Today in AgBioView: July 31, 2003:
* Response to Alex Avery on Organic Foods
* Responses to 'Public Communication' Special
* Biotech "True Stories" From the Frontier
* Diversity in Food Technology
* Green Gene Technology--Blessing or Curse?
* Kill Thy Neighbor?
* The Green Movement: Time to Get Serious
* Protecting Superstition
* Plant Biotechnology: Good Ideas Are Growing
Response to Alex Avery on Organic Foods
- Lance Kennedy
Alex Avery's views on why the organic food producers oppose GM is
interesting, but a little naive. The reality is simple, and very corrupt.
There is a general rule, well known to journalists and others who deal
with "realpolitik". -Any time that large organisations, such as the
mega-billion dollar organic food industry, promote bullshit as if it was
real, the reason ( as opposed to the rationalisation) is either money, or
power (as in votes) or both.- This applies to governments, multi-national
corporations, and NGO's like Greenpeace.
The real reason the organic food lobby opposes GM foods is that they see
their own doom. The main reason people buy organic food (and contribute
mega millions to an over-inflated set of profits) is the mistaken belief
that organic food is healthier. The ONLY justification for this is the
perceived lack of pesticide residues in such food. However, this same
quality is present in GM foods that contain resistance to pests. Bt corn
does not need to be sprayed with insecticides, hence contains no
insecticide residues. In the future, we can expect this trend to extend to
the ultimate extent, with no insecticide, fungicide, bactericide or other
biocide residues. In addition, GM foods will be engineered to contain
higher levels of vitamins, iron, and anti-oxidants.
Clearly, with the option of buying GM food, with no pesticide residues,
and higher nutrient levels, at a much lower price, why should anyone want
to spend enormous sums of money paying for over-priced organic food?
Simply, the opposition to GM foods by such notables as Prince Charles, and
others in the organic food industry, is based on corruption and greed.
They know they will go out of business to a superior product. Anti-GM
campaigns by such notables is based on the most ignoble motives.
Alex Avery Responds:
Lance, I think we agree that the organics see their doom in biotech -- a
view that I articulated that in the final two paragraphs of my piece. The
main point I was trying to get across, and one which the editors of Nature
aparently agree with in their editorial from July 31, is that the zero
tolerance policy on "genetic contamination" is an arbitrary "phony
bastion" that they've created on purpose. We know they're doing it on
purpose and that it is phoney because it is contrary to 50 years of
organic being a process-based standard, not a content standard.
Re: AgBioView Special: Communicating with the Public..
- Gordon Couger
We need to do a great deal more than just communicate with the public on
issues of science. We need to provide good materials for elementary,
secondary and high school science classes to counter the environmental
misinformation being taught in the schools.
When I was in the 4th grade the class went on a field trips though a
slaughter house, cotton gin, fire house and wheat elevator. The internet
lets us bring these field trips to any one. With tools like Jabum
http://www.datadosen.se/jalbum/ makes it very easy to make a nice
presentation in a few minutes based on pictures.
Everyone of us should be explaining what we do to school children and the
public using the internet and not leave it to journalist who don't
understand that milk is not made in a factory like Coke or brewed like
RE: AgBioView Special: "Communicating with the Public, Media and
Policymakers on AgBiotech
- Shanthu Shantharam
This is a fantastic collection. Congratulations to Dr. CS Prakash for
this fine job!
Re: AgBioView Special: "Communicating with the Public,...
- Chuck Curtis"
Hello Dr. Prakash, I want to compliment and applaud your July 30, 2003
AgBioView Special. A wonderful set of articles. I would like to use these
in my social issues class when we cover biotechnology. Thank you for the
effort and leadership on communications. -- Best, Chuck
C.R. Curtis (Chuck), Professor, Dept of Plant Pathology, Ohio State
Biotech "True Stories" From the Frontier
- Dean Kleckner, Agweb.com, July 31, 2003
The frontier of biotechnology is in a place called Bobodioulasso.
That's the name of a town in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, a
couple hundred miles from the capital of Ougadougou. Two weeks ago, the
government announced in Bobodioulasso that it might allow farmers to plant
genetically modified cottonseed.
That's fantastic news for the rural farmers of Burkina Faso. For them,
cotton is king--and they deserve the ability to plant the best crops
biotechnology has to offer. When I attended the BIO convention in
Washington, D.C., earlier this summer, I learned firsthand how biotech
cotton makes a huge difference in the lives of African farmers who use it.
Consider the case of Thandiwe Myeni, a widowed school principal in South
Africa. When I talked to her, she told me that like many of her neighbors
in Makhathini Flats, she is a cotton farmer. She's been doing it for
nearly a decade.
In the past, however, growing conventional varieties of cotton, she only
planted 2 to 3 hectares. It just took so much time and the yields were so
low. As every farmer knows, you have to maximize your resources if you
hope to be successful in agriculture. Myeni wasn't able to do this because
the work was so demanding.
Then, in 1997, she started planting bt cotton, which operates on the same
genetic basis as the bt corn so many American farmers grow. The results
were amazing. Her yields shot up by as much as 50 percent, her pesticide
applications plummeted, and she was able to plant all 10 hectares (about
25 acres) of her property. Best of all, she had time left over to spend
with her family.
A study by the University of Pretoria shows that farmers planting bt
cotton in Makhathini Flats have improved their net annual income by $43
per hectare. "With my additional income, I've remodeled my kitchen,
purchased a new tractor, and I'm able to spend more time with my four
children," says Myeni.
Today, 90 percent of the cotton farmers in Makhathini Flats use bt cotton.
One of Myeni's neighbors is T.J. Buthelezi, who also started adopting the
remarkable advances in cotton technology in the late 1990s. "For the first
time, I'm making money," he says. "I'm paying my debts."
Is it any wonder the cotton farmers of Burkina Faso would like to enjoy
the same benefits? Each year, the non Bt cotton has to be sprayed EVERY
week just to keep the bollworms out. With bt cotton, however, they can
reduce the number of applications they must make to two or three a season,
saving money, time and labor.
The debate over crop technology is bigger than Burkina Faso and Makhathini
Flats, of course. At a recent summit meeting of African leaders, 40 heads
of state called for a comprehensive strategy on biotechnology and GM
crops. They're planning to appoint an advisory panel to study the issue
and make recommendations.
John Mugabe, one of the people behind this idea, has promised that the
group will base its study and comments on "evidence, not perceptions."
That's a worthy charge to keep, because even though some people hold the
faulty perception that biotechnology is not safe, all the evidence says
there is no problem at all. It also makes economic sense for farmers.
Anybody who doubts this fact should talk to Myeni and Buthelezi.
Unfortunately, activist groups continue to spread fear--there's already a
call for African countries to adopt a five-year moratorium on biotech
crops. That's exactly the wrong approach. The continent of Africa
shouldn't have to wait more years before its farmers can take advantage of
what's commonly available in the United States today.
Africa faces too many challenges and problems to be denied the wonderful
tool of biotechnology. This talk of a five-year moratorium is nonsense. It
will hurt the farmers who need the most help. It's also misleading. The
people who want a moratorium don't really want a moratorium--they want a
permanent ban, but they won't come out and just say it. This talk of a
"moratorium" is simply a strategic bluff to make their unreasonable
demands sound moderate.
I'll take my stand against Greenpeace and the professional complainers
anyday--so long as I can stand with the farmers of Burkina Faso and
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.
Diversity in Food Technology
- Editorial, Nature 424, 473 (31 July 2003)
A scientific review, farm-scale trials and extensive public consultations
on genetically modified crops should pave the way for greater benefits and
choice for consumers — provided that the organic movement abandons
Last week in England, the Lake District National Park Authority, like
other British regions before it, declared itself a GM-free zone. This came
close on the heels of a meeting between Margaret Beckett, the British
secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, and heads
of major retail chains. She was left in little doubt of the retailers'
resistance to stocking genetically modified (GM) foods on their shelves,
given customers' antipathy.
Ironically, these events coincided with the publication of a rather more
positive scientific assessment of GM crops (see Nature 424, 358; 2003).
The review emphasized that, provided appropriate testing and regulation
are in place for consideration on a case-by-case basis, GM crops hold out
significant promise and leave little grounds for fear.
The next steps in the great British GM saga, which is being watched
closely by many other countries, will be the publication of results of the
farm-scale evaluation of oilseed rape, beet and maize, and the publication
of the results of a major public consultation, both due in September. A
final scientific review will then be produced for ministers. As the
recently published review emphasizes, information from farm-scale
evaluations is important in answering key questions about the effects of
agricultural processes on wildlife.
The public debate warrants close scrutiny. The processes of consultations
(some 40,000 responses) and public meetings (nearly 500, in all) are
complete. But only now has the scientific review addressed an agenda of
concerns set by initial public consultations. The succinct information
provided on the website of the public debate and at meetings does not do
justice to the messages now available from the science review. Although
much public concern is focused on issues of ownership and equity, the late
timing of the science review limits the value of the public consultation
on science-related issues.
More worryingly, open meetings in the public debate have been subjected to
campaigning tactics by anti-GM lobbyists, leading to complaints from other
members of the public that discussions have been compromised. So
particular attention should be given to the independent evaluation of the
The review left little doubt that the coexistence of GM and organic
farming (assuming that approval for GM use is granted) will prove
difficult to maintain. But the problem is an artificial one, based in
essence on an ultimately arbitrary and self-defeating definition of
'contamination' by the organic movement.
Consider, for example, late blight in potatoes, a major problem for both
conventional and organic farmers. Organic farmers contain the problem by
applying copper sulphate-based preparations, which can harm the soil.
Attempts to breed potatoes that are more resistant to the pathogen,
Phytophthora infestans, have consistently failed to yield a marketable
product. The best solution probably lies several years down the road in
the next generation of GM crops.
British organic farmers -- or at least the Soil Association, their
campaigning organization --will resist seemingly to their dying breath the
idea that inserting genes using molecular biology could be as ethical as
the often less reliable but nevertheless technological approaches of
conventional organic plant breeding and management. One can but hope that
the messages from science will continue to be reassuring about the impacts
of GM crops, and that they will combine with organic farmers'
self-interest to demolish such phoney bastions, and allow both approaches
to agriculture to prosper, in the ultimate interests of consumer benefits
Green Gene Technology--Blessing or Curse?
- Friedrich Kurz, Frontal 21, July 29, 2003
(The following text was translated by Checkbiotech from German to English)
Biologist at the University of Munich have been undergoing field trails
for a new type of potato, which turned out to be all for nothing. The
reason-- unidentified persons pulled out the planted potato tubers in the
night, thus ruining the field studies. GM opponents are suspected for
being responsible for the damage. The potatoes had been genetically
enhanced to produce the carotenoid antioxidant Zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin
deficiency in the eyes has been shown to cause macular degeneration.
The Agribiologist Professor Gerhard Wenzel from the University of Munich
wanted to find out, if the genetically enhanced potatoes could combat the
effects of blindness caused by old age. "We had hoped to be able to
harvest 400 kilograms of the potatoes from this field. In the end we were
only able to salvage these 10 kilograms, and that is really a worst cause
scenario, because we just received permission from the Ethics Committee to
use this harvest in human trials. This is a tough roadblock for all our
trials, since we don’t have the essential material, with which to go
forward with the human trials."
Greenpeace against Genetechnology
In Gotha, Germany a Greenpeace group destroyed a GM wheat field trial set
up by seed producer Syngenta. The group dispersed organic wheat seeds all
over the test plot; today only weeds are growing there. The wheat had been
developed by Syngenta to resist infection from a certain strain of fungus.
Greenpeace uses similar techniques to draw the attention of government
authorities. Of all people, Renate Künast, Germany’s Prime Minister for
Genetechnology, met with Greenpeace speaker Christoph Then at a
promotional event sponsored by the German supermarket chain, Edeka Nord.
At the event, the supermarket chain advertised that they would offer
non-genetically altered meat.
The German television show, Frontal 21, wanted to know, whether or not the
Green Party Minister Künast is connected with Greenpeace in its campaign
against genetechnology. They asked, “Minister Künast, your regulatory
authorities approved a wheat trial in Gotha, and afterwards Greenpeace
attacks and ultimately ruins the same trial that had just been approved.
Was that done on purpose, or do you disapprove of the actions by
Greenpeace to destroyed the field trial? Künast avoids the question "I
presume that this is one of Frontal 21's brilliant questions, with the
intent of writing one of their famous reports," responded Künast. "You
should already know I have nothing to say to that question, because I have
nothing to tell you about joint projects with Greenpeace in the future,
because I have never even so much talked about such possibilities."
Although Minister Künast avoided the question, Frontal 21 decided to ask
again, this time written. "Are you distancing yourself from the destroyed
GM wheat trials caused by Greenpeace?" Minister Künast’s office written
response was, "Minister Künast declines to respond to the question."
Minister Künast doubts, that GM crops have the ability to help in the
fight against hunger and diseases in developing countries, writes Frontal
However the Biologist Ingo Potrykus from the Technical University of
Zurich (ETH Zürich) is convinced that they can make a difference. Together
with his colleague Peter Beyer from the University of Freiburg, Germany,
Dr. Potrykus was successful in enhancing rice so that they would produce
vitamin A. With the help of a gene-cannon, Dr. Potrykus and Beyer created
the now famous Golden Rice. More than 2 billion people live on a diet of
rice in developing countries. The sole diet of rice has led to over 400
million of them developing malnutrition diseases, because rice alone lacks
the necessary daily supplement of vitamin A. Due to the vitamin A
deficiency, a half of a million children are born blind each year.
Dr. Potrykus convincingly noted, "We have Golden Rice which, when given in
200 gram allotments each day, can overcome vitamin A deficiency. Golden
Rice is freely provided, without any restrains or limitations to rice
producers in the developing worlds, and is being at the moment further
developed in India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines to
produce local varieties for the people."
In the Philippines, an international rice-research institute has crossed
the vitamin A gene from Golden Rice into local varieties growing Golden
Rice and is responsible for its distribution. Dr. Potrykus and Beyer
personally brought the first sack of Golden Rice to Philippines after its
development. Rice researchers have called this a historical moment, since
its production will improve the health of people all over. In the US, Dr.
Potrykus and Beyer are already regarded as Nobel-Prize candidates. However
their homelands, Switzerland and Germany respectively, won’t even provide
them with further research grants.
Greenpeace critisizes Golden Rice as a "Trojan Horse of the seed industry"
Ulrike Brendel, a Greenpeace activist remarked, "Today it is often
claimed, that people go hungry because there is too little food supply
produced--that’s wong. At the preset, we produce twice as much food
necessary to feed all of mankind on the earth. Hunger is a distribution
problem, a problem of poverty—and that is something that gene technology
can not resolve."
Greenpeace also fears that the wind currents could carry GM pollen to
other fields, which could cross with organic fields, that would cause
their produce to no longer be GM free. Brendel said, "Greenpeace perceives
GM food to be dangerous. By that we mean GM food conceals unsuspected
risks for consumers. Consumers are being used as guinea pigs. Up to now,
there has not been sufficient research done on the risks from gene
manipulated crops, or rather GM food."
Statements from leading biologist contradict those of Brendel. They
maintain GM crops are just as safe as traditional crops, as numerous
research studies have confirmed. Even though 300 million people have eaten
GM foods for years now, there has not been a single case of health
problems caused by GM foods.
That was confirmed by a Food Safety Supervisor, who works under the
direction of the GM food critic, Minister Künast. Klaus-Dieter Jany, from
the Federal Food Research Institute in Germany, also added, "Food, that
evolves from gene technology belongs to the safest products that we know
of. They are very thoroughly tested, more so than any produce has ever
been tested. We know a lot about (GM) foods, so much that we can assume
that (GM) foods do not hold any health risks that other traditional foods
wouldn’t also have."
Künast digs in
Meanwhile Minister Künast insists upon her rejection, and remains loyal to
Greenpeace’s stance. "Politics is only here to help fulfill the interests
of international seed producers, who are also applying political pressure
abroad. Only they have any financial interest, otherwise no one benefits.
We don’t need GMOs to fight world hunger. That is an absolute myth, that
has been founded by a few large business companies, because they
miscalculated and are in the red."
GM Food -- yes, or..
Biologist in the developing world perceive views, such as those shared by
Minister Künst, as Western World arrogance. They accuse the well-fed
Western World of not taking hunger seriously. James Ochanda, the Director
of the Biotech Institute of the University of Nairobi, Kenya was very
direct when he noted, "The anti-GM Campaign tells Africans, 'Don’t eat GM
food--and die now.' It would also be possible to tell us, 'Now, because GM
food has been tested with the most modern methods and approved, and
because it is safe, you can actually eat it!' "
Wealthy Europe has the choice: GM food--yes or no--blessing or curse.
Hungry countries do not have the same choice.
Kill Thy Neighbor?
'Hezbollah and organic-food fanatics have some things in common'
- Alex Avery July 31, 2003
Recent events in Israel make it clear once more that a hard-line minority
of Palestinians absolutely refuses to peacefully coexist with Israelis.
The Palestinian extremists proclaim they will continue to do everything to
drive the Israelis out, including murder.
It is now clear that a hard-line minority of food fanatics also refuses to
live peacefully with neighbors who don't believe as they do.
Unfortunately, their actions have also led to ongoing and needless human
death and sorrow.
In neither case should the extremists be allowed to veto humanity's
future. This message must be foremost as the Bush administration extends
efforts to improve the lives of Africans and moves forward with formal
World Trade Organization challenges to the European Unions'
anti-technology food policies.
A recent agricultural science and technology conference hosted by the Bush
administration in Sacramento, California, witnessed the predictably
hysterical street protests of organic-food fanatics who have rejected
nearly every scientific advance in farming for the past 50 years. For
nearly a decade these agri-extremists have attempted to totally block
agricultural biotechnology, the most important and critically needed
agricultural advance in human history.
The organic extremists first attempted to block government approvals of
biotech crops by claiming that too little was known about the crops'
health or environmental effects. While hard-line Islamists told their
children that Jews are descendents of monkeys and kill and eat Arab
children, organic extremists fabricated fantastical stories about biotech
crops causing birth defects, abortions, cancer, and environmental
This strategy worked in Europe. Approvals of biotech crops have been
stalled there for five years while European scientists conduct field tests
to appease the extremists. In response, the extremists repeatedly
attempted to destroy the test crops. Despite the sabotage, the EU tests
have proven that biotech crops are safe for both humans and the
Unfortunately, the organic hard liners have done far more damage than
uproot crops. They have caused the death of unknown thousands of Africans
with their campaign of disinformation -- a slow-motion tragedy that
continues to unfold today.
Last year we had advance warning that a food shortage was looming in
southern Africa, due to a region-wide drought and political upheaval in
Zimbabwe. The U.S. government mobilized shipments of food aid corn (corn
is the staple diet of southern Africans) from U.S. grain stores to the
United Nations Food Program to be distributed freely in southern African
countries. The United States' corn donations accounted for 60 percent of
the food aid mobilized to the region.
But in advance of the arrival of U.S. food aid, the extremists mobilized
disinformation squads to the region to spread scare stories about U.S.
corn. Zambia's president, Levy Mwanawasa, said they informed him that GM
foods were "poison." He subsequently rejected all U.S. food aid, including
hundreds of tons of U.S. corn already in warehouses in famine-hit areas.
In one small southern Zambian town, thousands of starving villagers
overpowered an armed guard and "liberated" 43 tons of U.S. corn after the
Zambian government announced plans to take it back.
Now, with the safety and environmental sensitivity of biotech crops and
foods amply demonstrated in numerous countries around the world, the
organic extremists are huddled behind their last roadblock on the highway
of progress: what they call "genetic pollution."
Organic extremists claim that an organically grown crop or food is no
longer "organic" if it is "contaminated" by DNA from biotech plants. Never
mind that farmers have had to deal with pollen from neighbor's crops since
the dawn of agriculture. (Pollen is like organic fertilizer, it happens.)
In the U.K., the Soil Association has established a zero-tolerance policy
for "GM contamination," even though science allows us to detect known DNA
sequences at parts per quadrillion levels. (Equal to one second in a
million years) In the United States, there is no official tolerance ˜ a de
facto zero tolerance.
Yet this zero-tolerance is contrary to all historical organic standards.
For example, organic farmers have always had to live with trace
contamination of their crops by synthetic pesticides and other chemicals
forbidden under their self-imposed rules. So the organic groups simply set
realistic tolerances for these chemicals (5 percent of maximum legal
Organic labels have never guaranteed pure content, only adherence to
specific production practices. But in their extreme opposition to biotech
crops, the organic activists are willing to turn their own system on its
head. Practice is tossed out and content is king.
Neither Hamas nor the hodgepodge of organic extremists will sign a peace
agreement in their respective fights. The answer is not trying to appease
these unappeasables. The answer is to push aside their roadblocks and move
Alex Avery is director of research at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues in Churchville, Virginia.
The Green Movement: Time to Get Serious
- Dr Mike Nahan, Executive Director, Institute of Public Affairs,
Australia; An address to the Victorian Farmers Federation 24th Annual
Conference, Melbourne, 22-23 July, 2003;
History is replete with examples of societies allowing narrowly based
interest groups to latch onto a valid issue, to present a distorted
prognosis that eventually become mainstream, and in the process do great
harm not only to society at large, but to the initial issue.
This process has unfolded in the Western world over the last thirty years
with respect to the environment. Activists, often with a hatred of
commerce and modernity, have captured the institutions, the prognosis and
the communication of environmental issues.
Many of their initial campaigns were valid and have had significant and
positive impacts, for example, the move to clean waterways through the
treatment of effluent.
Conservation of the environment is a growing mainstream value. As people
become wealthier and more easily satisfy the necessities of life, they
naturally seek more aspirational values, such as preserving the
Despite the validity of the earlier environmental actions, and the fact
that environmentalism has become a mainstream value, far too few Green
groups have changed. Instead, too many remain radical, seeking to exploit
environmental concerns as a means of revolutionising society and
controlling commerce. Too many have become watermelons.
Despite being fundamentally at odds with the broader interests of society,
the deep Greens have gained significant influence and are doing great
damage to the environment, to society and to civil society.
For evidence one need look no further than the three million hectares of
forest burnt this last summer in Eastern Australia. There is no doubt that
the accumulative influence of the Greens---closing down state forests,
stopping logging of native forests, creating additional national parks,
reducing controlled burning, closing access roads---contributed greatly to
this disaster. They have now shifted their focus from forestry to farming,
and are busily spinning their destructive web.
How did it get this way?
Well, society has failed to impose accepted standards of
representativeness, and deep Greens have exploited our tolerance. Society
has allowed these groups to claim, and to be given the status of
'representatives' of the environment on a false basis.
Greenpeace regularly makes such claims, and it is given this status in the
media, the bureaucracy, with advisory bodies and in the community. Yet
Greenpeace Australia has a membership of just 51 people---that is, only 51
people have a direct say in the policies of the organisation. While
Greenpeace welcomes donations, the activists that 'own' it keep tight
control over its policies and values. WWF has a similar structure. The
Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is a much more open and
democratic organisation, due to its conservative roots. However, it has,
over the years, become dominated by deep Green activists.
Green groups eschew institutional democracy, because democracy is slow and
tedious in decision-making, forces compromise and trade-offs, and limits
the power of extremists. The ability of Green groups to be undemocratic
gives them a great advantage in their dealings with democratic
organizations such as VFF and our political parties.
Our society gives standing to institutions and people because they bring
specialised knowledge and skills to bear on an issue. Most Green groups
have no such expertise other than political advocacy. Few undertake
research and few have scientific expertise. For example, when Greenpeace
recently employed three biotechnology campaigners---the job description
made no reference to knowledge of the science or technology, or even to
the industries affected, but rather to experience in campaigning. WWF's
lead campaigner to protect the Great Barrier Reef against sugarcane
farmers has a degree in opera. The ACF's chief water campaigner has an
arts degree. And we regular see Peter Garrett---a rock singer with a law
degree---lecturing against biotechnology.
The Green groups' sole expertise lies with political action and
communication---they are, in effect, Saatchi and Saatchi with a cause.
Yet we have allowed the spin merchants to present themselves as experts,
summarising the 'received' research on biotechnology, diagnosing the state
of the Murray River and lecturing farmers on improving farm management. We
have allowed the spin to masquerade as science. As outlined in detail by
Bjorn Lomborg in his book The Sceptical Environmentalist, this has not
only led to a gross perversion of policy priorities, but it is starting to
pollute the pursuit of science itself.
We can only preserve the environment, improve our farming sector and
continue to make a living on the land with rigorous, robust science. For
evidence, one need look no further than the latest big environmental
campaign, the campaign to save the mighty Murray from you, the farmers.
One thing is clear: the farming community must confront the Green
movement. The Greens are developing a 'victim versus villain' scenario,
where they play the role of saviour. In the latest version of this drama,
farmers are the villains and the victim is Mother Nature. They, the
Greens, are going to save the environment from you, the farmers. Already,
according to the Ethical Investor magazine, farming is now our country's
most environmentally destructive industry.
In short, the focus of the Green movement has shifted from forests and
mining to agriculture. It is not just the Murray River, however. They have
a comprehensive set of campaigns against the sector including,
* Land management;
* Native vegetation;
* Pesticides; and
The Greens have convinced large sections of the public that you---the
farmers---are the villains raping mother-earth. They have direct links
with the fast-growing, urban-based Green parties which offer the
intoxicating option to voters of being radical, but without the
responsibility. They have sway over the mainstream parties. Simon Crean,
for example, recently committed to the ACF demand of removing 20 per cent
of irrigators' water.
The Greens have become ensconced in positions of influence in the
bureaucracy, research institutes, advisory bodies, and regulatory
agencies, and are getting paid to do it. These organizations have become
wealthy, sometimes in the extreme. In Australia, Greenpeace, WWF and ACF
alone have a combined annual revenue in excess of $30 million. On a global
scale, the combined budgets of the Greenpeace and WWF networks exceeds $1
billion. An increasing proportion of their funding is coming from
governments, corporations, international agencies and private foundations.
This means that they are even more independent of the community.
Worse, they have seduced the media and our children into believing that
they are the true spokesmen for the bush.
What to do?
Develop links with real environmental groups, preferably those made up of
people who understand, and who come from, the land. Environmentalists and
farmers are natural allies. Indeed, farmers are natural environmentalists.
Many environmental groups seek to preserve the environment through modern
agriculture. These groups are often small and under funded and in the
business of doing practical things rather than politics. They get shouted
out by the watermelons. They should be fostered and supported.
When a group comes foreword demanding to be 'community stakeholders', make
sure that they are. That is, require institutional democracy for the
community. This is particularly important for the many advisory boards
through which government polices now impact on the agricultural sector.
Demand transparency in their dealings with corporations, with governments
and, most importantly, with political parties. Green NGOs increasingly
offer political services of a non-kosher type to institutions in exchange
for money and influence.
Much of their funding is coming from overseas. For example, the funding
for WWF's anti-sugarcane campaign was funded fully by US sources,
particularly the World Bank and large multinational corporations. These
funders' interests lie not in saving the GBR but in securing friendly
voices in the NGO movement.
If groups claim expertise, ensure they have it. Most importantly, when
they lie or distort, treat them like pariahs. Enforce a 'no lie' rule.
Be vigilant and counter them all. Support the VFF and other groups to
respond to every lie, every distortion, every campaign, and every lobbying
Defend your property rights and reclaim the science.
- Joe Kaplinsky, Sp!ked, May 22, 2003
Intellectual property is often seen as a major problem for the developing
world. AIDS drugs patents held by Western pharmaceutical companies are
criticised for preventing cheap access. Intellectual property rights in
agriculture, especially over genetically modified plants, are seen as a
barrier to food security for poor farmers in the developing world.
Anti-globalisation activists have targeted the Agreement on Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as the most sinister wing
of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations. Many argue that the
inequalities of the intellectual property system could be rectified by
giving 'traditional' or 'indigenous' knowledge more protection. But these
proposals can result in a romanticisation of rural poverty and the
blocking of economic and scientific development - and as such, are
potentially more damaging for the developing world than the expansion of
intellectual property itself.
Critics often claim that traditional knowledge is being stolen through
'biopiracy' - for example, when Western companies patent uses of plants
that are well known to indigenous peoples. They support the Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) against the WTO's TRIPS. According to the Third
World Network (TWN) 'one of the main objectives of establishing the CBD
was to counter the possibility of misappropriation or "biopiracy", while
one of the effects of TRIPS has been to enable the practice of such
There are certainly problems with the current intellectual property
regime. But these are about the fact that intellectual property may
prevent developing countries' access to the most modern and up-to date
solutions, rather than that it fails to protect 'traditional practices'.
The UK government recently commissioned a report called 'Integrating
Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy', which pointed out
that there is a tendency for patents today to be filed and granted more
widely than in the past. This leads to the possibility of gridlock in
developing countries, as permission from many overlapping patent holders
will be needed to make even incremental advances (2).
And the Intellectual Property Rights Commission notes that there is a
conflict of interest between the developed and developing worlds. Since
most intellectual property is held by the developed world, it makes little
sense for the developing world to implement tighter intellectual property
laws. On the other hand, a modern capitalist economy requires protection
for intellectual property, so any country that wants to develop needs to
find a difficult balance.
The debate about intellectual property is blurred by hype about the
'knowledge economy', which accords intellectual property a more central
economic role than it deserves. It is often forgotten that intellectual
property is only an idea that can be applied in economic production,
rather than economic production itself (businesses that assumed that DNA
patents would be goldmines are now realising this).
There is also a fetishisation of traditional knowledge on part of
intellectual property's critics. On this basis, it might be claimed, for
example, that the British Empire was built on the 'biopiracy' of
scientists like Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), who travelled with Captain
Cook and founded the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; Robert Fortune
(1812-80), who introduced varieties of tea from China into India; and Sir
Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), who supervised the export of rubber
trees from Brazil to Ceylon, Singapore and Malaya. But the wealth that
flowed back to Britain was not somehow stolen from the various peoples
around the world who first cultivated or knew of the crops. It was a
product of a worldwide division of labour that mobilised millions of
people on plantations and farms.
Nicolas Gorjestani, the Africa region's chief knowledge officer at the
World Bank, makes a similar mistake when talking about the indigenous
knowledge of today. For Gorjestani, indigenous knowledge 'is a key element
of the social capital of the poor and constitutes their main asset in
their efforts to gain control of their own lives'. He argues that new
forms of intellectual property protection are needed, because the 'normal
criteria for patenting a process do not exist with IK [indigenous
But in reality, traditional knowledge has no value to science outside of
anthropology - because it essentially consists of what might be otherwise
called old wives' tales. On its own terms, traditional knowledge has even
less value to industry, and is incapable of forming a basis for
development. In practice therefore, the promotion of 'traditional
knowledge' puts up a barrier for the developing world.
One example of how this can happen is the law of Prior Informed Consent.
This law, which is incorporated into treaties like the Convention on
Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources, holds that before a product based on plant (or other) genetic
material from the developing world is commercialised, or even researched,
consent is required not just from the government but also from any
indigenous people who have traditionally used those plants or live in the
Furthermore, traditional users are given a veto over whether development
goes ahead. They can either stop developments that are judged to be
destructive of traditional ways of life, or - perhaps more positively -
can get a share in the wealth generated from their natural resources or
This is very different from the forms of intellectual property developed
by industrialised countries. The idea behind a patent is that there is a
trade-off: there is a temporary restriction on the commercial development
of technology, but in order to get a patent you must teach the world
something new. To get a patent on an invention you must openly publish how
your invention works, and how it may be used.
The idea is that the patent system will encourage a free flow of knowledge
that contributes more to innovation in the long run than temporary
monopolies will hold it back. In practice, of course, things can be less
rosy. But that, at least, is the ideal. In the case of Prior Informed
Consent, by contrast, the monopoly granted is not temporary, but
permanent. Rather than aiming to teach the world something new, it is
designed to conserve traditions that are passed down from generation to
generation. It therefore acts as a block on knowledge rather than
Under the patent system, a temporary monopoly is granted to private
interests in order that we all share in the longer run. Giving indigenous
people a veto over the use of biodiversity, meanwhile, fixes knowledge as
the property of one particular group, and ties people to their traditional
The protection of traditional knowledge is obstructing the advance of
scientific knowledge that is essential for progress in both the developing
and the developed world. Furthermore, the elevation of traditional
knowledge encourages a suspicion of science and the motivation of
scientists. For example, Dr Ricardo Callejas, professor at the University
of Antioquia, Colombia, has worked on the taxonomy of the 2000 species in
the black pepper family, research that promoters of biodiversity might be
expected to support.
Yet Dr Callejas and his students have been accused of 'biopiracy', and
faced restrictions on their work. 'If you request a permit', he told the
New York Times, 'you have to provide coordinates for all the sites to be
visited and have to have approval from all the communities that live in
those areas. Otherwise, go back to your home and watch on Discovery
Channel the exciting program on Dinosaurs from Argentina' (4). Scientific
work is being delayed or blocked, and scientists are becoming demoralised.
'I have trouble convincing my closest friends that what I do is because of
passion, curiosity, a desire to know more about a group of organisms',
says Dr Callejas.
All in all, moves to protect 'traditional knowledge' are a disaster for
development. Their logical conclusion can be seen in projects like the
Tanga AIDS Working Group (TAWG) in Tanzania, which provides support for
people with HIV/AIDS through local community networks. This has been
promoted as a flagship project, funded by the World Bank, OXFAM and USAID,
for its work integrating 'traditional healers' with modern medicine.
Instead of modern AIDS drugs, patients are treated with 'traditional'
The real problem is, of course, that AIDS drugs are too expensive. But
instead of confronting this problem, resources have gone into ensuring
that traditional healers are treated on a par with medical professionals.
One article on TAWG concludes that perhaps modern drugs are not worth
having after all: 'expensive new therapies, by the way, often lose their
knockout punch over time. Hence, treating patients with traditional
medicines has as much validity now as it did thousands of years ago.' (5)
Seeing virtue in useless herbs used by desperate people with no
alternative is a sad conclusion for a campaign that should be demanding
the best for Africa.
Joe Kaplinsky is a patent and technology analyst.
Plant Biotechnology: Good Ideas Are Growing
- Council for Biotech Information, View the PDF of this brochure at
Plant biotechnology is helping today to provide people with more and
better food and holds even greater promise for the future.
Whether cotton farmers in China, India and South Africa, canola farmers in
Canada, soybean farmers in Argentina or corn farmers in Spain and the
United States, millions of farmers around the world are using biotech
seeds to boost yields, improve their livelihoods and preserve the
That's why organizations including the United Nations, American Medical
Association, International Society of African Scientists and the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,1 have voiced their
support for plant biotechnology.
Yes, there are questions and concerns -j-ust as there are with any new
technology. But for nearly 300 years, plant breeders have worked to create
better crops --a process that actually began thousands of years ago with
the domestication of wild plants. Plant biotechnology is the next stage in
the evolution of our continuing efforts to improve the food we eat.
What is plant biotechnology?
Plant biotechnology is a process in which genetic information and
techniques are used to develop useful and beneficial plants. "It is
important to recognize that we have been genetically modifying the food
supply for thousands of years," wrote food scientist Susan Harlander. 2
Modern corn, for example, bears little resemblance to its early ancestor,
teosinte. Those early cobs were just one to two inches long with a few
tiny kernels. 3 Ancient varieties of potatoes and tomatoes were also
vastly different from their modern relatives — and barely edible, if at
all. 4 It was only after centuries of careful breeding that corn, potatoes
and tomatoes were developed into the tasty, nutritious foods we know and
Austrian monk Gregor Mendel was the first to begin understanding genetics,
as he said, "just what it is that gives the colors and the shapes to the
different trees and fruits and flowers." In 1866 Mendel speculated that
certain unseen particles passed traits from one generation to the next. It
wasn't until nearly 100 years later that researchers discovered that these
unseen particles are genes. Genes carry the code that tells a plant what
color it will be or how it will taste.5
In 1973, researchers Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer actually took a gene
from one organism and inserted it into another, launching the modern
biotechnology era.6 Their work led to the very first commercial biotech
product -- human insulin.
Modern plant biotechnology is a much more precise tool (see slide 10) than
traditional plant breeding. It allows researchers to select a gene with a
specific trait--such as taste or hardiness-- in one plant and move it to
another. With traditional plant breeding, many genes are transferred to
create a new plant variety. Some of these genes carry desired traits,
others carry unwanted traits that must be removed with still more
breeding. Getting it right is often difficult.
But with organisms modified with advanced biotechnology, "We are in a
better, if not perfect, position to predict the [resulting traits]," said
the National Research Council in a 1989 report.7 The NRC advises the U.S.
government on science issues.
Products approved for market
To date, more than 50 biotech crops have been approved for sale in the
United States and Canada, and three have been approved in Mexico. The list
includes enhanced soybeans, cotton, corn, canola, cantaloupe, papaya,
potato, squash, sugar beets and tomatoes.
Most of these crops have been enhanced in one or more of the following
* Herbicide tolerant crops are immune to certain herbicides that are
effective against harmful weeds but have no effect on the crop. Globally,
about three-fourths of the biotech crops planted in 2002 were herbicide
* Pest resistant crops usually contain a protein from Bacillus
thuringiensis or Bt, a naturally occurring soil bacterium that wards off
the European corn borer.
* Virus resistant crops are shielded from plant viruses in the same way
that humans are protected from disease with vaccines: by being
"inoculated" and thus building a natural defense.
* Stacked trait crops combine these and other traits.
While four countries -- the United States, Argentina, Canada and China --
accounted for 99 percent of the global biotech acreage in 2002, 9 the
adoption of biotech crops has actually been faster in developing countries
than in developed countries.10 Between 5.5 million and 6 million farmers
in 16 countries planted biotech seeds in 2002, according to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA). More than three-quarters were farmers in developing countries --
primarily in China and South Africa. 11 "Normally, at the end of the
year, I would ask my wife how we are going to pay our bills," says South
African cotton farmer T.J. Buthelezi, who now plants Bt cotton. "Now I ask
her, how are we going to spend this money?"
Farmers have embraced the technology so quickly for very simple reasons:
Biotech crops improve yields, cut costs, reduce spraying and save time.12
"Biotechnology continues to be the most rapidly adopted technology in
agricultural history due to the social and economic benefits the crops
offer farmers and society,particularly the 5 million resource-poor farmers
in developing countries," says Clive James of ISAAA. "Biotech crops can
significantly alter the lives of these farmers, limiting the time they
must spend in the field and helping alleviate poverty."
Benefits of biotechnology
More and more studies are documenting the economic and environmental
benefits of biotech crops.
A 2002 study of biotech crops by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) found that six biotech crops planted in the
United States — soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola --
produced an additional 4 billion pounds of food and fiber on the same
acreage, improved farm income by $1.5 billion and reduced pesticide use by
46 million pounds.13
Other global studies have confirmed the economic benefits of biotech
* Yield increases for Bt cotton ranged from 5 to 10 percent in China, 10
percent or more in the United States and Mexico, and 25 percent in South
Africa -- reaping global cotton farmers an additional $1.7 billion in
income between 1998 and 2001, according to ISAAA.14
* Bt corn in Spain produced yield increases of between 10 and 15 percent
-- and an average income gain of 12.9 percent --in areas with high levels
of insect infestations in 2001-02, according to a study funded by
Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe.15
* Biotech canola in Canada produced 10 percent yield increases in 2000,
generating an average earnings increase of $5.80 per acre compared with
conventional canola, according to a Canola Council of Canada study.16
* Biotech soybean yields in Argentina were 10 percent higher than yields
for conventional soybeans, according to ISAAA. 17
While biotech cotton has led the way in developing countries like China
and South Africa, there's even more excitement about the benefits this new
technology can bring to staple food crops grown in developing regions of
the world. The reason is very simple: The developing world, home to 800
million hungry people, has the most at stake and potentially the most to
gain through plant biotechnology.
With the world population projected to top 8 billion people by 2030, there
will be another 2 billion mouths to feed -- most of them in developing
regions.18 With income growth also fueling demand for better diets,
farmers will need to at least double their production over the next 25
years to satisfy these appetites, according to the United Nations. 19 But
annual increases in agricultural yields in recent years are holding at
just 1.3 percent a year -- less than half of the gains of 30 years ago. 20
C.S. Prakash, founder of the AgBioWorld Foundation, says an additional 4
billion acres will need to come under the plow by 2050 to feed all of
these people if there are no increases in farm productivity. 21 That's
more than twice the size of the continental United States.
Getting the most production from existing land is important because more
than a fourth of the world's 21.5 billion acres of agricultural land,
pastures, and woodlands have already been degraded from overuse or misuse,
22 such as over-irrigation or erosion. Biologists fear that up to half of
the world's remaining 6 billion acres of tropical forests will be lost to
agricultural expansion, and some are warning that as many as 20 percent of
all tropical forest species could be extinct within 30 years if forests
continue to disappear at the current rate. 23
Biotechnology is not the single solution for feeding a growing population.
But it is a tool that can help grow more food in a sustainable way that
does not deplete existing farmland or force more remaining wilderness
areas to go under the plow.
Researchers are busy at work developing hardier crops that can produce
greater yields on existing land, or even thrive on marginal land:
* A biotech rice that can better withstand droughts and thrive in marginal
soil is being developed by Cornell University researchers.
* A biotech sweet potato 24 that can produce twice the yields of
conventional varieties is midway through field trials in Kenya. Sweet
potatoes are a staple crop for millions in the developing world.
* A biotech papaya --credited with saving the papaya industry in
Hawaii--is now being brought to farmers in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean
and several other developing areas where papaya is a staple food.
Not only is biotechnology being used to produce more food, it is also
developing better food -- food that is healthier, more nutritious and
For the developing world, researchers are working to develop:
* Golden rice, which is fortified with beta-carotene that stimulates the
production of vitamin A in the human body. Every year, between 250,000 and
500,000 go blind because of vitamin A deficiency, according to the World
Health Organization. And about half of these children die within a year of
losing their sight.25
* Cassava, a staple food in many poorer parts of the world, is being
enhanced so it contains 35 to 45 percent more protein and essential amino
* Plant-based vaccines -- made from crops such as banana or potato --
which are then pulverized and administered in pill form. Researchers have
developed a vaccine for hepatitis B that is similar to a traditional
vaccine but can be produced by a banana for a fraction of the cost.
It's reasons like these that have led organizations like the United
Nations to call biotechnology a "breakthrough technology for developing
countries" 27 and the International Society of African Scientists to say
that "Africa and the Caribbean cannot afford to be left further behind in
acquiring the uses and benefits of this new agricultural revolution." 28
Biotechnology is also being used to develop better food for people in the
developed world. Researchers are working to develop:
* A cancer-fighting tomato with three times more beneficial lycopene than
conventional varieties. Lycopene protects human tissue and could help
prevent breast and prostate cancers as well as heart disease.
* New cooking oils made from canola, corn and soybeans that contain up to
10 times more healthful vitamin E. Researchers believe vitamin E can lower
the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
* Food with fewer allergens. Researchers are working to reduce the
allergens in rice, wheat, peanuts and other crops so more of the estimated
50 million people who suffer from allergies worldwide can enjoy the food
most people eat everyday.
Better for the environment
Biotech crops are also helping protect the environment. A recent report
confirmed their benefits. "The results clearly show that soil, air and
water quality are enhanced through the responsible use of current
biotechnology-derived soybean, corn and other crops," said Teresa Gruber,
executive director of the Council for Agricultural Science and
Biotech crops also make it easier for farmers to use environmentally
friendly conservation tillage practices, where more residue from the
previous crop is left on the field rather than plowed under. No-till
conservation practices --the best for the environment because soil is left
virtually undisturbed from harvest to planting--have increased 35 percent
since biotech crops came on the market in 1996, according to a study by
the Conservation Technology Information Center in Indiana.30
"There is a clear association between sustainable tillage practices and
biotech crops," said the study, noting that nearly three-fourths of
no-till soybean acres -- and 86 percent of no-till cotton acres -- were
planted with biotech varieties.
Conservation tillage in the United States has:
* Saved nearly 1 billion tons of soil per year.
* Resulted in a projected $3.5 billion savings by lowering maintenance
costs for activities such as dredging rivers, cleaning road ditches and
treating drinking water.
* Created better habitat for birds and mammals, which thrive in the
protective residue of no-till fields.
* Reduced levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in lakes, streams and the
Gulf of Mexico.
* Saved 306 million gallons of fuel in 2002 by reducing the number of
tractor passes needed to control weeds. On average, no-till saves about
3.9 gallons of fuel per acre, according to the study.
In Canada, studies by George Morris Centre and the Canola Council of
Canada have reached similar conclusions about the environmental benefits
of biotech crops.
Perhaps the most telling fact about the safety of plant biotechnology is
that there isn't a single documented case of an illness caused by foods
developed with biotechnology since they first came on the market in the
Even a report from the European Commission, whose member states are more
skeptical about biotech products, concluded that "the use of more precise
technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny [over biotech foods]
probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods." 32
That report, validating the safety of biotech crops, summarized more than
15 years of research by 400 research teams funded by European governments.
A host of other organizations have also attested to the safety of foods
developed with biotechnology.
* The American College of Nutrition "supports the use of biotechnology to
develop food crops that contribute to global food security and enhance the
safety and nutritional value of the food supply."
* The American Medical Association recognized the "many potential benefits
offered by genetically modified crops and foods … and encourages ongoing
research developments in food biotechnology." 33
* The International Society of Toxicology says "there is no reason to
suppose that the process of food production through biotechnology leads to
risks of a different nature than those … created by conventional
* The General Accounting Office -- the investigative arm of the U.S.
Congress--says "biotechnology experts believe that the current regimen of
tests has been adequate for ensuring that GM foods marketed to consumers
are as safe as conventional foods."
*And the World Health Organization said, "The benefits of biotechnology
are many," including improved production and reduced pesticide use, and
promise "major improvements in both food quality and nutrition."34
Regulatory agencies in the United States:
Food and Drug Administration, Departement of Agriculture, Environmental
Regulatory agencies in Canada:
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, Environment Canada
Regulatory agencies in Mexico:
CIBIOGEM, which includes six ministries (Agricultura, Salud, Medio
Ambiente, Educacion, Economia, Hacienda y Credito Publico) and the
National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT)
More organizations and leaders are voicing their support for the many
benefits of biotechnology. "We are increasingly encouraged that the
advantages of genetic engineering of plants and animals are greater than
the risks," said Catholic Bishop Elio Sgreccia. "We cannot agree with the
position of some groups that say it is against the will of God to meddle
with the genetic make-up of plants and animals." 35
Opinion polls show that a majority of people believe plant biotechnology
will be good for society in the long term. Julia Child, the master chef
and cookbook author, says she's fascinated by the potential benefits of
biotechnology. "If they can give us a better tomato, I'm for it," she
Biotechnology is just beginning to deliver the benefits that can improve
lives all over the world. Yes, there are questions. But they are being
answered by studies that are documenting the benefits these crops have
delivered over the past few years. And that is just the beginning of the
potential for biotechnology to provide more and better food in years
References and more at