Today in AgBioView: September 11, 2003:
* Copper sulphate
* Italy's ban on altered corn is rejected
* Sound Policy for Cancun WTO For effective sustainable development
* Biodiversity treaty called disastrous
* German man arrested in Brazil accused of biopiracy
* US farmers hope for rich harvest if EU opens to GMOs
* Technophobes and the future
* New technology makes farming more efficient, environmentally friendly
* We are what we eat
From: "Roger Morton"
Subject: calling Craig Sams to answer
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 17:59:28 +1000
Way back on 5/10/2001 Craig Sams of the UK soil association and Whole
Earth Ltd in a posting to AgBioview wrote:
> " this is why organic farmers don't use any pesticides,"
>"Before you mention copper sulfate - it has always been agreed it
>will be phased out in organic farming and it will be prohibited in
>2003, as French wine growers pleaded for time to adjust their
> vineyards to grow without copper compounds."
On 15 Oct 2001 I pointed out that the EC declared back in 1991 (1) that
Copper sulphate is to be stopped by 31 March 2002. I noted Mr Sams claim
that it will now stop in 2003 and asked "What guarantee is there that [the
use of copper sulphate] will stop in 2003 when you can not offer an
In recent Nature article (2) [reproduced in AgBioview] I learn - surprise
surprise - Copper sulphate is now to be phased out in 2006. "Extensive
lobbying has gained organic producers the EU derogation for copper
We have already had 12 years since the EU indicated Copper sulphate should
be banned. 12 years where organic farmers have been poisoning the soil
with a heavy metal. 12 years where they could have been using safe
alternatives. But what do we get from the organic industry? Another 3
years of the same. I would like to bet a large sum of money that in 3
years time the organic industry will again lobby to allow continued
poisoning of our soils with Copper.
What do you have to say now Mr Sams? Do you want to make a bet?
1. COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 2092/91 of 24 June 1991 on organic
production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto on
agricultural products and foodstuffs.
2. James M. Duncan, Nature 425, 15; September 4, 2003
ve you a straight answer that
helps you to put copper use in perspective.
In the UK CuSO4 use has always been 'Restricted', i.e. the Soil
Association only permits copper sulphate use when a farmer has a specific
problem and a crop is at risk. Then, under certain circumstances, a
derogation may be granted to allow the use of copper sulphate. The limit
on such use is 8Kg per hectare per year. This has been Soil Association
practice, which is tighter than EU practice. There is active debate and
research among organic producers to find alternative growing systems that
avoid the need for copper and there is a strong lobby to have it phased
out altogether, particularly here in the UK. The EU derogation does not
allow unrestricted use of copper sulphate, but brings EU producers up to
the level already established by the Soil Association, i.e use not
permitted without approval from the certification body, level restricted
to 8kg/ha, reducing to 6Kg in 2005. Not a total ban, but a genuine
reduction. More and more cultivars that are blight resistant are
undergoing trials and people are generally pretty positive about a copper
free organic future. Organic potato growers operate 4 or 5 year
rotations, so the risk of buildup of copper is far lower than on
It is worth noting that no comparable restrictions apply to non-organic
grape growers in California, Australia or France or to potato growers in
Canada, Maine, Idaho or anywhere else. So the poisoning of our soils
which distresses you is, to the extent that it is happening, coming at a
far greater level from conventional growers, who often spray 2% Bordeaux
mixture every 10 days as a blight preventive. Copper sulphate is also
used as a growth promoter in intensive non-organic pig production. Copper
sulphate is also recommended at 50Kg per hectare as a soil nutrient
improver. It is also worth noting that copper sulphate is recommended to
horticulturalists by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food to slow
the decrease in organic content of humus rich soils. They advise farmers
to apply 56 Kilos per ha for 3 years, then reduce to 20K/ha in alternate
years. This is 7 times the maximum rate permitted by the Soil
Association. As non organic farming represents more than 95% of all
farming in the developed world, I'm sure that, when you consider the
above, you'll agree that copper pollution problems are far more likely to
arise from the 95% or more of farmers who face no constraints on their
copper usage rather than from the 5% who only use it in an emergency.
This argument is a bit like the old Avery chestnut about e.coli and
manure. It ignores the fact that non-organic farmers apply manure too and
that by dint of their being the majority of farmers, apply much more
manure than organic farmers. Were there to be a shred of sense in the
suggestion that the use of manure as fertilizer causes e.coli poisoning,
it would redound greatly to the disadvantage of non-organic farmers.
I know that you are a scientist and a pragmatist, Roger, so perhaps the
above comments will reassure you that organic farmers are not religious
fanatics and that their perceived 'sins' are minimal compared to their
non-organic counterparts. Organic farmers always go for prevention
rather than cure, spend more on labour and less on chemicals for good
economic reasons and respect the regulations that quite severely restrict
their use of a chemical which non-organic farmers use at very high
multiples of the rate of use on organic farms.
Hope this helps illuminate the issue, while not being a black and white
Italy's ban on altered corn is rejected
International Herald Tribune
By Paul Meller
September 10, 2003
The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that Italy's grounds for
banning foods derived from certain genetically modified corn seeds are
unjustified. The ruling appeared to offer ammunition to both sides in the
debate over such foods.
Europe's highest court was asked to intervene in the case by an Italian
court that was handling an appeal of a ban on foods containing four
strains of genetically modified corn, submitted by the biotech companies
Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer Hi-Bred International shortly after the ban
was introduced in 2000.
The Italian government imposed the ban because it feared that the presence
of a manmade protein in the foods might threaten consumers' health. The
biotech companies argued that the protein was so unimportant that the
foods that would be made from the corn would be virtually identical to
foods made from conventional corn strains.
The biotech firms argued that the Italian ban breached EU laws, which
permit the trade in foods containing genetically modified elements if the
food is substantially equivalent to conventional foods.
The Union was also reassured by British food authorities, which had
already decided that the strains of corn in question were safe, well
before Italy imposed its ban. And the European Commission circulated the
British position to all 15 member states to use as grounds for appraising
The ruling Tuesday was not the final word on the matter. The case must now
go back to the Italian courts. But the EU court's opinion will guide the
Italian judges when they reassess the case.
The European Court of Justice said the risk Italy used to justify its ban
must not be purely hypothetical or be founded on mere suppositions that
are not yet verified, adding that Italy must base its action on detailed
grounds and not on reasons of a general nature.
The mere presence of residues of transgenic protein in novel foods does
not prevent their being placed on the market, the Court said.
However, the Court did uphold the right of national governments to impose
a ban on substances that pose a threat to health. If a member state has
detailed grounds to suspect such a risk, it may temporarily restrict or
suspend the trade in and use of the food in question in its territory, the
The Italian government interpreted this as a victory.
"I am very pleased that Italy has won," Italy's environment minister,
Altero Matteoli, told a news conference in Brussels.
Monsanto, the European Commission, the United States Trade
Representative's office and European law experts reached a different
conclusion. "We should win when the case goes back to the Italian court,"
said a Monsanto spokesman, Tom McDermott.
"We have been saying for over two years that there is no justification for
Italys ban on foods derived from the four corn types. The Court confirmed
this," said Beate Gminder, a European Commission spokeswoman.
"This judgment appears to raise the bar for governments seeking to ban
novel foods, said Ian Forrester, a partner in the Brussels office of law
firm White Case. Forrester represented firms including Pfizer in recent
legal fights against bans of animal feed additives containing antibiotics.
Sound Policy for Cancun WTO For effective sustainable development
A report of www.tradeandenvironment.com
EU USES TRADE THREATS TO PUSH GREEN AGENDA
European Unilateralism - Although WTO members will not endorse EU
proposals to use trade measures to enforce environmental standards, the EU
is doing so unilaterally anyway.
New research released yesterday by trade experts reveals a marked rise in
the use of trade barriers to solve environmental problems over the last
decade. Most of the measures have been introduced by the EU. More are
This was reported by Alan Oxley, the Chairman of the APEC Centre at Monash
University, Australia on the release of the Centre's research report at
Cancun, Mexico on 9 September, 2003.
"The environmental trade barriers are harming the trade of other
countries, particularly developing countries", said Mr Oxley, a former
Ambassador of Australia to the GATT. "Around 40 new environmental trade
barriers were erected over the last decade", he said. "Up to 20 more are
in prospect", he added.
"The EU has persistently sought changes to the WTO to allow environmental
trade sanctions", he said. "The overwhelming majority of WTO members do
not support this. They say use collaboration to improve the environment,
not coercion" he added.
"But the EU has gone ahead unilaterally and has restricted imports of
food, textiles and timber and is planning similar rules for chemicals and
electronic goods." said Mr Oxley.
"And it seems to want to go further. It has announced an initiative that
Sustainability Impact Assessments should be made of measures to liberalize
trade", said Mr Oxley. "It is a weak idea. Trade liberalization does not
harm the environment" he said.
"What is needed is economic assessments of environmental trade measures",
said Mr Oxley. "Environment Ministers too often endorse these measures
without assessing their impact on the trade of other countries or even if
they are the best way to improve the environment", he said.
"What EU officials seem always to overlook is that it is not necessary to
use trade sanctions to improve the environment", said Mr Oxley. "European
governments like them because they protect their own producers and it
pleases NGOs like Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF who are anti-free trade" he
"They don't seem to care that it threatens the very fundamentals of the
global trading system and its capcity to increase prosperity in the global
economy", he concluded.
The Australian APEC Study Centre is attending the Cancun WTO Ministerial
as a free market NGO.
The full report can be accessed at www.tradeandenvironment.com
Biodiversity treaty called disastrous
Scientists complain that restrictions on access hinder research, undercut
September 10, 2003
By Ted Agres
The first legally binding international agreement governing the shipment
of genetically modified organisms (GMO) across borders goes into effect
tomorrow (September11). The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires that
the governments of signatory nations be notified when living GMOs, such as
crop plants, are going to be brought into the country with the intention
of introducing them into the environment.
Critics are already expressing concern about possible trade consequences
of the new rules, which are intended to protect native biodiversity, but
the protocol is not expected to significantly impact scientific research.
However, the biosafety protocol is only one part of a larger treaty, the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which also covers access to
indigenous plants and other genetic resources, and so far, scientists and
others say, the protocol's parent document has proved misguided at best.
"The treaty is an absolute disaster for scientists," said a senior UN
official on condition of anonymity. "It draws no distinction between
scientists bioprospecting for drugs and pharmaceuticals, scientists
conducting academic research, and those collecting samples for
agricultural research and plant breeding. I feel sorry for the scientists.
It's a nightmare."
The CBD was concluded at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.
Since then, it has been signed by 187 parties, including the United
States, the United Kingdom, and most European countries. The US Senate,
however, has never ratified the treaty, and the Bush administration
appears unlikely to push for passage.
Nevertheless, for those countries that have ratified the treaty-including
most of the developing world-the CBD establishes a framework to allow
access to indigenous plants, animals, and other organisms based on "prior
informed consent," under "mutually agreed terms," and to ensure the "fair
and equitable sharing of benefits" arising from commercialization and
other uses. The treaty leaves it to each country to negotiate its own
rules for access and benefit sharing.
Ironically, one of its goals-and a reason many scientists originally
supported the treaty-was to increase access to genetic resources. The
problem, said John H. Barton, a Stanford University law professor who
specializes in international environmental law, is that developing
countries overestimated the monetary value of their plants and other
"The developing world pushed the treaty negotiations to be more about the
rights to those genetic resources than about actually protecting
biodiversity," he said. "The provisions that protect biodiversity are
pretty weak and the provisions that deal with genetic resources are quite
Douglas Daly, curator of Amazonian botany at the New York Botanical
Garden, says the problem stems from "bioparanoia"-developing countries
believe scientists and researchers want to steal their genetic resources
to create drugs and other valuable products and not return any of the
profits. "In most diversity-rich countries, there is a lot of concern over
biopiracy. Some of it is legitimate but a lot of it is exaggerated," Daly
said. "The treaty has led to the criminalization of the biological
researcher. Everyone is suspect. As a result, people are not doing
research or graduate work in these areas."
Even local scientists are not immune. Ricardo Callejas, a biology
professor at the University of Antioqua in Medellin, Colombia, described a
recent visit he and colleagues made to an Indian reserve in the central
Colombian Amazon to research Dipterocarpaceae, a flowering plant believed
to have originated in Asia.
"The locals were so obsessed by the fact that they somehow were 'owners'
of this precious plant that, like little children, they tried very hard to
hide everything" about it, Callejas wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist.
The researchers were made to wait in the forest while the tribe's chief
sent a young boy to fetch a few branches. The scientists were allowed to
photograph the plant but not to touch it. Ten minutes later, the boy and
branches disappeared and the scientists were told to return to their boat
"None of us was interested in the medicinal properties [of this species],"
Callejas said. "We just wanted to enjoy the experience of knowing and
learning. Biodiversity, particularly in poor countries like mine, is very
much nowadays linked to multinationals [and] exploitation. Obviously,
science itself is misunderstood and completely distorted."
The CBD has also negatively impacted agricultural research for plant
breeding and sample collection, said Cary Fowler, senior adviser to the
International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, a consortium of 16 major
agricultural research institutes around the world. Member facilities hold
the world's largest collections of biodiversity for agriculture,
crop-breeding materials, and gene banks.
"Our task has become extremely difficult since passage of the CBD," Fowler
said. "A lot of material in our gene bank would be extinct if it had not
been collected in the past. But we're finding it harder and harder to
collect materials now." Collection samples have dropped from about 30,000
per year to fewer than 5000 as a direct result of the treaty, Fowler said.
"The CBD is both the cause and effect of this mentality."
Fowler, who is also research director at the Agricultural University of
Norway's Center for International Environment and Development Studies,
said he previously supported the treaty but has since changed his mind.
"For years, it was sacrilegious to say anything against the CBD. If you
did, you were reactionary and anti-developing countries. But at what point
do you say the emperor has no clothes? The facts do not support this
treaty as being terribly productive."
Carlos M. Correa, a law professor at the University of Buenos Aires, has
surveyed access agreements made under the CBD by Andean Group countries.
The results are meager: Venezuela has signed 20 applications and 5
contracts, all from individual researchers; Bolivia has signed 3
applications and 1 contract; Colombia has yet to approve a single
contract. "Most of the applications have been made by individual
researchers from the Andean Group countries themselves, not from outside
companies," Correa said. "The assumptions about how to exploit genetic
resources were not correct."
Part of the problem may also be due to declining interest by
pharmaceutical companies in bioprospecting for new drugs. Advances in
combinatorial chemistry, genomics, and proteomics have made screening for
active molecules in the lab more cost-effective than prospecting in
In light of all these problems, the United Nations and the governments of
some developing countries are starting to recognize the need to change the
treaty's implementation. In April 2002, country representatives met in
Bonn to discuss how to improve access and benefit sharing, but "further
work is still needed to assist parties through complimentary approachesÉ
such as model agreements and model legislation," the UN's CBD secretariat
in Montreal told The Scientist.
The Bonn Guidelines will attempt to help countries distinguish between
access to genetic resources for taxonomy, collection, research, and
commercialization. Member countries have been asked to submit "action
plans" to increase access by February 2004.
For Callejas, progress on implementing the CBD must be made quickly.
"There is no way that our societies in Latin America will emerge from
centuries of poverty while holding a completely distorted view of nature,"
he said. "Once we start looking at organisms as bank accounts, then we are
missing the entire view of what is in front of us. Curiosity of the living
world ends and so does the meaning of being here."
German man arrested in Brazil accused of biopiracy
September 4, 2003
By Michael Astor
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil -- Federal police arrested a German man for
illegally removing 21 seeds from a national park, accusing him of
Wildlife officials said Thursday that Hans Joachim Thiem was arrested last
week in the far western Amazon city of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira, 2,200
miles (3,540 kilometers) northwest of Rio de Janeiro, near Brazil's
borders with Venezuela and Colombia.
"Biopirates come here with the most diverse fantasies, because of the
area's biodiversity and because very little here has been studied,"
Alexandre Kirosky, director of the Pico da Neblina national park, said in
a telephone interview.
Biopiracy is generally characterized as the act of patenting biological
materials - either plants, animals or genes - that have traditionally been
used by indigenous peoples, without their permission.
Thiem is the fifth German national to be arrested this year in the Amazon,
accused of biopiracy.
Officials had granted Thiem permission to enter the Pico da Neblina
national park in late August to take photographs for an ecotourism
The 22,000 sq. km. (8,494 sq. mile) park has been closed to the public
since December because Indians who live in the region complained that
tourists were invading indigenous areas. The park is home to several
Indian tribes including the Yanomami.
Authorities became suspicious after local Indians said they had seen Thiem
collecting seeds during an earlier visit and searched him when he returned
from his 9-day-long expedition.
They found the 21 seeds in an empty yogurt container in his suitcase.
Thiem claimed he collected the seeds purely for ornamental purposes.
According to Kirovsky, several of the seeds found in Thiem's possession
were said by local Indians to be used for medicinal purposes.
"He got authorization to enter and then acted in bad faith," said
Kirovsky, adding Thiem had agreed not to remove any plants or animals as
part of his authorization.
Because collecting seeds is not a crime in Brazil, Thiem has been charged
with causing damage to a National Park, which carries a sentence of
between one and five years in prison under Brazil's environmental crimes
law, police inspector Teotonio Rego Pereira said by telephone.
He was also fined 16,000 reals (US$5,300) by Brazil's environmental
Brazilians are extremely sensitive to foreigners robbing the Amazon of its
Many Brazilians believe the United States is actively planning to seize
the rainforest from Brazil and this belief has fueled a widespread
xenophobia throughout the Amazon.
Last month, Brazilian agricultural authorities sent home an inspector from
the United States' Department of Agriculture after they discovered him
collecting samples of a fungus that grows on soy beans in northeastern
US farmers hope for rich harvest if EU opens to GMOs
September 11, 2003
BRUSSELS - If the European Union opens its market to two new genetically
modified (GMO) maize varieties, American farmers will grow the crops on a
massive scale, a United States biotech analyst said this week.
The European Commission says it could be asking member states to drop
their five-year de facto ban on most GMO crops and food products by the
beginning of 2004 as tough rules ensuring the safety of biotech products
will then be in place.
EU officials have indicated that member states could vote first on
allowing imports of two new types of GMO maize for use in food production,
though the formal agenda has yet to be set.
They said the BT11 sweet corn produced by Swiss firm Syngenta AG SYNZn.VX
and U.S.-based Monsanto MON.N Round-up Ready maize GA21 could be the
test-case food products to get EU approval.
At the moment, only U.S. farmers supplying the domestic American market
grow varieties of biotech maize banned from sale and import in the
15-nation European bloc.
Leonard Gianessi, senior research associate at the National Center for
Food and Agricultural Policy, a Washington-based private research
organisation, said a positive EU decision would spur the biotechnology
"We would expect to see an increase of 50-60 percent in the number of
acres of biotech maize under cultivation," he told reporters after a news
conference in Brussels, adding that it would not happen overnight.
American farmers say they lose $300 million a year in lost exports of
mostly maize because of the EU stance. The pro-biotech United States is
challenging the ban in the World Trade Organisation, arguing that the EU
is acting illegally.
Green groups and GMO-sceptical member states say the EU is responding to
the demands of consumers who do not want to buy GMO food products and also
fear the large-scale cultivation of GMO crops could harm the environment.
Technophobes and the future
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
10 September, 2003
By Hamish Robertson
HAMISH ROBERTSON: The rapid pace of technological change is something that
many people find bewildering, even threatening. The opposition to
genetically modified food is just one example of this public resistance.
But could this scepticism be harming the healthy development of human
Well, that's the view of Baroness Susan Greenfield, who's a Professor of
Pharmacology at Oxford University and Director of the Royal Institution.
Currently here in Australia to promote science literacy among young
people, she believes that technophobes - people who fear scientific change
- are actually holding back the development of agriculture and medicine.
She also says that technophiles can be equally harmful.
A short while ago, I asked her why.
SUSAN GREENFIELD: Yes, as we're facing the technologies of this new
century we're reaping both the benefits and the problems. Extremes, as in
other domains in life, aren't good things.
So, if we take the technophobes: the technophobes want to take us back to
an arcadia that never existed. They go on the idea that people never died
in childbirth, you didn't have toothache, you never had pain, you didn't
have premature death, and then the evil scientist came along and started
to threaten everything we hold dear that is magic and emotions and that
lovely touchy-feely feeling of being human. And they think that scientists
are dysfunctional nerds who are of course bent on world domination.
Now, clearly that's not a very tenable attitude to have, and of course
it's not true because there was never a time when people weren't suffering
and there's been more done this century by science to alleviate human
suffering and make people have comfortable and healthy lives than ever
The technophiles are less obvious as threats, but they are threats
nonetheless because they are so enthusiastic about the technology they
make silly assumptions about what it can deliver.
For example, there's someone called Kevin Warwick in England who has an
implant in his arm and has persuaded, amazingly enough, his wife to have
an implant in her arm and is experimenting on whether the computer can
therefore control, via these implants, their emotions and whether they can
feel the same thing.
Now, this is a very naive attitude to emotions, one that's really not
tenable but nonetheless gives the impression that we can deliver more than
we can and I think to give the impression that science can solve more
problems than it can, give more insights than it can, is as pernicious as
trying to hold back the science.
HAMISH ROBERTSON: But even if one should try and avoid those two extremes,
as you suggest, isn't there room for at least some healthy scepticism
about new technologies and indeed about new medical techniques, especially
when we can't be absolutely sure about their long-term consequences and
the obvious example of that is the Thalidomide disaster?
SUSAN GREENFIELD: Well, Thalidomide is an interesting issue because now we
realise that Thalidomide can actually have uses as an anti-cancer drug.
I think it depends on what you mean by "scepticism". If you mean by
scepticism you just put the handbrake on then no, because that's not
solving anything or helping anything. If one, as with other things, is
just prejudiced and bigoted, then again no, that doesn't help at all
because the whole point of science is genuine exploration and curiosity.
If by "scepticism", however, you mean one has a series of questions and a
ruthless system for interrogating whatever's happening then yes, that's
what one hopes to do. But then, that's what science is, science is very
exacting, it's very demanding in its methodology in terms of establishing
HAMISH ROBERTSON: You talk about the need to give young people the skills
to choose a middle ground, a middle ground between these two extremes. How
do you do that?
SUSAN GREENFIELD: As always, the answer lies in knowledge and here I think
one has to draw the distinction between knowledge and information. We are
in a time when people can sit in front of the screen and get bombarded
with facts, and sometimes that's confused for education, but I think what
we owe it to our young people to do is to help them ask questions.
At the moment, one could say we're drifting into a situation - and it is
drifting - where we're answer-rich but question-poor and it's very
important now. The burden is shifting away from learning things by rote,
by burdening our memories because the cyber-world is doing this for us,
towards now asking the right questions, and being able to have a sense of
values, develop a morality, develop novel ideas, and that can be done, I
think, by giving people a framework.
So, it's not so much giving people fact after fact after fact, because
they can Google on their computers and do that anyway, it's more helping
them develop a framework and indeed a morality - the standards that we
want and in order to do that we have to have as many conversations as
possible, rather like the one you and I are having now, deciding where we
want to go? What kind of education you want your kids to have? What kind
of people you want them to be? What kind of values do you hold as
important in humans?
HAMISH ROBERTSON: You do sound fairly optimistic about the way things are
going, looking to the future.
SUSAN GREENFIELD: (Laughs) Yeah.
HAMISH ROBERTSON: And clearly you wouldn't agree with the late Wilfred
Thesiger, the explorer who towards the end of his life expressed the fear
that the human race would be unlikely to survive for much more than
another hundred years because it had acquired the technology of mass
destruction and that technology was increasing in sophistication all the
I mean, that is a view, isn't it?
SUSAN GREENFIELD: Sure. It's certainly a view, but it's one people have
often if they grew up in the '50s when people were fearing nuclear
warfare. I think to have the luxury to think we're going to live for a
long time is actually quite novel. In medieval times, certainly back in
human history, I don't think people were necessarily assuming they were
going to live for a long time and that their world was going to survive in
whatever narrow constraints that world was.
I think what I fear - I hope I'm not coming across as too much as an
optimist anymore than I'm coming across too much as a scaremonger - what I
fear is destruction not so much of the physical planet but an erosion of
our individuality. What I fear is a homogenisation of our physical and
mental qualities, of our patterns of behaviour, of the things we do with
our leisure time, and in fact the ways we work.
What I fear is a growing eugenics almost, a fear that you have to be
physically and mentally perfect whatever that means, and a lack of fun and
celebration of one person being different from another, of human diversity
and I think if one could introduce that as a standard, as a part of our
morality that we should respect and celebrate individuality and all be
different and all enjoy being different and having our own challenges, our
own fulfilment, then I would be truly optimistic.
And I think we have to have that in mind because if we don't we might be
breeding a generation who are people of the screen rather than people of
the book, people who are passive, who just press buttons and get things in
their face, people who are not as pro-active as people have been in the
HAMISH ROBERTSON: That was Baron Susan Greenfield, the Director of
Britain's Royal Institution and the author of the book Tomorrow's People,
which is to be published in Australia by Penguin Books, next month.
New technology makes farming more efficient, environmentally friendly
The Grand Island Independent
By Robert Pore
September 11, 2003
Each year farmers have the opportunity to see what's new on the cutting
edge of technology that will help them improve the bottom line of their
operations at Husker Harvest Days.
This year is no exception as farm equipment manufacturers are unveiling
their new fall introductions on a wide array of new products.
At this year's Husker Harvest Days, self-propelled field sprayers have an
expanded demonstration. The self-propelled side-by-side demonstrations are
designed for large farm operators and custom applicators. The
self-propelled sprayers are available for visitors to test drive or ride
with experienced operators.
One of the many companies promoting self-propelled sprayers at Husker
Harvest Days is Select Sprayers LLC of Kearney.
Denny Jorgensen, owner of Select Sprayers, has been demonstrating his
equipment at Husker Harvest Days since 1996, but has been coming to the
show for the last 20 years.
He said the rapid advances in technology have tremendously impacted the
equipment his company sells, such as the addition of a guidance system
that allows applicators and producers to do precise mapping of their
There are also units at the show that have auto-steering and auto-track
systems that help guide the sprayers across fields, he said.
The advent of precision agricultural practices and global positioning
systems that use satellites to more precisely map fields has helped
introduce new farming practices helping producers become more efficient in
The sprayers help producers battle weed problems on their crop fields.
Another fairly new technology that Nebraska farmers have rapidly adapted
to is the genetically modified corn and soybean varieties that give them
an edge in tackling troublesome weed problems.
Jorgensen said new sprayer technology complements the use of those new
genetically modified seed varieties by better applying weed-fighting
chemicals, either pre-plant, post emerge, or late season.
With precision agricultural practices, producers can better apply
weed-fighting chemicals to those areas of the field where it is needed
instead of making a general application field-wide.
Jorgensen said with the use of field mapping systems, the new generation
of sprayers can make variable applications of chemicals on a crop field.
"We variable rate the chemical and fertilizer according to soil testing,"
For precision agricultural practices to be effective, Jorgensen said,
farmers do soil analysis of their fields to find out where applications
are most needed. With that information fed into the on-board computer on
the sprayer, along with the GPS mapping information, producers can apply
fertilizer or chemicals at a variable rate, which adds to a producer's
profitability, saving him money by not wasting fertilizer and chemicals in
areas of a field where they are not needed.
Keeping up with the rapid advancements in technology is difficult for both
the dealer and customer, he said.
"There is always something new and there are other companies that are
coming up with something new," Jorgensen said. "On a sprayer 20 years ago,
we had just speed and pressure and nothing to control the rate
automatically because the machine speeds up and slows down. Now we have
straight-line guidance systems that can get you to within an inch and
saves on overlapping."
He said the new technology is not only efficient for the producer, but
environmentally friendly as it helps eliminate chemicals from drifting by
putting down a specific amount of chemicals. Jorgensen said the new
generation of weed-killing chemicals not only gets the job done quicker,
but dissipates quicker so it doesn't leech into the soil and threaten
"It's a brave new world out there," he said.
We are what we eat
6 September 2003
Studies linking how genes and diet interact are helping food companies
design products capable of protecting people prone to certain diseases
SOME people eat three-egg omelettes topped with slivers of bacon and show
no sign of a spike in cholesterol. Others indulge in one chocolate bar
after another and stay as thin as a rake. Many, however, are less
fortunate. Current research suggests that the culprit may be found in
one's genes. Differences in genetic make-up may not only determine the
body's ability to metabolise certain nutrients, such as fats and lactose,
but also its susceptibility to disease.
The good news is that, within five years or so, researchers should learn
how to modify people's diets to fit their genes and thereby prevent or
delay the onset of a possible illness. At least, that is the goal of
nutritional genomics - a new field that studies how genes and diet
Projects in nutritional genomics are sprouting around the globe. Europe is
merging its efforts in the field by launching NuGO early next year, a
network that aims to integrate and develop the new branch of research. In
America, the National Institutes of Health recently granted the University
of California at Davis $6.5m to establish a Centre of Excellence for
In addition, there are international projects under way, such as HapMap,
that focus on studying the pattern of inheritance of single nucleotide
polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced "snips"). These are places where the
message encoded in the genome may vary by a single genetic "letter"
between individuals. SNPs may determine differences in appearance, such as
hair and eye colour, predisposition to illnesses, and how people respond
to foods and drugs. Nutrition will be an important part of the new
paradigm of "personalised medicine" and preventive health care, says Craig
Venter, who spearheaded a private effort to sequence the human genome, and
is now collaborating with Duke University Medical Centre to include
genomic information in health-care planning.
Only a few diseases are based on mutations in single genes - as is the
case with, say, cystic fibrosis or Huntington's chorea. As scientists have
learned more about the human genome, they have found that many illnesses,
including cancer and type II diabetes, are the result of an interaction
between a number of genes and their environment. More than 100 genes have
been implicated in the development of coronary artery disease (though
carrying only one such gene is still a risk factor). But to express those
genes, there needs to be a trigger - such as diet. Researchers estimate
that diet may be the defining factor in a third of all cancers.
A gene is a recipe for making a protein. At the molecular level, various
nutrients interact with genes by binding to DNA transcription factors -
which regulate gene expression. Thus, the amount and type of food consumed
affects the production of proteins directly.
Similar to "pharmacogenomics", which studies the effects of common genetic
variants on drug response, nutritional genomics investigates the effect of
diets on different individuals, groups and populations. But unlike drugs -
which come as refined compounds, are administered in specific doses and
have relatively short-acting effects - foods, like genes, act in concert.
"They're like a great big symphony," explains Wasyl Malyj, who directs the
laboratory for high performance computing and informatics at Davis's new
centre. Moreover, the effects of foods are slow moving - and often take
years before becoming visible.
As a result, no one meal is ever going to be detrimental for most people.
The trick will be to find out what constitutes the best balance of
nutrients over long periods. For example, a recent paper in the New
England Journal of Medicine describes the effects of a traditional
Mediterranean diet - lots of olive oil, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes
and nuts, moderate amounts of fish and wine, and little meat and dairy
products. Those who adhered closely to the diet lived longer and were less
likely to die of heart disease or cancer. There was, however, no
association between longevity and any individual food component of the
The complexity of human nutrition poses challenges. Clinical trials
require a large group of people to be followed over many years. That makes
studies costly and hard to conduct. Moreover, people often forget what
they have eaten.
But progress is being made thanks to "systems biology", which uses the
tools of genomics, molecular biology and bioinformatics to study the
complex interactions of genes, proteins and nutrients at the cellular
level. DNA chips can now look at thousands of genes at once, allowing
complex gene-expression profiles to be created quickly. In addition,
studies of human cell cultures and "knockout mice", which lack the ability
to make specific proteins, provide other means of collecting data. The
goal is to find early molecular profiles ("biomarkers"), which may be a
useful step on the way to identifying diseases before they pose health
Changes in DNA have occurred in human populations as evolutionary
responses to changes in diet. For example, a change in a single gene
10,000 years ago allowed a group of northern Europeans to become
lactose-tolerant and continue to consume milk products into adulthood. But
such evolutionary responses take time. They also depend on the weeding out
of inappropriate genes by the early deaths of carriers. In other words,
they only happen because some genes cause diseases when exposed to the new
For example, roughly half the adult population of the Pima tribe in
Arizona have developed diabetes. This seems to be in response to a modern
American diet, and its associated way of life. Another group of Pima,
which lives in Mexico and still follows a more traditional diet and a less
sedentary lifestyle, shows no significant increase in the disease.
Singapore, with residents of Chinese, Indian and Malay descent who share
similar prosperity and eating habits, serves as another interesting
example. A portion of this ethnically-mixed population is now affected by
the formerly uncommon coronary heart disease, but in unequal proportions -
a result of a difference in genetic predisposition.
What is acceptable for one individual may actually harm another, says
Ronald Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital
Oakland, in California. Dr Krauss, who also chaired the American Heart
Association's dietary guidelines committee in 2000, says its current
recommendations benefit most people. However, it may be useful for some to
adjust their diet based upon their genetic profile.
Dr Krauss, who has been researching the effects of various types of
low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad cholesterol", suggests that some
healthy people may actually increase their risk of heart disease by
embarking on an extremely low fat/high carbohydrate diet - something that
is sometimes recommended as a way of lowering cholesterol. He has found
that people with large LDL particles in their blood, a state of affairs
that is relatively safe, can develop an abundance of small LDL particles,
which is more dangerous, after a few weeks on such a diet.
One of the first projects of Davis's new centre will be to compare tissue
samples from white and black American men. For reasons not yet understood,
black American men have a 60% higher incidence of prostate cancer than
their white compatriots. Analysing the degree of genetic variations
between the two groups may provide clues to the importance of
environmental factors - such as diet and access to good health care -
which could play a part in the disparity. Eventually, hopes Raymond
Rodriguez, the director of the Davis centre, nutritional genomics will
usher in a new era of consumer genetics that will translate into practical
lifestyle changes and dietary choices.
Food as medicine
Businesses certainly hope so. The current epidemic of metabolic diseases,
such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease - in which diet is an
important risk factor as well as a preventive agent - provides an
opportunity for companies to develop foods that help populations at risk.
Add to that the clinical proof of diet/gene interactions, and the
traditional distinction between medicine and food becomes increasingly
blurred. As a result, food companies may begin to think more like drug
While they have only a fraction of the R&D budgets that pharmaceutical
companies make available, some food companies are already marketing
"functional foods" that address the needs of specific populations and have
gone through independent clinical trials. One example is Unilever's Flora
pro.activ - a bread spread that reduces cholesterol by 10-15%. Unilever,
an Anglo-Dutch giant supplying foods and other consumer products globally,
has formed a partnership with Perlegen, a genetics company based in
Mountain View, California, which has catalogued no fewer than 1.5m common
genetic variations in humans to date. The aim is to develop new foods that
match the needs of specific populations. Nestle, the largest food company
in the world, has similar agreements in place.
As more interactions between diet and genes become known, simple genetic
tests via "cheek sweeps" (DNA testing based on swabbing the inside of the
cheek) may determine what people need to eat. A handful of companies, such
as Sciona in Britain, has already begun to sell products (available online
and through some health-care providers) that test for genes that influence
the metabolism of alcohol, folate and other nutrients. Based on the
results, Sciona makes suggestions for diet modifications. But experts
agree that, thus far, such tests have little meaning. "Telling somebody
what to eat based on a few genes is not appropriate," says Jim Kaput,
founder of NutraGenomics, a start-up that plans to offer genetic tests
once the knowledge is more advanced.
However, before such tests become commonplace, a number of ethical,
medical and legal issues will need to be addressed. One fear is that
insurance companies might gain access to the information and charge higher
premiums, or even exclude people from their plans, on the basis of their
genes. And, because of the complexity of diet/gene interactions, it will
be essential to train physicians to interpret the test results. Despite
these hurdles, most researchers agree, the potential benefits outweigh the
possible harm. As Dr Ordovas points out, predicting illnesses 40 or 50
years before they may arise is not only a convenient way to minimise the
need for expensive drugs - but also a powerful tool to improve the quality
of a person's life.
"Some healthy people may increase their risk of heart disease with an
extremely low fat/high carbohydrate diet".