Today in AgBioView SUNDAY from www.agbioworld.org - March 28, 2004:
* Australia: Modify Your Ideas, Bracks
* Aussie Farmer Anger Over GM Crops Ban
* What's in Store for Biotech? - GM Field Trials in US
* India: Survey Underscores Benefits of Bt Cotton
* Piracy on the High Plains
* Eco-Politics and the English Language
* Biotechnology: Science and Society at a Cross Road
* China: Symposium on Science & Technology in Agriculture
* Pioneer Gives Iowa State Univ. for Intellectual Property Projects
* Truly Great Man Turns 90: Libertarians discuss Borlaug, Ehrlich...
* More Birthday Wishes to Dr. Borlaug from AgBioView Readers...
* Political Aspects of the Green Revolution
Australia: Modify Your Ideas, Bracks
- Australia Sunday Herald, March 28, 2004 (Forwarded by David Tribe)
It's scary how religion can mess with your mind. Just look at Steve Bracks's decision this week to ban genetically modified crops for four more years. The Premier has not a scrap of science to back up this move, which is the latest evidence that the growing Green religion is making Australians poorer and sillier.
It was clear even before this that this mania was going to cost us plenty in dollars and sense. Think of this: Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and 200 Victorian towns are on water bans. Our biggest cities are growing fast, but their dams are draining faster.
Yet no politician dares suggest we build another dam. The very opposite, in fact - we are emptying the few we've got now. Victoria and New South Wales are using scarce dam water to "save" the Snowy, and want now to do the same for the "dying" Murray. Suddenly it's a crime against nature to build a dam. Suddenly we find politicians believing rivers can be alive or dead, like some nature god, and that fish have rights to water – more rights than man.
Or think of this: most states are running out of power. Yet again the obvious solution - to build more generation capacity using our cheap coal
- seems too evil to think of. Our giant Hazelwood power station, for instance, is banned from digging out new coal deposits to keep going, unless it cuts its emissions with technology it can't afford. And the building of a new coal-fired generator is off the Green agenda.
Why? Because these, too, are sins against nature. They contribute to global warming. And so instead of having real generators pumping out big-time power, we're building these ugly Green wind generators on our coast to dribble out scraps of "clean" power that costs twice as much as the real stuff.
Again, Green religion is making us look like monkeys, because wind generators actually won't stop global warming. Even if the entire world obeyed the Kyoto Accord right now and spent trillions to cut carbon dioxide emissions with schemes like this, we'd merely delay the temperature rise predicted by 2100 to the year 2106.
And now we have this ban on commercial plantings of GM canola, just to prove we really are crazy. The facts are these. GM canola has been grown in countries such as Canada since 1996. Millions of people have eaten billions of meals using canola oil from these GM crops without a single person getting sick from it.
There is no proof at all that GM food will hurt you more than organic food
-- aka "poo food" -- and a report to the State Government confirms there's "little or no evidence" of a big market for GM-free crops instead.
More importantly, GM crops will help, not harm, the environment, which is why Australia's Gene Technology Regulator has approved GM canola for use in our farms.
It's simple. This canola has been genetically engineered so farmers can use less weedkiller, and can use less land to grow the same amount of food.
So why would Green believers hate this? They hate it, actually, because it's not "natural". Because it's science, not religion. And so the Bracks Government, like Tasmania and Western Australia, have banned GM canola crops. Can't offend those Green zealots, you know.
This will cost us. Dr Robert Norton of Melbourne University's School of Agriculture and Food Systems, says GM canola will add $135 million a year to Australia's harvest, and let farmers use 640 tonnes less triazine herbicide. And our claims to be at the cutting edge of the bio-tech industry are exposed as a joke. Green bull baffles brains here, which is why Monsanto, which bred a GM canola, is thinking of pulling out of this silly country.
But look on the bright side. Monsanto leaving at least means a few cupfuls more water for the rest of us in our dark caves.
Aussie Farmer Anger Over GM Crops Ban
- Trevor Dean, Geelong Advertiser, March 26, 2004
Balliang crop farmer Eric Sharkey says the State Government's decision to ban genetically modified crops is a setback for the industry. Mr Sharkey said GM crops could be controlled using safer pesticides than conventional crops, which required using some pesticides which had been banned overseas.
The Bracks Government's new four-year ban extends an existing ban on the commercialisation of GM crops due to end in May. Premier Steve Bracks said yesterday there were deep divisions and uncertainty within the industry, the farming sector and regional communities about the impact of GM crops on markets. "Victoria's largest rural exporter and Australia's two major grain exporters have reservations," Mr Bracks said.
The Bracks Government's decision comes after the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator ruled GM canola was safe for human health and the environment. Mr Sharkey, who grows wheat, barley and canola on 1000 hectares, said his plans to conduct trials of GM crops on his land had been squashed.
"Some chemicals we're using now are banned internationally, GM crops only need Round-Up, which is practically harmless," Mr Sharkey said. "The State Government have really got their heads in the sand," he said.
Yesterday's announcement by Mr Bracks coincided with the public release of an independent report from Melbourne University Professor Peter Lloyd which does not fully support the ban. The Victorian Farmers Federation also attacked the ban. "It is an absolutely disgraceful decision and one which clearly shows the contempt the Victorian Government has for our farming community," president Paul Weller said.
What's in Store for Biotech? - Field Trials of GM Crops in US
- Andrew Apel . AgBioView, www.agbioworld.org
Advances in the field of agricultural biotechnology are often reported in the press, but press accounts do not even remotely reflect the scope of what is actually being done.
Below is a list of field trial notifications filed with the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture since March 1, which is only a minuscule sample of what is going on--these are merely field trials, and less than a month's worth of notifications at that. Laboratory work will be far more advanced than anything that makes it to field trials.
A patient reading of this list will reveal how much work is going into improving food and fiber production, and what avenues are being pursued -- many of them of immediate, urgent interest for developing nations. Figures in parentheses indicate multiple field trials for plants with the indicated traits. Traits separated with a right-slash indicate plants with multiple, or stacked traits.
For comprehensive access to data on US field trials, I highly recommend http://www.isb.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm
ArborGen: Pine, Growth rate altered (2); Poplar, Visual marker
ARS: Barley, Fusarium resistant/Phosphinothricin tolerant; Potato, PLRV
resistant; Potato, PVA resistant; Potato, PVY resistant
BASF: Maize, Starch level increased
Bayer CropScience: Cotton, Glyphosate tolerant; Cotton, Lepidopteran resistant/Phosphinothricin tolerant; Maize, Lepidopteran
resistant/Phosphinothricin tolerant; Soybean, Glyphosate
Betaseed: Beet, Glyphosate tolerant (3)
Dow: Maize, Phosphinothricin tolerant (2)
Iowa State U: Maize, Fertility altered; Maize, Visual marker; Maize,
Increased transformation frequency
J. R. Simplot Co.: Potato, Phytophthora resistant/Capable of growth on
defined synthetic media; Potato, Capable of growth on defined synthetic
media; Potato, Bruising reduced/Capable of growth on defined synthetic media Louisiana State U: Rice, Yield increased (2); Rice, Rhizoctonia solani
Monsanto: Alfalfa, Glyphosate tolerant (5); Cotton, Glyphosate tolerant (12); Cotton, Lepidopteran resistant; Maize, Yield increased; Maize, Glyphosate tolerant (2); Maize, Lepidopteran resistant; Maize, Altered amino acid composition (3); Maize, Lysine level increased; Maize, Oil profile altered (3); Maize, Protein altered (3); Rapeseed, Oil profile altered; Rapeseed, Seed composition altered (2); Rice, Glyphosate tolerant; Soybean, Glyphosate tolerant (9); Soybean, Fatty acid metabolism altered; Soybean, Seed composition altered (3); Wheat, Glyphosate tolerant
Oklahoma State U: Wheat, Drought tolerant
Oregon State U: Poplar, Light response altered
Pennsylvania State U: Maize, Color sectors in seeds
Research for Hire: Rice, Yield increased
RiceTec, Inc.: Rice, Drought tolerant/Salt tolerance increased; Rice,
Photosynthesis enhanced/Yield increased
Scotts: Creeping bentgrass, Glyphosate tolerant (2)
Seminis: Pea, Glyphosate tolerant (3); Watermelon, Parthenocarpy Shoffner Farm Research, Inc.: Rice, Yield increased Southern Illinois U: Maize, Phosphinothricin tolerant Stine Biotechnology: Maize, Herbicide tolerant
Syngenta: Cotton, Lepidopteran resistant (2); Maize, Drought tolerant;
Maize, Fusarium resistant; Maize, Herbicide tolerant; Maize, Coleopteran
resistant; Maize, Coleopteran resistant/Herbicide tolerant; Maize, Seed
composition altered (2); Wheat, Fusarium head blight resistant Targeted Growth, Inc.: Rapeseed, Yield increased Texas Agricultural Exp. Stn.: Cotton, Rhizoctonia resistant (2)
U of California: Rice, Visual marker/Hygromycin tolerant
U of California/Berkeley: Maize, Gene expression altered/Mutator
U of Florida: Maize, Visual marker
U of Florida: Sugarcane, SCYLV resistant
U of Illinois: Maize, Visual marker; Maize, Visual marker/Animal feed
quality improved; Maize, Epidermal cells increased on juvenile leaves U of Kentucky: Tobacco, Protein altered Washington State U: Barley, Novel protein produced
India: Nationwide Survey by ACNielsen ORG-MARG Underscores Benefits of Bollgard (Bt) Cotton
'Farmer responses show better yields, lower pesticide costs and higher profits'
Mumbai, March 26, 2004…A nationwide survey by ACNielsen ORG-MARG reconfirms the benefits that Bollgard cotton brings to Indian farmers. Better yields, reduction in pesticide sprays against bollworms and higher profits are identified as the biggest benefits from the introduction of Bollgard cotton in India.
The survey covers five of the six Bollgard cotton-growing states: Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat (harvest in Tamil Nadu is late and data is still being compiled). The survey estimates that there has been an approximately 30% or 1.7 quintals
(100Kg) per acre yield increase in Bollgard fields, when compared with conventional cotton fields.
The net profit to farmers from Bollgard cultivation has increased significantly by nearly 80% or Rs.3126 (US$65) per acre. Another key finding is the reduction in bollworm pesticide sprays, which translates into an average savings of Rs.1294 (US$30) per acre (reduction of 2-3 sprays per acre) for Bollgard farmers. In the survey, more than 90% of Bollgard users and 42% of non-users express their intention to purchase Bollgard in 2004.
State wise survey findings: (from CSP: 1 Quintal = 100Kg; 1 US$ = Rs. 45)
State Bollworm Pesticide Yield Increase Increase in
Reduction Reduction Net Profit
% Rs. % qu/ac % Rs/ac
Andhra Pradesh 58 1856 24 1.98 92 5138
Karnataka 51 1184 31 1.36 120 2514
Maharashtra 71 1047 26 1.48 66 2388
Gujarat 70 1392 18 1.20 164 3460
Madhya Pradesh 52 889 40 2.2 68 3876
Weighted Av. 60 1294 29 1.72 78 3126
Besides the usual crop performance parameters, an interesting revelation of the survey was the higher price fetched by Bollgard cotton lint in the commodities market. Seed cotton from the Bollgard crop fetched on average a premium of 8% over conventional cotton. It is also noteworthy that agricultural labourers, paid basis the weight of cotton picked, earned an incremental Rs.75 lakhs ($1.67 million) in harvesting the additional Bollgard yield.
Furthermore, the environmental impact of Bollgard’s cultivation on just 1% of the country’s total cotton acreage is still considerable with a 304,690 litre reduction in formulated pesticides used. Bollgard can also make a substantial impact on the cotton and oilseed deficient Indian economy. An additional 76,000 bales of cotton lint and 3.8 million litres of cotton seed oil were contributed by Bollgard’s recent harvest.
This study was commissioned by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt. Ltd
(MMB) and has been conducted independently over the past six months, by the internationally reputed ACNielsen ORG-MARG. A total of 3063 farmers have been interviewed, including 1672 Bollgard cotton farmers and 1391 conventional cotton farmers. The advanced technique of ‘Experimental Sampling Design' was adopted as the methodology in the survey.
According to Rajiv Inamdar, Executive Director, ACNielsen ORG-MARG Pvt. Limited, "Our survey indicates that the Bollgard crop has helped farmers earn an incremental income of Rs. 3126 per acre of Bollgard crop in 2003. The findings seem to be a clear endorsement of this new technology and the benefits that can accrue from it. For us, it has been an enlightening experience to see, at first hand, the difference that Bollgard has made in the life of India’s cotton farmer".
"Bollgard is a dream come true for me. I got a yield of 132 quintals from my six acres, which is way above my normal yield. And I got this by spending a lot lesser than usual. This is a technology that will benefit farmers the most" says farmer Kishore Malviya of Selani village in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. Similar sentiments were expressed by the trade. According to the proprietor of Haren Sai Seeds & Pesticides of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, "The rise in sales of Bollgard is due to its performance in terms of low pest incidence, good quality and higher yields. Farmers are very happy with Bollgard".
Bollgard cotton is one of the most researched crops, both globally and in India. It has the estimated potential to eliminate the need for 33,000 tons of insecticide globally, or 40% of the current global use. In 2001, six biotech crops planted in the U.S. reduced pesticide use by 23,000 tons (ISAAA Report Jan 2003).Close to 75,000 Indian farmers planted Bollgard in 2003, its second commercial season, on three times the acres covered in 2002. According to the survey, over 90% of Bollgard users and over 40% of non-users expressed the intent to purchase Bollgard in 2004.
ACNielsen ORG-MARG, a VNU company is the largest marketing research and information company in South Asia. The breadth and depth of ACNielsen ORG-MARG's infrastructure and services in India and South Asia are unparalleled. The company examines these markets through many different information 'windows' - quantitative and qualitative; syndicated and customised data; once off, periodic and continuous studies.
MMB is a 50:50 marketing JV between Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds Co Ltd
(Mahyco) and Monsanto India Ltd. Monsanto licensed its Bollgard insect-protected cotton technology to Mahyco, who introduced the Bollgard gene into Indian germplasm, transforming hybrids, best suited for Indian geographies. Mahyco received approval from the Indian regulatory authorities for the commercialisation of Bollgard cotton in March 2002, based upon data from six years of trials, including many conducted by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).
For further information, please contact: Ranjit Panda (ACNielsen ORG-MARG); Mob: +91- 9849 802234 email: email@example.com
Piracy on the High Plains
- Mark Tatge, Forbes 2000, April 12, 2004
What's behind the world's opposition to genetically modified crops? A distaste for the food or an aversion to paying Monsanto an honest royalty?
If Hugh Grant weren't a pragmatist, he would never last. The third chief executive of Monsanto since 2000, Grant has ducked the confrontations with an angry public that plagued his predecessors and helped send the St. Louis-based agricultural products giant into a deep funk. At the same time he must quietly promote the most promising side of the business--the one that started the ruckus: a killer lineup of genetically modified (GM) seeds that increase yields, help crops fight off bugs and weeds, and lower the need for tilling and/or irrigation.
Seeds and genomics, as the division is called, still represent Monsanto's great hope. It turned profitable in 2003, earning $421 million (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) on sales of $1.9 billion, mostly in the U.S. Gross margins run 59%, compared with 40% for the company's trademark product, Roundup, which went off patent four years ago but still pulled in sales of $1.8 billion last year.
Raking in profits in the U.S. is easy. Elsewhere it takes diplomacy and creativity. Public policy in much of the world, especially Europe, India and Brazil, regards GM as the work of the devil. Yet farmers in those places love GM because it raises their yields and lowers their costs. So some have gotten in the habit of just stealing the technology. They grow unauthorized copies of the high-tech seeds or simply swipe them. Monsanto's response is to win legalization of its biotech and then find imaginative ways to collect, for example by enlisting grain elevator operators as enforcers.
GM's acceptance worldwide is still a chapter waiting to be written. At least the noisy protests over in Europe--the picketing of stores, charges of bioterrorism and colonialism, and the resulting ban against altered foods--have abated. So, too, has the save-the-world mission of Robert B. Shapiro, Monsanto's former chief, who once proclaimed, "Biology is the best tool we have," and ended up driving his company into the arms of Pharmacia (now owned by Pfizer) and himself out of a job. Monsanto, which achieved its independence again in 2002, has turned inward. "We decided that, near term, our biggest block should be the Americas, where the majority of the crops are grown," says Grant, 46. "I'd love to see our seeds being planted in Europe, but that won't be happening for a long, long time."
At least, not officially. These days ambitions of propagating its seed abroad now consist mainly in trying to control a thriving black market outside the U.S. Farmers in Brazil, India and a host of other developing nations have been scooping up Monsanto seed for years, despite prohibitions on planting in those countries. Crops from those seeds then show up in Europe or Asia, where they're sold mostly to farmers as feed. (The European Union's schizophrenic policy allows Roundup Ready soybeans to be imported, but bans growing crops with them.)
Some GM products make it in the back door. Soybeans from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina, for example, find their way to China as feed for livestock and for human consumption; China, in turn, exports $100 million in sheep and hog intestines to the EU, where they are used in sausage casings. The dirty little secret is that the majority of the meat and dairy products in Europe, where the outcry against GM crops is greatest, are derived from animals fed genetically modified grains. Maybe the opponents will relent someday. In March the U.K. approved the planting of one GM corn trait owned byBayer to be used as animal feed.
Controlling piracy has been a nightmare for Monsanto. "The challenge," says Grant, "is how do you harness those users and get them to pay for stolen technology?" Worst problem: Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically altered to resist Monsanto brand weed killer. In Argentina, second only to the U.S. in acreage planted with GM crops, the company was losing millions of dollars a year in potential revenue because farmers were harvesting seeds from the offspring and replanting. Monsanto stopped selling its GM soybean seeds last year. Worse, increasing numbers of those seeds were showing up in neighboring Brazil.
No small problem. About 20% of last year's Brazilian crop was pirated, says the government there. That's a big number: Brazil is now the world's second-largest producer of soybeans, with an estimated crop this year of 50 million metric tons or so; it could well surpass the U.S. by 2006. The largest area of concern was once in the Rio Grande do Sul region, a temperate area in southern Brazil bounded by Uruguay and Argentina, where up to 80% of all plantings come from Roundup Ready seeds, which trick the soybean plant into producing excessive quantities of a single protein so it isn't harmed by Roundup herbicides.
Monsanto received approval to sell seeds in Brazil back in 1998. But environmental groups, claiming harmful (if unproved) effects, brought a suit that halted sales pending a series of legal challenges. The government gave conditional approval to planting GM soybeans last year--but not because of anything Monsanto did. China, the world's largest importer of soybeans, got the ball rolling when it asked the Brazilian government to certify that its soybeans were GM free. Naturally, it couldn't; Brazil could only offer Monsanto's claim that its GM soybeans posed no known health risk, a requirement for Chinese imports. As a result the Brazilian government granted farmers conditional approval for planting GM soybeans. GM seeds are still prohibited for other crops.
At that point Monsanto, and its practical chief, stepped in. He cut a deal with Brazil's grain elevator operators--Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland among them: They agreed to test the soybeans to see if they're Roundup Ready; if so, they collect a royalty from farmers of $7 per metric ton, splitting the fees 50-50 with Monsanto. Next year, say analysts, the company's take could be $4.40 a metric ton, generating $50 million in revenue and aftertax profit of $18.5 million. Given Brazil's explosive growth in acreage, that could amount to 18% of Monsanto's earnings by 2008, estimates Kevin W. McCarthy, an analyst with Banc of America Securities. Since the Brazilian deal, Argentina, the world's number three soybean producer, has said it may impose a tax on soybeans to compensate GM seed companies.
Monsanto's other headache is clear across the globe in India, where black-market copies of its BT cotton seeds were sold to farmers as non-GM products as far back as 2001. BT (for Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil
bacterium) proved effective in zapping the bollworm, a major pest in India, where farmers often lose half their crop--23 million acres of cotton--to insects.
In 1999 Monsanto formed a 50-50 joint venture with Maharashtra Hybrid Seed called Mayhco Monsanto Biotech India to market BT and seek government approval. Meanwhile bootlegged cotton was being grown on farms in the western state of Gujarat. Mayhco alerted the government, which tried to confiscate the crops. "The government wanted to burn the illegal cotton," says C. S. Prakash, professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University in Alabama. "Farmers said, ŒOver our dead bodies.'"
The controversy spurred the government to act, legalizing three strains of GM cotton in March 2002, resolving Monsanto's piracy problems. In the last year or so, Indian farmers have planted 250,000 acres with Mayhco Monsanto seeds. For that privilege they pay a price premium, though it is a pittance so far--some $6.5 million, estimates BioScience Securities. Piracy persists in neighboring Pakistan, says Prakash.
Some farmers in northern India complain that the fibers of GM cotton are much shorter than those of the naturally grown crop. The seeds were not designed for that climate, and Monsanto says it is working to insert its BT gene in hybrids tolerant of colder temperatures with shorter growing seasons. State government reports from Andhra Pradesh in 2002 complained of low yields, but neglected to mention drought and inefficient methods of cultivation. Nevertheless, up to 25% of India's cotton crop could contain BT seeds by 2005, says the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a charity backed by the Rockefeller and Hitachi foundations devoted to helping small farmers.
In theory, the world should be Monsanto's oyster. Today sales of seeds and genomics outside the Americas account for a mere 18% of total revenues. But the long potential is huge. Since 1996, when GM crops first appeared, worldwide cultivation of them has grown from zip to 167 million acres, reports the ISAAA. U.S. farmers plant 63% of the world's GM crops, including soybeans (80% are biotech), corn (40%) and cotton (70%). Americans simply don't share Europe's aversion toGM foods and fibers.
Change will happen gradually--and unpredictably. Monsanto is part of Bioteknikcentrum, the Swedish arm of the pan-European trade group AgriculturalBiotechnology. Bioteknikcentrum backed Sweden's first GM microbrew, Kenth, unleashed in January. A light lager, it is made with modified corn.
Unlike its neighbors, Spain embraced the ag revolution early. Last year its farmers grew 80,000 acres of BT corn, up 31% from 2002, most of it non-Monsanto seed. Don't be surprised to see some corn seed migrate to countries like France or even Germany, which have branded them as poisons. The real shock will come when--and if--Monsanto works up the nerve to push its products into those markets again.
Room for Growth: The market for genetically modified crops of all kinds is potentially vast.
80 million People worldwide suffer from malnutrition. (From Prakash: it should be 800 million+) $4.8 billion Worth of genetically modified crops were produced globally last year. 98% Of all corn farmers are in the developing world.
21 Countries plant GM crops.
Sources: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications; BioScience Securities; Forbes.
Eco-Politics and the English Language: From 1984 to 2004
- Thomas R. DeGregori March 22, 2004 http://healthfactsandfears.com/high_priorities/scam/2004/ecopolitics032204.html
Walk into any food store. Unless it is a market that carries only ocean fish or meat harvested from wild animals, the food that it sells is a product of domestication and modification by humans. In any supermarket, we find a bewildering variety of foodstuffs that bear only the slightest resemblance to the wild progenitors from which they were once derived.
The ancestors of many of our everyday foodstuffs are known to us only because of twentieth-century developments in the science of genetics, which allowed us to identify the wild plants from which they were derived. It is now understood, for instance, that two interspecies crosses led to our modern bread-wheat.
Though what we see in the store is the plant's phenotype (the fashion in which its genetic makeup is expressed), you do not have to be a molecular geneticist to understand that what you are seeing is ultimately the product of the plant's genome (its raw genetic content) -- and that the difference between the current domesticated variety and its wild ancestor is a result of the transformation of its genome. Dare we say it? All the foods that we eat -- with the noted exception of caught fish and game -- are products of genetic modification in the fullest sense of that term. True, some of the crosses, such as those that produced bread-wheat, likely occurred "naturally" rather than through human intervention, but in virtually all other cases, humans were actively involved in the genomic transformation, making "genetic modification" a characteristic of most everything that we eat.
"Genetically-modified" sounds passive, but it refers to a long history of active human intervention in the life of domesticated plants and animals. Genetics, after all, is not just the replication of genomes but the modification of the genome from generation to generation.
The Green Lexicon
All of this is a circuitous way of making a point about the role of activist ideologues in seeking to control language and, through it, what we think and how we act. In an upcoming piece on "The New Green Science," I talk about the lexicon of Greens and how that lexicon is intended to
make us subservient to their worldview.
With the sprouting of signs labeling products as "g.m.-free" (g.m. for genetically modified) in "organic" food stores and now even in conventional food stores, one has to marvel at the Orwellian use of language. It's more like something out of _Animal Farm_ than something from a farm. Agriculture has advanced as farmers selected seeds or
vegetable cuttings that had different characteristics -- which could be understood as mutations or modifications of the genome -- that produced desired outcomes. Farmers selectively bred and crossed different plants or animals -- more genetic modification. Beginning in the 1920s, plant breeders began to accelerate the process of mutation by using radiation and/or mutating chemicals (some of which, incidentally, would be carcinogenic for humans in large doses). Among other things, these techniques have allowed for the crossing of species such as wheat and rye to produce triticale.
To say that these techniques are scrambling the genome would be an understatement. Since the late 1930s, we have been able to keep individual cells alive in a cultured medium, which has led to a variety of techniques such as embryo rescue (from interspecies crosses that would have been aborted), tissue culture, and protoplastic cell fusion in which the cell membranes are removed and the cells are fused together. Once again, that was more scrambling and mixing of genomes, which by any reasonable use of language would be genetic modification.
The Meaningless and Pointless "Organic" Label
It is estimated that at least 70% of the produce in the supermarket is a product of these various heroic forms of genetic modification. In "organic" stores, it is likely to be even larger, since the efforts to reduce pesticide use or use only the "all-natural" kind requires the development of plant varieties more resistant to insects and disease. So
"g.m.-free" food has about as much meaning as "DNA-free" food or "chemical-free" food. It is, in short, a fraud.
In the new Green lexicon, "g.m." is used to refer exclusively to transgenics techniques -- the careful insertion of one gene, a promoter, and a marker -- and not to all other, older techniques that mix thousands of genes together. So much for the presumed "consumer's right to know." In fact, for the "anti-g.m. activists," it is consumer ignorance of these other breeding techniques that has allowed activists to wage their scare campaign against transgenics. Consumer "ignorance" might be too strong a
term; consumer misinformation might be more to the point.
One can hardly fault the consumer for not knowing about how plants are bred or the underlying genomic issues involved. However, we can fault the activists who perpetuate this misinformation. How many of us know of what our pharmaceuticals are composed, let alone how they are created, or how our computers are made or other details about the creation and use of so many of the items of our daily life? Time permitting, we can become knowledgeable about one or more items outside our professional interests, but there are far too many for us to be even minimally knowledgeable about all of them. We therefore have various forms of mandatory labeling to help us to obtain some minimally necessary information to guide our purchases and usage. No one can fault reasonable information labeling.
So those who promote the totally fraudulent "g.m.-free" labeling are now using the slogan of the "consumer's right to know" in an attempt to compound their fraud -- by having mandatory "genetically modified" labels on products that, in context, are really the least "genetically modified" of any produce offered for sale. This is consumer fraud of the most
blatant kind and should be vigorously opposed. We might wish to counter this fraud by demanding, possibly tongue-in-cheek, that the "g.m.-free" label be banned as a form of false advertising. Consumers have a right to know, right?
Thomas DeGregori, Ph.D., is a professor of economics at the University of Houston, member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health, and author of Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and the Environment (Cato Institute) and Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate (Blackwell Professional).
Biotechnology: Science and Society at a Cross Road
- National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Ithaca, NY. 2003, NABC Report 15. http://www.cals.cornell.edu/extension/nabc
Download articles and discussion at http://www.cals.cornell.edu/extension/nabc/pubs/pubs_reports.html#nabc15
* Lessons Unlearned: How Biotechnology is Changing Society (Lawrence
* Biotechnology: Cause and Consequence of Change in Agriculture (R. James
* Consumer Attitudes and Willingness to Pay for Genetically Modified
Foods: A Cross-Country Comparison (Jill J. McCluskey, Kynda R. Curtis, Quan Li, Thomas I. Wahl & Kristine M. Grimsrud)
* Regulating Biotechnology: GM Food Labels (Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes)
* Traceability and Trade of Genetically Modified Food (Peter W.B.
* The Precautionary Principle: Making Wise Decisions in an Uncertain World (Carolyn Raffensperger)
* Should We Be Pharming With Food Crops? (Thomas A. Lumpkin)
* The Philosophical Perplexities and Ethical Enigmas of Biotechnology: An Examination of the Regulatory Process in the United States (Paul C.
* The Papaya Story: A Special Case or a Generic Approach? (Dennis
* The Rise and Fall of NewLeaf Potatoes (Michael Thornton)
* Opportunities for and Challenges to Plant Biotechnology Adoption in Developing Countries (Gary Toenniessen)
China: International Symposium on Science & Technology in Agriculture
During recent decades, science & technology in agriculture made a great contribution to the development of agriculture in China as well as in the world. In view of the significant importance of science & technology in agriculture, an International Symposium on Science & Technology in
Agriculture: Current and Future will jointly be held by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and World Food Prize Foundation
(WFPF) on July 10-12, 2004.
The symposium theme is innovation and Development in Agricultural Science & Technology. The purpose of this symposium is to promote the academic exchange and cooperation among the agricultural communities between China and other countries.
The topics of the symposium will be:
* China and world agriculture in the 21st century;
* Agricultural policy;
* Intn'l agricultural science & technology development and cooperation;
* Issues of Agricultural Biotechnology;
* Hybrid rice
Pioneer Gives Iowa State Univ. for Intellectual Property Projects
- From: Agbiotechnet.com
A gift of $135,000 from Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. will benefit Iowa State University’s Office of Biotechnology by helping future plant breeders and researchers understand the ethical, economic and legal dimensions of protecting scientific discoveries. A portion of Pioneer’s gift resulted from recent court cases in which Pioneer successfully enforced its intellectual property rights relating to its unique seed products.
"Protecting scientific discoveries is a complex and global issue. Future researchers need to have a foundation for understanding the various dimensions of the value of their proprietary discoveries in agriculture," said Bill Niebur, Pioneer vice president, Research, Discovery. "The ability for researchers to protect their discoveries is essential to promote product development that will improve agriculture. Through its support of Iowa State University, Pioneer is demonstrating the value it places on researchers’ rights and ethical business practices," Niebur said.
The gift will be used to fund the following four projects.
* Interdisciplinary, Web-based educational activities for college students.
* Economics of Innovation and Science Policy lectures.
* Intellectual Property Protection for Germplasm and Plant Varieties: PVP Certificates or Patents?
* Impact of Intellectual Property Rights Protection on Producers and Consumers in Developing Countries.
Hit & Run Comments: Truly Great Man Turns 90
- Select Postings from Discussion on Reason's Weblog;
"The man who saved more human lives than any other person in all of history, Norman Borlaug, turns 90 tomorrow. Borlaug, the father of the "Green Revolution" headed up the team of researchers that created the high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice which prevented the global famines widely predicted to occur in the 1970s and 1980s. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1970. Happy Birthday Dr. Borlaug!"
Thanks Ron for reminding us of the great mans 90th. The Ehrlichs and Lester Browns of the world have each curved out media careers by being not just wrong but spectactularly wrong. Ehrlich even won a MacArthur genius award! Go figure. As I recall Ehrlich thought that the Rockefeller foundation money that partly funded Borlaugs work was a waste of research funds since what Borlaug was proposing was impossible. Borlaug was funded anyway and quietly went ahead and achieved the "impossible" and millions of lives were saved. Why is it that I sometimes get the impression that the ecological doomsayers secretly long for a mass culling of the human population, although presumably themselves and immediate family members would be excused this thinning of the herd - Posted by John at March 24, 2004
RE: "secretly long for a mass culling" Actually, some of them are not so "secret." For example, University of Leeds professor of medicine Maurice King argued that "mortality controls" such as easy live-saving therapies like oral rehydration should not be taught to Third Worlders until they adopt stiff "birth control" measures first. King wrote in 1990 in The
Lancet: "If no adequately sustaining complementary measures [e.g., family planning] are possible, such desustaining measures as oral rehydration should not be introduced on a public health scale, since they increase the man-years of human misery, ultimately from starvation." Translation: Let the little brown babies die of cholera and typhoid until their parents get their tubes tied. - Posted by Ron Bailey at March 24, 2004
The argument against Erlich's claims about population growth and starvation boil down to "human ability and technology will prevent this problem." Norman Borlaug is the human. THAT is why he is justly celebrated. Normally these things don't have one identifiable architect. Now, whether the starvation would have happened without him - probably not, probably someone(s) else would have done much of what he did. However, if you keep subtracting people like him, sooner or later you will run out of talent, and then you see the starvation. Note that in Africa, where green revolution was prevented or delayed by corrupt governance and colonial misrule, starvation did occur on a fairly grand scale. It was only in Asia and the Americas that his methods were applied and starvation averted or truncated. - Posted by rvman at March 24, 2004
"However, if you keep subtracting people like him, sooner or later you will run out of talent, and then you see the starvation." or if they are prevented from doing what they do - Posted by Sam at March 24, 2004
> "Note that in Africa, where green revolution was prevented or delayed
> by corrupt governance and colonial misrule, starvation did occur on a fairly grand scale."
This is essentially what I am referring to regarding the failure of human institutions. In general, people don't starve due to too little food, but to poor distribution of available food. This has notoriously been the case during recent famines in Ethiopia (for example). The economist Sen points to "market failure" regarding the famine in the late 1970s; but I think it was driven a very corrupt government and its willingness to displace subsistance farmers, herders, etc. from "their land" to bribe foreign and domestic interests with. - Posted by Jean Bart at March 24, 2004
Why is it that I sometimes get the impression that the ecological doomsayers secretly long for a mass culling of the human population, although presumably themselves and immediate family members would be excused this thinning of the herd. When Paul Ehrlich was asked a decade ago, "How many people can the world support?," he answered, 1 billion, "decently and sustainably." Since there are now over 7 billion, that means an awful lot of culling. Ehrlich is hardly alone in believing that there are "too many people" and that we would be better off if many of them would just disappear. To be fair, Bill McKibben has argued that people should voluntarily have one or fewer children, and has himself stopped at one. - Posted by Roger Sweeny at March 24, 2004
Dr. Borlaug has indeed saved more lives than even the most dedicated socialist dictators have extinguished. What is missing in this discussion is exactly WHAT it is that he is most credited for. People talk about the Green Revolution as if it was the period after Nader read the Communist Manifesto for the first time. It was his work (in addition to being a great communicator AND having faith in his fellow man as opposed to his fellow travelers) in the field of genetics. GENETICS! Dare I say, 'genetic modification'???
Genetic modification by way of old-fashioned plant breeding ala Mendel, but GM nonetheless. It also worth nothing that Dr. Borlaug is still active, championing the rational among us and biotechnology as more important than his work of 30 years ago. Ehrlich and his own 'green revolution' will be regarded as a lesson in underestimating the spirit and ability of our race, and for that, should be derided at each opportunity.
- Posted by C.M. Cole at March 24, 2004
> Daniel, Is this the one that Penn and Teller on Bullshit! named the
> greatest human being of all time?
Yep. - Posted by Kevin Shaum at March 24, 2004
> Jean Bart: " In general, people don't starve due to too little food,
> but to poor distribution of available food."
Ah, a redistributionist. That is, it isn't necessary or desirable for people to produce their own food -- those who have some should give it, and if they don't, should be menaced by firearms until they agree to.
The point of the Green Revolution is that it is applicable everywhere. African farmers are just as capable of producing sufficient food for themselves and their neighbors as anyone else is. Given self-sufficiency in food, transport of food from place to place is a matter of convenience and luxury. New York could feed itself, if necessary. New Yorkers have concluded that they'd prefer to have houses, factories, and roads, with the food coming from elsewhere -- but they aren't trapped; they don't have to depend on someone else to feed them.
Food self-sufficiency is an important component of independence. Of course, commentators such as yourself, perhaps unconsciously, don't want such achievements to occur; thus you downrate contributions such as Dr. Borlaug's. After all, someone must compel the "rich" to share their food with the poor, and you're uniquely qualified, no? - Posted by Ric Locke at March 24, 2004
Mr. Cole, We simply cannot have any genetic modification of any kind in our food. With higher crop yields and resistance to pests, the food supply would surely increase. What would the environmentalists do then? They wouldn't be able to sit back (in a cushy office, no doubt, with plenty of food for themselves) and surmise how devastating GM food would be for the environment, while many people starve. Why is it so abhorrent to some people to insert a gene for a natural pesticide into a plant, yet, according to these same people, it's fine for this very pesticide to be purified and dumped onto crops by the ton simply because it's labeled "organic"? Sometimes I am genuinely amazed at the reasoning (or lack
thereof) employed by some. - Posted by Shawn at March 24, 2004
More Birthday Wishes to Dr. Borlaug from AgBioView Readers...
Dear Dr. Norman Borlaug: It is a high honor and a privilege to join the world community of your friends and admirers to wish you a happy 90th birthday. Sehgal Foundation was established in 1999 in Gurgaon, India to carry out integrated sustainable village development, of which assisting subsistence farmers to improve their agricultural productivity and their household income is an important goal.
We truly admire and appreciate the great work you have done for the growth and prosperity of agriculture in developing countries. You are a source of inspiration to us at the foundation.
Sir, we salute you for your life time of accomplishments, and look forward to your inspiring leadership for the betterment of poor farmers around the world for years to come.
With Warm Regards, Suri Sehgal et al, Chairman, The Sehgal Foundation, Gurgaon, India
Dear Norm, Congratulations on your birthday. Mine was March 24, and I am now 77. I can't believe that at 90 you are still so active and doing to much to help mankind. Those of us that worked with you in the
Rockefeller Foundation are proud to have served with you.
H. David Thurston, Dept. of Plant Pathology, Cornell University; Viva la yuca !! http://www.tropag-fieldtrip.cornell.edu/docthurston/smokinhome.html
Hello Dr. Borlaug: You have lived and affected your generation and generations to come. A landmark has been set by you and forever you will be remembered for the immense contribution you've made for Agricultural development. On the occasion of your 90th birthday, may you be filled with joy and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ as you have really been a winner and an overcomer in every respect of life.
May the years ahead of you be fruitful and peaceful. God richly bless you.
- Kwadwo Adofo
Political Aspects of the Green Revolution
- From the University of Minnesota College of Ag, Food and Env. Sciences
Over and over again, bureaucrats and government scientists warned (Norman) Borlaug that peasant farmers would never accept the new technology, that they weren't ready for the change. Indeed, during his early years in Mexico Borlaug met farmers who regarded fertilizer as poison and metal plows as robbers of the earth's heat. But their opinions shifted rapidly once they saw a thriving crop at the experiment station. "Never underestimate the little farmer's capacity to change," Borlaug says.
Never, he might have added, underestimate bureaucracy's ability to resist change.
"The best plant variety is only the catalyst," Borlaug says. "It has the potential, but you've got to know how to plant it, correct the soil infertility, and cut down competition from pests and disease. Once you've put together the jigsaw of production, you've got to further link it to economic policy that permits the little farmer to apply the technology."
Seed, pesticides, and fertilizer had to be made available. Farmers had to receive credit until harvest. Even before the planting season started, the government had to guarantee a fair price for the grain. A breakdown in any of these support systems could doom the agricultural revolution.
In Pakistan, Borlaug quickly ran into a regulation limiting the use of fertilizer. The new wheat was starving for lack of nutrients. He won that battle with bureaucracy. Then, at harvest, he was summoned back to Pakistan to explain why the green revolution was failing. After touring the countryside he determined yields were as high as expected. The problem was that the government had dropped its guaranteed price for wheat by 25 percent. Speculators were hoarding the crop.
"The government is to blame!" Borlaug reported loudly and clearly to the president of Pakistan. No doubt unused to such clarity, the president began by replying in equally loud terms. But the price guarantee was restored, and harvest progressed at predicted levels.
"You have to pick the right time to turn from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde," says Borlaug, explaining his philosophy of diplomacy. "Keep a low profile until you're confident you have the capacity to change yields. Then go to the political leaders and tell them, 'The grass roots are afire down here. They've seen the crops in the experiment fields. Please permit them to apply this technology. Get out of their way or it will be a political disaster for your party.'
"Say this too soon and you'll probably get thrown out of the country. You've got to live in a country long enough to establish your credibility and sincerity."
Critics of the green revolution have emphasized its inequalities. Social systems in may developing countries allow richer farmers to benefit more from the new technology than poorer farmers, these critics say. Some even suggest that traditional farming systems - where everybody was more or less equally miserable - were morally superior.
Then there's the problem of fairly distributing the bounty of the green revolution. Food production must be coupled with food distribution. "Frustrating!" is Borlaug's word for the latter. "India became self-sufficient in grain in 1978," he says, "but there's still a distribution problem. There are still hungry people. That's something I hope can be corrected."
No matter how good the science, the green revolution depends on people. Human failings are behind problems like distributing excess food.
"They say the social systems aren't ready," Borlaug says with intensity, all affability disappearing from his manner. "I ask, how long do we wait?
"Wheat isn't political. It doesn't know that it's supposed to be producing more for poor farmers than for rich farmers. When you produce something that's good for the small farmer, the big farmer can use it too. Anybody with any common sense knows this," he says, rapping the table. "There's too much of this sophistication. These people have never lived with misery. There's nothing more depressing to me than over-sophisticated people who sit in air-conditioned offices, drive their big gas-guzzling cars, talk about depleting world resources, and pontificate about helping the poor. That doesn't go well with me. They live in a false world. And that world will crumble unless something is done to change the living standards of the common people.
"Inequities have been present since the day mankind was kicked out of the Garden of Eden. I've battled with these things and I've seen some surprising changes. Of the people who changed in India, the vast majority are farmers on 7 to 12 acres. I'll be the first to admit that one of my biggest challenges was to try to change production in Argentina, where there's still a system of huge landowners. But for me to try to change whole political systems…hell, that's ridiculous.
"If you do nothing, there's no risk and there's no criticism. I'm not interested in mediocrity; there's too damn much of it in the world. People who have had the education and the opportunities have to go out there and get things moving. I'm not interested in the philosophy of this change. I'm damn interested in making the change, seeing it happen."