Today in AgBioView: September 2, 2003:
* Democratizing Science?
* Is Europe Reaching for Disaster - Andre vs. Andrew
* Florida Scientist Proposes Phased Deregulation of Biotech Crops
* Tackling Scientific Trepidations
* Are Bt Crops Safe?
* UK Government Caught in GM Dilemma
* Resistance to Bt Toxin Surprisingly Absent From Pests
* Truth About Trade and Technology
* African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum
* ISB News Report, September 2003
* Against LEGO Biology: Science, Seeds and Cyborgs
* EuropaBio Welcomes Commission Decision to Uphold Choice on GM Crops
* Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century: Rethinking Our Paradigms
- Jeff Clothier
The sentiment that science can and ought to be driven by some democratic
consensus "for the common good" is both question and definition-begging.
The author references "Frankenstein" and "The Terminator" in order to
characterize what he considers to be legitimate public anxiety about the
uses to which science is put.
Being a devotee of the Universal "Frankenstein" series of films as well as
a fan and friend of the family of the late British actor Boris Karloff who
played Frankenstein's monster, it occurs to me that the subtext of those
films as well as the original story by Mary Shelley was pertinent to these
times. In "Frankenstein," the product of science in the form of the
Creature was not dangerous in and of itself. It posed no threat to anyone
until it was abused, neglected, misunderstood or misused.
The public perception of the scientist as an obsessive-compulsive
megalomaniac (the "mad scientist") comes to us from the Frankenstein tale,
yet people fail to consider that perhaps the most potent villain in the
piece was neither the monster, nor the mad scientist, but the
pitchfork-and-torch-wielding mob. The true evil of Frankenstein was not
the search for knowledge or the thirst for discovery, but the blunt power
"Democratize" science? Perhaps. But it is good to remember that there is
no purer form of democracy than the lynch mob.
- Jeff Clothier, Clarity Communications, Altoona, Iowa
Re: Europe Reaches for Disaster
- Andre de Kathen, Namibia; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr Apel, I am more and more fascinated -or perhaps frustrated- on the
transformation of this 'newsgroup' into a platform for the 'narrow-minded'
and 'know it all' and anecdotal press releases. I am also again quite
delighted and so thanksful that Mr Apel explains to us Europeans about
We learn: no heat death toll with an air con. We can also say, no floods
in Bangladesh with higher dams. Ah, by the way, why do you in the US build
this shabby houses which immediately blow away when a tornado strikes? No
I understand, thanks to Mr Apel: global warming is not an issue with
aircon big enough (there is no bad weather, just inapropriate cloth).
Could it be that, at least sometimes, a lack of precaution could discredit
technical advances? Or would you also call it progress that an 75kg
ape-descendent is transported by a 2.5ton device with aircon and a 3.5l
engine using 15l fuel on 100km? It is just great to drive one, no doubt
about it, but is it very smart?
You are aware of a white paper on the precautionary principle? And hence
you say EU has failed to define it?
Or is it the concept of precaution as such? Perhaps I should ask, what do
you think about precaution anyway? It is also intellectually more
rewarding to explain and promote alternatives concepts instead of
hammering on somebody elses thoughts. And let us not forget, many have
been killed by progress too - so I would at least suggest that your
equation (resistance to progress costs lifes) is simply non-sense without
Now on this reiterated EU - US issue and your high moral standards.
Perhaps it is a challenge to start cleaning at your own door first. You
could start discussing about the many innocent lifes lost in order to
maintain the US strategic position and its access to resources (hey, no
misunderstanding, I am not a dreamer of the late 60ies, I am quite
realistic - but I find your moral imperative really, really disgusting).
You could discuss the impact of subsidies to US agriculture too or the
sense of one or the other 'quality control measure' in the US.
You could also ask whether the US has ANY tolerance for GMOs NOT approved
in the US.
Reply from Andrew Apel:
Dear Dr. DeKathen: Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful response
to my earlier posting on AgBioView. I would like to respond by pointing
out a few things you may wish to consider.
First of all, it is trivially true that all progress is measured in terms
of human welfare, i.e., giving humans what they want. Unfortunately, this
sometimes means giving some humans what they want at the cost of depriving
other humans of what they want, and examples range from taxation to
starving Africa to appease European palates. At some point on that
spectrum, injustice becomes evident. Fortunately, with other things, human
progress is possible without depriving others. Such is the case with air
conditioning or genetic engineering. Both are available at reasonable cost
in the United States, where we survive heat waves easily and have the
world's most healthy, plentiful, affordable food supply.
If you wish to complain about agricultural subsidies, please bear in mind
that European subsidies are on average ten times higher than in the US. If
you wish to praise Europe for sending money instead of food to Africa,
please bear in mind that you can't eat Euros. When food is short, people
need food, and there is no substitute for food.
I am familiar with the European "white paper" to which you refer which
purports to define Europe's approach to the precautionary principle. It's
only a fig leaf. Nothing is more instructive on Europe's approach to the
principle than the actions and statements of its bureaucrats and their
Finally, the US has no tolerance for GMOs not approved here. On the other
hand, the US has a process for approving GMOs, and it works!
Florida Scientist Proposes Phased Deregulation of Biotech Crops
- Chuck Woods, Southeast Farm Press, Sept 3, 2003 (Sent by Andy Apel)
Opposition to biotech crops and foods is based on politics and ideology
rather than science, says a University of Florida researcher who believes
the regulatory requirements for plant biotechnology should be lifted.
"The biotechnology community - which includes academia, industry and the
regulatory agencies - has been patient and on the defensive for too long,"
said Indra Vasil, a graduate research professor emeritus with UF's
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "It is time now to shift the
debate from unnecessary regulation to deregulation.
"After growing these crops for many years on more than 400 million acres
of land in various countries and after more than a billion people using
biotech foods, there is not a single instance where they have been shown
to cause illness in humans or animals or any environmental damage," Vasil
In a commentary in the August issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology,
Vasil wrote that the "enviable and unblemished record" of biotech crops
and their products is the strongest evidence for their safety and
wholesomeness, and he calls for an end to government control over them.
"Two decades ago, the United States pioneered the rules and regulations
for the development, testing and use of biotech plants and their products.
Now it's time for the U.S. to assert its leadership once again by relaxing
and gradually eliminating the regulatory oversight on biotech crops,
except in those rare instances where there is a likelihood of risk to
human health and the environment," he said.
Biotech plants designed to protect crops from weeds, pests of pathogens
include 80 percent of the soybean acreage, 70 percent of the cotton
acreage and 38 percent of corn acreage in the United States this year. The
annual market for biotech seeds now exceeds $3 billion.
"These improved crops are beginning to have a positive impact on human
health, the environment, the economy and our shared future by reducing the
use of harmful agrochemicals and by contributing to the conservation of
biodiversity, scarce arable land, and precious water and energy
resources," Vasil said.
The UF scientist said the next generation of biotech crops now being
evaluated for commercial production includes those with improved
nutritional characteristics and shelf life, tolerance to a variety of
pests and growing conditions; and those designed for the production of
vaccines, pharmaceuticals and many other useful substances. "Research has
shown that transgenic technology is no different from conventional plant
breeding except that it is inherently more precise and predictable," he
It is the consensus of the international scientific community that biotech
crops and their products are at least as safe for humans and the
environment as crops developed by conventional plant breeding methods.
That community includes regulatory authorities in many countries, several
of the most respected and well-known national scientific academies and
medical societies and various organizations of the United Nations.
Anti-biotechnology activists continue to call for a moratorium or outright
ban on the planting or use of biotech crops. "Their rhetoric is alarming
and frightening but lacking in substance," he said. "These groups continue
to insist that biotech crops are unsafe without offering any credible
scientific evidence to support their allegations.
"The consumer, the farmer and the biotechnology industry have all been
ill-served - indeed held hostage - by the sustained campaign of
misinformation and unsubstantiated claims of dangers to public health and
the environment," Vasil said. "The anti-biotechnology movement is clearly
based on political and ideological opposition to biotechnology and the
globalization rather than any real scientific concerns."
He said the continued moratorium on biotech crops by the European Union
and some of the western European countries is a protectionist maneuver
aimed at appeasing certain political parties. "In my vies, obstructing or
otherwise impeding the introduction of biotech crops, particularly in the
most populous and less-developed countries which will benefit most from
this technology, is morally and socially irresponsible and indefensible,"
Plant biotechnology, along with traditional plant breeding, offers the
best hope of tripling food production during the next 50 years to feed a
projected world population of nearly 12 billion people, Vasil said.
"Population increases in China, India and other developing nations,
coupled with changing dietary habits and improved buying power, mean that
we must move toward greater use of biotechnology n agriculture," he said.
"Moreover, the food needs of the future must be met on less arable land
and with less water than ever before - without harming the environment."
Vasil said the present level of regulatory oversight is now unnecessary
because it needlessly increases the cost of biotech products and unduly
delays their introduction into the international agricultural system.
"Regulatory decisions should be based on science rather than emotions and
perceived risks," he said. "A beginning should be made by removing all
restrictions on the cultivation and use of biotech crops that have
fulfilled regulatory requirements and have been cultivated or used for
five years without any ill effects on humans or the environment. These
include herbicide-resistant soybean and canola plants, insect-resistant
maize and cotton, and virus-resistant squash and papaya.
New biotech crops with similar genes should not be required to meet the
regulatory requirements for more than two years unless thee are clear
signs of risks, he said.
"Crops with genes that have not been previously tested under field
conditions should be monitored for a period of two to five years and then
released for unrestricted cultivation unless proven to be harmful," Vasil
said. Crops engineered for the production of drugs and vaccines should be
physically isolated from all other crops to prevent accidental pollination
of non-transgenic plants.
Like all other foods, the future of biotech crops and foods should be
determined by the farmer, the consumer and the marketplace, he said.
Tackling Scientific Trepidations; U-Md. Students Promote Genetic
- Ernesto Londono, Washington Post August 31, 2003
When the worldwide debate over genetically modified foods and plants
swirled onto U.S. college campuses a few years ago, most of the attention
focused on students holding rallies against the technology. At the
University of Maryland, 10 undergraduates who have spent three years
studying genetic engineering are gearing up to promote their side of the
issue: They are all for it.
"Some people seem to think that you're creating something like
Frankenstein, like we're manipulating nature in a way that wasn't supposed
to happen," said biochemistry major Seth Zonies, 21, one of the
participants in the Gemstone Genetics Project, a university-run effort to
promote the research and use of laboratory-altered plants. "The fact is,
we can grow plants that are healthier and stronger," he said.
Each year since 1996, a select number of freshmen are invited by faculty
members to join the Gemstone program. During their first semester, the
students divide into teams of about a dozen and select an
interdisciplinary area of study around which to anchor a four-year
Professor Anne E. Simon, an expert in cell biology and molecular genetics,
piqued the students' interest in genetic engineering. "It's such an
important issue and yet so misunderstood," Simon said. "As students read
more about it, they came to the conclusion that they didn't understand the
topic, even though it's absolutely crucial to them."
Initially, the U-Md. students intended to come up with a project to
convince policymakers in developing countries that genetic engineering
could improve the quality of life of their people. However, after
conducting surveys in Maryland to assess how much their own neighbors knew
about genetic engineering, they decided to look no further than some high
schools in Montgomery County.
"When we took on the issue of education, we decided Maryland schools
[were] the best place to start," said Annie Catherwood, 21, an animal
science major. "We wanted to do something that would have a real impact."
Starting this school year, the students will aim to provide lab kits to
about a dozen high school biology classes. The kits can be used to change
the genetic makeup of a plant named Arabidopsis thaliana by introducing a
bacterium that makes it resistant to an herbicide. The Gemstone project
has been contacting biology teachers in Montgomery in hopes that they'll
use the kits in their curriculum.
"The lab kits make this technology accessible to pretty much everyone,"
said Emily Tai, 21, an aerospace engineering and economics major and the
leader of the student group. "It's cheap enough that schools in low-income
areas could still do it."
Though the genetically altered plants will serve no purpose after the
experiment, the Gemstone team hopes that a trial in area public schools --
made possible by an $8,000 grant from the National Science Foundation --
will sprout interest in a technology that in recent years has
revolutionized the way crops in the United States are grown.
This is important, the students say, because genetic engineering, which
has met stiff resistance in Europe and many developing countries, could
significantly improve the quality of life for millions of people in Third
World countries. "It could significantly ease world hunger," Tai said.
In recent years, polls in the United States have found that many people
know little about genetically modified foods -- such as corn and soybeans
engineered to resist insects or chemicals -- and are wary of the
technology after learning how many of the products they consume each day
have been altered.
The European Union has refused to buy most types of genetically modified
foods from the United States, Canada and Argentina -- the world's leading
growers of gene-altered crops -- for fear that the technology might have
harmful long-term effects. "There just isn't enough information out there
to get complacent about it," said Bruce Hamilton, national conservation
director of the Sierra Club, based in San Francisco. "The implications of
this are simply not well understood."
In a survey in the Rockville area last spring, the Gemstone students found
that although 74 percent said they were not opposed to eating genetically
engineered foods, misconceptions about the processes were widespread.
More than 14 percent, for example, said they believed that human genes
could be altered by eating genetically engineered foods -- an assertion
research has disproved. "The science frightens people," Simon said. "I
think scientists have been portrayed as being inhumane puppy-killers."
Are Bt Crops Safe?
- Mike Mendelsohn, John Kough, Zigfridais Vaituzis & Keith Matthews (U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency) Nature Biotechnology, Sept 2003 Vol. 21
N0. 9 (www.nature.com) Reproduced in AgBioView with permission of the
editor. pp1003-1009; Introduction and conclusion below... e-mail:
'The US EPA's analysis of Bt crops finds that they pose no significant
risk to the environment or to human health.'
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that
produces proteins active against certain insects. Beginning in the
mid-1990s, crop plants expressing Bt genes were commercialized in the
United States. Cry1Ab and Cry1F Bt corn are effective in controlling
certain pests of corn (European corn borer, corn earworm and southwestern
corn borer), and Cry1Ac Bt cotton is effective in controlling certain
pests of cotton (tobacco budworm, cotton bollworm and pink bollworm).
Beyond the economic benefits to growers, the use of Bt corn and Bt cotton
result in less risk to human health and the environment than chemical
In 2001, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; Washington, DC, USA)
reassessed the four still registered, but expiring, Bt crops that had been
accepted for agricultural use in the preceding six years (from 1995 to
October 2001; Table 1). The Bt crop reassessment approvals included
provisions to prevent gene flow from Bt cotton to weedy relatives,
increase research data on potential environmental effects and strengthen
insect resistance management.
From this reassessment, the EPA has determined that Bt corn and Bt cotton
do not pose unreasonable risks to human health or to the environment. In
this article, we summarize the supporting data and conclusions of the EPA.
The complete reassessment document1, Biopesticides Registration Action
Document (BRAD)--Bacillus thuringiensis Plant-Incorporated Protectants,
which describes in detail the reassessment process, along with extensive
references, can be found on the EPA website at
Conclusions: In the fall of 2001, the EPA completed a comprehensive
reassessment of the time-limited registrations for all existing Bt corn
and cotton PIPs. As part of this reassessment, the agency decided to
extend the registrations with additional terms and conditions, including
requiring confirmatory data to ensure protection of nontarget organisms
and lack of accumulation of Bt proteins in soils, measures to limit gene
flow from Bt cotton to wild (or weedy) relatives, and a strengthened IRM
program, especially in regard to compliance.
The Bt cotton registration is now set to automatically expire on September
30, 2006 except for the external, unsprayed refuge option, which will
expire September 30, 2004. The Bt corn registrations are now set to
automatically expire on October 15, 2008.
This reassessment was designed to assure that the decisions on the renewal
of these registrations were based on the most current health and
ecological data, and that the process was conducted in an open and
transparent public process that incorporated sound and current science and
substantial public involvement.
UK Government Caught in GM Dilemma
- Pete Mitchel, Nature Biotechnology, Sept 2003 Vol. 21 No. 9 p957
(www.nature.com) Reproduced in AgBioView with permission of the editor.
Two high-profile committees commissioned by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
to examine the prospects for genetically modified (GM) food have produced
downbeat conclusions on the technology's commercial and safety
implications. Blair must now decide whether to comply with European law
and allow commercial exploitation of GM crops in the face of widespread
popular dissent, or contradict his well-known pro-GM stance by deferring
the planting of GM crops.
On July 21, a panel led by the UK government's chief scientific adviser,
David King, published its review of findings on the safety of GM
technology. The panel concluded that each new variety of GM crop should be
scrutinized for possible risks and benefits to human health and the
environment, even though the current generation of GM crops poses little
risk. "The conclusion is not that we simply go ahead," cautions King.
The King report follows an even less optimistic study from the department
of environment's Strategy Unit, released July 11. That report dismisses GM
crops as offering negligible economic benefits to the UK, at least until
GM crops more adapted to the UK environment are available that show
significant benefits to UK farmers or consumers (Nat. Biotechnol. 21,
Both reports leave Blair holding a political time bomb. If Blair opposes
the release of new GM products in the UK, he would be contravening the
European directive on deliberate GM organism (GMO) release (2001/18).
Under European law, no individual EU country has the right to forbid
release of GM organisms in their own territories after they have been
approved by other member states. And with the first GM products likely to
get European approval by early 2004, Blair has to decide whether GM crop
planting should go ahead in the United Kingdom before the year's end.
So what should the UK government do? Vivian Moses, of the industry-funded
science advisory panel Cropgen (London, UK), recommends a 'go-for-it'
strategy. "We are in grave danger of losing a major part of the science
base in this country, and we [shouldn't] deny GM technology to UK
farmers," he says.
An EU survey of academia and the industry, published in March, reiterates
this warning. More than 60% of survey respondents in the private sector
have cancelled R&D projects on GM crops, and the number of GM field trial
applications in the EU has fallen by 76% between 1998 and 2002 (Nat.
Biotechnol. 21, 468–469, 2003). "We have to maintain R&D so as to keep the
door open for the future," says Bernard Marantelli, a spokesperson for the
industry-funded Agriculture Biotechnology Council (London, UK). "The
industry won't keep its R&D going on the off-chance that in seven years
the government might say yes."
But independent experts in the politics of GM agriculture believe the
government faces an almost intractable problem. Joyce Tait of Edinburgh
University contends that the apparent impartiality of the two recent
reports represent an attempt by the government to preserve its options, in
advance of the decision it has to make at the end of this year. "I don't
think ministers have yet made their minds up how to come to a conclusion,"
Disagreements concerning biotechnology are common at the heart of
government. In June, Blair sacked his environment minister, Michael
Meacher, who was widely regarded by the biotechnology industry as lukewarm
about GM technology. Since then, Meacher has been openly criticizing the
government's GM policy, claiming that GM crops cannot coexist with
so-called 'organic' agriculture, a big consumer market in the UK. The King
report reinforces these concerns stressing that certain GMOs—especially
oilseed rape (canola)--would inevitably contaminate nearby non-GM
The UK public is also fiercely opposed to GM crops. A UK Food Standards
Agency (London, UK) report published in July found that most UK consumers
remain suspicious of GM crops. And the UK's official public debate on the
issue, 'GM nation' (Nat. Biotech. 21, 593–595, 2003), has come under heavy
criticism for its lack of effectiveness, even before the final
consultation report, scheduled for September, has been published. "Given
the amount of negative public and press comment there has been, I think it
would take a considerable degree of political courage to make a pro-GM
decision," says Tait.
Yet the UK has always been one of the EU's most pro-GM states and would
put itself in a very awkward position if it did a volte face and voted
against approvals now. A keenly awaited scientific study commissioned by
the department of environment on the farm-scale evaluation of three
herbicide-tolerant GM crops, expected mid-October, could provide
information on individual crops that the government might need to decide
whether to approve GM crops in the UK.
Resistance to Bt Toxin Surprisingly Absent From Pests
- Jeffrey L Fox, Nature Biotechnology, Sept 2003 Vol. 21 No. 9
pp 958 - 959 (www.nature.com) Reproduced in AgBioView with permission of
Defying the expectations of scientists monitoring transgenic crops such as
corn and cotton that produce insecticidal proteins derived from
Bacillusthuringiensis (Bt), target insect pests have developed little or
no resistance to Bt crops thus far, according to US Department of
Agriculture–funded scientists. These findings suggest that transgenic Bt
crops could enjoy more extended, more profitable commercial life cycles
and that the measures established to mitigate resistance before the crops
were introduced are paying off.
The diamondback moth is the only pest to have evolved resistance to Bt
sprays used by organic growers, but no pest has evolved resistance to
transgenic Bt crops in the field.
"If I'd gotten up seven years ago and said that there would be no evidence
of increased Bt resistance after Bt crops were planted on 62 million
hectares [cumulative and worldwide], I would have been hooted off the
stage," says entomologist Bruce Tabashnik of the University of Arizona
(Tucson, AZ, USA), whose research group recently completed a survey of
this phenomenon in collaboration with scientists from Cornell University
(Geneva, NY, USA). "No one predicted that there wouldn't even be a minor
increase, which is extraordinary."
Nor has Monsanto (St. Louis, MO, USA) seen any signs of resistance to
transgenic Bt crops, despite widespread use in a number of countries.
Graham Head, who is responsible for global coordination of insect
resistance management at Monsanto, agrees with Tabashnik's explanation of
these findings: "the use of refuges to manage resistance that tends to be
recessive and have fitness costs is a highly effective means of delaying
resistance," says Head.
Bt transgenic corn entered the commercial arena in 1996 amid extensive,
sometimes contentious deliberations over steps needed to avoid or at least
retard what some scientists considered the inevitable development by
target insects of resistance to these insecticidal proteins, which are
encoded in genes carried by soil-dwelling bacteria. Officials at the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; Washington, DC, USA), working
closely with researchers from universities and industry, specified
measures for this purpose.
The primary resistance-preventive measure that farmers who plant
transgenic Bt crops are required to take is to set aside some acreage (see
p. 1003) as refuges on which they grow varieties of the same crop devoid
of Bt. Carefully developed population genetics models indicated that such
Bt-free refuges would permit susceptible insects to survive and swamp out
resistant variants that might emerge from the pest population feeding on
Bt plants in nearby fields.
Although Bt plantings were modest at first, farmers in several countries
enthusiastically adopted this technology and now plant about 10–15 million
hectares of Bt corn and cotton annually, mainly in the United States,
Argentina, Australia and China. Bt potatoes were once grown commercially
on a smaller scale, while Bt canola and broccoli are being grown in labs
and greenhouses to evaluate Bt-resistant insect pests.
Bt resistance is not merely a theoretical concept, according to Tabashnik
and other researchers. For example, Bt-resistant mutants of the European
corn borer are readily identified in the lab, says Tabashnik. Similarly,
Kongming Wu at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences (Beijing,
China) and his collaborators find that isolates of Helicoverpa armigera, a
bollworm that feeds on several crops, including cotton, corn, and peanuts,
in the Yellow River Valley in China developed measurable resistance to Bt
following multiple generations of exposure to Bt toxin in the laboratory.
Nonetheless, based on field monitoring during the past five growing
seasons (through 2002), Wu found no discernible increase in the resistance
of this bollworm to Bt-cotton being grown commercially, and the frequency
of resistance alleles in field populations is still low.
The absence of Bt resistance "does not seem surprising to me," says Gary
Fitt, who is Strategy Director of CSIRO Entomology (Narrabri, Australia).
Australians began growing Bt cotton in 1996, beginning with about 10% of
the total cotton crop of about 500,000 hectares and now plant at an
agreed-on cap of 30%, or about 180,000 hectares. "The cap was an
additional level of conservatism above our resistance management
strategy," he says. "The strategy includes refuges, [a] planting window,
mandatory crop residue destruction, management of volunteer plants and
thresholds for pest management."
This same pattern of little or no Bt resistance holds true for Bt corn and
Bt cotton grown elsewhere, including the United States, despite occasional
unverified reports to the contrary, Tabashnik says. "More than 500 species
of insect have evolved resistance to one or more conventional
insecticides. So far, the track record for Bt is better. In the field,
only one pest, the diamondback moth, has evolved resistance to Bt sprays,
and none has evolved resistance to Bt crops. Despite this success, the
incredible adaptive ability of insects means that resistance remains a
"The main question is whether we don't see resistance because the EPA has
instituted the high-dose, refuge approach or whether we never needed a
resistance management approach in the first place," says Fred Gould of
North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC, USA), who also is studying
Bt resistance in the US and with Wu in China. "This is a tough question to
Truth About Trade and Technology
- Tim Burrack, AgWeb.com, August 29, 2003
My parents, as farmers, weren't unhappy with their horses when they bought
their first tractor. They just knew the time had come to replace draft
animals with the latest technology.
I had a similar experience a few years ago when biotech soybeans came onto
the market. Before they arrived, I can't tell you how many hot summer days
I spent hand-pulling weeds in my bean fields. We used to hire as many kids
as we could get our hands on and spend whole summers protecting our crops.
Some people considered it back-breaking labor. For me, though, it was
knee-wrecking. At the age of 33, I was considering knee-replacement
surgery because my young bones couldn't put up with the grinding work.
Then biotech soybeans came along and saved my health-eliminating the need
to "walk the beans" as we soybean farmers call it.
That's why I want to say "thank you" to the people of Hawaii for their
vital role in agricultural biotechnology, which is making a huge impact on
the lives of mainland farmers.
I read the newspapers and know that biotechnology is under assault in
Hawaii. Just the other day I learned of a lawsuit filed against the state
government by anti-science activists whose ultimate goal is to kick
biotechnology off the islands.
This is incredibly shortsighted, because biotechnology is a fundamental
part of our future--in Hawaii and everywhere. What's more, Hawaii's unique
climate allows for outstanding kinds of corn and soybean seed research -
with state and federal oversight - that can't occur anywhere else in the
United States. As a result, agricultural biotechnology has become a
significant sector of the Hawaiian economy, which needs to rely on more
than just tourism dollars if it's going to thrive.
A lot of Hawaiians already know this, and I trust that Hawaiian farmers
will continue to remind their neighbors how important biotechnology is to
them--a classic case of doing well by doing good. Even here in Iowa, we've
heard the story of how biotechnology saved Hawaii's papaya industry from a
terrible bout with the deadly ringspot virus a few years back.
I hope Hawaiians also appreciate how much their fellow Americans depend on
them as well.
Just as my parents were grateful for the engineers who designed the first
affordable tractors and the assembly-line workers who built them, I feel a
deep sense of debt to the Hawaiian public for letting biotechnology
thrive. I could go on about my "now good" knees, but that isn't really the
point. Because of biotech crops, farmers everywhere are seeing their
yields go up and their lifestyles improving, having more time to spend
with families and much less time in the fields. That's good for everybody.
The environment is another beneficiary. By making agriculture more
productive, we're able to keep more open spaces and conserve more soil. In
the developing world, governments face intense pressure to feed growing
populations by converting rainforests into cropland. Biotechnology allows
existing fields to produce greater amounts of food. Indeed, agricultural
biotechnology is on its way to becoming a cornerstone of conservation
strategy in the 21st century.
The next generation of biotech crops will be about more than yields, weed
and pest control, and the environment--it will be about human health.
Cutting-edge researchers are now looking at crops that can help us live
longer and healthier by lowering our cholesterol and keeping our hearts in
good shape. It sounds like science fiction, but soon it will be science
fact - and Hawaii is playing a major role.
There's a lot of hysterical rhetoric in Hawaii about the supposed menace
of genetically modified crops. The people making these arguments are
exactly wrong, because there's never been any evidence anywhere showing
that biotech crops are bad for anybody. They are deceiving people and
instilling unnecessary fear.
I don't mean to sound like a guy in a white lab jacket. I'm an ordinary
farmer in Iowa. What I can say from direct personal experience is that
biotechnology has improved my life as a farmer and an American. The future
is even more promising. I know that Hawaii is playing an important part in
all of this, and I hope the sensible people of Hawaii will keep it that
For now, however, I'd just like to say one thing: Thank you Hawaii.
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.
The African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum
ABSF is a not-for-profit, non political and non sectarian providing a
platform for sharing, debating and understanding all issues pertaining to
biotechnology in agriculture, health, industry and environment.
ABSF represents all stakeholders in biotechnology in Africa currently with
individual members in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa,
Ghana and Nigeria; small and medium sized enterprises involved in
research, development, testing and commercialization of biotechnology
forums in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Ghana.
Through its membership and linkages, ABSF is the window and voice of
millions of biotechnology stakeholders in Africa representing farmers,
scientists, consumers, politicians and government bodies.
Biotechnology is a key asset for Africa in the 21st Century.
Agricultural, medical and environmental biotechnology offer Africa
formidable tools to address food insecurity, disease, environmental
polution and poverty. ABSF's mission is to create an innovative and
enabling biotechnology environment in Africa through education, enhanced
understanding and awareness creation on all aspects of Biotechnology,
Biosafety and intellectual Property rights.
ISB News Report, September 2003
* USDA to Require Permits for All Industrial Biotech Plants
* Assessing the Risks of Transgene Escape: A Case Study in Sunflowers
* A Short Route to Gene Discovery in Trees: Control of Stature through
* Production of Human Serum Albumin in Transgenic Crops Without
Interfering with Food or Feed Production
* Six Bills to Treat GM Ills
Against LEGO Biology
- Reviewed by Paul B Thompson, Nature Biotechnology, Sept 2003 Vol. 21
No0. 9 pp 987-988 (www.nature.com); Reproduced in AgBioView with
permission of the editor.
"Science, Seeds and Cyborgs: Biotechnology and the Appropriation of Life
by Finn Bowring; Verso, 2003; 338 pp. hardcover, $27; ISBN 1-85984-687-4"
In Science, Seeds and Cyborgs, author Finn Bowring gives us a polemic
against many possible uses of molecular reproduction, including genetic
engineering of plants and animals, cloning of animals and humans and the
use of genetic testing for an array of screening purposes. The range of
issues covered is so extensive that discussion of each specific topic is
often at best a proposal for an argument or a gesture to existing
literature, rather than a critique with enough detail to warrant
evaluation or response. Although seeds are mentioned prominently in the
title, for example, the book devotes only 26 pages to plant biotechnology,
and attempts to cover allergenic risks, use of antibiotic markers,
invasiveness, nontarget organisms, introgression, farmer dependence on
chemicals and methodological issues in ecological risk assessment in those
Bowring's handling of these issues is rife with problems. He describes
gene transfer among prokaryotes as if the same mechanisms apply to plants.
He ignores empirical evidence about herbicide and pesticide use on
transgenic crops. He fails to consider any of the risks associated with
transgenic crops in comparison with risks from conventional agricultural
methods. This list could go on, and the book will infuriate readers
knowledgeable about the details of virtually any of the single issues
Bowring takes up.
The importance of the book, however, does not lie in the details but in
Bowring's claim that dozens of moral and social problems arise in
connection with a philosophical failing in the mind-set of contemporary
biologists. This view is becoming increasingly influential among critics
of biotechnology, and it explains not only why they are often careless in
mounting the details of a specific argument on a single topic (such as
food safety or ecological risk), but also why they fail to be impressed by
painstaking scientific rebuttals to arguments on an issue-by-issue basis.
The name typically given to this alleged failing is reductionism, and
Bowring's discussion of it is as thorough as any I have seen.
Reductionism turns out to mean several things. The book closes with some
of its most persuasive chapters discussing how key public issues have
become defined in ways that ignore and marginalize important ethical and
human dimensions. Human reproduction has been reduced to a physiological
and anatomical process that neglects the role of reciprocity and asymmetry
of parent and child as a fundamental part of identity formation and
personality development. Genetic information has been reduced to a
commodity that is at the center of a struggle for control in issues such
as screening for employment and insurance. Scientists have excused
themselves from any responsibility to even know much about such issues,
much less to see that appropriate policy responses are made, because they
reduce their own professional identity to lab activities that exclude the
social context in which science is conducted, financed and applied.
All of these reductions are part and parcel of a reductive view of
recombinant DNA itself, which, according to Bowring, is summarized in
Francis Crick's characterization of the 'central dogma' of molecular
genetics: one gene, one function. Like other critics, Bowring uses the
metaphor of a genetic LEGO set, where a piece from one organism can be
inserted neatly into any other without fear of unintended consequences. A
number of pages in the first half of the book cite biological
counterexamples to this reductive view, including methylation and genetic
imprinting. A novice reader of Science, Seeds and Cyborgs might well
conclude that today's biotechnologists are clinging to a rejected view of
DNA sequences as atomistic controllers of discrete life processes that can
be added or subtracted without any potential for systematic or synergistic
effects in organic function at either the genome or organism level.
There are two fundamental problems with the reductionism thesis. First,
the biological discoveries that Bowring cites as refuting reductionism
have actually been made by molecular biologists conducting mainstream
research. It may have been that in 1983 or even 1993 there were biologists
out there who thought of the genome as a tiny LEGO set, but the very line
of research that Bowring is out to undermine has pretty much obliterated
that mindset in 2003. Contemporary biologists are not, as a rule,
reductionists in this sense. Second, even if biologists were ignoring the
systemic interactions of genes with one another and with the broader
environment, it is difficult to see how this type of reductionism is
logically related to the kind of reductionism that is really Bowring's
main concern, namely the tendency to see the socio-cultural implications
of genetics as of no concern to the practicing scientist.
The reductionism critique thus turns upon (i) an outdated view of the
working paradigm for molecular genetics, and (ii) a persistent
equivocation on the word 'reductionism.' Reductionism means many things in
Science, Seeds and Cyborgs, some of which are important, but Bowring
writes as if it were just one thing, one single source of philosophical
error that permeates the character of the scientific mind. Ironically,
this is itself an exceedingly naive type of essentialism, as if all the
complex and important issues noted in the book could be resolved by
casting the ring of power back into the fires of Mordor.
There are two reasons why scientists should read Science, Seeds and
Cyborgs in spite of this review. First, the reductionism critique is
gaining influence among academics in social science, philosophy,
communications, history and literature, including many who teach
undergraduates and participate in environmental studies programs, as well
as among educated laypersons. It is important to produce a rebuttal that
can articulate the emerging paradigm of systematic biology in a manner
that this audience can understand. Such a statement would not only counter
misplaced resistance to applications of recombinant DNA, but could be a
positive force in countering the images of genetic determinism that
continue to shape public opinion.
Second, I agree with part of Bowring's thesis. The biologists who unleash
the means for problems such as genetic discrimination or the
medicalization of genetic traits (e.g., stature or intellect) have a
responsibility to be at least informed about these issues, and arguably to
be actively involved in formulating appropriate responses to them. Without
active, honest and informed participation from scientists, genetic
technologies will be abused and misused in ways that both perpetrate and
perpetuate human misery and injustice. It is my view that the training,
rewards and culture of the life sciences do not adequately reinforce such
involvement, while Bowring seems to trace it back to a philosophical
mistake made by Descartes. In either case, engaging his arguments would be
a good thing to do.
Paul B. Thompson is in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State
University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA. e-mail: email@example.com
EuropaBio Welcomes Commission Decision to Uphold Choice on GM Crops
Brussels, September 2, 2003: Today, the European Commission rejected
Austria's request to exclude GM technology as part of farming practices in
one of Austria's regions. "EuropaBio (1) welcomes the Commission decision
(2) to defend choice for farmers. No one should have the right to deny
farmers access to the full range of tools and technologies to fight pests
and disease in their crops," said Simon Barber, Director of the Plant
Biotechnology Unit of EuropaBio. This is not a safety issue. Approved GM
products have been judged to be safe and have been put through stricter
and more rigorous health and environmental safety tests than their non-GM
counterparts. "Successive reports have repeatedly shown that GM crops
approved to date are good for the environment, safe to eat and good for
The Austrian protection measure aimed to block farmers from using the
newest technology. There is no scientific evidence to support Austria's
attempt to exclude the technology on public health or environmental
grounds. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (4) concluded, in a
published opinion on July 4th, that "there is no new scientific evidence,
in terms of risk to human health and the environment, to justify the
prohibition. Neither did it find any new data that would change the
environmental risk assessment conducted on GMOs that currently hold
marketing consent in the EU. No scientific evidence was presented to
indicate that the area of Austria had unusual or unique ecosystems that
required separate risk assessments from those carried out for Austria as a
whole or for other similar areas of Europe."
All approved farming systems should have a right to exist. Coexistence
between different types of farming practices has been shown to be possible
when practical allowances are agreed for traces of a product resulting
from one farming system found in a product produced by another method, as
is already the case with specialty crops and organic products.
Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century: Rethinking Our Paradigms
- Graham T T Molitor, The Futurist, Sept 1, 2003; Vol.37 Issue 5
'Squabbles over genetically modified food and pork-barrel subsidies for
farmers are just the tip of the iceberg for policy makers grappling with
increasingly complex agricultural problems.'
Rarely do truly giant jumps in the applied sciences occur. When they do,
they drastically alter the entire foundation-the paradigm-on which society
and leaders must base their choices for the future. We are at a point in
history where breakthroughs in life sciences are throwing our old
paradigms into chaos.
Beginning in the 1940s, the Green Revolution dramatically boosted
agricultural productivity and changed the fate and survival of untold
billions of lives. Far surpassing that extraordinary advance in
agricultural productivity is the New Green Revolution based on the surging
momentum of biotechnologies enabling humans to control all forms of life,
including plants and animals. Agricultural biotechnologies-agbiotech-will
boost productivity increases to the point that food output will sate
rapidly growing population needs worldwide.
By tracking economic development over millions of years, we can see
clearly the trend toward doing more with less. Tens of thousands of years
of agricultural pursuits reveal a litany of evolutionary improvements that
increase productivity by enormous measure. Over the millennia, selective
breeding, hybridization, and now genetic modification (GM) changed the
cornucopian farmland output. Ancient ears of corn were diminutive,
measuring about the size of the little finger. Wild tomatoes were once the
size of a grape. Heads of early wild wheat hefted a mere two rows of
kernels, compared with today's varieties boasting six rows.
Genetic engineers are on the verge of converting annual (single growing
season) plants into perennials, which thrive all year long, year after
year. This development would drastically reduce planting regimens and
delays, lower seed costs, and enable farm operators to cull and
concentrate production on plants proven to be the most productive. Biotech
already has altered citrus trees that normally require six years to reach
maturity to yield fruit in a single year.
But even these advances will pale before the overwhelming changes that
agbiotech promises to deliver. Synthetic citrus, for instance, would
eliminate the need for citrus orchards, freeing thousands of acres of land
but at the loss of fragrant orchards of citrus blossoms. Sterile
bioreactors in factories could be directed to produce nothing but the
substance that customers want, without any waste. End products might be
engineered to yield only the most useful and valuable component, such as
orange juice sacs that eliminate the need for roots, trunk, branches,
leaves, rinds, or seeds.
Foods produced in sterile bioreactors may not be aesthetically appealing,
but this scenario is not far removed from current reality: Witness the
giant tankers shipping citrus juices or concentrate for reconstitution and
repackaging at destination points. From the standpoint of actual human
consumption, food production will become increasingly far removed from
billowing fields and blossoming orchards. The new paradigm-nudged by
steadily increasing numbers of people to feed worldwide-must, sooner or
later, take account of these changes.
Agricultural potentials inherent in the biotech revolution are truly
extraordinary. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block asserted
in 1999 that agricultural output in developing nations could be boosted by
25% simply by resorting to agbiotech. Yet that may be an overly
conservative estimate: Technological optimists believe that productivity
for some modified crops could be higher by orders of magnitude in the tens
of thousands compared with the traditional crops they replace.
Biosynthesized sweeteners, although they may not supplant crop-based ones,
possess hundreds to thousands of times the sweetness. A massive switchover
to sweeteners would free up millions of acres and alter millions of jobs
Genetically engineered crops will reach a turning point by 2020 when more
acres will be devoted to GM crops than to "natural" commercial crops. By
the end of this century, some commentators predict, genetically engineered
plants could account for 100% of all crops. That may be overly optimistic,
but over the very long term-certainly long before the year 3000 and
perhaps as early as 2300-I anticipate biotech-enhanced agricultural
production may be so prodigious that "utopian plenty" prevails. Providing
basic essentials-food foremost among them-will become so much a part of
affluent societies that hardly a second thought will be given to assuring
that all people everywhere get enough of the right kinds of foods to
sustain themselves in good health. Government will no longer need to
confer special bounties, subsidies, or financial benefit on food providers
at any level of production along the chain to consumers.
A major obstacle to this Utopian scenario is the current lack of public
acceptance of GM foods. Genetic engineering is unlikely to gain widespread
acceptance worldwide until sometime around 2030-an awfully long time to
wait for the benefits it could bring. Acceptance could be accelerated by
public-policy encouragement, however. Go-slow attitudes toward many new
things waylay their rapid introduction.
Farm Workforce Decline
Agribusiness generally includes food, fiber, fisheries, and forestry.
These pursuits occupied 90% of the entire U.S. workforce during Coloniai
times, but a mere 2%-3% today. That enormous shift in workforce allocation
was the result of innumerable advances, for despite this enormous
reduction of labor, U.S. agriculture produces more food with less land. So
prodigious is current productivity that overall output far exceeds
domestic needs. Farming no longer is a dominant way of life in the United
States or in other post-industrial countries.
By 2010, a minuscule 1% of workers will be directly engaged in
agricultural operations. Despite the small number of workers, productivity
has become so prodigious that as much as 50%-60% of some key U.S. crops
Measures of the workforce and economic productivity are somewhat arbitrary
because they depend on how and what is counted. True, workers directly
engaged as farmers constitute a radically shrunken proportion of overall
U.S. employment. Counts limited to farm workers, however, represent only a
fraction of the industry picture. Within the agribusiness sector overall,
downstream workers involved in getting food to consumers are a huge
Farm employment in 1960 accounted for 6.3 million jobs, dwarfing all of
the combined downstream sectors of agribusiness. Among downstream
activities, food manufacturers dominated, employing 1.8 million workers,
followed by food services (1.7 million), retailers (1.4 million), and
wholesalers (0.8 million).
But the dominance of farm operators waned as the chain of goods and
services provided beyond the farm gate began to grow by leaps and bounds.
By 1980, grocery retail jobs in the United States surpassed those for
manufacturers, and food service providers (an economic sector comprising
leisure, hospitality, recreation, entertainment, and similar undertakings)
employed far more workers than food manufacturers and grocery retailers
combined: 4.5 million for food services, compared with 3.8 million for
food manufacturers and grocery retailers. By 2000, this relative dominance
of job distribution became more pronounced, with 8.1 million workers in
the hospitality sector (eating and drinking places) compared with 1.8
million growing food on farms, 1.5 million in food manufacturing, and 3.0
million in grocery retailing and wholesaling. Obviously, jobs have shifted
away from and far beyond farm gates.
How Big Is Agribusiness?
Most people think of "agribusiness" as just growing and selling crops, but
there is a broader view. Agribusiness embraces a far greater and more
significant part of the U.S. economy than one might expect. Included with
the obvious food processing and manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing,
and food services are things like the manufacturing equipment used for
food processing, printing, and so on. There's also leather products
(gloves, luggage, footwear); textiles, fabrics, and furs; and even
household appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, and microwave ovens,
all embraced in the economic measures of agribusiness. Add in related
consumer goods such as silverware and cooking utensils; fertilizers and a
huge range of agricultural chemicals; household and office furnishings
made from forestry products; upholstery and carpeting made with natural
fibers (jute, cotton, wool, lambskin, furs); alcoholic beverages and
tobacco products (and even illegal drugs); resources such as water and
energy supplies for cooking; and garbage collection and recycling
The grand total of what could be embraced as "agribusiness" is about
30%-35% of GDP. Agriculture is and will be very big business. Yet,
agriculture and manufacturing, which once constituted dominant shares of
jobs and livelihoods, are waning in relative importance in the Knowledge
Food Services Dominate The Leisure Era
The leisure sector will begin to acquire economic dominance in the United
States in 2015, when every American will spend half of his or her lifetime
directly or indirectly engaged in leisure-time pursuits.
By about 2000, American consumers began spending more than 50% of their
food budgets away from home. That proportion will continue to grow. As it
does, the question of controlling commodity prices and farm-level cost of
foodstuffs will be nearly totally eclipsed by the host of value-added
services required to get food to consumers. New governmental controls
might never go so far as to regulate menu prices to lower costs to
consumers. Food policy is likely to focus more on "food chits" and food
stamps, which almost certainly will become a larger and more important
component of social welfare programs. Domestic food assistance programs
will continue to be important until the essential economic needs of every
citizen are met.
Life Science Era: Farmland Importance Wanes
The movement toward a bio tech-dominated agricultural sector will likely
follow several stages. Early forays into agbiotech emphasized enhancing
the agronomic capabilities and potentials of crops, such as the
development of herbicide-resistant crop varieties. Work in this area also
focused on protecting crops against the full array of pathogens and
predators. The next stage was to improve quality, such as extending the
shelf life, improving taste and texture, increasing sweetness, and so on.
Then came a new rash of GM foods that honed in on adding new attributes to
certain dietary staples. Developed nations got "nutraceuticals," foods
that delivered much higher levels of desired nutrients. Poorer nations
focused more on "pharm-foods" that provided vaccines and other
life-enhancing drugs and nutrients. One result of this latest move has
been the melding of farming with drug manufacturing, two business sectors
that previously were separate and distinct. Food producers (from farm gate
to final consumption), pharmaceutical companies, and purveyors of natural
remedies increasingly occupy much the same business terrain.
Extending this trend line further yet into the future, we can speculate
that the food sector may be shaped increasingly by developments in
materials research as well as automation. In the coming Meta-Materials Age
(around 2100-2300), there will be synthesized foods that are customized to
meet the unique food and fiber needs of particular individuals. Food will
not be grown but rather replicated using robotic nanotechnologies that
assemble foodstuffs on demand.
Far into the distant future, a New Space Age (around 2500-3000) may see
agribusiness drawing its needs from extraterrestrial materials and
resources produced on orbiting space stations or on other planets.
Around-the-clock solar radiation, shorter crop-maturation cycles, and
continuous multiple cropping will increase yield potentials at a cost.
These speculations are mentioned here merely to hint at how changing waves
of economic activity will sweep across and alter the character of
agriculture as we know it.
Too Much Food?
American agriculture suffers from a surfeit of riches. The United States
achieved "food security" long ago-taking the term to mean domestic
self-sufficiency, not global sufficiency. The nub of the farm problem is
no longer income-assurance and shoring up a weak economic sector. U.S.
agriculture is an overachiever, creating a land of cornucopian plenty from
fewer and fewer farm operators.
U.S. agricultural exports are big business, totaling $55 billion in 2001.
A majority of the country's largest-volume crops are exported, including
wheat, corn, and soybeans. The United States supplies approximately 50% of
world corn and soybean exports. Overall, about 20% of all U.S.
agricultural commodities were exported in 1999. If the United States
continues sending huge proportions of its output abroad, export markets
must figure prominently in any agricultural paradigm for the future.
The key question for U.S. policy makers is whether taxpayers should assume
this responsibility for sharing agricultural abundance with the less
fortunate, at home and globally. Government hand-outs will constitute a
part of this global income redistribution effort, but the private sector
could also develop commercially viable means to fulfill these humanitarian
goals. If world starvation and hunger are ever to be solved, economic
development policies and programs in the less-developed nations are
imperative. Economic wherewithal, not continuing handouts, provide the
long range and permanent solutions to world hunger.
Demographic Issues: Population Growth, Development
Population assumptions exert an enormous influence upon estimates of
future food-supply needs. Currently, demographers assume population growth
will level off (zero growth) or even experience negative rates (population
declines) in developed nations. Theoretically, this would relieve the
pressure to meet continuously escalating food needs. On the other hand, we
could see dramatic and continuing population growth aided by life-science
advances that increase longevity. This would continue to exert pressure on
food supply, some analysts fear. Offsetting the pessimists are
cornucopians, the prophets of plenty, who count on agbiotech to boost food
output to previously unimaginable levels.
Another demographic issue to weigh is that increasing affluence tends to
encourage diet upgrading-that is, eating more animal proteins. This choice
has economic, environmental, and health implications that all must be
considered by policy makers. Meat production requires high inputs of
grain; for example, eight to 20 pounds of grain may be required for every
pound of beef produced. Even one gallon of milk requires 2.8 pounds of
grain feed. Growing populations of people gaining more affluence and
demanding these grain-intensive foods will mean a need for ever-higher
levels of grain production. If population doubles and more people move up
the food ladder, crop output may have to do much more than merely double.
Resource Issues: Water and Land
As an environmental, nutritional, agricultural, and political issue, water
will dominate policy makers' agendas for decades to come. Some doomsayers
anticipate that full-fledged wars will be fought over water rights in the
near future. Tax breaks or other incentives could encourage
water-conserving innovations, such as drip irrigation, as well as R&D for
genetic modification to produce more drought-resistant plants.
Conflicts between sprawling urban areas and their adjacent hinterlands
have led to policies such as the creation of agricultural preserves of
various sorts, in which governments purchase land or create zoning
arrangements to reduce land-development density. As high-speed transport
systems enable longer commutes, populations will spread out even more
geographically. Land dedicated to farm use will wane. But land-based
policy may become an anachronism as technological advances continue to
allow farmers to grow more with less land and labor. Land-use
policies-including favorable tax treatment, subsidized loans, and so
on-will become less and less important.
Farming Off the Land: Fisheries and the Blue Revolution
The Blue Revolution of mariculture-farming of marine crops and