Today in AgBioView: May 20, 2003
* AgBioWorld News Release: 'MORE THAN 200 INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS VOUCH
FOR THE BENEFITS AND SAFETY OF BT CORN IN THE PHILIPPINES'
Letter to Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the
Republic of the Philippines
* Repent, Ye Super-spreaders of Pseudoscience
* Three Things - Roberto Verzola and his Hunger Strike
* Puzzling Fuss Over 'Bt' Corn
* Agri Sector Braces for Biotech Debate
* SE ASIANS POSITIVE TO AGRI-BIOTECH, EXHIBIT HIGH TRUST IN SCIENTISTS
* Neither Panacea Nor Poison
* Why Fear GM?
* Irrational anxieties, and activist groups, to derail the march of
progress.. We have more to fear from techno-phobes than from technology
MORE THAN 200 INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS VOUCH FOR THE BENEFITS AND SAFETY
OF BT CORN IN THE PHILIPPINES
'Letter to President Arroyo Released as first major crop season gets
AgBioWorld News Release, http://www.agbioworld.org/
Auburn, AL; May 20, 2003 - An international declaration attesting to the
safety and benefits of agricultural biotechnology has been sent to
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on behalf of more than 200
scientists from around the world.
The declaration posted at
accompanied by a letter of praise for the President's ongoing support of
research, development and commercialization biotechnology-derived crops in
the Philippines, according to C.S. Prakash, Ph.D., president of Agbioworld
The "Sound Science - Not Silence" declaration, which has been signed by
more than 200 scientists from around the world, details scientific facts
about positive environmental, economic and health impacts of agricultural
biotechnology, especially that of insect-resistant corn which recently
received full planting approval in the Philippines in December 2002. "As
the first major season of planting Bt corn gets underway in the
Philippines, it is important to ensure that dialogue based on sound
science continues, instead of unsubstantiated and misleading information,"
"Sound science, not silence, must prevail."
The declaration states "The reality is that crops developed through plant
biotechnology are among the most well-tested, well-characterized, and
well-regulated food and fiber products ever developed. This is the
overwhelming consensus of the international scientific community,
including the Royal Society, National Academy of Sciences, the World
Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, the European Commission, the French Academy of Medicine, and the
American Medical Association."
More than 3500 scientists from 60 countries, including 20 Nobel laureates,
have signed an earlier, broader AgBioWorld Foundation petition in support
of agricultural biotechnology. Details are at www.agbioworld.org.
The AgBioWorld Foundation (http://www.agbioworld.org ) is a non-profit
organization based in Auburn, Alabama, that provides information to
teachers, journalists, policymakers, and the general public about
developments in plant science, biotechnology, and sustainable agriculture.
Contact: Dr. C. S. Prakash at Phone: 334 663 1511
May 20, 2003
Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President of the Republic of the Philippines Malacañang Palace
San Miguel, Manila 1000 Philippines
Dear Your Excellency Macapagal-Arroyo:
Please permit us to bring to your attention a declaration entitled "Sound
Science--Not Silence" signed by over two-hundred scientists attesting to
the safety of biotechnology-derived crops including Bt corn.
This declaration states that "Scientists fully engaged in research and
examination of the potential impact of biotechnology-derived crops have
concluded that commercial biotechnology-derived crops and foodstuffs are
as safe as conventional crops and foodstuff, and deliver important
economic and environmental benefits to farmers and society at large."
As you are clearly aware, anti-biotechnology groups continue to spread the
word that biotech crops are unsafe creating fear among the farmers and
consumers. Here, through scientific facts and reasoning, we counter their
allegations that biotech crops are unsafe for public health and the
environment. The declaration is also posted at
AgBioWorld's earlier broader petition vouching for the safety of
bioengineered crops has been endorsed by over 3500 scientists from across
60 countries including 20 Nobel laureates.
We are highly apprecitative of your excellent support for scientific
research in Philippines especially for your encouragement of the
biotechonology. Thus, we hope that you would help continue in your support
of the excellent research and development already underway in this
valuable technology at your country and further support the
commercialization of GM crops in Philippines. There is overwhelming
scientific evidence and support from the scientific community that this is
a safe and useful approach in improving our agricultural production,
improve environmental sustainability, and contribute significantly to
Please feel free to contact me should you need any additional information.
We thank you very much for your consideration, and we wish you continued
success in your endeavors to bring prosperity and improved quality of life
to the people of the Philippines.
With warm regards,
C. S. Prakash, Ph.D.
President, Agbioworld Foundation
Repent, Ye Super-spreaders of Pseudoscience
- Dean Jorge Bocobo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 19, 2003
ZERO, the womb of ciphers and truth, was invented at least 2,000 years ago
in 3 BC-by the Sumerians of ancient Babylon-who left evidence of profound
numeracy in radiocarbon-dated cuneiform. Such history pleases Mohammed ibn
Musa "al-Khowarizmi," the 9th century Arab mathematician and teacher of
"algorithms" and arithmetic during the golden age of Baghdad's Caliph,
Mamun the Wise. His classic, "Hisab 'al-Jabr' Wal-Mugabalah," gave
"algebra" to posterity.
Al-Khowarizmi stands with Euclid-the inventor of geometry; with Galileo
Galilei-founder of cosmology; and Charles Darwin-explorer of evolution
even before X-ray spectroscopy and biochemistry showed how fitness for
survival flows down the river of time and genetic molecules out of Eden.
They stand with Hippocrates the healer, and Florence Nightingale, whose
medicine is a compound of hard science and the fearless compassion of
honest Homo sapiens-such as the brave Filipino doctors, nurses and
builders of the coalition's humanitarian super power. (Supper is served
for them in the memory of significant others in Washington, D.C. on Monday
night, because our allies know we are under terrorist attack, and so are
they. Good. As Gitche Manito the Mighty said to H. W. Longfellow, "All our
strength is in our union, all our danger is in discord!")
I invoke these powerful totems in a time of pestilence, to honor the
professions that save us from mass extinction and false intelligence. I
want to put a hex on the super-spreaders of pseudoscience who endlessly
employ the political sciences of mob rule and obsessive-compulsive protest
to push dead ideologies and needless causes.
Hunger-strikers at the Department of Agriculture, masquerading as
environmentalists, have added pity-mongering tactics of melodramatic
victimhood to fear-mongering by innuendo and falsehood. They want to force
a moratorium on genetically modified crops like Bt corn despite a long,
careful process of safety and regulation already in place. Agriculture
Secretary Cito Lorenzo has listened patiently, but stood firmly on the
ground of due process and the rule of law and order. Good for him. But
where in the world is Environment Secretary Elisea Gozun on this issue?
She cannot remain neutral because her old comrades who refuse to grow up
are involved. It's not an issue of botany or food safety. It's an issue of
governance and saving the hunger-strikers from themselves, and vulnerable
society from sophisticated them. Others should speak up against such
immoral pressure tactics as tag-team hunger striking.
Religious folks, (running or not) who think GMOs are the new thalidomide,
should do penance for mental sloth by reading 2,000 times the Jubilee Year
2000 declaration of the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences where the
Vatican and Pope John Paul II blessed GMOs like Bt corn with a "prudent
YES!"-after years of scientific and ethical study. Read the Holy Father's
words in "Science and the Future of Mankind," the official Catholic Church
document the hunger strikers are hiding from everyone but which you can
download at www.deanjorgebocobo.blogspot.com or send e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org. You will support GMOs as a weapon against world
hunger, like the Pope, and molecular biology as our defense against the
They publish comic books of scary fairy tales that proclaim a principle of
infinite caution based on paranoia and ire. This is deeply anti-science in
method and spirit. It shall not pass unchallenged. They would call
Prometheus an arsonist. I would call them strange or ill. The ego-rush of
unrelenting, undeserved, biased daily coverage by their powerful,
misguided allies in media, brimming with viral propaganda and op-eds
ranting weird eck-eck on biotech, might only egg the brittle on to lemming
suicide, during withdrawal.
Theirs, is really a moot and silly issue. The Public Issues Education
Project of Cornell University reports that "more than 60 percent of food
products on US shelves may contain at least a small quantity of some crop
that has been genetically engineered." (The same surely applies to our
sari-sari stores and supermarkets.) In 2002, 74 percent of the US soy bean
crop was GMO-for oil, flour, lecithin, toyo and taho. GMO corn was 32
percent in 2002-for corn starch, canned corn, corn syrup, corn flour, corn
dogs, pop corn and mais con hielo. Canola was 60 percent GMO-for "cooking
oils, dressings, margarines, cheese, non-dairy products, chips, fried
foods, cookies, pastries, chocolates, confections, cosmetics, soaps and
detergents." The US cotton crop in 2002 was 71 percent GMO. Only
hunger-strikers will eat their shirts and their words, but "cottonseed oil
may be present in a variety of products, including oils, salad dressing,
peanut butter, chips, crackers, cookies and pastry crusts."
Over 50 such crops are now deregulated and commercially available in North
America and dozens of countries that grow and trade them. The Wall Street
Journal predicts the European parliament will lift its moratorium on GMOs
in the July session, noting it's on the agenda with EU-sponsored studies
showing safety, economy and environmental friendliness in eliminating
pesticides and herbicides, reducing over-all cost and boosting yields.
When Europe joins the genetic green revolution, and Euro-Left funding
evaporates, our green revolutionaries may learn the true meaning of hunger
and zero. But don't let them boycott the "unsafe" SARS vaccine, and
hunger-strike in Guangdong.
- Conrado de Quiros, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 19,2003
FIRST, the part about Roberto Verzola and his hunger strike.
I've known Obet from way back and can say with absolute
certainty-something I do not normally say, absolute doubt being my
journalistic policy-that you cannot find a more principled guy than he. I
say this because of news reports and commentaries I've read and heard
hinting that the hunger strike is well financed-this is a war presumably
being waged by European agriculture against America's-and that Obet and
company are being paid good money to go hungry. I say this because of
reports and commentaries I've read and heard that Obet is cheating on his
fast, nobody can last that long without eating.
Well, if anyone can, it is Obet. He is the best argument for his cause. I
caught him in a talk show on TV last week and was astonished to find that
although he had been sufficiently weakened by his hunger strike to be
confined to a wheelchair, he was as lucid and sharp as ever. He has never
been one to eat much, living a pretty spartan-some would say,
ascetic-lifestyle. His diet consists of rice and vegetables. It is safe to
assume those vegetables do not include Bt corn.
He was one of those who developed the first computer in this country as a
student at the Philippine Science High School in the '60s. He was one of
those who pioneered e-mail use in this country putting up a service that
catered exclusively to NGOs. Though he can easily run the R and D of any
multinational company-and he has not lacked for offers there-he devotes
his time to civil society and its causes instead. He rides jeepneys and
walks where there are none. That is where he draws his strength, from the
discipline of his body and the nourishment of his soul.
He was one of the board members of an NGO I put up years ago. Though we
disagreed on issues and policies a number of times, he always put his case
clearly and well. To this day, I have yet to hear him raise his voice in
any discussion. When someone like that talks, you listen.
If a hunger strike seems an unreasonable way to talk, it is only because
government has stuffed its ears with wax which needs prying loose. The
only reason the Department of Agriculture is talking now is because of the
hunger strike. The only reason media have taken notice of Bt corn is
because of the hunger strike. The only reason the public has heard of
genetically modified organisms, or GMO-which, contrary to rumor, is not
the husband of GMA, though a case could always be made for it, they're
both genetically modified-is because of the hunger strike.
This is not to say of course that someone with Obet's scale of integrity
is always right. That precisely is the reason for talking. Which brings me
to the second point, which is GMOs.
I agree that we do not lack for safer alternatives to GMOs to meet the
food requirements of this country. I agree that we may not embrace
technological solutions to social problems, or rush to adopt apparent
agricultural miracles only to justify an unjust social structure where a
few hoard the national wealth and the many go hungry. If the problem is
the specter of hunger, the solution is not Bt corn, it is redistributing
wealth. There is something cynical about the search for scientific
breakthroughs to feed the world when the world can be easily fed simply by
using, according to UN estimates, a tenth of the money the United States
currently spends for arms. There is something cynical about our own
attempts to boldly-others will say, recklessly-promote things like Bt corn
when a tenth of the military budget should go a long way toward
miraculously multiplying this country's loaves and fishes.
But having said this, I must say as well that I am assailed by what seems
to me to be an anti-technology, or anti-science, attitude of some of those
advocating causes such as this. There is nothing genetically modified
about the human desire to improve on nature. It is part of human nature. I
grant that can be dangerous in excessive form, such as the form it took
during the pit of Rationalism when people talked of "putting Nature on a
rack to make her yield her secrets," which has succeeded truly in
tormenting nature whose groans we can hear in the kind of cataclysms we
are experiencing today. But just as dangerous is the other extreme, which
reposes blind faith in the superiority of the natural. Which I've seen in
NGOs too, particularly in New Age-ish preference for "natural
alternatives" to antibiotics, or indeed to a complete distrust of the
I have no problems with GMOs as a general rule, unless it can be proven
that a particular GMO produces more harm than good. My sympathies have
always been with Frankenstein and not with the village folk who ran him
out of his castle presumably for violating the canons of God and man.
And finally, Bt corn. Obet and company have been trying to prove, armed
with the findings of a slew of scientists, that Bt corn produces more harm
than good. I know Obet and I say, declare a moratorium on Bt corn, let us
sit down and talk like reasonable people. I do not buy the Department of
Agriculture's explanation that the findings Obet is presenting are old
hat. I've heard that before when the Freedom from Debt Coalition was
trying to get Cory to repudiate the fraudulent debts: The Department of
Finance kept saying its arguments were old hat. Well, old hats when never
worn remain new. Or for those who do not like figures of speech, old
arguments that have not been refuted remain valid.
I do not buy even more that idea that the United States has been using
Monsanto's products for years, including Bt corn, and so far they have
produced no ill effects. I have ironclad proof they have produced the most
baneful effect of all: much of America supports a madman named George W.
Puzzling Fuss Over 'Bt' Corn
- Alvin Capino, ABS-CBN News, May 19, 2003
Lost in the emotional debate over Bt corn, fueled by the hunger strike by
environment activists led by Greenpeace, is the fact that Filipinos are
already consuming Bt corn in the corn-based snacks foods imported from
America and even those manufactured locally.
The Greenpeace pressure group is giving the public the impression that Bt
corn is something new and that time is needed to assess its possible
adverse environmental impact.
The fact is that Bt corn is commercially planted extensively in the US,
Canada and in all countries in Latin America for almost a decade now and
before that, it had undergone laboratory and field-testing for even
longer. All through these years Bt corn has been proven to be safe and no
negative impact on the environment had been observed.
If there had been even the slightest negative finding, then we could be
sure that Greenpeace and the European-based chemical companies whose
business had been displaced by Bt corn's advantage of being pest-resistant
and requiring little or no pesticides would have blown up any such
Those who have been carried away by the fear tactics of Greenpeace should
ask the activists what scientific evidence they have to prove their
contention about the dangers of Bt corn and, for that matter, other GMO
crops that they are also vehemently opposing.
Unfortunately, there are many who would be victimized if the pressure
campaign of Greenpeace for a moratorium on the use of Bt corn, highlighted
by the hunger strike of a handful of their supporters, succeeds.
The first potential victim is Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. who
assumed the post after a group of local scientists comprising the
Scientific Technical Review Panel (STRP) gave the go-ahead for the
domestic propagation of Bt corn. The timing of the launch of the hunger
strike and the protest action appears to be deliberate and is meant to
soften up Lorenzo, who is vulnerable to such attacks because he is facing
confirmation in Congress.
Lorenzo has met three times with the hunger strikers and listened to their
petition but he refused to agree to a unilateral withdrawal of the
permission given to farmers for propagation of Bt corn without going
through the process. He urged the hunger strikers to present acceptable
scientific evidence, beyond speculation, to support their allegations.
Another loser if Greenpeace activists have their way are the country's
corn farmers. They are looking forward to a brighter future after field
tests showed that Bt corn can give them 40 percent more yield and big
savings because they no longer have to use expensive pesticides. Initial
computation showed that farmers could make P35,000 more per hectare by
shifting to GMO corn.
Consumers and the livestock and feed industries are also potential
victims. Cattle and hograisers are the primary market for corn. At
present, they import the bulk of their corn feed requirements from the US
and some Latin American countries (all of which use Bt corn). Importing Bt
corn while preventing local farmers from planting it is one of the
ridiculous aspects of this whole controversy.
Agri Sector Braces for Biotech Debate
- The Philippine Star, May 18, 2003
Scientists versus NGOsThe local debate on biotechnology and Bt corn
arrayed the coun-try’s leading bio-scientists against Greenpeace and other
Among the local groups of scientists who support the adoption of biotech
crops and who attest to the studies on the safety of these products are
the various units of the University of the Philippines, the National
Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, the Institute of Plant
Breeding and the Natural Science Research Institute.
They are backed by the Crop Science Society of the Philippines, the
Biochemical Society of the Philippines, the Philippine Association for the
Advancement of Science and Technology and the Pest Management Council of
The anti-biotech advocates, on the other hand, are led by groups like the
South Cotabato Movement Against Genetically Modified Organisms and
Ag-mais. Among their supporters is sectoral representative Loretta Ann
Rosales. Nine anti-biotech advocates recently staged a hunger strike in
front of the Department of Agriculture building to pressure government to
stop farmers from using Bt corn.
Church division. The local Catholic Church also appears divided on the
issue. In-fluential Sorsogon bishop Diosdado Varela leads a sector of the
church which has kept an open mind on biotechnology and supports the
Vatican position that the technology is an answer to the global problem of
hunger. Outspoken Manila Auxiliary Bishop Teodoro Bacani and renowned
Jesuit Theologian Joaquin Bernas echo the same position. Several nuns and
parish priests, however, have joined the anti-biotech group. Most of the
anti-biotech clergy hail from Northern Luzon and Mindanao. They have
adopted the points raised by NGOs opposed to biotechnology.
Anti-biotech groups have warned the government that it has launched a
signature campaign to pressure the President to stop farmers from planting
the high-yielding variety. Susan Bolanio, a nun from the Diocese of
Marbel, said she is confident that some 100,000 signatures can be gathered
in the campaign. Farmers’ dilemma Caught in the fray are the country’s
corn farmers who are faced with dwindling farm productivity and mounting
chemical insecticide costs.
Several large corn farmer organizations have pleaded to Agriculture
Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. to junk any move to stop the planting of the
crop variety. Edwin Paraluman, representative of the Agriculture and
Fishery Council of General Santos City decried the alleged ignorance of
the plight of farmers on the part of anti-biotech activists. He said the
technology could help farm yield and therefore "Filipino farmers must not
be deprived of it." Pro-Bt corn farmer groups include the Philippine Maize
Federation, the largest association of corn farmers in the country.
Greenpeace, however, has vowed to stop the effort by Filipino corn
farmers. Local Greenpeace campaigners have urged Lorenzo to stop farmers
from planting Bt corn, warning that the issue could be raised in the
secretary’s confirmation hearings before the Commission on Appointments.
UIUC-ISAAA SURVEY: SOUTHEAST ASIANS POSITIVE TO AGRI-BIOTECH, EXHIBIT HIGH
TRUST IN UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCH INSTITUTES
- CropBiotech Update, Knowledge Center, www.isaaa.org
Southeast Asians show high interest in biotechnology and express strong
appreciation for the role of science in the development of agriculture. In
addition, they do not think that agricultural biotechnology is a risk to
public health and food safety. They see the possible benefits arising from
the applications of biotechnology in medicine, food, and crop production.
More specifically, they believe that biotechnology will benefit
agriculture and the small farmers in their own countries.
Most of the businessmen, consumers and farmer leaders in Southeast Asia
agree that genetically modified (GM) food should be labeled although not
all of them would be willing to pay for the extra cost involved. Thai
policy makers and consumers topped the bill of those stakeholders who
would be willing to pay for labeling. Majority of the stakeholders in
Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia expressed dissatisfaction over
regulatory processes in their respective countries. The Philippine
stakeholders remained divided in this issue.
Moreover, the results indicate that survey respondents consisting of
consumers, businessmen, extension workers, farmer leaders, policy makers,
and journalists consider university scientists and research institutes as
most trustworthy. Across the five countries, the respondents believe that
university scientists and research institutes tend to be highly concerned
about public health and safety issues relating to biotechnology. They also
think that university scientists and research institutes should be
entrusted the responsibility for assessing and managing the risks relating
to agricultural biotechnology.
These are some of the results of a recent survey of key stakeholders in
Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam by communication
researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC),
and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA). The survey is based on a random sample of 2,047
respondents in five Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia,
Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The following are some of the key
findings of the surveys:
* Average Factual Knowledge. Most Southeast Asian stakeholders show an
average level of awareness and attentiveness to factual information on
biotechnology. This was based on a pop-quiz composed of twelve statements
to ascertain their objective knowledge on the topic. Businessmen (Vietnam:
62%, Thailand: 62%, Indonesia: 56.9%, Philippines: 50%), consumers
(Philippines: 63.9%, Indonesia: 52%, Vietnam: 50.5%), journalists
(Philippines: 59.1%, Indonesia: 54.8%, Vietnam: 50%), and extension
workers (Thailand: 63.3%, Indonesia: 62.8%, Vietnam: 54%) exhibit a
moderate degree of understanding of biotechnology .
* High Interest in Agricultural Biotechnology. In all five countries,
stakeholders generally exhibit high interest in biotechnology. Policy
makers (Indonesia: 80%, Thailand: 79.1%, Malaysia: 78.6%, Philippines:
77.3%, Vietnam: 71%), farmer leaders (Indonesia: 94.1%, Vietnam: 70%),
extension workers (Indonesia: 78.5%) and scientists (Malaysia: 99.9%,
Vietnam: 96.9%, Thailand: 83.3%) were the top stakeholder groups that show
high interest in biotechnology. These results indicate that biotechnology
generates a lot of attention from stakeholders who tend to be directly
involved in biotechnology and whose opinions and decisions have a
significant influence on the future of biotechnology in these countries.
* High Benefits, Low Risks. Southeast Asian stakeholders generally view
biotechnology as having high benefits, and relatively low risks. It can be
noted that those who either work directly with farmers such as extension
workers, are farmers themselves such as farm leaders, or have farm-based
constituencies such as policy makers, have assessed very highly the
benefits that can be derived from biotechnology. Policy makers (Malaysia:
85.7%, Vietnam: 83.9%, Thailand: 83.8%, Philippines: 71.1%, Indonesia:
70%), farmer leaders (Vietnam: 88%), and extension workers (Vietnam: 86%,
Indonesia: 72.6%) were the top stakeholder groups that see biotechnology
as having high benefits.
Stakeholders in Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam are rather unsure about
their perceptions of the risks they tend to associate with biotechnology.
Perceptions of risk assessment is practically split three ways, that is,
between low, moderate, and high perceptions. Farmer leaders (Indonesia:
76.4%, Thailand: 50%) and extension workers (Indonesia: 76.5%, Malaysia:
63.1%) say that biotechnology poses low risks. High risks are associated
with biotechnology by journalists from Vietnam 82%, the Philippines 73%,
and Malaysia 62.9%. Survey respondents as a whole perceive biotechnology
as having below moderate risks.
* Positive Attitude Towards Biotechnology. Southeast Asians tend to
exhibit positive attitudes towards biotechnology, and certainly do not
show the kind of skepticism, distrust, or hostility that appear to
characterize other public discussions on biotechnology. Farmer leaders
(Indonesia: 84.6%, Vietnam: 84%, Philippines: 79%, Malaysia: 74.6%) have a
very positive attitude towards biotechnology. It should also be noted that
consumers (Philippines: 82.8%, Vietnam: 73.7%, Thailand: 70%), extension
workers (Vietnam: 84%, Thailand: 78.3%, Indonesia: 76.4%) policy makers
(Thailand: 88.4%, Vietnam: 87.2%, Malaysia: 74.9%) and businessmen
(Indonesia: 76.4%, Philippines: 74.1%, Malaysia: 72.6%) are in support of
Other Key Findings from the Survey
* Labeling GM Foods. Consumers (Philippines: 95.3%, Thailand: 95%,
Malaysia: 90.1%, Indonesia: 89%, Vietnam: 88.9%) prefer that GM food
should be labeled. Farmer leaders in Malaysia 61.7%, Vietnam 50%, and the
Philippines 50.9% say that they are willing to pay extra cost for labeling
GM food. The same is true for the policy makers in Thailand 81.4% and
Malaysia 53.6% The results suggest that labeling is probably seen by most
stakeholders as a concept almost similar to the 'right to vote'.
* Banning of GM Food. Policy makers (Indonesia: 86.6%, Malaysia: 75%,
Philippines: 75.3%, Thailand: 62.8%) were not in favor of contributing
their own resources (time and money) to ban GM food. On the other hand,
farmer leaders (Thailand: 50%, Vietnam: 50%) and journalists (Thailand:
50%, Vietnam: 50%) were willing to provide resources to ban GM food.
* Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits Small Farmers. There is a wide
appreciation among Southeast Asian stakeholders about the benefits of
agricultural biotechnology to small farmers. Farmer leaders (Vietnam: 82%,
Thailand: 64%, Indonesia: 56.8%), policy makers (Indonesia: 80%,
Philippines: 79.4%, Malaysia: 71.4%), extension workers (Vietnam: 86%,
Philippines: 77.2%, Indonesia: 70%) and consumers (Philippines: 69.8%,
Malaysia: 62.2%, Thailand: 60%) show the most appreciation. Similarly,
policy makers (Vietnam: 90.3%, Malaysia: 85.7%, Indonesia: 83.3%,
Thailand: 81.4%, Philippines: 78.4%) have very positive thoughts about the
* Current Biotechnology Regulations are Sufficient. A considerable
percentage of stakeholders in Thailand (journalists: 65.6%, consumers:
60%, businessmen: 58%, extension workers: 55%, farmer leaders: 50%),
Vietnam (policy makers: 71%, farmer leaders: 64%, journalists: 60.7%,
consumers: 52.5%), Indonesia (journalists: 77.4%, businessmen: 60.8%,
extension workers: 54.9%, consumers: 51%) and Malaysia (journalists:
66.6%, businessmen: 55.7%, policy makers: 53.6%, consumers: 51.3%) have
expressed reservations about their countriesí ability to regulate
biotechnology. However, Indonesian policy makers (85.4%) and farmer
leaders (80.4%), and Malaysian farmer leaders (59.6%) believe that current
biotechnology regulations are adequate within their respective countries.
The UIUC-ISAAA study hopes to establish a clear profile of each
stakeholder that can be useful for extension educators, communication
planners, and other decision makers involved in agricultural
biotechnology. The survey results are reported and analyzed in individual
country monographs which are now available online at
http://www.isaaa.org/kc. A separate and integrative publication, which
further examines in detail the similarities and differences between
stakeholders across countries, will be released in June 2003.
Neither Panacea Nor Poison
- RACHEL MELCER, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 2003. stltoday.com
World agricultural representatives (left to right), Dr. O.A. Rotimi, Dr.
Suresh Babu, and Robert Fraley, discussed agricultural technology issues
concerning world agricultural Monday, including, barriers to technology
transfer, its acceptance and development, and natural resource management.
(Justin Kase Conder/P-D)Tackling the lightning-rod issue of genetically
modified food, delegates to the World Agricultural Congress on Monday
reached the not-so-controversial conclusion that it is neither panacea nor
poison, but something in between.
Concerns over genetically modified, or GM, foods have fueled protests and
international trade disputes. Some fear long-term harmful effects on the
environment, biodiversity and human health. Others contend it is the only
way to feed the world's booming population.
Both views were heard at the congress - a three-day gathering of more than
350 representatives of global governments, corporations and
nongovernmental organizations that ends this afternoon at the Hyatt
Regency St. Louis at Union Station.
"People have different perspectives . . . as on whether GM food is a
positive or a cost. You can't get much further apart than that," said
James Bolger, former New Zealand prime minister, who moderated a panel on
But, when up to 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, he said,
"We can't argue for the status quo - we've got to argue for change."
Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., an unfettered GM proponent, challenged
delegates to help him find ways to spread the word. The U.S. scientific
community can provide data to support the use of GM crops, if other
nations are willing to run with it, he said.
"We need your help to convince those who may be unsure, who may need more
information," Bond said. "Modern-day Luddites are saying, 'Don't
genetically modify our food products' . . . but it makes no sense." e
supports the United States' dispute, recently filed with the World Trade
Organization, over the European Union's rejection of GM crops. And he said
President George W. Bush told him last week of plans to raise the issue at
a June meeting of the G-8 industrialized nations.
Bond sees the anti-GM movement as one of trade barriers and protectionism
for European farmers. While representatives from Europe took issue with
his stance, it brought home a key point raised throughout the conference:
Acceptance of GM food, at a global level, is less about safety or
technology - and more about how it is used, sold and spread.
Delegates from developing nations said they won't accept technology that
is forced upon them. And they want the opportunity to develop GM foods of
their own, that are relevant to local tastes and economies.
"For too long, the developed countries have been telling (us) what to do
and how to do things. . . . Now, our people are resisting. They don't want
to go along that way any more," said O.A. Rotimi, of the Federal Republic
Some developing nations have been receptive to GM technology, only to find
access to lucrative European markets threatened by EU trade policy. Others
have tried to roll out a GM crop, but a lack of education among farmers
kept it from succeeding. Most worry, above all, about how to feed their
"We need to understand the needs of the farmer before we even develop the
technology," said Suresh Babu, a senior fellow at the International Food
Policy Research Institute. "There's nothing wrong with getting technology
to (farmers in developing countries). But we need to do it in the right
And, the delegates acknowledged, a lot hangs in the balance.
Subsistence farmers who lack education in crop rotation, fertilization,
irrigation techniques and other basic technologies will use up arable land
without boosting production, they said. Those techniques, coupled with
redistribution of existing resources and the use of GM crops, could feed
Biotechnology "is a new tool with incredible capabilities. (But) we need
all of our tools," said Robert Fraley, executive vice president of Creve
Coeur-based Monsanto Co., the leading producer of GM seeds and traits. He
called for an international regulatory body to govern global commercial
approval of GM crops, based on science rather than trade or other issues.
Regardless of their position, the delegates agreed that global hunger must
be addressed - and some form of technology will be part of the solution.
Otherwise, global politics, environmental protections and millions of
lives could be at risk.
"Poverty and hunger lead to political instability," said Osler Desouzart,
vice president of the Brazilian poultry and meat exporters associations.
"And you cannot ask the person who is starving to death to be concerned
with the environment."
Why Fear GM?
- Derek Burke, Posted to FAO News Group, email@example.com.
Achived at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c9logs.htm . For further
information see http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp.
Dear Colleagues: I have just sent off the following comment to Countyfile.
Why are people so worried about GM foods and crops? After all, GM foods
have been around for ten years in America and there have been no claims of
harm in the most litigious society in the world. Nor have we seen
genetically modified superweeds from GM crops rampaging across their
Why are we panicking over GM foods when we don't over mobile phones,
probably much more risky? It‚s obvious; mobile phones are so convenient.
But why did we panic over the millennium bug? Billions were spent on
fixing our computers, but nothing went wrong; it looks as if it was all a
big scare. Is there a lesson here?
Anthony Finkelstein, professor of software systems engineering at
University College, London, has suggested three causes of the millennium
The first was ignorance. People depended on computers but knew little
about them. They were ready to be scared. Everyone depends on food, but
most do not understand how scientists can transplant bacterial DNA into a
plant. All we know is that it sounds unnatural. They are ready to be
scared. And it isn‚t much help to know that scientists have been
transferring genes by conventional plant breeding for over a 100 years
since they don't understand plant breeding either.
Second someone must have an interest in promoting fear. The millennium bug
made a lot of technicians a lot of money. But with GM food, commercial
interests have lost heavily; Monsanto, the first supplier of GM crops,
lost its European market, saw its share price fall, fired its chief
executive and is still unable to get its products into Europe. But GM
certainly upset the interests of the 'ladies who lunch'; the middle
classes who believe that 'natural' is best and organic is even better. And
it provided a marvellous opportunity for the NGO's who were looking for a
new campaign to launch.
Why are we so obsessed with the natural? Perhaps we should remember Marie
Antoinette and her courtiers dressed up as peasants and shepherds. They
invented a phoney authenticity and pretended to live the simple life while
the real French peasantry was close to starvation. Now it's 'natural'
child birth, although genuinely natural child birth for most women in the
Third World is about the most dangerous experience of their lives.
Discriminating modern Europeans also want the organic food the peasantry
once produced, although, again, natural farming for the majority of
peasant farmers is back-breaking drudgery, most of which is undertaken by
the women who have survived the pains of natural child birth.
Last, but by no means least, is the media. The millennium bug was a
fantastic story until 1 January 2000. Then it collapsed. GM food was the
issue which took Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth into the popular
mainstream. There was a time when you couldn't pick up the Daily Mail
without seeing a warning about what 'Frankenstein foods' might harm you or
your children. Perhaps their campaign is about to collapse too; certainly
they are now saying exactly the same things about nanotechnology that they
said about biotechnology 8 years ago; time for them to move on I think?
If the GM scare was only about what Europeans eat, it might not matter too
much? Well, no. The Government has at last noticed that biotech industries
are being driven offshore and jobs and new industries are being lost
forever. But the consumer is king and although consumers may be wrong even
silly, governments can't legislate against folly.
When it comes to the Third World, however, resistance to GM may be malign.
It is already clear that genetically modified cotton is a huge success in
the developing world; it already accounts for half China‚s crop, has saved
the Australian cotton industry and has proved a success in South Africa.
Since it's not a food, there has been little resistance to its export, and
Australian cotton will probably be 100 percent GM within the next year or
But the problems for the developing world are much more severe over GM
foods. GM crops and foods could offer their agriculture a number of
advantages; reducing the levels of pesticide used, increasing resistance
to pests, helping with crops that are very important to them, such as
rice, bananas and sweet potatoes, but also with crops which are exported
to Europe. But there‚s the rub, because the strict regulatory regime in
Europe makes it almost impossible for them to grow GM crops, and they
cannot export them to Europe. They cannot even grow them nearby non-GM
crops because of fear of 'contamination'.
Disgracefully, European NGOs, who should be helping them, have exaggerated
their fears and concerns to such an extent that GM crops are effectively
blacklisted. We all know what happened in Zambia, where the government
refused milled GM corn, when their people were starving.
So we have a new sort of economic colonialism; insisting on standards
which we can afford but which the developing world can‚t. It doesn't
matter to us in Europe if GM foods are like the millennium bug, it doesn‚t
matter to us if we spend billions of pounds regulating products which are
basically safe, it doesn't matter, we think, that we've driven most of the
agrifood industries out of the UK, and increasingly out of Europe.
But it does matter, I argue, that we've exported our rich, developed world
standards in such a way that the developing world is not helped but
hindered. We have increased their problems, and prevented them increasing
the food supply they so desperately need, just because of rich European
middle class attitudes.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
-- Professor Derek Burke, Cambridge CB4 1HD; email firstname.lastname@example.org
"On banning genetically modified crops in Colorado"
Editoria, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, May 14
No nation in history has benefited more from the application of science
and technology than ours has. Although the march of technology is not,
admittedly, without its dark side, it's made our lives immeasurably
healthier, happier and better in ways most of us take for granted and
frequently even forget.
It's that forgetfulness that's being exploited by anti-technology types to
raise popular anxieties about one of the most promising new technologies
emerging - genetically modified crops. Such crops hold great promise for
everything from reducing dependence on chemical pesticides to providing
vitamin-enhanced nutrition to starving people, to creating new generations
of more affordable pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Yet by highlighting the
relatively modest perils of this technology, and miscasting genetically
modified agricultural products as freakish ''Frankenfoods'' to be feared,
the neo-Luddites are attempting to halt the march of progress from which
we are all happy beneficiaries.
On Monday environmental groups asked Gov. Bill Owens to establish a
statewide ban on the growing of genetically modified crops for use in the
development of pharmaceuticals, in response to the application by a French
company to grow 30 acres of genetically modified corn in the northeastern
part of the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the
proposal and the state has 30 days to accept or reject it, based in part
on the recommendation of a three-member panel of university experts. We
believe that the state should seriously think about approving the
application, depending on the advice of the experts.
With just 30 acres of crop land at stake, it would be easy and politically
painless for Owens to give in to the pressure and ask the Department of
Agriculture to turn thumbs down on the application. But it could be the
wrong thing to do. By rejecting the application, without at least weighing
the nominal risks against the potentially significant benefits, the
governor would be saying that Colorado is no longer welcoming to this
promising new technology (although at least a third of all the corn
currently grown in Colorado is genetically enhanced) and handing an easy
victory to the neo-Luddites that could reap a bitter harvest in the
''By turning our back on this application, we run the risk of leading
people to believe that all applications of this technology is
inappropriate,'' according to Agriculture Department spokesman Jim Miller.
''We have to look at this technology as something that has a lot of
promise, and we don't want to be looked on as a state that turns its back
on a technology out of fear. Bio-tech is here. It's here to stay. And we
feel we in Colorado have what it takes to make sure it's done right.''
The last decade has seen a revolution in the development of genetically
modified crops. Yet such progress is in constant risk of being rolled back
by environmental activists who exaggerate the risks of growing such crops,
while ignoring or minimizing the worldwide benefits. But such
self-defeating fears are not limited to genetically modified crops.
They've been used to curtail the greater use of irradiation to make our
And here Colorado Springs, local neo-Luddites not long ago managed to kill
an effort to add cavity-fighting fluoride to the drinking water of
thousands of area residents.
We understand that genetically enhanced crops, like all new or existing
technologies, must be managed responsibly in order to minimize the risks
of misapplication. But every new technology that's ever come along, from
pasteurization to microwave ovens, has encountered resistance from Chicken
Littles. Let's not allow irrational anxieties, and activist groups, to
derail the march of progress. History has consistently shown that we have
more to fear from techno-phobes than from technology.