Today in AgBioView: August 27, 2002:
* Scientific Papers on Biotech Crop Yield and Agronomic Performance
* African Wide-sightedness
* A Summit Misconceived
* NGOs Don't Speak for the Hungry
* Farmers From Africa and Asia March to Demand the Freedom to Trade
* An NGO at the World Summit Offers Its Proposals
* 'No More Turning Away'
* The Villainous Vandana Shiva: A false environmental prophet
* World Would Starve On Organic Farming
* World Hunger: Stop Blaming The Weather
* Hunger: Always with us
* Tiki the Eco-Pengiun vs. Genetic Engineering
A compilation of many scientific papers and reviews on the field
performance, yield and agronomic data of biotech crops (compared to
conventional crops) has been posted on the AgBioWorld website.
- From: "Horst Backhaus"
The following is an opinion article from a leading German newspaper (raw
translation), eventually instructive in demonstrating some sectors of
public perception in our country.
A clear anti-global player impetus is accompanied by reassuring statements
about the "dangers of gene technology" which only have not yet
materialized, as have the unknown "long-term" consequences and potential
allergenicity of "gene food".
Misleading and incorrect information about consequences of licensing
politics and control is given by suggesting that the harvest of seeds from
the food aid would result in licensing obligations or that the feeding of
animals with corn meal from modified maize would compromize animal meat
exports. The superficial reflection on consequences for (agricultural)
diversity characteristically gives no credit to the possibility of
combining drought tolerance or other features of local varieties and the
novel pest resistances.
The idea of conserving or erecting trade barriers in favor of sensible
risk perceptions and ethics of European consumers and agri-culture wins
over the ethics of help for the proverbial hungry African. But finally
some donation is recommended as a thank for the support of our
- Prof. Dr. Horst Backhaus Federal Research Agency for Agriculture and
Forestry Institute of Virology, Microbiology and Biological Safety (PS)
Messeweg 11-12 D-38104 Braunschweig, GERMANY
It is the offer of gene tech-maize which is unethical, not its rejection
- Christina Berndt, Suddeutsche Zeitung, 196, August 26, 2002
One sentence is known to almost every child which is advised to handle
food in a responsible manner: Eat the food on your plate completely. Think
how happy the hungry children in Africa would be having similar food to
Now again millions of Africans are facing death from starvation. And in
opposition to everything we learnt during childhood, they are not happy
about the food offered by western countries. Zambia refuses to accept an
offer of aid with maize from the United States, because the kernels are
modified by gene technology. The government in Lusaka prefers to let its
people stay hungry, instead of providing the corn which forms the
cornflakes on the daily breakfast table in the USA. Immediately this news
provoked indignation of all those which ever heard the story of the hungry
children in Africa. The UN Food Aid warned Zambia, it might refuse the
Gene food, but would then be forced to live without any further help from
The discussion appears to revolve around a simple question: How dainty can
one stay in case of severe hunger? But the answer to this question
definitely is not that simple, as the USA and UN suggest. Indeed the
dangers originating from eating food modified by gene technology are not
materialized so far. Indeed in the USA billions of people eat gene food -
called "an extensive field trial" by cynics. But even if there are long
term consequences for individuals and the meal with the alien bits of
hereditary material could possibly result in allergies: it is definitely
better than to die of starvation.
Thus the choice appears to be simple, the government of Zambia is
irresponsible, and the indignation of the UN is justified by superior
knowledge. However, the gracious gift from the US is not only supplied for
the hungry bellies of little Africans. It also intends to conquer novel
markets for cereals of which only the First World gains profit. The US
exploit the hunger crisis for the dissemination of their agricultural
policy around the globe. For the maize kernels with the peculiar
hereditary material will not only serve for filling hungry traps, but will
also serve for seeding on agricultural fields in Zambia. And thereby the
country will establish a dependence from multinational Agrobusiness
companies. Who ever uses such seed covered by a plethora of patents, may
not deliberately use his harvest for novel seeding.
Furthermore, the growth of the cereals will make exports to Europe
impossible in the long term. That's because nobody in the EU wants to eat
gene food. Unfortunately, genetically modified maize does not remain were
it was planted. But the plants are outcrossing into indigenous species,
irrespective of all measures of precaution, which may be observed by well
trained farmers in the industrial world. Because their alien genes
frequently provide for protection against agricultural pests, they can
displace the traditional varieties in the long term, which generally
survive drought much better than the pampered high tech plants of western
agriculture. The people would become even more vulnerable for famine. For
these reasons other suffering states like Zimbabwe and Malawi want to
import only milled genetech maize. This could then not become seeded.
But even then all the problems would not have been solved, because the
maize meal would be used for animal feed. Exports of meat to Europe and
Asia, on which many Zambians depend, would be prohibitive from then on.
Thereby the maize from US high tech laboratories covered by patenting
would solve the actual problems in Africa, but would generate novel
problems in the more distant future.
This widesightedness of the government in Lusaka should be especially
rewarded by the Europeans, which refuse the meal of gene modified food, by
providing morally clearly correct help.
A Summit Misconceived: Their hearts are in the right place...
- Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine, August 26, 2002
August 25, Johannesburg, South Africa - The World Summit on Sustainable
Development opening in Johannesburg South Africa is supposed to be aimed
at eradicating global poverty, but many of the measures favored by
negotiators and activists would increase poverty, not alleviate it.
The problems are stark. Some 1.1 billion people lack safe drinking water;
2.2 billion are without adequate sanitation; 2.5 billion lack access to
modern energy services; 11 million children under the age of five die each
year in developing countries from preventable diseases; and despite an
abundance of food, 800 million people are still malnourished.
Poverty eradication is clearly crucial to preventing environmental
degradation. There is nothing more environmentally destructive than a
hungry human being.
The problem is that many of the programs under discussion would set back
efforts to alleviate poverty. For example, the German Green activist
group, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a prominent "civil society" group at
the WSSD, actually opposes free trade in agricultural goods and the
privatization of water supplies. The Foundation argues that poor countries
are "well-advised not to abandon their food sovereignty" which in practice
would deny their poor citizens access to cheap food in world markets. Food
autarky would also mean that farmers in poor countries would be forced to
plow up more wildlands in their own countries to grow food - hardly an
environmentally friendly consequence of their anti-trade agenda.
Additionally, one of the areas in which developing countries could
out-compete rich countries is in producing crops. History has shown that
improving agricultural productivity is the first rung on the ladder of
economic development. However, the absurd farm subsidies in developed
countries, totaling nearly $300 billion annually, keep cutting this rung
out from under the developing countries.
"Water is a human right" is a slogan often heard here, along with the
claim that "water is too important to be left in the hands of private
companies." This is nonsense. "There is plenty of water;, it's just being
used stupidly," declared Richard Tren, an analyst at the Free Market
Foundation in South Africa. Water shortages are most often the result of
politically motivated misallocation by government bureaucracies. Pricing
water in private markets would give people an incentive to use it more
wisely. The fact is that in most areas there would be copious supplies of
freshwater for drinking and industrial uses if supplies could be freed
from inefficient government-subsidized crop irrigation schemes.
Another oft heard demand is that the 2.5 billion people who need modern
energy, e.g., electricity and transport fuels, be supplied using "clean
renewable energy sources" like wind generators, solar thermal, solar
photoelectric cells and small hydropower. Of course, these 2.5 billion
energy poor people are already using "renewables" such as wood and cow
dung. In effect, this quixotic proposal would require the world's poorest
people to adopt the most expensive and complicated energy technologies in
the world - ones that even rich, technologically sophisticated nations
can't make serviceable in comparison with conventional sources of energy.
I asked Nitin Desai, the Secretary General of the WSSD whether it is more
important that the poor gain access to modern energy services than that
they be renewable? "Access to modern energy is more important," he rightly
But what are the causes of global poverty? An Argentine economist once
told me, "Everybody below the Rio Grande River believes that they are poor
because you are rich."
He was claiming that Latin Americans are convinced that the United States
is a rich country because it has plundered the resources of their
countries. Many activists and negotiators at the World Summit on
Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa apparently
share that belief. South African President Thabo MBeki in his welcoming
remarks to WSSD delegates denounced the gap between the rich and poor
countries as "a global system of apartheid." Anton Boonzaier, a South
African environmentalist explained to a TV interviewer, "Trade for
hundreds of years has benefited the developed world at the expense of the
However, the United Nations' own data undercut those assertions. "During
the 1990s the economies of developing countries that were integrated into
the world economy grew more than twice as fast as the rich countries. The
'non-globalizers' grew only half as fast and continue to lag further
behind," according to fact sheets issued by the UN for the summit.
Nevertheless, a hardy band of anti-globalization activists are denouncing
the WSSD as a part of the "corporate global agenda." On Saturday, South
African police, using tear gas and stun grenades, broke up an unsanctioned
demonstration by a hodge podge of the more extreme activist groups. South
African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Diamini-Zuma made it clear at a press
conference that illegal demonstrations will not be allowed. "In South
Africa, there is no anarchy, there is law," she said. And there is
something pathetically amusing, or maybe just pathetic, about a bunch of
anarchists demanding stronger, more centralized and more intrusive global
governance. Kropotkin must be spinning in his grave.
"This is a summit of implementation," declared Nitin Desai. The WSSD's
draft Plan of Implementation envisions cutting in half the number of
people without access to safe drinking water, halving the number of those
lacking adequate sanitation, providing access to modern energy services to
all and reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than a $1
per day - all by 2015. Unfortunately, many of the proposals in the draft
plan would have the opposite effect.
NGOs Don't Speak for the Hungry
- Thomas R. DeGregori, 'Health Facts and Fears' from American Council on
Science and Health, August 26, 2002
In recent years we have witnessed the rapid rise of what is called "civil
society" in the form of a multiplicity of NGOs (Non-Governmental
Organizations) who claim to be the voice of the poor and powerless who can
not speak for themselves. From the demonstrations in Seattle to the
streets of Genoa ó where the cry was "you are the G-8, we are 6 billion" ó
organizations dominated by wealthy white male Northern Europeans and North
Americans have carried the twin banners of the poor and the environment of
planet Earth in battle against the evils of globalization, multi-national
corporations, and modern technology and biotechnology. They even have a
website, G6B for "global six billion."
The media seems to have largely bought into the agenda and terminology of
the anti-globalization, environmental, and green NGOs. A "hunger
activist," according to the media, is someone who promotes a particular
anti-technology ideology, not someone who has actually helped people in
need gain access to food in the most effective way possible, by growing
more of it themselves. We must clearly distinguish between those
organizations that for decades have selflessly worked around the globe to
improve the lot of those in need and the NGOs, whose main goals seem to be
raising money, garnering publicity for ideological causes, and trying to
force undemocratic public policy changes.
Organizations with "food" or "rural advancement" in their name have raised
and spent hundreds of millions of dollars for advocacy and have spent
virtually nothing directly helping those in need. Still, they savagely
attack people like scientist Norman Borlaug and international agricultural
research institutions that are responsible for the world being able to
feed six billion and feed them better than ever before. Scientists did
this by bringing about an agricultural revolution that close to tripled
food production while population was doubling. All this was done with only
a slight increase in the amount of land under cultivation, from 1.4
billion hectares to 1.5 billion hectares. The "Green Revolution" which
many of these NGOs have long opposed, is regularly deemed to have been a
"failure" by activists who have no feasible alternative strategy to feed a
globe of six billion people (a population expected to grow to nine billion
before leveling-off around 2040).
Visiting Asia and Africa Reveals Holes in NGO Propaganda
Since May, I have made three trips to Asia and one to Africa with
stopovers in London, and I have seen the dark side of "civil society," as
NGOs sometimes style themselves. My trip to Africa in June marked the
fortieth anniversary of my first trip to Africa. I have lived, traveled,
and been involved in development more times and in more areas of Africa,
Asia, and elsewhere in the Third World than I can count. On all my
overseas trips, I meet and work with friends and associates from all over
the Third World.
The African country that I visited faces opposition to its efforts to
build a dam that would provide new electric power in a country in which
only 4% of the population currently has access to the grid. European and
North American NGOs have thus far been able to use their very effective
propaganda machines to hold up World Bank and other international funding
for the dam. They claim to be operating on behalf of local NGOs and the
local people. As an editor friend of mine put it, the local opponents are
in fact "less than ten," and all are on the payroll of Northern NGOs.
Another journalist chimed in that the "less than" was correct but the
"ten" was generous.
There was no question that the so-called "local NGO" was fully funded from
outside the country, since its members are regularly flown to Scandinavia
for meetings and taken on global tours and presented to the media and to
supporters of the NGO as leaders of an indigenous grassroots movement and
accepted as such without any questions being asked. The media gives them
equal or greater credence than the democratically elected government of
their country. We must not confuse this NGO ventriloquism with the
authentic voices of Third World concerns. They are no more unbiased or
representative of their country than would be the local hires of an
American multi-national corporation, and their word should not be treated
with any greater deference.
The bottom line is that those in affluent countries for whom electricity
comes as easily as flipping a switch are making it very difficult for a
poor country to increase its electric supply, in turn making it harder for
hospitals to function, harder to preserve vaccines, and harder to keep
food from spoiling. Unfortunately, this is one of several countries in
Africa and Asia where NGOs based in affluent countries are fighting the
efforts of poor countries to build dams for hydro-power and irrigation.
It has become an all-too-common practice for the NGOs to create and fully
fund affiliates for a variety of causes and then bring their hired hands
on propaganda and fundraising tours in the developed world, depicting them
as the "legitimate" representatives of their people. This practice
resembles the NGO roadshow sent around the world purporting to represent
American farmers and scientists who oppose foodcrops that are
genetically-modified (gm, or more properly transgenic).
Scientists Overwhelmingly Support Genetically-Modified Foods
It is important to note that over the last decades scientist have lined up
literally by the thousands to take controversial stands on public policy
issues such as nuclear testing or global warming. Yet not a single
scientist of any professional stature who has made a significant
contribution to advancing scientific understanding has in any way
supported the dire warnings about the dangers of gm food that are the
basis for so much NGO fundraising and disruptive protests. An anti-gm food
petition that has been vigorously promoted for several years has barely
more than 300 signatories. while a pro-gm food petition has over 3,000
including nineteen Nobel Prize winners. These names should be weighed
together with the many professional scientific societies and national
academies of science that have studied the issue and proclaimed the safety
of gm foods. Reading media accounts, one would never surmise this massive
disparity in the between scientific support for gm foods and the very
small number of scientists opposed.
Across Asia, I have worked in tightly-packed villages surrounded by rice
paddies where rice provided the main source of calories (sometimes as much
as 70% or more), with the few fruit trees and perhaps a kitchen garden
next to the house providing vital nutrients and a modicum of dietary
variety. In some of these countries, vitamin deficiency, particularly
vitamin A deficiency, causes children to go blind or makes them more
likely to die from diseases such as diarrhea or measles.
In an Asian country that I visited this summer, papaya ring spot virus
(PRSV) was killing the villager's trees. The truly superb scientists with
whom I was meeting all knew about the successful genetically-engineered
papaya tree with a viral gene that expresses an enzyme that stimulates the
tree's natural immune system to protect it against the virus ó but the
constant, massive NGO anti- genetic modification campaign had effectively
intimidated them into rejecting that solution, even though senior
government officials with whom I discussed the matter made it clear that
there was no government policy against genetic modification. In other
words, the NGO scare campaign had brought about paralysis, while poor
peasant families were suffering a critical loss of basic nutrition.
One distinguished scientist indicated that he was preparing an op-ed
article supporting gm food but added that fighting the NGOs'
misinformation is an uphill battle, since he has to get back to doing his
real job ó science ó while the NGOs have nothing better to do with their
time than continue refining the art of the propaganda campaign.
NGOs Want Money, Fame, and Power
Like the multi-nationals that they criticize, the green, anti-
globalization, and environmental NGOs are revenue-maximizing
organizations. They obtain their revenue by successfully marketing fear,
no matter what the human cost may be. Fear and fundraising are their
full-time occupations. Ironically, in the country facing the tree virus,
one of the most vocal "local" NGOs receives its funding from the United
States government, via a foundation set up to support local initiatives.
In Southern Africa, where drought, famine, disease, and death stalk the
land, the NGO-spawned false fears, particularly the anti-gm food campaign,
have greatly hindered relief efforts undertaken by the World Food program
and the United States government. There was simply no way to meet
NGO-driven demands that donated maize be certified gm-free ó nor is there
any legitimate food safety reason that it should be. This obstacle has
been made worse by the European Union, which has used the NGO scare
campaign as reason to require gm or gm-free labeling of all grains. It is
no coincidence that this rule serves as protectionism for EU agriculture,
already subsidized at a rate of over a billion dollars a day, against gm
African leaders are less frightened about the safety of gm imports than
about the possibility that some of the donated grain would end up being
planted, making future exports to Europe difficult to certify as gm-free.
Thus far, we have not heard any of the anti-gm food NGOs, some of whose
annual budgets are well in excess of $100 million, offer to provide food
aid, nor gm food critic Prince Charles ó who has a billion-dollar-a -year
organic food business. The only time when NGOs are silent is when you ask
them how many people they have helped to feed. The fact is that it is
conventional farmers ó using the latest in technology, including
biotechnology ó who feed the world and provide the surpluses that feed the
victims of famine (U.S. agriculture alone provides about 60% of the
world's food aid). Yet it is the conventional farmers who are regularly
denounced by individuals who feed none but themselves, activists who
somehow claim a higher moral authority and delude themselves and others
that they are "activists" on behalf of the poor. In attacking science and
agriculture, the activists are not just biting the hand feeds them but
biting the hand that attempts to feed those most in need.
NGOs Willing to Sacrifice Human Wellbeing
Given that the above is but a small sample of the paralysis in development
engendered by the green, anti-globalization, and environmental NGOs
throughout the Third World, it is difficult not to believe that they care
more about defending their ideology than about electricity for the poor,
life enhancing nutrition for Asian children, and famine-alleviating food
provision for those in Africa on the brink of starvation. This may sound
harsh, but can anyone come up with a better explanation?
Thomas R. DeGregori is an ACSH Director and professor of economics at the
University of Houston and author of the new book The Environment, Our
Natural Resources, and Modern Technology (Iowa State Press), which
includes a section that examines the funding of NGOs.
Farmers From Africa and Asia March to Demand the Freedom to Trade
Press release: Contact - Ms. Kendra Okonski, Johannesburg, South Africa;
27 August ; (mobile) +27-72-477-2371; Date: Wednesday, 28 August 9:30AM:
Gathering at George Lea Park 10:00 AM: March via Sandton Drive and 5th
Street, to end at Speakerís Corner, near Sandton Convention Centre. 11:00
AM Rally at Speakerís Corner
Johannesburg ñ Tomorrow, Wednesday, 28 August, at 10am, hundreds of Indian
and African farmers will gather at George Lea Park and will march to
Speakerís Corner, at the Sandton Convention Centre. They will join
Johannesburgís street hawkers in a mass march to defend the freedom to
Despite the rhetoric of the World Summit on Sustainable Development of
poverty ëreductioní and development, many delegates promote the view that
farmers should continue to use ñ as they have for thousands of years ñ
backbreaking agricultural techniques.
Farmers from India, Africa, and other developing nations have united for
this march to represent millions of rural subsistence farmers, to show
their belief that farmers in poor countries should not be denied the
freedom to test for themselves the economic and technological viability of
any new technology, including agricultural biotechnology.
Commenting on the march, Chengal Reddy, President of the Indian Federation
of Farmers Associations from Andhra Pradesh, India, said, ìHundreds of the
worldís farmers are here to represent the worldís farmers at this summit.
Asian farmers associations are joining hands with African farmers to
articulate their demands, including the freedom to farm.î
The farmers believe that increased agricultural productivity not only
helps in alleviating rural poverty, but also contributes to reduced
environmental stress, and helps in improving the quality of environmental
TJ Buthelezi, the leader of Ubongwa Farmers Union, KwaZulu Natal, South
Africa said, ìFarmers in all parts of the world should be free to
determine for themselves whether technologies meet their requirements of
staying competitive in the world market, and regaining economic
The demands of the farmers include: * Freedom to grow any crop of their
choice. * Freedom to access the best available technology. * Freedom to
trade within and outside the country. * Freedom to improve agricultural
productivity. * Freedom to enhance agricultural productivity in order to
improve economic well-being and reduce environmental stress. * Freedom to
sell their goods at a price that is not distorted by agricultural
subsidies, tariffs or quotas.
An NGO at the World Summit Offers Its Proposals
As an NGO at the World Summit in Johannesburg, Consumer Alert has prepared
several position papers available on its web site
http://www.consumeralert.org --Sustainability -- the concept
--Sustainability and Trade --Sustainability and Agricultural Biotechnology
The press release is reproduced below - "Frances B. Smith"
Consumer Alert -- an NGO at the World Summit -- Offers Its Proposals
Washington, DC, August 23, 2002 -- Consumer Alert, accredited as a Non
Governmental Organization (NGO) at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development, will have ten NGO representatives attending many of the
meetings taking place August 24 - September 4, 2002, in Johannesburg,
South Africa. About 60,000 delegates from around the world are expected to
attend the Summit.
Frances B. Smith, executive director of Consumer Alert, noted that the
group's attendees "will not be increasing CO2 emissions from their plane
travel to South Africa." She said, "Unless our delegates jog or engage in
heavy breathing, they will not be responsible for additional CO2
emissions, as will the thousands of environmental group representatives
participating from around the world. Nine Consumer Alert delegates are
from a sister organization in South Africa, and the other will be in
Johannesburg already for other business."
In papers and at the meeting, the non-profit consumer group is focusing on
critical issues relating to sustainability and sustainable development and
is offering the following among its proposals for the Summit:
--Ensuring that the concept of sustainability emphasizes "meeting the
needs" of people today, especially the impoverished of the world, whose
critical and current needs are often overlooked in addressing possible
--Emphasizing the benefits of open trade for people in both developed and
developing countries, as trade allows for more efficient use of resources
and economic opportunities, which can play a critical role in economic
growth to help the disadvantaged and thus in sustainable development.
--Recognizing that the concept of sustainability combined with the
Precautionary Principle could have disastrous consequences if innovation
and technologies are stifled in favor of the status quo. A biased view of
only one side of the risk equation -- the risk of innovation -- instead of
balancing that against the risk of stagnation, could restrict urgently
--Exploring alternatives to viewing humankind as the environmental problem
that requires rationing of resources, restrictions, taxes and other
coercive means -
- alternatives that would provide positive incentives to unleash human
creativity to solve problems through voluntary and private ownership
arrangements, as well as developing the institutions to protect individual
rights and property.
--Recognizing that technology, such as agricultural biotechnology, can be
a critical tool in helping to feed the starving of the world, and in
advancing sustainability through improving crop yields, reducing pesticide
use, and growing crops in inhospitable soils.
Consumer Alert, founded in 1977, is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer
group that promotes the consumer value of a market economy. It is the
founder and coordinator of the National Consumer Coalition and of the
international NGO, International Consumers for Civil Society.
'No More Turning Away'
- From: "Andrew Apel" | This is Spam | Add to
Words appropriate to Johannesburg and to the starving millions in Africa.
No more turning away
-- Pink Floyd, 1987, "Momentary Lapse of Reason"
On the turning away
On the turning away
from the pale and downtrodden
and the words they say
which we won't understand
"Don't accept that what's happening
is just a case of others suffering
or you'll find that you're joining in
the turning away"
It's a sin that somehow
light is changing to shadow
and casting it's shroud
over all we have known
unaware how the ranks have grown
driven on by a heart of stone
we could find that we're all alone
in the dream of the proud
On the wings of the night
as the daytime is stirring
where the speechless unite
in a silent accord
using words you will find are strange
and mesmerised as they light the flame
feel the new wind of change
on the wings of the night
No more turning away
from the weak and the weary
no more turning away
from the coldness inside
just a world that we all must share
it's not enough just to stand and stare
is it only a dream that there'll be
no more turning away?
The Villainous Vandana Shiva
'A false environmental prophet'
- Michael Fumento, Natoinal Review Online, August 27, 2002
Attila the Hun, though widely regarded as a barbaric tyrant, is revered in
Hungary. The same is true of Vlad Dracula in a region of Eastern Europe.
Knowing this makes it just a bit easier to understand how the current
issue of Time magazine could profile Indian environmental activist Vandana
Shiva as "hero."
"Shiva has made it her mission to fight for social justice in many
arenas," gushes Time. True, "social justice" is a meaningless term but it
certainly sounds nice.
Shiva's "pet issue these days is preservation of agricultural diversity,"
we're told. "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
Yet even Time admits, "Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetic
engineering rescued India from its eternal cycles of famine and huge debts
from importing food."
"The very chemicals Vandana Shiva condemns, along with the development of
new 'Green Revolution' plants, have allowed Indian farmers to quadruple
the production of food grains since independence from Britain without
bringing any more forest land under the plow," says C. S. Prakash, a
Tuskegee University plant genetics professor and founder and president of
"Biotechnology now offers the ability to produce more food and better
quality food under demanding conditions and with fewer chemicals," he
says. "Vandana has made a career in fighting this technology."
That's why when you browbeat your kids into clearing their plates at
suppertime by telling them to think of the poor starving children in this
or that country, you almost certainly choose some place other than India.
If developing world farmers took her one-tenth as seriously as do Western
activists and Time magazine, Shiva's proclamations would lead inexorably
to massive famine. Organic farming simply cannot produce the yields that
farming using chemicals or genetically engineered crops can.
A recent study in the journal Science found that even using the most
modern organic crop techniques available in Europe, yields were
nonetheless 20-percent lower compared to conventional farms. Other studies
have shown far lower comparative organic crop yields.
In a wealthy country like the U.S., which produces far more food than it
can sell or give away, there's plenty of room for organic farming.
Further, because our consumers have so much expendable income our organic
farmers have found they can more than make up for poor yields by charging
organic-eating yuppies outrageous prices.
But there are no "Fresh Fields" stores in India and other such developing
countries, and all too many farmers in these lands still barely grow
enough to provide for their own families much less sell crops on the
But to Shiva, principles prevail over people.
For example, in 1999, Time's hero worked desperately to keep her
famine-threatened countrymen from receiving donated grain from the U.S.
because part of it was biotech corn and soybeans. Why? The U.S. and the
"giant multi-nationals" were using Indians as "guinea pigs," she claimed.
Yet Americans had already been eating these same foods for four years.
Shiva has even vilified "golden rice," that which has been genetically
engineered to provide Vitamin A. According to the U.N., anywhere from 140
to 250 million preschool children don't receive enough vitamin A. Rice is
a staple food for people in over a hundred countries but provides
virtually no vitamin A. Improving intake of the vitamin could reduce
childhood deaths by as much as a third in highest-risk developing
countries and eliminate half a million cases of blindness, says the U.N.
But in what smacks of Marie Antoinette's famous alleged sneer of "Let them
eat cake!" Shiva says that better alternatives are "liver, egg yolk,
chicken, meat, milk and butter." (The main difference is that the French
queen never actually said any such thing.)
How could Shiva be so insensitive? How could she not comprehend that
people living almost exclusively on rice obviously cannot afford chicken
It may have something to do with her having never been a part of the
culture she pretends to represent. Shiva was born into wealth and her soft
palms have never worked a plow. Weighing in on the heavy side of
"pleasantly plump," hunger to her is something she reads about in the
Only such bluebloods have the resources to buy into agrarian
If Time wanted a true hero, it should have picked Prakash, also an Indian
native. He literally gets down in the dirt to help develop new biotech
plants to be used by farmers in developing countries.
Only editors of a magazine in the world's richest country would be so
naive as to proclaim a blubbery bourgeois Indian activist to be a hero,
especially when there are so many more deserving candidates. You know,
like Martha Stewart.
Michael Fumento [ http://www.fumento.com/ ] is a senior fellow at the [
http://www.hudson.org/ ] Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. where he's
completing a book entitledBioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing our
World Would Starve On Organic Farming
- Dan Heath, The Wall Street Journal - Letters to the Editor, Page A11,
August 26, 2002
In regard to Eleena de Lisser's Aug. 20 article on regulation of the
labeling of organic food: Several years ago, Nobel laureate agronomist
Norman Borlaug, was asked by Reason magazine, "What do you think of
organic farming? A lot of people claim it's better for human health and
Mr. Borlaug answered, "That's ridiculous. This shouldn't even be a debate.
Even if you could use all organic material that you have -- the animal
manures, the human waste, the plant residues -- and get them back on the
soil, you couldn't feed more than four billion people. In addition, if all
agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area
dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions
of acres of forests . . ."
"If people want to believe that the organic food has better nutritional
value, it's up to them to make that foolish decision. But there's
absolutely no research that shows that organic foods provide better
nutrition. As far as plants are concerned, they can't tell whether that
nitrate ion comes from artificial chemicals or decomposed organic matter.
If some consumers believe that it's better from the point of view of their
health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay
a bit more. It's a free society. But don't tell the world that we can feed
the present population without chemical fertilizer. That's when the
misinformation becomes destructive."
To regulate the labeling of organic food is, at best, analogous to
regulating astrology charts. At worst, it gives government sanction to a
potentially dangerous myth.
World Hunger: Stop Blaming The Weather
- The Economist, June 13, 2002
'The world grows enough food. What the hungry need is economic growth'
HUNGER is the natural state of mankind, but the good news is that mankind
is moving away from nature. Although the world's population has grown
sixfold in the past two centuries, food production has grown faster.
Better and more widely-applied technologyóhybrid seeds, fertilisers and so
onóhas allowed farmers to coax more calories out of each hectare. Future
innovations, including genetic modification to produce more nutritious
cereals and livestock, should keep the planet's larders well-stocked. But,
as this week's UN World Food Summit showed (see article below), this is no
cause for complacency.
The absolute number of malnourished people is declining by about 5m a
year. As a proportion of the world's population, the improvement is even
more marked. But that still leaves 800m people hungry, which translates
into a lot of suffering. Underfed children succumb more easily to disease,
and are often stunted both physically and mentally, making it harder for
them to earn a living as adults.
Hunger is caused by bad weather, but even more by bad government.
Well-governed countries never suffer famine; but of the 25 worst-nourished
nations, all are badly governed, some spectacularly so. Little can be done
about the weather, at least in the short term, but policies can change.
Farmers in poor countries are no longer herded at gunpoint into
collectives, a policy that killed millions in the 20th century. But men
with guns still reduce farmers' incentives to grow food in countries where
wars rage. In eastern Congo, nobody wants to raise cattle, because
marauding soldiers steal them. Even in peaceful poor countries, land
tenure is often insecure. In Zimbabwe, the government grabs land and gives
it to supporters, which has caused farm output to plummet.
In many countries, individuals are not allowed to own land, or find it
hard to gain formal title to it, which makes it impossible for small
farmers to use their fields as collateral so as to raise cash to invest in
better farming techniques. It is not only farm policies that matter. The
poorest will be able reliably to feed themselves only when they are less
poor. To achieve this, poor countries need property rights, enforceable
contracts, macroeconomic stability, freer trade and non-predatory
government. The hungriest lack most of these.
The biggest favour the rich could do the poor would be to give less aidóto
their own farmers
The UN summit is calling, inevitably, for more aid. But the biggest favour
the rich could do the poor would be to give less aidóto their own farmers.
Rich countries protect their farmers with subsidies, high tariffs, import
quotas and a tangle of other barriers masquerading as health and safety
standards. This makes it hard for farmers in poor countries to sell their
produce in rich countries. The World Bank says that ending northern
protection would boost poor countries' annual GDP by $30 billion, which
would buy quite a few lunches.
Unlike aid, freer trade does not foster dependence. And whereas aid costs
money, cutting farm subsidies would save rich-country taxpayers a billion
dollars a day, as well as letting those who eat do so more cheaply. Some
northern farmers might suffer, but supporting them while they look for
other work would be far cheaper than the current system. Besides, most of
the rich world's subsidies go to the richest farmers, many of them
millionaires. They certainly won't starve.
Hunger: Always with us
- The Economist, June 13, 2002
'Good governance in poor countries would end hunger faster than rich-world
A GATHERING at which President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is able to
lecture world leaders on ìfast-track land acquisitionî as a route to rural
reform was always going to be something of a circus. The World Food
Summit, convened this week in Rome by the Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, was meant to assess progress
made since the previous summit, six years ago, which eagerly promised to
halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. Progress has been
slow. At current rates, the goal will not be reached until 2030 at the
earliest. Although hunger has fallen sharply in China, it has risen in
sub-Saharan Africaóthanks partly to AIDS, civil war and bad weather, and
partly to Mr Mugabe and other pursuers of benighted policies.
Getting a grasp on the size and distribution of the problem is,
admittedly, tricky. Outright starvation, arising from strife or natural
disaster, is a graphic affliction to which the world responds fairly
swiftly. The World Food Programme, for example, delivered 2.7m tonnes of
emergency food aid to 43m people last year.
On the other hand, chronic hungeróa steady lack of enough safe and
nutritious food to maintain physical or mental well-beingóis a less
visible condition, even if a far more common and complex one. It is not
just a matter of too few calories to fuel development and activity, but
also too few micro-nutrients, such as iron, to keep the body running at
full tilt. Its long-term impact can be devastating. The effects of hunger
start before birth, as malnutrition in pregnant mothers causes problems
for children in later life. In young children, malnutrition stunts mental
and physical development, later hobbling them at school. It contributes to
5m childhood deaths a year, mainly through susceptibility to such diseases
The FAO reckons that halving hunger by 2015 would yield $120 billion-worth
of gains a year from longer, more productive lives
Apart from the moral dimension of deprivation, there are the economics to
consider. The FAO reckons that halving hunger by 2015 would yield $120
billion-worth of gains a year from longer, more productive lives. If such
assessments are crude, they underscore that hunger is not only a symptom
of poverty, but a cause of it too.
Better estimates and clearer strategies will come only from more accurate
measures of the number of chronically hungry and where they live. With
wide margins of error, the FAO reckons that 780m people in developing
countries are undernourished, only a little down on 820m a decade ago.
South Asia accounts for something over two-fifths of the world's hungry.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of hungry people: every
third person, on average, goes hungry.
The FAO bases its calculation on the amount of food available in a
country, from domestic production and imports, rather than on how much
people actually eat. The International Food Policy Research Institute in
Washington, DC, says that an analysis of household surveys, which looks at
how much food reaches family members and is now complete for a clutch of
African countries, paints a more nuanced picture than the FAO's. It
tallies more closely with other measures of malnutrition, such as the
number of underweight children in a population. Pinpointing the hungry
should improve the deployment of scarce resources.
Even putting food on the table does not mean that everybody will get a
fair share. In South Asiaónotably India, Pakistan and Bangladeshóhalf of
all young children are malnourished, compared with a third in poorer
sub-Saharan Africa. The institute's research shows how women in South Asia
have less power at home, relative to men, than do African women. So they
get less to eat, as do their children, both in the womb and in later life.
Hungry for change
Boosting poor-country agriculture is critical for tackling hunger. Simply
shipping food from rich-country surpluses does little to improve the
prospects of the world's desperately poor, three-quarters of whom live in
rural areas and depend on farming for their income. Higher agricultural
productivity and better access to markets will help these people. Although
biotechnology is sometimes touted as a miracle boost for farming, the most
effective fixes, in sub-Saharan Africa at any rate, are decidedly
low-tech: fertiliser, irrigation, better seeds, fitter livestock, more
teaching of farming skills, more roads, better access to credit and more
secure land tenure.
What of international initiatives? The FAO wants action by rich and poor
countries through its International Alliance Against Hunger, bringing
together governments, non-governmental organisations and the private
sector to find ways of boosting the agricultural productivity of small
farmers in poor countries, as well as to provide direct assistance for
200m of the world's hungriest people. It reckons that using this
two-pronged approach to meet the 2015 target could cost roughly an extra
$24 billion a year. That will require a doubling in overseas aid to
The World Bank is also drawing up a new rural development strategy. A
homegrown initiative from African leaders, called the New Partnership for
Africa's Development, includes farming as a route to economic growth.
Little money or manpower, however, has yet materialised. This week,
America revived its own Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa,
announcing a modest $30m rise in foreign assistance for agriculture and
rural development this year, with hopes of attracting some of the
additional $5 billion in overseas aid that President George Bush recently
America's largesse is tempered by its new farm bill, which poor-country
leaders point out takes with one hand what is given with the other.
Domestic farm support, import quotas and rising tariffs and export
subsidies in rich countries greatly hamper poor countries' agricultural
exports to rich marketsóas well as distorting markets at home. The World
Bank reckons that, if the rich world pulled down its trade barriers in
agriculture, developing countries would be over $30 billion a year better
off by 2005. Yet it is not only rich countries holding poor ones back.
According to the bank, trade liberalisation within the developing world
itself could yield over $110 billion a year in extra income for low-income
In the end, beating hunger is as much or even more to do with good
governance in poor places, with sensible policies needed for education and
health care as well as agriculture, as it is to do with access to money
and technology from afar. That is hardly a secret recipe. Yet too few
countries have mastered it.
Tiki the Eco-Pengiun vs. Genetic Engineering
- Andrew Apel, Health Facts and Fears, August 20, 2002,
Editor's note: Tiki the Eco-Penguin's website has been updated since
Andrew Apel wrote this article criticizing him for ACSH two years ago, but
Tiki, alas, is still online and Apel's criticisms are still insightful.
Strategies for a successful scare-mongering campaign require a calculated
mixture of lucid prose, deft evasion, and sometimes the occasional lie,
while preying upon natural human fears. Given the experience of modern
history, it should be no surprise that adults are easily taken in by
misinformation campaigns that capitalize on concerns for their children.
The Alar apple scandal is a textbook example of how such a campaign works.
With the help of Fenton Communications, the Natural Resources Defense
Council terrified parents across America in 1989 by claiming that
Alar-treated apples would give their children cancer. CBS, a U.S.
television syndicate, called Alar "the most potent cancer-causing agent in
the food supply today." It was a lie that cost apple growers about $250
million, apple-product manufacturers about $125 million, and U.S.
taxpayers (via the U.S. Department of Agriculture) $15 million, while
generating $700,000 in net revenues for those who foisted the falsehood on
Such success continues to attract imitators. The anti-biotechnology
campaign has prospered, paralyzing governments and stifling international
grain markets, while swelling the coffers of activist groups. In the
United States, the first two victims of the campaign were the baby foods
offered by Heinz and Gerber.
But why should scaremongers stop there?
If adults can be scared about the food their children eat, why not scare
the children themselves? As picky eaters, children are the ideal targets
for a food-scare campaign. Anyone who thinks that is too cynical to
contemplate should think again. It's being done, and it's even worse than
that: The message designed to make children fear their food comes charged
with eco-reactionary propaganda.
At a website specifically targeted at children, a loquacious penguin
sporting a shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Tiki the Eco-Penguin" tells
kids of the dangers of using biotechnology in crop and food production.
The penguin also slyly insinuates suspicions about science, authority,
government, corporations, and the profit motive ó the very themes which
have motivated youth in recent destructive marches on Seattle, Boston,
Washington, London, Geneva and Windsor. The marches typically feature an
attack on a McDonald's restaurant.
The penguin claims to have no sponsors, but the bird's website refers
children to "useful organizations which you can join or find out stuff
from," a rogue's gallery of misinformation, anarchism, and paranoia
sources, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Physicians and
Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology, Rural
Advancement Foundation International, and the Union of Concerned
Bry Lynas, OneWorld Online's Guides coordinator, is the author of this
site, and claims a doctorate in earth sciences from the University of
Cambridge. In the guise of a penguin, he seeks to strike fear of food into
the hearts of children, while insinuating the notions that motivate the
howling ranks of anarchy.
"If you eat 'genetic' food," the penguin warned, "you become part of an
experiment in which you are being used as a guinea pig. And one of the
main reasons for doing this is for some people to make lots of money."
The penguin with a Ph.D. is apparently unaware of the fact that
genetically modified crops have passed numerous tests normally reserved
for pharmaceuticals and chemical pesticides. He tells kids that the crops
"have simply not been tested properly." Furthermore, the fowl is
"frightened about g.e. [genetic engineering] in the hands of the companies
that do it" and tells children that some uncertain portion of what they
are told about biotechnology "won't be true or honest because some of it
will be made by the companies themselves."
The feathered simpleton suggests that giving money to the poor in
developing nations could be the way to feed them, distorts and dismisses
the Food and Drug Administration's doctrine of substantial equivalence,
says farmers are "making the landscape into a desert for other life" with
biotechnology, and offers a strident challenge: "Don't leave it to the
By encouraging children to engage in "food anarchy," the penguin has
established a new low in the crazed downward spiral of anti-biotech
activism, which has until now relied on exploiting gullible adults.
Is it time for parents to be concerned about their children? Yes, it is.
Beware the penguin.
Andrew Apel is the editor of AgBiotech Reporter. See
http://www.bioreporter.com. The article above originally appeared as
"Beware the Penguin" in June 2000. A link to Apel's recent speech on "the
precautionary principle" was added to our Week In Links section on August
20, 2002. If you wish to respond to this editorial please email your
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, visit the ACSH FORUMS at