Today in AgBioView: February 13, 2003
* Missing The Big Picture
* Trade War Over Biotech Food: Now, Later or Never?
* StarLink Settlement Unsettling for Science
* Invasion of the Gene Snatchers
* Cherry-picked References Do Not Give Truth on GM
* Wayward Fund - Who's the Mystery Person Behind It?
* A Robin Hood Approach to Plant Biotechnology
* Face Facts on Crop Science
* Green Wealth: Funding the Enemy
* Trading Darkness for Light
Missing The Big Picture
Editorial, Nature 421, 675 (2003); (Sent by Julia A. Moore of Smithsonian
Our understanding of the likely ecological impact of genetically modified
crops is incomplete. But these holes in our knowledge are symptomatic of a
wider failure adequately to address the science of sustainable
GM, or not GM? That is the question ... or, at least, that is an important
question with which the British government must wrestle over the next few
months, and the answer to which will have international repercussions.
More than three years ago, with agribiotech companies pushing to market
crops engineered to resist the effects of broad-spectrum herbicides, and
UK public opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops reaching feverish
levels, Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration delayed a difficult
decision. There would, the government said, be no commercial planting of
GM crops until the effects on farmland biodiversity of the herbicide
applications associated with the crops' cultivation had been evaluated
through extensive ecological trials. By the time these were completed, the
politicians must have hoped, public opposition would have ebbed away.
Some hope. The results of these farm-scale trials are now being written
up, and although the frenzy of 1999 has subsided, the British public shows
little sign of warming to GM agriculture. Like it or not, Britain's
decision on whether to allow commercial planting of GM herbicide-tolerant
crops will be seen as a verdict on the wider future of UK transgenic
agriculture. Even if, as seems likely, the farm-scale trials give
herbicide-tolerant crops a relatively clean bill of health with regard to
biodiversity, they can say little about the benefits and risks of GM
agriculture as a whole, as the government's own Agriculture and
Environment Biotechnology Commission reported in September 2001.
So, belatedly, Blair's government has launched a wider exercise to
consider the merits of transgenic farming. A public debate, including a
series of meetings and perhaps a specially commissioned film, is planned.
Two expert panels have also been set up, one to assess the economic
arguments, the other to review the scientific evidence.
The latter panel, which is to report in the early summer, must review the
literature and perhaps unpublished studies, and address questions posed by
the public over the Internet. Its report will be an influential document,
and not just in Britain. GM agriculture has been accepted in North
America, but many countries have yet to embrace the technology. And the
developing world, already a battleground for pro- and anti-GM lobbyists
(see page 681), is bound to look for guidance to expert panels in leading
Trial run Anyone surveying the literature with an unbiased eye should
conclude that, after years of investigation, there is no convincing
evidence that GM crops pose risks to human health, or that they will lead
to an ecological meltdown. The farm-scale trials may also provide
reassurance that herbicide-tolerant GM crops can be grown without adverse
effects on farmland biodiversity. And a study published last month, backed
by the agribiotech giant Monsanto, claimed that such crops can even boost
invertebrate populations, if combined with specific regimes of herbicide
application (A. M. Dewar et al. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270, 335; 2003).
Yet Britain's GM science panel should also acknowledge that the research
is lacking in several respects. Take the issue of gene flow from GM crops
to wild relatives. Many studies, trumpeted by anti-GM activists at every
opportunity, have shown that transgenes can spread beyond the crops from
which they were introduced. But despite industry's past tendencies to play
down the possible extent of gene flow, we have long known that crops will
hybridize with related weeds. The real issue is whether the flow of
transgenes has any undesirable ecological or agronomic consequences.
Answering this question will involve creating hybrids between transgenic
crops and wild relatives, and monitoring their effects on farmland ecology
and crop yields when released in field experiments. Such trials are now
under way in North America; one preliminary example, which delivered a
reassuring message, was the highlight of a conference on transgene flow in
Amsterdam last month (see Nature 421, 462; 2003). But European regulators
have not bitten this bullet. A decade ago, they ignored proposals by some
far-sighted ecologists to study the consequences of transgene flow. Now
they are running scared of public opinion, which has been primed by
anti-GM activists to see such trials themselves as inherently risky.
The necessary experiments can be done using male-sterile plants, which
shouldn't breed and pose any lasting hazard. But in Europe, GM crops have
been demonized so effectively that it is almost impossible to carry out
the research to determine whether fears about invasive 'superweeds' have
any foundation. Breaching this impasse won't be easy. Some proponents of
transgenic agriculture claim that the risks are small, and argue that we
should push ahead with commercial plantings. This just isn't good enough.
Dismissing legitimate public concerns will only harden opposition to
Broader view Ultimately, the answer has to involve placing the arguments
about GM crops in a wider context. Meeting the nutritional needs of the
world's growing population while protecting the planet's biodiversity is a
huge challenge. To meet it, we can ill afford to cast aside entire
technologies without testing whether they can be effectively and safely
deployed. This applies to transgenics, but also to enhancements to
conventional breeding allowed by our growing genomic and molecular-genetic
knowledge (see Nature 421, 568Ď570; 2003).
Shamefully, when it comes to creating new varieties that might help to
feed the developing world's growing population, rich countries are now
cutting spending on both approaches to crop improvement. And amid all the
fuss about GM crops, there's been little acknowledgement that similar
questions about biodiversity and gene flow must be asked about
conventionally bred varieties. Take a variety of rice that can tolerate
saline conditions. Such a crop, created by transgenic or conventional
means, would allow the cultivation of soils that are now seen as
agricultural wastelands. But might it also spawn superweeds that would
choke estuarine habitats? Such questions need answers. At present,
however, there seems to be little desire to find them.
Britain's farm-scale trials of herbicide-tolerant GM crops represent an
unprecedented effort to study the ecological impact of a change in
agricultural practice. They could serve as a blueprint for experiments to
study a whole range of farming practices, putting sustainable agriculture
on a sound scientific footing. But scientists, regulators and politicians
must seize the initiative and widen the debate about the future of farming
beyond an obsession with transgenics.
Trade War Over Biotech Food: Now, Later or Never?
Pew Initiative policy dialogue probes whether a WTO complaint will move
technology forward or cause European backlash
Washington, D.C. (February 13, 2003) -- A senior government official, farm
interests and policy scholars debated the timing and objectives of a
possible U.S. challenge in the World Trade Organization (WTO) over
European treatment of biotechnology crops today at a policy dialogue
sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
With European markets essentially closed to new agricultural biotechnology
products for the past four years, the U.S. government has threatened a WTO
challenge. But the timing of the case has been brought into question by
foreign policy considerations that such a move could add fuel to the fire
of trans-Atlantic relations already troubled by the threat of an Iraq war
and other issues.
"While American farmers have largely embraced biotechnology, Europeans
seem to have rejected it for a number of different reasons," said Michael
Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative. "Even if the U.S.
wins a WTO case, it risks further inflaming European public opinion about
GM foods, particularly given present EU-U.S. tensions over foreign policy.
At the same time, U.S. farmers are concerned that EU-type restrictions on
GM food could spread to other parts of the world if not challenged."
The value of U.S.-European agricultural trade was $6.4 billion in 2001,
making the EU the fourth largest single market for U.S. farm products.
There are 18 biotech food products approved in the EU, but a de facto
moratorium on further approvals has been in place since June 1999, with 13
more applications pending.
In addition to the moratorium, the EU is moving forward with new labeling
and traceability requirements for biotechnology food and feed that will
require almost all biotechnology food products to be labeled. Under these
provisions, even highly refined products like corn and soybean oil
produced from biotechnology crops would have to be labeled, even though
the products may have no detectable traces of biotech DNA. The new rules
would also require biotech feed products to be labeled. European
representatives have, in the past, linked approval and passage of the new
labeling and traceability rules to a lifting of the moratorium on new
biotech crop approvals, but U.S. patience is wearing thin, with the Bush
administration repeatedly threatening an imminent WTO case.
Christopher A. Padilla, Assistant United States Trade Representative for
Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison said, "For more than four
years, Europe has refused even to consider accepting biotech foods.
Several European officials have stated publicly that this moratorium is
unjustified and illegal under WTO rules, and also admit that such foods
are perfectly safe for human consumption. The effects of the European ban
are now spreading to other countries and regions, with devastating
consequences in famine-stricken Africa. Meanwhile, well-fed Europeans
offer nothing but more delays, more excuses, and more obstacles to safe
food. Enough is enough."
Clyde Prestowitz, President of the Economic Strategy Institute and author
of a forthcoming book on how the world sees the United States, said: "A
WTO case to force Europe to accept GMOs is the surest way to guarantee a
European boycott of GMOs and a hardening of irrational European fears and
positions. Showing restraint and a willingness to listen, rather than
resorting to coercive action, would give a welcome relief to our already
degraded image in Europe, at a critical moment in the history of the
Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said, "The
EU has not made sufficient progress in lifting the new biotech crop
moratorium. In the meantime, U.S. producers and the agricultural industry
continue to lose sales of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The
United States has exercised patience as the EU grappled with this
internally sensitive political issue. But, AFBF believes it is time to
engage the EU in a WTO dispute settlement proceeding against its illegal
moratorium. AFBF is concerned that the EU's proposed labeling and
traceability regulations, which are currently are under consideration for
adoption and touted by the EU as its answer to the moratorium, are equally
The proposed regulations are discriminatory in that labeling would be
required for all products made from imported biotech ingredients, yet no
labeling will be required for products made with biotech processing aids
such as enzymes and yeasts used in the production of cheese, beer and
other products. Unless significant changes are made to make the
regulations compatible with the EU's international obligations, AFBF will
urge that the U.S. be equally prepared to engage the EU in dispute
settlement proceeding on the labeling and traceability regulations. The
United States must strongly reject the acceptance of unjustified and
trade-distorting traceability and labeling regulations as a condition for
the lifting of the EU's moratorium on biotech product approvals."
Julia Moore, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars, said, "Slowly, Europe is winning back consumer
confidence in its ability to safely regulate food through tougher new
national and EC food standards agencies. Emerging GM products, like a
hypoallergenic peanut and a low-protein rice tolerable for kidney disease
sufferers, eventually will demonstrate some of the advantages of
agbiotechnology to European shoppers. And a new labeling scheme will
offer consumers a choice - and history shows that when given a clearly
labeled choice, Europe's customers will make purchases based on other
factors beside GM content. A WTO action by the U.S. against the moratorium
will only harden European consumer resistance to this new technology. And
with more than 35 countries now either having in place or announced laws
which require the labeling of food containing GM ingredients or GM import
restrictions, a WTO case will spread and not contain that opposition."
The policy dialogue, entitled "Should the U.S. Press a WTO Case against
Europe's Genetically Modified Food Policies?" is one in a series hosted by
the Pew Initiative and was organized in an effort to stimulate an
informative discussion about the pros and cons of launching the trade
case, its timing, the cultural context of the disagreement and the
economic and foreign policy ramifications of this trans-Atlantic food
fight. It was moderated by Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent for PBS'
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and author, The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in
the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999. To read more about the dialogue
or to watch the webcast of the event, go to
To read more about the dialogue or to watch the archived webcast of the
event, go to http://www.connectlive.com/events/pewagbiotech/. A
transcript will be posted shortly as well.
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology is a nonprofit, nonpartisan
research project whose goal is to inform the public and policymakers on
issues about genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology,
including its importance, as well as concerns about it and its regulation.
It is funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University
StarLink Settlement Unsettling for Science
- Healthfactsandfears.com, Feb 10, 2003
Two biotech companies agreed last week to pay $110 million to corn farmers
who lost money because of consumer fears three years ago when some
genetically-modified StarLink corn, intended as animal feed, found its way
into the human food supply.
Reporters could easily spin this as a story in which farmers and consumers
are victims and the villains are the reckless Dr. Frankensteins of the
biotech firms - aided and abetted by lax EPA regulators. But it's worth
pausing to remember that no one was actually shown to be injured by
StarLink. The lawsuits that occurred at the time - from a handful of
customers concerned that they might be having allergic reactions to the
corn - and the subsequent financial losses suffered by the farmers were
all fear-driven, not the result of good science showing that stomach upset
was any more likely among (non-frightened, non-litigious) StarLink eaters
than among ordinary taco shell eaters. (ACSH pointed this out in a 2001,
press release not long after the CDC reported there was no evidence of
harm from StarLink.)
When the anti-biotech activists - and even some people who are
ostensibly "neutral" about biotech - weigh the pro's and con's of the
new food science, the StarLink incident will probably be placed in the
con's category. But it's important to remember that so far, the only
"damage" - psychological or financial - done by biotech is really a
function of the panic activists have spreadabout it, not a function of
flawed science or industrial disasters. Absent the efforts of Greenpeace
and others to keep the public terrified about biotech, we might well live
in a world in which people say, "I ate some biotech corn - but I feel
fine, so who cares?" Then the biotech firms could put their $110 million
to some more productive, innovative use than mopping up the fallout of
Invasion of the Gene Snatchers: Electronic Invasion of the Mind Snatcher
- Thomas R. DeGregori, AgBioView, Feb 13, 2003; http://www.agbioworld.org/
Marx was right, at least about the Luddites when he uttered his famous
dictum that history begins in irony and ends in farce. From there it now
goes to a B grade movie. Under the screaming headlines, INVASION OF THE
GENE SNATCHERS, I received an email (excerpts below) about a radio
appearance by Professor Ignacio Chapela who has gone from a correspondent
to Nature, to a withdrawal or defrocking and now to the Luddite electronic
Who has the movie rights for the story of our modern day Galileo and when
can we expect to see it? I waited with baited breath.
>>"Invasion of the Gene Snatchers
>>The Mexican state of Oaxaca is the global center for corn diversity and
home to the commercial varieties of corn grown throughout the world. At
least, it was until an invasion of the gene snatchers!
>>This Saturday at 9AM Pacific, the Food Chain with Michael Olson hosts
University of California, Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela for a
rebroadcast of his controversial claim that genetically-engineered corn
has taken over the DNA of native races of corn throughout Mexico. Topics
will include how genetically-engineered corn, despite being illegal, came
to be planted throughout Mexico; Chapela╠s controversial claim that
patented genes have contaminated the DNA of native races of corn; and
speculation as to who actually now owns those native races of corn. "
Cherry-picked References Do Not Give Truth on GM
- Richard Roush, The Canberra Times February 13, 2003
In this space on January 23, Senator John Cherry claimed that it has taken
the arrival of genetically modified corn to awaken a debate on GM crops in
Senator Cherry seems to have missed the fact that the debate has been
under way for at least eight years, including a Consensus Conference held
in Canberra nearly four years ago, and a Senate inquiry published in
November 2000 on the Gene Technology Bill 2000 (in which Senator Cherry's
colleagues Stott Despoja and Bartlett participated).
Australia already has a positive history with GM crops. Since 1996
insect-resistant 'Bt' cotton has reduced insecticide use by an average of
50 per cent on the thousands of hectares on which it has been grown, with
no significant problems. Contrary to the senator's claims on health, there
have been extensive international studies into the health and safety
issues of GM crops. Just as one example, a report in 2001 from the
European Union involving 400 research groups at a cost of $US65 million
found that there were no new risks to human health or the environment
compared with conventional plant breeding. It was also concluded that GM
was a more precise technology, had greater regulatory scrutiny, and was
probably safer than conventional plants and foods (See [ http://europa
]http://europa. eu.int/comm/research/quality-of-life/ gmo/index.html)
Senator Cherry lauded the British Medical Association's opposition to GM
crops. However, Dr Mac Armstrong, who was secretary of the BMA when it
published its report, stated last November that the report was 'one of the
poorest the BMA had written'. In contrast to the BMA, the following is a
partial list of scientific and medical societies that have supported GM
crops: the British Royal Society, the French Academies of Sciences and
Medicine ([ http://www.academie-medecine.fr/ ]www.academie-medecine.fr/
default.asp), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture
Organisation, the Chinese National Academy of Science, Indian National
Academy of Science, Mexican National Academy of Science, and the Third
World Academy of Sciences.
Contrary to the claims of Senator Cherry, Japan imports the same United
States corn recently imported into Australia, and even did so in January.
In fact, Japan has approved 44 biotech varieties of food ([
]www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200301/ 145785045.pdf). Korea has also
approved US corn. South Africa and the Philippines grow GM corn, and Kenya
is experimenting with it.
The governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe accept US corn as long
as it is milled; Swaziland and Lesotho are accepting whole-grain maize.
New Scientist reported on January 29 that 'Zambia's GM Food Fear Traced to
UK' and credits the BMA with being 'the main reason behind Zambia's
decision to reject food aid'.
The 'Association of Soil Scientists' report that Senator Cherry extols was
funded by a grant from Greenpeace to the United Kingdom Soil Association,
an organic farming organisation opposed to GM. The report specifically
acknowledges that the authors did 'not research positive experiences' with
An earlier study of GM crops in the US, written by respected economists,
concluded that GM crops in the year 2001 reduced pesticide use by 21,000
tonnes, increased profitability by $US1.5 billion, and increased yields by
2 million tonnes ([ http://www.ncfap.org ]www.ncfap.org). The Soil
Association couldn't bring itself to even reference this report.
The entire basis of the Soil Association's claims, repeated by Senator
Cherry, that US farmers have lost export revenue of $US12 billion, are in
unpublished or inaccessible statements by the American Corn Growers'
Association (a radical left group that represents only a small proportion
of US farmers) and Chuck Benbrook, a frequent consultant for organic
farming and anti-GM groups. The total detail defending these claims is
contained within about a page of the 66-page report.
The corn that has stirred Senator Cherry was imported to feed chickens
during the drought. Animal feeds have been extensively assessed for safety
to livestock and humans ([ http://www.fass.org/Factsheet2.htm
]www.fass.org/Factsheet2.htm). Insect-resistant GM corn actually has lower
levels of fungal toxins called fumonisins than conventional corn due to
reduced insect feeding damage on which the fungi grow ([
Contrary to claims that the corn was being treated stringently due to its
GM status, the procedures followed were those drafted in 2000 to prevent
the import of new weeds, insects and fungal pests. Shipments of non-GM
wheat from Europe will be treated similarly.
GM crops do not put our food security in the hands of corporations, nor
are they a panacea for all problems in food and agriculture; they are only
one more tool to address key problems, particularly reducing pesticide
use. Most GM crops in Australia are being developed by CSIRO, universities
and other government agencies.
We need a continuing debate on GM in Australia, but the public also
deserves the facts. We should expect a more balanced view from the party
that once prided itself on 'keeping the bastards honest'.
Dr Roush is Associate Professor, Applied and Molecular Ecology, at the
University of Adelaide and director of the Cooperative Research Centre for
Weed Management. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent
the views of the university or the CRC.
Wayward Fund - Who's the Mystery Person Behind It?
- From Rick Roush
Dear All: You'll recall that a few weeks back I asked for help tracking
down "The Wayward Fund", a somewhat mysterious UK-based entity that has
supported anti-GM campaigner Bob Phelps (GeneEthics) here in Australia.
Some new information has come to light, especially that the Fund is in
fact apparently a single individual, and I am writing again to ask if
these revelations prompt any thoughts on who this mystery person might be.
Meredith Lloyd-Evans found that the Wayward Fund was not registered on the
on-line database of registered charities maintained by the Charities
Commission in UK. An organisation supported by the Wayward Fund is
'Powerful Information', a non-profit, charitable organisation "working in
low-income countries to support local initiatives concerned with civil
society and sustainable development." (Perhaps Australia is also seen by
the Wayward Fund as a low-income country.)
David Tribe followed up, and found an interesting geographical link.
Wayward's partner Powerful Information that operates out of what seems to
be a multi-purpose NGO incubator in Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes. Perhaps
coincidentally, anti-GM campaigner Mae Wan Ho's home base is also Milton
David then phoned Powerful Information (+441908 320033) in Bradwell Abbey
Milton Keynes and ask to contact The Wayward Fund. The man at Powerful
Information said that The Wayward Fund isn't an organisation but an
individual person involved in, and promoting, permaculture, but didn't
name the person.
The mind boggles. Lord Melchett? Prince Charles himself? A close friend?
Another connection may be through the entertainment industry. Peter
Garrett, former vocalist for the group Midnight Oil and President of the
Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF, with whom Phelps has some sort of
link), is at least rumoured to have once donated proceeds from an album to
Another possibility that comes to mind for a link between these entities
is a meeting held at the Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York in late
September or early October 1999, where 22 anti-GM activists from 12
countries, including Australia and UK were reported to have plotted an
all-out assault on biotech. It was reported that some funding for the
meeting came from Britain's JMG Foundation, which has financed groups
opposed to biotech in the U.K. and France. The first record we can find
for support of GeneEthics by the Wayward Fund is in the 2000 annual report
of the ACF.
Any suggestions or ideas as to how we can learn the identity of the person
behind the curtain? Or of how a wealthy individual in the UK and
GeneEthics (or the ACF) got connected?
A Robin Hood Approach To Plant Biotechnology
- Howard J. Atkinson, Royal Society B.A.A.S. Magazine (Forwarded by Prof.
The image of plant biotechnology as dominated by huge corporations is
strong in the public's mind, but by giving it a poverty focus technology
has the power to ease hunger in developing countries, argues Howard
At a glance: New plant biotechnologies have the potential to increase food
production to meet future needs At present the technology is dominated by
agribusiness-it must be given a poverty focus. Publicly funded research is
required that will transform important crops for use by developing
countries. New technology should require no extra knowledge or resources
by the grower to implement it in a developing country. Before
Implementation, an holistic approach to the problem must be taken.
Intellectual property protection can secure funds for further research but
developing countries can be awarded royalty-free licenses. Where they have
no financial interest in a crop, companies should be persuaded to donate
the technology from related plants.
The 'Green Revolution' in plant breeding helped meet the food needs of
t:he burgeoning human population between 1965 and 1995 by producing
high-yielding varieties of grain. However, it is unlikely alone to assure
future food security for all as t:he world population continues to grow in
the next century. While there is evidence of benefits to both urban and
rural poor the green revolution has also had some negative consequences:
increased landlessness; disruption of social systems: loss of beneficial
farm practices: and increased marginalisation of women. Sustainable
agricultural production aims to minimise these problems but few consider
it likely to meet all future needs. Consequently a new green revolution is
required that is equable sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The seeds of a new green revolution have already been sow. Approximately
26 million hectares of transgenic crops were grown in the USA in 1998 and
this figure will increase threefold by 2000. There will be a gradual
broadening in range of both crops and traits offered with the new
technology. Its potential scope sets it apart from the original green
revolution. Until now this technology has been dominated by the needs of
agribusiness, but it can and should be given a poverty focus.
Advantages of transgenic seed. The seed is a black box to which the
transgenic approach adds only a limited change, to the overall mystery of
plant germination and growth that all farmers accept. It is important that
the introduction of a transgenic plant does not change traditional farming
practices. Transgenic seed should be part of a seed improvement programme
with no attached cash premium and allow for farmer-saved seed. The
technology must be detached from the interests and control of
biotechnology companies to achieve the necessary poverty focus. It must
also address all the safety concerns that can be articulated
Enabling technology. Even critics of genetic engineering appreciate that
improvements to farming will arise if the research is publicly funded for
the public good. Wheat. Maize and rice provide over 50% of calories to the
world diet and this figure reaches 85% by adding only a further five
species. These major crops interest agribusiness and for most of them
efficient genetic transformation of these crops is already possible. There
is also a clear need for effective routine transformation of important
crops in publicly funded research laboratories.
The Rockefeller Foundation - a philanthropic organisation with interests
in alleviating developing world poverty - has promoted this position for
rice and maize. Also, public funds have helped established transformation
of other crops, such as cassava, that do not interest agribusiness but
have a clear poverty focus. The Rockefeller Foundation also recognises
important priorities of training in the technology and addressing of
biosafety needs. Biosafety is vital to responsible technology transfer to
the developing world and the recipients must meet the biosafety standards
of the donor country. There has been much effort to achieve this standard
in recent years.
Appropriate technology. Selecting the appropriate transgenes for
subsistence growers requires judgement of the benefits and possible
negative scientific and socio-economic consequences of implementation.
Experience with biological control and integrated pest management has
shown that scientific complexity is a disadvantage in developing world
implementation. Ideally, the new technology should not require either
additional knowledge or resources from the grower before implementation.
Until now this technology has seen dominated by the needs of agribusiness,
but it can and should be given a poverty focus.
Nematode resistance developed at he University of Leeds provides one
example of an appropriate transgenic technology. Nematodes are soil
animals that cannot normally be seen with the naked eye. Therefore, a
technology that is effective against many different forms eliminates the
need to identify them and determine if damaging levels are present in a
field. This accepts the reality that most growers in the developing world
do not have advice continually available to them. The new technology
involves a plant gene product that prevents the root-parasitic nematode
from digesting plant protein in its food, so limiting its growth and
ability to damage the crop plant. The plant gene product that achieves
this effect is clearly safe. It occurs naturally in rice seed and so is
currently eaten daily by millions of people. This natural trait can now be
offered as a transgene from rice to other plants. Furthermore, the new
protein can be restricted to the roots of the transgenic plant where
nematodes occur. This ensures that it is not consumed in foods made from
Inappropriate technology Many would judge that transgenic plants with
resistance to certain herbicides represent a technology that lacks a
poverty focus. Herbicide use eliminates hand weeding, which is an
important source of rural labour. Some might argue that it would be
acceptable for it to be eliminated if development is inclusive and
benefits the poor by providing more rewarding work. Weed control for
subsistence farmers would be better tackled using a bushy leaved rich
hybrid, produced by convention plant breeding, which inhibits weed growth
by blocking sunlight. Similar strategies are likely to be employed in the
future for a wide range of crops using genetic engineering. Even
inappropriate technology could be made to have indirect benefit by opening
up other opportunities. Governments, together with both agribusiness and
subsistence farming sectors in their country, could request a
royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to appropriate transgenic technology
for a subsistence crop. This could be required before agribusiness was
allowed to market transgenic seeds of other crop species in the
agribusiness sector of that country.
Intellectual property The Rockefeller Foundation expects its grant holders
to share material and technology resulting from the research it funds. It
appreciates that intellectual property protection for developing world
applications can be beneficial in helping to secure funds for more
research. The University of Leeds has used a 'Robin Hood' approach by
licensing nematode resistance technology for agribusiness but donating it
for developing world applications through a royalty-free licence to the
Plant Sciences Research Programme of the Department for International
Development of the UK government. Several crops and many developing world
countries are covered by the approach.
The cost of developing the technology for resource poor farmers is reduced
by investment by industry for First World needs. For instance, the
nematode-resistance technology developed with industry for European potato
fields requires only research to adapt the approach before it is suitable
for subsistence farmers in the Andes. This involves transforming the
potato cultivars favoured in South America and addressing the differing
biosafety issues. A country such such as Bolivia would benefit from a
reduction in the acreage needed for potatoes, which would release
smallholders' land to plant nutritious crops such as legumes.
Biotechnology companies International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications AmeriCenter - a US-based organisation- seeks to
transfer plant technologies that are requested by the developing world.
About 10% of its funding is from the private sector (e.g. Monsanto and
Novartis) and its focus is towards small, poor farmers. It helps
developing countries identify biotechnology needs and priorities and looks
for new opportunities from developed world biotechnology. Experience with
biological control and integrated pest management has shown that
scientific complexity is a disadvantage in developing world
It is a broker between potential recipients and donors and helps mobilise
funds to implement proposals. Counselling helps developing countries to
develop safe and responsible testing. Agricultural Biotechnology for
Sustainable Productivity (a US Agency for International Development
initiative) also develops agreements to facilitate the role of companies
as donors. Critical for all such activities is maintaining a poverty
focus. The risk is that support for agribusiness sectors of developing
world countries may have a negative impact on the poor, as before with
green revolution. Companies should offer or be persuaded to donate
constructs for transformation of crops in which they lack commercial
interest. There are several examples of technology donation by companies.
Commercial interests need not be compromised even when the recipient crop
species is a major commodity. For instance, the indigenous people of the
high Andes eat a subspecies of potato that differs in flavour and cooking
characteristics from those we eat in the First World. Even if such
potatoes could be exported economically, they would not have a market.
Similarly, a large range of rice cultivars have been transformed and those
favoured by small growers can be targeted for transformation. This does
not compromise the different needs of international rice markets.
Hopefully companies can reap some corporate benefit from their altruism by
enhancing their esteem with socially conscious consumers in the developed
world. There is even scope for ethical advertising by donor companies.
Also, helping poor farmers from the poverty trap may create future markets
for their products.
Government agencies Agencies in developed countries need effective and
continual monitoring of national research activity. They can then broker
opportunity and need. Countries that are not covered by current patent law
could implement technologies unilaterally but a consensus is preferable.
An open-access international register of offered non-exclusive
royalty-free licences should be complied by the biotechnology industry,
institutes and universities. Entries would be by subsistence crop,
country, technology, donor and broker contact. This would be a valuable
step to help secure future food security. Effort is also required to
ensure that the public are aware that some transgenic plants have a clear
poverty focus. Such plants can contribute to increased world food
production in ways that are distinct from the interests of agribusiness.
Professor Howard Atkinson is the Director of the Centre of Plant
Biochemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Leeds.
Face Facts on Crop Science
- Western Morning News, Letter to the Editor, Feb 11, 2003
Following correspondence in your newspaper and the release of a report
indicating that GM crops may well have environmental benefits, I would
like to take to draw attention to some basic facts about this branch of
There are enormous benefits that may be gained from choosing to grow GM
crops instead of conventional ones. These include reduced soil erosion,
reduced pesticide use, reduced fossil fuel use, more consistent yields and
many environmental benefits. There has also been no scientific evidence
produced to date to indicate any particular damage or harm caused by GM
That is not to say that some people have not drawn attention to events
that might happen in the unforseen. If we are going to not do anything
just because something might happen then we would not get out of bed each
the morning! If any of your readers are able to produce substantive
evidence to the contary then not only I but the rest of the scientific
community would like to know about it.
-- Jonathon Harrington, Brecon Powys.
Green Wealth: Funding the Enemy
- Alan Caruba, CNSNews.com; Commentary from the National Anxiety Center ;
February 13, 2003
Green and animal rights organizations do not subsist on the sale of
calendars, books, and stuffed animals. They are wealthy beyond the
comprehension of most Americans and others who support them in the belief
they are "protecting the environment" and saving animals from "cruelty"
You will be astonished to learn that there are more than 4,000
environmental groups in America today. "And the number is growing," warns
Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, "and they are
really out to get you." Worse, they have the clout and the money to do
it." They use it to lobby and support members of Congress to initiate
legislation harmful to the interests of all Americans.
Hugo Gurdon of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a recent National
Post article, noted, "The 12 biggest environmental pressure groups in the
United States enjoy combined annual revenues of $1.95 billion, according
to the latest Internal Revenue Service figures. Only 725 of the United
States' 20 million companies can boast such magnificent cash flow."
"Among the green dozen are some-Nature Conservancy ($731 million) and the
Wildlife Conservation Council ($311 million)-that are merely
left-of-center. But there are genuinely extreme organizations-the World
Wildlife fund ($118 million) and the Sierra Club ($73 million)-that
militate aggressively against the free market and attack property rights
to the detriment of the economy and the majority of ordinary people," said
Arnold has written several excellent books on this topic that demonstrate
how the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working
Group, and the Rainforest Action Network, have a long record of activities
that undermine entire industries and the welfare of the nation's mining,
ranching and farming enterprises.
In the case of the animal rights groups, Arnold has documented how People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a case history of IRS tax
law violations, stolen trade secrets, advocated arson, and assaulted
The Greens and the Animal Rights groups use every protection afforded by
the Constitution and every loophole in our legal and IRS codes to pursue
their war on capitalism, property rights, and the welfare of this nation.
They are a Socialist Taliban.
Americans for Medical Progress, a group that monitors the Animal Rights
movement that opposes the use of animals for medical research, recently
released information concerning the wealth of some of the leading groups.
PETA's annual budget is $13,499,614. It has net assets worth $4,480,988.
It heavily underwrites the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
whose budget runs $2,915,847.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society has assets in excess of $11,561,737
and an annual budget of $1.2 million. The Fund for Animals has net assets
in excess of $189,438,862 and runs an annual budget of more than $5.6
million. Defense of Animals is worth $1,483,334. There are others that
include the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the
Doris Day Animal League, and the Humane Society of the United States.
The Greens are leading the battle against genetically modified foods, a
scientific breakthrough that promises to end famine. They are behind the
US government's former forest management policies that have led to years
of catastrophic fires. Within the passed few weeks the Bush administration
has announced the revisions necessary to thwart this menace. Through their
use of the Endangered Species Act and other "environmental" legislation,
they fund the attack on property rights, the keystone of the American
economy. They have undermined the training of our nation's military
through such laws as well.
While our attention is focused on the threat of the global Islamic Jihad,
we also have to keep an eye on these groups. The threat of the Earth
Liberation Front and the Animal Liberal Front is international in scope
and increasing daily here on the home front. They have begun to use
violence against individuals to achieve their goals. In the past, they
have specialized in arson and vandalism, some of which has destroyed years
of scientific research for the benefit of humans, animals and protection
of natural resources such as our forests.
You can learn the facts by visiting sites such as undueinfluence.com and
ranamuck.org, which are provided by the Center for the Defense of Free
Enterprise. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an adjunct scholar of
The next time someone buys a Sierra Club calendar or gets a slick brochure
asking for a donation to these causes, that money will fund the enemies of
Alan Caruba writes "Warning Signs," a weekly column posted at the Internet
site of The National Anxiety Center.
Trading Darkness for Light
- Brett D. Schaefer, The Heritage Foundation, from www.upi.com; Feb 13,
Africa used to be known as "the dark continent" because so little was
known about it. Increased knowledge (and political correctness) has dated
that description, but one can argue that the situation the African
continent finds itself in today is dark indeed.
Sub-Saharan Africa is stricken with pervasive poverty. In 2000, on
average, each person in sub-Saharan Africa made only $568 -- many less
than a dollar a day, according to the World Bank. For this "average"
person to become as wealthy as an American (whose income averaged $31,996
in 2000), their economies would have to grow about five percent a year --
for the next 80 years.
Then there's disease. As President Bush noted in his State of the Union
address, nearly 30 million Africans have AIDS, including three million
children under the age of 15. The United States should offer help to
prevent the spread of this disease, Bush said, because "seldom has history
offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many."
He's right. But Africa's poverty should be just as big a foreign policy
concern as the spread of AIDS. The administration recognizes this: A
September 2002 Bush administration national security study said that in
Africa, "promise and opportunity sit side by side with disease, war and
desperate poverty." It went on to note that this situation "threatens both
a core values of the United States -- preserving human dignity --and our
strategic priority -- combating global terror."
Economic repression creates poverty and resentment that terrorists can
exploit. Case in point: Five of the seven countries the State Department
identifies as state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, Libya, North
Korea and Syria -- were rated among the world's least free economies in
the 2003 "Index of Economic Freedom," an annual survey The Heritage
Foundation publishes with The Wall Street Journal.
But poverty isn't a matter of fate. It's largely imposed through
ill-conceived and repressive economic policies. A major step toward
alleviating poverty is to provide greater economic freedom and strengthen
the rule of law. Most economic analyses conclude that these policies are
the only way to create the opportunities that lead to greater wealth.
And, as noted in The Heritage Foundation's latest policy guidebook,
"Agenda 2003," (agenda.heritage.org), America's strategy in Africa should
focus on two priorities: expanding economic freedom and strengthening the
continent's ability to address political instability.
Congress can help the administration address these priorities in several
-- Pass a free-trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union.
Union-member countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and
Swaziland) are among the freest in Africa and are well positioned to reap
the benefits of free trade with the United States.
-- Authorize the president to negotiate a free-trade and investment
agreement with sub-Saharan Africa. Congress and President Bush should
cooperate to expand the successful trade preferences started under the
African Growth and Opportunity Act. This would benefit African
entrepreneurs, promote growth and development, and increase America's
access to the region's vast oil and gas resources.
-- Support free trade through the World Trade Organization, including the
elimination of agricultural barriers. One of Africa's greatest assets is
its ability to produce agricultural products cheaply. However, this
advantage is greatly diminished by the huge subsidies that Europe and the
United States give their own farmers. In future WTO negotiations, America
should follow the ambitious agenda set forth by U.S. Trade Representative
In particular, it should back his efforts to end agriculture subsidies and
eliminate barriers to genetically modified foods that serve as a barrier
to free trade. (Some African countries, despite having millions of
starving citizens, have refused U.S. grain that has been modified through
technology because they're afraid that the European Union would refuse
their imports as an act of protest.)
-- Support the president's vision for the Millennium Challenge Account.
This program would reward countries that increase economic freedom,
strengthen the rule of law and promote industry and their people --
policies that are key to increasing prosperity.
The problem of AIDS is dire and the president is correct to rally
America's resources to address the problem. But Africa's poverty kills as
surely as AIDS. A lack of economic freedom and rule of law contribute to
the big, bleak picture of current African life. Economic freedom and trade
will help improve that picture and create an African continent that lives
in the light of liberty, peace and prosperity and not in the dark of
slavery, war and poverty.
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory
affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The