Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 22, 2004:
* On Prof. Traavik's Claims on Bt Corn Pollen Allergy and his Response
* .. GMO 'Scare Campaign' Deplored, Farmers, Scientists Back Biotech
* Sowing Seeds of Discontent
* Moral Economy of Food
* Unlocking Genetic Diversity in Crops for the Resource-Poor
* Biotech and Climate Change In Developing Countries
* Another 'Zambia' in Making? - Sudan is Now Shooting Itself in Foot
* World Agricultural Forum 2004
* Website for Testing the Allerginicity of New Proteins in GM Foods
* Attention to Media Influences Biotech Opinions
* Comparing Environmental and Health Burdens of Traditional vs. GM Beet
* Norman Borlaug special from the Population News
* Who Coined the Term "Green Revolution"?
On Prof. Traavik's Claims on Bt Corn Pollen Allergy and Response to Critics
- Chris Preston
I find this document singularly astonishing as coming from somebody who claims to be a research scientist. I had some major concerns about Traavik's approach, which prompted me to sign Rick Roush's letter. Firstly and foremast was his rejection of the peer review process. Traavik claims that peer review does not in itself make science true or false. He is of course right, but what peer review does is allow for errors to be picked up early and ultimately for the science to be tested by others. By foregoing peer review, Traavik must have other agendas than the furtherance of research. Indeed, by publishing in the media, Traavik has denied himself the opportunity of publishing in many important academic journals. Traavik's has complained about the length of the peer review process. For quite a number of journals he is correct, but others have fast turn around times. Publication in Science, for example, is often a matter of months from submission to publication.
This whole exercise reminds me a lot of "cold fusion". Remember that one? I was working at the time at the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado, literally down the hall from semi-conductor chemists who spent the best part of 12 months trying to duplicate the results. This work from the University of Utah was published first in a financial paper and at a press conference. Later the work was published in Nature, but so quickly that one of the author's names was not on the paper. The upshot was significant embarrassment all round when the results of the experiments could not be duplicated. Had there been a more normal publication process, perhaps the errors in interpretation may have been noted by reviewers and explored by the authors before being presented to the media.
Traavik having proceeded with publication by press conference has provided an astonishing response. Why start a response to a criticism of scientific approach by invoking the Cartagena Protocol and the Precautionary Principle? The Cartagena Protocol has nothing to do with the pursuit of science. It is a political instrument that allows countries to ban LMOs, should those countries decide LMOs are damaging to the environment. The Cartagena Protocol is not even based on sound science. There is no evidence that any of the GM crops currently grown commercially in the world are more invasive than their non-GM counterparts. In addition, we all know that the major danger to biodiversity from trade is the importation of pest plants and animals. Many plant pests are imported legally as ornamental species and then go on and reek havoc in the environment. Yet these are specifically excluded from the terms of the Cartagena Protocol.
The Precautionary Principle also has little to do with the pursuit of science. It is a principle that says that if there is a likelihood that a process is damaging to the environment, one does not need absolute proof of that link before acting. Some would seek to use the Precautionary Principle to stymie the use of any technology they disapprove of - by insisting on a variant of the principle where the proponents need to demonstrate absolute safety before proceeding. Traavik favours a strong version of the Precautionary Principle, but I note that he has not asked for the banning of the motor vehicle or air travel, forms of technology known to have significant impact on biodiversity and the environment.
Traavik claims he is providing an early warning of danger. If that is the case, why did he choose a meeting organised by, and containing a platform of, anti-GM activists to present his "early warning". Surely that is the best possible way of ensuring those not wedded to anti-GM activism discount your results? If Traavik had seriously worrying results about the health impacts of GM crops, a more potent strategy would have been to provide them to WHO, or national health bodies. Publication by media is a device designed to apply political pressure (to governments, business, funding bodies or journals). Is their any connection between this publication by media and the impending votes in the EU on GM crops?
I am not an immunologist, so will not comment on the specific claims Traavik has made. However, as a research scientist I find some worrying unanswered questions in Traavik's claims, that I would look to have had answered first.
Everyone who has looked at the issue knows that maize pollen from GM varieties has very little Bt expression. This was published in the work that followed up the monarch butterfly - Bt maize damage claim. Therefore, if you had evidence of allergic reactions to Bt, maize pollen would not be your first logical place to look. Why then has maize pollen been fingered by Traavik? Did he look at other possible sources of Bt exposure? If so what were the results? Secondly, in agricultural situations there are a lot of potential allergens in the environment, most notably weed pollen. Why was the connection made between the presence of Bt antibodies and the symptoms? Did Traavik explore other possible reasons for the symptoms displayed? Did he test for Bt antibodies in people similarly exposed to the Bt maize fields, but who did not show symptoms? Did he look for pesticide poisoning? Why the Philippines? Bt maize has been grown for a number of years in the US, South Africa, Spain and other countries. Why did the symptoms complained of by the Filipino farmers not occur in farmers elsewhere? Is there something peculiar about Filipino reaction to Bt? Is there something peculiar about agriculture in the Philippines?
Traavik himself claims that he was unable to establish a cause effect relationship. If so, and given there are so many other possible explanations for the illness shown that have not been excluded, why publicly announce a connection?
I can only surmise that Traavik is attempting to scare the world about Bt maize with no real evidence of any danger.
> Response from Prof. Traavik of Norway on Criticism of his
> 'Bt-Corn Pollen Allergy Claims' in Philippines
GMO 'Scare Campaign' Deplored, Farmers, Scientists Back Biotech
- Manila Bulletin, March 15, 2004
Some of the country's biggest farmer organizations recently branded an "apparent organized campaigns to discredit the government's food security policy using biotechnology as politically-motivated and counter-productive since this will derail the country's bid for food sufficiency".
Farmer-leader Edwin Paraluman, chair of the Agricultural and Fisheries Council of General Santos City, and of the Provincial Farmers Action Council of South Cotabato, said recent attacks on the government's pro-biotechnology policy for agriculture by Norwegian anti-genetically modified food (GMO) activist Terje Traavik "is highly suspect in terms of timing and motivation".
Traavik recently alleged that a genetically-modified corn variety planted in Mindanao has caused various respiratory ailments and allergies among B'laan tribesmen. He, however, later admitted that his allegations "are not conclusive" and needed further studies. Mindanao health officials also belied Traavik's claims.
Leading Filipino scientists and University of the Philippines medical experts Nina Barzaga has also asked Traavik to support his attempt to link the B'laan illness to genetically-modified corn. Barzaga said Traavik' s claim need to be evaluated based on the principles of immunology and immunobiology. Without this evaluation, Barzaga said Traavik "must not be given the chance to have the exposure that he craves for with these scare tactics.
Paraluman said Traavik's recent attacks on the government's food security policy "are mere rehash of the Greenpeace-led scare campaign last year. International pressure group Greenpeace came under fire in the country last year for alleging that GM food "cause cancer clusters, deformities, millions of dead bodies and sick children."
Paraluman stressed that the genetically-modified corn variety planted locally, called bacillus thuringiensis of Bt corn, "has been subjected to rigid tests and was backed by the local community of respected Filipino scientists and farmer groups."
Among the scientist groups that supported the government's adoption of biotechnology were the Women Association of Scientists in the Philippines, The Philippine Association for the Advancement of Crop Science Society of the Philippines and the Biochemical Society of the Philippines. It was also backed by the Philippine Maize Federation, the country's biggest organization of corn farmers.
Paraluman said Traavik recent campaign against the government policy "is a blatant attempt at derailing the progress of our food security efforts". He said Bt corn is expected to radically increase the yield of the country's shrinking corn farms while significantly reducing, or eliminating altogether, the need for toxic chemical fertilizers.
Sowing Seeds of Discontent
- Anthony Trewavas, Nature 428, 124 - 125 (11 March 2004), http://www.nature.com
(Review of 'So Shall We Reap' by Colin Tudge; Allen Lane: 2003. 380 pp.
A common method of political and religious persuasion is to dwell on the virtues of belief for the follower and damnation for the unbeliever. Science writer Colin Tudge uses the same approach in this book, which is devoted to what he calls 'enlightened agriculture'. The prospects for humanity "are somewhere between glorious and dire", we are told; glorious if you follow Tudge's proscriptions, hell if you don't. The book's subtitle hammers this home: "How everyone who is liable to be born in the next ten thousand years could eat very well indeed; and why, in practise, our immediate descendants are likely to be in serious trouble". And as if to emphasize the religious origin of such dichotomous futures for humans, the book is liberally spiced with biblical quotations.
Tudge regards food production as something that should be above the ordinary, grubby business of economics. He regards capitalism as acceptable provided it doesn't involve competition! He sees a future in which most of us return to the rustic idyll, happily tilling the land -- although he does not say who will generate the cash to pay for education or health, or the other trinkets we have got used to and that people enjoy. Whether any of us want to return to that way of life is not considered. And because it is generally agreed that there isn't much money to be made in farming, the prospects for most of us do not look good.
Antipathy to economics is common among those of Tudge's persuasion, but unless fine-sounding sentiments are properly underpinned with an understanding of economics, immense damage can result. It has been estimated that for every 1% increase in income, mortality is reduced by 0.05%. The converse is equally the case. Scepticism about the motives of large global agribusiness is reasonable, but assuming that they are populated with shadowy figures out to control the world's food supply is not. Most UK citizens (probably including Tudge) invest heavily in the success of such enterprises through pensions and other financial plans. From Malthus onwards, the history of agricultural prediction has been a history of failure. Tudge's poorly based views will probably fare no better.
In Western countries a few decades ago, agricultural policy was simple. Production was all that was needed, and objective knowledge (science) was wheeled in to ensure its success. But abundance has produced new problems. Food security is no longer an issue, although rapid global cooling could quickly push it up the agenda. Instead, agriculture and, in Britain at least, the inevitable intermingling with the environment, have become contentious moral affairs. These are now areas of subjective knowledge in which disagreement, which merely reflects individual taste, is inevitable. Tudge claims that biology is the basis of his book, but chapters covering such issues as morality, aesthetics, genetically modified (GM) organisms, cash and values belie the claim.
It is a pity that authors such as Tudge and most environmentalists do not talk to farmers, as a more realistic appraisal might then surface. Farmers could tell them about responsible farming based on integrated management, conservation agriculture and animal-welfare principles, but also about the necessary business of running the farm at a profit. For the public, competition produces cheap fruit and vegetables, and by thus encouraging consumption has produced a healthier population with lower cancer rates. Tudge is more objective on organic farming and sees the regulations of this movement as dogma rather than common sense.
Tudge reserves his venom for GM crops, condemning the scientists who produce such "monstrosities" as obviously corrupt, as well as mad, bad and dangerous. I found this chapter to be a muddle of politics and naturalism, failing to adequately distinguish objective scientific knowledge from subjective assessments of Western agribusiness and nature.
Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries results in the premature death of about a million children a year and leaves another five million permanently blind. The primary reason for this situation, according to the World Health Organization, is poverty and ignorance about vitamins and diet. But Tudge claims instead that recent Western agricultural influences are the cause, as if these deficiencies did not happen in much earlier times. GM rice enriched with vitamin A to help counter this deficiency is a humanitarian scientific endeavour that demonstrates how valuable GM technology can be in improving life expectancy in the face of ignorance.
Tudge also fails to mention that both India and China now have proven examples of the benefits of GM crops to poor farmers. Herbicide-tolerant GM crops (produced by agribusiness) lead naturally to no-till agriculture, which has enormous environmental advantages over any kind of ploughed agriculture, including organic farming. These benefits are likewise not mentioned. GM food vaccines? Guess what. Not mentioned. The list of omissions is very long. In a pluralist society you do not ban useful products.
Mad? Bad? Dangerous? The only real danger is those who use subjective ideology to corrupt good objective sense.
Anthony Trewavas is at the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh, Mayfield Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JH, UK
The Moral Economy of Food
- Simon Fairlie, The Tablet. Excerpts below. Full text at... http://www.thetablet.co.uk/cgi-bin/book_review.cgi/past-00149
'So Shall We Reap - Colin Tudge, Allen Lane, £20'
The purpose of Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap is to explain how this drive for a free, highly competitive, global market in food – what he calls "hyper-capitalism" -- has led to the decline of good husbandry and good food. "Under the present spreading rules of globalisation, farmers worldwide will again be obliged to fight like dogs and undercut each other like Victorian England's bakers." Monetarisation, industrialisation, corporatisation and globalisation are the hallmarks of this economic model. Tudge provides a wealth of evidence to show how they promote farming practices which are biologically unsound, destroy the environment, shatter rural communities, force farmers off their land into vast cities of 20 million people, and (for Tudge is a gourmet as well as an
agronomist) press us into eating poor food.
This is a message that has been propagated, in one form or another, by a thousand writers, from Cobbett in the nineteenth century and Massingham and others in the 1930s to modern authors such as Jules Pretty and Vandana Shiva. Tudge tries to pull all these threads together but I am not sure that he always succeeds in arranging them into a coherent pattern.
Challenge Program for Unlocking Genetic Diversity in Crops for the Resource-Poor
Crop science and technologies are advancing at remarkable speeds, and vast amounts of resources are devoted to developing new crop varieties for consumers who can pay for the fruits of this research.
But what about the hundreds of millions of people across the planet who cannot afford to pay the premiums for cutting-edge technology? The purchasing power of most resource-poor people is so minimal that their needs are often not taken into consideration by multi-national seed companies and agribusinesses.
The Challenge Program for Unlocking Genetic Diversity in Crops for the Resource-Poor is an international, multi-institute, cross-disciplinary collaboration designed to ensure that the advances of crop science and technology are applied to the specific problems and needs of resource-poor people who rely on agriculture for subsistence and their livelihoods.
The Challenge Programme incorporates a technology transfer plan to ensure that the products of its research are made available to farmers and plant breeders. The management of technology transfer, and especially of intellectual property, will be consistent with existing CGIAR guidelines on Intellectual Property Rights Related to Genetic Resources and with international conventions and treaties on the subject. Throughout, the intention is to ensure that all products of the Challenge Programme are public goods that are accessible to and used for the ultimate benefit of resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
The Challenge Programme brings together three sets of partners. The Future Harvest Centres of the CGIAR keep vast amounts of plant diversity in trust for humanity and have expertise in molecular research and global breeding programmes. The National Agricultural Research Systems of developing countries in addition bring expertise in the assessment and breeding of plants under specific conditions, with the participation of farmers. Advanced Research Institutes are developing novel techniques and strategies to decode genetic diversity. Together, these three strands can vastly improve the productivity of crucial crops in marginal environments.
Biotech and Climate Change In Developing Countries
- Crop Biotech Update, March 19, 2004 www.isaaa.org/kc
Modern biotechnology, including the use of transgenic plant cultivars, may offer opportunities to strengthen the arsenal of adaptive responses to climate change. However, developing countries’ preparedness for adaptation to climate change are not apparent. This is the view of Joel Cohen of the International Service for National Agricultural Research, and Norman Rosenberg of the Joint Global Change Research Institute. Cohen and Rosenberg said that the technology can impart tolerance or resistance to heat and moisture stress and/or resistance to pests and disease. Molecular technologies can also be used to isolate and insert genes coding for traits that convey the needed tolerance or resistance. However, agricultural biotechnology still faces problems in developing countries.
These are: Fears that multinational companies will dominate technologies, crops, regulatory approvals and intellectual property rights; Trade, regulatory, and political problems that complicate the approval process Willingness of developing countries to approve only transgenic fiber crops but not food crops; and Limited and uncertain financial resources that jeopardize regulatory and research capacity.
Cohen and Rosenberg shared further insights in their paper 'Addressing Effects of Climate Change: Realities and Possibilities for Plant Biotechnology in the Developing World' in Applications of Biotechnology to Mitigation of Greenhou se Warming: Proceedings of the St. Michaels II Workshop held in Maryland, USA.
Visit the Joint Global Change Research Institute at
Another 'Zambia' in Making?
Sudan: Peace Agreement Around the Corner?
- From: USAID Posted: 03/12; Written Testimony of Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, United States Agency for International Development
Testimony before the Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Africa, U.S. House of Representatives, March 11, 2004
Mr. Chairman, Committee Members, thank you for allowing me to come and share my thoughts and insights on Sudan with you. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is poised to assist the Sudanese in their economic recovery and prevention of future conflict once an agreement is reached. However, it is also critical to point out the concerns we have, particularly with humanitarian access, one of the three pillars of U.S. foreign policy in Sudan.
Finally, I must inform you that as of March 7, 2004, USAID has ceased all further food aid shipments to Port Sudan due to the GOS' insistence that US commodities be certified free of genetically modified organisms ("GMO"). When this issue first arose in May, 2003, we informed the GOS that the United States does not provide such certifications. We did, however, send a team of scientists to Khartoum to explain the extensive regulatory standards that all food commodities in the United States must meet, whether for domestic or foreign consumption, and to discuss the Government's health and scientific concerns. The United States is the major donor of food aid to Sudan, providing some 70% of the World Food Program's total pipeline for the country. The majority of US-donated food aid enters the country through Port Sudan, including 40% of all food aid intended for southern Sudan.
In October, 2003, the Government of Sudan issued an extension of the waiver on their earlier decree requiring certification that food aid brought into Sudan be free from bio-engineering, thus enabling USAID to continue food aid shipments to the country. This extension comes to a close on July 8, 2004, but because the normal time for U.S. Title II humanitarian food assistance to be procured and transported to Sudan is four months, we are now past the point at which we can be sure that US commodities arriving in Port Sudan will be allowed to clear customs and move swiftly to the populations in need. USAID policy since the GOS issuance of this policy has been to continue shipment of humanitarian food assistance as long as food aid would arrive and clear customs for distribution to beneficiaries prior to the deadline date on this extension. The US is prepared to make additional food commitments to the humanitarian crises in Sudan, but we cannot do so as long as this issue is outstanding. We are informed by the United Nations that food stocks for relief operations will be exhausted by April/May of this year. Mr. Chairman, the potential humanitarian consequences of this pipeline break for the needy in Sudan cannot be over emphasized.
Full document at http://mathaba.net/x.htm?http://mathaba.net/0_index.shtml?x=40064
World Agricultural Forum 2004
'Future of The Agri-Food System: Perspectives from the Americas'
- May 16 - 18, 2004 St. Louis, Missouri, USA; http://www.worldagforum.org/
What if free trade really existed?
What would the world look like in ten, fifteen, twenty years? What unintended consequences and outcomes might result from free trade? How would free trade impact global agricultural markets, local communities and the land itself? What are the consequences of producing crops for cultural purposes when there is not a comparative advantage? What are the models to avoid crises to the small farmers, women, and the rural landless?
On May 16 - 18, 2004, the World Agricultural Forum (WAF) will convene an intimate meeting of the most influential stakeholders in global agriculture and food production to consider these questions. The 2004 Regional Congress of the Americas will focus on the development of a new model for agriculture, recognizing that the old model for agriculture and competition in the agri-food value chain is broken, obsolete and inefficient. Entitled, "Future of the Agri-food System: Perspectives from the Americas" Congress participants will contemplate the future of agriculture by addressing the interrelated and associated themes: commodities, trade agreements, social concerns, and natural resources.
Website for Testing the Allerginicity of New Proteins in GM Foods
Allermatch is a unique website where you can compare the amino acid sequence of a protein of interest with sequences of allergenic proteins. This website carries out automatically the procedures for predicting the potential allergenicity of proteins by bioinformatics approaches as recommended by the Codex alimentarius and FAO/WHO Expert consultation on allergenicity of foods derived through modern biotechnology [1,2]. The unique features of the Allermatch website allow the user in a user-friendly and time-saving manner to enter the input sequence and retrieve, with a few mouse-clicks, the outcomes of interest in an accurate, concise, and comprehensible format.
In most nations, genetically engineered foods must be assessed for their safety before market approval is granted. An important issue in this safety assessment is the potential allergenicity of transgenic ("foreign") proteins that have been introduced into the food by genetic engineering. In other words, what is the chance that the foreign protein may cause allergic reactions after consumption of the genetically engineered food containing this protein?
Potential allergenicity is assessed during a step-by-step procedure described by the guidelines of the FAO/WHO Codex alimentarius Commission for the safety assessment of foods derived from genetically engineered plants and micro-organisms. One important step in this procedure is to determine, with the aid of computer programs, whether the primary structure (amino acid sequence) of the transgenic protein is similar to sequences of allergenic proteins, of which the latter are available from public protein sequence databases.
Two types of similarity are searched for:* Short identical stretches of 6-8 contiguous amino acids; * larger stretches (80 amino acids long) containing a minimum of 35 % (non contiguous) identical amino acids.
The similar stretches that are identified this way may harbour potential binding sites (called epitopes) for IgE antibodies. IgE antibodies are allergy-related and involved in the binding of the allergen to mast cells, after which these cells release compounds, such as histamine, that cause the symptoms of allergy. Allergens must at least contain two IgE-binding epitopes to trigger a mast cell reaction.
From Prakash: Prof. Stephen L Taylor alerted me to another website from FARRP http://allergenonline.com that also contains a list of publicly known allergens. According to him, "the major issue is the selection of the known allergens - not as easy and straightforward as it might initially seem. "
Attention to Media Influences Biotech Opinions
- Agbiotechnet.com, March 17, 2004
Attention to entertainment TV and science TV are associated with support for biotechnology, while attention to TV news has a negative relationship with biotechnology. This is the finding of a poll of New York State residents, conducted by John C Besley and James Shanahan at Cornell University. The study suggested that attention to news and science in newspapers had no independent relationship with biotech support. They conclude that the media likely plays a role in shaping opinions about biotechnology, and that, in particular, attention to various types of TV content may have unique impacts on opinions about biotechnology.
The study polled 888 resident of New York State and asked them to report the attention they paid to types of content. The authors speculate that the nature of newspaper content may allow readers to process it more completely as it is being received, while this is less the case with TV content. Currently there is no evidence regarding whether TV news coverage of agricultural biotechnology is more negative than that in the science and entertainment content.
Comparing Environmental and Health Burdens of Traditional vs. GM Beet
- Richard Phipps and Richard Bennett, ISB News Report, March 2004. Full article, data and references at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2004/news04.mar.html#mar0403
Background: The introduction of new technology has often been controversial. For example, an antivaccination society actively campaigned against the use of smallpox vaccine developed by Jenner, while the introduction of pasteurization of milk met with stiff opposition. The use of GM crops is the most recent example of a controversial new technology. Despite the fact that since 19961 nearly 250 million ha of genetically modified (GM) crops have been grown in 16 countries worldwide by six million farmers, there is still an ongoing debate, restricted mainly to the European Union (EU), concerning their effect on the environment and human health.
In recent years the reduction in pesticide use in agriculture has been a key policy objective for many governments in the EU, and as such, a reduction in pesticide use is generally considered an environmental benefit. Progress in this area has occurred through the introduction of a range of management and incentive schemes. Several authors have also published work showing that the introduction of GM crops has effected a significant reduction in pesticide use on a global basis and have estimated the reduction that would occur in European and UK agriculture should GM crops be commercialized.
The results of the UK Farm Scale Evaluation of spring-sown GM crops have recently been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2003) and are a benchmark study in the field of ecology. They compared the effects on the biodiversity and abundance of farmland wildlife of conventional herbicide practice with that used in herbicide tolerant spring sown GM crops. The paper by Champion et al.7 reported that, in the case of the GM sugar beet, the number of spray applications was reduced from 3.65 to 1.65, the number of active ingredients used was reduced from 8.05 to 1.95, and the weight of active ingredient applied was decreased from 2551 to 1637 g/ha, a reduction of 36%. The same pattern occurred with fodder beet and forage maize but not with spring rape.
While the Farm Scale Evaluations assessed the effects of introducing GM crops on the abundance and diversity of farmland wildlife, the study only considered one aspect of the entire complex system of crop production and did not provide a full picture of the effect of introducing GM crops on the environment and human health. Phipps and Park2, while noting changes in cropping management associated with the introduction of GM crops, recognized that further complex calculations would need to include not only different energy costs of pesticide production but also the fact that the use of less pesticide will require less raw materials and inerts, fewer manufacturing plants, less diesel in the manufacturing process, less fuel for shipment and storage, less water and fuel used in spraying, and, of course, less packaging for their containment and distribution in order to obtain the full impact of this new technology.
As technical advances become available, there is a need for objective assessments of the complete system or processes involved. In the case of assessing environmental impacts of new technologies, use of Life-Cycle Assessment8 (LCA) enables 'the compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs, and potential environmental impacts of a product or system throughout its life cycle' according to internationally agreed standards. Although LCA has been applied to industrial processes and products, it has only recently been applied in agriculture. Following accepted guidelines, the authors applied LCA to estimate the environmental burdens associated with growing GM herbicide-tolerant and conventional sugar beet in the UK and Germany.
Conclusions: The potential impact of GM crops on the environment and human health compared with conventional crops is a key topic within the GM debate. In the case of GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet, results of the LCA suggest that growing the GM variety would produce fewer emissions that can potentially harm either the environment or human health when compared with the typical herbicide regimes currently being used on sugar beet in the UK and Germany.
It is hoped that the preliminary LCA described here, although it relates to just one case study of a GM crop in two countries of Europe, will stimulate interest in the use of LCA to help assess the potential environmental and human health impacts of GM crops and add to the current GM debate.
Norman Borlaug special issue from the Population News, August 1997
Normal Borlaug is the most important person you've probably never heard of before. Only one of three living Americans to win the Nobel Peace Prize (Elie Wiesel and the dubious Henry Kissinger being the others), ironically it is Borlaug's success in his field which has led to his toiling away in obscurity, often unable to get serious funding.
Borlaug was the pioneer who in large measure created the Green Revolution. Back when Paul Ehrlich predicted there was no way developing nations could increase their crop yields, Borlaug was in the fields showing them how to do just that. In a profile of Borlaug for the Atlantic Monthly, Gregg Easterbrook doesn't have to rely on too much hyperbole to claim, "the form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths!"
In 1963, the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation set up the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT) and sent Borlaug to India where he and others planted the first crop of dwarf wheat, a specially bred hybrid, which increased crop yields 70 percent and helped avert a wartime starvation (India and Pakistan were then at war).
The results speak for themselves. By 1968, Pakistan was growing enough food to feed itself. Although Paul Ehrlich claimed it was sheer fantasy that India could ever feed itself, in 1974 it became self-sufficient in cereal production. As Easterbrook notes, when Borlaug arrived India produced about 11 million tons of wheat, while today it grows over 60 million tons.
On the principle that no good deed should go unpunished, Borlaug's very success has been his downfall. In the 1960s the primary doomsayers were people like Ehrlich who said the Green Revolution could never happen. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, environmentalists emerged who argued the Green Revolution shouldn't have happened. Arguing that fertilizer-intensive agriculture harmed the environment, "extremist environmentalists" (to use Borlaug's term) convinced nonprofits like the Rockefeller Foundation to stop funding work like Borlaug's. The expansion of agricultural production in famine-prone areas such as Africa was no longer seen as a cornucopian fantasy but as an all-too-real threat.
Borlaug appeared before Congress in early August and lashed out at critics who see fertilizer as a greater environmental hazard than mass starvation. The Associated Press quoted Borlaug telling a Senate committee, "Afraid of antagonizing powerful lobbying groups, many international agencies have turned away from supporting the science-based agricultural intensification programs so urgently needed" in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Borlaug, "realistic soil fertility restoration and maintenance ... in Africa will be the key to achieving needed agricultural growth rates."
People like Borlaug can prevent millions, perhaps billions, of people from starving to death -- if only the environmentalists will let him.
Who Coined the Term "Green Revolution"?
'The Green Revolution: Accomplishments and Apprehensions'
- William S. Gaud, Administrator, Agency for International Development, Department of State; Before The Society for International Development, Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC. March 8, 1968
Five months ago today I addressed another meeting of professionals in the field of development. The International Development Conference, which was then meeting here in Washington, asked me to discuss "What We Have Learned in Fifteen Years of Development Assistance". I said that one of the lessons we have learned is the paramount importance of the world food problem. And, I added, the developing nations are beginning to apply this lesson. They are making their agriculture "more intensive, more productive".
Over the last five months we have seen new evidence of their progress.
Record yields, harvests of unprecedented size and crops now in the ground demonstrate that throughout much the developing world - and particularly in Asia - we are on the verge of an agricultural revolution.
- In May 1967 Pakistan harvested 600,000 acres to new high-yielding wheat seed. This spring (1968) the farmers of Pakistan will harvest the new wheats from an estimated 3.5 million acres. They will bring in a total wheat crop of 7-1/2 to 8 million tons - a new record. Pakistan has an excellent change of achieving self-sufficiency in food grains in another year.
- In 1967 the new high-yielding wheats were harvested from 700,000 acres in India. This year they will be planted to 6 million acres. Another 10 million acres will be planted to high-yield varieties of rice, sorghum, and millet. India will harvest more than 95 million tons in food grains this year - again a record crop. She hopes to achieve self-sufficient in food grains in another three or four years. She has the capability to do so.
- Turkey has demonstrated that she can raise yields by two and three times with the new wheats. Last year's Turkish wheat crop set a new record. In 1968 Turkey will plant the new seed to one-third of its coastal wheat growing area. Total production this year may be nearly one-third higher than in 1965.
- The Philippines have harvested a record rice crop with only 14% of their rice fields planted to new high-yielding seeds. This year more land will be planted to the new varieties. The Philippines are clearly about to achieve self-sufficiency in rice.
These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violet Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.
This new revolution can be as significant and as beneficial to mankind as the industrial revolution of a century and a half ago. To accelerate it, to spread it, and to make it permanent, we need to understand how it statrted and what forces are driving it forward. Good luck - good monsoons - helped bring in the recent record harvests.
But hard work, good management, and sound agricultural policies in the developing countries and foreign aid were also very much involved.
The New Seeds
Today's developments have been more than a few seasons in the making.
Twenty-five years ago, the Rockefeller Foudation began its highly successful work to strengthen wheat production in Mexico. The Foundation concentrated next on rice, the most important crop in the world. More people eat rice than any other food. Over 90% of the billion and a half people of Asia live mostly on rice, and about 80% of them spend most of their time growing it.
In 1962 the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations established the International Rice Research Institute at Los Banos in the Philippines. Their object was to develop new varieties which would increase rice production in countries such as India, Thailand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Laos-countries where rice was important but yields were low.
The Institute canvassed the world for samples of rice seed, looking for varieties to cross in order to form the hardiest, most adaptable, most nutritious strain. 10,000 varieties were collected. Para, a tall Philippine variety which originated in Indonesia, was crossed with a short variety from Taiwan, Dee-gec-woo-gan. The result was named IR-8. By 1966 it was fully developed. IR-8 has a stiff, strong, short straw. It does not fall over, or lodge, when the plant is heavily fertilized or when it is buffeted by wind and rain. It matures quickly, allowing for two - sometimes three - crops in a single year. Some call it the "miracle rice". Under favorable conditions, each planting yields four to six times as most traditional varieties.
High - yield varieties of wheat, maize, sorghum, and millet have also been developed in recent years. The best known - and most important - of these are the "Mexican wheats" developed by the Rockefeller Foundation which have quadrupled Mexican yields from 11 to 40 bushels per acre.
It is a long way, however, from breakthroughs in laboratories and test fields to the record crops now being harvested by tens of thousands of farmers in half a dozen or more countries. Transforming the new seeds into food for millions of mouths requires many things. Some of these the developing countries can supply, some they cannot.
To begin with, of course, there must be a will for improvement in the developing countries themselves. In many of them such a will exists - particularly in Asia - where the pressures of food and population are so intense. Given this will, the people of the developing nations can put the new seeds, the fertilizer, and the pesticides to work. And their governments can provide the credit, the price incentives, and the market that will begin to change their lives.
But the developing nations - their governments, their institutions, and their farmers - cannot sustain the Green Revolution without outside support. They lack the skills to do the necessary adaptive research.
They lack the capital to build fertilizer plants. They lack the facilities and the technicians needed to train their people in the new ways.
If this agricultural revolution is to succeed, it can only do so as the result of a working partnership between the advanced and the developing nations.
Take fertilizer. To produce their high yields, the new seeds require far more fertilizer than traditional varieties can absorb. Fertilizer - inducing a demand for it, supplying it, teaching farmers to use it and putting it to work - is one key to the Green Revolution.
In 1960 Pakistan used little fertilizer - 30,000 tons - and practically none on food crops. In 1969 Pakistan will need 430,000 tons, most of it for food crops. Only foreign assistance can satisfy this need. The Agency for International Development (A.I.D.), which over the past three years has made over $70 million in Development Loans available for fertilizer exports in Pakistan, proposes to lend Pakistan $60 million for this purpose in 1969 alone.
In 1963 much of India's meager supply of domestically manufactured fertilizer was backed up in warehouses - unused. Today, India is using the equivalent of one-fifth of its foreign exchange earnings to import fertilizer and raw materials to produce the stuff. A.I.D. will finance $200 million worth of fertilizer on a loan basis for India in 1969.
By 1980 the world demand for fertilizer will probably increase two and one-half times or more. This is why fertilizer is rapidly becoming the largest single element in the A.I.D. program. This is why A.I.D. is backing a growing number of American companies in their efforts to put up fertilizer plants in countries which are seeking to expand their production of food. And this is why the program which A.I.D. has proposed to Congress for FY 1969 emphasizes Development Loans and Alliance Loans to finance exports of American fertilizer: $200 million to India, $60 million to Pakistan, and lesser amounts to Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia, and Laos, among others.
You are familiar with the physical requirements of the new agriculture - seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, farm-to-market roads, irrigation, and so forth. You know, too, that the success of the new agriculture will depend as much on attitudes as on tangible inputs and infrastructure.
To the farmer, the new seeds and fertilizer represent an untried and expensive investment. The high yields of IR-8 depend on a combination of intensive labor and materials which makes it four times as costly to grom as ordinary rice. Only when the farmer sees that the added investment will increase his profit will he give them a try.
In the Philippines, a "do-it-yourself" rice kit designed by the A.I.D. Mission has helped persuade him. It contains IR-8, fertilizer, pesticides, and instructions. It gives farmers a chance to try out the new agriculture on a small scale. A.I.D. financed the first 100 kits.
Over 22,000 have been sold since.
In our own Middle West in the 1930s, Mr. Roswell Garst of Iowa sold hybrid corn to American farmers by demonstrating its high yield when the seed is properly fertilized. Thirty years later in El Salvador, Mr. Garst and Dr. Benjamin Birdsell of A.I.D. reapplied this technical assistance lesson by starting a mass fertilzier demonstration program to induce the farmers of El Salvador to grow more corn.
Each dollar invested in seed, fertilizer and insecticide gave the farmer a return of $3.50 to $7.50. The demonstrations spread. In 1966-67 total corn production in El Salvador increased nearly 22% over the previous year
- double that year's average gain in Latin America. Total cost of the demonstrations over three years: only $50,000. More than half this amount was contributed by private industry, the balance by A.I.D. and the El Salvador Ministry of Agriculture.
The higher investments required by the new agriculture also make farm credit essential. In the Philippines, many of the IR-8 rice kits have been distributed on credit extended by private rural banks receiving A.I.D. support. Similarly, Turkish farmers now get high-yield seed on credit. And to get seed on credit, they must also take the necessary amount of fertilizer on credit.
Farmers are responding to these new opportunities. In Pakistan where they have never before paid a premium for seeds, they are now doing so. They want the high-yield varieties. There have been reports of seed riots in India. At times the demand for fertilizer in India has been strong enough to create a black market.
New government policies are also essential to the new agriculture. Since the early 1960s we have pressed the developing nations to invest more in agriculture, to introduce price incentives and other measures which favor and stimulate food production, to shift fertilizer manufacture and distribution from public channels to more efficient private outlets, and to liberalize import quotas on raw materials for fertilizer production.
Increasingly, we have made such policy reforms conditions for receiving
both food aid and A.I.D. program loans. The message has been getting through. More resources are going to agriculture - in India, for example, where a change in priorities was plainly in order. In 1966-67 India increased its budget allocation to agriculture by more than one-third.
In Pakistan until recently, fertilizer was distributed through government outlets even at the retail level. A.I.D. urged that private dealers be allowed to take over. One of our fertilizer loans loans was conditioned on wider private distribution. By last summer there were over 10, 000 private fertilizer dealers in East Pakistan - an increase of nearly 50% in one year - and more private dealers are entering the field.
New inputs and infrastructure, new attitudes, adequate farm credit, and sound policies - these are the active ingredients of the Green Revolution. And they are paying off. World agriculture production in 1967 set a new record, and the less developed countries accounted for most of the increase. Total agricultural output in the developing nations rose by 7 to 8 percent over 1966. Per capita food production increased by 6 percent.
This year, an estimated 16 million Asian acres are being planted to the improved varieties. Next year, the total could be 30 to 35 million acres or more.
The world is on the brink of an unprecedented opportunity. The critical food problem of the next 20 years can be solved. A growing number of developing nations are now moving to solve it. The question is whether this promising state of affairs will continue - whether the growth of food production in the developing wold will continue to accelerate - whether this burgeoning agricultural revolution will become a part of the permanent order of things.
Too many people think this question can be answered only by the developing nations. They are wrong. The answer depends as much upon us as it does upon them.
Their governments and their people are increasingly committed to development. But how about us? How sure is our support? How firm is our resolve? How strong is our will? Is our commitment as strong as that which we demand of the countries to which we are giving aid?
Can anyone in this room give convincing affirmative answers to these questions? I doubt it.
Foreign aid is not without friends in this country. However, too many of the supporters of the program tend to be "one-stop" shoppers. They admire and advance the part of the program which happens to touch them most -------, research, family planning, technical assistance, incentives for private enterprise, whatever it may be. Too few of the friends of foreign aid seem to realize that there is no single panacea for development. Too few of them understand that progress in agriculture - or in any other high-priority field - cannot be isolated from overall economic development.
We welcome the good intentions of all the friends of foreign aid. We ask for their fighting support for the entire program over the next months - as I now ask for yours.
We need it. The foreign assistance program for this fiscal year passed the House by just eight votes. The President's economic aid request was cut by nearly 30 percent. Last week and this, at hearings on the program for the coming year members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - supporters and critics alike - warned me that last year's rough sledding would only get rougher.
The developing countries, thanks to their efforts and ours, are on the verge of unprecedented trouble.
Why? Not, I think, because of the admitted limitations and imperfections of the program. Nor do I believe that our deepest trouble stems from the scandals, some of them going back several years, which have given foreign aid as much publicity over the past couple of months as the program normally receives in the course of a year. I am not minimizing these matters, but they must be weighed against the merits of the program as a whole.
Is the aid program in trouble because economic development does not matter
- because it is not important? Nonsense! Development is the burning obsession of more than half the people in the world. Development as Pope Paul has said, is the new name for peace. Development does matter and it cannot wait.
Is it because foreign aid will not work? Hardly! There is far too much evidence to the contrary. The story of the Green Revolution is not a story of failure, it is a story of success.
Is it because we cannot afford the foreign aid program? Absurd! We are the richest and the most affluent nation on earth. Our Gross National Product has been increasing by tens of billions of dollars each year. We can afford what we want to afford.
( From Prakash: Now you know the rest of the story. Amazing words indeed and all this in 1968! I thank Dr. Norman Borlaug for sending me the print copy of this lecture and Ms. Salimata, graduate student at Tuskegee for typing this..)