Today in AgBioView: May 23, 2003
* Suman Sahai Comments Back
* Response by Conko
* Real Performance of Bt cotton in India - Avery
* Andrew Apel's Response to 'Scolding' by Francois Pythoud
* Organic Biotechnology?
* A Zambian Reader Laments His Govt Decision
* GM - The Bigger Picture (Comments from a British Farmer)
* Re: Germans Banned from Killing Ant
* Caution: May Contain Nuts!
* The Ball Game of Bt Cotton in India
* Moving the Debate on Genetically Engineered Crops Forward
* GM Foods: Is Bush Right to Criticise Europe?
Response from Suman Sahai (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Comments addressed to Apel, Avery, Conko,Giddings, Shantharam and
Elliesen, on the Bt cotton discussion following Prakash and Conko's
article in the Wall Street Journal :
1. A great deal of mixing of apples and oranges is happening here. Iam
not an eco-feminist by any stretch of the imagination. Neither I nor Gene
Campaign are "anti-genetic engineering" or against modern agriculture.
These and other facts are unfortunately a casualty in much of the harangue
2. The EU-US turf war over GM products is best fought elsewhere. It need
not be dragged in wherever "GM" is mentioned.
3. For those having a serious interest in the studies conducted in India ,
several interviews with farmers are available. Most NGO studies ( Gene
Campaign, Greenpeace, FAO and others ) have documented these.
4. Conko seems to be mixing apples and oranges more than most. He is
clearly unacquainted with the ground realities in India and his analysis
of the 'confounding factors' of drought and the availability of illegal Bt
cotton seeds is factually incorrect.
*Drought this year has meant a lower pest attack than other years. This
means fewer bollworm , a condition under which this year's Bt cotton had a
better chance of showing good results if the varieties were indeed good.
As it happened,non- Bt cotton varieties performed better than Bt cotton in
Infact the Gene Campaign study found that the Bt cotton was very
vulnerable to pink bollworm against which it seemed to have no protection.
*Conko is unaware that the 'copious amount of saved seed ' from the
illegal Bt cotton variety Navbharat 151, has no bearing on the performance
being reported for the approved Bt cotton released by Mahyco-Monsanto. All
studies, including Gene Campaign's have only been conducted in the fields
of farmers that grew the approved Bt cotton. There is no question of the
illegal Bt cotton being part of this data and therefore no question of it
'skewing part of the yield downward'.
Incidentally, anecdotal evidence suggests that the performance of the
illegal Bt cotton is far superior to the Mahyco- Monsanto variety so if
any skewing were to happen, it would happen upwards! At any rate, farmers
appear to be seeking out these varieties rather than Bollgard, for the
coming planting season.
Farmers having the right to choose their seed is a notion supported by all
right thinking people. However, it is the responsibility of the state/
regulatory agencies to ensure that the selection of seeds presented to the
farmer is made only after the most rigorous tests, so that they receive
only the best. That has clearly not been done in this case. The base
varieties Mech 162 and Mech 184 which were transformed, are known to be
The risk taking capacity of farmers in India, specially small farmers, is
almost zero. There are no crop insurance schemes that work for them,
little available credit and little or no agriculture subsidies. There is
no point making wise pronouncements on the right of farmers to adopt (or
reject) technologies that they have no understanding of and then leaving
them to their own devices to bear the brunt when the technology fails,
even if only for one season.
When farmers try out seeds in good faith and they do not work as claimed,
the supplier of that seed has to be held accountable. That is the reason
the Indian Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act of India has
incorporated a liability clause. It is under that section (39/2) that Gene
has made the demand for compensation to those farmers who have suffered
losses from Bt cotton.
Gregory Conko Replies:
Although I will not defend Andrew Apel's claim that Suman Sahai is an
"eco-faminist", I find it ironic that someone like Sahai who so often
resorts to the ad hominem attack (see her claim that my colleague CS
Prakash and I are "well known biotechnology lobbyists") would fault
someone else for doing the same.
Regarding the merits of her argument, she claims that "Drought this year
has meant a lower pest attack than other years. This means fewer bollworm,
a condition under which this year's Bt cotton had a better chance of
showing good results if the varieties were indeed good."
This claim is entirely wrong. During a growing season in which insect pest
pressures are lower than usual, one would expect Bt varieties to perform
LESS WELL, relative to the performance of non-Bt, than during growing
seasons in which insect pest pressures are average or greater than average
-- the condition under which the Bt trait would be most useful.
Too often, Sahai has tried to weasel her way out of debates she is losing
with non-Indians by resorting to a "you simply don't understand the
situation in India" defense. She does it here again by claiming that I am
"clearly unacquainted with the ground realities in India." But it appears
that it is she who misunderstands this aspect of crop protection.
Real Performance of Bt cotton in India
- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute
Well, here is finally some info on the real performance of Bt cotton in
India. Farmers voting with their money and placing their future in the
hands of Bt cotton. That speaks orders of magnitude louder than the
proclamations of NGOs or government bureaucrats!
India: Andhra Pradesh Farmers Cotton on to Bt Seeds Despite Bad Reports
(expected acreage under Bt cotton to exceed 1,00,000) - Economic Times.
May 15, 2003; pg 16
Bacillus thuriengenesis (Bt) is in high demand in Andhra Pradesh despite
reports that its performance was not satisfactory in 2002. Farmers have
booked the seed for the coming season with orders sufficient to plant an
area exceeding 60,000 acres in Andhra Pradesh. In 2002 the orders placed
could be met by planting in 8,300 acres. Bt is resistant to bollworm pest
attack and has approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of
the Ministry of Environment, Government of India.
Survey conducted by Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity and
other such organisations showed that Bt had failed in ensuring higher
yields, reduction in usage of pesticides and being economically beneficial
to farmers. However, farmers in Andhra Pradesh still seem willing to test
the seed despite its high pricing. Some of the farmers said that they were
satisfied with the performance of the seeds and expected the land under Bt
cotton to be more than 1,00,000 acres.
Andrew Apel's Response to 'Scolding' by Francois Pythoud
It is Mr./Dr. Pythoud who demonstrates "ignorance." Activist groups on the
payroll of the European Union and various European states have abetted
European anti-biotech sentiment and trade protectionism around the world
by claiming GM crops result in, to name a few, homosexuality, impotence,
infertility and untreatable forms of gonorrhea. The United States, in its
claim against the European Union, receives support from numerous
countries. Meanwhile, the EU's sole defenders in the WTO action are
activists--again, many of whom are complicit in these lies and remain on
the payroll of the EU and European countries.
Just as it took unprecedented violence to shock the public into noticing
that anti-biotech violence is illegitimate (and as predicted, it did), it
will take an unprecedented WTO action against the EU to shock the public
into realizing that the European subsidies for activists illegitimately
purchase lies and abet starvation. With paid-for liars and faminists
leading the EU's PR defense, its case looks pretty shabby.
If ten years experience in biotech regulation in Switzerland has taught
you anything, it has taught you that the Swiss have for a long time been
in the grip of the kind of hysteria that Europe's hirelings have been
peddling abroad. That speaks well for no one.
>> Scolding for Andrew Apel - Francois Pythoud
>> Dear Editor, As a European not member of a European Union country, I
>> been deeply chocked by the response from Andrew Apel who remind me the
I want to get a better perspective on the different viewpoints that the
organizations have toward the pros and cons of Biotechnology. Could a
AgBioWorld member respond with their opinion about the subject of organic
biotechnology? I wrote an introduction to the terminology as below:
Perhaps, I could put two words together to gather ideas of the direction
that pro-biotech and anti-biotech individuals really want. The two words
put together make a unique, somewhat blunt, terminology known as "organic
biotechniques." For some reason, many ideas seem to float around that
those two words are oxymoronics.
Cow milk has always been known as a genetically modified food, but cow
milk is not made from an organic biotechnique. Does cow milk feed the
world? The answer is debatable for those that are not omnivorous.
Biotechnology seems to be an overall target. I wonder if AgBioWorld agrees
that there are smaller aspects of biotechnology that needs concern and not
the overall study. As with Computer Science, many years went by before
computers were accepted as not a threat.
A Zambian Reader Laments His Govt Decision
- Eddie Mulengah
I must say I am gaining a lot of valuable knowledge about GMOs from
reading AgBioView. I also know for a fact the here in Zambia our reckless
government rejected food aid on the basis that it was hamful.
I don't know of any organisation in Zambia promoting the use of GMOS, if
there is please do let me know i feel I can be part of that team. I will
be in touch, I truly appreciate the information from this newsletter.
GM - The Bigger Picture (Comments from a British Farmer)
- Keith H Adamson
'Biotechnology is here to help man -- it is another invention we should be
For the vast majority the Public debate is really just opinions on a
subject that most people don't fully understand. I know that's slightly
condescending but heavily truthful.
Some people's opinions are based on no knowledge, some influenced by
sensationalised stories by our naughty but interesting to read press,
while others are based on some knowledge - the wrong stuff - fed by
certain organisations with agendas.
You may now say Drs, Bsc and other degree holders are also against the
biotechnology. But again there aren‚t many who disagree who have looked
into 'all' the information and facts. But it is the easy way out to
disagree if you haven't.
Certain organic groups like the soil association who have e-mailed all
their members to send a letter to try and influence the debate with shear
letter numbers are building an increased market on the back of first scare
stories about pesticide residues in conventional farming and now
biotechnology with cleverly worded half stories.
And congratulations must go to them they have done a successful job. I
would be worried also, as biotech crops are half way to organic. And
unfortunately Greenpeace way back also got on this environmental
Which I must admit seemed the right thing to do when you first hear about
the technology and don‚t know that much about it; and their very remit is
to look after the environment. Yes it does have the potential to affect
the environment if not tested, re-tested, peer-reviewed, glasshouse
evaluated and tested again. But so does organic and conventional farming
in certain ways.
To which I agree full testing and regulations are required. Leaving us
with a technology that has the power to help man and the environment to
unparalleled levels that agriculture has never witnessed before and crops
that independent scientists have said are no more dangerous (and possibly
safer) than conventional or organic crops that haven‚t been tested.
Biotechnology is here to help man it is another invention we should be
It can help reduce (not get rid of) the ugly footprint man has been
leaving on the face of earth. This leaves Greenpeace with a big dilemma.
It thought it could only use old-fashioned methods. I‚m sure some on-board
will slowly begin to cringe.
The highly respected Royal Society has concurred that the anti-GM lobby
has created a 'smokescreen of unfounded claims' that has seriously misled
I can hear you thinking why don't we all go organic, but the bigger
picture is that we can't. There wouldn't be enough yield it's as simple
as that and if there was we couldn't afford it.
And we wouldn't want to take any more of our precious natural habitat for
agriculture in order to give organics enough acres to produce that yield.
Don't even think about the set-aside % or Poland -- it's not enough.
Poland, as a developing country, wouldn't even consider organics. Organics
is the privilege/folly of a developed country.
Conventional agriculture has filled the required yield gap most admirably
with our limited resources and knowledge. Do not think we know it all
though, as new technology down the line will supersede as it has in the
past - but hopefully with less other food scares like BSE, foot and mouth
and Dioxin, which have sensitised peoples change thresholds this time.
With a population of 6.1 Billion - and the WHO (World Health Organisation)
predicting 9.1 Billion in only 47 years, conventional farming and our
environment would surely be under great strain. In 25 years the UK only,
has gone from 4.5 million tons of fertiliser to 18.3 million tons year.
Care to predict YR 2050?
Yes conventional is not perfect, organic is not perfect and biotechnology
is not perfect but I believe the latter is the only one that can feed our
populace and point us towards a more sustainable future. I also believe
it is important that all three types of farming exist. Certain types suit
certain areas and countries at certain times depending on their present
problems, pests, weeds, economics, population, climate, resources and
But on a whole biotechnology has many positive areas.
Less insecticides thus more biodiversity from reduction of blanket
spraying, much more benign chemicals, less myctoxins, more nutritious
foods, healthier higher anti-oxidant (cancer fighting) and mineral
With numerous new hospital drugs and many more awaiting approval, modified
crop vaccines that are totally underrated by all that complain about the
technology; do they realise they are trying to stop the saving of
Far less greenhouse gases from the easier move to min-till or reduced till
that round up ready crops allow. With it less soil erosion, less soil
run-off, less fuel burnt, less plastic cans, less transportation and
electricity used. Water and air quality have increased, it's not hard to
see why when Canada reports the use of 6000 tons less chemical used in one
year on one crop; conola or what we call OSR.
The pipeline has more crops resistant to key diseases, reducing more
chemical, foods that can seriously reduce heart disease and
gastrointestinal cancer like tomatoes with higher quantities of lycopene.
Also bio-fertilisers (plant nodule bacteria) are very possible. The list
of gains and potentials can go on.
So it's not perfect, it won't feed the world and no one can guarantee that
it's 100 % safe, just as no one can guarantee that conventional or organic
are 100 % safe.
Every problem has been blown out of proportion. Keep it real, man!
Remember peanuts kills 11 people in the UK every year. Aren‚t people
channelling their opposition in the wrong direction? Hopefully people's
agendas can change. I have no issue with reporting the problems- no one
does; but reporting exceptions as if they are the norm is misleading.
Bending the truth with clever English and scary half stories discredit and
influence the public. Today 16 countries have approved biotech crops,
covering 58.7 million HA including Switzerland and Australia, two
countries who care for their ecosystems dearly. Europe must now decide if
we want to go forward.
- Yours sincerely, Keith H Adamson (farmer) HND, NSch.
Re: Germans Banned from Killing Ant
- Lucian Haas
This is not a hoax, although it might sound crazy for someone who lives in
a country or region where ants are a common kitchen pest. This is not the
case in Germany, where some ant species are on the red list of endangered
animals. That is why strong protection rules were set. Walking through the
woods in germany, you could see anthills protected with wire-netting
fences against any disturbers.
- Regards, Lucian Haas - Science Journalist
Caution: May Contain Nuts!
Scroll down to a cartoon at the bottom of the page...
The Ball Game of Bt Cotton in India
- Kameswara Rao
Tillmann Elliesen (TE; 1) used the ballgame of Bt cotton in India to
support his theory that 'the critics of genetic engineering are
increasingly becoming an entrenched fundamental opposition--and thus
hurting their credibility". Had he also used the misinformation campaign
and blind opposition of the critics of genetic engineering (GE) to GE
mustard and Golden Rice in India, his purpose would have been served
The provocation for the present writing is that TE seems to provide
succour to the paper published in SCIENCE by Quim and Zilberman (Q & Z; 2)
the performance of Bt cotton in India.
Q & Z (2) used Bt cotton in India to support their theory that 'currently
existing GM crops can have significant yield effects that are most likely
to occur in developing world, especially in the tropics and subtropics'.
Nothing wrong with the theory, but only with the use of one year‚s field
trial data on a crop reeling in teething problems, to support it. The data
used do not alter their other observation that Œthe limited experience
with GM crops so far is insufficient to make broad generalizations about
their impacts‚, as far as the developing countries are concerned. The
encouraging performance of Bt cotton in the US, Africa, China and
Indonesia and the annual increase acreage under Bt cotton in more and more
countries is an adequate testimony of the benefits derived from Bt cotton
in the other parts of the world.
Although there seems to be nothing wrong with Q & Z‚s (2) basic claims of
the performance of Bt cotton in India, the problem is with the kind of
data they used to make sweeping generalisations. The conclusions are not
borne out by the data and we cannot use theories to convince the public
and these are not needed to convince the scientific people who already
know that Bt technology has a high promise, given the right conditions. It
should be clear that all of who were critical of Q & Z‚s paper are not
against GE technology.
Many of us, who are supporters of technology, emphasise the need to
convince the public of its safety and demonstrate cost-benefits, and that
such support of technology should be based on unassailable scientific
grounds. Q & Z‚s paper left broad sides open for severe criticism, as they
based their conclusions on just one season‚s (that of 2001) field trial
data and not data from commercial cultivation in the season of 2002. The
purpose of the field trial data is to convince the regulatory authority of
the benefits of the technology to accord permission for commercial
cultivation, after which the field trial data belong only to the archives.
Qaim (3) accepted that the cotton season of 2001, on which their analysis
was based, was a high pest pressure year and so the differences between Bt
and non-Bt would be high. On the other hand, the cotton season of 2002 is
a low pest pressure year and so the yield differences between the two are
quire low. The critics of Bt technology are using the low differences of
this year‚s commercial cultivation and argue that the projections of Q & Z
(2) are exaggerated. Added to this, the season of 2002 is a draught year
where not only cotton but also most of agriculture in India was affected
to the extent that the Central Government sanctioned huge draught relief
grants to different States, many of which constitute the major cotton
The GEAC permitted commercial cultivation of Bt cotton for three years.
Why cannot the supporters and opponents of Bt technology wait till the end
of this period to proclaim Bt cotton in India, as a success or a failure?
In the meanwhile they can certainly monitor the situation, in order to
analyse the factors responsible for the outcome each year and to have an
idea of what is likely to come up at the end of the three-year period.
TE (1) missed almost all of this. I am surprised that TE did not mention
anything written by Dr Shantharam, who had actually kick started the
debate on Q & Z‚s paper (2). As Qaim (3) mentions, most of Dr Shantharam‚s
criticism relates to the sources and the quality of the data. Had this not
been the case, and had the data related to results of commercial
cultivation, Dr Shantharam and I would have celebrated Q & Z‚s paper.
TE (1) added to the controversy by saying that "Mahyco-Monsanto neither
supplied the data nor funded the research".
I do not consider data as suspect simply because they come from the
company that is marketing a product. In the face of TE's emphasis that
Mahyco-Monsanto did not supply the data used by Q & Z, consider the
following: a) at Reference 30 (2), Q & Z thanked Mahyco "for making the
field-trial records available", and b) Qaim (3) wrote that "We have used
the company field-trial records about the pest infestation levels, such as
larval counts per plant. These were collected during weekly trial visits
by local company agronomists, and we received the complete bundle of
handwritten field records, not just aggregated summary statistics." Qaim
was anxious to impress that the data were collected basing on "our own
survey form", that the data collection was "initiated by us", that "we
entered the data from the questionnaires into the computer ourselves" and
"conducted the analyses completely independently from Mahyco or Monsanto".
I do not put any value on this issue, as it does not matter who did what
The criticism of Q & Z's paper (2) was on the type of data, that they were
only field trial records. Even if Mahyco-Monsanto supplied the analysed
data in the final format, many would have accepted without suspicion, may
be with a pinch of salt, provided they related to commercial cultivation.
A study of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) (4), that
monitored the Bt cotton field trial prior to GEAC‚s approval, also used
the field data of 2001 and projected increase in yield ranging from 60 to
92 per cent. This study was cited by the ISAAA(5). I do not understand why
Q & Z did not use the field trial records of all the five years (seasons
of 1997 to 2001) and that why they should chose only 157 locations (on
what basis?) out of 395 locations of the same year? (Ref. 12, Science
paper), which makes it less than 42 per cent of the total trial locations.
This is not even substantial, yet Qaim stated that the 'data are far from
meagre' (3). When Qaim himself observed that the gains in field trials
could not simply be transferred to commercial agriculture (3), what
purpose analyses of field data of 2001 serve?
The performance of a particular Bt cotton variety should be compared only
with that of its isogenic variety. Q & Z‚ (2) did this but also made
comparisons with 'popular check' without mentioning the check varieties.
When five varieties were under field testing, three of which the GEAC has
approved for commercial cultivation, it is difficult to read the relative
performance of the different Bt varieties chosen in the study, when the
data from all varieties of Bt cotton are pooled (Table 1, in 2). The
relative performance of different Bt cotton varieties is the not the same.
Actually, Q & Z (2) did not mention any specific varieties of Bt cotton.
Since it is now known that Bt varieties like MECH 162 are not superior to
several local varieties, the yields of the local popular check varieties
cannot be lower than those of the isogenics (Table 1 in 2) in all the
Qaim (3) wrote that "having isogenic hybrids with and without the Bt gene
growing next to each other, and controlling for other inputs, "it is an
appropriate inference that most of the yield effects is due to the Bt
gene". This position is scientifically untenable, as they have overlooked
the vagaries of conditions of cultivation. There is no mention of negative
control and there was no randomised design to attest to the statistical
significance of the results. Yield increase in Bt cotton is due to
realisation through protection from loss and not a real increase on
account of any gene of the Bt technology. The function of the Bt gene to
afford control of the bollworm and nothing more.
Qaim (3) accepted that the "Science paper is not a substitute for a
careful analysis of broader Bt cotton impacts in India in commercial
agriculture", and yet chose to extrapolate the analysis into broad
generalisations. He also wrote that (Bt strategy) "should be part of an
integrated pest management strategy that assesses technologies according
to their real impacts". This is not a new finding, as Bt is already a part
of IPM strategy in India. On both the counts, there is no need for this
Qaim (3) wrote, „Some of the broader conclusions go beyond the statistical
analyses, but they area based on theory and lessons from the
crop-protection literature‰. May be so, but stretched extrapolation
damages the cause.
Another point made by Q & Z (2) and emphasised by TE (1) is about the
source of funding. I believe that the MNCs that develop and market GE
products also have a responsibility to support surveys on product
performance and programmes on public perception, awareness and education
on technology issues. Had Mahyco-Monsanto supported the study of Q & Z's
study, it would be alright with rational people. There is no one need to
be apologetic to accept such funding nor be anxious to convince that no
such funding was received. I do not understand how the value and
credibility of a particular study becomes elevated simply because it was
supported by a public finding agency. Here is an unwarranted commentary on
the integrity of the scientific community. We should rise above this kind
of implicit linking of our credibility to the kind of funding we receive
for our study, and get into a position where people would trust us, no
mater who funds our study. I wonder, how can (and why should) a public
institution spend money on a project related to a product generated and
commercialised by a private enterprise?
The veracity of a study and the value of its conclusions depend upon the
integrity of the investigators, the quality of the data and the rigour of
the analysis, and not on who funded the project. I have been a witness for
four decades or so, as to how much public research funding goes down the
drain in India because of poor quality of science and lack of integrity on
the part of the researchers. Few black sheep should not be the reason for
undermining the credibility of the whole scientific community.
1. Elliesen, T. The futile dispute over genetic engineering. D + C, 30:
207-209, 2003.5 2. Qaim, M., and Zilbermann, D. Yield of genetically
modified crops in developing countries. Science, 299: 900-902, 2003. 3.
Qaim, M., in AgBioView, in response to comments on Q & Z‚ paper (2),
February 21, 2003. 4. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Report on 2001 IPM trial cost benefit analysis. 2002, New Delhi. 5. Bt
Cotton in India. ISAAA Monograph, March 2003.
- Professor C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education Bangalore, India (email@example.com)
Moving the Debate on Genetically Engineered Crops Forward
- Pamlela Ronald & Steve Strauss, ASPB News, May/June 2003, v.30, No. 3.
The recent perspectives about crop GEOs (genetically engineered organisms)
by Holzberg and Lassen et al. (volume 30, issues 1 and 2, respectively)
highlight the need for ASPB to continue to be actively involved in the GEO
debate to provide accurate information to its members and the public.
Here, we would like to counter some of the oft-repeated scientific myths
that we do not believe move the discussion forward or provide new
scientific insights that help resolve the GEO logjam.
1. GEOs have definable scientific properties and can thus be discussed as
a meaningful category. We prefer to use the term GEO rather than GMO
(genetically modified organisms) because it provides a clear distinction
from traditionally bred crops. Each crop GEO is different and must
therefore be considered on its own merits or demerits. It is absurd to
equate vitamin A rice (generated by funds from nonprofit institutions;
major beneficiaries are young children in developing countries) with
Roundup-Ready® corn (privately funded; major beneficiaries are large
growers and private companies in the developed world). The process of
genetic engineering is no more hazardous than hybridization, inbreeding,
and mutagenesis, which are all components of traditional breeding. The
importance of critically evaluating product rather than process has been
emphasized in three independent National Research Council reports
(http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10258.html). Generic discussions of the
benefit or risk of 'GMOs' are not scientifically credible.
2. 'Public skepticism' about complex technology, especially when it does
not have large and direct benefits to individual consumers, can be taken
at face value. People will tend to reach wildly different conclusions
about genetic engineering depending on how they are educated and
particularly what context they are given and who they trust. A recent USDA
study of consumer demand showed how willingness to pay for biotech foods
depends greatly on what the consumer is told and who is doing the telling
(http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/tb1903/tb1903.pdf). This study also
found, as have many other studies of risk perception, that negative
messages tend to be more penetrating than positive messages.
Anti-GEO activists therefore have a much easier time than those trying to
promote balanced or positive perceptions of genetic engineering. Finally,
because the largely urban public knows little about agriculture or
breeding, it can be easily misled about technologies. In a survey of
consumer attitudes about labeling by the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, 40 percent said they wanted the use of hybrid corn to be
„Public skepticism‰ needs to be interpreted very carefully.
3. Corporate profit motives and business practices tarnish the science and
technology by association. Genetic engineering approaches did not
originate with industry, nor are they being used only in industry. They
are simply a powerful set of techniques that can be used in plant breeding
where conventional methods fail or are inefficient. The profit incentive
and patent system, although by no means perfect, do provide strong
motivations to companies to develop new methods and products. The legal
protection provided by patents can result in scientific advances being
publicized that may have otherwise been kept as company secrets.
Because of the complex laws relating to use of GEO crops, companies are
likely to profit only if their products benefit farmers or consumers and
do not pose unreasonable risks to the environment or health in accordance
with accepted government standards. These standards define the rules and
the playing field on which companies must operate. Given the continued
rule of law, the profit motive and public benefit are not inimical in a
4. Labeling and process knowledge is a consumer right, regardless of its
scientific basis and social cost. Although labels themselves are
inexpensive to print, the identity segregation, tracking, and testing
systems that a meaningful labeling system requires can be very costly to
society. This is especially true when, as in the European Union, very
small levels of GEO ingredients must be carefully identified in all
derivative products. Societies therefore choose not to label many trace
ingredients or specific aspects of crop and food production that may be of
some nutritional or environmental relevance, even though this information
would be of interest to many consumers (e.g., pesticide residues,
varieties, fertilizers, irrigation practices, origins of processed foods).
Labels also tend to be viewed by consumers as 'warnings' and thus can
stigmatize crops that may have economic, health, or environmental
benefits. Under current law, the FDA seeks to avoid information on labels
that consumers may find 'misleading' with respect to nutrition and safety.
For example, a label on a genetically engineered papaya indicating that it
contains 'trace amounts of papaya ringspot viral DNA' would be accurate
but misleading because the average consumer does not know that the
nonˆgenetically engineered fruit is likely to be virally infected and
would therefore carry higher levels of papaya ringspot viral DNA as well
Generic GMO labels are also of negligible public value, as the variety of
genes, insertion events, and products makes such a system nearly useless
for tracking epidemiological patterns or for inferring personal risk or
benefit. Finally, there has been no public uprising to label
conventionally bred crops, even though their nutritional and toxicological
properties vary widely and have been far less well studied than GEO crops.
The decision whether to label GEO products is both scientifically
questionable and fraught with social and economic tradeoffs. It is
anything but simple and clear, nor is it an inalienable right.
5. GEO crops contaminate neighboring crops and thus cannot coexist with
other farming systems. All food is 'contaminated' to various degrees by
many sources, including bred and wild crop relatives, weeds, dust
particles, insect and rodent parts, fungal toxins, agrochemicals, and much
more. We could avoid most of these contaminants by growing crops in
contained, clean indoor facilities, but economics dictates otherwise.
Instead, we identify tolerances that allow us to take advantage of the
economic benefits of growing crops out of doors while limiting exposure to
undesired substances to low, but non-zero, levels.
Different farming systems already coexist that have adapted to these
realities. For example, the USDA national organic program standards
(section 205.671) tolerate set levels of pesticide drift, allowing organic
farms to be located next to conventional farms. The standard practice for
organic growers is to notify their conventional neighbor that the farm is
certified organic and to remind them of the pesticide limits. The same can
be true of GEO crops if tolerances for pollen drift are set at reasonable
levels and if liability is clear.
6. GEO releases should be delayed until extensive, rigorous research is
done that determines the long-term environmental and health impacts of
each GEO. Such an approach requires absolutes--but these are not delivered
by science or any other secular form of knowledge, and such a rigidly
'precautionary' stance would preclude any kind of innovation in
agriculture--conventional, organic, or transgenic. It also ignores the
benefits of GEOs compared to alternative systems; in adopting new
technology we seek to solve problems, for which we accept some level of
For example, although Bt has been consumed for more than 50 years as a
natural contaminant and as spray residue with no apparent detriment to
health, the consumption of slightly higher concentrations in engineered
crops has not yet been tested over generations. However, we also know that
insecticides˜synthetic and biologically derived˜are extensively used in
many crops and can be highly toxic (220,000 deaths per year, primarily of
farm workers in developing countries). Bt cotton has already led to
enormous reductions in insecticide use (over 150 million pounds in China
in 2001, equivalent to 25 percent of all the insecticide sprayed before
the adoption of Bt cotton), and the exposure of farm workers to
broad-spectrum pesticides has been correspondingly reduced. Societies will
always be considering benefits, risks, and uncertainties in all their
decisions about new technologies.
7. Modern organic methods have solved problems created by the previous
industrialization of agriculture, and there is no need for further
advances. Although even the most fervid organic advocate would not agree
with this statement, it is heard increasingly from the urban public that
is removed from the farming process and the harsh realities of life in the
developing world. In even the best-managed farming and food distribution
system, there are large challenges and opportunities to improve
production. Thirty percent to 40 percent of potential global food, fiber,
and feed are lost to insects, nematodes, diseases, and weeds. Sixty
percent to 70 percent of these losses are in the developing world, at a
cost of $300 billion per year.
Abiotic stresses account for even larger yield losses. Incremental
increases in the nutritional content, disease resistance, yield, or stress
tolerance of crops can go a long way to alleviating poverty by enabling
farmers to produce and sell food locally, as well as by providing more
nutritious food to help offset the malnutrition that is experienced by one
in six people in the developing world. Clearly there is tremendous need
for˜and given our rudimentary knowledge of genomes and molecular
physiology, there is likely to be vast room for˜crop improvement. GEOs, by
enabling crop domestication to proceed without the limitations imposed by
natural or random mutation as sources of variation, could logically play a
With the arrival of GEOs, plant breeding, previously among the least
controversial of agricultural technologies, now appears to have become the
most hotly debated. One reason is that genetic engineering enables an
extraordinary level of novelty, and thus ecological complexity, so that it
is difficult for societies to come up with general rules governing
deployment. To aid in this process, ASPB must encourage science-based
evaluation of each GEO crop, or at least classes of GEOs, with an eye
toward using GEOs to move agricultural systems toward improved
sustainability. We hope that the myths described above do not impede
Pamela Ronald, University of California, Davis
Steven Strauss, Oregon State University, Corvallis
GM Foods: Is Bush Right to Criticise Europe?
- BBC Feedback from Readers
US President George Bush has accused Europe of blocking efforts to fight
famine in Africa because of "unfounded" fears over genetically modified
foods. Mr Bush accused European nations of "impeding" US efforts to
reduce hunger in Africa by opposing the use of GM crops.
The US plans to sue the EU at the World Trade Organisation unless it
allows the sale of GM foods and crops. US seed companies are eager to
sell their products to foreign markets, but European consumers are wary of
GM foods, fearing long-term harm to human health and the environment.
Is President Bush's criticism justified? Are you wary of GM foods? Should
they be readily provided to affected areas in Africa?
I was born and raised in Africa. The problem of famine is partly due to
mismanagement and corruption. If you take Zimbabwe as an example, it was
once a wealthy agricultural country; it is now on the verge of famine due
to Mugabe and co. When President Bush is ready to take out the bad guys in
Africa and do some of the peacekeeping, then I will believe his motives
are not purely commercial. --Terry Duplock, France
A more useful step towards resolving some of the world's food problems,
would be for the U.S.A. and Europe to stop subsidizing their own farmers.
--Pauline Humphrey, Greece
I am not sure why it matters to the Europeans that Bush may be promoting
GM crops for the benefit of some companies, when it could help alleviate
many immediate problems in Africa. European criticism seems to be based
upon its irrational suspicion of US' "intent" rather than the "results" -
incidental or otherwise. The same is true with regard to Iraq. I suspect
that this reactionary attitude is largely why the majority of Americans
really couldn't care less what our European friends think. The Europeans
most admirable quality is their passion, but I find their opposition to
the US at every turn to illogical, and in many respects, of no measurable
consequence. --M. Meloy, USA
I am all for GM crops, but they must be available for all at low cost
-Justin Harrison, UK
This is just Bush being pressurised by campaign contributors to open up
markets for them. The GM seeds being peddled come with patent
restrictions, which restrict the growers' rights as to how they are used
(can only be used for year of purchase, etc). How will GM crops help avert
famine when the rich multinationals have the poor countries over a barrel.
The precedent has been set in the pharmaceutical industry with the cost of
AIDS drugs and other essential medicines I am all for GM crops, but they
must be available for all at low cost. The situation of big multinationals
effectively controlling food production in the poorest countries of the
world where the interests are not in lives saved but dollars made is
unthinkable. -- Justin Harrison, UK
American way of life, either you're with us or you're an enemy, now eat
what we Americans want you to eat. Time will tell - Africa will one day
stand on its own feet. Since when did Bush think of Africa? Let the
Americans eat GM foods, we Africans will eat our diet and remain
healthier. -- Kwame Kum, African/US
I only wish Canada would ban GM food, or at least institute mandatory
labelling. Unless I am prepared to pay a substantial price premium to eat
an all-organic diet, I have absolutely no way of knowing what I put into
my body on a daily basis. I have little desire to participate in this
uncontrolled experiment but that choice has been made for me by the
multinationals and the rest. Agribusiness is about profits first, and
meeting people's nutritional needs second. -- Thomas, Canada
It is interesting that a lot of people make the case for GM foods on the
basis of the large number of people dying of hunger everywhere. The fact
is, however, that in most of these regions, there is a food shortage
because of human factors such as corruption or inefficiency and not
because of a lack of resources per se. As consumers, we all have the right
to chose what to eat and what not to eat and those of living in Europe and
some other countries, should count ourselves lucky that governments here
take these issues seriously. Bush's criticism may have had some meaning if
it were not so obviously designed to protect US food business interests.
For the US, the only principle at stake, as ever, is money. -- R Roy,
I think the EU should do what is right for Europe, period. As for the
African famine - GM may be the best way to attack the problem. However, GM
research has been going on for years with support from a number of US
administrations, so to criticise only G. Bush is not fair. -- Mike Daly,
All foods have become genetically modified over generations. The main
difference in these instances is that these "new" genetically modified
foods are in fact genetically modified seeds, the resultant plants will
not produce fertile seeds. This means that the farmer will have to
purchase seeds for successive crops from the seed manufacturers based in
the USA. If these facts are realised, then any sensible person would or
should view the sale of these "Genetically modified foods" with the
greatest suspicion. In my view Mr. Bush does not care about starvation in
Africa, however he cares greatly about those American companies who
contribute greatly to the Republication Party in the USA. -- Stuart
The reality is that thousands of African children die daily from the
effects of food insecurity. It is a high-minded luxury to condemn GM foods
when they can save the lives of thousands. In a world with no absolutes we
have very little choice but to accept GM foods, like it or not. -- Robert
Any country has the right to stop any US product it believes to be
dangerous from entering its markets. The US cannot be expected to hold the
high ground on what is acceptable as good food as it seems the country
forgot what real/good food is a long time ago. GM crops are being grown in
India - with the idea is would ease hunger - well according to the large
multinationals. Farmers have found that growing the crops is not cheap and
buying the "special" fertilizer is putting them into debt. Call me cynical
but this is about business, not about feeding the starving. -- Ajana, Hong
Europe's caution regarding GM food is well founded. Nobody wants prolong
pervasive hunger in Africa, but we cannot make them the guinea pigs for
modified food product whose long term effects are not known. Not to
mention Bush's possible motives of delaying a bolster to a failing
American economy. -- Alicia, USA
Every famine and food crisis in Africa has its own circumstances which
have to be taken into consideration
-- D, Germany
The effects of GM foods and crops on the human body have not yet fully
been discovered. So I think it is very correct in the interest of all
people to be very careful about using GM foods and we should not send
these products to Africa in the name of famine relief, when we do not want
to eat them ourselves. The famine in Africa is not caused by the EU
blocking efforts of genetically modified foods. And the famine in Africa
will not be ended by US shipments of hybrid corn to Africa which the
hungry farmers cannot harvest and use for planting in the next season, so
they remain dependant on the next act of mercy by Mid-western farmers.
Every famine and food crisis in Africa has its own circumstances which
have to be taken into consideration for long-term and sustainable
solutions. -- D, Germany
EU bans GM foods and crops to protect its agricultural sector and exports.
Its position in the light of hunger in Africa is simply immoral. EU
excuses are untenable in view of hard core scientific evidence. What a
shame! -- mirek, USA
I am a Zimbabwean living in Germany. European countries have governments
and populations which are free, democratic, educated and generally well
informed. It is the right of the people in Europe to be cautious about the
so-called genetically modified crops and foods. It is also right for
African Governments to be careful with not just GM foods but also new
technologies in general. It has indeed been shown (and this in the United
States) that some GM maize varieties do have negative effects on some
insects. Open and constructive public debate on transgenic crops and foods
is certainly necessary and healthy for us all, but at this moment there is
no need for President Bush and the United States to force GM foods down
our throats as if were geese. I think that these foods should be readily
provided to those affected countries not just in Africa but anywhere in
the world, but only if those countries accept these GM foods. -- Samson
Genetically modified food increases yield while reducing the cost of using
dangerous herbicides and pesticides. It sounds like a good idea for a
continent ravished by starvation and famine. Those opposed to GM crops
should provide scientific proof showing, if any, the detrimental effects
to humans or the environment. If no proof is available then saving lives
now by providing GM food outweighs any "theoretical" argument against its
use. -- J McLaren, Australian
Since when was Mr Bush concerned about hunger in Africa? Who are the GM
food providers? Mr Bush's buddies by any chance? If local farmers growing
locally grown food get their crops contaminated by GM crops, will they
have to pay for using these new varieties? And How? A lot more questions
need to be asked. -- David Fitzmaurice, New Zealand
I'm not sure if GM foods are completely safe but surely there is more
danger from starvation and famine? -- Brendan, Ireland
President Bush's call for Europe to open its markets to GM foods is purely
based on economic gain for America. I am sincerely happy that so far much
of the African continent has refused the US's GM seeds, because I see
their acceptance of the seeds leading to further debt and economic
colonialism. Keep your markets closed, EU, and keep the African continent
and your people healthy! -- Chris Porter, USA
No thanks Mr. Bush. Africans will not become guinea pigs for any American
experiment. The Americans should find another means of solving the famine
in Africa until all concerns raised by the Europeans are fully addressed .
-- Yaw Oware, Ghana
Bush's references to Africa are nothing but a cheap ploy to force
Europeans to purchase genetically contaminated foodstuffs from
American-backed international corporations. The people of Europe should be
free to decide for themselves what kind of food they want to eat, and if
President Bush really has Africa's well-being at heart then he will
forgive the millions of dollars of debt that poverty-ridden African
countries owe to the United States and its corporate agents. -- Michal
When the details of the GM crops theory are studied closely it is
perfectly clear that this is all about controlling the food source and has
absolutely nothing to do with alleviating famine at all. More devastating
though will be the effects of altering the food chain in an irreversible
way. In my view, those corporations/politicians involved will be guilty of
a crime greater than anything in recorded history. -- Linton, USA
Whilst I personally harbour little trepidation towards GM foods I can
understand the concern. GM foods in and of itself is not really a problem,
it is in how the corporations are trying to maintain control of their
product that is problematic. The United States claim to support a free
market economy however it now wants to force feed GM foods to consumers
who have actively stated that they don't want them for a variety of
reasons. If US farmers want to sell abroad maybe they should grow
something that the world wants, not just grow what ever they can get
subsidies for and hope that the government can bully the world into buying
what they feel is an inferior product. -- Christopher Wick,USA
A lot of lies and scare tactics have been employed in Europe that have
tainted and politicized what should have been a reasoned scientific
debate. This issue is too important to the most vulnerable populations of
the world to be taken hostage by hysteria, fear mongering and
protectionism. -- Tara, USA