Today in AgBioView: February 10, 2004
* India: Govt To Revamp GEAC After Swaminathan Panel Submits Report
* Many 'organic' foods contain GM ingredients, claims study
* Global Cooling?
* Why Europe Has No Taste for the Future
* The New Cultural Imperialism: The Greens and Economic Development
* Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution
* Minds over Matter
* Science losing the agitprop battle
nment has decided to hold discussions on revamping of the
country's regulatory authority for transgenic products, the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) after the MS Swaminathan Panel
submits its report by the end of the month. Facing a lot of criticism over
the functioning of GEAC, the government had decided to set up a panel of
experts headed by the noted agro scientist, Dr MS Swaminathan to suggest
measures for streamlining the regulatory process in the country.
The panel report is expected this month. Speaking to FE, Dr MS Swaminathan
said, "We are in the process of finalising the recommendations. The panel
conducted meetings with nearly all the stakeholders like farmers,
industry, NGOs and the media. We will consider the interests of farmers,
industry and the NGOs." The industry has demanded a single-window
clearance for transgenic crops.
At present, the clearances are subject to small scale field trials under
the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) set up by the
department of biotechnology and largescale co-ordinated field trials
conducted under the supervision of the Indian Council of Agricultural
Research (ICAR) as directed by the GEAC. The Union health ministry also
gives its assessment on food saftety and hygiene and the Union environment
ministry assess the environmental impact.
In this context, the industry has suggested that the existing process
involves a long gestation period which can be reduced if there is a single
window system of clearance. The industry has also demanded that once a
particular gene is validated, it should not be validated again even if it
is placed in a different background or on a different crop.
The president of Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS) and
the former director-general of ICAR, Dr RS Paroda went a step further and
has demanded that since the user ministry for transgenic crops is the
Union agriculture ministry, the regulatory body namely, the GEAC, should
be brought under its administrative control. The TAAS, in a resolution to
the government, has also demanded single window clearance for transgenic
crops. The industry has also demanded that once a particular gene is
validated, it should not be validated again even if it is placed in a
different background or on a different crop Dr MS Swaminathan
The secretary in the department of biotechnology, Dr Manju Sharma,
however, shot down the proposal for single window clearance when she was
called to deliver the first foundation lecture of TAAS in October 17,
2003. She defended that India has one of the finest three-tier system of
clearance. The system, howver, needs some improvement. She said in all
countries of the world including US there is a three-tier system of
clearance as ensuring precautionary measures is absolutely essential.
The NGOs in the country are also opposed to the proposal of placing the
regulatory body, GEAC either under the agriculture ministry or the
department of biotechnology (DBT). They say as DBT is the promoter agency,
it cannot impartially deliberate clearances. Similarly, as the agriculture
ministry is the user ministry, it also cannot be impartial in its views.
Therefore, it is necessary to place the GEAC either under the health or
the environment ministry.
Dr Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign suggested setting up of a Bio-Ethics
Commission for judging scientists involved in developing and clearing
transgenic crops for commercial use. Dr Aseesh Tayal of Greenpeace India
suggested the need for introduction of a limited liability regime under
the Cartagena Protocol to fix the responsibility for any possible damage
done to health and environment on account GMOs. India should also demand
in the meeting of the conference of parties to the Cartagena Protocol
scheduled in February end in Malaysia for worldwide acceptance of a
limited liability regime till the final draft is prepared in 2007. One of
the main issues for revamping of GEAC is fixing the term period for its
chairman. There has been frequent changes in the post of the GEAC
chairman. The chairman is changed after every important decision GEAC
Mr AM Gokhale was shifted out after he gave conditional approval to the
country's first transgenic crop, Bt cotton in March 2002 and also refused
to allow import of Starlink Corn from US. Ms Sushma Choudhary who
succeeded him was shfted out after GEAC decided not to approve GM mustard
crop. Mr Duggal who took over as GEAC chairman remained in the post for
few months and was succeeded by Ms Meena Gupta and Ms Bina Choudhary who
is now continuing as chairperson.
Many 'organic' foods contain GM ingredients, claims study
- Cordis News Service, 2004-02-09
A wide range of organic or health food products on sale in the UK contain
traces of genetically modified (GM) ingredients, according to a study due
to be published in April.
Professor Mark Partridge and Professor Denis Murphy, from the
biotechnology unit at the University of Glamorgan, UK, tested 25 products
containing soya using an EU approved method for detecting traces of GM
They found that 10 of the 25 samples tested positive for traces of GM
ingredients, even though eight of the positive samples had been labelled
'GM free' or 'organic'. Four of the products that showed traces of GM were
above the UK Soil Association's limit for organic food, including one
vegetarian sausage mix which contained 0.7 per cent GM soya.
'We have recently observed that many soya products now carry 'GM free' or
'organic' labels, both of which imply an absence of GM ingredients in
these foods,' said Professor Murphy. 'However, most of the soya now
produced in the world comes from GM varieties.
'Given that GM soya production is set to increase even more over the
coming years, it is difficult to see how 'GM free' labels can be justified
unless there is much more rigorous testing of such foods,' he concluded.
Supporters of GM food production in Europe were dealt a blow on 2 February
when the Belgian government rejected an EU wide application by German
company Bayer CropScience to grow herbicide tolerant oilseed rape.
In reaching its decision, the government took advice from a biosafety
expert group. In its report, the group is believed to have referred to the
results of the recent GM field trials in the UK, which found evidence that
herbicide tolerant oilseed rape reduces biodiversity.
Had Belgium approved the application by Bayer CropScience, the file would
have been forwarded to the European Council for a final decision on
cultivating the crop throughout the EU. In light of Belgium's rejection of
the application, however, EU wide approval now appears highly unlikely.
A spokesperson for Bayer CropScience rejected the idea that the decision
was based on scientific evidence: 'We have serious concerns about the way
the Belgian government handled this. We believe the decision was highly
influenced by Belgian politics. The experts raised some concerns but
indicated that with proper controls it would be possible to cultivate this
crop without impacting on the environment.'
Meanwhile, environmental groups welcomed the verdict. Karen Simal from
Greenpeace Belgium said: 'This is a slap in the face of the biotech
industry and a victory for the environment. The Belgian government has
acknowledged that growing GM oilseed rape is harmful to the environment.'
- The following excerpts are from Newsweek magazine of 29 years ago
(April 28, 1975) where the concern at that time was the massive
catastrophe due to global cooling and not the warming that is of worry to
Read full piece at http://www.globalclimate.org/Newsweek.htm
The Cooling World
- Newsweek (April 28, 1975); Reprinted from Financial Post - Canada, Jun
There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to
change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline
in food production– with serious political implications for just about
every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon,
perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact
are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the
North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas –
parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the
growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon. The
evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so
massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In
England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks
since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at
up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature
around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that
in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most
devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more
than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars' worth of damage in 13
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance
signs of fundamental changes in the world's weather. Meteorologists
disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its
specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous
in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the
rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the
pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major
climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide
scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences,
“because the global patterns of food production and population that have
evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”
“The world’s food-producing system,” warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA’s
Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, “is much more sensitive
to the weather variable than it was even five years ago.” Furthermore, the
growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it
impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields,
as they did during past famines.
Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any
positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay
its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions
proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black
soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than
those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders
anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food
or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic
projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the
more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the
results become grim reality.
Why Europe Has No Taste for the Future
'Unfounded fear is choking off the next Green Revolution.'
- Wired, Bruce Sterling, Dec 2003
I'm looking for a bratwurst to go with my beer at Anuga, the biggest food
fair in the world. I wangled a press pass for this biennial event the
instant I glimpsed this year's logo: a red-lipsticked female mouth
swallowing the Earth. The catchy slogan: taste the future.
Wandering through the brightly lit Koelnmesse Convention Center in
Cologne, Germany, I dodge stampeding throngs of grocers, 168,000 of them
from 150 nations. These serious-minded movers and shakers of foodstuff
have come to determine which delicacies will dominate tomorrow's store
shelves. Skeptical experts sample such oddities as ostrich jerky, blazing
Ukrainian honey-pepper vodka, and Austrian sparkling wine jeweled with
flakes of real gold.
The food trade is globalizing, and Anuga is crucial to that process. Why
Germany? Because anything that will please the ultrapicky, clean-freak
Germans is a shoo-in for the huge, expanding markets in India and China.
The future trumpeted in Anuga's slogan - presumably far-out stuff designed
to revolutionize global eating habits - turns out to be a low-key cluster
of newfangled knickknacks such as alcoholic Jell-O shots packaged in
comical hypodermic plungers. Elsewhere, though, the future of food is
being packaged as something altogether less glossy: a culture war. Renate
Kunast, Germany's minister of consumer protection, food, and agriculture
(in Germany, these are all the same thing), opened the show with a rousing
speech that called for labeling of genetically modified eats. She's
leading a determined, meticulous, government-supported backlash against
American corporate genetic imperialism.
Pamphlets distributed by Kunast's ministry litter a stern multistory
fortress devoted to what the Germans call biological foods. The products
here are slick attempts to pass off hippie chow as chic and sophisticated:
microwavable organic handy snacks in individual portions, cocktails made
with Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin. This is simon-pure, low tech
health food that's guaranteed to be free of fertilizers, pesticides, and,
above all, anything genetically modified. And trade is booming.
The 139 fatalities from the human form of mad cow disease since 1995 have
made Europeans fanatical about the purity of their comestibles. And who
can blame them? Kunast's biological foods initiative is a tidy socialist
alternative to brain-eating prions on the dinner table, not to mention any
shadowy nightmares Monsanto and its ilk might be cooking up. It's trade
war à la mode.
The potential benefits of GM food should be dead obvious to all. It's a
miracle technology that - if properly handled by a mature, honest,
insightful society - could make it possible to grow bountiful crops on
marginal lands. Designer plants could make deserts bloom, detoxify ruined
soils, return scarce rangeland to nature, eliminate malnutrition, and
abolish hunger for a future population of 10 billion or so.
They might even help us deal with climate change - an urgent problem,
given that last summer's heat killed 15,000 people in France alone. German
agriculture took a body blow in the searing drought of 2003, and there
hasn't been a really good global harvest in four years. The World Trade
Organization meeting in Cancún, Mexico, crashed over agricultural issues.
And to top it off, Americans are leading the developed world into a
bloated new existence of life-threatening obesity. Biotech could change
If the bustle at Anuga is any indication, the GM sector's logical
counterstrategy would be to spin its products as luxury goods. If
Frankenfood were top-of-the-line gourmet chow, if it were better for you
than conventionally produced food, if Fortune 500 CEOs sought it out to
feed their children, the world would follow. GM food would be the taste of
But it's not, and everyone knows it. Instead, the fruits of our growing
skill at genetic engineering have been irrevocably stigmatized. There's a
universal loss of credibility on the subject; nobody trusts the experts,
not even the experts themselves.
Gene-spliced food has been mired in sordid side issues: underhanded sales
tactics, aggressive patenting, corrupt oligarchies, national sovereignty
issues, and superstition. Even the hungriest Mozambican regards the stuff
as an unadulterated evil. As it stands, the only hope for marketing it is
to keep it unlabeled and therefore invisible. There's something fishy
going on here, and no one wants to be the sucker.
We have another Green Revolution poised at the end of our forks. Too bad
we're choking on it.
The New Cultural Imperialism: The Greens and Economic Development
- Humane Studies Review Vol. 14, No. 3., By Prof. Deepak Lal,
Conclusion below. Full Text at
The Green movement is a modern secular religious movement engaged in a
worldwide crusade to impose its "habits of the heart" on the world. Its
primary target is to prevent the economic development that alone offers
the world's poor any chance of escaping their age-old poverty. This modern
day secular Christian crusade has exchanged the saving of souls for saving
Spaceship Earth. It needs to be resisted.
First, by standing up to the local converts-the modern day descendants of
what the Chinese called "rice Christians" and "secondary barbarians," the
Arundhati Roys, Vandana Shivas, and Medhka Patkars of this world. Their
argument that their views are in consonance with Hindu cosmology are
reminiscent of those used by the proselytizing Christians promoting a
syncretized Christianity in the nineteenth century, and are equally
Second, by refusing to accept the transnational treaties and conventions
that the Greens are promoting to legislate their ends. As many of the
environmental ministries have become outposts of their local converts, the
economic ministries must play a central role in resisting this Green
imperialism, by insisting on having the last say on any transnational
treaty India signs. As China has shown, through its continuing production
and use of DDT and continuing development of GM technology, there is no
need to give into this latest manifestation of Western cultural
imperialism, and in this fight, as the shining example of Julian Simon
shows, there are still many in the West itself who have not been infected
with this secular Christian religion, and will join in showing up the
Greens and their agenda as paper tigers, much as the Christian
missionaries found in the last phase of Western imperialism.
Full Text at http://www.theihs.org/libertyguide/hsr/hsr.php/64.html
Deepak Lal is James S. Coleman Professor of International Development
Studies, University of California at Los Angeles, Professor Emeritus of
Political Economy, University College London
Green Myth vs. the Green Revolution: The Underlying Belief System
- By Thomas R. DeGregori
Modern agriculture and the food supply it provides, along with modern
medicine and the pharmaceuticals and technological devices it uses and the
science on which it is based, have become a villains of choice for many
who find the trends of the last half of the 20th and beginnings of the
21st century to be a danger to human health and well being, as well as
ecologically destructive. Given that the 20th century witnessed the
greatest increase in human life expectancy the world has ever experienced,
while accommodating a roughly 350% increase in population, there is a
strange and almost perverse irony to this anti-modern mania, since it is
generally accepted that improved nutrition and such medical interventions
as immunization and anti-biotics are major factors for human health and
longevity. Other important factors contributing to the expansion of human
life such as chlorination of water, use of pesticides to reduce or
eliminate disease vectors, refrigeration, pasteurization and other forms
of sterilization and preservation are all products of modern science and
technology. Most of these have also had their critics, and still do.
Full article availabel at
Minds over Matter
- National Review, by Michael Poterma , Feb. 9, 2003
(BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World by Michael Fumento,
Encounter Books, 532 pages. $28.95 )
Michael Fumento's science reporting is well-known for its fearlessness in
challenging conventional wisdom. In his new book, BioEvolution: How
Biotechnology Is Changing Our World, he offers an unabashed defense of
"The potential of biotech," he contends, "is so broad and research is
advancing so quickly that it can bring us all the miracles that scientists
say it will, without necessarily involving processes that many of us find
morally or religiously offensive." (In addressing the furor over embryonic
stem cells, for example, Fumento points out that adult stem cells show
every bit as much medical promise.)
The story Fumento tells is breathtaking, as scientists work on solving the
puzzles of biology in order – among other things – to cure diseases,
regenerate human organs, and improve the global food supply. To read this
book is to stand in awe of man's intellect: It's a God-given instrument by
which we can probe the mysteries of Creation, and then use what we have
leamed to perform dazzling works of mercy Just one example from Fumento's
generous book will have to suffice:
"Almost one-third of the world's population is believed to be outright
anemic, and about one-fifth of all malnutrition deaths appear to be caused
by a lack of iron. A lot of this is because these people's primary food is
rice. And rice has little or no iron, right? Well, that's what I
originally thought, too, but in fact rice actually contains a fair amount
of the mineral but it also contains a molecule called phytate that locks
up about 95 percent of the iron in the plant. This prevents humans from
absorbing it. So [scientists Ingo Potrykus and Paolo Lucca] obtained a
gene from a fungus that codes for the enzyme phytase, which breaks down
the phytate, eliminating the molecular "dam" that blocks iron absorption.
And while most enzymes are knocked out the heat of cooking, this one
carries a mutation allowing it to withstand such high temperatures. Yet
another gene that Lucca added ... doubles the amount of iron in the rice
grains.... Thus the plant not only has more iron; far more importantly it
now has iron in a form the human body can use."
As scholar Michael Novak has eloquently pointed out, the world was
designed as a hom of plenty; the heroes of Michael Fumento's book are
helping us unlock its riches.
Science losing the agitprop battle
- Globe and Mail Update, Feb 10, 2004, By By STEPHEN STRAUSS
Word use in science often seem like mud's own mud.
The "palladium-catalyzed, enantioselective synthesis of
(2R)-3-butene-1,2-diol" was the topic of one recent science paper, while
another title rhapsodized "Functional bacteriorhodopsin is efficiently
solubilized and delivered to membranes by the chaperonin GroEL."
It's not just that these words are specialized or difficult to understand,
but they are excommunicatory. They effectively say to a reader: "If you
don't know what I am talking about, scram."
This disdain for the commonly evocative and the understandable generally
doesn't matter when scientists are mumbling at one another. But when a
controversy arises in science, skilled verbal polemicists often arrive on
the scene and effectively sweep the table.
Which is the background to my reflections on Frankenfood.
I had originally thought that it was a word invented by Pat Mooney and his
group of social activists based in Winnipeg at an organization now called
the ETC group. But no, while they invented "Terminator Technology" to
describe a genetic mechanism which prevented altered seeds from sprouting,
a spokesman ETC confessed they had nothing to do with Frankenfood.
That, it turns out was the handiwork of a Boston College English professor
and humorist Paul Lewis who concocted the word in 1992 to liven up a
letter-to-the-editor he sent to The New York Times. Within days of the
letter's being published the term started being used by media everywhere
to describe genetically altered food.
There are now 19,600 references to Frankenfood in Google, and that number
that does not capture the terms larger effectiveness as a way of
demonizing genetically engineered food.
The word "Franken" alone in front of a specific foodstuff effectively adds
venom and fangs to the product. There is Frankenfruit, and Frankenfish,
and Frankenchickens, sheep, cows and a host more animals. There is
Frankenwheat, Frankenrice, Frankencorn, Frankentomatoes and a slew more
vegetables. Now the more literary of readers might point out that the
connection is odd because the technology that Mary Shelley was trying to
make us worry about was not genetic manipulation — in 1818, nobody even
knew a gene existed — but the possibility that electricity could bring the
dead to life.
Accordingly, if you were true to Shelley's anxieties, you might describe
those things that start hearts pumping as Frankenfibulators, and those
that keep them beating as Frankenpacemakers. And given the general
loathing of creating artificial humans that attends to the novel one might
imagine that Frankenknees and Frankenhips and Frankenaortas might also be
our common word stock.
But no. Frankenfood it is, likely because in the early 1990s everyone was
searching for a term that captured some people's deep nervousness at
biologists treating life as if it were merely a chemistry set. The
scientific community didn't respond to Frankenfood's power with an
agitprop term of its own. Rather it produced terms to describe what
researchers were doing that had all the snap and snarl of a bowl of milk.
There is "genetically modified organisms" and "genetically engineered
organisms" and for medicalized plants "nutriceuticals." The latter has
always struck me as being the intellectual product of a covey of
biologists high on caffeine-free, diet Coke.
Now given that I am a word person, this unbalance doesn't seem fair. You
can't have a debate where one side gets all the words that jolt and the
other only those that make you doze. So I have been trying to imagine
Frankenfoods' verbal opposite as a way of levelling the field emotionally.
At the time of Frankenfoods' invention an 11-year-old girl wrote to a New
York newspaper, dissed the term as silly, and announced she would call
genetically modified foodstuffs "wonderfood." Now besides one wondering
what this food Pollyanna's father did for a living, the term just didn't
catch on. But I confess, I haven't done much better at figuring out a
And thus I am appealing to you readers. Can you come up with the verbal
equivalent of Frankenfood with a pro-GM lilt to it? Added points will be
given to those who devise a term that breaks apart à la Franken. I'll
feature the best in a subsequent column.
But I can't leave off without saying one final thing about farmed salmon.
Numbers of readers have written in suggesting the solution to all our
problems with farmed fish is simply to switch to wild stocks. Looking at
the catch numbers makes this something less than a feasible position. It
was estimated that in 2001 that 920,000 tonnes of farmed salmon were
produced. Assuming each fish weighed something like 2.5 kilograms, you
would have to catch 368 million wild salmon to equal the farmed output.
This "harvest" would in short order drive wild salmon stocks extinct. But
clearly market forces would enter the picture — given that wild salmon are
already two or three times more expensive than farmed fish. What would
quickly happen is that salmon, particularly uncanned salmon, would become
fare restricted to the tables of the rich.
Given what seems to be uniform acceptance on the part of the medical
community of the virtue of salmon and other oily fish as food for your
heart, the same economics will effectively exclude poor people from eating
one part of a healthy diet. Give the trade offs, my view is that better
farmed salmon are better for our world, than no farmed salmon.
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