Today in AgBioView: December 15, 2002:
* India: Bt Cotton Found Satisfactory, Government Tells Parliament
* Cuba Looks to Genetic Engineering to Help Save Sugar Crop
* Zambian Scientific Team: Summary and Recommendations
* World Bank and IMF Statement on Hunger In Africa
* 'Phony War Over Biotechnology': Open Letters to the Stakeholders
* Re: Free Trade Fight
* Response to the Debate on the GM Mustard
* Golden Rice' - Ingo Potrykus' Slide Presentation
* Quality and Safety Assessment of GM Foods and their Regulation
* A Social Activist In Genetics
* Would You Give Up Your Grant for Sustainability?
* 'Small Is Stupid - Blowing the Whistle on the Green': Exposing
India: Bt Cotton Found Satisfactory, Government Tells Parliament
- The Times of India, December 13, 2002 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
New Delhi: The official verdict on genetically-modified, insect-resistant
Bt cotton is out. Its performance has been found satisfactory, environment
minister Baalu told the Rajya Sabha on Friday.
Three Bt cotton hybrids from the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco),
backed by the multinational firm Monsanto, have just been grown over one
lakh acres across six southern and central states Maharashtra, Gujarat,
MP, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Baalu says the performance
of this cotton in terms of "higher number of bolls, reduced number of
sprays for control of bollworms and higher yields harvested so far" has
been found satisfactory.
Ministry sources say that in independent monitoring of the first sowing,
teams of ministry and biotechnology department officials and agricultural
scientists have finished site visits to five states, examining about 10
fields in each state. Tamil Naduís case is still pending, since the crop
is sown later there. Generally, wherever it has been sown, the number of
bolls has gone up, their size is better and the number of pesticide sprays
needed to control the dreaded pest, bollworm, has gone down. In some
places, itís the drought, or vagaries of weather, which has defeated the
In some places, the teams found farmers need more education because they
have needlessly sprayed pesticide as a precaution. But the condition on
keeping a 'refuge' of non-Bt cotton crop around the GM crop 20 per cent of
the field and five rows encircling Bt cotton has been generally observed.
This, say officials, is because the company provided the non-Bt cotton
seeds along with the GM seeds. Any breach of this condition, they feel,
was not intentional. In irregularly-shaped fields, for instance, teams
found farmers had stuck to the 20 per cent figure but not necessarily to
the five rows mandated.
This year, Monsanto spokesperson Ranjana Smetacek had told this newspaper
earlier, the company had generally limited seed sales to farmers familiar
with the trials on this. Many farmers sitting on the fence, unsure of
whether to sow GM seeds, hope to opt for it next year, say officials.
What still remains to be resolved is how, if at all, the inter-ministerial
genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) plans to tackle the issue of
unapproved GM cotton either Mahyco's Bt cotton being grown in areas it is
not cleared for or GM cotton which hasnít been approved being grown on a
large-scale, as has happened in
Besides, GEAC still has to decide the ticklish issue of whether to clear
genetically-modified, higher-yield mustard. By all accounts, there is
still no consensus on this in the GEAC and the company which sought
permission for this, Proagro Seed, may have to wait a little longer.
Officials are toying with the idea of a workshop to debate the entire
issue of genetically-modified organisms, inviting scientists, volunteer
groups and the media.
Cuba Looks to Genetic Engineering to Help Save Sugar Crop
- Paul Elias, The Associated Press, Dec 13, 2002
Havana - Can biotechnology save Cuba's sugar industry? Something has to.
Some 100,000 fewer machete-wielding cane cutter and factory workers are
taking to the Cuban fields and mills this month in the saddest sugar
harvest here in recent memory.
Since June, Cuba has shuttered 71 of its 156 sugar mills and ordered more
than half the country's sugar fields used for other crops. The country is
bracing for a historic low sugar output, and it will be more difficult
than ever to sell what they produce. World sugar prices continue to plunge
to all-time lows as the cost of the petroleum needed to process Cuba's
once all-important crop rises. Long gone are the days when the Soviet bloc
paid Cuba above-market prices for sugar while supplying the island nation
with cheap fuel.
"We have analyzed this at the highest government levels," said Nelson
Labrada, vice minister of Cuba's Sugar Ministry. "We have arrived at the
conclusion that we have to innovate." According to the ministry, last
year's sugar harvest brought in $380 million. That's $120 million less
than the year before and far from the $1 billion annually Cuba could count
on a decade ago. This year's sales could plunge by another 50 percent.
"Prices remain stagnant and that's unlikely to change," said John
Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council. "Cuba is a highly inefficient producer of raw sugar. Sugar
production has been a huge financial drain for years." Necessity may be
the mother of invention, but in Cuba desperation is a close kin. That's
where Havana's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology comes in.
Gil Enriquez and other scientists at the center in a Havana suburb are
tinkering with the sugar cane's genes, splicing in material from a
bacterium that produces fructose. Natural sugar cane yields sucrose,
common sugar table sugar.
Fructose, which is less fattening and twice as sweet as sucrose, is used
in thousands of products, from corn syrup to fast-food hamburger buns. If
successful, Cuba would need much less cane to produce the same amount of
sweetener and be able to fetch premium prices - a prospect so promising
that Cuba obtained a U.S. patent five years ago on its process of
engineering fructose into sugar cane. It's one of about two dozen U.S.
patents the Cubans hold, obtained mostly to keep other non-embargoed
countries from profiting from their inventions. In the case of fructose
sugar cane, Cuba hopes its patent position will give it a commercial edge
when it reaches the world market. Enriquez said he's ready to plant his
experiments outdoors - but getting such permission from Cuban regulators
is a lengthy process and the fructose sugar cane is years away from
supermarket shelves. Enriquez' mission is about more than economics.
National pride is at stake. Sugar is still the country's No. 1 export,
ahead of nickel and even tobacco, although tourism has replaced sugar as
the biggest source of hard currency. The sugar industry employs about
400,000 workers. "This country is very sentimental about sugar," Enriquez
Closer to attaining the open field is sugar cane genetically modified to
make it more pest resistant. About a dozen of these plants are growing in
a greenhouse behind the Havana biotech center, promising to reduce growing
expenses by requiring less pesticide. Others at the center are tinkering
with sugar cane's genome to make it more resistant to weed killers and
disease. Labrada also talks about using sugar cane to fuel electric
generators, as a source of ethanol and even as a source for
cancer-fighting drugs. But even if the Cuban scientists succeed with their
biotechnology projects - Enriquez for one says he's close - they have
other hurdles to clear. The European Union, the biggest market currently
open to Cuba, has temporarily banned all new imports of genetically
modified foods in the face of consumer resistance.
Even in the United States, which Cuba can't do business with because of a
40-year-old U.S.-enforced trade embargo, whether consumers will accept
genetically modified sugar remains an open question. An increasing number
of U.S. acres are being planted with engineered crops and 80 percent of
the country's soy and one-third of its corn is modified. But public
resistance is cropping up, especially with sugar.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a genetically engineered
sugar beet for market. But U.S. farmers have shunned them after major
sugar refiners announced they wouldn't buy them. There's growing
international concern about the health consequences of genetically
modified food. No illness has ever been attributed to eating modified food
- but no long-term health studies have been done either. "They've really
put a lot of scientific effort into reducing fertilizers and pesticides,"
said Doreen Stravlinsky of Greenpeace, which opposes most biotechnology.
"But there are so many unknown impacts of genetically modified organisms."
Stravlinsky said Cuba - and other developing nations where farmers are
thinking about using biotechnology - should look at other, natural ways to
improve their crop yields. "Genetic engineering is expensive and American
companies own most of the patents," Stravlinsky said. "Biotechnology is no
(Forwarded by Alex Avery with comments: "So much for Cuba's much-heralded
(in the whactivist community) push toward 100% organic. Looks like some
practical realities are staring them in the face. I wonder what "natural"
methods the Greenpeace dolt would suggest for the Cubans to transform
glucose-cane into fructose-cane? Irradiation? Mutagenic organic chemicals?
Also, I wonder why she thinks the Cubans will respect US biotech firm's
Summary and Recommendations of the Zambian Scientific Team
(I thank Mr. David Appell, a freelance science journalist, for sharing
this document with me. His source of this document was Alex Wijeratna,
food rights campaign coordinator, ActionAid, UK. Excerpts reproduced
1.0 The Zambian Government's application of the Precautionary Principle in
dealing with Genetically Modified (GM) maize donated as food aid by the
World Food Programme (WFP) led to invitations for Zambian scientists to
undertake a fact finding mission to the United States of America, the
Republic of South Africa, the United Kingdom., Belgium, Norway and the
Netherlands from 10th September to 2nd October 2002.
2.0 The Team developed the following terms of reference to guide its
mission: a) obtain views on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods, especially
maize in terms of Food Safety, Environment, Trade and Ethics from the
regulators, interest groups and farmers. b) study the Biotechnology and
Biosafety Regulatory Processes, c) explore the possibility of obtaining
some assistance to build national capacity in Biotechnology and Biosafety
and d) determine the acceptance of GM Foods, especially maize.
3.0 Zambia is experiencing food shortages due to unfavourable weather
conditions during the 2001/2002 cropping season. The most affected areas
are Southern Province and to varying degrees some parts of Eastern,
Central, Western, Lusaka, North-Western and Northern Provinces.
4.0 The concerns raised in relation to the safety of the GM maize on both
environment and human health regarding toxicity, allerginicity and
antibiotic resistant led the government to call for a national wide
Consultation on these issues. This consultation culminated into a national
debate on GM food, which was held on 10th August 2002.
5.0 The Team confirmed that health related concerns in the consumption of
GM foods are in the potential manifestation of the following:
a) New food toxins b) New allergens, and c) Antibiotic resistance. In
addition, the Team learnt that the other concern is the potential change
in the nutritional quality of GM foods. 6.0 The Team confirmed that the
concern on the erosion of the genetic diversity of local farmers' maize
varieties cultivated in Zambia, was shared by all countries visited.
7.0 While it is often said that GM maize is consumed by millions of
Americans, it was noted that it is eaten in highly processed form and is
not a staple food in the USA. In Zambia maize is the staple food and is
usually the only carbohydrate source.
8.0 All the countries that were visited by the Team had functional
National Biosafety Frameworks, which is not the case for Zambia. However,
USA uses existing legislation to regulate GMOs.
9.0 Zambia requires to build capacity in biotechnology and biosafety to
implement the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy as well as the
Cartagena Protocol. 10.0 The importation of GMOs in Zambia could destroy
both organic and non-GM maize export market.
11. Conclusions. Based on the observations and the analysis of the
information, the Team drew the following conclusions: a) The distribution
of the GM maize grain carries a high risk of eroding the local maize
varieties. b) The safety aspects of GM Foods are not conclusive. c) On
trade there is a potential risk of GM maize: affecting the export of baby
corn and honey in particular and organic foods in general to the European
Union if planted. d) All countries visited had Regulatory mechanisms. e)
There is generally good will to assist Zambia to build capacity for
biotechnology and biosafety. f) There is a universal agreement that GMOs
should not be introduced without the explicit consent of the recipient
12. Recommendations. Based on the above conclusions, the Team made the
following recommendations: a. The government should maintain the current
stand of not accepting GM Foods by employing the precautionary principle.
b. The government should adopt the draft Biotechnology and Biosafety
Policy and enact the Biotechnology and Biosafety Regulations as soon as
possible because this will facilitate the establishment of the regulatory
mechanisms which are necessary for dealing with GM crops (risk assessment
and monitoring) which are in the country and those which might come later.
c. The government should ratify Cartagena Protocol because it will
facilitate Zambia's appropriate interactions with other countries on
issues of Biotechnology and Biosafety in general and trans-boundary
movement of GMOs in particular. d. The government should follow up the
possible support for capacity building from USAID, [JIB, the Republic of
South Africa, Norwegian and the Netherlands governments. e. The government
should establish the types of GM maize which is in the country now and the
ones which have been consumed by Zambian people in order to establish
whether GM maize with Starlink or antibiotic resistant marker genes have
been imported into Zambia. These have been found to be potentially harmful
The government should ensure that a delegation attends the WFP Executive
Board Meeting that will take place from October 21- 25, 2002
Acknowledgements. The Team is greatly indebted to His Excellence the
President, Mr Levy P Mwanawasa SC for the confidence he showed in Zambian
scientists in general and the Team in particular. The Team wishes to thank
USAID, DFID, NORAD, the Royal Netherlands for sponsoring various segments
of the mission. The Team also wishes to thank Nathan Associates Inc. and
HIVOs for facilitating the trip to the USA and South Africa and the
Netherlands, respectively. The Team is grateful to all persons met for
setting aside their valuable time to meet with us and for their warm
hospitability. The Team is also grateful to Zambian missions in the USA,
the Republic of South Africa, the United Kingdom and Belgium for their
warm welcome and great assistance. Finally the Team is highly indebted to
all those institutions, interest groups and individuals who provided
valuable assistance and information.
World Bank and IMF Statement on Hunger In Africa
- Issued To Executive Directors on Food Situation in Eastern and Southern
Press Release No: 2003/175/AFR; December 13, 2002 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
The World Bank Groupís Vice-President for Africa, Callisto Madavo, and the
International Monetary Fundís African Department Director, Abdoulaye Bio
Tchane, issued the following joint statement to the Boards of Executive
Directors of both institutions, on the food situation in Southern and
The food security situation in southern and eastern Africa has continued
to deteriorate since the summer. Donorsí response to date has met only
half of the midyear appeal for aid by UN agencies. Since then, the needs
have doubled, and we urge donors to increase the assistance provided to
deal with this enormous humanitarian crisis.
In southern Africa, food stocks built up by the population at risk in the
six most affected countries (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe) during the April-June harvest period are now largely
depleted. The World Food Program (WFP) is currently projecting that up to
14.4 million people are likely to be affected early in 2003, compared with
its previous projection of 13 million. In addition, a major food crisis is
unfolding in the Horn of Africa, where it is expected that over 15 million
people in Ethiopia and Eritrea will be at risk next year.
There has been a heartening response by the international community to the
southern Africa food crisis since the appeal launched by the UN agencies,
in support of which Mr. K–hler and Mr. Wolfensohn wrote to Executive
Directors on July 30, 2002. The UN appeal has so far received pledges
toward food aid of US$286 million. However, this falls short of the
initial target of US$507 million in food aid plus US$104 million in
nonfood assistance. In addition, a further US$600 million is now expected
to be needed in 2003 to cover the costs of aid to Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The extent and means of addressing the food situation vary considerably
from country to country. Nearly half of the population is at serious risk
in Zimbabwe, compared with roughly one-fourth in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia,
and Swaziland. Zimbabwe is facing a continuing disaster. For the other
countries in southern Africa, the crisis will worsen materially over the
coming months, although there is a prospect of some relief by next April
as the first crops of 2003 are harvested. In the Horn of Africa, where
nearly half the Eritrean population and one in five Ethiopians are
affected by the drought, food security is expected to deteriorate rapidly
into the beginning of 2003. Widespread mortality of cattle is also
expected. Reluctance by governments to allow imports of genetically
modified (GM) grain has been widespread in the region, and particularly
strong in Zambia, even when suppliers have offered to mill the grain to
flour before delivery. Adequate alternative sources to GM grain have not
yet been fully identified.
In Zambia, about 150,000 tons of cereals was originally sought from
international aid agencies to help support nearly 3 million people
(one-fourth of the population). However, the refusal by the government to
allow food relief agencies to import genetically modified maizeóeven if
milled before entryóhas complicated aid delivery. Additional commercial
imports may fill the gap, leading to considerable fiscal expense and use
of the international reserves in 2002 and 2003. As noted above, US$50
million in support from the World Bank was agreed at the end of October.
Zimbabweís situation is becoming increasingly difficult. Nearly 600,000
tons of emergency cereal food assistance will be required by March 2003.
Half the population (6.7 million) is at risk. Food production has dropped
to about one-third of previous yearsí levelss. Prospects for 2003 are very
For more information on the World Bank and Rural Development in Africa:
http://ww.worldbank.org/afr/index/rd.htm For each individual country see
'Phony War Over Biotechnology': A Collection of Open Letters to the
- Mark Mansour, AgBioView, December 15, 2002. http://www.agbioworld.org
Since the silly season is upon us, and the biotech debate seems, against
all odds, to be deteriorating even further past the point all of us
thought it had no place to go but up, here are some random thoughts and
recommendations to some of the chief protagonists in one of the truly
sterile debates and wretched public policy psychodramas of the young
century. These appear in no particular order.
Needless to say, feedback, criticism, objections, outrage and thoughtful
debate are not only welcomed, but are the objective of this effort.
Part I: You Who Are Being Fried, We Salute You, And Offer Some Advice
To: The Biotechnology Industry
The good news is, you are on the cusp of some of the most inspiring and
far reaching technological developments in human history. The bad news is
that, because you have failed to grasp the enormity of the opportunities
and hazards that attend that other great miracle of our time, the
information explosion, you stand to lose all.
The activists grasped that in today's world, the one with the most
concise, passionate message gets first dibs on the public attention span,
and given its short duration, that is all they ever needed. It would have
helped had the benefits of biotechnology been spread sooner and with more
passion. The damage is done, but it doesn't have to be permanent.
Here are some suggestions. First, whether it is fair or not, those who
deal with you on an ongoing basis have come to the unfortunate conclusion
that you are, as a group, preternaturally clueless. Among you are geniuses
of the highest order, but industry as a collective is seen to be obtuse
and doomed to repeat the same mistakes forever. You must demonstrate to
your customers, and to their customers, that you get it.
Certainly, the Prodigene soybean snafu of recent weeks is a serious
potential setback. It can either serve as a wake up call, or it can be the
first shot in a second, even more ruinous war. As an industry you are not
taking the differences between novel food crops and pharmaceutical and/or
industrial crops near seriously enough. That will have to change. Friends
of the Earth had a press release and a menu of recommendations ready for
government before the other shoe fell, and press releases from major food
trade associations looked to be identical to the one released by Friends
of the Earth. This is not an alliance that augurs well for the future.
The biotech industry must become more effective at self-policing,
especially of non-food crops, and it must take vigorous action against its
less conscientious and energetic members. It needs to ensure public
confidence in its partners--the US government and farmers-- is maintained.
Lose that, and the entire war is lost. A no holds barred, passionate, and
honest dialogue with the world must begin, and soon. View it as an
investment in your future.
Don't just spend your money on slick-but-nebulous TV ads. Shake loose the
purse and spend a few dollars on your grass roots constituency ñ
credible, non-industry voices and activists. It is clear that people will
listen to your message if it is sufficiently compelling. There is ample
evidence that a turnaround is possible. If you doubt it, see the plastics
industry, which engineered one of the most miraculous public relations
turnarounds in modern times. From being cast as a problem, they are now
identified by many as part of the solution. Certainly, they are not
impervious to criticism, but they have been neatly supplanted in the
public mind by other villains. To paraphrase the ancients, "Physicians, go
forth and heal thyselves, and do it pretty damned quickly."
To: The Food And Ingredients Industries:
You got a raw deal. The promise of biotechnology was terrific, at least in
theory, but the folks who sell you the goods were supposed to get out the
good word, and you have bungled the job. Now, the hard work of America's
farmers is floating on the high seas, in thin air, from one corner of the
world to the other, and no one seems to have the slightest idea what to do
about it. Worse, these tough decisions have to be made in the fog of war,
as it were, while activist groups and the media take daily potshots
designed to divorce you from your consumer.
It stinks. Well, get used to it, because this is the future. This is the
face of globalization in the twenty-first century. You view yourselves,
quite rightly, as your consumers' friend. When industry bought into
globalization, it bought into all of globalization's baggage. It received,
through the advent of the WTO, the end of the Cold War, and the opening of
previously closed markets, billions of new customers. As part of the
bargain, it received exotic regulatory regimes in some of these states, as
well as the burgeoning UN standard-setting offshoots. It also made
particularly relentless enemies of activist groups, many of whom were
armed with a burning conviction that multinational industry was the root
of all evil.
All they needed was a compelling issue, and bad luck for all, they found
it in the form of Frankenfoods. The problem is that corporate America
first underestimated, and is now overestimating the strength of the
activists and their message. Just as the opposition began to lose steam
(and it most assuredly has), the food industry conveniently formed a
circular firing squad, and shot at each other.
This must end, for one reason alone, if none of the others are compelling.
It won't work. "Greenpeace made us do it" will be more useful a defense in
the supermarket aisle than it will be in court. The public will blame
industry and regulators when it takes an eight-fold insert to sell a
package of candy which costs 15 or 20% more than it used to. The folks who
started the mess will, like the puny little provocateur in the old
television western bar fight, sneak out the swinging doors, cackling,
while the patrons of the bar punch and gouge each other with fists and
broken bottles, until exhausted they flounder on the floor and beg for
regulatory relief. The fact that the inevitable day of reckoning was
forced by the advent of biotechnology is interesting, from an academic
perspective, but fundamentally irrelevant.
It is now clear that the opponents have a variety of targets in mind, and
they are emerging without filter or surcease. We are beset with lawsuits
filed by fat children, at the behest of lawyers who made their bones on
asbestos and tobacco. There will be more to come, as one global
organization after another lines up at the trough to hammer away at every
innovation or product that stands the slightest chance of making money. It
is a death trap, for success only makes a potential target a bigger,
better and more attractive target.
Accommodation won't work because believers on the other side aren't
interested in accommodation. If the issue goes away, so goes their
funding, so they either must keep the issue alive or find another issue.
What to do, one asks? Strategies designed to placate patronize are doomed
to failure for the simple reason that no one, especially consumers, has a
clue what consumers want. No one has ever asked them, in any commercially
meaningful fashion, what they want. While the polls provide a glimpse, it
is flawed. One wonders at the results of a real poll which asks consumers
what they would like to see and pay for on a label. We got our sneak peek
in Oregon in November, and labeling was creamed.
One wonders how much worse the "label it allî lobby will have it when a
price tag is places on each of its labeling schemes. When that day comes,
this debate will truly have earned the price of admission, but for now it
is more like watching Crossfire: entertaining in a crude fashion, but
ultimately unsatisfying, much as eating the stuff that passes for health
food in legions of stores that trumpet cardboard tasting matter as "GMO
free." How ironic that industry's "placate them and they'll leave us
alone" strategy has only helped the organic industry by casting doubt on
the safety and benefit of biotech food.
Ultimately the issue will transmute into, a food fight over something that
lies at the core of the food industry's existence: their ability to
communicate with their customers in an open and honest fashion, without
kibbitzers providing unnecessary and harmful cross talk. At that point,
when real money is at stake, the choice to either stand confidently behind
their products and reasoned and honest discourse, or to give away their
trademarks, corporate good name, and viability will be made, and we will
know far more than we know today about the face of globalization in coming
For better or worse, you are on the front lines. Since it is now clear
that you will have to stand and fight over something, and since the other
side already has more plans in store for you, it might be advisable to
make a go of it on this issue, regain the moral high ground, and gird for
the next attack. It certainly beats being killed by friendly fire in a
circular firing squad, and it will be a far nobler fight.
(Mark Mansour is an attorney with Keller and Heckman
Llp in Washington
DC and an expert on trade and biotechnology issues. This is the first of
his three-part series commentary in AgBioView)
Re: Free Trade Fight
- Bob MacGregor"
Dr. Miller's argument is echoed in the development of the Biosafety
Protocol. I was peripherally involved (as a provincial representative) in
development of Canada's negotiating position on the BS Protocol. Early on
in the process, I asked why the protocol didn't include the REAL risks to
biological diversity, namely, habitat destruction and introduction of
Well, these weren't included in the original international "convention"
because (in my view) the participants were eager to slap controls on the
new technology and lay the foundation for even greater restrictions
later... like Dr. Miller's experience with Codex, this foolishness left me
with a bitter taste.
Response to the Debate on the Genetically Engineered Mustard
The Editor, Times of India; From: Professor C. Kameswara Rao
Dear Editor: I deeply appreciate the timely opportunity you gave to the
two interested parties to debate on the issue of the Genetically
Engineered (GE) mustard, in Samvad.
Dr. Paresh Verma, the applicant for commercialization of the crop, made
succinct scientific points, in support of his product. Nevertheless, he
may face the common and convenient charge of 'vested interest'. But then,
'vested interest' is a double-edged sword.
I strongly support the call of Dr Suman Sahai, for transparency on the
part of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the Indian
regulatory authority on GE products. It is unfortunate, that in an
atmosphere of intense global public debate on the safety and environmental
impacts of GE crops, GEAC's deliberations are shrouded in secrecy. This
only fans opposition to GEOs, with no reference to science.
Biotechnology and the implications for GE products are so complicated that
only very few people have any comprehension. The anti-technology groups
take advantage of this lack of awareness and trash the technology, relying
on emotive and sentimental arguments devoid of science. The general public
is naturally confused between pronouncements of 'great technology' and
'absolutely unsafe and utterly useless'. This situation can be remedied
only if GEAC opens up opportunities for all the stakeholders to be heard
in a public forum to express their concerns and participate in the
decision-making. Unfortunately, the past record of GEAC's decision-making
has not been rational and it does not seem to have learnt any lessons from
the Bt cotton experience. Building creditability for itself, thereby
gaining public confidence should be the first priority for the GEAC.
It is difficult to agree with Dr Sahai's views on the suitability and
utility of GE mustard under Indian conditions. The points articulated by
her, in Samvad and elsewhere, are not based in science. She wants us to
believe that conventional hybrid mustards developed in India, would be in
for cultivation, within three years and therefore there is no need for GE
The conventional hybrids of mustard being developed by public or private
institutions in India are at least eight years away. Three decades of
international research to develop high yielding mustard by the
conventional means was a failure. Indian scientists working on non-GE
hybrid system of mustard are struggling to produce 100 per cent effective
female fertility restorer lines, to ensure hybrid vigour in full. These
varieties were developed through somatic hybridization, which involves the
Herculean task of selecting the variety with right combination of genes,
in contrast to GE technology, which selects precisely only the genes
required for the job. After selecting varieties with the desired gene
combinations, the gene system will have to be incorporated into the local
varieties, through a series of back-crossings over several generations.
The varieties selected after this process have to undergo All India
Coordinated Field Trials for two to three years, before being approved for
commercial cultivation, like the GE varieties.
Asking farmers to wait for another decade, without any guarantee of high
yielding non-GE mustard, when there is a perfectly safe and superior
alternative, only to satisfy a few activists, is absurd and unfair.
Even if non-GE hybrid mustards developed in India would be available in
the next three years, what harm is there to have hybrid GE mustard that
appears to be superior in terms of yield? Then conventional hybrids would
be competing with GE mustard, and may the best variety win the confidence
of the farmers.
Another charge is that Proagro conducted its own field tests and supplied
materials to the ICAR for coordinated field trials. I wonder who else
should conduct the field tests if not the applicant and who else has the
same GE mustard materials to supply it to ICAR, for the independent field
trials. I do not see any possibility of any developer trusting some body
else with the product developed on spending enormous amounts of time and
All over the world, only the applicant conducts all safety trials and
gathers laboratory safety data as required by the regulatory authorities.
Competent risk assessment specialists review such data before the final
decision is made. This process is conducted in a transparent manner. Based
on such standardized regulatory oversight mechanism, thousands of field
tests were conducted for the commercialization of scores of GE products,
without a single instance of anyone having been hurt or biosafety and
environmental safety compromised.
Dr Sahai also questions the laboratory analysis done by private labs,
without offering valid reasons. Why do private labs become suspect? If the
tests were done in any government labs, some one would suspect their
results too. It should be up to an expert body like the Review Committee
for Genetic Modification, to verify the trial data provided by the
applicant and if satisfied certify them as genuine, authentic and meeting
with the required rigourous scientific standards.
Basing on several decades of experience in breeding different crops, some
international norms are practiced, in the matter of regulatory processes.
It should be up to the geneticists and breeders to decide whether any
given set of data is sufficient to take a fully informed decision on a
particular GE crop. It is unfortunate that the Deputy Director General of
Crops of ICAR, a member of GEAC, has not seen it fit to advise the
applicant through GEAC or the his own department, in time about the
requirements of the number of field trails needed to make critical
decision. It looks that one is tempted to change the rules of the game in
an ad hoc manner. All this is fodder for the activists to make more
protests and noises, to confuse the public even more.
The companies that intend to commercialize GE products in India, should
voluntarily post the Biosafety and Environmental Risk analysis data
gathered during the course of their R & D activity, on their websites, if
they have nothing to hide. This will pave way for openness and
transparency. This will also force GEAC to do the same and gain the trust
and confidence of the general public. Convincing the public on the safety
and utility of GE products should be the joint responsibility of the
product developers and the regulating agencies.
While what is true for US need not necessarily be true for India, the
activists and the GEAC should note that the Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service of the US has recently decided to deregulate Monsanto's
GE canola, developed on similar lines as the GE mustard for India, on
being convinced of its safety.
We should give GE mustard a chance to prove in the farmers' fields. The
most important responsibility of the GEAC should be to assure the public
that the GE crop in question does not present any undue risk.
- Professor C. Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary, Foundation for
Biotechnology Awareness and Education Bangalore, India. email@example.com
'Golden Rice' - Ingo Potrykus' PowerPoint presentation
- Drew Kershen
Prof. Ingo Potrykus gave a presentation to a conference at Tufts
University on November 1-2, 2001. His talk was titled: "Nutritionally
enhanced rice to compete malnutrition disorders of the poor."
I located this presentation in PowerPoint format on the Tufts University,
School of Nutrition Science and Policy website under the "Proceedings for
the Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology: The Road to Improved
Nutrition and Increased Production?" :
agri_biotech, not agri biotech]
In his presentation, Dr. Potrykus discussed Vitamin A Disorders (Golden
Rice); Nutritional Anaemias (especially iron), protein energy malnutrition
(high quality protein grain, particularly rice). He discussed the
humanitarian need and the scientific reality of these transgenic rice
strains to combat malnutrition. He then provided a summary to his
I quote his summary for AgBioView "Malnutrition Disorders pose immense
medical problems for developing nations. Traditional interventions are
helpful but require additional and complementary actions. Transgenic
nutritionally optimized staple crops such as GoldenRice, High Iron Rice,
and Quality Protein Rice complement traditional interventions. Applied to
"humanitarian projects" they could substantially and sustainably improve
health and life of the poor.
"Whether the poor will benefit does neither depend upon scientific, patent
rights, or economic problems, nor upon socio-economic, consumer health, or
environmental risks. It depends mainly upon the political "success" of
radical anti-GMO organizations. Those who try to prevent careful
exploitation in humanitarian projectors must be taken responsible for
On the concluding PowerPoint slide, Dr. Potrykus comments: "Genetic
engineering contributions to food security depends nearly exclusively upon
the failure of the radical anti-GMO industry. Nutritionally optimized rise
is becoming a scientific reality. Variety development and deregulations
will take five years. Our society should resume responsibility to carry it
through to the poor -- against the resistance of a radical anti-GMO
Those who desire may download Dr. Potrykus' PowerPoint presentation from
the Tufts website described above. - Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed
Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
Quality and Safety Assessment of Foods Derived by Modern Biotechnology and
their International Regulation
- J. Lupien,2002, African Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences. 2(2):
Biotechnology has a long history of use in food production and processing.
It represents both traditional breeding techniques and the latest
techniques based on molecular biology. The increasing development of
genetically modified organisms is accompanied by the need for
all-necessary controls related to their testing, relevance, use and
cross-border movements. Adequate national legislation is necessary to
protect the environment, biodiversity, and human health. There is also
need to consider how to carry out adequate levels of risk management of
genetically modified organisms in the products, mechanisms and instruments
for application and control of biotechnology.
This paper discusses the work done at the international level to assure
the quality and safety of foods derived from modern biotechnology. It
explores the code of conduct for biotechnology as it affects the
conservation and use of plant genetic resources. Particular
biotechnology-related issues have been considered by a series of FAO/WHO
expert consultations and workshops. Emphasis is placed on generic work
done at the United Nations level on the 1992 Convention on Biological
Diversity and the accompanying Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and more
specific work on food and agriculture aspects carried out by the Food and
Agriculture Organisation on the UN (FAO), often performed jointly with the
World Health Organisation and The International Atomic Energy Agency
The paper also gives a brief history and scope of the Codex Alimentarius
Commission regards biotechnology and food safety, and implementation of
the Joint FAO/WHO food standards. Also explained are Codex Committees such
as the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, and the Codex Committee on Food
Certification and Inspection Systems, and the interrelationship between
FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, the World Trade Organisation and
International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
A Social Activist In Genetics
- Ute Deichmann, Nature 420, 363 - 364 (2002) 28 November 2002
'Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science by Jon Beckwith
Harvard University Press: 2002. 256 pp. $27.95, £18.50, 27.95 euros'
Social conscience: Jon Beckwith was the first to isolate a gene, but
warned of the risks of genetics.
"Science was puzzle-solving ó figuring out mathematical proofs or devising
pathways for the synthesis of complex organic compounds ó it was fun." The
joys of doing science, first experienced in college, motivated Jon
Beckwith to become a scientist ó and to remain one. He is now professor of
microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School. But
literature, philosophy and social concerns have remained important to him
throughout his scientific life. In 1969, Beckwith was the first to isolate
a single gene from a chromosome (of the bacterium Escherichia coli) and,
two decades later, his experiments on protein secretion from cells opened
up new lines of research on the process of protein folding.
In this beautifully written autobiography, Beckwith explains these and his
other scientific successes, as well as his failures. He vividly describes
aspects of the "cultural revolution in science that molecular biology
brought with it", epitomized by "iconoclastic and unchemist-like" Jim
Watson, and major public controversies about genetics in the United States
from the 1960s. Beckwith is acquainted with various laboratories in the
United States and Europe, and characterizes the scientific styles of
different individuals and groups. He was particularly fascinated with the
French style of "daring leaps of logic", simple experiments that seemed to
yield profound insights, and papers with persuasive "elegant rhetorical
strokes", but later realized that it did not represent the process of how
discoveries actually take place. He amply depicts the human elements, "the
wrong turns, the surprises, the flashes of intuition, even the passions
that drive us in science".
Beckwith's growing enchantment with science was mirrored by his growing
concern for its consequences. His social activism in science grew out of a
more general political radicalism in the 1950s and 1960s, stimulated
especially by the civil-rights movement in the United States, the
assassination of Martin Luther King, and the turmoil over the Vietnam War.
As a member of the action group Science for the People, he was convinced
that scientists have a special social responsibility, so he decided to
help inform the public about the potential negative social consequences of
genetic research. In 1969, in the same week that his famous paper about
the first isolation of a gene appeared in Nature (224, 768ñ774), Beckwith
called a press conference aimed at raising public awareness of the
possible consequences of genetic manipulation.
This received huge international press coverage and contributed to rising
fears, even among fellow scientists, about the possible dangers of
molecular-biological research. But Beckwith fails to mention that most of
the scientists who called for a moratorium on recombinant-DNA research in
1973, Watson and Paul Berg among them, later considered this a mistake and
the fears unsubstantiated.
By contrast, Sydney Brenner, one of Beckwith's scientific heroes, never
believed that scientists have a special social responsibility . In his
autobiography, A Life in Science (BioMed Central, 2001), Brenner expressed
the opinion that, in order to act responsibly, one should not prevent the
generation of knowledge, but rather answer the following question: "What
are you doing with your knowledge once you get it?" This, of course,
presupposes the neutrality of science, which Beckwith denies.
Beckwith's activism was also an outcome of his preoccupation with history.
He realized that, in contrast to physicists, who had openly confronted
their historical burden of the past, the atomic bomb, geneticists were
ignorant of their own 'atomic' history ó their role in the eugenics
movement. Suspicious of genetic research that claimed to explain
antisocial behaviour, he launched a campaign against a study at Harvard
Medical School on the development of boys with an extra Y chromosome
(XYY). Beckwith was concerned about the ethics of identifying and studying
these children, because many people still believed previous, seriously
flawed scientific claims that linked this chromosomal aberration with
criminal behaviour. The Harvard researchers finally decided to stop the
screening. However, this campaign, because of the distrust it caused
between the activists and faculty members, affected Beckwith's life more
than any other.
E. O. Wilson's book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Harvard University
Press, 1975) presented a new theory about genetic programmes of behaviour
in animals and humans. It received wide media coverage. In their public
attack on the theory, in which they said it was biologically determinist,
Beckwith and his colleagues went as far as to associate Wilson and his
theory with Nazism. Whether the scientific evidence that Wilson presented
was strong or weak, some of the attacks were blatantly unfair. Social
activists in science have to show responsibility, too.
In 1989 Beckwith joined the programme to explore and anticipate the
ethical, legal and social implications of the Human Genome Project. The
resulting public discussion of this issue led to the passage of bills
outlawing the practice in several US states. At the time, the antagonism
between genome scientists and activists seemed to be unbridgeable, which
Beckwith interprets as part of the long history of conflict between the
world of science and the humanities, as described by C. P. Snow in his Two
Cultures (Cambridge University Press, 1959). Today, bioethicists and
genome scientists seem to have begun to close this gap.
Beckwith's account of social activism in genetics implies that it arose
from more than an analysis of the possible dangers. It could also be
predicted from scientists' political inclinations: the same group of
leftist scientists in the United States was critical of such different
issues as recombinant DNA and genetic theories of human behaviour. That
molecular biology attracted more critical and socially active scientists
than did older sciences such as chemistry does not mean that molecular
biology is intrinsically more dangerous than chemistry. Indeed, chemistry
has its own 'atomic' history, which includes chemical warfare during the
First World War, the use of Zyklon B in the Auschwitz concentration camp,
and environmental disasters.
Beckwith has portrayed a fascinating period in the history of modern
biology and of the interaction of science and society in the Western
world. Thanks to him and other activists, social injustices resulting from
the application of genetics are now widely discussed and, in democracies,
meet with legal measures and regulation. In this book Beckwith, a
committed scientist ó and here he has many predecessors ó calls for
greater humility about what science can and cannot accomplish. This is a
call that scientists would do well to take seriously.
Ute Deichmann is at the Institute of Genetics, Cologne University,
Weyertal 121, 50931 Cologne, Germany.
Would You Give Up Your Grant for Sustainability?
- Nature 420, 461 - 462 (2002)
Sir ñ Your Opinion editorial "Leadership at Johannesburg" (Nature 418,
803; 2002) reveals delusions about the sustainable-development summit.
Most scientists care little about sustainability, and very few work
towards achieving it. I have tried to excite the geoscience community's
interest, for example (Geoscientist 11, 1(15) and 5(11); 2001), but
elicited only a meagre response.
You write of poverty alleviation, improved (renewable) energy generation
and better water supplies in developing countries. Less poverty leads to
greater consumption of goods and services, of energy, water, land and so
on. That is not sustainable development. The Correspondence by E. D. G.
Fraser and W. Mabee (Nature 418, 817; 2002) correctly predicted that the
summit would fail, but shed no new light on the issues.
Which of the following do readers consider compatible with sustainable
development? Expanding airports and road networks, growing car and
aviation industries (including motor racing)? The international arms
trade? Logging of rainforests? Trapping and shooting of endangered birds
and animals? Overfishing and progressive pollution of the oceans?
Inability to police environmental legislation anywhere in the world?
Corruption at all levels of government throughout the world?
In a piece entitled "Sustainable development unsustainable" (Nature 374,
305; 1995), John Maddox wrote an approving review of Wilfred Beckerman's
book "Small is Stupid" (See Below....Prakash). Beckerman was wrong to
imply that Earth's resources are not finite, but he and Maddox were right
to point out that we need economic growth.
Can anyone name a country, rich or poor, where sustainable development is
a central plank of government policy? Sustainable development means living
in equilibrium with natural cycles. That means reduced consumption, which
very few people want. Any attempt to wean industrial civilization off
fossil fuels would lead to instant global recession and economic decline.
Without economic growth there would be no profits, hence no taxes, no
public services, no pensions or state benefits ó and no research grants!
- John Wright, Department of Earth Sciences, Open University, Milton
Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
A Leading Contrarian Exposes Environmental NGOs,
- Azlan Adnan (firstname.lastname@example.org) Malaysia; August 6, 1999. Amazon.com
'Small Is Stupid: Blowing the Whistle on the Green - Wilfred Beckerman
Hardcover: 202 pages , Publisher: Duckworth; ISBN: 071562640X; (March
The title of this book of advocacy is a direct reference to Small is
Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher's seminal work that accelerated, if not
precipitated, the Green revolution just over two decades ago. Written by
an Oxford don of impeccable credentials, Small is Stupid is a long overdue
sequel to his In Defence of Economic Growth, published in 1974. It is
devoted mainly to new environmental issues such as climatic change,
biodiversity, the concept of sustainable development, the validity of
discounting future costs and benefits, the crucial need for economic
growth to remedy the pressing problems of the South and why we need not be
too concerned with using up finite resources.
An economist both numerate and literate, whose interest in the environment
is, by his own admission, intermittent, the septuagenarian Wilfred
Beckerman would have been in grave danger of being summarily dismissed as
a right-wing ultra were it not for his passionate belief in sanity and
reason. While this book will certainly raise the hackles of many members
of the Green movement, the intention is more towards providing a balanced
debate on environmental vis a vis socio-economic development issues.
During the last decade the Green movement, essentially an invention and
perhaps, if you believe in a conspiracy theory, instrument of the North,
has renewed its attack on the desirability of economic growth, and has
been freely shaping world opinion, calling for immediate drastic action to
prevent global warming, the exhaustion of raw materials, and the
extinction of species. It has gained sympathy and support through its
clever manipulation of the (mostly Western-owned) media.
Beckerman fulfills his promise of Blowing the Whistle on the Greens by
making use of information previously available only in specialized sources
and by presenting the facts in an objective a manner as only a trained
economist can. He sets the record straight by revealing the flaws in the
Green's alarmist predictions of global environmental catastrophe. Small is
Stupid exposes the hollowness of the Green's claim to occupy the moral
high ground in environmental policy, and the superficiality of their views
on key ethical issues, such as the nature of our obligations to future
generations, or the real case for preserving biological diversity.
In the course of his argument Beckerman demonstrates that the fashionable
Green slogans of "sustainable development" and the "precautionary
principle," oft-repeated parrot fashion by environmental policy-makers,
conceal basic confusions, and that their adoption by the world's policy
makers as guiding principles would only reduce social welfare in the long
term as well as today. Commissions and committees, national and
international, have been (and are being) set up to supervise and report on
the adoption of these policies, and politicians who fail to pay lip
service to them do so at their peril.
Environmentalists, many scientists, media commentators, politicians and
public figures, all eager to demonstrate their sense of social
responsibility, as well as many genuinely concerned members of the public,
treat these "guiding principles" with reverential respect without
realizing that both are fundamentally flawed. Continued invocation of
these catch-phrases can only pressurize governments into hastily devised,
inefficient and expensive environmental regulatory policies that usually
involve unwarranted intervention in the market place. In many cases, these
expensive environmental regulatory policies are measures many developing
countries of the South can ill-afford.
Beckerman argues that if "sustainable development" implies that all other
components of society's welfare are to be sacrificed in the interests of
preserving the environment exactly in the form it happens to be in today,
then it is morally indefensible. Similarly, to apply the "precautionary
principle" would be simply stupid if it is taken to mean that irrespective
of the chances of future loss, the scale of the loss, and the costs of
preventing it, one must nevertheless incur those costs. Yet, alarmist
environmentalists would have us do this, and more.
Far from imminent global environmental catastrophe, the most serious
environmental problems in the world today are local ones, particularly the
provision of clean drinking water and decent sanitation in the South and
long term economic growth is necessary for their solution. This is a key
message of Small is Stupid.
After reading this book, it is easy to see why an organisation like
Greenpeace, which is more interested in confronting the establishment with
a conflict of values, than in engaging in a rational scientific debate, is
now losing credibility in the public's view. Unlike the World Wide Fund
for Nature, Greenpeace and other radical Green charities are not
interested in pragmatic, co-operative approaches towards resolving
environmental issues. Perhaps, it is because they are charities, and
therefore dependent on public generosity, that the Greens invariably take
the moral high ground in order to extract "guilt money" from a gullible
public. With highly emotive issues such as Brent Spar and the Bakun dam
project in Sarawak now high on the public's minds, this book is a
refreshing dose of sanity and clarity of thought.
By moving away from the Green's agenda and providing a sensible platform
for a balanced debate, Small is Stupid is of immense interest and direct
relevance to all those involved in development issues. It certainly is
must reading for Third World policy makers who need to balance
biodiversity and sustainability concerns on the one hand, with poverty
alleviation and socio-economic development imperatives on the other.
Beckerman advocates the need to ensure the pattern of economic growth is
one which best represents the needs and preferences of society as a whole,
rather than of particular Green pressure groups. This involves much
greater use of economic instruments for reducing pollution to socially
optimal levels, and much greater application of economic assessments in