- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* An Activist Cartoon
* Hunger fighters see biotech hope for poor nations
* Global GM crop area expected to Expand
* ACHIEVING THE 2020 VISION IN THE SHADOW OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
* Bt-Cotton and the indigent Indian farmer: Anatomy of a derailment
* Burning Farmers' Fields
* New agricultural techniques can keep hunger at bay
* CWB clarifies position on GM wheat
* Unexploded bombs force evacuation of genetic engineering labs
* WOOLWORTHS TALKS TO LAWYERS AS MAYOR PUSHES GM BOYCOTT
* WORLD'S WORST DISEASES FACE NEW FOE: BIOTECHNOLOGY
* The Global Harm of Swedish Precaution
* EPA Program Based on False Information
* Office of Research Integrity - Notice
An Activist Cartoon from GCN:
Hunger fighters see biotech hope for poor nations
November 9, 2001
CHICAGO - The way plant scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug sees it, the challenge of feeding a growing world population greatly simplifies the debate over food and biotechnology.
``You have two choices,'' Borlaug told Reuters in an interview. ``You need it to further improve yields so that you can continue to produce the food that's needed on the soil that's well-adapted to agricultural production. Or, you'll be pushed into cutting down more of our forests.''
Borlaug, 87, may know as much about food production as anyone alive. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for developing wheat varieties and farming techniques that greatly reduced food shortages in Pakistan and India. His efforts in what came to be known as the ``Green Revolution'' are credited with saving millions of lives.
Borlaug said advances in conventional plant breeding had been a timely but temporary solution to meeting hunger problems. When he was born in 1914, the global population was 1.6 billion. ``Today we're close to 6.2 billion and we're adding 85 million at least, every year,'' he said.
``You've got the choice: moving into partially sustainable, poor-yield agriculture and into forests, destroying the habitat for wildlife species, or producing higher yields on the land best-suited for all these techniques. Better hybrids,'' Borlaug said.
``But it's much more complicated than just producing the high-yielding varieties or hybrids. You have to put genes in for different diseases,'' he said. ``That's new. And that's frightening. But I think we need to do this. We need to have the freedom to do it.''
THE STAKE FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Borlaug and others believe genetically modified (GM) crops hold great promise for waging the battle against hunger and famine in poor countries.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the world community is well behind in its bid to halve world hunger by 2015 and estimates that 800 million people go to bed hungry every day.
``New technologies, including biotechnology, will help meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population with a limited resource base,'' U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said at an FAO conference on November 5.
Veneman and others at the conference called for an international coalition to eradicate hunger. Such an alliance could conceivably help resolve cost issues that might otherwise keep high-tech GM crops out of the developing world.
But poor countries have not had much say in the biotechnology debate so far.
One reason is that the first genetically modified crops to win widespread use have been corn and soybean varieties designed to cut costs and boost productivity on large-scale farms in the United States. The crops have had genes inserted to fight insect pests or enable them to withstand herbicides.
GM crop pioneers like Monsanto, fighting to win hearts and minds for the crop technology, have now turned actively to addressing the problems of the developing world. Progress has been made on altering crops to thrive in salty or poor soils.
Researchers are working on rice and mustard seed varieties that contain high levels of vitamin A to fight malnutrition.
Other efforts are aimed at protecting small-scale farmers from devastating crop failures. Kenya is close to approving a GM sweet potato that resists the feathery mottle virus, an insect-borne disease that can destroy most of a crop.
NO RISK-FREE STRATEGIES
``Genetic engineering is not going to be the solution to the food supply,'' said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.
``But if it's applied selectively to solve specific problems that are best solved using that approach, then it would be an extremely important component,'' he said.
Pinstrup-Andersen, awarded the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, last month, said developing countries should also be able to make their own decisions about GM crops.
``If we sit in Europe or North America and decide that because we don't need that scientific approach for our food supply, therefore they can't have it either, that is grossly unethical,'' he said.
Critics in the past accused the Green Revolution of popularising chemical fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation that jeopardised the environment in developing countries.
Borlaug admitted in a speech to the Norwegian Nobel Institute last year that the expansion in world irrigation has led to water shortages and he called for a ``Blue Revolution'' to rethink water use in the 21st century. But no agricultural advance is risk-free, Borlaug said. That's why he believes opponents of GM crops are being unrealistic.
Asked what is driving the current debate over genetically modified foods, Borlaug said: ``Consumer hysteria. Not necessarily consumers, but a few individuals that want zero risk, and that doesn't exist in the biological world.''
A protracted debate over GM crops may carry its own risks.
``When I joined the debate about the Green Revolution 32 years ago, there were quite a few people who were opposed to the kind of genetic work that was being done,'' Pinstrup-Andersen said. ``If we had listened to them then, millions of Asians would not have made it.''
Global GM crop area expected to Expand
November 09, 2001
The global area of transgenic crops, often referred to as genetically modified or GM crops, is likely to reach 50 million hectares, or 125 million acres, at the end of 2001.
Preliminary information from a global survey conducted by Dr. Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA), indicates that this is more than a 10% year-on- year growth compared with 2000.
Despite the ongoing debate on GM crops, particularly in countries of the European Union, millions of large and small farmers in both industrial and developing countries continue to increase their plantings of GM crops.
Since 1996, when the first commercial GM crops were grown, the global GM crop area has increased 30- fold, an unprecedented increase, reflecting grower satisfaction due to the significant and multiple benefits of GM crops. These benefits include:
* more sustainable and resource- efficient crop management practices that require less fuel, conserve vital soil moisture and control erosion;
* less dependency on conventional pesticides, that can be a health hazard to resource-poor small farmers in developing countries applying pesticides with hand sprayers, and also result in environmental residues;
* safer food and feed from products, such as pest-resistant Bt maize which contains less mycotoxin than conventional maize;
Collectively, these benefits offer growers and society more efficient and higher crop productivity that help contribute to a more sustainable agriculture and to the formidable challenge of ensuring global food, feed and fiber security in the future.
The experience of more than 15 countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, South Africa and the US during the last six years has demonstrated that the early promises of GM crops are meeting expectations in both industrial and developing countries. These countries have grown a cumulative total of 175 million hectares (over 400 million acres) of GM crops.
The collective judgment of millions of farmers speaks volumes of the confidence and trust they have placed in GM crops that can make a vital contribution to global food, feed, and fiber security.
Governments, supported by the global scientific and international development community, must ensure continued safe and effective testing and introduction of GM crops and implement regulatory programs that inspire public confidence.
Leadership at the international level must be exerted by the international scientific community and development institutions to stimulate discussion and to share knowledge on GM crops with society. The latter must be well informed and engaged in a dialogue about the impact of the technology on the environment, food safety, sustainability and global food security.
Societies in food surplus countries must ensure that access to GM crops is not denied nor delayed to developing countries seeking to access the new technologies in their quest for food security.
The most compelling case for biotechnology, particularly GM crops, is its potential vital contribution to global food security and the alleviation of hunger in the Third World.
NOW AVAILABLE from the International Food Policy Research Institute
1. ACHIEVING THE 2020 VISION IN THE SHADOW OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
Address by Per Pinstrup-Andersen
Fighting terrorism involves more than identifying and eradicating its
organizers and perpetrators through military and financial means. We
must also wage a campaign to eliminate the conditions that propel
terrorism: Poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and mismanagement of
2. PROSPECTS FOR GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF PAST
PROJECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS
By Alex F. McCalla and Cesar L. Revoredo
2020 Vision Discussion Paper 35 (80 pages) Brief 71 (2 pages)
Revisits the key projections and predictions on global food security
in the last half century and the extent to which they materialized.
DOWNLOAD or ORDER
Date: 9 Nov 2001 07:57:45 -0000
From: "Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan" |
Subject: Bt-Cotton and the indigent Indian farmer: Anatomy of a derailment
Bt-Cotton and the indigent Indian farmer:: Anatomy of a derailment
Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan
Over the last few weeks the ambiance in the sub-continent is rife with
Fuzzy tales of Gujarat based Navbharat Seed company, an eager beaver, who pulled off a coup d'état of sorts on the regulatory system in India when it was discovered that this seed company had been merrily selling seeds of cotton genetically modified to contain the Bt gene. Not just a hand full of seeds either.11,000 hectares by some reports and nor just this year, but over the last three years!
All this din amidst the original applicant's, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed
Company's, (MAHYCO) patient and tedious compliance with labyrinthine
procedures and add-as-you-go wish list of newer requirements of
The various agencies of the different ministries could never come up
with a "laundry list" of all the various testing, experimentation, biosafety, environmental risk assessment and other data requirements from the applicant in one go. To be fair to these agencies, MAHYCO was the first plant sciences company that sought to modify a plant species through r-DNA interventions in the country and therefore, these agencies may be indulged the tedious learning curve, argue some. Try convincing the beleaguered Indian farmers, the majority stakeholders of Indian agriculture that and worse, the investors in this enterprise who have an opportunity cost to boot besides being pipped at the tape by some surreptitious competitor.
Three months ago, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)
functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment and Forest
sent back the application for environmental release of MAHYCO's genetically improved Bt-cotton for a further year of testing recently. Apparently, the GEAC wanted the applicant to establish (a) the absence of horizontal gene transfer i.e., spread of the introduced Bt-gene from the improved cotton plant to other varieties of cotton, cultivated or wild relatives and (b) that the targeted insect did not gain resistance to the Bt-toxin.
These purported reasons for deferment are at best dubious, for the GEAC also struck a jarring note by pointing out that the date of sowing in some of the sites in the previous trials were delayed which may have led to a situation of inadequate pest pressure on the plants under test. The reasons for derailment of a progressive, technological development that would have benefited millions of indigent farmers are not far to seek.
MAHYCO, India's foremost research-driven seed company, teamed up with
Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar TNC of the US who has a 26 % stake in
Them to develop this genetically improved hybrid of cotton. The MAHYCO saga began in 1995 when they imported the seeds containing these genes
Conferring resistance to bollworm the main pest of cotton in the country. The first field trials began in 1996 followed by multi-location trials in 1997-1998 and again in 1998-1999. A wide range of pertinent issues were addressed in these tests that included germinability of seed, seedling vigour, changes in plant characteristics if any, deleterious impact on plants in the neighbourhood and relatives of the cotton plant and so on. Food safety
issues were evaluated on small and large animals including ruminants
and fish. Environmental risk assessment was carried out on soil
microorganisms besides non-target and beneficial organisms. Gene flow studies per specific experimental design was also ordered and duly complied. To top it all, experiments were conducted to establish beyond doubt that the improved cotton variety did not contain the "terminator" gene. The results are there to be seen: there is a reduction in the number of sprays required, 5 to 10 sprays lesser as compared to conventional varieties, besides a 30 % increase in yield, cumulatively translating in to a gain/increased income of Rs.
4800/- per acre to the farmer.
All these done, the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) of
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), concluded that the Bt-cotton was fit to be sent to the GEAC for due examination and subsequent approval for environmental release. The Bt-cotton came unstuck at the GEAC on 19 June.
The purported reasons for an year long additional trials discussed
Earlier are untenable: In the 23rd meeting of the GEAC, attended by the
Secretary of DBT and the Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), specific parameters of agronomic evaluation within the ambit of environmental safety were duly incorporated. This was done explicitly to avoid wastage of time from the duplication of multi-location trials of ICAR, which is the norm to introducing new cultivars in the country. It was further agreed at this meeting that small-scale field trials would be conducted in the first year under the joint supervision of RCGM and ICAR and that large-scale field trials would be carried out in the following year.
The results from these trials over two years established a substantial
reduction in chemical sprays to combat the bollworm attack on the
improved cotton variety, the very raison d'étre of the genetically improved Bt-cotton. Thus, the reasons cited for deferring the environmental release of this genetically improved variety of cotton are invalid. Equally, neither of the issues relating to gene transfer or development of resistance to the endotoxin engineered and produced by the cotton plant can be ascertained further in 12 months of new testing now ordered by the GEAC.
Most certainly, the scientifically valid conclusions from a multitude
Of health and environmental biosafety risk assessments carried out in
Seven other countries where Bt-cotton has been commercially grown for several years now, is ever likely to be revisited. Last year, world over, 1.5 million hectares were planted with Bt-cotton and China, a recent entrant, notched three lakh small farmers on 500,000 hectares.
India is home to 9.3 million hectares of cotton spread from Tamilnadu
through peninsular India and the central plateaus all the way to Punjab
and Haryana producing 15.6 million bales of 170 kg. each at an average
yield of 285 kg. per hectare. More than four million farmers with small- and medium-holdings cultivate cotton in the country, producing a major agricultural commodity valued at Rs. 15,000 Cr. The production
dynamics are skewed, with an estimated Rs 2800 Cr. of chemical pesticides being consumed by Indian agriculture of which cotton alone accounts for Rs 1100 Cr., roughly 57 % as opposed to 36 % of all chemical pesticides globally.
Interestingly, Andhra Pradesh is by far the largest user of pesticides
accounting for 33.6% followed by Karnataka (16.2%), Gujarat (15.2%) and
Punjab (11.4%), which perhaps explains the high incidence of reported
suicides among cotton farmers in AP and Karnataka allegedly due to the
failure of pesticides in combating the bollworm menace. Little wonder,
one frequently hears of the pesticide lobby working over time to kill the adoption of a new technology that comprehensively reduces the use of their pesticides.
This self-inflicted misery of Bt-cotton controversy has opened a can of
worms. The Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, one of the
main protagonists to oversight and regulation of all GMO research has been quoted as saying that " .there is absolutely no problem from our side on the entry of Bt cotton." India's Agriculture Minister is of the opinion that " 'Delay Inexcusable, We Can't Deny Bt to Our Farmers: "Burning the crop is nosolution, we will release it in market after testing for two months"
He went on to extol the virtues of this new tool of biotechnology in the following glowing comments "For growth in agriculture, biotechnology is theonly answer. We have to aggressively pursue this dream."
The Ag Minister further lamented "even if it is for one year is
Inexcusable and burning the crop in Gujarat, as ordered by the Government two days ago, is not the solution." "What has happened in Gujarat is unfortunate. That is why I have insisted that, at least, the lint has to be stored. The Cotton Corporation of Indiawill procure the cotton, quarantine it and store it in their godowns (=warehouses). After testing it for a couple of months, they can release it in
the market" said the Minister.
Self-serving activist Vandana Shiva has not lost the opportunity to
Maraud the technology nor felt ashamed to parade her woeful ignorance on sciencewith her blasphemous rhetoric of this Bt cotton being "an act of bioterrorism, threatening farmers and the country's rich biodiversity, even as the world is preoccupied with the anthrax scare".
Greenpeace has outdone itself with bizarre comments linking the Bt cotton to heightened incidence of tuberculosis and ineffectiveness of known antibiotics in curing this scourge because a gene coding for streptomycin has been used as a marker in the development of Bt cotton. Not a day passes without some incredulous non-science spouting forth from these self appointed guardians of all things clean and beautiful. These ostensible do-gooders are in fact masquerading cause chasers who are perpetually in the business of GMO-bashing today, which would be something else the morrow, so long as itprovides them a livelihood. They need to be handled with much trepidation for encouraging them through precious column inches or media time on the screen encourages them to dig deeper and get taller with their hogwash, while ignoring them equally goads them into believing that they speak nothing but the gospel truth and hence there is none to challenge them.
They need to be engaged assiduously to shatter every one of their
Unfounded myths and concurrently spread the word on science-based facts in small measures so that even the lay reader can learn for himself where the truth lies and make informed judgements and decisions.
More at home, the Confederation of Indian Industry recently concluded
at an international symposia held at Delhi that regulatory reforms of
evaluations of genetically modified crops and foods were urgently needed to create an enabling system that would unshackle the society from the stifling regulations and their doubtful interpretations that we find ourselves in today. Admittedly, the application of biotechnology tools to crops and foods is at its nascence in the country today; yet, there is virtue to aining from the learning curve of other societies. The creation of an apex ody, the National Biotechnology Agency, to deal with all the variousregulatory mechanisms relating to GMOs and GM foods and the formation of a single window mechanism guided by transparency, accountability and time-bound process would go a long way to instil confidence in the industry and the people at large that benefits from science and technology can impact the indigent Indian masses also.
The law of the land is supreme and everyone ought to behave
responsibly. If Navbharat Seed company is at variance with the law, they need to be made accountable through due process. Equally, it also goes to show that the genuine ambitions of the suffering masses among the Indian farming community, (or for that matter in any other part of the world) can not be suppressed for ever to access proven technologies that have conferred big benefits all across the rest of the world. To do so would be to the peril of organised society and norms that govern them.
Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan at
Burning Farmers' Fields
- Gail Omvedt, Hindu, http://www.hinduonnet.com/stories/05092524.htm
TEN YEARS ago, when the debate about GATT, patents and "intellectual
property rights'' was at its height, opponents raised a storm of
fear. It was said that farmers would not be allowed to reuse their
own seeds, that the dreaded multinationals would enter their fields
and take away their crops... No one would be safe, the depradations
of globalisation would enter even into villages and fields.
Now, ironically, farmers have been facing the threat of having their
fields invaded and their crops burnt for using the wrong seeds. Only
the threat has come not from the multinationals, but from the Indian
state. And they have faced such destruction not because of their
desire to reuse their own seeds, but out of an urge to innovate, to
use seeds that cost one-sixth the amount of the ones they ordinarily
buy but produce a crop 50 per cent more productive as well as
resistant to the dreaded pests which attack their crop.
Gujarat farmers have been buying such seeds in the last year,
probably out of ignorance of the fact that even after several years
of field trials and no evidence of any harmful nature, the Government
has still not cleared the new cotton variety for general use. As a
result, last October an order was issued that the crops of Gujarati
farmers in Gandhinagar district using a variety of cotton seed known
as "Navbharat 151'' would be burnt on the grounds that it contained
the forbidden genes.
The spectre of farmers facing Government troops burning their crops
is only the latest illustration of the fact that Indian agricultural
policy is too often driven by the ideas and illusions of small groups
of people who depict farmers as subsistence producers, as clinging to
tradition, as ignorant and needing protection from rapacious
multinational companies. This section of pseudo-Gandhians has been
for a long time spreading fear about the impact of new technologies,
especially biotechnologies and genetic technologies. When Monsanto
and its Indian collaborator Mahyco (the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds
Company) began field tests of their genetically-improved cotton
varieties, the leader of the Karnataka farmers' organisation, Mr.
Nanjundaswamy, was recruited to a new cause.
Since cotton farmers are among the poorest and most hard-pressed of
any section of Indian farmers - a large proportion of the suicides
committed by indebted farmers has been by those growing cotton - no
direct mention was made of cotton in all the publicity surrounding
his campaign. Instead, the media glare was focussed on the almost-
mythical "Terminator'' gene, which was said to be implanted in the
new cotton varieties in order to stop their spread. The opponents did
not dare to say, "Stop Bt cotton''; instead they proclaimed, ``Stop
the Terminator!'' Small groups of Mr. Nanjundaswamy's supporters
gathered, marched into farmers' fields, and uprooted the test cotton.
The campaign quickly ground to a halt when the third experimental
farmer, personally a member of Mr. Nanjundaswamy's organisation,
objected to having his cotton burnt.
But the damage was done. The campaign won widespread sympathy, not
among farmers but among the media. Papers published reports of the
campaign, TV cameras gathered, and another myth was spread about
Indian farmers being opposed to new technologies. Mr. Nanjundaswamy
has not been much heard from recently - the last being a joint visit
with Mr. Mahendra Singh Tikait to meet the Shiv Sena's Mr. Bal
Thackeray to discuss a joint campaign against globalization. But the
Indian Government has gone on delaying permission to companies to
market the new genetically-improved cotton. Ironically, the order to
destroy planted cotton fields has come though the Department of
Biotechnology Secretary Manju Sharma said ``there is absolutely no
problem from our side on the entry of Bt cotton''.
It seems clear that the delays in approval have given rise to Bt
cotton being supplied surreptitiously; NavBharat Seeds, the company
that sold the seeds to the Gujarat farmers was apparently set up by a
former employee of Mahyco.
Beyond this, though, is a deeper problem of Indian development. The
current campaign against biotechnology in agriculture, with its model
of the subsistence-oriented farmer living in harmony with nature,
draws on deep themes of the Indian national movement. Indeed, there
has been in the Indian post-Independence development almost a
division of labour between Nehruvian models and Gandhism. Nehruvian
fascination for science and technology has been linked to a heavy
industry-centred development, focussed on the elite.
The peasant to Nehru was almost a puzzle, best seen in his
subordination to a rapacious zamindar class. Gandhism, in contrast,
has been directed towards village society. Against the depicted
cruelties of ``western'' industrialisation it drew an idealised
picture of a traditional India in which people of limited needs lived
together in harmony, performing different tasks according to their
caste heritage, but respecting one another and content with their
place in society. Untouchability, according to Gandhi himself, had no
place in this - but neither did individualism, mobility, innovation.
The apparent contradictions between the industrialising, science-
loving Nehru and the traditionalistic Gandhi were resolved after
Independence in a kind of division of labour. Something like the old
pattern of the Vedas for the twice-born, Puranas for the masses was
applied: steel mills and computers for the elite, charkhas and
ploughs for the masses. The cash economy was for urban producers,
subsistence for the villages. Thus "basic needs" of food and
clothing would be provided by farmers and weavers using (partially
updated) traditional methods which relied on labour rather than
capital and so could presumably employ the seemingly innumerable
masses of India.
The general result has been to leave both agriculture and basic
industries such as textiles undercapitalised and technologically
backward. India's textile industry is one example - once the leader
in the world, so strong it could frighten 17th century British
manufacturers into demanding protection (free trade was based more on
merchants who were selling Indian cloth in England and Europe) it now
has almost no place in a world market where clothes manufactured in
China, Guatemala, Mexico and elsewhere dominate. The case of cotton -
again a leading Indian export through most of the colonial period -
is typical of what has happened in agriculture generally: crop
productivities run far behind gains made in the rest of the world
(China's fields planted in Bt cotton, for example, yield 943
kg/hectare while 200-300 is the average in India) and growth in
production particularly in the 1990s has faltered.
To some extent, the Green Revolution broke this pattern. In spite of
the problems caused by chemical pesticides and fertilizers, it
decisively ended India's dependence on import of foodgrains, and
achieved self-sufficiency in agriculture. Yet for the romantics,
opponents of ``big dams'' and biotechnology, the Green Revolution is
only a symbol of unsustainability. Few of them are ready to admit
that farming needs water, that in most of the country's dry areas
even the best "local rainwater harvesting'' is insufficient, that
some external water provided by irrigation projects is necessary.
Just as "big dams'' are opposed, so biotechnology is seen as simply a
conspiracy of multinationals out to make farmers dependent.
Yet this Gandhian prescription for the farmer does not fit the
reality - which is that throughout farmers have been ready to adopt
and use new seeds and new technologies, to try out new crops, to seek
out change and innovate. It is Jyotirao Phule rather than Gandhi who
has been the true spokesman of farmer interests.
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen
Murthi House, New Delhi.)
Feeding the five billion
New agricultural techniques can keep hunger at bay
November 10, 2001
Well-fed Luddites on a field trip
SHRIMPS are messy creatures. When scrubbed, shelled and served with lime leaves and lemon grass in a hot Thai tom yam koong soup, they taste wonderful. But while alive, they excrete large amounts of toxic sludge.
On Thai shrimp farms, the traditional way of dealing with this sludge is to toss it in the nearest river. Land used for shrimp farming soon becomes polluted and unusable, so shrimp farmers keep cutting down fresh forest to build new shrimp pools. Since farmed shrimps live in their own waste, they often fall sick. So farmers stuff them with antibiotics, which could end up in your tom yam koong.
Fortunately, there is a technological fix. Bio Solutions, a Thai firm, has developed a pill containing bacteria that eat shrimp excrement. Throw the pill in the pool, and the bacteria multiply until they run out of food. Then they obligingly starve to death, in a tidy, biodegradable way. If Asia is going to feed itself, says Charles Liu, the president of Bio Solutions, agricultural biotechnology has to be part of the answer. That is what you would expect him to say - but he has a point.
Predictions that people would multiply beyond their capacity to feed themselves, like those Thai bacteria, have repeatedly been proved wrong. In 1798, Thomas Malthus foretold famine just as farm yields were taking off. To his credit, he later admitted that he was wrong. Not so Paul Ehrlich, an American biologist who wrote in 1969: The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death. They didn't.
The world's population grew much as expected, but food output more than kept pace. During the 1960s and 70s, a green revolution swept the developing world. Millions of farmers started using higher-yielding hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weed-killers. The results were remarkable. For example, Mr Ehrlich had predicted that by the mid-1970s, India would be so obviously beyond hope that America would stop sending food aid. Yet by 1990, India was exporting surplus grain. Chinese rice farmers, using similar techniques, raised production by two-thirds between 1970 and 1995. By one estimate, the green revolution saved a billion people from starvation.
There were some side-effects. Governments subsidised the new chemicals, which encouraged their over-use. This damaged the environment in many parts of the developing world. But the main worry about the green revolution is that it has run out of steam. There are still areas - mainly in Africa - where its techniques have yet to be tried (see table 1, next page). But in most of the developing world, the gains in productivity from it are tailing off.
Globally, 800m people are still malnourished. Heavily subsidised farmers in rich countries produce enough surplus food to feed the hungry, but not at a price the hungry can afford. Even if the rich world's surplus were simply given to the poor, this would not solve the problem. Most poor people earn their living from agriculture, so a deluge of free food would destroy their livelihoods. The only answer to world hunger is to improve the productivity of farmers in poor countries.
This will be difficult. The developing world's population is growing fast, but the amount of land available for cultivation is not. To feed the 2 billion new mouths expected by 2025, new ways must be found to squeeze more calories out of each hectare. But then more people means not just more stomachs to fill, but also more brains to figure out how to fill them.
There are plenty of good ideas available. The most powerful is biotechnology, and especially genetic modification (GM). It is a young science: biologists first found ways of manipulating recombinant DNA in the early 1970s. The first commercially available genetically modified organism (GMO) appeared a mere five years ago. Supporters of GM expect it to end world hunger. Opponents fear it may poison us all. It is worth stepping back for a moment to consider the evidence.
For and against GMOs
Farmers have been manipulating genomes since long before they knew about genes. For thousands of years, they sought to transfer desirable traits from one plant species to another by cross-breeding: this was how wild grasses were turned into wheat. They also selectively bred animals to make them fatter and tastier: this was how wild boars became pigs.
GM aims to achieve similar results, but faster. It typically takes 8-12 years to produce a better plant by cross-breeding. But if scientists can isolate a gene in one species that is associated with, say, the ability to grow in salty soil, they can sometimes transfer it directly into the genetic code of another species, without spending years crossing successive generations.
GM is more precise than cross-breeding, too. As any parent knows, sexual reproduction is unpredictable. The union of a brilliant woman and an athletic man does not always produce a brilliant and athletic child. In plants, as in people, some traits are inherited, others are not. At least in theory, GM solves this problem by transferring only the gene associated with the trait that the farmer wants.
The final advantage of GM is that it allows the transfer of traits between unrelated species. You cannot cross-breed cacti with corn, but you can take a cactus gene that promotes drought resistance and put it in a corn plant.
So far, scientists have produced GM crops that are more resistant to viruses and insects, and more tolerant of herbicides. In the future, GM could fill the world's larders with high-protein cereals, vegetables with extra vitamins, and all manner of cheaper, tastier and more nutritious foods than we currently enjoy. Researchers at Cornell University in America have even created bananas that contain a vaccine for hepatitis B. A single banana chip inoculates a child for one-fifteenth of the price of an injection, and with fewer tears.
Against these actual and potential benefits must be set the potential dangers. Shifting genes between different species could create health risks. For example, soyabeans given brazil nut genes have been found to express brazil nut proteins of the sort that might trigger allergic reactions. Soyabeans are used in thousands of food products, so if the problem had not been spotted this could have made life hazardous for people with nut allergies.
GM crops may also cause environmental problems. Their pollen might blow into fields of ordinary crops and fertilise them. There is no evidence that this has happened so far, but it is possible, with unknown effects. Also, crops genetically modified to repel pests might spur the evolution of super-pests or poison other species. Laboratory tests have shown that butterfly larvae are harmed when fed the pollen of plants genetically modified to express a toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which protects corn from corn borers and cotton from boll worms.
All these risks are rather speculative. As with any new technology, it is impossible ever to prove conclusively that GM foods are safe. It is essential to test GM products carefully before releasing them, and to keep monitoring them afterwards. But so far, there is no evidence that GM crops hurt either humans or the environment. Americans have been munching modified corn and soyabeans for six years without discernible harm. And so far it looks as though GM crops actually help protect the environment, by reducing the need for chemical pesticides.
Last year, about 44m hectares of transgenic crops were planted, more than 20 times the area in 1996. Most of these fields, however, were in North America. Developing countries have yet to see much benefit from GM technology. But that could change. Among poor countries, the most enthusiastic adopter of GM technology has been China, where the government frets about food security. In 1997-99, China gave 26 commercial approvals for GM crops, including transgenic peppers, tomatoes, rice and cotton. The most commercially successful of these has been Bt cotton.
Cotton-chomping boll worms have grown resistant to pesticides. In 1992, these worms destroyed the entire cotton crop in some parts of China, ruining large numbers of farmers and bankrupting textile factories. So when Monsanto, a big American biotech firm, started selling boll-worm-resistant Bt cotton seeds, the Chinese government snapped them up. Bt cotton now covers half a million hectares of Chinese soil. Production costs have fallen by 14%, despite the hefty price that Monsanto charges for its seeds. Chinese scientists are now working on their own GMOs, and have already produced at least four new versions of Bt cotton.
The Chinese example is hopeful, but not unambiguously so. One reason that China's government was able to embrace GM technology is that the country is a dictatorship. Dissident voices are silenced or ignored. A few democracies, such as America, Canada and Argentina, have taken to GM food. But in Europe, although regulators say that GM products are safe, an energetic campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has convinced consumers that they are not, and dissuaded supermarkets from stocking them. Through the Internet, the campaign has spread to the developing world.
India, like China, has lots of poor rural folk who must somehow be fed. Anything that raises rural incomes is likely to help. Indian field trials found that Bt cotton produced 40% more fibre than ordinary cotton, with five fewer chemical sprays for each crop. For a typical small farmer with five hectares, this would save $50 per season, a huge sum by local standards. The farmer would also inhale less pesticide. Despite these findings, the Indian government refuses to permit the commercial planting of Bt cotton, largely because of pressure from NGOs. Protesters have invaded field trials and burned GM crops. Some even blocked the delivery of American food aid to cyclone victims, arguing that it probably contained GM products.
Some poor countries hesitate to plant GMOs for fear of upsetting Europeans. NGOs claim that GM crops may contaminate neighbouring fields with their pollen. It would be a short step to call for a boycott of all the food exports, modified and unmodified, of countries where GMOs are widely grown. Even for developing countries that allow GM crops to be planted only in isolated plots for research purposes, the risk of a boycott remains. The peasants who live near research centres often notice how good the new crops are and steal the seeds.
Unlike the techniques of the green revolution, GM technology was largely developed by private companies. In the eyes of many, this made it suspect, but such suspicion is largely misplaced. The profit motive gives companies a strong incentive not to poison their customers. But it gives them no incentive to cater for people who cannot afford their products. Better versions of poor people's staples, such as millet, sorghum and cassava, will probably appear only if governments pay for some of the research, but the current hysteria about GMOs makes this politically difficult. When the UNDP recently suggested that GM technology could help the poor, it was met with howls of outrage.
The many ways of fighting hunger
GM is not the only weapon in the war on hunger. Democracy is important too: famines usually occur only in dictatorships. And other technologies too can produce impressive results: using less controversial biotechnology, the UNDP and the Japanese government recently produced a high-yielding hybrid rice that grows faster and contains more protein than ordinary varieties. But battles are easier to win if you have many weapons at your disposal. To remove the most powerful one from the arsenal seems unwise.
For the poor, GM appeared at an awkward time. After several people in Britain died of what was almost certainly a human version of mad-cow disease, Europeans lost faith in their governments' ability to keep dangerous food off their plates. Since people in rich countries rarely go hungry, they were not wildly excited about the promise of cheap and abundant food. Perhaps they will change their minds when scientists create better rather than simply cheaper foods: cholesterol-free bacon, perhaps. But in the meantime, it is sad that the priorities of the well-fed few should make it harder for the world's hungry billions to feed themselves.
CWB clarifies position on GM wheat
By Barry Wilson
November 8, 2001
Senior Canadian Wheat Board officials were doing damage control on Parliament Hill last week, assuring MPs that they are not opposed to genetically modified wheat.
In fact, board chair Ken Ritter said he thinks it will happen and there will be benefits for farmers who choose to grow GM varieties.
But not yet.
Board president Greg Arason said customers have made it clear they will abandon Canada as a supplier if there is not an assurance that Canadian supplies are GM-free.
"It is evident that under these circumstances, we cannot afford to rush a GM wheat variety onto the market until we can be assured that we will be able to continue to meet customer requirements for non-GM wheat shipments if necessary," Arason said.
The pre-conditions for introducing a GM variety include a credible segregation system, effective testing and sampling methods and reasonable tolerance levels for GM content.
Under questioning from opposition MPs, Ritter said he believes the pre-conditions can be met but not for a few years.
"We are moving towards a positive conclusion," he said.
"This is not an anti-technology stance we are taking."
Some MPs were skeptical about the board's strategy and attitude.
Saskatchewan Canadian Alliance MP David Anderson noted that when the board called on the government not to register GM wheat before the market is ready, it was joined at the news conference by biotechnology skeptics such as the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace.
"I have a concern you are sleeping with some pretty strange partners," he told board representatives.
Arason did not respond directly to the issue of board allies. He said it was important that the wheat board let its farmer suppliers know what its international customers want.
"For us to sit silent and not inform farmers what customers are saying would be irresponsible of us," he said.
Customers like China and Japan have made it clear they are uneasy or outright opposed to the possibility of having GM wheat mixed in with Canadian supplies.
"The U.S. is another large market for western Canadian farmers," Arason said. "The North American Millers Association has publicly expressed its position that crops that do not have wide market approval should not be placed on the market."
Ritter told MPs there are predictions that the first country to introduce GM wheat will lose two-thirds of its markets. Then, once customers become more comfortable with the product, other countries will gain the benefit.
He noted that Monsanto's GM wheat work involves hard red spring wheat grown in Canada rather than white wheat, which would be more adaptable to the United States, so Canada would likely be the first on the market.
"We see little benefit to us," said Ritter."Right now, the negatives outweigh the positives."
Unexploded bombs force evacuation of genetic engineering labs
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
HOUGHTON, Mich. - Two unexploded bombs were found on the campus of Michigan Technological University, and the school is offering a $2,000 reward for information on the case.
Campus police discovered the bombs at about 3:30 a.m. Monday during what was supposed to have been a routine campus search near the U.J. Noblet Forestry Building and the U.S. Forest Service Engineering Laboratory. Work at the labs include genetic engineering research for the forest products industry.
A state police bomb squad defused and removed the bombs. No injuries were reported.
The bombs consisted of three 5-gallon buckets filled with an unknown liquid wired to two ignition devices.
``These were real devices,'' school spokesman Dean Woodbeck said. ``We think that whoever did this ... was specifically targeting something dealing with the forestry building and the forest building.''
State and federal authorities were investigating Wednesday and the university offered the $2,000 reward for information.
University spokesman Bill Curnow said he was unaware of any threats toward the school. In April, the Earth Liberation Front sent out a nationwide Earth Day e-mail warning against genetic engineering research, he said.
The radical environmental group has claimed responsibility on its Web site for several recent attacks on genetic engineering and other projects, but makes no reference to Michigan Tech.
The ELF told The Associated Press in an e-mail message Wednesday that no one was available for comment.
WOOLWORTHS TALKS TO LAWYERS AS MAYOR PUSHES GM BOYCOTT
November 9, 2001
National Business Review
Woolworths New Zealand is, according to this story, taking legal advice after a West Auckland mayor called on residents to boycott GM produce. The story says that the supermarket contacted its lawyers as soon as it heard of Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey's plan to tell people not to buy GM products. Woolworths, a major employer which also runs Big Fresh, and Price Chopper supermarkets, is worried it will lose business after Mr Harvey's comments. Woolworths New Zealand marketing director Des Flynn was quoted as saying, "It could make business tail off," adding that Mr Harvey's approach was political posturing, and his strong words showed he was emotive about the situation. Mr Flynn said it was not clear what Mr Harvey meant by GM produce and he had not approached the company to define what he meant.
WORLD'S WORST DISEASES FACE NEW FOE: BIOTECHNOLOGY
November 8, 2001
LONDON - Genetic engineering, often slammed by environmental and consumer groups for its role in altering staple foods, may, according to this story, have found a niche where it can help save the lives of millions from the world's most endemic diseases. By using biotechnology to incorporate useful genes into an almost limitless variety of common plants, from rapeseed and tobacco to potato, tomato and banana, the story says that scientists aim to produce cheap and stable vaccines in an edible form -- and beat disease. Scourges such as cholera, tuberculosis and hepatitis, all responsible for the deaths of millions every year including many children in developing countries, have been targeted as candidates for vaccines which can be engineered from plants. The story says that so far, there seems to be no obvious end to the sheer variety of biotechnology's potential applications in the fight against disease. Even the roots of the humble tobacco plant are being used to mass-produce a vaccine against scorpion stin
The Global Harm of Swedish Precaution
Friday, November 16, 2001
12:00 p.m. (Luncheon to follow)
Featuring Robert Nilsson, Professor of Toxicology, University of Stockholm.
The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
In 1969, Sweden adopted the first "precautionary principle" legislation in the world. From that first step, Sweden has led the world with legislation that has made it harder to bring new technologies to the market and banned existing "safe" technologies. Robert Nilsson, professor of toxicology at the University of Stockholm, was initially a supporter of those policies but now believes that they are denying science its proper role in risk assessment and depriving consumers of useful technologies.
Professor Nilsson will explain how Swedish regulators have been successfully exporting parts of the Swedish legislation to the rest of Europe. His analysis is a salutary lesson for any country that considers only the possible benefits of the precautionary principle, and not the costs, which can be significant.
Cato policy forums and luncheons are free of charge. To register for this event, please fill out the form below and click submit or call Julie Johnson by 12:00 p.m., Thursday, November 15, at (202) 789-5229, fax her at (202) 371-0841, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can't make it to the Cato Institute, watch this forum live online.
Date: 9 Nov 2001 13:42:16 -0000
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Endocrine Disruptor Fraud Exposed
EPA Program Based on False Information
Friday, November 09, 2001
A scientific study that spawned a federal law requiring the testing of
chemicals for their potential to interfere with hormonal processes has
been found to be the product of scientific misconduct.
The federal Office of Research Integrity just ruled that Steven F.
Arnold, a former researcher at the Tulane University Center for
Bioenvironmental Research, “committed scientific misconduct by intentionally
falsifying the research results published in the journal Science and by
providing falsified and fabricated materials to investigating officials.”
Arnold lied and then covered up.
The ORI also found that, “there is no original data or other
corroborating evidence to support the research results and conclusions reported
in the Science paper as a whole.”
The disturbing tale began in 1996 with the publication of the book Our
Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and
Survival? - A Scientific Detective Story. The book was a compendium of
loosely told anecdotes that attempted to implicate chemicals in the
environment and our food — such as PCBs, pesticides and plastics — as the cause
of diseases ranging from cancer to infertility to attention deficit
The authors of Our Stolen Future speculated that these chemicals —
so-called “environmental estrogens” or “endocrine disrupters” — disrupted
normal hormonal processes, even at low exposure levels generally
accepted as safe.
Although Our Stolen Future initially received a great deal of media
attention, it soon died out amid much criticism from many respected
scientists. But just when the fury faded, Arnold and his Tulane gang
published their study in June 1996, claiming that combinations of pesticides
and PCBs were up to 1,000 times more potent as endocrine disrupters than
the individual chemicals alone.
“The new study is the strongest evidence to date that combinations of
estrogenic chemicals may be potent enough to significantly increase the
risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, birth defects and other major
health concerns, “ said then-EPA chief Carol Browner.
“I was astounded by the findings,” said then-EPA pesticide chief Lynn
Goldman. “I just can’t remember a time where I’ve seen data so
persuasive … The results are very clean looking.”
The study received a great deal of publicity that stampeded Congress
into passing a bill in July 1996, signed into law by President Clinton,
requiring the EPA to develop a program for screening thousands of
chemicals for their ability to act as endocrine disrupters.
The EPA’s Endocrine Disrupter Screening Program now underway only costs
about $10 million per year. But the cost to industry and consumers will
likely stretch into the billions of dollars. Testing of a single
chemical can easily reach into the millions of dollars.
The Arnold study began to unravel a mere six months after publication.
Scientists from around the world began to report that they could not
reproduce Arnold’s results — such replication of results being a
requirement for findings to be considered as “scientific.”
By August 1997, Arnold was forced to retract his study from
publication. His retraction stated, “We … have not been able to reproduce the
results we reported.” He later added, “I can’t really explain the original
Now we know why — he cheated. The penalty imposed on Arnold was a
five-year ban from federal grants.
Although a lifetime ban and perhaps even criminal prosecution would
have been more appropriate — after all, he was found guilty of
“intentionally falsifying” taxpayer-funded research — the light penalty is not the
most disturbing part of this story.
Arnold’s study has been thoroughly trashed, but the federal law remains
and the mandated EPA testing program is in full bloom.
In August 1999, an expert committee of the National Academy of
Sciences’ National Research Council — a panel that included scientist
representatives from the environmental activist community — reported there was
no evidence that chemicals in the environment were disrupting hormonal
processes in humans and wildlife.
That scientific report was inexplicably insufficient to kill the
endocrine disrupter scare. But now, if proven fraud isn’t enough, what is?
Date: 9 Nov 2001 14:01:35 -0000
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Office of Research Integrity - Notice
[Federal Register: October 12, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 198)] [Notices]
[Page 52137]46rom the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Office of the Secretary Findings of Scientific Misconduct
AGENCY: Office of the Secretary, HHS.
SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the Office of Research Integrity
(ORI) and the Assistant Secretary for Health have taken final action in
the following case:
Steven F. Arnold, Ph.D., Tulane University: Based on the report of an
investigation conducted by Tulane University, dated July 16, 1999, and
additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, the U.S.
Public Health Service (PHS) found that Dr. Arnold, former Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University Medical Center, engaged in scientific misconduct. Dr. Arnold committed scientific misconduct by intentionally falsifying the research results reported in Table 3 of a paper published in the journal Science (1) and by providing falsified and fabricated materials to investigating officials at Tulane University in response to a request for original data to support the research results and conclusions reported in the Science paper. In addition, PHS finds that there is no original data or other corroborating evidence to support the research results and conclusions reported in the Science paper as a whole.
Specifically, PHS finds that Dr. Arnold92s research reported in the
Science paper involved a finding that environmental chemicals, such as
certain insecticides and hydroxylated polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have a weak estrogenic activity when acting alone, were up to 1000 times more potent in mimicking estrogen when tested in combination. These research results and conclusions were important to the public health because they suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may need to adjust its guidelines on exposure limits to such chemicals. The Science paper was withdrawn on July 25, 1997. See Science 277:462 (July 25, 1997).
This research formed the basis of National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant application 1 R29 DK52420-01, 93Two Estrogen Binding Sites on the Estrogen Receptor.94
Dr. Arnold has entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement (Agreement)
with PHS in which he has voluntarily agreed for a period of five (5)
years, beginning on September 20, 2001:
(1) To exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting with any
agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for, or
involvement in, nonprocurement transactions (e.g., grants and cooperative agreements) of the United States Government as defined in 45 C.F.R. Part 76 (Debarment Regulations);
(2) To exclude himself from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS,
including but not limited to service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant.
During discussions about the proposed Agreement, Dr. Arnold was
cooperative with ORI and accepted responsibility for his actions, admitted to scientific misconduct, and conceded that there were no original data or other corroborating evidence to support the conclusions reported in the Science paper.
1 Steven F. Arnold, Diane M. Klotz, Bridgette M. collins, Peter M.
Vonier, Louis J. Guillette, Jr., John A. McLachlan. 93Synergistic Activation of Estrogen Receptor with Combinations of Environmental Chemicals.94
Science 272:1489-1492 (June 7, 1996) (hereafter referred to as the
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Director, Division of Investigative
Oversight, Office of Research Integrity, 5515 Security Lane, Suite 700,
Rockville, MD 20852, (301) 443-5330.
Chris B. Pascal, Director, Office of Research Integrity. [FR Doc.
01-25608 Filed 10-11-01; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4150-31-P