Today in AgBioView: May 16, 2003
* European Union's Own Scientists Found New Crops Safe
* A Grand Deal for the Trade Dispute
* Focus on the Future of Agriculture
* Growth in the Balance
* Re: US Pushing for Radical Changes in Ag on Rest of the World?
* Resistance to Bt
* Turning Words into Actions: Expanding Free Trade to the Middle East
* Straining the Partnership
* Philippines: The Heightening Battle Over Bt corn
* No Moratorium on Philippine Bt Corn
* Double-duty Gene: From Vitamin A Rich Oil to High-tech Lab Tool
* Golden Rice: What Role Could It Play In Alleviation of Vitamin A
European Union's Own Scientists Found New Crops Safe
- Alan McHughen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 16, 2003
Why is the United States taking the European Union to the World Trade
Organization court because of its longstanding moratorium against
genetically modified crops?
Are we simply bullying European consumers by forcing unwanted food down
their throats as some suggest? Hardly. The United States, Canada,
Argentina, Egypt and nearly a dozen other countries are merely reminding
the EU to live up to the contractual provisions it agreed to years ago.
Modern trade agreements such as those administered by the WTO attempt to
ensure more equitable, better-balanced trade. The contract governing this
international trade contains a provision requiring a country to provide
scientific evidence to back up an assertion that a product is unsafe.
The United States and allied nations are now taking the EU to the WTO
court because, several years ago, the EU refused to accept food
commodities developed using modern biotechnology. The stated justification
was that the biotech foods "might be" unsafe. The United States, pointing
to the contract signed by the EU, is saying, "Fine, if you think the foods
are unsafe, show sus the evidence."
The EU delayed its reply and commissioned a series of studies to generate
the grounds for refusing the foods. The resulting analysis was culled from
81 different scientific studies conducted by more than 400 mainly public
scientific researchers in the EU at a cost of $65 million.
The result? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. The EU's own public scientists were
unable to provide any scientific or medical evidence to justify the ban on
As a result, EU scientists and professional groups, including France's
National Academy of Medicine and Britain's Royal Society, now are stating
publicly that the hazards of biotech foods are no different from those of
This is the same conclusion reached by a host of other international
scientific and medical groups, including the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences and the American Medical Association. The evidence has convinced
some, but unfortunately not all, of the European bureaucrats advising the
While David Byrne, the European Union's own health and consumer protection
commissioner, recently conceded that genetically modified food was as safe
as conventional food, EU trade representative Pascal Lamy has dug in his
heels and vowed to fight for the ban.
If Lamy is so certain, the EU has a duty to bolster his arguments b
providing evidence of hazard in order to sustain the ban. Americans, after
all, have been consuming genetically modified food products --without harm
-- for more than a decade.
The United States and its allies are not forcing unwanted food down the
unwilling throats of European consumers. Allowing a commodity into market
does not compel consumers to buy, but rather provides them with the
opportunity to choose.
Organic foods, which prohibit biotech ingredients, are widely available in
Europe to provide for those consumers wishing to avoid biotech foods.
Opening the market to American biotech commodities does not threaten the
organic market, but secures it as the non-biotech alternative. EU
consumers currently are denied the precious freedom to choose that
Americans, Canadians and million of others routinely enjoy.
American farmers are losing $300 million a year in potential exports due
to the unjustified ban. A Europe open to trade in biotech foods is a
win-win situation on both sides of the Atlantic.
American farmers can resume providing Europe with high quality, nutritious
food. European consumers will enjoy greater choice and selection in the
grocery. And the European Union members will regain international respect
for honoring their treaty commitments.
Alan McHughen is a biotech specialist at the University of California,
Riverside (ww.ucr.edu) and the author of "Pandora's Picnic Basket: The
Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods." E-mail:
A Grand Deal for the Trade Dispute
- Paul Magnusson, Businessweek, May 16, 2003 businessweek.com
Relations between the U.S. and Europe could improve overnight with a
little finesse and a lot of compromise on both sides. Here's how
Congressional Republicans are scrambling to find a way to pay for
President George W. Bush's tax-cut package. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe
are on the brink of a trade war. And diplomatic cooperation across the
Atlantic, so necessary for economic revival, has been moribund since
France and Germany split with the U.S. over the Iraq war.
So what do all these things mean to a corn and soybean farmer from Cedar
Falls, Iowa? Plenty, if the farmer's name is Charles Grassley, U.S.
Senator. The Hawkeye State Republican chairs the Senate Finance Committee,
which writes tax legislation and oversees trade policy. And right now,
he's at center stage in a trifecta of tax and trade disputes. Grassley is
on the hunt for business-tax loopholes that can be closed so that Congress
can offset the cost of a broader corporate dividend tax cut. It was
Grassley who pushed the Administration to sue the European Union on May 13
in an effort to overturn its ban on imports of genetically modified crops
-- many produced by Grassley's constituents. Plus, the senator's committee
faces a yearend deadline to end a $5 billion-a-year tax subsidy for U.S.
exporters or get hit with severe trade retaliation from Europe.
FACE THE FACTS. Grassley is staring at a plateful of challenges. But with
a little finesse and plenty of compromise, he can find a way out of this
tax and trade morass. The elements are in place for a grand deal that
could put each of these problems to rest.
The first element: U.S. exporters need to face facts. The World Trade
Organization has ruled that a 30-year-old U.S. export subsidy, known as
the Foreign Sales Corporation, is illegal because profits from exports are
taxed at a 15% lower rate than taxes on domestic profits. The FSC must be
ended unless the U.S. is willing to pay the penalty -- $4 billion a year
in higher tariffs on U.S. exports.
Europe won its case against the subsidy in the WTO back in 2000.
Washington has run out its appeals. On May 7, the WTO authorized Europe to
place 100% retaliatory tariffs against $4 billion-a-year worth of U.S.
exports -- many of them farm goods, including corn and soybeans. Yet, some
of America's biggest exporters still balk. Boeing (BA ), FSC's biggest
beneficiary, saved more than $1 billion in income taxes over the past five
BANANA COUNT. Given nearly three years to come up with an alternative,
business still can't agree on a way to comply with the ruling. That has
sapped their influence on Capitol Hill and given Congress little
alternative but to comply. Five years is a reasonable time to give U.S.
exporters to readjust -- it's the same period the U.S. gave Europeans to
phase out their illegal quota on banana imports.
So, Grassley should use the opportunity to push for a repeal of the export
tax dodge. Over 10 years, that would add $60 billion or so in revenues to
the Treasury -- a tidy sum that would go a long way to helping the
Senate's search for the revenues needed to offset lost revenues from the
President's tax cuts. And Grassley should dangle the prospect of lower
business-tax rates overall as an incentive to U.S. exporters to
compromise. Europe needs to do its part as well. The EU should hold off on
imposing the tariff penalty long enough to give Grassley and Congress time
to revoke the FSC tax break. Like a hangman's noose, the threat of $4
billion in annual tariffs on U.S. exports should focus Congress' mind.
RETURN OF FRANKENFOOD. Compromise always works both ways. Just as it will
be difficult for U.S. politicians to end the export subsidy in the face of
pressure from corporate lobbyists and employees of the beneficiaries, EU
officials will find it tough to give in to U.S. demands to end the ban on
new imports of genetically modified food products.
No matter that top scientists from Europe, the U.S., and the developing
world agree that no evidence shows harm from GM crops. After all, people
in the U.S. and Europe have been eating older varieties of genetically
modified foods for years without ill effects. But the politically powerful
European farm community has played on consumer fears of "Frankenfood" to
win limits on such imports from rivals. That's why EU leaders, too, must
step up and take an unpopular move: In return for the U.S. resolution of
the FSC dispute, Europe should back down on its objection to GM foods. The
point: Strike one deal that solves all these problems at the same time.
THE RIGHT THING. So far, European politicians have shown no interest in
compromising. The EU denounced Washington's May 13 suit as "legally
unwarranted, economically unfounded, and politically unhelpful." The U.S.
isn't alone, however. Thirteen countries, including Egypt, Argentina, and
Mexico, have joined the suit to end the European ban on GM foods.
Grassley, who vows to keep the Administration on the case, is incensed
because American corn farmers are losing $300 million in sales a year to
Europe. But poor farmers in Honduras and South Africa are also getting
hit. They face a terrible choice: Give up the benefits of biotech --
higher yields, fewer pesticides, and drought resistance -- or plant
inferior crops to export to Europe.
Bucking big corporate interests or grassroots pressure is never easy for
any politician or policymaker. In the interests of easing trade tensions,
however, both Europe and the U.S. need to take a deep breath and do the
right thing. That would create winners all around -- consumers worldwide,
exporters, taxpayers, and farmers -- in striking a grand deal.
Focus on the Future of Agriculture
- Rachel Melcer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stltoday.com, May 16, 2003
The World Agricultural Forum's 2003 World Congress is not meant to be
about street protests, or trade disputes between the European Union and
the United States. It isn't here to push a particular agrochemical
company's products, or a certain country's goals, organizers said.
The Congress, being held Sunday through Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency St.
Louis at Union Station, is about deeper issues behind the controversy and
commercialization, said Leonard Guarraia, chairman and president of the
World Agricultural Forum. "These issues don't spring from the ground. They
aren't new," he said.
While today's headlines may focus on a particular point, the congress will
address age-old issues: Sharing scarce resources and new technologies,
while protecting property rights. Feeding the world's people without
damaging the earth. Making it possible for everyone to produce what they
need and sell what they can. Narrowing gaps between the haves and the
The congress is about academic discussion and heated debate of complex
problems, participants said. There won't be many sound bites - but there
may be opportunities for more than 350 participants from around the globe
and across the spectrum of ideologies to find common ground.
"It could lead to better understanding between the big players in these
issues, and a keener appreciation of how government and other public
policies might help to build a better and more productive agricultural
system," said Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a
world-renowned scientist and environmental advocate.
It should also raise the international profile of Raven's garden and other
regional plant-science assets. That was the intent of the St. Louis-based
World Agricultural Forum's founders six years ago, said Bruce Adaire, who
was among them. "It is important to the future of this city and this
region - to bring as much attention as we can to it, so it is on the
global map," he said.
The region wants to be known as the BioBelt, an epicenter of plant and
life-sciences activity. Its leaders are building on research at Washington
University and St. Louis University, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science
Center and in the labs of companies including Monsanto Co. And - with 54
percent of U.S. farm acres located within 500 concentric miles - much of
that work is tied to agriculture.
"We want the representatives of the countries that are coming - and many
of them are from the (developing world) whose economies are expanding - to
get a sense of the kind of collaboration that is available through
organizations such as ours," said Roger Beachy, president of the Plant
Science Center, which engages in basic research.
"We can help them with some of the questions and challenges that they
face. And we really need to listen to their concerns, to know if we're
working toward relevant solutions for them, or not," he said.
Growth in the Balance
- Alan Oxley, TCS, May 5, 2003 www.Techcentralstation.com/1051
Bob Zoellick, the US Special Trade Representative, has launched a
challenge under WTO rules against the EU ban on imports of GMOs. The ban
is a blatant breach of international trade rules. There is concern that a
challenge might widen the divide with France and Germany.
The GMO ban must be addressed in its own context. It is time to draw the
line in the sand. This is not yet another schism between America and
France and Germany. It is fight between those who want growth and those
who do not. This is a fight the Bush administration must take on and lead.
The schism over Iraq will heal in time, although the relationships between
Paris, Bonn and Washington may never be the same. It is simply part of the
process of Europe adjusting to a more powerful and more prosperous America
which has been going on for a century.
A more profound schism is slowly emerging. It doesn't divide Europe and
the US, it divides part of Europe from the rest of the world: it divides
those who want growth from those who do not. The wedge in this divide is
an issue and it is Green. It is over how to protect the environment. The
EU ban on GMOs is just a small part.
A wave of regulation is rolling across Europe. It is forcing producers to
collect and recycle packaging, cease use of heavy metals, reduce use of
chemicals, abate greenhouse gases, as well as avoid use of GMOs. Levels of
tolerance of toxicity for products are being set which are much higher
than in the US and other advanced economies. It is intensifying.
Every society has the right to improve its environment. But few societies
want to be Green at any cost. But this philosophy underpins new regulation
in the EU. Brussels has decreed that environmental regulation in future
will be based on the "Precautionary Principle". In Brussels, this means a
"no risk" philosophy. So GMOs can be banned, not because there is
scientific evidence they are harmful, but because an official somewhere
rules there is an unevaluated risk. Since the advent of technology we have
managed risk. "No risk" measures are anti-science, anti-technology and
European producers are increasingly being obliged to meet the cost of the
environmental impact for the whole life of products. It has started with
cars, electrical and electronic equipment. The European Commission plans
that everything produced and consumed in the EU will be regulated in this
way. This approach flattens growth and produces poor environmental
results. It is indirect regulation of the sources of pollution. Direct
regulation is always more effective.
Under this regime of control, a Green inspectorate will regulate the EU.
It will have wide regulatory discretion and will apply Green philosophies.
Here is the second rub. Green parties throughout Europe are
interventionist, anti-free market and anti-growth. The result is that
clear preference in the EU is regulation by command and control.
Why should this bother the Bush administration and the rest of the world?
Because not content to pursue environmental goals in Europe at any cost,
it is clear goal of European Green parties and now the EU to leverage
access to the markets of the EU with demands that countries trading into
the EU adopt EU environmental standards.
You want to export corn or canola to the EU? Only if it is produced
according to EU environmental standards. Brussels has already carried its
command and control objectives into the WTO. It is an institution which
promotes free markets, not controlled markets. WTO rules don't permit
controls on trade to protect health and safety of people, plants and
animals unless they can be scientifically justified. WTO rules let
consumers decide if they want GMO products or not. The Brussels
inspectorate does not want that. No wonder Green groups like Greenpeace
and the World Wide Fund for Nature are leading the anti-WTO campaign of
the anti-globalization movement and are using funds from the EU to do so.
Much greater interests than those of producers of GMO grain in North
America are at stake here. The pathways to prosperity for the world are on
the block. Developing countries can't erase poverty and lift living
standards without growth. If they are forced to adopt EU environmental
standards in order to trade into the EU, they will not have growth.
Expensive and sophisticated European environmental standards do not work
in the Third World.
The benefits of GMO technology are also denied. Varieties of rice that can
lift exponentially nutritional standards in the developing world are not
to be deployed if the EU has its way. Misinformation about GMOs,
cheerfully propagated by Greenpeace, lead the leaders of Zambia and
Zimbabwe last year to reject completely safe food aid because it had GMOs
while their people were starving from famine. It is little wonder that
Argentina and Egypt have joined the United States in the WTO challenge.
European Greens are not only opposed to economic growth, they are
disinterested in the welfare of people in the developing world. Under the
influence of Greens, the EU has carried this anti-humanitarian value into
the WTO. Its condition for launching the Doha Round was that environment
had to be on the table. It has now staked its position. Unless countries
can restrict imports if they are not produced and processed according to
EU environmental standards, the EU will not agree to further trade
liberalization. The first big losers will be the developing countries.
But so will the rest of the world, including business in Europe. Brussels
wants WTO sanction for the regulatory blanket with which it is suffocating
business in Europe and it wants the right to throw the same blanket over
its trading partners.
The challenge to EU trade restrictions on GMOs evens up the stakes for the
contest over trade and environment issues in the WTO. But there is a
bigger issue. It is maintaining an open system of global trade based on
clear rules and sound science because of the fundamental importance of it
to global economic growth. The challenge is in the interests of everybody,
including people and business in Europe, who believe that you can both
improve the environment and still have growth.
- John W. Cross
Dear Mr. Houseal: There are apparently some unstated assumptions behind
your message. It is true that the US Government has launched a push to
open European markets to genetically engineered produce, but I fail to see
how it generates the negative implications mentioned in your message. You
need to make a clearer case for the connection, which I doubt you can.
Contrary to your view, the availability of more productive seeds has a
very beneficial effect on farmers, increasing their net income. Mostly it
is European and other elites (Prince Charles, Greenpeace members etc.) who
want to prevent these benefits from reaching farmers. It is beyond me why
you object to improved nutrition reaching farm families.
I am sure Mr. Eric Urbani can continue his work, even do it better, if he
can provide the farmers with better seeds. What's the problem there?
Improved seeds are entirely harmonious to the goals stated in your
message, contrary to your claims. GM seeds have nothing to do with the
social problems that you describe. How could they?
The Bush administration may not care about such things, but many of us do.
Being a supporter of improved seeds for farmers does not automatically
make one an enemy of poor farmers.
Best wishes, John Cross
>>Why is US Pushing for Radical Changes in Agriculture on Rest of the
World? - Joseph Houseal
Response from Joseph Houseal:
Dear Mr Cross: You have said nothing but more money is good. You don't
know the first thing about Mr Urbani's methods, and your being sure about
making it better with such little information makes me doubt your critical
thinking, although it characterizes most US foreign policy: we know better
even with our profound cultural ignorance. You are probably a supporter of
the "imposing democracy" policy. If communities are wrestling with major
social problems and GM ag has nothing at all to do with it - as you say -
, that would render them utterly irrelevant.
Modern Organic methods used in what are essentially organic traditions are
relevant. More money is more money and some issues of value are not about
money. Just as modern science disavows all it cannot measure; modern
capitalism is incapable of placing anything but monetary value.
There is a kind of hopelessness amounting to wasted time when engaging the
corporate scientist lobby, and why I left working there to make positive
contributions away from the polarized dialogue of academe. I leave you
with your doubt about me and your sureness about Mr Urbani. There are
fewer things more tiresome than re--iterating the Prince Charles
/Greenpeace polarization so popular with your ilk. Characterizing their
work as tantamount to depriving people of nutrition is that kind of
argument that supports more liberal arts classes in graduate school.
There is no greater elite class than US-backed major corporations, and it
is they who are behind the push, utilizing the full weight of US foreign
policy not just in Europe but around the world.
My question was: had anybody given the issue of impact in traditional
social structures some serious thought, and based on your response, the
answer no. I am not against GM foods, speaking of making assumptions. JH
Why is US Pushing for Radical Changes in Agriculture on Rest of the World?
- Gordon Couger"
I am a retired farmer, a successful researcher in using intelligent
machines to minimize pesticide and fertilizer use and landlord of land
that has been in my family for as much as 130 years. My wife and I have a
very diverse ownership of land from ranch land in north Texas that is run
not a great deal different than it was when my great grand patents settled
it to the labor where XIT Yellow House Ranch headquarters stood that she
and her family just installed drip irrigation for cotton this year. My
grand father changed his name from Cowger which literally means keeper of
cows to Couger when he enlisted in the army during the Spanish America
With out having seen the secession of organic farming to the means we use
today you have no frame of reference except the sound bytes that are fed
you. From my first memories I have lived with crops and cattle. I tended
them in 120 degree heat and -30 below 0f cold. I dragged hay bales by hand
through pastures to muddy to drive anything trough to feed cattle. I have
had calves in the kitchen to get them warm when they were born in the
My experience is not much different than most people in agriculture. Even
the presidents of the international agricultural corporations and
agricultural scientist most were raised on farms just as I was and have
the same values and commitment to the land as I do.
We are not a bunch of pirates that rape our customers, landlords or
farmers and move on. Their are families that we have been doing business
together with for over 100 years. In agriculture there are no new customer
when it comes to farmers. If you loose your reputation it is very hard to
regain. It taints even the next generation.
For the first time since the land was broken out with a plot much of it
will not be touched with a plow thank to genetic engineering. The farmer
benefits from this because it takes half the fuel to raise the crop. I
benefit because for the first time since it raised a crop is not subject
to wind erosion and the chances of water erosion are reduce to the point
that they are of no concern at all on the 2 and 3% slope land I own.
For the first time since tillage first distributed the ground tillage
won't be oxidizing organic matter in the soil fast than it can be
restored. For the first time instead of seeing a decreases in organic
matter to 1% to 1.5% I can expect to see organic matter increase at a rate
of 1% a year for at least 15 or 20 years before it reaches a steady state
around 4% compared to native sod at 6% organic matter. Over that time the
micro flora of the soil rebuilds to levels much nearer those of the
original sod than normal or organic farming.
For the public no till farming that the genetically modified plants have
allowed to boom in the last few years gets a 50% reduction in CO2 from
tillage of each acre under no till. They get a major carbon sink for at
least the first 20 years of no till faming. The get water ways with less
silt and less no point source pollution that is carried with eroded soil.
We all get soil that is more productive in the future for greater food
security. A benefit that no other method of farming can reliably give over
a wide range of soils and conditions.
While organic farming is a nice niche market if you can get 2 or 3 times
as much for your crops as conventional cropping it has not changed since
Germany was on the brink of famine when the British blocked natural
Nitrate deposits from Chile. So important was the discovery of the process
to make artificial nitrogen fertilizer that Haber was awarded a Nobel
The reason no agricultural scientist takes organic faming seriously is
that most of us can remember farming with those methods and realize that
manure is extremely perishable and in far too short a supply to supply the
needs of faming. We also remember the insect damage that we suffered wiht
out farming in the middle of conventional farms and free loading off their
insect control. That anyone should consider organic faming a viable method
for feeding a country with out a excess of land on the order of the US
shows they failed to learn the lessons of history.
When a farmer drinks insecticide and dies an agonizing death in the third
world because he is using the method that those with fat bellies in far
away cities block the tools to let him choose the best methods he can to
farm and can't pay his debts I don't think it is the Americans forcing
unwanted technology on them. It seems to me it is the same people that
won't buy food from nations that use DDT no matter how small the amount
and force the end to malaria control programs because the countries can't
afford high priced "modern pesticides" causing the death of more people
that Hitler and Stalin combined could have dreamed of are the ones to
Even when the studies used to help outlaw DDT are found to be rigged by
not feeding birds enough calcium to make egg shells because there had not
been able to find enough evidence to find any damage caused by DDT will
the ecologically correct world consider it may have made a mistake.
If you think that we should keep the third world from modern methods you
and your wife till up the back yard using one piece of steel for a plow
point and take turns pulling it and raise a garden using nothing but
inputs approved by the soil association wiht at starting capital of 20 USD
or its resilient. Buy and sell your crops and inputs on the same market as
India and see how you fair. Of course you have day jobs to keep you from
After a you try that a couple of years I will take your comments a little
We aren't pushing for radical changes but for the reasonable choices that
we have proved to be the most ecologically friendly method of faming yet
found. This is only the tip of the ice burg. By increasing yields so less
land is need to produce crops by more ecologically friendly means it
releases more land to return to grass or forest with even more positive
- Gordon Couger http://www.couger.com/gcouger
Resistance to Bt
- Lance Kennedy
There is something that puzzles me a little, and I wonder whether any of
the readers of Agbioview could comment and cast a little light.
We often hear of the risk of resistance developing to GM insect resistant
plants such as Bt cotton. I have been pondering mechanisms, and this opens
Resistance to such things as antibiotics and to pesticide sprays seems
straightforward. Clearly, what is required is a dose of chemical to the
target population that is sub-lethal. ie. it kills off most, but not all
the population, leaving only the most naturally resistant individuals
alive. They reproduce, producing offspring inheriting their slightly
higher resistance. Further exposure leads to even more resistant
survivors. Over many such cycles, a fully resistant population arises.
If, for example, a TB patient takes an antibiotic, a six month course is
needed to kill every last bacterium. However, when most are dead, the
patient feels much better and is likely to stop taking the medicine. The
surviving bacteria are a little more resistant, and after relapse, the
patient may need to take the antibiotic for longer before feeling
improved. Others may catch the disease. Many such cycles results in a
fully resistant TB pathogen.
Sprays, on the other hand, have a 'edge' effect. At this edge, the
insecticide dose is lower and many insects may survive. Many such
sprayings lead to resistant insects.
However, Bt cotton (and other crops) have no 'edge' effect, and there is
no discontinued treatment. If a bollworm eats Bt cotton, it dies. Black
and white. If it survives, it is because it has not eaten Bt cotton. How
can resistance arise?
Is it possible that variation in Bt toxin output from plant to plant is so
great that some plants deliver a sub-lethal dose?
Turning Words into Actions: Expanding Free Trade to the Middle East
Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, May 15, 2003
"The way forward for the Middle East is not a mystery," said President
Bush last week. "The way forward depends on serving the interests of the
living, instead of settling the accounts of the past."
And so we should be creating accounts of the future--within a U.S.-Middle
East Free Trade Area by 2013, said Bush. Fresh from removing a brutal
dictator from Iraq, Bush has proposed a bold plan to pacify one of the
most violent areas of the planet through the power of free trade. He has
made a compelling case for bringing market dynamism to a place that comes
nowhere near approaching its economic potential.
"The Arab world has a great cultural tradition, but it is largely missing
out on the economic progress of our time," said Bush, in a commencement
address at the University of South Carolina. "By replacing corruption and
self-dealing with free markets and fair laws, the people of the Middle
East will grow in prosperity and freedom."
Many Arab nations already play a key role in the global economy, of
course. But oil exports haven't fostered widespread prosperity. The Middle
East is flush with fossil fuel, but wracked by poverty and joblessness.
There are nearly two-dozen Muslim countries in the Middle East, and yet
the value of their manufactured exports comes to only about $40 billion
each year. That puts them on par with Finland, according to the World
Bank. The combined gross domestic product of the Arab nations is smaller
than that of Spain.
Many experts believe this economic stagnation contributes to the appeal of
Islamic radicalism and the problem of international terrorism.
The United States already has trade pacts with Israel and Jordan. Another
one with Morocco is now being negotiated. With the Bush administration's
new commitment, there will be more trade deals coming soon. Bahrain and
Egypt have been mentioned as initial beneficiaries.
Countries that sponsor terrorism, such as Libya and Syria, probably won't
sit down at the trade table anytime soon. Yet the White House doesn't
appear to be closing its doors to anybody. "This is open, ultimately, to
all those countries that are prepared to participate in economic reform
and liberalization," one official told the Washington Post.
The Arab nations have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this
White House initiative. Consider how much Jordan has profited from closer
economic ties. In 1998, its exports to the United States totaled $16
million. That's about how much money Jim Thome will make each of the next
six years playing baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Following the trade pact, however, Jordan's exports to the United States
boomed. They totaled $412 million last year, and they've been responsible
for the creation of about 40,000 new jobs since 2000.
Many of these jobs have gone to women, and Bush spent a portion of his
speech linking Arab prosperity to economic opportunity for women. As
Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis has noted, one of the reasons
why the Middle East has become an economic backwater is because half of
its population--i.e., the female half--doesn't have the kind of employment
opportunities that we in the West take for granted.
Building economic ties with the Middle East advances our national goals
because it will improve our image in a region that too often looks upon us
with envy and bitterness. We currently commit billions of dollars in
foreign aid to the Middle East each year. This is a chance to replace aid
with trade, and thereby contribute to the self-sufficiency of an
A more important and longer-term objective is to improve regional
stability by replacing political hatreds with economic interests. We'd be
naïve to think that free trade alone will eliminate violence; certainly
the president doesn't believe this. Yet it's possible to hope that
lowering tariffs may lessen the threat of aggression--and we'd be crazy
not to give it a try.
That's because free trade will allow us to introduce values of freedom and
democracy to a part of the world that doesn't know enough about them. In
another speech from early in his term, Bush called free trade a "moral
imperative" for this very reason.
It's wonderful to see him turning these words into action--and people of
good will everywhere should hope and pray that his plan succeeds.
Straining the Partnership
- Al-Jazeerah.info, Arab News Opinion, May 15, 2003
Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is no more, some of the focus of US
foreign policy has moved to Europe.
Washington plans to haul the European Union before the World Trade
Organization to contest its current ban on genetically modified
foodstuffs. This is a hugely serious attack on matters that, with their
more advanced culture of public debate, Europeans take seriously.
The timing of this move is clearly driven by Washington‚s anger at „Old
Europe‚s‰ obstruction in the UN of its plans to invade Iraq. Perhaps
anything that can make life difficult for the French and the Germans, who
both led the opposition in the Security Council, may serve to even the
score with an increasingly independent-minded NATO partner.
The irony is that the aggressive referral of the EU to the WTO over GM
crops comes at a time when Brussels is giving genuine consideration to the
vexed question of GM production. US consumers are apparently blithely
unconcerned at eating these foodstuffs and US farmers unworried by any
environmental dangers. It is therefore not difficult for the White House
to sell the EU‚s caution over GM foods as merely politically motivated to
a public at home that, the indications are, does not see that there really
are genuine concerns at play.
This however takes no account of the extent of public opposition in EU
member countries to GM foods, an opposition so massive and spread across
the political spectrum that it would be political suicide for any European
leader to ignore it.
Washington's assault is likely to relegate serious consideration of the
issue to the Brussels‚ back burner, while Europeans are left to bridle at
the uncompromising American attitude. Far from considering a genuine
problem seriously, the US move, by shifting the issue to a different
political plane, may have made matters worse all round.
A major irony here is that some EU member states, in particular Spain and
the UK, were strong supporters of the US invasion of Iraq. They now face
the political embarrassment of being caught up in what many will see as a
truculent act of blanket reprisal. By association, they will suffer for
what France and Germany have done. But even if they will blame the two
giants for getting them into it, they will also not be pleased to be so
shoddily rewarded for their loyalty to the US. Their leaders, who
persisted in their support for the war in the face of overwhelming
opposition from their own people, could find themselves in trouble once
The evidence for example is mounting that Washington has misled Britain‚s
Tony Blair on a whole series of issues, not least the promise of a
significant role for the UN in postwar Iraq. Other European supporters of
Washington‚s war on Iraq may feel similarly let down now it has turned
round and abandoned them. They may feel they deserved better.
Diplomacy is about listening as well as talking, about the velvet glove as
well as the firm hand. Some issues can be made into political capital
because that is essentially what they are on all sides. Other issues, such
as the GM problem, are too serious to be so lightly treated. They require
serious consideration for the benefit of people on both sides of the
Philippines: The Heightening Battle Over Bt corn
- Godofredo M. Roperos, Manila Times, manilatimes.net.
"It's good for those who are opposing the introduction of high-yielding
genetically modified varieties of food crops because they can probably
afford to buy the untampered ones," said a junior education student from a
local university. "But what about those who can't?" She was reading a
newspaper report about the controversy about genetically modified
organisms in the country, and felt it unfair for, say, Party-list Rep.
Etta Rosales of Akbayan to oppose GMO without fully explaining why, except
the increase of certain fears about its effects.
What exactly is this controversy over an agricultural product that is very
significant to the people in the South? A good percentage of the people in
central and eastern Visayas, and in many provinces of Mindanao, have corn
as their staple food. They take to it as most people in Luzon take to rice
for their daily meals. But through the decades the corn farmers of the
South just couldn't produce crops that are free of diseases such corn
borers, worms and even the pesky locusts.
Time was when Mindanao was periodically visited by locusts that eat the
stalks down to the ground in just an overnight of infestation. And if the
corn crop was able to escape the locusts, they were infested with borers
and other diseases, including the insatiable rats. And so, through the
years, corn farmers in the South have been trying various remedies against
the infestation of corn crops. Until the pesticides were introduced, they
depended on smoking their fields on dry afternoons in the hope of
suffocating the pests.
Today, suddenly, the farmers are told a new variety of corn seeds can
resist the irritating borers. Its name comes from 'Bacillus thuringiensis'
(Bt), said to be a naturally occurring protein that makes the variety not
only high-yielding but pest-resistant, especially to the corn borer. The
Department of Agriculture has already given the go-ahead for its
production and dissemination to the farmers. But here lies the dilemma:
certain sectors oppose the commercial production of Bt corn.
Their opposition, though, is supported by credible reasons. The Bt corn,
they fear, may have dire implications for the environment. They point out
that the variety has not been fully tried and tested commercially for at
least five years, the standard length of time for such 'tampered'
organisms to undergo field trials. Thus Bt corn, being a genetically
modified product, so the oppositionists say, should first undergo
extensive testing before it can safely be produced commercially and
distributed to our corn farmers.
However, in a country where the population has risen to more than 80
million in the past two decades, the need for new sources or
higher-yielding varieties of agricultural crops has become a necessity. It
should not be just a matter of conjecturing the current estimate of
Filipino families living below the poverty level. That the population has
risen since the last census of 1995 indicates a significance that merits a
much deeper concern than just the pronouncement of a renewed determination
to fight poverty.
But a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agriculture in Quezon
City has brought to sharper focus the problem about Bt corn, and the need
for a more serious assessment of the issue. The issue here is the
conflicting points of view of two interest groups. One perceives one that
Bt corn is bad for the country and the people; the other insists there is
a primordial need to satisfy the demand for food of an increasing number
of people believed to live below the poverty level.
In essence, the issue is thus between the nation‚s poor and the guardians
of the nation‚s environment. We need to extend to the many who are living
below the poverty level the opportunity to acquire cheaper food so they
may improve the quality of their lives. The environmentalists, however,
are afraid the solution to the problem of food supply "commercializing Bt
corn" may instead pose a much graver problem in the future that would
affect not just our hunger but also our health.
This situation needs to be weighed carefully by the President and her
advisers. There is also the chance that the lobbyists against anti-Bt corn
are just overfed by their innate sense of doom, which they anchor on their
ultraconservative view of things that traditionally push them to oppose
any proposed change to the status quo. The Catholic Bishops Conference has
reportedly called on President Arroyo to initiate a moratorium on the
issue unless there is a compelling need to go into the matter immediately.
But as in the case of our third-year education student whose parents are
corn farmers, there is a compelling need to increase the size of their
corn harvest. She believes something of her future is at stake in the
issue. She doesn‚t even know if she can continue her studies this
semester, because of money problems, much more so with cash, which is a
perennial problem with her family in her hometown.
No Moratorium on Philippine Bt Corn
- Crop Biotech Update, ISAAA.org, May 16, 2003
The Philippines Department of Agriculture (DA) turned down on Wednesday
the petition of non-government organizations and farmers' group for a
moratorium on the commercialization of Bt corn in the country.
In a two-page letter issued by Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. to
Roberto Verzola, secretary-general of Philippine Greens, Lorenzo made it
clear that he is strictly abiding by DA Administrative Order (AO) 8 which
does not provide for a moratorium.
"AO8 precisely provides for the regulatory system enabling distinction of
products and evaluation of potential dangers, if any, to our producers,
consumers, the general public and the environment", the letter said.
NGO and farmers' group representatives led by Verzola staged an indefinite
hunger strike to pressure the government to impose a moratorium on the
commercial release of Bt corn seeds. They claim that the review and
approval process for Bt corn was flawed from the very beginning. The
anti-GMO group began holding a hunger strike since April 22.
Lorenzo stated in his letter: "What you are in effect requesting me is to
execute a unilateral action overriding more than two years of extensive
national consultations with all stakeholders and also render a political
action that will reverse more than five years of scientific studies by
government and the private sector. This will render our country GMO-blind
"Unless new scientific evidence is received through the correct and due
process, consider myself estopped from further acting on your request for
a moratorium", said Lorenzo.
Double-duty Gene: From Vitamin A Rich Oil to High-tech Lab Tool
- Checkbiotech.org, May 16, 2003
Rarely do plant researchers working with a single gene simultaneously find
two significant and highly useful outcomes. However, teams of Monsanto
researchers in St. Louis, Mo; Davis, Calif.; and Bangalore, India; did
just that. Working with a gene known as phytoene synthase, the teams
uncovered two vastly different, but extremely important uses for the gene.
Vitamin A deficiency has tragic consequences in many developing parts of
the world, including improper development in children, permanent night
blindness, and fatal immune-system deficiencies. The development of
genetically modified seeds that supply oil high in beta-carotene (the most
important pro-vitamin A) could provide a very promising way to address
vitamin A deficiency.
Monsanto researchers used the phytoene synthase gene as a way to insert
beta-carotene into seeds. Working with canola seeds, Monsanto researchers
caused the seeds to over-express a bacterial phytoene gene known as the
carotenoid biosynthetic gene (crtB), and experienced a sixty-fold increase
in carotenoids (plant pigments that function as antioxidants), including
beta- carotene. In India, a major source of food oil is Indian rapeseed
(or mustard) and one of the advantages of providing beta-carotene in an
oil matrix is improved carotenoid absorption. Since Indian mustard (B.
juncea) is a close relative of canola (B. napus), researchers designed a
similar transformation system.
As part of its research, Monsanto applied for and received a patent for
the carotenoid biosynthetic gene in the seeds of plants, which enables the
company to provide this beneficial technology to the developing world.
High-Tech Lab Tool: The second important application is the use of the
phytoene synthase gene to speed up the development of
biotechnology-enhanced plants, enabling researchers to eliminate
non-usable versions of modified plants within weeks, instead of years.
Traditionally, plant scientists have used a bacterium (Agrobacterium
tumefaciens) as a natural genetic engineer to produce transgenic plants.
Unfortunately, using it often results in the unwanted introduction of a
piece of DNA, known as the backbone, into the target cell. Therefore,
these plants must be discarded, but it could take years to determine which
plants contain the unwanted DNA. The new method uses the phytoene synthase
gene as a visual indicator. Within weeks, it is possible to determine
which cells have an orange pigment, an indicator that the cell contains
the backbone DNA. This method has reduced the resources currently used on
transgenic plants containing the unwanted DNA by nearly 50 percent.
Monsanto will donate its $15,000 Excellence Award prize to Helen Keller
International, which administers programs in eye health and health and
Golden Rice: What Role Could It Play In Alleviation of Vitamin A
- Dawe, D.; Robertson, R.; Unnevehr, L. 2002 Food Policy. 27. 5/6. 541 -
Golden rice (GR) is a new rice variety that has been genetically modified
to contain beta-carotene, a source of vA. This modification was undertaken
as a strategy to address VAD, which is widespread in less developed
countries of Asia. Children's food intake data from a poor rural region of
the Philippines are used to simulate the potential impact of GR on vA
The potential impact, coverage of deficient subpopulations, and costs of
GR are compared to two other interventions, food fortification and
supplementation. While investments in future development of GR compare
favourably with other interventions in terms of costs and coverage, GR
would deliver amounts of vA that are modest, and unlikely to fulfill
requirements. Thus, it should be viewed as a complement to existing
interventions. To have greatest impact at a cost comparable with wheat
fortification, GR varieties should be suited for widespread adoption in
Asia and should deliver as much beta-carotene as possible.