- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* ORGANISMOS GENETICAMENTE MODIFICADOS
* ECO-TERRORISM & ECO-EXTREMISM AGAINST AGRICULTURE
* Biotechnology: A Solution to Hunger and Starvation
* GMO proponent reports increased corn yield
* "Risk versus benefit"
* Rep. Cal Dooley to Keynote Biotechnology Policy Conference
* Is the country prepared for genetically modified corn?
* Biotechnology, Farm Policy on the Menu At ASTA Corn & Sorghum and Soybean Seed Research Conferences
* The Deadly Chemicals in Organic Food
ORGANISMOS GENETICAMENTE MODIFICADOS
By Dr. Lionel Gill H. / Bq. Carlos Irarrázabal M. (editors)
This publication contains 25 articles in Spanish by experts from Argentina, Canada, Chile, and the United States about commercialization, biosecurity and perception of genetically modified organisms.
It is available at http://www.lom.cl (search for "Organismos").
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Book Information
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 16:40:18 -0600
Today I received a copy of Joseph A. Miller & R. M. Miller, ECO-TERRORISM & ECO-EXTREMISM AGAINST AGRICULTURE (2000).
Joseph Miller is the Senior Director, Regulatory Relations of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Mr. Miller's book is the separate
work of the authors and is not a Farm Bureau publication.
The book is $27.00. It can be purchased directly from the authors at The Buchanan Building # 419, 320 23rd St. South, Arlington, VA
22202. It can also be purchased through Amazon.com by going to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0970402309/qid%3D1006876458/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F0%5F1/107-3505192-3845347.
The book has a similar philosophy to that expressed in THE SCEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST except it focuses more directly on eco-terrorism and
the propaganda tactics of environmental organizations.
Biotechnology: A Solution to Hunger and Starvation
American Farm Bureau
By Amy Bakker
November 26, 2001
Few, if any, food issues have sparked as much international debate as biotechnology. Scientists, activists, politicians and consumers are among the multitudes who have weighed in with opinions on the topic.
It seems that in most cases opponents to the development of this technology have never experienced starvation and hunger. There are millions of people in the world, however, who have. Dr. Florence Wambugu, former director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications-AfriCenter, is one of them.
As a child in Kenya, Wambugu worked side-by-side with her mother to grow food for her family. She witnessed the devastation pests and diseases did to their crop. That personal experience has influenced Wambugu's perspective on biotechnology. "I don't see biotechnology as a panacea but as an opportunity," Wambugu says.
Wambugu's journey into working with biotechnology started when her mother convinced the family to sell its only cow in order to fund her education. "She believed I'd be able to do more for the community than this cow was worth," Wambugu says. "She believed in me, and it inspired me." As a result, Wambugu became of one of the first women in Kenya to attend the University of Nairobi. She later earned a master's degree and a doctorate plus completed a post-doctoral fellowship.
After 20 years experience with plant research, Wambugu now dedicates time to sharing the information she has learned about biotechnology and the role it can play in meeting her vision for Africa of an agriculture-based economy that will create self-reliant people. "Sub-Saharan Africa is practicing organic farming and the result is poverty and hunger," Wambugu says. "In Africa, the need to increase production is very big. People are also open-minded (to options). They have a need for biotechnology."
When asked about the safety concerns around biotechnology, Wambugu points to science. "We now have 10 years of experience and there is no justification to stop with the technology. There is not one shred of evidence that this has damaged human health or human development. We need to continue to monitor these crops, yes, but a moratorium doesn't help anything."
Wambugu believes the key to solving starvation and hunger is to continue to explore new technologies such as biotechnology. As a result, she is disappointed with some of the tactics employed by activists designed to halt progress. "What I find unfortunate is when they deliberately misinform. Fear does not help," she says. "They are problem-oriented. However, I believe it's better to look for a solution than to just criticize."
Perhaps if the international debate on biotechnology focused on solutions instead of perceived problems, not only Africa, but the entire world, could reap the benefits.
Amy Bakker is the Assistant Director of News Services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
GMO proponent reports increased corn yield
By Karen L. Lema
November 26, 2001
Is biotechnology a viable solution to ensuring food security?
The results of the Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) corn field testing done in six areas in the country by a United States biotechnology firm, may provide a picture of how genetic engineering could maximize crop yield.
Monsanto Philippines, Inc. announced in a press conference last week of a 40% average yield advantage with genetically engineered corn crops, compared to traditional, hybrid corn lines based on field trials. Bt corn is a strain of corn whose genetic makeup had been altered through genetic engineering, which makes it resistant to Asiatic corn borer (ACB), considered the corn industry's most problematic pest.
After it had been field tested in six areas, namely, Kibawe, Bukidnon; Tigaon, Camarines Sur; Sta. Maria, Pangasinan; Echague, Csuayan, and Ilagan, Isabela, Bt corn survived the infestation compared to traditional corn hybrids planted in the same areas.
Arnold B. Estrada, product development manager of Monsanto Philippines, Inc., said field trials conducted during the wet season demonstrated a significant difference between Bt corn, which Monsanto has branded as Yieldgard, and traditional hybrids in terms of ACB resistance.
He noted corn borer infestation increases during the wet season compared to the dry season.
Yieldgard corn plants registered zero corn borer damage throughout the trial. The harvested corn ears were of better quality, Mr. Estrada said. He added healthy corn ears are also better protected from fungal infections that usually affect insect-damaged corn ears, leading to a higher rate of rotting.
Mr. Estrada said the company is preparing field testing for the dry season, which it expects to begin this month. He said the firm is still waiting for the government to formulate the commercialization rules on genetically modified organism (GMO)-based products before it markets Bt corn.
Based on average farm price of corn at P6 per kilo, the average 40% yield advantage gives farmers a potential additional income of P12,000 per hectare, Mr. Estrada said.
He added in areas of high ACB infestation, even an additional increase in yield has the potential of giving farmer an additional P3,000 per hectare increase in income.
He said the cost of traditional pesticide spray could be eliminated, if not significantly reduced.
Farmers usually apply granular insecticide on corn plants twice during the whole planting season. Each application costs P1,000 per hectare, excluding the P150 labor cost, Mr. Estrada said.
Contrary to the claims of environmental organizations, Mr. Estrada said the impact of genetic engineering and on the environment and human health was proven to be safe.
"We have done all studies to prove it is safe, as well as the end-product. The claims (of anti-GMO groups) are not supported by scientific evidence but we do have studies to support our claims," Mr. Estrada said.
He added the technology is not new to countries like the United States, which has started commercializing GMOs as early as 1996.
Environmental group Greenpeace, a staunch critic of GMO, is calling for a mandatory labeling system for food products containing GMOs to give Filipino consumers the right to choose. It claimed there is no conclusive study that GMOs are safe.
But Mr. Estrada said, "We are not an irresponsible company, we won't introduce something that would harm the people and environment."
He said Monsanto "still needs to do more on public information campaign." He said "false information" on GMO will not benefit the country in food technology, and food sufficiency will depend on "how fast we adopt the technology."
Speech by David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection: "Risk versus benefit"
European Voice Conference "Farm to Fork"
Brussels, 22 November 2001
Are we in danger of being overcome by "risk paranoia"? Do we suffer from "risk dyslexia"? Are we weighed down by "risk overload"?
I am deadly serious when I pose these questions. I am not just being provocative. They are serious questions for policy makers, politicians and individuals.
Let me take the motor car as a case in point. We take car transport for granted. It is an everyday fact of life to drop the kids to school, to get to the office, to do the weekly shopping, and so much more.
Yet, almost 40,000 of our fellow citizens die on European roads every year. This is a shocking statistic.
Without doubt, the trend is on the way down. Public policy measures are having an effect. Safer cars, greater use of seat belts, less drink-driving, and speed reduction measures.
But the stark reality remains, twice the number of Commission officials are slaughtered on our roads every year. And still we do not have a collective "risk paranoia" on this issue.
Something within my own public health area also provides stark evidence of "risk dyslexia". Smoking cigarettes leads to the premature deaths of 500,000 people every single year in the European Union. That is the population of Dublin every two years.
Our anti-tobacco legislative activities are the backbone of our control strategy. Important legal instruments are in place. More are under preparation. These will be complemented by smoking prevention activities.
But in the battle to come we will need to widen our targets. We need to look increasingly at changing public attitudes to smoking. Particularly the image of smoking as a badge of cool among young people. And we need to generate a global climate of resistance, capable of dealing with this insidious menace. This menace is deliberate, calculating and deeply cynical about the value of human life.
A menace which, as we have seen in the recent exposure of "big tobaccos'" activities, even dares to advise governments to discount human suffering against the long- term budgetary benefits of premature death.
Let me now contrast the road and smoking death tolls with another policy area within my remit Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). To my knowledge, nobody has died from eating a GMO. Animals and humans have been eating GMO feed and food for years in the US without any obvious problems. The only exception being StarLink which was used in food when it should not have been.
But here in Europe we have been suffering from what might be called "GMO psychosis".
Despite our scientific advisors having given the green light for growing and marketing GMO plants and foods, our Member States have blocked new authorisations since 1998. This is, I believe, an untenable position.
What has struck me is the extent to which this debate is polarised. On both sides of the argument, key players have resorted to scare-mongering tactics, gross exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims.
I feel passionately that we need to get away from the emotional, the irrational and the bullying tactics if substantial progress is to be made. There are irrational fears of GM food in the EU and equally irrational fears in the US about how we in Europe are approaching the issue.
The effective moratorium on new approvals in the EU is an unfortunate situation and its continuation, in my personal view, helps nobody. It has serious implications for European industry, agriculture and research. It creates legal uncertainty. And it has had an impact on US exports to the EU. Although nothing near to the inflated and incorrect numbers of mega trade losses that have been ventilated in the US press.
The fact is that a number of EU Member States have since 1999 demanded a more stringent and transparent regulatory framework for marketing authorisations and a labelling and traceability regime for GMOs and GMO-derived products.
Their position is that pending the adoption of such rules, and in accordance with preventive and precautionary principles, new authorisations for growing and marketing of GM products should remain suspended.
As a result, the authorisation of both pending and new products has come to a grinding halt.
It is my firm intention to get the approvals process moving again. In March 2001 we put new environmental legislation on the statute book, providing a stricter and more transparent regulatory framework for deliberate releases of GMOs into the environment.
In July we put forward the proposals for traceability and labelling and for streamlining the authorisations of GM food and feed. These proposals have been generally well received by Members of the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, who now need to discuss and adopt them.
For the moment, however, the exact timing and conditions for the resumption of authorisations remains undecided, to be resolved in further discussions. There are a host of pragmatic and legal issues that need to be addressed, but the Commission is determined to push the issue forward.
A lot of damage has been done by the polarisation of the GM issue. Hard-line positions have played into the hands of those who claim that the US wants to force-feed GM food to European citizens, without any consideration for their ethical concerns or consumer rights. Both industry and politicians now have to face the consequences of that.
Even with new approvals coming through and new safety laws in place, it will take time to get consumer confidence back.
With GMOs we have a very clear example of something that poses little if any risk but which has proved unacceptable.
There has been a massive communications' failure mainly on the part of industry I have to say.
But equally I would challenge politicians in our Member States. They too have to show leadership and courage. Are they telling me that they reject sound, independent and transparent scientific advice? If that is the case, then why do they so readily seek refuge in such advice on other issues? How do they see risk versus benefit? Are they only looking at the risk the ballot box presents?
I have spoken at length about GMOs by way of illustration of the policy makers' conundrum in the risk versus benefit debate. I also referred at the outset to the risks associated with driving cars and smoking cigarettes.
There are real issues involved here for European policy makers, for those at the level of Member States and for society at large. We can't have a risk free society. There is no such thing as zero risk. Yet we cannot have a free for all especially in areas touching on public health considerations.
We need deep reflection on these questions. Perhaps they are not capable of satisfactory resolution in a neat package.
As for risk assessment, I believe we are on the right track with the imminent establishment of the European Food Authority. But there too, the EFA will need to ensure that there is a considered and where possible quantified, approach to risk assessment.
But the biggest challenge, if not opportunity, is for risk managers. At this level, those of us involved must ensure that our responses are balanced, proportionate and effective. We must ensure that in solving our problems, we do not displace risk and cause other even more acute hazards. Integrated approaches must receive greater emphasis.
Communication about risk must be improved and be honest. Industry must play their role forcefully. Consumers and society generally must become actively involved in the debate. And politicians must square up to their leadership's responsibilities.
It is only in these circumstances that we can balance risk versus benefit.
Rep. Cal Dooley to Keynote Biotechnology Policy Conference
November 26, 2001
The National Policy Association's Food and Agriculture Committee (FAC) announced today that Representative Cal Dooley (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Biotechnology Caucus, will keynote the FAC's November 28th seminar "Biotechnology Policies for a Better World."
The public debate about biotechnology has become increasingly polarized and divisive. The National Policy Association's Food and Agriculture Committee is committed to advancing the debate and working toward finding common ground on these controversial issues surrounding biotechnology and genetically modified agricultural products. The conference will examine regulatory and trade policies for biotechnology and will focus on building consumer confidence, spurring new research, and forging common ground on agricultural policy. Among the questions it will address are: Are changes needed in U.S. regulatory policy to promote new biotechologies? How can regulations be standardized throughout the world in ways that encourage rather than inhibit global food trade? What is the role of the public and private sectors in researching and developing biotechnology, and are incentives needed to spur new research?
The seminar is open to the public. For registration information and the full agenda, please visit NPA's Web site: www.npa1.org and return the competed registration form to NPA at 202-797-5516. Press who want to cover the event will be admitted without charge but are requested to register in advance. For further information, please contact the Director of the FAC at 202-884-7640.
The National Policy Association was founded in 1934 by distinguished business and labor leaders who believed that the private sector should actively participate in the formulation of public policy. Since that time, NPA has been one of the nation's leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations promoting informed dialogue and independent research on critical economic and social problems facing the United States. NPA brings together influential business, labor, agricultural, and academic leaders to seek common ground on effective and innovative strategies that address issues vital to the prosperity of America.
CONTACT: Kaylin Bailey of the National Policy Association, 202-884-7640 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is the country prepared for genetically modified corn?
Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 27, 2001
BY THIS TIME, no one can dispute that the Bt corn variety has made corn bugs packing for other greener pastures.
During a press presentation, Dr. Arnold Estrada, Monsanto Philippines product development officer, showed how YieldGard, a genetically engineered corn variety, differed from its "regular" cousins. He showed an ear of a conventional corn stalk that was hit by a corn borer, pointing to its leaves where several eggs were attached.
"Soon, these eggs will turn into larva and will begin feeding on these leaves. These tiny caterpillars can cripple a crop by tunneling into the shaft of the plant or to the corn ear," described Estrada.
A corn borer-infested crop may also attract other diseases including a fungus that can turn the kernels black and blighted.
Then Estrada showed a YieldGard ear. The kernels on the cob were in serial perfection.
"The tips of the kernels are nice and clean. No inlets for disease to get in," he said. "Of course, you can make this happen with the other variety. That is, if you spray and spray."
A look at the two images of corn crops would show the quite obvious difference: one was reeling from different stages of infestation, the other was the picture of health. Both were of the same corn hybrid but one was genetically engineered to protect itself from corn borers.
Despite the numerous questions and issues over genetically modified crops, several companies worldwide like Monsanto continue to study and come up with pest resistant and high-yielding crop varieties.
YieldGard field trial results
Recently, Monsanto Philippines announced the results of its local field trials on YieldGard. The company had set up experimental plots in six different locations: Kibawe in Bukidnon, Tigaon in Camarines Sur, Sta. Maria in Pangasinan, and Echague, Cauayan and Ilagan in Isabela from July to November this year.
"We wanted to see how our corn variety responded to different regions in the country. Specifically, we wanted to test the effectiveness of the variety against the Asiatic corn borer, one of the main pests crippling many cornfields nationwide," said Estrada.
Monsanto, a leading provider of agricultural solutions to growers worldwide, reported that with the YieldGard variety, farmers could enjoy an average of 40 percent increase in their harvest.
"That means a potential additional income of P12,000 per hectare if we base it on the average farm price of corn at P6 per kilo," estimates Estrada.
Even in areas where the level of infestation is not so high, a YieldGard variety can still bring farmers an additional 10 percent increase in harvest which translates to an income of about P3,000 per hectare, according to Estrada's estimates.
Farmers, however, won't find YieldGard yet in the market.
"There are still tests to be done and we are planning to secure another license from the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines, to conduct more field experiments," says Estrada.
The YieldGard variety is the first genetically engineered corn that offers season-long protection against corn borers. To achieve protection against the insect pest, the YieldGard variety carries a gene from a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thurengiensis, or Bt (hence, Bt corn). The gene causes the plant to produce a protective protein in its tissues that is harmful to some insect pests.
In the United States, Canada, South Africa, Argentina and other countries where Bt corn has been grown commercially for the past four years, corn fields showed fewer downed stalks, broken stalks and dropped ears, making harvest easier and more productive, reports Estrada.
The YieldGard variety also reduces corn ear damage, which is one of the main pathways by which mold infects the grain. Molds can produce mycotoxins that are hazardous to animals and humans when ingested.
But there are many who are opposed to genetically modified foods, calling these products "Frankenstein foods." Early this year, a farmers group uprooted several Bt corn crops in an experimental field in Isabela.
European environmental organizations and public interest groups have been actively protesting against GM foods for some time now.
Recently, a controversial study on the effects of genetically modified corn pollen on monarch butterfly caterpillars brought the issue of genetic engineering to the forefront of public consciousness. Laboratory tests conducted by Cornell University researchers early this year resulted in the death of nearly half of monarch caterpillars that ate milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from a new brand of genetically engineered corn.
Biotechnology, Farm Policy on the Menu At ASTA Corn & Sorghum and Soybean Seed Research Conferences
Nov. 26, 2001
What is the seed industry doing to better market new technologies related to corn, sorghum, and soybean production? What is the latest update on the 2001 Farm Bill? What are the latest scientific and political developments regarding the unintentional presence of biotech material in traditional seed? What does the future hold for agricultural biotechnology? These and other compelling questions about crop and seed production will be addressed at the American Seed Trade Association's (ASTA's) Corn & Sorghum and Soybean Seed Research Conferences on Wed.-Fri., Dec. 5-7, 2001 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
The Soybean Seed Research Conference will kick off at 9 AM on Dec. 5 with presentations on Ethics and Genetically Modified Seeds by Gary Comstock, Ph.D., professor, Iowa State University; Tracing Agricultural Products from Field to Food and its Impact on the Seed Industry by Jim Mock, vice president of marketing/sales, CropVerifeye.com; and From Breeder to Bag: Developing a Quality Assurance Program for Biotech Traits in Soybeans by Cindy Arnevik, global lead for QA/QC for oilseed traits, Monsanto Company.
At 3 PM on Dec. 5, ASTA's Biotechnology Committee meeting will feature additional presentations on biotechnology. C.S. Prakash, Ph.D., professor, Tuskegee University, will discuss political, social, and scientific updates on agricultural biotech applications and Bernard LeBuanec, secretariat of the International Seed Trade Federation, will discuss International Tests for the Detection of Adventitious Biotech Presence.
Dec. 6 (10 AM) will feature a plenary panel on modern biotechnology and the seed industry. Different perspectives will be provided by Sam Funk of the Illinois Farm Bureau; Kenneth Craig Newman of AgReliant Genetics, LLC; and Chuck Mihaliak of DowAgroSciences. Funk will cover the complexities of international agreements, import restrictions, regulatory requirements, market demands, and contracts related to biotechnology. Newman will give a seed company's view. Mihaliak will review the changing global regulatory climate, challenges of the global marketplace, and technology providers' efforts on stewardship and education.
Following this program at 11 AM on Dec. 6 will be an update on the 2001 Farm Bill by William Hawks, undersecretary, Marketing and Regulatory Programs, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Other highlights on Dec. 6 (2:50 PM) include Implications of Round-Up Ready Weed Management Systems by Tom Bauman, Ph.D., professor, Purdue University; Adventitious Pollen Intrusion into Hybrid Maize Production Fields by Joe Burris, Ph.D., president, Burris Consulting and professor emeritus, Iowa State University, and Mike Lauer, Ph.D., Pioneer Hi-Bred Intl., Inc.; and Adventitious Presence of GMOs: The Politics in Europe by Tim Stocker, director of government and public affairs-Europe, Pioneer Overseas Corporation.
Bauman will discuss the use of glyphosate for weed management in Roundup Ready(TM) crops, covering potential weed resistance to glyphosate and weed species shifts. He will compare them to previous dominant herbicide programs to determine if similarities or differences exist. Burris and Lauer will present their study results on hybrid maize field production practices. Their study included a thorough review of the existing literature and coordination of an industry-wide study of adventitious pollen intrusion under normal seed production conditions. Results clearly demonstrated that high quality seed can be produced in the central corn belt when reasonable precautions are implemented. Stocker will comment on the political ramifications of adventitious biotech material in traditional food and feed in Europe for the last three years and its impact on the U.S. seed industry.
Dec. 7 (9:20 AM) will feature concurrent sessions on biotechnology. They include Maize Pollen Biology, Pollen Drift and Transgenes by Baltazar Baltazar Montes, Ph.D., research scientist, Hibridos Pioneer de Mexico; Who Benefits from Biotechnology? by Mike Duffy, Ph.D., professor and extension economist, Iowa State University; Assessing APHIS Oversight of Transgenic Crops by Fred Gould, Ph.D., professor, North Carolina State University; and Insect Resistance in Bt Corn: Management, Monitoring and Response by David Andow, Ph.D., professor of entomology, University of Minnesota.
Montes will discuss maize pollen biology and pollen viability as a means to prevent pollen and gene flow. Duffy will discuss the costs and benefits of biotech crops to the producer. Gould will summarize the recent National Research Council report on "Environmental Effects of Commercialization of Transgenic Plants." Andow will review the data on Insect Resistance Management (IRM) for Bt crops, evaluate the significance of using insecticides on refuge sites, and suggest ways that monitoring and response can be used to enhance IRM.
For general conference information, go to http://www.amseed.com/mtg_csconf_index.asp .
Founded in 1883, ASTA, located in Alexandria, Va., is one of the oldest trade organizations in the United States. Its membership consists of about 850 companies involved in seed production and distribution, plant breeding, and related industries in North America. As an authority on plant germplasm, ASTA advocates science and policy issues of industry importance. Its mission is to enhance the development and free movement of quality seed worldwide.
AgBioView...Selection From the Past....
The Deadly Chemicals in Organic Food
New York Post
June 2, 2001
IF you buy organic food because you think it's free of the cancer-causing pesticides used on other farms, think again. "Organic" farmers routinely spray their crops with naturally occurring pesticides - and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified pyrethrum, a top organic pesticide, as a "likely human carcinogen."
Feeling paranoid yet? Well, in fact, the EPA made that call in secret, almost two years ago! The revelation about pyrethrum, with other recent findings, calls into question the superiority of organic farming.
For decades, activists have claimed that organic food is healthier and kinder to the environment than "chemically farmed" food. Organic farmers, for example, didn't use synthetic pesticides.
What most people don't realize - and activists try to hide - is that organic farmers are allowed to use a wide array of natural chemicals as pest killers. Moreover, these natural poisons pose the same theoretical (but remote) dangers as the synthetic pesticides so hated by organic devotees.
Last year, we learned that rotenone, a natural insecticide squeezed from roots of tropical plants, causes symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats. Now we learn of the EPA's pyrethrum decision.
The EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee based its 1999 decision on the same high-dose rat tests long used by eco-activists to condemn synthetic pesticides. Because no one knows just how pyrethrum causes tumors, the committee also recommended assuming that even the tiniest dose can be deadly. (The same logic is used to brand hundreds of other chemicals as carcinogens.)
Charles Benbrook, a long-time organic activist, notes that pyrethrum is applied to crops at low rates and that pyrethrum degrades relatively rapidly, minimizing consumer exposure. He's right, but all this is true of today's non-persistent synthetic pesticides as well.
Pyrethrum and modern synthetic pesticides break down so rapidly that consumers are rarely exposed to any at all. Two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables tested as they leave the farm in the U.S. have no detectable pesticide residues - despite our being able to detect chemicals at parts per trillion levels. (That's equivalent to 1 second in 31,000 years!)
Pyrethrum is extracted from a type of chrysanthemum grown mainly in Africa. It is literally a nerve poison that these plants evolved to fight off munching insects. The dried, ground-up flowers were used in the early 19th century to control body lice.
In fact, many of the widely used synthetic pesticides are based on natural plant-defense chemicals. Synthetic versions of pyrethrum (known as pyrethroids) make it possible to protect a crop with one or two sprays instead of spraying natural pyrethrum five to seven times at higher volumes.
Organic activists hold to the twisted logic that if a toxic chemical can be squeezed from a plant or mined from the earth, it's OK - but a safer chemical synthesized in a lab is unacceptable.
It is possible to farm without pesticides, as demonstrated by a farm family recently highlighted in Organic Gardening magazine. They use a Shop-Vac and a portable generator in a wheelbarrow to daily suck insects off crops. Talk about labor-intensive! And even that won't fight fungal or bacterial diseases, or insects that eat crops from the inside out. Organic coffee growers in Guatemala spray coffee trees with fermented urine as a primitive fungicide.
Bruce Ames, noted cancer expert and recent winner of the National Medal of Science, notes that more than half of the natural food chemicals he tests come up carcinogenic - the same proportion as synthetic chemicals. These natural chemicals are collectively present in large amounts in the very fruits and vegetables that are our biggest defense against cancer.
Medical and health authorities are unanimous in their recommendation of five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day to ward off cancer
- no matter how they are grown. Lesson: high-dose rat tests vastly exaggerate risks.
With global food demand set to more than double in the next 50 years and one-third of the planet's wildlife habitat already converted to farmland, humanity must responsibly use pesticides to produce more per acre.
There simply are no compelling reasons to demand chemical-free farming.
Alex Avery is director of research at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues in Churchville, Va.