Today in AgBioView: June 25, 2003:
* Klaus Amman - Biodiversity and Agricultural Biotechnology
* Letter from Norman Borlaug to Tom DeGregori
* Re: GM Food Myths
* 'Yours is Public Domain; Mine is Private Property'
* Bt oversight
* Audio: Global Food Security show on California NPR
* Africa Becomes Battleground in Global Biotech War
* Study sees big gains from modified crops
* BIOTECH CROPS: XTRA BILLION EUROS FOR EUROPEAN FARMERS!
* Former UK environment minister has distorted GM facts
* Letter to Independent
* Egypt eager for new biotech crops
* Agriculture secretary pushes new crops
* Veneman hails biotech conference success
* TWENTY YEARS OF MODERN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY; HOW CAN INDIA
* Remarks by the President at the BIO 2003 Convention
* EPA Announces Unprecedented First “Draft Report on the Environment”
* Environmentalists win victory of unprecedented importance and magnitude
* Sacramento Businesses Tagged With Protest Graffiti
Biodiversity and Agricultural Biotechnology --
A Review of the Impact of Agricultural Biotechnology on Biodiversity
By Klaus Amman, Director
Botanischer Garten Bern
June 24, 2003
This paper gives an overview of biodiversity and how it is impacted by
agriculture, building upon chapters on the impact of biotechnology on
biodiversity for the European Federation of Biotechnology (Braun &
Bennett, 2001) and UNESCO (Braun & Ammann, 2002). Biodiversity encompasses
the fundamental bases of life on earth, including genetic, species and
ecosystem diversity. There is a need to better understand biodiversity in
terms of its fundamental components (genes and taxa), the interrelatedness
of these components (ecology), their importance for human life and life in
general, and the factors that threaten biodiversity. Biodiversity is
concentrated in unmanaged habitats within the tropics. In temperate zones,
particularly in the European Union, almost 50% of the landscape is
agricultural, and agricultural lands contain a significant portion of the
biodiversity in these zones. The greatest threats to biodiversity are
destruction and deterioration of habitats, particularly in tropical
developing countries, and introductions of exotic species. Maintaining
biodiversity requires addressing these threats.
Many of the factors affecting biodiversity are related directly or
indirectly to the needs of agricultural production, and it is important to
consider how these impacts could be mitigated. Increasing human population
and limited arable land have demanded increased agricultural productivity
leading to more intensive agricultural practices on a global basis. In
response, higher yielding crop varieties have been coupled with increased
inputs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides and more intensive
practices such as greater tillage of soil. More recently, technological
advances have led to the development of genetically modified (GM) crops
with insect resistance and herbicide tolerance that have a demonstrated
potential to enhance productivity. These technologies have been broadly
adopted, replacing broad-spectrum insecticides in some systems and
facilitating reductions in tillage in others.
Agricultural impacts on biodiversity can be divided into impacts on
in-field biodiversity and impacts on natural (off-site) biodiversity.
Intensive agriculture has negative impacts on both species and genetic
biodiversity within agricultural systems, primarily because of low crop
and structural diversity but also through pesticide use and tillage. These
impacts can be addressed by encouraging diversification of agricultural
systems, and by reducing broad-spectrum insecticide and tillage, both of
which GM crops can achieve in some systems. Agricultural impacts on
natural biodiversity primarily stem from conversion of natural habitats
into agricultural production. Transport of fertilizers and pesticides into
aquatic systems also cause significant habitat deterioration through
eutrophication. Increasing the efficiency of agricultural production can
reduce these impacts, as can minimizing off-site movement of fertilizers
and pesticides by reducing tillage and total agricultural inputs.
Technologies such as GM crops are important in this respect.
Overall, creating agricultural systems with minimal impact on biodiversity
will require utilizing all available technologies while simultaneously
encouraging appropriate farmer practices.
To read the Full Report, see:
Letter from Norman Borlaug to Tom DeGregori (Reproduced here with the
permission of Dr. Borlaug)
To: Dr. Thomas R. deGregori. Professor of Economics, University of Houston
Dear Dr. DeGregori:
Dr. Prakash has sent me an e-mail copy of your recent presentation
entitled "Nattering Nabob of Nonsense: A Review of a Review".
I have enjoyed reading about your perceptions and insights into the Indian
Green Revolution as interpreted by Aakanksha Kumar. Of course, this is a
new addition, as you pointed out to the ongoing diatribe against modern
agricultural technology. As you pointed out, the points of attack change
from time to time, but the ongoing message that these irresponsible
environmental activists are presenting to attack the use of science and
technology to produce our food, is a continuing, shifting, changing
I am pleased to know that we have an ally who is not afraid of attacking
these vicious doom-sayers, who do a great deal to disrupt and disorient
policy-makers in the third world nations. Their emotionally charged
fallacies cause confusion to policy-makers, such as the recent case of the
President of Zambia, saying that he was not willing to distribute maize
from the USA because it contained the Bt gene, which he understands is
poisonous and will be deleterious on the health of this people, who are
currently starving because of shortage of food.
I have had to listen and suffer from all of these kinds of nonsense
attacks since we began to transfer the Mexican high-yielding dwarf wheats
into India and Pakistan in the early 1960s. We succeeded in making that
transfer, but it would have been much easier and more rapidly attained,
had we not had all of the confusing nonsense being disseminated by Claude
Alvares, and later by Vandana Shiva, Manjira Datta and more recently, by
I hope that you and Dr. Prakash and others capable of speaking out against
such nonsense will continue to do so and that the general public will, as
a consequence, understand the underlying basic issues.
Norman E. Borlaug
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 17:08:46 +0200
From: "David Simpson"
Subject: Re: GM Food Myths: A Response to False Activist Claims
I would love to believe that GM foods are the answer to our many problems,
but as soon as I tend towards that view, along comes something else that
makes me wonder. The article on Superweeds (which you have probably seen
already) from the UK Independent looks credible (see
It is obviously not enough to claim (as in the Biotech Food Myths article
below) that glyphosate does not harm animals and humans - the question is
does it provide a cost-effective solution, or does it (because of the
evolution of weeds that it cannot kill) create a need for further biotech
solutions which in the end become costly and complicated. No doubt these
weeds would have evolved anyway, regardless of the application of
glyphosate, since evolution is random and is not a "response" to a
challenge. Are we not just "patching up" instead of providing an
'Yours is Public Domain; Mine is Private Property' - A new anti-GM elite?
(A reply to Jerry Cayford, AgBioView, June 18, 2003; From: Dave Wood)
Jerry: This won't do. There are still substantial problems with your
arguments attempting to link patents and control and food security to
public concern over GM. (I see you establish an 'elite’ of biotech critics
and exclude the general public and cheerleaders like Greenpeace who are
more concerned with the environment and food safety).
We unwrap your layers of careful packaging to find inside the RAFI
jack-in-the box, the philosophy that: 'Farmers must not be allowed access
to anything that is controlled by others. Therefore plant patents and GM
are out. I disagree very strongly. Rather than RAFI's impossible vision of
seed fundamentalism and self-sufficient farms - no tractors, no
fertilizers, no pesticides, no protected varieties - farmers MUST be
allowed to choose as widely as possible. How can you tell skilled farmers
10,000 miles away how to choose their seed? This is patronizing,
neo-colonial, economically inefficient control-freakery packaged with
social concern that may well be synthetic.
You are unable to establish that control and consolidation of the seed
industry originated with utility patents or GM. Indeed, you seem to have
fallen into the logical trap of 'post ergo propter’ [As the sun always
rises after the cock crows, so the cock causes the sun to rise].
Consolidation of the seed industry in Europe has little to do with utility
patents and more to do with efficiency, fashion and, I suggest, the
expansion of Plant Varietal Protection through UPOV (rather than utility
patents and GM technology). Indeed, consolidated control over farmers’
access to varieties has long predated even IP protection. Farmers have
accepted this loss of control, and paid for the results, for example in
the US for hybrid maize from the private sector, and in India for quality
seed from the State Agricultural Universities. This is rational, like me
choosing to buy designer trainers from a footwear specialist, rather than
tying road-kill to my feet, as a self-sufficiency lobby would advise.
You cannot establish any general threat to food security from utility
patents. The owners of such patents will only profit if they sell seed;
they will only sell seed if they provide a quality service to benefit
farmers, either in lower costs or higher production. If farmers don’t want
to pay for added value, they can go on using their old varieties. How can
this be a threat to food security? The only way that this could impact US
food security was if some 'evil empire’ bought up all US seed producers,
shut them down overnight, and destroyed all new and old seed stocks. How
likely is this 'analysis by rumour’ scenario? And how can utility patents
damage the food security of developing countries such as India and China,
which have vast state seed industries and state investment in
Indeed, India is pursuing an aggressive seed export policy with an
expanding private sector that will diversify seed supply and food security
throughout Asia and parts of Africa. No dangers here. And choice is all.
Vietnam buys Chinese hybrid rice seed for dollars and sells at a discount
to peasant farmers. With hybrid rice yielding 15t/ha, millions of tons of
rice are exported, enhancing global food security and bringing Vietnam far
more dollars than the seed cost. You cannot tell Vietnam that it MUST NOT
buy Chinese seed because such seed is under concentrated control and
therefore socially damaging. Vietnam would with justice suspect you of
protecting US rice exports.
Charity begins at home. If you don't like the social justice of the US (or
European) patent system, work through your democracy to improve it or to
strengthen anti-trust laws. You note that 'A vigorous public domain is a
requirement of democracy’. This is sloganeering: I could equally argue
that protection of private property is a requirement of democracy. Since
1980 the US has had the Bayh-Dole Act under which all labs and
universities receiving federal government research funding HAVE TO patent
their inventions and protect plant varieties. This is a sensible and
democratic way of getting inventions used, but it is the exact opposite of
'a vigorous public domain'.
Why not fight it at home? Do you accept GM crop development in the public
sector, as in China, India, Brazil, and the CGIAR system? If not, your
attack on multinationals and patents is a smoke-screen: your real target
is GM itself, and you must say so. If you do accept GM technology itself,
you must press for more public investment (my position). What is your
position on this? What seems hypocritical or duplicitous is living within
the US or European system but telling farmers elsewhere that they must
both maintain their varieties as public domain and not buy value-added
seed technology. 'What is yours is public domain; what is mine is private
Finally, back to the Seed Treaty, on which you say my concerns over Art
15.1.a. should be 'taken with a grain of salt’ because RAFI, apparently
your hallmark of competence, doesn’t understand the text. However, neither
RAFI nor the FAO and CGIAR negotiators had hands-on experience of managing
genebanks and distributing samples internationally. I have lots. Art
15.1.a. is about sample distribution. It was botched. It makes the Treaty
unworkable for the CGIAR and turns 'public domain' on its head. That's not
'analysis by rumour’: it's a fact. After negotiations had closed, the text
of the Treaty was presented to the dozen CGIAR genebank managers as a fait
accompli. They recognised that 15.1.a. seriously breached long-agreed
CGIAR protocols for equitable distribution of public domain samples from
their collections, and that they were unable to comply with it. Without
the CGIAR samples, the Treaty is dead in the water (and its threat to
public domain and national sovereignty removed).
RAFI tried hard, over several years of lobbying treaty negotiators, to
remove hitherto public domain samples from any form of development
whatever -- GM, patents, PVR, the lot. RAFI failed in this and is now
'sour-graping’ the Treaty. Andrew Apel is right: big problems have arisen
in attempts to change control over public domain. This observation is not
a smear but a result of the messy failures of fundamentalist NGOs to
'vertically socialize’ global seed systems. If you yourself are to be
believed, you must establish a new position well away from the
'anti-technology-transfer’ antics of RAFI. For the sake of debate, I
encourage you to do this.
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 10:16:39 -0400
Subject: Bt oversight
I read your refutation of the common myths from anti-biotech activists. It
is well written and will certainly help at least some understand the
nature of the rhetoric flying around the web and in newspapers. I did want
to point out that the statement below regarding a lack of regulatory
oversight for Bt microbials is not accurate. We do regulate these and
utilize the same guidelines for testing that the PIPs (plant-incorporated
protectants) expressing Bt delta-endotoxins undergo to examine human
health toxicity and environmental impact.
These microbials even carry re-entry intervals, much to the chagrin of
many producers and growers despite their benign nature.
There is more info at http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/ regarding
what is registered so far and how.
Myth 7. Activists say: "Dangerous gene products are incorporated into
FACTS: Bt proteins are used because of their excellent and well-documented
specificity for narrow groups of insect pests, as well as their long
history of safe use by organic and non-organic farmers. Activists
inconsistently claim there are safety issues when used in biotech crops,
but they make no such representations when they are used indiscriminately
and without regulatory oversight by organic farmers. This appears to
demonstrate that the activists do not believe their own arguments about
Chris A. Wozniak, Ph.D.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 7511C
Washington, DC 20460
703-308-7026 - fax
Audio Stream of the National Public Radio Forum from San Francisco's KQED
on "Global Food Security" aired on June 23 can now be heard at:
(Scroll down to find "Global Food Security", June 23, 2003)
Forum discusses global food security, biotechnology, and other issues on
the agenda at this week's Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science
and Technology in Sacramento.
Host: Penny Nelson
Guests: Don Bailey, Dr. C.S. Prakash, Peter Pringle, Anuradha Mittal,
Christian Foster, Amy Simmon
Africa Becomes Battleground in Global Biotech War
June 24, 2003
By Shapi Shacinda
LUSAKA (Reuters) - It is little surprise the transatlantic battle over
genetically modified food came to be fought on the scorched fields of
Africa's peasant farmers.
Here the ability of a field of maize to resist pests and drought is a
matter of life and death.
Yet, while millions of its people faced food shortages last year, Zambia's
government told aid agencies to take back thousands of tonnes of GM maize,
preferring to wait for unmodified aid than feed GM food to its hungry
The continent's leaders have become pawns in a wider mesh of conflicting
trade and economic interests, bombarded by a confusing array of
information blurring into propaganda.
"We are not going to accept GMO food until there is world consensus on its
safety for human consumption," Zambia's Commerce, Trade and Industry
Minister Dipak Patel told Reuters Tuesday, after President Bush (news -
web sites) told Europe its opposition to GM crops was contributing to
famine in Africa.
"Europe is saying no to GMOs while the United States is saying GMOs are
safe. So we don't know whether GMOs are safe, as we are a developing
country with limited technology capacity to do our own tests ... We shall
therefore wait until there is consensus by the developed world," Patel
Any such consensus appears some way off.
"It's a complex issue because it deals with communication -- which is very
often inadequate -- and it deals with trade," said Wynand van der Walt of
the South Africa-based pro-GM research body AfricaBio. He says there is no
evidence that transgenic foods are dangerous for humans.
FACTS AND PERCEPTIONS
"We're dealing with facts on the one hand and perceptions on the other,"
van der Walt told Reuters.
While Zambia stuck to its guns in refusing GM crops due to the perceived
risks, nearby countries faced with the hard fact of millions going hungry
relented and allowed milled maize in while preventing the whole modified
grains from being used for seed.
In one nation, Zimbabwe, the row over GM food aid became tangled with
Western allegations of vote rigging by President Robert Mugabe. The key
issues -- such as the integrity of future grain exports from the region's
former breadbasket if GM strains were grown -- were blurred.
Van der Walt plays down the risks to trade of adopting GMOs, saying that
industry regulations need to be realistic and that productivity in hungry
countries can be raised by introducing crops resistant to pests and
South Africa, the region's dominant political, economic and agricultural
power, has licensed GMO strains of cotton and soya as well as white and
But opponents say it is setting a dangerous precedent on a continent where
so much food comes from subsistence farming.
"It's about ownership of the food chain. We feel it (GM technology) is a
much greater threat to food security," said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of
anti-GM group Biowatch South Africa.
She said switching to GM crops would compel farmers to buy seeds year
after year through contracts with the multinational firms that make them,
rather than saving seed from one year to the next, undermining traditional
GM opponents also reject Bush's contention that new technology will feed
the starving masses of Africa. They say lowering North American and
European agricultural subsidies would do far more for Africa's food
"We shall only have enough food for ourselves once they remove subsidies.
Production of food in Africa remains expensive because of these
subsidies," said Zambia's trade minister Patel.
Study sees big gains from modified crops
By Clive Cookson
June 24 2003
European farmers would derive big benefits from plant biotechnology - and
the environment would gain from reduced pesticide use - according to the
first Europe-wide study of the economic impact of genetically modified
The US National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy is analysing the
effect that 15 GM crops would have on European agriculture. It released
the first three case studies - for insect-resistant maize,
herbicide-tolerant sugarbeet and fungus- resistant potato - at the Bio
2003 conference in Washington.
The results show that for those three crops GM varieties would increase
annual yields by 7.8bn kg, cut pesticide consumption by 9.7m kg and
increase farm income by €1.05bn ($1.22bn, £730m).
The study was funded by the US Biotechnology Industry Organisation and two
biotech companies, Monsanto and Syngenta, but was carried out
independently by the NCFAP, a non-profit research foundation based in
The methodology is based on an earlier study for the US, which showed that
US farm incomes would increase by $2.5bn a year through biotech crops.
European experts are reviewing the studies.
"I hope people will not dismiss this as an 'industry-funded project',
because our sponsors have no say in the methodology or results," said
Leonard Gianessi, NCFAP programme director. "We have not looked at the
risks of biotech crops but people should know what benefits Europe is
forgoing by not planting them."
The largest benefits come from potato resistant to "late blight", a
devastating fungal infection that caused the Irish famine in the 1840s and
remains a problem throughout Europe. Researchers at Wageningen University
in the Netherlands have produced blight-resistant GM potatoes by
transferring a gene from a related Mexican plant that does not suffer from
Introduction of blight- resistant potatoes would cut fungicide application
by 7.5m kg, increase production by 850m kg and raise growers' net income
by ?417m a year, the study shows.
Maize resistant to corn borer insects is an established commercial product
grown extensively in north America. This maize is planted on 25,000
hectares in Spain, the most significant GM planting in Europe so far. The
main beneficiaries of this crop would be farmers in southern Europe,
because the pest does not occur farther north.
The introduction of herbicide-tolerant sugarbeet would benefit farmers
throughout Europe, the study shows, increasing net income by ?390m per
Mr Gianessi said that if growers did not want to increase overall
production, they could farm less intensively - further reducing their
input costs - or land could be used for other purposes.
"We found that an area larger than Luxembourg could be removed from
production without any production loss, due to higher yields on the
remaining biotech acreage," he said.
BIOTECH CROPS: XTRA BILLION EUROS FOR EUROPEAN FARMERS!
24 June 2003
European farmers stand to increase their income by at least a billion
euros through increased crop yields and savings in reduced pesticide
applications if they adopt just three biotech-enhanced crops: maize, sugar
beets and potatoes. Accepting genetically modified crops holds promise of
decreasing European pesticide use by nearly 10 million kg per year and
increasing harvests by 7.8 billion kg, according to an analysis on the
impact of biotechnology on European agriculture released today by the
National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP).
The NCFAP’s European study follows on the heels of a similar analysis of
27 biotech crops in U.S. agriculture released June 10, 2002. That study
looked at six GMO crops already in commercial planting – soybeans,
corn/maize, cotton, papaya, squash and canola – and theorized over 21
others. The six were said to yield U.S. farmers an addition income boost
of $1.5 billion thanks to four billion pounds of extra food and fiber
harvested from the same acreage while saving the environment from the
insult of 46 million pounds of toxic chemical pesticide that was not
needed for the biotech crops.
According to NCFAP, the preliminiary results on the three crops reflect
findings that suggest farmers in France and Germany stand to gain the
largest economic benefits. Four countries were examined for maize. Eight
were included in the sugar beet analysis and 12 for potatoes.
When the entire analysis is completed fifteen crops in all will be
covered. Those crops remaining to be analyzed include virus resistant
citrus, stone fruit and tomatoes; insect resistant cotton, potatoes, and
rice; herbicide tolerant cotton, rapeseed, rice, maize, wheat; and fungus
Former environment minister has distorted GM facts, says Lord May
25 June 2003
In response to newspaper articles by the former environment minister,
Michael Meacher, published in ‘The Independent on Sunday’ and ‘The Daily
Mail’, Lord May of Oxford, the President of the Royal Society and former
Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, has today (25 June 2003)
issued the following statement.
“The recent newspaper articles by Mr Meacher appear to show an ideological
opposition to GM crops, and present a severely distorted account of the
scientific facts and uncertainties surrounding GM foods. By quoting very
selectively from the Royal Society report on GM plants published last
year, Mr Meacher has also shown that he is not averse to applying his own
spin to the scientific evidence on GM. I would like to correct a number of
the points made in the articles.
“Although Mr Meacher refers to our report, he conspicuously fails to
mention its principal conclusion that there is no scientific reason to
doubt the safety of foods made from GM ingredients that are currently
available, nor to believe that genetic modification makes GM foods
inherently less safe than their conventional counterparts.
“Our report noted that some form of ‘substantial equivalence’, beginning
with a direct comparison of a new GM foodstuff with its conventional
counterpart, is the only practical way of evaluating the safety of GM
foods. However, we did recommend that ‘substantial equivalence’ should be
made more explicit and objective during safety assessments before any new
GM foodstuffs are approved, and that these methods should be harmonised
between Member States of the European Union. But we cannot agree with Mr
Meacher that ‘substantial equivalence’ is “scientifically vacuous”, and a
number of bodies, including the World Health Organisation and the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, have devoted a lot
of time and effort to addressing this issue.
“The report pointed out that genetic modification may be used in future to
improve the quality of food, which again Mr Meacher appears unwilling to
acknowledge. Such foods could, however, also have unintended adverse
impacts on nutrition. As babies are particularly vulnerable to changes in
the nutritional content of their food, UK and EU laws should ensure
rigorous tests are carried out if GM ingredients are ever considered for
use in infant formula.
“Mr Meacher also tries to link allergies to GM foods. Our report makes
clear that there is no evidence that GM foods that are commercially
available at present cause greater allergic reactions than their
conventional counterparts. Assertions to the contrary, such as those cited
by Mr Meacher, do not stand up when subjected to systematic analysis, as
was shown for example a couple of years ago in a study by the United
States Center for Disease Control.
“Mr Meacher attempts to play up the uncertainties surrounding the
techniques of genetic modification. A balanced account would also have
pointed out that each act of conventional cross-breeding leads to the
shuffling of far greater numbers of genes in an uncontrolled way.
“It is perhaps helpful that Mr Meacher has now made his ideological stance
so explicit, so that the public can judge for themselves his statements on
For further information contact:
Bob Ward, Press and Public Relations, The Royal Society, London
Tel: 020 7451 2516 or 07811 320346
Date: June 24, 2003
Subject: Letter to Independent
In response to the interview with Michael Meacher in yesterday's
Independent on Sunday. I was incensed enough to send the letter below,
which may or may not appear next week.
Now that Michael Meacher has left the government, he is able to
demonstrate his deep green credentials openly. His article in today's
Independent on Sunday was littered with factual inaccuracies, outrageously
selective and distorted quotes and, dare I say it, downright untruths.
People who consider that the end justifies the means, as Meacher clearly
does, and that gross distortions strengthen their case, are not to be
Like any technology, genetic modification is not perfect and is evolving.
Like any technology, its use is regulated by governments follwing advice
from objective experts: including those in the Food Standards agency, who
have arrived at their broadly favourable stance by examining all the
evidence rather than adopting a political stance. Biotechnology, because
of cutbacks in public funding of science, has a heavy involvement from
industry. Some of the companies involved are US based, and Meacher made it
very clear in his piece in the Times last week that he is anti-American.
Is this the root cause of his apparent aversion to science?
Egypt eager for new biotech crops, would not oppose GM wheat
24 Jun 2003
Egypt is keen to plant new biotech crops and would not be against the
purchase of genetically modified wheat if the crop is commercialised in
the US, according to an official with the Egyptian Agriculture Ministry.
Magdy Madkour, head of the ministry’s Agriculture Research Centre told Dow
Jones News: "I am responsible for the introduction of agriculture
biotechnology into Egypt. Let me reassure you that in our plan we are
Madkour, who is attending the US Department of Agriculture’s Ministerial
Conference and Expo on Agriculture Science and Technology in Sacramento,
said he hopes to make a "presentation on public-private
partnership...involving the public sector from Egypt with the private
sector from US companies like Monsanto."
Agriculture secretary pushes new crops
She counters critics at biotech meetings in Sacramento
San Francisco Chronicle
By Glen Martin
June 24, 2003
Sacramento -- As hundreds of protesters swarmed the state capitol beating
drums and waving signs denouncing genetically modified food crops, U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman convened a conference at a nearby
convention center that pushed the opposite message:
Gene-spliced crops are here to stay -- and what's more, they're good for
both people and the planet.
Addressing delegates from 120 countries at the federally sponsored
Ministerial Conference and Expo of Agricultural Science and Technology,
Veneman said high technology -- including genetically engineered food
plants and livestock -- would be necessary for the world's burgeoning
population to avoid famine.
Opponents of genetically modified crops say they benefit corporations --
which obtain patents for specific seed strains and animal varieties -- at
the expense of small farmers and consumers.
"This conference is for those most in need," Veneman said. "It (hunger)
has to become a global agenda. One in seven people in the world face
chronic hunger, and a child dies every five seconds from (starvation or
malnutrition). Progress to end hunger is seriously lagging, and new
approaches are needed."
At the same time in Washington, President Bush urged European governments
to abandon a boycott of genetically manipulated crops, an action he said
was based on "unfounded scientific fears." If they relented, he said,
African farmers could develop new markets for their agricultural products,
allowing them to alleviate the continent's crushing poverty.
Veneman said gene-spliced crops had boosted yields while reducing
fertilizer and water requirements by enhancing disease and drought
Veneman basically was preaching to the choir, cheerleading foreign
ministers who shared her view that the world food supply can only be
secured through both biotechnology and free trade.
Luis Lorenzo, Jr., secretary of agriculture for the Philippines, said some
opponents of biotechnology have unfairly vilified scientists who work in
good faith to develop genetically engineered crops that minimize farmer
exposure to pesticides and maximize production. And he warned that
governments must resist scientifically unsupported populist attacks on
bioengineering. "Could not (minimal) resistance in governance signal a
clear and present danger to breeding softspots for terrorism?" he asked.
The opening of the three-day conference Monday brought some minor
skirmishes between protesters and police, but nothing like Sunday, when
about 2,000 protesters took to the streets as a countercultural greeting
to the ministers on their arrival. Forty-six demonstrators were arrested
After holding an extensive rally at the capitol steps Monday, the crowd
again marched the streets. Many had donned monarch butterfly costumes --
monarch larvae are considered by some scientists to be threatened by
genetically modified corn that contains a natural toxin fatal to many
By mid-afternoon, there had been little if any violence and only a few
arrests, which isn't to say passions weren't running high.
Leni Battaglia, a demonstrator who came from San Francisco, said it was
"utterly illogical and inhumane to force genetically modified organisms on
the world. They haven't been adequately tested. Entire populations are
being put at risk simply for corporate economic benefit."
But John Marburger, the science adviser to President Bush, characterized
the resistance to new technologies as "a vicious cycle of ignorance and
poverty." Technology is an aspect of civilization, said Marburger, and "if
we are to have any hope of feeding the 8 billion people who will be here
30 years from now, we must harness biotechnology."
But demonstrators characterized Marberger's comments as both patronizing
"Third World people are not stupid," said Anuradha Mittal, a co-director
of FoodFirst, a food policy lobbying group in Oakland. "Monsanto holds
patents on its genetically engineered soybeans until 2014. That means
farmers can't save seed for their next year's crop -- it's the property of
Monsanto. How can corporations expect farmers to believe this technology
is in their best interests? It's about maximizing corporate profits, not
ending world hunger."
Byakola Timothy, a Ugandan citizen and the director of Pesticide Action
Network for East Africa, said that a talk given at Monday's conference by
Uganda Minister of Agriculture Wilberforce Mugerwa was based of a false
premise. Mugerwa said that Uganda needed bioengineered crops to assure its
population wouldn't suffer famine.
"The problem in Uganda isn't production," Timothy said. "It's
distribution. Western Uganda is very fertile and very wet, and produces a
tremendous surplus of crops. But our roads are horrible -- we have no
infrastructure, so we can't move the food around. That's why a stalk of
bananas that costs 300 Uganda shillings in the western part of the country
costs 3,500 shillings by the time it gets to Kampala (in the country's
Regardless, many at the conference said, bioengineered farming -- and the
global trade agreements that are spreading it -- are going to remain the
engines that drive the world's food supply.
"The world has changed, and farmers must adapt to new models," said
Roberto Newell Garcia, undersecretary of agribusiness development for
Mexico. "Trade liberalization isn't going to be reduced. Farmers must
think of themselves not as farmers anymore, but as businessmen and
Besides, said Garcia, "There is an enormous smugness from those who say,
'We who live in bounty and do well will prevent the rest of humanity from
catching up.' It's time we got our share of the goodies."
Veneman hails biotech conference success
BY KIM BACA
June 25, 2003
SACRAMENTO - The largest gathering of international agriculture ministers
to discuss biotechnology was hailed Wednesday as a success for uniting
agribusiness with developing countries and researchers overseas.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said partnerships that foreign
countries forged with corporations and researchers will improve technology
and lead to better ways to irrigate drought-stricken lands.
"A seed has been planted," Veneman said. "Out of these discussions, a seed
can grow into more discussions."
But critics of the talks claimed the seed was genetically altered and
would harm human health. Demonstrators who attempted to derail the
conference staged mostly peaceful protests that drew attention away from
foreign ministers and to the streets of the state capital.
More than 1,000 people rallied over three days, proclaiming that
genetically modified foods weren't the answer to the world's food
problems. At least 70 demonstrators were taken into custody. Critics also
said the United States was attempting to lower trade barriers and push
risky science on struggling nations.
The show went on without problems, but it was overshadowed outside by a
huge police presence to quell potential disturbances. Downtown seemed like
a ghost town at times, with police in riot gear on bikes, horseback and
foot outnumbering people on the streets.
The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to
discuss ways to end world hunger and poverty. It focused largely on
biotechnology as a means of reducing starvation, improving nutrition and
boosting economies through bigger harvests and less pesticide use.
Agriculture ministers, scientists and health care experts came from more
than 100 countries to attend. Veneman said she received thanks for giving
corporate officials, researchers and agriculture officials access to the
delegates of the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science
Veneman said the next steps are to expand research to farmers, continue
partnerships with scientists in developing countries and possibly start
Veneman denied accusations that the conference was a plan to open trade
talks before the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in
Cancun, Mexico, in September. But she said trade can help aid developing
On Tuesday, Tito Barbini, regional minister for agriculture in Tuscany,
Italy, criticized the United States for hosting an international
conference without representation from the European Union.
EU ministers were notably absent at a time when the United States is
demanding that the WTO force the EU to end its ban on genetically modified
The EU's agriculture representative in Washington said EU ministers were
invited but canceled because the union is closing talks on agricultural
reform. He said Germany, France, Spain have sent delegates.
Like European consumers, some agriculture ministers at the conference
questioned the health risks of genetically altered crops and voiced
concern about corporations creating a monopoly by controlling seed supply.
But some farmers and biotech companies that participated said
bioengineered crops such as pest-resistant corn have produced higher
profits for farmers in the Philippines and other countries because it
reduced the need for pesticides and labor.
TWENTY YEARS OF MODERN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY; HOW CAN INDIA BENEFIT?
From: C Kameswara Rao; firstname.lastname@example.org,
FOUNDATION FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY AWARENESS AND EDUCATION; www.fbae.org
In 1973, Cohen and Boyer transferred a gene from one organism into
another. In 1982, the first biotech plant, an antibiotic resistant
tobacco, was developed. In January 1983, at a meeting of genetic
researchers in Miami, three different teams reported success in using
Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a bacterium, to carry new genes into plant
cells, heralding the dawn of modern agricultural biotechnology.
Agrobacterium tumefaciens, described as a "natural genetic engineer",
splices its own genes into host plant cells. This pathogenic bacterium was
now converted into a pack mule, to carry new, foreign genes into plant
cells, minus the disease and this became the most common means of
producing Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs).
Field tests for GE crops resistant to pests and pathogens were first
conducted in the US, in 1985. A co-coordinated framework for the
regulation of GEOs was established and the first GE tobacco was released,
in 1986 . The US Department of Agriculture published guidelines for field
trials of GE crops in 1991.
On approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Flavor Saver, the first
GE tomato, with a longer shelf life, was on the US markets in 1994. During
1995-96, GE soybean, corn and cotton were approved for commercialization,
in the US.
A number of GE crops, developed for pest, pathogen and herbicide
resistance, are now commercially cultivated in several countries. Rice
with pro-vitamin A, higher iron content, or human milk proteins and
potatoes with high protein content are in various stages of development.
Tobacco plants producing functional human haemoglobin and bacteria that
produce human insulin have been developed, as well as plants with vaccines
against rabies and other viral diseases. Food grain crops that withstand
drought and salinity are high priority research, and so are those for high
yield. A GE tobacco plant detoxifies soils contaminated by explosive
residues, providing solution to a frustrating environmental problem in
countries ravaged by armed conflict.
Now more than 70 biotech agricultural crops that have been approved for
use in North America, including varieties of soybeans, cotton, canola,
corn, potatoes, squash, tomatoes and papaya. About six million farmers in
some 17 countries now cultivate GE crop on about 125 million acres, a 30
fold increase over 1996. By end of the year 2002, six GE crops planted in
the US (soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola) produced an
additional four billion pounds of food and fibre on the same acreage,
improved farm income by US $ 1.5 billion and reduced pesticide use by 46
million pounds. In 2003 in the US, 80 per cent of soybean acres will be
planted with biotech varieties.
A number of activist groups vehemently attack GE technology and its
products on grounds of safety to humans and the environment, and costs of
technology transfer and its reach to the needy. Products of agricultural
biotechnology bear the brunt of this ill-informed, unscientific and
prejudiced onslaught much more than GE products related to health or
In 2001, the European Community released results of a 15-year study,
costing US $ 64 million, and involving more than 400 research teams and 81
projects. This report concluded that GE products pose no more risk to
human health or the environment than conventional crops. So far, extensive
and intensive research on the probable risks of GE technology has not
brought out any adverse effects and none of the fears expressed by
anti-tech activists were proved even marginally. Nevertheless, caution and
examining issues case by case, is the watch word of technologists, who are
aware of their responsibilities. For a number of products, technology
transfer is free of costs for developing countries, as for example Golden
Rice, the rice with pro-vitamin A. It is the responsibility of the
Governments of the respective countries to bear the costs of developing
local varieties and to reach the products to the needy at an affordable
In India, three GE varieties of pest resistant cotton were approved for
commercialization, a year ago. Approval for other GE varieties of cotton
and GE mustard was deferred twice by the Genetic Engineering Approval
Committee (GEAC), the highest authority on the issue.
In India, the level of public awareness of the realizable benefits and
probable risks of GE products is abysmally low. The functioning of the
GEAC leaves much to be desired. Taking advantage of this hazy situation,
mixing up economic, social and political issues with science, and even
using such vagaries of nature as the severe drought, several groups of
vested interest have created mistrust, confusion and scare. Trashing a
very promising technology this way does not augur well for the future of
Indian agriculture. This results only in denying the benefits of
technology to the farmers and consumers. The next 20 years of plant
biotechnology is expected to improve quality of life, through improved
foods, pharmaceuticals, new industrial materials and a better environment.
These benefits should reach the people of the developing world, who need
For India to benefit from these developments, it is urgent and essential
that the public is educated on the realizable benefits and probable risks
related to GE products. We also need to reorganize the mechanism of
regulating GE products by providing for an expedient, transparent and
responsible authority. The media have a very important role to play in
this regard. Only an informed and reassured public can make viable
choices. Every effort should be made to provide such an opportunity to the
Remarks by the President at the BIO 2003 Convention Center and Exhibition
Washington Convention Center
June 23, 2003
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks a lot. Welcome to the nation's capital, and thanks
for having me drop by.
I knew Tommy was here when I saw his Harley Davidson parked out front.
(Laughter.) So I just put my Segway right next to it. (Laughter.)
It is a pleasure to be with so many leaders in such a vital industry. Each
of you is carrying on the incredible work began some 50 years ago by
Doctors Watson and Crick. Since then, biotechnology is advancing knowledge
and relieving suffering. In the years to come, the contributions of your
industry will help us to win the war on terror, will help us fight hunger
around the world and will help us to save countless lives with new
My administration is committed to working with your industry so that the
great powers of biotechnology can serve the true interests of our nation
(Continued .... Full text of speech available at
EPA Announces Unprecedented First “Draft Report on the Environment”
Report Shows Real Progress, Helps Identify Areas Where There is “More to
June 23, 2003
Administrator Christine Todd Whitman today announced the release of the
EPA “Draft Report on the Environment” — an unprecedented effort by the
Agency to present the first-ever national picture of U.S. environmental
quality and human health. Whitman commissioned the report in November
“This Draft Report on the Environment documents real gains in providing a
cleaner, healthier and safer environment, ” said Administrator Whitman.
“More importantly, it begins an important national dialogue on how we can
improve our ability to assess the nation’s environmental quality and human
health, and how we can use that knowledge to make improvements. Using the
most sophisticated science ever, we have developed a comprehensive roadmap
to ensure that all Americans have cleaner air, purer water and better
protected land. This report is an important tool that will be useful for
generations to come.”
The report uses available scientific data, gathered from more than 30
other federal agencies, departments, states, tribes and non-governmental
organizations, to answer questions that the EPA and its collaborators have
identified as indicators of the nation’s environmental quality and human
health. It establishes scientific, consensus-based benchmarks to measure
EPA’s progress. This is the first time that EPA has developed a
comprehensive report about the nation’s environment, and it will be used
as a baseline for future evaluations. The report shows that:
* Our air is cleaner. Air pollution has declined 25% over the past 30
years, and it declined while we experienced large increases in the U.S.
population, gross domestic product and vehicle miles traveled.
* Our drinking water is purer. In 2002, 94 percent of Americans were
served by drinking water systems that meet our health-based standards – an
increase of 15 percent in the last decade.
* Our land is better-protected. Releases of toxic chemicals have declined
by 48% since 1988, and we have significantly improved the way we manage
* The health of the American public is generally good and improving.
People are living longer than ever before. Infant mortality has dropped to
the lowest level ever recorded in the United States.
The report illustrates, however, that more must be done. For example,
despite these substantial improvements, more than 133 million Americans
live in areas that at times have unhealthful air. The report also noted
the need for additional data to answer questions about the links between
some environmental pollutants and health effects. From examples such as
these, EPA is identifying areas to improve research and data collection
and strengthen data partnerships with other federal agencies, states,
tribes, and others.
“The President has asked each federal agency to be more accountable to the
American public. In presenting this report, we are providing a picture of
what we know - and equally important what we don’t know - about the
condition of our nation’s environmental and human health. We have made
much progress over the past 30 years, but there is still more to be done.
This draft report is a stepping stone toward helping EPA identify future
data and research needs, and we are already putting that knowledge to
work,” said Whitman.
The report is part of the “Indicators Initiative” which strengthens EPA’s
efforts, under the President’s Management Agenda, to identify priority
areas of national concern and focus resources. Visit EPA’s Web site:
http://www.epa.gov/indicators to learn more about the Environmental
Environmentalists win victory of unprecedented importance and magnitude:
PR changed globally and forever
By Ross Irvine
Environmental activists have won a victory that’s so stunning and
far-reaching that even they are amazed. It’s a win that -- over time --
will have an impact on PR across the United States, North America, and the
Regardless of the business you’re in -- biotechnology, banking,
transportation, chemical, nuclear, mining or agriculture -- you will feel
its influence. It will stifle innovation, creativity and progress in your
company or organization. And, it will change the way you do PR on a
On June 17, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the
precautionary principle as the basis for city and county policies. The
precautionary principle is a notoriously vague and imprecise concept for
which there are at least 23 definitions. One activist has said, “It (the
precautionary principle) is a broad ethical principle. It can guide us all
– workers and environmentalists – in a righteous fight against corporate
It’s little wonder that the activist newsletter Rachel’s Environment &
Health News describes “a city guided by the precautionary principle” as a
“dream.” Rachel’s also said the San Francisco development was “a stunning
and unprecedented breakthrough in the management of environmental matters
in the U.S.”
The precautionary principle made its major public debut in the 1992 United
Nations Rio Declaration but has a history that’s much longer. It has been
discussed on this web site, its predecessor -- EnviroScan, a newsletter
distributed by fax in the early and mid 1990s -- and in ePublic Relations
presentations to PR and business groups.
Framework for future laws
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors stated: "...the City sees the
Precautionary Principle approach as its policy framework to develop laws
for a healthier and more just San Francisco."
It goes on to say:
“Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature
exist, lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect shall not
be viewed as sufficient reason for the City to postpone measures to
prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its
citizens. Any gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of
alternatives will provide a guidepost for future research, but will not
prevent protective action being taken by the City. As new scientific data
become available, the City will review its decisions and make adjustments
In this single paragraph, San Francisco discards accepted and effective
scientific risk assessment programs. Instead, the mere suspicion that
something may cause harm is sufficient to bring an activity to a halt.
Furthermore, any gap in knowledge or information -- not matter how small
-- can be used to bring an activity to a halt. As a result, if opponents
of a technology or residential development ask proponents “Have you
thought of this? Have you considered that?” and the answer is “No,” the
technology or development can be stopped. It’s simply impossible to think
of -- let alone consider and evaluate -- all alternatives and their
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is asking for the impossible when
“An obligation exists to examine a full (emphasis added) range of
alternatives and select the alternative with the least potential impact on
human health and the environment including the alternative of doing
There’s no leeway here! The burden on business is great and costly.
San Francisco adoption of the precautionary principle also includes a high
degree of public participation with which most corporate and
organizational PR folks are unfamiliar.
The board of supervisors says:
“The alternatives assessment is also a public process because, locally or
internationally, the public bears the ecological and health consequences
of environmental decisions. A government's course of action is necessarily
enriched by broadly based public participation when a full range of
alternatives is considered based on input from diverse individuals and
groups. The public should be able to determine the range of alternatives
examined and suggest specific reasonable alternatives, as well as their
short- and long-term benefits and drawbacks.”
This opens the doors to international activists in addition to the
homegrown variety to become in San Francisco’s public participation
process. In addition, uninformed, malevolent and self-serving activists
individuals and groups now have a role in setting the range of
alternatives to be considered in the San Francisco decision-making
Business must participate
Participation in the public process will require business to take part in
decision-making from every ad hoc committee to the mayor’s office. Failure
to do so, will mean business forfeits the right to partake in the final
decision and to criticize the final decision. If business isn’t there from
day one and throughout the process it can’t complain that it didn’t have
the opportunity to make its case.
To cope with this new reality, corporate PR folks need to intensify and
broaden their efforts at the local level. This will be necessary in every
village, town, and city across the U.S. and eventually around the world.
Local PR, not global PR, is the PR challenge of the future. It will usurp
crisis PR as the ultimate PR challenge.
The history of the San Francisco precautionary approach and the
documentation adopted by the city board of supervisors has been circulated
around the world. Just as nuclear-free, GE-free, pesticide-free and
smoking-free communities have sprung up around the world, it’s only a
matter of time before precautionary-principle communities surface
everywhere. The model is in place and available. It only needs to be
adapted for use in other communities.
The San Francisco situation illustrates one of the great differences
between corporate and activist PR. Corporate PR folks are concerned about
the business, the industry, the brand, the next news cycle and media
relations. Activist PR folks are concerned about the environment in which
business, industry, the brand, the news cycle and media relations are
conducted. Corporate PR folks manage issues while activist PR folks manage
the context in which issues occur. Put another way, activist PR folks deal
with values and visions, corporate PR folks deal with things.
The San Francisco board of supervisors talks a great deal about values and
visions in the information explaining its adoption of the precautionary
principle. For your information and thoughtful consideration the board of
supervisors’ policy follows.
Read it carefully. Its implications are much broader than described here.
PR as you know it has changed forever.
Sacramento Businesses Tagged With Protest Graffiti
Newspaper Stands Also Tagged
June 25, 2003
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A handful of Sacramento business owners cleaned up
Wednesday after getting tagged with graffiti, protesting genetically
At least six businesses and some newspaper stands were hit along J Street.
Community service officers were investigating the scene Wednesday.
The officers said the messages make it clear that people protesting the
world agriculture expo did the graffiti.