Today in AgBioView: June 14, 2003:
* The Role of AgBioView and the Issue of Civility
* On Crop Diversity
* Who Cares What 'The People' Think of GM Foods?
* Green groups Lament Loss of Meacher
* Speaker of the House Hastert Defends Biotechnology Use For Africa
* Trade Pact on Gene-Altered Goods to Take Effect in 90 Days
* Biosafety Protocol - What is It?
* Precautionary Principle Stifles Discovery
* German Official Out of Ag Expo at Sacramento
* Superstition, Eclipses and Frankenfear
* U.S. To Review Iraq Ban on GM Food
* GM Potato, Too Hot to Handle?
* Scientists Develop GM 'Protato' to Feed India's Poorest
* Courage, Mr Rajnath Singh!
* On Action Aid's Going Against the Grain
* Scottish Study?
* U.S. Conservatives Take Aim at NGOs
The Role of AgBioView
- John W. Cross
Dear Mark: I appreciate your comments and much of what you wrote is
factually correct: there is entirely too much incivility in the
discussions. However, I disagree with some of your conclusions about the
origin of the problem and the remedy.
We are dealing here with an important issue in our time. Because of the
magnitude of the issues at stake, both economic and philosophical, it is
unrealistic to expect that all the debate will be entirely gentile. It has
been my experience that some opponents of ag biotech do not want to debate
issues in a point-by-point factual format. Comments by some of them that
have been published here have amounted to sweeping generalities, attacks
on the (supposed) financial motivations of ag biotech supporters, and
vitalistic or Marxist philosophical statements that cannot be subjected to
factual debate. When such statements are made, the best one can do is
point out the vagueness of the arguments, point out how so-called consumer
advocates and organic businessmen have their own economic interests, and
characterize the philosophical underpinnings of their arguments.
In my experience, when their hidden philosophical roots are exposed, some
of these anti-GM advocates get very nasty. Those supporting ag
biotechnology should look for themselves at the websites of the
anti-advocates to see how much they are willing to exaggerate, distort and
dissemble to promote their cause.
Many of these sites continue to insist on the factual accuracy of a
variety of GM 'dangers' which were ruled out or shown to be of minimal
significance by honest researchers years ago. This kind of propaganda
cries out for potent, factual and informative rebuttal, which is and
should be the business of AgBioView.
Response to Mark Tepfer
- Bruce Chassy, University of Illinois
I concur with the comments offered by Mark Tepfer regarding the
counter-productive effect of uncivil posts. I do not see this as relating
to an issue of being EU or non-EU. I believe that all opinions should be
treated with deference and respect; even when correcting obvious
misstatements of fact one can be courteous. While I prefer to look on the
humorous side of things and not take myself too seriously, I think we need
to be careful even when being "semi-humorous." Most of us do not find it
humorous when someone takes advantage of our words in a public forum--it
particularly hurts when our position is not well thought out.
Where I take exception to Mark's post is that I do not think it is up to
Prakash to correct this. He should not censor or in any way interfere with
freedom of expression on this forum. It's neither his job nor his right.
That means we are all responsible for our own behavior--as Mark suggests
it should be adult behavior. But again, it's up to us as readers to form
our own opinions of the posted comments and, indirectly, of the poster.
I should note that this is not a problem that is restricted to AgBioview.
Vicious ad hominem attacks are all too common on web forums. I don't know
why people feel entitled to flame other people in on-line forums. They say
things that they would not say in face-to-face encounters. It is perhaps
an unfortunate byproduct of the electronic medium.
>> "Mark Tepfer" Subject: civility on
>> If it's to be a tool for discussion and reflection, then you should
>consider asking some of the participants to grow up just a bit, in the
>interest of better mutual understanding.
On Crop Diversity
- Wayne Parrott
Dear Nagib, Your are completely correct on the importance of diversity
overall, but I think we are talking about two different types of
diversity. You are referring to the total diversity available for a crop,
and which can be used as a source of genes or plant breeding. I hope we
all agree with you that such diversity is critical for all.
Dave Wood and Jill Lenne were referring to the diversity (or lack thereof)
in a given field. I must agree with their assessment.
There is a huge tendency to over-simplify epiphytotics, and assume that
monocultures are automatically pre-determined to succumb to diseases,
while crop mixtures or a mixture of a genotypes in a field affords
automatic protection. Such over-simplifications are not supported by the
Wood & Lenne did a good job of pointing out that modern multi-disease
resistant cultivars can remain disease-free in monoculture. Likewise, it
is important to realize that polycultures are not automatically protected
from disease. The best example to illustrate this may be in the US, where
newly introduced diseases were able to wipe out the American elm and the
American chestnut, even though these two species were genetically diverse
and grown in the tree equivalent of a crop polyculture.
I even have trouble with the interpretation everyone gives to the Southern
corn leaf blight, that the blight happened due to too much genetic
uniformity. In this case, susceptibility to blight is conditioned by the
mitochondrial genome. Maize with one genotype of mitochondria, called T
cytoplasm (Texas male sterile) turned out to be susceptible to the blight
fungus. Prior to the introduction of the T cytoplasm, all the maize had N
(normal) cytoplasm. In this case, switching from one cytoplasm genotype
grown throughout the country to two cytoplasm genotypes is what allowed
the disease to develop: increased cytoplasmic diversity allowed disease to
develop. Needless to say, we are back to the one cytoplasm which has been
stable for centuries.
If there is a take-home message here, it would be that built-in disease
resistance is the most reliable and economical method to achieve stable
crop yields, be it under monoculture or polyculture conditions. These
resistances can be bred in from wild relatives or obtained via recombinant
DNA technology. Ultimately though, evolution is a dynamic process, so the
job of resistance is never done. We may achieve disease protection which
will last anywhere from a few years to several centuries, but ultimately,
I would not consider anything as permanent.
>>From: "Nagib Nassar"
>>I disagree,respectfully, on what Dave Eood and Jill Lenne claim that
>>diversity has nothing to do with preventing disaster of irish potato in
>>1845 by potato blight. It did!!! , not only with potato but with so many
>>crops. In East Africa, cassava was saved from mosaic devastation in the
>>1920s by transferring the resistance from M.glaziovii.
Who Cares What 'The People' Think of GM Foods?
- The Times (London), June 13, 2003
For a couple of hours this afternoon, a few dozen Greenpeace types,
assorted yogic flyers from the Natural Law Party, a handful of pensioners,
and perhaps the odd scientist or farmer are going to sit down and talk
about GM food. The gathering, in Harrogate, is the last in a series that
makes up GM Nation?, the Government's public debate about whether Britain
should grow transgenic crops.
You may not have noticed, but the consultation has been running for a
couple of weeks. According to ministers, it's an unprecedented chance for
the man in the street to influence their decisions. Margaret Beckett, the
Environment Secretary, says it's designed to "ensure all voices are
The exercise has been farce from start to finish. I'm not sure I want the
man in the street to set Britain's science, technology and agriculture
policy. One of the six meetings - held midweek at major population
centres, such as Taunton and Harrogate - spent much of its time discussing
whether the Sars virus might come from GM cotton in China. It's more
likely to have come from outer space. I can think of more useful ways to
waste time and money.
Then there's the fact that the meetings will tell us nothing we don't know
already. The lack of advertising and helpful scheduling mean that every
one has been stuffed with green campaigners and New Age zealots who think
GM crops are the root of all evil. They were the only ones who were
organised enough - or who cared enough - to attend.
The best-attended meeting, in Swansea, attracted a whopping 180 people,
most of them already parti pris. The Government will be lucky if even a
hundred lay people with a genuine curiosity, rather than crop-tramplers
with a Luddite agenda, have joined in the fun. I could have told Mrs
Beckett that Greenpeace activists don't care for GM food. You don't have
to spend Pounds 500,000 and lay on tea and biscuits: five minutes on their
website is more than enough.
Worst of all, the debate is seeking an answer to an asinine question.
Asking people whether they're for or against GM crops is as ridiculous as
asking whether they're for or against fire. As Prometheus found out, a
mastery of flame can be a boon or a curse. It is the tool of the arsonist
and Gordon Ramsay. The technology is morally neutral. It is how it is
applied that counts.
So it is with GM crops. There is nothing good or bad about them per se:
some applications promise great benefits, to consumers, to farmers and to
the environment. Others will probably be damaging. Just because a
herbicide tolerant sugar beet might be good - or bad - for Britain does
not mean that maize that makes its own pesticide will be the same.
The Government is making a nonsense of science and insulting the public's
intelligence by polarising the argument, seeking simple and sweeping
answers where none exists. As the Nuffield Council on Bioethics - an
independent group with genuine expertise - put it this week: "The possible
costs, benefits and risks associated with particular GM crops can only be
assessed on a case-by-case basis."
There is one small mercy - even if it begs further questions about why
this pointless consultation was ever started. Whatever the outcome of GM
Nation?, the GM issue is going to be resolved elsewhere. European law, and
World Trade Organisation rules mean that Britain will not be allowed to
block GM crops without sound scientific evidence of potential harm to
human health or the environment.
The real decision will be made in Brussels, not Westminster. Now there's a
subject for public debate.
Green groups Lament Loss of Meacher
- Various British Media, June 13, 2003
Environment minister Michael Meacher has confirmed he has left the
Government - but said he would continue to speak out on "green" issues.
"I recognise that there is a need for new talent," he said. "I shall
continue to do exactly the same from the backbenches but it gives me the
freedom to talk about the whole range of Government policy which I
vigorously intend to do."
Elliot Morley, a junior minister at the Department for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs, is promoted within the department to take over Mr
Meacher's environment brief. Green lobby groups expressed disappointment
at Mr Meacher's departure, and claimed the move suggested the Prime
Minister was failing to take green issues seriously.
Patrick Holden, director the Soil Association, warned that the loss of Mr
Meacher, 63, who has served as Environment Minister since Labour swept to
power in 1997, left a big gap, particularly in the current controversy
over genetically modified crops. "It now appears that there maybe no one
left in the Government on the side of the public and organic farmers in
opposing the commercialisation of GM crops.
"Michael Meacher has always represented the public interest by voicing the
real concerns about GM food whose pose the greatest threat of all time to
sustainable agriculture. "Michael has been a great champion of the
environment and the organic movement. I will greatly miss his dedication,
commitment and integrity."
Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Everyone
who cares about the environment will be sad to see Michael leave the
Government. "He was a true enthusiast for green issues and developed a
real expertise that enabled him to challenge the greyer parts of
Whitehall. His successor will have to work hard to gain the reputation
that Michael enjoys with green campaigners."
Speaker of the House Hastert Defends Biotechnology Use For Africa
- Sarah Bloxham, Washington File, June 13, 2003
Washington -- In a rare appearance as a witness before a House
subcommittee, U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert linked hunger problems in Africa
with what he described as misguided European Union (EU) policies toward
genetically modified (GM) foods
"This is simply unconscionable," Hastert told the House Subcommittee on
Research meeting to discuss "Plant Biotechnology Research and Development
in Africa." The Speaker spoke in response to a report that Sudan refused
to allow GM foods as aid in relief camps, harming around 97 percent of the
camps' children, according to the United States Agency for International
According to Hastert, Sudan's response was part of a "recent trend in
Africa, where several nations have rejected U.S. food aid because the
shipments contained biotech corn. This based solely on the fear that EU
countries will not accept their food exports if genetically modified seeds
spread to domestic crops."
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, who also testified before the
Subcommittee agreed. "There is no question that the lack of a functional,
science-based regulatory system and the irrational fear of biotechnology
in the European Union have affected development of biotechnology products
"The reality is that most biotechnology applications for smallholder,
food-insecure farmers in Africa are not likely to affect commodities
exported to Europe," Natsios added. "Unfortunately, misinformation has
added to these concerns that somehow biotech genes will cross from one
species to another, from corn to fruit trees, or equally wild assertions."
Citing unfounded "hysteria" as one of the primary obstacles to the further
development and use of biotechnology, Natsios addressed several major
concerns about the science, including the assertion that biotech corn is
"The President eats it. All of our members of Congress eat it when they
eat cereals," the USAID representative pointed out. "The reality is that
there haven't been any health problems. There haven't been any lawsuits."
Biotech corn has been used in the United States for the past seven years.
According to Hastert, "One would think that the European Union, and any
country that has adopted similar protectionist policies, would embrace a
technology with such promising advantages. Sadly, they have not. It has
become clear that only official World Trade Organization action will send
a convincing message to the world that prohibitive policies on
biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are illegal."
Some African countries are supportive of these methods to improve African
agriculture. President Obasanjo of Nigeria publicly endorsed biotechnology
and criticized the work of groups who try to prevent its use in Africa.
South Africa recently approved new crop varieties.
"It is encouraging to see Africa's two largest economies embracing these
new technologies," said Natsios. "We can hope their example is emulated
elsewhere." In addition to encouraging Africa's leaders to support the
technology, USAID supports African organizations and research institutions
in leading countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa to
develop their own biotechnology strategies.
USAID has partnered with several groups in this effort, including the
Rockefeller Foundation. The Foundation emphasizes the need for Africans to
have the final choice in the application and use of biotechnology.
"There is no magic solution that will solve Africa's complex agricultural
challenges," the President of the Rockefeller Foundation Gordon Conway
testified, "but the problem is so big that Africans should have the right
to consider every possible tool at their disposal. We believe Africans
should be the ones to weigh costs and benefits. And we believe Africans
themselves should have access to the knowledge to help themselves."
Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith observed that food aid is only a
short-term solution to a problem that is expected to worsen without a more
long-term strategy of increasing agricultural productivity. "Our best hope
to realize those productivity increases is by harnessing the powerful tool
of plant biotechnology. Plant biotechnology has the potential to create
new varieties of crops that can tolerate drought and infertile soils,
resist pests and disease, and provide other unique characteristics such as
enhanced nutrient content."
The hearing also included testimony by the Director of the National
Science Foundation (NSF) Rita Colwell, President of the Global Bioscience
Development Institute John Kilama, and Vice-President of Product and
Technology Cooperation for Monsanto Corporation Robert Horsch.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
Trade Pact on Gene-Altered Goods to Take Effect in 90 Days
- Andrew Pollack, NY Times, June 14, 2003 (Sent by Sheila Andersen)
A new global treaty that imposes restrictions on exports of genetically
modified seeds, animals and crops is set to take effect, injecting a new
element into already heated international disputes over agricultural
The treaty, known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, was agreed upon
by more than 130 nations in January 2000 but could not take effect until
formally ratified by 50 nations. The 50th, Palau, just gave its
endorsement, so the protocol will go into effect in 90 days, on Sept. 11,
the United Nations Environment Program said yesterday. Advertisement
The treaty allows countries to bar imports of genetically engineered
seeds, microbes, animals or crops that they deem a threat to their
environments. It also requires international shipments of genetically
engineered grains to be labeled.
The United States reluctantly agreed to the treaty in 2000 after intense
negotiations pitting it and a handful of other crop-exporting nations
against everyone else. While Washington has not ratified the protocol,
American exporters to countries that are parties to the agreement will
have to abide by the rules, a senior State Department official said.
This official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the effect of
the treaty would depend on the rules for carrying it out, which have not
been written yet. He and others said that many countries were already
putting into place their own rules regulating imports or requiring
labeling of genetically modified products, making the treaty less
significant than it otherwise might have been.
The United States recently filed suit at the World Trade Organization
challenging the European Union's de facto moratorium on approval of new
genetically modified crops, arguing it is not based on sound science. The
new treaty contains language that could bolster Europe's case, at least
morally. It allows countries to bar imports of genetically modified
products even if there is not enough information to prove scientifically
that the products are dangerous.
Recognizing a potential conflict with W.T.O. rules, the framers of the
biosafety treaty were careful to state that it neither supersedes nor is
subordinate to other agreements.
L. Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, said the new treaty
would have little effect over all and none on Washington's case against
Europe. "There's no way you can possibly read it or construe it that would
allow a trumping of W.T.O. obligations," he said.
Kristin Dawkins, vice president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy, a nonprofit group in Minneapolis that opposes genetically modified
foods, said the treaty bolstered opponents of biotechnology because it
establishes that genetically modified foods should be treated differently
from other foods.
Biodiversity is a global resource of tremendous value to all of humankind.
The biotechnology industry supports the goals of conservation, sustainable
use of biodiversity and equitable sharing of the benefits of
In January 2000, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which grew
out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, met in Montreal and
announced the Biosafety Protocol (known as the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety). The United States has not ratified the Convention on
Biological Diversity and was not an official participant in the Montreal
talks that established the protocol.
The Protocol focuses on transboundary movement of any living modified
organism (LMO) that could harm conservation and sustainable use of
biological diversity. It allows a country to require prior notification
through an advanced informed agreement (AIA) from countries exporting
biotech seeds and living organisms intended for introduction into the
environment. Further, it requires that shipments of products that may
contain LMOs, such as bulk commodities for food, feed or pharmaceuticals,
be labeled accordingly. The AIA provided by the exporter would include
written notification of shipment accompanied by an extensive risk
Further, it establishes a biosafety clearinghouse to help countries
exchange scientific, technical, environmental and legal information about
LMOs. The agreement requires governments to provide information on final
decisions on the domestic use of an LMO commodity within 15 days of making
that decision. The clearinghouse should provide needed transparency on
where products have been approved and on regulatory requirements of
participating countries. There are a number of product approval and
biosafety databases available. (For information on U.S. product approvals,
Although primarily an environmental agreement, the Protocol will have a
significant impact on trade, particularly biotechnology-derived seeds
exported for planting purposes. Whereas the United States and other
countries that export these seeds have advocated that science-based risk
assessment be a central element of any agreement, the Protocol
incorporates a precautionary approach, advocated by the European Union,
which asserts that governments may implement measures to restrict a
product if there is any perceived uncertainty about risk, no matter how
There is a danger that conflicting positions taken by the World Trade
Organization and the Protocol could create confusion in international
trade. The WTO contains a clause stating no other multilateral agreement
can take precedence over it. However, the Biosafety Protocol includes
contradictory language, stating on the one hand that the rights and
obligations under existing agreements are unchanged, but on the other hand
that the Protocol is not subordinate to other international agreements.
(For more information on WTO, click here.)
How the Protocol eventually is put into practice could have a significant
impact on agricultural trade. BIO believes that implementation should:
* Be based on sound scientific principles. * Take into account the actual
environmental risks and benefits of biotechnology, especially in
facilitating biodiversity conservation. * Focus on the transboundary
movement of LMOs that may threaten biodiversity. * Not unnecessarily
restrict the transboundary movement of LMOs that pose no threat to
biodiversity but increase costs and delays. * Be consistent with existing
international obligations to protect the environment. * Encourage
technology transfer and information sharing so all countries can benefit
from advances in medical, agricultural and environmental biotechnology
while at the same time protecting intellectual property. * Not divert
resources from the protection of biodiversity to unnecessary bureaucracy
and regulation of low-risk products. * Be flexible so that any country can
respond rapidly to favorable developments biotechnology.
Adhering to these principles will ensure that biodiversity is protected
for future generations and trade is not unreasonably restricted.
See http://www.bio.org/foodag/biosafety.asp for links to many other
biosafety-related resources including databases
Blast from the Past...........
"Precautionary Principle Stifles Discovery"
- SÝren Holm and John Harris, Nature 400:398, July 29, 1999
Sir -- The so-called 'precautionary principle' (PP) has gained currency in
discussions about environmental protection and genetic manipulation, but
it should be treated with caution.
The principle has been endorsed in international treaties, including the
consolidated version of the treaty establishing the European Union. In
many of these documents the PP has not been explicitly defined, but the
Wingspread conference attempted to define it 1. We believe the following
definition would be accepted by most proponents:
"When an activity raises threats of serious or irreversible harm to human
health or the environment, precautionary measures that prevent the
possibility of harm (for example, moratorium, prohibition) shall be taken
even if the causal link between the activity and the possible harm has not
been proven or the causal link is weak and the harm is unlikely to occur."
In our view, there are problems with the PP as so defined. The PP tells us
to balance evidence in a specific way. The weight given to evidence is
ordinarily thought to be a function of its epistemic warrant (the degree
to which we have reasons for believing the evidence). The PP instructs us
to change this normal balancing by giving evidence pointing in one
direction more importance than evidence pointing in the other direction,
even in cases where the evidence has the same epistemic warrant. Such
discounting will distort our beliefs about the world, and will lead us to
hold false beliefs. The PP cannot therefore be a valid principle for
As a principle of rational choice, the PP will leave us paralysed. In the
case of genetically modified (GM) plants, for example, the greatest
uncertainty about their possible harmfulness existed before anybody had
yet produced one. The PP would have instructed us not to proceed any
further, and the data to show whether there are real risks would never
have been produced. The same is true for every subsequent step in the
process of introducing GM plants. The PP will tell us not to proceed,
because there is some threat of harm that cannot be conclusively ruled
out, based on evidence from the preceding step. The PP will block the
development of any technology if there is the slightest theoretical
possibility of harm. So it cannot be a valid rule for rational decisions.
This fatal weakness of the PP illustrates a common problem in attempting
to convert moral choices into legislation. The temptation is great to try
to find one absolute and easily applicable principle, but such a principle
will often be simplistic and will, when applied, lead to unjustifiable
conclusions. Many moral choices are complex, and in making political
decisions we should not lose sight of this complexity. ---
SÝren Holm, John Harris Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics,
University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
German Official Out of Ag Expo at Sacramento
'Her absence will highlight the gulf between the EU and U.S. on biotech
- Mike Lee, Sacramento Bee, June 13, 2003 http://www.sacbee.com
Germany's agriculture minister has pulled out of the upcoming
international agriculture ministerial conference in Sacramento, leaving it
without a European Union official on the program.
Although German officials cited important meetings that demanded her
attention in Europe, the minister's announcement comes at the same time
some U.S. politicians have stepped up criticism of European countries for
not embracing genetically engineered food.
Walter Leuchs, deputy consul general for Germany in San Francisco, said
German Food and Agriculture Minister Renate KŁnast wasn't making a
statement against U.S. biotechnology efforts. Instead, he said, she was
obliged to stay in Europe for newly planned meetings about the European
Union's common agricultural policy.
Top officials from more than 100 mostly developing countries are expected
for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's first ministerial-level meeting
on agricultural science and technology, at the Sacramento Convention
Center. The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service had touted the
participation of KŁnast -- the only European government minister on the
preliminary speakers list -- as a sign that the Bush administration wasn't
stacking the June 23-25 conference with supporters of genetically modified
Still, her absence underscores the vast food policy gulf between the
anti-biotech European Union and the United States. The EU has banned
biotech food imports since 1998, and the bloc is viewed as a major
impediment to the global spread of technology that American companies are
developing. The United States announced last month that it is challenging
the moratorium at the World Trade Organization as it builds the case for
using genetically engineered crops to alleviate world hunger.
USDA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said the Sacramento conference wasn't
aimed at EU officials and that most of them hadn't planned to come because
they were retooling a highly contentious agriculture policy. "Really, we
are focusing on ministers from developing countries" that need
technological solutions for food production, she said.
But some groups against biotech foods were quick to speculate that
Germany's withdrawal was another sign that the United States is using the
conference to pressure developing nations into accepting genetic
engineering. Concerns include giving multinational corporations control
of basic food products through gene patents, the possibility of spreading
allergens through genetic manipulations and the spread of resistance to
antibiotics used in genetic engineering.
"I would assume that maybe (German officials) are sort of coming to the
same conclusion that this is really a staged event to build support
against the European Union, and they probably don't want to be part of
that," said Dennis Olson, global governance expert at the Institute for
Agriculture Trade and Policy, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes
policies that are friendly to family farms.
In Europe, reservations run deep about American farming. On Wednesday, 15
Italian officials, including the country's agriculture minister, flew into
San Francisco to talk with University of California, Berkeley,
biotechnology expert Peggy Lemaux about genetic engineering in California.
It was not immediately known if they were staying for the USDA conference.
Lemaux was impressed by the officials' lack of knowledge about U.S.
biotechnology and their concerns about it. "They were asking questions
like 'Isn't it true that everything you grow here is genetically
modified?' " said Lemaux. None of California's major food crops is
genetically modified. "They have this feeling that the way they look at
food in Europe and the way they feel about food and the way they produce
it is very different from the way we do it in the United States," Lemaux
Despite differences with Europe, U.S. officials continue to tout what they
call the benefits of genetically engineered crops. U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman told reporters Wednesday that biotechnology wasn't
the only facet of the upcoming conference.
But she also made it clear that she'll promote what genetic engineering
can do to reduce pesticide use and increase productivity. About 75 percent
of U.S. soybeans and 34 percent of the country's corn are genetically
"It is important that the promise of these technologies for the developing
world not be undermined," said Veneman, noting that a top Agriculture
Department official will visit Iraq next week to confront that country's
concerns about importing genetically modified wheat.
Veneman's remarks were followed Thursday by stronger words from House
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who told a congressional panel that
European countries were exacerbating world hunger by scaring developing
countries away from genetically engineered foods. His remarks echoed a
recent graduation speech by President Bush at the U.S. Coast Guard
Hastert said the EU moratorium on genetically modified products has meant
an annual loss of more than $300 million in corn exports for U.S. farmers,
and that the world needs help to feed 800 million hungry people.
"Biotechnology is the answer to this pressing problem," Hastert said.
Superstition, Eclipses and Frankenfear
- Time Magazine, letter to the Editor, June 16, 2003
Genetic engineering of plants can make food crops hardier, more resistant
to molds and drought as well as to insect pests-- without the use of
herbicides and pesticides. Food can arrive on our tables looking and
tasting better, costing less and being relatively free of unwanted
Future generations will look back at our fear of genetic engineering in
the same way that we regard the superstitions that people once held about
eclipses. - TERRY BOYD, Skokie, Ill.
U.S. To Review Iraq Ban on Genetically Modified Food
- National Journal's CongressDaily, June 11, 2003
Although an Agriculture Department Foreign Agriculture Service spokesman
today confirmed that Iraq has a ban on importing agricultural products
containing genetically modified organisms, Agriculture Secretary Veneman
said Dan Amstutz, the U.S. appointee serving as a co-senior adviser to the
Iraqi agriculture ministry, will "look into" the issue when he arrives in
Iraq next week. The question of GMOs in Iraq came to light last week when
the Melbourne Herald Sun reported that Trevor Flugge, the Australian
co-senior adviser to the Iraqi agriculture ministry, said U.S. companies
could not compete to supply chicken feed or soybeans for livestock to Iraq
because of its GMO ban. Flugge also told the paper the law would remain in
place until a new Iraqi government is in place to set its own policy on
the GMO issue.
In a telephone news conference, Veneman said criticism by U.S. wheat
growers that the United States has ceded decision-making power on Iraq
grain sales to Australia because it has an official there and Amstutz has
not yet gone to Iraq "is not reality. It is an unfortunate impression,
fueled by Australians and others having a debate in the press that is not
reflecting reality." Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign
Agricultural Services J.B. Penn noted that U.S. and Australian wheat
growers have "a lot of commercial rivalries," that U.S. and Australian
officials are "working together" and that, once they get the Iraqi system
functioning, Iraq will be a "good market" that operates on a transparent
GM Potato, Too Hot to Handle?
- The Economic Times of India, June 13, 2003
What's cooking? If pronouncements abroad that an Indian, protein-rich,
genetically-modified potato may be approved within six months have raised
a storm there, the effect here has been a twister.
The news from Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which is conducting
limited field trials, is that GM potato, enriched by a gene from the
amaranth plant, cannot hit the market before 2005. The usual potato has
two per cent or less protein; the transgenic one would have about 2.5 per
cent. But scientists expect the full data on performance only by early
next year. Asis Datta, whose team at Jawaharlal Nehru University worked on
using the amaranth plant gene, doesn't want to comment. Department of
biotechnology (DBT) secretary Manju Sharma, whose comments abroad have
raised a storm, isn't here to explain.
But there are hints of a tussle between DBT and ICAR, between JNU and
ICAR, even suggestions of an orchestrated attempt to short-circuit the
approval process. The final approving authority for any large-scale
release, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) housed in the
Union environment ministry, has not been approached yet but officials have
had to face queries on this hot potato.
ICAR's Central Potato Research Institute chief S M Paul Khurana, who
maintains the work is being done in collaboration with JNU, said field
trials have been on for over two years. The final trials in the hills are
on; the last lot for the plains will be planted in October, and harvested
in February. So far, the seven Indian potato varieties into which the
amaranth gene has been introduced are performing well. Since these are
traditionally-accepted varieties, large-scale trials may not be necessary,
Environmentalists were quick to react to suggestions that this GM potato
would be the magic wand in the fight against malnutrition. Why not focus
on pulses? asks one, Devinder Sharma. Pulses contain more than 20 per cent
protein. He sees this as a move to promote GM food in India. Khurana, in
turn, accepts the protein increase in potato is not very high but argues
that potato is full, wholesome food.
It's a hoax, says Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Ecology. It would a smarter option to promote amaranth,
which has other nutrients not available in potato. Using this
genetically-engineered potato may, in fact, spread iron and calcium
deficiency in children, claims this group.
Dropping this hot potato for the moment, GEAC is set to meet Friday to
discuss what is on its plate: An application from a second firm on
transgenic cotton; the illegal spread of transgenic Bt cotton in Gujarat;
and a report on standardising monitoring and evaluation procedures for
The environment ministry, which has asked Gujarat to take action against
the illegal spread of Bt cotton, sent a reminder on Thursday, keen for a
response which can be put on the table when the GEAC meets Friday.
The ministry has also sent packets of allegedly illegal seed to the
Nagpur-based Cotton Research Institute for testing. These packets had been
sent to it as part of a formal complaint by Mahyco Monsanto, the only firm
legally entitled to sell Bt cotton seeds.
Scientists Develop GM 'Protato' to Feed India's Poorest Children
- John Vidal,The Guardian, June 12, 2003
The Indian government raised the global biotechnology stakes yesterday by
saying it intended to feed "nutritionally enhanced" GM potatoes to poor
children as early as next year. But objectors claimed that the plan, which
relies on the potatoes being scientifically approved, was risky and naive,
and would barely impact on malnutrition
Scientists claim the controversial potato, known as the "protato",
contains at least a third more protein than normal tubers, and that it
holds "high-quality nutrients". It has been created by the addition of a
gene called AmA1 taken from the amaranth plant, which is native to South
America and sold widely in western healthfood stores.
The extra gene is said to give ordinary potatoes 30%-50% more protein, as
well as substantial amounts of the amino acids lysine and methionine. The
transgenic plant, developed by a team of scientists led by Asis Datta, who
also leads the review committee on genetic modification in the Indian
government's biotechnology department, is now in its third year of field
trials and could be approved within six months.
Yesterday the head of the biotechnology department, Manju Sharma, said the
protato would be given free to millions of poor children to try to reduce
malnutrition in the country. Dr Sharma said she planned to incorporate
the vegetable into the government's free, midday meal programme for
schools. "There has been a serious concern that malnutrition is one of the
reasons for the blindness, the vitamin A deficiency, the protein
deficiency. So it is really a very important global concern, particularly
in the developing world," she told the BBC yesterday.
But critics reacted by saying there were other conventionally grown foods
with far higher nutritional values which could more easily and cheaply
enrich the diets of malnourished children. Leading Indian food analyst
Devinder Sharma dismissed the GM potato as "another magic bullet from the
trashcan of biotechnology industry". He argued that protein could be
better provided by the pulses used traditionally in India. "What this
country needs is pulses. They contain 20%-26% proteins... this potato has
2.5% protein. Please tell me which one is better."
Pulses. Greenpeace campaigners dismissed the protato as an advertisement
for biotechnology. "Years were spent in a lab trying to lever protein into
potatoes, while cheap, protein-rich pulses grow abundantly all over
India," one said. "It makes you wonder what problem the scientists were
trying to solve."
New Delhi is committed to tackling serious malnutrition rates among the
poor, but it is also believed to have one eye on the £116bn global potato
market. India exports 18,000 tonnes of potatoes to 29 countries, including
European states, and is the main provider of seed potatoes to Bangladesh
and other developing countries.
If, as expected, the protato is approved by Christmas, India will have won
the race to develop the first "functional" GM food. British, American and
Australian researchers are all working on a range of other vegetables that
the industry claims could counter malnutrition and illness. More than 600
million people worldwide are thought to be malnourished.
The GM innovations include vegetables and fruit that could stimulate the
immune system, and rice modified to carry extra iron and vitamins. But
despite promises that these foods were to have been available some years
ago, most are at least five years away from the market.
Courage, Mr Rajnath Singh!
- By Sharad Joshi, Business Line (The Hindu); 11 June 2003
The Agriculture Minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, has a tough task ahead.
RAJNATH SINGH is a much-harried man. As the new Minister of Agriculture at
the Centre he is under great pressure. He has had a fairly chequered and
turbulent political career.
The Indian farmer is facing a year of unprecedented bad drought and a
shortage of even drinking water, not to mention the crop irrigation. If
the monsoons, that have broken at long last, turn out to be scanty, the
BJP may be forced to rethink on the decision to advance general polls.
Even if the rain gods turn favourable, the Indian farmer is still stymied
by the fact that the opening up of the world trade in agriculture is not
bringing him any substantial advantage. The richer countries continue to
disregard their commitments under Marrakech agreements and are, to make
things worse, hiking, rather than lowering, agricultural subsidies.
The Doha round is itself bogged down due to disputes between United
States, on the one hand, and Japan and Europe on the other. The
indications are that the rich countries will launch aggressive policies
against each other by recourse to non-trade barriers and sanitary and
New Delhi has done nothing up to now to make up for the decades of
bleeding Indian agriculture through negative subsidies. Its preoccupation
with international terrorism and its hope that somehow the United States
will help it in its fight against terrorism are forcing the Centre to pull
its punches in pressuring the US to scaledown its farm subsidies.
India would need to get closer to such arrangements as the Asia Pacific
Economic Community (APEC). Further, at home, it will simply have to have
to abolish all restrictions on agricultural trade, scrap both the Food
Corporation of India (FCI) and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC), and put a moratorium on all coercive recoveries from the farmers.
The Government will have to take measures to create a retailing network
system that would eliminate the middleman-dominated APMC network. Indian
farmers are badly in need of information and laboratory facilities that
will allow them to take advantage of the opening up of the global trade
and the world recession.
A heavy and complex agenda. Not only Rajnath Singh but also the ruling
alliance itself will need to produce a series of miracles to manage that.
The author is Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana (Farmers' Organization).
On Action Aid's Going Against the Grain
- Tom DeGregori"
Does anyone know what ActionAid actually does in the field to help people
other than issue reports and presumably organize people to engage in
protest? I downloaded and read their much touted report - GM Crops - going
against the Grain - and found it vapid at best and reflecting a profound
ignorance on how agriculture is actually carried out any where in the
Interested to see if they had any experience in agriculture, I searched
their website which was replete with self-congratulatory rhetoric on how
many hundreds of thousands of people they help in various developing
countries but nothing on how many they may have helped to grow more food,
how many children they may have immunized or how many schools that they
established etc. Nothing! Surely they must be doing something other than
organizing protests or are they? If they are not than someone ought to
question their purported status as a charity. You would thnk that an
organization with the name ActionAid would in fact be engaging in actions
that help people raise their standard of living and would so indicate this
on their homepage.
Whether or not, they are involved in helping in helping people grow more
food, does not prevent them from engaging in scurrilous attacks against
those who do and of course, against the Green Revolution. One of their
leading pundits, Alex Wijeratna purports to be a nutritionist. Run his
name on Google and check out the inane unproved comments about the Green
Revolution stripping out the micronutrients in the world's food supply.
Has he not noticed that in addition to living longer (a result of a
variety of factors including nutrition), people everywhere that the Green
Revolution has taken hold, are growing taller, much taller and sometimes
this is happening within generations as well as across them. This wouldn't
be happening if their food intake was less nourishing than before. Or see
him warning farmers in Thailand that someone is trying to stop them from
growing Jasmine rice.
I am very serious in asking my question. In spite of my questioning the
merits of their propaganda, I would hope that they would be doing
something directly to help poor people.
P.S. - From an emailed notice - "This Saturday at 9AM Pacific, the Food
Chain with Michael Olson hosts criminologist Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler for
a conversation the relationship between crime and nourishment. (Listen
here: http://www.metrofarm.com/index.asp?cat=40088) Topics will include
what double blind studies of jailed criminals revealed about nutrition and
behavior; why nutrition, or lack thereof, has a direct impact on criminal
behavior; and why, when given the choice, criminals often opt for the
foods lacking nutrition."
While you are on Google, check-out Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler. He actually
seems to believe that consuming sugar can lead to criminal behavior. Or
that is what I think that he has been saying for the last 20 years or so!
Oh well, I never liked Twinkies anyway. Is there any criticism, no matter
how absurd, about modern food production and consumption that does not
have its learned propagators and devout followers?
- Kershen, Drew L
I have seen several references recently on this listserv to a study about
agricultural biotechnology recently completed by the Scottish Agricultural
College. The SAC did the study as part of the UK debate that is presently
on-going. I believe the SAC did it at the behest of the Agricultural
The references have not given a URL where the document may be found. I
have tried unsuccessfully to locate the document. Does anyone have a URL
for the document to which I am referring.
U.S. Conservatives Take Aim at NGOs
- Jim Lobe, OneWorld.net , June 12, 2003 http://www.commondreams.org
WASHINGTON - While non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty
International, Greenpeace, and Oxfam have made significant contributions
to human rights, the environment, and development, they are using their
growing prominence and power to pursue a "liberal" agenda at the
international level that threatens U.S. sovereignty and free-market
That was the message delivered by a series of speakers at an all-day
conference, "Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing Power of an
Unelected Few," Wednesday sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), a Washington think tank that has been particularly influential with
the Bush administration.
On the global political front, international NGOs, which led the fight for
the global ban on anti-personnel mines, the Kyoto Protocol to curb
greenhouse-gas emissions, and the treaty establishing the International
Criminal Court (ICC), are pursuing a "liberal internationalist" vision
that is very much at odds with that of the Bush administration, according
to American University law professor Kenneth Anderson.
"NGOs have created their own rules and regulations and demanded that
governments and corporations abide by those rules," according to AEI and
the conference co-sponsor, the rightist Institute of Public Affairs of
Australia. "Politicians and corporate leaders are often forced to respond
to the NGO media machine, and the resources of taxpayers and shareholders
are used in support of ends they did not sanction."
"The extraordinary growth of advocacy NGOs in liberal democracies has the
potential to undermine the sovereignty of constitutional democracies, as
well as the effectiveness of credible NGOs," they warned.
To shed more light on NGOs, AEI announced the launch of a new website,
NGOWatch.org (www.ngowatch.org), that will provide information about their
operations, funding sources and political agendas. Brian Hook of the
Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which is
co-sponsoring the site, said it will cover those NGOs "with the most
influence in international affairs."
NGOs, which have proliferated at the local level since the
1980s--particularly in developing countries--have become major players at
the United Nations and other multilateral agencies, such as the World
Bank, which had traditionally dealt only with governments. Several
thousand NGOs now enjoy "consultative status" at the UN, which entitles
them to participate in some debates, while their image as representatives
of "global civil society" has endowed them with a moral and political
legitimacy, which they have used as leverage in dealing with the other
major global actors, governments and corporations.
But, unlike corporations and governments, they are largely unregulated,
and their internal processes often lack transparency and accountability,
according to their critics and even to many NGOs themselves. Indeed, a UN
commission on civil society chaired by former Brazilian President Henrique
Cardoso is expected to recommend the adoption of guidelines or other
mechanisms to ensure that NGOs recognized by the UN are transparent and
To the groups who gathered at AEI Wednesday, however, international NGOs
raise concerns that go far beyond transparency and accountability. To
them, the international NGOs are pursuing a leftist or "liberal" agenda
that favors "global governance" and other notions that are also promoted
by the United Nations and other multilateral agencies.
"This is inherently a project that is tilted to the left," according to
Cornell University government professor Jeremy Rabkin, who argued that
NGOs are using the multilateral system to try to regulate corporations and
"NGOs want to be players. They want to be regulators," agreed Institute of
Public Affairs's Gary Johns. He cited NGO lobbying for the adoption of
codes of conduct for multinational corporations. "Before long, you have a
degree of regulation that no one thought was possible."
In fact, according to George Washington University political science
professor Jarol Manheim, international NGOs are pursuing "a new and
pervasive form of conflict" against corporations which he calls "Biz-war,"
the title of his forthcoming book. NGOs, for example, work with
sympathetic institutional investors, such as union and church-based
pension funds, to sponsor shareholder resolutions demanding that
corporations adopt more environment- or human-rights-friendly policies.
Such efforts, he said, should be seen as "part of a larger, anti-corporate
This was echoed by John Entine, an AEI adjunct fellow, who called the
"social investing" movement, as it is called, a "wolf in sheep's clothing.
"Anti-free market NGOs under the guise of corporate reform are extending
their reach into the boardrooms of corporations," he said. "In many cases,
naive corporate reformers, within corporations and in government, are
Moreover, the strategy is working. "Big shareholders are getting
embarrassed to be associated with some companies," said Manheim, who noted
that companies are increasingly using NGOs as consultants or even hiring
former NGO officials to protect themselves against negative publicity or
On the global political front, international NGOs, which led the fight for
the global ban on anti-personnel mines, the Kyoto Protocol to curb
greenhouse-gas emissions, and the treaty establishing the International
Criminal Court (ICC), are pursuing a "liberal internationalist" vision
that is very much at odds with that of the Bush administration, according
to American University law professor Kenneth Anderson.
These efforts are intended in part to further a world order based on
"global governance" and the rule of international law, rather than one
based on the sovereignty of democratic nation states. The leaders of
international NGOs are part of a culture that "wants to constrain the
United States" and whose ideas about world order "are not congenial to the
ideas of this administration," according to Anderson.
Several speakers praised the work of NGOs in providing services and
humanitarian aid to needy people in developing countries but stressed
that, at the international policy level, much of what they did actually
hurt the intended beneficiaries. Roger Bate, director of Africa Fighting
Malaria, cited NGOs' opposition to the use of DDT to fight malaria and to
the delivery of genetically-modified maize in southern Africa as examples
of policies which amounted to "eco-imperialism" and showed a "callous
disregard for human life."
"NGOs definitely provide benefits in the short run, but in the long run,
their influence is almost always malign," he said.
Mike Nahan, Institute of Public Affairs's executive director, charged that
international NGOs supported secession movements in East Timor and Aceh,
Indonesia; put Papua New Guinea "on the road to bankruptcy" by forcing out
the mining industry; and is "destroying civil society in many of these