Today in AgBioView: June 10, 2002:
* World is able to defeat hunger, if it has the will
* Schmeiser story from Globe and Mail
* Higher Likelihood of Recall for Organic, Natural Products?
* Bt cotton China study
* Greenpeace founder defends biotech
* Organic' Marketing Ploy (Editorial)
* Re: China Bt Cotton impacts
* BBC - Best Barnyard Compost?
* Dandelions: to die for?
* For a real GM plot, look no further than the greens
* LAST NIGHT'S TELEVISION
* Biotechnology Helps Protect U.S. Food Crops From Pests
* Hungry People Unchanged Despite Aid
* Understanding the GMO issue
* India adopts biotech cotton
* EU CONSIDERS BAN ON GERMAN ORGANIC PRODUCE-REPORT
World is able to defeat hunger, if it has the will
Contra Costa Times
June 9, 2002 Sunday
By George McGovern and Rudy Boschwitz
OUR ONLY HOPE of staving off a global pandemic of starvation and chronic
hunger in the first half of this new century is to revive the Green
Revolution that saved an estimated 1 billion lives in Asia, Africa and
Latin America in the '60s and '70s.
Thanks to breathtaking advances in high-yield farming, soil conservation
and genetically enhanced seeds, the world has the right weapons in its
humanitarian arsenal. The only question remaining is, does it have the
The Green Revolution promoted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug
not only saved hundreds of million of lives but also brought markedly
higher yields that spared an estimated 12 million square miles of
wilderness from conversion to farmland. That's equal to the total land
area of the United States, Europe and South America. That land was saved
because American and Third World researchers showed poor farmers in
countries like India, Mexico and Pakistan how to increase yields by
increasing productivity rather than bringing additional acreage under
Leading demographers around the globe are virtually unanimous in their
prediction that the world's population will increase nearly 50 percent --
from 6.2 billion to more than 9 billion people -- before declining birth
rates in developing nations begin to stabilize by mid-century.
Getting from an era marked by starvation, hunger and malnutrition to one
of relative plenty will be difficult, but it can be done.
Higher-yield research in biology, ecology, chemistry and the relatively
new field of biotechnology is the only way to pull the world's downtrodden
masses -- the 2 billion or so who go to bed hungry every night -- back
from the brink and onto the path toward a better life. Those people and
their yet-unborn sons and daughters will require far more meat, fruits,
vegetables, dairy products and grains than the world currently produces.
Many of those without hope will become prime candidates for recruitment by
We're proud to be part of a new coalition working to end world hunger
before it ends the world (http://www.highyieldconservation.org). Our
members include Dr. Borlaug and another Nobel Peace Prize winner, former
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who won the award in 1986 for his
valiant efforts to bring peace to war-ravaged Central America.
Our coalition believes we must be able to double world food and forest
product harvests over the next five decades without destroying more of our
wildlands and losing the Earth's vital biodiversity.
Forests are a crtical part of the equation. We're already farming 37
percent of the Earth's land area, and forests are the only arable areas
not being farmed. Unfortunately, as President Arias points out, 2 billion
of the Earth's poor live in or near the huge forests that are home to
three-fourths of the world's wildlife species.
Without a new Green Revolution, the only way they can feed their families
is to burn down more forests to cultivate farmland and to hunt more wild
animals for needed proteins.
America's farm surpluses may not be enough to feed all of the hungry in
the world today, but increased crop yields from biotech agriculture will
go along away toward doing so. Bio-food is the most efficient way of
delivering daily doses of key nutrients and vitamins not found in the
diets of millions of malnourished children and adults throughout Africa,
Asia and Latin America.
For instance, the development of a new strain of rice rich in vitamin A
will prevent the deaths of as many as 2 million children a year as well as
500,000 cases of blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency. High-yield
farming and biotechnology can work hand in hand to help fend off repeats
of Rwanda, where the plague of inadequate farmland sparked ethnic hatreds
that resulted in an outbreak of genocide that slaughtered more than 1
The question is not whether we can afford to make this investment -- the
real question should be whether we can afford not to? The United States
and its allies in the affluent, industrialized world must accept this
challenge now. Time, literally, is running out. A world without hunger is
the only really secure world.
McGovern is a former Democratic senator from South Dakota and was his
party's presidential candidate in 1972. He directed the U.S. Food for
Peace Program. Boschwitz is a former Republican senator from Minnesota and
heads the advisory board for the Center for Global Food Issues.
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Schmeiser story from Globe and Mail
Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2002 09:39:00 -0500
Mr. Schmeiser states (BELOW) that his goal was to allow farmers to save
seed. I take that statement as an admission that Mr. Schmeiser did in
fact knowingly save and propagte Monsanto patented seed over several years
until such time as he had enough to plant 95% Monsanto seed on 900 acres.
His admission should put an end to claims that he is the victim of a
miscarriage of justice.
In addition his statements makes him an odd "poster boy" for the
anti-agbiotech groups because his real message is, "I believe firmly in
agricultural biotechnology crops and honestly prefer them to
non-transgenic crops -- so long as I can either steal the seeds or receive
the seeds free."
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Farmers can use seeds despite patent, panel says
Globe and Mail
By Stephen Strauss
Friday, June 7, 2002
Farmers should have the right to plant genetically modified seed they have
harvested from previous years' crops, even if the original seeds were
covered by a patent, a blue-ribbon panel on biotechnology is advising the
The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee's recommendation -- part of
a package of 13 proposals dealing with patent-related issues -- would
effectively absolve Saskatoon farmer Percy Schmeiser of blame in a
patent-infringement case involving a genetically modified organism, a case
that has garnered worldwide attention.
Mr. Schmeiser was found guilty of violating the patent agreements that
Monsanto Co. places on the use of its genetically modified canola. The
company requires that the canola seed, which is resistant to the herbicide
known as Roundup, be bought each year from the company at a premium price.
Mr. Schmeiser was found to be growing the modified seed in his field
during a year in which he hadn't bought any seed. A judge ordered him to
pay Monsanto $19,000 in damages and court costs of $153,000.
WHILE MR SCHMEISER ORIGINALLY SAID THAT GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEED HAD
BLOWN INTO HIS FIELDS, HIS LAWYER IS NOW ARGUING BEFORE A FEDERAL APPEALS
COURT THAT THE SEED WAS SAVED FROM CROPS GRWON THE PREVIOUS YEAR and that
Mr. Schmeiser was entitled to replant it as an "ancient right of a
farmer." (Emphasis added)
In advocating what it calls a "farmer's privilege," the panel says in its
recommendations that the patent law should allow farmers to "save and sow
plants from patented plants."
From his farm in Bruno, Sask., Mr. Schmeiser said: "I'm really, really
happy to hear that. The whole basis of my fight is the rights of farmers
to use seed from year to year."
A representative of Monsanto Canada Inc. said the company did not have an
immediate comment on the report.
The committee, which was formed in 1999 to advise seven government
departments on issues related to biotechnology, has also weighed in on
another contentious patent issue currently before the courts. As was first
suggested in a preliminary report last December, the CBAC is advising the
government to allow the patenting of genetically modified plants and
The committee, however, recommends strongly against the patenting of human
beings in any stage of human development. While it has been generally
accepted that human-rights legislation effectively prohibits human
patenting, Arnold Naimark, the former president of the University of
Manitoba, who heads up the 17-person committee, says that there there is
no specific ban in Canadian patent law. "It was our thought that that loop
should be closed," he said.
Higher Likelihood of Recall for Organic, Natural Products?
Natural Products Industry Insider
June 7, 2002
WASHINGTON--Products labeled "organic" or "all natural" are eight times
more likely to be recalled for safety-related problems than conventional
foods, according to a review conducted by the Hudson Institute's Center
for Global Food Issues (www.hudson.org). The review included nine months
of data--encompassing August 2001 to April 2002--gathered from Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada recall records. The review was
conducted after Alex Avery, director of research at the center, and
colleagues noticed a trend for organic and natural products to be the
subject of warnings and recalls.
According to Avery's data compilation, organic and natural foods made up 9
percent of total food safety warnings in April, 22 percent in March, 2
percent in February and 7 percent in January. The statement that organic
and natural products are eight times more likely to be recalled was based
on the fact that, compared to the conventional food market, organic and
natural food makes up a very small percentage of the U.S. and Canadian
"I don't want to claim these numbers have any greater precision than they
actually do," Avery said. "Organic is widely considered to be about 1
percent of the U.S. and Canadian food supply, so if they make up 8.5
percent of the warnings and recalls, that's disproportionate to their
total share of the food market."
For the purpose of Avery's review, products labeled as organic or natural
were included in that category for comparison to conventional products.
"This is where it gets a bit fuzzy," Avery said. "It's very difficult to
know what the total percentage of products are organic and natural. ... We
went by what the [label] stated."
Reasons listed in the report for recalls of organic and natural products
included failure to label products with allergenicity information,
mislabeling, bacterial contamination and other safety-related concerns.
"There were similar recalls for the non-organic and -natural products
throughout this whole time," Avery noted. "I want to emphasize [the fact
that] the North American food market is still the safest in the world by
many accounts. This indicates that the system that both Canada and the
U.S. have in place, which the retailers and manufacturers work with, works
quite well. These manufacturers and product retailers are proud of the
fact that they are very vigilant about recalls and warnings."
The report also indicated that some retailers--Whole Foods Markets,
specifically--had multiple violations for the same products. In a
statement, the center urged consumers to be aware of food recalls, but to
keep in mind that the Canadian and U.S. food systems are among the safest
in the world. The center also mentioned a U.S. Centers for Disease Control
report from February that demonstrated a five-year decline in the number
of food-borne illnesses.
In response to Avery's report, the Organic Trade Association (OTA)
released a statement, saying, "[OTA] objects to using faulty logic and
fuzzy math to scare consumers away from organic products, a healthful and
ecologically sound category of products. 'Organic' and 'natural' on labels
do not mean the same thing, yet Alex Avery repeatedly lumps these
categories together. Based on the information he presents (a few minutes
of fact checking revealed errors in his report), there is no way to draw
any conclusions about the relative likelihood of a recall of an organic
product. ... [R]epeated abuses of statistics result in completely
erroneous conclusions that are not to be believed."
From: "Detlef Bartsch"
Subject: Bt cotton China study
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 10:44:03 +0200
Please find below our response to the Bt cotton study
Biology V (Ecology, Ecotoxicology, Ecochemistry)
Aachen University of Technology RWTH
New Tel. +49 241 80 26 676
New Fax. +49 241 80 22 182
Greenpeace founder defends biotech
The San Francisco Chronicle
June 10, 2002
By Tom Abate
Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace activist turned industry booster, opened a
biotechnology conference here Sunday by blasting his former colleagues,
while one of Canada's most respected environmental figures retorted by
calling Moore an "industry hack."
That war of words marked the opening of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization's annual conference, which will bring more than 13,000
scientists, financiers and executives to this city through Wednesday.
In a sign of the industry's growing economic clout, Pennsylvania Gov. Mark
Schweiker made an opening-morning pitch asking biotech firms to locate in
the state that helped create the steel and petroleum industries. "We are
genetically wired to make things and make things well," Schweiker said.
But the opening fireworks were provided by Moore, who was invited to rebut
the protesters who have used this annual conference as a forum to air
their fears about the environmental and health risks of genetically
At last year's biotech conference in San Diego, protesters staged a noisy
march on the convention hall. But Sunday's rally was a peaceful picnic
held across town, as several hundred people munched organic goodies as
they listened to protest music and speeches.
Although the two sides kept their distance, they didn't pull their
Moore described how he helped found Greenpeace in 1971 to protest
above-ground nuclear testing, covered baby seals with his body to prevent
them from being clubbed, and rode rubber rafts in front of harpoons to
But by the late 1980s, as these early environmental causes became
mainstream issues, Moore said Greenpeace latched onto genetically
engineered foods as an organizing issue, ignoring any suggestion that
genetic modifications could increase yields while reducing pesticide use.
"I believe the campaign of fear being waged against genetically modified
foods is based mostly on fantasy," said Moore.
Ironically, the main speaker at the protest rally across town, former
University of British Columbia geneticist David Suzuki, was Moore's
professor and mentor during the latter's Greenpeace days.
Suzuki, who hosts a television show called "The Nature of Things" and is a
well-known public figure in Canada, dismissed Moore as a sellout.
"Let's expose this guy for what he is -- a paid industry hack," said
Suzuki, who told his own conversion story, of being the scientist who
turned his back on biotech.
Suzuki said in 1978, while he was running a large genetics laboratory, he
decided not to accept any money to do gene-splicing experiments.
He said he took this step because he didn't want to be on the scientific
payroll when he raised the risks of taking a gene from one organism and
splicing it into the genome of another -- which is how biotech scientists
create crops that produce pesticides in their leaves.
Suzuki said this is so unlike the way nature does things that scientists
can't possibly understand the long-term ramifications.
"It would be as if," Suzuki said, "you took Bono out of U2 and stuck him
in the Toronto Symphony and said, 'Make music.' "E-mail Tom Abate at
Organic' Marketing Ploy (Editorial)
Los Angeles Times
June 10, 2002
The organic food industry has gone mainstream, with revenue to match.
Sales were more than $4 billion nationally in 2000, up from $173 million
in 1980. Fertilizing the boom is consumers' understandable eagerness to
steer clear of the chemicals that are sprayed and dusted in increasing
amounts on conventionally grown crops. In 1998, more than 50 million
pounds of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and soil fumigants were
applied to California farm fields--3 million pounds more than in 1994.
Federal regulators, trying to bring some discipline to what "organic"
means, proposed the first national standards for defining organic fruits,
vegetables and meat in 1997. They are slated to go into effect this fall.
Now, before the system has even had a chance to work, Agriculture
Secretary Ann M. Veneman is considering weakening the federal standards in
a way that could reduce the term "organic" to marketing hooey.
Supported by a powerful delegation of Southern members of Congress,
Baldwin, Ga.-based Fieldale Farms Corp. has asked Veneman to allow it and
other companies to label their livestock organic, even if the animals eat
nonorganic feeds and are thus exposed to a variety of chemicals in their
Fieldale claims there isn't enough organic feed produced in the U.S. to
feed the 300,000 organic chickens it wants to turn out each week. That
claim is hokum. As organic farm owners and large grain companies recently
pointed out, there is more than enough pesticide-free grain available to
meet Fieldale's and other companies' demands--just not at a price Fieldale
wants to pay, since organic corn and soybeans cost two or three times more
than conventionally produced grains.
Even if it were true that Fieldale couldn't secure enough feed to expand
production, the only honest course would be to cancel the expansion, not
make a mockery of the term "organic."
If Veneman grants the waiver for livestock, it would affect not just meat
but eggs, milk and butter, as well as packaged products that contain dried
versions of these foods.
National organic standards are largely based on ones crafted in the 1990s
in California. Veneman, who served as California's secretary of
Agriculture in the late 1990s, supported strong organic-labeling standards
back then. For example, in 1998, just after President Clinton's
Agriculture secretary, Dan Glickman, had proposed expanding the federal
definition of organic to embrace genetic engineering and the use of
recycled-sewage fertilizer on organic food, Veneman wrote a letter to
Glickman, imploring him to "revise the rule to ensure a strong organic
program." Now that Veneman is in the hot seat, she shouldn't repeat
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 15:06:36 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: China Bt Cotton impacts
Paul Malhotra asks about the likelihood that using Bt cotton in China
might harm natural predators of the Bt-susceptible bollworms and, further,
whether alternative pest species might be favoured by using Bt cotton. I
think the so-called "harm" to the predators is that they starve when there
is no food for them. This kind of harm is similar to the compaint that
controlling weeds in crops reduces the abundance of bird species that eat
(and sometimes spread) weed seeds!
In the case of promoting alternative pests, this might be a simple example
of opening niches, though I feel less confident about this answer. If
you think of the cotton plant as a habitat, consider what you would expect
to happen when a "normal" complement of herbivores is disrupted
artificially by removing one species selectively-- naturally, the
remaining ones move in to "fill" the open niche and take advantage of the
newly-available food resource. While this isn't particularly surprising,
it might have broader implications for pest control in Bt crops-- each
solution runs the risk of bringing another problem to the fore!
Still, I just don't see what is so surprising, or alarming, about the
results of this study (using the term loosely).
Subject: BBC - Best Barnyard Compost?
From: Thomas R. DeGregori
Has there been a Green takeover of the "Beeb." If so maybe they ought to
change the meaning of their initials.
Most of the readers on this newsgroup have been already read about the
massive attack by scientists against the gross distortions of fact in the
BBC drama, "Fields of Gold." Now it appears that the BBC's mean Green
propaganda machine has entered the newsroom where "literary license" can
not be used as an excuse. Stories like those below if replicated can
seriously threaten the BBC's reputation for journalistic integrity if they
has not already done so.
The BBC has chosen to do an investigative report and a posted news story
on the Bt corn issue in Mexico without any apparent pretense of
journalistic objectivity. The Newsnight program very clearly links itself
to the controversial drama by being "joined in the studio by Guardian
Editor, Alan Rusbridger, who is behind Sunday's BBC drama `Fields of
Gold', which also deals with the issue of skulduggery in the world of GM
science." So much for journalistic ethics, integrity and objectivity. Not
having seen the program itself, I will not comment further as I am sure
that others who have will be sharing their thoughts with us. In any case,
the praise for it in The Guardian, is in many ways, sufficient
condemnation of it. ( side comment - NOT FOR POSTING -The BBC has done
what many of us once thought impossible, they have electronically
desseminated fecal matter for which organic farmers everywhere should feel
indebted to them.)
The report from Mexico by Nick Miles may have escaped some peoples
attention. It is maudlin, ill-informed and pure, unadulterated Green
proganda. If the peasant mother was worried about her children's health
from GM corn it is because the Greens who undoubtedly guided the reporter
through his interviews, have lied to her and others since there is
absolutely no evidence of harm.
I have been many dozens of agricultural research labs around the world. I
can tell the difference between one that is so poorly funded that it is
clearly low-tech. But most labs with operating machinery look high tech to
the non-technical observer even if they are using obsolete equipment. It
is like watching the news on TV of a seemingly modern, complicated
militiary fighter jet taking off and being told that it is grossly
obsolete. In many labs that I visited, I assumed that they were high tech
until I was informed otherwise. Maybe Nick Miles did visit a lab that was
high tech; maybe it wasn't. The question is whether he has the knowledge
and background in agricultural research to know the difference or was he
just told that by his Green guides. And who funded it and the research
under discussion? I think that we have the right to ask of a reporter who
covers a scientific or technical issue whether they have the expertise to
distinguish between scientific fact and propaganda? On a controversial
issue, we also have the right and obligation to ask whether any serious
attempt was made to get scientists and others to give the other side of
the issue. Click-on to the article below and one will find a vague hint
or two that there is another perspective on the issue but the entire
thrust of the piece is a non-stop anti-GM polemic. Shame on the BBC!!
Don't take my word for it, click-on to the articles below.
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 11:25:52 -0500
Subject: Dandelions: to die for?
From: Thomas R. DeGregori
As a long time supporter of DDT, I must admit that at least we have
possible evidence of the dangers from it. The author of this
anti-pesticide piece, Dandelions: to die for?, describes his childhood
"rituals" of helping his mother pour DDT on anthills and other uses of it
and Chlordane. One has to wonder whether thess seemingly innocent
childhood actions account for the almost total lack of any logic or
evidence in his editorial piece? It dose make one wonder! Of course, if he
is a totally sane, healthy adult, one might have to conclude that maybe
DDT was not so dangerous after all given the sizeable multiple regular,
unprotected uses of it in which he was involved begining as a "toddler?
including both administering it and playing in the yard "contaminated" by
it? He can't have it both ways.
For a real GM plot, look no further than the greens
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
June 10, 2002
By MATT RIDLEY
Fields of Gold, the BBC drama on Saturday and Sunday night about
genetically modified crops, was an accurate portrayal of one thing: what
goes on inside the skulls of Guardian-BBC types. The world where all
businessmen are itching to murder people who get in their way; where all
scientists are doomed to play Faust; where all farmers are greedy; where
only man-made chemicals are toxic - this world exists only inside the
heads of people such as the authors of the programme, Ronan Bennett and
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian.
As drama, the piece was merely pathetic; the dialogue was better in the
latest Star Wars film. Any plot that tries to get the public's sympathy
for the hero by alluding to his loyalty to the true principles of
Socialist Worker is risible. Imagine how the BBC would react to a script
in which the hero is a lovable rogue who, unlike a government minister and
an editor, has stayed true to the ideals of Nazism Weekly. As propaganda,
the programme played so casually with truth that even Stephen Byers would
have blanched. And make no mistake: propaganda is what it was. In the
final scenes, the actors gave up any pretence of staying in character;
they just mouthed the slogans of the green and anti-capitalist movements
like platform speakers at a rally.
Almost every line that mentioned science contained a laughable distortion
of the truth. Here are just a few of the howlers. The perpetrator talked
repeatedly about having "put VRSA in wheat" by genetic modification. Yet
VRSA is a bacterium, not a gene. He claimed, nonsensically, to have done
it in a kitchen blender. Animals then acquired genes for antibiotic
resistance from the wheat - a gene-transfer process we now know, after
reading genomes, not to have occurred once in 600 million years.
The effect of these genes on animals was then fatal - which is as logical
as saying aspirin gives you malaria. The genes then made an even bigger
leap, from animals to pneumonia bacteria, which consequently became not
only incurable, but much more virulent - an impossible non sequitur. At
the same time, pneumonia mysteriously transformed itself into a contagious
epidemic for the first time in history. "If this thing spreads, we're back
in the Dark Ages," said one character.
Not one step in this chain of argument is remotely plausible. It makes as
much sense as arguing that a match can ignite the nitrogen in the
atmosphere, causing the entire world to explode with the force of a
billion Hiroshimas: the fact that it did not happen last time you lit a
match does not mean it might not happen next time. Talking of fire, so
unconcerned with accuracy were the producers that they could not even
simulate a diesel fire at the end of the film. After the wheat was
drenched in diesel, one touch of flame and it went up like petrol.
May I offer the plot for a sequel? An enterprising reporter discovers that
crops grown and sold as organic are being drenched with sprays, including
one highly toxic to butterflies called Bt. Furthermore, he finds that
these organic crop varieties have been originally bred by modifying their
genes with extremely dangerous chemical mutagens and gamma rays from
radioactive material produced in nuclear power stations.
Then he finds that the crops produced by the organic movement are not
tested for safety by any government agency, nor is the method of growing
them certified except by a self-appointed body. Moreover, he finds that
the organic movement, which incidentally is in business for profit, has
actively campaigned against a GM technique that places the Bt inside the
plant, where it can reach only pests that eat the plant, rather than
sprayed on the outside, where it can kill passing butterflies. He
discovers that the same movement is even opposed to a new variety of rice
that might save half a million children from going blind each year for
lack of vitamin A.
Finally, he learns that, far from saving the planet, the organic movement
is actually a threat to nature, because its rejection of artificial
fertiliser means that it necessarily requires at least twice as much land
to produce the same amount of food as conventional agriculture.
Yet shockingly, when he tries to publish these facts, he finds a close
conspiracy between the media and environmental organisations to suppress
them, and he finds that the heads of the green groups are well ensconced
in the salons of power, swapping jobs with senior civil servants, holding
down academic sinecures and dominating government committees and agencies.
My plot has the virtue of being surprising, unlike the tired cliche served
up at the weekend. It also has another virtue: it is true in every
particular. Organic farmers do use Bt as a pesticide. They do use crop
varieties bred by chemical and radioactive mutagenesis. They do need more
land. Where the Bt gene is genetically engineered into a plant, it does
have far less collateral damage on non-target insects.
The recent referendum decision by India to reverse its opposition to GM
crops was caused by the (illegal) importation of genetically modified Bt
cotton, which was planted on 25,000 acres in Gujarat. When people saw the
dramatic pest resistance of the crop and its beneficial effect on the
environment, they wanted some, too.
The truth is, the greens have lost the argument about GM crops in every
country where there is a fair fight. Last year, five million farmers grew
GM crops, up from three million the year before. Only by destroying the
test sites in this country can terrorists and their organic fellow
travellers suppress the truth and keep up the pretence that GM is bad for
Where GM crops have been planted, the use of sprays has gone down
dramatically and the effect on birds and insects has been positive. If
only the organic movement had been less blinkered, it could have seen that
genetic modification was its saviour, not its devil. It threatens to
replace conventional, chemical-using agriculture with a constitutive,
biological and therefore, by definition, organic form of farming.
LAST NIGHT'S TELEVISION
June 10, 2002
One can only hope that Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian and
co-writer of Fields of Gold, didn't base the character of Roy Lodge on
anyone in his own newsroom. Roy - a cirrhotic, ash-stained news reporter,
was so monumentally misanthropic that he even managed to curl his lip with
disgust when he was sent out on assignment with Anna Friel (right) - the
sort of opportunity for which you could probably sell lottery tickets at
mainline stations. Then again, Roy's resemblance to characters living or
dead was a somewhat tenuous affair. After about 20 minutes of steady
verbal abuse, Friel finally got the point: "You're unbelievable!" she
snapped, and all over the country viewers murmured their agreement.
This may not have mattered very much - Phil Davis's performance was
enjoyably repulsive, and in any case Fields of Gold candidly set out its
stall as paranoid entertainment, rather than a serious contribution to the
debate on genetically modified foods. In the Radio Times, Rusbridger had
identified John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids as the original seed for
this fable of predatory capitalism, but he and his fellow writer, Ronan
Bennett, had been tinkering with the gene-strain, splicing in a bit of
vintage technophobia (remember Doomwatch and Edge of Darkness?) and rather
too much silky political villainy. This was one of those dramas in which
malevolence is in direct ratio to grammatical propriety - so that the
baddies all speak with the queeny precision of an Oxbridge don and smile
gnomically while uttering their veiled threats.
What it wasn't, though, was very convincing - even on its own terms. The
heavy security imposed by the sinister bio-tech company on the test site
didn't appear to extend to closing the farm gate, and the main plot twist
- in which a deadly gene had been deliberately inserted into some
experimental wheat - was carried out by someone who was specifically
protesting at how easily such tinkering could get out of control. As
members of his family began going down with a terminal case of hay fever,
he had the audacity to look stricken - even though this was precisely the
outcome his pessimism would have predicted.
Rusbridger's journalistic experience was evident in the odd detail - a
politician talking about Chatham House rules, for instance, or a nice
phrase when the editor told his deputy to "crank up some pipe-smoker for
an opinion piece". But all the way through, there was the sense that this
was a holiday from his daily experience rather than a knowing exploitation
of it. The editors of respectable broadsheets get into trouble if they
throw the public into a panic with wildly exaggerated fantasies, but the
writers of science-fiction thrillers are expected to do little else. Mr
Rusbridger appears to have enjoyed laying down the restraints of office
for a while, but I don't think he should give up morning conference just
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Biotechnology Helps Protect U.S. Food Crops From Pests
New study documents more food, lower production costs, fewer pounds of
TORONTO (June 10, 2002) ó Biotechnology is helping control diseases and
pests that take a bite out of U.S.-grown crops, resulting in more food
production at lower costs and with less reliance upon pesticides,
according to a comprehensive study released here at BIO 2002. The 40 case
studies of 27 crops compiled by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) documented that hardier crops developed
through biotechnology can help Americans reap an additional 14 billion
pounds of food and improve farm income $2.5 billion, while using 163
million fewer pounds of pesticide.
ìThis study explains the vast impact biotechnology is having and the
future potential for our food production system,î said Leonard Gianessi,
program director for NCFAP, a nonprofit, Washington-based research
organization. ìIn some cases we studied, biotechnology offers the only
practical way to control diseases that reduce yields and threaten entire
crops.î The study confirmed that six crops currently in the marketplace
developed through biotechnology ó soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash
and canola ó produce an additional 4 billion pounds of food and fiber on
the same acreage, improve farm income $1.5 billion and reduce pesticide
volume by 46 million pounds.
Assuming the additional 21 crops evaluated in the study are eventually
planted, production would increase 10 billion pounds, farm income would
improve $1 billion and pesticide volume would be reduced 117 million
pounds. The study evaluated regional production in 27 of Americaís crops,
or slightly more than half of the U.S. crop value. ìAs opposed to previous
studies, our work goes well beyond the traditional agricultural
commodities and evaluates the impact biotechnology can have on a much
wider range of crops, including fruits and vegetables,î Gianessi said. ìIn
fact, the study shows every region in the country stands to benefit from
development of the new varieties evaluated in this study.î
Biotechnology Helps Protect U.S. Food Crops
Growers in each of the 47 states reflected in the report would see yield
increases. (There are no case studies evaluating production in Alaska,
Nevada and Rhode Island.) North Dakota would realize the greatest
production gains, where growers could see yield increases of 2.4 billion
pounds from the adoption of fungal-resistant barley and herbicide-tolerant
wheat. California would experience the largest pesticide reduction at 65.8
million pounds per year.
Furthermore, Gianessi offered several examples where biotechnology may
represent the only chance of avoiding widespread devastation of the food
* The citrus tristeza virus that has devastated groves in Mexico and could
soon threaten the $48 million a year Texas citrus crop; the development of
virus resistant varieties could prevent the loss of stateís citrus
* Weed competition in sugarbeets can be so severe that production is
nearly eliminated, creating the need for extensive weed control programs;
new herbicide-tolerant varieties can save growers $94 million in weed
control costs annually
* A bushy dwarf virus creates raspberry losses of 10 million pounds per
year and forces growers to remove plants from production after only five
years of their 15-year life span; resistant varieties could improve
revenues by $2.5 million and decrease fumigant use by 371,000 pounds
ìIn nearly every case we evaluated, biotechnology provides equal or better
control of harmful pests at reduced costs.î Gianessi said. ìHowever, we
are still in the early stages of realizing the impact of biotechnology on
food and fiber production in this country.î The 40 case studies, which
were reviewed by nearly 70 plant biotechnology experts from 20 academic
and government institutions, is the most comprehensive evaluation of the
impact on U.S. agriculture of crops developed through biotechnology.
The complete study, ìPlant Biotechnology: Current and Potential Impact for
Improving Pest Management in U.S. Agriculture An Analysis of 40 Case
Studiesî is available on the Internet at www.ncfap.org. It was
commissioned with a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, and was later
expanded to cover 40 case studies of 27 crops with funding from the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, CropLife America, Council for
Biotechnology Information, Grocery Manufacturers of America and Monsanto.
The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy is a private,
nonprofit, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Originally established in 1984 at Resources for the Future, the center
became an independent organization in 1992. NCFAP researchers conduct
studies in four program areas: biotechnology, pesticides, U.S. farm and
food policy, and international trade and development.
Hungry People Unchanged Despite Aid
June 09, 2002
ROME (AP) Five years after the U.N. World Food Summit promised to halve
the number of hungry people by 2015, the follow-up summit opens Monday
with no significant change in that number 800 million.
Heads of state and ministers attending the four-day meeting are expected
to recommit themselves to reducing the number of hungry to 400 million.
But they also will be asked to make good on those promises this time
Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization that is hosting the summit, said the world produces more than
enough food to feed its 6 billion people.
The issue, he said, is getting that food to the hungriest.
We cannot consider nowadays with the possibility of daily
telecommunications, transport, Internet, TVs and so on that people can
(in some places) be wealthy, be rich, and in other parts of the world
people are in a situation of starvation, Diouf said.
For example, about 12.8 million people in six African countries are at
risk of starving because of drought, floods, government mismanagement and
economic instability, according to the United Nations.
Their plight is expected to figure prominently in the speeches by the more
than 100 world leaders attending the summit at FAO's headquarters here.
Pope John Paul II, in his Sunday address in St. Peter's Square, referred
to Angola in urging leaders attending the summit to give new impulse to
the fight of the international community against hunger.
The other likely topics of discussion include access to markets for poor
farmers and the use of genetically modified foods, both hotly disputed by
environmental and farmers rights groups, who opened a parallel food summit
on Rome's outskirts over the weekend.
Under heavy security in Rome Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators
voiced their concern about genetically altered foods and other
The United States has been a major advocate of genetically engineered
foods, arguing that the creation of drought- and insect-resistant crops
ensures greater food security a goal of the FAO.
But opponents say engineered crops pose environmental and health hazards
and are designed to benefit the multinational corporations that develop
them, not farmers or consumers.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who is heading the U.S.
delegation, blamed the debate on a lack of consumer understanding about
the benefits of biotechnology.
We are already seeing new products being developed that could help some of
the more food-deficit regions of the world, she said, citing
drought-resistant corn and Vitamin A-enriched rice.
Another divisive issue is trade, with advocacy groups saying poor farmers
are at a disadvantage under international trade policies.
Trading practices ostensibly designed to open markets instead have put
farmers out of business in the developing world because they cannot
compete with subsidized imports from the United States and Europe, they
Hunger can increase even if there are cheap imports, said Michael
Windfuhr, head of the German-based Food First, Information and Action
Network human rights group and member of the non-governmental coalition at
Farmers lose their access to land, and then they have no income.
Windfuhr also said one of the most contentious issues going into the
summit was whether its final, nonbinding resolution would include a call
for developing a voluntary code of conduct on the right to adequate food
The European Union, the Vatican and developing countries within the Group
of 77 block endorsed the concept, but the United States remains opposed,
While Washington is a top contributor to U.N. food relief efforts, it
would be difficult for it to endorse the right of all to food while still
maintaining an economic embargo against Cuba, Windfuhr said.
Understanding the GMO issue
Asia Intelligence Wire
June 10, 2002 03:03 AM
By KELVIN RUGG
From the average consumer's point of view, the debate concerning whether
or not genetically engineered foods are good or bad for us, begs a very
basic question. What exactly does it all mean? Are we really embarking on
a new and potentially dangerous course of tampering with nature, or merely
applying new scientific techniques to age-old methods?
Let's start by looking at the term Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
What exactly are they? Often used interchangeably and confusingly with
biotechnology, the term GMOs applies to plants, animals, or microorganisms
that have had their DNA (the genetic material _ deoxyribonucleic acid)
inserted into their cells from another organism.
The technique is also referred to in the scientific world as recombinant
DNA technology (rDNA), or gene splicing. The DNA may come from an
individual from the same species or, more commonly, from another with
which they would not normally cross-breed. The newly introduced DNA then
becomes part of the genetic make-up of the recipient and is passed from
generation to generation.
The first food plant derived from a genetically modified crop to be
marketed in the United States was the FlavSavr tomato, which was
introduced in 1994 and carried a gene which reduced the production of the
fruit's ripening enzyme, thus extending its sell-by date. Soon to follow
were squash resistant zucchini yellows, mosaic virus resistant water
melons and insect-resistant potato and corn. Herbicide-tolerant soybean
and canola made their appearance in 1996.
Biotechnology is something that's been made use of for centuries. It is,
in essence, technology that exploits living organisms and it's long been
applied, for example, in various cross-breeding techniques to influence
the genetic make-up of plants and animals. The application of GMO
technology, however, is new. Only in the last two decades have scientists
learned how to directly manipulate the DNA of organisms. When we consider
that the DNA is the product of more than four billion years of evolution
it would be presumptuous indeed to believe that we fully understand its
It is this very complexity which GMO opponents such as physicist Dr
Geoffrey Clements contend renders gene technology afar from exact science
and one they say, is both potentially dangerous and unnecessary. At the
very least, in their view, it should be approached with extreme caution.
Fortunately science seems to have lived up to its responsibility and it's
probably fair to say that the whole area of gene technology has been, and
continues to be, the subject of intense scrutiny with the accent being
firmly on safety, and regulations to safeguard the health of consumers and
of the environment.
This emphasis on safety was emphasised as far back as 1991 in a joint
report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health
Organisation (WHO) which concluded, Biotechnology has a long history of
use in food production and processing. It represents a continuum embracing
both traditional breeding techniques and the latest techniques based on
molecular biology. The newer biotechnological techniques, in particular,
open up very great possibilities of rapidly improving the quantity and
quality of food available. The use of these techniques does not result in
food which is inherently less safe than that produced by conventional
More recently, in September of last year, a comprehensive report by the
Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) concluded that foods produced from
genetically engineered crops are safe to eat and offer advantages that
might never be achieved using conventional methods. According to the
report, biotechnology processes actually tend to reduce risks because rDNA
techniques enable researchers to precisely identify, characterise, enhance
and transfer the appropriate genes, while cross breeding transfers
uncontrolled and randomly assorted groups of genes, hoping the desirable
ones were included.
John Vanderveen, a scientist emeritus with the US Food and Drug
Administration who chaired the expert panel that produced the labelling
section of the report, told a news conference that an effective labelling
programme must be based on well defined terminology, criteria and
verification standards that are science-based.
If consumers don't have confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the
label information, it is useless, he said.
Labelling in fact seems to be the major concern of consumers so far as the
issue of genetically engineered foods is concerned. Contrary to the
impression created by some environmental activist groups, most people are
not in principle opposed to the use of genetic engineering in food
products. Lisa Lefferts, a food consultant representing Consumers
International, a global consumer group with some 230 members in more than
100 countries, says, Survey after survey around the world shows that while
consumers are generally not opposed to genetically modified foods, they
are against allowing foods to be sold without adequate labelling.
The general consensus by those with their fingers on the collective
consumer pulse is that while consumers mostly can see the benefits of GMO
foods they want to have a choice. A reasonable demand, they say, which can
be satisfied by adequate labelling.
Here in Thailand the government has recently enacted new labelling
legislation regulations for food products, specifically with regard to a
clear indication of the level of genetically engineered ingredients.
If we believe that the doubts and misgivings about the wisdom of applying
gene technology to our food will inevitably give way to a general
acceptance of its benefits we should perhaps be asking how in fact it will
affect the world we live in and especially the food we eat.
Scientists who have concluded that further development and use of
genetically engineered food products is the right way to go, have outlined
a number of benefits they believe will result.
Top of the list is a more abundant and economical food supply for the
world's ever increasing population and continued improvements in
One existing example is the so-called golden rice which has been
genetically modified to contain more beta-carotene, an important factor in
combating vitamin A deficiencies that cause millions of impoverished
children to go blind or even die in low-income, rice-consuming
The scientists also also cite fresh food and vegetables with improved
shelf life and foods less likely to trigger allergic reactions such as has
already been achieved with the reduction of the levels of the major rice
More benefits are seen as coming from the increased productivity of farm
land and even direct human health benefits from the production of new
Meanwhile as the attention grabbing protests of some environmental groups
continues, often couched in emotive language, we might do well to note the
words of Nobel Prize winning green agronomist Norman Borlaug, who seems to
have accepted that the gene genie is well and truly out of the bottle. He
says he worries that environmental activists will slow the application of
molecular biology and transgenic technology to food production.
You get a few extremists into the environmental movement and they stir up
controversy and confuse people for their own interests, he is reported as
saying. But he believes the anti-GMO sentiment will be short-lived and
sees a time when scientists may discover individual genes that increase
Over the next 10 to 20 years I anticipate a combination of transgenics
with traditional breeding methods, he said.
India adopts biotech cotton
Asia Intelligence Wire
June 07, 2002
Global agricultural research leader Monsanto recently announced the
approval by the government of India of the commercial cultivation and
distribution of a biotechnology-processed cotton variety, a major step in
the subcontinent's bid for agricultural productivity.
Noel Borlongan, government and public affairs director for the
Philippines, said India's adoption of Bt cotton allowed it to be in step
with other Asian countries in the quest for food sufficiency and security.
China, Thailand and Indonesia have likewise hastened their respective
testing of the application of biotechnology in their respective
Mr. Borlongan said the Philippines may soon catch up with these countries.
Farm trials for biotechnology-processed corn crops will soon be completed
by the end of May.
The St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto provides the biggest assistance to
the development of agriculture in Third World countries through research
and technology transfer, primarily on the application of modern
biotechnology to improve farm productivity and protect ecology.
Mr. Borlongan said India's decision to adopt biotech cotton will
significantly reduce or eliminate the need for insecticide application,
and could increase the earnings of India's cotton farmers by as much as
$150 per hectare. Indian farmers have to apply insecticides six times per
cotton cropping using traditional cotton varieties.
Mr. Borlongan said the Philippines would enjoy the same ecological
benefits with the forthcoming commercialization of the biotechnology corn
variety called YieldGard. This is because the use of the variety also
reduces or eliminates the need to apply insecticide. YieldGard is
naturally resistant to the Asiatic Corn Borer, the biggest scourge of
local corn crops, especially in Mindanao.
Previously concluded farm trials in the Philippines also showed that local
corn farmers could up their harvest by as much as 40%, resulting in
additional income of P5,000 to P10,000 per hectare.
The adoption of biotechnology cotton by India was hailed worldwide. Mr.
Borlongan said that among the plaudits received by the Indian government
came from Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug who said the new tools of
biotechnology will speed up the development of crops with higher genetic
yield potentials, increased resistance to disease and insects, and greater
tolerance to drought, heat, cold, and soil toxicities.
Mr. Borlaug underscored the need for biotechnology application in
agricultural to help countries with large populations meet the need for
food sufficiency without tapping additional land for planting.
EU CONSIDERS BAN ON GERMAN ORGANIC PRODUCE-REPORT
June 8, 2002
Reuters (Via Agnet)
BERLIN - Two magazines were cited as saying on Saturday the European Union
will consider on Monday whether to impose a ban on organic animal produce
and organic grain from Germany due to concerns over contamination by a
cancer-causing chemical. The story says that German weeklies Der Spiegel
and Focus both reported that the EU Commission was considering a ban
because it felt Germany had not kept it informed about a food scare over
chicken meat tainted with the potentially carcinogenic herbicide nitrofen.
Der Spiegel was cited as saying that German representatives had already
produced an emergency report for the EU to try and avert a ban. Nobody was
available for comment on the magazine reports at Germany's ministry of
consumer affairs and farming. Der Spiegel said an EU-wide ban, which would
also be effective in Germany itself, could bankrupt many organic farms,
because it could take months to lift. Until the scandal erupted late last
month, organic farming had been promoted by the German government -- in
which Greens are the junior partners -- and favoured by consumers, worried
by other food scares over mad cow and foot and mouth diseases. Officials
have tracked the main source of contaminated chicken feed to a grain store
in Malchin in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which in the days of
communist East Germany was used to store pesticides and weedkiller.
Hundreds of thousands of chickens are being slaughtered after it emerged
that tainted feed was delivered to more than 100 organic farms producing
chickens, eggs and other poultry.