Today in AgBioView: August 19, 2002:
* Harvesting a Bounty in Biotech
* Millions Doomed by Butterfly Baloney
* Super Soybeans
* EU Fear-Mongers' Lethal Harvest
* We're Dying a Slow and Silent Death
* Pope on Genetic Engineering
* Plants, Genes and Crop Biotechnology
* 'Soil crisis' is a Pretense
* Our Vandana is now a 'Time' magazine Hero!
- Winter Casey, The Washington Times, August 19, 2002
http://www.washtimes.com/world/20020819-260465.htm (Thanks to Katie
Thrasher for forwarding this)
Leading scientists now believe that plant biotechnology can reduce
"The new tools of biotechnology will permit us to speed the development of
improved cultivators [plants] with higher genetic-yield potential,
increase resistance to diseases and insects, and greater tolerance to
drought, heat, cold, and soil toxicities," said Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel
Peace Prize laureate and consultant to the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center in Mexico.
"By incorporating genes for crop protection into the seed, production
costs can be reduced, as well as the need to use pesticides. This is good
for farmers, the environment, and consumers," said Mr. Borlaug in a recent
report by Monsanto, a U.S. firm that develops and sells agricultural
products, including seeds for genetically modified crops - mainly
soybeans, maize, wheat and cotton.
Mr. Borlaug's view is shared by Channapatna Prakash, professor of plant
molecular genetics and director of the Center for Biotechnology Research
at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. Mr. Prakash also sits on the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee.
"Biotechnology [is] a vital tool in the toolbox, one that includes soil
and water conservation, pest management and other methods of sustainable
agriculture, as well as new technologies," said Mr. Prakash in a recent
National Geographic article.
In one biotech tactic, a gene is put into a plant to make it produce a
substance that is toxic to a specific pest. Thus, spraying pesticide is
not necessary. Some toxins are chosen because they degrade rapidly in
water and others, such as chlorinated hydrocarbons, are resistant to
degradation. It is also possible to release the toxin into the soil from a
plant's root system to destroy targeted micro-organisms.
But Craig Winters, executive director of the Campaign to Label Genetically
Engineered Foods, says that plant biotechnology has not cut pesticide use.
"It doesn't pan out in terms of statistics. If you look, they're using
the same or more, while at the same time turning the plants into
Responds Donald R. Roeder, a professor of biology and environmental
science at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Mass.: "It
depends on the kind of pesticide being generated by the plant. Is the
pesticide being used persistent - meaning does it break down in water?"
The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) released a
comprehensive report in June on the safety and environmental benefits of
commercial biotechnology-derived soy, corn and cotton crops.
Teresa A. Gruber, executive vice president of CAST, said "in the past,
isolated studies regarding the environmental impact of
biotechnology-derived crops appeared to present conflicting results." With
that in mind, Mrs. Gruber said CAST researchers have clearly demonstrated
that soil, air and water quality are improved through biotech crops.
"The study," said Dr. Allan Felsot of Washington State University, "was
based on nine criteria including changes in pesticide-use patterns,
impacts on beneficial insects, pest resistance, soil management, land-use
efficiency, impacts on biodiversity and, of course, human exposure." It
found that biotech-engineered soybeans allowed farmers to use a less
potent herbicide that quickly dissipates in soil and water.
This year's follow-on in June to the 1997 World Food Summit concluded that
biotechnology innovators must proceed with caution, but agreed that the
best way to fill the world's rising food and nutrition needs could be
through agricultural biotechnology.
Others argue that the problem of world hunger is not one of quantity but
of effective distribution.
In an article following the June Food and Agriculture Organization summit
in Rome, Mr. Prakash and Gregory Conko, director of food-safety policy at
the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote that "biotechnology holds the
potential to increase food production, reduce synthetic food production,
reduce the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and actually make foods
safer and healthier." "In China, where pesticides are typically sprayed on
crops by hand, some 400 to 500 cotton farmers die every year from acute
But the adoption of biotech cotton varieties has lowered the amount of
pesticides used by more than 75 percent and reduced the number of
poisonings by an equivalent amount," said the two scientists. Washington
think tanks say much still remains to be learned on the subject of plant
biotechnology and its possible benefits. Charlie Coon of the Heritage
Foundation is enthusiastic about plant biotechnology "as an avenue that
should be pursued." On the other hand, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
(COHA) points out how relatively poorly understood the process of genetic
modifications (GM) remains.
COHA warns that preliminary evidence suggests a range of possible impacts.
"For instance, the ominous deaths of monarch butterflies [ascribed to one
form of GM corn] and of honeybees [apparently victims to GM cotton] would
leave alarming holes in vital ecosystems," the organization said in a
report last fall.
Monsanto says plant biotechnology is good for the environment by making
plants immune to specific pests and reducing the need for spraying
pesticides. It argues that genetically altering plants will result in
higher-quality, more nutritious foods.
The company has genetically modified crops - including canola, corn,
cotton, soybeans and sugar beets - to be tolerant to the application of
Roundup herbicide. Additionally, it has changed its Roundup insect
pesticides to work with its other products, allowing Monsanto to further
dominate the biotech market.
However, many observers are suspicious of the giant firm's tactics and of
the biotechnology industry in general. Monsanto also leaves itself open to
criticism when its spokespersons refuse to answer questions without being
told the thrust of the coverage and how it will be used - an attitude that
appears to have soured its relations with the Wall Street Journal. COHA
has expressed concern for years over Monsanto's involvement in Latin
America, specifically in Brazil.
"In a number of instances in the past, Monsanto products that were banned
in the U.S. or allowed only under stringent circumstances have been
exported to Latin American and aggressively sold, causing health problems
due to misuse or intrinsically flawed products - an example being
Ecuador," said Larry Birns, COHA's director. In a report last fall, COHA
said Monsanto heavily invested in a distribution infrastructure for its
biotech products in anticipation of market liberalization in Brazil,
creating a sales office to aggressively sell its exports.
Brazil is the world's No. 2 producer of soybeans. "Monsanto simultaneously
promotes itself and strangles competition by controlling distribution,"
said a COHA publication. "Monsanto jealously guards its de facto monopoly
on GM soybean seeds. The company requires farmers to purchase new seeds
every season, suing those who try to reseed without reordering - a
practice that has been upheld in court," the council said.
Mr. Roeder of Simon's Rock College said one of the biggest problems with
industrial plant biotechnology is that the material is patented and
farmers cannot propagate or keep the seeds.
He said the largest impact is socioeconomic, because growers must continue
to buy the product under a signed agreement. Consequently, Mr. Roeder
advocates "clear and strict regulations in the plant biotechnology field."
Interestingly, in some states, such as Maine, BT (bacillus thurin)
genetically modified corn is illegal. BT produces a protein that, when
eaten by an insect, prevents it from maturing.
Since only silage corn - used mainly to feed cows - is grown in Maine,
many farmers don't find spraying pesticides on corn either necessary or
helpful. BT corn is also quite a bit more expensive to buy. Corn pollen
can drift for miles, so once GM corn is introduced, it can quickly
infiltrate regular and "organic" - meaning deliberately grown without
chemicals - crops.
Mr. Roeder points out that there are differences in genetically modified
products, adding that "some people might find it very different to
genetically modify a plant with a fish gene and BT. In one case a toxin is
produced, while in the other, a plant is kept from freezing." Patrick
Gruber, chief technology officer at Cargill Dow LLC, believes he is taking
plant biotechnology to a new level of industrial, environment-friendly
possibilities with corn-based plastics and polyesters to replace
traditional petroleum-based products. An example is a new company in
Blair, Neb., that turns field corn into a biodegradable substance called
NatureWorks PLA that can be used to make packaging materials, bedding
products and clothing.
Brent Erickson, vice president at the Washington-based biotech industry
organization believes "this could transform the old economy. It's going to
provide new ways to make things that are cleaner and more economical."
Recent GM food controversies have centered around Third World countries
rejecting genetically modified U.S. food. This month Zimbabwe almost
refused to accept GM corn from the United States even though 6 million of
its people face starvation.
Zimbabwe and other African countries face widespread food shortages after
two years of drought. However, they don't want to be given whole corn,
fearing that if GM corn seeds get into their crops and the pollen spreads,
it could damage their economic future by ending trade with their European
Europe continues to shun GM-modified foods. The needy African countries
are requesting milled or ground corn that will not mix with or alter
domestic varieties. Grinding the corn would be more expensive for the
United States, but prevent accusations that the U.S. is using its aid to
force gene-altered products into Third World nations.
Millions Doomed by Butterfly Baloney
- Graeme O'neill , Sunday Herald Sun (Australia) Sunday, August 18, 2002
According to chaos theory, the faint air currents created by the beating
of a butterfly's wings in the Brazilian rainforest can trigger a major
hurricane in the Caribbean. In the strange mathematical universe of chaos
theory, the tiniest fluctuation in the initial state of a complex system
can profoundly alter its behaviour, with unforeseeable consequences.
It is called the "butterfly effect", and we're now witnessing a real-world
example of it, as a terrible human tragedy unfolds in Africa. A
catastrophic drought is its immediate cause, but the drought's human
impact has been amplified by a beautiful butterfly that lives in the
cornfields of North America, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Within the next few months, famine will overtake as many as 10 million
people in countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is likely
that hundreds of thousands of people -- most of them children -- will
The chain of circumstance leads back the New York laboratory of Cornell
University entomologist Stephen Losey. Professor Losey had no way of
knowing what his simple experiment in 1999 would set in motion.
His experiment involved exposing caterpillars of that insect icon of the
US Corn Belt, the spectacular orange and black monarch butterfly, to
pollen from a genetically modified (GM) corn variety containing a gene for
a natural bacterial insecticide, called Bt.
Professor Losey wanted to determine whether the pollen could kill the
caterpillars, as activists opposed to GM crops claimed. But if he was
trying to simulate the real-world exposure of monarch caterpillars in GM
corn crops, his experiment was misconceived.
He dusted so much GM maize pollen on the leaves of milkweed, the favourite
food of monarch caterpillars, that it resembled parmesan cheese. And he
gave the hungry caterpillars no choice -- either they ate the milkweed
leaves and died of poisoning, or they died of starvation.
The caterpillars predictably died of Bt poisoning under these artificial
conditions, but in the real world monarch caterpillars avoid milkweed
plants contaminated by GM maize pollen. Even if milkweed grows beside the
maize crops, pollen counts on leaves almost never reach levels high enough
to be lethal.
Professor Losey's study did not address a crucial issue. As Andrew Apels,
a leading biotechnology commentator in the US, points out: "To be
relevant, the study would have included forcing a group of monarch larvae
to consume a chemical insecticide." Why? Because corn lacking the
protective Bt insecticide gene is sprayed with broad-spectrum synthetic
pesticides that kill all insects, monarch caterpillars included.
Losey's results were published in the science journal, Nature, in August
1999, setting off a media frenzy.
Broadsheet newspaper headlines, and radio and TV bulletins around the
world, screamed that here was definitive proof that GM maize was bad for
the environment. But the study proved nothing of the kind, as Losey
attempted to point out the day after the paper appeared. Over the next 12
months, no fewer than 20 follow-up studies investigated the effects of Bt
corn pollen on monarch caterpillars under field conditions.
All but one showed that Bt corn poses no threat to monarch caterpillars in
the real world -- a conclusion underscored by the fact that monarchs and
other Corn Belt butterflies are being seen in the Corn Belt in greater
numbers than at any time in the past decade.
Much of the media ignored these studies, but when one other study claimed
to confirm a hazard, the headlines flared again. This study also forced
the caterpillars to eat contaminated milkweed leaves without offering them
As Andrew Apels notes, the media frenzy surrounding Losey's original
result caused such concern in Europe that it led to a de facto ban on new
approvals of all GM crops. Europe legislated for a maximum level of 1 per
cent for contamination of foods by GM ingredients before requiring them to
be labelled to indicate they contain GM ingredients.
Why 1 per cent? Not because 1 per cent GM contamination poses any hazard
to consumers. It turns out that 1 per cent is about the minimum that any
testing technique could reliably detect in a bulk commodities.
So we have a bizarre situation in which European politicians, panicked by
a welter of disinformation and pressured by Green politicians, have passed
legislation to protect consumers against a trivial or non-existent hazard.
There are more than a few cynics who suspect the true purpose of the 1 per
cent solution is to exclude GM food imports from nations where farmers
produce food far more cheaply than Europe's heavily subsidised farmers --
partly because GM crops save growers money. But for the moment, GM food --
or GM contaminated food -- shall not pass the lips of Europeans. It has,
however, passed the lips of Europe's beef cattle.
When European farmers became aware that they could be spreading mad cow
disease by feeding high-protein meal to cattle, containing pulverised
brain and spinal cord tissues from butchered cattle, there was a sudden
outbreak of common sense. Farmers concluded that the feeding of GM maize
from the US disease was the lesser of two evils.
The butterfly trail now switches to Africa, where crops have failed and
millions are facing famine after two years of one of the worst droughts in
decades. The US has offered a potentially life-saving 10,000 tonne
shipment of corn to countries such as Zimbabwe, where three million people
are already desperately short of food.
It's not only the drought -- President Robert Mugabe's brutal land reform
policies have forced many white farmers off their land, crippling the
nation's capacity to feed itself. Mugabe has shot himself in the foot a
second time, by suggesting he may not accept the US maize because it
cannot be certified GM-free; the US does not segregate GM from
conventional maize during harvest or processing.
Mugabe says GM crops are "a bad thing" for his country; raising the
prospect of people dying while food goes to waste. Yet his reasoning is no
more irrational than that of the European politicians who legislated to
protect the health of Europeans against the hypothetical threat of GM
Europe's decision to ban GM food imports has been a major factor in the
decision of Zimbabwe and other drought-stricken African nations that have
followed its lead -- Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia --
not to accept grain shipments that may contain GM maize.
Wild rumours are flying around rural Africa about the consequences of
eating GM foods, including the suggestion that eating maize GM causes
impotence. Although we might ridicule the idea, many tertiary-educated
Western consumers have been persuaded by anti-GM scaremongering that they
may suffer unspecified "long-term health consequences" if they eat GM
But the African ban is more about economics and trade. Mugabe and other
African leaders fear that if farmers retain and plant some of the GM seed
when the drought ends, they may be unable to sell maize to Europe, their
biggest export market. It's a rational response to a real risk, which
cannot be said of Europe's own decision to ban GM foods.
The millions of Africans facing starvation are not interested in politics
or the endless debate between scientists and anti-GM activists in Europe
about the health or environmental impacts of GM foods. They're too busy
finding enough food to keep themselves and their children from starvation.
Meanwhile, as measures remain in place to exclude GM foods from Europe,
scores of field trials of GM crops are in progress. European politicians
are smart enough to know that farmers must be ready when consumers realise
they have been victims of a terrible hoax.
The millions of Africans facing starvation are not interested in politics
or the endless debate between scientists and anti-GM activists . . .
they're too busy finding enough food to keep themselves and their children
- Wyatt Andrews CBS Evening News, August 16, 2002
It's by far the most commercially successful product of the biotech
revolution. As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, today 75
percent of all U.S. soybeans are a gene-altered biotech variety called the
Roundup Ready soybean. This one seed, one innovation, has changed the
farming of America's $12 billion dollar soy crop.
What is this revolution? Neal Bredehoeft, who farms a thousand acres of
soybeans, says the Roundup Ready bean is just that -- a soybean "ready" to
withstand the weed killer every home gardener knows as Roundup. Bredehoeft
says, "We just sprayed this morning."
But even though round up kills everything that's green, Bredehoeft says,
"It will not affect the soybean." The technology allows Bredehoeft to
literally carpet spray these beans with Roundup -- and thanks to the
genetic alteration, the beans will all live while the weeds all die.
But the real breakthrough of Roundup Ready soybeans isn't just the
technology, it's the claim these soybeans require LESS herbicide. You
heard that right. Even though farmers are blanketing these fields with
Roundup, they say they use fewer chemicals. "That is what the scientific
evidence is beginning to show," says Harvey Glick, of Monsanto, the
company that developed Roundup Ready technology.
He also says that most soy farmers save on herbicides by spraying fields
once a year. On traditional soybeans, he claims, most farmers spray twice.
According to Glick, "The net result in many cases is there's an overall
reduction in the amount of herbicides used."
However, Chuck Benbrook, a biotech analyst says, "It would be great if it
was true but it's not." He says herbicide use on soybeans is actually up
15 percent -- because more Roundup is being used. He doesn't criticize
Roundup's safety -- the chemical breaks down quickly on contact -- he just
believes Monsanto is guilty of hype.
"There's a lot that's good about this technology and obviously farmers
like it a lot," says Benbrook, "but it just isn't true to claim that it
reduces herbicide use as everyone traditionally measures it." But the
verdict is in on this technology: farmers overwhelmingly accept it. With
round up ready corn and cotton, and 60 million acres of soybeans now in
the ground, biotechnology on America's farms has taken root.
EU Fear-Mongers' Lethal Harvest
- Ronald Bailey, Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2002
Millions of starving people in Zimbabwe have the European Union to thank
for their hunger. In early July, Zimbabwe rejected food aid from the
United States because the corn involved had been genetically enhanced to
protect it against insects. The decision wasn't based on science. This
current threat of mass starvation is the direct consequence of a trade war
over genetically improved crops that is brewing between the United States
Zimbabwe has refused biotech corn because its government fears that Europe
would ban its agricultural exports if its farmers started growing
genetically improved maize. After all, since the mid-1990s, the EU has
banned the importation of genetically engineered crops from the United
States, claiming--entirely speciously--that they aren't safe. One
scientific panel after another has concluded that biotech foods are safe
to eat, and so has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Even an EU
review issued last fall of 81 separate European scientific studies of
genetically modified organisms found no evidence that genetically modified
foods posed any new risks to human health or the environment. The European
commissioner for health and consumer protection, David Byrne, acknowledged
last October: "There is an irrational fear of GM food in the EU."
It's clear that the EU ban is not so much a safety precaution as a barrier
to trade. The EU is citing phony safety concerns to protect its farmers
from competition and to protect its system of bloated farm subsidies.
For more than a decade the EU has banned the importation of American beef
treated with growth hormones. In 1997, the World Trade Organization (WTO)
ruled that the EU's ban was not based on scientific evidence, but instead
was a trade barrier. Rather than allow the beef imports, the EU chose to
accept countervailing duties on more than $100 million of its exports to
the United States.
Fearing that the WTO would rule against their biotech crop ban, the
Europeans are now trying to execute an end run around the WTO. Currently,
the WTO requires that regulations be "based on scientific principles" and
that they not be "maintained without sufficient scientific evidence." The
European strategy to circumvent the clear language of the agreement is
twofold: to require labels on all food products that contain ingredients
made from biotech crops and to get a sort of "precautionary principle"
accepted as an international food and health safety standard. The
precautionary principle is an anti-science regulatory concept that allows
regulators to ban new products or technologies on the barest suspicion
that they might pose some unknown threat. It is an approach of "impose a
ban first, ask questions later."
The Europeans are trying to smuggle in the precautionary principle via
negotiations in two other international forums, the Codex Alimentarius
Commission and the new Biosafety Protocol. The former is an
intergovernmental body aimed at setting food standards under the auspices
of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health
Organization. In 1995, the SPS agreement conferred on the codex commission
the responsibility for setting international food safety standards that
would be recognized by the WTO. The EU has succeeded in getting the codex
commission to incorporate the precautionary principle as well as
traceability requirements into several draft documents on risk and
If the codex commission adopts those rules, it would mean that WTO must
accept them. And that means if the United States asks the WTO to
adjudicate its dispute with the EU over the banning of biotech crop
imports, America would lose.
Meanwhile, the EU-backed Biosafety Protocol would require that all
international shipments of genetically modified crops bear the label "May
contain living modified organisms." This in turn would require that
biotech crops be segregated from conventional crops, which means
duplicating the entire shipping infrastructure of grain silos, rail cars,
ships and so forth at an estimated cost of at least $4 billion. The price
of grain, it is estimated, would rise by 12%. Unfortunately, the Biosafety
Protocol, which becomes effective after being ratified by 50 nations, has
already been ratified by more than 30 countries.
What can the United States do to win this trade war and foster the spread
of GM foods? Fortunately, U.S. negotiators can stop the codex commission
process. Its standards must be agreed to by consensus of all the parties.
All the U.S. has to do is call a halt to the precautionary principle,
biotech labeling and traceability requirements, and they'll be taken out
of the codex commission.
Countering the absurd regulations of the Biosafety Protocol is a thornier
problem. U.S. trade officials must make it clear that importing countries
that also grow biotech crops, such as China and India, cannot set a double
standard requiring traceability and labeling of U.S. imports while
exempting their own crops. The U.S. should be able to show in the WTO that
such double standards are trade barriers, not safety regulations.
Furthermore, the U.S. State Department and Office of the U.S. Trade
Representative must persuade major food-exporting countries such as
Argentina, Australia and Brazil to create a united front against the EU,
leaving Europe with no sources for nonbiotech feed grain imports.
Finally, the U.S. needs to devise a set of model biosafety regulations so
that developing countries will not simply adopt onerous EU-style
regulations by default.
To protect their farmers from competition, the Eurocrats seem willing to
wreck the WTO and incidentally starve millions in the developing world.
The United States must prevent that.
RONALD BAILEY, Ronald Bailey is science correspondent for Reason, magazine
and author of the new Cato Institute study, "The Looming, Trade War over
Plant Biotechnology." He can be reached at, www.cato.org <http://www.cato
We're Dying a Slow And Silent Death
- Sechaba Ka'nkosi, Sunday Times (South Africa), August 18, 2002
EVERY other week Jane Siamajele leaves her sickly husband, Boniface, and
her year-old daughter Sheila for the Zambezi River. For the next eight
days she will be fetching water from the river to sell to people in
surrounding villages who are building houses.
In the meantime, Boniface's other wife, Wendy, will take care of him. Then
Jane will go back home with enough money to buy two packets of mealiemeal
that will feed her 16-person family for six meals, spread carefully to
last at least a week.
"It is our responsibility as women to fetch water from the river,"
explains Jane. "But these days we are not fetching for our [domestic]
chores. Since famine started, we have to sell it to be able to buy
On a good day, when there are few women, the water fetches R4. But when
the going gets tough, the price drops to R2. Four rands buy the two 500g
packets of mealie-meal that Jane brings home after a week in the
wilderness. The following week, Wendy will make the trip.
Often the women have to spend nights in the open and endure the
temperamental weather of the Southern Province. Locals say some women have
resorted to prostitution. Jane and Wendy are part of an army of mothers
who leave their families for days in Kalomo, Chirundu and Siavonga
districts to forage in the famine-stricken Southern Province of Zambia.
Nearly 800km to the southeast, Faradzi Mungazi shakes like a leaf in the
dry and dusty winds of Lumbembe village in Siavonga district in southern
Zambia. Her speech is sometimes incoherent and her voice tired as she
tries to tell a painful story of the drought in the Southern Province that
has left villages reduced to almost nothing.
She last had a decent meal nearly two years ago. Her 20kg ration of maize
ran out two weeks ago. She now survives on wild berries, plants and
leaves, which she says are not enough to maintain her frail 70-year-old
frame. Villagers like her have to compete with wild animals that normally
feed on the plants.
"We are dying in silence and helplessness here," she says in a hoarse
voice. "It is a slow but painful death. Even if we survive, the future
does not look too promising. We do not know what will happen to us."
Mungazi's apprehension about the future is based on the knowledge that
even the wild plants will soon disappear as their growth comes to an end
with the approach of spring.
To the people of Zambia, Mother Nature could not have been more vicious.
Two years ago the Siavonga district was prosperous, well-fed and able to
trade surplus stock in the market. That was until floods overwhelmed the
What followed was a dry spell with little or no rain so that even last
year's ploughing season was bleak. In the Eastern Province, initially good
rains promised that the harvest would be rich. But when the fields looked
promising, the rains stopped and much of the crop was destroyed.
Two weeks ago, a 35-year-old woman and her three-year-old daughter died
after eating a wild plant.
Every living creature in Lumbembe is skinny - the children, the cows, the
goats; even the pigs.
Last week, the UN Children's Fund warned that famine was damaging the
Unicef regional chief Sharad Sapra said: "If contingency measures to
stabilise the ability of households to feed themselves are delayed, we
should brace ourselves for increased crime, prostitution and abuse and
exploitation of women." Relief agencies have a plan to allocate food
rations to the most vulnerable - the chronically ill, the handicapped and
the old. Yet they have had little impact on the situation. Sister Agnes
Machishi of Lusito clinic says diseases such as diarrhoea and malnutrition
are rife among young children.
"Most people have become prone to opportunistic diseases that would have
been easier to treat under normal circumstances," says Machishi. The
medicine we administer is also useless since most people's immune systems
In Luangwa, communities have resorted to selling their livestock to buy
maize. Describing the situation as nearing crisis, World Food Programme
field worker Alexander Rasenzi says even rations given to households are
"Our current methods look at the most vulnerable groups," explains
Rasenzi. "If no relief and no support is available, we look at who is
likely to die first and act accordingly." Last week the quest for
solutions shifted from food relief to genetically modified foods as UN
agencies pleaded with sceptical authorities to accept them.
Science, Technology and Vocational Training Minister Abel Chambeshi said
aid organisations were compelling the government to take the food or risk
losing further assistance. But the Zambian government yesterday banned all
genetically modified food imports, including food earmarked to alleviate
the hunger crisis.
Chief Penias Sikoongo, whose domain covers nearly the entire Southern
Province, laments not being able to offer his subjects hope. "Sometimes
people come to me hoping for answers," says Sikoongo, "but I cannot
provide them. These are natural happenings nobody can give a sensible
Peter Phiri looks at the dwindling maize reserves of his 11-person family
with sad eyes. Before the drought hit his village, Wanaventi in the
Eastern Province, the 65-year-old former Zambian Army soldier had a good
harvest and stockpiled some reserves.
But today little is left.
"This is as good as nothing," he says.
"It is only worth three weeks. With the rainy season still far away only
God knows how me and my children are going to survive."
From: "Andrew Apel" ›
Subject: Pope on Genetic Engineering
A number of news articles now in circulation claim that the Pope, during
his visit to Poland, said the Church rejected genetic engineering. It's
become all too popular to misquote and misconstrue the Pontiff's remarks
on this topic. For the actual text of his speech, visit
Plants, Genes and Crop Biotechnology
Authors: Maarten J. Chrispeels and David E. Sadava
"Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, Second Edition is mandatory
reading for everyone who wants to separate myth from fact in the "GMO"
controversy. Chrispeels and Sadava have compiled an impressive set of
chapters that both educate and inform the reader on the basics of modern
plant research and its impact on agriculture÷ The new version of Plants,
Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, is a MUST for students and researchers who
are interested in the impact of plant biology on agriculture and society."
-- Professor Bob Goldberg, ASPB Education Foundation Chair, University of
California, Los Angeles, CA Jones and Bartlett and the American Society
of Plant Biologists have teamed up for the second edition of Plants, Genes
and Crop Biotechnology. This textbook is about plants, genes, food, and
agriculture, and the changing relationships among them. It shows how
agriculture is changing throughout the world and discusses the roles that
genes and genetic engineering are playing in these changes.
The unique, interdisciplinary approach of this contemporary book has three
underlying themes: (1) that modern farming has become a scientific
enterprise, manipulating the relationship between plants and their
environments; (2) that scientists who manipulate plants can help solve
some of the problems of increasing crop production; and (3) that
agriculture must be carried out in a sustainable manner, ensuring the
basis of food production for future generations.
The book grew out of a desire to teach plant biology in an agricultural
context and to bridge the gap between basic and applied science. Basic
botany textbooks seldom mention agriculture, let alone human nutrition.
Agricultural textbooks describe plants and agricultural practices, but are
often short on basic science. The authors also wanted to introduce their
students to the ever changing relationship between people and their food
source and to the notion that genetic engineering is one more step in that
This book could be used in existing introductory courses in plant biology,
agriculture, or economic botany, whether aimed at science majors or
non-majors. It is the hopes of the authors' that the text will allow
instructors to create new courses that deal with the scientific and
societal issues that are so important to all of us: our relation to our
food supply, both locally and globally, and the role of biotechnology in
this relationship. This is the economic botany of the future.
Ordering Information : Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, Second
Edition; Maarten J. Chrispeels & David E. Sadava ISBN: 0763715867; Price:
$87.95 (U.S. List) ; Cover: Cloth; Pages: 576; Copyright: 2003; Will
Jones and Bartlett Publishers and the ASPB are pleased to offer ASPB
Members an exclusive 20% discount on Plants, Genes, and Crop
Biotechnology, Second Edition. To order your copy electronically please
select the appropriate link below. If you wish to place your order by fax
or by mail...
''Soil crisis'' is a Pretense
- G. McGovern and R. Boschwitz, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Saturday,
August 17, 2002 (Forwarded by Alex Avery)
According to a small group of social activists in Kansas, American farmers
are systematically raping the land so appallingly that our farm fields are
losing the ability to produce healthy food. According to these activists,
the abundance emanating from U.S. farmland is merely an illusion, and
we're all headed for certain disaster if we don't make radical changes in
our society and the way we farm.
Key to their vision of the future is millions of Americans leaving the
cities to live and toil on small farms, producing all of their own food
and energy far away from a Starbucks.
The group has been peddling this vision for 20 years with little success,
so it recently hired a former Kansas journalist, George Pyle, to raise the
group's public profile by writing articles for newspapers and magazines.
The strategy worked; the Los Angeles Times and several other major
newspapers, including the Star Tribune on Aug. 2, recently ran commentary
pieces by Pyle.
The journalist-turned-activist knew a fundamental truth about media: doom
and gloom. Instead of trying to sell the group's austere vision of a
hand-powered farming future, Pyle wrote about the victimization of farm
fields by the industrialization of food production. It was well-written,
pessimistic poetry, heavy on rhetoric but short on reality. According to
Pyle, "The latest federal figures available, from 1997, indicate that each
year wind and water erosion alone carries away . . . 5.6 tons" of soil per
Wrong. It's a common mistake among the agriculturally uneducated, but the
U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates soil movement, not loss. While
the USDA estimates that 5.6 tons of soil per acre is moved each year, most
of it is deposited on the same or nearby fields. How much is actually
lost? Not even the government knows, although recent scientific research
indicates that it is a small fraction of 5.6 tons per acre.
Pyle claims that modern farming poisons the waters and creates large areas
of oxygen-starved, fish-destroying dead zones in coastal waters. He fails
to mention that such low-oxygen zones are often natural, seasonal
phenomena and have appeared in some coastal waters for literally eons. The
nutrients from the land are the basis of the marine food chain; the open
oceans are aquatic deserts because they lack nutrients from the land.
There is little doubt that human activities have increased the amount of
nutrients flowing to the seas, but is it really the horror that Pyle
portrays it to be? Near the largest so-called dead zone in the United
States, occurring most summers along the Louisiana and Texas coasts due to
nutrients from the Mississippi River, food is so abundant that a pod of
500 endangered sperm whales has taken up year-round residence. Pyle may
consider those nutrients an environmental horror, but the whales call it
Pyle says, "Not only are our fields losing quantity, the remaining soil is
of ever-decreasing quality." Wrong, again. The most advanced modern
farming systems are actually building the topsoil on farmers' fields,
rather than depleting it. These no-tillage systems use herbicides to spare
farmland from the scarring of the plow, which destroys organic matter,
earthworms and soil structure. According to the Soil and Water
Conservation Society of America, no-till and other conservation farming
systems are the most sustainable in history.
"Like a drug addict who loses the ability to feel normal without chemical
stimulus, modern agriculture has so fried the soil that it cannot produce
without larger and larger infusions of chemicals." Actually, research has
repeatedly shown that modern crops utilize soil nutrients at far higher
efficiencies than the old varieties.
Can Pyle name a farming system that can remain sustainable without using
fertilizer? There is only one, bush fallow, but it requires leaving most
of the land uncropped for 15 years at a time. Even organic farmers use
fertilizers to restore the soil's fertility. They use either animal
manures or they grow green manure crops that yield only soil fertility,
not a harvestable crop.
It would require the manure from an additional 6 to 8 billion cattle to
replace the current amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer used by the
world's farmers. (The world currently has only about 1.2 billion cattle.)
Where would Pyle suggest we pasture another 8 billion bovines?
We had the first Dust Bowl because farmers didn't use enough fertilizer.
Since the 1870s, Midwestern farmers had been relying on the residual soil
fertility built up over the centuries by the prairie grasses. By the
1930s, those nutrients were depleted, the soil worn out. When the drought
hit, the soil literally blew away.
The fact that we're not in the midst of a Dust Bowl this summer, despite a
drought nearly as severe as the 1930s, proves how ill-informed Pyle and
the Kansas activists really are.
George McGovern and Rudy Boschwitz. Former U.S. senators and members of
the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"Heroes" - Vandana Shiva; Seeds of Self-Reliance
- Meenakshi Ganguly, Time,
Vandana Shiva will never forget a lesson she learned at the age of 13. Her
parents, who like many educated Indians had supported Mohandas Gandhi's
struggle against colonialism, insisted on wearing clothing made only of
homespun cotton. One day Vandana, having returned from a boarding school
to her home in the Himalayan foothill town of Dehra Dun, demanded a nylon
dress, the fashion adopted by her rich friends. Her mother, a teacher
turned farmer, agreed. "If that is what you want, of course you shall have
it," she said. "But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a
bigger car. And the cotton that you wear will buy a poor family at least
Now 50, Shiva still chuckles when she tells the story. "Of course, I did
not get that frock," she says. "I kept thinking of some poor family
starving because of my dress." True to her upbringing, Shiva has made it
her mission to fight for social justice in many arenas. With a doctorate
in physics from the University of Western Ontario, she has been a teacher,
an ecologist, an activist, a feminist and an organic farmer.
Her pet issue these days is preservation of agricultural diversity. It is
under assault, she says, from global companies that encourage farmers to
grow so-called high-yielding crops that result in a dangerous dependence
on bioengineered seeds, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. As a
result, hundreds of traditional crops are disappearing. Too many farmers,
she contends, purchase expensive seeds that cannot adapt to local
conditions and require more investment in chemicals and irrigation.
Hundreds of debt-ridden Indian farmers, Shiva points out, have committed
suicide during the past five years because of failed harvests.
But there is hope. Many farmers are returning to traditional methods
promoted by Navdanya (Nine Seeds), an organization based in New Delhi that
Shiva helped found 11 years ago. Navdanya encourages farmers to produce
hardy native varieties of crops that can be grown organically with natural
fertilizer and no artificial chemicals. The group works in an area for
three years, helping local farmers form their own self-supporting
organization and seed bank. Navdanya has spread to some 80 districts in 12
states and has collected more than 2,000 seed varieties. It has set up a
marketing network through which farmers sell their organic harvest. Farmer
Darwan Singh Negi, with Navdanya's aid, switched to organic methods five
years ago and grows six types of rice on his three-acre farm in the state
of Uttaranchal. His farm's productivity is similar to that of his
neighbors' nonorganic farms, but he spends almost 70 percent less for
fertilizers, pesticides and seeds.
Shiva's many detractors call her naive, pointing out that chemical
fertilizers, pesticides and genetic engineering rescued India from its
eternal cycles of famine and huge debts from importing food. She responds
that high-tech agriculture is a short-term solution that will ultimately
destroy the land. Shiva has by no means proved that organic agriculture
alone can feed a burgeoning world population. But Navdanya has shown that
in some areas, organic farmers with a knowledge of local conditions and
traditional methods can achieve high yields at little cost to the
environment. In India at least, Navdanya sets an eco-friendly standard
that agribusiness must show it can outperform. The challenge for genetic
engineers is to create seeds adapted to particular loca les that enable
farmers to reduce, not increase, the use of chemicals.
If nothing else, Navdanya provides an alternative approach to modern
farming. Shiva wants to preserve nature's bountiful variety in a world too
vulnerable to humanity's penchant for standardization. She counsels us to
be more humble in the care of our environment. "You are not Atlas carrying
the world on your shoulder," she says. "It is good to remember that the
planet is carrying you."
"If she's a hero, Mother Theresa was the devil incarnate." - Mike Fumento