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Date:

March 11, 2003

Subject:

True Green Revolution; Leave the Food Alone; Planting Science See

 

Today in AgBioView: March 120, 2003

* True Green Revolution Gathers Steam
* Jury Still Out on GM Food's Effects
* To Feed Hungry Africans, Firms Plant Seeds of Science
* Frankenfood, Anyone?
* Malnutrition Costs 5 percent of India's GDP
* India's Poor Don't Need GM Aid
* Shouldn't All Organizations Have to Tell the Truth?
* More Chymosin Debate...
* The Madness of King Dennis
* A Classified Ad We'd Like to See
* Corn That Clones Itself

True Green Revolution Gathers Steam

- Thomas Bray, The Detroit News, March 9, 2003

The agricultural revolution continues to gather steam: A few days ago, the
Environmental Protection Agency let Monsanto begin marketing a genetically
engineered form of corn that is highly resistant to the deadly root worm.
Not only will this increase farm productivity, it will mean a cleaner
environment as farmers sharply reduce the use of traditional chemical
pesticides.

The lesson is clear: Modern technology is one of nature's best friends.

Hard-core greens insist that genetic tinkering is too risky. Weird
mutations may get loose, they warn, crowding out traditional plants and
altering the biota forever. Genetically engineered "Frankenfoods," they
say, could lead to subtle but potentially lethal health effects in humans
over time. The European Union has placed a four-year moratorium on
genetically modified food imports.

But genetic tinkering is hardly new to agriculture: Farmers have been
crossbreeding strains of corn for centuries to produce hardier, more
productive crops. The leading scientific academies in Europe and America
are unanimous that genetic modifications to plants pose little or no
threat to society or the environment. And one suspects that most European
objections stem from a desire to avoid foreign competition to their
increasingly obsolete agricultural sector.

What really bugs the greens is the fact that the agricultural revolution
poses a direct challenge to one of the core beliefs of late 20th century
environmentalism: that the world is running down and running out.

This theory has a long and discredited history. It was most famously
posited by a British divine, the Rev. Thomas Malthus, in 1798. He asserted
that population growth was mathematically certain to outrun the ability of
the world to feed itself, resulting in widespread famine and misery.
Malthus was largely forgotten amid the incredible surge of prosperity of
the industrial world in the 19th century.

But the population spurt of the late 20th century resurrected the
Malthusian doctrine. In the late 1960s, Stanford University's Paul Ehrlich
penned a best-seller titled "The Population Bomb," predicting worldwide
famine by the 1980s. Environmentalists predicted the depletion of natural
resources, particularly oil.

But a funny thing happened on the way to apocalypse. The price of most
natural resources has actually dropped, proof positive that they aren't
running down or running out.

Even with the latest spike in the price of oil, due to war fears, it's
still well below the levels of the 1970s. And the main problem for farmers
around the world -- except for a few benighted outposts like North Korea
or Zambia (whose president has also banned genetically modified foods
despite starvation caused by his government's policies) -- is too much
food. As a result, farmers demand price supports and other subsidies,
which only encourage more over-supply. If greens were serious, they would
be protesting such government intrusion in the marketplace.

What Malthus -- and most environmental extremists -- failed to reckon with
was the existence of a virtually inexhaustible resource, human creativity.
Thanks to this creativity, the average American household spends 15
percent of its budget on food, down from nearly 75 percent in the Rev.
Malthus's day. A Rockefeller University economist estimates that if the
world's average farmer reaches the yield of the average U.S. corn grower,
it will take only half of today's cropland to feed 10 billion people --
freeing up enough land for parks and forests, among other things.

Better still, peasant farmers no longer need five strapping sons to work
the fields. As a result, population is expected to peak somewhere around
8-11 billion by the end of this century, compared with 6 billion now. In
much of the industrialized world, population is declining.

This may not impress hard-core environmentalists, who tend to hail from
the upper middle classes in America and Europe. In their view, there are
still too many people cluttering up the view from their front porches. But
what appears to be truly running down and out is the doom-and-gloom vision
by which greens have been trying to gain control over how the rest of us
live our lives.

**********************************************

Jury Still Out on GM Food's Effects

- Chet Raymo, Boston Globe, March 11, 2003

Last summer, I bought a prepackaged chocolate cake in a European
supermarket. The wrapper proclaimed prominently: 'NO GM INGREDIENTS'. GM,
of course, stands for ''genetically modified.''

Then I turned the package over and read the ingredients. I recognized
flour, salt and water. The rest were a long list of artificial flavors,
colorings, stabilizers and preservatives that read like the shelf list of
a chemistry lab. Yum!

I'm not suggesting that all those chemicals with unrecognizable names
might be harmful to my health. But then again, there is no evidence that
GM foods are harmful either. The uproar of popular feeling that has turned
Europe into an essentially GM-free zone is based more upon emotion than
hard fact.

Environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have
whipped up a political frenzy against genetically engineered food,
demonizing big agribusinesses, such as Monsanto, for releasing monsters
upon the world. The protesters with their ''Frankenfoods'' placards surely
mean well. One only wishes they were able to cite in their favor something
more than vague possibilities of disaster.

Americans, meanwhile, are barely aware of the controversy. Why the
difference between Europe and the United States? I suspect the reason is
this: Europeans love their food and traditionally buy it fresh off the
shelves every day; Americans go to market once a week and are used to
eating processed junk that's laced with God-knows-what. For many
Europeans, GM foods are one more element of American cultural imperialism.

So, what's a reasonable person to do? Are GM foods safe? Do they harm the
environment, as the protesters say? Or might they help the environment by
increasing yields and making farmers less dependent upon pesticides and
artificial fertilizers?

I've tried to follow the controversy as best I can in the popular press
and the scientific journals. My default position is: Leave the food alone.
But so far I've seen no evidence that anyone has been harmed by eating GM
products. Nor is there much evidence of harm to the environment, either.

Which is not to say that caution is unnecessary. I'd like to believe that
the US Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture are
looking out for our best interests, and that the Environmental Protection
Agency has an eye on the environment. I know of no case that would
indicate we have not been well served by the relevant government agencies.
Genetic scientists are about as likely to complain about ''bureaucratic
constraints'' on research as are the opponents of biotechnology to
complain that the agencies allow any field research at all.

Here's an example of the kind of research that's necessary:
Environmentalists have often raised the specter of ''artificial'' genes
escaping from GM crops into the wild, creating ''superweeds'' -- a
not-inconceivable possibility that deserves attention.

Neal Stewart and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee have
recently completed a first experiment. They crossed a GM crop plant
(oilseed rape) with a wild relative, then released the modified weed plant
into the environment -- thus deliberately contriving the ''superweed''
scenario. The result: The modified weed was less vigorous in the wild than
the unmodified variety.

Definitive? Of course not. The jury is still out, and lots more research
is necessary. In the meantime, careful regulation of GM agriculture and
experimentation with GM plants is essential. So far, however, none of the
doomsday predictions have come to pass.

My guess is that a generation from now, when the initial thrill of
tinkering with genes has passed, GM plants optimized for specific
environments will be commonplace, not as a replacement for traditional
methods of plant breeding, but as a supplement.

The world's population will continue to rise for at least another
half-century. Feeding those additional billions of people while preserving
the environment will require every ounce of creativity we can muster.
Closing avenues of possibility based on knee-jerk emotion is a sure recipe
for disaster.
--
Chet Raymo teaches at Stonehill College. His most recent book is ''An
Intimate Look at the Night Sky.''

**********************************************

To Feed Hungry Africans, Firms Plant Seeds of Science

- Justin Gillis, Washington Post, March 11, 2003,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7970-2003Mar10.html

New York -- Four of the world's largest agricultural companies have agreed
to share their technology free with African scientists in a broad new
attempt to increase food production on that continent, where mass
starvation is a recurring threat.

The companies, based in the United States and Europe, said they would
donate patent rights, seed varieties, laboratory know-how and other aid to
help African agricultural scientists who are working with small farmers to
battle plant disease, insects and drought.

A new organization, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, is
being set up in Nairobi to spearhead the project. In an effort to cut
through the thicket of patent rights and corporate interests that
complicates many research projects in biology, the foundation will aim to
identify crop problems in Africa that might be amenable to technological
solutions. It then plans to negotiate with the Western companies for
assistance and patent licenses and seek support from African governments
to help put new resources -- usually in the form of improved plant
varieties -- into the hands of small subsistence farmers across the
continent.

About 190 million Africans south of the Sahara, a third of the population,
routinely lack sufficient food. It is the world's largest remaining
concentration of people who go to bed hungry at night. The effort faces
substantial pitfalls, such as the sheer difficulty of the work and the
complicated politics of international development. Because the companies
involved sell farm chemicals, such as pesticides, and develop genetically
altered crops, people involved said the foundation risks being seen as a
front for multinational corporate interests. And, in part because the
foundation will consider genetic engineering as one potential solution to
the problems in any given crop, skepticism is likely from environmental
groups, whose influence in Africa is rising.

Several groups, the U.S. government and the agricultural companies have
been supporting piecemeal efforts to aid African farmers for years, with a
few notable successes. But the new foundation appears to be the most
comprehensive attempt yet to bring the expertise of the major Western
companies to bear on the problem. The companies have spent decades
learning about drought and pest tolerance in plants, and filing patents on
the results -- knowledge that has rarely been tapped in a thoroughgoing
way to benefit Africa.

The foundation will be controlled by a majority African board and run by
Eugene Terry, a plant pathologist from Sierra Leone known across the
continent for his work with cassava, a tropical plant whose starchy roots
are used to make bread and tapioca.

The entity is the brainchild of the Rockefeller Foundation, a New York
charity that has long focused on efforts to feed the world's poor.
Research programs launched by the foundation produced the "Green
Revolution" in Asia and Latin America, vastly increasing crop yields and
improving nutrition in many countries even in the face of rapid population
increases. Norman Borlaug, a foundation scientist, won the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1970 for his work; the Nobel committee declared that "more than
any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a
hungry world."

For several reasons, Africa was largely bypassed by the Green Revolution,
which produced new, high-yielding varieties of the world's great cereals,
wheat and rice. These new varieties required vast swaths of irrigated land
and intensive application of fertilizers and pesticides. India, China and
other developing countries launched programs to get those tools to poor
farmers, but African governments generally did not. Traditional African
agriculture is a patchwork of staple crops, such as chickpeas and cassava,
that were low on the priority list for Green Revolution researchers.

It's now recognized that the Green Revolution was environmentally costly,
in part because many of the chemicals were toxic. Gordon Conway, an
ecologist and president of the Rockefeller Foundation, has acknowledged
these failings and called for a "doubly green revolution" in Africa that
will be more sensitive to environmental concerns.

Conway plans to formally outline the African Agricultural Technology
Foundation in Washington tomorrow in the context of a larger speech about
the prospects for food security in Africa. Plans for the organization are
already well underway, however, and people in New York, Washington, Africa
and Europe described them at length. Conway plans to seek support from
African ambassadors to the United States at a meeting tonight in
Washington. The U.S. Agency for International Development, an arm of the
government, and its counterpart in Britain are helping to bankroll the
plan.

Conway said the Rockefeller Foundation does not expect technology to be a
magic bullet for Africa's deep agricultural problems, which include
depleted soils and a lack of roads to haul crops to market. "Technologies
are either available or can be available to provide a partial solution to
these problems," Conway said. "What we know from the Green Revolution is
that certain technologies can have a dramatic effect. They can transform
people's lives."

Two American corporations, Monsanto Co. of St. Louis and DuPont Co. of
Wilmington, Del., have enthusiastically embraced the African Agricultural
Technology Foundation. The two firms control the leading American seed
producers and own the bulk of the patented technologies that African
researchers may want to use. Getting involved "has been fantastic for us,"
said Gerard F. Barry, director of research in a Monsanto unit that
spearheads technology-sharing projects. Speaking by cellular phone from a
cornfield in Brazil, his DuPont colleague, William Niebur, declared: "I
think we have a real opportunity to bring not only our technology but our
experience and commitment to world agriculture."

Two other agriculture companies, Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, and
Dow AgroSciences LLC of Indianapolis, said that they, too, were committed
to the project. The companies say they plan to support the foundation for
noble reasons, while acknowledging that in the long run they also hope to
create new markets in Africa. They're also searching for ways to burnish
their image amid a continuing public relations battle over their
development of gene-altered crops. And the companies are mindful of the
harsh lessons learned by the pharmaceutical industry for its failure to
help Africa battle the AIDS crisis by supplying low-cost drugs. One way to
undercut the argument that patents cost lives is to donate the use of
those patents for humanitarian causes.

The new foundation will focus on improvements in staple crops of vital
importance to tens of millions of Africans, including cowpeas, chickpeas,
cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas and corn. Of these crops, only corn
represents a meaningful market in Africa now for the ag companies. Terry
said his goal as the foundation's first executive director will be to
serve as an honest broker between environmentalists, African farmers and
corporate interests. "We definitely have to be able to pass the test of
not being a front organization for these companies," he said.

Tewolde B.G. Egziabher, manager of Ethiopia's environmental protection
authority and one of the continent's leading voices on conservation and
development issues, said he would keep an open mind about the new group
and its organizers. But he warned that if the foundation comes to be seen
as just a vehicle for pushing genetic engineering in Africa, it will fail.
"I am certain they mean well," he said from Berlin, where he was seeking
medical treatment. But he added that African leaders have moved beyond the
era when they "felt that the way to develop is the way the United States
and the colonial masters tell them."

He expressed particular worry that the project would create seed varieties
that entirely supplant the traditional ones Africans have grown.
Eventually, he said, the Western companies will want to be paid for their
seed, instead of giving the technology away, and if the old varieties are
lost, poor African farmers might have nothing to fall back on. Where
Egziabher sees a cause for worry, however, other people in Africa see an
opportunity. Godber W. Tumushabe, who runs a think tank for development
and the environment in Uganda, has agreed to serve on the foundation's
board, where he said he would play a watchdog role. It would not be a bad
thing, he said, if eventually the Western companies find a market among
African farmers with rising incomes.

"As a matter of fact we have to be cautious, because these are private
entities, driven by profits," Tumushabe said from Kampala. "If they are
able to achieve their objective in the long term, of building strong
markets, but in the short term we are able to improve the life of our
people, our interests have met."

**********************************************

Frankenfood, Anyone?

- Newsweek, Letters to the Editor, March 3, 2003, Atlantic Edition

What concerns many people about genetically modified foods primarily is
their long-term effect on people's health and environment. What also
concerns some people is the dependence (for seeds) that their popularity
creates on monopolistic firms like the biotech company Monsanto.

While Fred Guterl's article "Fear of Food" in your Jan. 27 issue presents
a wealth of information on the economic and political aspects of GM foods,
he left out some vital information. The World Health Organization's
assurance that GM foods already on the market are "unlikely" to present a
problem to people's health could also mean that they are just as likely
to, and that we do not have enough information or experience with their
long-term use. Europe's officials admit that the health risks are
"minute." But what are those minute risks?

I believe countries like India were right to be suspicious about allowing
new U.S. shipments of corn-soy flour. The likes of the StarLink strain of
corn, which was engineered in the States to contain a foreign protein,
should have been used only for the animal feed for which it was approved.
In the 1980s a sustained-action, subcutaneously implanted contraceptive,
whose use had earlier been banned in the United States, was tested in
Bangladesh by a well-known international research organization.

Such acts give rise to the feeling that developing countries are used as
guinea pigs by advanced countries As regards commercial crops like cotton,
seed-production technology must be transferred to developing countries to
make them available to farmers at low cost.

- G.V.S. Nagabhushana Rao, M.D. Hyderabad, India
-------

You highlighted the apparent opposition to agriculture biotechnology in
many countries, but you failed to note that the opposition comes mainly
from people who have hardly anything to do with agriculture.

The fact is, those who are directly involved with farming and feeding the
people have been very interested in adopting new technologies. The prime
concern of farmers is to improve productivity and lower the costs of
farming. And increased productivity is the only way to reduce the
environmental impact of agriculture. In 2001, cotton farmers in the
western Indian state of Gujarat voted with their pockets and planted an
unauthorized variety of genetically modified cotton. Following the success
of that crop in withstanding attacks by the bollworm, it was discovered by
the authorities that the crop was "illegal." The government decided to
destroy the 10,000 hectares of the GM cotton. The farmers refused and
protested.

You should know that the farmers in developing countries have their lives
at stake every time they sow a crop. Understandably, they will try to
defend their crops as best they can. It is time we let the people who are
most affected, the farmers, decide on the future of biotechnology, rather
than armchair activists and government officials who have nothing at stake
but, ironically, still have the most say.

It is really surprising that your report missed this very significant
farmers' revolt, a protest demanding technology, and against the Luddites
who want to stop them from gaining access to the technology.

The real Frankensteins are these modern-day technophobes.

- Barun Mitra, New Delhi, India
----------
Genetically modified plants, animals, bacteria, viruses, fungi or any
other form of genetically modified life do not fit into the complex
natural wheelwork, which has been understood neither by scientists nor by
politicians.

- Eckhardt Kiwitt Freising, Germany
------------

Your article was egregiously unbalanced. It pandered to the various
opponents of the tremendously promising technology of genetic modification
of crops to enable less use of (truly) toxic pesticides and fertilizers,
which can contaminate rivers and drinking water. Any benefit in increased
yields to feed the growing billions around the world?

You never even tried to present an adequate explanation regarding these
and other potential benefits of GM, leaving the reader to think that the
only motives were some kind of obscene profit motive on the part of makers
and farmer-users, and as "just a weapon for dominance of American
corporations."

Even then, you presented no evidence of actual harm or toxicity of any
products developed to date but mere xenophobic, protectionist,
head-in-the-sand quotes and innuendo.

Too bad that rich, elite folks like President Mwanawasa of Zambia can buy
and eat anything they desire, so they can get away with saying "I'd rather
die..." while others really do starve to death.

- Lawrence Stiver, Tokyo, Japan

**********************************************

Malnutrition Costs Five Percent of India's GDP

- Sarita Ravindranath, SIFY News (India) http://news.sify.com/

Washington-based nutrition scientist Dr Stuart Gillespie can zero in on
one reason for most of India's problems: We don't eat right! According to
the Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research
Institute, malnutrition remains a silent emergency in India and is the
largest cause of child deaths and economic backwardness.

The World Bank estimates that malnutrition costs India at least US$10
billion annually in terms of lost productivity, illness, and death.
Malnourished children are less likely to enroll in school than their
well-nourished peers, and even if they do, have worse educational
performance and are more likely to drop out of school. The threat of
deadly diseases follow the children to adulthood, where they are less
productive at work.

To Gillespie, however, averting preventable deaths is both an ethical and
economic issue. "The best investment you can make is in your children.
When the prime minister meets his ministers, the first question he should
ask is: 'How are our children growing', not how much the GDP is," he says
quite seriously.

Dr Gillespie, who has worked extensively on nutrition and food policy with
various UN agencies, the World Bank and various Asian NGOs, has spent four
years in India: in Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi. His current research
includes documenting strategies to reduce malnutrition and investigating
the role of food and nutrition security in combating HIV/AIDS. He has
written many books on the subject and is the co-author of the much
talked-about 'Attacking the Double Burden of Malnutrition in Asia and the
Pacific '.

In an exclusive chat with Sify, the British-born scientist talks about
starvation deaths in 'over-produtive' India, on why politicians shy away
from policies that could beat malnutrition and his stint in India when he
became so malnourished his mother wouldn't recognise him.

Excerpts:
The only time nutrition makes it to the front page in India is when
starvation deaths happen. Politicians go out of their way to clarify that
the deaths were caused by malnutrition, not starvation Why is it that we
debate on hunger, but tend to ignore malnutrition, which causes more
deaths and disabilities?

Starvation deaths are graphic, emotional. A political issue. They shame
the politicians into action. In an ideal world, not just isolated
starvation deaths, but the very fact that one out of every two children is
underweight should cause a reaction.

Malnutrition doesn't get the publicity starvation deaths get simply
because it's so common it's become invisible. I literally experienced
this. I'd lost so much weight while working in interior parts of Andhra
Pradesh. But I never realised I was malnourished because everyone else
around me, too, was malnourished. It was only when I went back home to
England and my mom didn't recognise me that it struck me.

Sixty percent of all child deaths is caused either directly or indirectly
by malnutrition. The kids may be dying of diarrhoea, they may be dying of
dysentery, but they would have better chances of survival had they been
well-nourished.

Why do you think nutrition programmes by the Government, like mid-day
meals, haven't been too successful?
- Most Indian projects target school-going children. We need to catch them
young. Malnourishment occurs at all stages: undernourished women or girls
give birth to babies who are born stunted and thin. These children are
much likely to fall ill, and may not even be able to make it to school.
Or, it may be too late to help them by the time they get to school.
Government programmes would be more effective if they focussed on children
below two. Also, planning needs to be long term. We need to build up more
capacities, more village workers, more resources, more officials to follow
up on children's health. We can't tackle malnutrition with three- or
five-year programmes, we need a minimum of 10 years to get things going.
But politicians tend to come and go very quickly and they want to see
results in one or two years. They may not be around for 10 years, so they
insist on projects that they hope will guarantee quick results.

India hasn't had a famine since Independence. We are among the world's
most undernourished countries, though our warehouses are overflowing. How
would you explain this paradox?
- Is there enough food for everyone in India? Of course, there is. But
malnutrition is not about food security. The problem is that not enough
resources - money and people - are put into projects. Failure to take
development seriously results in failure to achieve or sustain results.
Even the Public Distribution System can only serve part of the problem: In
remote areas where I worked, the tribals wouldn't bother going to these
PDS outlets. The idea is to make good food easily accessible to all. It's
part of a much larger problem. We need to improve the status of women,
spread public awareness and have trained workers at the village-level to
monitor progress.

You talk of the 'double burden' in your book Attacking the Double Burden
of Malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific . If undernutrition is the first
burden, what is the second?
- The second burden is overnutrition. This may be difficult to grasp, but
I believe undernutrition causes overnutrition. When a child is born
underweight, her body gets adapted to malnutrition. But if such children
survive, and later in life have access to unlimited food, they become
overweight. They are more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases
formerly thought to be associated with affluence, like heart disease and
diabetes. And, of course, you can also get overweight by watching too much
TV and not exercising. But I think Asia has to tackle both these burdens.

Would you prescribe genetically modified (GM) food as a cure for
malnutrition?
- GM food can definitely help, especially when food grains - Golden Rice
is an example - are fortified with vitamins and essential nutrients, But I
would prescribe it only if the food can be made available to all, and if
there are enough guarantees of its safety. If i were a politician, i would
be certainly interested in looking into GM food, though no one thing can
solve the problem.

How much economic losses does India suffer due to malnutrition?
- About three to five percent of the GDP. It sounds like a bleak picture,
but it's not. You have a democracy...it may be imperfect, but it certainly
can work. The way I see it, the best investment you can make is in your
children.When the prime minister meets his ministers, the first question
he should ask is: 'How're our children growing', not 'how much the GDP
is.' Human development and economic development go hand in hand.

**************

India's Poor Don't Need GM Aid

- Dinesh C. Sharma, Bangkok Post, March 13, 2003

India, like Thailand and other countries, is weighing the implications of
GM food crops. The question has become more complicated for New Delhi as
the US is offering food aid but refuses to say if it contains the
so-called Frankenfood strains.

The debate in India over genetically modified foods took an interesting
turn last week, when the authorities rejected food aid from the United
States that may have contained a GM strain. The US Agency for
International Development had sought to import corn-soya blend as food aid
through two international NGOs for distribution to the poor.

The two NGOs, CARE-India and Catholic Relief Services, sought permission
in July 2002 to import a combined 23,000 tonnes of GM corn-soya blend for
distribution as food aid. But the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee,
a regulatory body working under the Ministry of Environment and Forests,
rejected their application in November.

The NGOs appealed against the ruling to the Appellate Authority at the
Environment Ministry, but then withdrew their appeals before the authority
could proceed. Last week, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
considered the case a second time and allowed USAid and the two NGOs to
present their case. However, it turned down their application when the
three were unable to produce a certificate guaranteeing that the
consignments were free of hazardous GM strains.

The Committee noted that several GM corn varieties being cultivated in the
US were both for human consumption and animal feed. In view of the
concerns of the Indian Council of Medical Research about feeding GM foods
to vulnerable populations, and in the absence of any certification from
the US regulatory agency that the corn-soya blend shipment did not contain
any banned or obsolete variety of transgenic corn, the Committee decided
not permit the imports.

At the heart of this episode is the contentious Starlink Corn, which is
not yet approved for human consumption by the US Food and Drug
Administration. Fears have been expressed that the food aid being imported
into India could contain this corn, since there have been reports of
traces of Starlink Corn slipping into US consignments to Japan, South
Korea and Australia.

The two NGOs were unwilling to certify that the aid consignment would not
contain any traces of Starlink Corn or any other GM traces believed
hazardous to human health.

USAid admitted two months ago that American food aid could contain
bio-engineered corn and soybean products, as nearly 75% of American
soybean acreage and 34% of cornfields were planted with bio-engineered
varieties. Before India, several African countries had expressed concern
over the food and environmental safety of bio-engineered crops. Zambia
rejects any US food aid containing GM products.

While maintaining that GM food is safe for human consumption as it has
undergone all regulatory tests in the United States, USAid has
consistently refused demands for the labelling of these food items. It
says GM food products do not require special labelling under US
regulations, as they do not differ in any significant way from natural
products. Indian anti-GM activists not only question continued efforts to
import GM food as aid but the very need for such donations.

"Does this mean that if USAid had provided a certificate, the GEAC
[Genetic Engineering Approval Committee] would have allowed the import of
nearly 23,000 tonnes of GM corn-soya blend?'' asked Devinder Sharma of the
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in New Delhi. "How can the GEAC
justify this at a time when 48 million tonnes of food grains rot in the
open all over India?''

The activists have also expressed the fear that the imported GM foods
would find their way into places where they were not intended. "We are
aware what poor households do when they get free food aid supplements from
CARE-India and CRS [Catholic Relief Services],'' Mr Sharma said. "We are
told that in many places the poor sell these to the village shops and in
turn buy other food grains.''

In the case in question, some of the food aid was meant for use in
government-run programmes for malnourished children. Vandana Shiva, of the
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, said the entire
episode raised important issues of biosafety, health and governance. She
said USAid's argument that ``the donated food is evaluated for safety in
the US and is the same which Americans are consuming'' is patently untrue
because when Starlink Corn-contaminated foods were discovered and reported
in 2000 to have caused serious allergies, they were immediately withdrawn
from US supermarket shelves.

India has not approved any GM food crops, although many are under
development. A decision on GM mustard has been deferred. The only GM crop
to enter commercial trials is Bt cotton, developed by Monsanto of the
United States. But a fierce war of words is under way on its need and
efficacy.

While Environment Minister T.R Balu has told the Indian parliament that
the Bt cotton trials have produced satisfactory results, NGO reports point
to a total failure in terms of its ability to enhance productivity.
Greenpeace has demanded that the environment minister withdraw his
statement over the reported success of Bt cotton.

**********************************************

Shouldn't All Organizations Have to Tell the Truth?

- Dennis Avery, Center For Global Food Issues March 7, 2003
http://www.cgfi.org/materials/articles/2003/mar_07_03.htm

BP, a huge international oil company once known as British Petroleum, now
says BP stands for "beyond petroleum." It invested $200 million in solar
during the past year or so. But BP produces only enough solar electricity
to light the city of Boise, Idaho. Meanwhile, BP is investing 75 times as
much to drill deeper oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

That doesn't make BP evil; just a little too clever about trying to take
advantage of public concern over the much-hyped global warming. BP is a
large, responsible oil company delivering energy that virtually everybody
wants, at competitive prices.

Enron, the now-collapsed corporation which famously tried to rig energy
markets -- and cooked its books to fool investors and regulators -- was
praised for years by the eco-movement. They cheered because Enron
advocated that the U.S. sign the Kyoto Treaty. It's doubtful that Enron
cared one way or the other about global warming, but the company saw
itself doing billion-dollar trades in "emission rights" as First World
industries were forced to meet draconian reductions in so-called
greenhouse gases.

Doug Tompkins, the multimillionaire founder of the Esprit clothing empire,
is a businessman with ecological aspirations. He bought a thousand square
miles of remote Patagonia (at the tip of South America) to preserve it
from development.

He also started the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which says the modern
world's ships and airplanes are bad for the environment. He also opposes
the high-yield farming that feeds more people from less land. The
Foundation for Deep Ecology says, "Modern industrial agriculture
contributes to virtually every current social and ecological crisis, from
extinction to globalization to overpopulation to biotechnology.". . . "The
much heralded Green Revolution has been a failure."

What part of saving a billion people from starvation and preserving 12
million square miles of wildlands represents failure? If the Green
Revolution hadn't tripled the world's crop yields after 1960, we'd already
have planted grain on Tompkins' Patagonian nature preserve -- along with
virtually all the world's other wildlands. Tompkins' foundation also
worries about soil erosion and blames modern farming while ignoring the
fact that the traditional farms he prefers suffer a hundred times as much
soil erosion per ton of food of food produced.

All this helps explain why modern societies don't depend on corporations
and businessmen to set public policy. We do that with public consensus,
through elected officials.

We ask businessmen and corporations to respond to our needs and desires
(expressed through dollars willingly spent) legally and responsibly.

We ask scientists to submit to peer review. They publish their best
evidence, and other scientists get to test its validity. Our free press is
even supposed demand responsibility and accountability from our
politicians.

So far, however, we haven't demanded any standard of accountability from
so-called "non-governmental organizations." With hundreds of NGOs spending
billions of dollars in aggressive efforts to reshape public policy, the
world is facing a new challenge to public debate: accountability.

The Sierra Club told us for decades that the salmon were declining in the
Pacific Northwest because of logging. We closed the forests and it didn't
help. Suddenly the salmon have returned, because of a 25-year ocean cycle
that shifts salmon food (and thus salmon numbers) back and forth between
the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf of Alaska. Has the Sierra Club
apologized to the loggers they put out of work?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are telling college kids that
milk is bad for their health, despite centuries of human experience to the
contrary. (PETA complains the cows are being "exploited.") But our kids,
especially girls, are short of calcium in their diets. Do we quietly allow
activists to worsen women's risk of osteoporosis?

Today, hundreds of NGOs fill the air with scary press releases, facing the
world with a new challenge to constructive public debate. We have
accounting laws for corporations, and peer review for scientists, but we
have set no institutional standards for the non-governmental "non-profit"
organizations. Journalists don't dig behind the press releases, because
eco-scares mean front-page by-lines.

Shouldn't everybody tell the truth -- and have the evidence to back up
their claims? Don't both corporations and non-profit organizations owe
society the highest standards of responsibility and accountability?

*********************************************

More Chymosin Debate...

From: Rick Roush

Dear Anders: As I said before, of course I understand the difference
between plants, enzymes, and microbes. Thus category 3 provides an
exception for cheeses, etc. But beyond the political, what's
justification for the distinction? I can even think of ways to further
subdivide the categories. One could for example, draw a further
distinction on whether the food enzyme was derived from an animal or yeast
source, but of course no one has yet felt the political need to address an
activist group demanding a ban on the use of cloned animal genes in food
production.

The oils are produced through the use of natural enzymes contained in a
plant (and not literally by GM DNA in the plant as you have indicated
below, which I accept as a typographical error). Currently, the GM DNA
produces protein to protect the plant, but not directly to produce the
food product, and sometimes these proteins are not actually "used". In
that sense, the oils are more natural than the cheeses, which depend more
directly on a GM product. That is, the cheese cannot be produced without
the enzyme from a GM source, but the crop can still produce oil even if
never challenged by insects or herbicides.

One could make a definition that fits any political or legal purpose, but
that does not in itself make the distinction an objective one. With
respect to human health, there is no difference between oils from GM or
non-GM crops, nor between cheese with or without GM input. For that
reason, the state and federal health ministers in Australia agreed that
oils did not require a label.

In any case, you and I know all too well that lifting the moratorium will
make little difference because major food companies will not stock
anything with GM for fear of losing a small percentage of market share.
There is no moratorium in Australia, but also no GM foods. I understand
that you must live with (and perhaps even defend) a political compromise,
but you can't seriously expect folks knowledgeable about this in North
America to see this as anything other than a political decision bereft of
any objective scientific justification. Whether or not this is a criticism
depends on your perspective, but it is a fact.

Once again, I appreciate your willingness to correspond on this. Rick

>> Anders Buch Kristensen >you will understand, that the only way to have the moratorium lifted,
>
***********
Anders Buch Kristensen Writes Again:

1. Response to Brad Mitchell and Dew Kershen, who wrote "Europe bans
recombinant bovine somatropin (rBST) for several articulated reasons
including health and animal welfare claims about rBST .....Ignoring these
health and animal welfare claims for a moment, rBST is a processing aid
that assists cows to produce additional milk".

We can not ignore health and animal welfare problems; they are the reason
for banning the use in EU. However we do not ban import or demand
labelling of dairy products from cows treated with rBST. So your argument
is nonsense. I wonder whey you are so concerned about the line between
categories of food/feed with different relations to GM. You disagree with
the competent authorities of the EU, but this is not of any relevance.

2. Response to Bob Mc Gregor I am sorry that you are unable to se the
difference between Chymosin produced by GM micro organism, and soy oil
which is one of the ingredient of a GMO, but this is your problem. I do
not claim that there is no reason for labelling products produced with the
aid of a GMO; in fact, the Council and the Commission have decided to
consider such labelling. There are also groups who wish to label animal
products feed with GM feed. Is your aim to support further extension of
labelling?

Kind regards, Anders Buch Kristensen PhD, Minister Councellor

**********
From: Martin Mieschendahl

The Common Position of the EU Council on food and feed, labelling and
traceability and statements of the UK and the NL can be found at the
following URLs:

http://register.consilium.eu.int/pdf/en/02/st15/st15798en02.pdf

http://register.consilium.eu.int/pdf/en/03/st05/st05204en03.pdf

http://register.consilium.eu.int/pdf/en/03/st05/st05204en03.pdf

**********************************************

The Madness of King Dennis

- Consumerfreedom.com

An update on Dennis Kucinich (D-Greenpeace), Congress's leading opponent
of genetically enhanced foods, comes to us courtesy of the Cleveland Plain
Dealer, which profiled the nutty Presidential candidate on Sunday.

In June, Kucinich gave a speech entitled "Spirit and Stardust" at a
conference on "the alchemy of peacebuilding." He argued: Spirit merges
with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends to return to
spirit. The interchangeability of matter and spirit means the starlit
magic of the outermost life of our universe becomes the soul-light magic
of the innermost life of our self. The energy of the stars becomes us. We
become the energy of the stars...Our vision of interconnectedness
resonates with new networks of world citizens in nongovernmental
organizations linking from numberless centers of energy, expressing the
emergence of a new organic whole.

Right.

Last year Kucinich spoke at an event hosted by the Institute for
Cooperation in Space. The Institute's president, who had earlier arranged
to have LSD guru Timothy Leary's cremated remains blasted off into space
in 1997, is now working for Kucinich. She says she's "doing everything I
can because I think he is the only chance we have got to enter into a new
paradigm, or otherwise we are all going to die."

Another "close friend and advisor" of Kucinich, Chris Griscom, runs an
institute described as an "enchanting center for spiritual healing and
multi-incarnational exploration." Kucinich has Shirley MacLaine to thank
for introducing him to Griscom. It seems that Griscom taught the starlet
how to communicate with trees. And oh yes, MacLaine is the godmother of
Kucinich's daughter.

So forget risk assessments and hard science. The nation's policy on
genetically enhanced foods is, in part, in the hands of a guy whose
advisors talk to trees and explore "multi-incarnational" dimensions.

Perhaps the worst of it is that Kucinich claims to represent regular
people. "I started in the ward clubs of Cleveland, and I don't forget
that. My politics come from the neighborhoods of the city." The same city,
we might add, thatwent bankrupt during his tenure as mayor. Perhaps the
Ohians from his district should show some "starlit magic" by sending this
wacko looking for a new job next November.

---

A Classified Ad We'd Like to See

Wanted -- outrageous, outdated, out-of-context sound bites for use by
major environmental advocacy group leader. No in-depth research,
scientific literacy, or other validation needed. Just "short and punchy"
quotes that can be used in a debate against best-selling science author.
Contact Carl Pope at the Sierra Club.

Fantasy? Not really. In a stunning display of mercenary tactics, Sierra
Club executive director Carl Pope sent an e-mail last Friday to thousands
of activists, looking for ammunition to use in a debate (scheduled for
Thursday night) against best-selling Danish author Bjorn Lomborg.

What made Pope's public plea so unusual is that he openly asked for
out-of-context material with which to tar-and-feather corporations
sponsoring the so-called "Cooler Heads Coalition," which argues for
moderation in environmental policy. "What I am seeking for my
presentation," Pope wrote, "is outrageous quotations by spokespersons of
these corporations, even if very old -- but they need to be short and
punchy for use in a debate."

Lomborg has come under fire from activist leaders like Carl Pope for
questioning their exaggerated and often unfounded positions on genetically
improved foods, global warming, endangered species, and the ecology of
modern farms. His landmark book The Skeptical Environmentalist has made
him a lightning rod for green scaremongers who fear the loss of political
influence that would result from a better understanding of how far their
claims stray from reality.

(See consumerfreedom.com for various links within the two articles above)

**********************************************

Corn That Clones Itself

- Daniel Charles, March 2003, Technology Review (from MIT)

'New varieties of genetically engineered crops will feed the poor and
restore agricultural biotechnology's blighted image--if money and politics
don't keep the seeds out of farmers' hands.'

An hour outside of Mexico City, the taxi turns off the main road, and the
noise and bustle of the highway fade away. Past a steel gate and a white
guardhouse, we enter the well-tended grounds of the International Center
for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat, known by its Spanish acronym,
CIMMYT (pronounced SIM-it). It's a farm masquerading as a small United
Nations. An array of flags pays tribute to the countries that fund the
organization's work: creating better crops for the developing world's poor
farmers.

Further ahead is a line of white signs, each standing in front of a small
square plot where hairy heads of wheat sway in the breeze. This is
agriculture's Walk of Fame; on those signs are the names of wheat
varieties that emerged from CIMMYT's breeding grounds four decades ago:
Sonora, Yaqui, Kauz, Sujata, Sonalika, and others. These varieties, which
resist disease and produce unprecedented yields, conquered Asia,
displacing traditional wheat varieties and older methods of farming. The
stars of the Green Revolution, the new varieties unleashed a phenomenal
rise in grain production that allowed China and India to feed themselves,
Indeed, the impact of the new grains was so great that they earned Norman
Borlaug, the original director of CIMMYT's wheat program, the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1970.

But wait. Isn't this supposed to be the International Center for the
Improvement of Maize and Wheat? Maize, as most of the world calls corn, is
the second-most widely grown crop after rice; it's a remarkably efficient
factory for converting sunlight, soil, and water into food for people and
animals. Within the next few years, corn is projected to pass rice and
take over the top spot. So where's the corn? Why is it missing from the
Walk of Fame?

As anybody who has driven across the Midwest can attest, superior
varieties of corn certainly do exist. But the robust, high-yield plants
that cover the Iowa countryside are beyond the reach of the majority of
the world's poor and subsistence farmers--the very people CIMMYT was
founded to help. The problem is, if farmers want to plant those
top-of-the--line varieties--generally high-octane hybrids that seed
companies create by crossbreeding two distinctly different inbred
lines--they have to buy new seed every year. Poor farmers simply can't
afford to do that.

The annual requirement for fresh seed is in part a consequence of corn's
biological compulsion to mate freely and indiscriminately. Wheat, like
rice, practices the safe sex of self-sex. Each flower pollinates itself,
producing daughter plants that are nearly exact copies of their
parents--at least that's the case with purebred wheat varieties such as
those released by CIMMYT. As a result, farmers can use part of each year's
harvest for seed, and varieties can easily be shared--passed from field to
field, from one farmer to the next.

Corn, on the other hand, is the most promiscuous of plants. Its
tassels--the male genitalia--dispense millions of pollen grains into the
wind, randomly fertilizing nearby corn ears, the female genitalia. A
plant's offspring, therefore, can vary enormously, depending on which
pollen wandered into the neighborhood. So no matter how carefully CIMMYT's
breeders construct improved varieties of corn, the genetic identity of
those lines breaks down quickly when they are released into the genetic
melting pot of farmers' fields. The new traits--higher yield, ability to
withstand drought, resistance to disease--tend to dissipate and even
disappear.

The variability problem is even greater with the hybrid varieties seed
companies favor. For corn and even for self-pollinating plants, a hybrid's
offspring are nothing like the original.

If only corn could reproduce by skipping pollination altogether and
cloning itself. The idea is not as far-fetched as one might think. A few
plants do this naturally, creating seeds without sex in a process called
apomixis. Dandelions reproduce through apomixis; so do about 400 other
plant species, including at least one wild relative of corn. So why not
corn? If someone could flip a switch and make corn apomictic, CIMMYT might
finally be able to make highly productive hardy strains poor farmers could
share with their neighbors and replant from their own harvest year after
year.

Richard Jefferson, founder of the Center for the Application of Molecular
Biology to International Agriculture in Canberra, Australia, says that the
implications of apomixis go well beyond corn. The potential of
self-cloning plants, he says, is so profound and subversive that plant
breeders, generally a cautious and understated lot, "would never admit to
dreaming about it unless you got them drunk first."

In addition to bringing hybrid and other superior varieties of corn within
reach of even the poorest farmer, apomixis would allow the widespread use
of high-yield hybrid rice, plants whose seeds currently are expensive and
difficult to produce in large quantities. And apomixis could help
eliminate diseases from cassava, an African staple crop that is grown by
replanting pieces of tubers from parent plants, some of which carry
disease.

After more than a decade of work, researchers at CIMMYT and a handful of
other laboratories around the world are finally homing in on apomixis.
With the help of new genomic information and tools, they're tweaking the
genes that control plant reproduction, hoping to duplicate the
self-cloning process in corn and other important crops. If they
succeed--and they seem confident that eventually, perhaps in another
decade, they will--apomixis will open the door to a "revolution in world
food production," says Wayne Hanna, a geneticist with the U.S. Department
of Agriculture in Tifton, GA.

That may seem like a technology goal few could argue with. Yet there's
uncertainty about whether apomixis ever will be allowed into farmers'
fields. Two opposing forces could find themselves unlikely allies in an
effort to block it: political opposition to genetic engineer-

"A few guys were crazy about apomixis for many years:" says Daniel
Grimanelli, a young scientist who is already a grizzled veteran of the
field. Settled on a patio outside CIMMYT's Applied Biotechnology Center,
Grimanelli is taking a midmorning break from science. Judging by his
three-day stubble, sunglasses, cigarette, and tattered jacket, Grimanelli
might just as plausibly have emerged from a serious bender. Thanks to a
joint appointment to CIMMYT and the Institut de Recherche pour le
Developpment in Montpellier, France, the Frenchman was transplanted to
Mexico a decade ago, but he speaks English with eloquence and force.

"In the 1970s and early 1980s," Grimanelli continues, "there were
essentially four guys: Yves Savidan in France, Wayne Hanna in Georgia,
Victor Sokolov in Russia, and Gian Nogler in Switzerland." Apomixis, in
those days, was a botanical curiosity, nothing more. Hanna recalls
encountering it in the form of some odd-looking sorghum plants in a Texas
greenhouse; Sokolov, far off in the Siberian city Novosibirsk, devoted his
labors to gamma grass, a relative of corn; and Savidan, working at that
time in Ivory Coast, was handed a selection of wild West African grasses.

All these plants engage in an odd form of reproduction. Their ovaries
produce new embryos on their own, as clones of the mother plant. Yet a few
of these plants also engage in sex. So the elder statesmen of apomixis
studied the patterns by which this particular genetic trait is inherited
when apomictic plants mate with their nonapomictic relatives. "We ended up
finding that the trait behaved like a single dominant gene," says Savidan,
who now directs the international partnerships of Agropolis, a publicly
funded research consortium in Montpellier. It was an astounding
conclusion, and Grimanelli says, it led to an audacious idea: "If it's
that simple, why not put it in crops? Why not crossbreed maize with an
apomictic relative? Easy!"

"Easy," echoes Grimanelli's colleague Olivier Leblanc dourly.

Grimanelli and Leblanc represent a link between the early generation of
such apomixis researchers as Savidan, who used traditional plant breeding,
and a new wave of researchers who employ molecular markers, genomic data,
and genetic engineering. Savidan moved his apomixis research to CIMMYT in
the late 1980s, and Leblanc and Grimanelli joined him a few years later.
It seemed the perfect place. For one thing, CIMMYT's climate-controlled
vault full of seed samples held a treasure-trove of seeds from gamma
grass, a bushlike plant that is corn's closest apomictic relative. More
important, CIMMYT's mission of improving crops for farmers in the
developing world squared perfectly with the potential benefits of
apomixis.

But a decade of traditional plant breeding yielded only frustration. The
researchers tried to crossbreed gamma grass and corn. They produced
300,000 hybrid plants, creations with strange combinations of features of
both plants (see p. 38). They tried to backcross those hybrid plants with
regular corn, hoping that each generation would bring them closer to an
apomictic version of corn. Inevitably, somewhere on the long road toward
corn, apomixis disappeared.

But just as the old approach was dying, a new one was born. In 1999 CIMMYT
signed an agreement with a French seed company, Limagrain; a division of
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis that has since become Syngenta; and
the world's largest seed company, Pioneer Hi-Bred. The agreement gave the
center funding and access to private corn-genome databases. "The new tools
have become so powerful," says Grimanelli. "You can clone genes, modify
genes, express genes.

He and Leblanc embarked on a search for apomixis genes, sifting through
the sections of DNA that were present in the apomictic form of gamma grass
but not in the sexual version. They tracked those genes to a large block
of DNA, about one-third of a chromosome, that is always present in the
apomictic form of gamma grass. To find the specific genes in this huge
field of DNA, the researchers are throwing transposons--small bits of DNA
that insert themselves randomly into chromosomes--at that block of DNA.
They're hoping that the transposons will insert themselves into genes that
are important for apomixis, disrupting the process. When that occurs, the
researchers should be able to locate the transposon and with it, the
crucial gene-which they could then insert into corn.

But the CIMMYT researchers are not alone in their search for the genetic
keys to apomixis. A horde of other researchers, some of them sponsored by
small biotech startups, have joined the hunt. Competing projects have
sprouted in Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the United Kingdom, France,
Mexico, California, Texas, and Utah. Most of the newcomers are not hoping
to transfer apomixis genes from one species to another--from gamma grass
to corn, for instance. Instead, they're tinkering with the timing of
plants' own genes to trick them into reproducing without fertilization.
The researchers are working out the details of this "synthetic" apomixis
through experiments with their favorite "lab rat," a small mustard plant
called Arabidopsis thaliana.

The CIMMYT researchers, whose effort also is going to rely heavily on
genomics data from better-known plants such as Arabidopsis, say the leap
from Arabidopsis to corn is likely to be more difficult than many
researchers expect. But still, they say, it will happen. The "incredible
dynamism of so many people working on this," says Grimanelli, will not be
denied.

The leap from laboratory to field appears, however, equally daunting these
days. An apomictic corn plant will be a genetically modified organism, and
in much of the world, such organisms aren't welcome. European Union
authorities haven't approved the planting or importation of any new
genetically engineered crop since 1998. Despite widespread hunger, Zambia
recently turned away U.S. food aid because the shipments contained
genetically engineered corn. And for the last four years Mexico has not
allowed CIMMYT to test genetically engineered corn outside a greenhouse.
Indeed, if opponents of genetic engineering have their way, no genetically
engineered corn will ever grow in Mexican soil.

Mexico is the ancestral homeland of corn, the place where ancient peoples
first domesticated this crop. It is also the world's singular storehouse
of corn's genetic diversity: Mexican farmers maintain an astonishing
number of corn varieties. Adapted to an enormous array of climates,
Mexico's corn comes with kernels in black, white, and every color in
between.

So when scientists reported finding traces of genetically engineered corn
in remote corn fields of southern Mexico a year and a half ago, it was
particularly troubling to those worried about the genetic diversity of
this unique resource. Indeed, although the study's findings have been
hotly contested by other researchers, some environmentalists believe it
uncovered a disaster of epochal proportions. "The Mesoamerican centre of
agricultural biodiversity is contaminated with GM [genetically modified]
maize," announced the ETC Group, an activist organization based in
Winnipeg, Canada. Greenpeace declared that "this irresponsible
contamination...is putting at risk the whole genetic structure of the corn
populations."

The image of engineered plants poisoning a biological well is powerful but
misleading, says Mauricio Bellon, a CIMMYT human ecologist who has been
studying Mexican farmers' maintenance of their traditional varieties, or
landraces: "People think that landraces are like fragile vases in a
museum, but that's not the case." Landraces aren't pure, and they aren't
static, says Bellon. Mexican farmers, he discovered, continually bring in
new seed from neighbors and even from faraway villages to add to and, they
hope, invigorate their fields. It's a bit like shuffling in cards from a
new deck to increase the odds of a winning hand. The good cards--the
superior genetic traits--stand a chance of staying in the game. Farmers
try to choose them for replanting the following year, and they discard the
bad cards.

There's no apparent reason why genetically engineered crops should
displace or destroy Mexico's genetic diversity, Bellon says. The new genes
would become part of the mix, and they'd persist only if farmers liked the
results. But, he hastens to add, genetically engineered corn in Mexico may
pose other risks that need careful consideration.

Indeed, nearly everyone who has explored the surge of opposition to
genetically engineered crops--in Mexico and elsewhere--has discovered a
melange of motivations. Concerns about the integrity of nature and the
safety of food are mixed with hostility for the corporations that have
been driving this technology into the marketplace. Mexico imposed a
moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered corn, for
instance, not when CIMMYT conducted its first field trials, but when St.
Louis-based Monsanto and other companies began lobbying for approval to
sell their genetically engineered crops to Mexican farmers.

One encounters antipathy toward biotechnology, in fact, within CIMMYT as
well. CIMMYT's crusty plant breeders sometimes dismiss their
organization's biotech program as a boondoggle, an expensive fad that has
squandered millions of dollars without delivering, so far, a single useful
product to farmers. Many resent the deals--accompanied by confidentiality
clauses and agreements to protect intellectual property--CIMMYT's
biotechnologists have struck with companies. T