Today in AgBioView: May 7, 2003
* Cross vs. Crotty Debate Continues
* Death by Regulator
* Blackmailing Cito: Hidden Agenda
* EU vs. USA - Quarrel Continues: EU Official Warns of Boycott
* Cautious EU Rules are 'Bar to Trade', Say US Companies
* Grassley Urges Quick Decision on WTO Biotech Case
* Kudos and A Coda to Alex Avery
* How Technology Can Reduce Our Impact on The Earth
* India: Experts Urge US to Propagate GM Technology
* GE Debate: Worry about Random Insertion? Stop Eating!
* India Treads Cautiously with GM Cotton
* Genetic Contraception for GM Crops
* Solution for Spread of GM Crops Found
* Harvard Professor Shares His Awe of Nature
* Five Environmentalist Myths
Cross Versus Crotty: Debate Continues...
From: John W. Cross
Dear Mr. Crotty:
Did you read Mr. Sharma's letters? If you have really read what he wrote,
I seriously wonder how you could write such a letter to AgBioWorld. Mr.
Sharma made statements that were out of line and begged for a strong
You were correct in one way, much of my discussion of Mr. Sharma's letters
was a passionate refutation of his philosophical statements. We can go
through Mr. Sharma's statements line-by-line, and I can show you
line-by-line where they factually err. However, in my letter I didn't go
through them line-by-line, rather I summarized my objections to the most
inaccurate. unfair and philosophically unacceptable of his comments.
However, you didn't choose to try to refute my argument, but rather to
trash my character.
Let's see, you wrote that my letter contained, 1."bizarre and effectively
damaging argument for GM technology." 2. "patently uninformed and
emotional drivel." 3. "complete lack of congruent debate" 4. "evangelical
Where is your logic? Where are your facts? I see only clever rhetoric
and name-calling. Try again.
Sincerely, John Cross
Reply from Anthony Crotty
Dear Mr Cross:
Yes I did read Mr Sharma's letters. No doubt this is why I wrote my
initial letter to AgBioView.
However, please forgive me. My comments to AgBioView were not directed at
you personally ? but rather more at AgBioView's choice of using your
letter as a response to Mr Sharma's argument. I do find it to be a bizarre
and effectively damaging argument for GM technology, consisting of
patently uninformed and emotional drivel, subject to a complete lack of
congruent debate and topped off with a smattering of evangelical dogma.
My logic for this opinion resides in the fact I believe AgBioView should
attempt to engage Mr Sharma with an informed and measured form of debate.
I believed your letter failed to challenge Mr Sharma and that your
coverage of its content missed Mr Sharma's central argument that the
science that is GM technology, that is at present an extension to
corporate manipulation of scientific ethics, practice and thus viability,
has yet to provide sincere imperatives regarding its impact on humanity's
social, environmental and cultural capital. I merely pointed out that it
was unfortunate that AgBioView chose to publish your letter when so much
more could have been initiated.
Instead, the decision to publish your letter will, I have no doubt, result
in a further stifling of debate and thus a missed opportunity for
Please let me once again reiterate that this is not a personal
condemnation of your opinions, views or character. It is simply an
observation made to AgBioView concerning their choice of posted response
and a questioning of their resolve to stimulate informed debate.
Rest assured I will not "try again".
Yours Sincerely, Anthony Crotty
John W. Cross Replies Again:
Dear Mr. Crotty:
No, sorry, I can't forgive someone who claims to make an apology and then,
in the next sentence makes further personal insults. Your message
continues to be a sophisticated version of "Cross is wrong, I'm right, ha,
ha, ha." Is this what passes for logical debate with you? I suggest that
you debate the facts or the philosophy, and cease engaging in personal
For example, you might care to explain which of my comments on Mr.
Sharma's letter were "uninformed."
You now comment: "I believed your letter failed to challenge Mr Sharma and
that your coverage of its content missed Mr Sharma s central argument that
the science that is GM technology, that is at present an extension to
corporate manipulation of scientific ethics, practice and thus viability,
has yet to provide sincere imperatives regarding its impact on humanity s
social, environmental and cultural capital."
I'm sorry, but that just doesn't make any sense at all. GM technology is
has nothing to do with corporate manipulation or ethics. Where did you get
those bizarre ideas? The truth is that GM technology is a major
achievement of human ingenuity, based on the ongoing revolution in biology
that began with the elucidation of the structure of DNA and accelerated
with the development of methods to clone and sequence genes. The rest of
the paragraph is completely unintelligible. What do you mean by practice
and thus viability? What do you mean by sincere imperatives? What do you
mean by humanity's social, environmental and cultural capital? If you want
people to take you seriously, you'll have to stop making insults and start
writing clear English.
By the way, since you rail about "corporate manipulation", I checked out
your website, http://www.portiasun.org. I see that you are engaged in a
profit making business. Good for you! Since when is it a sin to earn a
living? Or are you engaged in "corporate manipulation"?
Please explain, where in my message you find the evangelical dogma?
I suspect this is your characterization of my single quotation from the
sayings of Jesus in reference to hypocrites. That same saying of Jesus can
be found in the teachings of many other religions and independent
philosophers. It is hardly an example of evangelical dogmatism. If you
object to that saying, logically, you disagree with Jesus and find
hypocrisy acceptable, correct? Or do you find it objectionable that I
found the quotation from Jesus appropriate?
Let me repeat, it is ethically and morally indefensible to criticize the
charitable efforts of others.
Sincerely, John Cross
Final Reply from Anthony Crotty
Dear Mr Cross:
It is regrettable this has degenerated into the sort of paper circus that
I wrote to complain about in the first place.
Therefore in short, I believe you fail to see the argument that the
application of "scientific ingenuity" in the form of GM technology to
greater humanity must be done so with greater humanity in mind. At present
GM technology is applied as a means of product differentiation - and its
application has taken no account of social, environmental or cultural
impacts outside of economic factors. And these economic impacts are
extrapolated at best. This is the situation. You may see GM technology's
ideological imperatives as being elsewhere, but this has nothing to do
with the reality.
For many, one of the central themes of science and its application is that
of ethics. To claim GM technology has nothing to do with ethics or that
its current principle application is not controlled and developed via
corporate influence leaves me quite dumbfounded.
Contrary to your opinion and the subject heading of your last letter, I do
not believe in name-calling. I stated my opinion on AgBioView's use of
your letter as a response to Mr Sharma.
Finally, thank you for drawing attention to PortiaSun. However, before you
draw similarities between my business and that of some corporations, I
rely on stimulating interaction between people for a mutual benefit -
corporate manipulation is something quite different.
I trust my language was clear. On religion I think it best we steer clear.
Yours sincerely, Anthony Crotty
Death by Regulator
- Financial Express (India), May 5,2003
In the wake of the recent denial of commercial approval to two genetically
modified (GM) crops by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
there is a case for drastically modifying the regulatory regime currently
existing for these crops in India.
So, let us start from the top and implant within the GEAC a gene that
confers resistance to irresponsible and biased decision-making! Indeed, so
disturbing was the merit of GEAC's observations, and the manner in which
they were made, that it bids fair to conclude that the committee - the
ultimate decider of the fate of GM crops - has either given up on
regulating competently and/or has succumbed to pressures exerted by
Take, for instance, the assertion that GM mustard field trials were
inconclusive. Considering the misgivings about the regulator's monitoring
systems generated over the past six years, when GEAC was consistently
non-transparent while rejecting three Bt cotton varieties, a responsible
regulatory agency ought to have been more open this time round.
But yet again, we remain in the dark as to why the trials were adjudged
inconclusive. Were the regulators' evaluation systems unable to assess
data appropriately? Or was the data in fact indicative of the assessment?
More pertinently, when putting data into the public domain offered a way
out of needless controversy, why did GEAC prefer to endanger its already
low credibility? Worse still, this inability - or should we say deliberate
reluctance - to adopt a transparent approach to regulation is matched only
by a stubbornly regressive approach.
The regulatory mindset so far as GM crops are concerned seems to be one of
guilty even though proven innocent. Why else would Mech 915, a Bt cotton
variety that is engineered to resist the bollworm pest, fail to get
approved even though three other commercially-grown Bt varieties have
effectively trounced the bollworm? Could there be an anti-GM bias at play
here? It is not impossible since the official explanation for rejecting
Mech 915 was that it was susceptible to leaf curl virus, even though
non-GM cotton crops which are not resistant to the same virus have
If GM technology continues to be subject to such mindless, if not
deliberately subversive, decision-making, this productive technology will
die a premature death in India. We need to ensure that the same does not
Blackmailing Cito: Hidden Agenda
- Mary Ann Ll. Reyes, The Philippine Star; May 7, 2003
Agriculture Secretary Luis 'Cito' Lorenzo is a man ahead of his time. He
has shown this when he steered local banana company Lapanday into its
conquest of international markets traditionally controlled by
Now that he is serving the government, Cito has shown that agriculture for
him is not just a social vocation but also an enterprise that has the
usual elements of business - technology, marketing, competitive edge and
profits. He thinks in terms of trends, productivity, technology and
increased revenues that come from the systematic management of
agricultural resources. A few months into the job ? he has already
welcomed new technologies that would steer the growth of the Philippine
agricultural sector. But this is where Cito's next battle is.
There are reports that a multi-million dollar campaign is being waged by
some international and local groups against the agriculture chief. They
are reportedly gearing up to derail his confirmation by the powerful
Commission on Appointments (CA) because of his vision to bring more food
into the Filipino farmers' table through biotechnology.
Biotechnology, in particular genetic engineering, allows scientists to
develop plant varieties with natural high resistance to pests and
therefore drastically reduce or eliminate the need to apply toxic chemical
Many countries and governments all over the world, including leading
bodies like the Food and Agriculture Organization, have promoted
biotechnology mainly for one reason: Time is of the essence in finding a
solution to growing world hunger and malnutrition. As our scientists put
it, everyday there are more and more mouths to feed and less and less
arable land. Agriculture can no longer remain an input-based sector; it
must now become technology-based. Hopes are high that biotechnology can
help develop superior-yielding crops to compensate for diminishing land.
Local and international groups like Greenpeace however are questioning the
safety of biotechnology and genetically modified products. They claim that
biotechnology will result to 'millions of dead bodies and sick children,
cancer cluster and deformities.' Aren't they talking about something else,
like nuclear holocaust?
In contrast, scientists and health experts have made extensive studies
which show that farmers not only will produce more, and earn more, but
also avoid the dangers of continued exposure to pesticides, by just
planting biotech seeds.
The local scientific community has joined its foreign counterparts in
lending its all-out support to biotechnology. This includes scientists
from the University of the Philippines in Los Baņos (UPLB), the National
Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, the National Academy of
Science and Technology (NAST), the Institute of Plant Breeding, the
Natural Science Research Institute, the Crop Science Society of the
Philippines, the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and
Technology, the Biochemical Society of the Philippines, the Pest
Management Council of the Philippines, the Women Association of Scientists
in the Philippines, and the Women Investors Association of the
Various industry associations in the agricultural sector including the
Philippine Maize Federation, Inc. (PMFI), Philippine College of Veterinary
Feed Practitioners (PCVFP), Philippine Association of Broiler Integrators
(PABI), National Federation of Hog Farmers, Inc. (NHFGI), the Philippine
Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and the ARMM Business Council
have also expressed support to government's approval of the use of
biotechnology as anchor of the country's food security program.
Let's just hope that Cito will not cave in to the scare tactics of
European-funded Greenpeace. Everybody knows that the reasons why Europe
wants America and Japan to fail in biotechnology are merely political.
Whoever controls biotechnology has control over the future. And wittingly
or unwittingly, Greenpeace is just being used.
Some say that it is better to be right than to be popular. In the case of
biotechnology, it is both right and popular. Our government should
therefore go out of its way to promote biotechnology and help educate
Filipinos as to its benefits and debunk myths which Greenpeace has
As for Greenpeace, isn't there any other way to justify its continued
existence (especially after official development assistance and foreign
funds for environment dwindled few years back)?
EU/USA: EU Official Warns of Boycott If US Proceeds with Biotech Complaint
- Just-food.com, May 7, 2003 (Sent by Julia Moore of NSF)
European consumers could boycott American products if US officials go
ahead with their proposed challenge of the legality of the EU's moratorium
on genetically modified food, an EU official has warned.
If the Bush administration files a complaint against the EU at the World
Trade Organisation, it "could trigger a boycott of American food
products," Tony Van der haegen, a biotech policy expert at the European
Commission office in Washington, was quoted by Reuters as saying. For
several months now the US has been threatening to make the complaint at
the WTO about the EU's ban on approving new biotech products, but talk of
filing a complaint died down as the US sought support for a war against
Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, a
Republican from Iowa, urged the Bush administration to file the complaint.
Taking into account the strained relations between the EU and the US over
the war in Iraq and given that Europe intends to lift the moratorium
within a few months, Van der haegen said it might "not be worth going to
the WTO anymore."
The European Commission has been trying to lift the unofficial five-year
moratorium due to fears Europe's biotech industry is suffering. In order
for the ban to be lifted, the EU will have to be satisfied with new
labelling and traceability standards. Such standards could provoke a
further legal challenge from the US.
Cautious EU Rules are 'Bar to Trade', Say US Companies
- Edward Alden, Financial Times, May 06, 2003
The European Union has moved towards a cautious regulatory system that
poses a barrier to trade with the US and developing countries, according
to a report being released today by a coalition of large US exporting
The report, based on an analysis of more than a dozen existing or proposed
EU regulations, says Europe has invoked the so-called "precautionary
principle" to justify measures that are trade-distorting. "By doing so, it
has effectively banned US and other non-EU exports of products deemed
hazardous, stifled scientific and industrial innovation and advancement,"
says the study by the National Foreign Trade Council.
The clash over environmental and consumer risk regulations is emerging as
one of the biggest sources of economic tension in the world's largest
trading relationship. The US has threatened to launch a World Trade
Organisation case over the EU moratorium on genetically modified foods,
but US companies are equally concerned about other regulations pending in
such sectors as chemicals and electronics.
The EU is increasingly devising measures to reduce health and
environmental risks even where scientific evidence of a threat may be
absent or ambiguous, the report says. The US has tended to regulate more
narrowly against scientifically demonstrated hazards.
While European companies face more onerous reg-ulations than their US
competitors as a result, US companies charge that the difference is
producing a significant trade advantage for European business. US and
other foreign companies that want to sell into the European market are
forced to adopt EU standards, giving an edge to European companies already
working within that regulatory regime.
William Reinsch, president of the NFTC, says the effect of most of these
regulations "is to sanction EU production processes and penalise non-EU
processes". The US and Europe are competing to sign free trade agreements
with developing countries that in effect lock those countries into either
the US or European regulatory models.
So far, Europe appears to have the upper hand. Some African and Asian
countries have embraced European-style restrictions on genetically
modified foods, and Brazil last week passed a law that will require
labelling of such products. The report argues that the US and Europe will
have to find a way to harmonise their regulatory systems and adopt a
The US is stepping up efforts to persuade developing countries that their
interests are being hurt by the EU regulatory scheme. The NFTC report
argues that they should oppose such measures because their exporters
cannot afford the compliance costs. www.nftc.org
Grassley Meets with Administration Officials, Urges Quick Decision on WTO
- US Senate Finance Committee Press Releas, May 6, 2003 (via Julia Moore)
Washington -- Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance,
held a meeting this morning in his office with top officials from the
White House, the Department of State, the Office of the U.S. Trade
Representative, and the Department of Commerce to discuss the need to move
forward with a case at the World Trade Organization against the European
Union's biotech moratorium.
"I called this meeting because I was tired of getting an inadequate
response from Administration officials," Grassley said. "They say they
support bringing a case, but their actions don't match their words. I
finally decided that the only way to get a clear answer was to bring
Administration officials to my office, so I did. I also wanted to make
sure they understood how important this is for the future of American
"I've been beating this drum a long time, and my message is clear. Iowa's
farmers are being hurt by the European Union's biotech policies, and this
situation is unacceptable. As long as the United States refuses to enforce
its WTO rights, American farmers will continue to suffer."
The Administration officials explained that various government agencies
continue to look into bringing a WTO case. Grassley sought a prompt answer
on the Administration's decision. Upon Grassley's suggestion, the group
agreed to meet with him again in two weeks to provide a progress report as
to when the Administration will move forward.
Grassley requested today's meeting after sending a strongly worded April
28 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, expressing
frustration with the lack of a WTO case against the E.U.'s agricultural
biotechnology product moratorium. In his letter, Grassley said the end of
the war with Iraq removes one of the Administration's stated reasons for
delaying a case.
In today's meeting, Grassley urged the Administration to show strong
support for the nation's agricultural producers. Key steps include
bringing the WTO case on agricultural biotechnology products and making
sure that any new free trade agreements consider agricultural interests,
Grassley said. Congressional support of free trade agreements depends
heavily on whether agriculture is fully considered, Grassley said.
Kudos and A Coda to Alex Avery
- Thomas R. DeGregori, AgBioView, May 7, 2003. http://www.agbioworld.org/
In a May 6th posting Alex Avery referred to Bt resistant moths. In case
some of our Luddite friends might use this as some kind of admission and
jump to some further unwarranted conclusions about Bt transgenic crops, we
should note the source of this resistance given that an earlier report of
Bt resistance was grossly misused by by the anti-GM activists. Let us
begin with a bit of history.
When two research Reports and a News of the Week article on the
development of resistance to the Bt toxin were posted online in Science
for the August 3, 2001 issue, anti-biotechnology groups almost instantly
picked on the recognition of the Bt resistance and were online with it in
their campaign against genetically modified food before most subscribers
even had the hard copy in hand. The online postings were quickly followed
by news stories strikingly similar to the anti-GM postings. A close
examination of the articles (or even a cursory one) would have indicated
that an understanding of them would not advance the cause of those against
the use of biotechnology in agriculture.
First, the Bt "resistant strains of at least 11 insect species have been
documented in the laboratory" while only "Bt-resistant variants of the
diamondback moth have been identified in the field" (Griffitts et al.
2001). Checking the article footnoted for resistant strains found in the
field indicates that they occurred before 1994, the date of the cited
article, which was also before the first Bt modified varieties were
released (Griffitts et al. 2001). In fact, resistance to live Bt spray by
the Diamondback moths emerged in the field as early as 1989 (Palumbi
2001). "Some populations of diamondback moths, a devastating pest of
cabbage and related crops, are no longer bothered by sprays of Bt bacteria
used by organic farmers" (Stokstad 2001).
In other words, the use of the live Bacillus has the same potential of
creating resistant strains as does the use of the toxin engineered into
the plant (who would deny this except an ideologue), though obviously the
more extensive use of the Bt toxin in any form will likely accelerate the
development of this resistance. But note again, the only resistant strains
mentioned in the articles that were found in the fields, were found in
those involving "organic" agriculture.
Those in the environmental movement who oppose the patenting of life forms
somehow believe that "organic" farmers have an exclusive absolute property
right to use and prevent others from using the protein toxin that live
Bacillus produces because of their hallowed tradition of 50 years of use.
The three articles in Science reveal a critical difference between the use
of science in agriculture and those who would favor some other method.
Modern agronomy provides a variety of strategies for agriculturalists to
employ, in addition to Bt, such as chemical pesticides and refuges to
maintain a population of insects that do not develop a resistance to the
Bt toxin. The articles demonstrate that modern biotechnology provides the
ability to identify and monitor "resistance allele frequencies in field
populations," so that farmers will have a "direct test of whether the
high-dose/refuge strategy is succeeding." This "may allow enough time for
the strategy to be adjusted to reverse the increase" if the existing
strategy "starts to fail" (Gahan et al. 2001, see also Ferre and Van Rie,
2002). The articles indicated that insects were evolving defensive
mechanisms which presented a challenge to create new strategies to combat
Those who read the online environmentalist postings would have never
surmised that the authors of one of the articles were defining ways of
facilitating the long-term use and expected benefits of Bt engineered
crops. This is clear in the following concluding reference on "the
opportunity to make informed modifications to a strategy that could
sustain the use of Bt transgenics and prolong their environmental benefits
of reducing dependency on conventional insecticides" (Gahan et al. 2001).
Those who oppose all uses of biotechnology in agriculture, deeming it to
be inherently evil, lack any realistic options to counter the growth of
resistance to live Bt spray. Biotechnology and agronomy, like all
scientific inquiry, are processes of inquiry (the scientific method) and
problem solving. They are in search of the best solutions to problems, not
the ultimate solutions. In some cases, such as that of live Bt spray and
the T gene in Barley, the solution works for a long time. In others, the
time frame is much shorter.
The critical difference between science and the presumed alternatives, is
that science has a way of moving forward to find solutions and even to
anticipate a need for them (Mokyr 2002, 38). The way in which opponents of
Bt corn have been characterizing its threat to "organic" farmers using
live Bt spray, one might surmise that the "organic" farmers could continue
using it in perpetuity were it not for the intrusion of the bioengineered
Bt serpent into their Edenic preserve. We know for a fact that this is not
the case. Precautionary principle anyone?
Gahan, Linda J.; Fred Gould; and David G. Heckel. 2001. Identification of
a Gene Associated with Bt Resistance in Heliothis virescens, Science
293(5531):857-860, 3 August.
Griffitts, Joel S.; Johanna L. Whitacre; Daniel E. Stevens; and Raffi V.
Aroian. 2001. Bt Toxin Resistance from Loss of a Putative
Carbohydrate-Modifying Enzyme, Science 293(5531):860-864, 3 August.
Ferre, Juan and Jeroen Van Rie. 2002. Biochemistry and Genetics of Insect
Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis, Annual Review of Entomology
Mokyr, Joel. 2002. The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the
Knowledge Economy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Palumbi, Stephen R. 2001. Humans as the World's Greatest Evolutionary
Force, Science 293(5536):1786-1790, 7 September.
Stokstad, Erik. 2001. Entomology: First Light on Genetic Roots of Bt
Resistance, Science 293(5531):778, 3 August.
(Except for the opening paragraph, the above is an excerpt from my
forthcoming book, Origin of the Organic Agriculture Debate Iowa State
Press: A Blackwell Publishing Compamy, in press, expected January 2004 -
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of Houston
How Technology Can Reduce Our Impact on the Earth
- I. Goklany and A. Trewavas, Nature, v.423, p.115; May 8, 2003
Sir ? William E. Rees, in his Concepts essay "A blot on the land" (Nature
421, 898; 2003), uses the ecological-footprint concept to argue that the
'carrying capacity' of the Earth has been exceeded because of
technological and economic growth, and to counter some economists' claims
that the carrying capacity can increase indefinitely. The critical point,
unrecognized by either side, is not whether the carrying capacity can
increase indefinitely but whether it can increase rapidly enough to
accommodate the environmental and economic expectations of a world that
grows wealthier as its population growth rate slows dramatically.
Paradoxically, both technology and economic development provide the means
to solve the very problems they create. Without technological development
in the first instance, the human population would be smaller, because
higher birth rates would have been offset by higher mortality rates.
Dispensing with present technology now would undoubtedly be catastrophic
in human terms -- people would be hungrier, unhealthier and shorter-lived
, without the world necessarily becoming ecologically more stable.
Similarly, foregoing economic development, which helps to generate wealth,
would also be calamitous (see I. M. Goklany, Case Western Law Review; in
the press). Only wealthy countries can afford the scientific
infrastructure to research, develop and put into use clean technologies
that increase the Earth's carrying capacity.
For all of these reasons, the richest countries, not surprisingly, are
also the most technologically advanced. They have the highest crop yields
per hectare, which is inversely related to the demand for land, a primary
element in the ecological footprint. Inefficient agriculture creates
pressures for new agricultural land at the expense of virgin forest or
marginal lands in countries with growing populations. If
agricultural-technology development had been frozen in 1961, we estimate,
using data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (see FAOSTAT 2003:
http://apps.fao.org), that cropland would have had to increase from its
present 11% to some 25% of the planetary surface to produce the same
amount of food now.
Accepting Rees's estimate that we currently exceed the Earth's carrying
capacity by one-fifth, without technological development we would now
exceed it by one-third. Virtually no natural forest would now remain and
the rest of nature would be even more embattled. Yes, we recognize that
current agricultural technology, with its reliance on pesticides and
fertilizers, created many new problems even as it solved old ones, but
that is exactly why we favour technological change. New technologies need
not be perfect, but they should improve on current versions. That is why
we support prudent use of agricultural biotechnology -- another imperfect
technology, but vastly superior to conventional technologies. The trick is
not to sacrifice the present for the future, or vice versa.
Without technological change and economic development, there can be no
solution to the predicament of meeting human needs while containing human
impact on the planet. Although neither technological change nor economic
development is a panacea, they make a solution more likely.
Indur M. Goklany, US Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW,
Washington, DC 20240, USA (The views expressed here are not necessarily
those of any branch of the US Government); Anthony J. Trewavas, Institute
of Cell and Molecular Biology, King's Buildings, University of Edinburgh,
Edinburgh EH9 3JH, Scotland
Experts Urge US to Propagate GM Technology
- Financial Express (India), May 5, 2003
In the face of growing unacceptability of genetically modified (GM) food
the world over, several policy analysts are urging the US to develop a
pragmatic strategy for promoting GM crops, particularly in the Third World
countries. These policy analysts have noted that even in most trying
situations, countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi had the
guts to refuse the US food aid of GM corn. "US officials were shocked in
August 2002 when the government of Zambia, on verge of a major food
crisis, began to refuse the import of free corn from the US as food aid,
because some of that corn might be genetically modified.
This was the same corn Americans had been consuming since 1996, and the
same corn that the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) had been
distributing in Africa - including Zambia, but now the Zambians were
rejecting it," says Robert L Paarlberg, professor of political science at
Wellesley College and associate at the Weatherhead Center for
International Affairs at Harvard University.
He adds, "India has gone ahead with GM cotton, but it has not approved any
GM food or feed crops, and in 2002 the government of India began to refuse
imports of GM corn and soya from the US as food aid. NGOs had complained
that this food was contaminating India's food supply." Mr Paarlberg
notices that the GM food and crops are gradually losing its acceptability
and blames the European Union for this. Movements against GM crops has
started gaining ground even in countries like Phillipines where people in
general are not so averse to American life style. Since April 28, farmers
and NGOs in Phillipines are on relay hunger strike demanding a moratorium
on Bt corn in the country.
Mr Pearlberg remarks, "The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in
the Phillipines is supposed to be developing 'Golden Rice'. But this will
be difficult since they have decided not to conduct any field trials in
the Phillipines, lest they stir the anger of anti-GM NGOs. Only two out of
IRRI's 800 scientists are working on 'Golden Rice'." Writing in the Spring
2003 issue of the US National Academy of Science's 'Issue In Science &
Technology', he says, "GM crop have been commercially available since
1995, yet ninety-nine per cent of all the world's plantings of GM-food and
feed crops are still restricted to just four countries in the Western
Hemisphere - the United States, Canada, Argentina and (illegally) Brazil.
This restricted planting of GM-food and GM-feed crops reflects, more than
anything else, a globalisation of Europe's highly precautionary regulatory
approach towards this technology."
Analysing the situation, Mr Paarlberg says that European tastes and
regulatory preferences are dominating intergovernmental organisations
(IGOs), development assistance, non-governmental organisations and
international food and commodity markets. This is mainly due to US
government's ignoring or disrespecting IGOs by failing to ratify
conventions or paying dues on time and withering away of US development
assistance to Third World countries. He says that as European Union is the
biggest importer of agro produces it has been able to dominate global
commodity trade through its preferences, even though US is the biggest
Mr Paarlberg, in this context, suggests that US should be proactive in all
these four sectors currently dominated by European influence and promote
the cause of GM technology. He says, "one longer-term strategy would be to
begin investing more public money in the development of GM technologies
specifically tailored to the needs of poor farmers in tropical
countries.....Private companies have few incentives to produce such
varieties...The US government made a mistake in the 1980s when it skimped
on public investment and entrusted the development of GM crops so
completely to the profit-making private sector."
He further says, "at this point the best hope for starting a GM crop
revolution in the developing world may be to accept a monetary blockage
for GM food feed crops and work for continued spread of a key industrial
crop, GM cotton." After the successful acceptance of GM cotton in
developing countries attempts should be made to propagate GM food and feed
crops, he says.
- The Press (NZ), May 1,2003
Sir--Professor David Williams (April 26) is clearly stepping outside his
area of expertise when trying to relate his medical research to GM crops.
He fails to recognise that random DNA rearrangements and variable gene
expression apply equally to genes transferred by GE technology and
traditional crop breeding.
Random insertion and deletion of DNA fragments are natural phenomena.
Modern food-producing cultivars of crops are no exception. Furthermore,
geneticists have repeatedly induced DNA rearrangements over the past five
to six decades to develop improved crops.
Plant breeders test new lines over many years in many locations to
identify the very few superior lines that retain an appropriate level of
stability and performance. The same is true for GE crops with the
elimination of poor performing lines.
If Professor Williams fears eating food in which random DNA rearrangements
and variable gene expression are common, I suggest he stops eating all
food derived from plants.
- Tony Conner, Professor in Plant Biotechnology, Crop & Food Research,
Lincoln University, Lincoln, April 29
India Treads Cautiously with GM Cotton
- T. V. Padma, http://www.scidev.net/
The future prospects in India for Bt cotton, which has been genetically
modified to resist attack by the bollworm pest, have been clouded by
doubts over the crop's benefits. A parliamentary committee set up to
review the policies of the agriculture ministry recently reported that it
is "perturbed by the wide disparity" between the crop's actual performance
and the claims made by its promoters.
In a parallel development, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) -- which clears cultivation of transgenic crops in the country --
rejected a request to permit the cultivation of the Bt cotton variety
"Mech 915" in northern India, saying it was susceptible to leaf curl
virus, which is prevalent in that part of the country.
Bt cotton is patented by the US company Monsanto and is distributed in
India by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company. It was approved for
cultivation in India in March 2002 amid fierce protest by
environmentalists. But in a review of the crop's performance over the past
year, the parliamentary committee report says that Bt cotton does not
appear to be significantly better than standard varieties in resisting
bollworm ? its unique selling point.
The committee accepts that the crop does appear to require less
insecticide than its traditional counterparts. But it also estimates that
output during last year's summer was only 20 per cent greater than the
yield of indigenous varieties.
Given continuing uncertainty over its overall value, the committee
recommends that the government should arrange for an independent team of
experts to examine the performance of Bt cotton, adding, "the risk of
reducing biodiversity and other environmental hazards does not make the
sowing of Bt cotton a sensible proposition".
The committee's judgement, combined with the decision by GEAC, will
provide a boost to environmentalists, who have been arguing that claims of
Bt cotton's superior qualities in government-supervised trials do not
match field performance during 2001-2002. In March, the agriculture
minister and chairman of the Andhra Pradesh state cotton committee, where
Bt cotton is commercially grown, stated that the crop had failed in many
parts of the state ? the first official indication that all is not well.
GEAC chairperson Sushma Choudhary says that despite reports of poor
performance of Bt cotton by some state governments and agencies, one
season's statistics are not enough to withdraw approval for its
Genetic Contraception for GM Crops
- PNAS News, May 5-9, 2003 (from Agnet)
Canadian researchers have developed a method for preventing the spread of
genetically modified (GM) crops while still allowing farmers to reseed the
crops year after year. One of the major concerns surrounding GM crops is
that modified plants may interbreed with wild relatives or other related
crop species, thereby transmitting engineered traits.
Johann Schernthaner and colleagues describe a novel technique for
preventing GM plants from interbreeding with related species. The
researchers inserted a gene for seed lethality (SL) into tobacco plants.
The plants showed normal growth and seed production, but, because of the
SL gene, the seeds failed to germinate. By crossing the infertile SL plant
with another engineered tobacco plant containing a gene that represses the
SL gene, the researchers produced a daughter generation with viable seeds.
This daughter generation could theoretically be propagated indefinitely
through self-pollination, the authors say.
However, when plants from that same daughter generation were bred with
wildtype tobacco plants, the SL gene and repressor gene were separated,
and seeds lacking the repressor gene failed to germinate. The authors
conclude that the unwanted spread of novel traits could be prevented by
linking the traits to the SL gene. "Control of seed germination in
transgenic plants based on the segregation of a two-component genetic
Solution for Spread of Genetically Modified Crops Found
- Dow Jones Newswires, May 5, 2003 (via Julia Moore)
Washington (AP)--Concerned that genetically modified plants will spread
their genes to related crops in nearby fields, researchers have developed
a system aimed at preventing such crossbreeding.
It's a method they hope, with further refinement, will allow farmers to
reseed crops yearly without worry about affecting nonmodified crops.
Biotech crops are a growing proportion of American agriculture. The
Agriculture Department estimates 38% of the corn planted this year will be
genetically engineered and 80% of soybeans will be a biotech variety.
While American consumers generally seem to accept biotech foods, Europeans
doubt their safety. A European Union moratorium on U.S. biotech imports
has been in place for four years, costing the U.S. $300 million annually
in corn exports.
And that ban raises concerns about biotech crops cross-pollinating related
plants in nearby fields, rendering those crops also unsuitable for export.
The new system for preventing crossbreeding, developed by a team of
researchers led by Johann P. Schernthaner at Canada's Eastern Cereal and
Oilseed Research Center in Ottawa, is reported in the online edition of
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While the system was developed using tobacco, Schernthaner said he
believes it would be applicable for most crops, although "the genetic
components involved would have to be assessed for suitability on a case by
case basis." The findings do show, he said, "that the containment of
transgenes is possible in an agricultural setting and that environmental
concerns ... can be addressed in a simple fashion."
Doug Gurian-Sherman, science director for biotechnology at the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, said there "are pros and cons to this from
our perspective" but it is technology that should be explored as a means
of preventing gene movement. "The big question is how it's applied," he
Agronomy professor T. Wayne Pfeiffer of the University of Kentucky said
that while the system worked to some degree, the process used seems
"impractical in a seed production system for a seed reproduced crop." "The
paper doesn't explain how the system would be maintained in 100% of the
seeds in subsequent generations," he added, "so I do not see this as a
magic system to prevent the spread of transgenes in all crops."
In the Canadian research, the team first inserted a "seed lethality" gene
that prevents seeds of the plant from germinating, although the plants had
normal growth and seed production. They then crossed this plant with
another that had an added gene that represses the seed lethality gene. The
offspring of the two produced a plant with viable seeds that could
continue to propagate indefinitely through self-pollination. But when
these plants were crossed with normal tobacco plants the seed lethality
gene and the suppressor gene were separated and the resulting seeds would
While the system has been demonstrated in the laboratory, Schernthaner and
Steven Fabijanski, one of his co-authors, said it needs to be refined and
tested thoroughly for actual field use. "In particular, the repression of
the (seed-lethality) component would have to be made watertight," they
said. In addition, they said a second genetic component probably is needed
to be sure of containing the repressor gene.
Harvard Professor Shares His Awe of Nature
- Crystal Ross O'Hara, Davis Enterprise, May 6, 2003
Edward O. Wilson looks at a tree stump and sees a world teeming with
millions of precious life forms, both visible and hidden. Each time a
stump is disturbed or burned or removed in some way, a valuable world of
biodiversity -- one that scientists are only now beginning to fully study
-- is lost, he says.
Wilson, a Harvard University professor, is considered the father of the
field of sociobiology, which studies how evolution has affected social
behavior. The idea was controversial in the mid-1970s, but has become a
common field of study at today's universities.
An entomologist and avid ant fan, Wilson is the author of two Pulitzer
Prize-winning books, "On Human Nature" (1978) and "The Ants" with Bert
Hslldobler (1990). He also wrote the best-selling "The Diversity of Life."
His latest work is "The Future of Life." "I see his conservation books as
being important in bringing the wonders of nature into popular culture and
in spelling out the importance of conservation for us, not in a
'tree-hugging' kind of way, but from a perspective of scientific discovery
and wonder," said Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of wildlife, fish and
conservation biology, in introducing Wilson.
Although our natural world is being destroyed at an alarming rate,
particularly in Third World countries, biodiversity can be preserved while
still lifting those in developing countries out of poverty, Wilson told a
full Mondavi Center audience Monday night. "In the period we are in now,
our greatest challenge is to raise the lives of people everywhere to a
decent level, while bringing through intact as much of the natural
environment as possible," he said.
This can be achieved, Wilson argued, with relative simplicity. He said one
key way to preserve valuable land in the rainforest, for example, is to
purchase the rights to logging in a large block of land or purchase the
land outright. When organizations like the Nature Conservancy pull
together their resources, the land can be preserved for a reasonable
amount of money, even for as little as $10 an acre in some places, he
It is the goal of land preservation that has also made Wilson a supporter
of the controversial genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. After being
asked his opinion on GMOs by a member of the audience, Wilson said, "Brace
yourself, I like them."
In explaining his support, he said he sees the benefits of a product that
helps developing countries grow more food on less land, as outweighing the
Five Environmentalist Myths
The world needs environmentalists; everybody knows that.
But today environmentalism has all but destroyed its image and its
credibility in the minds of most Americans, because across a gamut of
fundamental areas including energy, transportation, and housing,
environmentalist-influenced policies have stifled economic growth and
trampled freedom. Eliminating pollution and protecting wildlife habitats
are important goals, worthy of measured economic trade-offs, but
environmentalists have become extreme. Environmentalists have created an
anti-business, anti-technology movement, which relies on myths to recruit
naive and well-meaning idealists.
The following Environmentalist Myths, in which far too many
environmentalists blindly believe, have, for the rest of us, stigmatized
the very idea of environmentalism. These myths must be challenged and
broken for environmentalism to become universally appreciated, and
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