Today in AgBioView: August 23, 2002:
* Europe Abets Starvation in Africa
* The Grim Reaper
* WHO Sees Risk Unlikely From Gene-altered Foods
* Biotechnology and U.S. Food Assistance to Southern Africa
* First, Feed the Starving
* Nairobi to Try GM Seeds, Says Godana
* On 'Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism'
* Gene Wars Go South
* On Hardy and Hardiness: Droughts and Genetic Engineering
* World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030
* Former Greenpeace Head Backs Biotechnology
* Pocket Books on AgBiotech
* A Vision of Dystopia - Catastrophic global future if we do not change
the way we live'
* Genetically Modified Animals - NPR Story
Europe Abets Starvation in Africa
- Andrew Apel , AgBioView, August 23, 2002
Well, folks, it's now official: the European Union is willing to
countenance starvation in Africa in order to maintain its artificial trade
barriers. That came out after the US made a simple request of the EU:
please reassure the Africans that if GM food is safe enough for Americans,
it's safe enough for them. That shouldn't be difficult, you would think,
since government scientists in Europe agree that the GM foods currently on
the market are perfectly safe to eat.
Europe couldn't bring itself to do that, though. Giving Africa some
reassurance would amount to admitting in public that its regulations
against GM foods are not based in science and amount to a trade barrier.
What's more, admitting that its own scientists are right would bring
hordes of activists down on their collective necks.
European Commission spokesman Michael Curtis, in delivering the EU's
reply, said the EU would not get involved in what is a discussion between
some of the countries of southern Africa and the US, and that they have to
sort this out for themselves. But Curtis knows better. Africa has
virtually no ability to perform independent safety assessments.
Even if Africa had the means to perform independent safety assessments,
indications are it would still reject GM maize because Africa's leaders
(who will never face starvation) salivate over the notion of exporting
non-GM produce to Europe. Africa wouldn't have the financial incentive to
starve its own people if Europe dropped its trade barriers--making Europe
morally culpable from yet another perspective.
Only the US, with its unsegregated grain supply, produces enough maize to
make up for Africa's projected shortfall, so anything and anyone
interfering in the delivery of US grain to Africa is undeniably complicit
in starvation there. There is, literally, no other option, and human lives
are about to join the list of the costs of artificial trade barriers.
Activists will naturally object to this observation by stating that this
would not be the case if the US segregated GM and non-GM grain. Thereís a
number of problems with the objection: the first is that it would
automatically increase the cost of food aid, and increase food costs
around the world as well. The second is that thereís no financial
incentive for enduring the cost of segregation-- there's no premium for
non-GM grain that makes it worth it. And finally, thereís no justifiable
reason for segregating grain that is functionally equivalent.
If famine strikes Africa, blame it on Europe.
The Grim Reaper
- The Economist, August 22, 2002
The green lobby has won the GM debate, and the GM crop business is leaving
Britain. Which, depending on your point of view, may be a good or a bad
IT WAS during his trip to India last year that Tony Blair was converted to
genetic modification, according to Ian Gibson, chairman of the House of
Commons select committee on science and technology. "The Indians were
saying how delighted they were that Britain was having trouble with GM,
because then they could take over and become masters of the science."
But Mr Blair's enthusiasm hasn't, so far, had much effect on attitudes in
Britain towards GM. Last week there was another GM scare, when it turned
out that Aventis, a Franco-German biotech company, had mixed in with a
trial of an approved seed a small amount of a variety not approved for use
in Britain. Never mind that this variety had been approved all over the
rest of the developed world; the media went into its usual spin, talking
of Frankenstein foods and Superweeds. The public mostly shares its
concerns. According to MORI, a pollster, while 18% of Britons think the
benefits of GM outweigh the risks, 39% think the risks outweigh the
benefits, and the rest don't know.
That is why the government is launching a public debate next month, with a
one-day summit, a public information film and a lot of public meetings.
Three years' worth of government-sponsored field trials of GM crops are to
be evaluated next year, and the technology's supporters think that,
although its opponents have made all the running so far, opinion can be
turned around if the public is given enough decent information.
There are any number of theories as to why Britain, along with much of
Western Europe, is so hostile to GM when America and most of the
developing world are embracing the technology enthusiastically. Maybe it's
because Britain is rich and small, and so its people are more concerned
about their environment than are people in larger or poorer countries.
Maybe it's because BSE has made the public deeply suspicious both of
unfamiliar agricultural practices and of reassuring scientific
pronouncements. Maybe it's because GM has become a totem for the
anti-globalisation movement, which is stronger in Europe than in America.
Maybe it's because organic farmers, an increasingly vociferous lobby which
includes Prince Charles, have an interest in seeing off new technologies.
Maybe it's because GM is a good excuse for keeping out foreign food. Maybe
it's because Europe is right and America is wrong.
Whatever the reason, the consequences of the disparity are showing up.
Outside Europe, GM is powering ahead. In 1996, no genetically modified
crops were commercially cultivated in America. This year, around 34% of
all maize, 71% of cotton and 75% of soya grown in America is GM. Canada,
Australia, Argentina and China, among others, are also enthusiastic GM
growers, and Indonesia and India have decided to go along with it too. No
health risks have been identified, and evidence of the economic and
environmental benefits is mounting: according to a paper on GM in China
published earlier this year in Science, for instance, GM cotton cost
three-quarters as much to grow per kilo as the conventional crop, and
required only one-sixth as much pesticide.
In most of the European Union, there has been a moratorium on commercial
cultivation since Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, tried to
launch GM products in the late 1990s and crashed against a wall of hostile
public opinion. Research continues, but the economic and scientific
consequences that India hopes for and Mr Blair fears are already showing
up in research institutes and companies. The number of new GM products
being developed in Europe has collapsed. In Britain, the number of field
trials is down to four in 2002, from a peak of 37 in 1995.
This is particularly galling for British scientists, because Britain was
second only to America in the development of plant biotechnology during
the 1980s and early 1990s, and is losing its place to more enthusiastic
countries such as China. According to Philip Stott, emeritus professor of
biogeography at the University of London, these days there are somewhere
between 100 and 130 transgenic scientists working in crop research
institutes in Britain. The comparable figure for China is 1,988.
The decline of plant science in Britain is evident in both private and
public sectors. Research and development capacity is shrinking. The number
of crop-protection research centres has fallen over the past few years
from six to one - the Jealott's Hill, Berkshire, research facility of
Syngenta, a Swiss-British agricultural biotechnology firm. According to
the UK Crop Protection Association, the number of R&D and technical jobs
in the business fell from 2,400 to 1,638 between 1986 and 2000. These
closures are the result of consolidation in the pharmaceuticals industry,
not the consequence of the anti-GM campaign; but the campaign means that
jobs in GM, the boom area in plant science, are not being created in
That is hardly surprising, given the climate. "Fieldwork in the UK is
difficult now," says David Evans, head of research and technology at
Syngenta. "Our trials are largely conducted outside the UK. We have had
damage on our UK site. We had a stand of transgenic trees, which we were
engineering to make them easier to pulp, so you could use fewer chemicals
in the process. It was a four-year project. They were debarked. It had a
disastrous effect on morale. There were tears."
The consequence of poor job prospects is being felt in the universities.
"We're having big problems employing good graduates," says Chris Leaver,
professor of plant science at Oxford University. "I've been in this
business for 40 years, and I'm seriously depressed about the future of
plant science in Britain."
Despite Mr Blair's enthusiasm, government support is declining too.
"Funding for GM issues in horticulture has decreased significantly," says
Brian Thomas, research director of crop improvement and biology at
Horticulture Research International, a government-funded institute.
Scientists put that down to attitudes in the newly-created Department for
the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where the green lobby, which has
a friend in Michael Meacher, the environment minister, is said to have a
louder voice than the scientists. "They wish there was no F in DEFRA,"
says another government scientist. "The department has turned tail on the
whole GM thing." He estimates that there are 20-30 government-funded
scientists working on GM horticulture now, half as many as there were five
It may be that next year's evaluation of the field trials vindicates the
green lobby's objections. But whether it does or not, it looks as though
the greens have won and agricultural biotechnology will continue to slip
away from Britain. This should worry not just scientists and
pharmaceutical companies, but also farmers and taxpayers. Farming in the
rest of the world will continue to get more efficient, Europe will import
more and more food and the burden of supporting Europe's farmers will
increase. And there will, no doubt, be rejoicing in Delhi and Beijing.
WHO Sees Risk Unlikely From Gene-altered Foods
- Reuters, August 23, 2002
GENEVA - The World Health Organisation restated yesterday it was
"unlikely" genetically-modified foods posed a hazard to humans, but denied
it had called crisis talks in Africa to allay fears about food aid
The Financial Times reported that the U.N. health agency had set up talks
in Harare, Zimbabwe on Monday to overcome the refusal of several
famine-hit countries to accept GM food. It said that WHO was "stockpiling
rejected grain" for distribution.
Dr. Andrew Cassels, a senior adviser to WHO director-general Gro Harlem
Brundtland, denied the FT story at a news briefing called to launch a
report "WTO Agreements and Public Health", the first joint study by WHO
and World Trade Organisation (WTO). "The summit referred to is not about
GMO. The summit is a meeting of southern African health ministers and
senior officials of the WHO. It is to discuss the health sector response
to the famine - that is the purpose of the summit."
Regarding the stockpiling reference, Cassels said: "We have absolutely no
idea where this has come from." Some 12 million people in six countries
(Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) face
starvation due to drought and disease, according to U.N. relief agencies.
Dr. Wim Van Eck, of WHO's food safety and nutrition division, said that a
series of consultations with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and
World Food Programme as well as national risk assessments had not revealed
GM risks to humans. "WHO is of the opinion that it is very unlikely that
there is a risk for consumers when they consume GM food currently approved
and currently available on the market," Van Eck said.
On the threat to biodiversity and countries' GM-free status from GM seeds,
rather than GM crops, Van Eck said it was up to individual governments to
decide if they wanted to use milling or other processes to mitigate the
risk of "cross-pollination". "At the end of the day, it is of course a
decision of the recipient governments in the area, but we think that it is
unlikely genetically-modified foods pose a risk to human health. We think
that the environmental risks are manageable," he added.
The European Union yesterday rejected calls from Washington for it to
reassure African countries that GM food aid from the United States is
safe. The EU declined to intervene. In June, the government of Zimbabwe
rejected a U.S. maize consignment of 17,500 tonnes because it was not
certified free of genetically-modified material.
The EU is finalising rules which would require U.S. farmers to segregate
GM crops from non-GM before exporting them to the 15-country European
bloc. The United States is lobbying against the move, which would prove
costly for a farm sector where GM and non-GM are routinely mixed.
Washington argues its safety tests prove the GM crops are safe and that
populations on the verge of starvation should not be denied food deemed
acceptable for U.S. consumers.
Formally, no country has brought a GM-related dispute for resolution to
the World Trade Organisation (WTO), according to Erik Wijkstrom, of WTO's
trade and environment division.
Biotechnology and U.S. Food Assistance to Southern Africa
- Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman, U. S. State Department, Press
Release, August 21, Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.
The United States is deeply concerned by the worsening food crisis in
southern Africa. Thirteen million people are at risk of starvation. Nearly
one million metric tons of food will be needed in the next few months to
avert famine. Despite the urgency of the need, misinformation about the
safety of agricultural biotechnology is preventing some U.S. food
assistance from being distributed to those in need.
This misinformation has delayed delivery of some of the 100,000 metric
tons of food assistance sent by the people of the United States to the
region's suffering people. The food, the same as that eaten by millions of
Americans daily, is both safe and wholesome and can make the difference
between life and death for millions of southern Africa's poorest people.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that biotech food is any less
safe than its conventional counterparts. We are committed to working with
countries and to making international experts available to ensure that
leaders have the facts about biotechnology and food safety. While the
United States respects the right of governments to formulate their
national policies regarding food and farming, now is not the time to turn
away safe and desperately needed food.
The United States will give nearly a half million tons of food -- 50% of
the region's humanitarian food aid requirements -- by the end of this
year. The response by other donors, however, is not yet sufficient to meet
the expected need. We know the European Union will also respond generously
to this crisis. Just as important, we call upon the European Union to join
us in assuring governments in the region that food made from biotech crops
is safe and should be distributed immediately to those who so desperately
First, Feed the Starving
- Editorial, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2002
Thirteen million people are facing a famine in southern Africa, a
condition stoked by decades of bad government and by a drought more severe
than any other afflicting the region since 1992. No matter the cause,
these millions need food.
Seventy-five thousand tons of corn, beans and a soy blend for malnourished
children are on the high seas now, heading from U.S. grain reserves to
Africa's eastern coast. An additional 190,000 tons are ready to go,
according to Andrew Natsios, who directs the Bush administration's
international humanitarian assistance programs. By December, U.S. aid to
the region is expected to amount to about half of what the World Food
Program estimates is required.
Whether a mouthful will actually reach the hungriest is an open question.
Leaders in three countries--Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique--say they may
not accept U.S. aid because it contains genetically modified corn. The
leaders fear that if their citizens plant the biotech grain, it could
cross-contaminate other crops, making them unacceptable to the European
This year, the EU voted in favor of an outright ban on the importation of
all food that the importing country could not prove to be free of
genetically modified ingredients. However, the ban, widely denounced as
costly and impractical, won't become law unless it passes a further vote.
The African leaders are not in a position to refuse donations from the
United States, which provides about 70% of food aid to southern Africa.
They should see that the clear, short-term health needs of their peoples
outweigh fuzzier, long-term economic concerns.
European leaders are also exacerbating the problem by promoting vague
fears of so-called Frankenfoods. The European leaders, as well as
officials of the World Health Organization, should distinguish between the
legitimate concern that biotech foods might alter the ecosystem (last
week, for example, Ohio State University researchers released a study
showing that such foods encouraged the growth of pesticide-resistant
weeds) and the bogus, unproved assertion that biotech foods somehow harm
Finally, the Bush administration's Natsios, who plans to leave Friday for
a tour of famine-ravaged southern Africa, should consider the obvious:
shipping nonbiotech grains to the three nations most worried about them.
This is possible because some U.S. grain suppliers already have procedures
in place to segregate biotech crops from nonbiotech crops. All sides can
then settle the Frankenfood issues later.
There's no reason why the famine in southern Africa has to turn into a
humanitarian disaster. There's food to feed the hungry if self-righteous
politics would just get out of the way.
Nairobi to Try GM Seeds, Says Godana
- Eliud Mirinng'u, The East African Standard; AllAfrica.com; August 22,
Kenya will soon carry out tests on food production using genetically
modified (GM) seeds, Agriculture Minister, Dr Bonaya Godana, announced
yesterday. Godana said Kenya was currently trailing the world record in
food production and was ranked number 123 out of 162 of the world's lowest
food producing countries.
The Minister was speaking at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute
(Kari) headquarters during a consultative forum to discuss special
programme for food security in the country. The meeting attracted
stakeholders from the Ministry of Agriculture, research scientists from
Kari, and other Government institutions. The opening session was also
attended by Rural Development Minister, Cyrus Jirongo and Kari Director,
Dr Romano Kiome.
Speaking to journalists after the opening session, Godana said Kari will
soon carry out tests on the use of genetically modified seeds as an
alternative mode of food production. Kiome added the preliminary results
will determine whether the Government will embrace the genetic modified
method of food production.
From: "Wayne Parrott"
>>Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Agricultural Biotechnology in
>>Call For Papers For Biotech Book; Invitation for paper submissions for
>>edited volume. Publisher: Zed Books (London and New York); Editors:
>>Gerardo Otero, Yolanda Massieu, and Manuel Poitras
PS-- Zed Books is the same publisher that published did Nottingham's
books, "eat your genes" and "genescapes".
>>Our purpose, then, is to offer the public a solid collection of
>>empirically-based studies, written by social scientists, about the
>>concrete socioeconomic and environmental impacts of agricultural
>>biotechnologies (mainly genetic engineering) in Latin America.
Pardon me, but I question the ability of most social scientists to
properly address environmental impacts, much less understand
biotechnology. Why are biologists, ecologists, and agricultural scientists
automatically ruled out? Seems to me that teaming up biology-based
scientists with social scientists is more likely to come up with a well
rounded project than either could do alone.
>>. Our interest is to address a variety of national experiences,
>>from widespread adoption in countries such as Argentina, or somewhat
>>restricted adoption as in Mexico, to the creation of a zone free of
>>genetically modified organisms in Brazil.
Any one who believes that Brazil is a GMO-free zone is seriously
decisional. Rather, the proper question might be what is it about GMO
crops that leads thousands of farmers to openly defy the law of the land
and plant GMO crops anyway?????
Gene Wars Go South
- Robert Falkner, World Today, August 1, 2002; Royal Institute of
International Affairs Aug/Sep 2002
Sustainable Development: Genetically Modified Crop S
Buried inside the World Summit on Sustainable Development"s agenda in
Johannesburg is another explosive issue - genetically modified crops. Some
governments are pressing ahead with these regardless of widespread fears
that they are an environmental disaster. In March India gave the go-ahead
for commercial planting of genetically modified cotton - a move that's
provoked more polarised reaction.
For several years, speculation had been rife that cotton would become the
first commercial genetically modified (GM) crop in India The country
funded domestic biotechnology research throughout the 1990s, and GM cotton
varieties have been tested extensively in field trials. At the same time,
Indian regulatory authorities have been concerned about the safety of
agricultural biotechnology. National regulations were introduced in 1989,
and India was behind recent efforts to create international rules that led
to the adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in January 2000.
Indian negotiators argued that the Protocol should be based on the
precautionary principle and allow countries to reject imports of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because of suspected environmental
harm, as well as socioeconomic considerations. Partly in response to
growing domestic opposition to such crops, India has banned GMO imports.
Given India's traditional concerns about the dangers of GMO releases into
the environment, the decision to go ahead with the commercial production
of GM cotton is of great political and commercial significance.
Biotechnology firms hope, and environmentalists fear, that it will send a
green light to those working on other GM crop developments such as
tobacco, mustard and tomato.
Knock-on effects may also be felt abroad. Because of India's importance as
a leading cotton producer - it is the world's third largest after China
and the United States, where GM cotton is already in use - smaller
developing countries may feel commercial pressure to abandon their
cautionary stance and authorise its commercial use.
For advocates of the biotechnology revolution, the benefits of GM crops
are all too clear. Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, the joint venture behind the
cotton development in India, points to the superior yield and greater pest
resistance its products have achieved in test trials. Despite intending to
charge between three and six times the price of conventional cotton seeds,
the company believes farmers will derive a benefit from the new product,
mainly because of reduced expenditure on pesticides and higher and more
In a country with a notoriously underachieving agricultural sector,
arguments such as these have fallen on fertile ground in industry and
government. Cotton is a particularly striking example of India's low
agricultural productivity: while harvesting the world's largest cotton--
growing area, its yield of about 300 kilograms per hectare is under half
the global average of around 650 kilograms.
India has experimented with GM cotton seed for many years, but has been
keen to maintain safety. It was among the first developing countries to
introduce biosafety regulations. However, real achievements remain
elusive. Observers point out that the country's biosafety regime rests on
shaky foundations. Although nationwide guidelines have been in place for
over a decade, like many other developing countries it suffers from a weak
regulatory infrastructure, especially at sub-national level, where much
ofthe implementation of rules takes place.
These shortcomings have repeatedly shown up. In 1998, outraged farmers
torched fields of suspected GM cotton in the southern state of Karnataka,
and last year, authorities in the western state of Gujarat acted against
the illegal planting of GM cotton on an estimated 11,000 hectares. While
these may be isolated instances of illegal activity, a more fundamental
question exists about the state's ability to ensure that no GMOs enter the
country without permission. Trade officials admit port authorities do not
have the capacity to test agricultural imports for GM contents, making the
official claim that Indian agriculture is as yet GM-free sound hollow.
India is, of course, not alone in facing the complex political and
economic dilemmas involved. Other developing countries are also struggling
to balance the need for biosafety with the desire to explore the
commercial prospects of GM crops. And many have found that the forces
shaping the future of agriculture are beyond state control.
Brazil's experience is symptomatic of the widening governance gap in the
developing world. Having invested in indigenous biotech capacity for many
years, and authorised the commercial planting of GM soya in 1998, the
authorities were forced to retreat from their pro-GM policy by the courts
after environmental non-governmental organisations complained that studies
had not been carried out on the long term environmental and health impacts
of such crops, as required by national biosafety legislation. Brazil has
since maintained that its soy production is GM-free, and thanks to the
rejection of GM foods in Europe, has built a strong position as a GM-free
soy product exporter mainly to the European Union.
This has now come under threat because of the widespread illegal use of
Monsanto's Round-up Ready soy variety in Brazil's southern region,
imported mainly from neighbouring Argentina where farmers have embraced
the GM crop. Recent reports suggest that over half of the soybean crop in
the state of Rio Grande Do Sul, the country's third ranking soy state,
maybe of the GM variety. This plays into the hands of pro-GM farming
interests and US multinationals like Monsanto, which have lobbied the
government to lift the ban on their products. Brazil may very soon find
itself unable to maintain non-GM status, irrespective of the decision on
the safety and commercial benefits of such soya.
Other nations face similar pressure to speed up the GM approval process.
But for many developing countries, the pace with which these crops are
entering the agricultural sector puts their regulatory system under
increasing stress. Although many have begun to create biosafety
structures, few can carry out comprehensive risk assessment and arrive at
informed decisions about the ecological risks of GMO releases into the
environment. With the rapid globalisation of agricultural markets, many
developing countries find themselves exposed to forces beyond their
This institutional weakness, combined with a fear of being used by
multinationals as testing grounds for GM crops, led many developing
countries to look for an international solution. It was primarily at the
initiative of these countries that negotiations on an international
biosafety regime kicked off in 1996. The talks, conducted under the
auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, led to the adoption of
the Cartegena Protocol. The agreement, which will come into effect once
fifty countries have ratified it up to now twenty two have done so - is
primarily aimed at helping developing countries fill biosafety governance
The Protocol establishes rules for decision-making on GMO imports and
legitimises their rejection if a risk assessment finds potentially adverse
effects on their biological diversity. Countries may take precautionary
action and cite socio-economic considerations, both key demands of
developing nations. These provisions, they hope, will protect against
future challenges by GMO-- exporting countries under the jurisdiction of
the World Trade Organization (WTO), which could undermine import
decisions. But trade experts from the north have already begun to unpick
the trade-relevant sections of the Protocol and point to potential future
conflict between the biosafety regime and WTO rules.
Developing countries' immediate focus will therefore be on the
capacity-building support the Protocol provides. The Global Environment
Facility, as well as national donor organisations and industry, have begun
training programmes and workshops to develop biosafety expertise in the
south. It remains to be seen whether these efforts will succeed in
enabling developing countries to make full use of the Protocol's
provisions and adequately assess the benefits and risks of GM crops.
But the Protocol is no remedy for the many policy dilemmas faced by
developing countries. It deals mainly with trade in GMOs and leaves
national authorities to tackle domestic problems such as illegal GM
planting. Each country will have to carry out its own risk assessment of
GMO imports, and the political and economic pressures involved are well
beyond the scope of the Protocol.
Robert Falkner is a lecturer in international relations at the London
School of Economics, and an Associate Fellow of the Sustainable
Development Programme at Chatham House.
On Hardy and Hardiness: Droughts and Genetic Engineering
- Justin Kastner; Commentary from the Food Safety Network;
www.foodsafetynetwork.ca; August 22, 2002 (Via Agnet)
British novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is reputed for his descriptions
of the changes that rural England experienced during the
nineteenth-century. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Wessex -- a fictitious
region in southwest England -- is the setting of a story subject to the
vicissitudes of uncertain harvests.
While Hardy's stories are fictitious, bad weather and poor yields were
real problems for nineteenth-century Britain. Substantial harvests were
reaped in 1842, 143, and 144, but the poor yield in 1845 reminded British
farmers and consumers of the elusiveness of plenty. In that year,
Britain1s food supply was beleaguered by bad weather, poor harvests, and,
in Ireland, the beginnings of a potato famine. For outspoken political
economists and activists, the woes of 1845 certified that Britain1s food
security was a precarious one. These thought leaders had previously argued
that grain imports were needed to ensure a cheap, plentiful food supply
for working-class Britain--a nation that was increasingly industrial and
The bad harvest of 1845 convinced politicians of the validity of such
economic arguments; in 1846, Britain repealed the Corn Laws, a system of
tariffs on grain imports. While the repeal of the Corn Laws helped England
and Ireland cope with imminent starvation, farmers expressed worry that
the increased competition would ruin them. Indeed, increasing supplies of
imported grain forced many out of business and those capable of adaptation
would eventually turn to livestock farming, where Britain's meat-eating
appetite offered better prices.
Literary scholars note that Hardy himself lamented many of the effects of
Corn Law repeal, in particular mechanization and the ever-increasing
distance between labourers and the land. Hardy1s novels are still read
today by those of us enchanted by pastoral scenes of nineteenth-century
England. Hardy's writings resonate with our yearnings for the 'simple
life' of yesteryear. Yet it is noteworthy, as scholar Merryn Williams
quotes him, that Hardy admitted, 'it is too much to expect [farmers] to
remain stagnant and old-fashioned for the pleasure of romantic
Unfortunately, stagnation and old-fashionedness is still being forced on
farmers. Millions of people in southern Africa are suffering from
starvation. Farmers and consumers in the region could benefit from
genetically engineered crops that are drought- and insect-resistant, yet
the dictates of European policy have forced many of these countries to
refuse them. Some countries have actually shunned North American food aid
on the basis of GM concerns. Equally lamentable has been resistance in
North America to new pest-resistant varieties of potatoes that could help
alleviate the fish kills cause by pesticide run-off on Prince Edward
In his preface to The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy wrote that there was a
'present indifference of the public to harvest weather.' This indifference
continues; most of our preoccupations with the weather begin and end with
what clothing we will wear today. Farmers -- that ever-decreasing group of
people responsible for our very food supply -- have an altogether
different reason for watching the weather. And they should be allowed the
freedom to choose from agricultural technologies that help them hedge
against nature1s risks.
Justin Kastner is a doctoral student with the Food Safety Network at the
University of Guelph; firstname.lastname@example.org
World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030
- From: email@example.com
By the year 2030, there will be an additional 2 billion more people but
according to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Jelle Bruinsma,
it is possible to meet the demand. Bruinsma, editor of the major FAO
publication "World Agriculture: towards 2015/2030", said it is estimated
that the total demand for agricultural products will be 60% higher than
today and more than 85% will be in developing countries.
However, agriculture will respond to the increase in demand though not
automatically. Furthermore, the pressure in the environment will increase
though not as rapidly as in the past because population growth is expected
to slow down and more agricultural technologies will become available that
have less damaging effects on natural resources than conventional methods.
Regarding arable land and water, some regions will have ample resources
while others are already experiencing shortages.
It was also projected by FAO that the agricultural trade deficit in the
developing world will increase drastically from the present to 2030. While
globalization can potentially offer great benefits, a few more things need
to be done for developing countries to profit from trade in agricultural
products and these include:
* Eliminate export subsidies
* Simplify access to markets in OECD (industrialized) countries
* Reduce tariffs in both OECD and developing countries, in particular for
* Reduce production-enhancing subsidies in OECD countries
* Make sure that safety, environmental and other standards are not used as
protectionism in disguise.
To see more of Bruinsma's views go to
Former Greenpeace Head Backs Biotechnology
- The Philippine Star, August 18, 2002;
The influential founder of controversial international pressure group
Greenpeace called on Third World nations to "go ahead and use
biotechnology in agriculture," saying it could help farmers in developing
countries "grow more food per hectare."
In a live interview in Bangkok, former Greenpeace president Dr. Patrick
Moore cited the social and environmental benefits of biotechnology to
agriculture even as he warned that the public may be open "to
misinformation and scare tactics" due to the failure of governments and
industries to provide information about it.
Moore's statement supporting biotechnology drew a setback to a reported
$175-million international pressure campaign by the Europe-based
Greenpeace against biotechnology.
Earlier, Greenpeace warned the Philippines of "millions of dead bodies and
diseases" resulting from the use of biotechnology in agriculture. The
threat came in the wake of government efforts to introduce biotech crop
varieties in a bid to reduce dependence on imported rice and corn.
Greenpeace admitted it is conducting a global campaign against
Greenpeace also issued a warning against local food manufacturers,
including giants San Miguel Corp. and General Milling Corp., against using
raw materials derived from genetically modified products. The Filipino
companies, however, reportedly bucked pressure to limit their purchase of
raw materials to Greenpeace suppliers. Moore said biotechnology reduces
the use of toxic pesticides and averts soil erosion. He said the
technology allows for greater farm productivity "which means less forests
would be cleared away to grow the same food."
"It will be good for the environment since it reduces reliance on
chemicals and would require less land to grow the same food for our six
billion people in the world," Moore said. Moore also belied claims that
food derived from biotech plants are not safe for human consumption.
"There are no side effects that we know," Moore said. He added that if
biotech food are compared with regular food, "there is no difference".
He expressed confidence that "when the public is properly informed about
biotech, they will realize that the positive benefits far outweigh any
potential negative benefit." The former Greenpeace head said the
academies of science of America, Canada, Mexico, Britain, China and India,
as well as the Third World Academy of Science, have signed a document
supporting the application of biotechnology in agriculture.
Pocket Books on AgBiotech
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
through its Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology has updated
earlier editions of its Pocket K (Knowledge) series. Pocket Ks are
packaged information on crop biotechnology products and related issues
that are written in an easy to understand style. Topics available are:
questions and answers about genetically modified crops; plant products of
biotechnology; food safety; GM crops and the environment; and documented
benefits of GM crops.
Download the two materials and other Pocket Ks for free at
A Vision of Dystopia
'This is for real, not the sequel to a sci-fi thriller. The World Bank
paints a picture of a catastrophic global future if we do not change the
way we live'
- The Guardian (UK), August 23, 2002
New York City in 2022. Half the 40 million people in the swarming
metropolis are unemployed, the air is thick with pollution, food and water
are as precious as jewels. This was the world of the future as envisaged
in the sci-fi thriller, Soylent Green, in 1973. Now, according to the
World Bank, it could come true unless there are dramatic and immediate
changes to the way we live.
Unlike the Charlton Heston movie, the Bank does not suggest that we will
be making food from dead bodies in 20 years' time. But its warning of an
increasingly dysfunctional global society, with enormous pressure on basic
resources such as water, energy and health, is remarkably similar.
Looking into its crystal ball, the Bank sees a world of nine billion
people by mid-century generating a global GDP of $140 trillion a year.
This staggering fourfold increase in the size of the world economy would
be enough to guarantee a large-scale reduction in the 1.2 billion people
living on less than a dollar a day, but the Bank argues that the price
will be environmental catastrophe, social breakdown and lower living
standards for everyone if policies remain unchanged.
Released to coincide with next week's summit on sustainable development in
Johannesburg, the Washington-based institution's annual world development
report sounds the alarm bell for global leaders as they prepare for 10
days of talks, providing a nightmarish prophecy of what could happen if
they fail to turn rhetoric into action.
It's not all bad news. The Bank says that economic growth is vital for
tackling poverty, with a 3.6% a year increase in per capita incomes needed
in developing countries if the world is to achieve the 2015 targets set by
the United Nations of halving the number of people living on less than a
dollar a day, reducing infant mortality by two thirds and giving every
child a primary school education. It adds, however, that coordinating
globally and acting locally will be critical to ensuring that gains in
social indicators - such as incomes, literacy rates, or access to
sanitation - of the past 20 years are not reversed by population growth
pressures and unsustainable economic expansion.
"This growth must be achieved in a manner that preserves our future," said
Ian Johnson, vice-president of the Bank's environmentally and socially
sustainable development network. "It would be reckless of us to reach
successfully the millennium development goals in 2015, only to be
confronted by dysfunctional cities, dwindling water supplies, more
inequality and conflict and even less crop land to sustain us than we have
The report contains a litany of potential ecological and social problems,
from slum-ridden urban dystopias to an increase to the 1.3 billion people
who already live on fragile lands which cannot sustain them. Already, it
says, the "biosphere's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without altering
temperatures has been compromised because of heavy reliance on fossil
fuels for energy. Greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow unless a
concerted effort is made to increase energy efficiency and reduce
dependency on fossil fuels."
Nearly two million hectares of land worldwide (23% of all crop land,
pasture, forest and woodland) have been degraded since the 1950s, a fifth
of all tropical forests have been cleared since 1960 and one third of
terrestial biodiversity is squeezed into vulnerable habitats making up
just 1.4% of the earth's surface.
Unsurprisingly, the Bank concludes that these trends cannot continue. "The
$140 trillion world of five decades' time simply cannot be sustained on
current production and consumption patterns," said Nick Stern, the Bank's
chief economist. "A major transformation, beginning in the rich countries,
will be needed to ensure that poor people have an opportunity to
participate, and that the environment is not damaged in a way that
undermines their opportunities for the future."
So what is the Bank's blueprint for sustainable development? It says:
* developing countries should act to clean up their governments, promoting
participation and democracy, inclusiveness and transparency as they build
the institutions needed to manage their resources;
* rich countries need to be less selfish by increasing aid, offering more
generous debt relief, opening their markets to developing country
exporters and helping transfer technologies needed to prevent diseases,
increase energy efficiency and bolster agricultural productivity;
* civil society organisations should be encouraged to serve as a voice for
the weak and powerless, and to provide independent verification of public,
private and non-governmental performance;
* private firms should be more focused on sustainability in their day to
day activities, and have incentives to pursue profit while advancing
environmental and social objectives.
"The world must act to help its poorest people manage their own resources
and build their productivity and incomes now, to empower these communities
and help them prepare for the demands of the decades ahead" said Mr Stern.
"Rich countries can take such a step by opening their markets to
developing world exports and by abandoning agricultural subsidies and
other barriers to trade that depress prices and limit market opportunities
for the very goods that poor people produce most competitively."
Given that the average income in the richest 20 countries in the world is
37 times that in the poorest 20, the Bank feels that the rich west is in a
position to make concessions. "It seems to me there is a certain hypocrisy
about rich countries telling poor countries to undertake radical reform.
The kind of changes we have got to make in the west are much smaller than
the kinds of reforms rich countries are asking poor countries to make all
the time," Mr Stern told the Guardian.
So far, the willingness of the developed west to abandon protectonist
policies has not been much in evidence and, as the Bank recognises in four
open questions posed in the conclusion to the report, there are potential
The first is the issue of when consumption is overconsumption. Telling
consumers in the west that they have to cut back is not relished by
politicians. But the Bank wonders whether consumption will become the
modern equivalent of the Cold War arms race; will people in the developing
world see the norm as patterns of consumption in the west?
The second vexed issue highlighted by the report is the future of
agriculture and of genetically modified organisms. The United States is
eager to export GM foods to developing countries, often in the teeth of
ferocious local opposition. Should this be encouraged? The Bank is not
sure. "Applying the precautionary principle - balancing risks to food
safety and the environment against prospects for development and poverty
alleviation - will be a difficult task, requiring a broader debate on
Third, the Bank is concerned about the system of intellectual property
rights presided over by the World Trade Organisation. How can the
interests of patent holders be balanced against those of the users of
products? The system in place has strengthened the hand of western
corporations at the expense of poor countries. The potential for unequal
outcomes is "worrisome", the Bank says.
Finally, what are the prospects for global migration? The report says that
global inequality, combined with demographic trends, will create ever more
pressure for migration. "Dealing with this pressure is a challenge
The report concludes that the planet will face predictable challenges
which will increase in intensity over the coming decades. But the fact
that the Bank has no pat answers to its four questions suggests that they
will take years, if not decades, to resolve. If the Bank is right, the
most precious resource of all over the next half century could be time.
Sustainable Development in a Dynamic World. This report is available on
Genetically Modified Animals - NPR Segment
'FDA turns to the National Academy of Sciences about concerns surrounding
genetically engineered animals'
- NPR: Morning Edition; National Public Radio, Inc. August 21, 2002
Some companies are proposing to genetically engineer animals, making
bigger salmon, more cows, and pharmaceutical milk. An uneasy Food and Drug
Administration has turned to the National Research Council for some
guidance. The council has a new study that articulates environmental and
public health concerns. NPR's Dan Charles reports. (Visit NPR Webiste for
an audio file of 3 min 48 sec). Transcript Below....
RENEE MONTAGNE, host: Genetically engineered food from crops like soybeans
and corn has aroused heated controversy in recent years. But some experts
say that controversy will seem mild compared to what awaits when
genetically modified meat and milk go on sale. The National Academy of
Sciences has just released a report on the concern surrounding genetically
engineered animals. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES reporting: For the last decade, Thomas Hoban, a sociologist at
North Carolina State University, has been asking consumers what they think
about genetically engineered food. And one of his very first surveys
revealed that in the mind of the public, plants and animals are very
Mr. THOMAS HOBAN (North Carolina State University): About 26 percent of
the American public felt it was actually morally wrong to genetically
engineer plants. We found 53 percent of the American public, over half,
felt it was morally wrong to genetically engineer animals.
CHARLES: Back then, the consumer didn't have to face any genetically
engineered animals, but that soon could change. One company wants to sell
salmon that have been genetically modified to grow much faster. Another
company has cloned some particularly prized bulls for continued productive
insemination of cows across America. Other researchers are modifying cows
or goats so they will produce pharmaceuticals or even spider silk in their
milk. It's new territory for science and also for government regulators.
So the Food and Drug Administration asked the nation's most prestigious
scientific body, the National Academy of Sciences, to look at what it
called science-based concerns raised by this research. That includes risks
to food safety, to the environment and to animal welfare. John
Vandenbergh, a zoologist also from North Carolina State, chaired the study
Mr. JOHN VANDENBERGH (North Carolina State University): The committee does
not want to produce a report that impedes the progress of biotechnology.
But it does want to make sure that any of that progress is done in a safe
and responsible manner.
CHARLES: Government regulators need to make sure, for instance, that the
meat and milk from cloned cattle really are identical and just as safe as
the products of ordinary animals. So far, that's not been proven. But
Vandenbergh says it's a question that science can answer.
Mr. VANDENBERGH: What it takes is more data, and we'll have that confirmed
one way or the other, I think.
CHARLES: More difficult to resolve, he says, are concerns about potential
dangers to ecosystems when it comes to creatures like fish or insects that
can migrate and survive on their own. Faster, bigger salmon, for instance,
if they got into the wild, could compete with normal salmon. The report
doesn't make specific recommendations on how to resolve these concerns.
Vandenbergh says that's something government agencies or Congress will
have to address. Yet, Thomas Hoban, the sociologist, says the report is
missing the forest for the trees. By focusing so narrowly on risks to food
safety or the environment, he says, it misses what's more important.
Mr. HOBAN: I feel like they did not sort of head-on address the
psychological, sort of emotional issues that are going to be attended with
CHARLES: We humans care more about animals than we do about plants, Hoban
says. They're closer to us. Whatever scientists do to a cow, we can
imagine them doing to us. Hoban has been a consultant to biotech
companies, and he's supported genetically engineered crops. But he's not
so sure about animal biotech. And most of the companies currently involved
in animal biotechnology, he says, don't seem to realize they're wandering
into a mine field of emotion.
Mr. HOBAN: These are our companies that, in fact, have little or no track
record and probably little or no connection with food and agriculture.
CHARLES: It's a shaky foundation, he says, on which to build a technology,
and that won't change until both government and the biotech industry
really know what consumers are thinking. Dan Charles, NPR News,