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October 18, 2001


Starlink Report; Rockefeller Foundation Interview; Petunias


Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* Info Needed on Environmental and Industrial Biotech in Dev Countries
* StarLink: New Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology Report
* World Food Prize Laureate: GM Row Doesn't Help Poor
* They Shall Beat Their Petunias into Pork Chops
* Biotech & the Rockefeller Foundation: Conway & Toenniessen
* The Ban on GM Food in Sri Lanka
* Political Accountability of NGOs in a Democratic Society

Help! Information Needed on Environmental and Industrial Biotechnologies in Developing Countries.

Most of what we know about the potential for applying biotechnology in development and using it in international trade is based on agriculture and medicine. It appears that there might be new potential for developing countries to participate in international trade through the use of environmental and industrial biotechnologies.

Are there any cases studies or contacts of developing country people and institutions developing products in the fields of environmental and industrial biotechnology? Of particular interest are biotechnologies that have environmental benefits. I would appreciate any one having information, case studies and contacts of scientists and scholars experts in this area. This information is urgently for needed for a very important project.

Please send this information to


- Prakash


Powerpoint Slide File

My Powerpoint presentation (slim version - 1 mb; without the pictures) is now accessible at http://www.agbioworld.org/ . Scroll to the bottom of left panel and click on "Download C.S. Prakash's Powerpoint Presentation on Biotechnology and Food Security "

Or get it directly with the link below:

The fat file (27 mb) swith pictures is at http://www.seedsofopportunity.com

- Prakash


The StarLink Case: Issues for the Future: New Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology Report


It's been over a year since it was discovered that StarLink, a type of bioengineered corn approved only for animal consumption, was found in the human food supply. Read the Initiative's report at http://pewagbiotech.org/research/starlink/ on the regulatory and public policy issues raised by this case.

The discovery of StarLink corn in the human food supply was a seminal event in the evolving response of the American public to agricultural biotechnology. StarLink, a type of bioengineered corn that produces its own pesticide and was approved only for use in animal feed, ended up in many products, causing a massive recall of tortillas, corn chips and other corn-based products just over a year ago.

This event and its aftermath received extensive publicity and heightened public awareness of the presence of biotechnology-derived foods in the American food supply. Join the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology and our partners at Resources for the Future in identifying and analyzing the regulatory and public policy issues raised by the StarLink episode. Read our case study outline and our StarLink chronology, then, share your thoughts with us - we'd like to hear from you. Please address all comments, via e-mail to Jody Tick at Tick@rff.org or Mike Taylor at Taylor@rff.org. This discussion paper serves as the starting point for our analysis: a final paper will be issued early next year.


World Food Prize Laureate: GM Row Doesn't Help Poor, Says IFPRI DG


Heated public debate threatens to drown out all serious consideration of the important promise genetic engineering has for the poor and hungry in developing countries. So say Per Pinstrup-Andersen (Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute) and Ebbe Schiĝler in their new book "Seeds of Contention". They attempt to defuse the contentious debate surrounding the development and spread of genetically modified (GM) foods, which, they argue, can help meet the needs of the poor. The authors recommend a cautious approach that would encourage innovation but respect sound scientific procedures that guard against risks to humans and the environment. "With proper biosafety procedures plant modifications derived from genetic research need not be riskier than those derived from traditional plant breeding," they claim.

"There are problems in the discussion about genetic modification: lack of understanding about the science, a steady flow of misinformation dispensed by the press, and politicians who are all too eager to jump on the critical bandwagon", say Pinstrup-Andersen and Schiĝler. "If each country made its own decision about the use of genetic engineering technology based on domestic perception about benefits and risks, that would be a fair playing field. But rich countries and groups of well-fed individuals sometimes try to impose their views on developing countries and poor people." The authors quote the words of Hassan Adamu, the Nigerian minister of agriculture: "...to deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong."

They say that taking a balanced view of the potential and the risks of agbiotech is neither easy nor popular, "but adopting a moderate approach to using genetic engineering responsibly is essential if future food needs are to be met." They call for authorization procedures based on case-by-case evaluations, and say farmers and consumers should be free to chose whether to sow modified seed or consume modified food, and thus labelling is vital. They suggest NGOs and industry could play a more constructive role: NGOs using their position to help advance the potential of genetic engineering while testing for risks, while biotech companies could relax IPR restrictions, perhaps by being content with plant variety protection, and still reap profits. PVP protection would allow public researchers to further develop new material and disseminate innovations to a wider clientele, including poor farmers. Finally, they argue that by increasing its contribution to international agricultural research, the industrialized wo

Seeds of Contention: World Hunger and the Global Controversy Over GM Crops by Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Ebbe Schioler, is published by Johns Hopkins University Press at $12.95. A summary Food Policy Statement associated with the book is available from IFPRI at http://www.ifpri.cgiar.org/pubs/fps/fps33.htm


They Shall Beat Their Petunias into Pork Chops

- Book Review by Rick Weiss, Scientific American, October, 2001
'Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food by Daniel Charles; Perseus Publishing, 2001'

It was 1981, and California scientist Martin Apple was showing visitors his new, futuristic enterprise: the International Plant Research Institute, one of the world's first biotechnology companies devoted to agriculture. The biotech gold rush was just getting started, and Apple, talking about his plans to revolutionize agriculture, confided enthusiastically to a New York Times reporter, "We are going to make pork chops grow on trees!"

"When that quote appeared in the newspaper Apple was mortified," writes Daniel Charles in Lords of the Harvest, his fascinating and thoroughly reported book about the science, business and politics of agricultural biotechnology. "He meant, of course, that engineered plants might produce the same nutrients that one finds in a pork chop, not an actual hunk of meat hanging on a tree. Besides which, as an observant Jew, he'd never touched a pork chop in his life." Apple even called the chairman of his board to see how they might get the Times to print a correction. "Don't worry about it," he told Apple. "It's great publicity."

Ah, those were the days. The days before biotech crops were vilified as "Frankenfood." Before night raids on test plots of genetically modified trees. Before tortilla chips and corn muffins were tainted with gene-altered StarLink corn, approved only for animals because of human health concerns but inadvertently (and inevitably, critics would aver) homogenized into the human food supply soon after its introduction as cattle feed.

It was a time so full of promise and unlimited potential that at Monsanto--the company that would later become the 800-pound gorilla of ag biotech but which was then an old-fashioned chemical giant just starting to experiment with genes--the main biotech research area on U Building's 4th floor had been nicknamed "U-4ia." It was also a difficult time of transition for the old-school Monsanto chemists and agricultural division reps, who felt threatened by the new laboratories full of red and white petunias--the plants that gene engineers were practicing on--and who expressed their fears as ridicule. At a Monsanto Christmas party in 1984, writes Charles in one of his numerous insider vignettes, one scientist brought a mocked-up picture of a petunia-leaf salad with the caption: "New Marketing Strategy: Eat More Petunias!"

Most of all it was a time of discovery and intellectual adventure. Charles, a science reporter who has been a technology correspondent for National Public Radio and for New Scientist magazine, relates many of these adventures in wonderful detail. One of my favorites is the tale of how scientists invented a device resembling a BB gun that shot new genes into plants by blasting them with tiny DNA-coated tungsten pellets. Wearing white lab gowns and booties, they tested their invention by strafing onion after onion until the lab was reeking and dripping with onion puree. Their colleagues laughed, but it worked. So did a competing team's version, which used a 25,000-volt charge and some Mylar from a potato chip bag.

Charles's descriptions of seed-company business deals sometimes left me a little confused, and at times his chronology of biotech's advancement got hard to track--an unavoidable shortcoming, perhaps, in a book organized (and rightly so) by topic instead of time. Laudably, however, and unlike many of the books already out on this subject, Lords is not a piece of political hatchetry bent on slicing and dicing biotech foods into Veg-O-Matic oblivion. Indeed, Charles is sympathetic to the industry side of the debate. A number of the scientists who gave birth to ag biotech were children of the sixties, he notes. Sure, they were arrogant as hell. But they really did believe that genetic technology might feed the world, clean the world, change the world.

Yet Charles is not an apologist for Monsanto and the other corporate generals in the ag biotech business. He offers a collection of telling anecdotes that reveal the leading scientists and entrepreneurs in the industry as aggressive and even ruthless competitors who were not above stealing ideas and intellectual property from one another and who repeatedly put their own economic interests ahead of the world they had promised to save. On at least one occasion a scientist went so far as to aseptically shred documents received from a competing lab and to culture the bits of paper in petri dishes, hoping the paper might carry a few cells containing the competitor's valuable proprietary genes. Charles also subjects to rigorous analysis Monsanto's claim that its high-tech seeds are going to help poor farmers in the developing world and concludes along with the industry's opponents that, on the whole, the claim is false.

In one enlightening chapter, Charles describes an extraordinary but little-known series of private retreats attended by high-ranking proponents and opponents in the early 1990s. Coordinated by Berlin sociologist Wolfgang van den Daele, the meetings helped to reveal what many had until then been unwilling to admit: the dispute over gene-altered food was about much more than human health and the environment; it was rooted in deeply conflicting views about democracy, capitalism and global trade. In the end, the meetings broke down, with industry claiming that opponents were unwilling to admit to having a larger revolutionary agenda and opponents claiming that industry was using those unresolvable issues to paper over biotech's problems immediately at hand.

History, I suspect, will ultimately agree with Charles that in this respect both sides were right.
Rick Weiss writes about science for the Washington Post.


Biotechnology in The Rockefeller Foundation?s New Course of Action :
Interview with Gordon Conway and Gary Toenniessen

- Lehmann, V. (2001), Biotechnlogy and Development Monitor, No.44/45, p.15-19. http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/4406.htm
(Thanks to Antje Lorch, Editor of BDM for forwarding this in response to my request...CSP)

The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) is a US philanthropic institution that was instrumental in shaping the Green Revolution. In 1998, the Foundation adopted a new programme strategy especially to target poor and marginalized people throughout the world. The Monitor spoke to the president, Gordon Conway, and the director of the food security programme, Gary Toenniessen, on the implications of this new course for agricultural research and biotechnology.

Monitor: Mr. Conway, your recent book calls for a doubly Green Revolution. What does this idea entail?
Conway: The idea of a doubly Green Revolution came about because we know we need to enhance food production over the next 30 years just as we did in previous decades to keep up with population increase. We also know that we are running out of land on which we can expand agriculture, so food production has to be expanded by increased yields. Essentially we need another Green Revolution. But we also know that the new Green Revolution has to be more environmentally sustainable. We have to avoid the problems of pesticides and the overuse of fertilizers. And we have to have a greater diversity of cropping systems. However, equally important is that a second Green Revolution should reach the poor. The previous Green Revolution did benefit the poor, in part, because prices for food were lowered, but it did not bring universal improvement. That is why we have 800 million people chronically undernourished now. The people by-passed, for instance, are those living in urban areas, poor people in the Green Revolution la

Monitor: Does this mean that your programme will no longer target farmers who have already profited from the first Green Revolution? Or just that it will no longer exclude marginalized farmers?
Toenniessen: There has been a shift away from tackling both groups of farmers. For instance, a lot of our rice biotechnology programme was concerned with further improvements for farmers on the Green Revolution lands. With Mr. Conway?s arrival in 1998, we have focused more on those farmers who have benefited very little so far from the Green Revolution.
Conway: Presently our priority is to tackle the big problems that poor farmers face, such as drought, salinity, or Striga weed in Africa.

Monitor: In dealing with these problems, what will be the role of biotechnology for the Foundation?
Conway: We have to distinguish between the different kinds of biotechnology, of which at least three are important. The first one is tissue culture to cross species that would only very rarely cross in nature. For instance, there are two different species of Oryza, the African and the Asian rice. The African rice grows vigorously in dry conditions and smothers weeds. By crossing two species the rice starts out as African rice and then becomes like Asian rice with high yields. The second is marker-aided selection. This technique helps to identify a gene in normal crossbreeding. For example breeding against rice blast, a rice disease common in Asia, would traditionally involve growing the plant and then infecting it with blast to see whether it is resistant. Using molecular markers the whole procedure is accelerated because this process detects whether the resistance gene is present in a new cross without actually going through the whole plant cycle. The third is genetic engineering, which is used if it is no

Monitor: Golden Rice has attracted a lot of attention. Critics contend that lack of vitamin A and micronutrient deficiency is a complex phenomenon, which is, to a large extent, caused by the decline in the diversity of food. In this view, vitamin-enhanced rice is just a technical fix.
Conway: I always want to reply to that by asking about HIV/AIDS. Are critics going to say we should not be producing a vaccine, because we could solve the whole AIDS problem by changing people?s sexual habits? Vaccines are not a magic bullet, and neither is Vitamin A enhanced rice. The argument about the range of crops of course is true. People in affluent societies do not suffer from vitamin A deficiency because they have a range of foods. This is not the case for many people living in urban settings in developing countries. For example, one of the problems is that mothers often take their babies off breast milk very early and wean them with rice gruel instead. And that is when the vitamin A deficiency starts to kick in. Furthermore, a great many developing countries are in semi-arid areas with little to grow in the dry season. People could have gardens around their houses if they dug wells and maybe this is the answer. However, this approach might take longer than providing rice that is storable in the dr

Monitor: Who is more in need of beta-carotene enhanced rice, poor people in developing countries or agrobiotechnology companies?
Toenniessen: Both need it, but vitamin A-deficient rice consumers clearly need it most. The companies are using it for public relations purposes even though they had nothing to do with its development. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  The result is too much publicity and controversy about a research product that is still in the development phase. Yet it would be a tragedy if the controversy thwarted the further development and distribution of Golden Rice by public sector institutions.

Monitor: At any rate, this new rice will not be at hand tomorrow.
Conway: True. In the meantime we are also supporting Vitamin A supplementation in schools, for example in Ghana. But the problem with that approach is that one has to make sure everybody goes to school. And of course we know that in poor areas children do not always go to school.

Monitor: These issues touch on the complexity of food systems and livelihood, as they combine agro-ecosystems, social, economic, and ecological considerations. Are you concerned that the hierarchy of ?hard? and ?soft? sciences is likely to be reinforced with the growing importance of genetic engineering?
Conway: I have nothing against hard science. As a matter of fact it can help soft science. What I am concerned about is hard science driving the agenda. For the Foundation?s application of genetic engineering and other biotechnologies, it is not the hard science that is driving the agenda, but the problems. After identification of the problems one has to look for the solutions; sometimes the solution to the problem may be genetic engineering, sometimes not.

Monitor: How can farmers take part in shaping technology, especially in the case of genetic engineering? Farmers might participate in selecting varieties, but in the end they will always depend on receiving technologies they cannot develop themselves.
Toenniessen: Farmers know very well which characteristics they prefer, so they do participate in the evaluation and the selection, and may even participate in making crosses. As far as genetic engineering is concerned, we need a feedback system that gathers information from the farmers and from the field researchers. For example, the farmers identified the need for a Striga-resistant maize. Such information goes back to an International Agricultural Research Centre (IARC) or it comes back to us and then we can identify an appropriate advanced laboratory. It may also be a company that is willing to make a commitment to try to use the most advanced science to generate the product that the farmers have indicated they need.

Monitor: Was that also the procedure that led to the development of beta-carotene enhanced rice?
Toenniessen: No, it did not start within a programme that was designed to solve Vitamin A deficiency. Beta-carotene enhanced rice goes back to the beginning of the Foundation?s rice biotechnology programme, when the objectives were different. Back then, the Foundation was concerned that new biotechnologies that could contribute to crop genetic improvement were not being applied to any of the crops or any of the traits that were important in developing countries. In both the private sector and the public sector in industrialized countries, these technologies were being employed for crops important in their own countries that were financially more attractive. Therefore, we started a programme to build capacity in Asia to use these new biotechnologies and, while we were doing so, we asked what were the most important traits that we could introduce into rice? One of the traits that were identified, by talking to breeders, sociologists and economists, was beta-carotene enhanced, yellow endosperm. It became one o

Monitor: Which of your biotechnology projects do you expect to make the biggest difference within the next five or ten years?
Toenniessen: Probably drought tolerance. We are making a major effort to use marker-assisted selection to produce drought tolerant rice and maize. And if this is possible for rice and maize, it will probably be feasible for all the cereals because of the similarities that exist between the grasses. This could have the biggest impact on those who were bypassed by the Green Revolution because they did not have access to irrigation.

Monitor: Would that be a combination of all the three biotechnologies you mentioned earlier?
Toenniessen: Marker-assisted breeding will be of primary importance. We are talking about multiple traits, each of which is governed by multiple genes. Transferring a single gene is not going to contribute much to drought-tolerance. In general, we think that marker-aided selection is going to have a lot more positive impact on the traits and on the people we are interested in than genetic engineering.
Conway: Another important trait would be Striga weed resistance. According to the United Nations? Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2000 Striga had caused damage worth US$ 7 billion. That is an extraordinary figure, especially since it hits basically poor farmers. The answer is going to be an integrated answer, which includes cultivation, use of legumes and some form of biotechnology, which may or may not be genetic engineering.

Monitor: Mr. Conway, you were engaged in the public discussion regarding the so-called terminator technologies that render seeds sterile. Companies such as Monsanto (USA) and AstraZeneca (Sweden/UK) have officially declared that they will not commercialize such technologies. On the other hand, we see that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as other corporations continues with the development. What do you expect for the future?
Conway: Our concern in the Foundation has been to ensure that new varieties are freely available to poor farmers. And in particular that poor farmers can keep varieties from year to year, and swap them with other farmers, because that was how new varieties were distributed during the Green Revolution. We are not interested in discussing whether such genes are good or bad for industrialized countries. However, I think the fact that Monsanto and AstraZeneca have forsworn them is a major step. It would be very difficult for a major biotechnology company to put seed sterility genes into a crop in a developing country now. The opposition would be too great.

Monitor: The ?terminator? genes are only the technical solution to the broader issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Is this a necessity or an evil that you have to deal with?
Conway: We are in favour of the old Plant Variety Protection System as opposed to patents. This means that plant breeders could market their seed, but another plant breeder could work with it and then market a new variety himself. But I think we have to be realistic, it is very difficult to go back to that old system. What we are interested in is a step forward towards public-private partnerships to make advanced techniques available to our target group.

Monitor: The development of beta-carotene enhanced rice is accompanied by complicated IPR issues. Did the Rockefeller Foundation, therefore, suggest that the inventors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology should enter a partnership for commercialization with AstraZeneca, a private company?
Toenniessen: No, the partnership was achieved without us, but we advised that it would be a good arrangement as far as intellectual property was concerned and also to facilitate the biosafety and nutritional testing. We are continuing to fund the inventors. If we did not like the agreement we could have terminated the funding.
Conway: We think that the cooperation can make this rice freely available to farmers in developing countries. In the end we achieve what we want, and probably more quickly and easily than through the public system.

Monitor: Philanthropic organizations are very specific actors. Like governments from industrialized countries, they provide financial resources. On the other hand, they are not democratically endowed. What will be the future role of the Rockefeller Foundation?
Conway: If you think of modern society as a three-legged stool, with government, the private sector, and the not-for-profit sector as the three equal legs of a modern society, we have a facilitating role in bringing them together at all levels. We do it by linking up United Nations bodies such as the World Health Organization with pharmaceutical companies and we also do it at the village or town level. However, because of our size and history it remains a peculiarly American philanthropic role.

Monitor: New philanthropies, such as the Gates Foundation (USA), have more money to spend. Will this lead to competition?
Conway: No, rather cooperation. They might have greater financial resources, but they do not necessarily have the infrastructure. For instance, our organization is already established in Africa, and when we created the International AIDS Vaccination Initiative (IAVI), which is now an independent NGO, the Gates Foundation also contributed.

Monitor: What is the rationale behind the IAVI?
Conway: The basic premise is that although some of the big pharmaceutical companies were interested in vaccines, they neglected vaccines for the African or the Asian market, where the HIV strains are different. We believed that with a certain financial inducement we could get pharmaceutical companies, in particular small biotech companies, to work on producing new vaccines. At present IAVI has four vaccines in the works at very early stages, for which the first safety trials are now being conducted in Kenya. This initiative is a good example of what is now called venture philanthropy.

Monitor: Do you think this could become an example for the agricultural sector as well?
Conway: It is possible, although in a way we have already got that with the institutes of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Toenniessen: Within the agricultural area we do not yet have a mechanism for linking the private and public sectors together in a common task, like developing a vaccine. Furthermore, there is one important difference. In the health area we are dependent upon the private sector to develop the final product. There is no public sector capacity to do all the clinical trials and actually produce and deliver a vaccine at the end. In agriculture we still have public sector institutions that are able to breed and to produce a final variety and to distribute the seeds to the farmers. We do not want to lose this capacity, especially not in developing countries, because it is the best way to deliver the product to poor farmers at minimal costs. 
The interview was conducted by Volker Lehmann, Editor Biotechnology and Development Monitor
Source: Conway, G. (1998), The Doubly Green Revolution. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell University Press.


The Ban on GM Food in Sri Lanka

- Prof. C.S. Weeraratna , Faculty of Agriculture, Rajarata University (Daily News, Sri Lanka, 11 October, 2001) (Forwarded by Stanley Weeraratna )

Following a recommendation made by the Food Advisory Committee a few months ago, the Ministry of Health banned importation of GM food in May. This was lifted subsequently and the ban was to made effective from 1 September. However, this ban has been deferred indefinitely.

Before taking a final decision on banning GM food, it is important to consider all the relevant facts related to GM food. There is a tendency for some to take decisions on many important matters without giving adequate consideration to all concerned issues.

What are GM Food? The varieties of crops grown and the animal reared in the past although had many desirable traits were low-yielding. With the urgent need to increase crop and animal production to feed the increasing population, plant and animal breeders resorted to cross-breeding which effectively modified the genetic composition of a plant/animal variety resulting in a new variety. These new crop/animal varieties are obviously better than the old varieties in many respects. We have consumed the produce of these genetically modified varieties without any problem during the last two-three decades. If plant and animal breeders have not produced these varieties with better traits, severe food shortages would have occurred long time ago. For example, in Sri Lanka, the increase in average rice production from around 1500 kg/ha to 3500 kg/ha during the last three decades is mainly attributable to high yielding varieties developed by the rice-breeders of the Dept. of Agriculture. These high yielding rice

However, with the development of fields such as Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, it has become possible to modify a specific gene in a variety without resorting to breeding. This process, also called Genetic Engineering has made it possible to develop a new variety within a relatively shorter period.

A more advanced aspect of Genetic Engineering is DNA recombinant technology where genetic materials from a completely different species are introduced to another species. This process has made it possible rapid development of new varieties containing a desirable trait/s. Thus, it has become possible to introduce a characteristic such as resistance to a specific herbicide or a pest into a variety enabling the growers to reduce application of a pesticide.

At present, a large extent of lands are cultivated with GM plant varieties of maize, soybean, tomato cotton, etc. Most of these crops are cultivated in USA, Canada, some South American countries and France. The total land area under GM crops in the world at present is around 40 million hectares. Cultivation of GM varieties has made it possible to increase yields, reduce the use of some pesticides, increase the quality of the produce, reduce inputs etc. resulting in cost reduction, a major factor to reckoned in food production. In the field of GM food there are two distinct aspects. One is the consumption of GM food and the other their cultivation.

Consumption of GM food: One of the issues related to GM food is the presence of toxic compounds in them. A large number of normal crops (non GM crops) which we consume also contain various types of biologically active compounds which may be toxic. For example, some crucifers (e.g. cabbage family) contain goitrogenic compounds. Crops of a number of other families also are known to contain such toxic compounds These toxic compounds, which are usually present in minute amounts, are likely to get decomposed during the process of cooking. A very good example for such detoxification is found in cassava. An extremely toxic compound Hydro cyanic acid (HCN) is present in stale cassava. This compound gets evaporated when cassava is boiled resulting in detoxification. Similarly any toxic chemical compound that is present in any food is likely to get evaporated or decomposed during processing/cooking. At the time of consuming most products from GM plants, the cells/tissues are all dead and hence, it is possible that

Those who oppose GM food argue that the GM plants have completely new DNAs. The nuclei of all cells contain DNA (De-Oxy Ribonucleic acids) which are essentially made up of nitrogenous bases such as adenine, guanine, cytosine etc. The DNAs from one plant variety are different to those from another plant variety mainly from the point of view of their base composition and their sequence. A non GM tomato plant will have one particular sequence of bases in their DNAs while a GM tomato plant will have a different sequence of bases.

The following facts are given in a statement made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Biotechnology. 1. Genetic Engineering has the potential to help increase production and productivity in agriculture and fisheries. 2. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands. 3. There are many example where Genetic Engineering is helping to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines. 4. Genetically engineered rice with a higher pro-vitamin content and iron have the potential of improving the health of consumers of such rice.

GM food have been consumed in many countries and up to now no toxic effects have been reported. Around 50 research investigations have been conducted in different parts of the world on GM food. The consensus of these studies is that there is nothing about the making of GM crops that makes them more dangerous than those crops produced by conventional breeding. (It would be possible to provide references and all relevant details of these studies, to any one interested)

Dr. C.S. Prakash, a Professor of Plant Genetics and the President of the AgBioWorld Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides information about developments in plant science, biotechnology, and sustainable agriculture, is of the view that the ban on biotechnology of food imports is a reckless decision, and it will prevent the people from benefiting from this safe and promising technology. Following is an extract from a report submitted by the AgBio World Foundation.

? A recent report published by the United Nations Development Program found that genetically enhanced crop plants can significantly benefit local and regional agriculture in the developing world, the key to addressing both hunger and low income. Biotechnology offers the only, or the best, tool of choice for marginal ecological zones left behind by the Green Revolution, but home to more than half the world's poorest people. It also charged that the ban on trade in biotech products based upon dubious concerns about safety could jeopardize the ability of the poorest nations to feed growing populations. Millions of people go hungry, and hundreds of millions more receive inadequate levels of dietary nutrients.

But agricultural researchers around the globe are now using biotechnology to improve many important plant varieties useful in impoverished regions. Biotechnology provides a valuable tool for developing countries to produce more food locally and in an environmentally sustainable manner. There is a consensus within the scientific community that genetic modification is a safe method for improving food production. Seven national academies of science and dozens of other scientific bodies have endorsed this approach. A Declaration of Scientists in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology, endorsed by more than 3, 200 scientists, including 16 Nobel Prize winners, states that "biotechnology can address environmental degradation, hunger, and poverty in the developing world by providing improved agricultural productivity and greater nutritional security." This declaration and a list of signatories can be viewed at http://www.agbioworld.org.

What needs priority: Very often harmful/toxic substances such as pesticides and other chemicals are added to food, and these contaminated food are sold freely in the market. There were many newspaper reports indicating that formalin treated fish were sold for consumption. A large number of eating-places are unhygienic and there are many cases where spoiled food are sold. Various types of ?Drugs ? which are supposed to cure/control certain diseases/conditions are freely imported. No one knows how harmful these ?Drugs? are. A mixture of microorganisms called EM is used in crop production. No one knows whether this EM would produce any undesirable after-effects on the biotic environment, Even the Dept. of Agriculture has not approved the use of EM but, a number of farmers use EM. It is essential that priority need to be given to controlling such undesirable practices which would drastically affect health of the people than trying to ban GM food.

Labeling of GM food: It is generally agreed that all food products are labeled to indicate their composition. Many countries insist on labeling of GM food so that consumers are aware what they consume. It would be desirable if Sri Lanka also follow this procedure rather than simply banning all GM food based on inadequate information.

Alternatives: A better alternative to consumption of GM food is to cultivate the appropriate crops locally so that we would be able to save foreign exchange and increase employment and also avoid the possibility of any harmful effects, if there are any. However, we are forced to import a substantial amount of carbohydrates and proteins as we are not self-sufficient in most of our food. The total annual expenditure on food imports to the country is in the region Rs. 40 billion.

Cultivation of GM plants: Cultivation of GM plants, unlike their consumption may cause problems to the biotic environment. GM plants have a completely new genetic composition, and when such plants are cultivated on large scale, an organism ( a weed, an insect, a bacteria, a fungus or a virus) which has not hitherto become a pest may develop into a pest . Hence, the actual problems associated with GM food crops are more in their cultivation.

Those who argue against GM food are of the opinion that the new genetic combinations may result in the formation of allergic/ toxic compounds. This is possible and that is why GM foods are intensively tested before they are marketed. However, it should not be forgotten that even the so called non GM food contain allergic compounds. Some are allergic even to wheat starch. Hence, it is not possible to find food which are absolutely safe to every one. Those who see absolutely safe environment devoid of any pollutants need to realize that most of what we do will have some effect on the environment. If we want to have an environment without any pollution, we need to live like our fore-fathers who mainly resorted to a food-gathering culture.


NGO Way to Go: Political Accountability of Non-government Organizations in a Democratic Society

- Gary Johns, IPA Backgrounder
Download the full text of this document as a PDF [120K] file at http://www.ipa.org.au/pubs/backgrounddocs/12-3summary.html

Summary: The growth of NGOs in the last three decades has been a significant feature of political life. Few matters of public policy pass without an NGO spokesperson advocating a position. They have, in some regards, become the official opposition.

Historically, associations of private individuals have gathered for public purposes, usually to provide a service not available from the state, well before the establishment of democratic government. They have preceded, and now complement, the growth of services available from the welfare state. Many are Church-based and concentrate on the needs of individuals for assistance, typically in welfare, health and education.

In more recent times, a new class of NGOs has arisen which focuses directly on changing public policy. Though membership-based, they are unlike the representative interest groups of employers and employees, which provide both service to membership and public advocacy on behalf of their members. The new NGOs consist, typically, of middle-class activists who want government to reallocate resources or change laws according to activists' view of the good society.

In some respects, the phenomenal growth of civil activism as represented by NGOs reflects restlessness with the inadequacies of government to remake the world in a way acceptable to the activists. In this regard, NGO activism is a challenge to representative democracy; it regards itself as a new form of democracy.

If NGO activism is to take its place within democratic society, it presumably has to be accountable for its actions. How this is to be achieved, and the nature of the relationship between government and civil society as represented by NGOs, is the subject of this Backgrounder.



From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: My Earlier Posting on "Subject: Anthrax and Bt Sprays"

Unfortunately, the last sentence and a half were inadvertently omitted with the posting ending with - "The genes for critical toxins are present in Bt, and we currently do not know"

It should have continued as follows - "enough about the regulators that cause these pathogens to be expressed (Agaisse et al. 1999, Bouchie 2000). When it comes to that which is deemed to be "organic," the vivid and creative imagination to potential dangers ceases to function, and the precautionary principle is simply ignored by those who would save us from perils of modern technology and science."