Today in AgBioView
* Lomborg's Call for Help from Scientists - Critique in Scientific American
* GM Soybean Planting In Brazil Said To Be Spreading North
* Argentine GM Crop Area to Grow by 1.5 million Hectares
* The Threat that Biotechnology Is
* More on St. Laurence River 'Contamination' with Bt Corn Protein
* Gene Flow to Wild Plant Relatives
* Biotechnology Issues in Africa
* AgBiotech Reporter
* Unquiet on the Western Front
* Biology: Under Transformation
* Safety Fears Over Herbal Remedy
Critique of Lomborg in Scientific American
Forwarded by "Deepak Lal"
This maybe of interest to the AgBioView group. - Deepak Lal
>From: Jack Hirshleifer
>Subject: Critique of Lomborg in Scientific American
>I'm not sure how many of you met my friend Bjorn Lomborg on his last visit
>here. But thought you might be interested in this extraordinary event in
>the history of intellectual polemics. Imagine, 4 reviews and an editorial
>in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN to denounce one book. Environmentalism is the only
>current Western religion that can match Islamic fundamentalism for
>intensity and irrationality. -- j.
Subject: Critique of Lomborg in Scientific American
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001
Dear Sir or Madam.
For one reason or another I have e-mailed with you on my book the
Skeptical Environmentalist. It has taken quite a beating in some
media, though the critique seems rather non-scientifically motivated
(if you care to, you can see my response to e.g. the Nature review at
my web-site, below). However, Scientific American now wants to top
this critique by publishing 11 pages of four very negative reviews
along with a negative editorial in their up-coming January issue.
Notice the heading: "Science defends itself against the Skeptical
Environmentalist." Naturally, I plan to write a rebuttal to be put on
However, I would also love your input to the issues -- maybe you can
contest some of the arguments in the SA pieces, alone or together
with other academics. Perhaps you have good ideas to counter a
specific argument. Perhaps you know of someone else that might be
ideal to talk to or get to write a counter-piece. Generally, it seems
to me that it is necessary to contest the general proposition that
this is science defending itself rather it seems to be
environmentalism defending itself (and actually rather badly)?!
You can download the final page proof reviews from
Again, please let me know your thoughts, as well as any other good
people, ideas, suggestions, etc.
Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, University of Aarhus
DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark, Phone (cell): +45 2099 6060
(Note from CSP : Prof. Deepak Lal is James Coleman Professor of
International Development Studies at the University of California, at
Los Angeles; see his commentary at
GMO Soy Planting In Brazil Said To Be Spreading North
- Todd Benson, Dow Jones, Dec 18, 2001
SAO PAULO -(Dow Jones)- Natural food buffs may find it increasingly
hard to buy non-genetically-modified soy products in Brazil, one of
the world's few major soybean producers that still officially bans
And while Brazil's ban hasn't stopped GMO seeds from being smuggled
in from neighboring Argentina - where more than 90% of the soy crop
is genetically-modified - illegal planting on the Brazilian side of
the border was thought until recently to be limited to the southern
part of the country. As a result, buyers in search of non-GMO soy
simply avoided Brazil's southern ports, instead opting to contract
shipments from outlets further north, thousands of miles away from
the black-market GMO hotbed along the Argentine border.
But that may no longer be a safe bet. Soy watchers here say
genetically-modified seeds are now popping up in the soy-rich
Center-West and as far north as Bahia and Maranhao states, posing a
serious threat to Brazil's GMO-free reputation among big,
health-conscious buyers such as Japan and the European Union.
"GMO soy isn't restricted to the southern part of the country any
more," said Joao Henrique Hummel, president of Brazil's seed
association. "We've got proof that GMO seeds are being planted in the
Center-West, Bahia and even in Maranhao."
That proof, Hummel says, consists of data showing that seed sales
from authorized dealers simply don't correspond with the rise in
demand and total planted area, implying that many more seeds are
being bought unofficially. Indeed, national seed sales this year are
seen reaching around 680,000 metric tons, for a record planted area
of 15.5 million hectares. Last year, seed sales totaled 670,000 tons,
for a much smaller planted area of 13.9 million hectares.
In the Center-West alone, which accounts for more than 40% of
national output, some analysts estimate that as much as 300,000
hectares have already been planted this year with GMO seeds. In the
South region, where GMO soybeans were first detected in 1997, close
to 20% of total planted area is now genetically-modified, according
to market estimates.
But that's peanuts compared to Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's
southernmost state and home the country's third-largest soy crop.
Between 40% and 50% of the state's soy fields are believed by many in
the market to be genetically-modified, thanks to the relative ease
with which illegal seeds can be brought in from Argentina.
Farmers Creating Their Own GMO Varieties: Unlike in the South, the
origin of the GMO seeds that farmers are using further north doesn't
appear to be Argentina. Anderson Galvao, a soy specialist at local
consulting firm MPrado Consultoria Empresarial, says Brazilian
growers are reproducing their own GMO seeds to adapt them to the
country's different terrains.
"It's really not all that hard to modify GMO seeds," said Galvao.
Whereas farmers in the South prefer the Roundup Ready variety
produced for the Argentine market by U.S. biotechnology giant
Monsanto Co. (MON), growers in the Center-West are using homemade
varieties called "cristalina" and "conquista," according to Hummel,
of the seed association.
Because GMO products are currently banned here, the government has a
policy of not commenting on reports that Brazilian farmers have long
been planting and selling genetically-modified soybeans. Yet many
officials - including Agriculture Minister Marcus Vinicius Pratini de
Moraes - make no secret of their support for the legalization of
GMOs, which most market observers here say is bound to happen at some
Critics say it is precisely because government officials are biased
that GMO planting is beginning to spread unchecked across Brazil's
ever-expanding soy belt. "Everyone knows that the GMO issue is a
national problem, but the official bodies that should be auditing our
crops are turning a blind eye to the problem, as if it didn't exist,"
said Renato Sayeg, a veteran soy broker in Sao Paulo.
What some here criticize as government negligence has prompted some
trading houses to take the matter into their own hands. Keen to
guarantee some hefty premiums from big-spending clients abroad, a
number of trading companies are testing for GMO seeds at different
points in the growing chain. "You have to know who you can buy from
to guarantee that you're getting GMO-free soy, so some trading houses
are tracking the product from planting to the harvest," said Carlo
Lovatelli, president of Brazil's soy crushing industry association,
known here as Abiove.
Brazil is the world's second largest soy producer, after the U.S.,
accounting for about 20% of global supply. Soy is one of the
country's biggest agricultural breadwinners, bringing in close to $5
billion in annual trade revenue.
Argentine GM Crop Area to Grow by 1.5 million Hectares
- Damian Wroclavsky, Reuters, Dec 19, 2001
BUENOS AIRES - Argentine crop area planted with genetically modified
(GM) seeds will rise 1.5 million hectares to 11.44 million hectares
in the 2001/02 season, the head of an international biotechnology
group told Reuters in an interview.
"I would say (Argentina) will increase at least 1.5 million hectares
more" in 2001/02, said Clive James, president of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
ISAAA, which is financed by government funds, foundations and private
companies, collects statistics on the global use of genetically
modified products. Argentina, Latin America's No. 3 economy, is a
major producer of grains and oilseeds and is second only to the
United States in the use of GM products. The area planted in
Argentina in 2000 represented a quarter of total GM plantings
Of the record 11.3 million hectares forecast to be planted with soy
this year, nearly all will be sown with genetically modified seeds,
according to ISAAA data. About 88 percent of soy planted last year
was genetically modified. Genetically modified corn plantings look
set to grow to 800,000 hectares out of a total of 3.34 million
hectares, about 14 percent more than a year ago, according to the
Cotton area planted with transgenic seeds will probably hold steady
at 40,000 hectares. When asked what Argentina had gained from its
extensive use of GM seeds, James said, "We believe that in 1999 on a
global basis, farmers in Canada, the U.S., Argentina and China got a
return (savings) of approximately $700 million. If you take the part
for Argentina after that, that would come to just over $214 million."
Worldwide, 3.5 million farmers planted 44.2 million hectares with
transgenic crops in 2000 and more than 125 million hectares in the
past five years, James said.
GM POTENTIAL. GM products slash costs for farmers by reducing the
amount of preparation needed before planting. Use of a transgenic soy
seed that is resistant to a glyphosate-based weedkiller saved farmers
$35 to $55 per hectare in agrochemical expenses and stabilized
yields, said James. Argentina's success with controversial GM crops -
even as neighboring agricultural powerhouse Brazil rejected the use
of GM seeds - can serve as an example to other poor countries, said
"If we look at what happened in Argentina, I believe it is a good
example for others countries in Latin America but also in Asia and in
Africa. It shows how countries in the south, from the developing
world can use this technology with great benefits," he said. Despite
Brazil's current ban on transgenic products, James said the country
would likely adopt the technology soon in order to better compete.
"The thought in Europe of course is that Brazil may be a market (a
source) for non-GM soybeans in the future. But I think in the end,
price will dictate. If people have to pay a higher price for non-GM
food ... I think at a very early stage people will refuse to pay," he
"There is a risk in using any product and, yes, you must ask
questions about what are the potential risks of using this
technology. But the more important question for Brazil is what is the
risk in not using the technology," James said. Although farmers hail
their cost-cutting benefits, GM products have also stirred
controversy, with some environmental and consumer groups arguing they
are a threat to human health and the environment. The European Union
has had a moratorium on the approval of new GM products since 1998.
The Threat that Biotechnology Is
- Gary Comstock, Harvard University Center for International
Development, Sept 24, 200,(Coordinator, Bioethics Program Iowa State
University, Ames, Iowa, USA) (via Agnet)
The threat that biotechnology is is that debate over the pros and
cons of genetically modified crops may become so acrimonious that the
sides cease speaking to each other altogether. Both sides have
embraced an all-or-nothing rhetoric; either one accepts GM or one
opposes it. The trap is doubly problematic in that it both embraces
and perpetuates conflict, by accepting only two positions in the
Both sides have much to lose by destroying public confidence. Trust
is necessary for biotech proponents, if consumers are going to buy GM
foods, if taxpayers are going to fund public scientific research, and
if governments are going to permit the protection of intellectual
bioproperty essential to further research and development. Confidence
is also necessary for opponents of biotech, in order for constituents
to accept arguments about the alleged dangers of agribiotech and to
send in financial support. These alleged dangers are also based on
scientific claims about genetically engineered foods and diet
supplements, herbicide-tolerant super weeds, GM salmon, Bt corn, and
canola trans-genes. It is no accident that the founders of the
environmental movement, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Barry Commoner,
Trust in the GM arena is particularly critical because so few of us
have a working knowledge of either molecular biology or ecology.
Anyone who makes or implies scientific claims bears heavy ethical
responsibility in the debate. Sadly, those making or implying
scientific claims in this arena have not inspired confidence.
What steps can we take to salvage the conversation? Out of many
possibilities, I suggest only one, that in our claims about GM foods,
we all exercise greater epistemic humility. We can do so by following
two rules: 1. Be scrupulous in providing robust justifications,
scientific and ethical, for all our assertions, but especially for
negative ones. 2. Be vigilant in establishing a proper ratio between
our rhetoric and our warrants.
Why should we be especially careful with negative claims? They play a
disproportionate role in our deliberations. If certain empirical
studies are correct, we tend to give greater weight to a single
negative assertion than to a group of positive assertions.
This precautionary response could have untoward consequences. For
purposes of argument, make the following three plausible assumptions.
First, assume that GM food is safe. Second, assume that some GM
"orphan" foods, such as rice enhanced with iron or vitamin A, or
virus-resistant cassava, or aluminum-tolerant sweet potato, may be of
great potential benefit to millions of poor children. Third, assume
that widespread anti-GM information and sentiment could shut down the
GM infrastructure in the developed world.
Under these assumptions, consider the possibility that anti-GM claims
could bring to a halt the range of profitable GM foods marketed by
multinational corporations. This result might be bad, if it turns out
that GM foods are good for people, animals, and ecosystems, or good,
if GM foods are harmful to some or all of these parties. However, a
side effect of shutting down GM foods, intended by no one, would be
the elimination of new GM orphan crops. These crops` development and
commercialization depends on the answers to fundamental questions in
plant science and molecular biology. It may be that these questions
can be answered only if the research agendas of private industry and
public research institutions are allowed to continue. Our
precautionary response to new foods, therefore, may put us in an
On the one hand, the current rhetorical options make us want to tell
'both sides' of the GM story, letting people know about the benefits
and the risks of the technology. On the other hand, negative
assertions carry greater weight than positive assertions. The result
may be the rejection of GM technology, which could indirectly harm
those children most in need, particularly of orphan crops.
I am not arguing here for GM crops (although I have done so
elsewhere), but only for more circumspection in discussing them. By
refusing to speculate about what might or might not be implied by
what we know, we might begin to see alternative positions. No longer
confined to the current rhetorical trap of two positions, we might
notice a third position emerge, attracting large numbers of activists
and industrialists alike. That position might allow us to guard
against the real GM risks that activists decry, while allowing the
orphan crops that champions hail.
From: Rick Roush
Subject: BT CORN TOXIN HAS CONTAMINATED RIVER SEDIMENT, archive 6385;
Posted To: firstname.lastname@example.org (A Biotech-Activist Newsgroup)
I have tried to restrain myself from posting to this server lately,
but this story is too much. About this absurd story on Bt, a
follow-up story in Quebec's La Presse (courtesy of Sarah Grant)
headlined "GMOs in the river: far from pollution; It is too soon to
draw any conclusions from the study, experts say." It notes that
yesterday's Le Devoir reported about Bt corn toxin having highly
contaminated the sediment in the Saint Laurence River. Francois Gagne
from the Centre Saint Laurent d'Environnement Canada said it is too
soon to draw any conclusions from their study because the results are
preliminary. Gagne gives further detail and context about the study:
he says it is the first time they've done a test like this, that the
amounts detected are traces, and that there is no baseline measures
to compare their results with. Further study/monitoring is planned.
There was also clarification about earthworms being negatively
affected by Bt toxin. Gagne said that earth worms lose weight when
subjected to doses of Bt toxin that are not found in the environment,
and that the levels they detected were well below the levels that
would do the worms harm.
It is not all clear to me yet if or how this research distinguished
protein from naturally occurring Bt, which is common in the soil.
Also, I have not seen data that any dose of the protein used in corn
affects earthworms, although I know of data that Bt spores and
bacteria (which have many thousands of genes and proteins not
included in corn) will affect earthworms at high does.
If anyone is interested further, I can send a pdf of the (french)
article from La Presse.
The following letter to the editor of the sourced newspaper just
about says it all.
I wish to comment on the article published in your esteemed newspaper
titled ""OGM et alimentation: peut on evaluer des benefices pour la
sante?" where the writer Pauline Gravel describes a study by Prof.
Jean-Francois Narbonne of l' Universite de Bourdeaux finding elevated
levels of Bt protein from genetically modified corn in the river
I am very surprised as to how this learned professor could have found
such high levels of insecticidal Bt protein samples in the river
because this protein apparently degrades rapidly. Further, I am
perplexed even more by the his extrapolations of the results. There
is no evidence that Bt protein harms the earthworms, as these
proteins are known to be extremely specific in their activity.
Further speculation that roots of corn plants may have transferred Bt
genes to bacteria is outrageous as such horizontal transfer of genes
occurs slowly over evolutionary time scale and at extremely low
frequencies, if at all. I was also appalled by the statement that
sediments in the St.Laurence river may better retain the DNA coding
sequence. Your writer further adds to all this misinformation and
confusion by invoking the dead 'Monarch butterfly' issue which has
now been settled. Series of recent laboratory studies published in
the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) has clearly
shown that Bt corn does not harm these butterflies.
While one must employ vigorous scientific approaches to assess the
biosafety of GM crops, invoking such 'junk-science' as mentioned in
your article simply to tarnish agricultural biotechnology can only do
more harm than good by slowing progress and creating more
C. S. Prakash
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Bt Clogs River
There's something funny going on in the St. Lawrence river.
Most efforts to isolate new strains of Bt focus on soil. However, at
least one type thrives in an aquatic environment and has dipteran
activity. See: http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc217.htm
"Many different Bt subspecies have been isolated from dead or dying
insects mostly from the orders Coleoptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera,
but many subspecies have also been isolated from soil, leaf surfaces
and other habitats. The carcasses of dead insects often contain large
quantities of spores and ICPs that may enter the environment. The
lepidopteran-active Bt subspecies are primarily associated with the
soil and phylloplane (leaf surfaces), whereas the dipteran-active Bt
subspecies are commonly found in aquatic environments. In the
environment, the spores persist and vegetative growth may occur when
conditions are favourable and nutrients are available."
"cry4 proteins are toxic to dipterans." Gill, S. S., E. A. Cowles,
and P. V. Pietantonio. 1992. The mode of action of Bacillus
thuringiensis endotoxins. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 37: 615-636.
There aren't any Cry4 transgenic plants out there. Cry2 also has
dipteran activity, but there aren't any Cry2 transgenic plants in use
that I know of either. Maybe they discovered an aquatic subspecies of
Bt that expresses Cry1 or Cry9.
Or maybe they used a test that just detects any Cry Bt protein or the
genes that code for a Cry protein--I suspect it can be done, after
looking at http://www.geocities.com/madanm2/dnashuff.htm.
More links on this Researcher
Gene Flow to Wild Plant Relatives
The Council for Biotechnology Information, May 24, 2001
Gene flow via pollination is a natural process whereby genes, aided
by wind or insects, are exchanged between plants. This process can
occur between sexually compatible plants and wild relatives if the
appropriate conditions are met. In the case of crop plants, this
process can occur regardless of whether the crop plant was developed
through conventional plant breeding or biotechnology. Developers of
biotechnology-derived crop plants carefully consider the potential
for gene flow to other crop plants and wild relatives.
Crops derived through biotechnology undergo a rigorous risk
assessment process to evaluate this potential. Nevertheless, some
people have expressed concern that genes added to crops through
biotechnology, such as insect resistance or herbicide tolerance,
might spread to wild or weedy relatives creating a "super weed" that
is either difficult to control or detrimental to the environment.
Conditions for Gene Flow: While there is no question that the natural
process of gene flow via pollination does occur, there are a number
of conditions that must be met for gene flow to have an impact on a
wild population (Doebley, 1990).
First, there must be sexual compatibility between the plants in
question. If there is no sexual compatibility between plants, there
can be no gene flow - just as a bird cannot successfully mate with a
frog. The pollinating characteristics of the particular plant species
are important as well. Some crops, such as corn, are
cross-pollinators and can exchange genes relatively easily with other
corn plants or with wild relatives under appropriate conditions. Gene
flow in self-pollinators, such as wheat and soybeans, occurs
infrequently. In addition, the crop must be grown in an area where a
wild relative is native. There are no wild relatives of corn or
soybean, two of the most widely planted crops in the U.S., so gene
flow from these crops into wild populations is zero (Rissler and
Second, there must be a benefit associated with the gene of interest
in order for it to persist. Genetic modifications must increase a
plant's ability to survive and reproduce in order for any gene to be
actively selected and preserved over generations. There is little
selective advantage to having a trait that confers
herbicide-tolerance in a wild relative of corn if that herbicide is
not present in the natural environment of that wild relative.
Cultivated crops are highly domesticated and generally are unable to
survive in the environment without human assistance.
Regulatory Review: In some cases - such as with sorghum and
sunflowers in the U.S. - there is a greater likelihood for
cross-pollination with weedy relatives because these exist where
sorghum and sunflower are grown. So should a sorghum or sunflower
plant derived through biotechnology be considered for
commercialization in the future, the regulatory review process would
require consideration of the potential impact on weediness of wild or
weedy relatives. The potential for gene flow between weedy species
and a related crop derived through biotechnology is a key component
of the risk assessment required by regulatory agencies for every new
plant variety developed through biotechnology.
In conclusion, each crop species derived through biotechnology is
thoroughly evaluated for the likelihood and consequence of gene flow.
In the United States and Canada, crops such as corn and soybeans, do
not have wild relatives nearby, so gene flow is limited to
neighboring cultivated plants within the same field or to nearby
fields. The likelihood of gene flow diminishes the farther apart
plants are located, even if they are in the same field or region. For
some crops such as soybeans, pollination characteristics limit gene
exchange even between neighboring plants in the same field. For still
others such as sorghum and sunflowers, more attention must be given
to cross-pollination with weedy relatives.
As gene flow is a natural process, it is important to improve our
understanding of this phenomenon, and modern biotechnology is helping
make research into gene flow more accurate and informative.
References and further reading: see website
Biotechnology Issues in Africa
- Thomas G. Egwang, Electronic Journal of Biotechnology,
Director General and Scientific Director; Med Biotech Laboratories,
The word 'biotechnology' means different things to different people.
In a narrow sense biotechnology means the use and exploitation of
microorganisms to produce products of industrial or commercial
interest. In this sense, one can argue that Africans have been adept
at traditional biotechnology for food or beverage production. Beer
brewing, cheese making, and production of sour milk are obvious
examples. The exploitation of genetically engineered microorganisms,
centred on the technology of genetic engineering or recombinant DNA,
constitutes modern biotechnology. This definition is rather narrow.
Biotechnology should therefore be seen as a pervasive new suite of
technologies with current or potential applications in a large number
of industries, including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mining,
forestry, fisheries, agriculture, and food processing (Arunde and
Rose, 1998). These technologies include recombinant DNA, gene probes,
DNA amplification, tissue culture, somatic embryogenesis, classical
and traditional breeding, bioprocessing (fermentation and recovery),
Applications of biotechnology which will have the most impact on
African lives are those in the fields of agriculture and medicine.
Advances in cell and tissue culture, tissue regeneration, and
transformation have now made it possible to produce, on demand,
transgenic crops with improved quality. This means, for example
cassava or barley with modified starch content, an all- or high
amylose content starch being an important raw industrial material for
biodegradable plastics; sorghum with increased lysine content; sweet
potatoes and cassava resistant to viruses; high yield rice, etc. Food
crops which are resistant to drought would pre-empt the type of
famines we have already seen in certain parts of the continent.
The application of recombinant DNA work in medicine has resulted in
several breakthroughs in recent years. In the area of vaccine
development, Salmonella and adenovirus have been used to deliver
recombinant vaccine antigens to selected sites in the human body.
Malaria kills an estimated 1-2 million children a year in Africa
alone. Although several vaccine candidates have been developed by
recombinant DNA technology, very few have reached the stage of
clinical trials because of production problems. The advent of naked
DNA vaccines has been a major significant breakthrough in this regard
since the DNA encoding the vaccine is simply injected into the
subject. Malaria vaccine development using the naked DNA approach has
shown promising results in trials using experimental animals.
There is an increasing problem of garbage in urban African centers.
Environmental biotechnology is therefore an important field for
Africans to undertake in order to provide solutions to waste
management. There is need to identify indigenous microorganisms,
which degrade garbage and plastics. In Uganda, the problem associated
with the disposal of plastics has become a serious national concern.
The discovery of a native Ugandan microorganism, which degrades
polyethylene plastics, would be an environmental biotechnology
breakthrough. These organisms could be tagged with molecular markers
such that when they are released into the environment their fate can
be monitored. The investment in equipment to monitor these
microorganisms is minimal and should be affordable by any serious
African environmental biotechnology department.
The genomes of organisms ranging from microbial organisms such as
Haemophilus influenzae, malaria and other parasitic organisms, yeast,
to plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana and man have been unravelled.
Thousands of gene sequences continue to be deposited into the
databases every day. Functional genomics is now an important aspect
of genome research by which we try to attribute function to all these
genes. Proteomics, on the other hand, is another aspect of genome
research in which the expression of these genes in organisms and
plants are being dissected. Since there is an exponential explosion
in the volume of data generated every day, there is increasing need
for the application of information technology to make biological and
commercial sense of all the data. Bioinformatics is the use of
information technology to identify potential vaccine or drug targets
from the genome databases. These advances can only benefit Africans
if African scientists adopt them to solve African problems.
The role of African scientists in biotechnology work has been varied
and depends on the country. In the majority of cases, and in Uganda
in particular, agricultural scientists have made important
breakthroughs in developing crops such as coffee, beans, and maize
with improved quality through tissue culture and micropropagation.
However, there have been almost no African inroads in technologies
involving genetic engineering. It is encouraging to note that, in
recognition of this deficit, there is now a keen interest in Africa
to transfer these technologies to Africa.
The major constraints in developing a strong biotechnology base in
Africa have been lack of government commitment to invest in science
and technology, the fact that biotechnology is an expensive
undertaking and most African laboratories are in dire need of funds,
lack of a critical mass of scientists trained in the requisite
various technologies, and the fact that it is impossible to raise
venture capital for biotechnology in Africa. African entrepreneurs
would rather invest their dollars in traditional industries such as
textiles, coffee processing, and tyre making than in biotechnology.
These constraints need to be addressed if biotechnology in Africa
will take root and provide Africans with improved and more abundant
foods and better but affordable health products.
The challenge is for African scientists to try and overcome the
current constraints in biotechnology in Africa and to actively engage
in all aspects of biotechnology in agriculture, medicine, and the
environment. The enthusiasm for embracing these technologies must, of
course, be tempered by the understandable concern about the effect of
biotechnology on biodiversity and the environment. For this reason,
there must also be capacity building and training in biosafety risk
assessment and risk management especially where transgenic plants are
released. In this domain, competent African scientists need to work
closely with policy makers in order not to stifle creativity with
regulations, which might be too stringent. In conclusion,
biotechnology holds great promise for Africa. It is up to Africans to
overcome current obstacles and harness the great potential of
biotechnology with diligence and prudence. This should be the
overriding challenge of the 21st century.
References: Arunde, A. and Rose, A. (1998). Finding the substance
behind the smoke: Who is using biotechnology? Nature Biotechnology
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Unquiet on the Western Front
- Sharad Joshi, Business Line (Hindu - India), Dec 18, 2001
The author is the founder of Shetkari Sanghatana in India, a farmers
The work of the 'Task Force on Agriculture' clearly brought out that
the Indian farm sector had suffered over decades from massive
negative subsidies amounting to over Rs 300,000 crore ($75 000
million) , and that this was the reason why Indian agriculture was
deficient in production, productivity, quality and infrastructural
The Task Force has recommended that the Government permit farmers to
prepare themselves for the global competition without government
interventions and harassment; and that it should actively promote
informatics, marketing and scientific networks.
One hoped that the Doha ministerial of the WTO would put sufficient
pressure on the Government to reconsider its position vis-a-vis
Bharat. But, surprisingly, one found that far from assisting the farm
sector to prepare itself for the global endeavour, the Government
persists with the anti-farmer animus of all the governments since the
days of Jawaharlal Nehru and that the governments in all States
working under excruciating financial squeeze resulting from their
extravagance over decades were taking it out on the farmers and
denying the farmers the advantage of support price mechanism,
howsoever inadequate, created by Lal Bahadur Shastri in the 1960s.
Through a lucky stroke a nondescript seed company managed to play
Robin Hood and smuggle into Gujarat one line of anti-bollworm gene.
For three years nobody noticed the difference and then came the
massive bollworm rampage of 2001. Gujarat saw all its traditional
hybrid cotton crop standing devastated, side-by-side the Bt-gene
crops standing resplendent in their glorious bounty. The Government
was upset and ordered destruction and burning of the bountiful crop.
The State governments financial stringency and the stout resistance
put up by the farmers forced the Government to retrace its steps.
Finally, it is reported that the Biotechnology Department has decided
to give the green signal to biotechnology in agriculture by the end
of December 2001. Farmers have learnt that the Government has to be
pushed to sanity.
The cotton growers of Maharashtra were aghast to find that this year
they were to be paid on delivery of cotton under the Maharashtra
Monopoly Procurement Scheme, a guaranteed price 20 per cent less than
the support price announced by the Government and assured through its
market operations by the Cotton Corporation of India. They were
dumbstruck that on the opening day of procurement, the government
machinery had simply disappeared. Later on, when the weighment
started, the Government was unwilling to pay cheques even for the
amount due by its own calculations. Still later when cheques were
handed over, farmers were aghast that they all bounced.
It was a year of miseries for the cotton growers of Maharashtra.
Neelkanth Mankar, a cotton grower in Yavatmal district, unable to
face creditors, committed suicide. Shetkari Sanghatana led a 27-day
agitation, demanding merely that the Government must pay the minimum
support price it was legally obliged to pay. The Maharashtra Chief
Minister agreed that the Government was required to pay the minimum
support price, but pleaded financial stringency.If the Maharashtra
Government could find an excuse in financial stringency for its
harassment of the cotton growers, it had none for the bizarre
sugarcane orders it issued.
This was a bad year for sugarcane. The harvest is quite inadequate
for the crushing capacity of the sugar mills. The sugar factories are
competing among themselves, offering as much as Rs 1,000 per tonne
for the cane of non-members. The Director of Sugar has ordered that
no factory should pay more than Rs 560 per tonne as first instalment.
Shetkari Sanghatana moved in again and demanded that the factories
pay a first instalment that would not be less than the Statutory
Minimum Price calculated for the factory or Rs 800 per tonne,
whichever is more. It has also demanded that factories pay a final
price that would not be less than Rs 1,000 per tonne for 10 per cent
recovery. (The State Administered Price in Northern States is Rs
1,200 per tonne.) Farmers have declared their intention not to allow
working of the factories that do not comply.
The mainstream, liberal movement of farmers is forced to increasingly
adopting strident modes of agitation, a la the Peoples War Group.
Unless the Government watches its steps, the liberal and the leftist
movements might soon become indistinguishable in their methods of
Biology: Under Transformation
- B. M. Subbalakshmi, M. Sunil Kumar, Deccan Herald (India), Dec 18,
Blue bananas, golden rice, software programs for drug design... the
world of biology has expanded way beyond the cell and its functions.
With technology aiding the exploration of the miniscular world, the
potentials thrown up are mind boggling as a recent workshop revealed.
The next time you want to immunize yourself against Hepatitis, you
may not need to take a shot. Instead all you would have to do is eat
a blue banana. Similarly, for protecting yourself from Tuberculosis
all you have to do is eat a tomato. If you want that extra dose of
Vitamin A in your diet, try eating the Golden Rice. Welcome to the
world of biotechnology, a most happening research in science on which
most of us including students of biology know little.
Researchers all over the world are now focusing on to insert other
genes into plants to produce vaccines, which can be taken orally.
Those plants are selected which can be eaten uncooked and can easily
be eaten by children such as muskmelon, tomatoes, bananas. The
vaccine is expressed in the fruit that can be eaten to get the
desired effect. Researchers in a research institute in New Delhi are
trying to produce transgenic tomato plants, which can produce
vaccines against Tuberculosis. Similarly, researchers at the
University of Agricultural Sciences have produced a transgenic
muskmelon plant that produces vaccine against rabies. But permission
is awaited for its trial on dogs, says Dr P H Ramanjini Gowda of UAS,
Bangalore who delivered a lecture on 'Novel compounds from plants'.
Apart from the Bt cotton, another controversial transgenic has been
the Golden Rice, which has been claimed to provide sufficient Vitamin
A and so can be used to eliminate night blindness among people. The
Rice developed by scientists Inges and Potrykus has genes for
Beta-carotene taken from daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). The
genome of a japonica variety of rice has been injected with the
daffodil gene using Agrobacterium tumefaciens as a vector to effect
the transfer. The rice is called as Golden Rice because these rice
grains appear pale yellow due to Beta-carotene, which is a precursor
to Vitamin A. Dr C Kameshwar Rao of FBAE gave a lecture on the Golden
Rice, comparative levels of carotenoids in vegetables and oils, and
the relevance of Golden Rice.
Safety Fears Over Herbal Remedy
A popular herbal remedy could be removed from shelves across the UK
following fears over its safety. The Medicines Control Agency (MCA)
has written to associations representing herbal practitioners asking
them if they will agree to stop selling and supplying Kava-kava
temporarily. It follows the withdrawal of the product in Germany and
reports that it has been linked with six cases of liver failure and
one death on mainland Europe.
Kava-kava is used extensively as a treatment for anxiety and ailments
affecting the bladder and digestive tracts. The MCA is currently
considering whether the product should be banned in the UK but has
asked all those who may sell or supply Kava-kava to agree to a
temporary withdrawal while it considers its position. According to
the MCA, several UK companies have agreed to voluntarily suspend
marketing of the product as a precautionary measure.
Agreement sought. Richard Woodfield, head of herbal policy at the
MCA, described the move as responsible. In a letter sent out on
Tuesday, he suggested that withdrawing the product from sale could
help protect patients. "We wish to establish as soon as possible
whether there is support from all the relevant trade and practitioner
associations for voluntary suspension by their members of the sale
and supply to the public of medicines containing Kava-kava. "If this
proposal could be agreed rapidly and was seen to be operating
effectively this would allow an opportunity for the MCA to take into
account additional evidence before bringing forward regulatory
proposals as may be necessary on grounds of public health."
The product has been linked with 30 serious cases of hepatotoxicity
in Germany and Switzerland. These include six cases of liver failure
resulting in one death and four patients requiring liver transplants.
There have been no similar reports in the UK and the MCA said its
decision was a precautionary measure.
Amazing isn't it? Some people obsess over the possibility of harm
from tested and reviewed biotech-enhanced foodstuffs while consuming
completely unknown quantities such as the above precisely because
they contain (or are believed to contain) biologically active
compounds. Don't know which compounds, don't know what quantity or
quality variance may have occurred with varied growing conditions but
it must be OK because it's 'natural.' Go figure!
- Barry Hearn