Today in AgBioView: December 10, 2003:
* Indian scientists unveil protein-rich rice
* Scientist attacks GM opposition
* Feeding the world while preserving ecosystems
* Consumers Prefer Locally Grown Foods Over Organic
* Genes, Trade, and Regulation:The Seeds of Conflict in Food Biotechnology
* UN: Nine billion people by 2300
Indian scientists unveil protein-rich rice
- Press Trust of India, December 10, 2003
Indian scientists who created protein-rich potato by genetic modification
(GM) say they have now put the same gene in rice to enhance its protein
"We have transformed the rice by adding the amaranthus gene (AmA1) in the
laboratory," Subhra Chakraborty of the National Centre for Plant Genome
Research in New Delhi said.
"The project was initiated this year by the Department of Biotechnology,"
she told the 10th congress of Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists
and Molecular Biologists here today.
The gene had been added to five rice varieties cultivated in India,
including IR-72 and Pusa Basmati, Chakraborty said.
Rice normally contains about seven per cent protein. The gene addition was
expected to improve the amount of protein and also the amino-acid content,
Chakraborty said work had also started for putting the AmA1 gene into
cassava and sweet potato that are eaten by the poor in several parts of
"These crops contain only carbohydrates and no protein at all," she
pointed out. "By putting the AmA1 gene we expect to render these poor
man's food more nutritious than they are at present.
Chakraborty said that addition of AmA1 gene to potato increased its
protein content by as much as 45 per cent and yield by 20 per cent. "We
still do not know how exactly this gene does this," said Chakraborty, who
has been involved in this field of research for over 14 years.
She said it would be at least a year before farmers could grow this
protein enhanced variety since it was yet to be cleared by the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). "We will be very soon applying to
GEAC for clearance providing them all the scientific data," she said.
On the controversy over the genetically modified potato, she said it was
unfortunate. "All we did was to enhance the nutritional quality of potato
which is the fourth largest crop grown in the world," she said.
"We never said or claimed it is going to solve malnutrition." The gene
AmA1, which has been patented by the Indian scientists, was isolated from
grain amaranthus that grows in the wild in northern India.
Scientist attacks GM opposition
- ABC News (Australia), December 12, 2003
One of the world's leading plant scientists has described opposition to
genetically modified crops as a crime against humanity.
Dr Ingo Potrykus is a former professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology and was responsible for the creation of the so-called golden
rice, genetically modified to contain vitamin A.
He wants to give it to farmers in developing countries for free, to fight
vitamin A deficiencies, but Dr Potrykus says he's encountered significant
opposition from anti-GM groups.
"If the opposition would offer any alternative which could do the job then
I could in part understand the opposition, but as the opposition has
nothing to offer instead, I must blame the opposition that it is
responsible for unnecessary suffering and deaths of millions of people,
and I consider this a crime to humanity."
Feeding the world while preserving ecosystems
- Cornell University (Via Agnet), December 9, 2003
An international group of agricultural scientists is studying how to feed
the world while conserving natural ecosystems. In a first step, the
Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management program of the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has chosen
Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to study how
to unite agricultural and environmental land management worldwide.
Louise Buck, Cornell senior extension associate in natural resources, will
lead the "ecoagriculture" assessment team. "Around the world there has
been too much competition between agriculture and natural resources," says
Buck. "This is bringing together the state of the art in natural science
and social science research, all for managing agricultural land systems
and conserving biodiversity. We are looking for synergies."
The Cornell assessment group includes: Norman Uphoff, director of the
Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development
(CIIFAD); Thomas Gavin, Cornell associate professor of natural resources;
David R. Lee, Cornell professor of applied economics and management; Diji
Chandrasekharan Behr, postdoctoral fellow in natural resources; and Fred
Werner, a researcher in natural resources.
The final report, when prepared, will be presented at the International
Conference of Ecoagriculture Innovators, scheduled to convene at the World
Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2004. Ecoagriculture
is defined as sustainable agriculture and associated management of natural
resources that enhance farm productivity, encourage sustainable
production, improve rural livelihood and maintain biodiversity
Buck says that the effects of agriculture on biodiversity are well-known
in many regions of the world, but the impact of biodiversity on
agriculture is not well-understood. "By taking such a comprehensive
approach and casting a wide net, the assessment can demonstrate what
information exists and whether it is available for different audiences,"
Consumers Prefer Locally Grown Foods Over Organic
- The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, December 9, 2003
Consumers who participated in a recent marketing survey were enthusiastic
about locally grown food and supportive of the farmers who grow it. The
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University
conducted the study.
“The term locally grown, when combined with family farms, appears to be a
powerful marketing message,” said Leopold Center Marketing and Food
Systems coordinator Rich Pirog. “Consumers said that if price and
appearance were equal, they would choose products with these features over
Pirog’s observations stem from an Internet study that tested prototypes
for food ecolabels – seals or logos indicating that a product has met a
certain set of environmental and/or social criteria. The study included
survey responses from more than 1,600 consumers in Iowa and seven other
Midwestern states and the Boston and Seattle metropolitan areas.
In the survey, consumers were asked to respond to one of three sets of
ecolabel prototypes for fresh produce (grapes) that conveyed information
on product origin, distance from farm to point of sale, transport method
and the environmental impact of its transport measured by the amount of
fuel emissions. They also were asked a series of questions about their
perceptions of locally grown/raised products and meats. Another group of
consumers in the survey did not view any ecolabels.
More than 75 percent of the consumers in both groups chose the products
labeled “grown locally by family farmers” as their first choice for
produce or meat products. In both groups, consumers were most responsive
to labels that connected product freshness with the time (in days) that it
took for the product to travel from farm to store.
About 25 percent of the consumers in both groups said they would pay a
premium of 6 to 15 percent for products with these additional qualities.
Pirog said a similar response came from a second, smaller population
sample in the study—managers of food-related businesses, such as
supermarkets, meat lockers and distributors.
“Food business respondents perceived that more than 50 percent of their
customers would be interested in ecolabels,” he said. “Although their idea
of local was much broader geographically than the one held by consumers,
they said that their customers would most often request 'grown locally'
over other options, with price and appearance being equal.”
Pirog said the results show that ecolabels can be an effective way to
educate consumers about locally grown, sustainably raised foods. Although
not rated as highly in the survey, a product’s secondary benefits—low
environmental costs and support for the local economy and farmers—can be
linked to freshness and quality, issues of critical importance to
Pirog noted that conclusions drawn from this Internet study, although
commonly used in product marketing research, cannot be applied to a
general population. Consumer respondents did not represent a statistically
random sample of the three geographical areas but were selected randomly
from e-mail address lists owned by a survey administrator.
Pirog is working with the Business Analysis Laboratory at Iowa State to
refine the ecolabel concept. The work is part of the Leopold Center’s
marketing and food systems initiative, which includes projects directed by
center staff and researchers from ISU and other Iowa organizations. The
market research also has looked at food miles—the distance produce travels
from the farm to point of purchase in both local and conventional
The report, "Ecological Value Assessment: Consumer and food Business
Perceptions of Local Foods," is available on the Leopold Center’s web
site, http://www.leopold.iastate.edu (look under Papers and Information),
or contact the center at (515) 294-3711.
Through its research and education programs, the Leopold Center supports
the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural
resources. Center funding comes from state appropriations and from fees on
nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, as established by the 1987 Iowa
Groundwater Protection Act.
Genes, Trade, and Regulation:The Seeds of Conflict in Food Biotechnology
By Thomas Bernauer
Agricultural (or "green") biotechnology is a source of growing tensions in
the global trading system, particularly between the United States and the
European Union. Genetically modified food faces an uncertain future. The
technology behind it might revolutionize food production around the world.
Or it might follow the example of nuclear energy, which declined from a
symbol of socioeconomic progress to become one of the most unpopular and
uneconomical innovations in history.
This book provides novel and thought-provoking insights into the
fundamental policy issues involved in agricultural biotechnology. Thomas
Bernauer explains global regulatory polarization and trade conflict in
this area. He then evaluates cooperative and unilateral policy tools for
coping with trade tensions. Arguing that the tools used thus far have been
and will continue to be ineffective, he concludes that the risk of a
full-blown trade conflict is high and may lead to reduced investment and
the decline of the technology. Bernauer concludes with suggestions for
policy reforms to halt this trajectory--recommendations that strike a
sensible balance between public-safety concerns and private economic
freedom--so that food biotechnology is given a fair chance to prove its
environmental, health, humanitarian, and economic benefits.
This book will equip companies, farmers, regulators, NGOs, academics,
students, and the interested public--including both advocates and critics
of green biotechnology--with a deeper understanding of the political,
economic, and societal factors shaping the future of one of the most
revolutionary technologies of our times.
Thomas Bernauer is Professor of Political Science at the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology (ETH) and a widely published author on
international economic and environmental issues.
"Despite working from the same body of scientific assessments, governments
in Europe and North America have arrived at polar opposite conclusions
about the safety of genetically engineered foods--national differences
that have magnified into a global food fight. Where other studies of this
problem wear blinders as they attempt to brand novel foods 'good' or
'bad,' this refreshingly clinical analysis instead trains the analytical
tools of political science on the root causes of regulatory polarization.
Not only does Bernauer reveal why Europe and America have arrived on
opposite sides of the controversy--and why the gap is likely to yawn
further--he also offers a market-based strategy for accommodating
regulatory diversity in this era of globalization."--David G. Victor,
author of Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol
"Policymakers, scholars, and every citizen concerned about the future of
the environment, hunger, human health, and the world food supply should
read this book."--Ronald Mitchell, University of Oregon
"This book provides a clear and well-developed argument that the
successful development of the agricultural biotechnology sector depends on
numerous decisions that have yet to be taken and would require the
alignment of research and innovation strategies far more closely to
consumer and regulatory requirements than has hitherto been the
case."--Erik Millstone, Science Policy Research Unit, Sussex University
UN: Nine billion people by 2300
- Reuters, Dec 10, 2003
The human race could have nine billion people by 2300, Japanese will live
to 108, and Africa's population will explode while Europeans could become
a dwindling species, the United Nations predicted.
In its first projection of how the world's population will have evolved in
three centuries from now, the UN Population Division forecast an increase
from the current 6.3 billion people to about nine billion, providing the
trend toward smaller families continues.
But if fertility levels in the developing world remain at today's levels,
the global population would reach 244 billion in 2150 and 134 trillion in
2300, according to the report, "World Population in 2300."
"It's like the Titanic with an iceberg ahead," said Joseph Chamie,
director of the population division. "You sink because the rates are so
low or you simply grow too rapidly because the rates are too high. Either
way you have to change course."
Even small changes could make a huge difference, he said. The nine billion
estimate is based on a two-child family but one-quarter of a child more
per family could boost the population in 2300 to 36.4 billion.
"It's like if you are too obese you could die," Chamie said. "But if you
are too light and you start wasting away you could die because you are
underweight. It's the same with population, being too large, too small,
growing too rapidly or too slowly."
The projections for three centuries in advance are the most distant
forecast ever given by the United Nations. But Chamie maintained
policymakers struggling with climate change, agriculture production and
immigration needed long-term projections to take corrective action.
Longer life expectancy
People in rich countries will live much longer. Americans, Swedes and
Japanese can expect life expectancies of more than 100 years on average.
And in China people are expected to live until 85, Chamie said.
The good news, according to Chamie, was a trend toward smaller families
seen in a variety of nations. He noted that two children were the norm in
such countries as Iran, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand.
"Men and women are attaining some control over the number and spacing of
children," he said in an interview.
But in Europe, Japan, Australia or Canada, the families are too small. The
report warns that at current levels of 1.4 children per family and no
increase in immigration, there would only be 232 Europeans in a 100 years
for every 1,000 today.
Russia, Italy and Spain would only have about 1 percent of their current
size if they did not increase the number of children by 2300. And the
population in all of Germany would be down to the current size of Berlin,
Some nations, like Italy, are taking remedial steps and offering more than
$US1,200 for the birth of a child.
The United States is nearly alone among industrial nations in seeing an
upward trend, in part due to immigrants, who have more children in the
first generation and what Chamie calls native optimism with "people
thinking the future is brighter."
The United States has 295 million people today and projections are for a
doubling to 523 million by 2300.
In Africa, the population will double to 2.3 billion people, from 13% of
the world's people today to 24% in 2300, assuming treatment for AIDS is
Latin America and the Caribbean will remain about the same or decline
slightly. And Asia is expected to decrease, from 61% of the world's
population to 55% by 2300, the report said.