Today in AgBioView: November 14, 2003:
* International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources
* Why Biotech Advocates Lose Public Debates
* Of Princes, Prophets, Preserving the Earth & Feeding the Hungry
* On British Farm Scale Trials
* Virtual Agriculture
* Ancient farmers practiced genetic manipulation in creating modern corn
plant, study suggests
* Norway Pumps $400,000 Into GMO Detection
* India 'to approve GM potato'
* NGOs Say Few Listening
International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources
Overcoming seemingly insurmountable barriers has always been one of the
hallmarks of human ingenuity and intellect. Improving upon nature, making
nature more "habitable" is not un-natural. Such "improvements" can be seen
in the way nature's inhabitant's adapt their behavior and how species
evolve to better suit their particular environments.
The deliberate "engineering" of species found in nature into sometimes
better, sometimes wholly different species has been part of Nature's
experience since humans first cultivated a wild "grass" into a domestic
"wheat" crop. The same can be said of breeding desired characteristics in
fruits, vegetables, livestock, grains, even flowers.
Today, scientists continue that pursuit in the field popularly called
"Biotechology." Today, too, the stakes are greater than ever before. Such
breakthroughs promise new ways to conquer disease and provide healthier,
more robust crops while at the same time reducing the dangerous use of
pesticides and the need to plow under wild places.
Biotechnology is playing an increasingly greater role in the conservation
of Nature's Resources and for that reason, IFCNR has focused its attention
on the various issues and questions that arise around it and its affect on
Why Biotech Advocates Lose Public Debates
On Monday, October 27th, NBC-TV's Today Show dove headfirst into the
controversy over genetically modified foods with a segment entitled "Eat
Smart Today: What's in Our Food?" The early morning television news show
featured interviews with food scientists, a consumer and a debate between
a Lisa Katic from BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) and anti-GMO
author Mark Lappe.
Agricultural biotechnology started off fairly well. Correspondent Robert
Hager introduced University of Illinois Professor Schuyler Korban who
spoke to biotechnology's ability to increase the quality via increased
nutrition and quantity of food we produce. Professor Korban's moment of
nationally televised fame was reduced to two brief sentences.
Hager then echoed the very inventive and effective propaganda device used
by anti-biotech NGOs for the past few years when he used the term
"frankenfoods" and repeated the NGO refrain that such foods "could be
dangerous to health" and "wreak havoc on the environment." Quickly the
points scored by Dr. Korban with his statement about increased nutrition
were lost as the blanket of NGO-fabricated doubt and fear wrapped the
Biotech lost the second round because it lacked a "parent/consumer"
singing the praises of biotech-enhanced foods. The anti-biotech side had
their handsome, charming, and glib parent ready to pounce.
The lone consumer interviewed was described as "Minneapolis consumer Corey
Brinkema who is among those who worry" over potential dangers posed by GMO
food. Brinkema continued the fear theme when he delivered his
well-prepared one sentence statement that "There's not enough science
behind this whole thing." His was a powerful if not contradictory sound
bite to be certain given its juxtaposition with the words of a scientist.
Brinkema's sentiments although obviously lacking in accuracy were exactly
representative of NGO claims regarding the fear of the public in regard to
Brinkema seemed too perfect to be a man-in-the-street consumer ambushed by
a news reporter. He is anything but a casual bystander in the green
Minneapolis is the headquarters of the staunchly anti-GMO/pro-organic food
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. IATP President Mark Ritchie is
also president of the Organic Buyers and Growers Association. IATP's
for-profit sister organization, Headwaters International Inc. markets
"Peace Coffee" under the organic/fair trade banner. That fact may be
considered coincidental and even irrelevant given the size of Minneapolis
and the myriad businesses and groups that call that city home, that is
until a closer look is given to Corey Brinkema.
There is indeed a Corey Brinkema working and consuming in Minneapolis who
is not only a ranked marathon ski competitor and a new dad but he is also
a mover and shaker in that city's "green" real estate and development
movement. Brinkema's credentials include founding the an environmental
consulting firm, e4 Partners, that "focuses on eco-industrial development
and sustainable building design" and founding the Green Institute, a
non-profit that combines economic/job opportunities within an
environmentally considerate atmosphere for inner-city reclamation projects
in the Twin Cities. And, Brinkema is no stranger to the GMO debate. He'd
been interviewed by local newspapers on the issue of labeling GMO foods
and is quite articulate and outspoken in his embracing of the NGO
hostility towards agricultural biotechnology.
Oh, yes. Corey Brinkema's Green Institute has a program called Greenspace
Partners. Greenspace partners is part of a coalition of environmental
organizations dealing with Minneapolis/St. Paul "greening" issues entitled
the "Twin Cities Greening Coalition." Listed just after Brinkema's
Greenspace Partners in the TCG Coalition is the Institute for Agriculture
and Trade Policy.
Having the right person in the right spot to be "accidentally" discovered
by the media is only one reason biotech is at a disadvantage in dealing
with extremely well organized NGOs.
Following the Brinkema one liner, NBC TV's Katie Couric handed the
microphone to Mark Lappe with a softball toss setup. Couric characterized
Lappe as being "angry" that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "hasn't
gotten more involved" in the labeling issue.
Lappe established himself as a "scientist and ethicist" as well as a
sympathetic defender of consumers' right to know about ingredients in
their foods. Lappe was allowed to voice an outrageous lie when he claimed
that GMO foods and conventionally grown foods are not similar and that
"there are no proteins in the food." He portrayed agricultural
biotechnology as denying consumers their right to choose and pounded home
the NGO fostered perceptions that GMO foods are "failures."
Katie Couric continued the NGO line that no studies on human health or the
environment have been done. BIO's Lisa Katic countered in the predicable
industry mode of quoting ponderous statistics. Instead of dispelling the
fabricated concept of consumers gripped in fear or being given the choice
of inferior foods versus highly nutritional and safety tested foods, she
talked about "benefits" to farmers in terms of 14 billion pounds of food
grown and a $2.5 billion increase in farm income as well as a decrease of
163 million pounds of pesticides.
Couric listened and still came at Katic with the strongly prejudicial
question about "what kind of impact (GMOs) might have on long-term health
concerns." Katic responded that in 20 years "not one report of any case of
an ill effect has resulted from eating these foods." Instead of slamming
the door on that concept, Katic allowed the viewers to ponder the next
logical thought, no one has been reported illnot yet.
Lappe jumped in raising the specter of the "new proteins" added to plants
being potential sources of new allergies. Remember, earlier he denied that
the biotech crops had any proteins at all. Now Katic has allergies to deal
with. Lappe brought up the StarLink public relations fiasco and said there
were 49 cases of allergic reactions. Katic never said they proved false.
Lappe ended his statement talking about the "decimation of wildlife",
"cross-contamination of spreading genes," and the "transformation of
Katic ended with references to FDA, the American Medical Association, the
World Health Organization, and the FAO of the United Nations being
supportive of biotechnology.
Katic told the truth. Lappe lied. The unfortunate fact of the exercise is
that Lappe won and Katic lost. Katic lost precisely on the points that
made Lappe the victor. She failed to make the case to the viewing public
that agricultural biotechnology improved their lives, the nutrition of
their families and the food they eat. Lappe did the opposite. Using the
time-honored techniques of propaganda or its modern offspring advocacy,
Lappe conjured up a scenario designed to frighten and outrage the average
Katic's true statement about farmer income and farm production yield
increases play very well to an audience of farmers. But America's farmers
are in the fields while Katie Couric and friends are being beamed into
America's households. The people watching the debate were moms,
grandparents and retirees who hear about increased farm income and see
their limited budgets stretched beyond the breaking point.
With the baby boom generation largely settling into a life of sedentary
retirement, blood pressure and cholesterol medication, and endless
supplies of decongestants to open allergy closed breathing passages, etc.
the very thought that the food we eat my contribute to the assault on
their health is simply more than they can bear.
As long as the biotech industry and every other resource-related industry
relies on the media training of traditional adversting agency/public
relations firms, they will continue to spout meaningless (to consumers)
statistics. They will continue to see themselves cast as greedy ogres who
don't care a whit about the health of the planet or the viewers' families.
The fact remains that biotechnology had a forum where it could have won
the equivalent of the World Series of public relations. The dreams and
reality biotech scientists bring to the world's food and environmental
forums are amazing, inspirational and filled with real achievements that
should provide the world with hope, not fear.
Unfortunately, biotech failed to seize its moment of glory. It's
representative reacted exactly the way the NGOs predicted and allowed the
opposition to steal the trophy. It is not our intention to cast aspersions
upon the biotech industry or their spokesmen and women. The BIO
representative reacted exactly as she was trained. The unfortunate fact of
advocacy life is that traditional media training simply cannot win debates
with NGO advocates.
If U.S. agricultural biotechnology is to avoid the mistakes that lost it
so much time, energy and consumer empathy in Europe and increasing
throughout Asia and elsewhere, it must not let anti-biotech NGOs carry
each public debate. The Today Show debacle clearly demonstrates the need
for groups such as Sustainable Resources International LLC to school the
industry on dealing with advocacy tactics and strategy.
Of Princes, Prophets, Preserving the Earth & Feeding the Hungry
"Feed the hungry" is a central admonition by the prophets and conservators
of the world's great religions. Isaiah, Sts. Paul and Matthew, and Islam's
founder, Muhammad all considered feeding less fortunate neighbors a
blessing of the highest sort. It is and has been a noble objective
throughout history, one that men and women of noble and private social
rank persist on trying to achieve amidst a world where 800 million people
are caught in the throes of hunger today. Of that number the Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates 200 million
are children under five and of those 13 million die each year.
As those statistics suggest hunger kills the very young and the very old
either outright or by denying them the ability to build resistance to
life-sapping disease. It weakens adult caretakers whose waning strength
cripples their ability to produce the food whose lack creates the cycle
that keeps entire cultures captives of poverty, malnutrition, disease and
premature death. As it threatens human life, it also threatens the
environment through the indiscriminate destruction of nature's resources
for minimal food, warmth and shelter.
Combating hunger takes many forms. Nations blessed with fertile and
productive soil engage in global food trade as well as providing their
surplus as aid to the regions most sorely afflicted. Farmers of land and
marine resources seek was of increasing crop yield and reducing costs to
sustain and allow them to pursue their livelihood. Fishermen daily risk
their lives to provide nutrition from the earth's waters. Scientists
strive to make the world's food supply safe and secure.
Charity is a noble, if temporary, means of treating symptoms. As the adage
- "give a man a fish and you feed him for one day, teach him to fish and
you feed him for life" - suggests economic prosperity through ethical and
sustainable trade offers the most hope for a long-range, sustainable
strategy to feed the hungry and defeat world hunger.
But that simple task and equally simple formula to achieve it belie the
deep and swift undercurrent of controversy associated with a seemingly
noble and universally desired objective.
Even the list of names of individuals intimately associated with concerns
of nature, agriculture and the hungry that include some of the best known
and some never to be known is not immune to acute differences of opinion
and a diversity approaches that are, quite unfortunately pitted against
each other. Among them are Iowa-born 1970 Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug
who history credits with directly saving tens of millions of human lives
during the 1960s.
Borlaug's seminal work was developing adaptable, high yield,
disease-resistant wheat in Mexico during the 1940s and '50s that spread
throughout Latin America and Asia. Global wheat production over the past
40 years doubled from 300 million metric tons to 600 million. Cereals in
general rose from 680 million tons in 1950 to 1.9 billion in 2000 thanks
to his pioneering high-yield techniques of energy-conserving dwarf crops,
fertilizer, and irrigation.
Borlaug's legacy is known as the "Green Revolution" because it led
impoverished nations from starvation to self-sufficiency via farms, not
violence. Borlaug's work involved scientists from Mexico, Pakistan, India,
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and more to teach hardscrabble farmers
techniques to increase crop production from 8 or 10 bushels to 75.
Astounding agricultural success flowed from Borlaug's work in the Americas
Only sub-Saharan Africa has failed to flourish, but not from any fault in
Borlaug's formula. Where those techniques are tried, they worked.
Corn/maize yields tripled. Crops of wheat, cassava, sorghum and cowpeas
also flourished. Ironically, the so-called "Green" pressure groups brought
such immense pressure that funding from Ford and Rockefeller Foundations
dried up for Borlaug's "Green Revolution" hopes for Africa. Effective
obstruction came from so-called environmental and animal rights NGOs that
issued dire, doomsday scenarios about the loss of Africa's wilderness.
A compelling argument that the seemingly irrational resistance by NGOs to
allowing the Green Revolution to flourish in Africa stems from inherent
racism could be made, particularly for those organizations what believe
wildlife and wild places are better off absent the presence of humankind.
The racist concept that more food equals better health equals more people
equals less habitat for wildlife has been disproved where agricultural
self-sufficiency through modern farming techniques prevails. The tendency
to procreate child after child to supplement the workforce and replace
those lost to hunger and disease diminishes as the workload drops and
hunger is held in abeyance. As Atlantic Monthly reported in a lengthy 1997
article about Borlaug, "development is the best contraceptive."
The environmental groups' fear that Africa will lose its pristine lands to
the plow is also false. Slash and burn farming that destroys rainforest
and plains alike are the norm for African subsistence farming. Borlaug's
high yield approach saw a global 170 percent yield in grain production
with barely a one percent increase in farmed land.
Today, Borlaug, at age 89, is an outspoken advocate for the application of
modern genetics to develop even more earth-friendly and nutritious crops
that can resist disease, provide enhanced nutrients, and exist in a more
compatible relationship with nature due to the reduced use of pesticides
and ability to produce more on land already dedicated to agriculture
rather than increase farm acreage by clearing forests, jungles, and other
Borlaug is joined in his vision of feeding the world's hungry and
preserving the earth's wild places through embracing modern science by
another individual whose success in his field has elevated him to
celebrity status: Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. Gates, through the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation, endowed the HarvestPlus project of a
consortium of research institutions and agencies with $25 million to
further research into providing the world's hungry with crops engineered
to provide optimum nutrition (biofortification) and yield. The
International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Center
for Tropical Agricultural Research lead the effort. HarvestPlus is focused
on the world's hungry children and the crops most widely consumed in
developing nations: rice, wheat, corn/maize, beans, cassava and sweet
potato. Its approach is to embrace conventional as well as genetically
enhanced crop breeding technology to achieve its objectives. It will take
the best of modern agricultural science in the fields of crop productivity
and environmental sustainability and add enhanced nutrition.
Bill Gates proved to the world that technology can and must advance the
condition of the world and its inhabitants in the field of computers and
communication. Solving global problems such as hunger should embrace
technology in a similar manner.
Still, as exciting and rational as Bill Gates' helping humankind find
practical and environmentally sound ways to address and vanquish hunger,
yet another celebrity factors into the issue. This gentleman takes an
altogether different point of view, one that eschews the approaches of
Borlaug and Gates. His name is Charles Philip Arthur George
Mountbatten-Windsor. He's known popularly as Prince Charles, the Prince of
Wales as well as the 24th Duke of Cornwall.
Prince Charles is the United Kingdom's foremost champion of organic
farming and one of its most outspoken critics of agricultural
biotechnology. The pleasant Prince has infuriated crop scientists around
the world with his condemnation of genetically modified (GM) foods and
pontifical call for a "GM-free Wales" and a "GM-free Britain." The
tendency of the scientific community is to view the Prince as a
genetically inbred dim wit devoid of any understanding of how even the
foods he grows "organically" came to be and dismiss him as a needless
hindrance to needed scientific enlightenment and evolutionary progress.
After Prince Charles every public utterance disdaining agricultural
biotechnology, a legion of scientists are quick to pen rebuttals that
provide the background in biology and botany arguably unknown to the
Prince and belittle him as "one of the most genetically modified
organisms" in the world.
Unfortunately, name-calling merits no one and no endeavor positive gain.
Prince Charles' history might shed some light not only on the development
of his beliefs but also on how to best fashion a sort of détente where
each can allow the other to prosper in peace.
Charles' siding with the environmental and animal rights NGOs on
agricultural matters may seem odd given his affection for hunting.
However, his father, Prince Phillip who enjoyed safaris in Kenya and tiger
hunts in India was also head of the World Wide Fund for Nature/World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Britain. As with any successful politician, Prince
Charles understands that a public persona that embraces concern for the
environment is the preferred path for a public figure desirous of avoiding
Prince Charles has other motivations other than following in his father's
footsteps. As Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles' main source of income
separate from the monarchy comes from the vast holdings in Cornwall,
141,072 acres to be exact. Annually, Cornwall generates £15,668,000 or
The duchy stretches over 25 English counties and counts 250 farms within
its borders. The home farm, Highgrove in Gloucestershire, is Prince
Charles' pet organic farming project. Charles believes, and three research
projects support, the idea that organic farming is more profitable and
provides social and environmental benefits above that of conventional
farming. Those conclusions appear valid, particularly for a
multi-millionaire dabbling on a 1200-acre plot of prime English farmland.
Norman Borlaug does not disagree. In fact, he encourages the use of
organic fertilizer where possible. Where he and Prince Charles diverge is
the realm of applied agriculture to the world's most impoverished lands.
As Borlaug points out in order to provide enough organic fertilizer to
ensure sufficient crops to feed masses of malnourished humans would
require a herd of livestock so vast that the grain needed to sustain their
ability to produce manure would sustain the lack of same needed to feed
humans. Borlaug doesn't condemn organic farming. He simply believes it has
Dr. Borlaug and Bill Gates say feed the people. Prince Charles says
preserve the environment. Both high yield farming and genetic engineering
also have preserving wild places, wildlife habitat, wild life and nature's
resources as major objectives. The world can accommodate both, just as any
modern grocery supermarket contains shelving enough to hold organic,
conventional and GM foods. Prince Charles need not be an antagonist in the
quest to feed the hungry. In fact all he needs to do is be a good
neighbor, something the NGOs do not want to see in view of their ability
to exploit Prince Charles' celebrity status to promote their own agendas.
On British Farm Scale Trials
- Tony Gilland"
It is actually important to put the whole 'farmland biodiversity' debate
into context as this at the heart of the FSE debate.
I myself am not sure how meaningful a term 'farmland biodiversity'
actually is - biodiversity seems to have become a modern altar upon which
society seems keen to worship without stopping to think what we're
actually talking about. Any impact on biodiversity is seen to be
threatening - but why should it? Using the term biodiversity avoids
requiring anyone explaining clearly what wildlife they think it is
important to exist in what habitat, in what quantity and why.
I have found it quite constructive to consider the argument about
declining bird populations of farmland birds. The government index of
farmland birds shows major declines over the last 30 years of many
farmland bird species. Farmland birds are not straightforward to define
and involve some judgement as to what extent the birds are deemed to be
dependent on certain conditions in the field e.g. weed seeds.
However, what few have pointed out is that whilst the UK government's
composite index of farmland birds (prepared for them by the British Trust
for Ornithology and the RSPB) shows an overall decline of the order of 30%
(though some of the birds included have increased in population size
considerably) a composite index of all birds found on UK farmland would
actually show no change at all over the last 30 years - it's only when you
single out the so-called 'farmland specialists' that you get the headline
No body has bothered or been challenged to make a convincing case about
why the farmland specialists as opposed to 'generalists' found on farmland
matter so very much. And, as it happens, the total number of bird species
found breeding in the UK has increased by 20% over the last 200 years
according to the RSPB. So biodiversity, in terms of birds, is not doing so
very badly in the UK despite the fact that 75% of the land is farmed
You might be interested to re-read an article I wrote about of this a few
years ago for LM magazine, republished on spiked:
A few years back I spent some time looking into the debate about farmland
birds and discovered a number of other interesting points which I'd be
discuss with anyone who's interested.
Best wishes, Tony
Science and Society Director
Institute of Ideas, UK
-Richard H Webb, Prospect (UK), November 2003 (Sent by Conrad
'The romantic view that food production should not be subject to normal
market rules is bad news for the developing world and for our own
World agriculture and food production is one of the great issues of our
times. The global situation is, of course, a terrible mess, riddled with
injustice and absurdities, but it is rare to find a clear and balanced
analysis of why it should ever have come to this.
The geopolitics is familiar. For decades, western Europe and North America
have been pouring huge sums into subsidising local overproduction of a
wide range of crops. This has closed home markets to imports, forced
international commodity prices down and held back the efficient and
competitive farmers of countries like Brazil, Argentina, and
Read on http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/start.asp?P_Article=12307
Ancient farmers practiced genetic manipulation in creating modern corn
plant, study suggests
The Associated Press
November 13, 2003
Ancient Americans were changing corn genes through selective breeding more
than 4,000 years ago, according to researchers who say the modifications
produced the large cobs and fat kernels that make corn one of humanity's
most important foods.
In a study that compared the genes of corn cobs recovered in Mexico and
the southwestern United States, researchers found that three key genetic
variants were systematically enhanced, probably through selective
cultivation, over thousands of years.
The technique was not as sophisticated as the methods used for modern
genetically modified crops, but experts said in a study released Thursday
that the general effect was the same: genetic traits were amplified or
introduced to create plants with improved traits and greater yield.
"Civilization has been built on genetically modified plants," said Nina V.
Fedoroff of Pennsylvania State University.
The ancestral plant of corn, teosinte, was first domesticated some 6,000
to 9,000 years ago in the Balsas River Valley of southern Mexico, the
researchers said in this week's issue of Science magazine. At first,
teosinte was a grassy-like plant with many stems bearing small cobs with
kernels sheathed in hard shells.
By cultivating plants with desirable characteristics, farmers caused
teosinte to morph into an increasingly useful crop. The researchers said
by 5,500 years ago the size of the kernels was larger. By 4,400 years ago,
all of the gene variants found in modern corn were present in crops grown
The plant and its grain were so changed by the directed cultivation that
it evolved into a form that could not grow in the wild and was dependent
on farmers to survive from generation to generation, the study found.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Max Planck-Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany; the U.S. Department of
Agriculture at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.; the
Smithsonian Institution in Washington; the University of Oxford in the
United Kingdom; and the University of Wisconsin. It was financed by the
Wellcome Trust, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the German Ministry
for Education and Research, and by the Max Planck Society.
Fedoroff, a plant geneticist who was not part of the research team, said
the study shows that it is unlikely the changes in corn were by chance.
The early farmers, she said, "might have been more sophisticated than we
"The differences between maize (corn) and teosinte come down to just a few
genes, but with big effect," said Fedoroff. She said ancient farmers
probably spotted these differences and then planted seeds from those cobs
to encourage the improvements to continue.
"They might have collected the seeds and may have known that if they grew
them close together then they could catch (the beneficial changes) in the
next generation," she said. "It was like someone found the right
combination and it was so much better that people shared it with their
friends and relatives and then it got widely propagated."
Three genes that dramatically improved corn came together within a short
time and the farmers were sophisticated enough to propagate seeds from
those plants in following seasons, it's believed.
One gene changed the architecture of corn from a plant with many branches
to one with a single stalk with a male tassel at the top and female cobs
growing along the side.
Another genetic change softened the outer hull on the kernel. Before the
change, the plant depended on animals to spread its seeds. After animals
ate the corn, the tough outer shells would allow the kernels to pass
unharmed through the gut.
With a softer hull, the kernels would not survive passage through the gut
of an animal. As a result, the plant became dependent on farmers to spread
Another genetic change caused the kernels to stick more tightly to the
cob. And still another change modified the starch of the grain.
This final change, the authors wrote, made the corn more suitable for
making tortillas, and, thus, may have been an early variant encouraged by
Scientists now change plants by transferring specific, identified genes
from species to species in sophisticated labs. Some advocacy groups have
claimed this technique is dangerous. As a result, some European and
African countries forbid the import of "GM crops."
But Fedoroff said that, actually, the whole world eats genetically
modified foods. She said that over thousands of years, rice in China,
wheat in the Middle East and corn in Mexico were all genetically altered
through selective cultivation. The effect, she said, was like "a
prehistoric Green Revolution."
The same process is under way now, she said, but with modern scientific
"People are fearful of the food they eat," said Fedoroff, "but
civilization has been built on genetically modified plants. We wouldn't
have civilization without it."
Norway Pumps $400,000 Into GMO Detection
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
November 12, 2003
Posted to the web November 12, 2003
THE Norwegian government has given Zambia US$400,000 for the advancement
of bio-safety technology to help detect genetically modified foods (GMFs)
entering the country.
Science and Technology Minister Abel Chambeshi announced the bounty
yesterday after he opened a capacity-building workshop on the national
bio-technology and bio-safety policy in Chisamba.
Mr Chambeshi said Zambia did not have the capacity to detect GMFs being
brought into the country because of lack of qualified manpower and
He said Zambia was surrounded by eight countries and it was important for
it to have the capacity to detect GMFs that were bound to enter the
The minister said the initial help from the Norway would be directed to
capacity building and acquiring equipment to upgrade the laboratories.
He urged participants drawn from various ministries and stakeholders to
work hard to ensure that the assistance did not go to waste because
Government wanted to maximise donor support in reducing poverty.
Government would also not take kindly to any misuse of donor resources
because it understood what suffering and poverty was.
He said although Cabinet had approved the bio-technology and bio-safety
policy the subject was diverse and would take time to be properly
"Government recognises that issues pertaining to bio-technology and
bio-safety should not be addressed in a quick-fix manner but long-term
effects should be considered as well," he said.
He added that the workshop had come at a time when the steps to ratify the
Cartagena Protocol on bio-safety had reached an advanced stage and that
participants should ensure that the deliberations match the national
bio-technology and bio-safety strategic policy.
And delegation leader of Norwegian consultants at the workshop Svein Mehli
said his country was interested in the bio-technology exchange programme
Mr Mehli said Norway wanted to find a way of agreeing on similar goals for
the project that would help Zambia improve on its bio-technology.
He said Norway would next year invite a Zambian delegation to visit that
country's scientific institutions.
India 'to approve GM potato'
By Pallab Ghosh
November 13, 2003
The commercial growing of a genetically modified potato which contains
nutrients lacking in the diets of many of the poorest is expected to be
approved in India within six months.
The influential head of the Indian Government's Department of
Biotechnology, Dr Manju Sharma, said the potato would be given free to
millions of poor children at government schools to try to reduce the
problem of malnutrition in the country.
The potato contains a third more protein than normal, including essential
high-quality nutrients, and has been created by adding a gene from the
protein-rich amaranth plant.
But critics describe the plan as risky, naive and a propaganda tool to
promote the merits of GM food in India.
'Technology for the future'
The "protato", as it has become known, is in its final stages of
regulatory approval which Dr Sharma said she was very confident of
She plans to incorporate it into the government's free midday meal
programme in schools.
"There has been a serious concern that malnutrition is one of the reasons
for the blindness, the vitamin A deficiency, the protein deficiency," Dr
Sharma told the BBC.
"So it is really a very important global concern, particularly in the
developing world," she added.
One of India's leading industrialists in biotechnology, Dr Balvinder Singh
Khalsi, chief executive of Dupont, said the project had enormous potential
for the country.
"We see this as a technology for the future, because the real need for
India is to feed its growing population. This technology is really going
to the benefit of improving the yields, better quality food, larger
quantity," Dr Khalsi said.
He pointed to last year's controversial introduction of GM cotton, known
as Bt cotton, saying that "the Bt craze has caught up" with Indian farmers
"Once [GM technology] is introduced into other crops, and the people start
seeing the values of it, we believe the technology will be accepted by the
farmers and the growing population," Dr Khalsi said.
But critics such as Dr Devinder Sharma dismiss the potato project as a
mere propaganda campaign to promote GM food in India.
"What this country needs and which it has in abundance is pulses. Now the
pulses contain 20-26% proteins. This potato they talk about has 2.5%
protein. Please tell me which one is better," he says.
Some environmental campaigners also say biotechnology companies may have
overstated the case for GM crops.
"The potential for the technology has to be assessed in terms of what is
being offered and are there alternatives?" environmental campaigner
Vandana Shiva says.
"If it's the only way to get to a certain place, then sure. But if I can
control weeds by doing mixed farming... it makes no sense to permanently
introduce genes, to introduce toxins into my biodiversity, allow
contamination of related crops," Mrs Shiva says.
The team that created the "protato" says it now plans to use genetic
engineering to develop cereals, fruits and other vegetables rich in
It hopes this new generation of crops will sell the benefits of GM to a
NGOs Say Few Listening
The St. Petersburg Times
November 11, 2003
By Galina Stolyarova
Russia's non-governmental organizations are feeling down and worthless,
with many human rights advocates and environmental activists comparing the
fruits of their labor to those of Sisyphus.
That's what a group of St. Petersburg NGOs who just returned from the
nationwide conference of Russian NGOs in Moscow said Monday.
Although the conference culminated on Oct. 28 with several dozen
statements, inquiries and legislative proposals, the delegates are
skeptical that anyone official will pay any attention at all to the
recommendations they have signed and sent to various authorities ranging
from the Natural Resources Ministry to President Vladimir Putin.
The conference discussed a wide range of topics, including the Yukos
investigation, the increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on
society, labor law violations in Kaliningrad's Sea Port and ongoing
military reform as well as the country's chronic ailments like the war in
Chechnya, Baltic Sea pollution and endangered freedom of speech.
"The gap between the Russian authorities and the country's citizens is so
huge that they don't see each other, or rather, they exist in parallel
worlds," Yury Vdovin, deputy head of the St. Petersburg office of human
rights group, Citizens' Watch, said at a news conference where several
NGOs evaluated the conference.
"No mechanism exists to make the state accountable to the people," he
said. "Former undercover agents of the secret police have gone into
politics and now rule the country."
The conference sent a recommendation to Putin that urgent action be taken
so that the security services are overseen by the State and civil groups.
Ella Polyakova, head of the St. Petersburg human rights group Soldiers'
Mothers, touched on the drastic difference between the past conference and
the 2001 Civic Forum, organized by the Kremlin.
Costing $1.5 million, the Civic Forum was publicized as the establishment
of a dialogue between the state and the fledgling NGO sector. Its
organizers included Kremlin-linked political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who
was head of the organizing committee.
"During the Kremlin's event, I was sitting next to Pavlovsky's people, who
were laughing and bragging about how they orchestrated the forum,"
Polyakova recalls. "Thankfully, the current conference was free of that
Yet the spirit of this year's conference was depressing.
"Everyone - from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad - was there to whine and
complain," said environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, head of the St.
Petersburg-based ecological center Bellona.
"The delegates cited different examples, but the problems look just the
same across the country: the authorities remain deaf and blind to the
voices of activists - unless, that is, the voices sing them praises, he
said. "Businesses ignore the activists - unless the businesses get in
trouble and need their assistance; ordinary people are mostly plainly
"Many delegates complained to each other that they are tired of talking to
a silent wall and already don't see any point of conferences as they yield
no results," Nikitin said. "I am sorry to say this, but I share this view.
What is the point of getting together and developing a solution if you
know in advance that your proposal won't even be considered and will go
straight to the trash can? None. "
For Olga Senova, who runs a local youth NGO with an environmental
emphasis, public apathy is the major concern.
At the conference, she talked about the importance of cooperation between
NGOs and mass media.
"Very few people perceive the environment as something that concerns them
directly," she said. "They don't think things like importing food
containing genetically modified ingredients matters for them. Some can't
be bothered reading the labels! And, of course, almost nobody wants to get
in trouble by participating in an environmental campaign," Senova said.
Alexander Yablokov, a spokesman for Greenpeace in Moscow, said no less
than 300,000 people die prematurely in Russia from the problems related to
ailing environment. Nearly 80 percent of Russian children suffer from
environmentally-related diseases, such as allergies or asthma, the
Greenpeace report says.
But Polyakova of the Soldiers' Mothers group was more optimistic about the
future of NGOs in Russia.
Although she is frustrated by the adamant resistance by the Russian state,
she believes that a tactful and confident approach can change things,
slowly but surely.
"On one of my trips to Chechnya, I was stopped by the Russian military,
who were furious and threatened to shoot me," she recalls. "They clearly
expected me to make a big fuss, to loudly protest and defend myself, but I
didn't, staying very calm, and their scenario broke. I was released."
It was at that moment that Ployakova realized that the best strategy for
NGOs like the Soldiers' Mothers is to break down stereotypes. "The
military are trained to deal with big fusses. If you do something else,
they get confused."
But most importantly, Polyakova said her NGO is now seen as a much
stronger force by ordinary people.
"When we started, the abused soldiers were too frightened to contact us,"
she said. "We used to receive complaints only sporadically. But now, they
come to us by the dozens, and even some officers are not afraid to talk to