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March 29, 2004


World Food Prize for African and Chinese Rice Breeders ; The God Effect; Hungry Angolans Deprived Food; Sowing Seeds of Doubt; Big Green Lies


Today in AgBioView SUNDAY from www.agbioworld.org - March 30, 2004:

* Chinese and African Scientists Win the 2004 World Food Prize
* The God Effect - Objecting to science on religious grounds..
* Father of 'Green Revolution' Derides Organic Movement
* Ban on Genetically Altered Food Threatens Hungry Angolans
* 'Quote of the Week' in Organic Consumer Newsletter
* Philippines: Scientists Assail Norwegian Expert on GMO Findings
* Australia: Bracks Sowing GM Seeds of Doubt
* GM Frustration Not Surprising
* The Seeds of Concern or Contamination of Editorial Mind?
* Food for Thought: Is This GM?
* Results of Indian Bt Cotton Survey
* Big Green Lies


Chinese and African Scientists Win the 2004 World Food Prize

'Path-breaking Rice Breeders Celebrated for Developing Innovative Rice Technologies'


Washington DC - The announcement of the co-winners of the $250,000 World Food Prize took place during a U.S. State Department ceremony with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf on Monday, March 29, hosted by Under Secretary of State Alan Larson. The 2004 World Food Prize Laureates are:
Professor Yuan Longping of China, Director-General of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Changsha, Hunan, China. Dr. Monty Jones of Sierra Leone, former senior rice breeder at the West Africa Rice Development Center (WARDA), presently Executive Secretary, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), in Accra, Ghana.

In announcing these recipients, World Food Prize President, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, lauded both scientists for their "breakthrough scientific achievements which have significantly increased food security for millions of people from Asia to Africa." The Ambassador added that it was particularly fitting that these two pioneering rice breeders be honored during the United Nations International Year of Rice, the crop identified as the staple diet of more than three billion people around the world.

Professor Yuan has been selected a co-recipient of The World Food Prize for his breakthrough achievement in the early 1970s in developing the genetic tools necessary for hybrid rice breeding, known as a three-line system. His achievement led to the world's first successful and widely grown high-yielding hybrid rice varieties with yields 20 percent above conventional varieties. His altering of the self-pollinating characteristic of rice made large-scale farming of hybrid rice possible. These achievements dramatically increased rice yields and grain output in China, providing food to feed an additional 60 million people each year. His approach is now being adapted to many other countries in Asia and around the world.

Dr. Jones has been selected a co-recipient of The World Food Prize for developing in the 1990s the "New Rice for Africa" (NERICA), uniquely adapted to the growing conditions of West Africa, by successfully crossing the Asian O. sativa with the African O. glaberrima strains to produce drought and pest resistant, high yielding new rice varieties, a feat which had not been achieved before in the history of rice breeding. His accomplishment is already producing enhanced harvests for thousands and thousands of poor farmers, most of them women, with potential benefit for 20 million farmers in West Africa alone.

The citations for The World Food Prize 2004 Laureates read as follows:

Professor Yuan Longping: Professor Yuan's breakthrough scientific achievement led to the world's first successful and widely grown hybrid rice varieties, revolutionizing rice cultivation in China and tripling production over a generation. His approach to rice breeding then spread internationally throughout Asia and to Africa and the Americas, providing food for tens of millions and leading to his becoming known as the "Father of Hybrid Rice."

Dr. Monty Jones: Working in the most difficult environments, Dr. Jones led a pioneering effort at WARDA to develop New Rice for Africa (NERICA). In an unprecedented achievement, he recaptured the genetic potential of ancient African rices by combining African and Asian rice species, dramatically increasing yields, and offering great hope to millions of poor farmers as a catalyst for agricultural transformation in West Africa.

The World Food Prize will be formally presented to Professor Yuan and Dr. Jones at a ceremony on October 14, 2004 in the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. The ceremony will be held as part of The World Food Prize International Symposium, "From Asia to Africa: Rice, Biofortification and Enhanced Nutrition."


Scientists from China, Sierra Leone Win World Food Prize

- David Gollust, U. S. State Department, 29 Mar 2004, 22:28 UTC

Scientists from China and Sierra Leone have been named co-winners of this year's World Food Prize for pioneering work on hybrid rice varieties. The awards were announced Monday at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The co-winners, China's Yuan Longping and Monty Jones of Sierra Leone, worked on separate but complementary research projects that produced new strains of hybrid rice that have improved crop yields in developing countries.

Professor Yuan, director of China's National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Hunan, was cited for what was termed his "breakthrough achievement" for hybrid rice-breeding in the 1970s that led to the world's first widely grown varieties.

Sierra Leone's Dr. Jones, now the executive secretary of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa in Accra, Ghana, was honored for developing the so-called "New Rice for Africa", a cross between Asian and African strains that is both pest-resistant and able to withstand drought conditions.

The two scientists will divide a $250,000 cash award that will be formally presented to them in ceremonies in October in Des Moines, Iowa. Announcement of the prize, given annually since 1987 by the World Food Prize Foundation, came at a State Department gathering of diplomats, leaders of non-governmental aid organizations and government officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Powell told the audience that because of advances such as those by Dr. Jones and Professor Yuan, famine in the 21st century is "entirely preventable" yet it still stalks millions of people, especially in the Horn of Africa. He said the Bush administration is "strongly committed" to continuing America's status as the world's leading supplier of emergency food aid and has actively embraced the 1996 World Food Summit goal of reducing by half the number of chronically hungry people in the world by 2015.

The secretary of state said progress toward the goal is lagging but he said with tenacity and technology, the promotion of good governance and growth-oriented aid programs, the struggle against hunger can be won. "In the 21st century, no man, woman or child should know the agony of hunger. By recognizing the successes of those on the front lines of the fight against hunger, as we do today, we reinforce the message that the fight against hunger is a fight the world can win. And win we will, and win we must," he said.

The World Food Prizes are funded by American philanthropist and businessman John Ruan, with winners chosen by a panel headed by American scientist and Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug, considered the father of the "Green Revolution" for his work in the 1960s on high-yield wheat, attended Monday's event, which came on his 90th birthday.


The God Effect

- Lee M. Silver, Newsweek International, April 5, 2004; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4616347/

'America's religious conservatives aren't the only ones who object to science on spiritual grounds -- so do Europe's Greens. The big winner is Asia'

Many thousands of years ago, most of our ancestors were barely subsisting on whatever food nature provided for them in the form of wild plants and animals. Gradually, humans managed to turn the equation of survival in their favor. They did so by encouraging certain breeds or strains that had obvious advantages -- bigger berries, more productive mammaries -- over less promising varieties. It probably happened at first by accident, and later deliberately, by domestication. The result was to turn weeds into maize, wheat or rice; hairy goats into woolly sheep, and wild oxen into docile milk-producing factories called cows. These and other uses of what we now call genetic modification provided the foundation for every human civilization.

In the last decades of the 20th century, scientists developed techniques of directly altering life's biochemistry, making genetic and cell modification more efficient and predictable. One could argue that these techniques haven't fundamentally altered this age-old practice. But that's not the way many Europeans see it. After years of resisting GM foods, Europe is only this spring allowing them on store shelves with warning labels certain to scare off most consumers. As Europe debates whether to sanction the planting of GM crops on its soil, opponents warn of "contamination" and environmental apocalypse. There's no evidence that currently approved GM foods pose a threat to public health or the environment. So why is opposition so fervent?

For an answer, you need only look across the Atlantic Ocean. President George W. Bush is laissez-faire about GM foods. America's farmers produce them by the ton, and consumers eat them just as fast. Yet when it comes to other areas of biotechnology -- anything that involves human embryos -- the White House is every bit as fervently opposed as the Europeans are to GM foods. Europe and America, divided in so many ways, have come together in one sense: both stand against progress in biotechnology of one form or another.

The parallels go further than many Europeans would care to believe. Europeans like to look down their noses at the religious fundamentalism that is part of Bush's character and political support, but in fact Europe's rejection of GM foods has an equally powerful spiritual component. To many Europeans, genetic engineering is an assault on God's sovereignty or Mother Nature's spirit. They fear a Frankenfood counterattack, just as the fictional Victor Frankenstein's attempt to create life brought forth a monster that ultimately destroyed its creator's world. This type of spiritualism may not hew to any organized religion, but it is based on the Christian linkage between body and soul and between organic substance and spirit.

There's nothing wrong with spiritual convictions. But they should be recognized as such, especially now that Western society is embarking on a course that is already having a detrimental effect on innovation in the biological sciences. In the very countries that spawned the original breakthroughs, innovation has either slowed or stopped completely, because of political resistance. If these were the only countries where such research could take place, biomedical advances would be set back significantly. Fortunately, the scientific world no longer revolves around Western countries. Scientists, money and ideas flow across borders; Asian countries that do not find biotechnology research contentious are the clear beneficiaries. Europe and America, though, could well lose their leadership roles in this important technology.

Stems cells are a case in point. Just six years ago the regenerative power of stem cells isolated from lab-grown embryos raised the possibility of a new generation of medical therapies for a broad range of human diseases including Parkinson's, diabetes and Alzheimer's. At the time, U.S. regulations prohibited the use of federal funds -- about $20 billion for biomedical research -- in experiments involving human embryos. Scientists lobbied for a relaxation in these restrictions, while conservatives wanted to ban all embryo research, even with private funds. To appease his political base, Bush created the Council on Bioethics a month before the 9/11 attacks to advise him on "ethical issues related to advances in biomedical science and technology."

Two and a half years of contentious debate have shown that the council was weighted from the outset toward what mainstream bioethicists consider to be a conservative viewpoint. In February the White House apparently decided even that wasn't enough: it dismissed the two council members who had consistently spoken in favor of biomedical research and replaced them with three new members who had no experience in bioethics. When scientists and bioethicists complained, Leon Kass, the council chairman, fired back in The Washington Post that he was shocked by the "unfounded and false charges of political stacking of the Council."

He's not entirely wrong. In America the battle lines are being drawn between people with radically different spiritual, not just political, beliefs. All three new appointees are fundamentalist Christians. They join at least five other members of the council who have previously written of their conviction that early human embryos -- microscopic clumps of cells
-- are gifts from God ensouled at conception.

Since Darwin, biologists have viewed all living things as variations on a common theme. Indeed, research shows that we human beings share nearly all of our genes with other mammals, and many genes with plants and micro-organisms as well. Yet American conservatives have no problem with the genetic modification of animals and plants because traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine holds that God gives souls only to human beings. Animals and plants are seen as soulless, purely biological entities, to be manipulated as we see fit.

Many left-leaning European intellectuals, in contrast, seem beholden to a different yet equally deep-seated sense of spirituality, one that encompasses all of Mother Nature. There is no other way to explain why so many on the left are so willing to reject all conceivable applications of genetic engineering. Granted, most currently available GM crops provide a benefit to farmers that is invisible to consumers. Granted, large U.S. or multinational corporations have patented much of the current technology (though patents expire after 20 years). And granted, many Europeans are fearful that the dominating influence of American culture could overwhelm the distinctive agriculture and cuisine unique to different European regions (a fear that I share).

But biotechnology, like all technologies, can be applied toward good or ill, profit or not. It has already reduced the use of pesticides and the tilling of farmland, a major cause of soil degradation. Cows have been engineered for resistance to mad-cow disease, and pigs have been made to produce fewer pollutants in their manure. Genetic engineering could make peanuts nonallergenic. And nonprofit organizations could carefully use the technology to increase the nutritional value of crops, add vaccines and reduce the ecological damage of traditional agriculture in underdeveloped countries.

Unfortunately, such nonprofit biotech applications are unlikely to be developed any time soon because the people most supportive of humanitarian efforts--the Europeans--are too busy condemning biotechnology as unnatural. In contrast, many of the same people have no problem with the unregulated production and sale of natural herbal remedies and dietary supplements, some of which (like ephedra) have killed hundreds of people. At least 200 million Americans have eaten GM food over the last decade without a single verified allergic reaction, without even a single GM-caused stomachache.

What is the true basis for the distinction between natural and unnatural? In condemning the application of biotechnology to plants and animals, Britain's Prince Charles said: "I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes man-kind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone." Another spiritual objection, expressed in less explicit language, is enshrined in the Constitution of Switzerland. A 1992 referendum imposes a respect for "the integrity of living organisms" and "the dignity of living nature." A majority of Swiss people seem to believe that their valleys of well-tended meadows, neat farms and grazing cows represent a natural order that must be preserved. Of course, every component of this picture is the result of human intervention into a previous natural order that disappeared long ago.

In another example of left-leaning European spirituality, three Dutch bioethicists have condemned the potential use of bio-technology to create "quasi chickens--genetically engineered humps of living chicken flesh that do nothing but lay eggs." They condemn such technology not because it would cause pain or suffering to any animal, since the whole point is to eliminate the use and abuse of sentient creatures. Rather, they're upset because the creation of vegetative pseudochickens will violate chicken integrity. What could possibly be violated when no animals are harmed or killed? It can only be the imagined spirit of the chicken species. This belief is ironic, because the domesticated chicken bears little resemblance to its wild ancestors.

The spiritual backlash against biotechnology in both America and Europe has pushed political leaders to pass laws greatly restricting R&D. Federally funded American scientists are allowed to work with only 15 or fewer old human-embryo stem-cell lines, all contaminated with mouse cells and unlikely to be very useful. Thousands of scientists have moved to Asia, where they can perform embryo research with few restrictions. These trends suggest that Asia will take the lead in clinical applications of stem-cell research, at least in the short run.

Europe is suffering not only research restrictions but a decline in agricultural competitiveness. Partly because farmers use inefficient non-GM seed, they require ever-larger subsidies to stay afloat. Meanwhile, American farmers have latched onto GM crops as a way to cut down on pesticides, obtain better protection against adverse weather and increase yields. U.S. agricultural firms are luring skilled plant and animal scientists from Europe. For economic reasons, Europe will ultimately be forced to let down its gates to the GM revolution.

While Americans and Europeans wring their hands, Asians benefit from less-cumbersome spiritual beliefs. In Buddhist cultures, spirituality is associated with a sense of consciousness entirely detached from the physical world. Spirits can be imagined as fluid entities that merge and divide within and outside people, animals, plants and inanimate objects. Through this lens, individual embryos are not equated with —indivisible spirits, and biotechnologists don't have the power to interfere in the spiritual world, even if they want to.

Several Asian countries see a golden opportunity. The Chinese government has persuaded many Western-educated expatriate scientists to return to a homeland where research on human embryos is lavishly funded at dozens of laboratories. Separately, in 2003, a Chinese company became the first in the world to win approval for a commercial application of human gene therapy (for a cancer treatment). Government funding helped South Korean scientists to recently clone human embryos for the first time. Singapore is completing a $288 million biotech complex called Biopolis, which will house 2,000 university, government and industry researchers. The country has attracted the British Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, Alan Coleman, from the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, and a new research division of Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

As Asian nations take the lead, the advantages of allowing this research may become clearer to Western cultures. America and Europe may even change their views. If so, globalization would be the savior of both science and people.

Silver is professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton University and author of "Remaking Eden."


Father of 'Green Revolution' Derides Organic Movement

- All Things Considered, National Public Radio, March 26, 2004

Listen to the interview with Borlaug at http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=1794021

NPR's Robert Siegel talks with biologist Norman Borlaug, who turned 90 years old this week, about the "Green Revolution" in agriculture his research helped to spark. Borlaug promoted inorganic fertilizers to create higher yields crops -- and for his efforts at curbing world hunger, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. But today, many environmentalists are challenging the "Green Revolution" and urge a shift back to organic fertilizers. Borlaug says the theories of who he calls "extreme greenies" would be inadequate to feed the world.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris; ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

Green comes in different shades. In the 1960s, population growth in poor countries was booming, farming was inefficient, and many forecast widespread famine. Then the spread of tougher wheat hybrids, irrigation and inorganic fertilizers boosted crop yields in places like India and Pakistan by phenomenal increments. It was called the Green Revolution. And in 1970, its champion, American biologist Norman Borlaug, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

NORRIS: More recently, green has come to signify opposition to inorganic fertilizer, concern about its effect on the water and a preference for more traditional agriculture. It's green vs. green. For the old Green revolutionary Norman Borlaug, his shade of green is the color of humanity's survival through the 20th century. Yesterday he turned 90, and we caught up with him in the kind of place where he's done his life's
work: the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Obregon, Mexico.

SIEGEL: Dr. Borlaug, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and happy birthday.

Dr. NORMAN BORLAUG (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center): Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: Now back in 1970, the Green Revolution was seen as almost an undisputed good. Today it's different. Today we hear people complaining about the extent of the reliance on inorganic fertilizer or what it does to water tables. First of all, have you made any re-evaluation of what you did based on what people who count themselves as green nowadays say, or are they simply missing the point?

Dr. BORLAUG: Of course, we continue to make re-evaluations. And it's as simple as this. Without the proper use of chemical fertilizer, millions would have starved to death--hundreds of millions. There's a big confusion. I have! always said use all the organic fertilizer that's available, but plea se don't have the extreme greenies come to the developing nations and tell their agriculture leaders that it's simple, all they have to do is use the organic fertilizer and they can change production. This is nonsense. There's 83 million tons of active nitrogen fertilizer used in the world today, and the affluent nations are among the highest users.

People who are carrying these extreme ideas have never been involved in production. They're looking at it very often--now I'm talking about the extremists--they are talking about things from a theoretical standpoint, not from a realistic one. And by the use of the so-called green technology, we have saved wildlife habitat and many endangered species. Had we tried to produce the food of the year 2000 with the technology of 1960, we would have had to have much more than double the area under cultivation, which would have meant cutting down forests, plowing up lands that were marginal because of rainfall and would never have had sustainable production. So what would have happened to wildlife?

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about the technologies of the 21st century, since some of the arguments about inorganic fertilizer seem to be at some level being re-enacted now over genetically modified crops. Do you have strong feelings either way about the introduction of genetically modified crops?

Dr. BORLAUG: Well, I say that the proper use of genetically modified crops opens the door to using genes that can be useful in other distant taxonomic groups from the animal kingdom. But there's just a lot of confusion going on, and unfortunately the general public is poorly informed on these things because we can't produce the food the world needs now without the use of modern technology.

SIEGEL: Dr. Borlaug, I've read that a decisive experience in your life was the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the terrible crop failures that drove people out of the Middle West and that left people hungry. Do you still remember those days, and were they a powerful motivation for you?

Dr. BORLAUG: Of course I remember those days. And they certainly changed my whole way of thinking about what was needed to change agriculture. I saw the unem--when all the banks went broke--rural banks especially--the unemployment--my first visit when I went to Minneapolis to try to get into the University of Minnesota, I encountered hundreds, yes, thousands of people on the street with their hands out asking for a nickel to buy bread. I went through all of that, and I'm conditioned by this, and that's why I'm not too patient with some of the oversophistication of the greenies who think that old technology can produce the food that's needed for the people we have today.

Remember, in my lifetime when I was born 90 years ago, the world population was about 1.3 billion people. Today we're 6.3 billion, and we're adding 80 million more a year. And without the use of high-yield technology, we would have chopped down all of our forest, destroyed our wildlife, much of the beauties of nature that people who have good incomes can use during vacations to see the wonders of nature. I'm a firm believer in that.

SIEGEL: Well, Norman Borlaug, thank you very much for talking with us today. And happy birthday, once again.

Dr. BORLAUG: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: Norman Borlaug, who was the 1970 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, turned 90 yesterday. He is the father of the Green Revolution, and he spoke to us from Obregon, Mexico, where he's at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.


Ban on Genetically Altered Food Threatens Hungry Angolans

- Michael Wines, New York Times, March 30, 2004 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/03/30/MNG9P5TCMJ1.DTL

Johannesburg -- A U.N. effort to feed nearly 2 million hungry Angolans, most of them former war refugees, is imperiled because Angola's government plans to outlaw imports of genetically modified cereals, officials of the World Food Program here said Monday.

Most food assistance from the United States, which at last count provided more than three-quarters of U.N. aid to Angola, consists of genetically modified corn and other crops that apparently would be barred under the new rules.

That includes 19,000 tons of genetically modified American corn en route to an Angolan port. The corn -- roughly a month's supply for the U.N. food program in Angola -- must be cleared for unloading by Wednesday, said Mike Sackett, the World Food Program's director for southern Africa. It remains unclear whether the new ban on genetically modified foods, issued March 17 but not yet formally put into effect, will prevent the unloading of the shipment, Sackett said.

Angola follows four drought-stricken southern Africa nations -- Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique -- in refusing foreign donations of certain genetically modified foods despite widespread malnutrition and even starvation among their citizens.

Zambia has barred genetically modified foods outright, saying their safety is unproved. Other nations, including Angola, are insisting that cereals and seeds be milled first so that they cannot germinate in local soils and thus potentially alter the genetic makeup of local crops.

The United States, which provides more than half the food aid in southern Africa and the vast bulk of genetically modified foods, has accused governments of placing political and theoretical concerns above the survival of their people. Both the United Nations and the Americans have sidestepped the bans elsewhere by milling grains before they are delivered to needy nations, a costly process that reduces the amount of food donated.

Angola's case is unusual, Sackett said Monday, because the suddenness of the government's prohibition leaves no time to mill grain intended for Angola before it is shipped. Mills are so scarce inside Angola that it would take 11 weeks, using every mill in the nation, just to grind the 19,000-ton shipment of American corn now under way.

Furthermore, international relief donations to Angola are dwindling because the government is widely perceived as deeply corrupt -- awash in oil revenues that it refuses to spend to feed its people. Angola is second only to Nigeria among Africa's oil-producing states. But the watchdog group Human Rights Watch charged in January that from 1997 to 2002 alone, $4.2 billion in oil money was unaccounted for. The World Food Program feeds 1.9 million Angolans, or about 1 in 8. About 1.5 million of that total are former war refugees trying to resume their prewar lives.


'Quote of the Week' in Organic Consumer Newsletter

Quote Of The Week: "The nightmare that county bans on genetically engineered crops represent to intra- and interstate commerce is ridiculous. We'd be ground to a halt."

- Allan Noe, vice-president of CropLife America, a lobby group working for Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta. Quoted in San Jose Mercury (California) 3/1/04



Philippines: Scientists Assail Norwegian Expert on GMO Findings

- Manila Bulletin, March 23, 2004

Koronadal City, South Cotabato (PNA) - American and Filipino biotechnology experts have assailed a Norwegian scientist for having "caused undue public panic" when he released without peer review results of his study that toxins from genetically modified (GM) corn crops were found in blood samples of 38 tribesmen in South Cotabato.

In a letter to Dr. Terje Traavik by at least 14 scientists and professors mainly from the United States, they challenged the Norwegian scientists to publish on the Internet the full details of his study so it can be completely discussed by the other experts in the field.

Traavik, in a press conference early this month, claimed that traces of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxins were found on the blood samples of 38 B'laan residents of barangay Landan in Polomonok town, South Cotabato. The B'laan natives had earlier claimed having experienced varying degrees of ailments which they blamed on a GM corn planted near their houses last year.

"My research showed that footprints of Bt toxin were found on the blood samples (of people living near the Bt corn field)," Traavik told reporters then. He was quick to add, however, that it is difficult to conclude whether the traces of Bt toxin found on the blood sample were a result of the individuals' exposure to the cornfields.

In an apparent reaction on Traavik's public disclosure, the other scientists drafted a letter castigating him for bypassing the scientific peer review process. PNA obtained a copy of the communication March 12 from a source in the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center who said he received the letter from the scientists on March 8.

Headed by Dr. Rick Roush from the University of California, the signatories of the letter said: 'We believe that bypassing the peer review process is counter-productive and ill-advised. It short-circuits the ability of science to be self-correcting. It fosters public misinformation and miscommunication in the complete absence of data."

"Public debate must be based on accurate information. In that context, we write to request immediate, open, easy world-wide and detailed access to your team's data and methods, published in an accessible site on the web, in English and other languages as appropriate," they added.

A Filipino scientist, Dr. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, said Dione Christian Baracol, project management assistant for the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center, was supposed to affix her signature in the letter but time constraints prevented her from doing so. "Traavik needs to show pertinent scientific data that established his claims, before making press releases and unduly causing panic to the public," Barzaga said.

She said it is important that Traavik specify which isotypes of antibodies were found to be increased in these individuals, the levels of increases in these individuals, the specific antigenic epitomes the antibodies recognized. "His data should also be able to establish that the presence of these antibodies correlated with clinical signs and symptoms of hypersensitivity (or any biologic activity) among the tested individuals," she pointed out.

Barzaga said it is also important for Traavik to indicate what types of tests were performed, and in which laboratories these tests were performed. There are accepted standardized and validated procedures used in any allergenicity testing, she explained.

Roush, who is also the director of California Integrated Pest Management Program, said providing "public access to Traavik's experimental methods and data (not just summaries) will make it possible for other scientist to have a chance to review your work, attempt to repeat it, and look for similar examples elsewhere."

"We assume that both you [Traavik] and your supporters will want this research to be as widely distributed as possible, and to have maximum influence on the scientific community," the scientists said in their letter. "Potentially inaccurate second hand accounts and possibly exaggerated claims in the news media are no substitute for the presentation of solid scientific evidence," they added.


Australia: Bracks Sowing GM Seeds of Doubt

- Jennifer Marohasy, Herald-Sun (Australia), March 29, 2004

If the Bracks government were honest, it would tell us the real reason it announced the ban on the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) canola. Instead of being honest, however, the State Government has given reasons that can not be supported by logical argument, and that fly in the face of expert advice. 

Indeed, the Premier is misleading when he claims that the growing of GM crops in Victoria will adversely impact on our grains and dairy export markets and his decision will cost farmers up $135 million per year.

So much for his government concern for rural communities. Last year, in anticipation of the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator giving the go ahead for the planting of GM canola , the Victorian government slapped a one-year ban on its commercial planting.

At that time we were promised an independent review of market implications. It was accepted that there were no human health or environmental issues. The independent review by Professor Peter Lloyd, released the same day the Premier announced he was extending the ban on the commercial production of GM canola to 2008 (25th March 2004), clearly
states: "the Victorian canola industry is an export-orientated industry ? In almost all countries food and products processed from GM canola varieties can be sold, subject in some countries to labelling requirements. Hence, the crucial question is - is there a premium for non-GM canola seed over GM canola seed in overseas canola markets?"  

The answer is a clear, no.

A detailed study undertaken last year by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) reached the same conclusions: GM products are being traded on the world market; GM producing countries dominate the world grain trade; and that there is no premium for non-GM product.  

The Bracks government commissioned a second report from ACIL Tasman, also released when the decision to continue the ban on GM canola was announced. This report is also clear in its findings, stating, “while there are some sensitivities to GM crops in Australia’s key markets for agricultural produce, there is little or no evidence of any general price discrimination or market access problems.” 

Interestingly, while the Premier claimed the dairy industry supported the ban on GM canola, the ACIL report explains that the Victorian dairy industry currently imports significant quantities of GM soybean meal to feed its cows. If the dairy industry is already using GM products, why would it seek to impose restrictions on domestic canola growers?

Double standards are common in the GM debate.  Indeed few people realize that fully 35 percent of the vegetable oil consumed in Australia is from cotton seed – and the cotton industry has been growing GM crops since 1995. Most cheeses and beers have also been produced for many years using GM yeast. Interestingly, the first plantings of GM cotton predate the Australian launch of the anti-GM Greenpeace campaign and the formation of the Network of Concerned Farmers.

The anti-GM campaigners are now conveniently ignoring cotton as an important source of vegetable oil and wrongly promoting GM canola as the first GM food crop. The cotton industry, fearing a backlash from the multinational anti-GM lobby, is saying nothing. Because cotton seed oil extracted from GM cotton is identical to the product crushed from non-GM seeds, no-one has been the wiser.

In Sydney last year, Greenpeace re-launched its True Food Guide. The big names of the Australian food scene attended the launch where Margaret Fulton declared that she hoped to keep Australia free from GM food and thus our food ‘safe to eat for my children, grand children and great grandchildren'. Never mind that the takeaway down-the-road was probably selling fish and chips cooked in cotton seed oil.

We can respect Margaret Fulton’s desire to not eat GM food -- in the same way that we respect the rights of Moslems to not eat pork -- but the anti-GM campaigners do not appear to accept other people’s right to choose GM. We might choose to eat GM because of real environmental benefits, particularly in terms of reduced insecticide and herbicide use.

For example, the latest GM cotton varieties reduce pesticide use by an impressive 75 per cent. The new GM canola varieties will also require smaller quantities of safer pesticides while giving a higher yield.  GM cotton has been an impressive commercial success and is used by over 90 per cent of Australian cotton growers.

The Bracks Government made a big mistake in banning the commercial planting of GM canola.  The real reason was not concern for export markets, but fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of a backlash from fearmongers such as Greenpeace. 

Dr Jennifer Marohasy is Director of the Environment Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs.


GM Frustration Not Surprising

- Canberra Times, March 27, 004

Farmers and food producers are in some respects entitled to feel exasperated by the latest movements by states - Western Australia and Victoria so far - to extend or continue bans on the production of genetically modified crops.

The fear and loathing about GM foods is scientific nonsense, and everyone involved in the decision-making process knows it. The trouble is, however, that the marketplace does not know it, or, having been told, does not accept it.

Whichever way Australia, or individual states, go on the question of permitting GM crops is likely to have international trade consequences, perhaps not only for the farmers who take the plunge but for others in their neighbourhoods.

And even as advocates of GM crops express their exasperation, it must be recognised that they and other advocates have done little to help resolve secondary issues which might arise from general licensing. Some of the ball, in short, is still in the advocates' court.

Internationally, the tide appears to be shifting towards permitting GM crops. They are, of course, common in North America, and without any problems. They have been considerably restricted in the European Union, which has also encouraged some misleading propaganda about
Franken(steinian) foods, a fact which has the ''incidental effect'' of denying, on grounds purportedly other than price, North American competition in the European market, thus helping prop up the highly subsidised European food system. The United States has taken legal action in the World Trade Organisation against the European bans, a fact which has already prompted some minor concessions, including the permitting of limited trials of GM canola crops in Britain and sweet maize trials elsewhere.

From America, Canada and potentially Australia's point of view, a further problem is not only resistance from European nations, but resistance by consumers in many market places, particularly in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa, and even in Australia and North America. A meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month of 87 nations which are signatories to the Cartagena protocol on biosafety settled rules and labelling, handling and traceability of GM shipments. The US, not a signatory, lobbied fiercely against the rules, opposing any labelling regulations requiring the identification of GM products. In this sense it was a considerable defeat for the US, even as it provided at least some mechanisms for access to GM foods for informed consumers in new markets.

In fact, even those who would dismiss fear of GM ingredients as silly and irrational should not oppose labelling: if consumers want it, they should be entitled to have it. It is inevitable that Australia too must have such a labelling regime, and that our exports must comply with the standards. What this means is that the question of permitting GM crops is not exclusively one for farmers, even though many will calculate, rightly, that being permitted to grow GM crops will allow them to produce grains and cereals better adapted for Australian conditions, with higher yields, more resistant to disease, requiring less in the way of fertilisers and pesticides and, almost certainly, far more cheaply. The implications for our export markets have to be taken into account. Patent and copyright issues are far from resolved, as are questions about ''contamination'' of non-GM crops by wind-borne GM seed.

Some farmers will calculate a market advantage in pandering to consumers who will not have a bar of GM crops, even as they are unable to explain the difference between seeds developed by years of patient breeding and seeds developed by GM techniques. They need protections against careless actions by GM farmers. The curious thing is that much of the argument proceeds in a void. The Federal Government, broadly, supports the right of farmers to grow GM crops, and has encouraged some to have a go. But it itself has done very little either to educate the market, or to create the legal and regulatory environment which would protect the rights of all parties, including consumers.

Given the irrational fears in some quarters, it is perhaps not surprising that the states are being cautious. Their outright or indefinite bans, however, go beyond being cautious, and are fairly close to pandering.


To the Editor of Los Angeles Times: The Seeds of Concern

- Sheila Anderson, Miami

Dear Sirs: Seeds of Concern is full of misrepresentations and muddled assumptions - as if contamination has infected your insights about food. The potatoes to which you refer, as well as the bread you eat, corn at your barbecue, tomatoes, seedless grapes and watermelons you enjoy all are the result of genetic changes made to crops since farming began - 10,000 years ago.
"Traditional" foods are those grown through and with blind, haphazard, unregulated "breeding" wherein genes are transferred, but no one knows which ones or in what combination, or what dangerous results occur. "Organic" food is not a product; rather it is a method, and its invisible bacterial and viral diseases kill people every year. Therefore, your advocacy of "traditional" food omits the reality that safer food is found through application of the advanced genetic knowledge applied to crops.
Before you endorse the findings of any study or any organization, it would be wise to find out from objective scientific sources whether there is any credibility to the conclusions on which you rely. In this case, the absence of scientific confirmation of your assumptions is the real cause of Seeds for Concern.

>The Seeds of Concern

> It's a good thing that such groups as Greenpeace and the Union of
> Concerned Scientists keep a close eye on genetically modified foods,
> because the federal government doesn't.


Food for Thought: Is This GM?

- Andrew Apel  


Food for thought - By ISRAEL21c staff, March 28, 2004

Evogene Chief Operating Officer Ofer Haviv: "We are trying to do what nature is doing, but we are directing and accelerating the changes."

While there is no endeavor as traditional as agriculture and classical plant breeding - there is no science as modern and cutting-edge as genomics. And an Israeli company, Evogene, is at the forefront of integrating the old and the new technologies with a specific goal: "to improve and enhance the provision of food, feed and therapeutics that will safely and efficiently feed and cure the planet."

Genetically modified foods, or organisms (GMO), are plants that have been genetically altered by genome from other species, such as bacteria, or animals. Today, these new super plants can be bred with resistance to disease, insects, and drought, or to have specific qualities like a sweeter taste, or a higher starch content. Presently in the world, five genetically modified crops are being grown widely - cotton, maize, soya beans, corn, and canola.

GM crops were first introduced to the market about 10 years ago, and while the industry is still emerging, it is growing rapidly, with the market worth about $4 billion annually. However, there is a great deal of hostility to GM foods. In Europe, public antipathy to the crops is particularly strong, and there is an outright ban on GMO products. This ban has had a knock-on effect in many other countries around the world, including Israel, which does not import or grow GM crops.


Results of Indian Bt Cotton Survey

- Sivramiah Shantharam  

It is good news to know that Bt cotton has done very well this past commercial growing season in India. Monsanto did well by hiring an independent survey company AC Neilsen-ORG/MARG to do the survey. I Wish they had done the same in the first year as well. But, I can almost guarantee that die-hard skeptics and other opponents will not buy these results juts because the survey is funded by the developers of Bt cotton. But, be that as it may. There is nothing one can do about it. The good news is that the results are out there for people to see.

Some of us maintained that we should not be sad when someone reports failure in one year and gloat when someone else reports good results the next. Monsanto's Bt cotton were approved for three years of commercialization and we would all do well if just waited one more year (the last of three years) to pass a final verdict on the product's performance.

I would like to call upon Indian agricultural economists to rise to the occasion and review results reported from all sources and provide an independent assessment of the ground realities so that people know the real truth about Bt cotton performance. It is high time that the competent authorities also inform the public about their official assessment of the Bt cotton performance.

I have no doubt that Bt cotton, Bt corn, Bt potatoes and tomatoes and many more would acquit themselves very creditably provided they are given a decent chance. I think it seems to be happening.


Big Green Lies

- Roger Kerr, BioScience News and Advocate (NZ) http://www.bioscinews.com/files/news-detail.asp?newsID=7058

In 1993, journalist (now ACT MP) Deborah Coddington published an article in North and South magazine entitled Little Green Lies. She exposed some of the fallacies in arguments about the ozone layer, climate change, recycling and genetic engineering. For her pains she received death threats.

More than 10 years later, not much seems to have changed. Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons' first response to the news that Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, was visiting New Zealand last year (as a guest of the Business Roundtable) was to say he had been "discredited" by a Danish scientific body. "He plays fast and loose with the scientific facts", she asserted. She didn't bother to identify any of the alleged errors.

A moron in a hurry could have seen that the initial charges were absurd. When they were damningly overturned on appeal late last year, I called on Ms Fitzsimons to publicly withdraw her comments and apologise. To the best of my knowledge she did not have the integrity to respond. Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore has recently written about the "intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the environmentalists' campaign against biotechnology.

Greenpeace activists prevented him making the case to a conference that allowing genetically modified rice would prevent blindness for half a million children in Asia and Africa each year. "How is it", Moore wrote, "that these charlatans continue to stymie progress on so many fronts when their arguments are nothing more than wild, scary speculation?"

An egregious example is the 'scientist' Stephen Schneider, once a proponent of global cooling and more recently of global warming. He is notorious for making the statement that to capture public attention, scientists "have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have." In a recent letter to me, one of the world's most distinguished climate scientists wrote: "The field of climate science is almost totally corrupt."

Outside the environmental field, the respect of many Greens for truth and accuracy is no better. MP Metiria Turei recently wrote that New Zealand is "one of the few nations that allows the ready sale of our land to international interests". This is nonsense: our rules are similar to those of many OECD countries, and Britain has no restrictions on foreign investment in land at all.

The claims of doom-mongers like Paul Ehrlich have been exposed as bogus for more than 30 years, yet people still listen to them. I cannot understand why. Charlatanism does a grave disservice to the environmental cause. As Lomborg argues, most environmental trends are going in the right direction, but that doesn't mean there are no problems. In New Zealand, traffic congestion in Auckland, smog in Christchurch, loss of native species and poor water quality are problems crying out for obvious solutions - often ones based on property rights, prices and markets. More often than not, Greens are standing in the way of them.

If anybody can explain to me why many Greens, who do not usually strike me as bad or unintelligent people, are so often blind to scientific evidence and dishonest in their arguments, I would genuinely like to hear from them. Patrick Moore is surely right to call for more aggressive responses to Big Green Lies; as he says, "Nothing less will turn the tide in the battle for the minds, and hearts, of people around the world."

Roger Kerr is executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable