Today in AgBioView: March 1, 2003
* Response to Gregory Conko by Danish Rep to EU
* Legal Liability for Pollen Flow
* Speaker Blisters France: French Wine May Contain Cow's Blood!
* Research Pros Wanted: No Weak Hearted Amateurs Please!
* Free Student Registration - Meeting of the Society of In Vitro Biology
* The EU Should Stop Hedging Its Bets
* Finding the Right Regulations
* Web Resources for Teaching Ag, Biotech, and Genetic Resources
* Plant Biotechnology in Africa
Response to Gregory Conko
- Grethe Kristensen
Gregory Conko wrote the following as the main point in criticising the new
EU rules for labelling of GMOs:
>>"The distinction revolves around the seemingly innocuous phrase 'produced
from GM'. That is, if oil is produced from GM maize, or if tofu is
produced from GM soya, then the final product is also considered to be
genetically modified and must be labelled. However, foods that are
'produced with' a GMO - including cheeses produced with the aid of the GM
clotting-agent chymosin, or wines and beers produced with GM yeasts - are
not considered to be genetically modified and need not be labelled, even
though residues of the GMOs often remain in the final products."
>> "perhaps it is because European politicians are trying to carve out an
>exemption for domestically produced wines, beers and cheeses, while
>erecting an almost insurmountable barrier against imported grains."
As president of the Council working group who agreed on the new
regulation, I have meet this critics many times; that our rules are
protection, since we do not require wines, beers and cheese to be
labelled, "even though residues of the GMOs often remain in the final
It is simply not true; if residues of the GMOs remain in the final
product, it has to be labelled.
Second, that we do not require labelling of animal products feed with GM
feed, is natural, since such products are an important step further from
the GMO. And it is the opposite of protectionism, since it means that GM
feed can continue to be imported without any consequences for labelling to
In fact, the new regulation, which still needs the final consent from the
European Parliament, is for many consumers and governments, the condition
for lifting the moratorium. Therefore it is a step towards further
liberalising world trade.
- Anders Buch Kristensen, Minister Counsellor, Permanent Representation of
Denmark (to EU?)
>> Mandatory Labelling Is A Bad Idea - Gregory Conko, Spiked Online, Feb
Legal Liability for Pollen Flow
- Drew Kershen
On Friday Feb. 28, Allan McHughen wrote:
>> Bob McGregor, as usual, raises a good point. I'd like to take it a bit
>further. Consider the following background facts: Some consumers prefer
>GM foods because they are seen as superior ... or because they may be
>safer than conventional or organic foods ...
I would like to comment on both Bob McGregor's point and Alan McHughen's
Bob's point is well taken but Bob (and we all) need to remember that
organic production is a process of producing food and has nothing to do
about quality or superiority. Remembering that organic production is a
process is important because organic producers do not -- I repeat do not
-- lose their USDA organic certification solely because pollen or seeds
from transgenic crops can be detected in their organic products. What I
have just said about USDA organic certification is also, from all that I
have learned, true about the organic certification from the European
Let me quote the USDA-National Organic Program comments upon which I make
"When we are considering drift issues, it is particularly important to
remember that organic stanards are process based. Certifying agents
attenst to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of
productions standards and practicies that meet the requirements of the Act
and the regulations. This regulation prohibits the USE (my emphasis) of
excluded methods in organic operations.
The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods
alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As
long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes
responsible steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods,
the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not
affect the status of an organic product or operation." - USDA, National
Organic Program, 65 Fed. Reg. 80548 (21 Dec 2000)
Organic groups like to perpetuate the myth that they will be penalized for
detectable residue of transgenic crops in their production. But we must
constantly rebut that myth.
Alan's point is equally valid. If organic groups convince a court to
impose legal liability for pollen flow upon farmers using agricultural
biotechnology, courts will then be equally empowered to apply legal
liability against organic growers if their pollen flow damages high-value
transgenic crops, such as corn carrying pharmaceutical qualities. Organic
growers will rue the day when their own short-sighted and rent-seeking
theory of legal liability comes back to haunt them through liabilty based
on pollen flow. Organic produce earns a premium but that premium is not
close by a long shot to the value of pharmaceutical transgenic crops.
You can read a fully-developed discussion of these points in my article
"Legal Liability Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology" available at
http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org . The text most relevant to the points
raised by Bob McGregor and Alan McHughen is the text accompanying
French Wine May Contain Cow's Blood!
See the article below. I find it amazing that the EU could ban US biotech
crops without a shred of evidence that they are harmful, and at the same
time sell us wine with blood in it which IS known to possibly kill people
(Mad Cow Disease), not to mention duping the vegetarians like me who have
been unknowingly drinking this wine. There is more of French
idiosyncrasies including Bove's tirades at:
(Warning: Please note that the above website has an expletive in its name.
Thus, I have replaced it with 'f#@%'. Thus, for the website link to
work, you must replace 'f#@%' with the profane four letter word......
Apologies to my French friends and Francophone readers!: ---- Prakash)
U.S. House Speaker Blisters France: French Wine May Contain Cow's Blood!
Washington, Feb. 27- Brimming with frustration over France's vocal
opposition to U.S. war plans in Iraq, House Speaker Dennis Hastert on
Wednesday urged going nose-to-nose with the European nation over its Iraq
policy and a series of trade disputes, and recommended slapping bright
orange health warning labels on some imported French wines.
During a half-hour interview with the Tribune, Hastert, an Illinois
Republican, launched into a lengthy and passionate denunciation of French
obstreperousness toward the United States and advocated giving no ground
to objections raised by the longtime American ally.
Hastert is preparing possible legislation to require that warning labels
be placed on French red wine bottled before 1998. The labels would warn
that the wine may contain cow's blood, a traditional agent used to remove
excess tannins from red wine that was banned by the European Union in 1998
because of concerns about mad cow disease.
"I think that's wrong, especially with a country that had mad cow disease"
Hastert said. "I think it's a health issue that we ought to at least let
people know this product has been manufactured with raw bovine blood."
He also offered a long list of trade-related grievances against France,
including the leading role it has taken in European opposition to
American-grown genetically modified food and a French-led challenge to a
U.S. tax incentive for exporters.
"I'm sorry, but we fought a war 230 years ago to not have European nations
tell us how to tax and not tell us what we have to do. And all of a
sudden, we're having this same type of imposition come back to us from the
French, for God's sake" Hastert said.
Research Pros Wanted
- Center for Consumer Freedom, Feb 26, 2003
The food police want us arrested. The animal-rights movement wants us
thrown to the lions. Green scaremongers want to slap us with mandatory
warning labels. We just want to tell the truth.
We're looking for two skilled research pros -- one opening requires
writing experience; the other is an entry-level research assistant
position. Successful applicants will be curious readers, clever thinkers,
and hopping mad when social activists and anti-consumer busybodies get a
free pass in the media.
Downtown DC location, lucrative bonus plan, and non-stop adrenaline
provided. No amateurs, please. This battle is too important to be left to
Send a cover letter, resume, a 200-word reaction to www.ActivistCash.com,
and two other brief writing samples (samples not required for research
assistant applicants) Application Deadline: April 1, 2003 Website:
http://www.consumerfreedom.com Contact Information: Mr. David Martosko,
CCF Human Resources, P.O. Box 27414 Washington, DC, 20038; Email:
email@example.com; Phone: no phone calls please
Free Student Registration - 2003 Congress on In Vitro Biology
- Ray Shillito
The Society of Ini Bitro Biology is committed to the future endeavors of
science and encourages the continued professional growth of future
researchers, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, and others with an
interest in cell biology. To this end, SIVB has always believed that the
future of in vitro biology lies in today's students.
To support the Society's vision to encourage education and informational
exchange, this year, all students will receive free registration to the
scientific sessions of the 2003 Congress on In Vitro Biology being held in
Portland, Oregon from May 31 June 4, 2003. As an added bonus, all students
who register and attend the 2003 Congress will receive a free 1-year
membership to the Society in 2004!
For free student registration for the Congress, visit
The 2003 Congress is being held at the Doubletree Hotels Complex from May
31 - June 4, 2003. The Doubletree Hotels Portland Jantzen Beach and
Columbia River are located at 909 N. Hayden Island Road, Portland, Oregon
97217 on the beautiful Columbia River. You can contact the hotel at (503)
283-4466 or by fax at (503) 283-4718. For additional information on the
Congress, please contact Marietta Wheaton Ellis, Congress Secretariat, at
(301) 324-5054, Fax: (301) 324-5057, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit
The EU Should Stop Hedging Its Bets
- Tony Gilland, Spiked Online, Feb 27, 2003
'Labelling represents an abdication of responsibility by European
The European Union's (EU) new regulations to govern the use of genetically
modified (GM) foods, including extensive traceability and labelling
requirements, are being sold as necessary to provide consumer choice,
protect public health and the environment, and thereby necessary to help
rebuild consumer confidence in the products of agricultural biotechnology.
From the viewpoint of the US government, these regulations are nothing of
the sort, and are regarded as a blatant violation of World Trade
Organisation (WTO) rules and European protectionism. At a press conference
on the 21 January 2003, the US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman stated
that the 'European Union's position on biotechnology is plain wrong', and
warned that the administration's 'patience is just running out' and that
'the US is seriously considering filing a case before the WTO'. Indeed,
according to a recent article in the New York Times, the Bush
administration would most likely be taking the EU to the WTO over their
labelling proposals if it were not for the fraught nature of EU-US
relations over Iraq.
Elsa Murano, undersecretary for food safety at the US Department of
Agriculture, explicitly identified the demand to label food that has been
genetically modified, despite having passed rigorous safety tests, as
'another kind of trade barrier' that effectively acts as a warning to
consumers not to eat perfectly good food. Murano surely has a point. Why
should the EU and its member state governments impose labelling
requirements on food producers that provide no meaningful information
about either nutrition or safety?
However, while trade issues should not be dismissed as irrelevant - after
all, European cheese and beer products made using GM enzymes are not
covered by the EU's labelling requirements - they do not fully explain
what is going on.
What we are really witnessing is an abdication of responsibility on the
part of European governments for the implementation of a potentially
beneficial technology. European politicians are concerned about missing
out on the economic benefits of biotechnology, while at the same time
worrying about being held responsible for taking a decision to say yes to
genetically modified crops and food. These otherwise pointless labelling
requirements, and the rhetoric of consumer choice, are really an attempt
on the part of the EU to hedge its bets.
Ever since the commercial use of genetically modified crops approached
becoming a reality, Europe's position on agricultural biotechnology has
been more nervous and cautious than that of the USA. In the early 1990s,
the US regulatory authorities took the view that there was no scientific
reason to be suspicious of the process of genetic modification itself, and
that rather, any health or environmental concerns should be addressed at
the level of the product rather than the process. Hence, as far as the USA
is concerned, if the end product can be shown to be substantially
equivalent to an existing conventionally produced food then there is no
reason for it to be treated any differently.
Critics of biotechnology, suspicious of man manipulating nature, have
always regarded the US approach as cavalier and argued that something
unforeseen might go wrong as a consequence of the process of genetic
European regulators, despite the lack of scientific evidence to support
the critics' complaint, have nevertheless sought to placate such concerns
by offering up ever-higher levels of regulation. This approach has proved
woefully inadequate in the battle for hearts and minds. During the late
1990s, campaigners and sections of the European media gave the European
public a one-sided, if not fantastical, account of the perils of GM food
and how greedy multinationals were trying to dupe consumers into
unwittingly being part of a potentially catastrophic human feeding
experiment. European regulators and politicians holding forth on how tight
European regulations are, and how they would be tightened even further to
ensure that the unforeseeable does not happen, certainly did little to
assuage public fear.
Now European officials are telling us that the choice of whether to risk
this new technology is ours - because any product containing even the most
minute quantity of genetically altered material will have to be labelled
so we can make an informed choice. Sorry, but what is the point of having
an army of scientific experts across Europe investigating every aspect of
this technology if they are not allowed to give us the benefit of their
Either the EU, based on the advice of its scientists, believes that GM
technology is in general safe and worth making use of, or it does not. But
rather than tell us what it really thinks, and therefore take
responsibility for taking a decision, the EU would rather cover its back
and allow consumers, who in all honesty cannot expect to be well-informed
on the safety of GM food, to take responsibility for making the decision.
More fundamentally, in the late 1990s, GM crops and food took on a
symbolic significance for the technology's critics, as yet another example
of mankind's arrogance, greed and short-sightedness in its dealings with
the world. Such sentiments, having gone largely unchecked, have had a
corrosive impact on our belief in experimentation and human
self-betterment. It might only be a tomato, soya bean or cob of corn - and
middle-class Europeans might turn their noses up at the idea of cheap food
these days - but shunning a technology that expands our opportunities to
improve world agricultural systems can only be seen as backward.
Lacking the conviction to confront such trends, the response of Europe's
politicians has been to spend years developing ever more regulations and
obstacles to biotechnology. It would seem that they are now close to being
prepared nervously to sanction use of the technology but only by
simultaneously celebrating the choice they have facilitated for Europe's
citizens to engage in a consumer boycott of progress.
It seems hard to believe that, after their experience of the GM debate in
the late 1990s, Europe's political leaders have not learned that more
regulation and the rhetoric of consumer choice is not what is needed to
convince a sceptical public. It is time they came off the fence, and
presented a political motivation for the importance of agricultural
Tony Gilland is science and society director at the Institute of Ideas,
and editor of Science: Can You Trust the Experts?, Hodder & Stoughton,
Finding the Right Regulations
- Linda Smith, Spiked Online, Feb 27, 2003
'The UK government supports the traceability and labelling of GMOs, but
any measures should be practicable and based on sound science.'
GM foods have to pass a rigorous safety assessment before being approved
for the European market, but this does not mean that everyone chooses to
eat them. To enable consumers to make informed choices concerning the food
they buy, extensive labelling controls covering GM foods were introduced
in Europe in 1997 (and have been strengthened in 1998 and again in 2000).
Very little GM food is on sale in the UK at present. Only approved GM
foods may be sold, and if a food contains any GM ingredients this must be
shown on the label. Under current EU legislation, genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) must be labelled, as must GM food ingredients and non-GM
ingredients that have a more than one percent incidental GM presence. Two
proposals are currently being negotiated to extend rules on the
authorisation, traceability and labelling of GMOs. The UK government is
strongly committed to effective and reliable rules on GMOs that provide
consumers with genuine choice.
New rules on GMOs will only serve the consumer well if they are based on
sound science and on a considered assessment of whether they can be
practicably and reliably delivered and enforced. These considerations have
been central to informing our negotiating position on these two proposals.
At the Council of EU Agriculture Ministers on 28 November 2002, a
qualified majority of member states reached political agreement on the GM
food and feed measure, including the following elements: * A 0.9 percent
threshold for the adventitious (accidental) presence of GMOs for labelling
purposes; * A 0.5 percent threshold for the adventitious presence of GMOs
with a favourable risk assessment from an EU scientific committee but that
are not yet authorised in the EU; * The labelling of all foods derived
from GMOs, irrespective of whether there is DNA or protein of GM origin in
the final product; * A centralised authorisation procedure for GM food and
feed, focused on the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
At the Council of Agriculture Ministers the UK considered that key
elements of this package, including a threshold of less than one percent
and a requirement to label derived products, did not meet our objectives
for workable legislation.
At the Council of Environment Ministers on 9 December 2002 a qualified
majority of member states reached a political agreement on the GM
traceability and labelling proposal. The package included elements agreed
at the Agriculture Council (such as rules relating to thresholds and
derived products), and language on bulk shipments requiring operators to
provide a list of all GMOs in a shipment upon its arrival in the EU.
The UK considered that this requirement did not adequately reflect the
requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the only global
agreement covering the environmental implications of trade in GM products.
The government will continue, in the later stages of negotiations, to seek
workable and enforceable legislation that provides enhanced and genuine
Linda Smith is head of GM policy at the Science and Regulation Unit of the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Web Resources for Teaching Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Genetic
- Sheila Blackman, ASPB Newsletter, Jan - Feb 2003; www.aspb.org (Grand
Valley State University,
Biology, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401, e-mail email@example.com)
Throughout ASPB's history, our members have been at the cutting edge of
agricultural research. The implicit goal of much of this research has been
to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the world. Agricultural research
was at the root of the spectacular gains in productivity and food
stockpiles in the latter half of the 1900s. Since the early 1990s,
however, the rise in productivity has shown signs of stagnation or
reversal. There is broad consensus that a new, multidimensional approach
is required to stem this trend, and one of the required dimensions will be
advances in agricultural research. Many scientists argue that genetic
modification will be key to these advances. Our abilities to identify
genes for valuable traits and manipulate them have increased exponentially
since the discovery of the structure of DNA 50 years ago.
The phenomenal technological developments have raised difficult and
controversial issues, many of them outside the realm of science. Although
we may hold personal views on these issues, it behooves the educators
among us to foster lifelong critical thinking in our students by
presenting them with the skills to assess arguments from both sides.
However, as scientists, we are often reluctant to engage students in
discussions of ethical, legal, cultural, or humanitarian implications of
our work. By default, these discussions may be left to professors in the
social sciences and humanities who may not understand the scientific
arguments for or against the use of these technologies and who may value
balance less than we do.
The web offers an almost limitless source of information for students and
educators wishing to explore these topics. However, a web search brings up
sites that present material ranging from credible scientific papers to
propaganda. Students find it difficult to sift through the volumes of
material and distinguish the quality of web sources. I have found the
following web sites useful in my classes:
Two good web sites for issues related to genetic modification,
malnutrition, and hunger are gateways (web clearinghouses for submissions
published with some degree of editorial oversight) dealing with
development issues: the Eldis site (http://www.eldis.org) and the
development gateway (http://www.developmentgateway.org). The resources
listed under the topic area "food security" provide excellent fodder for
critical thinking exercises, case histories, and the like.
For example, the "food security" topic area on the Eldis web site
currently features "GM food aid and the crisis in Southern Africa." The
feature includes a short synopsis of the debate written by Eldis staff and
links to many sites under the topics "Short introductory briefings on GM
in developing countries and food aid," "Papers informing and contributing
to the debate over GM food aid," and "Broader issues and the background to
agricultural biotechnology in developing countries." These gateways
provide links to full-text articles ranging from editorials and newspaper
articles to research papers. Users can not only access these articles but
also submit material of their own.
Although genetic modification is a highly controversial and visible issue,
the status of the world's raw material for genetic manipulation is quite
dire. Much international activity is now focused on preserving the genetic
resources that remain and on establishing an international legal framework
for their ownership and use. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture was adopted by consensus of the member
states of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on November 3, 2001. It
represents a significant effort to open up access to plant genetic
resources for food and agriculture and ensure that benefits are shared
equitably. The treaty includes most of the major crops on which humanity
depends for its food supply. In addition to adopting the treaty, there was
broad recognition among the member states that the status of the world's
ex situ collections of plant material appears quite grim, largely because
of the lack of long-term stable funding.
The Global Conservation Trust was established to raise a minimum of $260
million from corporations, trusts, foundations, and governments to provide
permanent financial backing for the world's crop diversity collections.
This fundraising activity has been accompanied by an educational
initiative. The Global Conservation Trust hosts an excellent web site
(http://www.startwithaseed.org) where college undergraduate or high school
students can learn about the importance of preserving agricultural genetic
diversity and specific stories of how seed banks have benefited food
security directly (by providing seed to famine-stricken populations) and
indirectly (by providing seed for research). For a more in-depth look at
the activities of the major international seed banks (now called future
harvest centers), have your students visit the web site of the future
harvest centers (http://www.futureharvest.org).
In addition to these sites, the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN),
and IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute) maintain web
sites (http://www.cgiar.org, http://www.fao.org, and http://www.ipgri.org)
full of articles on the state of world agriculture and the place of
genetic resources and biotechnology within it. The FAO site has a large
collection of audio files and photographs for free download.
Plant Biotechnology in Africa
'Plant biotechnology is a vital tool to help improve yields and prospects
Throughout southern Africa, 12 to 14 million people are struggling to
survive through a two-year drought that has drastically cut agricultural
production. In Zambia, boys dive in swamps in search of edible roots to
eat. Throughout the region, starving people walk miles to wait for food
aid that has been slow in coming.
The most recent drought has brought worldwide attention again to ongoing
hunger problems in Africa. Malnutrition -- the lack of sufficient
calories and nutrients to lead healthy, productive lives -- is widespread
in Africa, even during times when growing conditions are better.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that
40 to 50 percent of the southern African population is malnourished every
year and that the region is " worse off nutritionally today than it was 30
years ago." Today, cereal production in southern Africa is actually 19
percent lower on a per- capita basis than it was in 1970, according to the
"The social welfare consequences of this farm productivity failure in
Africa have been devastating," wrote Robert Paarlberg, a professor of
political science at Wellesley College, in an article titled,
Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century. " Lagging
productivity on small farms is the chief reason why 30 percent of children
in Africa are still chronically malnourished. For Africa, more than any
other region, the problem of inadequate food consumption grows directly
from an unsolved farm production problem."
Just look to India to understand how poorly Africa has fared. Thirty years
ago, it was the provide enough food for its large and rapidly growing
population. Fast forward to Nov. 5, 2002. On that day, India became the
largest single donor in the history of the U.N. World Food Program -- 1
million metric tons of wheat.
That level of production in India and many other regions of the world
resulted from three decades of scientific improvements in agriculture.
Dubbed the Green Revolution, the period from 1960 to the 1990s saw
tremendous yield growth as a result of improved crop varieties,
fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. During that period, global cereal
production doubled, per-capita calories available per day climbed 35
percent, and real food prices dropped by half.
Many believe that what the Green Revolution did for India and for Asia,
plant biotechnology could help do for Africa.
As remarkable as the gains made possible by the Green Revolution were,
they largely bypassed southern Africa -- primarily because the region is
too dry for the Green Revolutionís high-yielding varieties of wheat, corn
and rice, which thrived in the irrigated plots in the tropics, wrote
Although corn is an important crop in Africa, the Green Revolution did not
focus on yams, cassava, sorghum and cowpeas -- Africaís other staple
crops. Maize yields over the past 30 years are another illustration of how
far Africa has fallen behind the agricultural productivity gains of the
rest of the world. Thirty years ago, corn yields in southern Africa and
Asia were virtually the same. Since then, however, yields have tripled in
Asia and quintupled in China while remaining stagnant in Africa, according
to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
During the last 20 years, developing countries in virtually every region
of the world -- except Africa -- have witnessed a decrease in the number
of children who are malnourished. In South Asia, for example, the
percentage of children who are malnourished dropped to 49.3 percent in
1995 -- from 67.7 percent in 1975, according to IFPRI.6
Meanwhile, in southern Africa, the percentage of malnourished children has
remained constant at about 31 percent between 1975 and 1995. But the
actual number of malnourished children has nearly doubled -- from 18.5
million in 1975 to 31.4 million in 1995.
While critics of high-yield agriculture and plant biotechnology say the
world already produces more than enough food for everyone and that
distribution is the biggest problem, agricultural experts say that
generalization overlooks important facts.
One-fifth of the worldís people at the very bottom of the economic ladder
produce about 97 percent of their food supply locally, says C.S. Prakash,
director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee
University. Thatís why itís important that these farmers have the tools
to boost agricultural productivity.
Projections indicate that these farmersí ability to grow more food will be
severely tested in the next 20 years. According to U.N. estimates, the gap
between production and demand for cereals in sub-Saharan Africa is
forecast to leap from 9 million metric tons in 1990 to 27 million metric
tons in 2020. "The gap between production and need in these grain-short
regions will be even greater unless poverty can be significantly reduced,"
according to the U.N.'s " State of World Population 2001" report.
A new green revolution
"Plowing up yet more wilderness, cutting down forests, or increasing the
area of land under agriculture Ö is no longer a viable option to solve
population food problems," wrote Anthony Trewavas for Plant Physiology.
"To conserve the present ecosystems, increased food production must be
limited to the cropland currently in use."
Technological improvements during the Green Revolution helped stave off
mass starvation with relatively small increases in cropland, he said. For
instance, if food productivity in India had been kept at 1951 levels, the
countryís entire landmass would not have been big enough to produce the
amount of food India did in 1998.
Instead, technological improvements of the Green Revolution enabled India
to increase its conservation efforts and actually expand its forests and
woodlands by 21 percent between 1963 and 1999, Trewavas said. More such
productivity-enhancing technological progress must be part of the solution
to help feed more people in the future, he and others say.
"The effective use of science can help provide solutions for the enormous
problems facing the worldís poor, including hunger and malnutrition,"
says Ian Johnson, World Bank vice president and chairman of the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in a
2001 report entitled, "Nourishing a Peaceful Earth: The CGIARís
Contributions." The U.N. Development Program reported in 2001 that
genetically enhanced crops could be the "breakthrough technology" for
developing countries and called on governments to develop policies that
ensure adequate investment in biotechnology and the issues associated with
"With the purchasing power and wealth concentrated in the developed
countries, and over 90 percent of the projected population growth likely
to occur in developing and emerging economies, it is not difficult to
predict where food shortages will occur," said Martina
Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California Systemwide
Biotechnology Research and Education Program. "Unless we are ready to
accept starvation, or place parks and the Amazon basin under the plow,
there really is only one good alternative: Discover ways to increase food
production from existing resources."
In Africa, for example, largely due to a lack of high-yield farming,
deforestation is occurring 30 times faster than reforestation, with
roughly 12 million acres of forest lost every year, wrote Paarlberg. In
the absence of good alternatives and a slowing of the Green Revolutionís
productivity gains, Newell-McGloughlin added, " Biotechnology is by
default our best and, maybe, only way to increase production to meet
future food needs."
Doubling food production
Prakash shares those concerns."We have 6 billion people today, and itíll
be 9 to 10 billion in 30 to 40 years," he said. " To meet current levels
of food intake, we would need to double the land for agriculture. Unless
we have another planet, we canít do it."
Because many of the hungry and malnourished are also some of the poorest
subsistence farmers in the world, Prakash and a growing number of
agricultural researchers, food experts and policymakers are pointing to
plant biotechnology as a critical tool that can help increase food
production and alleviate hunger without depleting natural resources.
"With the technology that we now have available, and with the research
information thatís in the pipeline and in the process of being finalized
to move into production, we have the know-how to produce the food that
will be needed to feed the population of 8.3 billion people that will
exist in the world in 2025," Norman Borlaug, father of the Green
Revolution, said in a 2000 Reason magazine interview.
He joins more than 3,300 scientists, including 18 other Nobel Prize
laureates, from around the world in signing a declaration of support for
plant biotechnology. International food and agricultural organizations --
including the FAO and CGIAR -- also support plant biotechnology.
Benefits for the developing world
An extension of traditional plant breeding, plant biotechnology uses
genetic knowledge and scientific techniques to add specific traits to
crops, such as an ability to fend off pests, survive droughts, delay
ripening, or require less herbicide or pesticide. These traits benefit
farmers, including those in developing countries where crop losses due to
weeds, pests and diseases are high and conventional tools to ward off
those problems are unavailable or unaffordable.
"Biotechnology is a science that has more to offer to the developing world
than the developed world," Prakash said.
In addition, the need to produce more food is particularly urgent in
developing countries, home of nearly all the worldís hungry today as well
as nearly all the population growth. As a result, nearly all of the
projected increase in world food demand will also take place in developing
countries, according to a study by IFPRI.15
"Agri-biotechnology matters to Kenya, as to most other African countries,
for the most basic of reasons: Our people do not have enough to eat,"
wrote Florence Wambugu, founder of A Harvest Biotech Foundation
International and author of the book, Modifying Africa: How Biotechnology
Can Benefit the Poor and Hungry, A Case Study from Kenya. Wambugu, who
helped develop Kenyaís first biotech sweet potato that is resistant to
feathery mottle virus, established the foundation to help bring more plant
biotechnology knowledge and research to Africa.
While plant biotechnology is not a panacea for all the countryís ills, she
said, it is a powerful weapon against poverty, hunger and environmental
The need to increase agricultural production is particularly urgent in
poor, developing countries such as in Africa, which has 10 percent of the
worldís population but produces only 1 percent of the worldís goods and
Paarlberg says Asiaís success in fighting rural poverty and increasing
agricultural productivity provides a guide for what is needed in Africa. "
East Asiaís relatively successful fight against poverty and chronic
malnutrition over the past several decades has been based from the start
on productivity increases in agriculture," he wrote. In the developing
countries of East Asia over the past two decades, ag productivity has been
increasing at an average rate of 3.9 percent per year -- far outpacing
the average annual population growth rate of 1.4 percent per year.
In contrast, although ag productivity is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa
at 2.5 percent annually, the population is growing at 2.7 percent per
year, wrote Paarlberg. So there is actually less food per person now than
there was two decades ago. In economic terms, the productivity of the
average farm worker in sub-Saharan Africa actually declined from $418 in
1980 to $379 in 1997. Meanwhile, farm worker productivity nearly doubled
in China, rose by nearly 50 percent in Thailand and more than tripled in
These increases in farm productivity have had far-reaching effects in
Asiaís economies. " This farm productivity boom stimulated growth
throughout Chinaís economy, which in turn reduced poverty," wrote
Paarlberg, noting that the number of poor people in China has fallen by 85
percent since 1978. " Farm productivity growth reduced malnutrition in
China first by pulling farmers out of poverty, and second by helping to
keep food prices within reach of poor consumers in urban areas."
He said the same pattern prevailed throughout East Asia and estimated that
rice prices for consumers probably would have been 41 percent higher
without the improved varieties developed during the Green Revolution.
So how can similar gains be extended to Africa?
It will be a challenge -- particularly given the drastic cutbacks in
agricultural research funding in recent years. Annual World Bank lending
for agriculture and rural development has fallen by 47 percent over the
past 12 years -- from $6 billion in 1986 to $3.2 billion in 1998.
Likewise, annual foreign aid for agriculture in developing countries has
dropped by 57 percent during roughly the same time period.
"If they [policy leaders] want to secure a final victory over hunger in
poor countries in the decades ahead Ö they will have to rediscover the
fact that persistent hunger derives, in poor countries, from low
productivity on the farm," wrote Paarlberg. " In Ö most of sub-Saharan
Africa the rural poor are still hungry precisely because the farm
production constraints they face have not yet been lifted."
While no one suggests that agricultural biotechnology is the single magic
bullet to solve Africaís food problem, several African scientists say it
is one tool among many that can help lift Africa out of poverty. "Africa
and the Caribbean cannot afford to be left further behind in acquiring the
uses and benefits of this new agricultural revolution," wrote the
International Society of African Scientists in an October 2001 position
paper supporting plant biotechnology.
And while itís true that some African leaders are skeptical of adopting
the use of biotech seeds in the belief it could jeopardize agricultural
exports to the European Union, some farmers are eager to adopt the new
During the recent United Nations-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg in August/September of 2002, several hundred
Indian and African farmers marched in the streets to demand access to
agricultural technology, including biotechnology. " Farmers in poor
countries should not be denied the freedom to test for themselves the
economic and technological viability of any new technology, including
agricultural biotechnology," the Delhi, India-based Liberty Institute
said in an Aug. 28, 2002, press release about the march.
One of those marchers was South African cotton farmer T.J. Buthelezi, who
says the yields for the first crop of biotech cotton were four times that
of the conventional varieties he planted. "For the first time Iím making
money," he said. "I can pay my debts." (From Prakash: Jennifer Thomson
tells me that Buthelezi also joked with her that "Now I can afford to get
a second wife!")
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA), more than three-fourths of the 5.5 to 6 million
farmers who planted biotech seeds in 2002 were resource-poor cotton
farmers like Buthelezi -- mainly in China or South Africa, the only
African country to approve the commercial growing of biotech crops.
Although the majority of biotech crops are planted in developed countries
like Canada and the United States, the percentage increase in the planting
of biotech crops between 2001 and 2002 was actually higher in developing
countries of the southern hemisphere by a 19- to 9-percent margin,
according to the ISAAA. And while the lionís share of biotech research has
been conducted to benefit farmers in the developed world, more and more of
this research is being shared via private-public partnerships with farmers
in the developing world.
Among the technology transfer initiatives are:
* The Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic Improvement, which was formed
in November 2002 by 30 of the worldís leading experts in cassava to
improve varieties of this crop that is a staple food for 600 million
people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
* The Papaya Biotechnology Network, which was formed in 1998 to bring the
technology that is credited with saving the Hawaiian papaya industry to
subsistence farmers in southeast Asia.
* The donation of troves of genetic research on rice by two biotech
companies to the international effort to produce a complete genetic map of
rice, which could help lead to improved varieties of the crop that feeds
nearly half the worldís people. Draft sequences of the rice genome have
already been completed.
Researchers say the mapping of the rice genome is particularly exciting
because it will accelerate research on a variety of other crops such as
corn, wheat and barley. Thatís because about 98 percent of the known genes
in these crops are present in rice.
In addition, although still several years away from commercial production,
researchers are making progress in developing crops that can survive
droughts and thrive in marginal soil. Improving yields on marginal land
is of particular importance in Africa, where an estimated 403,650 square
miles of once-productive land on the southern edge of the Sahara desert --
about the size of Somalia -- has become desert and lost agricultural
production over the past 50 years.27 The FAO estimates that between 31,050
and 43,470 square miles of land in Africa goes out of production every
Increasing production on existing land also helps preserve natural areas
like the Serengeti Plains. "Well-fed people in the developed world may
have problems, but hungry people in the developing world have only one --
how to feed themselves and their families," Jennifer Thomson, professor
of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Cape Town in South
Africa, wrote recently.
World Food Summit
In 1996, the first U.N. World Food Summit set an ambitious goal to cut the
number of the worldís hungry in half by 2015--a goal that to date has
remained elusive. "Progress in cutting by half the number of hungry has
been far too slow," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told world leaders
at a follow-up meeting in June 2002, noting that there are still more than
800 million hungry people in the world.
He and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf urged developed countries to
increase aid for agriculture in developing countries, which also need
greater access to technology and knowledge to grow hardier crops. Annan
called hunger " one of the worst violations of human dignity."
Nobel laureate Borlaug expressed a similar view in a slightly different
way: "The first essential component of social justice is adequate food."
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