Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Fictional Agriculture of Environmentalists
* Chasing the Genetic Ghost
* New Animal Biotechnology Web Site
* Persuading the Wary: Consumers, GMOs and Mistrust
* THE FUTURE OF FOOD: BIOTECHNOLOGY MARKETS AND POLICIES IN AN INTERNATIONAL SETTING
* Genetically Altered Traits in Crops/Foods Products, Ingredients, Industrial Products and Materials
Fictional Agriculture of Environmentalists
By Chengal Reddy (A farmer leader)
Letter to the Editor
THE ARTICLE by Vandana Shiva "Biotech as bio-terror" (, November 11)
was appallingly biased. The visual in the article showed
"anti-globalisation activists" (a glorified term for environmental
activists) gleefully vandalising a farmer's field in France. Alas,
the environmental activists appear to be doing the same thing
throughout the world. They pick up and attack hapless subjects under
the glare of media, of course. Agriculture is their first choice and
the victims? Poor farmers!
I am pained at the growing number of environmental NGOs in India
which preach through private publications and popular media what
Indian farmers should do or should not do. I am using the term
"pained" because almost all these NGOs are non-agriculturists. What
do they know about Indian agriculture? Most of them do not understand
the difference between agriculture and farmer.
They say in some forums that certain chemical pesticides should not
be used in India. Ask them why, they say "because they are banned in
western countries." Well, going by this logic, GM crops should be
immediately allowed for use in India because many western countries
permit their cultivation.
It is my opinion the environmental activists in India (aided
considerably by foreign funds) rarely relate to Indian realities.
Take, for example, the article by Vandana Shiva. It is about
cultivation of Bt cotton in Gujarat. But the accompanying visual is
from France! Thanks to her international contacts. She speaks about
the plight of monarch butterflies and ladybirds in distant countries.
But, what's notably missing in her article is a simple interview with
Bt cotton growers in Gujarat. Had she cared to meet the Bt cotton
growers of Gujarat, she would have known the home truth. The
(November 12, 2001) quotes farmers (in Gujarat) who have used Bt
cotton saying that they swear by its virtues.
The environmental NGOs in India, especially those who seek to be
heard in the field of agriculture, are known for not having adequate
grassroots level contacts in India. A Delhi-based NGO published a
book on pesticides in India. Its cover page shows a farmer in rice
fields of South East Asia! Well, that speaks volumes about their
Here some of the suggestions of Vandana Shiva sound comical. She says
"in the absence of bio-safety capacity building, commercial
introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) amount to
She also lists the departments/institutions that must be involved in
the so-called "bio-safety capacity building" (a skilful choice of
phrase to frighten the common man). They are: gram sabhas,
panchayats, district administration, State Government and Union
Look at the length of the list! It appears that the environmental
activists want to promote red-tapism to protect their interests and,
in the process, block agricultural progress in our country. People
want more and more de-controls, but environmentalists propose more
and more controls on agriculture. "We do not want to see our
biodiversity destroyed and farmers ruined," says Vandana Shiva. She
does not seem to know that biodiversity and food production need not
-- in fact do not -- go together.
* Chicken production phenomenally increased in our country after the
introduction of broiler breeds.
* Egg production increased after the introduction of prolific layers
* Milk production increased after large-scale artificial insemination
of local breeds with HF breeds (from Europe).
* Indian grain production (paddy, wheat, etc) productivity shot up
since the 70s after the introduction of many exotic lines not native
Had our farmers continued with "desi breeds" in the name of
preserving "biodiversity", India would still be importing milk and
milk products from other countries and foodgrains, eggs and chicken
would continue to remain beyond the reach of many in lower income
The job of the farming community is to produce more foodgrains and
allied items to meet the requirements of rapidly growing population.
Farmers cannot be burdened with the task of preserving the
biodiversity. This will ruin our farmers. Perhaps environmentalists
can do some productive work in this regard by establishing
"biodiversity parks" in every district using millions of dollars they
receive by way of donations.
Vandana Shiva states "organic cultivation produces more cotton...
organic cultivation brings a double benefit to farmers" lowering
costs on expensive seeds and chemicals and increasing income by
producing a quality product."
We welcome Vandana Shiva and other environmentalists to come to our
villages to demonstrate what they claim in our local conditions. We
will give them 100 acres in every district. Let them show us
practically how organic cultivation increases farm yields and our
income levels. Till then, please do not tell us what we, the farmers,
Chasing the Genetic Ghost
Editorial, Business Standard (India)
The manner in which the government is seeking to deal with the
cultivation, albeit illegal, of the insect-protected Bt cotton in
Gujarat shows that it is merely groping in the dark and that too
needlessly. For, whatever had to happen has already happened and very
little can be done at this stage to reverse it.
The seeds containing Cry 1A(C) insect-killer Bt gene have been
marketed and grown in more than one state and a part of the produce
was already sold before the true nature of the seeds came to light.
This is a clear enough indication that this gene has already spread
and can simply not be contained only to the experimental plots.
Indeed, the gene may have been transferred to other crops and plant
species growing in the vicinity of the Bt cotton fields. If the
assertion made by the breeder of the controversial seeds that he had
bred them through conventional breeding techniques is to be believed,
the cotton strains containing Bt gene have already been in
cultivation for quite some years now without being detected.
So all this hullabaloo over the government buying the Bt cotton
produce and destroying the seeds is pointless. In any case, the Bt
cotton is, in all probability, going to get formal official approval
for commercial cultivation very soon. Thus, this controversy would
become irrelevant in any case.
The moot point here really is whether this gene is indeed such a
dreadful monster as is made out to be? The answer may not be in the
affirmative. Essentially, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a class of
bacteria present in the soil almost everywhere. It contains a gene,
Cry 1A(C), that produces a protein which kills the American bollworm,
the most pernicious enemy of the cotton crop.
All that the modern biotechnology has done is to provide tools for
transferring this gene from the bacteria to the cotton crop to create
a transgenic plant capable of combating the pest. In the process, it
obviates the need to spray the crop time and again with relatively
much more toxic and environment unfriendly pesticides.
Considering its utility as a cost-cutter and yield-booster, Bt and
similar other genes are now being used extensively in many countries
for imparting pest and disease resistance to cotton plants. The
growers are happily cultivating such crops over lakhs of hectares in
other countries for several years without any perceptible adverse
In India, unfortunately, we are still testing this gene something
that was done elsewhere to everybody's satisfaction years ago. It is
obvious that the Indian cultivators have unnecessarily been deprived
of an opportunity to earn higher profits. Of course, there is every
need to be cautious on this front, but the caution need not become an
obstruction for deployment of new technology.
What the government should indeed be doing at this stage is to review
the procedure for granting permission for cultivation of the
genetically modified crops with a view to streamlining and
simplifying it to quicken the process.
India is already far behind others in gainfully exploiting the
benefits of transgenic crops and should not lag further behind. The
farmers who grew Bt cotton this year are a happier lot. Their
colleagues, too, deserve to be so.
The FASS Biotechnology Committee is proud to announce the launch of the new Animal Biotechnology web site. Find all the latest information and research at <http://www.animalbiotechnology.org/>
Persuading the Wary: Consumers, GMOs and Mistrust
LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The debate may have cooled and slipped off
newspapers' front pages, but European consumers still show little
appetite for genetically modified foods three years after near panic
swept them off supermarket shelves. The European Union, anxious not
to cede the scientific race, has gently tried to reopen a public
debate, but so far there are few signs that moves to address consumer
concerns will jumpstart stalled EU approvals for GM crop growing.
Consumers still distrust authorities who claimed mad cow disease
could not hurt humans -- only to have 100 people die from the human
variant. They fear long-term environmental harm and are unwilling to
be reassured by safety claims. This time, they would simply rather be
safe than sorry. "If the biotech industry or governments want to
recover a place for GM crops and food in Europe I'm afraid they have
got to do it on the public's terms, or not at all, because they've
lost its trust," said Dr Donald Bruce, director of the Church of
Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project.(SRTP) In the
three years since the widespread rejection of GM food products,
industry and governments have stepped up efforts to understand and
address consumer concerns. But they are a long way from accomplishing
the job. "The new European Commission proposals for mandatory
labelling of GM foods by process of manufacture are essential if
people are to have any real choice," said Bruce, whose SRTP is due to
update its GM study "Engineering Genesis" next year. "But they are
rather like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted," he
THE CREDIBILITY GAP
Many say it will be a long hard haul. Environmental groups who are
fundamentally opposed to genetic modification feel they have secured
a victory but they would likely ride to battle again should the
threat reappear. "They probably feel they've secured a very definite
victory in Europe and delayed it for a decade and they may well be
right," said Dr Sandy Thomas, director of the British-based Nuffield
Council on Bioethics. "I think what's obvious now...whatever Europe
does is going to be in isolation to the rest of the world," she said.
"Whatever happens in the next 10 years -- and I suspect in Europe
that will not be a lot in terms of GM technology -- much of the rest
of the world will continue..." Still, some say consumers might be
persuaded of the merits of the genetically modified case were certain
standards met. But that won't be easy. Biotechnology in agriculture
has not offered tangible benefits the way it has in medicine.
"Consumers in Europe made a simple risk-benefit equation," said
Bruce. "They asked very reasonably 'What are the benefits and risks
of GM food. The benefits are mostly for seed and biotech companies in
the United States, and if there are risks, they are all ours, so why
should we eat the stuff?"
At the root of public concern is GMO decision-making made solely on a
narrow assessment of scientific risk, said the Agriculture and
Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), the British government's
biotech advisor, in its September report. "The public is not
necessarily expressing a lack of trust in science or scientists, but
simply pointing out that judgements are being made, both within and
beyond the science, which demand wider public involvement," the AEBC
said. Risk is a big concern, but scientific estimates of potential
risks of new human allergies or environmental change are only one
part of the picture. There are underlying notions about tampering
with nature and irreversible change which have to be taken seriously,
as well as the simple case of giving people a fair choice. The
following are some of the main hurdles ethicists and roundtable
groups insist GMO foodstuffs must take to win over wary, battered
-have a nutritional or health benefit
-have insignificant health risks
-minimise environmental damage in light of damage caused by
conventional agriculture -be tested independently with public or
charitable funds -be labelled
-be commercialised through a process that involves more than a
scientific risk assessment. Despite the size of the job, the European
Commission plans to unveil a policy initiative at the end of the year
to make Europe a world leader in the field of biotechnology.
COSTS VERSUS BENEFITS
But the costs of some of these "musts" may well cripple the industry,
handicapping its ability to come up with a next generation which is
aiming at nutritional and health benefits. "The opportunity costs of
what we are seeing are simply phenomenal," said Dr Henry I Miller, a
former senior official in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, now
a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford
University. "When you over-regulate a technology to the point that it
is no longer cost-effective, it goes away," Miller said. The AEBC
report recognises that the EU approach, which regulates specifically
for GMOs, suggests they are unique in their potential impact on the
environment. "From a scientific perspective, there is little reason
why the full weight of regulatory oversight should fall on GM crops.
Many would argue that there are potentially more environmentally
damaging practices...in conventional agriculture," it said. Gregory
Conko, director of food safety policy at the U.S.-based Competitive
Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation
dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, added that we
may be accepting risks and forgoing benefits with the current
approach. "A product coming on the market may have a certain risk but
it may still be net beneficial to the health and environment. What we
would like is a regulatory system that weighs both of these equally,"
Conko said. For some scientists, who regard GMOs as a refinement of
cruder, older technologies, the consumer response can be, at least in
part, blamed on government officials, who according to Miller,
"prefer regulation to education." "If public officials, including
regulators, had spent one percent of the time on educating the public
that they've spent on implementing unnecessary regulation, the public
would understand that what we have is an improvement, and that these
products are more predictable, more precisely crafted and ultimately
safer," Miller said.
NOW AVAILABLE from the International Food Policy Research Institute
1. THE FUTURE OF FOOD: BIOTECHNOLOGY MARKETS AND POLICIES IN AN
INTERNATIONAL SETTING Edited by Philip G. Pardey Distributed for
IFPRI by the Johns Hopkins University Press (330 pages) Confronts the controversy over biotechnology with new analyses and
insights from economists and technologists. ORDER
2. THE POLITICS OF PRECAUTION: GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS IN
Food Policy Statement 35, based on the recently released book of the
same title by Robert L. Paarlberg (2 pages); Identifies five policy
areas in which governments of developing countries
can either support or discourage GM crops: intellectual property rights, biosafety, trade, food safety, and public research and investment. DOWNLOAD or ORDER http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/fps/fps35.htm
GA-104R Agbiotech: Genetically Altered Traits in Crops/Foods
Products, Ingredients, Industrial Products and Materials
Despite an increasingly controversial atmosphere, the agbiotech
industry continues to produce promising new products and high
revenues, reporting over $20 billion in revenues in 1999. This report
takes an in-depth look at current and future agbiotech crops and
their products and analyses their potential market value, taking into
account major issues that are critical to the health of the industry
such as regulation, international trade and consumer acceptance.
Corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes and rice are some of the major crops
examined and in addition to food products and ingredients, products
also include biodegradable plastics and environmentally friendly
fuels. Market forecasts are given for the period 2001 through 2006.
http://www.buscom.com/pre/#hed7 Will available in January 2002
From: Francis Wevers [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, 24 November 2001 07:51
We have always supported the right of all players: consumers,
retailers, farmers, developers, researchers, to make their own
choices about whether or not they want to use GM or GM derived
products. Not for us the fundamentalist and dictatorial position of
the luddites who want to stop others making a choice to use GM
Markets will determine whether consumers want products which are
environmentally beneficial; offer better value at the counter; meet
their expectations about safety. Markets will determine whether
retailers want to stock products which lasts better on the shelf; are
competitively priced; have some sort of edge which consumers value
Markets will determine whether farmers and growers adopt new
technologies which increase their yields; take the hard labour out of
farming; reduce costs Markets will determine whether corporations
want to develop technology based products which their customers want
to buy. Markets will determine whether investors want to take a risk
on the technologies dreamed up by scientists. Scientists will
continue to dream and challenge and explore.
Anywhere we have a Government which encourages that process to
continue is "much less despairing" - than the alternative. Anywhere
we have appropriate regulations to ensure progress is effectively
managed for the whole community is "much less despairing" - than the
alternative. Anywhere we have the right to pursue our dreams is "much
less despairing" - than the alternative.
>Hello Francis. You say here: "...we now know there is a much less
>despairing picture for New Zealand biotechnology to face." However,
>this article from the NZ Herald indicates very much to the contrary:
"Stores strike early with GM ban"