Today in AgBioView: January 23, 2003:
* Famine, Again
* Improvement of African Crops: An Activity of The Rockefeller Foundation
* International Ministerial Confr and Expo on Ag Science and Tech
* Something Is Rotten In the State of Denmark
* More Heat, Less Light On Lomborg
* The Case For Environmental Scepticism
* Bjorn Lomborg and the Thought Police
* Pseudo-Science and the Media: Problems and Lessons
* Real Farmers Don't Like Bove
* Antiglobalization Forum to Return to a Changed Brazil
* SHAC profile at wwwActivistCash.com
* GAO Report: Biotech Foods 'As Safe as Conventional Foods'
* Q & A on U.S. Food Aid Donations Containing Bio-Engineered Crops: AID
- The Washington Post, January 19, 2003
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-va.) just got back from Ethiopia and showed around
his pictures from the field -- the blank eyes, the bloated bellies
balancing on two sticks -- and people thought he was in a time warp. "Yes,
this again" he's been telling his colleagues. Just as in 1984, the ribs
are starting to show and the cupboards are on their last cup of grain, not
just in Ethiopia but in much of southern Africa. But this is not merely a
replay of the last famine. This time there is a cooperative government in
Ethiopia, and everywhere else the aid workers have arrived in time. What
is still needed is critical but manageable: Western governments and other
donors must ensure that over the next few months the food pipeline stays
open and runs smoothly.
The term "famine in Africa" may seem exotic and remote, especially with
war and domestic terrorism so imminent. But zoom in on the elemental:
Famine is about rain at the wrong time and seeds that won't sprout and
parents with children who need nourishment. In Ethiopia, Mr. Wolf traveled
as far from the capital as Richmond is from Washington. There he found a
village of a few hundred where even the kids were too weak to move. One
man had been digging a well for two days in the hot sun; he'd had his last
drink -- a cup of putrid brown water -- the day before. One mother opened
her storage bin mostly for effect. It was empty. "My kids are kind of mad
at me," she explained. "They don't understand why I can't help them."
Some of this can be blamed on bad luck; African weather patterns have been
especially erratic this planting season. Some of it is venality; in
Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe is purposely starving his political
enemies. Zambia still senselessly resists donations of genetically
modified corn. Compounding it all is the astounding AIDS infection rate,
which is killing off the farming generation and has made people less able
to operate in survival mode. But it's almost better not to dwell on the
causes. The important thing is that in the next few months before the new
harvest, about 30 million people are in danger of starvation.
In contrast to 1984, the international aid community is prepared. The Bush
administration just authorized the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) to pledge a large shipment of food to Ethiopia, and
supplies have been reaching southern Africa for the last few months. But
resources are spread thin. There are eight African countries at risk, plus
Afghanistan and North Korea. At the very least, Congress needs to ensure
that the $325 million budgeted for 2003 is approved quickly. Aid groups
have pushed for an additional $600 million, a request Senate Minority
Leader Thomas A. Daschle included in his Africa Famine Relief Act. But
some aid workers in the field are nervous about depending on that
legislation; it is subject to debate, and there's no time to debate.
Another option is to draw on the Emerson Trust, an emergency food reserve
administered by the Department of Agriculture. Given the time crunch, this
seems like the best option. So far the only resistance comes from domestic
food producers worried about rising food prices -- an understandable but
secondary concern. Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, traveled in Ethiopia
last week; a shipment of grain, he said, takes eight weeks to get from the
port of Baltimore to Ethiopia. "The biggest enemy of all famine relief is
time," he said. "People don't die on our schedule."
Improvement of African Crops and Seed Supply Systems: An Activity of The
Rockefeller Foundation Food Security Program
The Rockefeller Foundation Food Security Program sponsors a web site on
Improvement of African Crops and Seed Supply Systems. It includes sections
on breeding and biotechnology, and currently an on-line discussion forum
on cassava breeding in Africa. Within the above web page, click on
Grant Application Information: The Food Security Program's grant making
falls into three distinct areas: Enabling farmer participation in setting
priorities for and in conducting plant breeding, developing seed
production and distribution systems, and improving agronomic practices.
Accelerating the discovery, development and application of new genetic and
agroecological strategies for enhancing yield stability, producing more
resilient crops, improving human nutrition and preventing environmental
Fostering national development policies that support resilient and
profitable smallholder agriculture, and strengthen institutions that
integrate the scientific and participatory approaches to innovation
development The Food Security Program. The Rockefeller Foundation works to
enrich and sustain the lives and livelihoods of poor and excluded people
throughout the world.
Inquiries by email to the Director: Jdevries@rockfound.or.ke
International Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and
Co-sponsored by USDA, USAID, and the State Department
Sacramento, CA, June 23-25, 2003
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman is inviting Ministers of
Agriculture, Health, Science and Technology, and Trade from more than 180
nations to attend an International Ministerial Conference and Expo on
Agricultural Science and Technology from June 23-25, 2003 in Sacramento,
California. The Conference and Expo, co-sponsored by USAID and the State
Department, will focus on the critical role science and technology can
play in raising agricultural productivity in developing countries.
The Agricultural Science and Technology Expo will be held concurrently
with the Conference at the Sacramento Convention Center, providing an
opportunity for U.S. and international companies, organizations, and
institutions to display and demonstrate products and technologies with
applications in all segments of the food chain. The influential audience
will include top-level domestic and international government policy- and
decision-makers, like ministers, members of Congress, and White House
officials. The Conference participants will be offered the opportunity to
schedule individual appointments with exhibitors of interest.
The Expo will include the following technologies: Alternative Agricultural
Production, Soil and Water Management, Agricultural, Crop and Livestock
Biotechnology, Food Processing and Packaging, Agricultural Transportation,
Distribution and Marketing, Food Safety Technology * Information
Technology, Precision Agriculture , Risk Management, Agricultural
Information, Technology Finance and Environmental Protection Transfer
The Expo will also feature major U.S. and international government
agencies that finance and otherwise support technology transfer between
developed and developing countries. The USDA has selected B-FOR
International to plan, market, sell, organize, and produce the Expo. B-FOR
International, a division of Bieneck International, Inc., located in
Fredericksburg, Virginia, organizes national pavilions and group exhibits
at domestic and overseas trade shows.
For additional information on the Expo, http://www.exhibitpro.com 540 373
Something Is Rotten In the State of Denmark
- Bjorn Lomborg, Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2003 http://online.wsj.com/
Copenhagen - I'm the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," a work
that grapples hard with our pessimistic view of the environment. It's a
serious book on a serious subject. But it has now been denounced by the
Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty -- yes, such a body exists! --
in a manner reminiscent of medieval book-burnings. And many
environmentalists have cheered from the side, world-wide.
How did this happen and what are the consequences? I am Danish, liberal,
vegetarian, a former member of Greenpeace; and I used to believe in the
litany of our ever-deteriorating environment. You know, the doomsday
message repeated by the media, as when Time magazine tells us that
"everyone knows the planet is in bad shape." We're defiling our Earth,
we're told. Our resources are running out. Our air and water are more and
more polluted. The planet's species are becoming extinct, we're paving
over nature, decimating the biosphere.
The problem is that this litany doesn't seem to be backed up by facts.
When I set out to check it against the data from reliable sources -- the
U.N., the World Bank, the OECD, etc. -- a different picture emerged. We're
not running out of energy or natural resources. There is ever more food,
and fewer people are starving. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 30
years; today it is 67. We have reduced poverty more in the past 50 years
than we did in the preceding 500. Air pollution in the industrialized
world has declined -- in London the air has never been cleaner since
This information needs to reach a broader audience, because it concerns
our basic priorities. If we fall prey to minor scares and spend a
disproportionate share of our resources there, we will have fewer
resources left for other areas. Nevertheless, presenting these
uncontroversial data has proved to be curiously controversial. In the 16
months since its publication, many have reviewed the book favorably, but
others, such as reviews in Nature, and the Scientific American, have been
strongly dismissive. The debate continues -- passionately.
Apparently unable to counter the main arguments of the book, some,
regrettably, have also tried to pressure the publisher, Cambridge
University Press, to stop its publication. Others drew the Danish
Committee for Scientific Dishonesty (a national review body, with
considerable authority) into the debate, asking it to judge the book
against a complaint of deliberate and conscious distortion of the data in
order to fit preconceived conclusions.
While not agreeing that the data were deliberately and consciously
distorted, the Danish Committee decided that the book is "contrary to the
standards of good scientific practice." The raw nerve that my book has
struck often makes rational judgment more difficult. I fear that the
committee may also have been caught up in the emotion of the debate and
have deliberated my case with less than full impartiality. (Its decision
and my comments are at www.lomborg.com.)
The committee asserts that the book presents a "systematically biased
representation." Yet its only examples stem from a faithful resume of the
four very negative reviews from Scientific American, to which the
committee devotes more than a third of its 14 pages, and which it accepts
unconditionally. I wrote a 34-page rebuttal, which the committee mentions
in just one line.
And the irony goes deeper. My book was also viewed as flawed because it
was not initially subject to a peer review. (This is untrue: Cambridge did
have it peer-reviewed.) Yet, although many scholarly journals have weighed
in, the only published material that the committee referred to in its
report come from two popular (i.e. non-peer-reviewed) publications, the
above-mentioned Scientific American article and -- believe it or not -- a
half-page article in Time. ("Danish Darts. Reviled for sticking it to the
ecological dogma. Bjorn Lomborg laughs all the way to the bank.")
The committee's report also speculates on my motives for writing this
book. It states that "The Skeptical Environmentalist" wouldn't have been
noticed but for the "overwhelmingly positive write-ups in leading American
newspapers and the Economist. The USA is the society with the highest
energy consumption in the world, and there are powerful interests in the
USA bound up with increasing energy consumption and with the belief in the
free market forces. The USA is also responsible for a substantial part of
the research in this and other areas dealt with by Lomborg." Some might
interpret this as the committee seeming to say that I'm in the pocket of
"Big Bad America."
Yet I have no desire to support one interest group over another. My focus
is on providing information that allows people to make better choices.
This is most obvious in the discussion over global warming. My point has
been that, despite our intuition to "do something" about it, economic
analyses show that it will be far more expensive to cut carbon dioxide
emissions radically than to pay the costs of adaptation to the increased
temperatures. Moreover, all current models show that the Kyoto Protocols
would have little impact on climate -- at a cost of $150 billion to $350
billion annually. With global warming disproportionately affecting Third
World countries, we have to ask if Kyoto is the best way to help them. For
the amount Kyoto would cost the U.S. per year, we could provide everyone
in the world with access to basic health, education, water and sanitation.
Isn't this a better way of serving the world?
It seems to me that we need to be able to point out such questions without
being censured. If the critics want to take each point of the book,
dissect it soberly and judge it, that's their prerogative. So far,
however, a fog of hysteria has descended over the debate. The baseless
denunciation by the Danish committee -- which some have called Orwellian
-- has led to an academic outcry. In Denmark alone, 280 professors have
signed a petition rejecting the decision. Now, more than ever, we need to
ensure an open and impartial debate.
Mr. Lomborg, a professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus,
Denmark, is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the
Real State of the World" (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
More Heat, Less Light On Lomborg
- Nature (Editorial), January 16 , 2003, page 195
'A Danish committee has picked an appropriate target and misfired.'
Not surprisingly, last week's ruling by the Danish Committees on
Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) that Bj¯rn Lomborg, in his controversial book
The Skeptical Environmentalist, selected data in a "severely biased"
manner and exhibited poor scientific practice (see page 201) received
widespread international media coverage. But whether the DCSD emerged with
credit also deserves reflection.
Lomborg's hypothesis that warnings issued by environmentalists and
scientists are unwarranted, presented in the book rather than in the
peer-reviewed literature, has been widely criticized by researchers. But
what is the DCSD's authority to tackle what many consider a polemical
rather than scientific book?
The DCSD was the first European body to be set up - by the Danish Research
Agency - to examine issues of scientific misconduct, and it is still
unusual in being mandated to consider any complaint about any scientist,
or any scientific work, emerging from both the private and public sectors.
A look at its guiding principles (see http://www.forsk.dk/eng/index.htm)
and its judgement (see
http://www.forsk.dk/uvvu/nyt/udtaldebat/bl_decision.htm) confirms that the
DCSD has the freedom to assess the case because, arguably, Lomborg
presented himself as an academic and his book as a scientific argument.
Appropriately enough, the DCSD emphasizes that it is assessing Lomborg's
scientific standards, not his conclusions.
The national context of this independent assessment is relevant here.
Lomborg was made director of the politically influential Danish
Environmental Assessment Institute, founded by the new right-wing
government after the 2001 elections, solely on the strength of it.
According to its own statutes, the institute must be headed by a scientist
of appropriate research experience, whereas Lomborg has little additional
Lomborg's claims in his book are certainly significant and potentially
influential. The Danish public, at least, has the right to know whether he
is arguing on scientifically rigorous grounds, not least given the
influence of his position.
Unfortunately, the DCSD has left itself in a weak position. It did not
conduct an independent analysis of the book but relied on published
criticisms, especially a controversial selection published by Scientific
American. Even to call this judgement's basis a 'meta-analysis' would be
too generous: there is, for example, no justification given for the
particular selection of published critiques. Furthermore, through a
tangled combination of translation and legalese, the committee's judgement
characterizes Lomborg as "objectively dishonest" while at the same time
stating that they have no evidence for what most people would call
dishonesty: deliberate misrepresentation. That subtle, not to say
tortuous, distinction has been lost in the media coverage.
There remains a need for rigorous scrutiny of Lomborg's methods, given his
prominence, his claims to serious analysis, and the polarized debate
surrounding his book. But this episode leaves everyone little wiser, and
the waters surrounding Lomborg even muddier.
The Case For Environmental Scepticism
- David Dickson, Scidev.net, Jan 20, 2003
There is a strong case for informed scepticism about extreme claims of
environmental threats. But excessive scepticism is seldom useful.
Those who make a powerful case for defying conventional wisdom on an
important topic can always be guaranteed good press coverage. Such has
been the case with Bj¯rn Lomborg, the Danish statistician and political
scientist whose book The Skeptical Environmentalist takes a strongly
critical look at the claims of prominent scientists and others that the
state of the world environment is deteriorating rapidly. Such too has been
the case with the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty which,
apparently flying in the face of the convention that critics of scientific
arguments should be given a fair hearing, have condemned the book in a
report published two weeks ago as being 'a perversion of the scientific
method' and 'contrary to the standards of good scientific practice'.
Some have attacked this judgement as going too far in the opposite
direction to Lomborg, even drawing parallels with the way that the Italian
astronomer Galileo was set upon in the 17th century by those who disliked
the implications of his ideas about the earth going round the sun. They
have a plausible case. Lomborg's book is not intended to be a strictly
scientific publication, and to judge it as such is misguided.
Essentially it is a political tract that takes aim at an inviting target
'the excessive claims that are frequently made about some of the
environmental dangers currently faced by humanity 'and concludes that 'we
should not act on myths of doom and gloom'. Just as many of the dire
predictions made by the Club of Rome 30 years ago about the world facing
the imminent depletion of major minerals has failed to come about, so too,
says Lomborg, is it unlikely that some of the harsher predictions of
short-term environmental catastrophe will actually happen.
A selective use of evidence
That may be true. But it is no reason in itself not to be sceptical of the
views of sceptics. The Danish committee makes a powerful case for
suggesting that, in forging his tightly argued case, Lomborg has been
selective in his use of scientific data, highlighting that which supports
his argument and minimising the significance of that which does not. This,
of course, is standard practice in political argument. It is also, at
least in principle, anathema to an honest scientist. The problem is that
Lomborg dresses up his argument as if it is a strictly scientific one.
That is where the deception lies.
In a sense, there is little new in Lomborg's book. In each of the areas
that he addresses, from climate change to the loss of natural
biodiversity, critics have been keen to challenge the message coming from
the scientific community that urgent action is required to avoid major
environmental problems. On climate change, for example, eminent scientists
such as the US atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen have pointed
'correctly' to weaknesses in some of the models used to make climate
predictions (see The case against human-induced climate change 'and
What Lomborg has done is to piece together the views of these critics,
turning their individual arguments into a generalised case against those
scientists who are urging governments to take action. The result is a
weighty indictment of the critics of science-based economic progress.
Included in this are those who complain about the environmental impact of
the development strategies being pursued by the developing world.
Furthermore, of immediate interest to developing countries, Lomborg argues
that misguided scientific conclusions have skewed development priorities.
For example, he suggests that the money required to meet Kyoto Protocol
targets for reducing carbon gas emissions would be better spent on
providing clean drinking water and sanitation to every human on the
planet. And he confidently predicts that the problem of air pollution in
developing countries will decline 'when they (as we did) get sufficiently
rich to stop worrying about hunger and start caring for the environment'.
Mixing science and politics
This, however, is dangerous territory. For it assumes a direct
correspondence between scientifically proven 'or at least accepted'
'facts', and the political actions which appear to flow from them. If this
was the case, then flaws in the scientific argument certainly create a
danger of leading to erroneous policies. And there have certainly been
circumstances in which this has been true, as demonstrated by Britain's
early approach to Mad Cow Disease (where a scientific consensus that the
disease was unlikely to pass to humans persuaded that government that
there was no need to remove infected carcasses from the food chain).
The reality, of course, is more complex. There are times when waiting for
scientific ëcertainty' can be its own recipe for courting disaster. Hence
political enthusiasm for the so-called precautionary principle, a
scientifically dubious but socially valid concept that urges politicians
to play safe when there is a credible risk 'even if unquantifiable'
attached to a line of action (such as the introduction of a new type of
chemical into the environment). Similarly, overstating a message can on
occasions be an appropriate and necessary counterweight to social inertia
and conventional folklore masquerading as fact 'such as the idea that
sleeping with a virgin can cure infection with HIV' where political action
is clearly needed.
Lomborg is correct to point out that in many cases, the scientific
ëcertainties' claimed as the basis for environmental actions are less
solid than their proponents sometimes appear to argue. He is also
justified in pointing out that those advocating such actions frequently
use ëworst case' scenarios as the basis of their arguments. But he is
misguided in seeking a level of scientific robustness in these arguments
comparable to that which is legitimately applied to papers appearing in
The real need for scepticism
This is both the weakness and the strength of the charge of scientific
dishonesty levelled by the Danish committee. The weakness, which
supporters of Lomborg have seized upon with both alacrity and enthusiasm,
is that the criteria the committee applies in making its judgement of
dishonesty are not entirely appropriate. Lomborg himself admits that he is
not a scientific expert in any of the fields that he discusses, and that
much of his source material is second-hand. Both would be crimes in an
original scientific publication; but The Skeptical Environmentalist does
not claim to be that, and should not be judged as such (as the committee
itself admits, when it describes how Lomborg's thesis is presented in a
The strength of the committee's criticism, however, lies in the way that
it undermines claims that Lomborg has ëproven' the dire warnings of
environmentalists to be socially damaging. That is far from the case, as
four prominent scientists who have been deeply engaged in these issues
over many years pointed out last year in a detailed, if controversial,
series of rebuttals in The Scientific American (see ëMisleading math about
the Earth'). Inevitably, Lomborg's critique has been taken as solid
evidence by ideological critics of government regulation, such as those
who have persuaded the United States to withdraw from negotiations on the
Kyoto Protocol. In fact, it is little of the sort.
Scepticism of all scientific claims is a vital element of both good
science (being the essence of effective peer review) and good politics. It
is particularly important when, as Lomborg points out, decisions involving
massive social commitments 'financial and otherwise 'are involved. But the
counterpart to scepticism is robustness, not precision. To the extent that
Lomborg may force some of those pursuing strong regulatory objectives to
reassess the scientific conclusions on which their pursuit is based, it
will have achieved a valuable task. But when it seeks to undermine these
pursuits by complaining of insufficient scientific precision, its value is
Bjorn Lomborg and the Thought Police
- From: Meredith Lloyd-Evans; Letter Sent To: The Editor, New Scientist
Sir, What a nice committee to have - Denmark's Committee on Scientific
Dishonesty! (Book ruling puts Danish Institute in the spotlight - 18 Jan
Is it international? If it is, please can we submit Richard Lacey's books
about food safety, Mae Wan Ho's books about GM crops and safety, and all
the other 'Scientifically Dishonest' outputs and statements by anti-GM
organisations?? They indeed have far more claim to be clearly 'contrary to
good scientific practice'.
- Sincerely, Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans, Cambridge UK
Pseudo-Science and the Media: Problems and Lessons
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Health Facts and Fears, January 13, 2003
Full Story at
Two recent articles in my hometown newspaper show how hard a time the
media have understanding and explaining science.
The "Organic Foods" Story On the same day that new laws were implemented
concerning the labeling of organic foods, there was a long story in the
Houston Chronicle titled "Getting to the Root of the Issue," on the first
page of the Lifestyle section. The Chronicle does a lot of good work ò and
sometimes carries pieces of mine ò but this particular article was written
by a features writer with no apparent knowledge of the scientific issues
involved in "organic" agriculture. The visual hook was a half-page
colorful picture of packages of "organic" foods seemingly growing out of a
small, cultivated patch of land. The story was largely "boosterism," as
admitted to me by the journalist in an e-mail exchange. I would have used
a much stronger term than "boosterism." Other than a brief quotation from
a USDA official on the formulation of the rules for "organic" labeling,
the only people quoted were advocates, owners of "organic" stores, and
Needless to say, the narrative had a warm feeling, depicting good people
protecting the environment and producing or wanting wholesome, safe, clean
food. Unless previously informed otherwise, the reader left the article
with the belief that "organic" food was safer more nutritious and better
for the environment, none of which is even remotely true.
One cannot fault the author of a story from using pictorials or graphics
to attract readers. And what could appear more reasonable for a story on
"organic" labeling than to ask those who are involved in promoting it? I
took the time to write a lengthy e-mail to the author, which began a
cordial and civilized exchange as I pointed out error after error in the
article, offering to provide more documentation and have my publishers
send him copies of my books on these issues ò all to no avail.
Problem Number One: Journalists will quite naturally turn to activists who
are more than willing to give of their time (since they do not have any
productive use for it) to provide all the right-sounding statements. A
features writer covering an issue such as "organic" food production will
not even begin to know how to identify and locate scientists and others
with a differing point of view. In some instances, such as the controversy
over transgenic food production, there are no scientists of any
professional stature who support the activists' position.
Once the story is run, any attempt at correction becomes old news, and
even if the writer wanted to run another story, it is unlikely that the
editors would run it, so the propaganda in the article becomes part of a
cumulative, self-reinforcing "truth." The journalist in this case was
honest enough to tell me that the next story on "organic" agriculture
would likely be given to someone else. The first reporter's story, by
reinforcing existing preconceptions and misinformation, did far more harm
than good and should have been run as an advertisement for the "organic"
food industry rather than as a news story.
Lesson: Advocates of sound science are at a disadvantage. Somehow, we have
to educate assignment editors and journalists to the fact that there are
scientific views other than those of the activists. If sound science isn't
in the story, we must flood them with (good) letters to the editor. Sound
science, which is fundamentally cautious, will always operate at a
disadvantage because we neither can nor wish to match the certainties of
the ideologues and their warm good feelings. Until we have a public that
is more literate in science, ideological certainty and clever phraseology
will most often trump the probability statements of scientists.
Additional Lesson: For decades, most of us have considered the advocates
of "organic" agriculture to be a strange and harmless bunch of zealots.
And harmless they were, for a while at least. The scientific community
largely ignored them. Unfortunately, since the "organic" claims made over
the decades went unchallenged, many people including reporters came to
assume that they must be true. The lesson is that falsehoods should always
be challenged, no matter how absurd they may be.
Thomas R. DeGregori is professor of economics at the University of
Houston, a member of the Board of Directors of ACSH, and the author of two
recent books, The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern
Technology and Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and the
Environment, from which material was drawn for this piece.
Another Blow To Blowhard Bove: Real Farmers Don't Like Bove
- Tom DeGregori
In a previous posting I noted that the opposition to all things McDonald's
by Jose Bove, our "gentleman farmer," Roquefort cheese producer did nor
reflect the views of his fellow Frenchmen as France is one place in the
world where McDonald's is expanding at the rate ofone new outlet every six
We now find that association with him by political leaders in developing
countries can be force for their political demise. Being identified with
Bove was a major factor in the defeat of the Workers Party incumbent
governor (who lost in his own party primary) of the Brazilian state of Rio
Grande do Sul where the anti-globalizers hold their anti-Davos meetings in
the city of Prto Alegre. Undoubtedly he will be at the upcoming
anti-globalization, anti-Davos forum which I presume will be in Prto
The agenda of Bove and the anti-globalization activists is largely
protectionist. The already high level of protectionism in Europe and the
United States, particularly in agriculture in the form of subsidies, is at
the top of the agenda of what developing countries see as the major
inequity of WTO that does them great harm and a violation of its spirit
and intent. Can one imagine the global good that our buddy Bove could
accomplish by going around the world endorsing anti-biotech candidates?
Maybe Vandana Shiva could join him. I am sure that there any number of
biotech firms who would like to surreptiously fund their travels.
As the exerpt below from the New York Times article makes clear, real
farmers don't like Bove.
'Antiglobalization Forum to Return to a Changed Brazil'
- Larry Rohter, NY times, January 20, 2003
Last October, the leader of the Workers Party, Luiz In·cio Lula da Silva,
was elected president of Brazil, and in that capacity he is scheduled to
open the third World Social Forum here on Jan. 23. But in the same
election, voters here in this prosperous state of 10.5 million people gave
his party a drubbing, electing a governor who says he embraces
globalization and will try to attract the multinational corporations that
the Workers Party had shunned.
The forum itself also seems to have played a role in the Workers Party's
defeat. At the first session in 2001, the most prominent participant,
received personally by Mr. Dutra and praised warmly, was JosÈ BovÈ, the
French farmer and globalization opponent whose best-known exploit is
vandalizing a McDonald's.
Mr. BovÈ had barely arrived here when he and members of the Landless
Movement, associated with the most radical wing of the Workers Party,
raided a Monsanto company experimental farm where genetically modified
soybeans and corn were grown, destroying seeds and documents. He was later
detained and expelled from Brazil, generating a protest by forum delegates
who chanted, "We are all JosÈ BovÈ."
Since the state's interior is dominated by thousands of small farmers, the
image of private property being destroyed did not sit well with
landholders. But the affinity the Workers Party showed for Mr. BovÈ also
rankled because he is one of the European Union's most outspoken
supporters of restrictions on agricultural imports. Rio Grande do Sul is a
major exporter of meat and grain that wants those barriers removed.
SHAC profile at wwwActivistCash.com
- David Martosko
Friends, FYI -- This evening we're "throwing the switch" on a new profile
at http://www.ActivistCash.com. The subject of the new article is "SHAC,"
a violent animal rights group that has been terrorizing medical research
professionals and their clients & customers.
Please drop by www.ActivistCash.com and feel free to pass this note on to
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- David Martosko, Director of Research, The Center for Consumer Freedom
GAO Report: Biotech Foods 'As Safe as Conventional Foods'
The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress says biotech foods pose no
long-term health threats and that safety tests are adequate.
A recently published U.S. government report (Actually it was Issued in May
2002..CSP) concludes that foods produced using biotechnology are as safe
as conventional foods. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that
they pose a long-term health risk to consumers, the General Accounting
Office (GAO) report said.
The report ''Genetically Modified Foods: Experts View Regimen of Safety
Tests as Adequate, but FDA's Evaluation Process Could Be Enhanced''
recommends modest changes to the process used by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to evaluate new biotech foods. A cross-section of
experts 'from consumer groups, research and academic institutions,
regulatory bodies and industry 'contributed to the report published by the
GAO, Congress' independent investigative arm.
'Biotechnology experts believe that the current regimen of tests has been
adequate for ensuring that GM foods marketed to consumers are as safe as
conventional foods,' said the report. Its conclusions support the
consensus view that while biotech foods are not risk-free 'since all foods
pose at least some potential threat to human health 'the risks are the
same as those posed by nonbiotech food products. Through their own
research, the National Academy of Sciences and other respected scientific
groups have reached similar conclusions.
'Foods from GM plants pose three types of risk to human health: they can
potentially contain allergens, toxins, or antinutrients,' the GAO report
said. 'These risks are not unique to GM foods. People have consumed foods
containing allergens, toxins and antinutrients throughout history.'
Every new biotech food undergoes rigorous testing by its manufacturer and
review by the FDA to ensure it's safe within those three categories of
risk, the report notes. This process can take anywhere from 18 months to
three years, depending on how similar the food is to other products that
have already been approved.
FDA review is managed by a 'biotechnology evaluation team' composed of a
consumer safety officer, molecular biologist, chemist, environmental
scientist, toxicologist and nutritionist. Among the experts contributing
to the GAO report, even those opposed to biotechnology on ethical or other
nonscientific grounds agreed that the FDA evaluation process is adequate
for assessing safety.
In fact, the report points out that biotech foods may be safer than
conventional foods in that they're more thoroughly tested. Many naturally
occurring toxins, for example, such as the substance tomatine in tomatoes,
are often disregarded in conventional foods but carefully measured in the
premarket safety assessment of biotech varieties.
Proposed FDA Enhancements. The report recommends that the FDA enhance its
oversight role in two ways: first, by randomly verifying the raw data
companies provide about new products (currently the agency reviews
summaries of that data) and, second, by doing a better job of informing
the public about its evaluation process and the scientific rationale
behind its decisions.
The FDA has proposed changes to make its approval process clearer to the
public. The agency also wants to make FDA review mandatory for all new
biotech foods entering the marketplace. FDA review is currently voluntary,
but all manufacturers have voluntarily submitted their products for
As biotech foods grow more complex with multiple beneficial traits 'corn,
for example, that is both insect resistant and contains higher levels of
vitamin E 'premarket testing procedures will need to improve as well. The
report concludes that there's no reason to specially monitor biotech foods
long-term because there's no evidence of heightened risk.
'Monitoring the long-term health risks of GM foods is generally neither
necessary nor feasible, according to scientists and regulatory officials
we contacted. In their view, such monitoring is unnecessary because there
is no scientific evidence, or even a hypothesis, suggesting that long-term
harm (such as increased cancer rates) results from these foods.'
Full GAO document at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02566.pdf
USAID Answers Questions About Biotechnology
- Addresses Concerns Raised By Countries Receiving U.S. Food Aid
- U.S. Agency for International Development, January 17, 2003
The following fact sheet from the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) addresses the issue of biotechnology and food aid. It
answers questions recently raised about the safety and regulation of foods
derived from biotechnology and about U.S. food aid programs. (begin fact
Questions and Answers on U.S. Food Aid Donations Containing Bio-Engineered
What are bio-engineered crops and how widely are they grown in the United
States and other countries?
Bio-engineered crops are plants in which the DNA has been altered using
modern molecular biology. Other names include transgenic, genetically
engineered, living modified organisms (LMOs), or genetically modified
organisms (GMOs). A number of bio-engineered crops are commercially
available and widely grown in the United States, including:
insect-resistant corn and cotton; herbicide-tolerant soybeans, corn and
canola; and virus-resistant papaya and squash. The latest figures from
U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that in 2002, 75 percent of
soybean acreage, 34 percent of field corn and 71 percent of cotton were
planted with bio-engineered varieties. All together, bio-engineered crops
were planted on approximately 88 million acres in the United States in
2002. Approximately 46 percent of the world soybean acreage, 7 percent of
world corn acreage and 20 percent of world cotton acreage were planted to
bio-engineered varieties in 2001.
What concerns are being raised by countries receiving U.S. food aid about
The governments of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and
Zimbabwe have expressed concern over the food and environmental safety of
bio-engineered crops. U.S. food aid donations may contain bio-engineered
corn and soybean products. The only whole grain in food aid donations
would be corn. Their core concern revolves around fear of damaging their
future agricultural trade with the European Union (EU). If U.S. donated
maize kernels are planted by farmers accidentally or intentionally, the
maize may pollinate local maize plants. This could lead to the new genetic
material being introduced into the local maize varieties, including any
crops grown for export or used in animal feed for livestock intended for
export. These governments are concerned that once the current food deficit
is overcome, and trade might resume, that the EU may unilaterally bar
their maize or maize-fed animal exports. The governments of Malawi,
Mozambique and Zimbabwe have agreed to accept U.S. food aid shipments of
maize on the condition that it is milled prior to distribution. Swaziland
and Lesotho are accepting whole grain maize. Only Zambia continues to
reject any U.S. food aid donations containing bio-engineered products.
Food Safety and Health
Are bio-engineered crops safe to eat?
Yes. Foods produced from commercially produced bio-engineered crops in the
United States have met rigorous food safety standards. The approach used
in the United States to assess safety for human consumption for foods
derived from bio-engineered crops is consistent with new international
food safety guidelines proposed for adoption by the Codex Alimentarius
Commission, a body sponsored jointly by the Food and Agriculture
Organization and the World Health Organization. The primary focuses of
food safety assessments include allergenicity, toxicity, and nutritional
composition. To date, scientific evidence demonstrates that these
commercially available bio-engineered commodities and processed foods are
as safe as their conventional counterparts. The food safety assessments
were conducted to evaluate potential risks for the multi-ethnic U.S.
population, and the United States is not aware of any reason to suggest
that these foods would be unsafe for populations in other countries. In
addition, numerous other countries have approved bio-engineered crops as
safe for human consumption, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil,
Canada, the European Union, Japan, Russia, Mexico, South Africa, South
Korea, and Uruguay.
Are bio-engineered foods in the U.S. food supply?
Americans have consumed bio-engineered crops since their introduction into
the U.S. food supply in 1996. Corn and soybeans are two of the most
prevalent crops in the U.S. food supply grown from biotech varieties and
are found in a large percentage of processed food items. However, the
major use of corn and soybeans in the United States is as animal feed.
Canola oil is a commonly used cooking oil and is also used in processed
foods. In the United States, harvested grain from many sources is mixed
together, and bio-engineered crops generally are not separated from
non-bio-engineered crops. Therefore, foods produced in the U.S. for
domestic use and commodity shipments for U.S. food aid and other exports
commonly contain products derived from bio-engineered crops. The food sent
to southern Africa as food aid is the same food that is eaten by Americans
Do bio-engineered crops cause allergic reactions?
The potential of food derived from bio-engineered plants to cause
allergies in sensitive individuals is an important element in the food
safety assessments of bio-engineered crops. The foods derived from
bio-engineered crops that are currently on the market and that may be part
of U.S. food aid have been evaluated for possible allergenicity using a
scientific approach that is consistent with the international approach
being proposed in the Codex. New proteins in these crops have not been
found to resemble allergens, and tests have shown that the native
allergens in crops such as soybean have not been increased.
How rigorously are bio-engineered crops regulated in the United States?
All of the bio-engineered crops that are currently planted in the United
States have been rigorously reviewed for environmental and food safety by
all relevant regulatory agencies including USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of
Health and Human Service's Food and Drug Administration. Each of these
three agencies regulates a different set of issues related to the planting
and consumption of bio-engineered crops. While these assessments were
conducted to evaluate potential food safety and environmental impacts in
the United States, it is expected that the issues are similar in southern
Are bio-engineered foods required to be labeled in a special manner?
Once a bio-engineered crop has completed the U.S. regulatory process, the
crop is normally treated like any other agricultural product, and food
derived from that crop is not required to bear special labeling, unless
there is a significant difference in the new food. For example, special
labeling to declare the method of development for genetically engineered
food products is not required in the United States because these products
do not differ in any significant way from their conventional counterparts
solely due to the process through which they were developed.
Bio-engineered foods would be subject to labeling if they contain a new
allergen, have altered nutritional characteristics (such as modified oil
content), or require altered cooking, preparation, or storage procedures
as compared to their traditional counterparts.
United States and Food Assistance
Why doesn't the U.S. donate cash instead of food to food-aid programs?
The United States is able to grow food in enormous capacities. As the
world's largest food exporter, the United States gives most of its food
assistance "in-kind." That is, we send U.S.-produced food commodities
abroad and have done so for nearly 50 years. U.S. farmers have widely
accepted bio-engineered corn and soy varieties for their environmental and
economic benefits. Therefore, U.S. commodity shipments of corn and soy for
food aid and export markets are likely to contain bio-engineered crops.
Why don't we just send other food commodities besides corn to southern
Corn is a staple food of Southern Africans, especially the people in rural
areas who have been hit hardest by the current food crisis. The
governments of the affected countries have requested corn. Of
non-bio-engineered commodities available for donation, including wheat and
sorghum, only sorghum is considered an acceptable alternative, as it is a
more common food for the people of the region. USAID procured and is
shipping 15,000 metric tons of sorghum to the region. Unfortunately, there
are not sufficient quantities of sorghum available on the U.S. market to
make a significant dent in the food shortages gripping Southern Africa.
Why doesn't the United States agree to mill corn donations?
The decision to mill corn provided through emergency food aid would be
costly and could involve lengthy delays and increased storage losses.
Milled grain on the U.S. market currently costs approximately twice as
much as non-milled grain, not including the additional shipping costs
related to shipping milled product. Incurring additional costs to mill
food aid donations means that less food will be delivered and fewer people
will be fed. Any milling supported with U.S. food aid funds must be
conducted in the United States. However, the U.S. does not object to
milling when supported by other donors. Local milling capacity in many
areas of southern Africa is limited and milled grain is more susceptible
to spoilage than whole grain. The government of South Africa has offered
to mill 60,000 metric tons of U.S. corn destined for the affected region.
This is a successful example of burden sharing, because of the large
milling capacity for corn in South Africa and its proximity to the
countries in need.
Can food aid recipient countries source their donations from other
countries besides the United States?
The total amount of food required to address the food shortages in
southern Africa is not available locally within the affected region, which
means that imports will be needed to meet the shortfall between local
supplies and current needs. Currently, global food grain surpluses are
down, and prices are up. If the United States were to purchase the large
quantities of grain required from the supplies in the region, prices would
rise further, which would create additional hardship for those currently
able to purchase food. Other major corn exporting countries, such as
Argentina, South Africa and some member countries of the European Union,
also grow bio-engineered corn varieties, which limits the supply of
Trade and Agriculture
Will bio-engineered grain cross with local varieties if food aid corn is
If food aid grain is planted in Africa, it can cross-pollinate (or
out-cross) with other maize varieties, but not with other local plants.
The frequency of cross-pollinating with domestic maize in Africa will be
low unless the food aid grain is planted close to or in fields with
domestic maize. Maize pollen is relatively heavy and large, and most lands
close to the parent plant. The pollen dries out quickly, losing viability
within two hours. Furthermore, bio-engineered maize varieties adapted for
the U.S. climate and growing conditions will likely not grow well in
Africa, limiting their ability to cross-pollinate with local maize
Food aid grain is intended for immediate consumption and is not intended
for planting. In some areas, such as Malawi, public notices have been
distributed explaining that the corn is for consumption, and not for
planting. However, locally harvested seed that had been stored for
planting in the next season is likely to have been consumed as food,
resulting in seed shortages and the possibility that food aid grain might
be used as seed. The U.S. government, in cooperation with international
organizations, is working to provide locally-adapted, quality, white maize
seed to plant for the next growing season that would outperform food aid
grain if planted.
U.S. food aid corn is comprised of hybrid varieties, which, if replanted,
tend not to grow well due to loss of vigor. This would be true for
non-bio-engineered corn varieties as well. Africans have a strong
preference for white maize, and most will seek to plant white maize rather
than the yellow maize varieties provided through U.S. food aid shipments.
Is the U.S. biotechnology industry pushing its products on developing
countries through food aid programs?
There has been a major international public research effort for the
development of the technology to solve numerous crop production and
nutrition problems around the world. It is therefore unfortunate that
biotechnology is thought of only as a tool of multinational companies.
Public research work is ongoing to improve staple crops such as cassava,
potato, and rice with enhanced pest resistance, tolerance to environmental
stress or nutritional characteristics. Where the technology has already
been adopted, bio-engineered crops have allowed growers to increase
yields, decrease costs and reduce pesticide use. Publicly supported
development efforts involve U.S. universities and foundations, European
research institutions, the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and many other research institutions in
developing countries. USAID supports the development of the technology, as
one component of an agricultural development strategy. Among the goals of
these efforts is to assist in building the capacity of developing
countries to develop and implement biosafety regulatory systems for the
sound management of biotechnology. Numerous developing countries,
including several African countries, have requested assistance and support
for the development of biotechnology, including the capacity to make
informed decisions governing their use.
Are there any restrictions on replanting seed from bio-engineered corn if
it is planted?
No. If food aid grain is planted, there are no restrictions on replanting
the harvested seed. The grain provided as food assistance is meant for
consumption, however, and is not well suited for planting. From a legal
standpoint, patents on bio-engineered varieties are geographically limited
and do not extend to the recipient countries of food aid. Although the
maize varieties provided in food aid shipments would be expected to
perform poorly in African growing conditions, there have been no genetic
modifications to the seeds that would make it impossible to grow a crop.
So-called "terminator technology" that renders harvested seed sterile has
not been fully developed or implemented anywhere in the world.
Does the Biosafety Protocol limit the planting or distribution of
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety will regulate the transboundary
movement of "living modified organisms" (LMOs) into and within the party
countries, when it goes into effect. The protocol will go into effect when
50 party countries ratify the agreement, which may happen in 2003. In
addition, the protocol establishes an information-sharing regime to enable
countries to understand potential environmental risks and make informed
trade decisions. The protocol expressly states that Advance Informed
Agreement (AIA) procedures do not apply when the shipment is "intended for
direct use as food or feed, or for processing." Therefore, the AIA
Procedures of the protocol will not apply to food aid shipments.
Additionally, the protocol makes no explicit or implicit suggestion that
commodity shipments containing bio-engineered products should be processed
Are bio-engineered crops safe for the environment?
Each crop must be reviewed individually for environmental safety. All
bio-engineered crops grown in the United States have undergone rigorous
environmental review. Among the environmental safety issues that are
assessed is the impact on biodiversity from the potential flow of genes
from bio-engineered crops to either native plants closely related to the
crop, or to crop varieties developed through traditional breeding methods.
Genes do not move from bio-engineered crop plants to non-related plants
such as from maize to vegetables or native flowers.
Bio-engineered crops have been approved for production in numerous
countries around the world with different environmental farming
conditions. In the Southern African region, South Africa has approved both
yellow and white maize bio-engineered varieties for production after
review of economic, environmental, and health safety. Bio-engineered crops
have been grown the longest in the United States and studies indicate no
significant environmental concerns. A recent review by the U.S.-based
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology indicates that some
bio-engineered crops have significant environmental benefits from reduced
pesticide use and reduced soil erosion. Similar conclusions were reached
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in reviewing regulatory
approval of insect-resistant bio-engineered crops.
Do bio-engineered crops contain pesticides?
U.S. farmers have adopted crop varieties that have been bio-engineered to
be resistant to insects, tolerant to herbicides, or both. Insect
resistance is derived from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Crop plants have been engineered to produce Bt proteins that are toxic to
certain insects but are safe for humans and other organisms. Sprayable Bt
insecticides are commonly used by organic farmers. Crops incorporating Bt
insect resistance require less chemical insecticide use than conventional
crops. Herbicide tolerance is also derived from soil bacteria. Herbicide
tolerant crops are engineered to withstand the use of very effective
herbicides that would otherwise harm the crop. In many cases, growers are
able to use herbicides that are considered to be safer than many other
commonly used herbicides. In addition, herbicide tolerant crops may allow
growers to reduce the number of herbicide applications made during the
season and facilitate the adoption of no-till farming practices that can
reduce erosion and runoff.
Does bio-engineered corn harm butterflies?
The potential impacts of bio-engineered maize on non-target organisms,
those organisms not intended to be controlled by the newly introduced
trait, are assessed prior to commercialization. Testing is performed on
several different organisms, including: honey bee, parasitic wasps, green
lacewing, lady beetles, northern bobwhite quail, earthworm, spring tails,
channel catfish and water fleas. For bio-engineered maize varieties
currently commercialized in the United States, these tests indicated
non-target organisms would not be at risk from Bt maize. Also, subsequent
field studies have not shown any adverse effects to non-target organisms.
After the commercialization of bio-engineered insect resistant maize in
the United States in 1996, concern was raised about potential harm to
certain butterfly populations, which are closely related to the target
insects of bio-engineered insect resistant maize. Since that time,
additional field studies have been conducted to address these concerns.
These peer-reviewed studies indicated that there is no significant risk to
monarch butterflies from environmental exposure to Bt maize.
Do bio-engineered crops contain genes from animals?
There are no bio-engineered crops currently marketed that were developed
using genetic material from animal sources. Currently available
bio-engineered crops were developed using genetic material from plants,
bacteria and plant-specific viruses. (end fact sheet)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State.) Office of State Department Public Communication