Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 28, 2004:
* Learn from NGOs! It's Not about Science
* The Sense and Nonsense of Plant Patents
* EU Backs GM Maize
* Science 'Does Not Know All GM Crop Facts Yet' (Yawn...)
* On the NRC Report on Biological Containment of GEOs
* Information Gap Influences Consumer Attitudes on GM Foods
* India: GM Crops may be on Faster Track
* Buyers Pay More for Bt Cotton - Selling at a Premium
* Valuing Science
* New Bio-Era Reports on Crop Biomanufacturing
* Busting the Myth of Organic Food
Learn from NGOs! It's Not about Science: Response to the Anonymous British
- Ross S. Irvine
Most biotech companies are neither leaders nor combatants. They're
acquiescers whose main objective is to avoid conflict. Even worse, when a
biotech company takes it on the chin in public, other companies seem to be
relieved it wasn't them. The 'brave' companies silently endorse the
occasional motherhood policy statement issued by biotech trade and
professional associations but refer any questions back to the
associations. After all, the thinking goes, the communications process
must be centralized and controlled. More significantly, most companies
don't want to get their hands dirty.
Being a leader and combatant, does not mean falling to the level of NGOs.
It means learning from them. NGOs have learned the power of being active
with even the most obscure local council, the importance of questioning
the professionalism and credibility of opponents, the necessity of
empowering others to be spokesmen, and the significance of broadening a
specific issue (eg. biotech technology) to include many issues.
To merely look down on and dismiss the tactics and strategies of NGOs is
to over look some valuable lessons. Unfortunately for PR consultants who
seek 'fat client cheques' the PR tactics and strategies used by NGOs offer
little financial incentive. Why? Because NGO methods eliminate the
antiquated, high-cost, centralized, command-and-control communications
structure that PR agencies understand and promote. In the NGO world of PR
and communications, everyone is encouraged to be a communicator. The
communications network is diffused and uncontrollable. As a result,
charging clients would be impossible.
In the public domain, much of the discussion of biotechnology has nothing
to do with science and technology. It encompasses a seemingly endless list
of concerns including globalization, capitalism, trade, human and women's
rights, democracy, etc. Anyone who thinks the biotechnology debate is
going to be settled simply on the basis science is foolhardy.
Finally, in the world of modern politics, numbers count. Who's more
important to politicians? A handful of scientists with competing views or
thousands of confused, voters merely seeking safety and security from
risks that even the scientists can't agree on'
Many of these ideas are explored in more depth on the ePublic Relations
web site (http://www.epublicrelations.ca). AgBioView readers are invited
to visit it. It's free. There's no obligation. Comments are always
- Ross S. Irvine, President/Corporate Activist, ePublic Relations, Guelph,
"Public relations is war. It's about winners and losers. Winners gain
public, media, and regulatory acceptance and support for their products,
services, and organizations. Losers see their products, services, and
organizations sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, pilloried by the
media, and trampled by excessive regulation."
> Should We Stoop to the Level of NGOs?
> Why should industry stoop to the level of NGOs when you are
> succeeding on the basis of sound science and regulatory truth
>> Global Moral War - Ross S. Irvine,
The Sense and Nonsense of Plant Patents
- Shanthu Shantharam,
Greg Conko's observations on biotech patent could not have come at a more
opportune moment than now as the first two patents of GM crops expired as
the spread of biotechnology is crawling at snail's pace in many parts of
the developing world.
He has correctly pointed out that engine of modern innovation since the
modern industrial revolution has been IPR for the inventor to recoup the
cost of invention or innovation and even make a tidy profit if the markets
bear it. There is a little known fact that literally 95% of the patents
have no commercial potential or chances for success and the IPR protecting
them gather as much dust as the invention itself. Nevertheless, it costs
money to innovate and patent those innovations and people do it with a
fond hope that those inventions may be valuable to the society and that
society will pay for it, at least for sometime.
While reading Greg Conko's commentary, I was reminded of a column called
"Swaminomics" (from Prakash: see below) that blows the false propaganda of
those who are opposed to IPR on plants and other inventions based on false
ideology, misinformation and double standards.
As Greg Conko points out and so does Mr. Anklesaria-Aiyar that patents
rules and regulations and IPR principles are poorly understood even among
those who claim to be experts and knowledgeable. I have come to believe
that only the patent attorneys who practice patent and IPR law are the
only ones who know what it takes to patent an invention. Everyone else is
blowing hot air. A patent attorney friend of mine from India summed it all
very well. He said, those who have problems with patents or any other IPR
of any kind including plant varieties (both GM and non-GM) is to take it
to the judge and argue their case and see if they can prevail. All other
arguments and discussions are mere exercise in verbal futility. I happen
believe that those who oppose IPR are the ones who do not have any IP of
their own. If they did, they would be busy protecting it.
For example, even in a country like India where there is no IPR on plant
variety for the moment, there is a highly competitive seed industry mostly
developing hybrid varieties and they all guard their parental lines in
their pockets. The same seed industry whose margin of profits in seeds
business is considerable hardly invests in the development of self-
pollinating varieties, and the public sector's contribution is diminishing
as is true all over the world. The net result is that poor farmers are the
losers as their crops get neglected. If there were some kind of protection
to the improved varieties in India, private sector in the seed business
that is mostly indigenous would have invested in technology for improving
the so called "orphan" crops. I think good old days of public sector
intervention as it happened in green revolution days is highly unlikely to
IPR was never designed to be an instrument for equity and serving the
poor. It is an instrument to reward the inventor based on genuine
creativity and innovation. IPR is not about to go away. But, the
principles and standards of IPR must be uniform throughout the world. It
is the incoherence in granting IPR throughout the world that is the root
cause of all the controversy and debates about the ethics of IPR. Like all
international negotiations, efforts to harmonize patent laws is also mired
in controversy and highly politicized. Whenever a balanced agreement can
be reached, I feel that everyone will benefit from fair IPR laws.
The practice of granting patents willy-nilly as it happens in most cases
in the US under the pretext that if there is anything wrong with it then
it will be challenged as opposed to European principle of foot dragging to
grant patents are examples of two extremes. As far the rest of the
developing world, God help them!
Sense and Nonsense on Patenting Plants
- Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, The Times of India, Sept. 15, 1996
Newspapers carried screaming headlines last week about a sensational new
discovery. At a demonstration attended by top scientists, Mr Ramer Pillai
boiled a handful of herbs in water with some chemical additives, and
produced 600 ml of kerosene. Optimists suddenly had visions of India
joining OPEC and becoming a big producer of oil from herbs.
Some demanded the immediate patenting of the new herb, saying we must not
allow this knowledge to be stolen by foreign companies as has happened to
neem and turmeric.
This hysterical reaction shows how badly the public has been fooled by the
systematic myths and disinformation propagated by NGOs and journalists on
patents. The truth is that no foreign company has ever patented neem or
turmeric. Nor will they patent the new herb.
This may surprise readers long bombarded with articles about foreign
companies stealing our indigenous knowledge on neem and turmeric and
patenting it. But as master propagandist Goebbels once said, if you tell a
lie often enough, people will believe it. This seems to be the case with
neem and turmeric.
In recent years, some countries have permitted the patenting of plant
varieties. But you cannot pick up any old plant and rush to the patents
office. To get a patent, you have to establish three things; that it is
novel (involves an inventive step), non–obvious and commercially useful.
It follows that if you breed a new high-yielding variety of neem or
turmeric, some countries will let you patent it. But you cannot take a
traditional variety to a patent office and get intellectual property
rights over it. It is simply false to claim, as so many have, that any
foreign company has patented the neem tree.
The truth is that no foreign company has ever patented neem or turmeric,
nor will they patent the new herb. A global search made by the department
of science and technology last year disclosed that 63 patents had been
granted globally for products related to neem. Not a single patent was for
neem itself. All 63 were for new processes or products using neem and its
principal extract, azadirachtin. All 63 patents involved some inventive
Several newspaper articles have been written claiming that an American
company, WR Grace, has patented neem in the United States. This is false.
What the company has patented is a technology for stabilising azadirachtin
(a neem extract) to give it a longer shelf life. This does not give the
company any patent rights over traditional neem usage by Indian farmers.
It is not theft of traditional Indian knowledge, but a step that improves
on traditional knowledge.
Even so, say fundamentalists, the inventor should pay Indian farmers for
the original knowledge on which it has built. This raises the question:
How long should such intellectual property rights last? In the case of new
patents, many of the same fundamentalists claim that a 20-year life
(proposed by WTO) is much too long. Yet the fundamentalists wants a patent
life of hundreds of years for Indian farmers in the case of neem. This is
A few further points are in order.
* Who says neem is Indian anyway? The tree is found in several Asian and
African countries. Research may well show that it comes from Africa, or
from what is now Pakistan. Will the same fundamentalists claim the Indian
farmers have been stealing hat knowledge of Africa and Pakistan, and
should pay for this theft of centuries?
* Iron has been known from the Iron Age. But you can still get patents for
new processes to make iron, or to use iron. Is every such invention a
theft of the knowledge of the Iron Age? Should the Bhilai steel pay
royalties to the descendants of Iron Age folk in Africa?
* A large number of crops grown in India- potatoes, tea coffee, soybeans,
possibly wheat and cotton - came here from other countries. If these
varieties are the intellectual property of farmers in the originating
country, is every farmer growing them guilty of theft?
* India’s Green Revolution was based on high-yielding wheat varieties
originating in Mexico. Is this now to be interpreted as massive Indian
theft of the traditional knowledge of Mexican farmers?
The knowledge of the ages is free. Patents are temporary monopolies for 20
years, given to spur further inventions. After this 20-year interregnum,
all patented inventions join the pool of free knowledge. Thus, the real
result of patents is not to limit free knowledge, but to greatly expand
it. Patented knowledge is and always will be a tiny fraction of all
knowledge. In the absence of patents, there would be less research and,
hence, less free knowledge in the long run. We have infinitely more free
knowledge in our current age of patents that in earlier centuries before
patent laws were made.
To get a patent, you have to establish three things; that it is novel
(involves an inventive step), non-obvious and commercially useful.
EU Backs GM Maize
- Reuters, Jan. 28, 2004
The European Commission has backed a proposal to allow imports of a
genetically modified (GM) maize type, the first step towards lifting the
EU's five-year unofficial ban on new GM crops and products.
"Bt-11 has been adopted by the Commission to be forwarded to Council,"
Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder said on Wednesday. EU ministers now
have three months to consider the proposal to allow imports of the maize,
known as Bt-11 and marketed by Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta. If they
cannot agree by then, the Commission may rubberstamp its own proposal.
The United States, backed by Canada and Argentina, has challenged the EU's
GMO ban at the World Trade Organisation, saying the EU is acting
illegally. Farmers in the United States say the ban costs them millions of
dollars a year in lost sales.
Science 'Does Not Know All GM Crop Facts Yet'
- James Reynolds, The Scotsman, Jan. 28, 2004
More pressure has been heaped on the government to reject genetically
modified crops, after warnings that the scientific community is not in a
position to answer all possible questions about the controversial
Both the Westminster and Scottish parliaments are to make major policy
announcements next month on whether to proceed with commercial growing of
three GM crops tested in recent trials. But Dr Ruth Levitt, a senior
visiting research fellow at the Economic and Social Research Council, at
the University of London, the UK's largest research-funding agency, says
many questions are not about hard facts but about values and arguments
that are construed very differently by the interested parties.
According to Dr Levitt, the implications of the decision go way beyond the
particular fate of the crops in question - genetically-modified oilseed
rape, sugar beet and maize. She said: "The underlying question, what are
the potential benefits of GM crops and foods, and the possible risks to
human health and to the environment, cannot yet be answered 'factually',
because the necessary evidence simply does not exist."
Dr Levitt said that even where policy and practice have been developed
over many generations, such as for healthcare or education, there may
still be little in the way of reliable facts. Her paper says that the
very act of gathering facts on which to base decisions is itself actively
reshaping the whole process, as the various interested parties are
presented with material with which to refresh their positions and reassess
The wider decision is whether the government can genuinely uphold
different stakeholders' ranges of options in parallel; for example, so
people can knowingly eat the safe food they want at the same time as
scientists, industry and farmers can pursue the types of work and reward
they want, says the paper. It argues that, if the government genuinely
relied on specially gathered scientific facts to make a decision, as
knowledge stands at the moment it would not seem to have sufficient
grounds for supporting immediate commercialisation of the three test
The study says that to build consumer confidence for future approvals, the
government must work to resolve various doubts and ensure that decisions
on future GM crops and foods are assessed in an EU-wide case-by-case
approach, along lines being developed now.
On resolving the wider question, Dr Levitt said: "Public debate may be a
fashionable approach, but it does not guarantee that good policy-making
She added that being clearer about the tasks that policies are required to
perform could facilitate spotting the gaps in factual evidence much
sooner; for instance, people's relative ignorance of the true risks or
benefits of conventional farming.
She continued: "The government says it wants to protect the environment
and human health, uphold farmers' and consumers' choices, and play a full
part in Europe’s precautionary approach to regulation. It claims it can do
all these things, particularly using evidence provided by sound science.
"(The government) now has a chance to offer a fresh approach to dealing
with both the scientific and the political realities."
Mark Ruskell, the Green Party environment spokesman, said: "The very
nature of GM makes it difficult to assess conclusively all of the hazards
that the technology poses. The fundamental question is, what is the point?
Should we not be focusing on other approaches to food and farming that can
meet societies needs such as organics?"
But Professor Anthony Trewavas, of the Institute of Cell and Molecular
Biology at Edinburgh University and a leading exponent of the benefits of
GM crops, said: "People can always say that there is not enough known to
stop change, but that is the same with any technological advancement.
"We do know a lot about some of the (GM) crops on offer. If you ask anyone
in the drug industry they will tell you that no matter how many tests you
conduct you have to, at some point, throw it out into the population and
see what happens.
"This indicates that you can never in fact find out all the likely
difficulties. At the end of the day you have to try things out otherwise
you don’t get any progress at all."
Response From Prakash:
I am perplexed to hear from the learned scholar Dr. Levitt that with GM
crops "possible risks to human health and to the environment, cannot yet
be answered 'factually' because the necessary evidence simply does not
What more evidence is needed? Every crop is examined for exactly such
questions before approval. Is there any evidence that approved GM crops
pose such 'risks'? What about the overwhelming evidence of absolute safety
of GM foods in the past decade plus endorsement from every known
Was there any "factual" evidence that other traditional crop or food pose
no "possible risk to human health and to the environment". Should we ban
potato, celery, peanut, kiwi fruit and coffee and all organic food until
we "find" such evidence? Why hold GM crops to an extraordinary level of
safety to the point of killing the technology? Is there any evidence
gathered to show that new and exotic foods, food additives colorings or
herbs on market are completely safe? Should we stop the technological
advancement clock until science finds out everything about the technology?
Aspirin has been around for 100 years and we still do not know every
thing about its role.
But then again, while underlining the importance of sound science, Dr.
Levitt goes on - "questions are not about hard 'facts' but about values
and arguments that are construed very differently by the interested
So, heads we lose and tails we lose. Even if scientists can come up with
'factual' evidence of absolute safety of GM foods, the questions would
keep changing because 'they are about values and judgement?' This is
On the NRC Report on Biological Containment of GEOs
- Shanthu Shantharam
Protestations of Tom DeGregori about who got the report first and why and
wherefore seems to be academic. Greg Jaffe may not be a scientist, but is
a stakeholder in the debate. In fact, Jaffe's criticisms against
biotechnology is more to do with the regulatory oversight mechanisms than
What is more important is whether the new book on Biocontainment of GEOs
published by NRC helps in furthering the introduction of GMOs around the
world and does it provide any better assurance to the beleaguered public
about the biosafety of GMOs. The answer, I am afraid, is still not
unequivocal. Having evaluated the Genetic User Restriction Technologies
(GURTS) that was so successfully dubbed "Terminator" and "Traitor"
technologies by the then RAFI who did a PR number on using any of these
technologies, those options have been effectively discarded for the near
term. Many biotech companies are exploring more costly physical
containment alternatives that will no doubt make the technology products
Like the NRC report of 2000 on evaluating the science and regulation of
pest protected plants, the present book too does not say in any
unequivocal terms what are the biosafety dangers presented by GM crops.
Most the biocontainment options are evaluated against perceived threats or
risks or dangers of GMOs none proven so far. It is understandable to a
certain extent that science perhaps is never in a position to stick its
neck out and say definitively that GMOs present no new danger.
The real danger is in equating risk with danger as it is done in most
publications. For example risk of gene transfer as opposed to danger or
threat caused by gene transfer. In all the risk assessments carried out so
far, no one has demonstrated any danger of GM crops to the environment and
human health no more than ordinary new varieties of crops introduced into
agriculture. This point should have been reinforced strongly in the book
and all other publications coming from NRC.
But, it seems NRC is equally afraid of getting on the wrong side of the
vocal opponents of biotechnology and they too have learnt to equivocate on
such controversies whipped up by ideologues. Instead sticking with the
best possible scientific evidence available, they try to be politically
correct or is politically sensitive?
Information Gap Influences Consumer Attitudes about Genetically Modified
- Newswise, Jan. 28, 2004 http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/502949/
If people see the words "genetically modified" on a food label, they’re
more likely to buy it if they feel informed about such products. Yet
consumers often feel ill-informed about such foods, according to a survey
by a University of Arkansas researcher and her colleague, and producers
currently provide little information to educate their customers.
Pamela Brady, a research professor at the Institute of Food Science and
Engineering, and her brother John T. Brady, program director in the
department of consumer and textile sciences at Ohio State University-Lima,
reported their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Family and
Consumer Sciences. Their survey of U.S. consumers shows that people who
know more about genetically modified foods are more likely to purchase
goods that contain these items.
"We found that as education level went up, reported knowledge went up,"
Pamela Brady said. "But when we asked, ‘Do you feel like you know enough?’
most people said they didn’t."
Although three-quarters of all genetically modified crops are grown in the
United States, about 70 percent of American consumers report inadequate
knowledge of genetically modified foods.
Although gene modification is a new technology, Pamela Brady points out
that humans have been genetically modifying their food through animal and
plant husbandry for thousands of years. Modern genetic engineering
techniques allow scientists to insert specific genes into a plant or
animal and get results rapidly without having to go through the
time-consuming process of selective breeding. Genetic modifications to
crops have included increased insect resistance, enhanced nutrient value
and herbicide resistance. For instance, researchers have inserted a gene
into corn that produces a natural insecticide to protect the plants from
corn borers. The new technology has its own benefits and problems.
John Brady became interested in American consumer attitudes towards
genetically modified foods after witnessing strong resistance to such
foods in Europe. The researchers used a national consumer survey modified
from one developed in Europe to examine consumer attitudes and knowledge
about genetically modified foods in the United States.
They found that knowledge of genetically modified foods was higher for
people with some college education than for people with no high school
degree. Almost 30 percent of people whose education consisted of a high
school degree or less said they had not heard of genetically modified
food. They also found that people who felt they knew something about
genetically modified foods were more likely to be willing to purchase such
However, most people at all education levels said they had heard of
genetically modified foods but did not feel informed about them. When
asked where information about genetically modified food should be found,
more than 90 percent of respondents suggested the food label.
"Unfortunately, you can't get much more information on a label. There’s
not much room there and already lots of information provided," Pamela
Despite that limitation, the researchers believe their survey shows that
companies that produce genetically modified foods and educators like those
at the extension service can and should be educating people about these
"There’s an opportunity here to help consumers understand more about
genetically modified foods," she said. "Like anything else, genetically
modified foods are good and bad. Helping consumers understand the
technology and make informed decisions about these products is the
challenge for food companies and educators," she said.
India: GM Crops may be on Faster Track
- Chandrika Mago, The Times of India, Jan. 2004
India's transgenic crop programme could soon be put on a faster - and
controversial - track.
Sources say an emerging view within the M S Swaminathan committee, looking
at an agrobiotechnology applications policy and clearance procedures, is
that once a gene has been cleared for biosafety, this should not be an
issue when the same gene is put into a different variety. Biosafety covers
a range, from food and feed safety to allergenicity and gene flow.
In other words, do not reinvent the wheel. This could snip one or two
years off trials, saving time and money. Thereafter, the transgenic
variety could go straight for agronomic evaluation - how well it performs
in a particular area. If the method used for any usual variety is
adopted, this would mean three years - and once a proposed legal change is
through, two years.
Though activists do not share their enthusiasm, scientists see transgenic
crops as a beneficial way to meet India's food security needs. At the
moment, any transgenic crop goes through years of trials for biosafety and
Buyers Pay More for Bt Cotton - Selling at a Premium
- Sangita Shah, Business Standard (India,) Jan. 2004
Bt cotton has started selling at a premium in the market. The Bt varieties
of Bollgard 12 and VICH-5 were selling at above Rs 3125 and Rs 3050 ($68)
per quintal (100 kg). In contrast, non-Bt and other types of cotton were
trading between Rs 2800 and Rs 3000 $62) per quintal.
In the Gondal market in Rajkot district of Gujarat, the biggest market
yard of the area, Bollgard 12 growers were able to sell their produce at a
premium over other cotton. Purchasers paid the premium in recognition of
the fact that Bollgard -12 Bt cotton had lower pesticide contamination.
- Anthony Scott (Executive Director Association of Crown Research
Institutes), BioScience News and Advocate, 28 January 2004,
How do we value science; what do we expect from it and its practitioners?
These and related questions seem to occur whenever scientists get together
these days. Yet was science ever valued as highly as we fondly remember it
Let's not confuse valuing science with unquestioning acceptance of
technological advances, particularly post-WWII.
And we probably do not want to return to the days of William Perkin, the
discoverer of mauve in 1856. His father did not want him to become a
chemist; his chemistry professor didn’t want Perkin to wreck his career in
pursuit of a colour and its properties. It made him the richest chemist in
England, set in motion the development of explosives, perfume, photography
and modern medicine and spurred the economies of the UK and others to new
heights for decades. But it was the advent of new colours for their
clothes that really captured people's attention.
Money is often seen as a proxy for social acceptance. Surely then the
apogee of value was reached in the dot.com boom of the decade just gone,
when some types of science-based enterprise achieved astronomical (dollar)
values. In recent days, the American Congress has agreed an unprecedented
Federal Science Budget - and the President of the USA has committed his
nation to deep space activity in a way unparalleled in four decades.
In lesser resourced nations - such as New Zealand - the government science
budget increases in dollar terms (although declines against the GDP
percentage target set by a previous ministry). Remarkably, private sector
research spending has increased dramatically.
So why do the questions of valuing science (and scientists) remain? In
part, the social context has changed in recent decades. Rachel Carson’s
1962 polemic, Silent Spring, was pivotal in putting science on the back
foot. In fact, as a passionate marine biologist, she was attacking its use
- particularly by corporates - not science per se.
Others have gone that step further, attacking the very concept of a single
idea of science. They argue that science is so culturally dependent that
scientists often do not get the questions right, let alone understand the
answers. So this makes science less a search for facts, than a series of
competing interpretations each with its own innate and inviolable
The increasing size of science programmes creates additional tension for
the benchtop scientist, who is increasingly distanced from the final bid
proposal. How are entities to manage the implicit consequences of
increased collaboration across institutions and disciplines which both
science and funders seem to require?
Even the legendarily independent university research scientist is likely
to be funded by a patron (corporate, government department, purchase
agency) who expects an outcome of definable usefulness.
These and many more issues around the concept of valuing science are
topics of urgent importance on a global scale. The Science Ministers of
APEC -- the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group of 21 economies - meet
in Christchurch, New Zealand in the week of 8 March. For the first time,
R&D leaders, from business, policy agencies, science enterprises and
corporates will share their views - and suggestions for action - with
Ministers in open plenary.
Before doing so, the R&D Leaders will have the benefit of 5 plenaries and
9 workshops including 16 global leaders in science and business over the
period of 10 and 11 March. This is a chance to go beyond words and
initiate some practical action. Registrations for the APEC R&D Leaders
Forum are still being accepted on www.apecscience2004.org.nz
New Bio-Era Reports on Crop Biomanufacturing
'New Reports Examine Economic Opportunities for Crop Plant
Biomanufacturing and the Farm Sector Implications'
Cambridge, Ma, January 27, 2004 - Bio Economic Research Associates, or
bio-eraT (www.bio-era.net), a leading independent research and advisory
firm providing analysis on the future of the global bio economy, has
announced the release of its two latest research reports entitled "Crop
Biomanufacturing - Part I: The Economic Opportunity" and "Crop
Biomanufacturing - Part II: Implications for the Farm Sector."
The two reports are the first in a five-part series examining the rapid
emergence of genetically engineered crop plants as production platforms
for pharmaceuticals and other industrial materials, and the far-reaching
implications for the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, chemical, food and
agriculture sectors. Additional reports in the series will address
biosecurity risk management, the asymmetries of risk and reward among
stakeholders, and the global outlook for crop biomanufacturing.
The manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and industrial enzymes utilizing
biological hosts (biomanufacturing) is growing rapidly, with gross sales
of all such biomanufactured products expected to grow from under $30
billion in 2001 to as much as $60 billion by 2010. The first report in
this bio-era Landscape Report series analyzes the economic drivers behind
the trend toward biomanufacturing utilizing crop plants, and assesses the
potential for this form of manufacturing to become an enduring part of bio
economic future. The report presents a detailed analysis of the proteins
and enzymes currently being tested for possible production in crops, the
relative attractiveness of various crop plants as biomanufacturing
platforms, and which firms are actively developing the technology, and are
likely to dominate in the crop plant biomanufacturing arena in coming
The second report in the series analyzes the economics of farm sector
opportunities associated with crop-based biomanufacturing and concludes
that contrary to much of the "hype" heard in the farm belt, for the
foreseeable future the opportunities for U.S. farm sector participants are
very limited. Over the next decade, total farm sector acreage requirements
for biomanufacturing are expected to be under 25,000 acres, with the
associated additional U.S. farm sector revenue peaking in that time period
at under $70 million per year.
Both reports are available to enrolled members of the bio-era research and
advisory network, through the company's web site at www.bio-era.net.
Fee-based three-month trial memberships are available to approved
Busting the Myth of Organic Food
- Consumer Freedom, Jan. 27, 2004
Americans believe that organic food is healthier than conventional fare by
a 2-1 margin, reports John Miller of National Review. But Miller's worthy
article (link requires subscription) demonstrates that the reverse is far
closer to the truth. "Organic foods may be fresh," he points out, "but
they're also fresh from the manure fields."
To be sure, there's nothing wrong with buying organic. Miller rightly
scorns, however, the holier-than-thou organic-only political movement
trying to legislate and scare the rest of us into buying their high-priced
The discovery of a single case of mad cow disease in the United States
provided a perfect opportunity for organic advocates to promote the false
belief that conventional foods are excessively risky. As we pointed out in
the Orlando Sentinel: "During the Christmas season, it was hard to open a
newspaper without reading assurances from Ronnie Cummins, director of the
Organic Consumers Association, that organic beef provided a safety net
from mad cow disease." He conveniently forgets that in 1995, the British
had hundreds of mad-cow diagnoses on organic farms.
Facts aren't particularly important to a guy like Cummins, who believes
that American consumers "aren't smart enough to know what they want."
Based on the facts, of course, most of us won't pay hefty premiums for
organic meat. So Cummins strives to raise unwarranted fears about mad cow
disease. That's the only way he can achieve his goal of getting consumers
to pay "twice as much for their meat."
For those who think that eating organic food will somehow protect us from
mad cow disease and bring about world peace, learning that manure-grown
spuds come from large enterprises might be a bit of shock. But as Miller
points out, "one of the dirty secrets of organic farming" is that "it's
Although the organic movement has humble origins, today most of its food
isn't produced on family farms in quaint villages or even on hippie
communes in Vermont. Instead, the industry has come to be dominated by
large corporations that are normally the dreaded bogeymen in the minds of
many organic consumers. A single company currently controls about 70
percent of the market in organic milk. California grows about $400 million
per year in organic produce -- and about half of it comes from just five
The high-priestess of organic-only eating, Joan Dye Gussow, has complained
for years about business interests intruding on her church. "When we said
organic we meant local," she wrote in 2002. "We meant healthful. We meant
being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful
growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality."
Gussow claims that she views food choices in terms of ecology. She should
read Miller's article. He notes that, if anything, organic food is worse
for the environment:
The very worst thing about organic farming requires the use of a word that
doomsaying environmentalists have practically trademarked: It's not
sustainable. Few activities are as wasteful as organic farming. Its yields
are about half of what conventional farmers expect at harvest time. Norman
Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his agricultural
innovations, has said, "You couldn't feed more than 4 billion people" on
an all-organic diet.
If organic-food consumers think they're making a political statement when
they eat, they're correct: They're declaring themselves to be not only
friends of population control, but also enemies of environmental
conservation. About half the world's land area that isn't covered with ice
or sand is devoted to food production. Modern farming techniques have
enabled this limited supply to produce increasing quantities of food.
Yields have fattened so much in the last few decades that people refer to
this phenomenon as the "Green Revolution," a term that has nothing to do
with enviro-greenies and everything to do with improvements in breeding,
fertilization, and irrigation.
Yet even greater challenges lie ahead, because demographers predict that
world population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. "The key is to produce
more food," says Alex Avery of CGFI. "Growing more per acre leaves more
land for nature." The alternative is to chop down rainforests so that we
may dine on organic soybeans.
And what about the health risks from eating those manure-grown sprouts?
Here's one final excerpt from Miller's article, where he describes the
organic brand of fertilizer creating a:
... luscious breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty microbes. Take the
dreaded E. coli, which is capable of killing people who ingest it. A study
by the Center for Global Food Issues found that although organic foods
make up about 1 percent of America's diet, they also account for about 8
percent of confirmed E. coli cases.
Organic food products also suffer from more than eight times as many
recalls as conventional ones. Some of this problem would go away if
organic farmers used synthetic sprays -- but this, too, is off limits.
Conventional wisdom says that we should avoid food that's been drenched in
herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Half a century ago, there was some
truth in this: Sprays were primitive and left behind chemical deposits
that often survived all the way to the dinner table. Today's sprays,
however, are largely biodegradable. They do their job in the field and
quickly break down into harmless molecules.
What's more, advances in biotechnology have reduced the need to spray.
About one-third of America's corn crop is now genetically modified. This
corn includes a special gene that produces a natural toxin that's safe for
every living creature to eat except caterpillars with alkaline guts, such
as the European corn borer, a moth larva that can ravage whole harvests.
This kind of biotech innovation has helped farmers reduce their reliance
on pesticides by about 50 million pounds per year.
Organic farmers, of course, don't benefit from any of this. But they do
have some recourse against the bugs, weeds, and fungi that can devastate a
crop: They spray their plants with "natural" pesticides. These are less
effective than synthetic ones and they're certainly no safer. In rat
tests, rotenone -- an insecticide extracted from the roots of tropical
plants -- has been shown to cause the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The
Environmental Protection Agency has described pyrethrum, another natural
bug killer, as a human carcinogen.
Everything is lethal in massive quantities, of course, and it takes huge
doses of pyrethrum to pose a health hazard. Still, the typical organic
farmer has to douse his crops with it as many as seven times to have the
same effect as one or two applications of a synthetic compound based on
the same ingredients. Then there's one of the natural fungicides preferred
by organic coffee growers in Guatemala: fermented urine. Think about that
the next time you're tempted to order the "special brew" at your local
organic java hut.