Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 12, 2004:
* Bleed American: The Price of Environmentalism
* UK - GM Farming: Frankenfood Approved
* Seed Purity, Biodiversity and 'Gene Pollution' Scaremongering
* What Pure Seeds and Grains?
* GM Access Important for Grain Farmers: Australian Analyst
* Public Sector R&D - Does it Have a Future?
* What the UK Press is Saying
- and how 'Guardian' Twists it with a Misleading Headline
* Constraints to African Food Security and Biotechnological Solutions
* World Hunger and Biotechnology
* China - Agriculture of the Future
* The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity - Borlaug Nobel Lecture 1970
Bleed American: The Price of Environmentalism
- Jennifer Kursman, Arizona Daily Wildcat, March 12, 2004
If it weren't for the efforts of certain environmental activists, some of the world's most precious treasures wouldn't exist today. Thanks to their hard work, acres of endangered zones, from bio-diverse coral reefs to tropical rainforests, are being preserved. Indeed, environmentalists have dedicated themselves to many worthy causes. But every once in a while, a group of well-intentioned but misguided activists finds a way to discredit the environmental movement, making other eco-crusaders look completely ridiculous.
I present to you Exhibit A: Mendocino County, Calif. Located in the northern part of the state, Mendocino's economy is dominated by agriculture, relying primarily on its vast vineyards to produce wine. Last week, the people of Mendocino voted in favor of a ballot proposal termed Measure H, which made their county the first in the nation to ban genetically modified organisms.
The battle was a tough, challenging fight, but eventually the underdogs - the people of Mendocino - won a victory against the Goliath biotech corporations. A victory for the common folk over the thick-pocketed giants! Let's all celebrate with a glass of Mendocino-grown champagne! Now that Mendocino companies can label their products GM-free, they hold a significant marketing advantage over every other winemaker in the United States, including those that claim to be "organic."
Er ... not quite. You see, there aren't any genetically modified crops being grown in Mendocino now, nor were such crops ever discovered. The county is virtually GMO-free - no farmer grows familiar GMOs such as corn, alfalfa, rice and soybeans. Also, since the Food and Drug Administration approved genetically engineered crops more than a decade ago, other influential organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, have concurred that "there is no evidence that unique hazards exist either in the use of DNA techniques or in transfer of genes between unrelated organisms." So what's the reason for the sudden panic over GMOs?
To answer that question, it's necessary to examine Mendocino's economy a little more closely. Mendocino doesn't just grow grapes to make wine - Mendocino manufactures organic wine. Now that Mendocino companies can label their products GMO-free, they hold a significant marketing advantage over every other winemaker in the United States - including those that claim to be "organic."
So these hippies - or should we call them "yuppies" since they're so entrepreneurial? - can't wait to increase their profit margins, while masquerading under the guise of "environmentalism."
But wait, there's more. When the biotech corporation Croplife of America cut a $150,000 check in opposition to the ban, Mendocino voters - known for their proud, populist spirit - likely were frightened into voting to ban GMOs. Yet the anti-GMO initiative slams the door on genetic alterations that could reduce harm to Mendocino's crops.
Forfeiting the opportunity for loss prevention is a risky move; the ban could end up backfiring in the farmers' faces should other counties use GMOs to get ahead in the agriculture arms race. For example, antidotes to Pierce's disease, which destroys grapevines, are currently under development at the University of California, Davis, but Mendocino would never be able to benefit from that protection. And Kent Davis, a professor at UC Davis, said, "Measure H's definition of DNA as a complex protein is scientifically inaccurate."
Furthermore, Mendocino County, like the rest of California, is facing a grim budget crisis. The cost of inspecting residents' gardens in response to complaints is simply a luxury Mendocino cannot afford now, and such inspections are a contradiction to Mendocino's fierce individuality.
Which brings me to the kicker: Mendocino's $156.4 million in overall agriculture revenue is outshadowed by an estimated $2 BILLION pot industry. That's right, the biggest cash crop in Mendocino County is MARIJUANA, not grapes. The county's farm bureau president, Peter Bradford, put it best when he commented, "All plants, whether grown in your backyard or on a farm, could be subject to regulation and enforcement if Measure H passes. Does the government need to know what's growing in your garden?"
Ha! Now you know why they're so paranoid.
--- Jennifer Kursman enjoys snacking on genetically modified food when she goes hiking in the Catalina Mountains. She is a biochemistry freshman and can be contacted at email@example.com
GM Farming: Frankenfood Approved
- The Economist, March 11, 2004
Some GM crops can now be grown in Britain. How scary is that?
"Junk science" is how Elliot Morley, Britain's minister responsible for genetically modified farming, describes studies that claim GM crops would be hazardous to Britain's wildlife and consumers. This week the government granted permission for a strain of GM maize to be grown commercially as cattle feed. That has incensed environmentalists and organic farmers, who say GM is unpopular (probably correct) and based on bad science (probably not).
Three years of field testing have shown the herbicide-resistant maize, Bayer's Chardon LL, to be safe and even kinder to the environment than non-GM maize. Two other crops on trial-a GM sugar-beet and a GM oilseed rape-will not be grown because they were worse for biodiversity (weeds) than conventional strains.
The trials have not made the worries about introducing even a safe GM crop go away, though. Opponents say GM will stealthily take over the country by cross-pollination, will damage wildlife and introduce something nasty into the human food chain. How solid is all this?
Evidence from America, which planted 105.7m acres of biotech crops in 2003, suggests concerns are overblown. In practice it is easy to separate crops and prevent them from cross-pollinating. Even oilseed rape, which is particularly promiscuous, can be kept over 99% pure if it is a hundred metres away from another plantation. Cross-pollination probably will happen, but so far it has caused no problems: genetic material in plants changes all the time through sexual reproduction anyway.
Damage to wildlife is difficult to measure, but there is evidence that GM has had a positive effect, with birds and insects returning to GM cotton plantations in America. Certainly, GM crops tend to need fewer chemicals to protect them. Monsanto says its sugarbeet, which was on trial along with the Chardon maize, requires 46% less herbicide than a conventional strain. Supposed threats to consumers, whether human or animal, are the most flaky. One recent study appeared to show that Chardon maize could be fa the heifer in question in fact died from botulism. The British Medical Association now says there is "very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects" in people either. People have been eating the stuff in America for years, with no ill effects so far.
The messing around with genetic material that makes some people dislike GM crops has gone on for years in conventional plant breeding, where crops are exposed to radiation and chemicals to encourage them to mutate. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, over 2,000 types of crop have been bombarded with gamma rays to produce mutants, many of which are grown by organic farmers.
"All food is frankenfood," according to Professor Howard Dalton, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, "but everybody's got used to it." Maybe everybody will get used to GM soon, too.
Seed Purity, Biodiversity and 'Gene Pollution' Scaremongering
- Sivramiah Shantharam , Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD.
I applaud Dr. Norman Borlaug's attempt to discredit the scientific non-sense of the Mexican Corn contamination by Bt-Maize story. Unfortunately, scare mongering is fast spreading to other parts of the world in other crops as well.
Any open pollinated or partially self-pollinated crop shows cross-pollination to varying degrees and geneticists and plant breeders have been aware of it all along. It is precisely for that reason that all reasonable and possible methods have been designed to maintain seed purity and genetic homogeneity of pure bred varieties and hybrids to the best possible degree. Seed industry has established clear seed purity standards for all cultivated crops within tolerable limits, and has done a splendid job of supplying high quality planting seeds the world over.
The world seed industry is vibrant because of its quality assurance standards they have developed and follow. Otherwise, they would not be in the business. GM seeds can still comply with the same standards and be a part of normal seed trade and commerce. Unnecessary muck is being raised by vested interests who do not wish to see GM technology grow. Purity standards set by the industry has been accepted by all in the trade for decades, if not centuries and such decisions are best left to experts to decide and detractors must be kept out of such decision making process as they do not wish to understand the basic principles of science and technology. Scientists (plant breeders and geneticists) alone know how to maintain highest seed standards and let them do their job.
Regards, transgenes "polluting" or "contaminating" biodiversity is another scientific nonsense that is being peddled around to prevent the introduction of GM technology. Once again opponents of biotechnology have done a heady job of mixing "genes" with "pollution" and "contamination" to create fear in the minds of the public. There are no such words or phrases in the dictionary of genetics, and genomes of any organism have never been considered "pure". This is being borne out lot more clearly in today's world of genomics. What most of us have known is genetic "homogeneity" and "seed purity". It is really inexplicable how GMOs of today are being caricatured as genetic pollutants and destroyers of biodiversity.
Biodiversity has never been "pure" and those who understand the value of genetic diversity would not want it any other way. Variety is the spice of life and any new gene introgression into biodiversity is a value addition to biodiversity. Introgression of new gene into wild population is no ordinary matter and does not happen just because somebody conjures it up. It takes selection pressure and other attendant factors over a long period of time for it to become dominant.
If "genetic pollution" or "gene contamination" was discovered by the critics of biotechnology today, I have news for them. Such pollution has been gong on merrily for decades and centuries; and obviously, the land races, the wild and weedy relatives of cultivated crops have survived very well. It is an established fact that the threat to biodiversity are not GMOs or any other cultivated crops, but destruction of habitat due to reckless environmental policies and politics of the governments who squabble about the value of biodiversity and its importance to sustain the world we live in.
Those who truly are concerned about biodiversity should be fighting for protecting the natural habitats and wilderness, and not be unduly concerned about the natural gene flow among crop plants in closed modern agro-ecosystem.
- Shanthu Shantharam,
>Ill-founded Fears of Mexican Corn "Contamination" Norman Borlaug,
>AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org March 11, 2004 Dear Dr. >Prakash:
The article written by Dina Cappiello and published in the >Houston Chronicle on February 22nd, 2004, was a disastrous article, >full of mis-information, but well presented in an attractive utopian >mystic environmental package to deceive the poorly informed >urbanites about the dangers of HYPT (including GMO's and transgenic >technology).
(From Prakash: HYPT here refers to high yield production technology )
What Pure Seeds and Grains?
The recent scare-mongering report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on "contamination" of seeds with biotech varieties, as if this were remarkable, unexpected, new, or problematic in any way. See below for an example of the absence of "purity" in seeds and grains
See also earlier comments by McHughen and Couger below.
FSA Report on the Authenticity of Basmati Rice
A survey carried out for the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found that one in six sample of Basmati rice contained other non-Basmati varieties. Out of 363 samples, 63 (17%) had a non-Basmati content of more than 20%, which is above the limit laid down by the code of practice of the Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA).
The survey employed a novel DNA test developed by the FSA which can distinguish between genuine Basmati and non-Basmati varieties of rice. Using the method, a total of 363 samples were analysed. These had been collected between November 2002 and January 2003 from a range of retail outlets and catering suppliers, by 27 local authorities across the UK. Loose and pre-packed sample sizes ranged from 125 g to 20 kg.
196 (54%) samples contained only Basmati rice. Non-Basmati rice was detected, at some level, in 167 samples (46%). With regard to labelling, 68 samples were labelled with the variety of Basmati rice present. In 19 samples the declared variety was found to be the predominant one, but in the other 49 samples the stated variety was not present or was only a minor component in a mixture of varieties. 18 samples were labelled as "Super Kernal" which the FSA points out is not an approved varietal name and could be confusing to consumers, since it actually mentions two separate varieties, "Super" and "Kernal". It also contravenes the advice given in the FSA's Guidance Notes on the labelling of Basmati rice varieties from India and Pakistan.
The current GAFTA code of practice on rice, agreed with LACORS (Local Authority Coordinating Organisation on Regulation), allows for the adventitious mixing of up to 20% of other types of rice in the lowest grade of Basmati rice. This code is currently being revised and the FSA says that it is pressing for a level of 7% for adventitious mixing on non-Basmati rice and stricter requirements on varietal labelling. A summary of the FSA main findings can be accessed from the web site.
Prof. Alan McHughen (posted earlier): In all systems of human manufacture, there must exist a degree of contaminant tolerance, as absolutely pure anything is practically unattainable. Even the most highly purified products, such as pharmaceuticals, are allowed a certain amount of impurities. This is true for food as well, although no regulatory agency likes to talk about it in public. Grain carries tolerated amounts of rodent hairs, insect parts, and rat feces. These are hardly "approved" foods, but they are tolerated because we can't completely eliminate them. When it comes to GM content, mandatory labeling regulations in the United Kingdom, currently the most stringent in the world, set a tolerance of 1% before requiring a label.
Gordon Couger; Posted Earlier on 3 Oct 2002
What should be the tolerance for poison, feces and stone be in you food? In US #1 wheat it is one castor bean, 3 stones and 1 piece of fecal material per 1,000 grams. The sample must be 96.5 the product is claimed to be with the rest being various amount of other classes of wheat, other crops and foreign material.
I stopped by a seed cleaning house one day and the pungent smell of black pepper filled the air. I asked the owner what was going on since Texas is a very long way from any where that grows black pepper and he said "he had one of the few seed cleaners that could separate rat feces from black pepper and he did a good deal of it." This load was 25% rat feces.
Having hunted rats in grain elevator I an not surprised at the problems that rat droppings cause the industry. I hear estimates that rats eat 10% of the worlds food supply. I am a great deal more concerned about the places that don't get all the rat turds cleaned out the grain than I am some genetic contamination.
GMO Access Important for Grain Farmers: Analyst
- ABC News (Australia) March 12, 2004 http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s1064941.htm
Australian grain farmers will fall out of the world trade race if they do not have access to the latest technologies such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a trade analyst says. Alan Oxley will be the keynote speaker at an annual meeting of the South Australia Farmers' Federation Grains Council.
He says the industry should experience good growth over the next decade, but warns Australia needs to maintain its capacity to compete. "We're increasingly going to see the impact of environmental regulation," Mr Oxley said.
"We also need to ensure we [have] properly advanced technology and that we are doing research on GMOs. "GMOs do not feature in most grains traded, but in 10 years we should expect that they will. "If we are not up-to-date with the latest technologies with grains we will lose some markets to those who use GMO technologies because the grains produce better results."
Public Sector R&D - Does it Have a Future?
- Denis J Murphy, AgBioView, March 12, 2004. http://www.agbioworld.org
The aim of this opinion article is to stimulate some discussion about the role and structure of publicly funded science, especially relating to crop improvement. One of the main concerns often expressed about agbiotech is the potential for corporate dominance of agriculture in general and the food supply in particular (e.g. the recent piece by George Monbiot http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1165017,00.html).
Many public sector scientists have some sympathy for these arguments, but we should not be drawn into simplistic "conspiracy theories" about global capitalism riding roughshod over farmers and consumers. Firstly, we should not expect biotech companies to feed the world - that is not their mission and if I were a shareholder of Bayer or Monsanto I would want to know the rationale for any venture that was not in the interest of the profitability of the company. We do not expect Glaxo, Dunlop or Microsoft to solve the medical, transportation or IT problems of the third world and neither should this be a primary concern of a shareholder-owned agbiotech enterprise. Of course, wealthy philanthropists like Bill Gates can use their money in any way they choose, but this is not part of the mission of Microsoft itself. So let's accept that the main job of such companies is to maximize shareholder value and while this may involve some loss-leading ventures like community projects, the latter are strictly peripheral activities and not to be regarded as part of their core mission.
The present dominance of the agbiotech sector has come about largely due to the virtual withdrawal (with a few notable exceptions like golden rice) of public sector agencies from crop breeding strategies that involve transgenesis. In contrast, other forms of crop breeding that utilize technologies like mutagenesis and marker-assisted selection are still very actively pursued by public agencies. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has some particularly productive mutagenesis programs that involve both radiation and chemical methods. These programs have given rise to over 2300 new registered crop varieties, many of them in developing country crops including finger millet, sesame and cassava (http://www-mvd.iaea.org/MVD/default.htm). Meanwhile the use of marker-assisted selection has been the subject of several active debates, e.g. in recent forums sponsored by the FAO (http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp). In both of these cases, there has been substantial and sustained long term, high quality public sector R&D in the crop improvement technologies. In the case of mutagenesis breeding, the programs have been linked to farmer extension networks to deliver the seeds and technical advice to end-users.
One of the reasons for a lack of public sector presence in transgenic crop production (in contrast to the initial "discovery phase" research) is the perception that there are serious IP problems due to broad-spectrum patents owned by biotech companies. This was highlighted by the "golden rice" episode where there were said to be over 50 potential patents that would interfere with the further development of this experimental variety as a field crop. As we all know, the companies waived their IP rights for the use of the vitamin A rice in developing countries, but who knows if they will be so charitable in the future?
However, this situation of overly burdensome IP will not be with us much longer for two reasons. First, many of the early broad-spectrum patents will expire in the next decade or so. Second, as the patent authorities gain more expertise, they will not grant such sweeping claims as we have seen in the past - this is already happening and will belatedly bring bio-patents more in line with those currently granted in other sectors like chemistry or engineering. What is needed is for the public sector to enter this marketplace if it wishes to pursue the development of public good transgenic crops, e.g. for the benefit of poorer countries. Brazil has recently given a good lead here - its crop research agency, Embrapa, has developed a new transgenic herbicide tolerant soyabean (resistant to
Imidazolinone) that could end the current monopoly enjoyed by Monsanto with its Roundup Ready soya (http://pewagbiotech.org/newsroom/summaries/display.php3?NewsID=622).
The Brazilian developments are to be welcomed. Not only do they show what the public sector can achieve, they also result in increased choice and marketplace competition for the farmer. Such a strategy is also likely to be the only way that low or zero profit crops, e.g. transgenic salt-tolerant millet for subsistence farmers, will ever be made available. That is apart from the odd bit of PR/philanthropy from biotech companies, which is not likely to be sustainable in the long term. It is a matter of acute concern that over the last 2-3 decades, many public sector scientists and research institutes have tended to focus more and more intensively on high profile, prestigious "discovery phase" research and less and less on its application as a public good. We are now at the point where the prospects for using new knowledge about plant biology, and especially genetics, are truly awe inspiring, but we are still decades away from realising many of these aspirations in terms of real-life crop improvement, especially for developing countries.
To a great extent, we have lost the public service ethos that sustained many of the previous great advances in crop improvement. This ethos is epitomised by Norman Borlaug, who was a key figure in the Green Revolution, for which he won the Nobel Peace prize in 1970. Today's scientists tend to be more concerned with raising grant money, publishing in high impact factor journals and attending international conferences. Career development and promotion and tightly coupled with such "performance indicators". In the UK, we have a particularly iniquitous system called the RAE (research assessment exercise) that concentrates the funding of entire university departments and research institutes according to these narrow criteria. It is therefore little wonder that there is hardly any incentive, especially for young scientists, to embark on public good research and development which is of necessity long term, unglamorous and generally poorly regarded by their peers. For sure, there are not many Cell papers to be gleaned from developing a new annona or yam variety. To some extent this has always been an issue, but the bias towards fundamental science and away from public good development is more marked now than it has been for at least 50 years.
There are still some strong public sector, crop development institutes, with CIMMYT and IRRI being especially noteworthy examples in Mexico and the Philippines respectively. But there has been a marked trend in Europe and North America for public sector plant science to become more academic and less practically oriented - hence my point above about the virtual withdrawal of public sector agencies from some aspects of transgenic crop improvement. This situation can only be ameliorated by institutional reform in the countries concerned. Appropriate career structures and recognition systems should be in place to sustain the work of good quality, well-motivated scientists.
Alas, we are not all of the calibre of Norman Borlaug in being effective innovators who are also both iconoclastic and pragmatic. We now need to nurture a new generation of researchers who can see beyond the next grant proposal or publication. The alternative is to hand over our future by default to the agbiotech companies This may be fine for richer countries but would be bad news indeed for the disenfranchised poor of the world who deserve to share in the fruits of our (publicly funded) knowledge.
-- Prof. Denis Murphy is at the University of Glamorgan, UK;
Re: GM isn't New
- Bob MacGregor
The following appeared in Matt Roper's Daily Mirror article:
>"In another bizarre experiment, Indian scientists created an animal
the head of a goat and the body of a cow which grew fatter >faster than either. "GM enables scientists to bypass natural >selection and evolution by transferring genes from species that >would never normally breed together," says Emma Gibson, GM >campaigner for Greenpeace. "The end result could be chaos."
I have seen this story in other reports, but it sounds like a tall tale to me (or, at least, a gross distortion of a simpler reality). Do any respondents know the real story behind this?
What the UK Press is Saying - But how the Guardian Twists it with a Misleading Headline...
GM crops 'People don't see the point'
- The Guardian March 12, 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/editor/story/0,12900,1167498,00.html
'The cultivation of genetically modified maize has been approved'
Evening Standard, Editorial, London, March 10 : "The decision [on Monday] by the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, to approve the cultivation of genetically modified maize in Britain raises profound difficulties for farmers and consumers ... What are the chances of British organic farmers living close to GM crops preserving their plants from tainting? Very slim. Mrs Beckett has assured organic growers that the GM companies will be held accountable if this occurs, but this is small comfort for a producer whose reputation and livelihood are put at risk.
"There is a further problem for consumers who prefer not to eat genetically modified foods. The GM maize approved for planting is used as cattle food. Yet there is no obligation for farmers producing meat or milk from cattle fed on the crop to label them as a GM product."
Times Editorial, March 10: "Logically, there was little else [Mrs Beckett] could do, as GM maize had passed the test of the trials by showing that its cultivation did not damage wildlife and may confer a small benefit by allowing more weeds to grow ... "Only in the eye of faith can herbicide-resistant crops, such as the variety of maize approved, be said to herald a new dawn. It is a pity these products offer such intangible benefits, and understandable that many people feel that we could manage perfectly well without them.
"Critics may also reflect that 'traditional' plant breeding is a long way from the rustic leaning over the farm gate with a straw in his mouth. In the past, new varieties were often created by blasting seeds with radiation to induce a host of mutations, in the hope that one might be beneficial. This is akin to a bash on the head with a baseball bat compared with the brain surgery of GM."
Matt Roper, Daily Mirror, March 10 "Don't forget we've been manipulating nature for centuries. Modifying food to affect its appearance, flavour or shelf life has been an accepted practice for more than 200 years. The famous Cox's Orange Pippin was first created in the 1800s, when Middlesex market gardener Richard Cox crossbred a Ribston Pippin with an unknown variety of apple. At the time, his new fruit was greeted with fascination
- not fear ...
"Genetically altered antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins have improved our health, while enzyme-containing detergents and oil-eating bacteria have helped protect the environment ... We have all reaped the benefits of interfering with nature."
Julie Hill, Independent, March 9 "It is clear from the public debate that most people don't see the point of GM, even if they're not actually hostile to the idea ... "Acceptance might come with clearly worthwhile products, but this is not how the current generation of GM crops are perceived - the risks figure more prominently than the benefits. Thus to give the go-ahead to any of them will be seen as going against the grain of public opinion, unless accompanied by strict conditions and assurances that we can stop proceeding down this road if we choose...
"The stringent conditions that will need to be placed around a GM crop if it is to find any measure of public acceptance could provide a model for achieving a range of environmental and consumer goals that we aspire to in today's farming, especially in a post-subsidy world, but have so far lacked the means to achieve."
Iain Macwhirter, Herald, Scotland, March 10 "Ministers hope farmers will realise that Scotland has more to gain from remaining GM-free than it has from introducing it. The farmers might well go along with this. Then again, they might not. No one can say what incentives might be offered to certain farmers to grow GM crops - all we know is that if one solitary farmer decides to give it a go, there is absolutely nothing to stop him or her.
"Yet, the lesson of salmon farming is that Scotland can only realistically market quality. It was the attempt to go for volume production, based on cheap feedstuffs, that led to Scottish salmon being branded as unsafe to eat other than once in a blue moon. The danger is that any spread of GM across the border will damage the brand image, not only of organic farming in Scotland, but all farming."
Die Welt Editorial, Germany, March 11 "The British are doing nothing special. They are simply following the path that many countries - for instance China, India and South Africa - trod long ago. Already, genetically modified crops are being cultivated over an area twice the size of the UK. The countries concerned permit it because they want crops that are more disease-resistant and less demanding to grow.
"Germany should also be bolder in the adoption of genetic engineering. Otherwise it will soon fall even further behind in another promising field. Many still believe our food is systematically spoiled and contaminated by the [food] industry. It is time, in light of the increasing world population, to say goodbye to this dearly beloved, tired notion ... Last century, when food was well and truly untreated, life expectancy was barely 40 years."
Major Heretofore Intractable Biotic Constraints to African Food Security that May be Amenable to Novel Biotechnological Solutions
- Gressel, J., Hanafi, A., Head, G., Marasas, W., Obilana, A., Ochanda, J., Souissi, T., Tzotzos, G. 2004. Crop Protection. Online. Doi: 10.1016/j.cropro.2003.11.014. 29 Pages.
The input costs of pesticides to control biotic constraints are often prohibitive to the subsistence farmers of Africa and seed based solutions to biotic stresses are more appropriate. Plant breeding has been highly successful in dealing with many pest problems in Africa, especially diseases, but is limited to the genes available within the crop genome. Years of breeding and studying cultural practices have not always been successful in alleviating many problems that biotechnology may be able to solve.
We pinpoint the major intractable regional problems as:(1) weeds:parasitic weeds (Striga and Orobanche spp.) throughout Africa; grass weeds of wheat (Bromus and Lolium intractable to herbicides in North Africa;(2) insect and diseases:stem borers and post-harvest grain weevils in sub-Saharan Africa; Bemesia tabaci (white fly) as the vector of the tomato leaf curl virus complex on vegetable crops in North Africa; and (3) the mycotoxins: fumonisins and aflatoxins in stored grains.
Abiotic stresses may exacerbate many of these problems, and biotechnological alleviations of abiotic stress could partially allay some predicaments. Some of these constraints are already under study using biotechnological procedures, but others may require longer-term research and development to alleviate the problems. Despite the huge impacts of post-harvest weevils and of mycotoxins in grains, these issues had not been given high priority in national biotechnological programs, possibly due to a lack of knowledge of their immensity.
The need for public sector involvement is accentuated for cases where immediate profits are not perceived (e.g. lowering mycotoxin levels in farmer utilized grain, which does not increase yield but where the public weal will gain, and will be invaluable, especially where the private sector supplies genes already isolated.
World Hunger and Biotechnology
- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology recently issued a brief entitled "Feeding the World: A Look at Biotechnology and World Hunger," which examined both the potential and limitations of agricultural biotechnology in boosting food production and improving the plight of poor farmers in developing countries. Although the paper does not review all pertinent factors contributing to the problem of global hunger, it however, discusses extensively several key policy issues. Some of these issues are as follows:
* The idea that world hunger should be solved solely through food redistribution (through aid and assistance programs) partly contradicts the goals of economic development and self-sustainability that are espoused by developing countries. Local food production is still the primary way to address hunger.
* Agricultural biotechnology does not offer solutions to broad systemic problems. The science, however, may provide means for developing crop varieties tailored to the specific needs of a particular region. This could, in turn, play an important role in addressing hunger. Traits such as disease, pest, and drought resistance could help increase food production. Biotechnology may also address critical nutritional deficiencies by enhancing the nutritional value of staple crops in the developing world.
* Biotechnology raises environmental and human health considerations that must be considered during the development and deployment of new genetically modified crops. Such an assessment will require a case-by-case examination of specific crops in specific environments to be able to consider its potential environmental benefits. If risks are identified, the capacity of small farmers and regulators to manage those risks, without training and resources, should also be considered.
* Biotechnology is seen as a means of assuring food security for impoverished populations, while others see this technology, and the complications associated with access to it, as a potential vehicle for capitalist exploitation. Many of these differences are rooted in perspectives that are broader than the biotechnology debate itself and cannot be resolved solely within its confines, but within other broader forums.
The full issue brief can be viewed at http://pewagbiotech.org/resources/issuebriefs/feedtheworld.pdf
China - Agriculture of the Future
T.C. Tso, Nature 428, 215 - 217 (11 March 2004). Excerpts below..
'Current technology will be insufficient to meet China's food demand in 2050. It is time to take action, says T.C. Tso.'
China is experiencing strong economic growth. In 2002, its purchasing power parity (PPP), a useful indicator of economic standing, was second only to that of the United States. If China maintains its recent 5% annual PPP growth rate, and that of the United States stays at 2%, China's PPP will take the lead in 2023.
With an annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4%, China's per capita GDP in 2050 would equal that of Japan today and attain a level that is three-quarters that of present-day United States1. China could surpass these levels if it addressed key social issues, such as the rural-urban divide, and harnesses the power of science and technology and its natural resources.
Disparities between rural and urban regions and between the east and west of China are all too apparent, and have resulted in a growing social gap. Currently, 70% of China's enormous population (predicted to reach a peak of 1.6 billion by 2030; ref. 2) lives in the countryside. Among this 70%, 50% are farmers, and 20% are 'mobile' -- they continuously migrate to areas where work is available. Those who don't move and instead choose to remain on their farm usually find themselves less than fully employed, because of the highly seasonal nature of their work. In addition, farmers' incomes are extremely low.
China has devoted great effort to developing its science and technology base, and has made remarkable progress. The objectives of this policy are to improve general welfare, increase national and international competitiveness and promote academic achievement. But, as measured by indicators such as the number of biotechnology and chemical patents and the innovation index, China still lags far behind other countries. It must increase its science and technology investment, which will ultimately lead to poverty reduction and to increased agricultural production.
To feed China's population in 2050, a scientifically educated workforce with an agricultural background will be vital. China may well need to use low-risk, genetically modified organisms and transgenic animals to meets its needs -- and scientific knowledge will be essential to ensure that they are successfully implemented.
For China to produce enough food to feed its population at the middle of this century, it needs to use its precious resources wisely -- be they human, land or water. The path from the green revolution (the improvement of agriculture by using modern farming techniques such as high-yield plant varieties, irrigation, adding fertilizer and pest control measures) to the gene revolution must be navigated step by step. The recent increase in funding of scientific and agricultural research is very welcome, but to solve all its agricultural problems, China must allocate more funds, up to 3% of GDP (from its present 0.9% level). If it does this, China's future will be very healthy and its excellent recent annual growth will be sustained. China could then take its place amongst the most developed nations, such as Japan and the United States.
Full story at http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/Dynapage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v428/n6979/full/428215a_fs.html
The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity
- Norman Borlaug - Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1970. Full lecture at
Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on ignoring the lessons available from history.
Man's survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability to ensure his food supply. During the long, obscure, dimly defined prehistoric period when man lived as a wandering hunter and food gatherer, frequent food shortages must have prevented the development of village civilizations. Under these conditions the growth of human population was also automatically limited by the limitations of food supplies.
In the misty, hazy past, as the Mesolithic Age gave way to the Neolithic, there suddenly appeared in widely separated geographic areas the most highly successful group of inventors and revolutionaries that the world has ever known. This group of Neolithic men and women, and in all probability largely the latter, domesticated all the major cereals, legumes, and root crops, as well as all of the most important animals that to this day remain man's principal source of food. Apparently, nine thousand years ago, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains1, man had already become both agriculturist and animal husbandry-man, which, in turn, soon led to the specialization of labor and the development of village life. Similar discoveries and developments elsewhere soon laid the groundwork from which all modern agriculture and animal industry and, indeed, all of the world's subsequent civilizations have evolved. Despite the tremendous value of their contributions, we know none of these benefactors of mankind by name. In fact, it has only been within the past century, and especially within the last fifteen years - since the development of the effective radio-carbon dating system - that we have begun even vaguely to understand the timing of these epochal events which have shaped the world's destiny.
The invention of agriculture, however, did not permanently emancipate man from the fear of food shortages, hunger, and famine. Even in prehistoric times population growth often must have threatened or exceeded man's ability to produce enough food. Then, when droughts or outbreaks of diseases and insect pests ravaged crops, famine resulted.
That such catastrophes occurred periodically in ancient times is amply clear from numerous biblical references. Thus, the Lord said: "I have smitten you with blasting and mildew."2 "The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered... The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness."3
Plant diseases, drought, desolation, despair were recurrent catastrophes during the ages - and the ancient remedies: supplications to supernatural spirits or gods. And yet, the concept of the "ever-normal granary" appeared in elementary form, as is clear from Pharaoh's dreams and Joseph's interpretation of imminent famine and his preparation for it, as indicated by this quotation from Genesis: "...And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread..."4 For his time, Joseph was wise, with the help of his God.
But today we should be far wiser; with the help of our Gods and our science, we must not only increase our food supplies but also insure them against biological and physical catastrophes by international efforts to provide international granaries of reserve food for use in case of need. And these food reserves must be made available to all who need them - and before famine strikes, not afterwards. Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines. Humanity cannot tolerate that guilt.
Alfred Nobel was also very conscious of the importance of food, for he once wrote: "I would rather take care of the stomachs of the living than the glory of the departed in the form of monuments."
The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent standard of living for all mankind. The guiding principles of the recipient of the 1969 Nobel Peace Prize, the International Labor Organization, are expressed in its charter words, "Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice. If you desire peace, cultivate justice." This is magnificent; no one can disagree with this lofty principle.
Almost certainly, however, the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world. Yet today fifty percent of the world's population goes hungry. Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless. Therefore I feel that the aforementioned guiding principle must be modified to read: If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.
The recognition that hunger and social strife are linked is not new, for it is evidenced by the Old Testament passage, "...and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their King and their God..."5
Perhaps no one in recent times has more pungently expressed the interrelationship of food and peace than Nobel Laureate Lord John Boyd Orr6, the great crusader against hunger and the first director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, with his famous words, "You can't build peace on empty stomachs." These simple words of wisdom spoken twenty-one years ago are as valid today as when they were spoken. They will become even more meaningful in the future as world population skyrockets and as crowding, social pressures, and stresses increase. To ignore Lord Orr's admonition would result in worldwide disorders and social chaos, for it is a fundamental biological law that when the life of living organisms is threatened by shortage of food they tend to swarm and use violence to obtain their means of sustenance.
It is a sad fact that on this earth at this late date there are still two worlds, "the privileged world" and "the forgotten world". The privileged world consists of the affluent, developed nations, comprising twenty-five to thirty percent of the world population, in which most of the people live in a luxury never before experienced by man outside the Garden of Eden. The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than fifty percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger as a constant companion and fear of famine a continual menace.
When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient of the 1970 award for my contribution to the "green revolution", they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry, both for bread and for peace. I am but one member of a vast team made up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists, and millions of farmers
- mostly small and humble - who for many years have been fighting a quiet, oftentimes losing war on the food production front. Read on at http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1970/borlaug-lecture.html