Today in AgBioView: September 4, 2003:
* Breeding to Tackle Blight Without Copper or GM
* EU White Paper on the Precautionary Principle
* Canberra Steps Up GM Role
* Greenpeace/FOE report on GM corn in Spain
* Drought-tolerant Crops: Preparing to Survive a Heat Wave
* Gene Flow: What Does It Mean for Biodiversity and Centers of Origin
* Genetically Engineering Blue
* AG. BIOTECH: An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Dept of State - Sept.
* Is Small Still Beautiful?
* Why The WTO Fails The World's Poor
* A New Road to Serfdom?
Breeding to Tackle Blight Without Copper or GM
- James M. Duncan, Nature 425, 15; September 4, 2003 (sent by Shane
Sir * Your well-aimed Editorial "Diversity in food technology" (Nature
424, 473; 2003), attacking self-damaging dogmas within the organic
movement regarding the coexistence of 'organic' and conventional farming,
cites the example of late potato blight caused by Phytophthora infestans
and its control in organic farming by copper-based fungicides. Most potato
cultivars (ancient and modern) could not be grown without some fungicide
protection in either organic or conventional farming systems, although it
is to be hoped that this will change. As things stand, between seven and
twenty fungicide applications are made in a season to prevent crops from
being destroyed by this devastating disease.
The use of copper compounds was scheduled to be prohibited across the
European Union (EU) from March last year, but limited use has been
permitted until 2006 in response to the needs of producers, mainly
organic. The question is: why, under organic farming rules, are copper
fungicides still allowed on potatoes, while much more modern,
well-researched and safer fungicides are prohibited?
Copper-based fungicides are less effective against late blight and more
toxic to non-target organisms than any of the more modern classes of
anti-late-blight fungicide. They are also persistent in and damaging to
the environment, for example in soil. Extensive lobbying has gained
organic producers the EU derogation for copper compounds, at a time when
many other agrochemicals are being removed from the list of pesticides
approved for use under the United Kingdom's Control of Pesticides
One can only surmise that copper is still supported by the organic
movement because a copper-containing fungicide ('Bordeaux' mixture,
invented by Pierre Millardet in France in 1882 for control of downy mildew
on vines) is by far the oldest fungicide in regular use. It predates the
organic movement by many years and is presumably venerated because it is
'traditional'. But is tradition a good enough reason to continue using
copper? Who is being truly organic and who conventional in defending this
discredited nineteenth-century farming practice?
Although genetic modification (GM) technology has not provided a permanent
answer to the worldwide scourge of late blight, it seems feasible that it
may, given the intense research being undertaken around the world into the
basic biology of the pathogen, the host and their interaction. Moreover,
it is possible that such resistance will be based not on transgenes but on
manipulation of existing potato genes.
That said, there is still much to be done before that goal is reached and,
contrary to the suggestion in your Editorial, much mileage in conventional
breeding for high levels of late-blight resistance. The failure of earlier
cultivars bred for high resistance to late blight was mainly due to the
resistance being based on genes (R-genes) that provided resistance only to
some strains of the pathogen. Resistance soon broke down when new strains
arose through mutation or migration from elsewhere.
From the early 1960s, breeders have concentrated on sources of resistance
that are not race-specific. Some of the genes involved have been mapped,
and the nature and level of resistance that they contribute suggest that
the resistance they confer will not break down rapidly. Some commercial
varieties have high levels of late-blight resistance that has not yet
broken down after years in cultivation, although there is no guarantee of
immutability in biology.
It is perhaps ironic that one very recent variety, Lady Balfour, with a
high level of late-blight resistance, has received an enthusiastic
welcome, particularly from organic growers. Lady Balfour was of course one
of the founders of the organic movement in the early twentieth century.
- James M. Duncan, Host-Parasite Co-evolution Programme, Scottish Crop
Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, UK
EU White Paper on the Precautionary Principle
- Andrew Apel
The EU white paper on the precautionary principle can be found at
An EU press release regarding the issuance of the white paper can be
found at http://www.foodlaw.rdg.ac.uk/eu/doc-17.htm
Canberra Steps Up GM Role
- The Weekly Times Sept 3, 2003 (Sent by Rick Roush)
The federal Agriculture Department has flagged a more active role in
helping farmers take advantage of genetically modified crops.
Parliamentary agriculture secretary Senator Judith Troeth has launched a
biotechnology strategy to help rural industries use GM technologies in
food and fibre production.
"Australia needs to continue focusing on innovation if we are to remain at
the forefront of world agricultural production," Senator Troeth said. "If
you consider the intense competition on world markets and the price
pressures on Australian farmers, missing out on the latest advance in the
science of plant breeding and genetics, for example, may cost Australian
agriculture dearly. "
Under the strategy, the department will:
* Encourage R&D activity and innovative applications of GM technology.
* Provide accurate and balanced information on scientific, marketing and
ethical issues to help with decision-making.
* Make sure regulatory bodies work in the national interest and account
for community needs.
* Maintain effective quarantine services to protect Australia's
* Support the grain industry's development of segregated supply chains,
identity preservation, quality assurance and testing processes.
* Work with Australia's trading partners and in world trade forums to
remove unjustified barriers to GM produce.
"The strategy sets out what the department needs to do to capture the
benefits of biotechnology for the Australian community, while safeguarding
human health and the environment," Senator Troeth said.
The move comes amid controversy over GM crops in Australia following the
recent approval of Bayer CropScience's GM canola for commercial release --
the first GM food crop to get the go-ahead.
Another application by Monsanto is under consideration by the Gene
Technology Regulator and a decision is imminent.
Farmers remain divided on GM crops, with many still concerned about
possible environmental and marketing risks and a lack of adequate
information on costs and benefits.
Four state governments, including Victoria, have reacted by imposing a
moratorium on the commercial planting of GM canola until there is more
certainty about the impact.
Greenpeace/FOE report on GM corn in Spain
- Graham Brookes, email@example.com, Brookes West, Canterbury,
This recent report makes claims about the impact of using GM maize in
Spain, some of which differ from the findings of the report 'The farm
level impact of using Bt maize in Spain' (2002) by Graham Brookes.
Interested parties should note that the Greenpeace/FOE report does not
accurately reflect mainstream commercial experience of using Bt maize by
The primary 'claim' in the report about the impact of using Bt technology
on maize yields is that 'there are no clear advantages of using Bt maize'
and that 'some other non GM varieties give better yields'. Although both
of these statements are correct, within clearly defined and specific
circumstances, neither statement is representative of the experiences of
the majority of Bt maize farmers in Spain:
*The Greenpeace/FOE report evidence cited is based on small-scale crop
trial data only, from one location in the region of Navarra. It does not
include commercial farmers and does not consider data from a number of
regions. The area planted to maize in Navarra is also very small relative
to mainstream production regions (it accounts for about 3%-4% of the total
Spanish maize area);
* The location where the Navarra trials data is taken from generally
suffers low incidence and frequency of corn borer problems. Therefore it
is not surprising that Bt crops trialed with conventional crops did not
offer a clear yield advantage. This variability in impact of Bt
technology was documented in the Brookes report, which highlighted a clear
link between Bt’s impact on yield and the level of corn borer problems
suffered by individual farmers;
* It is possible for conventional maize varieties to deliver higher yields
than the Bt variety used in trials because many different factors
determine yield in a particular variety. These include the ability of the
variety to adapt to the local growing conditions, moisture and temperature
levels, soil conditions and use of inputs like fertilisers and crop
protection products. The presence, or absence, of the genetic
modification for insect control is only one factor of influence.
Evidence presented in the Brookes report was based on real, farm level
data over a four year period (data from the equivalent of about 500 farms
who plant about 15,000 hectares of maize, of which about 3,000-4,000
hectares were Bt maize). It included farms in locations with high and low
levels of corn borer problems and highlighted that the damage that corn
borer can cause to yield varies by location, year, climatic factors,
timing of planting, whether insecticides are used or not and timing of
insecticide applications. Hence the positive impact on yields of planting
Bt maize varies.
In regions where high infestation levels are commonplace the benefit is an
average 10% yield improvement where insecticide treatments were previously
used and, 15% where insecticide treatments were not previously used.
Other research across a number of Spanish regions put the average yield
improvement at an average of 6.3% (within a range of 2.9% to 12.9%) whilst
in some areas of low/medium pest attack the average yield improvement over
the last four years has been about 1%.
Overall, the farm level evidence available shows that the use of Bt maize
meets the needs of, and provides benefits to, farmers in regions that
suffer high/medium levels of corn borer infestation.
Drought-tolerant Crops: Preparing to Survive a Heat Wave
- Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com, September 3, 2003
A record-breaking heat wave has killed more than 11,000 people in France,
according to an announcement from President Chirac's government last week.
This is an astonishing human tragedy, and the French are working hard to
figure out how this could happen.
Almost nothing in the world of agriculture can compare to such a disaster,
of course. But the excessive temperatures have hurt farmers, too. Heat's
handmaiden is drought--and farmers across southern Europe are already
dealing with large crop failures. Corn and sugar beet production in Italy
is down by a quarter and wheat yields have dropped by a third in Portugal.
We're experiencing a drought in the West and Midwest this year, though it
doesn't appear to be as bad as the one in Europe. One day, farmers may be
better equipped to fight back--thanks to biotechnology. Some of the
world's most talented scientists and researchers are hard at work trying
to create drought-tolerant plants. They could hardly devote themselves to
a more important project. Around the globe, the effect of drought is the
leading cause of hunger. Farmers already feed the world. With the help of
science, we can feed even more of it.
Nothing grows without water, of course, and there probably won't ever be a
crop that flourishes in the Sahara Desert. But biotechnology may lead to
stronger plants that can survive longer periods with little or no water.
--In Texas, USDA researchers have identified the genes that help a type of
grass from South Africa and a type of moss native to the High Plains of
the United States to survive extended dryness. They're hoping to take what
they learn from these two plants and develop drought-tolerant cotton.
--Professors at Colorado State University are studying both domestic and
wild wheat varieties from around the world. They are trying to track down
the genes in winter wheat that help some plants do better in drought
situations than others.
--Scientists at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas are working with a
National Science Foundation grant to study drought tolerance and apply
what they learn to commercial crops.
The fundamental challenge is to take crops we use now and make them
better. In the really old days, nature transferred the genes. It was
called "survival of the fittest" and it took hundreds of years. In the old
days, our ancestors did this through crossbreeding, and it took years and
years. Today, we can accomplish the same thing in weeks through gene
Much of America's corn, cotton, and soybeans are now genetically modified
to make them more resistant to pests. In the future, these and other
crops--most notably wheat--may have scientifically-enhanced DNA so they
can get through a longer stretch without moisture and not be much the
worse for wear. Some experts believe these drought-tolerant plants will be
available for commercial use within the next decade. That's not soon
enough for farmers suffering from drought today. They could use the help
right now. But even if this technology were available at this very moment,
farmers in Europe wouldn't have access to it.
The EU has not approved any new biotech plants in five years.
Unfortunately, Europe's loss isn't our gain. American farmers need to be
able to sell what they grow around the world. That's why the United States
(along with some other countries) filed a complaint with the World Trade
Organization earlier this year against the EU.
The bottom line is - we have a big stake in whether Europe accepts these
new technologies. Even if they don't, the technologies will come anyway. I
believe some European farmers may adopt them, because they're so
helpful--but they'll do it on the sly. As I've said before, the biotech
genie is out of the bottle and nothing can stuff it back in.
Yet these amazing advances won't come as fast as they could if markets
aren't open. Investors have to wonder whether protectionism will prevent
them from recouping their huge R&D costs.
I don't know when the science and technology will be ready so farmers
around the world can take advantage of these new drought-tolerant crops.
But, can we at least agree to the simple proposition that they should be
permitted to grow them when they are. After all, more heat and drought is
always on the way.
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.
Gene Flow: What Does It Mean for Biodiversity and Centers of Origin
- September 29-30, 2003, Hotel Fiesta Americana Reforma, Mexico City,
This month in Mexico City, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
(PIFB) and the U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC) will bring
together experts from science, industry, government, academia, and media
to discuss the key questions surrounding transgenic gene flow and
biodiversity in centers of origin.
In the past year many scientific, cultural, ethical and economic questions
have been raised about the genetic diversity of maize, a species native to
Mexico, as well as the introduction of genetically modified plants to
centers of origin. Today, many of those questions persist including:
* What is the real impact of transgenic material in centers of origin?
* How does the impact of transgenic material in centers of origin differ
from that of conventional maize?
* How are the scientific questions raised by this development different
from the political, economic, social concerns?
* How might this debate impact the future application of these
People who are interested in attending this conference can do so at
www.maizegeneflow.org or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Genetically Engineering Blue
- AgBiotech Bulletin, Sept 2003, Vol.11, Issue 8 (Ag-West Biotech Inc.)
Applications for agricultural biotechnology extend beyond the production
of field crops and medicines. Biotechnology also plays an important role
in the floriculture and ornamental markets.
Plant tissue culture has been used extensively in the floriculture and
ornamental plant industry for the rapid introduction of new cultivars,
year round production, and the production of vigorous high quality plants
that are free of disease. But what can be done when a plant does not have
the desired characteristic?
Genetic modification is being used to introduce characteristics into
flowers that conventional breeding not been able to achieve. For example,
of the five leading cut flower species- rose, gerbera, lily,
chrysanthemums, and carnation - none are easy to breed for blue flowers.
It is unusual to find the full spectrum of colors within a single flower
species and these species lack the delphinidin-derived pigments found in
most blue flowers.
Florigene, an Australian molecular breeding company, has achieved
breakthroughs in flower color and longevity through genetic engineering.
The company's original mission was to create the world's first 'blue
rose'. In 1991, Florigene scientists isolated the Blue Gene from the
petunia flower and in 1994 succeeded in implanting it into carnations
generating the first carnations to express color in the blue spectrum.
This flower had a light mauve color and was called Moondust TM. This was
the first genetically modified flower to gain regulatory approval and be
commercially sold anywhere in the world. Florigene now has carnations in
colors ranging from lavender to purple and one, the Moonvista TM, is a
very dark, almost black, blue-purple.
In addition to their Blue Gene Technology, Florigene has also developed
Long Vase Life (LVL) Gene Technology. Premature inrolling, what most call
wilting, of the petals is a serious problem for carnations and can begin
just a few days after cutting. Wilting occurs due to the plant's
production of ethylene ? a natural plant hormone that triggers the aging
process and leads to petal wilting. To slow this process and provide
customers will longer lasting flowers, growers often chemically treat
carnations with a solution of silver thiosulfate or similar chemicals.
These chemicals eliminate the plant's sensitivity to ethylene and thereby
slow down wilting.
Florigene scientists have been able to extend the vase life of carnations
while avoiding the use of chemicals. The LVL technology achieves the same
result by suppressing or 'turning off' the particular gene responsible for
producing ethylene, the ACS gene. Carnations incorporating this technology
are close to market and will be available in the near future. Florigene is
not the only group using biotechnology to develop colors in flowers.
The first application of modern biotechnology in flowers was the creation
of an orange petunia developed by introducing a pigment-producing gene
from corn. Another example, eustomas, very similar to roses in appearance,
are being bioengineered by a group in New Zealand to be redder and become
a less-expensive alternative to roses. Eustomas have been created in sky
blue, but the red remain a better seller. In addition, eustomas can be cut
and shipped dry, reducing distribution costs.
Source: Genetic research leads to colorful results, but no blue rose, Seed
World, January 2003, http://www.seedworld.com/LM.CFM/sw010301
AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY: An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department
Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2003
Full text of articles at http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/journals.htm
Welcome by Ann M. Veneman
Science and technology helped revolutionize agriculture in the 20th
century in many parts of the world. This issue of Economic Perspectives
highlights how advances in biotechnology can be adapted to benefit the
world in the 21st century, particularly developing countries.
Increasing yield potential and desirable traits in plant and animal food
products has long been a goal of agricultural science. That is still the
goal of agricultural biotechnology, which can be an important tool in
reducing hunger and feeding the planet's expanding and longer-living
population, while reducing the adverse environmental effects of farming
In a supportive policy and regulatory environment, biotechnology has
enormous potential to create crops that resist extreme weather, diseases
and pests; require fewer chemicals; and are more nutritious for the humans
and livestock that consume them. But there is also controversy surrounding
this new technology. The journal addresses the controversies head on and
provides sound scientific reasoning for the use of this technology.
In June 2003, agriculture, health and environment ministers from over 110
countries gathered in California and learned first hand how technology,
including biotechnology, can increase productivity and reduce global
hunger. By sharing information on how technology can increase agricultural
productivity, we can help alleviate world hunger.
Contributors to this journal include Under Secretary of State Alan Larson,
Under Secretary of Agriculture J.B. Penn, Deputy Food and Drug
Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford, and Ambassador Tony Hall,
U.S. Representative to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, who
address a broad range of topics from the basic science of biotechnology to
food safety and labeling issues. Their articles are complemented by essays
from an internationally respected group of researchers and academics, a
State Department fact sheet on the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol and
additional resource information.
Ann M. Veneman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
free trade of safe biotech applications and biotech's appropriate use to
promote development, writes Alan Larson, under secretary of state for
economic, business and agricultural affairs. Larson adds that
biotechnology -- one of the most promising new technologies of our times
--is too important for the world to ignore.
AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY AND THE DEVELOPING WORLD
- J. B. Penn, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign
Biotechnology has the potential to play a large role in more rapidly
advancing agricultural productivity in developing countries while
protecting the environment for future generations, writes J.B. Penn, under
secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services at the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
UNDERSTANDING BIOTECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURE
- Lester M. Crawford, Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug
Bioengineering provides distinct advantages over traditional breeding
technologies because the risk of introducing detrimental traits is likely
to be reduced, says Deputy U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Lester
Crawford. He argues that there are no scientific reasons that a product
should include a label indicating that it, or its ingredients, was
produced using bioengineering.
A GREEN FAMINE IN AFRICA?
- Ambassador Tony P. Hall, U.S. Mission to the U.N. Agencies for Food and
Countries facing famine must consider the severe, immediate consequences
of rejecting food aid that may contain biotechnology, writes Tony Hall,
U.S. representative to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture. He says
that there is no justification for countries to avoid food that people in
the United States eat every day and that has undergone rigorous testing.
FACT SHEET: THE CARTAGENA PROTOCOL ON BIOSAFETY
The Biosafety Protocol, which will enter into force on September 11, 2003,
will provide many countries the opportunity to obtain information before
new biotech organisms are imported, according to a new U.S. Department of
State fact sheet. The protocol does not, however, address food safety
issues or require consumer product labeling.
THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY IN WORLD FOOD AID
- Bruce Chassy, Professor of Food Microbiology and Nutritional Sciences
and Executive Associate Director of the Biotechnology Center at the
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Biotechnology has the potential to play a key role in reducing chronic
hunger, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which missed out on the "Green
Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s, says Bruce Chassy, professor and
executive associate director of the Biotechnology Center at the University
of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He urges more public investment in
agricultural research, education and training at the local, national and
THE ROLE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE WORLD'S FOOD SYSTEMS
- A. M. Shelton, Professor of Entomology, Cornell University/New York
State Agricultural Experiment Station
At the molecular level, writes Cornell University Professor A.M. Shelton,
different organisms are quite similar. It is this similarity that allows
the transfer of genes of interest to be moved successfully between
organisms and makes genetic engineering a much more powerful tool than
traditional breeding in improving crop yields and promoting
environmentally friendly production methods.
IMPROVING ANIMAL AGRICULTURE THROUGH BIOTECHNOLOGY
- Terry D. Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition, The
Pennsylvania State University
Livestock feed derived from biotechnology has been shown to increase
production efficiency, decrease animal waste and lower the toxins that can
cause sickness in animals, says Terry D. Etherton, distinguished professor
at The Pennsylvania State University. Genetically modified feed also can
improve water and soil quality by reducing levels of phosphorous and
nitrogen in animal waste.
BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNICATION ECOLOGY
- Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development
and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Much of the debate about agricultural biotechnology is steered by myths
and misinformation and not by science, writes Calestous Juma, professor
and director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The scientific
community, with stronger support from governments, must do more to openly
address science and technology issues with the public, he says.
Download the journal issue at
Is Small Still Beautiful?
- Martin Hodgson, September 3, 2003
Thirty years have passed since the publication of a slim volume of essays
titled Small is Beautiful, which was a key text of the nascent
environmental movement and helped shape modern environmentalism,
development theory and the global justice movement.
The year 1973 was a timely one for radical environmental thinking. The
first United Nations conference on sustainable development had been held
the previous year and soon afterwards Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and
the United Kingdom Green Party were founded. Small is Beautiful rapidly
became a bestseller and its author EF Schumacher was fêted by
international leaders and counterculture activists.
Equal parts economic analysis, spiritual tract and radical manifesto, the
work was bound by a central belief that modern society had lost touch with
basic human needs and values. In the name of profit and technological
progress, Schumacher argued, modern economic policies had created rampant
inefficiency, environmental degradation and dehumanising labour
conditions. "Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of
economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment,
do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom..."
The remedy he proposed -- a holistic approach to human society that
stressed small-scale, localised solutions --flew in the face of economic
orthodoxies of the time. But Western campaigners and governments in the
developing world took up his arguments.
Born in Bonn in 1911, Schumacher emigrated to England in 1936 and in 1950
became economic adviser to the UK National Coal Board. For the next 20
years he worked at the heart of the British economic establishment, but
visits to India and Burma led him to doubt technocratic certainties. He
concluded that the imposition of a Western model of development had
created vast wealth for a few, but left the masses trapped in poverty.
Instead of mass production and mechanisation, industry in the developing
world should be on a "human scale". Cheap, locally developed solutions
would be more effective than imported technologies.
In 1966 Schumacher founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group
Today the group supports hundreds of projects in developing countries,
from donkey plough workshops to micro-hydroelectric schemes. But Small is
Beautiful has never been accepted by mainstream economists who see it as
an impractical model for development. The Oxford economist Wilfred
Beckerman published a riposte to Schumacher titled Small is Stupid.
Local management of resources has become commonplace in mainstream
economics, but localisation and self-sufficiency are not always efficient
or even practical, says Julian Morris, director of the free-market
think-tank the International Policy Network. "Most of the people in the
world who currently don’t have electricity would benefit from having it.
The important thing is to get them electricity in the most efficient and
cost-effective manner and avoid pollution. For that, we’re not talking
about local solutions, but solutions that come from the economies of
scale," he says.
But science and technology have not improved basic living conditions for
much of humanity, argues Cowan Coventry, chief executive of the ITDG.
"Given the dramatic [scientific] advances of the past 40 years, why is it
that the number of people living in poverty continues to increase?"
Schumacher's followers might have failed to take up the wider implications
of Small is Beautiful, says Coventry. "People saw the beauty of local
endeavour, but they never really grappled with the bigger issues of how to
change macro policies."
Meanwhile, the march of trade liberalisation threatens small-scale
manufacture in developing countries, while small-scale agriculture is
swamped by subsidised imports.
Schumacher’s view of mechanisation finds its parallel in today’s debates
over genetically modified crops and nanotechnology.
"Extravagant claims are often made about new technologies and their
benefits for developing countries. We're sceptical about those claims,
especially when they’re made by corporate interests. The big question is,
can new technology bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots?"
It is the same question Schumacher put forward 30 years ago.
Why The WTO Fails The World's Poor
- John Redwood, The Wall Street Journal - Europe, Sep 4, 2003
The protesters who will gather at the World Trade Organization meeting in
Cancun next week have a strong sense of injustice but less of a sense of
what to do about it. They're right that the developing world is far too
poor. The world trading system hasn't done them any favors, and there are
unjustifiable rules and protections that favor the first world. But they
are wrong in thinking that the drive to freer trade is in itself the
problem, or will make the situation worse.
The WTO was born of noble ideals. Emerging from the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade in 1994, the signatories sought to raise living
standards and create full employment among member states. All signatories
saw increasing international trade as the engine of prosperity. They all
recognized the need to protect and preserve the environment. Few of the
protesters would, I am sure, disagree with these aims.
These goals have not been achieved quickly and evenly, and there are still
large imperfections in the way rich countries behave despite being fully
signed up to the WTO. The U.S. has always been ambivalent about
multinational organizations that impose requirements on America. The EU
for its part often follows policies and takes positions that make sense to
its leaders but conflict with the wider aims of the WTO.
The recent trans-Atlantic rows over farm products provide a handy example
of how the needs of the Third World are forgotten. On both sides of the
Atlantic, farm incomes and markets are strongly protected. In the European
Union, fishing and farming are effectively controlled by Brussels.
External tariffs and quotas keep out foreign produce. The EU uniquely
worries about farmers' incomes and gives huge subsidies. No similar
comprehensive combination of subsidy and tariff protects other industries
or sectors. In defending this position, the EU asserts the principle of
tit-for-tat, claiming the U.S. also protects its farmers, which is true if
not to the same extent. The loser, inevitably, turns out to be developing
countries whose economies, unlike those of the U.S. or Europe, are truly
dependent on agriculture. The barriers on cotton exports to the U.S. or
sugar to Europe carry a high price.
The trans-Atlantic feuding over genetically modified food also takes a
steep toll. The EU prevents the introduction of GM products, claiming
greater scientific study or trial are needed to prove they're safe. The
U.S., which pioneered GMs, says the products are patently safe. What's
more, U.S. officials argue, genetically modified crops let farmers produce
more with less as well as cope with poor climate or pests.
The dispute is deeply rooted and the respective governments speak for
strong bodies of opinion among their citizens. Some Europeans see the
technology as a clever device that lets U.S. multinationals to patent
nature and earn a royalty from the poor every time they grow something.
Hence they seek to make it more difficult for the U.S. to export her
grains and seeds, while questioning the morality of GM food for the Third
The only way forward is to offer choice along with clear labeling and
information. If the EU believes organic and traditional farming is better,
then it must export these ideas and offer markets for produce grown in
these ways so the Third World has a chance of prosperity without GM. It is
no good for the EU to rubbish GM produce, while failing to offer market
access to developing countries for non-GM foods. It shouldn't prevent the
U.S. from doing the same by putting trade restrictions on developing
countries that do buy American crops.
Similarly, the unseemly dispute over beef gives an insight into how the
poor can suffer when two giant trading blocs squabble. Europe's hostility
to American beefs stems from the belief that too many hormones are used to
rear American cattle. The U.S. can note the irony of the European
position, considering the BSE ("Mad Cow") and foot-and-mouth outbreaks in
Europe in recent years. With little sympathy or understanding on either
side of the Atlantic, quality information and clear labeling offer the
best hope of agreement that might open markets more, to the benefit of
The beef fight undermines consumer confidence in the EU in imported meat
generally. It makes EU consumers less inclined to buy meat from the
developing world, and gives official in the Union more excuse to erect
non-tariff barriers to trade. While the WTO set out a vision of "a fair
and market-oriented trading system," it's a long way from persuading the
leading members to implement one. Another reason these fine goals are
stymied is the existence of disagreements over "animal welfare." The
Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures tried to prevent member
states from using concerns about human or animal health and safety to
block trade, but the treaty is not always fully implemented. I'm all in
favor of high standards of animal welfare, but this must not be used to
squash the poor.
It is high time the EU and U.S. negotiators realized that people are
starving while they argue fine points and prevaricate over opening
domestic markets. It is an affront to the conscience of the West that EU
negotiators are arguing over who closed which market first rather than
getting on with the task of removing barriers at home to encourage others
to remove them abroad.
Few of us with any conscience are happy with a world where the extremes of
riches and poverty between countries are so great. Nor do we want to go
back to a world where the richer countries dominate the poorer politically
and militarily. Neo-colonialism might raise the national incomes of
developing countries, but would offend our sense that people everywhere
should be free to choose their means of government.
This poses us with a dilemma. What are we to think when the leader of an
African country such as Zimbabwe does grave economic damage to his people?
What should we do when bad governments in developing countries take our
aid money and spend it on weapons or on creature comforts for the powerful
in their societies?
We should understand that free trade in ideas as well as products and
services is the best solvent we can offer to stubborn tyrannies. We should
not give up trying. Unclogging trade arteries provides contacts for
oppositions within badly run states that may offer a domestic solution.
The more we trade, communicate, services and ideas, the more we encourage
healthy opposition and better government. If the west retreats behind its
tariff and non-tariff walls and offers little to the struggling tyranny,
we will have no influence without military action. Strong trade and a
healthy exchange of views is a better way to encourage benign forces in
Obvious faults in some developing countries should not blind us to the
serious justice in demands that the WTO get nearer to its founding goal of
greater employment and prosperity for all through the removal of barriers.
The EU's Common Agricultural Policy is an affront to the conscience of
many of us in Europe who want a fairer world. We should be prepared to
reform it, to open our markets to the developing countries without seeking
some quid pro quo. We owe it to the struggling farmers of Africa to do so.
And the U.S. should open its markets as well.
The moral case is overwhelming. The WTO should be a force for good, not an
obstacle to Third World progress. Free trade is the way to advance liberty
and prosperity at the same time.
Mr. Redwood, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, is author of
"Stars and Strife -- The Coming Conflicts between the USA and the European
A New Road to Serfdom?
- Hans H.J. Labohm, TechCentral Station, September 4, 2003; (Senior
Visiting Fellow, Nederlands Instituut voor Internationale Betrekkingen
Clingendael) Full Story at http://www.techcentralstation.com/090403A.html.
Recently, I was invited by the Ludwig von Mises Institute Europe to
address an audience on what Friedrich von Hayek would have thought about
the enlargement of Europe. I decided to reread his classic, The Road to
Serfdom. Old hat, of course, because since Francis Fukuyama's The End of
History and the Last Man, we know that after the collapse of the Berlin
Wall, capitalist liberal democracies are the end-state of the historical
process. So there is nothing to worry about. Yet, even before finishing
the introduction (by Milton Friedman) and the (three) prefaces of Hayek's
magnum opus, I realised that I was completely wrong. The Road to Serfdom
still contains insights that today are as visionary and relevant as when
they were published for the first time in 1944.
Imagine the Zeitgeist of the thirties and forties! The free market economy
was under siege, because it was believed to generate chaos with its
business cycles and monopoly power. The planned society envisaged under
socialism was supposed to be not only more efficient than capitalism, but
socialism -- with its promise of social justice -- was expected to be
fairer. I-t was considered the wave of the future. Only a reactionary, it
was argued, could resist the inevitable tide of history. In this context
The Road to Serfdom appeared with a seemingly anachronistic message.
But the message was not obsolete. It had a profound impact on the
development of our economies and societies at large. In his recently
published book European Integration, 1950 - 2003, Superstate or New Market
Economy?, the American historian John Gillingham reveals that a few years
before, in 1939, Hayek published an article on a (classical) liberal
project for the integration of Europe. That is why Gillingham ranks Hayek
alongside Jean Monnet and many others as one of the founding fathers of
the new era.
Subsequently, in the seventies, because of the collapse of the Keynesian
paradigm, there was a renewed interest in Hayek's thinking. In that
period, it not only offered a major source of inspiration for political
and economic development in the West -- as it manifested itself, for
instance, in the Reagan/Thatcher revolution -- but also for developments
elsewhere in the world.
In their magnificent book, Commanding Heights, The Battle Between
Government and the Market-place That is Remaking the Modern World (which
reads like a novel), Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw recount the story
of the prominent Chinese economist, Li Yining, who challenged the entire
premise of state control over the economy. Li had begun as a follower of
Oskar Lange, the Polish economist who had advocated market socialism with
a system of state ownership. But during the years of the cultural
revolution, Li thought back on the debates between Hayek and Lange and
concluded that he had come out on the wrong side and that Hayek had been
more correct than Lange. And everybody knows what followed. Similarly,
many leaders in Central and Eastern Europe have found a rich source of
inspiration in the works of Hayek.
So, all in all we can conclude that the battle is over and that the "Road
to Serfdom" will be block-ed forever, can't we? My answer to this question
is that, unfortunately, we cannot.
Regulation: Good, Bad, and Ugly
As far as regulation is concerned, deregulation efforts of the eighties
seem to have reversed gears and degenerated into something what looks like
a new regulation frenzy. But like Sergio Leone in his masterly spaghetti
Western "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," we have to make a clear
distinction between different sorts of regulation. The good regulation is
supportive of free markets. This sort of regulation manifests itself for
instance in the European financial services sector. The bad regulation
stifles markets. This kind of regulation manifests itself if many markets
of goods, especially as regards overzealous safety and environmental
require-ments. And the ugly regulation has a protec-tionist effect. In
agriculture, for instance, the de facto prohibi-tion of the use of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, offers a case in point.
All is all, one can hardly escape the feeling that there is far too much
regulation of the bad and ugly types.
Furthermore, there is the precautionary principle. Who doesn't want to be
better safe than sorry? Yet, there are limits. If pushed to extremes, the
cost of precaution could easily outweigh the benefits. We finance the fire
brigade via our taxes, but not every house has a sprinkler installation.
And at the apogee of the Cold War, there were even people who did not
possess a nuclear shelter in their backyard.
In other words, a risk-free world is unthinkable and there are limits to
the application of the precautionary principle. We believe that some risks
are too small to warrant additional expenditure. If we would spend more on
them, then we will have to forgo the satisfaction of other needs,
including the precautionary measures that will protect us against other
risks that we believe to be more likely. In short, the application of the
precautionary principle should be subject to the same simple cost-benefit
analysis, which we also apply in all other fields of human
But in Europe precaution is running out of control. The most recent
example is REACH, the acronym for Registration, Evaluation and
Authorization of Chemicals. It will impose a new layer of regulation on
the many layers already in existence. It is a proposal that requires
manufacturers and importers to submit information to a central database on
hazard, exposure, and risk on 30,000 new and existing substances that are
produced or imported in yearly quantities exceeding 1 metric ton. It also
covers "downstream" products, which are widely used by consumers and
business of all sorts, that contain these chemicals. Of course, this will
divert resources and attention from new, innovative products, to testing
of chemicals known to be safe in normal use.
More generally, the precautionary principle requires scientific
demonstration of absolute safety when new products or processes are being
introduced. On balance, however, over-cautiousness suppresses scientific
knowledge in favour of political considerations, false beliefs and
irrational fears. Excessive application of the precautionary principle
prevents action until there is complete certainty that it will not produce
any harm. But 100 percent safety can never be guaranteed. The result is
paralysis and stagnation.
So, all in all, I believe that the tendencies that have been covered in
this overview could very well constitute the harbinger of a new "Road to
Follow the Frogs
There's an old folk story that if you throw a frog into boiling water he
will quickly jump out. But if you put a frog into a pan of cold water and
slowly raise the temperature, the gradual warming will make the frog doze
happily. In fact the frog will eventually cook to death, without ever
waking up. Will this be the fate of European citizens in the face of the
hazards of a new "Road to Serfdom"?
It need not be so. Biologists have tested whether the story of the frogs
is true. And they have found out that it isn't. The frogs will jump out
long before the water becomes too hot for them.
What do we make out of all of this? The conclusion is clear: Europeans
should follow the frogs. Europe needs a change.