cells. The introduced toxin enables cotton to produce its own toxin against bollworms while causing no harm to human beings, the environment or other insects. This cotton type has sa
"I feel much more relaxed now about taking care of my cotton, even though my two sons have left and now have their own families," Guo said, pointing to his small cotton field. Guo said he still uses pesticide sometimes, either to kill other pests or simply to feel safe, but far less than before. Guo's feelings are probably shared by the millions of cotton-growing farmers in Anhui, who have long been plagued by bollworms. New seeds spread Ever since its introduction in Anhui in the mid-1990s, the pest-resistant cotton seeds have gained favour with farmers at a startling speed.
Across the country, the growing acreage of this cotton type has skyrocketed from less than 10,000 hectares in 1998 to almost 1 million in 2000, or from 2.2 per cent of the country's total cotton fields to 28 per cent. "The number is sure to rise sharply this year," said Du Min, a research fellow at the Research Centre for Rural Economy (RCRE) under the Ministry of Agriculture. It has been described by seed producers as one that benefits all but pesticide producers. Du and her colleagues have followed the research and development of pest-resistant transgenic cotton from the very beginning, and have conducted field investigations and case studies in major growing areas like Anhui. Their research has suggested that this cotton type has become one of the most successful in terms of acceptance by farmers and the financial benefits it has brought. The two most important factors in its success are lower labour costs and reduced expenditures on pesticides.
"Some farmers like to call it 'cotton for the lazy,'" said Zhao Deping, general manager of Andai Seed company in Anhui. Yet the creation of the cotton seed itself was time-consuming and a drain on funds. China and the United States respectively developed Bt transgenic cotton seeds in the 1990s, and are now the two leading countries in commercializing these seed types. In the late 1980s, US-based Miorogene Company synthesized Bt insecticidal gene and patented it. Then bio-technology giant Monsanto bought the rights to exclusive use of the gene and transferred it into cotton. In 1990, The first transgenic Bt cotton in the world, "Bollgard," was bred for commercial production.
China formally launched research and development of transgenic pest-resistant cotton in the early 1990s and became the second country in the world to successfully breed such cotton in 1994. In 1996, Chinese scientists synthesized a bivalent pest-resistant gene (meaning two types of foreign genes have been introduced). It proved resistant to both bollworm and budworm. The Ministry of Agriculture launched field experiments on these cotton types in certain areas of China in 1995. Monsanto arrived around the same time with its Bollgard cotton.
There are now three major series of pest-resistant transgenic cotton seeds available in China: the American DPL series, bred by Chinese subsidiaries of Monsanto; the Guokang series, developed by the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); and the Zhongmian series by the Cotton Research Centre under the CAAS. The first two contain the Bt toxin while the third has not so far been revealed. The three series have dominated the market for transgenic pest-resistant cotton in China, with a total of 80 per cent of market share in the past three years. Fierce competition Competition seems to be not only inevitable, but also a very sensitive issue in a country where agriculture represents the livelihoods of roughly 800 million farmers and is still closely regulated by the government.
Statistics from the RCRE show that the Guokang series and the DPL series enjoyed roughly the same market share across the country, 35 per cent, in 1999, while the Zhongmian series and others have less than 30 per cent. The DPL series of Monsanto in China has expanded rapidly, with its market share rising to 43 per cent last year. "That is still a conservative figure," Du said. "Their market share will definitely rise this year." Considering that the DPL series is only allowed for sale in three provinces by MOA, its market share is impressive. Monsanto's presence is felt not only in Anhui, but in North China's Hebei Province and Shandong Province in East China, where it established joint ventures with local seed companies to promote its DPL series. That proved an effective way for Monsanto to make use of the vast sales network of its partners, who have close connections with local government and farmers. "The sales of seeds cannot be done without local resources," said Lu Nan, a technical service manager at
"There is no major difference in pest resistance between these types," said Qu Xifeng of the Crop Pest Forecasting Division of the MOA. "But the domestic companies fall behind in terms of marketing and service." He said he did not expect any major change in the situation in the near future. It is natural that many scientists and government officials have expressed concern that Monsanto's aggressive marketing plans will eventually lead to a monopoly and threaten the survival of many Chinese seed companies. "There is a conflict of interest here, both economic and political," said an official from the MOA who declined to be named. "Their seeds are good, but that's not enough. If it wants to succeed in China, Monsanto has to try hard to strike a balance between its own interests and those of the country." (Copyright 2001 by China Daily).
- Jamie Shanks, HMS Beagle
Man, I love these chocolate-covered almonds.
Chocolate-covered peanuts are fine, but they get a little boring after a while. To tell the truth, I'm sick and tired of peanuts. They are the four-door beige Dodge Aries of the nut world. And technically peanuts aren't even nuts; they're a pulse crop, whatever that is. Chocolate-covered raisins are great; unfortunately, they tend to get stuck very prominently to your pearly whites, which I have discovered does not impress the chicks.
So almonds are definitely the way to go. But beware, my friends, or else you may wind up hitching a one-way ride on the Golden Chariot, never to return. What I mean is, you could sink your teeth into the proverbial Big One. You'll be taking a dirt nap. Ten-four, over and out . . . forever.
That's because I read somewhere that there are two types of almonds, "sweet" and "bitter." The bitter kind contains traces of prussic acid. Prussic acid is described by reliable sources as "lethal" and also happens to be a proud member of the cyanogen family. Cyanogens are a basic component of cyanide, and in case you aren't up-to-date on deadly poisons, having cyanide inside you is like booking Tori Amos as the opening act for Pantera: definitely not a good idea. If 200 to 300 milligrams of this stuff ever finds its way down your gaping maw in a single serving, you'll be shaking hands with Elvis in the next world before you can say "roustabout." (And that's plenty fast.)
Ahem. Technically speaking, cyanogenetic glycosides such as amygdalin, which can be found in the seeds of various fruits, undergo an enzymatic reaction when ingested and release hydrogen cyanide gas, which in small quantities can be neutralized and expelled from the body - whereas too much at once can cause a reaction commonly referred to in the medical world as "instant death."
Anyway, all this got me wondering . . . are you playing Russian roulette when you innocently knock down a box of chocolate-covered almonds while you're watching the Godzilla double-feature? Of course not, unless those almonds you're noshing contain bitter almonds. But, ha-ha, that's impossible. Besides, heating bitter almonds effectively destroys the toxicity of the poison. On top of that, selling bitter almonds - or even mentioning them in an airport security zone - will get you busted by the Man. (Call Guinness because I'm going for the record for number of times you can use "almond" in one paragraph.) If the unthinkable occurred, however, and the Partridge Family got back together and . . . excuse me . . . I mean if you were following the Snowman in his 18-wheeler loaded with almonds, and his almond-laden rig suddenly wiped out on the highway ahead of you and spewed its precious candy-coated cargo of almonds all over the blacktop in a heavenly brown avalanche, and you shamelessly looted the wreck (and wh
Well, then. Let us relax and enjoy something nice and healthy instead, like an apple. What could be more wholesome and pure than the noble apple? Apple seeds, however, also contain tiny amounts of cyanogens. It's the same story with the kernels of apricot pits, for example, and peach pits. But let's face it. I can't quite see myself or anyone else other than the Incredible Hulk deliberately choking down a dump truck full of apricot pits for dessert, and even the Hulk isn't that dumb.
But before you kick back and crack open an ice-cold root beer to sip your troubles away, hearken back to the good old days when sassafras root and bark were used as a flavoring agent in root beer. Why do you think they called it "root" beer, anyway? And guess what? Sassafras bark is outlawed now, of course, since it was discovered to contain an evil carcinogen called safrole. This raises some obvious questions. I got on the blower to Coca-Cola, but they refused to 'fess up about the nature of the mysterious "natural flavors" mentioned on the side of their root beer can - although they soothingly assured me that it's all perfectly legit.
Jamie Shanks is a freelance writer and pop culture columnist who can recite the dialogue from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in its entirety. Cary Barnhard grew up in New Jersey, where his senior class voted him "most unique." He maintains that honor is a polite way of being voted "most likely to need therapy." After a few misadventures in the music industry, he started pretending to be a graphic artist. Eventually it became the truth.
Natural Toxins in Food
While we usually think of toxic substances as coming from man-made sources, many occur naturally. For example, toxic mussel outbreaks in the ocean have claimed lives and caused illness because the mussels consumed contained an algal toxin. Fresh water is not without toxic substances, either. For example, a group of fairly common organisms called cyanobacteria produce toxins called microcystins. Deaths of cattle, wildlife, and family pets have been traced to drinking water containing microcystins, as have several liver-related illnesses in humans(1). Although naturally occurring toxins are all around us, if one is educated to where and how they occur, steps can be taken to avoid them.
The Garden of Deadly Delights
- Gothic Gardening: Theme Gardens
We live in a garden of death. Virtually every day of our lives we are in intimate contact with many of the world's most poisonous plants. Intentionally, we have surrounded ourselves with plants such as yew, the "bastard killer," and the herbs of black magic. We tend and nurture them in our living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. We spend vast sums to keep them flourishing in our yards and window boxes. Yet they can be more deadly than the most venomous of serpents." --Edward R. Ricciuti in The Devil's Garden
By popular demand, here is a garden which should never be planted, for it contain