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April 2, 2004


Norman Borlaug's Quest; Letting Them Eat Cake in Angola; India Approves More Bt Cotton; African Scientists Make Great Strides


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 3, 2004:

* ABC News: Norman Borlaug on a Quest for Hunger-Free World
* Let Them Eat Cake
* Famine as government policy
* WFP forced to slash Angola's food rations
* Drastic cuts in rations as WFP faces pipeline breaks
* Celebrating Life
* Safe, good, banned
* India approves another strain of Monsanto's BT cotton
* African Scientists Making Great Strides in Food Production

g may have saved a billion lives.

He is a scientist who has spent his long life teaching poorer nations how to grow food successfully.

"Countless millions of men, women and children who will never know his name will never go to bed hungry," said Secretary of State Colin Powell at Borlaug's 90th birthday celebration, held at the State Department on Monday.

"When I see the misery and the hunger and poverty in the Third World, I'm angry. This is why I stay at it," Borlaug told ABCNEWS.

This week, he attended an international conference on food and farming in Uganda, where he told delegates of the challenge of producing enough food for the rapidly growing population.

Humble Beginnings

Borlaug was born and raised in Cresco, Iowa. He was educated in a one-room school house, but he got a lifetime's education on the American prairie during the devastating droughts of the 1930s.

"Most Americans aren't here today that lived [though] that process, and I think that's one of the things that helped push me towards international agricultural development," he said.

Borlaug began working in Mexico during the 1940s, when farmers were struggling and famine was on the horizon.

He discovered that instead of growing tall, beautiful stalks of wheat, shorter wheat was more efficient and had a greater resistance to disease. He's credited with saving the country from famine.

He then turned his attention to Asia and the Middle East, where he brought new types of seeds and fertilizers. Borlaug taught the underdeveloped nations of the world how to grow the food they needed to survive. It was called the "Green Revolution."

"I never thought that a small boy from a one-room country school would have had the experience of working at whatever this is — 50, 60, 70 countries around the world," he said.

Agronomy was not his original ambition.

"My ambition though as a boy was to become the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs. That I never realized!" said Borlaug.

In 1970 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Newest Challenge

For Borlaug the challenge today is sub-Saharan Africa. He believes that Africa's farming could be revolutionized, but he knows talk of potential is not enough.

"The potential is there, but the potential, you can't eat potential," he said. "You've got to have reality — grain, food to eat — to relieve human misery."

Today, at 90, he splits his time between teaching at Texas A&M and working in the developing world.

In the year 2050, there may be 2 billion more people to feed than there are now. Farmers will have to more than double the amount of food they grow now just to keep up.

So Borlaug has not given much thought to retiring.

"I hope I can continue to work and be at least acceptably productive and die with my boots on, working," he said.

Let Them Eat Cake

- Wall Street Journal Editorial, April 2, 2004

For residents of developed countries, the campaign to demonize genetically modified food simply means higher prices at the supermarket. In the Third World, however, the scaremongering has a much more dire effect. Nothing demonstrates that more graphically than Angola's decision this week to ban GM grain, even though this will disrupt the food aid that keeps 1.9 million Angolans alive.

The country is just getting on its feet after 27 years of civil war, with tens of thousands of refugees returning to their homes with no means to feed themselves. The World Food Program sustains about one-fifth of the population, but it is having a hard time raising the money for its budget. The U.S. has been a major provider of in-kind donations, giving 77% of the grain distributed in Angola. But because GM crops are prevalent in the U.S., this life-saving aid will now grind to a halt.

The Angolan government hasn't explained its decision yet (its embassy in Washington didn't respond to our inquiry) and such callousness toward its own people seems unfathomable. Yet it's pretty clear why a poor country would make this kind of decision. You see, it has happened in Southern Africa before.

When drought hit the region in 2002, the 13 other member countries of the Southern African Development Community all balked at accepting GM food aid because they feared that farmers would use some of the grain as seeds. Europe has placed a six-year moratorium on the import of GM organisms, so any "contamination" of local crops might imperil the Africans' future agricultural exports. Despite the fact that it meant more suffering for their own people, the governments judged the risk of accepting GM seeds to be too high, although most did relent when it came to milled grain.

Lest one think that the Africans really share the Europeans' "Frankenfood" fears, consider that a team of 17 scientists from the South African Development Community conducted a fact-finding mission to the U.S. and Europe last year and found that GM foods posed no danger to people or animals. The team recommended that the regional group "embrace biotechnology as one of the tools that can be used to address the issues of food security."

But reason can be overrun by irrational fear, even when lives are at stake, and southern Africa still lacks the economic strength to defy its former colonial rulers. Perhaps the United Nations will scramble to make up the aid shortfall caused by Angola's stand, and one can only hope that no refugees have to die because of Europe's perverse refusal to accept scientific evidence that GM food is safe. The ban is a wake-up call that the anti-progress agenda of the environmentalists, if not stopped, will sooner or later lead to large-scale loss of life.


Famine as government policy

- Truth About Trade, April 2, 2004

You can safely bet that Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, a placid-looking yet robust 61-year-old, and his close government associates are getting three square meals a day.

That's why they can afford to dwell on the fine points and dangers--real or imagined--of genetically modified (GM) grains. They are not starving--like 1.4 million of their fellow Angolans.

Their refusal and the refusal by several other South African countries to accept donated American GM grain to feed about 6 million starving people in the region is criminal.

Last-minute objections by the Angolan government to a shipment of 19,000 tons of corn scheduled to arrive this week forced the American government to divert that shipment elsewhere and replace it, eventually, with sorghum and cornmeal. The unnecessary delay and added costs are certain to cost lives among Angolans with little else to eat.

It has been estimated that starving Angolans receive only 70 percent of the required daily rations, according to the United Nations World Food Organization. The delay in the arrival of additional grains from the U.S. will likely push that figure down to 50 percent.

South Africans object to GM foods on grounds they may be unsuitable for human or animal consumption, or that some of the grain may be planted instead of eaten, threatening to cross-pollinate local strains of corn. Europe is a market for regional grains, and Europeans object to GM foods. Other analysts blame anti-American attitudes.

Two years ago Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa explained, "(W)e'd rather starve than get something toxic."

Scientific studies of the issue have shown that genetically modified grains are safe for human consumption--Americans have been eating them for years. Still, in many parts of the world, particularly Europe, the safety of GM grains is stuck in a bottomless mire of what-ifs that may never be conclusively resolved.

To satisfy the objections of Angolans and other South African nations, the U.S., which provides about 70 percent of all the food aid to the region, has milled some of the corn to make it unsuitable for planting or replaced it with other cereals.

But in the case of Angola there isn't enough milling capacity to mill the American corn that was to arrive, and to do so would have cost a considerable amount of money that could be used to buy more food.

Drought-striken Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique also have objected to GM foods despite widespread hunger.

Angolans face the double torment of hunger and a government that is corrupt to the core. The country is the second largest producer of oil in Africa after Nigeria, yet there is so much theft and corruption in the government that there isn't enough money left to import essential food. Human Rights Watch estimated that government officials stole a staggering $4.2 billion between 1997 and 2000.

When caused by natural disasters, famine is a tragedy. When the cause is corruption or the callousness of leaders, that is unconscionable.


WFP forced to slash Angola's food rations

- Daily Dispatch (South Africa), 3 April, 2004

JOHANNESBURG - A lack of funding is forcing the World Food Programme (WFP) to halve its food rations to almost two million people in Angola, the aid agency said yesterday.

'WFP's operations in Angola face a severe funding crisis, which has forced the agency to drastically reduce rations," a statement released here said.

'In April and May, WFP will provide 50percent rations to the vast majority of WFP's 1,9 million beneficiaries.

'Without additional funding, the WFP will not be able to provide any cereal, a main food component in its rations, to these beneficiaries in June and July."

The organisation will only be able to give full rations to 45000 children instead of the 200000 it had originally planned to assist this year.

'While beneficiaries are unlikely to starve, the reduced rations will certainly increase their vulnerability and make the task of rebuilding their lives and livelihoods even more arduous and risky."

The situation has been exacerbated by an announcement by the Angolan government that it would ban the importation of genetically modified (GM) food.

About 75percent of the maize donated to the WFP in Angola comes from the United States which does not distinguish between GM and non-GM food in its donations.

'WFP was going to cut by 30percent in April and May due to the funding crisis, but the agency will now (following the GM food ban) provide only half rations to most beneficiaries," the statement said.

Angola in April2002 emerged from a brutal 27-year civil war which had raged almost continuously since the oil country's independence from Portugal in 1975, leaving its infrastructure and food production capacity in tatters.


ANGOLA: Drastic cuts in rations as WFP faces pipeline breaks
US donated maize affected by GM ban

- IRIN News, April 2, 2004

JOHANNESBURG, 2 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - The twin setbacks of insufficient funding and a government ban on genetically modified (GM) foods have put the World Food Programme's (WFP) live-saving operations in Angola at risk, forcing the agency to halve rations to beneficiaries in April and May.

WFP spokesman Richard Lee said its operations in Angola faced a "severe funding crisis, which has forced the agency to drastically reduce rations" to its beneficiaries. So far the agency has only received 24 percent, or US $35 million of the US $143 million appeal for Angola in 2004.

For the next two months WFP will only provide 50 percent rations to both returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), who make up the vast majority of WFP's 1.9 million beneficiaries in Angola.

"Without additional donations, WFP will provide no cereal ration to these beneficiaries in June and July. WFP will also provide only 50 percent rations of other commodities [vegetable oil, pulses etc]," Lee warned.

Besides the funding crisis, a recently announced ban on GM food by the government has had an impact on WFP's food aid pipeline, although the new regulations have not been officially gazetted.

A shipment of 19,000 mt of maize donated by the United States has already been affected. The US does not distinguish between GM and non-GM in its aid and is the largest maize donor to WFP's Angolan operation.

"The US was planning to send a donation of 19,000 mt of maize to Angola. The Angolan government agreed that the shipment would be allowed [into Angola], given the exceptional circumstances, but the maize would have to be milled before distribution," Lee said.

However, milling the maize would incur "substantial extra costs" and result in "a lengthy delay due to the limited milling capacity in Angola".

In view of the uncertainty around the new import regulations for GM foods, the US decided to substitute the maize with another shipment of either milled maize meal or sorghum.

"However, since there will be some delay, WFP has been forced to cut rations more drastically than originally planned," Lee added. WFP was going to cut by 30 percent in April and May due to the funding crisis, but the agency will now provide only half-rations to most beneficiaries.

"Essentially, the funding crisis means we will not be able to provide all the food we want to to returnees - both IDPs as well as refugees returning from neighbouring countries - and, clearly, this will make it more difficult for them to start rebuilding their lives," Lee explained.

Apart from the obvious aim of providing beneficiaries with "the necessary nutrition", food aid also "gives them the chance to concentrate on rebuilding their homes, communities, schools, and getting agriculture started again", he added.

Although people were "unlikely to starve" as a result of the cut in rations in April, Lee said, "clearly they will have to spend more time finding food for themselves and their families, rather than beginning the long and difficult task of rebuilding, which will obviously delay the whole reconstruction of Angola."


Celebrating Life

- Truth About Trade & Technology, Dean Kleckner, April 1, 2004

Norman Borlaug deserves about a billion birthday cards every year. That’s because something like a billion people--and maybe more--owe their lives to this extraordinary man’s efforts to eradicate hunger by improving agriculture.

I’ve known Norm, who turned 90 on March 25, for about 20 years. Today we serve together on the Council of Advisors for the World Food Prize. He once told me that his life’s ambition was to play second base for the Chicago Cubs. It’s a good thing he never achieved that lofty goal, because then he might not have become the father of the Green Revolution--the series of technological developments that boosted farm productivity and made it possible for the world to feed its exploding number of people.

The 20th century is often portrayed as the most destructive in history. Indeed, Norm was born just a few months before the start of the First World War. He went on to witness a Second World War, the Holocaust, the ravages of Communism, the threat of nuclear annihilation--the list is long and horrible.

It was the worst of times, but it was also the best of times (my apologies to Charles Dickens). In remembering that the 20th century was a time of unprecedented violence, we often lose sight of the fact that it was a period of unprecedented life as well. More human beings were born and thrived in the 1900s than in any other century in history.

There was a time when many so-called experts thought the depredations of the 20th century would include a catastrophic population crash brought on not by war but hunger. One influential book, a 1967 best-seller by William and Paul Paddock, foretold a tale of despair in its simple title: “Famine 1975!” The next year, Paul Ehrlich published his own doomsday tome, “The Population Bomb”.

These predictions turned out to be very, very wrong. Food production has tripled since the 1950s, thanks to better irrigation, pesticides, fertilizer and equipment. Improved seeds were a crucial part of this Green Revolution, and Norm Borlaug was indispensable in developing new breeds of grain that boosted harvests all over the world.

The “population bomb” fizzled--and in 1970 Norm won the Nobel Peace Prize for his life-saving efforts. “More than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world,” said the Nobel Committee. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

We certainly don’t have world peace today--but we don’t have a world fighting over dwindling food resources either. Today, the problem of hunger has much more to do with politics than agriculture.

We also have a much stronger environment. “Dr. Borlaug’s scientific leadership not only saved people from starvation, but the high-yield seeds he bred saved millions of square miles of wildlife from being plowed down,” says George McGovern, the former senator and presidential candidate. “He is one of the great men of our age.”

Norm has perhaps slowed a step in his walk, but his mind has lost nothing--he remains a man of unbounded intellect and energy.

And he spends much of his time touting biotechnology. He knows it’s an important part of keeping the Green Revolution going, as world population grows from more than 6 billion today to 8 or 9 billion by the middle of the 21st century. “Biotechnology will help us do things that we couldn’t do before, and do it in a more precise and safe way,” he said in one interview. “Conventional plant breeding is crude in comparison to the methods that are being used with genetic engineering.”

He has a single concern about biotechnology: “I believe that we have done a poor job of explaining the complexities and the importance of biotechnology to the general public.”

That’s a sentiment I share. I devote much of my own time to addressing this problem. God willing, I’ll keep at it until I’m 90 years old.

In the meantime, Norm, please accept this belated birthday greeting--on behalf of myself and a billion other folks.


Safe, good, banned

- The Herald Sun, By Andrew Bolt, 02 apr 04

THE four-year ban on GM canola is further proof the Bracks Government has been seduced by green mysticism.

Australia's only living Nobel laureate, Professor Peter Doherty, says the Bracks Government has caved in to green extremists with its "ridiculous" ban on genetically modified canola.

Laureate Professor Adrienne Clarke, a former head of CSIRO and our ambassador for biotechnology, says last week's ban goes against all the evidence that says GM canola is safe and good.

And both tell me many of our scientists are appalled that this government gave in to an irrational fear campaign whipped up by activists like Greenpeace.

"Reason is under threat," Doherty says. "I'm surprised the politicians don't stand up more."

Victoria will pay for this irrationality by being left behind in the booming field of biotechnology, adds Clarke. "This is serious and has broad ramifications to our reputation in GM technology."

Yes, if the Bracks Government scares even our most distinguished and celebrated scientists, its green mania should scare you, too.

As I said last week, it's bad enough that the Government -- whose ministers include a former Greenpeace board member -- is endangering our scarce drinking water and our supply of cheap power with its mystic green policies.

But its ban on GM canola, which has been safely grown and eaten in North America for eight years, is its most bizarre decision yet.

No wonder Treasurer John Brumby, a rationalist and the Government's sharpest thinker, is said to be dismayed. He's spruiked Victoria hard as a new centre of biotech research, but now sees AusBiotech, an industry group, warning that its members have little incentive to keep investing millions here, thanks to this latest booga-booga politics.

Still, I've warned of this green madness for years and achieved nothing but a reputation for extremism. So let me get the experts to say it in words that may have more clout, coming from them instead of me.

Australia has no more famous scientist still living than Peter Doherty, who in 1996 won a Nobel Prize for discovering the nature of cellular immune defence.

Two years ago, the Bracks Government helped to lure him back to Melbourne University from the United States, offering his team $500,000 for research here on immunity, and hoping for his help to link discovery science with biotechnology.

The Government gave another $750,000 to the Committee for Melbourne's BioMelbourne Network, which made Doherty its science patron as it promoted our biotechnology industry -- and particularly GM canola.

So you can imagine Doherty's astonishment and even anger when the Government last week banned GM canola crops for four more years, just to be "cautious".

"This canola thing is ridiculous," Doherty told me.

"In fact, scientists in the whole of Victoria are pretty surprised and appalled.

"The Bracks Government has been pushing biotech, and this is a pretty substantial part of biotech."

Genetically modified crops are, as Doherty argues, the great hope of feeding the world more cheaply and efficiently, using less land and chemicals. But green groups have mounted a scare campaign, claiming they are "Frankenfoods", likely to kill wildlife and spawn "superweeds".

But Doherty insists, as I've often insisted, that these arguments are nonsense -- scaremongering to fill green collection tins.

But they work because reason doesn't count so much to what Doherty correctly calls "a religious movement" -- the green movement, which he says is nursed by the "chattering class", not least journalists.

That the Government has surrendered to this irrationality shows that "unreason is probably embedded in so many of its supporters".

So does the Government have a single good reason for banning GM canola?

No, says Adrienne Clarke, who was also president of the International Society for Plant Molecular Biology, and is so admired that she was made Lieutenant Governor of Victoria. "This does not seem to be an evidence-based decision. It is driven by the very professional and focused efforts of Greenpeace and others."

Let's go through the claims. First: are GM crops dangerous to our health?

"There is absolutely no health issues because every government in the Western world has had extensive inquiries and there's not a shred of evidence for it," says Clarke.

Will GM canola hurt the environment?

"Ridiculous," Clarke says. Most herbicide-resistant canola we grow now require farmers to use atrazine, a nasty herbicide banned in Europe. The GM canolas, declared safe by our Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, are bred for use with glyphosate, "one of the most environment-friendly herbicides", says Clarke.

These GM canolas also produce the same yields from less land, which is largely why a Melbourne

University study says they are worth $25 million a year to Victorian farmers alone.

And would we have trouble selling GM canola?

Not so, says an ACIL Tasman report to the State Government, and another by economist Professor Peter Lloyd. Adds Clarke: "GM canola grown in the rest of the world is traded quite happily."

Clarke says all this ban will do is hurt farmers and cripple local research on applications for GM canola.

This arguing over GM crops may seem trivial and boring to you. But what is at stake is far, far more important than just a better variety of crop for a cooking oil.

What is at stake is this: We are seeing a new green mysticism that threatens rational thinking. Can we afford to have our leaders give in to it, at the cost of jobs, money, the land and cheaper food?

Above all, as our greatest scientists now ask, do we dare to so lightly surrender our reason?


Official says India approves another strain of Monsanto's BT cotton

- The Associated Press, By S. SRINIVASAN, 4/2/04

BANGALORE, India (AP) -- India has approved a fourth strain of genetically modified cotton seed using technology licensed from U.S.-based Monsanto Co. for cultivation and sale in parts of India, despite opposition from environmentalists.

Rasi Seeds of India developed RCH2BT, a variant of Monsanto's BT Cotton, and fulfilled all conditions relating to crop performance and safety, Rajini Wariar, a senior member of the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, told The Associated Press on Friday.

Wariar said the seed can be sold and cultivated only in central and southern India, as the government has not allowed genetically modified crops in the north and east regions, which account for most of the country's foodgrain production.

India allows genetic modification only in cotton. Its policy is not to allow use of this technology in food crops.

BT stands for bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton seeds to make them resistant to bollworms. Three similar strains made by Monsanto's main Indian partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, are already cultivated in India.

Critics say genetically modified seeds are environmentally hazardous and could contaminate the genes of native varieties through cross pollination, impoverishing farmers.

"It is a matter of time before bollworms develop resistance to BT cotton," said Divya Raghunandan, a Greenpeace activist in India. "Then farmers will be forced to use additional pesticides and will get into the trap of chemical agriculture."

Rasi Seeds said the newly approved variety should produce cotton suitable for making better quality yarn.

"We will bring our seed to the market when the next sowing season starts, that is, by the end of May or beginning of June," said M. Ramaswamy, managing director of Rasi Seeds.

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, and its partners in India insist that the sale of genetically modified seeds is growing despite opposition from some environmentalists and farmers' groups.

In trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, Monsanto shares were down 10 cents to close at $36.50.


African Scientists Making Great Strides in Food Production

- Voice of America, By Cathy Majtenyi, 02 Apr 2004

The president of the Rockefeller Foundation says African scientists have made great strides in research to increase the continent's food quality and quantity. But he and others say these gains won't mean much if other technologies and land policies do not keep pace.

Rockefeller president Gordon Conway says Africa is going through its own green revolution, with a dedicated group of African scientists devising ways to keep plants safe from diseases and insect attacks and increase crop yields.

He says innovations include producing varieties of cassava - a common tuber crop in Africa - that are resistant to mealy bugs that destroy much of the crop. They have also come up with parasites that eat mealy bugs.

Specially bred banana plants in Uganda and other parts of east Africa can produce up to 90 tons of bananas a hectare, while in West Africa and Uganda, hybrid strains of Asian rice are growing well.

Mr. Conway says African scientists are now plunging into the controversial field of genetically modified, or GM, crops, with encouraging results.

"There's a whole new generation of bright, young Africans in plant breeding and in biotechnology that are showing the way," he said. "I went into the biotechnology laboratories which [Ugandan] President [Yoweri] Museveni opened only a year ago. Those young biotechnologists there are right at the cutting edge of GM transformation, in this case working on bananas."

He says scientists in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa are also conducting leading-edge research. These innovations can potentially help many small-scale African farmers who cannot afford the prohibitive costs of fertilizer. For example, Mr. Conway says, a ton of urea that sells for $90 in Europe goes for $500 in Kenya and $700 in Malawi.

Yet, without fertilizers to keep plant diseases and bugs at bay, the agricultural yields of small-scale farmers can be cut by as much as half, perpetuating the cycle of malnutrition.

Despite the breakthrough innovations, says Mr. Conway, the amount of agricultural education and training taking place in Africa is small compared to what it should be.

"We cannot break out of the cycle of poverty in Africa without well-trained Africans, both in the social sciences and in the natural sciences," said Mr. Conway. "And we haven't been doing enough. World Bank expenditures on agricultural research, extension, and higher education in the decade of the 1990s [was] $5 billion. Only two percent went on training."

Another major problem in most African countries is land tenure. A southern and east Africa representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Victoria Sekitoleko, calls for African governments to come up with clear land ownership policies.

She says most Africans do not own the land they work on, which may give them less incentive to use the breakthrough innovations scientists have come up with.

She wants African governments to reallocate half of the $22 billion they spend on food imports to instead invest in agriculture so that they can produce and eat their own food.