Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* On 'Seeds of Discontent': FAO Undertaking on Genetic Resources
* US Research May Well Be A Boon
* The Origin of the Term 'Spud'
* Indian Agriculture Minister In Favour Of GM Crop Trials
* An Anatomy of Compromise
* Bureaucratically Modified Science
* EPA Reauthorizes Bt Corn (And Gets Rissler Worrying)
* Online Debate On Now : Biotech and Food - Southern Perspective
* More Vandana - Globalisation and Talibanisation
On 'Seeds of Discontent': FAO International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources
- From: Dave Wood
Daniel Charles, in Science, Oct 26, writes of the revision of the FAO International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IU), now in its final stages this week in Rome. The International Undertaking (IU) has been presented as a vital treaty for access to genetic resources for plant breeding and biotechnology.
The reality is somewhat different. The claim that the new maize varieties were based on landraces (the varieties grown by traditional farmers) is disingenuous: this base‚ was very many plant generations ago. The vast proportion of present varieties' including the maize highlighted by Charles - are mainly based on elite breeding lines, and not the landrace contents of the international genebanks (Banziger, the breeder, notes this reality). Indeed, many surveys have shown that national and international breeders very rarely use landraces, which, however, remain valuable future resources. Sound storage for future utilization, rather than present access, is a key need. However, this storage and management 'in perpetuity' can be a reasonable cost. CIMMYT estimate their highly important global wheat genebank can be maintained for ever with a one-off investment of $14 million.
The IU will cover only national genebanks of those countries ratifying the IU possibly very few. Outside of the IU will be 1) private collections everywhere; 2) international collections in CG institutes (the separate CGIAR Boards will need to agree on their inclusion in the IU by no means certain); 3) ALL samples 'under development' (Art 13.2(e) of the draft IU).
This last category is of utmost importance 'it includes exactly the elite breeding lines directly used by Banziger and all other breeders. If these elite lines remain outside the IU' and there is little reason why the CGIAR or national plant breeders should voluntarily include them at present then global food security will remain secure. But equally, if public elite varieties remain outside the IU, there will be no incentive for countries to join the IU, which requires a tax for using the far less useful (and less used) landraces. The IU will have few assets and no teeth.
Is there any possible fall-back position if the IU stumbles or fails to attract enough countries? Farmer ' rather than national' ownership of seed samples is one possibility. Under the IU the 'ownership‚ of the contents of national and CG genebanks will be transferred to central governance, with a charge' payable to a central fund - for future commercial use. I argue that the contents of these genebanks are very largely varieties obtained from individual farmers. And we now know 'often thanks to the Honeybee Network' that individual farmers are capable of selecting excellent new varieties.
Those in favour of central control claim that farmers willingly donated their varieties to collectors: not so! For example, collectors (including myself) often purchased samples in GRAIN markets: this does not permit their subsequent use as SEED. It seems that nations (and CG genebanks) that transfer such farmer-varieties into the IU 'common pool‚ will deny property rights to Third World farmers. True, in return there will be some support for conservation under an international fund from a new tax' but this will not benefit most of the farmers that selflessly supplied samples to wandering collectors. Equally, it will not stimulate the skilled farmer-selectors to generate new varieties for our use. We urgently need a legal regime to stimulate individual farmer-breeders: the IU as formulated denies property rights to these excellent people.
There is a need here for the CGIAR, FAO, and national systems to get their heads together to design a direct reward system for farmers and their landraces: these rewards would come directly from the private sector as they identify valuable samples. And as most CG samples are duplicates of samples in national genebanks, a bilateral system, could work (the present IU is multilateral by design). Anyone wishing to develop and further use varieties would be expected to directly pay royalties to the country, and if possible, the farmer of origin.
Rather than central control, as envisaged now, some kind of central agency could help farmers derive direct benefit from their own varieties (perhaps through a clearing-house mechanism as used by the Convention on Biological Diversity). Whatever happens this week in Rome, FAO and the CGIAR are in an excellent position to work with countries for the more effective utilization of genetic resources 'international disputes dominated by dispute over access, fomented by NGOs - could jeopardize this.
In this light, the call for a 'ban on the patenting of anything discovered within public seed banks'‚ reported by Charles is breathtakingly elitist. As most seed-bank samples are in fact farmer-varieties, a ban on patenting will for ever deny farmers worldwide of the fruits of their skills. Also the private sector will quickly 'invent around'‚ this provision, but at some unnecessary cost, rather than being able to reward individual farmers as partners. No bureaucrat or NGO has a right to demand that farmers renounce this opportunity.
Fortunately, the proposed ban is an empty call. If any breeder. private or public, wants any sample from a CGIAR genebank without strings, it can be obtained indirectly through the 'country of origin', which has an absolute right to obtain duplicates from the CGIAR for whatever use. Indeed, any country staying out of the IU would be then able to trade with the private sector bilaterally, sourcing well-evaluated samples as a right from CGIAR genebanks. This would apply strongly to centers of crop diversity such as Turkey, Iran, China, India, Mexico, Peru and several more. This provision has already been implemented in a deal between Peru and Japan, when Peru obtained samples of Peruvian origin of an Andean crop from the International Potato Center in Peru. This caused howls of protest from the professional anti-development protesters, RAFI. This is a direct attempt by RAFI to interfere in the sovereign affairs of a Third World nation.
Three more points:
Firstly, it is not fair to blame the CBD for the meltdown in germplasm collecting (Charles gets close to this). In the early 90s, after 20 years collecting, many genebanks simply thought they had enough samples. And at that time the agricultural activists‚ further reduced the goodwill needed for collecting though their 'biopiracy'‚ campaigns. But further collecting is of marginal importance for global food security. There is now talk within the CGIAR that their international genebanks should stay out of the IU. If so, there will be enough genetic diversity in present international genebanks and inventories of elite lines to keep breeders happy almost for ever. But continued free access to CGIAR-bred varieties (rather than landraces in genebanks) is particularly important for smaller countries. These elite varieties are outside the terms of the IU. It follows that future breeding by the CGIAR 'rather than further genebank-stuffing and international taxes on seed' is in the best interests of most countries.
Secondly, I was amused at Charles‚ statement that 'In collaboration with two other researchers at IPGRI, Fowler [an advisor to IPGRI] recently published data showing that agriculture in nearly all developing nations relies on crops that originated somewhere else.' This fact has been well known for half a century and was reported in quantified detail in 1988 (in papers first by Kloppenburg and Kleinman, and then myself). There are good biological reasons for the success of this intercontinental crop transfer only now being recognized by scientists.
Fowler's other statement that 'genetic resources now flow mainly from "North" to "South" rather than the other way around‚' is way off target: all international genebanks (save an unimportant banana genebank in Belgium) are in the 'South‚ ' mainly in CGIAR Centres such as ICRISAT in India. Under CGIAR explicit policies, no country can be denied access to these samples (although the IU threatens this free access). Specifically, there is a firm CGIAR commitment to return samples to the country of origin quite unencumbered by any restriction as to future use. I successfully argued for the insertion of this into the 1994 FAO/CGIAR agreement on sample distribution and I'm now delighted that Japan and Peru have bilateral deal on samples. Fowler is scaremongering here (or, more charitably, perhaps does not understand how the system works).
Thirdly, as we demonstrated long ago, the vital importance of intercontinental transfer of varieties remains. The main lesson from Charles‚ essay is that the agricultural activist NGOs have landed everyone in a mess. This is now a characteristic of anti-development/anti-technology NGOs: they have the large funds to constantly meddle, yet can walk away (or change names) as the poor starve.
- Dave Wood
>'Seeds of Discontent'
>'Plant Breeders, Developing Nations, and Agricultural Firms
>Battle For Control of The World's Stock Of Crop Diversity'
>- Daniel Charles, Science, Oct 26, 2001; Vol 294, No 5543, pp. 772-775
>For the past 10 years, at a research compound outside Harare, Zimbabwe,
>Marianne Banziger has been painstakingly constructing corn plants
>that will thrive in drought-prone areas of southern
From: Andrew Apel
- An excellent reply to RAFI's shrill and ultimately incoherent pronouncements over the jasmine rice matter is found in the following article in the Bangkok Post.
'US Research May Well Be A Boon'
- Bangkok Post, October 31, 2001
Everyone who lives in Thailand appreciates the importance of Thai jasmine rice, both in terms of Thailand's cuisine and its economy.
News of an American rice breeder working with jasmine rice has sparked an emotional and nationalistic furore in Thailand, promoting fears of US patents, lost markets and economic hardship for millions of rice farmers. A recent article even went so far as to say that the actions of the American rice breeder, Chris Deren, help Thais understand why Osama bin Laden hates the United States.
Rather than assume the American research is part of a corporate scheme aimed at stealing one of Thailand's most cherished assets, it would be useful to take an objective look at the scientific and legal issues surrounding the rice research. Then it might be possible to see that the American research is legal, potentially beneficial to Thailand and poses a very small, if any, threat to Thailand's rice export market. All modern varieties of grain, including Thailand's prized jasmine (KDM 105), are the result of systematic scientific breeding efforts. This is a time-consuming process in which breeders combine desirable characteristics from existing varieties to create better varieties.
Because of the current structure of the rice seed market, private companies have little incentive to invest in rice research and development, which often takes five-10 years, to make a single improved variety. So most rice breeding takes place at public universities, such as Kasetsart‚s Pathum Thani Rice Research Centre, or at publicly funded research institutions, such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. In the United States, Mr Deren began working with jasmine rice in 1995 at the publicly funded University of Florida. He is not affiliated with any corporation.
Rachane Potjanasuntorn, deputy director-general of the Export Promotion Department, has been reported as saying that the American rice reseach show a "disrespect of Thailand's sovereignty". Indeed countries do have sovereignty over their biological resources. This is outlined in an international treaty, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Since 1992, 182 countries have ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. Among the handful of countries which have not are Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yugoslavia, the United States and, strangely, Thailand.
Even if Thailand could invoke the Convention, genetic resources used for food and agriculture are an exception under the agreement. The Convention has delegated the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to determine rules on this issue. According to the FAO‚s international undertaking, a select list of crops (including rice) are still freely shared between nations.
So it remains standard procedure for rice researchers to use breeding material, called germplasm, from various parts of the world. Rices growing throughout Thailand count rices from Taiwan, the Philippines, China and other countries among their "parents". The IRRI and various other institutions and governments (including the Thai and US governments) maintain collections of germplasm which they share with researchers around the world. Mr Deren's samples of KDM 105 came from the IRRI.
Thais are concerned that a patent will be sought on an American variant of jasmine rice. It is nearly impossible in the United States to get a utility patent on a plant variety. Patents related to transgenic varieties that are the product of genetic engineering cover individual isolated genes or processes, not the variety as a whole.
Mr Deren's work with jasmine rice does not involve genetic engineering; it is a combination of a standard, uncontroversial process of radiating seeds, to induce genetic variations, and classical breeding. Even if Mr Deren were able to get a patent on his work, this would only apply in the United States. Thai farmers would not be prevented from using or planting Thai jasmine rice.
While plant varieties developed through classical breeding do not qualify for patents, they are covered by a form of intellectual property protection called Plant Variety Protection (PVP). This prevents anyone other than the breeder from selling PVP-protected seeds for a profit. However, it does not prevent others from conducting breeding research with the variety, nor does it prevent farmers from saving PVP-protected varieties for replanting.
It is important to note that even if Mr Deren chooses to apply for PVP, which he has not said he will, he does not have anything yet that would be eligible for PVP. In his own words: "With foolish optimism, I could say they the candidate strains could be grown in a year or two... But reality is that if any are sufficiently productive and have good quality, it will be years, often at least 10, to create a variety."
Furthermore, Mr Deren‚s breeding lines (the strains which are precursors to a commercial variety) would be available to other researchers, including Thai rice breeders. An earlier maturing variety, which is what Mr Deren is seeking, could mean an extra crop each year for Thai rice farmers.
The Thai government and NGOs have been quick to respond to the perceived threat of Mr Deren‚s research. The work to register Thai jasmine rice trademarks in other countries is laudable. This will help to maintain quality and cement Thailand‚s prominence in export markets. However the rhetoric from the Thai government, media and NGOs appears misguided.
There are likely to be serious corporate threats to the Asian rice market in the future. Governments and NGOs should be watching some of the agrobusiness companies. A year and a half ago, Monsanto announced its scientists were the first to research a blueprint of the rice genome. Novartis calls rice one of its 'pillar' crops. The IRRI's hybrid rice programme could facilitate the genetic engineering of rice and possibly a commercial market in rice seed.
These threats will require astute government policies to protect farmers‚ interests, and well-informed NGO analysis to debate the issues. Mr Deren's research into Thai jasmine rice does not merit the energy and fervour of the current rhetoric and direct action campaigns. Thai government officials and NGOs might be surprised at the benefits of halting their offensive and engaging in a dialogue with rice researchers around the world, including Mr Deren, as well as lawyers who specialise in intellectual property rights affecting plants and genes. They might find that what they currently perceive as a threat is really an opportunity.
The Origin of the Term 'Spud' for Potato
- From: Meredith Hughes
We doubt the truth of that acronym but it always comes up. In fact the digging tool commonly used in Britain well before the potato's arrival was known as a 'spud'. Evidently it was perfect for digging up potatoes and thus the name transferred.
Meredith Hughes, The FOOD Museum
Indian Agriculture Minister In Favour Of GM Crop Trials
- Asia Pulse, 31 Oct 2001
NEW DELHI, Oct 30 Asia Pulse - Amidst controversy sparked by cotton grown in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Federal Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh said he favoured the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops to increase productivity, but only after careful trials were held to prevent any impact on the environment or health.
"Genetically modified crops and modern scientific methods can do wonders in stepping up productivity. However, they should only be introduced after proper testing, to ensure there is no harmful effect on the environment, biodiversity and human health", Singh said in New Delhi. While developed countries such as the United States are reaping the rewards of cultivating genetically modified crops, the fate of cotton grown by farmers in Gujarat is now uncertain because trials are still continuing, he said whilst inaugurating a seminar on agricultural extension services.
"Other countries are already using Bt cotton, but we are still testing it", he said, adding that science and technology has to play a much greater role in raising productivity.
An (Updated) Anatomy of Compromise
- Peter Cresswell, PC's Weekly Opinion, © Libz.org 2001
(Forwarded by Francis Wevers )
WWF Wrestling has nothing on this: a three-way battle between politics, science and the Stone Age.
In the red corner- New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark with the report from the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification in hand. Locked in the dressing room, fighting to get out, are the scientists, researchers and producers of genetically modified organisms who have been locked in for the last three years. In the Green corner - assorted tribalists and environmentalists, twenty-first century representatives from the stone age, threatening to withdraw their political support for Clark's government if she lets the gene genie out of the bottle. Stone Agers battling for the plains of heaven.
Yesterday Helen Clark bravely stepped into the ring, waved around the Royal Commission's report, and announced her decision. Like the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which tried to find a middle path between liberty and slavery), Clark went for a middle path between science and mysticism. The Clark Compromise is likely to prove as unsuccessful as the Missouri Compromise.
She told us that the scientists could now come out blinking into the light, that science is a-coming on through and the white-coated ones are in the vanguard of progress! In the same breath she reminded the Stone Agers that she is not allowing unrestricted use and development of genetically modified organisms, so don't worry y'all - Ma Helen's got the lid on the pot.
How could she promise both? Easily - she's a politician. As Tom Waits once said, "the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away." Science will now be 'free' to conduct field trials into genetic modification, but scientists will have whole new levels of bureaucracy to deal with. As Clark's Minister Marian Hobbs reminded us in parliament yesterday, New Zealand already has the most onerous shackles on GE research and production anywhere in the world, and her government intends to fasten those shackles even tighter.
Included in those shackles will be a "strengthened" law ensuring that requests for permission to conduct GM research are more expensive, more time consuming and the outcome even less certain than at present; a new clause in that law allowing Maori tribalists more say in whether or not permission is granted; and a new 'Bioethics Council' to consider the future of the technology with respect to the Maori tribalists' "cultural and spiritual concerns."
What are those "concerns" that the 'Bioethics Council' will be required to address? What are the dangers they must address? Speaking to us direct from the Stone Age, Cabinet Minister Sandra Lee tells us. "Mixing the mauri, or life energy, of different species to create so-called transgenic organisms is," she says, "generally repugnant to many Maori." Labour MP John Tamihere said that Maori objected to GE because it threatens "genealogical purity."
Rather than toss this mystic 'Mauri' bullshit back into the ashcan of history where it belongs, in New Zealand it is now to be further enshrined into law. What reaction has this shameful compromise received?
Producers and scientists, pathetically grateful for being allowed to work at all, have predictably hailed this outcome as "pragmatic," and a victory for common sense. The Green Party - who, ended last week threatening to bring down the government over the issue - have meekly withdrawn.
But the sandalled vandals and the eco-terrorists are now promising that "direct action" will be forthcoming against any transgressors of Mother Nature's 'life force': Greenpeace have called for supporters to take things into their own hands; the 3,000 strong 'Green Gloves' organisation have promised to destroy field trials wherever and whenever they occur; and an organisation calling themselves the 'Maori Woman's Network against GE' have reportedly already occupied the offices of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, and are no doubt hanging voodoo dolls around the building as we speak.
Unswayed by the Clark Compromise, the environmental Taleban are already out in force. The Missouri Compromise failed to lance the boil of slavery, making the eventual civil war over the issue almost inevitable. The Clark Compromise is equally unsatisfying, throwing bones to the Stone Agers while shackling the scientists. Like all such "pragmatic" compromises, the result is inevitable disaster.
"Technology is integral to the advancement of the world. Fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity, radio transmission, air and space travel, nuclear power, the microchip, DNA: the human race has ever been on the cusp of innovation. Currently, biotechnology is the new frontier. Continuation of research is critical to New Zealand's future." So said the Royal Commission's report into genetic modification. What it failed to point out was that frontier will be closed off to us if the savages from the stone age are not thrown out of polite debate. Pity our Prime Minister was not up to it.
Bureaucratically Modified Science
- Tim Watkin, NZ Herald, 27 Oct 2001, http://nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=224778&thesection=news&thesubsection=general
John Fraser feels like a prisoner - fingers tapping and feet jiggling, waiting for the jail door to swing open. As a professor in molecular biology, which, he says, "is essentially the ability to shuffle genes between organisms", Fraser has spent years captive to New Zealand's laws restricting the creation of new genetically modified organisms.
His quest to develop a non-harmful super-antigen that could strengthen vaccines of any kind has been stymied. He's far from the only scientist in this position, but his experiences at the often confusing cutting edge of genetic modification offer an insight into the GM debate and how it has affected scientists here.
At the end of July the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification's recommendations offered the hope of liberation and discovery. Fraser's scientific freedom, and that of his colleagues, seemed imminent. Then came the rising voices of those campaigning for New Zealand to be GM-free; the voices of many New Zealanders who remain unconvinced of the commission's conclusions. The debate revolves around attitudes to the unknown. Environmentalists and others arguing against the release of genetically modified organisms are concerned about a perceived lack of informed choice and the irreversible risk of worst-case scenarios. "What if ... " means potential catastrophe.
But the unknown has always been the bread and butter of scientists. It's their place of work, their path to the holy ground of evidence. If you never enter the unknown you will never know more. "What if ... " is merely an experimental means to an evidential end. In recent weeks the protest action and political pressure have grown and many scientists are now nervous that that door to the unknown may remain closed, in part at least. There's concern that the moratorium on field releases may be extended again.
"I would be extremely disappointed if the Government turned on its tail," says Fraser. "Most of the colleagues I have would think twice about working in an environment that puts politics ahead of fair, scientific appraisal."
As an unrepentant advocate of his research, confident of science's indubitable right to explore and GM's ability to offer us wonderful things, Fraser is the kind of scientist who could attract significant flak from the GM-free lobby. He sees its failure to accept what he calls the reasoned and thorough report of the commission, for example, as nothing more than "social thuggery". The curious thing about Fraser's case, however, is that his fight is not with opposing campaigners, but with the Government.
In the shifting sands of GM politics, where the lines between what is acceptable and what isn't often move, he remains onside with the anti-GM campaigners. Fraser has access to both "get out of jail free" cards available to scientists in the field - the organisms he creates and splices never leave the laboratory and their purpose is medical.
As Annette Cotter of Greenpeace says, the anti-GM lobby has never been opposed to all GM. "We draw the line at the lab door." She says modification in the laboratory is contained and therefore safe, while the risks inherent in medical applications of GM are borne by the individuals who work with them and consume them and are not foisted on an unwilling society or the environment.
But Fraser believes drawing a line at the lab door is pointless. "We all work in the lab for greater things outside the lab. The whole point of the research is to move things on and achieve a wider release."
EPA Reauthorizes Bt Corn
Action means a seven-year reprieve for controversial crops
- Barry A. Palevitz, The Scientist, 15 :11, Oct. 29, 2001
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Oct. 16 that it had reauthorized commercial planting of genetically modified corn varieties transformed with genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt corn, as it's known, makes toxic Cry proteins lethal to caterpillars of the European corn borer and other damaging insects.1 The proteins are harmless to humans. As a result of EPA's action, seed companies can now market the products for another seven years, depending on compliance with requirements set forth in the re-registration document.2 The agency provisionally approved Bt cotton in late September.
EPA reached its decision after a year-long review of the crops. According to spokesperson David Deegan, the agency relied in part on advice from scientists asked to examine the matter. The scientific advisory panel, or SAP, reviewed risks and benefits of Bt corn, first planted in 1996. Says Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, "Bt corn has been evaluated thoroughly, º and we are confident that it does not pose risks to human health or to the environment. Consumers should be assured that these corn varieties show no signs of any adverse effects to human health."
By its action EPA also extended the reach of genetically modified corn by okaying a new variety called Herculex, developed and marketed by Pioneer HiBred of Des Moines, Iowa, in collaboration with Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences. The agency approved the new seed, which contains a gene called Cry1F, last June, but only temporarily until it completed review of existing Bt cultivars. The latest ruling extends Herculex sales for seven years.
Why Approval? With GM corn in cultivation since 1996, EPA examined what the scientific community knows about the risks and benefits of the crop, including potential harm to Monarch butterfly larvae that may eat milkweed leaves laced with corn pollen. A 1999 laboratory study raised caution flags about the impact of Bt corn pollen on the beautiful nontarget insects. However, EPA concluded that "scientific evidence demonstrates that Bt corn does not [have an] impact [on] monarch butterfly populations." The SAP had already gone on record to that effect in a preliminary report issued in October 2000. According to a 2001 census of Monarch numbers, the insects are thriving, at least for now (See "Monarchs on the Fly").
EPA was bolstered in its decision by six papers in the October 9, 2001 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (See "The Vanishing Menace of Bt Corn"). (The papers were released on the Internet on September 14 and the agency postponed its announcement for two weeks, pending public comment on the new data. The original registrations expired at the end of September.) Still, in re-registering the crops, the agency called for additional long-term monitoring of nontarget species for potential harm.
Some Happy, Some Not. EPA's ruling came in a good week for the biotech industry. According to preliminary results of a survey released on Oct. 18 by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications in Manila, total acreage planted in GM crops worldwide reached 125 million acres--or 50 million hectares--in 2001, a 10 percent increase over the previous year and a 30-fold jump since1996, when the crops were first introduced. EPA's re-registration of Bt corn pleased Doyle Karr, public affairs manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred, who hailed the decision as "good news. It shows that EPA has a lot of confidence in these products and their safety." Eric Sachs, director for scientific affairs at biotech giant Monsanto in St. Louis, congratulated EPA on the reassessment process, saying " The agency was very comprehensive and thoughtful, ensuring that it evaluated the breadth of relevant issues, engaged the highest order of scientific knowledge, and considered all perspectives and arguments befor
Jane Rissler, senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which opposed re-registration, wasn't as complimentary. "EPA did a shoddy reassessment," she says. In fact, "EPA does as little assessment as it can get away with." Why? Rissler thinks "the agency is doing the companies' bidding. It's clearly biased in favor of this technology." She also worries that the decision will have long-term implications for foreign trade: "This will be seen with far more skepticism in Europe and Japan than in this country."
Benefits of Bt- No Brainer or Boondoggle. Not everybody agrees on whether Bt in corn is good for the environment--for example, whether it reduces pesticide use to an environmentally beneficial extent--though the evidence is more definitive for soybean and cotton. According to Rissler, EPA "cannot legitimately claim a benefit for consumers or the environment," yet that's precisely what it's doing. She thinks EPA's Johnson was wrong in stating that Bt "helps to protect the environment by reducing the amount of conventional pesticides used," though the SAP cited potential reductions in its October 2000 preliminary report.
Entomologist Marlin Rice of Iowa State University surveyed 7,000 corn farmers in six states about changes in pesticide use between 1996 and 1998 compared to the previous five years. According to Rice, 26 percent reported applying less pesticide by 1998. Rice thinks "that should be a sociological and environmental advantage."
Rice's data only cover field corn, which typically requires fewer pesticides. In his survey, 50 percent of the farmers hadn't used any pesticides in the previous five years. In contrast, growers of sweet corn for human consumption do much more spraying. While sweet corn accounts for less than 1 percent of corn acreage in this country, it requires 60 percent of the pesticide needed to control pest caterpillars. Entomologist Galen Dively of the University of Maryland in College Park says Bt makes a difference in sweet corn too.
Dively notes that in Florida, where growers have to apply pesticides about 15 times each season, Bt cuts the number to just one spraying. In Maryland, farmers reduced spraying from five-eight times to one. In New York, applications hit zero. "I've been working with sweet corn for 30 years," enthuses Dively. "It's phenomenal how well Bt works. It's a no brainer."
Responding to arguments that such research isn't peer reviewed, Dively insists that this kind of work often goes unpublished because it's routine. It's not the kind of thing scientists send to journals. Instead, they monitor crop performance, chemical use, and insect damage yearly and make the information available in technical reports and oral presentations (Dively made his observations available to EPA). "A lot of good research is done that's not peer reviewed," he insists. "That doesn't mean it's not legitimate."
Residue of Past Mistakes. EPA's decision doesn't effect prior federal action against the StarLink variety of Bt corn. In September 2000 an independent testing laboratory, at the behest of environmental activists, detected StarLink DNA in taco chips marketed by Kraft Foods, even though it had been approved only for animal feed amid concerns over possible allergic reactions. The Food and Drug Administration eventually recalled hundreds of foods contaminated with StarLink, and developer Aventis stopped selling seed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, together with the FDA, recently concluded that a sample of people claiming allergic reactions to StarLink lacked the necessary antibodies to elicit such a response.3 Nevertheless, EPA is still withholding approval, claiming it does not "have adequate information to reach a safety finding," according to Deegan.
While re-registration didn't directly concern StarLink, traces of 'tacogate' made their way into EPA's re-registration document. StarLink entered the human food stream in part because of lax regulation and accountability. A recent report released by Resources for the Future and the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology questioned whether EPA and FDA "have adequate authority to condition approval on more active undertakings by the sponsor to ensure that the product is not put to unapproved uses? Can they condition approval on the existence of effective marketplace mechanisms to preserve the identity of lots and channel commodities to specific uses?"4
In re-approving Bt corn, EPA seems to have moved toward stiffer enforcement, though not in the realm of human health. The agency worries that incorporating Bt toxins directly into corn will lead to increased resistance on the part of target insects--and that's where tighter policing comes into play. EPA will now force industry to "educate growers about the best methods of planting Bt corn in order to minimize any potential development of insect resistance."
Anybody planting Bt corn must sign legally binding contractual agreements that, "coupled with grower guides, set forth the terms and conditions for use." The registration also specifies that "companies are now required to implement a system to secure signature of the grower agreements prior to receipt of any seed, and to make grower agreements available to EPA. Further, "to monitor the enhanced requirements, an independent third-party compliance survey of licensed growers will be conducted annually for the duration of the registrations." The regulations are similar to those EPA specified when it relicensed Bt cotton two weeks earlier. Asked whether EPA could yank a company's registration in case of noncompliance, Deegan said, "that's a safe assumption." Deegan also confirmed that StarLink indirectly spawned the tougher rules: "I think that's definitely true. We all [government and industry] learned something from StarLink."
Rissler agrees the new rules are stronger, but she insists EPA still "doesn't require companies to move fast enough in case of insect resistance. I can't help but note that it's well past time for stronger compliance," she sighs.
Sachs says Monsanto welcomes more oversight. "In general, all of these elements [to control insect resistance] have been in place and will continue to be there in the future," he insists. In Sachs' view, the new rules "will allow EPA to better track the systems that are in place, evaluate the programs' effectiveness, and influence the continued development of the programs. Overall, we're certainly supportive and willing to further involve EPA in the process."
Not the End EPA's decision came on the heels of an Oct. 10 agreement between Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences to end a legal dispute over patent rights to Bt technology. Dekalb Genetics Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto, claimed that in developing Cry1F Herculex corn, Dow violated multiple patents held by Dekalb. According to the agreement, Dekalb is licensing the patents to Dow, thereby allowing it to market Herculex.
Both companies have other Bt products in the pipeline, including varieties resistant to corn root worm, another potent pest. Pioneer spokesman Karr expects his company's products to come online as early as 2003, but the feds will have to approve them first. That means a whole new round of supporting data--and presumably more controversy, debate and competition.
Barry A. Palevitz (email@example.com) is a contributing editor for The Scientist.
References : 1. B.A. Palevitz, "Bt or not Bt ... transgenic corn vs. monarch butterflies," The Scientist, 13:1, June 7, 1999.; 2. Environmental Protection Agency, "Biopesticides registration action document. Bacillus thuringiensis plant-incorporated protectants," Oct. 16, 2001, www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/reds/brad_bt_pip2.htm.; 3. National Center for Environmental Health, "Investigation of human health effects associated with potential exposure to genetically modified corn," www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/Cry9cReport. ; 4. M.R. Taylor, J.S. Tick, "The StarLink case: issues for the future," Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, October 2001, www.pewagbiotech.org/research/starlink.
Biotechnology and Food: Voices from a Southern Perspective
This Online Debate is Now Live at: http://www.southernvoices.nl
Log on and let your voice be heard. There is some very interesting discussion going on around four themes with the following lead-off statements from the panel chiefs:
1. Food Safety vs. Food Security: Theo van de Sande: The underlying dichotomy of this topic is based on the perception that the North can afford to focus on food safety, whereas in the South food insecurity is prevailing. Where food security is not an issue, any increased risk is not considered worth the while and the rejection of genetically modified food is understandable. Things might be regarded differently when food insecurity (as an euphemism for hunger) is prevalent, especially among the poor. Under these conditions, genetic modification might be considered a valuable additional tool to increase food production and enhance food security, even despite risks. The consideration, i.e. charting the benefits and risks and weighing them should be done by and in developing countries by those affected, by local NGOs, producers, consumers, researchers, policymakers and others; not somewhere in the North, neither by donors nor by NGOs. If needed, the capacities to reach informed and balanced decision-making and
2. Local vs. Global: Victor Konde: Globalisation has blurred national boundaries enabling people to buy and sell products anywhere in the world. However, many developing countries that depend on agricultural exports may soon be losing their local markets and comparative advantage. There are fears that biotechnology will enable tropical crops to grow just as well in temperate zones leading to production dislocation and market losses. Some argue that biotechnology will benefit the poor while others argue that it will exploit the poor and threaten their livelihood. The livelihood of many small-scale farmers lies in the use of many crop varieties and mixed farming. What effect will genetically modified (GM) crop varieties have on genetic diversity? What are the implications for the dependency of poor nations on few large firms for their seed supplies? What are the implications for further local crop improvements visa-visa protection of intellectual property rights? Given the current GM debate, what are the ben
3. Organic vs. GMOs: Elenita C. Dano: Can organic farming coexist with farming systems in which GM crops are used? In the USA and Europe, rocketing sales of organic products have made organic agriculture the fastest growing food sector. Though it still accounts for only a small percentage of total food sales, its public popularity is growing fast. Supporters of the organic market in the USA and Europe insist that no GM contamination should be allowed. Is this an opportunity for producers that can guarantee GM free products or is it a luxury for consumers in industrialized countries? Is segregation of GM and GM-free products lacking because it is unwanted or impossible? Who is responsible for GM contamination or adverse effects, both during field tests and after market approval? Implementing complicated monitoring and safety systems requires a variety of expensive resources and systems which are not available in many developing countries. For example the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety depends on successful
4. Private vs. Public: Miguel Rojas: Private vs. Public Many observers argue that private 'for-profit' organizations are the leading actors behind new developments in biotechnology and criticize it on the grounds that private control of biotech research could have undesirable consequences like marginalisation of disadvantaged groups, welfare losses for society at large, and weakening of mechanisms for democratic control of technologies. Other observers contend that large profit margins should be recognized as a necessary means of financing the massive Research and Development (R&D) budgets of large corporations. The public-private dichotomy is frequently found in debates on biotechnology, but it has become increasingly blurred in recent years. Universities and national research systems confront the obligation to generate revenue, leading them to establish partnerships with private organizations. On the other hand, mechanisms to assure accountability of organizations, whether public or private is what matter
Vandana Rants on........
"Globalisation is contributing to the Talibanisation of the world." Shiva thunders below, "the anti-globalisation movement is an anti-terrorist movement." Her book "Violence of the Green Revolution" was actually "an attempt to understand the ecology of terrorism.". It's all in the article below.
'Globalisation and Talibanisation'
- Vandana Shiva, Outlook (India)
'The Ecology of Terrorism: Economic globalisation is fuelling economic insecurity, eroding cultural diversity and identity, and assaulting political freedoms of citizens.'
The conflicts which were expressed in the tragedy of September 11 are being looked at through lenses coloured by mono-cultures - the monoculture of "a universal western civilization" or the monoculture of an equally universal Islamic terrorism. In the Samuel Huntington paradigm, this is leading to the clash of civilizations. In the Francis Fukuyama paradigm, we are seeing the end of history -- the ultimate conquest of the west over the rest. Yet both Huntington and Fukuyama are constructing fictitious worlds -- removed from our diverse histories, and our plural pains.
Firstly, there is no such thing as a western civilisation. The dominant West has extinguished its own diverse cultures -- of women in the witch hunts, of native Americans in the genocide of colonisation. And Seattle, Washington, Gothenburg, Genoa were voices of other cultures, other visions from within the West which are being attempted to be silenced, including with bullets. Remember Gandhi's response when asked what he thought of Western civilization. "It would be a good idea", he said. Just as dominant western culture is not universal, terrorism is not necessarily linked to Islam.
In India we experienced it as Sikh terrorism in Punjab during the 1980s. The farm crisis fuelled violent Sikh nationalism as unemployed and angry youth took guns exported by the same global powers that had destroyed Indian agriculture and who looked on India as a market for their overpriced non-essential often hazardous products and technologies.
The Oklahoma bombing was a result of the rise of Christian militias in the mid west. And terrorism within the U.S like that in Punjab was also linked to the farm crisis, the growing dispossession of American family farmers which made them accept the new gospel of violence and hatred. As Joel Dyer says in Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is only the Beginning":
America's innocence lay in the rubble of the Murrah building as surely as the crumpled bodies of the victims. The deadly Oklahoma City bomb was just the first shot in the collective suicide of the nation. Some Americans -- some of them our neighbors-- have declared war on the powers that be, and those of us who stand unknowingly in between these warring factions are paying the price. And we will continue to pay the price -- one building, one pipe bomb, one burned-down church at a time -- until we come to understand, first, that the nation is holding a loaded gun to its head and, second, why so many among us are struggling to pull the trigger.
Terrorism has no religion - it is not restricted to any region. It is now global - and terrorisms everywhere share the culture of hate and hopelessness, victimhood and violence. In a discussion of September 11 at the Forum 2000 in Prague, Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel asked, "What happened? Why did it happen? Could it "have been avoided?" In other words, what is the ecology of terrorism.
Over the past two decades, I have witnessed conflicts over development and conflicts over natural resources, mutate into communal conflicts, and into extremism and terrorism. My book "Violence of the Green Revolution" was an attempt to understand the ecology of terrorism. The lessons I have drawn from the growing but diverse expressions of fundamentalism and terrorism are the following:
Undemocratic economic systems which centralise control over decision making and resources, and displace people from productive employment and livelihoods create a culture of insecurity. Every policy decision is translated into the politics of 'we' and 'they'. 'We' have been unjustly treated, while 'they' have gained privileges.
Destruction of livelihoods and jobs, and erosion of democratic control over the economy and systems of production also leads to a mutation of cultural identity. With identity no longer coming from the positive experience of being a farmer, a craftsperson, a teacher, a nurse, culture is reduced to a negative shell, positive identities give way to negative identities, each, in competition with every 'other', contesting for the scarce resources that define economic and political power.
Centralised and undemocratic economic systems also erode the democratic base of politics. In a democracy, the economic agenda is the political agenda. When the former is hijacked by the World Bank, IMF, WTO, democracy is reduced to an empty shell with room only for fundamentalism and extremism both because race, religion, ethnicity are the only cards left in the hands of politicians to garner votes and because the extremist can more effective fill the vacuum left by the decay of democracy.
Globalisation is contributing to the Talibanisation of the world. Economic globalisation is fuelling economic insecurity, eroding cultural diversity and identity, and assaulting political freedoms of citizens. It is therefore providing fertile ground for the growth of fundamentalism and terrorism. Globalisation fuels fundamentalism at multiple levels: Fundamentalism is a cultural backlash to globalisation as alienated and angry young men of colonised societies and cultures react to the erosion of identity and security. Dispossessed people robbed of economic security by globalisation cling to politicised religious identities and narrow nationalisms for security.
Politicians robbed of economic decision making as national economic sovereignty, is eroded by globalisation organise their vote banks along lines of religious and cultural difference on the basis of fear and hatred. Imperialist forces, using the divide and rule strategy, also exploit religious conflicts to fragment the opposition to globalisation. The survival of people and of democracy needs a simultaneous response to the double fascism of globalisation -- the economic fascism that destroys peoples lives, economic freedoms and economic security and the fascism of fundamentalism that feeds off peoples' economic insecurities and fears.
The "war against terrorism" will not contain terrorism because it does not address the roots of terrorism. It is in fact creating a chain reaction of violence and spreading the virus of hate. Just as pests multiply and grow resistant with pesticides, the war effort will increase the numbers and resilience of terrorists. Pests can only be controlled by making plants resilient and maintaining pest-predator balance in ecosystems. The ecology of terror shows us the path to peace. Peace lies in nourishing democracy and nurturing diversity.
Democracy is not a shell but the life blood of free society. It is not merely an electoral ritual but the power of people to shape there destiny, and influence their lives, policies and conditions which destroy democratic control of people over how their food is produced and distributed, what health and education systems they have, how their natural resources managed, owned and utilised are.
Terrorism is born from the death of democracy and can only be responded to by giving the power back to people. This is why the anti-globalisation movement is an anti-terrorist movement. It is giving peace and democracy a chance. If it is stifled by the brute force of militaries and global markets, our worlds will disintegrate into vicious cycles of violence and chaos. And no one will be immune.