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September 23, 2001


Core Issues, War on biotech, China,


Today's Topics in AgBioView:

* Biotechnology: Addressing Today’s CORE ISSUES For Better Food & Industry Growth
* The War on Plant Biotechnology
* Feeding the masses? China shows how it's done
* Indonesia says to go ahead with GM cotton planting
* Agenda 21 misinformation
* How Biotechnology Benefits The Human Race


Biotechnology: Addressing Today’s CORE ISSUES For Better Food & Industry Growth


Clearly, CPG companies need to be responsive to consumer demands and needs.
But to realize biotechnology’s potential for driving food industry growth via new,
more nutritious, better tasting, higher-value products, it is vital to distinguish true
consumer wants from self-serving campaigns being waged by activists with their
own vested interest in spawning fear. In truth, much of today’s biotech controversy
is being deliberately generated by certain groups within the organic foods
industry, who stand to benefit financially from consumer uncertainty about mainstream
food; and by Greenpeace, which finds food companies convenient, concrete
targets for its attacks against a number of more abstract “demons” ––
capitalism, agribusiness, globalization, advanced science, change in general.

Get the full version here: http://agbioworld.org/biotech_info/topics/agbiotech/Forum-BT.pdf


The War on Plant Biotechnology

- Daniel Cosgrove, Penn State University, dcosgrove@psu.edu;
President, American Society of Plant Biology, ASPB News

There was a time when plant researchers had it good, at least in some
respects. After all, animal rights protesters did not break into our
labs to "liberate" our captive corn and tobacco plants. No one
fretted if we emasculated flowers or injected leaves. It seemed a
comfortable ivory tower. Thus, it came as a shock to me to hear a
report on National Public Radio about the firebombing of a plant
biology lab at the University of Washington. I was a postdoc at UW
some years ago, and so this news felt like a personal assault.
According to newspaper accounts, this attack was part of an
"eco-terrorism" movement advanced by anti-corporate,
anti-globalization, anti-GMO extremists. The awful irony is that this
lab, directed by Toby Bradshaw, does not work with genetically
engineered plants and is researching topics that environmentalists
should support. National Television coverage of this incident was
virtually nonexistent as far as I could judge from the evening news.
According to a report in Science, there were 11 attacks against plant
research facilities in the United States last year, yet this fact
hardly seems to be recognized by the scientific community, never mind
the public at large. Do you know that ASPB members are finding their
names on "hit lists" published on the web by anti-GMO activists.
What's going on?

In a less extreme but equally worrisome vein, the latest magazine of
the Sierra Club (of which I am a member!) is dominated by articles
against plant genetic engineering. One headline read "Genetic
Engineering Is Going Wild Because It Is Controlled by Selfish
Individual Interests." Another announced "A Nation of Lab Rats." One
article gave the impression that corporate sponsorship compromised
much of the plant research done in universities. Although some of the
coverage was informative, I found much that was misleading, alarmist,
or full of sinister innuendo about the motives and rationale for
plant biotechnology.

To be sure, the scientific issues in this debate are wide ranging and
complex and require a balanced assessment of risks and gains, because
complete knowledge is not attainable in any human endeavor. This does
not make for easy reading or flashy headlines, and well-intentioned
people might reasonably disagree on points that may need further
investigation or stepwise refinement. However, I believe that the
heart of the public debate for opponents of biotechnology is not
about technical issues but about underlying beliefs concerning the
motives of scientists, companies, and government agencies. About the
virtues of technology and the limits of human knowledge. About
corporate control of the food supply and ownership of technology.
These are largely social issues, not scientific issues, but as
scientists we have a unique contribution to make to this public
dialogue: We can speak to our motives, our vision of how plant
research and its technological applications may make our world a
better place. Do you remember what inspired you to study plants? Find
opportunities to explain that vision and how it relates to your work.
We need to communicate these things to the public-so that a balanced
view is heard by the public.

(Visit http://www.aspb.org/forums/ to join this forum)

From: C. S. Prakash

Dear Dan:

I believe you have hit at the 'heart' of this issue and identified
the root cause of the debate over plant biotechnology: anxiety over
corporate control of our food. While this apprehension is
understandable, biotechnology does not exacerbate the problem of
industry domination of the food production in the Western world.
Corporations are already involved in all aspects of our food chain
since decades. As some one who is originally from India and when I
compare the abundance, variety and affordability of food in the West
compared to those in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa, I wonder what
is the grouse about food here in the West?

It is difficult for us scientists to fathom the complexities social,
economic and political issues in the debate. But nevertheless, we
must try to understand them, learn the 'real' reasons for societal
discomfort with biotechnology or its purveyors, and see how we can
address them. Otherwise, the fruits of our labor would not go beyond
the ivory towers (like it is now in the EU).

It would be sad if the technology is rejected by the Western
societies just because they do like the agents who are bringing them.
The real losers are the people in the developing world where the
public sector and international centers are going to be the major
eventual users of this technology to address food security issues.

- Prakash

Feeding the masses? China shows how it's done

September 24, 2001

Ever since 18th century British economist Thomas Malthus raised the spectre of a rapidly growing population ultimately descending into mass starvation, China has looked as though it might put the controversial theory to the test.

Home to a fifth of the planet's population, China is not a particularly fertile land. Much of it is barren desert and hardly a year goes by without some region battling against drought, fighting swirling dust storms or struggling to control floods.

Widespread famines were once regular occurrences. Millions starved to death during Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. But the country has now shown that it can feed its 1.3 billion people, even with some to spare.

Thanks largely to the modernisation of the rural economy and stringent demographic controls, China is sitting on huge stocks of grain. It can afford the occasional harvest disappointment and is a significant exporter of corn.

Last year, China's farmers reaped 462.5 million tonnes of grains, down nine percent year-on-year, but officials and analysts say there is no cause for panic.

``The output fall is not as scary as it sounds because we had a series of bumper harvests before that,'' said Li Chenggui, a researcher of the rural development institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

``Current production levels are considered pretty healthy.''

Huge grain silos with more than 200 million tonnes have reassured China that there will be no mass starvation.

``We have enough food to feed ourselves. What matters most is how we distribute it,'' Li said. ``We have capped grain imports at five percent of consumption so as not to over rely on other countries for staples,'' he added.


Down on the farm in rural China, far from the ivory towers, enough food is being produced to feed bustling population centres like Shanghai, and imports are still relatively modest.

``What Malthus predicted is not likely to happen in China in the short term, say the next 20 years,'' said N.T. Wang, senior research fellow of the East Asian Institute at Columbia University in New York.

``The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recently had a report which pointed to quite a big under-estimate of China's grain stocks previously. The new figures showed that China still has warehouses filled with grains,'' Wang said.

The USDA made a 250 percent upward revision in May of its estimates for China's grain stocks, raising them to 230.1 million tonnes at the end of the 2000/01 marketing year.

Of course, population growth poses a challenge, but agricultural advances, including the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, have so far managed to keep pace with the increasing number of mouths.

In fact, many Chinese are becoming more fussy about their diets, developing a taste for meat which will test crop technology further as more grain is required to feed livestock.

In China, the one-child policy has also helped to control the population. A census last year reported a population of 1.265 billion, rising 11.7 percent since the previous count 11 years ago, but the growth rate has fallen steeply.


The ``Green Revolution'' of the 1960s -- which introduced new crop strains, fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation methods -- was touted by its backers as the saving grace of the world's growing population. Those who support GM crops say the same.

China has adopted some modern farming methods and it is still exploring advanced ways of raising crop yields of rice, its main staple food.

Researchers are coming up with better cross breeding methods and hope to introduce ``super hybrid rice'' in the next few years, which gives a yield of 12 tonnes a hectare compared to 5.4 tonnes a hectare for ordinary strains.

But China is still thinking twice about importing and growing transgenic products, although GM cotton is grown in some provinces. The authorities unveiled new restrictive GM food rules in early June.

``A lot of farm produce that we have today is undesirable for the environment...desertification will worsen and we have to rely more on fertilisers due to soil degradation,'' said Wang.

``We will have to rely on human ingenuity to contain these problems,'' he said.


Indonesia says to go ahead with GM cotton planting

JAKARTA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Indonesia's agriculture minister said on Tuesday the government would proceed with the planting of genetically modified (GM) cotton in South Sulawesi despite strong opposition.

``We promise to issue a new ministerial decree to continue the cultivation of transgenic cotton in seven regencies in South Sulawesi as long as it is not harmful to the environment,'' Bungaran Saragih told reporters.

``The new decree will not set a limit on the acreage allowed to be planted by transgenic cotton by farmers.''

The government is planning to develop 20,000 hectares (49,400 acres) of GM cotton plants in South Sulawesi in cooperation with U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto Co (NYSE:MON - news).

But the deal was delayed in September last year by the then chief economics minister Rizal Ramli due to strong protests from environmental activists.

However, the agriculture ministry issued a decree in February which allows the limited sale of genetically modified seeds.

This decree, too, was criticised by environmental activists and even by the then Environment Minister Sonny Keraf, who insisted there was still a major health concern over the safety of transgenic crops and their effect on the environment.

Saragih said about 40 tonnes of the GM cotton seeds from Monsanto arrived in South Sulawesi in March.

He said the government's pilot project in 4,363 hectares of cotton fields there showed the productivity of the transgenic cotton was 2.2 tonnes per hectare, far higher than the 1.4 tonnes a hectare for the Kanesia cotton commonly planted in Indonesia.

Saragih said Indonesia would need to develop high-productivity cotton buds, which contain the fibres, to meet domestic demand forecast at 1.5 million tonnes of buds this year.

Existing output meets less than one percent of total annual demand for buds, used mainly in the textile industry.

Indonesia imported 500,000 tonnes of cotton every year.

Date: 24 Sep 2001 17:53:11 -0000
From: BRenn97389@aol.com
Subject: Agenda 21 misinformation
To: AgBioWorld-feedback-1201@lb.bcentral.com

The following statement appeared in the September issue of The Ripple,
a newsletter that the Piddle Valley Agenda 21 Committee in Dorset (UK)
send out every two months as a supplement appended to the independent local
parish News and Views magazine.

Agenda 21 promotes a principle in relation to the introduction of the
new technology called "the precautionary principle". This principle is
now enshrined in all government and local government development
strategies. However in relation to the trials of GMO crops in Dorset and elsewhere
the government has been particularly lax in its application of the this
principle. The real concern is the extent to which GMO crops are
quarantined from other crops during the evaluation phase. It is not about the
rejection of what might be valuable new technology. The concern has always been
to prevent the distribution of environmentally damaging genetic material.
Under the influence of big business like Monsanto the government has rushed
willy nilly into secretive trials with almost zero public consultation on
appropriate field margins. Now 'hey presto" arrives the news from
Canada that trial crops of genetically modified oil seed rape have spread over
30 kilometres from their trial sites and seeded herbicide tolerant
superweeds which are virtually indestructible. Are we ready for GMO crops in
this country or do we need to apply the precautionary principle with a
little more diligence?

The piece is full of the usual 'green' views, misconceptions and
misinformation, most of which I can gainsay without much trouble. But
I am not au fait with the alleged 30 km jump of GM rape pollen in Canada,
nor of the alleged creation of an area of superweeds. I would be grateful for
the details.

Agenda 21 committees set up after the Rio summit in many country towns
and villages in the UK, financed by local authorities. The six elected
members of the Piddle Valley Agenda 21 committee are all enthusiastic but
naive 'environmentally concerned' residents of the three small villages
parishes beside the River Piddle that together comprise the Piddle Valley
administrative parish within West Dorset District. One committee member
is also a member of the Dorset County Agenda 21 committee. Because the
committee members are just ordinary, well-intentioned folk without
formal scientific training they are easy prey for Greenpeace, F o E et al. and
are, as a result, their grass roots support in this country. Consequently I
feel the need to correct and expose the misinformation they disseminate
whenever I can.

I myself am a retired (1983) government pest control researcher and
biometrician. Thanks to the internet, and an, as yet, not totally
age-addled mind, I can keep myself reasonably well informed in this fascinating
new science and technology E28094 well enough anyway to take on my local
Agenda 21 committee.

With thanks to any respondents.

Brian Rennison. aka Brenn97389@aol.com

AgBioView Selection from the past.......

How Biotechnology Benefits The Human Race

- Claire Cockcroft, Manchester Guardian Weekly ; November 10, 1999

Claire Cockcroft defends the role of science in creating power plants

Plants are the oldest and largest things on the planet and supply the
oxygen to sustain life. Besides being a link in the food chain,
plants also have a remarkable range of other uses; medicinal and
healing, cosmetics and fragrance, relaxation and aromatherapy, dyeing
and insect repellents, as well as providing a valuable construction

Increasingly, they are being used to benefit human health by making
pharmaceuticals or other products for the healthcare industry. Many
tropical plants contain enzymes with unusual medical applications.
Take pineapple juice -- its use as a meat-tenderiser led to a
component being used to digest human skin before skin grafts.
Biotechnology can produce large, pure quantities of this
"flesh-eating" enzyme in a plant from which it is more readily
extractable. The enzyme can also be modified to perform better at the
pH of the human body and could be used in treating gangrene.

Today 25% of all prescription drugs are derived from plants, and
herbal remedies are a popular alternative. They have been used by the
Chinese for at least 4,000 years and by the ancient Greeks for the
treatment of gout. Even nature's poisons have both medicinal and
cosmetic roles, as well as occasionally being used in suspicious
circumstances. Digitalis purpurea, or foxglove, combines beauty with
a lethal toxicity. A drug derived from foxglove, digitonin, is now
used to treat heart ailments, though the therapeutic dose is
dangerously close to the lethal dose.

Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of essential minerals,
vitamins and other beneficial compounds such as anti-oxidants, which
have anti-cancer properties. Even common weeds such as dandelions and
clover, are a source of anti-viral, anti-bacterial and
anti-inflammatory agents.

Plants are natural and clean biorefineries and their wealth of
products provide many potential opportunities for the biotechnology
industry. Since the dawn of agricultural practices 10 to 12 millennia
ago, farmers have constantly tried to get the best yield from their
crops. Biotechnology can be thought of as an evolution of traditional
agricultural methods and can be used to overcome factors such as
drought, pests, weeds and wind.

Conventional plant breeding involves the crossing of plants and
"shuffling of genes" over many generations to improve certain
qualities. However, toxins or allergenic proteins may be an unwanted
side-effect of this process.

Genetic modification, on the other hand is an efficient way of
enhancing a specific quality. By combining modern technology with old
practices, farmers will be able to produce crops more efficiently and
cost-effectively. Plants have been genetically modified to produce
drugs and edible vaccines. Vaccines in vegetables and fruit are being
developed to reduce infant death from hepatitis, cholera or
diarrhoeal disease in developing countries. Bananas are inexpensive
to produce, are native to many developing countries and are one of
the first foods eaten by infants. Packaged inside the banana, the
vaccine is easy to store and distribute without the need for
refrigeration. Soon a banana a day may keep the doctor away.

Certain crops that are highly susceptible to plant viruses, such as
melons, squash and cucumbers, can be given a genetic vaccine to help
reduce the spread of crop disease and the need for chemical sprays.
Many foodstuffs contain allergens. Peanuts cause a severe and often
fatal allergic response in some people. Rice is a major food in Asia,
yet there is a high rate of rice allergy among the population.
Biotechnologists have identified the part of the allergenic proteins
causing the problem, allowing the creation of allergen-free products.

Some species of aquatic plants like duckweed naturally mop up heavy
metal contaminants from their habitats, often converting the metal
from a toxic to a more benign form. Plants can also be genetically
engineered for bioremediation to take up pollutants and break them
down into less hazardous byproducts.

Worldwide, large amounts of soil and groundwater are contaminated
with organic pollutants, such as the areas around ammunition
production, processing and test-sites. As many of these compounds are
toxic, this poses a significant potential health risk to humans and

Dr Neil Bruce's group at the Institute of Biotechnology in Cambridge
has engineered transgenic plants to produce a microbial enzyme that
completely degrades explosives such as TNT into harmless compounds.
This technique -- phytoremediation -- will soon become a reality.

Genetic improvements allow crops to be grown in areas where
previously they could not survive. With increasing world population
and loss of suitable land for farming this is a hugely beneficial
application of biotechnology. With the global population set to reach
more than 8bn people by 2050, plant biotechnology could help
alleviate hunger world-wide through the development of crop varieties
with increased yields that require fewer fertilisers, herbicides and

Their contribution to the development of new drugs for human and
animal health is of huge importance, particularly with the rise of
the antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Plants are our green gold and
have the potential to be the biofactories of the future. Surely this
is food for thought.
Dr Claire Cockcroft is a molecular biologist at the Institute of
Biotechnology in Cambridge