Today in AgBioView:
* Greenpeace Denounces Paper Currency - Vows Only to Accept Coins as Donations
* PORTRAIT OF GLOBAL GMO USAGE UPDATED
* 'FRANKEN-FOOD' IS IT REALLY BAD, OR IS IT JUST A BAD PUBLIC IMAGE?
* ACTIVISTS IGNORE FOOD SCIENCE: HERE ARE 12 BIOTECH 'SURE BETS' FOR 2002, THANKS TO OUR GROUNDLESS FEAR
* GM foods safe say supporters
* India allows sale of GM cotton
* Study Paves Way to Water-Efficient Cotton
* Plastics Payday
* Biotech Book Makes Brain Buzz
(This is apparently just a joke that has been ciruclating -- a good one for the new year! -- CSP)
Greenpeace Denounces Paper Currency
Vows Only to Accept Coins as Donations
(1 January 2002 -- Amsterdam) INT -- Upon hearing the revelation that the
new European paper currency (EURO) is made with non-organic cotton,
including American cotton genetically altered to reduce pesticide use, an
outraged Gerd Leipold declared that the $150 million Greenpeace
International would boycott paper money, cheques and other possible tainted
"As we have repeatedly stated, we unequivocally oppose any release of genes
into the environment," stated Greenpeace executive director Leipold in a
hastily called press conference at Greenpeace world headquarters in
Amsterdam. "The discovery of this so-called 'improved' cotton in currency
and other paper products places anyone who handles cash at risk of
violating our beliefs and ethical standards."
Scientists and agricultural experts denounced Greenpeace's gesture, noting
that it would require the destruction of millions of hectares of protected
forests to farm the lower-yielding organic cottons. Others noted that the
ecological damage of the massive increase in 'organic' insecticides that
would also be required would mean millions of pounds of so-called natural
pesticides polluting the soil and ground water. Greenpeace rejected the
claims as more scientific propaganda used to cloud their quasi-religious,
Greenpeace immediately announced plans to hire the testing firm Genetic ID
to begin random testing of all paper currency for traces of the modified
cotton. Based in Fairfield, Iowa with the yogic-flying Maharishi religious
meditation cult, Genetic ID had not yet received a contract from Greenpeace
and declined comment.
Leipold added, "Until we can find a clean currency made with 100% organic
cotton we will accept only coins as donations."
Greenpeace faced a similar public relations dilemma several years ago when
it's "green credit card" was exposed as being made from biotech plastic
made by Monsanto. The Monsanto plastic, sold under the name Biopol, was
made from a biotechnology-derived plant process. The biotech plastic comes
from renewable resources, is non-polluting and biodegradable. According to
a company spokeswoman Greenpeace was the biggest customer for the product.
INT-News asked numismatic expert consultants to review Greenpeace's
options for raising their annual US $150,000,000.00 budget using coins to
determine the best alternative forms of non-paper currencies. Taking into
consideration a combination of factors, including exchange rates, weights
and the political orientation of the minting government, the experts
concluded that the Haitian Gourd (comprised of 100 centimes) was the only
coin which came close to meeting Greenpeace's strict eco-political
Devastating poverty ensures that few of the modern agricultural
technologies and practices which Greenpeace opposes are available in Haiti.
This poverty and the accompanying malnutrition make Haiti among the most
desolate, ecologically devastated and desperate nations on earth. In
fact, Greenpeace International's annual budget is more than four times
larger than Haiti's annual budget deficit.
A Haitian 10 centime coin weighs about the same as a U.S. penny -- about
2.5 grams. At the current conversion rate Greenpeace's annual budget
could be met with 1.5 billion Haitian Gourds. This would comprise 15
billion 10 centime coins with a combined weight of 38 million kilograms
"We determined that were Greenpeace to adopt a Haitian-only currency policy
they would lift Haiti and it's people out of poverty within 3 years," noted
economist Saul Hamberstoeller. "However, shipping costs for the millions
of kilos of coins would dictate that Greenpeace move the bulk of their
massive global operations and thousands of employees to the impoverished
A minister with the Haitian government expressed cautious optimism at the
prospect of having the equivalent of US $150 million bolstering the local
economy. "It would mean a great deal to the people of Haiti to see the
benefits of such a huge organization's economic engine fueled only by
Haitian centimes," noted the minister. "However, our people and country
have never benefited from any of Greenpeace's past activities so we'll
reserve comment until we see something concrete."
Greenpeace noted that it is still reviewing currency options but considered
the Haitian coins as a leading option.
PORTRAIT OF GLOBAL GMO USAGE UPDATED
December 27, 2001
The world has been watching the adoption of genetically-modified crops (GMs) by farmers globally. The latest documentation reveals patterns of usage through the 2000 crop year. In its newest publication, The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) provides some summary numbers and information in its executive paragraphs. Click here for the complete report. Authored by Clive James, chairman of the ISAAA board of directors, here are some of the (excerpted) findings: Between 1996 and 2000, a cumulative total of fifteen countries, 10 industrial and 5 developing, have contributed to more than a twenty-five fold increase in the global area of transgenic crops from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 44.2 million hectares in 2000. The report indicates, ³In 2000, 3.5 million small and large farmers from industrial and developing countries grew and benefited significantly from the 44.2 million hectares of GM crops.² Of the total global area (conventional and transgenic) of 271 mil
'FRANKEN-FOOD' IS IT REALLY BAD, OR IS IT JUST A BAD PUBLIC IMAGE?
December 29, 2001
The Vancouver Sun
By Jay Currie,
A Vancouver writer interested in scientific books, writes in this review of Dinner at the New Gene Café by Bill Lambrecht is a political and environment reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monsanto's hometown newspaper. Currie says there is little scientific evidence that genetically modified foods cause health problems. Nor is there credible evidence that genetically altered crops hurt the environment: In fact, they may actually improve it by reducing the quantities of chemicals needed to grow crops. There is great promise that genetically modified organisms -- GMOs, for short -- will help feed the world's hungry and heal the world's sick. But, says Currie, for all the promise and all the science, a global rejection of GMOs, led by the countries of the European Union and supported by the Third World, has largely halted the commercialization of genetically modified crops in the rest of the world. examines the reasons for the anti-GMO tidal wave that overwhelmed Monsanto and the other biotechnology com
ACTIVISTS IGNORE FOOD SCIENCE: HERE ARE 12 BIOTECH 'SURE BETS' FOR 2002,
THANKS TO OUR GROUNDLESS FEAR
The Edmonton Journal
December 31, 2001
By Dennis Avery,
Dennis Avery, director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute,
writes in this opinion piece that he can confidently predict that the
world's intense debate about genetic engineering will continue in 2002 and
here are his top 12 predictions on biotech:
1. Genetic engineering will be praised in the new year for providing a
potential new cure for cancer. Human trials of a new tumor-killing molecule
are scheduled to start next spring.
2. However, the same technology that is praised in human medicine will be
ruthlessly attacked, as activists with no science credentials claim
genetically engineered crops threaten our health and the environment.
3. Despite the surgeon-general's recent warning about obesity, consumers
will not be offered access to low-fat french fries, made possible through
biotech potatoes with denser starch granules that absorb less cooking oil.
The potatoes exist, but McDonald's and the processors won't risk a consumer
boycott led by Greenpeace and other "environmental" groups.
4. Further news on potatoes: Millions of pounds of chemicals will have to
be sprayed in the potato fields next summer to kill crop-destroying aphids
and Colorado potato beetles. The sprays shouldn't be needed since we've also
engineered pest resistance into our biotech potatoes.
5. The people of South Asia will not be protected from hunger by
blight-resistant rice. Bacterial blight has caused many past rice crop
failures and millions of hunger deaths. Blight-resistant biotech rice has
been created, but not released to farmers.
6. I predict at least one major new biotech food scare will hit the
headlines in 2002 even though last year's biotech food scare about
bio-engineered StarLink corn finding its way into taco chips was a bust.
Dozens of people claimed they'd had allergenic reactions to the StarLink chips, but when physicians checked, none had
antibodies to the StarLink protein in their bodies.
Whatever upset their stomachs wasn't StarLink corn -- which is at least 500
times less allergenic than peanut butter. All the biotech food scares over
the last 15 years have been busts. But we're easily frightened of the
unknown. Of course, many people were even frightened when we began to
7. Activists will continue in 2002 to dress up as butterflies -- chiefly
because TV producers like butterfly costumes. Never mind that field tests
show Monarch butterflies are safer in biotech cornfields than in
conventional cornfields that must be protected with pesticide sprays.
8. European countries will continue to oppose biotech foods, while the
European Commission tries to approve new ones. The commission's staff looks
at the science. European politicians, however, are enslaved by their own
myth that only "natural" foods produced on small traditional "peasant" farms are good enough for
Europe. Never mind that traditional peasant cows spread TB and foot and
mouth disease or that the "natural" copper pesticides used on Europe's
organic farms are more toxic to people and wildlife than today's synthetic pesticides.
9. Europeans may concede in 2002 that it's all right for poor, hungry
countries to use biotech crops. But Europe will continue to demand that its
food and feed imports be biotech-free. Namibian cattle raisers thus won't
take the chance of feeding South Africans biotech corn because it might block beef exports to Europe that
earn scarce foreign exchange.
10. Thai rice farmers will continue to let their kids suffer severe vitamin
A deficiencies and their wives severe iron-deficiency anemia rather than
plant a rice that would eliminate both problems. Planting genetically
engineered rice anywhere in the country might threaten vital rice exports.
11. Kenya may defy Europe in 2002 and start field trials of virus-resistant
biotech sweet potatoes, which promise 30 per cent to 50 per cent higher
yields for that important staple food. Researchers have also produced virus
resistance for cassava, the "famine crop" that is vital during Kenya's frequent droughts. But
virus-proofing the cassava might anger Europe and Europe is a major source
of aid money.
12. India will finally approve a biotech crop in 2002. Last year, severe
insect attacks destroyed much of India's cotton despite repeated
applications of costly chemicals. One big set of cotton fields was left
untouched and thriving. It turned out to be illegally planted pest-resistant
biotech cotton. The cotton was legal in the U.S., China and other countries,
but not yet approved by the creaky Indian bureaucracy. India's farmers are
now demanding the right to buy cotton seeds that defy insects.
The world will need nearly three times as much farm output by 2050 to
provide high-quality diets for a peak population of nine billion people --
not to mention their pets. We're already farming more than a third of the
world's land, most of it with high-yield seeds, fertilizer and pest protection. How can we save room for wildlife if
we cannot utilize higher-yielding new farm technology?
Make a New Year's resolution to ask a member of your local Greenpeace
chapter that question in 2002.
GM foods safe say supporters
BBC News Online
By Alex Kirby
December 7, 2001
Supporters of genetically modified (GM) crops say those approved for sale in the UK are in practical terms as safe as most others.
They say the four approved GM foods are "as safe as other supermarket foods".
The claim comes in a report published by CropGen, which describes itself as "an information initiative designed to make the case for crop biotechnology".
CropGen aims to reduce the ignorance it believes surrounds the subject. It concludes GM technology can no longer be dismissed as not independently tested.
CropGen is funded by the industry but says it operates independently of it.
The report, One Hundred Per Cent Safe? GM Foods In The UK, was written by CropGen's chairman, Vivian Moses, visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College, London, and Dr Michael Brannan, a biochemist.
It offers a guide to the data collected on the four GM crops approved for consumption in the UK - three varieties each of maize and oilseed rape, and one each of soybeans and tomatoes.
It offers an overview of the regulatory procedures in the UK and the European Union.
Professor Moses said: "As biochemists, our reading of the publicly available information on GM food safety has offered us not one indication of hazard to human health from any of the GM crop foods so far approved for use in the UK.
"Critics can no longer claim that GM technology isn't independently tested. Regulations are in place - and our report shows you where."
The authors also attempt a definition of safety and a judgement on how far 100% safety of a food product is achievable.
Professor Moses said: "In our view it is essential to retain a sense of proportion. Inasmuch as GM crops and foods have value, we favour them being available for those who want them.
"GM technology offers us a more environmentally friendly system of farming and the potential for many consumer benefits.
Reasons for confidence
"In practical terms, approved GM foods are at least as safe as other approved food in the shops."
Professor Moses told BBC News Online: "We're aiming the report at anyone who really wants to know whether GM foods are safe.
"We feel there's a lot of ignorance about them in people's minds.
"When we began writing it, I had a general impression they were safe, but I didn't know the evidence in such detail.
"Now I have the chapter-and-verse verdicts of the regulators."
Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth told BBC News Online: "It would be nice if all the GM safety data were made publicly available.
"We've been asking one company for data for weeks, and we're still waiting.
"I can't see how this report can possibly suggest that all approved GM crops are safe. We've found clear and glaring gaps in the science in some approvals."
India allows sale of GM cotton
December 6, 2001
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson
The Indian Government says it will soon allow genetically modified cotton to be sold commercially for the first time.
The head of the Department of Biotechnology, Manju Sharma, told the BBC that a date for the sale had not yet been set.
The announcement is the culmination of over a year's experiments involving GM cotton crops. The Biotechnology Department said the tests had been positive.
The crop trials have taken place in 40 locations across the country's main cotton-growing areas, including the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Such crops are resistant to cotton bollworm, which causes heavy damage to India's cotton harvest.
This has experienced low yields for several years in comparison to developed countries.
India devotes more land to growing cotton than any other country in the world, but it produces far less per hectare.
The government research into GM crops has already been strongly criticised by the environmental lobby, which is likely to be incensed by the latest news.
The lobby have called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials and production.
Some cotton farmers argue that many who are opposed to GM seeds are acting in concert with the domestic seed and pesticide companies which want to protect their interests.
The government announcement is also likely to be criticised by those who argue that it contradicts its stance against multinational companies, which it has criticised for acquiring patents on staple foods such as rice.
Study Paves Way to Water-Efficient Cotton
Special report courtesy of the University of Georgia
A six-year study by University of Georgia and Israeli scientists has paved the way to cotton varieties that can brave the weather's whims by using water more efficiently.
"The most immediate discovery is that, at least in principle, we can 'reassemble' in cultivated cottons the sets of genes that enable wild cottons to survive under semiarid conditions," said Andrew Paterson, the UGA professor of crop and soil sciences, botany and genetics who headed the study.
"Many of these genes were thought to have been lost in the process of domesticating cotton for high yields under well-watered conditions," Paterson added.
Paterson worked with Yehoshua Saranga of Hebrew University and Daniel Yakir of the Weismann Institute in Israel. Together, they devised a way to locate the genes that make cotton plants use water efficiently.
Saranga identified varieties of two cotton species shown in 1993-95 tests to make the most of the water they get. They then crossbred the two cottons.
"This strategy enabled us to better exploit the genetic potential for arid-land adaptation found in each of the respective species," Saranga said.
The scientists assessed the amount and quality of cotton the plants produced with and without ample water. Finally, they used a complete molecular map of the cotton genome to locate the genes that contribute to the plants' productivity and fiber quality.
"In each of the two parents of the population we studied," Paterson said, "we found different genes that confer improved quality and/or productivity under water deficits. These can be 'reassembled' or 'pyramided' into a new genotype that is better than either parent."
The findings have huge implications for cotton growers, the researchers said.
"Without question, weather has more effect on cotton productivity than any other factor," said Steve Brown, a cotton scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Anything that would give the plant more staying power would be a big bonus."
Water-use efficiency isn't a simple trait that be easily fixed by a genetic silver bullet. It's a much more complex trait, Paterson said, involving many quantitative trait loci, or QTLs.
Building on the 40 or so genes already discovered, Paterson said a conservative goal for further research is to "increase water-use efficiency in elite breeding lines by 10 percent."
UGA economist Don Shurley said using that less irrigation could save cotton growers $2 million a year. Beyond water savings, though, the study found QTLs that contribute to cotton quality and productivity with limited
>From the pages of the December 2001 edition of Top Producer magazine.
By Laura Sands
New demand could rival sweeteners
Thanks to Dustin Hoffman's performance of youthful angst in the landmark movie, The Graduate, the word plastics was the punch line for almost an entire generation.
Kevin Swanson is the right age to get the joke. But he isn't laughing. For him, plastics means something else entirely--in this case, a real live market that eats 40,000 bu. of corn each and every day. For some farmers, corn plastics may be the best thing to happen since ethanol.
In late 2001, farmers will begin trucking corn to Blair, Neb., embarking on the next generation of new uses beyond ethanol, starch and sweeteners. The polymer plant, a joint venture by Cargill and Dow, will place farmers in a position to compete with petroleum-based plastic products for the first time in history. Farmers will also gain moral high ground, producing the raw material for an environmentally friendly product that could revolutionize manufacturing.
Better basis. "Even supplying half the corn to that plant would be a huge market," says Swanson, who farms near Overton, Neb. "We are looking at 100,000 acres just to satisfy that one plant." If the proof is in the pudding, he says, farmers within delivery range can expect "a good dime added on to the local corn basis."
The Cargill Dow polymer plant opened for business last month, swallowing some 14 million bushels of corn each year. In total, the company hopes to open five such plants processing a product they call Nature Works. The plant will use corn to make something called polylactic acid, or PLA. According to Pat Gruber, chief technology officer for Cargill Dow, the formulation works like this: Corn is processed into starch, which is fermented to make lactic acid. The process eventually generates plastic pellets, which can in turn be used to make a veritable arsenal of products, including fabric, carpeting, disposable plates and glasses, and clear plastic packaging.
Unlike other plastics, though, the products made from corn polymers are compostable, which could solve waste disposal problems, especially in countries, like Japan, where landfill space is scarce and expensive.
Certainly, farmers will benefit from improved markets and bumps in local basis. But, say technology leaders, farmers serving new-age markets may have to make changes.
The Cargill Dow venture isn't just moving agriculture into the brave new world of plastics, says Gruber. It also hopes to change the culture of the plastics industry--and agriculture. "Growing corn won't be good enough in the future," says Gruber. "We will have to figure out how we can produce products that are sustainable and reward our partners who are able to utilize sustainable practices."
The company won't change the world alone. Cargill Dow is engaged in a race with plastics giant DuPont, which is also speeding ahead with commercialization of another corn-based product called Sorona. Sorona could be the Lycra or polyester of the future, says Ray Miller, technology and business development manager for Sorona. Slated for commercialization in 2003, the DuPont product could use upwards of 100 million bushels annually as it builds market share, says Miller. Sorona will be especially attractive to fabric manufacturers, he predicts, "because we don't have to build new plants. Existing polyester plants can be retrofit for Sorona."
New age for new use. In the throes of daily marketing and production battles, farmers may forget how much first-generation new uses like ethanol, starch and sweeteners have already changed the economic landscape for corn, says Don Hutchens, director of the Nebraska Corn Board.
Currently, ethanol uses 500 million bushels each year and boosts farm income by $3 billion, estimates the National Corn Growers Association. Plastics and other new-age materials could have a similar market impact.
"We now have between 15% and 17% of Nebraska corn going to new uses," Hutchens says. "Emerging technologies have the potential to double that in the next decade."
The Miami Herald
December 24, 2001
Biotech Book Makes Brain Buzz
‘As the Future Catches You: How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing
Your Life, Work, Health and Wealth.’ Juan Enriquez. Crown Publishing
Group. 256pp. $23.
Juan Enriquez is the director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard
Business School. In this new book, he makes a quick and compelling case
for the proposition that the changes wrought by the astounding
developments in biotechnology are just the beginning. Soon, the so-called
Information Age will be another historical epoch like the Iron Age, or more
recently, the Manufacturing Age. The text is presented simply,
accompanied by footnotes, charts, asides in varying type-sizes in an effort to
make these very complex and provocative ideas easier to digest. As a
result, your brain will be buzzing with ambitious ideas for biotech
investments, at the very least, although Enriquez’s larger vision is equally
Some of what the author wants you to see is almost poetic, and is
presented in that form:
“Put an orange on your desk . . . Next to a floppy disk or CD . . .
Although each seems very different today . . . They are becoming one and
“By reading and rewriting the gene codes of bacteria, plants, and
animals . . . We start to turn cells, seeds, and animal embryos into the
equivalent of floppy disks . . . Data sets that can be changed and
rewritten to fulfill specific tasks. We start deliberately mixing and matching
apples and oranges . . . Species . . . Plants and animals.
“These discoveries may seem distant, abstract, more than a little scary
today. But they will change the way you think about the world . . .
Where you work . . . What you invest in . . . The choices your children
make about life . . . What war looks like.
“Many are unprepared for . . . The violence and suddenness with which .
. . New technologies change . . . Lives . . . Companies . . . Countries
. . . Because they do not understand what these technologies can do.”
So it’s not just a matter of making new medicines; it’s much bigger and
broader. Geonomics’ impact is also technological. Enriquez discusses
organic computers well beyond the realm of science fiction: They already
He also delves into the ethics and politics of using organic material
for traditionally inorganic purposes, as well as the broader social and
political implications of these startling developments, with great
sensitivity and intelligence. Along the way, Enriquez also makes some very
pointed and passionate arguments for the need for all nations to
develop their educational resources to compete in the inevitable global
If one is understandably pessimistic about the future, As the Future
Catches You provides an invigorating and consciousness-expanding look at
the possibilities that lay ahead for humanity.