Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Roger Morton on Copper Phase Out in Organic Farming
* New EU Report on Safety Of GM Foods
* Pressure Increases To Grow GM Crops: Farmers Fear Commercial Advantage To Americans
* House Panel Grapples With Value of Ag Biotech Research
* Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods
* Eating Organically Grown Food Puts Consumers at Risk of Disease
* John Stossel to Speak on GMO's at Univ of Michigan
* Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares & Scams
* Biotech Sector
* Genetically Modified Crops and Developing Countries in India Set to Expand
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From: "Roger and Carolyn Morton"
Subject: Sams on Copper phase out.
>Craig Sams wrote:
>" this is why organic farmers don't use any pesticides,"
>"Before you mention copper sulfate - it has always been agreed it
>will be phased out in organic farming and it will be prohibited in
>2003, as French wine growers pleaded for time to adjust their
> vineyards to grow without copper compounds."
Which organization is mandating this "phase out" of copper? Can you cite any official policies by any organic certifying bodies? If it has "always been agreed" that copper would be phased out then when was it agreed?
Since copper has been known to be a dangerous and environmentally damaging
pesticide for many many years and since organic farming is claimed to be
about "sustainability" why was it ever allowed in the first place?
Last time I looked at the Soil Association web site in Australia copper compounds were still allowed. I put it to you that copper will not be phased out because the organic industry has no alternative fungicide that they can use.
Your statement about French wine growers pleading for more time puts to rest the great myth that the organic industry tries to promote: " a farm in using organic production methods is in balance with nature and does not require pesticides." Your admission that French farmers have pleaded for more time shows how vacuous this claim is.
What fungicide is going to replace copper? The organic industry had better hurry up because 2003 is not very far away.
Q. Scientists have known about the dangers of copper compounds in agriculture for, I would guess, at least 30 years. Why has it taken the organics industry until now to start to phase it out? (Assuming they really are phasing it out) Is it :
B. They don't care about human health
C. They don't care about the environment
D. They are stupid and did not know copper was dangerous
E. They are starting to spread the idea that organic farming is good
for the environment and and it is only now that people who know that the opposite is true have started to call them on their lies
F. All of the above.
Another question. When is the pesticide Sulphur Dioxide going to be phased out of organic wine?
BTW - Does anyone know Craig Sams' affiliation? I seem to recall he has some position in the organics industry.
New EU Report on Safety of GM Foods
(Source: Katie Thrasher )
Commission launches Round Table on GMO safety research, Brussels, 9 October 2001
At the initiative of Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, a round table on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) safety research has been launched today. It brings together European biosafety researchers and other stakeholders, such as consumer organisations, national administrations and industry, to ensure that up-to-date knowledge accompanies the safe use of GMOs. The Round Table will also allow interested stakeholders to discuss research results coming from the European Research Area and identify new research items. Moreover, the Commission has today published a report on the results of the biosafety research that it has supported over 15 years. This publication summarises the 81 projects, which have received a total EU-funding of ? 70 million and have involved over 400 scientific teams from all parts of Europe. Research on GM plants and derived products so far developed and marketed, following usual risk assessment procedures, has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the
Commenting on the launch of the new Round Table Philippe Busquin said: "Between the enthusiastic exaggeration of certain GMO 'crusaders' and the radicalism of a minority among their opponents, there is an urgent need to find room for a reasonable compromise, based on sound and measured scientific arguments of risk assessment and prudent management. This is also an exercise in reconciling science and society, bringing together scientists and the interested public to discuss the results of research and to jointly outline a future research agenda in a co-ordinated way across Europe."
The good news that no significant problems have been encountered does, however, not always reach the public and political debate. Therefore, the Round Table on GMO safety seeks to raise the voice of science in the GMO debate by establishing an ongoing discussion forum on the research results relating to benefits and risks of GMOs. It also aims to present to a broad range of European stakeholders the results of EC-supported research, and (in the spirit of the European Research Area) national activities, within the EU and elsewhere, and relevant international activities. It seeks to overcome existing prejudices on all sides and avoid sterile polarisation. Dialogue will be encouraged, through informed and structured debate, enabling all parties to be better informed of each other's views and values.
The first meeting of the round table will focus in particular on one GM crop, Bt maize, which was one of the first GM crops to be approved for cultivation in Europe (23 January 1997). The Member States established a programme at an early stage for monitoring insect resistance to Bt-maize, and assessing any potential adverse effects for human health and the environment.
Biosafety research over the past quarter-century has played a key role in accompanying the development and diffusion of products of modern biotechnology, in health care agri-food and the environment. The benefits of more precise methods are becoming clear, and conjectural risks have been and continue to be addressed by corresponding research.
Full Report at
Pressure Increases To Grow GM Crops
Farmers Fear Restrictions Are Handing Commercial Advantage To Americans
- Western Daily Press; October 8, 2001
BRITISH farmers could soon be growing an increased acreage of GM crops under proposals being put forward by Brussels. All 15 member states will be urged to lift a three-year moratorium on approving new GM varieties at a special meeting next week, amid fears that America will soon become dominant in both production and technology.
No new GMOs have been approved for use here since 1998. Britain is still in the middle of an extensive programme of field-scale trials, which is not scheduled for completion until 2003. And so far only 13 GMOs have been approved for food use in Europe compared with 50 in the US and Canada. The fear is that the varieties of maize, oilseed rape and other crops developed by companies such as Monsanto for resistance to pests or herbicides or for other special growing properties will soon become dominant in world seed markets.
And despite environmentalists' fears of cross-pollination with non-GM plants, including wild ones, scientists argue that because many GMOs can be produced using fewer pesticides, they are actually kinder to wildlife. Meanwhile, farmers who plant them obtain an even bigger margin of efficiency over competitors in countries such as Britain, where conventional crops still dominate the market. Many supermarkets have already removed GM products under the pressure of massive consumer opposition fuelled by campaigns led by groups such as Friends of the Earth. Many have now extended their labelling to show that chickens, for example, have been raised on non-GM feeds.
But the Food Standards Agency is unlikely to oppose the introduction of more GM food production. Officials say nowhere has it been shown that growing or eating GMOs is harmful, and that the process is only a way of speeding up traditional methods of plant improvement through breeding. Chairman Sir John Krebs says he is convinced the public will readily accept them as soon as the benefits can be demonstrated.
But Friends of the Earth says the EU is disregarding genuine public health concerns by trying to rush ahead. Campaigner Adrian Bebb said: "The public will resist having these products forced upon them." Farmers are likely to welcome the EU's move. They say it is now impossible to compete in the global market while Britain piles up the welfare legislation and environmental controls on their activities. Livestock farmers' regional spokesman Richard Haddock said: "The Government tell us farming must be prepared to change and compete with global market forces. The real change needs to come from Government."
House Panel Grapples With Value of Ag Biotech Research
- Kathleen Hart, Food Chemical News, Vol 43, Issue 33 October 1, 2001
A Republican member of the House Science Committee last week openly questioned the value of boosting federal spending for research on agricultural biotechnology when governments and consumers around the world have no interest in buying genetically engineered crops.
I dont care how much we spend on basic research at Michigan State or Arizona State or the University of Minnesota, or anywhere, Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) lamented Sept. 25 during a House Science subcommittee hearing on proposed legislation to strengthen National Science Foundation-sponsored research on agricultural biotechnology. Were losing this battle. If we cant convince our European counterparts of the safety of this, if they continue to use, on the floors of their parliaments, terms like Frankenfood, how do we win this?
Gutknecht said he has seen no indication that European opposition to genetically modified food is diminishing. I had some meetings earlier this year with the members of the German Bundestag, and boy, I tell you, it was like talking to a wall. Theyre not interested. They are not going to buy if they can avoid them at all, theyre not going to buy any GMO crops from the United States. The Minnesota congressman noted that some farmers in his district are now being paid a premium for non-GMO soybeans that are to be shipped to Japan.
New products: Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Research, extolled biotechnologys incredible potential to enhance nutrition, feed a growing world population, open up new markets for farmers and reduce the environmental impact of farming. The subcommittee called four friendly witnesses to testify on behalf of two bills that would authorize additional spending for NSF-sponsored research on agricultural biotechnology.
Smiths bill, HR 2051, authorizes funding to establish Plant Genome Expression Centers geared toward accelerating development of new biotech crop varieties. The focus of research at the new centers would be on alternative uses of crops, including crops engineered to serve as energy sources, to produce vaccines, or to provide inexpensive industrial chemicals. The centers would be equipped with supercomputers that would increase scientists capacity to understand proteins and gene expression. The bill would authorize $3 million in appropriations for fiscal year 2002, increasing to $4.5 million for FY2003.
HR 2912, authored by subcommittee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), would fund NSF-sponsored research partnerships aimed at developing plant varieties targeted to the needs of developing nations. The bill would authorize $6 million in spending for FY2002 and $9 million for FY2003.
Public sector funding: Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley College, noted that as of last year, 98% of the worlds biotech crop acreage was still confined to the United States, Canada and Argentina, the same three countries that launched GM crops five years ago. This failure of the GM crop revolution to spread more widely into the developing world is surprising, he said.
Distrust of giant U.S.-based multinational seed and agribusiness companies throughout much of the developing world has generated suspicion and anxiety about biotech seeds and crops in poor countries, Paarlberg said. One reason the National Biosafety Committee in Kenya has not yet given final biosafety approval to the virus-resistant sweet potato is that the technology came originally from the Monsanto Co. One reason it has been hard in Brazil to get approval for [Roundup Ready] soybeans is that, once again, this is a Monsanto product, he continued. One reason India has not yet given a final release to Bt cotton is that it is, once again, a Monsanto product.
The only way to overcome political inhibitions that are preventing the adoption of biotechnology in poor countries, Paarlberg argued, is by funding more biotech crop research through the public sector.
Plague vaccine reserve: Charles Arntzen, founding director of the Arizona Biomedical Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, believes public attitudes toward biotechnology will be turned around if researchers start introducing more products that have an immediate value for human health. Were hoping we can come up with new research findings that will lead to new products that will have a much more dramatic effect on the world population, he said.
Arntzen, who is known for his pioneering work on potatoes and tomatoes genetically engineered to express human vaccines, told the subcommittee that Johnsons bill would help to establish the kinds of research links that will benefit childrens health around the world, particularly in developing nations. He formerly directed the Boyce Thomson Institute affiliated with Cornell University.
With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon still very much at the forefront of congressional activity, Smith asked Arntzen, Do you see [whether] its conceivably possible, or scientifically possible, to develop the kind of vaccines that might be widespread to give us some degree of protection against the weapons of biological warfare?
Arntzen responded, Very definitely. We are currently supported by the Department of Defense for research, publicly funded, to develop a strategic reserve for plague vaccine. It is part of the strategy that there could be a number of biological agents for which we wouldnt necessarily want to immunize the entire population, but we would want to be able to respond rapidly if there were a threat. --- "We lost irradiation because of public unease. We could lose this... The momentum is with the critics." - Consumers' Association of Canada vice-president Jenny Hillard. CAC is a recipient of both Monsanto and Canadian government monies and has opposed even the labelling of GM foods "There are forces out there that may make [genetically engineered
products] a vestige, an antique."
Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods
Douglas Powell, Food Safety Network October 9, 2001
http://www.plant.uoguelph.ca/safefood (Source: Agnet)
Food is 21st century snake oil.
After a decade of economic growth -- which appears to be ending after the assault of Sept. 11 -- Canadian consumers can now choose amongst a cacophony of low-fat, enhanced-nutrient staples reflecting a range of political statements and perceived lifestyle preferences, far beyond dolphin-free tuna.
And to go with the Salt Spring Island goat cheese, the all-organic carrots and the Echinacea-laced Snapple, is a veritable sideshow of hucksters and buskers, flogging their wares to the highest bidder -- these things always cost a premium -- or at least the most fashionable. Centre ring is now featuring Health Minister Alan Rock, who yesterday lent his support for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods. This idea is a turkey.
With arguments apparently recited from a Greenpeace pamphlet, Mr. Rock stated that Canada has to catch up to the rest of the world in establishing regulations governing genetically modified food, including the labeling of GM foods. Specifically, Mr. Rock threw his support behind a private-members Bill up for second reading, Bill C-287, sponsored by Liberal MP Charles Caccia, which would amend Canada?s Foods and Drugs Act to require mandatory labeling for all food and food ingredients that are developed through techniques of modern biotechnology.
Although the Bill refers to these foods as genetically modified. the definition of genetic modification used by Health Canada is much broader, encompassing a variety of techniques, including genetic engineering, which can be used to produce foods that may be better for the environment or healthier. This approach, in which the safety assessment is triggered by the end-product -- not how the product was created -- has the backing of virtually every international scientific authority, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Academy of Science and the American Medical Association. It would also be seriously undermined by the Caccia Bill.
In other words, the rest of the world needs to catch up to Canada. Further, and contrary to the assertions of Minister Rock, in every country where mandatory labeling of GM foods is either in development or the early stages of implementation, regulators have allowed for an extensive network of exemptions and loopholes in order to make such labeling practical and comparatively inexpensive. The result is that many food ingredients that are obtained from GM crops are exempted, and foods that are classified as GM -free may actually contain a significant percentage of ingredients that come from GM sources. Consumers who buy such foods on the basis of their GM-free classification are being seriously misled.
Which is exactly why U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the advice of U.K. Food Standards Agency head, Sir John Krebs, has mounted a vigorous charge against proposed EU labeling regulations. But hucksterism abounds at the grocery store.
And at the grocery story, cost is king. A study made public Thursday by Stuart Smyth and Peter Phillips of the University of Saskatchewan (http://www.agbio-management.org/) predicted cost increases of 15 to 20 per cent for segregated food systems, such as those required under a GM labeling system.
Should Bill C-287 be passed, Canada?s regulatory authorities will face an enormous increase in responsibilities related to inspection and enforcement, in order to protect Canadian consumers against fraudulent claims. But perhaps that is the intent; to create a vast new bureaucracy to enforce unenforceable rules in the name of political pandering rather than actually enhancing the safety of the food supply. As well, Bill C-287 will certainly invite a challenge at the World Trade Organization.
More consultation? Both the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Biotechnology Committee (of which I am a member and which did consult Canadians) decided after months of examining the issue that voluntary labeling is the way to go.
Mr. Rock argued that "Some people are concerned that if you label a product as genetically modified, you are sending a message that it is dangerous, and therefore people won't buy it. I don't agree with that." I don't either, based on two years of experience selling genetically engineered sweet corn and potatoes alongside their conventional counterparts in a farm market in Hillsburgh, Ont. consumers prefer the GE by a 2:1 margin. But sweet corn is not a trace ingredient. That's where things get messy. Despite claims of consumer choice, the real intent of the mandatory labeling crowd -- as laid out in the advertising supplement carried by the Post on Oct. 1 and paid for by the Canadain Health Food Association, along with any other piece of activist literature -- is to eliminate the use of the technology altogether.
And it works. In those countries with supposed mandatory labeling regiemes, retailers are loathe to carry foods with GM ingredients (they do, but that's part of the hucksterism). So whatever benefits the technology may offer, like reduced pesticide use, healthier crops and more environmentally sustainable farming, are not available for consumers to choose. The ultimate irony is that Canada does not have mandatory labeling for know health risks, such as safe handling labels on all raw meat, or warnings on unpasteurized juices, labels which are mandatory in the U.S. Mr. Rock's pre-Thanksgiving salvo was not about gratitude for the bounty of Canada, or advice on how consumers can lower the incidence of foodborne illness by using a meat thermometer when cooking their bird this weekend. It was about politics.
After all, surveys show the vast majority of Canadians want mandatory labeling and, playing to the perceived public mood may bolster Mr. Rock's Liberal leadership aspirations. Except that surveys lie. When Americans were asked earlier this year if there was anything they wanted to see added to food labels, 80 per cent said, "nothing." About two per cent said they wanted to know if a food or its ingredients had been genetically modified.
Douglas Powell is an assistant professor and director of the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph
Eating Organically Grown Food Puts Consumers at Risk of Diseases
- Dr Geraldine Rodgers, Cambridge, UK http://www.bwg-berlin.de/start.html
(Statements, questions etc. should be send by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail (Prof. Dr. Dr. Peter Brandt, Robert Koch-Institut, Zentrum Gentechnik, Wollankstraße 15 ? 17, D-13187 Berlin, Germany)
Eating organically grown food puts consumers at risk of the following diseases: Food poisoning from: Salmonella, E.coli 0157 and Cryptosporidiosis, mycotoxin poisoning, liver cancer and other cancers (e.g oesophageal) and probably new variant CJD.
Why? Organic farmers use animal wastes as fertiliser. Animal manure is a reservoir of enteric pathogens. Carrier animals are asymptomatic (i.e apparently disease free). Free range chickens carry Salmonella, chicken manure is considered to be an excellent source of nitrogenous fertiliser. A child died and others were left with permanent kidney damage in the USA after eating vegetables and fruit contaminated with manure carrying E.coli 0157 (the one responsible for deaths in Scotland).
BSE was transmitted from sheep to cattle because they ate food containing rendered sheeps carcasses that were carrying the scrapie prion (sheep BSE). Organic farmers use bone meal made by the same rendering companies.
Microscopic relatives of poisonous mushrooms produce equally toxic chemicals called mycotoxins. The fungi invade plants through insect damage, and if not controlled by fungicides grow and produce compounds which are amongst THE MOST TOXIC, CARCINOGENIC, compounds known to man. Pesticieds and fungicides are mothers milk compared to some mycotoxins!!
People die from liver cancer as a result of eating food contaminated with toxins produced by the Aspergillus fungal family. Oesophageal cancer is caused by members of another fungal group. Organic farmers do not control insect damage with insecticides, nor do they protect their crops from fungal infestations with fungicides.
We don't like chemical sprays, organic food isn't a safe alternative, but auto-resistant crops made through GM technology would be. Think about it.
What do organic farmers do to make sure their produce is safe to eat, other than hypnotise us into believing it is? I want evidence of safety no less rigorous than that being demanded of the GM foods producers. While everyone's peering at GM foods down an electron microscope we could be in for the much heralded epidemics of cancer courtesy of the organic farming lobby.
John Stossel to speak on GMO's at Univ of Michigan
(Source: Katie Thrasher )
John Stossel to speak on GMO's at Univ of MI - "The Second Biannual Isadore A. Bernstein Symposium will be held 8:30 AM to 2:00 PM on Friday, October 26, 2001 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
John Stossel of ABC News and 20/20 will be the featured speaker. The topic will be Environmental Health Policy, Science and Public Perception: A Challenge for Genetically Modified Organisms. Other speakers include: Robert Horsch, Vice President, Product & Technology Cooperation, Monsanto Company; Rebecca Grumet, Professor of Horticulture, Plant Breeding and Genetics Program, Michigan State University; Derek Burke, former Vice President and Scientific Director of Allelix, Canada's largest biotech company; Peter M. Sandman, founder and former director of the Environmental Communication Research Program, Rutgers University
Pre-registration is mandatory. Contact James A. Darby, Gelman Educational Foundation. phone (734) 913-5819, fax (734) 913-5839, e-mail email@example.com.
Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares & Scams
- Steven J. Milloy http://www.cato.org/special/junkscience/index.html
Cell phones and diet soda cause brain cancer. Whole-grain cereals prevent cancer. Anti-bacterial products are creating supergerms. Alcohol reduces the risk of heart disease. These are just a few of the many bogus health scares and scams that bombard us every day.
Health scares and scams can harm the health of you and your loved ones, cost you dearly, and rob you of your peace of mind. But what can you do about it? If you're not a scientist, how can you prevent yourself from becoming a victim? 'Junk Science Judo' is the answer.
In 12 easy-to-understand lessons, author Steven J. Milloy walks you through the modern phenomenon of "junk science," the source of many health scares and scams. Junk science is the manipulation of statistics to promote special policy agendas that have nothing to do with public health and safety. It can be disseminated by special interest groups, social and political activists, businesses seeking to hurt rival companies, and politicians. Unfortunately, many gullible journalists pass on the bad information, alarming the public and causing much harm.
Milloy teaches you how to debunk junk science-fueled health scares by using basic scientific principles that don't require any specialized training or education. Junk Science Judo will teach you how to tell the difference between health scams and genuine risks. After reading this book, you'll never look at the nightly news the same way again.
Biotech Sector in India Set to Expand
- R Ravichandran, Financial Express
Hyderabad, Oct 9: The biotech market in India is expected to witness a sharp jump to touch $2.5 billion by 2002 as against $800 million a year ago. Job opportunities are set to double in the coming years as against the present strength of 10,000 people, with research holding 50 per cent growth, technical/services 30 per cent and 15 per cent growth in management, leading global consultant Ernst & Young has said in its recent report on biotech sector.
It is soon expected to explode into a major market and will become an important sector for the major corporates, including pharmaceutical companies to get into. It will also encourage convergence of IT with biotech sector, according to the report.
With the development of recombinant Hepatitis B virus vaccine, tissue culture products, bio-enhancers in anti-TB and anti-leprosy drugs and an interferon alfa drug for treatment of cancer domestically, the sector is holding a promising future and tremendous untapped potential, the report pointed out. There are opportunities in developing new biotech-based vaccines for HIV, cancer, diarrheal, TB, malaria and other viruses in India and new business can be created for monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies for immunodiagnosis, Ernst & Young said.
There is a great potential for joint ventures and technical collaborations to manufacture biotech products for local consumption and exports. Huge market exists for the bio-science firms seeking research and business alliances with Indian firms, it added.
The report also identified few market segments for joint venture partnerships including contract research and manufacturing services, research/medical instruments, bio-medical devices, research reagents, aquaculture waste treatment and bio-fertiliser.
Though there are about 800 companies operating in all sectors of biotechnology in India, only 15 companies are working seriously in modern biotechnology. And none of these companies have introduced any product of original research for the first time in the world but some have introduced known products, the report pointed out.
It has also said that the benefits from the use of biotechnology are numerous, ranging from product development in pharmaceuticals to sustainable development in solving problems of land and water pollution. India?s growing population of over one billion would immensely benefit from the use of biotechnology and generic engineering services and product development in pharmaceuticals, nutrition, agriculture and the energy sectors, the report said. There are several advantages in the setting up of modern biotechnology industries in India as it has core competence in some areas, besides it has a huge skilled manpower and several R&D institutes such as CSIR, CCMB, IMT, ICAR, DBT, CDRI etc.
The areas of core competence in India, including capacity in handling sterlite fermentation processes, skills in handling microbes and animal cells, capacity in downstream processing and isolation methods, skills in extraction and isolation of plant and animal products, competence in plant and animal breeding and infrastructure in fabricating bio-reactors and processing equipment, it pointed out.
The other areas include healthcare and pharmaceuticals, bio-informatics and genomics, biodiversity and enviromental biotechnology, agriculture, industrial enzymes, drug resolution and growth promoting biocontrol agents; genemics amd molecular medicine; nucleic acid and peptide chemistry.
Genetically Modified Crops and Developing Countries
- Luis R. Herrera-Estrella, Profesor at Cinvestav-Mexico and Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Fellow, Cinvestav Irapuato, Irapuato, Mexico
Plant Physiol. Vol. 124, 2000. p 925 © 2000 American Society of Plant Physiologists.
The world?s population is expected to almost double by the year 2050, making food security the most important social issue for the next 30 years. Food production will have to be doubled or preferably tripled to meet the needs of the expected 6 billion people, 90% of whom will reside in the developing world. The enormity of this challenge will be further exacerbated by the dwindling availability of water and the fact that this additional food will have to be produced on existing agricultural land or marginal soils if forested regions and the environment as a whole are to be preserved.
There are numerous ways by which agricultural productivity may be increased in a sustainable way, including the use of biological fertilizers, improved pest control, soil and water conservation, and the use of improved plant varieties, produced by either traditional or biotechnological means. Of these measures, biotechnological applications, especially transgenic plant varieties and the future products of functional genomic projects, probably hold the most promise toward augmenting agricultural production and productivity when properly integrated into traditional systems.
The efficacy of transgenic plant varieties in increasing production and lowering production costs is already demonstrable. In 1996 and 1997, the cultivation of virus-, insect-, and herbicide-resistant plants accounted for a 5% to 10% increase in yield as well as for savings on herbicides of up to 40% and on insecticides of between $60 and $120 (U.S. dollars) per acre (James, 1998). However, these increases in productivity, impressive as they are, will probably have a limited impact on the global food supply because the products currently available on the market are suitable only for large mechanized farms practicing intensive agriculture. In fact, most of the transgenic crops that have been produced to date, especially by the private sector, are aimed either at reducing production costs in agricultural areas that already have high productivity levels or at increasing the value of the final product (e.g. improving the oil quality of seed crops).
In a global sense, a more effective strategy to ensure sufficient levels of food production would be to increase productivity in developing countries, especially in areas of subsistence farming, where an increase in food production is urgently needed and where crop yields are significantly lower than those obtained in other areas of the world. In developing countries in the tropics and subtropics, crop losses due to pests, diseases, and poor soils are made worse by climatic conditions that favor insect pests and disease vectors, and by the lack of economic resources to purchase high quality seeds, insecticides, and fertilizers. In addition to low productivity levels, post-harvest losses in tropical areas are very high due to the favorable climate for fungal and insect infestation and to the lack of appropriate storage facilities. Despite efforts to prevent pre- and post-harvest crop losses, pests destroy over half of all world crop production. Postharvest loss due to insects, the majority of which occurs in
A major advantage of plant biotechnology is that it often generates strategies for crop improvement that can be applied to many different crops. Genetically engineered virus resistance, insect resistance, and delayed ripening are good examples of strategies that could potentially benefit a diversity of crops. Transgenic plants of over 20 plant species that are resistant to more than 30 different viral diseases have been produced using variations of the pathogenderived resistance strategy. Insect-resistant plant varieties, using the delta-endotoxin of Bacillus thuringensis, have been produced for several important plant species, including tobacco, tomato, potato, cotton, walnut, maize, sugarcane, and rice. Of these, maize, potato, and cotton are already under commercial production. It is envisaged that these strategies can be used for many other crops important for tropical regions and other regions in the developing world. Genetically engineered delayed ripening, although only tested on a commercial scale f
A second advantage of plant biotechnology insofar as feeding the developing world is that in principle it does not require major changes in the agricultural practices of small farmers. To date, most of the developments in plant gene transfer technology and the different strategies to produce improved transgenic plant varieties have been driven by the economic value of the species or the trait. These economic values, in turn, are mainly determined by their importance to agriculture in the developed world, particularly the United States and western Europe. This is understandable: Substantial investments are needed to develop, field test, and commercialize new transgenic plant varieties. However, to increase global food production, it is necessary to ensure that this technology is effectively transferred to the developing world and adapted to local crops. Adapting biotechnology to local crops is an especially important con-sideration because indigenous crop species often have deep social and/or religious meani
There are also problems that limit food production that are more or less specific to tropical and subtropical agriculture, but unfortunately these problems have not been deemed important enough to be studied intensively in developed countries. Because many of these problems are common to many countries and affect the productivity of a wide spectrum of crops, transgenic strategies that can be applied to different plant species to solve these problems are urgently needed. It is unfortunate that little is currently being done to address these problems. For instance, one of the major problems that affects plant productivity in tropical regions is soil acidity. Acidic soils comprise about 3.95 billion ha of the ice-free land or approximately 40% of the world?s arable land, comprising about 68% of tropical America, 38% of tropical Asia, and 27% of tropical Africa (Pandey et al., 1994; Eswaran et al., 1997). In spite of its global importance, metal toxicity and nutrient deficiency problems that affect acid soils a
It is a shame that in today?s world, in which global food production should suffice to feed everyone, regardless of their religious, political, or geographical situation, many thousands of people starve to death and up to 800 million people are malnourished. How will we cope, then, with the increasing demand for food if technology is controlled by a few major companies, and the small farmers in developing countries, for want of economic resources, do not fall into the category of a potential consumer? In spite of what they might say, companies are not concerned with feeding the poor and arguably should not be. Companies are not charitable organizations: Their survival depends on the returns to their shareholders.
The fact that research and development in the private sector is driven by market considerations and not by philanthropic ideals is obvious in the case of tropical diseases. These diseases kill hundreds of thousands of people every year and, for many of them, vaccines have not yet been developed and current research is only done in public institutions. In many instances curing people is more profitable ? and trendy ? than preventing a disease. The power, but also the inhumane side, of research and development has perhaps been most clearly seen in the case of AIDS, for which new medicines that prevent the symptoms of this syndrome were developed in a few years of intense research after the first cases were reported in the United States. However, it is distressing to know that many thousands of people die every year from this terrible disease without having received the benefits of this research, simply because they have no money. Because people in rich countries are no longer seeing their friends die of AIDS
In the case of food, a similar but more dramatic scenario can be foreseen. Hundreds or even thousands of millions of people in the coming decades will have an urgent need for food, but the technology needed to produce their supplies locally might not reach them. Not only will food availability be a major problem in the next few decades, but the world?s environment will become increasingly at risk. In spite of the fact that tropical forests are invaluable to local, regional, and global ecosystems and critical to maintaining biodiversity (over 90% of plant and animal species live in forest ecosystems), approximately 11 million ha of forest are cleared every year by farmers searching for more productive land. Indiscriminate conversion of tropical forest into agricultural land will have more far-reaching ecological consequences than the use of genetically modified (GM) crops.
To ensure the transfer of technology that will maximize food production and preserve the environment, several economic, political, and social issues must be dealt with. It is my personal opinion that an ultimate failure to end hunger in developing countries will arise not from technological limitations but from political and/or economic decisions and the disinterest of governments and corporations. In this regard, perhaps an international body could be created to facilitate the transfer of the necessary technology to places where it would prove most useful. United Nations Education has already established a precedent for such a body when it agreed that certain designated regions and cities of the world should be preserved not just for the benefit of the local people but for all of humanity. Perhaps a similar concept could be applied in terms of new technology. Technology that addresses fundamental problems of human well-being should be given a special status to ensure that it reaches everyone.
The transfer of this technology to developing nations will, of course, engender problems. For instance, under what circumstances can royalties be waived? One approach, perhaps naive, would be to reach agreements in which the technology is donated on a royalty-free basis if it will only be used for production aimed at the internal markets of developing countries. In these cases, when export is possible, royalties should, of course, be paid; if the farmers can export their products, they should share the extra profits with the providers of the technology.
It is very unfortunate that the decision of whether this technology is going to be further developed and transferred to the small farmer is not in the hands of people in the developing world but in those of large multinational companies and the consumers and governments of developed countries. Consumer groups in Europe claim their right to choose whether they want GM food or not. They also raise the question: Why do we bother at all with GM food if we have more than enough food already? The remaining questions are: Will the poor have the choice to use genetic engineering? Will they have the opportunity to decide whether they want to eat or not? Will political and economic interests, with or without GM food, allow us to reach the levels of food production necessary to feed the growing world population?
It is unfortunate that most developing countries do not have sufficient resources to implement the necessary biotechnological solutions to the major problems that limit agricultural productivity, at least not in the required time frame. It is in the developing world, however, especially in the areas of the world where yields are low due to the lack of technology, that biotechnology could have its greatest impact. It is very promising that several multinational companies are starting to takes steps to facilitate GM technology transfer.
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