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December 4, 2001


Mao vs. Borlaug, CIMMYT on GM Corn, Salt-tolerant plants, Chefs,


- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -

* Mao and the activist World Food Prize
* India may soon allow sale of gene-altered seeds back
* Chefs Collaborative 2000 Cooks the Books?
* Lomborg & Simon redux

Date: 5 Dec 2001 14:33:45 -0000
From: "Graydon J. Forrer"
Subject: RE: AGBIOVIEW: No Threat to Biodiversity: Mexican Scientist; Trad e & Golden Rice; GM Forestry; Biosafety CD; Regulation

Mao did more to solve hunger than Borlaug, because after starving tens if not hundreds of millions of people, there were fewer people to feed.

However, there are a number of very good books that document the famine caused by Mao (of course, I am mentally blocking on titles just now) -- both by the political system he imposed and by the acceptance, indeed active embrace of the Chinese of the theories of Lysenko. It is pretty well accepted that tens, and possibly over 100 million, Chinese died under Mao and his policy (see The Black Book of Communism). More importantly, his collectivization policies and scientific policies were a complete disaster...not least for peasant farmers (who we are told the anti-GMO crowd want to help). Indeed, if you want to see these agricultural policies at work today, one need look no further than North Korea. So, if the author of the comment on Mao was serious, maybe he should nominate a living mass-murderer for the World Food Prize, and I'd nominate Kim Jung-il.

>I nearly fell over when I read this on : biotechdebate@iatp.org

> From: Phil Bereano
> Subject: RE: the needs of the starving masses
> We can go round for a long time at the level of analysis you are
> utilizing. May I suggest looking at it another way and suggest that
> Mao Tse Tung alleviated far more human hunger than Norman Borlaug ever
> did....

Date: 5 Dec 2001 03:53:22 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: No Threat to Biodiversity: Mexican Scientist;
From: "omcshane"

>> From: Phil Bereano
>> Subject: RE: the needs of the starving masses
>> We can go round for a long time at the level of analysis you are
>> May I suggest looking at it another way and suggest that Mao Tse
>> alleviated far more human hunger than Norman Borlaug ever did.

Yes, the records show that his great leap forward and loony agriculture schemes resulted in some 60 million chinese starving to death. Maybe he allieveted the problem of hunger by reducing the number of mouths to be fed. I suspect that this approach to the problem is not highly regarded in most intelligent societies - sadly this set seems to exclude many American Universities.

Owen McShane, 158 Rangiora Road, R.D. 2, Kaiwaka, Northland 0582
Phone: 64 9 431 2775
Fax: 64 9 431 2772
See "Straight Thinking On Line" (http://mcshane.orcon.net.nz)

Date: 5 Dec 2001 15:52:47 -0000
To: AgBioWorld-feedback-1271@lb.bcentral.com
From: "Alex Avery"
Subject: Mao and the activist World Food Prize

I'll comment. I emailed Prof. Bereano and asked him if he was unaware that over 30 million people starved in China between 1959 and 1962, during the not-so-"Great Leap Forward" when the farms were communalized. He never responded to my email, so I suspect he's trying to ignore that little reality.

For anyone interested in the worst famine in recorded history, read "Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine" by Jasper Becker (1998). The New York Times called it "An astonishing chronicle both of human folly and evil." The short version of the story is that Mao believed all the junkscience propaganda coming out of the Soviet Union about the increased productivity of communal farms by Soviet Biology dictator Trofin Lysenko and others. It was all bull doo-doo--communal farms suck--but you know, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Anyway, Mao communalized the farms with the expectation of doubled and tripled productivity. When the yields and productivity didn't go up, none of Mao's regional underlings had the nerve to admit that thier region hadn't lived up to expectations, so they lied--all of them. The government took its share of a non-existent doubled harvests and before they realized it, some regions of China were stripped bare of food. People were eating grass and dirt, bark, whatever. The f

Prof. Bereano's needs to acknowledge THIS context for the consequences of grandiose and restrictive government policy. Fact is, many famines of the 20th century were government caused or exacerbated--especially in war torn parts of Africa.

Alex Avery
Hudson Institute,
Center for Global Food Issues


October 4, 2001

El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico-Technical and political issues surrounding
transgenic maize ran headlong into environmental and cultural
concerns when an article in the September 27, 2001 issue of Nature
(Vol 413) reported that transgenic corn had been found growing in the
Mexican states of Oaxaca and Puebla. This followed on the heels of
similar reports in the local media.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT),
headquartered in Texcoco, Mexico, regards this as a serious
development and offers its considerable expertise to the appropriate
Mexican institutions to (1) help identify the type and source of the
introduced gene(s), (2) assess potential impacts to biodiversity, the
ecology, and the socioeconomic environment, and (3) to explore
possible responses.

Recognizing the importance of Mexico's role as a center of origin and
domestication of maize, CIMMYT has devoted significant resources to
helping conserve the genetic diversity of the nation's maize
landraces. It has done this through its gene bank, which maintains
one of the world's most extensive collections of maize varieties,
landraces, and wild relatives, and by working to maintain diversity
in natural settings.

Since 1997, CIMMYT has worked directly with farmers in Oaxaca and
elsewhere in Mexico, training them and refining management practices
that allow them to increase their productivity, while at the same
time preserving or enhancing genetic diversity at the farm and
community levels. Research has also been undertaken to examine the
flow of maize genes amongst farmers and communities and the impact
these flows have on the genetic diversity of maize and its wild
relatives (teosinte and Tripsacum).

In its own transgenic work with maize, CIMMYT has strictly adhered to
the Mexican biosafety regulations and protocols. CIMMYT's last
on-station field trial of transgenic maize concluded in September
1999, at the Tlaltizapán Experiment Station, in the state of Morelos.
Although the Mexican authorities announced a de facto moratorium in
1998, this applied primarily to scaling-up research to commercial
levels and to applications for new research. In January 1999, the
Directorate of Plant Health, a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture,
approved the application for this final on-station trial, to enable
CIMMYT to complete the final component of a series of experiments.

A delegate from the Directorate of Plant Health closely monitored the
implementation of the research plan and trials. A minimum of 200
meters of barrier plantings was maintained between the transgenic
experimental plot and other conventional trial plots. All tassels
were removed from the transgenic plants to keep them from pollinating
other plants. In addition, planting times for the transgenic maize,
the barrier maize, and other maize plots were staggered to further
preclude inadvertent pollination. Harvesting was strictly controlled
and all transgenic kernels (seed) were securely transported to CIMMYT
headquarters. All vegetative transgenic plant material and all
barrier plants were incinerated. The experimental plots were plowed,
tilled, and monitored for the emergence of any maize plants, which
were immediately destroyed.

Today, CIMMYT continues research on transgenic maize within the
confines of its biotechnology laboratories and its Level 3 Biosafety
Greenhouses (as designated by the U.S. National Institute of Health;
Level 1 being the lowest level of biocontainment and Level 4 the
highest). Absolutely no CIMMYT transgenic maize is grown outside of
these secure facilities.

To date, details of the studies referred to in Nature (Vol. 413)
about the discovery of transgenes in Mexican landraces have not been
released to the public. CIMMYT looks forward to obtaining and
reviewing the data and determining the implications both for Mexico
and for CIMMYT's work. The Center is in a unique position to assist
in such investigations, and, given our mandate to serve the resource
poor of the developing world, to work on approaches to maize
improvement that benefit poor farmers while protecting valuable
genetic resources and the environment.

India may soon allow sale of gene-altered seeds back

December 5, 2001

BOMBAY - India may approve commercial production and sale of a genetically modified (GM) cotton seed variety later this month, a top government official said on Wednesday. ``Procedures are being streamlined,'' Manju Sharma, secretary in the federal Department of Biotechnology in New Delhi, told Reuters.

``The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which is scheduled to meet later this month, may allow commercial use of a GM cotton seed in the country,'' she said.

The government is also considering permitting commercial production of other GM crops, such as potato, tomato, and mustard, Sharma said.

Approval of the GEAC, set up by the federal environment ministry, is mandatory for field trials and commercial production of GM crops in the country.

India has so far only allowed a few firms and research bodies to undertake field trials of gene-altered crops.

The GM cotton is currently being field-tested by India's Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, in which U.S. biotechnology giant, Monsanto, owns a stake.

The company started limited field trials of its BT or bacillus thuringiensis cotton seed in 1996/97, but has faced intermittent opposition from environmentalists and farmers on bio-safety and transparency of the trial data.

The BT cotton contains the 'Cry 1 Ac' gene and is resistant to the cotton bollworm, which causes heavy damage to the Indian cotton crop.

In October, the federal government ordered the destruction of illegally-grown GM cotton in the western state of Gujarat to prevent resowing of the seed. The local authorities have so far bought about 120 tonnes of BT cotton from farmers for this purpose.

India has the world's largest cotton growing area but its yield is only about 300 kg per hectare, below half of the global average of about 650 kg, traders say.

Cotton production in the current crop year ending September is forecast at 15.6 million bales of 170 kg each, up from 14.0 million a year earlier.



ISB News Report
December 2001

Throughout civilized history, environmental stress due to high concentrations of salt in soils has endured as one of the most serious factors limiting productivity of agricultural crops, which are particularly sensitive to soil salinity. Currently, elevated soil salinity affects agricultural production in a large proportion of the world's terrestrial areas. It is estimated that more than a third of all irrigated land is presently affected, exclusive of regions classified as arid and desert lands, which comprise 25% of total land surface of the planet. This continual loss of farmable land due to salinization is directly in conflict with the needs of the world population, projected to increase by 1.5 billion in the next 20 years, and poses a formidable challenge to the task of maintaining world food supplies.

Wild plants that tolerate salt and grow in saline environments have high intracellular salt levels. A major component of the osmotic adjustment in these cells is accomplished by ion uptake. The utilization of inorganic ions for osmotic adjustment would suggest that salt-tolerant plants must be able to tolerate high levels of salts within their cells. However, enzymes extracted from these plants show high sensitivity to salt, suggesting that these plants are able to keep Na+ ions away from the cytosol.

Plants can use three strategies for the maintenance of a low cytosolic sodium concentration: sodium exclusion, compartmentation, and secretion. One mechanism for sodium transport out of the cell is through operation of plasma membrane-bound Na+/H+ antiports, as confirmed by the characterization of SOS1, a putative plasma membrane Na+/H+ antiport from Arabidopsis thaliana.1 The efficient compartmentation of sodium is likewise accomplished through operation of vacuolar Na+/H+ antiports that move potentially harmful ions from cytosol into large, internally acidic, tonoplast-bound vacuoles.2 These ions, in turn, act as an osmoticum within the vacuole to maintain water flow into the cell.3 Antiports use the protonmotive force generated by vacuolar H+-translocating enzymes, H+-adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) and H+-inorganic pyrophosphatase (PPiase), to couple downhill movement of H+ (down its electrochemical potential) with uphill movement of Na+ (against its electrochemical potential).

Eduardo Blumwald and coworkers have been engineering crop plants with improved salt tolerance. In 1999, they successfully engineered transgenic Arabidopsis plants that overexpress AtNHX1, a vacuolar Na+/H+ antiport, which allowed the plants to grow in 200 mM NaCl.3 In the August 2001 issue of Nature Biotechnology, they reported the genetic modification of tomato plants to overexpress the Arabidopsis thaliana AtNHX1 antiport, which likewise allowed those plants to grow in the presence of 200 mM NaCl .4

A salt concentration of 200 mM is equivalent to 40% of the salt concentration of seawater and will inhibit the growth of almost all crop plants. The growth of the wild-type plants in this study was severely inhibited by the presence of 200 mM NaCl in the growth solution, and most of the plants died or were severely stunted (Fig 1D). On the other hand, the transgenic plants grew, flowered, and produced fruit (Fig 1E). The high sodium and chloride content in the leaves of transgenic plants grown in salty water demonstrated that enhanced vacuolar accumulation of Na+ ions, mediated by the Na+/H+ antiport, allowed transgenic plants to ameliorate the toxic effects of Na+. Most notable was the production of fruit by these transgenic plants grown in the presence of 200 mM NaCl. While the transgenic leaves accumulated Na+ to almost 1% of their dry weight, the fruits displayed only a marginal increase in Na+ content and a 25% increase in K+ content.

A similar strategy was used by Blumwald et al. to genetically modify Brassica napus,5 commonly known as Canola or rapeseed and one of the most important oilseed crops cultivated worldwide. A construct containing the AtNHX gene, coding for a vacuolar Na+/H+ antiport from Arabidopsis thaliana, was introduced into the genome of Brassica napus cv Westar. Overexpression of the vacuolar Na+/H+ antiport did not affect the growth of transgenic plants since similar growth was observed when wild-type and transgenic plants were grown in the presence of 10 mM NaCl. While growth of wild-type plants was severely affected by the presence of 200 mM NaCl in the growth solution, transgenic plants grew, flowered, and produced seeds .5

Notably, transgenic plants grown at 200 mM NaCl produced seed numbers similar to those of wild-type plants grown at low salinity. Moreover, qualitative and quantitative analyses of oil content showed no significant differences between seeds from wild-type plants grown at low salinity and transgenic plants grown at high salinity.

Twenty years ago, Epstein6 argued for development of crops in which the consumable portion is botanically a fruit, such as grain, berries, or pomes, and that have a truly halophytic response to salinity. In these plants, Na+ ions would accumulate mainly in leaves, and since water transport to fruits and seeds is primarily through the phloem pathway (i.e., the intercellular connections), much of the salt from these organs would be screened. The results obtained with transgenic salt-tolerant tomato and Canola clearly support Epstein's argument.

Degradation of agricultural land and water supplies is a result of intensive agricultural practices employed in developed and developing countries for a long time. Ideally these practices should be changed to a more sustainable use of land and water resources. For example, mixed cropping with perennials and trees would alleviate the accumulation of sodium and other salts in upper soil layers. Nonetheless, this type of change in farming systems and the development of new products is likely a long and difficult process, since it will require the use of new land and will not address the problem of growing crops in land that is already compromised. Development and use of crops that can tolerate high levels of soil salinity is a practical solution, at least for the time being. Although conventional breeding for salt tolerance has been attempted for a long time, the lack of success in generating tolerant varieties (given the low number of varieties released and their limited salt tolerance) would suggest that con

Remarkably, Blumwald's transgenic Canola plants grown in high salinity conditions accumulated sodium up to 6% of total dry weight. Taking into consideration that a mature Brassica plant in the field can weight 2 kg fresh weight or 300 grams dry weight, each plant could accumulate 18 grams of sodium when grown in the presence of 200 mM NaCl.6 This significant amount of sodium taken up by transgenic plants would suggest that, in addition to value as an agronomic crop, these plants could be used as one component needed to reclaim saline soils.


1. Shi H, Ishitani M, Kim C, and Zhu J-K. 2000. The Arabidopsis thaliana salt tolerance gene SOS1 encodes a putative Na+/H+ antiporter. Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences USA 97: 6896–6901.

2. Apse MP, Aharon GS, Snedden WS, and Blumwald E. 1999. Salt tolerance conferred by overexpression of a vacuolar Na+/H+ antiport in Arabidopsis. Science 285: 1256–1258.

3. Glenn E, Brown JJ, and Blumwald E. 1999. Salt-tolerant mechanisms and crop potential of halophytes. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 18: 227–255.

4. Zhang H-X and Blumwald E. 2001. Transgenic salt tolerant tomato plants accumulate salt in the foliage but not in the fruits. Nature Biotechnology 19: 765–768.

5. Zhang H-X, Hodson J, Williams JP, and Blumwald E. 2001. Engineering salt-tolerant Brassica plants: Characterization of yield and seed oil quality in transgenic plants with increased vacuolar sodium accumulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98: 12832–12836.

6. Epstein E. 1983. Crops tolerant to salinity and other mineral stresses. In Better Crops for Food, Ciba Foundation Symposium, eds. J Nugent and M O'Connor, pp 97, 61-82. London: Pitman.

Eduardo Blumwald
Department of Pomology
University of California


Chefs Collaborative 2000 Cooks the Books?

December 5, 2001

As we told you yesterday, the Guest Choice Network is putting the finishing touches on a massive and detailed online database that "follows the money" that funds anti-consumer activist groups. But one group you might not be able to read about is Chefs Collaborative 2000 (CC2K) -- not because we're not tracking them, but because they're breaking the law.

We first requested CC2K's tax documents, so we could research and report on their funding, back in March of this year. Nonprofits like CC2K are legally obligated to provide such documentation upon request. When over a month passed without a response, we sent a second letter in early May. That letter crossed paths with a package from CC2K containing promotional materials and brochures -- but no tax information.

In July, Guest Choice sent CC2K a third letter. This time, we let them know they were violating federal law by ignoring our repeated requests. They told us to talk to their lawyers.

So we did. CC2K did send us their IRS request for tax-exempt status -- but not their filed tax forms. In the course of nine calls to their attorney -- and after we wrote directly to the IRS -- we discovered why: The IRS has absolutely no record of Chefs Collaborative 2000 ever filing taxes, even though the group has existed since November 1996.

See also:

Cooking up Fear - Chefs push for organic

Date: 5 Dec 2001 19:02:21 -0000
From: "Red Porphyry"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Lomborg & Simon redux

A few comments regarding Ferdinand Engelbeen's thoughts on Lomborg/Simon vs. Club of Rome. First, If I'm not mistaken, the average fortune teller averages more like 15% accuracy in his predictions, not 50%. If Mr. Engelbeen does know of any fortune tellers who *are* 50% accurate in their predictions, I'd appreciate it if he would please forward their names and contact info to redporphyry@hotmail.com at once. :-)

Second, and one more time, neither the original Limits to Growth (1972), nor the Beyond the Limits (1990), authors made any predictions or claims that the world would "run out of resources" or reach "fundamental physical limits to economic and environmental growth" by the year 2000. In fact, all of their "state of the world" scenarios unequivocally show that the year 2000 would end up looking pretty much the way it actually did, about 6 billion people who enjoy real, meaningful improvements in life expectancy, health, nutrition, housing, etc. over that prevalent in late 1960's. In other words, both Julian Simon and the Club of Rome were in agreement on what the world would look like in 2000, and that world looked pretty good indeed. I realize that it is extremely unpopular to point this out on the agbioworld forum, but nevertheless, them's the facts, Ferdinand. And I'm going to keep on pointing it out until it finally sinks into the heads of the entire pro-biotech scientist crowd that hangs out here. :-)

It's only after 2000 that the views of Simon and the Club of Rome begin to diverge, with Simon predicting that "business as usual" would result in continued real improvement in the state of the world and the Club of Rome predicting "business as usual" would result in economic and environmental "overshoot and collapse" around 2050 or so. The difference in viewpoint is due to two fundamentally different opinions about the ability of technology and human ingenuity to outpace exponential growth rates in population, economic development, and pollution. As to which viewpoint is right, it's currently impossible to even begin to say empirically. Not enough time has passed since 2000. What we can say with a great deal of confidence is that by the end of 2010 (nine years from now) it will be pretty clear which one was right. The current decade is thus "come to Jesus" time for both Julian Simon and the Club of Rome. Interestingly, one of the pertinent (because agriculture is so dependent on oil) hot topics of debate n


(whose own personal favorite neo-Malthusian worldview has the cheeky title: "the Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge", http://www.dieoff.com/page224.htm). :-)