Today in AgBioView: May 18, 2003
* Re: Time for the GM Moratorium to Go/ Plus Indian Bt Cotton - Suman
* Responses by Apel, Conko, Giddings and Shanthu
* The Futile Dispute Over Genetic Engineering
* Discussion on Bt Cotton in India
* US Reheats the GM Food Debate
* Australia: Environmentalists Outraged Over GM Challenge
* Gene Files: Database of Introduced Genes in Bioengineered Crops
* Biofortified Crops to Combat Micronutrient Deficiency
* Morality & Markets: The Ethics of Government Regulation
* The Man Ahead of his Time: Emerson on Nature
* The Dead Hand
Re: Time for the GM Moratorium to Go/ Plus Indian Bt Cotton
- Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, India
I have read the article Time for the GM Moratorium to Go, by G. Conko and
C.S. Prakash published in the Wall Street Journal (Europe), May 13, 2003.
The article quotes, as many others do, that in India, poor farmers have
benefited greatly from GM crops, in this case, Bt cotton.The article
says......" But many of the same GM crops available in North America are
already helping poor farmers in South Africa, India, China, and the
Philippines combat often-voracious insects while reducing the amount of
insecticides or eliminating them altogether".
This is simply not true of India, and the authors know it. They are both
familiar with the public debate on the Indian Bt cotton experience.
Gregory Conko was present at a seminar I gave in IFPRI, Washington
recently, where I presented results of a field study conducted by Gene
Campaign, in two Indian states where Bt cotton was grown. This study shows
that Bt cotton has performed very poorly in these states, pesticide use is
only minimally reduced and these savings are not enough to offset the huge
difference four to five times) in the price of seed. The Gene Campaign
study shows that about 60 % of the farmers could not recover their
investments and made losses.
There are other reports which point in the same direction. Studies done by
the FAO, Greenpeace and the Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP), show
similarly poor performance. The AP state government has admitted that Bt
cotton has not done well and they are seeking compensation from Monsanto
for farmers who have suffered losses, as is Gene Campaign.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India's apex regulatory
body has asked for a state wise review of why the crop has performed
poorly. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, in the Indian Parliament
has pronounced after seeing the data, that it "sees no merit in Bt cotton"
because the performance did not match the exaggerated claims. The GEAC has
since witheld approval for commercialising Bt cotton in the North Indian
states after the poor experience in South India.
Despite all this information floating on list serves and the media, Conko
and Prakash, both well known biotechnology lobbyists, deliberately make a
claim that is unsubstantiated and false. This kind of misinformation can
be dangerous because it can influence policy makers to take decisions that
could ultimately end up hurting the farmers. The Biotech lobby must draw
the line somewhere and exercise some restraint in its promotional efforts.
Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, India. http://www.genecampaign.org
Response from Andrew Apel (AgBiotech Reporter)
Maybe it's time to call a spade a spade. Since eco-faminist Suman Sahai
and the Gene Campaign are "in the business" of opposing modern
agriculture, nothing associated with them is credible. If either admitted
that facts are more important than hysteria, they'd be bankrupt by next
I have to wonder if she or this group is funded by the European Union or
members of the EU. All the activist groups involved in the Mexico Maize
Mess were funded by Europeans, and with the US challenging the EU over its
trade protectionism, it's time for the antis to come clean on who's paid
for what. Those who don't already know that Europe pays activists to beat
its trade-protection drum should visit
It's notable that the US is supported by a number of countries in its
complaint against the EU, while the EU has no foreign supporters-- other
than activist groups, many of them funded by the EU or its member states.
After 9-11, anti-biotech violence became suspect, and diminished. With the
US v. EU in the WTO case, the world will be equally suspicious of those
who spout anti-biotech rhetoric.
Response from Alex Avery (CGFI):
We know why they're so keen to paint Bt cotton a failure in India. I just
ask why it is so damn hard to get a real answer to a simple question. I'm
personally tired of the "it was a success", "NO it wasn't", "yes it was,"
"NO, it wasn't" and on and on and on. When will we know what the general
experience was and when will this BS debate be put to rest? Why haven't we
seen more interviews with farmers?
Response from Greg Conko (CEI):
From my reading of the various assembled data and anecdotal information,
the answer is different farmers had different experiences with Bt cotton
in India this past year, so the answer is a qualified yes and no. The only
published literature of any reliability is based on experience with
pre-commercialization field trials (see M.Qaim and M.Zilberman, "Yield
Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries, Science
299, pp. 900-902.).
Of course, Suman Sahai rejects field trial numbers since they tend to be
conducted with great technical supervision. Sahai claims to be concerned
about how typical farmers, rather poorly trained to use the new
technology, will fare with Bt. It's a fair enough criticism. Field trial
data are useful, but they don't tell the whole story.
There is much better post-commercialization data available on Bt cotton
experience in South Africa and China than in India, since there's only
been one growing season. Experience in the former two countries seems to
be overwhelmingly positive, and there is no fundamental reason why we
shouldn't expect it to be the same in India.
That said, we don't yet have good post-commercialization data from India,
despite the so-called study the Gene Campaign is peddling. It's based on
only a handful of farms, and we have no idea how the farms were selected
or whether they adequately represent a random sample from which a
statistically significant conclusion can be drawn. Sahai is correct one
just one point: that we will need several more years of good data before
we can say that Indian farmers have had an overwhelmingly positive
experience with Bt cotton.
As for anecdotal information, the results seem to be quite mixed. Some
farmers are claiming great successes and others great failures. But this
information is clouded by two confounding factors: a severe drought
afflicting rain-fed growing regions, and the fact that a copious amount of
saved seed is circulating from the unauthorized plantings of Bt cotton two
years ago. The saved seed will be less vigorous than seed purchased from
breeders and seed merchants, skewing part of the yield data downward. And
rain-fed cotton has done much worse than irrigated cotton. So, we can say
with some certainty that irrigated Bt cotton in India did better than
irrigated non-Bt cotton this past growing season. But we can't make any
blanket statements about total Bt and non-Bt yield comparisons
Nevertheless, what we wrote is in fact true: growers of Bt cotton, Bt
maize, and glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in South Africa, India, China, and
the Philippines, are benefiting. And Suman Sahai knows it. We make no
representations about every single farmer benefiting; so much of
agriculture depends on weather conditions, soil conditions, biotic
stresses, and other factors that have nothing to do with biotechnology.
But I think the balance of evidence shows that most experiences have been
positive with biotech crops.
Prakash and I both support the freedom of farmers to plant
biotechnology-derived crops. And we both acknowledge that not all biotech
applications will be suitable in all situations. All of Suman Sahai's
huffing and puffing about us being "well known biotechnology lobbyists"
won't change the fact that, if the technology is worth adopting, farmers
will do so. And if it's not, no amount of talk will convince farmers
Comments from Val Giddings (BIO):
Greg Conko is right on all but one point. There is no genetic reason that
saved cotton seed would be less efficacious than that procured through
authorised purchase of approved varieties. In fact, the bootleggers may
actually have a leg up. I have seen some suggestions that the formally
approved BT cotton varieties released in India involve less than ideal
genetic backgrounds. Thus it is entirely possible that the approved
varieties might be out performed by the illegitimate ones, if the latter
partake of more robust genetic backgrounds.
If such a performance differential actually exists, of course, it would
have nothing to do with the BT trait. Such a differential between approved
BT varieties and conventional varieties could, however, be attributable to
the undue delays imposed by the dysfunctional Indian regulatory system.
During the entire time that the BT varieties were slogging through the
regulatory process, conventional improvements to non biotech cotton
continued without interruption.
Therefore, when first introduced, the BT varieties are essentially
ensconced in germplasm that is 5-7 years old, and thus at a competitive
disadvantage by comparison with contemporary conventional varieties. If
improvements average 1% per year, that could lead to a yield drag of 5-7%.
This is quickly overcome as the BT varieties are incorporated into
standard breeding programs, or if there is significant insect pest
pressure as is often the case. But this is another reason Sahai's
complaints are wrong headed and likely to be overtaken by events even if
they do have any validity at all, which is doubtful as Greg has pointed
Comments from Shanthu Shantharam (Syngenta):
Not withstanding the doomsayers and naysayers about Bt cotton performance
in India, Bt cotton did not perform as expected in certain pockets of
Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. But, the same Bt cotton and also the
illegal variety have performed quite well in certain parts of Maharashtra,
Gujarath and Tamilandu. The illegal variety called Navbharath 151
certainly has a better genetic banckground. Mahyco/Monsanto have
sublicensed the Bt technolgoy to other small hybrid cotton seed companies
in India who have far superior hybrid varieties and they are expected to
perform much better. Indeed, the hybrid variety of RASI Seeds, seems to
have done exceedingly well in its first year field tests (informal
personal communication from a GEAC member).
As far as the AP State Agricultural University (APSAU)report (supposedly
confidential, but a brief summary was posted on AgBioIndia)), it seems to
have submitted a balanced report about the performance of Bt cotton in the
state, but has cautioned that the past year drought combined with lack of
bollworm pest pressure has not been a normal year for assessing the
performance any new variety of cotton in the State not to mention Bt
cotton. To me, APSAU scientists have done a even handed job of assessing
the Bt cotton performance.
All other reports coming from NGOs,lobbyists and companies about the
success or failure of Bt cotton need to be taken with a healthy dose of
skepticism as none of them scientifically validated or enodrsed by
experts. There is a big credibility question mark on their sampling size,
objective data gathering, and data analysis. I know for sure, farmers will
decide on their own whether or not they will plant Bt cotton this growing
season. The sales figures will speak for itself.
Bt cotton has been authorized for three years, and we should wait for
another two years with patience before passing any verdict on it. As much
as I would have been happy with a good acquittal by Bt cotton in the first
year, I would not have celebrated it just for the same reason that we need
to wait for at least three years to average the data. Jury is still out on
Bt cotton in India.
All of us who care to bring safe and productive technolgoies to farmers
and those of us who are concerned about the welfare of farmers would do
well not to vitiate the atmosphere any further and confuse the public with
unssubtantuated claims. This would be sure way of failing the technology.
The Futile Dispute Over Genetic Engineering
- Tillmann Elliesen, Editor, D+C , Vol. 30, 2003, E+Z Entwicklung und
Zusammenarbeit, Frankfurter Societät; firstname.lastname@example.org;
(Sent by the author with a note: Please find attached my article on the
discussions on the Science paper by Qaim and Zilberman on field trials
with Bt cotton in India. A comment from your side would be very valuable
'The benefits and harm of genetic engineering in agriculture are the
subject of heated debate. Civil society organisations rightly point to
risks to farmers in developing countries. But a dispute over the growing
of genetically modified cotton in India shows that the critics of genetic
engineering are increasingly becoming an entrenched fundamental opposition
– and thus hurting their credibility.'
Can genetic engineering in agriculture contribute to reducing poverty and
hunger? This question has been debated hotly for years, and the
antagonists confront each other just as irreconcilably as do the critics
of globalisation and the champions of free trade. For the layperson it is
difficult to form an impression because in the debate frequently only
ideologies are represented and arguments are no longer exchanged.
Industry’s motivation for extolling genetically modified crops as miracle
tools against hunger and poverty is obvious: its interest in profit. But
its opponents also increasingly give the impression that for them the
debate is about existential issues. For many environmental protection
organisations and other civil society groups, fundamental opposition
against genetic engineering appears to have become an identity- defining
feature of such great significance that they must not budge an inch from
it. That is resulting in the opponents of genetic engineering sometimes
reacting in a superficial and small-minded way to arguments which favour
the use of green genetic engineering in developing countries. An example
is an ongoing dispute over the growing of genetically modified cotton in
In the journal Science there appeared on February 7 an article by Matin
Qaim, of the Centre for Development Research (ZEF), in Bonn, and David
Zilberman, of the University of California, on field trials in South and
Central India with a cotton hybrid in which a gene of the insecticide
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) was implanted. This was to protect the plants
against the bollworm, the worst cotton plant pest.1 (Hybrids are bred
plant varieties from which farmers can no longer gain their own seed; they
must buy fresh stocks every year.) The field trials were carried out by
the Indian seed producer Mahyco under an approval process for the Bt
In three fields, Bt cotton, the same hybrid without genetic modification,
and a local popular variety were planted. In the spring of 2002 after the
harvest, Qaim and Zilberman surveyed 157 farmers that had taken part in
the trials about their yields. The result: compared to the non-genetically
modified Mahyco hybrid, the Bt cotton had yielded harvests which on
average were 80 percent higher, and were no less than 87 percent higher
compared with the local popular varieties.
The article by Qaim and Zilberman provoked a great response, not only in
India but around the world. In Germany, several daily newspapers reported
on it. The findings of the two authors are plausible: since the conditions
for all three plant varieties were otherwise the same, it would seem to
suggest that the higher yields of the Bt cotton were due to their
resistance to pests and thus to their genetic modification.
However, Qaim and Zilberman were criticised for having drawn too
far-reaching conclusions from their findings. True, in their article they
conceded that the Bt cotton lead measured by them was in part to be
explained by the above-average pest pressure during the 2001/2002 season.
In addition, they said, it was to be expected that under the conditions of
commercial agriculture the yield gains would be lower than in the field
trials. But they ventured to predict that especially high yields from
pest-resistant crops could be expected in Africa and South Asia.
In a personal communication, Qaim in fact insisted that theoretically this
forecast was well-founded. But the field trials do not offer an empirical
basis for it; that would require studies over several years of the
commercial cultivation of Bt crops. Qaim and Zilberman have merely
ascertained the potential of Bt cotton with regard to yield gains and
savings in pesticides – no more, though also not less.
But the opponents of green genetic engineering are not prepared to grant
even that – and instead use flimsy arguments to cast doubt upon the
seriousness of the research. One of their accusations is that the trials
were a favour for the Mahyco company or Monsanto, the US seed producer and
the world’s largest genetic engineering concern, which invented Bt cotton
and has a 26 percent stake in Mahyco. A Press statement of March 3 by the
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific said the research was based
on data by Mahyco-Monsanto, which raised “initial doubts about its
And in the AgBioIndia Bulletin of February 26 of the Indian organisation
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, the article by Qaim and
Zilberman was described as a PR move by the biotechnology industry. It
said the article in Science “clearly demonstrates the denigration (of
science) that has taken place ever since industries started sponsoring
But Mahyco-Monsanto neither supplied the data nor funded the research.
Rather, Qaim and Zilberman themselves gathered the data on yields and use
of pesticide on the trials fields. All they received from Mahyco was
merely data on pest infestation levels during the growing season (such as
the number of bollworm larvae per plant), and on the size of the plants.
Thus, it was data which did not influence the main finding of the research
on yield gain by Bt cotton. The research also was not financed by the
industry, but with public funds of the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Nevertheless, in a personal communication Qaim made no secret of his good
connections with staff of Mahyco’s research department. "Without this
contact we could not have carried out the research," he said. "How then
could we have found out which farmers were taking part in the field
Qaim is convinced that genetic engineering in agriculture can also benefit
smallholders in developing countries. He has for years sought to underpin
this thesis in scientific terms by research work around the world.
However, to conclude from this that he is working for the industry is
absurd. Qaim takes an absolutely critical view of the role of companies in
the biotechnology industry in monopolising and marketing knowledge and
technologies. Thus, the price of seed for the Bt cotton in the first crop
growing season after its licensing in March 2002 was much too high, he
says. In a viewpoint article for E+Z in March 2000, Qaim spoke out for
greater promotion of official agricultural research in order not to leave
the field to the private sector and to facilitate poor farmers’ access to
Similarly, in the Science article by Qaim and Zilberman, they say:
"(Furthermore,) public sector research investments will need to be
expanded and mechanisms for technology transfer and handling of IPRs
(Intellectual Property Rights) established so that promising
biotechnologies can reach the poor at affordable prices on a larger
Another accusation by the genetic engineering opponents, such as that
insinuated by Devinder Sharma, of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food
Security, says that Qaim and Zilberman accepted that their research would
be interpreted wrongly as an evaluation of the first commercial crop
growing season following the approval of the Bt cotton.3 Indeed, in such
German newspapers as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Berliner
Zeitung, and apparently also in Indian newspapers, there were reports on
the high yield gains, but not that these were measured only in field
But Qaim and Zilberman cannot be blamed for that, for they make
unmistakably clear that they had evaluated field trials. Accordingly, the
Indian professor of botany Kameswara Rao, of the Foundation for
Biotechnology Awareness and Education, replied to Devinder Sharma by
saying: "It is not the responsibility of the authors if someone did not
read the paper properly and mistook field trial data for actual commercial
data of 2002/2003."4 That Sharma’s accusation itself have put journalists
on the wrong track is shown by an article on Bt cotton in the Asia Times,
Hong Kong, of February 19, which said that it was left to civil society
organisations to point out that Qaim and Zilberman had merely evaluated
A third objection, also by Devinder Sharma, makes especially clear that
the opponents of genetic engineering cannot really refute the findings of
Qaim and Zilberman, but refuse to accept them because they do not fit
their view of the world. Sharma wrote in the AgBioIndia Bulletin of
February 14 that it was not correct when Qaim and Zilberman attributed
yield-increasing effects to the genetic modification of the cotton. He
said the resistance to pests had merely resulted in a reduction of
harvests losses due to pest pressure. The term yield increase, however,
suggested furthermore that implanting the Bt gene increased the variety’s
yield potential. 6 That is, of course, not the case, and even the
layperson understands immediately that Qaim and Zilberman also do not wish
to claim that. But why one cannot talk of yield increases when harvest
losses are reduced remains Sharma’s secret.
In the meantime, the dispute over the Bt cotton in India has gone into the
next round – which admittedly already was rung in before the publication
of the article by Qaim and Zilberman. At the beginning of November 2002,
before the end of the first commercial growing season, the Indian
government rashly announced that Bt cotton had been very successful. The
Indian section of Greenpeace, no less precipitately, reacted to that with
its own research which asserted the opposite, whereupon Monsanto in turn
rushed to report that the farmers were very satisfied. Amid this game, the
real problems linked with the introduction of genetically modified crops
and which in India have also become clear, were quickly lost sight of.
Thus, the potential benefit of such plants may well be great for
smallholders as well. But the plants will deliver a real benefit only if
they are cultivated properly.
A lively black market for genetically modified seed has arisen in India
following the approval of Mahyco’s Bt cotton hybrids -- with the result
that Bt cotton is now also grown in North India. But it cannot deliver the
expected results there because the approved hybrids are suited only to the
soil and climatic conditions in Central and South India. In addition,
before the Mahyco seed was approved a seed producer in Gujarat put an
illegal copy of the Bt hybrids on the market, which was grown uncontrolled
throughout the entire country.
These problems show that introducing a new technology such as genetically
modified seed, whose uncontrolled use can result in grave social,
ecological and economic damage, must be accompanied not only by effective
official supervision but also by advisory services offers for the users.
In many developing countries that is not ensured, which is something that
technicians and agricultural economists such as Qaim often do not take
into sufficient account. The civil society watchdogs are needed to draw
attention to the social, political and economic risks of genetic
engineering, which are swept under the carpet by the industry and
‘underexposed’ by economists and technicians. But it hurts their
credibility when they contradict dogmatically every opinion that does not
match their own convictions.
The Indian cotton harvest of the 2002/2003 season was brought in
completely by the end of February. It is only now that the pestresistant
Bt cotton can be checked to see if it has passed its first practical
trial. The latest available information is contradictory. According to the
AgBioIndia Newsletter, the Agriculture Minister of Andhra Pradesh on
television at the end of March described Bt cotton as a flop, and the
anti-genetic engineering organisation Gene Campaign had called on the
Indian Federal Agriculture Minister to sue Mahyco for compensation in the
name of the farmers who had suffered losses.7
By contrast, Kameswara Rao of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness
and Education points out that the Indian cotton season of 2002/2003 as a
whole was bad, not only the Bt cotton harvest.8 Matin Qaim has been in
India again since mid-March to form his own impression -- a project which
once again makes clear how entrenched the opposing fronts have become.
Devinder Sharma writes that Qaim should save himself fresh study and thus
official research funds because a genetic engineering-friendly finding is
anyway already certain.9
Qaim, however, declines to invite his Greenpeace critics to accompany him
and convince themselves of the seriousness of his work. "I work only with
scientific institutions that are to be taken seriously," he says, "and I
do not count Greenpeace as one of them."
1) Matin Qaim, David Zilberman: Yield Effects of Genetically Modified
Crops in Developing Countries, in: Science, Vol. 299, 7 February 2003, pp.
2) Bt cotton: Science under attack, in: The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 26
February 2003, www.agbioindia.org
3) A scientific fairytale on Bt cotton, in: The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 14
February 2003, www.agbioindia.org
4) Kameswara Rao: One swallow does not make the summer, in: Bio-Scope
Newsletter, 24 February 2003, www.bio-scope.org
5) T. V. Padma: Report on Success of GE Cotton Sows Confusion, in: Asia
Times (in its online edition since 20 February 2003),
6) See Fn. 3)
7) Bt cotton failure: It’s now official, in: The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 5
March 2003; Compensate farmers for Bt cotton failure, in: The AgBioIndia
Bulletin, 11 March 2003, www.agbioindia.org
8) See Fn. 4)
9) Bt cotton: Speculative research, in: The AgBioIndia Bulletin, 24
February 2003, www.agbioindia.org
D+C Vol.30.2003:5 209
Discussion on Bt Cotton in India
- Shantu Sharma (not to be confused with
'Shanthu Shantharam' of
Dr Qaim and Dr Zilberman basing on the field trials of Bt Cotton in India
in 2001 season says that the average yield increase of Bt cotton is 80%.
The press release issued by Monsanto Mahyco Biotech says that the average
yield increase of Bt cotton in 2002 season in India has been 30%. Yes,
drought in 2002 has been cited as one of the reason for lower yield. But,
remember that in drought the incidence of American Bollworm is usually
lower and hence a favourable - The yields should, therefore, be much
higher. Less water is required for cotton crops, hence drought cannot be
much to a disadvantage.
Thefore, the reasons for this huge difference in increase in yield as
cited by Dr Qaim and Dr Zilberman one hand and MM Biotech press release on
the other hand is yet unkown - IT CLEARLY SHOWS MERE HYPES ARE BEING MADE
ABOUT YEILD INCREASE ESTIMATES OF BT COTTON.
Media reports say that state governments and NGOs claim that Bt Cotton
harvest in 2002 is a failure. MM Biotech rejects these claims. But one
thing is interesting. Three varieties of Bt cotton was approved by the
regulatory authority in India in March 26, 2002 for commercial cultivation
in central and southern India. These three varieties were approved on
basis of field trial results conducted by Central Institute of Cotton
Research (CICR) on behalf of the appex organisation, Indian Council of
Agricultural Research (ICAR). The ICAR-CICR report, though admitting that
Bt Cotton has higher yields, gives a note of caution that Bt cotton may
fail due to incidence of certain pests and that sowing Bt cotton may be a
costly option. In order to substantiate this fact I am forwarding to you
FOUR NEWS STORIES appearing (in 2002 & 2003) in India's oldest business
daily and now the second largest circulated business daily, The Financial
These news stories have been written by one of the seniormost agricultural
journalist having an experience of over 22 years. I, myself have compared
the text of the news stories with the original ICAR-CICR report and have
found that what is quoted in the news stories are factually correct.
Has the forecast made in the ICAR-CICR report come true, in light of
failure of Bt Cottonharvest in 2002? -This is the debate! This shows
there is enough substance for a debate.
Bt Cotton Belies Promises: Research -- Ashok B Sharma
Bt Cotton Protection May Cost Rs 5,000 p/h (One US $ is roughly equal to
Rs 48) Ashok B Sharma
Economists‚ Report Card On Bt Cotton - Ashok B Sharma
Sowing The Seeds Of Controversy - Ashok B Sharma
US Reheats the GM Food Debate
- John Mason, Financial Times, May 17 2003 news.ft.com
Genetically modified foods could - just could - be back on the shelves of
European shops next year. Despite public hostility to GM foods, the
four-year boycott of transgenic crops might end in the face of US
pressure. European farmers would then be able to grow GM crops and
consumers buy food made from them.
The US this week finally brought its long-awaited complaint to the World
Trade Organisation against the European Union's moratorium on GM crops.
The move has stoked the political fires but its legal outcome appears
uncertain. The moratorium may be lifted anyway, provided European Union
member states agree later this year to compromise regulations proposed by
the European Commission. What happens largely depends on European public
opinion, which remains deeply suspicious of GM food. Although there are
signs that opposition is weakening, 44 per cent of people have safety
concerns over GM food as opposed to 28 who do not, according to
Eurobarometer, the EU research organisation.
Popular sentiment has left European governments in a dilemma, notably in
the UK, Germany and France. Fears that development of Europe's
biotechnology industry could be stunted have been borne out by evidence of
a "brain-drain" of scientists to the US. But public opinion has meant
governments have shied away from confronting voters with arguments in
favour of biotechnology.
"It takes some political courage to do that," said Christian Verschueren,
director-general of Croplife International, the biotechnology trade
The regulations proposed by the Commission - which may also be challenged
at the WTO - envisage a process for approving new crops very similar to
that in the US. However, industry's concern is that Europe may over-use
the "precautionary principle" to block new crops. How the precaution-ary
principle - which encourages people to err on the side of caution - can be
applied will be much argued over. Scientists have yet to discover any firm
evidence that GM foods damage human health or the environment, but there
is still argument over their long-term effects.
More contentious are the proposed "traceability and labelling" rules to
allow consumers a choice between GM and non-GM. With shoppers given such
choice, how many will opt for GM products, especially since none of the
current varieties have any clear consumer benefit?
The European food industry is in no hurry to put such products on the
shelf. Unilever, a multinational food company, uses GM ingredients in
products sold to the US. But it will only do so for Europe when the
signals from consumers are favourable. "We support the responsible use of
biotechnology but would not do anything unless there was regulatory
approval and acceptance from consumers," Unilever said.
Leading supermarkets take the same stance - the customer is king. Few
expect a big retailer to go it alone by putting GM products on its
shelves. Discussions between retailers and with manufacturers are likely
to be exhaustive before any shift takes place. However, the biotech
industry thinks even the proposed labelling regime could be enough to win
acceptance over the long-term.
Mr Verschueren believes the public will gradually accept the benefits of
the technology. "It will be evolutionary but common sense will prevail,"
However, Europe's growing number of organic farmers, who remain implacably
opposed to the technology, are confident public hostility will remain
high. Craig Sams, chairman of the UK Soil Association, the main British
organic body, said the biotech industry would lose the argument. Current
GM foods have no consumer benefit and for as long as people eat white
bread, talk of GM adding nutritional value is nonsense, he argued.
"Lift the moratorium, keep labelling and nothing will happen. Lift the
moratorium, ban labelling and there will be a horrible public reaction."
Australia: Environmentalists Outraged Over GM Challenge
- Paula Kruger, ABC Online (Australia), The World Toda, May 15, 2003 -
ELEANOR HALL: Environmentalists are outraged with the Federal Government
on another front today. Australia has now joined the US in challenging the
European Union's ban on importing genetically modified food. The Bush
administration has decided to take action against the EU in the World
Trade Organisation over its GM ban which has been in place now for five
years. But Australia's organic producers see the Howard Government's
decision to back the US as a slap in the face for their industries, as
Paula Kruger reports.
PAULA KRUGER: The Federal Government says the appeal to the World Trade
Organisation is critical to Australia and all agricultural exporters. It
is an attempt to lift a European moratorium on genetically modified
products. Australia joins the United States, Argentina, Canada and Egypt
in the challenge, arguing that the European ban has no scientific basis.
But Greens Senator, Bob Brown is not impressed.
BOB BROWN: It's outrageous behaviour intervening on behalf of the United
States' multinationals to try and override the democratic decision by
Europe to be very wary about importing GMO foodstuffs and crops and the
logic, I mean, it's an absurd move. Next he'll be supporting the United
States attacking Tasmania because of its five-year moratorium, or Victoria
which has just put a one-year moratorium on genetically engineered canola
PAULA KRUGER: The Greens Senator also argues that testing on GM products
to date has been inadequate, a view shared by the Biological Farmers of
Australia, a network of 2,000 organic food producers. Spokesman Scott
SCOTT KINNEAR: Australian should be joining with the European Union to
defend this challenge, not joining with the United States. The key issue
at stake here is the long-term safety for humans in eating genetically
modified foods and whether there will be any impact on the environment.
There are unique risks attached to these foods and the long-term safety
has not been established.
PAULA KRUGER: But scientists support Government claims there is no
evidence GM foods are harmful. TJ Higgins from the CSIRO's plant industry
TJ HIGGINS: Well I find this perplexing. There is just no evidence that
they are unsafe, in fact the evidence all points the other way. I just
don't know where this, why there is this misinformation out there to
suggest that there is anything unsafe about them. There just isn't any
PAULA KRUGER: But a concern of organic farmers and environmentalists is
that this case currently before the WTO centres on labelling, and that if
the European Union is beaten, consumers around the world won't be able to
make decisions for themselves.
SCOTT KINNEAR: There is a suggestion that they will force a no-labelling
situation so that the labelling legislation that is in place in Europe
would have to be removed. That could also be removed in Australia. That
would be a disaster for consumers and we would all be turned into,
effectively, guinea pigs along with United States citizens that are there
I do see that the whole issue of genetically modified foods through the
World Trade Organisation, if this proceeds, is a potential issue that
could philosophically not only divide countries but could divide
consumers, scientists, agricultural producers in a very conflict-ridden
battle which is something that is really not good for the way that we
ELEANOR HALL: Scott Kinnear is a spokesman for Australia's biological
farmers and he was speaking there to Paula Kruger.
Gene Files: Database of Introduced Genes in Bioengineered Crops
This web site contains a database with information about a number of genes
that are frequently used in developing genetically modified organisms
The primary purpose of these so called Gene Files is to assist Government
officials and experts involved in handling notifications or requests for
permits for contained use, deliberate release or marketing of GMOs. In
addition, the Gene Files aim to provide information to other interested
groups in this field, such as Academia, the private sector, interest
groups and the general public.
The database contains information on the identity and function of the
genes as well as information on environmental risk assessments that have
been carried out earlier in relation to those genes. The Gene Files are
developed as part of the 3-year project " Implementation of national
biosafety frameworks in pre-accession countries of Central and Eastern
Europe" which is initiated by the Dutch Government (see for further
information www.biosafety-CEE.org, under "MATRA project").
These Gene Files are still in an early stage of development and this pilot
of the Gene Files is made available through the Internet for the sole
purpose of soliciting comments and suggestions. Comments and/or
suggestions can be E-mailed to PietvanderMeer@cs.com.
The information used for developing this pilot of the Gene Files is
obtained from existing databases such as EMBL, SWISS-PROT and MEDLINE and
from decision documents and opinions which Governments and Scientific
Committees have made publicly available in English on the Internet. These
documents were obtained through the ICGEB Risk Assessment Search Mechanism
Each Gene File is divided into two parts: (1) Identity and function: The
first part contains information about the identity and function of the
gene and its product. The information consists names and abbreviations
under which the gene and its product is known, its origin, the mode of
action of the gene product, the resulting phenotypic traits and its
intended trait for use in GMOs, In the present phase only functional genes
(2) Results of prior environmental risk assessments for requests for
market approval : The second part contains information about prior
environmental risk assessments carried out for requests of market
approvals for "full use" of the product, i.e. growing, processing,
consumption etc. It also gives information about cases where approval for
placing on the market of a GMO was denied or the notification is withdrawn
on grounds of safety concerns related to the gene in question.
Users of the Gene Files should bear in mind that the fact that a certain
potential adverse effect is mentioned in these files, does not necessarily
mean that such an effect is expected, but that it only means that a
certain potential effect was considered in the risk assessments that have
been carried out. Furthermore, when considering the cited conclusions, as
they have been drawn in the decision documents and opinions, the legal and
political context should be taken into account.
Note from Prakash: Although this has extensive biochemical and regulatory
information on only five genes (including Bt cry1A3 and the antibiotic
marker nptII), this is an excellent resource for researchers, regulators
and any one intersted in the extensive testing on the safety of these
genes inserted into crops. Check also www.agbios.com.
Biofortified Crops to Combat Micronutrient Deficiency
- Marc J. Cohen; email@example.com; http://www.ifpri.org
Morality & Markets: The Ethics of Government Regulation
Author: Edward Soule, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ; $70.00;
Cloth 0-7425-1358-0; 208pp
$23.95; Paper; 0-7425-1359-9; 2002 http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com/
Morality & Markets poses the question: What morally justifies government
intervention in the commercial affairs of private citizens? Its author,
Edward Soule, proposes what he dubs a Regulatory Strategy, a set of rules
for determining the moral legitimacy of regulation. The strategy combines
the political philosophies of John Locke and John Stuart Mill with
economic theory and commercial history. Soule then puts his framework into
action, testing the morality of regulation in contemporary commercial
disputes, including capital markets and genetically modified foods.
"Ed Soule is that rare person who has been very successful in business and
now brings his prodigious knowledge of that form of life to a study of the
morality of markets. The book is simply first-rate philosophical analysis.
And it has the added virtue, in my opinion, of formulating highly
plausible normative and practical conclusions as well."--Larry May,
Washington University in St. Louis
"Whether to regulate, what to regulate and how much to regulate? The
answers to these questions determine the state of regulation of commercial
markets. In this thoughtful and carefully argued book, Professor Soule
provides a morally pragmatic roadmap for answering these
questions."--Norman Bowie, University of Minnesota
"Finally-a much needed book on the intersection of morality, regulation,
and markets! In the spirit of John Stuart Mill, Soule intelligently
approaches the question of regulatory strategy for markets. The book is
nicely balanced with contemporary case studies, clearly written, and will
appeal to moral philosophers and those working in business ethics and
public policy."-- Patricia Werhane, University of Virginia
The Man Ahead of his Time: Emerson on Nature
From Prakash: This year '2003' is an interesting year of anniversaries.
It is the centennial year of the invention or development of the airplane,
Harley Davidson, Buick, Ford, birth of Bob Hope (the greatest gift from
Brits to Yanks other than the Smithsonian itself!) and of course the 50th
anniversary of the discovery of DNA structure and the first human ascent
on the Mount Everest (did I forget any thing here?).
Another important anniversary now is bi-centennial of the birth of Ralph
Waldo Emerson, the great American thinker and wise man. He was clearly
thinking way out of the box in his time. Read the following article in the
'Still Ahead of His Time'
- Frederick Turner, Smithsonian, May 2003
Born 200 years ago this month, Ralph Waldo Emerson had some strange ideas
about the natural world. Recent research suggests they might even be true
Within living memory of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, the
authentic cultural voice of America had spoken, outlining the future of
American science, philosophy, scholarship, poetry and even landscape
design. Today, many people do not know Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many of
those who do, consider him at best a 19th-century transcendentalist or, at
worst, the Dale Carnegie of belles lettres. But Emerson, who was born 200
years ago this month, prophetically mastered a wisdom that could have
saved us all a lot of trouble by clarifying our place in nature.
Emerson is a renaissance voice. Living in the afterglow of the New England
Puritan age of faith, and in the dawn of America‚s political, artistic and
exploring power, Emerson combined a boisterous energy with a rational and
judicious piety. Too intellectually adventurous to remain a Unitarian
minister (he became fascinated by Hindu theology), he did not abandon his
religious tradition altogether. At the center of his insights was a vision
of nature‚s intimate relationship with the human and the divine.
In 1836, Emerson caused a stir when he published a long essay, "Nature."
At 33, he had finally broken with his church, moved from Boston, where he
was born and grew up, to Concord, Massachusetts, and set out to create his
own theology. "Nature," which Emerson revised and later published in a
collection with the same title, would influence European thinkers such as
Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Nietzsche and would become an almost sacred
text for Emerson‚s American disciples, including Henry David Thoreau,
Bronson Alcott (the educator and abolitionist) and Margaret Fuller (the
feminist), who went to sit at the feet of the prophet.
The ideas Emerson put forth in a second, more prophetic essay also
entitled "Nature," published in 1844, boil down to two concepts: first,
that a purely scientific understanding of our physical being does not
preclude a spiritual existence; second, that nature embodies a divine
intelligence. Reconciling those views, he argued that we need fear neither
scientific progress nor the grand claims of religion.
In one of his most striking prophecies, the Sage of Concord seems to have
anticipated the theory of evolution by natural selection as it would be
developed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, published in 1859.
Like Darwin, Emerson emphasizes the importance of the newly discovered
antiquity of our planet: "Now we learn what patient periods must round
themselves before the rock is formed, then before the rock is broken, and
the first lichen race has disintegrated the thinnest external plate into
soil, and opened the door for the remote Flora, Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona,
to come in. How far off yet is the trilobite! how far the quadruped! how
inconceivably remote is man!"
Emerson combines this idea with the observation by Thomas Malthus
(1766-1834) that organisms tend to multiply beyond their resources, giving
us a capsule version of natural selection. "The vegetable life," Emerson
says, again prefiguring Darwin, "does not content itself with casting from
the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with
a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant
themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity;
that, at least one may replace the parent." Certainly, with the parable of
the sower, Jesus beat Emerson to the punch; but as Emerson himself might
have said, there is a kinship among prophets, and they speak to each other
across the millennia.
Emerson also seems to have anticipated by about 80 years Erwin
Schrödinger‚s and Albert Einstein's discovery that matter is made of
energy. "Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it
is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties," Emerson writes,
adding: "Without electricity the air would rot."
Recognizing the mathematical basis of physical reality, he seems aware
that the apparent solidity of matter is the illusion that physicists would
later show it to be: "moon, plant, gas, crystal, are concrete geometry and
numbers." (I imagine Emerson would have been pleased by the discovery of
quarks, which are bits of math spinning in a mathematical space-time
field.) He already seems to intuit the Big Bang, the theory of the
universe‚s birth that would not appear for another hundred years. "That
famous aboriginal push," as he calls it, anticipating today‚s scientific
understanding of the universe, is a continuing process that "propagates
itself through all the balls of the system; through every atom of every
ball; through all the races of creatures, and through the history and
performances of every individual."
But Emerson is skeptical about the then-fashionable idea that nature was
like a clockwork, a deterministic machine whose future--including our
thoughts, feelings and actions--could be predicted if we knew everything
that was happening at a prior moment. He, too, felt the "uneasiness which
the thought of our helplessness in the chain of causes occasions us." But
instead of accepting our fate as parts of a machine, he exalts nature‚s
wonderful waywardness, which defies science's attempts at perfect
Emerson is no less perceptive of human matters. He anticipates Abraham
Maslow, the 20th-century psychologist, recognizing that we will pursue our
higher, freer, more spiritual goals only after sating our lower ones.
"Hunger and thirst lead us on to eat and to drink," he says, "but bread
and wine...leave us hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is full." Before
Freud, before the sociobiologists, Emerson realized the psychological
implications of our animal descent. "The smoothest curled courtier in the
boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature," he says, "rude and aboriginal
as a white bear." But he draws conclusions that even now we have
difficulty accepting˜for example, that there is no meaningful distinction
between the natural and artificial (or man-made). "Nature who made the
mason, made the house," he says. There is no point trying to go back to
nature; we are already there.
America largely ignored Emerson's insights about what is "natural" for a
century and a half. Instead, we divided the world into the populated urban
wasteland and the "empty" untouched wilderness. Thus we felt justified in
uglifying our cities while attempting to eradicate all change and human
agency from our national parks. If we feel alienated from nature, it is
because we are suffering a hangover from a certain vanity of thought that
would raise us above and out of nature. But Emerson sees nature as
potentially improved by human beings and human beings as the epitome of
nature. Such a view would lead, as it has begun to do recently, to an
environmental ethic in which human activity can enrich nature, rather than
just lay waste to it or fence it off. "Only as far as the masters of the
world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of
magnificence," he writes. "This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens,
villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves."
If we had heeded Emerson, we might also have avoided the huge and costly
mistake of dividing academic life into two fire-walled regimes, the
humanities and the sciences. The consequence was not only that we have had
generations of ill-educated young˜scientists who know no poetry, poets who
know no science--but something even graver. Free will, if isolated from
the controlling gentleness and complexity of nature, readily becomes the
will to power, which can serve (and has) as a rationale for genocide. We
are only now beginning to see the madness of where Western philosophy has
led us. Emerson‚s genial sanity can perhaps provide an antidote. As he
says in "Politics," published in 1844, "the wise know that foolish
legislation is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting; the State
must follow and not lead the character and progress of the citizen...."
Perhaps Emerson's most exciting prophetic insights are ones that have not
yet been fully realized. Consider David Bohm's idea of the "implicate
order," still only a gleam in the eye of physics, that all of physical
reality might be thought of as a holographic projection. Emerson,
intuiting that concept a century and a half ago, says that, "from any one
object the parts and properties of any other may be predicted." Like
Stephen Wolfram, whose 2002 book A New Kind of Science advances a view of
cosmology as the playing-out of a simple algorithm, Emerson suggested that
the world is the result of a simple computational process repeated over
and over. Emerson, like Wolfram, cites the seashell, saying of the "whole
code of [nature's] laws" that "Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A
little water made to rotate in a cup explains the formation of the simpler
shells; the addition of matter from year to year, arrives at last at the
most complex forms...."
Emerson's greatest challenge to contemporary thought may be his view of
evolution as a purposeful natural process--an idea vehemently rejected
today. He argues that evolution harbors its own divine spirit and,
therefore, that the universe is bursting with meaning. In his own time,
Emerson was accused of being a pantheist, or a believer in the idea that
nature is God, but that accusation misses its mark. For Emerson, nature is
not God but the body of God's soul--"nature," he writes, is "mind
precipitated." Emerson feels that to fully realize one's role in this
respect is to be in paradise. He ends "Nature" with these words: "Every
moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form.
It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into
us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of
cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time."
Certainly, Emerson's prophecy did not encompass cell phones, nuclear
radiation and molecular genetics. But the American renaissance, of which
he could fairly be called the founder, deserves to be revisited if we ever
gather our culture together again for another bout of supreme creativity.
Pick from the past.................
'The Dead Hand'
- Andrew Apel and C. S. Prakash, Tech Central Station, November 11, 2002
Europe's food and agriculture policy dominates the policies of developing
nations and it is turning into an economic and humanitarian disaster. The
current humanitarian crisis in Africa only serves to highlight how
damaging European regulations truly are.
Europe has an enormous appetite for imports, so its dominance of food
production policy in developing nations would seem to be an obvious
application of the dictum that "the customer is always right." An analysis
conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, found that
developing nations do, indeed, adjust their trade patterns in response to
preference changes in important trading partner countries.
In the context of genetically modified (GM) crops - which Europe permits
only in rare instances - this is proving to be especially true. According
to Prof. Robert Paarlberg of the Department of Political Science at
Wellesley College, some poor countries are now trying to stay "GM-free" in
order to retain the option of exporting food to Europe, which is
schizophrenic about crops and foods improved through biotechnology.
At first blush, this seems to make very little sense. After all, in
developing nations, the vast majority of food produced is consumed
internally. According to the World Bank, 75 percent of the world's poor
live in rural areas and work primarily in agriculture. This means that
benefits from the first wave of GM crops, which are designed to reduce
labor and improve agricultural output, should offer so many benefits for
domestic food security that maintaining export markets would only be a
Indeed, international trade statistics support this conclusion. The World
Trade Organization (WTO) has found that agricultural exports by developing
countries made up only about three percent of total international trade
volume for the years 1990 through 1999. And the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) estimates that 40 percent of this minuscule portion of
international trade is not with Europe, but among developing nations.
Export Policy Trumps Production Policy
Despite this, Europe has had a disproportionate - and negative - impact on
food policy in some developing nations. How?
Europe's economic power among exporters in developing nations is
unmistakable. The EU is the world's largest importer of agricultural
products and says that in 2000, it imported agricultural products totaling
58.6 billion euros, 61 percent of it from developing nations. Agricultural
exporters in developing nations can scarcely ignore a customer with such
But with agricultural exports from developing nations at only three
percent of total trade and nearly half of that with other developing
nations, it would still make sense for developing nations to prioritize
domestic food security over food exports.
For example, strains of rice improved through biotechnology are under
development that will be able to resist drought and disease, or provide
vitamin A to prevent childhood blindness. Nonetheless, the Union of
European Community Rice Millers' Associations in October 1999 demanded
that Thai rice exporters refuse all GM rice and warned that consignments
of Thai rice could be refused if any kernels are found to have been
improved through biotechnology. In other words, if Thailand adopts the
technology to feed its population, its exporters face the prospect of
losing a major market; and if the EU follows through with plans to require
labeling and traceability, Thai exporters would also find themselves
involved in testing and tracking programs and liability for product
recalls, all of which involve costs they would rather not bear.
Of course, these concerns are irrelevant to the rural poor in developing
nations who largely consume locally what is produced locally. Their
subsistence farmers do not plant crops with Europe in mind, but look
primarily to their own survival. Every improvement in production is almost
entirely to their benefit.
The central problem is that European economic power translates into
political oppression in developing nations. Exporters in developing
nations are involved in making money, not food; and as part of the
political elite who hunger for hard currency such as the euro, they impose
policies on farmers to satisfy export markets, not the needs of the poor.
As Robert Thompson, CEO of the Winrock International Institute for
Agricultural Development noted, "The rich in no country go hungry except
in times of war, natural disaster, or politically imposed famine."
Accordingly, they can conveniently rest their agricultural and export
policies on the backs of the poor.
While this is to some extent true everywhere, it is truest for developing
nations. In a poverty briefing by the Overseas Development Institute, it
was noted that the poor in developing nations have little market power.
Combined with often undemocratic political structures, this results in a
lack of political power. Moreover, the political traditions in developing
nations are often top-down, excluding participation of the poor even in
programs intended to assist them. Without political power, the poor cannot
resist policies that cater to European tastes at their expense.
As if this were not bad enough, exporters and their political allies in
developing nations have another financial incentive to accept food
insecurity in exchange for exports: trade liberalization. The IMF has
found "considerable evidence" that more export-oriented countries
consistently tend to grow faster than ones that are inward-looking, and
that the benefits of trade liberalization can exceed the costs by more
than a factor of ten. If the financial rewards of increasing food exports
to Europe are anywhere near that substantial, the incentives to impose
Europe's food production policies on the poor are equally great.
The food crisis in Africa illustrates this problem in a painful way. In
six countries stricken by drought and political strife, 14.4 million face
starvation, yet their leaders blocked the import of GM food aid from the
US on fears that Europe would impose on them the same restrictions that
cost US food producers an estimated $300 million annually. Some of these
African leaders have maintained these policies even after EU officials
have publicly assured them such fears are groundless. Five of these
countries eventually relented, while requiring maize imported from the US
to be milled prior to distribution. Zambia, the sixth, has an outright ban
on US food aid. Those starving poor who were driven by hunger to loot
government warehouses where the maize has been impounded have been rounded
up and placed under arrest. Zambian grain traders are said to support this
policy, because food shortages are driving up commodity prices and
increasing their profits.
There are two potential solutions for this problem. Since agricultural
exports to Europe account for only a tiny percentage of their economic
activity, many developing nations could easily reject Europe as a trading
partner in the agricultural sector and focus instead on food security.
Other economic activities already account for most exports, which could be
expanded with a proportionally greater economic benefit. WTO figures show
that exports by developing nations of such things as timber, metals and
manufactured goods are typically eleven times greater than agricultural
exports. However, shifting an emphasis from agricultural exports to food
security would require substantial political changes which are unlikely to
happen in the near future. For developing nations with a strong dependence
on agricultural exports, this should be counted as a political
It should be hoped that leaders in developed nations could recognize that
Europe's food regulations are distorting trade so severely that they
actually contribute to famine in Africa, and demand that the EU live up to
its obligations under the WTO. Because international systems for trade
governance are already in place, this is a far more realistic solution.
Andrew Apel is the editor of AgBiotech Reporter. C.S. Prakash is a
professor at Tuskegee University and president of the Agbioworld