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November 8, 2003


Moving Society Forward; Supporting Science; Future of GM in Europ


Today's AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org/ November 9, 2003

* Keeping Society Going Forward
* Science Deserves Greater Support
* Deciding the Future of GM Crops in Europe
* Agronomy vs. Ecology
* Review of the Impact of AgBiotech on Biodiversity - Updated
* Biodioversity: The Cost of Corruption
* A Brilliant Career's Rich Harvest
* Agricultural Biotechnology Intellectual Property
* Consumers and the Future of Biotech Foods in the US
* Global Status of Approved GM Plants - Database
* Role of Science in the Information Society
* Q & A with C.S. Prakash
* Could GM Plants Pinpoint Minefields?
* Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death


Keeping Society Going Forward

- Evening Standard (NZ), Nov 6, 2003

Science and scientific curiosity have long driven developing societies.
The lifting of the GE moratorium late last month in this country follows a
long and sometimes agonising journey of inquiry and debate. Nobody can
accuse either scientists or politicians of rushing the issue. It is in the
nature of scientists and others to push boundaries, to look for new
discoveries. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure they do so
properly and responsibly. Nobody can say that this will not happen in New
Zealand now the moratorium on taking a further step down the GE path has
been lifted.

Those unhappy with this course, and that includes perhaps a majority of
New Zealanders, will be watching carefully. The more extreme are
continuing with their din. If the extreme Green dream had prevailed, an
awful lot of scientific curiosity would have been stuffed back into the
test tube, or taken elsewhere. Perhaps fortunately, the first test of the
new environment is already taking place.

The first new application since 2000 for a field trial of a GE crop is
before the Environmental Risk Management Authority. It is to plant onions
modified for tolerance to a herbicide. There is a host of consequent tests
proposed - environmental impact, herbicide tolerance, agronomic
performance, development of cultivars and equivalency to non-GE onions. As
a Federated Farmers' spokesman noted, in backing the application, the
trial would generate valuable information. That's one of the things about
the scientific method - it is, perforce, trial-based.

Another interesting aspect has already emerged, however. It seems there is
something of a gap between people's political opinions and their behaviour
as consumers - that is, people are more price-driven than science-driven
when it comes to the crunch. Most people don't have science degrees but
despite the overwhelming benefits of science, harbour fears or prejudices
about its benefits. They will apparently avoid food which is said to
contain GE ingredients. Until, that is, it comes in cheaper. Then,
suddenly, their "scientific" fears vanish.

This is not to say that science always gets it right, that we know
everything and that precautions are not to be taken. There are quite
possibly sound health reasons for organic food to be consumed by some
people in preference to the non-organic variety, for instance. It just
seems a pity that it has to cost so much more on the supermarket shelf,
despite the absence of all those expensive inputs like pesticides, and so

But is GE to be compared in some way with spraying toxins on a product?
The critics would say it is much more dangerous because GE is a work in
progress which shouldn't yet be let out of the secure realms of the
laboratory. But now we're going to have field trials, they should surely
abide by the decision-making processes of our democratic society. Object,
by all means, for that's their right. But vandalism, and spreading horror
stories in our overseas markets, is utterly repugnant.


Science Deserves Greater Support

- Caroline Davis, Times Higher Education Supplement (UK), Nov. 7, 2003

The power of modern science is growing rapidly, and is set to accelerate
with new knowledge from genetics, computing, nanotechnology and other
fields. These developments improve lives and are vital to economic
success, so the 114 scientists who wrote to the prime minister last week
deserve a hearing if they find the climate for research in Britain too

The new organisation behind the letter, Sense About Science, should follow
up by broadening its appeal. The signatories are almost all biologists and
most of them work in plant science. Their letter was prompted by the
government's retreat from support for genetically modified crops - itself
a consequence of the public's unease about their introduction. They are
right to point to the media's poor understanding of science as a
contributor to the ill-informed debate about the measles, mumps and
rubella vaccination, but wrong to draw the same conclusions about medical
retention of body parts. In this case, public alarm was prompted by errors
made by scientists themselves.

Biologists are also wrong to think that public unease about science is
new. While plant breeders have led innocent lives away from the media
glare, physicists have been exposed to hostility since the development of
nuclear weapons. It is possible - as was the case with nuclear power -
that not all the benefits promised by current developments in the life
sciences will turn out as anticipated.

On the evidence so far, there is little credit for anyone involved in the
GM tale. Scientists imagined that the public, and even the green movement,
would support the technology because of its scope to increase yields and
reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Better public engagement in
advance would have saved much of the disillusionment scientists are now
feeling. Politicians also failed to anticipate the public reaction - an
error perhaps compounded by the enthusiasm of science minister Lord
Sainsbury for GM - and the government is open to accusations of cowardice
as a result. Retailers have seen that the fastest way to increase sales is
by boasting that their shelves are free of GM products, and it is hard to
argue against their logic.

In the long term, the UK needs to spend more on science and to ensure that
it is a good base for research in other ways, for example by doing more to
prevent illegal action against researchers. Governments can do only some
of the things needed to make British research more confident and
successful, and to ensure that top scientists want to come to the UK and
stay here. But Sense About Science is entitled to demand that both their
words and their deeds are more forceful.


Deciding the Future of GM Crops in Europe

- R. P. Freckleton, W. J. Sutherland A. R. Watkinson, Science, Nov. 7,
2003; Vol. 302, No. 5647, pp. 994-996.

Three weeks ago saw the publication in the United Kingdom (UK) of the
widely anticipated Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) of the effects of
genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops on farmland
biodiversity. A moratorium on the licensing of these crops has been in
force pending a review of their likely impacts on health, the economy, and
the environment . This delay has infuriated commercial interests in the
United States (US), where GM crops are widely grown, and has led to
President Bush launching a trade suit against the European Union over its
GM policy.

The FSE is the last of a parallel series of reports compiled to enable the
UK Government to decide whether or not to lift the moratorium on growing
GM crops. The others are (i) an economic evaluation, which concluded that
the economic viability of GM crops was highly dependent on consumer
acceptance. (ii) A science review which concluded that the risks to human
health from current GM crops are minimal, that current GM crops are
unlikely to pose a threat to UK ecosystems, but that the more effective
weed management associated with GMHT crops may reduce farmland
biodiversity. (iii) A public debate involving 675 meetings with 20,000
people, the receipt of 1200 letters and e-mails, 36,557 feedback forms,
and interviews with a stratified random sample of 78 individuals. The
public debate met with an overall negative response, although markedly
less negative for the randomly selected individuals, suggesting bias in
the general feedback, with the views of strong anti-GM campaigners
contributing disproportionately to the debate.

Farm Scale Evaluation
The FSE was designed to test the hypothesis that there is no difference in
biodiversity between GM crops and conventional crops. The study design was
carried out over 3 years in 60 fields across England and Scotland. Fields
were divided into two, one-half were sown with a conventional crop, and
the other with a GM crop. The crops grown were sugar beet (including
fodder beet), maize, and winter and spring oilseed rape (canola) [HN8],
and the biodiversity recorded included the abundance of weeds and
invertebrates. The data were rigorously analyzed, peer-reviewed, and
published in a series of eight papers in the Philosophical Transactions of
the Royal Society of London. The results on autumn-sown canola are
expected to be published next spring.

The primary effects of the use of GMHT crops were, unsurprisingly, on the
numbers and biomass of weeds (see the table). In two of the GMHT crops
(sugar beet and spring canola), there were reductions of 60 to 80% in weed
biomass at the end of the growing season, reflecting increased weed
control in these crops. In contrast, there was an increase of 82% in weed
biomass in GMHT maize compared with the conventional maize crop. The
reason for this is that pre-emergence control of weeds in conventional
maize using the herbicide atrazine is extremely efficient, and the GMHT
system is unable to improve on this.

Summary of the Main Results
* Differences in biodiversity between crops exceed differences between
GMHT and conventional crops.
* Higher early season weed numbers and biomass in all three GMHT crops.
* Higher weed mortality in GMHT sugar beet and canola resulting in lower
late-season biomass and seed rain of weeds in those crops, but lower weed
mortality in GM maize.
* More detritivores (collembola) in all three GMHT crops as a result of
higher weed detritus.
* Lower numbers of bees, butterflies, and Heteroptera in GMHT sugar beet
and canola as a result of reduced weed populations; generally higher
numbers of invertebrates in GM maize.
* Lower herbicide inputs in GMHT crops.

There were also a number of effects on the growth and characteristics of
weeds during crop development. The GMHT crops were not sprayed with a
pre-emergence herbicide, so that initially weed densities were much higher
than in the conventional beet and canola. This effect is frequently cited
as a benefit of the GM system. However, after herbicide application, these
weeds are killed, typically before they are able to set seed.
Consequently, by the end of the growing season there are fewer weeds in
the GM oilseed rape and beet, and those remaining tend to produce fewer
seeds per plant than those surviving in the conventional crop. Thus,
short-term increases in weed biomass are likely to be outweighed by longer
term declines in weed numbers .

The secondary effects of the GM system tend to mirror the effects on
weeds. Thus, densities of carabid beetles feeding on weed seeds tended
to be higher in conventional beet and canola, as well as in GM maize,
because of the greater weed seed production. On the other hand,
detritivore (collembolan) densities were higher in the GM beet and canola,
as well as in conventional maize. This effect resulted from the increased
biomass of weeds during the initial stages of growth, which were then
killed by late spraying, providing dead plant material on which
detritivores were able to feed. Other trophic groups (pollinators,
herbivores, and their natural enemies) showed similar shifts in abundance
relative to effects on the abundance of their resources.

There are a number of important differences in the management of GM crops
versus conventional crops, which could have important environmental
effects. Notably, herbicide use is typically far lower in the GM system
than in the conventional one. In the GM system, there is usually a maximum
of only two herbicide applications per growing season. In conventional
crops, particularly sugar beet, this number can be trebled when weed
infestations are large. Consequently, the amount of active herbicide
ingredient used in the GM system may be much lower than in the
conventional one.

In extreme cases, some farmers using the GM system actually applied no
herbicides, presumably because of an already highly depleted weed flora.
This could reflect an agronomic advantage of the GM system: Because weed
control is extremely effective using broad-spectrum herbicides in GM
crops, farmers have the flexibility to act responsively to weed problems,
whereas with conventional crops (particularly sugar beet) control is often
difficult and farmers have to act pre-emptively. A huge caveat, of course,
is that changes in practice of this sort will only be possible if yields
or profits are maintained, but it is impossible to judge this from the FSE

The FSE results show large negative impacts of growing GMHT crops on weeds
in sugar beet, smaller but consistent negative effects on weeds in oilseed
rape, and positive effects on weeds in maize. The change in timings of
herbicide applications leads to shifts in invertebrate resource abundance
during the growing season, and the invertebrates respond to this change.
The management of GMHT crops is dramatically different from that of
conventional crops and could lead to major reductions in herbicide
applications if yields from GMHT crops can be maintained.

The FSE is one of the most extensive and impressive ecological studies
ever conducted. However, it is not without limitations. One of the most
serious limitations is that for logistical reasons crop yields were not
measured. Without yield measurements it is not possible to judge the
effectiveness of GM technology and whether GM crops can deliver increased
yields. This is particularly significant given that farmers vary
enormously in the number and timing of herbicide applications to their GM
crops, which could have a major impact on weed numbers and yield and
consequently on invertebrate biodiversity.

The most serious limitation of the FSE from the standpoint of public
policy is that the study has no predictive component. Forecasts of the
likely impacts on biodiversity 10, 20, or even 50 years into the future
and at a landscape scale are needed if policy decisions are to be made.
However, the FSE was not designed with the goal of estimating parameters
for the development of predictive models, but was tied to a rather narrow
hypothesis test and constrained to a field scale. Therefore, the current
results are inadequate to make long-term policy evaluations; a modeling
framework would seem to be necessary to achieve this.

Although the FSE is extremely comprehensive, the results are not adequate
to evaluate effectively the likely long-term impacts of growing GMHT
crops, and further evaluations of the results will be necessary.

The Future
The current debate about growing GM crops in the UK contrasts with the
situation in the US where GM crops are widely grown. Two differences help
to explain these contrasting attitudes. First, the major epidemics of BSE
(bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and foot-and-mouth disease in the UK
led to a breakdown in public confidence in politicians and scientists over
food safety. Second, the UK relies on farmland for recreation. Whereas in
the US, National Parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite are largely
unmanaged, equivalent beauty spots in the UK are predominantly
agricultural landscapes. The environmental impacts of farming are also of
increasing concern. Farming practices over the past 30 years have had an
enormous impact on the biodiversity of farmland. There is consequently an
attitude of extreme caution to technological changes in farming practice.

Paradoxically, although the results of the FSE may appear detrimental to
those supporting GM crops, they might actually be beneficial. Applications
to grow GM crops can only be rejected on health or environmental grounds.
Using the FSE results as a justification to adopt a cautious approach, for
example, by not licensing sugar beet or oilseed rape but permitting the
planting of maize, might be the politically expedient way to introduce GM
crops to a skeptical public while clearly showing responsible concern.
There is, however, the complex issue of cross-pollination between GMHT
maize and conventional maize that still has to be resolved.

The FSE has not produced evidence for any new environmental damage as a
result of GM technology. The reductions in biodiversity result solely from
increased control of weeds, and the FSE appears to show that introducing
GMHT crops is equivalent to the development of a new, very efficient
herbicide. Such changes in technology occur routinely and without public
debate. Although the impacts of GMHT crops on biodiversity may be
negative, future technological developments could also yield effects of
this sort, and there is no reason to make a special case for GM crops. On
the other hand, environmentalists might argue that if biodiversity is to
be conserved in farmland habitats, the negative effects of farming
technology need to be halted, and GM crops may be the place to start.
Thus, the FSE will, inevitably, provide ammunition for both sides of the

References in original paper. Enhanced online content at


Ecology vs. Agronomy

- Andrew Apel

The unfortunate conclusion and aftermath of the farm-scale field trials of
GM crops in Great Britain have sparked what appears to be a division among
scientists and a cowardly government, but that is not the full story.
While leading scientists rail against the British government, they ignore
something far worse within their own community; the ascendance of

In his official summation of the results of the lengthy, hugely expensive
and embattled field trials, ecologist Les Firbank intruded into the
journal of Britain's Royal Society the fatuous notion of "arable weeds"
and said the result of the effort "emphasizes the importance of the weeds
growing among crop plants."

The British media, which years ago resolved -- in public -- to distort its
presentation of news about biotechnology, had a field day. Overnight, weed
control became synonymous with an assault on "biodiversity," a notion
cherished by the activist groups which hold hostage the governments of
Britain and Europe (they're voluntary hostages, but that's another

Britain's plant biotechnology is experiencing a steep decline, with
dwindling investment and a hostile minority of vandals who attack field
trials with impunity. No one need worry about further vandalism: the
country now has no field trials of experimental crops, anywhere, and it
appears none are planned.

The bizarre conclusion that weed control among GM crops was an assault on
biodiversity, accompanied by the feeding frenzy of a press that boasts of
its bias, finally sparked an outcry by scientists. In a statement endorsed
by over one hundred of them, including Nobel laureates, they accused the
British government of promoting efforts that were co-opted by anti-biotech
activists, and of refusing to correct their intentional

David King, the British government’s chief scientist, dismissed the
concerns expressed by the scientists in an off-hand way. And Britain's
Prime Minister Tony Blair contradicted himself, saying that governmental
decisions about agricultural biotechnology will be based on science, but
also that "the government has got no interest in this [GM] one way or
another." (I.e., the government is interested in facts but prefers to
ignore them.)

How can all this be? The farm-scale field trials were funded by the
British government, conducted by British scientists and the conclusions
reached via those trials were presented by British scientists, but they
were protested by British scientists. Putting yellow journalism aside for
the moment, how is it possible to explain what appears to be a rift in the
scientific community, with scientists complaining about scientists?

The conclusion is fairly obvious: Britain's scientific community, like its
government, has been infested by ecologism and ecologists and the British
government, with its massive ability to fund dubious enterprises, embarked
on an enterprise founded on the notion that farm fields must be evaluated
in the same manner as a meadow or a rain forest.

The most valuable lesson of Britain's farm-scale field trials is not that
weed control reduces biodiversity; that conclusion could easily have been
reached from an armchair years ago, at far less expense. It is, rather,
that ecologists play just as important a role in agronomy as weeds and
bugs in farming. Some scientists, like weeds and pests, should stick to
their own "fields."


Biodiversity and Agriculture: A Review of the Impact of Agricultural
Biotechnology on Biodiversity

Dear Friends at AgBioView, thanks for posting my report, here is the
latest and much enhanced final version, just finished two days ago:


Cheers, - Klaus Ammann


Biodioversity: The Cost of Corruption

- Nature 426, 67 - 70; Nov 6, 2003

Anecdotal evidence suggests that political corruption is a major factor
limiting the success of biodiversity conservation projects. Many
threatened species are found in developing countries that need donor
support to undertake conservation measures, and these countries can be
fertile ground for corrupt government. A study published this week shows
that corruption -- the abuse of public office for private gain -- has been
a significant factor explaining the loss of elephants and black rhinos.
Conversely, improvements in stocks of these animals were related to
improved governance in the countries concerned.

Governance and the Loss of Biodiversity - R. J. SMITH et al. Nature 426,
67 - 70; Nov 6, 2003


A Brilliant Career's Rich Harvest

- M2 Presswire (Australia), Nov 7, 2003

A three-day symposium on cutting edge plant research will be held in
Canberra next week to celebrate the career of one of Australia's foremost
plant scientists, Dr Jim Peacock. Plant Science Today: Genes, Genomics
and Metabolomics will host leading researchers from Australia and around
the world including Germany's Max Planck Institute.

Dr Jim Peacock who steps down as Chief of CSIRO Plant Industry after 25
years on 15 December 2003, has been at the frontier of plant genetic
research in Australia. He was a leader in the introduction, in 1996, of
Australia's first genetically modified crop - cotton - which has resulted
in a 50 per cent reduction in insecticide use where it is grown.

"Jim's contribution to and belief in Australian science has helped build
its reputation for research excellence," says symposium organiser Dr Liz
Dennis. "CSIRO Plant Industry is recognised as a key player in the
international plant science research network because of Jim's vision and
work with colleagues."

Dr Dennis says the symposium will present some of the latest findings and
techniques used by scientists to learn more about genes and their function
in plant metabolism, plant hormones, development and disease resistance.
"Basic research like this lays the foundation for future agribusiness, and
there will be discussion about the role of these new technologies in
identifying key traits for breeding future crops," she says.

Plant Science Today: Genes, Genomics and Metabolomics will be held in
Canberra from 10 -11 November 2003 in the CSIRO Discovery lecture theatre.


Agricultural Biotechnology Intellectual Property

- USDA/ERS, Nov 7, 2003 http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/biotechpatents

The Agricultural Biotechnology Intellectual Property database identifies
and describes U.S. utility patents on inventions in biotechnology and
other biological processes used in food and agriculture with issue dates
between 1976 and 2000. The database provides information about the
ownership of these patents, and tracks changes in patent ownership due to
mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs and similar changes. Other aspects of
the database include a system of technology classification and other forms
of agricultural biotechnology intellectual property (plant patents, plant
variety protection certificates, regulatory approvals for release of
genetically modified organisms).

Consumers and the Future of Biotech Foods in the US

- USDA/ERS, Nov 7, 2003

The article looks at expected trends in biotechnology products and
considers how consumers may react to these products. The distribution of
benefits from current biotechnologies suggest consumers gain
little--future biotechnologies will likely have more to offer consumers.
Consumers have varied preferences but they have grown to expect high
quality and a variety of choice. Agricultural biotechnology can be a
tremendous source of variety-both in terms of choices of production
techniques for farmers in developed and developing countries and in terms
of new and different products for consumers. Further, biotechnology may
provide food quality enhancements not previously available
(nonallergenistic foods, for example) that consumers may greatly desire.


Global Status of Approved Genetically Modified Plants - Database

All of the information contained within this document is based on data
obtained from our global database of genetically modified plants. As
indicated elsewhere, the reader should be aware that this database
includes not only plants produced using recombinant DNA techniques ( e.g.,
genetically engineered or transgenic plants), but also plants with novel
traits that may have been produced using more traditional methods, such as
accelerated mutagenesis or plant breeding. These latter plants are only
regulated in Canada.

See the database at http://www.essentialbiosafety.info/dbase.php


Role of Science in the Information Society

- CERN, Geneva, Dec 8-9, 2003

'Where does the Information Society come from? How should it evolve in the

In March of this year, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued
a challenge to the world's scientists. While "recent advances in
information technology, genetics and biotechnology hold extraordinary
prospects for individual well-being and humankind as a whole," he wrote in
Science magazine, "the way in which scientific endeavours are pursued
around the world is marked by clear inequalities." Annan called on the
world's scientists to work with the United Nations to extend the benefits
of modern science to developing countries.

The Role of Science in the Information Society (RSIS) conference is in
part a response to that challenge. Together with the International Council
for Science, the Third World Academy of Sciences, and UNESCO, CERN is
organising the event on behalf of the world's scientific community. Held
in Geneva on the 8th and 9th of December, 2003, RSIS will review the
prospects that present developments in science and technology offer for
the future of the Information Society, especially in education,
environment, health, and economic development. This event will bring
together scientists, policy makers and stakeholders from around the world
to develop a vision for how information and communication technologies can
be applied for the greater benefit of all. The conference will produce a
declaration and an action plan, which will feed into the World Summit on
the Information Society (WSIS), to be held 10-12 December in Geneva.

The prospects that science-driven technologies hold for education,
economic development, health, and environment will be a special focus of
the conference.


Q & A with C.S. Prakash

- CEI's Monthly Planet, Sept. 2003, Vol. 16, No. 7. www.cei.org

'A leading expert on agricultural uses of biotechnology talks about
biotech's promise for feeding people around the world--and the irrational
fears holding the technology back'

Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee University in
Alabama, spoke with CEI recently about his efforts--and what other
scientists can do--to counter unfounded fears about biotechnology. At
Tuskeegee University, Dr. Prakash oversees research on food crops of
importance to developing countries and the training of scientists and
students in plant biotechnology. He is a co-founder, with CEI's Gregory
Conko, of the AgBioWorld Foundation, a network organization that brings
together scientists and members of the policy community interested in
agricultural applications of biotechnology. Dr. Prakash's "Declaration in
Support of Agricultural Biotechnology" has received endorsements from over
3,300 scientists from across the world, including 22 Nobel laureates, such
as Dr. James Watson, Dr. Peter Doherty, and Dr. John Boyer--and Nobel
Peace Prize winners Dr. Norman Borlaug and Oscar Arias Sanchez.

CEI: What first sparked your interest in doing research in using
agricultural biotechnology?

Prakash: I began by studying agriculture in India, then gravitated toward
majoring in genetics after hearing a lecture by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who
was responsible for India's Green Revolution. He helped boost agricultural
productivity tremendously with high-yielding varieties of crop plants. I
have since been a geneticist and plant breeder. In the mid-1980s, when I
finished my Ph.D., biotechnology was on the horizon. Because biotechnology
tools represented a logical continuum of the methods we had been using to
improve crop plants, it was a natural progression for me to learn these
techniques so I could to apply them to my research. I didn't see them as
radical, but as a new set of tools in our arsenal to improve varieties of
crop plants

CEI: You begin your chapter in Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths by
quoting former Greenpeace UK director Lord Peter Melchett, who says that
Greenpeace's opposition to biotechnology is "a permanent and definite and
complete opposition based on a view that there will always be major
uncertainties." Why do radical environmentalists refuse to accept that all
innovations which benefit consumers involve uncertainties and risks? What
is the best way to counteract their arguments that all risks are

Prakash: I think that radical environmentalists have a political agenda
rooted in their own self-survival, and it is fueled by fear-mongering in
order to appeal to a broad audience. Food is fundamental to our existence,
and people genuinely care for the environment. Therefore, the attack on
biotech crops can appeal to both those interested in food safety and those
interested in environmental sustainability. Practically all radical
environmentalists have targeted big business and capitalism, so when
genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced, especially in Europe,
radical environmentalists could combine food safety concerns,
environmental concerns, and fears about globalization to create a platform
and attack GM foods. It was very easy and very convenient.

CEI: In the book, you include a detailed analysis of how labeling
requirements for biotech products could actually reduce consumers' access
to factual information about food safety. What is the optimal way to
ensure that consumers receive the best possible safety information about
food choices in the marketplace? What role should regulators play in that

Prakash: The labeling system we have in place here in North America
provides accurate information about verifiable contents. It is an
excellent approach. Consumers must understand that biotech food has been
subjected to intense scrutiny by regulators and is as safe as the
non-biotech derived food products. And they could be provided with other
sources of information, such as a 1-800 number or website address--like
McDonald's, where, if I wanted to find out the number of calories in a
hamburger, there is always a way I can get it.

However, just labeling GM foods as "GM foods" is discriminatory, because,
historically, we do not label a new product if it is nutritionally the
same as other products. For instance, if you had a bowl of cereal this
morning, you would have no idea what variety of corn was used to produce
this product, how the corn was produced, where it was grown, or what
chemicals and pesticides were used on it. If companies suddenly started
using another type of corn, you would not know--it wouldn't matter from a
nutritional, taste, or safety point of view. But if you were to put a big
label on the cereal as being a GM-modified food without corresponding
information about what it means--in a climate where GM is attacked by
activists--it would be like putting a skull and crossbones on the product.

On the other hand, if that product contains nutritionally enhanced
ingredients--high-protein corn or heart-healthier oil--then of course it
must be labeled with details on how it was produced. We have a very
sensible, pragmatic labeling system in this country that protects
consumers and ensures that buyers are not subject to fraudulent,
unverifiable claims. They really don't have this kind of system in Europe.

CEI: You conclude your chapter by highlighting the disconnect between
anti-biotech activists from NGOs in less developed nations, like Vandana
Shiva, and actual farmers in those nations. What can the public and policy
makers in wealthy nations do to help give those farmers a voice?

Prakash: Begin by stop funding the activists who are anti-development,
anti-progress, and anti-technology, because these radical activists in
developing countries, who are hell-bent on stopping the infusion of any
technology that helps in development, are really playing into the hands of
donors from the West--maybe some governments or even individuals who fund

Secondly, these donors and policy makers in developing countries must
understand that agriculture is the backbone of most developing countries,
employing a majority of the work force and contributing a major share to
the GDP and exports of these countries. One cannot develop agriculture
with superstition and fear-mongering, but rather by embracing helpful
technologies and adopting other policy initiatives that have worked. Some
of these initiatives include ensuring that there is a good infrastructure,
credit, and free, more open market systems--these are all true and tested

Many countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, which
are really the breadbaskets of the world, have increased productivity
almost a dozen-fold compared to what they grew 100 years ago. This is not
by happenstance, but rather a concerted effort to make sure we have the
highest innovation in science and technology. Activists want to take us
back in time by insisting upon primitive farming practices instead of
using available modern technologies. Buzzwords like "sustainable
agriculture" are merely euphemisms for primitive agriculture, which has
sustained nothing but hunger and misery.

CEI: In your May 13, 2003 Wall Street Journal Europe op-ed, coauthored
with CEI's Gregory Conko, you note that the European Union's (EU) new
biotech labeling and traceability rules will harm less developed nations
much more severely than it will harm the U.S. because poor farmers cannot
afford the compliance costs. Why do so many European regulators fail to
understand their rules' impact on poor farmers around the world?

Prakash: I see arrogance and self-righteousness in the EU's attitude
toward agriculture and food and its non-scientific approach to
regulation--it has clearly harmed them. One can see this over the past 20
years with the massive scares, including mad cow disease, foot and mouth
disease, and dioxin. They place much emphasis on process-based and
non-science-based regulation in Europe, as with traceability and GM
Taking rice grown in India and exported to Europe as an example of how
European regulations harm farmers in developing nations, the Indian
Basmati rice exported to Europe is grown on small- to average-sized farms.
The average (rice) farm in the (developing) world is less than two acres.
A sack of rice that ends up at Tesco's (British supermarket chain) has
been drawn from hundreds of little farms, transported by bullock carts to
market, stored in community grain bins, and then processed in a different
place. So, according to the correct traceability regulation, if you wanted
to follow this sack of rice from where it was grown to all of the points
it has traveled, it would simply be ridiculous, especially in a developing

CEI: When United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced the
U.S. case against the EU's biotech restrictions before the World Trade
Organization (WTO), he asked you to formally present your petition of 20
(now 22) Nobel Laureates and over 3,300 other scientists in favor of
biotechnology. What did you stress during your presentation at the USTR's
announcement? How did the farmers from less developed nations who
discussed their experiences with biotechnology help you drive those points

Prakash: I had along with me a farmer and a professor, both from South
Africa, and a scientist from Mexico. They all essentially said that this
technology is not something to fear, and it presents a safe method of
improving agriculture and enhancing our food supply. By placing
restrictions on this technology, it will be the people in the developing
world who will lose the most. It is in the developing world--countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America--where hunger and poverty
persist. There is little rain, poor soils, and increased use of chemicals
to control diseases and pests, which can cause environmental harm if
they're misused. This technology would obviate many of these problems.

But European reluctance to accept the fruits of this technology has driven
most developing nations to go slowly with biotech or put a moratorium on
growing biotech crops. We have a petition on the AgBioWorld Foundation's
web site (www.agbioworld.org), which has broad support from scientific
community across the world. It says that GM is a safe method to grow our
food and will contribute much to the well-being of humankind.


Could GM Plants Pinpoint Minefields?

- Agbiotechnet.com, Nov. 6, 2003

A project is exploring the possibility that transgenic plants could
indicate the presence of landmines, by sensing explosives in the soil.
Anthony A. Faust of Defence R&D Canada and Michael Deyholos from the
University of Alberta are investigating whether plants could offer
advantages over techniques that monitor vapours in the air or chemicals on
the soil surface.

Faust explains that electronic devices that measure explosive vapour in
the air may not be able to overcome the problems of low vapour
concentrations, when the concentrations of explosive derived chemicals
locked in the soil itself are much higher. GM bacteria are another option,
which could be sprayed on the soil, and would luminesce where the
explosive was detected. However this would present a number of practical
difficulties in the field. The bacteria need to be activated on-site in
large quantities, and sophisticated dissemination equipment needs to be
available, says Faust. Once spread over the area of interest, the bacteria
sense only a thin layer of soil near the surface where explosive
concentrations are at their lowest. They are also subject to environmental
conditions which may hinder their growth, such as undesirable temperatures
and UV light.

Faust's project has set out to see if GM plants could do a better job,
"The longterm goal of this research programme will be to exploit recent
advances in genetic and plant research by designing a process by which
plants, local to a region of interest, can be genetically modified to be
sensitive to compounds know to permeate the soil around emplaced
landmines," he says. "The plant’s genes would also be designed to include
a reporting mechanism, signalling the presence of these compounds through
a change in the plant’s structure, appearance or some other physical
characteristic. The goal would not be to develop a single plant species,
but rather the genetic knowledge and procedures so that native species,
know to grow readily in a particular area, could be designed on demand."

"The benefits of such plants would be numerous", says Faust. "After
development costs, this low technology, robust system would be inexpensive
and very scalable, even in countries that have very basic infrastructure."


Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death

- Paul Driessen, http://www.Eco-Imperialism.com

Will be available for purchase by the end of the month through Amazon.com
and Barnes&Noble Online. The Spanish translation (Eco-Imperialismo: Poder
verde - peste negra) is already available for US$12 plus US$3 shipping and
handling, through this website, by contacting the author at

"The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity,
morality and humanity. The pain and suffering it is inflicting on families
in developing countries must no longer be tolerated. This is the first
book I’ve seen that tells the truth and lays it on the line. It’s a
must-read for anyone who cares about people, progress and our planet." -
Patrick Moore, Greenpeace co-founder

"Paul Driessen has given us an amazing tour de force. He explores one of
today’s most perplexing problems: the environmentally sensitive rich
demanding that the Third World’s poor forego feeding themselves, solving
their health and energy problems, and taking their rightful place among
the earth’s prosperous people. Eco-Imperialism provides terrific
intellectual ammunition and is outstandingly written. Very gripping to
read." - Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Toward Tradition

"Developing countries need to be free to make their own decisions about
how to improve their people’s lives. Activists who’ve never had to worry
about starvation, malaria and simple survival have no right to impose
their fears, prejudices and ideologies on the world’s poor. That’s the
central message of this book. It’s a message that needs to be spread far
and wide." - CS Prakash, Professor of plant genetics, Tuskegee University

Download excerpts from select chapters of this book at:

Excerpts from Chapter 4: 'Playing Games with Starving People'

Nearly 2.5 million people were on the verge of starvation in Zambia alone,
where President Levy Mwanawasa bowed to NGO pressure and EU import
policies, and refused to accept food aid from the United States. The US
had shipped 26,000 tons of corn to Zambia, where many people were down to
one small meal per day, only to have the grain sit in storage. Parroting
the EU/Greenpeace line, Mwanawasa decreed it was unsafe for consumption,
because some of the corn (maize) had been genetically modified, to make it
resistant to insect pests, reduce the need for pesticides, and increase
crop yields without having to put more land under cultivation.

"We would rather starve than get something toxic," Mwanawasa cavalierly
remarked. Anonymous European Commission officials went so far as to accuse
the US of using Africans as guinea pigs, to prove biotech foods are safe
to eat. Rumors circulated among the locals that women would become sterile
and people would get AIDS, if they ate the corn. The fact that Americans
have been consuming this corn for years did not change Mwanawasa’s
position. (Over 34 percent of all US corn and 78 percent of its soybeans
are genetically modified, as are many other crops.) Nor was he swayed by
repeated scientific studies concluding that biotech foods are safe to eat
- or by the demands of his own starving people, who on several occasions
attempted to break into the warehouses.

* * * * *
As for President Mwanawasa and his ruling elites, they are not going
hungry, either. Nor are Mr. Mugabe and his cronies in Zimbabwe, who live
lavishly on imported European food and luxury goods. They will, however,
profit mightily from any agricultural and other trade with EU nations that
threaten their countries with sanctions, if the Africans dare to import,
export or grow biotech crops. The elites’ real fear, in other words, is
not "tainted" food - but concern that Euro food fanatics will decree that
African crops have been tainted by American GM pollen. Meanwhile, the
desperate masses continue to starve.

* * * * *
Biotech experts Gregory Conko and Dr. Henry Miller, MD are blunt in their
denunciation of the EU, UN and radical green actions. This "self-serving
involvement in excessive, unscientific biotechnology regulation," they
argue, "will slow agricultural research and development, promote
environmental damage, and bring famine to millions in developing
countries." The UN-sponsored "biosafety protocol," regulating the
international movement of gene-spliced organisms, is based on a "bogus
precautionary principle," which falsely assumes there are risk-free
alternatives, and imposes an impossible standard on innovation: guilty
until proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt.

No longer must regulators demonstrate that a new technology is likely to
cause harm. Instead, the innovator must now prove the technology will not
cause any harm. Worse, "regulatory bodies are free to arbitrarily require
any amount and kind of testing they wish…. [T]he biosafety protocol
establishes an ill-defined global regulatory process that permits overly
risk-averse, incompetent, and corrupt regulators to hide behind the
precautionary principle in delaying or deferring approvals," they charge,
as in the case of a years-long moratorium on EU approvals of gene-spliced

The principle imposes the ideologies and unfounded phobias of affluent
First World activists, to justify severe restrictions on the use of
chemicals, pesticides, fossil fuels and biotechnology by Third World
people who can least afford them. Opposition to biotechnology is "a
northern luxury," says Kenyan agronomist Dr. Florence Wambugu. "I
appreciate ethical concerns, but anything that doesn’t help feed our
children is unethical." Greenpeace co-founder and ecologist Dr. Patrick
Moore echoes her sentiments. Now an outspoken critic of the group he once
led, he underscores the "huge and realistically potential benefits" that
GM crops could bring "for the environment and human health and nutrition."
He calls the war on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) "perhaps the most classic case of misguided environmentalism" in

* * * * *
"If today’s rich nations decide to stop or turn back the clock, they will
still be rich," notes Wellesley College political scientist Robert
Paarlberg. "But if we stop the clock for developing countries, they will
still be poor and hungry." And thousands, perhaps millions, of their
children will die.

* * * * *
Africa missed out on the first "Green Revolution." Pioneered by Iowa
farmer and agricultural researcher Dr. Norman Borlaug, this revolution
brought new corn varieties to Mexico, new wheat strains to India and new
rice to China, saving the lives of perhaps a billion people. Africans can
hardly afford to miss out on the biotech green revolution. As Dr. Borlaug
has put it, "There are 6.6 billion people on the planet today. With
organic farming we could only feed 4 billion of them. Which 2 billion
would volunteer to die?" Or which 2 billion would Greenpeace, the World
Wildlife Fund and the Earth Liberation Front "volunteer" to die?
* * * * *
Economist Indur Goklany has calculated that, if the world tried to feed
just today’s six billion people using the primarily organic technologies
and yields of 1961 (pre-Green Revolution), it would have to cultivate 82
percent of its total land area, instead of the current 38 percent. That
would require plowing the Amazon rainforest, irrigating the Sahara Desert
and draining Angola’s Okavango river basin. The only thing organic farming
sustains, says Tuskegee University plant genetics professor and AgBioWorld
Foundation president CS Prakash, is "poverty and malnutrition."

None of this is to suggest that biotechnology is a magic bullet that will
transform Third World agriculture. It isn’t. However, it is a vital weapon
in the war against malnutrition, starvation and disease. In conjunction
with modern equipment, fertilizers and pesticides, improved transportation
infrastructures, integrated crop protection programs, better training in
handling chemicals and running farms as businesses, and stronger
organizations that give farmers a greater voice in policy decisions –
biotechnology and GM crops could play a crucial role in developing

In short, even if the absurd worst-case anti-biotech (or anti-pesticide)
scenarios propagated by activists are accepted as valid – and even if a
case can somehow be made that these technologies should not be used in the
United States or Europe - developing nations should still be permitted to
use them. In fact, they should be encouraged to do so. The lives of their
people, and their wildlife, hang in the balance.