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April 16, 2002


Unconvincing Data; Losing the Argument; Sharing Technologies; Far


Today in AgBioView: April 16, 2002

* Transgene Data Deemed Unconvincing
* Has the anti-GM Lobby Lost the Scientific Argument?
* How Much Bt Cotton In India?
* Monsanto to Share Technologies with Danforth Ctr on Cassava Research
* Anti GM Crop Sentiment and Policies In the EU - Economic Consequences
* Fellowships
* Biotechnology Issues for Developing Economies
* Food Crisis Threatens Several Countries in Southern Africa
* Farming The Genetic Frontier
* The Skeptical Environmentalist Replies - Scientific American


Transgene Data Deemed Unconvincing

- Charles C. Mann, Science, April 12 2002

Last week, the Mexican maize wars took a startling new twist. In an
apparently unprecedented "editorial note," published online, Nature
declared that, in retrospect, it should not have published a
controversial paper that claimed to have detected illegal transgenic
maize growing in Mexico. The note accompanied two highly critical
letters attacking the paper's conclusions. But the authors of the
article, University of California (UC), Berkeley, biologists David
Quist and Ignacio Chapela, refused to accept the journal's judgment.
Indeed, they claimed that an additional round of tests "confirms our
original detection of transgenic DNA." (The exchange will be printed
in a forthcoming issue of Nature.)

The maize wars began on 29 November 2001, when the Quist-Chapela
article appeared--and created an immediate international furor. The
two scientists claimed to have discovered transgenic DNA in
traditional varieties of maize grown in Oaxaca, one of Mexico's
southernmost states. Because southern Mexico is the "center of
diversity" for maize--the place where its native gene pool is
based--the Mexican government imposed a moratorium on planting
genetically modified versions of the crop in 1998. The Quist-Chapela
report not only suggested that transgenic corn had been widely
planted, it also reported that the foreign DNA appeared in diverse
locations within the maize genome--in other words, the transgenes
that were spliced into corn plants were able to jump around the
chromosomes. Such movement would pose the risk of disrupting the
functioning of other genes.

Even before the paper was published, Chapela briefed Mexican
officials on its contents. In September the Mexican environmental
ministry unofficially confirmed the UC Berkeley scientists' findings.
Within days Greenpeace demanded that the government ban all
transgenic maize (the moratorium covers only planting maize, not
selling or eating it), "develop an emergency plan" for
"de-contamination" of Oaxaca, and sue all companies responsible for
"transgenetic organisms." Headlines about the "Mexican maize scandal"
appeared worldwide. As the media pressure mounted, the Mexican
Congress unanimously demanded in December that President Vicente Fox
forbid the import of transgenic maize.

To identify transgenic DNA, Quist and Chapela had used the polymerase
chain reaction--a standard procedure, but one that is prone to false
positives. Almost immediately, other molecular biologists wrote
critical letters to Nature. "I knew as soon as I read the paper that
something was wrong," says biologist Wayne Parrott of the University
of Georgia in Athens. Even greater skepticism greeted the report of
transgenic instability. "Nobody has ever observed anything like it in
years of working with corn," says UC Berkeley biologist Peggy Lemaux.
These and other criticisms are spelled out in the two letters Nature
is publishing.

In a highly unusual move, Nature asked Chapela and Quist to come up
with further data to "prove beyond a reasonable doubt that transgenes
have indeed become integrated into the maize genome." Using another
technique, "dot blotting," the two scientists produced data that in
their view did just that. But the results did not convince a Nature
referee, which led editor Philip Campbell to decide that "the
evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of
the original paper." Nature is, however, publishing Chapela and
Quist's response, including their new data, along with the critical
letters, to "allow readers to judge the science for themselves."

Surprisingly, all sides agree that transgenic maize is probably
growing in Mexico. Thousands of government-subsidized stores sell
low-cost staples, including the maize kernels used to make tortillas.
Much of the maize is imported from the United States; preliminary
government tests indicate that up to 40% is transgenic. Because the
kernels can be planted, it is widely assumed that some small farmers
have done so. In consequence, the dispute is less over the likely
presence of transgenic maize than whether Chapela and Quist actually
demonstrated it, and whether foreign DNA is as widespread and
unstable as they claim.

Because of the political stakes, the debate has not been purely
scientific. Chapela has charged that some of the criticism was
fomented by biotech firms that feared the discovery would derail
plans to end the European Union's de facto ban on agricultural
biotechnology. On 19 February the Institute for Food and Development
Policy (Food First) released a letter from 140 groups decrying "the
use of intimidatory tactics to silence potentially 'dissident'
scientists." Three days later, more than 100 scientists responded
with a statement "in support of scientific discourse" (Science, 1
March, p. 1617).

Unsurprisingly, the latest exchange hasn't ended the dispute. The
Competitive Enterprise Institute, a pro-market advocacy group in
Washington, D.C., hailed the reversal as proving that
"antibiotechnology activists often rely on faulty data." Meanwhile,
the antibiotech ETC Group charged that Nature's "flip-flop" is "just
an obfuscation of the real issue ... that a Centre of Crop Genetic
Diversity has been contaminated, and no one is doing anything about


Nature has admitted it was wrong to publish flawed research.
Has the anti-GM lobby lost the scientific argument? - Debate - The
Register - Letters.

- Times of London, April 12 2002

The safety of GM crops

WE SHOULD not be misled into thinking that the anti-GM lobby can lose
any scientific argument - science does not feature in their
unscrupulous propaganda campaigns. Sadly, scientific evidence or
actual experience will not thwart their ambitions.

As billions of GM meals have been consumed and 170 million hectares
of GM crops grown worldwide over the past six years without any
evidence of harm, they retreat to "possible unknown, long-term
consequences" demanding absolute proof of zero risk - something that
has not and cannot ever be provided for any crop, food or human
activity. Scientists must remain vigilant and work to inform the
public and the media, truthfully.

Professor T. M. A. Wilson, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire
Long-term effects

DISCUSSION about the "safety" of GM crops has dominated the debate
for too long, to the detriment of other important considerations. GM
food safety has been established by standard toxicological methods.
These focus upon acute food safety hazards rather than longer-term
hazards. Only to this extent has safety been established.

What has been neglected is the consideration of wider issues which
severely affect consumer and professional confidence. In particular,
the safety testing of GM rape has neglected any study of the
allergenic effects of aerially distributed rape pollen.

Another important issue concerns the related effects of GM
herbicide-resistant crops. By definition, these crops will have been
subjected to direct herbicide application (because they are herbicide
resistant) and, unlike normal crops therefore, they will contain
relatively large concentrations of the applied herbicide.

As more and more GM herbicide-resistant crops are rolled out, what is
the total limit of glyphosate, or other herbicide residues, that one
is supposed to tolerate in the name of progress? Ordinary consumers
are quite right to be suspicious of the current commercially driven
development of GM crops. There are still too many unanswered

- Malcolm Kane, Cambridge
Admit your mistakes

ONE cannot lose something that one has never had! As with the vast
majority of "advocacy groups", data are selected, sometimes even
modified, and used for the sole purpose of supporting a predetermined
position rather than discovering the truth. I honour the editors at
Nature for admitting their error in publishing the original paper.
This is a refreshing but sadly rare action these days.

- Jimmy D. Anderson, Pensacola, Florida
No damage done

PEOPLE have been eating GM foods for years but the anti-GM lobby has
never produced a single person who has been harmed, nor a single
convincing scientific mechanism by which harm might be produced.

- Dr Peter Reynell, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Accepting liability

AS SOON as there is the slightest whiff of scientific evidence that
genetic contamination is spreading into the environment through poor
farming practice or where real harm has been revealed in laboratory
experiments, then the scientific whistle-blowers are pilloried by
those who wish to see the information suppressed. If the
biotechnology companies are so sure that GM crops are safe, why are
they proactive in taking steps to ensure that they will not have to
accept liability in the event that damage is proven?

J. A. D. Saunders, Faringdon, Oxfordshire


How Much Bt Cotton In India?

>>>>From: "Bob MacGregor"
>>>>Subject: Re: Bt Cotton in India
>>>>So, how many hectares of Bt cotton can we expect to be planted in
>>>>India in the coming season? - > BOB
Reply from Prakash: Apparently, the Mahyco company has just enough
seeds to plant about 100, 000 ha which amounts to a tiny fraction of
9 millionha of total cotton crop in India. This was mainly because of
the delayed approval for planting 'seed-multiplication' crops in the
previous year and the restrictions on how much area they could have
planted earlier. The company has now licensed two other cotton seed
companies also to multiply and market the approved varieties. I have
also learnt that the Bt cotton seed would be priced at Rs. 1600 per
ha ($32) while the non-Bt cotton sells for about Rs. 400 ($8). It
must be recognized that Indian farmers using non-Bt seeds may spend
up to Rs. 10,000 ($200) on pesticides and labor otherwise .


Monsanto Company To Share Technologies With Donald Danforth Plant
Science Center To Support Global Cassava Research

April 16, 2002, From a press release (From Agnet)

ST. LOUIS -- Monsanto Company announced today it is supporting a
global effort to increase production and quality of cassava by
granting the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center a royalty-free
license to enabling technologies commonly used in agricultural
biotechnology. "Monsanto is committed to advancing global
agricultural research and to using our technologies to benefit both
science and people," said Hendrik Verfaillie, Chief Executive Officer
of Monsanto Company.

"By providing this license we hope to accelerate valuable research
taking place in public and non-profit research institutions to
benefit the developing world." Monsanto's technologies will support
efforts already underway at the Danforth Center to conduct research
and further develop a comprehensive global research plan to tackle
the most significant challenges facing cassava farmers, including
control of disease, post-harvest deterioration, and enhancing the
nutritional content of the crop.

"Part of the Danforth Center's mission is to facilitate the
development and transfer of technologies for developing countries and
we are pleased that we have received this license from Monsanto
toward that purpose," said Roger N. Beachy, Ph.D., President of the
Danforth Center. "By granting this license, Monsanto has enabled
researchers at the Danforth Center, and our collaborators around the
world, to continue our important work while now freely using Monsanto
technology to even further advance agricultural research on cassava,
a crop that hundreds of millions of people will continue to rely upon
for food security and economic development in coming decades," he
said. Cassava, a tropical crop grown for its starchy, tuberous roots,
contributes to food security and rural income in many developing
countries and feeds nearly 600 million people daily.

A recent report by the United Nations singled out cassava as a
priority for additional research in developing countries. The United
Nations' Human Development Report 2001 also encouraged greater public
investment in research and development to ensure that biotechnology
is used to meet the agricultural needs of the world's poor. "By
sharing our technology and other scientific knowledge, Monsanto hopes
to encourage other companies and technology developers to do the
same," said Robb Fraley, Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto.
"Working together in public and private sector partnerships promotes
a wide variety of discoveries to enhance food security and nutrition
throughout the developing world. We look forward to continuing our
support of the cassava research program as it develops," said Fraley.

Monsanto also is supporting the Danforth Center's efforts to develop
virus-resistant cassava through a multi-year grant from the company's
philanthropic organization, the Monsanto Fund. Monsanto's
contributions to the Danforth Center are in keeping with the New
Monsanto Pledge and its commitment to sharing knowledge and
technology with public institutions to benefit people and the
environment, particularly in the developing world. In August 2000,
Monsanto granted similar royalty-free licenses to the inventors of
'golden rice,' which is being developed to combat vitamin A
deficiency in developing countries. Other sharing projects include
providing access to a working draft of the rice genome and
participating in work to develop virus-resistant sweet potatoes in
Africa and papayas in South East Asia.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a St. Louis-based
not-for- profit, basic research institution devoted to the creation
of new knowledge that will lead to the sustainable production of
nutritious and abundant food for the peoples of the world. For more
information on the Danforth Center, see: www.danforthcenter.org .
Monsanto Company is a leading provider of agricultural solutions to
growers worldwide. Monsanto's employees provide top-quality,
cost-effective and integrated approaches to help farmers improve
their productivity and produce better quality foods. For more
information on Monsanto, see: www.monsanto.com .


Anti GM Crop Sentiment And Policies In The European Union - Some
Economic Consequences

- Brookes, G. 2002. Symposium Proceedings of the Plant Biotech
Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Science and Hungarian Biotech
Association on Plant Gene Technology - Environmental Friendly
Agriculture, Academy of Sciences, 7th March 2000 : 1-7.

The use of the technology of genetic modification (GM) in global
agriculture and the food/feed supply chains is currently
controversial. This is largely as a result of strong anti-GM
technology sentiment by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other
interest groups concerned about possible health and environmental
effects. This has resulted in the use of ingredients, derived from
plants containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) being largely
eliminated from foods manufactured for direct human consumption by
the food supply chain in some regions, notably the European Union
(EU). This anti-GMO sentiment has also more recently focused
attention on the use of GM derived ingredients in livestock
production systems via incorporation of GM derived oilseeds and
cereals in animal feed. In the EU there has also been a moratorium on
the approval process for new GM crops in effective operation for the
last three years. Despite recent attempts by the European Commission
in 2001 to propose legislative changes to re-start the process, the
level of resistance amongst political leaders in a hard core of EU
member states remains high and therefore there remains little
prospect, in the near future, of the EU moving from its current
strong anti GM technology stance. This raises a question about
whether the EU will largely allow the adoption and use of this new
technology to pass it by. Should such a scenario arise, it may have
important economic consequences for the EU economy. This paper
briefly discusses some of these consequences



The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute -- a Future Harvest
Center is offering research fellowship opportunities to work on topics
to plant genetic resources.

For more information, visit


Biotechnology Issues for Developing Economies

D. Gale Johnson, Office of Agricultural Economics Research, The
University of Chicago

EJB Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, April 2002
http://www.ejb.org/ (via checkbiotech.org)

Tremendous progress has been made in improving the per capita food
supplies in developing countries over the past three to four decades.
This progress has been in terms of increasing the supply of calories
per capita. The increase has been from less than 2000 in the early
1960s to approximately 2700 today

However, there are two negative aspects that need to be noted. First,
while the overall impact of the Green Revolution on grain yields and
output was highly favorable, the yield increases occurred primarily
in areas of favorable soil and climatic conditions, especially on
irrigated land. Large areas with limited rainfall saw very little
gain from the new varieties. Second, while the caloric intake has
improved significantly, many people, especially rural people, in
developing countries continue to suffer from micronutrient
deficiencies. We in the industrial world would suffer from such
deficiencies, too, but for the fact that we consume large quantities
of fortified food. Such foods include milk, flour, bread, salt, and
breakfast cereals. Food fortification is not an answer to the problem
of deficiencies such as of Vitamins A and D and iron and iodine when
the majority of the calories of a family come from food that they
produce themselves. Fortification becomes a viable solution only when
most of the food is marketed and processed in modern establishments
before it is consumed.

Biotechnology can contribute significantly to overcoming each of
these two negatives. It can be used to increase yields but perhaps
more important it can be used to greatly improve the nutritional
quality of raw food products, such as rice, wheat and potatoes, by
adding to them certain micronutrients. As an example, providing
adequate amounts of Vitamin A to children in developing countries
would save large numbers from night blindness or actual blindness. It
is estimated that in India 50,000 children become blind every year
due to Vitamin A deficiency (Paarlberg, 2001). It would also reduce
the seriousness of the outcomes of other diseases, such as diarrhea.
A rice variety that includes significant amounts of Vitamin A, called
by some Golden Rice, has been developed by a Swiss geneticist and
should be available for distribution to farmers within less than a
Developing countries face at least two major problems with
genetically modified plants (GMOs).

First, only a relatively few developing countries such as Brazil,
China and India have the resources to invest in creating GMOs. The
international agricultural research centers seem to be giving limited
priority to the development of GMOs, apparently due to the objections
of certain non governmental organizations (NGOs). Thus it may be
difficult to arrange for the financing of the development of GMOs
that will be best adapted to the conditions of many developing
countries. Much of the investment in biotechnology for agriculture is
being done by private firms. They are unlikely to undertake the
expense of such research unless they see a positive profit potential.
This is not said in criticism of the private firms engaging in such
research and development but as a statement of fact.

Second, a developing country that is exporting or hopes to export a
particular product may well hesitate to approve a GMO seed variety
for that product. The opposition to the import of GMOs by certain
governments presents a major barrier to a developing country. Even if
the opposition does not result in a ban on imports, it may impose
conditions that developing countries either cannot meet or could meet
only at a very high cost. If the importing country requires that a
GMO variety be clearly identified in its movement from the farmer to
ultimate consumer who may be thousands of kilometers away, the
marketing systems of developing country are generally incapable of
such an undertaking.

Consider the problem of the governments of either China or India
being able to maintain control over GMO varieties from the producer
to the port. Suppose the crop were wheat. In China there are more
than 200 million households engaged in farming - assume that a third
of them produced wheat - it is probably many more than that. The
average area devoted to wheat would be one half hectare or less. The
average output of wheat per farm would be 2.5 tons. Of this
approximately half would be retained on the farm for seed and food so
that sales per farm would be a little more than a ton. Assume that
there was a GMO wheat variety grown by a third of all farms producing
wheat. This would mean that more than 22 million farms would be
producing that variety and each one would market somewhat more than a
ton. Imagine, if you can, what the cost would be to identify the GMO
variety and maintaining that identity until some part of the wheat
were loaded on boat at a Chinese port. Or imagine what the cost would
be if importing nations imposed barriers to the import of GMO wheat
requiring a developing country such as India or China to maintain the
identify of non-GMO wheat from the farm to foreign port. It is
obvious that if importers require the positive identification of
either GMO or non-GMO varieties from the producer to the consumer
that developing countries will face enormous costs in exporting any
food product if the country grows any GMO variety of that product.
Not only will their ability to export a GMO variety be harmed but
their ability to export non-GMO varieties as well. And this may well
be the objective of some of those who oppose GMOs.

China has invested more in the creation of GMO varieties than any
other developing countries. Yet it has approved such varieties for
only two of its major crops, namely tobacco and cotton. The GMO
tobacco, which was virus resistant, has been withdrawn from
commercialization because of opposition from an importer (Huang et
al. 2002). The benefits of GMO cotton have been very great in terms
of reducing the costs of production (Huang et al. 2002). The Bt
cotton requires significantly fewer applications of pesticides. This
reduces the cost of labor as well as the cost of pesticides. The Bt
cotton also reduces the risk of illness from the application of the
pesticides. There are distinct environmental advantages from the use
of the GMO varieties.
Why has China not approved the use of GMO varieties of wheat and
rice? One reason is the concern over the implications for exports. As
argued above, China's marketing system simply doesn't have the
capacity to identify and trace shipments of grain from the farmer to
the port. Thus to permit any GMO grain variety would make it nearly
impossible for China to export any grain.

As noted the Green Revolution primarily benefited areas with adequate
moisture or irrigated. Large areas of limited rainfall received
little or no benefit. GMOs could benefit such areas in two ways:
First, by creating plants that are resistant to pests or diseases
and, second, by increasing yields for areas with adverse growing
conditions, such as excess salinity. An example of the first
possibility is a virus resistant sweat potato being developed in
Kenya; much of the basic work was done by Monsanto which has made its
work available without charge (Qaim, 2001). It is anticipated that
the GMO sweat potato will reduce the costs of production by
eliminating the use of some chemicals and would increase yields by 12
to 25 percent. The potential for helping the poorest of the farmers
in developing countries is substantial - if the investment is made.
I do not intend to downplay the food safety issues that might arise
with GMO varieties. One major possibility is that of allergies. A
particular gene may be introduced into a common product that has
previously presented few allergy problems to consumers. But this is a
relatively easy problem to detect or to prevent from the beginning.
It is reasonably well known what products cause serious allergies,
such as peanuts, and these sources will not be used as a source of
genetic material. Obviously before a GMO variety is commercialized it
needs to be tested to see if there are adverse health effects. But
there will be argument about the length of time for the tests - the
precautionary principle will be used to argue for years and years of
tests. A skeptic could well argue that the objective of long periods
of testing is not to improve food safety but to greatly reduce the
incentives to develop GMO varieties in order to protect producers in
high cost regions.

What very few people know is that nearly all of us have been
consuming GMO foods all of our lives and didn't know it. The major
types of wheat - for bread and pasta - are each the results of
crosses similar to what is done in creating GMOs. The difference is
that the transfers of genes occurred thousands of years ago and were
done by nature. I first heard this from Norman Borlaug. The study of
DNA has made it possible to identify the sources of the genes.
It is a popular sport these days to bemoan the growth in income
inequality that has occurred in recent decades. In my opinion the
income inequality that exists pales into insignificance when compared
to the inequality displayed in the political power of a very small
number of individuals who dominate the NGOs compared to the political
power of hundreds of millions of small and poor farmers who could
gain if GMO varieties were available. A relative few are limiting the
access of hundreds of millions of farmers to GMO varieties that could
benefit them, not by a little but by a lot. The benefits are not only
in terms of potential economic gain but also in terms of significant
health benefits by reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides.
In China only 4.7 percent of the farmers growing Bt cotton reported
poisonings compared to 22 percent of the farmers who grew non-Bt
cotton (Huang et al. 2002). The precautionary principle as applied by
the opponents of GMOs look at only potential harmful effects while
ignoring real benefits that accrue to the producers.

HUANG, Jikun; ROZELLE, Scott; PRAY, Carl and WANG, Qinfang. Plant
Biotechnology in China. Science, January 2002, vol. 295, no. 25, p.
PAARLBERG, Robert L. The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified
Crops in Developing Countries. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press,
2001, p. 94.
QAIM, Martin. A prospective evaluation of biotechnology in
semi-subsistence agriculture. Agricultural Economics, September 2001,
vol. 25, nos. 2-3, p. 165-176.


Food Crisis Threatens Several Countries in Southern Africa

Food and Agriculture Organization, 16 April 2002

Nairobi/Rome - More than 4 million people in southern Africa are
threatened by serious food shortages, because of declining food
production caused by prolonged dry spells, floods and disruption of
farming activities, according to a report released today by the UN
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). (ref. 2935)

Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the worst afflicted, but the
situation is also difficult in Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and
Swaziland. In Angola, the report says the food situation remains
precarious due to the long-running civil conflict.

FAO's tri-annual Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in
Sub-Saharan Africa, says 19 countries* in the region are facing
"exceptional food emergencies," for a variety of reasons ranging from
civil strife, drought, excessive rain and flooding to population
In southern Africa, the report warns, "a food crisis looms over
several countries following sharp falls in maize production in 2001
and unfavourable harvest prospects this year. Acute food shortages
have emerged in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia, where food reserves have
been depleted and food prices have soared undermining access to food
for large sections of their populations."

Maize production in Malawi declined by more than 33 percent last
year, mainly due to excessive rains and floods, coupled with reduced
and late delivery of agricultural inputs, such as seeds and
fertilizer. According to the FAO report, "The strategic grain reserve
has been depleted and importation of maize is seriously constrained
by transport bottlenecks. As a result maize prices have risen by over
300 percent since July last year." The Malawi government has declared
a state of emergency and appealed to the international community for
food assistance to avert famine.
The report calls the outlook for Zimbabwe's food security "bleak,"
noting that the depletion of official maize reserves and the
continuing deterioration of the economic situation point to a looming
food security crisis in 2002/03. According to the report's editor,
Mwita Rukandema, "The 2001 maize crop was down 28 percent on the
previous year and well below average. The decrease was mainly due to
a reduction of 54 percent in the area planted on the large-scale
commercial farms, as a result of disruption by land acquisition

Though the government planned to import up to 200,000 tonnes of
maize, only 10,000 tonnes had arrived in the country by end of March
this year, mainly because the country has a severe shortage of
foreign exchange. The Zimbabwe government has appealed for
international food assistance, but by late March pledges to provide
that assistance covered only 30 percent of the need.

The report says that Zambia also faces an "extremely tight" food
situation as a result of a poor cereal crop last season and delays in
importing maize. Prices for maize meal are at extremely high levels,
seriously restricting access to food for large sections of the
population. Zambia has appealed for international food assistance for
2 million people in districts it has declared to be in a state of

In Mozambique the report calls the food situation "serious in the
southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, where the 2001
cereal harvest was significantly reduced." Some 172,000 vulnerable
people in these provinces are receiving emergency food assistance.
Lesotho and Swaziland are also having food supply problems because of
reduced cereal production in 2001 due to erratic rains and a cold
wave in Lesotho and a long dry spell that affected crops in
Swaziland. Elsewhere in the sub-region, Angola and Namibia also face
precarious food situations cased by the long-running civil conflict
in Angola and a reduced harvest last year in Namibia. In Madagascar,
marketing of food and non-food commodities is being adversely
affected by the current political crisis."

One bright spot noted in the report is South Africawhere prospects
for the 2002 maize crop are favourable and production is anticipated
to recover from last year's below average level. South Africa is the
sub-region's largest producer and exporter of maize.

In other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the report finds the food
situation has generally improved with the exception of the Democratic
Republic of Congo in the Great Lakes region, where civil strife
continues to undermine the food security of millions of people.
Following two successive good harvests in Rwanda and Burundi the food
situation is significantly better, but sporadic violence in some
provinces of Burundi continues to displace rural populations and
disrupt food production. Eastern Africa's overall food supply
situation has improved considerably since last year, but according to
the report, "acute food shortages persist in most pastoral areas of
Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia due to continued drought conditions. In
Eritrea, despite an improved harvest, large numbers of internally
displaced people and refugees returning from Sudan depend on food

The report says that the food outlook for 2002 is "generally
favourable" for western Africa following above-average to record
harvests in the Sahelian countries and satisfactory crops elsewhere.
However, Mauritania, Liberia and Sierra Leone are all threatened by
food supply problems caused by below average harvests in the case of
Mauritania and civil strife in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The report
warns that Liberia and Sierra Leone "will continue to rely on
international food assistance for some time to come."

Sub-Saharan Africa's cereal import requirements are expected to
remain high in 2002, according to the report. This largely reflects
the anticipated sharp drop in cereal production in southern Africa.
FAO puts the 2001/02 cereal import requirements for the region at
16.6 million tonnes, including 1.8 million tonnes of food aid.

*The 19 countries facing exceptional food emergencies are: Angola,
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea,
Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia,
Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
While FAO's Global Information and Early Warning Service monitors the
food and crop situation in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the
world, the Emergency Operations Service of the Emergency Operations
and Rehabilitation Division of FAO provides assistance to rural
people affected by natural and man-made disasters. The Emergency
Operations Service is at work in a number of countries in sub-Saharan
Africa, including Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The
Service provides assistance to the livestock, fisheries and
agriculture sectors to resume food production as soon as possible
following a disaster. The aim is to ensure the food security of the
population while reducing the risk of dependency on food aid.


Farming The Genetic Frontier

- David G. Victor; C. Ford Runge, Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2002


For more than ten thousand years, farmers have improved their crops
by letting nature do the breeding and then choosing the tastiest,
hardiest, or most productive offspring. This ancient technique was
accelerated in the last century through more systematic attempts to
oversee the breeding and selection process. Today, however, new
scientific techniques are making it possible to design crops with far
greater precision and effect than ever before.

The most controversial and important of these techniques are called
"transgenic": they allow scientists to engineer new crops by splicing
together particular genes rather than relying solely on the uncertain
crosses that are the hallmark of traditional crop breeding. For some,
the transgenic revolution in biotechnology is a horror. Tinkering
with nature's order, they argue, will backfire when engineered genes
escape to the wild and disrupt delicately balanced ecosystems. For
others, plant engineering is a Promethean step forward that will lead
to more nutritious, productive, and disease-resistant crops, which
will in turn help alleviate global hunger and reduce the amount of
land and pesticides used in agriculture.

The optimists are right about the promise of biotechnology. But in
their eagerness to see new crops deployed, the most zealous advocates
pretend that genetic engineering is similar to prior agricultural
innovations, ignoring the fact that there are indeed substantial
differences that call for new types of regulatory oversight. At the
other extreme, a vocal minority of detractors has hyped the risks of
crop engineering all out of proportion to reality and blocked the new
technology's greatest potential contribution: advancing the welfare
of poor farmers and consumers around the world through publicly
funded crop programs. These divergent factions have made it hard for
governments to implement balanced long-term policies for

To break the impasse and unleash the true power of crop engineering,
countries, especially the United States, must pursue a long-term
strategy for managing the gene revolution in agriculture, because
markets by themselves will not do the job. Such a strategy has three
essential components. First, governments must sustain the incentives
for private companies to invest in crop engineering, particularly by
reducing the risks of international trade disputes. Avoiding
unwinnable trade disputes, especially with the European Union (EU),
will allow innovators to thrive in more receptive markets, such as
the United States and China. Second, they must support greater
investment in agricultural research to ensure that the benefits reach
the world's poor. And finally, they must reform the rules governing
the treatment of intellectual property, finding a way to balance
protecting innovators' intellectual property with ensuring access to
new crops for the poorest farmers.

SUPERCROPS. Farmers in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and
China are already embracing the first generation of engineered crops.
These have spread rapidly because the crops are engineered to make
farming more efficient. For example, soybeans and canola (also known
as rapeseed) engineered to withstand the powerful herbicide
glyphosate have lowered the cost of weed control; farmers who plant
these hardy crops need only apply glyphosate a few times to kill
weeds, when previously up to a dozen less-effective herbicides would
have been required. The value created by the innovations has been
substantial, but consumers have not noticed because the benefits have
accrued mainly to agricultural producers. For example, agricultural
economists Jose Falck-Zepeda, Greg Traxler, and Robert Nelson found
that more than half the value created worldwide by the invention of
glyphosate-tolerant soybeans flowed to seed and chemical companies
(mainly Monsanto) and farmers (mainly in the United States).
Consumers did benefit from lower soybean prices, but the effect was
not dramatic, since they generally encounter soy only after it is
processed into some form of prepared food, where the raw beans
account for only a tiny fraction of the final cost. Nevertheless,
because of the profits to producers, crop engineering has spread
faster than any other major agricultural innovation.

The next generation of engineered crops will focus on the qualities
of the crops themselves, such as enhanced nutrition. But this
application of transgenics requires demand from consumers as well as
permission from national regulators. Consumers will likely pay a
premium for improved flavor or nutrients, just as farmers have been
willing to pay more for agricultural efficiency. Indeed, people
already favor engineered pharmaceuticals such as insulin because they
are less costly and of higher quality than the natural variety.
Consequently, the profitability of these products, and hence
investment in them, will depend on the regulatory choices made by the
United States, Europe, and the developing world.

Like most innovations, crop engineering poses some risks that require
vigilance. Regulators and seed companies must screen for allergies
and other threats to food safety. They must also tame environmental
dangers, such as the prospect of unwanted "gene flow" from engineered
crops into the environment at large. This phenomenon could, for
example, transfer a resistance to herbicides from crops to weeds,
creating a "superweed" that is hard to kill.

For the most part, these regulatory issues can be dealt with using
existing rules on how crops are grown and marketed. Yet opponents of
crop engineering have exaggerated the potential dangers by claiming,
for example, that splicing certain pest-killing genes into plants
elevates the risk of cancer when those plants are ingested. In public
debate, the most-cited source for this claim is a series of studies
by scientist Arpad Pusztai, published in the British medical journal
The Lancet, that purported to show that rats fed genetically modified
potatoes developed tumors. Those studies were so poorly conducted
that they failed review by outside experts. Still, when word of their
existence leaked and critics howled of cover-ups, The Lancet
published them anyway -- under a disclaimer suggesting that the
findings were scientifically unsound. In addition to exaggerating the
risks of engineered crops, moreover, critics generally ignore the
benefits, including those that might offset the very risks in
question -- such as improvements to crops that might reduce the need
to spray potentially harmful pesticides. The real problem here, which
actually applies to both traditional agriculture and crop
engineering, is the lack of systems that could provide good long-term
monitoring of the environment and hence data that could inform a
serious analysis of the tradeoffs associated with different courses
of action.

The challenge in responding to the biotechnology revolution is how to
adapt existing rules to the new reality of crop engineering. In doing
so, governments must avoid a number of pitfalls. Developed countries
that embrace genetic innovations, for example, should not pretend
that engineered crops are so similar to regular crops that no new
laws are necessary. Genetically engineered food is such a sensitive
issue that no slip-ups can be tolerated -- and current regulatory
systems are so lax that some slip-ups are inevitable. The case of a
variety of genetically modified corn sold under the brand name
"Starlink" is sobering. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
under pressure from Aventis Crop Science to rush the product to
market, approved it for use in animal feed but rejected it for human
consumption (because it contained a protein with characteristics that
might conceivably cause allergic reactions). When Starlink corn later
showed up in taco shells, some consumers in the United States and
importers in Japan and South Korea panicked, cancelling orders for
U.S. corn in general.

In Europe and Japan the episode was viewed as proof that inadequate
regulation in one country could lead to a problem that could spread
rapidly throughout the world. Imagine the scandal if other
genetically modified products, such as "contraceptive corn" -- a
product engineered to produce antibodies that attack human sperm --
got mixed with sweet corn on its way to dinner tables. (The San Diego
biotech firm that invented this product claims that, if
commercialized, it would prohibit plantings near other corn fields.
That assurance is similar to the one given by the inventors of
Starlink corn, who assured the U.S. government that they would
require farmers to keep the animal and human crops segregated.) Even
tighter control will be needed in approving genetically modified
animals, not least because animals are more mobile than plants and
can spread genetic alterations more quickly. Genetic innovators were
lucky that the controversy over Starlink subsided after only a few
months; the public will tolerate few additional failures.

Developing countries, meanwhile, are an even greater potential source
of problems, because with few exceptions the regulatory systems in
these nations are not very advanced. China, for example, is probably
the second most active center of innovation in crop engineering after
the United States. Yet despite recent improvements, the Chinese
system for overseeing field trials and approving novel crops remains
highly opaque. This state of affairs poses dangers to all nations,
because some of the problems stemming from improperly regulated
biotechnology, such as gene flow from engineered to natural
organisms, might affect global biological diversity. Moreover, the
entire genetic engineering industry relies on the reputations that
form around the technology, and so failure anywhere in the world will
harm the industry everywhere. As Joel Cohen of the International
Service for National Agricultural Research has argued, enhancing the
use of biotechnology for the poor involves investment not only in the
research itself but also in the "biosafety" mechanisms needed to
assure that the research does not go awry. Building effective
regulatory mechanisms in developing countries is therefore one of the
most important areas for new investment.

A DELICATE DANCE. Governments keen to promote crop engineering,
notably the United States, should avoid using the dispute process of
the World Trade Organization (WTO) to pry open international markets
-- especially the EU, where the public is not yet confident that crop
engineering is safe. A series of regulatory scandals -- including the
failure to stop "mad cow" disease in the United Kingdom, the
contamination of food with dioxin in Belgium, and the spread of
hiv-tainted blood in France -- has made many Europeans wary of
government promises of food safety. The EU's common market, which
requires a free flow of goods, also makes it difficult for some
European countries to embrace a controversial technology when other
members of the EU are under powerful public pressure to resist it.
For these reasons, efforts to force crop engineering into Europe
through trade measures will fail and, in the process, will only make
it harder for WTO members to cooperate on more important issues, such
as the core agenda for the new Doha development round of trade talks.

This round of WTO negotiations will need to confront several issues
posed by transgenic technologies. One is the distinction between
products and production methods. Global trade rules allow governments
to impose some controls on trade in products, but they prevent
governments from discriminating between domestic and foreign
producers based on their methods of production. This distinction,
however, is already eroding and will be particularly difficult to
uphold for transgenic crops, because, although standard scientific
measures of food quality cannot distinguish between the two, some
consumers already view engineered crops as different from traditional
crops. Producers of genetically modified products claim that their
crops are the same as conventionally bred ones and should not face
special labeling requirements or import bans. Opponents, especially
in Europe, insist that the crops are inherently different. The
scientific evidence strongly suggests that these crops are safe --
sometimes even safer than conventional ones -- but it would be a
mistake to force a resolution of the issue at the moment.

The best remedies to the transatlantic impasse lie almost entirely
outside the field of trade law. The starting point should be a
recognition of the enormous achievement so far: despite completely
contradictory policies on genetically modified foods, the EU and the
United States have not filed a single formal trade complaint on the
issue. Instead, they have found ways to accommodate each other's
interests. Corn growers, for example, are preparing to deliver
different kinds of corn to the European market separately, so that,
in effect, U.S. exports will be unaffected by the European wariness
about genetically modified corn. Nor have engineered soybeans sparked
a trade conflict, because most soybeans exported to Europe go into
animal feed and much of the soybean oil produced in Europe is
reexported. The only way to sustain this delicate dance is to keep
dancing. The needed measures are too complicated to write into a
formal trade agreement. Moreover, neither side would be willing to
formally acknowledge this sensitive and, until now, implicit game.

A formal trade dispute would push the two sides into opposing
corners. For instance, the United States launched a trade dispute in
1995 claiming (correctly) that Europe's ban on importing beef
produced with hormones was not based on sound science. The United
States won, but its victory may prove Pyrrhic in the long run.
Belying the relatively small amounts of trade at stake, trade
negotiators from Washington and Brussels have clashed repeatedly over
hormones ever since. The United States has retaliated against
European products and the EU has never adopted a plan to comply with
the terms of the original settlement. In matters involving food
safety, which often arouse strong public passions, a clear decision
from the WTO does not guarantee compliance. Rather, it can often
redouble public convictions that international institutions are
stealing their sovereignty.

There are worrying signs, however, that Europe does not understand
its dance card. The latest round of rules working their way through
the European legislative process might include the requirement that
meat raised on genetically modified feed, such as from U.S. soybeans,
carry a label -- despite the fact that no trace of the genetically
modified protein appears in the final product and despite the absence
of any evidence that the protein (if present at all) might be
dangerous. Rather than attacking the EU's rulemaking frontally, the
United States should focus pressure on this particularly egregious
provision, in the hope that the EU can implement it in a way that
would let the dance continue.

PONY UP The innovations of crop engineering that deliver commercial
value today -- and that promise even greater benefits tomorrow -- can
also help the world's poorest societies meet basic human needs.
Greater quantities of more nutritious food, supplied at lower cost,
can alleviate hunger. Crops engineered to grow in salty soils, where
traditional crops often wither, can allow societies to make fuller
use of existing, degraded cropland rather than spreading to new
areas. Applied properly, technologies that help make agriculture more
efficient can also promote economic development: since farming is the
single largest occupation of the rural poor, lightening its load on
agricultural workers can free up time for them to pursue
higher-earning occupations. An example of the revolutionary potential
of biotechnology occurred late last year, when Kenyan farmers
harvested their first trial crop of sweet potatoes engineered for
resistance to an aphid-borne disease that previously had killed up to
80 percent of their crop.

Still, without help these technologies will not march directly into
the service of the world's poor. Most investment in crop engineering
innovations occurs in commercial markets; it is put up by investors
seeking profits. And as with much high-technology research, only a
small fraction of investment is directed at innovations likely to
have a general application. Some breakthroughs have occurred -- as
with the creation of genes that confer herbicide resistance or
produce BT pesticide. But they will not yield much of practical value
without further substantial investment to breed these properties into
crop varieties that farmers can grow under local conditions and that
will meet regulatory approval. The factors that keep these
innovations from diffusing rapidly are complex and include a tangle
of problems concerning intellectual property rights, but the central
obstacle is investment. The world's poorest farmers are not
attractive targets for private investors, so the task of developing
and spreading usable new crop varieties has fallen to the public

From the 1950s through the 1980s, world investment in public
agricultural research and development rose steadily. This spending
led to the first "green revolution" that spread high-yield seeds to
the developing world in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most
successful efforts in the otherwise checkered history of development
assistance. But as Philip Pardey and Nienke Beintema of the
International Food Policy Research Institute have shown, the 1990s
saw publicly funded research stagnate. For example, in the last 15
years, the total budget for the Consultative Group for International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a highly effective network of 16
agricultural research centers worldwide, has barely changed in real
terms. Just when the biotechnology revolution is offering the
potential for a new pulse of success in rural agricultural
development, key funders -- such as the EU and the United States --
have halted the momentum of investment in agricultural research and
"extension" programs that help train farmers in the latest techniques.

The United States has led the exodus from public agricultural
research. After peaking in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Agency for
International Development's funding for such research in developing
countries has declined dramatically. And some of the key funders of
international agricultural research that remain, such as Germany, are
nations that are least enthusiastic about widespread application of
genetic engineering.

It is not fashionable, especially in Washington, to argue for foreign
aid. The common charge is that public international assistance does
not work -- indeed, much of the development assistance delivered in
the last five decades has been wasted. But public agricultural
research has consistently delivered real benefits in terms of
higher-yielding crops, higher incomes, and fewer hungry people.
Studies measuring the social return from investments in public
agricultural research suggest it is one of the best public
investments available.

The case for increased U.S. investment in this area is particularly
strong for three reasons. First, key allies as well as development
organizations are rightly putting pressure on the United States to
show a greater commitment to economic development for the world's
poor. The Bush administration is responding and announced in March
2002 a new, broad-based program for assisting the world's poorest
nations. Reversing the severe cuts in U.S. support for agricultural
research offers the greatest potential, with minimal expenditure, to
lift incomes in the world's poorest regions.

Second, the revolution in genetic engineering offers the opportunity
to increase the efficiency of agricultural research, making it
possible to do more with less. Whereas developing a new crop variety
through traditional breeding can require a dozen years, more precise
genetic engineering has cut that time in half for some types of
improvements. A shorter innovation cycle will save resources and also
make it possible to develop some crops in "real time," responding to
diseases and challenges as they arise. Yet today only a small
fraction of the research activity within the CGIAR network actually
applies transgenic tools. It will be hard to redirect research
budgets when they are stagnant (or shrinking), especially when key
funders are unenthusiastic about the innovation. Increased funding
from the United States could yield multiple benefits by raising the
level and efficiency of innovation.

And third, the United States has a special stake in the success of
this technology, because much of the relevant commercial research
takes place within its borders -- even firms with headquarters
overseas locate a significant part of their research activities in
the United States. Demonstrating that genetically engineered foods
offer benefits to consumers -- including those in the developing
world -- is a crucial part of assuring continued public support and
investment. All told, the level of U.S. investment in international
public agricultural research should increase by about $100 million
per year over the next three to five years. A substantial fraction of
that incremental increase should be earmarked for genetic engineering
technologies. For comparison, total revenue for CGIAR in 2000 was
$342 million. That same year, U.S. spending on all foreign aid was
about $9.6 billion; the proposed spending would amount to only a one
percent increase.

LIBERATING IDEAS. By itself, more money for agricultural research
will not unlock the potential of transgenic technologies in the
developing world. Another barrier, less formidable but still
important, involves the laws governing intellectual property.
Policymakers must strike a delicate balance between the interests of
innovators -- who want strong protection of their research -- and the
public interest in applying advances in genetic engineering to the
world's development problems.

Until the biotechnology revolution began, private control of
intellectual property was not a significant barrier to agricultural
innovation because traditional breeding worked mainly with seed
stocks that were held in public gene banks and available to all.
Intellectual property, where it was claimed at all, was protected
through systems of "plant-breeders' rights." This allowed researchers
to license their innovations but in most cases did not forbid farmers
from using new seeds for the next year's planting nor prevent other
breeders from using improved strains to make still further
improvements. Starting in the 1980s, however, significant new patent
rights began to be granted for plant innovations. Moreover, along
with the biotechnology revolution in agriculture came the rise of
pharmaceutical biotechnology, and both operate on similar economic
principles: huge up-front costs in development and drawn-out
regulatory approval have led firms to demand exclusive patent rights,
rather than the less strict plant-breeders' rights, for their genetic
innovations. The result has been a proliferation of patent claims and
counterclaims by companies who fear losing out on potentially
lucrative developments.

Clearing this intellectual property congestion requires solving two
problems. One is that a growing fraction of intellectual property in
crop engineering is in private hands, and thus a mechanism is needed
to allow others to use these innovations -- either for free or with
compensation. This is unlikely to happen without government
intervention. More public research, meanwhile, is also becoming tied
to patent rights. In the United States, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 has
encouraged most universities to establish intellectual property
rights on their innovations in the hope of reaping blockbuster
licensing revenues. The jealous guarding of university research,
often partly funded by public revenues, further ties up ideas that
would otherwise be freely available.

The other problem is that modern plant varieties combine dozens or
hundreds of innovations, making it practically impossible to define
ownership. Modern wheat varieties, for example, are the product of
several dozen distinct ancestors that date back to the late
nineteenth century. Innovations from gene engineering will overlay
still more complexity, because crops bred to have improved outward
traits -- such as flavor -- will, in most cases, require multiple
genes and therefore involve multiple patent claims. And intellectual
property protections can lock up even relatively simple crop

These problems have no easy solutions. A program that could evolve
over time into a durable solution would involve reducing the cost of
accessing the innovations that researchers weave into new products.
Efforts to build capacity in intellectual property law can also help
public research institutions as well as private firms in developing
countries navigate patent rights more easily. Indeed, most
international assistance to developing countries on crop engineering
has focused on the technology itself; very little attention has been
paid to the legal infrastructure for using the technology. The new
Management of Intellectual Property in Health Research and
Development program recently established by the Rockefeller
Foundation and other donors to ease access to modern drug innovations
may offer a model. Governments should also experiment with mechanisms
to allow pooling of patents so as to offer a single point of
negotiation between innovators and farmers. Although most
patent-holders would want to negotiate their own compensation, the
CGIAR could at least nominate innovations that are especially
critical for the world's poorest farmers and use those to start the

The second fundamental need extends from the first: not only should
it be easier to access intellectual property generally, but
governments must also experiment with temporarily setting aside
patents or mandating reduced costs for certain critical innovations.
This topic is highly controversial and it may prove impossible to
develop a general mechanism for allowing low-cost access to
intellectual property. The purpose would not be to offer free blanket
access, which is clearly unsustainable, but to grant partial property
rights for products that are intended only for poor farmers.

It will not be easy to determine which products merit such access,
but the difficulty of the task should not deter these efforts. In
fact, the major crop engineering firms already grant large amounts of
intellectual property to developing countries. Monsanto, for example,
has made its sequence of the rice genome freely available to
researchers. The firm also sells cotton engineered with BT pesticide
in China and tolerates widespread illegal copying of its cottonseed
because it has no alternative; an imperfect market in China is better
than none at all. These actions reflect a broader understanding in
the private sector that, in the real world, firms cannot charge
whatever they want for their intellectual property in every market.
The next step is to codify this recognition in a way that channels
the concessions to those who need them most.

So far, lack of access to intellectual property has not been an
impassable obstacle in the application of gene engineering on behalf
of the world's poor. In part this is because the industry, reeling
from public opposition to its technology, has regularly given away
its intellectual property for highly visible research programs
intended to benefit poor farmers and consumers, such as the creation
of vitamin- enriched "golden rice." Another factor is that few
engineered food crops have been planted on a commercial scale in
developing countries, and none of the engineered crops developed in
public agricultural research centers has spread widely. The
technology is still in its infancy and therefore the prospect of
patent challenges is right now hypothetical. This state of affairs
will work temporarily but it is not a durable model for fostering
innovation; researchers, governments, and farmers must work for a
permanent solution.

GLOBAL PROMISE. The furor over food engineering not only affects t