Today in AgBioView: May 9, 2003
* Biotechnologies Debate
* Dr. Sharma Comes to AgBioView
* Great insight from Kaplinsky
* Final Cross - Crotty Debate!
* US has Decided to Challenge EU on GM Foods in WTO
* Grassley Sets Deadline for Admin Decision on EU Biotech Case
* Our Food Supply Depends on Genetic Enhancement
* A Call for Ideas for Grand Challenges in Global Health
* Europe Sees Sharp Decline in GMO Research
* Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000
* Rice Genome: A Recipe for Revolution?
* Analysing Beliefs
* Off the Shelf ? GM Issues Exposed
* Biotechnology - the Making of a Global Controversy
- Bruce Chassy
>> In response to "Biotechnologies Debate", Pierluca Meregalli wrote: "You
>need an appropriate argumentation for both the questions separately. I
>personally am rather against corporations and patents as they are meant
>in U.S.A.but I am rather in favour of biotechnologies from a scientific
>standpoint,but it seems that between the anti-biotech there is some
Pierluca makes an important point is separating scientific from
socio-political concerns. I would extend it by noting that it doesn't
logically follow that opposition to corporations justifies barring the use
of biotechnology or the sale of biotech foods. First because there are
many non-corporate uses of the technology which will benefit the very
groups the anti-capitalists want to help, and secondly because non private
sector uses of biotechnology are often conducted in partnership with
More importantly, however, is that concern about market abuses, monopolies
and corporate ethics can be effectively regulated without banning
corporate products. For example, you can change the patent law if you do
not think it is resulting in the desired social outcome. Banning products
is in fact not the appropriate response. Think for a moment what the world
would be like if we were consistent in our logic and banned all corporate
products because some corporations have misbehaved!
On a more general note, the arguments that are put forward regarding
biotechnology are often gross oversimplifications, with faulty premises,
faulty or selectively chosen evidence, and/or illogical conclusions.
Agbioworld provides an excellent forum for examining the arguments.
- Bruce Chassy, University of Illinois
Dr. Sharma Comes to AgBioView
- Paul Christensen, email@example.com
All, I have found the debate about Dr. Sharma's op-ed in The Hindu
Businessline engaging, if not always diplomatic. The original article
Given the effort and commitment that has gone into the articles, I wish to
draw some conclusions. I am not an expert on Indian regulatory or
agricultural issues, but I will attempt to sum up the arguments that Dr.
Sharma and his opponents have made and offer my personal opinion on merit,
based on information that I do have. I make no claim that further
information and consideration might change my mind.
In the original article Dr. Sharma accused Monsanto and the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee, GEAC, of manipulating data and the
approval process. Openness and transparency in the regulation of
biotechnology are certainly desirable. Dr. Sharma states: "Bt cotton
trials and the entire process of monitoring, evaluation and approval has
remained shrouded in mystery. The data has been kept classified as if it
is country's nuclear deterrent ability that is not to be disclosed." If
this is the case, there is certainly a need for improvement in the GEAC's
procedures. Not having any information to the contrary, I will award a
point to Dr. Sharma.
Concerning the substance of the accusations that Dr. Sharma has made
concerning inappropriate use of influence on the part of Mahyco-Monsanto,
Dr. Sharma has given us precious little to support his accusations. I
will award a point to the opposition.
Dr. Sharma has spent a great deal of time on the issue of whether the
improvement in yield offered by Bt cotton is significant. Mr. Avery has
made the assertion that this choice should be left to farmers. From the
view of economic and social development Mr. Avery is correct, but it might
have been useful to focus on the appropriate roles of government in the
regulation of biotechnology. The appropriate role of government
generally, and the GEAC specifically, is to assure the safety of
technology for people, and the environment. The discussion of yield is
important in practice, but as Mr. Avery points out, it should not play a
major part in the release process. I offer one point to the opposition.
There is a question whether Dr. Sharma should be fined a point for delay
This brings us to the issue of freedom, where Mr. Avery and Dr. Sharma
appear to be talking past each other. India has a strong tradition of
government paternalism. Some of which may be inherited from the British
Imperial tradition, but some of which is more definitely home grown.
Variety registration is part of that tradition. Variety registration is a
process by which governments test varieties and keep a list of those that
are approved for use. There is a great precedent for the Indian
government to decide which new varieties can be introduced. It is
understandable that the government would take a position that new
varieties containing the Bt gene would need approval for use. A similar
tradition is almost completely lacking in the US. It is understandable
that Dr. Sharma would not conceive of this as an issue of the right of
farmers. Dr. Sharma was playing within the rules of his culture. I will
not fine him for delay of game.
This brings me to a sensitive issue about India and the environmental
activist groups. India has only recently begun to recover from its
history of over-regulation. If there is poverty in Orissa and Jharkand,
and rural people cannot afford to buy rice, it is partially because one
elite after another has managed the government of India for their own
interests rather than creating conditions where individuals can plan and
create a better future for their families. In the beginning of the modern
Indian State there was an unfortunate tendency to associate free
enterprise with colonialism. In more recent decades ordinary politics
sometimes blocked economic reform.
India has improved they way that it regulates private enterprise and as a
result many parts of the economy have improved significantly in recent
years. Unfortunately, on the bases of the actions of the environmental
activist groups, one has to classify them among the groups who would wish
to control government in order to manipulate society in ways that may not
be democratic and may not result in increasing prosperity. Mr. Avery
understands this issue, but may tend to assume that readers understand his
position when we do not quite make the connection. I award a point to the
opposition for their understanding of good governance and the origins of
Dr. Sharma correctly points out that India's agricultural conditions are
much different from those of the US and that agricultural policy must be
adapted to local conditions. However, he is not at all clear in his
explanation of how Indian agricultural policy should be different. I
award a half point and caution the reader that many local food policies
that are declared to correspond to local needs are in fact bad governance.
Alleviation of poverty is an excellent goal, but policies that transfer
wealth to the poor can perpetuate poverty if they are not carefully
designed to increase productivity.
Dr. Sharma correctly points out that recent US farm legislation leading to
larger support payments to US farmers is bad for third world agriculture.
Dr. Sharma gets a point. As pointed out by Mr. Cross and Dr. Langelüddeke
the reference to agent Orange is irrelevant. I do not find his linkage of
DDT to the biotechnology issue convincing. I fine Dr. Sharma a point for
delay of game.
Dr. Sharma states that "I am afraid I will not have any more time to
educate those who refuse to learn." My fellow referee C. Kameswara Rao
has most aptly pointed out that "we help each other in this process." I
must note that it appears to me that Dr. Sharma moved to cut the
discussion prior to the appearance of Mr. Cross' response, the one which
Mr. Crotty in turn found objectionable. When Dr. Sharma cut off, he
questioned the willingness of Mr. Avery to listen and be persuaded by
The environmental opposition to biotechnology is generally weak in their
willingness to get into the details of their positions and fundamental
assumptions. They find that they get more impact and contributions but
making quick strikes with questions about safety and the motivation of the
businesses involved in biotechnology and moving on before they get
involved in detail and rational discussion. This was true in the
discussions organized by Wolfgang van den Daele in Germany in the early
90's and remains true today globally. The environmental left hesitates to
clarify that the basis of their position against biotechnology is
fundamentally a social and political position rather than one based on
safety. I do not know what Dr. Sharma's relationship to the environmental
opposition is, but I award one point for the opposition for their
willingness to continue the debate.
I do not wish to get deeply into the discussion between Dr. Crotty and Mr.
Cross. I did find Dr. Crotty's statement interesting: "Dr. 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 don't agree with the assertion, but it is an assertion that
can be studied and debated. If Mr. Cotty or Dr. Sharma have detailed
evidence on how corporations manipulate the scientific community in their
use and study of biotechnology I think that they should present it.
Manipulation requires that money, goods or privileges change hands. What
data was altered? Who got paid? What would the results have been without
alteration? Inquiring minds want to know. I have already granted the
opposition a point because Dr. Sharma did not provide specifics for his
assertion. There is no need for further score adjustments.
As to the value of the capital that has been produced by the biotechnology
industry, Mr. Cross has quite correctly observed that the market has
spoken. If the environmental groups question the pricing of that
technology, it is useful to observe that in another 10 years all of the
basic patents will have expired and the public will be free to use the
genes without paying anyone. The genes will have passed into our
collective social capital. The value will keep accumulating indefinitely.
Indeed for most of the worlds population that lives outside the US and
Europe the genes are not patented now and members of those societies are
free to use the genes, if they do not wish to rely on the stewardship of
the large corporate owners.
The environmental left has a deep distrust of valuations determined by
free markets, but the world's experience with socialism in the 20th
century conclusively demonstrates that it is the best valuation tool that
we have. Of course the free market has to be regulated when it comes to
environmental issues, but those environmental issues are best handled
through democracy not through a Platonic environmental dictatorship, no
matter how enlightened it might seem in its own rhetoric. I award a point
to the opposition for having the better approach to technology valuation.
In summary, that gives Dr. Sharma 1.5 points in comparison to 4 points for
the opposition, plus a point to Mr. Rao for being a good referee.
In a note of fairness, I should perhaps have disqualified myself as a
judge in this case because I am a former Monsanto employee. I find that
AgBioView provides a great deal of very useful information relevant to the
value of biotechnology to the farmers that use it and to society at large.
In fairness to the opponents of agricultural technology we sometimes
allow ourselves to be distracted by technology that works, from the hard
fact that no technology will keep the world a livable place if
individuals, families, corporations, NGOs and governments do not
successfully plan for FUTURE problems.
From the left we need an admission that corporate greed, although it calls
for eternal vigilance, is largely problem of the PAST. The modern world
knows how to effectively regulate corporations. The great damage that is
being done by the biotechnology debate is that it is distracting the
environmental and NGO communities from issues that are of more importance:
global water shortage, peace and good governance in Africa, democracy in
the middle east, poverty in the places in South Asia and Africa where
millions go hungry, etc.
Sincerely, - Paul Christensen, DeKalb, IL 60115, USA
Great insight from Kaplinsky
- From Alex Avery
Great piece on nanotechnology on SpikedOnline, from Joe Kaplinsky. He
"The real lesson to be learned from the GM debate is that the demand for
public 'involvement' is the most dangerous element. None of the supposed
problems raised in the biotech debate were either substantial or specific
to biotechnology. Rather, they expressed more a disenchantment with modern
life. But instead of recognising and dealing with these wider concerns,
too many supporters of innovation took the criticisms seriously as
"As a consequence, scientists are distracted into researching and debating
mythical risks, and there is an elevation of the absurd concerns of green
campaigners who present themselves as speaking on behalf of the public.
Instead of phoney public involvement in the fears about new technologies,
we need a serious debate about how best to take science forward"
Full story at http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/00000006DD87.htm
Final Cross - Crotty Debate!
- John W. Cross
Dear Mr. Crotty: Your latest response, much more responsible and
objective, is a great improvement. Now we can focus on the philosophical
differences between us. Let's go through your message.
>>Dear Mr Cross, >I feel like I have known you forever.
>>My initial point was that AgBioView failed to engage Mr Sharma with a
measured and worthy response.
Response: Professor Prakash does not edit a newsletter. Rather, AgBioView
is a forum for the contributions from many individuals with differing
individual viewpoints. In my own comments, I addressed specific errors and
outrageous opinions in Dr. Sharma's statement. Please re-read my comments.
>> I am a farmer. Through my business PortiaSun, I also work with farmers
>and producers around the World ? in both so-called developed and
>so-called developing nations. Because of this I see first hand the
>situations that affect many of them, their cultures, communities,
>environments and futures.
Response: Does this endow your positions with infallibility I am a cell
biologist / biochemist by training. I spent the early part of my career
doing research in plant biotechnology. The reason I went into
agricultural research was to help the world food situation. My background
doesn't make me holy or guarantee the correctness of my arguments, either.
>> Though I use, I do not rely on statistics to back my arguments. We
>could quote disagreeing figures back and forth to each other forever ? I
>see no point to this, as it achieves nothing.
Response: I didn't use any statistics to make any of my points, so your
comment is moot. Contrary to your opinion, statistics can lead to very
useful conclusions when responsibly applied. Statistical methods have been
very useful to the progress of modern agricultural research. For example,
that is how we can valid comparisons of the yields of different cultivars
over varying environments.
>> You see Science, its application and in the case of GM, the resulting
>technologies, as separate issues. I do not. It is the overall results ?
>regardless of the intentions or ideologies that count for me. The
>application of GM technology is at present not aimed at the common good
>of all humanity. Your ideological appreciation of GM technology may be
>one thing ? but to ignore the reality of the effects of its current
>application is naive.
Response: This is full of unjustified assumptions and conclusions I don't
share. To engage in reasoned debate on each of these assumptions may not
be possible. Basically, I would maintain the opposite: The application
of GM technology is aimed at the common good. To ignore the reality of
the benefits of its current application to agriculture is disingenuous.
Most scientists think that the social effects of gene-splicing technology
are determined by social, regulatory, political and business factors
downstream of the basic technology, not just by the technology itself.
You write that it's overall results that are important, so why are you so
fixated on the remote means (the technology) to obtain those ends? GM
technology, like any other technology, can be used for good, for ill, or
not used at all. We human beings have choices.
By your logic and a simple paraphrase, I could first postulate that
"Organic agriculture is not aimed at the common good of all humanity." and
from that argue that each "Organic" farm is bad. In fact I don't think
individual "Organic" farms are bad, but if "Organic" agriculture were
uniformly adopted on a world-wide basis, a great many people would go
hungry, and a great deal of wilderness would need to be plowed up and
wetlands drained. Thus "Organic" agriculture practiced on a wide scale
would be an environmental disaster.
>>Agriculture is not just a practice. It is a philosophy that often forms
the basis of generations, their communities and cultures.
Response: This may be your romantic philosophy, and it may make sense to
think of certain aspects of farming in this way, but this philosophy does
nothing to inform genetics and crop breeding. Farmers around the world in
a variety of different cultures and communities plant GM seeds. The seeds
grow the same no matter the cultural or social context of the community in
which the farm is situated. Only the physical environment matters to the
seed. The specific agricultural techniques of the farmer (no till,
agrochemical usage, harvesting technologies) can and do inform crop
breeders, but that's not what you meant.
>> I have mentioned the concepts of social, environmental and cultural
>capital. In your response you proclaimed your bewilderment as to what
>these concepts might suggest. It strikes me as amazing that an educated
>man such as you has not heard of, or understands the importance of such
>concepts to global development issues. They form the very heart of the
>policy developments currently happening in the to-be enlarged Europe and
>for many nations entering development initiatives.
Response: No, I didn't proclaim "bewilderment" (your excessively
inflammatory word) about those things. I just asked you what they meant in
the context of your earlier (unclear) paragraph:
"...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 will gladly debate the value of GM crops, but I can't debate global
development with you. I hope you are for it. Many "Organic" interests in
Europe appear to very much against the interests of the developing world
by denying farmers in those areas access to the more productive seed
provided by modern genetics.
>> The issue and controversy, something you seem unable to fathom, of GM
>technology stems from that fact that its effects via its current
>application affect on vastly differing levels a diverse and complex
>World. You cannot break the issue up into easily analysed segments and
>its effects cannot be accounted for in simple economic terms only. Unlike
>other sciences it also concerns manipulating the very fabric of life.
>Couple these concerns together and I think you have a very strong
>argument for deeper, prolonged and extensive analysis of the application
>of this Science.
Response: You keep insisting that I don't understand various issues. Why
can't you just accept the idea that I do understand, but disagree with
many of your assertions. Your ideas are not self-evident. Worse, you try
to paint ideas with which you disagree with broad brushstrokes of
condemnation. The above argument is diffuse and philosophically-based.
And, yes, you can break issues and problems up into understandable and,
hopefully, soluble pieces. That is how progress is made. No one succeeds
in science, business, law or any other endeavor by tackling huge problems
as a whole. That is one of the big lessons of the last 500 years of
I also reject the romantic vitalism implied by you statement. Modern
genetics does not differ in its intentions from the crop breeding efforts
of thousand of years of human activity.Consider the MesoAmerican farmers
who created maize from Teosinte, the Asian farmers who hybridized three
species of wild grasses to make bread wheat, and the dog breeders who gave
us Pekinese, Chihuahuas and Great Danes. Nowadays, our genetic techniques
are more sophisticated so we can do things that were not possible before,
or do similarly amazing things in less time.
>>When I talked of ?test-tube philosophy? I was referring to the confined
and isolated scope of thought expressed in the response made to Mr Sharma.
You must accept that GM technology, and Science, has a broad
responsibility to all of humanity. Therefore a broad and encompassing line
of thought should be employed when discussing its application.
Response: My criticisms of Sharma were very specific to the most
egregious errors and rhetorical excesses. It was narrow only in the sense
that I took aim at specific targets, not his philosophy as a whole. To
criticize his philosophy as a whole (or yours for that matter) in a
responsible way would require a book-length response. If you want to
understand the bases for our differences, I suggest that you might want to
read "Higher Superstition" by Gross and Levitt (1994).
Mr. Crotty, you have a philosophy based on classical romanticism, and you
push it to unsustainable conclusions. You criticize and condemn others,
but you evade criticism by couching your message in overly broad, diffuse
and sweeping statements. You are in one respect right, technology and
science do have responsibilities to society, but in the case of
agriculture, since we all must eat, society also has a responsibility to
promote the advancement of agricultural technology and science.
>>I think it best if this debate finishes.
Response: No, this debate is a major one in our lifetime. I expect that,
with or without you, it will continue for many years.
John W. Cross, Ph.D.
Reference: Gross, P.R. & Levitt, N. (1994). Higher Superstition: The
Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
US has Decided to Challenge EU's policy on GM Foods in WTO
- Dow Jones, 9 May 2003
Washington (AFX) - The United States has decided to challenge the
European Union's de facto moratorium on genetically modified foods in the
World Trade Organization, senior administration sources said. "We've been
pushed against a wall here," a senior administration official told AFX
News on condition of anonymity, adding that a case is expected to be filed
by "mid-June" at the latest. And it could come sooner. In fact, "sooner is
probably more likely," the official said. Officials are still debating the
timing of filing the legal papers. At issue is whether to file the case
before or after the upcoming G8 summit in Evian, France.
Bush is set to travel to the southern French coast early next month for
the annual gathering of the heads of state of the Canada, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US. Richard Mills, spokesman for US
Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, whose office would lodge the
complaint for the US, declined to comment on the decision to go ahead with
the case, saying simply "the EU's moratorium is illegal under WTO rules
and needs to be lifted." A group of EU countries including France has
placed a moratorium on approving GMO imports, effectively halting the
trade. The US contends that the ban, applied since 1999, harms its exports
of maize, cotton and soya.
The US has been toying with the idea of filing a case against the EU for
several months, but delayed filing the case because of the war with Iraq,
officials have said. In January, Zoellick stunned reporters when he
announced that he "personally" held "the view that we now need to bring a
case" in the WTO even though there was not an official government
consensus on the matter. Zoellick at that time was careful to note that a
cabinet level meeting hosted by the National Security Council still needed
to take place before a decision could be made.
A formal meeting including the heads of the Agriculture, Commerce and
State Departments is no longer necessary, an official said.
"There's been inter-agency consultation at that level but without a formal
meeting," the official said, "the consensus is there." Senate Finance
Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, who has been a vocal proponent for
filing a case, separately summoned a group of senior administration
officials to his Capitol Hill office this week to press for filing a case.
"I called this meeting because I was tired of getting an inadequate
response from administration officials," Grassley, an Iowa Republican,
said in a written statement after the Tuesday meeting in his office.
"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," Grassley added.
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has said in recent months that if the US
did file a case, the EU would win. "We would win a case like this," Lamy
told reporters in Washington in March after meetings with US lawmakers and
administration officials, including Zoellick.
And EU officials have suggested that there would be a consumer backlash
against American goods resulting in boycotts of American food products if
the US filed a case at the WTO. The spat comes on the heels of strained
US-EU relations over the war in Iraq and a separate trade dispute over tax
breaks that benefit US exporters such as Boeing Co and Microsoft Corp.
Earlier this week, the EU was authorized by the WTO to levy up to 4 bln
usd in sanctions against the US for tax breaks given to US exporters that
have been found to be illegal under the rules of the Geneva-based trade
The EU has given the US until autumn to change its tax laws or face the
sanctions that would be imposed beginning January 1, 2004. Asked if the
US-EU relationship would be harmed if the fines were levied, White House
spokesman Ari Fleischer said trade disputes are a natural part of the
relationship. "Clearly, trade is always one of those many issues that
allies are going to differ about and remain the best of allies. That's the
nature of trade,"
Fleischer said Wednesday. "So it's part and parcel of a relationship that
is as robust as it is that we're going to have inevitable trade disputes.
And that's why the WTO has set up the mechanisms it has," Fleischer added.
Grassley Sets Deadline for Administration Decision on EU Biotech Case
May 9, 2003
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced this
week he has given the White House what he called an ultimatum, demanding
that the Administration set within the next two weeks a "date certain" for
filing a World Trade Organization challenge against the European Union's
moratorium on approvals of biotechnology. But he already predicted he did
not think the Bush Administration will have made a "final decision" on
such a case in two weeks.
Grassley said if the Administration cannot give him "good news" in two
weeks, he will begin a public campaign from the Senate floor to demand
White House action. This would include rallying support from other
senators, he said in a May 6 interview with Iowa farm broadcasters.
The Administration has repeatedly signaled that it is likely to file a
complaint, but it has been unwilling to set a date by which it will take
that action, or to explain what factors will determine the timing. After a
May 8 meeting with "about a dozen" senior staff members of the U.S. Trade
Representative's office, the Department of Commerce, the State Department
and the National Security Council, Grassley said the Administration
appears to share his concerns over the EU biotechnology moratorium. The
Administration is trying to generate more support from other countries
before filing a WTO complaint and is trying to tie up "loose ends," he
"At least one of the loose ends would be checking with other countries
that would be supportive -- or to be supportive -- of the Unites States so
it's not seen as just the U.S. versus Europe," Grassley said. He said that
he left the meeting with "some comfort about what they are going to do,
not exactly when ... I get a feeling that they are moving very, very
swiftly," though not fast enough to produce a final answer in two weeks.
Grassley would not name the staff members who attended the meeting, except
to say that they included Allen Johnson, USTR's chief agricultural
He admitted that there is little he can do to force the Administration's
hand in the short term, because it would take too long to try to pass
legislation or even a resolution in the Senate demanding the
Administration bring a WTO complaint. In a statement issued after his
meeting, he said he expected a "progress report" on the issue from the
Administration in two weeks.
Grassley said he remains optimistic that the Administration will move
forward with a WTO complaint and that he will not have to make the case on
the Senate floor. "I am not anticipating -- because of our meeting -- that
I have to do that," Grassley said. In a related development, Finance
Committee Ranking Member Max Baucus (D-MT) also called on U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick to launch such a case immediately. With the
Doha negotiations stalled over agriculture, Europe needs to recognize that
market liberalization is not a one-way street, Baucus said in a May 7
letter to Zoellick.
Grassley said he is "very negative" about the possibly of reaching an
agreement on agriculture at the WTO ministerial in Cancun in September.
Zoellick has expressed the hope that EU member states would approve a
reform package for the Common Agriculture Policy, which would give the
Commission more flexibility in the negotiations. But Grassley said, "I am
pessimistic," about negotiators making agriculture progress in Cancun.
Text: Baucus Letter On Biotech Case: May 7, 2003
Ambassador Robert Zoellick
U.S. Trade Representative, 600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20508
Dear Ambassador Zoellick,
On March 5, during your appearance before the Senate Committee on Finance,
we discussed the urgent need to initiate litigation against the European
Union for their refusal to meet their obligations on the importation of
genetically modified agriculture products. Several other members of the
Committee, most notably Chairman Charles Grassley, also pressed the
Administration to bring a case. Your response was that the Administration
was working to build a coalition on this issue, and that a case would be
It has now been more than two months since this discussion and no action
has been taken.
While I appreciate the importance of coalition-building, it is sometimes
necessary, in the interests of principle, to proceed alone. With
negotiations in Doha moving at a very slow pace, largely due to European
intransigence on agriculture, the time to force the European hand is
overdue. They cannot expect market liberalization to be a one-way street.
I strongly urge you to initiate a challenge against the EU and to do so
- Sincerely, Max Baucus
Our Food Supply Depends on Genetic Enhancement
- Ottawa Citizen, May 9, 2003
Re: What's that in my food? April 28.
Labeling genetically enhanced foods is not good science. Genetic
alteration of food products has been part of the human experience for
thousands of years. The current scaremongering over genetic enhancement,
expressed by authors Julian Edwards and Jo Dufay, sounds like the old
fears about the "dangers" of fluoridating water.
Today's food-crop varieties and livestock breeds are the result of
thousands of years of careful artificial selection of genetic variants
prized for their increased yield, hardiness, enhanced flavour, and
nutritional value. Modern livestock bear little resemblance to anything
capable of surviving in the wild. This genetic alteration has always taken
place. New technologies simply allow us to quicken the pace of
Gamma radiation has been used for decades to perform interspecies genetic
recombination, with the green revolution's "miracle rice" averting
widespread famine in Asia, and Canada's own "winter wheat" making farms
Why shouldn't radiation hybrids be considered gene-altered and subject to
labeling? Nearly all food items have been subjected to some sort of
genetic alteration. Even so-called "organic" foods have had their genomes
altered from the wild type. An arbitrary labeling system would only
The current "precautionary approach" taken by European governments to
restrict imports of genetically enhanced foods has nothing to do with
public health and everything to do with limiting foreign competition.
European rejection of North American hormone-treated beef is particularly
ironic since European beef is itself heavily hormone-laden with anabolic
steroids and other "prescription drugs" to increase growth.
Chemically treating foods is not the same as genetically enhancing them.
In fact, genetic enhancement can reduce or eliminate the need to add
potentially harmful chemicals to crops, while still producing products
that are more resistant to disease and drought, take longer to spoil, and
It has taken half a century to relegate opposition to the fluoridation of
water to the fringes of political culture. In time, opposition to genetic
enhancement will face the same fate. We should treat new technologies as
innovations to be celebrated, not alterations to be feared
Cavan van Ulft, Nepean
A Call for Ideas for Grand Challenges in Global Health
- Harold Varmus, http://www.grandchallengesgh.org
Dear Friends and Colleagues: We are seeking ideas. Specifically, we seek
the help of the international health research community in identifying the
greatest scientific and technological challenges in global health?the
principal current challenges standing in the way of major progress. The
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $200 million to establish
the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative as a major new effort in
partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the
Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). Our aim is to
identify 10 to 15 critical scientific and/or technical challenges, which,
if solved, could lead to important advances against diseases and improve
health in the developing world.
This Call for Ideas is a call for your recommendations, and is the first
step in a novel two-phase approach. Between now and June 15, we are asking
health researchers around the world to submit their ideas on what they
consider to be the scientific Grand Challenges in Global Health at this
time. The Scientific Board that I chair will then review the submissions
and select the 10 to 15 most compelling challenges as official Grand
Challenges for the initiative. These Grand Challenges will be announced
this fall, and solicitations for research grant proposals to address them
Our Web site, http://www.grandchallengesgh.org, provides a working
definition of what we mean by "grand challenges," details on the Call for
Ideas, instructions for submitting recommendations, an electronic
submission form and a list of the Scientific Board members. Researchers
who do not have access to the Web may send an e-mail message to
firstname.lastname@example.org, specifying whether they can receive a PDF file
or want the information faxed to a specific number.
Submission of ideas through the Web site is preferred, but those unable to
use this form of submission may e-mail their responses to
email@example.com or fax them to 1-301-480-2752. Please
read the Call for Ideas material carefully and follow the recommended
format for submission.
We welcome your interest in this significant new initiative, and encourage
you to distribute this e-mail to other research colleagues around the
world who may have ideas to contribute.
Responses are due by June 15, 2003.
Sincerely, Harold E. Varmus, M.D., Chairman, Scientific Board, Grand
Challenges in Global Health
(Note from Prakash:
Dr. Varmus, a Nobel Laureate, was the Director of U.S. National Institutes
of Health; While the Gates Foundation is rightfully concerned about health
issues, we may have an opportunity here to make a case for agricultural
biotechnology as a potential tool to address hunger, poverty,
malnutrition as major health challenges. Food is the badly-needed
medicine for most poor people in this world. Malnutrition predisposes and
accentuates most ravaging diseases such as AIDS and Malaria. Thanks to Dr.
Bruce Chassy for forwarding this.)
Europe Sees Sharp Decline in GMO Research
- Peter Mitchell, London, UK, Nature Biotechnology, May 2003. Reprinted
with permission. www.nature.com
Field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in the European Union (EU)
have plummeted by 87% since 1998, according to a European Commission (EC)
investigation. The last European approval for GM crop planting was granted
in October 1998, and in 1999 the EU placed a formal moratorium on all new
marketing applications for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until a
new legal framework could be agreed on. As a result, requests to start
European field trials of GM crops have fallen from the 1998 peak of 254 to
only 61 in 2001 and an estimated 33 in 2002. By contrast, notifications of
GM trials in the US are running at between 900 and 1,100 a year.
Two-thirds of large agroscience companies have cancelled at least one GMO
research project during the same period, says the EC's Joint Research
Commission (JRC) in its review of the state of GMO research in Europe. Its
survey of private companies and research institutions working in the field
cited the unclear legal situation, low public acceptance of GM products,
and an uncertain market situation as the top three reasons for
The JRC report, "Review of GMOs under research and development and in the
pipeline in Europe," places the blame squarely on the 1999 moratorium,
combined with the general public rejection of GMOs. It says the two
factors have caused a "significant decrease" in the opportunity/cost ratio
for agricultural GMO development. Joyce Tait, director of Edinburgh
University's Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in
Genomics (Innogen), says the report merely reflects "rational behavior" by
the commercial sector. "Since the moratorium, companies have obviously
been holding off until the new regulatory regime came into play."
But even universities and public research institutes have pulled back from
the technology, with as many as a quarter of them dropping GMO R&D
projects, according to the report. These bodies tended to cite lack of
funding and uncertain scientific feasibility, suggesting that Europe's
current political antagonism towards GMOs has affected the allocation of
Simon Barber, plant biotechnology director at the trade association
EuropaBio, says the JRC's findings "clearly indicate that Europe is likely
to become an importer of plant biotechnology rather than a developer." He
called on EU governments to prevent the "withering" of European research
into plant biotechnology.
European research commissioner Philippe Busquin admits the report shows
GMO research has been "seriously undermined" in Europe. "The increasingly
skeptical climate is scaring European biotech companies and research
centers away," he warns. "If we do not reverse the trend now, we will be
unable to reap the benefits of the life science revolution and [we will]
become dependent on technologies developed elsewhere."
Moreover, the EC's own research funding program has itself been affected
by the general antagonism to GMOs, says Innogen's Joyce Tait. "It is very
difficult to see anything in the program to encourage research on the
science," she told Nature Biotechnology. "The politics of GM crops in
Europe is so highly contentious that the commission would have been
reluctant to put forward proposals that had to be passed by the European
So far only 14 GM crop varieties have been authorized for European sale,
while a total of 19 applications are currently awaiting a decision. But
Busquin indicated he expects a jump in the number applications for GM crop
marketing, following the coming into force last October of a new European
directive governing the controlled release of GMOs.
The JRC report forecasts that the coming generation of GM products will
focus on "output traits"-improved qualities that add consumer value-rather
than "input traits" such as herbicide resistance which merely make crops
cheaper to grow.
Currently, input traits represent 77% of the products in current EU field
trials. Only one application to field-trial an output trait crop-a potato
variety with modified starch content-has been filed. But the JRC survey
found that input and output traits are about equally represented in
laboratory research. It expects within the next five years applications
for soybean and oilseed rape with modified starch or fatty acid content,
flowering plants with modified color and form, and tomatoes with altered
About 11% of laboratory R&D projects in the EU are investigating
health-related output traits (so called 'molecular farming'). But these
varieties represent less than 1% of EU field trials, despite the hopes
placed by the industry in this form of biotechnology. By contrast the US
is very active in this field, according to the report. "Stacked"
traits-varieties containing more than one modified characteristic-are
still relatively unusual. The report estimates that they represent less
than 15% of field trials in the EU.
The report's worrying findings were reinforced by a new EC survey of
public opinion that confirmed the widespread lack of trust in plant
biotechnology. Most Europeans consider GM foods "of little value and
dangerous for society," the Eurobarometer survey found (see Table 1). Just
over half the population think that GM food is dangerous and,
surprisingly, the more people are educated, the more likely they are to
believe this. Only Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Finland have a majority
in favor of the technology. Above all, Europeans want to retain the right
to choose, with 95% demanding clear labeling of GM-derived foods,
according to the Eurobarometer research.
Paul Burrows, head of science strategy at the UK's Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council, said the bioscience research
community has been aware of the issue for some time. "Whilst acknowledging
skepticism about agricultural and food applications, it is encouraging to
see that there is clearly an overall level of support for biotechnology,"
But Joyce Tait is less optimistic. "We are beginning to see early-stage
research in Europe moving overseas and I expect that to continue," she
says. "And multinational companies will probably not keep their R&D
headquarters in Europe if they don't see a market here-especially if they
also see their staff facing public hostility over what they do for a
Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000
- R. E. Evenson and D. Gollin, Science, v.300, no.5620, May 2, 2003,
We summarize the findings of a recently completed study of the
productivity impacts of international crop genetic improvement research in
developing countries. Over the period 1960 to 2000, international
agricultural research centers, in collaboration with national research
programs, contributed to the development of "modern varieties" for many
crops. These varieties have contributed to large increases in crop
production. Productivity gains, however, have been uneven across crops and
regions. Consumers generally benefited from declines in food prices.
Farmers benefited only where cost reductions exceeded price reductions.
Summary: Evaluating International Research - The comprehensive picture
that emerges from the SPIA study supports a nuanced view of
internationally funded agricultural research. On the positive side, it is
clear that productivity growth associated with MVs had important
consequences. Increased food production has contributed to lower food
prices globally. Average caloric intake has risen as a result of lower
food prices--with corresponding gains in health and life expectancy.
Critics of further investment in research have noted that grain prices are
at or near historic lows, and they question the need for further
improvements in technology. They have also raised concerns about the
sustainability of intensive cultivation--e.g., the environmental
consequences of soil degradation, chemical pollution, aquifer depletion,
and soil salinity--and about differential socioeconomic impacts of new
technologies (18?21). These are valid criticisms. But it is unclear what
alternative scenario would have allowed developing countries to meet, with
lower environmental impact, the human needs posed by the massive
population expansion of the 20th century. Nor is it true that
chemicalintensive technologies were thrust upon the farmers of the
developing world. Both IARC and NARS breeding programs attempted to
develop MVs that were less dependent on purchased inputs, and considerable
effort has been devoted to research on farming systems, agronomic
practices, integrated pest management, and other "environment-friendly"
technologies. But ultimately it is farmers who choose which technologies
to adopt, and many farmers in developing countries--like those in
developed countries--have found it profitable to use MVs with high
responsiveness to chemical fertilizers.
The end result, as shown in Table 2, is that virtually all consumers in
the world have benefited from lower food prices. Many farm families also
benefited from research-driven productivity gains--most clearly those
whose productivity rose more than prices fell, but also those who produce
much of their own food. But some farmers and farm workers experienced real
losses from the Green Revolution. Those who did not receive the
productivity gains of the Green Revolution (largely because they were
located in less favorable agroecological zones), but who nonetheless
experienced price declines, have suffered actual losses of income. The
challenge for the coming decades is to find ways to reach these farmers
with improved technologies; for many, future green revolutions hold out
the best, and perhaps the only, hope for an escape from poverty.
Yet the prospects for continued green revolutions are mixed. On the one
hand, the research pipeline for the plant sciences is full. Basic science
has generated enormous advances in our understanding of plant growth and
morphology, stress tolerance, pathogen resistance, and many other fields
of science. This understanding should lead in due course to improvements
in agricultural technologies. But on the other hand, IARCs and NARS are
faced with numerous challenges to their survival. The budgets of many
IARCs, not to mention many of their national program counterparts, have
declined sharply in real terms over the past decade. The funding crunch
reflects a number of factors. Development agencies, faced with public
suspicions of new agricultural technologies, and perhaps eager to find
shortcuts to development, have tended to shift funding away from
agricultural research and toward other priorities. Moreover, life science
biotechnology firms have been eager to claim that private sector research
will take over the functions formerly occupied by public sector
But if the past offers guidance for the future, a strong public sector
role will continue to be needed. In most crops and most regions of the
developing world, private sector agricultural research is not likely to
generate large impacts on production or social welfare. Continued green
revolutions will depend on strong programs of national and international
public sector research. The welfare of farmers and farm workers not
reached by the Green Revolution ultimately depends on extending the Green
Revolution beyond present boundaries. The IARCs will have an important
role to play in generating and sustaining future advances in agricultural
technology for the developing world.
See full paper at
Rice Genome: A Recipe for Revolution?
- D. Cyranoski, Nature, April 24, 2003; v.422, p796 - 798. www.nature.com
Sequencing the DNA of the world's leading food crop was the easy part. Now
comes the tricky task of turning our new knowledge of the rice genome into
agricultural and economic gains. David Cyranoski reports.
Full steam ahead: will rice breeders use genomic knowledge to generate new
varieties for field tests?
Last year was a good one for rice genomics. Draft genome sequences of the
two agriculturally important subspecies of rice, called indica and
japonica, were published in April1, 2. And in November, the International
Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) unveiled high-quality sequences of
two of japonica's 12 chromosomes3, 4.
In the wake of these achievements, expectations are high. "Rice DNA
finding will transform how the world is fed," is how one British newspaper
reported the publication of the two draft sequences. But what do we really
know about the rice genome, and its potential agricultural benefits? Not
much, admits Takuji Sasaki of the National Institute of Agrobiological
Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan, who heads the IRGSP. "We are at the starting
line for rice genomics, both basic and applied," he says.
From the standpoint of Sasaki and his IRGSP colleagues, the first stage of
this race will involve identifying each rice gene and assigning functions
to them. But whereas the sequencing was conducted as an entirely open,
team effort, economic considerations may mean that rice functional
genomics will become a rather less collaborative venture. Some governments
that are investing in the field want to ensure that their own nationals
have privileged access to any tools that they develop, and
intellectual-property issues complicate the picture still further.
There is no clear finishing line, but the worth of the rice genome will
eventually be judged in terms of economic and agronomic gains. This means
that different researchers may end up running in different directions.
Rich countries such as Japan, for instance, are interested in improving
such traits as the taste and texture of the grain. In contrast, plant
breeders at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) near Manila
in the Philippines want to produce higher-yielding or nutritionally
superior varieties that will be able to tolerate harsh environmental
conditions, in order to improve the lot of impoverished farmers in the
Two cultures: What's more, achieving these divergent goals will require
genome researchers to begin a meaningful dialogue with breeders in the
field. Currently, the different scientific cultures and approaches of the
two groups present a formidable obstacle. "These two communities have to
get together, but it's like there's a bridge missing," Susan McCouch, who
works on molecular approaches to plant breeding at Cornell University in
Ithaca, New York, told the International Rice Genome Meeting 2003, held in
Tsukuba in February. All in all, it seems that researchers in different
camps need to figure out what they want from the rice genome, and how best
to get it.
At least the genome researchers are clear on their first move: to work out
the functions of all of the rice genes -- a total estimated at around
60,000 by gene-hunting computer programs. About half of these genes have
been assigned vague functions on the basis of their sequences --
researchers might surmise, for instance, that a gene encodes a member of a
particular class of enzymes. But much work remains to be done. "The
categories are almost meaningless," says Hirohiko Hirochika of Japan's
National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences. So far, only about 100 rice
genes have been ascribed a precise, verified function.
Mass catering: To meet these diverse needs, IRRI may have to take a step
back from trying to deliver finished products, and instead serve up
functional-genomics tools, alleles and markers that can be used by local
breeders to address their various needs. "We have to supply information,"
Another problem is that, with investment in rice genomics being dominated
by Japan and other developed countries, many of the functional-genomic
tools now being developed are optimized for their favoured japonica
subspecies. Inevitably, this will restrict progress in analysing the
genome of indica, the staple that feeds most of the rice-eating world.
In affluent Japan, the basic agronomic traits that are of primary concern
to breeders in developing countries are often of secondary importance to
the question of eating quality. Recently, for example, breeders in the
Fukui region came up with a set of markers for the gene that gives the
desired 'stickiness' to the popular koshihikari variety of japonica, in
the hope that these will help in breeding the trait into other varieties.
In a separate endeavour, a company called Plant Genome Center in Tsukuba
has developed a set of markers to help to unmask producers who are
attempting to pass inferior varieties off as koshihikari.
Despite the complexities involved, enthusiasts for rice genomics remain
confident that the investment in the rice genome will eventually yield a
valuable harvest. But those who were led by some of last year's headlines
to expect an imminent agricultural revolution will have to learn to be
- BioNetWork (Australia), SDA Biotech; firstname.lastname@example.org,
'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' ?
As the genetic engineering debate becomes increasingly polarised, leading
scientific and religious figures have spoken out against the social
conservatism colouring the debate. The peaceful co-existence of the two is
now not the radical concept it once was.
Genomics pioneer, Dr Francis Collins called for a more balanced
consideration of the argument at the 2003 Noble lecture series. He said
the values of science and religion were not incompatible and both groups
needed to become better informed of the other's arguments. 'To slow or
stop the research may be the most unethical stance of all,' said Dr
Collins, Director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute. In
an interview in 2001, Dr Collins lamented the mindset of society pitting
scientist against believer. 'There is no rational basis for that
polarisation?science is our most powerful tool for studying the natural
world, but science doesn't necessarily help us so much in trying to
understand God; that's where faith comes in.'
Despite some of his ethical concerns with prenatal testing, Dr Collins is
adamant the benefits of genetic research are aligned with the fundamental
principles of many religions. 'Projects to develop gene therapy and
gene-based drug therapy are highly moral, ethical activities that we
should all support. Gene therapy?fits in with the tradition of alleviating
human suffering that has been a primary tenet of all religions,
particularly Christianity.' Theologian Rev Theodore Peters agrees with the
proposition that science and religion can co-exist.
'I don't think God had intended that some kids are going to get stuck with
a gene for cystic fibrosis, and somehow it's immoral for us to go in there
and try to select it out,' said Rev Peters, Pacific Lutheran Theological
Seminary, US. Bruce Logan, Director of the Maxim Institute, a social
policy and research organisation in New Zealand, has investigated such
suspicion of science.
Mr Logan contends such issues can become single-issue religions for their
devotees. 'That is why conservationists can destroy private property in
pursuit of their aims or even harm people in the fight for animal rights,'
wrote Mr Logan. While the limits and inherent risks of science must be
considered, to ignore the benefits of genetic research would be to ignore
the potential for genetic research to cure illness and disease.
Sources: Christine Delucia, The Harvard Crimson, 6 February 2003.
Off the Shelf ? GM Issues Exposed
- BioNetWork, SDA Biotech, a life science communication advisory firm;
Genetically Modified foods are likely to be one of the most challenging
issues facing society in the 21st Century. As the industry engages in the
issue ? how will the sector ensure its legitimacy as well as long-term
community acceptance and support?
'Keep the public informed' is the oft-heard rationale for GM technology.
Yet, perhaps the cry should be for information to be placed into context
and to provide answers to questions posed. Is there a clear understanding
amongst the agricultural sector of what stakeholders want?
Markets are now addressing 'consumer choice' by providing labelled
products. With market choice also comes the need for the community to
feel confident that market regulation is occurring, guarding their right
to choose or avoid certain produce, and to make decisions regarding their
health and safety.
There are also further issues, which are less publicly known. The details
of intellectual property rights, information on ingredients used for
export markets, cost recovery, regulatory transparency and rulings, retail
access and networks, mistrust of multinational corporations, and the fear
of contamination of neighbouring crops and organically certified produce.
Gaining legitimacy for the sector: Legitimacy ? refers to a company/sector
being acceptable, genuine, appropriate and in line with established
standards. The benefits and potential outcomes from agri-biotech are
obviously a 'legitimate' cause, but in assessing the broader picture, the
sector is making new boundaries and crossing barriers of faiths and
It means that the sector must ensure that it is viewed as legitimate and
valuable. Without legitimacy, there can be no credibility, which leads to
a poor reputation and lack of community support. To help legitimise the
sector, there needs to be differentiation. Without separating the various
aspects of the agri-biotech field, the danger exists for all companies to
be pulled under the one umbrella. This can result in the mistakes of one
company, affecting the sector across the board because of the lack of
distinction between their models and outputs.
Differentiation is slowly occurring in biotechnology through a growth in
the understanding of the different types of companies involved. However,
the agricultural area still faces one of the biggest challenges, as
differentiation is occurring at a much slower rate. Change will come
through building the use of terms to describe companies away from
'biotech' and 'GM' ? whilst also providing evidence of clear benefits and
support to legitimise activities.
Shifting messages: A recent international study revealed 60% of Italians
don't believe GM should be used to fight world hunger because of the
risks. Only 1 in 10 said they would buy GM foods even if it costs less.
Recent surveys by Biotechnology Australia, show that the public
perceptions of GM foods are actually different to those perceived by the
Community members want to feel informed ? they are interested in
information on technology regulation, to be consulted, to have consumer
choice and to understand the benefits. Responding to these areas leads to
a higher acceptance of new technology products. While there is still a lot
of uncertainty in the market, it is an important time for pro-active
communication to address these issues of public concern. Ideally, there
needs to be a distinction between the technology of genetic engineering
and what the research stands for.
Most people are not against its use in some areas of human health, they
may not even be against the technology for other applications. It is the
association with farmer's rights, food safety and 'greedy' multinational
companies that is seeing public opinion sway further from acceptance.
Acceptance will not come with detailed explanations of the science and
technology, nor will it be through showing tables and figures of reduced
pesticide use. The belief and ultimately choice is personal and ethical.
Call for pro-active support: Support is built from a person's feeling of
being informed and able to make a clear decision on the regulatory and
safety aspects of this technology.
The most rigorous transparency and development of a credible reputation by
the industry will be vital in addressing the needs of the target markets.
Labelling the 'uninformed public' as the obstacle is missing the point ?
the public are industry members, export markets, families, friends,
advocates and lobbying extremists. It is also a powerful medium and
shouldn't be ignored, or side-lined.
How do we move forward from here? There is a need to develop explanations
across the sectors and the food chain. The transparency between food
manufacturers, retailers and consumers is paramount. There also needs to
be the assurance of industry advocates and correct information delivery,
government lobbying, and farmer updates. It is informed debate (reliable
information), regulatory development, and pro-actively keeping media
informed that will ultimately assist in the uptake of this technology.
Five key principles are critical to the success of the GM revolution ?
transparency, freedom of choice, monitoring and review and case by case
There are also benefits in conducting issues management reviews to ensure
that risk communication strategies are in place for both businesses and
Estimates reveal that the world market for genetically modified crops will
be $8 billion within three years and $25 billion by 2010. But the