Today in AgBioView: April 23, 2002
* Learning to Love Frankenstein
* Anti-technology Rhetoric Won't Help Feed World
* World Grains Expert Urges Use Of GMOs
* Low-mow Grass: Biotech Blessing or Curse
* Biotechnology 2002: Annual Educator's Conference
* EFB Task Group on Public Perception
* Organic Dairying Flaws Revealed
* National Geographic Discussion Forum on GM Foods
Learning to Love Frankenstein
- Marketing Week, April 18, 2002
The anti-genetically modified (GM) food lobby seems to be fighting a
losing battle. Research from BMRB's Target Group Index (TGI), which has
examined long-term consumer attitudes on GM food, indicates that it is
older people who take the most fervent stance against the development of
such foodstuffs. Younger people are far more open-minded and accepting of
the suggestion that GM food is safe.
According to BMRB, 30 per cent of adults aged 15 or over agree with the
statement "I would never buy food that has been genetically modified". Of
these, half strongly agree. At the other end of the scale, 24 per cent of
adults disagree with the statement, 11 per cent of whom disagree strongly.
Over-50s are almost 20 per cent more likely than average to agree, while
15- to 24-year-olds are over 40 per cent less likely than the average to
agree. Those in the AB social grades are slightly (15 per cent) more
likely to be suspicious of GM food. Regional variations in attitudes to GM
food across the UK are small, although there is a slight anti-GM food bias
in the South and the Midlands compared with the North and Wales. Those who
are anti-GM food are almost 50 per cent more likely to do their main
grocery shopping in Waitrose, and significantly less likely than average
to do their main grocery shopping at less exclusive and less health
food-oriented stores such as Kwik Save and Budgens.
In terms of the foods that they eat, the anti-GM food group is
significantly more likely than average to use fresh pasta and to buy fresh
vegetables from a greengrocer. Anti-GM consumers are also a quarter more
likely than average to choose granary bread and nearly a fifth more likely
to be heavy drinkers of bottled mineral water.
But are people more anti-GM food now than they used to be? The short
answer is no. Over the past two years, TGI data has shown a slow but
fairly steady decline in the number of people who are against GM food,
suggesting that resistance to it may subside greatly in the long term. In
summer 2000, the data suggested that 34 per cent of adults were anti- GM
food - this number has dropped to 30 per cent in the latest survey.
Forty-four per cent of all those who dislike the idea of GM food also
agree that it is worth paying more for organic food. This makes them 75
per cent more likely to do so than the average shopper. Similarly, just
over half of the anti-GM food group buy free-range products whenever they
can, making them 54 per cent more likely to do so than average.
One might expect that those who are anti-GM food would take a very dim
view of fast food, particularly as so many of them are happy to pay more
for organic food and to seek out free-range products. But the surprising
fact is that only 40 per cent of these consumers agree that fast food is
"all junk". They are still almost 40 per cent more likely than the average
adult to be dismissive and disparaging about fast food, however. Just over
a quarter of adults generally believe all fast food to be "junk".
Similarly, those who are against the prospect of GM food are almost a
third more likely to agree that they "do not take any chances when it
comes to food scares". This shows that the anti-GM food lobby has more
general scepticism about food quality than other people. More than half of
them agree they do not take chances, whereas among all adults generally,
just over 40 per cent would agree to this statement.
There appears to be an interesting correlation between vegetarianism and
an antipathy to GM food. Those who definitely agree that they would never
buy genetically modified food are 81 per cent more likely than average to
be vegetarians. Overall, six per cent of British adults claim to be
vegetarians (a figure that has remained steady since TGI began measuring
vegetarianism in 1993), although women are 20 per cent more likely to be
so. It is more predominant among the young and the middle class, with 15-
to 24-year-olds almost 50 per cent more likely than average to be
vegetarians, and those in the AB social grades 27 per cent more likely.
Anti-technology Rhetoric Won't Help Feed World
- Thomas R. Degregori , Houston Chronicle, April 21, 2002
IT'S Earth Day and once again we are discussing ways of saving the
environment. In the new millennium, feeding the hungry has been added to
the agenda as if the anti-technology rhetoric of past Earth Days, when the
poor were forgotten, can somehow accommodate this newly discovered
Since the first Earth Day, the planet has added close to 2 billion people
bringing the population to 6 billion, who are living longer, better fed
and in better health than ever before. A look at some of the changes of
the past two centuries might give us guidance as to how we might move
forward to further the goals of environmental action and feeding everyone
in the next half century when the world is expected to add another 3
billion people before leveling off or even declining.
In 1800, the world's population had not yet reached 1 billion; by 1900,
the population was about 1.7 billion. Bringing new lands under cultivation
was an ingredient in feeding this rapidly growing population, but equally
as critical were the discoveries in organic chemistry that showed that
crops could be fertilized with inorganic minerals as well as the early
beginnings of mechanization and the use of refrigerated railroad cars and
steam ships for moving beef and mutton to more densely populated areas.
Since 1900, world population has increased better than three and a half
times, while the population of the United States has quadrupled, yet we
are producing vastly greater quantities of food on less land than we were
cultivating in 1910. World population has more than doubled since 1960,
yet per capita caloric consumption has gone up even faster. Daily per
capita caloric intake in developing countries has increased from about
1,900 calories per day in 1960 to about 2,700 today. All this has been
achieved even though the land under cultivation in the world has increased
from 1.4 billion hectares in 1960 to 1.5 billion hectares today. The
percentage of the world population in hunger and poverty has fallen in
absolute percentage terms from 50 percent in 1950, to 30 percent in 1970
to a still unacceptable 19 percent today.
One author, Vaclav Smil, has called the Haber-Bosch synthesis of nitrogen
fertilizer the greatest invention of the 20th century, as we simply could
not have fed even half the world's population today without it. Clearly,
the increases in yield from the "Green Revolution" technologies were
necessary to feed the Earth's growing population. Can one imagine the
ecological devastation that would have resulted without yield increases if
the world's population had to be fed by bringing forest and wildlife
preserves, and scrub, mountainsides and other marginal lands under
The forecasts of mass famine of the 1960s and since, including by many who
have given us Earth Day over the years, would have come true without the
very yield increases brought about by the modern agronomy that they have
consistently opposed. Early in the 20th century, long before the
introduction of modern chemical pesticides, the origins of "organic"
agriculture were in opposition to the use of minerals and synthetic
fertilizers in crop production instead of manure. Back then, pesticides in
use included various arsenic, copper and sulfur compounds, many of which
are still approved for use in "organic" agriculture. It has become an
article of faith among many of environmentalists, ecofeminists and
academic postmodernists that the "Green Revolution" was a "failure,"
though no mention is made as to how we would be feeding today's world
population without it.
The anti-technology rhetoric continues as those who have been so
spectacularly wrong in the past have now risen up in opposition to
biotechnology in agriculture with particular vehemence, including various
forms of ecoterrorism, against genetically modified or transgenic crops.
Unfortunately, most of the opponents of transgenic crops are without any
knowledge or experience in agriculture, either in developed or developing
countries, and therefore cannot offer any realistic pathways to increasing
food production to provide for a growing population and protecting the
environment at the same time.
Never in all the causes in which I have been involved has there been such
a predominance of scientists and others with knowledge and experience
lined up so solidly on one side of an issue, in this case in support of
the intelligent use of biotechnology in agriculture, while the opponents
have somehow been able to garner the vast majority of the publicity in
needlessly frightening people about what has been deemed, by the National
Academy of Sciences and others, as the safest, most predictable form of
plant breeding yet known.
Quite literally, those who have done nothing to help feed people and
opposed everything that has, have become even more strident in opposition
to what needs to be done today to create a better future for all of us. If
those destroying agricultural fields or burning down research laboratories
have a better way than transgenics for keeping protected lands out of
cultivation by increasing yields in global agriculture, please let those
of us involved in agriculture in developing countries know. Also, let us
know if they have a way of providing more food for those in hunger and
those still to come. We are waiting!
DeGregori is professor of economics at the University of Houston in the
Department of Economics. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
World Grains Expert Urges Use Of GMOs
- ABC Environment News Online April 19, 2002, (Via Agnet)
Australia will need to double its grain growing capacity in the next 10
years to provide for a rapidly increasing world population, according to
international grains expert Professor Timothy Reeves. Addressing Grains
Week 2002 in Melbourne, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre
(CIMMYT) director Professor Reeves says Australia must be part of the
"unleashing" of biotechnology and genetic modification if it is to play a
role in future markets.
"From a global perspective one of the real challenges we face this century
will be feeding a rapidly growing population," Professor Reeves said.
"There are 150 to 180 people born a minute in most developing countries,
imagine the pressure on our already dwindling resources in coming years.
There will be an enormous challenge for water. It's going to cause wars in
the future. It's a huge issue," he said.
"If you target Australia, ask how Australia can contribute to a doubling
in world demand for food, then simplistically you could say each farmer
needs to double production. But how do they do this with land limitations
and declining natural resources? This is where research and development
comes into it, in drought resistant crop varieties disease resistance
varieties." He says biotechnology presents an opportunity to introduce new
character traits to old crop varieties. "You can take an elite variety
that has one failing with the use of biotechnology you can remove that
Genetically modified crops currently take up 55 million hectares globally.
Professor Reeves says this is quickly expanding, and cites the production
of "synthetic wheat" as one of the biggest breakthroughs in the past 12
months. Using biotechnology, elite bread wheats have been crossed to
create what tests are showing to be a crop that will be highly drought and
heat resistant, and potentially frost tolerant.
He says genetic development will create an ease in market limitations.
"Disease immunity in these crops could free-up trade barriers caused by
diseases such as karnal bunt. These diseases aren't really damaging on a
global scale, what they do is perform as limitations, which close up
markets." Professor Reeves said health enhancing traits are critical in
crop modification. "That's the way to be part of a developing world
competition." But it is the developing world that markets like Australia
need to look at for future opportunities, he says.
"There are some good and bad things about globalisation. One of those
things that is happening is that many countries want to try and leap from
a stage of subsistence farming to tertiary level markets without knowing
that those countries who have taken their time to develop to tertiary
focussed professions used agriculture as the economic engine room to get
there. "Too many politicians think food comes from supermarkets. "Wealthy
export countries needed to reinforce the caring of developing countries.
This is the realisation of our true role in agriculture in the future. "In
developing countries agriculture is not income, it's their livelihood.
Agriculture is not a political tool. It is not a lever we pull, it's not
competition, it's compulsory."
Low-mow Grass: Biotech Blessing or Curse?
- Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2002
Despite the controversial nature of biotech crops, the cutting- edge
science is moving from farm fields into suburban lawns and golf courses as
researchers push to get genetically engineered grass to the market.
One strain of gene-altered grass, developed by seed companies and
nicknamed "low-mow," inches up more slowly than regular grass, so it
requires less cutting and watering. Other grasses would be immune to a
popular agricultural glyphosate herbicide, making weed-killing a breeze.
Bio-engineered flowers that promise longer blooms are also in the
Some see the products as the greatest thing since the weed whacker, the
answer to the suburban homeowner's dream of a perfect yard. Golf courses,
which use weed-prone creeping bentgrass for carpet-smooth putting greens,
are especially eager to have a grass that requires less intensive, less
Everybody, it seems, struggles with their lawn. "Does it grow in the
shade?" Chicago's Kent Hardy asked hopefully, while pushing a cart filled
with three bags of topsoil and a bag of grass seed mixture for shady lawns
through a home improvement center.
Critics, however, say the products need more testing, have no redeeming
societal value and fear pollen from the grass could contaminate plants and
create herbicide-resistant super weeds. The American Society of Landscape
Architects, petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to suspend field
tests until independent studies have been done.
"The new frontier of genetically engineered crops are coming to your front
lawn. It's bizarre and very concerning," said Matt Rand, director for
biotechnology for the National Environmental Trust. "It's another product
that makes no sense."
Though the "low mow" slow-growing grasses are still several years away
from commercial availability, genetically modified creeping bentgrass
could pop up on the market by 2004 or 2005, according to officials at
Ohio-based Scotts Co., where scientists have been working with turf grass
breeding programs at several universities.
This spring, Scotts plans to ask the USDA for permission to sell the first
batches of creeping bentgrass, which can tolerate being sprayed with the
herbicide Roundup, according to Scotts spokesman Jim King. Roundup, a
potent herbicide produced by Monsanto, effectively kills many types of
vegetation, including crops. But if the crops have been genetically
altered, they can withstand being sprayed by Roundup and are called
"Roundup Ready," meaning a farmer can blanket his field with the
herbicide--everything dies except the crop.
Introduced in the mid-1990s, the products have become enormously popular.
About 74 percent of this year's soy crop and about 32 percent of the corn
crop will be of biotech varieties, according to the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's spring survey.
The move by Scotts is likely to revive the ongoing biotechnology debate,
which has been largely focused on agricultural crops and concerned
consumers, especially in Europe. But the controversy has also hit turf
grasses. Two years ago protesters caused more than $300,000 in damage to
an Oregon research center that was testing altered grass for golf courses.
Vandals also struck research labs in Michigan and Minnesota.
Despite the resistance, genetic modification is here. Last year, U.S.
farmers grew 88 million acres of biotech crops, mostly soybeans, corn and
cotton. Genetic engineering involves inserting genes from one plant or
animal to another to add specific traits. Meanwhile, food products that
are derived from corn or soybean probably include genetically engineered
material, said Peter Day, founding director of the Biotechnology Center
for Agriculture and the Environment at Rutgers University, which is
working with Scotts.
Proponents say biotech crops can increase agricultural productivity while
reducing farmers' reliance on pesticides. Biotech corn, for example,
carries a bacterial gene that makes a protein that is lethal to
caterpillars. Biotech cotton kills several important pests. "As the
population increases and the agricultural land declines, we have to have
methods of producing foods more efficiently," said Day. "This technology
is it. It's not a trivial activity."
Opponents to the technology argue that transgenic plants can have an
effect on neighboring plants and on pests that weren't targeted.
Genetically modified organisms have been shown to transfer genes in the
environment, contaminating neighboring crops and potentially creating
uncontrollable weeds. Widespread planting of pest- resistant crops will
accelerate resistance in pest populations, say environmentalists.
ASLA past president Len Hopper said the group has some concerns with the
technology moving forward without an independent review. Tests conducted
in 2000 by Pure Seed Testing Inc., an Oregon grass seed company, showed
that pollen from the genetically altered grass could travel as far as
3,000 feet and fertilize other grasses.
"Once it's in the field, it can be spread and you can get a buildup of
herbicide-tolerant weeds," said Hopper, the head of the landscape
architecture division for the New York City Housing Authority. "Plus
there's the potential liability of contaminating traditional varieties. As
significant as the economic benefit may be, you aren't talking about
feeding millions of starving people [with the technology]. If we had to
pause for a period of time to get an independent review, it's not a
To develop the grasses, scientists working mainly in greenhouses at
Scotts' headquarters in Marysville, Ohio, use a gene gun to shoot plant
DNA into a tissue of grass. In the process, a tiny proportion of DNA is
integrated into the nucleus of the cell. The company won't divulge what
plants it is using as a source of genetic material to slow the growth of
grass, because it hopes to patent the technology, said a spokesman.
"In low management areas, [slow-grow] grass has a lot of opportunities
especially in public parks and interstate roadsides because it could save
money, wear on the environment and equipment," said Andrew Hamblin, a
professor of turf and grass breeding and genetics at the University of
Illinois. In addition, slow-growing grass could help cut down on lawn
Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass would be ideal for golf courses, where
the grass is often smoother than a living room carpet, mowed to a height
of 2 or 3 millimeters and difficult to manage. Regular golf course grass
doesn't hold up well to herbicides, but Roundup Ready grass would "be less
susceptible to disease and probably take less water to irrigate the
course," said Monsanto spokesman Mark Buckingham. In addition, it would
reduce maintenance costs because groundskeepers could spray everything at
once instead of spot spraying.
While the grass would be welcomed by golf course owners, farmers who use
Roundup Ready crops wouldn't want the creeping bent grass released in
their corn or soybeans, said Roger Beachy, director of the Danforth Plant
Science Center in St. Louis. "It will be interesting to see the regulatory
limits placed on the distribution or the cautions," he said.
If Roundup Ready grass did get into a farmer's crop, a range of techniques
could be used to eliminate the grass, according to Buckingham, including
conventional herbicides. Farmers often have more than one Roundup Ready
crop and learn to manage them together, said Buckingham.
Clark Throssell, a turf grass scientist and the director of research for
the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America, was cautiously
optimistic. "It has potential and in theory, it sounds good, but it needs
to be evaluated," he said.
Others worry that certain inalienable rites of summer, such as the scent
of freshly cut grass would be diminished. And then there are
those--usually with small yards-- who actually look forward to cutting the
grass. "There's just something about being able to mow your lawn. It's a
stress reliever," said David Grossman, 37. "All yardwork is."
Biotechnology 2002: Annual Educator's Conference
- Fralin Biotechnology Center Virginia Tech Blacksburg, Virginia July
Plenary Speakers: Frances Ligler CS Prakash, Jonathan Richmond, Carole
Cramer, Bruno Sobral, Kimberly McAllister
Friday Evening Roundtable Discussions... Starting a high school
biotechnology program Starting a community college biotechnology program
Outreach to schools and the community (for colleges) Distance learning for
biotechnology education Biotechnology in advanced placement biology.
Re-launch of EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions website
- From: "Botte Jellema"
Our 8-year old website has been completely redesigned and new sections
added so as to better play its part in communication between the public
and biotechnology. Please visit our website at www.efbpublic.org
Key sections: Library; Ask the Scientist; Discussion; Health, Food & Life;
News and Events
Organic Dairying Flaws Revealed
Animal-Pharm, March 13, 2002
Lower milk production, a fall in milk quality and a greater loss of body
weight during early lactation are amongst problems to emerge from research
into the difficulties faced by organic dairy farmers who grow all their
feedstuffs on farm.
A four-year study at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research
(IGER - Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire) into the challenges faced by organic
producers has compared two radically different management systems on a
94-hectare farm that has been run on organic principles since 1992. On one
half of the farm, forages were supplemented with purchased feeds with the
aim of maximising profitability within organic standards. The other half
was run as a self-sufficient unit with cows receiving a high forage diet
topped with cereals grown on the farm.
"The first system, which corresponds to normal practice on many UK organic
dairy farms, is more flexible and easier to manage," said IGER's project
leader Richard Weller. "By using concentrates, we are able to provide a
balanced diet and maintain a higher level of milk production."
He went on to explain that on the self-sufficient half of the farm, forage
crops supplied over 90% of the herd's food needs. However, land had to be
reserved for cereals, and the overall stocking rate was lower as a result.
The move away from concentrates made it harder to supply nutrients to the
herd, and that could mean lower milk production and a fall in milk
Some cows in the trial were also found to adapt less well than others to
the self-sufficient system. "Some cows lose more body weight than normal
during early lactation, and we've also noticed effects on fertility, as
measured by the number of days from calving to conception," Mr Weller
Select Postings From the National Geographic Discussion Forum on GM Foods
Name: Joseph M. Cleary; email@example.com
It is an unequivocal fact that all of the untold billions and billions of
gene splicing events (modern genetic technology) performed in academia and
industry for the last 30 years (the lifetime of the the genetic
engineering revolution) have not produced a single documented case of harm
or damage to the environment. The same is true for the history of
responsible use of genetically engineered drugs, foods, etc., for the last
20 years. This makes perfect sense because it is also now an unequivocal
fact, from the genomic sequencing revolution, that "Mother Nature" herself
has been engaged in an absolutely uncountable amount of lateral gene
transfer ("genetic engineering") among all living organisms, i.e.,
microbes, plants AND animals, over the 100's of millions of years of
evolution, that make potential human endeavors in this area pale by
The overwhelming cause of the antagonism toward genetic technology is
either scientific ignorance, or ideologies that refuse to accept these
facts because they run counter to their political and social agendas.
Besides, spreading irrational fear is a very good, proven means of
generating financial support.
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Name: Santanu Dasgupta; firstname.lastname@example.org
GM food is the solution for the hunger and nutrition. This is not a
question of who is bringing this into market. Universities and Institutes
worldwide are doing work in these areas for long time and more extensively
than any multinational perhaps. But initial acceptance of a new technology
needs a sustainable commitment which the companies afford to do it. Which
is true not only for GM foods for all most everything. All the principles
behind a drug discovery may be getting done by the Universities but I do
not know how many Universities are selling drugs!! But for GM food, the
labour pain is getting suffered by the MNCs because of their sustainable
economic force. And in the long run, the products will definitely come
from the Govt. institutions.
I am from India, and at least in India I can say, we are not doing it in
hurry. Transgenic plant research has been initiated in India long back and
just recently, our Govt has given approval for first GM product Bt-cotton
after six years of trials. We have a wonderful regulatory body with
I personally do not have any concern and I do not think any body should
have any concern about GM food.
Name: Sunil Kumar; email@example.com
Resisting change has always been normal human tendency. The world had
undergone this phenomenon many times over in various fields including
agriculture where non conformists had once opposed the introduction of
fertilizers and pesticides which have become the norm today. As situations
and needs undergo constant change, the development and introduction of
newer technologies is but inevitable. Genetic engineering is going to be
the rule tomorrow and the faster we adopt and adapt today, the sooner are
we going to find better solutions for the generations to follow.
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Name: John Cross; firstname.lastname@example.org
Genetically engineered foods promise great benefits, particularly to the
poorest nations, who are most in need of low-cost, high-yielding and
nutritionally complete foods.
In addition, the use of GMO crops with enhanced pest resistance is
reducing the amounts of pesticides that are applied by farmers.
Human beings have been domesticating plants for thousands of years. The
difference is that modern science is now allowing people to make
beneficial changes more rapidly and more precisely.
A few fanatical advocates of "organic" foods are trying to prevent these
benefits from reaching the poor of this world, who most need the benefits
of modern agricultural genetics. These extremists cloak their arguments
with appeals to caution and fanciful images of terrible harm to be wrought
by GMO foods. In their zeal, some of these groups have resorted to
destruction of the very tests that the government requires to demonstrate
the safety of GMO foods. Fortunately, most people are intelligent enough
to reject the destructive behavior and the scare-stories of these
Name: Joe Beck; email@example.com
This technology hold tremendous promise. Its easy to be frightened at the
prospect of adding an additional gene into a species. However, these
worries should subside upon realizing that for thousands of years farmers
and breeders have been moving and altering hundreds of genes using
conventional genetic modification methods. This is no exaggeration, but
merely the genetic history of ALL the food we eat.
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