Today in AgBioView: July 24, 2003:
* One More Nobel Laureate Signs on to AgBioWorld Declaration!
* UK Has No Option But to Allow GM Crops Commercialisation
* In a Stew
* Hawaiian Hula- A Biotech Dance
* US and WTO Action
* Ambivalent GM Nation? Public Attitudes to Biotechnology
* Re: Transatlantic Divide
* EU Labeling Mess
* EU GMO Legislation Now in Place - Details
* African Biotech Advisory Panel in the Pipeline
* U.S.-Europe Brawl on GM Food Uses Africa as a Pawn
* Biotechnology Transfer: Sharing Innovation With the Developing World
* International Biotechnology Conference
* Dealing with the Media - Communication Tips for Scientists
22nd Nobel Laureate Signs on to Support AgBioWorld Declaration
- Dr. Guillemin is the discoverer of human growth hormone
Dr. Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize winner (Medicine, 1977) joins 21 other
laureates in endorsing the AgBioWorld declaration in support of
agricultural biotechnology. A native of France and now a professor at
Salk Institute in California, he and Andrew Schally (with whom he shared
the prize) first isolated and purified the human growth hormone
According to salk.edu, "the impact of Guillemin’s studies has been
profound for a variety of diseases and disorders, including thyroid
diseases, problems of infertility, diabetes and several types of tumors.
One of these hormones, called growth-hormone releasing factor, is used to
treat growth deficiencies in children; another, called somatostatin, is
used to control internal bleeding during surgery. Guillemin also was among
the first to isolate endorphins, brain molecules known to act as natural
opiates. Following the isolation of endorphins, his work with cellular
growth factors (FGFs), in addition to inhibins and activins, led to the
recognition of multiple physiological functions and developmental
Since his retirement from the active pursuit of science in 1989, Guillemin
has shifted his long-standing expertise with computers from science to
art. He is using the Macintosh computer to create images/paintings that
are eventually transferred to paper or canvas."
AgBioWorld thanks this great scientist for endorsing our petition. Read
more about Dr. Guillemin at
Full list of all 22 Laureates is at
UK Has No Option But to Allow GM Crops Commercialisation
- Martin Livermore, Financial Times, Jul 24, 2003
Sir, It is refreshing to see the science of genetically modified crops
reviewed on the basis of factual, objective evidence rather than the
hypothetical hazards put forward by some groups ("Scientists give broad
support for GM technology", July 19). Science does not provide all the
answers, but it enables the right questions to be asked and addressed in a
rational manner in order that knowledge is advanced.
The science review confirms that there are not food safety issues
associated with GM crops and that any questions of environmental impact
are equally relevant for other components of farming systems.
The UK government will have no option but to take the rational decision to
allow commercialisation of approved GM crops. Market forces will then
determine their success or failure.
- Martin Livermore, Scientific Alliance, London WC2N 4JF
Genetically Modified Food: In a stew
- The Economist, July 24, 2003
'The latest research suggests that, even for Europeans, GM food is safe'
Genetically modified food provokes skirmishes all over the world, but the
main battle is between America, which champions the stuff, and the
European Union, which resists it. Proponents of GM crops say they are
safe, good for the environment and may provide cheaper and better food.
Opponents say GM is unnatural, dangerous and unnecessary.
It is perhaps little wonder that Europeans, remembering such recent scares
as mad-cow disease, have balked at the prospect of eating or growing GM
food. Americans argue that this nervousness is scientifically unjustified
and serves European political--and farm--interests nicely by keeping out
competition. Hence America's willingness to arraign the Europeans before
the World Trade Organisation unless the EU lifts its five-year moratorium
on new GM varieties.
When it comes to the science, America is right. As yet another (British)
panel concluded this week, there is no evidence that GM crops now in
commercial cultivation are more dangerous to human health than
conventional foods (see article). So there is no reason why Europeans
should not eat the GM food that Americans already consume by the siloful,
nor why their governments should obstruct GM imports.
As for growing GM crops, experience outside Europe suggests that they are
no worse for the environment than normal farming, and can be better. But
this is not to say that GM crops will be benign everywhere. Farming is not
like medicine, with a biotech drug that cures in Peoria having the same
effect in Paris. Introducing GM crops into Europe justifies rigorous
testing to see how they affect local conditions. Such uncertainties are
best dealt with by more research, not blanket rejection.
If this research confirms that GM crops have no more detrimental
environmental effects than conventional farming, they should be approved
for commercial use. Thanks to scaremongering by green lobbyists and
organic farmers, and much media frenzy, most European shoppers will
probably remain mistrustful. But there has been some shift in opinion:
hostility to GM food seems to be abating. That hostility will fall away
faster should some GM food prove to be cheaper than non-GM food, which may
One reason for this is that, later this year, Europe will introduce a
needlessly elaborate new scheme of labelling and tracking GM foods right
through the food chain, which is meant to give consumers more choice by
alerting them to GM products. America criticises the new labels partly
because they single out "GM-derived" ingredients, such as oils and sugars,
which are so refined as to lack any biological trace of genetic
modification, and partly because the traceability requirements will be
onerous. Yet America itself is working on tracking regulations to identify
the provenance of ingredients and stem the risk of terrorist attack on its
food supply. Labelling in principle is fine, where consumers demand it, as
in Europe--but the schemes do need to be well-designed.
Europe's farmers could benefit from some GM crops, but such gains pale by
comparison with the handouts they get from the Common Agricultural Policy.
As for consumers, so far GM crops have made little difference to the
quality or cost of the goods in the supermarkets. The new labelling scheme
may change that, by making it more costly to source wholly non-GM
products. As GM technology develops, continued European rejection of GM
could mean it loses out on future crops that might benefit its landscape,
and boost its farm and science industries.
The irony of the battle over GM food is that so much passion is being
wasted on such mundane fruits of modern science. Today's GM crops are of
modest advantage and risk. It is naive to argue that GM food will
eradicate world hunger. Rural poverty in the developing world is a complex
problem: poor farmers need better roads, and more liberal farm policies in
the rich countries, as much as they need GM crops.
Instead, the value of GM technology lies more in its promise, not its
present. Even if the future harvest of hardier crops and healthier foods
does not materialise from the lab, the battle over GM food will have been
useful. Without it, the old ways of food regulation, farm testing,
commodity handling and public consultation would not have been shaken up
and hauled into the 21st century. GM crops have served as seeds of change,
whether or not they reap the eventual rewards.
Hawaiian Hula- A Biotech Dance
- Dean Kleckner, July 23, 2003, agweb.com
People in the biotech industry sometimes joke that they need to go on a
"fact-finding" mission--to Hawaii.
After all, one of the great success stories in agricultural biotechnology
is found in that great state. And who in their right mind would pass up a
chance to go there?
Today, however, we don't need to collect facts on the islands so much as
distribute them. That's because biotechnology has come under intense
pressure from radical groups that don't understand the first thing about
science - and don't care.
They're unfortunately starting to have an effect on public opinion, too. A
growing number of Hawaiians seem to be wondering whether biotechnology is
worth the fuss. "The introduction of GM papaya has brought economic and
environmental disasters to farmers in Hawaii in the past five years," says
Melanie Bondera of Greenpeace.
Anti-biotech crusaders are always telling us that we need to have special
labels on genetically modified food. It's no secret that I don't agree
with that proposal, but I do think we might usefully slap a label on
Bondera's ridiculous statement - Lie.
When most of us in the continental United States think about biotech
plants, we think about staple crops such as cotton, corn, and soybeans. In
Hawaii, however, one of the primary beneficiaries of agricultural
technology has been the papaya industry. In the 1990s, the ringspot virus
was on it's way to wiping out the Hawaiian papaya. Biotechnology offered a
solution - a papaya plant that could resist this terrible infection, which
devastates and destroys papayas the same way a rootworm infestation can
annihilate a corn harvest.
Six years ago, the federal government approved GM papayas. These miracle
plants were a godsend for papaya growers. As a Cornell University
publication called "Agricultural Biotechnology: Informing the Dialogue"
recently put it, "These biotech crops are credited with saving the
Hawaiian papaya industry."
Who do you trust more - the professional protestors at Greenpeace or the
Ph.D. researchers employed by an Ivy League university?
It's true that the Hawaiian papaya industry could be doing better, but its
main problem comes from Japan's reluctance to import GM papayas and their
access to other cheap sources of papaya that have not been impacted by the
ringspot virus so far. This must be understood as a problem of politics,
not one of science or health. As with other GM foods, there's absolutely
nothing wrong with papayas that take advantage of what biotechnology has
to offer. There isn't a single scrap of evidence suggesting that these
foods are anything but perfectly safe to eat. That's why Greenpeace and
its ilk must resort to lies and fear mongering.
Yet in Hawaii's debate over biotechnology, much more than papayas are at
stake. The islands are an ideal place for controlled field experiments. In
fact, Hawaii is America's leading state for agricultural biotechnology
trials. Hundreds of them are going on at any one time - faithfully, I
might add, with appropriate federal and state oversight.
Carol Okada of Hawaii's department of agriculture recently explained the
motives of agriculture companies: "They like to come to Hawaii because we
have no real seasons here, so they can do multicrops in a year."
Hawaii's leading industry, of course, is tourism. But Hawaiians can't put
a hotel on every parcel of land and expect to thrive--the state's recent
financial troubles, caused in part by a slowdown in tourism from Japan,
testify to that fact. The Hawaiian economy must be more diversified if
it's going to flourish.
That's why high-value agriculture is such an attractive option. Hawaii has
a climate like no other in the United States, which means that its farmers
can offer seed companies the kinds of research opportunities that are not
available anywhere else. We'll all be better off if this vital research
takes place, but Hawaiians in particular can profit from it.
The world is embracing biotechnology-society rarely, if ever, turns its
back on scientific innovation and economic advancement. Hawaiians are in a
unique and enviable position - they have the choice to provide
cutting-edge leadership in this area or turn their backs and fall behind.
The choice is theirs. Their decision impacts us all.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
US and WTO Action
- Colin Sanderson
Does anybody share my concern about the attempt to force the EU to accept
GM food by taking the issue to the WTO? I do not argue against the justice
of the case, just the likely outcome. This heavy handed approach is
exactly what led to the strong anti-GM movement in the first place.
Anybody who understands the Europeans will know that they will respond
very negatively to anything perceived as bullying by the US government.
This will do nothing to promote the cause. Even if the US and its
supporters win the case, and they should, it will galvanise support for
the anti-GM lobby, just when science based arguments are beginning to be
At the present time the importing countries are writing the rules, which
seems a bit odd, when their need for food should give the producers a
stronger hand. The problem needs to be turned upside down so that the true
costs are seen by the consumers.
Rather than fight through the WTO, a better approach would be another
"coalition of the willing", this time made up of food exporters. The
coalition would put out a statement that they will grow GM crops and
cannot guarantee that their bulk food exports will be GM free, or that
their domestic animals have not been fed GM feed. This is already the case
with exports from the US, Canada and Argentina. It would only need a few
more countries to tip the balance in favour of the producers rather than
the importers. Most importing countries will have to buy at least some GM
The immediate effect would be to set up an industry supplying GM free
food. These exporters will find they have to do what the organic producers
currently do - put up with lower yields and export in sealed containers to
guarantee there is no contamination. It will make sense to label them "GM
free" to show consumers the extra trouble and expense that has been put
into the products.
This will give consumers transparent choice. When they see GM free food
alongside similar (and in some cases better) food at a lower price, most
will quickly learn that GM is not so bad after all.
This would require some leadership, but the US has a huge financial stake,
both as a major exporter and the recipient of most of the royalties from
GM crops. They could afford to guarantee small countries access to markets
to get them to sign up.
- Professor Colin J Sanderson, Molecular Immunology, Curtin University of
Technology, Perth, Western Australia
Ambivalent GM Nation? Public Attitudes to Biotechnology 1991-2002
Professor George Gaskell of London School of Economics has issued on 22
July details of a competent article, relating to the evolution of public
opinion about biotechnology. The article is largely based on the analysis
of "Eurobarometer" public opinion surveys conducted in the European Union
on five occasions over the past 12 years: 1991, 93, 96, 99 and 2002,
financed by the European Commission. Each survey involved some 16,000
interviews, professionally conducted, in 11 languages, in 15 countries.
The article is particularly timely, at this moment in the UK public debate
on the future development of gm agriculture in the UK; and is equally of
European and wider international relevance.
- Mark Cantley, European Commission
Gaskell, G., Allum, N., Bauer, M. W., Jackson, J., Howard, S., & Lindsey,
N. (2003). Ambivalent GM nation? Public attitudes to biotechnology
1991-2002. London School of Economics and Political Science. Available:
It's also at the top of the 'news' page on the website of LSES (Life
Sciences in European Society) so an alternative link is:
Contact details: George Gaskell, Methodology Institute, London School of
Economics and Political Science, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Transatlantic Divide
- Bob MacGregor
The arguments about the importance of cultural food preferences in Europe
as a bar to the acceptance of GM foods don't hold together. After all, if
this preference is so strong among the general populace, then consumers
will reject GM foods and farmers won't grow them. However, ex ante
banning of these products smacks of imposition of some food-culture ideal
(kind of like the language police mentality in France or Quebec).
Those who subscribe to this cultural ideal don't want to allow the choice
to be offered for fear that consumers may NOT share this vision. After
all, if there is a market for bagels still hot from the oven or for 350
different varieties of cheese, then cheaper, mass-produced alternatives
will not displace these preferences. Disallowing the choice, then,
logically results from protectionism-- whether trade protectionism or
cultural protectionism, it still amounts to someone restricting consumer
choice to benefit/protect their world view/economic position.
EU Labeling Rules
- Charles M. Rader"
Can someone save me the trouble of looking up original sources and explain
the new European labeling policy?
Suppose a product contains several ingredients but only one of them
includes GMO content. Suppose the fraction of the ingredient including GMO
content is x. Thus if a product is 40% wheat and 60% corn, we would have
Suppose the corn comes from a mixture of sources and only a fraction y is
transgenic corn. For example if half the corn is transgenic and the other
half is conventional, y=.5.
Next, suppose the transgenic corn produces many proteins and other
nutrients, but only a fraction z of these is novel. In the case of some
highly processed foods like soy oil or corn starch, z=0.
Is the GMO content of the product y, or is it xy, or is it xyz? Common
sense tells us that xyz is the measure most consumers would be concerned
about. A few consumers might consider the entire nutrient content of a
transgenic plant to be suspect, and those consumers would be interested in
xy. A group seeking to create a disadvantage for GMO crops would want to
force the fraction y to be small, even if that transgenic ingredient was a
EU GMO Legislation Now in Place
- sent by Martin Mieschendahl
Brussels, July 22, 2003- The Council of Ministers today formally adopted
two European Commission proposals on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
which establish a clear EU system to trace and label GMOs and to regulate
the placing on the market and labelling of food and feed products derived
from GMOs. This new legislation will consolidate a trustworthy and safe
approach to GMOs, GM food and GM feed. It will ensure full traceability of
GMOs throughout the chain from farm to table and will provide consumers
with comprehensive information by labelling all food and feed consisting
of, containing or produced from a GMO.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "I welcome today's final
adoption by Council of the new legislation on labelling and traceability
of GMOs, which completes the EU's legislation on GMOs. It will reinforce
our international credibility and will certainly help in building public
confidence in new technologies.. By ensuring that GMOs can be traced at
all stages in the production and marketing chain, we provide a robust
safeguard system and the foundation for a comprehensive labelling system.
In this way, we address the most critical concerns of the public regarding
the environmental and health effects of GMOs and enable consumers to
Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "I am very
pleased that the European legislative framework for GMOs is now complete.
European consumers can now have confidence that any GM food or feed
marketed in Europe has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing
assessment in the world.: Consumers will also have a clear choice of
products to buy as GM food will now be clearly labelled. For the first
time farmers will see labels on GM-feed. Europe will now have a
comprehensive and transparent system of authorisation and labelling that
can only enhance business and consumer confidence."..
Full document at
African Biotech Advisory Panel in the Pipeline
- Tamar Kahn, SciDev.Net, July 24, 2003
Cape Town - African leaders are considering a proposal to set up a
continent-wide advisory panel on biotechnology to help them address
difficult political decisions about genetically modified (GM) crops. The
panel is being proposed by the secretariat of the New Partnership for
Africa's Development (NEPAD) in response to a call from African leaders
and agricultural ministers at the recent African Union summit to develop
an African strategy on biotechnology and biosafety.
The summit, which was held in Maputo, Mozambique, was attended by the
heads of state of about 40 of the 53 member nations. The creation of such
a panel, which would also be charged with facilitating trade in GM
products between African countries by harmonising biosafety regulations,
is expected to be formally endorsed by the NEPAD steering committee within
the next two months.
John Mugabe, science and technology advisor to NEPAD and a key architect
of the proposed panel, says that it is important for African leaders to be
able to make up their own minds on what is best for the continent. He
points out that the controversy last year over the inclusion of GM maize
in food aid offered by the United States to various southern African
countries illustrates the extent to which Africa has become the victim of
a fight between Europe and the United States over GM crops.
The United States is pushing hard for adoption of the controversial
technology, which it says can help improve food security in Africa. In
contrast, the European Parliament has passed stringent new labelling and
traceability laws for food and animal feed with genetically engineered
ingredients, and accuses the United States of using Africa's food needs as
a political lever to try to persuade Europe to relax its position.
Last year's controversy highlighted the difficulties faced by African
governments in making an independent assessment of the advantages and
disadvantages of GM crops. Zambia, which decided to reject the US offer of
food aid because of concern about the GM maize, recently launched a US$40
million National Biosafety and Biotechnology Strategy Plan, which aims to
strengthen its ability to assess the benefits and potential dangers of
According to Mugabe, the advisory panel would draw on the work of what he
describes as knowledge-based organisations, and therefore make
recommendations to African leaders based on "evidence, not perceptions".
He says that the panel, whose creation still has to be formally approved
by the NEPAD steering committee, would be made up of a small
inter-disciplinary team of scientists, civil society representatives,
industrial managers and senior policy makers.
Jocelyn Webster, director of the pro-biotech industry body AfricaBio,
welcomed the plans for an advisory panel, saying it would enable African
countries to help each other to assess the risks and benefits that
advances in biotechnology might offer farmers and consumers. She also said
it was important for African countries to ensure they did not create
inadvertent barriers to trade between them by introducing widely divergent
biosafety requirements. "There are huge potential markets within Africa,
which we need to focus on, rather than just looking towards European
markets,” she said.
But Glenn Ashton, spokesman for the anti-GM lobby group Safeage, which is
campaigning for a five-year moratorium on GM products, was more sceptical.
He said the organisation would be watching the composition of the panel
very closely, in the hope that it would not be comprised exclusively of
pro-biotech industry representatives.
Tamar Kahn is the Science Correspondent for Business Day.
U.S.-Europe Brawl on Genetically Modified Food Uses Africa as a Pawn
- Susan H. Bragdon, The Oregonian, July 24, 2003
On June 24, President Bush chided Europeans for boycotting genetically
modified foods. Bush couched his criticism of Europe as concern for the
starving people of Africa. "For the sake of a continent threatened by
famine," Bush implored, "I urge the European governments to end their
opposition to biotechnology."
His claim was that the European ban, and the scare tactics of anti-GMO
advocates, inhibits expanded use of high-yield "bio-crops" that would be
instrumental in feeding the 800 million malnourished people who live
predominantly in developing countries. Like many large agribusiness
interests, Bush argued that European fears have had the effect of
discouraging Third World investment in potentially useful biotechnology.
Bush's statement of cause and effect, like much of the debate about
genetically engineered food, misses the point. Objective analysis of the
facts, and thorough discussion of the issues, has been lacking in a debate
that is increasingly disrespectful and emotional.
The fact is that neither the pro-GMO camp or the anti-GMO camp has much
relevance to the problems of hunger and malnutrition with which African
countries must grapple. True, the countries of Africa need to explore
every tool -- including biotechnology -- to achieve food security. But the
biotechnology products that Americans and Europeans are debating today are
unlikely to provide succor to the world's 800 million hungry people.
The "smash hits" in plant breeding and biotechnology have all been
innovations that cover large acreage made uniform with the use of
pesticides and fertilizers and the like. Such innovations are difficult to
apply in the Third World, where most hunger is experienced by people
living in diverse ecological, political and social environments, and where
money for such chemicals is scarce or nonexistent. One innovation in a
particular plant variety or type of technology is unlikely to fit all
Corporate control and major commodity groups set the pace. Furthermore,
over the past decade agricultural patents have proliferated along with
licenses that restrict their use. A handful of companies control many of
the key technologies and use them mostly on such crops as corn and
soybeans, which have the largest markets. Such technologies are rarely
used on subsistence crops, which are staples in developing countries --
crops such as millet, chickpeas or cassava.
The real debate should be about how to stimulate robust innovation in
plant breeding and technology that addresses the issues facing the world's
hungry. One example is the Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource
for Agriculture Organization, to create a public database detailing which
genes and techniques are patented and licensed and which are in the public
domain. The Center for the Application of Molecular Biology to
International Agriculture and the International Plant Genetic Resources
Institute have launched an initiative to promote "open-source biology"
(after the idea of open-source software) to enhance the public domain in
The United States and Europe should stop trying to draw Africa into a
debate about biotechnology and GMOs defined by American and European
interests. If Bush's concern is genuine, the focus should be on what needs
to be done to enable Africans to innovate and develop solutions for
themselves, rather than using that deprived continent as a rhetorical pawn
in his larger unrelated disputes with Europe.
Susan H. Bragdon of Southeast Portland is a lawyer and resource ecologist
working for the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute.
Biotechnology Transfer: Sharing Innovation With the Developing World
Organizations work to give poor nations the tools and technology to
improve their lives.
With African agricultural productivity continuing to lag behind the rest
of the world and hunger on the rise, initiatives have been launched to
bring technology, including biotechnology, to an area of the world that
needs it most.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)1 -- launched by the
Rockefeller Foundation in March 2003 -- will help make available to
African emerging farmers important novel technology developed by four
major agricultural companies: Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and
"It is our hope that the AATF will be a catalyst for the next agricultural
revolution in Africa," said Rockefeller Foundation President Gordon Conway
in making the announcement.2 "We see it as a focal point where Africans
can access new materials and information on which technologies can be
The AATF will work as a clearinghouse of available technologies, including
biotechnology. "It is a way of giving very poor nations the tools to
determine what new technologies exist in the public and private sectors,
including but not limited to biotech; which ones are most relevant to
their needs; how to obtain them and how to manage them; and how to develop
nationally appropriate regulatory and safety regimes within which to
introduce them," said Conway in his speech to the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars.
Global cassava partnership
Another initiative -- the Global Partnership for Cassava Genetic
Improvement -- was launched in November 2002 by the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organization to improve both yields and the nutritional
value of cassava, the third most important source of calories in the
tropics, including Africa.
"Cassava is the most reliable source of food for subsistence farmers in
Africa, Asia and Latin America, but it is also an important industrial and
cash crop that can promote rural development," said Alfred Dixon, a
cassava breeder with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.
"The technologies being promoted by this partnership will allow breeders
like me to more rapidly improve cassava's value and performance in the
The cassava partnership is made of 30 of the world's leading experts in
cassava research, largely from public organizations such as the Brazilian
Agricultural Research Corporation and the International Fund for
Agricultural Development. There is private sector involvement; The
Danforth Center, a member of the cassava partnership, has been given a
royalty-free license to use Monsanto's enabling technologies in the
research. The Monsanto Fund also supports research at the Danforth Center
on virus-resistant cassava through a multi-year grant.
Cassava is so prized because it's versatile -- it's tough enough to grow
in bad soil, and can be ground up and stored as bread flour for almost a
year without refrigeration. But diseases limit production and cassava can
quickly deteriorate after harvesting.
Researchers who study the root crop say that in its current forms, cassava
is just scraping the surface of its potential. Over the past 30 years,
cassava productivity has increased by less than 1 percent annually,
compared to 2 to 5 percent for rice, wheat and corn, partly because it's
difficult to improve through conventional crossbreeding. In Africa, where
the average cassava yield is 20 tons per acre, experts believe it could be
more than 10 times higher -- 200 tons per acre or more.
Declining per capita production
The initiatives come at a time of critical need in Africa, which is home
to 32 of the world's 48 poorest countries. According to the Food and
Agriculture Organization, cereal production in sub-Saharan Africa is now
19 percent lower on a per-capita basis than it was in 1970.8 Grain
production is the lowest in the world at 1.7 tons per hectare -- less than
half the global average of 4 tons per hectare.
"The social welfare consequences of this farm productivity failure in
Africa have been devastating," says Robert Paarlberg in an article titled
Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century. "Lagging
productivity on small farms is the chief reason why 30 percent of children
in Africa are still chronically malnourished. For Africa more than any
other region, the problem of inadequate food consumption grows directly
from an unsolved farm production problem."
Meanwhile, public funding for agriculture and rural development in poor
countries continues to decline:
* Annual World Bank lending has dropped 47 percent over the past 12 years.
* Annual foreign aid by individual countries to agriculture fell by 57
percent between 1988 and 1996.
At the same time, biotech research by for-profit agricultural companies
has far surpassed research conducted by universities and public agencies
such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Of the nearly 1,200 field trials of biotech crops in the United States in
2002, for example, about 200 -- or 16 percent -- were carried out by
universities or the government, according to a report from the
Massachusetts-based Bio Economic Research Associates.12 The rest were
conducted by seed and agriculture companies.
While most of this research is focused on crops such as corn, soybeans,
cotton and canola where there is a global market, researchers say many of
the same techniques could be transferred to local crop varieties in
Africa. That's why energy is being focused on technology-transfer
Biotechnology in Africa
The benefits of biotechnology have already been embraced in South Africa,
where biotech cotton, white and yellow corn have been approved for
Average yields for biotech cotton in South Africa from 1998 and 2001 were
25 percent higher than for conventional varieties, according to one
study.13 Another study of the 1999-2000 growing season said average yields
were 93 percent higher for biotech cotton than for conventional varieties
-- with an average earnings increase of 77 percent.14 The smallest farmers
saw even bigger gains.15 Emerging farmers also said yields for genetically
enhanced white corn were 220 percent higher than for conventional corn.
Any yield increase can make a significant difference in regions where half
the people survive on less than $1 per day, and three-quarters on less
than $2 a day. According to a 2001 study by the United Kingdom's
Department for International Development, even a 1 percent increase in
yields would help raise the incomes of 6 million people above $1 per day.
"In low-income developing countries, agriculture is the driving force for
broad-based economic growth and poverty alleviation," wrote Per
Pinstrup-Andersen and Marc Cohen in an article titled Modern Biotechnology
for Food and Agriculture: Risks and Opportunities for the Poor.
That's particularly significant given that 70 percent of the African
population relies on agriculture for their sole source of income. T.J.
Buthelezi, one of the first farmers to plant biotech cotton in South
Africa, says higher crop yields have helped him invest for the future in
more land and better equipment. "For the first time I'm making money," he
says. "I can pay my debts."
Existing technology transfer projects
Throughout Africa, biotechnology research is being applied to improve
other crops that farmers have grown and people have eaten for generations,
* A sweet potato with built-in resistance to a devastating virus that
destroys up to 80 percent of the crop in parts of Africa. The research,
with technical assistance from Monsanto, is being led by the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the
Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. Because it's vitamin-rich and
drought-resistant, sweet potato is a key staple crop in many developing
countries, including those in Africa.
* Healthier bananas that can withstand the double onslaught of the black
sigatoka leaf fungus and banana weevils. Researchers from ISAAA used a
biotech technique called "tissue culture" to cultivate clean, disease-free
banana plantlets and then transferred them to small farmers in Kenya.
* Pest-resistant Bt corn is being adapted to fight the corn-eating insects
native to Egypt (northern Africa) and Indonesia. The project is one of
several technology-sharing initiatives led by Michigan State University's
Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program.20 (Technology is being shared
between DuPont -- through its Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.,
subsidiary -- and the Egyptian Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research
* Maize hybrids that are able to resist voracious stem borers are being
developed by the International Center for the Improvement of Maize and
Wheat, Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute and the Syngenta Foundation
for Sustainable Agriculture. Together, the organizations are examining the
agronomic, regulatory and social structures necessary for integrating the
new technology into Kenyan agriculture.
* A hardier rice variety is being tested by researchers at the West Africa
Rice Development Association (WARDA). The rice is genetically enhanced to
behave like traditional African rice in the earlier stages of growth -- it
can tolerate in dry conditions and effectively shades out weeds -- then
becomes more like high-yielding Asian rice as it reaches maturity.
"We need collaboration not only between the international community and
Africa, but also within blocs of African countries with similar growing
conditions, such as the sub-Saharan area," says George Acquaah, chair of
the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Langston University
in Oklahoma. Acquaah is from Ghana in Africa.
A factory might look and operate very much the same wherever it's located,
but farming is highly dependent on local conditions. So it's critical,
says Acquaah, that local scientists and farmers in developing areas play a
part in adapting the new technologies for crops like cassava.
Knowledge of local conditions, access to farmland for field tests and
understanding of local regulatory processes to secure approvals are all
important, says Acquaah. So, too, is training, equipping and supporting
researchers, he adds. While the developed world averages about 2,450
agricultural researchers per million people, sub-Saharan Africa averages
40.22 Most of the technology-transfer programs operating in Africa and the
developing world include training and exchange opportunities to help
cultivate local biotech capacity.
A new Green Revolution
When the first Green Revolution was launched in the 1940s23 -- with
funding from the Rockefeller Foundation -- Conway said there was a strong
belief that "government alone" could solve the world's hunger problem.
Now, he says, the foundation recognizes that the private sector is needed,
"We believe the combination of public purpose with private
entrepreneurship and resources can significantly improve the sustainable
livelihoods of the poor," said Conway.
International Biotechnology Conference
- Hyderabad, India, September 24-27, 2003. Biotech Consortium India
Limited (New Delhi, India)
1. Penetrating global biopharmaceutical markets 2. Accelerating
technological innovations through collaborative R&D 3. Outsourcing as a
strategic imperative for pharma companies 4. Strategies for developing
India as a contract research hub 5. Contract manufacturing : The new
growth driver 6. Managing IPR issues in strategic partnerships and
contract research 7. US-India Biotech Initiatives and any case studies 8.
Relevant topics related to healthcare/agricultural biotechnologies
BCIL will be taking care of the foreign speaker's local hospitality but is
not in a position to fund the
air travel due to financial constraints The conference information and
contact details are posted in the website:
We would appreciate if your organization may be interested in
participating in the event or if you could suggest the names of some
potential speakers/organizations from the private/public sector agencies
in the USA.
- Amiya Nayak, St. Louis, MO, USA, Phone: 636-405-2525;
'Dealing with the Media'
Communication Guidelines for Science and Health Professionals
- 'Guidelines on science and health communication', Social Issues
Research Centre in partnership with the Royal Society and the Royal
Institution of Great Britain; November 2001 - ISBN 0 85403 570 2
Full document at http://www.sirc.org/publik/revised_guidelines.shtml
It is clearly important that researchers should communicate their results
to the wider public as this will illustrate the potential value to society
of their work, and may also enhance the reputation of their professions
and of their host institutions. But the communication of research findings
imposes on investigators the obligation that findings should be presented
accurately and in ways that minimise the potential for distorted or
unwarranted conclusions being drawn. This obligation is particularly
significant in the medical and biological sciences, where members of the
public may view the research as having direct relevance to their own
conditions, behaviour or lifestyles.
To ensure accuracy and to minimise the potential for misleading
conclusions, the following guidelines are proposed.
1. Dealing with the media
Many scientists have little experience of being interviewed by print and
broadcast journalists. While they may be at ease when discussing their
work with fellow professionals at conferences and seminars, communicating
their work accurately to the wider public requires a different
perspective, if only because journalists necessarily use different
criteria for judging the interest and importance of new developments.
Successful interviews require mutual trust, often not easily established
on the telephone (the most common means of communication by journalists).
Researchers should nevertheless do what they can to assure enquiring
journalists of their willingness to co-operate. It is reasonable (and
often helpful) to ask in what context the information sought will be
published or broadcast (but "don't know yet" is an equally reasonable
Similarly, it is reasonable to ask whether the interview could be
postponed until a more convenient and mutually agreed time, but
researchers should be aware that what they have to say is less likely to
be misrepresented if their interlocutors have time to reflect on the
interview. Requests for a sight of a text before publication are usually
(but not always) resisted, not least because the journalist might not be
the final arbiter of what is published. Offers to supply background
material (by fax or internet) are prudent safeguards against
misrepresentation – so is the offer of telephone contact numbers for
last-minute checks close to the deadline for the story.
It is desirable that all research institutions and bodies provide advice
and guidance to their scientists and health professionals regarding the
presentation of their findings to the media. Researchers should be
encouraged to talk about their work in an open and responsible way,
balancing the need to maintain scientific rigour with the requirement that
research should be communicated in a way that can be clearly understood by
the wider public. Equally, host institutions should provide their
researchers with specific advice on responses to likely questions from the
media, in order to reduce the risk of misinterpretation.
The status of a research report should always be made clear. If a study
has not yet been published in a peerreviewed journal, the researcher
should state this explicitly. When discussing the findings, researchers
should state if their findings:
* are 'preliminary', so a generalisation is not warranted;
* have yet to be replicated;
* differ markedly from previous studies in the same area;
* are derived from small or unrepresentative samples;
* are based entirely on animal studies; or
* are based on correlation alone.
Where several of the above points apply to a particular study, there may
be a strong case for delaying communication of the results until the
credibility of the evidence has been established. If journalists are
already aware of the story, it may desirable to attempt to persuade them
that they should wait until the necessary proof can be provided. But a
refusal to wait should not, in itself, signal an end to the conversation.
It is, of course, a fundamental requirement that all researchers report
their work accurately. Correct details of methods, procedures, analyses
and statistical methods are required in all cases to allow the merits or
otherwise of a particular investigation to be assessed. The peer review
process is intended to provide this safeguard for the formal scientific
The need for accuracy, however, also extends to the presentation of
conclusions and implications of findings, in which journalists are usually
most interested. While scientists should be ready to draw attention to the
most interesting and potentially newsworthy aspects of their work, it is
crucial that the importance of the work should not be exaggerated. Where,
for example, several interpretations of the data are possible, these
should be spelled out. Researchers should also attempt to set their own
work in the context of the evolving pattern of cognate discovery.
Similarly, they should avoid speculation based on opinions or beliefs that
are not related to the study itself. Collaborators should be identified
and their names correctly spelled.
4. Communication of risk and benefits
The communication of the results of studies that report changes in the
probability of human morbidity or mortality, or similar changes in risks
to the environment, imposes additional and quite specific responsibility
on researchers. Science and health professionals clearly have a duty both
to warn the public of potential dangers and to highlight potential ways of
improving health and safety. At the same time, however, it is essential to
avoid generating unwarranted optimism, by reporting findings as
'breakthroughs' or 'miracle cures', or raising fears and anxieties that
cannot be supported by the data.
With this in mind, it is desirable that when relative risks are reported,
the absolute risk of the phenomenon under investigation should be clearly
stated in order to minimise the possibility of inappropriate conclusions
being drawn. Where relative risks are small (usually less than 50 per
cent), the dangers of inferring causal connections should be stated
explicitly, even if the findings may be statistically significant.
Comparative risks should also be provided where there is a potential for
misinterpretation of results. The observed 'benefits' of a particular
variable should be presented in a comparative manner as well.
5. Is it safe?
Journalists are often concerned about the safety of a particular
development or new technology, reflecting the rise in the prominence of
the Precautionary Principle in policy and public decision-making.
Scientists are often reluctant to respond to the media by saying something
is absolutely 'safe' because there are usually important uncertainties.
Audiences or readers may interpret this as 'equivocation' or a lack of
Therefore, researchers need to anticipate the potential for such
reactions, while at the same time maintaining the rigorous application of
scientific principles. Again, they might do this in a comparative manner,
for example, by indicating that the risks associated with X are,
empirically, no greater than those associated with Y, where Y might be
something which is popularly perceived as 'safe'.
Researchers who believe their work has been inaccurately reported or that
its significance has been distorted, should not hesitate to protest, both
to the journalist concerned and to his or her editor, preferably in a
letter intended (and suitable) for publication. While it may be true that
the immediate consequences of misrepresentation will not be extinguished
by this action, editors do read correspondence with care and may pay
attention in the future.
If such correspondence does not produce a satisfactory response, or if the
misrepresentation is of a serious nature, a complaint to the Press
Complaints Commission or the Broadcasting Standards Commission would be