Today in AgBioView: May 3, 2002
* Organic Farming Will Level Our Forests
* GOLDEN RICE IS COST EFFECTIVE
* BT CORN HARVESTED IN PANGASINAN FIELD TRIAL SITE
* US FARMERS' ADOPTION OF GE CROPS JUMPED DRAMATICALLY
* COMING SOON: GENETICALLY ENGINEERED POTATO
Organic farming will level our forests
By Marc Morano, Senior Staff Writer
May 01, 2002
The expansion of organic farming would mean the eventual destruction of
most of the world's forests, according to a Nobel Prize winning scientist.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, awarded the Nobel prize for his work as a plant
geneticist, joined agricultural policy experts Tuesday in arguing that
high yield farming and genetically modified foods are the key to saving
the wilderness and feeding poor people in the developing world.
"We can use all the organic that is available, but we aren't going to feed
six billion people with organic fertilizer and we would level most of our
forests," Borlaug said.
Dr. Borlaug maintained that switching all food production to organic,
(farming without synthetic chemicals), would lower crop yields. "If we try
to go back to low yield agriculture, we would have no option but to clear
more land," he explained.
Tuesday's news conference in Washington was sponsored by the Center for
Global Food Issues, and was billed as the "Declaration in Support of
Protecting Nature with High-Yield Farming and Forestry." Among those
signing the declaration were former U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.)
and James Lovelock, the scientist who many environmentalists consider a
pioneer of the green movement.
Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, a free market
food advocacy group, said the latest research shows organic food yields
are nearly 50 percent lower per acre than modern methods. Avery said if
Europe were to switch to exclusively organic farming methods, the cropland
needed to produce the resulting lower yields would equal "all the forest
area in Germany, France, Denmark and the UK (United Kingdom)."
"How many people in Western Europe would vote for organic farming if it
was put in terms of clearing all their forests?" Avery asked.
Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit, and a
former founding member of Greenpeace, was also on hand to promote the
joint declaration on high yield agriculture and forestry.
Moore, who left Greenpeace in the 1980s after becoming disillusioned with
what he considered the group's radical approach to environmental concerns,
said genetically modified food (GM) helps boost yields.
"Frankenstein foods, terminator seeds and killer tomatoes are all
metaphors taken from scary movies. Those are the most effective metaphors
that the ovement against GMs can come up with to scare people. The reality
is -- heir message is as fantastical as the movies upon which they are
based," he explained.
Moore, citing the resistance of GM crops to pests, called the technology
the greatest boon to third world farmers because "these people are going
to be able to afford to buy houses and live a decent and dignified
lifestyle because of these new high yield crops."
He also lashed out at the groups, opposed GM foods. "This is the problem,
this ideological position against GM period. This zero tolerance approach
is not appropriate for one of the most important scientific discoveries
and technologies that we have ever come across," Moore said.
Save the trees, use more wood
Moore explained that advances in forestry techniques have resulted in wood
becoming one of the most environmentally friendly products.
"We should be growing more trees and using more wood," explained Moore.
"The less wood we use, the more steel and concrete we use. The more fossil
fuels we use to make the steel and concrete, the more C02 emissions that
threaten climate change."
Moore explained that a greater demand for wood products leads to more
forested land, noting that 80 percent of the timber produced in the U.S.
comes from private property. He predicted that if "those land owners had
no market for wood, they would clear the forest away and grow something
else they could make money from instead."
"When you go into a lumber yard, you are given the impression that by
buying wood you are causing the forest to be lost, when in fact what you
are doing is sending a signal into the market to plant more trees," Moore
Organic is the Future?
Ronnie Cummins, the national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, criticized the declaration on high-yield farming and
forestry, saying many studies have shown that organic farming can produce
"comparable" crop yields to those produced by non-organic farming.
The U.S. should "convert as rapidly as possible to organic agriculture,"
Cummins said, adding that organic food currently makes up about three
percent of the U.S. food supply.
"Organic is the future, let's bring it about as quickly as possible," he
Cummins also repeated the green movement's opposition to genetically
modified food, noting that GM food "brings no benefits to consumers or to
the environment and it's extremely risky."
But Moore believes, "If Greenpeace or the other anti-GM groups were to
admit that there was even one good GM crop ... then they would have to
admit there might be others and then they would be reduced to a rational
discussion of this subject like the rest of us mortals."
Eugene Lapointe, former secretary general of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),
also signed the declaration Tuesday. Lapointe said he was not surprised by
the opposition from environmental groups.
"[GM foods] are a solution to a major problem and most environmentalists
are not solution oriented. They are drama, they are scandal, they are
problems manufactured. Without the problem the drama and the scandal, you
lose fund-raising capabilities," Lapoint said.
GOLDEN RICE IS COST EFFECTIVE
May 3, 2002
Crop Biotech Update
Compared to other methods of enhancing food nutrition, Golden Rice is more
cost effective in delivering Vitamin A to intended beneficiaries. This
was highlighted in the seminar entitled "Golden Rice: What role could it
play in alleviating Vitamin A deficiency?" by Dr. David Dawe, an economist
of the Social Sciences Division at the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI), Los Ba?os, Philippines. The seminar was the second in a
series about Golden Rice and was held last May 2 in IRRI. Dawe made a
comparative economic analysis between Vitamin A fortified wheat flour and
Golden Rice (GR). He concluded that if GR is more widely adopted, it
becomes cheaper than alternative interventions in combating Vitamin A
deficiency. He added, however, that GR should be viewed as a complement
to existing interventions such as fortification and supplementation.
Vitamin A deficiency, which causes deterioration in the immune system and
blindness, remains a major public health problem worldwide, more
particularly in developing countries.
BT CORN HARVESTED IN PANGASINAN FIELD TRIAL SITE
May 3, 2002
Crop Biotech Update
Monsanto Philippines has harvested Bt corn in its field trial site in Sta.
Maria, Pangasinan last May 2, one of the 11 trials conducted in various
parts of the Philippines during the dry season cropping. The harvesting
was strictly supervised by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and was also
witnessed by representatives from other national and local government
agencies. The members of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP)
of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) monitored
the harvesting. According to Ronald G. Cabangbang, Product Development
Executive of Monsanto, two Bt corn varieties were field tested in the
area. These are Yieldgard 818 and YieldGard 838. These Bt corn varieties
were specifically evaluated for resistance to Asian corn borer and
compared with commercial corn hybrids. Results confimed the effectiveness
of the Bt corn varieties in controlling Asian corn borer infestation.
Unlike traditional varieties of corn, Bt corn exhibited healthier plants,
undamaged stalks, and cleaner cobs. The benefit of the Bt technology in
protecting yield was clearly demonstrated. Data from the Pangasinan field
trial, including those in other 10 trial sites for dry season evaluation
of Bt corn, will be released soon by Monsanto.
US FARMERS' ADOPTION OF GE CROPS JUMPED DRAMATICALLY
May 3, 2002
Crop Biotech Update
"Driven by farmers' expectations of lower production costs, higher yields,
and reduced pesticide use, the rate at which US farmers adopt genetically
engineered (GE) crop varieties has jumped dramatically", said a brief
released by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of
Agriculture (ERS/USDA). In 1999, 28.7 million hectares were planted to GM
crops in the US. This increased to 30.3 million hectares in 2000 and 35.7
million hectares by 2001.The main reason given by farmers for using GM
crops was "increased yield through improved pest control" followed by
their desire to decrease pesticide costs. Other reasons included
increased planting flexibility and environmental benefits. These results
confirmed other studies, which showed that farmers tend to use
agricultural innovations that may increase crop yield or reduce cost since
they expect their profits to increase. Therefore, there is a high
incentive to use pest management techniques since its objective is to
reduce crop yield losses. The USDA report is available at
COMING SOON: GENETICALLY ENGINEERED POTATO
April 29, 2002
The Times of India
After cotton farmers, it is, according to this story, the turn of tobacco
and potato growers to reap benefits from biotechnology. Two months ago
Centre had allowed farmers to grow a genetically modified variety of
cotton that is bollworm-attack resistant. Now plant biologists at Bhabha
Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai, using a technique called "coat
protein mediated protection,," have, the story says, created tobacco
plants that are resistant to its deadliest enemy-a virus called "potato
virus Y" or PVY. The tiny helical shaped virus got this name because it
also infects potato, "causing 30 to 40 per cent crop loss and even some
times total crop failure," according to V A Bapat one of the BARC
biotechnologists involved in the project. The story says that the work by
Bapat and his colleagues S B Ghosh, L H S Nagi, T R Ganapathi and S M Paul
Khurana reported in Current Science may eventually enable Indian farmers
cultivate PVY resistant potato and tobacco. Their work is still in
laboratory stage. The virus causes heavy damage to these crops in other
parts of the world also, and scientists there have already developed PVY
resistant transgenic potato and tobacco, says Bapat. But the transgenic
varieties developed in Europe and America "are most unlikely to succeed in
India" since agroclimatic situations are entirely different, the
scientists said. In India, potato is grown as a short day winter crop
whereas in Europe and the United States it is grown as a long day summer