Today in AgBioView: November 28, 2003:
* My Biotech Thanksgiving
* Poverty of Truth and Honesty
* Violation of Sacredness by GM? - Flaws in Jesuit's Arguments:
* GM Crops To Feed The World?
* Danish Report: GM in Developing Countries - Challenges for Aid
* Radical Solutions for World Hunger
* CropGen Welcomes AEBC Report on GM Crop Co-existence
* Debate Ends, All Passion Spent
* Open Source Genetics Needed to Feed The World
* Rice Variety Growing in Saline Conditions Developed
* Tobacco Plants Produce Spider Silk
* Out of the Ashes
* Thailand Spurs Biotech Agriculture: May Leave Philippines Behind
* Don't Let Ideology Trump Science
* Tropical Soils and Food Security: The Next 50 Years
* Jeremy Rifkin and the Foundation on Economic Trends
My Biotech Thanksgiving
- Dean Kleckner, Nov. 27, 2003 [ http://www.agweb.com/
The Kleckners are having a biotech Thanksgiving this year--but that
shouldn't surprise you. Just about every other American is having a
biotech Thanksgiving as well.
All the food on my dinner table will owe something to agricultural
biotechnology. We've improved our turkeys to produce more white meat than
dark, our corn has benefited from gene transfers to better protect our
environment, and there wouldn't even be such a thing as a cranberry if
farmers hadn't created one long ago through careful plant breeding.
Biotechnology is what enables us to break our bread. Come to think of it,
bread depends on biotechnology, too. Although we're still a few seasons
away from biotech wheat making its way into the supermarket, a loaf of
bread is produced with enzymes and oils that are biotech derivatives.
About 70 percent of the food carried in the typical grocery store owes
something to biotechnology--everything from gravy to stuffing. That figure
will only increase in the years ahead. Mashed potatoes are another
Thanksgiving favorite at my house. The potato industry is working on
biotech enhancements that we can all look forward to. Earlier this year,
researchers announced the discovery of a gene in a wild Mexican potato
that protects against blight--the terrible disease responsible for the
famine that killed millions of people in Ireland back in the 19th century.
They added the gene to another kind of potato and created a plant that
resists deadly fungal infections.
We've come a long way from the first Thanksgiving, held in 1621 after the
Pilgrims harvested their first corn crop in Massachusetts. They had lived
through an exceedingly difficult year, with about half of their number
They were so grateful to have survived in the New World that they held a
Thanksgiving celebration and invited the Wampanoag Indians to join
them--and the Wampanoag were glad to do it. They had a tradition of autumn
feasts in their own culture.
This year, farmers like me are thankful for another season of growing and
ripening. We're thankful for the ability to put food on our tables. And
we're thankful for all the things that make it possible: the soil, the
weather, the machines--and, of course, the biotechnology.
It never ceases to amaze me that some people consider biotech foods
controversial. There is no scientific evidence suggesting that they're
anything but perfectly healthy. I don't know how to put it more plainly
than this: If I had even the slightest doubt about biotech food, I
wouldn't eat it myself. And I surely wouldn't feed it to the Kleckner clan
on Thanksgiving. I've got four of my five kids, their spouses, and nine of
my eleven grandchildren coming over. Do you really think I'd feed them
something that wasn't safe?
It's important for consumers to understand that biotechnology is a process
rather than a product. Genetically modified corn is not different from
other kinds of corn--it doesn't taste different, look different or have a
different effect on our bodies. The seeds are just produced in a slightly
different way. Something tells me the Pilgrims would have planted biotech
corn if it had been available to them. The Plymouth Colony barely managed
to scrape by those first few years--and a crop failure would have meant
total disaster for them.
We're blessed to live in a time of abundance today--most Americans
probably wouldn't even notice a crop failure in Massachusetts. And that's
a very good thing, made possible by outstanding technology and extensive
We may not share the exact same challenges as the Pilgrims, but we do face
plenty of problems that the Pilgrims probably never could have imagined. I
doubt that they ever thought farmers would have to worry about how to feed
a planet with a growing population of 6 billion people.
But let's not look too far ahead today. Thanksgiving is a time for looking
back--and giving thanks for our biotech cornucopia.
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.
Poverty of Truth and Honesty
- Gurumurti Natarajan
Dear Editor of AgBioView:
There is an embarrassing poverty of truth and honesty in the article
"Genetically Modified Food Will Not Solve Hunger - Scientist (sic)"
reproduced from KTN, ANSA -English Media Service Nov. 21, 2003 in your
columns. Beginning with the title, the author to whom the quotes
attributed in the article is no scientist in the discipline in which she
has been commenting with unabashed ignorance and audacious
irresponsibility. This author has no known training, exposure or personal
work experience in the myriad of cognitive disciplines, among others being
biological sciences, research activities, agronomy or farming much less
of regulatory oversight that constitute and culminate in the
technology-driven products of genetic modification. Apparently farm
economics neither figures as the author’s forte when she makes invalid
assertions as 'smaller farms are highly productive'.
This is yet another instance of how sensationalism overrides accuracy as
evidenced in some news reports. The issues of professional crunches of
lack of time to verify every detail before meeting print deadlines, the
need to inform the public as is, and the vibrancy of a free press is
engendered by providing space for opposing views and so on have been
debated ad nauseum and is a given in every democratic society. However,
freedom comes with responsibility. Progress buoys from judicious
application of the mind over matter. The avowed imperative to keep the
readership informed comes with knowledge to distinguish between the grain
and the chaff. Apparently none of the finer traditions of journalism seem
to have had any impact on this said article.
Vandana Shiva's diatribe against all beneficial impacts stemming from a
facet of modern science is legendary. She has lost herself in her selfish
pursuit of personal glory (and materialistic gain along the way) to
sacrifice the interests of the very poor and women farmers that she so
eloquently claims to represent. There is not a shred of evidence to what
she babbles under the cloak of a 'scientist'. Ignorant writers are sucked
in by her pyrotechnics and uninformed editors fill vacant column inches to
carry their day.
The AgBioworld is respected for its scientific tenor and appreciated for
its fearless expression on matters of fact. Therefore, it ought not to
extend any credence to the Shivas of the world, even if their explanation
were that they were merely reproducing what was written elsewhere. Even
the mere reproduction of such falsehood and reprehensible dogma only add
to the ripple effect, for a lie told a thousand times over begins to gain
legitimacy among the uninitiated.
The Editorial Board of AgBioworld however is commended for using an
editorial tool of inserting "sic" to indicate that the preceding word or
phrase was as per the original version and that it does not necessarily
have their approval. Continue the great work AgBioworld that you are
already on to, but beware from unwittingly feeding yourself to the
multi-fanged fire of dishonesty, brazen conceit and vilifications of
legitimate science and technology that is perpetuated by some, all for
their personal gain.
- Yours, Gurumurti Natarajan, Ph D, India
> Genetically Modified Food Will Not Solve Hunger - Scientist (sic)
> - KTN, ANSA - English Media Service Nov. 21, 2003
> Rome, November 21 - Genetically modified crops will not solve hunger in
> developing countries, a leading Indian scientist said here today.
> Speaking at a conference on women in the developing world, Vandana Shiva
> explained that a trial introduction of GM cotton in India had been a
> "fiasco in every sense." She said that it was "the wrong solution" for
> developing countries.
Flaws in Jesuit's Arguments: Violation of Sacredness by GM?
- Wayne Parrott
> Church’s social teaching and the ethics of GMOs
> "Genetically Modified Organisms, Threat or Hope?" Nov. 10-11, 2003
> Roland Lesseps SJ and Peter Henriot SJ
> [ http://user.online.be/~sj.eur.news/doc2/GMOs2003.doc
]http://user.online.be/~sj.eur.news/doc2/GMOs2003.doc (via Agnet)
> ... We approach the topic not primarily as academics but as
> coming from a very poor African country that has made a political
> based on scientific advice, to delay importation of GM foods and the
> of GMO agriculture. Our perspective arises from daily involvement in the
lives of small-scale
> farmers and regular policy analysis of agricultural and food security
There are many other flaws in the arguments presented here by this
1) It implies there is an "intrinsic value" and "sacredness" to plants
that is somehow violated, abused or misused by genetic modification.
In this case, the threshold on genetic modification was crossed ages ago
when our current plants and animals were modified through natural
selection for agricultural purposes. Somewhere along the line, it must be
made clear that our current crops are greatly modified from their wild
Nevertheless, if one wants to use the "intrinsic value" and "sacredness"
of plants argument, I would argue that their sacredness is violated every
time a plant is attacked by insects or disease, or is suffocated by weeds,
or languishes in a drought.
Furthermore, what of the "intrinsic value" and "sacredness" of plants or
other animals in forests that are destroyed to make room for low-yielding
2) The mention of DDT, chlorofluorocarbons and thalidomide is ingenuous at
best, and an argument other groups have used. The first two predate the
era of EPA and related regulation, while thalidomide never passed muster
with FDA and was never approved in the US-- it was the Europeans who
3) It shows total buy-in to the myths promulgated by Greenpeace et al: It
associates GMOs exclusively with multinationals. It does not leave any
room for GMOs deployed along the lines of the Golden Rice model.
Furthermore, it repeats the false assertion that "terminator" technology
was meant to control staple crops used by small farmers. It also denies
the fact that biotechnology is scale-neutral, and states that it is only
good for industrial-scale agriculture. It insists that small farmers will
become dependent on multinationals for seeds, yet so many staple crops are
vegetatively propagated, rather than seed-propagated-- eg, banana,
plantain, cassava, potato, sweetpotato, taro, and yam.
4) It continues to associate hunger with uneven food distribution. The
fact remains that if crops did not fail at the local level, food
redistribution would not be necessary.
It says that hunger is due to poverty. This latter statement ignores that
fact that all the money in the world cannot grow plants out of thin air.
If there is a drought or disease epidemic, money is useless.
> The conclusions of our presentation here are therefore clear:
> Theological and ethical concerns must be primary in any discussion
promoted by church groups.
> Genetic modification does not meet the tests of the social teaching of
the church for genuine integral development that respects human rights and
the order of creation.
> The church has the responsibility to educate its members to the
religious values essential in evaluating use of GMOs in agriculture.
> Political pressures should be brought by Justice and Peace groups across
the world to promote non-GMO approaches to meeting problems of hunger.
GM Crops To Feed The World?
Food Navigator, Nov. 27, 2003
Hunger is on the rise again after falling steadily during the first half
of the 1990s, warns the UN’s annual hunger report released on Wednesday.
In the same week, a Danish task force asserts that organisations are
falling short in their responsibility to developing countries if they fail
to adopt a position with regards to genetically modified crops and their
use in these countries. Which begs the question -- what must the western
world do next?
Published by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the report
estimates that 842 million people went hungry from 1999-2001. A figure
which makes a farce of the World Food Summit goal of reducing the number
of undernourished people by half by 2015.
A timely coincidence, the Danish report published after a year-long
assessment of the pros and cons of using GM crops to fight poverty and
hunger in the third world, throws up an ongoing moral dilemma. Can the
west export foodstuffs and encourage the farming of GM crops that its own
people are refusing to consume on safety grounds? According to the Danish
interdisciplinary force, yes.
"Development aid organisations face the challenge of preparing poor
developing nations for the coming and proper handling of genetically
modified crops - regardless of whether the organisations recommend
introducing such crops or not," write the authors of the report.
Taking a forthright stance, the task force is urging all development aid
organisations to assist developing countries in the task of building up
the proper institutional capacity to make their own assessments of
genetically modified crops.
Strategies to make this possible, write the authors, include the
establishment of relevant public institutions and organisations
responsible for everything from legislation to assessment of technology
and management of environmental problems, as well as ensuring the ability
to enforce laws and regulations related to the handling of genetically
Also a necessity, cite the authors, 'ensuring support for research into
genetically modified crops in the developing countries to a far larger
extent than is currently the case, for example using
participatory/participant-oriented research methods, strategic research
partnerships and twinning arrangements across national frontiers and
across organisations in both industrialised and developing countries'.
As Europe stands on the brink of tighter rules governing genetically
modified foods, largely created to placate the suspicious, and
increasingly obese, European consumer, nearly 850 million people are
hungry. The voice of the Danish task force echoes a belief that, although
present elsewhere today in Europe, has perhaps never reverberated hard
enough. By all accounts, we should start listening.
Danish Report: GM Crops in Developing Countries - Challenges for the
- English summary of a report by a task force appointed by the Danish
Board of Technology, Nov. 2003. Excerpts below. Full summary at
In 2002, the Danish Board of Technology initiated a project on gene
technology and food supply in the Third World. A cross disciplinary task
force was appointed in support of the work of the Danish Board of
Technology. This is a summary of the Danish report that has been published
as the result of the work of the Danish Board of Technology and of the
Summary and recommendations: Can Danish development aid be used positively
to 1) incorporate genetically modified crops into the work of improving
the living conditions of the poorest population groups in developing
countries – and 2) can this be done without conflicting with existing
Danish development policy strategies? This two-pronged question
constituted the starting point of the Danish Board of Technology’s
project, and was the question the appointed task force was asked to
The task force’s main message is that:
* Genetically modified crops represent one among many technologies that
may contribute to solving food supply problems in developing countries,
but this form of agriculture is no miracle solution - at least not in the
short or medium term. Danish development aid should continue to focus on a
broad range of technological and institutional solutions in the
agricultural area with focus on responding to the needs of the poor
farmer, and from this point of view, the task force assesses that
genetically modified crops will only be able to play a relatively limited
role in the immediate future.
* The question of how best to assist countries must be assessed
specifically from case to case and from country to country based on the
four conditions listed in the box below:
I) The work must remain within the framework and the policies of Denmark
and the EU.
II) The individual countries must have ratified the Cartagena Protocol on
III) The institutional and legal frameworks needed to deal with the
environmental aspects (including problems of resistance) linked to the use
of genetically modified crops must be in place. In addition, countries
must be capable of implementing their policies and legislation.
IV) Countries must possess the capacity to assess the implications of
introducing genetically modified crops from the standpoint of their impact
on the environment, health and safety, and market, and they must also be
able to evaluate alternatives.
In the opinion of the task force, development aid organisations will be
failing in their responsibility to developing countries if they fail to
adopt a position with regard to genetically modified crops and their use
in these countries. This must be also viewed in the light of the
objectives of Danish development aid to improve agricultural production in
developing countries and aid objectives aimed at ensuring
In this regard, on the one hand it is important to ensure that good
agricultural results are not threatened by the uncontrolled introduction
and utilisation of genetically modified crops already available on the
market, and, on the other, it is only natural to examine whether certain
genetically modified crops might assist developing countries in ensuring
sustainable agricultural production and food supply in the future.
The task force emphasises a number of premises that will constitute an
important framework for aid organisations when and if a developing country
needs assistance in dealing with genetically modified crops.
* Each genetically modified crop must be assessed individually. They
cannot be dealt with en masse.
* The same yardstick cannot be applied to all developing countries.
* Existing genetically modified crops are primarily adapted to the needs
of farmers in the rich part of the world.
* Development of genetically modified crops is slow, i.e. there are
relatively few genetically modified crops on the market and relatively few
on the way in.
* Safety approval of genetically modified crops is expensive, since the
control procedures are extremely comprehensive.
* Many developing countries do not have the capacity required to undertake
needs assessment and control and would find it difficult to make their own
assessments of whether they would benefit from the crops, and whether they
could comply with the control and safety regulations.
* Patents influence development, and this may cause developing countries
major legal and economic problems when it comes to the use and development
of genetically modified crops.
* Genetically modified crops may have an adverse effect on developing
countries' competitiveness and access to western markets (e.g. due to
scepticism on the part of consumers).
* The consequences of introducing genetically modified crops are
uncertain. No-one knows for certain what their impact will be on the
environment, nutrition and biodiversity.
Our recommendations are:
* To ensure that genetically modified crops are in line with overall
social objectives relative to the reduction of poverty and nutritional
* To ensure the underpinning of civil society and openness through access
to relevant information and broad-based and open dialogue with members of
* To ensure access to technology by providing aid to public research
initiatives with a focus on the development of crops the characteristics
of which are relevant to the needs of resource-deprived farmers and
Radical Solutions for World Hunger
- CBC Radio One (Canada), Nov. 27, 2003 [ http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent
The United Nations has revealed some startling facts. It's found 25
million people die from hunger each year, and the number is on the rise.
The number of chronically hungry people around the world has also risen to
842 million. Most of them live in developing countries.
One-seventh of the world suffers malnutrition and the numbers are growing.
We bring together a panel of experts in agriculture, food distribution and
science to present three radical but achievable suggestions to help feed
Images of hunger have become alarmingly familiar on our TV screens, but
this morning we've asked Leslie Shanks to go one step further. She's the
President of the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders and she
described a family in the grip of starvation.
War and conflict cause some of the cruelest waves of hunger in the world.
But many millions of people are kept poor and hungry by more banal causes
… inefficient agricultural systems and lack of access to global markets to
sell the food they can produce. One of the bitterest ironies is that so
many of the world's most malnourished are actually farmers.
This morning we've asked three experts in food policy to propose some
radical solutions to world hunger. First, Dr. C.S. Prakash is the Director
of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University. We
reached him at his home in Alabama. Dr. John Watson. He's the president
and CEO of CARE Canada and he was in our Ottawa studio this morning. Dr.
Joachim Von Braun is the director general of the International Food Policy
Research Institute, and we reached him at his home outside Washington,
Listen to 'The Current: Part 3' at
]http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2003/200311/20031127.html (Scroll down to
'Solutions to Hunger Panel'
CropGen Welcomes AEBC Report on GM Crop Co-existence
London 26th November 2003 – CropGen welcomes the AEBC(1) report on GM crop
co-existence as another step towards the considered commercialisation of
GM crops in the UK. CropGen also calls for the organic industry to set
reasoned, sensible and workable thresholds.
Professor Vivian Moses, Chairman of the CropGen panel, said: “Co-existence
between all forms of agriculture is not a new concept and with six billion
people living on a crowded planet it is only practical to adopt an
attitude of live and let live."
Co-existence between GM crops and non-GM crops can and is already
occurring successfully around the world. Last year in the US, 39 million
hectares of GM crops were grown and yet the US is also home to the biggest
organic market in the world.
The recently completed UK FarmScale Evaluations have been a unique
opportunity to put in practice and test the performance of guidelines for
managing co-existence. With no loss of non-GM or organic status throughout
the trials process, there is no valid reason for co-existence not to be
successful in the UK.
CropGen has long advocated choice for consumers and producers, including
the choice for British farmers to take advantage of GM technology bringing
them in line with the other six million farmers around the world already
reaping benefits from GM technology.
1. GM crops? Coexistence and Liability:
Co-existence of GM and non GM crops: case study of the UK
Full report at [ http://www.bioportfolio.com/pgeconomics
The key findings of this report are:
1. GM crops can co-exist with conventional and organic crops in the UK
without causing any economic or marketing problems;
2. Claims by anti GM groups that GM and non GM crops cannot co-exist are
These conclusions are based on the context of the crops in which GM crops
are being developed and the extent to which non GM demand exists, and the
experiences of UK arable farmers in successfully implementing and managing
the co-existence of specialist crops with other crops for many years.
Debate Ends, All Passion Spent
- John Vidal, The Guardian (London), Nov. 26, 2003
When, years and years ago, the government announced a public debate and
field trials on GM crops, it could hardly imagine that the final scenes
would be played out in the basement of a west London hotel whose address
had been kept secret until the last minute - or that both sides would be
as polarised as ever.
Yesterday was a gathering of Acre, the government's advisory committee on
releases into the environment, charged with recommending whether Britain
goes ahead with GM or not. It should have been a rollicking affair, as
interested parties gave their last word on the field scale trials. All
were there, but, it seemed, it was a case of all passion spent.
Lord Melchett of the Soil Association, once caught trampling GM crops, was
talking amicably to Monsanto. Friends of the Earth, in woolly hats and
jumpers, took tea with Bayer, another GM company. Scientists sat down
beside activists, and district councillors chatted with civil servants.
If nothing else has been learned in five years, all sides can now put a
face to their enemies. Acre's 12 independent scientists had done three
years of field-scale trials. Having concluded, broadly, that two of the
crops tested were bad for wildlife and that one was better, the 12 asked
for last submissions, and received more than 60 - some succinct.
Ms Ariel Blackadder of Fife Green party was adamant: "Britain does not
want them." Colin Eady, identified only as "a biotechnologist" with a
doctorate, said he had been "horrified" by the reporting of the trials
results. Acre had asked some key players to appear in person. Brian
Johnson of English Nature, said that if GM was grown commercially, then
wildlife would suffer even more than it had been shown to in the field
trials. "The reality is that farmers will do things that they should not
do. Farmland wildlife is at a low ebb. We cannot risk any further
reductions," he said.
Daniel Pearce of Scimac, the GM industry body, took the opposite tack,
maintaining that big farmers, especially, were responsible and could grow
the crops any way that government wanted them to, and did not mind being
Watching was Paul Rylot, head of bioscience at Bayer. "It doesn't really
matter what Britain decides now. GM crops are a global success." "If
activists acted like GM companies, we'd be crucified," said Lord Melchett,
appalled by what he had heard during the session. At the very last,
hostilities were happily resumed.
Open Source Genetics Needed to Feed The World
- Scienceinpublic.com, Nov. 27, 2003 (Via Agnet)
This week Australian genetics pioneer Richard Jefferson was recognised by
Scientific American, the prestigious international science magazine, as
one of the 50 global technology leaders of 2003. His latest inventions
could unleash a new Green Revolution, giving farmers, researchers and
agriculture businesses across the world access to the potential of modern
And he’s calling on the global biotechnology community to adopt open
access genetics - freeing up the tools of modern genetics and biology from
the shackles of excessive patenting. Jefferson will be honoured at a
presentation on Thursday 11 December at the New York Academy of Sciences
along with Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and other science, engineering,
commerce and public policy leaders.
Professor Richard Jefferson and his team of scientists and IP experts at
CAMBIA (Center for the Application of Molecular Biology to International
Agriculture) are creating a powerful and freely available genetics and
policy toolkit that will allow plant breeders and scientists around the
world to add new directions to conventional plant and animal breeding.
China’s leading plant geneticist, Professor Zhang Qifa, has already used
the toolkit to create 20,000 unique rice lines in his quest for more
robust, high yielding rice that uses less water and are resistant to pests
"We don’t always need to insert foreign genes," says Jefferson, "as we are
yet to harness the potential of the crop’s own genome." "Biotechnology is
being stifled by the complexity, expense and misuse of patenting. So we
are taking a different approach with our toolkit to ensure it’s available
for all to use," says Jefferson.
"CAMBIA and the Rockefeller Foundation are working together to create an
'Open Access' biological technology movement - just as the computing
community has created Linux and other great Open Source innovations. Our
tools will be free to all and are crafted to unleash the creativity of
researchers and farmers. Companies will have much greater opportunities to
create wealth from new crops and products, winning much-needed public
trust in the process"
Jefferson originally founded CAMBIA in Canberra in 1991, to give
developing countries access to the tools of molecular biology. It soon
became clear, however that many of the same barriers to the creation and
adoption of new technology in developing countries are also hindering
businesses and the research community in the developed world - in
particular the confused web of intellectual property rights which is
hurting both small and large biotechnology companies, and which has gutted
the public sector.
Rice Variety Growing in Saline Conditions Developed
- P. Sunderarajan, The Hindu (India), Nov. 27, 2003
In a breakthrough, scientists at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
have created a new rice variety, which could be grown in saline
conditions. The development assumes significance in the context of
assessments by international agencies such as the United Nations
Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change that because of global warming,
sea water level could rise and inundate low lying areas along coastal
Speaking to reporters here today, the Chairman of the Foundation, M.S.
Swaminathan, said the new variety had been found to be highly effective in
preliminary studies at the greenhouse level. It was now ready for field
trial. The Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation under the Department
of Biotechnology recently gave its approval for a limited field trial and
it would begin soon. The new rice variety had been created by
incorporating genes isolated from some plant species obtained from a
mangrove in Tamil Nadu into an existing rice strain.
The Foundation was also working on creating saline tolerant varieties of
pulses and mustard. Some progress had been made on these crops, but unlike
in the case of rice, tests with regards to these crops were still at the
greenhouse level, he said. The Foundation had launched a programme to
develop crops tolerant to saline conditions so that India would be ready
with alternatives when the predictions of climate change experts came
true. This was essential particularly since India had a long coast and
much of agricultural activity took place in the coastal areas. "If all
goes well, the new rice variety should be ready for commercialisation in
five to six years.''
Regulatory mechanism needed
Dr. Swaminathan said there was also a need for a review of the regulatory
mechanism for genetic engineering to make it more effective. In
particular, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee at the Centre
needed to be headed by a professional, who had a sufficiently long tenure.
"As individuals, the Additional Secretary level officers, who now head the
panel, may be good and also be efficient and knowledgeable. But genetic
engineering is a high complex scientific issue, which is constantly
evolving. The officers could not be expected to do justice, more so as
they are liable to be transferred frequently. In the past two to three
years itself, the head of the committee has been changed four times.''
Generate more jobs
Speaking at a national workshop organised by Delhi-based NGO, Gene
Campaign, Dr. Swaminathan emphasised the need for diversification of the
agricultural sector and generation of more job opportunities in the form
of small scale agro-industries and other agri business so that incidents
such as the recent clashes in Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra were
He said the clashes were only the tip of the iceberg and an extreme
manifestation of the unemployment problem in the country. It was only the
beginning and "inter-State job wars'' could continue unless steps were
taken to address the employment issue squarely. "There may be a feel-good
factor in the industry. But there is a feel-bad factor in the rural areas.
We need a strategy for growth that also provides jobs. Job-less growth
cannot be sustainable.''
Tobacco Plants Produce Spider Silk
- Gabe Romain, Betterhumans, Nov. 26, 2003
Transgenic tobacco plants have successfully synthesized spider silk, a
development that could allow industrial-scale production of synthetic
spider silk that's as strong as the real stuff. E.S. Piruzyan and
colleagues from the Institute of General Genetics in Moscow, Russia are
seeking ways to produce the silk in industrial quantity because of its
strength and toughness.
Five times stronger than steel and more elastic than Kevlar, spider silk
could be used for a variety of applications, from medical sutures to space
stations. Spider silk is so desirable that scientists have spent decades
trying to find a way to synthesize it.
Current projects to create spider silk include efforts by Nexia
Biotechnologies in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec to genetically modify goats to
produce milk rich with spider silk proteins that can be spun into fiber.
Now, the Russian researchers have inserted a gene similar to one that
enables spiders to produce their webs into tobacco plants. The plants then
produced the spider silk protein, called spidroin.
Better than bacteria
Previously, the researchers tried to produce spidroin from bacteria, but
the amount the bacteria produced was minimal because of their difficulty
synthesizing long chains of complex molecules. Producing proteins from
transgenic plants is thought to be about six to seven times cheaper than
using genetically engineered bacteria.
While the researchers were concerned that the spidroin protein could have
been toxic to the tobacco plants, causing them to kill themselves, they
found that there was no impact on the plants regardless of the amount of
the protein that they produced.
Out of the Ashes
- Kevin Conron, The Gazette, Nov. 27, 2003
Alfred Hawkins (left), an agricultural technician at the University of
Maryland's Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Upper
Marlboro, weighs some dried tobacco before handing it to fellow technician
Tobacco is being recruited to switch sides in the war against cancer.
Researchers at a farm in Upper Marlboro are trying to determine if the
plant that caused 440,000 smoking-related deaths in the United States last
year can be used to cure cancer and other diseases.
The farming methods would be far different than for smoking or chewing
tobacco. Gone would be the tractor-driven planters manned by laborers
planting each seedling by hand. Instead, hydroseeding -- spraying the soil
with a combination of tobacco seed and some binding agent -- would be
And forget about the backbreaking job of manually cutting the plants at
maturity and hanging them in barns to dry. Tobacco would be harvested
mechanically and taken to a processing plant the same day. But instead of
the usual 6,000 plants per acre, 100,000 would be grown, letting farmers
reap three harvests instead of one in a growing season.
If the plant can be grown for medicinal and other beneficial purposes,
Southern Maryland farms could be awash once again in rippling waves of a
crop that dates back more than 350 years and helped shape the region's
history and culture..... Read on at
Thailand Spurs Biotech Agriculture: May Leave Philippines Behind
- Manila Bulletin, Nov. 28, 2003
A Filipino expert on biotechnology recently warned the agricultural
industry to continue developing biotechnology in the country as our Asian
neighbours are fast catching up with the technology. Dr. Benigno Peczon, a
Ph.D. graduate from Purdue University and the current President of the
Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), said that the Thai
government is gearing up on its biotechnology initiatives and is
determined to lead the region in this field.
He warned that if no steps will be undertaken by the Philippines
concerning biotechnology, we "will again be left behind in this field in
the same manner that we were overtaken by our neighbouring countries in
rice research". The country used to lead in rice research and development
in the 1960's. The Philippines, being the first country in Asia to
commercially plant biotechnology modified food crops, is currently ahead
in the field of agricultural biotechnology.
Peczon explained that with the necessary strides being done by Thailand,
to venture into a more aggressive biotech policy, "they could well
overtake the Philippines in the next 10 years." Peczon also said that
"Thailand, being 90 percent hybridized in corn, compared to the
Philippines 20% has a much larger potential in increasing its biotech corn
Earlier, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin issued a call on the development of
agricultural biotechnology in Thailand.
In an interview, he said that "in order for the country to catch up with
world economy and biotechnology development, investments in the
Biotechnology Center should be strengthened".
Don't Let Ideology Trump Science
- Alan I. Leshner, Science, Editorial, Vol. 302, No. 5650, p. 1479. Nov.
28, 2003. Excerpt below...
Whenever science is attacked on ideological grounds, its integrity and
usefulness are threatened. Society cannot afford for moralistic dogma to
replace scientific judgment when the public's welfare is at stake. We have
all been heartened in the past few weeks by the responses of many
scientific and academic organizations [including the American Association
for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)] and by the protests of many people
who have written to defend science in the popular press. But rising up in
protest as a community after the fact can only protect us for a while.
Retaining control of the integrity of our enterprise requires that we
engage more regularly and broadly with the public. Our objectives and
strategies should be made more transparent to our fellow citizens, and we
must expand our efforts to educate both policy-makers and the broader
public about how science works. Science has served society well in
tackling some of the world's greatest problems, but only as long as it has
evaded capture by narrow-minded interests.
Alan I. Leshner is chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher
Tropical Soils and Food Security: The Next 50 Years
- M. A. Stocking, Science: Vol. 302 No. 5649, p1356-1359. Nov. 21 2003
Summary: An appreciation of the dynamism of the links between soil
resources and society provides a platform for examining food security over
the next 50 years. Interventions to reverse declining trends in food
security must recognize the variable resilience and sensitivity of major
tropical soil types. In most agro-ecosystems, declining crop yield is
exponentially related to loss of soil quality. For the majority
smallholder (subsistence) farmers, investments to reverse degradation are
primarily driven by private benefit, socially or financially. "Tragedy of
the commons" scenarios can be averted by pragmatic local solutions that
help farmers to help themselves.
Profile of Jeremy Rifkin and the Foundation on Economic Trends
- Full article at [ http://www.activistcash.com/
]http://www.activistcash.com Click on 'Foundation on
Economic Trends' under 'Activist Groups'
"In the America Rifkin envisions, beef cattle and capitalism are banished,
the buffalo roam, the deer and the antelope play and Americans eat peas
and corn bread in poverty but in solidarity with their Third World
brothers." - From a Houston Chronicle book review of Foundation on
Economic Trends founder Jeremy Rifkin's Beyond Beef, April 12, 1992
"Who is this Rifkin, and what are his credentials? He has a long history
of opposing things, but as to credentials, he has none ... Rifkin’s
scenario of disaster from an unleashed new organism is groundless. Genetic
engineering is an important new technology. It is time to thank Jeremy
Rifkin for his interest and show him the door The only danger to humanity
lies in continuing to listen to Rifkin." - Los Angeles Times editorial,
April 17, 1986
"Mr. Rifkin’s scientific acumen is nil, and his scare scenarios are pure
fantasy." - Dr. Henry I. Miller, former chief biotechnology policy
coordinator for the Food and Drug Administration, in The New York Times,
November 16, 1986
"... a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda
masquerading as scholarship. Among books promoted as serious intellectual
statements by important thinkers, I don’t think I have ever read a
shoddier work." - The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould on Jeremy
Rifkin’s Algeny, in the January 1985 issue of Discover
Background: The Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) is a platform for the
neo-Luddite intellectual guru Jeremy Rifkin. Lacking scientific or
technical background, Rifkin is a peddler of half-truths, suppositions,
scare stories, and outright superstition. His real expertise is in
organizing and inspiring uninformed activists, who take his science
fiction as the gospel truth.
While most people think about food in terms of nutrition and taste, Rifkin
proclaims that "eating is the ultimate political act" -- and aims to
impose his politics on the dinner plate. His primary targets are modern
farming techniques, meat production and consumption, and all forms of
genetic technology. Rifkin warns that biotechnology threatens "a form of
annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust" and calls beef a
"new form of human evil."
Unfortunately, Rifkin's influence stretches far beyond the environmental
and animal-rights activists who happily follow wherever he leads. He is a
charmer, and a gifted rhetorician. Rifkin claims, accurately, to be an
"advisor to heads of state and government officials around the world." He
testifies before Congress, generates significant press coverage for
himself and his campaigns, and has been named by National Journal magazine
as one of the 150 Americans with the greatest influence over federal
Attacking Genetically Enhanced Crops
National Journal included Rifkin's name alongside real experts because he
"skillfully manipulated legal and bureaucratic procedures to slow the pace
of biotechnology." Nobel Prize-winning scientist David Baltimore echoed
this point in the October 1983 issue of MIT Technology Review: I think
Rifkin is trying to stop everything that's going on in biotechnology.
That's why he's focusing on trivial considerations instead of legitimate
serious issues ... And I don't see why the whole world has to frame the
debate around his particular myopic views.
The conclusions of Baltimore and the National Journal are corroborated by
a $150,000 grant that FOET received from the John Merck Fund in 1999. The
Fund's tax documents state that the grant went "to file two federal
lawsuits aimed at slowing the current rapid transition to genetically
engineered agriculture in the United States." It just so happens that in
1999 Rifkin organized a coalition of groups, including Greenpeace, to
bring Monsanto to court for make-believe violations of anti-trust law.
Of course, Rifkin couldn't care less if a biotechnology company somehow
kept prices artificially high. He wants to ban genetically enhanced crops
entirely. So this lawsuit, like so much of his anti-biotech activity, was
simply legal monkey-wrenching intended to keep biotech firms busy fending
off nuisance lawsuits. The 1999 lawsuit with Greenpeace was nothing new
* In 1983, FOET sued to prevent a field test of Frostban, a harmless form
of bacteria genetically altered to protect plants from freezing
temperatures. Rifkin managed to delay the field test for three years, at
which point Frostban was finally demonstrated to be safe, as expected.
* In 1986, simply by threatening opposition to a soil bacteria genetically
designed to protect corn from worms, Rifkin got a crucial test cancelled.
The EPA believed the "microbial pesticide was harmless," according toThe
New York Times, but the test was prevented because of fears that "Jeremy
Rifkin would sue."
* In 1994, Rifkin organized protestors to dump milk in the streets. The
unfounded fear this time? Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), an
FDA-approved, lab-produced version of a naturally occurring cow hormone.
Cows with more BGH produce more milk, so scientists have learned to
supplement the animals' natural supply. But Rifkin raised a red flag:
"Whole communities will be devastated," he intoned. But today, more than
half of all dairy farms with 500 or more cows use rBGH -- with no ill
effects among humans or animals.
* Rifkin has used America's current focus on possible bioterrorism attacks
to promote his own agenda. In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, he wrote that genetic
improvement technology "being used commercially in the fields of
agriculture, animal husbandry and medicine today is potentially
convertible to the development of a wide range of pathogens that can
attack plant, animal and human populations."
* Rifkin's rhetorical scare tactics have reached well beyond U.S. borders.
FOET brags that it helped "facilitate a European Union moratorium on the
commercial introduction of genetically modified food crops in Europe."
Dr. Henry I. Miller, the former chief biotechnology policy coordinator for
the Food and Drug Administration, explained the practical effects of
Rifkin's anti-technology activism in the April 22, 1997 issue of the
Journal of Commerce: "Rifkin ... wants to banish biotech foods and
pharmaceuticals and keep future products from being developed and tested.
He has tried to interfere with the research, development and marketing of
products that feed the planet and that prevent and cure fatal diseases. He
has deluged government regulators with nuisance petitions demanding that
biotech products be banned. During my years as director of the Food and
Drug Administration's Office of Biotechnology, I regularly coordinated the
agency's response to his petitions. Along with other federal agencies, the
FDA expended tens of thousands of man-hours responding to Mr. Rifkin. The
time could have been spent prosecuting quacks or evaluating new drugs for
Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute is even more blunt. He writes in the
Washington Times that:
Mr. Rifkin is an eco-parasite, feeding on the fears of a nation that
unfortunately has little understanding of food safety issues. Americans
should feel free to choose their diets on the basis of nutrition and
preference, not Mr. Rifkin's hysterical headline-hunting.
The Spider at the Center of the Web: Jeremy Rifkin is the chief organizer
of the anti-biotech movement. The New York Times' Keith Schneider, who
covered Rifkin for 15 years, says: "He is one of the greatest grassroots
activists of his generation. Period."
A consummate coalition builder, as early as 1983 Rifkin had organized an
alliance of environmental groups to fight (in court and elsewhere) the
testing of agricultural genetic technology. In 1986, he organized select
farmers and animal-rights groups to fight against a hormone supplement now
commonly and safely used in dairy cows. By 1987, Rifkin's reputation had
solidified, and Science Magazine wrote: "Predictably, social activist
Jeremy Rifkin, head of the Foundation on Economic Trends, has played a
central role in forming the loose coalition of animal patent opponents. So
far, it consists of 14 animal welfare organizations, 13 farm groups, 5
religious denominations, and assorted other activists." .....
All these coalitions, appeals, and treaty proposals serve Rifkin's goal of
hampering the progress of biotechnology. Rifkin seeks to throw up as many
barriers as possible to scientific development and production, including a
proposed global tax on biotech drugs. Whatever flowery language Rifkin may
employ, and whichever groups he may convince to join his coalition du
jour, the real tangible goal of his activism is to halt technological
progress in its tracks.
More at [ http://www.activistcash.com/ ]http://www.activistcash.com