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Date:

December 30, 2003

Subject:

Altered Life for Brazil's Farmers; Regulatory Mess in

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 31, 2003:

* Iran Earthquake - What Can You Do?
* Seeds Alter Life for Brazil's Farmers
* India's Regulatory System and the recent Delhi Meeting
* Organic Plant Breeding - Keeping it Pure? - Readers Respond
* Mad Cow Scaremongers
* Life and Work of Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate
* How Scientists Develop GM Plants: Graphic
Animation * Genetic Remixes or Tabloid Fodder?
* Wakeup Call on the Food Front
* Pass The Toxins and Carcinogens
--

AgBioWorld Wishes Every One a Splendid and Happpy New Year!!

---

Iran Earthquake - What Can You Do?

You can donate using Mastercard or Visa on the
Web right now at http://www.ifrc.org

---


Seeds Alter Life for Brazil's Farmers

- Alan Clendenning, AP, Dec. 31, 2003
http://www.iht.com/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articleprint.tmplh&ArticleId=123357



'Genetically modified soybeans bring prosperity as demand soars'

Julio De Castilhos, Brazil: They are counting on
another bumper soybean crop in southern Brazil,
where a new breed of prosperous farmers work the
fields in air-conditioned tractors and run to
town in big new pickups.

The seeds being sown - and making the farmers
rich - are genetically modified to provide bigger
yields at lower costs than conventional soybeans.
They were originally smuggled into the country
during a longstanding ban on so-called transgenic
seed.

While Brazil's ban did not stop many farmers, it
made it impossible for Monsanto, the world's
leading agricultural biotechnology company, to
collect seed revenues or crop royalties, as it
does from farmers in the United States and
elsewhere.

American farmers are livid, but growers in towns
like Júlio de Castilhos are beaming. "Every year
it's just getting better," said Rodrigo Martins.
Now 24, he started farming soybeans at the age of
17 and gave up plans to go to law school because
he was making so much money. "With GM soy,"
Martins said, "you produce lots more profits in
six months instead of a year, and it's not as
much work."

In response to soaring world demand for soybeans
used in products ranging from animal feed to
processed food, Brazil's production has
skyrocketed. It is expected to surpass the United
States as the world's top soybean exporter next
year. An estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of
Brazil's entire soybean crop is grown with seeds
smuggled in from neighboring countries and
replicated locally. In Rio Grande do Sul,
Brazil's third-largest soybean growing state,
transgenic seeds are used to produce as much as
90 percent of the annual harvest, experts say. In
the United States, nearly 80 percent of the
soybean crop is genetically engineered.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican,
blames Brazil's government - which rarely
enforced a longstanding ban on transgenic
soybeans - for allowing the situation to get out
of control. Brazil's soybean farmers are getting
what amounts to an indirect subsidy, he contends,
and are robbing Monsanto of money to develop new
seeds that would help American farmers become
more competitive. "It's unfair competition," said
Grassley.

Brazilian farmers acknowledge using illegal seed
but say that their actions are forcing the
government to legalize transgenic soybeans.
Brazil permitted the planting of transgenic
soybeans for the first time this season, and a
bill is wending its way through Congress that
would create the country's first rules allowing
biotechnology in agriculture. Monsanto's soybean
seeds are spliced with a bacterium's gene that
makes the plants immune to the company's popular
herbicide Roundup, which farmers can then use to
kill weeds while the soybean plants flourish.

Critics are worried about long-term environmental
effects. Brazil's ban was in line with that of
most European countries, which do not permit
genetically engineered crops. Smuggled transgenic
seeds were introduced in Júlio de Castilhos by an
Uruguayan trucker in 1996, and skeptical farmers
were amazed at the results. Oli Amadeu Facco
planted five acres with the seeds, and they
produced 50 percent more soybeans than his land
cultivated with conventional seeds. "I couldn't
believe it," said Facco, a burly 35-year-old who
also travels from farm to farm as an agricultural
specialist for the local soybean farmers
cooperative. "But it came out more green, just
beautiful."

In an area long dominated by cattle farmers,
there now are more than 100,000 soybean growers
in Rio Grande do Sul State, a land of gentle
rolling hills and plains larger than Kansas and
Iowa combined. Soybean production in the Júlio de
Castilhos area has since doubled to about 100,000
hectares, or 250,000 acres. Cattle farmers
reduced their herds and hired legions of workers
to clear rocks from pastures so the land could be
planted.

Shifting from beef cattle ranches to soybeans was
an easy economic decision. The profit for
soybeans can be triple that for cattle. The new
money is coursing throughout Júlio de Castilhos,
which has a population of 25,000. Farmers and
farm workers used to bake under the relentless
sun in open-air tractors, but virtually everyone
is buying air-conditioned tractors from local
dealers these days. Land prices have tripled in
five years, as have sales of $155,000 combines.

Many Júlio de Castilhos residents are the
descendants of poor German or Italian immigrants.
Some farmers and business owners are having
family trees prepared, contemplating trips to
Europe for the first time. But most are putting
their profits back into their farms, aiming to
increase productivity amid growing competition.
As he supervised farm workers loading seeds into
a planter that injects them into the soil without
plowing furrows, Martins said he did not regret
his decision to forsake law school for soybean
farming on his family's land. "We can't give this
up," Martins said. "My younger brother will go to
law school, and we'll still have a lawyer in the
family."

**********************************************

India's Regulatory System and the recent Meeting by Suman Sahai

- S. Shanthram, sshantharam@biologistics.us

Here is my perspectives on the Recommendations of
the Gene Campaign's National Symposium on 'The
relevance of GM Crops on Indian Agriculture and
Food Security' held in New Delhi on November
26-27, 2003.

First of all, I fully endorse Dr. Satish Raina's
views on the symposium you published in these
columns a week ago. I was an invited speaker at
the symposium, and true to what Dr. Raina has
mentioned the symposium was indeed a meeting of a
wide variety of stakeholders with varying degrees
of views and opinions on agricultural
biotechnology and GM technology. The meeting was
designed to basically deal with public issues and
concerns and to allow for stakeholder
participation. There was not much of a discussion
on the scientific and technological assessment of
GM crops. I wish some attempt had been made to
create awareness on the science and technological
aspect of GM crops. It was indeed a missed
opportunity to educate the interested public. .
Hopefully there will be better chances in the
future.

The recommendations that Dr. Suman Sahai has put
together is culled from certain views and
opinions expressed by both speakers and
participants While they cannot be construed as
either unanimous or consensual set of
recommendations (as indicated by Dr. Sahai in the
preamble to the recommendations), they certainly
are a generalized set of recommendations
reflective of the sentiments of the symposium.
For example, in my opinion, the last
recommendation on the qualified "moratorium" on
the commercialization of GMO, I feel is a moot
point as commercialization began years before the
legal approval of the first GMO was granted.
There is no way of stopping it now.

But, I certainly agree that the regulatory
approval process needs to undergo fundamental
reforms to gain enlightened public confidence. I
have a distinct feeling that if only the GEAC
sheds its penchant for official secrecy and
shares whatever information and data they have at
their disposal, and clearly explain their basis
for decision making, half the problem
(controversy) would disappear. What Gene Campaign
and other like-minded organizations are demanding
are some basic transparency and accountability
from the Government. I simply cannot understand
why is that GEAC does not come out in the open to
make their decision making process open as there
should be nothing to hide. I also know for the
fact Gene Campaign and many other activist groups
do not wish to know of any confidential business
information, but nobody can fathom the reasons
for hiding basic field test data and their
biosafety review and environmental risk
assessment, if they do any!

The significant point, in my opinion that the
symposium tackled was the state of India's
dysfunctional regulatory system that grants
approvals for the commercialization of GM crops.
It is commendable that two ranking officials of
GEAC showed up to face the Q&A from the audience.
That is really a positive development. The issue
of whether or not GM crops are relevant to
India's agriculture and food security could not
be addressed comprehensively although some
speakers attempted to address the causes of food
insecurity in the Indian context. As in most
meetings of this genre, there is never enough
time to deal with these profound questions in
depth, but Gene Campaign did make an attempt.

A clear message was sent out to GEAC that their
approval and oversight mechanism of GMO does not
satisfy anybody, and it is high time that some
fundamental structural and functional changes are
instituted in their method of governance and
administration. Certainly, a very loud message
was sent out to Department of Biotechnology (DBT)
and Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
that there is a critical need for developing a
comprehensive biotechnology policy by involving
all the stakeholders. Dr. MS Swaminathan who is
heading a task force on Biotechnology for the
Ministry of Agriculture was present and I think
he went away with some very good points to
include in his report which he must have
submitted to the government by now. It remains to
be seen how much and how many of these
recommendations will really be accepted by the
government

What is admirable is that Gene Campaign has made
a great beginning as an NGO to involve as many
stakeholders as possible and played a
constructive role in engaging the public and the
government of the critical issues involved in the
stewardship of GM technology. I wish more such
meetings are organized others on a regular basis
to give voice to those want to play a
constructive role in shaping India's public
policy on biotechnology. If one has any
appreciation for the potential of modern
biotechnology, it should not be left to the
discretions or indiscretions of a handful of
civil servants and bureaucrats to decide the
future.

Talking of other such meetings, it seems Dr. Anil
Gupta is organizing a similar meeting on Bt
cotton cultivation in Gujarat in mid-January to
assess the real performance of Bt cotton in
Gujarat. That is very heartening and encouraging.

- Dr. Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD.

**********************************************

Organic Plant Breeding - Keeping it Pure?

- Wayne Parrott

>Organic Plant Breeding Standards (proposed) and
>Saskatchewan litigation - Drew L Kershen
> I recently read E.T. Lammerts
>van Bueren, et. al, Concepts of Intrinsic Value
>and Integrity of Plants in Organic Plant
>Breeding and Propagation, CROP SCIENCE, vol. 43
>pp. 1922-1929 (Nov.-Dec. 2003).

It would help if I could get a copy of the
standards. Though the proposed IFOAM standards
are referenced in the Crop Science article as
being on the IFOAM web page, I could not find
them. An earlier version of the Crop Science
document, dating to 1999, can be found at:
http://www.eco-pb.org/09/summaryphd.pdf

It is much more reality-based than what appeared
in Crop Science. For example, it says "An
immediate ban on cell techniques which are so
firmly entrenched in conventional plant breeding
would set organic farmers back twenty years and
have dramatic economic consequences. Obviously,
therefore, satisfactory alternatives will first
have to be developed. We propose establishing a
transitional period of at least ten years during
which varieties with characteristics resulting
from cell techniques may continue to be used in
organic farming and breeding while at the same
time alternatives are developed that are more in
keeping with organic plant health principles."

The Crop Science review makes it sound like the
use of marker assisted selection is OK, but if
one reads other material by the same author (
http://www.eco-pb.org/09/nl_01_02_report.pdf), it
turns out that "DNA marker assisted selection can
be permitted in an organic breeding programme
provided DNA screening is performed without
enzymes originating form GMOs," something that
would make enzymes prohibitively expensive.

In the same article, she writes, "Meristem
culture can be used in certified organic breeding
programmes because it is considered as being
close to classical breeding techniques using the
very top parts of plants for in vitro
cultivation. It is as yet still the only way of
gaining virus free propagation material of
vegetative propagated plants, and in most
countries also legally demanded for exporting
propagation." Yet, the Crop Science piece makes
it sound like meristem culture must be
prohibited, so it sounds like her attitudes have
hardened.

Prohibiting meristem culture would be a serious
problem, for the reasons she listed above. Case
in point, meristem propagation is used to rid
potato seed stocks of viruses. Meristem
propagation is also a mainstay of many
ornamentals and of some plantation crops, eg,
banana.

The prohibition against anther and microspore
culture would have far-reaching consequences-- A
hefty number of modern corn hybrids have anther
culture somewhere in their past. As far back as
20 years, I remember hearing that 25% percent of
DeKalb hybrids had doubled haploids in their
background. Doubled haploids have also been used
for brassicas, for barley and other cereals, and
for some vegetables.

The ban on chemical mutagens would affect
STS-soybean and Imi-resistant maize.A bigger
question is what the author means by "chemically
induced". Based on her earlier writings, I am
quite certain she includes radiation induced
mutants, in which case, there would be a rather
long list of crops and varieties that have had
mutation breeding somewhere in their past-- for
example, any variety derived from 'Sanilac' bush
beans.

It would be a daunting task to determine if
varieties have had 'integrity-violating'
techniques done on them some time in their past.
Pedigrees would have to be checked going back 70
years, to the advent of colchicine.

**********

>From Alan McHughen

I'm not familiar with the IFOAM standards, but
Drew is correct in his figures, as far as I know.
The Sask Organic people are suing against over
85% of farmers in Saskatchewan, where, under
Canadian law, the transgenic and mutagenic canola
varieties are both treated as "novel plants".
That is, in Canadian regulatory circles,
transgenic and mutagenic derivative cultivars are
both in the same category.

In organic practice though, cultivars derived
from mutagenesis (or other intrusive methods) are
acceptable, but transgenic ones are not. However,
organic grain cannot be treated with irradiation.

A crucial point, though, is that organic farmers
following the organic production rules cannot be
sanctioned for inadvertent 'contamination' with
transgenic material (I think Drew raised this
point some time ago).

**************

>From Alex Avery

Apropo of the discussion about so-called "genetic
contamination" of organic crops from biotech
crops.

"The emphasis and basis of these standards is on
process, not product." pg. 6 of NOP Final Rule.
"When we are considering drift issues, it is
particularly important to remember that organic
standards are process based." pg. 33 of Final
Rule.
http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards/FullText.pdf

Department Of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing
Service, 7 CFR Part 205, [Docket Number:
TMD-00-02-FR], RIN: 0581-AA40 National Organic
Program; AGENCY: Agricultural Marketing Service,
USDA. ACTION: Final Rule with request for
comments.

>Page 33: Clarification is given on the following
>issues raised by commenters as follows: (1)
>"Genetic" drift. Many commenters raised issues
>regarding drift of the products of excluded
>methods onto organic farms. These commenters
>were concerned that pollen drifting from near-by
>farms would contaminate crops on organic
>operations and that, as a result, organic
>farmers could lose the premium for their organic
>products through no fault of their own. Many
>commenters argued that we should use this rule
>to somehow shift the burden to the technology
>providers who market the products of excluded
>methods or the nonorganic farming operations
>that use their products. Some, for example,
>suggested that this regulation should require
>that the nonorganic operations using genetically
>engineered varieties plant buffer strips or take
>other steps to avoid drift onto organic farms.
>Others suggested that the regulation could
>provide for citizens' right to sue in cases of
>drift.


While we understand the concerns that commenters
have raised, the kind of remedies they suggested
are outside the scope of the Act and this
regulation. The Act only provides for the
regulation of organic operations. We cannot use
this regulation to impose restrictions, such as
requiring buffer strips or other measures, on
operations that are not covered by the Act.

Similarly, while citizens may have the ability to
bring suit under other laws, the Act itself does
not provide for the right to bring suit as a
Federal cause of action, and we could not grant
it through this regulation.

Drift has been a difficult issue for organic
producers from the beginning. Organic operations
have always had to worry about the potential for
drift from neighboring operations, particularly
drift of synthetic chemical pesticides. As the
number of organic farms increases, so does the
potential for conflict between organic and
nonorganic operations.

It has always been the responsibility of organic
operations to manage potential contact of organic
products with other substances not approved for
use in organic production systems, whether from
the nonorganic portion of a split operation or
from neighboring farms. The organic system plan
must outline steps that an organic operation will
take to avoid this kind of unintentional contact.

When we are considering drift issues, it is
particularly important to remember that organic
standards are process based. Certifying agents
attest to the ability of organic operations to
follow a set of production standards and
practices that meet the requirements of the Act
and the regulations. This regulation prohibits
the use of excluded methods in organic
operations. The presence of a detectable residue
of a product of excluded methods alone does not
necessarily constitute a violation of this
regulation. As long as an organic operation has
not used excluded methods and takes reasonable
steps to avoid contact with the products of
excluded methods as detailed in their approved
organic system plan, the unintentional presence
of the products of excluded methods should not
affect the status of an organic product or
operation.

Issues of pollen drift are also not confined to
the world of organic agriculture. For example,
plant breeders and seed companies must ensure
genetic identity of plant varieties by minimizing
any cross-pollination that might result from
pollen drift. Under research conditions,
small-scale field tests of genetically engineered
plants incorporate various degrees of biological
containment to limit the possibility of gene flow
to other sexually compatible plants. Federal
regulatory agencies might impose specific
planting requirements to limit pollen drift in
certain situations. Farmers planting
nonbiotechnology-derived varieties may face
similar kinds of questions if cross-pollination
by biotechnology-derived varieties alters the
marketability of their crop. These discussions
within the broader agricultural community may
lead to new approaches to addressing these
issues. They are, however, outside the scope of
this regulation by definition.

*****************

>From Tom DeGregori

Since I was advocating the labeling the breeding
provenance of all foodcrops and livestock offered
for sale - in being pure, one cannot be too pure,
I thought it best to check the provenance of the
ideas of those who would ban various breeding
techniques of modern agronomy. The provenance of
the proposals, can at least in part be understood
in terms of the group that funded and supported
it: It is listed as follows:

Research and innovation: Since 1976, the Louis
Bolk Institute has been a pioneer in scientific
research and innovation in organic farming, food
and medicine. Spiritualization of science has
always been an important element in the
institute's work.
Where conventional research methods do not
suffice, new methods are looked for, such as:
phenomenology, participatory research,
pictomorphological investigations and
conscious-intuitive methods. The Louis Bolk
Institute engages in research for people who are
prepared to think further than the material
world, anthroposophy being an important source of
inspiration.

**********************************************

Mad Cow Scaremongers

- Center for Consumer Freedom, Dec. 24, 2003

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman says that
"beef is absolutely safe to eat." Harvard
University experts note that the risk of
Americans contracting mad cow disease is "as
close to zero as you can get." Harvard's in-depth
investigation reveals that even if ten cows were
infected, there is almost no chance of a wider
outbreak. Every reputable expert tells us that
the American meat supply is still safe, and that
there is no cause for panic. And yet a cabal of
animal-rights activists and radical opponents of
modern farming are already hitting the airwaves
for one purpose: to spread fear and needless
alarm.

These people are activists, not knowledgeable
scientists. Their expertise is in scare
mongering, not livestock agriculture. Their goal
is to promote animal rights and organic-only,
1800s-style agriculture. And their track record
is full of doom-and-gloom predictions that never
came true.

Who are these masters of disaster? A rogue's
gallery at
http://www.consumerfreedom.com/headline_detail.cfm?HEADLINE_ID=2282


**********************************************

The Life and Work of Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate

- Robert W. Herdt, Director for Agricultural
Sciences, The Rockefeller Foundation; January 14,
1998

It is an honor and privilege to say a few words
about the life and work of Norman Borlaug, one of
the truly great figures of our day.

The title given to me for this brief address
signals what some may assume is the culmination
of the life and work of Norman Borlaug -- the
receipt of the Nobel Prize. But anyone who knows
Norm recognizes that awards, even the ultimate
award, the Nobel Peace Prize, are to him a
consequence of his real goal -- contributing to
more abundant food for those most in need of it.
So, receiving the Nobel Prize was one event in
the life of Norman Borlaug, a memorable one, but
not the culmination of his life.

Borlaug received the Prize in 1970, twenty-eight
years ago. That was almost 28 years after he
began working to increase food production in
Mexico. So he received the Prize at the mid-point
of his career. But, it is premature to speak even
today of the life and work of Norman Borlaug
because that life is still unfolding.

Nearing 84 years, Norm is still going strong,
working uncounted hours here in Texas, in Mexico,
and in Africa. The life story of Norman Borlaug
is a story of hard work and determination to help
farmers produce more abundant food for those most
in need of it.

.... Read on at
http://www.rockfound.org/display.asp?context=3&SectionTypeID=17&DocID=87&Preview=0&ARCurrent=1



**********************************************

How Scientists Develop GM Plants: Two Graphic Animation Demos

http://www.agwest.sk.ca/sabic_index_tp.shtml

http://www.colostate.edu/programs/lifesciences/TransgenicCrops/animation.html


**********************************************

Genetic Remixes or Tabloid Fodder?

- Dr. S. K. Raina, Professor, NRC-Plant Biotechnology, IARI, New Delhi, India

To the Editor of Hindustan Times (India):

By displaying pictures of a scorpion alongside
corn, and a pig with tomato, etc (Genetic
Remixes, Hindustan Times, December 15, 2002), you
may have served the publicity interests of your
paper, but at what cost? This is typical tabloid
mind-set that seeks to earn a fast buck by
creating confusions and then thriving in it;
certainly not expected of a long standing
national daily.

We humans have more than 90% of our genome
similar to a wide array of species of the animal
kingdom. Of course, you know that very well.
Indeed some genes that are common to you and I,
are also shared with a pig or a cow and even a
pea plant. For example, a gene encoding the
protein cytochrome C, a very important component
of our respiratory machinery, is common to plants
and animals including humans. So, should our
breath smell of ham and pepper?

Currently, efforts are under way to engineer
wheat plants with a modified and synthetic
version of a gene from a fish in Antarctica. The
gene encodes a protein that helps prevent
freezing. It isn't as if the fish are caught and
slaughtered, the genes extracted out surgically
and then inserted into wheat plants. On the other
hand, prior to recombinant-DNA (rDNA) technology,
most insulin was produced using the pancreases of
pigs. Lo and behold, we never heard even a
whimper of a protest.

Since a lot of people were allergic to pig
insulin, today we use the copy of human insulin
gene, cloned in a microbe of choice and grown in
fermenters. In another case, for treating
children deficient in human growth hormone, it
had to be actually extracted from the corpses.
But now, we use rDNA technology to make a copy of
the gene and then make this growth hormone in
large fermenters. It is easy to make and purify,
is highly effective and much less expensive. No
Greenpeace, no protests! Reason why? Well, the
"epicenter" of all anti-GM agitations, the
Greenpeace from Europe, saw the advantages for
their people. In fact in some cases, it was
really a matter of life and death and, therefore,
any ethical issues were simply ignored. In the
case of agriculture however, rDNA technology
doesn't offer any immediate and distinct
advantages to them; on the contrary it possibly
threatens their trade interests. And so they whip
up hysteria, all around the globe, brew heady
concoctions (corn-in-the-cob will begin to sting)
and throw in a dash of multinationals' angle.
Indeed, they have succeeded in sowing seeds of
scare and suspicion in the minds of common man.

We in India need to critically examine the issues
strictly from the perspectives of our unique
problems of gigantic proportions. Malnutrition
remains a 'silent emergency' in India, where more
than half of all children under the age of four
are malnourished, 30% of new borns are
significantly under weight and 70% of pregnant
women are anemic. Nearly half of the world's
micronutrient deficient people may be found in
India. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes an
estimated 60,000 children to go blind each year
in India, and of the 20-40 million children world
wide who are estimated to have at least mild VAD,
half reside in India. According to a World Bank
report, "malnutrition causes India atleast $10
billion annually in terms of lost productivity,
illness, death, and is seriously retarding
improvements in human development and further
reduction of childhood mortality". Most seriously
affected regions in India, where 40-50% of the
population live below the poverty level, are
those in Eastern India where agricultural
productivity figures are among the lowest in
world.

The rDNA technology is helping unravel the
complexities of metabolic processes and in
devising methods to modify them. In doing so, the
power of genetic engineering is offering enormous
opportunities of developing crops that can better
withstand the impacts of biotic and abiotic
stresses.

Rice plants could be developed that can withstand
periods of submergence and drought, a regular
natural occurrence that affects millions of
starving rice farmers in rain-fed and flood-prone
regions of eastern India. New rices could be
developed that are rich in micronutrients as also
richer in essential amino acids. We also have
good possibilities of delivering edible vaccines
through the poor man's plants, such as the
banana. We could possibly grow rice just as
wheat, alleviating thereby the serious problems
of water scarcity, salinity and alkalinity. One
could go on listing many more examples.

What's most impressive about this seed-embedded
technology is its minimal dependence on purchased
inputs and the possibility of reaching the
unreached. Improved strains of crops such as rice
need not be renewed every season or every year.
Farmers' saved seeds would continue to provide
the benefits of genetic enhancement, year after
year. In comparison, no PDS programme or the
Integrated Child Development Programme or the
National Mid-Day Meals Programme can possibly
become as effective in meeting the crisis of
malnutrition and poverty. Can we, therefore,
afford to ignore the immense opportunities that
modern biotechnology offers? Certainly not. Yes,
there may be some risks and they need to be
critically examined. The risks of not using rDNA
technology in developing new crop cultivars need
to be weighed against any risks associated with
using it.

Let's understand that never ever in the history
of agriculture has such an intensive food testing
for toxicity or allergenicity been done as for GM
crops. Even though, individual products of rDNA
engineering may pose more risk, less risk, or the
same risk as any one or another of the products
of conventional breeding. Let's also appreciate
the fact that Americans have been munching
GM-corn and GM-soybeans for the last six years
and no untoward effects of any kind have been
detected. Surely, let's debate the issues as
comprehensively as possible, involving all stake
holders, and then let's settle for an action
plan. A plan that is guided by considerations of
science and of larger national interest. A plan
that sets priorities and remains focused, rather
than spread itself thin over a wide territory.

Let's put in place a regulatory apparatus that is
transparent, participatory, effectual and
efficient. Having put our house in order, let's
also look into this issue of multinationals. Yes
indeed, it's a matter of concern. All the more so
if we continue to remain embroiled in a state of
confusion and controversy. It's time we think of
public-private participation very seriously,
especially with our indigenous enterprise. While
our public sector enjoys strengths in R&D, the
private sector specializes in mass production,
quality control and marketing. Such tie-ups are
rapidly coming up in the Peoples' Republic of
China and effectively meeting the challenges of
multinationals.

So, if we have Bt-cotton from Monsanto in China,
we also have Chinese Bt in different cotton
backgrounds, coming from Biocentury Transgenes
Limited, a public-private joint enterprise. If it
can happen to a country clad till recently in a
bamboo curtain, what's our problem? It's time to
join hands and build bridges. In this national
endeavor, we all have our responsibilities to
shoulder. The media has to play its role of
critical assessment and constructive criticism
with an added sense of responsibility.

**********************************************

Wakeup Call on the Food Front

- Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute, Dec.
16, 2003
http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update31_printable.htm


While Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President
Bush discussed Taiwan, currency rates and North
Korea on December 9, a more important and
far-reaching development in U.S.-China relations
was going on far from the White House.

Under the North China Plain, which produces half
of China's wheat and a third of its corn, water
tables are falling by 3 to 10 feet per year.
Along with rising temperatures and the loss of
cropland to non-farm uses, this trend is
shrinking the Chinese grain harvest, which has
fallen in four of the past five years. To get an
idea of the magnitude, the harvest dropped by 66
million tons during that period, an amount that
exceeds the total annual grain harvest of Canada,
one of the world's leading grain exporters.

Thus far China has covered its growing grain
shortfall by drawing down its once-massive
stocks. It can do this for perhaps one more year
before those stocks are depleted. Then it will
have to turn to the world market for major
purchases. The odds are that within the next few
years the United States will be loading two or
three ships per day with grain destined for
China. This long line of ships stretching across
the Pacific will function like a huge umbilical
cord between the two countries.

This isn't only a question of U.S.-China
relations, but also one of the relationship
between the Earth's 6.3 billion people and its
natural resources, especially water. Food
production is a water-intensive process.
Producing a ton of grain requires a thousand tons
of water, which helps explain why 70 percent of
all water diverted from rivers or pumped from
underground goes for irrigation.

The tripling of world water demand over the past
half-century, combined with the advent of diesel
and electrically driven pumps, has led to
extensive overpumping of aquifers. As a result,
more than half the world's people now live in
countries where water tables are falling and
wells are going dry. Among these countries are
the three that account for half of the world
grain harvest: China, India and the United
States. In India, water tables are falling in
most states, including the Punjab, that nation's
breadbasket. In the United States, aquifers are
being depleted under the southern Great Plains
and throughout the Southwest, including
California.

If the world is facing a future of water
shortages, then it is also facing a future of
food shortages.

To be sure, it is difficult to trace long-term
trends in food production, which fluctuates with
weather, prices and the spread of farm technology
to developing countries. In one of the major
economic achievements of the last half-century,
China raised its grain output from 90 million
tons in 1950 to 392 million tons in 1998. Since
then, though, China's production appears to have
peaked, dropping by 66 million tons, or 17
percent. (See data.)

As a result, it seems likely that China will
ultimately need to buy 30, 40 or 50 million tons
of grain a year, and then it will have to turn to
the United States, which accounts for nearly half
of the world's grain exports. Imports on this
unprecedented scale will create a fascinating
geopolitical situation: China, with 1.3 billion
consumers and foreign exchange reserves of $384
billion--enough to buy the entire U.S. grain
harvest eight times over--will suddenly be
competing with American consumers for U.S. grain,
in all likelihood driving up food prices.

For the first time in their history, the Chinese
will be dependent on the outside world for food
supplies. And U.S. consumers will realize that,
like it or not, they will be sharing their food
with Chinese consumers.

Managing the flow of grain to satisfy the needs
of both countries simultaneously will not be easy
because it could come amid a shift from a world
of chronic food surpluses to one of food
scarcity. Exporters will be tempted to restrict
the flow of grain in order to maintain price
stability at home, as the United States did 30
years ago when world grain stocks were at record
lows and wheat and rice prices doubled. But today
the United States has a major stake in a stable
China because China is a major trading partner
whose large economy is the locomotive of Asia.

The pressure on world food markets may alter the
relationship between exporting and importing
countries, changing the focus of international
trade negotiations from greater access to markets
for exporting countries such as the United States
to assured access to food supplies for China and
the 100 or so countries that already import grain.

The prospect of food and water scarcity emerges
against a backdrop of concern about global
warming. New research by crop ecologists at the
International Rice Research Institute in the
Philippines and at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture indicates that a 1-degree-Celsius
rise in temperature (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
above the optimum during the growing season leads
to a 10 percent decline in yields of rice, wheat
and corn. With four of the past six years being
the warmest on record, grain harvests are
suffering. High temperatures lowered harvests
last year in India and the United States and
scorched crops this year from France to Ukraine.

The new combination of falling water tables and
rising temperatures, along with trends such as
soil erosion, has led to four consecutive
shortfalls in the world grain harvest. This year
production fell short of consumption by a record
92 million tons. These shortages have reduced
world grain stocks to their lowest levels in 30
years.

If we have a shortfall in 2004 that is even half
the size of this year's, food prices will be
rising worldwide by this time next year. You
won't have to read about it in the commodity
pages. It will be evident at the supermarket
checkout counter. During the fall of 2003, wheat
and rice prices rose 10 percent to 30 percent in
world markets, and even more in some parts of
China. These rises may only be the warning
tremors before the earthquake.

We can, however, take measures to improve world
food security. We could recognize that population
growth and environmental trends threaten economic
progress and political stability just as
terrorism does. Since the overwhelming majority
of the nearly 3 billion people expected to be
born during this half-century will be in
countries where water tables are already falling
and wells are running dry, filling the family
planning gap and creating a social environment to
foster smaller families is urgent.

The situation with water today is new, but
similar to that with land a half-century ago.
Coming out of World War II, we looked toward the
end of the century and saw enormous projected
growth in population but little new land to plow.
The result was a concentrated international
effort to raise land productivity; boosting the
world grain yields from just over one ton per
hectare in 1950 to nearly three tons today. We
now need a similar global full-court press to
raise water productivity, by shifting to more
water-efficient crops, improving irrigation and
recycling urban water supplies.

As it becomes apparent that higher temperatures
are shrinking harvests and raising food prices, a
powerful new consumer lobby could emerge in
support of cutting carbon emissions by moving to
a hydrogen-based economy. It is a commentary on
the complexity of our time that decisions made in
ministries of energy may have a greater effect on
future food security than those made in
ministries of agriculture.
---

>From Prakash:

Lester Brown has an important point here albeit
characteristically alarming. However, what he
does not acknowledge here is that a critical
element of future food security will be
biotechnology, the judicious application of which
can help crops cope with the water scarcity. As
for the Americans sharing their meal with
Chinese, the US farmers -- armed with biotech --
already doing that. Just look at the whopping
billion dollar worth of soybean exports to China
every year!

**********************************************

Pass The Toxins and Carcinogens

- Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, New York Post, Dec. 24, 2003

It is that time of the year: parties, presents,
family gatherings - and dining-room tables laden
with a tempting array of mouthwatering,
delicious, seasonal chemicals.

Chemicals? Yes.

We live in an intensely chemical-phobic society,
one where food labels and menus brag of being
"all-natural" and "purely organic." Poultry
sections offer fryers from "happy, free range
chickens." "Chemical-free" cuisine is in.

So it may come as a shock to you that even an
all-natu- ral holiday feast (and every other meal
you consume throughout the year) comes replete
with chemicals, including toxins (poisons) and
carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) - most of
which average consumers would reject simply on
the grounds that they can't pronounce the names.

Assume you start with an appetizer, then move on
to a medley of crispy, natural vegetables, and
proceed to a traditional stuffed bird with all
the trimmings, washing it down with libations of
the season, and topping it all off with some
homemade pastries.

You will thus have consumed holiday helpings of
various "carcinogens" (defined here as a
substance that at high dose causes cancer in
laboratory animals), including:

* hydrazines (mushroom soup);
* aniline, caffeic acid, benzaldehyde, hydrogen
peroxide, quercetin glycosides and psoralens
(your fresh vegetable salad); * heterocyclic
amines, acrylamide, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl
carbamate, dihydrazines, d-limonene, safrole and
quercetin glycosides (roast turkey with stuffing);
* benzene and heterocyclic amines (prime rib of
beef with parsley sauce); * Murfural, ethyl
alcohol, allyl isothiocyanate (broccoli,
potatoes, sweet potatoes);
* coumarin, methyl eugenol, acetaldehyde,
estragole and safrole (apple and pumpkin pies);
* ethyl alcohol with ethyl carbamate (red and white wines).

Then sit back and relax with some benzofuran,
caffeic acid, catechol, l,2,5,6,-dibenz(a)anthra-
cene with 4-methylcatechol (coffee).

And those, all produced courtesy of Mother
Nature, are only the carcinogens you just scarfed
down. Your l00-percent natural holiday meal is
also replete with toxins - popularly known as
"poisons." These include the solanine, arsenic
and chaconine in potatoes; the hydrogen cyanide
in lima beans and the hallucinogenic compound
myristicin found in nutmeg, black pepper and
carrots.

Now here is the good news: these foods are safe.

Four observations are relevant here:

* When it comes to toxins, only the dose makes
the poison. Some chemicals, regardless of whether
they are natural or synthetic, are potentially
hazardous at high doses but are perfectly safe
when consumed at low doses like the trace amounts
found in our foods.

* While you probably associate the word
"carcinogen" with nasty-sounding synthetic
chemicals like PCBs and dioxin, the reality is
that the more we test naturally occurring
chemicals, the more we find that they, too, cause
cancer in lab animals.

* The increasing body of evidence documenting the
carcinogenicity (in the lab) of common substances
found in nature highlights the contradiction we
Americans have created up to now in our
regulatory approach to carcinogens: trying to
purge our nation of synthetic carcinogens, while
turning a blind eye to the omnipresence of
natural "carcinogens."

* While animal testing is an essential part of
biomedical research, so is commonsense. A rodent
is not a little man. There is no scientific
foundation to the assumption that if high-dose
exposure to a chemical causes cancer in a rat or
mouse, then a trace level of it must pose a human
cancer risk.

If we took a precautionary approach with all
chemicals and assumed that a rodent carcinogen
might pose a human cancer risk ("so let's ban it
just in case"), we'd have very little left to
eat. (A radical solution to our nation's obesity
problem!)

The reality is that these trace levels of natural
or synthetic chemicals in food or the environment
pose no known human health hazard at all - let
alone a risk of cancer.

So the next time you hear a self-appointed
"consumer advocate" fret about the man-made
"carcinogen du jour" and demand the government
step in and "protect" us - remember, you just
ingested a meal full of natural carcinogens
without a care in the world and with no risk to
your health.

Pass the methyl eugenol! Bon Appetit!

--
Elizabeth Whelan is president of the American Council on Science and Health.