Today in AgBioView: September 8, 2003:
* Copper isn't organic
* RE: DeKathen
* Activist defends farm subsidies
* Defying the greens with science
* EU farm chief scorns poor nations' demands
* Biotech Can Bring Green Revolution to Africa, Expert Says
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Copper isn't organic
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2003 09:09:53 -0400
Dear Friends, It was announced recently (1) that small amounts of copper
have a significant effect on the development of Alzheimer's disease in an
animal model. Moreover, this information fits with basic biochemical
studies implicating the precursor to the Alzheimer plaque protein as a
"major regulator of neuronal copper homeostasis" (2). The exact
significance of these findings for development of Alzheimer's disease in
humans remains to be defined. Nevertheless, there is now a prima facie
case for concern with copper levels in drinking water and foodstuffs.
The recent Nature article (3) regards copper should remind us that not all
human intake of inorganic copper is accidental. It is deliberately placed
on foods during production of in "organic" products intended for human
consumption. The health implications of this copper usage should be
investigated by the regulatory agencies and by the press.
It may be that the small amounts of copper that enter the food chain via
"organic" produce are insignificant, but one cannot but smirk at the
implication of a basic unfairness: Public fear of the minute traces of
modern synthetic pesticides in conventional produce is used as a tool by
the "organic" industry to drive sales, while at the same time their
"organic" substitute constitutes a potential public health menace.
John W. Cross, Ph.D.
(1) NIH Medline Plus "Copper May Play a Role in Alzheimer's Disease"
(August 12, 2003) url:
(2) Barnham KJ, McKinstry WJ, Multhaup G, Galatis D, Morton CJ, Curtain
CC, Williamson NA, White AR, Hinds MG, Norton RS, Beyreuther K, Masters
CL, Parker MW, Cappai R. "Structure of the Alzheimer's disease amyloid
precursor protein copper binding domain. A regulator of neuronal copper
homeostasis." J Biol Chem. 2003 May 9;278(19):17401-7.
(3) AgBioView, September 4, 2003: Duncan, James M. "Breeding to Tackle
Blight Without Copper or GM" excerpted from Nature 425, 15; September 4,
2003 (sent by Shane Morris)
From: "de Kathen A."
Subject: RE: DeKathen
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2003 13:53:03 +0200
This morning BBC reported on 3 billion US$ subsidies to the US cotton
sector and the low prices due to efficient and cheap production. And the
Nature article reprinted in the recent Agbioview describes heavy
governmental investment into research - more than 500 million for the Grow
Iowa Value Fund. I would at least give it a second thought before
identifying quickly the one and only culprit for hunger in Africa...EU
laws on GMOs. At least in one of these moments when the mind gets a rest,
one must at least have a scent of doubt whether this is really the issue.
But hey, just a thought from Africa and who cares about it anyway.
Enjoy your weekend
ps - for the rest, I guess my recent answer was ironic enough even for
Activist defends farm subsidies
Agence France Press
September 8, 2003
LONDON - France's most famous anti-globalisation activist, Jose Bove ,
says he supports the agricultural subsidies doled out in wealthy Western
countries, saying states had the right to protect their farmers, but
insisted poor nations still needed protection from European and US
"Each area in the world should be able to protect its own agriculture to
feed his population," Bove, who is spokesman for the radical French
farmers' union, the Peasant Confederation, said.
Instead of dismantling farm subsidies - a move demanded by many
anti-globalisation activists - Bove said steps should be taken to better
protect the developing world from rich-nation exports.
"The first thing we have to do is to protect the southern countries from
the exportations from the United States," he said. "But that doesn't mean
that we don't have to protect all the agriculture."
Bove, 49, was speaking a week after a French judge barred him from leaving
the country to attend the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting
scheduled to take place from September 10 to 14 in Cancun, Mexico.
In addition to being a sheep farmer, the high-profile activist is a
frequent participant in protests outside global economic conferences and a
prominent opponent of genetically modified crops and junk food.
Defying the greens with science
The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand)
September 5, 2003, Friday
New Zealanders worry too much about trendy environmental issues, such as
global warming and GE, that might not even cause problems, environmental
sceptic Bjorn Lomborg tells SETH ROBSON.
Giving clean drinking water and sanitation to everybody on the planet
could be provided for the cost of postponing Kyoto by one year. You might
expect environmental sceptic Bjorn Lomborg, due to speak in New Zealand
next month, to drive a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle.
"No. I ride a bicycle," he replies when asked about his means of
transport. "We have very high taxes on cars here in Denmark." Has he eaten
"Certainly not. I'm a vegetarian because I don't want to kill animals."
Lomborg, it seems, may not be quite as sceptical as some other
environmentalists would have us believe.
The professor is coming to New Zealand as a guest of the Resource
Management Law Association, which he will address in Blenheim, and the
Business Roundtable, which is hosting him in Wellington.
He shot to fame after his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, provoked
outrage among the green movement by challenging their raison d'etre.
For a start, Lomborg says, it is a myth that the environment is under
threat. Environmental groups scaremonger over problems in the same way as
lobby groups in other sectors, such as health or law enforcement.
"We have a panic feeling about the environment. We think everything is
falling apart and getting worse and worse.
"However, in general, things have got better, not worse, if you look at
almost any issue, in both the First World and the Third World.
"We live longer, fewer of our kids die, we have more food, fewer people
are starving, we have better education, there are higher incomes, there is
less inequality, and we have more spare time."
The world is not running out of resources, as people believed in the 1970s
and 1980s, Lomborg says. "Resources have actually got more abundant
because our technology has allowed us to exploit them better."
But panic about the environment has made people focus on the wrong issues.
"My book is about getting people to focus on the right issues."
In most cases, that means less glamorous issues such as air pollution,
where there are proved adverse impacts, instead of fancy new issues such
as global warming and genetic engineering (GE), where the jury is still
out on how significant the risks will be.
Wrong priorities have meant people waste their time -- for example,
recycling products that it would be more efficient to send to a landfill.
But aren't we running out of space for landfills?
"No," says Lomborg. "Pretty much anyone in the sector agrees that
landfills are only a siting issue because nobody wants them in their back
yard, but it isn't a land issue."
For the United States, which will double in population over the next 100
years, the entire waste of the 21st century could fit in a dump 28km on
each side and 30m tall, Lomborg says.
"That's not to say we shouldn't be concerned about storing it right."
Lomborg's visit coincides with the end of a two-year moratorium on
commercial GE in New Zealand. "We've had the same discussion in the
European Union. We've had a moratorium for four years and we're having
trouble getting it off," he says.
A GE moratorium was a reasonable way to deal with public fears of a new
technology but retaining it cannot be justified, he says.
"You have to look at the factual content of the worry and how much was
just a worry about a new technology. It seems to me that the risk is very
slight and the benefits, certainly in the long term, rather larger.
"It made sense to make sure that everybody understood that this was very
well regulated but also that we should utilise these benefits that lie
"For Western consumers, GE will cut pesticide use, and in the long term
you will produce varieties that survive hardships in the Third World, and
functional foods with value added for consumers, such as low-fat potato
Lomborg says a continued GE moratorium in New Zealand would probably hurt
"Back in the early 1990s, there was widespread concern about cellphones,
and in the late 1980s there was widespread concern about microwave ovens.
There probably was a risk, but the advantages were so much greater that
people adopted them.
"If that happens with GMOs (genetically modified organisms), a continued
moratorium will be a bad idea."
New Zealand's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change is
"There's no doubt that we are warming the planet. Carbon dioxide and the
use of fossil fuels are part of the problem. We would like to do something
about it. The problem is that what we can do is fairly little at a fairly
"If everybody signed up to Kyoto, including the United States, by the end
of the 21st century, we would have set global warming back by six years. A
guy who would be flooded in Bangladesh in 2100 would be flooded in 2106.
The cost of achieving that would be $ 350 billion a year from 2010.
"Giving clean drinking water and sanitation to everybody on the planet
could be provided for the cost of postponing Kyoto by one year. This would
save two million lives a year and save 500 million people from getting
Lomborg says the New Zealand Government could do more for the world by
pulling out of Kyoto and using the money it saved to give clean drinking
water to East Africa, fund cheap AIDS medicine, invest in malaria
medicines, or reduce air pollution in Third World cities.
Even the New Zealand Fish and Game Council's campaign to clean up
waterways provokes scepticism.
Lomborg says the sort of water pollution that is most damaging involves
harmful chemicals such as DDT, lead, and mercury.
This type of pollution, which is not a big problem in New Zealand
waterways, has declined sharply in recent years in rivers such as the
Rhine, the Thames, and the Hudson.
The type of water pollution common in Canterbury and other parts of New
Zealand involves nutrients from agriculture.
Lomborg says it is possible to reduce nutrients in water, but it usually
means making agricultural land less productive.
In a Louisiana study, authorities assessed the benefits of reducing
nutrient levels from agriculture in coastal water and discovered the cost
outweighed the benefits by $ 3 billion.
"You have to ask, how big is this problem and how much are you willing to
pay for it? Is this how you want to spent your money?"
One environmental initiative Lomborg would approve of is Christchurch's
drive to clean up its air.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that
anywhere from 86 to 96 per cent of all social benefits from any kind of
environmental regulation stems from regulating air pollution, he says.
What about the impact on people who cannot afford clean heating?
The answer, says Lomborg, is to lower the cost of heating.
"In Denmark we have been one of the leaders in that. We have coal- fired
power plants that produce heat and distribute it through pipes to houses
in cities, as well as electricity.
"That's sound environmental investment because you're using the coal twice
and you can scrub the smoke from the coal-fired power plants and have them
burn very cleanly."
Lomborg's views have polarised people in Denmark and around the world.
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says he has been discredited,
pointing out that last year he was convicted of "scientific dishonesty" by
a committee of the prestigious Danish Research Authority, the equivalent
of New Zealand's Royal Society. "He plays fast and loose with the
scientific facts," she asserts.
Fitzsimons rejects the assertion that environmentalists are scaremongers.
"Our society is in denial about the seriousness of environmental problems
and that is why we have an environmental movement."
Issues such as GE and global warming need to be focused on along with
problems such as air pollution, she says.
Lomborg's conviction for scientific dishonesty is under review. It
provoked outrage in sections of the Danish media and a petition signed by
300 scientists calling for the verdict to be overturned, he says.
Meanwhile, Lomborg has been named head of the Danish Government's
Environmental Assessment Institute, a job that looks at the costs and
benefits of environmental initiatives.
"This is the difference between a religious-driven environmental policy
and a rational-based environmental policy," he says.
EU farm chief scorns poor nations' demands
The Guardian (London)
September 5, 2003
By Andrew Osborn and Larry Elliott
The European commission yesterday launched a ferocious attack on poor
countries and development campaigners when it dismissed calls for big cuts
in Europe's farm protection regime as extreme demands couched in "cheap
In a move that threatens to shatter the fragile peace ahead of next week's
trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture
commissioner, said Brussels would strongly defend its farmers.
He said many recent attacks on the EU's much maligned common agricultural
policy (CAP) were"intellectually dishonest" PR stunts.
Mr Fischler's comments came as Britain's trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt,
warned that failure at Cancun would be "disastrous for the global economy"
and a severe setback in the fight against terrorism and poverty.
Britain believes a deal to cut farm subsidies in the west is the key to
developing support for a new global trade deal, and Ms Hewitt made it
clear that the government saw re cent reforms of the CAP as a good basis
"Rich countries can't preach free trade abroad and have protectionism at
home. There is a danger of locking developing countries into poverty
because we lock them out of our markets," she said.
Mr Fischler, speaking in Brussels, said that although the EU was keen to
give developing countries a better deal he warned that they would get
nothing if they persisted with their "extreme" proposals.
Washington and Brussels have tabled a joint proposal on agriculture that
would involve far smaller cuts in protectionism than developing countries
want. The proposal has been countered by a blueprint from leading
developing countries that would involve far more aggressive reductions.
"If I look at the recent extreme proposal co-sponsored by Brazil, China,
India and others, I cannot help (getting) the impression that they are
circling in a different orbit," Mr Fischler told reporters.
"If they want to do business, they should come back to mother earth. If
they choose to continue their space odyssey they will not get the stars,
they will not get the moon, they will end up with empty hands."
Mr Fischler accused developing countries of demanding that developed
countries make drastic changes while they themselves did nothing.
Widening the scope of his attack, he accused non-governmental
organisations, which frequently claim the CAP damages the developing
world, of "cheap propaganda".
He took issue in particular with campaigners who point out that each EU
cow receives Dollars 2 a day in subsidies.
"This may be a nice PR stunt but unfortunately this argu ment is not only
intellectually dishonest, it is factually irrelevant. Yes, in the
developed world we are spending money on many things. Not because we are
all stupid, but because our standard of living is higher.
"What next? Criticising governments for spending public money on hospital
beds, costly noise protection walls or fancy trees in parks instead of
sending it to Africa? Societies around the world must have the right to
choose which public goods and services are important to them."
Mr Fischler also made it clear that the EU did not believe all developing
countries deserved major concessions. Some African countries were really
poor, but others, he noted, were net food exporters and far more
Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade commissioner, joined the attack, pointing out
that 70% of customs duties paid on goods exported from the developing
world were levied by other developing countries.
Ms Hewitt hinted that the failure to make progress in the trade talks
since they were launched in Doha, Qatar, two years ago might now make it
impossible to finish the nego tiations on schedule by the start of 2005.
"We didn't make nearly as much progress as we should have. There is more
to be done in Cancun and subsequently. Our objective is to get as close to
that January 1 2005 deadline as possible."
In an attempt to improve the mood ahead of Cancun, Ms Hewitt said rows
between the US and the EU over steel and genetically modified foods should
not be allowed to "poison the atmosphere for these very big negotiations".
Biotech Can Bring Green Revolution to Africa, Expert Says
By Bruce Chassy, Professor and Executive Associate Director of the
Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Biotechnology has the potential to play a key role in reducing chronic
hunger, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which missed out on the "green
revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s, says Bruce Chassy, professor and
executive associate director of the Biotechnology Center at the University
of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He urges more public investment in
agricultural research, education and training at the local, national and
Food aid is one of several global mechanisms created to deal with hunger
and food insecurity. The need for food aid around the globe varies from
specific responses to acute and episodic shortages to long-term donations
of food to abate continuing chronic inability of some regions to become
agriculturally self-sufficient. While agricultural biotechnology is not a
panacea to food insecurity, it is likely to play a vital role in the
delivery of food assistance and reduction of hunger for generations to
THE GLOBAL NEED FOR FOOD AID
The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the right of
access to food and freedom from hunger as a fundamental right.
Although we live in a world of unprecedented prosperity and technological
development, 800-850 million people are malnourished. More than 200
million of these are children, many of whom will never reach their full
intellectual and physical potential. Another 1-1.5 billion humans have
only marginally better access to food and often do not consume balanced
diets containing sufficient quantities of all required nutrients.
The majority of this nutritionally at-risk population lives in developing
countries. Most, perhaps 75 percent, live in rural agricultural regions.
Most are very poor. There is a well-recognized link between poverty and
hunger. In fact, family income is probably the single most important
determinant of adequacy of access to food. The World Food Summit in 2002
reaffirmed a commitment made by the international community five years
earlier to halve the number of hungry people by the year 2015. That goal
will not be met unless agricultural productivity and personal income can
be improved in the world's poorest regions.
It is argued by some that eliminating poverty is more important than
producing more food since there is more than enough food produced in the
world to feed everyone. Economists tell us that there is a surplus of food
in the world - or at least a surplus of grain that when tabulated as
potential caloric intake could theoretically adequately feed the current
global population. But the sad lesson of both recent and ancient history
is that adequate food supplies do not reach everyone. The large number of
hungry people proves that. It is pointless to argue whether poor
agricultural productivity or extreme poverty is more to blame when people
are starving. What is clear is that if the rural poor can produce a
surplus of food in a more efficient and sustainable manner, there will be
adequate food supplies, increasing income and the opportunity for
supporting rural development.
While most experts would agree that the only long-term solution to hunger
is economic development and the elimination of poverty, people who are
food self-sufficient through local or regional agriculture will not go
hungry. Unfortunately, neither the required increases in agricultural
productivity nor the necessary rural development will happen overnight.
The question then becomes "What do we do in the meanwhile?" The short-term
solution for the hungry is food aid. But even food aid has become
politicized as skeptics have charged that it is simply a way for rich
over-producing nations to eliminate the surpluses produced by their
heavily subsidized farmers. The skeptics also assert that food aid robs
local farmers of markets and makes them hungrier. These arguments ignore
the daily reality faced by hundreds of millions of hungry people for whom
the immediate alternatives are simple: continued hunger and ultimate
starvation or the acceptance of food aid.
ELIMINATING CHRONIC HUNGER:
A ROLE FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY
The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s helped India and China and
other Asian countries become agriculturally self-sufficient net exporters
of food in the last three decades. The increased productivity has been
accompanied by increases in personal income and stimulus to national
economies. Similarly, through application of new technology, agricultural
productivity per hectare has doubled in most developed countries in the
same timeframe. The development of new high-productivity agricultural
technologies resulted from investment in agricultural research performed
in government laboratories, research universities, and non-governmental
institutes such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) centers scattered around the globe. A crucial element of
success has been the deployment of effective systems of outreach education
and technology transfer. Research and technology transfer has also taken
place in the private sector.
For a variety of complex reasons, improvements in agricultural
productivity did not take place in all developing countries. Quite the
contrary, some of the least developed countries are now even less able to
produce sufficient food. There, the Green Revolution never happened. While
civil unrest and political corruption may have contributed greatly to this
phenomenon, from an agricultural point of view, the failure lies in the
lack of investment in and adoption of new technologies and management
practices. Often this occurred because there was not sufficient attention
paid or investment made in research to develop effective local or
region-specific strategies and technologies.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region where growth in agricultural production has
not kept pace with expanding need. As a whole, the region has some of the
poorest and most depleted agricultural soils. Only 4 percent of the farmed
land is irrigated. Significant areas of agricultural land are at risk of
becoming desert while in some parts of the region excessive humidity and
high temperatures contribute to a high incidence of disease and pests.
Weeds such as Striga stifle yields. Droughts are commonplace in some parts
of the region. Outright crop failure is common and poor yields are
endemic. There is clearly a need to develop crop varieties and management
strategies that are more productive under these conditions. High on the
list of desired traits are crops with enhanced resistance to environmental
stresses such as drought, temperature and salinity; enhanced resistance to
diseases and pests; and improved agronomic properties and yield potential.
The heavy reliance on a few staple crops makes biofortification - the
boosting of the vitamin and mineral components of foods to enhance the
nutritional value - an attractive strategy as well.
Recent advances in molecular biology and genomics greatly enhance the
plant breeder's capacity to introduce new traits into plants. Commercial
applications of agricultural biotechnology have already produced crops
such as Bt-maize, rice, potatoes, cotton and sweet corn (sweet maize) that
can protect themselves against insects; virus-resistant papaya, squash and
potatoes; and herbicide-tolerant crops such as wheat, maize, sugar cane,
rice, onions and beets that allow more effective weed management.
There is accumulating evidence that these biotech crops can be more
productive and profitable for farmers. Major reductions in costs for
labor, energy and chemicals have been documented. The crops have also
proven to be environmentally-friendly, particularly with regard to
biodiversity, reduction of agricultural chemicals in soil and water, and
decreased exposure of workers and communities to chemicals.
There is also an emerging international consensus of scientific and
regulatory opinion that crops derived through biotechnology are safe to
eat as food and feed and beneficial for the environment. These and other
promising technologies are now being directed at improving the production
and yield of African staple crops: banana, cassava, maize, millets, oil
crops, peanut, potato, rice, sorghum, soybean, sweet potato and wheat.
Protein-enhanced sweet potatoes and potatoes and carotene-enhanced rice
and oilseeds promise to improve the nutritional value of the diet. Thus,
over the long term, agricultural biotechnology promises to play a crucial
role in the improving agricultural productivity and reducing the
environmental impact of agriculture leading to agricultural sustainability
and food security in many regions of the world. While it would be foolish
to say that agricultural biotechnology alone will solve the world's food
problems, it would be equally foolish to assert that food insecurity can
be eliminated without agricultural biotechnology.
In recent years, there has been a significant change in the organization
of agricultural research directed at improving food security. It is now
recognized that research needs to be done at local, national and regional
levels in order to address specific agricultural challenges and produce
new varieties appropriate to local agriculture and customs. This change is
particularly focused on utilizing and expanding local scientific and
agricultural human and capital infrastructure that can work in partnership
with international scientists and funding. Although the path is clear and
there are numerous successful examples of these kinds of international
partnership, global funding for such activities falls far short of that
the level required to achieve global food security in the next decades.
RECENT CHALLENGES POSED BY ACUTE FOOD SHORTAGES
Widespread local or regional crop failure often leads to acute food
shortages and hunger. The reason for episodic events can be as varied as
flood, droughts or civil war. The United Nations, national governments and
an assortment of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often respond by
mobilizing an immediate food aid program. Food aid distribution can be
hindered by lack of infrastructure for storage and transportation of food,
and there are often concerns for the security of aid workers.
Recently, a new obstacle to food aid distribution has been identified.
Repeated crops failures in Southern Africa have placed millions of people
in six nations at risk. In response, the United States offered food aid
that included substantial shipments of maize. The maize supply in the
United States is approximately 30-35 percent insect-protected Bt-maize
developed through biotechnology. This variety of maize had been approved
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe for
consumption as food and feed. It was commingled with conventional maize in
the U.S. commodity system. However, since the intended recipient nations
did not use biotech seed varieties and imported few commodities such as
maize, they for the most part lacked specific laws and regulatory systems
with respect to foods produced through biotechnology. Genetically modified
(GM) maize was an unapproved food in their regulatory systems. In light of
the global scare campaign against GM foods, several countries hesitated to
accept the aid. Ultimately, intensive international consultation and
fact-finding satisfied all of these countries save Zambia, which continued
to refuse GM food aid. One obvious conclusion to be drawn from this
experience is that regulatory systems and training need to be in place
before the need for food aid again arises.
PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND TRAINING
What the experience of recent decades has taught is that agricultural
biotechnology can be a powerful tool in the development of improved crop
varieties for developing countries. The promised benefits can only be
realized in a permanent and sustainable manner when the countries that
benefit play a role in defining the need, developing the solution and
implementing the education and technology-transfer systems. Each nation
must decide what agricultural goals are in its national interest and what
technologies are consistent with consumer acceptance and customs. Shared
ownership leads to good stewardship.
Partnerships that lead to shared ownership can solve another challenge to
applying technology. One major concern about agricultural biotechnology is
that the seeds are owned and sold by large multi-national corporations who
might eventually exert external domination and control local seed markets
and farmers. An additional problem is that developing countries may have
limited access to intellectual property rights that would provide them
access to modern agricultural technologies such as new seed types. To help
counter these challenges and promote public sector uses in developing
countries, a consortium of public universities and public sector
institutions has recently announced the formation of the Public Sector
Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA). PIPRA will work to
make public-sector research available to more of the people who want it
and insure freedom to operate. Multi-national corporations have also
demonstrated their willingness to donate their technology and expertise to
There is a holistic answer to all these food security needs and concerns.
The global community needs to invest more capital in creating agricultural
institutions and infrastructure in countries that face food security
challenges. Investment must be made in legal and regulatory systems,
agricultural research, transportation and processing systems, and
education. The success of the Land Grant University system in improving
agriculture and contributing broadly to society in the United States over
the last 140 years demonstrates that the development of human capital and
educational systems is as important as scientific discovery. The creation
of institutions and public/foundation funding mechanisms would create a
platform for international collaboration that is open to government,
university and private-sector collaborators. If the world community is to
arrive at its stated goal of food security for every person, it must put
aside ideological and political divisions and pragmatically embrace each
and every technology that leads to sustainable food security.