Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* GM Food Is The Way Ahead (for Denmark)
* Time For A Reality Check
* Talking to Greenpeace, Wasting Time
* Andrew Apel v/s Marcus Williamson
* Scientific Articles on Safety of GM Crops
* European Commission's Strategic Vision on Biotechnology
* Saving Lives by Rejecting The Precautionary Principle
* Is Hysteria Going To Outweigh Science?
* Biotechnology Holds Key To Food Security In Africa
* Labelling `Will Make Prices Soar'
* Australia Welcomes Sri Lanka Suspending GM Food Ban
* Wambugu Leaving ISAAA's Africa Program
* Biotech Rock N' Roll
"It is about time the EU moratorium against GMOs is cancelled so we, in our part of the world - under full control of the authorities - will also be able to put a new and clean technology into use and thus benefit the environment, the food safety and health, the farmers and the consumers."
"The third world will pay the price if grass roots from the rich part of the world succeed in preventing that genetically modified organisms are used in agriculture, the feature writer, a journalist by profession, claims."
For the last six years Americans have eaten foodstuffs based on genetically engineered plants. This year 68 percent of all soy fields in the USA have been planted with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) compared to 54 percent last year. When looking at maize and cotton, 26 and 69 percent respectively of all crops in the USA this year are GM plants. The new technology is also gaining ground in countries like Argentina, Canada and China. And in the EU country of Spain there are 25,000 hectares of genetically engineered maize.
That is also of interest to Danish consumers because imported soy or maize for our animals may be GM fodder. In terms of dairy products you can avoid eating GMO based food by buying organic products, and in this very moment Danish Crown is establishing an alternative to GM pork in teamwork with DLG. Non-GM soy is being imported from Brazil, and in a few weeks consumers will be able to buy - at an additional price - meat produced on non-GM protein. That's fine.
But most of us will still be GMO consumers. We wear cotton clothes from genetically engineered plants, and a very large part of our laundry powder is based on enzymes that have been produced by means of GMO technology. We are all experiencing GMOs bodily. If we take medicine, that may also be based on GMOs. It has made everyday life easier for many people and has saved the life of others. It has been like that for the last 20 years.
NOAH, Greenpeace and others have for many years been telling us that we have started a dangerous practice. So really, it is rather strange that we do not see a lot of Americans - and by now also Europeans - running around with five arms and two heads each.
Of course there are risks involved in GMO technology. As we all know, driving a car and flying are also dangerous activities. And still we do both because they give us so big advantages. If in the past we had been thinking the same way as Greenpeace and NOAH do today, the car would never have started driving, and the plane would still be sat on the runway. Even the wheel would probably have been forbidden - and naturally so, for the wheel has been the cause of innumerable accidents and deaths.
It may also have been a good idea to prohibit flying, for who knows its long-term effects? What happens to the human being when the species has been flying for seven generations? That is the way it is with genetic engineering. Nobody knows the long-term effects. But just imagine if, for the same reason, we had said no to vaccines and penicillin.
The UN has just given the go-ahead to GMO technology and has at the same time stressed its benefits to the third world in particular. But according to NOAH and Greenpeace the UN is wrong in this assumption. And it is repeated one time after the other: the reason why some people in the world are suffering from hunger is the greed of the rich countries. We have enough food, but we are lacking the ability and the will to distribute it properly. I think there is some truth in that.
But we can solve the problem by using GMO technology in the third world. The technology can contribute towards making the developing countries independent of, for instance, the import of foodstuffs. The now developed "golden" GM rice has the potential to secure the necessary daily intake of vitamin A for hundreds of millions of people while also in general raising the standard of health significantly. Hunger, eye diseases and blindness may be avoided. Other genetically engineered crops are able to combat malaria and hepatitis, but it can be difficult to see the value of this for intellectual culture radicals from a rich western world, where diseases like the Spanish flu and tuberculosis are history. The general opposition to GMOs is based on a good deal of cynicism.
I have just returned from Rumania - a country with a large potential for agriculture, but which has had large parts of the production of foodstuffs halved due to organizing problems and the lack of an actual change of system. Before 1989, 400,000 hectares of soy were cultivated, last year the number was down to 110,000 hectares. But then 31,000 hectares of these were cultivated with herbicide resistant GM soy, i.e. plants that can endure being sprayed with glyphosates such as Roundup. The numbers for 2001 are not yet known, but comparatively the area of GM crops is clearly becoming bigger. I also saw fields of Bt maize and potatoes, which are, popularly speaking, crops that have been given a GMO vaccine against vermin so as to save on pesticides. Researchers at The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University have just improved the method further to benefit the environment.
There were marked differences between the GM crops and the traditional crops. The farmers spoke of a 50 percent increase of yield. This is an incredibly good piece of news to a poor country whose net food import is between four and five billion Danish kroner. GMOs can contribute to making Rumania self-sufficient and in the long run to the country exporting. Citizens concerned about environmental problems rejoiced with the farmers that they have now seen the end of the main part of the spraying, which was necessary before if the crops were not to be killed from weed and insect attacks - and the potatoes from, for instance, the feared devastation of the Colorado beetle. When you do not need to drive as much in the fields, you use less diesel, which reduces the CO2 outlet. GMOs are good for the environment.
I spoke to agronomist Constantin Sin from the Ministry of Agriculture in Bucharest. He is part of the 19 person large committee, which approves – or rejects - the applications of permission to grow GM crops. The decision is made on the basis of three years of field tests and a lexicon of information, which the companies have to hand in beforehand. Rumania is following the EU directive of approval, which has been written but is resting because we still have a moratorium in our common West European market.
It is about time the EU moratorium against GMOs is cancelled so we, in our part of the world - under full control of the authorities - will also be able to put a new and clean technology into use and thus benefit the environment, the food safety and health, the farmers and the consumers.
That does not mean that we should put a stop to organic agriculture or an alternative non-GM production of pork. If there is a market for such productions, they must be made - at whatever price they cost.
If there is a market for safe, healthy and cheaper foodstuffs based on GMOs, that, of course, has to be allowed to exist too, as long as optimum safety measures are taken. That is the way it is with both organic and conventional agriculture, with traffic on land, at sea and in the air, with vaccines and the use of medicine as well as with most other things in life. We should not obstruct the technology and are not be able to either in an open world. On the contrary, we must control it with sensible rules.
Before long we can produce corn with a content of phosphor the animals can use. Then we no longer need to add phosphor to the fodder - and continue using up the sparse deposits of raw phosphate while at the same time spreading the inaccessible phosphor of the plants over the fields with the dung, thus causing problems to the environment. In a few years we will be able to create plants that can resist drought, heat and cold better than the known plants - to the happiness of the poor, hungry third world.
And we will be able to recreate the lush hanging gardens of Babylon – if Saddam Hussein will let us. The gardens of Babylon were based on irrigation, which created good root growth. But the deep roots drew salt up to the surface of the earth, and after a few hundred years the earth had become so salt that the plants could not grow.
The salt problem is under marked development in the world granary of Australia. Australia is the driest continent in the world. Many agricultural areas receive less than half the precipitation we measure in Denmark, and 35 degrees Celsius is the normal temperature during summer months. So the country's rivers are being drained from water. The significance of water to the production of corn is manifested in the fact that irrigation rights per hectare in many places cost the same or more than the farm land itself. In Australia and other places in the world, the surface of the earth can be white from salt.
In Denmark the problem is practically unknown, but it is threatening 40 percent of the farm land in the world and promises huge problems to the supply of foodstuffs to a world population rising by a quarter million people - a day. That equals a town the size of Aarhus. Every 24 hours! Who is able to come up with another solution to this problem? I can hear Greenpeace answering: Organic products. But the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that without fertilizer we will only be able to feed half the world's present population of about six billion people. We are on our way to becoming eight billion people in 2020, which necessitates a yearly rise of 2.4 percent in the world harvest of corn and other fodder crops. If we are to meet those demands, we need to double our use of fertilizer over the next 20 years. Today we increase the corn and fodder production by "only" 1.5 percent a year.
Whether we like to hear it or not, it is FAO's belief that the world harvest of wheat, rice, maize, cotton and soy will be halved if we suddenly do not have pesticides at our disposal. Rice is the basic food to half the world's population. 90 percent of all rice is eaten in Asia. Without the use of pesticides, the rice harvest would be reduced dramatically.
According to FAO's estimations, a transition to 100 percent organic agriculture calls for either a halving of the world's population and a stop to all growth hereafter, or a doubling of the agricultural area. Even if all the rainforest were sacrificed, the last option would still not be possible. Who is to be evicted? Your neighbour, or you?
Is the multinational concern Greeneace together with NOAH to be allowed to set the agenda to the irreparable damage of the poor of this world - and, by the way, to the injury of all of us? On the back of my childhood exercise books, it read: "Fire and electricity are good servants, but strict masters". We have made fire and electricity, vaccines and penicillin, the car and the aeroplane our servants. We can also make good servants of GMOs. The majority of the world has already started. We have to keep up - also in practical everyday life and to get the optimum influence on the rules.
In Denmark we are keeping up in the area of research. The co-operative society DLF-Trifolium, for instance, in their teamwork with Risø National Laboratory, are leading globally in the area of the development of GM grasses. One of more projects consists in the production of varieties with a content of cellulose of only 30-40 percent of the contents in known grass varieties. Such grasses would make interesting pig fodder, which could lead to a reduction of the corn areas in favour of green grass fields, which tie down the nutrients of the earth all the year round and do not need to be sprayed.
Today the official organic attitude is to throw down the gauntlet to the new technology. However, GMOs and organic agriculture are not opposites but rather two sides of the same coin. With GMO technology, we will in the long run be able to make fodder with the protein and mineral content we need in a local and ecologically desirable manner. We will no longer have to transport large amounts of soy half way round the globe, and that will help us reduce the CO2 outlet. At the same time nature will benefit from a significant reduction in the consumption of pesticides and from fields being in optimum nutrient balance. Actually, there is no reason to hesitate.
From: Abigail Salyers
Subject: Time For A Reality Check
Is it just me or do others who read AgBioWorld mailings share the same feeling of disorientation after being exposed to the dire warnings of unprecedented disasters for the human race that are alleged to be the outcome of genetic engineering?
Time for a reality check.
We have a current, ongoing human health disaster that was created in large part by the very organizations that claim to be protecting us from the evils of biotechnology. I refer to the pressure exerted so successfully by environmental organizations to ban the use of DDT, currently the only economically viable agent for control of the mosquitos that spread malaria. At one time, thanks to DDT, the death rate due to malaria had decreased to the point that people were actually talking about eradication of the disease. Today, the death rate due to malaria is back in the millions. Greenpeace et al want to ban DDT completely without providing any economically viable alternative for nations in the developing world that are battling the scourge of malaria. How many million children have died and will die as a result of the actions of the so-called environmentalists?
I have no particular love for DDT and would prefer a DDT-free world, but I would be even happier in a malaria-free world. If this is the way that members of Greenpeace and like-minded organizations protect people in Africa and India, shouldn't we be more than a little worried when they assure us that they are looking out for us too?
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Confronting Greenpeace
Craig at Greepeace finally identified 50 years as "long-term" for Mary Bryant. It is a triumph to have that revealed. Now, I wonder if the Greepeace rep can provide some refereed journal articles documenting the long-term ecological safety of crops developed via wide crosses or radiation-induced mutation-- both of which should qualify as BRAND NEW organisms. Indeed, if any new plant variety is truly distinct from its predecessors (as is presumably the case), it must be considered a BRAND NEW organism with a unique, defining genotype.
Will Greenpeace start campaigning for a 50-year moratorium on introduction of any new crop varieties until these requisite long-term studies can be conducted? Perhaps, also, any varieties introduced within the last 50 years should be withdrawn until safety studies can be completed to satisfy this requirement ?
I don't understand these folks at all. One or two genes out of 20K to 50K (or so) is not a revolutionary change-- especially given all the intense regulatory scrutiny these are subjected to before being released into commercial use. Finally, last year we got reports of a long-term study (not anywhere near 50 years, though) that showed that crops-- including GE varieties-- did not persist in nature without continual human intervention. These genes were not permanent contamination of the environment, as Greepeace would claim-- they and the varieties harbouring them only exist as long as human pampering protects them from the rest of nature!
Subject: Wasting Time in Dialog?
Some years ago, I attended a conference in Zimbabwe entitled "Natural Farming verses Technological Farming" or something similar. It was about the time when "Terminator Technology" was at the fore and recently in the hands of Monsanto. The conference featured a primary keynote speaker, Pat Mooney, from RAFI, and a number of other speakers including a few from each side of the debate.
As I remember, there were around 300 participants. The general background of the audience was extremely revealing; a vast majority from the anti-technology lobby, a few from pro-technology lobby, a few scientists, a few farmers, and a number of politicians and policy makers. Oh! and there was a Monsanto rep too.
I must credit Pat Mooney with being one of the most eloquent orators that I have ever heard. However, the agenda of the conference was patently obvious - to steer naive politicians and policy makers down a preferred path with baseless anti-technology propaganda. The poor South was being taken for a ride by the rich North with discredited technology.
The only scientist who spoke was, to his credit, off base by giving a very balanced overview of what biotechnology had to offer modern farming. He spelt out the potential rewards, weaknesses and risks. The Monsanto rep, whom I have known for a long time as an agrochemical researcher, was called to the podium to defend the "Terminator". That might have been OK if he had the background knowledge to defend. By this time, the anti-lobby had grown in its vociferance after Mooney's tirade against scientific progress and a vituperation from a female government policy maker about males were destroying the earth.
In a word - a circus!
I make this contribution because I feel that the lack of credibility of the anti-lobby, brought on by their own rhetoric, will never gain the respect of responsible and open-minded scientists who prefer to base theory on factual evidence.
Regards, Ken Cunliffe
Andrew Apel Responds to Marcus Williamson
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Evidence the wrong way round
Dear Mr. Williamson,
I have tried my best to encourage you to read published, peer-reviewed articles that
could ameliorate your paranoid preconceptions, and failed. By this, you have
succeeded in convincing me that we must define a new species of learning disability.
Voluntarily exposing your ignorance in this way would be terribly embarrassing, I
would think, but your brash approach implies that you are impervious to things
factual or logical. So, just for fun, I will point out:
1 - GM crops are subject to pharmaceutical-style testing. If you had taken the time
to read the articles I cited to you, and kept current with the "public debate" over
biotechnology, you would be aware of this.
2 - Your wish for "independent testing" of GM crops is, in light of (1) above,
either a red herring or profoundly ignorant. Pharmaceutical companies are required
to perform their own testing of drugs, just like the developers of GM crops. I
eagerly look forward to your proof that pharmaceutical companies are more
"independent" than, well, themselves. Because they produce GM seed for crops, too.
3 - The burden of proof of safety is on the industry, do your reading and come back
with suggestions for further research if you see some experiment that should have
been done that nobody thought of yet. If you don't have the patience or insight that
requires, I recommend you adjust your medication and try again.
4 - Please don't spam me again until you've done some reading on your topic of
choice and can show by your remarks that you are able to comprehend at least the
Please, Mr. Williamson, you may pride yourself on crafting cheap propaganda for the
illiterate, but without understanding your subject, you betray yourself and perhaps
others who aspire to something better.
Marcus Williamson wrote:
> Hello Prakash
> How about pharmaceutical-style testing of toxicology, allergenicity,
> nutritional content etc, by *independent* bodies?
> You may be interested to know that Vivian Moses is also tackling this
> question, prompted in part by my news release :.......
> 7 April 2001 - Survey of scientists and government ministers exposes
> complete lack of independent safety testing of GM foods (gmfoodnews.com)
> The point made in that news release still holds true. This is that
> there has *never* been any independent safety testing of the GM foods
> already on the market. No member of government, scientist, member of
> the media or anyone else I've asked has been able to provide the
> information I've requested. I've been asking Andrew Apel today to back
> up his assertion that :
Scientific Journal Articles on Safety and Safety-Assessment of Genetically Modified Crops
European Commission's Strategic Vision on Biotechnology
The Commission has just launched a new website, http://europa.eu.int/comm/biotechnology/introduction_en.html , as part of a consultation exercise leading up the the preparation of a "Strategic Vision" communication on the life sciences and biotechnology to be prepared by the end of this year. A Consultative Document COM(2001)454 has been published, at http://europa.eu.int/comm/biotechnology/pdf/doc_en.pdf , in English, French and German, and comments on this arebinvited, up to 16 November. This document will also be the basis of a major conference being held by the Commission on 27-28 September, in Brussels.
Commenting on the Commission's initiative, President Romano Prodi said: "It is of strategic and long-term importance that Europe master the new frontier technologies, in particular the life sciences and biotechnology, and use them for the benefit of society. We must get our priorities right and plan for the future to ensure that Europe, over the next decades, takes its place at the forefront of the scientific and technological development. The issues at stake are broad and complex. They go far beyond the current focus on genetically modified foods and stem cells, important as these issues are. The Union needs a coherent forward-looking policy towards life sciences and biotechnology. The Commission will make its contribution to such a strategic vision by the end of 2001. The public consultation now launched is part and parcel of our approach, leading to the Commission's policy paper at the end of the year. It should help us all develop coherent approaches that meet our fundamental objectives and concerns. We
Comments are invited from all persons or organisations interested, and will be posted on the website. Readers of AgBioView are encouraged to recognise this as an opportunity to contribute to a broad debate on policy in Europe for the life sciences and biotechnology.
Best regards, Mark Cantley,
Adviser, Life Sciences Research Directorate-General, European Commission
Saving Lives By Rejecting The Precautionary Principle
September 4, 2001; American Council on Science & Health
(From Agnet: To subscribe to Agnet, send mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org; leave subject line blank; in the body of the message type: subscribe agnet-L firstname lastname)
M any environmentalists, citing the adage "better safe than sorry," argue that the "precautionary principle" should govern policy making. By this, they mean that technology should not be used until or unless it can be shown to pose no threat to humans or the environment.
The Politics of Biotechnology. In one form or another, the precautionary principle has been incorporated into domestic European and American legislation and into more than 12 international treaties, beginning in 1987 with the Ministerial Declaration of the Second Conference on the Protection of the North Sea. Environmental activists have proposed using the principle to frame regulations for numerous sectors of the economy. Most recently, they have targeted genetic engineering and biotechnology aimed at producing hardier, disease- and pest-resistant crops.
At a United Nation's Conference held to negotiate the terms of the Biosafety Protocol in Montreal in January 2000, environmentalists maintained that by altering crops researchers were "playing God" – tampering with things beyond human understanding with the potential to cause catastrophic changes to the environment. This view was reflected in a draft of the protocol which, contrary to various free trade agreements, would have allowed countries to prohibit the importation of genetically modified (GM) products even if they had not been shown to threaten harm. This provision was stripped from the final version, but few doubt that the precautionary principle will influence future negotiations. While the principle may sound reasonable in theory, it would be disastrous in practice. One cannot prove a negative. Every food, product and tool poses some risk of harm. Without the use of fire, automobiles, antibiotics, water, salt and chlorine - just to name a few natural and human-created foods, applications and tools
The Science of Biotechnology. At present there is almost no evidence to show that bioengineered crops pose a threat to human health or the environment. Accordingly, more than 600 scientists signed a letter presented to the Biosafety Protocol negotiators arguing that the precautionary approach ignores the very real dangers of going without the new technologies.
They argued that genetically modified crops are the best hope for feeding the world's growing population and that there is no scientific reason to believe that the use of biotechnology inherently poses new threats to biodiversity, to other aspects of environmental quality or to human health. Almost every major scientific organization in the nation has reached similar conclusions: Biologists from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there are "no health issues at stake," and that any environmental threats posed by the use of GM crops pale in comparison to the environmental harm produced by traditional agriculture practiced in developing countries on lands not suited to farming.
The National Research Council concluded the potential health risks of eating GM crops are the same as those of eating crops that have undergone traditional non-genetic cross-breeding or cell culture techniques.
The American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have reached similar conclusions. In Asia, the Rockefeller Foundation has introduced rice genetically altered to contain beta carotene (which readily converts to Vitamin A) and new genes to overcome iron deficiency. This "golden rice" is preventing thousands of cases of childhood blindness and reducing anemia rates among more than two billion women in rice-dependent countries.
Monsanto has introduced a sweet potato genetically modified to resist the feathery mottle virus. Every year, the virus reduces harvests of sweet potatoes - one of the primary subsistence crops in African countries - by as much as 80 percent. The disease-resistant sweet potatoes can nearly double crop yields. In the short term, this increase could supply half the dietary needs of 10 million Africans.
Soybeans have been modified to resist Monsanto's popular herbicide "Roundup," allowing farmers to spray soybean crops with chemicals that destroy weeds without killing the soybeans. In 1999,these crops in Mexico yielded an average of 175 kilograms per hectare more than conventional soybean crops. And in Romania, genetically modified soybeans have increased harvests by 120 percent.
Population Growth Makes Biotechnology Use Urgent. Approximately 800 million people do not currently get nutritionally adequate diets. An estimated 400 million currently suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, including millions of children who go blind each year. With approximately six million square miles under cultivation – an amount of land equal in size to the United States and Europe - the world currently produces more than enough food to feed the earth's six billion people. But human population is growing, especially in countries where people are already malnourished, and will probably plateau sometime in this century at between eight and nine billion. Feeding nine billion people diets similar to those enjoyed by people in industrialized countries will require the production of approximately three times more food by 2050. For example, according to the World Watch Institute, by 2030 China will need to import 200 million tons of grain annually -- as much as is now exported by all the world's countries combine
If all of the world's farmers adopted the best modern farming practices with high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, it might be possible to double, but not triple, current crop yields on the same amount of land. Alternatively, if we went totally organic, eschewing the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and biotechnologies, we would have to double The amount of land under active cultivation. This would be disastrous for wildlife and native plants, as the lands most likely to be converted to agriculture are forests, rangelands and other wildlands in the relatively undeveloped tropics. The tropics, the most biodiverse region on earth, are also where population growth is occurring, and where hunger and malnutrition are most prominent.
There is a third option: the judicious use of biotechnology. "Judicious" implies that authorities are quick to restrict the use of products that are shown to cause harm.
Conclusion. Using biotechnology, we can provide the world's future population with enjoyable, nutritionally adequate diets. Otherwise we cannot feed the world without unacceptable environmental consequences. Turning our back on lifesaving, welfare-enhancing bioengineered products, when there is little or no evidence that they threaten any harm, would be to irresponsibly condemn millions of people to unnecessary suffering and early deaths.
The precautionary principle does have some utility. In the words of the Social Issues Research Center, in Oxford, England, "If we apply the precautionary principle to itself - ask what are the possible dangers of using this principle - we would be forced to abandon it very quickly.
" H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Senior Policy Analyst and A. Wess Mitchell is the Russell and Phoebe Perry Policy Intern with the National Center for Policy Analysis.
From: "Cory Bystrom"
Subject: New Zealand GM report may be blunted by government
New Zealand's balanced approach to GM may succumb to the politics of
the Labour government. Read the article
Is Hysteria Going To Outweigh Science?
Press Release by ACT New Zealand at 07 Sep 2001 (sent by Francis Wevers)
ACT Agriculture Spokesman MP Owen Jennings has today written to the Agriculture Minister requesting clarification of reported comments by Helen Clark that the Government may place a moratorium on the release of genetically modified products.
"This move would set back agriculture and create reprehensible harm. "It would constitute a victory for hysteria and unfounded, irrational claims. The Royal Commission listened carefully to all the evidence and researched all such claims. They found no logical basis or scientific merit to the proposition that New Zealand should outlaw genetic engineering or even slow down scientific development.
"If the Prime Minister is going to disregard the Commission's findings and play politics, why did she waste $6.5 million? "Such a populist, Luddite response will cost agriculture, and will confirm once again that this Government has no respect for business, preferring votes among Auckland sandal-wearers to those who produce the nation's wealth."
Biotechnology Holds Key To Food Security In Africa
- Baraza Syvabel, African Church Information Service, Sept 4, 2001 (Via Agnet)
Though there is enough food in the world, millions continue to starve in different parts of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The poor distribution and lack of sustained sharing is largely due to human nature, which is averse to dependency and cannot sustain endless dependability.
Not many Kenyans can afford a good meal a day. Less than half of the Kenyan population gets nutritious three meals every day. More than 15 percent of Kenyans in rural areas live below the poverty line. That is on one dollar or KShs 80 a day. In urban areas, 49 percent survive on less than one dollar every day. Energy food, or carbohydrates, is the most readily available and the cheapest. But even so, only 40 percent of the Kenyan population gets enough energy in terms of nutrient value. The more expensive protein foods are accessible to a much smaller population. The first-class protein of animal origin is even harder to access. Due to calorie deficit, 100 in every 1,000 children die in Africa every year. Those who survive suffer stunted growth, become mentally retarded and physically weak. Meat, for example, has become a ceremonial delicacy, exclusive to rituals, funerals and parties.
Consequences of nutritional deficiencies, therefore, abound. The major ones are marasmus, kwashiokor, general ill health and infant mortality; malnutrition of adverse level affects mainly children. Due to calorie deficit, 100 in every 1,000 children die in Africa every year. Those who survive suffer stunted growth, become mentally retarded and physically weak. In Africa, food is very expensive and scarce. Most of Africa's urban population spend 80 percent of their earning on food only. In the rural areas, expenditure on food is 90 percent. In the US, they spend an insignificant 2 percent of their income on food. Western Europeans' per capita food availability stands at 3,500 kilo-calories per day and 3,600 in North America, while in sub-Saharan Africa, it is 2,100 kilo-calories per person per day.
More than 200 million people, over one third of the population, suffers chronic malnutrition. But food per se is not everything a human being needs in life. There are other amenities that make life worth living; one needs clothing, shelter, transport, education, medical care etc. If 90 percent of an African's earning is spent on food, the paltry 10 percent which remains can only push one to live in terrible squalor. Scarcity of food and low incomes, leading to starvation, is a consequence of very poor animal and crop production, which is attributed to drought, aridity, pests and diseases.
Though there is enough food in the world, millions continue to starve in different parts of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The poor distribution and lack of sustained sharing, according to Dr John Wafula, secretary of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum ABSF, is largely due to human nature, which is averse to dependency and cannot sustain endless dependability. In spite of this depressing food scenario in Africa, there already exists useful biotechnology to address food problems in Africa. Tissue culture technique and genetic engineering can be adopted to revolutionise the food situation in Africa. Tissue culture is a biotechnology of reproducing vegetative plants rapidly and extensively. For example, a crop which matures after two years and produces three seedlings can be made to produce 10,000 seedlings within five months. Fifty crop species in the world are now tissue-cultured.
Cassava, which is part of the diet of more than half a billion people world-wide, has the ability to grow in poor soils on marginal land with minimal water and fertilisers and can stay in the ground for 24 months. It is a safeguard crop against unexpected food shortages for many. However, cassava growing in Africa, like other crops, is constrained by pests and diseases. Cassava mosaic disease has devastated crops in Western Kenya, Eastern Uganda and Northern Tanzania. Tissue culture variety cassava developed by the Kenya Agricultural Institute KARI as a pilot programme in Matungu division in Kenya has performed much better than the local variety. The new variety produced 12.6 tonnes per hectare in root weight, whereas the local variety gave a paltry weight of 5.7 tonnes per hectare. The new variety bore an average of 11 roots per plant, while the local one yielded five roots per plant. The tissue culture variety bore the highest resistance to the African cassava mosaic virus ACMV. The new cassava variety is
Tissue culture has enabled farmers in Central Province in Kenya to increase their banana production. There is a pyrethrum project in Molo, where tissue culture is helping to meet the high demand for planting material. Tissue culture is also improving the quality and quantity in sugar cane production in Kibos in western Kenya. Potatoes and citrus fruits are also being grown through tissue culture. Africa also stands to benefit from genetically modified GM crops. GM techniques have the potential of creating virus-resistant, drought-tolerant and nutrient-enhanced crops. Genetically engineered varieties have 50 percent higher yields, mature early, are substantially richer in protein, resist insect pests and can even out-compete weeds. Tissue culture and GM crop varieties could significantly reduce malnutrition that affects more than 800 million people world-wide. They would be especially valuable to poor farmers working in marginal lands in sub-Saharan Africa.
Labelling `Will Make Prices Soar'
Bangkok Post, September 6, 2001
Meeting labelling rules for products with genetically modified materials will lead to price rises, food producers warn. Draft regulations on the new regime should have included products made from potato, especially children's food and snacks made by giant food manufacturers, they told a forum seeking public comment. It was widely known these products contained GM ingredients, they said.
Vichai Chokeviwat, secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration, said laboratories in Thailand were capable of testing only corn and soybean for GM materials, although other ingredients would be added to the list soon. The draft rules require labelling on 24 types of products made from corn and soybeans, such as tofu, natto, soya milk, miso, roasted soybean flour, soybean protein, corn flour, pop corn, and corn snacks. The regulations were drafted in July and were presented for public comment last month. The draft goes to the National Food Commission for feedback and to the public health minister in November.
The drafting sub-committee comprises FDA, the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the Medical Science Department, the Agriculture Department, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and consumer groups. NGOs refused to accept the final draft. They said products containing any amount of GM materials should carry a label.
The drafting committee said a product would be labelled if its overall ingredients or one of its three main ingredients contained more than 5% of GM materials. Angkana Srisuwana, an assurance superviser with Malee Sampran Public Co Ltd, said the draft should allow non-GMO food producers to label their products with a "GM-free" sign. Mr Vichai said such labels could be used as propaganda tools, and the FDA could not monitor every product.
Ms Angkana said manufacturing costs would increase due to GM testing. Another producer agreed, saying price rises were unavoidable. Jetsada Larpchareonkiart, of the Association of Miso Producers, suggested the draft define more clearly "small food producers", who were not required to label their products.
"Does a housewife group producing miso have to test for GM in their miso? And what about Kasetsart University, which produces agricultural protein? I think an unclear definition would also serve as a loophole for producers to avoid the labelling process," he said. Mr Vichai said the drafting committee itself was confused. "However, at the moment, the draft would not cover direct sales of fresh corn or soybean products such as those offered by street vendors." Food producers want more time to prepare for the change. "We need more time to prepare, especially to find new reliable non-GM raw material suppliers,"` said one exporter. Mr Vichai said the draft would come into effect one year after details were published in the Royal Gazette.
Australia Welcomes Sri Lanka Suspending GM Food Ban
SYDNEY, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Australia's Agriculture Minister welcomed on Thursday Sri Lanka's announcement that it would suspend indefinitely a proposed ban on genetically modified (GM) food imports.
Minister Warren Truss said Australia's main concerns were that the proposed regulations were not substantiated by scientific analysis or a comprehensive risk assessment process. "The ban also threatened to disrupt Australian agricultural and food exports to Sri Lanka worth more than A$100 million (US$52 million) a year," he said. The Australian government had made several high-level representations over the past few months to key ministers and officials in the Sri Lankan government, Truss said.
"We strongly urged the Sri Lankans not to implement the ban. We also sought to assure them of the safety of Australia's high-quality agricultural and food exports," he said. That included providing a formal submission to the Sri Lankan Health Minister, and other key ministries, to help improve the understanding in that country of Australia's food safety regulatory system, he said.
The government also highlighted the fact that the safety assessment system for Australian and imported GM foods was considered one of the world's most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous, he said. "We stressed that what is safe for sale in Australia should also be considered safe for sale in Sri Lanka," he said.
Farmers Working For A Sustainable Future
Canberra Times; September 6, 2001
Better management practices, says Jim Peacock, will continue to contribute a lot to the health and lifestyle Australians take for granted.
IT'S TIME to take a fresh look at agriculture and let go of the old perception that it's an unsophisticated enterprise of hard work and systematic flogging of the land. In 2001 a major objective for the whole nation is a profitable and sustainable agricultural industry that's at the forefront of applying knowledge gained from science and experience. For the agricultural industry this has been a major objective for many years because, like any business, profitability and sustainability go hand-in-hand if you're planning for long-term success. Indeed over the last 100 years agriculture has transformed to become an increasingly sophisticated knowledge-based industry that brings the nation considerable wealth through exports, and in very large part, the health and lifestyle we take for granted. Wheat, for example, now earns the nation around $3.8 billion a year in exports, while cotton brings in around $1.5 billion. Australia's wine industry is recognised around the world and earns us around $1.5 billion a year
Many of the problems we see and hear about came from applying knowledge of European agriculture to a totally different landscape with its own unique needs and characteristics. But what we have now and have been accumulating over many years through research and experience is knowledge of our landscape, how it works, what it needs and most important, what to do to restore balance and how to move forward without creating future problems. The introduction of nitrogen fixing legumes into our cropping and pasture enterprises provided much needed fertility to our soils. But over a period of years it has caused a problem, soil acidification. Australia has many naturally acidic soils but the spread and level of acidity has risen because the planting of nitrogen-fixing legumes has decreased the stability of soil pH. Because we know this we have been able to make considerable inroads into managing acid soils. Lime can reduce acidity significantly, but it's expensive. Growing high value crops, like canola varieties bre
Plants bred by conventional or gene technologies to tolerate acid soil conditions are needed to complement liming, while understanding when and how much nitrogen fertiliser to apply can avoid further increases in acidity. Even salinity can be managed using a combination of approaches. We have seen salt scalds on which nothing will grow disappear in a matter of months by growing lucerne around the affected area. Lucerne has very long roots which get right down in the soil and mop up excess water before it can bring salt to the surface. Lucerne was formerly grown mainly for hay or grazing. Now by adopting an agricultural practice we call 'phase-farming' more and more farmers are growing lucerne in between crops for two years or more to prevent dry land salinity developing. The lucerne has an added bonus of providing usable nitrogen for the following crop. Farmers were among the first to recognise problems and warning signs in agriculture, and for many years now farmers have contributed a percentage of their i
Gene technology has seen a reduction in the amount of chemical sprays in cotton reduced by 50 per cent in Australia and world wide. By 2003, we expect to see the number of sprays reduced by around 90 per cent when a second GM cotton variety is introduced. These reductions are good news for communities living and working in cotton-growing areas and for the surrounding environment. 'The pace of change in agriculture is increasingly driven by environmental, societal and global factors.'
Improved knowledge of our landscape has meant we have developed better management practices for crops, land, livestock, pests, diseases and water, and information technology is helping farmers make better decisions about how to farm to maximise both profitability and sustainability. The pace of change in agriculture is increasingly driven by environmental, societal and global factors. We have achieved major gains in our understanding of our landscape and of how plants grow and function in it. There is reason for tremendous optimism for our future as we are living in a time where there are opportunities to simultaneously increase food production and quality, while caring for our environment and natural resources. Our future agriculture will contribute a lot to both human and environmental health.
Dr Peacock is chief of CSIRO Plant Industry. He will be making a presentation on 'Transforming Australian Agriculture' at a free national forum in Canberra on September 12 on the future of Australian and international agriculture, organised by the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology and the Crawford Fund. http://www.crawfordfund.org.au
New Documents on Food and Agriculture at IFPRI
Now Available from the International Food Policy Research Institute at http://www.ifpri.org
1. Winning entries for the 2020 Vision poster/essay contest
2. Appropriate technology for sustainable food security
3. Shaping globalization for poverty alleviation and food security
4. Brief on agricultural research and poverty reduction
Wambugu Leaving ISAAA's Africa Program
The Board of Directors of ISAAA wishes to announce that Dr. Florence M. Wambugu will be completing her term of office as Director of the ISAAA AfriCenter during the last quarter of 2001.....
Dr. Wambugu has had a long and fruitful association with ISAAA and the Board of Directors wishes to take this opportunity to express their sincere thanks to her for many years of dedicated service. Dr. Wambugu established and directed the first ISAAA Center in the South in Nairobi, Kenya in 1994. During her seven years of service, she provided innovative leadership of important initiatives and projects, including the tissue culture banana project, which earned the special distinction of being awarded the coveted first Prize and Medal in the competition sponsored by the Global Development Network, an initiative of the World Bank. GDN medals are awarded to projects that make outstanding contributions to research and development. She has convincingly demonstrated the potential of agricultural biotechnology to help improve the lives of resource -poor farmers in Africa. Dr. Wambugu has been a prominent advocate for biotechnology applications, and is deeply committed to pursuing this advocacy in the developing wo
The Board is very pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Samuel Wakhusama as Acting Director of the ISAAA AfriCenter effective October 1, 2001. ISAAA wishes Dr. Wakhusama success in fulfilling his new tasks.; For further information: R.Hautea@isaaa.org
Harvest on the Horizon: Future Uses of Agricultural Biotechnology
Link to the Full report: http://pewagbiotech.org/research/harvest/harvest.pdf
(Sent by Katie Thrasher )
Executive Summary (Excerpts)
Introduction: The increasing use of modern biotechnology in agriculture has generated significant debate, much of which centers on the rapidly growing use of food crops that have been genetically modified to make them more resistant to pests or chemical herbicides. As a result, the debate has not usually addressed the potential products of agricultural biotechnology that are on the horizon. While technology developers believe that these new products will offer benefits in meeting needs for food, fuel, and fiber, as well as for novel industrial and pharmaceutical uses, some of these future products are also likely to raise environmental and other concerns that will need to be addressed by the regulatory system.
Harvest on the Horizon: Future Uses of Agricultural Biotechnology (725k .pdf) is intended to enrich both the knowledge and dialogue surrounding agricultural biotechnology by profiling some of the genetically engineered products being developed by industry and university scientists. The report reviews some of the current research on large-scale crops like corn and soybeans, but it also outlines ongoing research on a much broader range of plants, trees, grasses, animals, insects and fish. While not a comprehensive inventory, Harvest on the Horizon reveals the breadth and scope of current research activities and gives a snapshot of how industry and university researchers are thinking about potential future agricultural biotechnology products...................
The Context of Biotechnology: While biotechnology falls within the tradition of improving crops and livestock to better meet human needs, it also greatly expands the ability to move genes within and across species and creates a new ability to move genes across distantly related species and biologic kingdoms. It is this attribute of biotechnology that makes it a potentially powerful tool for modifying nature but which also raises ethical, health, and environmental issues.
While the public is not widely knowledgeable about biotechnology and genetically modified food, consumer awareness appears to be growing. When the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology compared the findings of two polls, respectively conducted in January 2001 and June 2001, it found consumer awareness of genetically modified foods sold in grocery stores had increased by 11 percent between the polls. At the same time, use of the technology is also increasing in American fields, with farmers planting more genetically modified soybeans and cotton this year, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey. The government’s report also notes that currently 68 percent of soybean acreage, 69 percent of all cotton acreage, and 26 of total corn acreage planted is genetically modified.
Making Food Production Easier: To date, much of the focus of industry research has been on the development of products to reduce crop losses to pests and disease while maintaining yields. The first applications of biotechnology, now on the market for several years, include staple crops such as corn and cotton that are bioengineered to make toxins capable of killing insect pests. Other crops such as squash, potatoes, wheat, papaya and raspberries, engineered to resist common plant diseases, have recently become commercially available or may soon reach the market. Genetically modified soybeans, corn, canola and cotton have been developed with resistance to the herbicide glyphosate and are widely used in the United States. Scientists are continuing to work on other methods to directly improve crop yields and on ways to help crops grow in difficult environments such as those that have limited water supplies or soils that lack nutrients.
Food Quality and Nutrition Improving crop yields and reducing crop losses to pests are important to farmers, but they do not necessarily deliver obvious benefits to consumers. Biotechnology research is proceeding on ways to develop products with direct benefits to consumers, such as improved food quality and nutrition. In particular, scientists are using biotechnology to add nutrients to foods traditionally lacking in those nutrients. For example, research is ongoing on ways to add vitamin A to rice, a staple part of the diet in developing countries, to increase the nutritional quality of diets in these regions. Similar research is being undertaken to add vitamin E, an anti-oxidant thought to prevent cancer, to vegetable oils; to reduce the harmful saturated fats of cooking oils; to increase protein quality in vegetable staples; and to reduce the allergenic properties of milk, wheat, and other products to make them available to those who are ordinarily sensitive to them. The report does not address the like
Conclusion: Biotechnology is a tool. It does not provide the only approach to addressing a particular set of problems, and other approaches or applications may offer better solutions for particular needs. The report does not attempt to weigh the costs and benefits of any particular biotechnology approach or to compare the relative merits of potential alternatives.
Current biotechnology research is addressing a wide range of possible future uses, from enhancing the nutritional value of food and increasing food supply to controlling or preventing disease in humans and animals. While some applications are already on the market and widely used, others are a decade or more away.
Whether today’s research projects become tomorrow’s products depends not only on continued scientific progress, but also on addressing concerns about environmental impacts and other risks, meeting regulatory requirements, and dealing with marketplace realities. In that context, understanding the potential uses of this technology is one critical part of the process by which the public’s decisions about biotechnology products will be made.
Biotech Rock n' Roll....
Yesterday I posted information on a music CD on food safety. Here's the web site where you can listen/watch those songs sung by Cal Davis Professor Dr. Carl Winter and also get the lyrics.
"As a serious food toxicologist with 14 years of experience as a University of California faculty member, I enjoy conducting research and developing food safety educational programs. For the past five years, I have combined my previous background as a musician with my scientific and communication training to develop an innovative, humorous, and effective musical approach for food safety education." - Dr. Winter
STILL SEEMS LIKE FOOD TO ME
(sing to the tune of Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" )
What's the matter with the food I'm eating
Are you worried that it's modified?
Maybe I should buy my food organic
Till these high-tech fears subside
Inside I tell ya that I'm not so worried honey
Even if Monsanto's makin' lots of money
Roundup ready soy beans
BST and fish genes
It still seems like food to me
What's the matter with the corn I'm nibbling
Are you worried that it's got BT?
Seems peculiar that the government said
It's fine for animals but not for me
The farmers love it 'cause the corn borer's dying
Others say it might prevent the monarchs from flying
You wanna know what I think It still seems like food to me
Oh it doesn't matter what they say in the papers
'Cause it's always been the same old scene
There's some new food on your plate
It's hard to get the story straight
>From a feature in a magazine
About a complicated gene
We hear the stories about biotech's promise
And the ways to improve our plants
Industry's hoping we'll accept their new products
If we just give 'em half a chance
But until we see some benefits for consumers
There's sure to be resistance from lots of baby boomers
Agriculture's new wave
I'll just have to be brave
It still seems like food to me
What's the problem with genetic changes
We've been making 'em for hundreds of years
All those crops from conventional breeding
Never sparked the same types of fears
But now we're able to move genes across species
Cutting edge research hand-in-hand with ethics theses
It's the next phase, fears raised,
Trails blazed, anyways
It still seems like food to me
Everybody's talking 'bout the new crops,
Funny, but it still seems like food to me.
(sing to the tune of "Surfin' USA" by Beach Boys)
If everybody had a lab bench
Across the U.S.A.
They'd be cranking out products
Nearly every day
You'd see them waving their test tubes
Just like Genetics 1A
Everybody's gone clonin’
Flavr Savr tomato
Roundup resistant soy
Isn't it a joy?
Keep an eye out for Rifkin
or the P.E.T.A.
They don't want you clonin’
Got a brand new strand here
I'm sure we'll replicate
Soon we'll have the sequence
We can hardly wait
Pairing up those bases
Of course there's T and A
We get all excited
We're looking for expression
We're gonna have it quick
Playing in that helix
Thank you Watson and Crick
All over the genome
Put on your lab coat and stay
Everybody’s gone clonin’