Today in AgBioView: July 1, 2003:
* Re: Chapela Protests Over Tenure Case
* EU Lawmakers To Pass GM Food Label Rules
* Plant Biotechnology Has Growth Potential in Europe
* Frankenfood is here to stay. Let's talk
* Media Feeds Scare over Genetically Modified Products
* A Bad Sales Job
* Starving farmers destroy rainforest to buy food
* A tale of two environmental reports
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: Chapela Protests Over Tenure Case;
Date: Tue, 1 Jul 2003 01:53:44 -0500
A professor without tenure that makes political waves has as much sense as
some one that plays Russian Roulette with five bullets in a revolver. Add
to that sloppy work that has to be retracted in a journal that never
retracts anything and he was lucky to have not been sacked on the spot. I
realize that he thinks the normal pathways of publication and rigor don't
apply to him, but is he so arrogant that he thinks the penalties for
making an ass of himself, his department and institution would go
Politics is a two edged sword. If you don't shine in victory you fall to a
knife in the dark if you don't have the system to protect you. Lacking
tenure, small girls, lizards and undergrads have as much influence as you
do if you put your betters in a bad light.
It doest take a PhD to know that until your job is secure you don't
stupidly shoot off you moth in the intentional press and be proved wrong
and expect a good outcome.
He could have been at Oklahoma and been fed to the hogs.
Gordon Couger Stillwater, OK
EU Lawmakers To Pass GM Food Label Rules
July 1, 2003
The European Parliament is due to pass a law on Wednesday to ensure all
genetically modified products in the European Union are labelled, a step
towards reopening the EU market, which rejects most GM foods at present.
Parliament's vote comes a month after the United States and other GM
exporters launched a trade suit against the EU over its' five-year refusal
to import new GM products pending the new rules.
The law will beef up current EU rules that do not require labels on GM
fodder or highly processed foods for humans, such as oils and sugars.
Instead, the new system will force companies growing, importing and
processing GM foods to be able to trace the source of the GM products they
are using so even products that no longer contain altered DNA can be
labelled as GM-derived.
EU governments say their citizens demand tougher safety procedures and
clear labels before they will eat GM food.
Plant Biotechnology Has Growth Potential in Europe
New study documents more food, lower production costs
For more information, contact:
Sara Pace at (202) 328-5044,firstname.lastname@example.org
Adeline Farrelly at + 32 2 735 03 13, email@example.com
Brussels June 30, 2003 — Biotechnology could help control diseases and
pests that take a bite out of European-grown crops, resulting in more food
production at lower costs and more efficient use of pesticides, according
to a comprehensive study released at BIO 2003.
The three case studies compiled by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) documented that crops developed through
biotechnology can help farmers reap an additional 7.8 billion kilograms
(17 billion pounds) of food and improve farm income over € 1 billion,
while saving on pesticide use.
“This is the first study that explains how biotechnology could impact
Europe,” said Leonard Gianessi, program director for NCFAP, a nonprofit,
Washington-based research organization. “The potential impacts for Europe
have not been quantified before.”
The study shows that crops like Bt or insect resistant corn, currently
planted in Spain on a small scale, have the potential to increase yields
in Europe by 1.9 billion kilograms (4.2 billion pounds). Meanwhile, crops
like biotech herbicide tolerant sugarbeets could significantly lower costs
to growers, and a fungal resistant potato under development could make
pesticide use more efficient by saving over 7.5 million kilograms (16.5
Conversely, if European growers did not want to increase overall
production, they could reduce the amount of land in production. Said
Gianessi, “We found that an area larger than Luxembourg or Rhode Island
could be removed from production without any production loss due to higher
yields on the remaining biotech acreage. The newly freed land could be
used for many other purposes."
“These first few case studies show every country stands to benefit from
development of the new varieties evaluated in this study,” Gianessi says.
Based on the initial findings, NCFAP researchers say that France would see
the greatest production increase at 2.6 billion kilograms (5.7 billion
pounds) and the greatest increase in income with a €265 million change,
closely followed by Germany, which would also see income increase by over
€200 million. Germany would see the greatest efficiencies in pesticide
use, saving 2.8 million kilograms.
“In these three cases, biotechnology provides better control of harmful
pests at reduced costs.” Gianessi said.
The release of the three case studies is the first in a series that NCFAP
will release in the next year. The complete study will include 15 case
studies of fruits, vegetables and field crops where biotechnology
solutions to major pest problems are under development in Europe.
The case studies, which were reviewed by plant biotechnology experts from
European academic and government institutions, are the most comprehensive
evaluation of the potential impact on European agriculture of crops
developed through biotechnology. The complete case studies are available
on the Internet at www.ncfap.org. Monsanto, Syngenta and BIO funded the
The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy is a private,
nonprofit, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Originally established in 1984 at Resources for the Future, the center
became an independent organization in 1992. NCFAP researchers conduct
studies in four program areas: biotechnology, pesticides, U.S. farm and
food policy, and international trade and development.
The full study is available at:
Frankenfood is here to stay. Let's talk.
International Herald Tribune
By Dan Glickman and Vin Weber
July 1, 2003
The trans-Atlantic battle over agricultural biotechnology is the biggest
food fight since the one staged by John Belushi in the movie "Animal
House." While it may be almost as entertaining, it is not likely to be any
more productive. Nothing good can come from a situation in which Europeans
talk of "Frankenfoods” and the US calls Europeans “Luddites.” Coming to an
agreement about genetically modified (GM) foods will take clever diplomacy
on both sides, not name-calling. .
The ministerial conference on agricultural science and technology that
took place in Sacramento this week, and the recent G-8 summit in France,
hardly eased the entrenched positions on agricultural biotechnology. The
United States suggested that the Europeans abetted African famine by
discouraging African farmers from growing pest-resistant GM corn, or even
accepting US food aid shipments containing GM corn, for fear that Europe
would bar future African exports. European leaders have little to show for
their efforts to end Europe's de-facto moratorium on the approval of new
GM food. Even if new GM foods are approved, required labels would likely
mean few sales among the wary European public. .
The United States has repeatedly pointed out that there is no evidence
that GM foods currently on the market are harmful to human health or the
environment. The Europeans counter that without extensive, long-term
monitoring and research there is little proof that it is will not cause
Even though the recent filing of the WTO complaint against the EU by the
US and like-minded countries has upped the ante in this dispute, there are
some hopeful signs. The international food safety office, the Codex
Alimentarius Commission, is making progress in establishing an
international foundation for assessing and ensuring the safety of biotech
foods. Even the EU is making progress towards ending their moratorium on
biotech foods and establishing their own regulatory systems. .
In the United States, Several high-profile regulatory missteps have
showcased both the strengths and weaknesses of the US regulatory approach.
In 2000, food companies pulled foods from the grocery store shelves when
it was discovered that they contained low levels of a type of GM corn that
had been approved only for use in animal feed. More recently, an
experimental corn modified to produce pharmaceuticals was accidentally
mixed with some food crops. It was caught before it went into the U.S.
food supply. .
While no one was harmed in either case, these events suggest that steps
can be taken to improve and modernize our own regulatory system. This
notion was further advanced this week when the International Council for
Science, an umbrella organization for more than 100 national academies of
science, released a comprehensive study confirming the safety of biotech
products and calling for the modernization of regulations for GM organisms
and foods. .
So, can the endless finger wagging now finally end? We believe so. .
We recently had the opportunity to play a role in such an effort on the
domestic front. The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology brought
together a diverse array of views to examine whether the current U.S.
regulatory system needed to be modernized to address the next generation
of agricultural biotech products. Despite long-held disagreements, the
participants sifted through the facts and found themselves in substantial
agreement on many issues. Such efforts could help pave the way toward
recognizing both the value of agricultural biotechnology and the need for
a trustworthy, credible and effective regulatory system. Consumer trust in
the regulatory system is an essential condition for the acceptance of
genetically modified food. This is as true in the U.S. as it is in Europe.
Agricultural biotechnology has been around for many years and is unlikely
to go away. Rather than fight about whether the biotech genie is good or
bad, all parties need to sit down and collectively figure out how to
manage it. Without efforts to find agreement, we risk wrecking the current
round of trade negotiations, increasing the schism between the EU and the
US, and impeding the use of a technology that has such great promise for
the future. .
Weber is a former member of Congress from Minnesota. Glickman served as
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration. They are
advisors to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
Media Feeds Scare over Genetically Modified Products
Accuracy in Media
By William Alford
June 30, 2003
Demonstrable by scientific evidence and practical experience, any real or
imagined hazards of genetically modified [GM] agricultural products are
far outweighed by the benefits. Nonetheless, they have been the subject of
highly politicized attacks by 'activist' organizations, politicians and
special interest groups. A compliant media has gleefully fanned the
Remember the StarLink scare a couple of years ago? After media saturation
coverage, several dozen people complained of allergic reactions to this GM
animal-feed corn that inadvertently appeared in the U.S. food supply. In
March 2002, a federal judge in Chicago awarded a $9 million settlement in
a class-action lawsuit filed by those claiming adverse reactions to
StarLink 'contaminated' corn. Nonetheless, the Centers For Disease Control
(CDC) and concurrent independent scientific studies showed no correlation.
The Hoover Institution's biotech specialist Dr. Henry Miller points out
that the complainants "were eating foods comprised of literally millions
of proteins, many of which are known to be allergenic." Moreover, the body
responds to ingested GM genes in the same manner as with 'natural' genetic
materials. Early in the digestive process, DNA in food is completely
broken down into usable nutrients by enzymes secreted by the pancreas and
The mounting scientific evidence refuting claims against StarLink received
comparably little media attention, however. The Grocery Manufacturers of
America estimates that about 70% of the foodstuffs offered for sale in
2000 were GM products or by-products. If they actually did cause negative
effects and given the litigious nature of our society…
Strong GM opposition continues to fester in Europe. Jeremy Rifkin of the
DC-based Foundation on Economic Trends laments how US-European relations
were 'chilled' by President Bush when he recently scolded the EU for
exacerbating Third World poverty and hunger by banning GM products.
Rifkin retorts that 80% of Third World child undernourishment occurs where
there are food surpluses, because a significant proportion of arable land
is used to grow feed grain for livestock animals that are then exported as
meat products to the world's "wealthiest consumers." One explanation could
be a Western trend toward conversion from high-yield conventional farming
to significantly less productive organic methods. The Hudson Institute's
Global Food Issues director Dr. Dennis Avery notes that developed
countries 'going organic' are increasingly faced with the choice of
clearing more land to produce the same amount of food or relying more on
Fox News reports Zimbabwe and Tanzania rejected tons of donated of GM
foodstuffs last year, partly due to European pressure as well as an
apparently successful "international propaganda campaign." Greenpeace's
estranged co-founder characterizes this mindset as saying "it is better a
million people starve to death" than use foods that have been safely
consumed elsewhere for several years now.
Since before recorded history, humans have been 'modifying' plants and
animals by selectively breeding them to provide desirable characteristics.
Surrey University's molecular genetics professor Johnjoe McFadden notes
that the 1970s Green Revolution involving high yield cereals forestalled
one of the many predicted Malthusian famines that supposedly loomed for
the Third World.
Current technology promises even greater results. According to Forbes
magazine, British-educated plant specialist Dr. Florence Wambugu has
achieved early success developing disease and pest-resistant GM sweet
potatoes in her native Kenya. Consequently, production of this important
food crop has doubled. [Half the global average tonnage per acre was
previously produced there.] Nutritional value has improved as well.
Forbes also notes that Africa ranks "dead last" in harvests for "every
major crop" and that population growth exceeds food production by 1% a
year. Dr. Wambugu's former boss at the Kenya Agricultural Institution,
Cyrus Ndiritu, adds, "it is not multinationals that have a stranglehold on
Africa. It is hunger, poverty and deprivation," so he welcomes the
prospect of increased domestic food production.
Apparently this is of no concern to enviro-terrorist groups such as 'Seeds
of Resistance.' Michael Fumento reports they destroyed the University of
Maine's trial crop of herbicide-resistant corn. The 'Bioengineering Action
Network' is one of many groups using the Internet to disseminate GM crop
locations and offering advice on how to destroy them. Cruising below the
European media's radar, 'activist' groups such as Britain's 'Smash Genetic
Engineering' and 'Genetix Snowball' have threatened violence and vandalism
against clothing retailers and grocers who sell GM products. Many
businesses have acquiesced.
Genetically modified crops have been successfully demonstrated to reduce
pesticide, fertilizer and herbicide use, thus reducing chemical exposure
to the soil, water table and farm workers. Tillage is also less necessary,
thus minimizing erosion. One would think such benefits would be desirable
to self-styled enviro groups.
Fumento reveals another motivation: In a scantly publicized statement by
'Reclaim the Seeds' [after uprooting a sugar beet field at UC Davis in
2000]: "Modern agri-business and genetic mutilation is a capitalist
machine that must be dismantled… [so] direct action" must be taken to
further this goal. After smashing office building windows [of an unnamed
biotech offender] in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 'Seeds of Resistance'
declared, "Seeing their profits as a slap in the face of the earth and all
its occupants, we took the liberty of paying them back."
Testifying earlier this year before the House Agriculture Committee,
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) explained that GM foods are banned in
Europe "under the cloak of food safety" while protectionism is the true
object. If higher yielding, less expensive and more nutritious foods enter
their markets, domestic European agriculture is threatened. If Third World
farmers are more able to feed their domestic populations with such crops,
competing European imports would also be threatened - so much for Green
Benevolence vs. Corporate Greed.
This issue illustrates what hangs in the balance when the media is
beholden to agitators who place their political agenda above all else. The
consequences: avoidable panic, frivolous lawsuits, farmers losing money
and people needlessly left to starve.
William R Alford is a Government & International Politics/Electronic
Journalism student at George Mason University in Fairfax VA
A Bad Sales Job
EUROPEAN WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 1, 2003
By HENRY I. MILLER
Britons are getting a chance this month to say whether they want
genetically modified (GM) food in their stores. To gauge public opinion
ahead of a decision later this year on whether to allow commercial
planting of gene-spliced (or GM) crops, the U.K. government is sponsoring
a series of six public debates around the country, as well as using more
conventional methods, such as focus groups.
This plan is a good idea gone wrong. While involvement of the public is
important to their understanding of government policy, it is less useful
for the formulation of policy. This is particularly true when science and
technology are involved. Science is not democratic. Citizens don't vote on
the value of "pi" and parliaments can't repeal the laws of nature. We
should be therefore wary of attempts -- the Netherlands and New Zealand
have conducted similar exercises -- to sample public opinion as a prelude
to setting policy on GM products.
The head of the British debates' organizing committee and pro-vice
chancellor of Cambridge University, Malcolm Grant, calls them a "unique
experiment to find out what ordinary people really think."
But the reality suggests the debates are misinformed and a waste of money.
As the Times’ (of London) science correspondent Mark Henderson reported,
"One of the six meetings . . . 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." The lack of advertising means that New Age
zealots dominate the meetings. The journal Nature said the debate in
Swansea, Wales was poorly attended, and a "bumpy ride" that neither
informed nor changed minds.
Even if better organized, widely attended and more representative, their
purpose must not be merely to demonstrate that public opinion matters. It
should be to get the right answers. Namely, that GM is essentially a
refinement of less precise genetic techniques that have been around for
centuries; that GM plants contribute to the welfare of farmers, consumers
and the environment; and that, except as science dictates in specific
cases, GM should be regulated no differently than other, similar
agricultural and food products -- and certainly not be banned.
The regulation of risk is complex, to be sure, but if democracy must
eventually take public opinion into account, good government must also
discount heuristic errors or prejudices. As the 18th Irish statesman and
writer Edmund Burke observed about republics: "Your Representative owes
you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of
serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
Dr. Miller, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, headed the Office
of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration from 1989_1993.
Starving farmers destroy rainforest to buy food
Millennia-old trees and rare wildlife in Madagascar are vanishing as
hungry families, their crops shrivelled by drought, sell bags of charcoal
By Rory Carroll
June 29, 2003
A forgotten famine is reducing one of the world's richest stores of
biodiversity, the rainforests of Madagascar, to ash. Farmers stricken by
drought on the Indian Ocean island are burning swaths of primeval woodland
to make charcoal.
Trees that pre-date the Roman Empire are going up in smoke and with it an
eco-system that sustains thousands of unique plant and animal species -
for the sake of turning a trunk into a bag of fuel worth 30p.
In a vicious circle, poor maize, potato and manioc harvests in the south
and east have driven families from their fields to scavenge a living from
what remains of the forest, further degrading the soil. Environmentalists
warn that the rate of destruction will turn Madagascar into a lunar
landscape of scrub and sand, diminishing the planet's biological patrimony
and depriving science of potential cures for disease.
'When there is drought a farmer needs to turn himself into a woodman to
make charcoal. He attacks the forest, it is the only way to survive,' said
Achilson Randrianjafizanaka, the World Food Programme's representative in
Fort Dauphin, a town in the south east. The UN agency estimates that
300,000 people will need food aid later this year.
It is a humanitarian and ecological crisis passing unnoticed by the
outside world. The cyclones, floods and political upheavals of this
impoverished island are eclipsed by crises on the African continent, 250
miles to the west.
Azafady, a London charity which funds conservation and development in
Madagascar, warned last week that it was on 'its last legs' for want of
donations and interest. That may change now that two stories, hunger and
deforestation, are colliding.
In the dusty compound of a government-run feeding centre at Amboasary, a
village near the southern tip, sat a dozen mothers nursing infants, some
with the pot bellies and yellowing hair of malnutrition. Of the 109
children treated since the centre opened in March, 12 have died.
Fanomeza, 30, who, like many Malagasy people, uses only one name, is
fighting to keep her seven children alive but fears for her sickly
10-month-old son, Vatiasoa. Usually the family grows enough maize and
sweet potatoes to sell the surplus, but poor rains shrivelled their crops.
Traders from the north keep the markets stocked but prices are high.
Fanomeza had no possessions left to sell so in one of the poorest parts of
one of the poorest countries there is only one option: charcoal.
Electricity is a luxury beyond most here, so cooking and heating requires
fire. Some use wood, but charcoal, lighter and longer-burning, is
preferred. Anyone can make it: stack wood in a shallow pit covered with
thatch and slowly burn it with very little oxygen. Around 100 kilos of
wood yields between five to eight kilos of charcoal.
'My husband and other children are out in the bush now looking for wood,'
said Fanomeza. They produce up to 20 sacks a month - the equivalent of 15
trees. The family sells to a middleman at 30p a sack, which buys six cups
of maize. Fanomeza knows the forest is shrinking fast. 'I remember when
the trees were just outside the village; now you have to walk three or
four hours to find a proper trunk.' Chopping primary forest is illegal,
but there is no fear of legal sanction in isolated areas.
In other parts of Madagascar the forest is slashed and burnt to make space
for crops, which quickly degrades the soil, forcing more slashing and
burning. 'Be it for charcoal or agriculture, what drives the destruction
is poverty,' said Frank Hawkins, technical director of Conservation
International's office in the capital, Antananarivo.
'If people had the option to manage forest resources over the long term,
they would be economically much better off - that option is the one we are
trying to create.'
Since Malay-Polynesian sailors arrived 2,000 years ago, nine-tenths of the
rainforest has been destroyed, leaving 15 million acres. Species such as
the pygmy hippopotamus, the giant lemur and the aepyornis - the elephant
bird fabled as the roc - have become extinct as habitats contract.
Madagascar's species loss matters because most evolved after the island
split from the African continent 165 millions years ago and are found
nowhere else. Initiatives have been tried to slow the deforestation. Some,
like those run by the Andrew Lees Trust, named after the British
environmentalist who died on the island, have partly succeeded. The trust
has planted 1,600 trees, distributing stoves which use 50 per cent less
wood than is usual and teaching conservation techniques.
A new government headed by President Marc Ravalomanana has raised hopes of
better environmental care, but the fast-growing population of 17 million
is in perpetual search for fuel and farmland.
Now a drought is accelerating the destruction. For the first time in 10
years the UN last week risked sending a ship with 2,800 tonnes of food to
Fort Dauphin, a treacherous natural harbour where shipwrecks stud the
Donors, mainly the US and EU, have pledged 10,000 tonnes, but the World
Food Programme says almost double that is needed. Over the next few weeks
the winter harvest will be gathered, yields are small and will probably
run out by August.
But the situation is not without hope. A report by the WWF said that
Malagasy officials, local people and non-governmental organisations all
had plans to protect the forests. At Faux Cap, in the east, 300 villagers
are planting rows of green shoots in the white sand to stop dunes blowing
inland. Moving at up to 20 metres a month, within the year the dunes could
bury the maternity hospital, as they did the police station.
The WFP-backed initiative rewards those battling sand and wind with food.
Polcherie Hantarisoa, 29, a mother of two, seemed optimistic. 'This way I
get to eat every day and maybe save the hospital.'
A tale of two environmental reports
June 30, 2003
Two reports on the environment were released last week, each with a
different tale. The Environmental Protection Agency released its first of
a kind analysis of the state of the environment, and the League of
Conservation Voters (LCV) put out its annual presidential scorecard. The
EPA report was released on the eve of the departure of its administrator,
Christine Todd Whitman, and the LCV document was printed just prior to its
environmental forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls.
According to the EPA's assessment, the environment is in better shape now
than it has been in decades — 94 percent of Americans drink relatively
unpolluted water, releases of toxic chemicals have fallen by nearly 50
percent since 1988 and air pollution has fallen by 25 percent over the
last three decades. Life expectancy is increasing. The authors of the EPA
report rightly recognized that the links between pollutants and damage to
human health have not been fully fleshed out, either for the current
climate or the one that might come.
Yet, while climate models can be used to predict anything from an upcoming
"Themageddon," (the name of the recently released book by Greenpeace
co-founder Robert Hunter) to an upcoming ice age, their predictive value
is contingent on the quality of the data put into them. It is not easy to
measure, much less make predictions about, the many interacting factors
that contribute to climate change. Nor is it easy to determine the exact
level of exposure to a given chemical that could cause a cancer in a
It is both sound science and smart governance to admit that the
information currently available is simply not accurate enough to set
policy by. No amount of hand-wringing can make it otherwise.
Unfortunately, the LCV report read more like a fund-raising letter than a
serious policy prescription. That might have had something to do with the
LCV's recent hiring of long-time Democratic activist Mark Longabaugh as a
political strategist. The report claimed that the administration has
launched a "starve-and-strangle" approach to environmental programs, using
"deceptive rhetoric, arcane procedural methods and funding cuts to carry
out an anti-environment, pro-corporate agenda." While it mentioned the
administration's decision to reduce the emissions of off-road diesel
engines and noted its decision to raise fuel efficiency standards, the LCV
report still gave the administration an "F."
Yet, had it focused on finding solutions instead of simply attacking Mr.
Bush, the LCV report could have supplemented the administration's attempts
to protect the environment — reminding it of areas it had overlooked or
even recommending cleaner, greener solutions than those supported by the
White House. After all, reasonable people can disagree with
administration's policies and yet still support its hope of leaving the
environment cleaner than when it came to Washington. Yet, stewardship in
that area requires that partnerships be formed between all environmental
stakeholders — public citizens, environmental groups and industry
Taken together, the EPA and LCV reports show that the environment is
improving, and will continue to improve so long as public citizens take
such stewardship seriously. However, political environmentalists might
have to get out of the way before pragmatic solutions can be fully