Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 16, 2004:
* German Chancellor's Ever-Changing Stance on GM Foods (Blame his
* Europe "Suffers Economic Consequences" From GM Moratorium
* Storm in Colombia as GM Crops Get Green Light
* AgBiotech Research Contributes to US Knowledge-based Economy
* Hybrids Abounding: Review of Book: Dangerous Liaisons...
* UNEP-GEF Biosafety Projects
* Perils of the Precautionary Principle: Lessons from US - EU
* Policy Dialogue on Biotech, Ag & Food Security in Southern Africa
* Great White Hope of Europe
* Answer This: Who Benefits from the Salmon Scare?
* Misappliance of Science to Salmon
* To Improve the Quality of Food, Just Add Chips
* CORE to Hold Teach-In, Demand End to "Eco-Imperialism"
'Innovation' Is Back In Favor With Schröder: Chancellor's Ever-Changing
Stance on GM Foods
- Christian Schwägerl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jan. 16, 2004
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's stance on genetic engineering for
agricultural purposes is subject to fluctuation, to say the least. When
Schröder still had to eat vegetarian with his health-conscious former
wife, Hiltrud, genetically modified food was taboo. In 2000, however, when
the first wave of enthusiasm for biotechnology hit Germany amid the
excitement over the human genome project - and the chancellor's marriage
with "Hillu" was history - he suddenly wanted to lead the movement.
A three-year joint research and cultivation project by the government,
several biotechnology companies and farmers was to rehabilitate genetic
engineering in the eyes of a skeptical public. But just as the working
group, nicknamed "Alliance for Corn," outlined the basic rules for
cultivation and an agreement was ready to be signed, Germany discovered
its first BSE case.
Although BSE has little to do with genetic engineering, the chancellor
suddenly worried about consumers who would find cornflakes labeled
"contains genetically modified organisms" along with suspicious beef in
their supermarkets. Sources say it was again Schröder's wife, Doris
Schröder-Köpf by now, who saw to it that the cultivation project was
This, naturally, added to the frustration of genetic engineers in Germany,
whose political record had always been far from a success story, and there
was talk of an impending exodus to the United States. Then the chancellor
appointed Renate Künast of the Green party as minister for consumer
protection, food and agriculture, and hopes dwindled further.
At first she was the chancellor's ambitious student, organizing discussion
rounds between stakeholders such as Greenpeace and Monsanto, creating
hundreds of pages of minutes but no concrete recommendations. Künast's
attacks, however, gained strength when Schröder put her alone in charge of
genetic engineering as a reward after the Greens' strong results in the
2002 elections. She used every opportunity to point out that a more
ecologically sound conventional agriculture alone could be the future for
her and that she considered any molecular biology applications on the
cultivation of plants dangerous. The issue became one of the last matters
with which the Greens really identified.
Künast's course culminated in October, when she prevented a scientist from
planting a variety of apples protected from certain diseases through
genetic modifications. The ban was issued in writing, without any
explanation and before the Federal Environmental Office had given its
On Monday, she presented the new law on genetic engineering and suddenly
the chancellor's strong influence was visible again. On Schröder's agenda,
there is no longer any room for skepticism toward technology, the issue of
BSE is politically under control, and innovation is again the buzzword.
Gnashing her teeth, Künast was forced to announce a core message that was
dear to the chancellor: The commercial cultivation of genetically modified
crops can start this year.
It is no coincidence that Künast presented the compromise which the
ministries for consumer protection, research and economy had reached after
difficult negotiations early this week. On Thursday evening, Schröder was
to join leaders of the business and research communities for an
From Prakash: The Moral of This Story - If you support biotech and if your
spouse is very much against it, wait till you get separated to move on? :)
Europe "Suffers Economic Consequences" From GM Moratorium
- Crop Biotech Update, Isaaa.org.
A study of the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)
in Belgium argues that Europe has missed out economically through the ban
on genetically modified (GM) crops. Matty Demont and Eric Tollens,
researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven, base their findings on
two case studies on GM sugar beets and corn.
Demont and Tollens concluded that the present situation (in which
transgenic sugar beets are barred) is not economically rational. In
addition, their study on the current cultivation of transgenic corn in
Spain shows that Spanish farmers have clearly benefited from the crop.
To estimate the consequences of the ban on transgene sugar beets in the
period from 1996 to 2000, the researchers used a simulation model that
took into account agricultural policy, the cultivation data of sugar beet,
and the technology subsidy for transgene crops. According to the
researchers, by not choosing to grow transgene sugar beets, the Belgian
sugar beet growers have missed out on approximately EUR15 million during
this five-year period, and that worldwide up to EUR1 billion could have
been earned by cultivating these sugar beets.
For the study on GM in Spain, the researchers noted that farmers gained
EUR1.7million annually. Their profit was attributed to higher yield and
lower cost from reduced use of pesticide. The biotech industry also reaped
an annual profit of EUR0.5 million. The researchers averred that 75
percent of the profits went to the farmers and 25 percent to the biotech
industry. For more on the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for
Biotechnology, visit http://www.vib.be.
Storm in Colombia as GM Crops Get Green Light
- Lisbeth Fog, SciDev.Net Jan. 16, 2004
Bogota - Controversy is growing in Colombia over the government's decision
to go ahead with the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM)
cotton. Colombian farmers have already planted 6,500 hectares of
commercial Bt cotton -- which has been genetically modified to resist the
bollworm pest — in the north of the country, to be harvested in February
or March. The government also plans to allow the planting of GM crops,
such as maize, in other regions of the country.
But the government's move has been criticised by environmental groups, who
argue that GM crops should not be planted without an 'environmental
licence' -- a certificate issued by the environment ministry authorising
projects that may affect biodiversity, such as new roads and various
industrial and agricultural activities. "There has not been sufficient
technical evaluation of the impact of introducing GM cotton," says Germán
Velez, director of Fundación SwissAid, a nongovernmental organisation that
is campaigning against the introduction of GM crops in Colombia.
In response to such comments, Ana Luisa Díaz from the Colombian Institute
of Agriculture, says that trials have shown that Bt cotton does not harm
the environment or produce allergies in humans. "It reduces production
risks and costs, as well as attacks of five [types of pest], and gives the
farmer better yields," she says.
Carlos Gustavo Cano, the Colombian minister of agriculture, defends the
government's decision to allow Bt cotton to be planted, arguing that the
crop is "a very promising technological option which could improve our
cotton". And Rafael Mejía, the director of the Colombian Society of
Farmers said that even though his organisation encourages a variety of
farming methods -- including conventional, organic and GM techniques --
"with GM crops we could be more competitive in certain products and
In 2000, Colombia approved the commercial planting of GM blue carnation,
but only for the export market. Universities and research centres across
the country are also carrying out research in GM varieties of crops that
are key to the Colombian economy, such as coffee, banana, sugarcane and
But Velez complains that there has been little public debate about the use
of GM crops in Colombia, and few surveys to assess public opinion on the
issue. Indeed even the farming community seems to be deeply divided on the
issue. In a survey carried out by the Colombian Society of Farmers last
year, while 50 per cent of farmers said they would be willing to use GM
technology, 46 per cent said they wouldn't, and 4 per cent were unsure.
The Colombian Ministry of Agriculture points out that four other Latin
American nations -- Argentina, Honduras, Mexico and Uruguay -- have
approved GM crops, and that more than a fifth of the world's GM crops are
grown in Argentina. In contrast, however, the rest of Latin America grows
only 1 per cent of the world's GM produce.
AgBiotech Research Contributes to US Knowledge-based Economy
Plant biotechnology is helping to create a vibrant knowledge-based economy
throughout the United States, according to a study by a University of
"The vast stock of plant breeding and genomic research and development
knowledge that led to the biotech revolution will generate billions of
dollars in additional economic benefits for farmers and others in the
agrifood value chain and within public and private research communities,"
said C. Ford Runge, director of the Center for International Food and
Agricultural Policy and Distinguished McKnight University Professor of
Applied Economics and Law.
The study, "[ http://www.apec.umn.edu/faculty/frunge/plantbiotech.pdf ]The
Economic Status and Performance of Plant Biotechnology in 2003: Adoption,
Research and Development in the United States," provides a view of
biotechnology's value at the farm level and beyond the farm gate, where
the crops (and the research and development that creates them) generate
additional jobs, income and investment in the agrifood chain and public
and private research community. The study was supported by the Council for
"It's clear why farmers have been adopting these crops: managerial
efficiencies and increased profits per acre," said Runge. "The most
compelling evidence for me as an economist of the value of biotech crops
is the preference of farmers to plant these crops year after year after
year," he said. The report predicts that the "plant biotech sector will
grow wider and deeper in its activities and applications in the years to
come." Four commercial biotech crops (maize, soyabeans, cotton and canola)
represented $20 billion in value in the United States in 2002, half of the
total $40 billion value of the four crops.
The U.S. Corn Belt and cotton-growing regions gained the most economic
value from planting biotech crops in 2002, led by Iowa ($3.8 billion),
Illinois ($2.5 billion), Minnesota ($2.2 billion), Nebraska ($1.8
billion), Indiana ($1.3 billion) and South Dakota ($1 billion). Following
these major maize and soyabean growing states, Missouri was next with $1
billion, followed by North Dakota ($689 million), Ohio ($619 million) and
cotton-producing states Arkansas ($670 million) and Mississippi ($528
But the economic effects of plant biotechnology are being felt far beyond
the farm. "New plant biotech firms and research facilities are being
created throughout the United States," said Runge. "The number of
agricultural and food scientists are increasing as workers are attracted
to the biotech sector's above-average wages, and a large number of
individual states are reaping the benefits of this investment and
job-related activity. While 41 of 50 states had some type of biotech
initiative by 2001, those that have aggressively adopted and invested in
biotechnology are reaping the greatest rewards."
Corn Belt states with higher adoption levels of biotech crops --South
Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa -- have a greater proportion
of ag and food science jobs than those with lower levels of adoption. For
example, Iowa, one of the top five states in crop biotech adoption, has 50
ag and food science jobs per 100,000 jobs, more than lower adoption
states. The average annual salary for these jobs in 2001 was $52,310 ˜
more than one and a half times the U.S. average of $34,020.
In Wisconsin, where 56 of the 200 bioscience companies are dedicated to
agriculture, the study indicated there are 21,000 workers who account for
$5 billion of the Badger state's economy. "This sector now represents
enormous value: and extends to the national economy," said Runge, adding
that even more densely populated states such as Connecticut, Maryland and
Rhode Island are creating biotech jobs. "The jobs that are being created
are knowledge-based, high-paying and highly specialized."
In the past two years, field tests have been conducted on 100 new biotech
crop traits by 40 universities and 35 private sector companies ˜ from a
new variety of maize with an improved nutritional profile for use as an
animal feed to a type of wheat that can better withstand droughts. Runge
said continued investment in research and development ˜ along with more
public education about the benefits of biotechnology ˜ is key to achieving
further gains from plant biotechnology.
"As consumer confidence grows, it will feed the demand for new biotech
varieties, increase the advantages of those willing and able to supply
them, and indirectly establish a base of support for continued public
investments in plant biotech," he said. "That translates directly into
high social rates of return in the form of educational and job
Full report at http://www.apec.umn.edu/faculty/frunge
- Steven H. Strauss and Stephen P. DiFazio, Nature Biotechnology Vol. 22;
No.1, January 2004, p.29; reprinted with permission from the author and
the publisher. www.nature.com
"Review of Book: 'Dangerous Liaisons: When Cultivated Plants Mate with
Their Wild Relatives' by Norman Ellstrand; The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2003; 244 pp. hardcover; ISBN 0-8018-7405-X"
Crops are far from fully domesticated. Gene flow and genetic pollution are
everywhere, varying only by degree. Crop alleles are ubiquitous,
infiltrating native ecosystems with unknown consequences. This is the
state of the world according to Dr. Norman Ellstrand. In "Dangerous
Liaisons: When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives,"
Ellstrand, a Professor of Genetics at the University of California at
Riverside and a widely respected contributor to scientific assessments of
gene flow from transgenic crops, methodically describes the small but
growing literature on gene exchange between common crops and their mostly
obscure wild relatives. He concludes that the time has come for society to
take stock of this long standing and understudied problem.
Ellstrand begins the book with a highly accessible discussion of the
theoretical consequences of gene flow, then spends most of the book
cataloging what is known about its extent and consequences. He ends with a
discussion of the impacts and management of gene flow, including for the
"special" case (his quotes) of genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Ellstrand states in several places that similar risks are presented by
gene flow from GE and conventional crops.
The controversies over regulation of GE crops, the technical ease of
tracking, and the availability of grant funds has made transgene flow much
easier to study, so it has achieved a higher profile. However, Ellstrand
correctly highlights one characteristic that differentiates today's
transgenes from most conventional domestication alleles: dominance.
Traditional domestication genes are largely recessive, whereas
commercialized transgenes have been universally dominant. Dominance will
cause the effects of transgenes to be manifest even when heterozygous, as
in progeny of first generation crosses between crops and wild plants. This
can enable much more rapid spread of advantageous genes (e.g., herbicide
or pest resistance genes in some environments), but should equally likely
slow the spread of genes for domestication traits that lower fitness
within wild populations. Conventionally bred traits are also more commonly
part of multigenic systems (several unlinked genes, not one, give the new
trait). This makes it more difficult for natural selection to operate on
the new alleles. Ellstrand shows that cavalier statements that genetic
pollution is the same in conventional and transgenic agriculture are
wrong. Gene action matters, and transgenic traits as a class, at least so
far, differ from many conventionally bred traits in their genetic basis.
In some cases this increases risk, in others it reduces it.
Ellstrand pays a great deal more attention to the impacts of hybridization
between conventionally bred crops and wild relatives, which can result in
generating new weeds, making old weeds harder to control, and in swamping
native gene pools to extinction. He provides enough data to make a
convincing case that hybridization happens in virtually every major crop
and has had, at least in a few well studied cases, large impacts.
However, the data by no means demonstrate that hybridization is a
ubiquitous or even an important problem in most crops in most areas of the
world. He weaves the example of weedy sugar beet throughout the book, but
this is primarily a case where gene flow from a wild relative (weed beets)
to the crop has caused localized agronomic impacts. Ellstrand presents no
evidence that gene flow from cultivated sugar beet to weed beets has
resulted in adverse impacts on native ecosystems, or even that the weed
beet problem itself is significant outside of beet fields. He also gives
little attention to differentiating those cases where hybridization is
with exotic, weedy relatives versus with native species. It appears that
the former is most common, which may be a problem for farmers but is of
little concern when it comes to preservation of natural biodiversity.
Finally, Ellstrand virtually ignores the many crops and regions where it
is genes from wild populations, rather than from crops, that dominate gene
flow. This is unfortunate because it is in some of these cases, including
for major crops like grasses and trees, where "genetic pollution" of wild
species by domestication transgenes may both be highly likely to occur and
highly unlikely to be of ecological significance.
This book is written from the perspective of a population geneticist, such
that impacts are often described in terms of allele frequencies rather
than trait physiologies and crop ecosystems. As a result it does not offer
many insights into the relative risk of various traits and genetic
architectures with respect to invasiveness due to hybridization, which
Ellstrand refers to as a "mystery" (p. 189). He also does not consider
gene flow within the larger context of the environmental impacts of
Although there is a discussion of management of gene flow in the final
chapter, Ellstrand dodges the key question of how society is to make
decisions about what kinds of breeding it should continue to promote and
what kinds to carefully scrutinize. In stark comparison to GE crops,
breeding is essentially unregulated throughout the world. Should
regulations be imposed such that every crop and new variety is scrutinized
by federal governments for their gene flow consequences prior to
commercial release? When are GE crops likely to predominantly reduce
ongoing environmental impacts due to gene flow, and when are they likely
to exacerbate them?
The decision about how to regulate new varieties will cost society greatly
both if is too stringent and if it is too lax. Testing the environmental
safety of new varieties in a rigorous way requires that many genotypes and
backcrosses be ecologically monitored in a large number of environments
for many years. The requirement for such elaborate tests would likely make
the majority of conventional breeding programs economically unprofitable,
as it appears to have done for most kinds of potential GE crops. Such a
system would thereby forego vast numbers of new varieties whose yield,
quality, or pest resistance traits could greatly reduce the broader
environmental impacts of agriculture. So is worry about gene flow
pennywise and pound-foolish? Unfortunately, Ellstrand retreats from this
challenge--which would require serious consideration of traits and
ecosystems in addition to genes and hybrids. Such an analysis would have
greatly enhanced the practical utility of this book for regulators, policy
makers, and NGOs.
Ellstrand makes the case that gene flow is so complex, so commonplace, and
its consequences so unpredictable that the only reliable mitigation
strategy will often be at the front end, during crop design. It is
therefore fitting that he ends the book with a discussion of methods for
minimizing its extent. He discusses the potential for sterility traits
like the much maligned "terminator," and "transgene mitigation" genes that
reduce fitness, and points out that there does not appear to be a single
publication that documents the effectiveness of such traits under field
conditions. Though industry clearly is interested in GURTs (genetic use
restriction technologies) for proprietary reasons, they have not seen fit
to study, or perhaps to publish, on their environmental aspects.
Industry is unlikely to take the lead in this area in the future because
genetic confinement technologies usually do not provide much added
financial value, they are biologically complex (i.e., expensive to
develop), they will require customization to highly diverse crop biologies
and production systems (reducing profitability), and environmental
performance data must be generated by public sector scientists for
credibility. There is, however, also precious little public sector funding
for development of crop biosafety technology. Politicians and research
agencies should take heed, or may face the prospect that the main fruits
from billions of dollars of public funding in plant genomics may be
publications rather than crops engineered for higher yield, stress
tolerance, and environmental safety.
In spite of the acrimony surrounding gene escape from GE crops, "Dangerous
Liaisons" presents a rigorous and even-handed look at the science and
technology surrounding crop gene flow. Denial worked fine for 10,000
years, but will not cut it in the era of GE, globalization, and rapidly
expanding human populations. Breeders, agronomists, and agribusiness need
to stop thinking as though the impacts of gene flow in agriculture are
restricted to seed production fields.
Activists need to start being honest with the public; genetic pollution is
not new, nor unique to GE crops. Much as Rachel Carson did for pesticides
four decades earlier, Ellstrand's book serves notice that society will
need to come to terms with the genetic promiscuity of agriculture. We may
someday look back and find that it was GE that shined light on the gene
flow problem such that we could no longer ignore it, but that it also gave
us the knowledge and tools to manage it.
Steve Strauss is at the Department of Forest Science, Oregon State
University, Corvallis, Oregon and Steve DiFazio is at Oak Ridge National
Comments on the review by Shanthu Shantharam , a former regulator with
Steven Strauss and Stephen DiFazio's review above of Norman Ellstarnd's
new book makes an interesting reading, but should not startle anyone.
Ellstrand is an established researcher in the field of gene flow for over
two decades, and his findings as reported in the review of the book is
precisely what regulators in USDA have been maintaining in their
environmental assessments for almost fifteen years now. In fact,
knowledgeable scientists of all hues an cry have been pretty much saying
the same thing ever since the gene flow from GMO (not into) controversy
broke out since the first field test of GMO the in late eighties.
The title of the book is a cause for concern. I bet, most people won't
even read the book in detail and take the findings in the right
perspective, but will once again start crying about "genetic pollution"
and "genetic contamination". What Ellstrand has been able to prove is what
was all too familiar to students of population biology, population
genetics, plant breeders, plant geneticists. Thanks to the tools of
molecular biology like gene tagging, one can now decipher the gene flow
and gene introgression in wild populations more precisely than hitherto
known. It is definitely a contribution for the better understanding of
pollen biology and gene flux in the environment. But, does it really help
answer the question of the "so what" or the "consequences" question. I
guess the answer is very ambivalent.
In a broader perspective, nature is highly plastic and whatever changes
might be happening in it seems to be well within the acceptable noise to
signal ratio. Surely, over a long haul, nature has changed and will
continue to change and so will our coping mechanisms. Since, gene flow
happens with or without GMOs, the question to ask is how has it or going
to change biodiversity? Is it as a result of direct gene transfer or as a
result of agricultural practices (cause and effect!)? A keen environmental
impact assessment specialist must take into account all these minor and
major human activities to carry out a relative impacts of gene flow over a
time scale and come to a conclusion whether it can be considered a
significant impact to warrant a particular course of action.
Not having read the original book, I admire the reviewer's point that this
book might raise the specter of penny wise, pound foolish worry in the
minds of biotechnology critics. As far as I can remember, no respectable
scientist or biotechnologist has ever denied or suggested that there will
be no gene flow from GMOs, but it is the question of putting everything in
perspective of the selection pressure in the environment for the gene
action to play out. I think the book seems to be a must read for all who
are concerned about the effects of gene flow from GMOs only.
UNEP-GEF Biosafety Projects
The objectives of the GEF Initial Strategy on Biosafety are:
- To assist with national biosafety frameworks
- To promote information sharing and collaboration, especially at the
regional and sub-regional level
- To promote collaboration with other organizations to assist
capacity-building for the Protocol.
The activities proposed to implement these strategies are:
- A project to assist in developing national biosafety frameworks
- A limited number of demonstration projects to assist in implementing the
national biosafety frameworks
- Coordination with other organizations to provide biosafety-related
- Support to countries to participate in the biosafety clearing-house
- Enhancement of scientific and technical advice to GEF on biosafety
UNEP-GEF Project on Development of National Biosafety Frameworks
The UNEP-GEF global project on the development of National Biosafety
Frameworks began in June 2001. This three year project is designed to
assist up to 100 countries to develop their National Biosafety Frameworks
so that they can comply with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The
project will also promote regional and sub-regional cooperation on
The UNEP-GEF global project will:
* Assist up to 100 eligible countries to prepare their National
BiosafetyFrameworks. Using a country-driven process, the global project
will help each participating country to set up a framework for management
of living modified organisms (LMOs) at the national level, allowing them
to meet the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol.
* Promote regional and sub-regional collaboration and exchange of
experience on issues of relevance to the National Biosafety Frameworks.
This will help to make efficient use of financial and human resources,
establish regional and sub-regional networks, and promote harmonization of
risk assessment procedures and regulatory instruments.
* Provide advice and support to countries throughout the development of
their National Biosafety Frameworks.
The Perils of the Precautionary Principle: Lessons from the American and
- John D. Graham, Ph.D., Heritage Lecture #818, January 15, 2004 |
The concept of a universal precautionary principle apparently has its
origins in early German and Swedish thinking about environmental policy,
particularly the need for policymakers to practice foresight in order to
prevent long-range environmental problems. The concept was included in the
Amsterdam Treaty--an important step toward establishment of the European
Union--but the concept was left undefined and was applied only to
environmental policy. In the past 20 years, there have been numerous
references to precaution in various international treaties, statements of
advocacy groups, and academic writings, but the significance of the
principle in international law remains uncertain.
In summary, there are two major perils associated with an extreme approach
to precaution. One is that technological innovation will be stifled, and
we all recognize that innovation has played a major role in economic
progress throughout the world. A second peril, more subtle, is that public
health and the environment would be harmed as the energies of regulators
and the regulated community would be diverted from known or plausible
hazards to speculative and ill-founded ones. For these reasons, please do
not be surprised if the U.S. government continues to take a precautionary
approach to calls for adoption of a universal precautionary principle in
John D. Graham, Ph.D., is Administrator of the Office of Information and
Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget.
Full article at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Regulation/hl818.cfm
FANRPAN/IFPRI Regional Policy Dialogue on Biotechnology, Agriculture, and
Food Security in Southern Africa
Report of the Johannesburg 2003 meeting at
Biotechnology, like climate change or the construction of large dams,
falls in the ever-increasing category of policy disputes characterized by
multidimensionality and complexity. By their very nature, these disputes
are centered around politically charged issues of allocation of rights to
resources and distribution of the benefits and costs of changes in
technological change. They typically involve a high degree of scientific
uncertainty, long time horizons and decision-making at multiple
jurisdictional levels. Such disputes are therefore apt to pose exacting
challenges. They involve a wide range of political, economic, social and
Their satisfactory resolution therefore requires multi-stakeholder
participation in a process of finding and maintaining a dynamic balance
between political and technical priorities. In this process, civil society
can provide much of the expertise and creative thinking that is required
to identify needs, generate innovative policy options and implement
agreements, while governments retain their preeminent functions of
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food,
Agriculture, and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)
recently embarked on a multiple stakeholder initiative aimed at raising
awareness, promoting dialogue, and catalyzing consensus-building
mechanisms toward improved institutions and policies governing
biotechnology in agriculture and its implications for food security in
The primary motivation for the initiative is the food emergency currently
facing Southern Africa. Inadequate, poorly timed, or inappropriate policy
responses to low domestic food supplies have combined with and low human,
infrastructural, and organizational capacity in domestic markets to leave
millions of people at risk of starvation in the region. Twelve years ago,
in 1991, similar interactions among poor weather, policy failures, and
market failures left millions of Southern Africans similarly exposed. But
the food emergency of 2002-03 is different from that of 1991-92 in one
crucial respect. Thousands of tons of food available to help cover
shortages in Southern Africa contain unspecified amounts of genetically
modified (GM) grain (specifically, Bt maize) and are thus considered
suspect-or even poisonous-by some governments unsure of the implications
of GM food for human health and the environment. Efforts to accommodate
that uncertainty have pitted erstwhile partners in national and regional
food relief against one another in an increasingly heated political
A two-day meeting was convened in Johannesburg on April 25-26 2003. The
meeting participants (PDF 71K) included high-level policy makers, senior
representatives of a range of stakeholder agencies, and respected
scientific leaders. ... Full report at
Great White Hope of Europe
The EU is heading for an energy crisis while the solution is staring it in
the face in the shape of industrial, or 'white' biotechnology. This was
the message from two leading European scientists on Thursday, who appealed
for the EU to shed its reluctance to embrace biotech innovations.
Dr Wim Soetaert and Professor Dr Erick Vandamme from the university of
Ghent on Thursday released a report on the technology, which they claim
offers a solution to energy problems already on the horizon, but stressed
the need for Europe to take action.
Brazil and the USA currently lead the way in the white technology sector
and, says Soetaert, if we do not hurry to catch up "we are going to lose
in the end". To this end the report calls for far more R&D investment for
white biotechnology in the EU and a strategy for the future.
"I hope we have a plan by the end of 2004 -- at the moment there is no
plan" said Soetaert.
"The United States have a plan", he added, whereas there is "nearly no
effort whatsoever" in Europe.
Many fossil fuels are expected to run out in 50 years and white
biotechnology is being touted as a 'green' alternative for the future
because it derives from renewable crops, rather than finite resources such
as oil and coal.
In the USA maize is used to produce energy -- though in Europe sugar beet
or wheat would be a more practical choice because they are more widely
grown. But to take advantage of "the endless possibilities" in this area,
according to head of Biotech umbrella group EuropeaBio Hugo Schepens, we
have to overcome "European hesitancy -- to put it euphemistically".
The warning comes out on the same day as another report from environmental
group WWF emphasising the potential for this sort of energy production in
the Eastern European countries due to join the EU on May 1. The WWF report
cites estimates from the Polish environment ministry that renewable energy
could mean up to 60,000 new jobs in Poland. And according to Giulio Volpi,
WWF Climate policy officer, this is largely due to the fact that the
countries studied "will increase the EU's farmland by more than 40
percent". "Not all of this land will be used for food production and a
great part of it could go into providing sustainable forest-based and
White biotechnology consists of making micro organisms such as bacteria,
yeasts or fungi react with each other to produce new substances. The basic
principles have been understood for thousands of years and are involved
in, for example, the production of beer, bread and wine But only in the
late 20th century did it become possible to speed up and perfect this
process to obtain results that would never occur naturally.
Vitamins and biodegradable plastics, as well as energy, can now be
produced using white biotechnology.
But Soetart and Vandamme were anxious to stress that white biotechnology
does not necessarily have anything to do with the genetically modified
organisms that have met with such a frosty reception in Europe.
"One of the main advantages of white biotechnology is that GMOs are really
not an issue."
"It is irrelevant to white biotechnology whether the raw materials it uses
come from green biotechnology [GMOs] or not."
Answer This: Who Benefits from the Salmon Scare?
- Magnus Linklater, The Times (UK) Jan. 15, 2004
This is the true story of the salmon scare which threatened last weekend
to bring British salmon farming to its knees. It is a sorry saga of flawed
science, selective research and hidden commercial bias. That it was
allowed into the pages of the apparently respectable journal Science is
inexplicable. Its worldwide promotion by an organisation with a vested
interest in undermining farmed Atlantic salmon in favour of the wild
Alaskan variety is a scandal. Its central claim, that farmed Atlantic
salmon have higher levels of pollutants than wild ones, is simply
unproven, since the report itself concedes that it never actually examined
wild Atlantic salmon. That a British expert could nevertheless describe
the report as "definitive" isdumbfounding.
The report hit the headlines on Friday with a vengeance. Based on a
worldwide survey of salmon bought in supermarkets in March 2002, it said
that fish raised in Britain and other Northern European countries were so
contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals that consumers would be unwise to
eat them more than six times a year. It said that their chemical levels
broke guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency and greatly
outweighed any of the health advantages associated with eating fish. It
had the immediate effect of stalling salmon sales and threatening the
already fragile fish farming industry in Scotland.
Here are the facts: the survey was conducted by the Institute for Health
and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany, whose
scientists are respected and respectable. It was financed, however, by the
immensely wealthy, Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, which
campaigns actively on global pollution, and which believes in direct
intervention against industries that it regards as hostile to the
environment. Pew challenges logging companies and air polluters, all
legitimate targets, but it has also succeeded in shutting down the
long-line fishing industry in the Pacific, in order to protect sea
turtles, has curtailed the fishing of Alaskan pollock, which was said to
threaten sea lions, and has now turned its sights on Atlantic farmed
salmon. According to The New York Times: "With its deep pockets and
aggressive political advocacy, Pew is not only the most important new
player, but the most controversial" on the environmental scene.
David Carpenter, one of the scientists who conducted the research, was
remarkably frank about his funders. While insisting that his own work was
purely scientific, he said of the Pew Charitable Trusts: "There may be
some legitimacy in saying the reason they chose to fund this study was
that they had another agenda well beyond the health effects." His
interview, published on the IntraFish website, is worth reading, as are
the details of the way the fish were bought. It emerges that salmon were
purchased in Britain before new labelling laws, requiring their source to
be identified, were introduced. Thus there was no absolute guarantee that
they were wild or farmed. Dr Carpenter confessed he was "unaware" that
wild salmon were still on sale in Europe. "If we had been able to get wild
Atlantic salmon we would have tested them," he said.
Both Pew, and the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental
organisation which campaigns on behalf of Alaskan wild salmon fishing,
immediately published the results of the institute's survey on their
websites, with approving headlines. This was not just another Science
report, to be picked up or not by sharp-eyed correspondents. It was put
out around the world in a press release from the international PR
organisation, Gavin Anderson, which confirmed that its client was the
institute itself, but refused to say where the funding had come from.
So there we have it. Instead of an independent study from an
internationally accepted source, this was a survey with a clearly defined
political agenda, funded by a powerful organisation which would be
delighted to see fish farms closed down altogether. That is the kind of
thing I would like to have known before I read the headlines. And so, I
imagine, would the British consumer.
Misappliance of Science to Salmon
- The Times (UK), Letters to the Editor, Jan.16, 2004
From Professor Emeritus André McLean
Sir, The scare message on contamination of salmon by chemical residues
(report, January 9; see also Comment, January 15) should have been laughed
out of court.
The authors of the article in Science are experts at analysis of chemicals
in wildlife, or in corks from wine bottles, but the significance of those
measurements for human health is another matter.
Their risk statements are based on variants of a technical procedure known
to toxicologists as the linear-forced-through-zero extrapolation, where
risk to humans who get minute doses of some chemical is calculated simply
in proportion to the cancers that a few unfortunate mice may get when
stuffed with large amounts of the chemical.
If it worked like that, we would all be dead from the dangerous
mutation-producing effects of oxygen.
Nowadays we clearly need better estimates of risk. For once I stand in
agreement with the Food Standards Agency. All the evidence is in favour of
eating salmon, farmed or wild; it is good for health and increases the
enjoyment of life, which is an important part of thinking about risk and
Yours faithfully, ANDRÉ McLEAN, (Consultant toxicologist), Department of
Clinical Pharmacology, University College London
To Improve the Quality of Food, Just Add Chips
- David Firn, Financial Times (UK), Jan 16, 2004
Rarely do environmentalists and American farmers find a reason to unite in
praise of the French, but BioMérieux may be about to qualify for that
The company, based in Marcy l'Etoile near Lyon, has found a particularly
Gallic application for gene chips - a diagnostic tool invented in the US -
that should appeal to anyone who frets over whether their tuna is
dolphin-friendly, agonises over the risk of catching BSE (mad cow disease)
from American beef or suspects that their local épicerie is passing off
duck liver pâté as fois gras.
Gene chips - so called because the individual letters of the genetic code
are "printed" on to them using similar technology to that used in computer
chip fabrication - were invented by Affymetrix, a US biotechnology
company. They have revolutionised medical research by allowing scientists
to conduct complex studies of the relationships between genes, diseases
and medicines. ....
CORE to Hold Teach-In, Demand End to "Eco-Imperialism"
'Greenpeace co-founder to denounce his former colleagues'
- Cyril Boynes, Jr., Jan. 15, 2004; 212-598-4000
New York: The Congress of Racial Equality, one of America's premier civil
rights organizations, will convene a teach-in on Tuesday, January 20, at
the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, to condemn the global green
movement's oppression of poor people in the Third World.
"The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity,
morality and humanity," says Greenpeace co-founder and conference panelist
Dr. Patrick Moore. "The pain and suffering it inflicts on families in
developing countries can no longer be tolerated." Moore will be one of
eight experts from around the world will demonstrate from first-hand
experience how environmental extremists deny destitute nations
electricity, and deepen the poverty, malaria, malnutrition, tuberculosis
and dysentery that kill their people.
"We intend to stop this callous eco-manslaughter," says CORE national
spokesman Niger Innis. "The green movement imposes the views of mostly
wealthy, comfortable Americans and Europeans on mostly poor, desperate
Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. It violates their most basic human
rights. CORE will lay down the gauntlet. Eco-imperialism may not be a
household word yet, but it will be after this conference, the first one to
address these issues."
Every year, malaria makes 200 million people so sick that they cannot
work, attend school, cultivate their fields or care for their families.
Most of the cases are in sub-Saharan Africa, leaving that region one of
the most destitute on Earth. Two million people a year die from malaria –
half of them children, and 90 percent of them in Africa.
A major reason for the malaria epidemic is the radical environmentalists
and World Health Organization's near-total ban on DDT, perhaps the most
effective mosquito killer and repellant in existence. "Europeans and
Americans can afford to deceive themselves about malaria and pesticides.
But we can't." says Fiona Kobusingye, who came all the way from Kampala,
Uganda to participate in the event and tell her personal story.
The average European cow gets a $250-a-year subsidy. Meanwhile, a billion
people struggle to survive on just $200 a year, Innis notes. More than 2
billion have neither electricity nor running water, and none of the basic
necessities and conveniences Americans take for granted – all because of
the greens' ideological opposition to energy and economic development in
the Third World.
"We must put humanity back into the environmental debate," says Innis. "We
all want to protect our planet. But we must stop trying to protect it from
bogus or illusory threats – and on the backs, and the graves, of the
world's most powerless and impoverished people."
WHAT: Eco-Imperialism: The global green movement's war on the developing
world's poor WHEN: Tuesday, January 20 – 1:00 to 4:00 pm
WHERE: Conference Room D, Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, 53rd Street &
7th Avenue WHO: Roger Bate, Africa Fighting Malaria, UK; Cyril Boynes,
Jr., CORE, USA; Paul Driessen, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power -
Black Death, USA; Niger Innis, CORE, USA; Fiona Kobusingye, businesswoman,
Uganda; Patrick Moore, Greenspirit, Canada; Deroy Murdock, Atlas Economic
Research Foundation, USA; CS Prakash, Tuskegee University, USA and India.
At the teach-in's conclusion, journalists and other attendees can meet and
interview the experts, who will also be available for print, TV and radio
interviews during their time in New York.
Every year, 500,000 children around the world go blind, as a result of
vitamin A deficiency, notes Dr. CS Prakash, professor of plant genetics at
Tuskegee University and a native of India. Two million die from problems
directly related to this simple lack of a common vitamin, often because
they are so malnourished they cannot survive the malaria, dysentery and
other diseases that also afflict them. "Golden rice" could help end these
problems, but radical greens oppose its use, because it was developed
using precise genetic engineering methods.
"Environmental activists who've never had to worry about starvation,
malaria and simple survival have no right to impose their fears,
prejudices and ideologies on the world's poor," Dr. Prakash says. "By
orchestrating unfounded scare stories that biotech crops are unsafe or
untested, they put huge road blocks on the development of plant genetic
engineering that could bring economic prosperity to the rural poor in
Uganda and Bangladesh."
To a significant degree, Innis stresses, these problems have been
prolonged and worsened as a direct result of eco-centric policies that
oppose the use of pesticides, biotechnology and fossil fuels. This cannot
be allowed to continue, he and the other panelists will demonstrate.
"Eco-imperialism perpetuates poverty and misery. It's hypocritical and
immoral, unethical and socially irresponsible. Worst of all, it's lethal.
It simply has to end," adds panelist Paul Driessen, author of
Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death, and himself a former member of
the Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth. "It's time to hold these
groups accountable and compel organizations, foundations, courts and
policy makers to understand the consequences of the policies they are
imposing on our Earth's poorest citizens."
"The most recent WHO report on malaria makes virtually no mention of
indoor residual spraying programs, using DDT," says Dr. Roger Bate of
Africa Fighting Malaria and the American Enterprise Institute. "And when
it is mentioned, it is done in a very negative way that ignores the great
success South Africa and other countries have had with these programs.
It's as though this great success has been scientifically cleansed from
"When I helped create Greenpeace in 1971," reflects Dr. Moore, "I had no
idea it would evolve into a band of scientific illiterates who use Gestapo
tactics to silence people who wish to express their views in a civilized
forum. I had no idea the movement would oppose genetic engineering and
other programs that could benefit mankind – and adopt zero-tolerance
policies that so clearly expose its intellectual and moral bankruptcy."
"Cute, indigenous customs – the kind environmental groups say they are
trying to safeguard – mean indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition,
indigenous disease and childhood death," points out Kenyan Akinyi Arunga,
who is on travel and will not be able to participate in the event. "I
don't wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish our so-called friends would
stop imposing it on us."