Today in AgBioView: October 25, 2003:
* India Must Shed Concerns on Transgenics: US Expert
* Feeding the Masses
* Blair Pledges 'To Do the Right Thing' on GM Food
* Dismantling Global Plant Breeding and Attack on CBD
* USDA Committee on Biotechnology - Nominations Call
* Shrinking Ag Chemicals Industry.... Blame the GM Crops!
* Africa and the GM Revolution
* Junk Science Judo
* Bioethics Needs a Distinct Voice If It Is to Aid Science
* AgBiotech Policy Processes in Developing Countries
* A Stride to Biotechnology: Bangladesh in USAID Consortium
* Why Biotechnology is Bad for Pakistan Agriculture
* .... Response by Prakash
* The Planet's Polluters Should Be Put In the Dock
* 'The Road to Serfdom' by F. A. Hayek
India Must Shed Concerns on Transgenics: American Expert
- The Press Trust of India Limited, Oct. 23, 2003
Kolkata: In an oblique reference to the Indian Government's reservation
against transgenic crops, a renowned American biotechnologist Thursday
said India must shed concerns that the developed world wanted to use it as
the dumping ground of its untested technologies.
"The biggest barrier in introduction of genetically modified crops in
India is the government's concern about who is developing the technology
and who is selling it. This is sad as it eclipses the larger interest of
developing nations," agricultural biotechnologist Dr Adrianne Massey said
Regretting that most transgenics are seen by India and other developing
countries from an 'anti-MNC and anti-American' point of view, Massey, who
has served on a number of federal and state advisory panels on scientific
research and public policy, hoped that this mindset would change.
"I can only hope that the government makes an informed choice and not get
carried away by half-truths," she said. On the controversy over Bt cotton
and corn, Massey said field trials in many parts of India had been
positive but only the negative results got highlighted. "One has to
understand that every farmer and every farm can not have positive results.
The Bt gene protects only against caterpillars, not against rain, drought
or viral diseases...there are so many variables," she said. Quoting recent
studies, she said field experiments in India indicated that with typical
high insect pest infestations, the overall economic benefits from
commercial Bt cotton were likely to be high, ranging from US $75 to 200
Terming the "indecisive stance" of the Indian government as "a critical
phase," Massey cited examples of how China had seen a significant change
in economy with yields increasing from US $250 per year to US $438 per
year after introduction of Bt varieties.
"The risk of technology versus the risk of no technology is not as much in
developed nations as it is in developing countries where agriculture is
the mainstay and losses due to lack of technology could be enormous," she
The biotechnologist, a former Director of the North Carolina Environmental
Technology Consortium and member of many international negotiations of
Biosafety Protocol, said it was time for India to partner with MNCs
instead of seeing them as enemies.
"As long as you are not trading on their domain or vice-versa,
technologies can be shaped up to suit local needs. I hope Indian
scientists come up with interesting varities of transgenics that make
sense for local conditions," she said.
Expressing hope that the global acreage of transgenic crops would grow
manifold from the current 60 million hectares in years to come instead of
falling prey to 'unreasonable and unfair rationale', Massey said small
crops and farmers must now be encouraged to venture into transgenics to
reap the economic and environmental benefits of technology.
Feeding the Masses
- Robert Wager, The Globe and Mail (Canada) Letter to the Editor
The letter by Omer Riza suggests we have no idea what effects the planting
of genetically modified crops will have on biodiversity (Who Needs GM
Crops? - Oct. 22). In fact, food biotechnology crops are studied at least
10 times as thoroughly as conventional plants before they are allowed to
The world's population will reach nine billion in the next few decades,
and that means we will have to double the amount of food produced. Without
biotechnology, we have no chance of doing this without destroying the
remaining wilderness. Clearly, not adopting well-regulated and studied GM
crops will be a far greater threat to biodiversity.
Blair Pledges 'To Do the Right Thing' on GM Food
- Steve Dube, The Western Mail, Oct 25 2003.
http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk Excerpts below..
Prime minister Tony Blair has insisted the Government is only interested
in doing the right thing over genetically modified food. Speaking in a
week when more than 400 people crowded into a public meeting in Carmarthen
to hear Michael Meacher, the man Mr Blair sacked as environment minister
because of his anti-GM views, the Mr Blair said the Government would not
be swayed by prejudice.
He told MPs any decision to licence the commercial exploitation of GM
crops in Britain would be based purely onscientific evidence. But he
warned banning them could prove costly to British industry. The results of
a three-year field-scale trial of the GM crops, published last week,
showed sugar beet and oilseed rape devastated wildlife, while maize
appeared to be better than conventional crops.
But scientists say the maize trials were botched and will have to be
repeated. Welsh farmers unconvinced by the arguments for and against GM
food can hear two Canadian farmers contest the issue with pro-GM British
farmers at The Royal Welsh Showground at Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, on
But Mr Blair told MPs last Wednesday that the Government had "no interest
one way or another" in the issue. He said, "We will act according to the
scientific evidence and I think the system that we have set up is one that
is robust because it is one that is allowing us to get proper scientific
"For some GM crops there are problems to do with bio-diversity, for others
they say there are fewer such problems. "I know there is a huge campaign
against GM and all the rest of it and to be frank about it the Government
has got no interest in this one way or another, other than to do the right
"But the biotechnology industry is a vital part of this country's
industry. There are many people who believe the whole science of genetics
is going to be the science of the first half of the 21st Century. "There
are other countries piling investment into this area therefore we simply
have to proceed with care.
"So we will proceed according to the science but I do think we should
allow the science, and not prejudice in favour or against, to determine
Dismantling Global Plant Breeding and the Continued Attack on CBD
- Dave Wood (UK), <firstname.lastname@example.org>; AgBioView, Oct 24, 2003.
The Editor of 'Science' (AgBioView October 18th) reports a welcome
re-focus of the CGIAR Agricultural Research Centres on genetics and on the
conservation of genetic resources.
However, lobbyists for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources
for Food and Agriculture (the 'Seed Treaty') are given an unopposed
platform in 'Science' for their continued attacks on the Convention on
Biological Diversity (őCBD‚).
The claim is made that the 'Convention on Biodiversity, in trying to
protect developing-country interests in medicinal plants, is inhibiting
the international collection of genetic resources for agriculture'. This
is not so - and even if it were, there are vast backlogs of unused samples
in most genebanks.
The CBD cannot be blamed for reducing the collection of genetic resources.
Major international collecting was collapsing long before the CBD. Major
genebanks were 'stuffed' with samples (far more than could be used), and
funding for collecting had fallen (I was there at the time, managing a
CGIAR genebank). Significantly, the forerunner of what became the NGO
biopiracy campaign certainly did reduce collection. In contrast to this
damaging NGO campaign, the CBD was not a cause of any reduction, but an
ongoing attempt to maintain collecting that was already collapsing.
And before we move crop genetic resources out of the CBD in response to
scare-mongering lobbies, we must make sure that the alternative, the Seed
Treaty, is workable. Unfortunately, the Seed Treaty is shaping-up to be a
shambles, with important crops and wild relatives left out, a built-in
certainty of discrimination against some countries, and an attempt to
apply legislation retroactively to CGIAR collections.
Even within UN FAO, the parent of the Seed Treaty, FAO staff claim the
Treaty is a mess that will direct funding away from essential plant
breeding towards hyper-conservation. Also, within the CGIAR, germplasm
managers recognize that they will be unable to implement the unworkable
Article 15.1.a. of the Treaty that forces them to discriminate against the
very countries that freely gave samples to the CGIAR over a thirty-year
This sensible view of hands-on genetic resource managers in the CGIAR is
in marked contrast to the anti-CBD rhetoric of the tiny number of CGIAR
staff with no experience of germplasm management who are attempting to
transfer hitherto free-access CGIAR collections into an ill-defined future
('Biodiversity treaty called disastrou', The Scientist, September 10,
2003). Hopefully, a backlash from the various Governing Boards of the
still independent CGIAR institutes against this extensive and expensive
lobbying (who pays?) could still maintain unrestricted access to their
deposited samples for the many countries that do not wish to join the
misconceived Seed Treaty.
What are the problems with the Seed Treaty? Benefit-sharing under the Seed
Treaty will be an 'anti-commons' nightmare - far worse than negotiating
licenses for IP protected products. There will be countries in the Treaty
and not in; there will be crops in and not in (these include groundnut,
soybean and many wild relatives); there will be advanced lines not in the
Treaty (which only covers 'public domain' samples) that will be used for
future breeding. There will be confusion over whether samples are covered
by the CBD or the Seed Treaty (or not at all). After several generations
of crossing between a wide diversity of parents it will be a lawyers'
picnic deciding who benefits from use of the final variety. And the main
benefit-sharing mechanism up to now - free access to international public
goods - will be jeopardized as institutes and nations have to pay for use
of their own samples.
Indeed, the planned benefit-sharing mechanism of the Seed Treaty is
remarkably like a patent system: free access to information (and samples)
but payment for actual use of the information and samples.
Also, faced with having to pay themselves for access to and use of
hitherto free global collections, the USA and other nations with major
national genebanks may with justice decide to charge for access to their
hitherto freely-accessible and extremely valuable collections. Added to
the planned restricted access to CGIAR collections, this would be a
disaster for crop breeders in developing countries. Was this foreseen by
RAFI and its sponsors?
There is a further danger, specifically to the much-needed spread of GM
crops in developing countries. Such was the level of anti-GM lobbying
during Treaty negotiations, the world scientific community will need
assurances that samples obtained from Treaty sources will not be subject
to over-restrictive conditions on use. The future of plant breeding is
under threat by the as-yet-undefined rules of the Seed Treaty.
How did the fiasco of the Seed Treaty come about? Let's reminisce. Twenty
years ago RAFI argued for the need for new structures to manage genetic
resources (Mooney, P. 1983. The law of the seed: another development and
plant genetic resources. Development Dialogue 1983:1-2, pp. 1-173).
Specifically, RAFI suggested (pp. 171-2) that the 'old IBPGR should be
brought directly under the control of FAO and the International Convention
[now the Seed Treaty] as the operational arm of genetic conservation.'
RAFI further advised that there should be an international fund.
This was whistling into the wind twenty years ago, but ten years later, in
1993, when the CBD endorsed national sovereignty over genetic resources,
elements of RAFI's proposals suddenly became attractive. Here was an
off-the-peg alternative to the CBD, and a way of by-passing national
sovereignty endorsed by the CBD.
Around 1993, IBPGR became IPGRI. The Global Conservation Trust (GCT)
established by IPGRI in 2002 was the exact International Fund foreseen by
RAFI. By 2003 the GCT had become the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) -
with substantially the same mandate as IBPGR nearly thirty years before,
but now with perpetual funding. The Director of IPGRI left to become the
Interim Secretary of the GCDT.
Sometime after 1993, Cary Fowler, once on the staff of the Rural
Advancement Fund (which became RAFI and now ETC), moved into a senior
position in FAO, and subsequently became Senior Advisor to IPGRI and
therefore to the entire CGIAR in negotiations for the Seed Treaty in the
FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources. Fowler subsequently became
technical advisor to the GCT. If this was RAFI planning to place a staffer
into key places (and we can never be sure), it was brilliantly successful.
Yet one problem with RAFI‚s grand design of 1983 was that IBPGR did not
actually control any significant genetic resource collections. However,
sometime after 1993, under pressure and inducement from the central
command of the CGIAR in the World Bank, the individual CGIAR Research
Centres began to lose policy control over their collections, first to
IPGRI and then to the FAO, initially through an agreement that at the time
I called suicidal for the CGIAR, an agreement which was urgently pressed
on the CGIAR by Pat Mooney of RAFI.
Back to where we came in: the overt anti-CBD agenda now reported in the
It seems that RAFI has almost succeeded in its twenty-year agenda, both in
separating the CGIAR breeders from their collections and also in erecting
walls to the hitherto free access to CGIAR samples, permitted under the
CBD, but compromised by the Seed Treaty. The anti-technology and
anti-development nature of this agenda is now crystal clear.
Fortunately for global food security, this tangled web is unraveling.
There are signs that some countries are already inventing around the
future restrictions of the Seed Treaty. Terms of access under the Treaty
still need defining. One mechanism to protect national interests is for
gene-rich countries such as Peru and Ethiopia to join the Seed Treaty
early. They then can influence the crucial meeting of the Treaty Governing
Board that will define the standard levels of future payment for use of
Treaty samples. If these are set high - for example, at 10% of commercial
value of the crop derived from samples - gene-rich countries can then back
out of the Treaty (permitted by the rules) and then undercut the Treaty by
allowing bilateral access to their valuable national samples for, say, 8%
of commercial value. In this way gene-rich countries can avoid sharing the
benefits with gene-poor Treaty members such as Palau and Seychelles,
which, under the voting rules, will have an equal vote with the gene-rich
countries on benefit-sharing, yet will contribute nothing.
Also, there is some sign that the CGIAR Research Centres, which still have
legal control over their collections through their independent Boards, are
coming to their senses. The CGIAR Centres, including IRRI, CIMMYT and
ICRISAT, should now decidedly not place their institutional collections
within the Seed Treaty unless each and every past donor of samples
specifically agrees to forego the national sovereignty over samples
endorsed by the CBD. A system of bilateral benefits to countries of
origin is now possible and is far preferable to the NGO-influenced
disaster that the Seed Treaty will become.
The naēve funders of the Global Crop Diversity Trust such as Australia and
Switzerland should be aware that they are unwittingly funding in
perpetuity a re-run of IBPGR of 1975. Then as now they should know that
IPGRI, the GCDT, and the Seed Treaty cannot deliver the value of genetic
resources to those who need it most: this can best be done through
varietal improvement Ų a skill of institutional breeders who are
increasing relying on biotechnology and who certainly do not now need the
cast-off-shoes of obsolete varieties. (Talk of varieties becoming
őextinct‚ is fatuous: for many crops any decent farmer can generate dozens
of new varieties a year).
At taxpayers' expense we now have three Rome-based institutes 'managing'
crop genetic resources: IPGRI, with a $30million a year budget; the GCDT
with a fund target of $260million; and the Seed Treaty, with a future fund
that will tax food production globally. This is a victory for distorted
public relations and fund-raising spin, bleeding funds from plant breeding
needed for future food security.
The imperfections of the CBD should be repaired, rather than sabotaged by
those wishing to make a future career with the GCDT or within the
bureaucratic complexities of the Seed Treaty. And as noted by the
'Science' editorial, far greater effort is needed in plant breeding,
particularly of crops important to developing countries. The real heroes
-- plant breeders in CGIAR institutes and national programmes in
developing countries - deserve far greater support in their battle for
I recently visited northern Nigeria and spent several happy days in the
field with farmers. I was delighted to see the advances in cowpea breeding
by the CGIAR institute IITA, working with national collaborators and with
the enthusiastic support of a wide range of farm families. It is this type
of 'at-the-coal-face' plant breeding that will ensure future food security
and human prosperity, rather than yet more conservation of obsolete and
discarded varieties promoted by institutions, lobbyists, and NGOs firmly
located in developed countries.
Yet in the days I was there, another CGIAR institute, ICRISAT, closed its
Nigerian operations and paid off staff through lack of funds. ICRISAT has
a global responsibility for breeding sorghum and groundnut, staple crops
in the semi-arid areas of northern Nigeria.
Those promoting genetic resource conservation at the obvious expense of
plant breeding now have a lot to answer for.
From Prakash: Dave Wood has worked earlier at CIAT, Colombia and other
USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture;
-Federal Register, Vol. 68, No, 205: Oct. 23, 2003; wais.access.gpo.gov
The Agricultural Research Service is requesting nominations for qualified
persons to serve as members of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on
Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). The charge for the AC21
is two-fold: to examine the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S.
food and agriculture system and USDA; and to provide guidance to USDA on
pressing individual issues, identified by the Office of the Secretary,
related to the application of biotechnology in agriculture.
DATES: Written nominations must be received by fax or postmarked on or
before November 24, 2003.
ADDRESSES: All nomination materials should be sent to Michael Schechtman,
Designated Federal Official, Office of the Deputy Secretary, USDA, 202B
Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW.,
Questions should be addressed to Michael Schechtman, Designated Federal
Official, telephone (202) 720-3817; fax (202) 690-4265; e-mail
email@example.com. To obtain form AD-755 ONLY please contact
Dianne Harmon, Office of Pest Management Policy, telephone (202)
720-4074, fax (202) 720-3191; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
AC21 members serve staggered 2-year terms, with terms for half of the
Committee members expiring in any given year. Nominations are being sought
for open Committee seats. The terms of 9 members of the AC21 will expire
in early 2004. The AC21 Charter allows for flexibility to appoint up to a
total of 11 members. Members can be reappointed to serve up to 6
GM Crops Lead to AgriChemicals Job Loss....
'BASF Tightens Belt'
- Michael Baker, The Facts, Oct. 25, 2003
Freeport, Texas -- "As many as 60 local BASF employees could be out of
work by the beginning of next year as part of the plant's cost-cutting
"BASF employs about 670 permanent employees and 250 contractors, she said.
Eliminations will begin late this year and continue through the beginning
of next year, Rogers said." "The news came about two months after BASF‚s
Beaumont agricultural plant announced it was cutting its 230-person
workforce by 15 percent between October and May 31.
Plant officials there said the cuts were necessary because genetically
modified herbicide-resistant crops had decreased demand for the
chemical-based crop protection products the site produces."
Africa and the GM Revolution
- A Harvest.net (Kenya) http://www.ahbfi.org/newspaper/firstquart14.htm
It is a foregone conclusion that biotechnology is causing a silent
revolution in the world. Farmers have embraced the new technology because
it makes them more efficient and protects or increases - yields and
reduces their reliance on chemicals. Globally, there are over 100 million
acres of biotechnology-enhanced crops in more than a dozen countries.
The debate on biotechnology and its impact on Africa - thanks to
anti-biotech propaganda is threatened with stagnation. The issue is not
whether to adopt biotechnology. Most African governments have jumped this
psychological huddle; their headache is how to adopt biotechnology into
their agricultural systems. Africa is already in the biotechnology
revolution, the question is how to address substantive matters related
safety, technology-specific issues, policiesand institutions required to
maximize the benefitsand minimize risks associated with genetic
Biotechnology is already having a major impact on agricultural and public
policies from a continental level. Last year, 41 African countries came
together under the umbrella of the Forum for Agricultural Research in
Africa (FARA) and immediately adopted biotechnology as one of its key
goals. Less than a year later, the African Council of Agricultural
Ministers, meeting under the New Economic Partnership for African
Development (Nepad) have recognized FARA as its technical arm on
Although African policy-makers and scientists should consider sensible
input from those opposed to biotechnology, they must forge ahead by
urgently identifying specific areas of in which their countries should
focus on. Debate must shift to the nature of innovative policies and laws
to regulate the application of genetic engineering to ensure that its
risks are reduced. Other important areas of focus include mapping global
trends in biotechnology, the socio-economic benefits of biotechnology, and
the role of intellectual property protection in promoting the transfer of
safe biotechnology techniques and products to Africa.
Africa's true friends must support the continent build necessary expertise
to engage in the formulation and implementation of long-term biotechnology
policies and laws. We (Africans) must desist from knee-jerk reaction to
political and ethical issues being raised by anti-biotechnology lobbies
around the world. The continent must develop a critical mass of expertise
in biotechnology policy analysis who will guide an African biotech agenda.
It is time we realized that we have a comparative advantage in
biotechnology; this includes our enormous genetic diversity and prior
scientific knowledge in agriculture. African leaders must now move fast to
lay down technology policies that enhance the continent's comparative
A Short Course on "Junk Science Judo"
Junkscience.com - All the junk that's fit to debunk
"Junk science" is faulty scientific data and analysis used to used to
further a special agenda. The junk science "mob" includes: * Media *
Personal Injury Lawyers * Social Activists * Government Regulators *
Businesses * Politicians * Individual Scientists * Individuals
In this short course, you will learn about what junk science is, how to
recognize it and what you can do about it. The course is computer-driven
and should take you no more than 15-20 minutes to complete.
Of course, no short course in Junk Science Judo can substitute for the
wealth of information that you'll find in the "Junk Science Judo" book.
However, you'll at least get a good start in understanding how to build up
your self-defense against junk science. Ready? Let's go....
Bioethics Needs a Distinct Voice If It Is to Aid Science
- Nature v.425, p.763, Oct. 23, 2003
Sir -- Paul Copland in his Correspondence "Science and ethics must not be
separated" (Nature 425, 121; 2003) argues that ethics is an integral part
of science and therefore the two must not be separated. But I believe that
we should distinguish between separation (which is necessary to allow for
the development of expertise) and the use of unscientific approaches
(which can make communication with scientists impossible).
Scientists should therefore not argue against the establishment of the
philosophical discipline of bioethics; rather, they should welcome it.
What science should argue for is a 'scientific' rather than a dogmatic
approach in the humanities, and specifically in bioethics.
Philosophically, perhaps the biggest achievement of science is the
abandonment of dogmatism and the acceptance that all scientific knowledge
can potentially be changed by new data and new insights. Similarly,
scientists should request from scholars in the humanities that they
abandon any "ill-defined 'personal philosophy' and 'gut feeling'" and open
themselves to an informed search for the better argument.
It is naive to believe that the views of scientists (especially those
directly involved in discoveries) would be more objective than those of
The problem with science is that we often do not know the answers for
certain. Will stem-cell research develop a cure for Parkinson's disease?
Will transgenic crops pose any risk at all? And therefore we can only
present data, which then form the basis of non-scientific decisions. There
is no reason to assume that scientists would be better equipped to make
these decisions than non-scientists.
The fact that bioethics has developed as a discipline distinct from
science simply reflects the reality that, unfortunately, most scientists
do not have the time to become experts in the philosophy of science and
We should therefore not fight the development of a philosophical
discipline of bioethics, but should ensure that the approaches the
discipline takes are scientific and undogmatic.
- Alfons Lawen, Dept of Biochemistry and Mol Biology, Monash University,
Victoria 3800, Australia
Bioethics: Role of Religion Cannot be Ignored
- Nature v.425, p.763, Oct. 23, 2003
Sir -- I agree with P. Copland, who wrote in Correspondence ("Science and
ethics must not be separated" Nature 425, 121; 2003) that as scientists we
are in a "privileged position" to acquire and interpret scientific
information and its ethical implications. But with this privilege comes
the responsibility to listen carefully to the concerns of the wider
community, whether its members understand developmental biology or not.
Otherwise, we risk marginalization in the bioethics debate.
As scientists we are clever enough to know that our articulation of
scientific ingenuity to non-scientists increases cash flow for biomedical
research. To insist, as Copland does, that these same benefactors are
unqualified to grapple with complex bioethical issues is incorrect.
Societal ethics cannot be conveniently separated from religion when most
members of society derive their ethics from religious sources. Indeed,
whether scientists think such sources are important or not is completely
irrelevant; the religious contribution to ethical debate cannot simply be
-- Stephen J. McSorley, Univ of Connecticut Health Center, Dept of
Agricultural Biotechnology and Policy Processes in Developing Countries
Modern agricultural biotechnology has profound implications for global and
local agricultural and food systems, and for the livelihoods of farmers in
the developed and developing worlds. The actual consequences will depend
on the pathways along which the technology is developed and applied in
The implications may be positive or negative; but the outcomes are not
predetermined and are not inherent in biotechnology itself. On the
contrary: the outcomes will depend on issues of governance - the policy
and regulatory choices of governments, scientists, companies and others.
The policy processes surrounding new agricultural biotechnologies involve
a wide range of actors holding diverse interests, including scientists,
government officials, international organisations, local and transnational
companies, farmers' organisations, consumers, environmentalists and
development campaigners, among others.
These policy processes occur at different scales, ranging from local
negotiations about priorities for agricultural technology, to global
debates concerning trade, property rights, biosafety regulation and the
protection of biodiversity.
Globalisation and technology. Given the rapid pace of technological
change, the pace of economic globalisation and the changing international
context for regulation, the development of effective national and local
policy processes is a major challenge for all countries, and especially
for countries of the South. And yet, it is a vitally important goal, if we
are to ensure that appropriate, coherent, effective and legitimate
policies and regulations are adopted and implemented.
Unless we can take steps to make policy processes better informed, more
inclusive and responsive, there is a serious risk that agricultural
biotechnology could, not only fail to deliver the promised benefits for
agriculture and poor farmers, but even expose such farmers to heightened
risks and undermine their livelihoods.
However, relatively little work has been undertaken to examine how these
local, national and international policy processes work in practice, and
especially the linkages between the three levels. Most importantly, there
has been a lack of critical attention to the ways in which the policy
processes connecting local, national and international levels can be made
more inclusive and responsive to the needs of normally less powerful
groups, so that the emerging policies and regulations support the
livelihood needs of poor people in developing countries.
The work described in these pages makes up a three year programme of
interlinked research projects examining these issues, from various
perspectives and including case studies of the situation in four
developing countries: China, India, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
A Stride to Biotechnology: Bangladesh Included in USAID-funded Consortium
- Reaz Ahmad, Daily Star (Bangladesh),
Bangladesh has taken a step towards biotechnology -- with the lure of
crops enriched with vitamins or resistant to certain pests -- by the
country's inclusion in a consortium funded by the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID).
Enthusiastic officials say that recently developed "Golden Rice" enriched
with vitamin A, and new varieties of rice, eggplant and potatoes resistant
to major pests are already in their sights. Next in line for possible
development, according to Dr R H Sarker, a professor of botany at Dhaka
University, are "salt-tolerant rice, fungus-resistant jute,
virus-resistant papaya and tomato, and hybrid mustard."
The possibility of such crop adaptations were discussed at a USAID-funded
workshop in Dhaka recently. Agricultural scientists had added two daffodil
genes and a gene from a bacterium to Bangladesh's most productive rice
variety, BRRI Dhan-29, to increase its vitamin A content. It is the use of
"foreign genes" from different plants or even from animals and fish that
differentiates biotechnology from traditional plant breeding.
And it is the contested health and environmental consequences of this new
approach, to produce what are known as transgenic crops and genetically
modified (GM) food, that is causing worldwide controversy and a
potentially damaging trade clash between the pro-GM United States and the
predominantly anti-GM European Union.
Critics' fears include genes "escaping" into the environment and cross
pollinating with other crops, with as yet unknown effects, and the fact
that many are designed to be used in conjunction with specific and
powerful chemicals that may have a deleterious impact on insects and
birds. Last week, scientists said that two of the three GM crops grown
experimentally in Britain appeared more harmful to the environment than
conventional crops and should not be grown in the UK. It was also
disclosed that insurance companies are refusing cover for farmers in
Britain considering growing GM crops or for conventional farmers anxious
to insure against GM contamination of their crops.
In Bangladesh, safety issues will be the concern of a long promised but
still to be established National Committee on Biosafety of Bangladesh. It
would be the committee's job, for example, to give the go-ahead to the
"Golden Rice" developed by Dr Swapan K Datta, a plant biotechnologist at
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.
An application for permission to set up "Golden Rice" trials has been made
by the Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Dr NI
Bhuiyan, to the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication
Technology. Ministry of Environment official Dr Mahfuzul Haq told this
correspondent that the government was making every effort to get the
regulatory system in place.
Regulation was vital, said Subhash Chandra Dasgupta, a Senior Programme
Officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, to ensure
that no harmful alien genes found their way into Bangladesh agriculture.
The careful approach was also underlined by Agriculture Minister MK Anwar
recently, when he said: "We'll encourage biotechnology but we'll do so
very cautiously having regard to the safety regulations and remaining
conscious about the limitations of the science and harmful effects, if
there are any."
Many people are keen to move forward with the new technology, believing it
could be boost agriculture here. Syed Sarwar Hossain, agriculture
specialist at the Dhaka office of the United States Department of
Agriculture, told this correspondent that if the new transgenic eggplant
cut the use of pesticides, farmers would go for it. The heavy doses of
pesticides currently applied to the crop pose serious health hazards, he
Sudhir Chandra Nath, general manager (agriculture) of Bangladesh Rural
Advancement Committee (Brac), commented, "It's obvious that nobody in
Bangladesh would accept harmful GMOs, but there is no harm if we can reap
benefit from new technology."
The general manager of East West Seeds (Bangladesh) Limited, Dr Gul
Hossain, told The Daily Star, "We're ready for trials of transgenic crops
under greenhouse conditions if the genetic engineering technology is
transferred to our country" under the consortium agreement with USAID,
which also embraces India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Explaining the new consortium, Charles Uphaus, immediate past director of
the Office of Economic Growth, Food and Environment at USAID in
Bangladesh, said: "Our view is that scientists and the public in the
developing world should have the opportunity to assess and decide for
themselves whether to avail themselves of this new technology." Cornell
University of the US will manage the consortium. It will work with Brac to
facilitate research and development programmes under the new project in
Why Biotechnology is Bad for Pakistan Agriculture
- Farzana Panhwar
In 1997 Pakistan population was 137.8 millions out of which 65% population
lived in the rural areas where the main profession of the people is
agriculture or its related fields. The biotechnology at micro level will
completely eliminate the small poor farmers from their jobs and at the
same time this will also effect on rural indigenous communities working
with hand operated tools. It will also indirectly affect the Government
and general public.
In rural areas where literacy rate is only 66%, these people do farming by
using indigenous knowledge and life long practical experience.
Biotechnology in the beginning will increase the gap between rich and poor
because only rich farmers will be able to purchase seeds, while the poor
farmers do not have money to purchase copyright seeds and even if he takes
loan to purchase in one year, he will not be able to invest next year. The
same gap will increase between the small and large farmers the small
farmers will very soon be pushed out but middle and large farmers may be
able to use biotechnology and use these specially designed crops with
special features, but they would need specially trained staff and proper
management which are beyond the control of most farmers of Pakistan and
even the rich.
Land Reforms in Pakistan have limited land holdings, which are too small
for biotechnological economics and management. This way the whole farming
business will ends into hands of big corporations which will run
agriculture on new lines in Pakistan eliminating the world farmer.
Biotechnology will also destroy the indigenous cultural practices and
alternative farming practices which are 'close to the nature' and
environment-friendly, like permaculture, organic and sustainable
agriculture. When these rural farmers goes out from their business, they
can not be absorbed as urban labour due to already glut, over population
and urban environment. This will change the society‚s structure.
At Macro-level not only farming community will be effected but at the same
time pharmaceutical, fertiliser industries will be effect directly and
secondary effect will be on research, training and educational
institutions, to provide new kind of education and training to make
biotechnology effect. It will be difficult for Pakistan to cope up with
such training and education as at present they are no trained scientists
in universities or research and extension departments. Like tissue
culture, mechanised harvesting, computer based post-harvesting equipment,
sprinkler, trickle irrigation, new kind of weed killing machines and
training required not only to run them but also to assemble and repair
them. This will change the technical force, since most of machinery need
to imported it will change economic forces. This system will break the old
rural family tradition that only one person in family earns and remaining
5-6 members of the family share his earning. In new technology every one
needs to work and earn, then only they will be able to survive. The
controlled by World organisations like WTO and GATT means acceptance
international laws and policies, which would change the political
situation in Pakistan. Since Pakistan does have to germplasm and raw
materials which will be utilised by scientists abroad and if Pakistan
persists to get a copy rights, the natural forces in Pakistan will also
At macro level this technology will widen the gap between the Developed
and Developing countries. Because Pakistan is lacking technical know how,
we have to import this technology. We have to import not only the
equipment but also trained staff, and newly created big corporations will
hire labour forces from the country, which is cheap but numbers employed
will be too small. This way Pakistan‚s will be ruined specially the
farmers and at the same times all other related business will also be
The biotechnology in agriculture will show direct and indirect effects
while biotechnology in medicine, mineral, fuel energy, bio-fertiliser and
animal husbandry will also produce similar situation.
The advance technologies are appreciation and these are necessity of life
but this will bring the gap between rich and poor and also more widening
the gap between the North and South and then Drawn‚s laws of Survival of
the fittest will repeat. Who so ever is absorbed in the system, will
survive and remaining will perish. I am a farmer and see that the worst
time will come but this process on a small scale has already started in
Pakistan and no one can guess its exact shape in future.
Comments From Prakash:
In essence, what Ms. Panhwar is saying here is that Pakistani farmers are
too poor and illiterate, and that she would like them to remain that way
by shunning any technologies that would help them get out of this
situation. She is also worried that many farmers would take benefit from
these technologies and thus become prosperous. Is her prescription of
'close to nature' farming the right path?
It is sad that intellectuals in the developing countries find it avant
garde to become development-bashers and sing along the acopalyptic tunes
of socialism (See Michael Meacher below...). Ms. Panhwar just needs to
look north at China to see how even a communist nation has discovered the
virtues of economic freedom and technologies to uplift 400 million of its
poor into prosperity in the past two decades. Pakistan can also look at
its giant nemesis across the border to see how India is wriggling out of
the socialist darkness into relative prosperity.
I suggest a compulsory reading of Fredereich A. Hayek's classic "The Road
to Serfdom" as a beginning therapy. See at the bottom.
The Planet's Polluters Should Be Put In the Dock
'Only a world environment court can curb capitalism's excesses'
-Michael Meacher, The Guardian, Oct. 25, 2003
Unseen by most, our world is being transformed at an exponential rate. It
is a process driven by unfettered industrial exploitation, growing
technological control, soaring population growth and now climate change,
the effects of which open up an apocalyptic scenario for the human race.
Man's ecological footprint is now outpacing many of the natural phenomena
that govern our world. Indeed, we have almost become our own geophysical
cycle. Our biological carbon productivity is now exceeded only by the
krill in the oceans. Our civil engineering works shift more soil each year
than all the world's rivers bring to the seas. Our industrial emissions
eclipse the total emissions from all the world's volcanoes. We are
bringing about species loss on a scale of some of the massive natural
extinctions of palaeohistory. We are altering the nitrogen cycle. Even in
the remotest parts of the world, contaminants like lead and DDT appear in
the food chain.
The ravages are there for all to see. Some 420 million people live in
countries that no longer have enough crop land to grow their own food.
Half a billion people live in regions prone to chronic drought. By 2025
that number is likely to have increased fivefold. Deserts are likely to
become hotter. Marine ecosystems are at risk, including salt-water
marshes, mangroves, coastal wetlands and coral reefs. In 1998, the hottest
year on record, large areas of forest burned down after prolonged drought.
By 2050 it is projected that the Amazon will have died back.
Shifts away from equilibrium unlock other changes that interact with the
original shifts and grossly magnify their effects until the whole process
spirals out of control and makes our planet uninhabitable.
All these threats are being exacerbated by population pressures. It took
around 150,000 years for the world population to reach 1 billion in 1804.
It took another 123 years to reach 2 billion in 1927. It then took only 14
years to reach 3 billion, a further 14 years to reach 4 billion, 13 years
to reach 5 billion, and just 12 years to reach 6 billion. The UN projects
global population to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050, by which time almost 90%
of the world's people would live in developing countries. The pressures
that this exerts on the environment is scarcely calculable.
What can be done? Clearly, what is needed is a framework of international
law that permits the operation of free trade and a competitive world
economy, but only within parameters strictly drawn to safeguard our
planet. No such system of international environmental governance exists at
present, and none is being seriously pursued. The realpolitik in the world
economy is a powerfully deregulatory one. The first stirrings of
resistance to this rightwing corporate hegemony are being seen in the
anti-globalisation movement, but this has yet to be translated into a
coherent alternative ideology.
Michael Meacher was environment minister from 1997-2003. This is an edited
version of a lecture he will deliver today at the Victoria Rooms in
'The Road to Serfdom' by F. A. Hayek
- Amazon.com $9.48; Paperback: 274 pages; First pub.1944; Univ of Chicago
This book was nothing short of brilliant. Written in a time when
intellectuals in Britain were studying the Nazi totalitarian phenomena
close up, it addresses complex issues and tackles them head on. Winston
Churchill was greatly affected by reading this book.
The leftist philosophy of economic determinism says that crime and
corruption will be greater where the disparity between rich and poor is
greater. This is what they use to explain why Africa is rife with wars,
genocidal dictators, and cycles of conflict, coups, and massacres. How
then can they explain how Germany enacted the great socialist dream only
to rapidly spiral into the mad imperialist war machine responsible for 20
million deaths or more?
Hayek examines the questions surrounding a command economy versus a
relatively unregulated free market economy. He talks about social justice
versus blind justice, using quotes from ancients and his contemporaries.
He explains the failure of socialism that was much more brilliant than any
spew ever scribbled by Marx. No one listened, but he was right. The left
continues to ignore facts, but they are here to see. This is a must read
for all people entering the twenty first century. Hundreds of copies
should be sent to every high school in Europe, and America, and China.
- The Ultimate Advocacy of Freedom as a Political Philosophy, January 14,
2003 ; Reviewer: solaarus from Valley Stream, NY