Today in AgBioView: October 20, 2003:
* How Moratorium Affects Africa
* Value in a GM Crop
* GM--Effects Crop Study Criticised
* Food for Thought
* Flaws Undermine Results of UK Biotech Debate
* GM World View
* Can the E.U. Stem Tide Against Biotechnology?
* A Tale of Two Seeds: Brazil and India
* Plant Biotechnology - The Genetic Manipulation of Plants
* A Biotechnology Story: Notes from India
* African Agriculture Technology Foundation
* The Fault Line in the Organic Debate
* Fostering Support for Biotech in Ag and Food Industry
How Moratorium Affects Africa
A Harvest Biotech (Kenya), http://www.ahbfi.org/newspaper/firstquart9.htm
Most of Europe's concerns with Genetically Modified (GM) foods have
nothing to do with food safety. Yet, in many ways, the moratorium on GM
food and crops, translates to a negative blow for Africa.
Recently, Zambia cited trade relations with the EU as part of its reason
for rejecting GM food. Politicians and economists said if the country's
agricultural sector whose primary export market is the EU was perceived to
be ãGM taintedä, its future would be bleak. Although this line of argument
is not necessarily accurate (see story, Harvesting New Technology), it
confirms the intricate link between GM, Africa and the EU.
Africa traditionally has strong trade links with Europe. According to the
World Trade Organization (WTO), of Africa's total exports in 2000
(excluding South Africa), nearly 50% were to the EU. This is a whooping
US$67.6 billion in export earnings for the continent and the amount and
percentage would be much, much higher if South Africa were to be included.
Should Africa proceed with the speed with which it is adopting
biotechnology, one of the likely effects assuming the moratorium is not
lifted is a slow or total shut-down of imports to the EU. Of the total EU
imports from Africa, valued at US$58.4 billion, about 30% is from
agriculture. The (agricultural) sector is therefore the first casualty of
a continued moratorium.
To the dismay of Africa, research shows that European public debate on
transgenic crops is centered on fear and mistrust, quite possibly
resulting from the experience over 'mad cow disease'. A report from the
Food Safety Authority of Ireland to address European Union concerns on
genetically modified (GM) crops concluded that there is no evidence that
transgenic foods are unsafe.
The report, by a group led by Patrick Wall, the authority's chief
executive, noted that concern in Europe is based on ethical, socioeconomic
and anti-multinational issues; lack of knowledge or misinformation;
environmentalism; food labeling; and consideration of the needs of
Transgenic foods are eaten daily in the United States, Australia, Canada,
Mexico and elsewhere with no reported undue effects. Nevertheless, the
experts' advice does not seem to influence public opinion in Europe,
probably because of a strong anti-biotechnology lobby that actively
promotes misinformation and fear, and also because in some cases people
have had good reason to distrust 'expert' pronouncements.
The critics of biotechnology claim that Africa has no chance to benefit
from biotechnology, and that Africa will only be a dumping ground or will
be exploited by multinationals. On the contrary, small-scale farmers in
Africa have benefited by using hybrid seeds from local and multinational
companies, and transgenic seeds in effect are simply an added-value
improvement to these hybrids. Local farmers are benefiting from
tissue-culture technologies for banana, sugar cane, pyrethrum, cassava and
other crops. There is every reason to believe they will also benefit from
the crop-protection transgenic technologies in the pipeline for banana,
such as sigatoka, the disease-resistant transgenic variety now ready for
field trials. Virus- and pest-resistant transgenic sugar cane technologies
are being developed in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and
Egypt. disease-resistant transgenic variety now ready for field trials.
Virus- and pest-resistant transgenic sugar cane technologies are being
developed in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and Egypt.
The African continent, more than any other, urgently needs agricultural
biotechnology, including transgenic crops, to improve food production.
African countries need to think and operate as stakeholders, rather than
accepting the 'victim mentality' created by Europe. Africa has the local
germplasm, some of it well-characterized and clean, being held in gene
banks in trust by centres run by the Consultative Group of International
Agricultural Research. It also has the indigenous knowledge, local field
ecosystems for product development, capacities and infrastructure required
by foreign multinational companies.
The needs of Africa and Europe are different. Europe has surplus food and
is not experiencing hunger, mass starvation and death on the regular scale
we sadly witness in Africa. The priority of Africa is to feed her people
with safe foods and to sustain agricultural production and the
One of the real solutions to the EU moratorium is for African countries to
trade with each other and to seek new markets. Africa missed the green
revolution, which helped Asia and Latin America achieve self-sufficiency
in food production. Africa cannot afford to be excluded or to miss another
major global 'technological revolution' because of the ãblackmailä of
Value in a GM Crop
- Globe and Mail (Canada), Oct. 20, 2003
When British scientists released the results of an intensive, three-year
study of genetically modified crops last week, environmentalists could
scarcely contain their glee. The study showed that the cultivation of two
GM crops, oil-seed rape and sugar beet, could result in lower populations
of some butterflies, bees and birds. Bugs like weeds, and crops that are
genetically modified to resist herbicides can be grown with fewer weeds
among them. Fewer bugs, in turn, could mean fewer bug-eating birds.
Aha, said the environmentalists. Here was proof positive that GM crops,
which they have colourfully labelled "Frankenfoods," do irreparable damage
to nature. Because of their anti-GM campaign, the British and broader
European publics have become allergic to such foods, which have long been
grown and consumed safely in North America. A recent surveyshowed the
Britons were against cultivating GM crops in their country by a margin of
9 to 1. Some protesters even destroyed some of the test crops grown for
the study, saying cross-pollination would pollute non-GM crops and create
They didn't, of course, and the results of last week's study were far less
dire than environmentalists contend. It was to be predicted that fewer
weeds would survive in GM crops; fewer weeds is part of the point. As it
happens, in one of the three crops studied -- genetically modified maize
-- bugs and weeds were more abundant than in ordinary crops.
In any case, whatever environmental changes GM crops might cause have to
be weighed against the enormous potential advantages. GM crops are created
by breeding into them the DNA of other organisms and thus changing their
characteristics. Some crops are bred to exude a toxin that kills
crop-eating insects. That means farmers can use less pesticide -- a clear
plus for the environment. Using GM cotton, the U.S. cotton industry
reduced its pesticide use by two million pounds (900,000 kilograms) in the
four years leading up to 2000.
Others are bred to resist common herbicides, making it easier to cut down
on weeds. Fewer weeds means less plowing. Less plowing means less soil
erosion and less harmful runoff into lakes and streams. Still other crops
require less fertilizer, another potential pollutant.
GM crops are generally more productive, meaning that less and less land
has to be cultivated to produce the same amount of food. That, too, is a
plus for the environment. The less land that farmers need to dig up for
crops, the more wilderness survives.
GM food could be an especial boon to the Third World, where traditional
farmers are eating up vast swaths of rain forest and other rich habitats.
Just as the Green Revolution of the 1960s, 70s and 80s all but ended
famine in the Third World by introducing high-yield crops, GM agriculture
could help save what is left of these precious environments. There will be
hundreds of millions of new mouths to feed in the coming decades, as the
world's population continues to rise. Old Green Revolution technologies
have mostly reached the extent of their benefit. New technologies are
needed, not just to save lives but to preserve nature.
It is odd, then, that the environmental movement has become so fixated on
the threat it sees in GM foods. Yes, we need to be careful how and where
we introduce them and pay attention to the well-being of the birds, bugs
and bees. But we also need to remember the power of good they can do.
GM--Effects Crop Study Criticised
- Kamala Hayman, Stuff (NZ), Oct. 18 2003
Scientists and environmentalists have criticised a major British study on
the environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops.
The $17 million, three-year study on 60 sites across Britain found that in
two out of three cases the fields of GM crops supported less wildlife and
fewer weeds. Three crops, all engineered for herbicide resistance, were
grown alongside conventional crops and researchers observed the wildlife
in the crops and along their margins.
They found fewer butterflies in two GM crops, oilseed rape and beet, and
also fewer bees in the latter. Both had fewer weeds or weed seeds than
conventional crops. The trials also showed that some groups of soil
insects were found in greater numbers in the GM beet and rape crops.
By contrast, GM maize was better for many groups of wildlife than
conventional maize. The engineered maize also had more weeds. The
conventional maize was developed through traditional plant breeding
methods, using radiation-induced mutations, to be resistant to the
powerful herbicide atrazine.
The studies have been hailed as proof that GM crops "cause more harm to
the environment" and a powerful reason for banning commercial GM crops in
Britain. But Lincoln Crop and Food GM researcher Colin Eady, who is
developing a herbicide-resistant onion, said reducing weeds was simply a
key aim of farming, even organic farming, and reducing plant diversity
resulted in fewer insects. "It's not rocket science," he said.
Life Sciences Network chairman and South Island farmer William Rolleston
said the studies appeared to be "stating the obvious". "It seems
extraordinary the UK press have been reporting it as environmental damage.
If you take the other extreme, you're making a good case for the UK to
become a national park. "I just sprayed my driveway and killed
biodiversity on my driveway ... it begs the question about what you want
from agriculture." He said it was unfortunate the studies did not look at
wider environmental issues such as the level of pesticides in the water
Greenpeace spokesman Steve Abel agreed. "The scope in terms of its
assessments of environmental impacts was very small. "It didn't look at
impact on soil ecology, contamination issues, and it didn't compare with
The New Zealand Government is spending $7m a year on research into the
environmental and social impacts of GM organisms and biotechnology. Green
Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said it was clear ecological studies
of the environmental impacts of GE should be done before any GM organism
was approved for release in New Zealand. "These would need to be done by
independent scientists not employed by the GE industry, and would need to
be more complete than the UK study," she said.
The moratorium on the conditional or commercial release of GM or
genetically engineered (GE) organisms ends on October 29. Nearly 300
people in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula have registered their
properties "GE free". Sixty properties in the Aoraki electorate have added
their names to a GE-Free register.
Food for Thought
'After the experts verdict on transgenic crops, tough decisions loom for
- Clive Cookson and John Mason, Financial Times; Oct 18, 2003. Excepts
below. Full story at
It is rare for invertebrates togarner international political attention.
Few Britons could say with honesty that they usually spared much time
thinking about Deroceras reticulatum and Lepthyphantes tenuis -
respectively the grey field slug and a variety of money spider.
This week, though, the possible fate of these lowly neighbours and
hundreds of others became caught up in a subject of much greater public
concern: the ongoing and acrimonious debate over genetically modified
In page after page of technical prose, scientists set out the implications
for biodiversity - birds, insects and plantlife - of planting GM crops on
UK farms. Few will ever read the whole weight of evidence that they
presented after the world's largest such experiment. But the findings have
left both governments and the biotechnology industry facing big
Is genetic modification a fundamental change that puts GM crops into a
different category to other plant breeding developments? Or is it just the
latest step in a continuous line of agricultural improvements, which has
been demonised unfairly by the media and environmental campaigners?
Those two opposing attitudes lie at the heart of the GM debate. Plant
breeders point out that their work has always involved genetic improvement
of crops. They say GM technology is a short cut that enables them to
insert a gene for a specific purpose, such as making a plant resistant to
a particular herbicide which can then be sprayed on the field to kill all
weeds without harming the crop. Critics argue that the gene insertions
carried out by the biotech industry would be impossible without GM
technology, because they involve transferring DNA between completely
unrelated forms of life - from bacteria to plants.
"We have been changing nature, crops and farming throughout history but
this is very different," says Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, a
public interest group. "In principle you might be able to get
herbicide-tolerant plants through conventional breeding but without GM we
would not be faced with several new herbicide-resistant plants at the same
time - all requiring big changes in agricultural methodology and herbicide
Mick Crawley, professor of plant ecology at Imperial College London, says
the ecological evidence does not justify treating GM crops differently
from other agricultural innovations. Indeed, GM plants are not directly
harmful to the environment and do not pose a threat as super-weeds, he
says. "All the work we have done since 1988 suggests that GM plants are
less fitted to survive in the environment than other plants," he says.
But Prof Crawley, who is on the scientific steering committee for the
farm-scale evaluations, is not optimistic that the public will be
receptive to the evidence. "The demonisation of GM technology by the media
has gone so far that scientific results will not change people's minds,"
Moreover, the continuing attacks on GM crops are making Britain's plant
scientists worried about the future of their discipline. "The whole of
plant science is being tarred with the same brush," says Ray Matthias of
the John Innes Centre in Norwich, Britain's leading plant research
laboratory. "In the long term that will affect the recruitment of good
students into plant science. Who wants to go into a career that is always
being vilified as damaging and harmful?"
The problem, he says, is that "the companies promoting GM technology went
to ground after it ran into trouble, leaving independent plant scientists
to answer questions about genetic modification. In the public eye they
lost their independence and came to be seen as supporters of GM".
Flaws Undermine Results of UK Biotech Debate
- Nature v.425, p.559; Oct. 9 200)
Sir -- The GM Nation? report released in the United Kingdom last month
(see Nature 425, 331; 2003) concluded that the general public is
overwhelmingly against genetic-modification (GM) technology, with feelings
ranging from "suspicion and scepticism, to hostility and rejection".
The study cost £500,000 (US$830,000). Unfortunately, this was not money
well spent. The methodology was so badly flawed that the data not only
failed to support the authors' conclusions, but undermined them.
The main fault with the study, as the authors concede, is the
self-selected nature of the main sample. About 36,000 people took part in
an "open debate": half of these responses came by mail and half from the
GM Nation? website (http://www.gmnation.org.uk). This sample is certainly
large, but it is not random. It is in fact most likely to attract those
who have strong opinions about GM. One might think that the sheer size of
the sample swamps any problems with its self-selected nature, but for that
to be the case you would need millions of participants.
Although the authors of the report were aware of this criticism, they
offered only two countermeasures. First, they checked a random sample of
responses to see if there were any standardized ones being sent in by
activist groups, which there weren't. But people with strong views on GM
are capable of expressing their own opinions, and this measure does
nothing to prevent the sample being biased in favour of them.
Second, they commissioned a 'narrow-but-deep' study from another company,
"as a control on the self-selecting participants in the open debate", to
see if there was a "silent majority" with different views. This meant
asking 78 people 13 questions from the open debate. This sample was
randomly chosen -- although the report is short on specific details -- and
stratified so that it roughly matched the general population. (This group
was also re-tested after 2 weeks of group discussion and personal research
to see if their attitudes to GM changed.)
The authors of the narrow-but-deep section conceded that their results
were not statistically robust, because of the small numbers involved.
Nevertheless, they said: "We believe it is an accurate reflection of the
general public." The initial responses of the random group were, however,
noticeably different from the results of the open debate. (Even after 2
weeks, the differences, although not as large, remained significant.) Yet
the GM Nation? report claimed that, apart from some minor differences, the
two groups agreed. The general public, said the authors, is not "a
completely different audience with different values and attitudes from an
unrepresentative activist minority".
The actual results from the two groups were buried within the supporting
documents, far apart from each other. Once these results are compared
side-by-side, startling differences emerge for more than half of the
questions used (visit
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/Campbell/Table1.htm for a
For example, to the question "I would be happy to eat GM food", only 8% of
the open-debate respondents agreed, compared with 35% for the random
group. On the topic of whether GM was unnatural, 84% thought so in the
open debate, but only 37% did in the random group.
We find it astonishing that the obvious mismatch between the random group
and the open-debate group was not discussed anywhere in the report, and
that it did not prevent this report being released and becoming headline
With £500,000, a larger version of the narrow-but-deep study could have
been conducted, avoiding the problem of self-selection. As well as using a
'topic blind' recruitment strategy, questions about GM food would ideally
be embedded among questions about other current concerns, so that the
participants would be unaware that GM food was the focus of the research.
Also, the sort of vague and leading questions used by GM Nation? should be
avoided. Only then could we be confident that the findings are reliable
- Scott Campbell & Ellen Townsend; Institute for the Study of Genetics,
Biorisks and Society (IGBiS), University of Nottingham, University Park,
Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK
GM World View
Today, four countries account for 99% of the world's commercially grown
transgenic crops. But that is changing - policies are being thrashed out,
laws drawn up, and seeds sown. Here we show how GM is taking root. Click
on the map for information on the big hitters in the global GM scene.
Download PDF (2.3 M) at
Can the E.U. Stem Tide Against Biotechnology?
- A Harvest Biotech (Nairobi, Kenya)
Leading scientists have left Britain to pursue research in the US and
other countries that are more science-friendly. In France, an anti-biotech
activist burnt down a McDonald restaurant.
Five years since activists shut down Europe from biotechnology, questions
are being asked: Can the EU stem the tide against biotechnology? Is the
moratorium representative of what Europeans think or is it as a result of
a few anti-science individuals and organizations?
Last year, British Prime Minister, promised to break down the "anti-
science fashion" in Britain, declaring that the Government will never give
way to misguided protesters who stand in the way of medical and economic
Blair declared "it is time to speak for science" and promised to continue
increasing investment in research and development. He was inspired to take
this vocal stand after visiting high-tech projects in India last year. "I
was struck in India by the very close links between enterprise and science
and the fact that the Indians were openly saying that they felt that some
of the anti-science attitudes in the developed economy were giving them
real opportunities they were determined to exploit."
Blair is said to be privately furious at the actions of protesters, which
have resulted in work being held up on research into genetically modified
foods, and at disruption that could threaten a neurological research
project in Cambridge aimed at helping sufferers of Alzheimer's disease. He
is angry over the regular description of GM foods as "Frankenstein foods",
and at the way science was blamed for the BSE emergency. "BSE was not
caused by bad science but by bad practices," he says.
Although it is widely acknowledged that there are ethical questions over
some research, there is also consensus that this is something that has to
be addressed by politicians and society as a whole. "But it is completely
unacceptable for people to try to disrupt and destroy the legitimate
research on which these issues will ultimately be judged," argues the
British Prime Minister.
Countries like India and China are benefiting from the anti-science
attitudes in the EU and other developed economies while the US is
entrenching itself in territories that were historically European turf.
In the field of biotechnology, for example, the EU's stand is that it
cannot financially support, or associate itself with biotechnology
projects in Africa. The if-we-can't-have- it-nobody-will attitude has
benefited American biotech companies fighting for a stake of Africa's
In France, the media is beginning to question anti-biotech views and give
more attention to pro-GM scientists. The media, which played a big role in
shaping the opinion of Europeans and the 1998 moratorium, is biting back.
Last year, French television channel Arte showed a program based on an
interview of well-known anti-biotech activist Jose Bove. The French goat
farmer has spent time in jail for burning down a McDonald's restaurant
under construction in his area, and has been part of several different
groups that have destroyed biotech field test plots. Bove, who is usually
taken on face value, got a different treatment during the TV program. A
number of French scientists convincingly argued that Bove's arguments were
scientifically wrong. During the program, titled "GMOs: Was Bove wrong?",
the journalist wondered what kind of society France has if a minority
group can decide whether some research is good or bad.
The second sign of a change is reflected in last year's November issue of
La France Agricole, a leading agricultural magazine. The issue features a
cover story and five-page article about three U.S. farmers raising biotech
crops. The magazine talked about the economic benefits of biotech soybeans
and the value of corn with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) when planted in
areas of high corn borer pressure.
Other studies support the view that Europe could be changing. According to
the Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE) - an initiative by the
major crop biotechnology companies in Europe - most Europeans are not
anti-science or anti-technology. In an issue paper on public attitudes to
agricultural biotechnology, ABE says despite the prevailing notion that
the public in Europe rejects the use of biotechnology independent research
shows quite consistently that most people feel they are too poorly
informed to come to a sensible conclusion.
A Tale of Two Seeds: Brazil and India
- Pramit Pal Chaudhuri , Tech Central, Oct. 2, 2003
India and Brazil are continents apart, but human aspirations are
universal. The experience of farmers in both these countries illustrates
their common desire to access new technologies, improve productivity and
reach new markets. Indeed, the future of agriculture biotechnology may
rest on what happens in these two large agriculturally significant
countries. The increasing demand for GM seeds by farmers is forcing the
hands of the governments in both these countries.
Brazil Basics. In a hectic 36 hour period last month, Brazil twice lifted
and once restored a ban on the use of genetically modified (GM) soybean
seed. In the end, the ayes had it and the leftwing government of President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned Brazil to the biotechnology fold.
The reasons Brazil took this step are many. A severe economic recession,
powerful agribusiness lobbies and a determination to overtake the US to
become the world's number one soya exporter all fed into the decision. But
a key reason the ruling coalition of worker and farmer parties decided to
let GM soya out of its cage was the fact that farmers were loosening the
latch with their own hands.
An estimated 20-30 percent of Brazil's soybean crop is GM. In neighbouring
Argentina, GM soya is legal. Smuggling such seeds across the border is
common. In those parts of Brazil bordering Argentina, as much as 70 per
cent of the soybean crop is GM.
Though the ending of the ban was portrayed in the media as a victory for
big farmers and Western multinationals, the use of GM seed is also
widespread among landless peasants and small farmers who like the seed's
lower production costs.
The Cotton Club. Brazil's experience reflects that of India's with Bt
cotton, another genetically modified crop plant. The Indian seed industry
believes about half the cotton crop in the state of Gujarat and an
increasing share of the crop in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab is
being grown from GM seeds. And not unlike the case of Brazil, most of the
seeds are pirate products.
Bt cotton seeds were first discovered in Gujarati fields in 2001, though
at the time no such seeds had been approved by India's Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC). The most popular variety, Navbharat-151, was
released by D. B. Desai, a local plant breeder who didn't bother to wait
for India's vacillating regulators. In fact, he did not even claim his
seed contained the Bt gene, but it became the flagship of new generation
of cotton seeds when it very successfully withstood the attack of ballworm
in the 2001 growing season. His seed has since been banned and Desai
charged with violating the law.
Neither the ban nor the case are making any progress because they have
both achieved the status of folk legends with Gujarati farmers. Today
dozens of pirate Bt cotton seeds are available in all the major
cotton-growing states of India. They are openly advertised in local
newspapers. Only their distribution networks remain shadowy.
After the invasion of Navbharat-151, the India government, in a knee jerk
reaction, sought to destroy thousands of hectares of cotton in the state
of Gujarat. However, it soon became apparent that such a decision would be
impossible to implement politically. GEAC hastily approved three Bt cotton
seeds in 2002. However, there are question marks over the performance of
the legal varieties. They cost twice as much and are seen as less
effective in resisting pests than the pirate ones.
The Gujarat government, sensitive to farmer sentiment, has turned a deaf
ear to the central government's demands that it crack down on pirate GM
cotton seed. In Punjab, farmers' demands for Bt cotton seeds have become
politically impossible to oppose.
Avoiding the Worst of All Worlds. In many ways, what Brazil and India are
experiencing is the worst of all worlds. Wholly unregulated genetically
engineered crops are open to a greater likelihood of failure or becoming a
health hazard. A major public health crisis from a GM crop would be a
major setback for biotechnology in general. Indian scientists fear pirate
Bt cotton could discredit the technology because the lack of proper
cross-breeding allows pests to develop resistance faster than would be the
case. Poor performance by pirated or spurious seeds could potentially ruin
many farmers' lives.
Pirate seeds also pose a long-term problem in terms of research and
development. Illegal players like Desai cut costs by using seed lines
developed by firms like Monsanto. But GM technology won't progress if it
can't attract private sector capital. Such capital won't be forthcoming if
local breeders ensure that corporations can't get profits from the sale of
their legal and safer seeds.
What these two tales of GM seeds say is that there is an enormous and
undeniable demand among third world farmers for such fruits of
biotechnology. No matter what governments or environmentalists may
attempt through regulations, court injunctions or simple dilly-dallying, a
supply of such seeds will be forthcoming. It can either come from
corporate suppliers who will ensure their seeds jump through all the
necessary safety and corporate hoops. Or it will come from Desai and other
garage-based entrepreneurs. What cannot work are bans and moratoriums
based on ideology rather than science.
The author is the foreign editor of The Hindustan Times, the leading
English language daily in Delhi. He also specialises in trade, technology
and security related issues.
New Book 'Plant Biotechnology - The Genetic Manipulation of Plants'
- Adrian Slater, Nigel W Scott, and Mark R Fowler; The Norman Borlaug
Institute for Plant Science Research, De Montfort University
- Oxford University Press, £19.99 (Paperback); 0-19-925468-0; April 2003;
The first textbook to cover this highly topical subject at a level and
depth suitable for undergraduate; Takes the reader from the basics of the
subject through to the latest thinking; Companion Web Site allows more
comprehensive treatment of current topics:
Puts the science into perspective by addressing the wider issues
surrounding the GM crops controvers; Encourages the reader to investigate
key topics in depth , increasing understanding and awareness of the issues
involved; Case studies and keynote boxes throughout the text facilitate
learning and revision
A Biotechnology Story: Notes from India
- Shiv Visvanathan and Chandrika Parmar, Economic and Political Weekly
(India), http://www.epw.org.in July 6, 2002; p2714-2724.
Full document at http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/env/PDFs/shiv&chandrikaEPW.pdf.
"Biotechnology was created within a politics of anxiety and desire in
India. The paper attempts to understand the social construction of
biotechnology. It locates biotechnology within the wider debates on
development and describes an orchestra of positions each of which captures
one part of the debate."
"This paper on biotechnology attempts to understand the social
construction of biotechnology. It tries to explore how biotechnology was
perceived and consumed as a social imagination. We wish to argue that
biotechnology was created within a politics of anxiety and desire in
India. Indian civil society created around a biotechnology heuristics of
fear and hope turning it into a great morality play, a socio-drama of
positions, a circus of spectacles, epistemologies, debates totally
different from the domestication of the nuclear departments or of IT.
"The biotechnology controversy has all the makings of a great moral debate
given especially the contributions of Shiva, Prakash, Omvedt and Bhargav.
Articulated in a more general level, it acquires a definite flavour in the
debates around Bt cotton. But interviews reveal the most of the farmers
have not understood the nature of 'risk'. When asked, even ministers
claimed, that risk like security is a central problem. Like security, they
see risk as crisis driven not an everyday issue of politics and
"Biotechnology as a scientific venture in the populist and technocratic
imagination is alive and well but biotechnology as a part of the new
democratic imagination committed to the rule of law and regulation, and
governance sensitive to the ideas of risk is fragile. One needs to build a
concrete set of institutions around the practice of biotechnology and
locate it within the wider debates on innovation, property and the
commons. Unfortunately it is here that one sees an institutional silence
at the everyday level. The informal politics and economics of
biotechnology especially in the Bt cotton case have overwhelmed formal
institutional structures. Indian democracy to be sustainable still needs
to understand risk ."
The African Agriculture Technology Foundation
The AATF is a new and unique public-private partnership designed to
resolve many of the barriers that have prevented smallholder farmers in
Africa from gaining access to existing agricultural technologies that
could help relieve food insecurity and alleviate poverty. The AATF will be
based in Africa and will be led, managed and directed by Africans.
Our Mission: "To improve food security and reduce poverty of smallholder
farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa by facilitating public private partnerships
that provide access to agricultural technologies, materials and know how
and that facilitate existing institutions along the value chain to ensure
delivery of products to African farmers and create sustainable markets."
Why Africa? Why Now?
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest hunger and malnutrition rates, and the
least productive agriculture, in the world. Yet there is a range of
agricultural technologies, many of them generated by the private sector in
developed countries that could benefit African smallholder farmers. If
adapted and made available to poor African farmers, these technologies
could help improve production systems, increase food security, reduce
poverty, improve agricultural trade and commerce, and stimulate broader
and more equitable economic growth.
However, neither the private sector nor the public sector alone can
exploit this potential. The private sector has significant technological
resources but currently no commercial incentive to develop products of
benefit to resource-poor African farmers. The African agricultural market
is simply not large enough to warrant investment by major agricultural
companies in specific technologies, varieties and traits to meet the
unique conditions of African farming.
Public sector organizations in Africa have vast experience working on
regionally important crops, but need improved access to proprietary
technologies that are held by the private sector as well as public sector
institutions wherever they exist. The issues surrounding the availability,
licensing, testing, safety and liability of agricultural technologies are
so complicated, and involve such high transaction costs, that many of
those technologies remain out of the reach of African researchers and
While a growing number of companies wish to make their technologies
available for humanitarian use in Africa, their efforts to do so have been
limited by concerns linked to Intellectual Property (IP), protecting
commercially important markets and liability.
The AATF has been designed to identify and facilitate the royalty-free
transfer of proprietary technologies that meet the needs of resource poor
African farmers, in ways that address and resolve the concerns of
The Fault Line in the Organic Debate
- Thomas DeGregori, The Guardian (UK), Oct. 18, 2003
'Organic foods are not better, they are merely the result of our
enthusiasm for imperfection, argues Thomas R DeGregori'
With the advent of the industrial revolution, one of the qualities that
allegedly makes a craft item superior became its demonstrable inferiority.
Before that time, increasing precision was one aspect of the way in which
artisans sought to refine their craft. Nineteenth and 20th-century
technology not only carried this refinement beyond the point that our
hands or eyes can detect, it did so with mass production. Today some
people will point with pride to the imperfections that indicate
Consumption of inferior products has become a growth industry in affluent
societies, particularly in the area of food and health where the fetish of
"inferior is better, safer and healthier" has deep ideological roots.
Terms such as "organic", "biodynamic", "all natural", "alternative
therapies", "herbal" and "holistic" have lost any meaning that they may
once have had and are to be understood as endowing a commodity with
immeasurable, not fully definable, vital properties. The quintessential
inferior vitalist product is the homeopathic remedy, whose mystic vitalist
potency is derived from having virtually every last molecule of the
"medication" diluted away.
The ongoing vitalist revolt against the emergence of modern chemistry and
agricultural science is most evident in food production and consumption.
First it was claimed that it was impossible to synthesise an organic
compound, and then it was argued that minerals could not be used to help
plants grow. When these claims were disproved, the argument was made that
the food grown using minerals as fertiliser lacked some vital or living
However post-modernists and others may attack modern science, it has
permeated our society sufficiently that there is often a felt need to find
scientific evidence to justify a belief, even essentially vitalist ideas
such as the belief that "natural" is better. Having failed to prove that
"organic" produce was superior in any other way, its proponents have now
turned to the argument that its superiority results from its being less
well protected from competitors, which means that it is being produced in
an agronomically inferior way. After all, from the earliest agriculture,
farmers have sought to protect their crops from competitors such as other
plants, rodents, birds and microorganisms. In the attempt to find
nutritional benefit in "organic" food crops on the basis of their being
less well protected, the advocates are venturing into a minefield where
there is a vast array of unexploded ordinance.
The "organic" enthusiasts never seem to tire of trying to find evidence of
the superiority of their product. In March 2002, yet another study was
announced that purported to show that "organic" vegetables were more
nutritious than those that were conventionally grown. Canned soups made
with "organic" vegetables were found to have a higher level of salicylic
acid than vegetable soups that were not labelled "organic." These higher
levels were the result of the fact that the organic plants were less well
protected against various forms of infestations, and they expressed
salicytes to protect against the invaders. Since farmers from time
immemorial have sought to protect their crop, being less successful at it
could be defined as being inferior, but this is an Orwellian inferiority
where inferior is really superior.
The inferior-is-superior food fetish is harmless as long as it is the
exercise of personal consumption practices of those who can afford it. But
it has taken a nasty turn, as these ideas are now lined up in opposition
to the use of the latest and best in modern science and technology to
contribute to meeting the needs of a growing world population for improved
nutrition provided in an environmentally sustainable way. When these ideas
galvanise street protests, the burning of crops in the field and
buildings, the destruction of research in improved crop production, and
other actions that make advances in agriculture more difficult, then these
ideas have become dangerous and must be countered vigorously and
continuously with better ideas. Freedom of speech and freedom for research
must protect the minority but also the majority that may wish to carry
forward the enterprise of science/technology. This means that the laws
protecting crops in the field, research, and researchers must be enforced.
Modern agricultural science has given us much and our task is both to
defend it and to find ways to allow access to those who have not fully
realised these benefits.
á Thomas R DeGregori is a professor of economics at the University of
Houston and is the author of the forthcoming book Origins of the Organic
Agriculture Debate (Iowa State Press)
From Butterfliesandwheels.com, September 11
AG-BIOTECH FOOD FORUM: Fostering Support for the Growing Application of
Biotechnology in the Agriculture and Food Industry
- December 8 - 9, 2003, Chicago Hilton, Chicago, IL
"Apply Biotechnology in the Agriculture and Food Industry to Ensure
Improved Efficiencies from Farm to Fork"
Learn about innovative biotechnology applications that will have a
dramatic effect on US's agriculture and food markets from industry
luminaries: Food & Drug Administration (FDA); International Food
Information Council (IFIC); Iowa State University; The Pew Initiative on
Food and Biotechnology; Keller and Heckman LLP; Tuskegee University;
Cargill, Inc.; National Corn Growers' Association; JR Simplot
Company/Simplot Plant Sciences; Corn Products International; Hershey Foods
Corporation; Purdue University; Quaker Foods and Beverages; Virginia Tech;
Dziezak Law Firm, PC
Key Themes to be Addressed: * Analyzing consumers acceptance of foods
produced by biotechnology and educating them on the benefits * Examining
the potential risks to the environment and public health * Discussing the
current EU moratorium and its impact to the US Food Processing Industry *
Establishing Best practices for Genetically Modified (GM) foods *
Examining the role of Intellectual Property law in protecting investments
in biotechnology products
Registration: firstname.lastname@example.org ;